Some sideways thoughts about the Hugos and that Game of Thrones episode

There are many Game of Thrones episodes that could be referred to as that episode but the one I’m talking about today is season five’s ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’.

I haven’t read Game of Thrones. I haven’t seen the television series. Like many people I know about the series through osmosis, because you can’t get away from it. I enjoy the surrounding commentary, however. I don’t know what that says about me, because while I enjoy the commentary I have never been tempted to read the books or see the show.

If everyone loved the same stories it would be a boring world.

Thus I had not had much to do with George R. R. Martin until I read his blogs about this year’s Hugo awards and Puppygate*. I thought they were fantastic, and summed it up well.

So I’m using George R. R. Martin as an excuse to combine two disparate topics into one. The Hugos, and the episode that for a lot of viewers might be the turning point for whether they continue to watch Game of Thrones.

The Hugos

Best novel

Many people will vote for Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem (translated by Ken Liu) because they loved the book. I suspect it will also pick up votes because many people see it as the only untarnished nominee. (Confession, I have never been able to read past the first bit, where the government kills the girl’s father. Like I say, different books appeal to different people.)

Jim Butcher may be an outside chance. A lot of Hugo voters enjoy his work, it would never have occurred to most of them to nominate an urban fantasy like his.

I really hope voters remember that neither Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, nor Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor were on the Sad Puppies slate. These two books were nominated on their own merits, even when they had a whole slate of puppy-nominations against them. I’d love to see either of these books win. Better yet, I’d love to see them as equal winners.

Best dramatic presentation, long form

So many good movies came out last year. Every one of them deserves to be on the list. Edge of Tomorrow is the most underrated of the five movies there, but I thought it was great.

Best editor, long form

Our editor is Anne Sowards, from Ace Roc books at Penguin Random House. We were delighted when we heard she’d been nominated for a Hugo. Then the Puppygate wildfire really took off and what should have been something to enjoy turned into something nasty (my words, for we haven’t spoken to Anne about this), for Anne was one of the people on both the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies slates.

I’m sorry about the way it happened, but I believe Anne deserves to be there. (I think Sheila Gilbert does too.) I’d like to see Anne win, but I think that whoever wins this year will feel the award is tarnished.

I hope she’s there next year too, under better circumstances.

That Game of Thrones episode

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

You’d have to be visiting a very different world wide web to me if you haven’t heard about the Game of Thrones episode Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

In this episode, Sansa Stark is raped, and it started a whole storm of protest about rape as a plot device.

The weird thing is, Game of Thrones is all about rape and the disempowerment of women. Chuck Wendig describes it as almost the “Where’s Waldo**” of Game of Thrones (We are not things). As in, where’s the rape in this episode?

It’s one of the reasons the book never appealed.

First, a recap on what happened.

The producers wanted to give Sansa Stark a larger role than she has in the book. Plus they wanted to streamline the plot and reduce the number of characters. So they merged Sansa Stark’s storyline with that of Jeyne Poole. I think (because I haven’t read the books) that Jeyne Poole always was raped at this particular time, by the man who now rapes Sansa.

This isn’t the first rape scene in Game of Thrones. It’s unlikely to be the last. But this one hit a nerve.

Before we dive into why we felt this was a choice which would cause us to stop promoting the show, allow us to say something very important: rape is not a necessary plot device. Really think about that before shouting “creative freedom” in our direction, please.

The show has creators. They make the choices. They chose to use rape as a plot device. Again.

Mary Sue – We will no longer be promoting Game of Thrones

It’s different when it happens to someone you know

Yes, it’s a story, but viewers knew Sansa Stark. They’d spent seasons with her, watching her grow in strength, only to be pushed down to that horrible place she started.

Sure, there were other factors involved. This is the first series where the producers are in front of the book, so viewers didn’t know what to expect.

There’s a bit of series fatigue. Something that might turn your stomach in the earlier episodes, but that you will still watch because it’s a great show and there’s nothing else like it on television, is less tolerable in later episodes. Particularly if you barely held on because of the ick factor in earlier scenes.

It’s repetitive. Same old, same old. Where’s the rape scene in this episode? Enough is enough.

Most of all, it’s different when it’s someone you know. It’s a lot more shocking. It’s a lot more real.


I read a sickening report in the paper this morning about some children who invited a younger boy to play with them, and who then stoned, strangled and stabbed the boy to death. This happened in a place where thousands of people have been killed in turf wars between the drug cartels. According to the prosecutor,  the children have been desensitised by the violence around them, with the children reflecting what they experience every day.

Television violence desensitises too. If the outcome of what happened to Sansa Stark in Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken leads to less producers choosing ‘rape as a plot device’, it can only be a good thing.



* I’m only linking to the first one. He wrote a lot of words about it. They’re well worth reading.
** “Where’s Wally?” in Australia.

Reading between the lines

We had dinner with one of our beta readers last night. They’d just read Linesman book two (ALLIANCE), and were giving feedback.

Naturally, conversation revolved around ‘the book’.

Most readers, not counting professional editors, can’t tell you what’s wrong with a story. They can only tell you how they felt about it. I’m the same. For example, I can tell you that I don’t like a character, but sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on what I don’t like.

Our beta reader liked the characters, and was generally positive about the book . He didn’t pick out any specific issues, so it was up to us to pick out what needed fixing.

You can do this, you just have to listen.

He said, quite early on, that he:

“… couldn’t remember the names of the characters from book one for a while. It wasn’t until about chapter six that I started to remember who was who.”

Us: “So what do you think was wrong?”

“Nothing. It was fine once I worked out who was who.”

He mentioned those same chapters a few times during the night, even though he said different things every time.

It’s obvious we have a problem there. Whether it’s people soup, or too much happening without letting the reader pause to reflect, or something else altogether, there’s something wrong with the start of the book.

All we need to do now is work out what it is, and fix it.

Blackberries as weeds

I went to a local craft market today. One stall was selling home-made jams. Blackberry jam, and it looked lovely.

When we were kids, we lived in the country. We’d go blackberrying down by the creek and come home with old ice-cream containers of luscious, ripe berries warmed by the sun. Of course, we’d eat most of them before we got home.

I can’t remember if Mum made blackberry jam. I do remember blackberries and cream. With sugar. In those days everyone put sugar in their cream. We’d never do that now, the fruit is sweet enough.

In Australia, the blackberry is a weed. In fact, it’s one of our most noxious weeds. It’s invasive. Once it takes hold it’s hard to get rid of, and it grows almost anywhere. I don’t remember how they got rid of blackberries when we were young. I remember some patches being burned, and some being bulldozed. As we got older the farmers and the local councils started spraying them. As an adult I remember that we didn’t eat wild blackberries any more, because of the spray.

Even as kids—they were weeds. Sure, they tasted great, and we loved to eat them. But I’ve never been able to buy any.

I turned away to the next stall. The stall-holder there was selling home-made nougat. Salt and chocolate.


May means Eurovision song contest

It’s May. Eurovision time.

It’s tradition in our household to sit down on Eurovision finals night and score our own winners. Come 23 May, that’s what we’ll be doing, hoping that we haven’t heard the results beforehand because Australia normally has a delayed telecast.

This year Australia has a contestant. I’m not sure how we managed that. We’re on the other side of the world. But … we’ll judge Guy on the same criteria as we’ll judge the other contestants and see how we go.

Personally, I’m a sucker for power ballads. Give me a song that ends strongly and I’ll vote it high every time. I don’t often pick the winner.

Like most songs, your opinion of them changes the more you hear them. I generally like the winner better second time around.

There are some strong songs this year, and I haven’t heard all the participants yet. My power ballad picks so far are Russia and Greece.


Gut feel, Estonia will go close to winning.


Book news



Early this week we got advanced reader copies (ARCs) for LINESMAN.

ARCs are the typeset versions of the book before the final proofing. The cover is plain—you can see that by the photo—and it still has some typos in it, but it looks like a book.

We haven’t worked out what to do with all them yet, but we’ll get there.

ALLIANCE delivered

Our second book, tentatively titled ALLIANCE, has been sent to our editor.

From here we sit back and wait* until she comes back with changes for us to make.

We honestly don’t know what she’ll make of book two. We’re still in that newbie stage where we can’t truly judge our own writing.

The story’s probably okay, but does it work as a second book in a series? Have we delivered what the editor was expecting? Is it a book that readers of LINESMAN will like? We’re over our word count, could we have tidied the book up more?

* We don’t wait really. We write. We’re deep into the first draft of book three, which is coming along well.

Book three

According to our writing plan, we should be half-way through the first draft of book three by now. We’re not that far yet, but we’re happy with how it’s going. The writing is first-draft awful, but the story works.

The first draft

Chuck Wendig dispenses great writing advice. Check him out.
A recent tweet from Chuck Wendig

Yes well.

We’re still writing the first draft of Linesman 3. When I opened it this morning this was where we were up to.

Ean’s stomach flipped queasily.

How on Earth (or should that be how in the lines?) does a stomach flip queasily? I have visions of a stomach with tiny hands and feet, doing somersaults. But how does it do it queasily? Somersaulting like it’s going to be sick?

The mind boggles.

Like the man says. Welcome to Firstdraftsburg.


Writers writing together

We’re always interested in how other writers co-write together, and thus read Eric Del Carlo’s roundtable on Locus—When Is the Right Time to Collaborate—with interest.

Eric collaborated with his father. He wrote one character’s point-of-view. His father, Victor, wrote the other.  As Eric says

… was it smart for Vic and I to write a book together? On paper, hell no. It was the endeavor of madmen. You can’t hope to collude on an intricate, character driven novel without an anatomizing outline. A person doesn’t wait until he’s in his post-stroke seventies to make his push at being a novelist. No one does that. I was foolish to suggest it.

Yet we did it. The time was all wrong, but the magic was just right.

We didn’t plan our own writing partnership either. We just ended up writing together.

While I would encourage writers to come up with an agreement and a plan before they start writing together, sometimes it seems that the ones that just ‘happen’ work out the best.

How our writing changes over time

We’re getting toward the end of the draft on LINESMAN book 2. I’m rewriting an action scene, Sherylyn’s finding and deleting unnecessary words. Right now, she’s checking ‘too’ and ‘but’.

When I look at the word count, the manuscript is four hundred words less than it was when we started. And I’m adding words.

That’s four hundred unnecessary toos and buts in a 100,000 word manuscript. (125,000 words actually, but let’s not go there. The novel should be shorter.)

I’ve said before that our writing doesn’t gradually improve over time. It improves slowly for a while, then levels out, or even goes down—sometimes quite a long way down—and then works its way back up to its old skill level.

We’re too close to say if our writing has improved over the last twelve months, but the way we write together certainly has changed. That’s due to two things.

Contract deadlines

The first thing that has changed for us is contract deadlines.

We no longer have the luxury of writing when we want, how we want. We have to deliver on an agreed date. We know we need multiple drafts of our work. We work back from there.

We can no longer wait for one of us to finish something before the other looks at it.

The cloud

The second thing that has changed is that we subscribed to Microsoft’s Office 365, which came with a subscription to Microsoft’s One Drive. Nowadays, rather than one of us work on their hard drive, then hand the completed file over to the other to put onto their hard drive, and so on, we both work on the same file in the cloud. Usually at the same time.

This has led to some fraught times. Microsoft hasn’t got their syncing perfect yet—especially not when you’re running four PCs, two of which are plugged into the cloud while you’re using them, but the other two of which are only connected at night, when you get home from work. Which is why you’ll occasionally find an anguished blog about Microsoft’s latest ‘feature’. But it works well enough that it’s how we edit now.

So how do you work now?

First up we do a lot more planning and talking about the story outside of writing it.

We’re still pantsers, but we often talk upcoming plot points through just before we write them. We don’t do this too far in advance mind. It’s on the day of writing, or the day before. It cuts time when you’re stuck, or when you know a character wouldn’t do a particular thing that you want them to do and you want your co-writer to agree with you that they can do it. (Co-writer usually says, “Nope, not going to happen,” but you work through it and come up with a better solution.)

And of course, characters still don’t always do what you’ve planned for them.

Next up, we don’t wait for one writer to be finished before the other starts editing. If, say, I’ve finished a chapter and am working on the next scene, Sherylyn moves in behind me picking up the logic flaws, updating the scene I’ve just finished, picking up the typos she can see and making comments.

We do this in the same document.

A lot of things haven’t changed. We still write an ordinary first draft we’d be horrified to show to anyone. Second and third drafts are still major rewrites. We still read the document aloud to clean it up.

But we’re working faster than we used to. And we’re working better as a team.

Answers to last week’s wizardly books

Answers to last week’s quiz.  All of these books had one thing in common. They had wizards in them.

Just in case you come onto the quiz late, I’m not going to put the questions here.   Which sort of defeats the purpose, I know, but go look up the questions if you’re curious.

  • You can’t have a wizardly quiz without a Diana Wynne Jones story in it.  In fact, if we extended the quiz to enchanters, witches and wizards you could base the whole quiz around characters from Diana’s stories.  This one was Howl’s Moving Castle.  Wizard Howl, who started off as plain Howell Jenkins.
  • This is from Sage Blackwood‘s Jinx. I’ve been waiting impatiently for book three in this series (Jinx’s Fire) to come out, but it’s sitting on my iPad right now, because we have a deadline, and I’ve promised myself I can’t read it until we’ve delivered.
  • Harry Dresden, from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.
  • Sarah Prineas, The Magic Thief.
  • Interestingly, someone I expected to know the answer to this, didn’t. The answer was Gandalf, from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. I haven’t read these books in 20 years, but I did see the movies. Now I’m wondering if the whole grey/white thing was made more of in the movie than it was in the books.

Note that I didn’t put that boy wizard in. He was a bit too obvious.

What wizard am I?

We haven’t had a quiz in a while, so, what book am I reading if:

  • I was born in Wales; I have a reputation for stealing the souls of young girls.
  • My step-father got carried away by a troll
  • I am the only wizard in the Chicago phone book
  • Benet makes the best biscuits, and he knitted me a scarf
  • I once was grey, now I’m white

These are books with wizards in them.

Answers next week.