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Mentioned in this episode:
@premeesaurus on Twitter
Beneath the Rising (Book One of Two!no!Three!)
A Broken Darkness (Book Two of Two!no!Three!)
The Void Ascendant (Book Three of Two????)
These Lifeless Things – 5 Feb 21, Solaris Books (Satellites)
The Annual Migration of Clouds – 28 Sept 21, ECW Press
And What Can We Offer You Tonight – July 21, Neon Hemlock Press
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
Transcript for this episode (by @Betty_Bett_)
Rekka: In episode 58, Kaelyn and I talked about writing book two in a series of three or more. In Episode 59, we capped that conversation off by talking about book two in a duology. And what more do you need to know because that's it. Well, that's the only kind of book two you would write, of course. So, also of course, we are here today with Premee Mohamed, and we are going to talk about writing book three in a duology. So, Premee, you are here because you are now the new expert on this. [laughs]
Premee: I think I would like to become an expert on this. It fell on me like a meteorite.
Rekka: So, why don't we start by having you introduce yourself and talk about books one and two in this duology?
Premee: Let's talk about that. Sure. So yeah, I'm Premee Mohamed. I'm based in Edmonton, Alberta, which is in Canada. And I'm a scientist, and I write short stories and novellas and novels. My debut novel came out in 2020, that was called Beneath the Rising. My second came out this March and was called A Broken Darkness. And I also have three other books out this year. In February, there was These Lifeless Things which was a novella that came out with Rebellion's new novella imprint which is called Satellites. And in July, we're looking at And What Can We Offer You Tonight from Neon Hemlock Press, another novella. And in September, ECW Press is publishing The Annual Migration of Clouds which is a cli-fi novella. So I'm excited about all that.
Kaelyn: So you've been busy?
Premee: I have been busy. It also sounds like I'm a lot busier than I am, but Clouds was written in 2019 and just got published this year. And Lifeless was written in 2017 and had a home, and then it was kicked out of its home and went wandering around for a little while, and then got rehomed. So it's not like everything's been written and published immediately. Publishing is like transit, like sometimes four buses show up at once. [laughing]
Rekka: Yeah, that's a really good way of putting it.
Premee: Yeah, the first book, I wrote actually when I was an undergrad, my first degree. So when I was writing it, I was actually sort of a peer with Nick the narrator. So it starts when he's about 18. And I was about 18 when I started it. And I finished it the year I graduated, and I was 20. And I set it aside because that's what I did with everything I wrote because writing was—is—still my hobby. If I played golf with my friends, I wouldn't go out and tell everybody to come watch me play golf or pay me to play golf or try to get into the PGA or whatever. It was just something I did because I like to do it. And it was a good number of years before there was any evidence at all that I might be good enough to make money off my hobby. So when that became clear, I started trying to publish short stories. And then my friends were nudging me or bugging me, "We know that you've got a trunk full of books. Why don't you try to publish some of them, you could make more money than a short story?" And I was like, "More money than a short story, you say?" Well, everyone has their price—mine is low. So I dug Beneath the Rising out of the trunk and gave it a light polish. And for something that was written when I was 20, it wasn't terrible, I thought. And it was also done; most of my stuff was not done. It just went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and never finished. And it just lost the plot. And this one had the words “The End” at the end. And I was like, "Congratulations, you have been chosen."
Kaelyn: That definitely makes a huge selling point for the book. This one is done. The other ones are in various states of actualization; this one is finished. [laughing]
Premee: Yes, I'm sorry book, you didn't get picked because of your merit. [laughing] You got picked on other grounds. But I thought maybe if an agent likes this, I could interest the agent in something else, something that was good. So I queried with that because it was done. And yeah, got literary representation and got a book deal. And what happened was—so this is why I'm in this situation now—I wrote it as a standalone because I wrote everything as a standalone. I never wrote sequels to anything, especially because nothing ever ended. But I had never written anything that came after a thing. I didn't know how you did it. I'd read a lot of sequels, because fantasy and sci-fi is lousy with series. And I thought it was very nice that other people could do that. And my agent was like, "Well, publishers really like series. So, why don't we pitch this as a trilogy?" I was like, "You know what my dude, you know the business, so pitch it however you want." So, written as a standalone, pitched as a trilogy, the publisher bought two books. So I was like, "Okay, well, that's manageable. I can write one more book. And I know the deadline for that book." So after the first book came out, I wrote and handed in the second book. And a couple of months before the second book was published, so when it had—and this is crucial—when it was already done all edits and was galloping down the road to publication, my editor emailed me and was like, "Sup. So let's talk about a third book." And I sat there like, "Let's talk about a third, sorry, let's talk about a third book? The time to talk about a third book was when the second book was in edits! Because you bought two books, and I wrote you two books. And the ending of the second book is an ending that makes the third book a little tricky along certain axes.”
Kaelyn: Were you shocked by this call?
Premee: I was genuinely shocked.
Premee: It was an email and it was cc'd to my agent. The agent found out at the same time that I did. It didn't come with a contract or anything. It was just a friendly, "Hey, what's up? So, third book, huh? Pretty excited?" I was like, "What third book?" I think this was a case where it's like he was having a conversation in his head and also I was talking along in his head, but we didn't actually have the conversation.
Kaelyn: Look, we're all guilty of that. I frequently do that with my co-workers and friends.
Rekka: It wasn't because it was pitched as a trilogy, and he thought there was a third book planned that you just had? Was that maybe...?
Premee: I think that was the case because otherwise, I am 99% sure that he would have asked me to change the ending of the second book.
Rekka: Right. So he was like, "Hey, Premee knows where this is going."
Premee: Yeah, I don't know. Again, there were some doors shut at the end of the second book. I genuinely think if, during edits, he had been like, "Hey, let's make this a trilogy." He would have said something, to me, during the editing process because we went back and forth twice or whatever for developmental edits and then for the copy edit and line edit. And also we talked on Twitter and stuff all the time. The third book really seemed to just fall out of a clear blue sky. And while I was delighted to have the offer, I didn't really have a third book planned. So I had about a week to basically come up with a plot and then send that back to my editor, with my agent’s blessing because he was like, "You don't have to do this if you don't want, genuinely." So we negotiated out a contract with that and for another unrelated book. So I worked out some kind of a plot, I wrote some kind of synopsis, I just barfed it all out into the page and cleaned it up a little bit and sent it back so that my editor could take it to acquisitions. And came back and was like, "Yeah, here's your new deadline, have fun." I was like "Have fun? Okey dokey."
Kaelyn: That's a lot to unpack there. It sounds like when you wrote all of this and by the way, just for people who are listening, if you haven't read these yet, we are not going to be spoiling anything about these two books, so please feel free to—
Rekka: Except the only spoiler is you will regret it forever if you don't read these books.
Kaelyn: Warning or spoiler?
Rekka: Spoiler, I will come and get you if you don't.
Kaelyn: Advice. Advice!
Rekka: All right, now it's a threat, it's advice, whatever. Read these books. So I read my books in bed at night, it's dark. This was the first book that made me go, "Ah, creepy!" for a really long time.
Kaelyn: Rekka actually texted me and specifically said, "Okay, you need to read Beneath the Rising because I'm genuinely freaked out by it." It takes quite a lot to freak Rekka out, so congrats?
Premee: Good job team, because I never really thought that I wrote horror because I don't read a lot of horror. It's very scary. And I don't really watch a lot of horror movies or TV or anything like that because they're scary. I wanted the characters to be scared. I didn't think people reading it would be scared.
Kaelyn: Scared for them, I was very scared for them.
Rekka: Well, it's very easy to transpose what's happening to a character to yourself when you're reading in the dark at night and you're slightly sleepy. And if you look around the room, there are monsters in your shadows anyway.
Kaelyn: I mean, that's where they live.
Rekka: But I haven't had that feeling at night of that like, "Ooh, I don't want to stick my head above the covers." I haven't had that feeling at night in a very long time. So, good work.
Premee: Thank you.
Rekka: I will say the creepy factor, it was most intense toward the beginning, before you really know what the characters are dealing with. Then of course, as you learn things, things get less scary for some reason like that's how brains work.
Premee: Yeah, cause I think it goes from a horror because they don't know what's happening to more of an adventure story where they're thrust into problem solving mode. And the things that they're solving problems against are scary, but they're also not the biggest problem. I mean, like, for instance, a plane crash is a problem. And I think we should all be discussing how dangerous a plane crash could be.
Kaelyn: Generally, those are considered problems, yes.
Kaelyn: Okay, so they said, we're going to pitch this as a trilogy, they came back and gave you a two-book contract. So you're going into this going, "All right, this is going to be a duology. I can do a duology. No problem."
Premee: I can do a duology. Yeah.
Rekka: You wrote the first book as a standalone. So, did you change anything about it knowing it was going to be a duology as you were editing?
Premee: Not really, no.
Rekka: Okay. So you wrote a standalone, then you had to write a second one to cap off that duology, and now you have to write a third one to cap off that duology as another almost standalone.
Premee: That was also an issue because A Broken Darkness was the first sequel I had ever written for anything. And I sat there for a month afterwards going, "How do write se..quel? Hang on, maybe I will google.” And when you google it, it basically goes, "Well, you have to plan the entire series starting from the first book. And I was like, "I hate the Google." Okay, what if you get a sequel sprung on you after you didn't expect to write a sequel? So, I outlined something and then I sat there. And I was like, "Actually, this is identical to the first book and has the same conflict and problems." And tossed that outline out. And I think where I eventually ended up going back was studying the first book a little bit. I actually re-read the first book, which was great cause it let me find all the mistakes that I left in it. And trying to pick out not so much like an overarching structure that I could work with, but like some threads that I could grab and pull on hard enough that they would come into the second book. And I think I had left enough at the ends that there was something to pull on. Again, without getting too specific, at the end of the first book, the world has changed quite a bit. Governments have different attitudes, the attitude towards scientific research has changed, the public attitude towards Johnny Chambers and her businesses has changed. Nick and Johnny's friendship has changed, his relationship with his family is damaged, there's a lot of trust issues, there's a lot of opportunity for something to be quite quite different from the first book. Again, that's where I started on the outline for the third book, is, “okay, did I leave enough threads to pull on?” Because I would have liked to have some overarching structure or goal. And when I think of that, what I think of actually is N.K. Jemisin’s the Broken Earth trilogy, which really feels solidly planned and like a trilogy. You can feel that it's almost like a suspension bridge, there's the big structure and then there's things hanging off the structure. And each of those holds up something in that book itself, and also in the next book. And I don't feel like I have that. I just have the hangy things, but I'm working as hard as I can with the hangy things, trust me.
Kaelyn: I have this habit of if I find an author that I really enjoy what they've written, I start stalking them. So of course, I've thoroughly gone through your website. And I very much enjoy all of your posts, but you actually did one about writing the second book.
Premee: Yeah, because that was the hardest book I've ever written in my life. [laughing]
Kaelyn: It's interesting because you're very aware of this. And I think that makes it so much harder because since you are so aware of this, you wrote a finite ending for the second book, that was the end of the story.
Premee: That was the end, yeah. When I think of stories, I do think architecturally, and I think of novels as several things, but a house is pretty common. And I really think that a lot of doors were shut at the end of the story, the house is pretty well locked up with whatever it has inside it and whatever is left outside of it. And I kind of threw the keys into a storm drain. [laughing] Again, without getting too specific.
Kaelyn: It turns out there was a monster in that storm drain.
Premee: It does turn out there was a monster in the storm drain. “I just got—what? Plink! What was that noise? Oh, it was an email from my editor.” [laughing]
Rekka: The monster in the storm drain was the email from your editor all along.
Premee: It was actually, yeah. Analogies are hard. [laughing]
Rekka: No, this is perfect. This is exactly our style of analogy. So as Kaelyn and I have discussed before, when you're writing book two after you've written book one and you think you have a trilogy, you have a nice book one which could be standalone.
Rekka: And then you take that arc and make it bigger and write that over the next two books, which you would have liked to have known it was time to do.
Kaelyn: It's very common with publishing contracts to get one book with an option for two more. And, yeah, so that a lot of times writers will write it as this could be a standalone, but there is absolutely doors and windows and maybe a missing wall left open so that we can continue to work on and expand the house.
Premee: Yeah, see, I didn't know any of that. And also, after I announced the third book, I had friends pop into my DMs with like, "Congratulations. FYI, same thing happened to me. They bought two books and now they're asking for a third book, but because I knew this was going to happen, I had the third book ready to go." And I'm like, "Congratulations." [laughing]
Kaelyn: “Oh, isn't that so great for you?”
Premee: I'm glad you can't hear a tone in Twitter. Mneh-neh. I'm just going to be under my desk drinking rum. Yeah.
Kaelyn: Okay, so what are you going to do? Did you have more stories set in this universe with these characters in your head or had you just completely written them out of your mind?
Premee: They were actually all in the first book. I had to reach back 18 years or whatever it was to write the second. Because I was like, "Okay, book all done. Have a nice life, you guys." [laughing]
Rekka: Moving on to something new, something shiny.
Premee: Yeah. Turns out that you can go right back to it if people give you money. But we finished the paperwork to absolutely confirm that, yes, you, Premee Mohamed, will be writing a third book for absolute sure in I think February. So the first thing I did was panic for a week and not write.
Kaelyn: That's fair.
Premee: I hid under my desk a little bit with the blankets, which didn't help, but...
Rekka: You have to honor the feelings.
Premee: I had to honor my feelings and just let them run around a bit. And then I crawled back up and looked at what I had sent David [Moore, editor at Rebellion Publishing]. And what that was had been based on the three or four-sentence long pitch that was in the original pitch that we sent to the publisher, which was, "Oh, here's the book that we are pitching to you at this moment. If it's a trilogy that you want, here's a paragraph about the second book." And that completely turned out to not be what the second book was whatsoever. And here's a paragraph about the third book. And that had about one sentence in common. And I was like, "Go past me." So I went back to the pitch and broke it apart into its components, and sorted it into two piles like, "Okay, this pile is stuff that I wrote out of panic and expectation, let's just push that aside. This pile has potential to be part of a novel, let's move those over here." And from that, I just tried to build out on everything that I thought was interesting in the second pile.
Premee: So, where could this happen? What are the issues? Who can I involve? Who's the bad guy for this component? Who's the good guy for this component? Later on, do they switch places? What's difficult or interesting or what feels impossible about this component? What about this component could be reversed as opposed to how it goes in the start of the book? Maybe it can go backwards later. What's the tone that I want for all of these? What's the vibe that I want for this book? Because the first one I felt had a Indiana-Jones-but-kids vibe. And the second one, Nick is trying really hard for it to be a spy novel vibe. And it's not, it's a bit more post-apocalyptic almost because the apocalypse is happening slowly around them. And people are like, "Oh, yeah, this is weird. I'mma go home and make supper. I don't know that there's anything I can do about this.” I wanted to combine that second pile and the expansion on it which ended up being something like three to five pages or around there, with what I wanted to pull out of the first book and the second book, and make sure that I included in there in some way. And when I was done, I had sort of the mental equivalent of a deck of cards that I could shuffle and try to put together. And from that, I printed that out and marked it up and put some stickers on it and did some drawings, then wrote what I thought was a pretty workable outline for a third book. This heavily on the difficulties in the last quarter of the second book, really heavily from that. So that's how that went. And that is in the process of being written now, not entirely in order, but I know about the 40k mark, somewhere around there. And it's due in September. So hopefully, we can do this. And the nice thing, I guess, about this random third book is that at least I'm working with an editor that I know who edited the first two books. And so if I'm making certain choices or putting people in certain places or opting to have something happen a X time instead of Y time, I think at this point he understands pretty well why I chose to do that and isn't going to put a comment in there like, "Oh, why did this happen?" Because he's like, "Okay, I know why this happened. And now I'm braced in about 75 pages for that to go terribly, terribly wrong." [laughing]
Rekka: It definitely helps that you're not also shuffled between editors for this process.
Premee: It does, yeah.
Rekka: Now, when you wrote that plot outline for book three, did you work on it with your agent at all before you sent it to the editor or you're working directly with the editor at this point?
Premee: Oh, yeah, yeah. My agent was like, "Oh, this is good. I would read this." And I'm like, "Bless you. You say that about a lot of things. Thank you." And she forwarded it to my editor. He's like, "Oh, this looks good. I would read this." And I'm like, "Thank you." Again, you're trying to make money off this so just tell me what I need to fix. And he's like, "No, it's fine. I'm going to go take it to the acquisitions committee, and I'm going to act it out." I'm like, "Oh god!"
Kaelyn: Yeah, can you please record that? I would love to see it. [laughing]
Premee: I think my actual reaction was something like, "Please don't."
Kaelyn: “I don't know if I'm going to be able to look you in the eye again after knowing you acted this out.” [laughing]
Premee: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. But turns out, it worked out and they were like, "We want that third book and we also want dibs on a next book." And I was like, "Well, I haven't got a next book." They're like, "Well, if we give you money, will you write another book?" [laughing] So it turns out that's how publishing works. At some point, you don't have to give them the finished book. They just ask you for a book and they give you money upfront.
Rekka: Once you're inside the secret bunker.
Premee: Once you're inside the secret bunker, I had no idea, yeah. I don't even have a plot for that one, that was just called “untitled fantasy novel.”
Rekka: Now, did you put it in your contract that they cannot ask you for a fourth book in this series?
Premee: I did not.
Kaelyn: Are you sure that this is the last book?
Premee: No, I'm not. They keep referring to it as a trilogy now though.
Kaelyn: All right. Okay, all right.
Premee: On their announcement, they were like, "Hey, we got the final book in the Beneath the Rising trilogy." And I'm like, "There are 10 things wrong with that sentence." [laughing] First of all, you published the first two books, thirdly, you're making me write the third one. You phrased this entirely wrong. Oh, “we get to publish.” No, you asked for it. You literally... Okay, anyways, have fun. It's a nice cover. I'm going to get back to writing now and drinking heavily. [laughing]
Kaelyn: My favorite word in that sentence was “the final book” because it's like, "Well, funny story, I already wrote the final book."
Premee: I wrote the final book.
Kaelyn: And then you decided that wasn't the final book anymore. So now we have a new final book. So, is this the final final book or is there going to be a final final final book?
Premee: If they ask for a fourth book, I'm going to quit publishing and go live in a tree. I literally have a plan, yeah.
Kaelyn: It's a good thing you have a plan. You should go south though a little bit to one of the big redwood trees. If you're going to live in a tree, make it, yeah.
Premee: I'm planning the coast but not quite the coast because they're expecting, you know, the big one and the tsunamis and stuff and I don't really want to get washed out to sea.
Kaelyn: But you'll be in a tree, you'll be fine.
Premee: Yeah, but I figured, yeah, if I'm a little bit further inland, me and my tree will survive.
Rekka: I love this. However, you have already confessed on this podcast that if they offer you enough money, you will write the book.
Premee: Yeah, at this point, it would have to be more money than they offered for the third book. And I mean a decent amount more money, not like $6 and a coupon for half-off a frogurt if I buy a large.
Kaelyn: Oh, now I want frozen yoghurt.
Premee: Me too, actually. It's supposed to be really hot here by the end of the week, apparently. I'm a little nervous about that because I'm pretty far north—we’re at Latitude 53—our houses are really built to keep in the heat because it gets down to -40 in the winter. We're not really prepared for it to get up to +40.
Rekka: If you don't open the door, will that thermos house also keep out the heat? Is it like a double-walled drink cooler, where...
Premee: It would be if I weren't in a crappy condo with a giant gap under the door but anyways, we'll see how it goes. I may come to the local ceremonies wearing a dress made out of ice packs.
Rekka: That would be fashion.
Premee: I think it would be fashion.
Kaelyn: Yeah, that's definitely fashion.
Premee: I am cosplaying somebody from a Disney movie. She is… frozen. They'll be like, "Which one are you?" I'm like, "I don't know their names. [laughing] I am the one who is… frozen. I'm her."
Rekka: The one who has to run to the freezer to get more ice.
Premee: Yeah, exactly. [laughing]
Rekka: Okay. So, writing three standalones and faking a trilogy, you started it thinking, “standalone book, cool, I'll write this and then I'll move on with my life. And maybe in 18 years or so I'll come back and write a second book or someone will pay me enough to write a second book. And then maybe, after I finished writing that and it's edited and it's gone gold, as they say in video games, then maybe I'll consider writing another one.” Do you have any tips for just wrapping your mind around it? Or I mean, hiding under a blanket for a week is an excellent advice but...
Premee: Yeah, I think that was going to be my first tip. My second tip is that rum is not as helpful as one would think. Because it does actually erase the memory of knowing that you have to write a third book. But afterwards, when you check your email, you actually still do have to write the book.
Rekka: You can't just make it go away, huh?
Premee: You cannot just make it go away. You can damage your few remaining brain cells, but the book still has to get written. I guess in terms of tips, yeah, the big one was do a reread. And that also helps forestall some of the panic, I think, or at least it did for me. Do a reread; there is so much that we put into novels that I think people think is local color or throwaway detail or “well, gee, that was a fun little anecdote.” But again, it's a novel, things are in it on purpose, they have a purpose for that story. But they can have a double purpose for later books. And again, that's something that I find myself doing very much with this third book, is reaching in and finding things that didn't have significance and lending them some significance on purpose. Which isn't to say that every goofy childhood story is now going to be hugely explained. But a novel is not like a short story, a novel has room for things to sit in there apparently without purpose until they're needed. And if I did end up having to write a fourth book, now that I've done the process of having two surprise sequels fall through the roof and hit me on my head, I think that's something I would do. Even with this third book, the doors that I shut and locked and went, "Hahaha, that's closed!" word to the wise, past me, no door is ever shut forever. And because we're writers, we can always think around a problem that seems unsolvable. I mean, how many times have we, in a short story or a novel, written ourselves into a corner and said, "Oh my god, I outsmarted myself. I have set up a situation that these characters cannot get out of," let sit for a couple days and take some walks and have a bath, and the solution just shows up. And I think even with the ending of the second book, which again was supposed to be the ending of lots of things, it's maybe not as final as it looked at first glance. So I guess the big tip is look at everything in more detail and see how you can tweak it or twist it or stretch it.
Rekka: So if you were writing a trilogy and you wanted to go back and make sure that it was very connected, you would take things that happened in the third book and go back and foreshadow them as you edit when you have the chance to edit all of them at once. And then you would foreshadow all the way forward so that you look very clever, by the end of it, to your reader, and they think, "How did you think of all these little things to add?" This is how I always thought mystery writers wrote was linearly like I do. And then I realized, "Oh, no, you get to edit before anyone sees it." But you had the reverse, where you had to go find the foreshadowing you didn't know you were foreshadowing.
Premee: Yep, exactly. I had to declare that it was foreshadow. I was like, "Well, yeah, this is a detail. Now I gotta make something out of that detail." It's like finding a bunch of random stuff in your fridge and being like, "I'm putting that on a pizza." It is no longer a random thing. Now, it is a pizza topping. Yes. [laughing]
Kaelyn: There's always stuff that you already wrote that can help with this. It can be an offhanded comment, it can be something that we understand about the character, the setting, the world building, something along those lines. I don't believe in the “writing yourself into a corner.” Unless you have published a book and then write something in the second book that directly contradicts a very specific plot-related thing that happened in the first book, and now you have to somehow correct it in the third. Well, that's what time travel is for. [laughing]
Rekka: Time travel, unreliable narrators, yeah.
Premee: Unreliable narrators, people who show up with helpful macguffins at exactly the right moment, you're like, "Hey."
Kaelyn: Look, sometimes you get handed an ex machina. It's just how things work.
Premee: I know there's a rule—and I don't like writing rules, but I know a lot of them now. Now that I have five books that are going to be out in the world, I should probably teach myself how to write at some point. I don't have a writing background, I don't have any writing education. I have spent about the last two years reading a lot of craft books and doing classes and going to panels and reading everything so I can literally learn how to write. But I have heard this rule that you can use coincidences to get your characters into trouble, but you can't use them to get your characters out of trouble. And I don't believe that. I believe that the definition of “coincidence” is being misused. And that if circumstances are set up so that something can happen and then it does happen, it's not a coincidence. And if it does manage to get the characters out of trouble, and they're like, "Oh, woah, that was lucky," I think you're allowed to do that once per book. [laughing]
Rekka: If you rely on it for maybe too much, people are going to start quoting writing rules at you. But I think a lot of people break a lot of writing rules and are celebrated for it.
Kaelyn: In real life, we all do occasionally get lucky. It's just a thing that happens.
Premee: And in real life, coincidences do get us out of trouble pretty frequently, even things that people don't even think about, like, "Oh hoho, that was bad." And then it turns out that your email program actually didn't send the email, and you're like, "Oh, dodged that bullet. Now, I will rewrite it. I'll delete that one, I'll rewrite it, and then I'll send it to my boss," that kind of thing.
Kaelyn: I always go, well, there's this thing called the theory of quantum immortality, which is that every decision you make the ones you're dying, you just stop existing in those realities. So you just keep paring yourself down and paring yourself down until eventually, you get to a point where you have no other possible alternatives. But I just always enjoy that one. So your existence just keeps getting pared down to eventually, they'll only be the one left and it ends.
Premee: Well, and what that also made me think of, too, was the other idea that coincidence can't get your characters out of trouble. Well, okay. I'm going to use a coincidence here because I set it up previously, I'm allowing this to happen, the structure of the book and the setting allows this to happen, so it happens. Then what I'm going to do is let them get into a different type of trouble because of the coincidence.
Kaelyn: So there are consequences.
Premee: There are consequences, so it's kind of you know, like the improv. And I was talking about this with someone on their Twitch stream a little while ago, and she taught me the phrase that I haven't seen in a lot of writing books, which is, "Yeah, in improv you go, ‘No but’ or ‘Yes and,’" so if your improv character succeeds, there's also something tacked on to it that is going to be in some way a pain in the ass. If they don't succeed, maybe they get something that's a little bonus or sends them off sideways rather than forward, so the same thing. She was like, "I see that you do this in your books all the time." It's like, "Hooray, we have solved the pro— We have another problem." [laughing]
Kaelyn: “This one has three heads, and it's dripping acid from its teeth.” [laughing]
Premee: Yeah, exactly. It's like, "This one is touching my ankle." [laughing]
Rekka: We talked about the improv ‘yes and’ a lot, in fact, in the most recent episode. I hadn't heard the ‘no but’ part, which is interesting, because what I was always told was like, "The ‘no’ stops the whole process from going forward and you killed the game by saying ‘no.’" But if you say ‘no but,’ I like that. What it does is it propels you forward and almost speeds things up again. It says, "Your reaction, you have to think about it for a second. But as soon as you start saying ‘and’ or ‘but,’ words start tumbling forward and things just start happening." If you're Premee, it's more trouble. I like that.
Premee: Yeah, that's what I like about the ‘no but.’ A success is fantastic, but we all know that in fiction a string of successes gets pretty dull. We want things to go wrong so that these characters that we’ve started to care about, or in some cases want to throw into the river, can show who they are and how they react to things. And they should have a lot of ‘no’ on their journey towards the end of the book, which of course they don't know is the end of the book. They should have a lot of ‘no,’ but what I like about ‘no but’ is that, exactly like you said, the ‘no’ stops you dead, it stops the plot dead, too. The ‘no but’ is, “okay, what you wanted you can't have right now. You could want something else, and maybe that's something you should go for.” And they're like, "We could and if that's our only option at the moment, we'll go for the ‘but,’ and we'll come back to what we wanted the original ‘yes’ for later on if we can. Maybe the ‘no but’ sets of circumstances for a later ‘yes and.’"
Rekka: Exactly, your characters are motivated to try and get to their specific goal and they might do some of this negotiating along the way, or just trying to move forward so that they can keep moving at all. Like our plots have to do. [laughing]
Kaelyn: The other thing that I will say that can stop as dead and this is a very funny conversation I had to have with my father recently was ‘perfect!’ My sisters and I have a habit of saying, "Okay, perfect." And my dad finally was like, "What is this?" We're like, "Because it's good, because there's nothing else to add, it's perfect. That's great, we're going to keep going forward just with that." So yeah, apart from ‘yes and,’ the ‘yes and’ can't be ‘yes and perfect.’ There's got to be something else happening there. [laughing]
Rekka: You've got to have more of a ‘yes, that is okay….’
Kaelyn: ‘Yes, and...’
Premee: Or it's like “yes and what's the catch?” Oh, there's a catch. The catch is chapter seven. “Okay, everybody, let's head into chapter seven. I can't believe this happened to us after we just achieved our goal.” I'm like, "That wasn't your goal. That was a mini goal, you didn't know that." They're like, "Do you hear something? Sometimes we're in a tough spot, do you hear somebody talking?" Maybe you guys could try the other thing. “What?”
Kaelyn: “The door, there's a door behind you, move the tapestry.” [laughing]
Rekka: So, I'm going to redirect this a little bit with the time we have left. Kaelyn, as an editor...
Kaelyn: Oh God, okay, yeah?
Rekka: This is my ‘yes and.’ What advice would you have given Premee, before this got going? Or while Premee is trying to write it, at 40k, and still has the rest of the book?
Premee: Give advice, thank you.
Kaelyn: I would have apologized to you profusely just to start out. So I would have been like, "Listen, I know you've worked really hard on this. The thing is that it shows and we really like that. We were maybe hoping that you would want to do another one of these."
Premee: That would have been a much nicer email to get.
Kaelyn: That would have been on the phone, because then, after you stop screaming at me, I'd be like, "Okay, so, is it a yes?" No, I think it's gratifying to hear how you're doing this because that is what I would suggest. You think you've written yourself into a corner. I have dealt with and edited books where authors are like, "I have no idea how this is going to happen because we changed these other things and we still have to get to this point." It's like, "Okay, well, one thing: we can always add words." That's a great thing about a book. Adding words changes how the story goes. In your case though, yeah, there's things that were established, things that were laid down as law so to speak and where finite decisions and doors closed, but I would go back to well written characters, well written storylines, and excellent world building always have to put as you said, threads you can pull on. I will tell you, I would be bothering you more than it sounds like your editor is, just going, "So… how's everything going?" And I guess it's funny because I'm a planner. You gotta tell me everything. If we end up in a situation like this, I know where we started, I know where we're going, I know how we're getting there and can brainstorm accordingly. Yes, but I'm a nurturer of storylines. I like to see them grow into complex, sometimes terrible and frightening, but wondrous nonetheless things.
Rekka: Nurtured but terrifying.
Premee: Like a scary plant.
Rekka: Or like a horror book you didn't realize you were writing a horror story.
Premee: I'm scared of horror, I don't read a lot of horror. [laughing]
Kaelyn: When I told my boyfriend I was like, "Oh, yeah, we have an interview tonight." And he's always like, "Oh, what are you talking about?" And I said, "Oh my god, get this. It's this author who she wrote this duology for two books and they finished, and then they were like ‘give us a third.’" Now, my boyfriend is a huge horror movie fan. He loves all of the '70s, '80s slasher flicks and stuff, and he goes, "Well, that's no problem. Do you know how many times they brought Jason back to life?" [laughing] He's like, "Yeah, there's always ways to write around that. Like, he ended up in space at one point."
Premee: I was about to say, I'm like, "He went to space, man!” I'm pretty sure they killed him in the movie before that, but then he wasn't dead. And he was also in space.
Kaelyn: Yeah, so anyway, he has nothing but the utmost confidence in your ability to do this. [laughing]
Premee: Oh, tell him thank you. Yeah.
Kaelyn: Because if the people writing those movies can do it, you certainly can.
Premee: Well, honestly, when you talk about the timelines and stuff, that was something I thought... So the second book, Darkness, was set about 14 months, or something 15 months, after the first book. And for the third one, I was like—with my rum—"Oh, yeah?! Well, how about I just set it 25,000 years in the future and solve all my problems." And then I put the rum down, and I was like, "Wait, no, focus."
Kaelyn: How do you like that editor?
Premee: They're asking for a third book that has the same gist as the first two books because I guess they sold some copies. And I guess the fans want something sorta like that and not something set 25,000 years later with a cast of 30 different interesting aliens, one of whom is a cloud of nitrogen gas.
Rekka: Okay, but I hope that's the extra book that's in your contracts, cause now I want to read that.
Premee: Well, if they want a book four, it's obviously going to have the main character be a cloud of nitrogen gas, yeah.
Kaelyn: Outstanding. Perfect. [laughing] Yeah, but hearing what you said honestly, that's exactly what I would be doing. If I was writing this myself, I don't write, but if someone put a sword to my neck and said write something, and then I had to write more of it when I'd finished, that's what I would do. [laughing]
Rekka: It's a nice, neat episode. Like, Premee is doing it, right. Aside from the pa... I even think you're doing the panic right.
Kaelyn: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Premee: I think I did the panic right.
Premee: I didn't go outside and run around or anything; there's a plague. I panicked safely and quietly in my house. And I texted a whole bunch of friends. And depending on whether they were in publishing or not, they had some very encouraging messages to send back to me. It's like at the end you have to build in the time to let the manuscript sit and marinate in its own juices for a while, you got to build in like a little bit at the start to panic before you start writing the book.
Rekka: Oh, absolutely. Yes. And it sounds like your editors have every reason to have the confidence to just let you go for it.
Premee: I hope so. Well, and I think my editor knows, too, that the novel that I queried with was like my 10th or 11th novel, somewhere around there. I've written like 20 books. I think he knows I can write books. So I think he's just okay to have it just like trebuched over the Atlantic Ocean when I'm done, which is what I did with the last one. And then I ate a cupcake.
Kaelyn: It's a well-deserved cupcake to be sure.
Rekka: Well, I'm going to make myself a cupcake and finish book two when we get off this call because I'm very excited now. I was not reading it fast because I bought it in print and I read faster and e-book but I couldn't not have... There they are.
Premee: I can see them, oh my gosh. [laughing]
Rekka: Yes, I couldn't not have them next to each other on the shelf. So, cupcakes for everyone, and empanadas for Kaelyn because Kaelyn wants empanadas.
Premee: I would like an empanada.
Rekka: Okay, empanadas for everyone, cupcakes for everyone.
Kaelyn: I'll take a cupcake too, I mean, they're not mutually exclusive. [laughing]
Rekka: And good luck to you for the remaining what, 50,000 words or so of the book?
Premee: Yeah, 50k, 55k, something like that, yeah.
Rekka: Yeah. So you're aiming for around 90k to 100k?
Premee: Yeah, well, the first one was 109k and the second one was 111k. So if this one is in kinda in that range or a little bit shorter, it might get bumped up in edit because that happened last time as well. So, yeah.
Rekka: Like we say, we have to add words to fix problems. So there you go. So, well, I'm extremely excited that you are writing a third book in the story even if you are going through some pains to do it. And I appreciate that, personally, that you're doing that for me.
Kaelyn: Just Rekka, Rekka specifically, no one else.
Premee: Just you, my favorite fan. [laughing]
Rekka: And I'm sure our audience appreciates the advice because there is always the chance that okay, you start a book and you finish it and you print it. And then okay, well, I want to go back to that. Either that or the editor shoves you back to that, and then maybe it happens again. So I think you can end up in that moment of panic and still make the book happen. And it's just words.
Premee: It’s just words.
Rekka: You can just keep spewing words.
Kaelyn: No big deal at all.
Rekka: And then you can have cupcakes. So Premee, many cupcakes to you. And thank you so much for coming on and talking about this. I hope it was a little cathartic, too.
Premee: It was, and thank you so so much for inviting me. This was something I don't think I've been thinking very clearly about and it was nice to get my thoughts organized about writing the third book in a duology.
Rekka: Well, I couldn't resist the subject matter. [laughing]
Kaelyn: I mean, where can everyone find you? Definitely check out Premee's website. There's some really awesome, very well thought out essays and writing on there. Some really good advice in those, I think.
Premee: Thank you.
Rekka: Premee, you are now an expert.
Premee: Yeah, again, I really need to learn how to write, though. Where can people find me? I am on Twitter a lot at @premeesaurus, which I'm sure will be in the show notes. Yeah, and on my website at premeemohamed.com, where I try to keep up with podcasts and appearances and classes that I'm teaching and whatnot, and also my curious fictions page. And today, I put up a blog post about my guest editor stint at Apparition Lit and how we chose those stories. So if people would like to check those three things out, that is where you can find me.
Rekka: And the links will be below as ever. And Premee, thank you again.
Kaelyn: Yeah, this was fantastic.
Rekka: I'm looking forward to reading everything that you do, all your many books that are coming out this year, or have already.
Kaelyn: Rekka is going to be standing outside your door doing the creepy scratchy thing going, "Is it done?" [laughing]
Premee: I'll be like, "Here's a book. If I give you a book, will you go away?" [laughing] “Yes.” “Gosh, that was easy.”
Rekka: For a little while. [laughing]
Premee: Just sitting outside on my balcony reading, I'm like, "Oh god, you're still there?" [laughing]
Kaelyn: People will be coming over going, "What?" "It's Rekka, it's fine, it's fine. Long story, just no sudden movements."
Premee: It's a long story. Hang on, I'll give her a snack. Here's a short story.
Rekka: Well, luckily, I tend to get sleepy when I read, so a book lasts me a lot longer than you might expect so... [laughing] Well, thank you again.
Premee: Yeah, I hope you enjoy the second one.
Rekka: I know that I will. So thank you again.
Premee: And thank you so so much for inviting me.
Rekka: We were so happy to have you. And everyone, we will be back in two weeks. And I'm sure we will not top this episode, ever, but we'll try. Thanks everyone.