Beginnings

They happen all the time.

They happen all the time.

The bookstore is closed. This start is from the philodendron that used to be in the children’s section. The original is in my office, but I couldn’t let this tiny cutting get away.

I also have Shirley the penguin, the rubber plant that was in the children’s section as well, Clara the vulture, plenty of books, and over a decade of wonderful memories from the store. And yes, it’s closed, but my writing partner will have more time to, well, write.

Plenty of beginnings are built on scorched earth. I’m hoping this one takes root.

Release Day: KIN!

kin

It’s release day for Kin, the final fairytale retelling in my Beauty & Madness series!

Full moon. Glowing eyes. Red lips. And such sharp, sharp teeth…

In the kin world, girls Ruby de Varre’s age are expected to play nice, get betrothed, and start a family—especially if they’re rootkin, and the fate of the clan is riding on them. But after a childhood of running wild in the woods, it’s hard to turn completely around and be demure. Even if your Gran is expecting it.

Then Conrad, handsome and charming, from a clan across the Waste, comes to New Haven to seal alliance between their two families. The sparks fly immediately. Conrad is smart, dominant, and downright gorgeous. Yet as Ruby gets to know him more, she starts to realize something’s…off.

Then, the murders start. A killer stalks the city streets, and just when Ruby starts to suspect the unimaginable, she becomes the next target. Now Ruby’s about to find out that Conrad’s secrets go deeper than she ever could have guessed—and it’s up to Ruby to save her Gran, her clan, and maybe even herself….

Ruby’s story was so, so difficult to write. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the girls. All three hold a component of the young woman I was, perhaps, and it’s difficult to let that go. Not to mention these books, like the original fairy tales, cover some very dark territory indeed. I leave it to the reader to decide if they serve.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add that Ruby owes a great deal to Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland, a book that told me I wasn’t the only one long, long ago. Ruby also serves as a reminder to me that even the people who seem the most “together” have secrets, flaws, and fears all their own.

Above all, Ruby (and Cami and Ellie) belong to the world at this point. I’m so glad their interconnected tales can all be seen at once, now. And if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the rest of release day in my usual state of nerves and adrenaline, with a heavy soupçon of hiding in the corner…

Real Commitment

swac Issue 21 of Fireside is out, which means more Geoff and Abby! True to form, Abby’s decided the most efficient way to get what she wants, and in this case, that means getting into a bar-brawl.

Do I even need to say how much I really like this character? Once she makes up her mind, she is ALL IN, no matter the craziness. I respect that, both in characters and in meatspace. It shows real commitment.

kin Also, tomorrow is the release day for KIN, my retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Preorders and first-week book orders are important, so I’m going to be hitting the marketing gong for a little bit.

This is the last YA book I’ll be releasing for a good long while, possibly ever. Publishing in YA for Strange Angels was a wonderful experience, but there was a certain friction between the publisher, I think, wanting something a little more “marketable” and me in my corner, just not that sort of writer. The issues became somewhat acute during the fairytale retellings. I do not write by committee and will resist, in any way possible, any suggestion meant to take the blood and guts out of a story because “kids can’t handle that!” I refuse to “talk down” to younger readers, and while I think the fan response justifies that, it’s nerve-wracking for a publisher. I perhaps wasn’t as graceful as I could be during the whole process, either. During Wayfarer, the Cinderella retelling, I was buying a house, and we all remember how stressful THAT was.

So, yeah. The constraints of YA, and the energy spent fighting against dilution and bullshit in that genre, mean I’m tapped out and won’t return there for a good long while.

All that aside, I love the fairytale retellings with a fierce, fierce love. I fought for them, and the covers are wonderful, and I think in each of them I ended up saying what I set out to say. I think that comes through in them. I hope readers agree.

Hazelnuts

hazelnuts

The Princess did homemade Nutella for a friend’s birthday–a true labour of love that involved blanching and peeling, then roasting, the little bastards. Hazelnut skins dye things a very strong red, as we found out. The towel she’s using still bears the marks, and there was a ring inside the pan used to blanch them that defied all sorts of scrubbing. The ring has since faded, but the towel is still streaked with red, and we affectionately call it the “hazelnut towel.”

She may make more Nutella for my own birthday. Because she’s amazing. My girl.

On “Ulysses”

dream landscape 2 I finished Ulysses. My goodness, that was a slog. The allusions are fun, though characterization and coherence suffer roundly, and while I understand it’s supposed to be one of the first and most important “modernist” novels I’m rather convinced it was luck that chose it for that laurel rather than some other pile of authorial navel-gazing coming to Sylvia Beach‘s attention. I also rather think Stephen Dedalus was Joyce as he wanted to be, Leopold Bloom more like the hapless fetishizer of bottoms Joyce actually was. Circe’s island as a brothel, the Sirens as masturbatory fantasies, well, it was a man writing it, and it’s rather uncomfortably in the spirit of the original’s social conditions. Making Penelope into a cuckolding Molly only serves to highlight the fact that Joyce didn’t know shite about women, and is the biggest blackening of the Odyssey‘s eye–and the one, really, that I did not forgive Joyce for. His overheated (and inaccurate) fantasies about what a woman might think made me roll my eyes so hard it was difficult to keep reading.

I agree with Jung that there’s no rest in the book. The presentation of bodily functions in its pages (part and parcel of the “obscenity” trial) is schoolboy-ish, rather like a kid writing “bottom” in a margin or snort-giggling over Lake Titicaca. (Had Beach been enamored of another author, I might well be discussing that instead of Joyce. He was well-connected, at least.) I suppose that was only to be expected, and that schoolboy-ish or not it was daring for its time and opened a door somewhat–so that’s one point in Joyce’s favor.

I understood the allusions and the games with prose and rhetoric Joyce was playing, but it felt like he was simply dipping a surface reading of the Odyssey into used bathwater without adding anything new, interesting, or worthwhile, while taking away a great deal of power and beauty. Also missing is the idea that choices the truly disenfranchised (women, slaves, etc.) make can affect the outcome of great events as well, which the original had in spades. I’d almost prefer O Brother, Where Art Thou? as a finer homage. The Coen brothers had the benefit of looser social conditions, but still.

My views are admittedly somewhat colored by my feelings about the Kerouac Factor–young males sponging off women and kin, going off in search of “adventure,” finally producing a pile of self-referential bullshit that seems marvelous when one is twelve to fourteen but ages badly and turns puerile once one has acquired some basic perspective by sheer dint of living and thinking about things. (Or, one who wanders unprepared into the damn wilderness because living on the fringes has given a false sense of superiority and an inaccurate estimation of one’s own survival skills.) You could also call this the Salinger Factor. It’s gotten to the point where I see a young guy buying On the Road or Catcher in the Rye and I think, oh, we’re going to stick that in a back pocket and use it to draw in girls who haven’t lived long enough to know better, aren’t we. As a “classic” that a lot of slightly older males use to seem well-read and Serious About Literature, Ulysses falls somewhat under the same shade.

My final estimation of the book: not one I ever think I’m going to reread, though I’m glad I made it through. The allusions were fun, and playing the “oh, this is the prose style we’re in now” game was enjoyable, at least. I still would prefer to read Nora’s letters. I’d rate it a solid B-, for the classicism and the glimpses of historical Dublin, and for the occasional flashes of brilliance struggling through in Joyce’s sendup of penny awkward (instead of dreadful) novels. I kept reading, hoping for more of those flashes, but in the end, they remained fleeting.

Next up: some history to cleanse the palate. Already it’s proving far more enjoyable.

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Who’s Watching Over Boo Radley?

Mockingbird This morning: my 9th fastest tempo run, according to Runkeeper. Performed in the rain, of course, since I waited to see if the soggy was just a squall I could wait out and finally decided fuck it, let’s go. Now that I’m finally dry and settled with some tea, the rain’s stopped. Miss B doesn’t care–she’s wash and wear, having an amazing Aussie coat that shrugs off dirt and water with astonishing ease. She is currently a little damp and just a tad fluffy, and supremely happy with the world since she had bacon grease with brekkie and a run with Mum.

The news broke this morning about a “new” Harper Lee novel. At first my response was “RING ALL THE BELLS, HOLY HELL, THIS SOUNDS GREAT! PREORDER IT NOW NOW NOW!”

And then…I started thinking, and I arrived very much where this Jezebel writer did.

“The existence of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was unknown until recently, and its discovery is an extraordinary gift,” said HarperCollins publisher Jonathan Burnham in a statement.

But was the gift willingly given?

“After much thought and hesitation I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication,” Lee said in a statement of her own. “I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

That might seem like confirmation of Lee’s willing involvement in Go Set a Watchman’s publication, except for the fact that we know about Lee’s messy relationship with her attorney (who, again, often gets her to sign things that she doesn’t understand) and Lee’s own publicity-shy character. (Jezebel)

What emerges after a little digging (try this Vulture piece first, then go see what else you can find) is a situation that sounds incredibly sketchy. Harper Lee lost her sister, the lawyer Alice Lee, who Harper called her “Atticus in a skirt,” and since then, things have gotten shadier and shadier, culminating in this “mystery” find of a Mockingbird prequel and its sale.

Now I’m torn over whether or not I want to buy it. On the one hand, To Kill A Mockingbird is transcendent, and I’d gladly read other things Ms Lee wrote–if I was sure she wanted them read. On the other hand, an almost-century-old woman is in assisted living, signing papers or statements she may or may not understand, may or may not be pressured to sign, and the things she valued all her life–her privacy and her decision to let the one book stand alone–are being broken. I dread the thought of a frail Lee being milked as a cash cow, I loathe the thought of being part of such a milking. It doesn’t seem ethical.

I haven’t decided yet; it bears some more thinking. But I have to say, right now I’m leaning towards the idea that it would be an insult to Lee to participate in this frenzy.

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Too Soon To Tell

Genesis I finished Killer Elite last night, and am attempting Ulysses next. Which will be a tiny bit of a change, I’m sure. Joyce doesn’t interest me as much as he probably could–except for his love letters to Nora–mostly because he’s one of the Dead White Men of Litrachur. (And frankly, Nora’s vanished letters interest me much more.) All the same, reading to understand allusions other authors have made is good for one’s soul, and one should try things one suspects one will dislike regularly, in order to keep a certain flexibility.

Other than that, work continues, as usual. I was a trifle surprised yesterday when someone labeled me a “hater” for saying “you might want to think about why your mind immediately went that, good luck.” Of course, the instant one doesn’t respond the way someone else thinks one should, the labels start to fly fast and furious. I noticed this in the most recent breakup as well. Most people have a script, and if you don’t give your line, they suddenly become towering, rage-filled petty dictator-directors, throwing the pages at you and screaming “you’ll never work in this town again!”

My response to that has become strangely blasé. Mostly because I grew up in an environment with constantly changing “scripts” roiling around me and the adults in my life ready to severely punish any wrong answer. I’ve become troublingly good at unpacking the response the other person truly wants, not just what they say they want. (Like any sharp tool, it cuts both ways–but that’s say it with me, another damn blog post.) The luxury of therapy is that I’ve trained myself to stop and make a conscious decision to give what the other person wants or not, and feel much less guilty when I misread someone else’s agenda. Gone are the days when I jump simply because someone applies the electrodes of “I NEEEEED this from you!” Which is a pretty damn good feeling, actually.

That all brings me to another article I read yesterday, on what grown children might “owe” to abusive, toxic, or destructive parents. I went round and round, in therapy, over my feelings of obligation versus my need to keep my psychic, emotional, and physical integrity intact so I can care for those I have a greater obligation to–namely, my children and the one or two people who have proven themselves to be trustworthy friends. In the end, the guilt is less than the damage that would be done if I ever re-engaged with any number of toxic people. I suppose getting older means weighing two evils in just such a manner, and choosing the less cumulatively calamitous one.

Outside, the hyacinths and crocuses have lifted their little green heads. Daffodils have begun showing signs of tiptoeing forth as well. It’s a bit early, but after our last deep freeze winter’s been very mild, all things considered. It might turn out to be a good year for the garden.

Of course, getting older also means you look at a sentence like that and constantly think, well, it’s too soon to tell.

Indeed.

photo by: Indy Charlie

Simple, Not Easy

come n say 'hello' to my new friend It’s a cold morning. I did glance up and see the entire east sky a rather disconcerting shade of pink behind the cedars, a sight so arresting I watched until the color bled away. It didn’t take long–Aurora is a vibrant goddess, but she moves very quickly. By the time she’s gone and Sol has fully risen–and in winter, he fills my office with his morning glow for a brief fifteen minutes before going about the rest of his business–I am settled and chipping words out of my cranium, one at a time.

Of course, the temptation to get up and start wandering the house, or to sit and stare or surf the glorious interwebs, is stronger on some days. Today’s one of them. I have a serious case of the “I don’t fucking want to”s. Even this post–the words you’re reading this moment–are a form of procrastination. At least with a blog I feel like I have to write at least something on a semi-regular basis, and it often serves as sort of a throat-clearing for the day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my advice to people who “want to be writers.” I say “do it every day, then. No day is so busy that you don’t have ten minutes to write. Writers write, writers write daily.” This is usually met by howls of indignation–how dare you tell me when to write, how dare you imply I’m not a writer if I don’t write every day! I mostly just shrug at that point, because, well, it’s time to get back to work. I realize there are professionals who don’t write “every day,” but you weren’t asking them for advice, you were asking me, and I say, write every fucking day.

Now, many people will take that for an answer and go think about it, but there’s always those charming individuals who start howling afresh. “But what if I’ve been in/on a car accident/earthquake/hospital/alien starship examining table, huh? WHAT THEN?” Well, then you’ve got some great fucking material. That upheaval in your normal life is going to affect a lot of stuff. Writing is part of a writer’s normal daily life; if your daily life is all fucked up by catastrophe, fine, get that settled and go back to writing.

“BUT WHAT IF MY LIFE NEVER GETS SETTLED?” Then you need to rethink things, honey, but that’s not my problem. You asked me about being a writer. There are people who live on crisis, there are even people who adrenaline-junkie thrive on it. (I should know, I was one.) If your crises are constant, maybe look at what need of yours is getting fulfilled by that constant emotional upheaval–and start writing that shit down.

Usually, once my questioner has gotten themselves worked up to the point of “what if my life never gets settled?” I disengage. At that point, it’s not about writing, it’s about my questioner wanting me to validate them on some emotional level I don’t have the energy to coddle anyone but my kids or occasionally very close friends through, and they’ve picked writing as a subject in order to get their indignation addiction fed or some sort of emotional tea-and-cookies session. I am considering a change in my behavior here, to disengage at least one step earlier, at the “what if I’ve been abducted by aliens” point.

Life is never going to be “settled,” for you or me or anyone else. You’re never going to “feel like it.” I never do either, despite writing being a deep psychological (almost physical) need, as well as the means by which I feed my dependents and my book habit. It’s a daily struggle. I enlist habit and discipline as allies to get that need (and my mortgage payment) met. It is extremely simple, but never easy.

There, throat-clearing done. Now that I’ve given myself this stern reminder as well, I have to go back to Cal and Trinity, and get him shot and her arrested. It certainly helps that I enjoy my job on days like this.

Over and out.

photo by: linh.ngan

Two Awesome Things

Western Diamondback (Crotalus atrox) Yesterday two utterly awesome things happened.

The smaller awesome thing: I finished the zero draft of Rattlesnake Wind. That was my NaNoWriMo goal this year, and it happened. The book has been tormenting me for YEARS and it’s finally, finally done. It’s no longer unfinished. It is an ex-partial. It will be put in a drawer for a while, so I can finish the zero draft of Gallow 2. (No rest for the wicked.) If I can manage to get Gallow 2 to zero draft form by the end of November I’ll consider myself a badass for at least a week.

The bigger awesome thing, though…my girl C had another PET scan yesterday. The cancer-masses of Hodgkin’s (she calls them “cancer nuggets” because she is just that hilarious) that were visible last time?

Gone. Gone, gone gone. GONE.

She still has to finish the remaining months of chemo, but we have official proof that it’s working. She’s officially in remission. This is the best possible news at this stage. You could knock me over with a feather, I’m so weak-kneed with relief and happy enough to explode. Her fighting chance just got a whole lot better.

I know a lot of you sent help and support in various ways. Thank you so much. Thanks are also due to the fabulous cadre of medical professionals fighting for my girl.

And now, the sun is coming up and it’s time for me to head back to work. I’m hoping today is only moderately awesome. Yesterday about did me in.

Over and out.

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Inside and Out

Mantra The wind’s still up, combing the firs and pines, stripping away weak or dead limbs. This morning there was frost on the threshold, and the weather report says something about snow or “winter precipitation.” Given how everyone around here drives at the sight of a white flake or two, it’s probably best to stay off the roads entirely.

I have a few minutes now to go sit and breathe, and let everything inside me wind down and (hopefully) come to a rest. I got up early, and spent the majority of the day as a chemo squire. That’s the person who drives the patient there, steps and fetches stuff, talks quietly, is supportive, sometimes asks pertinent questions the patient might not think of, adjusts the pillows, holds the space, and finally drives yon exhausted patient home. It’s pretty fascinating to see the drips and the various safety measures–for example, two people verbally checking with the patient, each other, and the paperwork to make sure they have the right dose, the right person, and the right timing. The means for taking vitals have come a long way–a wrist thingummy to take blood pressure and pulse, temporal thermometer, a fingertip thingummy to measure oxygenation in the peripherals. The chemicals themselves send a shiver down my back.

C was peppier today afterwards than she generally is, but the process is beginning to wear on her. It is, after all, poison being fed in, slow drip by slow drip, to kill off the malignant bits while the rest of her survives.

Some people have a veneer, and when that gets worn away you get glimpses of what they really are underneath. With C, though, you can scratch and scratch, and she’s the same clear through. People who are the same inside and out are rare and precious.

I’m hoping she makes it.

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