Key questions: Glamour in Glass changed tone? Did looking at the rest of the world with glamour change the way you looked at the magic? How did you build the plot? Do we get to Waterloo? Is history different? Naming, and the Count? How did they go in to dinner? How did you research this? How do you avoid putting too much research in? Did you outline? What kind of outline? Was this the book with the Hollywood Formula?
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Season Seven, Episode 28, Project in Depth, Glamour in Glass.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Brandon] And Mary's in the hot seat this time.
[Mary] Hee Hee!
[Brandon] We are going to make you talk in depth about writing this book. We'll start you like we started each of the others of us, which is, give us a little bit of a summary.
[Mary] All right. First, let me remind everyone, that with these episodes, we'll be talking about plot spoilers. So, Glamour in Glass is the second book. I wrote it to be a standalone. But it's basically Jane and Vincent go to the Continent for their honeymoon. It is 1815. The thing about 1815 is that Napoleon is in exile at the beginning, then comes out of exile, and there's this little thing called Waterloo. So...
[Brandon] Little thing. Yeah.
[Mary] Little tiny thing. So it's in the days leading up to Waterloo.
[Brandon] Okay. The first thing I'll fire at you is, I remember you talking once about the difference in tone between book one and book two, or it's really standalone one and standalone two with the same characters. It seemed like you consciously changed your tone?
[Mary] Yes. Shades of Milk and Honey, we marketed as Jane Austen with magic. I was really trying to write a book without breaking the Jane Austen mold. With Glamour in Glass, I felt like I had done that, and I wanted to explore the rest of the world, because I liked it. So I pretty much abandoned the Jane Austen plot model. Among other things, I have a married couple, which she doesn't do. Romance is about getting two people to hook up. So one of the challenges in Glamour in Glass was how to maintain romantic tension between a married couple, and also explore what it's like to be a newlywed. With magic.
[Brandon] With magic. Okay. Now was this at all... I'm just... Was this all a market decision or was it all... I mean, were there...
[Mary] No. It was actually a decision that I made before I sold Shades of Milk and Honey. It started with a question that David Brin asked me. I was telling him about the magic system, and he asked me what happens when a woman becomes pregnant? Because Glamour, which is pulling light out of the air essentially, takes energy, the same way running up a hill does. You can overheat, you can become faint. So he asked me what happens. I thought about it for a while, and decided that it would be contraindicated. That it would be something that... Because... It would be like trying to run a marathon while with child. So what I did... And hello spoiler number one, Jane gets pregnant in this book. So I wanted to explore what that was like. Part of what was happening also, was that my husband and I were going through the process of deciding not to have children. So some of this was me kind of looking at that. I was also curious about whether or not I could write a novel about magic in which my main character has the ability to do magic removed from her. She spends the majority of the book being unable to do magic.
[Howard] So it's unable as opposed to just...
[Mary] No, she... You can actually physically do magic. It's just that you have to make the choice not to. Yes, she can... In fact, in the world that I have in my head, female glamourists who work full-time generally don't conceive, or rather, they conceive, but they miscarry, like in the first month. So part of what happens... This part is off the page, or I don't talk about it explicitly, but the process of leaving London... Getting ready to leave London, taking a ship, traveling to Blinche in Belgium, which is where the book takes place, gave her enough time without doing magic that...
[Brandon] She could conceive.
[Mary] She could conceive.
[Dan] Okay. So my question about this magic system, it is a magic that is kind of designed to be unobtrusive. So that you could maintain the same Austenite setting in book 1.
[Dan] Once you expanded that and started looking at the rest of the world that had this cool power, how did... Did that change the way you looked at the magic?
[Mary] No. I knew how the magic worked outside of the drawing room, which is all I cover in... Hello Kitty. Sorry, we have [garbled]
[Dan] That's all you cover in...
[Howard] That's all I cover in Hello Kitty? Whew!
[Dan] Yeah, she writes a lot of fan fiction that most people don't know.
[Brandon] Where did that cat come from?
[Mary] I don't know.
[Brandon] The door is closed.
[Dan] No, Emily came down and let the cat in.
[Mary] Sorry. For those of you who are not watching the video feed, a cat just jumped on my shoulder and then onto my lap. Very cute. So I had to know how the magic worked outside of the drawing room. But in Shades of Milk and Honey, all I could show was the drawing room. But I had to know how it functioned, so I knew how it affected the rest of the world.
[Dan] So does it have much broader effects?
[Mary] Yes. So, In Glamour in Glass, we get to meet... We get to actually see it in action a little bit with the glamourists who are part of the Army, and I have them attached to the Royal Engineers, who did most of the bridge construction and stuff like that. So basically, what they do is they create camouflage. Glamour, in order to do something that's really convincing, it actually takes quite a bit of time. So they have to arrive early and set up... It's like, they can set up a tree that isn't actually on the battlefield, hoping that someone will use it for cover and that their people will know you can shoot straight through this tree. Then they can also, like in the heat of battle, they can make bright sound... Bright noise! Bright sound?
[Brandon] I understood.
[Dan] Oh wait, that's not... I was hoping that there was actually bright sound. That's cool.
[Mary] They can do those things, which will stun and startle people. But because it's an illusionary thing, you react as if you've just been hit with a very loud noise. But it doesn't actually deafen you. It just... It will disorient you for a moment.
[Brandon] All right. Digging into this... I want to like help our listeners hopefully to write better books on their own, themselves. What did you do to build the plot of this book? Like, how did you approach that?
[Mary] Well, the... I may have mentioned that I needed to find a source of conflict. One of the sources of conflict that often happens with a new married couple is learning when to reveal something and when to hold something back. So Vincent has actually been sent to Belgium as a spy. He can't tell Jane this. So she is feeling... She's spending the... That gave me the opportunity essentially to externalize a conflict that she was having, which is, if I can't do Glamour, am I good for anything? Because Vincent is spending time withholding information for other reasons, she thinks that the distance she's feeling is because of the pregnancy.
[Brandon] That works very well. That's an excellent way to cross a bunch of plots like that. Is it still primarily a character-driven plot, then?
[Mary] It still primarily a character-driven plot. At a certain point, of course, he does have to tell her. Then we... This is a much more swashbuckling book.
[Howard] So do we get to Waterloo, at the end?
[Mary] Yes. Actually, no, we don't. Because, and here comes a spoiler... Because we have different magic. One of the things that Vincent and Jane are working on is the title of the book, which is creating a way to record Glamour. They actually figure out how to do that in glass. That gives the British a technical advantage over the French. The French don't even know this is possible. So in the real history, they clash for the first time at the battle of Quatre Bras with Napoleon. It's more or less a draw. The British are... Do not come out of that well. A lot of it is miscommunication. But in my world, they win at Quatre Bras. So going forward from here, like there is a Waterloo Bridge in London which is Quatre Bras bridge.
[Mary] So we actually... The battle of Quatre Bras is the... So Waterloo never happened.
[Dan] Now speaking of this as an alternate history, are there things like that seeded all through the backstory of this, where the history of the world has been slightly different the whole time?
[Mary] Yes. Although I don't usually highlight those, because then I have to...
[Howard] Then you have to explain them.
[Brandon] Well, no, this is the issue with alternate history, is if you change things 4000 years back, really, you have nothing like modern history. So it's just one of the affectations you have to accept with this genre.
[Mary] Which is why... So like one of the things that I decided was that if I gave everybody glamour, and it's more or less balanced the same way technology was balanced in our world, that the balance of power remains more or less the same.
[Dan] The same people still win all the same battles. The same nations form.
[Mary] So I felt like I could have them win a day early with Waterloo. It will, in fact... one of the things that it will have an impact on is that not as many people die. It's still a pretty horrific battle, but the body count is a little bit different. So that would have an impact going forward. There's a point in history that I looked at, actually for book 4, which I wanted to use, but I'm not going to, so... Which is that Charlotte, who was the Prince Regent's daughter, died in childbirth and didn't have to. If she hadn't, she would have been the queen instead of Victoria.
[Mary] I looked at that, and I'm like, "Oh, I want to use that point. But it would change the history too much for what I'm doing with the book, so I...
[Howard] Suddenly the Victorian era is not.
[Mary] Yes. So when I look at whether or not I change history, I have to look at... It's not just, "This is cool. This would be a lot of fun to do." But it's also, "How does this affect the books that I want to do going forward?" I really don't want to change history that much. As tempting as it is, with this... With this particular set of books. There are other books I have...
[Dan] Well, with these books, you are playing with history, and you don't get to play with all the toys you like if you throw them away and buy a different set of toys.
[Howard] As I recall...
[Brandon] All right. Let's do our book of the week.
[Howard] Oh, book of the week.
[Brandon] Let's stop for book of the week. Yes.
[Dan] Okay. Book of the week this week is me. This just came out a few days ago actually. It's the Hollow City, it's my new book. It is about... It's kind of the same genre as the John Cleaver books. Supernatural psychological thriller. But it doesn't have John Cleaver in it. It's all new, stand-alone thriller, about a guy who is schizophrenic and realizes part way through the book that some of the monsters he sees are real. No one will trust him, and he can't even sure... He's not even sure he can trust himself. So... Very fun book. Very quick, creepy thriller.
[Howard] Okay. Well, if you'd like to continue supporting us in this wacky endeavor of ours, audiblepodcast.com/excuse. You can start a 14 day free trial membership, and listen to Hollow City by Dan Wells. As of this recording, I don't think we know who's narrating it yet.
[Dan] No, not yet.
[Brandon] No, we don't. But we are going to be doing this very thing to Hollow City next week on Writing Excuses.
[Dan] Well, in three weeks.
[Brandon] Next time.
[Dan] In three weeks. So you have time to buy it, read it, and then I will be spoiling it in a similar interview on the 31st of this month.
[Howard] So waste no time. Mary. Naming. And in conjunction with naming, I seem to recall there being a little bit of a kerfuffle around the word Count?
[Mary] [laughter] Yes. So there's a great source online which is the Georgian name index. Which shows you all of the names that were recorded during Georgian England. That's very handy. So I just kind of double check to make sure that those names are... That the names I use are on there. At the same time, I'm not particularly slavish about it, because people often will... You'll have wild outliers. Like Melody's name, which is Jane's sister. Melody is not a at all typical name for the period. Count...
[Howard] Well, you mentioned Tiffanie effect in a previous cast.
[Mary] The Tiffanie effect! Yes. The Tiffanie effect. So we do... I did try to avoid names that sounded too contemporary. The Count is a mistake that I made in book... In Shades of Milk and Honey. There are no Counts in England. There are Earls and their wives are Countesses. I have Vincent's father being a Viscount, and then realized that I needed to up his...
[Howard] Up his rank.
[Mary] Up his rank, and thought, "Well, I'll make him a Count." I had been reading about countesses and had forgotten, or maybe never known, that he should... That the correct rank would be an Earl. So he is referred to in Shades of Milk and Honey as the Count of Verbury. You know what, I just had to retcon that for Glamour in Glass.
[Dan] So did you retcon or did you make an attempt to fold it into this alternate history and say they're called Counts?
[Mary] Nope. I just retconned.
[Dan] Why did you make that decision?
[Brandon] That's the brave thing to do. That's the... Yeah.
[Howard] Whoops. Got that wrong.
[Dan] Owning up to it.
[Mary] Yeah. I just... I put it in the acknowledgments at the back of the book. There is a bit about the history. I just said, "Look, I got this wrong in book 1." There's actually another thing I got wrong in Glamour in Glass. That's in the very first scene, and I caught this... We were... It was as we were getting ready to go to press. The... I've got people going in two-by-two to dinner, which is not the way they did it in Regency. I would have had to restructure the entire scene. Like the scene just...
[Howard] How did they go in to dinner?
[Mary] The ladies processed in in order of rank. Then the gentleman. You sat wherever you wanted, except for the host and hostess who always sat at the head and foot. Everybody else got to sit where they wanted. You can see it. I mean, it's like... It's in Pride and Prejudice...
[Mary] You can see. There's a point where Mister Bingley walks into the room and looks around and spots Jane and [then goes?] sits next to her. I had never... I had always thought it was handled the way the Victorians did it, which is that you had place cards, you had assigned seating...
[Howard] You have place cards and somebody reads your name as you come in. That's what I would have assumed...
[Mary] Yep. Nope. You... It's... There was... Assigned seating was not a thing yet and...
[Howard] Man. Regency's a better era to...
[Dan] Regency's actually a lot more casual than Victorian.
[Mary] Yeah. I did have to show, and this was one of the things that was tricky, was that the differences between England and France... I had read extensively about the French Regency... I mean the English Regency, but I haven't spent that much time exploring the French Empire. Not only are the fashions different, but the way they serve dinner is different. I have done all of my research on how they served dinner, I just hadn't actually made that discovery.
[Brandon] Talk about that research more. A lot of our readers... Listeners ask about research. What did you do to prepare for this book?
[Mary] As much as possible, I try to go to primary sources. But what I do is, I start off reading an overview to kind of give me an idea of where I need to be looking for things. For this one, I read a book called The Social History... Oh, Dancing into Battle, the Social History of Waterloo. Which was basically exactly what it sounds like. It was looking at the lives of British people living in Brussels at the time. That gave me a really good overview. Then I use other people's research, which is that I then go to their bibliography and look at what books they have checked out. Then I grab the ones that seem most useful. So that gives me an overview. Then, as I'm writing, I do what I call spot research. Which is, I will hit a point where I need to know... What kind of wood are they using at the forge? Actually, I didn't need to know that, but... But that's a tiny detail, so I'll just bracket it and then go back and look it up later. Every now and then that catches me out and I have to rewrite a scene, because this thing that I thought I could fake was actually much larger, like the order in which you go in to dinner.
[Howard] Turns out they don't use wood at the forge, they use coal. Something like that.
[Mary] Yes. Exactly that kind of thing.
[Brandon] That's how I do almost all of my research.
[Mary] Spot research?
[Brandon] Spot research.
[Dan] Now, for the benefit of the listeners, because this is a question we get a lot, how do you know when you've done too much research? How do you keep yourself from just throwing everything... I've studied the crap out of this period, I want to use all that time. How do you scale it back and make sure you only use what you need?
[Mary] Well, I basically assume that my readers are smart. I tend to underwrite anyway. So I will write it and treat it just like a regular fantasy or science fiction. I seed in the information just the way you would handle any other plot exposition, that is I try to only give them the information that they need to actually understand what is happening in the scene and the plot. Then I hand it to my alpha readers, which are different than my beta readers. The alpha readers get it way, way... I mean, I haven't even spell checked it sometimes, and ask them what confuses them.
[Brandon] That would be dangerous for me.
[Mary] I ask them what confuses them. The things that confuse them are where I need to go back and add information.
[Brandon] All right.
[Dan] Cool. So you underwrite, and then add more is necessary. Good advice.
[Mary] Yes, usually.
[Brandon] That is not something most of our readers... Listeners are probably doing. They... My experience is that new writers are overwriting quite a bit.
[Mary] The other thing I think that happens to me is because I research so heavily, a lot of the things that I know wind up becoming background knowledge for me, and I assume that they are common knowledge for other people. Whereas I think that if you... So they become less, "Oo, look at this really cool thing that I found!"
[Brandon] So it's like you transcend the danger of over-researching by going a step further to the point that all the miniscule things just become part of your understanding. It's the little... The level beyond that you can latch onto and put in, that would actually be cool to someone who even knew the period.
[Mary] Yeah. I seem to... What I seem to be doing is like for the year leading up to when I actually start writing it, I'm doing like just research kind of all the way through. So that by the time I sit down to write... And then working on other projects while I'm doing research. So by the time I sit down to write, it's all background knowledge for me.
[Brandon] Did you outline this book?
[Mary] Absolutely. I'm a...
[Brandon] What kind of outline did you use?
[Mary] It's a chapter by chapter outline. Then within that, I have scene breakdowns.
[Brandon] So, chapter by chapter. A paragraph about each chapter?
[Mary] About. Sometimes more. Sometimes... Like if I know exactly how I want dialogue to play out, like if the scene is vivid enough in my head, I'll do a rough sketch of the scene, where I don't throw in any of the setting. I just put the character interactions down. So sometimes when I actually get into the novel, I will just grab that chunk, drop it in, and then add the setting.
[Howard] Was this the book that when we talked Hollywood Formula last season with...
[Mary] This is the book.
[Howard] This is the one where...
[Mary] Ah, yes. I can actually talk about that now, since I've already warned you about spoilers. So, in the... When we were talking about the Hollywood Formula, I had... In the book, I originally had Jane and Vincent being reconciled, Napoleon being defeated, and Jane coming to accept the whole pregnancy issue happening in three different chapters. In this one, they all happened pretty much back to back. It completely changed the way things read for my alpha and beta readers. Well, for my beta readers. My alphas got it...
[Howard] Because you made them cry, as I recall.
[Mary] Yeah. That has been the response that I've been getting from people. Now at this point, the book has been out for a while. It's hard to say... My alpha readers and beta readers are predisposed to like me, so the fact that I made them cry... We'll have to see how the actual reviews are?
[Howard] We'll see what the comments look like under this episode.
[Dan] See what people think.
[Mary] But it was... One of the things that... The way I approach writing is that if a book does not have... That I'm working on or a short story... Does not have an emotional impact for me, I know it's not going to have an emotional impact for my readers. Not just because it hasn't emotional impact for me doesn't necessarily guarantee [one?]. But it did go from me knowing that... It's like, "Well, everything is technically working, but I was not having a kick at the end." Right now it is... The final... The last half of the final chapter... It's actually difficult for me to get through that. I had to... I've read it aloud twice. It's difficult for me to get through that without crying. But I love my characters, so...
[Brandon] All right. Well. Writing prompt. Dan!
[Dan] Writing prompt.
[Brandon] Everyone's head turned towards you, so we're going to make you do it.
[Dan] Okay. Well, I want to take the cool idea that Mary didn't use, and have Queen Victoria's older sister not die and become the Queen and write about how that changes England.
[Brandon] Okay. Nice work.
[Mary] Except it wasn't actually her older sister, it was her cousin, but okay.
[Dan] Oh. Her cousin. The other person.
[Brandon] She has an older sister, and... No.
[Mary] Yeah. Do that one, because I want to write the Queen Charlotte one.
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses. Now go write.