War and Euphemism

I took a break from reading Foote on the Civil War to read a few books on Marines in the Pacific during WWII. I’ve since finished Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed, and last night started Robert Leckie’s Helmet For My Pillow. Very early on in the latter, I came across probably the greatest paragraph I’ve ever read in a military memoir.

Always there was the word. Always there was that four-letter ugly sound that men in uniform have expanded into the single substance of the linguistic world. It was a handle, a hyphen, a hyperbole; verb, noun, modifier; yes, even conjunction. It described food, fatigue, metaphysics. It stood for everything and meant nothing; an insulting word, it was never used to insult; crudely descriptive of the sexual act, it was never used to describe it; base, it meant the best; ugly, it modified beauty; it was the name and nomenclature of the voice of emptiness, but one heard it from chaplains and captains, from Pfc.’s and Ph.D.’s—until, finally, one could only surmise that if a visitor unacquainted with English were to overhear our conversations he would, in the way of Higher Criticism, demonstrate by measurement and numerical incidence that this little word must assuredly be the thing for which we were fighting. (Robert Leckie, Helmet For My Pillow)

It reminds me of “The Proper Use of English Word Fuck“. Sledge, bless him, could not bring himself to write about the military habit of blasphemy, and Leckie had to content himself with euphemism to describe it. But what euphemism! The structure alone of the marvelous paragraph above delights me, with its call and response, its tension of opposites resolved in a single blaring call of hilarity.

I plan on reading some James Jones too, even though novels are not quite good for me to read while writing one. Reading fiction feels like work when you’re writing it, and it can exhaust one’s slender leftover resources after a day of chipping words free of the cranium. I feel like reaching for a red pen if I read too much fiction during my writing stage or when revisions heat up. I read a lot more nonfiction because I don’t feel the urge to edit or dissect the prose inside my head. (Unless, of course, it’s egregiously bad.) The memoirs kind of straddle that line, but they’re what the Muse wants right now, and what that bitch wants she gets.

I had to put the Foote Civil War books down after reading about a raider pulling up to a Yankee whaling ship that had just killed a whale and was harvesting the fat. The raider took the crew prisoner and fired the ship and the whale’s carcass, which made my stomach turn. A useless death of a beautiful, noble creature, murdered and set afire on the sea. It’s to Foote’s credit that his description of such things is so powerful, but it turned my stomach and I had to take a break. Reading about the waves of horses dying in battle or ridden to pieces on raids is difficult, too. War is a brutal fucking waste.

Anyway, I’m deep in the first flush of honeymoon writing, working on a book that will never be sold. I should be concentrating on a paying project, but I’m stealing time to write something for my beloved agent, and enjoying the hell out of it. I love the books that grow organically from a single hallucinatory scene best, but a close second are the books I do for my writing partner or my agent because I love them and want them happy. It feels good to give a gift.

Now, after a lunch of triple-ginger gingersnaps and very cold milk, it’s back to work.

Clearer Focus

summer queen It’s cool and cloudy, which is not at all like August in this part of the world. The weather report says not to worry, we’ll be expiring of heat soon enough, but I can’t help but wonder at the intense shifts the weather takes.

Oh, I don’t have to wonder. It’s climate change, after all.

I woke up this morning with Ellen Foster in my head. It seems I’ll have to read it again, after finishing Volume I of Shelby Foote’s magisterial work on the Civil War. I remember coming across it when I was much younger and working in a used bookstore, and being absolutely blown away by the pitch-perfect voice. Since then, I’ve only read it every decade or so. It seems it’s time again.

Apparently reading means one will live longer. I might end up immortal, and truth be told, I’d need to be in order to get through my TBR pile.

My dreams have grown intense of late, but not the kind of intensity that dredges books from my subconscious. Instead, it’s the highly saturated, emotionally complicated dreams that tell me I’m processing things. History. Old hurts, new knowledge. I came across a poem earlier this morning about life trading calm and truth for one’s youth, and thought, yes, that is how it is. I am glad to not be young anymore.

For me, each passing year takes me further from helpless childhood, the plaything of rageaholics. I have my own car keys, my own bank account, my own home. I can set a book on my kitchen counter and it won’t be torn up or thrown away. When I shut my door, anyone who comes by may knock for admittance, but it’s up to me whether or not I grant it. My children have no idea what it’s like to be barged in on even when one’s door is locked–just recently, the Princess told me about one of her classmates who has no privacy even in her bedroom, and remarked how she can’t imagine such a horrible boundary trespass.

It felt good to hear that, indeed.

Sometimes, I’ll lay an item down somewhere temporarily, and my heart will still pound and my breath catch with the instinctive calculation of how likely it is I’ll lose it to someone’s random fury. It takes a moment, looking at the object and breathing deeply, to remind myself I am no longer at the mercy of anyone who would do such a thing. I’ve grown comfortable with my life, and found a measure of peace. So my dreams are turning over all these things, fitting them together in a life experience grown much more capacious.

When you’re young, there’s no sense of proportion. Things feel huge because you have nothing to compare them to. Acquiring a bit of brute experience quickly resolves the picture into clearer focus.

I don’t dislike the dreams. They’re intense, but not nightmares. I’m even glad of them, I can feel the scar tissue becoming deeper, tougher, supple instead of delicate.

So I dream, and I write, and when I lay an object down in my own house, sometimes I leave it there for longer than it needs to be.

Just because.



I hate travel, but I like to hear stories from people who’ve gone elsewhere.

Friends often ask if they can bring anything back from a trip for me. I generally say no. Once in a while, though, I’ll ask for a rock, even a piece of gravel, from their wanderings. Holding a piece of earth’s solidity, I can taste where a friend walked, and their happiness while they traveled. (Or their irritation.) Each one comes with a story, too.

These are from my writing partner’s last trip to the ocean. She and her darling husband (we call him the Boy Scout) visited my favorite place on earth and brought these back. I put them on my dresser, where I can see them every morning.

It’s good to have friends.


That’s right–at long last, the final Gallow & Ragged adventure is loose upon the world.

Gallow & Ragged

The plague has broken loose, the Wild Hunt is riding, and the balance of power in the sidhe realms is still shifting. The Unseelie King has a grudge against Jeremiah Gallow, but it will have to wait. For he needs Gallow’s services on a very delicate mission — and the prize for success is survival itself.

To save both Robin Ragged and himself, Gallow will have to do the unspeakable, and become what he never dreamed possible…

NOW AVAILABLE through independent bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Release day is always difficult, and none more so than the end of the series. A huge thank-you goes out to you, my faithful, constant Readers; I hope you like this adventure. There was a lot of pain in the birthing, but that’s true of everything.

So. Come around this corner, just a little further. That’s right, into the shadow here. Now, lean in, and let me tell you this story…

Another Young Horus

another young horus

I’ve known there was a hawk’s nest in a local park for years, but never quite managed to catch more than a glimpse of one. The destruction of several trees in said park–under the guise of “renovating” it–broke my heart. Thankfully, the one showing the most evidence of being a favorite perch was not cut down. On that particular hot day, though, the youth in question decided to settle right over my head just as I finished a punishing bit of speedwork.

If you look carefully above, you may see the fierce, sullen glare of a young hawk. What you can’t see is the small mouse/vole/something clutched in talons. Or my gapjawed look of wonder as I tried to get a good picture.

The other people at the park probably thought I was catching a Pokémon. But I would never try to trap something so wild and beautiful. It’s best to leave it alone to shred its own catch in peace.

The Chewing Tree

Gnaw gnaw gnaw.
Gnaw gnaw gnaw.

Something is masticating this very large fir tree. Miss B has to investigate the marks thoroughly each time we pass. It’s set alongside an elementary school, but the marks reach way higher than even the most steroidal sixth-grader. The tree itself seems to still be healthy, so I’m hopeful.

Try to be kind to yourself this weekend, dear Readers, so you can be kind to others. We all need it a little more than usual.

Over and out.

The Wisdom of Trundles

The pre-morning-nap nap.

Trundles knows the world is a crazy, sometimes very scary place. Trundles hasn’t read or watched the news–he was too busy trying to roll over, a perennial goal his corkscrewed body rarely reaches but that doesn’t stop him from trying. However, he has heard me discuss current events with Miss B (who always listens, but rarely ventures an opinion, unless it’s to growl every time she hears a certain tiny-handed orange-haired demagogue from the computer speakers) and various others. And Trundles, being the kind giving soul that he is, offers this by way of consolation:


And there you have it, my friends. At least we still have naps. (And pooping.)