Weather Exfoliation

Welcome to Monday, please keep your limbs (and your skull, don’t forget that) inside the carriage. No, really, it’s for your own good.

The wind is up, the cedars are dancing, and plenty of heat damage is being exfoliated. Literally, that is–dried and dead bits have been swept briskly from branches, twigs, and trunks, landing with thumps and bumps. An edge or two of lashing rain passed through yesterday as well, while the kids and I were all home, cosy and buttoned-up.

It was nice to light a log of compressed sawdust in the upstairs fireplace and settle on the couch. Watch the rain, watch the wind, watch the fire, yawn, maybe take a sip of something spicy-warm, and go back to reading a book. I’m halfway through Shirer on Nazi Germany once more, having read it last a decade ago, and swinging wildly between “the situation is different from the 30s” and “well, nothing much changes in this benighted world, does it.”

I suspect a good run this morning will put me right. It’s nearing the end of the witch’s year, after all, and of course I feel a little under the (blustery) weather. Most of it is the persistent sense that I’ve lost two years due to the pandemic. Time has become weird and elastic, and both my children have missed what we think of as major life markers because of it.

Or, more precisely, not due to pandemic but to the persistent fumbling non-response of a crumbling empire in the face of plague. I hadn’t expected, reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, to see it repeated in my own lifetime.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was going to happen ever since the post-9/11 march to war. I just…thought it would take a little longer. Rome’s autocracy-fueled crumbling was a matter of centuries, America’s seems to be a matter of decades.

Of course we could be looking at a shakeup before a renewal and a great advancement in civilization and human enlightenment. That’s always possible. I just don’t want to get my hopes up, because every time I do, it’s a big ol’ kick in the teeth right afterward.

The end of a cycle always provokes such thoughts. I don’t think I’m alone in them, either.

There’s bread to bake and children (my own and others’) to care for. There are books to write, dogs to walk, kindnesses to practice on a daily basis. There’s laundry to do and movies to watch (Irma Vep is next on the list) and, as always, books to write, even if I’m taking it easy before November arrives with NaNo and a looming revision to a certain magical-realism diptych.

I suppose a load of candy and the burning of joss-paper wishes in one of the iron cauldrons will do a great deal to renew my mood. As it stands, it’s a matter of one small day at a time, struggling against the larger currents. Not borne ceaselessly into the past, Gatsby old sport, it’s more “being swept slo-mo towards deeper disaster.”

Or maybe it’s just the wind making me tetchy. As soon as the caffeine sinks in I’ll be able to tell. Between the gusts and the fact of Monday, no wonder I’m in a Mood.

Ah well. I’m strapped into the ride, after all, and can’t do much about where the tracks are heading. All that’s possible is caring for the other people in the gondola, to the best of one’s ability. The dogs, of course, have absolutely no use for my philosophizing. They want walkies now, and aren’t shy about expressing as much.

Happy Monday, my beloveds. We’re all in this together, wherever it’s wending, and that will have to be enough.

Vivid, Chilly Fire

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Crap drifting from the sky? Must be elves.

A particular maple on the daily dog-walkies route turns into flame every year. This time around she’s incredibly vivid, almost incandescent. Standing underneath on a crisp autumn day, I almost forget the leashes wrapped around my waist and the dogs sniffing or finished with their business and eager to keep going.

The maple lays a red carpet along the sidewalk, too, but lately I’ve been peering through the branches. I’ve spent a long while looking down, careful of my footing; I figure it’s time for a change.

The kids and I joke whenever there’s a windy day–especially during autumn–and tree-bits are floating far and wide, “The elves are about again.” You know how every time there’s elves in movies, the air’s full of feathers or falling leaves or sparkles or something? Maybe it’s all the Tolkien I’ve read and my kids have watched. Neither of them can get through the books, but the films are something else.

I think that’s great; the more, the merrier.

Of course soon the branches will be bare, making patterns against the sky. Still, each time we pause under that maple, whether in summer’s green, autumn’s chilly fire, or winter’s nakedness, I try to look up.

Even if only for a moment.

Music and Meatsack

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Yesterday was a bit of a wild ride. A very dear friend put me on a dedications page1, another dear friend liked the short story I made for her2, I formally left the house for the first time in ages, and remember those proofs I turned around in 48hrs so a book could come out in November? Well, turns out there’s no room in the November schedule so it’ll be January after all.

Which isn’t bad, mind you! It just means that Future (December) Me will be extremely grateful to Past (October) Me for getting things squared away. It’ll be a little gift to December Me, and also to my editors’ and publishers’ December selves. Frankly, by that point in the holiday season, I’m sure we’ll need all the help we can get.

Today looks to be a little less of a rollercoaster. Oh, sure, the weather people say there’s going to be a “Rain Event” around dinnertime, and the dogs are attempting to make sure I don’t leave the house again today–they had both kids to supervise while I did yesterday, but apparently that wasn’t good enough–and I really have got to get a newsletter out.

In short, all my internal spaces are echoing and it might be time to dust off Beck’s Sea Change album, just to soothe my nerves. I can’t do Pink Floyd since it’s past the equinox, so I’m forced to other measures.

As for the day’s work–once I get the newsletter out of the way–the first third of Hell’s Acre needs a top to bottom reshuffle. Sometimes one has to go down a road a bit to see where it leads, and sometimes even if one knows a book’s general outline…well, things happen. Stories are organic things, and grow in their own way. You can have the skeleton, but the flesh gets distributed differently.3

Anyway, once I get the throughlines in Hell’s Acre arranged, I can move the costume ball (and the interrupted assassination) earlier in the book, which can trigger the prison heist, which will lead to the culmination of Season One. Everything is going along swimmingly, and with that taking one half of my working days I can shift to revising The Black God’s Heart in the other half. And once that’s done, the Tolkien Viking Werewolves can get a second book, and so on, so forth.

I absolutely have all the work I can handle, and it’s a glorious feeling. I also have Klemp’s book (Ghost Squad #2) to get off the ground. It’s been marinating in the back of my head, so I might even do it as my NaNoWriMo this year. We’ll see.

Before that, though, the dogs want their walkies. Yesterday disturbed their usual rhythm, and they’re eager to get back to it. I also have new running shoes to break in, which is a joy and should get rid of that nagging pain in my hip.

Meatsacks, man. Always something aching, always something bruised, always some weird discharge or something. Of course the benefit of piloting one are immense as well, and yet…well, no silver lining without a cloud, and vice versa.

And with that butchering of a proverb, I’m off to start Thursday’s merry-go-round. I’m hoping for more of a slow carousel than Wednesday’s death-defying rollercoaster.

We’ll see how it turns out.

Small Rituals

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Blurry, but just right for catching in dog coats.

The season of harvest is upon us, my friends. Which can either be cheerful if chirped with bright optimism, or creepy if intoned with dirgelike seriousness.

These plants have been changing by small increments every time the dogs and I walk past, and we’ve reached the time of year when their seeds tangle even in Boxnoggin’s slick fur. Of course, they’re right where Boxnoggin and B like to stop for a bit of serious sniffing and possibly some liquid unloading, so I spend the next part of the walk picking wee bits out of their hair.

They enjoy the game, I think. Anytime Mum fusses over them is a good time.

Weather has finally become reasonable, pumpkins and spookytimes are everywhere, and I’m about to start accumulating bags of candy. No, we won’t be handing them out this year–the pandemic is still going on, and besides, the doorbell sends the dogs into paroxysms of rage I’m afraid might unmoor what little sanity they have left.

Indeed, no handing out candy this year. Which means the kids and I are going to have to eat it all. Silver linings, and all that.

Have a fabulous weekend, my beloveds. Look for the small things, the tiny rituals. And don’t forget the candy.

However Eventual

I heard the trains last night.

In summer, clear skies and prevailing winds mean we don’t hear them often; summer is mostly for distant airport-noises instead, on long breathless sunny afternoons. But when the autumn mists and cloud cover move in, late at night when the windows are closed, the cries of moving trains reappear with an eerie underwater quality.

Especially when one is up well past dark reading true crime, as I have been lately. The stories are horrible, yet the idea that somehow there’s a narrative structure–and an ending, however eventual, to every horror–is comforting in times of great distress and uncertainty.

And aren’t we having those now, my friends? You betcha.

Yesterday, curled up tightly on the couch with proof pages for The Bloody Throne, I took some time to watch the rain fall. Each drop was a welcome guest; the kids were home and the dogs quietly satisfied with the entire pack assembled. Miss B and Boxnoggin are most comfortable when all of us are within sight and smell–Boxnoggin, in particular, is excited when he senses a pack member is about to return. He has a positively unerring instinct for the moment just before a pedestrian who belongs to him (or a car bearing said human) will appear.

Today is for yet more proofs. Six hundred and fifty pages is a lot, and I have to consider each one separately, with a fine-tooth comb. It’s taken almost a week to get a hundred pages out of the way, probably due to massive burnout, but things should free up relatively soon now that I’ve found my groove.

Said groove is fragile. I’m still lying on the edge of the abyss, trying to breathe. The gasps aren’t quite as deep or close together, and my heart is beginning to come down from redline. Work helps, of course; retreating from social media helps even more. The tension between retracting for my own sanity and the necessity of some marketing (never my strong suit, though I’m trying like hell lately) is marked.

But at least I’m out. In a little bit I can get to hands and knees, and maybe even gain my feet with a particularly daring effort. Then comes walking away, probably to find another sinkhole. There’s never any shortage, especially with *waves hands* all this going on.

The season has turned. The windows are all closed, even at night. Switching to flannel sheets can’t be far behind, and Miss B is putting on her winter coat. Boxnoggin cuddles very close at bedtime, which is now a blessing instead of a sweating miserable curse, and the heated mattress pad is his new best friend. (Mine too, but that’s beside the point.)

It’s about damn time. I thought summer and its attendant discomforts would never end. The trees are shaking off heat stress, firs dropping damaged needles and rhododendrons damaged leaves as new growth emerges fresh and green; they’re scarred but vital.

Healing means they’ve survived.

Dogs need walkies, my corpus needs its (relatively) high-speed shamble, the proof pages need attention, subscription drops need to be prepped. Peace is tenuous, but deeply welcome. Renewal inherent in rain fills lovely cool grey days. My own survival seems a little more assured, a little more possible.

After all, I heard the trains last night.

The Value of Burrowing

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Morning fog is a welcome, soothing blanket. The damp chill means these fellows are making their yearly reappearance.

I have not slept for two nights. Insomnia is dreadful; I would wish it on no-one. I was doing quite well sleeping regularly before 2020 hit, but my body and brain have hit a limit and I am being warned, in the clearest possible terms, to get some real goddamn rest, willya?

I did watch Kurosawa Kuroshi’s Cure yesterday. It’s exactly the type of movie I like, a masterpiece with the exact right ending. The Criterion subscription is turning out to be a lifesaver, since I’ve decided I’m not allowed to work until I sleep, which could make for a very long weekend indeed.

Be gentle with yourselves, and each other. Mushrooms know the value of burrowing deep to ride out inimical conditions; so can we.

I’ll see you on Monday, my beloveds.

Goodbye, September

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Yesterday the full canine complement of Chez Saintcrow was washed, dried, and flea-treated, the grocer’s and pet store were visited for supplies, linens and towels were washed as well, a great deal of other housework was done, and the copyedits on Sons of Ymre #1 were finished. There’s a few final global changes to fold in on the very last, but those are tiny and it’s ready to be sent off and turned into proofs.

And I am so fatigued I had difficulty sleeping. Apparently I’m in the stage of burnout (yes, by now I’m sure it’s not The Plague™) where I’m too wound up for proper rest and just have to push for pure exhaustion to grant me some surcease. If I play my cards right and do the proper kind of work in the proper proportion today, that might happen this evening.

I’m hopeful.

I also received an amusingly nasty missive yesterday, telling me to “shut up about politics and just write [stories]”. I am baffled how the letter writer thinks any of my work is divorced from politics, since I happen to be a human being, and have no intention of hiding my thoughts on the state of the world. Honestly, the things some people will say, thinking the internet grants them anonymity. (Spoiler: IT DOESN’T.) I had to laugh at the absurdity.

On a brighter note, as a treat and reward for finishing CEs, I got myself a subscription to the Criterion Channel, which I’ve been eyeing for some time and saving pennies out of the budget for. I’ve loved their Kurosawa and Kieslowski collections, and am looking forward to diving into the rest of their offerings. After I finish prepping this week’s subscription drop, I might settle with a plate of brownies, plus some cold milk, and watch something black-and-white. (Probably an Ingmar Bergman.)

Hopefully it will be soothing enough that I can crawl into bed early and do something more than just toss and turn. Come tomorrow (October approacheth, good heavens, where on earth did September go? Pandemic time is an elastic rollercoaster) I have to turn all my engines–such as they are, straining and whining–to the proofs of the final Hostage to Empire book. Maybe after that’s marked up and sent back I can take a slightly longer break. (Spoiler: Probably not.)

Miss B and Boxnoggin are no longer damp, but both are a bit perturbed at smelling like shampoo instead of their usual doggy selves. It must be a bit like vanishing; heaven knows when I can’t smell the world due to nasal drip I feel somewhat adrift. They’ll be back to their usual healthy aroma in no time, though, and today’s walkies will no doubt help with that. I’m seriously dragging, but they have kindly allowed me to consume a double jolt of coffee without insisting to be taken around the block posthaste, for which I am utterly grateful. I think they can sense my exhaustion.

I also have an idea for yet another romance novel, which I should stick in a fresh Scrivener doc and set aside to marinate just in case. My romance editor likes suspense, and this one’s a dilly. The brain never stops, even when trembling on the edge of deep burnout. I suppose I’m just not built to rest.

At least there’s lovely grey cloud-cover today and the prospect of rain later. If I had to deal with summer temps and the associated ills I might well turn into a puddle and save all the pearl-clutchers trouble by expiring from pure heatstroke.

And with that, my tongue firmly in cheek and my temper thoroughly reined by sheer tiredness, I shall embark upon prepping brownie supplies and walking very clean (and disgruntled) canines. September and the week are almost over, and my very favorite month approaches.

See you around, beloveds.