Friday, July 23, 2010

Wintertide




A Forced Wedding.
A Double Execution.
Two Thieves Have Other Plans.

The New Empire intends to celebrate its victory over the Nationalists with a day that will never be forgotten. On the high holiday of Wintertide the empress will be married. Degan Gaunt and the Witch of Melengar will be publically executed. Then the empress will suffer a fatal accident leaving the empire in the hands of the new emperor. It will be a perfect day. There is only one problem—Royce and Hadrian have finally found Degan Gaunt.


For those just tuning in, Wintertide is the fifth book in the six book Riyria Revelations series. It is scheduled for release in October, and just as recent as two weeks ago I wondered if it would make it.

I wrote all six books in the series before the first was published. I wrote them as one story divided up into episodes. So if you can imagine, I dreamed up this grand tale and then figured out how to break that down into smaller book-length stories with their own beginning, anti-climax, climax, and end. Then I wrote it straight through, one book after another finishing the last one during the period following my signing a contract to publish the first book, but before it was released.

Now when I wrote them, as I completed each book, I went back and edited each. I looked for mistakes certainly, but I was really looking at “how it read” and to be certain that the pacing and the story worked. I wasn’t studying the grammar or searching for consistency of names and such, because well, at that time I never dreamed I would be publishing the books and assumed only three people might read them, so why bother.

That’s the way it was with all the books. I wrote The Crown Conspiracy in a month (September of 2004) and I wrote Avempartha in the same length of time in the following month (October 2004) but as you might guess, writing at that speed, the books were not perfect. It wasn’t an issue because I never planned to send either to an agent or publisher. I slowed down a bit as I wrote Nyphron Rising taking three or four months to write it, and Emerald Storm was interrupted by our move to the DC area, which left the book in a year-long dormancy.

Wintertide was the first book I fully wrote in Virginia. The first book I wrote after obtaining an agent who gave me the ego boost of saying the books were publishable. The first book I wrote after having learned some fundamentals about writing that I was missing, that my agent gently informed me of, and for which I will always be grateful.

As a result, I felt my writing had improved significantly and this was supported by my wife Robin when, directly after Emerald Storm was released she picked up the manuscript for Wintertide, read it through, and proclaimed it was great and unlike the previous books would not require much work at all. You see, Robin is my first critic/editor. She always does the first pass and it is her job to find fault. I was therefore very pleased to hear that Wintertide would be a breeze to put out and looked forward to a summer vacation.

It didn’t happen.

Robin read the book through three or four times and each time she found new problems. I’m not talking about using “that” when it should be “which” or using the wrong form of “lay” or my infamous use of “starred” when I mean “stared,” but plot problems.

As I said when I wrote the books I didn’t expect them to get published. The same is true of Wintertide. I had an agent, but that is like owning a lottery ticket—it’s a step closer, but it doesn’t mean you’ll win. There were a few aspects of the story I had never been satisfied with, and Robin found those. When she did—when I saw someone other than myself picked up on the same weakness, I knew it had to be changed. Luckily the problems are in-book issues and don’t affect the series as a whole, and center mostly on eliminating contrivances and strengthening character motivations.

Robin took the book, went through it and highlighted all the flaws. Then she made a valiant effort to re-build the book for me, going so far as to actually write new scenes. She struggled with it for weeks and then handed it back to me with a miserable look saying, “I think I broke the book.”

I read it through and agreed. It was a mess, but now that she had revealed the flaws, they had to be addressed. And while her solutions were logical and structurally sound, they reduced the story to the spectator sport of drying paint. Reading it was like driving a car with a serious imbalance in the wheels. The pacing was way off and suffered from the unforgivable sin of being boring.

I took the pile of tattered pages, crumpled, stained and scribbled (metaphorically as it was really a heavily marked up doc file) and right in what should have been my summer vacation (I look forward to one every year, but it never seems to materialize,) with less than a hundred days left before the scheduled release, I began literary CPR.

Sequestered in my office, fortified with coffee, I tried to sew up the damage, but it wasn’t working. I was losing the patient. The more I tried to smooth out the bumps the worse it got. Eventually I scrapped the whole first half of the book and started over. I went all the way back to reworking the story at the outline level, forcing myself to forget how the story had been for years and re-envisioned it. For me this was a little like trying to forget ten years of your life and imagine something else happened instead.

Over the course of one very long day, I paced, I walked, and I pondered as I reconstructed half the novel. By the end, I had a new outline. I showed it to Robin, who was dubious.

“I don’t know,” she told me with a clear tone of desperation in her voice. “I can’t tell from an outline. I can’t see it like you can.”

The next day I began writing with a cloud over my head. Emails came in asking when Wintertide would be out. My neighbor stopped me on the sidewalk. “I can’t wait for Wintertide! When’s that gonna be ready? I want to know what will happen to Arista!”

Sigh. I don’t like writing under pressure.

About ten days later it was done and I handed it off to Robin. I had no idea. Like the myopic builder of a skyscraper, I waited to find out what I had done.

“You saved it!” she beamed. Then her brow furrowed. “Well, mostly. It still needs a bit of work.”

Back and forth it went after that, problems found, problems fixed until at last the book felt sturdy enough to allow a new set of eyes to judge it. We waited as our friend, and new Ridan intern, Annie, read through the newly revised version.

“It’s good. I really liked it, but…”

We braced ourselves expecting the worst. Turned out the “but,” while important, was relatively minor and easily corrected. Actually there were many “buts” and it took the better part of a week to hammer out each. The issues at stake were small, and in some cases, perhaps unnoticeable by the average reader, but each was debated between Robin and Annie over our dinner table with all the passion of two trial lawyers working a murder case and leaving me to make the decisions.

Yesterday the last changes were finished and the new improved Wintertide has finally entered the line-editing stage. The building is over and the sanding has commenced. By August I hope the polishing will begin and by October, if all goes well, Royce and Hadrian will ride again.

6 comments:

  1. Oooh, how exciting! I CANNOT wait to read this! The blurb you shared - WOW, that makes me impatient! LOL And, as always, what a gorgeous cover! :-)

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  2. You know, would it be possible to include the "erased" version[s] with the ebook editions?

    Or as some kind of extra somehow? I think it would be cool to see how things changed. Kind of like how Sanderson did for Warbreaker [except I think he gave WAY too much info with every little revision], only not quite so much? :-)

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  3. Thanks Heather.

    Derrick,

    I started to post here some of the deleted scenes as in this post back in March.

    http://riyria.blogspot.com/2010/03/deleted-scenes.html

    But I'm not sure I would want to include the false starts in the books. There is something to be said for the illusion of perfection.

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  4. Wow, what a journey. Kudos to you for being honest with yourself and facing the music. I'm sure it will be well worth it in the long and short runs.

    And as usual, another fantastic cover.

    Congratulations.

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  5. Great!! You and Robin make a wonderful team. So thank you both for these amazing books. :) Looking forward to getting back into the world you have created here. Sounds like a lot of pressure, but glad it went easlier for you when you got started into the book.

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  6. Mr sullivan,

    I started crown conspiracy last month...and....because of you i lost many a good night's sleep ...and today i have finished wintertide....now i learnt percepliquis is expected in apr 2011 only...a long time to wait....till that time what shall i do...which other authors would u recommend....i cant keep wondering for so long
    muthuraman

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