I finally have news to report about War.
TL;DR (too long; didn’t read, for those who aren’t accustomed to this particular Internet short-hand): The book I submitted to DAW is now going to be two books:
Firstborn, which will be published in February 2019 and
War, which will be published in June 2019.
For those who want the longer details, they are as follows. (I didn’t originally intend to have the shorter recap, but — it’s a long post, and I accept that some people don’t actually want author musings or groveling; they just want to know when they can read the book they’ve been waiting for. Since I am sometimes one of those readers, I’m sympathetic.)
I mentioned some time back that I had finished and submitted War to my editor at DAW. I may have mentioned that it was 430k words.
My editor read the book. She pinpointed – as editors do – difficulties, and we discussed revisions. I asked about possible cuts, because, given book length, I’d been thinking of nothing else since I submitted the novel.
The good news: she didn’t think anything was extraneous.
The bad news: while I can tighten and smooth out areas that are a bit rough, doing that will not produce a book that is short enough to bind. As in: bind between covers. As in, put in one book. Sheila edited and worked on over twenty books last year (I think she said twenty-three, but don’t quote me on that). Joshua Starr is a very, very competent managing editor – so he’s the one who does the page-outs for the actual, physical book. I thought I could lose 15 – 20k words, total, while editing things that appear to have been written by drunk monkeys and added to the actual book. But – that’s the maximum possible before something major has to go.
And Joshua came back with actual numbers. And the book, revised, would be far too long to bind in a single book. The word-loss we could achieve without losing actual plot threads was nowhere near high enough.
So we were then left with two choices – and I was already resigned to having only one. The first one.
One: cut 80k words.
Two: split what was there into two separate books. Sheila had asked for one more book. She accepted that this would be long, because it’s the end of a series, and at the end, there’s so much to tie in, to resolve, to pull together. I honestly did not think that splitting would be an option. But…the book worked for Sheila. And it worked well enough that she didn’t want to lose it. (And, having worked with me for twenty+ years, she understands my process, which is not entirely straightforward; all that comes is built on what happened before it.)
The advantage to option one: I will have one book, and I will finish the series, and readers have been waiting long enough for that final book. It would be done, and it would be in their hands.
The problem with option one: cutting 80k words >.<. In comparison to book length, this doesn’t seem like a lot, but in comparison to most published novels, it’s almost an entire book’s worth of words. But to cut 80k words requires removing way more words, because the elements that drive the plot forward in the cut words would have to be added back in. Those plot points can’t just be tacked-on to a different thread; they have to arise organically. This means burning down half the book – optimistically, given my process – and rewriting from the ground up in the hope that the changed and reduced words will still mesh with the end that’s already there.
Which means losing a lot more than drunk-monkey words and scenes. (And, to be fair, sometimes I hit a scene that was obviously written by a drunk monkey, shriek, curse #pastme, and then yank it out and rewrite it properly – which, oddly, adds words rather than subtracting them.)
The advantage to option two: the story, as written, with all of its tangled elements, would be largely preserved. And I could add the (very few) things that Sheila wanted added, because I would have the room to do it. Also, the denouement, which is very very short for a series of this length as it currently stands.
The problem with option two: I knew, while writing War, that it had to be one book. The ending of a book is not the same thing as the middle of a book. Have I split books before? Yes (as anyone who has read this far already knows). But the decision to split was made before the book was finished. I wrote to the “new” ending, while the intended ending waited in the distance.
Broken Crown was originally supposed to end with the scene between Sendari and Diora in the Swordhaven that closed Shining Court. Uncrowned King was supposed to end with that, as well, because clearly I’d missed by a mile in Broken Crown. In the case of the first book, I realized I wasn’t going to make it, but the Festival of the Sun – and the sword in the lake – was a strong ending, a closer. The tournament in Uncrowned King was the same. I could write to those endings, and have a complete book.
Since I knew before reaching the end of the book I was writing that the book would have a different ending, I could fashion an actual ending out of the arc that would close in that book.
And… I did not do this in War. There is an arc that closes in the middle of that very long book – but it is missing a couple of beats and also, the coda of epilogue (and I really wanted that coda, while writing War, because I think it was a necessary emotional beat given what preceded it, but codas don’t fit the flow of the middle of a book.) So some emotional resonance was, and had to be, abandoned.
I can’t discuss this much more without pretty serious spoilers; the editorial discussion was full of them, but — Sheila had read the whole book, so it wasn’t ruining anything for her.
And while frantically flailing — as one does when one is panicking — I found the only possible ending for a book. It was the ending for which I wanted to write that coda, that emotional finisher that just didn’t work in the middle of a book.
I spent most of the last couple of weeks in contact with my editor, and Sunday, at 11:45 p.m., she agreed: this could work as the end of a book. And then there was the rest of the panic: the title for the new book. The need for a cover for the new book (because they have a cover for War, but its based on the ending), and, well, the new book.
I don’t think it will take a lot, to be honest. And I’m kind of excited because there were three things I did not write because I knew that I needed to leave things out in order to finish this in one book.
Which, clearly, I did not do, regardless T_T. So while technically War is finished and is being split, there is writing to do to have two books as two books. The ending to War won’t change, but there are elements in the denouement to be added. The beginning will change a bit. But the book will be primarily the book I intended to write (and, to be fair, did write, but not at a reasonable length).
I will be working on that. Firstborn will be published in February 2019. War will follow in June of 2019, which was the closest publication date available in the DAW schedule. Sheila Gilbert was trying to keep them as close together as possible because she knows that readers have been waiting, and that the book is fundamentally finished. I will have no problems making either of the new, associated deadlines. And I have been excited, to be honest. And grateful.
I’m sorry for the delay; I’m sorry for the lack of information. Things were up in the air because Michelle — as usual — wrote something that was way too long. But I didn’t want to say anything until I had something definite to say. I suppose I could have said: It’s complicated, but that’s not actual information. And I know people have been waiting for this last book — which is now two last books — for a while.
And now I want to add one thing. I’ve been working with Sheila Gilbert at DAW since 1994. Hunter’s Oath was published in 1995. It is 2018, and the end of The House War series will be published in 2019. Throughout all of these years, she has let me write my books. She has let me tell my stories. They are too long for the modern market. Any other editor would have said: You must cut, period. To be fair, they wouldn’t have had any choice.
Especially not in the case of War. The only reason she offered a split she did not initially want was that she’d read the book I submitted and she didn’t want to lose it. I didn’t want to lose it either – but it’s essentially my fault that the problem exists in the first place. When I write, I think about the story, the characters, the unfolding of the world. I don’t think about the length. (After I’ve finished my day’s writing, I hyperventilate about the length. But that terrible, constricting fear doesn’t come between me and what I’m writing.)
All of our editing together has always been about the book in her hand. All of her additions or subtractions have always been about making that book a better book. Even in discussions about War, they weren’t about “is this even possible”; they were about how to make my story stronger and clearer. (The rest of the discussions that followed came after the “this is not possible” confirmation.)
I have been remarkably lucky, in Sheila. I know this. I also know that other authors manage to figure out the story vs. length problem and write very good books within those constraints, and it makes me feel like I’m letting her down, every time.
But without Sheila Gilbert, these latter books would not exist. Authors have options now that they did not have when I started, but those options have only become viable in the last few years – and the West universe has existed for a lot longer.
If you love the books, and you want to thank someone, thank Sheila. She is not on social media; she is not a very public, social-outreach personality. Her name might be known because it’s on the Hugo ballot – but it’s a name in a sea of other names, many of which readers know little about. But she does go to conventions from time to time, and she is on the Hugo ballot this year. Editors and publishers often hear about the things people felt they did wrong – so I want to add a bit of weight to the things they’ve done right.