Rules for Chasing

I have Poe’s Spanish Doll running inside my head this morning, a stagger-step of nostalgia and loss. The dogs are in fine fettle, especially Boxnoggin, who has taken to rolling over and begging for tummy rubs with the single-minded intensity and desperate cuteness of Oliver Twist asking for some more. He seems to have finally realized he’s not going back to the shelter, and it does him a world of good, poor fellow.

He’s not going to like running in the rain today, but he’s full of fidgets and I am too. If it’s any consolation to his dainty-pawed self, it’s a short run.

My writing partner gave me a clutch of walnuts, which she dislikes but I happen to love. I even like the faint bitterness of the skins and bits that cling to the brain-folded nut. Plus it’s fun to put a couple on the deck railing and watch the squirrels lose their tiny little minds over it. Remember that cartoon with the squirrel and the cocoanut? Much Ado About Nutting. That’s pretty much exactly what it looks like when the little bastards stumble across a treasure.

That was one of my ex-husband’s favorite cartoons. He had a passion for Buster Keaton too–the little guy who keeps getting bashed by circumstances, especially when he thinks he’s on to something good.

I know, it’s kind of…well, there was a reason that resonated with him, let’s just put it that way.

Anyway, one of the rules of Looney Tunes is that the “villain” or the hapless butt could stop at any time. This is most famously expressed in Chuck Jones’s Rules for Writing the Road Runner, which may be apocryphal but is damn insightful anyway.

The coyote could stop at any time. Now, they add, if he were not a fanatic, but that’s really gilding the lily. What makes the Road Runner cartoons–and plenty of other Looney Tunes–so funny is that it’s true, the pursuer or comic butt could stop at any moment.

They just don’t.

The kids and I have been talking about that a lot lately. It’s a good thing to halt in a dust cloud every so often, look around, and consider, what could I stop if I wasn’t so invested in? The answer may not be what you think.

Yesterday I spent a lot of time thinking about the current project, and came to a number of decisions. A few things I do with my books aren’t helpful in the current situation; I need to get out of the way and let my agent take care of a couple problems instead of sitting on them and brooding.

We all know how I love sitting and brooding. *snork*

So, my dear chickadees, I leave you with this question: what could you stop at any time? Are there diminishing returns? Is it a sunk costs fallacy? Is there anything that, when you stopped doing it, you would feel relief and have energy freed up for things you like better?

Notice I’m not saying any action other than thinking is required here. I’m not saying you have to immediately stop chasing your road runners, whatever they are. I’m just saying…think for a minute. Just consider. The option’s there, even if you don’t want to take it–and sometimes, knowing that an option exists frees up plenty of mental and emotional energy you didn’t even know you were pouring into a hole.

I often say I can put up with anything if I know when it’s going to stop. Or when I decide at what point I’m going to halt chasing the road runner and just order a bento box from Acme instead.

Now it’s time for me to take the dogs on a run. Sure, I could stop that at any time, but tired dogs are well-behaved dogs and I need the exercise. Besides, we took yesterday off, so we’re rested and ready (for whatever variety of “ready” we can muster) today.

See you around, friend-os.

Burden, Borne

It’s that day! The Complete Roadtrip Z is now available in ebook directly, or from the distributor of your choice. That’s all four seasons of the serial in one handy (and very large) chunk. (The paperback edition is here.)

The genesis of the Roadtrip books is a long ongoing conversation with my writing partner about just who would survive the zombie apocalypse, and how such an apocalypse would be likely to spread, assuming it was viral. There are other considerations–a bacterial or occult zombie-making plague was ruled out early in the game, since Mel loved biology in school. (She and I have another ongoing conversation about mass conversion in shifters, but that’s neither here nor there.)

We talk sometimes about survival, and about how it’s going to be the people who are already used to scraping by that are going to make it during the initial catastrophe and the secondary wave of bad-luck deaths afterward. I’m sad to say that without Lee’s help, Ginny probably wouldn’t have–and without Ginny, Lee might never have made it out without the survivor part of him deciding to do some dreadful and perhaps unnecessary things. They needed each other badly.

There’s also Juju, who’s had the deck stacked against him all his life, and who’s pretty sure any new world from the toxic ashes from the old is going to be just as bad for him. I’m not sure he’s wrong, either, but at least he’s got people watching out for him now.

I didn’t know who would survive when I started writing. I knew where the survivors would end up, but not what that group would look like when it got there. Some people I badly wanted to survive made it; some people I really wanted to see make it didn’t. The kids could probably tell you about me staggering down the hall after a long day of writing, tears on my face as I begin making dinner.1

There was plenty of poring over atlases, checking tactical layouts, researching average meteorological conditions, and more than one emails to Mel saying “Ask the Boy Scout2 how he’d solve the problem of xyz, please?”

Lee, however, was based mostly on my maternal grandfather. He was an honorable man, and Lee is all the best of him rolled into one quiet package. Not that Papa was a silent fellow, unless he got serious. Most of the time he wanted to laugh through life, and he could make anyone laugh with him. He liked hunting, percolator coffee on Sunday mornings, and Wile E. Coyote. Even now, if I hear the meep-meep, I can hear him laughing. He had a stuffed Wile E. atop his gun cabinet, and he was the one family member I deeply regretted not being able to speak to.

I got to see him once before he passed, but he didn’t ask why I wouldn’t talk to them. Instead, he took me through a calendar of old military planes and told me about each one, especially those he worked on in Korea.

It was his way of telling me he still loved me, even though he didn’t understand.

Now that he’s gone, I hope he understands why I couldn’t answer what he wanted most to know, and forgives me. And I hope he gets a kick out of me putting a man he’d like into a book.

Ginny came from a different place. I wanted someone who would be at a distinct disadvantage during an apocalypse, someone comfortable with civilization and thinking it was permanent or even particularly “civilized.” One or two readers said Ginny was too stupid to live, but in each situation, she’s trying to respond as normally as possible. It wasn’t the best coping mechanism…but it was hers, and while Lee and Juju got everyone through physically intact, it’s to Ginny’s credit that they got to the end mostly emotionally intact. Sure, everyone involved will need oodles of therapy, but that’s to be expected when the world falls apart.

I was experimenting with serial format all the way through, and I must thank my Readers for their patience with said experiments. Thanks to those who allowed me to Tuckerise them, too–your characters are as sharply and finely drawn as I could make them, and if a few meet gruesome deaths, well, that’s to be expected in any book of mine, right?

I think it’s good that it ends where it does. (Of course I do, or I wouldn’t have ended it there.) I’m pretty sure my grandfather wouldn’t have read it–his taste was more Zane Grey, though he had a soft spot for Louis L’Amour, especially Last of the Breed–but I’m also pretty sure he’d be tickled pink to know a character was based on him. I ain’t interesting, he’d say, but his blue eyes would hold a little pleased twinkle.

Some of my work is offerings to the dead. Not so they stay down, but so I remember them by doing what I love most, and what is sometimes the only gift I can give.

So thank you to you all. I’m writing HOOD as a serial now, but Roadtrip Z will always hold a special place in my heart. I was able to play, to expand, to practice both bringing each episode to a good end as well as keeping the much larger (good Lord, it’s easily 200K words in final form) story and its various arcs clearly in mind. It was a helluva ride, and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself now that it’s over.

I mean, I know what I’m going to do, of course. I’m going to write more.

But maybe, with the omnibus finally out in both paper and e-formats today, I’ll take a bit of a rest and think about how those I’ve lost are still with me. Not just because I write them, but because I carry them wherever I go. If it’s a burden, it’s one I bear proudly–and one I’ll keep writing underneath.

See you around, guys.

Spring, Cartoons, Sprung

Saturday was rainy, Sunday sunny, which worked out well since I ran on the former and could lock up the house on the latter. I hid from the day-star and watched a chock-ton of Looney Tunes.

In the old house, I would fold laundry and write while several DVDs’ worth of cartoons played on the telly. The kids and I didn’t watch much else during the day, and when the Princess got older we’d have the subtitles on. She would, without prompting, correct errors in the subtitling.

She might be an editor someday, that girl. Anyway, the kids would play, and every few cartoons we’d all get up and perform a task. (If you’ve never tried hoovering with helpful toddlers, let me tell you, it’s a trip. )

Anyway, the dogs were quite happy to have me rest in one place between bouts of housework yesterday. And at the end of the day, every blessed creature in the house except the cats had dessert in my office, laughing at antics and gasping “oh, no,” at various points.

It’s been a long time since I heard those musical cues, and it took me all the way back to the good things about the old house. There were a few, but as things got worse by increments it felt more like a trap than a home. I was glad to move out, I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t endured a bad divorce or two knows how glad.

But last night there was cheesecake, gasps of recognition and laughter, and I remembered what it was like to sit cross-legged on the old papasan chair, typing furiously while the kids played and Bugs or Daffy or Tweety scrambled across the screen. In those days, the living room was the center of the house. Nowadays, here, it’s the kitchen.

I liked writing in the living room. I liked having the kids right in sight, and being available to them. I liked having Looney Tunes on while I typed furiously; I could work for two or three cartoons then take a break for one to get up and stretch.

But I realized that never, in all my life, had I watched cartoons truly alone.

So, Sunday morning, I got my coffee and settled in front of my laptop, and I watched them for hours. Then, all that afternoon, I did two or three household tasks, then watched a few cartoons, lather, rinse, repeat.

It was just as glorious as I thought it would be. I thought of trying to keep the volume low on Saturdays or Sundays in my childhood, hoping for a few good cartoons and disappointed when my favorites didn’t show. I thought of folding mountains of laundry and writing hundreds of thousands of words while terrified that I wouldn’t be able to make it, that I wouldn’t be able to create fast enough, well enough to feed my children.

And now I can take a whole day, press a button, and have cartoons playing. I can even go to the store, get doughnuts, and dip sweetened bread into tea or coffee while I roll around in every single cartoon I like. I can watch the same one fifty times in a row, if the mood takes me.

We value youth in our culture. We crave it. We glorify childhood, but all youth ever brought me was people fucking with me when they knew I was helpless–or when they thought I was. It was exhausting and terrifying.

It’s much better now. I fought tooth and nail to get here. I’m an adult, and coming up on female middle age. I don’t have to give a fuck, and I have my own bank account–such as it is–capable of absorbing a few charges for a smorgasbord of looney tune-age.

I’m listening to Wile E. Coyote chase the Road Runner while I type. Spring is here, and each time I’ve seen the same cartoon is a ring in my trunk. I’ve survived, and each seven or eight-minute cartoon reminds me of how it used to be, and how good it is now.

I never want to be a child again. But damn, I love cartoons.

Mental Mustelidae

The headweasels are particularly bad this morning. Back and forth they go, treating my skull like a flimsy cage. I’d love to let them out–fly, be free, never come back–but they’re stuck inside a bone bowl. There’s nothing to be done about it.

They’re independent of how many books I write or how much my children love me, independent of how much sleep I got last night or how hard I strive to be good and do good. “Do no harm and take no shit” is my mantra; why should I take shit from ghosts of people who hated and tried their best to kill or maim Child-Me?

And yet.

Meds don’t answer the head weasels, though meds can send them into protracted hibernation or blunt their sharp, tiny teeth. Proper pharmacology makes it easier to see the headweasels in their correct proportions, as distorted reflections not of the world, but of what we fear the world might be.

It’s already terrible enough out there, one doesn’t need to make it worse. Even though there’s a certain amount of frantic quasi-safety and illusionary control in imagining the worst so vividly that whatever actually happens looks like a relief. It’s still shitty, but it could be so much shittier really isn’t a healthy way to live your life, though. The wear and tear on your nerves about absolutely imaginary shittiness takes up time and energy one could be using to fight real ordure.

I should run. Make some tea. Lose myself in work for a while. I dread ending up tired, sweaty, and hammering at a book that will never sell because it’s too dark, too complex, too dangerous, too grim. Or not dark, complex, dangerous, and grim enough.

See? Headweasels, whispering in the corners, padding around the skull’s shadowed nooks, pressing their claws against the soft folds of a vulnerable brain.

The weasels just don’t seem to understand if I go down, they go down with me. They’re still determined to crash this fleshly bus into the nearest abutment at high speed. They’re not even good villains, as such things go. They’re just…balls of anxiety, with sleek fur, red eyes, and needle claws. Short-sighted, poo-flinging, nasty-tempered little idiots without even a cat’s gracefulness or (abstract and imperfectly applied) loyalty.

So I hunker down. I endure the brainweasels. I let them play and do my work while they try to bleed off precious energy. I use every strategy the therapist gave me and a few I picked up on my own. I write about the weasels to perform an old variety of sorcery: naming my enemy so I may gain power over it.

They’re uncomfortable, yes. But they’re just…thoughts. I know the power of a thought, and I know what a thought isn’t. It takes hard work over a long duration to turn small thoughts into reality, and while I’m not in charge of the thieving little mental mustelidae I am in charge of my hard work and effort. I’m the spaceship the weasels are loose in, and I can open the doors and fling us all into space at any moment.

New ones will generate if I somehow get my hands on the old, I’m sure. But I am the life support system, and I am the one living this life, and I am the one who will steer on down the highway, grimacing and pained but still in charge.

First on the agenda is a run to bring my mood back into line. Then it’s tea, and work. The weasels will scream or whisper, threaten or cajole, blandish or brandish, but I remain unmoved.

Or at least, I’m going to pretend to be unmoved, and go about my day. Good luck, everyone.

Let’s hope it works.

Birthday Month Snowpocalypse

Of course yesterday–the day I had to spend mostly outside the house–was the day it decided to snow. It didn’t accumulate, thank goodness, but the roads got super sloppy and everyone piloting a car was stressed out and consequently a bit wavering. On the bright side, I got through the grocer’s between waves of “OMG WE’RE ALL GOING TO SNOWPOCALYPSE DIIIIIIE” people, and noticed only that the bottled water had been pillaged. There was still plenty of dairy.

Today I can rest a bit. But only a bit, since I have to perform yet more Birthday Month-related things. I also have a run to get in; the dogs need their fidgets worked hard. They get stressed during any excitement; Mum leaving a houseful of guests in their care for hours at a time (well, the Princess was home and entertaining, so the dogs weren’t entirely on their own while performing supervisory duties) has made them Nervous.

I should get out the door if that’s what I’m planning. I was allowed a bit of a lie-in this morning, thankfully dog-free since the Princess came in, set a cup of coffee on my nightstand, and dragged both canines out. For no reason at all, she said, except she thought I’d like it.

I have good kids.

If I can just get through next week, the birthday month craziness should die down and I’ll get a chance to breathe. That will be a lovely change, and I’ll relish it.

The enforced rest has done some good–I’ve been getting research reading in, and that always deepens the worlds I play with. I’m only getting bare wordcount, 200-400 words a day, since most of my energy’s going elsewhere. I get itchy and tetchy when I don’t write, but at least 200 words is a prophylactic measure. I’m only slightly annoyed with the world as a result.

So today is for running, listening to kulning (a new obsession) and being grateful to my Past Self for scheduling subscription stuff so I don’t get home today and have to engage in a scramble to get that done. Hallelujah and thanks, Past Self! I’ve almost forgiven you for that “[[put sex scene here]]” you pulled last week.

Almost

Spark, Work, Spark Again

2.5K on HOOD’s Season One yesterday. All in revision, which would bother me–except I’m getting ready for the huge push to get the zero out. Then I can switch to The Poison Prince and get that skeleton all arranged and padded. It lingers in my reveries like to a step-dame or a dowager, long withering out a young man’s revenue.

Not that it’s a bad thing, I’m just dreading it because by the time it’s over it’ll be another 200K that I have to trudge through CEs for, probably at short notice since it’s always a case of festina lente. If a publisher paid me enough to be my only client I wouldn’t mind so much, but none of them do anymore and as a result, I do mind and I will not be harried into working weekends when salaried employees don’t.

Well, I will work weekends, but only for me, myself, and I. That’s the only client paying me enough, frankly.

In any case, I am in that twitching, raw space where I want to get this done and move on to the next project. The instant I finish The Bloody Thone–number three in the epic fantasy trilogy–I am going to feel so. damn. liberated. The only problem is that there’s proofs on Book 1, then the whole process on Books 2 & 3, to get through.

I shouldn’t complain. I wanted to stretch my wings and write something different. And I love several parts of this series. There are just…behind the scenes issues dragging at my fingers while I type, which is my very least favorite way of writing. You’d think, after a decade and a half in the business, that some people would assume I know what I’m doing.

Anyway, I am sparking with low-level irritation and the desire to get things done. If I can manage to get to the end of revisions today I’ll be set up for the run for the finish, which will include Marah’s Race and some domestic terrorism for spice, as well as a giant arms heist and the ending stinger–because upping the stakes with King Richard’s return is good narrative fuel. Friar Tuck needs more screen time, he’s the moving part I care least about but that doesn’t mean I’ll spend less time polishing and crafting him or his story.

Well, that’s the work before me. It’s a sunny Tuesday with snow clinging in the corners, bright, inexorable, and dangerous. The dogs wish for a run, but taking their tender paws out onto ice (not to mention the risk of falling myself) isn’t cricket at all.

So it’s upward and inward, and all those things I’d fiddle with to procrastinate have been folded away and put to bed. Nothing before me but the task I must accomplish…

…and there’s some shortbread dough in the fridge, of course, but that’s neither here nor there. One needs something to look forward to in order to work most effectively, right?

Right?

On Formality

I am a somewhat formal creature. My emails start with “Dear Sir/Madam” most of the time, and I will never call someone by their first name until specifically asked to do so, and even then it will be Ms/Mr Firstname for a while.

This meshes somewhat uneasily with my chosen career. Generally the people I write to are glad of the formality–politeness, after all, is a plus when dealing with editors, publishers, or other writers.

But it also means that the modern slide into informality irritates the living daylights out of me. Strangers who start their missives with “Hey Lili” or “Hey Lilith” get an automatic strike, and guess what? If I haven’t deliberately told you to address me informally at least once, you’re a stranger.

I wouldn’t mind so much, except for the Saintcrow Law of Informal Address1: the informality of address by a stranger is precisely proportional to the “favor” they wish to extract from you, and their concomitant fury when denied is multiplied by each factor and then squared.

In other words, I see “Hey Lili” at the beginning of a stranger’s email and wince, knowing ahead of time that I will be asked for something and when I say “no” I’ll get a screed2 in return.

It never, ever fails. I can count the exceptions to this rule on one hand and have fingers left over, and that’s after being on the goddamn internet for decades now.

By contrast, the emails I get with formal address (including, hilariously, missives sent to an entirely nonexistent “Mr Saintcrowe”, because somehow if I’m a man the extra “e” needs to be added, don’t ask me, I just work here) are uniformly much better spelled, not to mention more reasonable in content, and when I send a gentle “I am sorry, I cannot,” the letter writer takes time to pen a short, very polite, forgiving missive to close out the interaction.

Consequently I am much more likely to use the extremely limited time allotted to correspondence to respond to a letter or email using formal address than the alternative.

I offer this insight not to complain3 but to advise. The joking informality currently in fashion might be working against you if you want people to go out of their way or read past your greeting. Especially if you’re asking a busy person for a favor.

I realize my habit of formal address is often seen as cold or standoffish, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay for behaving in a decent fashion according to my own lights. I’ve never had a person call me rude for using proper address4. So, of course, your mileage may vary…

…but if you don’t get responses to your familiar, joking little emails, you might want to consider how you’re starting them out.

‘Nuff said.