Most of my trip this summer will be done on bicycles, which have the dual virtues of being outdoors and of seeing things more closely and deeply than from cars or busses. I have a few upcoming novels and stories that need to feature some medieval-esque towns and castles, so France is always an excellent place to do research. I’ll also be spending a couple of days on the famed Mont St. Michel specifically for a book I’m writing that’s set in a similar monastery separated from the mainland by a causeway. So much opportunity for gothic fantasy there!
Travel has been a huge part of my life since I was a young boy. I drove $200 beater cars so I wouldn’t waste money that could better be spent on plane tickets and learned to love youth hostels and the sounds of other people snoring because it meant I could go on longer trips. My wife and I are a lot better off financially now, of course, so for the last ten years we’ve been able to travel as often as our schedules allowed. But of course, Covid came along and we’ve all been largely stationary for the past twenty months.
With the minor miracle of effective vaccines and the greater miracle of health officers making tough decisions, travel is starting to open up again. It’s not easy, of course, and there’s never an absolute guarantee of safety, but both the risks and the inconveniences of following COVID protocols are manageable for us now. So, we’re off to France, specifically, Dordogne.
Our Lady of Blades is the first book in the Duellist Series.
Story Journals are where I talk about the writing of the books I’m working on. I update these with the latest content at the top, so start from the bottom if this is new to you.
August 2021 – A return to the Court of Blades
Our Lady of Blades is one of the novels on which I’ve spent the most time not only writing but in long stretches of just thinking about the book, its characters, themes, and all the complex intertwining plots. It’s a mammoth project, but one that is now ready to get done . . . I hope!
January 7th – An incomparable work of unimaginable genius . . . or a mess, I’m not sure which.
This is by far the most complicated novel I’ve ever written from a structural perspective. It’s turning into The Count of Monte Cristo meets The Sixth Sense. May need to u-turn here somewhere . . .
December – Oh, hell, what am I doing?
Wrote myself not so much into a corner as a long, dark, and very deep hole in the ground. Now attempting to dig myself out.
November 21st – First 19K words meet with Jo’s approval
One of my favourite things about writing Greatcoats novels is working with editor-to-the-stars Jo Fletcher. In addition to being monumentally experienced and skilled in this arena, she’s also incredibly patient with me, and frequently agrees to read things that are nowhere near finished. Long story short, we’re in agreement now that this new opening is headed in the right direction.
One interesting note: so far Our Lady of Blades has more resonances with Traitor’s Blade in terms of approach than any of my other novels. I kind of like the idea of a return to that style.
November 1st – A new opening . . . and new problems.
There’s a strong Count of Monte Cristo vibe in my new opening, which I love, but by starting the novel the way I am, with the main character as a mysterious stranger who comes to town with their own devious plan, I’m going against a ton of modern narrative conventions. “Save The Cat” this ain’t.
October 15th – An excellent false start
Wrote the opening to the book and it had all the flair and style I was aiming for: swashbuckly, quirky, and full of intrigue. There’s just one teensy-weensy problem: it doesn’t work. I have this entire outline which makes perfect sense and has all the right dramatic beats but I’m realizing now that if I go ahead this way I’m going to end up writing an unintentional YA novel. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great coming of age story, but that’s what Spellslinger is for and I don’t want to dilute that series or this one.
So . . . back to the drawing board.
October 1st, 2018 – Duels, duels, and more duels.
This book is in many ways the biggest challenge for me since I first wrote Traitor’s Blade. The Duellist is meant to be a new series but set in the world of the Greatcoats, but I don’t want to repeat myself, so that means navigating new territory without any assurance that fans of the original Greatcoats series will want to come along.
I sometimes think every writer of military science fiction is secretly (some not so secretly) trying to write Horatio Hornblower in space. That would be terrific for me as a reader, since I loved the Horatio Hornblower stories of daring, honour, valour, and ingenuity overcoming adversity rather than brute force. Alas, I’ve never really found a science fiction series that gave me those same Hornblower vibes while offering a believable and intriguing context in which those adventures could take place.
Artifact Space is what fans of Star Trek the Next Generation who’ve longed for something updated and more reflective of a diverse human society yet still holds to that same core of optimism and idealism about human beings have been waiting for. It’s filled with intriguing space ship troubles, conflicts large and small, the spirit of camaraderie one would hope we’d achieve when going into space, and yet with all the intricacies of our human foibles intact rather than glossed over.
The story centres on Marca Nbaro, a new midshipper on the Greatship Athens – a massive space faring vessel run not by a purely benevolent government but by a consortium of business interests inspired (one suspects) by Venetian mercantile culture. Marca has a troubled past, and the things she’s had to do to get a position on the Athens frequently leave her vulnerable to those out to get her. But she also finds friends aboard the ship, and a growing sense of purpose even as the near-calamitous situations she winds up in reveal her strengths.
Because I’m not a frequent reader of sci-fi (not because I don’t like the genre but because I often don’t quite get it due to my own ineptitude), I often find myself shunted out of a book because the science is either so sparse as to be magic or so lovingly rendered as to be a textbook about things that don’t work in the real world. Kind of like when you read a fantasy novel with four thousand houses, countries, shires, and whatever else and realize you’ve just memorized a history that won’t actually help you at all in your daily life. Artifact Space manages to find a path for the reader in which the science of space travel is balanced against an equally enticing and complex culture and economy. Yes, I meant that: the economics are actually interesting here. More importantly, Cameron never piles on so much at once that you find yourself lost amidst figures and facts about either space travel or the intricate human culture that’s achieved it.
Another aspect of Artifact Space I enjoyed was that – as one would expect on a massive ship hurtling through space – the book is somewhat episodic. It’s not one long, drawn-out singular problem (though there is a mystery that threads the entire narrative), but more the ongoing adventures of Marca NBaro and the crew of the Greatship Athens. If that sounds like a pitch for this to be a television series, it is; I really, really want to see this as a TV show that sits somewhere between Star Trek the Next Generation and The Expanse.
Anyway, enough gushing. Let me grind my axe against the insufferably talented Miles Cameron here a moment by saying I wish he’d added a glossary and dramatis personae to the book. Every acronym, concept, and character is explained, but if you glide over those parts, you’ll find yourself later wondering what the heck that term is they keep using every time they’re referring to the organization they work for or the ones it competes against. However, if you’re reading this review, then I can save you lots of trouble later on by advising that you pay close attention when terms and characters are introduced. Cameron doesn’t drop stuff in for the hell of it – everything will be meaningful at some point in the story.
Artifact Space is the beginning of what I hope will be a huge series, rich in characters and the textures of a space faring society. For those like me who want to read sci-fi but often feel like an outsider looking in when picking up a science fiction novel, Artifact Space is a welcoming delight.
British Columbia has done a pretty good job of managing the Covid-19 pandemic overall, but one consequence of that is accepting certain public health rules which, though not draconian by any stretch, nonetheless make you long for the halcyon days of going to movies and getting on airplanes.
Fortunately, as places to be stuck in go, Vancouver is a pretty nice place to spend the Summer.
Historical Mystery Full of Twists and Suspence
The Devil and the Dark Water could almost be pitched as “J.J. Abrams’ Lost meets Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express set on a 17th Century ship”. Maybe the best way to review the book is to explain those elements.
Set on a 17th Century Dutch trading vessel filled with sailors, musketeers, and wealthy travellers, the characters are beset by the possible presence of an actual devil named Old Tom who, if the stories are true, can convince people to commit horrible murders and other crimes. The question of Old Tom’s reality or falsity is batted forth continuously both by events on the troubled ship and by the characters themselves, which is what gives the story that “Lost” quality. And while Stuart Turton gives us a more satisfying conclusion to his tale than J.J. Abrams ever did with his TV series, it’s impossible to make such an ending fully live up to all the suspense.
An equally compelling aspect to the story, however, is the Orient Express comparison: The Devil and the Dark Water features a rich cast of characters who at first appear to be brought together by chance but we soon realize there are hidden reasons for their presence. This adds to the tension because we don’t know who to trust, and when compounded with the powder keg of the sailors and soldiers on board constantly being at each others’ throats, makes for a suspenseful read.
Arent Hayes, the protagonist, is a compelling character – not least because he’s presented as the sidekick of Sammy Pipps, a Sherlock Holmesian figure who is also a captive on the ship and thus Arent is forced to do the detecting for once. Sara, the other main character, is equally engaging as a woman whose own cleverness and compassion have too long been chained by a cruel husband and society, at last unleashed to put her gifts to use.
I won’t say much more here. The Devil and the Dark Water entertainingly blends classic detective fiction, an intriguing historical setting, and the kind of you’re-never-sure-what’s-really-going-on storytelling style that happens to be one of my favourites. Turton’s first book, The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, was an excellent read, and I’m pretty sure I’ll pick up whatever he writes next. There aren’t a lot of storytellers like Turton out there, and I wish there were more.
It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent.
But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered.
And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.
Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?
With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger onboard. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.
FALL OF THE ARGOSI is the second book in the Argosi Series.
Story Journals are where I talk about the writing of the books I’m working on. They’re my daily thoughts after writing whatever chapters I was working on at the time, which means inevitably there will be spoilers in here – including, potentially, the climax of the book. So I urge you not to read this if you’re worried about spoilers.
Day 001 – Starting Out Is Scary
I was interviewed for a Russian fantasy magazine recently, and one of the questions was about which part of a book do I find the easiest to write. I said the beginnings, because that’s always been true in the past. But now that I’ve been writing every day, always knowing I have to finish the books I start, that’s actually changed for me.
The problem with beginnings is that they define everything that follows. Start at the wrong point in the story, and chances are you’ll be rewriting every chapter to fix it later. Start with the wrong tone and the entire mood of the book changes. Fail to signal the genre, the voice, the style, or just about anything else, and you’ll end up heading down a road you may not like.
Other writers have a different view of this, I know. Lots of people refer to the “shitty first draft” and how none of it matters, but I’ve never been that way. I have to get the opening right, and I’ll keep going over it again and again until I do.
So, starting out the first chapter of Fall of the Argosi took me quite a while, because I had to decide what was backstory and what was part of the action of the story. In the end I think I’ve got something suitably engaging that will make readers want to turn the page.
Of course, it’s always easy when you open with zombies.
Day 002 – Allowing the Unexpected Within the Already Decided
I knew that the second chapter was going to have to be a fight scene, and the third would likely entail Ferius having to figure out how the little boy ended up in the desert in the first place. But what’s nice about the writing process for me lately is that even within those anticipated scenes, lots of new directions crop up. That’s what happened today, and I’m happy with how chapters 2 and 3 turned out.
Day 003 – Narrative Devices
Two chapters in a row here that have to handle dialogue without the usual conventions because one of the characters speaks a kind of sign language the other is learning. It’s kind of a weird thing to have to sort out in terms of what those translated sentences would look like. Hoping it all holds together . . .
Day 004 – Wheel Spinning
I really am awful at transitional scenes. The more I try to imbue them with meaning, the more it feels like needless self-reflection on the part of the characters. In this case, I’ve set myself up for even more transitional scenes. Have to see how this all works out tomorrow.
Day 005 – Sometimes the Wheels Turn in Interesting Ways
I figured these next two scenes would be dull because there wouldn’t be any big action, but taking a cue from Elmore Leonard (or maybe it was Alfred Hitchcock), I pulled the old “tell the reader there’s a bomb under the table” trick (which is odd to do when you’ve got a first person narrator). In this case, though, it worked out nicely and there’s lots of suspense in these two scenes.
Day 006 – When Easy Scenes Aren’t
Yesterday I’d been worried about two scenes that weren’t obviously “exciting” ones and therefore would be hard to make engaging, yet they turned out great. Today I had two scenes which are self-evidently exciting (trying to escape from zombies should always make for fun action to write) and yet I struggled to get somewhere interesting with them. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to do a rewrite on them pronto.
Day 007 – False Starts
So I had a false start today. These can be confusing because on general principle you want to trust your writerly instincts and assume they’re leading you somewhere interesting. In this case, however, they were taking me down a road that really didn’t move the sequence along. So, after messing with the chapter for an hour, I tossed it out and took a new route. That one, I think, worked a lot better, and now I’m ready to get to the end of this first act.
Day 008 – Ending Act 1
I always enjoy getting to the end of an act. It feels like something real’s been accomplished – something that means one part of the story is genuinely done. The trouble, of course, is that it’s also a time to reflect on whether you’ve really set up what comes next. It’s not enough to know what the “overall story” is about at this stage (e.g. “Hunting a murderer”). We need something that genuinely propels the story forward.
In my case, I haven’t entirely set up the next act. In other words, this act closes nicely, but opening the next one will be tricky. Time to get to work, I guess.
Day 009 – Beginning Act 2
So today is when I pay for yesterday’s mistakes (as is so often the case.) Because I haven’t set up an obvious direction for act 2, I need to get that done in this chapter, which is always harder than having set it up before and allowing the opening of the new act to take you somewhere directly and skip the stuff in between. So maybe I need to go back and fix the previous chapter first . . . Hmm . . . yeah, might need to do that.
Day 010 – Stress in Writing
As a writer, I never think of myself as having trouble coming up with ideas. I come up with ideas all the time. Show me any newspaper story and chances are I’ll think, “That gives me an idea for a novel.” I have this same reaction watching any television show or movie where an actor does one thing and my brain shudders and says, “It could’ve gone a different way. What if . . .”
But that’s the illusion I think a lot of us live under: that those ideas are the same type of ideas as the ones that answer, “what needs to happen next in this book?” when in fact the two have almost nothing in common. Trying to decide on the next chapter can be gruelling. First, it’s not uncommon for me to have noideas where to go next. Second, when I do have those ideas, I’m not sure if they’re the best ones or just the ones that came easiest to me. For reference, an “idea that comes easily to a writer” is also a decent definition for the word “cliché”.
Anyway, none of that matters. In the end, there’s only the book and the characters and you have to let the story move forward. During my tougher writing years (of which there have been a remarkably high number given the short length of my career thus far) I’d get lost for days or weeks without pushing forward. This year, by writing everyday and writing one draft of a novel each month, I’ve been able to compress those days or weeks into a few hours.
But man, those hours really suck.
Day 011 – The Red Nuns
I wasn’t sure how to approach this enigmatic order of nuns in the mountains. The risk, of course, is creating the same sorts of characters we’ve seen dozens of times before. One virtue of discovering character through dialogue, however, is that it’s often easier with the things people say to go against the grain than it is with their actions. So just starting out with the gatehouse keeper’s mixture of being all smiles while saying horribly rude things to Ferius took me down a path that defined the order of red nuns in a way I’m quite happy with.
Day 012 – The Mothers Superior
By yesterday I’d had a few ideas about how to approach the leaders of the convent, and today those shaped up nicely. I wanted to make them feel genuine without having them be positive characters relative to Ferius. Now they’re kind of strange, manipulative in an interesting way, and utterly determined to protect their convent. So all that’s worked out. Tomorrow, however, I have to write Ferius recounting what happened between her and Enna, which might be a challenge to get right.
Day 013 – Ferius’ Shame
Originally I’d planned these chapters to take place in the first Ferius book, but the timing didn’t quite fit. Having them here works better, I think, but I might need a second pass to get the emotional impact as strong as it needs to be. I’ll also need to see how these revelations inform what comes next.
But that’s tomorrow’s problem. For now, I’ve got lots of compelling scenes and I’m on track with the progression of the story, and that’s what’s most important.
Day 014 – The Red Nuns
Wow, but it’s hard writing a scene with nine characters all talking, with seven of them being characters with only vague names and descriptions that we’re not likely to see again . . .
Day 015 – I Knew It: Rewriting Time
There was plenty of good stuff in my last chapter with the Red Nuns, but I botched the nine characters on the page thing and beyond that, had them in the same location too long (this is a failing I often have: dragging out loads of dialogue and revelation inside the same static location). So I had to do a rewrite, split the chapter in two and going to a new location to allow for a bit more lore and increase in tension. That itself is a bit of a lesson for me: you can increase the tension in dialogue and exposition simply by moving the action to a more relevant location.
Anyway, after all that, the section now ended up 1300 words longer, but somehow the overall effect feels tighter and better paced. Sometimes not differentiating characters enough can tire the reader and make things seem long or slow when they’re not.
Day 016 – Building Up Suspicion & Making New Problems
Never end on a static note. That’s a lesson I need to learn one of these days. In this case, I end on a wonderfully tense note of suspicion between two characters, yet there’s no obvious place the story has to go next. In other words, I’ve created a static ending to the act. That never works out well.
My choices now are have a chapter building up this suspicion and then have the external world come crashing on the characters, or alter my last scene to do it there. Not sure what’s the right choice yet, but will have to try something right away.
Day 017 – Am I Stretching My Chapters Out?
I’ve noticed lately my chapters seem to be getting longer. Part of me wonders whether this comes from a subconscious desire to get all my words for the day (roughly 2500 a day for this book) all in one chapter rather than two or three. It’s a dangerous thing because the last thing I want to do is stretch out scenes just to fill pages. I’ll have to be mindful as I go through the rest of the book.
Day 018 – Digging Through the Mountainside
I often characterize the process of writing a novel as going on a journey through a long, dark forest. If you’ve never done it before, it’s especially harrowing because you have no idea where you are in the forest. So you’ve written a hundred pages. Are you a halfway through that forest? Will another hundred pages see you to the other side? Or will you end up even more lost with no end in sight?
The analogy holds up until you’ve been through that forest enough times that you no longer consider visiting it as being much of an adventure. In other words, there are some novels you just know how to write, but to avoid repeating yourself, you stop walking through that same forest and instead look for a new one. The problem is, there is no other forest. If you write something new, you have to start digging through the mountains on either side of that forest. That’s what one’s tenth or twentieth (I think I’m on my twenty-first novel now) becomes: digging through rock to get to the novel you’re trying to write.
Sometimes the digging is easy, the progress steady. Other times, you just hit one hard section of rock after another. You have to keep trying to dig, back away for a second, and try to dig that same patch again.
That’s where I am in the story. Today I wrote a scene that I’m almost positive will need to be rewritten tomorrow. Chances of being right: 100%
Day 019 – Yep. More Rewriting
Took forever to get these scenes in order. I finally got there, though, turning the one chapter into two and building up the suspense a little better. Of course, tomorrow I’ll be back to burrowing into the rock trying to make more progress.
Day 020 – The Impossible Escape
So in my previous two chapters I basically set up a scenario where Ferius can’t envision any means of escaping the horde of plague-infected nuns. There’s just no way out. Rosie claims if Ferius will trust her completely, then she can save her and Binta. Today I have to write that scene. The only problem is I have no idea how it’s going to work.
Time to dive in . . .
Day 021 – Completing the Red Nun Sequence
Surprisingly, most of what I wrote yesterday kind of worked, and led me into the solution for the first major confrontation with the Traveller. What’s holding this book together right now is less the adventure stuff – which is what I thought I had sorted out before I began – and more the twists and reveals. There’s an unexpectedness to a lot of the way the chapters end, which is interesting for me because they’re coming up naturally without me consciously intending to go in that direction.
Day 022 – Hmm . . . a Love Scene?
There’s nothing quite so risky as a love scene in a YA novel written by someone who pretty much studiously avoids writing love scenes. And yet, it just felt like this was the necessary character development at this moment in the story. Fortunately, it turned out surprisingly well, and is tame enough that I’m hoping it gets past the Russian censors.
Day 023 – Short Transition
Just wrote a short transitional scene here, partly because I’m not quite sure where I’m going next. Tomorrow might be tough . . .
Day 024 – Rosie’s Story
It’s strange to launch into a character’s story when you have no idea what that is. However I kind of like the general shape of her backstory here. Unfortunately, I have a suspicion I’ll need to more elegantly restructure it tomorrow.
Day 025 – Restructuring
Sure enough, I needed to restructure Rosie’s story. Not sure how well it’s turned out with what I’ve done. Will have to see how I feel in the morning about this.
Day 026 – Building to Rosie’s Hidden Plan
Not sure if I’ve got this stuff right, but I’m moving towards the idea that Rosie’s basically been gradually preparing Ferius for something terrible and that’s why she’s been telling her about her own life. Have to see if that’s actually making sense tomorrow.
Day 027 – Yet Another Rewrite!
I hadn’t thought that the narrative device for this sequence – interspersing Rosie telling her story with scenes of the characters trailing after the Traveller – would’ve been problematic, but somehow the sequence felt too static. So yet again I had to rewrite some of this to both split up expositional scenes and have a bit of action.
Technically this brought me to the end of Act 3, though I’m not entirely sure if that’s correct or if things will be restructured later.
Day 028 – Beginning of Act 4
Well, if I wasn’t sure whether the previous chapters truly ended Act 3, this definitely feels like the beginning of Act 4, with Ferius forced to take on a role and a path she doesn’t want.
I have three days left in this draft, which is enough to probably get through the climax but adding the epilogue is going to be tricky. Basically I need to get to the big tragedy next along with the reunion, then tomorrow the climax, and finally the epilogue.
Day 029 – All Is Lost
(Not in the book . . . well, yes in the book, but I don’t mean the book is lost, but that’s the section I need to write today.)
Today’s going to have to be a big writing day so that I can get to both the big awful moment (which I don’t quite know what that’s going to be yet) and the moment of rebirth (which I do, but I’m not entirely sure how to handle it.)
Okay . . . to work!
Day 30 – Rebirth
Rebirth is always an interesting part of a book for me – the point where the main character has to rise up from the dust, transformed and ready to face the final battle. In many ways it’s the most emotional part of a novel for me.
With this particular rebirth, I always knew it was going to involve Enna appearing on the scene, telling Ferius what she needs to hear.
And now . . . the climax.
Day 031 – The End
I love hitting the end of a book. This one was pretty tough, and I left myself with an awful lot to write in one day. I wrote over 6500 words, and still I think that climax could be expanded somewhat. But that’ll be for after my editor reads the manuscript and weighs in.
After this will come the editor’s notes followed by a revised draft which then gets approved and moves into copyedits, proofs, cover art, interior art, and at last a book in my hands!
Of course, now I have to come up with a plan for a new book starting tomorrow . . .
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A twisty suspense novel of a would-be writer finding herself taking the identity of her mentor.
Florence Darrow is a small-town striver who believes that she’s destined to become a celebrated writer. When she stumbles into the opportunity to become the assistant to “Maud Dixon,” a celebrated-but anonymous-novelist (think: Elena Ferrante), she believes that the universe is finally providing her big chance. The arrangement feels idyllic; Helen can be prickly, but she is full of pointed wisdom on both writing and living. She even invites Florence along on a research trip to Morocco, where her new novel is set. Florence has never been out of the country before; maybe, she imagines, she’ll finally have something exciting to write about herself.
But when Florence wakes up in the hospital after a terrible car crash, and Helen is dead, she begins to imagine what it might be like to ‘upgrade’ into not only Helen’s life, but also that of Helen’s bestselling pseudonym, Maud Dixon..
The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network returns with another heart-stopping World War II story of three female code breakers at Bletchley Park and the spy they must root out after the war is over.
It’s an odd thing to realize that the author whose work you enjoy the most writes in a genre that you almost never read. I’m not a historical fiction buff, nor am I particularly drawn to stories about World War II. Nonetheless, all three of Kate Quinn’s recent books: The Alice Network (technically a WWI spy thriller), The Huntress, and The Rose Code have captivated me entirely.
I adore Quinn’s writing; it’s vivid, flows incredibly smoothly, draws you into each scene and character. Speaking of characters, she does this wonderful thing with them where they’re actually broadly drawn rather than excessively nuanced, and somehow that works wonderfully for me as a reader. It’s a bit like the difference between modern films and ones from the Golden Age of cinema – it’s not that one’s better than the other (and arguably, modern films probably are better overall), but that sometimes its so purely enjoyable to see those big, clearly defined characters on the screen or page for a time.
I’ve noticed that with all three of the books I’ve read by Kate Quinn that they start fast, have what feel like extended middles with lots of narrative development but not especially fast pacing, and then bring you into these fabulous roller coaster rides in the last act. That sometimes means you worry during the middle of the book that it might not all come to some big, boisterous ending, but in the books of hers I’ve read, the endings have always been worth the wait.
I won’t gush further because, well, I’m still not sure why I like these books so much given my normal genres are fantasy, mystery, and the occasional venture into an Ian McEwan book, but I come away from every Kate Quinn novel wishing she also wrote fantasy, or mystery, or, hell, wrote some Ian McEwan books too.
If you’ve never read anything by Kate Quinn, I recommend starting with The Alice Network. I think I’ve bought that book for more people than any other I can remember, which is surely a good sign.
1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart. 1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger–and their true enemy–closer…
WAY OF THE ARGOSI is the first book in the Duellist Series.
Story Journals are where I talk about the writing of the books I’m working on. They’re my daily thoughts after writing whatever chapters I was working on at the time, which means inevitably there will be spoilers in here – including, potentially, the climax of the book. So I urge you not to read this if you’re worried about spoilers.
Day 001 – A Terrible Way to Start
When I say this is a terrible way to start a book, I don’t mean the actual opening of the book is bad. In fact, there’s a lot to commend this chapter that shows us just how awful Ferius starts out and the kinds of horrors she’s faced that make her a little unstable. What I mean, though, is that this is a book I’ve been loath to write. I don’t write prequels, I try to avoid origin stories, and once a series is done (as Spellslinger is after six books), I’m not prone to looking back. However the Argosi duology is something I promised to write, so now I’m getting back to it.
Day 002 – Time Jumping is Hard
There’s a general prohibition on flashbacks out there. People (not writers, mind you, but people who like to tell writers what to write and what not to write) go on about how flashbacks pull the reader out of the story or they’re cliché or somehow unrealistic because in real life we don’t flash back to events. That last one betrays a profound misunderstanding about what makes fiction real to us versus our own lives. Regardless, these two chapters are not only dealing with multiple flashbacks, but they’re doing them in a scene set in the narrative present.
The narrative present is simply the “real” story as it’s unfolding regardless of whether the book is told in present or past tense or even whether it has a memoirist frame around it (e.g. “Back before I was known as Lord Montez, I was a little boy with a problem”). The narrative past are those things which happened before.
I spun this winding pair of chapters because I explicitly didn’t want to pull one of those faintly Dickensian things where you tell all of a character’s life before getting to the story you’re about to tell. This is a trend I’ve seen in modern fantasy, too. It’s not one I like to read personally, so I didn’t want to do it here. Yet I had to show that Ferius had come close to a life full of love and learning and all those things we might’ve hoped for her, only to have it taken away.
So I begin with her digging graves, and it’s only as she’s digging those graves that we get glimpses into the six months where she lived with the two knights. Tricky to get right, but I think it works now.
Day 003 – Believability Can Be Tricky
A twelve-year-old girl goes off into the night to hunt down an incredibly powerful mage. How’s that supposed to work? I didn’t want to write the “she’s born to be an assassin so she’s got superhuman skills” stuff because, well, it’s just not my thing. So I had to work through how a young girl with a broken sword in hand might go about tracking down a mage and killing him without any special abilities other than the ones that come from her own experiences. I think I’ve gotten the right balance with these two chapters.
Day 004 – End of the First Act
I’m pretty pleased with how this first act has shaped up. My first stab at this book, I skipped over a lot of events in the interest of not writing things I’d read plenty of times before in fantasy novels. However that jumped me straight into a kind of dark, depressed state for Ferius that just didn’t quite work. This new first act is still dark, but more dramatic and giving more agency to Ferius.
Now, of course, comes the tricky part, which is how I get this second act going – keeping ideas I liked about my last try at this novel without bogging down the story in internal minutiae.
Day 005 – A Tricky Turn
So one of the things I’m trying to avoid in this book is letting it get too incredibly maudlin at times. Some of that’s unavoidable when you’re dealing with a character who’s experienced what Ferius has, but I feel like in earlier attempts at this story I ended up too stuck in the muck. So this transitional chapter I wrote today, which shifts us between the first and second acts, is doing a bit of a dancing act between depressing and determined. Not sure if I got it right or not, so I’ll have to give it another look in the morning.
Day 006 – The Heist
This next sequence is one that makes me nervous because it involves the “orphan girl learns to steal to survive” which is something we’ve seen in so many fantasy novels. My hope is that the setup that brings us to it gives these scenes a different context and that the execution will be interesting enough to keep the story impetus moving forward.
Day 007 – Tonal Turns
One of the tricky parts of my writing style is that there’s always a mixture of darkness and humour in my stories. Typically, they start out with that more light-hearted, adventurous style that then shifts into much darker territory with a glimpse of humour late in the story and then a return to it at the end. However this book goes dark very early on, and so I’m now finding myself shifting into some more light-hearted scenes which could be going to far away tonally form what came before. It’s a complicated balancing act at times, but I’ll have to trust my instincts for now.
Day 008 – Fight Scene
Fight scenes are always strange beasts to approach. On the one hand they feel like work – all that choreography and trying to deal with tension and pacing. On the other, they tend to write themselves faster than lots of other scenes. maybe it’s because the tempo, cadence, beginning and end have such a natural flow to them.
This pair of chapters turned out quite well, I think, with a mix of humour, some of that clever-narrator-vibe that fits in most of my books, and some unexpected emotion at the end. All in all, a good day of writing.
Day 009 – Condensing Story
As I wrote these two chapters today, summarizing an entire year of Ferius’ life, it occurred to me that I could’ve written a whole book just about Ferius being a thief in the gang of the Black Galleon, getting to know her trade and such. Maybe some readers would even enjoy it. However, I’d really just be writing something we’ve seen plenty of times before. More and more I’m discovering that Way of the Argosi isn’t so much a book about Ferius’ early life as all the lives she tried to live and had to give up. Not sure what that’ll mean for the back half of the book, but it’ll be interesting to see how it all turns out.
Day 010 – Picaresque Novel Writing
There’s sometimes a picaresque quality to my writing, which is a way of saying ‘episodic’. The main character goes through various discreet stages, almost like a series of separate novelettes, and then everything ties together at the end (which is what makes it a novel and not a series of episodes.) This style isn’t really in fashion, though, so I’m more mindful of keeping that sense of narrative drive moving forward across all those discreet sequences. This novel is feeling like it wants to live in six parts, each one a phase of Ferius’ early life: orphan, knight, thief, gambler . . . and I’ll figure out the others when I get there.
Day 011 – End of the Second Act
This story keeps taking turns towards the dark and melancholic. It feels credible, given everything that’s happened, but I’m always fighting against it somewhat. That said, I think this act ends exactly has it needs to, and sets up the third act, in which we finally meet an Argosi, perfectly.
Day 012 – Turnarounds
I have most of the third act already written, so I assumed this would be an easy day. I forgot, however, that all those earlier changes created the need for a turnaround chapter to transition between those acts, and this one was harder than expected. On the other hand, it created an opportunity for some fresh ideas in terms of how Ferius deals with her predicament.
Day 013 – Rewriting Always Makes It Longer
Started with a long chapter that only got longer as I rewrote it. Not sure why, but I never seem to make things shorter during a rewrite, which I suppose is a good argument for making my first passes as short as possible.
Day 014 – Another Long Scene
Typically I aim for scenes that are around 1500 words in length. That seems to keep the pace moving while still allowing for strong beats. However both this scene and the last one were in the 4000 word range. Oddly, that never seems to be a problem. Some scenes just want to be longer and can be so without slowing down the feeling of moment in the story. Just wish I knew how to tell one from the other.
Day 015 – Attenuating Violence
I’ve noticed in fiction lately that it seems as if acts of violence are fine, but the potentiality of violence gets people much more upset. In other words, having someone pull out a sword and cut someone’s head off is less threatening to a modern reader than someone discussing how they might pull out that same sword. So in a rewrite of a scene I found myself realizing I was attenuating a character’s worry over potential violence that might be done to them – altering both the nature of that prospective violence and the obliqueness to which its referred. Such an odd thing to think about while writing.
Day 016 – Where Does An Act End
I was doing a rewrite of a scene and suddenly found myself thinking that with a few changes I’d suddenly ended an act. Now there’s no real concrete definition of acts in literature (not that any number of crap books on the craft of writing don’t attempt to define it), but we all have our own sense of what makes an act. For me it’s when the character’s fundamental approach to the story changes, which is what happened as I rewrote this scene. But like theme, one only really becomes aware of the act structure once the story is written, so I’ll see in the coming days whether this really was an act break.
Day 017 – Rewriting to Intensify
I was rewriting a scene, mostly assuming I just needed to deal with a few changes with setting and such that had crept in through some other revisions. What surprised me, though, was how the chapter rewrite became much more about intensifying the dramatic meaning of the scenes. That’s really what rewriting is about, I think: intensifying what’s important in the story.
Day 018 – Small Changes Get Big Fast
It’s interesting how those small changes you make in a story seem to keep snowballing, getting more and more pervasive until they affect every single line of the scenes that follow. With this act I kept thinking I wouldn’t have to do much rewriting but I keep spotting these places where it needs to change and that makes it as difficult – maybe more so – then writing new scenes.
Day 019 – End of Act 4
My act structure is a bit strange in this book right now, but I’m not worrying about it too much. I’m not entirely sure where the story’s going to go after this act. It could almost have just gone into a sort of denouement or epilogue, but then the book would end up at 60K words or so, which would feel awfully short.
Have to see what tomorrow brings.
Day 020 – Beginning of Act 5
Today felt a bit like I was writing an epilogue, which is weird because I’ve got a whole act to follow, but I’ll just roll with it and see where it goes.
Day 020 – Into the Dark
There’s no better way to write yourself into a corner than when you hit the end of a chapter and realize that could easily be the end of the book. That’s what happened with the thirty-third chapter in this book. I hit an endpoint after the climax of an act, and it read like the happy ending of a finished book.
Editors will often tell you “a book needs to be however long the story wants to be”, but in truth, publishers often have much stricter length requirements. For example, technically the contract for this book quotes the length at 85,000+ words. If I ended the story here, it would only be about 65,000 words. Now, they might be willing to go ahead anyway, but would readers – who even in YA now expect much longer books – be happy with it?
For the moment, I’m forging ahead as if there’s more story to tell. Now I just need to find that story.
Day 021 – Are They All Epilogues Now?
This scene should’ve been us launching into the main part of this new act, yet somehow it, too, felt like an epilogue. Maybe that’s what happens when you’ve finished the story earlier than you thought. Only one way to find out . . . keep writing.
Day 022 – A Rewrite Day
I rewrote yesterday’s chapter, splitting it into two chapters, which I think helped move it away from the epilogue feel.
Day 023 – Outlining to the End
I’ve been avoiding big outlines lately, but at this stage I needed to project forward to how the book might end, and I think I’ve got a strong enough chapter outline to get me there. In the next seven days I’ll need to write nine chapters, which is eminently do-able. Really excited to get this novel wrapped up!
Day 024 – Turning the Corner
There comes a point in the writing of a novel when I can’t yet see the end coming up but I know the hardest part is past – when victory (which is to say, a completed novel of which I’ll be proud) feels assured. It comes at different points in the process with each book, but today was that day for Way of the Argosi.
There’s a difference between work and struggle in writing. A lot of the time we struggle. Writing feels like a fight between the writer and . . . well, probably the writer. You’d think that would be the exciting part and the more journeyman “work” part – where you’re putting out effort but that effort is within your capabilities – would become drudgery. But it really doesn’t. I like that feeling of just doing work as a writer. In those moments I know what I’m doing, that I can do it at a professional standard, and that it will lead to something meaningful.
Six more days to go and this novel will be wrapped. My fourth of the year. Maybe – just maybe – I’m starting to get the hang of this job.
Day 025 – Rewriting for Pacing
Every writer has their tics – those little tell-tale words, phrases, and plot devices that come out again and again in their stories. Tics are fine. They’re part of a writer’s style. But some tendencies are just trouble. For instance, when writing without an outline (which is how I typically write), I’ll often go long, stretching one scene out to three, starting each one with some philosophical musing by the character, and taking forever to get to the climax of the actual scene. Rewriting those scenes is by far the hardest for me, because I don’t like to toss everything away. Often that slow, plodding pace lets me find really interesting moments and I want to keep those if they fit with the story. So I have to go digging through the text, finding what matters, chucking out what doesn’t, and then trying to rebuild from there while always keeping an eye on the pacing. Tricky work.
Day 026 – The Final Act Begins
So these next few days are where the proverbial rubber hits the road. I’ve mapped out what the climax looks like, but now I’ll be writing those chapters and seeing how well they work. If they don’t, I’ll have to come up with something new on the fly – tricky to do when you’ve got four days left.
Day 027 – Polemics
I had to pull myself back from some excessive moralizing in one of the chapters I wrote today. Don’t get me wrong: I’m perfectly fine writing in an almost polemical fashion. My characters often have pretty strong points of view about ethics, and since those often play into the themes of my books, it’s inevitable that some of that will come out. The trick is both to find balance as well as new angles from which to explore those subjects, so as to avoid everything becoming variously lengthy repetitions of “Use the force, Luke.”
All that aside, I’m pretty happy with these two chapters. Three days to go until the end of the book!
Day 028 – The Climax
Coming up on the big climax scene, which is going to be a bit strange for me because there’s no huge fight scene or sneaky bit of thievery or even magic. Instead, it’s about Ferius just talking about herself, which is to say: giving a speech. The problem is, we’ve had loads of mini-speeches from Durral so far in this story, along with snippets of speeches from Ferius’ memories of Gervais and Rosarite. Still, I think this is ultimately an emotional book about Ferius becoming an Argosi, so maybe this’ll be a scene where I’m largely “telling rather than showing” her transformation, but that might be what works here.
Not long to go before my favourite part of writing a book: the epilogue!
Day 029 – Climax Completed
I ran into some trouble as I set about writing the final chapters of this book. My intended climax felt like it was going to be, well, anti-climactic. This wasn’t due to the lack of explosions and fights, but simply that I’d used some of those dramatic beats before. I needed something more active for Ferius to be doing here.
Fortunately, after chatting with a colleague, I came up with a solution that I think is much more satisfying. It has the feeling of a genuine “big climactic turn” but without compromising on the thematic integrity of the story.
Tomorrow I write the epilogue chapter, followed by the two every novelist can’t wait to write: The End.
Day 030 – The End
Wrote the epilogue and was surprised by how everything fit together – almost as if I knew what I was doing!
Tomorrow: a new book begins!
I’m pretty addicted to travelling and it’s rare for me not to fly to Europe a couple of times a year, elsewhere in Canada once or twice, and usually some new country I’ve never been to before. Covid 19 made that impossible this year, and I was lucky that I’d travelled to Toronto in January and then briefly to Mexico in early February before the lockdowns began. Now, however, it’s been many months and I’m going pretty stir crazy. On the other hand, if you’re going to be stuck somewhere during a pandemic, British Columbia is a pretty good place to be stuck.
Some interesting facts about Vancouver:
- The Lions Gate Bridge (a beautiful bridge once used for the Tom Selleck movie “Runaway” which featured homicidal mechanical spiders running across it) was originally built by the Guinness Beer Company.
- We have the second largest port in North America, second only to New York. Suck it, Los Angeles.
- We have 5 – count ‘em – 5 sister cities, namely: Odessa (Ukraine), Yokohama (Japan), Edinburgh (Scotland), Guangzhou (China), and Los Angeles (United States). Uh . . . sorry about what I said before, Los Angeles.
Oh, and we invented Ryan Reynolds. You’re welcome.
I’ve noticed that any time I so much as post a deleted scene on my website, it ends up on bloody Goodreads and people start asking me where they can buy it. I start seeing reviews and star ratings and shout at my computer screen, “But that’s not a book! You can’t rate and review my deleted scenes!”
Turns out you can.
Nonetheless, in the interest of flooding the universe with even more strangeness, on this infrequently updated page you’ll find openings to novels I’ll probably never write, complete with covers for which I’ve allowed myself only sixty seconds to create.
Will I ever write “Death Gets a Furball”? Let’s hope not. “The Man Who Forgot to Die” has a nice bit of weirdness going on in the opening, though . . . but no, that’s unlikely. What about “Only Idiots Wear Capes”? Actually, I wrote two whole chapters of that book one day, but it’s not really my genre, so better it be immortalized here.
Oh, and Brooke Talona is my official pen name for books I’m probably not going to write – just in case somebody starts creating entries for these on Goodreads (which I beg you not to do).
“I stared Death in the face and smiled.
‘Death’ is the name of my Burmese cat, so it’s not really as impressive as it sounds.”p.1 of Death Gets a Furball by Brooke Talona
‘I’d like for us to start going to couples therapy,’ she says, sitting down with what looks to me like an excessive amount of caution on the seat opposite. She sets down one coffee cup in front of me before taking a sip from the second. ‘I think it would be good for us.’p.1 of The Man Who Forgot to Die by Brooke Talona
‘Couples therapy?’ I ask, staring at the coffee cup. It’s got what looks like an excessive amount of cream and sugar in it. I drink mine black.
‘I know it’s a scary word,’ she says, reaching out one hand tentatively to put it on top of mine.
‘Two scary words, actually.’
Her eyes narrow. ‘If you’re not going to take this seriously . . .’
‘Honestly, that’s kind of hard to do right now.’
She nods as if this was expected. ‘Because you think it’s a joke. Because you think any time two people need to talk about their relationship–especially with a professional instead of your drinking buddies–that it’s all just psycho-babble nonsense that a “real man” like you shouldn’t have to endure.’
That’s a lot to take in, especially under the circumstances.
‘Actually,’ I say slowly, still contemplating whether to take a sip of the coffee. ‘I’ve got the utmost respect for couple’s therapy.’
‘Really?’ she asks, a hint of tentative optimism in her voice.
‘I do. There’s just one problem.’
She practically slams her coffee cup down on the table, then takes a deep breath before leaning back into her chair, looking up at the coffee shop’s beige ceiling before saying, ‘Because you don’t want to have to expose your feelings to scrutiny. Of course.’
‘Okay, two problems.’
‘What’s the other one, then?’
She’s staring at me now, with piercing blue eyes that I can’t tell if they’re indicating she’s moments away from crying on my shoulder or slugging me in the jaw.
‘Well,’ I say, finally taking a sip of the coffee. As expected, it’s incredibly sweet, and has way too much sugar for a type-I diabetic. ‘It’s that I’ve never met you before, ma’am, so I really have no idea what you’re talking about.’
Iron Will was about to die, and the only surprising thing about that fact was that the cause of death wasn’t his stupid name.
p.1 of Only Idiots Wear Capes by Brooke Talona
‘Iron Will’. Was it supposed to be a play on words? Anyway, he fought bravely – which is to say, stupidly – on the very edge of rooftop of the Madison Bank building, trading blows with a psychopath by the name of Freemaster who wore a black and silver lycra jumpsuit so tight that even from down here you could make out the crack between his butt cheeks. Iron Will, at least, had the decency to fight in something closer to the kind of padded trousers worn by special forces soldiers – not in real life, of course, but in movies about special forces soldiers. He made up for this relative modesty by going around in a cape but without a shirt.
What an asshole.
Check back for more if you’re a glutton for literary punishment . . .
Having to stay at home non-stop during the pandemic has produced the strange long-term effect that I’ve slowly devolved into a cat butler whose only functions in life are to let our two cats outside, back inside, dry said cats with a fluffy towel when they get wet, and listen to them complain about other cats daring to enter their territory (which isn’t actually their territory at all – it’s our neighbour’s back yard and one of the “invaders” is her cat whose lived there his whole life).
In addition, my every writing session starts with ten minutes of waiting for one of the cats to stop staring at the screen (judging me, of course) and finally settle down to a nap, because of course they couldn’t just let me write by myself. I’d screw everything up.
My wife is beginning to worry that my subservience to feline demands is becoming a tad excessive.
There are worse places to spend a pandemic lockdown than Vancouver, British Columbia. In fact, it would be hard for me to envision a better place to hunker down during these strange times. Here are just a few of the reasons:
- Vancouver features a wide range of outdoor spaces and is on a quest to become the “Greenest City in the World”
- Our pandemic, though not without its tragedies – especially in long-term care facilities – has faced significantly lower cases and deaths than in almost all other major jurisdictions.
- We have the amazing Dr. Bonnie Henry as our Provincial Health Officer, and she’s led us through an incredibly efficient and effective process for managing the pandemic. She even has her own catchphrase: “Be Kind, Be Calm, and Stay Safe”.
- While none of us are perfect, British Columbia’s had relatively few morons running around “protesting” social distancing guidelines.
- Canada’s done quite a lot so far to mitigate the direct economic impacts on citizens. That doesn’t prevent there being tremendous hardship, but those measures are keeping most of those in need from slipping under water.
There are other vectors of privilege than where one lives, however, and those make a huge difference. My wife and I own our home, live in a lovely part of town and have a modest back yard. That means its easier for us to get a bit of time outside without compromising social distancing guidelines. We also have nice neighbours, so being around home all the time doesn’t increase stress from people shouting or banging the walls. Not everyone lives in such relatively idyllic circumstances, and it must take incredible amounts of will power and commitment to keep it together during these times.
I’ve become even more conscious lately of how fortunate I am to be able to make a good living writing books. During the pandemic, I’m able to write more novels (and have written just under 300,000 words in the first four months of the year), and while the economic impacts for novelists like me are likely to hit more profoundly in the second half of the year (because publishers pay out royalties 6-9 months after they’re earned), I’ve been fortunate to have two series that are successful in the digital markets as well as in print, and so that, too, mitigates some of the losses.
The only sad part for me is that my wife and I love to travel, and that may be out of the question for a long while to come. Still, we’re together and we have our strange and demanding cats to keep us busy.
Hope all of you are holding up and looking forward to better times to come.
Doing a bit of traipsing about England and France, visiting with publishers and discussing various new series in the YA fantasy and thriller genres. Of course, sometimes there’s no way to avoid getting in the occasional theatre play . . .
Here’s a fun fact: Britain and France have been to war against each other 23 separate times.
Spent a few days hiking along Hadrian’s Wall in England with my lovely agents. I bet no one told you one of the responsibilities of a literary agent was to guide their client across endless kilometres of roman wall, right? Just makes me glad I made sure that clause was in the contract as it was a wonderful time.
I’m also cycling solo along the Loire in France visiting various castles (in the writing world we call this “research”). The temperature is a fairly brutal 35 degrees Celsius and I’m actually surprised by just how hard it is to stay hydrated when you’re cycling for several hours even with drinking loads of water.
Anyway, lots of fun and interesting ideas coming up from all this!
When I was a little kid, my mother read an article that said that, regardless of the type of food, 3500 calories equaled one pound. From this nugget of science she reasoned that sending my brother and I to school with a half a large bar of chocolate was the same as a packed lunch. So began my life-long chocolate addiction . . .
The school eventually figured out something was up, grabbed me and forced me to eat an apple in a teacher’s lounge while they called my mother up on the phone and informed them that a half a large Hershey bar wasn’t an optimal lunch. Me? I ate the stupid apple and asked for the rest of my chocolate bar back.
Anyway, through a mixture of exercise, not over-indulging in anything else (no smoking, alcohol, drugs, … bunny rabbits? I don’t know a lot about addiction, okay?) I managed to survive on a diet of about 30% chocolate calories for decades.
What’s changed? Well, nothing really. Chocolate’s a pretty fun drug as these things go. If I get anxious, I reach for some delicious low-rent milk chocolate and it takes the edge off. But eventually you hit a point where you think, “how long do I want to stay hooked on something that’s really not good for me?”
Last year I went off chocolate entirely for a month (which I hadn’t done in . . . ever?) then eased back in to just have it if I was out for dinner or something like that. Luckily, it wasn’t too traumatic. But these things can creep up again over time, and Christmas yields lots of chocolaty treats which I consumed at an ever-more-impressive rate as the season went on.
So, back to no chocolate again until my birthday at the end of January (not eat my wife’s Toblerone chocolate cake? Are you mad?) and then back to “if we’re out for dinner”.
Not a very exciting story, really, but, well, what did you think you’d get when you clicked on the link?
P.S. Please don’t tell me about how good rich dark chocolate is for you. Dark chocolate is a vile trick played on chocolate lovers by the demonic forces infesting those who consume things whose names are preceded by words like “artisinal” and “vegan”.
One of the more fascinating things about being an author these days is that sometimes you’ll learn that one of your characters is actually out there wandering the world. I was overjoyed to hear that actress and cosplayer Megan Kingsbury went to Glasgow ComicCon dressed as the one and only Ferius Parfax!
Going above and beyond, note the thigh holster for some of Ferius’s throwing cards. Megan did an amazing job both with the costume and taking on Ferius’s trademark sass!
Check out more of the photos on Megan’s page on Facebook.
Check out my events page if you want to know where I’ll be on the tour. I’ll try to update as soon as I get info from the organizers.
One of the first things people warned me when I started my career as an author way back in 2014 was that only blockbuster authors ever got to do book tours. Fortunately for me, that rule seems highly bendable. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my books published in fourteen languages and to get to do quite a bit of book touring. What’s surprising, though, is just how much variety there is in each type of event:
Guest of Honour
This was my first time being a guest of honour and I couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of people than the fine folks at the Esbjerg Fantasy Festival in Denmark. Not only did they fly me out from Canada, put me up in a nice hotel, and take excellent care of me, they were also just plain fun to hang out with. Best of all, I got to meet and spend a great deal of time with the legendary Patricia Briggs and her best friend and assistant, Ann. The two of them are wonderfully down to earth and kind, which meant I had the benefit of mentorship and thus managed to not completely embarrass myself in public.
What’s fun about panels is that you get to learn from other authors as well as from thoughtful and informed audiences. I’ve done a lot of panels and I never seem to get tired of them. I’m really looking forward to being on panels at Wigtown, DeptCon, and others.
The trick with these is that you never know if you’ll be talking to a packed house or four people who just happened to walk by when you started talking. Often these happen as interviews, which can be a lot of fun depending on whether the interviewer has heard of your books before or not . . .
I’m always a bit shy about these. It seems like schools get squeezed more and more, and lesson time is at a premium. In a bookstore it’s just understood that you’re there to meet fans and promote books, but students at a school have a right to expect that everyone put in front of them is there to enhance their education. I’ll try my best.
Sometimes you’re sent to a bookstore to do nothing more than sign copies of the books they put out on the shelf. No audience, no fanfare, just you and a pen and a soon-to-be-sore hand. That said, almost every time I’ve done it I’ve gotten to meet interesting booksellers who are, of course, some of the most well-educated and informed fantasy fans you could hope to meet.
Dinners . . . Dinners . . . Dinners!
I swear, there’s nothing publishers love more than taking authors out to dinner. The conversation is always fun and informative (publishing people generally being a fun lot), but I always feel like I should pick up the cheque. Trying to do so just gets you a slap on the wrist and a stern talking-to.
It’s always a privilege . . .
Whatever form a book event takes, it always feels like you’re getting this amazing and undeserved opportunity. Whether it’s standing on a big stage, delivering a guest of honour talk to a crowd, or chatting with a reader in a signing line, it’s always fun and invigorating.
How many of these tours will I get to do? Who knows. They’re certainly rarer than in the old days (or so I’m told, anyway), so I always try to approach them as if this one is the very last one for me. Fingers crossed that’s not the case!
I’m on a five-week book tour that’s taking me to Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, the Czech Republic, and Ireland!
I’ve spent a lot of time in the U.K. these past few years since Traitor’s Blade was first published. The main reason for this is that both my main publishers (Bonnier and Quercus) are based in the London. Every time I come here I get to see a bit more of the city and the way it’s evolving as time goes by. Despite the multitude of transit options, I walk everywhere, which gives me plenty of opportunities to take in the sights. I’ll also be heading to Glasgow, Wigtown, Bath, and Cheltenham for various literary festivals.
I’d never been to Denmark until this year, and strangely this will be my second visit. In March I was in Aarhus for a couple of events, and in September I’ll be at the Esbjerg Fantasy Festival along with Patricia Briggs as guests of honour.
Next to the U.K., France is the country I’ve visited the most. Still, it’s always a thrill to go to Paris and this will be my first time meeting my delightful French publishers in person!
Prague will be an entirely new city for me, so that’ll be exciting, too. I’ve been to Ireland once before, but that was ages ago, so a visit to Dublin for DeptCon will be a terrific treat!
This article originally appeared in SFX magazine. Or at least, I think it did. I never did get a copy . . .
The problem with funny books – I mean, really funny, giggling-uncontrollably-whilst-everyone-in-your-crowded-train-car-speculates-about-whether-perhaps-someone-ought-to-call-the-paramedics sorts of books – is that you can get so wrapped up in the pleasure of reading that you forget to take the story seriously. That would be a terrible mistake in this case, because Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is a seriously funny book.
Any attempt to encapsulate the story is doomed to fail, but lets just say it’s about the arrival of Anti-Christ (who gets accidentally switched at birth with the wrong baby by a slightly clumsy satanic nun) and the coming battle between the forces of Heaven and Hell (well, except for the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley who’ve become rather good friends over the centuries and would just as soon the Earth not be destroyed, thank you very much). Of course, you can’t have the end times without the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse making an appearance: War, Famine, Death and Pollution (Pestilence retired in 1936) as well as their hangers-on, the Four Other Horsepersons of the Apocalypse, whose members include Grievous Bodily Harm and Things Not Working Properly Even After You’ve Given Them a Good Thumping.
Oh, and there’s a bit with a dog. Well, a hellhound, technically, but even that doesn’t work out as expected.
Good Omens is a very English book, which makes you wonder how all those poor souls who had to translate it into so many different languages once it became a bestseller managed to make sense of the endless stream of distinctly British references. In fact, if ever a book didn’t deserve to age or travel well, it’s this one. Written in the late eighties and published in 1990, Good Omens embraced the technologies, celebrities and social aggravations of the period. This alone should have doomed it to irrelevance – and yet with minimal adjustments, the fabulous 2015 radio drama produced by the BBC proved not only that both the humour and underlying social commentary of the book apply equally well to our own era, but also provides grounds for optimism about the upcoming 2018 television adaptation.
Neil Gaiman, acting on a posthumous request from Terry Pratchett, has signed on to write the six-episode miniseries. No doubt Gaiman’s talent and passion for the project will ensure that the humour and satire, the eccentric characters and devious plot twists will all be carried forward from page to screen. As a longtime fan, however, my hope is that this new incarnation will also bring forward the book’s subtle but distinctive political theme – one which may either delight audiences or send them racing to their respective social media bubbles in search of suitably vitriolic posts that validate their sense of being absolutely right about everything. Because while Good Omens takes shots at everything from religion to fad dieting, the real targets of its satire are those who demand that human beings take absolute sides against one another. Heaven and Hell get equally skewered in this – notably in the revelation that they’re both unintentionally funding the same Witchfinder Army. More significantly, it’s precisely the series of unpredictable friendships that violate these traditional divisions – between an angel and a demon, a witchfinder and a prophetess, and most importantly between the Anti-Christ and a bunch of punk kids – that provide the chance at salvation. For a book full of supernatural characters and events, Good Omens turns out to be a profoundly humanist book, and one that resonates even more for me in this polarised age than it did when I first read it twenty-five years ago.
See? I meant it when I said that Good Omens is a very funny book that’s worth taking seriously.
Queenslayer is the fifth book in the Spellslinger Series.
Story Journals are where I talk about the writing of the books I’m working on. I update these with the latest content at the top, so start from the bottom if this is new to you.
January 7th – Copyedits Done!
Generally speaking, I actually enjoy going through the copyedit. I love seeing how a talented desk editor like Talya Baker finds the little rough edges that need smoothing, the lines that need more sparkling. Of course, then there’s the continuity issues, which drive me crazy, but fortunately there wasn’t too much trouble on that front with Queenslayer.
November 28th – Final Stages
In a couple of days I’ll beging the final pass of the book, after which it goes to copyedit and then proofs. The big challenge for me right now is just to make sure I’m tightening every up as much as possible so that I’ve got room for some of the additional moments I’ve got planned.
November 21st – A Very Dark Scene
The past couple of weeks have been something of a holding pattern for Queenslayer as my editor and I navigate a particular scene in the book that is both darker than anything that’s come before and also
The past couple of weeks have been something of a holding pattern for Queenslayer as my editor and I navigate a particular scene in the book that is both darker than anything that’s come before and also one that deals with more problematic subjects. There’s a tension between the best version of the story being one that might also be difficult for some readers. The challenge for me is to find the way of expressing the dramatic underpinnings of the scene that’s mindful of those broader publishing issues but without compromising the emotional integrity of the book.
Wow – that sounds really pompous. Basically, there’s a scene that might be just too much for some readers. Now I’ve got to make it work without undercutting the very reasons why I wrote it in the first place.
November 5th – First Revision Pass Done
First pass is done, which means I’ve gone through and looked at every sentence but my primary focus as been for flow and dealing with any consistency issues with the previous books. It’s always tricky with a character who’s both growing through his teenage years and has to deal with all the hard travels that Kellen does because it means his narrative voice and point of view evolves between books, but I still need him to be recognizable. Reichis is a little darker too in this book, but that’s just ‘cause he’s a mean little bugger.
October 17th – Tweaking the first act.
I’ve become somewhat obsessive about prose lately – going back over the same lines repeatedly until I’m sure they’re as close to perfect as I’m capable of achieving. It’s not the most efficient way to proceed, but I like the feeling that each major section of a book (I
I’ve become somewhat obsessive about prose lately – going back over the same lines repeatedly until I’m sure they’re as close to perfect as I’m capable of achieving. It’s not the most efficient way to proceed, but I like the feeling that each major section of a book (I tend to write in either four or six acts) is truly finished before moving on. In this case, it’s mostly minor stuff, but it’s all important to me.
September 14th – By the gods of sea and sky, Kellen is a mean bastard . . .
Making a number of tonal changes to the story. When I first wrote Queenslayer years ago, Kellen was really callous and hard-bitten. I still want a bit of that edge to him (after all, he’s been hunted by his people ever since he got the Shadowblack), but I also want that vulnerability that’s so key to his character. Also, man is Reichis ever evil in this book. That part I’m not changing, though. He is a squirrel cat, after all.
August 21st, 2018 – Okay . . . how do I do this now?
Queenslayer was actually the first Spellslinger book I wrote. I’d wanted to write about an outlaw mage with a lousy life – no money, no prospects, hunted by his people and abused by his mean-spirited “business partner”. However when it was time to go to a series, everyone agreed we needed to see Kellen’s origins, and so the earlier books came to life. Since Queenslayer’s already written, this should be easy, right? Piece of cake. Just a tweak here or there for continuity . . .
Nope. I’ve got to go line by line, page by page, and chapter by chapter to figure out what the book wants to be now, and not what it was when I first wrote it.
Still, it sure is fun to read just how much of a jerk Reichis was in that book.
Of all the strange turns in my career – earning a degree in archaeology only to discover I hate digs, taking up fencing for fun only to end up working as a fight choreographer, becoming one of the world’s truly terrible actors yet getting some fun parts, falling into becoming a product strategist . . . etc – the one thing I’ve kept doing since the age of nineteen is performing as a musician. Sometimes I’m hired to play guitar, other times keyboards or bass, often I do a lot of the singing (See? Even in music I’m the prototypical jack-of-all-trades, master of none.) Sometimes I’m playing very straight, formal shows, sometimes . . . well, here are a few of my recent gigs.
Bring back the eighties . . . and nineties?
A good friend of mine swears that the nineties were the end of rock & roll because almost nothing from that era has really stood the test of time (even Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hardly gets any radio play anymore compared to, say, A-Ha’s “Take on Me”). Still, it’s not for lack of trying. I recently got to play songs like Edwyn Collins “Never Met A Girl Like You Before” and Smash Mouth’s “All Star”. Classics? I don’t know, but people seemed to dig them.
Where’s my damned yellow submarine?
One of my favourite gigs is playing John Lennon in a groovy Beatles show called the Mop Tops. I’ve done a few of those gigs recently. There’s something truly fun about just playing the music of a single band – especially one as sonically compelling and diverse as the Beatles.
Wait . . . you want me to wear a what?
So apparently this was the fortieth anniversary of Animal House. Yes, that’s me wearing a toga. Yes, that look on my face perfectly expresses how weird I felt dressed like that while rocking out to tunes like Shout by Otis Day and the Knights and Twistin’ The Night Away by Sam Cooke.
I’ve since demanded that this become my official author photo for all my books. A good look, don’t you think?
The entire Spellslinger series is coming out in audio, with each book released simultaneously with the print and ebook versions! Best of all, the narrator is the incomparable Joe Jameson who also narrates The Greatcoats series. You can hear an excerpt of his fabulous work below:
When we were choosing narrators for Spellslinger, I really wanted someone who could deliver a performance rather than simply read the novel out loud. Joe has a knack for giving each character they’re own voice and style, and for bringing an actor’s sense of drama to the work. I very much hope you enjoy the audio series as much as I do!