Recovery, Reading

I keep working weekends then being surprised at how tired I am during the week proper. I think the elastic has snapped, though; finishing the proofreader queries for Salt-Black Tree has finally managed to…well, not quite break me, but certainly give me a painful sting on the wrist, like popping a really big rubber band. I’m going to have a welt from this one, I can just tell.

The queries are the very last wicket before a book goes into production. Well, other than the poor managing editor collating the proofreaders’ and my marked-up proofs, wading through a thicket of finicky changes, stets, and occasionally (okay, well, frequently) comments from a long-suffering author who at this point hates the book as much as everyone else who’s had to read it fifteen times and try to stay alert for tiny changes each go-round. This is like being on the last mile of a marathon, with all applicable attendant discomfort.

All the energy reserved to keep a slot on my schedule open for further queries and go-rounds on the duology is about to be rerouted elsewhere, but first it has to settle. I wish there was an easy changeover strategy, but that much mass and momentum is difficult to halt, especially when it’s been going for years. (Years spent writing the books, years spent getting them through trad publishing, this game is never about instant gratification.)

So I’m sort of spark-spinning, waiting for the flywheel to decelerate enough for hooking up to some other project. It doesn’t help the the current stress is also provoking some health problems, but maybe those will ameliorate now that I’m getting a handle on the biggest quandary. All the waiting patiently for schedules to align is about to be over, so at least there’s that.

Anyway, the recovery process is difficult because I can’t simply shift to another project and write away the exhaustion. The artistic well needs filling; I’ve been running on low fuel and low oil for a long time now. So, I’m doing some catch-up reading, and also stuffing other things into my head. I took a spin through wonderful bonkers LJ Smith YAs, polished off the History of Underclothes, got to read an upcoming re-release of Dixon’s (and Macdonald’s) Knight’s Wyrd, took a run through Bukowski’s Post Office because I wanted a little modernity, and finished up a positive blaze of reading activity with E. E. Smith’s First Lensman, which was as utterly bananas as anything written in the sci-fi pulp 50s. Next up is an old paperback translation of The Tale of Genji, though I’d really like a Norton Critical edition, and Davies’s Europe: A History.

Of them all, I’ve probably enjoyed Knight’s Wyrd the most on a purely personal level, since it’s wonderfully structured and just the sort of medieval wonder-tale I dig. I will admit I was expecting it to be a simple sausage-fest, but by the time I got to the first ghost I was both disabused of that notion and all in. First Lensman was posolutely absotively banana-bonkers, and I’m sure that if my own work survives a comparable number of years someone will think the blind spots in it are just as jaw-dropping. Time moves ever on and on, like the Road, down from every door whence it begins.

All of this means I’m feeling ready to get back to work, but I know how this goes. I’ll have a couple good working days, then my body will take vengeance for me daring to re-enter the snakepit after only a token nap and hurried snack. If I took another day off to watch a Cdrama (look, Dylan Wang walking around in velvet robes is a vibe, and I am here for it) I’d possibly escape that part of the process, but I really do have to get some-damn-things done.

There are also birthdays and tax prep this month, both busy in different ways. I’ll be glad when the latter is finally off my plate and I can bloody breathe again. Of course something else will come along to stopper my lungs, I’m sure, and there’s two zero drafts (Rook’s Rose plus Riversinger and Minnowsharp) looking like they want to be finished at about the same time.

I’m sure that will be fun. And Boxnoggin needs his walkies, come hell or high water–but not snow or freezing rain. His tootsies are just too tender, thanks, and my own aren’t happy with that sort of thing either. Fortunately the Early Cherry down the street is making gestures like it wants to bloom, and that will mean spring is assured.

I suppose I’d best get to it as well. The road is difficult, but we’ve got a fighting chance.

Happy Tuesday, my beloveds.

Moving (Candy) Target

Staying in bed reading was the right choice yesterday, getting up and out the door the right one today. Each section of sunlight is a ding-dang moving target; I keep getting ambushed by “important” or “urgent” things that are, alas, not writing. This is, as one can imagine, deadly frustrating since it’s writing that pays the bills–however imperfectly, it must be admitted, but still.

In any case, it’s the day before candy goes on clearance, so I’m anticipating tomorrow with a vengeance. High fructose corn syrup and cheap chocolate? Amen and hallelujah, sign me up.

Several commuters’ cars had snow melting atop them as Boxnoggin and I walked by. Fortunately we haven’t frozen here, and later in the week looks chilly-damp but not icy. It’s not quite “go home, February, you’re drunk”, but it’s close. The cherry tree down the street hasn’t blossomed yet either. It’s usually very early, but perhaps the biome has changed with all the neighbors taking out their trees. If they keep up the deforestation our entire hillside might slide right into the river, but pointing that out to anyone is a losing battle.

Nobody will listen until too late, if at all. Story of my life.

In any case, the morning run went well and I have the next few scenes in my head. Of course I need to get the kidnapping attempt in a whole other book eyeballed, and maybe some wordcount on that too. Plus all the “urgent” things hanging fire in my inbox. The volcanic irritation is nobody’s fault, I just want to be left alone to write, for godsake.

The elvish city has fallen and the inhabitants are fleeing. I have an artifact of great power to dispose of in some fashion, and–like I said–a kidnap attempt in a whole ‘nother story to get arranged as well. I suppose being busy keeps me out of trouble and off the streets, but I’d’ve preferred another morning reading in bed.

Wouldn’t we all, I’m sure. I suppose I’d best get this iron box opened and the artifact inside it exposed to the open air for the first time in mortal centuries. I’m sure this will end well for everyone involved…

Soundtrack Monday: Sleep


Another week, another Soundtrack Monday.

I was flicking through playlists and thought I should really rebuild the one for Selene, so I did. (You can find it here.)

Selene and Nikolai’s story was written well before the Valentine books; it makes sense, since it’s set in the aftermath of the Awakening and the Republic of Gilead’s fall. I thought about writing some parts from Nik’s point of view, but it was not his story and he tends to try to take things over–I think it’s a function of his age, since he’s learned how to survive the way a Master Nichtvren usually does, with control, coercion, strength, and terror.

Our girl Lena, however, gives short shrift to that strategy, being on the receiving end of it more than once. Her difficulty with him is only partly because he’s so goddamn controlling, it’s also that he’s essentially an alien being, having survived so long. But there were one or two songs that gave me a window into him.

One of those is the Dandy Warhols’s Sleep, which I’d play on repeat while building a few scenes he featured in. He was particularly fond of layered voices, probably because that’s what it’s like inside his head all the time. He’s constantly weighing things for likely danger, gaming out scenarios, making plans to keep “his” people safe. While Selene, naturally, goes about things in a vastly different way.

It was good I wrote this story first. I suspect I would never have found my way into Japhrimel if I hadn’t, and I also suspect the reason why he and Nik get along so well is because they’re both essentially alien predators whose love languages–if you can use the term–are perilously controlling. I’m fascinated with the question of what would really happen psychologically in a functionally immortal being, especially one with enough power to arrange most of their immediate surroundings to their liking–and the ancillary question of what it would be like to actually be in a relationship with such a being.

Also the idea of tantraiiken was in the Valentine books from the start, though Danny was very clear she was not one. I was only mildly surprised when the House of Pain showed up in Dead Man Rising, because I knew Selene and Danny had things to say to each other. Oh, and if I ever write the Hell Wars books, we’ll see the two of them in action together…

…but that’s another story.

Eggs, Bitter, Wondrous

My dreams have been somewhat feverish of late, but not in a fun way–the kind that I can glean bits of stories and imagery from. Instead, it’s more like mental housecleaning, my brain packing things up tidily and storing them in color-coded bins. Most of the time the interior of my skull is more of a heap, or Barliman’s lumber-room, thing wanted often buried. It’s nice to know someone’s taking an interest in cleanliness; yet I can’t help thinking that Kondo-ing my head is a bad idea.

If only for the monsters which lie sleeping therein, and the risks of disturbing them.

At the same time, it’s been a long while since I’ve had a spate of nocturnal mental activity like this. I’m choosing to view it as some sort of healing (or pandemic trauma) or adjustment (to the state of STILL being in a fucking pandemic), or both. Porque no los dos, and all that. There’s probably a healthy serving of Twitter detox in there; I am now pretty much fully divorced from the site that took up a great deal of my time and social energy since 2009.

After the acute phase of detoxification, there’s a longer period of settling in and finding what one needs elsewhere. I’m glad I set up my Mastodon instance in ’17, and had enough time to get comfortable there; I’m also super glad I kept my Tumblr. The practice of never putting all one’s eggs in a single basket does bear fruit; unfortunately, the fruit tends to be a bit bitter since one never thinks about it until the pinch comes.

Speaking of a pinch coming, my friend Skyla has a post up detailing some more Amazon fuckery. Bezos’s princedom is not a friend to authors, in any way, shape, or form.

Now, a lot of readers ask, “does it help if I buy your books elsewhere,” and sometimes it does. But honestly, my beloveds, buy wherever you please and wherever is best for you, and if that happens to be Amazon that’s fine. Authors just prefer you to buy the books instead of stealing them (remember, kids, e-piracy is theft plain and simple) and we understand our readers have finite supplies of money and reading time. Buy wherever you gotta–and before you ask, libraries count! We love libraries, they pay a fair price for the books they lend and no author dislikes that.

It does help, however, if you also leave a rating or review wherever you buy. We’re all forced to deal with the algorithm these days, in one way or another. Living in the future is endlessly wondrous, and some bits of it suck.

Oh! Before I forget, I have another sale to highlight. If you like HOOD, the Complete Serial ebook is 25% off at Kobo, with the code “25JAN” entered at checkout, from January 19-30. The rest of the month’s sales can be found here.

I like highlighting monthly sales, though it’s a lot of work and I might take February off. What with two massive projects to finish and other chainsaws in the air, I might not have time. Ah well. There’s always April.

…I can’t believe I just typed that. We’re in 2023 already, fa cry-eye. I keep muttering that time has no meaning, but honestly, the amount of psychic (and other) trauma that has attacked our (always very subjective) sense of time passing is nontrivial. And I’m sure it’ll become worse before it gets better.

On that cheerful note, it’s time to embark upon Tuesday. The apocalypse is shambling to Bethlehem apace, but Boxnoggin still needs walkies and the stories must still be told. I am grateful (I suppose that’s the word?) for such things to focus on. It’s better than any number of alternatives I can think of, some swirling through my dreams at night.

Though never moving quite hard enough to trigger a story, alas. It’s not like I have any shortage, though.

See you around.

Soundtrack Monday: Take Me Out

It’s time for another Soundtrack Monday! Today the track is Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out, which I listened to obsessively while writing the casino shootout in Hunter, Healer.

Especially the part where the singer croons, “I know I won’t be leaving here…with you.”

I enjoyed writing those books, especially the callbacks to X-Men fanfic–which I started out writing very young, in spiral-bound 5-subject notebooks. One of the last real conversations I ever had with my beloved grandfather was about exactly how to put together a Molotov cocktail, and Delgado uses some of the things I was told that particular summer evening.

Everything goes into the work, my friends. Everything.

I sometimes get asked if I’ll revisit that particular piece of the universe that holds the Watchers series, then the Society series, then Selene and finally, the Danny Valentine books. (Yes, they’re all the same timeline.) I could go back to the Society books, true, but it would mean a couple character deaths I don’t really want to write, so it’s probably best to just leave it be. Del’s happy where he is, Rowan can use the time to heal, and while I know what happens I don’t have to prod either of them towards it.

Anyway, if that particular shootout is ever filmed, I’d want it to be set to this track. You can almost hear the point where Del decides to go nuclear on the whole deal. He’s not a very nice person, but he’s an effective combatant indeed. Play to your strengths, and all that…

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.

Adulting and Pruning

Yesterday was a flurry of adulting. Correspondence needed tackling, decisions had to be made, pruning to be done–and the firepit required tending, since limbs, branches, and twigs off the dead cedar which came down during 50+mph winds (fortunately not taking my office with it, falling just perfectly to avoid clipping the house or killing the back gate) had to be dealt with in some manner. The entire yard smelled of cedar incense and damp earth. It was wonderful, and I made quite a few decisions while staring into the flames. I also got a great deal of plot-noodling done while moving around, breaking up wooden bits, and watching the fire.

The kids were thrilled; they did most of the processing, snapping and sawing cedar into smaller chunks. Boxnoggin was extremely unsure about the whole thing, but enjoyed being part of the ruckus while outside. He also seemed more than happy to go back inside after a few token circuits of the yard and sniffing at the wind, though he usually wants to be where everyone else is with a vengeance. I think the smoke made him uneasy, poor fellow.

Bailey was a partner; Boxnoggin is definitely a subordinate. He’s most comfortable when I tell him exactly what to do. We were worried he might need a companion, since Bailey bossed him unremittingly and he thrived under that direction–we joked that she told him when to breathe, and how, and he liked the reminders. But he seems to have adjusted to only-dog status quite happily. The only trouble is that I prefer to ask instead of command, and he wants to be told in no uncertain terms. I suppose we’re both learning, even after four-plus years.

Things seem to be settling in certain areas. I left CounterSocial since I wasn’t quite comfortable there, and due to health concerns I’m also taking a hiatus from livestreaming. Don’t worry on the latter account, though–old streams will stay up on my YouTube channel, and if my health improves I might come back to some version of Reading with Lili. And of course I’m playing with the idea of videos for patrons. The trouble with streaming is that it takes energy away from writing, and that can’t happen. Both my sanity and the mortgage depend on the bulk of my energy going towards digging up stories.

In related news, I’ll be mostly on Mastodon and Tumblr going forward. I simply can’t handle the toxicity on Twitter anymore. It’s kind of awful–I was just beginning, after over a decade, to get some real traction on birdsite. But I can’t lend myself to its current incarnation, so…here we are. I am still squatting on my username so an impersonator can’t pick it up thirty days after deletion, but it’s become just a signpost pointing to other places.

So today is all about the subscription drop, writing a conversation in a cold dark garret for Hell’s Acre, and moving ahead on The Fall of Waterstone. If I can get to the Viking elementalist saving the princess’s intended from drowning in the latter I’ll call today well spent. There’s no shortage of work despite the pruning, which is the way I like it.

I always forget how free and oxygen-rich the world feels after a good purge, whether it be of household clutter, yard detritus, or subscriptions that don’t quite serve a need. I’m no Marie Kondo, but I do enjoy seeing a good mess turn into open space. A certain amount of crowding is necessary–I keep my desk slightly messy, since creativity (for me) seems to do best in that condition–but one must periodically practice a bit of ruthlessness in clearing the undergrowth.

Anyway, the only problem with yesterday was that we didn’t feel like using the s’mores supplies we had in stock, but if the weather’s clear on Saturday we might do another session to clear the last of the wrack. And that will call for celebratory marshmallow flambé.

It’s a new year, after all. The decks are being cleared, and there’s space to breathe. But before all that, breakfast has to be approached, and Boxnoggin wants his walkies. That’s one thing which will never change, world without end, amen.

See you around.