116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa City author Erik Therme recently released the follow-up to his novel “If She Dies,” which recounted the story of a mother beset by grief and the dangerous decisions she makes as a result. In “If She Wakes,” Tess Parker has more reasons to grieve — and more dangers (though few things are exactly what they seem) to overcome.
Therme keeps us inside Tess’ head — a place filled with contradictions, fears, and questionable motives — as she tries to protect a child from those who may wish to do that child harm. The reader, like Tess, is off balance for much of the book, and this allows Therme to deliver a surprise that our narrator (and by extension, the reader) never sees coming. Whether readers find that surprise satisfying and wholly earned is something of an open question.
Therme answered questions about the new book and the larger series it is part of via email.
Q: This book is a follow up to “If She Dies” — the first time you have written a sequel. What challenges, if any, arose as you wrote a second novel featuring this cast of characters?
A: My biggest goal was to not repeat myself. The first book, in many ways, was an exploration of marriage, whereas the sequel focused on the complexities of family. I also wanted this book to be more plot-driven than “If She Dies,” and it was definitely a challenge to find the right balance between story and character.
Q: I'm interested in decisions that had to be made about how much of the plot of the last book you needed to include in summary in this book. In the end, quite a bit of the story of “If She Dies” is recounted — at least in broad strokes — in “If She Wakes.” How did you decide how much to reveal?
A: It’s funny you should ask, because my greatest hesitation about writing a sequel was exactly that: How do you incorporate the events of the first book without bogging down the story with exposition? I didn’t want to patronize existing readers by rehashing the entire plot, but I also didn’t want new readers to be confused. To my surprise, the events of the first book organically wove themselves into the new storyline as I wrote, and there were only a few times I had to make a concerted effort to include pertinent back story.
Q: This novel ends with what I think of as a "soft" cliffhanger. That is, the primary story of the book itself is wrapped up, but the direction of a potential third book is also clearly revealed — and that direction circles back to “If She Dies.” Are you working on a third book — and if so, do you already have its plot worked out? Has a larger narrative arc always been in play as you worked on the first two books?
A: When I started the sequel, I knew there would be a third (and final) book. The first draft is nearly complete, but it’s been an arduous journey bringing together multiple story lines and finding satisfactory resolutions for each character. I never outline my novels, but for this one, I spent a lot of time working through ideas, trying out story arcs, and rewriting scenes. Here’s hoping it all works!
Q: This series is written in first person, present tense from a woman’s perspective. What do you like about working in that particular narrative voice and in the immediacy of present tense, and what difficulties, if any, does it present?
A: First person was the obvious choice, as I wanted Tess to be an unreliable narrator and tell the story from her perspective. The decision to use present tense was simply because I’d never done it before, and I liked the sense of “immediacy” — as you say — even though a lot of the conflict takes place in Tess’s mind. For me, it created an interesting juxtaposition that I hoped readers would find compelling.
Q: What other projects, if any, do you have in the hopper at the moment?
A: I'm very interested in Amazon's Kindle Vella, where you publish a serialized story one chapter at a time. I have an unpublished (non-thriller) I wrote years ago that I believe would be a good fit.