Archive for the ‘behind the scenes’ Category

A writer writes, of course. Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night…no, wait, that’s mailmen. But rather like mailmen, we must persevere, against natural and unnatural intrusions, even if Cthulu himself is bashing through the door or the Sha’Daa is scheduled for next week. Writers must write. I know a few, Ed Morris among them, who could probably hold Cthulu off by simply pointing a smoking-hot pen at him and saying, “BACK OFF! I’M ON A DEADLINE!”

A corollary to that: writers must write no matter where they are. This has been said by better speakers than myself, and all I can do is nod along enthusiastically. When someone tells me that they have to have “space” in which to write, or that they can only write at the kitchen table while sipping their morning coffee, I immediately assign the tag “beginner” to my mental file on them. This is not intended as a slam, in any way, mind you—everyone starts somewhere. As for Big Name Writers who claim to have such locational restrictions on their writing output, that’s an entirely different situation—akin to a great artist who can draw fantastically lifelike figures, yet in his later career focuses on creating puzzling abstracts resembling a five-year-old’s effort. I  don’t have the words for the difference; it just is. Perhaps one of my fellow Purposefully Backwards bloggers will be able to articulate this better than I can.

Moving along and leaving the people whom I just offended to froth amongst themselves, I arrive at my point, which is to talk about the various places I have written. Specifically, where I wrote the Children of the Desert series, because that progression illustrates what I said above.

Secrets of the Sands took me about five or six years (as I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t know it would be published, so I didn’t track from the First Day Of Writing) to draft, revise, polish, revise, edit, agent, edit, revise, edit, edit, sign with publisher, then edit, edit, and edit before final publication. The agent to publication cycle took about three of those years, all told, and I’ve already recounted the story of how Secrets came to be, so I won’t bore you with that again. But I wrote that all sitting at my desktop computer, because back then I didn’t have a laptop to speak of; just a clunky ancient thing with a broken monitor hinge that my husband loaned me from time to time when we traveled together. (How old was it? Well, it took 3-1/ 2 disks. Yeah. That old.) It took me forever, even with all the time in the world available to me—I didn’t work Outside the House all that often, and I had all day available to write while my husband was at work. And yet it took a long, dreary slog to get the bloody thing to the publication point.

Mind you, by the time I started to write the second book, I had the agent but not the publisher; so there was a certain amount of overlap involved. And the second book very nearly wrote itself. I had read somewhere that publishers wanted 90,000 word novels, and the original manuscript for Secrets of the Sand weighed in at twice that (it cut down to about 140K by publication time). So I wrote book 2 very tight, very lean, and it flew out of me in three insanely intense weeks of sitting at the desk, devouring the sandwiches that occasionally appeared beside me, staggering off to bed at 2 a.m. and sprinting back to the computer at 6 a.m. (no, seriously, I did leap out of bed that early) to start on the next segment.

That 90,000 word marathon has since become two 160K books, but  never mind that now. The point is that I locked my focus down and did it, and it was wildly exhilarating and incredible fun and I never want to do that again. I don’t think I got out of bed for a week after I finished that book. So I found out that I don’t want to take five years to write a book, and I don’t want to take three weeks. There’s lots of middle ground, of course, but once I locked into a contract with a publisher that middle ground became: one year. Write it, deliver it, and get moving on the next one.

Now, I’m lucky; I have a publisher who will slide timetables around and let me have the time I need to write a really good book instead of a fast one. I’m also lucky in that I have routinely been writing one to two books ahead of contract, so deadlines really haven’t been an issue for me up to this point.


Once one signs that magical publishing contract, there is a certain amount of peer pressure, if you will; an expectation among one’s readers and fellow writers and family members that the next book will be produced in the shortest possible time. That you will always, always, be working on the next one, whatever that might be. And so the landscape of location changes from my sacred single spot writing place to wherever the hell I have half an hour to finish that chapter.

When it came time to rework the second book into what later became Guardians of the Desert, I began writing on a real laptop when I traveled–or when I was ill–or when I just didn’t feel like going upstairs to my office–or when I wanted to work at a local cafe, just for the fun of it. So Guardians was written in an increasingly varied set of locations. I believe at one point I threw my back out and wound up in bed, all propped up on pillows and writing away. It was wonderful; nobody bothered me at all, and despite being in pain I got tons of work done.

By the time I started working on the first draft of the restructured book three, I’d totally gotten the hang of writing on the go. I was able to write at conventions in between panels, sometimes, or in the early morning before going to my first panel, or after I staggered back to my room at the end of the night. I wrote in hotel rooms a lot for books three and four, actually, because between conventions and traveling to visit family, I spent a lot of 2011 on the road. At one point, during a trip to Florida, I booked a hotel room for two nights just so that I could get away from my family and write several chapters on the latest revision of book three. They thought I was nuts. I got the work done. They still think I’m nuts. I have a book I’m really proud of. I call that a fair trade-off.

I wrote at least two intense chapters of Fires of the Desert while sitting in airports waiting for my flight. I wrote at the dining room table. I wrote in bed a lot. On at least two occasions, when we lost power at the house, I went to the nearby Panera and wrote for hours over endless cups of coffee and the occasional pastry. I wrote in the car (with my husband driving) on the way to and from conventions. I wrote during meetings with my beta-readers; whenever they questioned or commented unfavorably on a section, I asked them to wait for five minutes, whipped out a couple hundred words by way of correction, and read them the new version to astonished applause.

Because of the way the book revisions and restructuring have been overlapping, I haven’t written a book a year. I’ve written two books a year, when you untangle the process. My typing speed is way higher than it used to be, mind you, after that much practice; and the books have largely been revisions of existing drafts (I was working on book four, in truth, before we started tearing book two apart). And I didn’t have an Outside Job last year.

Still. I couldn’t have done all that if I’d stayed in one place to write. It’s not just the laptop; it’s the attitude that I have to write, and I’m going to write wherever I am, that’s made the difference. And that’s a positive example of peer pressure if I ever saw one, because I am by nature the laziest creature on the face of this planet (except, perhaps, for my dog Shadow, also known as “that big black puddle in the sunny spot over there”). It’s only through meeting people like Ed Morris, whose output and drive truly shames me into insignificance, that I’ve set the bar for my work so high–and begun working harder than I ever have before in my life,  in ever more varied and occasionally bizarre locations.

Because a writer writes, and neither travel, nor family, nor the dark of power-outs, shall stop us going about our appointed duties…


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I’ve had people ask me what made me decide on a desert setting. My usual response involves a blank stare and a fumbling attempt to make “I haven’t the foggiest” sound like a rational answer. Once in a while I launch into the story I told in my previous post on this topic, and really, the proper answer is much the same: someone critiqued the Kingdom of Salt manuscript and said it was too standard-Euro-Medieval-white.

I agreed, and set about trying to fine-tune the various details into a different shape. That’s the point at which I started asking the Big World questions: where and how life developed, who the various gods were, what happened to atheists, who the vegetarians were as opposed to who raised cattle (and where to find bacon, cheese, chocolate, and coffee–very important items to the development of civilization, as far as I’m concerned!), why  humanity had moved from point A to point B, and why nobody had done the equivalent of the route-to-China schtick.

Short answer on that last: I was feeling lazy and didn’t want that complication. I knew that wouldn’t fly as a reason, so I had to come up with a plausible reason why travel to date had been restricted to the one large continent. That reason is not mentioned anywhere in the Children of the Desert series, mind you, although it is hinted at during the end bit of Fires of the Desert. I may or may not reveal it in subsequent series, or in special mini-stories along the way. But it’s in my Secret Background Notes. Mwah.

Back to the question of uniqueness. Essentially, I referred to the many excellent guides scattered across the Internet about the worst fantasy mileu tropes, cross-checked my writing against those, decided which ones needed changed, inverted and rearranged what I could, and came up with plausible reasons to keep the rest. There was no point to developing a totally unique inn and tavern setup, for example, or a different kind of beer, wine, or tea. Those are backdrop items that really don’t need a whole lot of tweaking to work, and if I messed with that basic trope, I risked distracting the reader from the action. I tried to keep stuff like that as simple as possible without being overly tropistic (is that a word? If not, it is now), and focused more on the strange creatures like firetail birds, gerhoi, desert lords, ha’ra’hain, and ha’reye, along with the cultures and characters, to make the world stand out.

In the fourth book especially, I had fun doing research on ceremonies and musical instruments; while the northlands are still patterned largely along standard Euro-medieval lines in many ways, the southlands is an absolute riot of cultures and a mishmash of time periods, none of which was randomly chosen. The Aerthraim, for instance, are quite austere and are inclined toward simplifying ceremonies, if not outright avoiding them altogether; on the other hand, Sessin Family is fond of creating absurdly ostentatious ceremonies in order to look wealthier and stronger than everyone else.

Once I started figuring out broad categories like that, and developing the answers to questions such as what, exactly, Aerthraim Family considers to be excessive ornamentation and what Sessin considers to be too little, a cascade of increasingly fine tuned details started snapping into place, and critters like the firetail bird and outfits like the one Azni wears to the Scratha Conclave just sort of appeared on the page as I wrote. I rarely had to stop and consider what someone would wear or what the nearby flora and fauna looked like.

I will note that I’ve had to pull or sharply condense all sorts of geeky-cool details from the final text, even stuff I desperately wanted to keep (like a detailed description of the Scratha Conclave room), because as my publisher ever so gently pointed out, it really just got in the way. And I had to remove Teilo and Lord Evkit’s POV altogether from this series, which really hurt; Evkit is such a bloody fun character (well, to write about, at least. Not to deal with, certainly). And Teilo has a…well, a unique perspective on matters. One day, perhaps, I’ll get the chance to present “extended cuts” of various scenes, and the two POV lines that were entirely removed from Guardians and Bells. But not today. Not just yet…

I did have to stop, as noted above, and do some research for the sake of creating two powerful ceremonies in the fourth book. I leaned on accounts of an ancient Japanese processional for the one, I’ll give you that hint, and the other…well, listen to some of Coyote Run’s music and you’ll probably see where I drew at least the musical inspiration for that one from. I like to think that Cat and Dave are in the shadows at that ceremony, gleefully whacking on those gigantic teyanain drums…*ahem* but I mustn’t spoil it, now! Book four won’t be out until April, at RavenCon of Richmond. Except for our beloved book reviewers, who will get to devour the ARCs of books three and four rather sooner than January and April, respectively. (Yes, yes, Colleen, we have you on the list, I absolutely won’t forget you, don’t worry!) 🙂

Ah, but I still haven’t answered the question of “what made you choose a desert setting?” Unfortunately, I still don’t really have a proper answer. When I started writing the book that  became Secrets of the Sands (it was originally called Walking the Kingdom), I had no notion that it would eventually see real publication, so I didn’t record stuff like that. (To be honest, I still don’t.)

The best I can do is to say that I had, truly, no notion past a few scattered notes about the origins of humanity to work with when Idisio first strolled onto the page. When Scratha grabbed him, and I started asking why Scratha was so ominious, the term “desert lord” just showed up on the page, willy-nilly. So I had to develop a desert culture that would have feasibly produced someone as catastropically bad-tempered as Scratha. Then I had to figure out why Alyea would go south with so little knowledge as to what she was facing; developing the immense suspicion between north and south kicked off a whole new set of details and questions.

I suppose at some point it began to seem like something of a shame not to use all this amazingly cool information I was putting together. So Scratha threw in the towel and went south, dragging Idisio and Riss along.

Events took on their own direction and momentum from there. I had to run fast enough to keep up with the weird stuff I was writing, and provide rational or at least plausible reasons for it to be happening. By Bells of the Kingdom, the world was fairly well established and had been accepted by fans, and writing about the setting was very nearly intuitive.

So the best answer I can offer is this: I didn’t choose the desert setting. It chose me. And I can only hope I’ve done that incredibly complex world justice with my words, and that one day I can show my readers a more complete view of the stuff happening in areas that Alyea and Idisio, and even Cafad Scratha, never get to visit.

There’s this expatriate master thief named Lamb, for starters, who may well show up in the fifth book…and then there’s the story about Azni’s twin brother, Allonin…and there’s all the side story about Lord Evkit, and how he came to power…and what happens at the Night Market in Water’s End… and, and… well, there will be time for all that. I promise. Right now, it’s time for me to draw the curtain once more and leave the stage, so that the cleaning crew can tidy up before the next blogger comes on. Please do leave questions and comments in the box by the door as you leave…and I’ll be back in a few days with another post about the series, characters, plot, setting, or whatever else you indicate that you’d like to hear about.

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I’ve so often told this story that I sometimes think everyone must know it: the Children of the Desert series has its roots deeeeeeeply (and contradictorily, from a timeline standpoint) in a story I wrote over ten years ago and which is set several years after the ending of the CotD series. In that original story, which I called Kingdom of Salt (and that will very likely be the actual title, if I ever get it published), a redheaded mercenary nicknamed Tank quickly took center stage. He had a mysterious past, a complicated present, and a very uncertain future, and I absolutely adored him as a character.

That book wasn’t well written. Let me point that out right away. It was, at first draft, dreadful. Filled with cliches and poor grammar and trite plot devices. Tank was, on looking back, a wimpy pastiche of Kane, Fafhrd, and Conan. The manuscript was almost as bad on second, third, and tenth. Finally I showed it, trembling in fear, to a writing group I was leading at the time. Most of them smiled a bit uncertainly. Some liked it (or said they did). One lady, however, very LOUDLY denounced that redheaded mercenary as an unsympathetic and horrible character. “Look at all the bad stuff he does,” she said. “It’s disgusting. I hate him. I don’t want to read about this.”

I was taken aback. Under my own Rules of Order, I couldn’t argue with her perceptions; but, oh, how dearly I wanted to! So instead, I took myself back to my keyboard and started writing Tank’s backstory, so that readers would understand the context when they got to the moments when he did horrible things. Somewhere along the way, a young street thief scampered onto the page and demanded my attention; he was closely followed by a brooding nobleman and a tangle of political intrigue. Trusting that this would tie in to the Kingdom of Salt storyline somewhere, I went with it–and eventually wound up with Secrets of the Sands, in which Tank does not appear, but is referenced…not that I saw the reference at first draft, or even fifth. When I did finally realize what I’d written, I smacked myself on the forehead for being so dense and decided to run with it throughout all the following books.

In Guardians of the Desert, I was able to involve Tank more directly. In fact, the original draft of the second book carried his POV, along with that of Eredion, Alyea, Deiq, Idisio, and two other characters! My publisher wisely deemed that entirely too busy of a backdrop, so book two shifted to revolve around Alyea, Deiq, and Eredion. Idisio and Tank moved to the next block and took up residence in book three.

(Thus the long delay between books two and three. I was frantically reshuffling and rewriting to suit the change in POV braids.)

So in Bells of the Kingdom, at last, Tank gets to strut onstage. I’m tremendously excited about that, because he is one of my favorite characters. I have an entire novella (unpublishable, I fear) written about his backstory, and I have big plans for him in the next series (which will start out with, yes, a properly written version of Kingdom of Salt).

It’s been a long road, and a strange one, for both myself and Tank. My writing skills have grown tremendously, and his complexity has deepened almost as much. He’s no longer a wimp, and he’s definitely no longer a pastiche, but a person in his own right. I fear he’s still a character that readers will either love or loathe, but I’ve learned that such a division is not only okay, but to be courted–because good or bad, it’s a reaction. Any reaction other than indifference from a reader is always, always a good thing.

(And yes, the red hair is a nod of homage to Kane. Don’t like it? Too bad. We all must show our roots from time to time.)

For better or for worse, without Tank, I never would have published Secrets of the Sands. So hats off and a bow to that puzzled and wary young man, who doesn’t understand all this fuss in the least and would really rather be left alone to nurse his ale and live his life as he sees fit, thank you very much. He’s nothing all that special in his own eyes, after all…and he really wishes that the various great and powerful people of the world would just go away and leave him the hell alone.

*sinister authorial cackle from behind the scenes* Not bloody likely, my friend…not bloody likely at all. 🙂

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We’ve got more balls in the air than a juggler on crack right now. Leona Wisoker’s new novel, Guardians of the Desert, is available in independent bookstores everywhere, as well as on Amazon.  B&N seems to have gotten a case of the hiccups while transitioning the book from pre-order to available and the system can’t find the book at all. Fear not; it’ll turn up. Meanwhile, you could take the opportunity to visit your local independent…

In related news, we’re gearing up for the launch party for Guardians of the Desert at CoCo Chocolatier in Williamsburg, Virginia this Saturday afternoon. The party starts at 1; if you’re within range of Williamsburg, please stop by.

Meanwhile, Zachary Steele’s next novel, Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction is on its way to the printer–and if you thought his first novel was funny, this one will make you howl. Timothy Webb, aka Timmy Christ, returns as an angel trying to cope with incipient war in Heaven. The primary tool of the warring parties? Flutter, which is essentially Twitter for angels. The social-media interactions of the angelic set are some of the funniest moments in the whole novel.

If you’re within range of NYC, you can catch a sneak peek at Flutter at the Second Birthday Celebration for Just Working on My Novel at WORD in Brooklyn on April 15: Zach will be reading along with Richard Nash and a few other names you might recognize, and pre-release copies of the book will be available for sale at the event. Nowhere else until August, folks…

Danielle Parker just turned in the manuscript for The Nihilistic Mirror, the sequel to her EPPIE-winning The Infinite Instant, which we’ll be re-releasing this fall. What a ride! Minuet James fangirls, prepare to swoon. And those of you who have not yet had the pleasure will want to board the Minuet James fan bus when The Infinite Instant goes back into print in October.

Leona Wisoker just turned in her next manuscript this week, too: for a book tentatively titled Bells of the Kingdom, the third installment of her fabulous Children of the Desert series. Look for that book next spring.

And some good news for fans of Larissa Niec’s Shorn: I’ve been reading the sequel, Cael’s Shadow, which is nearing completion–and if you loved Shorn, this one will blow you away. Larissa works at her own pace, as do all of us at Mercury Retrograde, but I promise you this one will be worth the wait. Present best guess is a release sometime next year.

Mercury has turned retrograde again. Those of you who follow the writerly play-by play know what that means. After I get back from Leona’s launch this weekend, I’m headed into the study for a full week of uninterrupted work on War-Lord of the Gods. Much as I’ve loved all the action in the office lately, I’ve missed my study, and I’m anxious to get back. Catch you week after next!

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Anybody who’s looked at our website lately knows we’ve gotten really behind on our updates there; essentially no news on our 2011 books. I’m sorry for that–but we’re working on a very complete update now. Meanwhile, work proceeds on our Spring ’11 books (more on that anon) including the sequel to Leona Wisoker’s acclaimed Secrets of the Sands: Guardians of the Desert.

We’ve been working with artist Aaron Miller on development of the cover for Guardians of the Desert. It’s so exciting to work with a concept artist who is interested in reading and responding to the tale the writer tells. I think Aaron’s enjoying the process, too; today he posted a bit about the development of the Guardians cover on his blog.

This morning, I saw the first sketch of the final design. It’s even cooler than the stuff on the blog. Everything about this book is going to be even better than the first!

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As you may have heard earlier, Edward Morris’s stunning “Lotophagi” was selected for inclusion in this year’s edition of The Year’s Best Horror. Contributor copies went out this week–and Ed decided to use one of his to pay it forward: donated a copy to his local library. That’s way cool–but the coolest part is that it’s not a publicity stunt. I only found out accidentally, on Facebook. Here’s Ed explaining what happened:


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Further hilarity from Goddess of Slush Angela Still on Celebrities in Disgrace: “GLAMLOVE: Adam Lambert, What Have You Done to Me?”.

All this writing she’s been doing is clearly the reason she has turned in her “Intern” badge and is just reading the slush. Yeah, that and the MFA, and the day job…

I won’t complain, as long as I get to read her stuff.

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