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

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 4

Sarah Rees Brennan (no relation) once said on Twitter that “the second book of a trilogy is for kissing.” Taken in the broader sense of character relationships, not just romantic ones, I think this is very true.

See, the first book of a series has to do a lot of heavy lifting, in terms of setting up the material of the story. It has to introduce characters and setting and conflict, and while it builds relationships, too, there’s only so much room to play around with those. Whereas in the second book, you’ve got a lot of your foundation in place, and now you’re free to dance on it. You can take the existing relationships and complicate them, give them more depth, test them or turn them upside down and shake them to see what falls out.

As you may have guessed based on me bringing this up, that’s a fair bit of what Chapter Four is doing here. Our first scene takes an existing relationship and sticks it into a wildly different context, adding in another character to fuel some interesting interactions over there. Our second and third (which are linked) show you that from another angle, and weave a minor character back into story in ways that show they aren’t as minor as you may have thought. Our fourth takes two people who previously haven’t spoken and puts them together for the first time, with hilarious results. And our fifth goes back to another existing relationship and moves it closer to center stage.

Of course all of this is doing plot work, too. As much as we joke about the eight million fanfics one could write about these characters, ultimately we can’t just coast along writing relationship fluff; there have to be more layers. (If there weren’t, it would take approximately three times as many words to convey all the substance we want to pack into this book. And it ain’t a short book to begin with.) In fact, right now we’re dissatisfied with the last scene of the chapter, because it isn’t quite doing the plot work it needs to — it’s trying, but we never quite fell into the right rhythm. So we’ll fix it later; in the meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead on Chapter 5.

Which will also be the end of Part One. Yes, we have Fun Things planned. ?

Word count: ~28,000
Authorial sadism: SHOE’S ON THE OTHER FOOT NOW, HOW D’YA LIKE THAT. Actually, multiple shoes on multiple other feet. This is a chapter full of people getting to find out what it’s like to be the other guy.
Authorial amusement: The first appearance of Y– on the scene. Also, someone missing their mark by two inches.
BLR quotient: Love takes the lead! At least in the sense that “love” = “relationships” in this particular system. But in some more conventional senses, too — eventually.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 3

We finished Chapter Three last night. We’re really hitting our stride now: the beginning of a sequel is always a tricky piece of work, balancing reminding the reader of past events against the need to move the story forward, and I expect we’ll do a fair bit of revision on the first two chapters to make them as tight as possible. But now we’ve got some proper momentum . . . and a return to the fun that is banter-y action stuff.

I can already tell that point of view choices are going to be an interesting thing in this book. Last time around, there were certain constraints on who we used for what events, but those are mostly gone now — which means that we decided at the last minute to swap one of the scenes in this chapter to a different viewpoint, which clicked much better for us both. That choice is going to be dictated more by the tradeoffs of “what fun things would this perspective offer us versus that one?,” instead of having to do it one way or another for plot reasons.

Word count: ~22,000
Authorial sadism: “She’s fine now anyway, so what does it matter?”
Authorial amusement: Setting up two perfectly good plans that happen to cancel each other out.
BLR quotient: Why hello there, blood. Both the literal (there’s a fair bit of violence in this chapter, though none of it lethal) and the metaphorical (the consequences of past betrayals).

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chs. 1 and 2

As I mentioned in the announcement post for Rook and Rose, we’ve already started writing the second book of the trilogy. I haven’t been blogging about it here because it felt weird to discuss the sequel before we could make news of the sale public — and in fact I’ll have to be cautious about what I post on that subject in general, since there’s a greater risk of spoilers. But it was really fun reporting my progress before, so let’s give it another shot!

Don’t expect the pace to be like it was last time, though. There’s a lot of travel interrupting us this time around, and we’re also not going to half-kill ourselves with four straight months of NaNoWriMo-pace writing again.

But for Chapter One . . .

Word count: ~7800
Authorial sadism: Not a lot in this chapter, to be honest. We’re too busy delicately picking our way through the web of exposition to really make our characters suffer yet. But I suppose R– realizing the sheer scale of what she’s gotten herself into counts.
Authorial amusement: The first of many messages left on a balcony.
BLR quotient: No blood yet. Fair bit of rhetoric, though, which (as you may recall) for the purposes of progress-blogging encompasses political maneuvering. And love, too — because in its way, the love is always there.

And for Chapter Two . . .

Word count: ~14,000 (This chapter is currently too short, because we weren’t sure how long it would take us to get through the absolutely necessary material. We’re going to expand it later.)
Authorial sadism: The wrong subject mentioned in front of the wrong person. There’s a lot of both to go around, so this is likely to be a recurring problem . . .
Authorial amusement: A– continues to be one of our favorite characters. Also P–. The world is very glad that the two of them would probably never think to work together; I shudder to imagine what might result.
BLR quotient: Rhetoric is still on top, though it’s getting bloodier. Especially given what R–’s been asked to do.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Sekrit Projekt R&R is sekrit no more!

You may remember that last year Alyc Helms and I fell headfirst down a hole and emerged a few months later with a novel we’d written together, which I blogged about here as “Sekrit Project R&R.”

R&R, my friends, stands for Rook and Rose: the name of the trilogy Orbit Books has just bought from us.

What is it? Epic fantasy. But that sells it short. It has fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles, and I’m only sorry we didn’t manage to get a giant in there; maybe we can make somebody really tall during editorial revisions? Also the kind of worldbuilding that happens when you let two anthropologists off their leashes. It has a con artist, a vigilante, and capers as flirtation. It has weird dream shit because we love that stuff, yo. It has noble politics and street gangs and deception layered so deep I literally made a color-coded chart at one point about who knew what, which persona of theirs knew it, and whether other people knew they knew it.

It also — and this is important, so remember — has a new name on the cover. Rather than publishing under two names (which is often unwieldy), we are putting this out as M.A. Carrick. If you want to follow us on Twitter, you can do so @ma_carrick, and we also have a placeholder website that we’ll be expanding into something very shiny just as soon as we’re not both about to get on planes to Ireland.

Later I will tell you all the story of why that pen name. (Appropriately enough, it involves Ireland!) In the meanwhile, I need to go squee some more. I’ll just leave you with this song, which we posted last year as a teaser for the flavor of the thing we were working on . . .

(Oh, and also? We’ve already started writing book two.)

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Level Unlock – Big Damn Trilogy Sale!!

Last summer, I started working on a collaborative project with Marie Brennan that ended up being more or less NaNoWriMo for four months straight. We finished the 220k word behemoth in October, tossed it back and forth between beta readers, our agents, and each other, and sent it out to editors this past spring.

This week, we accepted a deal from Orbit Books to publish it as the first book of the Rook and Rose trilogy! It will be coming under the joint pen name M.A. Carrick (there’s a story there, but that’s for later).

I’m still working on my elevator pitch for the series, but here’s the general gist:

Alta Renata Viraudax is actually Arenza Lenskaya, a con artist who has infiltrated the nobility in an attempt to set herself up with a cushy life… only to run afoul of The Rook, a Dread-Pirate-Roberts-style vigilante whose mission is to oppose the nobility — including the increasingly visible Alta Renata. Capers, banter, double-crossing, and identity hijinks ensue. Think The Scarlet Pimpernel meets Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora series.

This was the most fun writing that I’ve ever had, and I think it shows on every page. Marie and I bring out the best in each other, and because we’re both anthropology worldbuilding geeks, we were able to create an incredibly rich, dense setting for us to play in. We’ve got multiple, inter-locking magic systems — Marie developed a whole divinatory card system that will definitely be Kickstarted so we can create an actual deck, and I got to get my ritual magic on by creating another system based on sacred geometry. There’s politics and economics, swashbuckling and derring-do, queerness and genderplay galore (because hell yeah there is), and so many fun characters that it hurts sometimes to do terrible things to them.

More news to come as this moves from editing into production! A little over a year ago, all we had was an idea. Now we have a book deal. Soon we’ll have a book! These things move faster than you think. I hope you’ll all come along with us for the ride.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with what has sort of become our unofficial theme song:

This post originally appeared on Alyc Helms’s website.