“Delicious! The characters are unique, entrancing and believable: dinner-party guests you never want to see go home. I will gladly walk again in this city, now that I know my way around.” — Ellen Kushner, author of The Privilege of the Sword
“A dazzling cast of memorable characters! Havemercy is a wonderful debut from two talented new authors.” — Lynn Flewelling, author of Shadows Return
“HAVEMERCY is an absolute charmer of a book: at once exciting, romantic (in the best, oldest sense of the word), and funny, which I know from my own experience is the trickiest parlay to pull off. The most remarkable thing of all is that it’s a first novel. You couldn’t tell it from the smoothness and skill with which these two young writers have created their tone, their narrative voices, and their world. It’s one hell of a beginning!”
– Peter S. Beagle –
I’ve been thinking a lot about endings, lately. Specifically, the way a story ends, since Jaida and I recently hashed out a rough outline for our second book, complete with the way we envisioned it turning out.
At the beginning of the summer, in between editing Havemercy and starting the next book, I’ve been watching a lot of Japanese dramas, and reading a lot of Japanese literature. Since it’s Jaida’s major, there was always a ready supply of books around the house, and although I’m not as well-educated on the subject as she is, Japanese culture has always fascinated me.
Because here’s the thing about Japan: they don’t like happy endings. A happy ending does not exist in Japanese fiction, at least not in anything I’ve encountered so far. It’s a very clear cultural contrast when compared to that of Hollywood, say, where so many stories are wrapped up in neat little packages at the end and everyone goes home happy. It’s weird, to say the least, and at first it sort of upset me. I’m the sort of person who likes happy endings. Hell, I’m the sort of person who needs happy endings. I don’t mind heaping the suffering on my characters, so long as I know they’re going to get out of it all right at the end. I used to think there wasn’t any point in creating a conflict that you couldn’t solve, and that unhappy endings were a form of laziness–not solving a conflict you’d created.
Enter the Japanese.
I have a very clear memory of Jaida explaining to me (over my weeping all through the ending of The Bird People in China) that a very common form of storytelling in Japan is to give the characters a glimpse of something greater, something beyond the pale, only to take it away at the end. And you almost get the sense that it’s all right, because the character’s had that sense of something greater–that maybe they can hold onto it and it’ll make their lives that much better, even though they never get it back.
So in some ways, I suppose I’ve accepted the unhappy ending. Or at least the bittersweet one. There are some stories where the specific circumstances make a happy ending almost impossible (I’m thinking about The King and the Clown right now, which wasn’t Japanese but Korean), and in the end, I think you have to go with what rings true for the story and for the characters.
Still, I’ll probably end up weeping a little over the course of this book. I’m a sap like that.
Over at “Loose Change” (Inside Epublishing), a blog I just stumbled across, there’s a post called “Inside E-Publishing 101” which–although yes, the majority of the post is about Epublishing, and I know next to nothing about Epublishing, nonetheless had a few elements that totally rang true.
Writing the book’s the fun part. Now comes the work.
True facts. For Havemercy, which took us a relatively short time to write, the editing process–and there were multiple rounds–took three or four times as long as actually writing the first draft.
Your book will go through a couple of stages. In the editing phase you get to cut all those long pieces of back story you so lovingly crafted that no one but you cares a whit about. (I say this with all confidence, because I used to write 30K or so of this stuff at the front end of a novel.)
Interestingly enough, with Havemercy, we ended up writing more backstory. Though we did cut a lot, by the time we handed the manuscript back to our editor, it was fifty pages longer than it had been.
Once the drek’s been cut, you get to fix sentence structure, eliminate 172 exclamation points, remove 76 uses of the word SUDDENLY, or whatever your favorite word was for this book
This, however, is exceedingly true. In Havemercy, we edited out approximately twenty million instances of improper usage of the “–“. Also, I remember one point (not in Havemercy) where we edited out about five solid pages’ worth–I do not joke here; it was a serious offense–of instances of “sort of” and “kind of.” Granted, the narrator had a certain tone we were going for. But still…
Anyway, I just thought it was a fun comparison. With every round of edits, you learn something new. Like how you abuse “sort of.” Or how you have no idea how the “–” works in dialogue. Or how, when people are talking on page, it doesn’t matter if that’s how they’d really say it. Just say “no” to stuttering and repetition!