State of the Writer, February 2012 edition

First: Joey Shoji has mentioned here and elsewhere that there’s a cover for Silence posted elsewhere on-line, but only in thumb-nail. I will be doing a post – and uploading the cover image – later this week; possibly later today, depending on how the writing goes.

And now onto the report:

Cast in Peril is off to my editor at Luna; I finished and submitted it late last night.

Peril was difficult for me, in part because I realized at about 130k words that there was no way the events in the West March were going to be resolved in one book unless I threw away most of the 130k words I’d written by that point–because, well, there weren’t nearly enough words left. Unfortunately, most of those words are plot, and are required for the events in the West March. I phoned my editor, we talked, and after much discussion, she said “Yes, you can write two West March books, but only if there is a reasonable and satisfying arc that is self-contained in Peril.“ I returned to Peril. I revised Peril. I restructured Peril, and now, it is in the hands of my editor.

War is not yet done. I have 160k words, and it is not closing in on the end, but it is going well — for a variety of well that frequently involves hair-pulling.

Touch, the second book in The Queen of the Dead trilogy, is in progress. That’s the book I started over, when I realized that it had to be from an entirely different viewpoint, and it follows Silence.

And that is it for me. I will be continuing to work on War and Touch.

Meanwhile, the web-designer is now working on translating the mock-up of her design to an actual web-site, which will relaunch sometime in the near-future, which is exciting (at least for me!). I asked, a while ago, for opinions about web-sites, usability, and etc., and the end results should reflect some of that advice.
A little bit of a process coda (and the usual disclaimer, that no two writers have the same process and that I can speak emphatically only about my own):

If there was one thing I would teach myself, it would be the relation between story and length. Other writers, other professional writers, can and do come within natural striking distance of the word-length they’re given. Regularly. It sometimes makes me feel like I still haven’t found big-girl pants =/.

I always start out thinking “this will be short”. Sometimes it’s more of a prayer, but you get the general idea. I have good intentions. I tell myself this will be the book in which I come in at the right length.

Silence is, in fact, under 100k words. But it’s under 100k words in large part because it takes place in the here-and-now and the setting isn’t an issue in the same way it is for secondary worlds. The strangeness of Silence is entirely in the situation & the characters, at least until the second book. But this incredible success at finally writing something that is marketable length obviously went to my head.

So: a bit about story and Michelle.

I always think “this will be short” because the kernel of the story, in my mind’s eye, is easily grasped (usually because it’s the end). It’s easily written in a paragraph or less; it is entirely what it is and it feels contained.

Getting to that point, however– building the story that resonates with that kernel, is never completely predictable. Ever. Elements of story rearrange and reinvent themselves in my subconscious, introducing factors that add to, and strengthen, the whole – but all of these take actual words on the page. Sometimes it’s conversations. I have a very long conversation (between Jarven and Finch) in War; I think, at the moment, it is my favorite thing in the book. But if you asked me how long it would be before I started writing it, I would have said it would be half its current length–at a maximum.

Add to that the elements of the world that exist in the background that suddenly and inexplicably enter the foreground in ways that a) feel completely true and b) are not going to make your book any shorter or any less complicated (in Skirmish that would be almost everything that happens from chapter five on). The only thing I have found that works to kill this type of length is to immediately delete the written words and start again in a more orderly fashion. In the case of Skirmish, mentioned here because it is much on my mind, I couldn’t. I could not do it. Because sometimes the story as it unfolds on the page is the story. It wasn’t exactly what was planned, but it is viscerally, emotionally true.

So at some point, “this is going to be short” turns into “this might be long” and that turns into “OMG I AM DOOMED”. It’s like clockwork.

And if you remind me, after Peril is out in the wild and discussion will not be spoiling, I will tell you exactly where all the length was, and why it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that it would be long.

35 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Paul Howard
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 16:43:04

    Thanks for the update.


  2. Hugh S. Myers
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 16:50:02

    Granted that I’m biased, but from my perspective (not your editor’s or your publisher’s) long is good! Only limit that I can see is when long gets in the way of binding :) And of course, there is the small matter of allowing you to come up for air every now and then…


    • Estara
      Feb 15, 2012 @ 14:56:17

      I want to ditto this comment in its entirety (except for the binding remark, because I buy mostly ebooks now – except for your Jody Lee cover books; those I buy in hardcover… so I guess I second the binding part of the remark, too ^^)


  3. Joanna Celeste
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 16:50:24

    Thank you so much! A joy to read your updates, as a reader and a fellow writer. Congratulations on completing Peril! Good luck with the editing stage.



  4. hjbau
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 16:56:10

    So what is Silence about? Is there a blurb out there somewhere?


    • Michelle Sagara
      Feb 14, 2012 @ 18:21:39

      @hjbau: there’s the jacket blurb, but I consider it spoilerish. It’s about Emma Hall, whose boyfriend was killed in a car accident about three months before the start of the book. She’s a high school student who feels, in some ways, that her life has just stopped; that she’s going through the motions. The only thing that keeps her moving are the responsibilities she has to the people around her.

      She spends too much time at the graveyard, because it’s quiet and because feels she has no place to take her grief; there, no one talks to her, no one asks her questions, and no one is awkward. But something happens in the cemetery one night that will change the course of her life, and alter her understanding of loss and grief.


      • hjbau
        Feb 16, 2012 @ 21:42:14

        Thanks Michelle. Sounds interesting. I am intrigued that you are writing a book with a real world setting. That makes me want to read it though i imagine that there will be more to it then simply read world.


  5. Chris
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 16:59:07

    “I have a very long conversation (between Jarven and Finch) in War”

    YAY!!! Count this reader as very happy to hear this news.


  6. Sanne Bach
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 17:28:01

    I like long stories/books and I do not mind to pay 2 or 3 dollar/Euro more for it. Specially if a new book of that series is only released once a year. Then a story around 500+/- pages is great. Off course it must not be filled with rubbish then. Like 10 pages about how someone’s nails look. That’s what I like about the Cast in… series the story flows. They are around 500+/- pages and I hope each year they have more pages. Specially like in the last book Cast In Ruin the last pages where the best. I so want to know more about that egg. I hope that is will be hatched in Cast In Peril. Waiting for 2 years now. If you would write 500+ pages only about that egg and kaylin and nothing else I still would read it gladly with no complains :-) what so ever.

    I refuse to buy books with less then 300 pages. Even if it is the best story ever in history. I wait for it to be on sale or to be available in a library. I do not know why I feel that way. I just know I have a big problem with it. I still get all happy inside when I remember the day in 1990 when Stephen King released that book The Stand with more then 1100 pages. Best few days ever.

    So please do not stop writing “Omg I am doomed” stories.


  7. mary allen
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 17:52:23

    Knew from short bits that you hadn’t fallen off the earth but was so pleased today to see State of the writer and get some new info on progress with Peril and the other books in the pipeline. Did you ever say when the short stories that go with Jewel will be available in book form. I bought them all for my nook but I am an old dog who really likes to have a hard copy in my hands?


    • Michelle Sagara
      Feb 14, 2012 @ 18:17:26

      @Mary Allen: The hold up for the print on demand version is now, entirely, me. The pages have been typeset, and I have the .pdf; all that’s left is to print them out and to proof-read them, the way I do with *any* set of page galleys.

      But, over the course of October to now, I’ve read copy-edits and page proofs for books that are not published by me, and also, was late with Peril, which is why I was mostly off-line… and now that Peril is done, I hope to get back to the page proofs and the other sort stories for which I have covers, but on which I’ve done no work >.<.


  8. Genna Warner
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 17:59:56

    Thank you for the update and I am doing a little happy dance that Peril is off to the editors. I hope the re-write/re-structure will still allow it to be released around August/September.

    I am so dying for spoilers on Peril. :)


  9. ed baker
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 18:20:16

    thanks for the update


  10. Chris
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 18:32:54

    I am not, and never will be, a writer. I have not had any classes in this field, but I still have enough hubris to present a theory based on my limited understanding as a reader. That would be that you are a writer creating art, while the writers of which you speak are much more often (ime) entertainers creating a sometimes fun, but usually much more disposable, experience. Those books of a marketable length often feel to me like they fall into one of several categories, none of them very satisfying.

    – Some seem like they are just a collection of “cool” ideas, i.e. they say “We are giving you, the audience, Snakes that are on a Plane” or “Vampires AND Werwolves” or “A bad-boy Elf with a big Gun!”. Plot? Story? Well-written characters? Who cares, when they have such “cool OMG” ideas.

    – Other books can seem almost schizophrenic as much is omitted, because the author completely abandoned (what seemed to be) important plot threads or went from giving us a lot of character insight to vastly less (or none). For example, much time might be spent on a character’s bond with a child with many pages of lovingly detailed moments. Right until some random point occurs at which that child is completely forgotten about and never referred to again. This can seem to be grossly out of character and leads to frustrating questions.

    – And there are books which seem to me to be “solid” examples of what the publishers likely want. They chug along, not saying much of importance, sometimes containing a few small character moments that strike me as worthwhile, but not too many or for too long. Playing it safe. Never striving for much and so never achieving it.

    Your writing doesn’t do these things. It seems to place the emphasis on the characters rather than the word count. My preferences may or may not be in the majority, but I spend as much time as I do with your novels (I’ve read Skirmish three times already for example) entirely because of the characters and the extent to which they resonate with me as true and authentic. That’s what I’m looking for.

    Any writer can claim to have written one of the best stories ever simply by writing something along the lines of “This is the greatest and coolest story ever”. It’s short, to the point, and ideal in terms of word count. But I don’t believe that that is enough. I think that a worthwhile story can’t be asserted in such a way, but that it instead has to be written, and for that it needs characters who live and breathe within that story. I appreciate an author who takes the time and makes the effort to *tell* one of the best stories that I’ve ever read, no matter how long that telling takes. So, thank you for that.

    [looks up at the length of this post and cringes] ;)


    • Michelle Sagara
      Feb 14, 2012 @ 19:22:46

      @Chris: First: thank you. Just…thank you.

      Second (and longer): The one thing I have learned over the past 20 years of writing for publication, is that no two writers have the same process, and that each writer finds a process that works for them.

      But I’ve also learned that authors write stories that speak to them. All of us. It’s not so much about the creation of art vs. entertainment, but of what entertains the writer, and what speaks strongly to that writer. One of the writers whose work I love, but whose work is nothing at all like mine, writes her novels in a month. They are gorgeous; the prose and the use of almost unconscious metaphor is so strong – but she writes quickly. There’s no virtue in writing slowly or quickly or in between; all of the virtue that exists is in the text.

      It will come as no surprise that I adore Guy Gavriel Kay’s works. That I think Patrick Rothfuss is god-like. (Well, okay, I love love love his books; in person he is friendly, accessible, and funny, and he forgets to plug his cell phone in). These writers speak to me. Actually, I’ll add Megan Whalen Turner to that as well — but the point is, they move me, they speak to me, they make me laugh or cry.

      There are books that do not speak to me this way – but working in the bookstore makes clear to me that those books speak to their readers in the same way that the aforementioned authors speak to me. Turner writes short books, but in the lesser length, she is perfect. So it’s writers like Turner — and lately, Elizabeth Bear – who cause me to re-examine my own process with the what am I doing wrong filter turned way up.

      (It’s true that Patrick Rothfuss does not write short books, so I do not look at Rothfuss and feel dwarfed by his professionalism in that regard; just his writing.)


      • Natasha
        Feb 26, 2012 @ 12:27:25

        Michelle & Chris,

        I so totally agree with your comments. As many of us do, I love a good story & length matters. If I feel like I’m ‘living’ the story, that author makes ‘the list’ (AKA the “My Favorite Authors” Excel spreadsheet I keep, which contains a list books I’ve read, and upcoming books I need to purchase) & I follow him or her for life.

        I started reading Science Fiction in the 7th grade. The local library was getting rid of some of it’s inventory, and let us take as many books as we could fit in a Hefty garbage bag for $1.00. That bag became my treasure box. I cut my Sci-Fi teeth with books by J. R. R. Tolken & L. Ron Hubbard & other notable authors who wrote books with length and substance.

        I read so much I ended up straining my eyes and had to wear glasses for a few years. But it got to the point that I could read a thousand page book in 3 days or less (that’s while going to school, playing basketball, and doing chores).

        I mention all of this because it’s unfortunate that so many authors are writing books where the reader can tell that they had to stop after so many characters (i.e., book must be within 280 & 320 pages). Especially when the story suffers for it.

        For example, while waiting to purchase books (like’ Peril’ and the final book in the Robert Jordan series) from my favorite authors, I’m reading a 22 book (so far) paranormal romance series (I’m on book 6). While the author has really good characters, her books are missing the substance–the details–that would push her books into the stratosphere.

        Like Chris, I’m not a writer, but the books in this series seem unfinished. They make me want to pick up a pen and add the relevant details that would complete round out the characters, improve the plot and tidy up the threads of the story that are just hanging there. The only reason I keep reading them is: HOPE. I’m hoping that with there being so many books in the series, that some of the ‘unfinished’ arcs will be completed in later books.

        At any rate, I’ve said all this to say that you should take pride in the ‘completeness’ (is that a word :-)) of your stories–you’re tidy. You never leave me hanging! I never want to put your books down (I live & breathe them), sometimes, I think your books are too short! (A comment I’m sure you don’t hear very often from the publishers.) Keep doing what you do–your faithful readers appreciate it!!!


  11. Hilda,
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 19:03:02

    Michelle, thanks for the update. It seems many of us look daily for news on your writing. Apparently, we will end with just one Peril book although the editor finally agreed to both books with one condition. You said that to make one book you will have to throw away most of what was written, and almost all that was plot. So, if it’s one book, did it change the kind of book you wanted to have? Did you keep the many plots, or are they going to other Cast books?
    My sister and I were talking today of your incredible genius/talent that allows you to write these extensive, different and complicated books, sometimes during the same period of time, without making them repetitive, boring or tiresome.


    • Michelle Sagara
      Feb 14, 2012 @ 19:07:35

      @Hilda: No, I didn’t cut the earlier words. I split the book. But it’s the first time ever that a Cast book has presented me with a story arc that is West-length, and it required a much larger effort to cut and restructure in a way that made it work.

      And thank you :).


  12. Michael
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 22:37:06

    You know my opinion: More of your words are always better than fewer! I am excited to read Silence. I have been since that first chapter you read at Confluence back in 2008.

    Maybe waiting will be easier if I have three series to anticipate…


  13. Chelsey Holmes
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 22:44:38

    *Happy Dance* I really can’t wait to read Cast in Peril. I’ve been re-reading all the other cast book in anticipation. Can’t wait for War either :). My mom got me hooked on your books, I’d love to read the West short stories but doesn’t have them :(, i really wish I had a kindle. Anyways, thanks for making great stories that I always get hooked to and can’t wait for the next ones! :)


  14. kscappace
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 23:12:33

    I just wanted to say that I’m glad you are ok. I was getting worried.


  15. Joey
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 23:21:47

    Dear Author,

    Thank you! I will stop whining now, at least for a while. The cover of Silence has a neat look based on what I’ve seen so far.

    Congratulations on turning in Cast in Peril!


  16. MAB
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 23:53:49

    So…does this mean we’ll be seeing a chapter of Peril posted soon? *hint hint* :)


  17. Linda
    Feb 15, 2012 @ 00:29:45

    Hooray! Hooray! Hoping for Cast in Peril news. I have been exploring short (really – they are short) stories such as “Birthnight” and “For the Love of God” . I just started reading Into the Dark Lands for a good Michelle W&S fix.
    In addition to being a great author, you are an encouragement to others.
    – Not a writer – but . . . I have several “endings” for stories in my head . . . just trying to figure out a way to create something leading up to them and make them work. Maybe I can someday . . . . :)


  18. Laura Chrzanowski
    Feb 15, 2012 @ 09:04:55

    I choose my books by the thickness of the binder. The thicker the better! Then I check out what the book is about. I prefer reading your stories because the descriptions, & conversations add to the interest of the story. As a writer, you are creating the setting, letting us, the reader, experience the landscape, the culture of the various characters. And then toss in magic, seeing, healing and monsters. Of course you need extra words for all that!


  19. Deege
    Feb 15, 2012 @ 19:41:58

    HI- great to get an update. You’re doing well, just keep the faith.

    Regarding your website- is there anyway to get a SEARCH function built in? I think it would be essential to keep from answering the same questions that you answered in depth in 2010, but would require lots of eyeball time for someone new to your blog (like me!) to find the thread that discussed it.

    If a search option means google has to get involved and it’s just too much, is there some way to get to threads without having to page back and back and back and…..?It’s a bit like being in a way-back time machine- and time themes always make me nervous!


  20. Deege
    Feb 15, 2012 @ 19:50:58

    Also, in hope of getting The Riven Shield into the Sony eBookstore? i ordered it on Books a Million, but I think I’ve been cheated as it hasn’t come and its been 3 weeks! Thanks


  21. Christy
    Feb 16, 2012 @ 20:45:59

    Thanks for the update! The cover for Silence is on Amazon – I pre-ordered it there. Looking forward to hearing more about the book. And positively squee-ing about Peril – there can never be “too many” words in the Cast series for me. :)


  22. OrcaDiablo
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 04:59:08

    I have to agree with most of the other commentators on your page by saying that in your case: More is MORE! :) I think all your true fans will agree that we just want you to write as much as you need to in order to make the story perfect. We would gladly sit down and gobble up a War and Peace-esque Elantra novel because that means we get to spend that much more time with the characters. Like one person posted, I would be happy spending an entire book reading about the egg hatching because you write so well that it would be interesting and I am already invested in the characters and the plot hook. I can’t wait for Peril to come out and I second the request for a sample chapter!!!


    • CallyPendragon
      Mar 12, 2012 @ 12:52:34

      Hear! Hear! Sample chapter would be awesome! Also- a projected eta on “Cast in Peril” would be helpful :) like many avid readers in this economy, i have to save-up and scrounge in order to purchase works by my favorite authors balanced around the need for milk and other child-necessities that annoyingly pop up the second i’ve got $4 saved. Knowing when things are upcoming helps a-lot!
      Thank you so much for what you do and the worlds you create! I could never have the skill to come up with and put into words that communicate these things so clearly the things that you do. (Yep, convoluted, but un-editable from a cell phone.) Keep writing however long and slow it may be- we truely appreciate the hard work that you do.


  23. Phil Brown
    Apr 07, 2012 @ 10:33:44

    The first ‘book’ I read by you is “Cast In Moonlight”. I loved it! I then read “Cast In Shadow”, which was equally excellent. The two primary purposes of this email are to say: 1. You are a great writer; thank you! and 2. I would love to see you write a book which starts where “Cast In Moonlight” stops, and ends when Kaylin first becomes a full-fledged Hawk.

    I would appreciate it if you do not place this email on your web site, unless you feel strongly that it could be beneficial to you.

    With best wishes,

    Phil Brown


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