Sekrit Projekt R&R, Chapter 10

Through heroic effort, we got this one done before Worldcon.

One of the interesting things about our method of collaborating is, it’s making me much more aware of my own writing process. For example, it isn’t uncommon for me to drop in a detail or a bit of exposition, write onward, realize it would fit in much better three paragraphs later, and move it. But when that detail or exposition is something Alyc wrote, I’m much more self-conscious about relocating it. Or what I used to not think about at all, and now think about enough that I’ve borrowed the poetic term “enjambment” for it: not always having a paragraph break when the narrative focus shifts between characters, but sometimes having Character A’s thought or reaction at the start of a graf and then shift to B’s response for the rest. Because we are each more or less taking on certain characters in any given scene, there’s a tendency for us to always paragraph break when we hand it off, so now I’m watching for that and looking for ways to smooth it out with occasional enjambment. Which is a thing I do normally — but now it’s conscious, rather than reflex.

In other news, we — and by “we” I mostly mean “Alyc” — have now figured out the astrological system built out of the numerical magic system, and have fallen down the rabbit hole of calculating the charts for the various major characters. With the added complication that one of them is lying about their age and when they were born, so then we needed to figure out what that chart looks like and how to make the discrepancy narratively interesting. We managed to massively confuse ourselves for a while, but it turns out this exists, which is AWESOME — we were able to program it to the calendar we’ve made up, complete with 20-hour clock and two separate lunar cycles. So that has made our lives infinitely easier, and means we can be consistent to a degree no reader will ever notice anyway, i.e. if our protagonist R— was born on the equivalent of a Saturday, then the novel begins on the equivalent of a Wednesday. (These things matter, when you start assigning metaphysical significance to them in the narrative.)

Word count: ~81,000
Authorial sadism: One of the characters just sold another out. Complete with lots of rationalizations for how it isn’t really selling them out . . .
Authorial amusement: All the horoscope stuff. And some fun banter between two characters whose previous meeting was kind of fraught. And my god, some of the shipfic for this story writes itself.
BLR quotient: Rhetoric wins the crown this week, with a whole lot of manipulation and political horse-trading going on.

Sekrit Projekt R&R: Chapter 9

Last week was stupidly productive: we wrote most of Chapter 8 and all of Chapter 9. And they weren’t short, either. But it may be a while before I report in on Chapter 10, because Worldcon is going to eat a lot of this week.

Chapter 9 is in some ways an exemplar of the book, I think. Much of it is taken up with politics of the social variety: not the formal, “let’s negotiate a treaty” kind of work, but rather the ways in which things like being fashionable can translate into attention and therefore into connections and therefore into power. The ability to get something done politically in exchange for talking the right person into publicly having tea with a social outcast, thus tacitly granting that outcast readmission to polite society. Offers of marriage as a strongarm tactic. Etc.

But it isn’t all social politics. Some of it is also a duel with bonus trash-talking. Or breaking into a house while disguised as a servant. Or flirting. Because we’re us, and we enjoy those sorts of things, too.

Word count: ~73,000
Authorial sadism: Some sick burns in that trash-talking. And some actual burns later on — evidence came out regarding a certain fire. But I might give the nod to the thing I didn’t see coming, which was Alyc realizing that, logically, what we had set up would mean a certain character unexpectedly caught sight of their mother.
Authorial amusement: We’ve been waiting seventy thousand words to stick those characters in a very small closet together. 😀 Honorable mention, though, to the formal debut of the World’s Gaudiest Spider.
BLR quotient: Despite all the political maneuvering, and the duel, and that evidence about the fire, I give the award to love. Because of hiding in that closet . . . and because this is the moment you see the whole T— family pull together.


I’ve been cagy in talking about the standalone sequel to the Memoirs of Lady Trent because I realized a short way into the draft that the title I’d initially given it wasn’t really working for me, and it took me quite some time to decide what to replace it with. But I found something, and it has gotten official approval:

Turning Darkness into Light

I’ve wanted to use that as a title for nearly twenty years, ever since I encountered the source during my trip to Ireland in 2000 — but the book it was originally earmarked for honestly may never get written, and the phrase fits far too well here for me not to use it. Some of you may recognize it as the ending of Robin Flowers’ loose translation of the “Pangur Bán” poem. That is, in turn, taken from Psalms 18:28, and the layering of connections there — scribes, religion, the imagery of the early parts of Psalm 18 — makes it truly ideal for this book.

So there you have it! Turning Darkness into Light will be out some time next spring; I’ll of course announce a more specific date as soon as I have it.

Sekrit Projekt R&R: Chapter 8

We’re more than sixty thousand words into the book. I commented to Alyc that by this stage I’ve usually had some days where I’m all, “ugh, I don’t want to write; the story is so boring” — non-writers think the job must be fun every day, but the truth is that it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a slog, even though the story turns out well. But here? I have yet to have a day like that. There’s been a few where getting started was hard or things didn’t feel entirely lively, but none where forward progress felt like pulling teeth. And we’re excited enough for the next several chapters that it’s unlikely to come any time soon.

Mind you, that effect normally hits somewhere after the halfway point in the book. Since this one might be as much as 200K, maybe we just haven’t gotten far enough in to reach the slog stretch. Alternatively, normally it takes me about two months to get this far — not less than a month and a half — so maybe in a few weeks the momentum will start to flag. I’m trying to bear in mind that we may hit some periods where the work feels a lot harder, and that’s okay; it happens with every book, and doesn’t mean there’s a serious problem here.

So far, though, there’s no problem at all. We’re working at well over the (conservative) pace we set for ourselves, and if it weren’t for Worldcon in the way, it would look like full steam ahead for the next several weeks.

Word count: ~64000
Authorial sadism: It’s never a good sign when you coordinate the next scene by saying “you remember what it looked like on Supernatural when [spoiler] happened?” (My sister has been reading each chapter as we finish them. We apologized to her ahead of time for that scene.)
Authorial amusement: We saw an opportunity to get G— with his shirt off, and took it. 😀
BLR quotient: Well, we killed one character, accused another of child slavery, set somebody up for heartbreak, and started dropping hints of oncoming disaster. I think this one gets filed under “blood.” (Shirtlessness and intermittent flirting notwithstanding.)

my Worldcon schedule

I’m going to have a busy Worldcon . . .

  • Thursday, 1-2 p.m. — Writing About Fighting (panel with Fonda Lee (M), Kristene Perron, Tony Barajas, Joseph Brassey)
  • Friday, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. — The Power of Names — Naming Characters: Techniques and Thoughts (panel with S. Qiouyi Lu (M), Mimi Mondal, D. A. Xiaolin Spires, SL Huang, K.M. Szpara)
  • Friday, 5 p.m. — signing at Borderlands Books booth
  • Saturday, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. — We Have Always Played Games: Women at the Gaming Table (panel with Donna Prior (M), Diana M. Pho, Veronica Belmont, Erika Ensign)
  • Saturday, 1-2 p.m. — autographing (with Cat Rambo, Eric Flint, Bryan Camp, Mackenzie Lin)
  • Saturday, 2-3 p.m. — Reading: Hugo Finalists – Best Series (with Brandon Sanderson, Martha Wells)
  • Saturday, 3-4 p.m. — In For the Long Haul: The Ups and Downs of Writing a Long Series (panel with Brandon Sanderson (M), Robin Hobb, Seanan McGuire, L.E. Modesitt Jr)
  • Sunday, 12-1 p.m. — kaffeeklatsch

And, y’know, that whole “Hugo ceremony” thing. >_>

Books read, July 2018

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini. Exploration of the principles and techniques used by what Cialdini calls “compliance professionals” — anybody whose job is to get you to go along with them. Salespeople, fundraisers, advertisers, interrogators, con artists, etc. I have to admit it’s a little creepy reading this book, identifying all the knee-jerk reflexes we have and how they can be leveraged against us . . . but also very useful for a writer, because it gives me a more solid grounding for figuring out how to get one character to manipulate another. The six broad categories Cialdini identifies are reciprocity, consistency and commitment, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity; he says up front that he’s leaving out material self-interest because it’s straightforward and self-evident. Just ignore the part in his introduction where he tries to explain participant observation (a bedrock of anthropological fieldwork), because omgwtfbbq no, it isn’t “spying” or “infiltration.”


The Spy Who Dumped Me

Short form: this would make an excellent double-feature with Spy (whose trailers did it a horrible disservice: contrary to what they’d have you believe, that movie is not about Melissa McCarthy’s character being incompetent. Quite the opposite, in fact.)

Longer form: I found this hugely entertaining. At a few points it veered toward humor a little too crude for my taste, but not too often and not too badly; it isn’t the type of film I’ve noticed more often lately, which seem to be out to prove that women can be as crass and awful as men. (There is a broad swath of modern comedy I do not like at all, regardless of the genders involved.) And there were multiple points along the way where I think you can tell the script was written at least partially by a woman; it isn’t impossible that a man could have thought up the joke about toxic shock syndrome, for example, but the odds that it would occur to him are much lower.

And holy god is this a movie about friendship and sisterhood. There’s romance, but much like Frozen, the emphasis is on the main female characters, who are sisters in all but blood. It’s about having someone who will go to Vienna with you on no notice at all because you need to deliver a macguffin left for you by your dead boyfriend who apparently worked for the CIA. It’s about having someone who will high-five you for your ability to apply your video game shooting skills to the spies who are trying to get that macguffin for themselves. It’s about having someone who knows all kinds of random and embarrassing things about you, and who will offer them up in a desperate bid to keep a psychotic ex-gymnast turned model turned assassin from torturing you.

It is very violent, and often on the crude side, and do not go watch this one for the plot. The macguffin is really just an excuse for people to run around in different European cities, and although the story nods vaguely in the direction of there being some kind of power struggle over it, you never learn the first bloody thing about the bad guys’ organization and the thing the magcuffin does gets mentioned precisely once. It is as cheesy as you would expect and I think the script is a little embarrassed by it. The actual point is the two main characters figuring out who to trust, and never having to question that the other one is at the top of that list.

If that sounds good to you, go watch it.