Sunday, 31 January 2010

day four of holly lisle’s one-pass revision method

The secret purpose of these daily reports is to make me feel guilty about lack of progress. I was planning to pack it in and go to bed at midnight, with one pathetic chapter under my belt, but then I realised I would have to confess my failure. Again. So I got back to work.

Once again, I’m feeling a little wary. I’m just not finding that many problems. Places to tighten, absolutely. Continuity errors, often. Stuff I mentioned once and never again, sometimes. (I’m enjoying rediscovering elements I planned to make much more of but forgot.) But I’m currently editing the seventh chapter, and I still haven’t had to rip out this novel’s entire skeleton and wire in a new one. The dialogue is spiky, the conflict is tense, my protagonist is snarky and frequently horrifying, backstory is arriving bit by bit -- the Winter Queen just got her first mention. It’s mostly fine. And that in itself is bizarre.

By the time I got to this stage with THE INFERNAL FAMILY, I’d already done a spectacularly huge rethink -- characters, setting, genre, antagonist, entire species -- twice. I bled. I cried. I tore my hair out. Most of the novel was scrapped and rewritten from scratch.

I can’t shake the suspicion that by hunting piddling little continuity errors I’m rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. There must be an iceberg lurking under the surface. I can’t imagine a revision voyage without one.

Keeping the lifejacket at hand.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

day two of holly lisle’s one-pass revision method

Today I ran out of procrastination options and cracked on with editing my first chapter. It’s been both scary and fun.

It’s surprisingly satisfying to edit on paper. Unlike editing onscreen, where however hard you work nothing seems to change, this way I can see my own writing spidering all over the page: crossed-out words and scribbled notes. I like that.

On the other hand, I fear that I’m misapplying the One-Pass Method. Holly Lisle’s introduction led me to think that the purpose is to slash chapters at a time, drastically change plotlines, strike out entire characters, etc. But I’m finding myself primarily cutting excess wordcount. I’ve taken about 10% out of my first chapter just by cutting words and clauses. That’s disconcerting, because I think of myself as a short writer: I broke the long writing habit after my 220k monster novel and both my recent novels came in around 80k. Apparently I still have fat to lose.

I’m glad I found that out, but I’m also kind of scared that I’m not finding major game-changing big-picture problems. Am I going too easy? Are there problems I’m not seeing?

It’s possible that this first chapter is just totally awesome, since my other critique group liked it. I might be so traumatised by editing THE INFERNAL FAMILY that I won’t be satisfied until I’m bleeding from the eyes and ripping out key elements of the story.

I could be learning to write cleaner first drafts. I like that idea.

publish or perish

Most of my friends are much smarter and better-informed than I am, mainly thanks to from AbsoluteWrite, but on the off-chance that anyone is looking for publishing information, I'm now moderating a publication usergroup over at the Young Writers' Society.

When I started hanging out at the Young Writers' Society I realised that a lot of members were both desperate to get published and scarily clueless about publication. So I've been sharing basic information (and links to better sources) on topics such as how to tell good agents and publishers from bad, how to target the right agents, the basics of submitting to agents, query letter theory, etc. Now I'm starting in on the fascinating and sometimes counter-intuitive stuff: for example, I'm hoping to post soon about why publishers and agents who say they're "seeking new writers" are generally bad news.

I've been lucky to have helpful and informative friends, and I'd like to pay that good luck forward. :)

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

holly lisle’s one-pass revision method

As you might have guessed from the teasers, the first draft of my epic fantasy IRONBANE is banging on the inside of its drawer screaming to be revised. I’m still traumatised from revising THE INFERNAL FAMILY, so this time I thought I’d do something a little different: Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Revision Method.

I've always loved the concept of the One-Pass Revision Method. The discovery stage is particularly helpful -- you have to establish in only a handful of words key aspects of the story, such as the theme, one-line summary, protagonist's character arc, etc. Every time I start a novel I use these tricks to keep my first draft focused. Also, my friend Amy Bai used the One-Pass Revision Method for her brilliant fantasy novel SONG. I'm secretly hoping that my IRONBANE will be a tiny bit as awesome as SONG by the time I'm done.

So I've assembled:
  1. Three coloured pens.
  2. One fresh notebook, now adorned with pretty stickers, because I am secretly a three-year-old.
  3. My printed first draft, a monstrous stack of paper that cannot possibly be only 85k.
The discovery section doesn’t hold too many fears for me, since I've already written a one-line summary, a one-paragraph summary and a query long before now, so I’m just going to note down some key ideas, themes and storylines and move straight into the hacking and slashing.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

teaser tuesday is doomed

For today's Teaser Tuesday I wanted to post a fondly-remembered scene from THE INFERNAL FAMILY, only to realise upon rereading it that it was not good at all. Happily, one of my novels always comes through for me. So here's a scene from the first chapter of my epic fantasy IRONBANE. It's the first teaser to feature my favourite character Summer -- in the other teasers Anjen is carrying the sword she gave him as a memento of him.

NB: Iron and salt and symbols of God are the traditional weapons against supernatural evil.


Something flitted through the woods. Anjen looked around wildly, caught it, lost it. The child burrowed into her coat; her arms were burning, she shifted her burden. Summer wiped his bloody hand on his coat and took a less slippery grip on the iron knife. Ahead she glimpsed daylight and open space.

“Hear that?” Summer brightened. “Horses! People! That’s good, right?”

She stopped in her tracks. Then she caught it too: hoofbeats like distant thunder.

Pale shades slipped through the woods. Moving toward them. Fast. She felt their advance in a wash of bitter cold.

Panic dug its icy claws into her. She cleared her throat; her voice was abnormally calm. “It’s the White Hunt. The Winterfolk.”

“Is that bad?” said Summer, blissfully oblivious.

God she was an idiot. She should have snatched the child and run the instant she recognised the white arrow. “You’re faster. Take the child and run. If you cross all seven chains of stones you’ll be safe. Go to the church father, he’ll --“



“I said no, and please stop making plans, they’re terrible. I have a better idea.” He turned her firmly by the shoulders. “Run.”

The shove got her moving. She hitched up her skirts one-handed and ran. Branches clawed at her with bony fingers, ice and snow skidded underfoot. Thunder rose all around them as the pale horses charged them down, sweeping a killing frost ahead of them, and the riders’ laughter hissed in the air.

They broke into open air. Frosted grass crunched underfoot like glass. Her arms were on fire, the little girl squirming. Ahead icy roofs glittered under the sun.

A lone hunter swept in from the left to cut them off.

Both of them skidded to a halt. Anjen went for the salt with her free hand.

The pale horse picked a leisurely path through the snow, placing each hoof with care. Sunlight danced on its icy coat. The rider shone translucent. She felt the murderous cold contract like a fist; pain and thunder and ice sang in her bones.

She put her back against Summer’s. He was shivering even harder than she was. Should have stayed in his summerlands.

“I always thought a valiant last stand sounded fun.” Summer’s voice was sharp with strain.

Her laugh broke down into coughing, lungs burning, air frozen. “Didn’t you say you were too pretty to die?”

“I’m prepared to make a heroic sacrifice. There could be songs. Possibly even legends.”

The hunter leaned down from its horse, blinding bright in the sun, and reached out -- delicate frost feathered its fingers.

Anjen stayed frozen. The little one yelped and grabbed a tiny handful of Anjen’s coat.

“This is definitely the worst plan you have ever --”

“Get ready,” Anjen said through her teeth.

Pale fingers brushed the child’s pale skin.

Anjen threw salt in the hunter’s face. It jerked back with a hiss and its face started to melt. Water ran down its armour in glittering lines. She shoved the child at Summer -- he caught her, a reflex movement -- “Now run, idiot!” -- and advanced on the hunter, snarling, throwing salt after salt.

Its hiss rose to a shriek as she drove it back. The ice horse reared above her; the sun set every edge on fire, it burned as if lit from within. She snatched up an arm. One hoof carved a line of white fire across her forearm -- an instant earlier it would have been her face. Numbing cold leapt up her arm. The horse hit her with its shoulder, her foot slipped and she crashed to the snow. Impact slammed the breath from her lungs. Thunder reverberated through the iron-hard ground. She rolled over, gasping and clawing in the snow, fingers frozen, and threw another shower of salt upward at the horse. Most of it fell back on her. Both horse and rider were melting fast. She spat snow and salt and scrabbled for something, anything to --

Its hoof smashed down an inch from her skull and the melted leg snapped like an icicle. It lurched. Its other leg snapped. The ice horse fell on its face.

Anjen levered herself upright, clutching her bag of salt, hand wrapped round the talisman at her throat. The ring burned; she felt its heat even through her glove.

The hunter slid down from horseback and drew its sword, a long sliver of ice. It staggered toward her dragging a melted leg. Its half a face turned to follow her.

Anjen tried to douse it with salt. The last crystals rattled sadly in the bottom of the bag.



Other teasers: ChristaCarol, Karla, LynKay, Firedrake, Dystophil, JustLaurie, sunna, KBridges, WritingDemons, Kristin Briana, M Austin, Bryn Greenwood, paranormalchick, Mad Hatter ... and more as I read.

Monday, 25 January 2010


Several years ago, in what I can only assume was a bored moment, I named an archer character Anguy.

I should probably change the name when I revise IRONBANE. ;)

Friday, 22 January 2010

the challenge

Between November 05 and August 06, I wrote my apocalyptically terrible 220k second novel. (I was seventeen. Don’t judge me.) It was fun to write but a total trainwreck: redundancy problems and my inability to handle multiple viewpoints contributed to the ridiculous wordcount. I made a half-hearted attempt at revising it and then gave up. It was the last novel I ever wrote without an outline, and the last with multiple viewpoints. I didn’t complete another novel until March 09.

Now I’m going to rewrite it. From scratch. Without looking at the previous draft. Here’s what I’m planning to do:
  • Aim for a wordcount of under 100k. I don’t have a length problem any more, and my last two novels both ended up around 80k, so I’m expecting this to be easy.
  • Finish the outline. Then actually follow it. Outlines love me and want to be my friend.
  • Tweak the setting.
  • Keep characters and factions to a minimum. I have a redundancy problem, and the best fix is not to introduce unnecessary stuff in the first place.
  • Switch the cast to all female. (Dystophil could have stopped this madness, but instead she encouraged me. Apparently there will have to be lots of girl-on-girl action.)
My new baby is called GLORY HUNTERS, and it’s full of attractive and terrifyingly unscrupulous women - one of whom has a master plan.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

revenge of teaser tuesday

Today I've taken off my jade-coloured glasses and turned the volume on the you-suck soundtrack down far enough to find at least one teaser-quality scene.

This week's teaser is from my YA urban fantasy DREAD MACHINE, opening line: "Every time I started at a new school I made myself a new person." It stars my favourite pathological liar, who will eventually be called Fox. This novel is my first attempt at first person and my first attempt at YA, so please feel free to critique.

Secondary character Daniel is (a) nice, (b) cute and (c) normal, which makes him both attractive and forbidden, like a stolen cookie. Om nom nom. :D


When I saw the smiley face painted on our red door I knew someone was going to get hurt.

Seeing it burned my throat like a gulp of tequila. I stopped so fast Daniel bumped into me.

The face on the door winked at me in a scrawl of cheerful yellow. The Smiling Woman was here. In my house. With my mother.

Terraced houses towered on either side. A street market coiled round us, a big colourful dragon covering movement and drowning sound. People shoved past me; any of them could be hers. Some old man picked up his cat and scuttled back into his house. My heart banged against my ribs and for a crazy moment I wanted to bolt too -- under a stall or something, anywhere tight enough to hide.

But the red door smiled at me. Mum was inside.

I stamped on a rising bubble of panic, tore my eyes off the smiley face and turned into a random stall, hitching my bag higher to hide my face. Racks of dolls stared back at me. My sleeve caught on an amulet of thorns hanging from the roof; when I tried to pull free I dragged a chain of them sideways, jangling chimes and tangling feathers. I fumbled with them one-handed.

“Here.” Daniel reached past me to untangle me, fingers warm and gentle. Poor stupid Daniel still thought everything was fine, I was some normal girl he could be sweet to, like anything good ever came of talking to me. Shouldn’t have let him hang around.

A stallkeeper glowered at us from behind a wall of blank doll faces. Obviously we were thieves, what else would school kids be doing around here. Screw him.

I shoved Daniel into the nearest wall. “Hey,” Daniel yelped, and then cut off when I leaned right into him -- so close our eyelashes tangled, his heart a skitter beneath my palm, breath hitching in his throat.

“Daniel,” I said in his ear. “Do something for me.”

“Er,” Daniel squeaked. “Okay. Sure?”

“Go home. Back to school. Wherever. You’ve walked me home, so -- we’re done here. Right?” I smoothed his shirt front and adjusted his tie, which seemed to rivet his attention. “Catch you tomorrow.” If I survived breaking into my own house and trying to kill the Smiling Woman.

“Right,” Daniel murmured back, hypnotised.

Score one for being a girl.


Other teasers: Jy'lenn, WritingDemons, Firedrake

Monday, 18 January 2010

ego defence, or: where can I get me a case of special snowflake syndrome?

Via the wonderful Beth Bernobich, I’ve been thinking about Ann Leckie’s idea of the ego defence. She suggests that the writer’s typical defensive reaction to criticism -- what I think of as special snowflake syndrome, the assertion that your work is perfect and the critic is wrong or mean or stupid to say otherwise -- is an ego defence. Interestingly, while I think of special snowflake syndrome as exclusively negative, Ann Leckie calls this ego defence useful:

you don't want to succumb to despair right off the bat. You want to keep plugging away, and getting better [...] and sometimes the only way to do that and keep your sanity is to not have an entirely accurate view of the quality of your work ...

I find this fascinating, because I don’t have an ego defence as I understand it: all I have is the you-suck soundtrack, and it’s playing particularly loudly at the moment. It’s tricky to write anything when some Tuesdays you can’t come up with a single scene worth reading across the entire spectrum of your several novels. Not one. (That stings.)

Special snowflakes are armoured in the conviction that they’re awesome. They don’t have criticism written on the inside of their skull in letters of fire. They can write easily, because everything they write will of course be genius.

Must be nice.

I’d quite like to be a little more of a snowflake. My ego could use defences.

Friday, 8 January 2010

the psychology of bullying scenes, or: hug a bully today

Someone behind Alanna grabbed her. She spun. A tall, gangling boy of nearly fourteen looked her over, a sneer on his thick mouth. He had cold blue eyes and sandy-blond hair that flopped over his forehead.

"I wonder what this is." His crooked teeth made him spit his s's. Alanna wiped a drop of saliva from her cheek. "Probably some back-country boy who thinks he's a noble."

- from Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure, first book in the Song of the Lioness Quartet
Bullies. They’re everywhere. They insult Tamora Pierce’s Alanna of Trebond, they gang up on George RR Martin’s Jon Snow, they appear in at least half the works posted on the Young Writers’ Society. Whenever I read a bullying scene, I get a surge of indignation. Not for the victims -- for the bullies.

Victims are protagonists, they get names, faces and personalities, the reader is intended to sympathise with them. Bullies are stock characters imported straight from the Department of Manufactured Conflict: cardboard cut-outs, often unnamed, rarely characterised. Victims are lone heroes; bullies are cowards, so they hunt in packs. Victims get snappy comebacks; bullies whine and sneer. (Note how the bully in the Tamora Pierce scene is described as ugly. Remember, kids: ugliness = evil!) If victims don’t triumph now, winning over spectators in the process, they’ll get public and humiliating revenge later. Bullies remain despicable characters throughout the narrative, despised by the readers, the author and the other characters, unless the victim wins even them over with their awesomeness.

Poor bullies, they never win.

The classic lone victim vs multiple bullies scenario has power because it taps into a ton of underlying assumptions, myths and values:
  • We admire the loner. Loners are powerful as individuals; only weak people and cowards, like bullies, have to co-operate.
  • Bullies invariably provoke the conflict. They attack out of the blue, without provocation. This taps into the classic victim complex, the feeling of being unjustly treated. Real-world conflicts are much more nuanced; the victim in a bullying scene, and by extension the reader, doesn’t need to feel any guilt or reservations about their part in a conflict, because they’re clearly in the right.
  • We see standing up against others as courageous. I wonder if this reflects a hostility to authority. Do bullies represent a tyrannical force the everyman hero has to resist?
  • Faceless, nameless, characterless bullies are easy to read. They’re bad. They’re not like us. We can hate them without any reservations. Well-drawn bullies with genuine motivations for their actions are more challenging because they’re more like us. Could we be bullies? If we were in their situation, what would we do?
  • Bullying justifies the victim’s retaliation. Under normal circumstances you can’t punch somebody who annoys you, but retaliatory violence by the victim against the bully is seen as fair, even where the violence seems disproportionate. I recently critiqued a story in which the protagonist permanently crippled a bully, ripping out his magic while he begged for mercy. The author and all the characters seemed to think that maiming is a justified response to bullying.
  • Readers of the fantasy novels I’m talking about tend to be bookish people and/or geeks who were bullied for real as children. There’s a reason Snacky’s Law is so commonly invoked -- the same reason I noted so many bullying scenes posted on the Young Writers' Society forums. Bullying scenes are a way to safely re-enact the trauma of being bullied, with ourselves as sympathetic victims, leading to our retaliation against the bullies and our ultimate triumph. Fantasy ranter Limyaael, whose awesomeness I can only hope to emulate, complained in her “Author’s Darling” rant:
I often feel faintly sick when, reading through a fantasy story, I realize that the author is ... taunting the bullies who tormented her in high school. She doesn't want to actually talk to these people, or perhaps they're in the past, dead or out of contact, and she can't. So she takes the chance to create a character who's her, put her through the same situation, and say, "Nah-nah-nah-boo-boo!"
So I can see why writers resort to bullying scenes. It’s a cheap and easy way of building reader sympathy, and your typical reader is disposed to like and sympathise with victims of bullying. But I hate the lack of motivation. Why do bullies never have a legitimate reason to bully the protagonist? Forget legitimate, any reason would be a plus. Has the protagonist never done anything, accidentally or deliberately, or been thought to do something, that might make the bully want to get their own back? Does the protagonist always have to be 100% squeaky-clean and the bully 100% randomly malicious to ensure reader sympathy falls into its proper place? (God forbid that the reader should ever rethink who deserves their sympathy.)

In the George RR Martin example I mentioned above, teenage viewpoint character Jon Snow is the bastard son of a noble, despised by commoners and nobles alike. Thanks to his privileged upbringing in his father’s castle, Jon is an excellent swordsman and mercilessly thrashes his opponents in training, humiliating them to the point that four of them ambush him in an armoury to get their own back. Jon is working through the justified retaliation part of the bullying cliche when -- I love Martin so much -- somebody actually calls Jon out on his behaviour: Jon is using his privilege to unfairly and unnecessarily humiliate his peers, and if he keeps harbouring a raging victim complex, none of them are ever going to learn to work together. And it will be entirely his fault.

I was so thrilled I nearly cried.

Another example of effective bullying: the pilot episode of the TV series Merlin. The pilot episode features teenage Merlin interfering to protect a servant from a bullying lord. Merlin is promptly thrown in jail, then in the stocks. What saves this scene? The bully is Arthur freaking Pendragon. The hero is a bully. Arthur is handsome, snarky, ridiculously heroic -- and a self-centred ass. I love Arthur, and I love that they had the nerve to make their hero bully someone in his opening scene.

Suggestions for writing bullying scenes?
  1. The purpose should not be to glorify the protagonist. Nor to make him look good in comparison to the evil bully.
  2. Bullies need a good reason to bully. Stereotypically evil motivations like “He’s just jealous of the protagonist” aren’t good enough.
  3. It is not open season on bullies. If someone makes insulting comments about the protagonist’s mother, the protagonist cannot legitimately chainsaw him to death.
  4. It’s okay for the protagonist not to be squeaky-clean all the time.
  5. Do not resort to making your victims beautiful and your bullies ugly as a cheap shorthand for good and evil. I swear, if I read another bullying scene in which the bully’s ugliness is lovingly described (like that Tamora Pierce scene) as a symbol of their nastiness, I will hunt someone down.
  6. Therapy for the writer =/= effective fiction for the reader.
  7. Don’t despise your own characters. It always shows.
(I enjoyed playing a little with bullying in THE INFERNAL FAMILY. My protagonist is continually harassed by his partner slash love interest, who thinks he’s a violent psychopath and kind of dumb as well -- all of which is absolutely true.)

What do you think? Have you noticed trends in bullying scenes in books or unpublished work? Can you improve on my analysis or my suggestions?

Further reading: Limyaael, “Breathing life into bullies”.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

revision blues

"You’re a poser. You talk the talk but you can’t walk the walk. Thinking isn’t writing, editing isn’t writing, only writing is writing. If you’re not making 1000+ words a day you’re not even trying. You get so little work done it’s embarrassing. A real writer would be finished already: you'll still be messing around this time next year. How are you ever going to be a professional? Nobody wants to work with losers like you. Why do you even call yourself a writer?"

Welcome back, revision blues. :(

revenge of the prologue rant

I hate prologues. Out of the hundreds (perhaps more) of prologues I've read, I only remember two of them fondly: Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie are the authors who stole my heart. The vast, vast majority of them suffer from some or all of the following problems:
  • Are used as an excuse for appalling infodumps. Huge quantities of information are crammed in with very little attempt to craft an actual story.
  • Depict a long-ago historical event the author wrongly thinks we need to see up-front to understand the story.
  • Feature a generic evil overlord being generically evil. He burns villages, he tortures people, he kicks the dog. Yawn.
  • Attempt to be ominous yet unspecific by using painfully cliched language of foreboding: "Something terrible is coming." / "Yes, and a hero must rise to deal with it, but I fear he will succumb to the madness in his soul." (I don't understand why people ever bother with ominous vagueness when it's so obvious they're referring to the protagonist.)
  • Show the special events of the special protagonist's special birth. Apart from the cliche, this supports the tired idea that everything special about a person is inherited from their equally special daddy. Alas, poor meritocracy, we knew ye well.
  • Are completely unnecessary.
  • Try to persuade us to get emotionally invested in the characters, even though we all know that prologue characters won't recur - whether they die at the end or are historical characters or aren't important at all except for the special baby.
  • Don't even bother trying to persuade us that there's something here worth investing in emotionally.
  • Tell us things that don't become relevant for another 80,000 words, by which time we've forgotten what happened.
  • Are obvious ripoffs of other stories.
  • At the end, rip the reader out of that scene and dump them into chapter one, frequently with absolutely zero continuity of time, place, plot or character. (I complained about this in my review of the pilot of TV series Sanctuary.)
If I could write the One Law to Rule them All, I'd probably rule that:
  1. Prologues cannot contain more than 50 words of exposition at a time. Period.
  2. Special protagonist's special birth prologues are banned.
  3. Generic evil overlord prologues are banned.
  4. Prophecies? Totally banned.
  5. Ominous vaguery is not interesting.
  6. Readers need some continuity. The prologue and first chapter should be obviously linked: the same characters, or the same setting, or the same subjects, etc.
  7. At least one named character with an actual personality must feature.
  8. Thinking, feeling, angsting, expositing, world-building, reflecting on backstory and navel-gazing of all types must be balanced with dialogue, action and character interaction.
Nearly all prologues I've read have been disastrous.

But when I reread the prologue of Best Served Cold, I remember how enormously I love it. :)

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

is she really 40?

When I first posted a teaser for my epic fantasy IRONBANE, describing the protagonist as a “forty-something war criminal with a walking stick and a master plan”, the scarily gifted Angie asked in the comments: “Is she really 40?”

Hell yes, she’s forty. And crippled. And a drunk and a murderer and a figure of terror.

Epic fantasy loves its Rand al’Thors: its heroic, good-looking young men with big swords, bigger magic and mysterious royal heritage. IRONBANE has one of those, and he’s pretty to look at. But that short, dumpy woman who can’t walk without a stick? That’s Ironbane, the Queenkiller, the victor of the War of the Two Terrors. She’s snarky. She’s ruthless. She’s notorious for conquering half the setting and killing the Winter Queen and getting exiled in disgrace. Her idea of a cover story is to impersonate her dead nemesis.

And she doesn’t want redemption.

I’m crazy in love. :)

teaser tuesday strikes back

Another teaser from my epic fantasy IRONBANE. Anjen is masquerading as the back-from-the-dead Winter Queen; Robben is a smitten friend and follower.


Anjen was brooding on the walls when gentle hands drew her coat more tightly around her; Anjen nearly fell off the wall. Of course it was Robben, a warm presence at her elbow. “Mistress Anjen?”

The sword bumped against her leg every time she moved. She couldn’t understand how Summer put up with it, it was a huge clumsy thing. “Yes?”

“You’re not afraid.” He made it a question at first, then forced a smile. “Burned God, of course you’re not. What would ever scare you?”

She couldn’t understand him sometimes. Did she look like she had ice instead of blood, like she was some inhuman thing that felt no fear, like she was the bloody Winter Queen?

She reached into the warmth trapped inside her coat and pulled out her bottle. Robben made a disapproving face. She ignored him and drank deep; the liquid coursed hot and fierce down her throat, lighting a trail of fire down into her belly. There. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

Of course he wanted her to be the Winter Queen. That was what he needed from her: coldness in the face of danger. She couldn’t allow him to see her hands shaking on the bottle. Probably shouldn’t let him see her drinking at all.

She aimed the bottle at him. “You know why we could never, ever be together?”

Robben flinched. A dark part of her liked that.

“Because you’re weak.” Anjen spaced each word out deliberately. “You jump at every shadow, and you thin everyone must be scared like you.” She drank again. It gave her such a rush, like she could bring anyone down. “But you know who isn’t and has never been scared?” She leaned in until the sword hilt dug painfully into her hip, holding his eyes. “Me. I’m the goddamn Winter Queen. I kill everyone who crosses me, I invade countries, I come back from the dead. So don’t you think that you can taint me with your fear, that you can crack this mask, because it’s not a fucking mask. It’s real. I’m real. And I’m not afraid.”

Robben looked painfully small.


“I’m going to win this.” Anjen made it a promise. “It won’t be pretty. But I will. Not. Lose. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Robben said in a tiny voice. “Your Majesty.”

That had a sweet sound to it. Like she was something greater and more terrible than just a woman getting old. “Get back to your post.”

Sunday, 3 January 2010

new year's resolutions for 2010

  1. Graduate.
  2. Start a publishing masters course.
  4. Revise IRONBANE.
  5. Finish the first draft of DREAD MACHINE.
  6. Panic less.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

2009 writing year in review

I feel like a humiliating failure, so it’s surprising to look back on everything I’ve done in the last twelve months and say: 2009 has been a kickass writing year.

A year ago I was desperate. I hadn’t finished a novel in two and a half years. I’d put eighteen months, many bitter tears and at least 50k into my third novel, then titled EMPIRE OF HEAVEN, by the time I realised it was irreparably broken. Real writers knocked out a novel a year: I was a loser, a poser and a failure. I had a month’s Easter holiday in March, and if I couldn’t finish my novel in an entire month of writing full-time, I might as well give up.

Happily for my continued self-esteem, I ripped out the genre, setting and antagonist, rewired with new stuff, hammered out about 30k in less than a fortnight and finished what was recognisably THE INFERNAL FAMILY at the beginning of April. Narrow escape there.

Since my writing career consists of short bursts of writing interspersed with long stretches of doom, I spent the next six months ripping my hair out over revisions. I also wrote a query that everyone loved, workshopped the first chapter until it begged for mercy, and worked on my sweet and well-behaved epic fantasy IRONBANE. But mainly I whined a lot.

As Nanowrimo bore down on me like a freight train, I scrabbled to get a beta draft of THE INFERNAL FAMILY done and out to beta readers. I think I emailed it out with shaking hands at one minute to midnight on the last day of October. I even made the tiramisu of glory, my long-promised reward! Then I kicked Nanowrimo’s ass: hammering out over 75,000 words, finishing IRONBANE and kicking off my YA urban fantasy, DREAD MACHINE.

This story would threaten to have a happy ending were it not for realising that everything I’ve written needs to be insulted, ripped up and then burned.

So I guess I ended the year exactly where I started: swimming in a lake of despair near Mount Doom. Except this year I’m two first drafts, a second draft and a query to the good. I call that a win. :)