The Broken Lands


As if it wasn’t already a flipping awesome week here at Milford Command Central (for those of you who weren’t aware, The Kairos Mechanism exceeded its funding goal yesterday around 1:30), I have two very exciting announcements. Since I cleaned up the lair, I am able to couple these announcements with their related TBR research piles. They will be presented in an order chosen for maximum hilarity.

Exhibit #1:

This is the to-read/research pile for Announcement the First: a beloved book I’ve been working on called The Left-Handed Fate has gone to Noa Wheeler at Holt!

I’m wildly excited about this. It allows me to indulge my family’s Baltimore and Navy roots, while going a little bit crazy with arcane devices and taking the story to my equally-beloved home-away-from-home, the city of Nagspeake. Here’s a little bit about the story.

1813: Amidst the seemingly-endless wars in the Atlantic, Oliver Dexter, 11 year-old newly-commissioned U.S. midshipman, finds himself (thanks to being the most expendable officer aboard his ship) suddenly appointed the acting captain of a captured British privateer.

It should be a short cruise back to Baltimore; however, the privateer Left-Handed Fate is not what she seems to be. Lucy Bluecrowne, daughter of the clipper’s deceased captain, isn’t quite ready to abandon her father’s mission; and Maxwell Ault, the natural philosopher responsible for the Fate’s quest, believes he and Lucy and their shipmates have a chance to end the wars if they can somehow convince Oliver that peace is in everyone’s best interests. Then, perhaps, the three of them can find the pieces of the legendary–but potentially deadly–device Max has hired the ship to seek out. On the other hand, Napoleon’s spies are everywhere. Even worse, the Fate is being followed by a strange brig crewed by a mysterious crew in black-on-black uniforms whose motives no one has quite figured out.

The TL;DR: The Left-Handed Fate is like Master and Commander meets Indiana Jones meets The X-Files. You will love it. Look for The Left-Handed Fate in Fall of 2014. Bonus: I’m told it will be lavishly illustrated. I can barely wait.

Exhibit #2:

This one’s just crazy fun. All I can give you is the working title, Greenglass House. I imagine that will probably change, if only because the premise requires something far, far more awesome. This one went to Clarion Books; pub date TBD.

This is going to shock you, but Greenglass House is set in…drumroll…THE PRESENT! It’s also set in the city of Nagspeake (I seriously can’t wait for you to get to know Nagspeake, guys).

Greenglass House is an inn run by Mattie and Ben Pine, where our hero, 12 year-old Milo Pine, is eagerly awaiting his winter vacation. Most of the patrons of Greenglass House  (thanks to its unique location) are smugglers, and winter is the slow season. Milo is predictably shocked when, just when he expects to have a quiet few weeks alone with his family, guests start turning up, and not the inn’s normal type of patrons, either.

In the space of a few hours, Milo, his parents, the cook and her kids are snowed in with a dozen oddball guests who have no apparent reason for wanting to spend the winter in an isolated old house. Milo, who had his heart set on a little solitude, is just about ready to have a panic attack when the cook’s younger daughter Meddy, a role-playing game enthusiast, suggests they create a real-world campaign to find out what the other guests are up to. When they discover that each guest seems to believe Greenglass House is hiding something precious, the two kids modify their campaign, intent on discovering the inn’s secret first.

Note the very small research pile. It makes me very nervous. In the meantime, though, if you’d like to poke around the city in which both of these books are set, you’re welcome to visit the official Tourism and Culture website. I do some travel writing there, and at a linked site called The Expat.

And what about The Kairos Mechanism, now that the Kickstarter goal has been met? Well, firstly and most importantly, The Kairos Mechanism will be published this September alongside The Broken Lands! I am so excited I can barely contain myself.

But what does this mean for the second half of the Kickstarter campaign? There are 21 days left, and I don’t want a single one to go to waste; until it’s over, please help me keep the momentum going! The Kickstarter doesn’t end just because the goal’s been met–we can keep raising funds until the scheduled end of the campaign, on June 9th. Here’s what will happen with the extra money raised:

  • At $7500, the young artists’ paychecks will be increased.
  • At $9500, I can commit to Arcana #2.
  • At $13500, I can commit to a reader-illustrated edition of Arcana #2.

There are still lots and lots of very exciting rewards for backers, too, don’t forget!

Novellablog: In Which Nathan Comes Up With New Kickstarter Rewards

I knew there was going to be a stagnant point in this campaign, and this is it: The Kairos Mechanism‘s Kickstarter effort has been languishing for about a week, painfully inching toward full funding with about 3 weeks left to go. I read lots of blogs by Kickstarter users that warned that this would happen, so I’m not entirely surprised. I am, however, massively twitchy. I want to know I’m in the clear, and then I want to blast the goal out of the water so I can bump up the kid artists’ checks and commit to Arcana #2.

So tonight, Nathan and I went out for burgers and did a little brainstorming.

I already have a fairly exhaustive menu of reward options on The Kairos Mechanism’s Kickstarter page, but Nathan felt they were somewhat lacking in…shall we call it whimsy? So here’s the custom menu we came up with tonight. Yes, I will honor them if you choose one.

  • $45: I will do 10 slo-mo jumping jacks, narrated by phone for you by Nathan.
  • $50: The Auntie Kate reward: a pair of socks or a tie.
  • $50: The Aunt Katie reward: a clever t-shirt.
  • $50: I’ll send you a birthday card. I will also call and sing you “Happy Birthday.”
  • $100: An original cocktail named after you. No vodka, please; I have to test this stuff to get it just right.
  • $100: I’ll write you the nicest rejection letter you’ll ever get. Stickers included.
  • $150: A critique and work-over of your query letter.
  • $200: I’ll knit you a scarf with an actual pattern!
  • $200: You and me: two person book club.
  • $250:  I will send you a cd of me singing sea chanties.
  • $300: A critique of your manuscript.
  • $300: You and I watch a movie of your choice together over Skype. I’ll treat for pizza.
  • $500: The Clockwork Foundry Subscription: one copy, print or digital, of everything I publish (self or traditional) until you get sick of me. This includes The Boneshaker, The Broken Lands, and The Kairos Mechanism (obviously).
  • $750: I will record for you an audio-novella in which you are a character.
  • $750: I will send you a serial novel, handwritten and delivered by US mail. You feature as a character.
  • $1,000: I’ll be your fake girlfriend for a month. This includes one text per day, one mix CD per week, two angsty phone calls, 3 handwritten letters, 4 poems, one piece of jewelry you will never be caught wearing, and a fiery breakup.
  • $2000: I’ll fly to you or fly you to me for a board game duel with a weapon of your choosing. Afterwards we will watch Dave Chappelle’s Block Party and get delivery food (my treat).
  • $2000: Did somebody say prom?
  • $2000: I’ll fly you to Newark Airport for an hour-long game of hide and seek, treat you to a splendid food court dinner, then fly you home.
  • $10,000: I will send you a check for $9,000. Spoiler: the check will be MASSIVELY post-dated.
  • $1,000,000: I’ll walk into Mordor and destroy the One Ring. Photographic evidence will be provided.

Just try and resist those. Gauntlet=thrown.

Novellablog: Halfway there on the Most Amazing Kickstarter Project Ever*–and it Still Needs You!

It’s May 12, a month after the Kickstarter campaign to fund The Kairos Mechanism started. With 29 days to go and the help of 110 backers and many others who’ve given time, blog space, and moral support, as of noon today, the campaign stands at 88%. (This excludes cash/check contributions made at Wednesday’s Happy Hour, which will be used in June to begin mailing out rewards, since Amazon holds backer contributions for two weeks after the close of the campaign.) Wow, guys. Thank you. Really, really, thank you. Now, time to get this project funded, so we can move on to the next phase.

As a quick reminder, the minimum amount that must be raised for The Kairos Mechanism to be funded is $6500. But what happens after that?

We keep going.

  • The next milestone will be the $7500 mark, at which point the thirteen reader artists’ compensation for their illustrations will be bumped up.
  • At $9500, I’ll be able to commit to a second volume of the Arcana series, and (unless someone backs the campaign at the $1000 level, at which point they earn the right to choose the next volume themselves) within the next few days I should be able to tell you what that book will be so that you can start getting excited about it.
  • At the unthinkable sum of $13000, I will be able to pay another group of reader-artists, and will be able to commit to an illustrated edition of Arcana #2.

With nearly a month left to go, I feel really good about our chances to accomplish all of these things. In order to shake things up at the midpoint, I’ve added new rewards to the Kickstarter menu, including:

  • Signed prints by Andrea Offermann
  • Original artwork by several of The Kairos Mechanism‘s reader artists
  • Advance copies of The Broken Lands
  • Kairos Mechanism-inspired jewelry made by the jewelry club at my high school, South River High in Edgewater, Maryland, from bits and bobs collected from my writing room. You can’t see it well, but the necklace I’m wearing in the Kickstarter video is one of their pieces. Not only do they make really lovely stuff, but part of your contribution at this level has gone (in advance) to the high school.
I also have a habit of making random additional reward offers on Twitter, so you should follow me there (I’m @katemilford). So far they’ve included cookies and poems, but goodness knows what oddball things I’ll come up with as we get closer to the point where I can commit to Arcana #2. Follow me and stay tuned.
You can also help the campaign in a couple other ways, if you’re so inclined.
  • You can grab The Kairos Mechanism’s Kickstarter widget for your own blog or website (if you do, be sure to let me know so I can send you a thank you). The embed code can be found on the project page, right under the video widget.
  • You can also invite me to your blog for an interview or a guest post. Just remember, the campaign ends June 9th, so time is of the essence.
  • You can also now find The Kairos Mechanism on Goodreads.
And…let’s see…oh, how was the Halfway Happy Hour? Well, as far as I’m concerned, the best moment by far was when second-youngest guest, four year-old Cate Cagnazzi, took the clock key I gave her as a party favor and immediately decided–with no prompting from me–that it meant her dad was a giant toy she had to test (repeatedly) by winding him up at the kidney. Sorry, everyone else who attended: Cate won. She gets me. None of the rest of you found the clock keys in the party favor bowl and tried to wind up a fellow guest.
That’s all I’ve got for you right now, except that, as always, I can’t thank you enough. I’ll keep trying, though.
Happy Friday!

*Sensationalist title chosen specifically with Natalie Chan in mind. She knows why.

Novellablog: A Kid Editor Interview with Mason, and My Thoughts on Reading Military History.

Ah, the Kid Editors. We’ve discussed that they’re brilliant. We’ve discussed that giving your book to a kid basically guarantees that you’re going to be given insights about your work, yourself, your talents and your shortcomings in completely unexpected ways. If a kid gets you, give yourself a pat on the back. If a kid tells you you got it wrong, FIX IT IMMEDIATELY.

Well, apart from getting some good story notes, I learned something about myself from the second Kid Editor to check in about The Kairos Mechanism.

Mason is who you want calling you after you get off the phone with Emma. First of all, you know Mason’s done reading because you get his phone call. He doesn’t mess around waiting for me to remember to get in touch with him. It’s fantastic. Secondly, Mason, as a critic, is sort of the opposite of Emma. It isn’t that Emma doesn’t tell me what she likes, or that Mason doesn’t tell me what he doesn’t like, but Mason (after two rounds of beta-reading, now), tends to focus more on what he wants more of, rather than what he wants fixed. Which, in a piece of short fiction, is very helpful. But before I tell you about our discussion about The Kairos Mechanism and what I learned about myself during our discussion, here’s Mason (now 13) on being a Kid Editor.

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

M: I love being a beta-reader because for one thing I love reading, and because I think it’s fun and cool to be able to read something before it’s even really been printed.

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

M: It is difficult at some parts because sometimes you forget you’re looking for errors and stuff when you get caught up in the book.

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?

M: I think it’s good when the writer sends at least an email every week and asks how you like the book, and then maybe she could send one or two questions a week.

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?

M: I read the whole book and as I’m doing so, I take notes on each chapter and then go back and look at what I really liked and what I didn’t like as much.

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? 

M: It’s ok because you know that they want you to tell them what you don’t like as that is kind of the point of you reading it. 🙂

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

M: I would always tell my parents what was happening in the book and what I liked.

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

M: Just let me know when you need your next book read, or if any other authors want to use some beta-readers. I would love to help.

Here’s what we talked about regarding The Kairos Mechanism.

It seems that Mason would, if forced under thumbscrew torture to rate what I’ve written, file The Kairos Mechanism squarely between The Broken Lands (his favorite so far) and The Boneshaker (which loses to The Broken Lands because The Broken Lands has more action and also has lots of fireworks). On one level, there’s a place in the writer’s brain (I suspect–or is it just me?) that always wants to hear a reader say that what they’ve just read is the best thing you’ve ever done; on the other hand, it would be highly problematic if that hypothetical reader actually liked your self-published novella better than the more-than-400-page major hardcover release it’s supposed to be a companion to. So I’m okay with Mason’s ranking.

I could hear him flipping through the aforementioned notes as he told me things that he particularly liked: Miranda Porter, Natalie’s friend, who (in Mason’s opinion) is really turning into a great character; the mechanism of the title; the time spent in the mysterious garden behind Simon Coffrett’s mansion. (Sorry, Cyndy. The thirteen year-olds are outvoting you so far.) He felt I was managing some pretty good suspense. His answer to the question, how would you like me to spend five more pages, was helpful but would be a potential spoiler.

He gave me a few things to fix, all very astute and mostly right in line with what Emma had suggested, but here’s what I really want to talk about. He had high compliments for the historical elements, but he wasn’t talking about the fact that the book is set in 1913. There’s another era that’s invoked in the book, and part of it has to do with a war. And as Mason was talking (having just studied the war in question in school) about how he thought I’d done pretty well with all that stuff, I thought, when did I start wanting to write books that deal with war?

The answer is: never. That was never part of the plan, and it still isn’t. And yet, it snuck in.

Part of it is what I’ve been reading. I’ll admit that right now. Right now I’m finishing reading Bruce Catton’s Civil War trilogy. Last year, I went bonkers for Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August. Just before that, I was all about Six Frigates, Ian W. Toll’s history of the founding of the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812. Two years ago, if you’d suggested to me that I’d have spent the bigger part of my recreational reading on military history, I’d have laughed in your face. But the facts don’t lie, and there are at least seven more books on my TBR pile that follow the same trend.

I’d also have laughed if you’d have suggested that this reading would work its way into what I was writing. I have never enjoyed what I guess I think of as “war fiction,” and furthermore none of my books (so far) have actually been set during wartime, which I guess is why it took me so long to realize how much of its shadow had been sneaking into them.

On the other hand, I’ve either written or written proposals for four books that, in some way, touch upon the ways in which war and the memory of it linger for years afterward. I think it all started because I realized that since The Boneshaker took place in 1913, if I continued telling Natalie’s story I’d shortly have to deal with a world lurching toward the first World War. Not that the stories would suddenly have to be about war–but they’d have to address the reality of taking place in a world at war.

There’s also this, which is becoming more and more clear to me the more I read about different conflicts in different eras: whatever else a time of war is, it’s a time when strange things happen, and do I love reading about the strange quirks of history. That may be the thing that has kept me reading what I’ve been reading, and letting it influence what I’ve been writing.

All stuff I’ve been mulling over since getting off the phone with Mason, who thinks I do a good job with the historical war parts.


I’ll Be At Grey Dog Cafe Tonight With Party Favors. Where Will You Be?


Right now I’m writing notes and sealing special things into envelopes in preparation for The Kairos Mechanism’s Halfway Happy Hour. If you’re within reach of New York City, won’t you come out and celebrate?

For clarity, the celebration in question is TONIGHT. I may not have mentioned that.

This will be a very low-key celebration. Grey Dog is a cafe, not a bar, so all ages are welcome. Local backers, I hope you’ll come by so I can say thank you in person. If you haven’t become a backer and you’d like to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign while you’re there, awesome! I’ll have a secure computer or, for those who prefer, a snazzy jar, and I’ll have rewards with me. If you aren’t sure whether or not you want to contribute but want to hear more, I will happily talk to you for as long as you like about the project and what I’m up to. If you’d prefer simply to come by and offer good wishes and a hug, that’s fine, too!

A glass of wine will be my treat, but Grey Dog also has food, beer, desserts, coffee, you name it. (I apologize for not being able to treat to everything, but, you know, I’m saving up for this publishing thingy. Tell you all about it later.) And of course, party favors! Rewards!

Can you really think of a better way to spend Wednesday evening? By which I mean, a better way to spend TONIGHT?

Grey Dog Cafe, 244 Mulberry Street, between Spring Street and Prince Street, 5-7pm


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.