Screaming In

Aih. / Foter

Cake. Presents. Parties. What’s not to love?

A lot, actually. But it’s not what you think.

I don’t mind getting older. The more of the temporal stream I have tucked under my belt, the better I feel. For one thing, I have my own car and bank account now. Which means I can pretty much escape any situation I need to. Such was not always the case when I was a wee thing.

What do I hate about birthdays?

I hated how everything always had to be Perfect. If it wasn’t Perfect, I had failed to be loving or anticipatory enough. I hated the subtle digs about how I had ruined the world by being born all day. I hated the double chores, I hated being on eggshells the entire day, I hated the inevitable explosion when I did not produce enough gratitude, or when my face held the wrong expression, or when I didn’t correctly anticipate someone’s mood and needs.

I love other people’s birthdays. I flat-out adore making cakes for my kids and seeing their faces light up, I love calling my sisters and singing my Marilyn Monroe Happy Birthday. I love surprising people with pretty things on the anniversary of their arrival on this planet, because I cannot imagine the world without them. I feel such delight in doing those things for other people, it’s almost shameful.

But my own anniversary is something I’m trying desperately to forget. I wish the day would disappear in fire, and I do my best to unremember it. Every year the loathing gets fractionally less, a bit of desensitization therapy, I guess. Maybe when I’m 80 I’ll finally feel like I’ve earned a place or just some breathing room, and make my peace with the day I came screaming in.

Brain Cooking? No, Just The News.

bruckerrlb / Foter

GMO mosquitoes.

Growling cannibal attack.

The naughtiest Merchant of Venice.

Either the world is getting stranger, or Tuesday has decided to take over for the Monday we just had off, or I’m still fevered and seeing everything through a fog of decongestant and brain-cooking. All are equally likely.

Anyway, I just came off the flu from Hell and one of the most stressful times of year for me. Tune in tomorrow to find out why I hate birthdays!

Until then…be careful out there. Especially of the mosquitoes.

Why Different?

deflam / Foter

I just finished Judith Walkowitz’s excellent City of Dreadful Delight; I have her Prostitution and Victorian London in the revolving TBR stack, as well as a bunch of Jack the Ripper books.

Can you tell what the next Bannon & Clare features?

Speaking of which, I received a missive from a possibly-disgruntled fan this morning, inquiring why I’m not writing more Jill Kismet/Danny Valentine/leather and gunfire books. I am unsure whether Possibly-Disgruntled is upset that my current works are fantasy, YA, and weird alt-historical-with-magic-things; I’ve taken off down the path of Writing Different Things all my life. I wasn’t precisely bored with Jill Kismet–I could have happily written her several different character/story arcs–but I do like the chance to stretch myself. Doorstop fantasy was one of my first loves, and I wrote two trunk-novels that were sword-and-sorcery before I managed to produce something that would possibly sell in a completely different vein. I love fantasy, but at the point in my writing, I wasn’t good enough to write it.

Of course, I am sure some reviewers will say I’m no good at it now, or that I’m no good at anything. Opinions are like rectums–everyone has one, and everyone pretends theirs does not occasionally discharge effluvium.

This reminds me of the end of the first Valentine book, where people who had expected a paranormal-romance (heavy on the romance, HEA required) were rather rudely shocked. it also reminds me of several reviewers who openly wished I would go back to writing paranormal romance, instead of those icky books with gore and ambiguity. There will always be someone unhappy with what a writer is producing; there will always be someone unhappy when a change appears on the horizon.

Never mind that the “change” may be merely cosmetic–I’m sure there are “hallmarks” in my work. The figure of the inhuman protector, for one; a certain ambiguity in sexual matters, for another. I’m aware of my narrative kinks, and have largely made my peace with the fact that certain things are going to crop up, time after time. The themes need variation, or I wouldn’t be playing them. Genre is a pretty loose definition anyway, it has landmarks that are meant to be gently tweaked. Classification often says more about the person doing the classifying than anything else.

Anyway.

Why am I writing in “different” genres? Sometimes the story that falls out of my head isn’t easily pigeonholed in my “usual” genre. Sometimes I get an idea and want to try something different. Sometimes my writing partner makes an offhand comment, or I’ll go see a movie or read a book, that leads me down a new path. Sometimes I’m just plain having fun with a new set of shiny toys. It doesn’t change my commitment to telling a story the best way I know how, or my commitment to making every story that leaves my care and ventures out into the wider world as prepared as I can possibly make it. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m sitting here, day after day, ass in chair and fingers on keyboard, doing the work that must be done.

Those are the important things as far as I’m concerned. And goddammit, I am going to keep experimenting and doing what makes me wriggle with delight in my chair. And now, as Steven Brust once recommended tacking up on your writing wall, I am going to tell you something COOL. It’s what a writer does.

God knows we have to get some giggles out of this slogging game.

Over and out.

You’re Nice Anyway

Compound Eye / Foter

Today, dear Reader, I entered the heart of darkness.

Yes, that’s right. I chaperoned a school field trip.

The Little Prince’s school went on a Dozer Day. We even had sunny weather, a rarity here in the mossy PNW.

The mental checklist went like this: Sunscreen? Check. Fresh first-aid kit? Check! Kerchief and two hankies? Check! Extra travel pak of tissues? Checkity-check check! Hip flask? … Hip flask?

OH DAMMIT.

Anyway. I was responsible for five kids, one of them my own lovely spawn. “Give me the troublemakers,” I told his teacher. “No. Seriously. It’ll be fine.”

And she did, and it was. “What, you think I was born yesterday? Put that back…The limit is two. Not three, four is right out…Oh, honey, he threw sand on you? Come on, let’s get you cleaned up…”

All went smoothly, the only hiccups being losing (and, thank God, finding) my cell phone (this was during the sand-flinging incident) and several pocket checks (“THE LIMIT IS TWO. Look, go hide those for other kids. Hide them so well nobody will ever find them.”) and one regrettable incident involving kids thinking it was a great idea to jump off huge tires stacked, I dunno, EIGHT FEET HIGH? (I put a quick stop to that, thankyouverymuch. The Little Prince’s teacher leaned over and said, “I had my doubts when you said to give you the troublemakers. I apologize.” Heh.)

I got told I was pretty, I got my hand held by every single kid in my little pod, and I got a hot dog for lunch. So it was pretty swell. We didn’t get to the driving of the big construction vehicles–the kids could sit/stand in front of the operator, and put their hands on the operator’s hands while the vehicle did its thing, it looked like a lot of fun. My little pod, instead, got to play in sandpiles taller than yours truly, in which were buried small “treasures” in plastic bags. There’s nothing like seeing a whole elementary-school’s worth of kids descend on a sandpile. It’s got to be one of the wonders of Nature.

Every child was exhausted and well and truly filthy by the time we boarded the buses to go back to school. Sitting on the bus, one of my pod–let’s call him Jerome–turned to me with a huge grin. “You know what {Little Prince’s name} said about you?”

“Nope. What?”

“He said you had a laser eye and you could make a kid behave just by looking at him.”

“Well.” I tried not to smile. “Do you think that’s true?”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “But you’re nice anyway. Look at the stickers I got!”

I tell you, of all the times today I had to keep a straight face, that one was the hardest.

I returned every child I was responsible for in original factory condition, and got to take the Little Prince home early. He had to go lie down, he was so exhausted. No doubt we will be finding sand all over the house (and my laser eye) for days to come. But it was totally worth it.

Even if next time, I am goddamn well taking the hip flask…

On Wordcount, and Snitty Entitlement

Paul Keheler / Foter

I’m not a writer because it’s easy; screw those who think it is. I’m not a writer because I want to live some sort of privileged life, or because I want to be rich, or even because it’s the only thing I can do.

I’m a writer because it’s challenging and I’m good at it. I’m a writer because I want to make things, as Doris Egan has said.

So let’s stop the faux blue collar anti-elitism, and let’s stop talking about the number of words a writer creates a day as some sort of measure of how hard they work. (Harry Connolly)

He’s got a point.

I actually do measure most writing days by wordcount, for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that it works for me; it short-circuits a number of nasty little voices in my head. Wordcount goals, for me, say “They don’t have to be good words. You can go back and chop and slice and make them pretty later. Get them out now, worry about the quality later.” (No doubt a number of people would snarkily remark that such a view is most likely what’s wrong with my hack work, but oh well.) The wordcount goals get me sitting down, nailed to the chair until I get past “priming the pump” and get into the state that is most conducive to creation. It’s a skill, not magic, and the more I cultivate the habit of writing every day the more magic actually happens. I got (and still get) a lot of flak for saying “writers write, do it every day“, but so what? I truly believe the consistent habit is what will get your writing where it needs to be, and it is your best friend if you want to get published–or just get better. Wordcount goals are a tool, and they may not work for some writers. They may work, but not well enough, for others. The critical thing is to do the goddamn work, and do it consistently.

Connolly’s post is more about the snideness directed at creatives lately, but I’m not going to talk about that. Because frothing at the mouth is tres unattractive on me, and it’s all I would be capable of doing if I started talking about how snitty people get sometimes when a writer is not giving exactly what said snitty person thinks they’re entitled to receive. Instead, I’m just going to wander over into the corner and set up my wordcount for the day.

Over and out.

On Fear, And Altered States

Felice Beato / Foter

Soldiers; she was a warrior, and the next few minutes would show the difference.Saber and Shadow

You know, I’d really go for hallucinogens if I hadn’t figured out how to jigger my brain chemistry into providing Technicolor narratives almost at will. Oh, sure, there are downsides–for example, dreaming in very bloody myth-language, or only rarely being able to get a jolt of unfiltered experience without trying to put it in a cage of words. But all in all, it’s pretty swank inside my skull most times.

Except for when I was up every hour on the hour, all night, dealing with a sick animal that I love to pieces and am terrified of losing. Then things get a little less tightly-bolted than usual, and when I step outside to take my morning run (because I MUST run, or I will implode) my brain starts serving up altered states of consciousness almost at random. (Human beings love getting high. So does every other damn species possessed of the capability. Consider this my quiet statement that fucking with your own brain chemistry through fiction and exercise is a lot better than most ways, and let’s leave it at that.)

Now, I do know that running produces endorphins and mucks your brain chemistry about. I know that I often fall into a fugue state while running anyway, during which plot tangles sort themselves out and arcs become crystal-clear. It’s another thing entirely to spend an entire hour-long run meditating on the nature of fear, and working oneself into a state planning for a zombie apocalypse while doing so.

Some days I wonder about me.

Anyway, I thought of Saber & Shadow, and Shkai’ra and Megan, and how the authors very much made Shkai’ra’s early childhood training under the Warmasters have consequences. She is, no doubt, a finely crafted killing machine, and a tactically-trained one too. It comes at a terrible cost–and yet, when she’s deliberately walking into the lion’s den, the reader is awfully, awfully glad that she has a chance of getting back out. (Plus, it makes her pretty blunt and unwilling to take Megan’s fears as a reason not to get involved…but that’s another blog post.)

A certain amount of training can overcome a certain amount of fear. But the lack of fear is not bravery, it’s foolhardiness. Don’t train to erase fear; it’s a sharp spur that keeps one alive. Doing what must be done anyway, in the face of even crippling fear, can and should be aimed for. Inducing a fear-soaked state and running it off is good practice…but not for the zombie apocalypse. (Well, yes, for that, but not solely.)

What it’s really really good for is motherhood–where every day is an exercise in the fear of having hostages to fortune, in the shape of tiny helpless dependent beings–and writing, where the fear of looking into the heart of darkness, the fear that tempts one to look away or punk out, isn’t even the biggest or worst scariness. Rejection, failure, copyedits (which are kind of like rejection) and reviews, making deadlines and the nailbiting of seeing if a publisher’s going to offer another contract–those are terrifying things. The business of writing does require some strong nerves, I’m afraid.

Hell, why do you think we love to drink so much?

Writing isn’t the only career that is prone and prey to panic–not even close. It’s not even in the Top Ten Terror-Soaked Vocations. To be human and perishable is to fear. It’s a condition mortal beings can’t escape. Which makes it all the more important to do what’s right, and necessary, and beautiful anyway, like looking unflinchingly at the truth of a story and making the commitment to bring it out. Training yourself past the fear of “they’re going to laugh at me” or “this will just get rejected anyway” isn’t difficult–the habit of writing every day chips away, little by little, water over rock. it will never go away completely, because the fear’s telling you where the juicy bits are, the parts that other people will read with their hearts in their mouths, feeling that jolt of connection that we all want so badly.

Ride the fear. Keep running, keep writing. Let the fear pass over you and through you, and when it has gone past, you may turn the inner eye to see its path.

We all know how that ends up.

Over and out.

Underimpressed

Mewling quim“, Mr. Whedon? Really? You’re proud of that?

Look, I like your work, and I even contributed to the Nothing But Red anthology. I was glad to, that post was awesome.

But I don’t think you’re the friend to feminism you’re seen as, and there’s only so far that post of yours will take me.

* Buffy sleeps with Angel…and he loses his soul. Sure, it’s because he’s “happy.” But as yet another instance of a teenage girl’s sexuality turning a boy into a monster, well, it’s narrative ground that’s been tread before.
* Just like the equation drawn in a few episodes of Faith’s aggressive sexuality (Xander, anyone?) being a component of her moral ambiguity and ease of shaking off murder.
* Mal calls Inara a whore, several times, in overt and covert ways…in a society where Companions are supposed to be so “respectable” that the ship wouldn’t be allowed to land without one on board.
* River Tam is so powerful…that her “neurons are stripped,” she’s “crazy” and uncontrollable, and her brother–and Mal–have to save her, over and over and over again.
* Zoe’s physically satisfactory (one presumes) relationship with Wash is cut short by his death, but her (second fiddle and faithful lieutenant) relationship with Mal is kept intact.

And don’t even get me started on the titillation factor of Willow and Tara. This is by no means an exhaustive list of questionable narrative choices when it comes to portraying women, and Whedon’s by no means the only one who does it. I suppose one could blame Hollywood at large–after all, it’s holy writ that any woman who possesses actual sexuality in a studio film must either be horribly disfigured/dead in some fashion (if unrepentant) or brought/remain under the control of a male figure by the end of the film (if properly repentant). (The one exception I’ve seen was The Last Seduction, and that wasn’t a box-office success despite being an incredible movie.) I understand that when one is soaking in a misogynist culture, it’s hard not to obey the tropes and assumptions coded into the very base of said culture.

All culminating in being “proud” of basically calling a woman a cunt. In a PG-13 film. Proud.

My ambivalence just ratcheted up a notch. Not to mention my disappointment.

Interesting Awakenings

fusion-of-horizons / Foter

I’d forgotten what it was like to get up every hour or two during the night with a small mammal desperately needing one’s help.

Well, to be honest, I hadn’t quite. One doesn’t forget things like that, they remain burned into one’s brain and nervous system. It makes for interesting awakenings–one finds oneself halfway across the room, clothes on and reflexes primed, before becoming fully conscious. Or one surfaces in the backyard, ankle-deep in dew-wet grass, blinking and holding a leash.

After a while, you might as well just stay up and write.

Anyway. Yesterday evening, thanks in no little part to Code Boy, who pitched in for sick-animal care so I could fall into the story and stay there for a long while, I finished the first draft of the second Bannon & Clare book, The Red Plague Affair. It starts with poison, sewage, and cardiac arrest; it ends with whistling. In between is plague, blood, murder, Mending, a mass grave, and the Moriarty to Clare’s Sherlock (in an homage-y sort of way). And more!

It’s resting safely with my editor, agent, and faithful trusty beta reader.And now I’m in the snapback phase, which means I should be working on the second in the Tales of Beauty and Madness

…but instead, I’m doing laundry, ministering to the sick mammals, and thinking it would be awesome if I could kill some pixels, and kill ’em good. WoW probably isn’t the best use of my time today, but dammit, I need a break.

Over and out.

Peeing Solo

Lawrence Whittemore / Foter

A lot of people replied to my last post. It’s nice to know that wanting to be alone is something that I’m, well, not alone in.

A significant percentage of people suggested the loo as someplace to go to be alone. I hate to break it to you, but after two toddlers and various pets, peeing alone is not the norm.

The kids are older now, but there were years of having bodily functions witnessed by wide-eyed little humans. First of all, what do you do when you’re the sole childcare provider and you know that leaving the little darlings alone for even thirty seconds of emptying one’s bladder means you may come back to a burning house, a limb lopped off, or something else equally unpleasant? (You think I jest? I do not, sir or madam. Toddlers are ambulatory chaos machines.) Plus, they were fascinated, and that fascination only grew as they became potty-trained. The Little Prince, a decade old now, still enjoys making various bodily noises and waiting for reactions.

I guess he always will.

But that’s nothing compared to cats. For some reason, every cat I have ever owned will decide–for months–that they must witness the Small Room Ritual. Various strategies will be employed, from yowling and stretching a paw under the door, to sliding between my ankles as I step inside, or streaking through the rapidly-closing door and scolding me if a whisker gets caught. With that done, the cat will invariably sit and observe with bright-eyed interest. The kind of interest they give to, for example, small wriggling bits of prey.

If nothing else inspires performance anxiety, being observed thusly by a clawed and fanged animal who will probably be the first to eat your face should you expire alone and unmourned will. And then, they suddenly quit doing it, leaving one even uneasier…until the next time they decide they absolutely must witness said performance again. In case, you know, it’s changed or something? I don’t know.

And…that’s nothing, compared to the dog. Miss B’s cold wet nose is practically attached to my knees all day, and God help both of us should I dare to close the door while performing an evacuation of any type. She has, after much moaning, learned to leave me alone while showering–mostly, I suspect, because she hates being dragged into the shower and washed, because afterward she can’t smell herself and it’s like being blind, OH THE DRAMA AND THE HEADSHAKING AND THE RACING AROUND THE HOUSE RUBBING ON THINGS. But the five to ten minutes spent trying to convince her not to cram herself through the door just can’t be spent when I have, so to speak, business to conduct. And the forlorn wailing outside the door should I manage to sneak into the Small Ritual Room by myself has to be heard to be believed.

I think she’s afraid the flush might drag me with it, and she’ll have to herd the cat with nobody watching for the rest of the day.

Anyway. Peeing alone rarely happens, and the loo is really not the sanctuary it could be. Although, with the way things are, I should probably be grateful there’s no goddamn squirrel in my shower, peering at me while I try to…ummm, yeah.

But that’s another blog post.

Miss Havisham Impersonation

VinothChandar / Foter

I’m not Garbo, but still.

I’m talking about the urge I get every so often to lock up my house and retreat to its recesses, snail in a shell, turtle hunching down. Not go out unless it’s absolutely unavoidable (and with the Internet, why bother to leave at all?) and to withdraw from even written interaction for a while. To take a bath in solitude.

Well, except for the cat. And the dog. And the kids. Pure solitude’s impossible to find unless one retreats to a mountaintop or something.

I read Anthony Storr’s Solitude a while ago, during the fallout from the divorce. It was good to see, in print, a discussion and celebration of being alone that didn’t presuppose one’s crazy to want to immure oneself behind a wall or two for a while.

I wonder, when this mood strikes me, if it’s somehow part of the constellation of weirdness that makes me, or just that I can indulge it because I have the luxury of working from home.

Anyway…I suppose I’m asking: what do you do, dear Reader, when you “just vant to be alone”?