Skirmish: Spoiler discussion thread

People who post here are going to be discussing evens in the book itself, so if you hate spoilers, this is not the thread for you :).

Happy New Year, and Skirmish Prologue and first chapter

Well. The end of 2011 was hectic, and I’ve been a little snowed under with work.

I’m an introvert by nature. People who’ve met me in real life often find this description a bit confusing, because in real life, I don’t generally strike people as shy. But introversion is not synonymous with shyness. I like interacting with my readers. Actually, let me rephrase that. I like interacting with readers for whom reading is a lifelong obsession, because that pretty much describes me, and it’s something we have in common.

But interaction, when I’m overwhelmed, takes thought, focus, and energy, and when writing is particularly difficult, that’s where all the mental energy goes–and it leaves me with very little left over. When I am in that state, it resembles this, except with more writing, less going outside, and no video store. Given that I am working, and that work frequently involves wholesale removal of the thousands of words I worked on with such hair-pulling difficulty the day before, I begin to feel like a bit of a fraud. If you are here because I’m a writer and I am obviously writing so badly that I need to throw out thousands of words repeatedly, how entertaining can I be?

Intellectually I know I will wrestle the book into shape. I know that four years from now, I won’t actually remember which words were the product of multiple attempts, and which words came naturally and effortlessly. I know this because that’s what always happens. Because I know this, I don’t want or need sympathy, and frankly, you are not coming here to pat a pathetic person on the head.

I think, a decade ago, it was less obvious when I underwent the inward-focused work collapse–but with online social media and its prevalence, it’s become much more obvious when I become entirely overwhelmed and have to shut down anything that’s not writing. I apologize for my absence; my New Year’s resolution is to make a daily attempt to gain control over an overflowing inbox, among other things.

I’ve noticed, as I’ve tried to catch up here, that there’s a sample of Skirmish on google books. It’s available to North American residents because DAW owns North American rights for this series, but a UK reader emailed me this afternoon to ask that I make it available for non-North American readers who are waiting on copies to arrive. I’ve now added the Skirmish sample, for those who couldn’t read the Google version. It’s the prologue and first chapter.

Steve Jobs

At Apple.com today is an obituary. It is absolutely done in the Apple style; it’s simple, it’s graphically arresting — and it is also startling, almost unbelievable.

Steve Jobs is dead.

When I heard the news that he had stepped down, I was almost in tears, something my mother couldn’t understand. She was happy for him; he’d worked so hard for so long, she wished him a happy retirement. That wasn’t my first thought; my first thought was: he’s dying, and he knows it; he literally can’t run the company any more.

Why was that my first thought? Because it’s exactly the way I’ll retire from writing. Writing is my job, but it’s also my obsession, my compulsion, my avocation. I will stop when they pry my rigor-clenched fingers from my keyboard. I will never reach the millions of people Steve Jobs did, but that’s almost beside the point.

Is writing always a joy? No, of course not. Neither are children–especially on the day after the presentation of a stomach ‘flu when you’ve done 3 loads of laundry at 2:00 a.m., you’ve gotten no sleep yourself, and you know you’re going to pay for it. But you love them anyway, and the worst thing that could possibly happen is that they could be taken away from you. There seems to be an idea that love is always joy. I don’t subscribe to it. I do, however, believe that it is the greatest source of joy–and of work, of pain, of longing, of peace.

This sounds amazingly melodramatic. I know it does. So let me explain what Steve Jobs’ start-up lab-in-a-garage company means–and has meant–to me.

My bedroom is shared, my office is shared, my closet space and dresser space–all shared. My books, to a lesser extend–the ones I bought, not the ones I wrote–are also shared. Food I buy is shared. Even the hours of sleep–especially when the kids were young–were not my own. But everybody needs a bit of privacy, even if they’re otherwise happy to be encased in a family home.

A computer is a room of my own. It is the only space I own that belongs entirely to me. It’s not a physical space, but I don’t have that, and never have. It’s a space carved out for my thoughts, my words, my email, my bits of trivia, even my music. It’s mine, it’s an oasis to which I retreat. It has a figurative door, and so many windows out into the world, and I can open or close them without asking anyone else if it’s okay.

In the early years of Mac OS, no two Macs looked the same–the desktop pictures were different, the icons, the system fonts, even the way menus were arranged. Mine was no exception.

It was my space. I could decorate it. I could fuss over it. I could look at it and think that the shelves were becoming too damn crowded, and decide, for purely selfish reasons, what could–or could not–be thrown out to make more room.

Much fun has been made of people who choose a computer for its external design sensibility. I don’t see why — people choose houses, clothing and cars for more than just simple functionality. A computer is not a simple commodity for me – it’s where I work. It’s part of where I live. It’s a large part of how I keep in touch with my various communities. The programs housed in it reflect my sensibilities across a broad spectrum.

There is nothing inanimate that I love quite so much as my tech, and this is why: it’s a room of my own. It’s a personal space, from which I create things that I can share. It’s part of the way I work and live.

Steve Job’s not-so-little company designed, engineered and sold millions of the stylish small boxes. They were mass-produced, of course, but the act of choosing one was the act of transforming everything about it that wasn’t fixed, that wasn’t engineered. Opening a Mac box and taking out all of the bits and pieces packed therein was almost ceremonial — but it was a gleeful, joyful, hopeful, personal ceremony. It was pure squee.

I never met the man. I never sent him email. But he has honestly had as much of an effect on my life, through his own work, as many of the people I have, so I am going to grieve in my own small way.

Cast in Ruin: Cover

I’ve received permission to post this. It’s a cover proof, which means it’s open to some minor revision; there might be some small details that change between this and the final. But I thought people might like to take a look at it.

(ETA: The artist responsible for the cover is Shane Rebenschied)

Cast in Ruin is an October 2011 title.

Cover proof

State of the Writing, December 2010

Mikaela wrote:

If you have some free-ish time would you mind updating the news section? Or actually, updating anywhere with info on Cast in Ruin?? Or anything really. You haven’t posted on the site for a while. :( That, and I can’t wait for Cast in Ruin! I’m soo excited! Happy Holidays Michelle!

I admit that when I don’t have anything new to report, I start to feel a tiny bit self-conscious posting, because the actual content, stripped of words, boils down to: Still writing.

While my oldest son considers writer-angst and doubt a spectator sport–at a safe distance, of course–it’s not inherently that interesting as an activity when viewed externally. (He’s also gotten used to the middle of book stretch in which I despair, although he gently chides me for my total lack of objectivity about my own work.)

So it’s not that I don’t care about my readers — I do! — but that I’m desperately afraid of boring them. We all live in fear, in this very heavily marketing-driven New World, of being somehow uninteresting in and of ourselves.

However, I have been working. About two weeks of that work was not on-line work, and I did lose a week of writing to the stress of moving a retail bookstore into a space that while, in theory, was supposed to be ready for a retail store, had, oh, no lights, among other things. I had a bunch of things I desperately wanted to read, and I had no brain, no energy and no time for them. Never mind actual, decent words.

So all of my on-line life came to a halt; I stopped the LJ posts about my son’s early life, and I admit that I also once again played email evasion while I tried to catch up.

The store is still not quite finished, but with any luck, we can move the last of the stock into the new location on Monday or Tuesday (coming up), and my life will completely go back to what passes for normal around here.

Which was — surprise! — a digression. I am sorry for being neglectful, though, and in hopeful compensation for that, I have Actual News.

During the move, I was also in discussions with agent and publisher about a book that I wrote on spec almost three years ago. I read a chapter of it at Confluence some time ago. It’s been on the backburner, because I have books to write for which I have signed contracts in hand.

For those not familiar with the term on spec, a brief (I promise!) digression.
It means I wrote the book because I wanted to write it, with the hopes that it would find a home at a later date. I wasn’t certain it would sell, because there’s no complete certainty. Most of what I write isn’t written on spec – it’s written when the book has, unfinished, been sold to a publisher. If I say “I’ve sold three more books to Luna”, for instance, this doesn’t actually mean I’ve written and sold them three books – it means that they’ve paid me to write three books.

SILENCE was a story I particularly wanted to tell. Without a contract in hand for the book, I wrote it; it’s not a partial. It’s finished. I made room in my admittedly kind of packed writing schedule for it.

I can now say that the book has found a home, with DAW. I don’t have a pub date for it; I have a tentative title, SILENCE, and the news that it’s one of three. It is, for me, quite short. Let me emphasize that: for me. It’s a Sagara novel, not a West novel, and will be the first truly contemporary fantasy novel I’ve ever written.

So, at last, on to the topic of the actual post’s title: The State of the Writing, December 2010 edition.

House War: Skirmish: In progress. 195k words, and counting, but I hope to have it finished (in submission draft, before editorial revision requests) by the end of March 2011.

Cast in Ruin: Finished. Waiting on editorial reaction. I have a suspicion that people who like the Dragons will like this one. I don’t have a firm or fixed pub date for this, for which I apologize; Luna plans to publish both Cast in Silence and Cast in Fury in mass market a month before Cast in Ruin comes out, and the date’s been moving around on the schedule. It will be late summer/early fall, but, umm. I promise as soon as I have an entirely fixed date, I’ll post it – but it’s definitely coming out in 2011.

Cast in Danger: In progress; I’m about a quarter of the way through this one, and I’m not sure if I mentioned this elsewhere, but I have, I think, finally found a way to write a Shadow Wolf book. Which is this one. It’s also more heavily Barrani.

Silence: Finished. Waiting on editorial revision requests and comments.

Touch: second of The Dead trilogy (no, no Vampires, and yes, that’s an entirely provisional title because, well). In progress; I am dusting off what I had ready after I’d finished writing Silence.

I am posting about ASD, my son, and school

For a variety of reasons, I’ve started to post on my Livejournal. There’s nothing about writing in those posts, and also no publication dates or information, but if anyone is reading here and has any interest in that subject, please drop by; feel free to comment there, or ask any questions.

Also: Page proofs for House Name have landed.

World Fantasy Convention

At almost the very last minute, I am going to Columbus, Ohio for the 2010 World Fantasy Convention. The dates are: October 28, 29 and 31. Because I am so tardy, and because I wasn’t certain I could go, I didn’t sign up for panels, so I won’t be on any, but at WFC, I believe only the Guests of Honor are allowed more than one panel.

But: I will be there, and probably lounging around the halls or the bar (and I don’t drink–but so many people gather in the bar, I often end up socializing there), if any of you are going!

And: Another post on the Galaxy website

In which I talk about writing stories set in the past. You can find it here.

A question about content

I have a question.

I make longer posts both here and on my LiveJournal. The nature of the posts are slightly different.

(I didn’t say it was going to be a short question, did I? >.>)

I’ve been posting on LJ for a number of years. I didn’t actually start the LJ posts to be an author-online; I started them because they seemed like an almost natural offshoot of a prior BBS on which I socialized with people who were otherwise halfway across the planet.

However…when being social, acts of egregious self-promotion All The Time aren’t conducive to conversation and interaction, and there’s always pressure to be promoting and to raise awareness. This was tricky for me, because I’m well aware that people who are interested in what I have to say or think in general don’t actually need to be told constantly what my publication schedule is like, what I’ve just sold, or what’s just arrived in bookstores. Nor are they always my readers, so answering questions about what I’m writing, in detail, or what I’ve written, in detail, sometimes made me feel self-conscious.

On the other hand? Not answering questions when readers did find my LJ and were interested in my books, seemed graceless and kind of counter-intuitive. So I tried to find a balance.

Talking about the writing process is general enough, and on LJ, common enough, that it’s part of the general conversation; I felt, and feel, no self-consciousness about that, and I would often combine some of both — specific questions and more general observations.  This is in part what the internet does–one person will pose a question or make a comment, and others will respond to it (often, in my case, at length) as a sort of extended conversational gambit.

When I started the wordpress site (at which this is being posted), I thought I could use it to post book-related news — release dates, covers, interviews — that were much more about what I do than what I think. They could be about the promotion, and about the books themselves, and I would feel much less self-conscious about it because the people who were only interested in the posts about the books I write would be able to find that information easily.

And that’s worked out, and I think it’s worked relatively well. The only thing I feel a little bad for is the lack of an LJ style cut-tag, but hopefully that’s less of an issue.

You’re probably wondering what the question is at this point, or are at least becoming concerned that I’ve become so mired in the background that I’ve forgotten it.  So:  the question is:

Are you happy with what’s posted here as it currently stands, or would you like me to post a link (or even cross-post) to the LJ posts when I do write them?

I ask this because I was writing an LJ post about something Sherwood Smith wrote here, and I realized I was about to point out which of my own books or stories were informed, for me, by what she calls ‘white fire’ writing.

I thought it might be of interest to people who read here, and then, well. Question paralysis.

Answering a question about the Dragon Court Book

Elizabeth asked: Is Cast in Chaos the Dragon Court book?

I started to answer this in comments, and then realized that it was going to be a long answer, so I’m breaking it out into its own post.

First, the quick answer:  Cast in Chaos is not, sadly, the Dragon Court book.  I do have an explanation, although it doesn’t actually change that answer >.>.

Part of the problem with the Dragon Court book is that there has to be textual room for the actual lessons before Kaylin meets the Emperor, because at the moment, she won’t survive.  In order for her to survive as-is, I would have to change the Emperor.  A lot.  And while I could, because he hasn’t yet appeared on the page, my sense of who he is is fairly strong, so it would be a big, behind-the-scenes, internal shift.  So, back to lessons…

Those lessons in and of themselves aren’t quite large enough or significant enough that they could occupy an entire novel.  This pushes them into subplot territory.

So, I wrote the beginnings of those lessons as a subplot for Cast in SilenceCast in Silence ended up being TDL (too darn long).  Way, way too long.  This meant that instead of adding subplot, I had to look at seriously cutting words, and the first and easiest 12k words to cut were, in fact, subplot words.

When approaching a manuscript in order to cut words, I make a list of scenes that might not be necessary.  (I also cut paragraphs or sentences as I go.)  The only criteria required for a scene to make the “possible cut” list is that the individual book will make sense without those scenes or words.  I then take the list of possible cuts and I present them to my alpha readers, and we discuss every single cut, and what we gain (less words) or lose (less impact) by those cuts.  Sometimes a cut that would make sense on an individual book basis makes zero sense on an overall series basis.  About which, more later.  For the moment, let’s return to the problem of the Etiquette Lessons subplot.

The words I did write for Cast in Silence couldn’t be used — at all — because at the time, Tiamaris had also been dragooned to sit in on the classes (Diarmat is not and has never been Tiamaris’ biggest fan).  Since he ended up where he ended up at the end of Cast in Silence, those words had to be quietly thrown away, and new words and a new situation were required.  This, on the other hand, is not onerous.  I had finished Cast in Silence and was working on Cast in Chaos, and I knew that I had to work the subplot of etiquette lessons into that book.

So, I duly began to write etiquette lessons, again, into Cast in Chaos.  However, Cast in Chaos was, once again, TDL.  And once again, not by a small number of words.

So, once again I was left with the option of desperately searching for Things That Can Be Cut So That The Book Makes Sense.  And it came down to a choice between cutting the Etiquette Lessons subplot, or cutting the scenes with Nightshade, which are vastly more relevant to the events in Cast in Silence than they are to the immediate events in Cast in Chaos.  However, although I didn’t put this out to vote, I could hear screams at the very hint of the possibility.

Let me now go back to cuts that make sense for an individual book, but that don’t make sense for the overall series, having given that particular example.  One of the things that makes writing a series fun is that there are elements and interactions between various characters that can play out over time, the way they often would in real life.  The other is that the world and its significant elements don’t have to be revealed in one large chunk up front; they can be discovered as they become relevant to Kaylin.

Characters can make both friends and enemies, and those friends–or enemies–become part of their world, returning or leaving as the particular story allows.  If there are no causal interactions, no building relationships, no touching of bases with some of these other characters in future books, there’s no sense of growth at all.

Those elements of growth aren’t completely necessary for the individual books themselves, but I feel strongly that they’re necessary for some sense of where the characters are, and where they might go, in future books.  I want the characters to change and grow in a believable way; I know not everyone feels that this has happened to date, but that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

However!  Third time lucky, right?  Cast in Ruin pretty much starts with the first Etiquette lesson.

And:  I’m sorry, Jessica, but Cast in Chaos is definitely scheduled for August 2010, which would be exactly a year from when SILENCE was released.  I am writing as quickly as I can >.<

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