Are You Ready to Rumble?



Tapestry of the Battle of Pavia by Bernard van Orley

NaNoWriMo is just a little over a week away, and I’m still furiously trying to get ready. I’ve filled out the basic character sheet J and I have been refining over the years for my most important characters, and I have a basic outline. Now I’m trying to add more detail on the outline, because I well know every minute I spend now will save me very many minutes in November. The one bit of preparation I’m nowhere close to having complete, though, is my research. And I think now is the moment I go ahead and explain here just what it is I’m doing this year.

I’m writing historical erotica, the primary pairing being two men. They are mercenaries in Renaissance Italy, and while they both have relationships with women (and in one case with another man) during the novel, they are what the kids call “endgame.”  Thing is, I’ve never written a historical novel or erotica (fanfic isn’t quite the same), so I’ve been spending the last couple of months finding out all I can about both. Here are my finds.


So, when I told folks I was planning a Male/Male Erotica for NaNo, several people excitedly told me that was a brilliant idea. M/M stories are one of the fastest growing segments of the Romance industry, and when it comes to adult fiction, Romance is the industry. Now, back in the day when J and I decided to start writing fantasy novels, I had read almost no fantasy, so that became Job 1 for me. Therefore, I went in search of published smut. (Smut, by the way, is always a term of affection when I’m talking about fiction.)

As I have been toying with the idea of writing erotica for a while, I first tried several months ago to listen to some racy romance novels, picking from what I could get from the library in digital audiobook. I started a couple modern romances, and didn’t make it more than a half hour into any of them. I clearly wasn’t doing well on my own, so I did what any librarian would do—I found recommendations on tumblr.

I started with Courtney Milan’s The Duchess War, an excellent heterosexual romance with some naughty bits, but I really wanted to see what was being written for M/M pairings. The next novel I read was Bound with Honor, a book recommended by a fanfic author I hugely admire. This book features lots of groupings of the two male and two female leads, but it left me still wanting something both historical, as these two books are, but strictly M/M.

And, if I can sound like a dirty old lady, smuttier. In a panic, I started listening to a book that was definitely smuttier, every bit as dirty as the best fanfic I’ve read, but it was M/M/F, modern, and horribly written. So my search continues for the perfect M/M historical erotica. I have several in my to be read pile, and I’ve started one called False Colors, which so far is well written, historical, and M/M, but I haven’t hit the smut yet. Fingers crossed.


I’ve had much better luck doing my historical research. Michael Mallett’s book Mercenaries and Their Masters is a godsend. I also listened to all of Will Durant’s The Renaissance from his The Story of Civilization series. In addition to these, I have a whole basket full of books on the era, which have proven invaluable. I wish I had time to read them all cover to cover, instead of just dipping into them. Also, Ohio libraries are amazing, and the only way my research has been possible. May they remain ever thus.


So now I outline and hope that what I put on it spurs me to ask the right historical questions before November starts. If not, I suppose historical detail is something I can add on revision. But I really want the time and place to help drive the story, so hopefully I’ll know what I’m doing well enough come November 1.


The Hobgoblin of Little Minds


Emerson never did any prep work for his NaNo novels. 
True story.

Here at Unicorn HQ, we’re deep into the process of NaNoWriMo prep. A few nights ago, S and I worked on her outline, and to make it easier to see, we used our giant living room TV as an external monitor from her tiny new Lenovo laptop. It was awesome.

(Because I know you were all wondering, the new laptop’s name is Signy. She’s named after a character in S’s Oleg Omdahl mysteries.)

As usual, I’m doing two novels in November, and as I make my outlines, I’ve been switching back and forth between them, making sure to keep them both fresh in my mind. The tricky thing for me is that both are sequels to my previous books.

The one I’ll be writing first is A Tincture of Silver. It’s more or less a direct sequel to Called to Account, which puts it in a sequence of novels that now runs from S’s Queen’s Tower to my Lady’s Knight and covers more than a century of Myrcian history.

My second novel (if all goes well) is going to be When Uppance Comes, which will be a sequel to both A Meager Education and Joint Command. The first of those, as you’ll see if you go to our page listing our novels, is a school story, while the second is a spy novel. This new book is going to show what happens when those two worlds collide.

There are plusses and minuses to writing sequels. On the upside, I saved a lot of time in making my character sheets, since many of the characters carry over from previous books. So I just had to copy and paste the information I’d already written about them for the previous novels, and then add a few sentences to tell what they’ve been up to in the years since.

The problem with writing sequels, of course, is trying to make sure the characters are consistent. You want the reader to have the sense that the character Lisette whom they meet in When Uppance Comes is the same Lisette they came to know and loathe in A Meager Education. And this can take a lot of planning and preparation. Oh sure, we could take our friend Ralph Waldo’s advice and “Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.” But that is bound to end up frustrating both the author and the reader. So we’re stuck having to keep very careful track of what the characters did and said and thought.

The first thing I’ve been doing is simply reminding myself what I wrote before. I could simply reread my books the old fashioned way. But lately I’ve been converting my novels, a couple chapters at a time, into PDF files, and then using the “Read Out Loud” feature of Adobe Acrobat and a pair of Bluetooth headphones to listen to my old novels like audiobooks while I pace around the house. (There’s also a “read aloud” feature in MS Word, but it doesn’t work nearly as well.)

As I walk around, I keep a notepad and a pen with me, so I can keep notes on the characters as I go. I keep track of the character’s habits, tics, and speech patterns. Then I look at the outline I have planned for my new book, and where necessary, I make notes to be sure to include those things in the new book.

For example, in A Meager Education, one of Lisette’s very few positive character traits is her dedication to exercise. (Although, to be fair, she really only keeps herself in shape because of her titanic vanity; if you haven’t guessed, she’s not a very nice person.) As I was listening to that book, I kept noticing all the times she talks about going riding or swimming. And then I realized that I’d completely forgotten to have her do anything like that in my outline for When Uppance Comes. So I quickly made a note of that. And then, when I had more time later, I went through the outline, chapter by chapter, until I found a few places I could have her think about swimming or riding or whatever.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I trust S will have something to say about her own NaNo prep sooner or later. And if you haven’t gone to the NaNoWriMo site and signed up yet, go do it now!


The Persuasion Project: Chapters 2 and 3


CE Brock illustration for Persuasion from

Today is a big day for us. This afternoon we will be meeting up with our local NaNoWriMo group to have the first planning session of the year, discussing write-ins and other events for the month of November. It will be great to see everyone again, although, now that I think of it, this past year we had more participation in the two Camp NaNo sessions than we often do, so it hasn’t necessarily been a year since we’ve seen most of these lovely folks.

J is busy outlining and planning for November, and so am I, but I have to say it’s going slower than I would like. This year I’m tackling historical fiction for the first time, and the research may be the death of me. Last night I lost about an hour looking for the answer to a question that I eventually realized wasn’t even important. And I have a strong suspicion it won’t be the last time that happens. At any rate, it’s really made me appreciate the writers of historical fiction, and that’s something.

But before we head off to meet our friends, I wanted to take a quick look at two more chapters of Persuasion. In Chapter 2 it is decided with Lady Russell’s help that the Elliot family must “retrench,” a fancy term for becoming responsible grownups when it comes to money. In Chapter 3 it looks like they have a plan—move to Bath, which is cheaper, while letting their home, Kellynch Hall, most likely to a naval officer. We leave the chapter with a fair assurance Admiral Croft will soon be living in Kellynch, and that through his wife, he has some sort of powerful connection to Anne. (Oh what could it be?!)

Here are the quick jottings I made while reading.

Chapter 2
Lady Russell is Emma Woodhouse 20 years later, if not for the chastening experience of meddling with Harriet Smith and the guiding hand of Mr. Knightley. Such a well-meaning snob.

I feel for Anne, and I like her very much, but does she not know her father and sister? Of course they would never agree to complete austerity measures as their retrenchment plan. And they would definitely never stay in their neighborhood in a smaller house. It’s only Chapter 2 and even I know that about Sir Walter and Elizabeth. So, what does this say about Anne? What does it say about Austen as a storyteller?

Lady Russell likes Bath and the idea of the Elliot family moving there. (Which happens to be in direct opposition to Anne’s wishes.) This is surely our first sign that while we were initially disposed to Lady Russell, she is not without fault. Perhaps this is the point of making Anne a little clueless about what her father and sister are willing to do. This way we are not offended when Lady Russell disregards Anne’s wishes on moving to Bath, since we know Anne has been wrong before about the retrenchment.

Chapter 3
Sir Walter’s vanity is hilarious. He doesn’t want to let his house to a sailor because he will have a tan? It’s this sort of thinking that got you into this mess in the first place.

Why does Anne know the naval lists? Who’s who and where they are stationed? Hmm.

“You mean Mr. Wentworth, I suppose?” said Anne. meep

This chapter has been a nice, subtle build in the mystery of who is Anne Elliot. Especially the way the chapter is left, Anne agitated: “A few months more, and he, perhaps, may be walking here.” Who is he? What does he mean to her? (Of course, having read the novel before, I know it’s Captain Wentworth, love of her life. Sigh!)


The Magic is Gone


Wishing they were on a better show.

October is upon us, and that means it’s time to start planning our novels for NaNoWriMo!  Last night, S and I started plotting things out on dry-erase boards.  And we got the long roll of butcher paper down from the office upstairs, so we’re ready to start plotting out S’s novel and taping it up on the walls.  This morning, while I slept in, S has been hard at work, naming her characters.

In the weeks to come, we’ll probably post more about what we’re doing to get ready, but in the meantime, I wanted to say a little something about a show we watched recently, Magic City.  It was on Starz a few years ago, and it ran for only two seasons.  And while there were things we enjoyed about the show, it was pretty obvious to us after a few episodes why it got canceled.

First, there are few surprises in the show, and nearly all the surprises are bad ones.  Everything you think is going to happen, ends up happening sooner or later.  You think, “Oh, I bet that guy is going to get shot,” and sure enough, he does.  Every ponderous move of the plot is telegraphed so thoroughly, you see it coming a mile away.  And as I say, on the rare occasion when the show manages to surprise you, it does so in a way that fatally undercuts the character.  For example, when Ben Diamond, the violent, over-the-top, mustache-twirling villain, finally catches his wife in bed in bed with the older son of the hero—a moment the viewer has been anticipating with bated breath for several episodes—the outcome is almost cartoonishly silly.  It turns out Diamond likes watching his wife have sex with other people.  It’s a moment from a sex farce that the show tries ludicrously to play straight, while demanding that the viewer continue taking Diamond seriously as a threat.

Many of the show’s sins stem from inconsistent characterization, in fact.  Ben Diamond is the worst offender, of course.  The writers seem to have been aiming to create an “unpredictable psycho,” but what they achieved was a character whose reactions are so out of proportion to the actions of others, and (as above) occasionally so silly, that he becomes tedious.  It’s the same problem I have with many depictions of the Joker in various Batman series and movies.  Hollywood seems to have this odd notion that chaotic villains are somehow more terrible and terrifying than villains who are thoroughly rational in pursuing their evil aims.  It seems to me that a few moments’ thought should show why that isn’t so, either in real life or in fiction.  Irrational villains get high and trash a liquor store; rational villains build concentration camps.

Then again, its probably fair to note that I’m not really fond of mob movies or TV shows.  Other than the first two Godfather movies, I really can’t think of any mob-related story that I ever enjoyed.

Other characters in the show have consistency problems, though.  Ike, the hero, is generally likeable and decent, but about halfway through the second season, he seems to get a personality transplant and start acting like a jackass to characters we like.  Again, this is a surprise, and it’s not a good one.  Several times, as we were watching the last few episodes, S turned to me and said, “Who is this guy, and what happened to Ike?”

But anyway, we’ve finished the show now, and at the very least, there was a lot of pretty 50s and 60s set decoration, and a lot of very pretty people wearing very little, and it was all filmed very prettily.  The show certainly looked good; I’ll give it that.  And it was nice to see Jessica Marais again, playing the aforementioned wife of the villain.  We remembered her from Legend of the Seeker, one of our favorite cheesy-good-fun shows.  In fact, all the way through Magic City, we referred to her as “Mord-Sith Denna,” rather than by the actual name of her character, which I’ve already forgotten.  (Wikipedia tells me it was “Lily.”)

As an amateur writer, it’s sometimes just as instructive to look at bad writing as it is to look at good writing.  So I guess what we can take away from Magic City is the necessity of consistent characterization, and the need for characters to act rationally according to their motivations.  If there are surprises about one of the characters, they should come because we’re showing the reader a previously-unseen, but perfectly logical facet of that character.  The reader’s reaction should not be, “Whoa, that guy’s nuts!”  But rather, “Ah, of course.  I hadn’t thought he was that sort of person, but looking back, it makes sense.”

And speaking of characters, I need to start doing some work on mine.  I can’t let S get ahead of me in the planning and outlining!


The Persuasion Project


Original title page of Persuasion, published posthumously along with Northanger Abbey.

Happy bloggiversary to us! Well, actually, our two year anniversary is this coming Thursday, but we figure it’s best to celebrate now. Rather than do a recap of the past year as we did for our first bloggiversary, we’re using the occasion to launch a new series—a live reread of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

So, why Persuasion? It not my favorite Jane Austen (that would be Emma) or J’s favorite (that would be Pride and Prejudice), but Persuasion has been on my mind a lot lately as it seems to keep popping up on my social media. Also, it’s a brilliant novel, which receives less love that the two mentioned above, and that’s just not right. Although, I have often found that the people who love this book, really love it.

Now, the idea of this live reread is that one of us will read a chapter (or two? we’ll see) of Persuasion and blog our reaction in as real time as it’s possible to do while reading. Or we’ll do all of our thoughts at the end of a chapter. Whatever strikes as us interesting at the moment. We’ll try not to neglect this reread and post a little something at least once a month, but we don’t want to neglect other topics, especially with NaNoWriMo just around the corner.

And here goes nothing. My thoughts on Chapter 1 of Persuasion.

Chapter 1

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.

Not what usually comes to mind when thinking about the first sentence of a Jane Austen novel. It doesn’t have the sly humor of Pride and Prejudice or tell us something apt and amusing about our heroine, a la Emma and Northanger Abbey. No, it’s setting up the family at the center of the story, much like Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park, Austen’s two least novels. Yet, it’s the right opening for this book. The tone of Persuasion is more subtle and somber than Austen’s others, and as much as the reader grows to adore Anne Elliot, opening with someone so modest and unassuming would feel exactly wrong.

For several paragraphs, Austen continues on with Sir Walter, and every word makes the reader like him less. It’s a bold way to open a book.

Following the introduction of Sir Walter, we hear about his deceased wife and her best friend, Lady Russell. Then Austen mentions Sir Walter’s oldest, and favorite daughter, Elizabeth, as well as the youngest daughter, Mary. Only then does the reader finally meet Anne. But why should we have met her sooner? “[S]he was only Anne.” If you haven’t read the novel before or know anything about it, you might not even realize this is the introduction to the novel’s heroine.

That is until the next paragraph. Austen makes the reader think highly of the dead mother, so that as soon as her best friend sees a likeness to the deceased in Anne, the reader knows this will be a character we care about. And yet, all we get here is this single paragraph, before Austen sets off on Elizabeth and the Mr. Elliot who shall inherit, since Sir Walter has no son.

The chapter ends with a discussion of the Elliot family’s financial problems, and the reader still learns no more about Anne. But why should we worry about her? She “had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early; and as even in its height, her father had found little to admire in her, (so totally different were her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his own), there could be nothing in them, now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem.” Actually, how much more does this tell us about Sir Walter than Anne? Come to think of it, given how vain and unlikable he is, do we even believe him? Perhaps Anne has her own sort of loveliness. Whatever the answer, it’s a fascinating way to begin a novel, not even allowing the reader to be certain of what few “facts” we know about the heroine.


Founding a Dynasty


Just like this.

The big writing news today is that S just finished writing Fiat Justitia, the third Oleg Omdahl novel. We visited her mother today, and I drove so that she could get some writing done. She literally finished the last sentence as we were pulling into her mom’s garage. It’s very exciting. Maybe we’ll have gelato to celebrate later. And perhaps she’ll post something about it sometime soon.

In other news, I’m continuing with various reference projects in the Myrcia ‘verse. At the moment, I’m inventing the various noble dynasties that took part in a long-ago civil war. This is a somewhat mindless task that’s easy to do in the evenings while we’re watching TV or something. I’m going through and giving names and dates of birth, marriage, and death for each generation. Like so:

Bob, Duke of Earl
(b. 420, d. 482 of consumption, duke from 440)
Married: Susan, daughter of the Earl of Warren (b. 423, m. 445, d. 460, of ague)
Fred (b. 446; m. Joan, daughter of Baron LeChrysler, 469; d. 508 of ennui)
Stacy (b. 448, m. Frank, son of Sir Loin of Beef, 470; d. 473 of intense mortification)

Then I do a similar entry for Fred, and then one for his heir, and so on. I don’t worry about Stacy’s kids (if she had any). And I’m not really worried at this point about their personalities or physical characteristics, or anything at all about them other than the bare fact of their existence.

The reason I’m doing this is that I’m planning to write some novels that take place during this time, and I want to know who the main political figures of the era will be. Someday soon, perhaps next year during Camp NaNoWriMo, I might be looking for story ideas to write about. I can look over this list and say, “H’m…. It would be fascinating to know why exactly Stacy died of intense mortification in 473.” So at that point, I can do actual character sheets for her and for her husband, Frank.

Or suppose I decide to write one novel set in 435, and another in 450. I can look at this sheet and know immediately that if Bob shows up in the first one, he’ll be a 15 year-old boy. In the second one, he’ll be a 30 year-old married man with three kids. I don’t have to waste my time planning all this out, because it’ll already be done, and I’ll just have to look it up.

Plus, because all this information will be in a single file (backed up and saved in the cloud, as always), I know right where to find it. If I decide to write a third novel, set in 470, I don’t have to go frantically searching all the way through the previous two, wondering, “Wait a minute, did I ever name his daughter? And is she even still alive at this point?” I just have to open up this one file, and I can see that her name is Stacy, and that 470 is the year she marries Frank.

Ah ha! Maybe the wedding takes place during the novel!

And just like that, I’ve got ideas for a subplot in my novel, just based on a couple lines and a few quick dates that I made up randomly while sitting in my comfy chair and watching an old episode of Community. This is why I like doing background reference work like this in my spare time. It saves so much trouble and effort later on, when I’m actually trying to be creative.


Let Me Draw You a Picture


Giant dry erase board–most important tool in my process.

I’m finally close to finishing Oleg Omdahl 3, Fiat Justitia, and I, in fact, wrote most of the climactic showdown last night. (Although I went to bed before I had to write a character death. I was tired and it was past midnight, and the character deserves my full attention.) Once I finish up that chapter, there are just two chapters of denouement, and draft one of the book will be written.

But before I started the showdown, J helped me draw a map of the area where it would be taking place. There’s some fighting and wizard spells flying around and all that good stuff, so I figured it was finally time to get an exact picture of the area and stop settling for, “Well, you see, there’s this alley, and the building is somewhere in these few blocks.”

This was helpful so I understood the space and also so I could have references to help the reader know where the action was taking place. Also, since we needed to fill the area, it finally gave us the opportunity to place the offices of a company we’ve been writing about since J invented them about 5 years ago, and we’ve both now mentioned multiple times.

Yes, maps take time, and they can be a distraction, but I’ve never failed to find some important detail that makes my story better when drawing or looking at them. In fact, the entire plot of the second Oleg novel, The Science of Fire, came from me looking at the original map J and I made when we first created the Myrcia ‘verse. Until I really looked at the map, I’d never noticed a little quirk in the border of two countries, but once I saw it, well, it changed everything.

Now, the real question is how much trouble could I get into if I start learning 3D imaging like I keep threatening?


The CW of the 19th Century


Pearl Maiden Sculpture

Our hero, Marcus, admires the the Pearl-Maiden’s bust.

Um…let me rephrase that….

Today is Labor Day, and S and I are celebrating labor in the traditional way: by doing as little as possible.  Actually, that’s not true.  S is doing laundry, and I did some dishes.  And who knows?  If the weather isn’t too hot, we might go outside and move some more rocks for our landscaping project.

But we aren’t at work, and that means we have time to write.  S is nearing the end of Fiat Justitia, the third Oleg novel, and I’m working on some revisions.  There’s a wizard character who appears in five books that I’ve written so far, and I’m checking to make sure that she’s written consistently.  I want her to seem as if she’s the same person, but has changed in believable ways over the years.

In other news, I’ve started listening to audiobooks from Librivox.  It’s just something to do while I’m exercising.  All the recordings are done by volunteers, so it would be mean spirited to critique the quality of the reading.  As long as I can follow what’s going on, I suppose the reading is good enough.

The first one I listened to was Pearl-Maiden: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem, by H. Rider Haggard.  (The title of this post notwithstanding, Haggard actually published it in 1903.)  This was a book I didn’t even know existed until I saw it in the Librivox catalog.  I’ve read Haggard’s most famous works, King Solomon’s Mines and She, of course, and I liked them, so I decided to give it a try.

It was pretty good, but of course as an amateur author, I naturally have to see if I can learn something from it that I can apply to my own writing.  And the main thing I noticed as I was reading (or rather, listening) was just how fast the plot moves.

Let me give you an example.  And it should go without saying that there are spoilers here (insofar as anyone can spoil a book that’s 113 years old).  Bear with me here.

Our hero, Marcus the Roman, is imprisoned because he foiled the scheme of Prince Domitian, the evil second son of Emperor Vespasian, to buy the Christian girl Miriam (our heroine, and the “Pearl-Maiden” of the title) as a slave.  Marcus and Miriam are in love, but she can’t marry him because he’s a pagan.  Miriam, bought by Marcus and freed, is living among the Christians of Rome and earning her keep by making clay lamps.  (She’s an exceptionally talented sculptor.)  While she’s there, her childhood friend Caleb (the antagonist) discovers her whereabouts by accident, when he recognizes a scene from their childhood adventures depicted on one of her lamps, and convinces a guileless shop worker to tell him where the maker of the lamp lives.

Caleb confronts Miriam and threatens to reveal her location to Domitian if she doesn’t agree to marry him.  Miriam refuses, and she’s so good and decent that Caleb becomes ashamed of himself.  He has a change of heart and swears he will help and protect her, even if he can’t ever marry her.  Miriam, realizing that she’s not safe in Rome anymore, escapes and sails off for the east with the help of Cyril, the Bishop of Rome.

Meanwhile, Marcus gets a second trial, this time with Prince Titus, the good elder son of Vespasian, and his former commander in the army, as his judge.  Titus realizes that Domitian is a jerk, and can see that Marcus was falsely accused, but for political reasons, he can’t just overrule his younger brother publicly.  So he commutes Marcus’s sentence to three years’ banishment, instead of death.

(Again, bear with me here.  I promise there’s a point at the end of this.)

News comes back that the ship Miriam was sailing in has sunk, and everyone on it is dead.  Marcus, who is still in prison, waiting to leave Rome, learns of this and wants to kill himself.  But Cyril, the Bishop of Rome, talks him out of committing suicide and discusses heaven with him.  Marcus decides to become a Christian and is baptized.

Caleb forms a plan, with the help of Domitian’s chamberlain, to waylay Marcus and kill him.  But at the last moment, Caleb, remembering that he had promised to help Miriam, has a change of heart, and dresses up like Marcus so the assassins kill him, instead.  Marcus and Bishop Cyril find Caleb’s body, and Cyril tells Marcus he should pity Caleb, instead of hating him.

Marcus and Cyril sail for the east, and they arrive in the harbor at Alexandria, Egypt, just in time to hear people singing hymns on a nearby ship.  They go over to join the church service, and who should be leading the choir but Miriam.  It turns out that reports of her death were greatly exaggerated, and her ship didn’t sink, after all.  Marcus tells Miriam he’s a Christian now, and they get married immediately.

Okay, did you get all that?  Good.

Here’s the thing—that’s not the plot of the whole novel.  That’s just what happens in the last two chapters.  And the 27 chapters before that are just the same.  The story burns through plot at an absolutely furious pace.  In S’s words, H. Rider Haggard is “the CW of the 19th century,” referring to the way in which shows on the CW network, like Vampire Diaries and The 100 race breathlessly from plot point to plot point.

I certainly wouldn’t suggest that all stories move along at that kind of pace, and S and I have found recently that we appreciate shows, like AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, or SyFy’s The Expanse, that take their time.  But it’s important, as authors, to remember that readers want things to happen.  Haggard could easily have made five or six or ten chapters out of the events I’ve mentioned above.  Marcus’s contemplation of suicide could have been its own chapter.  His conversion could have taken up another chapter.  Caleb’s confrontation with Miriam could have had a chapter to itself, too.  And if I’d been writing that story, I almost certainly would have given an entire chapter to Caleb deciding to sacrifice himself for his hated rival, Marcus.  That’s a big moment for the character, and I wouldn’t want to rush it.

But as a reader (or rather, listener), I have to say I didn’t really miss all that contemplation, internal monologue, and navel-gazing.  I rather appreciated that the story got to the point and kept going.  And that’s something to keep in mind as I write my own novels.


Satisfying Partnerships

satisfied grin

My silly edit from The Musketeers and a representation of what coauthoring should look like at the end of the day.

Thanks to a fanfic I posted a few weeks ago, I have now officially coauthored fiction with two different people: J and a lovely woman I shall call Max. I always felt as though whatever alchemy allows J and I to write happily together might not necessarily allow me to write with someone else, but now that I have, I think I’ve learned some tips that apply to any coauthoring situation.

Have a Plan
Even before J and I started outlining obsessively, we had a plan for the entire Quartet worked out in an Excel spreadsheet. It allowed us to know what happened in relation to everything else, which we quickly learned was vital if we were going to be writing at the same time. For instance, before the spreadsheet, we both introduced the same character multiple times. Yes, coauthoring is almost always going to mean spending a little extra time in revision to smooth over the rough patches, but once we had even a rough order of events, we stopped wasting a lot of time doing the same thing.

With Max, I wrote what’s called a 5 Times story, meaning there are 6 vignettes that are tied together. Once we had the progression of those 6 scenes figured out and each claimed 3 of them to write, we were able to get started with some assurance that we knew where we were going and could be writing simultaneously. We still had some details to decide on, but we had enough to begin without fear that we would be stepping all over each other’s toes.

Update Regularly
If your writing partner is going to be relying on you to write Susan’s character introduction, and that introduction is going to inform your coauthor’s section, you need to get Susan’s first scene written and shared in whatever fashion you’ve decided. J and I share OneDrive folders for the Myrcia ‘verse, and Max and I had a Google Doc where everything—outline and chapters—went. It was vital that we put our finished chapters in the Google Doc for the other to see and comment on, again to keep us on the same page. (J and I don’t use comment features much since we’re usually sitting right next to each other, but we have been known to bust those out in Word on occasion.) Point being, get your part written and don’t forget to get it to the other person in a timely manner.

Make the Important Decisions Together
J and I have killed a lot of characters. We’ve surprised the reader with twists. We’ve waged battles and thrown a fair few characters into bed together. And we made all of those big choices together. Or, at the very least, if we wrote a fundamental change to a character without asking the other first, we always did so knowing the other had veto power, and we might be rewriting.

With Max, we didn’t kill anyone, just threw two characters into bed. But since the whole point was to get them into bed together over the course of 6 chapters, we certainly talked about the best way to build from initial attraction in Chapter 1 to penetrative sex in Chapter 6. So, what got touched, kissed, licked, or petted was something we decided together.

Be Willing to Change
Did I mention that sometimes you might still need to change things no matter how much time you spend discussing it beforehand? For instance, in the story I wrote with Max, I wrote the even number chapters and she wrote the odd. I started work on chapter 4 before she wrote Chapter 3, and I had the POV character remembering something very specific from Chapter 3. When I showed this to Max, I did so with the understanding that if she couldn’t work that in elegantly to Chapter 3, I would take it out. Lovely coauthor that she is, she changed her plan to add what I had referenced. With J this happens infrequently because we share a brain.

An Agreed upon Referee
So, you’ve coauthored your thing. Now you need someone else to read it. J and I have a mutual best friend who is an incredibly astute reader who is incredibly mean and we trust completely. Without her to step in and say, “This sucks. Fix it,” I don’t know what we’d do. With Max, we needed someone to read through for consistency and grammar, and bless Max for being trusting, we had J look at our story for us. He did an awesome job and we were both pleased with the result. As were our readers.

So, go forth and find someone to write with. It has the benefit of making you accountable to someone else, and providing you with a partner to help out when you get stuck. I honestly don’t understand how people write completely alone.



The Precious Cinnamon Roll



Too good, too pure.

Late summer is a good time for writing.  It’s incredibly hot here, and so we’ve been spending more time indoors lately, even though we have projects we really ought to be working on outdoors.  We’ve been putting decorative rocks and edging around the house, for example, and that’s sitting half-done.  And the newly planted grass in our lawn is long enough now that it really needs to be cut.  But, as I say, it’s too hot for that.  So we might as well stay inside with a cool drink and write, yes?  Yes.

S is finishing up Fiat Justitia, the third Oleg Omdahl mystery, set in our Myrciaverse.  Last night she finished up a chapter, and I think she’s going to try to write another one today.  Perhaps she’ll give an update on that sometime soon.

But anyway, the other day S and I were sitting around, discussing writing and characters (yes, we really do this), and we started talking about how to make a good character who is also a good person.  In other words, how do you make a character who is interesting and realistic, and yet is also virtuous?  It’s a question that interests us, because it seems like there’s a tendency on the part of many writers (I won’t name names) to assume that in order for a character to be interesting, the character has to have a dark side—a tendency to assume that the best way to make a character complex is to give him some sort of terrible moral flaw.

The topic came up because, in my latest novel, Joint Command, I managed to work in a cameo for one of our favorite characters from the Quartet.  We’ve mentioned this character before, when we were discussing our favorite fantasy characters, and we compared her to Neville Longbottom.  Neville doesn’t really have a moral flaw.  (I mean, who knows what he grows in the greenhouses, but what happens in Herbology stays in Herbology.)  As far as we ever see in the books, though, he’s a decent guy, and his flaw, if he has one, is that he’s a bit of a klutz at the beginning, and he’s really forgetful.  None of that is his fault, though.  And none of his problems really amount to a moral failing on his part.  In fact, insofar as his life has a dark side, it all comes from the actions of other people.  And he perseveres and puts up with it and eventually becomes an awesome hero.

That, I think, is the answer to the question we posed.  A virtuous character can be interesting, but he still has to have an arc.  He has to overcome something or achieve something, even if he’s a nice guy the whole time.

Our character, whose name is Tynble, has a similar arc to Neville’s.  Obviously, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers about exactly what happens to her, but I suppose I have to reveal that she does manage to live through all four books, since she’s in Joint Command, and that novel takes place about twelve years later.  To be honest, I mainly put her in as a surprise treat for S (who is the audience for whom all my books are written), though I do think her appearance in the book actually makes sense.

When I wrote her, I didn’t really give much thought to how her character might have changed in the intervening years.  She’s just as cheerful and happy and whimsical and fundamentally decent as she was before.  Perhaps that’s lazy writing on my part, but I like to think it isn’t.  It’s not that I think she hasn’t had misfortune and sadness in her life over the course of those twelve years.  But no matter what problems she might have had, she wouldn’t stop being who she fundamentally is.  I think it says something about a character that she stays good, no matter what.

As S and I were talking about her and Neville, we started thinking of other fictional characters we’ve loved who share that same kind of unshakeable decency.  Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter books, for example.  And we can’t forget Lucy Pevensie, our favorite fantasy character of all time.  And a few from outside our genre, like Richard Quinn in The Fountain Overflows, by Rebecca West—a book we read for S’s book club just recently.  S informs me that this type of character is known on Tumblr and Twitter as “a precious cinnamon roll, too good for this world, too pure.”  And what S and I have discovered is that apparently we like cinnamon rolls.

I suppose it’s a matter of balance.  There are plenty of dreadful people in the Harry Potter stories, and there are people, like Ron Weasley, for example, who are good, but occasionally do the wrong thing or act like jerks.  Likewise, Lucy’s shining light of goodness is balanced out by the much grayer morality of her brother Edmund or her cousin Eustace.  Cinnamon rolls are great, but I doubt you could make a meal out of them and nothing else.