A Dawn Refused

Woke up to the very last (I should think, I hope) proof queries for The Bloody Throne, which I answered and sent back while absorbing coffee. The series has had a particularly difficult birth, what with orphaning (though my editors have all been stellar) and pandemic, but I think–or I fondly hope–it has come through all right. Mostly due to my beloved and long-suffering sensitivity readers, I suspect.

In any case, I won’t heave a sigh of relief until the author’s copies come, because that will mean it’s really-for-true done, not just sort-of-done.

Tuesday started with a rosy dawn, a clutch of work coming down the pike, and some very excited dogs. Both B and Boxnoggin are prancing about, eager to get to walkies; Boxnoggin in particular has already barked his fool head off at a delivery once this morning and, I suspect, cannot wait to get strapped into his harness and cause some kind of mischief outside the house.

I’ve a newsletter to get out, some more Hell’s Acre to write–Gemma, I think, has an uncomfortable interview with the director of an orphanage and then is accosted at dinner–and some She’s Fleeing a Byronic Hero to get done too. (The antagonists are arguing, the hero is tied to a post, and I think I know how this scene ends but I could be wrong…) All in all, it’s a very busy day, and I’m…

[[time passes]]

…I had to get up twice to calm Boxnoggin down. He is just beside himself this morning, since the aforesaid delivery came much earlier than expected and consequently constitutes a Change. And, of course, for this dog–even more than for usual canines–ALL CHANGE IS BAD. Even good change causes him a great deal of upset. He’s as nervous as a tired toddler, all the damn time.

Poor fellow. I do my best to keep everything calm and even for him, but sometimes even a human with opposable thumbs and a swollen prefrontal cortex can’t deal with everything, sheesh.

I suppose that’s my cue to get my teeth brushed and the silly fur-covered critters ambled. Boxnoggin’s not going to rest until he gets me out the door, and Miss B’s getting into the act as well. It’s a wonder I get anything done with these fuzzy-ass toddlers “supervising” every breath.

At least I was able to lie in bed for about ten minutes while dawn tiptoed through the east, and could see a slice of pink clouds through my window. Rising with the sun is never my favorite thing, so being able to throw an arm over my eyes–peeking out every once in a while to see the beauty–and refuse to do so was pleasant indeed. Alas, I was coaxed out of my warm bed (for a certain value of coax, Boxnoggin is really earning his “von Titzpunch” title lately) and set upon the day, so I suppose I’d best get to the next thing on the to-do list.

I keep giving longing glances at the new baseball bat, but I can’t practice with it inside. That’s just a recipe for disaster. Ah well.

We are embarked upon Tuesday, my beloveds. Please keep all limbs inside the carriage, and don’t look too closely at Wednesday’s formlessness in the distance. (The abyss tends to look back into one, and that’s never comfortable.) Make sure you’re buckled in, and remember, just getting through the day is a victory in and of itself. Take the win, no matter how small, where you find it.

Over and out.

Sense Behind Chaos

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This morning I sent off the final proof for The Bloody Throne, third and last in the Hostage to Empire series; it should come out next March. (Book one is here.) Writing a series-ender during pandemic (I finished the zero about the same time I wrote Moon’s Knight last year) was uncomfortable in the extreme, and the poor Production department has turned in a yeoman’s job getting it through copyediting, formatting, and proofing.

Not to mention my current editor, who dealt with meltdowns of every conceivable type through the last two books of the series, and especially Bloody Throne. The poor woman deserves some kind of peace prize; I can’t imagine juggling multiple authors through all that.

I also had the great good fortune to read Stross’s The Bloodline Feud while attempting to spool down from the proof, and enjoyed it muchly. Other than that, I’ve been consuming true-crime books at an astonishing rate–probably for the same reasons I’ve been watching horror movies. There’s a kind of catharsis in thinking there’s some manner of narrative which makes sense behind the chaos of Real Life.

The season has turned, and the nights are growing chillier. Not a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned; this past summer was absolutely horrid. Autumn is when my productivity skyrockets anyway, and winter is my preferred season.

I’m taking the rest of October to work at about half-speed in lieu of a vacation. I can’t halt work entirely–neither the pocketbook nor my brain will allow it–but I can, perhaps, slow down a fraction and try to gasp in a breath or two.

Perhaps.

Of course a chunk of work will probably land in my lap later this week, putting paid to that ambition. Never rains but it pours, and all that.

For right now, I’ve coffee and the giant liberating feeling of a series-ending proof sent in. There might be some proofreader queries to finish everything up officially, but…Hostage to Empire is done, and I am relieved. 2022 is going to see some neat stuff from yours truly. I am not quite at the point of anticipating the future with pleasure instead of deep unease, but I’m trying.

The dogs are waiting patiently for their walkies, and since I’ve managed to get two-thirds of my coffee down I suppose a bit of toast is called for, then strapping on their harnesses and getting out the door. Monday has started out reasonably well; I can only hope the trend continues.

See you around, my friends.

However Eventual

I heard the trains last night.

In summer, clear skies and prevailing winds mean we don’t hear them often; summer is mostly for distant airport-noises instead, on long breathless sunny afternoons. But when the autumn mists and cloud cover move in, late at night when the windows are closed, the cries of moving trains reappear with an eerie underwater quality.

Especially when one is up well past dark reading true crime, as I have been lately. The stories are horrible, yet the idea that somehow there’s a narrative structure–and an ending, however eventual, to every horror–is comforting in times of great distress and uncertainty.

And aren’t we having those now, my friends? You betcha.

Yesterday, curled up tightly on the couch with proof pages for The Bloody Throne, I took some time to watch the rain fall. Each drop was a welcome guest; the kids were home and the dogs quietly satisfied with the entire pack assembled. Miss B and Boxnoggin are most comfortable when all of us are within sight and smell–Boxnoggin, in particular, is excited when he senses a pack member is about to return. He has a positively unerring instinct for the moment just before a pedestrian who belongs to him (or a car bearing said human) will appear.

Today is for yet more proofs. Six hundred and fifty pages is a lot, and I have to consider each one separately, with a fine-tooth comb. It’s taken almost a week to get a hundred pages out of the way, probably due to massive burnout, but things should free up relatively soon now that I’ve found my groove.

Said groove is fragile. I’m still lying on the edge of the abyss, trying to breathe. The gasps aren’t quite as deep or close together, and my heart is beginning to come down from redline. Work helps, of course; retreating from social media helps even more. The tension between retracting for my own sanity and the necessity of some marketing (never my strong suit, though I’m trying like hell lately) is marked.

But at least I’m out. In a little bit I can get to hands and knees, and maybe even gain my feet with a particularly daring effort. Then comes walking away, probably to find another sinkhole. There’s never any shortage, especially with *waves hands* all this going on.

The season has turned. The windows are all closed, even at night. Switching to flannel sheets can’t be far behind, and Miss B is putting on her winter coat. Boxnoggin cuddles very close at bedtime, which is now a blessing instead of a sweating miserable curse, and the heated mattress pad is his new best friend. (Mine too, but that’s beside the point.)

It’s about damn time. I thought summer and its attendant discomforts would never end. The trees are shaking off heat stress, firs dropping damaged needles and rhododendrons damaged leaves as new growth emerges fresh and green; they’re scarred but vital.

Healing means they’ve survived.

Dogs need walkies, my corpus needs its (relatively) high-speed shamble, the proof pages need attention, subscription drops need to be prepped. Peace is tenuous, but deeply welcome. Renewal inherent in rain fills lovely cool grey days. My own survival seems a little more assured, a little more possible.

After all, I heard the trains last night.

Away From the Edge

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I woke up with two things this morning: Crystal Gayle singing in my head, and the deep need for caffeine. The latter is pretty much a constant; the former hasn’t happened in my memory. But here we are.

The air is heavy–there is supposed to be a great deal of rain today. The dogs are waiting for walkies, the Princess is baking challah (she just felt like it last night, I guess), Horace de Brassiere performed signal service in giving me sweet caffeine, and I have yet more proofs to get eyeballed today.

They should be very light–doing the first top-level scan yesterday returned encouraging signs. Still, it’s around 650 pages of “this is your last chance, look for errors.” Of course there are going to be typos left, there always are.

A book is a complex endeavour, after all.

I think I’ve crawled hand-over-hand out of a very deep hole. Now I’m lying on the rim, gasping and grateful, trying not to think about what might have happened. I could still be yanked in, of course–that sort of deep whistling absence creates a pull of its own. But for the moment I’m safe, and in a little while I might have the energy and wherewithal to roll away from the edge.

At the moment, I’m just glad I’m not hanging by teeth and toenails, hearing the hungry unsound below me.

Which is sort of why I’m retreating into myself so hard this October. I’ve cleared all “social” engagements and put a couple extensions and the like in my (recently changed) browser to block some aspects of social media. It’s time for solitary spoopy month.

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The funny thing is, I have that belt…

Oh, and before I forget, the ebook omnibus edition of everyone’s favorite hellbreed hunter is $2.99 across retailers for a short while–BN/Nook, Kobo, Amazon, and Apple.

I’m trying–spurred by friends and my beloved agent–to do a little more marketing lately. The social weight against anything that can be seen as “blowing one’s own horn” (so to speak) is immense, especially for women. But I gather it’s expected, and I really should do more of it…so, again, here we are.

Plus, there are often some really good deals. And I really like the omnibus cover, though Jill would snort and say the pants wouldn’t hold up to a fight with a Trader, let alone a ‘breed, and Saul would cough a little and grin.

Weres, man.

In any case, the dogs have had their post-awakening nap and are very into the idea of walkies now. I am being summoned, but they’re going to have to wait until I choke down some breakfast toast.

By the time I get back from walkies and the (short, but definite) run scheduled for today, there should be challah in the oven. Which isn’t bad at all for a Tuesday.

Time to slither a few inches away from the edge and get started on the day. See you around, my beloveds.

A Frail Fence

It’s October, which means I’m on a true-crime jag. True crime books, while horrific, also have endings. One can pretend there is some kind of meaning or narrative structure to horrid events, or to life itself.

Given that we’re dealing with ongoing pandemic and fascist soft-coup, the idea of a neat ending, of some kind of sense to be made of all this, is comforting. It’s akin to watching horror movies for catharsis. At the end of a horror movie, one can go back to one’s own life–a little more cautious, perhaps, but still, one has returned.

It’s better than just looking at the mess, throwing one’s hands up in despair, and walking into the sea. At least, I think it’s better. Time will tell.

Anyway, I reread some Ann Rule this weekend, and a first edition of Michaud & Ayenesworth’s The Only Living Witness. Michaud did not like Rule, and seems rather upset that she had some success.1 Reading his jabs at her is super annoying. It’s also interesting to see how different editions of the book morphed.

Today’s work is all about the proof pass on the third (and final, yes, it’s the last one) Hostage to Empire book. When I have a cover and all that it’ll be posted. I’m hopeful that the proof pass will be light. It’s not the book’s fault it was written under such harsh conditions, or that I will be relieved to see the last of it.

I plan to submerge pretty hard to get a great deal of work done before the end of the (formal) year.2 The weather is cooperating, with a heavy veil of beautiful grey cloud. It will be nice to settle on the couch with a cuppa and the proofs, while the dogs cuddle close.

Sometimes I complain about this career, but never for very long. I suspect I am deeply unfit for an office job (let alone retail) anymore, since I have no patience for interpersonal bullshit and am very used to going at my own pace, whether the frantic bursts of six months’ work crammed into two weeks or the short dormant periods. A lot of what happens in formal offices is makework, very much like the security theater happening at airports. It doesn’t make anyone safer, but it does tighten the grip of a petty, middle-managing bureaucracy.

At least the physical symptoms of burnout are receding, slowly but surely. The few days of insomnia were a gauntlet to run, and I’m feeling much better.

Well, “much” is kind of relative, given where I started. But the scratchy throat and full nose have retreated, and the exhaustion is manageable. My running mileage has taken a hit, but short runs more frequently aren’t a bad thing. I’m in the game long-term, and the long game means small incremental gains are perfectly acceptable.

The compost heap also needs turning, and the garden to be readied for winter. Which will provide a nice antidote to the firehose of bad news. I feel terrible that I simply can’t stand to be hooked up to said hose at the moment; it feels like a betrayal. Still, nothing and nobody is served by me staring paralyzed at the horror of our current situation.

And with that, ’tis time to embark upon Monday. The dogs are extremely ready for walkies, coffee needs to be finished, a short run had, and the day stretches before me like heavy mist. There might be a little homemade focaccia left over from yesterday’s baking, which will be extremely welcome around lunchtime.

Small things to look forward to. I suppose they’re all I have at this point, but they’re enough. A frail fence against the despair, but a fence nonetheless.

Over and out.

Goodbye, September

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Yesterday the full canine complement of Chez Saintcrow was washed, dried, and flea-treated, the grocer’s and pet store were visited for supplies, linens and towels were washed as well, a great deal of other housework was done, and the copyedits on Sons of Ymre #1 were finished. There’s a few final global changes to fold in on the very last, but those are tiny and it’s ready to be sent off and turned into proofs.

And I am so fatigued I had difficulty sleeping. Apparently I’m in the stage of burnout (yes, by now I’m sure it’s not The Plague™) where I’m too wound up for proper rest and just have to push for pure exhaustion to grant me some surcease. If I play my cards right and do the proper kind of work in the proper proportion today, that might happen this evening.

I’m hopeful.

I also received an amusingly nasty missive yesterday, telling me to “shut up about politics and just write [stories]”. I am baffled how the letter writer thinks any of my work is divorced from politics, since I happen to be a human being, and have no intention of hiding my thoughts on the state of the world. Honestly, the things some people will say, thinking the internet grants them anonymity. (Spoiler: IT DOESN’T.) I had to laugh at the absurdity.

On a brighter note, as a treat and reward for finishing CEs, I got myself a subscription to the Criterion Channel, which I’ve been eyeing for some time and saving pennies out of the budget for. I’ve loved their Kurosawa and Kieslowski collections, and am looking forward to diving into the rest of their offerings. After I finish prepping this week’s subscription drop, I might settle with a plate of brownies, plus some cold milk, and watch something black-and-white. (Probably an Ingmar Bergman.)

Hopefully it will be soothing enough that I can crawl into bed early and do something more than just toss and turn. Come tomorrow (October approacheth, good heavens, where on earth did September go? Pandemic time is an elastic rollercoaster) I have to turn all my engines–such as they are, straining and whining–to the proofs of the final Hostage to Empire book. Maybe after that’s marked up and sent back I can take a slightly longer break. (Spoiler: Probably not.)

Miss B and Boxnoggin are no longer damp, but both are a bit perturbed at smelling like shampoo instead of their usual doggy selves. It must be a bit like vanishing; heaven knows when I can’t smell the world due to nasal drip I feel somewhat adrift. They’ll be back to their usual healthy aroma in no time, though, and today’s walkies will no doubt help with that. I’m seriously dragging, but they have kindly allowed me to consume a double jolt of coffee without insisting to be taken around the block posthaste, for which I am utterly grateful. I think they can sense my exhaustion.

I also have an idea for yet another romance novel, which I should stick in a fresh Scrivener doc and set aside to marinate just in case. My romance editor likes suspense, and this one’s a dilly. The brain never stops, even when trembling on the edge of deep burnout. I suppose I’m just not built to rest.

At least there’s lovely grey cloud-cover today and the prospect of rain later. If I had to deal with summer temps and the associated ills I might well turn into a puddle and save all the pearl-clutchers trouble by expiring from pure heatstroke.

And with that, my tongue firmly in cheek and my temper thoroughly reined by sheer tiredness, I shall embark upon prepping brownie supplies and walking very clean (and disgruntled) canines. September and the week are almost over, and my very favorite month approaches.

See you around, beloveds.

Tornado, and Historical Murder

There was an actual tornado in the area last night–“weak”, they say, but even a tiny one is no joke. The dogs didn’t even hear any thunder; I know this because if they had, Boxnoggin would have been pressed as close as possible to me, shaking so hard the entire bed quivered. The poor fellow does not like skybooms.

He’ll adjust to falling water, but noise is a different story. It doesn’t help that he has fennec-style ears, poor thing. The loudest event we had chez nous was a dead branch falling from the Venerable Straight-Backed Fir early in the day, which hit a table and broke one of the planters on it.

I was going to harvest the epazote soon anyway.1

Summer has officially been broken, and not a moment too soon. I was about to desiccate into dust. I did get about a hundred pages of copyedits eyeballed yesterday, while listening to Anonymous 4, Joan Sutherland, and Montserrat Caballé. It was quiet and lovely, but I had to knock off early to make dinner.

I also finished Emma Southon’s A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and now I need to get everything else she’s written. People who say history is boring haven’t read enough of the good stuff, and there seems a positive conspiracy, both in the school system and out of it, to make ‘what happened before now’ as dry and droning as possible. I think it’s because people who know their history are forewarned about the bullshit kleptocrats, plutocrats, autocrats, and authoritarians pull, so said ‘crats and dictators seek to control it–and make it boring–as a matter of course.

In any case, that particular book was a joy to read2, and is full of crunchy historical events and analysis. I am tempted to take another running leap at Homo Necans now that I’ve got Southon’s book under my belt, to compare, contrast, and do some pleasant deep thinking about. An active reading life is somewhat like a spiral; engaging with a book may lead one to a deeper understanding of a previous text, which just happens to be one of my very favourite things.

Of course, I might not have the energy for more than a few pages before I pass out, either on the couch or in bed. Whatever this is–and the current diagnosis is indeed burnout, since I’ve not lost my sense of smell, there’s no fever, and the scratchy-throat is going down–it has robbed me of the will to attempt anything more complex than simply hanging onto the edge of my day with teeth and fingernails, getting the absolute minimum of work done so I don’t fall too far behind.

And I hate it. I positively loathe not being able to work at my accustomed speed. It puts me in quite a temper, or it would if I had the energy to be peeved instead of grimly determined.

In any case, I’ve a limited amount of pep today, and most of it needs to be spent knocking out more CE pages. The sooner I get this done, the sooner I can move to the proofs on the third (and final, I get a lot of emails asking about that) Hostage to Empire book.

I loved that series, but writing the third during lockdown and some of the associated problems (not anyone’s fault, not even the Romans3) robbed me of every inch of joy in an achievement. I will be relieved to have it finished, though I know what happens to the characters several years afterward…well, less said about that, the better.

In any case, the minimum for today is another hundred pages of CEs. In order to get there, breakfast must be attempted, the dogs must be walked, and maybe a few kilometers run to shake me into some kind of alertness have to be achieved. Yesterday’s run in the rain was lovely, but also a torment. Still, it did give me enough short-term energy to untangle quite a few commas, ellipses, and copyeditor queries.

Off we go into Tuesday. Hopefully no more tornadoes are lying about, but if they are, well, we’ve a basement. We’ll see how it goes.

Over and out.