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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.)

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

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.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

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.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

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.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

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.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

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).

3) AND THEY GAVE ME AND ALYC ROOK AND ROSE FAN ART

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.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 9

Marie Brennan

I mentioned in the last progress report that we’d done a fair bit of revision on earlier chapters before completing Chapter 8.

Swap out the number at the end of that sentence, and it’s still true.

There were a few scenes we’d skipped over in our earlier polishing because we didn’t feel like handling them yet, and because they didn’t impinge directly on what we were going to be writing next. This week . . . well, the latter stopped being true, so the former stopped being an excuse. 😛 We had to dive into a whole tangle of stuff going back to Chapter 4 and sort out or rework our logic there, and furthermore, we had to face up to the fact that in our initial spate of writing we’d short-changed the background development on a particular plot strand. A whole conflict was more or less hand-waved as “oh, there’s factionalism going on in this particular group,” without us defining well enough who the factions were and who was in each one, what stories they were telling about each other, etc. It’s actually the same group who got boosted to a much larger role in the story halfway through the first book, necessitating us backtracking and rewriting earlier material to account for their increased significance, so I guess that’s par for the course?

It was moderately sloggy work — as Alyc put it, “our longest and most difficult conversation that didn’t have to do with V–‘s state of undress” — but very much worthwhile, because in the long term it lets us make use of a certain worldbuilding concept that was important in the first book and will be important in the third, i.e. it’s good to reinforce its significance for the reader. And it’s starting to fill in a bit of the current void of Part Four, which is many chapters away, but not so many that it isn’t good to start thinking ahead to what’s going to happen there.

(It is still so weird for me to have such a clear idea of where the story is going later on. But I can’t imagine a collaboration working with my usual level of planning, or rather my usual lack thereof.)

Anyway, with this in the can we are officially just over a third of the way through the draft.

Word count: ~68,000
Authorial sadism: Alyc called this the “let’s give V– a bad day” chapter, to which I countered that this is kind of the “Let’s give V– a bad day” book.
Authorial amusement: Did you think we weren’t going to have more fencing flirtation eventually?
BLR quotient: Hmmm, a tougher call than usual. Kind of an equal mixture, I guess.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 8

Marie Brennan

It’s the return of the progress-blogging!

When we last left our intrepid pair of authors, it was October and I was about to spend a bunch of time traveling. We’d gotten stuck on a scene in Chapter 8 because the setup for it wasn’t quite there yet in the earlier chapters, so we figured we’d take a break to sort that out before proceeding. Then . . . well, as some of you know, Alyc got injured in a way that required two surgeries to fix. And we had to handle revisions on The Mask of Mirrors during that time. Then I was traveling some more. Then a pandemic happened, and also me having to write a different book very fast, and also copy-edits for the first volume, and also page proofs. What with one thing and another, it wasn’t until early this month that we were able to pick ourselves up off the floor and take another look at Chapter 8.

Whereupon I promptly noticed that multiple things would be improved if we kicked that scene into Chapter 9 — so yay, that isn’t a problem we have to solve yet! We warmed our brains back up again by doing revisions on the earlier chapters, some of which were necessitated by changes in The Mask of Mirrors; we also added in a new scene that, per my comment on Twitter, involves a plot-relevant strip-tease. Then we dove back into Chapter 8, now with added breathing rooms for the major scenes happening there.

Because oh yes, there is some major shit here. Both of the fun, caper-y sort, and of the “we’re going to have to steel ourselves to do this to the characters” sort. (Except that once I get into a scene like that, it’s usually very easy for me to twist the knife. It’s the run-up where I’m all, “uhhhh, do I really want to do that . . . ?”)

So: the story is rolling forward again, and at speed. We still need to fix the setup for that one conversation, which will necessitate revision on a few scenes we skipped over in the initial pass, and there are some other plot tangles to sort out before Chapter 9 will be ready to go — but we’ve got a semi-complete outline from here through the beginning of Chapter 16, so the forecast is good for us to make steady progress for a while. And by the time we get through all of that, we’ll have sorted out more of what’s to happen after it. In the meanwhile, it feels good to be back on this bike!

Word count: ~61,000
Authorial sadism: Ren’s monologue. There were just so many options for where to stick the knife in; we used as many of them as we could.
Authorial amusement: UNLEASH THE RATS! (and one very confused cat)
BLR quotient: So very much blood. Some wounds are the kind you need to lance before they can heal. Though that . . . probably wasn’t the best way to do it.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

The Mask of Mirrors!

Marie Brennan

Oh my god, y’all, I’ve been sitting on this foreeeeeeeeeeever.

We have a cover for The Mask of Mirrors! The artist is Nekro, who does all kinds of amazing baroque mask images, and Lauren Panepinto did the rest of the design. That link will take you to io9, which did the big reveal today. It also has an excerpt, to further whet your appetite, full of sword-fighty goodness and some fun with gloves. And if you want more, the Decameron Project ran a different excerpt yesterday, this one looking more at the political side of things.

Furthermore, we’ve got an announcement to make. The release date for The Mask of Mirrors has been pushed back from November of this year to January of next. It’s a little sad only because we wanted to get this into your hands as soon as possible! . . . but in the long run, this is very much the right move. And the second book of the trilogy is still planned for November 2021, i.e. only about ten months after the first one comes out, instead of a full year.

Never fear — we’ll find ways to entertain you in the meanwhile!

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Where I’ve been for the last two months

Marie Brennan

At home, obviously — like a truly staggering percentage of the planet’s population. But it’s been near-total radio silence around here, apart from links to the weekly Patreon posts, so I figure I should update.

The good news is, the silence has not been due to any sort of illness with me or mine. Instead . . . you know all those people posting about the stuff they’ve finally gotten done around the house or the new bread-baking hobby they’ve picked up? That is not me. Through a confluence of factors (some of which were my fault, some of which weren’t), I got behind on drafting Night Parade — which meant that circa early March, I had to put my head down and start charging ahead at speeds nearly unprecedented in my writing career in order to get it done by deadline. (The only comparable instance even in the running was during my senior year of college, after I turned in my thesis and then a novel fell out of my head in about seven weeks.) We’re talking working at at least 150% my normal pace for weeks on end, with no days off anywhere in there. Oh, and partway through that time I had to drop it for five days so I could copy-edit a 214K-word novel, which is about 200% my normal pace for a task of that kind.

Yyyyyeah. It’s been a busy time around here.

The good news is, Night Parade is done and turned in on time (a day ahead, even!), The Mask of Mirrors is copy-edited, and Tachyon gave me until early May to handle the proofs for Driftwood, because I think the Look of Utter Panic I got when those were sent to me a couple of weeks ago was visible even in email. And we’re all healthy here.

We’ve been weathering lockdown fairly well. I work from home anyway, and so does my husband more days than not; my sister (who lives with us) does not, but she used to, so on a domestic level this is a familiar routine. The big changes for me are that I can’t go to the dojo, and I can’t have in-person gaming. Both of which I miss rather acutely, but I’m not among the people who have had to figure out how to do their job from home while also wrangling kids doing distance learning, etc. We’ve figured out how to make online gaming work about as well as it can — the trick is to reboot our Discord video call every 40 minutes or so, as soon as it starts to get choppy — and over the winter I purchased a folding exercise bike that’s put about 500 miles on the odometer in the last two months, as all three members of our household have been making use of it. I’ve also been doing a lot of online teaching, fitting the already-existing theme of 2020 being the year I teach a lot more than I have lately. I did four of Clarion West’s free one-hour workshops, on a variety of worldbuilding themes, and there’s a plan in progress for a six-hour workshop in the near future — that being another thing that got delayed until early May so my brains wouldn’t liquify and pour out my nose. And I’m working for the Kelly Yang Project, teaching creative writing to a kid in Hong Kong.

Free time? What’s that?

In all seriousness, I have also been giving myself a break with some entertainment. Not a whole lot of reading, simply because my brain’s reaction to text on a page is NO NO MAKE IT GO AWAY, but TV shows, video games, and (most unexpectedly) opera, because the Met has been making one opera available for free every night for weeks now. Maybe look for some posts on those in the upcoming days, as I regenerate my ability to word.

Right now, though, I’m doing my best to take a break.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.