Michelle West update: City of Night

I have some news for Michelle West readers.

But first, a small digression.

I’ve said before, and will no doubt say again, that no two writers I know work in the same way. It doesn’t matter what their stated process is; when you get down to details, the process that sounds the same actually differs widely.

Some writers are outliners. They can write an outline which they can more or less follow, and use the outline to guide their story as they write the actual book. I can’t. I’ve done it once, and what it taught me was that it’s not a guide — for my particular creative process — it’s a straightjacket.

Some writers can look at a story and have a natural feel for its length; they know when the story will be too big — or too small — for a single novel. They know if a novel is roughly 100k words, or 125k words. I envy this in the same way I envy someone who is fluently bilingual, because I am also incapable of this.

My editor at DAW, Sheila Gilbert, has worked with me for nine novels now. She knows my writing, she understands my process, and she understands the way I parse novel structure. She asked me, once, for an outline, and when I fell silent — and I’m not generally silent, but she’s patient with this — she understood that outlines were not something that worked with my process. This would have been after Hunter’s Death was completed and handed in.

We had discussed what I would do next, and I told her that I would like to write a duology set in the same universe as The Sacred Hunt. She asked me what it was about, and I told her; she asked me for something on paper, and I believe I gave her two double-spaced pages. It might have been less. But knowing the way I work, she bought the two books on those two pages.

(I should add here that the first three chapters of the first draft of Broken Crown were actually about Kiriel’s childhood. They didn’t work, in the end, and they are the only chapters that haven’t worked that I’ve kept.)

You’ll note that I’ve said ‘duology’ and ‘two books’ here. You will also note, if you’ve read them, that there are actually six books in The Sun Sword.

I knew that Broken Crown ended with a scene between two characters. But this was before I started to write it. The scene that I thought would end the first book occurred at the end of the third book, because the war and the politics of the war were far more complicated than I anticipated, and because there are some emotional transformation arcs that simply don’t work if they’re too compressed.

I knew what the end of the series would be; I knew where it was going. (I’m trying very hard to avoid spoilers here, just in case.) But…I didn’t realize how long it would take to get there because all of the emotional depth and tone of a work come out only in the actual writing of it, for me. Before I start to write, I plan, I research, I build backgrounds (and try to figure out how the hell an army of any size both moves and gets fed, but that’s a different post), I look at the balance of power, and magic, of gods and immortals — all of these things are done before I start to write the actual book. But the emotional weight and mood of a book only comes when I write.

And the people become real only then, as well. The writing itself is a form of alchemy that brings life to the dry facts of research. The excitement — and the frustration and the uncertainty and the joy — is in the writing, not the planning.

I always think the story will be shorter than it is. Always. I think this is partly self-defense, because sometimes the length of a novel seems so daunting at the beginning, and beginnings for me often require several starts before I find the right way into the story itself. But it’s partly because the nuance and the complexity occur as I’m in the middle of it, and not before.

You’re probably wondering where this is going.

It’s been over a year since Hidden City was published in hardcover, and since then, the paperback has been released. And I have been working on the next book in the series the entire time. In June of last year, I wrote that I was tying up two long arcs on the way to House Terafin. As usual, this tying up took a little longer than I thought.

But I did. Then, instead of ending the book there, I thought It’s only a few hundred more pages once they reach Terafin. I can just fit that in as well. I kept writing.

Six hundred pages later, with at least another two hundred pages to go, I accepted the inevitable. I could not, in fact, fit in the second, closing arc, unless I started to cut several hundred pages. I sent what I’d finished to my editor to ask her what she thought. She agreed that both arcs would not fit in a single book, and also emphatically rejected the possible cuts.

And so, we come to the point of this long post. The two arcs, which will bring to a close the early life of Jewel and her den, will be published as two separate books. The first of these, CITY OF NIGHT, is schedule for March of 2010. I am not quite finished the second, HOUSE NAME, but that’s a couple of months away, now.

I want to apologize for the delay, and for the peculiarities of my writing process. While I was waiting to hear back from my editor, I started the groundwork for HOUSE WAR, which will follow HOUSE NAME. The battle at the end of Sun Sword changed the world in ways that weren’t immediately obvious, but some of those will become obvious as the House War is fully joined.

I do know where things are going, I promise. I will finish these books, just as I finished Sun Sword. I love these characters and their world and their stories, and I will, I’m certain, weep to see them go when their stories are finally done. But…I don’t know how many books it will take. I want to be able to tell you, because it’s one of the questions I’m most frequently asked.

The truth is, I don’t know. Every time I try to come up with an answer, I’m wrong, and I feel guilty — and vaguely unprofessional — because I’ve gotten it wrong again, and I know that’s disappointing. I was trying so desperately to fit all of this into the one book because I’d said it would be one more book. And it’s two.

So I’m going to try to avoid that part, at least for a little while. I will say that, having laid out some of the groundwork for the House War, I can’t see it being one book. That’s a guess. But for fear of making the same mistake, I’d like to leave it at that for now; to say that CITY OF NIGHT is finished, bar revisions, and that HOUSE NAME is almost finished, bar same, and that the House War has just been started.

— Michelle

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jan Brandenburg
    May 03, 2009 @ 10:39:03

    Thanks for the update. I bought Hidden City and was hoping to learn when the sequel would come out.

    And take your time, if waiting longer for the complete story arc means having a longer and more detailed story , I for my part am perfectly fine with waiting. :-)

    Keep up the good work.


  2. Katrine Berg
    May 03, 2009 @ 14:05:31

    Yes, having more books is definitely not a problem.

    My problem will be that I have this idea, that I should wait for all the books to be published before starting to read them, so I won’t have forgot any details.
    I guess I might have to forget about that and just reread them a bunch of times :)


  3. Nikki
    May 15, 2009 @ 03:04:44

    Is it bad if I think at least a four if not 6 book series is a good thing? Seriously, if we get to the house war, I can very easily see the complexities leading to not just book 4 but 5, perhaps even 6. The issue is that because of the complex world that you have developed things are going to happen in this series that will affect the End of Days books.

    On the positive side, as City of Night is published, then House Name you have even more time to finish House War and etc books. And no one can say, I haven’t seen a release in over 2,3,4 years :) So, regardless, look forward to the books. And please keep on writing, as long as you do that, I will keep buying.


  4. Tracy
    May 15, 2009 @ 22:36:11

    I’m just glad to hear that I have another book to look forward to. And, really, more books? Not a problem in the least. For as much detail as is included in these books, I would rather have more than to feel that something has been left out.


  5. RoxWeizeRob
    May 20, 2009 @ 23:50:29

    Interesting site: Hope to visit again.


  6. Dawn
    Jun 23, 2009 @ 04:48:45

    I may be a little crazy…but I am never disappointed when you give me two books when you said there would only be one. In fact…it seems like a bonus to me. I am so drawn into this world you created. I have read the Sun Sword series…3 times now, I think. I devoured Hidden City within 2 days of purchase. For me, the fact that what you thought was going to be two books has turned into three is thrilling.
    Also, as a side note, I am a fan of the Michelle Sagara “Cast” series as well. So, I like it when new books come out for that.

    Thanks so much for sharing your worlds with all of us.


  7. daughteroferis
    Nov 08, 2009 @ 03:26:07

    Michelle, you crack me up. I’ve been reading your books since the third book in the Sun Sword series was published. I remember freaking out for that series that there was no way the story was finished but it was called a trilogy, then I heard that it was going to be five books, then the fifth book came out and in the end of it you said that there was more story than could be contained the previous number so we were getting a bonus book. It’s simply your way to underestimate the number of books to tell your story and I for one enjoy it. Your readers get “bonus” books, more time spent in these amazing dense worlds that you create with these people whose stories you tell, not at all a bad thing.

    So I guess from now on when you write novels set in this particular world, and you say x books, we readers will just expect x plus 2 (or more) books. :)

    By the way, I desperately need to hear more about Kiriel so maybe she can have a little bit more storyline in House War? She’s a part of the Den after all . . .


  8. Ann Coates
    Dec 09, 2009 @ 18:56:41

    I have some favorite authors- Lois McMaster Bujold, Steven Brust, Robert Jordan, Jim Butcher, Anne Bishop and you. I return and reread your work over and over again all the while marvelling at your story arcs and character development all within a consistent world view. I had been prepared to go right into House Wars but much to my surprise I was delighted with Hidden City as a prequel. As a result, I am looking forward to the next book and the next book…. and so on.


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