Copy
For Readers & Writers
from Susan Dennard
M&D Issue #135


March 15, 2018


What's in this heart-to-heart?


Recent Goings On:


I wrote a haiku. Enjoy.


At last, spring has come.
Hidden treasures now revealed.
Dog poop in the yard.


 
That is basically the extent of my life right now. Spring rain! Dog poop! And then Witchlands book 5, of course. ;)

Oh! And I was interviewed for a series on miscarriages and infertility from the World Health Organization. Read the whole series here. Read my story here.


For the Misfits & Witchlanders:

 

What to Read After Bloodwitch,
Or: Other Stuff I've Written

 

Quick preorder campaign update: the enamel pins were mailed out today, so people should start receiving them next week! Yay!!
 

Moving on, I know a lot of you have already finished Bloodwitch (thank you!), and I also know that many of you only know me for the Witchlands.

Well, surprise, surprise, I actually have a backlist! So if you're looking for another Susan Dennard read between now and the next Witchlands book, then STEP RIGHT THIS WAY!

First up, there's no reason not to start with my 100% free book, The Executioners Three, which you can read on Wattpad. No, the book isn't finished, but I will be sharing the rest of it soon. Plus 75% of the book IS posted. Now's as good a time as any to start reading.

Also, it's just a book that's meant to make you feel good. As silly as it sounds, I reread it last week simply because it makes ME feel good, and I was having a rough time. Sure, it's kinda scary, but the humor and kissing (oohlala) more than balance that out.
 


The Executioners Three
*A Wattpad Editor's Choice* 
 
From New York Times bestselling author Susan Dennard comes a story packed with steamy romance, epic best friendship, and a dark mystery that dates back centuries.

After high school senior Freddie Gellar finds a body in the woods, she sets out to prove it wasn't a suicide like the sheriff has ruled. But then more bodies start piling up -- and if that's not creepy enough, supernatural warning signs from the old poem "The Executioners Three" start unfolding too.

To complicate things even more, Freddie gets roped into a rivalry between her high school and the local prep school. For twenty years, the two student bodies have pranked each other, and the enmity between them is vicious. Except that over the course of all these back-and-forth pranks, Freddie finds herself falling for the #1 enemy of them all: Theo Porter.

Stranger Things meets the legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1999 on the shores of Lake Michigan -- with a heaping dose of humor too -- in The Executioners Three.


If that doesn't appeal to you, no worries. I also have a trilogy (plus lengthy novella) that's all wrapped up and ready to read...

Actually, in case you didn't know, this is why the newsletter is called the MISFITS & Daydreamers -- because fans of my first series called themselves the Misfits, after the heroine, Miss Fitt.

The first book, Something Strange & Deadly, is set in 1876 Philadelphia. Book 2, A Darkness Strange & Lovely, takes readers to 1876 Paris. And the final book, Strange & Ever After, sees our squad head to Marseille and Cairo.

Oh, and don't forget the novella, A Dawn Most Wicked, which reveals how the Spirit-Hunters formed onboard a steamboat on the Mississippi. The novella is included in the newest paperback edition (seen below), but otherwise is available as a $0.99 ebook.

    

Something Strange & Deadly
Book 1 
 
After her brother is kidnapped, Eleanor Fitt – a sixteen-year-old with a weakness for buttered toast and Shakespeare quotes – must leave the confines of corsets and courtesy to get him back.

It’s 1876, and Philadelphia is hosting the first American World Fair. It’s also hosting rancid corpses that refuse to stay dead. When one of those decomposing bodies brings Eleanor a hostage note for her brother, she resolves to do anything to rescue him. But to face the armies of Dead that have him, she’ll need a little help from the ghost-busting Spirit-Hunters, a ragtag team hired to protect the Exhibition.

From the steampunk lab of the Spirit-Hunters to the grand halls of the Exhibition, Eleanor must follow the clues – and the bodies – to find her brother and stop the Dead before it’s too late.

Perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series, Something Strange and Deadly will intrigue readers from start to finish.


I hope you enjoy the SS&D series (as well as TE3!). Yes, they're vastly different from the Witchlands, but they're all still CLASSIC Susan Dennard books -- epic stakes, epic friendships, epic romance (duh!), and epic humor (I just can't resist my jokes).

Happy reading!


For the Daydreamers:


Keeping Track of Complex Plots

 


One question I got asked a lot on this latest tour was, "How do you keep track of it all?"

The readers, of course, meant "how do I keep track of all the plot?", and believe it or not, this was not a question I got very often, prior to the Bloodwitch release.

But this tour? I'd say it was my most commonly asked question.

I think the reason people hadn't asked before was because, until now, they hadn't realized just how complicated the Witchlands books actually are. You see, Bloodwitch is the book in which all the set up from the first three books is finally starting to pay off. Reveals are coming, questions are being answered, and twists are finally being...well, twisted.

Not ALL threads are wrapped up, of course -- not by a long shot, since there are still a few more books to come. But Bloodwitch is the first book where the reader can finally see just how big the story is, how the different characters connect, and how a forgotten past has been seeping through the cracks of present day ever since book 1.


 

Seriously, one of THE most gratifying things that happened this tour was the sheer number of readers who brought books that were bursting with colorful tabs. Like, literally my favorite part of the storytelling process is the pay off -- when readers finally go, "OH SNAP. IT WAS THERE ALL ALONG." Or "OH SNAP, THIS MEANS X WHICH MEANS Y WHICH MEANS EVERYONE IS IN BIG TROUBLE."

Those moments have always been my favorite as a reader too. In fact, I will never forget one instance in particular, when I was reading A Song of Ice and Fire 14 years ago. I hit this one scene in Clash of Kings, and I remember WHOOPING and then rocking back and forth on my couch -- just from the sheer brilliance of it. It was a twist I hadn't seen coming, but that blew my mind. Because of course, it had been set up all along.

When I set out to write the Witchlands, I wanted to do the same. I wanted seemingly throwaway lines in Truthwitch to come back and be HUGE. I wanted to lay puzzle piece by puzzle piece, leaving the reader in the dark...

Until that one piece snaps into place and suddenly the reader SEES.

Of course, I've heard that GRRM doesn't outline (whoa, right?). Instead, he writes by the seat of his pants, and then he has a few assistants who keep track of all the plot and characters for him. I have no idea if this is true, but I can definitely relate to needing a team. My cast of POV characters isn't even a fraction of what his is, but I struggle to keep it all in my head.


 

And that leads me back to the initial question: how do I keep track of it all?

My usual response is, "Not very well."

And that's the truth. My brain doesn't do a great job of remembering every single story detail. I liken it to a game of Jenga. I am trying to balance all the story threads -- the character's individual goals and arcs; the empire's goals; the political relationships between nations versus national leaders; the secret schemes at least half a dozen characters are running; the events from a thousand years ago that are still having ripple effects; the present day impact of the Paladins; and on and on...

I hold all that in place and then try to craft the story around it -- as do all writers! It's just that some books/series have more to balance than others.

Jenga, right?

Honestly, I do find it overwhelming, and every time I start a new Witchlands book, I spin myself into a panic. There really is SO MUCH to keep track of, and it's too easy to forget one detail that will have a huge impact later. 

Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the fact that so much is still hidden from the reader. It's also too easy for me to forget what I've already revealed versus what I'm still trying to hide.

(Fun example for fans of the series: the Paladins! I know who all of them are, but you, the reader, can only guess at this point. Four have been pretty much confirmed in-text...if you're a close reader. If you're not a close reader, then you might only be able to guess two or three. It's a lot like the Cylons from the Battlestar Gallactica reboot, actually. Readers are trying to guess while I'm trying to both subtly hint and trying to save actual reveals for as long as possible.)

I get tired REALLY FAST when I'm starting a new draft and digging into a detailed outline. All that balancing truly is hard for our brains.

To deal with that -- and to make sure I don't forget even the tiniest of story questions -- I have installed a system that has worked quite well for me.

It involves my favorite writing tool: index cards!


Now before I continue, I just want to mention that I'm absolutely certain that other epic fantasy writers (or anyone writing complex, long series) have totally different systems. What works for me might not work for them -- or for you.

So take my method with a grain of salt. Try it if you want, but don't get too hung up on it if it doesn't jibe with your unique way of crafting story.


Now back to the index cards.

This method is actually extremely simple. (The difficulty lies in simply figuring out what to write down. More on that below)

Essentially, I write onto index cards EVERY SINGLE plot reveal, story question, character/story goal, etc. One card per one problem that needs resolution.

I have over 60 cards for the remainder of the Witchlands -- I don't know the exact number because they're all divided out into different stacks right now, and I don't want to mess up my organization to count.

But these cards range in scale and scope, as you can see below:
 


In the bottom corner, I write which character is most closely associated with this goal/question (though I'm not always consistent, as you can see). A few cards are missing names.

I also write, on some cards, which book I think the goal/question will be wrapped up -- but I've redacted those numbers here, since I'm still not allowed to share the series length. ;)

For me, working with index cards is incredibly effective because the format allows me to move things around and separate the cards by book, by character, by general theme of reveal, etc. And I do rearrange them. A lot.

Index cards also allow me to place things in a logical order of revelations -- or quickly rearrange if I find a better approach.

That said, if index cards aren't your fave format, then you can always try using a spreadsheet or notebook or WHATEVER. I'm a tactile learner, so physical items that I can move around will always work best for my messy brain...but maybe not yours.


After a card is dealt with in a draft, I remove the card from the stack.

There weren't that many cards removed during TruthwitchWindwitch, or Sightwitch since (as mentioned) those books were still set up for the series -- I was still laying out the main puzzle pieces. But in Bloodwitch, I finally got to remove a decent stack of cards.

Here are some examples, but WARNING. THESE ARE SPOILERS FOR BLOODWITCH.



Notice on one card, I added an arrow + "New." This is because wrapping up that one goal has now led to a new goal -- which I have also added to a new index card.

I don't throw away completed cards (NEVER!), but instead keep them in an organized discard box on my desk. When I have finished a draft completely -- like it's off to the printer, no more changes allowed -- I'll go back through the discard box, just to make sure nothing changed during edits or copyedits.


One final note: I am constantly adding to the stack.

This is partly because, as I draft, new questions are raised. However, I tend to add the most cards when I go back to reread the series.

Before each book goes into copyedits, I reread the whole series to make sure I'm not missing anything and that I'm staying consistent in character, tone, setting, etc. ALWAYS, during the course of a reread, I'll come across some tiny little question that isn't in my stack.

For example, this was a card I added during my latest reread of Windwitch:



"Three rules has she" is a line from a poem that I know the origin and meaning of in the Witchlands, but that is never shared on the page. It's a seemingly small thing -- a throwaway line, really -- but it does open up a new question. And it was a big enough question that I felt needed answering before the series' end.

It's those small, scene-level problems that are the easiest to forget. My brain can keep track of all the Big Reveals, but the little ones vanish as soon as I've written them into a draft.

As such, this index card "checklist" method has been absolutely critical to ensuring I don't let anything important fall through the cracks.

(Note: There is another reason I like to use index cards: I already use them for my draft zero, so stacks are always within reach. It's quite easy for me to just grab a card while I'm rereading, scribble down the story question I've just found, and then add the card to my stack.)


So there you have it. That is how I keep track of it all: index cards.

I do scan in the cards once a year, just to ensure I have a back up somewhere. But all in all, it's an extremely simple, extremely flexible approach.

It doesn't solve your plot problems, of course. You still have to figure out the story. Like, I am definitely still in Full Blown Panic Mode as I try to sort out the best way to hit all the key reveals in book 5 of the Witchlands...

But thanks to my index cards, I don't have to worry that I'll forget something as I brainstorm. The card "checklist" removes that quite substantial weight from my Jenga-playing brain.

And I hope in turn, my friends, that it helps you.


Upcoming Events:

 

Yallwest
Santa Monica, CA
May 4, 2019
BookCon
New York, NY
June 1-2, 2019


Link Roundup:



Since there are a lot of new subscribers lately, I've been linking to past blog posts and newsletters. Happy reading!
 



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Copyright © 2019
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.


110 West 40th St.
Suite 2201
New York, NY 10018




I'm a misfit, a daydreamer,
a fangirl, an animal-lover,
a feminist killjoy,
and a gluten-free
cookie-eater. 🐙
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