Today, excluding a few logistical issues with distribution, I celebrate the completion of my first series of novels: The Valley Chronicles, an epic trilogy about family, imagination, and sacrifice. I wrote the short stories that would form the basis for The Valley Chronicles a decade ago, and I began writing this trilogy a mere four years later. It took me six years to write and publish the three novels in the series: The Valley Chronicles, The Valley Chronicles: Quest, and The Valley Chronicles: Tempest.
The novels are far from perfect, especially my debut entry. Yet every successive book improved on the last, clarifying mythology, solidifying character, and introducing more diverse characters and situations while improving on the previous works. I will admit, especially in light of the recent #BlackLivesMatter movement, that The Valley Chronicles remains woefully “color blind”. The few human characters’ races are not defined, but, honestly, they were all imagined as Caucasian and there is no excuse for that. All I can do is promise that my next series, I’ll do better: I’ll do the research, make the effort, and produce a more diverse cast of characters who complement each other and the story. Nevertheless, I am proud of the diversity of sexual orientations found in The Valley Chronicles, a wonder considering the fact that romance was almost entirely irrelevant to the series. Again, the representation was far from perfect, but it was a start for me.
The three Valley Chronicles books were written under vastly different circumstances, at vastly different periods in my life. The debut novel was written for National Novel Writing Month in middle school, an awkward and painful period of my life where I had not yet found my identity. Book One was, therefore, simultaneously simple and messy, complex yet cut-and-dry. I eagerly imported John, Violet, Hodgey, Ruby, and Sapphire from the short stories I’d written at Aquinas Montessori, based on the works of Edward Hopper. I took the villain of these stories, Colonel Jealousy, and created the Soldiers of Sorrow. From there, it was a matter of introducing some fresh faces (Caleb, Topaz, Trent) while bringing in Fira and Twiggy early (after changing them from Angel and Hops, who were too similar in species and personality to characters in another book series) and creating some characters based on stuffed animals (Hermia). Much of the book remained in flux from its inception to its final draft: A romance between John and Topaz was cut, the Nightlock Arrows and Pandora’s Box were introduced, and John’s friends found their importance dwindling as focus shifted to the Valley. John spends much of the first book angry: perhaps a reflection of my own frustration with the pressures of growing up and moving on from the imagination and hope of childhood. There are some oddities in the book, products of a more childish mind. Nevertheless, it works well, introducing the characters and setting the stage for better, more complex adventures.
The second book was written during high school, in between classes, at play practice (ugh), and in the hospital hallways when my grandmother fell ill. There is a spark of excitement to this novel, as it corresponded with a time in high school when I was finding a better sense of myself: Starting hockey, making new friends, moving on from some of the toxic patterns which had defined me. The book does an extraordinary job piecing together a found family in the group of questers: John, Violet, and Hodgey, of course, joined by Twiggy and Fira, Sapphire and Trent, and fan-favorite newcomers Bananas and Frosty. There was a gleeful sense of mish-mash and why not? to the proceedings, which began crossing genres and introducing new layers to the world of the Valley. This was probably the happiest I’ve ever been with an entry in The Valley Chronicles, and if you read the novel, I think you’d agree.
The third book, meanwhile, took over a year to write, with most of the writing taking place in the months following a heavy mental breakdown. The book was always intended to be darker than its predecessors, but this certainly didn’t help. Nevertheless, this entry had the blessing and curse of following up on Quest, meaning it inherited all the zany hijinks of the second book even as it revisited some of the darker elements of the first book. The end result is a massive, sprawling narrative, juggling competing mythologies and information with satisfying conclusions for the various characters. I will admit I got a bit bloodthirsty, more than halving the central cast, but it was all in good fun and the ending remained hopeful and painfully bittersweet.
Bittersweet: The best way to describe finishing The Valley Chronicles trilogy. I think, to some degree, while writing these books I was deluded into thinking they’d be my path to success. The fact is that I have a lot more work to do before I can make it as a writer. What I’ve done is impressive, but it’s just a start. I’ll always be grateful to John, Violet, and Hodgey, and I hope one day the world can appreciate what I’ve built, but I understand the chances are that this series’ legacy will be largely nonexistent. It’s the nature of the beast, and a fact I half-knew as I plowed through the self-publishing process.
My next novels will take place in the same world as The Valley Chronicles, but not quite enough that it constitutes the label of “spinoff”. Rather, The Outsiders Club will stand on its own, potentially being sent to publishers and agents instead of being self-published, although that remains to be seen.
Thank you all for joining me on this journey. If you haven’t read the Valley Chronicles, consider giving them a shot. If you have, I’m forever indebted to you in a way I can’t repay. Thank you all for everything.