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On Writing “Tortured”

My short story “Tortured” (Birthmarked 1.5) came about as a dark experiment, the sort that goes wrong and stays with you.

At first, I was faced with a unique writing challenge.  The tie-in story was intended originally for readers who already knew Birthmarked (Book 1) but who had not yet read Prized (Book 2).  It was a precarious window.  I pondered: how could a story add something to both books and yet stand alone enough to work as a short story? When would it take place?  Who would it be about?  How could it not be a spoiler?  It couldn’t simply be a misplaced chapter.  It had to matter.

At the time, I had been routinely receiving emails from readers of Birthmarked who asked about a certain character, one who was doomed to suffer.  A visceral, pivotal scene began to formulate at the edge of my mind, and I had this insidious feeling I’d be forced to face it.  I didn’t want to.  I’d been creeped out enough by the twisted dungeon stories of opium-loving, cousin-marrying Poe, and I had little desire to explore the parallel side of my own mind.  Yet the more I resisted, the more I felt this powerful urge to see where my own dark side could take me.  Besides, I cared about my character.

So I started with this murky prison scene, and as it sucked me in, I followed along, letting events materialize before me.  It was told from a new perspective, not Gaia’s, but the setting felt deeply familiar.  I wrote with no concern for explaining anything to anybody because I assumed the characters and my reader knew all of the first novel as back-story, complete with its events and relationships.  A spare character from a story I’d written for my blog spontaneously came down the stairs when I needed him.  Working in reverse, I culled details from a character’s memory in Book 2 so the story would have satisfying continuity, backward and forward in time.

Despite its grimness, it was incredibly fun to write.  As I revised, I found holes, and then my editor found many more.  I had explaining to do, after all.  The story went through half a dozen drafts.  Then it went through copyediting and proofreading, just like the process for a full-length novel.  The art team worked on a cover, and when I said I wasn’t keen on my title, my publisher proposed a new one: “Tortured.”  “Ew!” I thought, squirming, and then realized that it fit.

How on earth did I, sunny as I am, become the writer of a story called “Tortured”?

If you’re curious about the timing of this story, I can tell you it was originally intended to be e-published for free in October, a month before Prized was released.  That’s the part of the experiment that went wrong.  Ironically, though neither my publisher nor I will earn anything for the story, we still needed a contract for it, and since this was new ground legally, vetting the one-page agreement took longer than expected.  In the end, however, I think this timing is fine.  It will work to read the story before or after Prized because it adds a layer, either way.  Now the story matches these dark, gray days of December.  I would read it curled up beside the fire.

What stays with me about this dark experiment is how it changed the way I see my “Tortured” characters, not to mention myself.  Now that I’m revising Promised, Book 3 in the series, this new perception is useful.  I know my characters better for having stepped outside the novels and spent one key night with them.  Like campers who sneak out for an ill-fated tryst after lights-out, the characters from “Tortured” and I share a special bond.

“Tortured: A bridge story between Birthmarked and Prized” is available on Kindle and Nook for free, starting Tuesday, December 6th.  It will also be featured on Tor.com on Thursday, December 8th, for those without e-readers.  Be warned: the story is a spoiler for Birthmarked, so read it at your own risk.

27 Responses to On Writing “Tortured”

  • I love these in between books and the extra layers they give us. I can’t wait til tomorrow!! 🙂

  • I’ll be reading too! Can’t wait!

  • Will Tortured be available in the UK, as it doesn’t seem to be on amazon.co.uk for pre-order at the moment, whereas it is on amazon.com? I’d love to read it on Kindle. Thanks.

  • I can’t wait I am very excited for this!

  • I’m so excited to read this!! I pre-ordered it like a week ago! And, this is completely off topic, but I was wondering how you pronounce the Mx. thing is Prized. It confuses me!

  • Jen ~ Thanks! I hope it meets your expectations!
    Michaela ~ Thanks, girlfriend! You must be excited about Promise the Night! Soon!
    Heather ~ So far, we have no arrangement with Amazon.uk. I asked my agent to look into it, and my UK publisher will have the choice to arrange it with Amazon.uk if they wish. You’ll be able to read the story from Tor.com in the meantime. Thanks for your interest.
    Isla ~ Thank you! I hope you’ll enjoy it.
    Jacquelyn ~ I pronounce “Mx.” as “Mix” and I admit it is a little peculiar. I recall when “Ms.” was introduced and how mysterious it was. Why didn’t we spell it “Mz.”?
    All best,
    Caragh

  • Just pre-ordered it. Thanks, Caragh!

  • Just finished it. Nice tie-in. I just wanted to let you know that (spoiler alert) I kind of fell in love with Leon when we saw him with his beard in prison. As soon as I heard he was there, I knew he’d gone after her – swoon!

  • Can it be read by anyone outside the USA?

  • Kelly ~ Thank you!
    Clare ~
    Yes. The story will be featured on Tor.com today. Everyone can read it and download it from there. Thanks for your interest.
    All best,
    Caragh

  • Do you know what time it will be up on tor.com. I am dying to read and don’t own an ereader. But it’s not up yet 🙁

    Thanks

  • Yay its there going to commence reading now! 🙂

  • Jackie ~
    Thanks for letting me know it’s up!
    All best,
    Caragh

  • Thanks! I’ve read Tortured and I basically love it!

  • *Squeal* I’m off to read Tortured on tor.com!

    I’m back! It’s good. Leon did go through so much.

  • Jackie and Heidi ~
    Thank you!
    All best,
    Caragh

  • is it still possible to get the book for kindle?

  • Please oh please tell me you’ll do a “2.5” to tide me over until Promised is published. I devoured all 2 and 1/2 books in 4 days and need a fix before the fall. Sigh… You are a REALLY good author!

  • Malia ~ Thank you! I don’t at the moment have any plans for a 2.5, but I appreciate your interest.
    All best,
    Caragh

  • Hi Caragh. I am enjoying your series. Yesterday I finished Birthmarked and I started Priced. To my surprise while surfing I discovered that there is an in between book. Now I am wondering. What to do? Should I stop reading Priced and read Tortured first. Oh oh the problems of Life. lol
    Like others i also cannot wait for book 3 but at least I still have 1.5 book to read. 😉

  • Marlene ~ Ha! Fortunately, it’s a problem with happy solutions. “Tortured” is a story, about the length of a chapter, and you can read it anytime. You’re the first person I’ve heard of who might read it in the middle of Prized. It’s all good.
    All best,
    Caragh

  • Yay. Yes it is 1.5 so I think I will take a little break from Prized and read Tortured. Sorry about the typo. English is not my first language and the spell check did not warn me 😉
    I will recommend your books to my friends on goodread. Take care.

  • Caragh! I just finished Prized. What a great read. Spoiler. I admit I wanted her to end up with Peter. I just fell in love with him, even though I liked Leon in the first book, Peter was just dreamy! Can’t wait for the third book!

  • Nadia ~ I’m so happy you enjoyed Prized! SPOILER back at you. I like Peter, too. Actually, I like them all. That’s the problem! It was nice to have a third book to play with, too.
    All best,
    Caragh

  • I’m a high school student and i am so glad i came upon your book “Birthmarked” at my school’s library. So far I’m done with the first book and now I’m doing my English project on your book because i loved it so much. cant wait to read the second book and then the third. thank you so much for these books.

  • Melanie ~
    Thank you so much! I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying Gaia’s story, and I hope the next books engage you. I’m honored that you’re focusing on Birthmarked for your school project. Good luck!
    All best,
    Caragh

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