Waffles and Huck

Steelflower in Snow

The Princess beat me at resurrecting this morning, so she made me coffee; also, a crow has decided that the gutter right over my office window is the premium perch for keeping an eye on the backyard. I’m most of the way through Holland’s The Allies Strike Back, too, though I’ll have to grab book one of the trilogy from the library next. I dislike reading history out of order, but there’s nothing to be done for it.

Yesterday was pure Monday, ameliorated only by the prospect of waffles for dinner1 and the fact that HOOD really isn’t a bad story. When I finished the zero of Season One, I was feeling kind of low and like I wouldn’t be able to pull the series off, but now I’m much more sanguine. There’s one more revise after this, but first I’ve got to get through the initial pass. Thankfully, layering in more details and adding things I didn’t know when I started writing is the sum of the edits; structurally, the book holds up rather well.

I’m also reading Huckleberry Finn with the Princess. I’ve halted at the point where the king and duke show up, mostly because that’s when the narrative takes a turn and I want all my faculties about me during the Nonesuch and Mary Jane bits. If I have a favorite novel, the honor must go to Jane Eyre, but Huck is definitely in the top five2. One of the best school papers I ever wrote was a monstrous (somewhere around twenty pages, single-spaced, typed on a balky old manual typewriter) examination of the Mississippi as a symbol. I’m sure the teachers were not at all prepared for what they got, but I’d found a list purporting to be the right way to write college essays and followed it to the letter. Not only did I approach every damn thing the list said, I threw in all the alternatives they had listed under the main paragraph idea breakdowns.

I was a real joy to teach, I’m sure. But I got an A on that fucking paper.

This particular critical edition has the raftsmen’s scene in it, and I can see why Twain (or his editor) excised it; I can also see why Twain would want it in. And of course the breathless racism is jarring. Every time I read the n-word it’s like a punch to the gut, and while I still admire the scene where Huck says, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,”3 it doesn’t work unless Huck absolutely believes that the right thing to do is to turn Jim in. Even the right decision is suspect and provisional in a racist culture, and it’s sobering to unpick the logical consequences and knock-on effects.

And to see how little has changed since Twain wrote in the aftermath of the Civil War. I don’t quite see Huck as an answer to the war, though. Twain was struggling with endemic issues much as Dickens did (though with much more humor, it must be said) but the lacunae are huge. It makes one wonder about one’s own blind spots, swimming in different (but directly descended) cultural waters.

Or at least, it should, and if it doesn’t you should make it.

I tend not to halt to allow fellow readers to catch up while book-clubbing. Instead, I swallow the book whole, and if my fellow clubbers fall behind I go back and read certain bits to keep my memory fresh. So we’ll see how it goes. The Princess has the same edition I do, and wants to read critically, so it’s much slower for her than for me. I have about twenty years’ worth of skill she doesn’t, but on the other hand, she sees things I don’t, so I’m really looking forward to her analysis.

For a little while, after finishing Poison Prince revisions, I crawled into a movie or TV show at the end of the day, just stuffing my head with visuals to get my brain to stop chewing at itself. Now I’m in the secondary phase of recovery, where I’m stuffing text in; I’m crawling to the couch with a book instead. The kids are somewhat downcast, because watching movies with Mum is apparently pretty hilarious, but they’ll bring their Switches out and play quietly while I read, and every once in a while someone will say something amusing and we’ll all laugh. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening.

I just have to get a full day’s work in before I can get there, which means I need to get out the damn door and run. Breakfast hasn’t quite settled but at least I’m pretty sure I won’t lose my coffee if I head out, and that’s the important thing.

Over and out, my dears.

Hot Ham Stamper

It’s supposed to be some ungodly-number-of-degrees Fahrenheit today, so I got out the door early for my run without taking either dog. They were vastly displeased by this, but the last thing I need is to carry home a heatstruck hound, or worse, two of them. It was already 70F when I hit the pavement, and the wind holds a promise of a day likely to give one a rash.

I hate the goddamn heat.

Anyway, I’ve been stuffing my head full of creative fuel for the past few days, after taking the weekend off to recover from The Poison Prince‘s revision into respectable first-draft form. I’m still not officially back at work, I’m only in the office for correspondence, but I’m probably going to poke at a story or two anyway.

My writing partner sent me this article about fake truffles earlier today, and it’s just so gonzo weird. Mushroom mafias! Fake olive oil! And, my personal favorite, counterfeit ham stamper.

I keep giggling and muttering “counterfeit ham stamper” to myself, because I’m twelve inside and if I don’t amuse myself, who will? It’s just so easy to reduce me to helpless giggles; I swear if I ever have a nemesis, that’s going to be weaponized for my downfall.

Anyway. Despite having a virtual crown of bees by the time I slowed down (they decided to peel off in search of a flowering bush or two when I shifted to a walk) I came home with no dead insects or branches in my hair. I am super grateful for that, even if just throwing the mess in a ponytail means more trouble when I attend to untangling later. There are a few grey hairs coming in, and they have a distinct waviness to them, which is all to the good. I’ve wanted curly grey hair forever, I think I’ll rock it with my eyes and heavy eyeliner. Good to know my body’s on track.

Stay cool out there, my ducklings, and hydrate like you mean it. I’ve got yet more cool things to stuff into my head so I can spin stories out of the detritus of the passage.

Over and out.

RELEASE DAY: Harmony

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Oh well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus ce change, and all that…

Going Gets Tough

I’ve been blogging for a long while now. There are dry periods, where I have nothing much to say except for the minutiae of daily life–how the book-sausage gets made, what the dogs have done now, how publishing is changing. Oh, and the weather. Of course the weather is a constant concern.

I partly blame reading military history; weather is always the third general upon the field, and one who can’t be ignored. Today the rain has washed away everything except a few sheltered snow holdouts. The streets are awash, the roof kissed over and over by falling drops. The dogs aren’t going to like our outing, at least not when the initial oh boy we’re outside WITH MUM wears off.

That takes about ninety seconds in a downpour. They must love me a lot.

This morning I woke up with Jack T. Colton from Romancing the Stone yelling “Oh, man, the Doobie Brothers broke up!” Which meant I had to go listen to What a Fool Believes and then onto a Twitter rant about how much I love that damn movie and how it’s probably responsible for my current career.1

Now you know who to blame, I guess? When the going gets tough

Copyedits continue apace. I spent some serious time yesterday looking into Ingram Spark and mass-market paperback trim sizes. If I get the whole PDF cover template thing done, the first experiment is Steelflower in mass-market size.

It’s a great time to be self-publishing, IF one knows what one’s doing. If one doesn’t, the options available might boggle one into inaction or worse, signing away one’s rights without proper compensation. Or one might think that because of a crying fit brought on by frustration (I fucking hate PDF cover templates, let me sing you a whole song about how I hate them) the entire thing isn’t worth doing, and toss it all out the door.

Yes, I was tempted yesterday. But today’s a whole new day, I’ve got my spark back and the heat set to the wick. Today is for more copyedits, and when I can’t do that anymore because my head will explode if I look at one more comma placement question, I might put together a soundtrack for HOOD and poke a bit more at cover templates.

But for right now, it’s raining and the dogs need a walk. See you around, chickadees.

Read ’em and weep. I always do.