Brain, Overrated

There are days when having a brain, let alone sentience, is overrated.

Yesterday was for administrivia and grocery shopping–the latter is always a joy since the pandemic arrived, isn’t it. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.) Thankfully the vast, overwhelming majority of people are now in masks, and the few covidiots who swan around with their face-holes open and breathing contagion everywhere are, one hopes, roundly shamed for their lack of empathy, common sense, and just-plain-kindness.

I ran across a Twitter thread the other day explaining Trumpists, maskholes, and covidiots from the standpoint of caste, and it explained a lot. (I don’t normally link to hellsite from here, but in this case, the thread’s so good I’m making an exception, as is my prerogative.) Particularly the bit about “the dominant caste being forced to go out of its way to protect people perceived as lower in caste is a supreme violation of caste rules.”

It’s sad. Among other words, but all I’m feeling nowadays is a great, deep sorrow.

Well, that’s not all I’m feeling, though it is the greatest component when I think about how the US refused to handle the first year of the pandemic, sinking us into a hole we still haven’t found a way out of. Hard to get out when some asshats just keep digging.

The rest of what I’m feeling is the usual post-revision slump. I got three whole manuscripts out the door last Friday, so the feeling is at least tripled, though I feel there’s a solid case for its strengthening exponentially with each book ushered through the gates of Editor’s Email. Consequently, I’m on a rollercoaster of emotional flailing. My brain keeps insisting its absolute inability to settle on anything means I’m broken or lazy, while the faint voice of sanity (or something like it) keeps insisting that I sent three goddamn books out in one day and it’s a miracle I’m still coherent, much less attempting to work.

I know this is just the usual post-revision stuff, dialed up to eleven as a function of scale. The cure is simple, though not easy; it consists of both getting all the stuff I said “I’ll get this done when I send these books in” actually done, and stuffing a great deal of fresh content into my head to refill the artistic well.

There has to be grist for the mill to do its job, after all.

Now it’s time to finish chewing on peanut-butter toast and walk the dogs. They won’t like me leaving to run other errands–lockdown was absolutely fantastic for them–but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Even in pre-plague times it was very rare for them to be left home alone, and they like that rarity reduced to zero. Alas, things aren’t quite so simple. They’ll endure.

Before I go, though–what are you watching/reading nowadays, my beloveds? I know what I’m pouring into my head, but I’m interested in what you’re doing. Tell me all about it.

Shock of Recognition

It’s been an odd week. Of course, the last couple years have been odd, with spikes of weirdness piercing individual months. Endurance is the name of the game, and mine is faltering more than a little lately.

I hit somewhat of a nadir, so I pulled out the big guns. I actually–gasp!–asked for help, and while I was waiting for the request to wend its way through the labyrinth of electrons every email must traverse, I pulled out the big guns.

That’s right, I returned to Nabokov.

Dear ol’ Vlad’s gotten me through a lot. This time I blazed through Lolita and my personal favorite, Invitation to a Beheading, and now I’m deep in the garden of my second favorite, Ada, and the words have worked their magic. I have been nourished, and I think I’m recovering. But I want to talk about something smaller today.

In 1956 Nabokov wrote an afterword to Lolita.1

And when I thus think of Lolita, I seem to always pick out for special delectation such images as Mr. Taxovich, or that class list of Ramsdale school, or Charlotte saying “waterproof,” or Lolita in slow motion advancing toward Humbert’s gifts, or the pictures decorating the stylized garret of Gaston Godin, or the Kasbeam barber (who cost me a month of work)…These are the nerves of the novel. These are the secret points, the subliminal co-ordinates by means of which the book is plotted…

Vladimir Nabokov, “On a Book Entitled Lolita

I often talk about the “hidden hooks”, the secret places where a book’s tapestry is fastened to something solid in order to make it hang right. I hadn’t realized, though I’d read that afterword at least ten times, that Nabokov was talking about the same thing, though in his own inimitable style. Of course, a Perfessor of Reel True Litrachur will no doubt sniff that my work bears as much relation to Mr Sirin’s as a spavined nag to a gleaming unicorn, but that doesn’t concern me.

I gave what might be termed a violent start of recognition. (As ol’ Vlad might have said, a reader “leapt up, ruffling their hair.”)

One of the things giving me much trouble lately is a certain revision. I had to throw out some2 demands masked as suggestions, and once I did the work stopped resisting, dropping into high gear. My writing partner and agent deserve most of the credit, but a significant part must go to long-dead Vladimir Vladimirovich, who for all his genius struggled much as the rest of us do with writing a goddamn book.

There’s been a certain amount of Twitter Discourse lately on the perception that writing is just typing.3 The invisible parts of the process are difficult, time-consuming, and brutal in several different ways–and that doesn’t even cover the various pitfalls of actual publication, mind you.

Yet there are rewards, not least of which is reading someone else’s book for the fiftieth (or fifty-first, or thousandth) time and finding not only the solace and sustenance one needs but also hidden encouragement from one word-drunk wright to another. Of course he didn’t mean it thus, of course dear Sirin is long gone and probably wouldn’t have been interested in anything I penned.4

The connection remains. The recognition, the spark, the joy of finding a few words in a tongue one can decipher amid a mass of hieroglyphs, still endures. I desperately needed that reminder this week.

I can see finishing these particular revisions now, which is a distinct relief. More than that, a bit of hope has been infused into my bones again, though I have tried to avoid it–2020 kicked me in the teeth every time I gained a little bit of Pandora’s last gift, and 2021 shouted “hold my beer” in that regard.

The cockroach of hope, like my silly stubborn grasp on life itself, just won’t go away. After all, there’s work to be done, and I can’t give up as long as I have deadlines and obligations. The net above the abyss, slipping a bit lately, has caught on a nail.

So here I hang, listening to the whistling of the wind, weaving my own stories. The most I can hope for is that one day, someone else will catch upon a hook I drove into the fabric of my own work, and their slide for the edge is likewise arrested.

It’s a grimly beautiful thought, and I will hold it close for as long as I need to, today and tomorrow and afterward, until the end.

Insomnia, Incubation, Illumination

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Monday has rolled around again, with a great deal of cold winter rain. Which is quite pleasing, both to me and the thirsty cedars. Summer was dreadful for us all.

I was lying in bed last night, drifting towards slumber–or, more precisely, staying very still and quiet hoping insomnia wouldn’t notice me–when all of a sudden, I was jolted by the solution to a particular plot problem in Hell’s Acre.

More specifically, I had reached a blockage during a dinner (not a dinner party, but it might as well have been) and had to throw up my hands, leaving the entire damn thing for the Muse to work on under the floorboards while I did something, anything else. The fact that I’m beating my head against revisions for The Black God’s Heart doesn’t help.

Said revisions (there are Problems, fortunately I am in the business of Solutions) are threatening to kick my ass, so I had to throw up my hands and call in reinforcements. I am always very chary of such a maneuver; growing up, asking for help was a sure way to get the stuffing kicked out of one. It’s taken a lot for me to begin to quietly, carefully, in certain very circumscribed ways–and always as a last resort–ask for assistance from selected individuals.

Fortunately, I’ve learned that said carefully selected individuals are flat-out thrilled to be asked, and furthermore, it is possible to get said help without paying an extortionate, painful price for it. Growing up has been good for that much, at least.

The sudden bursts or jolts of insight that occur after one has reached an impasse in a particular work are of a different character, though, and they rely on the same incubation-illumination dynamic as the rest of creativity. So there I was, in the dark, minding my own business, when I realized that the point of the whole dinner wasn’t solely what I originally thought but instead a means of additionally bringing in the complication among Avery Black’s Rooks.

It only took weeks of agonizing before the Muse finally dropped that little aside, lighting up the whole back half of the serial’s first season from another angle, so of course I had to make a goddamn note of it, because if one doesn’t write that sort of thing down it might flee into the cracks between sleep and waking, never to return.

I had to run the risk of insomnia finding me if I moved, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, you know. And this morning there was the note, scrawled haphazardly in the dark. Now, of course, it’s safely put in the manuscript margin, inside brackets, and I feel a lot better about things.

So it was a weekend full of (a little) rest and (a lot of) retrenchment, reading giant gulps of Nabokov and getting a truly stunning amount of revisions and housework out of the way. Of course said revisions aren’t even half done and this upcoming week is full of at least twelve-hour working days to catch up from the bloody vapor-lock…

…but that’s the way it goes, and I am lucky to have as much, I know. So here I am, eyeing the next glut of work and the bloody to-do list, and the dogs are lobbying for their walk. They have forgotten entirely the fact that it was pouring when they went out for pre-breakfast bladder-unloading, and will be discomfited all over again when we embark. At least, Boxnoggin will, for he despises the rain. B, of course, is an all-weather pooch, though I’m sure her joints ache a bit nowadays. She is an elderly statesdog, and no mistake.

Welcome to the week, beloveds. Keep your hands and arms inside the carriage, and don’t make eye contact with Tuesday. We have all we can handle right now, and the ride has commenced.

Over and out.

Cactus, Get Me Through

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Just get me through December.

Yesterday was a very bad brain day, full of brain-weasels. Which required the big guns–I retreated into Nabokov and spent the day with Lolita; I think one more time through Invitation to a Beheading (my favorite of ol’ Vlad’s) will set me relatively right.

Or so I hope. I’ve simply got to get this revision turned in, it’s been hanging in the “goddammit” category for far too long.

The winter cactus is blooming, and I woke up with Alison Krauss’s Get Me Through December playing inside my head. Last night was chilly, but I had the dogs to cuddle and didn’t want to slither out of bed at all today…yet I have. Canine bladders and my responsibility to the mortgage won’t wait. Some days I’m even grateful for the chainfall of duty dragging me free of whatever hole has swallowed the world’s light.

…it’s taken me a ridiculously long time to write this, since Miss B keeps demanding my attention for pets, a brushing, her morning treat(s), and yet another trip outside though she could have just peed when I let her out the first two times instead of standing on the deck and deciding it’s too cold. (The lady is wearing a fur coat, but she is delicate.) Boxnoggin, of course, has to be in on everything she does, except going outside.

He’s no fool, and it’s chilly out there.

I wish you a calm, pleasant weekend, beloveds, and I hope for one in my corner of the world as well.

Just…let’s get through December. That’s all I’m asking, at this point.

Over and out.

Constants and Striving

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Today’s the last day my folk-horror novel Harmony is $3.99 across ebook platforms! Next month there will be another sale (at least, so I hope) of a self-published Lili book; but for today, you can get Val’s story for a song. (And if you’ve read the book, that particular turn of phrase might give you a small shiver.)

It’s a lovely grey, cloudy morning, and I’ve a vast amount of work to attempt today. At least an hour on Hell’s Acre–I need to reread a bit to pick up the thread(s), since the book is telling me it might want to be one long season instead of the two planned–and then some more revisions on The Black God’s Heart. I am in full-fledged writerly revolt on one or two points, and bracing myself to do a bit of battle.

But that’s usual in this part of the process, on both counts. Misbehaving zero drafts and well-meaning editorial interference are constants, yea until the end of time they shall be with us, amen.

Some last-minute proofreader queries for The Bloody Throne arrived today, too. I thought I was done with this book, but it just doesn’t want to let go.

Lying on my office floor kicking and screaming like a two-year-old won’t get the work done, though it’s immensely satisfying to contemplate. Dogs need walking, coffee needs swilling, my corpse needs a good run–after taking last week off my speed has increased a bit, but the rest of me is distinctly unhappy even with short jogs.

The body will adapt, and even be grateful for the rest and the renewed exercise. The endorphins yesterday almost took the top of my head off, and it was a welcome relief from the sense of spiders crawling under my skin.

I got a moderate amount of work done yesterday, and am not supposed to push since I’m still technically in recovery. It will be difficult not to scream “DO ALL THE THINGS!” and then wake up tomorrow with a did-all-the-things hangover. The crushing realization that Doing All the Things just means there are New Things To Do Tomorrow has not managed to fully sink into the consciousness of my inner child; I still, on some level, think there’s an end to striving.

I mean, technically there is–I will rest in my grave-urn, unless something extraordinary interferes–but I’m not resigned to it yet…

yet, of course, being the operative word. Maybe just a few minutes of lying on my office floor kicking and screaming like a toddler are in order, just to get it out of the way. I’m sure the dogs will love that.

Well, the coffee’s gone and I have the new baseball bat to hand. Perhaps I should formally embark upon Tuesday.

See you around.

Mark of Survival

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I…may have recovered from the zero draft of Ghost Squad #2? Maybe?

I mean, the holiday didn’t help (even though there was pie, my gods, SO MUCH PIE) because I was on tenterhooks the entire time. The idea of getting some cheap Goodwill plates/other crockery for smashing early in the day–just to get the whole thing over with so I can relax–is highly seductive, and I might even brave said Goodwill one of these days before Yule.

If I can find a time when their parking lot isn’t flooded, either with maskless hordes or actual water. Our local Goodwill is…something else.

Anyway, I may have rewrapped my nerves a bit, which means next I turn all my engines toward a little more Hell’s Acre (now on Kindle Vella, too) but mostly onto revisions on The Black God’s Heart. I finished the latter’s zeroes during lockdown (amazing how many things I am saying that about lately) and both books undid me. It will probably be exhausting to revise them, but hopefully not in a bad way. After that I’ve Sons of Ymre #2 to write (Jake and the heroine are both speaking inside my head, albeit softly) and the second book of the Tolkien Viking Werewolves.

So my schedule is bloody well packed but I have a few things crossed off the master to-do list. The Hood omnibus is ready for its drop in January 2022, the zero of Klemp’s book is done, and I survived NaNoWriMo. January should also see Sons of Ymre #1 released, though I have no preorder links just yet. It’s enough to know the book’s on its way.

So I’m in that fragile stage of recovery where I can easily hurt myself by pushing. This is when most re-injury and spiraling back down into burnout generally happens, so I’m not allowed to work too hard.

That’s the balance. Working hard enough to stay afloat, but not so much that I tear all the scars back open. It’s like riding a unicycle while juggling flaming chainsaws and whistling a song one’s only heard once, and the penalty for any dropped note is an earthquake.

Fun, right? Why on earth would I choose any other job? Heh.

It’s Monday. The dogs are ready for their walkies, and there’s a run for my weary corpse to be accomplished–I took last week off and the itch under my skin is well-nigh unbearable. The coffee is almost absorbed; consequently, I am almost, almost fit for human consumption. I’ve also been unsubscribing from many a newsletter this morning, so am almost ready to start the new year with a clean digital slate.

Almost. Year-end housekeeping is generally a chore; this time around it’s a mark of survival. We’re still here, you and me.

Might as well get to work.

Hoping For Temporary

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The third and final!

I…might have to rethink November’s schedule.

In a normal year, I would be able to do NaNoWriMo and get other projects done on the side, no problem. Piece of cake, because it’s just a normal workload, after all.

But after two years of pandemic plus a fascist coup1 and a few personal-life events, I think I’m beginning to crack.

In other words, I can write this damn novel or I can get the revisions for Black God’s Heart done. I can’t gear-shift between the two in a single day, as I normally would. And this is driving me, in technical terms, utterly batshit.

I’m used to writing at least four new books at any given time2, juggling between them as they reach different stages of the process. Revisions can generally take up two of those daily working slots, while CEs and proofs are short-term intense efforts requiring a few days of complete effort, all my engines turned to the task at hand. This is the way I’ve worked since the beginning.

But now, it appears I can either work on a new book3, or I can do the revisions. I can’t do both. I’m unsure how long the damn revisions will take (another new thing, thanks, I hate it) and that might push the goal I’ve set myself–finishing Ghost Squad #2 during NaNo–into the realm of utter impossibility.

This infuriates me to a degree I am slightly baffled by. There have been only two times in my life the words have flat-out refused to come4 and I am somewhat frightened the current state of affairs presages a third. For someone used to juggling chainsaws with some facility, if not ease, it’s…disconcerting.

Really disconcerting.

I’m hoping this is temporary. I’m hoping a good hard run or two and a couple days’ worth of internal pep talks will remove whatever this damn blockage is. I’m used to being able to will–or simply flat-out endure–my way out of problems; this time, throwing myself against the wall is producing a little less of a dent than usual.

At least the weather is nice and grey. And at least NaNo is only a personal goal, not a hard-and-fast one. Still…the thought that I might be cracking under the strain and becoming unable to work at even half my usual pace is terrifying, and I would really prefer not to have that hanging around while I’m trying to concentrate.

So…if you, my beloveds, are having similar issues, you’re not alone. We’ve been holding on for so long, and the frustration–we could have been done with this and focusing on rebuilding by now, if not for some selfish, racist asshats–is intense, at least for me. If you’re having trouble concentrating, if you’re only working at half speed or less, this is entirely reasonable. I mean, just look at what we’re facing. It’s a wonder any of us bother to get out of bed at this rate, even when forced by the exigencies of survival under late-stage capitalism.

I don’t even have a ding-dang suggestion for overcoming or whatnot. “I suppose we just have to hold on,” isn’t a suggestion. It’s more like a desperate prayer.

Regardless, there’s coffee to finish and the dogs to get out for a walk. Yesterday I spent with the NaNo novel, today I’ll spend with the damn revisions. If something’s got to give, it’s going to have to be Klemp and Beck at the moment. I know they’ll wait, and yet…

Tuesday beckons. I keep giving the baseball bat longing looks.

Time to get started.