Using the 8-Scene, 3-Act Structure to Tighten – plus Snippets from THE PROMISED QUEEN!

A tease for you all, of the cover for THE PROMISED QUEEN. It’s mostly final, but I don’t know when we’ll do a cover reveal. The reveal for THE FIERY CROWN cover wasn’t until October so… it might be a while. It’s lovely, though, and I think you all will be delighted!

I’ve been working on developmental edits on THE PROMISED QUEEN. When I turned in the draft to Editor Jennie, it came in at 118,489 words. That’s 426 pages in Word (12pt Times New Roman, 1″ margins, double spaced) for those who don’t speak wordcount. It was long. So long that I didn’t add the final scene I really wanted – it was more of an epilogue, anyway – and some of the ending went faster than I wanted. Fortunately, Editor Jennie found some places to condense – mostly in the first 200 pages, a lot in the first 100 pages – and she wants those final scenes added/fleshed out, too. She’s asking me to aim for 112-1115K.

That means a lot of cutting. My least favorite kind of revision, alas.

But it’s going okay. I’ve cut 4,568 words so far, and have the draft at 113,921. I’ve also figured out that if I trim the chapters in Act 1 by ~6,600 words, then the Act 1 climax falls at the right place for the book to have the right 8-scene, 3-act structure to be complete at 115K. That tells me my mission is to trim and tighten Chapters 2-7. (Because Chapter 1 is already the shortest and as tight as can be.) This is one reason track chapter wordcounts and apply the math to discern where unhealthy padding is distorting the story structure.

A couple of posts you can read to learn more about this are Geeking Out Over the 8-Scene, 3-Act Structure (resurrected from a guest post on a now defunct blog) and Learning My Own Lessons, which references the first post.  (Incidentally, I wrote Learning My Own Lessons in May 2015 as I was working on THE PAGES OF THE MIND, my RITA(R) Award-winning book. Many of you – especially those who listen to my First Cup of Coffee podcast – will recognize the same process angst in it that I have today.)

Some of the cutting was easy – snippets that Jennie highlighted as bits that could go. They’re not even big enough to count as deleted scenes. They’re mostly just bits of conversation that made me smile.

So, as promised on the podcast, and as requested by those of you who don’t use Facebook, where I posted one. Here are a few snippets to tantalize you, ones that aren’t too big of spoilers. Likely this will be the only place they’ll survive.

*****************

Lia sighed out a breath on a murmur of sound, and turned toward me. I lifted my hand and she burrowed beneath my arm, tucking her head against my chest and curling into me like a kitten seeking warmth. Carefully, I adjusted the covers around her again, and laid my arm so as not to crush her with it.

And finally slept.

*****************

He released my shoulders, shrugging. “Not the first time. What would be weird is if we weren’t.”

“Argh!” I growled incoherently and, making a fist with my good hand, hit his chest with the meat of it. It was like punching a wall.

His grin widened and he rubbed the spot. “Hey—that was pretty decent. You’re already stronger.”

Not strong enough, though. I’d been at my peak before Anure got ahold of me. If that happened again when I was so weak, I’d collapse even faster. I nearly broke down just thinking about it.

*****************

She snorted. “As sensitive as a stone wall.”

I must be more sensitive than she thought, because that stung.

*****************

None of them would’ve shown such a lack of manners with Lia on the throne, and I felt like the substitute tutor having to get mean with the kids who thought they’d get away with bad behavior.

*****************

“It would be useful to know,” Lia agreed.

“You don’t know?” I asked, somewhat surprised. Lia had spies in Yekpehr, and elsewhere, no doubt.

She shook her head minutely. “Not precise numbers, no. Their existence isn’t spoken of openly. I’ve been guessing that Anure has them, and discovering Princess Rhéiane may be there has added weight to the theory.”

“Just Rhéiane, Your Highness,” Sondra corrected.

“Pardon Me?” Lia raised a brow but seemed unoffended.

“Rhéiane, like my name, carries the honorific with it,” I explained.

“Ah, of course.” Lia nodded. “Conrí and Rhéiane. Your parents named you with their ambitions.”

“Or hubris that tempted the gods to prove them wrong,” I muttered, making her lips twitch in a smile.

*****************

Sondra sidled up to me. “Good idea to drink the water or no? What’s this ‘if you dare’ thing? Give it to me straight.”

I nearly laughed, but managed not to. “It will only show you the truth—but you know as well as I do that the truth can be difficult to take.”

“Truer words,” she muttered, then gave me a salute. “Good luck, huh? Taming the monster and all.”

*****************

 

A Story about the Audio Book of THE FIERY CROWN

The audio book of THE FIERY CROWN is now available! Narrated by the fantastic Gabrielle Baker, I’m super excited to listen to it!

Some of you might note that this is a different audio book narrator than the one who did THE ORCHID THRONE. One of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many audio book narrators couldn’t do their jobs. Unless they had home studios, they were out of luck. I don’t know if that’s what happened with my previous narrator, but when Editor Jennie contacted me and said the Tantor team had let her know the narrator for book 1 was unavailable for book 2, I wasn’t surprised. I also wasn’t too broken up about it, as the previous narrator – while having a wonderfully rich voice – hadn’t handled the two different first person points of view (POV) as well as I’d hoped. The books present a real challenge that way, in that the chapters in the POV of Con, the male protagonist needed to be narrated in a deeper, growlier voice, along with his spoken dialogue.

I greatly appreciated that Jennie and Tantor asked if I had narrators to suggest, because I immediately suggested Gabrielle. I’d listened to her narrate Tanith Lee’s THE SILVER METAL LOVER, one of my all-time favorites, and thought she did a bang up job. She also did the audio book narration for bestie Grace Draven’s RADIANCE and EIDOLON, so I knew Gabrielle was great to work with. Finally, I knew Gabrielle had a home studio! Tantor checked with her, and – to our mutual delight – she was available! (I learned later that Tantor really shifted stuff around to make this happen, for which I’m so grateful.)

So, I’ve downloaded my own copy and anticipate many delightful hours listening to the book! I’ve received developmental edits for THE PROMISED QUEEN, so I’ll be finishing my listen of THE ORCHID THRONE and THE FIERY CROWN to prep for that final revision. And yes, I actually shelled out to buy the Audible versions of my own books. I get author copies of them, but on CD, which means I can’t listen on my phone. At least I can deduct that!

I also have finished copies of the paperback of THE FIERY CROWN !  You can order a signed copy through my website store for $5 and I’ll mail it to you. (Sorry, US only on that deal.) Be sure to note if you want it personalized.

The Alphahole Conundrum

My books! Spotted in the wild at George R.R. Martin’s Beastly Books.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “Sex on the Beach & Sand in the Wrong Places: What’s your favorite bit of pop-culture fiction doesn’t work well in reality?”

For the record, I’m going to put out there that you CAN totally have sex on the beach without getting sand in the wrong places. It’s not even that difficult. Are these other people rolling around in the sand with sticky parts first?? I can’t even.

Anyway… Come on over for my thoughts! 

Why This Wasn’t Your One Big Chance

This is a photo from one of my very first author events, for my first book, which was an essay collection: Wyoming Trucks, True Love and the Weather Channel. I was so excited to be there, all shiny and wet behind the ears. I had a lot of ideas then about how my writing career would be – and most of them were wrong. Not because I was ignorant or idealistic (though I was), but because life takes its twists and turns.

I can say, however, that though many people told me I’d “made it,” I hadn’t – because there’s no such thing. And, though I thought my days of facing rejection and defeat were over, that wasn’t true either. On the other hand, many amazing things have happened that I could never have predicted.

I saw a meme on Instagram yesterday shared by my lovely friend Megan Mulry. It’s the Gen X reaction to the COVID-19 #stayhome initiatives.

It helped me to see this, because I’ve been feeling terribly disappointed about missing out on some events of my own – and it’s always good to realize that it’s okay to be upset. I can be both upset for myself and be concerned for people who are facing far worse trials. I was super excited about the release of THE FIERY CROWN on May 26. The first book in the trilogy, THE ORCHID THRONE, has been gaining traction with more and more people reading and recommending it. It was even a Staff Pick at Powell’s Books! Since I was planning to be in Los Angeles for SFWA’s Nebula Conference that week, I had planned for a release day party at The Ripped Bodice bookstore, then the mass autographing at the conference itself, then a jaunt for a signing at Mysterious Galaxy the following week – with maybe a little beach time in San Diego. I also have an event lined up at George RR Martin’s Jean Cocteau Cinema & Beastly Books on May 17 here in Santa Fe. Maybe those will still happen? We don’t know. But the Nebula Conference is definitely happening online.

I had shiny visions of THE FIERY CROWN really taking off. And, really, that hasn’t changed. It’s just my parties that might not happen. I truly feel for all the authors with March book releases who had everything canceled – and I’ve seen a lot of the writing community online expressing sympathy in particular to the debut authors. This is because there’s the perception that you only get to be a debut author once. Which is kind of true, but it’s also like virginity – it really depends on how you define it, extenuating circumstances matter, and really, it’s not as big of a deal as people think.

The thing is, we – and by this I mean human beings – tend to think we have One Big Chance at something. As a newbie writer, I recall being crushed by rejections from agents or editors on occasions I’d become convinced were my One Big Chance. Opportunities arrived, I seized them to the best of my ability, and they went rushing past anyway. It was tempting to give up on those occasions. After all: I’d tried and failed.

I think some of this perception comes from the tired saying “Opportunity knocks only once.” If that’s not a lot of pressure, I don’t know what is. What if you’re in the bathroom when opportunity knocks? There it goes: your one opportunity ever. Might as well die now.

It’s patently ridiculous. And it turns out, is a proverb probably adapted from Phaedrus in A.D. 8, “One lost, Jupiter himself cannot bring back opportunity.” Who knows? Maybe they had fewer opportunities to go around in those days. The opportunity population hadn’t rebounded from being eaten by dinosaurs.

Regardless, there are tons of opportunities. They present themselves all the time. Some work out; some don’t. Some we deliberately bypass because the cost is higher than we’re willing to pay at that time. Sometimes there’s a global pandemic and we have to stay home.

But if I’ve learned anything in these years since my ears dried and I’ve written something like thirty more books since that first collection, it’s that there’s no solid trajectory to success. As with all things, my success as an author – and of each new work – waxes and wanes, and greatly depends on how I define it. (Much like virginity and being a debut.) For all of you feeling like you missed your One Big Chance: you didn’t. I promise. It was one opportunity (or several) in a lifetime of them. Often the most amazing incidences are the ones you don’t see coming and couldn’t possibly have predicted or planned for.

We won’t have to #stayhome forever, and when we emerge from our sparkling isolation, we’ll be ready to party. It will be as epic. 😉

Reader Questions on THE ORCHID THRONE

Pretty pretty page proofs (with cover flats) of THE FIERY CROWN! I’m doing my final read of this book, then going straight into writing book 3: THE PROMISED QUEEN.

(For those patiently waiting on THE FATE OF THE TALA, it’s still with my copy editor. As soon as I get it back, I’ll turn it around and get it to you!)

Sometimes readers email me questions through the contact form on the website, so I’ve decided to do a periodic Mailbag feature here on the blog, because other people in the class might have the same question. 😉 Today’s questions are about THE ORCHID THRONE.  For those who didn’t see yesterday, a chance reader happened to spot THE ORCHID THRONE at Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon. They’ve been one of my favorite bookstores for a long time now – and pretty much the top priority to visit when I first went to Portland, years ago. So, seeing my book as a Staff Pick there was a real thrill!! And then the generous David D. Levine (at the behest of fellow SFWA Board Member Curtis Chen) went to Powell’s last night and snapped a pick of the shelf talker (who knew it was called that???) for me, so I could read what it said. *Blissful Sigh*

And now, on to the questions!

I’m in the middle of reading The Orchid Throne and am loving it. I have a question about how Conri was able to acquire is muscled body. As a slave for 14 – 20 years, wouldn’t he have been malnourished and therefore stunted in his growth, both in height and mass? You would have the empire feed the slaves a lot of protein, at the least. But, they wouldn’t bother, since there’s plenty more slaves from the rest of the empire, right? Wouldn’t Conri more closely resemble his father, half-starved and missing all his teeth? I know these a really picky questions, but they keep coming up in my head every time Conri’s body type is mentioned.

This is something I thought about quite a lot – and there IS a really good reason that Con, Sondra, and the others were fed decently. BUT, you find out more about it in the sequel, The Fiery Crown, and it will become important in book 3, The Promised Queen. So, I can’t tell you too much without spoilering things. The short answer is this particular group was fed well and kept in good health ostensibly to mine more vurgsten. That also left them perky enough to escape and stage a rebellion. I don’t think toothless and emaciated people would be fighting off guards and making a bid for freedom. To hint at the long answer… think about who Con is. Sondra, too, and why Ambrose joined up with them.

 

Could you give an island in our universe that corresponds to the size and shape of Calanthe? Is it, say, the size and shape of Ireland?

I can’t because this is an alternate world and, as much as possible, I try to keep away from comparisons to our world. The characters in that world don’t think of themselves in terms of how Calanthe compares to Ireland, so I don’t either. Calanthe isn’t an alternate Ireland, nor an alternate Virgin Gorda for that matter. It’s its own place, so any measurements would be in terms of that world.

 

Second, if Calanthe is the Isle of Paradise, that would suggest a tropical/semi-tropical location. Where did Tertulyn get the ice to help cool Lia

Remember that Calanthe is a island of refined pleasures, too, and part of a vast network of kingdoms even before it was acquired by the empire. There’s extensive trade and shipping, so all sorts of delicacies – including ice – can be brought in. It’s a mistake to view a world on the verge of a technological revolution as this one is as being ignorant or unable to devise solutions to simple problems like insulation. Even in our own ancient world, non-tech civilizations employed clever insulation to bring ice to the tropics.

 

Is there a map of The Orchid Throne world available, even if just a very rough first draft?

No, I don’t, Drawing maps isn’t part of my process typically, as I see the world in my head. When I have drawn maps, it’s because my editor asked for them – and in this case, she hasn’t.

 

How old is Conri?

He’s about 28, a couple years older than Lia.

 

Thanks everyone for reading! It’s really wonderful to see the excitement for this series.