Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy

Where Do We Go From Here

Serious Author Being Attacked by Serious ToddlerI… I turned in book three. I still can’t quite believe it. A week or so has already passed and the implications are only just hitting me. I think I’ll need a bit more time to process the fact that I wrote a friggin’ trilogy. There’s a whole blog post in there somewhere, but for now…

For now I’m going to Take a Break. At least from writing. I have Pitch Wars submissions to read (and they’re all so good – you guys are making this hard), as well as the entirety of my towering TBR list to read, as well as this lovely autumnal weather to enjoy, as well as this rambunctious toddler to chase around, as well as a job to seek, as well as this coffee to drink –

So I might be a bit quiet in these parts for a bit. I’m actively not writing the Next Thing, but I am participating in the Debutante Ball, so you can still find my thoughts and ramblings over there.

Seriously – check it out. Five debut author ladies are gonna talk about the whole Book Thing for a full year and I’m one of them. You can even read my little intro here!

I followed them for a year plus before applying and, if last year is anything to go by, it’ll be a lot of fun and interesting posts to read.

So yeah. That’s it for me right now. Pitch Wars, Debutante Ball, Toddler, definitely not researching Ostrogoths or the impact of climate change on the range of tropical diseases like dengue nope definitely not.

…nooope.

The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

The Perfect Assassin Has a Cover

This is a cat meant to soothe you and think happy thoughts and not, in fact, the actual cover

First there were copyedits. Then there were page proofs. Then there was silence.

Now. Now, there is. A cover.

*pauses for the appropriate amount of anticipation*

*pause*

*paaaause*

*drumroll*

Ta daaa!

Thank you to the team at Tor for putting this together, especially my editor Diana Pho for helping find the perfect model, and Larry Rostant for its creation.

And now back to your regularly scheduled excitement. Those fingers! That leapage! The red!

Fun fact: I specifically requested red because of Plot Reasons (not blood, jeez guys) and I am very very pleased with how that turned out.

Also fun fact: One of my original ideas was to have the main character, Amastan, sitting with a bunch of scrolls, which somehow I thought would be very engaging. Ahah. Ahah. Ahaha.

And that, my friends, is why I’m not in Marketing.

What do you think? Eye-grabbing? Face-stabbing?

If you like murder! and sand in your teeth! and archival searches!, you can pre-order The Perfect Assassin – the story of a historian turned assassin turned detective who is really tired of this shit – over at the usual suspects. Some early readers have said it’s okay, they guess. And there will be a book two! And a book three! And book three has definitely made some people cry, so you know that means it’s great.

March 2019, guys! That’s like, eight months and change! Less than a pregnancy away!

Barnes & Noble AmazonIndiebound

Querying, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Writing

Hey What About Your Query, Kai?

A picture of a cat, not a query letter.

As some of you already know, I’ve joined this year’s Pitch Wars mentor crew. For those unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, this means that one (not-so-)lucky writer will get the chance to have their manuscript beaten (literally and figuratively) into shape by me. But to get to that point they – you, possibly – will have to first write a query.

If there’s one thing all authors/writers/agents/human beings can unilaterally agree on, it’s that queries were devised to torture storytellers. You spent what feels like a million words (by that 24th revision it’s probably been more) carefully building a story and now someone wants you to do it again in – *gasp* – 250-300 words. Mon dieu!

Thankfully that’s not really what a query’s meant to do. All it’s gotta do is entice. And to do that, you just gotta distill your plot down to a few lines, pick out some awesome details, snag the voice, do the Macarena, assemble the Avengers –

Wait. No.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but I’m sure an example is worth just as many. So, here – have one successful query letter that just happens to be mine. It’s been a few years (*cough3cough*) and if I could I’d change a few things, but I’m going to resist and let you see the exact query that led to pages being requested that led to a full that led to a call that led to an offer and so on.

[Side note: This query was for The Impossible Contract, which is now Book Two (and if you want to know that story, go here). I don’t think there’re any spoilers for The Perfect Assassin (aka Book One) in here, but you have been warned if you care about those things.]

Dear Agent –

THE IMPOSSIBLE CONTRACT is a fast-paced adventure fantasy complete at 128,000 words. I’m sending this query to you in particular because I noticed you expressed an interest in LGBTQ stories in any genre and this novel includes a lesbian romance.

In the desert city of Ghadid, assassination is a family business. To learn the trade, Thana trained with her older cousins for years, but she’s still nervous when it’s her turn to take a contract. But it’s not just the responsibility: it turns out that her mark is the Empress’ own marabi, a highly skilled and powerful priest. Any qualms Thana might have had about killing a holy man, though, are soon put to rest when she learns the mark is involved in the blasphemous practice of binding souls.

The contract should have been straightforward: steal into the mark’s room, circumvent his magical protections, and slit his throat. Except that someone else wants the marabi dead. Before Thana can deliver the killing blow, a half dozen men break into the room and attack them both. Even outnumbered, the men should have been no match for fast and lethal Thana, but they have a key advantage against her knives and garrote: they’re already dead and someone – another blasphemer – has bound their souls. Thana barely escapes with her own life, let alone the mark’s.

The mark is determined to discover what these men are and who sent them. Thana is determined to follow the mark and finish her contract, even if that means leaving home to cross the desert. If she fails, not only will her family be shamed, but Thana’s life will be up for contract. But along her journey, Thana learns of the ancient evil behind the dead men and bound souls and realizes that the price of her success may be the destruction of all she holds dear.

Aside from writing, I also practice photography and weightlifting while living in the Sonoran Desert. I have the writer’s prerequisite small but significant cat collection and caffeine addiction, as well as a number of chickens, a degree in Classics, and way too many (never too many) knee socks.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Here’s a few things to note:

First off, you’ll notice I front-loaded the query with the title and wordcount and a little personalized intro for that specific agent. Typically, you’ll want to go straight into the query proper, but if you have a reason you’re sending this to a specific agent, it can help to put that up front.

In this case, my query doesn’t have room for the romance in it, but since I knew the agent was specifically looking for queer fic, I pointed that out as part of the personalization.

Second… this is a little long for a query. Related, that wordcount is about 30k too long. I got dinged a lot for that, by the way (multiple agents specifically cited the wordcount in their rejections), and part of signing with my agent meant cutting as much as I could – and then cutting more once I signed with Tor. So take it from me, you really want to stay within the acceptable word count ranges for your genre (this has a good rule of thumb btw).

On the positive side, it still worked. So.

Third, I know a lot of writers worry about not having any pub credits to their name to rattle off in the bio section. You’ll notice I, too, had no prior publications nor anything really of note, so instead I used that space to add a little more of my own personality.

But wait, there’s more! Don’t just take my word for it – you can read a breakdown by another agent over at the Weekly Workshop as to why, exactly, my query worked for her.

I’d also recommend taking a deep dive into the Query Shark archives as well as reading all the queries the other mentors have put up in the last few days.

So there you have it. Just be short and honest and bleed a little on your keyboard and you’ll do just fine.

Unnamed (Book 3), Writing Tips

Book 3: Beta Time!

Book three. Is. Done.

Well.

Let’s caveat that.

It’s done enough. Enough that I need to put it in someone else’s hands and step away and breathe and focus. Enough that at this point, I’d be going in and tweaking and finetuning and adding details and subtracting paragraphs and not wholesale stripping out and rewriting chapters – which is what I spent most of May and all of June doing.

There’s a plot and events proceed (mostly) logically and it all comes together and actually ends, instead of dropping unexpectedly off a cliff. It’s not perfect, not by any long shot or under any fancy filter, but that’s good. It shouldn’t be perfect. If my betas do their jobs well – and they will – then I might still have some structural work to do. And better to do that and clean it up before the finetuning.

It’s a bit like building a body from scratch. You’ve gotta build the skeleton first, bone by bone by bone, and that’s your rough draft. And then you shove in the guts and veins and layer that all with muscles. That’s your second draft, the one that actually looks alive and might even function – it just wouldn’t be pretty.

At that point, you could begin putting the skin on and adding hair and all those little details that will turn your attempt at playing God into something less unsightly (you don’t want your story oozing on the freshly scrubbed lab tiles, do you?), or you could have someone look at it and make sure all the organs are properly connected and the veins go where they should.

Sometimes you’re so up-to-your-elbows in guts and organs that you don’t realize you’ve attached this ligament to that joint when it should really be attached to this joint or maybe you mixed up your orders for organs again and you’ve got a sheep’s heart instead of a human’s. How much easier it’ll be to fix if you haven’t already put the skin on and ratcheted up the lightning rods!

…okay I admit this metaphor got a bit out of hand.

But putting this gooey, skinless experiment of a book into my betas’ hands is scary. It requires a lot of trust. Trust in myself, that I know my process and I know what I’m doing. Trust in my betas, that they can see past the gore to the underlying logic and story. That they are willing to dive deep with me, get a little messy, and laugh the entire time. That they won’t just hold their noses and go “ew.”

Because we’re still a long way from done done.

But this is as far as I can make it on my own.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

From the Debut Trenches: Galleys/ARCs

ARCs enjoying tea

Galleys/ARCs: WHAT THEY ARE

ARC stands for Advanced Reading Copy, and galleys are a variation on that theme. They’re an early print of the book with the post copy-edits but not-yet-finalized text and marketing verbiage all over because they’re, well, marketing tools. This is why sometimes they have a title and sometimes they don’t. Mine displays the tagline in lieu of the title, but the rest of the imagery is very much the cover.

ARCs go out to reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and anyone else in the publishing industry who might be interested to drum up buzz and pre-orders in the months before the One True Publication Date (TM). The author gets a few to do with as they wish – give to friends, drop off in the lobbies of prominent media establishments, scam into the hands of a beloved celebrity, build a (very) small fortress, bury in the backyard, etc.

Galleys originally weren’t due in for another two weeks, but my editor posted that they’d arrived on Tuesday and then next thing I knew, I had a tracking number for my share. I spent most of Friday on the porch, enjoying the randomly beautiful weather, and definitely not just waiting for the delivery truck.

Then the box did arrive and I promptly… sat five feet away from it, getting up the courage to open it. My wife had to talk me into opening it, using the very reasonable logic that the longer I let it sit, the more scary it would become. And that, reader, is one out of the many many reasons I married her.

So I opened them and kinda poked at them and then continued to sit at least five feet away, screwing up my courage. I’m not even entirely sure where the fear was coming from, except that this was a thing that I had created and now other people were reading it. And Amastan is on the cover and it’s a very strange feeling to see something plucked wholesale from your brain and just… out there. For other people to see. And I’ll always have a little guilt and shame tied up in this whole process, like there’s something innately wrong about wanting to share this thing I created and love with other people.

Then my wife brought out some wine and after a glass or two, I was able to pick one up. Thumb through. Read a bit.

And that’s when I finally realized: this is a book.

I’ve had inklings of that feeling ever since the copy edits stage, but seeing the words on the screen and seeing them in print, in a book, are entirely different things. The ARCs are still aways from the Final Form, but this is the first time I’ve looked at words I’ve read a hundred times, fretted over, smoothed over, deleted, and rewritten, and been able to turn off the editing part of my brain and accept them as Canon.

My characters are real and other people will read them and experience them in ways separate from me, ways I will have no control over and if that isn’t terrifying…

Well.

Now I have to send these babies out into the wider world and I have a few ideas for just how to do that, one of which involves screaming, and the other, more viable idea involves giveaways. So watch this space because that is gonna happen.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1), Writing

From the Debut Trenches: Page Proofs

Well what do we have here.

No really. What do we have here? Gorgeously formatted pages with words on them that look vaguely familiar, like maybe… *squints*

OH GOD THEY’RE MY WORDS

Excuse me for a moment while I flail.

*flails*

Ahem.

Those beautifully-formatted words are from page one of the Perfect Assassin‘s page proofs.

Page proofs are all the words in the book laid out as they will be printed, which is why they look all Fancy and Real. Somebody has already gone through, page by page by page and line by line by line, and made sure everything is lined up just right and that there aren’t any pages with a single word/line on them or there aren’t any single lines/words just
hanging out.*

My job is to find any lingering errors, be they missing words, misplaced words, or misspelled words. My job is to make sure any changes made during copy edits made it into this version. My job is NOT to change sentences / paragraphs / entire chapters. If I attempt to anyway, I am 100% certain my editor will personally fly all the way to Michigan, find my house, and swat my hand.

Because at this point, this book has already been through rewrites, revisions, edits, copy edits, and countless eyes – including my own – that have checked and double-checked every word and phrase. One must just be able to let things go at some point, right?

Thankfully, after spending a week with these pages, I’m still not feeling the urge to carve them up wholesale. In fact, I wasn’t even tempted to pluck out entire paragraphs. I allowed myself a few changes for flow, a few changes for clarification, and a few changes for plot reasons, and then there was that final leech that hadn’t been changed to leach.

Seriously, I can’t be the only one who didn’t realize there was a difference.

Yet more than a few times I had introduced the practice of using blood-sucking leeches into a dry, sub-Saharanesque desert instead of simply leaching something away. Welp. Apparently I’m still learning English after all these years.

The changes were/are minimal at this point, so really I just got to take a moment and read the story all the way through. It’d been long enough, and looked different enough, that I could almost pretend to be a reader, almost see it as someone outside my head might.

And if the fact that I’ve read this ad nauseam and still get caught up in the second half is any indicator… maybe this book will do all right out there in the world.

Wow guys. Guys. Less than a year guys. Guys.

It’s hard to believe that this time last year I was still hacking through rewrites, uncertain if I’d ever make it work. And now, a year after I sent this thing to betas with so many apologies for how rough and choppy it still was, it’s in the final polishing stages and is very close to becoming real.

You’d think this would make me feel better about how choppy and rough book 3 is right now.

You’d be wrong.

So I’m going to allow myself a few days in the sun and air with the pretty and complete before diving back into the messy darkness of rewrites.

…preeetttyy

*These are called widows and orphans.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy

It’s Okay If You Don’t Read My Book

No. Really. It is.

I hereby give you – yes you, whether you’re friend, family, acquaintance, long-lost relative, stalker, enemy, punching partner, writing buddy, cashier at Publix – permission not to read my book.

Really. Truly. It’s okay. I’ll still love you.

Books are strange, wholly subjective and personal experiences. I don’t have a single friend who 100% loves every book that I do, or 100% hates every book that I loathe. In fact, it’s a good reading buddy whose tastes match up even 50% of the time. I loved Perdido Street Station and was bored to tears by Jane Austen, and yet I could name more than a dozen people who would legit fight me on both counts.

I’d win, of course. But. Well. That’s not the point.

The point is this: you don’t have to read my books. If you do read them, you are in no way obligated to pretend you liked them. If you do like them, you don’t have to feel obligated to read or like subsequent books I write. It’s okay. Really!

And it’s also absolutely okay if you do like them. But it is definitely Not Necessary.

But Kai, Figurative You says – let’s be optimistic for a second. Maybe I’ll like them! How do I know if these books are for me??

That’s a good question, Figurative Person! Maybe you will. In fact, you might enjoy the Chronicles of Ghadid trilogy if you:

– Like fun, fast fantasy
– Are bored with medievalesque settings
– Are looking for/not repulsed by non-hetero romance
– Don’t mind a bit of magic
– Accept that sand will, in fact, get everywhere
– Find pleasure in awkward flirting scenes
– Enjoy having your heart ripped from your chest
– Eschew cliffhangers
– Really want a cup of tea right now
– Love reading about characters making Terrible Decisions
– Are a history dork
– Really like assassins and necromancy and undead camels
– Want to write coffeeshop AU fanfic for a story where the characters never get a break
– Have a pulse
– Don’t have a pulse (we don’t discriminate here)
– Any combination of the above
– None of the above

But really, it’s hard to know without reading it, right? So here’s me hoping you’ll choose to read it and end up loving it, but here’s your Get Out of Reading Your Friend/Family Member/Random Acquaintance’s Book card, no questions asked.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Draft Zero, Unnamed (Book 3), Writing

Juggling Plots

I wrapped up this draft of book three last week and then dove straight into edits for book two and today page proofs for book one arrived.

My work is never done. Which is good since it’s, you know, my work.

I’m still reeling from finishing that draft – it’s a mixed bag of awful and bad and maybe, just maybe, all right -but thankfully the other two books are in a state much closer to Done and therefore can help ground me and remind me that I can, in fact, write. And that awful first (ish) drafts are just a part of the process.

I’ve been asked a few times how I juggle three books with three distinct plots and three entirely different characters and somehow keep them straight.

The short answer is: I don’t.

The longer answer:

It’s not the plot or the characters that make it difficult to switch between the books. It’s the emotional arcs and weight of each. I really have to take a day or two and just sort of… sit with it to get back into the right frame of mind. It helps that I’ve built a distinct soundtrack for each of the books, with specific songs for specific sections. Putting on the song I need for the section I’m writing/editing/revising/what-have-you makes that transition a heckuva lot easier. Also, you know, going for a long walk.

But for sure, I’ve started writing one book only to find myself typing out the name of the MC from another. It takes a little bit of time before I can sink into another project. Which is why I try to minimize how much I switch around, and (probably) why I’ve been having a harder-than-usual time for book three. I started that beast back in July, while I was waiting for my edits on one, and then dropped it to do said edits, and then picked it up again only to drop it again to do edits for two. Now I’ve been sitting on a second round of book two edits just so I can finish this draft.

And this draft is done. So. Time to put on some music and switch again!

*

Here’s current progress on Book Three, working title The Unconquered City, the story of an assassin turned monster hunter who’s really sick of people threatening her city. Now with more! rain, rain, and rain.

Project: Book Three, Draft 0.5

Deadline: August

Current word count: 74,209 / 74,209 words.

 

What’s next?: A few weeks to finish book 2 edits, write a synopsis, read through page proofs – and then on to the next draft.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Draft Zero, Pre-pub, Unnamed (Book 3), Writing

What I Wish I Knew, Now

Ice on witch hazel blossoms

A common theme among blog posts by debuts, post debut, is the What I Wish I’d Known post. These are inevitably helpful in pointing out all the gaps in one’s knowledge, the I-didn’t-know-what-I-didn’t-knows.

But I call rubbish. I am impatient as a toddler and I don’t wanna wait until after my debut to know what I didn’t not know (huh?). I wanna know now. So here’s a list of the things I (currently) really wanna know, ’cause that’s how I role.

 

10 Things I Wish I Knew, Now

1. Will I actually be able to smash this wreck of a first draft into shape by August?

2. Is there a secret way into my publisher’s internal system so I can know exactly what’s going on with my book at any given time, including how long it’s sat languishing in Carol’s inbox? CAROL*?

3. At least tell me my pub date, Carol.

4. What kind of cupcakes do you like, Carol? Oh no reason. Just, you know… wondering.

5. When will this snow end??

6. How does this book end????

7. What is number seven? Does Carol know?

8. At what point does the sheer terror become outweighed by the excitement?

9. How different is terror from excitement, really? I mean, physiologically speaking both release adrenaline, increasing heart rate and perspiration and breathing, dilating the pupils and – OMG THEY’RE THE SAME THING.

10. …will the next thing I write be anywhere near as fun as this?

*

Here’s current progress on Book Three, working title The Unconquered City, the story of an assassin turned monster hunter who’s really sick of people threatening her city. Now with more! impressive amounts of steam, heart-to-heart chats, and bonding over corpses.

Project: Book Three, Draft 0.5

Deadline: August

Current word count: 70,024 / 80000 words. 87% of the way there

 

Days of spring: *sobbing*

Days left to finish this draft: 7

Days until I start the next project: 7

* If, in fact, there is a Carol at my publisher, I’m certain she is the Best and not easily bribed by any flavor of cupcakes, even if they’re red velvet with proper buttercream and they just happened to appear on her desk Thursday morning.