One of the things that comes from not being famous is that nobody ever asks you about the things you want to talk about the most.
I’ve got a couple of prime promo slots for this book–one on Mary Robinette Kowal’s MY FAVORITE BIT, one on John Scalzi’s BIG IDEA, and a nice interview on Absolute Write–and I have a lot to say in those. (If I ever get famous for anything, I will give blog slots as well. It’s a lovely thing some bloggers do. They’re not obligated a bit, but it’s generous and kind, and it’s remembered.)
But BREACH OF CONTAINMENT is an odd book. It was odd to write, and odd to edit. I imagine bits of it are odd to read, too. It’s also nearly impossible to talk about without spoilers.
The first two books were, after a fashion, mysteries. Each book has a Betrayer, and although I never feel like I’m terribly subtle about that, I’ve rather surprisingly fooled some people. There’s always a puzzle, always a hunt, always a lot of red herrings and clues hiding in plain sight, and always characters both saved and sabotaged by their own natures. In a way, I think all stories are mysteries one way or another, even if the mystery is as subtle as how the MC will process the events of the plot.
BREACH OF CONTAINMENT isn’t a whodunnit. There’s no mystery about who’s doing what. The mystery is what the heck is going on. And it’s really, really hard to talk about anything without giving something away.
I suspect it’s a mess. I threw away something like 30,000 words at the start. (My original prologue had Elena and Arin’s rescue mission on Govi; but as much as I loved the scene, it was only background information, and the story survived without it.) I think there were three other chapters that got whacked after my editor got ahold of it, and then there was the timeline stuff I redid so many times I was seeing Post-It notes in my sleep. Having said all this–it’s actually somewhat difficult for me to evaluate how other people are going to read my stuff. Some of the ARC readers have been really complimentary, but it’s always hard for me to absorb the good things.
And BREACH was hard to build, beginning to end. There was a lot that had to happen–not just events, but character stuff, some of which I’d been constructing for years. (Admiral Herrod does not show up for no good reason. Just saying.) Some of it needed more space than I could give it. Not that the book should have been longer, but some of the events probably seem precipitous. My characters get yanked in a lot of directions, and there are whole sets of events I’d have left for another book if I could have.
But given what I had to do with this book…I can’t imagine how I could have done it better. And I’ve left the story the way I always do: this tale is resolved, but there’s one or two big honking loose ends ready to be picked up for the next one.
I don’t know if there’ll be a next one. I’ll probably write it, but it’s unlikely I’ll sell it, which makes me rather sad. At this point, the decision would be whether to leave it on my laptop, or distribute it myself. But I’m getting ahead of myself (although I already know how the story ends).
BREACH was written at a very difficult time for me, career-wise. By the time THE COLD BETWEEN was released, REMNANTS OF TRUST was already set in stone with my editor. BREACH was the first one written when I had actual sales figures, so I knew, not far into it, that it’d probably be the last book I’d publish for a long time, possibly forever.
And I’ll tell you, that’s a weird reality to sit with when you have to be creative on a deadline.
Some of my publishing experience is built right into the plot. Elena’s alienation from the new world she’s chosen is my own: the puzzlement over culture, the misunderstanding of priorities, the sense of loss and disorientation. Her new colleagues, well-intentioned as they are, have perspectives so far outside her experience that they can’t understand her any more than she can understand them.
I’ve felt this every day I’ve been part of the publishing business. Most of the people I’ve dealt with have been wonderful–most–but I’ve been an alien from the start, and it’s mattered in some relationships more than others.
I suppose it’s taught me that there’s no point in caring about fitting in. BREACH is the best book I could write given what I wanted it to do. Some people will hate it. (Some of those I’ve already heard from.) But it’s entirely mine, entirely me, and it does what I asked it to.
With one exception. There’s a scene at the end that I changed after a contentious conversation with someone I shouldn’t have listened to. It’s not a pivotal scene, and I didn’t change it much, but I still wish I’d left it alone. (If anyone’s curious what the scene is, email me. After you’ve read the book. 🙂) (UPDATE: I’ve included the change in a spoilered section below this post.)
My experience with being published has involved a lot of people pulling at my work: calling it things it isn’t, trying to change my ideas, accusing it of being something it never was, not once, not in its earliest conceptual phase. I too often committed the cardinal sin of trying to please everyone. (One of the reasons I think REMNANTS is such a good book is because I had two people pulling in precisely opposite directions. I was going to disappoint someone, so I did what I wanted.) Failure has been curiously freeing. I wrote three books I love, I met and worked with some remarkably talented people, and I learned a lot about what I should and shouldn’t put up with.
Like Elena, I’ll probably find a way to end up back where I started. Barring instant fame, writing doesn’t pay nearly as well as software, and I wouldn’t mind getting back to a place where I understand people, where I know the etiquette, where I know how to tell if I’m being bullshitted.
And I’ll write.
I’ve written since I was a tiny person. It’s what I do when I’m sad and when I’m happy. It’s how I process success, and failure. It’s how I deal with rage and depression and excitement and anxiety. I’ve always done it primarily for myself; I think it was a mistake, on some level, to ever try to turn it into something more than that. (That said, for those of you who’ve liked the stories: I’m genuinely, unconditionally happy that I had a chance to share them with you.)
My characters are real to me. Writers say that, and people sometimes think that means mental illness, or some kind of pretentious “I am an Artist™” rubbish, but that’s not it. They show up in my head in response to some need: I’m bored, I’m sad, I’m nervous and need supportive company. They stay, and they grow, and I interrogate them and learn who they are. Once I know them well enough, I can write stories for them.
I’m sure there are well-defined psychological terms for all of this. It’s not unusual or weird or pathological at all. Writers aren’t “crazy.” Writers don’t even all do it the way I do. We’re just ordinary people who like telling stories, like some people enjoy drawing or singing or playing soccer or video games.
(Or baking. Right now I’m watching TV, where Mary Berry is describing trifle. I don’t even like trifle, and I want one so badly.)
Elena comes with me when I know I’m going to have to be seen, and when I know I might be laughed at. She’s extraordinarily good at focusing on her goals while ignoring all the human bullshit that people often throw in her way. She’s a bit of my grandmother, I think. Not a nice woman, my grandmother, but my God, her spine was titanium.
Jessica’s the one who’s there when I have to be personable. Jessica knows how to act the part, even when she’s not feeling it. She knows that 99% of the time, acting the part is all you need to do. She assumes her welcome before it’s even been offerred. People want to know where you fit; if you comfortably take your place, most of the time they’ll take their own places around you and everything will work perfectly smoothly.
Greg shows up when everything has fallen apart. He’s the one who reminds me that all I need to do, in this particular instant, is breathe long enough to get to the next one. He is commiseration and comfort, and the moment-to-moment strength that every life needs sometimes. (He’ll also quite cheerfully cuss out anyone in need of cussing out. Not to their faces, of course–that would be unprofessional–but he and I can roll our eyes and say “Yeah, THAT guy,” and no further elaboration is necessary.)
Greg’s been polarizing. That’s so weird to me. I understand it from the folks who somehow believed THE COLD BETWEEN was supposed to be a romance novel; if you look at the story through that lens, he seems included only to interfere. I have had people tell me “EVERYBODY HATES HIM.” (My husband, who reads my reviews, says that’s not actually true, but I’ve been leaned on from the beginning to bring back Trey, which was never going to happen.) Greg started life as two separate characters: one a successful starship captain, the other an uncertain adult still learning to deal with his shattered childhood. (Yeah, Greg’s mom was always fridged, even when his name wasn’t Greg. Sorry, Greg’s mom.) He works so much better as one person. He’s an archetype, really: the successful professional with the messy personal life. But so many of us handle work better than relationships. I know someone who theorizes there’s a worldwide epidemic of PTSD, and I think he’s on to something.
I don’t know what the future holds. I may be back. One never knows in this world, and certainly the writing won’t stop. Those of you sad to discover things haven’t gone well: The books are still in print. Loan them out. Give them as gifts. Request them at your library. If you like my stories, share my stories. (Legally, please. Don’t hit the torrents; hit the library. My mom’s a retired attorney, and she will be so annoyed with you if you torrent them.) I don’t need the damn money, but if I’ve told a tale that resonates with you, that means everything to me. Let other people know about it.
Those of you who’ve found pleasure in tearing me down: Knock yourselves out. I’ve lived 53 years on this planet. Trust me, you’re amateurs.
One last thing: My brother just reminded me that Felicia Day gave THE COLD BETWEEN a five-star review on Goodreads. (I liked her before that, but afterward? What a lovely person.) She did, however, take a dig at the pony tail on the cover.
So lemme explain the pony tail.
Trey, when initially written, was Maori (although such terms lose some of their meaning when I’m talking about a character whose ancestors haven’t lived on Earth for centuries). At one point, though (as I’ve written about before) I realized Trey actually looked like Donnie Yen’s character from 14 Blades, which made him Chinese. I’d established in the text that PSI tended to grow their hair and wear it in a tight braid, so the cover sketch had to include that–but I didn’t want to head straight for the queue, which has a history and cultural significance I’m not qualified to properly represent. I could have had him drawn with his hair down (and in retrospect that’s exactly what I should have done), but with all of the erroneous romance buzz swarming around the book, I wanted desperately to avoid any hint of Fabio.
So Trey has a pony tail, and I recognize that for many people it’s nearly as annoying as a man bun, but he’s old enough to wear his hair however he likes, and he doesn’t care what you think of it anyway. Ignore his hair, sit down, and let him make you some dessert. I bet he makes an amazing trifle.
This is an old-fashioned SPOILER tag: I’ve made the text white. Highlight the section below if you want to know the Super-Secret Altered Scene, which really doesn’t spoil all that much but still.
At the end of the book, when Jessica hunts down Dallas at the scrapyard to say goodbye, I initially had them kiss. During revisions, though, I was getting–not from everyone, but still–a push to shed more romance from my work in general. There wasn’t a good way to pull the Greg/Elena stuff from this book–it’s too much of a motivator for both of them–so the Dallas/Jessica kiss was the only candidate.
It’s not a big change, really. And given that it’s clear in the epilogue that Jessica and Dallas get cozy, it doesn’t even remove much romance. But I regret changing it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Dallas, as non-binary, isn’t a character who should have had their romantic subplot toned down.
Life is full of regrets. I may have to write Dallas some short stories to make it up to them.