Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 19

And so Part 3 of Book 3 begins! We’re truly in the home stretch now.

This one is structurally akin to Chapter 13 of The Mask of Mirrors, in that it steps back briefly to show you what’s been happening elsewhere while the set-piece of the previous chapter goes on. Mostly we don’t screw around with the flow of time in the story — that can work just fine in a novel whose plot strands are geographically separated, but when they’re all interacting in one city it would mostly be more confusing than beneficial — but it makes sense when we want to keep an intense focus on one corner of the narrative, and not dilute it with any “meanwhile, back at the ranch” cuts away.

Though there was going to be a cut away at the end of the previous chapter/previous part, whose content has now been relocated to the beginning of this one. We originally thought it would work as a stinger because we were originally going to try and fake the reader out about a certain event. (Actually, since we’re not doing it, I can go ahead and say: we were going to try and make it look like we’d just killed a particular character.) But when we actually got there, we decided the odds that anybody would be successfully faked were low, meaning that maneuver would be nothing more than cheap drama. So we ditched that bit and made a bigger scene that put more focus on the surrounding events, and I think it’s working better overall.

We also had to throw out half a scene because it hinged on the “omg is that character dead???” tension, and since the reader now knows otherwise, it was better to just reorient things in a more direct fashion. Fortunately, the one really cool detail in what we threw out has found a new home in Chapter 20!

Word count: ~139,000
Authorial sadism: Chekhov’s old injury. We didn’t have to lean on that, but we did. Though now that I type that, maybe the prize should go to someone not being consulted on a major decision . . . or the decision itself.
Authorial amusement: Somebody’s taking the plot into their own hands.
BLR quotient: This is the chapter where rhetoric is working overtime to keep blood in check.

Rook and Rose, Book 3, Chapter 18

The end of Part 2! And another big set-piece, this time of a very different kind. We’re two-thirds of the way through the final book of the series; this is the time on sprockets when we start pulling out all the stops.

If the last chapter featured several emotional moments we’ve been looking forward to since before we even started writing, this chapter features the payoff for a whole slew of plots. Including some the reader may or may not have even noticed were underway — but that’s okay, because when I say “payoff,” I don’t mean this is the end of them. More like all the little, subtle, possibly-unremarked bits come together visibly at last, and we the authors get yell “THANK GOD FINALLY YOU KNOW” and proceed with the effects of that reveal, our sleeves finally empty of cards.

<shoves the nine of spades back inside the cuff>

And it also features the payoff for a thing we didn’t see coming until, like, two chapters previously — the thing I mentioned back in the post for Chapter 16. I said there that it will need finessing; that’s true here, too, in that a key piece of information got lost in the shuffle, and I won’t know until I revise whether it needs to go here or a little bit later. Two pieces of key information, possibly, but I suspect the other one will fit in just fine in a scene slated for Chapter 23.

Word count: ~132,000
Authorial sadism: I want it to be the scene I tagged in our spreadsheet outline as “Following bloodcrumbs,” just because that’s a delightfully horrifying phrase, but it doesn’t actually win the prize. It’s a tie between the machine-gun series of flashbacks, and everybody realizing where they’ve wound up.
Authorial amusement: A certain character justifiably thinking an action of his would have no consequences. Surprise! You’re wrong.
BLR quotient: With the sheer quantity of ideas unfolding here, rhetoric’s got a strong lead. Love is what keeps everybody from losing their shit in the face of that, though.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 17

In which we get to do a big set-piece again! Not that doing so has quite saved us from the non-linearity that’s been such a recurring feature of this drafting process — but in this case there’s nothing truly new we added in, nor anything we removed. There were just two short scenelets whose content we knew and temporarily skipped over in writing, and we had to rejigger the final scene because the staging of it really wasn’t working the way we wanted.

. . . please disregard the bit where we might rejigger that final scene again because there’s a plot beat we need to get somewhere into the final portions of this book, and if we don’t find a good place for it elsewhere, then this might be the best spot for it.

All of that notwithstanding: this chapter is so satisfying, y’all. It features several moments we’ve been building toward since literally before we began writing the first book. And for once, they’re not even horrible moments! Sure, some people wind up crying, but it’s good tears. The sort born of grace from an unexpected quarter. We need those moments every bit as much as we need the ones that put our characters through the meat grinder.

Word count: ~125,000
Authorial sadism: Scurvy should never be your inspiration for anything.
Authorial amusement: Best. Duel. Ever. (It’s not an actual duel.)
BLR quotient: Love. There’s just no contest this time.

Books read, September-October 2021

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe, Carlos Hernandez. Sequel to Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, and still very fun. My only complaint was that the resolution of the conflict with the antagonist felt a bit too abrupt; it hinged on something that hadn’t really been set up enough for my taste. Still, I’ll forgive a lot for a book that feels as good-hearted as this.

100 Plants That Almost Changed the World, Chris Beardshaw. Got this on vacation in Solvang, as part of my intermittent crusade to make myself more knowledgeable about the natural world. It’s of the same vague genre as things like Around the World in 100 Trees, only less well-researched than that one; I’m fairly sure it indiscriminately reports some folklore as if it were scientific fact. But it’s a breezy little read, and anything that helps me remember that different plants, y’know, exist, is a helpful book for me.

A Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late Imperial China, Benjamin A. Elman. So I basically spent almost all of September reading this damn thing. It’s over 600 pages — over 800 if I included the end-notes, which I did not wade through — and frankly, most of those 600 pages were not really about things I needed to know. But parts of it are things I need to know, and I was never quite sure when one of those would pop up, so I waded on. I did give myself permission to skim any paragraph that had at least three numerical percentages in it, though, because “let’s do statistical analysis of civil examination results” appears to be a favorite pastime of the kinds of historians who write about the topic.

Scales and Sensibility, Stephanie Burgis. After making it through that, I needed something lighter. Like this, a Regency romance with dragons in it! I expected it to give me Lady Trent feels; I did not expect it to simultaneously give me Rook and Rose feels, but it did. The main character inadvertently winds up in a situation where she’s having to con everybody, and watching her frantically trying to keep those balls in the air was entertaining.

The Art of Description: World into Word, Mark Doty. I can’t remember where I saw this book mentioned, but I picked it up in the hopes that it would give me useful thoughts about, well, the art of description. Alas, it only intermittently did so, in part because it’s mostly concerned with description in poetry. And while there are some applicable lessons across the border into prose fiction, it’s not quite the same thing.

Sharing the Skies: Navajo Astronomy, Nancy C. Maryboy and David Begay. This was about 1/3rd the book I wanted it to be, and since it’s only 85 pages, it felt more like a taster of the topic than a full pour. The other 2/3rds are about the more familiar Greek constellation myths for comparison (with one howler of an error: Hera is not the Roman name for the Greek goddess Cassiopeia), and about modern scientific astronomy. I understand wanting the comparisons, but dangit, I’m here for Navajo astronomy! On the other hand, it’s entirely possible I know why there wasn’t more. Early on in this book it mentions that traditionally, star lore is passed down orally, with the tales only being told during the winter months, roughly October to February. (I started reading this in July, after I picked it up at the Grand Canyon; I hit that line, remembered that detail from my college or grad school days, and put the book down until October.) So basically, there’s a reason not to write more information up in a book that any random person could pick up whenever they like. Still, the taster was enough to make me wish I had more.

The Glass Magician, Caroline Stevermer. A quick-reading historical fantasy, based on the life of Dell O’Dell, a female stage magician in the early twentieth century. The setting was interesting, but I wound up feeling very distanced from the moments of strong emotion, so it never really hooked me.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 16

. . . is this an intact chapter? One that had nothing pulled out of it, nothing stuffed into it, nothing so much as rearranged?

By god, I think it is.

And a chapter with a nice, coherent through-line, too. While each scene point at a different bit of plot — this isn’t one of those chapters which focuses on some big set-piece — they share an important thematic strand. Which leads to some really satisfying emotional stuff . . . though I’m not going to pretend all of the emotions in question are good.

In part because, while the vast majority of our large-scale plot is stuff we planned from very early on (in some cases, before we even started writing the first book), there’s one thing we literally cooked up about a week before we wrote this chapter. We’ll need to do some finessing on things earlier in this book to seed it properly, since it changes our perception of one character’s backstory, but the payoff should be great

(And by “great” I mean “kinda horrible.”)

Word count: ~117,000
Authorial sadism: The aforementioned addition. We took someone who’s fundamentally dishonest . . . and we gave them just a tiny sliver of painful truth.
Authorial amusement: “Oh, fuck [redacted].”
BLR quotient: Like a key change, we slide smoothly from love into a pit of blood.

The Advent of Scent: Weeks 41-42

WEEK 41

* Gobo
Described as “tangerine, lemon peel, sugared pink grapefruit, and vanilla cream.” As orange creamsicle perfumes go, this is an unobjectionable one; it’s less sickly than others I’ve encountered, and it’s very stable, not changing much over time. However . . . orange creamsicle.

* Green Tea and Lemon Peel
This might make a nice lotion, especially once it mellows a bit, but as a perfume, it’s a little too astringent and tannic.

* Comfort
No description I could find for this one. This has some hints of lavender and mint early on, but after that it mostly hits as white chocolate, which, meh.

* The Sun Rising
Described as “three shades of tawny amber radiating with orange blossom, Italian yellow bergamot, saffron, and mandarin.” In the bottle, a floral saffron with a slight zest tinge, the latter stepping up more on application. It mellows to a floral amber, which is not really what I’m looking for.

* Voyance (Alkemia)
Described as “a wreath of meadowsweet, elderflower, cornflower, verbena, waterlily, and other summer solstice flowers gently floating on seven ethereal waves of clean water musk.” Greenly floral at the outset, but it heads pretty rapidly to soap.

* Vanilla and Orange (Haus of Gloi)
Basically as described. Not much to say about this except that it’s the best of the orange creamsicles.

* Hēdonē (Hexennacht)
Described as “spiced honey, date sugar, tonka bean, red musk.” This is another one that presents pretty steadily; unfortunately, what it presents is basically burnt sugar. Which I find off-putting.

* Strawberry Ice Cream (Haus of Gloi)
Yep, what it sounds like: a nice, smooth strawberry. It’s probably not for me, but what the hell, I’ll try it again.

WEEK 42

* Ocean Alchemy (Alkemia)
Described as “sea breeze, cotton, kelp, sand, freesia, juniper.” Pretty much anything from this general ballpark is almost guaranteed to go soapy. I’d gladly wash my hands with it, as I like the evergreen tinge, but it’s a no for a perfume.

* Hathor (Possets)
Described as “a simple confection of pink rose petals, simple syrup saturated with a sophisticated but delicate vanilla, and a wisp of [something I will never know because it’s no longer on their site this is all the Google preview for the page showed].” Since I really only got a slightly cloying vanilla from it, whatever the wisp was, it never came through.

* Blackberry Marshmallow (Haus of Gloi)
The blackberry actually manages to hang on here, which isn’t always the case with fruity perfumes. The marshmallow softens it without nerfing it, so hey, why not, I’ll try it again.

* Sweet Myrrh and Green Fig
In the bottle and late in the drydown, mostly myrrh. There’s a bit of green fruitness while it’s wet, but that doesn’t last. Inoffensive, but but uninteresting.

* Cotton Candy (Arcana Wildcraft)
Couldn’t find a description for this one, either. In the bottle, it smells like cherry-flavored things — which is not the same as smelling like cherries. On me, it was about halfway between Twizzlers and Red Vines before turning into a fruity sugar cookie. I don’t like the foodie perfumes enough to want that.

* Pink Saltwater Taffy (Arcana Wildcraft)
Described as “a candy pink blend of cherry, sugarberry, black and gold raspberry, vanilla fondant, white sugar, and a grounding touch of patchouli.” This one was almost really good: it’s quite tart, almost hitting more as cranberry than as raspberry. Unfortunately it picked up that chemical tinge that some of these perfumes get, and then the patchouli mingled with the fruit into something less engaging.

* Osculum Infame
Described as “crystalized sap, candied red fruits, raw wildflower honey, black amber, and sweet red labdanum.” Mostly hits as resin and honey, quite heavy at first, smoothing out later, but never becoming my kind of thing.

* Lady and a Baby Unicorn (Possets)
The description says “vetiver (that sultry, earthy, wild, and dominant part) becomes positively docile, sweet, and innocent…almost fruity in the presence of three vanillas (dry, fat, and sweet).” They’re not kidding about the fruitiness: it really did register as some kind of red fruit, basically a Twizzler on application. I have no idea how they managed to do that with vetiver, which elsewhere I shorthanded as “dental green.” Later the vetiver starts to become more recognizable, transforming this to more of an earthy vanilla, before it winds up basically at vanilla sandalwood (though I have no idea if there’s any actual sandalwood in here). Meh.

Something like a year of sitting

The last time I posted about meditation was at the six-month mark, back in March when I commented that I no longer had an unbroken streak — I’d missed a few days here and there — but at least I was still doing it.

Yeah, that. And then some.

I’ve missed more than a few days; I think there was a stretch where I missed something like two weeks. But what I said before still applies: I feel like I missed two weeks, not like I stopped. I think I was teetering on the edge of this not feeling like a habit anymore, but I kept going.

If I had an unbroken streak, I would have made sure to commemorate the exact day it reached a full year. But in some ways, I think that for this particular habit, it’s better for me not to fixate on a milestone like that. I’m not in a competition with myself. I’m just doing a thing that I think helps a little bit, knitting back up my capacity for concentration against a world that’s determined to fray it into shreds.

A recent email from the meditation app I’ve been using had an analogy I really liked, which is dribbling a basketball. The writer of that particular piece said they talked to a meditation teacher who’s been at this for thirty years, and he estimates he can generally get about seven seconds of sustained focus before his attention tries to wander. But the wandering mind is like the basketball dropping to the ground: the goal is not to keep it perpetually in your hand (which is more or less impossible in meditation), but to train it to come back where it’s wanted with a minimum of effort and fuss. To have fewer of those moments where you ricochet from Idle Thought X to Problem Y to oh shit where did the last half hour go, I was in the middle of a work thing and then I got distracted. Idle Thought X will still happen — brains gonna brain — but if you’re mindful, if you notice that happening, you’re less likely to hop on the thought train and forget where you were.

So I’m still going. Something like a year, with an unknown number of days missed along the way. That’s fine. I’m still going.