Baedeckers

There was a whole SHELF of ancient Baedeckers at the library sale Wednesday. I looked at my writing partner, she looked at me, and we both said, “Room With a View.” Then we began talking about Julian Sands, and there is a reason we’re best friends. (The phrase “rats down his pants” was bandied about with glee.)

It’s good to have friends. And though I would never in a million years use them, I was extremely tempted to pick up a couple of the Baedeckers.

Sadly, though, there was not one for Italy.

Conversation, Research, Edits

Yesterday, my writing partner and I played hooky and hit the Concordia Library book sale, where I got a solid foot of Penguin Classics for eight bucks and Costain’s four-book History of the Plantagenets in its original box. Since we were on the south side of the river, a trip to Everyday Music was in order, too. Then a leisurely lunch at Ginger Pop, and by then the heat was getting a bit much, so we called it a day.

The entire time we were sharing industry gossip, finishing conversations we started years ago, continuing ones we started even further back, and starting new ones. Along with in-jokes, meta analysis, and just plain zaniness, it makes for a stimulating verbal stew.

Of course I came home to a fresh crop of hatemail about Afterwar. I was going to do a whole post about it, but for fuck’s sake, who’s got time to deal with preshus manbaby feefees? If you’re afraid you might be mistaken for a nazi because you act like one, well, try not acting like one. *shrug*

Today it’s back to work while the air conditioning hums and Odd Trundles snores, blissful in the coolness. I should get a run in as soon as my sunscreen finishes soaking in and before the worst of the scorch settles; I must also decide what to spend serious working time on before Lammas. Maybe I can get the vampire erotica in reasonable zero-draft shape; it’s a relatively short work. And there is, of course, Robin Hood in Space to consider. Lammas, of course, is when I have to start serious revisions on The Maiden’s Blade; the competing agendas in that book need to be clearer. Half the edit suggestions are “why is X doing Y?” and my frothing reply of “BECAUSE A, M, AND S” isn’t helpful because it’s not in the text. Just because it’s clear inside my head doesn’t mean it’s reasonably outlined on the page, and that’s one of the major reasons to have an editor–to have another pair of eyes searching for those lacunae.

Which also means, now that I’ve finished Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician, I should begin the clutch of further research reading I need for Maiden’s Blade and its two follow-up books, starting with a survey of Japanese literature in the shogunate. I’m really looking forward to that and to an exegesis of The Tale of Genji, but the REAL prize is a doorstopper anthology of women writers in ancient China with accompanying critical articles. If I’m very good, I might even split my daily reading between the anthology and the survey, and keep the exegesis for a chaser.

So that’s the plan. And now, before it gets too hot to breathe comfortably, there’s a run to accomplish.

Over and out.

Release Day: JOZZIE & SUGAR BELLE

Five or six friends got together in a Google Hangout. All writers, mostly drunk, they are Very Funny Ladies. Happily, I was one of them; sadly, I was stone-cold sober. One of the ladies is an Australian, and her care packages sent to us poor benighted fools in the Northern Hemisphere are legendary; apparently, a recent one sent to a Dear Husband of a Writing Lady included several kangaroo-scrotum tchotchkes.

Because yes, they use all parts of the ‘roo, and the scrotums can be coin purses, corkscrews, bottle openers–you get the idea. (Look, I’m not gonna link any of this, you can traumatize yourself with Google just fine.) The Dear Husband could not contain his glee, and showed off his new gifts.

“Wait,” someone said. “What if that was a kangaroo shifter’s ballsack instead?”

Being the only sober one in the room, I was charged with writing the story. A few hours later, we had all the main characters fleshed out for a fucking series of these things. (The echidna-shifter one sounds particularly hilarious.) The Writing Ladies eventually separated to nurse their upcoming hangovers, or, in my case, shambled to bed giggling.

And lo, I wrote the kangaroo-shifter novella. The working title was Scrotum Search, but good luck getting that past any Amazon algorithms, amirite? And now, my dear friends, you can read it too!

Jozzie & Sugar Belle This ‘roo has problems.

Jozzie Shale, missing a particularly intimate piece of his person, lands in LA with a hangover and plenty of determination. He needs help, fast–and fortunately, he’s got the address of a witch who owes his buddy Petey a favor.

She’s a solution.

Sugar Belle, of the Virginia Belles, is only mildly amused when a drunken shapeshifter shows up in her tattoo chair. Add a warlock with a necromantic book, coyote shifters, the end of the world, plus a few hundred pounds of cheese, and even a witch of Sugar’s caliber might be in for a bad night.

It’s gonna be a bumpy weekend…

Available through Gumroad, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. The print edition is now available, too.

As for the others there that night (you know who you are), the gauntlet’s thrown, bitches. I expect your novellas in short order.

*runs away, laughing*

Commitment

The Princess: “Is that the Olsen Twins?”
Me: “I’m not sure…no, the tail isn’t skinny enough.”
Squirrel: *back foot slips*
The Princess: *gasps*
Me: “Oh dear…well, we know it’s a she…”
Squirrel: *slips, falls…does backflip and lands perfectly, twitches tail*
The Princess: *in awe* “It’s Batgirl.”

So now we have a boy squirrel we’ve named the Olsen Twins1 and a girl squirrel acrobat we’ve named Batgirl2. Olsen Twins has been coming back for a week to figure out how to get into the birdfeeders, but it took Batgirl to solve the quandary.

Never a dull moment around here, folks. Never.

On AFTERWAR: Publication

Afterwar So I’ve talked a little bit about the research involved in Afterwar. I finished the zero in March 2017, promptly burst into tears, and hoped the worst was over.

Generally, when you finish a zero, it is. Revisions might be hell, the publication process frustrating, but generally the worst, most damaging, draining, and difficult work, is behind me.

That was not so this time.

There are various bad-luck things that can strike during the publication process, and in my thirteen-plus years in the industry, I’ve seen pretty much all of them. “Orphaned” when your editor moves to a new house? Been there. Payment snafus? Oh, yeah. Copyeditor decides they want to rewrite instead of, well, copyediting? Yep. Issues with the proof pass? Oh, yeah, we’ve done that. On, and on, and on. Normally a book will only have one or at most two big problems during the pub process.

Afterwar, being an overachiever, had them ALL. The only boxes it didn’t check on the Pub Problem Bingo Card were “revenge editing”1 and “cover woes”2. Orphaned twice, under time-crunches for everything, Muphy’s Law laughing every time I thought “this shouldn’t be a problem, we’ve done this for ten fucking years together, it’s gonna be fine…”, and then there was the CE and afterward the proof pass and I ended up calling my agent in tears, saying, “THEY CAN HAVE THE MONEY, JUST GIVE ME THE BOOK BACK. I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE.”

My agent managed to talk me down from the ledge each time, because for over a decade I’ve been able to rely upon her judgment when she tells me I’m overreacting. This time, she said, “You’re not overreacting. This looks really bad from your point of view, and it’s hella stressful, but it’s not personal. It’s things that are out of everyone’s control, including yours.” Just having that validation made me more inclined to work through the problems. And each new editor I was handed to was someone I knew and trusted, since I’ve been with that publisher for so long.

To be absolutely fair, even though everything went wrong at every step of the process, the other people involved–art department, head publisher, every editor, the long-suffering production folks who, I’m sure, more than once wanted to strangle me–hit home runs and pulled out a miracle every time. It got so bad that whenever I saw a New York area code pop up on my phone or an email from agent or publisher in my inbox I almost had a panic attack thinking “what the fuck next?

Then, once the proof disasters had been fixed and the my nerves were starting to regrow a protective sheath, a book died on me. Flat-out died. I spent months trying to resurrect it, and heaving into my office wastebasket each time I tried to work on it. That’s only happened once before3 and eventually I was able to resurrect that book; I hold out no hope it will happen a second time.

In short, everything that could go wrong did, and I still feel a strange flutter every time I see Afterwar‘s cover. It’s a goddamn good thing it wasn’t my first experience with publishing, because I would have left the industry and never looked back. I am super-grateful that at least I had enough experience to know the difficulties were not normal, just bad luck.

I joked more than once that if the printers didn’t burn and sink into a marsh, or if the entire production run didn’t sink into the sea during shipment, I would count it a win.

It wasn’t really a joke.

Anyway, release day came, and crushing, malignant stress retreated for a day or two. I was too busy with my usual round of release day rituals.

And then, as I knew would happen inevitably, the hate mail began to arrive.

To be continued…

ETA: You know, I was going to talk about the hatemail, but it makes me tired. I’ll continue at some other time.

On AFTERWAR: Research

Afterwar I began gathering supplementary materials1 for Afterwar in late 2015; work commenced on the book in earnest in March-April 2016. I knew I was going to write it, but not how it would be received or even if it would ever be sold. It’s too outlandish, I thought. I’ve been saying this is where Fox News and the like is going to end up for a decade and a half, I thought.

Much to my surprise, my editor at Orbit wanted the book with a white-hot passion, and since I trusted her implicitly to have my back–to let me write the book that needed to be written without committee interference from internal groups that would want it watered down–I went for broke. I tore my heart out, and ate the bitter organ whole, retched it free and did it again.

And I pestered. Goodness, how I pestered. Knowing more than a few vets, I bought drinks, bought lunches, went to coffee, peppered them with questions. “So…if you were running an insurgency in the American Southwest…okay, so how successful is asymmetric force really when you’re the boots on the ground…look, I need to know how far a Humvee can actually go in offroad conditions without refueling…so, what did it smell like? Really?…what’s the one thing you were always short of, in combat…?” You get the idea. I’d start out with questions, and then I did what any writer who wants to learn does.

I shut up.

Once people know you’re sincerely interested in them and their lives, they will talk endlessly, and with active listening you will find out more than you ever dreamed. At that point it was simply a question of who had the better bladder, since a loo trip not only breaks conversation but also breaks “the seal” and you have to pee every five seconds afterward. (Or so it seems.)

None of them asked what my book was actually about. Most of the time I had introductions from other people they’d served with, and once word got out that I was trustworthy, gentle, and genuinely interested in their experience I had more contacts than I could ever plumb and the social credit to spend on slightly more outré questions. “Say you’re behind enemy lines and on your period, what’s the planning for that?2 How common is diarrhea in combat?3 If you could only take two weapons with you to operate in unfriendly territory, which would you? What kind of coping mechanisms have you seen others use under combat stress?4

My other research was not so nice or so enjoyable. I’ve spent years reading about the Eastern Front in WWII, and about the occupations of Ukraine and Poland by several successive totalitarian waves. It’s been an interest of mine since reading Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad because, I thought, there was no way I would ever write about something so brutal and horrific. Having something to read that, even though awful, wasn’t grist for the story-mill, was necessary in order to give my brain a break.

Perhaps the Muse was precognitive, and prepared me well beforehand. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes follow the same damn playbook, with only small adjustments for culture and territory. Plus, I had taken a bath in American Civil War history, and still picked up logistical and other studies, just on the principle that it’s always good to know how an army will feed itself on your home territory.

Everything I’d been reading and thinking about for years crystallized. Afterwar took on a life of its own.

And then, the election happened.5

I saw the beginning stages of my private nightmares playing out in realtime. I don’t think I’ve quite recovered from that, but I had other problems as well.

Not content to reflect current events, Afterwar was about to get blindsided by publication woes as well.

To be continued…

Color and Form Again

Jozzie & Sugar Belle We’re about a week away from the release of Jozzie & Sugar Belle, also known as Scrotum Search (I couldn’t use that as a title, though God knows I wanted to) and “that damn nutless kangaroo shifter story”. The print edition is available, ebook all set and pretty for release on the tenth, and I am quietly giggling each time I think about it.

I wish I was better at writing humor. I’d love to be able to consistently write comic stuff; it’s way harder than angst and I’m just generally not a funny person. The things I find hilarious tend to be somewhat macabre, which is, I’m sure, a drawback.

Last week was somewhat terrible. Finishing several large projects one-after-another caused a sort of blowback; I thought I was going to get Harmony revisions done and also get serious wordcount on HOOD. Neither happened. Instead a black hole threatened to swallow me, and I was on the event horizon (everything turned grey, light struggling to escape) for a while, skating around and grabbing for handholds. Both kids reminded me it was okay to feel tired, and we talked a lot about how managing your own energy and self-care are sometimes the most difficult things. It’s good to be able to discuss adult coping skills with both of them, and show them that it’s a process rather than a destination.

I used to think it was bad for them to see me struggle, but as they’ve gotten older, it’s opened up chances to talk about things like burnout and respecting your own limits. Both kids seem to have healthy boundaries, so perhaps my own struggle to acquire some was useful not just to me.

In any case, I got enough sleep and woke up at a reasonable time this morning. There’s a run to accomplish today, and it’s back into Harmony revisions. I suppose I’m just annoyed at the thought of ripping apart the last third of the book and drawing out the crisis for a few more chapters. I think when I was finishing the zero I got tired, and who wouldn’t after 100K words? Part of revision is to fix that very thing. It just seemed insurmountable last week, though I knew exactly what needed to be done.

So I’m back on the horse, and the world has color and form again. Odd Trundles is sprawled in his bed, snoring with a vengeance to make up for lost sleep, since he was (the horror!) bathed as is usual every weekend and it set his nap schedule back something awful. B is sleeping too, but her nose is resting on my left shoe so she cannot possibly miss me standing up and moving away to go on a run. She’s determined not to be left behind today–poor thing, as she gets older she can only go on short, slow runs. I work a lot more of those into my schedule so she gets the exercise she needs without going overboard.

I suppose I should wake her up and get going. Recovery is okay–I got a lot of reading done–but now it’s time for work again.

Over and out.