swan_tower: (*writing)

If you’ve ever wished you could have a matched set of all four Onyx Court novels, now you can!


Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, A Star Shall Fall, and With Fate Conspire are all out now in the UK, in a lovely set of matching trade paperbacks. They’ve also had a few errors cleaned up, the dates reformatted to British style, and the spelling Anglicized, so on the whole, I feel comfortable in calling this the author’s preferred edition. 🙂 Get ’em now, while the getting is good!

UK covers of all four Onyx Court novels

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

Jim Hines has been doing a thing on his blog where he genderswaps character descriptions to look at how women and men get depicted. He did it first with classic SF/F novels, then with more recent titles — including his own.

It’s an interesting enough exercise that I decided to go through my own books and see what happens when I genderswap the descriptions. Results are below. I skipped over the Doppelganger books because quite frankly, describing people has never been a thing I do a lot of, and back then I did basically none of it, so this starts with Midnight Never Come.


Read the rest of this entry ďż˝ )

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

Possibly the easiest way for me to encapsulate the character I talked about in a previous post is by linking you to this song.

It’s an amazing remix all on its own. I love the way it builds, wave-like: it keeps climbing and then receding, stepping back to a quieter level when you expect it to bust out in full Linkin Park screamo yelling. :-P But more than that, it fit beautifully with Ree at the pivotal moment of her story, the brink of her metamorphosis from the broken, lost thing she had been for eons back to her original self. “I’ve felt this way before” . . . she’d been shattered, and had tried to piece herself back together — thought she had succeeded — but then during the course of the game she was shattered again, falling back to square one, so far from her goal it was almost impossible for her to believe that she was actually closer to it than ever. “Against my will I stand beside my own reflection” . . . she sold half her soul to someone else, not realizing that was what she was doing, and she had to reclaim it. “Without a sense of confidence, I’m convinced that there’s just too much pressure to take” . . . the problem with her Seelie side was that it had too much confidence, without the fatalism of her Unseelie half to temper it, which is how she got broken again, and then the symbolism of the diamond and pressure over time pretty much guaranteed I had to use this song. This was Ree at her lowest point, one step away from victory, and the tension that builds throughout this evokes those days perfectly in my mind. There’s more to it than one song, but I can point to the song and say, this. This is why I can’t forget her story.

When I make soundtracks for characters, or for games I run, or for novels, many of the songs are filler. They go in because I want the whole story in music, and so I pick the best matches I can; in the really good soundtracks, even the filler is pretty solid. But this? This is why I go to the effort. For the one or two or five songs that are the story, the ones that become so linked with the narrative that they end up feeding back into it, and it can be eight years later and hearing them still brings the story to life in my head. This is Galen walking into the chamber below the Monument. This is Dead Rick getting his memories back. Here’s the entire second half of Doppelganger, according to my half-dozing brain when I was in the middle of writing the book; I can quite literally map segments of the novel to the various stages in the music, because my subconscious had decided this was the outline it was writing to. (Much like what happened here, though that was on a smaller scale.)

It’s no accident that I also love film scores. Pairing music with story — turning music into story — is one of my favorite things. Since I’m not a composer, I have to settle for the mix-tape approach. Sometimes it works out very, very well.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)
Yeah, I'm still thinking about this topic. Partly because of Cora Buhlert's recent roundup. The digression onto Deathstalker mostly went over my head, since I haven't read it, but she brings up a number of good points and also links to several posts I hadn't seen. (Though I use the term "post" generously. I have to say, when the only response you make to this debate is "meh" followed by links to people who already agree with you, you might as well not bother. All you're doing is patting yourself on the back in public.)

So I'm thinking about our terminology -- "gritty" and "grimdark" and so on. What do we mean by "grit," anyway? The abrasive parts of life, I guess; the stuff that's hard and unpleasant. Logistics and consequences and that sort of thing, the little stony details that other books might gloss over. It's adjacent to, or maybe our new replacement for, "low fantasy" -- the stories in which magic is relatively rare, and characters have to do things the hard way, just like us. Hence laying claim to the term "realism": those kinds of details that can ground a story in reality.

But that isn't the same thing as "grimdark," is it? That describes a mood, and you can just as easily tell a story in which everything is horrible and doomed without those little details as with. (As indeed some authors do.) Hence, of course, the counter-arguments that grimdark fantasy is just as selective in its "realism" as lighter fare: if you're writing about a war and all the women are threatened with sexual violence but none of the men are, then you're cherry-picking your grit.

What interests me, though, are the books which I might call gritty, but not grimdark. I mentioned this a while ago, when I read Tamora Pierce's second Beka Cooper book, Bloodhound. The central conflict in that book is counterfeiting, and Pierce is very realistic about what fake coinage can do to a kingdom. She also delves into the nuts and bolts of early police work, including police corruption . . . I'd call that grit. Of course it's mitigated by the fact that her story is set in Tortall, which began in a decidedly less gritty manner; one of the things I noticed in the Beka Cooper books was how Pierce worked to deconstruct some of her earlier, more romantic notions, like the Court of the Rogue. But still: counterfeiting, a collapse in monetary policy, police corruption of a realistic sort, etc. Those are the kinds of details a lot of books would gloss over.

Or an example closer to home: With Fate Conspire. I was discussing it over e-mail recently, and it occurred to me that I put a lot of unpleasantness into that book. Off the cuff, it includes betrayal, slavery, slavery of children, imprisonment, torture, horrible disease, poverty, racism, terrorism, massive amounts of class privilege and the lack thereof, rape (alluded to), pollution, fecal matter, and an abundance of swearing. All of which is the kind of stuff grimdark fantasy revels in . . . yet I have not seen a single person attach that label to the novel. Nor "gritty," for that matter, but I would argue that word, at least, should indeed apply. A great deal of that story grinds its way through the hard, unpleasant details of being lower-class in Victorian London. Realistic details, at that.

Of course, the book has a happy ending (albeit one with various price tags attached). Which makes it not grimdark -- and also not gritty? Or maybe it's that I was writing historical fiction, not the secondary-world fantasy that seems to be the locus of the term. Or, y'know, it might be that I'm a woman. One of the posts Buhlert links to is from [personal profile] matociquala, who -- unusually for this debate -- names some female authors as having produced gritty work, and Buhlert takes that point further. This is a highly gendered debate, not just where the sexual abuse of characters is concerned, and if we don't acknowledge that, we're only looking at a fraction of the issue.

I'm sort of wandering at this point, because there's no tidy conclusion to draw. You can have grit without being grimdark, and you can be grimdark without grit, but doing either while being female is rare? Not very tidy, but something to keep in mind. I think I'd be interested in reading more gritty-but-not-grimdark fantasy, from either gender. Recommendations welcome.
swan_tower: (*writing)
Just as a reminder, the "Con or Bust" auctions close this Sunday. Bidding on the double-signed copy of A Natural History of Dragons (autographed by both me and Todd Lockwood, with a bonus sketch from him) is up to $48, while A Star Shall Fall is at $15 and With Fate Conspire is at $20. Proceeds go to a good cause, and the books don't suck either, if I do say so myself. ;-)
swan_tower: (*writing)
I am not, unfortunately, allowed to quote the whole Kirkus review for A Natural History of Dragons yet; they paywall it until two weeks before the book's pub date. I can, however, share this line: "Told in the style of a Victorian memoir, courageous, intelligent and determined Isabella’s account is colorful, vigorous and absorbing." And they really liked the whole memoir-style-pov thing. (Which is good, because it's one of my favorite things about writing this series.)

There's also a new review of With Fate Conspire, this one by George Straatman: "As has been the case with its three predecessors, With Fate Conspire is masterful in its depiction of life in London during the era depicted…both from a cultural perspective and from a geographic perspective, Marie paints a precise portrait of what it was like to live in the city during this tumultuous era."

And finally, a review for Lies and Prophecy, over at The Jeep Diva: "Ms. Brennan does a magnificent job of taking fantasy and weaving it throughout a story of typical college students, trying to find themselves not only in their pursuits of education, but in their personal lives as well."

Since three things only make three-fifths of a post, I will close out the remaining two fifths with something I've been forgetting to link to: my latest BVC entries. I diverted briefly from my discussion of folktale-like fantasy to lay out what tale types are (a subject on which I will have more to say later), and then came back to the point to talk about the grammar of a folktale plot. (Or, to put those posts in jargon shorthand: Aarne-Thompson-Uther, and then Propp. Next up: Luthi! Which reminds me, I need to write that post.)
swan_tower: (With Fate Conspire)
While rooting around in my archives looking for something else, I discovered I never put up an open book thread for With Fate Conspire!

So consider this an invitation to make any comments or ask any questions you might have about that book. (Needless to say, this will result in spoilers. Read the thread at your own risk.) I, er, can't promise I'll be able to answer everything with perfect clarity; at this point my head is full of Isabella instead of the Onyx Court, so I may be a tad fuzzy on some of the details. But I'll do my best!

And if you have a question about a previous novel, the other open book threads are still open. Though I don't have one for the doppelganger series, now that I think about it. Well, if you have a question about one of those, let me know; I can make a new thread if there's need.

Note: As an experiment, I have closed this thread until the beginning of 2013, in an attempt to convince spammers to stop spamming it. If you have a question, feel free to ask it elsewhere, or come back in January.
swan_tower: (*writing)
My thanks to everyone who sent me a title suggestion for the second book of Isabella's memoirs! I received comments here, on Twitter, on Goodreads, by e-mail . . . the whole gamut. Give me a little while to sort through them, and then I'll announce a winner.

Speaking of winners, Jim Hines' fundraiser for rape crisis centers is less than $200 away from hitting the benchmark that tosses a signed copy of With Fate Conspire and a signed ARC of A Natural History of Dragons into the prize pot. There are new rewards, too, at levels up to $4000, and some of them are very shiny.

And finally, we're in the last days of the Urban Tarot Project. $375 dollars more there will mean embroidered bags for everyone receiving the deck! And there are still signed copies of With Fate Conspire available there, too, so if you want one of those (along with all the other parts of the reward package), you have 71 hours left in which to get it.

swan_tower: (armor)
The ever-awesome Jim Hines running a fundraiser this month for rape crisis centers. For every benchmark hit, he'll be giving away one of a whole slew of books, which you can see at that link. And if the fundraising gets up to $2500 (which I devoutly hope it will!), then I'll be tossing in two things to sweeten the pot: a signed copy of With Fate Conspire, and a signed ARC of A Natural History of Dragons.

(This is separate from the title-suggestion giveaway for the first ARC. Two chances to win!)

Head on over to his post for details, including how to donate. It's an excellent cause, and I hope it raises enough money that he has to find more prizes to give away!
swan_tower: (*writing)
I'm very pleased to say that with ten days to go, the Urban Tarot deck is just over a thousand dollars away from being fully funded. Close enough, in fact, that the artist Robert Scott has started making plans for what to do if he overshoots his funding goal.

The full updates (here and here) have more details, but the short form is that if the project goes $3K over the original total, he will add in custom silk spreadcloths for every donor above $65, and if it goes $5K over, then every donor receiving a deck will also get an embroidered velvet bag.

Also, Rob has added a second offer of the "Hermit and the Leviathans" reward package, which is the one where you get a personalized tour of the Fossil Halls at the American Museum of Natural History from one of the deck models, Chris Hall, who is a docent there. Why a second offer? Because the first one got snapped up in record time, and I can understand why. if I didn't live on the other coast, I'd consider going for that option myself! (As it stands, I went for the option of being a card model instead. No, I'm not telling you which one. You'll have to wait and see.)

And speaking of things that went fast . . . we've added five more to the "Marie Brennan" package, in which you get a signed copy of With Fate Conspire, along with my signature on the guidebook -- which, if you recall, will include a short piece of introductory fiction from me. So if that tempts you, head on over to the project page and donate.
swan_tower: (*writing)
First: it's the sixteenth, and that means I'm over at SF Novelists again. This time I'm continuing my points from last month, with "Competence is hot, part two."

Second: the same guy who does the Page 69 thing also had me contribute to My Book, the Movie (reposted over here). Long-time readers of this journal may recall that I've been on that blog previously, when I talked about my mental castings for Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie; this time I update it with A Star Shall Fall and With Fate Conspire.

And third: if you're going to be at FOGcon, then a) so am I and b) I'm also going to be one of the critiquers in the writing workshop, along with David Levine and Cassie Alexander. I don't know when signup for that closes, but I believe you still have time to join, if that's your cup of tea.

Since I'm combining things here, I'll leave comments open -- but on the competence thing, please do go leave your thoughts over on the SF Novelists site, rather than here. No login required, but if you're a first-time commenter please give me a little while to fish it out of the moderation queue.
swan_tower: (With Fate Conspire)
First of all, I'm featured over at "The Page 69 Test" (here and here), talking about page 69 of With Fate Conspire, and whether it's a good sample of what the book is like or not.

And second, the Intergalactic Awards Anthology is out, containing my Driftwood story "A Heretic by Degrees" -- as well as stories by a couple of friends of mine, [livejournal.com profile] aliettedb's "Horus Ascending" and Von Carr's absolutely fabulous "Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain."

And now, back to cleaning my living room.
swan_tower: (snowflake)
Got a draft of my Yuletide story last night. It's off to be read by fresher eyes than mine, and then I'll revise it, and get the whole shebang posted not quite as far in advance of the deadline as I'd initially hoped. :-)

On the basis of what I wrote last year, I find myself feeling bad that this story is so short, and will certainly be shorter than at least one of the treats I'm thinking of writing. I sort of feel like it, being my assignment, should be the longest thing I produce for Yuletide. Which is silly, of course: any given idea has a natural length (or range thereof), and bigger has no correlation with better. But still.

I'm really happy with my title, though. It came to me about halfway through the process, with no effort at all; the ones that do that are usually my favorites. Titles I have to sweat for rarely end up feeling more than adequate to me. (With Fate Conspire is something of a special case, given the process behind that one. It was more work than any other title I've ever put on a piece of writing, but I was very pleased with it in the end.)
swan_tower: (With Fate Conspire)
I was supposed to sit on this a while longer, but somebody apparently jumped the gun, so now I'm allowed to tell.

Romantic Times (which covers a great many things besides romance) is holding its Reviewers' Choice Awards, and With Fate Conspire has been nominated! In, er, the "Epic Fantasy" category, which is not what I would have expected -- but hey, I'm in good company:

THE WISE MAN’S FEAR Patrick Rothfuss, DAW, (March 2011)
WITH FATE CONSPIRE Marie Brennan, TOR, (September 2011)
THE COLD COMMANDS Richard K. Morgan, DEL REY, (October 2011)
THE KINGDOM OF GODS N.K. Jemisin, ORBIT, (November 2011)
STANDS A SHADOW Col Buchanan, TOR, (November 2011)

I won't know the results until April. In the meantime, congrats to my fellow nominees, and to all the other nominated authors.
swan_tower: (London)
Normally I'm not a big fan of AU crack, which is to say, fanfics where the author has thrown in something totally random ("what if Frodo and Sam became pirates?") that really doesn't relate to the original source.

There are exceptions.

This is one of them.

It's a fic for the new BBC series Sherlock, the one that updates the characters to the modern day. You don't have to have seen the series, I think, to enjoy the story. But if you've read the Onyx Court books . . . yeah. Especially With Fate Conspire. It's so much of what I think about London, in terms of its history and the relationship between a city and its people, with lots of little details that ring such familiar bells for me. [livejournal.com profile] gollumgollum pointed me at it, and I'm so glad she did.

Go. Read. Enjoy.
swan_tower: (With Fate Conspire)
Three recent reviews of With Fate Conspire:
Chris at The King of Elfland's Second Cousin has some very interesting things to say about the structure of the book.

Julia at All Things Urban Fantasy liked it enough to run out and buy the rest of the series, which is always encouraging. :-)

And a snippet from Faren Miller at Locus: "For more tales of a London based on history as well as sheer invention, try With Fate Conspire and its predecessors. Instead of the old-style fantasy of quests through green fields and dark domains, Brennan makes the most of one extraordinary city."

Also, BCS has released The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year Two, which includes my Driftwood story "Remembering Light." You can download it in your choice of ebook format, from a whole variety of sources.

And it isn't available yet, but you can preorder the Intergalactic Awards Anthology, Vol. 1, which includes another Driftwood story, "A Heretic by Degrees." That one's print, and will ship in mid-December.
swan_tower: (With Fate Conspire)
#TorChat on Twitter starts in an hour or so; I'm @swan_tower there, and will be fielding questions about steampunk and With Fate Conspire.

Also, you've got about twelve hours to enter the giveaway for A Star Shall Fall over on GoodReads.
swan_tower: (With Fate Conspire)

Jim Hines ([livejournal.com profile] jimhines) and I have been friends for a while, and so when he and I both wrapped up four-book series this summer, I suggested to him that we might have a conversation about the challenges of writing -- and most particularly ending -- a story that stretches across multiple books. We'll be sharing the results of that conversation with you today and tomorrow, the first half here, the second half over on Jim's site.

Who are we? Well, Jim is the author of seven fantasy novels and more than 40 published short stories. He's written about underdog goblin runts, ass-kicking fairy tale princesses, and is currently writing about a modern-day librarian who pulls ray guns out of SF books. He's also a moderately popular blogger, and caretaker of various fuzzy beasts. As for me -- if you're not already aware -- I'm the author of six fantasy novels and more than 30 published short stories, which puts me just a little behind him. I've written about people split in half (mystically, not with an axe) and faeries hiding out underneath London, and I'm currently writing about a nineteenth-century gentlewoman who travels around the world to study dragons and get into trouble, not necessarily in that order. I am a mildly popular blogger, and alas, have no fuzzy beasts to take care of -- unless you count my husband.

Our most recent books are, respectively, The Snow Queen's Shadow and With Fate Conspire.

Without further ado . . . .


Marie: There are a million books out there that will tell you how to write a novel, but I've never seen one that tells you how to write a series. Nobody tells you how to do that; it's something you figure out the hard way, after you've got a contract -- no pressure! And it's hard enough figuring out what to do in the middle, but sticking the landing . . . that's the real killer.

With Fate Conspire was really my first experience with ending a series. You had the goblin trilogy, so at least you'd done this once before; but me, all I had under my belt was the doppelganger duology. Those weren't even conceived of as a series, not originally; I wrote the first book to be a stand-alone, ending on something major happening, and then built the second around how people reacted to that event. It was a before-and-after model, which is relatively simple -- kind of like one long book. The Onyx Court series, on the other hand, was very different. Each plot stands more or less alone, but there's a certain amount of thematic and character arc across the four, which I felt needed to pay off in a satisfying fashion -- but without making the book something that would only make sense to people who had read the whole series.

How about you? What was it like writing Goblin War, versus Snow Queen's Shadow?

Jim: Don't you love writing a sequel to a book you never planned to write a sequel for? Goblin Quest was similar, very much written to be a complete, standalone book. I like to joke that of course I planned it all out and knew exactly what I was doing for all three books, but that would be total dung.

Writing the second goblin book was difficult. Ending the series was even harder. Even if each book could stand completely on its own, I was still ending a series. Expectations were higher. I wanted something big, something that brought a sense of closure.

I think closure was my biggest concern. I love that people e-mail me and try to convince me to do another goblin book, but generally it's because they love the characters, not because they feel like they've been left hanging. There needs to be a payoff, like you said. And before I could figure out how to write that payoff, I needed to figure out what the underlying themes and questions of the series were.

Unfortunately, I generally don't figure out my themes until after the fact ... if ever. With the princess books, I was halfway through book four when it clicked that I'd spent the whole series deconstructing and challenging "Happily ever after." So in addition to wrapping up some plot threads (will T get together with S or won't she?), I needed something that brought closure to the various ever-after storylines. For the goblins, it was more about survival -- so I needed to address how Jig and his fellow goblins were going to survive in the long run.

Your turn! What themes did you find yourself struggling to resolve in book four? And I'm curious, was there a point where it just felt too big? Writing one book is overwhelming enough, but when you're talking about four books worth of story and characters and setting and details...

Marie: Closure is exactly the kicker, isn't it? I got the same thing in response to the doppelganger books, people wanting me to write a third one. I won't be surprised at all if I get the same thing after With Fate Conspire. (In fact, I hope so. Otherwise it might mean I've ticked my readers off so thoroughly they've given up on me . . . .)

In my case, it's complicated by the fact that I may actually continue the Onyx Court series someday. Each book takes place in a different century, the sixteenth through the nineteenth; it would be cool to add the twentieth and twenty-first to that sequence. But right now that's just a possibility, and not one that will be happening any time soon. So I had to approach Fate with the mentality of, this is it. This is the end. How do I make it satisfying?

It helped a bit that when I decided to write sequels to the first book, I knew right away what some of the series' over-arching structure would be. There's actually three layers to it, which sounds very fancy when I think about it. Midnight Never Come (#1) and A Star Shall Fall (#3) share the characteristic of being more interpersonal, while In Ashes Lie (#2) and With Fate Conspire (#4) are driven by larger-scale conflicts: ABAB. It's also AABB, in that the first two books take place pre-Enlightenment (an important sea-change in society) and have Lune as one of the major protagonists, whereas the later books are more "modern" in feel and focus on other characters. And finally, it's ABBA: Ashes and Star form a pair around the Great Fire of London, whereas Midnight and Fate are about the creation and dissolution of the Onyx Hall. I also knew, as soon as I sketched out the progression of the series, that its focus would gradually slide down from the royal court of Midnight Never Come to the lower classes of With Fate Conspire.

But all of that didn't help me very much when it came time to plot out what was actually going to happen in the fourth book. Before I started writing, I sat down and did something I should have done from the start, namely, made a list of all the characters and locations and so on that had appeared in the story so far. Then I had to decide which ones were going to return in book four. My reflex, as you might be able to sympathize with, was to include ALL of them. There are two problems with that: first, it leaves no room for new stuff to be added, and second . . . this is supposed to be a book about the final days of the Onyx Hall. Lots of people are dead or fled, bits of the palace have disintegrated out of existence, etc. If everybody's still there, it isn't very convincing, is it?

Honestly, though, I think the biggest squid to wrestle came from history itself, rather than my own narrative canon. You want to talk "too big"? Try Victorian London on for size! They called it "the monster city" for a good reason. And I wanted to include a variety of stuff, not just the usual upper-class tea parties: Fenian bombings and the construction of the Underground and photography and dockworkers and evolution and all the rest of it. For everything I managed to work into the story, though, there's four more that just didn't fit, no matter how cool they were.

Did you feel the same impulse to go back to people and places we've seen before? Or did you have a lot of new things you wanted to incorporate? And whichever route you went, how did you try to ensure that you don't (as you said) leave people hanging? Wanting to see more of the characters you love is one thing, but quitting while there are still unanswered questions or unresolved conflicts is another.

Jim: See, that's exactly why I don't write books set in Victorian England...


Speaking of "unresolved," we'll break there, and you can pick up part two on Jim's site tomorrow. (I'll advertise the link once it's up.) Feel free to post questions either here or there!

swan_tower: (With Fate Conspire)
The Library Journal's opinion of With Fate Conspire:
Brennan's characters breathe life into a landscape rich in detail and vibrant with imagination. This title should please fans of Mercedes Lackey's "Elemental Masters" series and Elizabeth Bear's "Promethean Age" series.

And if you're a Goodreads user, you can enter a giveaway there to win one of ten copies of A Star Shall Fall. It ends on the 22nd, so don't forget!
swan_tower: (With Fate Conspire)
Two more reviews came in recently:

Sophie Playle at Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders says, "It captures the dualistic spirit of Victorian London and creates an alternative fantastical history that the reader grows to care about just as much, if not more, than the real world it shadows. The rounded characters and intricate plot create an absorbing story."

Steve at Elitist Book Reviews says, "I love how believable her characters are. Everything in this setting is bleak, yet the characters never truly give up hope. They will go to any length to meet their diverse goals."

And I also did an interview on Rachel Ann Hanley's blog, about a whole variety of topics.

Enjoy your weekend!


swan_tower: (Default)

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