Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 7

I am really, really glad we are getting some distance into Book Two before Book One goes in the can.

We went into this series with a (for me) remarkably detailed idea of where the story was going in the long term. But even with that . . . stuff keeps cropping up. Bits and pieces where we say, hmmm, we have to figure that out — and then what we figure out really ought to be reflected in the previous volume. Or we change our minds on a thing because it will serve our later purposes better to do it this way instead of that way, and isn’t it a good thing we still have the option of revising?

That happened in two places this chapter, one a matter of organizational structure for a group in the story, the other a matter of metaphysics. Sadly, we won’t be able to write the entire second book before we have to ship the first one off into the maw of production, but the further we get, the better. We can still make changes even into the copy-edit phase, though it gets more annoying at that point.

As for the chapter itself . . . we’ve been so busy juggling various balls of plot and such (not to mention the interruptions of day jobs and travel) that our rough draft has been feeling rougher than normal. But we had a marathon day of writing yesterday, and I think that had really good results for us packing in something more like our usual density of description, characterization, banter, and interweaving of plots. Everything this chapter was focused on V in one way or another, which gives it a nice feeling of coherence — that’s something we try to aim for, though obviously not every chapter can have that kind of through-line. (Not without feeling totally artificial in its structure, anyway.)

Poor characters, though. Starting next chapter, we’ll be heading into the moments where all the problems between them bare their fangs and bite down. It’s still going to be interleaved with fun things — capers, trickery, dancing, naptime, small fuzzy animals — but shit’s gonna get worse for a while before it gets better.

Word count: ~50,000
Authorial sadism: The whole chapter? It’s basically “let’s dump problems on this character’s head, whee!” But the “I didn’t know” moment in particular is gonna come back to bite him later.
Authorial amusement: “Will you stop that?” (Brought to you by us noticing we’d done a certain thing, like, three times — so R— might as well notice it, too.) Also, the line about justice being revenge in formal dress.
BLR quotient: I guess when the chapter is a survey of various conflicts, I gotta call it for blood.

Twenty years and still going strong

Twenty years ago today, I finished my first novel.

I often say — because it’s true — that of the basic foundational skills one needs to be a writer, the last one I acquired was the ability to finish what I started. I was writing competent (if not brilliant) prose, characters, and plots before that point, but none of them meant much because unless you’re a celebrity or otherwise have some kind of “in” with the publishing industry, nobody’s likely to buy an unfinished project from an untested writer. Nor should they: I was living proof that being able to get a good start doesn’t mean you can stick the landing.

Why did that change? I more or less tripped and fell into it. I’d written assorted scenes for the novel that joined up into something like a coherent whole, but a guy in our crit group (the one who is now my husband) pointed out that there were problems with the pacing and so forth. He was right, but for a deeper reason: I looked at what I had and realized it wasn’t the beginning of the book. You see, in those days I tended to leap around writing whatever bits sounded exciting, and unsurprisingly, those were mostly from the middle.

So I made a list of stuff that needed to be set up first — worldbuilding to explain, character stuff to establish — and worked out a path through it all that would let me work that stuff into the story. I spent the first half of the summer writing my way down that list, until I finally was ready to stitch it onto the part I already had . . . and realized I had half a novel.

At which point there seemed no reason not to keep going.

Much of what I wrote for the beginning was ultimately cut. I’ve said before that Lies and Prophecy owes a debt to Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin; the connection is much less visible these days, as I wound up revising out a lot of the material that followed the characters through their lives at college in favor of getting to the central plot more rapidly. But it was still an extremely useful thing to do, because it turns out that for me, the “leap around writing the fun bits” approach is a really bad idea. It leads to me writing stuff that isn’t grounded in what came before, and when the time comes to splice things together, the splicing material is very utilitarian, designed to get the story from Point G to Point J as fast as possible. These days I will occasionally skip ahead to write a scene out of order, and of course the structure of Turning Darkness Into Light meant that one threw much of my usual process directly out the window . . . but I still mostly write in order. I have to, if I want good results.

Like the result of finishing what I’d started. Twenty years ago today, for the first time, I had a complete novel: a long story that went from beginning to end with no holes in it. I didn’t publish it until thirteen years and multiple revisions later, but it’s still a watershed in my career. I have a career because of that moment.

(And for those who have been wondering . . . yes, there will be a third book in that series. Various factors have prevented me from writing it yet, but I haven’t forgotten, and by god, I will finish it eventually.)

New Worlds: Chimeras

For October the New Worlds Patreon will be exploring the topic of monsters! Last year we hit witches, faeries, and various kinds of undead; now we explore the beasts of mythology, starting with chimeras. Comment over there!

I know I post these essays for free publicly, but if you’ve been enjoying the series, consider becoming a patron! You can get access to photos, polls, bonus essays, and more, and keep this project going strong.

It only took ten years . . .

Man, it’s ten years almost to the day.

In October of 2009 my husband and I took a trip to India. While I was there, I read William Buck’s heavily abridged rendition of the Mahabharata, one of the great Indian epics, and a side character in it really caught my imagination. Enough so that I thought, I’d like to write a short story about this.

Well, it took me ten years and reading four different English-language versions of the Mahabharata (plus spot-checking details in a fifth), but I finally got that short story to happen! And now, in October of 2019, that story is live at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, in both print and podcast forms.

Also out now: a reprint of my short story “The Snow-White Heart” in Flash Fiction Online‘s October issue. It’s been a remarkably busy short story scene here at Swan Tower lately . . . I like it. ๐Ÿ™‚

Soup greens?

While my husband and I were in Ireland before Worldcon, I picked up The Irish Pocket Potato Recipe Book, which purports to contain “over 110 delicious dishes.” This is a bit of an exaggeration, as many of them are minor alterations on previous recipes, but that’s fine; it’s charmingly idiosyncratic in places rather than Extruded Corporate Product (even if that idiosyncracy means that sometimes it fails to tell you what temperature or how long or why, if it spends time introducing you to different types of potatoes, it then doesn’t specify which types work well in which recipes).

Last night I made a soup recipe out of it that I liked, but which felt as if it would benefit from an addition. It’s billed as a “Provencal potato soup,” with a vegetable stock as the base, then basil, saffron, onions, peeled tomatoes, and of course potatoes. It came out very tomato-y in a way that I want to balance with something else — maybe a green vegetable of some kind. Spinach is the obvious suggestion, but that would make this nearly identical to a tortellini florentine soup I already make, and I’d like it to be more different. My brain went immediately to bok choy for some reason; I’m not sure if that’s a good guess or not. Cabbage? Something else? Doesn’t have to be a leafy green, but we can’t do any form of squash, as my husband is allergic. And if subbing in X would go better with a swap for the basil and/or saffron and/or garlic, that’s fine; I don’t mind altering the herbs and spices.

Every day is Voter Registration Day

Yesterday evening, I thought, “oh, crap. I was going to make a post about National Voter Registration Day, but I missed it.”

And then I thought, “screw that.”

So yes: Tuesday the 24th was National Voter Registration Day. You know what else is a good day to register? Literally any day you like. Here, have a link — just click on that to get rolling.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The best response to the attempts to undermine our nation is to democracy so hard at those people they can’t pull their shit anymore. To vote in better officials at every level, from the presidency down to the local dogcatcher. All our protests, the letter-writing, the sit-ins — those are all responses to the things done by our elected representatives, demonstrations of support for their good actions or efforts to push them in the right direction. You know what makes that easier? Having people with actual human ethics sitting in those seats to begin with.

So register. And better still: ask the people around you if they’re registered. If they’re not, here’s the link again. Step One, register. Step Two, vote. Step Three, profit. No question marks in the chain there; we know exactly what to do. We just need to get out there and do it.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 6

Welcome to Plot Tetris!

I’ve talked before about how it isn’t enough for a scene to just do an interesting character thing, or a plot beat, or whatever. It has to do multiple things at once. In the case of this series, where we have so many interlacing layers of story, we’re constantly having to keep an eye on the pace at which those get measured out, and make sure nothing gets dropped for too long or given insufficient time to develop. (There’s a whiteboard. It’s color-coded. As is our outline spreadsheet.)

Which led to some serious “bang our heads against the wall” time with this chapter. We needed a scene from the viewpoint of a character who’s been neglected, because otherwise her corner of the story risks falling out of the novel entirely — okay. But what should that scene do? It needs to involve these other characters; fine. We could even figure out some character beats for it. But see above re: that’s not enough; we had to figure out a plot thing for it to be doing, too. And we went about nine rounds before we managed to settle on something that works, in terms of furthering something that needs to be furthered right now, while also fitting that specific group of people.

This whole part of the book is going to be like that. At this point we’ve got something approaching a nearly-complete outline for the next four chapters, but it involved a metric crap-ton of rearranging, pushing back stuff we expected to happen earlier, checking where we stood on pov scenes for various characters, and figuring out which beats we need to show vs. being able to mention them happening offstage. All of which is before we get into details like “giant end-of-part caper, how???” But those are chapters away, and we can worry about them when we get there.

Or, y’know, after. One of the scenes in this chapter needs rewriting, because we changed our minds about the metaphysical thing going on in it — for the better, I think, since it made my brain light up in a way the previous version hadn’t — and it’s not the only scene we’re going to backtrack to eventually. More or less inevitable, when you’re juggling this many balls; sometimes you don’t quite have a feel for what needs to happen until you’ve got more of what comes later pinned down. Or you just don’t know how much attention you can devote to it, wordcount-wise. As great as it is to nail a scene on the first try, that doesn’t always happen. But that’s what revision is for.

Word count: ~42,000
Authorial sadism: Ethnic Impostor Syndrome ahoy, and also seeing what it would have looked like had someone been there for you.
Authorial amusement: Wow, we entertained ourselves with food this chapter, both good and bad. Raw mussels, coffee, a coded reference to buffalo wings, and one of our characters is totally going to invent mac and cheese.
BLR quotient: Lots of rhetoric, which is part of why it’s such a snarl to sort through. But I’d be lying if I said the impending love in the final scene isn’t, like, half the reason we showed up for this book.