On AFTERWAR: Research

Afterwar I began gathering supplementary materials1 for Afterwar in late 2015; work commenced on the book in earnest in March-April 2016. I knew I was going to write it, but not how it would be received or even if it would ever be sold. It’s too outlandish, I thought. I’ve been saying this is where Fox News and the like is going to end up for a decade and a half, I thought.

Much to my surprise, my editor at Orbit wanted the book with a white-hot passion, and since I trusted her implicitly to have my back–to let me write the book that needed to be written without committee interference from internal groups that would want it watered down–I went for broke. I tore my heart out, and ate the bitter organ whole, retched it free and did it again.

And I pestered. Goodness, how I pestered. Knowing more than a few vets, I bought drinks, bought lunches, went to coffee, peppered them with questions. “So…if you were running an insurgency in the American Southwest…okay, so how successful is asymmetric force really when you’re the boots on the ground…look, I need to know how far a Humvee can actually go in offroad conditions without refueling…so, what did it smell like? Really?…what’s the one thing you were always short of, in combat…?” You get the idea. I’d start out with questions, and then I did what any writer who wants to learn does.

I shut up.

Once people know you’re sincerely interested in them and their lives, they will talk endlessly, and with active listening you will find out more than you ever dreamed. At that point it was simply a question of who had the better bladder, since a loo trip not only breaks conversation but also breaks “the seal” and you have to pee every five seconds afterward. (Or so it seems.)

None of them asked what my book was actually about. Most of the time I had introductions from other people they’d served with, and once word got out that I was trustworthy, gentle, and genuinely interested in their experience I had more contacts than I could ever plumb and the social credit to spend on slightly more outré questions. “Say you’re behind enemy lines and on your period, what’s the planning for that?2 How common is diarrhea in combat?3 If you could only take two weapons with you to operate in unfriendly territory, which would you? What kind of coping mechanisms have you seen others use under combat stress?4

My other research was not so nice or so enjoyable. I’ve spent years reading about the Eastern Front in WWII, and about the occupations of Ukraine and Poland by several successive totalitarian waves. It’s been an interest of mine since reading Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad because, I thought, there was no way I would ever write about something so brutal and horrific. Having something to read that, even though awful, wasn’t grist for the story-mill, was necessary in order to give my brain a break.

Perhaps the Muse was precognitive, and prepared me well beforehand. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes follow the same damn playbook, with only small adjustments for culture and territory. Plus, I had taken a bath in American Civil War history, and still picked up logistical and other studies, just on the principle that it’s always good to know how an army will feed itself on your home territory.

Everything I’d been reading and thinking about for years crystallized. Afterwar took on a life of its own.

And then, the election happened.5

I saw the beginning stages of my private nightmares playing out in realtime. I don’t think I’ve quite recovered from that, but I had other problems as well.

Not content to reflect current events, Afterwar was about to get blindsided by publication woes as well.

To be continued…

Re-Tuning Rituals

Roaring lioness
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
I haven’t been able to drink alcohol since the stomach flu, and good gods above, do I ever miss it. It’s not that I can’t function without, it’s just…man, getting to cocktail hour and pouring myself a measure to celebrate getting through the day and take the edge off my nerves was a welcome ritual. Now I’m doing things like stretching and drinking ice water, and it’s just not the same. Sure, I’m healthier and all that but I would love a little fuzzy soft-focus come 5PM.

I hadn’t realized how much that small ritual was a signal for me to relax and let the end of the day proceed, to look over the day’s work and fix egregious typos. It’s also nice to just let the story sink into the bottom of your brain and turn the entire problem of what comes next over to your subconscious. Those giant engines below the floorboards need something to do while I’m sleeping. Left to themselves they just come up with nightmares, and while those are sometimes instructive, they’re not terribly useful.

Sometimes I think one’s entire life is seeing how fast a primate can come up with new rituals in changing conditions.

Anyway, I took most of yesterday off since Tuesday ended with finishing the first revision of Atlanta Bound. That was a monster of a revision because I’d written the zero so lean and at such a furious pace, moving from handhold to handhold. Crossing that particular task off my list was extremely satisfying. Trying to unplug and chill Wednesday was…not as satisfying. The flywheel inside my head, still spinning from the Afterwar release and the revision of The Maiden’s Blade under a severe time crunch, ramped up again to get through another revise, and didn’t want to slow down or stop. The knowledge that I’m courting burnout if I don’t schedule in and force myself to take recovery time is a very thin rail to keep me plunging off the cliff, indeed. I itch under my skin if I don’t write, and I have about twenty-four hours before the discomfort becomes acute and I must write or begin scratching, snapping, and sparking.

So today I took my sweet time getting out the door for a run, and dawdled on the way back with Miss B, who was ecstatic to be rambling New Places. I have subscription stuff to send out, that will eat up about an hour.1 I’m allowed only a little bit of work today, but it’s going to be on Robin Hood in Space, which I’m tentatively titling HOOD.

Man, I can’t wait to start playing with the genre conventions of that particular tale.

There’s also a podcast interview scheduled for this evening2, so I wouldn’t be able to imbibe anyway. I miss the habit of relaxation and I joke a lot about writers having to fucking drink to put up with all the bullshit in publishing; maybe I should look into edibles instead because they’re legal in my state.3 Christ knows the bullshit isn’t going away anytime soon. Only the coping mechanisms change.

And now, having thoroughly depressed myself with that last observation, I’m off to do some formatting. Catch you later, alligators.

Energy

Electricity, Light, Energy, Technology
© Publicdomainphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos
I was going to write about Afterwar today, but I took an internal vote on my energy level and decided I’m maybe not quite recovered enough from the process of getting the book through publication.

I wanted to talk about how pretty much everything the Firsters do in the book is based on historical precedent, and also say a word about the Great Burn, but…yeah. Energy level. I’ll feel better after a run, but it’s blogging first and running after for the foreseeable future. It’s cloudy today, with spatters of rain, which means Miss B and I might avoid People Who Let Their Dogs Roam Unleashed, always a joy. I don’t mind the dogs, who are just dying to make B’s acquaintance, but I do mind the goddamn owners who want to talk to me after interrupting a working session with me and my beloved running partner.

…I may also be a bit cranky today. The coffee is soaking in. It’s glorious to have coffee without nausea, so I should probably be in a better mood. I finally got the lady in waiting kidnapped, which means The Maiden’s Blade can move into its final third. The next scene is the princess worrying over her lady in waiting while attending a banquet, having to smile and act gracious while sick with stress and dreading the worst for her friend and companion; the one after that is the actual rescue, I think, which I am going to make bloody as fuck to drive home just how much the prince involved is Not A Good Guy Even Though He Does Good Things. Then it’s back to assassinations, imprisonment, a wife to murder and someone to frame for it.

I’m swamped. *cue Prince Humperdinck face*

I should mention that the light therapy seems to be working. A fifteen-minute shot of BRIGHT OMG EYES WATERING while I blog or take care of correspondence in the morning seems to ameliorate the 3pm doldrums. I might add another session near 3pm just to see if I can get an afternoon zing, but I’m afraid of it messing with my sleep patterns. I never, ever want to go back to perpetual insomnia. I don’t even want to get close to the edge of that particular abyss.

There’s some exciting stuff landing in my inbox, like cover mockups for the planned Roadtrip Z omnibus and kicking around ideas for Jozzie & Sugar Belle. I may just sell the latter through Gumroad as a curiosity, I don’t think many people will want to read the Nutless Kangaroo Shifter Teams Up With Stripper Witch zaniness. But it’s fun, and it’ll be out there for the people who are interested.

Time to get out into the grey rain and sweat a bit, even though all I want to do is write the banquet scene. It will be better for the planning I put in while my feet are pounding, and I’ll have more energy after running. Funny how that works.

Over and out.

RELEASE DAY: Afterwar

blank That’s right, my dears! The book I’ve been agonizing over for multiple years is now out in the world.


They say the war’s over when the surrender is signed. It’s a lie.

America’s bloody Second Civil War lasted for years. When the surrender is signed, it’s supposed to be over; refugees flood the highways, trying to get back home. For Swann’s Riders-especially their newest addition Lara Nelson, snatched from certain death in the Firster kamp system-there’s no such thing as a home to return to.

Swann and his crew of partisans work for the Federal Army now, hunting through the wreckage for war criminals and kamp officials. Their next quarry is carrying something explosive, something that can level the nascent Federal government and turn the entire continent into a hellscape- well, more than it already is.

Across America, working against time and chaos, Swann’s Riders are back in the fight. And Lara, whose secrets may well end up consuming her too, has a vengeance of her own to deliver…


I finished the zero draft of Afterwar in March 2017. The book itself was brutal to write, for obvious reasons. Then, things started going wrong. Orphaned twice1 and delayed at every production step, last-minute proofing hassles, payment snafus…I joked to Kevin Sonney that if the printers didn’t catch fire and sink into a swamp, I would be surprised. There was just that much bad luck during the publication process. Every once in a while a book gets a perfect storm of Shit Happens, I guess I was due for one anyway, and the fact that it came on the heels of finishing what was probably the most emotionally difficult story I’ve ever written was just icing on a terrifying anxiety-laden cake.

Every book deserves acknowledgements, and I don’t usually do them on release day, but this is a somewhat special case. I want to take a moment and thank Devi Pillai and Miriam Kriss, who believed I could do something bigger and were there to encourage and help me when I (frequently) doubted, Lindsey Hall, who had to deal with me at my very-most-frazzled, Mel Sterling for support above and beyond even the call of Best Friend Duty, Lauren Panepinto for not strangling me when I became difficult and for a great cover, the Deadline Dames and the MurderFriends for a constant mutter of support, cat gifs, and zaniness, Sarah Guan for taking the book through the home stretch and soothing a Very Tired Writer, and my children, who I wrote this for. I should also add thanks to the many service members, in various branches of the armed forces, who answered my bizarre questions with patience and good humor, especially Jeff Davis.

I’m very tired, having spent a restless night, and the release day anxiety is particularly bad. I can barely believe the book made it out into the world, and am at once relieved and scared almost witless. Waiting for another shoe to drop, as it were. So I’m going to go and spend this day the way I spend other release days–shaking, soaking my head in a bucket, and writing. (One of those options may not be quite feasible; I doubt I have a bucket clean enough after the recent stomach flu.)

Come back on Thursday, and I’ll tell you some more about Afterwar. In the meantime, I have a Fanchat Discord you can join; just be sure to mark your spoilers.

Over and out.

Book Synchronicity, Again

blank Spring Break is over. The Little Prince is back in school, and the Princess tells me her fellow retail workers are kind of thrilled there won’t be kids racing the mobility scooters in the aisles anymore.1 Consequently, the house is very quiet.

Too quiet.

We’ve had a couple days of houseguests to close out the holiday as well, which means the dogs were all excited over the regular routine being broken. So excited, in fact, that Odd Trundles is seriously behind on his napping, and eschewed most of his brekkie today in favor of trundling back to the office and his Super Fancy Dog Bed. Miss B is tired but also a bit frazzled from Constantly Supervising New People, so she’ll accompany me for a gentle half-hour run to work all her fidgets out and wind her down so she can sleep. It’s lovely to have people over, but it’s also lovely to have the house back afterward.

I’m also waiting with various stages of patience for the home warranty company to get in touch with me about NEW DISHWASHER. I fidget whenever I think about it, especially since I did a lot of cooking this past week. The pasta pot needs scrubbing, and so does the giant crock pot. I am willing to make cookies for whoever delivers and installs a new goddamn dishwasher, then shoo them out the door and test-drive said new dishwasher.

In other news, Season 3 of Roadtrip Z releases on April 17, and yes, there will be a paperback, it’s just not dropping until my faithful subscribers get their free ebooks. (Serial subscribers get free ebooks of the unedited AND edited seasons. I try to make it a good deal for my peeps.) And we’re coming up on the release of Afterwar in May, which…you know, I typed “finis” at the end of that zero draft over a year ago, and that book has had such a hard road to publication I’m expecting AWFUL NEWS ABOUT IT every day from now until it actually goes on sale. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, there was just a perfect storm of Things Going Wrong Outside Everyone’s Control, but dear God I have only just recovered from it.

…as I was writing this, my new editor at Orbit tweeted a picture of a stack of Afterwar, so synchronicity is alive and well, AND the printers didn’t burst into flame and sink into a swamp2 which is ALL TO THE GOOD and maybe the book will go out without any further disaster.

I just winced, typing that. I’m sure the gods of publishing are laughing at me. Loudly.

I had other plans for this blog post, but it kind of derailed, and I’ve got to get out for a run. I also got our last houseguest loaded into his car during the writing of this, so any train of thought I had is well and truly derailed. Maybe I’ll do like the dogs and take a nap?

Maybe. But only after I run.

Over and out.

Struck Match

Robin Hood
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
So, the recent flu-and-fever had some weird effects. My dreams were even more highly color-saturated than ever, and a persistent smell of struck matches threaded all through my days. I could smell it even when my nose was partially blocked. The first few times, I went hunting for the source, alone in the house. Not finding any was…concerning, until I realized the smell didn’t have the burnt-yellow color of the physical aroma.

Now on the mend, I think I’ve also finally recovered from Afterwar. That book was the hardest on me of them all, and I want something else now. I was noodling around watching a movie with Jon Bernthal as a speechless converso in 13th-century Ireland and all of a sudden I wanted to write two things: Bone Wolves, a werewolf high fantasy I’ve been noodling on for a year or so, and a Robin Hood in Space story.

…I don’t know, I’m just wired weird. But it’s nice to have things to stuff into the cannon once I get this damn YA in reasonable draft form and start serious work on Roadtrip Z‘s fourth (and final) season. It’s nice to feel like I have the energy for a couple more projects, instead of being so completely drained by a bad-luck book (and whatever could go wrong, did, for no other reason than I suppose I was due for one of Those) that I could barely scrape together reasonable wordcount.

All the same, I launched a novella during that scraping, too, so I suppose my productivity didn’t suffer as much as it has under the current political bullshit or over the blasted holidays. Having enough energy to actually feel excited is flat-out great. There were a couple days when even eating seemed like too much trouble, and forget about washing or cleaning.

The true test, of course, will be if I get any damn laundry done today. I should wash my sheets, too, as I don’t want to sleep in sick-smell. Maybe I’ll sweat out the last of the struck-match stuff on my (very easy, don’t worry) run today. It’s not the first time I’ve been sick enough to have strange sensory issues–if the fever was worst, I might even expect it, since I tend to heat up at the drop of a hat. My body apparently decides it needs to cook every single bug that comes by.

Not that I’m complaining, really. It’s not optimal, but at least it makes my dreams interesting.

Off I go to get a YA in shape, do laundry, run, get Ginny and Lee and the gang to New York (finally), and decide just how soon I want to produce a workable zero of Robin Hood in Space. Never a dull moment, my dears.

Over and out.

Into the New Year

blank Today’s the last day before the Princess and Little Prince go back to work and school, respectively. Which means that whoever rang my doorbell at 8:30 might have needed something, but I was not getting up. Despite Miss B’s insistence that she had to herd whoever rang that bell–properly Pavlovian, my beloved hound.

But no. I did not get up. I rolled back over and stole another twenty minutes of delicious sleep before finally sighing and resurrecting myself after a feverish dream of blood-colored rain that turned to red flowers starring concrete walks, hard-cracking roots digging in with blind persistence. I’m pretty sure the visual aesthetic was from a War of the Worlds movie. I’ve been thinking a lot about the common cold killing invaders of our watery home this season.

What? Oh, no reason. It’s just one of those things I think about. No, no reason at all. Nothing to see here, move along.

Yesterday was full of challah, black-eyed peas, coffee, and ham stock. The first blush of the stock went for cooking the black-eyed peas, and I left the hambone in the crock pot overnight. This morning I am rewarded with a lovely dark stock full of minerals and intense flavor. It will make a fine soup, probably for tomorrow’s dinner. Something nice and hearty for the kids after they come home from their first day back at the grindstone.

Other than that, there’s proof pages to do. I may try to do them in PDF form this time, despite my preference for hardcopy. I feel like I just don’t see enough if it’s not on paper, but we’re under a time crunch and this book has already been the most difficult in my career. So…maybe the PDF has something to recommend it. Maybe I’ll do fifty pages or so and see how it works. Christ knows I just want to get this book off my plate by now, it’s been a few years of sheer hell. I mean, I love all my books, and I think this one is very good, it’s just had a very…difficult…birth. I shouldn’t have been surprised, it was a more complex and terrible (in the old sense) undertaking than I’d ever attempted before, one of those projects that takes one’s craft a quantum leap forward. (Or at least, one hopes.) No growth without the pain of stretching.

At least I only have a short run today, and no shortage of coffee. Since the kids are home, they can deal with cleaning the kitchen. There are occasional advantages to spawning, I will say that much.

Into the New Year we go, then. Over and out.