30 June is the end of the financial year in Australia. Tax time. (It’s not the day we need to have our taxes in, it’s the date the last financial year ends, so we can start getting our taxes together.)
Both Sherylyn and I work in industries where end-of-financial-year has a big impact. It’s a busy time of year for us.
30 June 2015 was also the day Linesman came out.
30 June is also Sherylyn’s birthday. Best birthday present ever. Your own book.
Two years already, and it’s gone so fast. Another two books, and two more on the way.
We’ve decided to celebrate by doing a Goodreads giveaway.
Starting on the 30 June, running till the end of July, you have a chance win all three books. If you’ve already got them, try a second copy. Or maybe give them away to someone you know who likes science fiction.
Stars Uncharted was due at the editor’s on 1 June. We sent it in, early actually, and settled back to concentrate on the next story.
Anne, our editor, got the book back to us on the 10th. She said some nice things, and then talked about the changes she wanted. The biggest one, the book is too long. At least 20,000 words too long.
We have to say, it wasn’t unexpected. After all, the contract calls for a novel of around 100,000 words. We delivered a little more than that. Like, closer to 130,000. Sometimes, when you’ve worked on a book for a long time, you think there is nothing you can possibly cut. A few months away from the book—or another eye, like the editor’s—will show that you can, but at the time, we couldn’t see it.
Anne suggested some areas we might cut.
“Let me at it,” Sherylyn said. “Don’t look. For a week.”
So I’m sitting at the computer, trying to continue with the next book, while she gives me a running countdown of how many words she’s cut each day.
“I’m down to 117,916 today.”
Sherylyn is the editor in our writing team of two. She does most of the cuts. I do many of the adds. She can be ruthless. And sadly, she and Anne often agree on things. Sherylyn will argue for something to be cut, I’ll make a stand and we leave it in, then Anne comes back and says, “Perhaps this isn’t necessary.”
I’m coming round, gradually, but … in the meantime. Sherylyn’s cutting words, and I can’t argue about what’s she cut until tomorrow. I’m chewing my nails, literally.
Tomorrow, I finally get to see what she’s done.
You know what, I probably won’t even notice what’s gone.
30 June 2015 was the release date for Linesman. It’s hard to believe the first book came out two years ago already. We’re planning a Goodreads giveaway for the anniversary.
We’ll announce it on the blog closer to the date.
Our editor came back with feedback and requested changes on the new novel yesterday. Changes required by the end of July.
We have work to do.
Some questions from one of our readers that we would like to discuss.
Bruce, one of our readers, asked some questions about Linesman. We liked the questions, thought they would make a good blog. So, here are Bruce’s questions and our answers.
There is may be spoilers if you haven’t read the books, so you might want to stop reading now.
Who taught Lambert his strong sense of right and wrong? The alcoholic beggar at the store only said he’d get caught. Rigel cheats.
Cann kid gang: Will Wen Cann, the kid who was kind to Ean, resurface? They’re beating the bushes for Linesman.
Will Rossi or Hernandez ever headline a story, solve a crisis, or make a discovery? What are Rossi’s experiments?
Tinatin and the shuttles?
Who taught Lambert his strong sense of right and wrong?
Firstly, Ean has always had a strong sense of what’s right and what’s wrong when dealing with the lines.
He has always known—and been confident of—his own ability to work with the lines. Any inferiority he has comes from working with other people, not with the lines.
From an early age, he was focussed on becoming a linesman.
He had a name for the music now. Linesman. And once he asked, it wasn’t hard to find out more about lines and linesmen. He was determined to become one. (Linesman, p153)
Old Kairo tells Ean being a linesman wasn’t for the likes of them. The guilds didn’t take criminals, and they didn’t take slum kids. In Linesman, we mention that Kairo was a Lancastrian soldier once, dismissed from the military for being overweight. There is an implied history behind Kairo that we don’t go into in this story. Kairo may steal, but it is possible, probable even, that he helped Ean, that he taught Ean other traits, like the value of a human life.
Ean is, also, basically a decent person.
Cann kid gang: Will Wen Cann, the kid who was kind to Ean, resurface? They’re beating the bushes for linesmen?
This was the question we really wanted to answer, because it shows how much a story changes from what you plan to what is actually written.
When we start writing a story we have the beginning, and we know, roughly, how it ends. Occasionally we have one or two plot other things that we know will happen.
Wen Cann was one of these plot points.
He was to be one of the new trainee linesmen. He had a different name, different background and, of course, no prison sentence. Ean recognises his music, knows it’s Wen, and struggles with the knowledge. When they realise there might be a traitor amongst the trainees, he confronts Wen, who gives a plausible story as to why he’s there. Ean doesn’t report him. Normally, he’d talk it over with Radko, but she’s not there, and the traitor keeps betraying them.
If you’ve read Confluence you know how that turned out.
Of course this didn’t happen. As you know, he wasn’t in the book and instead we had Han.
Maybe he’ll turn up in another book, maybe not. But if he does, he’s unlikely to have a major part like the one he was going to play in Confluence. Or, he may have a totally different storyline altogether.
Will Rossi or Hernandez ever headline a story, solve a crisis, or make a discovery? What are Rossi’s experiments?
Ah, Rossi. He’s not the most pleasant of characters. Probably not pleasant enough to headline a story, but he’s certainly a great second point-of-view.
If Acquard’s War ever sees publication, Rossi is a secondary character there, and (we think) you get to feel more sympathetic toward him. You certainly understand him more. Hopefully without him changing his character.
Rossi’s line experiments? We can only point to Acquard again. Yes, you find out a bit more about what he’s doing with the lines there. But only a little, for it is Acquard’s story, not Jordan Rossi’s.
What about Hernandez?
At the moment we don’t have a story planned for her. If we did write one, it would likely be a novella, rather than a full-blown novel. But, never say never. (Hernandez gets a small part in Acquard’s War, too. :-))
Tinatin and the shuttles?
All we know about Tinatin and the shuttles at the moment is that eventually the whole ship will become involved. People and lines.
It’s in the back of our minds, something we think will happen in the books where we meet the aliens. But, it might be a single mention, and you find they’re already using the shuttles, or it might be subplot, or something else entirely (like Tinatin getting one of the aliens to show her how they work).
We hope you enjoyed the answers. If anyone else has questions or something they would like us to discuss on our blog, please let us know. If it doesn’t give out too many spoilers, and is not something we have answered before, we would be happy to consider it.
Sherylyn and I sat down the other night and planned six months’ worth of blogs we could write. Some of the ideas were truly interesting. We know they were. Except …
We didn’t write them down, and six days later the memories are gone.
Some of them will come back over time, but right now neither of us can remember even one of them.
Many writers keep notebooks. A scribbled note jotted down can trigger a memory months later that might turn into a book. Or talking through a problem piece—a week later when you need to use the solution you came up with, you need those notes.
Likewise, story ideas. Stars Uncharted, which is the story we just handed in to our editor, was an idea we had back around the time Linesman came out. We had a contract to write two more books, but we quickly wrote down the first three chapters of this new story, then went back Linesman.
Thus when we were ready to start the new story, we had something to work with. Because for us, stories take a long time to come together with other ideas, so that we have something to work with.
I was reminded of this the other day when Sherylyn was looking for her ‘ideas’ file.
Now, we’ve been burned with computers going awry in the past. Hard drives dying, computers eating our work, and so on. We’ve learned. We do daily backups of our novels now. If we ever become rich and famous someone could do a thesis on how we edit, for believe me, we have all the daily changes.
There are still ‘accidents’, but we’ve got the big stuff sorted.
The small stuff, not so much. We often do take notes when we’re discussing story plot points or new ideas. Unfortunately, those notes are often on the paper napkins that come with a meal. We put them into our bag and months later, throw them out. Or maybe use them when we need to wipe our hands.
We’re not super organised.
Likewise, Sherylyn knows her ideas folder is somewhere, she just doesn’t know where.
Every once in a while I do break out and buy a notebook. They’re useful, for a while, until I misplace them. But I think that if I tried harder, and pulled the notebook out over our dinner talks, how much easier it would be later when I want to refer to what we talked about.
Especially if I was super-organised and transposed the ideas to my PC the following day. And if I reorganised our files on the PC into something a tad more logical. So the ideas were in a folder marked, say, ‘Ideas’.
“People of Earth, your attention please … As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system, and regrettably your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition … There’s no point acting all surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years … What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? … it’s only four light years away … if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that’s your own lookout.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Local politics in space opera
Writing local politics in a space opera is a bit like the scene from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where the Vogon in charge of the destruction of Earth tells humans that Alpha Centauri is only four light years away.
No matter that to humans that distance is an impenetrable barrier, for people from other worlds, it’s not. What happens on Earth is so insignificant as to mean nothing. The aliens go down as far as the local planning office, and that’s where they stop.
If you’ve read the Hitchhiker’s Guide, you’ll know that the story starts with a similar planning event, but on a smaller scale. Arthur Dent is protesting the loss of his own house to make way for an overpass. This event wouldn’t register to the Vogons. It’s a local event, too miniscule to matter.
There are close on 200 countries on Earth. Each of these has their own government. Oftentimes, these are broken down further into states, provinces, precincts and the like. But we also have an overarching body, the United Nations, who have representatives from most nations of the world.
If aliens arrived today and demanded to speak with a representative who could speak for all of Earth, who would we choose to represent us?
We have two choices. If the alien stayed orbiting Earth, we’d probably send in someone from the United Nations. If the alien landed in a specific country, then the rulers of that country might claim to speak for all humans. At a guess, they’d land in one of the most populous countries, so the rulers of China or India would be speaking for the human race.
It is highly unlikely the aliens would deal with more than one group.
So going back to writing politics in science fiction. When you’re dealing with multiple worlds, you don’t want to complicate the story with the small stuff. Even if a world, logically, has a number of governments, you tend to compress it together into one ruling body.
Which is why, in Linesman, Yaolin is ruled by a single council and Lancia is ruled by a single emperor.
Yes, but there are such things as democracies. Shouldn’t Lancia be a democracy?
The current ruling body of Earth (or what would be perceived as our ruling body by people on other worlds), the United Nations, is strongly pro-democracy. To many people—myself included—a well-run democracy is probably the best outcome for the political running of any country.
Even so, it’s not necessarily the logical endpoint for a governing body.
You have to work at democracies. If you don’t, they decay. Little by little the process gets distorted as people in the government attempt to retain power or benefits for themselves. The people in charge subdue any oppression. They bring in laws that prevent people from dissenting. They create states of emergency that allow them to subdue information and dissent. They stop having elections. Then finally, the leader of this no-longer democracy appoints a successor. His son, or his daughter. Or some other close relative.
Alternatively, you might have a coup. The army comes in. A general takes over, stays in charge. And finally, appoints a successor. Guess who.
What about a people’s revolution? We’ve seen a few of those in the past hundred years. The revolutionaries put the lead revolutionary in charge. What happens then? Who does he elect as his successor?
Sound familiar? Of course it does. It happens over and over again. We’ve seen it happen ourselves. We’re seeing it all over the world now.
People, once handed power like that, tend to pass that power on to their own family unless there are restrictions in place to prevent it. Like democracy.
What’s the definition of power handed over from parent to child?
That’s why Lancia is a monarchy.
Of course, the funny thing about monarchies is they tend to morph into democracies over time.
Looking at the fiction lists, there are few surprises in the Books Sold. These are the books you see in the display area of any bookshop. The bestsellers are the same online and off. Included among these are the books that have television or movie adaptions coming out soon. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
There is one unexpected (to me) entrant. Dr Suess’s, Oh, The Places You’ll Go comes in at number eight.
It’s when you get to the Books Read list that the results start to differ. Putting aside the question of how Amazon knows what you’re reading—Big Brother is definitely watching us—the results are interesting.
Here’s the full May 14 list of the 20 most books read on Amazon.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
The Fix, by David Baldacci
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan
Golden Prey, by John Sandford
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
It, by Stephen King
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
16th Seduction, by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
Beach Lawyer, by Avery Duff
Dead Certain, by Adam Mitzner
A Court of Wings and Ruin, by Sarah J. Maas
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
The Black Book, by James Patterson & David Ellis
Sure, the bestsellers are in there, but look how many Harry Potter books there are. Five.
There also looks to be a slight lag on buying books and reading them. I’m sure if we had charts from the previous weeks we’d see authors like Sarah J. Maas on the Books Sold list.
Movie/television adaptions The Handmaid’s Tale and American Gods are joined by Stephen King’s It. Again, because we don’t have the prior week charts we can’t tell if these are new readers reading books they have just bought, or if readers who already owned the book are rereading it. I suspect it’s the latter.
It’s Harry Potter that’s the interesting. I know J. K. Rowling still sells a lot of books, but I think a lot of those reads are rereads. People who own the books already, have read them before, and are re-reading them.
This year has gone fast. It seems only a few months back I was talking about last year’s Eurovision Song Contest. It’s one of the must-watch items on our television calendar, but lest you think all Australians watch it, they don’t. Enough of us watch it that we’ve had an entrant in each of the last three years, but none of us know what we’d do if Australia won. (I know, we’re not part of Europe. As some journalist once said, just go with it.) But it’s not a massive event on our social calendar. Not like, say Grand Final, or Melbourne Cup, which everyone watches.
We watch the final, which is on Sunday night Australian time. It’s a delayed telecast, so we try not to watch until then. Or hear who won. That’s why, as I post this, the competition is probably over, but I don’t know what’s happened yet, and I’m talking as if the semi-finals haven’t even happened.
So trends? Men with high voices. It felt like every second male sang high.
I’m a sucker for a power ballad. There are a couple that get close, but no standout for me. This year, my two stand-outs are songs that may not even make the finals.
How does rap yodel sound?
Ilinca, featuring Alex Florea, from Romania.
Or what about a little operatic background from Jaques Houdek, of Croatia? I’ve heard a version of this song without the deeper voice in the background. I love the slightly-operatic version best.
The opening scene was gorgeous. A James Bond-style action sequence, with baby Groot dancing along to the music on the sidelines, and each of the main characters stopping in the middle of the battle to pick him up and take him out of danger.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the movie.
As I sat there, watching some of the fight scenes, I couldn’t help being a little envious. In a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy, the fight scenes are over the top. A novelist has to justify the odds. If your characters are fighting and they’re outnumbered or out-skilled, you have to explain how they can win.
(Obviously, this thought comes directly from the fact that we struggled to have our protagonists in our next book win some of the fights when they’re up against some superior forces.)
Stay right till the end of the credits to see all the codas, .
The predominant feeling among the line sevens right now was a baritone eddy of hope. It hadn’t been there before, and it sounded a lot like Fergus.
Back in Linesman, we never really gave much thought to the sound of line seven. We knew what it did (even back then), but the sound? There was that one throwaway line about it being a baritone and not much else.
When you’re writing a trilogy you don’t always consider how what you write in book one will impact what you write in future books.
Sometimes, serendipitously, something you write sparks an idea that becomes ‘the’ idea for a new story.
Terry Rossio, writer on Pirates of the Caribbean, once said, “Who knew the throwaway line, ‘Clearly, you’ve never been to Singapore’ would turn into movie three?” [Paraphrased here, because I can’t find the original quote.]
And sometimes you write throwaway lines like ‘a baritone eddy of hope … sounded a lot like Fergus’ and realise later that you never really thought of Fergus Burns as a baritone. You’ve always thought of him as a tenor.
You can’t change something that’s written. It took all of book two and part of book three to get into the mindset. Fergus is a baritone. Fergus is a baritone. His voice is deeper than you think it is.
We’re getting there.
Elvis Presley was a baritone. So were David Bowie and Johnny Cash.
Right now, we’re imagining his voice as a cross between Elvis Presley and Teddy Tahu Rhodes.