A camellia lay upon pavement, drying out during the recent heat wave. I stopped dead in wonder, which meant Boxnoggin had to stop too, while attempting to suss out what was wrong with his human–my habit of pointing the little handheld thing at stuff he doesn’t see the utility of is puzzling, but he grants me a lot of slack. After all, I am only a monkey.
It’s been a long week and I’m feeling rather low. Hopefully this is just recovery fraying my nerves, and things will start looking up soon.
I should’ve known a good working day would drag a not-so-good one in its wake. That’s just the way the cookie has crumbled since, oh, about 2016 or so. It was bad before, certainly…but I think back then I still had hope.
How young I was. How wisely foolish.
It’s a clear morning, alas. The sun is still hiding behind a rather large fir in the cul-de-sac behind us, a trick of the earth’s wobble this particular time of year. Walkies shouldn’t be too bad, just bright and perhaps a little exciting if we see any other canines out exercising their humans–that’s something funny, how many dogs walk their humans rather than the other way ’round. Heaven knows it took Bailey a significant number of months before she finally absorbed that the biped was in charge and her own duties were different.
Boxnoggin, of course, gets so distracted by every little thing that he can’t possibly be in charge, only contained, corralled, and gently chided for terrible behavior. He’s such an anxious dog, poor thing.
As for said work, I made a good start on the Sekrit Projekt–it’s been revealed to patrons and newsletter subscribers, so it’s not Sooper-Sekrit, and it’ll be announced publicly in June–and also got the right opening scene for Gamble, the third Ghost Squad book. I think I’m going to enjoy the wedding planner heroine’s scenes A Lot, she seems like a hoot. A big contrast to indeed to Tax’s buttoned-down, logical, I-think-I’m-so-rational vibe. And I think I have the timeline for the book pretty solid, with only a couple moving parts involved to give me grief.
It’s so nice to be writing again, instead of revisions, proofs, or what-have-you. Two hundred measly words, poking at a fanfic while exhausted at the end of the day, just doesn’t cut it. I need a higher dosage, and a few thousand on two separate projects is just perfect. I’d like to get back to juggling at least three projects at a time, but I think I need more recovery before that’s possible. And I’m glad to be shifting between epic fantasy (there’s a clue!) and contemporary again, getting both sides of a very pleasant coin.
In order to add another project, though, I’d need to rearrange my life so there’s far more self-care and far less dealing-with-other-things, which isn’t quite possible at the moment. Ah well, juggling two chainsaws is enough. And I’m hopeful for Hell’s Acre, season one of which is hanging out with my agent to see if something can be done in that direction. If not, it’ll be choose-an-editor time.
It’s good to have options.
I suppose I should finish the coffee, open my office window, and get Boxnoggin started on the Anticipatory Walkies Dance. It is a very silly dance, but he loves it and I am not going to pass up an opportunity to laugh until my sides hurt. Such things might not keep one young, but they certainly make life easier to endure. And I need to plan out the scars-in-the-sauna scene, where a couple characters are asking one very tired sellsword about past battles, so that it ends on precisely the right note. Today’s ramble will fix that in my head; I already have the next scene for Gamble, which will probably involve someone being menaced with a frying pan.
This is one of the worst parts of recovery. After a huge project finishes, there’s a few days of the brain being like porridge, then there’s the mounting desire to get back to work while body and mind both rebel against the notion in the strongest possible terms. It takes three times as long as one thinks to get through this bit, and each time I hate, hate, HATE it.
The only cure is to get enough rest, but I want to be writing. And not just poking out 200-word days on fallow projects, weeding and arranging. I want to be back doing what I do, fa cry-eye, and the longer I’m barred from it the more antsy, nervous, dissatisfied, and short-tempered I become. Of course the case could be made that I’m wound too tightly as a matter of course and recovery phases are just a different flavor of the usual.
One might even win that argument, because I certainly wouldn’t disagree.
…I might have had other things to say this morning, but I ran across a news article about ChatGPT scraping Omegaverse fanfic without permission and good gods, what a time to be alive. The only thing that’s going to stop these gluttonous plagiarizers–because that’s all ChatGPT and its ilk are, giant plagiarizers using microprocessors to reach an economy of scale in theft–is consequences. While the legal challenges are getting underway they’re going to merrily keep stealing the work of people overwhelmingly below the poverty line, because they can. It’s the same as the giant grift that is bitcoin–finding a way to steal with techniques or technology that hasn’t been fully regulated yet and hoping like hell you’re one of the first grifters to get there, so you can grab cash, smash windows, and leave before regulators arrive.
If they were stealing from rich people it would already be tightly regulated. But all these folk who are trumpeting about how AI and “machine learning” are “game-changing” and “not plagiarism” are grifters looking to take what they can from already struggling writers and artists. It’s fucking hard enough to make a living with ebook thieves and trad publishing’s mounting exploitation, but now there’s this to deal with as well.
Why do I even do this, again? I mean, I’ll write all my life, but some days leaving publishing for good and finding some other way to pay the mortgage sounds incredibly appetizing. Although it is kind of funny to watch certain sectors of the world find out all about knotting.
On a brighter note, I spent part of yesterday answering some fanmail hanging fire in the ol’ inbox. I normally don’t get to answer very many missives due to volume, but whenever I’ve some time I try to get at least a short reply to as many as possible. Hearing that a book saved someone–even in the most ordinary of ways–is enough to keep me going for a while longer. And there are plenty of subscribers writing to me in excitement about the next serial (I’ll announce it officially in June), so that’s exceedingly pleasant.
I should find some way to slap a “100% bespoke human-made content, no AI” sticker on all my books. I know some writers are using those tools for various publishing tasks, but…I just can’t. Not until they’re regulated to a fare-thee-well, and probably not even then. I already have enough people stealing my work, I don’t need more. And I’m too…well, “control freak” might be a good way to put it, about my writing. So, no AI will have permission to touch my work–not now, and most probably not in the future. If there is any of my work in those plagiarism holes, you’ll know it’s been stolen.
In short, I just can’t even today. I’m only halfway through coffee but I’m gonna get started on the pre-walkies process early. Boxnoggin is enjoying the cooler weather and is eager to get out the door; at least that pleasure can’t be taken from us. If I can only please one creature on earth today it’ll most likely be the dog, since heaven knows even I am in a Mood and won’t even be able to please myself.
I just finished the massive revise on both seasons of Hell’s Acre, getting the books polished from zero level–finished, steaming, just having slid free–to submittable draft. The first book’s with the agent now, and we’ll see what she says. If a publisher doesn’t want to get in on the action, it’ll go out through the self-pub pipeline. Either way there’s several more edits, copyediting, and proofing to get through. But the raw creation and first polish is done.
In celebration, here’s Abney Park’s Victorian Vigilante, which a particular fan (thanks, Tal!) suggested very early in the serial’s first few chapters. It’s rather evocative, and is definitely playing when Avery waltzes into the Marauders’ pub to kill McNeiss. I even gave the Rook a malacca cane during the fight, which was all sorts of fun.
I enjoyed writing Avery a great deal. He doesn’t hesitate, he doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and he doesn’t dither about what he wants. The instant he sees Gemma he makes up his mind, and though he’s a product of his environment he doesn’t ever belittle her, or think of her as lesser. Every time some new dimension of her talents shows, he’s just as pleased as if he’d discovered them in himself. Out of all my heroes he’s probably one of the least problematic, even with his, erm, habit of murdering evildoers.
He also has a great sense of style. The cane–snatched from a Dickens reference–appealed to him a great deal, and the instant he saw the wrist crossbow in Rook’s Rose he was like, “I’ll just be taking that, mate, thanks.”
He’s also profoundly lonely when the serial starts. One rather gets the idea he was just waiting to find a lifelong cause rather more solid than mere vengeance, and Gemma happened along at just the right time. Both of them shift names and identities, though Avery is far more practiced. I think he has a more solid core of who he is, which makes it easier for him, but little Beth was raised Respectable and has a wee bit more trouble.
The rest of the serial’s soundtrack can be found here. I think it’s in its final fighting form now, just like the books themselves. Well, that’s not quite precise since the books will have edits and so on, but…oh, you know what I mean. I’m recovering from this round of revision, and my brain is porridge.
Finished the top-to-bottom revise of Hell’s Acre late Saturday evening, so I’m in recovery again. (How many is that this year? I’ve lost count.) It wasn’t until the second third of Rook’s Rose (the second season) that I started feeling good about the duology, which is…instructive. Swimming against the tide of pandemic and other stuff–this serial officially began way back in June 2021, can you believe it–means I just had to trust that the work and the characters were doing what they needed to, since I was entirely occupied with the problem of Not Drowning.
Trusting the work has never led me wrong before, and it didn’t this time either. I’ve figured out where the persistent, nagging feeling of “there’s a hole in this book” came from, too.
I wanted to do something sort of video game-y. Right in the middle of Rook’s Rose I realized that Avery is the most traditional “player character” in the books. He’s the dude with the shadowy past, the dude with the Hellion training, and he even gets a wrist-crossbow, literally “leveling up” near the end of the “game”. But he’s not the protagonist. The story belongs to the character who changes the most, and that’s Gemma–who would be an NPC love interest in a regular ol’ video game. Plus, at the end neither of them gets the…
…whoops, almost gave away a spoiler there. But anyway, that was the persistent sense of “somethin’ ain’t right in this book” I kept feeling. I hadn’t realized just what the Muse was interested in doing. Now, naturally, I’m slapping myself on the forehead and going, “Of course, of bloody course.” She’s just as interested in subverting tropes and expectations as I am. (That’s a lie. She’s way more invested in it than I could ever hope to be.)
So, I’m relieved to say I will be putting these books out for wider publication. A lot will depend on what my agent says; they may snag some publisher interest. But if not, it’s into the self-pub pipeline they go. It’s good to have that decision made; Christ knows it’s been waffling around in my head for about a year.
All of this means I go straight into writing the next serial–which subscribers, both of the patron and newsletter variety, have already heard about. The official announcement will happen sometime in June, right here on the blog and on social media as well. So my working time for the foreseeable future will be spent between Shiny New Serial and Gamble, the third in the Ghost Squad series. The latter’s gonna be a lot of fun, since it’s the medic of the team (Tax) and a wedding planner, in Vegas for the demolition man’s wedding. I’ve been aching to write something contemporary since I’ve been head-down in epic and alt-historical fantasy for a while now; the last contemporary thing I did was Sons of Ymre #2–which is in line edits, I think, and should be out sometime later this year too.
I’ve even got the unedited ebook of Rook’s Rose cut for subscribers, though it won’t drop until somewhere around June 1. It’s been a long strange ride with this serial, and while I’ve loved it I’m also glad it’s over–there’s a weird sense of almost-mourning, too, because writing it was so bound up in the crisis-feeling of getting through one more day. Some ropes hurt one’s hands even as they save one’s life, and while one doesn’t want to complain one can still wince a bit. Having to make the subscription drop each week, come hell high water or whatever-the-fuck in the news cycle, was good practice.
So it’s a recovery Monday. I have some administrivia to do, perhaps a Soundtrack Monday post to write–because I do love doing those–and a little bit of gardening planned while it’s a reasonable temperature outside. That’s on top of Boxnoggin’s walkies and running my own weary corpse, albeit both will probably occur at a far slower pace than usual. I’ve almost absorbed the last of the coffee, so it’s probably time to bid you a civil adieu and get started.
However, my quandary paled in comparison to Rip Van Rodent’s. The lazy little arboreal menace was not sleepy now, no sir. In fact, I would wager he was WIDE AWAKE, for finding oneself under a hawk’s claws upon a sunny summer afternoon will light a fire beneath even the most unrepentantly indolent critter. I still wasn’t sure if I was screaming or if the squirrel was, but one thing was for sure–Boxnoggin had found both his sea legs (so to speak) and his voice.
For the dog was making more than enough noise to cover both that horrified shrieking (honestly, I cannot tell if it was me or Rip, even after a few days’ worth of thinking about things) and the sound of buffeting wings as Not-Tony Hawk attempted to get what he thought was an easy, slothful snack off the ground.
Maybe it was the adrenaline, maybe it was the sudden sonic assault. In any case, Rip Van Rodent’s pride had gone before a helluva fall, and he appeared both panicked and grimly determined. I still don’t know how he avoided being murdered on the first stoop or carried skyward; I can only think a flinch of the sort prey creatures often perform is responsible for the former and sheer dumb good luck for the latter.
I want to take a moment here to fully soak in the situation. There’s a hawk just going about its hawklike business, grabbing something from the corner deli. There’s a usually torpid squirrel whose hubris had been fed to gargantuan proportions, learning that eluding sixty-plus pounds of canine strapped to a resisting human is altogether not the same thing as dealing with a hungry, well-practiced bird of prey. Coming from the northern end of the yard, at the end of a leash and straining every muscle, is said sixty-plus pounds, urine-dripping, drooling, and emitting Hound of the Baskerville howls to boot. And finally, there’s your humble narrator, holding onto the leash for dear life and attempting to dig her heels in somewhere near the Venerable Fir.
The thing that flashed through my head was, I kid you not, I am going to have to think of something once Boxnoggin gets to that bird.
And then, my beloveds, there was a literal bolt from the blue.
Longtime readers (especially on Mastodon) will remember The Jerry Situation during a particular hot, smokey summer evening, in which there was a downed crow in our backyard, I thought I was hallucinating big-band music, and I wished for full protective hockey gear despite the weather. Carl (the reigning crow matriarch) and Sandra (the young juvenile male sticking around to help her with the young ones) often accompany Box and me on morning walkies if we get out the door in time, gravely escorting us to the edge of their murder’s territory–and occasionally taunting the dog, because they’re corvids and that’s good clean fun.
Poor Jerry is…well, he’s kind of special, for a crow. There are always a few family members around to help keep him out of trouble, and he had more than the usual difficulties getting back to flying while his tail was…Christ, whatever had happened to it, I certainly don’t know. (He’s no Bartholomew of the Legion Corvidae, 501st, Neo’s Fist, that’s for sure.) Jerry’s tail is no longer fucked-up, but he still has the pale patch on his side. Which was, at the particular moment I’m telling you about now, very nearly a streak upon the air as he plummeted from heaven.
Backup, in other words, had arrived.
Crows don’t like hawks–though they do not hate them nearly as much as they do owls, which is a whole ‘nother story–and if you remember, they had been setting up a racket warning all and sundry one was in the neighborhood as Box and I sashayed outside. Apparently Not-Tony Hawk’s presence was known unto Carl, Sandra, and the gang, but Jerry was first on the scene. And boy howdy, but that particular corvid makes up for his rather dim intelligence by pure enthusiasm.
“OH NO,” I screamed, and I am 100% certain that particular yell was mine, because it pierced Boxnoggin’s baying and made recognizable words. Plus it was exactly what I was thinking–if Jerry got injured again I was going to have to set up another crow condo in the backyard and deal with Carl and Sandra (not to mention the others) getting snitty with me while I nursed the poor little weirdo back to some variety of health. This fresh fear acted as a tonic, I surmise, because I finally got my heels dug in, my center of gravity dropped, and hauled on the leash like a demented Ahab getting a grip upon a certain white whale.
The leash snapped taut. Boxnoggin was yanked to an unceremonious halt with an ulp! noise that might’ve been funny under other circumstances. At the same moment, Jerry–yes, Jerry the simple, Jerry the weirdo, Jerry of “FUCK YOU JERRY!” fame–began absolutely beating the shit out of Not-Tony Hawk.
We’ve all seen that point in a movie where the plucky underdog starts dancing around, peppering their big, lumbering opponent with mighty blows, right? It was like that. I swear to the gods, if there hadn’t been so much noise (including my own yowls of despair) we might have heard boss music. Because Jerry was kung-fu fighting, his kicks were goddamn fast as lightening–and you know it was, while not exactly a little bit frightening, certainly thought-provoking.
In short, Jerry spanked that hawk. They tumbled into a bank of lemon balm, and as they did a few more bolts descended from the blue, blue sky. There was Carl, sleek and buxom; there was Sandra, who is no longer as lean as he once was and had a businesslike gleam in his eye that day. A couple others–Nasty and Simone, I haven’t had time to tell you lot about them–put in an appearance, and what had started out for Not-Tony as a trip to the corner store ended up with a five-on-one in the lemon balm alley.
I stood, jaw hanging and Boxnoggin still straining at the end of the leash, watching this display with wonder. In short order Not-Tony decided a bag of Rip Van crisps and a forty weren’t worth it, used his wings and claws to good effect, and managed to get some air. Once he was able to clear the fence (buzzing the clematis on the way, I really should trim that shit) he could get a little more height, and he vanished along the side of the house, pursued with great enthusiasm (in Jerry’s case), deadly efficiency (in Carl and Sandra’s), and bright-eyed interest (in Nasty and Simone’s).
Yes, yes, I hear you. What about Rip Van Rodent? I’m getting to that, keep your collective hats on, jeez.
So sudden was the air strike that Rip was just as stunned as Your Humble Narrator. Yes, the squirrel was still alive. No, he did not appear wounded, though at that distance I could not tell. But, my friends and (digital) neighbors, here’s the kicker.
The damn squirrel was luckier than he had any right to be, and maybe he knew it. In any case, the danger had retreated for the moment, and instinct had him in her merciless grip. What does a squirrel do in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or simply unappetizing situation? That’s right.
He runs for the nearest tree. Which just happened to be the Venerable Fir.
Which I was standing right next to.
And which, in order to reach, he had to run past a slavering, barking Boxnoggin driven into an ecstasy of excitement by the last few seconds–not even minutes, for it takes far longer to tell you the tale than it did to happen.
Rip Van Rodent was, in fact, hearty and hale enough–or simply adrenaline-soaked enough–to stagger-bolt straight under my poor piss-soaked dog on his way to the Venerable. Upon later reflection I realized he didn’t want to run for the fir near the compost heap, which was the direction the battle’s frontline had audibly moved in. Nor did he want to run for the lilacs, because there were boulders, garden boxes, a giant rosemary, and a statue of Kuan Yin in the way.
No, now that I think about it, the Venerable was the only choice. And if he had to run under a urine-splattered beast to get there, it was a price Rip Van Rodent was willing to pay.
Anyway, he darted under Boxnoggin, zoomed past me so close I near felt the wind of his passing, and scrabbled up the trunk with lightning speed. For once, the little bastard didn’t look sleepy at all.
What did Box think of this, you might ask? Well, he performed a stiff-legged jump like a cat finding a snake or cucumber on the kitchen floor, nearly colliding with me. I staggered back, my ankle turned on a hummock, and I saved myself from a pratfall only by dint of cussing like a sailor finding out shore leave’s canceled.
My beloveds, I painted the air blue with Language Unbecoming, and to top it all off, one of my untied sneakers was left behind. So I ended up half-shoeless but definitely screaming, which is entirely–but entirely–par for the course.
The rest of the afternoon was relatively quiet. Boxnoggin got a session with the hose to clean off his little accident, which he enjoyed–he hates baths but will chase a sprinkler-stream or a hose-blast all damn day and half the night if you’ll let him–and his harness is none the worse for wear. The corvids are back on guard duty; for the time being, I will still be yelling the traditional “fuck you, Jerry” every time I see that little weirdo, but it will be in a highly affectionate tone henceforth, like greeting an old drinking buddy with a hearty hey you, motherfucker!
And no, I have not seen Not-Tony Hawk again. The only remaining evidence of his trip to the corner is a single feather left upon the backyard grass.
But really, what of Rip Van Rodent, I hear you ask somewhat anxiously? Oh, don’t fear for him, gentle Readers. I think he’s okay–I’ve glimpsed him upon the back fence, attending to squirrel business. I suppose it’s too much to hope that he was chastened by the entire experience, though, because he’s back to taunting Boxnoggin…
…but that’s (say it with me) a whole ‘nother blog post.
I’d seen a hawk stoop before, naturally, but usually from a safe distance. Though there’s a lot of drama packed between the fences, our backyard is relatively small; I was unprepared for the sound of a feathered predator going about its business. There was a snap of wing-braking, a puff of feathers–you know how when the Twilight movies first came out we were making jokes about FURSPLOSION? It was kind of like that, only without shredded clothes flying everywhere.
It was, as I said, a hawk–probably the very one hanging around lately, playing with our crows and no doubt looking to expand some territory since the hunting ground along the highway has been torn up for expansion. It looked huge, puffy, dangerous, extremely intent on business…
And very, very hungry.
I don’t think Boxnoggin knew quite what to do at that point. His head cocked but his front paw–lifted in order to make him a very handsome statue, it must be said–remained aloft. The explosion of flapping continued, wing-snaps very loud despite the fact that birds are hollow-boned and lighter than anything of corresponding size. By the sheer racket being made, it doesn’t seem Not-Tony Hawk (such I christened them in the heat of the moment, for sometimes a name just appears unto us word-miners) knew they were supposed to be light and thus, logically and relatively quiet.
There was a scream. I’m not sure if it was Rip Van Rodent, because heaven knows he had reason, or Yours Truly, because I don’t know if a squirrel can produce that kind of sound. I don’t remember screaming past my original horrified expostulation, but that’s no indication.
All right. So let’s hit pause on the screen here, and take a look at what’s going on.
That blur of brown, white, and gleaming beak is Not-Tony, a surprisingly large hawk engaged upon lifting up a hubris-laden snack from the grass. The smear of brown and fluffy tail is Rip Van Rodent, who might have avoided the claws through sheer luck but is probably not going to have such beneficence from Fortuna much longer. In the northern half of the yard amid the garden boxes there’s me, with my mouth hanging open–either yodeling like King Arthur faced with a Vorpal Bunny or just plain letting out a horrified, wordless cry. And that black and white inkblot is my poor, dear, dumb dog, caught mid-vibration as he’s about to erupt into motion.
Boxnoggin did not know what the hell. Of course, he never knows what the hell, but the dim intimation that perhaps he should take some manner of action had worked its way between the two (count ’em) neurons he has firing at any given point inside that thick, surprisingly capacious skull. (They rattle like dried peas in there.) For Box, “taking action” consists of a relatively limited set of options.
Scream Pee Shit Go Blind Chase
There was no window to yell out of and no other dog in sight; since those are generally prerequisites for yapping, #1 was right out. He had unloaded himself of solid effluvia at the regular time that morning, leaving him with (so to speak) no pylons to deploy, so option #3 was out as well. There was no time to go blind, so #4 could not happen just yet. Which meant he was left with peeing (option #2) or the final and most attractive prospect (Mambo #5), chasing whatever had drawn his attention.
And, multitasker that he is, the dog tried to do both at once.
That’s right. Sixty-plus pounds of lovable furry dumbass lost control of his bladder and at the very same moment decided he was gonna get a piece of whatever action was occurring in the southern half of the yard. But he had forgotten one crucial detail.
That’s right. His front paw was still up.
So my dog peed himself, tripped at the same time, and landed flat on his face while someone (either Rip Van or me) was still mid-yell. Not-Tony Hawk paid no attention, for slow-lumbering earthbound giants are, to Family Accipitridae, largely irrelevant unless they leave behind something to feast upon. Boxnoggin scrabbled, splattering pee in every direction, and finally got his paws coordinated. He dug in and took off like a freshly untethered jet engine while I was still staring at the hawk, and the leash snapped taut.
I had the leash wrapped twice around my hand, but that was clearly not enough. Bones crunched together, I staggered, and the thought that maybe I should tie the damn dog to my waist like I do every day for walkies went through my head, tiptoeing through the quiet of shock. It hurt like a sonofabitch, but only later.
Because now I had a pee-soaked dog (almost) unloosed upon the unsuspecting world, Not-Tony was using their wings to buffet and daze their prey, and Rip Van?