That’s right, chickadees–Gallow and Ragged are back, and the stakes just keep getting higher.
Robin Ragged has revenge to wreak and redemption to steal. As for Jeremiah Gallow, the poison in his wound is slowly killing him, while old friends turn traitor and long-lost enemies return to haunt him.
In the dive bars and trailer parks, the sidhe are hunting. War looms, and on a rooftop in the heart of the city, the most dangerous sidhe of all is given new life. He has only one thought, this new hunter: Where is the Ragged?
This book was hard to write. Robin’s grief was a stone in my own throat, and Alastair Crenn is the sort of character where you’re writing him and constantly saying “oh, honey, NO…” Jeremiah, of course, is full of so much self-loathing it’s difficult to be inside his head.
The entire series was triggered by a dream (the Boy Scout, my writing partner’s husband, sat up in the middle of the night and said the elves are dying) and opened up inside my head, full-blown, in the space of a few seconds when the Selkie told me about said dream. It’s an odd feeling, that–a sort of vertigo, the outside world a faded irritant while the space inside my skull turns becomes the only world I’m interested in. I’m sure other writers have that moment, where everything about a book/series opens up.
Anyway, I hope you like it, dear Readers. I’ve noticed some people saying the language is difficult–“faux-Shakespearean” is my favourite–as if that’s a bad thing. I love words, I love to roll around in them, I love to build rhythmic sentences. And really, the sidhe have been alive so long, of course they sound archaic. Even Spenser might be too modern for them. I am comforted by the sheer number of Readers who have written me to say they love the language, and that the sidhe’s double-edged meanings and layers of recondite insult and compliment are pleasing indeed. Thank you, and I can’t wait to hear what you think of the second book’s adventures and betrayals.
Now I’m headed off to cower in a corner and nurse my release-day nerves, biting my nails and just generally being an anxiety-ridden nuisance to myself. As I do every time a book hits. You’d think it would become easier.
So when you sit down to write a particular story, and it makes you physically ill, and you keep trying, how long do you go before you decide the sheer misery isn’t worth it?
I’m not asking for a friend.
It appears my particular answer is “about a month, all told.” About a month of dreading working each day, sitting down, struggling to type a few more words, and my stomach suddenly feeling as if a blowtorch had been turned on inside it. I am unsure whether I have grown more stubborn or less, because I’m not used to stopping a book because it physically pains me. I’m used to just powering through, as I do in so many parts of my life, disregarding any damage because I’ve promised, or it’s necessary, or I’m just too goddamn intractable to know when to quit. I appear to have finally reached my limit with this particular book.
To be fair, this book has been years in gestating, and has had a tortuous path at best. I’m just…finally…done, I think. No matter how much I want to finish it, it’s not worth the cost. I can’t afford to lose this sort of working time on something that makes me stagger into the loo and retch from sheer pain.
A factor in me deciding to stop hurting myself was an editor I trust saying to me, “What would you write if you didn’t have to write anything? That will be our next thing, because you work best when I let you just run.” Which led me to start working on the thing I really was looking forward to, and wouldn’t you know, I had forgotten what it felt like to be excited to sit down and work. I’d forgotten when it felt like to not have my stomach lit on fire and crawling out through my mouth while I typed.
I have found (shockingly, I know) that I rather prefer not feeling that way. I suppose I’ll have to chalk this up to “lesson learned.” It’s been an extremely expensive lesson all the way around.
In a month or so I will make a final decision about that poor book. It may be that I just need some time away. I’m hoping that’s the case. In the meantime, I’m going to work on things that don’t make me physically ill.
Over the holiday I read War & Peace, so I can check that off my Lifetime Accomplishments List. It even kept me occupied. (Thank goodness for Norton Critical editions. I love their footnotes.) Tolstoy’s resolute misogyny irritated me as much as misogyny ever does–and you know, next time I read, I’m going to be marking conversations between female characters and seeing if they pass the Bechdel.
I think maybe one will, Sonya and Natasha arguing about packing all the rugs and everything when the Rostovs are fleeing Moscow. But I’m not sure it qualifies as a conversation, per se.
At the end of the first epilogue, all I could think was “Boy, Pierre’s going to have a bad time when the Decembrist revolt happens.” (Later, I read that Tolstoy had intended to write about that very thing, and wrote War & Peace instead. WHOOPS.) Then came the second epilogue, all about Tolstoy’s theory of history vs. free will. As hard as he keeps trying to insert God into history, it just wouldn’t fit, even with the shoehorn of rhetoric. As a thought experiment, the entire second epilogue was pretty nifty, and as a peek into the author’s mind it explained a great deal of why his characters behaved the way they did.
Yes, there were a million names for every single character. It’s like Shakespeare, one’s brain cramps for a little bit, then one falls into the rhythm and starts thee-ing and thou-ing with iambic abandon. Other reading on the Eastern Front and the 1918 Revolution and subsequent civil war, not to mention a bit of Soviet history, prepared me for the multiplicity of names. One just gets the hang of it after a while.
The whole thing was a vast, enjoyable experience. Reading a book like that is like wandering through the large house of an author’s brain, having time to stop and look at things, eat a little from every table, touch a few draperies and picture frames. I was annoyed with Natasha at most instances, especially when Kuragin was making eyes at her. After a little while, though, I thought here is an ignorant teenage girl, cut her some slack, and I did. Though I’m sure Tolstoy meant Prince Andrew to be a noble and sympathetic character, so his eventual “forgiveness” of Natasha carries weight, I found him a jerkwad who hadn’t loved Natasha as much as he said if he was willing to throw her away after that. BUT OH WELL.
Pierre Bezukhov irritated me as well, mostly because Tolstoy made a point of him “not understanding” anything going on around him. Consequently, what Tolstoy intended as great struggles within the soul of a man who wanted to do good for the whole of humanity fell a bit flat. I kept thinking, okay, Tolstoy, if this guy is such an idiot, how does he retain any of this wealth he inherited? How did he learn how to write? How the everlasting fuck did he even remember to breathe on a daily basis? I was not trembling in fear for Pierre when he witnessed the executions, I was thinking Tolstoy would kill him and put him out of his misery.
The thing that irritated me the most, though, was Tolstoy’s treatment of Sonya Rostova. I really, really wanted bad, bad, very bad Dolokhov to be redeemed and take her away from the nasty Countess, whose betrayal of Sonya once she sees a chance to marry her son to an heiress is un-fucking-forgivable. Making Sonya into a “sterile flower” who “lives for self-sacrifice” and ends up taking care of the kids of the guy who swore her eternal love and then married the rich girl instead was just…Tolstoy, you asshole. And no matter how bad Dolokhov was, he treated his family, especially his poor mother, so well I wanted more of the book to be about HIM, dammit!
But no, instead I got Natasha and Prince Andrew and Pierre. *eyeroll* Which, fine. The bit players around them were far more likable, but perhaps that was Tolstoy’s point–when you get far into the head of a character, you’re bound to find something you don’t like, and it’s often those we know best that we like least, even if we must love them.
As for the rest of it, I enjoyed Tolstoy’s portrait of Kutuzov to the max, and his characterization of Napoleon sent me into fits of giggles more than once. After reading Caulaincourt’s version of Napoleon’s march into Russia, I was pleased to see a Russian side of the tale. As giant set pieces go, the burning of Moscow–and Pierre lost in the flames, one of the few times he didn’t irritate me– and the battle of Borodino rival anything Game of Thrones could put on. Tolstoy was very, very good at showing soldiers under fire and the chaos of combat, and showing the sudden whims and violence of a mob. (I actually, physically gasped when Rostopchin gave the boy over to the mob.) Plus, the tastes of life in “old Russia”–Nicholas and Natasha’s sleigh ride, Sonya at the samovar during the first epilogue, the sudden sharp turns in influence at the Petersburg salons–were more than worth the price of admission.
All in all, it was time well spent, and I don’t begrudge a moment of it. I may eventually read it again, to pick apart many places where characterization succeeded instead of galled me, and to suck the marrow out of some of the (many) savory bits. I think before I do, though, I’ll have to read The Kreutzer Sonata and Sofiya Tolstoy’s answer to that particular little tale.