The best laid plans, as they say.
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a‑gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.
– Robert Burns
Having finished War, I sat down to revise it. And that lasted five days before Cast in Deception returned to me, in the form of an edit letter. My new editor, Lauren Smulski (waving in Lauren’s direction) has been promoted. Unfortunately for me, she’s been promoted to the HLQ Teen line – where most of her current authors are being published. She’ll be great, and a great fit for Teen – but I’m staying with Mira.
This means, among other things, that things were chaotic at Mira – as they sometimes are when there’s change – and in the end, my former editor, MaryTheresa Hussey, has been hired to edit the Cast novels (I squealed and bounced when informed), and Margot Mallinson at Mira will be shepherding the books through the rest of production.
(This means, among other things, copy-edits, back cover copy, catalogue copy, cover art/discussions, page proofs, publication scheduling (as in: pub date), just off the top of my head.)
None of this is bad.
But the revisions to Cast in Deception were due at the end of August. I may have mentioned a time or two that I could not write a single word of fiction for two months — all of November, all of December — and that I started again in January. But clearly, my brain had not fully kicked in until about 3 months later, judging by the state of the manuscript.
I can edit myself if I have 6 months to a year away from the text on the page. At that point, I can see what’s on the page clearly; until then, it gets mixed up with the book I thought I was writing. The book was late because you don’t lose two months of writing time and make it up in a rush. Well, some people can, but one of those people isn’t Michelle.
The first ten chapters were… in need of work. I threw out the first chapter entirely and rewrote that from the first sentence. And that meant that the flow of the book changed. (I really like the first chapter now.) The entire revision process for this book made me think of my normal writing process, and how this particular book differed, because the thing that struck me about the book as I revised is the lack of proper flow.
I am a pantser, as we’re called. I don’t outline. I have an end, I have my characters, and I write toward that end, with some faith that I will reach it. Touch taught me that the end must have an emotional resonance that works for me; it can’t be a theoretical, structural end. It must be an ending that is inseparable from the characters as created, an emotion that I want others to experience as I experience it. I think Touch was my thirtieth novel (I would have to go back and count, and as it’s not relevant, I’m being lazy). (Yes, I am still learning about writing process, that many books in. And yes, clearly, I am still struggling to get it right; what right means evolves with books and time, but the innate struggle doesn’t change as much.)
But, having said I’m a pantser, there are things that Cast in Deception taught me about my regular writing process.
This requires a bit of an aside.
A writer friend asked me, one day, “what are you thinking about?”, and I answered. She then continued with “and what else are you thinking about?” and I answered that as well. “Anything else?” Yes, actually. So I answered that. I can’t actually remember what the several answers were at the time — because the answers I’d give would change based on where I was at the time — but the reason she asked was because she had discovered that some people only think about one thing at a time (one of these was her husband, and I do remember his answers: 1. I’m thinking about how to debug this program. And two: “… I’m thinking about how to debug this program.” He was focused on that, and that’s what he was thinking and the “what else” question did not really make sense.
It made perfect sense to me.
For War, I have several tracks of thought. I have the story itself. I have the characters, and their viewpoints, and their experiences, or rather, the experiences I explicitly know about. I have the structure of a novel – separate from the story structure, which crosses several books. I have the actual choice of the words on the page. I write scenes that balance the structural shape of the book — I almost started to talk about what this means, but realized: spoilers. If anyone remembers this and wants to ask me about it after War is published, I can give more concrete examples.
But I have four tracks of thought. The one that’s in the driver’s seat, the one that’s most present and most in control when I write actual words on the page is the last one. I choose the words on the page. But… there’s a tone, a voice, that each novel has. Or each world. There are things that break that tone or that voice. There are words that simply won’t work with the specific book, and those are never words I reach for when I’m writing. There are elements that won’t work with the structure of the specific novel, and elements that won’t work with the structure of the series as a whole. And those, again, I pass over. And that isn’t a conscious decision.
But it is a decision. While I write, there are elements that enter the novel from left field. In Shining Court, an example would be the three leaves, and the forests of diamond, gold and silver. The minute the words hit the page, it was as if I had opened a window into a darkened room – at midnight. I could see moonlight; I could see that the moonlight touched things in the room. I could see their shape, but it was shadowed, imprecise. I understood that the shapes were in the room; that I did not see them clearly. But I was certain that I could. Not every element, of course, is significant in the same way — but some things reach out and smack me on the head. And those leaves with their shadowed but solid significance lead to Skirmish, which I had intended to be an entirely political book. But again, when she let those leaves fly, I understood … so, so much. What had been shadowed became clear as moonlight gave way to sun.
Those would be the things I did not consciously plan.
For instance: (yes, sorry, this is long) Sun Sword. I wrote six books in that world. I knew the end that I was writing towards (Kiriel’s end choice, actually), because that had always been the end I was writing toward. I knew what would happen to Auralis; I knew who he was. But I did not know how Valedan’s arc would end. I knew that Diora intended to make him Tyr; that was one of the end elements for Diora. I knew who Valedan was, and I knew which choices he would make easily and which choices he would never make.
But I did not know how his part of the series would end. And it was a big, stressful question for me. I panicked about it even more as I was nearing the end of the last book. And then I had an epiphany. I ran downstairs to tell my husband: I know how this part ends! He then listened while I told him in a rush of relieved triumph.
And he stared at me as if I were trying to grow two extra heads (this happens a lot in my house) and finally said, “yes, but — that’s kind of been obvious since almost the beginning.”
(Yes, he is still alive.) “…what do you mean?”
“That’s obviously where the series has to go. I assumed that you knew that, because you’ve written it that way. Structurally, that’s what has to happen.”
He was, of course, right. And no, I did not consciously know that, or I would not have been stressed out and anxious.
So: writing for me involves a number of things. It’s not that my brain doesn’t understand structure or character or etc.; it’s more like — hmmm. Maybe it’s like swimming or floating. When I float, my head is above the water, and some parts of my body are above the water’s surface. But a lot of me — all still attached — is beneath the water’s surface. Sometimes, it comes up to the surface, where I can examine it critically and intellectually – but for the most part, it is simply there.
I always trust that regardless, I am going to float.
Cast in Deception was written while almost all of my brain was still in panic and planning mode. When there’s an emergency, that’s where my brain goes. The part of me that worries is the part of me that writes. It’s the what-if. I thought I had recovered enough of my scattered, frayed mind that I could write again in January. And I did write.
But the parts of the brain that are generally thinking just beneath the meniscus of the metaphorical water, weren’t thinking about the book. I can see that now. I can see where, in the manuscript, those parts of brain finally came back on-line.
I have finished revising Cast in Deception. It was due at the end of August, and it’s gone. But that was most of August, and I am revising War now. So: August. No new words if you don’t count the new words the revision required.