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Game of Cages: Harry Connolly guests on Sci Fi Bookshelf

Harry Connolly is the author of Child of Fire, one of Publishers Weekly’s “Best 100 Books of 2009.”  It’s an urban fantasy packed with sorcery, monsters, a gripping mystery and a tough-guy hero in over his head.  Now, Harry Connolly is back with another Twenty Palaces novel, Game of Cages, which hits shelves today.  I caught Harry and coerced him into another appearance on SciFiBookshelf, so he could talk about tricky endings, tough titles, and when novels attack.  Ladies and gentlemen, the one, the only, Harry Connolly…

Laurence, thanks for giving me the chance to talk a bit about Game of Cages.  I’m going to break this down into three sections–beginning, middle and end–but because this is about the real-life creation of this novel, the sections won’t add up to any particular lesson. They’re more vignettes than stories.

First, the beginning:

While I was querying my first book, Child of Fire, I had a sudden fit of Attack Novel–you know, the story that demands to be written and won’t let you think of anything else.  I was logging queries and mailing off sample pages in the afternoons, but in the mornings I was outlining and working up the early chapters of The Project That Would Not Be Denied.

Then it happened: I signed with an agent.  This is one of the first conversations we had:

Agent: “What are you writing now?”

Me: “[Describes Attack Novel]–I know it sounds goofy, but I think it would really work.”

Agent: “You’re not writing a sequel to Child of Fire?”

Me: “I thought we weren’t supposed to write sequels to unsold novels.”

Agent: “Well, yes, that’s right. Ordinarily. But now you should get started on a sequel right away.”

As it turns out, the cure for Attack Novel is “getting an agent.”

She wanted a selling synopsis and some sample chapters as soon as possible. Never in my life had I come up with a story so quickly, but if I wanted to be a professional, I had to start somewhere, didn’t I?

In a couple of weeks I put together the idea behind Game of Cages: an auction in a remote location that goes all wrong, unleashing a supernatural predator–not to mention the bidders (rich creeps, all) trying to acquire it–on a small community. When Del Rey bought Child of Fire, my new editor looked over the materials for book two and approved everything but the title.

All I had to do now was write it.

Next, the middle:

Never in my life have I struggled with a manuscript the way I did with this one.  It wasn’t just the pressure of being under deadline–and of having to stop the first draft to execute editorial notes on book one, then stop again for copy edits.  It wasn’t just the shortened prep time mentioned above.  It also wasn’t just the huge plot hole* that made me scrap ten thousand words and start over.

* For the curious, here’s the plot hole: at one point I had two dozen people get a piece of news that made them all rush out to their cars and speed off; then, 20-some pages later, those people were back inside the house, hanging about as if nothing had happened.  Doh!

What I struggled with most was the tone.  I was trying to create a thriller with a sense of tragedy to it.  I wanted it to build to something awful at the end, and when that moment came, I wanted it to be a real kick in the shorts. 

I fretted, griped, and (figuratively-speaking) rent my garments.  I think I complained so much that I embarrassed myself online.

But how did it come out? Well let’s move on to the last part: the ending.

I turned it in.  My editor came back with notes–really excellent notes. But she wanted me to change the ending.

Writers who self-publish or who place their books with companies like Publ*shAmer*ca talk about this all the time: “At least I won’t have to change my vision.”  And here I found myself faced with the same dilemma.

She and I talked it over at length. I laid out my justifications; she explained how it hurt the book as a whole and would aggravate readers.

And she was right!  That’s something you don’t often hear from people worried about “editorial interference”–what if the editor is 100% right?

(NOTE:  You can read the editor’s side of this discussion here:

But I didn’t take the scene out or change it.  Instead, I dove back into the book, making all sorts of revisions to support that scene. Some characters who died in the first draft were spared. Some who were spared died.  Scenes were cut and new scenes created.

In the end, that tragic moment is still in the book–and the novel as a whole is much stronger for the revisions I made to address my editor’s concerns.

Will readers hate it anyway?  I guess I’m going to find out soon.

Thanks for reading.


Harry Connolly lives in Seattle with his wife, son, and annoying day job.  His website is

Child of Fire
Game of Cages

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