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Category: Guest Post

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Form, Structure and Scouting

“What I love about this,” the director said, “is the form of the piece.”

I locked my expression into ‘polite neutral’ and tried nodding and smiling.  We were in a scout hut in Kew, rehearsing a play that I’d written for a reading in a few weeks time, and the director was twiddling a pencil between his fingers in the manner of a repressed creative genius just waiting to strike that rogue comma with the sharpened point of HP.

“I love the way the form and the structure both reflect the cascading nature of the language and narrative as it builds out of control from the prime inciting incident to the moment of character curve completion.”

I kept on smiling.  This was, I felt, the most polite thing I could do under the circumstances.  I feel I should add that the director on this particular literary project was nothing if not brilliant.  A damn good director, a very good bloke and a man I would happily write for again.  But, and this was a bit of a sticking point for me, he also knew damn more about writing than I did.

This is not the same as being able to write – he confesses that he can’t write for toffee – but on the other hand, he’d had a lot more training in the area by which he was able to discover this truth.  Whereas I have always just… muddled by.  Working with him was, therefore, something of a painful reminder of a constant truth… that sometimes being a good writer, is not the same as being a good author.

Talking about your literary works is, I personally think, one of the hardest things a writer has to do.  There are a lot of problems stacked against you, of which the first and usually most deadly, is personal bias.  As the writer, I naturally know, as no one else can, that my epic, 700 page-long tome – ‘What I Did That Tuesday Afternoon When I Had Gastroenteritis’ – is nothing short of a scintillating work of literary genius.  My heart, my soul, and quite possibly other bodily fluids, judging by the title, have been poured into this, along with a great deal of time and a lot of earnest thought.  When, therefore, my editor turns round and suggests that it’s a light-hearted romp beside sold alongside ”Funny Jokes For Farting Fathers’, a certain blindness overwhelms my otherwise calm literary judgment.  Under these circumstances, answering questions coherently about ‘Tuesday Afternoon’ and why it and it’s puce-coloured cover are sat in the Silly Section of the bookshop, and even the most thoughtful of authors struggle to see through their own bias to a clear and sensible reply. Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ve written about Death a little bit these last few years, just in case you hadn’t noticed, and I’ve learnt a thing or two, or (to tie in with the title) ten.


1. People have to die.

Or Death just twiddles its bony thumbs, and starts a lawnmowing business. And then people die either of boredom, or because you’ve kind of ripped off Terry Pratchett a little bit, and you’re answering emails asking if you realized that that was the plot of Reaper Man (sort of).


2. Death isn’t a joke.

Death can be cruel, ridiculous, and tragic, but if you treat it as a joke, it becomes meaningless. I was writing comedy, but not farce. Death’s the punchline, but it isn’t the joke. Though sometimes you just want to tell the one about Death walking into the bar – it’s a real killer.


3. Death wants all the cool lines.

Seriously, it does. I think the moment a character says, “ I am Death,” there’s a certain amount of inescapable gravitas. Though if it then reveals that it can’t really play chess all that well you’re undercutting it a bit – unless you have this story where Death has entered a chess tournament in order to win enough money to say an orphanage from evil property developers. Remember, with cool lines comes great responsibility.


4. Not everyone dies every day.

Even in a book about Death. Death itself isn’t a story, it’s an ending, or a beginning (depending on how you want to look at it). People die, people live to die another day, or something like that.


5. Death isn’t dying.

Death really isn’t dying – dying through illness or accident is the sort of stuff life manages (you’ll notice how life doesn’t usually bother with the proper noun, it figures it doesn’t need the capitalization to sound important, life’s a bit smarmy). Death can be an ending to suffering. It’s not the suffering itself. People often get the two mixed up. Which is why Death is frequently regarded as an object of horror, or even a monster. But don’t blame the messenger. Death’s really just there to keep the dead company until they pass onto the other side/place/state of being – it even keeps a game of travel Scrabble in the pockets of its cloak*.


6. Death hasn’t had a pale horse since it bought its first car in 1928.

 Hardly surprising, I mean, horses are high maintenance, and my Death lives in a city that isn’t exactly horse friendly, and when was the last time you saw a stables outside a morgue, mortuary, gym or anywhere else in town?


7. People have been writing about Death since writing began.

Death, the Underworld, and dying they’ve been obsessions of people and cultures for a very long time. I guess that’s what happens in a world where things die. There’s a rich history of Death in mythology and popular culture. Everything from Ankous to Psychopomps and sparrows. Actually you’d be hard pressed to find anything that hasn’t been used as a symbol of death – except, maybe toothbrushes.


8. Scythes are kind of cool.

They really are, there’s lots of excellent words that concern themselves with scythes, like did you know that the shaft of a scythe is called a snath? And that to lop something off is to snathe. Next time you get a haircut tell them you want a thorough snathe, make sure they finish well above the neck.


9. Death is a good dancer.

Well, actually, no. Not that that matters because the Danse Macabre is really just a conga line, and that’s easy as long as you can kick in time with the music.  However, Death has an exceptionally awesome taste in music. At least in my books it does. Every good death needs a brilliant soundtrack (hmm, I think I have the subject of my next blog post).


10. When writing about Death, you’re really writing about life.

Death is meaningless without life. You don’t get a great ending, narratively speaking, without something at stake – usually the bigger the better. In the Business of Death all life on Earth is threatened by an ancient and very angry god. There’s a great deal of irony involved when only Death can halt the Apocalypse. But I guess it’s true what they say there’s only two things you can count on in this life Death and taxes, and when did the taxation department last save the world?**


*This may not be Death Works canon.


**I’m sorry, I’m sure the Taxation Department is always saving the world. In fact, if there isn’t a series about a Paranormal Tax Investigation Agency there should be – just send me four percent of the royalties.

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The only right word

First, I’d like to say that it’s Eli Monpress week over at Mel’s Random Reviews! This was entirely her own idea and I was flattered to take part. You can read reviews of the first three books plus an interview with me and a very swoon worthy meme about Eli, book boyfriend. All in all, very well done, and you really should check it out! – R

The other day I received the following question on Twitter “why did you add more “offensive” language from each Eli book instead of leaving it younger audience friendly?”

To say this threw me for a loop would be, as Eli would say, the bedrock of understatement. See, I go out of my way to try and keep the language in my books as clean as possible. This doesn’t mean the books are prudish (well, Miranda might be, but no one who’s spent one chapter with Eli Monpress could ever accuse him of being puritan), it just means that I steer clear of the sort of extreme violence, language, and gore that you find in darker fantasies. This isn’t to say I don’t have violence or unpleasant circumstances, I just don’t roll around in them. I leave that to Joe Abercrombie, who does it much, much better than I ever could.

As I explained to The Write Thing a while ago, keeping my books clean wasn’t a decision I took lightly. It all came down to readership. The long and short of it was that, while the Eli Monpress books are written for adults, with adult themes like paying the price for chasing your dreams, how not all love is healthy, and what it actually means to be uncompromising, I still wanted the series to be accessible to everyone no matter their age or who was censoring their reading. I didn’t want someone who could enjoy my work to turn away just because of stupid language choices.

But (as most authors will tell you) sometimes there’s only one right word, and when that word happens to be a word you can’t say on network television, the time comes to make an executive decision. For those of you wondering what word I’m talking about, the obscenity in question is bitch, and the person it was applied to was Benehime.  Now, if you’ve read my books (and if you haven’t, it’s not exactly a spoiler), you know that Benehime is, in fact, a bitch. And when you get to read The Spirit War and Spirit’s End next year, you’ll be amazed by my restraint at only calling her bitch and not… other things I’ll refrain from saying here because my mother reads this blog. But yes, in Spirit Eater, Benehime is called a bitch, and very rightly so. So rightly so, in fact, that I’d actually forgotten I’d used the word until this question reminded me.

In all fairness to my poor reader, he was listening to the audio version, and after two books of straight up PG reading, the bitch can hit you out of nowhere (as bitches are want to do). While I am sorry the word came without warning, I’m not sorry I wrote it. It was the right word, the only word to use in that particular instance. Far more interesting than the actual bitch, though, was why I felt the need to break my cursing ban in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Big and the Little

For me it’s always about the big and the little, even before reading John Crowley’s amazing novel Little Big. As a kid nothing excited me more than thinking about how vast the universe was, and how small the world was, and how small my home town was within it, but that it was still part of this universe that included massive gas giants, black holes (who isn’t thrilled by those monsters) and super novas. I always had trouble fitting that into my mind (I still do) I positively ached with the excitement of it, but I had so much trouble expressing that, letting it out until I started writing.

It was writing that helped me contain the big and the little. And made me understand that one doesn’t really have much meaning without the other.
Read the rest of this entry »

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I’m honored and incredibly excited that Orbit’s release of the first book in my Riyria Revelations, Theft of Swords, has been selected as Library Journal’s Fantasy Debut of the Month for September.

In the conclusion of LJ’s review they said, “VERDICT: Fans of Fritz Leiber’s classic “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” novels should welcome the adventures of Hadrian and Royce. A winning debut for fantasy lovers.” This is not the first, and probably won’t be the last, time that my series has been compared to Fritz  Leiber’s classics that were mainly published between 1940 and the mid 1970’s. As my series features two unlikely heroes, a larger fighter and a smaller thief, there are valid reasons to make correlations between the two.

But here’s my dirty, little secret…I’ve never read Leiber’s works, so any similarities are completely coincidental. I know. I know. You’ve just met me and already I’m admitting to what could be a fatal fantasy faux pas. Yes, I admit that I’m not an expert in all the classic fantasy that has come before I showed up. But my shame goes even deeper…I didn’t even know that F&GM even existed! Let me explain how I found out about them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Plumbing The Depths

I don’t know exactly where Mal came from (other than the twisty recesses of my mind), but I can tell you what his building blocks were — a host of dark emotions: disappointment, anger, impatience, bitterness. As I mentioned in my first post about the events that led me to write Blood Rights, that book started as an outlet for my frustrations — something I highly recommend to those of you feeling bummed at the way things are going with your career! And since the bones of my heroine, Chrysabelle, were already developing into something very distinctly bright and full of light, I knew I couldn’t pour all that darkness into her.

Mal became the perfect receptacle. He is, to me, the embodiment of the dark, tortured hero. He’s got soul deep wounds that aren’t going to be healed in four hundred pages. If you don’t already know, he’s also a vampire, but he’s so much more than that.

Let’s back up. Let’s start when Mal was human, before his existence fell apart. I decided as his back story to make him a headsman. The job of executioner in the late 1500s, when Mal would have been alive, was one that both isolated and somewhat vilified the individual that held it. Superstition said that the executioner took upon him the sins of those he was paid to dispatch, the full weight of the souls of those rapists, murderers and thieves. Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ll define a trilogy as three novels with a thematic or narrative relationship OR as a novel in three parts. N.K. Jemisin’s fabulous Inheritance Trilogy is an example of a trilogy in which each volume stands alone as a complete story while a larger thematic narrative arc is addressed across all three books. My own Spiritwalker Trilogy is a novel in three parts. I do attempt to give each volume a beginning, a middle, and some manner of emotional resolution at the end, and I think I manage that fairly well, but the full story will take all three books to tell.

One of the challenges in writing this kind of trilogy arises in how to start volumes 2 and 3. I’m not starting a new story; I’m continuing one. Most of the readers who pick up volume 2 will have read volume 1, but a few won’t, so I need an effective way to introduce the world to new readers while not boring returning readers. Additionally, many returning readers will have read volume 1 many months ago, and the situation and characters may not be fresh in their minds. So I need to reintroduce them to both the characters and the situation in a way that engages them as well. Meanwhile, other readers will recently have read COLD MAGIC, or will have re-read the closing chapters to reacquaint themselves with the story. I don’t want to bore them. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Path of Least Saneness

I’ve been a writer since a very young age, but when I started writing with the goal of publication, the first full length book I produced was a fantasy romance featuring a half-elf merc and a fire-wielding mage. I loved that book. It poured out of me in a way writing never had before, but that was long before I’d been weighted down by the rules of writing. No matter what genre you’re in, there are rules and people who will eagerly tell you about them and when you’re breaking them.

After years of trying to write within the confines of those rules and construct a book that fit the wants and desires of the romance publishing industry, I burned out. The broken promises and the inability to write without those rules in my head pushed me to a breaking point. I started to question why I was even writing if I no longer enjoyed it.

I reverted to my angsty high school self. The me that used to get lost in comic books and fantasy novels and autobiographies of Isaac Asimov. I got mad. Anger is an emotion I don’t do often but my Sicilian bloodlines allow me to tap into it pretty well.

All of that pushed me to write something new. Something that wasn’t for anyone else but me. This story, this book, this character sketch (I really didn’t know what I was writing, just that I was writing) became the vehicle for all my dark and twisty emotions. I poured everything I felt into those pages. I affectionately termed whatever it was that I was writing my Screw You book. Screw the rules, screw what anyone said I could or couldn’t write, I just wrote to make myself happy. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Brief History of Time

‘Space,’ according to the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ‘is Big.  Really Big.’

These were probably some of the earliest words I remember from my childhood.  My father used to be a publisher, and growing up the sound of Douglas Adams’s work would drift round the house along with the smell of bacon and the sound of frying in the morning.  Sometimes the man himself would come round for dinner, since he shared not only the same sense of humour as my father, but also the same shirt and shoe size which led for a brotherhood known only to large men – and I’d hide and cower at the end of the room, too intimidated to say anything to this man who’s mind was clearly big enough to almost begin to grasp the bigness of the universe, blow it up and then boil it right back down to a slice of angel cake.

The truth of the matter is, physics has always been a little scary.  I love it, and studied it at school in my own slightly-incompetent way.  (I was a history student taking physics A-Level with a cry of ‘hell, it’ll shake things up at a bit!’)  The first rather depressing thing about physics is that the more you study it, the more you realise everything you know is lies.  Gravity on the earth’s surface, when you’re fifteen years old, is a good old ten newtons of attractive force.  By the time you’re seventeen, it’s 9.81 metres per second squared of acceleration on a kilo of mass, and about three days after your eighteenth birthday, as if you’re suddenly being let into a big secret, your teacher turns round and whispers that actually, damned if anyone really knows what the hell gravity even is.  Good, old-fashioned protons and neutrons suddenly begin to acquire not merely magnetic charge and a bit of a mass, but also elusive qualities such as flavour and strangeness as you break them down into smaller and smaller parts and before you know it, electrons are photons and photons are both waves and particles and the gold leaf went down instead of up and all things considered, it’s probably time for a bit of a lie-down. Read the rest of this entry »

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Here come some idle, and quite possibly delusional, musings prompted by a comment from The Exalted Beings of New York (aka the fine folk at Orbit’s US HQ).

Said comment arose in the context of casual discussion about The Edinburgh Dead, my new novel.  It’s historical dark fantasy with a liberal seasoning of crime fiction, horror, urban fantasy, science fiction, gothic thriller etc. etc., and that was kind of the gist of the comment: you’ve got a lot of genres in there, haven’t you, Ruckley?  Care to explain yourself in public?

Why, yes I do.  Read the rest of this entry »

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