Battle of the Rhodies, Part I

Seems like May has one or two nasty surprises left for me, but by the goddamn power of Greyskull and caffeine, I shall prevail.

If you’re looking for the newest book, check out the Harmony page. You’ll find an updated listing of where to buy it. I also have a surprise coming in June, so that’ll be nice.

It’s a cloudy morning and I have to get out before the sun burns off the marine layer. Getting heatstruck robs me of several days’ worth of working time, and the dogs aren’t fond of too much sun either. Oh sure, they’ll bask–but Boxnoggin has such a slick dark coat, he soaks up heat like a sponge. B’s undercoat traps air and keeps her relatively cool, but still, it can only do so much.

Anyway, I am lingering to tell you about something that happened this morning. And yes, it involves an arboreal rodent.

Picture your lovely Narrator, pre-caffeinated and blinking, taking the dogs out for their post-sleep unloading of bladder, bowels, and any other passage that requires it. They rocketed down the stairs into the yard, I stayed on the deck and tried to achieve consciousness through the fog that is Before Coffee. I heard a faint scratching but ignored it, all my attention on the fuzzy little assholes choosing just the perfect spot to evacuate.

It wasn’t until Boxnoggin paused in the middle of the yard, one paw lifted (he is a very catlike dog) and stared up at the deck that a vague unease penetrated my usual morning stupor. I thought he was looking at me for direction, and beckoned him to come up the damn stairs for breakfast.

Then I realized he wasn’t looking at me. Well, he kind of was, but mostly, he was looking past me, and up. And up, and up.

I heard that faint skritch-skritch again, and turned with the slowness of a woman suspecting a nightmare.

There, perched upon my roof, was a squirrel. She was a big bitch too–I say bitch partly with admiration, for reasons you, dear Reader, will soon discover and partly because it’s technically correct1.

She had her head turned sideways, watching me with a prey animal’s peripheral vision, and I stared for a few seconds, my brain struggling to catch up. Finally, I gathered my wits, and said, “Good morning.”

Look, I was perfectly polite, especially considering my history with the Knights of the Nut Trees. Unfortunately, I think Lady Barda–for so I have christened this fine dame–was a bit startled at being greeted directly, because she took off across the roof to my left with a scrabble of claws and a flick of her tail.

If that had been the entire interaction, we both would have considered ourselves lucky. But Boxnoggin chose that moment to burst into frenzied motion, barking and heading up the deck stairs in a flurry of fur, nails, furiously wagging tail, and INCREDIBLE NOISE.

I think that may be why Big Barda decided the wide open acres of the roof would not provide safety. She’d probably dropped there from one of the firs and was looking for a snack in the gutters–they hide everything in there, the little fuzzy bastards–but she had neglected Rule One of assassinations and squirrel antics:

ALWAYS KNOW YOUR ESCAPE ROUTE.

She didn’t have many options–vertical gutterslides, but those are hidden from the roof itself; the chimney, but that’s a dead end unless she wants to end up in my fireplace (Christ please no); the apple tree, but that’s a big leap even for a flying rodent. And then there was what I realized in retrospect was the only choice.

The rhododendrons.

There are some in front, of course, but she was on the roof’s reverse slope, so artillery and the front bushes were safe from her depredations. The two in the back, however, were a long but not impossible leap, and have the added benefit of leaves and flowers to provide cover. When you’re startled in the middle of a wide expanse, of course you start running for the treeline.

So she did. She hopped the gutter and pushed off from its far lip, sailed like Supergirl in a graceful arc, and crashed into the biggest of the rhododendrons with an explosion of twig-snapping and flower-shaking.

Squirrel!Barda made the jump, which was great.

Unfortunately, the noise alerted not just Boxnoggin, who turned himself inside out reversing course to scrabble down the stairs he’d just climbed, but also Miss B, who was across the yard and had just finished her morning wee.

In other words, B was feeling considerably lighter, and the noise had warned her of an intruder. She clearly didn’t know whether it was fire, flood, or invasion, but her elderly self was certain, in one blinding instant, that she had been called upon to ride to Gondor.

And all I could manage was a faint, “Oh Christ no…” as Boxnoggin reached the foot of the stairs and took the hard right towards the rhodies. B’s haunches rose, and she took off like a bullet.

It still might have turned out all right, if not for one small problem.

Barda is a very large squirrel, and that much mass at that much velocity was too much for her chosen landing-branch to take.

TO BE CONTINUED…

RELEASE DAY: Harmony

I feel kind of like Beyoncé dropping a surprise album. (I’m not nearly as talented, but I think the stomach flutters and sparking nervousness is probably about the same.) That’s right, folks–here’s a brand new book, Harmony, with a lovely cover by the stunning Indigo Chick Designs.


After an accident claims her unconventional mother, Val Smith has to live with her boring, reliable father. Grief and change aren’t good for anyone, but Val and her dad are doing okay—until they visit a place like paradise.

Harmony Home is safe, secure, and secluded, a place where where everyone belongs to everyone else. For a commune it’s a pretty okay, at least at first. There are strange things—the metal boxes in the clearing, the Red House where secrets are kept, and little Sarah, who pushes buttons inside people to “make them glow.” Val and her dad are honored, temporary guests, at least at first, and it’s exciting to be special, to be chosen. By the time Val’s uneasy, it’s too late.

Even heaven can be a trap, and Val’s going to need all her new talents to break free…

Currently available direct, or through Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo; forthcoming from Amazon and independent bookstores.


A long while ago, I gave my agent a choice. “I know you want a YA. I have a couple in my head: a cult story and a super-futuristic boarding school.”

She chose the cult. Of course I ended up writing her both–Reader’s Shadow is out on submission, though I don’t think a trad YA publisher will take it. I had to fight constantly and consistently to keep my YAs from being diluted by publisher nervousness over what some mythical bigoted mother in the Bible Belt would take offense at; my teenage heroes and heroines do things like drink, cuss, and think bad thoughts.

Anyway, I wrote Harmony for her. It passed through several drafts, and many publishers had a problem with the ending. (You all know how I feel about the right ending versus the happy ending.) They also want some of Val’s upbringing to be different, and one, I think, really waxed indignant at who eventually drags Val from the fire.

Oh well.

What I wanted to examine was how a cult draws one in. It’s all there–the lovebombing, the prohibitions on thinking in non-approved ways, the threat of punishment, the us-against-the-world mentality. Father Jim also owes a great deal to Thomas Jane’s incandescent and chilling turn in an otherwise ho-hum horror vehicle. What would happen, I wondered, if a cult actually had access to superhuman or extrahuman individuals? How far would they go to acquire such people, and how would they control them once acquired? How does one break free of such groups, especially when a core principle of getting people into your cult is to progressively rob them of outside relationships?

Everyone wants someplace to belong. Once they find that place, most people will do anything rather than lose it, especially if they believe it’s the only place that will ever accept them.

The psychological steps of cult indoctrination fascinate me. Brainwashing itself is pretty straightforward–lack of sleep and lack of protein can break even the strongest person. Cults–from the most innocuous to the most profitable and far-reaching–have to tread a little more carefully, and have to put policies and procedures in place to streamline the process. In many cases, the processes are arrived at through trial and error; the indoctrination doesn’t have to be applied by people who are consciously trying to manipulate someone else in order to work–they can be applied by people acting in good faith but in a bad environment.

In short, manipulative people and groups have the same playbook, and it works. Over and over again, it works, and plenty of it depends not on the charismatic leader but on the second- and third-in-command groups who may be acting out of the best motives, genuinely convinced they are bringing something special and valuable to people who need it.

We are not drawn into sick systems by our worst qualities, but by our best.

And of course, because it’s one of my books, there are extrahuman talents to consider. Still, it’s not those talents that allow the survivors to break free. I shall leave it to the reader to discover just how that happens, at least in the small fictional world of Harmony.

I’m really glad this book is out in the wild now. Amazon really doesn’t like getting one’s books out in a reasonable timeframe unless that book is done through KDP. On the one hand, it’s their distribution platform, so they can do as they like. On the other, it’s little things like that which drive home that I’ve made a good decision shifting my main ebook distribution elsewhere. (Gumroad customers can get a Kindle .mobi as well as the .epub, so if you’re an Amazon-based creature, I’ve still got your back.) And fear not, a paper version is well on its way.

I hope you enjoy it, dear Readers, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. And since it’s a release day, if you want me I’ll be in the corner rocking back and forth, with a bucket to stick my head into.

Plus ce change, and all that…

Beauty, Angle

Sometimes beauty is a question of what angle you’re viewing from. I don’t see a mess here; I see my daughter carefully stacking oranges, my son folding napkins into origami, seeds that will fill my garden, peanut butter cookies baked just-because, seasoning that makes things delicious, the table where we have laughed, cried, eaten, and been a family.

So many things can be turned just a little, just enough, to see the beauty. And we could all use a little more loveliness in our lives. I wish you the very best of angles, my friends.

Over and out.

In the Meantime

I want to believe I’m simply cranky because I haven’t and coffee yet. I want to believe that the constant rasping irritation along my nerves doesn’t mean I’m naturally a big old bad mood.

I tell myself who wouldn’t be cranky, look at the world, it’s on fire. I’d love to believe that it’s only temporary. It shouldn’t be so damn hard for people to treat each other decently. Unfortunately, the human capacity for hate seems beyond any power of art to overcome.

Tomorrow I’ll feel more hopeful, but I have to get through today. It will be better after I run, especially with the dogs to keep me occupied. And there’s plenty of work sitting around. I’m in the phase of revisions where I miss the fire of creation; as soon as I go back to the brute work of producing wordage I’ll find that I long to be revising. Nothing satisfies me, at least for today.

I did get to the DMV early yesterday morning. The place was a ghost town when I walked in and crammed to the gunnels twenty minutes later when I left. Fortunately I had every scrap of necessary paperwork, too, so there was no trouble. The security theater of TSA (you can’t get on a plane1 without an Enhanced License anymore, a pretty sweet racket and a way of controlling the movement of poor people) fills me with furious dread, but at least I’m prepared now.

No, I’m not intending to travel. At least, not until someone options a book or something and I have the money to move to a country that has decent healthcare and slightly less racism. On the other hand, it’s foolish to remain unprepared. It’s also time to go through my bug-out bags again and make sure they’re organized and ready.

In the meantime, I run, I read, I hug my kids, pet my dogs, and tell my friends how amazing they are. I hope, I drink coffee, I agitate for change. I long for escape, I try to be kind no matter how cranky I’m feeling, and I do my best to always punch up. (Or, as needs be, sideways, to keep the motherfuckers who share my privilege from being assholes.)

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. But it’s all I can do.

And I write. I can’t see a better world, but I can transmute the pain of this one, and give readers an escape, a chance to be seen, a deep satisfaction that comes from reading a good story.

Still not enough, but I’m not going to stop. I have to believe every little bit helps. And in that hope, I’m off to buckle the dogs in and take them for a run. They don’t care about the political situation or the frustrations of publishing, no sir. Their needs are simple: food, sleep, belonging, love.

At least we’ve still got dogs, and I’m about to release another book. Maybe today won’t turn out too badly after all.

Revise Your Hatemail

Cormorant Run

The first third of Harmony has been revised; today’s for the second third as well as a scene or two in the gift-fic I’m doing for my writing partner. If I can get Harmony revised and proofed, I can format it, be ready to drop the cover in, and break for the hills.

The gift-fic continues apace, too. The focus is tight on just two characters, even though the story wants to sprawl through a whole city and explore the political ramifications of assassination as a tactic. I could expand it later, I suppose, but I’ve so many other plates in the air I’m reluctant.

Some fellow (and before you ask, yes, it was a man) sent me a long email about how he didn’t understand Cormorant Run and would therefore rewrite it for the “small” fee of $499. I know a lot of people were upset because the cover made them think they were getting a chicks-in-leather urban fantasy when in fact they were buying a love song to Soviet sci-fi, and the marketing did nothing to dispel that confusion, but…this is a little beyond the pale, even for my inbox.

I suppose I might even have felt insulted if the email hadn’t been stuffed full of spelling errors, typos, and grammatical sins. As it is, I read with this face:

…and promptly took to social media to anonymously roast the fellow. Responding directly would make him think I care about his opinion or his offer. (It also might tip him over some internal edge that will add him to my already-full stable of dipshit stalkers/harassers; there’s no more room there, thanks.)

I suppose I feel bad for the dude, in some ways. Imagine thinking this is a good idea, and further imagine thinking that you can get a trad-published author to give you a work already licensed to said trad publisher for you to bastardize and sell. I’m sure this guy has a bridge or two he wants to offer to a discerning buyer, too.

Anyway, folks, remember: if you’re going to send me hatemail or a terrible “offer,” make sure you get your missives spell-checked and proofed. Otherwise you’ll just get laughed at, possibly publicly. I am often tempted to correct hatemail for spelling, grammar, and other errors before returning it with an injunction to revise and resubmit, but then I remember I have real work to do, chuckle softly, and move on.

And now I should get out the door for a run. Work doesn’t stop because some random jackhat gave me a morning’s worth of amusement, more’s the pity.

Over and out.

Sudden Realization

She Wolf & Cub

It’s a damp, grey morning. One of the dogs has already decided to go back to bed. The other is quite put out by her playmate’s refusal to eat breakfast, but willing to take up the slack despite the humans gently and firmly denying that any such thing is necessary.

In other words, “Leave his damn breakfast alone, B, you’ve got your own.”

I’d love to return to bed myself, but all I’d do is stare at the wall or ceiling, worrying. I might as well get up and work. I’m doing a romance for my writing partner (she wants to see me break a priest, and I decided to make him an assassin too because that’s how I roll) and the zero of HOOD‘s Season One is burning in my head and needs to get out.

I could, I suppose, break HOOD into three seasons, with the first ending on Awakening Night or slightly later. It’s possible; then Season Two could be the race and the maneuvering for Riccar’s return. (You just can’t have a Robin Hood tale without the incipient return of King Richard. It’s just not done.) That would make Season Three involve two set-piece battles, and actually work for the overall shape of the whole story better.

I originally wanted HOOD to be two seasons, but three is probably best. It will require moving a few things around, but such is the nature of the beast. Which means I’d be midway through Season Two instead of working on the zero for Season Three, which also means I could shift aside and do some revision on a couple zeroes instead of killing myself to get this one out.

Huh. I did not know, when I started writing this post, that I would solve a seemingly intractable problem just by typing. So it was already worth getting out of bed this morning.

I just glanced through the amount of work waiting ahead of me, even with this lovely little brainwave, and decided I might be wrong about that last part. I had other things to talk about this morning, a whole post planned, but now I’m excited and I want to see if this will really solve everything or if I’m just gasping before drowning.


Well, what do you know. It will actually work better if I chop it up into three seasons. Who knew? I think I’ll go type some more and see if I can’t solve any more intractable problems. This means I can schedule out the whole rest of Season One for my beloved subscribers.

Just when you think you’re going to go under the third time, the Muse pulls you out. I wish she’d do it a little earlier, dammit.

*wanders away muttering*

Ramune and Yum

Peach Ramune and a bowl of ramen. This was during the heatwave last week, a most favonian time; what you can’t see is my writing partner grinning at her own bowl of noodles across the table.

It’s a cloudy day. Maybe I should take a book and have lunch out. It’s been an Extremely Productive Week (and, incidentally, an extremely emotionally draining one) and I’m feeling a little run-down.

I wish you something delicious today, my dears.