Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Two Bird Minimum

In my Eli Monpress series, Eli, my charming degenerate of a main character, has a favorite saying - "My stones have a two bird minimum." Of course, since it's my book and Eli is my character, this is also one of my favorite sayings, and I try to apply it as often as possible. Especially in my writing, and especially when I'm planning out a scene.

For example, yesterday I was cooking dinner and thinking about this new scene I was going to add to my new novel (the one from my 12 Days of Glory post, for those of you playing along at home). My editor had requested a few changes, and I'd decided right off the bat that a new scene was needed. But while I had the perfect scene in mind, I had a problem. While this scene nicely solved the problem my editor (quite rightly) wanted addressed, it didn't do anything else. Since my scenes tend to run around 2k, I was reasonably sure this new addition would only fatten my novel by around that much. But, to make the scene work I'd have to move my characters to a new location, which would add another 1.5-2k words to get them there, describe things, and get them back. And then there'd be everyone else's reaction to the location change (the problem with an ensemble cast, all those story lines have to be taken into consideration), so that's another 1k spent covering my bases and 5k in total once everything was added in.

5k is a LOT in a 110k novel, almost a full chapter, and way too much space to dedicate to fixing one measly problem. But I liked the scene a lot, so, I decided to make it earn its keep in the novel and set about finding other work for it to do. If this scene was my stone, I was going to whack as many birds as possible with it by the time those five thousand words were done. 

As I've talked about in tiresome detail before, when I write a scene, I demand that it do three things - advance the story, reveal new information, and pull the reader forward. But the real secret I've found for scenes is that you can hit every one of these points from multiple angles at once, and the more angles you hit, the better the scene tends to get. 

Complexity in a novel isn't a matter of having lots of people doing lots of things, it's about how well those plots are revealed and well they fit together. When I plan a scene, I try to do at least two stories at once, preferably more. For example, if my main characters have to go to a space station to get information about the main plot, I'll put hints of a secondary character's secret past on that station as well, and then maybe use the stop over as an excuse to have my main couple get some down time to have a serious conversation. So, in this one scene, a stop at a space station, I've hit on three story lines: the main plot, the subplot, and the romantic plot. Any or all of these plots can hit the three scene hooks for me - the discoveries for the main plot can advance the story, the hints of the subplot reveal new information and pull the reader forward, and the growing romantic tension can pull the reader forward and advance the story and reveal new information, especially if we get a hint of the hero's mysterious past. The possibilities are endless!

Every time you add a scene, you're bulking up your novel. You're putting more words between your reader and the end of the story. The way I see it, it's up to me to make those words count. It's up to us, as writers, to make each scene necessary, interesting, and purposeful, to really make the scene work to earn its place in the book. To this end, whenever I write a scene, I'm constantly thinking "what else can it do?", what else can I make happen. Of course, you can go too far with this and overload a scene, but part of writing is learning how much is too much, too little, and just right.

In the end, my new scene did end up being right about 5k long, but rather than just solving the problem I'd created it to solve, the new location gave information about the world at large, offered a perfect set up for some foreshadowing of later events, got me some great character interaction, and turned into a really fun little interlude before the big battle. Many birds were hit, including some I didn't know were up there. Final verdict: Great success! I wish you many great successes as well. Keep writing!

- Rachel


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Out and About

I am breaking my writing hermitage for some news!

First off, if you haven't already heard, I will be a guest this weekend at RoundCon! It's most an anime convention, but thanks to John Hartness, there are a lot of writerly types showing up as well. Best of all, though, I'll get to hang out with Kalayna Price, who floats my boat all the way to China. If you're in the area and have a chance to stop by the con, please find me and say hello! We will gab Eli and I will spill all the secrets for you!

Second, I did an interview with Tracy S. Morris about my writing process. I think the most interesting new topic I talk about in there is the difference in my process for pansters/discovery writers. Namely, how I don't know how people write like that, but if you do, more power to you!

Again, I do hope to see some people at RoundCon if anyone lives in SC! People who've read my books are my favorite people in the world.

- Rachel

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eli Monpress Week!

The lovely Mel over at Mel's Random Reviews has declared this Eli Monpress Week! Eli, of course, would like to remind people that every week is Eli Monpress week, but he is none-the-less delighted to accept the honor. All week there will be reviews of my books and the audio versions as well as a big fat interview Mel and I did earlier in the month full of news about the new books and some really great questions about where Eli and the crew came from coming later in the week. I hope you'll head over and check it out!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How I Plot A Novel in 5 Steps

By popular request (ok, 1 person, but they're populace, so that makes it popular, right?) I've put together a step by step process for how I go from "Hey I should write a novel" to "Ok, let's get writing!" Though I managed to get things grouped into steps, what I've really done is labeled and applied order to the phases I go through as I work toward the point where I feel I know enough about a book to start writing. Some parts of my process may seem a bit obsessive, but the most important part of writing fast is knowing as much as you can about what you're writing before you write it, and that means lots and lots of planning.

Planning a novel takes me anywhere from a few days to weeks. Usually I plan while I'm working on other things, like editing, but I've also had whole weeks where I did nothing but put a story together. I should say that I plan far more novels than I actually end up writing. My computer is littered with the cast off husks of half started worlds. I consider this a normal part of the process. If you do it right, planning is where you uncover all the things that are wrong with that idea you thought was so amazing last week. Sometimes these faults are workable, other times it's better to just move on. Even so, it's way better to discover a novel isn't as strong as you thought at the planning stage instead of 3 chapters in. Not every idea deserves to be a novel.

Well, enough of that. You came to see how I plan novels. So, best as I can articulate something that changes for every book, here is my general process. I really hope everyone finds something useful they can take away to help organize and speed up their own writing system.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rachel on the (Internet) Radio!

I joined Justin and Terry of The Dead Robot's Society podcast to talk about my books, my road to publication, and how the hell I write so many words every day. It was a really, really fun interview, and the show itself is a barrel of good times all on its own. So if you're at all interested in writing or the publishing world, why don't you check it out!

Here's the direct link to my episode, my interview is in the second part of the show. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Lord of Storms!

To thank all my fans for being so amazingly awesome (and to get myself some really amazing art), I've begun commissioning artists to make me pictures of my characters! First up, The Lord of Storms by Noiry! Link goes to the picture on her amazing DeviantArt gallery, but she also has nice work on her portfolio site so please go check her out. In the meanwhile, enjoy!

What can I say, the Lord of Storms is a ham and cheese sandwich! <3

The Lord of Storms is the head of the League of Storms, and a very bad ass fellow. He first appears (briefly) in The Spirit Thief and then more fully in the The Spirit Rebellion and The Spirit Eater. But he REALLY comes into his own in Spirit's End, the fifth and final Eli novel. Trust me, once you read book 5, you will know why he was the first character I commissioned!

More art will be following all the way through next year, so keep checking back :D. I'll also be revamping my site, and one of the new additions will be an art gallery. Should be awesome!

<3 Rachel

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

12 days of glory

I've talked about my process for fast writing before, the combination of knowledge, time, and excitement that let me take my word count from 2-3k a day to over 10k per day. However, every time I get on the subject of writing fast, I always have to add the caveat that these numbers were achieved on the final two books of a five book series, usually toward the end of the book. For me, the end of a book always goes faster than the beginning or the middle. I find it much easier to write with the momentum of a grand finale pulling me forward. Also, I was writing well known characters in a well established world.

Because of these factors, it was hard for me to tell if my insane numbers were really coming from my system or from the books themselves. Had I really turned myself into some sort of super writer, or was I just caught up in the end of a story I'd wanted to tell for years? Was Eli doing this, or was I? So long as I was working on Eli books, there was no way to tell. The real test would only come when I sat down to write a new book in a new world. If I could keep pulling crazy numbers there, with no Eli or Josef or Nico to prop me up, then I'd know for sure that my increased productivity came from me. Last month, with the final Eli book turned in, I took the plunge. This is how it turned out, taken straight from the writing worksheet I keep on my title page:

Plotting started: July 17, 2011
Plotting finished: July 20, 2011
Novel started: July 21, 2011
Novel ended: August 1, 2011

You're reading that right. I plotted the whole book, start to finish (as well as outlines for two sequels), in three days. And then I wrote the book in 12. Actually, that's not even right. Check out my progress table:

Time Written
Word Count
Words Per Hour
9:00 - 12:30 (3.5)
1:30 - 6:00 (4.5)
7:30 - 10:00 (2.5)
3877 (11882)
Home (night)
1:30 - 6:30 (5)
7/24 - 7/25 (perspective switch)
8:20 - 10:20 (2)
1:20 - 6:00 (4.5)
9:00 - 10:00 (1)
1076 (5195)
Home (night)
8:00 - 11:00 (3)
1:00 - 6:00 (5)
7215 (9742)
1:00 - 6:00 (5)
8:30 - 11:30 (3)
12:30 - 6:00 (5.5)
7701 (11537)
5:00 - 8:30 (3.5)
4:30 - 8:30 (4)
8:00 - 11:30 (2.5)
1:00 - 6:20 (5.3)
7203 (11272)

One of the things I talk about in the fast writing post is the importance of keeping records. There are many different ways of recording your writing, but this is how I keep track of mine. As you can see, I actually wrote the book in 9 days, because I took the 23rd off and spent the 24th - 25th going back and switching the first five chapters from third person to first, which I count as editing, not writing. But even if we go ahead and count those two days, it still means I wrote a novel, a brand new novel with a world and characters I'd never sat down to really flesh out before the 17th, in 11 days. 

Sorry Eli, looks like you can't claim credit this time.

But how did I do it? Beyond what I talked about in my fast writing post? 

Well, first, I wrote a lot. As you can see from the table above, I spent between 6 and 9 hours a day at the keyboard writing pulling between 800 and 1600 words an hour. This sort of writing is not without its cost, I think my baby and husband have forgotten my face and let's not even talk about the state of my house or the pile of mail that's threatening to crush my dining table. This is not the sort of crazy writing project you can embark on unless you're a pro writer between books with a very forgiving family. If I'd taken things a little easier I would have had a life and still finished the novel in 20 days, which is perfectly acceptable, but this time around I was trying to see just how fast I could go. For science!

Second, I always knew exactly where I was going. This was how I kept up the high words per hour rate. Much of the dithering in writing comes from uncertainty. What do I want from this scene? What happens next? Remove the uncertainty and most other problems sort themselves out.

Third, I was really, really, REALLY excited to write this book. It's my first love story, and I've been gushy over my main couple for nearly 8 years. I always swore I would write their story someday, and finally getting the chance to do it was like pulling up a chair to the delicious cake buffet.

So there it is, time, knowledge, and excitement coming together to make a crazy writing alchemy of fantastic word counts. These last two weeks have been the most intensely fun experience of my writing career (at least so far as the actual writing part is concerned). I loved working like this. I literally bounced out of bed with joy in the mornings because I knew I'd get to write that day. When I was writing it was like I was taken away with the story, and when I'd finally drag myself from the keyboard, I felt like I could conquer the world. Going so fast was more like reading than writing, only I was in charge of everything that was going on. It was the ultimate power trip, and I'm frankly sort of worried I liked it too much. Not that worried, though.

My work on this book is nowhere near done. I have at least 3 edits ahead of me before the novel is even ready to go to my agent, much less make its way to editors. It might never sell at all, I might start all over, but wherever my novel's story ends, one thing is certain: I can reliably write 6-8k a day on any book in any world. And that, my friends, is awesome.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

ask me a question, you'll get an answer with way too many !s

I'm participating in FanLit Asks!

This month's question: Which speculative fiction character created by another author are you kicking yourself for not dreaming up first?

You can see my answer (plus answers from totally amazing people like Gail Carriger, Seanan McGuire, Jesse Bullington, and L. E. Modesitt, Jr.) here.

In other news, I've seen the finished painting for the 4th Eli novel, Spirit's War, and it is awesome! I'll be posting it as soon as design finishes the cover design. I can't wait to show you! It really is amazing.

<3 Rachel

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Writing Post Round-Up

In honor of Camp NaNoWriMo (and for general organization), I thought I'd do a round-up of all my scattered writing posts plus. I've written a lot about writing (since, you know, I think about it a lot), not all of which I think is true anymore, so I'm only linking the posts I still believe in. If you're a writer, whether you're participating in this month's writing challenge or not, I really hope you find something useful in these.

Story Crafting, World Building, and Character
The Three Hooks - how to write better scenes that move your book forward
The Knife Test - testing your characters
Dissecting the Devil - writing a good villain

Productivity and Writing in General
How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day - supercharge your word count
There Are No Writing Police - advice on the internet about ignoring internet advice. Meta!

That's all I could find for the moment. Again, these are just my posts. I am nowhere near to being the be all end all expert on writing. If you have a favorite writing post (or writing link that helped you of any kind) link it in the comments and I'll add it to the list!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Signing reminder and a nerdy anime rec

Don't forget I'm going to be in SC this weekend for the Fantastical Mystery Tour mega signing event! It's going to be amazing, so stop by if you're in the area! I'll sign literally anything you put in front of me - your book, your child, your check, anything!

In other, completely unrelated news, my husband and I have been watching this very cool anime called Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magik, or Puella Magi Madoka Magica. On the surface it looks like a very typical anime magical girl show. I actually almost skipped it completely, but then I watched the first episode.

Guys... Sailor Moon this ain't.

Madoka Magica is the most creepy, edge of your seat show I've watched in a long time. It's the dark side of magical girls, and its got style to burn. The art design on the sets and backgrounds is amazing, so amazing that the characters look almost comically cartoony standing inside them. But none of that matters. The show's pacing is a freaking textbook of tension building. I have never watched a show with such a looming sense of dread and real concern for the characters. I literally have no idea what's going to happen from one episode to the next, and I watch each one with delicious anticipation.

In short, the show is amazing and you should totally watch it if you get the chance. It will takes your expectations of what a magical girl show should be and then makes you eat them.

Also, the music is fantastic. Go watch!

Monday, June 27, 2011

There Are No Writing Police

It's no secret that I enjoy lurking on writing message boards. First, I like being around that much excitement and creativity. It's just a good vibe, especially when I'm feeling down about my own work. Second, sometimes you find amazing gems... and I will leave the definition of gem up to your imagination. ;)

But sometimes (ok, most of the time), reading these boards makes me angry, especially the forums where people talk about publication, specifically whether or not something is "allowed." For example, a post asking whether or not it's ok to combine subgenres, (eg, an epic fantasy with superhero elements or a steampunk vampire romance (note to self, write steampunk vampire romance)), or if editors will automatically reject a werewolf book, or if you're allowed to put horror elements in your Regency, etc. And then people will post back and forth with the various pros and cons of whatever the question was, but by this point my husband is usually prying the keyboard out of my hands before I turn into a flaming troll.

So, in the interest of not being a troll on a forum, I will post my trollage here. Everyone, repeat after me:


If you are a writer, and you have a novel you are excited about writing... write it. Don't go on message boards and ask random internet denizens whether or not something is allowed. Or, if you're a feedback junkie and you just can't keep yourself from posting, whatever you do, do NOT go pulling things you like out of your novel because someone on the internet told you "that won't sell" or "you can't do that."

Who is the writer here? YOU ARE. Whose book is it? YOUR BOOK. There are no writing police. No one is going to arrest you if you write a teen vampire novel post Twilight. No one is going to send you off to an island to live a wretched life of worm eating and regret because you DARED to bring urban fantasy elements into a space opera. If you have a book that you want to write, then just write the damn thing. Don't worry about selling it, that comes later. Worry about making your book work, worry about how you're order the scenes to create tension, worry about if your character's actions are actually in character. Worry about your grammar. DON'T worry about which of your stylistic choices some potential future editor will use to reject you, and for the love of little puppies don't worry about trends. Trying to catching a trend is like trying to catch a falling knife - dangerous, foolhardy, and often ending in tears, usually yours.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't pay attention to what's getting published, but what I am saying is you should never sacrifice the elements that make your novel exciting to you because you think those elements will hurt your sales... especially if you haven't even finished the novel yet and all sales are still hypothetical.

Until your novel starts getting actual rejections from people whose job it is to know what sells in publishing, never change anything in your book unless you're doing it to make the book better. If your YA features fairies, vampires, and selkies and you decide halfway through that the vampires are over complicating your plot, that is an appropriate time to cut the bloodsuckers. If you decide to cut your vampires because you read on some internet forum that "vampires are lame," then you are betraying yourself and your work.

If you're like pretty much every other author in the world, then you became a writer because you had stories you wanted to tell. Those are your stories, no one can tell them better than you can. So write your stories, and then edit your stories again and again until you have something you're proud of. Write stories that excite you, stories you can't wait to share with the world because they're just so amazing. Write stories that you throw away because you realize halfway through that your amazing idea wasn't actually so amazing. If you want to write Murder She Wrote in space with anime style mecha, go for it. There are no writing police. Nothing is off limits unless you do it badly. And if you must obsess over something, obsess over stuff like tension and pacing and creating believable characters. You know, the shit that matters.

It's your story, tell it like you want to. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Eli Cover!!

As promised, the new cover for the Eli Omnibus painted by the fantastic Sam Webber is here! Isn't it pretty?!

SO pretty! 

This will be the cover for the new 3 book omnibus edition of Spirit Thief, Spirit Rebellion, and Spirit Eater all wrapped together in one delicious package! The omnibus is scheduled to arrive February 2012. After that, the fourth book in the series, The Spirit War (All about Josef, plus lots of Eli!) comes out June of 2012. 

The Spirit War cover is being done by Sam Webber as well, and you can see in progress shots of the painting at Orbit's website. I'm REALLY excited about that cover. I shouldn't have favorites, but I think Spirit War is the best book I've ever written. There's all kinds of goodies, you guys are just going to love it. So yeah, very happy Rachel :D. 

I don't have an official date yet for Spirit's End, the fifth and final Eli book, but I'm editing it right now and will be turning it in to Orbit at the end of the month. I believe it's scheduled to come out very close to book 4, maybe July 2012? Anyway, soon, and we're on schedule, so you should have all the Eli you could want soon enough! In the meanwhile, drop over to Orbit's site and check out Lauren's visit to Sam's studio. If you ever wanted to see how a fantasy book cover is made, this is your chance. Fascinating stuff (and I'd say that even if it wasn't about my covers)! Enjoy!

- Rachel

ETA: The ever lovely Civilian Reader has nice things to say about the cover! Also, if you haven't read my interview there, totally go read it. It's probably the most intelligent I've ever sounded. If I die tomorrow, that's how I'd like to be remembered. Just carve the whole thing into the tombstone in 5 pt font and we're good to go!

Friday, June 10, 2011

If you're near Columbia, SC, you won't want to miss this

So, thanks to the wonderful prodding of Kalayna Price, I am participating in a MASSIVE fantasy book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Columbia on Saturday, July 9th. We're going to have door prizes and free books and a panel discussion and it's just going to be the best thing ever! Our authors include me, plus these other way more famous people:

I am so happy they pulled me out of my hermit hole to drive up for a signing. This will actually be my first signing (because of the aforementioned hermit hole), so if you want any Eli books signed, this will be the place! 

Here's the vital facebook link with all relevant info, and I really hope to see people there!

Also, no word on the new cover yet, but I swear it's coming! I'll post as soon as Orbit puts them up. Pretty Eli pictures are coming.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day

When I started writing The Spirit War (Eli novel #4), I had a bit of a problem. I had a brand new baby and my life (like every new mother's life) was constantly on the verge of shambles. I paid for a sitter four times a week so I could get some writing time, and I guarded these hours like a mama bear guards her cubs - with ferocity and hiker-mauling violence. To keep my schedule and make my deadlines, I needed to write 4000 words during each of these carefully arranged sessions. I thought this would be simple. After all, before I quit my job to write full time I'd been writing 2k a day in the three hours before work. Surely with 6 hours of baby free writing time, 4k a day would be nothing....

But (of course), things didn't work out like that. Every day I'd sit down to add 4000 words to my new manuscript. I was determined, I was experienced, I knew my world. There was no reason I couldn't get 4k down. But every night when I hauled myself away, my word count had only increased by 2k, the same number of words I'd been getting before I quit my day job. 

Needless to say, I felt like a failure. Here I was, a professional writer with three books about to come out, and I couldn't even beat the writing I'd done before I went pro. At first I made excuses, this novel was the most complicated of all the Eli books I'd written, I was tired because my son thinks 4am is an awesome time to play, etc. etc. But the truth was there was no excuse. I had to find a way to boost my word count, and with months of 2k a day dragging me down, I had to do it fast. So I got scientific. I gathered data and tried experiments, and ultimately ended up boosting my word count to heights far beyond what I'd thought was possible, and I did it while making my writing better than ever before.

When I told people at ConCarolinas that I'd gone from writing 2k to 10k per day, I got a huge response. Everyone wanted to know how I'd done it, and I finally got so sick of telling the same story over and over again that I decided to write it down here.

So, once and for all, here's the story of how I went from writing 500 words an hour to over 1500, and (hopefully) how you can too:

Monday, June 6, 2011

ConCarolinas was awesome!

I am SO TIRED and I lost my voice completely, a sure sign that I had a fantastic weekend! Thank you very much to the con organizers and to all the authors who let me hang out with them at the con and put up with my big mouth on panels. :D

At the con, lots of people seemed excited about the system I worked out for upping my daily word count from 2000 to 10000 words a day. Seeing the interest, I'm working on a blog post write up of what I said about it in the panel with examples of my spreadsheets. So keep your eyes peeled for epic writer nerdery in the next day or so.

Also, don't forget Orbit should be debuting my new omnibus cover on Wednesday, and I am so excited to show you guys after months of having to sit on the art. Seriously, it looks lovely.

And if I saw you at ConCarolinas, thank you so much for coming up. Nothing makes me happier than to meet fellow geeks.

<3 R

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ConCarolinas and new covers!

First up: This weekend (June 3 - 5) I will be at ConCarolinas along with tons of other people way more awesome than I am. Hooray! If you're in or around Charlotte, NC, tickets are cheap and the guests are awesome. Plus I will talk at you until you're sick of me :D. So stop by if you're in the area!! (To see what panels were gullible enough to let me behind the table, click here and select my name from the "Guests" drop down!)

Second, the wonderful Orbit art team will be debuting the cover for my new omnibus on the 8th! Hooray!! I've seen the final already, and I gotta say I can't wait to show you guys. Arrrgh, all this not talking makes me crazy. I'll post the cover as soon as Orbit puts it up. Eli looks very yummy, I must say!

And speaking of not talking, have I mentioned I finished book 5? Well I did! And just today I've finished the first round of edits. Now it's off to my first round readers so we can see where I dropped the ball... or if the ball even left the floor in some places... ahem, moving on. I tend to edit in many rounds, turning the story over until all the bumps are polished off. This book is definitely the most complicated I've ever written, and there are several sections that need some work, but I'm confident that anyone whose read the first three books and liked them is going to love the last two, especially the ending. Arrrgh x 2, can not wait!

Anyway, hope to see some of you at the convention, and definitely keep your eyes peeled for a sexy cover next week!

- R

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I emerge from the shadows and...

... answer kindly questions at The Civilian Reader! It was a really fun interview and I drop a lot of information about the last 2 Eli books (as well as why I'm an awful blogger). So if that's your thing, go on over!

But there was 1 question I didn't get a chance to put in the interview, so I wanted to address it here. Namely, why do I continually refer to the last 2 Eli books as "Book 4" and "Book 5" rather than, I don't know, by their freaking titles? The answer, gentle reader, leads us deep into the wild and wooly world of publishing.

It all started when Orbit, my beloved publisher, decided that rather than releasing the last two books like they did the first two - as mass market paper backs with color coded face covers in 2011, they were going to instead wait until 2012 and then do a an omnibus edition of my first 3 books quickly followed by books 4 and 5. This decision was made for a lot of reasons - sales, the fact that book 4 is freaking huge and book 5 is probably going to be just as big (ie. WAY too large for a mass market paperback), wanting a new look for the series, etc. etc. All of these reasons were explained to me, and I'm totally behind the rebranding. I've already seen the omnibus cover art and I like it a LOT. I'll post it all over the web the moment I get permission.

But wait, we were talking about TITLES. Ahem.

Back when I was first signing contracts, the last 2 books of the Eli Monpress Series were titled "The Spirit War" and "Spirit's End" to go along with the Spirit naming structure. These were not my original titles, but then, none of the books have their original titles except for The Spirit Thief. But hey, part of being an author is being flexible with your titles.

(For those who are curious, the series was always going to be 5 books and the titles were as follows:
Book 1 - "The Spirit Thief" was always "The Spirit Thief"
Book 2  - "The Spirit Rebellion" used to be "The Real Monpress"
Book 3 - "The Spirit Eater" used to be "Daughter of the Dead Mountain"
Book 4 - "The Spirit War" used to be "Josef's War"
Book 5 - "Spirit's End" used to be "The Other Side of the Sky")

But with the rebranding, we're not so sure about the titles anymore. After all, since book 1 is now going to be "The Legend of Eli Monpress Vol. I, II, and III", the whole Spirit nomenclature isn't as important anymore. We'll probably keep the names we've already chosen, as The Spirit War and Spirit's End are perfectly fine, fitting names that match the rest of the series, but since I don't know 100% for sure that's what the books will be called, I'm just sticking to what I know, Book 4 and Book 5.

Now that I'm days away from finishing book 5, one thing is certain: Both of these final books are about as dark as The Spirit Eater. That said, Eli only gets mouthier the deeper into trouble he gets, so you can put any fears to rest about this turning into some sort of grim fantasy slog. It's hard to get too dark when one of your main characters is a talking ball of water. I'm very, VERY happy with how book 4 came out, and book 5 is shaping up nicely.  I can't wait for 2012 when everything will be done and I finally get to share them with you!

I hope this clears up some questions, and thank you all as always for reading!

- Rachel  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Made my day

Don't know how I missed this one, but since it's short, I'm going to post it in full because it makes my day.

*Starred Review* Aaron’s outstanding fantasy debut is the first in a trilogy about unrepentant thief Eli Monpress, whose goal in life is to amass $1 million in gold. Hoping to accomplish his mission in a hurry, Eli decides to raise the stakes and kidnap a king. He doesn’t realize, however, that snatching the king of Mellinor (an entirely unmagical and rather boring kingdom) will set off a chain of events that will put him in peril from multiple sources, including the powerful Miranda, who is determined to catch Eli. But that’s no easy trick, as Eli is also a powerful magic-user himself; his swordsman-partner Josef carries the legendary Heart of War sword; and their female associate is a demonseed whose powers are terrifying. Fast and fun, Spirit Thief introduces a fascinating new world and a complex magical system based on cooperation with the spirits who reside in all living objects. Aaron’s characters are fully fleshed and possess complex personalities, motivations, and backstories that are only gradually revealed. Fans of Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora (2006) will be thrilled with Eli Monpress. Highly recommended for all fantasy readers. --Jessica Moyer, Booklist

Thank you, Booklist! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

So picky!

So I have a post I can not get right. I have tried and tried and tried to say what I mean to say, but it just refuses to cooperate, and so I have cast it away until we can come to some accord. In the meanwhile, you'll just have to bear with the following tangent:

I've been on a reading kick the last week or so (amazing what quitting Warcraft can do for your life!), and as a result I've spent a great deal of time in my local library, browsing through the fantasy section. Now, my local library is wonderful and amazing, but it is also a pain and a half to get to, so whenever I go I make sure to read at least the first chapter of any book I'm considering taking home because I refuse to make that annoying drive for anything less than a known quantity of awesome. But this enforced extreme care in my book selections has revealed a fault of my character I never recognized before, namely that I am truly, phenomenally picky about what I read.

Time was that I would give anything that sounded cool at least a general glance over. Not any more. Now, faced with a huge shelf of books, my selection process goes like this:

1) Scan shelf for stand out titles/covers.
2) Read the back to check out the plot, get VERY ANNOYED if the back is nothing but quotes. Quotes tell me nothing. I want PLOT! Scrounge around inside to see if the story catches my interest or has any of my pet peeves (and let me tell you, I didn't even know I had these pet peeves until I started doing this. But after careful evaluation, I've discovered I always put down books containing boy heroes, young, initially powerless females caught up in situations beyond their control, too many made up names, shy people, the list goes ON AND ON. It's horrifying.)
3) If the book still has my interest, I will then open to the first page of story and start to read. If the first sentence doesn't catch me, I'm done. If the first sentence does catch my interest, but nothing's happening (landscape description without cool landscape, etc.), I'll give it one paragraph. If nothing cool happens, I'm out. Even then, if the first character isn't interesting, I'm done.

Now, while I'm doing this, the writer part of my mind is quivering in horror. How can I be so cruel? Don't I know these are stories authors worked on and loved every bit as much as I did for my books? My reader self (since apparently I've got n people in my head at any given moment) just gives the writer a dirty look and points out that we've only got an hour a day to read, not to mention the awful drive over here, and do you want to spend those limited resources on something we won't like?

Spending this sort of quality time with my reader mind has taught me many things over the last few weeks, namely the enormous importance of opening lines. But, picky as the bitch is, you can't argue with results. Every book I've brought home so far I have loved, some past the extent of reason. There's something to be said for knowing what you like, and after nearly 20 years of literacy I ought to know what I'm after. But sometimes, as I skip over book after book after book, I start to get the creeping dread that I am cutting myself off from a world of reading by being so damn rigid in my book choosing process. The truth is, I'm probably missing a lot of really good books, but then everyone does. No one on earth has the time to read every good book, not even every good book in one genre. It simply can't be done. I know that, and still...

When I was young and had tons of time, I read everything. I'd read books I only sort of liked just to see how they'd end. I read widely and developed what I now think of as my taste for books. These days, though, time is short, and so I try to only read good books, books that will delight me. Fortunately there are several resources to help me along that end: reviewers, book bloggers, author reccs, all that sort of thing. I'm amazingly lucky, I have a library with a large SFF section, I live in the age of the kindle, where I can read the first two chapters of pretty much any recent book at the press of a button. But still I worry that, because of the sheer volume of books I have to choose from, that I am being forced to stick to what I know I'll enjoy rather than branching out. That said, I'd take a surfeit of choice over a lack any day. The key, I think, is to keep my mind open. I can decide I don't want to read something, but I have to at least look first. Sort of like tasting new foods. Eventually, even the pickiest eaters branch out if they keep trying new things.

One of the bits of advice I always see for writers is to read widely, but I think it is also important to read well. Read the books that move and inspire you, even if other people look down on them. The joy you take in reading is your own, and it is one of the richest experiences on the planet. Never let anyone spoil it for you, and if you have to be very picky to get there, then be picky. So long as you're still having fun, I don't think it matters at all, and there are certainly enough books to support even the pickiest of readers. You know, like me. :D

Friday, March 25, 2011

News and thoughts

First, I have an interview with the wonderful Mihir of Fantasy Book Critic. There are mild spoilers, but nothing huge, especially if you've already read book 3.

Second, I got my first look at the new cover for the Eli Omnibus (that's book 1-3 combined for your pleasure, due out next year). I gotta say, that is a fine looking cover. As soon as Orbit posts it, I'll be linking it everywhere.

Third, the writing on book 5 is going well, though, as always when I'm writing a first draft, it feels like I'm crawling through the story. I always tell myself "I'm going to write all day today" but I never do. Five hours of writing is about all I have in me for any one day. Still, it's a pleasure to be almost done with the story. Not because I'll have to leave the characters, let me tell you how I weep at the thought of no more Eli. No, I'm happy because the story is finally reaching the big, big meta plot goodness I've been toiling over for 5 years now.

When I look back at the Eli books, I have a strange mix of pride and shame. I love the books, I love the characters and the world, but I'm ashamed of the mistakes I made. Sometimes, I wish I could go back and redo them. I wish I could write all the mistakes down so other writers could learn from them, but they're all so personal, so specific, no one would learn anything useful. With every book I write, I make more mistakes, some new, some new versions of mistakes I've been making since I started writing. I don't think I'll ever be done making mistakes, or doing things that couldn't be done better if only I'd know more, tried harder. Sometimes I think I've failed all together and there is no way I will ever be clever enough or eloquent enough to tell the stories. But I can't not tell the stories, can I? Even if I wasn't writing them down, I'd be telling them to myself. Since I've never been able to keep my mouth shut, I guess I've got no choice but to keep writing and, though I fail, at least try to fail better.

If I keep writing at my current pace of two books a year and live to 80, I'll have written 108 books by the time I die. That number fills me with such hope. Every time I finish editing a book I think, "that's the best book I've written." But by the time I write the next book, I'm sure I screwed the last one up. But all I can do is keep writing and hope that the next book will always be better than the one before it. By the time I hit book 50, book 100, surely I'll finally be the writer I want to be.

But then again, when I see the emails people send me, the reviews that say "I had such a good time reading this book," I think maybe I'm already there. The greatest pride in my life is knowing my stories made people excited, made them happy. What greater vocation can there be than making people happy? To be a source of joy in the world, even if it's only a joy brought on by snarky wizard stories full of mistakes. Every book gets better, and with every book, I'm building my way up, and I hope you'll come along with me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Ok, so I was going to post this at Orbit, but after much hemming and hawing, I decided it was too nuts and bolts of writing oriented. I'm going to write something a little more reader oriented for Orbit later, but for now, have a post about developing tension. I hope someone finds it helpful, or at least entertaining! - R

Have you ever read a book so quickly you had trouble remembering everything that happened? I'm not talking about rushing through books for school (though we've all been there), I'm talking about turning pages like a desperate animal because you simply CAN NOT WAIT to get to the end and see how it all turns out. (I read the Harry Potter this way, attacking anyone who came near me. Limbs might have been lost, I couldn't tell you. I was reading.) Now, have you ever wondered what the author did to make you so desperate to get to the end?

Well, probably not. You were reading, after all. But let me ask you a second question: have you ever been reading a book and liking it ok, and then suddenly you finish a chapter, put the book down, and feel absolutely no urge to pick it up again? Like, it wasn't a bad book, you were just... done, even though the book wasn't.

At their simplest level, these phenomena are two manifestations of the same book construction principle: Tension, one done right, one done not-so-right. I'll let you guess which is which.

Tension is one of those things critics and agents and editors and book reviewers and pretty much anyone who reads critically is always commenting on.  It's the tug of the novel, the gravity that pulls the reader toward the end. It's the force that makes you turn a page, and it's every bit as important to good fiction as plot and character. (Don't believe me? Try reading a novel that has no tension and see how far you get.) But while it's easy to talk about tension like it's some mystical force, it's not very helpful to someone looking to actually put tension into their work. As someone who struggled a lot with tension as I learned how to write a novel, I offer you the simple writer's definition I finally came up with for myself.

Tension is making the reader ask a question, and then not answering it.

At least, not immediately. To give an example, let me turn back to that old stand by, Harry Potter. Why HP? Well, not only is it one of those few things I can expect everyone to have read, but also because Rowling is the freaking ninja master of tension. In the very first paragraph of Sorcerer's Stone , JKR spends her first sentence talking about how the Dursley's are perfectly normal. The second sentence reiterates this, adding that, of course, these are the very last people you'd ever expect to be involved in something magical.

And right there, the tension's locked in. Already you're asking the question: what magical doom is going to befall these stringently normal people? JKR spins this answer out over the course of a chapter, by which point more questions have been posed and you can't help it, you have to keep reading to learn those answers. Some hooks are big, some are small, some are long term, some are short, but they all add their pull. Before you know it midnight has come and passed you're still up, snarling at anyone who dares try to pry that book from your clenched fingers. You, dear reader, are hooked.

Speaking of hooked, the above example could also be called a hook, which is another thing critical readers, especially agents, are always going on about. But all of that violent language - hooking a reader, grabbing a reader, pulling a reader in, has to do with tension. They all force questions: Will she get out alive? Where is her husband? How did that wizard end up in evaporating most of central park? Can a zombie find love?

Of course, part of a satisfying read is having all your questions answered eventually. Dangling threads make for pissed off readers. But, and here's the most important thing I've learned about tension, you have to be very, very careful doling out your answers. If questions are the engines that drive a reader forward, answers are the destination. Once all pertinent questions are answered in a book, the tension is gone.

Let's jump back to paragraph 2 and the book you put down. For sake of argument we'll assume you didn't put it down for obvious reasons (characters were too stupid to live, something horrible happens that makes you throw the book across the room, the story completely jumped the shark, etc). So we have a decent book, maybe even a book you were enjoying, which you just stopped reading and have no real urge to start again. Why? What made you stop? All other things in the book being decent, I will bet you money that it was because the tension fizzled.

Several years ago this happened to me with a romance novel. Things were rolling along initially - broody hero, snappy heroine, money problems in high society, all good and going along fine. And then, a little over half way through, the couple confessed their love for each other and got married.

I put the book down shortly after. Now, I had another five chapters at least of the couple solving the mystery of whatever, but as you see, I didn't care. At least not enough to keep going.

In Romance, the tension question is always "will they get together?" Once this question and all its requisite "How? Where? Why? Is there sex?" facets are answered, that's it. Unless the framing plot is AMAZINGLY compelling and has plenty of tension of its own, once the couple is happily together, the question is answered and the tension is over. Most of the time, that also means the story is over, even if the writer's not done writing.

All that said, though, the final point I'd like to make is that there's no greater tension builder than reader investment. You can hook people with questions all day long, but unless you give the reader a reason to care about the characters and world you're trying to hook them into, they're not going to stay. Initial curiosity will get someone to turn the first page, but not the second. However, if you can create a character the reader cares deeply about, if you can force them to worry for that character, to make them ask "what's going to happen?" and really mean it on a deep, emotional level, you've achieved the highest pinnacle of fiction. But the only way to get to this lofty peak is good tension right from the beginning.

And that's what I've learned about tension so far. Any advice you see here is purely my own and should, as with any single opinion, be taken with a grain of salt. I hope you found it helpful, or at least interesting. I'm always interested in how other people approach tension, or any part of story telling, so if you have a comment, please chime in. I'm all ears (well, all eyeballs, since this is the internet).

Monday, March 7, 2011

thoughts while writing

Dear Self,

Just a note of reminder, since you seem to need it. Remember, just because it's interesting doesn't mean it has any place in your story. Just because you LIKE it doesn't mean it belongs in the book. If a scene doesn't move the main story forward, no matter how amazing it might be, it's not going to stay int he book.

Because you're nearing 40k words, and frankly you haven't hit the middle hump of the action. I shouldn't have to tell you this, self, but this is BAD. You'd think you'd know this after 5 novels, but noooooo. So, remember, darling self, word count does not equal done book. The book is done when the PLOT is done, and at this point that's a long way from here. Stop futzing about with the loose ends and focus on getting your intrepid hero to the END of the story. Once he's comfortably settled in the falling action, THEN you can focus on wrapping up all those little things you threw in because you thought they'd be cool at the time.

But seriously, a 6k chapter focusing on side plot is NOT COOL. In the words of Gold Five: "Stay on target... Stay on target." We'll blow up this Deathstar/novel together, just stop writing BS, okay?

Yours always,

Friday, March 4, 2011

A reply to Jezebel's story about Amanda Hocking

I you like the cruise the interwebs, you may have already heard about Amanda Hocking's pretty rocking rise to the top. I'd heard a little about it, but no details until I read the article below from Jezebel.

26-Year-Old Writer Makes Millions On eBooks — But How, And Why?

It's a short write up, but as this is my turf, so to speak, I felt I should comment. However, comments aren't working on Jezebel at the moment, so, perhaps more wisely, I'm posting my comment here. Enjoy and feel free to leave a comment of your own!

Dear Jezebel,

I'm a published fantasy author with 3 books in print, and I gotta tell you, I'm 1/2 overjoyed, 1/2 sobbing about this story.

You can believe me when I say that the industry knows that stupid shit sells. The trouble is no one knows which stupid shit will sell and which won't. Every year sure-fire hits fizzle while unknowns rocket to the top. There are several stories of authors who were rejected by publishing houses and sold millions, Paollini is one, Hocking's another. But then again we have Stephenie Mayer who woke up one day and decided to write a book, wrote it in 6 months, got an agent with her first query letter, and had an enormous publishing deal by the end of the year.

The book market is no more fair or predictable or controllable than any market that makes its living catering to people's imaginations. For every Amanda Hocking out there buying a house with her ebook money, there's millions of authors whose ebooks never clear the friends and family threshold. That's why I'm so happy to hear that Hocking made it. That is a feat, and you better bet she worked her ass off for her success, both for writing books that, whatever faults they may have, must have made a lot of people happy to get sales numbers like that, and for the obvious effort she put into promoting her books online.

The part that makes me sad is how people who will dismiss her obvious achievement, forgetting all the work we don't see, the novels that didn't work, the insane risk of betting your family's future on words, and treat this story as some kind of phony sea change. "She made millions from home, now you can too! Screw New York and Big Publishing, publish your novel on Kindle and retire early!" So while I'm ecstatically happy for and, yes, a little envious of her phenomenal success (I would LOVE to sell 100,000 books, let me tell you), I'm also sad that, no matter how much she says "Even I don't know how I did this," scammers and people who prey on the writing dreams of others are going to be using her rise as a pitch for over priced "publishing services" for years and years to come.

And on another note: To the commenter who pointed out there are books on torrent sites. Chica, I feed my kid off book sales. Please don't support pirates. It's the authors who lose, not the publishing houses, and we're not all millionaires.

- Rachel Aaron

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Still alive!

Just writing, which tends to consume everything good/intelligent I have to give the world on any given day, leaving me a slobbering shell of a human being good only for drinking a beer and ignoring the dishes. It's times like this when I really admire the writers who produce epic amounts of writing AND maintain a daily blog. Tis inhuman, I tell ye. They be not writers, but word gods.

Moving on, here's some neat stuff!

- I did an interview for The Write Thing, who also posted really great reviews of my novels. There is nothing more flattering for me as an author than when other people take the time to not just read my books, but to write about them. Good or bad, all reviews are priceless. Thanks for the kind words, Pip!

- CSI Librarian has some lovely things to say as well!

- Mihir at Fantasy Book Critic put The Legend of Eli Monpress as one of his top favs for 2010, which is saying something, because 2010 was an awesome year for Fantasy!

- SciFiChick does a short and sweet review of The Spirit Eater, featuring one of my favorite lines so far: "This series is a must read for fantasy fans." I could not agree more! :D

I'm sure there's more, but for now I need to get back to Eli. You know how he can be when he's being ignored...

Now: cake.

Friday, February 4, 2011

My favorite thing to do for inspiration

Step 1) Go to Deviant Art.

Step 2) Find an artist whose work shows a true talent (note, you don't actually have to be in love with the artist's work. I often choose artists whose paintings show a great sense of color and mood, even if I don't necessarily like their paintings)

Step 3) Go to the artist's favorites.

Step 4) Be amazed.

Since Deviant Art is crowdsourced, meaning the pictures with the most votes in a time period go to the front page, it can be hard to find the really creative stuff behind the wall of fanart and nudes (not that fanart/nudes are bad! But we're looking for inspiration here, not Naruto and naked hotties). However, the people who really know what's going on in DeviantArt are the artists themselves. I have had some of the best and most inspiring art moments of my life flipping through an artist's favorite art. This is where you find the really amazing stuff that may never make it to the front page.

So if you're looking for inspiration and willing to take a risk, you can do far worse than flipping through artist galleries on DA.

On my part, I've spent WAY too much time looking at this gallery. Absolutely amazing stuff.

Anyway, I hope I've helped you find some inspiration this morning. I'm off to read all those books I bought on my Kindle. Ahhh, the struggles of a writer's life! :D

Friday, January 28, 2011

We need a new name...

Actual conversation I had with a lady this morning...

Lady, "So, what do you do for a living?"
Me, "I'm a fantasy author!" (always so cool to say)
Lady, "Oh wow! So like Harry Potter?!"
Me, "No, Harry Potter's YA, I write adult fantasy."
Lady, "............." 
Me, "NO! Not THAT kind of adult fantasy!"

I still don't think she believes I don't write porn. Would you believe this has happened to me more than once? I need something new to call my books. I usually go with adventure fantasy, since there's lots of fighting and action-y type mayhem, but they're also funny. Yet with YA becoming the prevalent fantasy mainstay in mainstream culture thanks to HP and the other usual suspects, I find myself having to clarify all the time that my books are for adults, or at least they don't feature kids as protagonists. (Actually, teens and kids seem to really like my books).

So, how to specify that this is a novel written for grown ups without veering into all the nuances of "Adult"? The most obvious choice would be a pairing for Young Adult, but somehow I don't think Old Adult Fantasy would be very marketable. 

Maybe I'll just stick with "I wrote a book. There's a wizard in it!" And let the intrigued figure it out from there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Evolution of a Wizard Thief

Been a rough opener to the year for us here on the homefront. Snow shutting down the city, sick kiddo, and all the drama that comes with those. BUT, Edits for The Spirit War, Eli book 4, are done! Even I like the book (this is a rarity, I usually HATE my books by the time I'm done). It had some REALLY fun scenes to write, though it continues the darker trend my books have been going down, which is actually what I wanted to talk about today.

If you've read my first three books, you'll notice a shift in tone from the almost goofy light heartedness of The Spirit Thief to the much darker Spirit Eater. The Spirit War continues this trend. Now, this shift towards the dark wasn't an accident, but it wasn't really planned either. This post isn't an excuse for the slide, but I thought it might be interesting to talk about how the novels ended up the way they did.

I approach writing from the bottom-up. I lay a firm foundation for my characters, give them histories, problems, priorities, and what not, and then let them sort things out. So we've got Eli, who's sly and cheerful as they come, but he's got some dark stuff in his past, and when we begin to dig in to Eli's character, all that starts coming up. Same with Josef, Nico, and, to a lesser extent, Miranda. The Eli novels have always been character driven, so it's only natural that, as the characters are forced to deal with more difficult choices and things they've been trying to run away from, you end up with darker books.

Generally speaking I've had a good response to this change, but I've also gotten some complaints. To these readers, I can only apologize. I would like to say that this is my first series and I'm still learning the ropes, but honestly I think this particular story would still have gone dark no matter what. With more experience I probably could have made the shift gentler, but in the end, Eli is who he is. He's a man who runs from his problems, and you can't do that forever. You can't be both irresponsible and moral without eventually having to pick one and take your stand. Also, there's the subject matter. The Spirit War is about a continent size war. You can't have something like that and not have it go dark in places. People die in war, it's not fun or pretty. That said, I think The Spirit War is the best book I've ever written. And it's not all doom and gloom. For all the war and hard decisions, it's still Eli. Just try to get him not to be a smart ass, I dare you.

The bottom line here is that if you've liked the books up to this point, then you're probably going to like The Spirit War too. Big secrets are revealed, questions are answered, the past is dredged up, and the stage is set for the final book. There's also some squee scenes for anyone who likes Nico/Josef :D. I had a really good time writing this book, and I think you're going to really enjoy it. The Spirit War will be out this fall. I should have some advanced copies before that, and I'll be running contests so you'll all get a chance to win the book early. Meanwhile, thanks so much for reading. Fans are the absolute best part of being a writer!


Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 - the year of more Eli books!

2010 was a big year for me - first year as a mom, first year (really) as a published author, first book releases, first lots of stuff. That said, 2011 might be an even bigger year if you can imagine. I've got 3 books out and 2 more to go on the Legend of Eli Monpress series and lots of projects on the back burner just waiting to be poked. That said, I think the most exciting and difficult challenge ahead will be ending Eli's story. I've known the truth of Eli's world and the way his story ends for a long time, and now that I finally get to write it, I'm nervous. This was the little story that could, and I want to make sure the ending lives up to everything that came before it. Trust me, I'm going to be putting in a LOT of work making sure Eli gets the ending he (and you readers) deserve.

But enough looking forward! Let's look back a moment, for lo, we have new reviews!

Andy over at "All Things Andy Gavin" has a nice, short review of The Spirit Thief, which he sums up as "Ethereal fun." Who am I to argue? Also in Spirit Thief news, Travels Through Iest calls it "an extremely promising debut" among other nice things.

(On a side note, I am continuously surprised by the number of people who really like Marion the Librarian. She definitly wins the award for most mentioned side character. If I'd known she was going to be so popular, I would have given her a bigger role. Though the series isn't over yet, so who knows? Maybe she'll come back in book 5?)

And finally, Whatchamacallit Reviews goes above and beyond, reviewing all 3 Eli books currently available! Thanks guys! I'm so glad you liked them!

That's it for the current round up, if I missed any, please let me know!