FF: One Thing Leads To Another

March 12, 2021
Roary, Now Eleven Month Old

Last week, I finished Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, and found myself thinking about how I’d like to read some of his source materials, many of which serve as Japanese cultural underpinnings.  So I am doing so…  I come by my scholar nerd impulses honestly!

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon by John Stevenson.  Years ago, Jim and I attended a show at the Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe that featured this series of Yoshitoshi’s later prints.  Very intellectually and creatively stimulating.

In Progress:

The Renaissance by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Having spent a lot of time on the papal states, including looking at which popes may not have been as bad as often represented (including Alexander Borgia), we’ve moved to art and architecture.  Current focus: Raphael.

Kojiki translated and extensively annotated by Donald L. Philippi.  The title means “Record of Ancient Things” and the text was completed in 712.  A mixture of mythology, folklore, history, and legend­­—with a healthy dose of genealogy—this was created for political reasons, to explain the descent of the Yamato, but also from a desire to preserve older traditions.  I’m really happy to have the extensive footnotes and appendixes, all of which are well-written.

Someplace To Be Flying by Charles de Lint.  I’ve deliberately put off re-reading this until I could read fresh. 

Also:

Back issues of Smithsonian.  Now reading about dogs. 

This Is Probably a Metaphor

March 10, 2021
Sometimes It Takes Time

Many years ago, I planted daffodil bulbs.  They did okay for the first few years but, after a time, the particular combination of heat, dryness, and just plain weirdness of our New Mexico climate caused them to get weaker.

In a final attempt to save them, I transplanted the remaining bulbs to close by one of our downspout catch basins, where they’d get regular water.  (And, yes, I gave them bulb fertilizer, too, but I had been all along, so that doesn’t apply to this situation.)  The next year, when little green tips poked up in late February, I was very pleased.  However, no flowers formed.

Green tips, no flowers became the pattern for so long that Jim and I started thinking of our flowerless daffodils as a foliage plant, like hostas or coleus.  We decided to simply appreciate how those little green tips, which eventually became longer green foliage, indicated that below ground level plants were indeed coming back after the winter.

Imagine our surprise when this year we saw that in addition to the leaves, there was a flower stalk.  We watched, expecting it to wither, expecting it to get eaten or stepped on or otherwise damaged.  However, eventually, it bloomed!

We were so delighted that when a bout of high winds bent the stem, we cut that single blossom and brought it inside so we could enjoy it.  That one little flower may not seem like much, but it made us disproportionately happy.

A few weeks ago, I wandered on about the value of adaptability for a writer.  Persistence and patience have their place, too.  If you feel tempted to give up on a story, don’t trash it.  Put it on side.  Move on to another project.  Let that particular field lie fallow.

You may find, as with our daffodil, someday the right combination of (metaphorical) sun and water and fertilizer will cause it to blossom.

FF: Focus

March 5, 2021
Plump and Rounded, Coco Contemplates the Moon

This week, I find myself back in mostly non-fiction territory.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart.  Good but more anxious, less ironic, thus less fun.

In Progress:

The Renaissance by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Touring some of the smaller cities in Italy.  (The Italian Renaissance is the focus of the book.)

Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon by John Stevenson.  Years ago, Jim and I attended a show at the Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe that featured this series of Yoshitoshi’s later prints.  We were so fascinated, we bought the book.  I read the parts focused on each print pretty much immediately, but only skimmed the introduction.  This time I started there.  Fascinating mixture of history and biography.  Now I’m reading the text that goes with the individual prints.

Also:

Back issues of Smithsonian.  The article on Yellowstone was fascinating, even if the writer should have had an archeologist check some terminology, especially since the article was focused around archeology!

Translator of the Rings

March 3, 2021
The Original Ladies of the Rings and Frenemy

Have you ever known someone in one context, only to discover that they have a secret identity?  That’s what happened to me with Rick Walter.  I met Rick as one of the librarians at my local library.  Quite a few years went by before I learned that he was also a translator, at that time working on new translations of Jules Verne novels.

Only recently did I learn Rick had another secret identity: as an authority on Wagner, classical music, and opera.  As Frederick Paul Walter, Rick is responsible for a new translation of Wagner’s The Rhine Gold (Das Rheingold).  Even better, this translation is lovingly annotated and includes the original German text side by side.  An added bonuses are the lavish illustrations, taken from a wide variety of sources, up to and including new graphic novel style illustrations by Cliff Mott, commissioned for this project.

This week, I’m interviewing Rick both about his new project and about what goes into the art of translation.

JANE: So, Rick, what drew you to translation?  Have you done translations from other than French (for the works of Jules Verne) and German?

RICK: It all started with my first job after grad school. I got hired as a college theater director, then ended up collaborating with the Music Department in their operatic programs—which they felt would benefit from being sung in English. They had me do the Toreador Song, which was great fun, and everywhere I taught, this would happen—I’d stage their operatic evenings for them and supply English lyrics for material originally issued in Italian, French, and German.

I have to admit, translating opera for live performance is the toughest type of translating I’ve ever done: my words would have to rhyme, convey the sense, and fit the composer’s notes. Yikes!  

JANE: As your introduction and annotations make clear, you have a long time and intense interest in The Ring Cycle.

RICK: I grew up in the 1960s, when complete commercial recordings didn’t exist. So the appearances of rival versions conducted by Georg Solti and Herbert von Karajan were big news—and I purchased both.

JANE: From our conversations over the years, I know you’re an avid reader of SF and Fantasy.  Jules Verne has an obvious connection to SF, but what I found fascinating about your annotations is how they showed the many ways that The Ring Cycle might be considered “background music” to a lot of Fantasy fiction.  Could you share some of your thoughts on these influences?

RICK: Don’t forget, the 1960s were the era of those Ace reprints of Tolkien’s trilogy, which I promptly gobbled up. Well, another 1960s development was the publication of a 1-volume edition of Margaret Armour’s translation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle—it was worded in Shakespearean English and was tough sledding, but I could read it like a fantasy novel and was fascinated by it.

However, I felt that a much more readable modern translation was called for, and I actually attempted one back then.  I didn’t complete it, yet always wanted to. Five years ago I returned to this project and finished it at last. 

JANE: Despite your deep love for the material in The Rhine Gold, as your “One Minute Ring” summary of the entire four opera Ring Cycle, you also have a sense of humor about the material.  Do you think that helps you as a translator?

RICK:  My target audience is the general public, fans of Tolkien, Rowling, George Lucas, George R.R. Martin, et al. So I want my work to be enjoyed by that audience. Humor helps and Wagner himself infused the Ring Cycle with plenty.

JANE: Translation is a complex art, very far from the awkward, fill in the blank, process that computer programs can provide.  Is there anywhere my readers can get a peek behind the scenes at your process?

RICK:  Absolutely!  Pages ix-xi of my introduction deal with both the substantive priorities and the verbal issues of my translating, especially developing equivalents for Wagner’s alliteration.

JANE: One of the great things about your annotated Rhine Gold is that the annotations are visual, as well as verbal.  There are the original illustrations by Cliff Mott that were created for this edition, of course.  However, you also provide many from older productions.  Are these from your collection or did the publisher find them?

RICK: :  No, I tracked them all down myself. A huge amount of public domain artwork is available on the Ring.  Thank God I’ve been acquainted with it for several decades.

JANE: Are you going to be continuing translating the rest of the Ring Cycle?  I believe there are three more operas to go.

RICK: That’s right, and they’re all done. After querying many publishers, I sold them as a package to Rowman and Littlefield, and they’re committed to the whole thing. The Valkyrie is due out this coming August, Siegfried and Twilight for the Gods during the summer of 2022.

JANE: I look forward to them!  Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, and sharing some of what went into this landmark edition of Wagner’s most famous work.

A Very Remote Connection

February 26, 2021
Mei-Ling and Roary Contemplate a Journey

This week, I can’t find any connection between what I’m reading except that I am the person reading it.  That amuses me greatly.  Okay.  There is one.  I’m absolutely not reading anything overtly dark right now.  Elements, sure, that’s fine, but not as the whole dish.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon).  I sent the author a blurb, which I will share here:  “Paladin’s Strength dances on the delicate edge between horror and humor, providing ample helpings of heart-wrenching romance and heart-stopping action along the way.  I enjoyed it immensely.”  Available for pre-order!

In Progress:

The Renaissance by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  After a long and interesting section on Leonardo Da Vinci, we’re looking at other artists of the time.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart.  More anxiety than the prior book, less humor, still very readable.

Also:

Back to Archeology and American Archeology.  I have said this to my (professional archeologist) husband many time: some archeologists feel a need to find proof of things that common sense should say is there.  He laughs and agrees.

Adaptability

February 24, 2021
Adapting to Uncomfortable Situations

For many years, my standard answer to the often-asked question: “What do you think is the most valuable quality for a serious writer?” has been “Persistence.”

I still stand by that because, without persistence, a writer won’t write, won’t finish, won’t proof, won’t eventually learn about markets, and all the rest.  However, this last year has made me think about a trait I’d like to add: Adaptability.

I sold my first short story in the late 1980’s.  My first novel came out December of 1994.  Since then, I’ve seen publishing change dramatically.  Most, if not all, of the tidbits my dear Roger Zelazny shared with me about the marketplace wouldn’t apply today.  Time and again, I’ve had to adapt.

But that’s not what I’ve been thinking about.  I’ve been thinking about adapting as a useful skill for a writer.  Why? Well, because when something goes wrong, all that persistence can be made switch direction.

Here’s one example.  Late in 2020, I was just beginning to exchange e-mails with David Weber, with whom I’m writing the “Star Kingdom” novels, narrowing down what we’d be putting in the fifth novel (SK5) in the series.  Then he was diagnosed with Covid-19.  He inaugurated the New Year by spending  nine days in the hospital and, as of this writing, is still less than his usually energetic self.  Has this impacted on my schedule?  Of course…  How could it not?

Nestled In

Here’s where adaptability comes in.  One thing I learned a long time ago was that when a project is finished and sent out, forget it and move along to something else.  Although I thought I’d be writing on SK5 by now, I’m not.  Instead, I’m contently nestled in with a project that has, in revision and self-editing, morphed from one very long, unwieldy book into two much more reasonable-length novels. 

Sounds self-evident, doesn’t it?  It’s not.  You won’t believe how many creative people get stuck with what “should have been” and so miss out on the chance to work on something that might give them a lot more pleasure than fussing.

Now, forgive me for not chatting longer, but if I work steadily I can finish off my revision of another chapter or two before I need to take a break and work on…  Bleah.  Tax stuff. 

Catch you later!

FF: Found!

February 19, 2021
Roary Sneaks Up On A Fun Book

Last week, I wasn’t sure what novel I would read next.  I found it by the end of Friday.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading.

Recently Completed:

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster.  Every time I re-read this, it’s a different book.  Originally published in 1912 (my copy is a reprint with updated spelling conventions, but otherwise the same), this epistolary novel follows an orphan from a restrictive (but not cruel) orphanage into a privileged girl’s college.  Her outsider view of the culture she is suddenly immersed in makes this almost an “alien among us” story.  Oh, and it avoids all the cheap “mean girl” tropes one would expect, but is warm-hearted and intellectually stimulating.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  Since I had interesting orphans in mind, I next picked up this much more modern (2007) tale.  SF light, it is a wild romp with sly comments about things we take for granted.  My favorite: Grow the lawn.  Mow the lawn.

In Progress:

After an unexpected delay, I have an ARC of the forthcoming T. Kingfisher, Paladin’s Strength.  An indirect sequel to Paladin’s Grace, which I adored.  Focuses on different characters, setting, but a continuation of issues raised in Paladin’s Grace.

The Renaissance by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Just finished the Bonfire of the Vanities.

Also:

Back to Archeology and American Archeology.

Behind the Mask of Mirrors

February 17, 2021
Dandy: Inspired to Cosplay

Jane: Last week, I was happy to introduce you all to M.A. Carrick, the creative team consisting of Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, whose novel The Mask of Mirrors was released in January.

Although The Mask of Mirrors is the first novel in the Rook and Rose trilogy, I can reassure you that it stands very well on its own.  Last week we talked a bit about how the collaboration came to be.  This week, we’re going to dance around spoilers to talk about some of the rich detail that makes this novel stand out.

Ready?

Marie: Bring it on!

Jane: I really liked the subtlety with which you handled issues of social status and economic status, both for individual characters and for the world in general.  I will admit, I tend to shy away from stories where a scam is at the heart of the action, but you take that trope and turn it on its head, using it to reveal the complexities that drive so many of your characters’ actions.  By the end, it might be said that everyone is running a scam, not just Ren.

As collaborators, how did you work out all these varied motivations?   In advance, or did they evolve with the story?

Marie: Con artists are tricky, aren’t they? It can be fun to watch them at work, because competence is cool, and a scam is like a high-wire social performance with some serious consequences if they fall. But at the same time, it really sucks to be on the receiving end of a con — because fundamentally, that whole process is about gaining somebody’s trust and then betraying it. There’s a point in the story where Ren realizes somebody else has tricked her, and while you might expect her to shrug and say, “Eh, well-played,” what actually happens is that she’s profoundly hurt. From the start, we definitely had our eye on the fact that there are people on the receiving end of Ren’s lies, and it’s going to wound them pretty deeply if they find out the truth. We wanted to make sure we developed those people as sympathetic characters, and gave them their own motivations as well.

Alyc: Some of these elements were workshopped in the game version, especially all the pies Ren, Vargo, Grey, and House Traementis have their fingers in. Some, we ended up developing as we wrote — in at least one case, a particular character got an entire personality transplant in revision because they weren’t dynamic enough for what we needed them for. But that revision led to one of my favorite sequences in the book, so it worked out nicely.

Jane: As the title indicates, masks are a key element in this novel.  They definitely work on a variety of levels, including serving as a metaphor for the fact that no one is telling anyone the whole truth.

However, with the Rook, you take on the much-used trope of the Masked Hero.  Given that this has been used repeatedly (Zorro, Scaramouche, The Scarlet Pimpernel, up to and including legions of masked superheroes),can you talk about some of what you did to make the trope your own?

Alyc: It’s a bit ironic, because the protagonist of my first set of novels is also a masked vigilante who hides their face with a fedora and shadow manipulation, so I was also working against my own previous character. For the Rook, we looked at the role itself as a kind of mask: if you’re going to go iconic, then go really iconic. Embrace the melodrama, the panache, the flirtatious flair, and then dial it up to eleven. I feel like that’s what we did with the Rook rather than trying to make him an individual.

Marie: But of course, the question we invite readers to chew on is . . . who is the Rook? Because as much as there’s melodrama and panache dialed up to eleven, there’s also a person inside. We can’t say too much about that without heading into spoiler territory, but every time the Rook shows up on the page, there’s a whole submerged iceberg you don’t see that’s us thinking about how that appearance fits into the story of that individual. Which is a story the reader can’t see right away, but we have to ensure it will make sense in hindsight.

JANE: As someone who has written collaborations, I did find myself speculating what sort of discussions you two might have had as you worked out who knew what about whom.  I will refrain from talking about what elements I was weighing against each other as I read, but I had a great amount of fun.  My enthusiasm was such that, as soon as I had finished the ARC, Jim grabbed it.  Then I had the fun all over again of listening to him speculate as to who the Rook might be.  So, good job!

One of the many things I loved about this novel was how you interwove elements of setting into plot and character.  Perhaps the most clever of these interweavings was—pun somewhat intended—the use of fabric.  Who decided that fabric wasn’t just going to be a temptation for costumers to do cosplay, but a major story element?

Marie: The specifics of the clothing are almost 100% Alyc’s work; I think my contribution there consists of changing the color of one outfit in the second book. But it amuses me to see you talking about us “interweaving” things, because textile imagery is all over the place in this story. And weirdly, that’s almost an accident! We definitely knew we were going to focus on clothing because that kind of thing is important in an aristocratic society; being well-dressed is a source of power, and the specifics of how you dress can communicate all kinds of messages. But then we happened to settle on “pattern” as the name for the deck of divinatory cards used by Vraszenians, and the next thing we knew, Vraszenian culture was Textile Metaphors Ahoy.

JANE: I did wonder at the use of the term pattern, since it’s also integral to Roger Zelazny’s Amber novels, another series that uses a Tarot-like deck of cards as an integral element of the magic system.  However, after my initial “I wonder if there was an influence here?” I felt you gave both pattern and cards their own integrity

Marie: I’d forgotten that about the Amber novels! (This is where I shamefacedly admit that I’ve read Nine Princes in Amber, but years ago, and none of the books after it.) We were thinking in terms of the Greek Fates and the thread imagery around them; I have no idea if the same idea influenced him.

Jane: Probably somewhat, as he was a great reader of myth and folklore, but there were other elements as well. Part of what helped me separate your use of the terms from Roger’s was how important clothing and fabric was to the cultures and characters.

Alyc: The importance of clothing was one of those things that got worked out early in the game version of the story. Marie’s character only had so much starting money, and making herself into a fashion icon was one of the easiest and cheapest ways for her to appear wealthier than she was (in large part thanks to her sister/my NPC Tess).

I love that our use of fashion has been embraced by so many readers. Clothing and fashion are so integral to how we signal to each other who we are, where (and if) we belong. Clothing matters, probably more than any other material signifier, because it is part of how we embody our identities every day. There isn’t a time in history or a culture in the world that didn’t weave meaning into what we wear.

Then again, the book I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, The Magic House, has a story in it about the buttons from the gowns and costumes of fairy tale characters — Cinderella, Peter Piper, Little Red Riding Hood — gathering together to tell stories about the clothes they came from. So maybe clothing-as-story is something I’ve always had an affinity for.

JANE: Once again, we’re reaching the dreaded TLDR limit, so I’ll sadly put the rest of my questions away, but I’ll remind my readers that your excellent website provides a great deal more background details.  Thank you so much for your time.

FF: Finished Up

February 12, 2021
Persephone Relaxes With A Good Book

I haven’t chosen what novel I’m going to read next, but am sampling a variety of shorter works, most of which aren’t holding my attention.  Probably I need to go stare at my bookshelves and see what appeals to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading.

Recently Completed:

Agent of Change by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.  I’ve meant to try a Liaden book for years, and am finally getting there.  Strong characterization, even of minor characters.  Great setting.  Plot is action-packed, after the fashion of a spy thriller.  Oh, and I loved the Turtles (aliens).

In Progress:

The Renaissance by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Looking at the shifting of visual art styles from Medieval to early Renaissance.

Also:

Back issues of Vogue.

Meet M.A. Carrick!

February 10, 2021
A Very Well-Read ARC

Several months ago, I had the phenomenal pleasure of reading an advanced copy of The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick.  It’s an open secret that M.A. Carrick is a pen name for two long-time friends, Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms.  (You can find out where the pen name came from on their website.  Look under “Extras.”)

In fact, their website provides a tremendous amount of material about the book, including a place where you can tell your fortune using the Tarot-like system that is a key element in The Mask of Mirrors

I always start these interviews by asking the same question, so here it is…

Jane: In my experience, writers fall into two general categories: those who have been writing stories since before they could actually write and those who came to writing somewhat later.

Which sort are you?  Bonus question.  If you’re the same type, does this help your collaboration?  If you’re different types, does it hamper you?

Alyc: Definitely the first type. I was nine when I “wrote” my first book. It was a collection of made-up stories, poetry, and family folklore. That book was a reflection of a book my parents read to me when I was very young called The Magic House by Louise Harvey Butler. It’s about a brother and sister who meet a stray dog that can talk thanks to a playhouse the kids built out of mermaid-touched driftwood. That ends up being a framing narrative for the dog’s many wonder tales from his travels — stories about mermaids and giants, little girls turned into birds. I think I imprinted on Gruff (the dog, who was very fox-like), because I was a pretty quiet kid except when I would tell stories. I would tell stories to myself, my family, friends. I always had my head halfway into elsewhere, bringing back tales of my travels. 

Marie: I’m the same, except the “book” I wrote when I was nine was a mystery story about somebody kidnapping pets. I suspect the majority of kids make up stories; it’s just that some of them stop, and some of those come back to it later. We’re the type that just never stopped. I don’t know if that directly affects the way we work together (because I’m absolute pants at identifying why I do things the way I do), but it’s certainly the case that our collaboration benefits from us being very similar — but not quite identical! — in our approach to writing. There are some differences, both in content (Alyc likes economics way more than I do; I handle most of the fight scenes) and in working habits (Alyc is a morning fox and I’m a night owl; we had to figure out compromises on that), but it’s always been the case that when I’m stuck, Alyc is the best person for me to wail at in order to get un-stuck. We think along similar lines, in terms of what we want the story to do and how.

Jane: I’m sure you’ve answered this one, since your official bio notes you’ve gamed together.  However, as a gamer myself, I can’t resist.  Does The Mask of Mirrors have any relation—plot, setting, character—to an actual role-playing game (RPG) you played in?

Marie: Ren is my game character. >_>

Alyc: A few years ago, I started running a tabletop RPG for Marie as a birthday present. The game was supposed to be a short-run, out-of-the-box module adventure — but that intent lasted for about ten minutes after opening the module because I immediately started making modifications and doing rewrites and customizations. About six months into the game, Marie wanted her character to run a caper with a couple of my NPCs. It was the sort of thing that wouldn’t have worked well as a game session, so we decided to write it up as a scene. And then we wrote another scene. And another. At about 50k words of game fic, we said, ‘Maybe we should collaborate on something’.

Jane: For those of you don’t game, NPC means “non-player character” and means any character—from the grimmest antagonist to the helpful shopkeeper—the player characters interact with.  So, Marie, what happened next?

Marie: Mind you, our original plan wasn’t to write the story we’d been developing in the game. We’d just figured out that we enjoyed writing together, so we started trying to brainstorm ideas for a joint book or series. Step one was to make a list of tropes we both liked . . . and after a while, I found myself thinking, “You know, a lot of those things are in the story we’ve already been telling.” Which I resisted saying for a while, because my brain was also trying to scratch that itch by developing a different idea, riffing off my short story “The Širet Mask,” and I was worried the two would be too similar. But finally I acknowledged the elephant in the room and asked Alyc over chat one Friday night if we should think about filing the serial numbers off the stuff we’d already been writing — and before the weekend was over, we had plans for a trilogy.

Jane: That’s cool. What sort of changes did you end up making from your original?

Alyc: We ended up dumping the setting and plot of the game and rebuilding all of that from scratch. We preserved what drew us to write those scenes in the first place, which was the characters, their relationships, and the growth of the dynamic between them.

Marie: I called it the “invertebrate novel” for a while, because we had all this meat, but no bones to hang it on! We’re pretty pleased with the skeleton we came up with, though.

Jane: Again, sorry, I know you must have answered this, but how do you divide the writing?  Do you each have pet characters?  Do you think this will vary in future books?

Alyc: This developed pretty organically out of the writing we did for the game scenes. Ren was Marie’s character, so she would write Ren’s dialogue, internal thoughts and feelings, etc. I would write the people she interacted with, the challenges she ran into, various world details in the way a GM might. This meant we were trading the text back and forth (in a Google doc) at a very granular level — usually the line or paragraph. When we made the jump to the novel, our roles blended a bit.

The plot and conflicts of the novel aren’t hidden from Marie like they were in the game, so we both collaborate on those as well as things like worldbuilding. We do still tend to have characters we take point on — Marie for Ren, myself for Grey, Vargo, and Tess — but the lines blur there as well. I’m much more likely now to write dialogue and thoughts for Ren, and Marie for the characters that started life as NPCs.

Marie: The planning is all shared, too. We’re constantly sending chat messages and emails with ideas for new scenes or twists on the one we’re going to write next, and riffing on each other’s ideas to make them deeper or stronger. We’ll definitely stick with that approach for the rest of this trilogy; if we wind up writing a sequel series (which, yes, we have an idea for), I suspect it will be the same. We find this approach really fun, and tossing the scene back and forth like that helps us both keep our energy up.

Jane: Now I understand why you had to work around one of you being a day fox and the other a night owl!  It’s great that you were able to figure out how to be available to each other.

I happen to be a day fox, and it’s getting late.  How about we pick up with this again next week?