Homecoming Day

She was at the shelter, behind chain-link. On either side of her were hounds, doing what hounds do–baying frantically at everything. She sat there, patiently suffering, and looked up as I approached as if she’d been waiting to hear my footsteps. Our gazes met, and she cocked her head. Can we go home now, please? This is noisy.

“Oh, honey,” I murmured, crouching down at the door to her cubby. “Yes. Certainly.” And she licked my fingers through the chain-link.

A year ago I brought her home. She was sick and shaky, uncertain and frightened. But she licked my hand when I petted and soothed her, and settled in the crate I’d set up in my bedroom. She lay down with a sigh, only hauling herself up to come check on me when I was forced to wander away and deal with other things around the house.

The first night was hard on us both. Everything was new for her, plus her stomach was upset. She’d been spayed at the shelter, the lingering anesthesia made her unstable. Every time I carried her thirty-five pounds outside (and got dog effluvia all over my robe for my trouble, since she couldn’t hold it, poor thing) she nestled in my arms and rested her head on my shoulder. She whined a little until I could get her to take the pain reliever, and each time she threw up (or worse) on my bed or in her crate she would look apologetic and I would reassure her it was all right. You’ve had a hard day, sweetheart. Just relax. And I would drag something else to the washer.

She recovered quickly. By dawn the next morning she was looking for ways to earn her keep. I’ll sit. I’ll stay. I’ll herd the cats. Just tell me what you want me to do! She gave new meaning to the term “dogging one’s footsteps.” It’s like having a toddler again, I said, you even have to pee with an audience.

When she was fully recovered we went running. She settled in like she’d been doing it all her life. The trainer who came out said “I’ve rarely seen a pair so attuned as you guys.” I grinned and she leaned against me, watching intently.

She’s a cautious soul, sometimes finicky. Standoffish with new people, and it took a while to let her know that she didn’t have to greet every newcomer with a snarl. (That is, after all, my job.) Smart, tenacious, stubborn, loving, eager to please, willing to do anything I ask as soon as she understands the request. I can sleep more easily at night, knowing her ears will perk at the slightest breath of sound. She’s chased away all manner of terror, and when she rolls over and offers her belly for scratching it’s with complete, abandoned trust.

A year ago, she came home for good. The instant we met, I couldn’t imagine living without her. She’s my girl.

Happy Homecoming Day, Miss B. May we have many more.

If you’d like to mark Miss B’s Homecoming, pop on over to the Southwest Washington Humane Society and kick in a couple bucks. They can always use the help.

Proportion? What’s That?

danorbit. /Stock Photos

There are several times during the publishing process when one is tempted to lose all sense of proportion, heave everything out the window, and go be a plumber instead. (Or a stock-car driver. Or a rubbish collector. Anything other than a wordmonkey.) The one I’m currently in now is copyedits.

Copyeditors are those brave souls who descend upon one’s manuscript and pick through it with a fine-tooth comb. Punctuation. Grammar. Internal consistency. Formatting. Everything. As you might guess, these people are quiet heroes. I can tell you that if I had to copyedit, I would quickly reach the point of flinging myself off a bridge. It takes a keen eye and a lot of patience.

Getting copyedits back is like failing a test. The sheer amount of markup even on a light copyedit (i.e., a manuscript that didn’t need “much” in the way of corrections) is stunning the way an iron club to the head is stunning. Queries in the margins need to be stetted (“stet” means “let it stand”; “STET GODDAMMIT” means “the writer is a cranky little panda right now and should probably be asleep instead of crouched over this goddamn manuscript, unwashed and hungry, at 3AM.” I’ll let you figure out what “STET MOTHERFUCKER STET” means.) or answered; decisions need to be made, things need to be cross-checked and made consistent. Every single glaring writerly flaw one possesses is highlighted, in neon. Ten feet tall.

It’s amazing a writer has any ego left after this sort of thing. But I suppose a writer’s ego is like a Weeble. Or like cockroaches. Gas ’em, dust ’em, smash ’em, but they just keep coming back. Maybe it’s because being addicted to the sweet crack of wordslinging insulates us. Or because we’re stupid-crazy.

Guess which one my money’s on?

So yeah. Sense of proportion: gone. Sanity: never much to begin with. More coffee: brewing. Copyedits: Going down.

Over and out.

Lucky

R Scott Photography /Stock Photos

Snow in the middle of March. Across the street, the neighbors have a snowman listing contentedly to the side, a scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. The plum tree out back has just begun to flower, so there are little pink flashes under a blanket of white.

Every time the plum tree blooms, it’s a silent reminder from a friend. In the fall, the sycamore out front holds onto her leaves for as long as possible, tucking the neighborhood in before she goes to sleep. Spring, though, the plum wakes up, and its glory of blossom reminds me of catching sight of it out a back window one day and thinking, I can do this. No matter how terrible it gets, I can do this.

There are moments when something else in the world resonates exactly to the shard of soul lodged in one’s own chest. The piercing sensation of not being absolutely alone, the feeling that all is going to be well, the fierce calm of utter knowledge. Those moments of grace, of connection, can keep one going for a long time.

So today’s a snow day. I get to hug my kids, I get to gaze out the back window at the plum tree’s silent cry of hope. I get to listen to a dog’s contented snoring and a cat’s deep thrumming purr. I get all the little things that make up home.

I’m lucky.

The Click Of Critical Mass

Joseeivissa /Stock Photos

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

I have a theory about corporations–I am certain it isn’t my theory, but I can’t dig up where it started. Anyway, the theory is this: after a certain point, a company stops acting like a group of disparate people who have a vision and turns into an organism with its own set of priorities (top of which is self-preservation) and preferred methods. A lot of corporate behaviour makes sense once one views it thus. (Or at least, is slightly less puzzling.)

I mention this because there is a certain point during the writing of a book (usually around 30K) or a short (usually somewhere right before the crest of the plot arc) where the story, for lack of a better term, jells. It stops acting like a bunch of separate pearls on a string and more like an actual necklace. It acquires its own momentum and its own shape, and at that point, the act of writing is less like hammering together a houseframe and more like excavating an already-built structure.

This does not mean it gets easier, mind you. There are still the long dreadful shoals of God, Please Help Me Stab This Book So It Will Die, Stab It Again, Stab It Again to get through. This is where a lot of ‘new’ or aspiring writers stumble–they think the book is broken, when really what is happening is that it’s behaving like its own thing and requires multiple wounds before it will lay down and die.

…you can tell I have a bitch of a cold today, can’t you? Anyway.

A book can be broken for any number of reasons, but it’s hard to tell if it’s broken or just unfinished. (I talk about broken books a little more here.) A finished broken book can most likely be fixed; a broken unfinished book can be strip-mined for other stuff. Nothing’s ever really wasted, even the unfinished trunk novels that sit in the graveyard and clatter every once in a while. How can you tell the difference? It’s difficult, but finishing a few books (broken or not) will sharpen whatever ability to tell you do have. It will also teach you loads about your own process for getting a whole corpse on the table for dissection, so to speak. (See: Finishing Requires Finishing.)

It will also accustom you to the particular “click” that happens when a book acquires critical mass and begins behaving like an organism instead of a Frankenstein jumble of parts. For me it’s a very physical sensation. I feel it in my chest and fingertips, and suddenly the world of the book, which had a narrow focus like a pencil light’s beam, broadens and I can see every shot in wide-angle. Not only that but the colors take on the peculiar cast of the series’ (if it is a series) “lighting” instead of a sort of tinted sepia. It’s gotten to the point, after several books, where I wait for that click and then shift over, kind of like dropping a car into a different gear, into “excavation” mode instead of “building” mode. It requires a different set of mental muscles, and I think that shift throws a lot of ‘new’ writers for a loop. All of a sudden the work is behaving oddly, and the circle of “am I doing this right, oh Christ, why is it different, what the fuck?” panic bleeds off energy needed for writing. And that’s no good.

After all, the name of the game is to keep on, correct? Keep on, and stab the goddamn manuscript…

Beauty, Madness, Red Plague

deflam /Free Photos

Yeah, so…apparently I’m dating. This surprises everyone, me included, but I guess when he carries all your stuff through Ikea and brings you flowers each time he sees you, that’s really guy-code for “I like you.” (Who knew?) Plus, my inner goddess approves of all the adoration. It’s nice to be flattered.

In other news, it’s been Officially Announced, so I suppose I can finally say something about it here: Razorbill will be bringing out my next YA series, Tales of Beauty & Madness, soonish. I’ve been fascinated with fairytales and Brothers Grimm for a long time, and the first Tale, Heartless, is something that’s been boiling in the back of my head for a while. I’m working on the second book now–the series is also partly my homage to Kieslowski’s Three Colors, which just about exploded my tiny little brain when I saw it the first time. Further bulletins as events warrant–I will tell you, though, that my working title for the first Tale was Snow White and the Seven Mob Bosses. Heh.

I’m also working on the second Bannon & Clare, The Red Plague Affair. I broke 25K yesterday, and the book is finally starting to hang together as a whole, though it hasn’t made that clicking sound and started pulling itself forward under its own steam (ha ha) just yet. There has been a monkey, a broken neck, and the death of a character so far, though. So the initial signs are good.

How about some links, too? Anna Genoese gives a piece of Very Good Advice, Chuck Wendig talks about creativity, Ilona Gordon notes a few things about procrastination (and I should tell you, both graphics pretty much approximate my working style), and a very interesting piece on Cardinal Richelieu. Enjoy! I’ll be over in the corner beating my head on my desk and weeping softly while I try to make Red Plague suck a little less.

Wish me luck.

Tuesdays Don’t Deserve That

www.jordiarmengol.net (Xip)

I dropped the Princess off at school this morning. “We should just shoot Mondays,” I said, staring at the demolition-derby that is the middle-school parking lot in the morning.

“Then,” she replied gravely, “everyone would just hate Tuesdays. And Tuesday doesn’t deserve that.”

I love that kid.

Hi! Good morning. Have some Storyville streetwalkers, photographed by the guy they based Pretty Baby on. Also, have a note on creativity as a skill.

I had a good weekend. It involved wine, cooking for various people, and a Sunday sleepily spent watching people play video games, then eating chocolate almond clusters and toddling to bed early. I even remembered to set my clocks forward (well, “remembered” might be too strong a word; “my writing partner reminded me eight times” might be more like it) and found out that I’m out of batteries for my Wall o’Cat Clox. Which reminds me, I have to look for another one–there’s a bare spot on aforementioned wall.

So, yeah. My Monday is gray, I’m scattered and head-stuffed with an approaching cold (my children love me and like to give me things) and I have no idea what Bannon has planned next in The Red Plague Affair. Guess I’m just going to have to write and see.

*yawn* I’m on that. But first, some cat clocks…

How We Get Caught

Am home in a house full of flu and stomach flu this morning, so…yeah. This is just going to be a drive-by post. But a useful one.

Captain Awkward this morning had a question:

Why don’t our jerkbrains understand that the reward for staying in a terrible job is More Bad Job? (CAwkward)

Which made me think, again of Issendai’s marvelous posts on sick systems and why we stay in them. It’s amazing how easy it is to tire a human being out and get them to maintain their own slavery. Anyone can be broken, and it doesn’t even take pain to do it. It just takes exhaustion, and your victim possessing a few noble qualities.

Also, Captain Awkward’s column is some damn fine readin’. You’re welcome.

Off I go to clean things up one more time…

Comment Trauma

Just a quick note: I installed a plugin that was supposed to make the site more secure. (Stupid hackers making me paranoid.) Anyway, it did, I guess…but it also ate several comments. Which I just figured out today. So if you made a comment and it didn’t show, no, I’m not holding it in the mod queue or anything. (Except for the trolls. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Gah.) It was just…eaten by the security plugin. Which I have now tweaked so it will not do so. Instead I’ll be feeding it toenail clippings and jam.

Flying Psychotic Cat

doug88888 /Free Photos

SCENE: Early-early morning at Casa Saintcrow. All is dark, and quiet. A bedroom, nice and peaceful.

Me: *zzzzzzz*
Mad Tortoishell Cat: *purr*
Miss B: *soft canine snores*

Tranquil, no? I’m on my side, arm stretched out from under the pillow, fingers resting against a cat’s soft fur. Miss B is at my feet.

Me: *zzzzzzz*
Miss B: *soft canine snores*
Mad Tortie: *stops purring*

Silence.

Miss B: *soft canine snores*
Me: *zzzzzz nice warm bed*
Mad Tortie:

And then…

Mad Tortie: KILLKILLKILLKILLKILLKILLMUTILATEDESTROY!
Me: zzzzzAUGH WHAT THE HELL EATING MY ARM CLAWS AUGH!
Miss B: What is it? What? Is it breakfast? Breakfast?
Mad Tortie: KILLKILLKILL! Mrphlegrp! *can’t talk, mouth full of human flesh*
Me: JESUS CHRIST CAT WHAT THE FUCK?
Miss B: Breakfast? Breakfast?

I am a little sorry about what happened next.

But only a little. I grabbed the Mad Tortie and heaved.

Mad Tortie: KILLKILLKILL WHAT FLYING FLYING WHEEEEEEEE*thud*
Me: WHAT. THE FUCK. *examines bleeding arm*
Miss B: Is that breakfast? Cause, you know, I could really use some…
Me: STOP LICKING MY BLOOD.
Miss B: You’re up! I missed you! Breakfast?
Mad Tortie: *shaking head, dazed* I WAS FLYING. DID ANYONE SEE THAT?

I don’t know what manner of vicious animal she thought my arm was. But I am confident that should one of it appear, it will not survive its inclusion in our goddamn Dr Doolittle Nightmare of a household.