First: a reminder. I’m taking part in the pixel project fundraiser. This means I will be doing a google hangout on the 17th of March, at 8:30 EST.
There will be an indiegogo fundraiser as well, but I’ll post a link to that when it goes live.
Second: HOUSE WAR in audio book is available at audible.com until the 27th, as part of their First in a Series sale.
Kick asked: Grave was worth waiting for.
I’m curious, though, why this particular book was so difficult for you?
And I started to answer, and then realized I couldn’t really answer without, oh, spoilers.
SO: SPOILER ALERT. STOP READING IF YOU HATE SPOILERS.
The difficulty goes back to Touch. When I finished Silence, a book which wrote itself, I had a trilogy in mind. I am famously terrible at estimating the number of books it will take me to finish a story. Infamously terrible.
But…I had a three book structure. I tend to write toward an ending, always, and I knew where books two and three would end.
(I know where the Essalieyan books will end. I knew where Sun Sword would end, and it was going to be two books: The Broken Crown and Sun Sword. The ending of the first book, the ending moment I was writing toward, was the end of Shining Court. My first four novels were a short story. No, seriously: I knew exactly where I wanted the story to end. But I also knew that the ending would have no emotional weight or power if I didn’t lay the emotional structural foundations. I just had no idea that they would take as long as they did.)
Touch, however, did not end where I thought it would end. I started it. Threw out 50k words. Started it again from a different viewpoint. Threw out about 37k words. It’s not that the words were objectively bad, but rather, that I understood from tone that the book would never actually arrive at the ending I had envisioned.
And it wasn’t until the final attempt, when Emma phoned her mother to tell her that she’d mistaken the library study date and would be home for dinner, that I realized that there was nothing I could do that would take the book toward the ending I’d envisioned, because there was nothing I could do that would make the choices that would lead to it believable. Emma would never, ever make the decisions that would be required.
(I’ve talked about this before: I can intellectually plot anything and make it work on paper. It works as a structural story. But…when I write the actual book, there’s an entire emotional, instinctive layer that comes into play. The book isn’t a book until I actually write it, and when I’m finished, it’s frequently not what I initially thought it would be.
And when I finished Touch, and was discussing it with my alpha reader, I finally told him where I’d been aiming. There was a long silence, and then he finally said, “You honestly thought that the characters you’ve already written a novel about could ever make those choices???” (seriously, there were more invisible question marks and disbelief). Sometimes the things that seem obvious to other readers are the least obvious to me, whereas things that are obvious to me come as a surprise =/).
So: I finished Touch. And once I realized that these characters could not make those choices, the book stopped fighting me. Or I stopped fighting the book.
Ummm, this is getting long, sorry =/.
What this meant for Grave, however, was that Emma was not in the right place. She didn’t yet have experience with the right things. Things that would have been introduced in Touch–the City of the Dead, in person–weren’t introduced there.
Emma was supposed to be in that city. And demonstrably she wasn’t.
I therefore had to get Emma to the City of the Dead. The first attempt was about 55k words. Helmi appeared much earlier, and much more time was spent at Amy’s safe house. There are whole sections of that that I really liked, but I realized, when I finally reached a certain event, that most of those words were actually not necessary, because I realized the how of it.
So I started again, and the first five chapters of the actual published novel were similar to the next attempt, which was 98k words. This time, more of the book was set in the City of the Dead, but… the voice was off, to me. It just didn’t work.
And then I wandered around my house for a couple of months, pathetically beating my head against the available walls and whining a lot and feeling like an abject, total failure. I had given up on deadlines for this book, because it was late. Late produces extra stress, because the secret fear is the book won’t be good enough to justify the long wait. Seriously, the I waited this long for this??? fear is a pretty visceral one. I’m a reader, too; I know how I would react if I waited years for a book that…didn’t work for me. Sadly, this is not unusual.
Something was missing. The weight of the ending, emotionally, was going to be unbalanced.
While whining at my editor–because if I hit a roadblock that I cannot move around, I will phone my editor–I realized that the thing that was missing was Reyna. The Queen of the Dead.
And so I started the book again. My editor hadn’t read the previous versions. I realized that my own personal response to Reyna was far, far too dismissive; I really wanted to strangle her. But…people are people. They have their reasons, and even if those reasons are not good enough to me personally, their feelings are real, their doubts are real, and their pain is real. And I needed to respect that, which… I wasn’t doing.
Reyna, for me, was difficult.
I had initially planned, on some level, to have the two faces of human response to grief and loss be within Emma, herself. I had planned that she would make the same choice as Reyna did–well, not so much with the slaughtering people–and that balance of decision would be internal. But Emma Hall couldn’t make that choice, in the end. She could want it, but couldn’t make it.
So Reyna herself was the other side of grief, the other side of loss, the other side of choices Emma didn’t make. And sometimes, those of us who write instinctively, don’t realize this on the first iteration, or the second. These books were harder because the substructure must be part of the psychological detritus of grief and the way grief breaks things, so there were choices in story that could not be made. They wouldn’t fit that.
I didn’t write nearly as long a false start this third time, but I did start with much more Reyna.
And then, having learned all these things that you think I would know after 30+ novels, I started a fourth time. I cut a bunch of stuff as I went, because I finally had a visceral sense of the emotional arc and balance; I could finally get out of my own way and just listen to the book itself.