Rules for Chasing

I have Poe’s Spanish Doll running inside my head this morning, a stagger-step of nostalgia and loss. The dogs are in fine fettle, especially Boxnoggin, who has taken to rolling over and begging for tummy rubs with the single-minded intensity and desperate cuteness of Oliver Twist asking for some more. He seems to have finally realized he’s not going back to the shelter, and it does him a world of good, poor fellow.

He’s not going to like running in the rain today, but he’s full of fidgets and I am too. If it’s any consolation to his dainty-pawed self, it’s a short run.

My writing partner gave me a clutch of walnuts, which she dislikes but I happen to love. I even like the faint bitterness of the skins and bits that cling to the brain-folded nut. Plus it’s fun to put a couple on the deck railing and watch the squirrels lose their tiny little minds over it. Remember that cartoon with the squirrel and the cocoanut? Much Ado About Nutting. That’s pretty much exactly what it looks like when the little bastards stumble across a treasure.

That was one of my ex-husband’s favorite cartoons. He had a passion for Buster Keaton too–the little guy who keeps getting bashed by circumstances, especially when he thinks he’s on to something good.

I know, it’s kind of…well, there was a reason that resonated with him, let’s just put it that way.

Anyway, one of the rules of Looney Tunes is that the “villain” or the hapless butt could stop at any time. This is most famously expressed in Chuck Jones’s Rules for Writing the Road Runner, which may be apocryphal but is damn insightful anyway.

The coyote could stop at any time. Now, they add, if he were not a fanatic, but that’s really gilding the lily. What makes the Road Runner cartoons–and plenty of other Looney Tunes–so funny is that it’s true, the pursuer or comic butt could stop at any moment.

They just don’t.

The kids and I have been talking about that a lot lately. It’s a good thing to halt in a dust cloud every so often, look around, and consider, what could I stop if I wasn’t so invested in? The answer may not be what you think.

Yesterday I spent a lot of time thinking about the current project, and came to a number of decisions. A few things I do with my books aren’t helpful in the current situation; I need to get out of the way and let my agent take care of a couple problems instead of sitting on them and brooding.

We all know how I love sitting and brooding. *snork*

So, my dear chickadees, I leave you with this question: what could you stop at any time? Are there diminishing returns? Is it a sunk costs fallacy? Is there anything that, when you stopped doing it, you would feel relief and have energy freed up for things you like better?

Notice I’m not saying any action other than thinking is required here. I’m not saying you have to immediately stop chasing your road runners, whatever they are. I’m just saying…think for a minute. Just consider. The option’s there, even if you don’t want to take it–and sometimes, knowing that an option exists frees up plenty of mental and emotional energy you didn’t even know you were pouring into a hole.

I often say I can put up with anything if I know when it’s going to stop. Or when I decide at what point I’m going to halt chasing the road runner and just order a bento box from Acme instead.

Now it’s time for me to take the dogs on a run. Sure, I could stop that at any time, but tired dogs are well-behaved dogs and I need the exercise. Besides, we took yesterday off, so we’re rested and ready (for whatever variety of “ready” we can muster) today.

See you around, friend-os.

Burden, Borne

It’s that day! The Complete Roadtrip Z is now available in ebook directly, or from the distributor of your choice. That’s all four seasons of the serial in one handy (and very large) chunk. (The paperback edition is here.)

The genesis of the Roadtrip books is a long ongoing conversation with my writing partner about just who would survive the zombie apocalypse, and how such an apocalypse would be likely to spread, assuming it was viral. There are other considerations–a bacterial or occult zombie-making plague was ruled out early in the game, since Mel loved biology in school. (She and I have another ongoing conversation about mass conversion in shifters, but that’s neither here nor there.)

We talk sometimes about survival, and about how it’s going to be the people who are already used to scraping by that are going to make it during the initial catastrophe and the secondary wave of bad-luck deaths afterward. I’m sad to say that without Lee’s help, Ginny probably wouldn’t have–and without Ginny, Lee might never have made it out without the survivor part of him deciding to do some dreadful and perhaps unnecessary things. They needed each other badly.

There’s also Juju, who’s had the deck stacked against him all his life, and who’s pretty sure any new world from the toxic ashes from the old is going to be just as bad for him. I’m not sure he’s wrong, either, but at least he’s got people watching out for him now.

I didn’t know who would survive when I started writing. I knew where the survivors would end up, but not what that group would look like when it got there. Some people I badly wanted to survive made it; some people I really wanted to see make it didn’t. The kids could probably tell you about me staggering down the hall after a long day of writing, tears on my face as I begin making dinner.1

There was plenty of poring over atlases, checking tactical layouts, researching average meteorological conditions, and more than one emails to Mel saying “Ask the Boy Scout2 how he’d solve the problem of xyz, please?”

Lee, however, was based mostly on my maternal grandfather. He was an honorable man, and Lee is all the best of him rolled into one quiet package. Not that Papa was a silent fellow, unless he got serious. Most of the time he wanted to laugh through life, and he could make anyone laugh with him. He liked hunting, percolator coffee on Sunday mornings, and Wile E. Coyote. Even now, if I hear the meep-meep, I can hear him laughing. He had a stuffed Wile E. atop his gun cabinet, and he was the one family member I deeply regretted not being able to speak to.

I got to see him once before he passed, but he didn’t ask why I wouldn’t talk to them. Instead, he took me through a calendar of old military planes and told me about each one, especially those he worked on in Korea.

It was his way of telling me he still loved me, even though he didn’t understand.

Now that he’s gone, I hope he understands why I couldn’t answer what he wanted most to know, and forgives me. And I hope he gets a kick out of me putting a man he’d like into a book.

Ginny came from a different place. I wanted someone who would be at a distinct disadvantage during an apocalypse, someone comfortable with civilization and thinking it was permanent or even particularly “civilized.” One or two readers said Ginny was too stupid to live, but in each situation, she’s trying to respond as normally as possible. It wasn’t the best coping mechanism…but it was hers, and while Lee and Juju got everyone through physically intact, it’s to Ginny’s credit that they got to the end mostly emotionally intact. Sure, everyone involved will need oodles of therapy, but that’s to be expected when the world falls apart.

I was experimenting with serial format all the way through, and I must thank my Readers for their patience with said experiments. Thanks to those who allowed me to Tuckerise them, too–your characters are as sharply and finely drawn as I could make them, and if a few meet gruesome deaths, well, that’s to be expected in any book of mine, right?

I think it’s good that it ends where it does. (Of course I do, or I wouldn’t have ended it there.) I’m pretty sure my grandfather wouldn’t have read it–his taste was more Zane Grey, though he had a soft spot for Louis L’Amour, especially Last of the Breed–but I’m also pretty sure he’d be tickled pink to know a character was based on him. I ain’t interesting, he’d say, but his blue eyes would hold a little pleased twinkle.

Some of my work is offerings to the dead. Not so they stay down, but so I remember them by doing what I love most, and what is sometimes the only gift I can give.

So thank you to you all. I’m writing HOOD as a serial now, but Roadtrip Z will always hold a special place in my heart. I was able to play, to expand, to practice both bringing each episode to a good end as well as keeping the much larger (good Lord, it’s easily 200K words in final form) story and its various arcs clearly in mind. It was a helluva ride, and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself now that it’s over.

I mean, I know what I’m going to do, of course. I’m going to write more.

But maybe, with the omnibus finally out in both paper and e-formats today, I’ll take a bit of a rest and think about how those I’ve lost are still with me. Not just because I write them, but because I carry them wherever I go. If it’s a burden, it’s one I bear proudly–and one I’ll keep writing underneath.

See you around, guys.

Irritability, Meet Shark

One of the kids has been leaving the heat on overnight, which, added to flannel sheets and my favorite green blanket, means I sweated almost to death last night and the one before. It’s definitely time to change out of said flannel sheets. Contrary to popular belief, winter is over.

Boxnoggin, however, loves the heat. Loves it. Miss B doesn’t mind, since she has all the air trapped in her undercoat to keep her insulated, but she’s spending more and more of the night flat on tiled loo floor, soaking up coolth.

There’s been a lot of rejection a la Chez Saintcrow lately. Publishers (both trad and otherwise) don’t want to make a decision within a reasonable timeframe, so I’ve been taking my toys and going home. Technically I’m the one doing the rejecting, but it’s also frustrating as fuck. If you don’t want my work, just say so in the first round and we’ll be done. Don’t try to keep me in your back pocket while you shop around for something younger, sweeter, more tractable. I never was that girl, and that goes double now.

I don’t mind a publisher saying “not for us, thanks!” What I do mind is them sitting on submitted work for silent months, then getting shitty with me or my agent when we pull the work they’ve had for a significant amount of time to make a decision on. If they’re too understaffed to make a decision, that’s not my problem–a publisher’s poor planning is not my emergency.

Nobody’s poor planning is my emergency, except for my kids’. That’s it.

It’s nice to be at the stage in my career where I have the confidence and the tools to say so and make it stick, but I wish I could work with these people instead of despite them. We could do such amazing things together.

I’m probably also a little irritable because I’m on somewhat of a social media fast. I took the Twitter app off my phone and only interact with birbsite during scheduled, outside-of-work times. Of course I have Whalebird open while working, but Mastodon (especially my instance) isn’t nearly as toxic. It feels exactly like a detox, and I’m in the cranky phase.

Add to that the problem of The Poison Prince1, and I’m snarling halfheartedly at everything in sight. It doesn’t help that my running mileage has taken a helluva hit lately.

So today I’ll probably do a reset. Take the dogs on a long walk, put my headphones in and my head down, and stretch my legs while I think about things. I need to decide what mountain I’m going to scale next–probably the Dolls book, but in order to get there I need to clear Poison Prince off my deck and get both the new Watcher book and maybe the lightning-god book at least to zero draft.

It would be nice if I could sleep at night, too, so today means no more flannel sheets. I’ll miss crawling into a bed that isn’t cold to begin with, but such is the price of waking up without damp sheets clinging to hip, ankle, wrist, neck while sixty-plus pounds of dog attempts to put his nose in my ear.

That’s probably why I’ll never date again, honestly. I hate sharing the bed, unless it’s with dogs. At least when they keep me up it isn’t because they have a need to tenderize their victim for psychological warfare, it’s because they really can’t help it. I could just toss my dates out but that sounds like too much effort, and I don’t like sleeping in other people’s beds. It would take something very special indeed for me to change my mind, and I’m almost halfway through my life with no time to look. I’ve got too much to do.

…wow, this post has gone everywhere, hasn’t it? The irritation means it’s time for me to get back to work. But first, a ramble with the canines, both to work their fidgets out and to make some decisions.

Publishing requires one to be sharklike–never stop swimming lest you suffocate, and always smile. Some silly people think the smile is weakness instead of an amused warning.

See you later, chickadees.

Anxiety Bunny

The Princess brought home Kinder eggs from a pre-Easter sale. The Little Prince loves opening them, so he cracked mine for me, and cleaned out the sugar1 as a bonus.

This little fellow was inside. The Prince and Princess both had birds, but I got a bunny with a wheel in his head. Spin the wheel–you can just see it there in the centre of the picture–and different scenes can be viewed through a hole high on his back.2

I immediately christened him Anxiety Bunny, because that’s what it feels like–a multicolored wheel spinning inside one’s head, serving up the worst possible outcomes not only from tomorrow, but from years ago.

Spinning the wheel does give me a certain amount of peace, however. I’m reminded that the wheel is not me, and isn’t even particularly truthful most of the time. This tiny, cheap little toy helps me feel better, and that’s valuable to me.

May your anxiety bunny, whatever it is, grant you some peace.

A Whole Free Mood

It’s been a busy morning, my coffee has gone cold, and the diffuser in my office is burbling away with a little sandalwood and jasmine, mixing with petrichor coming in through my half-open window. The neighborhood is quiet, except for crow-calls and some squirrel chitterings. This morning I saw a giant black-feathered beast sitting next to an equally robust figure of an arboreal rat; they hurriedly separated when they discerned my surveillance.

I have a bad feeling about this.

I’ve also received a rash of “I have this idea, you take half a year to write it while living on air and then we’ll split the profits! Or I’ll–this is an even better deal–TAKE ALL THE PROFITS! Isn’t that great? Don’t you want to do that? Why don’t you want to do that? Where are you going? I HATE YOUR WORK ANYWAY.”

Yeah, it’s a whole mood, and it plays out the same way every. damn. time.

On a brighter note, the creative well demanded filling yesterday, so I spent some time watching the second Magic Mike movie, wrote 4k, then ended up missing bedtime because I watched Netflix’s Russian Doll start to finish in one gulp. The former was enjoyable, and I have Thoughts about the male gaze of the director focusing on male entertainers. The latter was…thought-provoking. I did not like the protagonist but I was rooting for her and for Alan, the character the story really belonged to.

That’s something I wish more narrative artists–writers in particular, but also directors–would take to heart more frequently. The protagonist is the watcher/reader’s main point of entry into the story. The story belongs, however, to the character who changes the most, and failing to recognize that is a large source of reader/viewer frustration and disappointment.

Deciding who your protagonist is and who the story actually belongs to will make the structure of the work much clearer, and will allow the storyteller–in whatever format–to push and pull said structure to get the effect they want. Along with a list of what every character in the thing desires–even the walk-ons–it’s a tool that often arrives after a great deal of trial and error, not to mention hard work. Lucky you, therefore, getting it for free!

…yeah, I’m a little salty this morning. Time to drag both dogs out for a run before the rains come in, though I never mind running under precipitation. It keeps the assholes with unleashed dogs inside, at least.

All right, Thursday. Let’s not hurt each other, okay? I’ll play gently if you will.

*puts on hockey mask*

Soup Is Not Soup

The other day I wanted potato-leek soup. You can do it quickly, of course, but I like roasted potatoes in mine, and I have very definite needs for the leeks. The bottoms must be soft and the tops still a little crunchy-stringy, which means a multi-stage cooking process.

My ex used to make his own particular soup, one the kids adored. They like mine, but it’s not the same–and we don’t have it often, because the smell can remind them of the time of the divorce. It wasn’t contentious, they just don’t like that part of the reminder. There were good things about that process, too.

It isn’t just soup. It’s memory and survival, hope and endurance, bitter laughter and amazed tears, all in one pot. Food is rarely just fuel.

May you reclaim dishes you love, my friends; and may you look around the table and think, we made it, we survived. And may that thought fill you with peace instead of despair.

Over and out.

Mental Mustelidae

The headweasels are particularly bad this morning. Back and forth they go, treating my skull like a flimsy cage. I’d love to let them out–fly, be free, never come back–but they’re stuck inside a bone bowl. There’s nothing to be done about it.

They’re independent of how many books I write or how much my children love me, independent of how much sleep I got last night or how hard I strive to be good and do good. “Do no harm and take no shit” is my mantra; why should I take shit from ghosts of people who hated and tried their best to kill or maim Child-Me?

And yet.

Meds don’t answer the head weasels, though meds can send them into protracted hibernation or blunt their sharp, tiny teeth. Proper pharmacology makes it easier to see the headweasels in their correct proportions, as distorted reflections not of the world, but of what we fear the world might be.

It’s already terrible enough out there, one doesn’t need to make it worse. Even though there’s a certain amount of frantic quasi-safety and illusionary control in imagining the worst so vividly that whatever actually happens looks like a relief. It’s still shitty, but it could be so much shittier really isn’t a healthy way to live your life, though. The wear and tear on your nerves about absolutely imaginary shittiness takes up time and energy one could be using to fight real ordure.

I should run. Make some tea. Lose myself in work for a while. I dread ending up tired, sweaty, and hammering at a book that will never sell because it’s too dark, too complex, too dangerous, too grim. Or not dark, complex, dangerous, and grim enough.

See? Headweasels, whispering in the corners, padding around the skull’s shadowed nooks, pressing their claws against the soft folds of a vulnerable brain.

The weasels just don’t seem to understand if I go down, they go down with me. They’re still determined to crash this fleshly bus into the nearest abutment at high speed. They’re not even good villains, as such things go. They’re just…balls of anxiety, with sleek fur, red eyes, and needle claws. Short-sighted, poo-flinging, nasty-tempered little idiots without even a cat’s gracefulness or (abstract and imperfectly applied) loyalty.

So I hunker down. I endure the brainweasels. I let them play and do my work while they try to bleed off precious energy. I use every strategy the therapist gave me and a few I picked up on my own. I write about the weasels to perform an old variety of sorcery: naming my enemy so I may gain power over it.

They’re uncomfortable, yes. But they’re just…thoughts. I know the power of a thought, and I know what a thought isn’t. It takes hard work over a long duration to turn small thoughts into reality, and while I’m not in charge of the thieving little mental mustelidae I am in charge of my hard work and effort. I’m the spaceship the weasels are loose in, and I can open the doors and fling us all into space at any moment.

New ones will generate if I somehow get my hands on the old, I’m sure. But I am the life support system, and I am the one living this life, and I am the one who will steer on down the highway, grimacing and pained but still in charge.

First on the agenda is a run to bring my mood back into line. Then it’s tea, and work. The weasels will scream or whisper, threaten or cajole, blandish or brandish, but I remain unmoved.

Or at least, I’m going to pretend to be unmoved, and go about my day. Good luck, everyone.

Let’s hope it works.