Bryophyta Courage

Moss. Mycelium. Maybe some lichen too.

I’ve been obsessed with moss lately. I mean, I already liked it, but then there happened along the #Mosstodon tag on the fedi. (There’s also the #LichenSubscribe tag, which pleases me deeply, and let’s not even talk about the donkeys.) So I’ve been happily taking pictures of winter velvet, no doubt also pleasing a few botanists and biologists curious about such things.

Heaven knows there’s never any shortage of moss around here even in summer, though it does tend to get a bit dry and crackly. I won’t run out of subjects to point the cell phone at, that’s for sure.

I finally wrote the river race that’s been knocking around in my head for over a year, and today I get to set up the destruction of an entire elvish city. The elementalist does need to have a chat with the king about his parenting methods before then, perhaps; I’ll get there as the story–and the Muse–wills.

One of the things I love about moss is that it grows in places no other self-respecting plant would find even remotely acceptable. It creeps into cracks, feeds on detritus, covers the garbage left behind. Hell, it’ll even grow on bare rock, especially if its best bud lichen is around. Moss takes adversity as a challenge, like Bugs Bunny takes a thrown gauntlet.

Anyway, this crop is merrily growing on a creosote-soaked railroad tie repurposed to hold back perhaps-contaminated topsoil. It fries in summer and drowns autumn through spring. The locale is terrible for any living thing, but there’s the moss, happily soaking its wee roots, lifting its many green fingers. Some has spread to the rocks and small chunks of concrete below, because even stone is friable when you’ve got the sort of time moss does.

One can learn a lot from dear old Bryophyta. And with that happy thought, I wish you a pleasant weekend.

Pride of Survival

Got good news in the inbox yesterday (of a sort, but still a hurrah), a rejection before coffee this morning (not unexpected, minor boo), and I get to write a scene I’ve been planning for well over a year today (major celebration, but performance anxiety ahoy). So, Thursday is a mixed bag, as usual. The most difficult part is moving through all the emotional stages after rejection at high speed while also getting caffeine into my bloodstream.

Fortunately I’m an old hand at that sort of thing, and this particular one barely makes a dent. It merely opens another door.

The monthly sale post has been updated. There’s a lot going on right now. I’m kind of looking forward to taking a break in February, not least so I can get The Fall of Waterstone situated. The river race is about to begin, then there’s the (interrupted, sort of) wedding, then fleeing from OMG ALL THE BAD STUFF, and the fall of yet another kingdom to write too. It’s a big, meaty, sprawling book, and I would be frightened of attempting it if I weren’t so busy. I don’t have time for fear; like spice, the words must flow.

And there’s the matter of a book of short stories to put together. I’ve been kicking around the idea of an anthology of all my shorts (or the shorts so far, since I’m sure I’ll write more) in one place, with some extras. Like the less-than-500-word experiment story, and the Dolly Parton homage, and that one story I know will piss everyone off.

…that last one is somewhat vague, since I’m dead sure a lot of my stuff pisses people off. Occupational hazard, and I won’t deny a certain amount of satisfaction in it either.

I finished reading Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which was lovely and painful. I’d forgotten how slim a volume it is, but packed tight with sentences polished bright and sharp–I like the Norton Critical editions in these cases because they give sorely needed context. I knew when it ended I’d yearn to read Jane Eyre again, but when do I not? A long time ago, my writing partner’s husband said, in tones of surpassing wonder, “How many editions of Jane Eyre do you need, anyway?”

To which my writing partner and I chorused, “All of them, of course.” Just one more reason why we’re friends.

Now I’m about a hundred-plus pages into John Rechy’s City of Night, which is reportedly one of the main influences on Gus van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho–the non-Shakespeare bits, at least. I’m reminded strongly of the things I actually liked about Bukowski and Kerouac while reading it, as well as a few things I didn’t, and since I spent so long sunk into Anais Nin I also keep thinking “Anais went through the Swamp of Despair so that Rechy and his like could have good careers.” I am also…well, the feeling is somewhere between amazement and surprise at the fidelity to certain aspects of street life, which shone through in Idaho as well. Maybe because van Sant, like Rechy, knew actual hustlers; in Rechy’s case, he was one and it shows.

It’s like turning a corner and seeing an old friend from a previous (uncomfortable, and highly formative) life era. The embarrassment, the pride, the knowledge of someone else understanding exactly what it was like as well as the shame and queasy pride of survival. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about the book at the end, but that’s part of the joy of reading, ennit?

In any case, Boxnoggin has turned his nose up at brekkie and is waiting for me to get my own morning nutriment sorted. I will be full of the scene I have to write today all during walkies, going over and over it so often it might well tear itself out of my head whole and bloody when I am finally able to settle and get the actual writing done. I’m edgy, in a way other writers will understand. This part of the story has patiently (or not so patiently) waited its turn, and now it wants out.

With claws, and a vengeance.

I long to get to it. I cannot wait, so I will bid you a fond adieu. I hope you have something as pleasant to look forward to, my beloveds. It’s always good to have a day full of doing what you were meant and made for.

Almost makes one believe in fate. Almost.

Eggs, Bitter, Wondrous

My dreams have been somewhat feverish of late, but not in a fun way–the kind that I can glean bits of stories and imagery from. Instead, it’s more like mental housecleaning, my brain packing things up tidily and storing them in color-coded bins. Most of the time the interior of my skull is more of a heap, or Barliman’s lumber-room, thing wanted often buried. It’s nice to know someone’s taking an interest in cleanliness; yet I can’t help thinking that Kondo-ing my head is a bad idea.

If only for the monsters which lie sleeping therein, and the risks of disturbing them.

At the same time, it’s been a long while since I’ve had a spate of nocturnal mental activity like this. I’m choosing to view it as some sort of healing (or pandemic trauma) or adjustment (to the state of STILL being in a fucking pandemic), or both. Porque no los dos, and all that. There’s probably a healthy serving of Twitter detox in there; I am now pretty much fully divorced from the site that took up a great deal of my time and social energy since 2009.

After the acute phase of detoxification, there’s a longer period of settling in and finding what one needs elsewhere. I’m glad I set up my Mastodon instance in ’17, and had enough time to get comfortable there; I’m also super glad I kept my Tumblr. The practice of never putting all one’s eggs in a single basket does bear fruit; unfortunately, the fruit tends to be a bit bitter since one never thinks about it until the pinch comes.

Speaking of a pinch coming, my friend Skyla has a post up detailing some more Amazon fuckery. Bezos’s princedom is not a friend to authors, in any way, shape, or form.

Now, a lot of readers ask, “does it help if I buy your books elsewhere,” and sometimes it does. But honestly, my beloveds, buy wherever you please and wherever is best for you, and if that happens to be Amazon that’s fine. Authors just prefer you to buy the books instead of stealing them (remember, kids, e-piracy is theft plain and simple) and we understand our readers have finite supplies of money and reading time. Buy wherever you gotta–and before you ask, libraries count! We love libraries, they pay a fair price for the books they lend and no author dislikes that.

It does help, however, if you also leave a rating or review wherever you buy. We’re all forced to deal with the algorithm these days, in one way or another. Living in the future is endlessly wondrous, and some bits of it suck.

Oh! Before I forget, I have another sale to highlight. If you like HOOD, the Complete Serial ebook is 25% off at Kobo, with the code “25JAN” entered at checkout, from January 19-30. The rest of the month’s sales can be found here.

I like highlighting monthly sales, though it’s a lot of work and I might take February off. What with two massive projects to finish and other chainsaws in the air, I might not have time. Ah well. There’s always April.

…I can’t believe I just typed that. We’re in 2023 already, fa cry-eye. I keep muttering that time has no meaning, but honestly, the amount of psychic (and other) trauma that has attacked our (always very subjective) sense of time passing is nontrivial. And I’m sure it’ll become worse before it gets better.

On that cheerful note, it’s time to embark upon Tuesday. The apocalypse is shambling to Bethlehem apace, but Boxnoggin still needs walkies and the stories must still be told. I am grateful (I suppose that’s the word?) for such things to focus on. It’s better than any number of alternatives I can think of, some swirling through my dreams at night.

Though never moving quite hard enough to trigger a story, alas. It’s not like I have any shortage, though.

See you around.

Soundtrack Monday: Take Me Out

It’s time for another Soundtrack Monday! Today the track is Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out, which I listened to obsessively while writing the casino shootout in Hunter, Healer.

Especially the part where the singer croons, “I know I won’t be leaving here…with you.”

I enjoyed writing those books, especially the callbacks to X-Men fanfic–which I started out writing very young, in spiral-bound 5-subject notebooks. One of the last real conversations I ever had with my beloved grandfather was about exactly how to put together a Molotov cocktail, and Delgado uses some of the things I was told that particular summer evening.

Everything goes into the work, my friends. Everything.

I sometimes get asked if I’ll revisit that particular piece of the universe that holds the Watchers series, then the Society series, then Selene and finally, the Danny Valentine books. (Yes, they’re all the same timeline.) I could go back to the Society books, true, but it would mean a couple character deaths I don’t really want to write, so it’s probably best to just leave it be. Del’s happy where he is, Rowan can use the time to heal, and while I know what happens I don’t have to prod either of them towards it.

Anyway, if that particular shootout is ever filmed, I’d want it to be set to this track. You can almost hear the point where Del decides to go nuclear on the whole deal. He’s not a very nice person, but he’s an effective combatant indeed. Play to your strengths, and all that…

Change Is the Constant

There are Things Happening On the Roof, even at this early hour, and Boxnoggin is utterly beside himself. I can’t decide if he wants to go up the ladder and help, or if he simply doesn’t connect the noise up there to the workers, who he has already throughly vetted. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, I suppose.

It’s Monday. I managed another minor feat of resurrection over the weekend; it’s hard, swimming against the current. I think I’ve my fire back in me now, though, as Ellen Foster says. (I just mentioned that book a few days ago; it’s probably time for a reread.) I really do love and believe in this series. It’s just hard to be the only one, especially when I also have to descend to the depths to wrench bits of it up to the surface. Each diving trip carries a risk.

The weekend was also spent parenting, in one form or another. Of course the job doesn’t stop when one’s own children reach adulthood. But a lot of others seem to be needing it now, too.

It’s kind of baffling. First, your baby goes from a sperm and egg to a zygote, from that to an embryo, from that to a fetus, then is born and becomes an infant. They change rapidly over the next few years, from toddler to child, then the changes lengthen into adolescence. Then you have a young adult on your hands, and if you’ve done your job it’s a functioning adult who still wants to speak to you. The change is constant, and you went through all those stages too.

What I don’t get, what absolutely puzzles the fuck out of me, is how anyone can parent through all that change and then claim they can’t handle their precious, irreplaceable child deciding on a different gender expression. People are change. If you can accept a toddler turning into an elementary-schooler, a kid turning into a teenager, a teenager getting a driver’s license, a teen turning into a young adult, why on earth should you have problem with your child expressing as male, female, nonbinary, or any gradation therein? Your job isn’t to stop a kid from finding their own gender any more than it is to halt a child at the toddler stage, or to keep them artificially dependent on you forever.

Parents who claim to have a problem with their child “changing” are lying, to themselves or to others. I’m not surprised at the number of kids (and adults) cutting off contact with “parents” who want Suzy to remain six or sixteen or female-presenting forever, who get bent out of shape when Tim decides she wants to be Sandra, or Holly decides they want to be Hollister.

One of my daughter’s best friends is transitioning. He shook like a leaf when he came out to us, poor thing; it was obviously terrifying for him. There’s only one thing to say when a child approaches you in that situation.

“Thank you for telling me. I loved you yesterday, I love you today, and if you change again tomorrow I’ll love who you are then too. Want a hug?”

That’s it. That’s all that needs to be said. It’s not a big deal to keep track of pronouns; when you slip up you stop, redo the sentence, and move on. It’s easy to not deadname someone–when you slip up you (surprise, surprise) stop, redo the sentence, and move on.

“But I always wanted a son/daughter, and now I don’t have one!” What, like it’s a fucking Pokemon? Your child is not a box to tick off or a piece of chocolate in an assortment. Grow the fuck up and treat your kid properly.

“But I don’t understaaaaaaand!” Then get to a place where you can at least accept without being a pile of toxic shittery. Do that work on your own, grow the fuck up, and treat your kid with proper kindness.

“But…but…God says it’s wrong!” Then what you’re worshipping is cruelty, not divinity. Find a different fucking god, you sleaze. Grow the fuck up and start acting like you worship something worthy of being called divine.

“But I just don’t think it’s right!” Then get prepared to lose contact with your kid, of whatever age, because what you’re after is control, not love. The harder you tighten your grasp, the more children will slip through your fingers, Tarkin, and if it sounds like I’m saying you’re the baddie, yes, that’s precisely what I’m saying. And also: Grow. The. Fuck. Up.

Living in late-stage capitalism and corporate-fueled climate change is hard enough; don’t make it worse. Your kid expressing their intrinsic self is not a problem. Get over it, get your head straight, and be the parent you’re supposed to be. You can certainly try to force and control and belittle, but the consequence of that is losing the trust and love your beautiful, irreplaceable child wants to give you. Kids want to love their parents, but if you act like an asshole–especially about this–you’re going to make it so difficult to do so they have to back away for their own safety.

Then you will lose your kid, even if you have them physically trapped and dependent, and it will be your own goddamn fault. It’s very simple. You are not here to own your child, you are here to love who they are, yesterday and today and tomorrow, and to help them become a functioning adult. That’s the job, and if you don’t do it, they’ll find another way–and you will have failed at one of the most important things you will ever do.

Period, full stop, the end. I will not be taking questions or listening to any toxic, shitty, abusive talking points. My time is better spent taking care of the kids–of any age–who have decided I’m safe parental material, and repeating the bare honest truth.

I love you. I loved you yesterday, I love you today, and if you change tomorrow, I’ll love who you are then, too.

Want a hug?

Moss, Rust, Poetry

Obsessed with moss lately.

I’ve been obsessed with the #Mosstodon hashtag lately. It helps that I live in the PNW, where moss is…well, let’s just call it a given. It’s everywhere, what with all the rain. Trees wear it, rocks wear it, bare earth and concrete wear it, even houses can develop a green coat if left to themselves long enough. In summer it’s dry loofah, in winter it’s juicy velvet.

This particular photo even provoked a poem. Most of my poetry is kept for home consumption, but every once in a while I commit an act out in the open. It’s good to sometimes show one’s colors, send your ghost ship into battle with all pennants flying.

It’s been a long week, full of strange things. I finished reading Nin’s Cities of the Interior in bed this morning, with Boxnoggin snoring into my armpit. He really likes morning read/snuggle sessions, and was only rousted from the warm nest with some difficulty. Half of me is still living in Nin’s words, thinking about the different selves contained in each of us and how we chase–blindly, often–after the ones stunted by neglect.

Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is next. I haven’t read it in easily a decade, so I’m looking forward to the rediscovery. If I’m not careful it will lead to a Jane Eyre reread, but then again, what doesn’t? I return to Jane more often than I go back to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, or Sajer’s Forgotten Soldier. My moss is not rust but words.

We’ve survived another week of 2023, my beloveds. Good for us, gold star, grand effort. It feels like even keeping one’s head above water these days is an achievement deserving of parade and pension. We’ve all done very well; let’s hope the weekend provides a little rest.

Truly Reliable Unreliable Narrators

Just because you don’t personally understand a story’s narrator does not make them “unreliable”. Being an asshole does not make a narrator “unreliable”. And a narrator presenting as female in a way you don’t think is “valid” doesn’t make them “unreliable”.

It’s becoming fashionable to throw around the term “unreliable narrator”, to make lists of stories someone thinks has one, and those lists generally feature the same inaccurate cast of suspects. In House of Leaves Navidson is simply an asshole and “Johnny” a damaged mama’s boy, both confronted with a Lovecraftian geometric dilemma. Gone Girl is a good mystery with a psychopath at its core. Rebecca’s narrator is nameless and naive, not unreliable. Haruki Murakami’s protagonists function on the logic of dreams, not unreliability. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time has an autistic narrator, and conflating that with unreliability does both the book and neurodivergent people a grave disservice. Atonement’s narrator is not unreliable, she’s simply a nasty lying child caught in English class war. Joe Goldberg in You is simply a very charming serial killer, Ted Bundy with a higher IQ, some luck, and a bookstore. The Bell Jar’s narrator is entirely honest and reliable about her own breakdown. Lolita’s Humbert Humbert has a very fancy prose style, but he is not unreliable, he tells you flat-out what he is and how repulsive, and his cry “but I loved her!” deceives neither us nor him. The Secret History’s narrator is a grubby class-climbing gold-digger we are forced to find queasy sympathy with, not unreliable even if his “friends” lie to him.

And before you start to hiss that I’m just a jealous little hack, I’ll have you know I love every single one of those books. But their narrators are exceeding reliable indeed, even when the reader cannot or will not like them. And The Yellow Wallpaper’s narrator is not unreliable, she’s driven fucking mad by her awful husband and misogyny.

A story’s narrator is unreliable when they are lying both to themselves and to the reader. Very late in the story–usually on the very last page–the lie must be revealed unto the reader (though not necessarily the narrator), with the shock of a bomb exploding. This is mostly why “unreliable narrator” is such a hat-trick to pull off, and why so many stories attempting one fail, generally in “asshole” mode.

Sarah Waters pulled it off in The Little Stranger, Dan Simmons in Drood, and Shirley Jackson in We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Stephen King did it in my very favorite short story of his, Strawberry Spring, from the Night Shift anthology. This list is not exhaustive, since it comprises only the books Yours Truly has read with truly unreliable narrators, but it is also smaller because the trick is so difficult to perform. The craft necessary to make the reader complicit and then whisk away the curtain at the very last moment, to provoke that blinding earthquake moment of realization, is immense. And often books that could have had honestly unreliable narrators run up against the wall of editorial, “but readers are stupid, you must hold their hands, alter this story to make it more palatable!” Or bean-counters with, “this won’t sell, readers want pablum instead of difficult books with bombs at the end, change it or you’ll starve.”

I realize I am shouting into the wind, but my writing partner sent me a link to yet another list purporting to be of “books with unreliable narrators” and we both had a moment of “Jesu Christ, words mean things, people, just stop it”–or rather, I had that moment because she knows it is very easy to put the quarter in me, yank my arm, and get a lecture on this very subject.

I am exceeding reliable on that particular count.

Anyway, this will make no difference, nobody cares what I think about the matter and inaccurate listicles infect every corner of Beyoncé’s internet. But Hermes as my witness, my friends, a true unreliable narrator is a joy to read, an almost insurmountable trick to pull off, and while I will not precisely die on this hill I will reliably splutter about it at length to my writing partner.

And now, to you. Have fun.