Body Detente

So I wrote out the end of the Battle of the Rhodies yesterday…and WordPress promptly ate it. No amount of weeping or digging through caches would find it. Autosave isn’t a selling point if it doesn’t work.

Suffice to say the entire thing went through Dame Barda!Squirl losing a bit of her tail fluff, Boxnoggin falling on Miss B not once but twice in the process of chasing her, and me having to hold a squirming B in my lap while I picked out bits of squirrel hair flossing her front teeth. And, true to form, I was barefoot, screaming, and uncaffeinated. (Yesterday’s post was a lot funnier, but after losing 900+ words of squirrelterror, I’m just not in the mood.)

I ask you, have you ever picked wiry rodent hair out of your dog’s teeth while she grins, well pleased with herself, and tries to wriggle away? It’s one of the gods’ little joys in life, apparently1

Anyway, that set the tone for the entire day. I managed to get seven Poison Prince scenes revised, so at least there was that. As soon as I get that book off to the editor, I swear I’m going to spend a weekend doing nothing but staring at the walls–just like last weekend, I guess. I’m in a pattern of burning myself down to wire and then re-wrapping my insulation, over and over again.2

It gets the books done, though, so I can’t complain. At least, I can’t complain much.

Today is all revisions, all the time, with only short breaks for a run, a shower, and the constant need to feed and coddle this body of mine. Said body has carried me, mostly uncomplaining, for a number of years now, and though I didn’t treat it well in my youth, I’m slowly beginning to approach a detente with it. My frustration at having to stop working to fill it with fuel or dump excess waste is sharp and total, but rarely lasts long.

I’m getting to the point where I resent anything taking me away from the work. Except the kids or the dogs, they get a pass. Otherwise, I’d rather write than eat, sleep, or any number of other things humans are forced to do at regular intervals.

Ah well. Sooner or later I’ll shed this coil like a butterfly, and perhaps there will be books where I’m going next. If not, then by the gods, I’ll make them.

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…

Beauty, Angle

Sometimes beauty is a question of what angle you’re viewing from. I don’t see a mess here; I see my daughter carefully stacking oranges, my son folding napkins into origami, seeds that will fill my garden, peanut butter cookies baked just-because, seasoning that makes things delicious, the table where we have laughed, cried, eaten, and been a family.

So many things can be turned just a little, just enough, to see the beauty. And we could all use a little more loveliness in our lives. I wish you the very best of angles, my friends.

Over and out.

In the Meantime

I want to believe I’m simply cranky because I haven’t and coffee yet. I want to believe that the constant rasping irritation along my nerves doesn’t mean I’m naturally a big old bad mood.

I tell myself who wouldn’t be cranky, look at the world, it’s on fire. I’d love to believe that it’s only temporary. It shouldn’t be so damn hard for people to treat each other decently. Unfortunately, the human capacity for hate seems beyond any power of art to overcome.

Tomorrow I’ll feel more hopeful, but I have to get through today. It will be better after I run, especially with the dogs to keep me occupied. And there’s plenty of work sitting around. I’m in the phase of revisions where I miss the fire of creation; as soon as I go back to the brute work of producing wordage I’ll find that I long to be revising. Nothing satisfies me, at least for today.

I did get to the DMV early yesterday morning. The place was a ghost town when I walked in and crammed to the gunnels twenty minutes later when I left. Fortunately I had every scrap of necessary paperwork, too, so there was no trouble. The security theater of TSA (you can’t get on a plane1 without an Enhanced License anymore, a pretty sweet racket and a way of controlling the movement of poor people) fills me with furious dread, but at least I’m prepared now.

No, I’m not intending to travel. At least, not until someone options a book or something and I have the money to move to a country that has decent healthcare and slightly less racism. On the other hand, it’s foolish to remain unprepared. It’s also time to go through my bug-out bags again and make sure they’re organized and ready.

In the meantime, I run, I read, I hug my kids, pet my dogs, and tell my friends how amazing they are. I hope, I drink coffee, I agitate for change. I long for escape, I try to be kind no matter how cranky I’m feeling, and I do my best to always punch up. (Or, as needs be, sideways, to keep the motherfuckers who share my privilege from being assholes.)

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. But it’s all I can do.

And I write. I can’t see a better world, but I can transmute the pain of this one, and give readers an escape, a chance to be seen, a deep satisfaction that comes from reading a good story.

Still not enough, but I’m not going to stop. I have to believe every little bit helps. And in that hope, I’m off to buckle the dogs in and take them for a run. They don’t care about the political situation or the frustrations of publishing, no sir. Their needs are simple: food, sleep, belonging, love.

At least we’ve still got dogs, and I’m about to release another book. Maybe today won’t turn out too badly after all.

Running, an Inch

Steelflower in Snow

This morning, I was in a bit of a mood. Out the door with two fractious dogs into cold rain, one dog unfazed and the other wanting to pull ahead to finish the damn deed so he could go home and dry off, my patience was all but exhausted.

And yet, while my feet pound and my breath comes high and hard, I realize, this is not who I want to be. The irritation falls away; I leave it like a discarded skin and run into the future of who I do want to be.


Years ago, the stark grief of a broken heart pushed me further, faster. I ran until I couldn’t, without dog, bee, or any other companion, and when I stopped and closed my eyes, all that touched me was sunshine, dust, and the knowledge that I had done what was necessary. It still hurt.

It hurt.

And yet, when I opened my eyes, there was nothing to do but keep moving. I had to get home, after all. Sitting in the middle of a street and waiting for the rest of my life is not who I want to be.

So I chose differently. And kept going.


I began running because it was something I could do on a treadmill in the solarium. A single mother can’t leave her babies unprotected; besides, my body had become a stranger. I ran at first because it was the best of several bad options, then I kept running because the endorphins had me hooked, then I ran because it had become a habit.

Now I run because it soothes me, because it is still the only time I have to be truly alone. Despite the company of dogs, it is while running that my soul expands a little. The rest of the world falls away and I can see who I’ve been, and more importantly, who I want to be.


Irritated? I write. Happy? I write. Sad? I write. I do it because it’s what I was meant and made for, what I was designed to do. I am helpless to stop writing.

But running is a choice. The static vanishes. Physical motion, the thunder of my pulse, dripping sweat–all reminders that I can choose. There is only an inch allotted to us, a small, separate piece caught in the net of circumstance, privilege, physics, and obligation. They can take every inch of me–they have certainly tried, all my life–but one.

That small piece keeps me human. It is the part where I choose.


The dogs don’t like it when I run alone. Boxnoggin is protective; Miss B simply thinks it’s her duty to crawl under my skin and stay there. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes, whether because of injury, weather, or other considerations, I find myself solitary.

I am alone, but I am never lonely while that small inch of me remains.


B slows near the end of even short runs now. She doesn’t want to, but she is becoming elderly, and her body does not do as she wishes. It doesn’t matter. Speed isn’t the issue. Looking down and seeing her grin as she paces me, in her accustomed place and all right with her world despite our slowness, fills me with aching love. I have so little time left with her; I slow as much as she needs.

Boxnoggin doesn’t quite have the rhythm down yet. He’s young, and though it’s been months, he learns at his own pace. Above all, he wants to protect his pack; the constant changing of our route during runs to make it easy for him to behave and get accustomed to the fact that when I need him to snap or growl I’ll let him know takes a lot of bandwidth. Still, we persevere. Eventually he’ll learn, and I will have become the person who gave him the space for that teaching to sink in.


When I was a child, my primary female caregiver wanted me to become a doctor. It was her own unfinished dream, and I was responsible for seeing it through. The knowledge loomed on the horizon like a mountain at the end of a sea journey, just a smear at first and for a long time neither larger nor smaller no matter how fast one sails. Suddenly, it begins to grow, and the shadow of expectation pressed on me from crown to soles. I couldn’t breathe.

I chose passive resistance to her dreams all my young life. But when I left that house, I had no idea how to find out what I wanted to be–or even who I was. I’ve spent decades trying to unravel the mystery, making false starts, drowning in other people’s needs, pouring myself into black holes, lighting myself on fire to keep others warm.

And then I began to run.


“I can tell you haven’t run today,” the kids say.

“I can tell you haven’t run today,” my writing partner says.

I can tell I haven’t run that day, and I close my eyes, imagine my feet hitting pavement and the wind making that low sweet sound in my ears. Even when I don’t run I can choose who I want to be. Running only reminds me. It shakes me, and while everything is whirling inside my skin I realize there are some things nailed down, some handholds I can trust on my internal cliff-face.

There is a me who can decide. I just have to give her an inch.


Today it was raining. The dogs were both tetchy, their fidgets not quite worked out yesterday. It took twenty damn minutes for the red cloud of irritation around me to blow away. Both beasts needed constant reminding and redirecting. Before I snapped, I took a deep breath, slowed my pace, untangled both of them, and swallowed the unkind things I might have muttered at their poor, silly, excited selves.

Unkind is not who I want to be.

The carapace falls away and I am damp and new, slowing to a walk and petting the canines who depend upon me. I tell them they are good, and they believe me. Sometimes–not very often–I slow enough to listen to them tell me I am good, and I try to believe them, too.

We walk home. Because we choose to.


I have kept a single inch to myself, one thing I have never mortgaged, sold, smothered to please someone else. I have fed others from my broken body and kept a single crust from the feast despite those who tell me it is selfish treachery to avoid subsuming myself completely. The world is hungry, abusers are famished; they will take even that last inch and leave for other tables while your bones rot.

I hid that inch so successfully it took running to find it again. And, over and over again, it expands to fill me while I write.

Running doesn’t fill me. It strips away the noise, the constant pressure, the weight of people who sold their inch or never found it, who want to crack my bones and eat my marrow to fill their own unending hunger where that small space used to be.

I learn, over and over again, that I choose who and what I am. There is an inch of me beyond reach, a table in the presence of mine enemies, and every time I lace up and buckle the dogs in, reach the end of warmup and pitch forward to take the first few steps into the uncertain future, I realize again that I am not lonely.

How can I be, while I run?

Cracked, And Serviceable

My favorite mug has survived a bookstore fire, losing its handle, having its handle glued back on, having the glued handle fall back off, and various other mishaps. It still works, though it’s a bit battered, and I plan to use it until it doesn’t.

The fact that it yells “I AM GOING TO HEX YOUR FACE OFF” is just…a bonus. I forget where I saw that particular term–I think it was in a Harry Potter fanfic about Bellatrix (and she’s probably the character who would most likely utter such a thing, unless Molly Weasley got really angry) and it just encapsulates my every feeling before sweet, sweet life-giving caffeine goes down my throat.

I’ve rarely had things stay in my life. The mug has lasted longer than my marriage at this point, and given me quiet steadfastness the last years of said marriage utterly lacked. That’s enough reason to keep it around.

Plus, every time I see its smoke-scarred glaze, I’m reminded that we survive, we endure, and just because a thing is cracked or discolored doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful and worthy and good. The older I get, the more I appreciate the cracked, discolored, and still quietly serviceable.

My other favorite mugs say It’s Motherfucking Tea Time and She Who Must Be Obeyed. I…suppose that says a lot about me, but nothing Readers didn’t already know.

Remember, even if we’re cracked, we’re still useful, beautiful, and worth keeping. Have a good weekend, chickadees.

Tomaters

I have taken to experimenting with my red sauce. This time, after the tomatoes and garlic had enough time to sweat, cook, and reduce, I took out the bay leaves and used a stick blender to puree everything, then added browned meat, mushrooms (raw but rinsed because I wanted all their juiiiiicues and glutamic acids), seasonings, and carrot bits.

Carrots are your friend in tomato sauces. They provide sugar and fiber to soak up the tomatoes’ acidity, buffering what could be a watery, astringent mess. You don’t need to use white sugar if you add chopped-fine or grated carrots, and the result in the finished sauce is ever so subtle but unignorable.

I’ll be using the red sauce to make lasagna in a crock pot today, and I’m looking forward to it. I will not be making the noodles by hand; I do have some limits.

It’s kind of funny, because I hate lasagna…but that’s a story for another day.

Welcome to the weekend, chickadees.