It is my pleasure to welcome author G. L. Tysk as my guest as she discusses her latest novel The Sea-God at Sunrise
WRITING THE SEQUEL
I didn't set out to write a book that needed a sequel. I actually tried my hardest to write a book that didn't need one, a book that stood on its own with no need for an epilogue, a book where the characters would fade off into the sunset like fond memories. That was part of why The Sea-God at Sunrise was so long. When I finished it, I thought that was it. I'd told everything that needed to be told.
Then I realized I'd only told about one-fourth of the story.
I based The Sea-God at Sunrise on the story of John Manjiro. Manjiro was a young Japanese fisherman rescued by American whalemen in 1841 from a typhoon. He grew up in southern Massachusetts, and in his late teens embarked on another journey around the world in the opposite direction, returning to Japan and later becoming one of the shogun's English interpreters during Commodore Perry's opening of Japan to the West. When Sea-God was little more than a concept, I was fascinated with Manjiro's tenacity and open-ness to new cultures, heading out for a strange land and a strange language without second thought.
After my novel was published, I had some time to reflect on Manjiro and his comrades aboard the real whaling ship. Manjiro had four friends aboard his little fishing boat when the typhoon hit. He was the only one who made it to America. What happened to the rest of the four? When the whaling ship docked in Hawaii - the Sandwich Islands, as it was known then - they went ashore and settled in Honolulu. Two of them returned with Manjiro to Japan (they were arrested when they arrived, a very warm welcome). But the other two stayed.
I always wondered about the ones who stayed. One of them was very ill and eventually passed away, so he had no choice in the matter. But the other guy had no health problems; he stayed because he had married a Hawaiian girl. He'd built a life there, just as Manjiro had built his elsewhere.
It became clear to me as I wrote The Sea-God at Sunrise that Shima was not really a Manjiro-type character. Unlike his brother Takao, he's reluctant to trust foreigners, he's not great at language learning, and he has a hard time leaving the old life behind. In the sequel, set in 1849, about eight years after the first novel, I wanted to explore how Shima and Takao had both changed. Did the lives they built for themselves outside of Japan have room to let their birthplace back in? Would they think about returning? Or would they not consider that possibility, and want to stay in the new world?
A lot happens in eight years. Even if Shima's and Takao's lives had never moved on, the world did - historically, 1849 is the first year of the American Gold Rush. I was faced with doing more research for a sequel that I had never thought would happen, and then integrating that new research seamlessly into the world of the first book, which is harder than it sounds. It's frustrating to want to introduce huge dumps of information in the first few chapters. It's more frustrating to realize that you can't, for the sake of the narrative flow. My hat is off to authors who write book series and deal with this all the time. Whaling vs. the Gold Rush sounds interesting in theory, but is hard to write in practice.
At the same time, writing this sequel is like coming home. Even though it's been a while, Shima and Takao and Ellis and the rest of the crew haven't changed so much as to be unrecognizable. Sometimes as I'm writing I slip back into old habits, but I have to remind myself that it's been eight years, and everyone changes over time (if only jobs and fashion sense). I'm faced with the conundrum that all historical fiction authors must face at some point: where do I take them from here? At what point do I diverge from the historical context and create my own narrative?
I'm still trying to answer those questions, but a lot of other questions are, happily, resolved. The first book takes place, except for two chapters, exclusively at sea. The second one, by comparison, will explore a lot more of the land. I can say that the Gold Rush will play a large part in the overarching narrative, but not a huge part in the day-to-day lives of the characters as the story continues. I'll explore more of the old city of Honolulu and its people as well, as we return to the Sandwich Islands.
In the end, writing a sequel is just as much work as writing the first novel. I've also learned that I missed these characters, and I'm glad to have them back. I hope all authors feel this way when writing a sequel, because it's definitely warm and fuzzy and I like it. New friends will be made, old friends find each other again, and there is definitely whaling. Wherever my protaganists go, the sea-god is never far behind.
Ger Tysk is the author of The Sea-God at Sunrise and is currently working on the sequel. She lives in Boston with her husband and a menagerie of plush whales.