Kindness, Escape

Spent the weekend doing revisions as well as reformatting ebooks and the like; most of those changes should be wending their way downstream. New editions are always a chance to catch the things that didn’t get chased down and thumped before. Even with a million pairs of eyes during the publication process, some stuff slips through. It’s inevitable.

What I did not do was rest. Today it’s back to solely revising the third epic fantasy; all my engines are focused on that. The second year of lockdown is about to start and my ability to focus and push under pressure is beginning to fray at the edges.

Once that’s done it’s on to revising HOOD‘s third season, preparatory to the editing process. I still have to make a final determination on the next serial–it will either be Hell’s Acre, the alt-Victorian trilogy, or Division Seven, the mutant secret agents story. I’m leaning towards Hell’s Acre because I like the language, and I’m not wanting to engage with current-day stuff right now.

I need an escape.

I think we could all do with an escape or two, frankly. I just want to crawl into my stories and never come out. I’m sick of utterly avoidable disasters and broken promises, hatefulness and cruelty. It’s the last that gets to me.

It takes so little effort to be kind. Kindness is the natural state, it’s the lowest energy requirement. It puzzles me: Why do so many people actively choose to stew in violent hate, why do they seek out reasons to be shitty? Why, when it’s so easy to just… not? Imagine what humanity could do if dickwads quit wasting their energy on spewing vileness.

I write because I must, but sometimes I think I also write to try and answer why people do some things. Pouring myself into certain characters’ skins, even if it isn’t on the page–because I have to understand the villains to see how they’re going to act in the story–is an effort to understand.

The dogs are very clingy this morning. I think they can sense my nerves are raw. Or maybe they just want their walkies, since it’s a relatively warm morning. A week ago we were in snowpocalypse (I think? Time has lost all meaning.) and now it’s very mild in the high 40s (Fahrenheit, of course) with crocuses and the like taking advantage of the sudden balm.

Maybe the snow was the last gauntlet to run. It would be nice to have an end to something. Normally I enjoy winter; normally it’s my most productive time. Lately though, I feel like I’ve done nothing for the last winter except sit and stare in deepening horror. I know that isn’t true, but it feels like it.

I’ve blathered long enough. Time to get the dogs walked, my own reluctant corpse run, and then to crawl into the end of a hot, murderous summer in an imaginary land. Getting the third and final book arranged will do me some good, I hope.

Happy Monday, everyone. We made it to another week, yay us. Now let’s see if we can endure through.

Over and out.

RELEASE DAY: The Poison Prince

I told you there was a release day coming up, didn’t I? I’ve been writing epic fantasy under the name S. C. Emmett for a while now.

I do not intend to stop.


The Poison Prince

The crown princess has been assassinated, reigniting tensions between her native Khir and the great Zhaon empire. Now her lady-in-waiting, Komor Yala, is alone in a foreign court, a pawn for imperial schemes. To survive and avenge her princess, Yala will have to rely on unlikely allies — the sly Third Prince Garan Takshin and the war-hardened general Zakkar Kai who sacked her homeland.

But as the Emperor lies upon his deathbed, the palace is more dangerous than ever before — for there are six princes… and only one throne.

And now, the killing begins…

Now available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and independent bookstores.


This is book 2 of a trilogy, dear Readers, and it’s a meaty one. Intrigue, court ceremony, assassination, armies, barbarians, tea, lovely dresses, more assassinations–it’s all here, and I’ve had a helluva time. Book 3 has been written and is resting with the editor now; believe me, finishing the third of a great sweeping epic in 2020 has been a task.

I wasn’t sure, even up to the finish line, that I’d make it.

Many of my books are love stories–for example, Cormorant Run was my love story to Soviet-era sci-fi, and the Romances of Arquitaine a love song to chivalric epics I swallowed whole as a teenager. Hostage to Empire (my own personal name for this series) is no different; I’ll let readers find out in their own way who I’m singing to, and why. It’s been a very long bumpy ride, but I don’t think I’ve done too badly.

Of course, the editor will tell me, probably after the holidays, if I have or not.

In the meantime, here’s Book 2, and I hope you like it. It holds several scenes I’ve been just dying to share–mostly Yala’s Ride, but also a few others. My heart was in my throat and my entire body tingling while I wrote most of it, and I can only hope some of that excitement comes through.

What a sorcery it is, little ink-marks on a page (hopefully) transmitting my joy and enthusiasm to you. I’m very grateful to have this job, my beloveds; you can’t know how grateful.

I hope you like what I’ve done with it. And now, as is usual on a release day, I’m going to go stick my head in a bucket and have some nerves. You’d think I’d be used to releasing books by now, but each time, I am a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, as my grandfather used to say.

Off I go.

Out of Season

Sunday chores mean my desk is somewhat better organized–not too organized, since a little bit of mess allows room for creativity to sneak in. Or maybe too-neat just stresses me out of any kind of proper work mindframe. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

The weather is turning, so there’s some sniffles and sneezes in the house. Every time one of us reaches for the tissues I tense up, wondering if it’s the plague, if it’s the moment I have to start making awful decisions.

Fortunately, it seems to be nothing more than the usual postnasal drip that happens along every time our damp autumn wanders in and settles down to. But still, my nerves twitch all sideways when I hear a sneeze. We’re still enduring lockdown and masking up whenever forced to leave the house, except for during outside exercise. When the rains start there will be nobody on the sidewalk to infect, either; I won’t have to hop out into the road when a middle-aged white man decides he’s going to take up the entire bloody walk with his waddling self.

The zero draft of The Bloody Throne, full of holes and bracket notes, is set aside to marinate–generally one of the hardest times to endure during project, since it’s still smarting and itching like a fresh scab. I have revisions on Damage and Moon’s Knight to distract myself with and get out the door, as well as continuing work on HOOD‘s Season Three and The Black God’s Heart. I forced myself to only write on things that do not resemble work over the weekend, which means there’s 8k of text I’ll probably never use–a mismatched pair of occult detectives who talk like an old BBC serial is great fun, but I don’t think it’s publishable, you know? Still, it was therapeutic, and bits of it might be used elsewhere, who knows?

The coffee tastes particularly fine this morning. I long for caffeine to soak in and finally give me a spark or two. Taking three days off should be enough to recover from an epic fantasy, right? I should be right as rain now.

Except I have the sneaking suspicion I’m not, and it’ll hit me in the middle of revisions. Normally it takes three times as long as one thinks to truly recover form the end of a project; unfortunately, nothing about the time is normal. It’s all out of whack, if not completely out of joint.

At least there’s no time to be lonely when I can sink into characters. Not that I ever feel lonely anyway; there’s generally so much to do and see and think about. I did have Midsommar flower-crown dreams, so maybe it’s time for me to poke at that one story with the wolves, the snow, and the flowers out of season. That sounds a lovely way to procrastinate, doesn’t it?

But no, the bloody revisions need attention. Whatever I’m going to procrastinate with will have to creep around the edges, stealing precious bits of sweet forbidden time.

Maybe another book will hash my wrists on its way out of my head. In any case, sunrise has strengthened behind the cedars, and the dogs are longing for me to finish my damn coffee and get to the real work, which is taking their fuzzy asses on a ramble. My human concerns are all very well, but they have actual business to conduct, or so they keep reminding me.

I’d best be off, then. We survived another weekend; I want to hide in my closet until after the election but I have to work. And my ballot needs to be dropped in a box instead of mailed; I’m taking no chances this year. So that will mean a short drive this morning too.

May we vanquish our Monday, dearly beloveds. I’m not anywhere near ready, but that’s why we have coffee, isn’t it.

Over and out.

Glass Apple, Silence, Flames

The glass apples along my office windowsill are all dusted, because I take them down and play with them sometimes while a story hides in my brain-folds. A lot of people don’t understand how physical a job writing really is–after all, you’re just sitting there, right? Just typing.

But everything you write lodges in your body. Not just that, though–characters speak while you’re in the shower, while you’re exercising, while you’re driving and thinking of something else. Getting up and moving to work out a plot problem or block out a scene becomes a habit.

The kids–and my writing partner–know that when I stop in a middle of a sentence and stare into the distance, sometimes it’s because a story has decided now is the time to express a few home truths, or make a connection. “I can see the story going on behind your eyes,” is what my writing partner says.

The kids, having grown up with me, are used to me checking out mid-sentence to work on a particular plot problem, solving or marking it, then coming back and finishing my sentence as if no time has passed. Oddly, for me, no time has. Sometimes I’m vaguely aware I’ve stopped to solve a story problem, but mostly I return to ordinary consciousness like flicking a light switch and continue with what I was saying.

Story-time exists on some other plane, I suppose. Of course the check-outs never occur while I’m operating heavy machinery, so to speak. One must feel safe before one can stop in the middle of a sentence, knowing that one’s interlocutor will give you space and time to finish.

My writing partner does it too, you know. Often, especially when we’re at lunch or dinner together, one of us will stop talking and gaze into the distance, our version of the thousand-yard stare. The other will wait, quietly, until they come back. It’s a good thing, to be able to trust someone with the quiet like that. Everyone is the star of their own movie, of course, but it’s rare and wonderful to find someone who doesn’t mind being the type of star who lets their best friend finish a chain of thought in peace, and doesn’t make them pay for the momentary inattention later.

The kids have their own moments of wanting to finish thoughts in peace, and I’ve seen them giving each other that space and gift. It seems good training, even if other people will probably take advantage of it. But at least they have the skill, and can deploy it when needed.

…I was going to write about other things today, but I’m curled in a tight little armored ball. I am very close to finishing a zero of The Bloody Throne–messy and full of bracketed notes, but still, the whole corpse will be out and on the table, ready for resting before revision begins. I can’t imagine what it will feel like to be done with this book. The entire series has had a difficult birth; I haven’t had this sort of emotional trouble with a book since Afterwar. Of course it’s not the same type of trouble, or in the same degree, and the problems that plagued Afterwar‘s publication process aren’t plaguing this series. Still, being orphaned midway, added to pandemic and fascist coup, means it’s been extraordinarily difficult to persevere through the end of an epic fantasy.

I mean, how dare I write about court intrigue and pretty dresses and love triangles when the world is burning? How dare I write a love song while everything is in flames?

I have no choice. I have to sing, even through the fire. I’ll go mad if I don’t, but it doesn’t stop the feeling that somehow, in some way, I’m failing because I’m Not Helping Enough.

So. Today is for chipping away at the book, accelerating through the crisis I saw from the very first sentence, writing what I’ve been working towards for years. I knew how the entire thing was going to play out from the beginning, and maybe that’s part of the problem. In a book, justice is a possibility.

I’m beginning to feel like outside the pages I write, it never is. Hope, mercy, redemption… in a book, these things are possible.

Outside? Well.

I suppose we’ll see.

Pretty, Survive

It’s still dark outside, though dawn is coming up. The marine layer is often so thick we don’t see the sun for days in winter, and while that was disconcerting during the summer smokestorm, it’s pleasant and cheerful now, like a warm blanket. At least the gloom is natural, things still have shadows, and there’s no tinge of burning to make the animal muscle just below my occipital ridge tighten.

I took Sunday all the way off. No work allowed (after a 4k push on The Bloody Throne on Saturday), only housecleaning (the fall purge and nesting is well underway) and watching movies. I watched a Shyamalan flick everyone panned but I thought was pretty good, an episode of Generation War which was difficult, and a weird low-budget WWII horror film, which shall remain unlinked because I’m not at all sure about the intentions of the people who funded it.

Consequently I’m up early, and the caffeine is soaking in. Two weeks ago I thought I’d finish this zero, now I’m just tired and plodding, head-down. It’s like that moment in any action movie where the protagonist is so physically damaged one almost can’t bear to look, but I don’t have to be pretty when this ends.

I just have to survive.

I meant to get some friend-reading done–the reading one does for writer friends, that it–but the broken and stripped wires inside my head meant I didn’t have the bandwidth. Still, this morning I managed a little while still in bed before dawn, the dogs still dead asleep and heavy against my shoulder, hip, and knee.

They do like to spread out.

Anyway, I’m privileged to read a draft of The Silent Places, and it’s good. It’s really good. So good I’m resenting having to lay it aside and turn to my own work, which is a sign of recovery in and of itself.

Slowly, hand over hand, I’m climbing free of the pit. But I’m not out yet, and this zero has to die. I have two revisions due in mid-November, too, so I have got to get this off my plate. Yet I can’t push at the pace I want; for one, I literally can’t physically sustain it and for another, the book will balk. It takes the time it needs.

May we all take the time we need today. It’s hard, especially with disaster barking at our heels, excited to make our acquaintance. But I hope, my beloveds, that you get to take a deep breath today, and that there is some moment of grace lurking between the tasks that must be finished, the posts that must be doomscrolled past, and the breathless hurrying in the face of catastrophe.

I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but a tiny moment is all I have today so I’m sharing it with both hands. Autumn has arrived and we still endure, you and I. If you’re reading this, you’ve survived this far. And that–as I keep saying–is the victory. We’re still alive, Koroku, we’ll manage somehow.

Pretty or not, here we are.

Keep Chipping Ice

I decanted a lot of sauerkraut yesterday; today I put a fresh batch in the crock. The world might be mad, but fermentation remains the same. The microbes do not GAF, as my kids might say.

The clouds have moved in. We’re looking at rain for the weekend, which of course pleases me to no end, since I have to finish this damn zero and it’s dragging. I feel like I’m waiting for the ice on a Russian river to break up, with that immense creaking and cracking you can’t forget once you’ve heard it. Soon everything will break and the torrent will carry me down to the sea of having finished another gat-damn book.

In other news, the portal fantasy I wrote at white heat during my lockdown nervous breakdown seems to be an actual book and not just a collection of disjointed mutterings. At least, so my beta readers and agent say, and since I can’t see the forest for the trees right now I’m going to have to take their word for it.

That is, after all, why one has beta readers and partly why one has an agent. You can’t see the book clearly when it’s less than an inch from your nose; you need a second (or third, or fourth) pair of eyes on the thing, yelling the description so you can guess. Trust is essential, and so is the commitment to be gentle and truthful at once. If not for my beta readers loving the portal fantasy, I would have kept it on my hard drive and not allowed it to go to my agent, which she says would be a great loss.

The dogs seem to sense I have finished my coffee and are lobbying hard for a walk. Despite the hour I can hear a leaf blower going somewhere in the neighborhood; it is gloomy outside and that is the way I like it. A new book is trying to push its way through the noise in my head, but I’ve enough to do without adding it to the pile; it will have to stay just a series of disconnected images and dialogue inside my head.

Fortunately, the half-formed stories are a refuge from both actual work and the raging torrent of bad news that is current events. I can crawl into the stories when I need some respite. I don’t know how people without that safety do it.

So it’s time to chaperone the fuzzy quadrupeds, haul my reluctant carcass on a run–the new shoes are doing all right, though I could wish for a bit more cushioning–and a whole day spent in a city under siege. Maybe I’ll begin to hear the distant song of cracking ice, maybe not.

Sooner or later, though, if I just keep chipping, something will happen. I have to believe that, or I might as well give up entirely.

Head Contents

Another lovely grey foggy morning, and the fog is not bearing a tinge of smoke. I did wake up with a cold wet nose in my armpit, which explains some of the dreams.

It was Boxnoggin, of course. I was amazed he could breathe, but he seemed perfectly fine. In fact, when I moved, the damn dog slithered closer and settled his nose as close to my armpit as possible once more.

I can’t think it was pleasant for him, but he seemed determined.

I have coffee, and am looking over yesterday’s work. Stopping for a weekend day, even though it no doubt bolstered my sanity and will give me long-haul endurance, was upsetting in the extreme because I knew it would also give me a Monday of just-barely-enough wordcount instead of the type I need.

Ah well. The barbarians have reached the capital and now the general to the north has gained word of a few things. This sets up the endgame; today I think I write the new emperor going violently bonkers, not to mention more of the siege. I should also do the ride of the southern army, and there’s a lady in waiting with a single blade versus several heavily armed guards to write as well.

I can barely stand to look at social media, let alone the news. I suppose I’m close to despair; even when it’s so manifestly obvious that hatred is a losing game, so many people are still determined to stay until the bitter end. They could walk away–all of them could simply find something else to do that isn’t mass murder, suicide by virus, and hatefulness. It lies well within their power to just… stop.

And yet they won’t.

Of all the difficult-to-swallow things lately, the number of people absolutely determined to keep propping up a death cult with their own bodies and health because it once paid them a bit more than the average serf is perhaps the most personally shocking. I fully admit I did not grasp the extent to which white supremacists not only wish death on others but also seek it in the most painful and degrading way possible for themselves. Dying of choking on your own sputum while a cytokine storm rages through your body is deeply unpleasant, but I suppose they think whiteness and ill-gotten gains will save them.

The money might make misery slightly more comfortable, but in the end you’re choking to death on your own snot anyway, not to mention carrying the burden of all the people your selfishness infected. It boggles the mind that these people worship death and white supremacy so much they actively pursue such an undignified end.

…these are the contents of my head this morning, and they’re not pleasant or comfortable. I’m already tired and waiting for the caffeine to kick in, hoping beyond hope I can finish this damn zero draft this week and maybe, maybe find a little hope somewhere in the world.

At least finishing the zero is something I have a small amount of control over. Hope seems beyond me at this point. I wrote a whole goddamn book warning people about the risks of putting Corona Caligula and his criminal cabal in charge, I’ve been telling people for decades that regressives (those people who call themselves “conservatives”) are dangerous, murderous, racist asshats, and nobody listened. Even now a significant proportion of people aren’t listening, or are minimizing the depths of the emergency in which we find ourselves.

I’m tired. I’m so tired. Even the coffee isn’t helping, and dragging myself through the end of a zero today seems insurmountable.

So it’s time to take the dogs for their morning constitutional, force myself to run, and do all the things I know I should. There is no happiness for me today, merely habit to carry me through until I can perhaps find some tomorrow. Or the day after. It’s endurance now, and while I am quite good at sheer stubborn enduring it’s also exhausting.

Be gentle with yourselves today, beloveds. And if you have a little hope, good. I have none today; keep and burnish it for me.

Over and out.