Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 2

Retroactive progress-blogging continues! I’m glad that a number of you spoke up in the comments to various versions of the previous post to say that you enjoy these things; it helps me feel that it’s worth the contortions to say interesting things without giving spoilers.

Though having looked back at my posts for The Liar’s Knot . . . wow, heh. Should any of you try to slug those against the book itself come December, be aware that if you’re scratching your head and thinking, “I can’t figure out what this is referring to,” that’s probably because what it’s referring to isn’t there anymore. We changed a lot in that book, both in the course of drafting it (e.g. me saying “everything in this chapter focuses on Vargo!” and then later we replaced a scene with one that has nothing to do with him) and during revisions. Other scenes are still in the book . . . but in a different chapter now, oops, good luck tracking that down. When I talk about getting pov in for a character who hasn’t had it in a while, and then the only pov characters in that chapter are ones you see all the time? We rewrote a scene to be from Ren’s viewpoint, because the plot thing that scene was originally doing got beefed up enough in revisions for The Mask of Mirrors that it made what we’d written pointless, so we had to change it to focus on something else more Ren-centric. I make extensive coded references in the posts for Parts IV and V to a narrative strand we kept having to re-wrangle — but because said references are coded, you can’t actually tell that we ripped that entire strand out of the back half of The Liar’s Knot and replaced it with a completely different one. (Though there’s one bit where I talk about how we do something horrible to a character at the end of a chapter, and that’s still true! It’s just, uh, a different horrible thing to a different character.)

I can hope that the same won’t be true with my posts for this book, but I’m not holding my breath. If I’d posted about Chapter 2 as we were writing it, I might have referenced a conversation with C– that leads to a moment we really love with F–. But the conversation with C– isn’t here anymore: we realized that wasn’t as high priority as something else, so we rewrote the back half of that scene to do the more important thing instead. Then we were having trouble with the following scene, until we realized it would be better in a different viewpoint — the same viewpoint as the previous scene, hmmm, do we really want to have two of those back to back? — hang on, given that we pulled the conversation with C– out, is that scene even very useful anymore, especially with the exposition there clunking so hard? Scrap that scene, put the weight it’s pulling into the scene we were having trouble with and do it in that better viewpoint, re-use the opening premise of the scrapped scene in Ch. 4 with a different character showing up, move the C– conversation to Ch. 5, and the later fallout with F– will be in Ch. 7.

Oof.

(Oh, and also: we slotted an additional scene into this chapter as a quick break while writing Ch. 6. Linearity, what’s that?)

I swear, if we do write another book in this setting, it’s gonna be less intrigue-y. And also shorter. So we don’t have to play quite so much of a game of Twister, trying to n-dimensionally pack everything we want to do in the space allotted.

Word count: ~12,000
Authorial sadism: I feel like the sadism was on ourselves with all those changes of plan, but since that’s not what this part of the report is for, let’s go with someone having fun being a bit of a dick to somebody who deserves it.
Authorial amusement: “Would you like to see my collection of Seterin crossroads idols?” (Which are basically herms, not that we come out and say it.)
BLR quotient: I think love wins out, given the number of people we have working together here in various combinations — including scheming behind the back of someone you loathe to save them from the consequences of their situation.

Revenge of the Return of the Rook and Rose Progress-Blogging

Up until now, I haven’t been blogging the progress Alyc and I are making through the draft of the third Rook and Rose book. It gets harder to do this sort of thing the further you get into a series; what I can say about the story is always constrained, of course, because I don’t want to give wild spoilers, but it gets even more so with subsequent books. When I progress-blogged what became The Mask of Mirrors, I could talk about R– and D– and so forth without any of y’all knowing who I meant. Now, even giving an initial means I am at a minimum spoiling that said character is still alive and in the story (since in most cases you’d be able to guess who the letter refers to; we have very little overlap in our central cast), and because you know them all now, you can also read more into even hints of their activity. Assuming, of course, that you’ve read the first book, which not everybody has — so spoilers might be not only for The Liar’s Knot (out in December!) but for The Mask of Mirrors, too.

But . . . we both enjoy the progress-blogging. Maybe some of you do, too; who knows about that; but it turns out that me reporting on the story is part of what helps us feel like it’s a Real Book that will Really Be Out Someday, rather than a chimera that exists only in our heads. And as we go three rounds on the wrestling mat with the many-tentacled kraken of our plot, it turns out we crave that marking of the milestones.

So I’m going to be backtracking to report on our progress with earlier chapters, before catching up to where we are now! Doing it retroactively is a little odd, but then again, it’s very nearly the only sensible way to do it, as we’ve been much less linear this time around. One conversation got kicked to like three different places in the draft before it found its (probably) Forever Home; other chapters have seen us skip over a scene before backtracking to write it. (The bit where we started writing Chapter 8 before touching Chapter 7 is entirely on me and my inability to remember what order our plot is going in. As God is my witness, I thought that bit came next.) Once I catch up to where we are in the draft, hopefully we’ll have settled down into less back-and-forth; if not, well, blogging might be more sporadic as I wait for us to really truly finish a chapter and not relocate bits of it elsewhere.

So, Chapter One! Which didn’t get rearranged, but did get a significant revision post-drafting on account of us realizing that a) we’d skipped past some stuff we really needed and b) we’d missed the mark a bit tonally with a new character. This is also a short chapter for us — this book will have more chapters overall, so they each need to be somewhat shorter, and this one is much shorter because there really wasn’t structural room to add anything else. That’s fine; it buys us leeway to have some later chapters be longer.

For those who are new to the progress-blogging or have forgotten what the standard report at the bottom means, “authorial sadism” is our favorite bit of meanness to the characters, “authorial amusement” is our favorite bit that’s mostly about entertaining ourselves (always in service to the story, of course) (okay, usually), and “BLR quotient” measures the relative balance of blood, love, and rhetoric, where blood = conflict and literal violence, love = positive interpersonal relationships, and rhetoric = conceptual stuff and also politics, not that the last one there isn’t also sometimes blood.

Word count: 5300
Authorial sadism: A particular chicken coming home to roost, at long last.
Authorial amusement: CHICKEN CUP!!! (An in-joke nobody else will see, as no such thing actually gets mentioned in the text.) Also “now I know why embroidery is outlawed in Ganllech,” though that may or may not stay.
BLR quotient: The rhetoric very much has some blood on its claws today.

You can never go home, Oatman! . . . but apparently you can shop there.

Forty-one years, two months, and fifteen days ago, my parents moved into a newly built house in Dallas.

Now I’m here to say goodbye.

The house has been sold, though they won’t be moving out for a while yet (giving them time to finish divesting of stuff they won’t be bringing with them). After this, unless I attend a convention in Dallas, it’s entirely possible I’ll never revisit the city I still think of as “home,” even though where I live in California is also home.

It helps a bit that my parents have kind of Ship of Theseus-d this place over the years. It isn’t a time capsule of my childhood; many things have been updated along the way. The cheaper, more busted furniture got replaced by nicer stuff once my brother and I were old enough not to wreck it. Ditto the carpet. The linoleum in the kitchen gave way to much classier tile, the formica countertops to granite. After both kids were out of the house, my parents turned my brother’s old room into an office, while the former office-cum-guest room became a dedicated guest room; along with that, they ditched my daybed with its elevating trundle and put in its place a proper bed for me and my husband (which necessitated rearranging the bedroom around it). The most recent bout of renovations replaced the living room carpet and the kitchen tiles with hardwood, along with painting over all the wood paneling in the grey color that is unfortunately in style right now. I wasn’t a fan when I saw it two Christmases ago: between that and the new LED lights on the tree, the warm glow of my childhood memories was replaced by a room that felt like it could refrigerate meat.

But there haven’t been any structural additions, nor any walls ripped out to change the layout of the house. And in the public rooms, everything is still where it’s always been: the furniture may be newer, but each piece sits exactly where its predecessor did. I used to joke that if I were struck suddenly blind, I would come home while I learned to cope, because I could walk through this house in the dark and not hit anything. My parents have lived in this house since before I was born; I’ve never known them to live anywhere else. Them moving is a bigger earthquake than any I’ve experienced in California.

(Contrary to my subject line, though, the house will not be replaced by a convenience store. I just couldn’t resist the Grosse Pointe Blank reference.)

Most people I know moved at least once in childhood, often more than once; lots of Americans these days are peripatetic enough that living in the same place for over forty years has become pretty rare. Severing this connection feels a bit like losing a taproot. It’s necessary, though — and it was always going to be inevitable. Even if my parents had chosen to stay here, I wasn’t going to move in when they passed away. Better to have the shift happen now, by choice.

Saying goodbye is going to be hard, though.

The Advent of Scent, Weeks 20-23

I haven’t actually stopped testing perfumes; I just got waaaaaay behind on posting about them. So behind the cut lieth an ENORMOUS dump of thoughts on what I’ve been going through! Some of these are from Codex friends — including a bunch from different perfumers — while others are a couple of freebies from BPAL that came with me ordering Black Rose (because of course I had to try that one); then I’m off into some of Haus of Gloi’s summer collection. Yoon, I think you might be interested in some of these!

(Reminder to everybody else: you are more than welcome to request anything I don’t say I’m keeping. Do you realize how many samples are sitting around my house these days???)

(more…)

Books read, May 2021

Belated!

Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan, Usman T. Malik. I met the author at, hmmmm, I think ICFA? The book is quite literally from Pakistan; at least when I placed my order, it wasn’t available in the U.S. Some of these verged in more horror-ish directions than is my cuppa, but I liked the collection overall. And I found it particularly interesting to see where the text doesn’t bother explaining stuff: a statue from Mohenjo-daro gets referenced as if the reader is assumed to be extremely familiar with its appearance, and one story hinges on the idea of stoves being a source of fear, without saying outright why. (In the former case, I searched online for the image; in the latter, I had a vague recollection which I then confirmed, which is that men who want to get rid of their current wives will burn them alive and then blame it on an explosion from a kerosene stove.)

The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden. An absolutely lovely historical fantasy novel set in Russia, the first of the Winternight Trilogy. It managed to make me feel sympathy for the “evil stepmother,” and I like the ambiguity around the romance — I’ll be interested to see how the tension of the latter plays out in the rest of the series.

Star Eater, Kerstin Hall. Disclosure: the author is a friend. The worldbuilding here strikes a balance where on the one hand, the things people are doing are deeply messed up, but on the other hand, you see why just deciding not to do those things isn’t a solution. (Example: if you stop your rituals, the floating island everybody lives on will literally fall out of the sky. Into a demon-haunted wilderness, for bonus points.) As a result, it comes with trigger warnings for things like cannibalism and a really twisted sexual scene. This book is a stand-alone — I don’t know if Hall intends more in this setting or with these characters, but the plot doesn’t demand it — but I’d be interested in more about the history behind everything we see here. You get bits of it in the last segment of this book, but my nerdy heart wanted more!

A Snake Lies Waiting, Jin Yong, trans. Anna Holmwood and Gigi Chang. Third of the ongoing English translation of the book usually called Legends of the Condor Heroes. I distinctly enjoyed the portion of this that had to be more about problem-solving than just fighting your enemies — first with setting up a trap; then with getting someone out of it — and chef’s kiss to the bit where one of the bad guys screws up his attempted takeover of the Beggar Clan by trying to be too dignified. On the other hand, it’s deeply grating when one of the two strongest female martial artists in the whole story is described as being no match for a third-tier dude who’s literally had the entire lower half of his body crushed with a boulder.

A Radical Act of Free Magic, H.G. Parry. Second half of the duology that began with A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians. Robespierre is dead; Napoleon is on the rise; Haiti is in the process of becoming a free country; England is having problems. The pacing that results from a duology structure means I spent the first chunk of this book having a sad that Pitt and Wilberforce basically weren’t talking to each other, but fortunately that didn’t last. The ending is also interesting because of how closely this hews to the shape of real history, while providing different reasons for events: the invented threat gets thoroughly taken out, but other bits are left somewhat dangling because history says they won’t be dealt with for another few years or decades. I didn’t find it unsatisfying, but it definitely isn’t as tidy as we usually expect from novels.

The Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer, ed. Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans. I swear to god that someone whose blog I read regularly had a review of this book, but I’ve checked all the usual suspects and not found it, so either I missed it in my search or I’m imagining things. And yet, if I didn’t see a review, then where did I find out about it? Anyway, this runs the full gamut from the basics of craft to some philosophical things about life as a writer. Unsurprisingly, I found the latter more useful than the former, but this could still be a good book to recommend to a newer writer.

City of Blades, Robert Jackson Bennett. Second of the Divine Cities trilogy, and it’s been years since I read the first one, but that didn’t materially hamper my enjoyment. I continue to be be fascinated by the type of worldbuilding I see here and in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, where it’s a secondary world with magic but the general feel is modern rather than historical. (Who else does that?)

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions, Henry Lien. Second of a middle-grade series about martial arts figure skating. For much of this book I was enjoying it but also a little frustrated with Peasprout’s blind spots, because I keep wanting her to be more diplomatic and aware of others (while fully recognizing that the whole point is that failure to do so is a flaw she’s having to grow past; this is more about me not being the target audience than anything else). Then I got to the end of the book and OMGWTFBBQ PLEASE TELL ME THERE WILL BE A THIRD BOOK BECAUSE I NEED ANSWERS. O_O

The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner. This is a series I’ve heard recommended many times over the years, and I finally got around to picking up the first book. Having done so, I’ve gotta ask . . . does it get better? Because I was seriously not impressed. Something like a fifth of the book is the characters traveling while having the same repetitive interactions and facing no particular challenges. Then they’re still traveling, but at least there are some challenges and the interactions have gotten less repetitive. I semi-guessed where the story was going, but when I found out I was right, my main reaction was to be irritated by how unreliable the narration had to be in order to pull that off — not least because it left Gen a fairly colorless character along the way. I’ll keep reading if people tell me the later books are stronger, but if this is one of those cases where a person’s reaction to the first installment is diagnostic of the whole, I may not bother.

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction (Revised & Expanded), Jeff Vandermeer. So, I feel like how you react to this book will depend greatly on how well you vibe with Vandermeer’s preferred aesthetic, which very much tilts toward the surreal and grotesque. I . . . don’t, so from my perspective, the illustrations that pack this book mostly just make it longer and heavier. Even the ones that are diagrams intended to demonstrate some point or another about narrative add basically nothing for me. The text was mostly fine, but for me the greatest value by far comes from the mini-essays sprinkled throughout from other writers, just because I think it’s good for one’s writing advice to come from multiple sources. I have a harder time imagining when I might recommend this book than I do with The Pocket Workshop, unless I knew the recommendee really digs the aesthetic.