Associated Disruptions

It was a long strange weekend, but at least I got all the housecleaning done. And thanks to the fireworks ban, both the dogs and I were quite calm all the way through. There was artillery in the distance, certainly, but we didn’t have any mortars popping near the house, which I am devoutly grateful for.

Also, I’ve been experimenting with BookFunnel. The first half-dozen or so chapters of Harmony are available for free download here; when HOOD gets its wrap cover and begins wending its way through the last quarter of the publication process there will be a free teaser for it as well. I might put some other freebies up, just to see how they do and if they drive interests to other titles. Might even put up a Freebies & Swag page, but I need to think carefully about whether or not I want the deluge of entitled demands it might spark.

I also spent the weekend polishing off a few books–reading, not writing. The Coldest Winter and The Coldest City, as well as a graphic novel adaptation of The King in Yellow, kept me occupied for an afternoon; I also finished James Holland’s The Rise of Germany and polished off two Christine Feehan novels. The last are like crack, I can’t read just one, kind of like Shannon McKenna novels. Now I’m on to a history of the Byzantine state, which is filling certain lacunae in my understanding of just how things were administered in the late Roman empire.

What I wanted was to get a few more chapters of Season Two done, but the Glorious Fourth and associated disruptions put paid to that little dream. But I got the revised cover list off to the artist, and there’s plenty of time for everything that needs to get done for the next couple books.

I’ve spent a lot of time these past few days thinking about growing up, logistics, rain, how to get a prince back to his homeland, whether or not I want to write The Highlands War, whether or not I truly want to write Hell Tide, how I’m going to get Maid Marian dancing with Prince John, genetic plasticity, and a whole host of other things I’d put on hold to think about after HOOD‘s Season One was sorted. Now all those things have come back to roost and I must give each the time they demand, from a few moments’ worth to a day or so of concentrated thought while the rest of me goes about the business of living.

It’s a form of mental housekeeping. Plenty of writing is keeping the creative cauldron bubbling at a certain pressure so the steam moves everything through one’s internal tubes. Weird facts, historical narratives, tangential fiction–all these things are fuel. So is the habit of observation when I have to leave the house, storing up notes on how these human creatures behave.

Can’t write what you don’t understand or observe. It’s probably the only use of my over-sensitive empathy that won’t drain me to transparency and leave me day-drinking. (Of course, I can’t drink without getting hives now anyway, but you know what I mean.)

In any case, today is for getting a needle back in the groove of work. There’s Incorruptible to revise and HOOD‘s Season Two to pile bricks for, and Hell’s Acre to think about. I’m pretty sure the last will be the next serial, which will be super fun to write. I always did like steampunk.

I hope your weekend was pleasant, dear readers, and that there was a paucity of artillery in your neck of the woods as well. I’ve got a bellydancing bagpiper to listen to while I write, and honestly, since my coffee is staying down, I really can’t imagine anything better.

Over and out.

Hot Ham Stamper

It’s supposed to be some ungodly-number-of-degrees Fahrenheit today, so I got out the door early for my run without taking either dog. They were vastly displeased by this, but the last thing I need is to carry home a heatstruck hound, or worse, two of them. It was already 70F when I hit the pavement, and the wind holds a promise of a day likely to give one a rash.

I hate the goddamn heat.

Anyway, I’ve been stuffing my head full of creative fuel for the past few days, after taking the weekend off to recover from The Poison Prince‘s revision into respectable first-draft form. I’m still not officially back at work, I’m only in the office for correspondence, but I’m probably going to poke at a story or two anyway.

My writing partner sent me this article about fake truffles earlier today, and it’s just so gonzo weird. Mushroom mafias! Fake olive oil! And, my personal favorite, counterfeit ham stamper.

I keep giggling and muttering “counterfeit ham stamper” to myself, because I’m twelve inside and if I don’t amuse myself, who will? It’s just so easy to reduce me to helpless giggles; I swear if I ever have a nemesis, that’s going to be weaponized for my downfall.

Anyway. Despite having a virtual crown of bees by the time I slowed down (they decided to peel off in search of a flowering bush or two when I shifted to a walk) I came home with no dead insects or branches in my hair. I am super grateful for that, even if just throwing the mess in a ponytail means more trouble when I attend to untangling later. There are a few grey hairs coming in, and they have a distinct waviness to them, which is all to the good. I’ve wanted curly grey hair forever, I think I’ll rock it with my eyes and heavy eyeliner. Good to know my body’s on track.

Stay cool out there, my ducklings, and hydrate like you mean it. I’ve got yet more cool things to stuff into my head so I can spin stories out of the detritus of the passage.

Over and out.

RELEASE DAY: Harmony

I feel kind of like Beyoncé dropping a surprise album. (I’m not nearly as talented, but I think the stomach flutters and sparking nervousness is probably about the same.) That’s right, folks–here’s a brand new book, Harmony, with a lovely cover by the stunning Indigo Chick Designs.


After an accident claims her unconventional mother, Val Smith has to live with her boring, reliable father. Grief and change aren’t good for anyone, but Val and her dad are doing okay—until they visit a place like paradise.

Harmony Home is safe, secure, and secluded, a place where where everyone belongs to everyone else. For a commune it’s a pretty okay, at least at first. There are strange things—the metal boxes in the clearing, the Red House where secrets are kept, and little Sarah, who pushes buttons inside people to “make them glow.” Val and her dad are honored, temporary guests, at least at first, and it’s exciting to be special, to be chosen. By the time Val’s uneasy, it’s too late.

Even heaven can be a trap, and Val’s going to need all her new talents to break free…

Currently available direct, or through Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo; forthcoming from Amazon and independent bookstores.


A long while ago, I gave my agent a choice. “I know you want a YA. I have a couple in my head: a cult story and a super-futuristic boarding school.”

She chose the cult. Of course I ended up writing her both–Reader’s Shadow is out on submission, though I don’t think a trad YA publisher will take it. I had to fight constantly and consistently to keep my YAs from being diluted by publisher nervousness over what some mythical bigoted mother in the Bible Belt would take offense at; my teenage heroes and heroines do things like drink, cuss, and think bad thoughts.

Anyway, I wrote Harmony for her. It passed through several drafts, and many publishers had a problem with the ending. (You all know how I feel about the right ending versus the happy ending.) They also want some of Val’s upbringing to be different, and one, I think, really waxed indignant at who eventually drags Val from the fire.

Oh well.

What I wanted to examine was how a cult draws one in. It’s all there–the lovebombing, the prohibitions on thinking in non-approved ways, the threat of punishment, the us-against-the-world mentality. Father Jim also owes a great deal to Thomas Jane’s incandescent and chilling turn in an otherwise ho-hum horror vehicle. What would happen, I wondered, if a cult actually had access to superhuman or extrahuman individuals? How far would they go to acquire such people, and how would they control them once acquired? How does one break free of such groups, especially when a core principle of getting people into your cult is to progressively rob them of outside relationships?

Everyone wants someplace to belong. Once they find that place, most people will do anything rather than lose it, especially if they believe it’s the only place that will ever accept them.

The psychological steps of cult indoctrination fascinate me. Brainwashing itself is pretty straightforward–lack of sleep and lack of protein can break even the strongest person. Cults–from the most innocuous to the most profitable and far-reaching–have to tread a little more carefully, and have to put policies and procedures in place to streamline the process. In many cases, the processes are arrived at through trial and error; the indoctrination doesn’t have to be applied by people who are consciously trying to manipulate someone else in order to work–they can be applied by people acting in good faith but in a bad environment.

In short, manipulative people and groups have the same playbook, and it works. Over and over again, it works, and plenty of it depends not on the charismatic leader but on the second- and third-in-command groups who may be acting out of the best motives, genuinely convinced they are bringing something special and valuable to people who need it.

We are not drawn into sick systems by our worst qualities, but by our best.

And of course, because it’s one of my books, there are extrahuman talents to consider. Still, it’s not those talents that allow the survivors to break free. I shall leave it to the reader to discover just how that happens, at least in the small fictional world of Harmony.

I’m really glad this book is out in the wild now. Amazon really doesn’t like getting one’s books out in a reasonable timeframe unless that book is done through KDP. On the one hand, it’s their distribution platform, so they can do as they like. On the other, it’s little things like that which drive home that I’ve made a good decision shifting my main ebook distribution elsewhere. (Gumroad customers can get a Kindle .mobi as well as the .epub, so if you’re an Amazon-based creature, I’ve still got your back.) And fear not, a paper version is well on its way.

I hope you enjoy it, dear Readers, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. And since it’s a release day, if you want me I’ll be in the corner rocking back and forth, with a bucket to stick my head into.

Plus ce change, and all that…

Eggs, Multiple Baskets

Today, I have placed my thumb upon my sword-guard, and there is an inch of blade showing. I am ready. READY, I TELL YOU. But that’s neither here nor there.

The Verge has a good article up about Cockygate and Kindle Unlimited. After a careful reading, I’ve made the decision to start taking the Anna Beguine books out of KU. It’s just not worth the risk of their algorithms suddenly deciding I’m doing something naughty. Basically, KU seems like a giant scam that other giant scammers are taking advantage of, and who suffers? Real authors, and readers. Fortunately I only have two books left in there, and the last will be free in October.

An object lesson in not putting all one’s publishing eggs in one basket, indeed. I’m glad I’m already conversant with

The only other news is that I have an appointment to take Odd Trundles to the vet today. He’s just…not himself. It’s not like him to turn his nose up at food, and the weight loss is marked enough that I’m concerned. So it’s loading him into the car today, always fun, and then the poking and prodding he’ll put up with because he is a sweet-natured pup even when he isn’t feeling well. I really could have done without a vet bill this month, but it’s a small price to pay for his goofy, lovely little self.

I’m tense and shaking already, hoping it’s something easily fixable. But he’s getting old for a bulldog, and his health has never been ultra-good. It’s hard when one of the furbabies isn’t feeling well; they can’t use human language to tell you what’s wrong. If it’s something severe I’ll be kicking myself for not taking him in earlier, if it’s something small I’ll be relieved and a little guilty at stressing him out by dragging him to the vet. And of course Miss B will be furious at being left behind, even if I ran her hard this morning to get her fidgets out.

You just can’t win most days, so I’m not even going to try. Just doing the best one can is enough.

Over and out.

Baedeckers

There was a whole SHELF of ancient Baedeckers at the library sale Wednesday. I looked at my writing partner, she looked at me, and we both said, “Room With a View.” Then we began talking about Julian Sands, and there is a reason we’re best friends. (The phrase “rats down his pants” was bandied about with glee.)

It’s good to have friends. And though I would never in a million years use them, I was extremely tempted to pick up a couple of the Baedeckers.

Sadly, though, there was not one for Italy.

Release Day: JOZZIE & SUGAR BELLE

Five or six friends got together in a Google Hangout. All writers, mostly drunk, they are Very Funny Ladies. Happily, I was one of them; sadly, I was stone-cold sober. One of the ladies is an Australian, and her care packages sent to us poor benighted fools in the Northern Hemisphere are legendary; apparently, a recent one sent to a Dear Husband of a Writing Lady included several kangaroo-scrotum tchotchkes.

Because yes, they use all parts of the ‘roo, and the scrotums can be coin purses, corkscrews, bottle openers–you get the idea. (Look, I’m not gonna link any of this, you can traumatize yourself with Google just fine.) The Dear Husband could not contain his glee, and showed off his new gifts.

“Wait,” someone said. “What if that was a kangaroo shifter’s ballsack instead?”

Being the only sober one in the room, I was charged with writing the story. A few hours later, we had all the main characters fleshed out for a fucking series of these things. (The echidna-shifter one sounds particularly hilarious.) The Writing Ladies eventually separated to nurse their upcoming hangovers, or, in my case, shambled to bed giggling.

And lo, I wrote the kangaroo-shifter novella. The working title was Scrotum Search, but good luck getting that past any Amazon algorithms, amirite? And now, my dear friends, you can read it too!

Jozzie & Sugar Belle This ‘roo has problems.

Jozzie Shale, missing a particularly intimate piece of his person, lands in LA with a hangover and plenty of determination. He needs help, fast–and fortunately, he’s got the address of a witch who owes his buddy Petey a favor.

She’s a solution.

Sugar Belle, of the Virginia Belles, is only mildly amused when a drunken shapeshifter shows up in her tattoo chair. Add a warlock with a necromantic book, coyote shifters, the end of the world, plus a few hundred pounds of cheese, and even a witch of Sugar’s caliber might be in for a bad night.

It’s gonna be a bumpy weekend…

Available through Gumroad, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. The print edition is now available, too.

As for the others there that night (you know who you are), the gauntlet’s thrown, bitches. I expect your novellas in short order.

*runs away, laughing*

On AFTERWAR: Research

Afterwar I began gathering supplementary materials1 for Afterwar in late 2015; work commenced on the book in earnest in March-April 2016. I knew I was going to write it, but not how it would be received or even if it would ever be sold. It’s too outlandish, I thought. I’ve been saying this is where Fox News and the like is going to end up for a decade and a half, I thought.

Much to my surprise, my editor at Orbit wanted the book with a white-hot passion, and since I trusted her implicitly to have my back–to let me write the book that needed to be written without committee interference from internal groups that would want it watered down–I went for broke. I tore my heart out, and ate the bitter organ whole, retched it free and did it again.

And I pestered. Goodness, how I pestered. Knowing more than a few vets, I bought drinks, bought lunches, went to coffee, peppered them with questions. “So…if you were running an insurgency in the American Southwest…okay, so how successful is asymmetric force really when you’re the boots on the ground…look, I need to know how far a Humvee can actually go in offroad conditions without refueling…so, what did it smell like? Really?…what’s the one thing you were always short of, in combat…?” You get the idea. I’d start out with questions, and then I did what any writer who wants to learn does.

I shut up.

Once people know you’re sincerely interested in them and their lives, they will talk endlessly, and with active listening you will find out more than you ever dreamed. At that point it was simply a question of who had the better bladder, since a loo trip not only breaks conversation but also breaks “the seal” and you have to pee every five seconds afterward. (Or so it seems.)

None of them asked what my book was actually about. Most of the time I had introductions from other people they’d served with, and once word got out that I was trustworthy, gentle, and genuinely interested in their experience I had more contacts than I could ever plumb and the social credit to spend on slightly more outré questions. “Say you’re behind enemy lines and on your period, what’s the planning for that?2 How common is diarrhea in combat?3 If you could only take two weapons with you to operate in unfriendly territory, which would you? What kind of coping mechanisms have you seen others use under combat stress?4

My other research was not so nice or so enjoyable. I’ve spent years reading about the Eastern Front in WWII, and about the occupations of Ukraine and Poland by several successive totalitarian waves. It’s been an interest of mine since reading Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad because, I thought, there was no way I would ever write about something so brutal and horrific. Having something to read that, even though awful, wasn’t grist for the story-mill, was necessary in order to give my brain a break.

Perhaps the Muse was precognitive, and prepared me well beforehand. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes follow the same damn playbook, with only small adjustments for culture and territory. Plus, I had taken a bath in American Civil War history, and still picked up logistical and other studies, just on the principle that it’s always good to know how an army will feed itself on your home territory.

Everything I’d been reading and thinking about for years crystallized. Afterwar took on a life of its own.

And then, the election happened.5

I saw the beginning stages of my private nightmares playing out in realtime. I don’t think I’ve quite recovered from that, but I had other problems as well.

Not content to reflect current events, Afterwar was about to get blindsided by publication woes as well.

To be continued…