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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 17

Marie Brennan

Back to something like linear progress! . . . ish, given that after we finished this chapter, we backtracked and added a scene to Chapter 9. And there’s still one in Chapter 7 that we need to redo, because it wasn’t quite pulling its weight once we changed things around it, and now it needs to be repurposed to develop a plot strand we thought up about halfway through the book.

Okay, maybe not so linear. One of the columns in our outlining spreadsheet shows what week we wrote each scene; that’s mostly there just for our entertainment (watching ourselves zoom through at an absurd pace during the drafting of the first book), but in this case it will serve as a testament to how much more we’ve ricocheted around. Because we’ve been doing a lot more of that this time through.

It does make work a little more difficult. Writing the Chapter 9 scene, we had to remind ourselves not only why we were adding it — to give some attention to a neglected plot strand, develop a necessary political element, and smooth out the big tonal shift between the preceding and subsequent scenes — but also of where it fits in the flow of things, what moods our characters are in and what thoughts they have and haven’t had already. I can already tell we’ll be doing a lot of polishing in that regard when we revise this. We have a lot of places where the right blocks have been put into position, but their edges need trimming and sanding for them to fit nicely together.

As for Chapter 17, i.e. the clear forward progress — oof. One scene in here may very well stand as the trickiest corner we have to navigate in the entire trilogy. (I hope it does. Otherwise there’s something even trickier in our future.) We had to take three runs at it to get it right, with a couple thousand words of material thrown out along the way. But we could tell each time that we were replacing it with something better, so we kept plugging away. And that effort paid off on the last complicated bit, where I kept saying “eh, that dialogue isn’t quite hitting hard enough to trigger the thing it needs to trigger” . . . and then Alyc said “how about this?” and I made a O_O face at it, which is how we knew we’d gotten it right.

Word count: ~133,000
Authorial sadism: The dialogue that made me go O_O.
Authorial amusement: The two-hundred word scenelet that is basically our giddy reward for having made it through the big scene before it.
BLR quotient: Despite the best efforts of certain characters to draw blood, in the end, it’s love.

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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter Twelveteen

Marie Brennan

It’s been a little quiet around here because we have, uh, thrown linearity out the window for a while. >_>

Remember what I said before, about how we decided our Chapters 14 and 15 were both so short they should be a single chapter? That took what had been 13 and pulled it up to 14, leaving us with a gap after 12 — or more precisely, some scenes in 12 that might (and in fact did) get redistributed between that and 13. Hence dubbing the new material Chapter Twelveteen. We’ve spent the last week and a half sort of ricocheting between that and Chapter 17, and it was almost a race to see which one would get done first; Twelveteen won (by a nose).

I’m really glad we made this change (even if it led to one scene ping-ponging from 12 to 17 to 13, which is really inconvenient when a) you number your scenes in the document and b) you have formulas in your outlining spreadsheet that calculate both the wordcount for the chapter and the running wordcount for the novel, which get borked when you drag things around like that). Twelveteen has some stuff we really needed: a big, creepy encounter with one of the threats, a bit of character bonding in a place where it had been profoundly lacking, the reappearance of a character we haven’t seen for a while, and the reintroduction of a character who, we realized, hadn’t actually been seen since the last book. All of which do multiple duties: the reappearance also lets us move an investigation forward and set up a later scene, the reintroduction lets us elaborate on a certain political intrigue and foreshadow something else, the creepy encounter facilitated a whole bunch of exposition and also set up the aforementioned intrigue, etc. Like I said, very much needed.

Aiming for a set length, in the sense of both wordcount and number of chapters, is simultaneously a blessing and a choke-leash. It keeps us from getting too tangled in our own complexities, adding new subplots and twists until we utterly lose sight of where we’re going — but it also means we don’t have the kind of flexibility I’ve had with other novels, where eh, if I need to add in another chapter in order to deal with something, I can. I’m very, very glad that we were able to do the big avalanche stuff more efficiently, in two chapters instead of three . . . because otherwise we might have had no choice but to look back at what we have and decide what thread to yank out entirely, to make room for everything else.

Wordcount: ~123,000 (not counting the nearly-complete Chapter 17)
Authorial sadism: Look, we put Chekhov’s Magic on the mantel. We had to pull the trigger eventually.
Authorial amusement: DOOMCLAW THE YOWLER
BLR quotient: In part because these scenes are spread across two chapters, uhhhh, all three. It depends entirely on which scene you’re looking at.

Oh, and in case you missed it:

Advance reader copies of THE MASK OF MIRRORS, by M.A. Carrick

Real book!!!! (Advance copies thereof, at least.)

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Advance reader copies!!!! *_*

Marie Brennan

so yesterday evening my husband says to me “two boxes just arrived that say ‘Mask of Mirrors’ on the side”

and I zoom downstairs to snap a photo to send to Alyc

and they say “I may need to come over there this evening”

and I say “I may have been thinking of asking you to do that”

(because this is my first time co-authoring a book like this, but I knew without asking that I wouldn’t be allowed to open them without Alyc present)

(don’t worry; we’re in a social bubble together anyway)

and behold, my first “unboxing” video ever:


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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 16

Marie Brennan

Alyc and I still need to backtrack to fill in the additional chapter for Part Three, but that’s tied in enough with the need to plan out more stuff for Parts Four and Five that we haven’t tried to do that yet. While we work on that planning, though, we went ahead and did Chapter 16, because we knew what was going to happen there.

. . . or so we thought. The first two scenes were fine, but when we started the third one, various things about it weren’t working, and one of them was the placement. While we had good reasons for intending to put the second and (supposed) third scenes both in this chapter, when the time came to actually do it, they felt too same-y — weakening the impact of the latter by juxtaposition with the former. We came up with a reason to push it back, which wound up helping to solve another aspect that wasn’t working, and so hopefully that will go better when we take a second crack at it.

This is something I keep coming back to, as we work on this series: I think one of the essential elements of collaboration is a willingness to both say and hear, “This isn’t working.” If you get too strongly attached to your ideas to let them go when they don’t click for your writing partner, or if you’re reluctant to hurt your partner’s feelings by saying an idea isn’t strong enough, or if you two are just on sufficiently different wavelengths that you’re not getting fired up by the same concepts, you’ll wind up with problems. You’ve got to be willing to bend, but also to know when not to bend — when you need to stand your ground because sure, maybe that solution to the plot problem could work, but it’s not amazing and the story deserves better. If there’s something your partner loves about the idea, circle around and see if there’s another way to keep that good bit while taking a different approach. If you envisioned XYZ happening but the other person doesn’t think that makes sense, diagnose the reasons why, and look for ways to fix it. It’s the same process I go through when working alone . . . except there’s no ego or pride at risk when it’s all happening inside my own head. When there’s someone else involved, it can be trickier.

So anyway, we punted that scene into the next chapter and took one we expected to have happen there and moved it up to this one. Only when that was done, there was plenty of room in this chapter for another scene, because neither of our big pieces here wound up being as long as we had estimated; fortunately, in the process of discussing some other stuff, we had a moment of, “oh, yeah, we need to remember to have this INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS AND NECESSARY CONSEQUENCE HAPPEN.” In the end, we wound up with a Chapter 16 that only about 2/5 resembles our original plan for the chapter we thought we had all mapped out. 😛 But what matters is that it’s done, and it works, and also we added in a useful scene back in Chapter 4 (setting up a decision we unexpectedly made while writing Chapter 14), and sure, the roadmap for how we wrote this book may wind up looking like a plate of spaghetti — but if we do our job right, the reader will never be able to tell.

Word count: ~115,000
Authorial sadism: Yep, turns out this is your fault, too. I mean, not on purpose? But that won’t make you feel much better.
Authorial amusement: Making chalk angels on the floor, and shrieking and dropping A Certain Thing.
BLR quotient: Starts off firmly with love, but then I think the plot revelations swing it pretty hard toward a blood/rhetoric mix. Gotta admit, though, it’s wonderful to finally be able to talk about these elements directly!

This post originally appeared on

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter . . . 15?

Marie Brennan

No, you didn’t miss a progress report in there. The last report was on Chapter 13.

What happened was not that Alyc and I skipped over 14 in favor of writing the one after it. Rather, we’re rearranging things. When we mapped out what Part Three of the book was going to look like, we knew a huge pile of stuff was all going to collide at the end of it, and we divvied that stuff up across three chapters, because we estimated we had that much material.

But really, it isn’t the big climactic stuff where we tend to get wordy. That belongs more to the fiddly scenes in between, where our con artist is conning people, or some intricate political stuff is getting layered in, or — let’s be honest — the scenes where the actual motivation is us wanting to do some stuff with character relationships, but we can’t let anything get away with being pure fluff, so we have to provide some meat to go around that bone. When the fecal matter is hitting the fan? It tends to move along at a pretty good clip.

Our target chapter length here is roughly eight thousand words (. . . yes, I know; look, it’s the rhythm that fits this story). Upon writing our way through two of the four scenes for Chapter 14, we were just over 2600 — and the odds that the remaining two were going to boost that even as high 5K seemed low. Moreover, glancing ahead to Chapter 15, we agreed that it felt like that one was also probably going to run extremely short.

There’s nothing wrong with having a short-ish chapter. But two half-sized chapters in a row starts looking a lot like they should be a single unit.

We could have beefed up the hijinks that are going on here to be more complex, but honestly, that felt like it would just be padding. The problem with combining them is, we’ve also got some larger-scale structural things going on here. Because Reasons, we want this book to be divided into five parts of five chapters each. So we couldn’t just say, okay, 14 + 15 is now 14, and full steam ahead — that would leave our climactic events hanging out a chapter too early, and the end of the part would be the quieter aftermath. (There are scenarios in which I could see that working, but this isn’t one of them.) Which means 14 + 15 needs to be 15, and what was 13 needs to get bumped over to 14, and Part Three needs another chapter in the middle, circa 12-13.

Ultimately, I think this will be a very good change. We’d already been feeling like some plot strands had fallen by the wayside for longer than is ideal; now we have the space to attend to those. Of course, that requires us to figure out what intermediate steps will best help develop them at this stage in the timeline — right now the additional chapter is a fair bit of ???. And I’ll admit my brain is making grumpy faces at the feeling that we have to “go backward,” even though filling in that middle bit is still vital forward progress. Being closer to the end of the book is not meaningful if there’s a big hole behind you somewhere. But still: my subconscious wants to say “woo-hoo, we’re 60% of the way done!,” and dislikes having that achievement tugged out of reach again. (Even if it isn’t actually within reach yet anyway.)

What I can say “woo-hoo!” to is that the Super Exciting Stuff we’ve been looking forward to for aaaaaaaaaages has finally arrived. 😀

Word count: ~105,000
Authorial sadism: “What will this do?” Another instance of something we totally did not see coming until Alyc was writing it . . .
Authorial amusement: Look, this time we had a very good reason for stripping a character!
BLR quotient: That much near-death ought to be blood, but the actual takeaway here is 100% love. (Well, maybe 90%. There’s that thing Ren saw, though she won’t know the full story there until later.)

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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 13

Marie Brennan

Lucky number 13!

. . . maybe not so lucky for our characters.

This is the start of an avalanche; it is too late for the pebbles to vote. I recently put together a “relative timeline” for the chapters so far, marking the few scenes that take place on set dates, and then positioning everything else on the basis of “these take place on the same day,” “this is a day or two later,” “this gap can be as long or as short as we need it to be,” and so forth. (This is important because a certain event in Book 3 needs to take place on a fixed date, and until we’ve finished this book and done some amount of planning for the next, we’re not sure how much time we want to have elapse here.)

In that timeline? This chapter and the next two all take place on the same night.

And they are frickin’ loaded with narrative catnip. To the point where Alyc and I rolled through nearly half the chapter in a single day, and the only reason we aren’t already up to our elbows in Chapter 14 is that extenuating circumstances are requiring us to pause briefly. Our chat messages back and forth as we swap off writing have featured comments like “unf,” “bwahahahahah,” and “MAXIMUM WHUMP!” All the work we’ve done setting up the relationships and conflicts between our central characters? Here is where it pays off — not in the sense that after this we’re done, but rather that we’re doing a full Transformer on how those are all configured, and going forward it’s going to be a brave new world. (One in which our characters are somewhat physically and emotionally bruised, and in need of recuperation. They’ll get . . . at least a little?)

Though man, right now I have no idea what I’ll even be able to say when I report on the next two chapters. The further I go along, the harder it is to avoid spoilers, while still saying things of moderate substance.

Word count: ~97,000
Authorial sadism: Under any other circumstances, the prize would go to the punch we didn’t see coming until Alyc typed that sentence. But the unexpected turn that scene took can’t hold a candle to the “death from above” moment we’ve been planning from the start.
Authorial amusement: We’ve been waiting an equally long time to make a certain character lose his ability to language. 😀
BLR quotient: However romantically this chapter started off, there is way too much open conflict here for this to be anything but blood.

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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 12

Marie Brennan

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?

Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Hugh Fennyman: How?

Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

I wound up quoting the above at Alyc early last week, at the end of about an hour and a half of us beating our heads against the wall of a certain plot problem for this chapter. We still didn’t have an answer, but we’d both hit a point where we could tell that continuing to work on it right then wouldn’t do any good; we had to walk away and let our thoughts turn to other things, and trust — hope — that a solution would present itself while we weren’t looking. (My other go-to quote in such situations is “Cudgel thy brains no more, for your dull ass will not mend his pace with beating.”)

You see, something like eight or nine months ago, we’d come up with a way to arrange for a certain cluster of plot things to all happen at once, in maximally exciting fashion. But either we’d forgotten (and failed to write down) some of the finer points, or we’d never actually thought it through in sufficient detail, because when we came back to it . . . there were some serious unanswered questions. How were the antagonists going to find out about a certain thing happening? Why was this character going to be in that place at that time? Did the timing even work? If we had [redacted] do [redacted], wouldn’t that be bad espionage, a mistake they ought to be too intelligent to make? We fiddled with the pieces we had, trying to make them line up. We brought in other pieces to bridge the gaps. And then still more pieces. We threw ninety percent of the pieces out because it was getting too complicated. Round and round we went. We whined at each other about why we’d decided to make our villains competent and our challenges challenging, and wouldn’t it all be easier if we could just let people be idiots?

There’s a fair bit of neurological science backing up the idea that you’re more likely to solve a problem when you’re not thinking about it, and as you can tell by the fact that I’m reporting another successfully completed chapter, that was indeed the case here. Both Alyc and I woke up the next morning with fresh ideas (well, I had mine on my way to bed, which is usually how it goes), and we managed to hybridize them in some useful ways. A story element that started life as a gratuitous bit of self-indulgence is now serving a legitimate plot function; we did a major plot-and-personality transplant on a side character. (Which is also something that happened in drafting The Mask of Mirrors, so now I’m wondering who in Book Three will wind up being totally rewritten halfway through.) And we managed to close out the book with a moment that doesn’t remotely measure up to the world’s most disastrous dinner in Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, but will hopefully have a bit of that feel. Given that our original plan for that particular revelation was kind of disappointingly sedate, this is far more entertaining. 😀

Word count: ~90,000
Authorial sadism: “Hey, is that your dad?”
Authorial amusement: Beldipassi’s Incredible Can’t-Miss One-Time Offer!
BLR quotient: A surprising amount of love. Gotta soften everybody up for the beating that’s on its way.

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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 11

Marie Brennan

. . . what was that about a chapter in two days?

Admittedly, and as I mentioned before, we already had one scene more or less pre-written. More than that, if I count the portion of a later scene that got lifted more or less wholesale from its original version, and the tiny (<200 words) coda that follows it. So we had a bit of a leg up on this one. But still! That makes this a two-chapter week, which is excellent momentum to have.

We’ll have to slow down before the next bit, though, because we haven’t fully planned it out. Chapter 12 is currently looking like a grab bag of “uhhh, we need some stuff that will do XYZ” without a lot of specifics or shape to it. Really, the underlying unity of that chapter will be that it puts some key pieces into place for what follows — but that won’t be super apparent while the reader is going through it. So we’ll see what we can do when we actually sit down and work out the specifics.

In the meanwhile, though, this is overall the sweetest chapter we’ve written in a long time. There are multiple fuzzy animals in it! And characters taking naps! . . . sure, there’s also that horrible moment where somebody gets told to do something abhorrent, but even that works out in the long run. We needed a quieter moment in here for some healing, before things accelerate again.

Word count: ~83,000
Authorial sadism: That order.
Authorial amusement: Basically everything to do with the fuzzy animals. And also our mutual love for the line about turfing somebody out of bed.
BLR quotient: This is definitely a love chapter. We go squish for unbreakable loyalty and unexpected acts of kindness.

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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 10

Marie Brennan

You know what’s a good sign? Writing a chapter in two days. (That’s apparently what happens when it’s literally caper from one end to the other.)

With this, we’ve finished Part 2. In fact, we’ve even technically started Part 3 . . . or rather, we started it back in July of 2017. As some of you know, this book grew out of scenes Alyc and I wrote as side stories for the game they’re running. While the bulk of those are not actually going into the novels as anything more than loose concepts (if that), there’s one we’ve been able to port in with only minor revisions.

The same cannot be said of this chapter. It does have its roots in a game scene — but that was 3500 words of us nodding vaguely in the direction of “I suppose prisons ought to have some kind of security” while mostly concerning ourselves with banter. For a novel, we feel obliged to provide more than token amounts of difficulty for our protagonists to overcome. And also to make this caper do something more load-bearing for the plot, in ways that involve other significant characters. So now it’s a 3-4 person caper with about two dozen supplementary minions and an assist from someone who would be in SUCH deep shit if anybody ever realized he had something to do with this. But he’s not telling, and neither is anybody else.

The characters will get a bit of a breather for the next two chapters. (By the standards of our plotting, anyway.) They’d better enjoy it while they can, because after that comes a three-chapter rollercoaster that is going to be everything we love about this series.

Word count: ~75,000
Authorial sadism: Figuring out the most awkward possible arrangement of the sardines*.
Authorial amusement: “I need nothing more to blow the shit out of the cosmos.”
BLR quotient: I’m honestly not quite sure where this kind of caper should go! Combo blood + love? It’s got several Unlikely Team-ups piled atop each other, which is one of my favorite tropes, but it’s all in the service of preventing something horrible.

*That . . . sounds so much more suggestive than I meant it to. But such is life when you’re trying to avoid giving spoilers.

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4thewords, Fan Art, and Pride!

Marie Brennan

For nearly two and a half years now, I’ve been using 4thewords, which is a writing gamification site. You queue up monsters and defeat them by writing — or, if you’re me, by copy-pasting the words I’ve written elsewhere — which gives you XP and various item drops, which you then use to complete quests and progress in the storyline.

I think I’ve mentioned this site here before, but I’m bringing it up again for three reasons:

1) I know a lot of people are having trouble writing right now, and if gamification and pretty graphics are the kind of thing that can motivate you, this might help.

2) The people who run this site (a very small cadre based mostly in Costa Rica) are really good about trying to make things inclusive and welcoming. Case in point: right now we’re in the middle of a 25-day special Pride event, amped up from the usual 10 days because so many in-person Pride events have been canceled. There is all kinds of related gear to customize your avatar with, including no less than fifteen palette swaps to represent a bunch of different Pride flags — not just the most well-known rainbow but flags for bisexual, non-binary, polyamorous, and other identities. This year they also wrote code for a virtual Pride parade, which you can choose to have your avatar march in; mine is there, decked out in straight ally gear (and a giant feather butt fan I picked up during the Carnival event a while back).


Ahem. What I mean to say is, they’ve also responded to the pandemic by helping to support site users whose book releases may be affected. I tossed my name into the hat back when I thought The Mask of Mirrors was going to be coming out in November, so this is now more in advance of the release than I expected it to be, but . . .

4thewords promotional image

They made a wardrobe item that’s inspired by a mask in the novel!

That is our first public piece of fan art for this series. And the Festival of Reading is going to continue for 44 days (not counting the eight teaser days they had in the weeks preceding the Festival itself), each of which comes with its own special reward.

So basically, it’s a really wonderful and supportive community, and a fun way to motivate yourself for writing, with a story about questing to save the world from a corrupting Dust. It says quite a bit that I’ve stayed active there for two and a half years, alternating between normal quests and the regularly-scheduled special events. I would link you to neat features like the Pride parade, but I think you have to be a subscriber to see those; however, the subscription cost isn’t very high, and there’s even a community pool where people who can manage a little extra donate subscription time to be distributed to users who might not otherwise be able to afford it. If it’s something that might be useful to you, I encourage you to check it out.

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