But there could have been.
I figure now that Blood of My Blood has been out for a couple of weeks, I might as well go ahead and tell the story of what-might-have-been. If you’re interested in behind-the-scenes nitty-gritty, you may find this interesting.
Oh, and of course: Spoilers below for Blood of My Blood!
So, some background: I first proposed I Hunt Killers to my publisher way back in 2009. In the proposal, I wrote — towards the end — the following:
The book can end two ways. If it’s a standalone, then Jazz — with his intimate knowledge of his father’s secrets — catches him before he can get out of town and returns him to jail.
But I think the story is actually a trilogy.
It went on from there to explain how a trilogy would build on the first book.
Why did I propose two possibilities? Well, because here’s a secret for y’all: If you are the sort of author who lives on the bestseller lists and gets big, fat movie deals and has readers voluntarily sacrificing puppies in your honor, then a publisher would be thrilled to buy a trilogy from you on the basis of just a proposal.
I am not that sort of author. I am a run-of-the-mill dude who writes books. I didn’t want the publisher to see plans for a trilogy and think, Sounds good, but risky. What if the first book tanks? Then we’re on the hook for two more! So I gave them an out: Look, I want to do a trilogy, but trust me — I can do one book, if I have to.
One book or three books. Easy, right?
Well, the publisher came back and said… Two books.
What was I going to do? Yes, if I had to, I could tell a truncated version of the story in one book, cross my fingers and hope that it did well enough to warrant returning to it someday. Or I could tell the whole thing in three.
I gambled; I wrote that first book as if I would have three, not two, hoping that when the publisher saw the final product, they would be thrilled enough to want more.
Time went by and they agreed to a third book just before I started writing Game. Whew!1
But then I had a thought: What if I did four books?
As I worked on Game, I started to see new possibilities. Sending Jazz to New York opened up whole new worlds to him, something I hadn’t considered originally. I started thinking about it and realized that going to four books could be really dramatic.
My publisher had just agreed to a third book…and the first one wasn’t even on sale yet! I knew it was risky (and borderline egomaniacal) to insist on a fourth, but I did it anyway.
They said… “Let us think about it.” And then gave me a date by which they would give me their decision.
Fine. I finished Game. I Hunt Killers hit shelves. Things were moving along.
Except I couldn’t start on the third book because I didn’t know if it would be the last one!2 So I waited and I waited, and I kept thinking of how I would structure the two final books. And let me tell you something — if you hated the Game cliffhangers, you would have lost your mind over what I had planned for the ending of the third book!
Decision day loomed and something funny happened. I sat down and I looked at my plan for Books 3 and 4, and I thought to myself, “I don’t know if I want to do it this way after all. I think three books might be the way to go.”
My agent called me. “I’m pretty confident they’re going to let you do the fourth book,” she said, “but we’ll know tomorrow.”
I told my wife that night: “If they want a fourth book, I’ll do it, but I’m not sure it’s the right way to go any more. I feel like an idiot for even pushing for it.”
And the next day, my agent’s gut proved wrong. The publisher came back and said, “We really think this should be three books.”
I have never in my life been so relieved not to sell a book!3
If you’re curious, this is how Books 3 and 4 broke down in the alternate universe where I Hunt Killers is a tetralogy, not a trilogy:
Book 3 (The Crow King) would have picked up with the cliffhangers from Game and proceeded much the same…at first. But Billy doesn’t kill Hat. Instead, it turns out Hat is one step ahead of everyone. New York goes insane — there are at least two serial killers on the loose, one of whom just blew up an apartment building to cover his tracks. Jazz escapes from the hospital to track down Billy and find his mom, realizing that catching Hat is the shortest way to get to Billy. He’s hunted by Hughes while he hunts Hat. When he catches Hat, Hat explains — in a crazy babble — about the Crows and warns Jazz of the Crow King. He and Hat fight; Hughes barges in and kills Hat. Jazz manages to escape and, now aware of the Jack Dawes alias, tracks down Billy. Mom Skypes in. Jazz and Billy fight, Jazz stabs Billy in the back, turns to the iPad and says, “You’re next.”
Boom. End of Book 3. Commence a year of people screaming things like, “Is Billy actually dead? Is Jazz’s mom really Ugly J? How could you end another book on a cliffhanger?”
Book 4 (Killswitch) picks up ten seconds later. We learn that Jazz paralyzed Billy rather than killing him.4 Jazz begins the hunt for his mother, first digging up his grandfather to find Billy’s “memoir,” which spells out more of the Crows, leading him to the Crow King. There’s a nationwide manhunt for Jazz, who should turn himself in, but instead holes up in the Nod to immerse himself in Billy’s memoir. He breaks into G. William’s house — “You’re the only man who’s ever stopped one of them; tell me how.” — and G. William explains to him the events of Lucky Day. With his newfound knowledge of the Dawes identity, he starts hunting Crows, tracking them down one by one, interrogating them for information about the Crow King, then leaving them for the cops. Eventually, he tracks down Ugly J, and things proceed as they do in Blood of My Blood.
Whew! As you can see, the emotional arc of the story is the same, but the scope would have been much broader. I’m glad, though, to have only the three books. I think it’s a tighter, stronger story this way. And, quite honestly, I’m glad not to have another year of people complaining about cliffhangers. 🙂
- What would I have done if I’d had to wrap things up in two books? I honestly don’t know. I could have gotten to the ending in two books, but it would have felt emotionally truncated and I don’t think anyone would have been happy with it.↩
- This, in case you’re wondering, is why there were 18 months between Books 2 and 3. No one’s fault — we just didn’t think it through when that decision date was set.↩
- And by the way, this is the origin of Lucky Day. Originally, it was intended to be an extended flashback in Book 3 or Book 4, but now there was no room for it. At the same time, I wanted to offer something for cliffhanger-suffering readers to read while they waited for the final book, so it worked out nicely.↩
- My one regret in the three-book solution is that you guys found out Jazz wasn’t a murderer after just a few pages.↩