Smoke Angel

This cherub hangs out in a local park; I took this shot the day before the smoke really rolled in. That evening there was only a faint tinge of burning and the wind was warm and nasty, tossing tree branches and kicking discarded paper along paved walks.

For some reason, this little wing├ęd one caught my eye particularly, mostly because the light was so strange. It wasn’t the directionless, somehow wrong glow of the days that followed, but an odd saturated yellow ambiance. And you can see how dry the grass was; there was a tightening at my nape every time the tinge of smoke intensified.

The animal in me knew something awful was coming, and wanted to run.

This morning, of course, it’s chilly and crisp, and preliminary rains have removed all burning. I should go back and visit the cherub; winter will probably bring moss in its crevices.

But for the moment it remains frozen in this photo for me, an eerie snapshot. I think I’m instinctively avoiding that patch of park for a while, until the too-tight strings inside me relax a fraction. Sometimes one doesn’t need to go back and poke at the scar, even when it’s healed.

Have a lovely weekend, my dears. Be gentle with yourselves.

Glass Apple, Silence, Flames

The glass apples along my office windowsill are all dusted, because I take them down and play with them sometimes while a story hides in my brain-folds. A lot of people don’t understand how physical a job writing really is–after all, you’re just sitting there, right? Just typing.

But everything you write lodges in your body. Not just that, though–characters speak while you’re in the shower, while you’re exercising, while you’re driving and thinking of something else. Getting up and moving to work out a plot problem or block out a scene becomes a habit.

The kids–and my writing partner–know that when I stop in a middle of a sentence and stare into the distance, sometimes it’s because a story has decided now is the time to express a few home truths, or make a connection. “I can see the story going on behind your eyes,” is what my writing partner says.

The kids, having grown up with me, are used to me checking out mid-sentence to work on a particular plot problem, solving or marking it, then coming back and finishing my sentence as if no time has passed. Oddly, for me, no time has. Sometimes I’m vaguely aware I’ve stopped to solve a story problem, but mostly I return to ordinary consciousness like flicking a light switch and continue with what I was saying.

Story-time exists on some other plane, I suppose. Of course the check-outs never occur while I’m operating heavy machinery, so to speak. One must feel safe before one can stop in the middle of a sentence, knowing that one’s interlocutor will give you space and time to finish.

My writing partner does it too, you know. Often, especially when we’re at lunch or dinner together, one of us will stop talking and gaze into the distance, our version of the thousand-yard stare. The other will wait, quietly, until they come back. It’s a good thing, to be able to trust someone with the quiet like that. Everyone is the star of their own movie, of course, but it’s rare and wonderful to find someone who doesn’t mind being the type of star who lets their best friend finish a chain of thought in peace, and doesn’t make them pay for the momentary inattention later.

The kids have their own moments of wanting to finish thoughts in peace, and I’ve seen them giving each other that space and gift. It seems good training, even if other people will probably take advantage of it. But at least they have the skill, and can deploy it when needed.

…I was going to write about other things today, but I’m curled in a tight little armored ball. I am very close to finishing a zero of The Bloody Throne–messy and full of bracketed notes, but still, the whole corpse will be out and on the table, ready for resting before revision begins. I can’t imagine what it will feel like to be done with this book. The entire series has had a difficult birth; I haven’t had this sort of emotional trouble with a book since Afterwar. Of course it’s not the same type of trouble, or in the same degree, and the problems that plagued Afterwar‘s publication process aren’t plaguing this series. Still, being orphaned midway, added to pandemic and fascist coup, means it’s been extraordinarily difficult to persevere through the end of an epic fantasy.

I mean, how dare I write about court intrigue and pretty dresses and love triangles when the world is burning? How dare I write a love song while everything is in flames?

I have no choice. I have to sing, even through the fire. I’ll go mad if I don’t, but it doesn’t stop the feeling that somehow, in some way, I’m failing because I’m Not Helping Enough.

So. Today is for chipping away at the book, accelerating through the crisis I saw from the very first sentence, writing what I’ve been working towards for years. I knew how the entire thing was going to play out from the beginning, and maybe that’s part of the problem. In a book, justice is a possibility.

I’m beginning to feel like outside the pages I write, it never is. Hope, mercy, redemption… in a book, these things are possible.

Outside? Well.

I suppose we’ll see.

Pretty, Survive

It’s still dark outside, though dawn is coming up. The marine layer is often so thick we don’t see the sun for days in winter, and while that was disconcerting during the summer smokestorm, it’s pleasant and cheerful now, like a warm blanket. At least the gloom is natural, things still have shadows, and there’s no tinge of burning to make the animal muscle just below my occipital ridge tighten.

I took Sunday all the way off. No work allowed (after a 4k push on The Bloody Throne on Saturday), only housecleaning (the fall purge and nesting is well underway) and watching movies. I watched a Shyamalan flick everyone panned but I thought was pretty good, an episode of Generation War which was difficult, and a weird low-budget WWII horror film, which shall remain unlinked because I’m not at all sure about the intentions of the people who funded it.

Consequently I’m up early, and the caffeine is soaking in. Two weeks ago I thought I’d finish this zero, now I’m just tired and plodding, head-down. It’s like that moment in any action movie where the protagonist is so physically damaged one almost can’t bear to look, but I don’t have to be pretty when this ends.

I just have to survive.

I meant to get some friend-reading done–the reading one does for writer friends, that it–but the broken and stripped wires inside my head meant I didn’t have the bandwidth. Still, this morning I managed a little while still in bed before dawn, the dogs still dead asleep and heavy against my shoulder, hip, and knee.

They do like to spread out.

Anyway, I’m privileged to read a draft of The Silent Places, and it’s good. It’s really good. So good I’m resenting having to lay it aside and turn to my own work, which is a sign of recovery in and of itself.

Slowly, hand over hand, I’m climbing free of the pit. But I’m not out yet, and this zero has to die. I have two revisions due in mid-November, too, so I have got to get this off my plate. Yet I can’t push at the pace I want; for one, I literally can’t physically sustain it and for another, the book will balk. It takes the time it needs.

May we all take the time we need today. It’s hard, especially with disaster barking at our heels, excited to make our acquaintance. But I hope, my beloveds, that you get to take a deep breath today, and that there is some moment of grace lurking between the tasks that must be finished, the posts that must be doomscrolled past, and the breathless hurrying in the face of catastrophe.

I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but a tiny moment is all I have today so I’m sharing it with both hands. Autumn has arrived and we still endure, you and I. If you’re reading this, you’ve survived this far. And that–as I keep saying–is the victory. We’re still alive, Koroku, we’ll manage somehow.

Pretty or not, here we are.

Bitter Berries

We haven’t had the sort of summer that makes for good blackberries. They’re kind of bitter this year, at least in all the usual places I stop for a few while rambling. This photo was actually taken the day before the smoke descended; even before that terrible time the berries weren’t exactly sweet.

I don’t blame them. It’s been a dreadful year. At least the birds don’t seem to care what they taste like; calories are calories and winter is approaching. The rabbits are moving uphill on our street, plundering gardens with abandon, and so many people are home during the day to refill their squirrel feeders we have a positive plague of arboreal rats.

Despite all that, the vines are juicy and healthy. The trees, though many are dropping heat- and smoke-stressed leaves and needles, are full of the usual autumn murmuring. They’re not quite ready for bed yet, but wending that way. The moles in the uphill park are bracing for the rains, busily delving like lords of Moria; a hawk has taken to perching above my office window and hummingbirds buzzed me twice on the deck yesterday.

I prefer autumn anyway, but this year it’s also welcome because it means somehow, at some point, 2020 will end. I don’t pray for it to end well, because I’m fairly sure it won’t. Surviving it will be an accomplishment; the next two and a half months will feel endless.

They’re bitter berries this year indeed. But the vines haven’t given up yet, and I suppose that means I must endure too. I just wish I could grow some thorns.

To our survival, then, my dears. Here is a handful of blackberries; use them well.

Keep Chipping Ice

I decanted a lot of sauerkraut yesterday; today I put a fresh batch in the crock. The world might be mad, but fermentation remains the same. The microbes do not GAF, as my kids might say.

The clouds have moved in. We’re looking at rain for the weekend, which of course pleases me to no end, since I have to finish this damn zero and it’s dragging. I feel like I’m waiting for the ice on a Russian river to break up, with that immense creaking and cracking you can’t forget once you’ve heard it. Soon everything will break and the torrent will carry me down to the sea of having finished another gat-damn book.

In other news, the portal fantasy I wrote at white heat during my lockdown nervous breakdown seems to be an actual book and not just a collection of disjointed mutterings. At least, so my beta readers and agent say, and since I can’t see the forest for the trees right now I’m going to have to take their word for it.

That is, after all, why one has beta readers and partly why one has an agent. You can’t see the book clearly when it’s less than an inch from your nose; you need a second (or third, or fourth) pair of eyes on the thing, yelling the description so you can guess. Trust is essential, and so is the commitment to be gentle and truthful at once. If not for my beta readers loving the portal fantasy, I would have kept it on my hard drive and not allowed it to go to my agent, which she says would be a great loss.

The dogs seem to sense I have finished my coffee and are lobbying hard for a walk. Despite the hour I can hear a leaf blower going somewhere in the neighborhood; it is gloomy outside and that is the way I like it. A new book is trying to push its way through the noise in my head, but I’ve enough to do without adding it to the pile; it will have to stay just a series of disconnected images and dialogue inside my head.

Fortunately, the half-formed stories are a refuge from both actual work and the raging torrent of bad news that is current events. I can crawl into the stories when I need some respite. I don’t know how people without that safety do it.

So it’s time to chaperone the fuzzy quadrupeds, haul my reluctant carcass on a run–the new shoes are doing all right, though I could wish for a bit more cushioning–and a whole day spent in a city under siege. Maybe I’ll begin to hear the distant song of cracking ice, maybe not.

Sooner or later, though, if I just keep chipping, something will happen. I have to believe that, or I might as well give up entirely.

Head Contents

Another lovely grey foggy morning, and the fog is not bearing a tinge of smoke. I did wake up with a cold wet nose in my armpit, which explains some of the dreams.

It was Boxnoggin, of course. I was amazed he could breathe, but he seemed perfectly fine. In fact, when I moved, the damn dog slithered closer and settled his nose as close to my armpit as possible once more.

I can’t think it was pleasant for him, but he seemed determined.

I have coffee, and am looking over yesterday’s work. Stopping for a weekend day, even though it no doubt bolstered my sanity and will give me long-haul endurance, was upsetting in the extreme because I knew it would also give me a Monday of just-barely-enough wordcount instead of the type I need.

Ah well. The barbarians have reached the capital and now the general to the north has gained word of a few things. This sets up the endgame; today I think I write the new emperor going violently bonkers, not to mention more of the siege. I should also do the ride of the southern army, and there’s a lady in waiting with a single blade versus several heavily armed guards to write as well.

I can barely stand to look at social media, let alone the news. I suppose I’m close to despair; even when it’s so manifestly obvious that hatred is a losing game, so many people are still determined to stay until the bitter end. They could walk away–all of them could simply find something else to do that isn’t mass murder, suicide by virus, and hatefulness. It lies well within their power to just… stop.

And yet they won’t.

Of all the difficult-to-swallow things lately, the number of people absolutely determined to keep propping up a death cult with their own bodies and health because it once paid them a bit more than the average serf is perhaps the most personally shocking. I fully admit I did not grasp the extent to which white supremacists not only wish death on others but also seek it in the most painful and degrading way possible for themselves. Dying of choking on your own sputum while a cytokine storm rages through your body is deeply unpleasant, but I suppose they think whiteness and ill-gotten gains will save them.

The money might make misery slightly more comfortable, but in the end you’re choking to death on your own snot anyway, not to mention carrying the burden of all the people your selfishness infected. It boggles the mind that these people worship death and white supremacy so much they actively pursue such an undignified end.

…these are the contents of my head this morning, and they’re not pleasant or comfortable. I’m already tired and waiting for the caffeine to kick in, hoping beyond hope I can finish this damn zero draft this week and maybe, maybe find a little hope somewhere in the world.

At least finishing the zero is something I have a small amount of control over. Hope seems beyond me at this point. I wrote a whole goddamn book warning people about the risks of putting Corona Caligula and his criminal cabal in charge, I’ve been telling people for decades that regressives (those people who call themselves “conservatives”) are dangerous, murderous, racist asshats, and nobody listened. Even now a significant proportion of people aren’t listening, or are minimizing the depths of the emergency in which we find ourselves.

I’m tired. I’m so tired. Even the coffee isn’t helping, and dragging myself through the end of a zero today seems insurmountable.

So it’s time to take the dogs for their morning constitutional, force myself to run, and do all the things I know I should. There is no happiness for me today, merely habit to carry me through until I can perhaps find some tomorrow. Or the day after. It’s endurance now, and while I am quite good at sheer stubborn enduring it’s also exhausting.

Be gentle with yourselves today, beloveds. And if you have a little hope, good. I have none today; keep and burnish it for me.

Over and out.

Zero, Acceleration

Super Chonk Squirl

It’s a lovely grey morning. I took yesterday off and watched some movies; I had never seen Kobayashi’s Kwaidan before, but I read Hearn’s book earlier this year (at least, I think it was earlier this year; time is doing strange things) and decided why not? It, along with a book on the mystical tradition of a certain bodhisattva, was a good break from everything else, and now with Max Richter on the playlist and my running togs all clean and folded (because yesterday was also laundry day) I am somewhat ready for more of the damn epic fantasy.

I did get the barbarians to invest the capital city. Now it’s a siege, and I have the armies marching both north and south. The big problem will be showing the Emperor going quite mad in the little time I have left, but I have faith that can be accomplished–if not here, then in revision.

I just want this damn zero draft done. I might have to get the lady in waiting (who is now a princess in her own right) dragged to the dungeons; that’s a sticky problem that needs to be solved rather soon.

Both dogs are extremely active this morning. Miss B in particular wants her walk, and wants it now. Boxnoggin, of course, feeds on her excitement and has refused to eat his brekkie, so I’m sure there will be many pinecones menaced while we ramble.

At least with them egging each other on I managed to get my shoes tied without help this morning. It’s the little things. I’m also super hopeful that the beehive I saw a few weeks ago is still functioning, being left alone by humans to Do Its Thing.

The squirrels are getting fat for winter, though none have been able to surmount the YANKEE SQUIRREL FLIPPER DEATHRIDE 5000. It’s kind of like having a mechanical bull in the backyard. Many are called, few are chosen, and even fewer manage to hold on for two seconds, let alone eight.

…there are all sorts of jokes I could make, right? I’m twelve inside, and snickering wildly.

So now I ramble the canines, run my own poor body ragged, and come back to a city under siege. It’ll be a good day, especially if I can drive the Emperor mad in due time. I mean, he was already halfway there when he–but that’s a spoiler, isn’t it. I should be careful with those.

Happy Monday, my beloveds. Keep those machetes handy. It certainly seems like the year’s accelerating, lunging for some utterly insane finish line.

Over and out.