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Posts Tagged ‘midnight never come’

the story behind the story

When I announced Midnight Never Come as my next novel, I made some allusions that, for some of you, need expansion.

Or, to put it a different way, I need to apologize for (on the surface of it) committing one of the cardinal sins of fantasy writing: I’m writing up a role-playing game.

Generally, of course, that phrase indicates something along the lines of “an elf, a dwarf, and a ranger walk into a dungeon . . .,” and in such cases it is rightly despised; god only knows how many bad queries agents and editors see that are thinly-disguised writeups of D&D campaigns, even when they aren’t working on the Forgotten Realms. But of course game systems have come a long way since D&D debuted, as have the uses to which people put them, and this particular instance is about as far away from the dungeon scenario as one can get.

Last year I ran my first RPG, a one-year (okay, ten-and-a-half-month) tabletop game based on White Wolf’s system Changeling: The Dreaming. In a very tiny nutshell, the idea of the system is that faerie souls have survived into modern times by taking refuge in mortal bodies, and that when the mortal host dies, they reincarnate. So I ran a game that went through 650 years of English history — backwards — going from 2006 to 1916 and so on back to about 1350, and then back to 2006 to finish up the plot. For structural reasons, I called it Memento, after the very intriguing Guy Pearce movie.

The 1589 segment of the game grew like kudzu. It didn’t run any longer than the others (three sessions), but by the time I was done, its background and consequences stretched the entire length of the game, from the time of the Black Death through to nearly the last of our 2006 sessions. And at the heart of that web of action and reaction, folly and consequence, was Invidiana, Queen of the Onyx Court, who ruled the fae of Albion for a period of time mostly overlapping Elizabeth’s reign.

Midnight Never Come is not really a Memento novel; the overarching plot that spanned all that time (which was basically a 650-year alchemical experiment) will be absent, and many of the outlying tendrils of Invidiana’s plot will be pulled in, to make a more compact story. But she wouldn’t leave my head, and neither would a lot of the characters surrounding her, and I gradually came to realize that it wouldn’t be all that hard to file off the Changeling-specific serial numbers and make it an independent story about curses and dark pacts, lost memories and betrayed loves, Machiavellian intrigues and faerie/mortal politics. And while the proprietary ideas that belonged to White Wolf will be gone, those were never the central part of it anyway; the most important bits will still be there, and that’s why I can make it a novel. It was very nearly standing on its own two feet to begin with. (Hell, I’d thrown in so many things that violated White Wolf canon, half of it was hardly recognizable as Changeling anyway.)

So there you have it: I am committing RPG novelization. I pray you all forgive me.

the awesomeness of friends

I have several things I’ve been meaning to post about, and lucky me, they share a theme: how awesome my friends are.

Let’s take them in chronological order, shall we?

First up: khet_tcheba. Some time ago, she created the mask you can see in my LARPing icon, plus a mask for kniedzw, because I wanted something very particular for the White Court game and suspected she would have the costuming-fu to create it for me (and then my boy jumped on the bandwagon, too). The results were spectacular. So, like a bad person, I e-mail her a month or so ago and ask whether she can make me a fore-and-aft bicorn for the Regency LARP, ’cause the only ones I can find for sale online cost several hundred dollars (I can only assume they’re vintage pieces, not replicas). The photo of me from the game doesn’t show it all that well, but keep an eye out for an upcoming post with links to other people’s pics and you’ll get a better idea. (The thing is freaking ridiculous, but the fault for that lies with history, not Khet.) So the Swan Tower Millinery Award goes to her, for adventures in felting.

Second: tooth_and_claw. Back when I was running Memento, she made a number of awesome sketches for the game, and I commissioned from her a portrait of Invidiana. I ended up getting two: a headshot and a full-length portrait. So if you want to have an idea of what the fae queen in Midnight Never Come looks like, there you go. (I’m hoping she’ll end up on the cover, but I have next to no control over that; all I can do is suggest it to my editor.) The Swan Tower Illustration Award goes to her — as if she hadn’t already earned it with the Memento cast painting.

Third: unforth. I have a hardcover copy of Doppelganger! Y’see, she’s a librarian, and she knows how to bind books. A while back she mentioned that she was looking for suggested rebinding projects. Until she delivered it into my hands, I had no idea she’d decided to make her first project a hardcover rebinding of my very own novel, complete with a wrap-around paper cover replicating the front, spine, and back of the original. Unless there’s somebody else out there with her skills and deranged enthusiasm, this will probably be the only hardcover edition there ever is — certainly the only hardcover of the first edition. For her, the Swan Tower Bookbinding Award.

So there you have it: I have awesome friends. Seriously, you all (not just those three) have a stunning array of knowledges and skills, and if I occasionally get depressed that there are a million and one things I’ll never learn to do, I cheer up when I remember that I might know people who do. Keep up the random hobbies, folks; they make me proud to know you.


Today, I think I shall set aside research for Midnight Never Come (partly because the next thing on my plate is More Than I Ever Wanted to Know About Elizabethan London, Vols. 1 and 2 — oh, wait, misread the title, that would be John Stow’s A Survey of London, Vols. 1 and 2), and let myself loll around with Patrick O’Brian instead. I can only watch Master and Commander so many times in a limited span, and I’ve gone through all the Hornblower movies; since I don’t need to be sewing at the same time anymore, it’s time for a book.

And things like laundry, maybe. But not until later.

I think I need a day just to relax.

MNC Webpage Report: “Elizabeth’s Household,” Sara Batty

Not a book, but very useful: this website, which appears to be more or less the text of someone’s bachelor’s thesis. (I say “more or less” because it’s rather lacking in citations for its quotes.)

. . . okay, I suppose it’s only useful (let alone interesting) if one might have a need for knowing what the acatry was, where it fit in the hierarchy of Elizabeth’s household, and how many people it employed. (Except that the acatry is one of the few departments for which Batty doesn’t give that last detail. Bad example, I guess.)

In other words, this is a highly tedious website I mention only because it might be of use to anybody else planning to write historical fiction set in Elizabeth’s reign and involving the daily life of her Court.

Which might be precisely none of you. At best, it is very few.

Carry on.

MNC Book Report: Her Majesty’s Spymaster, Stephen Budiansky

The major criticism I’ve seen of this book online is that in its efforts to canonize Sir Francis Walsingham as the founder of English espionage, it gives too short shrift to Cecil, who apparently used (or invented?) many of the same techniques credited here to Walsingham. Which might be true, but for my purposes it’s irrelevant; the point is that Walsingham did use them, around the time period I’m going to be writing about, and therefore I can wreak whatever havoc with them I like.

But oh, is this book full of tasty espionage. (Espionage, and political backbiting; god, I never knew educated Renaissance gentlemen could be so damn catty.) Maybe Budiansky is novelizing his subjects a little too much, but there’s a good sense of personality in a lot of the incidents, some of it reassuringly backed up by genuine quotes from period documents. Until this book, I had no idea Walsingham had a sense of humour; one wouldn’t have expected it, given the Puritanism and the espionage, but it seems to have been true.

It’s very readable, though a touch novelistic in places, which makes me a little wary that Budiansky might be interpreting events to make them fit his story, but I don’t see any glaring evidence of that. I’d give it a thumbs-up as both a short bio of Walsingham and an example of Renaissance spy-work (which I want for other purposes besides Midnight Never Come) — he gives good, detailed accounts of the diplomatic and covert work that went on around the St. Bartholomew massacre, the Ridolfi plot, the Babington plot, and the Armada.

My complaint from this book is directed at Mr. Secretary Walsingham himself. He was so very adroit in the matter of the Babington plot, and moreover kept such very good records of it, that I’m left with far less wiggle room than I would like in which to have Other Stuff Going On. C’mon — couldn’t he oblige me by being less good at his job? It would make my job so much easier.

Oh. Right. Nobody ever promised this would be easy.

MNC Book Report: Elizabeth’s London, Liza Picard

Step one in writing that wretched beast known as a historical fantasy is, of course, research. Ergo, I’m alternating between Elizabethan history books and English fairy lore, on the theory that will produce the correct state of mind necessary for the novel. So far, it’s mostly melting my brain. Whether this is suitable remains to be seen.

But I figure I can at least share the progress of my research with you, the reader, by making brief posts on the books I read as I go along. If you have recommendations of other books I might find useful, or caveats about the ones I’ve read, please share with the class.

First up is Elizabeth’s London, from Liza Picard. For readability, you can’t beat her. Let me quote from the section on period gardening: “Hill suggests olive oil or soot for snails (Oxford snails would come miles for a nice extra-virgin oil) and for that other pest, moles, put a live mole in a pot — first catch your mole — and after a while ‘he will cry and [all the other moles in the neighborhood] will hastily draw near unto him and minding to help him forth will fall into the pot’. But what do you do with a potful of crying moles?” Or there’s the plate caption for a woodcut where, after having carefully identified all the other figures in the image, she concludes by saying “I have no explanation for the man in bondage gear.”

I want to say I spotted something in the book that contradicted what I’d read elsewhere, but a) the other thing I read might have been wrong, and b) I don’t remember what it was anyway. In general, the book is chock-full of concrete facts, including things like different types of cloth and their uses, prices for vast numbers of things, and a very good map with all the halls of the major livery companies marked. In other words, the kind of information most books I read take for granted.

The biggest drawback is not Picard’s fault: this book focuses on the lives of common-to-wealthy Londoners, not nobles, and as such it doesn’t tell me much about life at court. I need another book for that one. Anybody have a recommendation?

Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven . . . .

Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce the decision on my next novel. The title of my forthcoming book will be . . .

. . . <drum roll> . . .

Midnight Never Come.

(Confidential to Memento people: yes, that means exactly what you think it means.)

For everyone else, who does not already know what this is, here’s a redacted (read: spoiler-free) version of the pitch I sent to my editor.

A jewel in the crown of Renaissance Europe, glittering with power and wealth. For over thirty years Elizabeth has held the throne, taking no husband, but surrounding herself with the great names of the age. Sir Francis Drake plagues the Spanish at sea, while Sir Francis Walsingham quietly removes more subtle threats at home. Sir Walter Ralegh charts new lands abroad, and Doctor John Dee charts the stars of England’s destiny. With a keen mind and an overwhelming force of personality, Elizabeth plays the game of politics as well as any king.

A dark mirror of the glory above, hidden in the catacombs beneath London. Since Elizabeth took the throne, a new queen has reigned over the fae: Invidiana, a frozen, ageless beauty who rules with a ruthless and Machiavellian hand. Surrounded by dark fae and mortal pets like her mad seer Tiresias, she works in the shadows, weaving a web that touches the world above.

Ancient traditions once kept mortal and fae affairs largely separate. That changed with the rise of these two queens, who play an intricate political game, using the power of one side to manipulate the other. But someone is about to uncover, not just their game, but the secrets that lie behind it.

tooth_and_claw? Yeah, there’s a reason I’ve been pestering you for that portrait of Invidiana. ^_^

I am giddy about this one. Where by “giddy,” I mean about to go on Amazon and buy the rest of the books I need for research (I say “the rest” because I caved and bought some of them already). And I’m contemplating a brief trip to London — not the lengthy visit I want to make someday, but enough to walk around the Square Mile, go to the Tower again, get a feel for the place even if few buildings from Elizabethan times still survive. (Stupid Great Fire. Why did it have to interfere with my research?)

Oh, and the really awesome news? Warner wants to bump this one up to trade paperback, instead of mass-market. I know some people dislike that format, but from the moment I started thinking about this book, it wanted to be bigger — hardcover or trade — it just didn’t feel like mass-market in my head. And it turns out my editor agrees.

I’ll leave it at that for now, but watch this space for more information, as I babble about the awesome things I’m finding in my research, the story of where this novel came from, the music I’m already assembling for it, and so on. That will all have to wait for later, since right now I kind of need to go jump up and down and squeak with joy. *^_^*

naming woes, part two

So here’s the problem, really. I keep embarking on projects (short stories, novels, games) where the people — the guys in particular — need to have relatively mainstream English names, the sort that have been used historically. And when you get down to it, there aren’t a lot of those. And the more of these projects I build up, the more of the mainstream names I’ve used for major characters, such that I would feel weird then applying them to someone else.

But at this point, it means I’m hesitant to name anybody Julian, Robert, Leonard, Roger, Luke, James, Gregory, Edward, or Jacob, just to choose the most major ones. If I let Memento get in there, I have to add in Thomas, William, Simon, Francis, Stephen, Philip, Jacob again, Christopher, Archibald, and Nicholas. “Nine Sketches” also used Nathaniel, Francis again, Charles, Richard, and Jonathan. I could keep going, but you get the point; a lot of the common names have strong associations for me already.

This doesn’t mean there’s nothing left. I haven’t had anybody important named Henry (except oops, there will hopefully be the thing about Henry Welton someday) — okay, George (wait, that’s Caroline’s husband) — how about Samuel (Eleanor’s father) — crap. And some of my remaining choices, I don’t like very much; Andrew isn’t one I’m particularly fond of. Some of the names are currently reserved by future projects; others are bound up in old projects, and I face the question of whether I think I’ll ever resurrect them, or whether I should just go ahead, cut The Kestori Hawks loose as unusable, and free up half a dozen names for other people to have. (Assuming I can. Assuming my subconscious will let go of the idea that “Leonard” means that guy, the one over there, with all the angst.)

Oh yeah. And then, because I’m not having issues enough, there’s the problem that if I name a character in the Elizabethan period Gabriel, most of you will roll your eyes at the slightly flashy name, and a few will run screaming and waving your copies of the Lymond Chronicles. My own work isn’t the only association I have to watch out for.

I should name the guy John and be done with it, but it just doesn’t work. And I’m not yet to the point where my subconscious is ready to reuse things. For secondary characters, sure. But not the main ones.

Which is how I end up with ideas like Peregrine Thorne. But that isn’t his name — though whoever’s name it is, he looks interesting — so I keep working.

naming woes

Few writing blocks frustrate me more than a character I can’t name. I can’t do jack if I don’t know a character’s name. Without that, how do I know who he is? How can I guess what she’ll do? The name is everything, and sometimes it takes forever to find; I think Saoran eluded me for three years.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out if this guy’s name really is going to be Sir Peregrine Thorne. If so, I’m going to have to work a damn good reason into his backstory; you can’t go parading around with a name like that and pretend it happened by accident.

Even if that is his name, it still only gives me half of what I need. I’m trying to explain to the female character that “Malkin,” while a genuine British diminutive (of Maud, actually), also has a variety of slang meanings ranging from “slattern” to “female genitalia.” Neither of which are meanings she wants to be carrying around with her.

I don’t want to admit how much of tonight I’ve spent on this task. But since I can’t go anywhere until I get over this hurdle, I’ll keep plugging away at it.

Edited to add: Christ. This is apparently trying to be a story full of People With Inexcusable Names, since now the female character is pondering options like Amaranth, Celandine, and Chrysanthe.

Edit #2: No, dear, you can’t be Britomart. I dislike authors who use names from other things but don’t know what they’re referencing, and I refuse to read The Faerie Queene for you.

Edit #3: Maybe Sylfaen? Or Ailis? She’s allowed to have a weird name; she isn’t human. Unlike Mr. Sir Peregrine Thorne up there, who is supposed to be quite human. I don’t know. At this point, I think I’ve been beating my head against it too long. Time to go to sleep, and see if any of my possibilities still look good in the morning.

today’s random question

Imagine there is a novel set in Elizabethan England. What famous figures would you expect and/or want to see show up in it?

Aside from Elizabeth herself, I can think of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Ralegh, Sir Francis Drake, Doctor John Dee, and John Stow.

Who else?