Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 9

I mentioned in the last progress report that we’d done a fair bit of revision on earlier chapters before completing Chapter 8.

Swap out the number at the end of that sentence, and it’s still true.

There were a few scenes we’d skipped over in our earlier polishing because we didn’t feel like handling them yet, and because they didn’t impinge directly on what we were going to be writing next. This week . . . well, the latter stopped being true, so the former stopped being an excuse. 😛 We had to dive into a whole tangle of stuff going back to Chapter 4 and sort out or rework our logic there, and furthermore, we had to face up to the fact that in our initial spate of writing we’d short-changed the background development on a particular plot strand. A whole conflict was more or less hand-waved as “oh, there’s factionalism going on in this particular group,” without us defining well enough who the factions were and who was in each one, what stories they were telling about each other, etc. It’s actually the same group who got boosted to a much larger role in the story halfway through the first book, necessitating us backtracking and rewriting earlier material to account for their increased significance, so I guess that’s par for the course?

It was moderately sloggy work — as Alyc put it, “our longest and most difficult conversation that didn’t have to do with V–‘s state of undress” — but very much worthwhile, because in the long term it lets us make use of a certain worldbuilding concept that was important in the first book and will be important in the third, i.e. it’s good to reinforce its significance for the reader. And it’s starting to fill in a bit of the current void of Part Four, which is many chapters away, but not so many that it isn’t good to start thinking ahead to what’s going to happen there.

(It is still so weird for me to have such a clear idea of where the story is going later on. But I can’t imagine a collaboration working with my usual level of planning, or rather my usual lack thereof.)

Anyway, with this in the can we are officially just over a third of the way through the draft.

Word count: ~68,000
Authorial sadism: Alyc called this the “let’s give V– a bad day” chapter, to which I countered that this is kind of the “Let’s give V– a bad day” book.
Authorial amusement: Did you think we weren’t going to have more fencing flirtation eventually?
BLR quotient: Hmmm, a tougher call than usual. Kind of an equal mixture, I guess.

New Worlds Theory Post: Cultural Spheres

As most of you probably know by now, one of the bonus funding goals for the New Worlds Patreon covers a fifth post in the months that have five Fridays. For these “theory posts,” I step away from the specifics of what goes into a world, and instead look at more abstract matters: either techniques of handling this stuff in writing, or anthropological concepts of use in worldbuilding. This month is one of the latter, with the idea of cultural spheres. Comment over there!

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 8

It’s the return of the progress-blogging!

When we last left our intrepid pair of authors, it was October and I was about to spend a bunch of time traveling. We’d gotten stuck on a scene in Chapter 8 because the setup for it wasn’t quite there yet in the earlier chapters, so we figured we’d take a break to sort that out before proceeding. Then . . . well, as some of you know, Alyc got injured in a way that required two surgeries to fix. And we had to handle revisions on The Mask of Mirrors during that time. Then I was traveling some more. Then a pandemic happened, and also me having to write a different book very fast, and also copy-edits for the first volume, and also page proofs. What with one thing and another, it wasn’t until early this month that we were able to pick ourselves up off the floor and take another look at Chapter 8.

Whereupon I promptly noticed that multiple things would be improved if we kicked that scene into Chapter 9 — so yay, that isn’t a problem we have to solve yet! We warmed our brains back up again by doing revisions on the earlier chapters, some of which were necessitated by changes in The Mask of Mirrors; we also added in a new scene that, per my comment on Twitter, involves a plot-relevant strip-tease. Then we dove back into Chapter 8, now with added breathing rooms for the major scenes happening there.

Because oh yes, there is some major shit here. Both of the fun, caper-y sort, and of the “we’re going to have to steel ourselves to do this to the characters” sort. (Except that once I get into a scene like that, it’s usually very easy for me to twist the knife. It’s the run-up where I’m all, “uhhhh, do I really want to do that . . . ?”)

So: the story is rolling forward again, and at speed. We still need to fix the setup for that one conversation, which will necessitate revision on a few scenes we skipped over in the initial pass, and there are some other plot tangles to sort out before Chapter 9 will be ready to go — but we’ve got a semi-complete outline from here through the beginning of Chapter 16, so the forecast is good for us to make steady progress for a while. And by the time we get through all of that, we’ll have sorted out more of what’s to happen after it. In the meanwhile, it feels good to be back on this bike!

Word count: ~61,000
Authorial sadism: Ren’s monologue. There were just so many options for where to stick the knife in; we used as many of them as we could.
Authorial amusement: UNLEASH THE RATS! (and one very confused cat)
BLR quotient: So very much blood. Some wounds are the kind you need to lance before they can heal. Though that . . . probably wasn’t the best way to do it.

The Mask of Mirrors!

Oh my god, y’all, I’ve been sitting on this foreeeeeeeeeeever.

We have a cover for The Mask of Mirrors! The artist is Nekro, who does all kinds of amazing baroque mask images, and Lauren Panepinto did the rest of the design. That link will take you to io9, which did the big reveal today. It also has an excerpt, to further whet your appetite, full of sword-fighty goodness and some fun with gloves. And if you want more, the Decameron Project ran a different excerpt yesterday, this one looking more at the political side of things.

Furthermore, we’ve got an announcement to make. The release date for The Mask of Mirrors has been pushed back from November of this year to January of next. It’s a little sad only because we wanted to get this into your hands as soon as possible! . . . but in the long run, this is very much the right move. And the second book of the trilogy is still planned for November 2021, i.e. only about ten months after the first one comes out, instead of a full year.

Never fear — we’ll find ways to entertain you in the meanwhile!

Flights of Foundry!

If you have spare time this upcoming weekend — at pretty much any hour of the day or night, regardless of your time zone — than may I recommend Flights of Foundry? The Dream Foundry, an organization dedicated to helping newcomers in any field of SF/F (not just writing but illustration, comic books, gaming, and more), has organized a virtual convention for this weekend, with presentations, panels, readings, workshops, and kaffeeklatsches. Because this is not solely targeted at North American attendees, they have programming more or less ’round the clock — note that you can set the program to be displayed in your own time zone, for greater convenience. It will be run through GoToWebinar (for the presentations and panels, because that can handle larger groups), Zoom (for the readings and kaffeeklatsches, because it’s better for interactivity), and Discord (for casual hanging out and also submitting audience questions to the panels). My own activities are as follows:

  • Saturday, 10 p.m. UTC/6 p.m. Eastern/3 p.m. Pacific: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Folklore (presentation)
  • Saturday, 11 p.m. UTC/7p.m. Easter/4 p.m. Pacific: Geography, Maps, and SFF (panel with Jeremy A. TeGrotenhuis, Henry Lien, K.M. Alexander, and Marie Croke)
  • Sunday/Saturday 5 a.m. UTC/1 a.m. Eastern/10 p.m. Pacific: reading (I will almost certainly read from The Mask of Mirrors!)
  • Sunday, 6 p.m. UTC/2 p.m. Eastern/11 a.m. Pacific: kaffeeklatsch (limited attendance)

Note that while Flights of Foundry is free to attend, it is not free to put on. So if you’re in a position to donate, please do; you’ll have the opportunity during the registration process.

Living Our Best Pajama-Clad High Culture Life

The title of this post comes from my sister, who is the reason I’ve been watching so many operas the last two months.

The Metropolitan Opera was one of the first performance organizations to make shows available online, as part of the efforts to relieve quarantine tedium. Since mid-March, they’ve been streaming one opera each day, drawing from their stable of HD rebroadcasts (usually shown in movie theatres). My sister, being an opera buff, suggested this as a good way to sample the genre — and I was all in favor, since this didn’t mean getting up at an early hour for a cinema screening or wedging myself into the absurdly small seats at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

What I have learned: in direct contrast to my usual taste in movies and TV shows, I could not care less about most of the tragedies . . . but man, bring on the comedies.

This isn’t just because right now I’m more keen on amusing stuff than its depressing counterpart. It’s because I like plot and good dialogue/lyrics, and comedies, by their nature, tend to require more of that than tragedies do, just to make their engines run. Also, I just kind of don’t give a crap about most of the tragic characters? They make bad choices for reasons I don’t find very sympathetic, and then they die. And I’m hit-or-miss on the music itself (which is, after all, the point of opera); I often like the choral pieces, but I’m not hugely fond of the general techniques of operatic singing, so lots of the arias and duets don’t really engage me. Of the tragedies I’ve seen, Carmen tops the list by a mile because its music is so damn good, but the rest . . . eh.

Comedies, though! We’re at a point where I will agree to watch pretty much anything that involves Juan Diego FlĂłrez: I saw two operas with him in a leading role (La Fille du rĂ©giment and Il barbiere di Siviglia), and promptly agreed to watch Le Comte Ory without knowing anything more than “the poster shows Juan Diego FlĂłrez in a nun’s habit.” Nor was I disappointed. In fact, if you get a chance to watch it, do; it isn’t FlĂłrez’s most sympathetic character, but on the other hand they took the scene where (by the script) Ory goes to seduce the countess and in the dark is deceived into holding the hand of his page (a trouser role, i.e. a woman playing a male character), and turned it into an unrepentant queer bisexual threesome: Ory unwittingly gets into bed with both countess and page, somehow fails to notice that there’s a second person there as they roll around in various configurations, sees his page when the lights come up, and then promptly shrugs and leaps back into bed with them both, because why not.

What have I seen so far? Prior to quarantine and the Met’s free streams, I’d seen rebroadcasts of The Magic Flute (Mozart) and Tosca (Puccini), and in the SF theatre I saw Manon Lescaut (Puccini), Turandot (Puccini), Carmen (Bizet), Hansel and Gretel (Engelbert Humperdinck), and a new modern opera, Dream of the Red Chamber (Bright Sheng). I regret to say that last one was kind of terrible; I could not bring myself to like it no matter how much I wanted to. Since the quarantine began, I’ve watched:

  • La Fille du rĂ©giment (Donizetti) — loved it, and kudos to Natalie Dessay for managing to sing like that while also engaging in absurd quantities of physical comedy, including being carried offstage sideways.
  • Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini) — I would buy a recording of this staging if it were available for purchase, but it seems not be. Not just fun characters, but really excellent set design and so forth.
  • Le Comte Ory (Rossini) — less of a good plot, but on the other hand, queer bisexual threesome.
  • La Cenerentola (Rossini; also with FlĂłrez) — didn’t like the staging of this one at all, unfortunately. It was mostly just unattractive.
  • Il Trovatore (Verdi) — tragedy. Meh. Good job on the Anvil Chorus, though, and it was nice to see a Korean singer as Manrico.
  • Der Rosenkavalier (Strauss) — reasonably good, but it dragged on a bit too long to hold my interest.
  • Die Meistersinger von NĂŒrnberg (Wagner) — SPEAKING OF DRAGGING ON, GOOD LORD, RICHARD. I actually quite liked this! . . . except it’s literally five hours long. If somebody could figure out how to do an abridged version, I would eat it up with a spoon — because the material is good! I just want less of it.
  • Falstaff (Verdi) — also very fun, and based on The Merry Wives of Windsor. I was dubious at first of the 1950s aesthetic to the staging, but it worked.
  • Les Contes d’Hoffman (Offenbach) — we actually skipped Act 2, because my sister has seen this one and said it was incredibly boring compared to the rest of the opera. (Partly a matter of how it was staged.) I really liked Kate Lindsey as the Muse, and may wind up getting a short story out of it.
  • Le Nozze di Figaro (Mozart) — an older production (from the late ’90s). This one’s interesting because narratively, it’s a sequel to The Barber of Seville, though Mozart’s opera was written thirty years before Rossini’s. Almaviva is an ass here, but it’s very fun watching the women conspire to trick the men (something it has in common with Falstaff).
  • L’amour de loin (Kaija Saariaho) — this is modern, and by all rights I should not have liked it. The staging is gorgeous, using strings of programmed LEDs to mimic the sea; the music, however, is spectral, which means it’s discarded all your bourgeois notions like “melody” and “rhythm.” But it made pleasant enough background noise, and I appreciated that the characters were, as my sister said, more self-aware than about 95% of opera characters, despite also being on their way to tragedy. Also, this is only the second opera by a female composer that the Met has ever staged, and the previous one was in 1903. So that’s a thing. (Female conductor, too.)

Technically we also watched the first act of Borodin’s Prince Igor, but really we were just waiting for “Polovtsian Dances,” after which we quit out of it. (The plot bored us and the actual dancing was . . . not good?) And we watched the very beginning of Bizet’s Les pĂȘcheurs de perles, just because the staging during the overture was absolutely brilliant: a perfect combination of lighting and wirework to make it look like you were watching pearl divers deep underwater.

Am I a fan of opera now? As a blanket statement, no; the entire swath of tragedy is still mostly uninteresting to me, after an initial sample where I assumed that was what I would like. But I have enjoyed enough of the comedies that I’m more actively interested in watching them, if the chance arises — which it is very likely to do for a while yet. If you want to dabble your toes in the waters of opera without having to leave your couch, this is a good opportunity to do so.

DRIFTWOOD in the New Decameron

When all this quarantine business was just getting started, Maya Chhabra had a very clever idea: just as Boccacio’s Decameron was based around the idea of a group of quarantined people in a time of plague telling stories to entertain each other (think Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, but in a house), she would start up a charity Patreon for a New Decameron, posting short stories, poems, and novel excerpts from participating writers, with the bulk of the proceeds going to Cittadini del Mondo, a charity running a library and clinic for refugees in Rome.

As of today, those participating writers include me! A selection from Driftwood is the latest installment, and conveniently, you can get 20% off the book if you pre-order.

While I’m here, I’d like to say something else. Right now and in the next few weeks, a lot of areas in the United States are loosening their pandemic restrictions. In far too many places, they’re not doing it because the disease has been confined to a traceable amount, nor because they’ve got sufficient testing to catch and suppress future surges; they’re doing it because, well, we’ve been doing this for a while now, and we’re bored, or because any number of bodies are worth sacrificing on the altar of our economy. If you live in an area where the virus is still a threat, I urge you to remain as locked-down as you can. Both to protect yourself from the people who think this has all been blown out of proportion and it’s “just a bad flu” (or worse, that it’s a politically-motivated conspiracy), and to do what small part you can to blunt the impact of opening up too much too soon. The New Decameron has been running for fifty-four days now; that’s fifty-four days’ worth of content to entertain you at home. After which there are many ebooks and streaming media and other ways to alleviate the boredom. If you’re someone who can’t remain sequestered at home, I hope you’re able to stay safe regardless.