Author Archive

SFWA Silent Auction is underway!

Marie Brennan

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association is running a silent auction, and I’m in it! Prizes on offer are a package deal of a signed copy of The Mask of Mirrors and five Rook and Rose-themed tea samples, and a virtual kaffeeklatsch for which the seats are being auctioned separately: one, two, three, four. Bid on one of those + the first package, and you could potentially sip delicious book-themed tea while we chat! Or if those aren’t your cuppa (sorry not sorry), there are oodles of other great things on offer at the auction site. But you only have a few days, so bid fast!

If you’re wondering what the money will be used for, SFWA does a great deal to assist people in the field, from the Emergency Medical Fund to the Legal Fund to scholarships for marginalized creators to attend events like the Nebulas Conference. Over the course of my career, SFWA has managed to reinvent itself as a much stronger advocate within SF/F publishing — the closest thing we have to a union, and very much needed, as things like #DisneyMustPay continue to show.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 27 et alia — DONE

Marie Brennan

Despite Alyc’s encouragement, I don’t think I have it in me to make three progress posts today, one for Chapter 27, and one apiece for the prologue and the epilogue. 😛 Yes, the prologue to this book was one of the last things we wrote: third from the end, to be precise, followed by the last scene of Chapter 27 and the epilogue. That last being, of course, a thing the previous two books didn’t have, but here it helps a lot to show some longer-term effects that would feel very shoehorned into the final chapter.

Alyc and I each have a traditional quote associated with having finished a book. Mine comes from The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel by Edward Gorey: “The next day Mr. Earbrass is conscious, but very little more.” Alyc’s comes from a Gilbert & Sullivan musical (Patience, I think): “Finished! At last, finished! The book is finished, and my soul has gone out into it. That was all. It was nothing worth mentioning. It occurs three times a day.”

We may not do this three times a day, but yeah. Soul gone out. Conscious. Very little more. Ima go flop now.

Word count: 198,360 — we undershot in our zeal to not go over, and will be fleshing out things we short-changed during revisions.
Authorial sadism: Alyc is right that a certain departure needed to happen . . . but it still hurts. Us as well as the characters.
Authorial amusement: The introduction Ren gets in the epilogue.
BLR quotient: Love is healing the wounds, and the turbulent waters of rhetoric are calming. It won’t be smooth sailing from here into eternity, but the storm has passed.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 26

Marie Brennan

The climactic chapter!

Unlike the previous two books, we did not write this one in a single day. Which was for the best; neither Alyc nor I have the kind of physical or mental energy for that at the moment, not when what we had to comb through for the final scene was so complex. We finally hit the right notes, and with those in hand, we now know what kinds of hints we need to seed earlier to set that up properly.

. . . everything else I want to say about this would be a spoiler, so I’ll stop there.

Word count: ~188,000
Authorial sadism: We were going to give something back. But then we wrote how this actually plays out, and nope, that character just has to live without it.
Authorial amusement: We damn near sprained something trying to avoid echoing The Princess Bride in a very inappropriate way.
BLR quotient: Look, we’ve said many times this series is anti-grimdark. What do you think wins out, here at the end?

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 25

Marie Brennan

It’s a real progress blog! By which I mean that, after months of me posting well after the fact because I didn’t actually start progress-blogging when we started writing, I am for realz posting right after we finished a chapter!

And we are in the home stretch! Very visibly so, in fact. You see, Google Docs doesn’t always cope well with very large files; much above 50K words, you can start having problems with lag and such. As a result, we’ve always divided our drafts up into multiple files, one per part, to keep them in the safe zone. But because this book is in three parts instead of four or five, that would mean each one is in the 60-70K range, and we didn’t want to find out whether Google was going to get stupid about it. In order to keep the feeling that the file divisions are at structurally relevant points, we actually have nine files for this book, each one containing three chapters. (Yes, this will be annoying when we have to collate them all.) With Chapter 25, we have officially created the last file!

(Shhhh, don’t tell me if Google has fixed that problem in the years since we started writing The Mask of Mirrors. This is tradition now.)

People who have read the first two books can guess more or less what’s going on at this point, not in its specifics, but in its shape. Although things have been building toward these events for a long time, this is when the avalanche starts to roar downhill. Different people each get signs of Something Rather Bad; when they compare notes, it’s clear that actually, Something Incredibly Bad is going down. Which they will deal with in the next chapter.

. . . but Alyc and I en’t writing that one until next week, because dammit, we get some amount of holiday off. (Please to be disregarding the other work each of us is doing on the book in the interim, because we have a few holes we want to patch before we officially reach the end of the draft.)

Word count: ~182,000
Authorial sadism: . . . honestly, I think the meanest thing in this chapter is what Alyc did to me, suggesting a certain thing to do with pattern.
Authorial amusement: Giving a minor spear-carrier who may not have even had any lines before a crucial role to play.
BLR quotient: They’ve been bleeding all this time. They only just now realized.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 24

Marie Brennan

. . . I’m going to pretend I didn’t start writing the progress blog for Chapter 25 instead of this one, despite that chapter not actually being done yet. >_< I know I talk about the writing of this book being remarkably non-linear, but really, that’s a step too far.

I suspect some readers will find the structure of this chapter a little odd. The first scene contains a watershed moment — the sort of thing you might normally expect at the end of a chapter. But it’s part of what I discussed before, us having a plotline where everything isn’t in the hands of our main characters. Trying to make a Big Satisfying Finale out of this moment would, we think, make it feel too pat. Instead it’s a messy tangle that’s being driven largely by characters who don’t get pov, and the watershed here is more a shift in direction than the end of a journey, because this is the type of journey that doesn’t end. The victory is in the turn, not the arrival.

Which isn’t to say we don’t have a cool watershed at the end as well, of course! We absolutely do, and it’s one with much more intimate personal weight for our protagonists. A moment of grace, where they think they’ll be able to do a good thing . . . and find they’ve managed something even better.

Word count: 175,000
Authorial sadism: Having to make your peace with something awful, so you can get past that to compassion.
Authorial amusement: “It’s a good thing you’re not the face of this operation.”
BLR quotient: Rhetoric has its moment in the sun.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 23

Marie Brennan

The non-linearity of this chapter consists in us having Ren re-learn a thing she originally learned in Chapter 18, which we’ve decided to pull out of there and save for here, so that she’ll have more opportunity to react to it. What we have here still isn’t fully developed, I suspect, but I do think it’s in the right place now. (And once again, I’m glad that writing isn’t performance art; we get to revise what we’ve done before you lot ever see it.)

I’ve commented in various places about how this book is kind of terra incognita in a way the previous ones weren’t. The core of what we’d developed in the game can be found in The Liar’s Knot; when drafting The Mask of Mirrors, we knew we were writing our way toward that target. But this book is the onward-rippling consequences of that core, which is in part terrain that the game hasn’t gotten to yet — or if it has, it’s been in the context of plots and characters which are nowhere in this series. Plus there are a couple of long-term conflicts there that the PC version of Ren hasn’t yet gotten to resolve.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying, this chapter contains two events I’m really looking forward to in the game, even as I partially scratch the itch by dealing with the book renditions of those situations. 😀 One is a much-needed revelation; the other is a much-needed ass kicking. It’s nice when people get what’s coming to them . . .

Word count: 168,000
Authorial sadism: Normally I think of this in terms of us being mean to our lead characters, but in this case I should acknowledge that we took what was originally supposed to be mainly a social downfall and made it, uh, extra dramatic.
Authorial amusement: “No wonder you got in the habit of lying.”
BLR quotient: The last stitches of love are bringing the fabric together.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 22

Marie Brennan

This is probably an incomplete chapter as (non-linearity ahoy!) we need to add a scene into it. Nothing load-bearing in terms of the narrative logic of the plot; we just need a quiet moment between two characters, to address what happened last chapter and set up what’s coming after.

Most of this chapter is character moments, actually, though not all of them are quiet. Really, very few of them are. But if this chapter has a theme, it’s “people have some long-standing issues out with the other people in their lives.” Some of those confrontations end in reconciliation; some really, really don’t. It makes for a nice mix, I hope, and the other reason to add in that extra bit will be to create some space between two scenes that are otherwise a bit similar in their creation of some rifts that have been a long time coming.

Also? Alyc and I are really enjoying the avoidance of toxic masculinity. Whatever issues our male characters may have (and boy howdy do they have some), they aren’t generally rooted in the need to create and defend a certain gendered image of themselves. It’s other aspects of their identity they’re trying to uphold, and those aren’t necessarily incompatible with saying “yeah, I need to talk about what I’m going through.”

Word count: ~159,000
Authorial sadism: We didn’t have to clarify the role that character played in those events. But . . . yeah, we kind of had to.
Authorial amusement: Kind of thin on the ground, honestly, given some of the trauma being unpacked here. We punched the air a couple of times for characters standing up when they needed to, but that’s not the same thing as amusing ourselves.
BLR quotient: The blood was necessary. Sometimes you have to lance a boil before healing can begin.

THE LIAR’S KNOT is out! . . . as of yesterday!

Marie Brennan

Yeah, uh, so, Alyc and I were so busy running around like chickens with our heads cut off on Twitter and Facebook and our Discord server that I failed to post here about the fact that The Liar’s Knot is out at last! (Tomorrow for the U.K., though some people got their copies early, and the audiobook is in progress but not released yet.)

cover art for THE LIAR'S KNOT by M.A. Carrick

Trust is the thread that binds us . . . and the rope that hangs us.

In Nadezra, peace is as tenuous as a single thread. The ruthless House Indestor has been destroyed, but darkness still weaves through the city’s filthy back alleys and jewel-bright gardens, seen by those who know where to look.

Derossi Vargo has always known. He has sacrificed more than anyone imagines to carve himself a position of power among the nobility, hiding a will of steel behind a velvet smile. He’ll be damned if he lets anyone threaten what he’s built.

Grey Serrado knows all too well. Bent under the yoke of too many burdens, he fights to protect the city’s most vulnerable. Sooner or later, that fight will demand more than he can give.

And Ren, daughter of no clan, knows best of all. Caught in a knot of lies, torn between her heritage and her aristocratic masquerade, she relies on her gift for reading pattern to survive. And it shows her the web of corruption that traps her city.

But all three have yet to discover just how far that web stretches. And in the end, it will take more than knives to cut themselves free…

We celebrated by, uh, working. We really want to finish the draft by the end of the year — which we can probably do — but that means we spent the afternoon writing a scene, before taking a break to do an Orbit Live event with the awesome Fonda Lee. But we made the Vraszenian spiced chocolate drink created by Elias Eels, and we watched some TV that night, so that counts for a celebration, right?

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 21

Marie Brennan

One of the big challenges with this book is wrangling when to have all the various plot strands resolve. When you’ve got like seven of them in the air, they can’t all come down at once; apart from the fact that it would be far too pat, you’d also wind up shortchanging them all. Nothing would get a chance to have its impact properly felt.

So as we draft this book, we keep having to finesse the timing of the different resolutions. Some of them have been easy; one was a problem we raised at the end of The Liar’s Knot, which for thematic if not causal reasons needed to be dealt with before other things happened, so we could safely stick that midway through this book. But others . . . the plot that wraps up here was first tentatively slated for the conclusion of Part 2. And that would have made a fair bit of sense! Except it felt like that was too early; the reader would, somewhat justifiably, wonder what the heck was supposed to come after it. So we put something else there and pushed this back to Chapter 21, and there’s still six chapters to go after this — which, admittedly, is quite a bit — but there are other plots that will resolve better with this one out of the way, plus one thing that needs room to grow from the consequences. But then we have to put all of those in sequence, and there’s one we kept kicking down the road that we’ve decided we actually need to retrofit into Chapter 16 because it just doesn’t merit a spot in the end-of-book lineup, plus one we put into the end of Part 2 wound up not having room to breathe so we dragged it out of there and put it in a chapter I haven’t blogged about yet, and AUGH.

I feel a bit like I did at the end of writing the Onyx Court series. After four books of scrupulous research and political intrigue, it was a relief to write Lady Trent, with her much more straightforward adventure plots. Whatever we write after this needs fewer complications, more Shit Blowing Up. 😀

Word count: ~153,000
Authorial sadism: There had to be some price to pay. And somebody had to not play ball, or this wouldn’t have felt difficult.
Authorial amusement: By contrast, one person was entirely willing to play ball — and it might not be the one you expect. (Actually, having typed that, I realized I could be referring to two different people.)
BLR quotient: All of ’em together, even if someone winds up bleeding in the end.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 20

Marie Brennan

I need to step up the pace on the after-the-fact progress blogging if I want to finish this when we finish the book!

Chapter 20 escaped the non-linearity of this particular book’s drafting process mostly by dint of us changing our minds about five minutes before we started writing. We had a plan for the chapter, but it felt a clunky enough that we ended up chucking it. This is a stage of the story where it matters quite a lot where anybody is at any given time, and we had Ren being in Place A, then going to Place B, before going back to Place A for the big thing next chapter, which . . . really just chopped things up in an undesirable way. Combine that with us deciding to scrap a social confrontation we’d originally intended to deal with a certain problem, and it meant I sent Alyc an email literally the morning that we were going to start writing this that was like a thousand words of me thinking with my fingers until I arrived at a new proposal. We had a quick phone call to polish that up into something workable, and then we dove in.

We’re also doing something here which is a little bit tricky to navigate. One of the ongoing plots is, by deliberate design, a thing that isn’t all about our viewpoint characters. It’s absolutely related to what they’re doing, but it’s big enough that having it all be driven by their actions would feel really simplistic and reductionist. So instead we’re trying to go a route where their previous efforts have set stuff up, and their interventions at various points do have an effect, but they aren’t around to see everything, much less to control it. I suspect not all readers will find that satisfying, but . . . sometimes I have an issue with the mentality so common in modern Western fantasy, which Ada Palmer and Jo Walton dissect in this essay, where everything comes down to the actions of a few special people. We’re actively trying to avoid that here, but because reader expectation is often that it’s All About the Heroes, striking the right balance will be an interesting challenge.

Word count: ~146,000
Authorial sadism: Making Ren fail.
Authorial amusement: Off-label uses for numinatria.
BLR quotient: Rhetoric is literally having a shouting match with itself here.