Zeno’s After-Times

In the before-times, I would be finishing up a zero this week. I would be pushing from dawn to dusk, dumping out 8-10k a day, swinging from handhold to handhold as an epic fantasy spikes to a finish. Even yesterday’s agonizing over who pours the damn tea during a fictional imperial banquet wouldn’t have slowed me down much.

But these are the after-times, and I barely got 4k in yesterday. So maybe there will be an October surprise; maybe this monster of a book will finally be finished next week.

Or maybe I’m caught in a hell of never being able to finish this damn story. Zeno’s Paradox in book form.

The Zeno’s feeling is a common one at this point in the process, a familiar friend. It rarely lasts this long, though, because as soon as I start feeling it all my internal engines bend to the task at hand and all else falls by the wayside as I hunch over the keyboard.

Unfortunately, so much of my energy is going towards simply staying afloat on a day to day basis, I’m only operating at about forty percent capacity. Which means I’m going to be in Zeno-land for a while yet, and that’s terrible because I hate it and it wears my nerves well past bare.

But the Banquet of Death is done, we’ve reached the bloody endgame of the succession struggle, the northern armies are on the move, the barbarians have almost reached the capital, the southern army is just about to get underway, every character has something they want badly at this stage, and we’re about to have huge battles in the pouring autumn rain or smoke-filled fog while smaller personal battles play out inside a besieged city.

That will be fun. I know exactly what happens, I just have to get there.

I hate not being able to work on more than one project at a time. I hate that most of my energy is going to just barely keeping my head above water. I absolutely loathe the feeling of being helpless to protect those I care for. And then there’s the nightmares I can’t even turn into stories.

*sigh*

I know I’ll finish this book eventually. It’s bloody well personal now, and stubborn endurance is my trademark. Part of the problem is that I had to ask for an extension to get it done, and I hate being behind. I do my best to hit all my deadlines, if only because missing them jacks up every fear I have about my career to eleven–hell, to bloody fifteen.

At least I have new running shoes; my back will thank me for that after today. And at least it’s a lovely misty morning that doesn’t reek of smoke but instead of autumn. The rains will come, and eventually this zero draft will be done.

I have to believe that, or walking into the sea becomes a real option.

Happy Thursday, everyone. I have some neat stuff on tap for subscribers today–thank you, all of you, for your wonderful support. I always worry I’m not giving enough for the various tiers, but I suppose if I wasn’t, nobody would sign up, so I try to tell myself that and lay the worry to rest.

It doesn’t want to go down, but like with zero drafts, if I just keep stabbing eventually it’ll die. And with that cheerful thought, my beloveds, I shall embark upon dog-walking, a nice relatively easy six kilometers of running while I plan the day’s work, and returning to the aftermath of the Banquet of Death.

See you around.

Coffee, Cats, Banquet

My goodness, I get mail. Do I ever get mail.

In response to several recent questions, no, there is not a projected date for The Highlands War, which is book 4 of Steelflower. The ongoing piracy means I can’t afford to take time to write it, frankly. Yelling at me because you want to download it for free off a torrent site is not going to make me work on it, either.

Just sayin’.

Anyway, it’s a Tuesday, and the only thing dragging me out of bed was the prospect of coffee. Well, that and the fact that the dogs needed a loo break after a hard night spent trying to get under me to sleep. They both long to be as close as possible, though Miss B is, like many elderly beings, a light sleeper and is up and down several times a night to seek the tile floor in the loo when she gets too warm.

Boxnoggin, however, picks a spot and stays there, at least until B moves and he can get into a better spot. He’s a great believer in patience winning the battle of location. Although he rarely uses said patience for anything else in his canine life. Especially cats.

Man, does he ever want to catch a cat or two. Even the rabbits down the street don’t fill him with as much frustrated longing, although you’d think a terrier would be more into rodents than felines. But no, it’s a big juicy cat Boxnoggin wants, to love and lick and SHAKE.

I’ve tried explaining to him that they’ll last longer if he just cuddles them, but the terrier in him is absolutely baffled by this chain of logic and insists shaking is the proper way to show affection to small things. So, no cats for him, just toys.

It will frustrate him, but better that than the alternative.

Today I have a Banquet of Death to write in the epic fantasy. All sorts of stuff has been boiling away, and it’s about to bubble over. I realized last night I could cut a planned sub-arc and that will save me around 15-20k words, although the arc can be added in later if the rest of the book isn’t hanging properly. But I think it’ll be fine.

If I can turn in another few 5-6k days like yesterday, I might even finish a messy, hole-laden zero this week, which would be ever so nice. There’s a whole lot of brackets in this thing, though, since the entire last half of the book has been laboring under pandemic stress.

I suppose I’d best get to it. Tuesday is marshaling its forces, and I’d really like to get this particular Big Goal off my plate. All I need is to draw a line through the zero; that’s all I’m asking out of this week. We’ll see if it happens; be kind to yourselves today, my beloveds; remember, survival is the victory.

Slightly Beside, Running

I am standing slightly beside myself today; I took half the weekend off even though The Bloody Throne is itching under my skin, desperately trying to gather enough momentum to lunge for the finish. This week will probably see the zero draft done if I can just work hard enough.

All this has taken such a toll on my productivity. I’m used to a bare minimum of two projects at once, three is where I’m most comfortable juggling, but now I can barely manage one at a time. The shifting between projects, usually so effortless, is like stripping each gear in a manual while you’re trying to get on the freeway.

In other words, it’s terrible and I hate it, hate it, hate it.

At least there’s no smoke. Rain has cleared the air and the local fires are out, I think. I have a bit of a cough and some nasal drip left over–at least, I’m blaming it on the smoke instead of the plague, because the latter is just too terrifying to think about even if I am in generally good health and taking my vitamin D supplements.

It would be nice to live in a functional country, but… here we are. I read a piece this past weekend about how America is already in collapse, and rather than sending me into the doldrums, it was the last piece I needed to sort of come to terms with all this. The thought “well, I did everything I could, I warned everyone who would listen, but now we’re strapped onto the rollercoaster and there’s no getting off, so I’d best make sure my seatmates are buckled in as well as I can make them,” is oddly soothing.

I was waiting for things to settle into the new normal, no matter how much I hate calling it that. Or, to be more precise, I was waiting for my emotional response to get through the few weeks that hit once I have scraped the bottom of my energy barrel responding to a crisis. The unsteady, gas-fume feeling of just waiting for a spark or a lit match has drained away to a deep, flinty determination to survive and carry those I love with me, so at least there’s that.

Grim determination in the face of disaster is definitely not my jam, but it’s familiar and I’m good at it. At least as a lifetime sufferer of anxiety and panic attacks, I feel relatively well equipped for all this bullshit; it’s somewhat soothing that for once my emotional response to events is absolutely not an overreaction.

…I had more to report, I suppose, but I’ve finished my coffee (I had to stand in front of my stove whispering “oh please, please give me caffeine” at my Moka pot this morning) and the dogs need walking. I long to jump straight into work, but I also need a run. This delicate emotional balance requires exercise endorphins to keep it afloat.

I even ordered new running shoes, since my old ones are getting worn and my back’s beginning to inform me I need more cushioning. (Some parts of getting old are less pleasant than others.) Which is a sign that some part of me believes there’s a future. Either that or I’m just swimming blindly until finality strikes.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other, I suppose. And since the air is all clean now, I might as well do a deep scrub on my lungs by hauling my weary self through another six kilometers or so. At least it feels good when I stop.

I’ve a dynasty-ending battle to write, not to mention a junior prince making a bid for another empire’s throne, and maybe a lady in waiting apologizing to yet another prince for a princess’s death. It’s going to be a long day, and I hope someone else in the house has an idea for dinner. I made cocoanut chicken curry last night, and it was marvelous, but there’s very little left and I suspect it’s going to be a week of “get your own supper because Mum is exhausted.” Fortunately, after fifty-plus books (I’ve decided to quit counting) the kids are used to that, and both are old enough to cook.

Happy Monday, everyone. Make sure your own mask is on before attending to your neighbors’, and take a deep breath. We’re still here, we still endure.

It will have to be enough.

Fellini Dreams

I dreamed I was in a restaurant with very large fishtanks full of jellyfish, arguing/discussing/critiquing Fellini with Henry Cavill. I have no clue why my subconscious picked that particular actor, maybe because his nose reminds me of Marcello Mastroianni’s. But I do know I was drinking whiskey while discussing La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, and now I have the urge to take the day off and watch Fellini and Antonioni films. The two directors are somewhat indissolubly linked inside my head, more because I discovered their work in the same timeframe than for any other reason.

Anyway, I have coffee, and have had the morning French lesson. I was trying French, German, and Turkish at the same time, but then… lockdown happened, and the fascist coup is accelerating. At this point I’m thinking we’re due for twenty years or so of authoritarian rule unless the military removes that orange blivet from the Oval Office after the election, which will cause problems of its own.

Staring at what feels like the approaching end of the world (but is only the fall of a colonialist empire, I suppose) is playing havoc with my productivity. I’m trying not to read the news before a certain point in the day so I have at least a chance of some uninterrupted working time, but it filters in anyway.

Yesterday’s rains have washed sky and earth clean, at least. The air smells wonderful, cleansed of all smoke, though I still have a drilling pain in my lungs during extraordinarily deep breaths.

I know we got off lightly with just a few days of smoke; I’m grateful and yet feel guilty at the same time.

There’s the coffee to finish and the dogs to walk, a run to get in, and the day’s work is laid out before me. I keep chipping away at The Bloody Throne, expecting it to break loose and slide for the finish any… day… now. I’m in the phase where scenes I had planned fall by the wayside because they don’t fit the shape and momentum of what’s already been done, or I realize I already solved the problem approached by said scenes earlier in the book and just didn’t realize it. There’s also a lot of Clannad and Kpop on the writing playlist now, which goes together better than you’d think. Not quite PB&J, more like PB and banana on really tangy sourdough bread, which happens to be a particular favorite of mine.

The weekend is early enough for Fellini, despite me wanting to kick everything over and settle in for a mini film-fest today. Plus I’ve got to work enough that I can justify knocking off a tad early tomorrow for D&D–there’s a certain murder himbo my cleric is planning to hire as a meat shield, and I’ve been looking forward to that for a solid month now. I’ve got to get the paladin a date, and our ranger has a rendezvous with a dude who looks a little like Aidan Turner, so it’s going to be a really awesome session that will probably end in murder when we bust up an owlbear-fighting ring on an offshore rig.

…look, this is what happens when you have writers in your group. We start arguing over owlbear relocation projects and end up searching for himbos and catfish to seduce with a side of murder.

Or maybe that’s just D&D in general. In any case, I’d better get underway. The book isn’t going to write itself, more’s the pity. Although it’s nice to be needed to transmit said book, and fun to have a brain that serves up film critique and whiskey while I’m safe in bed.

It almost–almost–gives one hope.

Rested Monday

I’ve surfaced blinking into Monday, wondering what the hell happened. I actually slept last night, I have caffeine standing ready as I type, and the birds are going mad in the back yard. The smoke is gone, and weather-heads are using words like “fire-season-ending rain” for later in the week.

It can’t happen soon enough according to yours truly. I’ve missed falling water with a passion, as I do every summer, but the smoke just put a capper on the longing. Also, the dogs were exhausted from being on high alert for basically an entire week, nervously waiting for the fire they could smell to engulf us, so they barely moved all night too.

Consequently I’m starting Monday rather late but feeling somewhat rested, which is not at all a usual thing lately. And an idea for a new romantic suspense (Romancing the Stone meets Treasure of the Sierra Madre) crawled inside my head and doubled this weekend, too, though I didn’t write any of it–just dropped a sentence or two into a throwaway Scrivener file and let it go. If it wants its time at centre stage, it’s going to have to wait until the paid projects grind through.

I did spend some time with Seeker, Slinger, though. It was nice to poke at something solely for home consumption.

My email tells me a box of author copies will arrive today. I’m just not sure which book. Normally this would mean putting together a giveaway, but lockdown being what it is the less time I spend in public places (like the post office) the better. I do have some audiobook codes; maybe that will do for a giveaway. Or maybe I might skip this month.

Six months into a pandemic we could be dealing with effectively if there were non-fascist adults running the federal government, I am beginning to run out of both hope and energy. I’m told this is unavoidable, a sign of adjusting to a new normal. It makes sense, I just still don’t like it.

So today is for serious wordcount on The Bloody Throne and a new chapter in HOOD, which has just entered its final phase of its final season. Maid Marian, Little John, and Friar Tuck are off in a spaceship to find King Richard and bring him home, while those left planetoid are fending off Prince John’s advances, and poor Guy of Gisbourne is stuck in the middle. I do love a good villain redemption, as long-time readers will know.

I’ve been watching quite a few Donnie Yen movies lately. It’s extraordinarily healing to watch that man land a punch or two. Every time he kicks the shit out of someone on-screen, my heart gets glued a fraction or two back together.

Small pleasures, yes. But they’re mine, and on a Monday I shall cherish them. I wish you likewise joys, my friends.

Today, Comic Relief

There was some clearing last night, and I was ecstatic at the prospect of maybe, just maybe, being able to run this morning. Alas, I woke up to more dense smoke and the air quality advisory extends until noon. Pretty sure we’ll get to noon and said advisory will shift to “lol u thought we were done? nope.”

I have coffee, so my mood will almost certainly improve… but not soon. At least the caffeine will make me a little less cranky. And tomorrow there’s rain in the forecast, which will be a boon and a blessing–if it actually happens, of course, meteorology being what it is. Weather is a highly complex system, and the tiniest invisible thing can throw a forecast wide of the mark.

I’m pretty sure my role today is “comic relief”, and that’s best performed with an edge under one’s humor–well hidden, like a straight razor tucked in a pile of folded silk. The important thing is that edge must never, under any circumstances, punch down–you must always employ it at least laterally (at your own privilege) or ideally upwards (at those more privileged).

The dogs are unhappy with only a block’s worth of walkies each day instead of a proper ramble. I start coughing as soon as I step outside–another reason why I’ll probably climb onto the treadmill even though I’m absolutely aching to pound some pavement–and it can’t be good for their lungs either. But they don’t understand things like air quality, climate change, or elections. To them, I am the sole goddess of the world, and though my ways are strange they do not question, merely complain.

Loudly, in some cases.

In any case, I’ve drained my coffee cup, and yesterday’s work in The Bloody Throne was late but satisfying. I’m at the point where planned scenes can be thrown merrily out the window because the final shape of the book is now visible, and all that’s necessary is to fill in the blocks left over. The book isn’t quite ready to break free and gallop for the finish, but it’s only a matter of time.

I’m ready. I wish I was back at my pre-lockdown productivity rate, but I’m having difficulty switching between projects for the first time in my life. Something in my innards has broken, and I’m not quite sure how to keep us all fed (not to mention the lights on) if I can’t work at least at 75% of my norm. At least I can sit cross-legged while writing now, and that is making my back ever so much happier.

So today I walk the dogs, climb begrudgingly on the treadmill, and find some humor amid the pile of wreckage. The last bit will save me, I suspect; if I can laugh, I’m some version of all right. My sense of humor tends to be pretty mordant and bleak anyway; today, however, there’s going to have to be some slapstick amid the smoke.

We’re on the downhill slide, almost done with the week; soon we’ll stagger past Friday and be able to celebrate another small victory.

I can’t wait.

Smoke, Lens, Still

I had hoped for a break in the smoke today.

The weekend was… eerie. Saturday was dead silent outside, with no trace of birds, squirrels, rabbits, stray cats, or any of the other local fauna. The sky was a dirty yellow lens, sheer and featureless; there wasn’t even a bright spot to show where the sun was hanging.

Sunday there was some movement, and the fog slowly turned white over the course of the day. This morning it’s not as fuggy-close, but it’s getting all your minerals in one breath out there. We need rain; falling water shouldn’t be uncommon in September in the Pacific Northwest, but here we are.

Climate change is a helluva thing.

The strangest thing about the smoke is the unsettling quiet. No leaf blowers, no animals, very few people out walking, very little traffic. The combination of fog and smoke swallows all sound. It’s still close to a London pea-souper out there. I half expect to see Jack the Ripper leaning against a streetlamp post.

On the bright side (assuming there is one) I only worked a half day on Saturday and spent the rest of the weekend cleaning and stuffing new media into my head. I watched The Blue Angel and Fritz Lang’s M because I finished reading Siegfried Kracauer’s From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film. I also watched Goedam, a series of eight-minute Korean horror films, and the first episode of Arthdal Chronicles. And half a Humphrey Bogart movie just to round things out.

I suppose I’m adapting to apocalypse. But I hate that any of us have to.

If not for the treadmill, I probably would go mad. But at least I can run in the garage and my lungs don’t feel like dry Brillo pads afterward. Small mercies.

I’m eyeing my Monday warily. As long as we can agree not to hurt each other, we’ll get through the start of the week fine. I have some combat scenes I want to write, especially since we’re getting into the part of The Bloody Throne where the barbarians arrive and all three warring countries are in the field. Big sweeping epic battles are some of my favorite things to construct, next to individual combat and scenes full of fashion snappy multilayered dialogue. (I’m also fond of angst and forehead kisses, but then, we knew that about me and I contain multitudes.) And plenty of characters who deserve it (as well as one or two who don’t) aren’t going to make it out of this story alive.

If you imagine me as a raccoon rubbing its paws together and giggling, you’re pretty close to how I look this morning. Smoke be damned, there’s a story to write, and I suppose I’d best get to it.

See you around.