Yes, Something’s Afoot

109ram_icons004 I stepped out on the back porch with my coffee this morning, and a crow landed on the deck railing. She looked at me sidelong, I straightened under the inspection, Miss B for once did not decide to go scrambling after something new and quite probably chase-able…

…and Odd Trundles, wriggling between my ankles, threw himself at the railing. Which held up, thank goodness. The crow rode out the shuddering, cawed sharply three times, and flew away with a wingsnap and something suspiciously like laughter.

After the bees the other day and every cat in the neighborhood coming out to greet me on my 5K yesterday, I’m beginning to suspect Something Is Afoot.

Yesterday I tried cooking eggplant for the second time, and the results were…unsatisfying. I think when I eventually get a grill, I’m going to have to just grill the snot out of some eggplant and hope for the best. So far, though,it’s like okra–I never want to put that in my mouth again, world without end, amen.

This morning I tried the new habit of sitting down at the piano just after breakfast. Hava Nagilah is still difficult, but it’s not making me cry now. I can limp along through it, so not it’s just a question of brute practice. I’m up to the seventh piece in my Bach book, too, and either they’re getting a little easier or he’s just trying to fake me out before dropping something full of sixteenth notes on me.

At least it’s not Mozart. I get the sense that Bach really wants you to succeed and is pulling for you, where Mozart is sort of a bro who really loves adversarial music, deliberately trying to trip you up. I hate rigged contests, so I don’t think I’ll ever like playing Mozart.

In the “really good news” department, B was allowed to accompany Odd Trundles on his daily constitutional yesterday. A very slow, very gentle, very short walk did wonders for her nervous twitches, and stretched out her injured leg. Consensus is it was a simple sprain, and the only thing to do is keep her activity level down until it heals, and watch her carefully for a long while before she can be my running buddy again.

In short, it will be torture for her, but Odd Trundles’s slow ambling is the only speed available for her silly furry butt right now. Every time she gets snitty with me about not going on a run I just tell her, as Hyperbole and a Half so memorably said, “DOG, YOU DO NOT MAKE GOOD DECISIONS.”

That’s all the news from this side of the fence, I think. Now I go back to work revising Cormorant Run and knocking down my List of Things To Do Today, which has grown to truly massive Wednesday proportions. I’m sure whatever the crows, bees, and cats have been warning me of will hit soon.

*sigh*

Back to Work

med12 I get to go back to work today! I get to revise Cormorant Run! Everything is itching under my skin from trying like hell to take a few days off. I know I needed it–my head was not a pleasant place to hang about, last week, being full of the noise and clamor of the internal engines winding down. But it was unpleasant.

I did finish reading a couple books, though. The best of them was Sarah Wise’s Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England. Wise is an auto-buy for me, everything she does is a cracking good read and backed up with well-organized notes. Her bibliographies and appendices are things of beauty, too. You can feel her joy in history radiating from the page.

Her observations near the end of the book about the mid-twentieth century’s use of the Victorian concepts of “lunacy” or “moral insanity” and the connections to eugenics were startling and thought-provoking. She ends with saying that’s another book, and I devoutly hope she’s writing it.

Next up on my list is the Norton Critical edition of Brothers Karamazov, as well as Judith Herrin’s history of Byzantium. The latter has some problems, true. My eyebrows have nested in my hairline at some of the typos, as well as Herrin’s extremely evident good-feelings towards Christianity somewhat muddying the analytical waters. For all that, it’s a good general introduction to Byzantium, though not as magisterial and readable as John Julius Norwich’s work on the Eastern Roman Empire, which I reread every now and again, generally after I’ve had another bout with Gibbon.

I am pleased to report Miss B’s leg is doing well, too. I am still not taking her on runs, or even on gentle walks. The problem seems to be a muscle sprain just below her ankle, and that needs to be good and healed before she can chase anything down the hall or go on walkies. The poor thing is beside herself with impatience, and I can’t blame her. I feel the same way when an injury sidelines me. However, many snuggles and plenty of canine massage to help the healing process seems to be a somewhat (if not thoroughly) acceptable substitute. This morning she even scrambled after Fearless!Cat, who had come upstairs to investigate whether the dog bowls had leftover bacon grease suitable for feline snacking and hairball-easing.

After I revise Cormorant I need to make some decisions about which project to finish next. I’m thinking it will have to be Afterwar, my near-future Band of Brothers homage crossed with mutation and maybe, if I can shoehorn it in, some cyborg action. It’s still in the planning stages, but it’s a trilogy, and I feel like sinking my teeth into a series after finishing a spate of stand-alone books. This particular project scares the hell out of me, because it is big and there are so many ways it could go wrong. But it’s the type of terror that makes me fiercely determined to do my best to pull it off.

And that’s all the news from this corner of the world, except for an upcoming event at a local bookstore (more on that later) and Odd Trundles’s perennial quest to hoover up any item anyone in the house drops on the principle that sooner or later it will be something edible. This weekend he almost gobbled my phone, two sets of earbuds, a handful of cabbage meant for the cavy, a few catalogs, and a tube of rose-scented hand lotion. Thank God I’ve been rolling high on every “grab that before the dog gets it” interaction. Training for multiple years with toddlers has finally paid off.

Over and out.

Internal Engines

jazzhands.jpeg So apparently yesterday’s bees (look, they won’t sting me, but it is a bit concerning to pull my tank top away from my breasts and have a bee fly out, really) were carrying a night of vivid dreams for me. Which, great, I must have signed up for this sort of shit before I was born and I’ll put up with it, but really, YOU COULD HAVE JUST SENT A CROW, FOR GOD’S SAKE. (Aaaaaand this just landed in my inbox from my writing partner, who delights in doing such things.)

Anyway. Ahem. Hi. Welcome back, dear Readers. In the past couple weeks I’ve finished revising two all-new books and sent them off. While I chew on my fingers waiting to hear back (no, that’s not a typo, we’re down to actual flesh) I get to try and force myself to take a breath before going in to restructure, rebuild, revise, and just generally make CORMORANT RUN better. I wrote the zero and first drafts at such a white heat I’m surprised my hair didn’t catch on fire, and it’s a good thing I have my favorite editor around to tell me where the story in my head needs a little more clarification on the page.

Editing doesn’t have to be adversarial.

The trouble is, my internal engines are unstable and going at such high speed I stand a very real risk of pulling some mental muscles by going back into the fray before I’ve healed up. At the same time, I am aching–aching–to get some more work out the door, because the financial hit from having to shelve the Book That Shall Not Be Named because fuckwits kept stealing has been…severe. I’m not quite at the point of no return yet, but I’m definitely in Anxiety Land.

I keep telling myself that things have been truly bleak before and this is not that. I practice self-care, I am taking the long view and choosing not to do short-term flailing that will injure my ability to keep producing. At least, producing for public consumption. I’ll always write, it’s just publishing that seems to be the strangle-point. Then again, after being in this game for over a decade now, I should know that it’s cyclical.

Why do I speak about this publicly? Because a lot of people don’t. Because there are few things “new” and aspiring writers need to know more than what makes a sustainable career. Because being honest about it helps demystify the process of making a living as a creative. Also, because I want people to know and understand the consequences of thievery, and to shame those who still indulge in it. Also also, because I don’t have time for bullshit, and openness discourages yon fragrant bovine droppings liek woah.

Yes. Well. Now I have to distract myself so I don’t go blazing into the next round of revisions just yet and hurt myself.

…It’s going to be a long weekend.

All the Things

images Today I mean to do ALL THE THINGS. Including paint the new scrapes on my fists with liquid bandage. (Hello, acetone burn!)

No, I have not been training my kung-fu against a sandpaper post. I’ve just been clumsy lately. And I can no longer plunge my hands into boiling water for long periods of time to wash dishes. Not young anymore, I guess. Not that I ever was.

Mostly I feel ancient. I have for so long it’s become habitual. Everyone looks so damn young to me.

Anyway, there’s a million errands to run and things to do, and I guess getting a serious chunk of revision on Desires, Known–the genie story–is the millionth-and-one. Time to get out the sledgehammer and make with some internal repair.

Over and out.

Fairytales, Survival’s Price

Wayfarer My week of fairytales continues!

I’ve never liked Cinderella. The idea that one must be patient and submissive even under the worst treatment and someday, someday you’ll be rewarded strikes me as damaging at best and a culturally approved way to groom people to be abuse victims at worse. I was always faintly uncomfortable with the endings of different versions–the stepsisters cutting parts of their own feet off, shoes full of blood, casks full of red-hot nails rolled down a hill with the stepmother inside. It wasn’t the violence that made me uneasy, I knew from a very early age the world is a brutal place and safety largely an illusion. It was the feeling of righteousness welling up when I read about abusers getting theirs that made me queasy. I often wondered if those feelings made me just as bad as the stepmother and sisters–or just as bad as the people who beat me.

So when I realized Ellie from Nameless needed her own story, it irked me. I didn’t have the trouble in choosing the tools to excavate it; they came easily to hand for once.

That should have been my first clue that the exorcisms weren’t over.

I wrote Wayfarer during the Great Casa to Chez situation. About halfway through, I deconstructed under the stress, and for only the second time in my life, the words refused to come. I had no emotional energy to spare and yet the urge to write tormented me with spurs under my skin. I would sit down, look at the files open on my desktop, and slide straight into a panic attack because I was too burnt out to feel my way from word to word. Having the urge and being unable to scrape together even a single syllable was a very special kind of hell.

Buying a house is not for the weak.

Anyway, that passed, and as if in payment for keeping the faith, I fell into Ellie’s story as soon as I turned on said desktop in the new house. It occurred to me, now that I’d achieved some distance from the story (not by my own will, but still) that I wasn’t really writing about someone else.

I was writing, in some ways, about myself.

The fairy godmother doesn’t show up when Cinderella is being beaten for not cleaning something properly, doesn’t show up when she sleeps in the cinders, doesn’t advocate with her when her inheritance is stolen. Instead, she arrives before a goddamn ball. Which has always seemed to me like she’s not really very invested in dear old Cindy-Rella, but has an agenda of her own. You find out when you survive a bad childhood that escaping carries a price and risks all its own. Those who offer to “help” you often have their own agendas, and your wellbeing may be only a small (or nonexistent) priority. A few harsh lessons from that quarter and the devil you grew up with starts looking like a marginally safer bet. Some kinds of help aren’t really helpful at all. In other variations of the tale, it’s the dead mother and a Giving Tree who step in to send Cinderella to the ball, and if that doesn’t make a false dichotomy between the dark and passive feminines, I don’t know what does.

Ellie understands very well she’s trapped because she’s a minor. She puts a brave face on at school and doesn’t invite her friends further into her problems than she is absolutely forced to. “Help” isn’t something she feels is possible, it isn’t something she feels she can ask for. When she is finally driven to a certain cottage, the “safety” there is just as perilous as “home.” She does well in school until she can no longer go, understanding it’s one of her few ways out. When you’re that young, and that under siege, isolation begins to feel like your only and safest bet. You cannot trust anyone else, even those who really do want to help you. You fight even the best support, because trust is a liability you can’t afford when you’re holding together your psychic integrity under assault 24-7.

Not only that, but one can often feel…corrupted. Being told over and over that you’re worthless, evil, the worst thing that ever happened to your parent, that it’s your fault they do these horrible things to you, fucks up every sense of priorities, perspective, and worth you might have. The effects go on for years, and even therapy cannot completely erase the stain or the sting.

It can take a long time to piece yourself back together. Therapy has helped me immensely, as well as medication to get the anxiety under control. (Just give me a stick!) I have found people who can be trusted, and I have allowed myself to trust. There was no fairy godmother, even though I wished for one. In the end, it’s Ellie’s own strength, and her bonds with people who are willing to give the right kind of help, that saves the day. The latter is never guaranteed, and the former isn’t either, but I’ve spent my life betting on the latter and am, incredibly, still breathing.

I found out I was stronger than I ever suspected. Ellie’s survival is in part mine too; this is part of why fairytales stick around. Even under the trappings I care very little for–the prince, the ball, the dresses pulled from a nutshell or bibbity-bobbity-booed into existence–there is a hard kernel of truth that can ignite the bonfire I burn all the pain and rage and helplessness in. I don’t sleep in those ashes anymore, I have difference sources of warmth.

But when I go into battle, I paint my face with them, because I’ve survived. That was the story I needed to write, and I think–I hope–I did.

Fairytales, Twos and Threes

nameless One does not simply walk into fairytales. Not without an axe and a pocketful of breadcrumbs, anyway. And when you are inside, you must look carefully at every face, because it carries an echo of its opposite.

Nameless started with a single image: an injured little girl in the snow in front of a gleaming-black limousine. I was about sixteen when the image came to me, and it occurred periodically for years afterward. I didn’t write the book that went with that image for almost two decades. I wasn’t ready, and I knew I wasn’t ready. Still…the story stayed inside me, closed up on itself.

When I was ready to begin excavating, I chose a shovel. It broke, and I had to choose another. (As one does.) Over and over, every tool I wanted to use kept breaking, it took about six before I found the one that would work and settled into a rhythm. About a third of the way through–thankfully, the pickaxe was still holding up–I realized I’ve absorbed, by dint of sheer cultural saturation, the fairytale laws of twos and threes.

Snow White and the Queen are two sides of a coin, the Prince and the Huntsman (Nico and Tor) likewise reflect each other. Once I realized that, the structure of the book almost built itself. The difficulty was stepping into each character. Camille’s terror, and the abuse that robbed her of easy speech, was heartbreaking, but it was something I was familiar with. The White Queen’s fear of old age and death, and her selfishness, was arduous in different ways. It’s a lot harder to feel empathy towards a nasty, self-centered villain.

Actually, I take that back. The empathy is easy. The hard part is suspecting there’s some part of oneself that reflects the villain’s awfulness. We are large, we contain multitudes, and every archetype casts a shadow. To tell stories is to delve into those dark patches.

A character can function as a double more than once. For example, Papa Vultusino (the widowed king) and the White Queen express different conditions of authority. And the old Vultusino and the new (Papa and Nico) are in creative tension with each other, just as Cami’s own shadow-side is reflected in her acceptance, through most of the book, in her persistent feeling of being nameless.

When I was younger, the variations of Snow White filled me with a sort of antagonistic loathing. I hated that she was passive, that she bit the damn apple, that someone else had to save her. Then I went through a period of considering the entire story an allegory, with each character a part of the psyche. There was a time I thought it was about “found family” and how you could be helped by people you could trust when your own flesh and blood betrayed you.

Writing Nameless, though, became about something even more personal. I went into a jungle full of mirrors and shards of other things I’d thought the story meant, in order to answer a deep, almost-unarticulated question from my own childhood–how can a mother injure her own child? I didn’t understand it then, and as a mother myself I don’t really understand it now. It’s utterly foreign to me, but at least writing the story, with each character refracted through its double or split into threes, helped me achieve some sort of tenuous peace.

I have come to believe that retelling a fairytale is similar to performing an exorcism. If one isn’t prepared, it can go badly. The accumulated charge of these stories, told and retold, repeated in threes and sevens, is great to plug into but dangerous as well. Under each variation is a core of something halfway between emotion and truth, taking the strength of both and reflecting. Two mirrors facing each other, and a candle between them to light up the labyrinth. The glare can blind you if you don’t have a ball of thread, or pebbles to drop in each intersection, or…you get the idea.

Over and out.

Bad Fuel

bigtroublelittlechinaicon So my reward for putting in a new villain scene in a finished zero draft yesterday was…3k words falling out of my head on the Redneck Zombie Apocalypse With Librarian story. I am seriously considering finishing that for the Selkie, mostly because it makes me giggle and I like having fun. (Such as it is.)

This morning, for various reasons, I landed on listening to Marvin Gaye. (This may have had something to do with it.)

I can feel the odd focus of less sleep and more high emotion tickling under my skin. I used to use it for book fuel, but now it just makes me feel unsettled and tired. Learning to lower my tolerance for that fuel–because though it’s high-octane, it’s also stressful as fuck–was one of the best gifts therapy ever gave me. It’s tempting to go back, because it’s reliable and familiar. I suppose this is the acid test of learning healthier ways of dealing with the world; the pinch comes when you feel the pull to go back to that bad old racetrack and fill up on that bad juice.

So there are things I’m doing today to interrupt the cycle. A hard run. Some chair-dancing to good music. Some stand-up dancing, too. (How can you be so old, and still not get it?) Plenty of fuzz therapy. Writing something fun for the hell of it. Narrating the guinea pig’s joy at fresh-plucked greens. (Today his accent is less Berlin and more Paris.) Leftover pesto pasta for lunch.

Put that way, I’m awful lucky.

*chair-dances away*