A Progress Report from the Writing Cave

We passed the 60k milestone this week on Grandson of Science Novel, which is great! Of course, that leaves us only three weeks to hit our target of 100k by year’s end. Which would take an average of 2000 words per day. That’s only 1000 words apiece (have we ever mentioned that having a writing partner offers many advantages?), but that’s every day, and it’s significantly more than the pace we’ve been on. Like, very significantly. Back when work started on this one, we ran some numbers and came up with a plan that felt perfectly reasonable. And now, here we are, with nearly half of the book remaining to write and less than a month to do it.

So we’re a little stressed about missing our deadline. Life keeps getting in the way. We have all kinds of excuses, and we think most of them are pretty good. Unfortunately, we haven’t come up with the excuse that’s so good it lets us hit our deadline after all.

Thing about this deadline is, we imposed it on ourselves. Rune Skelley sets Rune Skelley’s schedule. So the consequences for blowing it are rather abstract. Assuming we do end up blowing it, we’ll miss out on the satisfaction of attaining it. And, the longer it takes us to write a book, the longer the gaps between our releases.

Setting goals and deadlines for yourself is vital for being able to measure progress, and even without a mean boss glaring at your tardiness, you need to take these things seriously. You need discipline, and you need to protect your writing time. You just can’t let deadline stress ruin the joy of creation.

The Trouble With Spoken Codes

  • by Kentit can be a little intimidating, a little scary
  • fantastically gilded and filagreed
  • he’d chubbed up quite a bit
  • more than a billion dollars
  • she claimed to have met several of them

Tune in next time part 238                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

The trouble with spoken codes is that they have dialects. This made it difficult to be sure I was picking up the intended meanings of all the symbols. I was left hoping I had misconstrued some parts of the conversation. And at no point could I tell which sister was speaking.

“Seeing it for the first time, it can be a little intimidating, a little scary. Most of the others I’ve seen are rather plain, but his is fantastically gilded and filagreed.”

“Yes, it’s a bit overwhelming at first. I for one was pleasantly surprised, having been told that he’d chubbed up quite a bit over the past year.”

“She’s the one you have to thank there, for sparing no expense on his fitness coaches. We know it was more than a billion dollars. Contrarian dollars, sure. But that’s still a lotta chedda.”

“Fitness coaches? Do you really believe that? I mean, she claimed to have met several of them at her father’s private club, and we both know who has membership there.”

“Wait, are you telling me this is a coup?”

“That hadn’t occurred to me. My hunch is it’s something far more ordinary and wearisome.”

“Maybe it could use some filagree!”

This was, seemingly, a very funny thing to say in code. Their eroticized cackling will haunt me to my grave.

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“Are You Getting Out of Here?”

  • by jen“Should I come with you?’
  • “Rap rap-rap rap-rap rap-ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, rap!”
  • you can’t do it in less than six hours
  • had (merely in playfulness) drawn his bayonet
  • I don’t remember what day of the week it was

Tune in next time part 237                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

“Are you getting out of here?” Darlene asked, still rocking her hips. “Should I come with you?” She gazed at the trio on the bed. “Or..?”

“Well I’m certainly not sticking around to watch,” I replied.

From the tangle of nude limbs I heard a female voice repeating, “Rap rap-rap rap-rap rap-ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, rap!” It sounded like someone trying to speak morse code, which is something they teach at the Academy. You can learn it, but you can’t do it in less than six hours, so the course usually takes two days. But I did it in one. While my brain tried to catch all the nuances and decode the message, my eyes had the unenviable task of tracing out all the ways the three lovers were intertwined in order to see which woman’s mouth was free to speak unencumbered.

I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t witnessing sex. That my father, a famous general, had (merely in playfulness) drawn his bayonet. But I wasn’t buying it.

I don’t remember what day of the week it was when I learned spoken morse code, but I was glad my advisor had insisted. What I was hearing today was not merely one Svenborgian sister speaking, but the two of them alternating to pass along a most astounding message about my wife and Viscount Arlo.

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Shining A Light

We went to a lighting design center this week, and the main thing that we learned is that a lighting design center is a dangerous place for us to be left unsupervised. In addition to all the stuff in the showroom, they also have big, thick catalogs of amazing and weird stuff that you can hang from the walls and ceilings of your actual house and connect to the wiring therein.

There was a not insignificant chance that we would have decided to remodel our entire house (again) so we could have excuses to buy all the fun things. Perhaps it’s a good thing these items are so expensive, as that might be what brought us to our senses.

We knew what we were shopping for when we went in there: something modern and sleek for above the dinner table. We knew what the dining room looked like, and we knew we weren’t really going to redo it. Yet, all the pretty lights in other styles (craftsman, deco, neo-Victorian, space-age retro, regular retro, and vintage industrial {which, let’s be honest: that’s steampunk}) tempted us sorely. In the end, we stuck to our program if not our budget, and ordered a minor masterpiece of modern elegance that will harmonize with our home’s style.

The experience reminded Kent of something he’s heard said about font design. “Not a bunch of pretty letters; a pretty bunch of letters.” The same applies to the words those letters create.

Writing fiction is a lot like decorating a room. It’s less about how cool, or how gorgeous, any individual element might be. It’s certainly not about how many nifty things you can festoon the page with. It’s about the overall effect. You have to know when a humorous beat is needed, and when to lay off the rimshots and allow the moment to breathe. When you’re choosing a strong verb, you must choose the one that matches the flavor of the scene and the personality of the character doing it.

It’s hard to take out the stuff that doesn’t belong. When it’s good stuff, just not the right stuff to bring the room together, the killing of the darlings can feel literal. But you don’t really have to kill them. Just send them out of the room.

Despite The Total Unclothedness

  • by Kentapproximately one-third of one nipple
  • like in some fairytale
  • removed the latex gloves
  • bearded, hairy face
  • the seductive influence

Tune in next time part 236                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

Despite the total unclothedness of the three people in front of me, which meant there were six nipples exposed, the angle of view afforded me only a glimpse of approximately one-third of one nipple, and it wasn’t one I would have picked. Their choreography of modesty was as impressive as it was uncharacteristic, like in some fairytale, the film version of which received a hard R rating for the scene where the wicked stepmother removed the latex gloves from her hands after wearing them to caress the bearded, hairy face of her prisoner. Darlene whimpered, rocking her hips. I expected a professional like herself to be immune to the seductive influence of a potbellied deposed former first husband and his sibling covert operatives.

Given that the potbelly belonged to my father, I certainly was.

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So Darlene Really was a Prostitute

  • by jenit’s never been dull
  • “Tut, tut, child; tut, tut,”
  • Let’s not forget the legendary Nile Rodgers
  • was a dinner guest once again
  • endless red tape

Tune in next time part 235                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

So Darlene really was a prostitute, making her earlier defense of my father a lie just like everything else I’d been told in recent memory. I was surrounded, as usual, by liars and spies. Say what you will about my life, at least, like my knife, it’s never been dull.

I pulled my little blade from its hidden sheath, the location of which it’s better not to mention in polite company.

“Tut, tut, child; tut, tut,” I said, laying my hand on Darlene’s shoulder to prevent her escape. “I need some answers.”

Her eyes were fixed on my knife, but she shook her head. “I will tell you nothing.”

Something about her bearing reminded me of the celebrities who made command appearances at the White House when Mother was president: Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Les Claypool. Let’s not forget the legendary Nile Rodgers and his stoicism when he was a dinner guest once again against his better judgment. It was clear that all of these men had deeply held opinions about Mother and her policies that they worked hard to keep off their faces. To this day I don’t know how she compelled all of them to visit, but I’m sure it involved credible threats and endless red tape. She could make them be there, but she couldn’t make them enjoy it. That’s how Darlene looked now.

I steered her back into the black velvet room where Dad was now sitting on the bed, with Esmerelda and Cleopatra on either side. He had his arms around them, pulling them up tight against him. All of them were nude.

I sighed.

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My First Impulse

  • by KentOne of the backhoes ran over him.
  • The sun became pitiless.
  • felt almost like blasphemy
  • I dare not kiss you
  • a wobbly wire chair

Tune in next time part 234                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

My first impulse was to take command of the room and make everybody sit down and shut up while I asked the questions.

But my second impulse, to pipe down and think things through for a minute, felt smarter.

My father had been lying to me for years. Faking his death entailed lying to the whole world, but he’d made exceptions for other people while letting me go on believing the official version. The video footage of the construction mishap was quite convincing. One of the backhoes ran over him. Obviously that didn’t really happen. Not to Father, at any rate.

A glowing ball of resentful realization climbed in my mind like a desert sunrise. That sun shone hot on the Svenborgian sisters. The sun became pitiless. They had also misled me. Cleopatra withheld her real name and her nationality, and played dumb about her family when we watched the zeppelin tape. Esmerelda lied about the misappropriation of state funds. She knew Father hadn’t paid Darlene, because she knew Darlene.

Darlene was the one person present whom I did not know for a fact had lied to me.

Employing my Academy training (Tactical Upholstery 245, an elective for third-years in the accelerated track), I went straight to the seam in the curtains and passed seamlessly through it into utter blackness. I spun around, and spotted Darlene’s pale keister swaying in the distance. I gave chase.

Soon I was close enough to call out to her. She looked forlornly over her shoulder, still walking naked through the featureless darkness. Her face was lovelier than I had noticed before. So, though it felt almost like blasphemy to say it, I said, “I dare not kiss you, because right now my mind is like five jigsaw puzzles all in the same box, and my heart is like a wobbly wire chair.”

That made her smile, and the sun rose again, casting a gentler warmth within my soul.

“No, you dare not kiss me because you haven’t paid. And you couldn’t afford it.”

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“Don’t Say a Goddamn Word, Darlene”

  • by jenbounced his face on the pavement
  • when he visits Bermuda to golf
  • Jack’s a doughnut
  • couldn’t understand why Darlene
  • refused to return to his bed

Tune in next time part 233                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

“Don’t say a goddamn word, Darlene,” Cleopatra snapped.

The Asian woman squeaked and hid her face behind the curtains, disappearing completely. My father leapt to his feet, slipped, and bounced his face on the pavement. But since the pavement in this room was black velvet, just like everything else, he just wound up with a rug burn. It reminded me of how sunburnt he gets when he visits Bermuda to golf and forgets to apply sunscreen.

“Darlene!” Dad yelled. “C’mon back, baby. We’ll kick these interlopers out and lock the door.”

Esmerelda said disgustedly, “Jack’s a doughnut, and he doesn’t care who’s cup of coffee he gets dunked in.”

“Too true,” Cleopatra said.

“Neither or you minded when it was your coffee I was dunking in,” Dad snarked as he made his way to the wall where Darlene disappeared. He started patting it down, searching for her and calling her name.

I knew this was all a ruse, a show put on to distract me from my pointed questions.

I stood with my arms crossed over my chest, watching Dad pretend that he couldn’t understand why Darlene refused to return to his bed, thinking about Esmerelda and Cleopatra. It was true that Cleopatra had lost her accent, but they were sisters, so that meant they were both Svenborgian. And since Esmerelda was an Underduchess, Cleopatra probably was, too. Maybe an Underduchess-once-removed. It was hard to remember all the rules for Svenborgian royal lineage. No matter her title, though, she had to know Viscount Arlo. They both did. They were most likely related to him somehow. And Dad didn’t care.

It was imperative that I figure out what was going on. Without raising their suspicions.

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Don’t Fence Me In

We like to work in trilogies. The story worlds and complicated characters we develop lend themselves to longer tales, but not the endless iterations that an ongoing series requires. Three novels is a generous amount of space to explore in and bring everything to a satisfying conclusion.

Many is the time we’ve bragged about our extensive outlining process, but even when you’re as thorough as we are in the preliminary stages you’ll probably find that things evolve during the actual writing. A lot can (and should) happen in 300,000 words, which is why we won’t publish the first book in a trilogy until the third one is written.

The dream would be for the entire triptych to be completely polished before any of it is released, just to guarantee that there are no more changes to be made, that there isn’t a single detail that could be improved. But that’s not possible. First of all because no manuscript is ever truly done. No matter how many times something is edited, there’s always a sentence that could be rephrased or a comma that could be added (or removed depending on which way the wind is blowing). The bigger issue though is that we don’t have all the time in the world. If we want to keep any momentum in our writing career, we need to release new work on a regular basis. And that means the first part most likely gets released before the third is completely done.

Emphasis on ‘completely.’

No matter how well-planned your story is, things will change during the writing. Maybe events will line up better if you adjust the timeline early on. Maybe a character who doesn’t appear until the third book will fit in more naturally if she’s alluded to in the first or second. Speaking of characters, once a characteristic gesture or phrase develops, it’s a good idea to sprinkle it in the early scenes to maintain consistency. Perhaps a minor character becomes much more important than you anticipated, and things will make more sense if their presence early on is enhanced. We sometimes discover that either Kent or Jen has an affinity for a certain character, which means they get to go back and punch things up in the other’s scenes. In the course of research you might discover a fun detail that needs to be present through the whole series. If the first book is already set in stone, it’s quite limiting.

For a satisfying and cohesive reader experience, treat your trilogy like one enormous manuscript for as long as possible.