Author Archive

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 24

Marie Brennan

One! Chapter! Left!

True to previously-established form, we wrote this one in a single day — though it was a bit less heavy lifting this time, because the chapter wound up running short. By which I mean it’s just under 6K, and will probably tip over that line once we add in some more detail we rushed past in our initial race to get to the exciting bits. I recognize that this is not a “short” chapter by most people’s standards, but ours are mostly in the 7500-8500 range, so this is noticeably below.

Which is fine. The thrilling climax would not be made more thrilling by the addition of padding. And since we’ve spent this whole book trying to make sure things don’t balloon up above the range we’re supposed to keep to, this just means we’ve bought ourselves more breathing room to add in all the descriptive stuff we’ve been short-changing throughout (not on purpose, just mostly because it’s a sequel and we forget we need to re-establish things).

So all that’s left is the denouement. And a couple of earlier bits we need to polish up, so we can truly feel like we’ve got a finished draft when it’s done.

Word count: ~190,000
Authorial sadism: A chance to solve a problem forever . . .
Authorial amusement: A fistful of charms, and someone being puzzled by their own hesitation.
BLR quotient: Oh so much blood. But not nearly as much as there could have been, if the characters were just a little harder-hearted.

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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 23

Marie Brennan

So close to the end!

The progress blog I didn’t post because we wound up utterly reworking our plans for what lay ahead talked about the idea of playing with both repetition and change over the course of a series: doing the same thing again in order to leverage the echo, tracing a different path through the same beat, or shaking things up completely. That’s coming back a bit here, because the climax of the first book and the climax of the second have a certain element in common — so how can we keep it from feeling stale?

Part of the answer is to change the on-ramp. The Mask of Mirrors goes careening into its climactic bit with only a brief lull between a Big Thing and the grand finale; this one takes a slower and more deliberate approach. The characters see what lies ahead rather than running face-first into it, and that means they have time to plan (which is what they’re doing in this chapter). Of course their plans won’t go off like they intend — it would be boring if they did — but the time has come for them to be less reactive, more proactive. And that will also set us up nicely for whatever it is we do at the end of the third book. The specifics of which are very much TBD, of course, but we know the gist of it, and I think it will make for a nice third variant on the pattern.

Heh, pattern. Which is a kind of important thing in this setting.

Two chapters to go!

Word count: ~184,000
Authorial sadism: Not everybody made that promise.
Authorial amusement: Cavalry to the . . . rescue?
BLR quotient: I think rhetoric, since a whole lot of this hinges on doing some metaphysical math.

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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 22

Marie Brennan

As I mentioned before, Chapter 22 was almost done by the time I reported on 21, so here, have another one!

This is basically our last bit of fun, in the sense of having some scenes where our characters get to deal with smaller problems in a more lighthearted way. In fact, what we originally conceived of as being some kind of caper wound up instead being two characters literally toasting each other with wine glasses while they watch a small farce play out: we could have made it something more involved and energetic, but the ironic effect of dialing it back makes for a fun change of pace.

With all the rearrangement and changes of plan we’ve done, this chapter also wound up having a plot beat that was originally in Chapter 18, now stripped of half the characters who used to be there, moved to a new location, and simplified. As much as it sucks to scrap two thousand words and replace them, I think this version is much better — even if I spent way too much time thinking about methods of execution only to have the scene not even reference that aspect. Oh well, waste not, want not; maybe in the third book we’ll have some reason to refer to the idea I came up with, which is horrifically gory and also culturally appropriate.

Or, y’know, in a future series. Because yes, we’re already tossing ideas around for doing more in this setting, if we get the chance. We’ve spent so much time building up a rich world for this story to take place in; it would be downright thrifty of us to re-use it for another plot.

Word count: ~176,000
Authorial sadism: It’s a surprisingly non-sadistic chapter! I guess we pummeled our characters’ hearts so much last chapter, they needed a quick breather.
Authorial amusement: Too many to count. The wine glasses, the reaction to a name, someone putting her foot down, a gibbering fanboy moment, “go ahead and finish your breakfast.”
BLR quotient: Rhetoric makes a strong comeback.

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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 21

Marie Brennan

I’ve been so busy writing, I’ve forgotten to report!

We’re in the home stretch now, the fifth part of a five-part book. It would feel more like the home stretch if we didn’t keep retooling our plans; the Chapter 21 we wrote is neither the original Chapter 21 we had planned, nor quite the Chapter 21 we replaced the original plan with (though the second redesign was more about changing the sequence of stuff so that its context was different, rather than swapping it out wholesale). We’ve got so many threads we’re trying to pull together now, and we have to balance the demands of exposition against emotional weight and still try to have some kind of action going on.

But that’s my thoughts being colored a bit by the fact that we’re almost done with Chapter 22 and have actually started 23 (because linearity, what is that?). 21 is really more of the feelingz wrecking ball hitting the characters from several directions at once, not all of thos good. They finally know, in full surround-sound smell-o-vision technicolor glory, just how much danger they’re in. And they’re not getting out of the woods this book; following the grand tradition of sonata structure, this movement is the one in a minor key. Final resolution will have to wait for the next volume.

Word count: ~168,000 (we also added in the earlier scenes we needed)
Authorial sadism: The worst thing is when you start to doubt your own mind.
Authorial amusement: Look, you can’t set up a character to be afraid of X and NOT inflict X on them eventually.
BLR quotient: What if the love is actually just more blood?

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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 20

Marie Brennan

THIS &#$#@$%! BOOK

I say that with love. 🙂 But I had a progress report all written up on Tuesday night, ready to post the next day . . . and then I woke up on Wednesday to a slew of emails from Alyc, the bulk of which boiled down to “I think we should throw out most of the plot we have planned for the last fifth of the book.” You know, the stuff we spent Monday outlining with multicolored index cards all over the floor.

They had good reasons. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be posting this progress report instead, the one that starts with the keysmash profanity. The plot we had in mind isn’t a bad one — but it’s one that would benefit much more from being delayed to book three, where it would have stronger logic backing it and a lot more room to breathe. And by chucking it, we bought ourselves room to do some other things in its place. But it meant that instead of waking up, posting my report, and getting started on Chapter 21, I got in the car and drove to Alyc’s place to do the outlining thing all over again. (Side note: I promise we are both taking pandemic precautions as we should, but for several reasons Alyc has essentially been counted as a member of my household for quarantine purposes. That’s why we were sitting on the same futon for the unboxing video for The Mask of Mirrors, why we’ve been getting together in person for book planning, etc.)

That work barely affected this chapter at all — we just had to cut the very brief ending scene that existed to launch the plot we scrapped, and we may alter the sequencing of the remaining ones. But the things I had written for my old progress report were all about us figuring out how to ring the changes on certain conflicts, keeping them from having too much the same shape as the things we did in the first book. Instead we’ve decided to go a different direction entirely — which is another reason why this shift of plans is a good one. I think one of the cool things a series can do is revisit core conflicts or themes from new angles, so it wasn’t inherently bad that there were similarities, but we like this version much better.

However. It isn’t just a matter of snipping out that one scene and proceeding into the new map. This change means that the narrative strand which was going to have its big climactic thing in part five just lost that; it needs a new climax. Which means taking the thing we did in Chapter 18 (where it honestly felt too cramped anyway) and pushing it back to 22, now in new! improved! form!, then figuring out new things to do in 18, and changing the fallout that it had in 19. And those other things we now have room to do? As I said in the last post, we’d already marked a few places where we felt like we needed to go back and add scenes; well, the things we want to do rest on the foundations of those unwritten scenes. So instead of starting Ch. 21 this week, we’re taking a few days to make some revisions and backfill some new material.

It’s all good stuff. Which is why, even though one of Alyc’s emails started with “Don’t kill me, but…,” my reaction was “yeah, we should probably do that.” But still. This &#$#@$%! book.

Word count: ~158,000
Authorial sadism: Someone’s worst nightmare come true.
Authorial amusement: She doesn’t have a first name. (Er, not that other character over there, whose lack of a first name is not amusing at all.)
BLR quotient: Since we snipped out that one scene, I’ll give it to love. Even if some of that love is really twisted and in need of help.

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Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 19

Marie Brennan

I forgot to write up a progress report for this chapter when we finished it! Well, that just means you’ll get the update for Chapter 20 not long after this one, since we have only two more scenes to write for that.

Though actually, we decided today that Chapter 19 isn’t really done. It needs a scene added to it, because there’s a side plot that has been kicked so far down the street, we’ve wound up with an unconscionably large gap between its beats. Not just that, but the plan we had for how it was going to start will no longer make much sense at all in its new context. So we’ll be writing the start as its own scene here, and the rest will become a scene of its own all the way down in 22. But I’m not sure when we’re going to fill that in, so since I normally would have written this post last week when I considered Chapter 19 complete, we’ll pretend that’s still true.

We’re doing kind of an astonishing amount of backtracking and changing things this time around. I’m not sure why — as in, will the third book be the same way? Or is it something about this particular tangle of plots that’s making the process of sorting them out so non-linear? There’s no way for me to tell right now, but today we came up with two more scenes we need to backfill, again to develop something that’s a little underbaked right now. Those are scattered all over the place, in Chapters 7 and 13, with a plan to also add something on that front to an existing scene in Chapter 5. Our spreadsheet outline is littered with comments reminding us to change little and not-so-little things when we revise. We had a similar list for The Mask of Mirrors, but I feel like less of it involved “rewrite the beginning of this scene to account for the subplot retconned in halfway through the book.” For someone like me, who’s used to an almost completely linear writing process, it’s a little unnerving.

But the good news is that I believe all these changes really are making the book better. And as of today, we have what passes for a complete outline through the finale of the book — so the end is in sight!

Word count: ~149,000
Authorial sadism: Really, that character can only blame Alyc. I didn’t write any of that journey.
Authorial amusement: Gloves!!!
BLR quotient: Sometimes love means bleeding on someone else’s behalf.

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Rook and Rose, Book 2: Chapter 18

Marie Brennan

For years now I’ve had an essay on my site about writer’s block and why I don’t like that term. The short form is, calling something “writer’s block” does not help you figure out what the cause is, nor how to fix it.

This is relevant right now because Alyc and I had some trouble with a scene in this chapter. We knew we needed to do more with a particular character, and we knew it had to function as setup for something else in the near future. So we’d come up with an idea that, structurally speaking, was exactly what we needed it to be.

We couldn’t get traction on it.

I wrote a beginning. Alyc wrote a bit more. I stared at the screen and had no clue where to go from there. Alyc felt the same. We agreed that, since the next two scenes in the chapter weren’t directly affected by this one, we could work on those and hope that when we came back the next day, we’d have more inspiration. The next day we came back and . . . nope.

When we got on the phone to hash it out (as opposed to in chat, which is how we handle smaller bits of coordination), the first thing I said was “I think we should consider whether we ought to scrap this and replace it with something else.” And that’s what we wound up doing. Because while the idea we originally had was, structurally speaking, exactly what it needed to be . . . nothing in it seemed fun. Not just in the superficial sense of “yay this is a fun scene where entertaining things happen!,” but in the deeper sense of “there is nothing here that we’re excited to write.” In fact, our idea called for some things that, while all too appropriate, we really didn’t want to write.

That’s one of the many possible flavors of writers’ block, and the solution for it was to back up and take another look: at our reasons for needing a scene with this character, at what it had to lay the groundwork for, at what it could be doing to enrich other parts of the story, and — perhaps most usefully — what had happened up to this point, which the new scene could build off. That last wound up providing us with a good hook . . . and we could tell it was a good hook because as we started working through that notion (“okay, how would this happen? Who would be involved? What tactics would they use?”), we started making those noises that happen when one idea cascades into another. The end result is a set-up and spike of two shorter scenes that land on a lot of personal and emotional buttons for the character. Buttons we would have missed entirely if we’d gone with our first idea.

Collaboration may pose extra challenges, but it also provides extra tools. In this case, when both authors are looking at a planned scene and saying “meh” . . . it helps us be sure that it isn’t just laziness talking. We’re barking up the wrong tree, and need to go find another one.

Word count: ~141,000 (and with that, I have officially fulfilled this part of my Clarion West Write-a-Thon goals!)
Authorial sadism: That character might have preferred us to stick with our original idea.
Authorial amusement: The discussion of moon eyes.
BLR quotient: Starts with love, stays there longer than any of the characters expected, then takes a hard swerve to blood.

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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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