Mudwrestling with authors


The editing stage of any novel is a delicate dance between author and editor. I have never met a first draft that didn’t need something, despite the contention of one or two authors I’ve mudwrestled over the years. Most authors listen respectfully to editorial suggestions and then either follow through or justify why they don’t want to.

Often a discussion about character motivation breaks the logjam between author and editor. “But WHY does he need to tweeze out his enemy’s eyes with a pair of chopsticks,” the editor may ask plaintively. “Because of his childhood,” the author explains.

Harry Connolly’s second novel, Game of Cages, goes on sale tomorrow (8/31/10). Harry is an author I’m extremely proud to have discovered (and fought for, in auction). His first novel, Child of Fire, was named a Best Book of 2009 by Publishers Weekly, and he’s developed an eager fan following.

Harry and I had some lively discussions after he turned in the first draft of Game of Cages (you can read the first three chapters of the finished book here). His main character, Ray Lilly, is unique: an ex-car thief trying to better his life, who stumbles onto the discovery that magic is at work in our world and that his particular skills make him useful to the members of the Twenty Palace Society who must keep it under control. As one of the Amazon posts says about Ray, “He does the hard things that need doing, even as he regrets them.”

There was a scene in the first-draft Game of Cages manuscript  in which Ray is forced to do one of these “hard things.” I thought it went too far. Harry disagreed, and wrote back with his reasoning. There are no real spoilers in the following; I won’t tell you which direction the story finally went. It’s here as an illustration of the editing process.


BETSY: I am dubious about the body count. This is the second book in which practically a whole town of innocent people has been wiped off the map. Not Ray’s fault, I’m not blaming him, but how can sorcerers and predators and the Society have lasted so long without detection, if this kind of thing happens even every couple of years? The scene of Ray being attacked in the church was *really* well written, with a very high adrenaline level, and I admire it for that, but I’m seriously wondering whether we can change the climax to Ray’s destruction of Zahn and the predator instead. Save Catherine’s life. Save the lives of a bunch of pets and let them recover (with no memories) after the predator dies. What do you think?

HARRY: I’ve been back and forthing on [this] scene.  I’ve decided I want to try to keep it, with changes.  I have some ideas that I hope will make it work. Briefly, the reason I want to keep is that I think it follows directly from CHILD OF FIRE and the scene where Annalise talks about the innocent people *she’s* had to kill.  For the setting, the stakes, and the character, I need to bring Ray to this low point *just this once.*  The third and subsequent books will be partly about him trying to make up for that incident–I’m not planning to write a scene like that again, but I do think I need it here.

BETSY: One reason I’d like Catherine to survive is that Ray’s going to need some supporters [. . .] as we move into Book 3. If Ray was able to save Pratt as well, that’s another testimony to his abilities. The last reason is, if the first two books lead readers to believe that pretty much everybody except Ray gets killed in every book, you may lose some fans.

HARRY: You asked me to have Catherine and Pratt survive and return in future books, but it seems like cheating for both of them to live when so many others die. What if only one of them survived? And do you have a preference?  I think Pratt would be a good source of conflict in later stories and he’s a more colorful character, but I like Catherine, too. Let me know what you think.


Oooh, editorial power of life and death. Ultimately Harry made the choice between Pratt and Catherine on his own; you can find out what happens in Game of Cages.