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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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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!

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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.)

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