Distinctly Non-Optimal

Woke up with The Sky is Crying inside my head, which is one of the songs I’d play to get reliably into Harmony. For some reason, Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Ray Vaughn were the go-to tunes for that book, along with some Alison Krauss and Joey Fehrenbach’s The Prophet.

I’m kind of sad a YA publisher didn’t pick up Harmony, but then, they would have wanted me to change things so Owen saves Val, and they would have wanted me to make “finding a boy” instead of “survival” the protagonist’s goal. So, it’s not so bad. I would have refused and fought, of course, and that would have taken a lot of energy I didn’t need to spend.

Anyway. Yesterday was distinctly non-optimal. I thought I was recovered from the food poisoning over the weekend, but on my way up the stairs with a huge load of laundry I felt like the DVD of my life started skipping in the player. I came back to myself half-lying on the stairs, clutching the laundry basket and distinctly woozy. I had to go up one stair at a time without standing, hauling the laundry basket up with me. Fortunately there were only about five stairs left, then the dog-gate at the top, at which both Boxnoggin and B were anxiously awaiting my return.

Once on level ground I managed to get the laundry into the living room and toddle to bed, where I passed out until the Little Prince texted to say he was on his way to a D&D session hours later.

Needless to say, dinner was leftovers. I just didn’t have the strength, and only stayed awake long enough afterward that I wouldn’t be up at 4am. Then it was back to bed with a raging headache, and I remember nothing until waking up this morning.

It’s funny, how when you get physically miserable you can forget what health feels like. I’m ever so much better today. Those salad rolls packed a wallop; I wonder what contaminated them? I probably don’t want to know. In this singular case, I can let ignorance be bliss.

I don’t think I’m too far behind. My Week Three of NaNo post will drop on the Substack today, so that’ll be good. I had thought to prep Week Four yesterday, but it looks like that’ll be today’s task. If, of course, taking the dogs on their daily ramble doesn’t wipe me out. I have high hopes, but apparently recovering from anything takes me three times as long as I think it might. No matter how I pad out recovery time, it’s never enough. The body takes what it takes, I suppose, and the mind’s not far behind.

The dogs are overjoyed that I’m back up and moving around. They spent yesterday attending me closely, and I still have somewhat of a crick in my neck from being wedged between them most of the afternoon and all night, too. Little furry stoves, helping me sweat out the illness. Boxnoggin in particular is very solicitous, probably because he likes salt; he was licking my forehead at intervals yesterday. No doubt I was producing enough good ol’ NaCl to season his dinner.

Today’s going to be better than yesterday. Once I finish this coffee, no power in the ‘verse will be able to stop me.

Or so I keep telling myself…

Oh, Publishing…

HOOD

Just a reminder: you can still download the first few chapters of HOOD: Season One for absolutely free.1 So if you want to see if Robin Hood in Space is to your tastes, this is a good way to find out!

Mornings here have been nice and grey, the marine layer shielding us from the worst heat. Of course, that means the humidity’s been through the roof, but at least it hasn’t been hot and feeling like the inside of Mother Nature’s mouth.2 The dogs are puzzled, but I explained to Miss B that this is what summers used to be like back before climate change accelerated.

Boxnoggin, of course, is absolutely surprised by everything the moment he steps outside. Rain, insects, wind touching his rump–it’s all a cavalcade of new sensations every damn time. He’s like a goldfish swimming circuits past a castle decoration and thinking it’s a new one every time. (“Look, Benny, we’re on the Rhine!”)

Yesterday I sent a sample of Hell’s Acre to my agent. So if a publisher wants Assassin’s Creed crossed with Da Vinci Code in an alt-Victorian London, they’d better get on the stick. I’m so tired of trad publishing saying “write the entire series, then give us the first book and in six months we might condescend to look at it.”3 That makes one book pulled from submission (Incorruptible), one full book out (Reader’s Shadow), and two samples (Sons of Ymre and Hell’s Acre) out in the world. I haven’t had this few works on submission in ages; it feels almost like a vacation.

Of all of them, I’m most worried about Reader’s Shadow because the protagonists are teens. I don’t want to set a toe in YA publishing again; twice was enough and both Harmony and Rattlesnake Wind are doing well without having the “YA” imprimatur. Sure, I’d love it if those books could get to the teens who need them, but going through a bunch of people who want me to water them down so some Bible-belt evangelical doesn’t get their panties in a wad takes time and effort I’d rather spend on writing new books.

Anyway, I think for a little while I’m going to concentrate on the serial and samples. I’m tired of a lot of things in publishing, and glad that my career is at a stage where hybridization is a possibility. You’d think the publishing industry would understand that without writers they don’t have jobs or profits, but we’re treated like embarrassing afterthoughts and hated stepchildren. Which sucks because I like trad publishing; I like not having to deal with plenty of the minutiae of producing a reasonable printed product. I’m an easy audience, and trad seems set on driving me away.

In any case, none of that changes the fact that I’ve work to do. Today is slated for a chapter in HOOD‘s Season Two, a chapter in Sons of Ymre, and making baked pasta with yesterday’s homemade red sauce.

My dance card’s packed, and the dogs are very excited at the prospect of walkies. First, though, it’s time for a run. Hopefully by now the cereal and coffee are resigned to their fate and will not attempt a high-speed escape.

It’s the little things. Over and out!

Keep a Straight Face

Well, I’ve made it through another weekend. Things are stressful, but I just have to keep plugging away making books, I guess. Hollywood can call me with that fantastic offer to buy movie rights any time now, is all I’m saying.

I finished the initial revise on Season One of HOOD, watched Season One of Broadchurch, and–because it delights my daughter–was introduced to anime of Black Butler, which is just so extra. I love everything about it, and now some of the jokes the kids make about it make ever so much more sense.

I mean, they explain the jokes enough that I can reference them in common conversation, but now I really get them, you know? It’s a series of exotic parenting moments. I mean, I knew that kids find out about a lot of things very quickly in school, but now there’s the internet and that’s a whole new vector. I don’t begrudge it, I’m just awfully, awfully glad that the little ones came to me while young with all sorts of anime-inspired questions that I could (fortunately) keep a straight face while I found somewhat age-appropriate answers for.

That’s the big secret of parenthood, is keeping a straight face during the whole thing.

Anyway, I’ve coffee to finish, a run to get in, and an ebook to proof. I’ll probably spend the day getting the end of HOOD‘s Season One scheduled and the preorder arrangements made. Once that’s set up, I’ll have to decide once and for all what I’m working on next. I’m enjoying the clamor of many projects for my attention; it’s the only time I feel in demand any more. Maybe tomorrow I’ll list those projects out so you can get a taste of what it’s like inside my head. (Doesn’t that sound like a threat, indeed.)

Anyway, time waits not for the weary or the wicked. I hope your weekend was as pleasant as mine, dear ones. Oh, and I should remind everyone that I’ve a new book out this month, and that you can read the first few chapters for free.

And now, Monday may begin.

Hives and HARMONY

I got out for a run while it was still cool this morning, or at least, cool-ish. Still, I couldn’t take the dogs; the poor things do even worse with heat than I do. They’re unhappy, but it’s better than them getting prostrated by the damn temperature.

They may also be cranky because I’m cranky, having awakened covered with hives. Last night I made the distinct mistake of drinking some red wine–a completely forgivable error, you know–and watching the Assassin’s Creed movie. Frankly, it would have been a lot better if the whole movie had been alt-history instead of alt-historical and modern uneasily bolted together. I could very much have watched a dirty Fassbender lisping Castilian all the way through, thank you and amen.

It still might have turned out all right, except the heat was really bad last night. Normally, up here in the PNW, the heat breaks in the evening and we get relatively cool nights. When that doesn’t happen, the cumulative stress makes my skin try to eat itself.

But it’s all good. I got out for a run and sweated out the worst of the stress, and have rinsed the rest off and made coffee. Even the bees were giving me somewhat of a wide berth today, bumbling over my hands and shoulders instead of nesting in my hair or trying to crawl into my mouth. Maybe they could smell the irritation coming off me in waves.

At least I’m back at work, revising HOOD‘s Season One. We’re coming up on the end of that, and I’ve got so much fun planned for Season Two, you just don’t even know. It’s going to be so much fun, and I have the last season in my head as well. It took longer than I liked to recover from revisions on The Poison Prince, but at least I have an answer for one of the knottiest plot problems in the third book of that series.

Said answer occurred to me quite naturally as I woke up this morning, my skin itching like a hive and my temper frayed almost past bearing. I had consigned it to the great engines beneath the floor of my conscious self, pretty sure that the Muse had an answer she’d give in due time.

Fellow writers often say you never learn how to write books more easily, you just learn how to write this one specific book you’re working on. That’s true as far as it goes, but one of the things an experienced writer can learn is when to consign a question to the great engines and leave it alone until the solution bursts forth, full-fledged, from said writer’s forehead. After a while you can feel the things working beneath the floorboards, chewing and grinding, and can even sense with something’s going to swell and burst.

It’s a particular type of relaxed concentration married to the willingness to keep yourself distracted with other work, with a large dash of learning to trust the Muse. I know I anthropomorphize the creative process, but it helps if I think I’m consigning the problem to her rather than to something impersonal.

So much of this career is learning how to game yourself. How to get the wild thing inside your head that’s fucking up your life and snap the traces on to put it to plow.

Anyway, I should remind you that if you want to read the first bit of Harmony for free, you can do so right here. Also, I’m hearing that some readers are experiencing quality issues with the Amazon-bought paperbacks of that book; if you are, please contact Amazon customer service. When Amazon folded CreateSpace in, the quality of their printing took a steep dive; this is something I have no control over. I did choose to offer the Harmony trade paperback through KDP instead of IngramSpark’s extended distribution for reader convenience, but if it’s going to mean this sort of hassle I won’t ever do so again.

I suppose I should finish my coffee, check the focaccia dough–of course, it’s going to be umpty-scrump degrees outside and I’m baking, because I lack all sorts of smarts–and get the subscriber perks for the week out the door. That, along with revisions, should keep me busy enough to stay out of trouble.

At least, for a little while. Over and out.

RELEASE DAY: Harmony

I feel kind of like Beyoncé dropping a surprise album. (I’m not nearly as talented, but I think the stomach flutters and sparking nervousness is probably about the same.) That’s right, folks–here’s a brand new book, Harmony, with a lovely cover by the stunning Indigo Chick Designs.


After an accident claims her unconventional mother, Val Smith has to live with her boring, reliable father. Grief and change aren’t good for anyone, but Val and her dad are doing okay—until they visit a place like paradise.

Harmony Home is safe, secure, and secluded, a place where where everyone belongs to everyone else. For a commune it’s a pretty okay, at least at first. There are strange things—the metal boxes in the clearing, the Red House where secrets are kept, and little Sarah, who pushes buttons inside people to “make them glow.” Val and her dad are honored, temporary guests, at least at first, and it’s exciting to be special, to be chosen. By the time Val’s uneasy, it’s too late.

Even heaven can be a trap, and Val’s going to need all her new talents to break free…

Currently available direct, or through Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo; forthcoming from Amazon and independent bookstores.


A long while ago, I gave my agent a choice. “I know you want a YA. I have a couple in my head: a cult story and a super-futuristic boarding school.”

She chose the cult. Of course I ended up writing her both–Reader’s Shadow is out on submission, though I don’t think a trad YA publisher will take it. I had to fight constantly and consistently to keep my YAs from being diluted by publisher nervousness over what some mythical bigoted mother in the Bible Belt would take offense at; my teenage heroes and heroines do things like drink, cuss, and think bad thoughts.

Anyway, I wrote Harmony for her. It passed through several drafts, and many publishers had a problem with the ending. (You all know how I feel about the right ending versus the happy ending.) They also want some of Val’s upbringing to be different, and one, I think, really waxed indignant at who eventually drags Val from the fire.

Oh well.

What I wanted to examine was how a cult draws one in. It’s all there–the lovebombing, the prohibitions on thinking in non-approved ways, the threat of punishment, the us-against-the-world mentality. Father Jim also owes a great deal to Thomas Jane’s incandescent and chilling turn in an otherwise ho-hum horror vehicle. What would happen, I wondered, if a cult actually had access to superhuman or extrahuman individuals? How far would they go to acquire such people, and how would they control them once acquired? How does one break free of such groups, especially when a core principle of getting people into your cult is to progressively rob them of outside relationships?

Everyone wants someplace to belong. Once they find that place, most people will do anything rather than lose it, especially if they believe it’s the only place that will ever accept them.

The psychological steps of cult indoctrination fascinate me. Brainwashing itself is pretty straightforward–lack of sleep and lack of protein can break even the strongest person. Cults–from the most innocuous to the most profitable and far-reaching–have to tread a little more carefully, and have to put policies and procedures in place to streamline the process. In many cases, the processes are arrived at through trial and error; the indoctrination doesn’t have to be applied by people who are consciously trying to manipulate someone else in order to work–they can be applied by people acting in good faith but in a bad environment.

In short, manipulative people and groups have the same playbook, and it works. Over and over again, it works, and plenty of it depends not on the charismatic leader but on the second- and third-in-command groups who may be acting out of the best motives, genuinely convinced they are bringing something special and valuable to people who need it.

We are not drawn into sick systems by our worst qualities, but by our best.

And of course, because it’s one of my books, there are extrahuman talents to consider. Still, it’s not those talents that allow the survivors to break free. I shall leave it to the reader to discover just how that happens, at least in the small fictional world of Harmony.

I’m really glad this book is out in the wild now. Amazon really doesn’t like getting one’s books out in a reasonable timeframe unless that book is done through KDP. On the one hand, it’s their distribution platform, so they can do as they like. On the other, it’s little things like that which drive home that I’ve made a good decision shifting my main ebook distribution elsewhere. (Gumroad customers can get a Kindle .mobi as well as the .epub, so if you’re an Amazon-based creature, I’ve still got your back.) And fear not, a paper version is well on its way.

I hope you enjoy it, dear Readers, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. And since it’s a release day, if you want me I’ll be in the corner rocking back and forth, with a bucket to stick my head into.

Plus ce change, and all that…

In the Meantime

I want to believe I’m simply cranky because I haven’t and coffee yet. I want to believe that the constant rasping irritation along my nerves doesn’t mean I’m naturally a big old bad mood.

I tell myself who wouldn’t be cranky, look at the world, it’s on fire. I’d love to believe that it’s only temporary. It shouldn’t be so damn hard for people to treat each other decently. Unfortunately, the human capacity for hate seems beyond any power of art to overcome.

Tomorrow I’ll feel more hopeful, but I have to get through today. It will be better after I run, especially with the dogs to keep me occupied. And there’s plenty of work sitting around. I’m in the phase of revisions where I miss the fire of creation; as soon as I go back to the brute work of producing wordage I’ll find that I long to be revising. Nothing satisfies me, at least for today.

I did get to the DMV early yesterday morning. The place was a ghost town when I walked in and crammed to the gunnels twenty minutes later when I left. Fortunately I had every scrap of necessary paperwork, too, so there was no trouble. The security theater of TSA (you can’t get on a plane1 without an Enhanced License anymore, a pretty sweet racket and a way of controlling the movement of poor people) fills me with furious dread, but at least I’m prepared now.

No, I’m not intending to travel. At least, not until someone options a book or something and I have the money to move to a country that has decent healthcare and slightly less racism. On the other hand, it’s foolish to remain unprepared. It’s also time to go through my bug-out bags again and make sure they’re organized and ready.

In the meantime, I run, I read, I hug my kids, pet my dogs, and tell my friends how amazing they are. I hope, I drink coffee, I agitate for change. I long for escape, I try to be kind no matter how cranky I’m feeling, and I do my best to always punch up. (Or, as needs be, sideways, to keep the motherfuckers who share my privilege from being assholes.)

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. But it’s all I can do.

And I write. I can’t see a better world, but I can transmute the pain of this one, and give readers an escape, a chance to be seen, a deep satisfaction that comes from reading a good story.

Still not enough, but I’m not going to stop. I have to believe every little bit helps. And in that hope, I’m off to buckle the dogs in and take them for a run. They don’t care about the political situation or the frustrations of publishing, no sir. Their needs are simple: food, sleep, belonging, love.

At least we’ve still got dogs, and I’m about to release another book. Maybe today won’t turn out too badly after all.

On to the Next

I began poking at HOOD–that’s the Robin Hood in Space story–yesterday. Frankly it was a relief to work on something that wasn’t Maiden’s Blade or Atlanta Bound, not because I dislike them, but because a new obsession is a good way to get rid of old ones and I need time off from both stories if I’m going to be able to revise them properly later.

At the same time, shifting my engines from one story to the next is always difficult. I have to slow (or speed) the flywheel inside my head to the proper speed for the new story, and make the teeth fit so it will pull with the minimum of grinding. It’s a matter, as always, of sitting and picking, picking, picking, until an internal click happens and the story starts to slide out through my fingertips in fits and starts. Yesterday, it was the name of Maid Marian’s spaceship that triggered the click. I hadn’t even realized it was a necessary component.

A funny thing about writing stories, at least for me, is that the way is hardly ever straight and broad. Everything happens in ellipses. So, I spent my run yesterday thinking about a particular scene that involves a sort of speeder race (Maid Marian is a woman of many talents, indeed) and the question of her spaceship’s name wasn’t even on the horizon. But it was a long chain of thought from the speeder-race scene, which may or may not make it into the book, to Marah Madán’s introductory scene, where she’s skinning her knuckles in her ship’s engine room and contemplating a frozen death in the wide reaches of space if she can’t get things working again, involving (among other things) how to get into and out of a gravity well, faster-than-light messaging, whether the book’s main setting should be a space station rather than a planetary system, how wartime rationing loosens after victory or defeat, and on and on until suddenly, staring into the distance, it occurred to me that the ship’s name was Ivanhoe and the click sounded.

Consequently, I fell into the book and almost missed dinner; thankfully, it was the Princess’s night to deal with that problem. The dogs were dancing with impatience, thinking that perhaps their servant-goddess had forgotten the Magic Foodtime. Which means I surfaced from writing Guy of Gisbourne’s intro to find Odd Trundles’s long, very disconcertingly warm tongue curling around my ankle. I’m not sure whether he was asking for my attention, or just obeying his usual habit of licking any patch of bare skin he finds, or realizing I’m made of meat. Consequently, I hurried to fill the bowls with kibble, and was a little miffed that I couldn’t jump right back into the book.

Today is going to be all about Hood. And Harmony‘s revisions. I have a couple comic-book scripts I should start outlining, too. And I’m sure edits for Rattlesnake Wind are going to drop anytime now. Recovery is over, it’s on to the next.

It pleases me. There are always more stories, they line up around the block, some standing patiently, others elbowing. What’s in short supply is the time and effort needed to sit and let them come through. That time and effort needs to be guarded like a dragon hoard. Protect your writing time, chickadees, your stories need it.

I’d better get some more coffee and get back to work.