The Book I Swore I’d Never Write

On September 1st, 2007, I finished the lengthy prologue of Because of You.

It took me literally years to finish that story, not only because of school and work (mostly because of school and work) but because the characters in that book, Nikki and Derek, took an immense toll on me. Also because when I started that story, I didn’t know how it was going to end. (I was a true pantser back in the day.)

The ending that I initially intended would have made it a completely different book, as I would have changed a major part of the plot, but over time I realized that was cheating. I wanted Because of You to be authentic; I could not compromise the overall vision, no matter what. I knew what role I wanted Nikki to play in Derek’s life (especially from the outside) and I knew how important he would be in hers. I knew Nikki’s love story, and I wanted to share it. I had a very specific audience in mind for that book, and I wanted to be honest with them…but I also wanted to write a story people would like.

I did come up with several suitable endings, and the one that I was honestly leaning toward for probably a year, maybe even two was WHOLLY AND COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. It was also an epilogue, but it would have taken place during college…it would have also completely undermined certain aspects of Nikki’s relationship with Derek. I came up with it at work one day when I was feeling particularly pissed off/empowered, but it was not right for Nikki or the story.

At the end of the day, I decided not to do it. I had a new idea, one that I liked much better/suited them much better, and I thought, “Hey, you never know, maybe I’ll do a sequel where Nikki and Derek are background characters” (which is insane, and I don’t know what I was thinking). I wrote one chapter of that sequel, realized it was a horrible idea, and scrapped it. I thought I was done with the characters (although I’d say roughly 90% of the people who read Because of You have always disagreed with me on that).

That was when I began doubling down on the whole “guys, I’m sorry, but this book is never, ever, ever going to get a sequel. Seriously. Ever. I’m not going to write it. Not ever.”

And I believed that, because the sequel that went with the epilogue was not right, and because of the epilogue, it was the only one I could actually do.

The other reason, and I forgot about it until I got a couple chapters into After You, is this: writing these characters is HARD. Emotionally. I can’t even tell you how taxing it is. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the easiest explanation is that I have to pull from very deeply within myself to become Nikki. She isn’t easily accessible. Her feelings, especially now, are so difficult to coax out of her, and she’s ashamed of even having feelings—so she doesn’t want to let them out/own up to them. Nikki is a damaged character. But I also wrote her in first person POV in the first book, and I can’t change the POV to third (which I’m much more comfortable with) just because it’s easier for me. Consequently, I have to become Nikki when I write her story. (I suspect Nikki is the reason I dislike writing in 1st person to begin with.)

I had forgotten how many tears I shed writing Because of You—buckets and buckets. I can remember very distinct instances of trying to type, but not being able to see the monitor through the tears. Just setting the laptop aside, curling up in bed and crying, because I was so emotionally spent.

I only remembered when I got back into that mindset and started writing the sequel. I don’t like to cry, that’s probably part of why I was so adamantly against the sequel and I just blocked it out, but… it is what it is. It will be tough at times. It’s easier on readers, I’m sure (I’ve gotten reports of crying from Because of You, of course, but reader crying and writer crying are different levels of agony) but channeling the right emotions to evoke the scenes necessary to do this couple justice…is a pain. Literally.

At the end of the day, I do want to give my readers what they want, but I can also only write the stories my characters allow, otherwise it’s Writer’s Block City, population: me. I have some very stubborn characters, typically one per story. Some are flexible, some are not. Nikki is not flexible. I have almost no control over her. Nikki will tell me and the rest of the world to fuck off if I try to manipulate her. She may be interpreted many ways by many different people, but let me tell you, at her core, Nikki has a quiet strength; she has a spine of steel and she wants what she wants. She feels what she feels, and she’s not sorry for it.

The good news is, my characters are all cooperating right now and I believe pretty much everyone will be happy with this sequel. I hope so. I’m aware that I’m too emotionally biased while writing it to know for sure, but I’m not going to rush the release, because I want to be able to revise the hell out of this book if I need to. My priority is making sure that as many readers as possible are on board and satisfied with the conclusion. When I first started the book, that felt much more daunting than it does now (characters were hassling me) but I think I’ve finally hit that “Eureka!” geyser that I needed. I finally understand everyone’s motivations and what’s going on.

So, I know some people were wondering why now, after years of saying no, I suddenly announced a sequel. It’s because the characters are finally ready for one. Because, when I was making the paperback version of Because of You and I thought, “Hey, I wonder what would happen if I removed the epilogue” the answer popped into my head almost instantaneously. This is what would happen.
After You, coming sometime in 2015.

“Been a long road since those hands I left my tears in, but I know it’s never really over…”

-Sober, Kelly Clarkson