The Month of Letters returns!

I suppose it isn’t really the Month of Letters as Mary Robinette Kowal originally conceived it, since I don’t actually wind up mailing something every day of February. But the Month of Letters is where it started, so I still think of it by that name.

I am referring, of course, to the chance to receive a letter from Lady Trent herself. It’s easy to do; all that is required is for you to send a letter to her, at this address:

Marie Brennan
P.O. Box 991
San Mateo, CA 94403

Address the outside envelope to me, not Isabella; that way you can be sure it will be delivered. And remember to include your return address!

Then check your own mail. I will write back as Isabella, in my very best cursive (please forgive its awkwardness), with a hand-dipped pen, and sealing the letter in wax. You are welcome to do whatever you please with the letter: share it with others, post it to social media, etc.

I will answer any letters sent before the end of February, though depending on volume it may take me a little while to do so.

Happy letter-writing!

Adapting the Wheel of Time

I doubt they’ll ever make the Wheel of Time into a TV series — but it’s an interesting mental exercise, thinking about how they would do it. (I do this sort of thing a lot, because it makes me think differently about story structure and how to create the appropriate shape.)

Up front: no way in hell would they just film it the way they’ve done with Martin’s books, (roughly) one book per season; that would make for fourteen seasons of TV, and even in a hypothetical scenario nobody’s going to do that. Even allowing for reductions based on things like “you don’t have to describe clothing when you can just show it” and “we’ll go straight to the meeting between these characters, rather than spending an entire chapter setting it up,” you’ve still got too much. Even if you go further and cut out a lot of the side viewpoints. You have to make it smaller. We’ll give them seven seasons to play with: that should be enough.

The next thing is that you have to restructure it. You can’t just condense the material and then film it straight through, because you’ve got to make sure the beats fall where they should. The end of every season needs to have something significant happening with the protagonist. I said in my discussion of writing long fantasy series that you need to hammer in some pegs for major events, and then navigate a path between them; in this case that means deciding what’s happening with Rand at the end of every season, and then shifting everything else to form a good shape around that. Theoretically the same should have been true of the books, but — well. Because of the way the structure got out of control, there are several books where the actual climax of the book is in somebody else’s plot strand.

Going through the series, what are his big events at the end of each book?

Continue reading

Help me recreate a drink!

When my husband and I were in England a couple of years ago, we had lunch in Highgate at a place that also served a drink I found absolutely delicious. We have recently found the list of ingredients again, so now our challenge is: what should the proportions be?

The drink contained:

Hendricks gin
apple juice
elderflower juice

We have a different brand of gin and elderflower syrup, so we may need to adjust slightly for that. Ideal result is for it to not taste very alcoholic — since I don’t like drinks that are terribly strong. Any suggestions for proportions?

Edited to add: It was served in a martini glass, to give you an idea of final volume.

Icon Results!

The book has so thoroughly eaten my head the last couple of weeks, I forgot that I hadn’t followed up on the icon contest.

Many thanks to everybody who sent in an icon, whether via blog, Twitter, email, etc. After due consideration (and y’all didn’t make it easy), I have decided to go with the option presented by LJ user renrenren3:

renrenren3, drop me a line at marie{dot}brennan{at}gmail{dot}com so I can mail the ARC to you!

I’ve had enough

The other day I was having to reinstall the operating system on my laptop, which is a tedious process that involves lots of waiting for things to be done. While this was going on, I poked around on Netflix, trying to find a new TV show to watch.

I actually watched a bunch of things that day, one of which was the first episode of Peaky Blinders. I like Cillian Murphy as an actor, and I’m a sucker for well-detailed historical periods, and the show is solidly written . . .

. . . and I just didn’t care.

Because I’m starting to feel like I’ve had enough. There’s a genre of TV right now that somebody on the internet once dubbed “blood, tits, and scowling,” and while there is a wide range of splendid material belonging to that type — for starters, look at just about everything HBO has done in the last decade — I think I’m hitting my saturation point. There’s a cynicism about human nature that tends to be endemic to the genre, and the representation of women is often problematic — though, in fairness’ sake, I should note that Peaky Blinders made a couple of moves with its female characters that I quite appreciated.

At dinner the other night, a friend of mine said he wanted to find a TV show where nobody died, nobody was murdered, nobody did awful criminal things, etc. Ironically, we wound up chatting about two shows that feature people getting murdered as a central plot point — but in both cases, the entire tone is different. One was Pushing Daisies, which is candy-colored and good-hearted even though the main character brings people back from the dead to solve crimes, and the other was Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, following an outrageous lady detective in early 20th century Australia. They are both very, very far from blood, tits, and scowling.

I’m starting to crave the change of pace. My taste leans toward drama, so people getting killed is going to be a regular feature of many of the things I watch (and read) — but I can do without the cynicism, the muted color palette, the parade of morally dubious people doing morally dubious things. Right now I’m enjoying the heck out of Agent Carter, with its cheerful pulp heroics. I need to get hold of The Librarians; the made-for-TV movies it’s based on are the best Indiana Jones films apart from Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. I want some light, some humour that isn’t grim, some fun.

It isn’t that the other stuff is bad. I’ve just had enough of it for now.

icon needed

One very thin silver lining to the Amazon UK issue I posted about yesterday: it made me realize I don’t have an icon yet for Voyage of the Basilisk.


Needed: one (1) icon made from this book cover
Requirements: no larger than 100×100 pixels
If possible: match well with the previous two icons.
Reward: one (1) Advance Reader Copy of Voyage of the Basilisk

I’ll give it a few days for people to send in their pics, and then pick a winner. Happy icon-ing!

Voyage of the Basilisk WILL be coming out

Just a quick heads-up: I’ve gotten several Tweets in the last day telling me that Amazon UK has canceled pre-orders of Voyage of the Basilisk on the grounds that “the book will not be published.” This is, to put it bluntly, not true. I have no idea what’s going on, but if you got that message, a) don’t believe it and b) please do re-order from a retailer that has not gotten its wires so badly crossed.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I need to go investigate this issue.

An Invocation for Beginnings

There’s a lot of inspirational dreck out there — well, I shouldn’t call it dreck. No doubt it inspires somebody. Generally not me, though, because the sentiment is too saccharine, too happy-fuzzy-warm to have any real impact on me. And yet, things like the demotivators are too cynical: they’re good for a brief laugh, but when you need something to get you going, they probably aren’t going to help. (Unless they do. Brains are weird things, and each one works in a different way.)

Which is why, when I found an inspirational thing that worked on me, I ran out and bought a poster of it. (Mine is green. The color is unfortunate either way: oh well.) The inspirational thing is a video by ze frank, An Invocation for Beginnings:

It works for me because it’s not happy-fuzzy-warm. It’s funny and it’s random and every so often it hits the point right on the nose. If I tried to quote my favorite bits at you, I’d end up quoting half the speech, but I’m especially fond of “Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes but he’s a little bit of an asshole and nobody invites him to their pool parties” and the whole part about the pencils. And then the last bit: “And god let me enjoy this. Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.”

Sometimes when I sit down to write, I don’t feel like doing it. I don’t want to be working on that bit of the story, or I don’t want to be working on that story, or I don’t want to be working at all. The Invocation helps me remember to enjoy that night’s work for what it is, to sink myself down into it and have fun. Maybe this isn’t the big thrilling climax to anything . . . but I can still get a cool turn of phrase or add in a detail that wasn’t there before. I’m not just waiting for this book to be done.

Let’s start this shit up.

scattered thoughts on the next Memoir

I haven’t been posting much about my progress on the fourth Memoir. (Which does have a title now, but as with Voyage of the Basilisk, I’m going to hold off on announcing it until the preceding book is released. I want people’s attention on that one, not the one that won’t be out until 2016.)

It’s a bit hard to talk about this book, because of the weird way publishing timescales work. I read reviews of The Tropic of Serpents and marvel at people who say things like [spoiler] — and then I remember that those people haven’t even read Voyage yet, let alone the one I’m presently writing. Of course the relevance of [spoiler] is not yet clear. Of course [spoiler] hasn’t developed very much yet. I’m not actually pointing at any one thing with those brackets; I could list several to fill in the blanks. I’m almost four-fifths of the way through the series. Everybody else is barely two-fifths done. What the story looks like from my perspective is wildly different from what all the rest of you see.

I had a plot epiphany the other night that is so freaking perfect, I honestly can’t believe it took me this long to come up with it. Like, how was this not part of the pitch I sent to Tor back in 2011? How was I such an idiot that I did not see this needed to be part of the story until just now? I really have no idea. Seriously, you all are going to read this book and assume I’ve been planning [x] from the start. I will smile mysteriously and try to pretend that’s true, so you don’t all know how blind I really was.

On Twitter the other night I joked that sometimes when I’m writing these books, I think about what the sensible thing to do would be . . . and then I have Isabella do the opposite. It’s funny because it’s true, to an extent. The key is mood: back when I was drafting A Natural History of Dragons, I had to keep prodding myself not to fall into Onyx Court mode. Forget subtle political maneuvering; this series needs crazy shit, yo. So the bit of plot I’m presently wrapping up right now had a moment where Isabella could have gone the cautious and sensible route, informing somebody of a suspected problem and mobilizing various resources to deal with it. But that would have created a story where she sits on her hands and then gets a report from other people that the issue has been dealt with. That? is not pulp adventure. So instead I came up with a reason for her not to tell that person what was going on — a solid enough reason, I hope, to at least pass muster for the genre — and then there were hijinks involving her tailing Person A who is tailing Person B and at the end of it all there’s an abortive brawl. Much better.

I’m also going at this in weird order. I was floundering around in the middle of the book, with Isabella out in the field doing one stage of her research — but I didn’t really know how long I should spend on that bit, and I wasn’t sure where the whole thing was going anyway (this was pre-epiphany), until finally I decided I should skip ahead and write the bit referenced in the above paragraph, since at least I knew what I was doing with that. I think I’m going to keep on from there, writing some — who knows; maybe all — of the last third of the book; then, once I have a chunk of that in place, I’ll be able to back up and know what ought to go in the middle, to set up the end. This is weird for me, y’all. I don’t write this way, out of order. Except that maybe right now I do.

Hey: whatever gets the book done.

Speaking of which, I’m about at the . . . halfwayish point sorta but not really? I have about half of the word-count, but since a chunk of that is from way later in the book, I’m not mentally at the halfway point of the story. More like the two-thirds point, possibly a bit later. But it’s starting to look like a book rather than a short story that got way out of control. And in another few days I’ll get to write the emotional resolution to one of the conflicts, which will make it a lot easier to go back and figure out the rise and fall of the stuff leading up to that. (I hope. Remember, I’m new to this method.)

Darling du jour:

“There’s a bit of difference between swimming in shark-infested water because you’re trying to retrieve something from the bottom, and staying in just because you’re already there and haven’t been eaten yet.”

“We are still trying to retrieve something from the bottom. All that has changed is whether anybody on shore cares whether we — oh, hang the metaphor.”

What I Published in 2014

It’s that time of year, when authors round up what they did in the previous year for your consideration in awards.

Novel-wise, I had The Tropic of Serpents, the second of the Memoirs of Lady Trent. It made NPR’s “best of” list, in three different categories: Science Fiction Fantasy, Science and Society, and It’s All Geek to Me. The third book in the series is coming out in March — which is irrelevant to awards for 2014, but may be of interest to you all in other respects. :-)

Short fiction, I had four pieces:

“Mad Maudlin on (read it online)

“Centuries of Kings” in Neverland’s Library, ed. Rebecca Lovatt and Roger Bellini

“Daughter of Necessity on (read it online)

“The Damnation of St. Teresa of Avila” in Shared Nightmares, ed. Steve Diamond

The latter three are short stories, while the first one is a novelette, as such things get counted.

I also published Monstrous Beauty, but that’s a reprint collection of previously published work, so it isn’t eligible for anything that I’m aware of.