SquirrelThings Five, Redux

vinicon So there I was, at the back door, clutching the famous Sekrit Weapon and–

What? The Sekrit Weapon? Oh. It’s a golf club. They’re pretty good for home defense. I found this out during the Great Corn-Pops War. It’s far more maneuverable than the Shovel of Serious Business, and the bent part at the bottom is good for poking and lifting things you don’t want to touch. (Like roadkill. Or a sombrero left in one’s front yard. DON’T ASK.) I have learned my lesson: I will not willingly go near a squirrel unarmed. Even one that might be dead.

Miss B was curious, of course. If I was going outside, she wanted in on it too. However, I have also learned my lesson concerning her and squirrels-that-may-be-dead. So she had to stay inside, and the heat was such that I don’t think she minded much. Odd Trundles, of course, was still dozing in my office. The noise of SquirrelThings Five doing whatever it was they were doing had abated somewhat, and I think it functioned somewhat as white noise for him.

I checked a few times to make sure I was wearing shoes. I shook the Sekrit Weapon, assuring myself of its free play and that no part of it was going to come off. I crossed myself, muttered a prayer, told Miss B to sit her fuzzy ass down, and stepped outside.

From the deck I could see the Five–wait. The Four, for one of their number was still lying on his back at the foot of the pine, splayed out a little indecently, were still at their game. I couldn’t quite tell who was who, because the mating attempts seemed to have stopped, and now they were just chasing each other and losing bits of fur.

THING 1: YOU BASTARD!
THING 3: CHARGE! CHARGE!
THING 4: POOOOOOOOOOP!
THING 2: *singing* I’VE BEEN WORKING ON THE RAAAAAILROOOOOAD–

“This is a bad idea,” I muttered, and checked my shoes again. Still there. I swung the Sekrit Weapon a little, and edged down the deck stairs. From the landing, I could see the, um, victim, still splayed out. The poor fellow had landed on a rock, and was somewhat draped over it. Did squirrels get paralyzed? A paraplegic squirrel, perhaps? I was considering how to rig up a squirrelcart so a semi-paralyzed squirrel could get around–look, my brain, she runs away with me sometimes, especially under stress.

It’s why I write books.

ANYWAY. I could almost hear the wheels of the imaginary squirrelcart as I slid cautiously down the last set of stairs. This put me pretty close to the ring of rocks around the base of the fir, and I crouched at the foot of the stairs, just to take everything in.

Look, you take cover wherever you can in a situation like this. I’m just sayin’.

THING 2: *singing* AAAAAAALL THE LIVELONG DAAAAAAAY!
THING 4: SOOOOOOOPER POOOOOOOOP!
THING 3: YOU GONNA DIE! YOU GONNA DIE!
THING 1: ACK! JESUS! HELP! MEDIC!

The, uh, fur-fall seemed to have slacked off. They were still scratching and screaming above, and bits of bark were pattering down in random bursts. The squirrel on the ground just lay there.

I unfolded and crept closer, the Sekrit Weapon held before me, low and ready. (You can almost hear the Carmen Sandiego music, can’t you. I mean the music from the old PC game, when you ALMOST managed to catch her…Christ, I’m old.)

Now, I would like to mention that the concrete walkway there is tilted. The fir’s roots have lifted some parts of it, dropped others, and after a few years of living here I no longer trip on the seams. (Much.) That’s somewhat important. I had to step half off said walkway to extend the Sekrit Weapon and–gently, gently–prod the supine squirrel.

Honestly, I thought he was dead, and I was already thinking about where to bury the fallen warrior. (The rose garden’s getting a bit full.) Shovels were in the shed, I could prep a grave and take him there on one of said shovels–maybe by the mustard-and-ketchup bush. I didn’t know this little fellow, so the graveside service was going to have to be brief–

Well.

He wasn’t dead.

I repeat, he was not dead. He was just resting.

The Thing, whatever number he was, exploded into motion. He grabbed the end of the golf club, perhaps thinking it one of the combatants stills screeching and scrabbling above. Or he thought it was a branch. In any case, my combat reflexes are still quick, because I whipped said Sekrit Weapon up, hard.

And yet.

And yet the squirrel did not fly, for once.

No, the little bastard let go.

I ask you, my friends and Constant Readers, have you ever almost hit yourself in the face with a squirrel-wrangling golf club? I don’t recommend it.

I went over backward, and the Unnumbered Thing (let’s call him Five, we might as well) howled his fury at resurrection. (Sort of like a naked Hugh Jackman.)

He was indeed just resting. Or stunned, or something. He didn’t head for the fir but for the back fence, a little gray streak still howling like a scruffy, clawed berserker.

Remember the tilted concrete walkway? The one I’d stepped off? Well, my asscheek met it. Hard. And yes, I say asscheek singular, because of the tilt. My teeth clicked together, I tasted blood, and that pratfall was the only reason the Sekrit Weapon didn’t take said teeth out.

Friendly fire, my darling friends, isn’t.

“SONOFABITCH!” I yelled, and other things. The golf club flew behind me and landed neatly on the deck with a clatter, missing windows, potted plants, and patio furniture as well as my teeth. Miss B began to bark, but she did not throw herself at the door, for once.

Small mercies.

The end result of this was a breathless, hot silence in the backyard. I looked up, my eyes watering from the pain, and saw four small squirrels hanging off the fir and looking at me, their beady little gazes glowing with something suspiciously like awe. Five, of course, made it to the back fence and vanished into the cedars, the little bastard. I haven’t seen him since, nor have there been any more fur-flying battles in my fir.

I’m not sure I could survive another one.

And that, my friends, is how a squirrel gave me a bruise on my ass and a headache that lasted for days. The only lesson I can draw from this teachable moment is to never, ever, EVER assume a squirrel is dead.

They are, only and ever, just fucking taking a breather before the main event.

THE MARKED, and a Workshop

The Marked

The Indiegogo campaign for THE MARKED is now live! There are all sorts of perks, and if you have a suggestion for one, please let me know.

Awful things happen. Sometimes you’re left alive, but it leaves a Mark. They aren’t tattoos, and they express your hidden powers—and your hidden desires. They grow as you use them. And someone wants them very, very badly…

A winding road, a freak storm, and a lightning strike. Jude Altfall’s life, just beginning to coalesce after her divorce, is shattered afresh. Dazed with grief, she’s not sure if the weird things happening around her are hallucinations…or something more. And there’s the mark on her hip—a tattoo she can’t for the life of her remember getting.

Preston Marlock left a shadowy government agency two years ago, to hunt a killer. Each time the bastard strikes the trail goes cold, and not even Marlock’s more-than-natural abilities are helping. Now the killer’s taken one of his very few friends, and there’s a surviving witness. The Altfall woman is now that most precious and fragile of targets, newly Marked. All Marlock has to do is dangle her like bait, and the killer will eventually show up.

The Skinner knows some people are different. Special. He has a collection of stretched skin and pretty pictures, each harvested with care. The trick is to take them while the victim is still struggling, still alive, otherwise their power is lost. He is careful, methodical, and precise, but chance robs him of a prize. Once he realizes Jude Altfall has what he covets, and has possibly seen his face, her fate is sealed. And just to be cautious, the Skinner might swat at the annoying fly who has buzzed along his trail for two years.

Sometimes you survive, and you bear a Mark.

And some things are worse than death.

Not only that, but I’ll be running a workshop for young authors this upcoming Sunday.

(PDF version for downloading.)

I don’t normally do events, but the local Barnes & Noble has supported me over the years, and I love them deeply. So I’ll be practicing my own inimitable form of writing kung-fu this Sunday. Even if you’re not a teen writer, you can help out by printing out and using the vouchers to make a purchase that weekend. Please do, because it benefits the regional library system.

And that’s all the news for today, my dears. Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about the SquirrelThings Five, and why I still have a bruise on my tuchus.

Snail Rider

Zoom!

We’re having a plague of snails this year. Of course, many of the birds are very happy about this, since they’re crunchy with a nice chewy centre. Me, I just keep thinking of the Neverending Story every time I see one. I even sometimes whisper to them, Tell your rider to be careful, there’s a lot of birds about. I know I shouldn’t warn them, for they eat the shit out of my hostas every spring…but I can’t help myself. They are so small, and I am so large, that I feel constrained to be gentle.

Although I do wish I could whisper a garter snake or two into the yard. I wonder if they eat snails? I have no taste for escargot, but then again, I am not a snake.

Have a good weekend, my dears. Next week I’ll tell you how the SquirrelThings Five story ended with me flat on my ass.

Over and out.

SquirrelThings Five

squirrel icon The entire right side of my body aches today, from neck to ankle. The pain is centered in my right glute, and the reason for this is just exactly what you’d expect.

Yes. A goddamn squirrel.

…I’d better back up.

I was sitting in my office, minding my own business and writing a citywide conflagration, when the ruckus from outside became too large to ignore. The window was open, since it was a reasonably warm day, and for once both dogs were paying little attention to scrabbling and screeching from outside. They were, I think, both exhausted by the morning’s walkies. Since B was injured, even an amble around the block is an adventure that frays my nerves as well as hers, because she is so goddamn determined to stick her nose in everything to make up for being unable to run it’s a full-time job keeping the leash (and my legs) untangled. And Odd, well, his legs are short, his trundle is arduous, and anything above 60F is much too warm for his taste. (Poor little compromised-airway fellow.)

Anyway, they were both sprawled on the office floor, Odd with his head mostly under B’s skirts. I think it’s a holdover from his puppy days, when she could curl completely around him; now, of course, he’s far too big, and the only thing he can rest against her belly is his ginormous head. She suffers it, of course, as she suffers so much else. And the noise from outside just kept getting bigger.

THING 1: I DID NOT!
THING 2: YES YOU DID!
THING 3: YOU DID, YOU DID!
THING 5: POOP! POOP!
THING 1: I DIDN’T! I DIDN’T!
THING 5: RACECAR! I’M A RACECAR, YOU’RE A RACECAR!
THING 4: SLOW DOWN! IT WON’T HURT!

I had to swing my office chair around, craning my neck, to look out my window at the fir tree in the middle of the yard. Scratching and scrabbling came from up the trunk, so I had to get up and peer out my window.

It was (you’ve already guessed, I bet) squirrels.

THING 5: MRRRRRRROWP! MRRRRROWP!
THING 1: FINE! I DID IT! GO AWAY!
THING 3: YOU DID IT! YOU DID IT!
THING 5: BRRRRRRRP THPING ARGLEBARGLE!
THING 4: COME BACK! COME BACK, DAMMIT!
THING 2: OW! YOU ASSHOLE!

Not one. Not two. Not three or four.

Five. Five young squirrels. They were small, they were bouncy, they were the toddlers of squirreldom, and they were having a grand old time.

I glanced down to make sure I was wearing shoes, even though I was (relatively, I hoped) safe inside my own home. Fortunately, I was shod, and I looked out again, trying to discern what the little bastards were doing. After a little while, it seemed like Things 2, 3, and 4 were attempting to mate with Thing 1, Thing 1 might have been attempting to find a quiet moment to mate with Thing 4, and Thing 5 was simply running around and yelling various things.

THING 5: GILBERT! SULLIVAN! HAMILTON!
THING 4: DON’T MAKE ME COME OVER THERE!
THING 3: LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!
THING 1: STOP BREATHING ON ME!
THING 2: NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!

Ah, youth. Ah, exuberance.

I watched for a few moments, wearing what I am sure was an expression of complete mystification, then glanced back at the dogs. Who were still blissfully oblivious. It seemed a little unnatural, but the noise had started to gradually, maybe they’d simply adjusted to it as it rose.

I settled back in my chair and began to look at maps for roads out of the city I was burning. Research, that perennial writer’s–

The noise went up to eleven. I actually spoke out loud, I was so taken aback. “What the ever-loving fuck?” I stood up again, turning to the window.

My friends, there was gray fluff, majestically floating down from the seventy-plus-year-old fir tree.

It was fur. Actual fur was flying.

Squirrel fur.

Flying.

I don’t know what happened to turn the tree into Squirrel Thunderdome. I do know that they were suddenly serious about their battle, whatever it was, and there was an unholy screech. I had arrived, it seems, just in time to see a meteor plunge to earth.

Well, it was a squirrel. A tiny squirrel. It fell out of the fir tree and hit the ring of rocks at the bottom. And it lay there, supine, while the battle continued raging overhead.

“Oh, fuck,” I breathed. I could tell, sure as shooting, that this boded no good.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Run, Think, Write

Afterwar is taking a direction I don’t want, don’t like, don’t care for, and one I almost don’t understand. It wants to be a much bigger book, and it wants me to get inside the head of a banal evil. Part of me knows it’s the next step in my evolution as a writer, but the rest of me is digging in its heels for several reasons.

I haven’t yet reached the point of no return, where the story punches its spurs into my sides and pulls my hair, refusing to let go. Once I do, I’ll have to finish the damn book, even if it takes staying up nights because I’m working on paying projects during the day. There’s plenty of fear involved–fear of doing it wrong, fear of not serving the book well, fear that it will be the thing that breaks my career. Every step forward is accompanied by these wrenching feelings, and it gets…well, not precisely old, but I heave an internal sigh and think okay, so we’re on THIS merry go round again.

The only path is straight through, the only cure is work. So I’m taking this week to do all Afterwar, all the time, except of course for those moments when I’m chasing down people who owe me things. (Including money. The least-glamorous part of being a writer: submitting invoices and politely but firmly demanding they be paid.)

Miss B’s leg is better, but I’m not taking her running for a while yet. She, of course, despises this turn of events and grudgingly accepts ambles with Odd Trundles as better than nothing. I’d forgotten what it was like to run without her, really, and I miss my partner. On the other hand, I don’t have to drop my center of gravity and keep going nearly as much, and I don’t have to do fancy footwork to avoid her getting tangled up underneath me when a delivery vehicle or another dog passes by. It’s much calmer, and I fall into the peculiar trance of effort and sweat, things shaking loose and my subconscious busily putting together the next few scenes for when I sit down and focus.

So for this week, I run, and I think, and I write. It should at least give me an idea of where and what this book actually wants to be when it grows up. And after I spend some quality time with it, I can turn to Cormorant Run with fresh eyes and insert all the things I glossed over in its messy, very quick birth. That particular book tore itself out of my brain like it was on fire and needed to get to a lake. Now that I have some distance from it, I can see where the holes are, and fortunately I know everything that goes on inside those holes.

Which means at least there’s something I know how to do coming up. It’s a small comfort, but I’ll take it.

Agility Saves

gambit2 I’m rolling really high on agility saves today. It may have something to do with the monstrous cup of coffee I’m nursing. I got out the Chemex this morning, because rolling out of bed was…well, let’s just say I may have to poison myself with caffeine a la Balzac (however apocryphal) in order to get anything done today at all.

At least I’ve managed to get some piano practice in. Running through a few minuets right after breakfast seems to clear some cobwebs, but I suspect it will take a week or two before I see real progress in my evening practices as well. I just keep plugging away at the instruction book, and the First Lessons in Bach book. I’m on #8 in the latter, and this is the year I think I’ll finish it. My goal, of course, is to be able to stagger through the Goldberg Variations by the time I’m fifty. I have a decade to do that, and I think it’ll be a close race. My ability to keep making incremental progress through sheer dogged stubbornness is not my most winning feature, but it’s certainly useful.

Miss B’s leg is healing up just fine. She’s able to go on Odd Trundles’s daily constitutionals (half a block to the top of the street, maybe a few steps more, and back) and is a complete and total bossy little menace during them. Which makes Odd a menace too, since he just wants to trundle but she keeps Getting In His Way, not to mention Bossing Him Thoroughly and Barking At Cars. Odd keeps looking at me like do you really have to bring her too, Mum? And I keep grimly holding the leash and repeating, she will get better soon, this is just a phase, please God it’s just a phase.

That’s about it, except for the mounting frustration of waiting for other people to make decisions so I can move on. I’m getting to the point of not caring what goddamn decision an editor makes as long as they make it in a timely fashion. Of course, I’m in the wrong business for timely decisions, since everyone on salary with a publisher goes on vacation/to conventions multiple months a year–I am additionally, I suspect, in the wrong specialization for my field–and you can imagine what that does to my stomach lining.

So today will be spent pursuing people until I get the answers I need, or a deadline for the answers I need. And by the time I finish my daily writing work, I will be set to…work all through the Memorial Day weekend. Then I’ll need a day or two to recover from the weekend, but I won’t get it…

…yeah, it’s a good thing I’m rolling 20s on trip-saves. The amount of ass-kicking I’m doing requires a lot of agility. Time to get out my small objects, charge them with kinetic energy, and grin like the charming bitch I am.

Over and out.

Yes, Something’s Afoot

I stepped out on the back porch with my coffee this morning, and a crow landed on the deck railing. She looked at me sidelong, I straightened under the inspection, Miss B for once did not decide to go scrambling after something new and quite probably chase-able…

…and Odd Trundles, wriggling between my ankles, threw himself at the railing. Which held up, thank goodness. The crow rode out the shuddering, cawed sharply three times, and flew away with a wingsnap and something suspiciously like laughter.

After the bees the other day and every cat in the neighborhood coming out to greet me on my 5K yesterday, I’m beginning to suspect Something Is Afoot.

Yesterday I tried cooking eggplant for the second time, and the results were…unsatisfying. I think when I eventually get a grill, I’m going to have to just grill the snot out of some eggplant and hope for the best. So far, though,it’s like okra–I never want to put that in my mouth again, world without end, amen.

This morning I tried the new habit of sitting down at the piano just after breakfast. Hava Nagilah is still difficult, but it’s not making me cry now. I can limp along through it, so not it’s just a question of brute practice. I’m up to the seventh piece in my Bach book, too, and either they’re getting a little easier or he’s just trying to fake me out before dropping something full of sixteenth notes on me.

At least it’s not Mozart. I get the sense that Bach really wants you to succeed and is pulling for you, where Mozart is sort of a bro who really loves adversarial music, deliberately trying to trip you up. I hate rigged contests, so I don’t think I’ll ever like playing Mozart.

In the “really good news” department, B was allowed to accompany Odd Trundles on his daily constitutional yesterday. A very slow, very gentle, very short walk did wonders for her nervous twitches, and stretched out her injured leg. Consensus is it was a simple sprain, and the only thing to do is keep her activity level down until it heals, and watch her carefully for a long while before she can be my running buddy again.

In short, it will be torture for her, but Odd Trundles’s slow ambling is the only speed available for her silly furry butt right now. Every time she gets snitty with me about not going on a run I just tell her, as Hyperbole and a Half so memorably said, “DOG, YOU DO NOT MAKE GOOD DECISIONS.”

That’s all the news from this side of the fence, I think. Now I go back to work revising Cormorant Run and knocking down my List of Things To Do Today, which has grown to truly massive Wednesday proportions. I’m sure whatever the crows, bees, and cats have been warning me of will hit soon.

*sigh*