The Emergency Editor (21/12/10)

Posted in News

I have an emergency editor. I know several writers who have them these days, or else beta-readers or someone who’s going to give them a second opinion on their work before they submit it to their publisher. I have no idea whether we’re a small minority or a vast majority, or whether such things are far more common now than they used to be. I’d say I don’t really care either, but if some knew the answer, I’d be curious enough to listen. Point being, really, we all have our own way of doing things; for me, every now and then, that means wheeling out the emergency editor whenever something just isn’t working.

Roughly, the way it works is that I read the manuscript, chapter by chapter, and get stopped every seventeen-and-a-half seconds to be told that I’ve now used the word effervescent twice in living memory and why is one of my characters explicitly walking slowly in one sentence and then observed to be moving quickly in the next (fortunately allowing me to simply skip the next sentence in which they dismount from the horse they never actually had in the first place). Often there is a little coda, along the lines of ‘that chapter’s quite good’ or ‘that was a bit long’ or the dreaded ‘Meh. OK I guess,’ which means it isn’t.

As you can imagine, sometimes this can mean that reading through a chapter, even one of mine, can take quite a long time. I’d been mentally thinking of it as extreme editing, since we really do pick apart the manuscript line by line sometimes. However, I understand from several of my fellow authors that extreme editing is already taken and refers to re-writes carried out while free-climbing the Tsaranoro Massif or hiding inside a cave somewhere on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. My version takes place curled up somewhere warm and cosy and usually involves either hot chocolate or hot and sour soup. Not all that extreme really.

Admittedly, what comes to mind when I think ‘emergency editor’ is the emergency pilot from Airplane! but that just. . . No, just let’s not go there.

So next time you put down a book and revel in the buzz of just how good it was, spare a thought for the beta-readers, the emergency editors, the unpaid (I’d say unsung, but I guess they’re often among the names credited in the this-novel-would-never-have-existed-if-it-wasn’t-for bit that I never used to read up to a few years ago (please tell me I’m the only one) helpers who do it for the love. And the chocolate. And the soups. And maybe an episode of Dexter every 2-3 chapters, but still, mostly for the love.

(You can follow my muse, my better half, my emergency editor and many other things, the gorgeous and heroic @adamantine_lady, on Twitter. Just, for the love of Planck’s Constant, don’t say anything bad about Name of the Wind. Meanwhile The Warlock’s Shadow has been moved out of theatre and into intensive care).

Almost There (20/10/09)

Posted in News

It’s very nearly done. The last re-write ever of King of the Crags is heading slowly and surely towards completion. By the end of the week, it’ll be safely in my editor’s hands. It’ll be free. As good as I can make it, however good that turns out to be. All that’s left is the proof-reading (which doesn’t really count – making editorial changes at that point is a severe wrist-slapping offence) and to fret about the reviews.

In other words, it’ll be done. Really done. Possibly even over-done, but certainly no-turning-back done. Too late to regret having introduced characters called Tallulah Spandex, Edwina Gristle and Spartacus Beefcake as a result of too many attempts to attract Twitter followers with put-your-RPG-character-into-my-novel competitions. Too late to go back and put the were-ducks back in after all. Too late to change the twenty-page chapter on exactly how dragons stay up in the air[1] that all made perfect sense at the time but hindsight will show to have a killer flaw [2]. Too late to change the inadvertent shifting of geography between books one and two [3]. Too late to regret the addition of all those lurid semi-porn sex-scenes that I added in the hope of shifting more copies. Too late for anything except waving goodbye and moving on.

Ah well. Fare well, little manuscript. We had some fun.

[1] A mixture of hydrogen bladders, low gravity, dense air, cows, invisible strings that suspend them from UFOs in geo-stationary orbit and, for some reason, cloves.

[2] Cloves? So obviously should have been cumin seeds. Duh!

[3] In which what was open plains becomes a mountain range in order to cast a rain-shadow in order to make sense of a desert that was put there in book one for no better reason than deserts are bleak and gritty. Thus spawning a desperate sub-plot involving earth-elementals that exists purely to ‘explain’ the mistake and has nothing whatsoever to do with the main plot in book three.

When in Doubt, Cut (28/9/09)

Posted in News

The great re-write-athon continues. King of the Crags has gone back to Gollancz now (ARCs expected around the end of October or early November). The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice has exited its penultimate rewrite, with another pre-submission spit-and-polish coming up in November. Next up, it’s another rewrite – the Gazetteer this time, then another one (that spit and polish), then probably another one (The Order of the Scales) and then probably yet another one, this time the edit to Thief-Taker. All in all, the great re-write-athon looks like it’s going to add up to something like seven months. With a bit of luck there might be a chance to work a bit on The Warlock’s Shadow and one or two bits and pieces. Or maybe I’ll spend my few spare hours watching True Blood and Dexter and other uplifting entertainments. Dammit, for a moment I had a flash of yearning for the good old days of NOT being published, when everything was new and shiny and rewriting  didn’t occupy HALF A F**KING YEAR!

In the meantime, however, it seems I am doomed to become a re-write expert. With two down and four to go, you’ll all doubtless be hugely please to know that I already have much unwanted wisdom burning to be shared. We’ll start with a simple mantra with which I shall beat myself repeatedly, probably wrapped around a handy piece of two-by-four: When In Doubt, Cut.

See, that uneasy feeling you get reading through your own manuscript at some point is the creeping realisation that your near-perfect work might, in fact, have an itsy-bitsy flaw in it. Now if you’re me, you’ll get this sensation  around about the time you get to a certain scene, say, of which you are particularly fond and proud. A scene that is, you believe, essential to the overall greatness of the story you’re trying to tell. A scene that will make your readers gasp with awe and bow at the mention of your name. A scene that is pivotal to atmosphere or to the understanding of some character, even if it’s a but superfluous as far as the plot goes and, in fact, had to be mangled into place with a crowbar and a mallet between two chapters that had previously been perfectly cosy neighbours.

You get where this is going, right. When In Doubt, Cut. No matter how awesome your scene is, if it doesn’t belong in your story then it doesn’t belong in your story. Cut it. Do it Now! Don’t think about it, just do it, and revel in the relief of knowing that that, even though it was hard, you did the Right Thing. Yes, I’m afraid some scenes need some Tough Love. You can always put them in some other story, right?

Or you can cut them out and post them on the internet (this is one of those Blue Peter here’s-one-I-made-earlier outtakes because what I cut out of Thief-Taker was pretty naff. But I promise, any more polished finished scenes that end up lying bleeding on the floor, I’ll put them up :-)

And if my recording of True Blood doesn’t start behaving itself RIGHT NOW then the next thing I’ll be re-writing is a letter to my insurance company explaining how exactly I accidentally dropped a laptop through the TV screen and right out the other side.

Anyway. Yes. When In Doubt, Cut.

Status Report (1/9/09)

Posted in News

Am uninspired. Witicisms and worldly insights elude me. The rewriting of The King of the Crags is a few days from finished. The first draft of the gazetteer might just about be done for Fantasycon. Still awaiting official map. Yadda yadda yadda. I am dragon-ed out. Am half moved to drop it all after this rewrite is done and go and do something else for a bit. Elf Cops: Kicking ass[1] and taking names. Pixellated wizards dealing in cut-and-shut horses. Overworked and underpaid goblin engineers building designer monsters for their arms-dealer troll masters. Something daft like that. Suggestions on a postcard, please.

Or urban fantasy. Something to do with zombies, or maybe some edgy vampire thing. Something that sells bucketloads is original. [2]

Fantasycon. Yes. I’ll be at Fantasucon. Come to Fantasycon! Everyone come to fantasycon and buy me beer so I can dazzle you with the exceptionally magnificent cover to King of the Crags and with awesome author insights like: How come zombies always seem to have all their teeth even when the rest of them has half rotted away? and If vampires are cold, how come I can see their breath?

I’ll get me coat.

[1] Don’t kick asses. They kick back and they’re much better at it.

[2] Yeah. Like dragons. Totally edge-of-the-envelope.

The Cutting Room Floor (18/8/09)

Posted in News

The rewrite has begun. We’re a couple of days in and it has its tentacles firmly wrapped around my free time, such as it was. On other days I might have posted about how kittens on Capstar are like ninjas on a really strong acid/amphetamine mix, or how to get over being terrified of rewrites by scaring the crap out of yourself in an entirely different way. But no time for that this week. Instead, I give you my first editorial sacrifice. I was loathe to let it go, but two prologues is one prologue too many. So – the first of many sweepings from the cutting room floor, some good, some…. not so good. This is a good one: The alternate prologue for The King of the Crags.

King of the Crags – the edit begins… in a bit (7/8/09)

Posted in News

Well I got my editor’s comments back on King of the Crags last week. And I’m about to go on holiday, so what’s the point in getting started only to stop again… (but then again, how can I leave it be for two weeks… ah, the tension, the trauma…). I’ve been looking forward to ranting on about the iniquities of the editing process, how all my cool and exciting ideas are being crushed or something like that, but the plain fact is that’s not how it works. What you actually get are some nice congratulatory words on a job well done and a few hints on how to make it even better. Like make sure you don’t lose track of who is related to who (meh… can’t really argue with that), and put a bit more effort into describing the eyries and the mountain scenery (which is fine with me – in a perfect world, I’d live in the mountains. I’d walk in the mountains. I’d write in the mountains. I’d buy one of those indestructible kitten-proof laptops I mentioned last time so that I could write in the mountains in the rain and the snow. I breathe mountains, dammit. In fact, in a perfect world, I’d probably be a mountain). The only thing I can find to really even start to try and raise a head of steam about is the complaint that the book has too many prologues. Is two prologues too many? Really?

Sadly yes. One of the nice things about being able to leave the story alone for six months, you get to see stuff like that a lot more clearly. Unless you go the whole hog, maybe. Yeah, a fantasy consisting of forty-seven prologues and three short chapters entitled ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’. Yeah, actually, maybe…

OK, OK, not King of the Crags, though. I’ll put the spare one up here when I’m done with the edit so you can see what you’re missing. It’s a good chapter. Pity it has to go.


So no, being edited isn’t really that traumatic. What’s traumatic is the terrifying realisation that this is it. This is the last chance, realistically, to make it right. To make it perfect. For some reason, that never really struck me with The Adamantine Palace, but the terror’s got me good this time. In a way The Adamantine Palace was easy. Kick in the door, make a big fuss. Yes, a lot got sacrificed for sheer pace. Right or wrong, that was the intent. It’s pretty clear from the reviews and the other feedback that I’ve had that for a lot of people, this really really works. For others, it really really doesn’t. For those the former, I offer more. For the latter… sorry, but it ain’t going to happen. Maybe next time.

And then there’s the middle ground. The ‘yes, but…’ camp. There’s quite a lot of you, too. Well, Yesbuts, in a way this one was always for you (because let’s face it, we all know I’m going to let rip again in book three). So what am I trying to do? As I sit down and start what will be the final set of re-writes to King of the Crags, what am I trying to achieve?

A long time ago, I read The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. For most of the book I was a bit bored. The characters struck me as two-dimensional and cartoonish. And then something happened. Just as the horror of the denouement was about to descend, the characters suddenly somehow flipped into three dimensions. The cardboard cut-outs I’d sneered and laughed at suddenly became people with souls. As I watched their world fall apart, I felt guilty and ashamed. That’s just how one book happened to work for me, but it’s haunted me ever since.

So that’s what I’m trying to achieve. I’m trying to recapture that feeling of guilt when a person you took for granted as being horrible crept under your skin while you weren’t looking and turned out to be human after all.

King of the Crags may be slower (not a lot slower, but it will be slower) than The Adamantine Palace. If I’m doing my job right, it will give the world and the characters some more depth. It’ll move events forward, but it’ll also put add a layer underneath everything that happened before. Book three will do the same – another step forward and yet another layer underneath. There will be action, adventure, terror and war. There will be dragons, and I promise they’re not going to go all soft and philosophical on you. You can even, just for those of you who need one, have a character with a strong moral compass. Maybe even two. Not sure why you want them – they’ll probably just get their asses eaten by some dragon and then you’ll get all pissy with me again. But you can have them anyway.

But for those who get to the end and if I’ve done my job really right, the shallow selfish bastard that is Jehal will haunt you long after you put book three down. :twisted:

So that’s the challenge I set myself, and I don’t know whether or not I can do it and it’s probably true to say that I’m as scared witless about launching into this edit as I’ve been about anything.

And at the same time, I can’t wait. Just in case I can get it right.


Oh yeah, and a full draft of book three is written. Needs months of polishing, but it’s all there. Mwah ha ha…

A Stain Upon the Vastness (4/8/09)

Posted in Critical Failures

Meh. Finished manuscript blues. I could start on the next one, I suppose (OK, OK, I already cracked on that yesterday). I could start the rework for King of the Crags (editorial comments have now been received, and will be blogged about at sarcastic length[1] shortly). But I’m going on holiday for a week of wandering around on Cornish beaches in the pissing rain, and since I am NOT ALLOWED to take my ‘work’ with me (and since I don’t yet have a ruggedised mil-spec laptop suitable for use in Afghanistan Cornwall, what’s the point in starting something for a week only to put it away again, eh?


Meh meh meh. Can’t even play with kittens (why do the kittens get a longer holiday than I do? Do they need one? Was the assault on my USB stick that stressful? Maybe they’re plotting. Maybe that’s it <twitch>)

Well, for a week, I’ve found a passable distraction. There’s this thing at Orbit: The Worst Cover Ever. I can’t draw for toffee (sorry Doodled Books but I did warn you). What I can do is blurb, though. So here we go.

A Stain Upon the Vastness

Fifty thousand parsecs out from the edge of the dying Galaxy, the last surviving remnants of the human race, devolved back into savagery and ignorant of the origins, float through the vastness on an artificial world. They are monitored from within by the Uppers, the elite few who have access to the vast data banks and artifical intelligence that controls the world. They are safe, self-sufficient, their survival assured.

Until they encounter the mysterious Stain, a being of pure energy that might just be God or The Devil.

Cue some mish-mash of Forbidden Planet, old Star Trek and a reworking of the Garden of Eden myth that’s as subtle as a brick…

Man, I love that title (and the one about the dancing cyborg fairies too) I might offer up some more blurbs for the other Orbit covers. In the mean time, go check out the other titles. And vote Stain! (I didn’t come up with this. I just like it).

[1] I’ll be making almost all of this up, damn you Simon, since there’s absolutely nothing in what you’ve said that isn’t entirely reasonable and, well, at all easy to get worked up about.

Dear Editor… (or Bloody First Readers) (11/4/08)

Posted in News

(names changed to protect the not-so-innocent)

Scene: Author and First Reader are sitting in the lounge. Author has finally consented to evening of Chinese Takeway after being slowly bludgeoned into submission with the words ‘Crispy Chilli Beef’ for pretty much all of April. This is supposed to be a big treat for First Reader. Author is anticipating a restless night of Monosodium Glutamate-fuelled dreams. (LSD, pah! When you’re ready, try the hard stuff mate), followed by the inevitable grogginess of post-MSG hangover.

First Reader: When are you going to e-mail Editor?

Author: When it’s *finished* finished.

First Reader: No, really, when are you going to e-mail Editor?

Author (who has clear stumbled blindly into an Incorrect Answer situation): I dunno. Middle of May. Maybe.

First Reader: How about the week after next?

Author (playing trump card): Ah-HA! Isn’t that the London Book Fair? I’m sure Editor will be far too busy. (smug smug smug)

First Reader (revealing bigger trump card with the bored ease of one who *always* has the ace): No, that’s *next* week.

Author (floundering): Well what’s the point? I’m about to stop writing first chapters for <the next book> and start reworking <the current book>. I’ll send it when it’s done. Editor isn’t expecting it for a while, and is probably quite busy you know.

First Reader: Well what about the ending?

Author: You mean the ending that’s mine and that I like and think is right and rather shocking and unexpected and have no intention of changing? You mean that ending?

First Reader: Yes

Author: …

First Reader: I’m not sure I like it.

Author (manfully resisting urge to embed laptop into First Reader) …

First Reader: What if Editor doesn’t like it?

Author: …

First Reader: So why don’t you e-mail Editor?

[Author descends into a lengthy dissertation on the pros and cons of this course of action, pausing to consider all possible responses, likely impacts etc. etc. and only barely manages to avoid using prawn crackers and sweet-and-sour sauce to assemble risk-benefit charts across the table]

Author: Well. I suppose. On balance.

First Reader: What?

Author: What?

First Reader: Oh, I got bored and stopped listening five minutes ago. If you don’t want to, then don’t.

Author: Pardon?

First Reader (waiting until the precise moment that Author consumes last mouthful of MSG-saturated lemon-cardboard-and-string Peking style chicken, then pushing largely untouched plate away): I don’t know what’s happened to this takeaway, but this is crap. I don’t know why you’re eating it. [Scene ends as First Reader exits to deposit takeaway menu in the recycle bin. Author has acquired several strange ticks and twitches.]

Editor, please, for the sake of my sanity and a little peace and quiet, please telegram the following at the earliest opportunity: Good to know you’re making progress STOP Very busy publishing *other* books now STOP Will read when *finished* finished STOP Good luck!

Or something like that.