Experiment Continues Apace

Was banging my head against Riversinger and Minnowsharp last night. I know I’m close to the end, I can feel it, but the scene just wasn’t cooperating and I couldn’t scrap it entirely. I threatened, grumbled, stared at the screen, paced my office, tried a bit of the t’ai chi video I’m attempting to relearn the movements from. (Long story, another blog post.)

Nothing doing. Absolutely nothing fucking doing, and Introvert Me is drained from all sorts of socializing in the past few days. So I finally threw up my hands, decided I was the worst writer in the world, and went to bed early. I watched an episode and a half of a Chinese costume drama, read some of Gosden’s History of Magic (Genji is irritating me, so it was time for a break), and turned off the light while gnashing my teeth.

And then, this morning, while Boxnoggin was attempting to wedge his nose more firmly into my armpit and my sunrise clock was just beginning to glow, the missing piece of the damn puzzle sashayed into my head. Either a passing spirit took pity on me, the Muse had enough fun and decided to stop fucking around, or my subconscious could finally get through the static. Can’t guess which, don’t care, just glad I’ve got the goddamn scene now.

The only thing remaining is to write it. After breakfast and walkies and running my corpse, during which I’ll turn the whole thing over and over inside my head, planning and looking for weak spots. I did think I’d get at least one zero draft done this week, but it doesn’t look likely. And the weekend will be spent with copyedits which do rather need to be addressed even with everything else going on.

*sigh* It’s always something.

The Attempting To Be Kind To Myself experiment continues apace. Part of that is not agonizing over using the block button. As Cory Booker so memorably put it, you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. And I don’t have to put up with annoying randos, especially the “I didn’t bother to read the article you linked and I have an objection (covered by the article itself) that I DEMAND you answer” ones.

There’s all sorts of stuff happening–publicity requests for the Spring’s Arcana release, household purge-cleaning to do, this business thing and that business thing, nervously anticipating tax season…honestly I don’t even have time to walk into the sea, though the thought of disappearing into a bog and only returning to town every six months with a new manuscript to send in sounds marvelously enticing.

I’ll feel better once this zero is done, and once these goddamn copyedits are off my plate. It’s hard when one feels nobody else in the room even likes the series one has spent so long polishing, let alone is excited about it. Ideally the books would have at least one other advocate; unfortunately that seems impossible under current conditions. I have to believe in the bloody story thrice as hard to make up for it–which is a masterclass in being kind to myself, I guess.

I would have liked some more time on easy mode, but the universe has a vastly inflated idea of my capabilities. Fortunately stubbornness–and a little spite–might be able to compensate.

After all, I’ve come this far. Believing in myself just a wee bit might not be a bad thing, and is perhaps even warranted.

We’ll see.

Modes, Bright Spots, and Dog Rituals

I am a rapidly thinning rope stretched between stress nausea, other health problems, and the determination to keep going. I joke a lot about stubborn endurance being my only real talent, but good gods it’s painful. Being in publishing is like wielding Pullman’s “subtle knife”–it always cuts the writer, and thought some people can make the wound better (looking at you, Beta Reader Who Just Gave Me The Strength To Go On, you know who you are) it never heals completely. The industry is set up to be tremendously exploitative of the people who are actually doing the damn work, whether it be writers (keep ’em below the poverty level!) or editorial assistants (unsung heroes working for peanuts) or or or.

Then you add in ebook thieves atop it, and…well. It’s enough to make one despair.

If I don’t look at my inbox I can actually get a day’s work done, but that just means borrowing trouble. I suppose things will get a little easier if I can manage to finish a zero draft, either of Rook’s Rose (which will bring Hell’s Acre to an end and make the problems there revision instead of creation, always assuming I’m going to publish the duology) or of Riversinger and Minnowsharp, but the latter series is on life support and I’m fighting so hard just to keep it breathing I don’t know what I’m gonna do going into Book 3.

The strain of the past few years is rather beginning to tell, I think. Shifting from crisis mode into attempting-to-heal, or even just a mode mitigating the damage, is tremendously difficult. I’m also watching the whole AI chatbot thing go down, which is big fun all the way ’round. I’ve taken to joking that I should label my work as “100% human extract, 0% AI content”, which is HILARIOUS but doesn’t solve any underlying problems.

Ah well. I have to laugh, otherwise I’ll start screaming.

At least there’s always Boxnoggin. One of his favorite games is burrowing under the covers in the morning; he’s a terrier mix, and those positively love wriggling into dark spaces. (It’s the rat-hunting they were bred for.) But, since he is a dog of Ritual and Habit, this has to take a very specific form. I must first wriggle under the covers, being completely covered and “invisible” to him–since he has very little object permanence–before crooning, “Wheeeere’s Boxnoggin’s-real-name? Where is he?” at specific volume and cadence.

I must also leave an aperture large enough for his snoot to discover, both because he cannot–despite trying with all his might and main–solve a puzzle if it’s too difficult and because otherwise I will be suffocated by his enthusiastic efforts to do so against all odds, for if the puzzle is too complex the dog will apply his entire being, soul and body entire, to brute-forcing it. So I have to make the hole just large enough, and help him while he flails desperately to get into the Hoomin Sheet-Cave.

Once he arrives there is a positive explosion of joy, licking my nose and everything else he can reach, before he curls into a tight ball, waiting for me to arrange the covers just so. Then, with only the tip of his cold wet nose exposed to the outside air, he promptly hits his canine snooze button and is out for as long as I can stand being still. Afterwards he is amazed–AMAZED, I tell you–when I finally struggle out of the wreckage, because he has forgotten the rest of the world exists. And I start the day laughing, because dogs, man.

We don’t deserve them.

I suppose I’d best finish the coffee and get something solid in me; said canine doofus needs his ramble and I will explode if I don’t get a run in. Being trapped by the weather, lacking exercise endorphins, is not doing me any good at all. I have the next scenes needing to be written in both projects currently on the burners prepped, and half the weekend is going to be taken up with proofreader queries. I just knew there was going to be one more kink in the production hose for these particular works; when one sets out to write about divinities of any stripe, one invites such things.

There are bright spots, even in the current mess. It’s hard to focus on them, yet I keep trying.

Endurance has to be good for something.

Guarding the Doors

Snow is still lingering in patches, but I’m betting the pavements will be much clearer. We had bands of snow and sun yesterday, the weather unable to decide what it wanted and my sinuses throbbing like a particularly dedicated marimba band. Boxnoggin will be very happy for a longer ramble; yesterday’s had to be cut short because of his tender paws, albeit not nearly as short as previous ones where we barely got halfway down the hill. And forget running outside, despite my hopes! It was the treadmill or nothing.

The yard is still a shambles. That’s a problem for another day. Week. Month. Whatever.

I’m slowly getting my fire back under me. It’s difficult, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. If I can just get one particular problem sorted, my productivity will skyrocket. Unfortunately that problem is one that has developed over multiple years and I’m going to have to wait a wee bit longer to get it done up–assuming anyone will listen to me, the person actually doing the work, about what’s necessary to fix it.

I’m not sanguine about that. I suppose part of my hesitation could be a persecution complex, but is it really a complex when the entire industry’s set up to be exploitative? I dunno. I’m bracing myself to be ignored or derided once more, which is hardly the most productive mindset for problem-solving. I recognize this, yet there’s only so much battering even the sunniest optimism can take before it goes underground and leaves cynicism, not to mention apathy, to guard the doors.

On a (much) brighter note, I was pleasantly surprised at a throwaway name in Hell’s Acre turning into a really satisfying (to me) character homage. (Look, I love Jason Statham, all right?) And Sevring the valet has become a quite crucial minor character, which I never expected but is quite useful as I’m tying things up and getting ready to write the climax. I still don’t know who’s going to win the combat scene I’m currently constructing, so I’ll probably be blocking it out mentally while Boxnoggin prances. I mean, I have plans no matter who wins, but I really would like the valet to catch a break…even though he’s far from decent, being the Main Antagonist’s henchman. If he ends up dead it’ll be tragic.

I suppose I’ll have to write it and see, but that can’t happen until the dog is walked and certain other chores are Taken Care Of. Already this morning I’ve done the last few pronunciations for an audiobook, started some email threads, finished others, and dear gods I need more coffee, I’m just not caffeinated enough for this.

At least there’s beer mugs used as weapons and a bit of close-in knife combat. My only regret is that the setting precludes me adding motor oil to this particular scene. Ah well, we can’t have everything, especially on a Tuesday.

Time to get to work.

Multiple Marathons

I meant to get a solid night’s sleep, but come 2am my brain simply decided no, did you forget who you’re locked in here with? So there was a lot of staring, a whole lot of thinking, and not very much rest. Consequently I’m more tired than when I lay down, though I forced myself to stay still in the darkness, allowing the body some simulacrum of quietude.

At least it’s daylight now, and the weird wiggins that hit around three in the morning have passed. Boxnoggin’s presence kept them to a minimum, though his habit of burble-breathing into my armpit leaves a little to be desired. I don’t know why he’s so determined–maybe it’s the terrier in him? Maybe he finds the smell comforting? I mean, I can’t imagine who would, but here we are.

There are crocuses in the yard, and snowdrops in the back corner. Unfortunately the fellow whose negligence took the fence down is dragging his feet about replacing it. Good fences make good neighbors, and all that; I suppose I’m finding out which type he is. It’s enough to make me sigh heavily, not to mention pinch the bridge of my nose. Which is what the kids refer to as a warning sign.

I have to think whether I want the next scene in Hell’s Acre to be one I’ve already written. I’ll have to rip it apart and restructure, of course, but I think the bones are there. And if I get that done today I might moonlight with a bit of experimental writing, since Fall of Waterstone has gone quiet. I’m sure it’s just readying for the final push, and that my current low-energy state is simply the result of blazing through the proofs for Salt-Black Tree. They went well–the copyeditor for that particular book was a marvel and I’d love to work with her again–but even good stress is still stress, as the saying goes.

The duology is done, save perhaps a few leftover proofreader queries. It was a massive, wrecking effort, now I’m enduring the snapback. Plus steadily mounting nerves until release day, but that part’s normal. Always fun.

At least there’s coffee. And I took some time off this weekend to watch Altered Carbon‘s first season. My writing partner was right, it suited me very well though I will not be reading the books. I also won’t be watching Season Two, since I think the first ended perfectly, but the noir body-hopping was precisely what I needed and I enjoyed it very much. It had the right ending, not the happy ending, and you know how I feel about that. It makes me want to Franken-bolt something similar to some Jupiter Ascending fanfic, since I love that movie desperately but it didn’t fulfill even a fraction of its potential.

I know the huge problem in my doldrums is feeling behind on Waterstone. There’s nothing for it but putting my head down and plodding through. This is the endurance part of the game, where a lot of washing out happens. I’ll feel better once the decompression sickness from finishing proofs abates, and especially once I get another zero draft dusted. There’s no shortage of work, but stoppages elsewhere in the book pipelines have left me feeling nervous, and it’s difficult to write when one’s physically ill besides. Art takes all types of energy, and when that force is being spent on questions of bare survival…well.

In any case, I have frameworks for both books on the burners now, a piece of fic to play hooky with, and walkies with Boxnoggin to clear my head and get everything inside me jolted into place. The movement will help, even if I’m dragging.

A book is a marathon, and I’m often running multiple ones at once. It would be nice to take an actual break, but heaven knows I’d get itchy-edgy and end up with another story falling out of my head. For better or worse, this is the rocket I’m bound to.

Time for some breakfast.

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.

Book, Resurrected

A little sideways this morning. It could be the weather, it could be an internal emotional reshuffling. Too soon to tell. I have to wait for the caffeine to soak in before I try anything requiring decision-making. I went from standing at the kitchen sink with my hoodie’s hood pulled all the way up, staring out the window while I licked espresso foam off the measuring spoon used to stir said quad-shot, to being in my office humming a Lana del Rey tune while I tried to plug in my mug and put my phone on the coaster next to my keyboard.

…it’s gonna be one of THOSE days, I can just tell.

It’s a dark morning, but that’s only to be expected the day before Yule. It’s very fitting, since I’m revising the first Black Land’s Bane again and it starts on the longest night of the year. I’m finally on the right track again, though it took weeks of being interrupted plus that whole jury duty fiasco and concomitant illness to get back. The book is resurrected. Not sure about the rest of the series, but that’s a Future Lili problem.

That bitch will curse her past self, but it can’t be helped.

The weather folks are saying snow will happen soonish, but I’m suspicious. The wind just doesn’t taste right; instead, I think we’ll get a day or two’s worth of sleet. Boxnoggin will absolutely love that, I’m sure. He’ll need lots of praise, and won’t want to amble as is his usual wont. He’ll be all business instead, looking to unload, huff at a few of his usual spots, then book it uphill. Running will be fun too, though I’ll have to keep careful watch on my footing. The new running shoes–it was about time, the old ones have definitely lost their cushion, as evinced by the back, knee, and foot pain–will help. They’re grippy little things.

*time passes*

I’ve started and deleted several paragraphs, which is generally a sign I should just bring this to a close, finish the last swallow of espresso, and get going since I won’t be able to wring any daily thoughts out of my brain-meat. Some days the blogging comes easily. Other days I’m unwilling to let the curtain part. Might as well save my energy for the revision, since I’ll have to insert at least one scene today. Getting an elf to explain their particular variety of horse-magic will be grand, and I can likewise poke a bit of sly fun at some ill-tempered louts, which is always a good time.

So I’ve my work cut out for me. Boxnoggin has not pranced down the hall to roust me for breakfast, but he can be forgiven for going back to bed. I wouldn’t mind doing that myself, but the story is burning in my fingertips once more. It’s a relief; I was terrified this story was irretrievably gone. But a little more caffeine, a little toast, some time spent outside in the cold darkness, and I’ll be ready to tango again.

And tomorrow is the solstice. I’m ready for the long night; I hope you are too.

Dreams, Frost, Defiance

Had one odd hypercolored dream about a were-hyena quasi-Tarzan in New York (I did like the WB series with Travis Fimmel; I am a simple woodland creature of simple woodland tastes) and a flat-out nightmare about being burned at the stake for attempting to warn people of an alien invasion. I’m sure there were others, but those were the ones which stuck once I made it through the shoals and onto the shore of waking.

Thick mist outside, thick frost on the grass. Not quite cold enough for ice on pavement or the deck, thank goodness, so I did not slip and crack my fool head like an egg while taking Boxnoggin out for the morning unload. Poor doggo, he lifted each paw very high indeed once we stepped into the yard, and gave me a very reproachful look. He’s dead certain I’m in control of the weather–along with everything else, from his food bowl to the state of his bowels–and thus I must have some reason for making him endure a few minutes’ worth of chill. He’s just damned if he can figure out what that reason is.

December wears on. Christmas lights are everywhere, which I actually quite like, but the tension in the air is unpleasant. There’s my own feelings about this time of year and then the general malaise, people worried over finances, worried they won’t be able to afford what their children want for the Big Day, worried about family get-togethers, under pressure to keep up with the Joneses or Cousin Al. All that swirls around, and plenty of children are fractious because the adults are tense.

I know there are people excited about the holidays, who love this time of year. I’m even friends with a few of them, and their joy gives me joy. Plus, my own children adore it, from the lights to the decorations to the feasts to the time off, and their happiness is also extremely pleasant. It’s one thing getting me through.

Revisions proceed apace, working against a deadly weight. A lot of the industry is built on trust, and there’s not much of that to go around at this point. If it wasn’t the Frankenmerger court case, it’s the numbers on what writers actually make, and if it’s not either of those it’s the attempts from several quarters to kill one’s books with pettifogging and bad-faith “takes”. Some days I wonder why I do this.

I mean, I’ll write for the rest of my life. I am unable to stop doing what I was meant and made for. But will I continue to publish? That, my friends, is the question.

It doesn’t take very much to keep me going. Just a few mild, modest successes here and there. They’ve been thin on the ground lately, though, and the stress of the “holiday” season isn’t helping. Getting back to building mileage instead of simply recuperative/recovery runs will help, and so will turning on my out-of-office autoreply. Sheer stubborn endurance will help even more. As usual, once I get past irritation into outright defiance I’ll be all right. There’s just a few wickets to pass through before that blessed state is reached.

At least I’m pretty sure no alien invasion is looming. The only pity about that quasi-nightmare is it lacking enough complexity to be mined for a book. There wasn’t even enough for a novella there, and it wasn’t surreal enough to warrant writing down imagery, like Beast of Wonder proved to be. Probably a blessing, since the last thing I need is another project burning a hole in my brain. I have to get someone else assassinated in Hell’s Acre today, and get at least to the point of inserting a whole new chapter in the revisions.

Before that, there’s more walkies with Boxnoggin, who is already prancing with the desire to get out of the house and will become recalcitrant halfway down the street, then settle to work after it’s clear we’re both stuck upon this course. If there are any Canadian geese down at the park he will probably read them for filth again; yesterday, he screamed so badly I was half afraid the flock would take offense or someone in a neighboring house would think I was doing something dreadful to the poor beast. But no, he was having the time of his life loudly insulting geese, of all things.

You’d think he’d have the good sense not to mess with Juno’s blessed watch-creatures, but “sense” is not a thing we can attribute to this canine. At least once he exhausts himself in that fashion he’s moderately well-behaved for the rest of the day. A tired dog is a well-behaved dog, and our rambles do tend to put a dent even in his energy.

I’d best get started. And seeing the pretty (Christmas) lights in the mist will be pleasant, even if faintly eerie.

Now there’s an image worthy of being put in a book…