The Middle Child

Remnants of Trust book cover

REMNANTS OF TRUST had a terrible release date.

I’m sure there are worse release dates to have, but everything that came out in November of 2016 was pretty much subsumed by the cultural devastation of the US election. By the time people rallied enough to resume their normal lives (to the extent that any of us did), most books released in November and December were old news. Of course, given everything, it was unlikely REMNANTS would’ve gone anywhere anyway, but it’s yet another opportunity relegated to history for reasons that will never be clear-cut.

I will say this: I had so much fun with this book.

REMNANTS was the last book I wrote before I was published. It went into production (essentially code freeze, modulo major bug fixes) in February, and even that was after pushing it out as far as we could. Most of the work was done in 2015, as THE COLD BETWEEN was getting a cover and the sales copy was being worked out.

And there was a lot of work to do on REMNANTS.

My contract was for three books. When I signed it, REMNANTS was, I thought, about half done; in fact, probably less than a quarter of the final book came from what I had drafted by then. When I signed that contract, Raman Çelik wasn’t a POV character; I’m not even sure, at that point, I had him on the page at all apart from a mention; but he’d been nagging at me, and eventually I wrote a scene in self-defense, and he pretty much barged in and took over.

Çelik was my attempt at writing an unlikeable character. In that respect, I believe I utterly failed. That I’d dislike him in real life is certain; he wouldn’t have much patience with me, and I hate dismissive people. But he’s the guy who somehow manages to sit in a business meeting and bluntly say what everyone else is thinking, and instead of getting fired ends up getting promoted. He’s supremely confident because he knows he’s capable. He’s an intellectual snob because he knows he’s smart. He values intelligence, but more than that, he values accomplishment. He is, to his astonishment as much as anyone else’s, capable of forgiveness.

I adore him.

Part of the fun of Çelik was writing a character who could plainly—and often uncharitably—call my other characters out on their shit. Elena’s a bright and accomplished person absolutely crippled by stubbornness and blind spots. Greg, despite his bad temper, is perversely optimistic, to the point of often being caught off-guard.

Of course, the only flaw he finds with Jessica is that she likes her life on Galileo, but he supposes there’s no accounting for taste.

I want to talk about edits, too. THE COLD BETWEEN was pretty well polished when it was sold; I think edits went through two rounds, but it may only have been one. REMNANTS took a lot more back-and-forth. There were two editors working on it, and from time to time they’d disagree.

Does that sound stressful? It was marvelous. There’s a tendency I see in some beginning writers to assume critiques from anyone—editor, beta reader, their best friend, their mom—are somehow objective observations about something that needs to be changed, when in reality they’re opinions. And yes, when that opinion is coming from your publisher’s editor, you have to give it a lot of weight. When you have two editors, and they disagree—that’s when you have to decide what your vision is, and how you’re going to make the book work for both people.

Which sounds so artistic and decisive, doesn’t it? Me, I hedged my bets. I added a scene for Editor A that Editor B loathed. Since my sympathies lay with Editor B, I took out the scene. But I will say the argument made me add some nuance around the point they were debating. It’s always good to have people care enough about your story to argue over it.

And then there’s the cover.

Of all three, this is my favorite cover, in part because of Greg. (I’d have put him on the cover of BREACH as well, but I was overruled.) Of all the characters in the series, he’s the one I knew first, the one most solidified, the one who carries the most of me with him. To have a visual was just amazing. (One regret: the drawing doesn’t show the model’s gorgeous, expressive eyes.)

The relationship of the two characters works as well. They’re not looking at each other, but they’re working as a unit: well-established teamwork and absolute trust. Which to me nails how the characters work in story: whatever else happens between them, whatever emotional bullshit they sling at each other, they’re on the same side when it counts.

I have a framed print of the cover hanging in my living room. There are a lot of publishing memories I’d just as soon erase, but I never tire of looking at that cover.

I’ve posted factoids on this book before, and I don’t know if I have any new ones, but I’ll try:

  1. The book’s original title was BLINDING FAITH, which I still rather like. The objection, if I recall, was that it potentially implied a religious theme (that the book doesn’t have). I tried floating MADE OF STARS as well, which was more vague, but had been the original title of half of THE COLD BETWEEN. REMNANTS OF TRUST was not my idea, but I think it works well.
  2. The lack of sex in this book was indeed a point of contention, despite all the lust flying around.
  3. It’s the longest of the three books, about 2,000 words (about 7 pages in a trade paperback) longer than BREACH OF CONTAINMENT and 5,000 words longer than THE COLD BETWEEN.
  4. I quit my day job to meet the deadlines for this book. Both the book and the job were suffering, and it became clear I had to choose. In retrospect, I should have pushed back harder on the deadlines at contract-signing, but I didn’t, and there you go. (Here’s where I note I had other sources of income, thanks to having worked in a well-paying industry for many years and having a frugal spouse who was still working. Do not ever jeopardize your financial security for a publishing contract. Ever.)
  5. I worked with some people who were really, really bothered by Trey’s absence from this book. To this day, I have to wonder what book they’d read that would have made them think Trey belonged in REMNANTS.

I’ve written about Guanyin elsewhere. I’m aware that she’s a bit unusual, in that she’s the boss as well as being six months’ pregnant and a mother of five already. I mention her because I know for some people she’s representative of something that doesn’t get written about much. But the truth is her parental status is a part of her character, and that’s all. She’s not Mother of the Heir; she’s not angsting over work-life balance; she’s not wrestling with her kids’ issues. She is, as many of us are, a parent living an entire life of which her children are only one part. And let’s face it: the world is full of pregnant people all the time, and on a generation ship it’s not going to be seen as a big deal at all.

REMNANTS got me a panel at NYCC and a bunch of blogs about military SF (it’s not, but I understand why they positioned it that way). It got me a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. It gave me hope, and then November, and publishing is mercurial and fluky and out of my control. Writing it was my last piece of innocence, and I’ll always cherish it for that.

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