Puzzled By Cruelty

Yesterday was all about line edits; Sons of Ymre #1 is inching that much closer to publication. (Yes, as soon as there’s preorder information, I will absolutely let my beloved Readers know.) I was up what passes for relatively late last night–the dogs went to bed without me, and are bright-eyed and fresh this morning while I drag.

I am a night owl by temperament, but years of having to get the kids ready for and delivered to school have left a mark. Now that’s over, the dogs are still on a schedule and creatures of habit who view All Change as Very Very Bad do not take kindly to schedules shifting. Left to my druthers I’d be up around 1pm, work until 3-4am, and fall into bed around 4-5am, depending.

Alas, it is not possible, and my body’s protests must be listened to though they change not a whit of what must be. Ah well.

The news from Texas yesterday put a dent in me, as well. I know a certain proportion of people just plain enjoy cruelty; it is a fact of existence on this planet, like gravity or nitrogen. Still, it’s puzzling. Why spend all your time being a racist, misogynist asshat when there’s a literal infinity of other things to fill one’s earthly time with? These people could go touch grass, learn how to unicycle, write songs, watch some movies, or even just take a goddamn walk.

Instead, they apparently want to be nasty little fascist dipshits. Why spend that kind of effort? It’s absolutely and literally easier to just…not, to simply be kind or at the very least leave other people alone.

I suppose that’s part of why I write. Not deepest, most overarching reason–I am, quite frankly, unable to stop, and have been ever since second grade–but an important one nonetheless. The addiction of some people to cruelty has baffled me literally all my life, starting with childhood caregivers who hurt me apparently just for funsies. It made no sense to Child Me and makes even less to Adult Me. (For whatever value of “adult”, I suppose.)

I wish I knew why. Attempting to understand might be the writer’s curse or just a function of empathy, I haven’t decided. Yes, I’ve written villains; I’ve even written characters who enjoy cruelty for its own sake–Perry in the Kismet series, for example, or a few of the antagonists in Afterwar, not to mention Summer in Gallow & Ragged.

Now that I think about it, “comfortable with cruelty” is a hallmark of many of my villains or antagonists. Yet those characters, foul as they are, cannot hold a candle to the petty, nasty, apparently endless brutality and mendaciousness of real-life authoritarians. Even Perry, and he was dead set on killing the entire world if it got him what he wanted from Jill.

Fiction has to make sense on some level. Real life, alas, does not.

I wish I understood. It’s long been my fervent belief that understanding breeds compassion, and while I’m fully aware sociopaths and narcissists view compassion as weakness it’s still integral to me, I will keep it that way, and it doesn’t mean I’m unprepared to enforce my boundaries. I can even view the understanding as a way of anticipating the behavior of those who like cruelty for its own sake, so I can protect me and mine from their depredations.

I suppose the only hope is to keep writing. There’s finicky little changes to go over in Ymre now that the bulk of the line edits are done, I just approved a shiny hardback for Moon’s Knight, and today is subscription day. The next major project is revisions on The Black God’s Heart diptych, but there’s a fellow writer’s book to beta read and an article to copyedit for another friend in the queue, so those will be loaded to the cannon first.

Not to mention walkies with a pair of excited, bratty, furry toddlers and a run to get in. The latter, at least, will help me concentrate and get through the rest of the day. I will mull over the mystery of why some people are cruel goddamn dipshits during both, I’m sure, and arrive at no answer other than, “They like it, and the best we can do is protect ourselves from them.”

It is not a satisfying explanation, but at least it grants some succor. It will, as I often say, have to be enough.

Over and out.

Half Off Monday

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Last week was full of Mondays. Every damn day felt like one.

Consequently, I have made the executive decision that this week, I am taking Monday half-off. I’ll get in a chapter of Hell’s Acre and maybe some line edits today, but I’m knocking off early and not going to spend eighteen hours wrestling with print distro problems.

I should probably just open my own publishing house. You know the old joke–the easy way to make a million dollars in publishing is to spend two million.

Still, I’m practically a cottage industry. I work quickly; I can’t help it. The stories, like the spice, must flow.

I did get HOOD‘s Season Three all prepped for distribution. It lands September 21; preorders are live everywhere except Amazon, which doesn’t let you do ebook preorders if you’re not using KDP. (They really, REALLY want writers locked into their proprietary systems, but I am unwilling.) Which is why I also stock .mobi versions in my Gumroad store. The omnibus–all three seasons of HOOD in one nifty volume–will probably be out December-ish, depending on the cover artist’s schedule.

And that’s one series put to bed. Whew. Writing the bulk of Season Three during last year was…not unpleasant, because work kept me from walking into the sea. But still, I had a lot of difficulty on the editing and proofing passes because certain passages reminded me very strongly of 2020’s weeds and thickets.

Now that is a year I would not care to revisit. 2021’s got some lulus, yes, but on the whole I feel a lot better about it than I did about the four preceding years. I’m sure I’m just being set up for some scorching disappointment, true, but in the meantime I’m going to take a damn breath.

Not to mention walk the dogs. They don’t care what we’ve named the days of the week, all they know is that brekkie has been inspected (not eaten, except for the bacon grease) and Mum has finished her coffee, therefore it’s time to drag the biped around the block. I may even need a jacket today; it’s a lovely temperature.

I suppose it’s time to dance out the door. Miss B is under my desk, balefully tapping me with her nose every once in a while. (Once a herding dog, always a herding dog.) Boxnoggin is probably on my unmade bed since I left my bedroom door open, belly-up and snoring but with an ear cocked lest I somehow attempt to leave the house without him. Any move I make down the hall will precipitate a mad scramble on his part, I’m sure.

I should tell you guys about the Fork-Tailed Squirrel, but that can wait for another post. Monday awaits, and needs to be driven back into its cave.

See you around, beloveds.

Week of Mondays

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Someone in the neighborhood has been roofing since Monday. Or several someones. The nail guns and staple guns are going like a fusillade. I’ve just made my peace with the fact that Monday’s happening all week.

And it’s been kind of a dilly so far, frankly. Maybe just considering every day Monday is how it’s gonna be from now on, I dunno. But I’ve had a new release, line edits for Sons of Ymre #1 landed, I still have the HOOD omnibus to fold in proofreader changes on, the Black God’s Heart diptych has edits lingering, plus there’s a lot of Hell’s Acre to write.

And Guilder to frame for it, as usual. I’m swamped.

There’s a lot of stuff I’ve crossed off my weekly to-do list–CEs for The Bloody Throne, a contract for some new Ghost Squad books, arguing over the phone with an insurance company (always big fun), and fixing the (not so pleasant) results of the print distribution experiment for Moon’s Knight, not to mention the release day proper for the latter. (For the curious, the print edition is currently available through Amazon; other channels will have it in due time. I have pretty hardback plans, too.)

Yet I feel like I’ve done nothing, and it makes me want to weep.

The only cure is putting my head down and working like a demon though the weekend. Revisions won’t get accomplished, of course–but I think it’s very likely I can get the omnibus proof sorted this weekend and Season Three prepped for September release, which is just within the schedule I set earlier. Which means the omnibus can get sorted for October-November.

That’s the thing about book releases. By the time they happen, the book’s already probably a year (if not multiple years) old. I’m already juggling a brand-new set of chainsaws, and flinching every time I look at the old one(s).

But it’s a nice cloudy morning, it smells like rain though I think that’s a polite petrichor fiction, and the chattering of roofing equipment isn’t quite soothing but it does (hopefully) mean someone’s getting paid for their work on a relatively pleasant day. The heat seems to have retreated a bit, and we’re no longer miserably sheltering in any AC we can find. There might even be tomatoes in a short while, because the plants are looking very happy indeed.

Of course, I probably won’t get out to harvest them, being head-down in a whirlwind of work being my preferred state. I suppose a week’s worth of Mondays is a small price to pay for getting a new book out into the world and making a dent in the massive to-do list. I guess all that frantic work I did during lockdown is sort of paying off? At the time, I was just trying to keep my head above water.

Whomst among us in 2020 wasn’t, though. *sigh*

All right. Thursday also means subscription stuff to get out the door, and I suppose I should start the proof changes today if I’m going to work through the weekend. No rest for the weary or the wicked, and a writer definitely qualifies as both.

Or maybe just this particular writer does.

See you around, beloveds. Be gentle with yourselves, mask up, get your shot(s), and keep holding on.

Even a week of Mondays has to end sometime.

Logistics, Fictional, Assumptions

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Earlier this week twenty-odd of my self-pub books disappeared off a distributor’s dashboard, and my multiple requests for information have met with silence. The books have returned, but they were still gone for a significant chunk of time and I have no idea why. Plus, I’m being ignored.

Always wonderful. *sips coffee*

I did manage to take about half of yesterday off. I watched no few amateur historians take apart a few weeks in WWII, always a fun time. Documentaries and deep dives on logistics always fascinate me. I look at battles and think How did everyone get there? How did the guns and the bullets get there? Who carried all that?

I suppose it’s a function of worldbuilding. Things I spend a lot of time thinking about when writing an epic fantasy are where the food comes from, how the shit gets carried away and treated, and who’s doing all the sewing. We don’t realize just how labor intensive cloth is to create (if you’d like to find out, I suggest Women’s Work by Barber) and how the spindles, needles, and looms women worked kept everyone from being naked and dead all through history.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how food and cloth get to the characters, not to mention weapons, but hardly any of that goes into the finished book. Rather, it lurks below the surface, giving the iceberg weight and heft.

Another thing I think about when writing epic fantasy (and since I just finished CEs on a whole trilogy it’s on my mind) is how slow news and travel is under certain conditions. Horse, ship, and foot power were the only things we had to distribute information and goods for a very long time, and all three take far longer than modern people suspect. Unless you’ve got some kind of magic communications network operating (and magic, like everything else, has to be paid for) characters are going to make decisions based on what they know at the time, and those decisions have unexpected consequences. (For want of a nail a shoe was lost, and all that.)

When you add intriguers lying to suit their purposes of the moment and making risk calculations based on the information they have and what they can extrapolate, things get even mistier. Which is great for story purposes, but I’ll never forget a certain copyeditor asking me, in a baffled aside, why a certain character (known to be an unrepentant liar for an entire previous book and a half) was saying something that had been contradicted in a previous chapter from a different point of view hundreds of miles away. “But don’t they know?” the copyeditor asked, and I had a vision of these preindustrial characters in court regalia whipping out smartphones to check the news headlines.

It made me laugh. One takes one’s amusements where one finds them.

Modern assumptions not only color our approach to history, but also distinctly deform our imagination in fiction. Thinking about who grows the food, who (and what) deals with sewage, and how cloth gets made are good ways to start considering aspects of one’s speculative-fictional society and worldbuilding one hasn’t before.

The pace of technological change just since the 1950s has been utterly stunning, and things in even my own living memory have been superseded with speed that leaves one breathless to contemplate. Rotary phones, phone booths, telegrams–when I was born, telegrams were still a thing. A fading thing, but still a thing, and they’re no doubt in use some places still. It’s interesting to see how the convenience of “instant” communication has pulled apart some standard fiction-writing assumptions and strengthened others.

An interesting time to be alive. And since I’ve all sorts of work looming today, I’d best stop nattering and get to it. The dogs won’t walk themselves (thankfully, can you imagine the hijinks?) and Carl the Crow is waiting.

See you ’round.

Days Off and Electronic Sobbing

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I stayed up relatively late last night finishing the bulk of the copyedits on The Bloody Throne (book 3 of Hostage to Empire, which is wending its way towards publication slowly but surely). I think it’s pretty much done except for one last brief pass to tuck in a few stray threads. It was written last year during lockdown (like a couple other things) and my body remembers the stress and strain. I was wondering why I felt so nauseous and unsettled reading some of the passages before I remembered when, precisely, it had been created.

The body knows, my friends. It always knows.

Fortunately this morning is cloudy and very cool. It’s the first time in weeks I don’t feel like I’m gasping for breath, and I’m not sweating while standing absolutely still. It’s GLORIOUS and I want more. The weather app says the heat will return tomorrow, but after that it might taper off a bit. A high of 75F is ever so much nicer than a high of 85F. I know people who live in warmer places will scoff at the PNW’s delicate mushrooms, but honestly, I live here for a number of reasons, not least the temperate clime.

We’re about a week from the ebook version of Moon’s Knight being officially out too; the print version should have been released today but isn’t propagating through channels just yet. Ah well, that’s the cost of testing new distribution methods. And honestly…I don’t think the book will do much. Of course, this is a constant refrain; part of pre-release nerves is the deep unshakable belief that one’s book will sink like a stone, with nary a ripple.

As soon as I finish the Bloody Throne copyedits for realsies and schedule their turn-in, I think I might attempt to take a day off. The kids are making noises about tying me to the couch again–jokes, I’m sure, but with a glint in their eyes I recognize from the mirror.

I get super nervous on “days off”, though. A day without writing causes an itch to begin under my skin, and the discomfort mounts until I literally, physically have to write in some fashion. Of course I usually solve this problem by working with something I deem unpublishable on “days off”, but a significant number of those projects have actually sold, so…I’m not sure what to do. I’m happiest while working, which is fortunate because if I ever stopped the entire casa might sink into a mire, House of Usher-style.

Past Me also put the entire Nibelungen cycle on the playlist at some point, so that’s thirteen hours of Wagner playing in the background. I don’t know whether this was a prescient choice or a penance. I know I can halt the queue and change it at any moment, but I’m curious how this will play out. I may have to alter it slightly and go on one last Pink Floyd binge before summer ends and I can’t listen to them again until the next summer solstice. The poor music algorithm doesn’t know what to suggest to me next, throwing up its digital hands and reduced to electronic sobbing.

One thing I’m going to try not to do today is look at the news. I feel incredibly guilty, since it’s long been an article of my faith that part of a writer’s job is never to look away from the hard bits of living. We’ll see if I succeed. The torment of falling down on my duty by not looking may well outweigh the damage of gazing at the fire.

In any case, the copyedits are almost done and dusted, and once they’re finished the only thing left on that trilogy will be proofs for the final book. It’s not a bad story, I think, but unfortunately a constellation of outside forces conspired to make it extremely stressful. Soon, good or bad, it will be over, and that will be a relief. On to fresh fields and pastures new, so to speak.

I hope you get a chance to breathe today, beloveds. It’s been a while since I could take a deep lungful, and it feels sinfully good. Be kind to yourselves, and excellent to each other.

Over and out.

The Jam Loosens

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I woke from a dream of cleaning a house I’ve never lived in, with music playing in my head. The former doesn’t happen that often, but the latter is pretty much a constant. I rolled over, got Boxnoggin’s wet nose stuck in my face (he was attempting to get me to wake up so we could go do fun things, Mum, come on!) and heard the plucky opening riff to the Muppets’ Happiness Hotel.

Pretty sure that means a good day, even if an unrelentingly weird one.

The weirdness has been off the charts lately. The only thing I can think to do is begin my fall nesting–a few of my friends already have, and with the current plague news, well, I’m going to need my tiny safe nook to be as cosy as possible.

Especially if we need to share space with friends or family suffering fallout.

In any case, I’ve a list of Autumn Preparation Things. Some of them are small and will fit around the bigger list of Work Things What Landed In The Past Few Days. It’s feast or famine in publishing, dry spell or monsoon. CEs (the third and final Hostage to Empire book is top of the list) and proofs (HOOD fans, the omnibus proof just landed, so very soon Season Three will be out and the omnibus will be available for preorder) and cover drafts (Moon’s Knight is that much closer to publication; once I get the final cover the trigger can be gently squeezed), not to mention revisions on the diptych of The Black God’s Heart.

Plus there’s Hell’s Acre to get daily wordcount in on, and the sequel to Damage to build. (And Guilder to frame for it. I’m positively swamped.)

In between all that is cleaning and arranging for fall–the most wonderful time of the year, frankly. I’m ready for it to cool off; the recent heatwave is no fun and doesn’t really break overnight. We have some air conditioning, so we’re a little better placed than most, but it’s still unrelentingly bad. And gods know we need some proper rain.

I’ve recovered some little bit of my harmony. The tetchiness and ill feeling have subsumed under the sheer amount of work; maybe I just need to be buried under Stuff To Do before my mood improves. Having safe spaces to vent some of my feelings at current events helps as well. Holding that sort of thing in, no matter how useful a skill, eventually curdles and turns one rancid.

I don’t like being angry. Sure, I’m often irritated, but outright anger isn’t usual for me. I can count the number of times I’ve been actually, for-real angry in my life on one hand and have fingers (plural) left over. Current affairs, however, are managing the feat splendidly, and I hate it.

Anyway. There will be a glut of news in the near future, my beloveds–preorder information for Moon’s Knight once that gets all sorted, Season Three of HOOD and the omnibus scheduled, maybe something good on the Tolkien Viking Werewolves front, so on and so forth. But today is all about copyedits with some Zoe Keating in the background to drown out the noise in my head, not to mention the dogs needing their morning walk. I won’t be able to run until the weather breaks; heat sensitivity is an awful thing.

I am cherishing the return of my usual equanimity, even if it means the Muppets will be playing inside my skull when I wake. All in all, it could be worse. Oh, and thank you all for telling me how you’re getting through this; your comments helped me see good things.

Onward and upward, excelsior and all that. The dogs have been very patient, but they need walkies before it gets too hot to breathe. Time to bolt the remains of my coffee and embark.

See you around.

Uncorking With Jealousy

I did manage to brush up against copyedits yesterday…but then a cover draft landed for Moon’s Knight and getting that book moved up in the queue took precedence. A final proof pass has been finished, and now the cover is the last piece before I can send it out into the world. It’s a relief–I wrote it last year during the darkest days of lockdown, it utterly possessed me, and just getting it out and away will represent a victory of sorts.

And boy howdy did the cover draft make me happy. My cover artist is amazing, you guys.

I’m still feeling like a hopeless, burned-out hulk, though. Four years of increasing fascism crowned with a coup1 added to a bloody pandemic for the last year and a half is apparently my limit.

I suppose, to be absolutely fair, it’s not the pandemic per se but the ongoing fumbling in response to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have adults in charge again, and yet I could wish they weren’t so beholden to corporations whose entire goal is keeping a serf class too sick and scared to organize and resist their metastasizing.

Anyway, I’ve hit the wall bigtime. It was nice to reread the portal fantasy though; the sense of escape, even though I was proofing, was extremely welcome. And of course days when I can run, the stress chemicals are purged and I get a few hours of tenuous harmony before the discomfort mounts again.

Today is for forcing myself through walkies and a run, then back to the copyedits. I’m sure something will land in my inbox that needs attention; the best way to uncork something in the work process is to throw up one’s hands and focus on another task that needs doing. I call it “the jealousy principle”, because if a book is giving me trouble I often shift to the next one in the queue and let the first know it’s basically being ignored.

The Muse, like certain movie psychopaths, will not be ignored, thank you.

I know there’s reason for hope, but my supply is barrel-scrapings at the moment. And years of hoping, only to be kicked in the teeth, have left their mark. Sinking myself in work seems like the best option, as usual and even though it might contribute to the burnout. It’s still vastly preferable to the alternative.

What’s getting you through, my beloved? Drop them in the comments if it pleases you; I could use some nice things to get excited about.

I suppose it’s time to finish my coffee, choke down some toast, and get the dogs strolled around the block. Running before the heat mounts is also a good idea; the last thing I need is to pass out at the fifth kilometer or so. I’ve had enough of being flung to the pavement; the dogs are responsible for roughly eighty percent of all the time I’ve spent picking gravel out of my own flesh.2

Off I go for Tuesday. Maybe it’ll be less ugh than Monday. If not, well, I’ve work to do, and that will keep me occupied, if not quite sane.3

And I’ve got the machete, too.

Over and out.