Shock of Recognition

It’s been an odd week. Of course, the last couple years have been odd, with spikes of weirdness piercing individual months. Endurance is the name of the game, and mine is faltering more than a little lately.

I hit somewhat of a nadir, so I pulled out the big guns. I actually–gasp!–asked for help, and while I was waiting for the request to wend its way through the labyrinth of electrons every email must traverse, I pulled out the big guns.

That’s right, I returned to Nabokov.

Dear ol’ Vlad’s gotten me through a lot. This time I blazed through Lolita and my personal favorite, Invitation to a Beheading, and now I’m deep in the garden of my second favorite, Ada, and the words have worked their magic. I have been nourished, and I think I’m recovering. But I want to talk about something smaller today.

In 1956 Nabokov wrote an afterword to Lolita.1

And when I thus think of Lolita, I seem to always pick out for special delectation such images as Mr. Taxovich, or that class list of Ramsdale school, or Charlotte saying “waterproof,” or Lolita in slow motion advancing toward Humbert’s gifts, or the pictures decorating the stylized garret of Gaston Godin, or the Kasbeam barber (who cost me a month of work)…These are the nerves of the novel. These are the secret points, the subliminal co-ordinates by means of which the book is plotted…

Vladimir Nabokov, “On a Book Entitled Lolita

I often talk about the “hidden hooks”, the secret places where a book’s tapestry is fastened to something solid in order to make it hang right. I hadn’t realized, though I’d read that afterword at least ten times, that Nabokov was talking about the same thing, though in his own inimitable style. Of course, a Perfessor of Reel True Litrachur will no doubt sniff that my work bears as much relation to Mr Sirin’s as a spavined nag to a gleaming unicorn, but that doesn’t concern me.

I gave what might be termed a violent start of recognition. (As ol’ Vlad might have said, a reader “leapt up, ruffling their hair.”)

One of the things giving me much trouble lately is a certain revision. I had to throw out some2 demands masked as suggestions, and once I did the work stopped resisting, dropping into high gear. My writing partner and agent deserve most of the credit, but a significant part must go to long-dead Vladimir Vladimirovich, who for all his genius struggled much as the rest of us do with writing a goddamn book.

There’s been a certain amount of Twitter Discourse lately on the perception that writing is just typing.3 The invisible parts of the process are difficult, time-consuming, and brutal in several different ways–and that doesn’t even cover the various pitfalls of actual publication, mind you.

Yet there are rewards, not least of which is reading someone else’s book for the fiftieth (or fifty-first, or thousandth) time and finding not only the solace and sustenance one needs but also hidden encouragement from one word-drunk wright to another. Of course he didn’t mean it thus, of course dear Sirin is long gone and probably wouldn’t have been interested in anything I penned.4

The connection remains. The recognition, the spark, the joy of finding a few words in a tongue one can decipher amid a mass of hieroglyphs, still endures. I desperately needed that reminder this week.

I can see finishing these particular revisions now, which is a distinct relief. More than that, a bit of hope has been infused into my bones again, though I have tried to avoid it–2020 kicked me in the teeth every time I gained a little bit of Pandora’s last gift, and 2021 shouted “hold my beer” in that regard.

The cockroach of hope, like my silly stubborn grasp on life itself, just won’t go away. After all, there’s work to be done, and I can’t give up as long as I have deadlines and obligations. The net above the abyss, slipping a bit lately, has caught on a nail.

So here I hang, listening to the whistling of the wind, weaving my own stories. The most I can hope for is that one day, someone else will catch upon a hook I drove into the fabric of my own work, and their slide for the edge is likewise arrested.

It’s a grimly beautiful thought, and I will hold it close for as long as I need to, today and tomorrow and afterward, until the end.

Prolific, No Choice

NaNoWriMo proceeds apace. I dumped out 6k on Ghost Squad #2 yesterday, but realized late in the evening that I have to go back and change a Rather Significant Plot Point in order to make the rest of the book hang as it needs to. That will be today’s work, I should think, plus some cleanup.

Reader mail comes in waves. I’ve been getting a lot of the “How are you so prolific?” questions lately. Which is odd, because I’m working at about half productivity right now due to ongoing pandemic stress, and I hate it. But I did take a look at things, and realized Working For the Devil–not my first published book, just my first trad-published book–came out in 2005.

That was a minute ago, wasn’t it. My stars.

So I’ve been around for a few years, which isn’t so rare. (Writers, as Tess Gerritsen once memorably pointed out, tend to die with their boots on.) But there’s also the fact that I do little else.

I started in this game back when submitting one’s manuscripts by email was just beginning to be standard practice. It was also the Wild Wild West era of Ellora’s Cave, and we all remember how that was.

…sorry, I just had of of those old lady “those were the days” moments.

Anyway, I had two toddlers and another dependent to feed, as well as the cats, and I had the dubious benefit of a spouse who simply wouldn’t get a job they felt beneath them. (Spoiler: This eventually turned into “wouldn’t get any job at all.”) Writing stories, which I’d always done, could occur at home while I raised and homeschooled two very young kids. I could fit paragraphs between the constant disasters of young childhood and the relentless backbreaking work of trying to keep the house fit for human habitation despite the best efforts of cats, human-toddler chaos emitters, and said spouse, who not only wouldn’t get a job but seemed bizarrely determined to undercut any success I could find, too.

Which was odd, because by then I was the one paying the bills, so said spouse’s behavior seemed counterproductive at best. Anyway, I wrote anything possible for anyone who would pay me, and sometimes I even think of those days fondly.

I learned, as they say, a lot.

Fast-forward a couple years, I was beginning to get some real traction and the divorce was well underway. Which eased some pressure–instead of three dependents, the cats, and a constant battle cleaning up after and putting up with said spouse, I only had three dependents and the cats to support with a notoriously fickle career in a highly competitive industry, where returns on investment dribble in over months at best and years at worst.

If I’d had the time to think about it, I might’ve considered giving up.

The kids went into public school, and eventually my dependent count dropped to two. The cats stayed about the same, but a dog came along. Things eased up to the point where I could, with a lot of luck, get us moved into the current chez. But it was never certain. I had to produce at a frenetic pace just to keep the lights on, the new mortgage paid, and some milk in the fridge.

Now, I had (and still have) a great many advantages. I’ve been writing stories all my life so I had some practice, and I managed to keep an internet connection all through the entire deal. The spouse, when they’d had a job, was fond of technological gadgets, so I had what passed for a reasonable laptop until I could generate some income and get better tech.

I still have that original Asus laptop in a file cabinet drawer. The thing gave signal service, and the duct tape shows it.

I got a lot of lucky breaks; because I was desperate I used every one of them. I read slush, I edited and charged per page, and I wrote cover copy on the side while learning the ropes of small-press and trad at high speed. I lucked into an agent–I was such a baby writer I didn’t even know she was offering me representation during our first phone call.

So I was incredibly privileged and fortunate, even if it was never a sure thing and the stress was mind-boggling. I managed to keep the lights on, but it meant I literally didn’t have time for anything else.

No telly. Very few cons or events–which truth be told I didn’t miss, between the hassle of getting childcare and the ever-present harassment. No real hobbies or leisure. Tried dating a couple times, but my workload (and, let’s be fair, probably my personality) put paid to that.

So I parented, I wrote, I made deadlines, I read history and research when I could, and I fell into bed after eighteen-hour days for a few fitful hours of tossing before I got up and did it all again, for years. Was it great practice? Yes. Did it keep us fed? Yes.

Would I do it again? I hope I never have to. I had what amounted to a breakdown during the divorce and went into therapy–cash pay, with a therapist who had a sliding scale, but part of my privilege lays in knowing things like that are even an option, so I was operating with a distinct advantage.

All of this is not an origin story. Women all over the world do far more with much less every day. This is just to explain that I’m prolific because I had (and still have) no choice. I don’t write, we don’t eat, and good gods but the dogs love eating. Not to mention the kids.

Things are way easier now. The kids are older and contributing to the household to keep us on more or less an even keel. I’ve achieved some small success in my chosen field, and all those years of sleepless, laser-focused intensity are paying off–though said payoff is invested right back into the career keeping us afloat, as has been the case for years.

I still don’t watch a lot of telly other people do, even with streaming. I still put in eighteen-hour days, just far less often. I do now have semi-hobbies–I knit and cook, for example, and hot-glue googly eyes to things–but the fact remains most of my time is spent writing. I haven’t really slowed down, though several outside stressors have either vanished or been mitigated. I’m highly productive because I have to be in order to feed us all, and because I literally don’t do anything else.

It’s not bad. I’m doing the thing I was meant and made for, so the work is often enjoyable. Lots of people have it worse. I’ve never really thought of stopping–for one thing, I’m not fit for human consumption most days, so an office or retail job would quickly founder under my atrophied ability to put up with entitled customer or middle-manager bullshit.

So, to answer the question, I’m prolific because I do little else but write and have for almost two decades now. In other words, “that’s my secret, Cap–I’m always working.”

I don’t intend to stop anytime soon. It’s a helluva career, but it’s mine and after all this time I’m peculiarly fond of it. I look forward to telling you many more stories. Maybe one day I’ll get some spare time…

…but don’t bet on it. I suspect I’ll die, as Gerritsen says, with my boots on.

So to speak.

Puzzled By Cruelty

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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.

Habit’s Wake

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I suppose one could describe my current state as “in a mood.” The business of publishing is fit to drive one to distraction, and a particular neighbor is running a pressure washer for hours at a time while the noise goes right across my nerves, dragging spikes and sandpaper.1

It could be that I need a win, however small. It could also be that I’ve hit the limit, so to speak, in many a way. Living with extreme empathy, while great for pouring myself into a character’s skin and figuring out their motivations, is a distinct drawback under current conditions. The number of people who seem to have precisely none while I got a quadruple measure is heartbreaking.

I seem to have reached the limit of even my quadruple measure, to be honest. It pains me to feel that perhaps the bigots who were screaming “fuck your feelings”, refusing to mask up and take the pandemic seriously, are in effect reaping what they have sown. If it weren’t for the collateral damage–the innocent caught in their plague-bearing fire–I might even think it a wee bit justified.

We could have been done with this by now. A few weeks of paying everyone to stay home, vaccinating, and masking afterward could have fixed it. But no, some greedy corporations had to have their serfs kept sick and terrified, and some racists just had to have their fix of propaganda-laden cruelty.

I need a rest in the worst way, but if I take one work piles up and all I do is circle the house aimlessly, wishing I was working so at least I could peek into another world since this one is proving so unsatisfactory. And publishing, festina lente as it is, with the ones at the bottom producing everything the entire edifice depends on–the writers, in case there was any doubt–treated as embarrassing afterthoughts to be abused instead of the jewel of the whole system, well. It’s enough to drive one to distraction.

There’s coffee to swill, and walking the dogs to be done. The minutiae of daily life goes on. Maybe a run will help me feel better. Copyedits have landed, and at least accomplishing those will push a book (and a series) another step towards the finish line. But oh, I’m so tired; I just rolled out of bed under protest and I am already exhausted.

If not for habit dragging me along in its wake, I might decide to simply crawl in a hole and close it up after me. The thought holds a definite attraction.

What’s getting you through the day today, my beloveds? I hope it’s something pleasant. In any case, any way of getting through the day is acceptable. The important thing is to reach the evening somewhat intact.

Suppose I’d best get started. See you around.

Refuge in the Work

I did not wish to leave bed today. I want to stay snuggled, wringing the last few drops of happiness from my solitary road trip this weekend. Alas, there’s work to be done–not only the daily work of living, but also Cold North is possessing me and I really do have to get some other stuff shoehorned in around the book filling my brain or I’ll fall behind.

And that cannot be borne. There’s a mortgage to pay, after all.

There is a silver lining, though. It’s been a long while since I finished a piece of writing and was so excited I had to send it to the Selkie1 with the urgent request to “OMG LOOK HOW PRETTY THIS IS TELL ME I’M PRETTY”. Yesterday, there was a scene involving elves, massive reindeer, a snowstorm, and Viking werewolves, and I knew while writing that I had something special.

It made me realize just how long it’s been since I’ve been deeply excited at work, enough to blurt out in all-caps to said writing partner. It was very nice when she replied with the requested squee and a bonus “this is my favorite part”–incidentally, a bit I knew was good as soon as it left my fingers. It’s like a well done iaido strike, you just know before your hand even twitches for the hilt that it’s already happened, and it’s beautiful.

Even with the solo road trip, all the socializing lately has cut deeply into my energy level. Getting some precious alone time means I realize how hard I’ve been running my engine in the red, and for how long.

Of course, I take refuge from everything in work. Heartbreak? I write. Irritation? I write. Depression? I write. Worry? I write. Everything gets poured into stories. It might not be the best coping mechanism, but it’s mine–and it even pays the bills most of the time.

Of course, publishing being what it is, I also have to spend a nontrivial amount of energy nagging to get things done, but I suppose that happens in any industry. I often find myself staring at my inbox muttering “All you have to do is your damn job,” and not even at publishers–at anyone, frankly. I’m sure I can be just as frustrating. Irritation seems to make the business world go ’round.

But I’ve the rest of today for dog-walkies, running, and getting some Viking werewolves into a pitched battle with some high-powered Nazgul, as well as getting that damn combat scene done. It’s not that the scene is unfinished inside my head or needs more marinating, it’s that my after-dinner working time has been eaten by recovery and social engagements. Due to the boom of video meetings during lockdown, I’ve been more social in the past two years than I ever have in my entire life, and I need to prune some of that back even if the caretaker in me screams “but people neeeeeeeed you!”

Yesterday the music queue served up a chunk of Pink Floyd, which was fine since it’s after the summer solstice. I absolutely cannot listen to the Floyd in the dark half of the year; it does bad things to me. Consequently The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon are inextricably linked to summer inside my head, and it was super pleasant to realize not only did I have enough light to listen, but I also had enough emotional bandwidth.

The big thing will be not re-injuring myself because I feel temporarily good. It doesn’t help that I have to keep producing or the entire house might sink into the sea. Writers tend to die with their boots on, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever be able to retire. On my good days I think that’s fine, because the stories are lined up around the block and there’s no way I’ll get to them all in my allotted span.

Of course, that could be my own particular attempt to bargain with mortality–you can’t take me, I have deadlines to meet and stories to write. Death won’t listen, but ’tis human to make the effort, so to speak.

And with that borderline-morbid thought, my friends, I bid you a civil adieu and get out the door for walkies. Both dogs are increasingly antsy, for they can tell I’ve finished my coffee and next comes the ritual Tying of the Shoes With Canine Assistance That Is, In Fact, No Assistance At All.

See you ’round.

Tuesday Tuckerizations

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They’re saying 95F today. I’ve already closed the house and turned the AC on. The ceiling fan in the stairwell is going too. Such as it is, we’ve got some remedy against the heat.

In plenty of the country, it wouldn’t be considered bad weather. But here, we are pale temperate mushrooms, and this dries us out. Even the moss in our crevices is cracking. (Hyperbole? Yes, but only a little.)

Of course it means I’ll be able to crouch in my darkened office and work today, since the holiday weekend is over. I managed double wordcount on Cold North yesterday, but only a pittance on Hell’s Acre. Which isn’t bad (just a reminder, you can read the first few chapters of the serial for free) and today I get to write a chapter where I Tuckerize some of my beloved subscribers. It will probably end in their eponymous characters’ gruesome deaths (Avery has a temper, and quite a bit of training in mayhem). I was kind of unprepared for how many people wanted to, erm, risk a violent end in the serial.

Sometimes the deaths are pretty neat–a certain character in Roadtrip Z got to be an end-of-movie hero, bit by a zombie and saving one last bullet in the chamber for himself. (Hullo, MM!) And since I’m writing a combat scene today I have a list of names to use now, and I think at least one is going to switch allegiances mid-fight.

In other news, I got a very nice letter from Reader B. L., who liked Steelflower very much and entreated me to continue the series. I do go back and look at The Highlands War from time to time. If I can open the file without stress nausea burning a hole in my gut I’ll put it on the writing docket.

Unfortunately, it remains one of my most-pirated series. The level of theft means I literally can’t afford to work on it, and the emotional cost is super high too.

But again, if I can get to the point where I can open the Highlands file without the stress nausea, I’ll consider it, because I really do need that arc finished. Originally it was to be a trilogy–the first book where everyone meets, the Skaialan book, and then Kaia and Darik’s return to G’maihallan–incidentally, that last book was to explain D’ri’s scar, and tie a bunch of other narrative threads pretty neatly.

Best-laid plans and all.

In any case, I’ve got to get the dogs walked and my own corpse through a run before the heat mounts to an unlivable degree, so I’m out the door as soon as the last bit of coffee is swilled. Happy Pride Month, everyone, and I hope your Tuesday goes smooth as silk.

If it doesn’t, we can get out the machetes and the RPGs, and teach it not to mess with us.

Over and out…

Good Morning, Vitamin C

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Apparently my body wanted something only to be found in potato-leek soup last night, because I had two bowls, went to bed afterward, and am feeling much better this morning. The quiet, shaky sense of returning strength–I hesitate to call it health–is entirely welcome. It’s akin to the relief after one finishes throwing up and slumps trembling near the cold porcelain of a commode, knowing illness will return in a short while but savoring the temporary relief.

So to speak. And you’re welcome for that mental image, I’m sure. Still, it’s the only one that comes close to expressing the feeling.

This morning the sun came through the deck door, making everything on the dining room table glow. The oranges looked good; I could almost taste the light and vitamin C in each one just by watching.

A bowl of soup, a pile of oranges in morning light–such are the simple things that end up saving us. Short-term relief or not, I’ll take it. Maybe if I sleep enough today the tremulous sense of survival will strengthen.

I wish you a sunny Friday and a peaceful weekend, my beloveds. Be gentle with yourselves; we’ve all been through a lot lately.

Over and out.