Dungeon, Dragon, Lockdown

The wind is pouring through the Columbia Gorge; yesterday afternoon it bore smoke on its back, darkening the sky in the space of an hour and turning the sunset into a lake of blood. This morning most of the burning is gone, though I can still taste a tang or two as the wind shifts. It sounds like the sea, and the trees are flinging bits of themselves away with abandon.

It’s a nice day to be back at work, a nice day to walk the dogs, and a particularly nice day to write fanfic of our D&D campaign. I can’t do the last until I finish actual work, but I can long for it all I want.

Our weekly game was started during lockdown; our DM takes morale during uncertain times very seriously and, after a small starter campaign that almost broke us (it wasn’t designed for our play style, but we muddled through anyhow) we are now embarking on a homebrew. I haven’t played since high school, and am surprised by how much fun it is with adults.

We have the half-orc barbarian whose sartorial sense is only rivaled by his backhand and his cooking skill, a sylvan half-elf ranger obsessed with weapons and linguistics, a rogue with several past marriages and a gnoll toddler (both things unrelated to each other), an elvish vengeance paladin who keeps muttering oh my goddess, not again, and my own character–sort of my id let loose–a very young elf cleric whose last major act was biting some jerk’s nose off in a tavern.

We are a lot of fun, if you haven’t guessed. The entire session is a cacophony of laughter, in-jokes, moaning or cheering at dice rolls, lunatic roleplaying, and the DM throwing up her hands and sighing “Y’all need Jesus,” at least twice a session.

The first “Y’all need Jesus” is always celebrated with much glee.

Honestly, if I’d known it was this fun, I would have started doing this ages ago. But my initial experiences with the game were… well, it was a bunch of teenage boys who didn’t like a girl playing, so that was unpleasant. And I’m told we’re not the usual group–seducing the catfish is our preferred method, although when the murder starts we’re frighteningly good at it. The homebrew campaign is going to be a sort of mafia-wars thing in a Waterdeep-based city, and our first night in town we made a gigantic enemy who will probably kill us all.

And we regret nothing. Even the whole “steal from the banshee and almost die” affair.

Amusingly enough, with three paying projects on the burners and the alien romance tapping its foot and waiting impatiently, I’ve started doing quasi-writeups of our sessions as well–suitably altered for fiction, of course–because it’s hilarious, and it gives me a version of the fun feeling the game does. It will probably remain unfinished forever, or its finished version will eventually bear absolutely no relation to the game, but for the moment it’s therapeutic as fuck.

The biggest thing for me is a few hours each week where I don’t have to be myself, and further don’t have to perform emotional labor for everyone in range. There are consequences to actions in-game, of course, but very few outside, and that is utterly liberating. The feeling of pressure slipping away when Friday afternoon rolls around is luxurious. It’s been one thing keeping me sane through lockdown, and the story is just a bonus.

I suppose it wouldn’t work quite as well if DM, rogue, cleric, and ranger hadn’t been friends for almost a decade. The communication strategies evolved during long-term friendship have stood us in good stead, and there’s a deep comfort to doing outlandish things with people who understand your weirdness.

Not only that, but the DM created an NPC for my cleric that tickles all my narrative kinks. If that’s not saying I love you, I don’t know what is.

Happy Tuesday, my beloveds. I’m beginning to think I might get through, you know, all this. (Imagine me waving my hands wildly, indicating the entire world on fire.) At least I’ll go down laughing, if I must fall at all.

Over and out.

Portal, Book, Coping

I hit the wall last week. Bigtime. I’m still twitchy, but taking a few days completely off social media performed a wonder or two.

It didn’t catch me up with actual work, mind you. But it did mean I am three scenes from finishing a zero draft of a 100k portal fantasy. That’s right, Moon’s Knight is within spitting distance of being done. I don’t know why the Muse chose this particular story as therapy, but I don’t really care. It’s enough that the words are still coming, even if I am now terrified that I’ve thrown my publishing calendar off for the year.

Whatever. Between pandemic and fascist coup, I’m glad to be writing anything, frankly.

I suppose it’s like leaving the house with small children–one always triples the estimate of necessary time, one always has to carry a tonne of supplies, and one has to be ready to stop and go home at a moment’s notice.

The problem is, home is burning merrily. A fully involved, five-alarm fire, so I can only stand on the kerb with my aching hands and bits of stories, watching the light flicker.

Isn’t that a terrible mental image.

Anyway, my method of coping was to become utterly possessed with a book that will probably never be published, and to sink into it when I should have been working on other things. I did realize what was going on and gave myself until today to get it sorted, which means I’m only a few scenes from the end and can go back to regular work either this evening or tomorrow.

The dogs still need walking, I still need a run. We’ve had the hottest part of the year so far, and it’s been gross. Plus the Princess’s bike was stolen from her work this past weekend, which is just cherry on the cake. She doesn’t want me to do anything about it, wants to handle the situation herself. My mother-instincts went into Godzilla mode, but the Princess’s needs take precedence, so I’m biting my tongue and wringing my hands.

There’s a lot of that going around lately. But at least there’s one more book in the world–even if nobody else will ever read it–and I’ve proven to myself that I can indeed still finish a story. I needed the reminder badly indeed.

I suppose I’d best get started. Moon’s Knight isn’t fully finished yet, after all. Just three more scenes. It always takes longer than one thinks it will, but I have a small glimmer of hope and the rest of Monday.

It’s going to have to be enough.

Audio ROADTRIP, and FINDER!

Well, isn’t this a banner Tuesday?

I’m pleased and proud–as punch, as Lee would say–to announce that Roadtrip Z is now in audio! Narrated by the amazing Erin deWard, the adventures of Ginny, Lee, Juju, and the gang are now available in a silken voice, ready to slip into your ear-holes. Cotton Crossing and In the Ruins are both available now; Pocalypse Road and Atlanta Bound are forthcoming.

I don’t often go back to previous work, but last night I got down the omnibus. Paging through it, I just had to smile; Lee is just so Lee and Ginny is so damn Ginny, and Juju’s the absolute best. Of course I couldn’t tell a zombie story without a dog and a road trip, either.

I do have some free audiobook codes, and if I can scrape together the energy newsletter subscribers and other patrons will get a chance to win a few.

But that’s not all the news I have for you today, my beloveds. Oh, no indeed.


You guys have seen bits of Finder’s Watcher here and there; my subscribers have, of course, seen more. I am also pleased and proud to report that the latest Watchers book (my goodness, we’re up to six now) has a cover, and will release on August 21, 2020.

He’s not the only one watching her…

For years Jorie Camden has been quietly helping her police friends pursue cold cases, and she’s paid the price over and over again, her talent for Finding stretched to the limit. Now something different is stalking the streets, taking children—something old, and foul, and Dark. The cops won’t admit there’s a problem, so what can a Lightbringer do but solve the mystery on her own?

Caleb is a Watcher of Circle Lightfall, and his mission is simple: protect the witch he’s assigned to—the witch who just happens to be able to touch him without causing agonizing pain. It’s his one shot at redemption, and it’ll take every weapon he has, plus his willingness to play dirty. Even if his witch seems to be chasing something no one can see.

Yet something Dark is indeed in their city. And now that it’s aware of pursuit, it has plans for Jorie and her talent—plans not even Caleb might be able to stop…

The preorder links are coming up as I type this (Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Google, and Apple) and there will be a paperback release too. As soon as I have the links for the latter I’ll update the series page.

It’s been a long, difficult time getting this book to print; I couldn’t be happier that we’ve finally done it. Now, of course, I need to be thinking about the next one… but that’s for another day.


I woke up pretty down about the state of the world, but there are good things happening right now too. I have to keep telling stories or I’ll drown; hopefully, said stories will provide other people with a little relief.

And as usual, there’s dogs to walk and maybe a run to get in, though the latter might take a back seat to a nap. I don’t feel rested at all, and there’s miles yet to go today.

I suppose I’d best get started, then.

Portal Fantasy Weekend

Spent the weekend reorienting myself, by which I mean “taking two days off and writing nothing but portal fantasy.” Subscribers will be happy to know Moon’s Knight is coming along nicely, and I’m almost ready to throw the heroine out into the Underdark to make her way somewhere very special.

I’m a little taken aback by the response to what was intended to be a throwaway few chapters of a story that would probably never gather steam. I suppose now I should finish it, but it’ll take a while since it has to fit around three paying projects. All of which I’m either behind on, or deathly afraid of becoming so.

Pandemic and fascist coup tend to put a spike in one’s productivity, alas.

The urge to retract into my shell–or crawl into a hole and tug the hole closed behind me–is well-nigh overpowering. Shutting off the wireless and just writing, fueled by tea, seems the best option right now. Looking at the news is a fool’s game. I’ve lost all hope of being able to turn any fraction of the tide. A vast mass of Americans not only wants to worship death and kill itself choking on its own jackboots and phlegm, but also wants to take the rest of us into the abyss as well. Fighting that current is exhausting.

But it’s a Monday, and today I start the last half of the last season of HOOD. Then I shift to The Bloody Throne, where two women are accosted by an Emperor in a garden and nobody gets what they want out of the interaction. Last but not least, I’ve dinner to think of, and finishing the day by getting the protagonist in The Black God’s Heart out of her city and well on her road trip to the West.

And Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped. At least I’ve my health.

At least I have music. Today is for Anonymous 4 and Alan Parsons Project. I don’t know why the Muse wants them in alternating order, but I’ve long since learned to just give the bitch what she’s yelling for and let it go. We work better together when I just feed her what she demands. I’m hoping she’ll let me listen to some Willie Nelson soon, I have an urge to put Red Headed Stranger on repeat once the church songs and synthesizers have scratched whatever is itching on the Muse’s back.

The dogs are eager for their walk. After Boxnoggin’s recent shenanigans he has not only his harness but two collars and a leash; the new, hopefully escape-proof harness arrives soon. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled. And there’s a run to get in today.

If you’ve lost the ability to deal with *gestures at the world* all this, you’re not alone. I’m taking refuge in work, as I often do; I wish I had some advice that held even a glimmer of making any of this better. Alas, I’ve got nuttin’. All I can do is write, and gods grant it’s enough.

And who knows? If I get all my work done today, I might steal a few minutes for the portal fantasy. Stolen time is the sweetest and most productive, as we all well know.

Happy Monday, chickadees. Take care of yourself today. We need everyone, especially you, so do what you’ve gotta to re-wrap the insulation on your nerves. I don’t see this ending anytime soon–and with that cheerful thought, I’m going to finish my coffee and walk the beasts. Pretty soon Boxnoggin will be in a hamster ball for the daily promenades, just to keep him out of trouble.

And with that hilarious mental image, my beloveds, I am over and out.

A Little Grace

Rain.

RAIN!

I didn’t believe it when the weather app said “chance of rain” yesterday. I’ve been hurt by hope too many times. 2020 seems deliberately attempting to murder any ability I once had to feel hope, let alone allow it to soothe me.

I woke up between 3 and 4am, smelling something odd and smoky. Still don’t know what it was, but the dogs were mildly perturbed. It felt like something very large and very inimical was passing overhead, but I was too exhausted to care much so I patted the furry beasts and went back to sleep with them both pressing against me.

And I woke up to rain. Tapping the roof, slithering through leaves, sinking into the ground–not just a brief cloudburst but the best kind of summer rain, relatively warm and coming down enough to reach through the tree canopy to let thirsty earth drink deep. The break from terrible enervating heat (yes, I know it wouldn’t qualify as real heat nearer the equator, but it does here) is ever so welcome.

I was getting seriously close to packing it in. The heat, the fascist coup, the unrelenting bad news, the lack of consequences for any of the shitheels letting sickness rage through the vulnerable–all of it is still piling on, pressing down, punching repeatedly.

But there’s rain.

The cedars are bathing and drinking like ducks. The apple trees are dripping. The firs are stretching, turgor pressure returning, roots and mycelium delighting in freshness. The petrichor is overwhelming; my nose is full of green.

Even my soul–oh, that useless, painful baggage I can’t do without–is expanding again.

Of course the dogs will be underimpressed by having to wade through, especially Boxnoggin. “THIS IS NOT LIKE TEXAS,” he will complain, high-stepping to keep his precious paws from getting too damp. It’s a losing battle, but he still tries. Just like Miss B, attempting to herd the unherdable because it’s in her nature.

I’d say more–maybe a few pithy observations about how dogs must dog and writers must write–but it’s still raining, and I want to get out before it stops. I want to be kissed by the clouds, I want to run through puddles, I long to arrive home miserably wet and peel out of my sweat- and sky-dripping clothes.

It’s a small joy, but it’s mine. And just when I was beginning to sink under the burden, something beautiful saves me. Ridiculous how many times that happens, right as the hammer descends onto the final bell.

I hope something saves you today too, dearest Reader. Even if you don’t need it, even if you can’t see where it might come from, even if you’re not at the very end of your strength, we all deserve a little grace. It looks like we’re gonna need it, but that’s a problem for tomorrow.

For today, there’s the rain.

Pineapple Thoughts

I am a pineapple, floating gently on blue waves.

…Perhaps I should back up a bit.

I was reaching the end of my ability to bear up a few days ago, I think, under the pressure of oh, let’s see, everything going on now. Then Ammon Bundy came out in support of BLM (but not the Bureau of Land Management, he’s still mad at them, I’m sure) and all the absurdity just… floored me.

It was a helluva news cycle. That wasn’t even the biggest item on the WTFJHT docket that day.

One cannot provoke or schedule the moment any absolutely baffling mess (like, say, yours truly putting together Ikea furniture, or surviving a pandemic in a failed state) suddenly reaches the point of “laugh or scream and die, pick one path, AND I SUGGEST LAUGHTER.”

So I started to laugh, and I felt that curious internal sense of pressure bleeding away. I was absolutely stick a fork in me, M-O-O-N spells done. The kids were a little concerned, the dogs were snout-down in their food bowls and so, unconcerned, and I was laughing like a hyena who had just discovered a pile of juicy carrion in just the right stage of decomposition.

I took a few days off after that, and now I’m having more luck with work. I was getting afraid that even my capacity to absorb bad news had been knocked out of whack by *gestures* all this.

But now I am a pineapple, floating upon the deep blue sea. It makes just as much sense as anything or everything else.

The Princess appears to have hit her own moment of absurdity too. “Mine doesn’t happen all at once like yours, Mum. I just sort of wake up one day and I’m done.” The Prince just shrugs; he processes in other ways.

It’s not quite exhaustion, though there’s a component of pure fatigue. I suppose it’s just that I’ve been stripped down to bare metal, there’s nothing left to come off, so why not laugh? This is, incidentally, the moment people become truly dangerous, because every last fuck is gone and we might as well.

I sat down today meaning to talk about hope, but I suppose I’m past even that. There’s not a lot left but shaking my head at the sheer outrageous absurdity of it all. We don’t even get a proper villain, just this painted-orange shitgibbon and a crop of petty criminals stuffing what will soon be useless paper in their pockets while an entire nation burns.

Yet the dogs still have to be walked. The squirrels still have to be yelled at. The kids still need me, and if I don’t write, we don’t eat. Of course we might not eat even if I’m working my ass off, the way things are going, but it’s either write or go mad, along with scream or laugh fit to die, so I’m choosing the former of the former and the latter of the latter.

So I’m testing a new plugin today, to bring a little art to the semi-daily posts, and one of the images was a pineapple floating along. It just… struck me.

I thought, hey, why the hell not? It’s pineapple, after all. It’s the fruit that digests you back. It’s a spike-covered monstrosity going for a swim, in utter defiance of its own impossibility. Fuck you, it says. I’m a fuckin’ pineapple, and you can’t change that. You’re gonna lose if you try.

I don’t know about your coping mechanisms, dear Reader, but I hope they’ve arrived and are doing their work. I hope they’re serving you well; mine have arrived at the last ditch and are putting up a valiant effort. In the absence of hope, I will take the giggles and chuckles; after all, they are the traditional best weapon against demons.

Evil cannot stand honest laughter, and tries to crush and stamp it out. The ability to find something funny–or, barring that, to simply laugh as you’re going over the edge because nothing remains but the irreducible called a soul and you realize that cannot be taken away, ever, no matter what they do–is kryptonite to these banal villains. So until further notice, I’m laughing.

If it sounds like a howl, or a screech, or the dying scream of an enraged goddess who will now return from the dry land of death to fuck your shit right up, well, now you know one of the deep secrets of witchery. Cry if you must, laugh if you can, scream in the darkness. Sooner or later you find out nothing in that darkness can match the juggernaut you’re capable of being, and the knowledge leaves a mark.

Maybe I’ve found a new superpower. It’s possible. Or, you know, it could just be that I’m a pineapple.

Floating on the warm blue waves.

Either, at this point, is just fine with me.

Boxnoggin, Travis, and the Venerable, Concluded

At least the fence is still standing. That’s something, I suppose.

I promised you the conclusion to the tale of Boxnoggin, Travis, and the Venerable yesterday, didn’t I. When we left our fair heroine (that would be me) she was attempting to teleport to said fence, though she had used up her one teleportation ticket for the day on attempting to grab her fool dog before he could launch himself for a spinning squirrel. Said fool dog had just shaken off the daze-effects of hitting the fence and was hauling himself, somewhat drunkenly but at a high rate of speed, after a spitting, cursing squirrel who sounded like a shaven-headed New Yawk cabbie.

So. One dizzy squirrel, making directly across the yard for the Venerable. One just as dizzy dog hard upon his heels. And then there was yours truly, my darlings, who had not only hit her hip on the table (gaining a quite magnificent bruise) but managed to get around the Venerable, which meant…

…which meant, O my beloveds, that I was in Travis’s way.

I skidded to a stop, almost turning my ankle on a fallen fir cone. At least this once I was wearing shoes–a small mercy indeed, because I was in the path of a cussing squirrel and a dog-sized tornado.

This was, to put it mildly, not an optimal position. But I compensated for it by digging my heels in and clapping my hands over my ears. I have no idea why I did the last, unless the combination of Travis’s torrent of obscenities and my own–what’s that?

Oh yes, my dearest Reader. I was producing a fair amount of blue words on my own account. Travis has nothing on me when I get going; when provoked, I am capable of language that not only would make a sailor blush but would also drop my sainted grandmother into her grave twice over if that redoubtable lady was not already occupying hallowed ground. And my grandfather would be at once pleased and mildly chagrined, suspecting that I inherited the propensity for breathtaking obscenity from him. (He might even be right.)

ANYWAY. This is the conclusion, so I’d best be swift. Or swift-ish.

You know how, especially in sports or action movies, everything slows down–even the dialogue, which produces a weird distorted rumble–as disaster approaches? I stood a very real chance of being flattened not only by fleeing squirrel but by my own dear, dopey, absolutely determined dog. It occurred to me, in one of those crystal-clear thoughts that go through one’s head during a disaster, that a squirrel looking for high ground might mistake me for a sapling and attempt to scale the redoubt, so to speak.

And Travis… well.

Travis bulleted past, and I am telling the bare honest truth: his tail brushed my throbbing, almost-turned ankle because he was still zigzagging somewhat.

I stopped cussing to scream like a cartoon elephant upon discovering a mouse on the floor.

Boxnoggin, on the other hand, was not so lucky. He clipped me hard on the shin as he went past, and I almost went down. Perhaps it was Physics’s final blessing that I deflected him a fraction from his course, or he might well have gained himself a squirrel snack.

But Travis had reached the Venerable, which seemed singularly unmoved by events. (It’s very phlegmatic, even for a tree.) I mean, the Venerable had witnessed the approaching disaster, been hit by the YANKEE SQUIRREL FLIPPER DEATHRIDE 5000, and furthermore–being firmly rooted–could do absolutely nothing to dodge any further trouble, hijinks, or shenanigans.

That poor tree. Odd Trundles used to headbutt it all the time, too. I keep thinking I’ll wake up one morning to find out it has, with a supreme effort, moved a foot or so in any direction to try to avoid one of those long-ago disasters.

Anyway, I am… pleased? Is that that word? I suppose it must do. I am pleased to report Travis reached his goal and climbed up the Venerable like a pole dancer determined to gain a championship trophy in the district finals. I am somewhat less pleased (again, I suppose that will have to be the word) to report that poor Boxnoggin forgot himself for a moment and tried to go up the trunk right after him, fell back on his ass, and let out a “yipe!” that shook me to my core.

Don’t worry, he’s fine. Only his pride (such as it is) was lightly damaged.

I expected Travis to hang safely out of leaping distance and treat us both to a torrent of abuse, but apparently he had suddenly remembered he had other places to be, for he went up the trunk without stopping and vanished in the Venerable’s canopy. And that, my dears, is pretty much the end–I won’t trouble you with a catalog of bruises or bumps suffered by the human involved in this small tale.

Except it’s Friday, which means there must be a Friday photo. And there is one more small thing to report.

Normally Boxnoggin is not a dog much troubled by memory. (He occasionally forgets how to go up stairs and must be patiently re-taught.) But that afternoon made a deep impression upon him, so much so that when he’s let out now, he attends to whatever pressing business, bladder or bowel, that needs doing and heads unerringly for a spot just to the south of the Venerable, where he throws himself down and stares…

…he stares, as I said, longingly at the back fence, and makes a throaty little sound. It’s the same sound he makes when he wishes to pursue a cat, rabbit, or any other small creature. And if you listen closely, you can hear what he’s saying.

Come back,” he moans. “Come back and play with me, forever and ever and ever…

And every once in a while, just to be sure, he cranes his neck to the left, examines the Venerable, and makes certain to check the hanging bird feeder.

Just in case.


The End


until some-damn-thing-else happens, of course.