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.



Can’t wait for Dragon Blade

Come on Australia. When do we see Dragon Blade?


Proofs for Linesman

Got the proofs back for LINESMAN today.

It’s pretty cool, seeing your typeset pages for the first time.  It looks like a real book.

In other book news:

  • We’re finishing the last draft of book two before we send it to our editor. That’s s due by 1st May
  • After the 1st May—or before, if we can make it—it’s back to draft one of book three.

How long is too long?

We like to finish the first draft of our novels at around 90,000 words. We know we’ll clean up 10-20,000 words just in the minor edits, but we also know that we tend to write spare, rather than overwrite, and that in the following drafts we’ll add 20-30,000 words of new story.

When we finished early drafts of LINESMAN book 2, we found ourselves with a whopping 130,000 words. Which is way too long when we know we are going to add new scenes.

We’re gradually whittling it down, but we’re getting close to the stage where we really need to step back and let the book sit for a few months before we can do the editing justice. Unfortunately, we have a deadline.

Thus it was interesting to read LightningLouie‘s IO9 article How Long is Too Long? Louie had just read Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear, and found it long, with the impression that it could have done with some editing.

I confess that until we started writing our own books to a contract, I was one of those people who would probably have blamed—as one commenter said:

New Writer = Vigilant Editor
Old Writer = Complacent Editor

Now I’m not so sure. Another commenter mentioned the demands of the marketplace.

Based on our own experience, how much does the length of the contract have to do with how dispassionately an author can look at the edits in a book?

Many genre books are delivered in nine months nowadays. I don’t think it takes the author any longer to write a book, but I do wonder if the shorter amount of time between finishing the first draft and delivering the last draft contributes to being able to edit less dispassionately.

Reflections on writing series books – part 3

The third in our musings about the difficulties of writing series books.

There’s a line in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie where Elizabeth falls off the fort and into the water because her tight corset makes her faint. Jack Sparrow dives in to rescue her. He drags her out of the water and rips off her corset, which allows her to breathe.

One of the guards Sparrow has been talking to, says, “I never would have thought of that.”

“Clearly,” Jack says, “You’ve never been to Singapore.”

Terry Rossio says that in the first movie, it was simply a throwaway line. Yet two movies later, the crew of the Black Pearl are in Singapore.

It’s part of the magic of writing a series. You never know which little bit of colour you add in one book will stick in your mind, and a novel or two later, become important to the story. For example, there’s a passing mention of a rather unpleasant man in LINESMAN (not naming names, because … spoilers). We’ve started book three, and all of a sudden—who’s one of our bad guys? He is.

We don’t know what’s coming

In an ideal world, we’d have our three story arc and our overall story arc determined before long before we start. And we do in a minor sort of way, because we sent synopses for books two and three to our editor before we were even offered a contract.

For pantsers like us, books don’t slot themselves neatly into the synopses. I won’t say we don’t outline, for when two of you are working together you need to know where the book is going. Ours is more of an organic outline. We know roughly what happens in the story—the one page synopsis we sent to our editor—and we have a good idea of the end. Then, as we write, we discuss what happens next. So we know a day or two ahead what’s coming—and it doesn’t always come, mind. The story can go off in a totally new way in the following day’s writing.

I don’t want to give spoilers for Linesman, so I’ll use an example of another, unpublished, story of ours. This one’s middle grade, and it’s called Hero’s Apprentice.

Jorry and his father have hardly spoken to each other in the year since Jorry’s mother died, and when they do talk, it’s to fight. Jorry decides to impress his father by becoming a hero, and he knows how to do it too. The scary old Hermit down the road has a Supreme Star—the highest honour in the galaxy. Only true heroes get Supreme Stars. All he has to do is get the hermit to take him on as an apprentice.

At the end of the book Jorry gets his chance to be heroic and his father is proud of him. Jorry, however, discovers that being a hero isn’t all he thought it would be, and that sometimes deeds other people deem heroic are not ones he is proud of.

As you can see, we know a lot about how the story starts, have a rough ending, but little in between. We thought we knew how Jorry got to be a hero, but that changed. We thought we knew his relationship with the hermit, but that changed. We didn’t know anything about the alien Jorry befriended, or about fire rocks, or kin skills. They came later, as we wrote the book.

Half the fun of the story is finding out what happens as we go along.

However, if you don’t plan your series up front you never know what you’ll have to do in later stories to make the sequels fit the story.

Balancing act 1

Once something is in print you can’t change it.

For instance, in the original drafts of Linesman, we made line four the line that dealt with computers. Even in today’s world computers don’t generally get their own guernsey. Your car has a built-in computer. Your credit card has its own microchip. Your phone has apps. None of them are computers per se, they’re technology built into the device.

So instead, we made line four the line that dealt with gravity. Which worked well, because our ships had artificial gravity but until we made this change, no apparent means via their technology of doing this.

Luckily for us, we were able to change that in the rewrites. Imagine, though, if we hadn’t changed it in time. You can’t change it in book two. Whatever is set in print is what you have to use in ongoing books.

As you build your world, book by book, you have to remain true to the universe you have created. There are some things you’ll get wrong. Even now, finishing book two, we find little niggles that we would change if we could back in book one.

Balancing act 2

I said in an earlier post that we didn’t initially start off writing three books about the same character. We started writing stories set in the same universe, with characters common to both stories, but with different protagonists.

We hope some of these books might published one day too.

The first one—let’s call it Acquard, after the protagonist—is set around a specific event. This event happens early in book two of Linesman. Once it’s happened, Ean Lambert, our protagonist from Linesman, knows what Acquard (and Rossi) discover in Acquard. It’s not something Ean would ignore.

We can ignore it and pretend it never happened, which means that Acquard the book will end up under the bed, because so much of the book is based around a specific event.

Our agent may not like the story, in which case it will end up under the bed anyway. Even if she does like it, she may not be able to sell it. After all, we don’t know if Linesmen will sell enough to warrant another series yet. Also under the bed.

But we like the story, and the characters, and we have enough faith in it to want to assume that it will eventually become part of the line series canon. Which means we have to include characters we wouldn’t have otherwise, and the reader has to know what Ean knows without giving away too much of Acquard‘s plot. And we have to make it fit into Ean’s story without it being an obvious add-on, so our editor doesn’t automatically say, “Cut [this character’s] scenes. They don’t add anything to the story.”

It’s a balancing act.