Bespoke and Human-Made

This is one of the worst parts of recovery. After a huge project finishes, there’s a few days of the brain being like porridge, then there’s the mounting desire to get back to work while body and mind both rebel against the notion in the strongest possible terms. It takes three times as long as one thinks to get through this bit, and each time I hate, hate, HATE it.

The only cure is to get enough rest, but I want to be writing. And not just poking out 200-word days on fallow projects, weeding and arranging. I want to be back doing what I do, fa cry-eye, and the longer I’m barred from it the more antsy, nervous, dissatisfied, and short-tempered I become. Of course the case could be made that I’m wound too tightly as a matter of course and recovery phases are just a different flavor of the usual.

One might even win that argument, because I certainly wouldn’t disagree.

…I might have had other things to say this morning, but I ran across a news article about ChatGPT scraping Omegaverse fanfic without permission and good gods, what a time to be alive. The only thing that’s going to stop these gluttonous plagiarizers–because that’s all ChatGPT and its ilk are, giant plagiarizers using microprocessors to reach an economy of scale in theft–is consequences. While the legal challenges are getting underway they’re going to merrily keep stealing the work of people overwhelmingly below the poverty line, because they can. It’s the same as the giant grift that is bitcoin–finding a way to steal with techniques or technology that hasn’t been fully regulated yet and hoping like hell you’re one of the first grifters to get there, so you can grab cash, smash windows, and leave before regulators arrive.

If they were stealing from rich people it would already be tightly regulated. But all these folk who are trumpeting about how AI and “machine learning” are “game-changing” and “not plagiarism” are grifters looking to take what they can from already struggling writers and artists. It’s fucking hard enough to make a living with ebook thieves and trad publishing’s mounting exploitation, but now there’s this to deal with as well.

Why do I even do this, again? I mean, I’ll write all my life, but some days leaving publishing for good and finding some other way to pay the mortgage sounds incredibly appetizing. Although it is kind of funny to watch certain sectors of the world find out all about knotting.

On a brighter note, I spent part of yesterday answering some fanmail hanging fire in the ol’ inbox. I normally don’t get to answer very many missives due to volume, but whenever I’ve some time I try to get at least a short reply to as many as possible. Hearing that a book saved someone–even in the most ordinary of ways–is enough to keep me going for a while longer. And there are plenty of subscribers writing to me in excitement about the next serial (I’ll announce it officially in June), so that’s exceedingly pleasant.

I should find some way to slap a “100% bespoke human-made content, no AI” sticker on all my books. I know some writers are using those tools for various publishing tasks, but…I just can’t. Not until they’re regulated to a fare-thee-well, and probably not even then. I already have enough people stealing my work, I don’t need more. And I’m too…well, “control freak” might be a good way to put it, about my writing. So, no AI will have permission to touch my work–not now, and most probably not in the future. If there is any of my work in those plagiarism holes, you’ll know it’s been stolen.

In short, I just can’t even today. I’m only halfway through coffee but I’m gonna get started on the pre-walkies process early. Boxnoggin is enjoying the cooler weather and is eager to get out the door; at least that pleasure can’t be taken from us. If I can only please one creature on earth today it’ll most likely be the dog, since heaven knows even I am in a Mood and won’t even be able to please myself.

See you around.

Shit-Flingers Gonna Shit-Fling

I’m tired today. I made the mistake of remarking on being happy that people who read a certain YA series were writing their own books and fics now–and telling me about it–and for some reason that set off an avalanche of hatemail. Apparently I am not allowed to be happy that people found some value in my work.

This is absolutely exhausting. Especially when added to exploitative corporations, entitled ebook thieves, and so-called “reviewers” who hound me to produce more work so they can snitch-tag me about how much they despise it. Some days I bloody well wonder why I do this, any of this. I mean, I’ll never stop writing…but publishing?

That’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

I know I should focus on the positive, and many days I do. I’ve built a lot of guardrails and habits into my day to cut down on the chance of shit-flingers deciding I look like an easy target. But apparently remarking out loud that the stress of writing a certain series was worth it, that I’m happy for the people who found it worthwhile, is Too Much and I must be punished roundly for it. The funny thing is, most of this crop of shit-flingers seem upset over things I had literally no control over, publisher decisions I was not allowed to say “no” to. And if they’re not upset over that, they’re upset that a series with a teenage narrator has bad choices, questionable behavior, and messy growing-up themes; they claim to be furious that the main character wasn’t a little ball of sweetness, light, and perfection.

Of course, had she been, they’d be mad because “she’s privileged” or “she’s a Mary Sue.” And if she made good choices it wouldn’t be a series about growing up, not to mention it would’ve stunk of bullshit to such a degree no reasonable reader would want to come near it. And, for the record, if I hadn’t fought so hard and pushed back against other questionable publisher impulses so much, the entire thing would’ve been reduced to irredeemable pap these same people would despise as well.

There is no winning with people addicted to the emotional jolt of outrage. They will never be happy with anything; they will find reasons to be shitty, and to shit all over everyone else’s joy. If there isn’t something awful in a book they will contort their reading of the text, putting pretzels to shame, until they somehow make something awful, then blame the author and try to whip up a resultant internet mob. Bad-faith “interpretations” and flaming are their preferred source of oxygen, and you can recognize them handily by the fact that they literally never have a good thing to say. (Unless it’s about their own work, if they can take enough time away from their outrage manufacturing to actually finish a piece.) It’s all doom, gloom, and how-dare-you, no breaks and no time off for good behavior.

No book or series is perfect, of course. And the vast majority of reviewers, readers, editors, and netizens are good people. Unfortunately, bad apples poison everything in the barrel, and are just one more shitty, toxic reason to find some other career. The bad-faith actors are loud, and get a lot of attention. Sometimes, due to the law of averages, they even manage to point their ire at a fellow bad-faith actor.

I’m never quite sure how to feel about that.

Some days it’s tiring, especially when one’s inbox fills up with shit-flinging. I try to focus on the bulk of my usual mail, which is far more pleasant; I keep access to my life carefully gated. And I remind myself, over and over again, “I can block and set up filters, this is just a small part of the correspondence I receive. I can walk away. Nasty people have to sit in their indignation-filled nappies 24/7; I can be glad I’m not them.”

Theirs must be a terrible way to live, after all. I can pity it, while not letting the poison reach me. I know this is just a temporary tiredness, I’ll feel better soon, and the shit-flingers will find something else to toss their ordure at. It’s like the weather–rains on the just and the unjust alike, and all that.

But dear gods, sometimes it wears on one, especially when I’m apparently not even allowed to let a lot of very kind people know I’m overjoyed that they’re creating their own books and fics and art. I suppose I should have known better and braced myself for that particular flood, since any sign of joy is like blood in the water for that certain proportion of folks, but oh well.

The dog requires his walkies, and there’s work to do. I suppose I’d best quit complaining and get to it. I don’t write for the shit-flingers, and it’s best to remember that.

See you around.

Truly Reliable Unreliable Narrators

Just because you don’t personally understand a story’s narrator does not make them “unreliable”. Being an asshole does not make a narrator “unreliable”. And a narrator presenting as female in a way you don’t think is “valid” doesn’t make them “unreliable”.

It’s becoming fashionable to throw around the term “unreliable narrator”, to make lists of stories someone thinks has one, and those lists generally feature the same inaccurate cast of suspects. In House of Leaves Navidson is simply an asshole and “Johnny” a damaged mama’s boy, both confronted with a Lovecraftian geometric dilemma. Gone Girl is a good mystery with a psychopath at its core. Rebecca’s narrator is nameless and naive, not unreliable. Haruki Murakami’s protagonists function on the logic of dreams, not unreliability. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time has an autistic narrator, and conflating that with unreliability does both the book and neurodivergent people a grave disservice. Atonement’s narrator is not unreliable, she’s simply a nasty lying child caught in English class war. Joe Goldberg in You is simply a very charming serial killer, Ted Bundy with a higher IQ, some luck, and a bookstore. The Bell Jar’s narrator is entirely honest and reliable about her own breakdown. Lolita’s Humbert Humbert has a very fancy prose style, but he is not unreliable, he tells you flat-out what he is and how repulsive, and his cry “but I loved her!” deceives neither us nor him. The Secret History’s narrator is a grubby class-climbing gold-digger we are forced to find queasy sympathy with, not unreliable even if his “friends” lie to him.

And before you start to hiss that I’m just a jealous little hack, I’ll have you know I love every single one of those books. But their narrators are exceeding reliable indeed, even when the reader cannot or will not like them. And The Yellow Wallpaper’s narrator is not unreliable, she’s driven fucking mad by her awful husband and misogyny.

A story’s narrator is unreliable when they are lying both to themselves and to the reader. Very late in the story–usually on the very last page–the lie must be revealed unto the reader (though not necessarily the narrator), with the shock of a bomb exploding. This is mostly why “unreliable narrator” is such a hat-trick to pull off, and why so many stories attempting one fail, generally in “asshole” mode.

Sarah Waters pulled it off in The Little Stranger, Dan Simmons in Drood, and Shirley Jackson in We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Stephen King did it in my very favorite short story of his, Strawberry Spring, from the Night Shift anthology. This list is not exhaustive, since it comprises only the books Yours Truly has read with truly unreliable narrators, but it is also smaller because the trick is so difficult to perform. The craft necessary to make the reader complicit and then whisk away the curtain at the very last moment, to provoke that blinding earthquake moment of realization, is immense. And often books that could have had honestly unreliable narrators run up against the wall of editorial, “but readers are stupid, you must hold their hands, alter this story to make it more palatable!” Or bean-counters with, “this won’t sell, readers want pablum instead of difficult books with bombs at the end, change it or you’ll starve.”

I realize I am shouting into the wind, but my writing partner sent me a link to yet another list purporting to be of “books with unreliable narrators” and we both had a moment of “Jesu Christ, words mean things, people, just stop it”–or rather, I had that moment because she knows it is very easy to put the quarter in me, yank my arm, and get a lecture on this very subject.

I am exceeding reliable on that particular count.

Anyway, this will make no difference, nobody cares what I think about the matter and inaccurate listicles infect every corner of Beyoncé’s internet. But Hermes as my witness, my friends, a true unreliable narrator is a joy to read, an almost insurmountable trick to pull off, and while I will not precisely die on this hill I will reliably splutter about it at length to my writing partner.

And now, to you. Have fun.

Imperfect Strategy

A clear chilly Tuesday–not quite cold, but getting there–has dawned. I staggered into the kitchen to make coffee, a George Strait song playing inside my head, and decided I had to use Ronnie Milsap to clear things out. Milsap reliably works if I have a country-themed earworm, and has ever since I was a kid.

I don’t even know. I’m wired weird, but we all suspected as much.

Our state does mail-in ballots, and everyone in the house is of voting age and registered. We all went through the paper voter guide last week, went to our different rooms to fill in little boxes, and I took the sealed envelopes to the local ballot box since I don’t trust USPS with deJoy still in charge. (Why has that man not been booted out? Why?) There were pickup trucks parked nearby, and I watched each one carefully, ready to get the fuck out of there if right-wing goons appeared.

It was a sobering experience.

Now we wait–always my very favorite thing! I hate not being able to do anything while danger creeps nearer. I have little to zero hope, of course. Every time I’ve dared to hope over the past six-seven years, I get kicked right in the teeth. I’m done with that.

So, today will be spent trying to keep myself occupied with work. The new cover for Spring’s Arcana, the page proofs–seventy-five of them knocked off yesterday, only 293 to go–and wordcount for the NaNo novel, correspondence, other things to keep my fingers busy and my heart from hurting. It’s an imperfect strategy, since my heart will ache no matter what I find to keep myself busy with, and working will be like swimming against a riptide. Still, I’ve got to try.

The alternative is even grimmer.

Be gentle with yourselves today, my dears. We’re all reeling after years of historical-grade shocks. The wonder is that we’re all still trying to work, sparking and hissing with static, desperately transmitting and receiving despite All This. I think we all deserve a cuppa and a pat on the back, not to mention a nap. And possibly a whole box of cookies.

Que sera, sera, and all that. At least we’ve got each other, and a few stories to tell around whatever small, wan fire we’re clustering for warmth. It’s my job to tell the tales, no matter what else is going on. And it’s also my job to walk Boxnoggin, who could not care less about human politics. He’s got other concerns, and would very much like me to do something about them.

Needs must, when the devil drives–or when the dog needs a ramble. Off I go, my beloveds.

See you around.

Downhill to the Last Nerve

I dislike corporations treating me as a dirty little impediment while profiting from my work almost as much as I dislike ebook thieves clogging my inbox with demands to “write faster”, and this week has been full to the gills with both, as well as various other fun things. Burning everything down and walking into the sea has rarely seemed so attractive, and the gods know I’ve been only a few short steps away from that strategy, especially since Afterwar was published.

I don’t mind hard work. I do mind being taken advantage of, and I definitely mind outright theft of said hard work. I mind cruelty, and pathological entitlement. And, though it may be entirely too sensitive of me, I also mind pettifogging bullshitters who have never written a novel attempting to tell me how to do so, or making silly demands which clearly show they haven’t bothered to actually read a text, just let their eyes sort of halfass skim over it while busily muttering to themselves about what they think it contains, or what they want it to contain so they can feel justified verbally shitting on me.

As you can guess, this week–which started out on a lovely holiday–has somewhat gone downhill. I’m on my absolute last nerve, and after three years of abandonment by public health authorities during a pandemic, several more years of rising, vile, violent fascism, and hitting deadlines all the way through as well as releasing extra books…well, perhaps it’s not entirely out of the question that a girl might snap under these conditions.

Worst of all is the sense that nobody (even among those paid to do so) is listening to my polite requests for aid. Screaming might get some help, but I refuse to be so undignified. And yes, I know we’re all worn down to the bone right now. I could understand if the response was, “hang on a second, let me get a hand free,” or even “I’m sorry, I don’t have the resources,” but instead it’s been “you’re always so strong, why would you need help now? Just shut up.”

One learns a lot under these conditions, not only about oneself but also about other people. The individuals (and businesses) treating me awfully right now are ones who will almost certainly attempt to extort something from me in the future, and will be shocked–shocked, I say–when I do not respond in the way they expect. “But you were always so nice!”

You were swimming in the sheltered waters of my patience then, not a lagoon of someone’s weakness. That is what’s called a critical distinction, and sooner or later will bite you on the ass. My trust thermocline is almost reached.

Time to finish the dregs of morning espresso, grab some toast, and get Boxnoggin walked. I suspect I’ll even be able to get a run in today, which will be welcome indeed. I’ve put off a few weighty decisions because I want make them under conditions of relative zen after I’ve pounded away a great deal of stress chemicals and irritation on pavement.

Happy Thursday, everyone. If you’re down to your Last Bloody, Vibrating, Frayed-to-Nothing Nerve too, I hope you take a little comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Franky, I’m surprised more of us haven’t gone absolutely bananas and cleaned some house. I’m actually rather comforted, in an odd way, by just how truly patient most humans are proving at this particular historical juncture.

I’d’ve expected us to snap (and bring out the guillotines) long before now. Can’t decide if I’m happy to be wrong, though…

Slog, Vicarious Grace

Hauling myself out of bed today feels like a mistake, but the revisions must be done. I’m tired of going through moderation queues, yet the alternative is missing the reasonable comments from perfectly nice people. Being overwhelmed by work is uncomfortable, but vastly preferable to having none at all.

In short, there’s just no winning today. At least the house is quiet and the coffee is good. Once the caffeine sinks in I’ll feel loads better, and once the rains start again I’ll be all right. Everyone gets tired; the trick is to keep breathing and swimming for shore even when the agony hits.

I suppose my current doldrums are also a function of enduring three years of pandemic with no end in sight, not to mention screaming myself hoarse about the rise of fascist dickwads and being ignored on both counts. I suppose I would have to be much more worried if I didn’t feel like the low end of the pool under these conditions, but knowing that intellectually and finding any comfort in the knowledge are two very separate things.

At least there’s always the stories. Cold North is chugging along, and once I get this revision done I’ll be able to work on the serial, revise the second Sons of Ymre, and get the second Black Land’s Bane book seriously underway. The last will be late, but I’ve hit every deadline through the pandemic so far and I think after three goddamn years of this bullshit–plus the fact that I literally couldn’t start the second book until the first had been revised at least once–grants me a bit of grace. I loathe being behind, I dread and positively hate missing any kind of deadline, and yet if I was hearing this from another writer in my position I’d be telling them to take a deep breath and try to focus on what’s been accomplished even through enduring historical events and Interesting Times.

It’s just all so exhausting, and I woke up this morning even more tired than when I’d gone to bed. I’m pretty sure it’s just a wave, that the feelings and exhaustion will pass over and through me. When it’s gone I’ll turn the inner eye to see its path, and all that.

It would help if I could run. I’m stuck on easy, very slow 2km stumble-staggers while the wounded ankle is slowly strengthened and brought back to full function. The lack of endorphins from a good bruising session of hauling my corpse along at what passes for high speed probably feeds into the sense of despair. At least the multiple-mile rambles with Boxnoggin help somewhat, even if they are only at hobbling pace. By the end of walkies he’s in a grand mood, and so tired he’s well-behaved for the rest of the day.

Silver linings, and all that. Tuesday is looking like an uphill slog all the way, my beloveds. If you’re feeling the same, try to remember we’re (still) enduring a great deal, there has been no respite, and it’s perfectly reasonable, not to mention sane, to be a bit tired amidst All This.

Just keep holding the line. Some days, that’s all we can aim for. I suppose I’d best get started; the coffee is cooling and a certain square-headed canine has just pranced down the hall, anticipating that soon I’ll make a move toward toast. At least he’s having a grand time, and I can feel a bit of vicarious joy.

It’ll have to be enough.

Twitching in the Right Direction

The algorithm did indeed find my Dracula, HO! reading session, and that led to exactly what I dreaded. Having to clean shitty, entitled comments out of a moderation queue is one of my least favorite things in the whole wide world, and it honestly makes me want to stop with the teas and readings. I just don’t have the time to deal with moderating a whole lot of selfish pisshats spreading their selfish pissy comments all over. I’m going to see if it calms down, and will be streaming Dracula, YO! on Friday. I mean, I’ve done all the prep so I might as well.

If the shitty entitled behavior keeps going I might nuke the entire YouTube affair except for the saucy narrations. Or I might completely shut comments off for the main channel. I don’t want to do either, but I guess some people are just determined to ruin everything for the rest of us. And after three years of pandemic I have neither the hours nor the patience to engage in such a battle; I’d rather escalate to solving the problem in definitive fashion right out the gate.

Of course, that’s always been a component of my personality, but it’s grown far more marked of late. I’m sure reaching my mid-forties is part of that, and the situation since 2016 (and after 2020 in particular) has just been icing on the top of that particular cake.

Anyhoo. Let’s talk about something nicer. I was pleasantly surprised by revisions yesterday, having arrived at the first truly knotty problem and finding, to my relief, that all the work I’d done so far meant the knot was seriously eased. I did not have to slice it in half as I’d feared; part of the solution was cutting a few extraneous days spent knocking about the elven city. I’m sure plenty of Readers would like to know the history of every stone set in the roadway, but my editor will throttle me if I give it and besides, I can always keep those bits and use them for supplementary material.

I also deliberately provoked Hell’s Acre until the solution for another problem showed up ready for combat, at which point I bowed graciously and ushered said solution right into the story at high speed. So sure, the book’s probably angry at me, but at least it’s moving. It can be as mad as it wants as long as it twitches in the right direction.

We’ve had three lovely misty mornings in a row. By the time Boxnoggin and I return home from walkies, his undercarriage is damp and my hair dewed with fog-beads. I adore this weather. He is a bit disgruntled–he doesn’t like moisture, but at least he’s not getting overheated either. As soon as one discomfort is overcome another arises, and if that’s not a description of life I don’t know what is. It’s damn near a kenning.

Oh! I should tell you: The kids and I went to the local pop-up Spirit Halloween yesterday. One of the storefronts vacated during the pandemic must be a good deal for them; we were hoping the migratory orange-and-black would return. The dream is to almost completely decorate the house in that fashion, since this is the only time of year the wider world shares my aesthetic. I scored a new tea mug and a couple hanging plaques to match last year’s Welcome to Derry, We All Float Here and Beetlejuice signs. So now Camp Crystal Lake is honored in the foyer as well; maybe next year I’ll get a Haddonfield sign and/or an Overlook Hotel one. I have a Room 237 keychain, which pleases me to no end and hangs on the cork board in my office. (Right next to a Normandy quote from Bayerlein; I contain multitudes.)

I had to be somewhat restrained from getting a six-and-a-half foot automated monkey with cymbals. I had thoughts of bringing him home, naming him Steve, and perhaps using him to deter those who try to use our driveway as a turnaround, but the kids pointed out it was a lot of money for something that might get run over. I mutinously mumbled that getting run over would only make Steve more authentic, but allowed myself to be overruled since they were undoubtedly right.

Adulthood is full of delayed gratification. Maybe next year I’ll be able to justify a similar purchase.

In any case, it’s time to get some brekkie and usher a certain square-headed canine out the door. Thursday is for the subscription drop and telling everyone about October’s sales, so that’s on the list today. Might even do another saucy narration tonight–how is this my life, that reading Victorian erotica aloud is the fun keeping me afloat? Things have grown truly strange around the Chez of late.

…well, that’s incorrect. It’s always been strange around here, I’m just leaning into it more now. Excelsior, and all that.

See you around.