Away From the Edge

I woke up with two things this morning: Crystal Gayle singing in my head, and the deep need for caffeine. The latter is pretty much a constant; the former hasn’t happened in my memory. But here we are.

The air is heavy–there is supposed to be a great deal of rain today. The dogs are waiting for walkies, the Princess is baking challah (she just felt like it last night, I guess), Horace de Brassiere performed signal service in giving me sweet caffeine, and I have yet more proofs to get eyeballed today.

They should be very light–doing the first top-level scan yesterday returned encouraging signs. Still, it’s around 650 pages of “this is your last chance, look for errors.” Of course there are going to be typos left, there always are.

A book is a complex endeavour, after all.

I think I’ve crawled hand-over-hand out of a very deep hole. Now I’m lying on the rim, gasping and grateful, trying not to think about what might have happened. I could still be yanked in, of course–that sort of deep whistling absence creates a pull of its own. But for the moment I’m safe, and in a little while I might have the energy and wherewithal to roll away from the edge.

At the moment, I’m just glad I’m not hanging by teeth and toenails, hearing the hungry unsound below me.

Which is sort of why I’m retreating into myself so hard this October. I’ve cleared all “social” engagements and put a couple extensions and the like in my (recently changed) browser to block some aspects of social media. It’s time for solitary spoopy month.

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The funny thing is, I have that belt…

Oh, and before I forget, the ebook omnibus edition of everyone’s favorite hellbreed hunter is $2.99 across retailers for a short while–BN/Nook, Kobo, Amazon, and Apple.

I’m trying–spurred by friends and my beloved agent–to do a little more marketing lately. The social weight against anything that can be seen as “blowing one’s own horn” (so to speak) is immense, especially for women. But I gather it’s expected, and I really should do more of it…so, again, here we are.

Plus, there are often some really good deals. And I really like the omnibus cover, though Jill would snort and say the pants wouldn’t hold up to a fight with a Trader, let alone a ‘breed, and Saul would cough a little and grin.

Weres, man.

In any case, the dogs have had their post-awakening nap and are very into the idea of walkies now. I am being summoned, but they’re going to have to wait until I choke down some breakfast toast.

By the time I get back from walkies and the (short, but definite) run scheduled for today, there should be challah in the oven. Which isn’t bad at all for a Tuesday.

Time to slither a few inches away from the edge and get started on the day. See you around, my beloveds.

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.

Progress, Perfection, Rope

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I’m deep in copyedits for The Poison Prince. Normally I’d be almost done with them by now, but current world events are slowing me down. I’m a bit upset; I didn’t think everything was affecting me this much. I thought I was doing rather well keeping my balance, but it appears I was borrowing trouble.

I’m trying not to feel too bad about it–these are extraordinary, historical times, and there will be a few bumps on the road of rising to the occasion. Aiming for the person I want to be is sometimes difficult–like this morning, when I arose from my bed in a deeply cranky, stab-everything mood.

Coffee is helping. For a stimulant, it certainly soothes the inner rage-monster. I had decided this year was one for serious inner work anyway, it’s just my luck that I set myself that goal doing a fascist takeover and worldwide pandemic.

I never do things the easy way.

I’ve been watching some trash TV lately, and one of the things I’ve been thinking about is being a better person. Plenty of my stories revolve around people making choices under high-stress conditions–Jill Kismet springs to mind, natch.

In an episode I watched yesterday, a character made a comment about fighting an enemy with no honor, and being ready for that. Which led me down a series of interesting mental paths.

Just fighting isn’t the important thing, though there comes a time when one must absolutely make a stand. The older I get, the more I think the important bit is how one fights. Just because an enemy is ruthless, honorless, and fascistic doesn’t absolve one of the burden of behaving well, especially while fighting.

Part of the problem is that human beings can talk themselves into “end justifies the means” with such great ease. It’s a waterslide to hell instead of a primrose path. People know when they’re doing wrong–when they’re being bigoted douchewads, for example. The ones who behave badly simply don’t care. It’s easy to think that if you’re facing people who just don’t care you should borrow from their playbook. Fight fire with fire, right?

Except fire isn’t the best way to fight itself. Water, chemical foam, starving it of oxygen, removing fuel–we have options. We understand the nature of fire, and when we are honest with ourselves about the temptation to use it we’re all safer.

How we fight, especially how we fight fascist dickwads and malignant corporate douchebags, is the important thing. And further, that it’s incumbent upon each person to fight without becoming a dickwad douchebag oneself.

One of the hallmarks of Jill Kismet’s character is that she knows when she’s damned. She’s ruthlessly honest with herself about her motivations, her capabilities, her temptations. I was trying to express, in whatever fumbling fashion, that we all, deep down, know. We cannot be damned by some all-seeing Bronze Age sky fairy. The only one who can send you down the primrose waterslide is you.

The slope is steep and greasy, and hauling yourself back up is difficult. It is not, however, impossible, and it’s well worth the effort, the pain, the risk. (Dum spiro, spero, and all that.) I’m not talking atonement or redemption, though both concepts can overlap and feed into what I am actually talking about–which is the choice, moment to moment, to be a better person.

Even when you’re faced with those who don’t give a shit.

I believe there is deep, unavoidable, endless power in the work to become a better person. Even if we never get there, even if the climb is impossibly steep, it isn’t really the destination that matters. One never gets to the top and gets a prize, one never is finished and arrives at a state of static perfection. What we’re after is progress, is the effort itself.

I like the Equalizer movies with Denzel Washington, partly because of one crucial scene (nobody else might think it’s crucial, but it’s an invisible narrative “hook” that makes the whole story hang correctly) where Robert is coaching a fellow employee who wants to make security guard. “Progress, not perfection,” Washington says, and the way he calmly delivers the line has stuck with me since I watched it.

The point isn’t reaching some mythical state of flawlessness. The point is to keep trying, over and over again, hand over hand up the knotted, endless rope of life.

Even if, especially if the universe is set up so the douchebags win, it matters how we fight. I am reminded of Terry Pratchett’s Death explaining how children must be started out on the little lies–Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the like–so they can believe the big ones like justice and mercy. If there is no atom of justice or mercy in the cosmos, it is even more imperative we behave as if there is and hold ourselves to its standard.

Obedience out of simple fear is poisonous. Being a better person even when you know there’s no reward or punishment is a cure. There is nobody grading this exam, but that just makes it all the more important to take it the right way. I believe this with every fiber in me.

…I started out meaning to moan about copyedits, but I ended up explicating a core part of my personal philosophy. Maybe it’s the coffee.

What we do is important, but how we do it is even more important. There’s no one right way, but we know plenty of the wrong ways; sooner or later, we find inklings of our own individual right ways. Inside each of us is an abyss, thread-thin but infinitely deep. From it comes our worst impulses and also the means to turn them to our advantage, as well as the small, still, whistling voice that tells us how to avoid damnation.

May we all find the strength to listen, and to pull ourselves up the slope.

Soundtrack Monday: Perry, in Love

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Yesterday, the iTunes algorithm kept trying to force Pink Martini’s Amado Mio on me until I broke down and listened to it. Now, I love Pink Martini with the flame of a thousand suns… but so did Perry from the Kismet series.

The first bars of Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love send a chill up my spine, because I could reliably play it and Perry would lift his head in the Monde, smiling his bland, appreciative smile. It’s what’s playing inside his hellbreed head when he’s strapped into the metal frame and Jill’s at work with the knives.

I suppose it doesn’t help that in my head Perry looks a lot like a young Max Raabe, especially in the short story where he meets Jack Karma. Raabe in a tuxedo with his hair slicked back is exactly what Perry looks like when he’s wanting to impress, look harmless to, or seduce someone. Of course I know Mr Raabe is a nice fellow and Perry only chose that particular form to send s shiver through me…

…but it worked. It worked really well.

Enjoy the music, my friends. I know Hyperion-Pericles-Perry does.

Old, Protective Friend

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An old, old friend–the last time I regularly wore this particular ring, I was writing Jill. It was part of a set of armor–moonstone, bloodstone, amber, silver–I wore daily for years.

I still have all those rings, but I’ve shifted to mostly plain silver now–just as much armor, and won’t leave distinguishing marks if I have to punch someone. I mean, I never want to punch anyone… but if I have to, I won’t break my fingers because I need those bitches for typing, and I won’t leave an easily traced pattern in the contusions.

Anyway, I put this old friend on a spare hand-slot yesterday, needing a bit more in the way of defense. (It’s been a super rough week.) And I remembered just how good it felt to be protected.

I even nibbled on the stone a bit, as I was wont to do when in deep thought writing combat scenes many years ago. Time is a wheel, indeed.

Have a good weekend, chickadees. Whatever you need to protect yourself is valid and necessary, and I wish you peace and soothing.

Blank, Pointy-Tooth Screens

Cormorant Run

The weekend passed in a blur, between chores and getting wordcount in on Damage. The best thing about it was the rain moving in. It is now officially autumn, and I couldn’t be happier.

I always work best when the rains settle like an inverted grey bowl, tip-tapping the roof and window, hissing between leaves beginning to turn, plopping into puddles. Maybe it’s all the negative ions being thrown up, maybe it’s the ambient white noise, maybe it’s the petrichor, maybe it’s the cleaning of the air. Maybe it’s all of them.

I also watched Wes Craven’s Dracula 2000 and its two “sequels”, the latter only loosely related to the first movie but starring Jason Scott Lee. I don’t quite uncritically love them, I’m aware of how bad all three movies are. The first one played with some extremely interesting themes and the third had the right ending1 instead of an action-movie Gary Stu vomit-fest, so all in all, they’re not bad.

Vampires are a blank screen we use to project a number of anxieties onto. I know–I’m guilty as charged, between Selene2 and the scurf in the Kismet series.3 Both had their uses, and I might be ready to write Tarquin’s story. Or even Imprint, the Beguine vampire smexy-story I’ve been adding chunks to over literal years.

But first I’ve got to finish Damage and get the Season 2 zero of HOOD out of the way. Now that I’m in the productive half of the year, that might even happen in a hurry. And of course there’s running, running with dogs, walking with dogs, parenting, and making sure my meatsack doesn’t give out under the pressure.

It feels like juggling chainsaws, complete with the risk of lopping off a hand when one grabs the wrong way. Tiger by the tail, and all that.

I should also get the monthly newsletter out of the way. Incorruptible goes on sale later this month, too, so there’s housekeeping to do for that.

It’s a good thing the rainy season’s long in these parts. I’d probably never get anything finished otherwise. Time to finish absorbing my coffee and get with the program; it might be dangerous to stay in one place.

Over and out.

Soundtrack Monday: Boom Swagger

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Ever wonder what’s playing in my head when Jill Kismet walks into the Monde? It’s Boom Swagger Boom, by the Murder City Devils.

I’m pretty visual as writers go; I see the action in my head and can stop, freeze-frame, swing around (bullet time!) to examine different angles, the whole works. I actually wrote Hunter’s Prayer first, followed by Night Shift when my editor said “but how did Jill meet Saul?”, and the very first glimpse I had of our dear Kismet was her walking, hipshot and dangerous, into the Monde to serve justice–and, not so incidentally, to thumb her nose at Perry.

It was a long weekend, I’ve received quite a lot of bad news, and I’m not recovered yet, so that’s where I’ll leave you, dear Reader, listening to the boom and the swagger. Enjoy!