Author Archive

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 12

Marie Brennan

To make up for last chapter having no Ren pov, this one is nothing but Ren pov. As with the previous one, that isn’t so much a conscious decision as the result of how the Great Rearrangement of Part Two ended up going. But it’s good to have, since while we’ve got multiple viewpoint characters in this series, Ren is undoubtedly the most central of the lot.

This chapter features a scene which . . . well, look. We knew we wanted to have X happen, so, cool, that’s the point of this scene. Let’s come up with some context to embed it in. Aaaaaand by the time we were done with the context, that had become the point of the scene, with the original mission being a side note that gets dealt with along the way. Not coincidentally, a scene I thought would be less than 2K wound up 3400 words long. (This was part of what prompted the Great Rearrangement.) It’s all good stuff; we came up with a bit of worldbuilding that lets us tie several things together in a way the book very much benefits from. But it was quite unexpected, as a simple “we need to set up this later meeting” conversation turned into a contest with deep political and theological implications.

And that’s only the first half of the chapter! The second half winds up pulling the curtain back on one or two of the few major elements of the long-term plot that we actually didn’t plan from the start. In general, if you’re reading this series and wonder “omg, did the authors have this planned all along?,” the answer is yes. We had a much clearer roadmap for this trilogy than either of us normally does, so there’s a lot of stuff — not just major but minor — that we always knew we were going to do, and seeded hints of along the way. But there were two significant decisions we made while drafting The Liar’s Knot that weren’t in the original game plan, one of which comes to the forefront here and sets up a bit with the other. (If you’ve read the Doppelganger books, it’s a bit like the moment where Satomi says “Wrong” to Miryo: I didn’t see that coming until I typed it, and it wound up being so pivotal to the end of the first book, I honestly don’t know how things would have played out without it.)

Word count: 87,000
Authorial sadism: Yanking a certain character out of the story, with nobody — the other characters included — being sure what’s happened to him.
Authorial amusement: Speaking of things we didn’t plan for, one side character who was a complete non-entity until he abruptly spoke up at the end of book two has a pleasingly excellent moment here.
BLR quotient: More politicking and the aforementioned worldbuilding addition, so rhetoric pulls ahead.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 11

Marie Brennan

Augh, I keep forgetting to update. At this rate you’ll get the last five posts all on the same day, because there’s no way I’ll be able to hold back from crowing that we’ve finished the book on the day it happens. But that’s a long way off.

Chapter 11: in which there is no Ren pov! (She’s the one character I feel I can name outright, without worrying about it being a spoiler. I don’t think anybody out there believes we’re going to whack her before the end of the story. Uhhhh, not that I have a trunked novel where I did exactly that and the protagonist finishes out the book as a ghost or anything. <nudges it under the desk with a toe>) There’s no dramatic reason for why we don’t get Ren’s viewpoint in this chapter; that’s simply how things fell out after the Great Rearrangement of Part Two. She’s present in two of the scenes, but those are both more interesting when seen through someone else’s eyes.

This chapter is mostly still fallout, but not entirely, and even the stuff that is fallout is starting to point in new directions. Someone in here gets 95% of the way to a correct idea, but draws the wrong conclusion from it, for justifiable reasons. One of the things Alyc and I will be writing soon (because we’re multiple chapters ahead of where I am in posting) is going to be about talking that character down off the murder ledge. And the other night we figured out what the ultimate consequences of that bit will be, and they are glorious.

Word count: ~78,000
Authorial sadism: Those two things aren’t connected in the way those characters fear . . . but they aren’t not connected, either. In various ways, including one that’s going to liquefy their brains before the end of this novel.
Authorial amusement: Yes, that is indeed his way of being a smartass.
BLR quotient: For all that we have a duel in this chapter, rhetoric has the upper hand. Lots of politicking in here — and oh, we have found a way to make one moment of it bite somebody on the ass hard later on . . .

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 10

Marie Brennan

this book

THIS &#$#*@! BOOK

Chapter 10 was fine. Fine, I tell you. But it’s now playing host to an additional scene, displaced from Chapter 11. Why? Because we had to make room in Chapter 11 for two scenes that used to be in Chapter 12. Why did those move? Because there was a very large scene in Chapter 13 that needed another place to go. And why did that happen? Because Alyc and I looked at what we had planned for the end of Chapter 14, realized it was significantly larger than we had room for, and faced a choice. We could either have several slightly oversized chapters, or one ginormous one. And while I liked the original plan of sort of having an enjambment of a certain plot (borrowing the term from poetry; the run of that plot was set up to cross over a chapter boundary), playing musical chairs with scenes in the earlier chapters meant we could fit that whole thing into Chapter 13, which ended up feeling like the better move.

So, uh. Chapter 10: fallout from Chapter 9. Fairly extensive fallout, but we like taking our time on things like that — letting the characters really feel the effects of something, rather than skipping along the top and moving on. I won’t name which TV show it is, because I don’t want to spoil the effect for anybody who hasn’t seen it, but there’s a superhero show where the protagonist’s best friend finds out that the protagonist has secretly been doing the superhero thing . . . and I love the fact that the show spends an entire episode on that. Intercutting to other plots, but continually going back to the aftershocks of the big revelation. Too few stories seem to take the time for those aftershocks; they’d rather get on with the next exciting thing. But to me, and to Alyc, that’s the bit that makes the other stuff exciting: the sense that these things really matter to the characters.

After all, they need a moment to appreciate the first earthquake before the next one hits them.

Word count: ~69,000
Authorial sadism: Honestly, the deepest cut is one the reader doesn’t see — an offstage comment made by one character to another, and you only see the effect. But I asked Alyc (who wrote that bit) what the comment was, and . . . we’ll have to share it when we post the annotations for the third book. Since that’s a very buried thing, though, I’ll give the prize to the conversation that just grinds to a halt because some things can’t be fixed with words.
Authorial amusement: Arguments over “morning dessert.” And asking whether a certain character has paper — a bit like asking whether water is wet.
BLR quotient: Love is applying bandages to the wounds from last chapter, but the bleeding has yet to be stanched.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 9

Marie Brennan

For once, a chapter that’s stayed intact!

(Mostly. Okay, so we added a scene in at the start, but that’s because of the aforementioned changes to Chapter 8, which necessitated some follow-up.)

We’ve got a slightly different organization for each book. This one is divided into three parts of nine chapters each — which, yes, means that this is the end of Part One! And as suits that position, it is very full of (metaphorical) explosions. Some of which the characters see coming, some of which they don’t; some of which the readers may see coming, some of which they may not. It’s good to provide a mix.

Even more so that in the previous books, there are some strong pivots between the parts here. Not to the extent of each section addressing self-contained plots, but the context and direction of events changes pretty distinctly after this point. In a really fun way . . . and by “fun” I mean we’re raking the characters over an emotional cheese grater. But that’s what you’re here for, right?

Word count: 60,000
Authorial sadism: Push someone too far . . .
Authorial amusement: Look, it was Alyc’s idea to make the clue send him there.
BLR quotient: Oh so much blood. Past and present.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 8

Marie Brennan

I’ve been writing instead of updating! Which, if I had to choose, is the right way to go — but I don’t actually have to choose, so let’s get updating. (Especially since my subconscious was convinced I’d posted about Chapter 8 already, buuuuut . . . apparently not.)

This chapter has some of the (now expected) non-linearity, in that a scene which was in it got pushed forward into to Chapter 7, and a scene which wasn’t originally in it got added in. Those changes were both good ones; adding the scene made it super long, which shifting the other scene helped with, and then we realized we could build a link between the new scene and what follows it, with the result that this becomes a nicely coherent chapter. That’s something we very much aimed for in The Mask of Mirrors — relatively few of the chapters there just consist of one-off scenes that need to happen around that time, and many of the chapters have a unifying arc from beginning to end — but as the story has become more complex over time, it’s been harder to make that true. Much of our rearranging, though, has been about trying to shuffle the little mosaic tiles of narrative into the best possible arrangement so that, e.g., the consequences to a given event are neither dropped for too long, nor shoehorned in next to things that aren’t related to them. Revision will also help with some of that, when we can look at the big picture and see places to slip in acknowledgment of XYZ or mention of QRS so that the flow from bit to bit is smoother, but we’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting right now.

The real FML in this chapter, though, is the last two scenes. They were originally in viewpoints A and B, respectively, because we expected the second scene to have stuff personal to B. When we got into writing it, though, we realized it had evolved, and that was no longer really true. Since the first scene could work from either viewpoint, I backtracked and recast both scenes, such that the first one was from B’s pov and the second was from A’s. And all was well.

. . . until we realized that the second scene was launching something too early, and also there was another plotline we really needed to introduce way sooner, so we decided to take the “too early” bit out and replace it with the “not early enough” bit. At which point, um, that scene became very personally relevant to B.

So back I go AGAIN and RE-RE-DO both scenes, restoring the first to viewpoint A, and the second to viewpoint B. Now, the good news is that whenever we make cuts of more than, like, a sentence, I tend to save the text. So I already had the original versions of those scenes. But they weren’t as polished as the second take had been, so there was still a fair bit of me having to rework the material. And if it’s tedious to change the viewpoint on a scene once, lemme tell ya, doing it twice is enough to make me beat my head against my desk.

(Isabella never gave me these problems. There’s something to be said for five books all in a single perspective.)

Word count: ~54000
Authorial sadism: In some ways, the plotline we’re now launching in this chapter — but that won’t be apparent for a while. So I’ll give it to the scene we added in, because really, sadism is center stage with that one.
Authorial amusement: “The four most terrifying words in a knot boss’s world were one of his fists saying, ‘I got an idea.'”
BLR quotient: It begins and ends with blood.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 7

Marie Brennan

My sister, speaking of the non-linearity of how we’re writing the third volume of this trilogy, dubbed it “an entire book of Chapter 14s,” in the sense that by the time we’re done, everything in it will probably have been part of Chapter 14 at some point or another. I wound up correcting that to “an entire book of Chapter 7s.” Here we have a scene we initially skipped over and back-tracked to write, a conversation that was originally in Chapter 2, a scene we decided to retrofit in when we were in the middle of drafting Chapter 9, a scene that was originally in Chapter 8 before being moved forward, and oh yeah there’s the fact that I got turned around and had us writing Chapter 8 before we even started this one, because I forgot what order things went in.

>_<

But hey, it’s finally in a complete enough state that I feel like I can report about it! (Well, it was that way several days ago, but I didn’t get around to posting until now.) This chapter has a lovely bit of spectacle, but the various adjustments means it also has some important politicking before we get to the spectacle. Revisions mean it now also also has a minor character who’s been a constant, low-grade irritant from the start of the series, getting the first of two comeuppances that are coming to them. It also also also has a moment that caused my sister, our alpha reader, to cry “portage feels!,” which I suspect is a phrase that has never before been used in the history of the world. 😀

I have given up on pretending that the non-linearity will stop. It just seems to be how this book is going to go.

Word count: ~46,000
Authorial sadism: Someone shared only half of what they know. The rest will come out eventually, but right now, that someone wants their listener to suffer.
Authorial amusement: The aforementioned comeuppance. It’s really quite shamelessly delivered.
BLR quotient: Rhetoric in the first half, pivoting through blood to a final note of love.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 6

Marie Brennan

Still catching up! I’ll admit I’ve been slow to post the progress-blogs because our non-linear approach continues, and I don’t feel like I can report in on a chapter being done when I already know we intend to backtrack and add a scene to it, even if we thought it was done at the time. But we have now slotted the addition in: a scene which has to do with a neglected side relationship, which didn’t seem that load-bearing until we looked further down the road and realized it would NOT work to leave things undeveloped over there.

This chapter has a lot of tricky little bits, actually. In one scene, we needed a character to wander close to a correct idea before getting distracted by something completely different. In another . . . there’s a certain type of error that can be hard to sell if the reader sees it happening, because they wind up being unconvinced by the character being taken in. So what we’re trying to do instead is keep the reader from noticing until the character does — to make the actions and decisions there seem logical and inevitable, until omgwtfbbq RED ALERT DANGER WILL ROBINSON. Hopefully it works!

And hey, we got our metaphysical woo on again. Been a while since we had a good dose of that.

Word count: 39,000
Authorial sadism: RED ALERT DANGER WILL ROBINSON. Also known as, it seemed like a good idea at the time?
Authorial amusement: omg senpai!!!!1!
BLR quotient: Got some non-trivial amounts of blood in this chapter. Not that anybody literally bleeds, but a whole lot of things are on the edge right now, and here and there a character steps right over it.

The Rook and Rose trilogy now has music!

Marie Brennan

I have a long-standing habit of making “soundtracks” for my novels (i.e. mixes of existing music) and The Mask of Mirrors is no exception. But now I can add something far cooler to that: a piece composed specifically for the Rook and Rose trilogy, courtesy of author, artist, and musician Yoon Ha Lee. You can listen to or buy the Rook and Rose theme on Bandcamp — and while you’re there, check out his other works! They include “Ninefox March,” a composition eight years in the making for his own Machineries of Empire series, and over time there will be more to come.

Alyc and I are so grateful to Yoon for this awesome gift!

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 5

Marie Brennan

I continue my slow attempt to catch up!

I wrote a line into this chapter (which may or may not remain in the finished version) where one of the characters says that the attempt to do X has failed, so there’s no point in continuing on with the rest of the plan. A suggestion the character they’re speaking to rejects wholeheartedly, because who says the goal of the plan is to accomplish only one thing? It’s a species of what I’ve talked about before, where scenes need to serve more than one purpose, but in this case there’s another valence to it: our characters do, in fact, get to have lives. Even when something big is looming over their heads, they aren’t literally going to devote every waking minute to that problem. They can’t. Sometimes an investigation is blocked, and until it produces results, nothing else is going to happen. Sometimes they just need to think about something other than the end of the world. And sometimes, taking a moment for a personal goal or three is what they require in order to have the heart to face that big, looming problem.

So yeah. There’s a moderately frivolous personal goal at work here, because dammit, that matters to our characters. Don’t worry; we’ll be dropping the plot on their heads soon enough. And if the reader doesn’t care about that personal side of things by this point in the trilogy, we’ve failed anyway.

Word count: ~32,000
Authorial sadism: A detail retrofitted into the first scene, which seems like a small personal thing right now, but which is setting up a couple of emotional gut-punches later on.
Authorial amusement: Dude, how do I pick? Could be anything from the Fox Volto to L–‘s painful attempts at flirtation to the counter-pickpocketing.
BLR quotient: Rhetoric is dancing energetically here, but seriously, I wind up calling so many of these chapters for love. At this point in the story, it really is driving half of what our characters do.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 4

Marie Brennan

For various reasons the first part of this book (which will be divided into three overall) has something of an alternating structure: one chapter of exciting! spectacle! followed by one that spends more time on quieter character moments. So, having had our caper last time, this time we get the character stuff. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course.)

It’s a bit of a grab bag, actually, which is unavoidable at times. Though we like our chapters to have a distinct identity — not just “this is what happens in words 19,000 through 25,000 of the book” — there’s going to be material which isn’t an entire chapter in its own right. Here we’re doing some more detailed work on furthering Problem A while hinting at Problem B, advancing Plot T while deepening relationships X and Y, and also making it clear that neither we nor the characters have forgotten about that unresolved thing over there; it’s just that their efforts to resolve it have not yet reached a point where they would be interesting to show on the page.

Chapters like this are the ones where it becomes the most important to pay attention to the idea of scenes needing to serve more than a single purpose. If we don’t find ways to pack these things like bags of holding, not only would the books be unmanageably long, but the threads of the narrative would get so stretched out that when they finally show up again, the reader’s reaction would be “oh, right, that thing.”

. . . and sometimes, one of the purposes that needs to be served is the authors entertaining themselves. I mean, if we can’t port in some form of the “dancing on a rooftop” thing we wrote for the game, then what are we even doing here?

Word count: ~25,000
Authorial sadism: Somebody got fired from their job, and that somebody is doing their very best to hide how much it upsets them. (Their very best is not quite good enough.)
Authorial amusement: Apart from the rooftop dancing? Getting caught out in your ignorance because you’re browsing wrong-handed swords.
BLR quotient: Love definitely wins the race this time. Lots of people working together to solve problems, even if those problems aren’t going to be solved any time soon. And even if some of them can’t quite admit what problem is there.