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, Life, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

10 Years of The Tucson Festival of Books

#TFOB, my #TFOB, how I love thee so.

When we moved to Tucson, the Festival of Books was still in its toddlerhood. We went during its 3rd year and it was already huge and drawing in ginormous crowds and interesting/well-known/actual authors. I wandered between tables of books and lecture halls of guest speakers under a brilliant blue sky, taking in the scent of citrus blossoms along with the cinnamon almonds, and found home.

I volunteered the next three years and somehow fell in love with TFOB a bit more each time.

It’s an amazing celebration of books. Every year I’d find new authors – I credit TFOB 100% with my Seanan McGuire collection, since that’s where I first paused and picked up Rosemary and Rue. Every year I’d sit in on an interesting panel. And best of all – it was all free. You could wander in and wander out at will (ideally not the panels, at least try to be courteous geez). You could drop in for some fresh donuts and the University tent or you could plan your weekend around panels and talks and signings.

They even have bees.

I mean, Science City, the other half of #TFOB, has bees. To look at. As well as other science-y activities. I’m sure there are wild bees throughout because of all the citrus blossoms, but I digress.

This year was the 10th anniversary of the Festival of Books and I dropped in for a bit because we were in Tucson for the week and I was delighted to see that it was still the same old TFOB. So many books. So many people. So many bees. I mean books. I mean bees. I mean both?

Oh Tucson, how I miss thee.

So all that’s to say that recent progress on Book 3 aka working title The Unconquered City is, uh, nil. Because I was frolicking amongst the cacti and well, it’s hard to type and frolic is what I mean.

But! I did manage to finish Book 1 aka The Perfect Assassin‘s copyedits and turn those in so, yay?

Yay.

Okay going back to dreaming of cacti and books now.

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 Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

What a Difference a Year Makes

November 1st last year, I started writing draft zero for Book One of what we’re now calling the Assassins of Ghadid trilogy. I had a character and a scene and a vague idea of where it was all going.

Several rewrites, revisions, and now an editorial letter later, I think I can safely say Book One is done. Of course, we’ve already touched on what “finished” means, so I suppose we should define “done.”

Done, right now, for this book, is a book that has been cleaned up on both the line level and the plot level, is a book that has been tweaked and finessed and had most of its problems excised or otherwise fixed. It’s still not perfect, but the bits and pieces of doubt that hung on after it was “finished” have largely been shed.

Of course, this is just another step in the process. There may (will) be another round of edits. There will (definitely) be a round of line edits. I hope for and expect as much, because I – and my publisher – want this to be as close to 100% as we can make it, without, you know, having to sacrifice our souls and selves.

So in a way, it’s not done done, but on the very long road that is publishing, I thought it significant that almost exactly a year after starting a book that was little more than a scene and a character at the time, it’s now become this: a rewritten and revised and edited and re-edited and tweaked and thoroughly-loved book, about many characters and with many scenes, that even has a plot.

As for when it will be out – assuming there are no Super Major Oh God No edits on the horizon – the current word on the street is March 2019. So we’ve still got some time yet. And I’ve still got two more books to finish.

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

Ending Stats for Book One

Started writing: November 1, 2016
Manuscript sent: June 27, 2017
Total days: 239
I.E.: 7.9 months
Percentage of days spent writing: 94%
Estimated days spent writing: 224
Average hours/day: 2.4
Average hours of sleep/day: hahahaha
Number of drafts: 4
Word count of draft one (aka draft zero): 56,649
Word count of draft two (aka draft one): 63,686
Word count of draft three (aka beta draft): 84,638
Word count of draft four (aka final draft aka finished MS): 95,069
Number of times I knew I wouldn’t get this done on time: 220
Number of times I knew I would: 4
Number of times it mattered: 0
Number of cupcakes eaten in celebration: 1
Number of days I’m taking off between books: 0

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

When is it “finished?”

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As of Friday, Book One is done. And yet it’s not really “finished,” per se. It’s sitting quietly on my harddrive, resting and dreaming, before I slog through it for one last read-through, then it’ll be off to my editor who may (or may not) tear it apart and declare it an abomination. Either way, there will be more edits.

Which made me wonder why I felt like I could label it as it is, done. A big part of it is definitely a feeling, a big sigh of relief, a rush of pride. Yet I have been here before with books I’ve written, only to turn around and completely rewrite them 2 months or 2 years down the line.

So what does done mean?

For me, at least now, at least in this moment and for this project, it appears to mean that it’s at a point where I’m comfortable sharing without caveats. When I gave it to my betas at the end of May, I also gave them a ton of caveats. I was as far as I could get on my own at the time, but I also knew there were still problems, could feel them even if I couldn’t quite put my finger on them. So I told them that, told them to expect that it wouldn’t be perfect, and that it definitely had problems, and to please help me find what those problems were.

Now… it still has problems. It will never be perfect. But I feel like I can hand it off without caveats. That it can stand on its own. Within all those words is a complete story with a full character arc and logical consequences and big stakes, and minimal, if any, plot holes.

Again, there might still be things I’ve missed, things I’m blind to. I’m going to read through it one last time and then other, fresher eyes will have a go at it. But for now, Book One is as done as I can make it.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1), Work In Progress, Writing

#amediting – Make it Bleed

The best decision I’ve made so far with this round of edits – aside from, you know, doing them – was to turn on Track Changes. Now whenever I feel like I’m treading water and getting nowhere, all I have to do is flip to “show all markup” and see just how much I’ve done.

Aaah.

Of course, all that red doesn’t say anything about the quality of the edits, but it sure is pretty to look at.

T minus 10 days and counting and I’m finally starting to feel like I’m going to make it, and not just at the last second. 60-ish pages left to edit, 2-ish scenes let to (re)write. I’m starting to get it into my head that I’ll have time for another read through. But let’s not get too cocky – something is bound to happen and eat up all my soft deadline cushioning.

But I’m already starting to plan what I’m gonna do when this is off my desk. Sleep. Read. Buy a chocolate cake. Eat it all. And then start writing the next book. Which I am SUPER excite about, FYI.

In the meantime, I’ve still got 10 days, so here’s current progress on Book One, working title Redacted, the story of a historian turned assassin turned detective who’s more than just a little tired of this shit. Now with more! raucous gambling, mythology tweaking, and polite civic discourse.

Chapters: 25 chapters out of 33 edited

Current word count: 94,090 out of 90,000

Fun Google searches this week: “Does a camel chew cud?”

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1), Unnamed (Book 3), Work In Progress, Writing

Stop! – It’s Beta Time!

Betas, man. What would we do without them? They’re magical creatures, willing to take the time out of their days, weeks, (months?), to glance over an unpolished manuscript and not only give feedback, but give supporting details and thoughts and comments and maybe – hopefully – a few ideas on what they think might help.

When we’ve been elbows-deep in the entrails of our book for months (years) on end, a beta helps us step back and see the body instead of the gore. Or, perhaps, a better metaphor: when we’ve been behind the scenes, constructing the scenery for our play, all we can see is the bare wood, the struts, the bad paint jobs. Our betas help us see the scenery from the audience side, where it’s clearly a quiet night scene in Paris or a warm rooftop in Peru.

Thing is, we writers spend a long time trying to capture what’s in our heads in words that will somehow, perfectly and exquisitely, recreate those same scenes and moments in the reader’s head. This is, of course, impossible. Until we become telepaths or create the technology for brain-to-brain transfers, that translation will be imperfect. Some things will always be lost. And we, the writers, will always be acutely aware of those gaps and errors.

Our betas, however, cannot see into our heads. They can only see what every reader will see in the end: what’s on the page. So – thank you, betas. Thank you on behalf of all writers, but also thank you on behalf of just me. At a time when I was 100% frustrated and done with my WIP not lining up with what was in my head, you helped me to see what was actually on the page. And also fix what was there. Without betas, I’d be running endless editing loops for the next 5, 10, 15 months. Instead, now I have a plan and a way forward, an end in sight.

That said, where have I been the last few weeks? I usually update on Tuesday because that’s when I have the most time, but these past Tuesdays I’ve been feeling the crunch. First I was finishing up one last round of edits so that I could get Book One out to betas, then I was beginning the next round of edits courtesy of those amazing betas. Now I’m 100 pages into the last heavy edit / mad attempts at polishing with my deadline fast approaching. Today I added 2600 new words and an entire new chapter that will need to be polished once they’ve had some time to sit and ferment. I have 160(ish) pages left to go, two more new scenes to write, and seventeen days. I got this.

…right?

Without further ado, here’s current progress on Book One, working title Redacted, the story of a historian turned assassin turned detective who’s more than just a little tired of this shit. Now with more! tense talks over tea, avuncular uncles, and exciting! research! scenes!

Chapters: 14 chapters out of 33 edited

Current word count: 90002 out of 90,000

Fun Google searches this week: What the parts of a screwdriver are called

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

The Final Countdown

I’ve hit the final stretch which means I just want to be done already. If there were writing goblins, I would leave out whatever fruit or knick-knacks they desired to finish this for me.

I can see the end in sight, but I still have to get there. In the meantime, I’ve reached the previous Rocks Fall Everyone Dies point I’d left myself at before, so it’s a bit slower going. These are all new words, so I’ll have to go back and polish them. Just have to remind myself that I will polish them and that it’s okay for the first round to be crap.

Now more than ever I’ve got to keep my head down and focus on the words.

Without further ado, here’s current progress on Book One, working title Redacted, the story of a historian turned assassin turned detective who’s more than just a little tired of this shit. Now with more! violent storms, knife fights, and angst. So much angst.

Chapters: 31 chapters out of 32 edited

Current word count: 80035 out of 90,000

How done am I?: So done.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1), Work In Progress, Writing, Writing Tips

Accountability and Stars

The way I’ve held myself accountable over the years has shifted a bit. In the very beginning, there was NaNoWriMo and its daily word count goals coupled with an awesome little graph that rose slowly, encouragingly, over the course of a month. Outside of November, I tried to replicate that beautiful graph by plunking my words into a spreadsheet and that worked for a while.

And then, almost overnight, it stopped working. I couldn’t keep up with the minimal effort it took to use the spreadsheet. And when days (or weeks) of not writing struck, it became too easy to just… not. I tried starting a new spreadsheet, but inevitably I started too many new spreadsheets and progress stalled and I stopped completely.

After that I floundered a bit. Wrote a little here, a little there. But without accountability, it was difficult to hit my self-imposed deadlines.

Then I discovered calendars. They were perfect – something I could mark at the end of the day if I’d met my goal, and each month was a built-in fresh start. Plus, they served the purpose of, well, telling you what day it was, so I always had one around anyway.

I started by just crossing off days that I’d met my goal. Then I tried writing word count goals on the days and crossing them off as I hit them. This was great for days I inevitably fell behind and also days that I got ahead. And no matter how far behind or ahead I got, I’d recalculate my goals at the start of the next month and better manage my expectations.

Of course, with editing, word count isn’t always a reliable indicator of progress. Sometimes you rewrite an entire chapter, sometimes you add in a few paragraphs, and sometimes you just edit heavily. New words written doesn’t tell you much, but chapters edited does.

So for this round of editing, I decided to mark off whenever I finished a chapter. And I decided to celebrate that with a gold star sticker. Because of course I have gold stars. Doesn’t everyone?

I also tried to project out my goals, but even adjusting for May I’m still wildly off. But that’s okay because lookit all those stars! (The other colors are for exercise-related endeavors. Those are a little… less exciting.)

And here’s the complete month of April, for comparison:

Note that I started editing this draft on April 1st, so this shows my whole editing process so far. And no, I honestly don’t remember what happened on the 8th, but it must have been pretty exciting for all those stars.

Not every writer needs daily accountability, but as someone in the slow-but-steady camp of writing, it really has helped me keep up momentum and avoid some panicking. Note – “some,” not all, panicking.

As far as the actual editing goes, I have reached that point where I kind of want my betas to read it, instead of simply dreading them reading it. I’m still in the Not Sure If This Is One Hot Mess Or Not stage (which includes such great hits as My Editor Will Regret Me and Oh God Everyone’s Made a Big Mistake and How Did I Con Anyone Into Thinking I Could Write??) and likely will stay there until I can finally take a step back and look at the proverbial forest.

Without further ado, here’s current progress on Book One, working title Redacted, the story of a historian turned assassin turned detective who’s more than just a little tired of this shit. Now with more! thunderbolts and lightning (very very frightening [me]), family feuds, and questionable intents.

Chapters: 27 chapters out of 32 (or 33) edited

Current word count: 72,075 out of 90,000

Coffee’d netbooks: One 😦

Average Hours of Sleep a Night 5-6