Not long after I wrapped work on Flight of the Vajra, a friend of mine commented that the universe I'd created was rich with other possibilities — that it could be mined in much the same way Iain Banks (RIP) had mined his "Culture" universe for a whole slew of different stories.
"I don't think I want to do that," I said, and almost immediately felt terrible for doing so.
Two competing and conflicting impulses were at work within me. The first was the sense that he was right — the universe of Vajra was (and is) a huge and rich one, from which any number of other stories could be derived. After all, why go through all the trouble of creating a whole new setting from scratch when I already had one all dolled up and ready to deliver?
The second was a far more complicated impulse, rooted in why I had created the Vajra universe in the first place.
Every story, for me, is a self-contained entity. It was created to accomplish a specific goal, and once it's served its purpose, I'm more or less done with it. The universe and the purpose are very tightly coupled to each other in my mind, not only because I'm writing out of a specific sense of what I want to do with that universe, but also because my creation of that universe is a product of my own moment in time. Once I'm done, I need to move on. To not do that means I run the risk of repeating myself, and I would rather disappoint people in the short run by not delivering a dozen Vajra-universe stories than disappoint them in the long run by becoming a glorified hack.
None of this is meant to be a denigration of anyone else's approach to the same problem. I am hardly attacking Iain Banks (RIP) for creating the Culture books — they were his creation, and his relationship to his creative impulses was hardly the same as mine. All the better if they are unlike mine!
What I'm arguing for is the right for an author to, in essence, say no to his own work. He should never feel obliged to tell any more of a story than he feels is needed. One volume, three volumes, or a dozen — it's all up to him, but it must always be driven by what he feels is neccessary entirely apart from what his audience would want him to do. Sometimes what your audience wants from you is not the best thing for your artistic or spiritual development — although there can be glaring counterexamples (Mr. Lucas, call your office).
Much of this started back when Genji Press began as a formal label for my work. When I wrote Summerworld in 2006-7, I flirted, however briefly, with the idea of writing a trilogy. Surely there could be an Autumnworld and a Winterworld waiting in the wings? At least one other reader of the book had made a similar statement.
But when I sat down to hash out possible ideas for those two books, a funny thing happened. For one, I couldn't think of anything that didn't seem like a soap-opera hyperextension of the original story's concerns. Tell too much of one person's story, I thought, and you negate a good deal about what made their story worth telling in the first place. Everything I had wanted to say about them had already been said.
Second, and more importantly, I couldn't deny that my attention had already moved elsewhere. Every time I tried to think about the successors to Summerworld, I realized my entire notion of what constituted successors to that project had become framed entirely in terms of other, entirely different projects. Not formal sequels, but new paths on different roads. It took less than a day's introspection to realize this was a signal from within to not repeat myself.
It's been like that ever since. The only "sequels" I ever plan to write are spiritual successors, where I take some of the same underlying ideas that drove an earlier work and revisit them as a new person. That, in turn, will demand an entirely new story to contain it.