Somewhat Cranky

Of course, the instant I step out the door to take both dogs for Odd Trundles’s constitutional, EVERYONE has to come down our street, from the rattling delivery trucks Miss B lunges at to schoolchildren she and Odd both desperately want to make acquaintance of, and bicyclists Miss B wishes to herd as well. And then there’s the guy walking his Rottweiler who sees me retreat into my driveway with both my dogs, OBVIOUSLY not wanting to interact, but crosses the street with his dog anyway and walks at the edge of my driveway while Miss B barks and lunges and Odd, excited now that Someone Is Making Noise, does everything possible to get in on the action. Then, once he was past my house, he went back to the other side of the street. He just could have stayed on that side to begin with and saved us all trouble.

Thanks, Creepy Dude. That was a beautiful fucking start to my morning.

Anyway, we persevered, and now Odd has been walked and is settled for his morning nap. As soon as I absorb some coffee and am relatively sure it will stay down, it’s out the door for a run, and I’m seriously considering not taking B. I’m not sure I have the patience to cut traffic for her today; both of us are somewhat cranky. I might simply make a circuit, take her for half my planned distance then bring her home and finish the other half on my own.

My subscribers get a fresh new chapter of Pocalypse Road today, and I aim to get at least 5k of wordcount in between Atlanta Bound–which is season four of Roadtrip Z–and the not-really-YA. It’s the latter that will really make me grit my teeth, probably because I’m worried my agent wants to sell the YA despite me telling her it’s not going to. And…well, I have feelings about YA publishing. Not writing books with teenage protagonists, which I like doing well enough when there’s a story that wants me to tell it. But the constant pushback from institutions scared of Bible Belt buckle-idiots clutching their pearls if a teen character says “fuck” or thinks about sex or drugs or any of the normal things teens sometimes do think about is exhausting, and was the thing that drove me away from YA. I still read it when I can, and I write stories with teen protagonists, I just…really don’t want to have to fight those uphill battles anymore. I do not have the energy.

Regardless, my agent asked for this book, and I promised, so it’s going to be as good as I can make it before it goes out the door to her. Which means serious wordcount, and putting in that POV I had no idea needed to be inserted until the zero draft was done, and which gave me a vertiginous feeling of telling the story from the wrong point of view anyway…but not really, because we need the other main POVs to understand just why this one is so compelling.

All in all, never a dull moment a la Chez Saintcrow. Also, this morning, I went down a side-road involving telepathic dogmen and frontier myth-making. So yeah, I can tell today’s going to be fun.

Over and out.

A Dead Book

Roaring lioness
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Mist hangs between the trees today. Our morning run will no doubt turn Miss B into a crinkle-puffy floof–her fur acquires zigzags when wet. Today’s run will be very gentle, very easy, recovery instead of pushing. It will frustrate us both, but pushing myself today will only lead to an injury, I can just tell.

I had to make a very difficult decision this past weekend. A book is dead in the water, with no hope of revival. Part of the murder was a series of unfortunate events at the publisher, a perfect storm I’ve never encountered in my professional life and will likely never encounter again. Nobody was a douche, nobody was ultimately responsible, it was just a collection of bad luck. The bad luck was fatal to the book, and admitting as much to myself and others was…difficult, to say the least.

But that’s why I have a writing partner, and friends, and an agent–so that when a series of complete disasters hits a book, I have outside measures by which to measure the scale of the disaster and my response. Often, my response is emotionally disproportionate, and the triad of objective feedback sources tells me so in no uncertain terms so I don’t go off the rails. (Or, at least, I don’t go very far off the rails.) This time, while my decision is not precisely optimal–I could phone in a spiritual corpse of a book, I suppose, if forced to; I could cause myself lasting damage by beating this dead book, if I forced myself to–it’s the only one I can take, and the triad agrees. While I am the kind of writer who will rip out her own entrails in bloody handfuls for a book because that’s the way it has to be, I am not the kind of writer capable of just phoning it in.

And tearing out my own entrails is only acceptable if there’s a recovery path afterward. Mixed metaphor, I know, but accounting for the emotional toll a book takes on you is good self-care.

It’s never easy when a book dies. I’ve had two die on me, and one was only resuscitated after years of patient care and a few unpopular decisions. This one…will not be resuscitated. I just can’t. Maybe I’m too old to keep throwing effort down a well, maybe I’m too tired and the world is too aflame for me to perform a necromancer’s trick when I could be writing other stories.

Either way, I have mourned, and now I’m moving on.

‘Nuff said.

Zero Drafts

I finished the zero draft of the first Combine’s Shadow book last night. So today is kind of an off-day, though I still have to get out the door for a run. God knows I’m feeling the pressure to get a whole chunk of Beast of Wonder out of my head today, too.

Every once in a while I get a rash of people asking “what’s a zero draft?” so I thought I might as well do a whole post on it, since I just finished one and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have another soon. (Beast of Wonder really, really wants to be written now, and I need it out of my head.)

It’s been said that all good writing is rewriting, and like all old chestnuts, it contains a grain of truth. Certainly there are occasions when a chunk of text falls out of my head and needs only minimal polishing before it’s ready for primetime, when I fall into a fugue state and churn out something beautiful. (The Muse does have to give me random rewards in order to keep me addicted, after all.) Those gifts are Easter-egg sprinkled through every draft, hidden hinges and visible ones for the story to hang on.

Zero draft means the work is done. It has the beginning, middle, end, there aren’t any places saying [[shit happens here]] or [[why isn’t this working, figure out the muppet here]] or [[jesus christ I have to kill this character soon]] or, one of my favorites, [[sex scene here?]]. It’s in recognizable book/short story/novella form; the corpse is whole and laid on the table. Celebrate, get a beverage of your choice, soak up the congrats of all your writer friends. You’ve given birth!

Now comes the hard part. Nobody else sees this draft. Oh, no. Are you kidding? It’s not even ready for mew writing partner or beta readers yet.

The zero draft is the raw steaming lump of creativity. I set it aside, for at least a week. More difficult works sometimes have to marinate for longer. This serves two purposes: it helps ease the snapback, and it gives some slight but critical emotional distance from the big, messy word-baby you’ve just laid. You need that distance in order to make the word-baby better, prettier, more appealing, truer to its shape and intention.

Once it’s marinated for a little bit, you can go back and do the initial revision pass. You can fix typos, you can trim and craft better sentences, do continuity checks–basically, the initial pass is for arranging the corpse prettily on the table, embalming it, fixing structural problems, changing your dialogue tags to action or description tags, and the like. After that pass, it becomes a first draft.

Now other people–writing partner, beta readers, etc.–can see it. Now you can let it marinate for a little while longer before another revision pass if you can tell it needs more. A zero draft is the skeleton; a first draft is that skeleton with padding and clothing added. (Yes, I’m gleefully abusing metaphors here to make a point. You’d think I was a writer.) Work doesn’t stop at a first draft–I know writers who get to at least the third before they even consider letting an agent or editor near it. I tend to work hot and lean even in my first drafts, so I need agent/editor feedback on where the lacunae are, those things I can see so clearly in my head I forget the reader doesn’t have that image as well. It’s rare that I keep a book until the second or third draft.

Why don’t I call a zero a first draft? Because it’s finished, yes, but it’s not quite arranged, painted, or aesthetically where I want it. The brute work of typing is done, but it’s the cut and polish that makes it better. Still, the zero is a thing to celebrate. You’ve got to give yourself a break and a reward or two for finishing the damn story before you can gather the energy to make the corpse ready for the viewing.

It doesn’t mean the work is over, but you’ve got to take the good things where you find them.

Validation

I spent the weekend putting together alternatives to Patreon for my lovely subscribers. I could have been doing so many other things, but oh well. I also had the heaving frustration of my site basically choking every time I tried to upload an image, that was fun. Fortunately, this morning I got in the queue for a service chat with my hosting provider, and we figured out the problem. Ugh, double ugh, I could have been doing something else with THAT time, too, but now it’s solved (for the moment, we’ll see if the solution holds) and I can breathe a little easier.

I am also relieved that the problem was something I couldn’t have fixed on my own. It’s so nice when someone else says, “Oh yeah, it’s X, let’s see if this works.” I wasn’t just imagining things! I mean, I knew I wasn’t, but the validation is still pleasant indeed.

So I’m shivering in my chair, my coffee has grown tepid, and as hard as I tried this morning I could not get out the door for a run at a reasonable time. That means it will have to be unreasonable, and I’m already behind. There’s four scenes to get an acceptable zero draft of Combine Shadow, a weekend’s worth of wordcount to get back on top of, more Beast of Wonder to feel my way around, under, towards…oh, I’m sure there’s more on the list, including setting up workflows and choosing this week’s subscription offerings. And, and, and. I should just get over myself, slather on some sunscreen, and get going. Maybe the endorphins and some vitamin D will make me feel a little less frazzled and more, well, human.

Maybe once I finish my run I’ll turn the heat on and drink some tea. It’s a good thing I work ahead on so many projects, it means I have a cushion for just such weekends as the last one. The only trouble is, once that cushion starts to get thin I get anxious, thinking I’m behind when really I’m slightly ahead or just on time. If I’m not early, I feel late.

Anxiety is fun.

That’s my Monday, chickadees. The perennial feeling of needing a weekend to recover from the weekend is getting awful familiar…

Uh, whoops…

Yeah, so, yesterday I changed a single tag on some SquirrelTerror posts and WordPress decided to vomit them ALL up as new posts, everywhere. Sorry about that. :/ (I am told Mercury is retrograde, so that’s what I’m blaming.)

Yesterday I could barely settle to a damn thing until around 3pm, when I’d achieved enough caffeine to impersonate a satellite launch. Fortunately, after that things were much easier; Beast of Wonder, Pocalypse Road, and Combine’s Shadow all lined up for work and were attended to in order. I think spending most of the day on Mastodon instead of Twitter improved my productivity tenfold. Twitter is a garbage fire of harassment, even though I have a truly robust block list. The effort of swimming through that toxicity is gargantuan; still, though, I have to retain a presence there because I’m a mid-list author. Having to hold one’s nose and do something is full adulthood, my friends.

So today: wordcount, revisions, Latin, Greek, piano practice. A full docket, and I have to get out the door for some speed work. I’m not sure I’ll take Miss B–she’s not fond of intervals. They probably interfere too much with her trying-to-kill-me rhythm.

So, I’m sorry about yesterday’s email blizzard, blog subscribers. Next time I change a tag…well, maybe I just won’t, because oh my God who needs that kind of hassle? Forgive me.

*zooms away into the sunshine*

Fidgets

Roaring lioness
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
I took yesterday mostly off. It ended with knitting and watching the last half of L’Eclisse, which is a pleasant way to spend an evening. Good Lord but Alain Delon was pretty, back in the day. It makes me want to watch Le Samourai again.

I didn’t even have to make dinner–the Princess brought home a take-n-bake pizza. “It’s your day off,” she said. “Copyedits were hard.” (The pizza was delicious, too.)

This morning is strangely sunny, one of those weird weather spots. I can’t settle to a single thing, though, so I blame both the Godzilla ridge and Mercury being in retrograde. I know the latter doesn’t matter, but any excuse for this itchy feeling is welcome. I’m sure once I get out the door and halfway through a run, I’ll settle somewhat.

Both dogs have been particularly needy this morning. They didn’t care that I needed caffeine in order to prop my eyelids up; no, they wanted pets, and since I have two dogs, that took care of my full hand complement. Honestly, I stopped at two children for just this reason–never have more Truly Important Things than you can carry (or keep hold of) in a disaster. That, and I knew I couldn’t give more than two children high-quality parenting. Knowing one’s limits is a necessary art.

The next thing on my docket is a thorough, hard revise of Season 3 of Roadtrip Z. For those asking, there will be four seasons, and after the fourth is done and released there will be a compilation. I may just release the compilation in ebook, since it’s going to be a beast, size-wise, and I’m not sure the price point for putting it in print will be sustainable. As usual, Patreon folks get the ebooks for free, up to and including the compilation.

So that’s the big overarching thing I’ll be focusing on, as well as Beast of Wonder and the finishing touches on the NaNo book’s zero draft. Enough work to take me into the new year, indeed. It will feel good, I’m sure, once I get my run out of the way this morning and the fidgets worked out.

Onward to Tuesday, I guess.

That Old Publishing Pendulum

All I want to do is knit and watch Antonioni movies today. I’ve been on an Italian kick lately, a bunch of Fellini crawling in through my eyeholes and scratching a deep dream-urge or two in my visual cortex. Antonioni is a natural next step, but I’ve got work to do. I managed to catch up on NaNo wordcount, and those copyedits aren’t getting any fresher.

*time passes*

I wandered away to do some website setup, was balked several times, and finally threw my hands up in despair. I’ve a run to get in this morning too, though as soon as I step out the door I’m sure a torrential downpour will appear. The only question is whether or not to take Miss B with me. On the one hand, it will tire her out. On the other hand, a soaked and enthusiastic dog climbing all over me all day.

Choices, choices. What I’m really doing is resisting finishing Reader’s Shadow.

Part of my foot-dragging is the fact that any book with a teenage girl as a protagonist is viewed as “girly YA” unless it’s written by a Franzenesque white dude. (Then it’s regarded as “Serious” and “Literary.”) Which drives me to a type of jaw-clenched irritation bordering on actual vexation. It’s not that I dislike YA as a genre, or that I don’t want to write those stories. The trouble lies with the marketing and packaging. I had to push back so, so hard against pressure from publishers to water and dumb down teenage characters, the entire experience left an awful lingering taste. Kids swear, kids think about adult subjects, kids are far smarter than our society can admit. The pathological worship of pliable female youth in our culture is a mess of malignancy, and like all cancers, it does its best to eat up anything around it. Getting sucked into that black hole, having to fight against its pull, is difficult and draining on a daily basis. When you add having to fight for your work, for characters you believe in, it can wear you down to threadbare right quickly.

That’s a big reason why I don’t want to “publish YA.” It’s not the fans or the stories, both of which I love. It’s the uphill battle against marketing committees who want me to dumb down, water down, filter, bullshit the story. Even a whiff of that bullshit will turn readers off; their noses are extremely sensitive. After tearing one’s heart and guts out to write a novel, having to go into battle daily against the drip-drip-drip of “couldn’t you just change this one little thing? then this other little thing? oh, and this tiny thing? oh, and this?” can drive one to a cyanide well.

“You can’t have them drink. You can’t have them swear. What will the Bible Belt mothers think? If even one of those biddies complains we get scared. You can’t have teenagers acting like teenagers! We’ll lose sales!”

There are dedicated, fantastic people working in YA. But the pressure from bean-counters and marketing–even if those bean-counters and marketing folks are dedicated and personally quite winning–wears away at the edges until, if you’re not careful, you end up with pablum reeking of aforesaid bullshit. It’s more of an institutional culture than an individual failing, and it dragged at my keel until I sank. I’m sure it didn’t help that I was writing YA under terrific pressure in my personal life as well. (It was painful, let’s just leave it at that.)

So, writing teenage protagonists right now reminds me of all that. My faithful agent, to her credit, keeps trying with the YAs I write just for her, but my unwillingness to blunt any of the sharp edges means it’s a matter of finding exactly the right editor at exactly the right house, and that takes time. She believes in the books; I’m endlessly grateful for that.

But I doubt I’ll ever do trad publishing with YAs again. Or even self-pub, with the current one I’m working on and Harmony, which is out on sub now. “The problem is,” I remarked to said faithful agent, “they’re not ‘young adult.’ They’re books that just happen to have teenage protagonists, that’s all. ‘Young adult’ has become a somewhat ossified designation.”

She insists they have a very teenage voice–either a testament to skill or a mark of how I manage to vanish so the characters’ broadcast comes through–and wants to see them out in the world. I can’t fault her for that. I’m the biggest obstacle to getting them out, because I’m so gun-shy. I’m also extremely conscious it’s a luxury, to be able to wait, to hold out, to have the time to do so. I’m grateful for it.

Nothing in publishing lasts forever. The pendulum will swing again, I’m sure.

But in the meantime, I wait, and write these things for my darling agent, and tear my heart out for characters who won’t see the light of day until the swinging starts.

It’s enough.