The Boneshaker

Novellablog: Kid Editors: Because the kid in the room understands your book better than you do.

Remember that post I wrote about how I can’t be trusted to edit my own stuff? Well, last week it was time to send The Kairos Mechanism to the last and most critical set of readers before I send it to the critmate who’s acting as uber-editor. These are the Kid Editors: Emma, Luci and Edie, Mason, and the newly-deputized Julia and Talia. Their mission: make sure I’m not going to embarrass myself by putting this book up in front of the world.

I’ve written about the Kid Editors before, but in the interests of cataloguing all the ways in which I’m trying to make this book shine without the benefit of my blue-pencil-wielding editor at Clarion, it’s well worth revisiting these amazing kids and what they do. Especially since, day before yesterday, I had a conference call with Emma.

If you happened to be following me on Twitter on Wednesday, you might have seen me tweet the following:

“I have nightmares where, in 10 years, I submit a MS to Emma (in her new job as Most Senior Editor at the Hugest Publisher Ever) & she says, “Kate, you know how much I want to work with you. But…tell you what. Let me give you some notes and I’ll look at a revision.”

I was mostly joking, of course. I love talking to Emma. But I wasn’t kidding about how tough she is on my work. She will tell me—and has, as often as it’s been necessary—when she thinks I’m being lazy, being obtuse or confusing, or (yes, it’s happened) swearing too much in a particular manuscript. On one occasion, after a lengthy explanation on my part about what I was getting at in a particular scene, Emma replied by asking, “How important to you is it that I get all that? I just thought that part was exciting. The rest of it—does that really matter?” I had to think about that. And then I had to answer honestly: “Nope.” But then, we’ve also had similar conversations where she’s listened to my explanation and then demanded I clarify it. She’s a sharp like that.

Right about the time I wrote my last posts on the Kid Editors, I sent a set of questions to each of the (at the time) four of them. Here are Emma’s responses. These are from December, and Emma was twelve.

K: What do you like about being a beta-reader?

E: I love being a beta reader for very many reasons. Reason A- It makes me feel important, and like I am helping make the book better. Reason B- I love to read and if I can do that and help you then it is double awesome. Reason C- I want to be a professional beta-reader someday!

K: Is it difficult to do? How is it different from just reading a book?  

E: It is a little more complex than reading a book normally, because you are reading it with a critical eye, and always have to be thinking. But it is more rewarding than reading an actual book because you have feel like you have some say in what goes into the finished product.

K: What can a writer do to help you give her good feedback? Do you like to have questions in advance? Would you rather just read the book and have the writer send questions later, so they don’t influence your thoughts while you read the book? 

E: I like knowing a little bit about what you are curious about but not specific questions before I read, then I like talking to you after I read and telling you everything I noticed, and then answering the more specific questions.

K: What steps do you take after you’re finished reading a book–or while you’re reading it–to decide what you like and what you don’t, and what you think the writer still needs to work on?

E: Quite honestly, I don’t take notes while I read even though I should…I just think about the things and sometimes read what you send me again, so that I can notice the specific things more.

K: Do you feel comfortable telling someone (for example, me) that you like or don’t like a particular aspect of a book? Is it hard to do? How can the writer make you more comfortable about giving negative feedback? 

E: Since I know you, and I’m not an extremely shy person, no it does not bother me. I like to think of it as constructive criticism, disagreement leads to better discussions and in the end, a better book!

K: How do you involve your parents in your reading? 

E: As you know, my parents are almost as invested in this as I am, and like me are dying to help you write more books, so they usually read them too!

K: Any other thoughts you’d like to share? 

E: You know that nothing makes my day more then receiving a new book from you to read.

This time, partly in response to Emma’s comment above that she preferred not to read with specific questions in advance, when I sent the Editors The Kairos Mechanism, I had only one specific question. I asked them: if I had ten more pages to spend expanding or adding anything to this story, how would you like to see me use those pages?

Wednesday night we spoke by phone. Emma’s first comment, right out of the gate, was, “It’s so short.” I suppose it’s better to leave readers wanting more than wishing you would get on with it, so I decided to count this as a positive.

Other comments:

She asked for more reminders about what’s come before. Not so much a re-hashing of the story, but reminders about the town, Natalie’s family, what certain terms (introduced in The Boneshaker or The Broken Lands) meant. Despite how much she loved The Boneshaker, Emma had forgotten many of the details. This was eye-opening. Possibly I’ve forgotten how most people read; my husband, with whom I discuss books and reading and details more than anyone else, not only reads books several times, but he memorizes details. And frankly, so do I. I’ve always tended to feel my eyes glaze over when books in a series stop to re-hash what’s gone before. I wonder if I’ve never had a real sense of how people really read related books. My critique group had asked for some specific reminders, but what Emma wanted went a bit beyond that.

She asked for more description. Interestingly, the place she specifically wanted more was a place where one of my crit mates had specifically wanted me to cut back. I mentioned this to her, and she protested loudly. Even more interestingly, the reason she wanted more in this spot was not that she felt the story needed it, but because it was a section of the story related to Simon Coffrett, a mysterious figure in the town of Arcane. Emma has a particular interest in Simon, because there are so many unanswered questions about him, and she wanted as much information about him as I was willing to give, even if it meant slowing the story down a bit in that spot.

This was also particularly interesting to me because in another book Emma read for me, one in which I had two characters exploring a really (I thought) fascinating underground city, she really gave me the third degree about keeping things moving, adding action, adding tension, etcetera. Granted, there is a difference in scale; in The Kairos Mechanism we’re talking about turning two pages into three, and in Wild Iron we were talking about cutting back what ran twenty pages over the course of about two hundred and fifty. Still. Interesting.

She pointed out a few missed opportunities. She wanted more description of the mechanism referenced in the title, and thought I’d missed an opportunity to bring Natalie’s love of machines—a very important part of her personality—more fully into the narrative.

She thought I’d also missed an opportunity to allow Natalie to behave unselfishly at a critical point, and to take an action that she takes anyway for the sake of protecting someone else rather than herself. The scene, according to every reader including Emma herself, works just fine as written; Emma’s suggestion, however, adds a nice layer and requires one sentence of revision. Nice.

Certain places where she was confused or had questions were really fascinating. Some of them would involve spoilers to explain; others were more like questions about backstory—where certain characters came from, whether I planned to bring them back. I take this as a positive, too—the whole point of this project is to give me a chance and a way to return to characters I love outside of the big, overarching narrative of the hardcover releases.

The best compliment of all: she claims she’d like to marry one of the new characters. That is a satisfactory response, I think.

And then, the final question: ten pages, Emma. Assuming I haven’t spent them all fixing the stuff you’ve given me to fix, where do you want more story?

Emma was quiet for a minute, and then said she’d rather I kept those ten pages and put them toward a story about Jake Limberleg (the villain of The Boneshaker).

Duly noted.

THE KAIROS MECHANISM: a sneak peek, with my gratitude.

As promised, here’s an excerpt from The Kairos Mechanism. Thanks to everyone for bringing this campaign so close to completion, so quickly. Please bear in mind that the text isn’t final, and enjoy!

From Chapter Six: The Woods

Natalie laid the Chesterlane gently on the ground at the entrance to the big empty lot at the end of Heartwood Street where the burned and broken remnants of Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show were still waiting to be cleared away. She picked her way through scraps of oilcloth and blackened rope and smashed timber, ignoring the huge open swath down the middle of the lot. That path marked the route the Paragons of Science had taken when they’d chased after her in the terrible glass-and-brass contraption on wheels that had been the Amber Therapy chamber.

Even now, more than three months later, Natalie had nightmares about the chamber. Sometimes the dreams were about racing it and the Paragons to the crossroads at the Old Village; worse than those, however, were the dreams in which she had to witness the Amber Therapy treatment her mother had gone through in that awful glass room.

After a little exploring she found her way to what was left of a boxy carriage she had once hidden inside: Jake Limberleg’s consultation wagon. She had been staring at it for a few minutes, thinking and remembering, when someone spoke. “You are a problem, aren’t you?”

The voice was both sympathetic and completely full of malice. The debris littering the ground crunched under a pair of boots as the sutler came to lean upon the charred corner of Limberleg’s wagon. He looked around. “What a mess.”

“There’s going to be a town cleanup next week,” Natalie snapped. “It isn’t like we’re going to leave it this way.”

Trigemine’s frigid blue eyes blinked, amused. “It wasn’t an insult.” He ran a finger along a fragment of burned gingerbread ornamenting, chipping away thin chunks of charcoal until he came to a splinter of the pale wood underneath. “I crossed paths with Jake, you know, once or twice. We took the same roads, he and I.”

“Don’t talk about him,” Natalie said, remembering with a shudder how Limberleg’s own hands had tried to silence him before he could help Natalie undo what he’d done to Arcane. Well, not his own hands, she reminded herself. “He wasn’t like you. Not in the end.”

“Now what could you possibly mean by that?” Trigemine asked curiously.

“Like you? Evil,” Natalie retorted. “Something that has to be fought.”

She’d expected some kind of villainous laugh at her answer, but the sutler tilted his head and frowned at her. “That’s what you mean when you use the word evil? Interesting. Of course, you’re a child. You likely use plenty of words you don’t understand properly.”

That couldn’t go unchallenged. “I absolutely do not use plenty of—”

With a wave of his hand, he cut off her protests. “What I intended to ask was, what do you mean by ‘at the end?’ But this is neither here nor there. I didn’t come out to this rubble pit to discuss your ill-informed and ill-advised choices in wording.” He brushed the ashes from his fingers and folded his hands in front of him. “I think you have the capability to help my young friends do their work. I think you also have the capability to sound the alarm that will bring this town down upon them. And I am here to offer my advice as to which route you ought to take.”

“I know which route you think I ought to take,” she muttered.

“And I imagine,” he continued, “that, having survived this sort of thing”—he gestured at the remains of the medicine show—“you might not fully appreciate how seriously you ought to take me. You might think that I am only one man, and you might imagine that you have bested stranger and darker creatures than I.”

Natalie stared at him. “How did you know—?”

“News travels the roaming world quickly.” His voice was patient, but his eyes were hard. “So I believe a demonstration of my bona fides might be in order.” He swept aside the green coat and reached into the watch pocket of his vest. A heartbeat later, with that same viper speed he’d used in the hallway outside the Claffans’ room, Trigemine launched himself forward and grabbed Natalie by the collar of her shirt.

She twisted sharply away from his grip. To her surprise, he released his hold. Then Natalie saw why he’d let her go. She’d been planning to run from him, naturally, but now she stopped in her tracks.

In the seconds that had passed since she’d yanked free of his grip, the world had changed.

The shallow curve of land upon which the town of Arcane sat was gone entirely; now they stood in a wooded place. The air was heavy, thick and still with an unnatural silence. There was no noise of birds, no sound of wind.

“Where are we?” Even whispering, Natalie’s voice sounded like a shout in the bizarre quiet.

Trigemine leaned against a tree, arms folded. The trunk pushed his tall hat forward over his eyes, until they were nearly hidden. He lifted a finger to his lips.

The roar came first. It was and was not like voices, thousands of voices, thousands of shouts coming all together, all at once, from all sides. It came from far away, or perhaps from very close; it was impossible to tell. It ricocheted off of thousands of trees so that the woods all around resonated with it. To Natalie, who was turning frantically in all directions in search of the source of the roar, it almost seemed that the trees themselves were making the noise.

She took a terrified step backwards, and a twig snapped under her foot. Somehow the nearness of the sound made it perfectly audible over the all-surrounding roar. Just as Old Tom had the day before, Natalie put both hands to her thudding heart, which now felt as if it wanted out of her body so that it could flee on its own.

“Don’t move,” Trigemine suggested from where he leaned, unperturbed, as the roaring rose in volume and fury. “Stay right where you are, and you’ll leave this place with a healthy respect for what I can do, nothing more. Take one step further in any direction, and the Claffan boys will have to make do on their own.”


The noise that erupted next ripped through the air and shook the ground. It was so loud, so awful, and so sudden that only pure terror held Natalie still. Her body was completely numb. Then, as if she hadn’t already heard enough to reduce her to a mindless collection of panicked nerves, came the sounds of furious crashing through the undergrowth: running things, coming toward her, just like the roar, from all directions.

More eruptions; smaller this time, but infinite and uncountable. Little explosions followed by ripping noises like screaming in the air. Next, the shattering: all around her, the trees were splintering. Then the smoke, which came curling through the trunks and the undergrowth like lazy, unhurried mist.

The first dozen shapes came pelting out of the smoke, sharp ends first, and Natalie’s disordered mind saw them and could not process what she was seeing until the first one jolted to a halt and fell face-first and disappeared into the smoke that now hid the ground. Another one stopped abruptly in the middle of its race through the trees, and part of it disappeared in a spray of unnaturally bright red.

Then, the screaming. Real screaming. Human screaming.


Novellablog: Dear Kate, Organize or Else. Love, Your Future Books.

With great reluctance, it’s time I admit that it’s become evident to me that I will have to get organized. A girl can only double-check so many times whether a character’s cane has an alligator’s head or a crocodile’s head for a handle before she has to face the fact that she’s wasting her own time.

I have, therefore, again with great reluctance, begun to assemble a Binder.

In the same way that I don’t willingly write synopses, I also don’t write character histories or descriptions, except into the text of the manuscript itself. This is because I like learning about the characters as I go. I don’t know what they’re really like until I see them in action. I don’t know what traits they have until I learn what traits they need. I don’t know what their histories are until I find a reason to investigate. This is not to say that I know nothing about a character in advance; but by not forming pre-conceived ideas about that character, I can maintain the greatest possible flexibility and give myself room to work in future stories.

An example of this is Old Tom Guyot. Readers of The Boneshaker might remember that Tom has an old injury in one knee that gives him some arthritic pain. You might have assumed that, although the actual circumstances of the injury were not disclosed in that book, I, the all-knowing writer, certainly knew how Tom got hurt.


I do know now, but I only discovered the circumstances about a month ago, after my husband had finished reading the first draft of The Kairos Mechanism. He said I needed something to raise the stakes, and the scene I came up with to accomplish that turned out to have the added benefit of revealing the nature and history of Old Tom’s injury. And believe me when I tell you, what I came up with I would have had no way of anticipating two years ago. Absolutely no flipping way.

On the other hand, I have had to look up what kind of cane Doc Fitzwater carries twice now, and just because I don’t want to be pinned down about things before it’s absolutely necessary, that doesn’t mean I like doing the same extra work over and over and over.

So I’ve come up with a compromise. I’ve made character sheets, I’ve put them in the aforementioned binder and I’ve alphabetized them. But I’ve decided that the only things that go on them are things that have already been committed to in print and things that are so mission-critical to the ongoing story that they’re really unlikely to be changed. Anything else can be recorded as ideas and notes in a designated section of the page, so that I don’t forget that those things can be changed at will. But so far I haven’t written much in those sections. The same is true with the map of Arcane I drew when we were editing The Boneshaker–up until this week it only showed places I’d referenced in that particular book. Because I added references to one or two new places in The Kairos Mechanism, I’ve added a few things to my drawing.

I’ve also started making notes that will become a style sheet. These include things like is gingerfoot capitalized? Do I refer to Doc Fitzwater as the Doc or the doc? And what reptile gave its noggin so that the doc’s cane could have a handle? 

Grudging, baby steps toward organization. I suppose it was time.

Become a backer of The Kairos Mechanism‘s Kickstarter campaign here, so that I haven’t compromised my principles and become organized for no good reason. Thank you!

Novellablog: Yes, You Can Edit Your Own Work, but You Will Probably Frack It Up.

It will not surprise my nerd audience that I’m watching Battlestar Galactica as I write this. But that’s neither here nor there. We are now progressing into the portion of this series I like to call

From Beta Readers to Copyeditors; In Which Kate Panics About the Editing Process. 

Here’s a list of things I am worried about with this project:

  • 1)   Finishing the novella. (April Kate checking in: done and done.)
  • 2)   Raising the money. (June Kate, did you want to weigh in? . . . June Kate . . . ? You there? Or do we not have forward-going time travel budgeted into this thing? April Kate: No, we do not.)
  • 3)   Does anybody actually want to read this thing? (Anybody? Bueller….?)

Then, right on schedule, (I KNOW!!)  I finished the first draft of the novella, and a whole new set of panicky things set in.

  • 1)   Without running the agent/editor gauntlet, how do I actually know this thing is any good?
  • 2)   Who’s going to edit the thing?
  • 3)   Who’s going to copyedit the thing?

I had already decided I needed to have someone else copyedit the manuscript. The biggest complaints I have been reading about self-published works all have to do with poor or absent editing. Heck, traditionally published books get poorly edited all the time, too. So, yes: having editors involved=critical. But I worry that the challenge is bigger than just having a strong copyeditor come in at the end.

We all make mistakes. I’m good with grammar, spelling, and apostrophes, but I’m bad with who/whom and further/farther. I have a tendency to use the words odd, strange, and bizarre too often (if you have read any of my books, you will understand why). I am fascinated by the different kinds of glances and smiles and grimaces that people use to communicate wordlessly, so I tend to overuse those devices when I write. I have characters fold their arms too often, and my first drafts have an excessive number of paragraphs begun with a character’s name. And this is just the stuff I know I do. Let’s not even think about all the awkward writing stuff I do that I don’t know that I do until someone hits me with a rolled-up newspaper and says, STOP THAT.

All of these things get fixed because someone other than me looks at the manuscript in a particular way. Awkward sentences that turn out to be a paragraph long? My husband usually catches those before they go to the critique group. Random missing words and bogus references to antibiotics prior to World War One? Thank you, critique group. “I don’t know why I think this, but I wish you would do this part differently, ’cause it bugs me”? That would be the Kid Editors, weighing in.

And yet. And yet.

A page from the revised final draft of Ellen Raskin's THE WESTING GAME. There is no such thing as a clean draft, evidently.

The last time I got a manuscript back from my editor at Clarion, it was prefaced by an email that said (I am not paraphrasing), “Great job, Kate! This manuscript is in great shape.” And it was still covered in blue. I mean covered. (She uses blue pencil, she told me once, because she figured if any author got a manuscript back with that much red writing on it, they might go into a cave in panic and never come back out.) And that was a manuscript that was in great shape. One on which I did a great job.

What would it look like if she thought the manuscript quote-needed work-unquote? The evil truth is this: even the cleanest, sharpest draft I’m capable of turning out needs several passes of editing before it’s ready to be picked over by a copyeditor.

And I think my critique group will confirm that I turn out fairly sharp drafts before I share them with anyone. This is not boasting. Remember that thing I said before about not always knowing where things are going in my stories before I get there? This means I don’t always even share a draft with my crit group until I’ve gone back and cleaned up the results of my (ahem) particular process, read it back through, cleaned it up again, revised a bit, read again–you get the idea. So who’s going to go three rounds with me with the blue pencil this time?

Then there’s this to panic about: catching potential historical mistakes. I’m a good researcher, and I do my due diligence with everything, but I’ve made some bizarre mistakes before. Only a couple weeks ago, I caught an error I’d made about the use of sugar in fireworks and had to send a frantic email to catch it before The Broken Lands’ ARC materials went into production. I sent the novella manuscript to my critique group still full of notes to myself like (CHECK THIS) or (ERA-APPROPRIATE ANTIBIOTIC) or (COLOR OF STITCHES?).

And how about the moment I realized was that I couldn’t remember whether the word “gingerfoot” had been capitalized in The Boneshaker, or whether Doc Fitzwater was referred to as the Doc or just the doc? I couldn’t immediately find my hand-drawn map of Arcane, so all of my locations were going to have to be double-checked. Last week my friend Lisa noticed that I changed the spelling of one character’s name midway through the manuscript. I fixed the inconsistency, then had a moment of doubt and went back to double-check how I’d spelled this guy’s name in The Boneshaker. Get this: when I’d “fixed the inconsistency” in The Kairos Mechanism, I’d changed all the spellings to the wrong variation of the name.

This nearly sent me into a full-on panic attack as I was reminded suddenly of a series of (incredibly, incredibly bad) fantasy novels I read last year in which the spelling of a character’s name was inconsistent from one novel to the next. How the hell does anyone make a mistake like that? I’d thought at the time, stunned at how very, very bad this writer was.

Okay, to be fair, it was also an adult series from the mid-Eighties, and the name thing was the most minimal of the reasons why these books were so very bad. I mention this because I’m now certain that guy and I are not the only ones to have made this mistake. And a mistake like that doesn’t make a book–or anyone’s writing bad; but it does make the writing in question look careless.

So what’s the answer? Well, among other things, I’m starting to compile a style sheet for myself and for the copyeditor, so that I can at least try to avoid calling a character Wylie when I’m already on record calling him Wiley. But more on that in my next post. I think I feel another panic attack coming on, and I’m going to see if going to the diner to get some new writing done will put a stop to that, at least temporarily.


Novellablog: How to Write a Book in 30 Days.

It’s funny that this was the post I had lined up for today. Last night I got a lovely mention by the venerable Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing, and after the obligatory commenters being angst-ridden about the fact that The Boneshaker shares a title with Boneshaker (hi, Cherie!), another commenter spoke up warning people away from backing authors on Kickstarter because he backed an author once and that author didn’t deliver for a long time. So here stand I to reassure you, world, that the manuscript for The Kairos Mechanism is done. I have plenty of editing left to do, but don’t you worry. It’ll be ready for you digitally sometime in July, and in print sometime in August. You may confidently back the project if it strikes you as worthy.

Want to know how I wrote it so fast (she asks, batting her eyelashes)? Sure you do. On to the post promised in the title.


From my title, you may glean that finishing things isn’t my problem; my problem is keeping things short and simple.

Ready? Right. Here we go.

This is also where I should admit to you that 1) I only outline or write synopses when forced to, so outlining and synopsizing will not be major parts of this program; and 2) I don’t know the ending of a story until I’m halfway through it. Ever (unless I’ve written a synopsis; see #1).  If you are reading this and you are one of the people who have at one point or another instructed me to write one (meaning, if you are either my agent or my editor), obviously you made me do it for a very good reason, and I’m sure I’m grateful now, even if I spent the entire time I was writing it quietly cursing and drinking too much rye. (Also, I’m sorry if getting me to do it was like making a child eat broccoli.)

I like to dive into an idea, write to find out where I’m headed, and discover the ending, like a buried treasure, somewhere along the way. And I do always find it, but not always within the first couple weeks of working on something. So the great thing about what I’m about to say is that you can do this even if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Not everybody likes to write this way, and I totally respect outliners and planners even though I am not cut of that cloth. But I do think there’s merit in realizing that you can start writing even when you don’t have the whole story planned out yet.

The one thing you do have to have, obviously, is a place to start, a premise or character or simple what-if, something that galvanizes you enough that you simply cannot wait to start writing. Because any piece of writing you’re going to stick with long enough to see it through to becoming even the roughest of drafts, you have to love so much you can’t stand to be away from it for longer than a few hours. And God help you if your love starts to wane after that, because the transition from draft to finished book is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

For me, that idea, that galvanizing thing was a note I found in a book of Civil War folktales about how sutlers (itinerant peddlers who followed army trains) would from time to time use dead bodies (and the soldiers who carried them) to smuggle goods in and out of prison camps. Because I have kind of a thing about itinerant peddlers, this was enough to set my brain going in like five directions. It doesn’t always happen this fast, but within two days I had twenty pages and a rough idea of where the story was going, and I was ready to start writing in earnest.

So, strategy number one, obviously: once you have your idea in place, start writing immediately, and keep writing.

When I’m trying to finish something, I automatically put myself on the “I’m on a deadline” word count quota. This means five days a week I expect to put a minimum of 3000 new words into the manuscript. Two days a week I get off easy with 1500ish. This is what I consider a moderate but not head-wreckingly challenging pace, and with those numbers, even assuming some false starts and bad days, I know I can clock around 150 pages in a month.

Last fall I discovered a magical hashtag on Twitter: #1k1hr, meaning a thousand words in an hour. It connected me with a ton of other writers trying to get through their daily wordcount goals one hour at a time. In this way, I found I could do my 3000-word days easily, and when I needed to really push through a tough spot or catch up after a tough day or two, I managed 6000-word days without breaking too much of a sweat.

The key, of course, is not to expect polished prose at this stage. The key is to keep the words coming, and keep the story progressing toward a climax. There will be false starts and crap pages, and that’s ok. The editing, of course, comes later, but that’s as it should be. If there’s no draft, there’s nothing to edit.

But Kate, I hear you ask, what about the part where you said this program was geared to keeping things under 300 pages? If you’re just writing for the sake of racking up a word count, isn’t that counter-productive?

Enter strategy number two: feel free to skip from important scene to important scene, and worry about the connective tissue afterwards.

Look for the simplest ways to get from point A to point B. This is not only a way of making sure I can keep churning out new words—let’s face it, many times the transitions are the tough bits—but it (theoretically) ensures I’m focusing only on set piece scenes that move the story forward. While writing these scenes, I keep in mind that thing my old boss Craig, who was one of my best writing teachers, told me once: enter the scene late, and get out of it early. This keeps the pace moving right along. And every scene must either advance the action or present a new obstacle the protagonist must overcome. In this way, you keep the plot moving right along.

Strategy number three: if it should happen that the ending materializes before you figure out how to get there from wherever you are, make a list of titles for the chapters in between.

This is as close as I willingly get to outlining, and as I was doing it for The Kairos Mechanism, I realized I acutally have written a novella before. It was about six years ago, and the only outline I used was a set of note cards with chapter titles written on them. It was really more of a short novel; it came in at about 145 pages, and I’m not sure what the wordcount was because back then I didn’t track that, but I wrote it in two weeks. It was the first draft of The Boneshaker, which at that point was called Gingerfoot.

Anyway, the benefit of the chapter-title strategy is that it allows one to create a path to follow to a finished draft that’s more like a bunch of rocks across a stream than an actual path: the title is just big enough to be something you can confidently jump toward, even if you have no idea what the waters around it are like until you get there. Is that taking the metaphor too far?

Strategy number four: don’t stop until you get to the end.

This is the tough part, I acknowledge. But by not being afraid to start just because you don’t know where you’ll wind up, by being willing to jump toward that next stone in the stream even though it’s a small target and even though it requires faith that, once you’re there, you’ll be able to see the next rock big enough to jump for–by having faith in yourself that if the story is there, you will find the pieces you need to be able to tell it, you can get to the end.

It might be a really crummy end. You might go back to read that first draft and be crushed at how much work is left to do. You might shake your fist at me and curse me because you realize after the fact that if you had just sat down and forced yourself to plan things out in the first place, you could’ve cut out a lot of retrofitting and a ton of work that you’ll now have to face. That’s fair. You’ve just figured out something about your process, which will necessarily be different than mine. Be happy. That will make people like your agent and your editor much happier with you than mine (bless them) tend to be with me when I start something new.

The day that I wrote the bulk of this post (minus the first paragraph, obviously) was the day I was ready to print out the first start-to-finish draft of The Kairos Mechanism. On that day, I wrote this to end my comments, and I think I’d like to leave it unedited, even though it’s now a month later:

Today I will print my new book out for the first time. I will be amazed at how little paper and ink it takes up. Then I’ll read through it and panic about how much there is to clean up, but then I’ll take a few calming breaths, remember that I knew that would be the case. After that I’ll make a list and realize it’s going to be less work than I expected. Or more work than I expected, but that it still won’t take more than a few long days, maybe as much as a week. Then I will send it to my critique group, and while I’m waiting for their comments, I will sharpen my colored pencils, get out my sticky paper flags and my set of special page-marker paperclip tags that are labeled CHAPTER ONE, CHAPTER TWO and so forth, and get going.

Office supplies make everything better.

A month later, I can tell you that this turned out to be exactly what happened. So if you take away nothing else from this post, just remember: start writing and trust that the ending will come; and office supplies fix what ails you.

To learn more about The Kairos Mechanism on Kickstarter, click here.

Novellablog: Keep it Under Two Hundred Pages, Milford.

In Which Kate Frets about Short Fiction and its Perils

A couple of days ago (I’m writing this on Friday, March 23) I finished the first rough, start-to-finish draft of what I’ve been mentally calling The Keeper of Sanctuary. (April 17th Kate here: If you’ve been following my adventures in the last couple of weeks, you know this story as The Kairos Mechanism.)

This is a huge, huge relief.

I started writing this thing on February 25th, and this was the assignment I gave myself: write story. Must be a self-contained adventure that not only helps readers to understand how The Broken Lands relates to The Boneshaker; it must relate to the Natalie trilogy I’m outlining in my (haha) spare time. It must contain no spoilers, although it may contain clues. It must come in under 200 words. Really, though, it ought to come in under 100. Don’t panic.

I went into this with two things worrying me. The first, of course, was raising the money that would be required to publish the thing later. Just as panic-inducing, however, was the idea of writing a novella. Meaning (theoretically) something shorter than a novel. And I have trouble keeping my novels down to a manageable length.

This is not because I think a book ought to clock in at a minimum of 300 pages. I think a book should be as long as it needs to be, and I think that length is generally somewhat less than what the writer thinks, which is why I thank God I have a brilliant critique group to whip me into shape even before a manuscript goes to my equally brilliant editor.

My problem is that once I get going with an idea, I tend to let that idea become complicated. Last year I told my husband I was going to write a short, simple book over the summer, something under 200 pages. He laughed and told me to my face that he didn’t think I could do it. And guess what? Let’s just say…I struggled.

Dramatization of what Nathan does whenever I say I'm going to write something short.

This time, well…by the time I had this idea and had written enough of it to be pretty sure I could finish it, I had boxed myself into a place where if I was going to go through with this novella project, I had to immediately start putting the pieces in place, even if I was far from certain about the end of the novella. I had to start sending emails and making phone calls to line up the friends and colleagues who would lend their voices and their time to the project. If I was going to call in those reserves, I couldn’t ask for their help and then not deliver a story of the right length when it was time for me to produce it. Which, conservatively, gave me a month in which to have a finished draft. It could be rough, but it had to be readable.

And it had to remain short. The SFWA’s definition of a novella is handy enough, and it gives an upper word count limit of 40,000 words. That translates to something in the vicinity of 140 pages.

I have never written a novella. What I should have done was talk to some of the brilliant writers I’ve met in the last few years who do write them, and beg for some guidance or (even better) an inoculation against pages 150 and up. But there wasn’t time. What I did in the end was come up with a three-part strategy, and (cautiously) it seems to have worked. More about that on Thursday.

Today, before the tough editing starts, it runs a lean 108 pages. I expect it to balloon up to about 120, then shrink back down to right about 110. Just for kicks, I’ll take a copy and dice it up fine and try and bring it down to 99, just to see if I can (when my husband reads that part, he will stop reading and laugh until he cries).

Laugh it up, Nathan. I did it in less than 200 pages, and in less than a month. No matter what happens next, I win.

(April 17th Kate here again to make sure March 23rd Kate mentions where you can help with April 17th Kate’s major concern: go here, learn more, become a backer if you choose, spread the word if you don’t mind. Thanks!)

Novellablog: In Which Kate Ruminates on Self-Publishing and Jordan from Real Genius

On Tuesday I announced that I’m self-publishing a novella companion to The Broken Lands, my second traditionally published book. In the related Kickstarter campaign, I also committed to blogging regularly about the process. Keeping this commitment might possibly be the biggest stretch for me, but here we go.

So, first: full disclosure. I’m not interested in self-publishing.

No knocks against it—it’s just a business model I neither know about nor am motivated to spend time learning about. In my head, successful self-pub authors must be kind of like Jordan from Real Genius: she is brilliant at everything, has endless energy for experimentation, can do absolutely whatever’s necessary for her projects, and isn’t intimidated by having to do those things quickly.

I’m a selectively lazy human being. I am also not an artist, not a designer, not a copyeditor, and not someone who gets excited about crafting publicity campaigns. An even bigger problem for me is this: I don’t have an e-reader, other than my smart phone, because I just don’t enjoy reading in that format. Also—which is no less an issue—I like to own and collect books. So the focus on digital books that is at the root of every successful self-publishing effort I’ve ever heard of has always kind of left me unexcited. Again, no knocks—but if you saw what I was willing to do to my writing room in order to own physical books, you’d understand. I’m just not a reader of digital books.

I also–just to complicate things–don’t want to worry about whether or not I see any kind of profit off of this novella. Not this time around. This time I want to focus on learning how to create the content I want in the forms that I want.

So what’s the point, then?

Well, first of all, I want to find a way to provide more stories that will enhance the larger story begun in The Boneshaker as it is being told, while using self-publishing services that support independent bookstores (so if you read my earlier post and were wondering why I chose to do a Google Play digital book rather than use Amazon, there you go). And (bonus), it would be really nice to not only enhance the larger story, but to help drive sales of my traditionally-published books, as they’re being released.

As an aside, it would also be nice to find a way to use both types of publishing in conjunction. I’m not unbiased, as I’ve mentioned. I work two days a week in an independent bookstore, for one thing; for another, I’ve enjoyed my experiences with my editor and agent. I think those experiences made my books better by about a million miles, and both I and my books needed those interactions. Obviously there’s room in the world for both models, though, and I think there are compelling ways to combine them.

Success, for my purposes, is going to look like enough interest in this project to complete it (meaning to finance the creation and printing and digital release of the three editions I’ve announced), and to convince me that it’s worth doing again with my next hardcover release. Success isn’t going to look like an ongoing revenue stream; not this time, at least. I’ve never done this before, and the whole idea came together literally at the end of February, so I anticipate there are lots of things I’ll learn along the way and lots of things I’ll file away for next time.

But I am trying to think like Jordan: Jordan would not waste an opportunity just because she was afraid of overturning a sled on the ice. She’d make the best plan she could, get in there and give it a go.

At bare minimum, I’m pretty sure the actual novella is fairly awesome. Also, the cover is going to be gorgeous. So what else can possibly go wrong?

Don’t answer that.


Announcement: THE KAIROS MECHANISM, an Experiment in Combining Self- & Traditional Publishing

I promised news, and here it is. I’m embarking on an experiment using indie bookstore-friendly services to self-publish a novella companion to my second traditionally-published hardcover release. I want to see how the two sides of the publishing world can be combined and support each other. So I’m publishing a novella called The Kairos Mechanism this fall, and I need your help to do it. The writing’s done, and I’m really pleased with the manuscript. But I need your help in publishing it.

The TLDR in advance: it’s a Kickstarter Project, and it’s here.

If this is as far as you get, just click the link above to go straight to the project home page.

My second book, The Broken Lands, comes out this September from Clarion Books, and to accompany it, I’ve written a novella that I am publishing in three editions:

  • a beautiful paperback edition with a brand-new cover illustration by the very-brilliant Andrea Offermann and designed by Lisa Amowitz. This edition will be created using McNally Jackson Books’s self-publishing services and Espresso Book Machine.
  • a digital edition through Google Play.
  • a special digital edition illustrated by tween and teen reader artists. Each artist will be given a chapter and commissioned to create one illustration of his/her choice, in the style of his/her choice. This edition will be available here at, pay-what-you-like.

To finance this project, today I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds necessary to pay the contributors as well as the setup and printing costs. It’ll be a tiny printing; my budget covers 300 copies. The goal for the Kickstarter campaign to pay for all of this is a whopping $6500, and by the rules of Kickstarter, I need to raise the full amount within 60 days; otherwise no money is collected at all.

See where I need your help? I need backers, and I need folks willing to spread the word about this project. I repeat: with your help, I need to raise the full amount of the goal by June 9. If we raise more, I’ll first raise the artists’ paychecks; after that, I’ll print more books.

Want to back this project? Fantastic. Go here, as soon as possible. What’s in it for you, other than the satisfaction of being part of bringing this little book into the world? There’s a full menu of rewards for contributors at any level from $10 up. Those rewards include both digital and printed copies of the novella, signed copies of my books, signed prints by Andrea Offermann, school and library visits, weird mechanical ephemera you can use as paperweights, and more.

Got questions? Here are a few answers.

Q: Why are you self-publishing? Don’t you have a publisher and a book that’s coming out this year?

A: Very good question. I’m making an experiment. In part, it has to do with being curious about how authors can use the many platforms available for self-publication to support traditionally-published books. In part, it’s because I’m obsessed with the Espresso Book Machine. But the biggest reason is that I’m also obsessed with the worlds I write about. I never stop thinking about them, and I never stop having ideas about additional stories, and I’m curious about what I can do with that extra content. I’m hoping this experience will work well enough to continue doing something similar alongside each hardcover release. I’m calling this ongoing effort my Arcana Project. I’ll talk more about this in future posts in this series, but you can read a bit about my plans for the Arcana Project here.

Q: Why all this trouble to have a print edition?

A: Because I don’t have an e-reader, and I’m in love with books as objects. This could be done cheaper, but I wanted to make sure the paperback I wound up with was something I’d be proud to see on the shelf next to my traditionally-published books.

Q: If The Broken Lands is a companion and prequel to The Boneshaker, how is the novella you’re publishing related to those books?

A: That really deserves its own post, but the short answer is this: The Broken Lands is part of the backstory of the drifter Jack, who Natalie met in The Boneshaker and who, if I have anything to say about it, she will face again. However, The Broken Lands is set in 1877, and Natalie, obviously, isn’t in it. The novella is a self-contained Natalie adventure set just after the events of The Boneshaker. It’s related to both The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands.

Q: This all sounds kind of cool. How can I help?

A: Most importantly, you can become a Kickstarter contributor. Second-most importantly, you can help to spread the word. For instance, if you are so inclined:

  • You can post Lisa’s beautiful Kairos Mechanism badge on your blog or website. It links directly to the project homepage. The code is here.
  • You can invite me to your blog for tea and a discussion of this insanity I’m embarking on.
  • You can re-tweet, comment, re-blog, etcetera.

Q: Is there a mailing list?

A: Yes. If you’d like to be emailed occasional updates on the project, email me (kate (at) clockworkfoundry (dot) com) and I’ll add you to it. Press inquiries, please use (press (at) clockworkfoundry (dot) com).

Q: Is there a waiting list for the book, or a place to pre-order it?

A: Yes and no. Yes: if you contribute to the Kickstarter campaign at one of the levels rewarded by a copy of the book (there are several levels rewarded by either the digital or print versions), you are guaranteed a copy as a thank you, as long as the project reaches its funding goal. No: there is no separate waiting list or preorder system at this time, because right now I need to focus completely on making the funding campaign a success. To paraphrase: if you want a copy, back the Kickstarter project as soon as possible.

Q: Where will the book be available once it’s released? When will that be?

A: Kickstarter contributors will get their thank-you copies between July and mid-August. The novella will be released officially at The Broken Lands’s launch party in September at McNally Jackson. On that day, it will be wildly cheap with purchase of The Broken Lands, and free with purchase of The Broken Lands and The Boneshaker.

After that, it’ll be available in print from McNally Jackson Books, and I’m working on making arrangements so that it’ll be available as a print-on-demand title from other bookstores and libraries with an Espresso Book Machine. The digital editions will be available through Google Play and here at

Other questions? Comment here, or email me. In the meantime, the clock is ticking. Here we go!

Calling Reader Artists, and a Small Matter of Rescheduling

I did promise information today, but due to an opportunity too good to pass up that requires a small bit of rescheduling, the not-so-secret-any-longer Novella Project will begin a week from today with an official announcement.

In the meantime, I am still in search of teen and tween reader artists for a super-secret part of the secret project. Anybody know some really amazing young illustrators? Send ’em my way, asap.

In the meantime, to tide you over, here’s today’s story hint.

Announcement, People, Announcement

No, it’s not about pi or the Ides of March, although those are both very exciting. Here it is:

I’m writing a book. No, don’t look so shocked.

The very exciting thing about this book is, it’s a novella about Natalie Minks, and I’m publishing it myself to accompany the release of The Broken Lands this September. It’ll be available in both digital and print editions, but (maybe because I still don’t own an e-reader) it’s the print version I’m most excited about. I’ll be using the Espresso Book Machine at McNally Jackson Books and the talents of an incredibly generous group of people to bring it to life. And I’ll be blogging about the process (God help me) three times a week. That’s a promise, even if it kills me. And it might. Consistent blogging is a…well, a challenge for me.

So when does all this madness and fun begin? Where can you learn more? How, for the love of all things, can you get your hands on this amazing little gem of a book? And why am I doing this now, in the six months before my second book, when logic dictates that I should be enjoying a few months of off-time before flinging myself into publicity for The Broken Lands?

The fun begins on April 2 (just so nobody wonders if it’s a joke). You can keep an eye on the page here at the Clockwork Foundry entitled ADVANCE ARCHIVES OF THE SECRET 2012 PROJECT. If you want to be sure you can get your hands on it, email me [kate (at) clockworkfoundry (dot) com] and ask to be put on the mailing list for the Natalie novella. As for why…that question deserves a post of its own.

Watch this space.