Bureaucracy, Serial, and Sale

I feel like I lost an entire day, because it taken up with a visit to a hive of wretchedness and bureaucracy, terror and paperwork.

That’s right, we visited the DMV.

It wasn’t half bad. They have shifted to appointment-only for some things (coincidentally, the items we needed done) but we scored a few slots around the same timeand so could accomplish everything the family needed in one trip. I was braced for a lot of unpleasantness that didn’t happen, and I always like it when I’ve overprepared rather than the opposite.

In other news, I’ve put my current serial, Hell’s Acre, in Kindle Vella. What started out as an experiment with crowdfunding the writing of Roadtrip Z has turned into me having a dedicated slot in my writing schedule for an ongoing serial, and so far it’s worked out pretty well. The adventures of Ginny, Lee, Juju and the gang gave way to HOOD, and now Hell’s Acre. So I guess you could say the experiment is working out well.

I love this way of writing, because not only do I get to tackle longer, more complex stories trad publishers probably wouldn’t take a chance on, but also get to show my beloved Readers and subscribers a lot of what happens behind the curtain and under the hood. It’s a great way for readers to see how a story grows, and what changes between the initial idea and the final, finished book. I’m curious to see how the Vella thing works out.

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In other other news, Harmony is $3.99 across ebook platforms until December 1. I like running sales, and I am under strict orders to do some more marketing. (Very strict. Like, Box of Shame strict.)

After the crashing realization that I am, indeed, reduced to only being able to work on one project at a time for some short while, I’ve rearranged said writing schedule a bit. “Go until burnout and then back off two paces” really isn’t optimal, though I don’t seem to have any other setting. Or, rather, it would be a little less suboptimal if Current World Events weren’t also kicking my emotional ass.

Writing takes energy–physical, mental, emotional, and I daresay even spiritual. Carefully shepherding and guarding that energy from a world desperate to tear it away is an ongoing balance, requiring constant vigilance and readjustment. At least, it’s that way for me; I’m not sure about other wordwrights.

On the bright side, the atmospheric river is bringing all sorts of rain our way. It’s grey and positively filthy outside, I love it. The dogs will be nonplussed during walkies–well, Miss B, being an all-weather pooch, will be quite sanguine, though I’m sure her joints ache a bit. Boxnoggin despises water falling from the sky, poor fellow. He thinks his beloved Mum is responsible for it, that for some incomprehensible reason I’m making the sky drench us all.

I wish I had even a fraction of the power that dog apparently thinks I possess. Or maybe I don’t, because I’m not sure I could be trusted to use it responsibly. My ongoing thought experiment of “what would happen if I had pyrokinesis?” rather bears out that caution, because they all end with me cackling in pleased fury.

In any case, walkies must happen no matter how much Boxnoggin would like them to be dry year-round, and I’ve my own weary corpse to run in the rain. Peeling out of my running togs before slithering into a warm shower will be glorious today, but I’ve got several kilometers to go before that’s an option and I’m not sure whether this persistent headache is sinuses, stress, or low blood sugar.

Time to get started.

HARMONY, on sale!

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Even heaven can be a trap…

November is upon us! In celebration of autumn finally releasing us from summer’s clutches, Harmony is on sale this month for $3.99 across ebook retailers–AmazonBarnes & NobleApple, and Kobo. (If you’re buying through Gumroad, use the code HARMONY at checkout to get the discount.)

I didn’t mean to write this book, but Val and her story simply wouldn’t go away. I’m rather glad I finally sat down and listened. Also, more than one Reader has found the extended Heinlein joke in the book, which makes me super happy. Nothing like other people discovering one’s Easter eggs to put a smile on one’s face.

On December 1, prices will return to normal–but don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll have something nice for the Yule season. Enjoy!

Distinctly Non-Optimal

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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

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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.

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And now, Monday may begin.

Hives and HARMONY

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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.


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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…