Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 9

For once, a chapter that’s stayed intact!

(Mostly. Okay, so we added a scene in at the start, but that’s because of the aforementioned changes to Chapter 8, which necessitated some follow-up.)

We’ve got a slightly different organization for each book. This one is divided into three parts of nine chapters each — which, yes, means that this is the end of Part One! And as suits that position, it is very full of (metaphorical) explosions. Some of which the characters see coming, some of which they don’t; some of which the readers may see coming, some of which they may not. It’s good to provide a mix.

Even more so that in the previous books, there are some strong pivots between the parts here. Not to the extent of each section addressing self-contained plots, but the context and direction of events changes pretty distinctly after this point. In a really fun way . . . and by “fun” I mean we’re raking the characters over an emotional cheese grater. But that’s what you’re here for, right?

Word count: 60,000
Authorial sadism: Push someone too far . . .
Authorial amusement: Look, it was Alyc’s idea to make the clue send him there.
BLR quotient: Oh so much blood. Past and present.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 8

I’ve been writing instead of updating! Which, if I had to choose, is the right way to go — but I don’t actually have to choose, so let’s get updating. (Especially since my subconscious was convinced I’d posted about Chapter 8 already, buuuuut . . . apparently not.)

This chapter has some of the (now expected) non-linearity, in that a scene which was in it got pushed forward into to Chapter 7, and a scene which wasn’t originally in it got added in. Those changes were both good ones; adding the scene made it super long, which shifting the other scene helped with, and then we realized we could build a link between the new scene and what follows it, with the result that this becomes a nicely coherent chapter. That’s something we very much aimed for in The Mask of Mirrors — relatively few of the chapters there just consist of one-off scenes that need to happen around that time, and many of the chapters have a unifying arc from beginning to end — but as the story has become more complex over time, it’s been harder to make that true. Much of our rearranging, though, has been about trying to shuffle the little mosaic tiles of narrative into the best possible arrangement so that, e.g., the consequences to a given event are neither dropped for too long, nor shoehorned in next to things that aren’t related to them. Revision will also help with some of that, when we can look at the big picture and see places to slip in acknowledgment of XYZ or mention of QRS so that the flow from bit to bit is smoother, but we’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting right now.

The real FML in this chapter, though, is the last two scenes. They were originally in viewpoints A and B, respectively, because we expected the second scene to have stuff personal to B. When we got into writing it, though, we realized it had evolved, and that was no longer really true. Since the first scene could work from either viewpoint, I backtracked and recast both scenes, such that the first one was from B’s pov and the second was from A’s. And all was well.

. . . until we realized that the second scene was launching something too early, and also there was another plotline we really needed to introduce way sooner, so we decided to take the “too early” bit out and replace it with the “not early enough” bit. At which point, um, that scene became very personally relevant to B.

So back I go AGAIN and RE-RE-DO both scenes, restoring the first to viewpoint A, and the second to viewpoint B. Now, the good news is that whenever we make cuts of more than, like, a sentence, I tend to save the text. So I already had the original versions of those scenes. But they weren’t as polished as the second take had been, so there was still a fair bit of me having to rework the material. And if it’s tedious to change the viewpoint on a scene once, lemme tell ya, doing it twice is enough to make me beat my head against my desk.

(Isabella never gave me these problems. There’s something to be said for five books all in a single perspective.)

Word count: ~54000
Authorial sadism: In some ways, the plotline we’re now launching in this chapter — but that won’t be apparent for a while. So I’ll give it to the scene we added in, because really, sadism is center stage with that one.
Authorial amusement: “The four most terrifying words in a knot boss’s world were one of his fists saying, ‘I got an idea.'”
BLR quotient: It begins and ends with blood.

Books read, July-August 2021

I am behind!

The Girl in the Tower, Katherine Arden. Second of the Winternight Trilogy, and hard going in some places. The idea that Vasya’s gifts are viewed with suspicion and fear, that people might not react well to her . . . that isn’t something Arden just pays lip service to and then breezes past to get on with the adventure.

The Hand of the Sun King, J.T. Greathouse. (Disclaimer: the author is a friend.) Epic fantasy, and one that reminded me significantly of Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant and Yoon Ha Lee’s Phoenix Extravagant, inasmuch as it involves someone from a conquered/colonized people becoming complicit in the power structure of the colonizers, then eventually turning revolutionary. The latter takes some time, but this is also the first book of a series, so there’s plenty of room for action later on.

The Memory Collectors, Kim Neville. I started out unsure of this book and then got sucked right in. The two main characters share the ability to read emotions and memories off of objects; they are polar opposites in how they deal with the psychological strain that puts on them, and the novel does a lovely job of showing how neither woman’s coping method is healthy — how both of them need to learn something from the other in order to function and survive. Very much more on the literary end of fantasy, and beautifully done.

Each of Us a Desert, Mark Oshiro. Post-apocalyptic fantasy in a setting very reminiscent of the American Southwest, though it’s never explicitly identified as our world. The main character, Xochitl, is a cuentista; she has the magical gift of relieving people’s emotional burdens by taking the stories they tell — literally taking them; the teller doesn’t remember it afterward — and giving it to Sol, the sun they worship. Like the previous book, this is not entirely a functional setup, and pretty soon Xochitl runs away from it, without quite being able to escape. This is a YA novel, though, which means that a lot of the emotional focus is on Xochitl wanting to feel seen. I’ll confess I didn’t entirely follow some of the ending, and also there were places where the text shifted into a one-sentence-per-paragraph mode long enough to feel really choppy, but overall this was engaging.

my own work doesn’t count

Hard in Hightown, Varric Tethras and Mary Kirby. This was sadly disappointing. It’s basically a Dragon Age in-joke — which I’m fine with — around the fact that one of the characters in the game, Varric Tethras, had written a hard-boiled detective novel called Hard in Hightown. Except this turned out to be more like a novelette, maybe a very short novella, than an actual novel, and also it played its concept way too straight. I wanted it to be, like, twelve hundred percent more over the top. Alas.

Over the Woodward Wall, A. Deborah Baker. Yet another pen name for Seanan McGuire, this one invented because her novel Middlegame quotes extensively from a fictional children’s book by A. Deborah Baker, and of course being Seanan, she went and wrote the whole damn book. Tonally this is in the general ballpark of things like The Phantom Tollbooth, Alice in Wonderland, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and while I liked it well enough, I have to admit it felt way more compelling when I was only seeing snippets of it through the epigraphs in Middlegame. I’m likely to give it to my nephew, and I’ll be curious to see what he thinks; I can’t tell how much this will appeal to actual children, as opposed to being sort of a “DVD extra” for Seanan’s adult readers.

Icelandic Magic: Aims, Tools and Techniques of the Icelandic Sorcerers, Christopher Alan Smith. This sits at an odd boundary between academic work that goes into detail about the surviving historical texts which tell us about the making and use of rune-staves, and New Age work that makes suggestions for how to use this magic in your own life. Its focus is early modern Icelandic magic, not the period of the sagas, but it still has some interesting insights into the lines along which the ideas did and did not run: much less importance assigned to the materials used, for example, but a great deal assigned to intent.

Comeuppance Served Cold, Marion Deeds. (Disclaimer: the author is a friend, and this was sent to me for blurbing.) Jazz Age novella in an open urban fantasy version of our history, out in Seattle where a leading politician is cracking down on unlicensed magic users — which tends to include marginalized people of various sorts. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because this is built somewhat around unveiling certain details as it goes, but it was definitely a fun read.

The Thorny Gates of Learning in Sung China: A Social History of Examinations, John W. Chaffee. Holy crap was this dry, yo (and you’ll see more of that to come, because I’m trying to research the Chinese examination system, and as a friend put it, that entire genre is apparently dry AF). Useful if you need to know the topic for some reason? But not something I’d recommend for casual reading.

A Heart Divided, Jin Yong, trans. Gigi Chang and Shelly Bryant. Fourth and final of the Legends of the Condor Heroes; full review here.

Beowulf: A New Translation, Maria Dahvana Headley. This is the translation that famously takes the opening word, Hwaet — often translated with words like “Lo!” or “Listen!” or “Hark!” — and renders it as “Bro!” Headley is very interested in unpacking the belligerent masculinity of this poem, though she doesn’t neglect to also pay attention to the women: as she points out, an influential glossary of Old English translates aglaec-wif as “wretch, or monster, of a woman,” while the masculine form aglaeca is “monster, demon, fiend” when talking about Grendel, but “hero” when talking about Beowulf, and hmmm, maybe there’s a different meaning underlying that which could be more coherent and also more charitable to Grendel’s mother. (She suggests “formidable.”) Anyway, the whole way through this, my subconscious kept wondering when Lin-Manuel Miranda was going to make a musical of it, which gives you a pretty good sense of its general mood.

The Class of 1761: Examinations, State, and Elites in Eighteenth-Century China, Iona D. Man-Cheong. More incredibly dry research reading on the Chinese examination system! This time in the Qing Dynasty instead! Basically, same as above, except this time with pinyin instead of Wade-Giles. (I think I’m going to get linguistic whiplash from the way the books I’m reading flip-flop between the two systems of romanization.)

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 7

My sister, speaking of the non-linearity of how we’re writing the third volume of this trilogy, dubbed it “an entire book of Chapter 14s,” in the sense that by the time we’re done, everything in it will probably have been part of Chapter 14 at some point or another. I wound up correcting that to “an entire book of Chapter 7s.” Here we have a scene we initially skipped over and back-tracked to write, a conversation that was originally in Chapter 2, a scene we decided to retrofit in when we were in the middle of drafting Chapter 9, a scene that was originally in Chapter 8 before being moved forward, and oh yeah there’s the fact that I got turned around and had us writing Chapter 8 before we even started this one, because I forgot what order things went in.


But hey, it’s finally in a complete enough state that I feel like I can report about it! (Well, it was that way several days ago, but I didn’t get around to posting until now.) This chapter has a lovely bit of spectacle, but the various adjustments means it also has some important politicking before we get to the spectacle. Revisions mean it now also also has a minor character who’s been a constant, low-grade irritant from the start of the series, getting the first of two comeuppances that are coming to them. It also also also has a moment that caused my sister, our alpha reader, to cry “portage feels!,” which I suspect is a phrase that has never before been used in the history of the world. 😀

I have given up on pretending that the non-linearity will stop. It just seems to be how this book is going to go.

Word count: ~46,000
Authorial sadism: Someone shared only half of what they know. The rest will come out eventually, but right now, that someone wants their listener to suffer.
Authorial amusement: The aforementioned comeuppance. It’s really quite shamelessly delivered.
BLR quotient: Rhetoric in the first half, pivoting through blood to a final note of love.