Posts Tagged With: Dresden Files

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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Bestselling author Kat Richardson tells all to Sci Fi Bookshelf

Well, maybe “tells all” is a bit of a stretch, but I did get an evil laugh (“Mwahahahahah!”) out of her.  Kat Richardson is the national bestselling author of the Greywalker series, which features gritty private-eye suspense with a supernatural twist.  Kat was kind enough to talk about her writing process, future books, teaming up with urban fantasy legends Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) and Simon R. Green (Nightside), and the inspiration she gets from the “Dreadful Box.”

Sci Fi Bookshelf:  For those who haven’t been lucky enough to pick up a Greywalker novel yet, how would you describe the series?

Kat Richardson:  I’ve always called it a Paranormal Detective series, or Detective with Ghosts and Monsters. That was really the idea I started with and though it’s gone down odd routes, I still think that’s, effectively, what it is.

SFB:  Do you feel that Vanished is accessible to a first-time reader, or would you recommend starting with an earlier book?

KR:  I think you could start with Vanished if you wanted, but starting earlier in the series would be more satisfying and a lot more fun to most readers. My editor, Anne Sowards, is very picky about keeping people in the loop of continuing story and likes me to insert reminders of who and what as we go along in each book. It makes it easy to get back into the series as a whole, since we only bring out one new book every year.

SFB:  I understand that you ride a motorcycle and shoot target pistol — which, for some of us, pretty much qualifies you as a real-life action hero.  Have those (or any other) real-life experiences had a big impact on your writing?

KR:  That’s funny, ’cause I don’t think a tool makes anyone a hero or a villain. It’s what you do with the stuff life serves up that makes the difference. Though, I have to say that the things I’ve learned the most from are the things most people wish they’d never experienced–some big some small, but all of them could be labeled “fun in a miserable-totally-unfun-let’s-not-do-that-again sort of way.” So those are the things I’m most likely to draw on for stories; the horrible things, usually made even more horrible for fiction than they were in real life. It doesn’t always have to be dramatic and large, either. Ordinary things like divorce and death in the family and wrecking your car or breaking your arm can open the Dreadful box, too.

A writer I know, Blake Charleton, says his rule for writing interesting fiction is not “write what you know” but “write what you fear.” For me it’s often “write what hurt.” It’s all variations of the original adage, but the spin is what makes it compelling. People identify with adversity because most of us have had a dose or two of it, and when we as writers can take those things that hurt, terrify, or trouble us to a favorable conclusion in a story, we connect to readers and satisfy their desire for comfort and order. And it’s also fun to exorcise a few demons sometimes.

SFB:  You recently teamed up with some of the biggest names in urban fantasy (Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green and Thomas E. Sniegoski) in the anthology Mean Streets.  How did that come about?  And was it difficult working in the novella form, instead of a full-length novel?

KR:  That was an incredible project. I had no idea how well it was going to do. My editor called my agent and asked if I might contribute to his novella collection of “gritty urban fantasy detectives” and she mentioned Butcher–who is also one of her writers. She specifically wanted a shorter story about Harper. She never really said so, but I had the impression the idea was at least partially to reposition Tom and I with Jim and Simon–who were much bigger names and whose gritty hybrid of magic and mystery story was recognizable and popular, but kind of underserved.

I think my books are a lot more akin to that gritty detective noir style than the prominent concept that urban fantasy is all about female empowerment through slaying allegorical monsters, or conquering them through feminine sex-magic. There are a lot of fine books of that type, but if you end up with one of mine when you were expecting Kitty Norville, or even Anita Blake, you may be annoyed. So the chance to be branded with Butcher, Green, and Sniegoski was a really easy offer to say “yes, please, and thank you very much!” to.

Working in the shorter novella form was easier than I’d expected. I have a lot of trouble with short stories, so I was a little worried, but a novella is not as spare so that was a relief. At the same time, you can develop a longer, more complex story, but you don’t have to do all the extra sub-plots and character arcs or continuing development work that you do in a series novel. So it was refreshing and fun–though I won’t say it was easy. I spent almost as much research time on The Third Death of the Little Clay Dog” as I do on a full-length novel. I am very fond of the story, too–it was a ton of fun to write.

SFB:  Can you tell us anything about the upcoming fifth book, Labyrinth?

KR:  Ahhh… Labyrinth… Well… It’s the wrap-up of a lot of story threads that have been emerging from the Greywalker tapestry over the previous four books. Vanished left a lot of unfinished business for Harper to deal with–not that it’s an all-out cliff-hanger, but it’s not a perfectly resolved story either. By the end of Vanished, she’d dealt with some family history and vampire problems, but she’s got some heavy personal business to wrap up. Labyrinth is the book that ties off all those hanging threads. It’s also the conclusion of the major vampire arc in the series to date. Not to say there won’t be more vampires or that the series is over, because it’s far from over, but the big problems of the Seattle vampires come to a head along with Harper’s attempts to wrest back control of her life and destiny. I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while and I think it’s pretty good.  Okay, really I think it’s bloody wicked and totally evil of me, but it was such fun!

Now I’m just going to have to get Harper into a whole new kind of trouble starting with Book Six and some bad ju-ju, angry ghosts, more zombies, evil magicians, and saponified bodies…. (Mwahahahahah!)

SFB:  Wow, a lot to look forward to!  (Until then, hopefully, the suspense won’t kill any faithful readers.)  Kat, thank you so much for your time!   

KR:  Thank you! This was fun.
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