Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

Two out of Three

Between holidays and travel and dayjob and a baby quickly becoming a toddler, I somehow managed to finish the edits on the Impossible Contract aka Book Two. For those keeping score, that means I now have two out of three books done* in this trilogy, and book one isn’t set to be out for, oh, another year.

It’s quickly shaping up that I’ll be finished with Book Three before One’s pub date, as well, which is astounding. I doubt I’ll ever have that sort of luxury again, and I doubt few others have. It’s a strange place to be in; for one, I won’t have to worry about reader reactions messing with plot. But for another, I’ll have completely moved on to a new and entirely different project by then.

Looking back through my blog posts, I realized I never really explained how I got here. Here being: having written the second book first. Here being: still another year to publication, even though I signed the contract over a year ago. Here being: planning on having three books done before the first ever sees the light of day.

I didn’t plan to write the second book first. I set out to write a standalone. And I did. So thoroughly that I’d never intended to write a sequel, let alone several sequels. Which, in retrospect, was a bit silly of me, but I was still reacting to being blindsided by a cliffhanger in a book I’d thought was standalone years back (*tiny fist of rage*). So.

So I intentionally did a Thing in the plot that pretty much negated the possibility of a sequel. And then I got an agent. And then my agent suggested I come up with some sequel ideas.

Cue panic.

Eventually, I did come up with an Idea, but it would only get me through another novel. With some gentle nudging from my agent, I came up with a few prequel ideas as well. Fast-forward to Tor asking for a trilogy and me being severely sleep-deprived from life with a newborn, and I asked – nay, insisted – that I give them a prequel and a sequel.

They thought this was a fine idea. And lo, the Impossible Contract became Book Two and I was on the hook for writing Book One, and yesterday. My potential publication date was pushed from 2018 to 2019, which is reasonable since the book didn’t exist yet.

But despite a bit of teeth gnashing and grumbling impatience on my part, I am so, so glad things fell the way they did. I got to go back and really dig in and understand the world in book one, and doing so only made book two that much stronger. I also got to lay the groundwork for a lot of the things that happen in book two (and eventually book three), which was decidedly satisfying. And it will probably make me look like a wizard, not gonna lie. Plus, future readers will get two** standalone books that nevertheless play off each other and are stronger for it.

Phew.

So if you like book one and Amastan, the historian turned assassin turned detective who is really tired of this shit, you’ll probably like book two and Thana, the overly ambitious assassin who regrets helping the man she’s supposed to kill and is really tired of all these undead camels.

To continue a tradition I started when I turned in Book One the first time, here’re the

Ending Stats for Book Two

Started writing: June 1, 2014
First Query Sent: April, 2015
Heavily-edited “final” manuscript sent: January 15, 2018
Number of rewrites: Two
Number of rounds of revision/edits: Six
Number of edits just to cut words: Three
Original Wordcount: 130,000
Current Wordcount: 104,000
Number of times I’ve hated this book: Twenty-seven
Number of times I’ve loved it: Thirty-six
Number of mug cakes eaten in celebration: 1
Expected pub date: Late autumn 2019

* Technically, book two isn’t done done, but the next round of revisions won’t require a total rewrite nor take three months. Unless I seriously miscalculated somewhere along the line. Which is possible! But doubtful.

** Book Three is technically also a standalone, but boy will it spoil you on the first two. Not even gonna try not to, there.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Writing, Writing Tips

How to cut 20,000 Words

First – and this is the most important step – write a novel that is 35,000 words too long.

Be told by several people that you really ought to cut some of that. Agonize over every word for a month and manage to cut 15,000 words. Rejoice!

Realize that the novel is still 20,000 words too long. Decide it will be a problem for future you.

Let the novel sit for two years.

Revisit, because finally you really need to trim that beast down. You ask your betas to point out places that should be cut, places where the plot dragged or they got bored. Your editor highlights entire chapters. Realize that those two years actually made it easier for you to see what you can cut. Notice a few patterns:

– You over describe everything.
– You over describe everything.
– You really like to talk about sand.
– You over describe everything.

Begin cutting a word here and there. Then a paragraph. Now, drunk on power, start cutting entire pages. Cackle maniacally. Stay up too late. Drink too much coffee.

Convinced you’ve cut at least 10,000 words, doublecheck your word count.

You’ve only cut 300 words.

Yell into the void that is Twitter. Pour another cup of tea. Start again with a word here, a word there. Repeat.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Congrats! You’ve cut 10,000 words. You still need to trim another 5-10k. You wonder if your editor will notice. You know she will.

Decide it will be a problem for future you.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Writing

Assassins of Ghadid has been Acquired by Tor

cz2ntzzw8aamrvbYes! I can finally shout it from the rooftops! My book, the Impossible Contract* – which is about assassins and camels and magic and queer romance – has been acquired by Tor! Not only that, but they also acquired two more books to make it a solid three! If you don’t believe me or think that I photoshopped the above (which is fair, I’m still not sure if it’s real!) you can find the original Publisher’s Weekly blurb here.

This means that not only do I get to share the world and characters of TIC with you, I also get to go back and write two more books in the same world. TIC will actually be the second book, so right now I’m hard at working writing the first one. The three stories will each feature a different character and stand on their own, but work together as a greater story. I’m so excited to be back in the TIC world!

Here I come, Winter 2019!

 

* As always, titles are apt to change. But I think for consistency’s sake it’ll be easier to keep referring to Book Two as The Impossible Contract, aka TIC.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Writing

Exciting News!!!

I’ve been sitting on this news for a few weeks because I wanted to make absolutely certain it was Official(TM), but but BUT:

I HAVE AN AGENT!

july-82
Rainbows! Rainbows for everyone!
I am proud to be represented by Kurestin Armada of PS Literary Agency.

I still can’t quite believe those words. Honestly, any time the words “my agent” comes out of my mouth, I have to stop and giggle. Yes, giggle. I’m still a little how the f— did this happen?? but I know the answer to that.

And it goes a little like this:

I started writing The Impossible Contract in June of last year and finished a massive rewrite and subsequent rounds of edits sometime in March. I let it cool, then sent it to my first round of betas in April, and after hearing back from them and tweaking, sent out my first round of queries. The first round were all rejections, so I thoroughly revised my query and tried again.

Suddenly, I was no longer getting form rejections. I received a full request a few weeks in with my new query, then a partial, then another full. I was over the moon, even after a rejection on the partial, because finally I was making progress.

At this point, I started to mentally pack it in. This novel had done its job in getting me that much closer to my goal. Maybe the next one would be it. I still had a few fulls out, but then, what were the chances?

Fast forward to July 18th. I had quit my full-time job the day before because of a hundred different reasons. I was out late playing D&D, and normally I would have come home and gone straight to bed, but instead I idly checked my email. Oh, an email from an agent. Probably another rejection –

I had to read that email three times before the words registered. She wanted to set up a call for the next day. And then I cried. And then I made my wife read it to make sure I understood it correctly. I had. So I cried some more.

Needless to say I didn’t sleep that night.

Needless to say I convinced myself a hundred different ways that this couldn’t be The Call. That this was Something Else Entirely and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I was dreaming. Hallucinating. Had I even read that email right??

But it was The Call and it happened and, even zombiefied from lack of sleep and way too much caffeine, I managed not to scare her off. She liked my book and she liked my characters and she got the story and then I expressed my gratitude by grilling her. Hah! But she still offered rep.

It was the hardest thing not to accept right then and there because I liked her agency and knew she personally was a good fit, but I still had fulls out to other agents. The responsible thing was to give them a chance.

I withdrew from the agents who only had partials, because I didn’t think they’d have the time, and then nudged the ones with fulls. They bowed out, citing time restraints, and I was secretly relieved because in the intervening days I had already made my decision.

So there you have it! This is only the beginning – an agent by no means guarantees publication, even when they do their best and are as awesome as mine – and I have a lot of work ahead.

What’s next? Well, writing something new because this next step can take a while. Also going around and thanking every single one of my betas profusely, thanking my friends for supporting me, thanking my family for encouraging me, and thanking the public library for providing countless air-conditioned hours of writing time.

Query Stats on TIC for those counting numbers:
Total queries: 30
Rejections: 25
Partial Requests: 3
Full Requests: 4
Offers of Rep: 1
Prior Queried Manuscripts: 2
How I’m feeling:

october-132

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Writing, Writing Tips

On Wordcounts and Madness

You know those little aha! moments when a problem you’ve been struggling with suddenly becomes clear? And then you can’t understand why it was such a problem originally?

I received a passing comment on my writing while I was querying TIC that at first frustrated me. I’d mentioned my word count to another writing friend – 130k – and she’d responded with concern.

Isn’t that a bit… high?

What? No – if anything it could be longer. But her comment wiggled in my mind, refusing to leave. I had done my due-diligence and researched word count ranges… once or twice. Back in the day. I recalled that 130k was acceptable. Just look that those fantasy tomes bricking the shelves. Besides, my novel couldn’t be too long. My writing style was to add layers and layers upon the thin skeleton of a first draft – rewriting, tweaking, fleshing out, never concerned about too much.

I googled what the acceptable ranges were not so much to prove her wrong, but to make myself feel better (never a good sign). The results were consistent: again and again and again, 120k was quoted at the limit, and 130k was right out.

There are exceptions, of course. Life wouldn’t be interesting without exceptions. Did I consider TIC an exception? …for a while, yes. (Palm, meet forehead.)

Then another passing comment popped my bubble. My writing was overburdened, said the email. I failed to parse this, handed my first ten pages to my wife, and said: can you show me how this is overburdened?

And my wife, with her phd and her years of tight, frivolous scientific writing honed by the unmerciful hand of her PI, easily removed 200 words. When I reread those pages, nothing was missing. I understood.

We writers get caught up in our words and our worlds. We can see the room our MC is standing in and we’re convinced that the reader must also see it as we do – down to the color of the curtains. Fantasy writers especially are prone to over description. But are those curtains important? Unless the MC’s planning to rip them off the rod and make a dress out of them, no.

I had a moment of complete and absolute DUH. And then I got to work.

Everywhere I saw a word or a phrase or a sentence that wasn’t absolutely necessary. It might help set the mood – but so did the sentence before it. Or it might explain more about the world – but was that necessary to the plot? I asked each word if it served the story and if it didn’t – chop, chop.

From cutting mostly words and phrases (and rephrasing so it’s tighter), I’m down 7k. I didn’t think it would be possible. Now, it’s a game. How much can I cut on this page?

5k words to go!

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Writing

What’s to Come

Ever since committing whole-heartedly to being a writer, I’ve taken the time every six months or so to sit down and plan out what I’m going to do next. This keeps me committed, keeps me on schedule, helps me practice hitting deadlines, and reminds me that new projects should always be just around the corner.

As we head into June, I find myself at one of those junctures. It is time – again – to plan out the next few months and to shape where I would like to go. Now that The Impossible Contract is – mostly – done and I have to wait for my second round of queries to go through, I need something else to focus on.

Unfortunately, at least for June, I can’t stray too far. I still have to wait for beta feedback and be ready to make a few last minute edits. When it comes to writing, I’ve tried multitasking on multiple projects and it just doesn’t work.

My solution is actually pretty simple: I won’t stray far. Instead, I’ll play with this short story that has to do with some events that happen off screen in the middle of the book. It’ll be fun and it’ll keep me writing and it shouldn’t be longer than 15k – perfect for a month.

But after that…

Well, July brings Camp NaNoWriMo, which is ideal timing for the start of a new WIP. 30 days and 50k words should give me a pretty good idea of whether or not this next story is workable. Considering I don’t think this story will be longer than 80k – it’s YA, after all – a 50k word draft zero is ideal. I’ve learned that I frequently have to add a lot more to my first draft, which seems to be the opposite of most writers’ processes.

In August, I’ll cool down with some edits and/or research. For TIC, I did draft zero in one big, two month & 80k burst, then I took a month and shored up the research I’d begun while writing. I can see myself doing something similar, even though this new WIP (OIBM) shouldn’t need as much research.

Then September  onwards – rewrite rewrite rewrite. Depending on where I am in the rest of my life (my job might be changing, we might be moving, there might be some other big changes), I’ll set mini goals for those months. I’m not even going to try to set them now, though, since life is quite volatile at the moment.

Ideally, I’ll be done with the first major rewrite by December. If I follow remotely the same trajectory as TIC, then January-February will be the last of my edits before I round up some betas.

But that’s more than six months out, so I’ll reevaluate at that point. As much as I love TIC, I’m really looking forward to starting a new project.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2)

On Wearing Black in the Desert

One of my beta readers recently asked about the black tents one of the cultures in The Impossible Contract use in the middle of a Sahara-like desert. The question reminded me about the wholly counterintuitive use of black fabric in extreme heat and how, paradoxically, black fabric is actually superior to white in a handful of small, but incredibly important, ways.

Yes, the color black absorbs more heat than white, and white reflects more heat than black. But according to a study done in 1980, Why Do Bedouins Wear Black Robes in Hot Deserts?, there is a lot more going on than that. One very brave volunteer donned both a full white robe and an equivalent black one and stood for 30 minutes facing the sun at midday in the desert. The temperature ranged from a moderate 95F to a more intense 115F. Talk about dedication!

The results were surprising: according to the article, “the amount of heat gained by a Bedouin exposed to the hot desert is the same whether he wears a black or a white robe. The additional heat absorbed by the black robe was lost before it reached the skin.”

But why is that? Another scientific study done prior to the let’s-make-an-undergrad-stand-for-an-extended-period-of-time-in-the-desert experiment measured how various colors and types of bird plumage released or trapped heat. In 1978, Walsberg, Campbell, & King examined what happened when black or white plumage was fluffed up or flattened down when introduced to heat. To make their study even more interesting, they also varied the wind speed.

What they found was that while fluffed, white plumage let the most heat escape when there was no wind, when there was any sort of modest wind, black fluffed plumage fared much better.

The reason for this somewhat surprising discovery is actually at the beginning of this post: white reflects heat the best. That means from the sun, yes, but also from your own body. So all that heat you’re putting off just gets reflected back at you when you wear white. Black absorbs the heat from both the sun and your body, and as long as the fabric is loose enough for wind to get through, that heat radiates outwards instead of inwards and gets swept away.

Convection only sweetens the deal: in drawing heat away from the body, black fabric encourages more air flow. This works equally well for tents. The black then absorbs any heat from the bodies beneath it while creating a nice, gentle breeze. Ideally.

While you might not notice a difference in most of the United States, maybe next time you take a sojourn through the Sahara or Death Valley, you should try wearing black.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Work In Progress, Writing

WIP Check-in: DONE DONE DONE

Is the final draft done yet?: YES

Current page count: 209/209

Shots of whiskey: 1

Current problems with the manuscript: there’s probably something left to fix in the beginning or middle or what have you but it’s small and inconsequential and what I’m trying to say is THIS IS DONE

 

AAAH *FLAILING INTENSIFIES*

It’s done! It’s been almost exactly nine months of working and writing and rewriting and editing and it’s done! Three drafts. Countless words and hours and minutes and days. Final wordcount: 128,121 which is perfect, I envisioned this originally as somewhere between 125-130k and 128 is perfect. I can add some and I can cut some and it will still be the right length.

WHAT NOW?

Well, even though I am calling this my Final Draft, technically this is Final Draft 1 or First Beta Version. What this means is that the story is pretty much set in stone and I have gone through and fixed continuity and typos and grammar and tightened and lengthened and done everything I can to make this the Best Draft Possible before someone else sees it. There are still errors – oh boy how there are still errors – but at this point my nose has been so close to this work for so long that I am mostly blind to them.

That’s where my betas come in. I have a few good friends who I’ll have read this (hot) mess and get back to me on what works, what doesn’t, what makes sense, what doesn’t, etc. Ideally, small tweaks will happen after that and I’ll have the Query Version, which is the draft of the novel that will get sent out to agents. All sorts of things can happen at that point and since I’ve never gotten beyond the initial querying process, I’m not going to speculate on them now.

Over the course of the next two months, my betas will read and get back to me and I will edit and write so. many. query. letters. Seriously, query letters are usually less than 300 words and yet they can take a full month to write.

After two months – or after I’ve queried to exhaustion – I will pick up a new project and run with it. I already have an idea of what I’m going to work on next, but I shan’t allow myself excitement yet. I need that excitement to drive me through the next step of this process, because querying is the hardest thing for me.

BUT ALL THAT IS FOR TOMORROW

TONIGHT – WE DINE IN HELL

– wait, absolutely wrong reference.

TONIGHT – WE CHILL THE FUCK OUT

<3!!!

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Work In Progress, Writing

WIP Check-in: One Day to Go

Is the final draft done yet?: NO

Current page count: 200/209

Shots of whiskey: 2.5

Current problems with the manuscript: I AM A LITTLE TIPSY AND OVERWHELMED WITH TODAY’S REVELATIONS

Almost there! I think most of the worst of the editing is done! It’s just line edits and tweaks from here on out!!

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Work In Progress, Writing

WIP Check-In: The Final Draft and Final Countdown, Day 1

I have a week left until my wholly self-imposed deadline of April 1st to finish this final draft of my WIP. I’m a month late already and April Fool’s Day just seems to be an appropriate time to send this beast to my beta readers.

There is an awful lot of restructuring and rewriting to do in these final days and pages, so to keep myself motivated and accountable, I’m going to check in here and update my progress.

Is the final draft done yet?: NO

Current page count: 177/206

Shots of whiskey: 1

Current problems with the manuscript: too much suspicion, not enough relief and surprise.

 

Other things unrelated to said final draft:

I’m officially doing a second “season” of the Cactopodes tumblr, rather conveniently starting April 2nd. What started as a place to deposit photos of local cacti, namely saguaros, which are all quite individual in nature, quickly devolved into a lovecraftian nightmare about four wayward scientists who got lost in the stygian wasteland of the Sonoran desert.

It’s really quite silly and more of an excuse to be ridiculous – and it is a perfect project to work on once I get this final draft done and out the door. I want to keep writing – it’s never good to take a long break, at least not for me – but I also don’t want to start a new story when I’m trying to query this one. I’ve learned I can’t query and write something entirely new at the same time – it just doesn’t work.

So instead, I’m going to go with nameless, octopoid horrors.