the Little Red Reviewer

Holding Nothing Back, a guest post from Julie Czerneda

Posted on: June 1, 2016

Friends, I’m so thrilled to be hosting author Julie Czerneda today, I can’t even.  I know ya’ll remember when I went absolutely nuts over her Species Imperative trilogy (biology FTW!), when I wrote an accidentally spoilery review of the most recent Clan Chronicles novel This Gulf of Time and Stars, and how much fun we had with hosting her for an AMA.  Her newest Clan Chronicles novel, The Gate to Futures Past doesn’t hit bookstore shelves until September, but today is the big cover art release party!  I’ll be posting throughout the day with more artwork and more inside scoop, but in the meantime, let’s here from the author herself about how she keeps track of this generation and galaxy spanning epic. . .

Author Photo Credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

Author Photo Credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

scroll artwork

Holding Nothing Back

a guest post by
Julie Czerneda




The room could be in any seedy backwater motel. Inside, however, is an open suitcase, its contents strewn over the unmade bed: three hats; four cell phones in their original packaging; a small hatchet, its blade edged in what looks like rust. Oh, and a lab coat, scrunched into a ball.

By the bed is a night stand; on it are pieces of what had been the hotel phone.

Protruding from the bathroom are a pair of dirty boots, toes up. It’s only then you realize they contain feet.

Two things just happened. You guessed what you’re reading: a murder mystery, with clues being presented. And, perhaps without even being aware, you began a story of your own, a plausible scenario based on this room.

And those feet.

Now comes the test. What’s next? If your scenario fits the rest of what you read, for this is a book, it’s gratifying—so long as you didn’t see everything coming. In that case, you’re bored silly and probably won’t finish reading. On the other hand, if there’s an abrupt departure from what you expected, well, that could be fun. After all, who doesn’t like a startling revelation to tingle the imagination and make you read faster and faster—

Careful though. What about the lab coat and broken phone? Clues matter. Everything that came before matters. The revelation must make sense. More than that, it should, when you look back, feel inevitable. Anything less breaks the covenant of trust between writer and reader. Needless to say you won’t enjoy the book. (Go ahead. Throw it across the seedy hotel room!)

Regrettably, this can happen. Author Careless forgets to lay that essential guiding brick on the plot road. If the rest is great, you can fill it in the hole yourself and forgive. But if Author Trickster held something back simply so you guess and anything you made up for yourself would be wrong? Unwise, Author T. Readers don’t put up with that.

As writers, we must hold nothing back. Our stories must contain every scrap of information, plot, and nuance needed to support our final revelation. Yes, I admit, that could let a reader figure it out before the story ends. Yes, we hate it when that happens. How wonderful if every reader closed our books, hugged them to happy bosoms, and proclaimed, “I didn’t see that coming, but I loved it!”

Right. The best we can do? Cross our fingers and hope the very first reader doesn’t fill the internet with spoilers. (Excuse me. Had to go outside and take several deep breaths at the thought.) But how can we know we’ve succeeded before the throwing of books? It’s not as though we can read our own words for the first time, as a reader would. (Pause to sigh enviously.)

Enter the unseen side of flowing prose, the gritty grind of making bricks. Some call it laying breadcrumbs for readers to gobble up and follow. I prefer to envision solid fortifications under my plot. What can I say? Crumbs don’t last.

Here’s my approach. Part one, the Wall of Post-its. What you see here isn’t an outline. Each is a detail established in one of the earlier books; each, a detail that will matter to the final denouement of the Clan. Clues, if you will, in a seedy hotel room. They’re loosely organized into each of the three books of Reunification, since I knew before starting where major events take place. Hence the overwhelming number for This Gulf of Time and Stars, Book #1, which shoved everything in motion.

For example? That antique raygun. (Rift/Trade) The Assembler’s hat. (Rift) Huido’s wives, so far silent. (Trade Pact) Rael’s Chosen’s orchids. ( Trade). Everything about Morgan’s Silver Fox. (Trade Pact) Mounds of the Oud. (Stratification)

Julie Czerneda post it board

Each Post-it is a mental brick: a solid, specific item. To place them properly, I either wrote each in as I went, or left markers in my Outline Journal along the lines of “reveal stuff about Oud here.” Oh, the Journal? Strictly speaking, not an outline either. I made each two page spread be 10K of first draft to keep the writing tight. I slipped notes about the Oud, for example, where I felt they’d be encountered in the story. After writing my next 10K, I’d write a synopsis of every chapter and interlude, underlining the most important bricks to be sure I had them. For example, on the 90K spread, I’ve recorded an Interlude thusly: “Morgan concludes mounds “leavings” from Oud tunnels. Sees the extent.”

Julie Czerneda notebook

The PlotWall’s empty now. The final bricks are in The Gate to Futures Past as well as the revelation they support. Scary, that was, to do. Fulfilling at the same time. I’d held the threads of plot apart from the start. It let me create opportunities to enrich the characters and fill their universe, and I loved that. It created tension too. You’ve known, my dear readers, there were secrets. Sira, Morgan, and the rest have been in ignorance of the bigger picture just as long.

No more. You have it all and I expect you to pounce, to seize clues and try, consciously or not, to guess what’s coming next as you read. You’ll learn truths as the characters do, but that’s storytelling. You’ll anticipate and wonder and, yes, worry where I’m taking you, but that’s reading. Most of all, I hope when you get to the end, when you have the answers and learn #whoaretheclan at last, you’ll feel—among other things–that gratification. That tingle of imagination.

If you do, I’ve done my part. Given you and these characters everything.

As I should.

Oh wait. You wanted to see the cover. New post!

scroll artwork


Julie Czerneda’s first novel, A Thousand Words for Stranger, was published in 1997 to rave reviews, including being a finalist for the Campbell Best New Writer award. Since then, she’s continued to share her love and curiosity about living things through science fiction, writing about shapechanging semi-immortals, terraformed worlds, salmon researchers, and the perils of power. The first two books of Night’s Edge fantasy series,  won the 2014 and 2015 Aurora Awards for Best English Novel.  But the story begun in Thousand remained in her mind, growing into the Clan Chronicles series. Julie’s presently writing the final book of Reunification. For more about her work, visit or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Check back later today for more about #WhoAreTheClan,  Cover Art, a give away, and more!

8 Responses to "Holding Nothing Back, a guest post from Julie Czerneda"

Convenient that I finally read Thousand Words for Stranger last week. Now I have to chase down every other Czerneda book, though that may take some time.


Fascinating! I must search out the first in the trilogy.


book 1 is This Gulf of Time and Stars. 😀


Awesome post!!! Czerneda is my favorite scifi author and I loved seeing part of her writing process!


You never fail. Every time I open one of your books I know I’m in safe hands and in for a wonderful story. Thank you!


Interesting writing process. I use index cards to build the world, then write issues with the plot and/or characters in a notebook and then just write. I find that I often make links to the first parts of the book sub-consciously by the time I am done. I have thought of just writing down small scenes and maybe I will get to that with post-its or index cards like you do. I always think of little vignettes or small conversations while trying to sleep or in the car.


[…] fine blog covering the science fiction and fantasy genres. Recently Andrea did a post: Holding Nothing Back – A Guest Post by Julie Czerneda, and also Cover Reveal: The Gate To The Futures Past by Julie Czerneda. I greatly respect […]


Thanks for sharing the details of your process of keeping everything in its place and a place for everything. Plot lines that go nowhere, supposedly vital information that is never shared, inconsistencies with prior books or even prior chapters all drive me crazy. Thanks so much for your “careful” writing. Now if only politicians would keep track of what they say and stay consistent to it!


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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