OK, as usual, my readers come out in force to respond to my latest inquiry about what wasn't working in the newest book of the series. Also, they once again came through with thoughtful and insightful responses that often surprised me. I'll try to convey what they said, and what I took from it, below so you can see where I plan to make some appropriate changes.
However, first let me assure you of what I'm NOT going to do. I was afraid, when I first suggested this, that I might have to go back and rework the existing chapters. But it's clear that no one wants that. Even those who think it's 'off track' don't want to see the story stop to correct it, so we'll save that for potential rewrite someday in the future.
The readers pointed out various issues. The most obvious was that, yes, the story seems 'slower'. There were a lot of comments about this, from people wanting to see more of the original crew to people not wanting to see minor characters who didn't have a substantial role in the story, but the most telling analysis came from one reader (who'll remain anonymous since he used his real name) who said:
> I have reread your story 4 times now, from start to > finish. Well, not including the last 5 or so
> chapters, will save the 5th time for that!
> Your work is like a roller coaster, you keep
> building up to the big scene, and wham, take the
> readers down the hill! Then you start the process
> all over again, with the next big scene. What I
> sense is different in this book is the loss of
> anticipating what the next hill is going to be.
> While that isn't always bad, that was one aspect I
> really liked! When he started gathering Seers, what > was the next encounter going to be like. When he
> started dating, would he find a girl that could
> accept him, When he started at the hospital, what
> conditions could he affect and would his secret get > out.
I think that captures a big piece of what I've missed. I've had the elements there--in the threat of Mr. Rodriguez, the news crews, etc.--but I've been playing it differently in this book. Normally I set up a specific rhythm which, like he described, has the chapter build the threat up only to resolve it one way or another. The resolution wasn't always as powerful as a fight scene, but the pace was different due to the background build up of the tensions. In the current volume I've been focusing each chapter on teaching Alex a lesson. Thus in one he learns about what's involved, in another he tries to put his followers to use, in another he puts the type 3 males to work and in another he shows the variation in the type 3s he can use. However, in none of these do I try to maintain a specific flow or rhythm to the story. That's something I need to work to change.
That's something I've already resumed in the chapters I'm currently working on, but that's the other caveat. Any changes I make are going to take a LONG time to be reflected in the story. I currently have about 10 chapters 'in the can', essentially finished except for some vague polishing. Any changes to my 'style' sill be seen in the material I write starting now, and even then I'll have to see what I can work in and what I can't. So sorry, Virginia, but Alex isn't going to change his behavior right off the bat.
Another idea that was repeated, which I sorta saw coming, was that I've been ignoring what's been the stories strong suits, namely that there are many rich characters whose different personalities all contributed to the story. In the latest book, there are only 3 constant characters, and the new figures, while interesting, tend to fade from sight relatively soon. I've been fighting that by having them pop back up, but that tends to cause people to scratch their heads and ask, "Who was that, again?".
I'm going to address this one in a variety of ways. First of all, I'm going to have the 'older' characters show up more often. I've been doing this a little, mainly in how Alex always has Allison talk to the new Seers, or his phone calls home. I've also been planning on having 'visits' throughout the story. But these visits are only intermittent. Jennifer Pickford, the Cancer victim Seer who's arm gets shattered as a result of Alex's 'cure' is currently in Utah, and there'll be several changes once he reaches CA, but again, those are pretty far into the future.
However, I'm going to work to have several subplots where they pop up to discuss various issues from time to time (something that's been difficult to do since Alex hasn't had any increases to his ability that need discussing yet). I also have a specific scene that I'm anxious to use, suggested by a reader, but I'm currently trying to figure out where and when to place it so it doesn't disrupt the ongoing story. (You'll know it when you see it).
The other option is to introduce new regular characters. I've already done this (they show up in Chapter 18), but so far I haven't had time to fully explore and get into their personalities. That will take time, so until then they won't help much.
Still another option is to have a character decide to trail along with him. That's a bit harder to work into the story. I currently have a strong figure, but her backstory doesn't allow her to take off (she's in the military). For those wondering, Liv (the Indian doctor) and Shanna (the Egyptian travel agent) WILL be reappearing, but they're currently busy and can only appear in the story again after they've had time do finish what they've been doing.
One thing that wasn't consistent is the reaction to the many new characters. Some people love it, some hate it, some want to see more of the regular and some want to eliminate the many minor characters. I'll admit, a lot of that is my fault, as I've frequently pop characters in just to show how overwhelmed Alex is, or how he doesn't have time to get to know each one the way he should. That leaves the reader feeling like a particular character 'doesn't make sense to the story', but that IS their purpose in the story. They're meant to represent frustration in the story. Your frustration with them is meant to portray Alex's frustration with not having time to get to know them better on a one-on-one basis. I'm sure that idea hasn't exactly gotten through.
Also, just so you're aware, the story does pick up again after Alex leaves New Orleans. The problem was that there were a lot of things that needed to be worked out. Again, if I'd been aware of it, I could probably have done it in a smoother fashion by being more aware of my traditional story rhythms, but... But again, don't get too antsy. Once Alex leaves NO he's got to establish several things. Specifically he has to adjust to certain things he's not used to yet, so there's another 'adjustment' period, but I think you'll like the pace after that.
Finally, let me thank everyone who offered me their advice. All were appreciated and provided a wonderful view into how the story is working. There are other topics I didn't tackle here, but I'm still dealing with them.
As always, if you have any concerns with the story, feel free to drop me a note. After all, I'd rather learn of a problem with a story before it becomes a major problem than after it already has!