Gore, Battle, Danger, As Usual

Once a month I get mild insomnia; I’m sure it’s hormonal, and I bear it with good grace because now, with the meds, it’s a monthly instead of a nightly occurrence. I settled in bed once everything had cooled off outside–around midnight, really–and read the Lazarillo de Tormes I’d managed to grab as a Norton Critical edition. I love Norton Criticals, and this one doesn’t disappoint, but I’m beginning to note a lot of homonym abuse in academic texts and translations. They can’t all be intentional; it’s just something I’m noticing. My inner editor twitches, and I have to glance up from the page.

Reading for pleasure gets kind of iffy sometimes when you’re in publishing.

Anyway, I dragged myself out of bed, unrested, and have managed a run. Miss B was ecstatic, and we stuck to shaded pavements. Still, we were both glad to get home. Someone up the street has taken out a massive cedar tree; apparently all the neighbors are intent on deforesting this hill so it slides down into the river during the next overly wet winter.1 Added to a new driveway going on, the entire street is full of mechanical noise. Whirring, buzzing, stamping, dropping, engines running. When it gets hot enough, I’ll close up the windows and turn the AC on, and that will provide some relief from the racket.

I also managed a solid 4k words yesterday, mostly in Incorruptible but a significant portion in HOOD. It feels good to be working again, even if I do still catch myself looking for Odd or surfacing from a scene to think that’s strange, he’s really quiet, what’s going on? Moving the furniture helped immensely, I’m not expecting to see him leaning against where the couch used to be or thoughtfully examining trailing geranium leaves from the coffee table.

We even got a lovely card signed by the entire vet office, with condolences for our loss. Once the card comes, I guess, that’s closure. Sometime this week or the next I’ll have to go get his ashes, the last gauntlet to run through.

For now, though, I’m crackling with dried sweat, absorbing coffee, and looking forward to another productive day. I decided to send in the demons early, to get Incorruptible off the ground. I don’t want that book to be a slow burn, I want to write gore, battle, and danger.

As usual, I guess.

Be gentle with yourselves today, dear Readers. The most dangerous time is when you’re feeling a bit better, and you think you’re cured and want to push it. Gently, softly, even when you feel like a tenuous balance has been reached. That’s all my advice for the day, use it as you will.

Over and out.

Too Damn Hot

I think the recent heat has disarranged Odd Trundles. His appetite has diminished, which is…not usual. At least he’s still scrabbling after whatever hits the ground, but he’s lost some weight and doesn’t seem interested in his kibble. This all started with a couple nights of it being too warm to sleep comfortably even with the AC on, so hopefully a break in the weather and sleeping outside his crate on some cool hardwood will help. Yesterday he was lethargic, but the heat enervated everyone at chez Saintcrow.

Us pale Northwest mushrooms don’t do well when the mercury climbs.

I spent the weekend running, running, running to get the daily trivia of life packed away. Now that it’s Monday, I’m exhausted, and going for a run before caffeine probably didn’t help. I used to get up, grab a banana and some milk, and head out, saving coffee for when I returned. Seems like that might not be the best strategy anymore. In any case, I came home, washed off the sweat, and had second breakfast with my usual two jolts, and I’m waiting for it all to settle.

I know I should be working on HOOD. I know I should be gearing up for revisions on Maiden’s Blade. Nothing seems to be working right on the page, though. I had to toss a hard-fought chapter in HOOD and re-do it from the ground up, and though it certainly worked after I finished, the aggravation was intense. How long will it be before I gain any joy in what I’m writing? Lately it’s been a slog. A miserable one, too, considering I get itchy and weird if I don’t write. Annoyed if I do, driven to distraction if I don’t–it’s enough to make me want to swear off the whole thing and become a plumber. A taxidermist. Something, anything else.

The only way out is through. I know this. I also know this is leftover stress from the various problems with Afterwar, cumulative rasping on the physical mechanism until it frays. Knowing it doesn’t make the deep snarl running just under my skin any easier to soothe. Current political events don’t help my mood, either. I’m having to institute a moratorium on news just to save what little insulation I have on my wires.

Meh. I’m too anxious and annoyed to go on complaining. I suppose I could simply retreat to the couch and read something happy today, or curl up and watch a Shaw Bros. movie. Or I could just get over myself, get some ice water, and get back to work.

Guess which one is more likely. Go on, guess.

Over and out.

Conversation, Research, Edits

Yesterday, my writing partner and I played hooky and hit the Concordia Library book sale, where I got a solid foot of Penguin Classics for eight bucks and Costain’s four-book History of the Plantagenets in its original box. Since we were on the south side of the river, a trip to Everyday Music was in order, too. Then a leisurely lunch at Ginger Pop, and by then the heat was getting a bit much, so we called it a day.

The entire time we were sharing industry gossip, finishing conversations we started years ago, continuing ones we started even further back, and starting new ones. Along with in-jokes, meta analysis, and just plain zaniness, it makes for a stimulating verbal stew.

Of course I came home to a fresh crop of hatemail about Afterwar. I was going to do a whole post about it, but for fuck’s sake, who’s got time to deal with preshus manbaby feefees? If you’re afraid you might be mistaken for a nazi because you act like one, well, try not acting like one. *shrug*

Today it’s back to work while the air conditioning hums and Odd Trundles snores, blissful in the coolness. I should get a run in as soon as my sunscreen finishes soaking in and before the worst of the scorch settles; I must also decide what to spend serious working time on before Lammas. Maybe I can get the vampire erotica in reasonable zero-draft shape; it’s a relatively short work. And there is, of course, Robin Hood in Space to consider. Lammas, of course, is when I have to start serious revisions on The Maiden’s Blade; the competing agendas in that book need to be clearer. Half the edit suggestions are “why is X doing Y?” and my frothing reply of “BECAUSE A, M, AND S” isn’t helpful because it’s not in the text. Just because it’s clear inside my head doesn’t mean it’s reasonably outlined on the page, and that’s one of the major reasons to have an editor–to have another pair of eyes searching for those lacunae.

Which also means, now that I’ve finished Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician, I should begin the clutch of further research reading I need for Maiden’s Blade and its two follow-up books, starting with a survey of Japanese literature in the shogunate. I’m really looking forward to that and to an exegesis of The Tale of Genji, but the REAL prize is a doorstopper anthology of women writers in ancient China with accompanying critical articles. If I’m very good, I might even split my daily reading between the anthology and the survey, and keep the exegesis for a chaser.

So that’s the plan. And now, before it gets too hot to breathe comfortably, there’s a run to accomplish.

Over and out.

Release Day: JOZZIE & SUGAR BELLE

Five or six friends got together in a Google Hangout. All writers, mostly drunk, they are Very Funny Ladies. Happily, I was one of them; sadly, I was stone-cold sober. One of the ladies is an Australian, and her care packages sent to us poor benighted fools in the Northern Hemisphere are legendary; apparently, a recent one sent to a Dear Husband of a Writing Lady included several kangaroo-scrotum tchotchkes.

Because yes, they use all parts of the ‘roo, and the scrotums can be coin purses, corkscrews, bottle openers–you get the idea. (Look, I’m not gonna link any of this, you can traumatize yourself with Google just fine.) The Dear Husband could not contain his glee, and showed off his new gifts.

“Wait,” someone said. “What if that was a kangaroo shifter’s ballsack instead?”

Being the only sober one in the room, I was charged with writing the story. A few hours later, we had all the main characters fleshed out for a fucking series of these things. (The echidna-shifter one sounds particularly hilarious.) The Writing Ladies eventually separated to nurse their upcoming hangovers, or, in my case, shambled to bed giggling.

And lo, I wrote the kangaroo-shifter novella. The working title was Scrotum Search, but good luck getting that past any Amazon algorithms, amirite? And now, my dear friends, you can read it too!

Jozzie & Sugar Belle This ‘roo has problems.

Jozzie Shale, missing a particularly intimate piece of his person, lands in LA with a hangover and plenty of determination. He needs help, fast–and fortunately, he’s got the address of a witch who owes his buddy Petey a favor.

She’s a solution.

Sugar Belle, of the Virginia Belles, is only mildly amused when a drunken shapeshifter shows up in her tattoo chair. Add a warlock with a necromantic book, coyote shifters, the end of the world, plus a few hundred pounds of cheese, and even a witch of Sugar’s caliber might be in for a bad night.

It’s gonna be a bumpy weekend…

Available through Gumroad, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. The print edition is now available, too.

As for the others there that night (you know who you are), the gauntlet’s thrown, bitches. I expect your novellas in short order.

*runs away, laughing*

On AFTERWAR: Publication

Afterwar So I’ve talked a little bit about the research involved in Afterwar. I finished the zero in March 2017, promptly burst into tears, and hoped the worst was over.

Generally, when you finish a zero, it is. Revisions might be hell, the publication process frustrating, but generally the worst, most damaging, draining, and difficult work, is behind me.

That was not so this time.

There are various bad-luck things that can strike during the publication process, and in my thirteen-plus years in the industry, I’ve seen pretty much all of them. “Orphaned” when your editor moves to a new house? Been there. Payment snafus? Oh, yeah. Copyeditor decides they want to rewrite instead of, well, copyediting? Yep. Issues with the proof pass? Oh, yeah, we’ve done that. On, and on, and on. Normally a book will only have one or at most two big problems during the pub process.

Afterwar, being an overachiever, had them ALL. The only boxes it didn’t check on the Pub Problem Bingo Card were “revenge editing”1 and “cover woes”2. Orphaned twice, under time-crunches for everything, Muphy’s Law laughing every time I thought “this shouldn’t be a problem, we’ve done this for ten fucking years together, it’s gonna be fine…”, and then there was the CE and afterward the proof pass and I ended up calling my agent in tears, saying, “THEY CAN HAVE THE MONEY, JUST GIVE ME THE BOOK BACK. I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE.”

My agent managed to talk me down from the ledge each time, because for over a decade I’ve been able to rely upon her judgment when she tells me I’m overreacting. This time, she said, “You’re not overreacting. This looks really bad from your point of view, and it’s hella stressful, but it’s not personal. It’s things that are out of everyone’s control, including yours.” Just having that validation made me more inclined to work through the problems. And each new editor I was handed to was someone I knew and trusted, since I’ve been with that publisher for so long.

To be absolutely fair, even though everything went wrong at every step of the process, the other people involved–art department, head publisher, every editor, the long-suffering production folks who, I’m sure, more than once wanted to strangle me–hit home runs and pulled out a miracle every time. It got so bad that whenever I saw a New York area code pop up on my phone or an email from agent or publisher in my inbox I almost had a panic attack thinking “what the fuck next?

Then, once the proof disasters had been fixed and the my nerves were starting to regrow a protective sheath, a book died on me. Flat-out died. I spent months trying to resurrect it, and heaving into my office wastebasket each time I tried to work on it. That’s only happened once before3 and eventually I was able to resurrect that book; I hold out no hope it will happen a second time.

In short, everything that could go wrong did, and I still feel a strange flutter every time I see Afterwar‘s cover. It’s a goddamn good thing it wasn’t my first experience with publishing, because I would have left the industry and never looked back. I am super-grateful that at least I had enough experience to know the difficulties were not normal, just bad luck.

I joked more than once that if the printers didn’t burn and sink into a marsh, or if the entire production run didn’t sink into the sea during shipment, I would count it a win.

It wasn’t really a joke.

Anyway, release day came, and crushing, malignant stress retreated for a day or two. I was too busy with my usual round of release day rituals.

And then, as I knew would happen inevitably, the hate mail began to arrive.

To be continued…

ETA: You know, I was going to talk about the hatemail, but it makes me tired. I’ll continue at some other time.

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…

Hood and Harmony

It’s only 9am as I start this post, but dear gods above, my daily teaspoon of patience is quickly being licked dry. It’s only uncaffeinated fumbling, and if I just wait a little bit for the stimulant to finish hitting my bloodstream I suppose I’ll be fine. Right now, though, I am in a somewhat savage mood. So are the canines; Miss B got shirty with Odd over breakfast (she keeps trying to get into his bowl, for God’s sake, even though they both get the same damn thing) and poor Odd, while extremely mellow, does not like that. So I had to stand between them and encourage both to eat from their own damn bowl, but then Odd got stubborn, as he is wont to do sometimes, and decided FINE, he would simply GO DOWN THE HALL and SLEEP IN THE OFFICE and when his tummy gets upset later, THAT WILL SHOW EVERYONE.

Really, the only person it will show is me. Yep, I’m going to be looking at dog vomit later, unless I coax him to eat a bit of kibble directly from my palm to take the edge off. It’s a good thing I love both of these damn creatures.

The weekend was nice, though. I planned to keep away from work the entire time, and largely succeeded. Unfortunately that makes my mood a whit savage, since the discomfort of not writing for two days is cresting under my skin, itching and uncomfortable. I get to go back to HOOD today, and also start Harmony revisions. The latter needs its last third expanded, and it will probably be a monster book after it’s done. Today I get to write Maid Marian’s fixing of a starship engine and her copilot arguing with an android about all sorts of things, but mostly the music the android plays to “up Terran efficiency by a few percentage points.” Heh. I’m getting to like the android; I can’t decide if he has a great sense of humor or none at all.

Then again, I’m the same woman who has long conversations with china squirrel figurines. We’ll anthropomorphize anything around here. (It reminds me of #8 here, which is honestly what I consider really close to what an android would actually think of humans.)

So that’s going to be fun. I need to spend some more time thinking about interplanetary travel and other aspects so the Robin Hood story is a valid response to the world’s constraints. And of course I’m going to name Hood’s home system “Sagittarius,” because it amuses me to no end. I could do a whole zodiac-themed series with different star systems…but that’s a thought for another time.

Today’s run will be all about putting those pieces in place while I sweat and curse. At least it’ll get rid of some of my fidgets, and probably B’s as well. Maybe she’ll come home and be less of an asshole to Odd Trundles. If not, I’m going to have to referee dinner too.

Running will also refill my teaspoon of patience, so I’m going to get to it. Happy Monday, dear Readers, and I hope your teaspoon is full.