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Sequel to The First Stone

The Story

Former young offender Reef Kennedy is back in Halifax for the funeral of his mentor, Frank Colville. He has no intention of staying long--memories of Frank compete with memories of Leeza and the terrible way their relationship ended. And then there's the restraining order against him, which Leeza's mother has renewed....

Leeza, in the meantime, is feeling stifled by her mother's "concern." A first-year university student, she is kicking herself for not attending university out of town. And why can't she stop thinking about Reef, especially after all the pain he has caused her?

Despite their best efforts to stay away from each other, circumstances quickly unfold to push Reef and Leeza closer. An eager political crusader wants to shut down Reef's former group home, and he will stop at nothing to get media attention, including manipulating news items about Reef. Before he leaves town, Reef must face his demons and make some tough choices or else risk losing everything he has worked for, including the only girl he has ever loved.

Don answers questions about The Fifth Rule:

QUESTION:  Haven’t you said that you don’t write sequels?
DON:  I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve said that many times.

QUESTION:  Yet The Fifth Rule is a sequel to The First Stone. Did you write it because of requests from readers?
DON:  Not exactly. I’ve received more letters and emails from readers of The First Stone than responses to any other book I’ve written, and most of them offer essentially the same comment: “I loved the story, but I hated the ending.” Most readers have told me they wanted Reef and Leeza to get together in the novel's final chapter and, as I was writing The First Stone, I intended for this to happen. But as I worked on the scenes involving Leeza's injuries and subsequent healing process, I researched rehabilitation facilities and saw firsthand the suffering that people with Leeza’s injuries endure each day as they work to regain the mobility they’ve lost. The more research I did, the more I began to realize that it simply wasn’t realistic for Leeza to forgive Reef so quickly for what he had done to her—considerable time would have to pass in order for that to happen. Countless readers have begged me to write a sequel to tie up that storyline, and I’ve responded to every request the same way: “I’m not a sequel kind of guy—there are so many stories I want to write that I can’t imagine re-entering a world I’ve already created.”

QUESTION:  What changed your mind?
DON:  The death of a close friend. It’s no secret that writers write best when they write about what they know, and I often begin the process of creating a character with a real person in mind. As I develop my characters further, of course, they eventually move away from the model and take on lives of their own, but their genesis is invariably my relationship with an actual person. This was definitely true of Frank Colville in The First Stone, whom I modeled after one of my closest friends, Frank Pecora. Like Frank in the novel, Frank Pecora once worked with youths in the penal system, and he later became a teacher whose caring nature and commitment to social justice not only guided his professional experience but were hallmarks of his personal life, too. For instance, many years after his own sons were grown, he chose to become a Big Brother to a local boy whose father was killed in a tragic accident, just one example of how Frank made a difference every moment he lived. When Frank passed away, I delivered the eulogy at his funeral—one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. That experience resonated with me long afterwards until I began to wonder what Reef might say if Frank Colville died and he were to speak at his friend’s funeral. I was working on another novel at the time and, when I finally finished it, I found myself writing that funeral scene, which occurs more than two years after the event on the overpass in The First Stone. I stood beside Reef in the pulpit, listened as he described the extent of his loss, watched as he struggled to find words that would adequately sum up a person whose impact he would feel forever. It was both the easiest and toughest scene I’d ever written and, once I finished it, I realized Reef had more to tell me, more to show me. The rest of the novel unfolded pretty much on its own—in fact, I’ve never written a novel so fast. I hope I haven’t disappointed readers who have their own ideas about what happened after The First Stone ended. For me, it’s been a joy returning to characters I’ve loved, so it appears I’m a “sequel kind of guy” after all.

QUESTION:  How did you come up with the title The Fifth Rule?

DON:  I didn’t. Originally, I called the novel Moving Toward Beauty, a phrase that appears at the very end of chapter 40. However, my editor, Lynne Missen, didn’t care for it. She was afraid it might turn off a lot of readers, and she was right—it sounded more like the title of a romance novel than a story involving Reef Kennedy. So both of us brainstormed a number of alternative titles, and Lynne came up with The Fifth Rule, which I immediately loved. I like the way it refers to the simple rules Frank Colville required the guys at North Hills to follow, and it sums up perfectly the focus of this story—Reef continually tries to “do the right thing,” but he seems to be stymied at every turn. I also like how those three words echo the three words in the title of The First Stone, connecting them linguistically as well as thematically.

QUESTION: Did your editor recommend many changes to your original manuscript?

DON:  Several. Lynne’s a terrific editor, one of the best in the business, and I always value her thoughts about a manuscript.

QUESTION: Can you describe a major change that she recommended?

DON: She suggested that I rethink the beginning. Originally, The Fifth Rule started with what is now chapter 3, but Lynne felt that a funeral wasn’t something that would grab the attention of a lot of readers, especially those who might not have read The First Stone and weren’t already invested in Reef’s story. She also felt it was necessary to provide readers with an impression of Reef’s new life in Calgary, something I needed to do in the beginning, so I created two more chapters before the funeral scene. And, of course, she was right—I like this much better.

QUESTION:  Why not simply have Reef continue to live in Halifax, where he was at the end of The First Stone?

DON:  I needed there to be a reason why he and Leeza had never seen each other again. Halifax is a small city, so it’s very likely that their paths would have crossed at some point. Also, once Reef finished fulfilling the conditions of the sentence he had received in The First Stone, I felt it was natural that he would want to have a fresh start somewhere else so he could put behind him everything that had happened in Halifax.

QUESTION:  But why Calgary?

DON:  Nova Scotia is losing many of its young people to Alberta, where they go to find work. It’s sad, but it happens all the time, so Calgary seemed like a logical place for Reef to go.

QUESTION:  Where did Sukorov come from?

DON:  When I thought of how Reef had changed at the end of The First Stone and the positive impact he was having on the young people he spoke to, I felt he’d probably continue his work with disadvantaged teenagers regardless where he was living. As I thought more about it, I could see him working in an outreach program like the one Jacob Paul started, and I wrote a scene involving him and the street kids he was trying to help. I liked it, but it lacked the conflict that was needed to drive the story forward, and then Sukorov suddenly appeared in my head, gold teeth and all.

QUESTION: That scene with Sukorov also provides readers a lot of background information about Reef, so it does double-duty, doesn’t it?

DON:  You’re right. Sequels usually appear within a year or so of the initial book in a series, but this one was published eight years after The First Stone. Because of this, I knew there would be readers of The Fifth Rule who had never heard of the previous story, so I had to weave Reef’s backstory into this one, and Sukorov helped me do that. As a result, The Fifth Rule is more a “companion novel” than a typical sequel because it can stand alone.

QUESTION:  You wrote this novel using two different points of view, alternating between Reef and Leeza. Why?

DON:  I had done the same thing in The First Stone, so it made sense to repeat that structure here. More important, though, I like how it provides the reader information that other characters don’t know. For example, in the scene where Leeza goes to the Halifax Shopping Center, the reader knows she is meeting her father, but Reef misinterprets what he sees and thinks the man is Leeza’s boyfriend. So much of the grief that human beings cause each other is due to a lack of communication, which I guess has become a major theme in my writing. Using a dual point of view underscores that. It also has the added benefit of creating tension, which pulls the reader along in the story.

QUESTION:  Whose point of view did you enjoy writing more—Reef’s or Leeza’s?

DON:  Good question. There were times when I found myself writing Leeza’s but really wanting to get back to Reef’s. But there were also times when I was writing Reef’s and I wanted to get back to Leeza’s. For example, when Leeza returns to the rehab center, I was dying to find out what she was going to tell Carly, but the next section in the manuscript required that I write Reef’s point of view, which I did before returning to Leeza’s. I’ve met authors who write scenes out of sequence all the time, but I’m much more linear. I have to write A before I can write B.

QUESTION:  What do you mean when you said you were “dying to find out”? It was your story, right? Didn’t you know what was going to happen?

DON:  No. This probably sounds weird, but most of the time that I’m writing, I’m running behind my characters, trying to catch up to them. Ideally, my characters do what they want to do, not what I tell them to do. The minute I find myself telling characters what to do, I know I’ve lost momentum—the energy that’s driving the story—and I have to backtrack to find out what went wrong.

QUESTION:  One reader called you the “king of the cliff-hanger chapter ending.” Do you think that’s an accurate description of how you build your novels, especially The Fifth Rule?

DON:  I don’t intentionally set out to write “cliff-hanger chapter endings” because, honestly, I find them “gimmicky” in some books. There are times when I come upon one that I can almost hear in my head that swell of weird music they play on daytime soap operas just before they cut to a commercial. But when I’m in the middle of that headlong rush of first-draft writing, my chapters seem to end themselves. You know those people who hold the reversible Stop/Slow signs at roadwork sites? It’s like there’s one of them inside my head who suddenly shows up waving “Stop,” telling me that I’ve just written the last line. If my chapter endings seem gimmicky, blame it on the sign guy.

QUESTION:  Were some scenes in The Fifth Rule easier to write than others?

DON:  There are always a few that come easily in every manuscript (for whatever reason), just as there are always scenes that I rewrite again and again and again. One of those that almost seemed to write itself is the scene in chapter 2 when Leeza wakes up crying—I made very few changes to that one. One that I struggled with repeatedly is the courtroom scene in chapter 23.

QUESTION:  How did you overcome the problem you were having with the courtroom scene?

DON:  I went to the courthouse on Spring Garden Road in Halifax and watched a trial. Seeing it helped me sort out in my head how the hearing should unfold, helped me to make it real on the page.

QUESTION:  Speaking of realism, in that chapter 2 scene, you have Leeza wake up at exactly the same moment that Reef hears the news about Frank Colville’s death, as though they have some sort of psychic connection despite living thousands of kilometres apart. Weren’t you worried about appearing unrealistic here?

DON:  I did worry about that. But I also know that some people are connected in ways none of us truly understands. My mother, for example, sometimes has a sleepless night and invariably finds out afterwards that a member of our family has experienced some sort of difficulty. Also, I needed a way to show readers who were unfamiliar with The First Stone that these two characters shared a deep connection, something I think that scene does well. I guess I’m willing to bend my rule about realism as long as it suits my purpose.

QUESTION:  Do you think you might write a sequel to The Fifth Rule some day?

DON:  As a matter of fact, yes. Despite everything I said before about not being “a sequel kind of guy,” I think it makes sense for there to be a third and final chapter in these characters’ lives. The first novel brought Reef and Leeza together and the second allowed them to consummate their relationship, so I’d love to see what might happen with the two of them together in Calgary. Also, I’m more than a little curious about what Sukorov is going to do. I suspect he and Reef are going to lock horns again, and I’d love to know how that turns out. And I’d like to give Leeza’s mother, Diane, one more chance to accept that Reef truly has changed. That woman has such issues.

HarperCollins 2011

Nominated for the 2012 Ontario Library Association White Pine Award


"Compelling ... and heart-wrenching, ... The Fifth Rule would make an excellent novel to study in the classroom, both for its composition and for its themes and issues. Highly recommended."  (CM Magazine)

"In this much-longed for sequel to The First  Stone, Don Aker once again brings us a taut, emotionally-charged story that is convincingly real and filled with multi-faceted and believable characters.... Aker's treatment of troubled youth ... will grip readers from beginning to end." (Atlantic Books Today)

"Aker eases readers into the narrative by gently weaving the backstory [of The First Stone] into the first few chapters.... [His] sure and swift style drives the story with vigour ... before bringing it to a resounding climax. The Fifth Rule is a fine and satisfying follow-up." (Quill & Quire)

"The Fifth Rule is a first-class read for lots of reasons. Aker has delivered a fine cast of interesting and well-drawn characters that teens will be able to relate to, including some terrific secondary ones.... But it's the story that's the main reason this book is a winner.... The Fifth Rule has a plot that pulls you along to its heart-racing final scenes. It's also a morality tale told with authentic, gritty believability that will get you thinking whether you're reading it alone or in the classroom (where it would be a great read-and-discuss book). When I got to the end of The Fifth Rule, I realized how much I genuinely cared about what happened to Reef and Leeza, and you can't ask more from a book than that." (The Sunday Herald)

"Aker is a master at creating appealing characters and powerful relationships.... [He] is also a master at creating plots with multiple (but believable) coincidences and almost unbearable tension. Readers will find themselves holding their breath at an apparent abduction or a hand curled once again around a stone. It is literally a race to the finish as Leeza runs to save Reef, the young man who both wounded and healed her." (Canadian Children's Book News)

Read a complete review online.