Last week I talked about my overall philosophy of sequels—that they must have more of what the readers liked in the first work, while adding something new and exciting and unique, while extending the main character in a fresh and logical new direction, all while being better written and more awesome than anything you’ve done before. In other words, they’re really hard.
With all of that in mind, I sat down to plan out some sequels to I Am Not a Serial Killer. Lurking in my notes from that book was a single line about series potential: “A serial killer who hunts serial killers, except they’re actually supernatural monsters whose methods mirror standard serial killer behaviors.” In the first book, of course, I’d used souvenirs: many serial killers take pieces of the bodies they kill, as souvenirs or trophies or even for food. I built the first book demon around that idea, coming up with a spooky supernatural reason to explain why he would need so many body parts. It worked pretty well, so I figured it was a good place to start in planning the sequels, and I sat down to list some other standard serial killer behaviors.
Cannibalism? That’s a cool one, but probably too similar to the “steals body parts” idea. Rape? Definitely typical to the majority of serial killers, but not really something I wanted to deal with. I could technically have gotten away with it, even in YA, because the YA horror market is far, far darker than most people realize, but I really just didn’t feel comfortable with it, personally, so I discarded it.
How about kidnapping? That really piqued my interest, as I’d just read a couple of really fascinating articles on the subject. Kidnappers are not all serial killers, of course, but those who are have a really interesting subset of quirks: they often have self-constructed dungeons to keep their victims, they choose their victims based on very specific concepts, and they tend to have strange, almost ritualized ways of communicating with their victims. Another great benefit to this idea was that it would shake up the formula from the first book, by focusing so much of John’s investigation on one location instead of following a killer through the streets; it might even be fun to have John himself get kidnapped. What I really liked about the idea was the tiny hint of pathos buried behind it; one of the more famous serial kidnappers was a man named Gary Heidnik, who kidnapped women because he wanted a family. I loved how the demon in the first book had an element of sadness, a sort of yearning for humanity buried inside of a horrifying evil, and the kidnapper idea seemed open to similar possibilities.
So I liked the idea, but I needed a supernatural backstory to explain it. Maybe he kidnaps people because he…? I couldn’t think of anything. I hopped on the Internet and hunted around for ideas, looking at famous serial kidnappers to see what they did, and why, and after some reading I hit on the idea of torture: many kidnappers, especially those who eventually kill their victims, will often torture them first. I had a very cool supernatural basis for the torture, too, though obviously I can’t tell you what it is.
I folded the torture together with the kidnapping and I had a pretty cool bad guy, but there was still one piece missing: why were there two demons in such a small town? Isn’t that kind of a stupid coincidence? My first thought was a variation on the Hellmouth idea, but not only did Buffy already do that, I really didn’t want these things to come from Hell. They’re only demons because John calls them that—their actual origins should be far different. I switched gears at this point and started coming up with ideas for their background, and while I jotted them down a solution presented itself: if these things were an ancient group, and if the demon from the first book had spent so much time trying to be human, it made sense that the others would lose track of him—and it made even more sense, given that, that this ancient group would be looking for him. So, why are there two demons in Clayton? Because the first one got some national attention when his disguise started to slip, and the other has coming looking for him.
The ideas were coming together. I had a cool idea for a bad guy, and a good reason or him to be there, and a neat (and terrifying) supernatural background to pull it all together. That same night I sketched out plans for the third book, as well, but you’ll have to wait a while to learn about it. For now I’ll give you just a few hints: first, the serial killer traits I use in book three are stalking and ritualization. Second, the basic outline for book three really, really creeped me out. I didn’t realize I had it in me.
Tune in next week for the second half of the sequel planning: where should John go next?