By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna native Anne Blankman always knew she wanted to be a writer. Even before she was part of the first graduating class from Van Antwerp Middle School, she dreamed of spending her life putting stories to paper. After graduating from Niskayuna High School, she set out in pursuit of her dream, eventually achieving it through a fusion of genres: historical fiction and mystery.
Blankman’s first book, “Prisoner of Night and Fog,” a suspenseful narrative set during 1930s Nazi Germany, was published in spring 2014. It was the initial installment in a three-book contract with Balzer + Bray, a division of publisher HarperCollins.
Of those three books, just one has hit the shelves of bookstores so far. Next month, the sequel to her first book, “Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke,” will join it.
“I’d never written a sequel before,” Blankman said during a recent phone interview from Yorktown, Virginia, where she lives with her husband and 5-year-old daughter, Kirsten. “I had always heard that sequels are harder to write than the first book. Frankly, I hadn’t believed it.”
To her surprise, she quickly discovered that warning had been accurate.
“I think part of that is because simply, once you have that book contract, you are a professional,” she said. “You have deadlines. You have to write even when you don’t feel like writing.
“I think another part of sequels that makes them so difficult to write is that you’ve planted all of these seeds in the first book and you need to make sure all of them bloom in the second book,” she added. “You want to make sure you take your characters as far as you want them to go.”
As she wrote her second book under the watchful eyes of professional editors and publishers, Blankman describes the sort of business pressures that most children don’t imagine when they picture life as an author. At times, she must switch back and forth between revising one book, writing another and perhaps researching a third, all within a short period of time.
The stress of deadlines is ever-present, too, but she’s learned to take in stride the challenges that come with achieving her younger self’s dreams.
“I give myself deadlines and I give myself a daily word count. That helps me stay productive,” she said. “It’s a challenge and sort of a stress and a pressure that I’m thrilled to have.”
Her early success among YA critics and readers likely makes it easier to take the pressure. Blankman was named a Spring 2014 Flying Start by Publishers Weekly, making a short list of authors whose early works impress literary experts.
“Prisoner of Night and Fog” was also named a Sydney Taylor Book Award notable book for teens by the Association of Jewish Libraries for 2015. That award is meant to recognize books with positive content for young Jewish readers. So far, it has been published in the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.
It won’t be long before Blankman learns whether her second installment resonates with readers and critics the same way the first did. But rather than worrying about that, Blankman is, as usual, well into her next project. She doesn’t have to contend with the business side of writing, like sales and marketing, so she can focus exclusively on telling the stories she loves.
“I find it really helpful and wonderful, frankly, to be writing for a large publisher,” she said.
“They take care of the aspects of the [business] that can be really paralyzing, creatively, for a writer,” such as tallying up how many copies are sold and making sure potential readers discover the books in stores or online.
Blankman has finished writing all three of her books for HarperCollins, though the third one — not a sequel to the second book — is still in the revision phase and has about a year of copy editing, marketing, and cover art development to go through. She’s not allowed to share the title yet, but she promises lighter fare that departs from her first two novels: a romantic adventure story set in 17th century England.
“It’s almost like a puzzle book,” she said, because just like the first two books she wrote, there’s a mystery woven into this one.
“It’s like a scavenger hunt,” she said. “I’m really excited about it.”
She expects the combination love story, mystery and adventure to become available in April 2016.