Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 9

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.

May Updates and Cover Girls

Two years ago in May, Marie and I said ‘let’s do this’ and launched a whirlwind four months of writing. Most weeks, we put down 10k words or more, and by the time October rolled around, we had a 225k word book draft for what would eventually become The Mask of Mirrors.

Last year in May, we got our first offer for the book and received an enthusiastic proto-response from the editor who made the offer we eventually accepted.

This year, we have a finalized book (at least, we’ve finished with the proofread pass and ARCs are coming soon), a new publication date of January 2021, and a cover debut and excerpt on io9.

After a winter hiatus for a whole rash of life stuff, we’re back into drafting book 2 and it’s shaping up to be so much fun. I’m looking forward to what next May’s updated will be.

This post originally appeared on Alyc Helms’s website.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 8

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!

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

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.

Got Masks?

A few weeks ago, I knocked out some masks for myself and my brother using t-shirts — because I have waaaay too many t-shirts. Copyedits for The Mask of Mirrors are turned it, and since I’m in the ranks of the Covid-19 unemployed, I have some free time to make more.

 I don’t really need another mask for myself, but it occurred to me that other folks among my friends might want some. The masks I’m making are fairly simple. They’re not N95-certified or HEPA-compliant or anything that fancy. They’re just two layers of thick t-shirt cotton with cotton ties to go around the back of the head and neck. However, most of the reports I’m seeing indicate that these are still helpful for people doing necessary errands, etc. 

The 911 on Masks 

They’re washable, which you’ll want to do on receipt (both for sterilization reasons and because I have a cat) and regularly as you use them, but with three masks, you can easily rotate them. So, let me know if you want me to make you some masks. Feel free to email me at alychelms@gmail.com with your request and shipping details. 

Each t-shirt yields three masks — one plain and two with a portion of the t-shirt design. No charge, though if I get a lot of requests then I wouldn’t say no to folks Venmo-ing me a few bucks to cover packaging and postage. Depending on the response I get, I’ll probably churn out a bunch this weekend and do a single trip to the post office on Monday to send them out. 

If you have a particular design you’d like, let me know. Designs available are on a first come, first serve basis. Base t-shirt color is listed in parentheses. I’ll update this list as designs are claimed — assuming I get any requests at all 🙂 

  • Rigoletto (black)
  • Fox-o-Lantern (black)
  • Winter Fairy (navy)
  • Disney Princesses (grey)
  • Princess & Dragon (black)
  • Princess & Dragon (kelly green)
  • Fox Leafpile (kelly green)
  • Dragon & Phoenix (black) Claimed!
  • Story Dragon (navy)
  • Fire Dragon (black)
  • Distressed Flash (black)
  • Loki (black)
  • Mulan (black)
  • Wicked Witch & Flying Monkeys (black)
  • Unicorn Mermaid (bright blue)
  • Ursula 1 (black)
  • Ursula 2 (black)
  • Ursula 3 (black) Yes, I have a lot of Ursula t-shirts. And?
  • Star Wars: Rey 1 (black) Claimed!
  • Star Wars: Rey 2(black)
  • Star Wars: General Leia (navy)
  • Toothless 1 (black)
  • Toothless 2 (black)
  • Toothless 3 (navy)
  • The World’s End (black)
  • Cernunnos & Rhiannon (navy) Warning: tastefully obscured boobies Claimed!
  • Cernunnos & Rhiannon (dark green)
  • John Barleycorn & Willendorf Venus (dark green)
  • Green Man (dark green) 

Now to figure out what’s going to be on in the background while I churn these out. Suggestions?

This post originally appeared on Alyc Helms’s website.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 7

I am really, really glad we are getting some distance into Book Two before Book One goes in the can.

We went into this series with a (for me) remarkably detailed idea of where the story was going in the long term. But even with that . . . stuff keeps cropping up. Bits and pieces where we say, hmmm, we have to figure that out — and then what we figure out really ought to be reflected in the previous volume. Or we change our minds on a thing because it will serve our later purposes better to do it this way instead of that way, and isn’t it a good thing we still have the option of revising?

That happened in two places this chapter, one a matter of organizational structure for a group in the story, the other a matter of metaphysics. Sadly, we won’t be able to write the entire second book before we have to ship the first one off into the maw of production, but the further we get, the better. We can still make changes even into the copy-edit phase, though it gets more annoying at that point.

As for the chapter itself . . . we’ve been so busy juggling various balls of plot and such (not to mention the interruptions of day jobs and travel) that our rough draft has been feeling rougher than normal. But we had a marathon day of writing yesterday, and I think that had really good results for us packing in something more like our usual density of description, characterization, banter, and interweaving of plots. Everything this chapter was focused on V in one way or another, which gives it a nice feeling of coherence — that’s something we try to aim for, though obviously not every chapter can have that kind of through-line. (Not without feeling totally artificial in its structure, anyway.)

Poor characters, though. Starting next chapter, we’ll be heading into the moments where all the problems between them bare their fangs and bite down. It’s still going to be interleaved with fun things — capers, trickery, dancing, naptime, small fuzzy animals — but shit’s gonna get worse for a while before it gets better.

Word count: ~50,000
Authorial sadism: The whole chapter? It’s basically “let’s dump problems on this character’s head, whee!” But the “I didn’t know” moment in particular is gonna come back to bite him later.
Authorial amusement: “Will you stop that?” (Brought to you by us noticing we’d done a certain thing, like, three times — so R— might as well notice it, too.) Also, the line about justice being revenge in formal dress.
BLR quotient: I guess when the chapter is a survey of various conflicts, I gotta call it for blood.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 6

Welcome to Plot Tetris!

I’ve talked before about how it isn’t enough for a scene to just do an interesting character thing, or a plot beat, or whatever. It has to do multiple things at once. In the case of this series, where we have so many interlacing layers of story, we’re constantly having to keep an eye on the pace at which those get measured out, and make sure nothing gets dropped for too long or given insufficient time to develop. (There’s a whiteboard. It’s color-coded. As is our outline spreadsheet.)

Which led to some serious “bang our heads against the wall” time with this chapter. We needed a scene from the viewpoint of a character who’s been neglected, because otherwise her corner of the story risks falling out of the novel entirely — okay. But what should that scene do? It needs to involve these other characters; fine. We could even figure out some character beats for it. But see above re: that’s not enough; we had to figure out a plot thing for it to be doing, too. And we went about nine rounds before we managed to settle on something that works, in terms of furthering something that needs to be furthered right now, while also fitting that specific group of people.

This whole part of the book is going to be like that. At this point we’ve got something approaching a nearly-complete outline for the next four chapters, but it involved a metric crap-ton of rearranging, pushing back stuff we expected to happen earlier, checking where we stood on pov scenes for various characters, and figuring out which beats we need to show vs. being able to mention them happening offstage. All of which is before we get into details like “giant end-of-part caper, how???” But those are chapters away, and we can worry about them when we get there.

Or, y’know, after. One of the scenes in this chapter needs rewriting, because we changed our minds about the metaphysical thing going on in it — for the better, I think, since it made my brain light up in a way the previous version hadn’t — and it’s not the only scene we’re going to backtrack to eventually. More or less inevitable, when you’re juggling this many balls; sometimes you don’t quite have a feel for what needs to happen until you’ve got more of what comes later pinned down. Or you just don’t know how much attention you can devote to it, wordcount-wise. As great as it is to nail a scene on the first try, that doesn’t always happen. But that’s what revision is for.

Word count: ~42,000
Authorial sadism: Ethnic Impostor Syndrome ahoy, and also seeing what it would have looked like had someone been there for you.
Authorial amusement: Wow, we entertained ourselves with food this chapter, both good and bad. Raw mussels, coffee, a coded reference to buffalo wings, and one of our characters is totally going to invent mac and cheese.
BLR quotient: Lots of rhetoric, which is part of why it’s such a snarl to sort through. But I’d be lying if I said the impending love in the final scene isn’t, like, half the reason we showed up for this book.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com

Happy Birthday, M.A. Carrick

I promised the story of why Alyc and I chose the pen name M.A. Carrick. Since this is the two-year anniversary of us coming up with the idea of the Rook and Rose series, it seems like an appropriate time to tell that tale.

We knew going into this that there were good odds a publisher would prefer to put the book out under a single name rather than two of them, and were totally willing to do that. But what name? There’s a time-honored tradition of looking to things like maiden names; I have no idea if Alyc’s family tree offers up any good ones, but none of the nearby names in my ancestry felt right. And we’d want it to be something that felt like it represented us both in some fashion, not just one side.

Well, what did James S.A. Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) do? It turns out they used their middle names, plus initials from Abraham’s daughter. Unfortunately for us, if we did that we’d get . . . Marie Marie. (Yes, Marie is my middle name.) Not really an option.

Okay, forget the first name — we could do initials for that, M.A. or A.M., for Alyc and Marie. And then all we would need is a last name. What could represent us both?

We met a little over nineteen years ago at an archaeological field school in Wales and Ireland, based primarily at the site of Castell Henllys. Henllys would have us both trying and failing to pronounce the Welsh double L correctly; Castell is easier to just give up on and turn into a normal L, but on the other hand it means “castle,” which felt just a wee bit too on-the-nose for a fantasy author. But hang on . . . two of the six weeks of the field school were spent in Ireland, with us working at sites like Devenish Island or Aghalurcher. None of those clicked.

Our nights, however, were spent in the town of Carrickmacross.

There’s a delicate thing that happens with collaboration where you think up some BRILLIANT idea and then hope to hell your partner likes it, because you’re having a hard time imagining anything else now. Fortunately, when I pitched “M.A. Carrick” to Alyc, not only did they love it, they made it better: because they immediately pointed out that Carrick-ma-cross = Carrick is a cross between M(arie) and A(lyc). Which I hadn’t even realized when I thought it up; I was just shortening “Carrickmacross” to something a little less unwieldy.

So there you have it! And when we were in Dublin for WorldCon last month, we had someone take photos of the two of us together; it remains to be seen whether we like any of them well enough to use them as our author photo, but it seemed appropriate to try to get a shot there, in the country that gave rise to our pen name and our friendship.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 5

With this, Part One is complete, and the plot has taken center stage at last!

I mean, it’s been present before this. But in a strand here, a strand there; this is the first time the reader gets a good look at the overall shape of it, and how those strands are all going to tangle together throughout this book. Complete with the entrance of a major new character, and some new metaphysical stuff, and you didn’t think we’d spend this book just playing around with our existing toys, did you?

Admittedly, we’re almost forty thousand words into the book. But this is the balancing act of writing intrigue: you can’t present the reader up-front with the problem and the people involved in it; you have to dole that out a few bites at a time. Hopefully in a way that makes the opening courses tasty in their own right, before the main dish arrives. Except that it turns out the opening courses were part of the main dish, so this metaphor doesn’t really work.

Anyway, now we move into Part Two, where both the intrigue and the ridiculous character things we’ve been looking forward to for ages really get rolling. ? There will, for the record, be five parts in total — so we’re about 20% done with the draft.

Word count: ~36,000
Authorial sadism: Welcome to your PTSD, R–!
Authorial amusement: “The [redacted] was innocent. Unlike its master.”
BLR quotient: Whole lotta rhetoric, of the sooper sekrit sort. But before that, some very nice love, of several different sorts.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com