[Guest Post] When Stories Choose Us: Revelations While Writing Counterpart by Hayley Stone

My agency mate Hayley Stone has just released Counterpart, the sequel to her highly acclaimed Machinations. I am exceptionally pleased to have her visit the blog today with an excellent post on stories, finding the meaning of what you write, and expectations.

The high-intensity sci-fi thriller series that began with Machinations continues as reincarnated insurgent Rhona Long faces off against the one enemy she can’t outwit: her own clone.
The machines believed their extermination of the human race would be over as quickly as it began. They were wrong. As the war against extinction intensifies, people are beginning to gain the upper hand.
Commander Rhona Long understands survival better than most. Killed in combat, she was brought back to life using her DNA, and she’s forged a new, even more powerful identity. Now the leader of the resistance, she’s determined to ensure the machines are shut down for good.
But victory is elusive. The machines have a new technology designed to overcome humanity’s most advanced weaponry. Despite Rhona’s peacekeeping efforts, former nations are feuding over resources as old power struggles resurface. Worse, someone inside the resistance is sabotaging the human cause—someone who, from all appearances, seems to be Rhona . . . or her exact replica.

Available at: AmazonBarnes and Noble, and Kobo

And don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads!

And now, Hayley Stone ...

When Stories Choose Us

I had never written a sequel before Counterpart, and like most first-time experiences, I was deathly afraid of getting it wrong.

I guess that’s one nice thing about writing a book under contract—you have no choice but to write past that fear. You’ve signed a contract and you better deliver the goods. It didn’t erase the fear, but it did heighten my sense of urgency and put cracks into any potential writer’s block. The better to shatter them and push through.

So I started writing The Dreaded Sequel. I recalled sequels that I had enjoyed in the past and tried to identify what it was I liked about them, versus the sequels I felt had flopped or were generally regarded with scorn by fans. I googled “How to Write a Sequel” because hey, knowledge is power, right? Plus, everything is a life preserver to a drowning woman. You work with what you’ve got.

Here’s what I ultimately discovered about my book, after the fact:

If Machinations is the emotional equivalent of the rebels destroying the Death Star and getting medals at the end of A New Hope, then Counterpart is the rebels getting their asses handed to them on Hoth and Luke Skywalker losing his hand.

But that’s just surface level, taking the overall temperature of the story. At the time, I was confused about why this story, with these particular events happening, and why these characters were reacting in certain unexpected ways. I could have written anything else, but I was choosing to write this dark, tragic tale of loss, identity, and failure.

Why?

Well, about ¾ of the way through the first draft, I finally understood the story I was telling. Before that breakthrough moment, I fretted over many of my narrative choices. Was the story too dark? Too hopeless? Had I sacrificed the sense of fun from the first book on the altar of realism and emotional honesty?

Then I realized what the story was actually about. And by proxy, I uncovered a hidden layer of Machinations, too.

Machinations is the story about a woman trying to break into the life she thinks is hers, or that she deserves. At the time, I was trying to break into the publishing industry because I am a writer and we like to bang our heads against walls for fun. Just kidding, it was because I love books and have my own stories to tell. Nevertheless, I came to the conclusion that Rhona’s struggle in the first book mirrored my own expectations and determination to prove myself to everyone around me, even strangers.

Now, fast-forward to the sequel.

Counterpart is largely a story of losing control. Rhona fails—a lot. Some readers have interpreted this to mean she’s incompetent, when in reality, I feel it simply makes her human. We fall down ten times, we get up eleven. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re incompetent; if anything, it means we’re brave. We could easily stay down. Make ourselves into a smaller target for the universe to pick on. But we don’t, because we have things to do, places to be, greatness to achieve, and people to love.

Bad things happen in Counterpart. Terrible, terrible things. Through it all, Rhona struggles with her mental health. And it is here we get to the root of why it had to be this story and no other.

I suffered a major anxiety crisis while working on Counterpart, and part of the way I processed it was through the writing itself. Having achieved what she set out to do in book one, Rhona now comes face to face with the reality of her dream—and it ain’t exactly pretty. This parallels my experience with getting an agent and a book deal. I’ll be honest, I thought it would be easier after that. (Spoiler: it only gets harder.)

So, to sum …

In the first book, I explored longing, and in the second, I explored surviving.

This isn’t a coincidence.

There are times when we set out to write a story because it hasn’t been told before or because it seems like it’ll be cool or fun.

But then there are times when the story chooses us, and we have no choice but to strap in and hold on tight. Let the story arch and turn the ways it wants. Our job then becomes following it down that dark, dark rabbit hole and discovering what lies on the other side.

Thankfully, my story has a happy ending. I emerged from that draft in a better place than ever, mentally and emotionally speaking. In the end, I’m extremely proud of the way Counterpart turned out. I hope the book finds the readers who need it just as much as I once needed it.

* * *

Hayley Stone has lived her entire life in sunny California, where the weather is usually perfect and nothing as exciting as a robot apocalypse ever happens. When not reading or writing, she freelances as a graphic designer, falls in love with videogame characters, and analyzes buildings for velociraptor entry points. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in German from California State University, Sacramento.

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Machinations is her debut novel from Hydra/Random House. Its sequel, Counterpart, is out now.