Puzzled By Cruelty

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.

Retrenchment

I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I should continue blogging. It’s not that I want to stop–I enjoy it, which is a good enough reason for continuing. And it’s not quite a journal or diary, because those are separate and private. I suppose it’s always been a way of shouting into the void, even during the ol’ LJ days.

Man. Livejournal. That takes me back.

Every once in a while I look to see if I want to keep doing it. I used to have more post ideas–there were Soundtrack Mondays and Friday Writing posts, for example. But then 2020 hit, and kept hitting.

And kept hitting, and kept hitting. And kicked for good measure.

I know everything changes. Still, I miss telling backyard stories. (There was a squirrel on the deck while we were having dinner just the other day, and the quick movement when all three of us involuntarily checked for footwear was hilarious.) Norbert the Gargoyle is in a new home–I never did tell you guys how that turned out–and the gnomes, from Emphysema Joe on down, are their usual cranky selves. We have a new crop of squirrels, though–the old ones have either changed their territories or moved on.

Brief is the life of a garden squirrel.

In short, there’s a lot going on, but getting it all down is the difficult part. There’s been so much else to talk about. Plague, war, fascist coup–all of it’s exhausting.

There’s no ringing conclusion or grand decision today. I’m just…looking at things. And I don’t think I want to make any hard and fast resolutions until there’s been at least a short period of calm. The news cycle hasn’t been pummeling me like it did last year, for which I am devoutly grateful, and yet the hole we were cast into is just so deep, getting out is an epic in and of itself.

Speaking of which, how am I writing two epics at once? There’s Hell’s Acre (which premieres in June) and Cold North, both massive undertakings. But then, I’m not really myself if I’m not juggling slightly1 more than I think I can manage. I’ve edits coming down the pike too–a final look at The Bloody Throne, revision on the second half of The Black God’s Heart, and today I hear from an editor about Sons of Ymre.

Publishing is such a delayed-gratification game. It’s unreal. By the time a book hits shelves, I’m already two years farther down the road. Also, Moon’s Knight is resting with a certain other editor now, and if they don’t take it, I’ll be looking for a cover. Because dammit, my beta readers deserve to see that book out in the wild, sooner or later.

The amount of work I managed to get done last year is somewhat shocking. I didn’t think I’d done anything at all. Looking back and realizing “no, Lili, you kept working frantically because the alternative was sinking in quicksand” is…well, not quite uncomfortable, but not pleasant either.

I suppose it’s a measure of hope that I keep going, both with the books and with blogging. I’ve always hoped that seeing the life of a working writer a little closer–though not intimately, I save that for other spaces–might help other writers feel a little less alone. This kind of career is both achingly lonely (when there’s nothing but you and the blank page) and shockingly crowded (when one deals with agent, editors, marketing, production staff, and all the other quality-control staff). The dichotomy can drive one mad.

I mean, if one isn’t already mad just contemplating this kind of work. It does tend to rattle one’s bolts.

Case in point: When I started this post, I was thinking solely about whether or not I wanted to continue blogging. I’ve ended up amazed at the amount of work I did last year under some harsh conditions, and am bracing myself for another glut of revisions to fall on my head.

So it goes, I guess. And through it all, the dogs need walking and I need caffeine–the withdrawal headaches are no fun at all. So I bid you a fond adieu, beloved Reader.

But only for a short while. I think I’ll keep blogging after all.

Over and out.

No More Anvil

blank

I lost Sunday to post-vaccine fatigue. I’m not entirely sure if the exhaustion was from my body being taught how to fight off the plague or the sheer relief of getting the first dose. I suppose it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Spending yesterday catching up on Sunday chores means I feel like today’s Monday. It isn’t, I swear I know it isn’t–but I keep checking, just in case. I probably need more coffee, too.

That’s a given.

Walkies were accomplished in a state of near quietude. There was nobody else out, which meant the dogs could take their time and Boxnoggin wasn’t disposed to yell at anything. He’s very certain any fellow pedestrian is suspect at best and openly threatening at worst, especially if they’re accompanied by their own canine duennas. Miss B, of course, just rolls her eyes and nips at him, but that sets him off further and I have to separate them like toddlers in the ball pit.

All the time I’m telling him, “This is why nobody will play with you, you’re bossy and mean. If you’d calm down I’d let you say hello–No? This is how you want it? FINE.”

Other walkers no doubt find this hilarious.

Today’s run, the first post-vaccine, went extremely well. So much of running is a mental game, I literally can’t tell if it’s just the relief making the activity easier or if the vaccine has genuinely wiped out some long-hauler’s syndrome. It doesn’t help that we were never able to get tested to see if we’d had the damn plague, but at least the entire question’s academic now. I managed a full run, though somewhat slower than usual. I’m going to blame the time off after finishing the diptych and the further recovery time after the jab.

Normally I do the Morning Walk Report on social media, but I felt like changing it up today. It’s just such a blessing not to carry the anvil anymore. And there were a few bees, bumbling into my hair and making themselves at home for a short while before staggering out, falling into the air, and zooming away upon their regular business.

I don’t even know, man. But it’s nice to be back. Today I work on Hell’s Acre, getting chapters ready for the June launch–there’ll be a cover reveal soon–and also a little on Cold North, since I want that in good shape before I make final decisions on my post-June writing schedule. Soon I’ll be getting revisions, proofs, and other stuff back, so I’ll be complaining about revising when what I really want to do is write.

But that’s (say it with me) another blog post. For now, there’s more caffeine to be had, and plunging into a fresh new world to accomplish.

I can’t wait.

The Diptych, Done

blank

I’m gonna need a few days to recover from the weekend. I spent said weekend in a fever of typing, and the zero draft of The Black God’s Heart Book 2 is now…done.

Whew.

It’s a difficult project, because it’s not really two books. It’s one monstrous book split into two parts, a diptych. I’m used to working in book-sized chunks, but I feel the way a fresco painter must have felt when finishing a giant cathedral piece. I mean, there will be revision, especially on Part II, but the main corpus is out of my head and lies, steaming gently, on a zinc table ready for slicing, arranging, padding, and painting.

To mix a metaphor.

So for the next few days I’m going to be all but useless. I did manage some Sunday chores yesterday, but the hoovering is going to have to bloody well wait. I’ll probably get it done tomorrow as an antidote to thinking; a big spate of physical cleaning is normal after I finish a zero draft.

The “real world”–the world outside my head–looks strangely flat this morning. It’s not being filtered through the story throbbing in my head. Black God’s Heart is hypersaturated, its palette either greens and bright gold light (in Nat’s POVs) or sepia with crimson highlights (very movie-300, in Dmitri’s). Now that the zero is gone, both of them have moved on and I’m left with just the regular world. Not only that, but the scents are gone too–which is kind of a blessing, given how some of the scenes played out.

Fortunately, the real world is always beautiful and vivid enough. It’s just a huge change to go from four or five-plus streams of sensory input (regular world, what’s under the regular world, and stories’ POVs) to the regular two (regular world and what lies under it). There’s a sort of ringing echo, a sense of empty space, like after Faure’s Requiem ends and the silence containing beauty is brimming with the memory.

Anyway, I’ve plans to recover from this, involving getting through the daily run and a whirlwind of cleaning. The recovery phase is always difficult. The persistent feeling that this was the last leftover gauntlet of 2020 to run–because I wrote most of this project last year–has been a millstone around my neck, and being suddenly free of that weight is a decompression sickness all its own.

Usually, the morning after a zero, I’m already aching to get to the next project. This is one of the few times I’m simply grateful for a chance to breathe before diving again. And with that, I’m going to finish my coffee and get the dogs walked.

They don’t care what I’ve finished or when; they only know that it’s morning, and that means walkies. Simple joys and rituals are their bailiwick, and I am pleased to have it so.

Over and out.

Frustration, Climbing Out

I’ve been rolling my eyes so hard this morning they threaten to pop right out of my head. The howling by authoritarian corporate dinosaurs attempting to return to exploitative pre-pandemic practices and meeting any faint resistance at all is bleakly amusing. I’m sure they’ll attempt to use the militarization of the corporate state to stamp out any resurgence of workers’ rights, but at the moment I’m savoring their baffled cries of “but we’re offering STARVATION WAGES, why won’t you let us abuse yooooou?”

There are a lot of frustrations in freelancing, and I am incredibly privileged and lucky to have the job I have. I know very well that I bucked the odds, but still, if the Princess hadn’t been working over the past year and a half, we’d probably be homeless. She didn’t want to quit, despite my fear of losing her to the plague.

I actively resent the government and corporate malfeasance, not to mention visible, public, sociopathic glee at the pain of the poor among that orange blivet and his coevals, putting us in this position. I’m also furious at the caving and caviling of Democrats to the Republicans who made all this inevitable. There’s half a million Americans plus dead, and the toll is only mounting despite the bare minimum of social safety net and help watered down at the insistence of rich Republicans.

It didn’t have to be this way. Everyone was warned. People screamed their heads off about this all the way through and were belittled, ignored, and mocked.

And the federal government has the temerity to charge me taxes for last year, too. It’s bloody maddening.

…I should stop looking at the news first thing in the morning. *sigh*

Yesterday was eaten up with (masked) errands and (video-only) social duties. Today I’m itching to get back to the second book of Black God’s Heart. The race to the finish of a zero won’t happen this week, but if I work through the weekend, possibly next? I’m possessed with the idea that this book is the last bit of 2020’s gauntlet to run through.

It’s an irrational conviction. I fully understand the irrationality. But I can’t shake it. I spent last year focusing on the next thing, then the next, then the next, going from handhold to handhold because if I slowed or looked down even for a fraction of a second, I’d be lost. Perhaps the recent physical collapse is a function of that.

You can only run the engine so hard, for so long, before things start to shake loose and ping around the compartment.

In any case, I’m up for more than twenty minutes at a time now, and despite still being exhausted I’m managing a fair amount of work. I write, I cook dinner, I go to bed. That’s it. The sum of my life now. The essentials, as it were.

I don’t have any ringing conclusion today. I barely have the wherewithal to get out the door to walk the dogs, who are somewhat impatiently waiting to prance sniffing around the block. The movement will do me good, and today will be spent with the book. Intellectually, I know that once I finish this zero draft I’ll find another book to obsess over, but maybe the recovery period will allow me to take a breath.

Maybe.

Take care of yourselves today, beloveds. It’s looking like we might have made it through the worst, but the hole is so deep that just stopping the digging isn’t the victory it could be.

Climbing out will still be a bitch.

Constancy, Uncertainty, Trepidation

blank

I spent the weekend veering between half-lucid struggling to get some chores done and transcribing what I could of last week’s longhand work. It was unexpectedly soothing. Of course I’m super behind and that’s irksome, but at least some work was accomplished. More than I’d hoped, actually.

The shadows are very sharp this morning. it might be because I’m half in the world of Black God’s Heart, where they bear terrifying things. Even spring sunlight isn’t as helpful as it could be, since I keep looking at said shadows and waiting for them to twitch.

On the bright side, the second book is almost half done. So there’s that. Everything in in place and moving; today’s work will involve naps and a combat scene. The latter has to be done before I can move on but I’m still a bit physically miserable; there will be some blocking it out in my office and much wincing and groaning.

I don’t know about other writers, but I feel everything my characters do. They are not me–I’m always very clear about that–but I do feel with them. It’s a very specific hyperactive empathy. To be a writer is to observe human beings and the rest of the world with sharp interest; I have often wondered where the line between empathy and voyeurism resides in we who create in this fashion.

Everything, even my own pain, is material. I’ve hung upside down in a car after an accident (winter road, deer, don’t ask) and while part of me was reacting to the situation in realtime the writer in the back of my head was taking furious notes. So this is how it feels…remember that bit…oh, okay, that makes sense…

I don’t know how much of that is also tangled up with the processing-of-trauma function writing fiction can serve. Themes are not always trauma, but when something bubbles to the surface in a story it’s good to run with it, because there’s power there.

The fear is where the power is, many a time. Again, not always…but many times.

Our state is about to open vaccinations for everyone, not just the most at-risk. I’m incredibly nervous waiting for that, because I’m sure a lot of selfish assholes will want to Chad and Karen around without masks and endanger people who aren’t lucky enough to get vaccinated yet or immunosuppressed folks. The selfishness on display over the last year and a half is still there, still murderous. And corporations are already making noises about reasserting physical control of their workers, dragging them into offices before vaccination is widespread. How on earth are we supposed to trust companies or coworkers again, after what we’ve just endured, after what we’ve seen some people do?

The vast majority of us quietly did what we were supposed to, locking down as far as we could and carefully masking up. The assholes get more airtime because the media’s hungry for ad money and ratings, and that makes the rest of us–the people who did our best and rearranged our lives as far as we could while swallowing our deep fear and powering through the trauma–unheard and unseen.

We’re never going back to the way things were. I haven’t even begun to think about how that might affect the stories I tell. Due to the nature of publishing I spent last year working on things that had been written before the world changed (and still am, truth be told) except for the portal fantasy, which was (I can admit) pure escapism because I needed an escape.1

Once both my kids have at least the first jab I suspect the relief will wallop what shaky scaffolding I have right out from under me. I haven’t even thought about what my own shot(s) will do. Honestly? I don’t think I expected to survive.

Now that I have, what on earth am I going to do? I don’t even know how to write about that. The fear is where the power is, but what resides in the numbness?

I don’t know, and I’m wary of finding out. But this book still has to be written, sentence by sentence, scene by scene, as always. And the dogs still have to be walked, every morn, world without end, amen.

It’s nice to have some constants in the uncertainty. But I won’t deny a certain trepidation. I feel like Black God’s Heart is the last wicket I have to run through before I can put 2020 finally to bed.2 The problem is, I’m sure there will be a great deal of unquiet dreaming from that particular sleeping-cave.

We’ve seen the monster. I’m not at all sanguine about seeing what it dreams after slouching to Bethlehem.

And with that cheerful thought, I’m off to walk the dogs.

Tired Work, In Longhand

I slept most of yesterday–proper sleep, not the falling into a black void for most of the day that’s been happening lately. There seem to be no other symptoms left, or if there are I’m too tired to notice them. The only thing I’m suffering is exhaustion so deep and wide it mimics total apathy. Even breathing seems like hard work.

Still, I woke this morning with what is probably a short-term burst of energy and the urge to listen to old-school Madonna. And I’ve gotten a fair amount of work done in longhand, which I’ll have to transcribe when I can sit up for longer periods of time.

If I’m indeed recovering, the trick will be not pushing too hard. Every time I get ill or injured, I make it worse by putting off any rest as long as possible and then leaping back into the fray the instant I start feeling the least bit better. I know I shouldn’t, of course–I’m always on friends and loved ones to be gentle with themselves after illness or injury.

I give very good advice, but very seldom follow it.

It doesn’t help that over the past few years I’ve witnessed pandemic, rising authoritarianism, and ongoing fascist coup. Even my ability to find silver linings or transmute pain into art is creaking under the strain. This comic strip sums it up perfectly–and also gives me some hope, because it’s pain (you guessed it) transmuted into art.

I should feel better. I should be grateful to be so lucky, so immensely privileged to be able to rest at least a little. I should be happier.

But I’m not. And it feels like a very personal failing.

At least I felt like eating this morning, and the void seems to have retreated. I’m going to have to work twice as hard to catch up; my job requires a constant juggling of chainsaws. Any halt means a rain of buzzing gas-powered sawblades, and who needs that? Not me, that’s for sure.

I’m hoping my optimism–such as it is–will come back. If all else fails, there’s sheer spite, which has kept me going through personal disasters and might as well be pressed into service for worldwide ones. I’d really like to be a nicer person, but if spite is what it takes to survive, well, that’s what I’ll use.

So, while this temporary flush of energy lasts, I’ll let the dogs drag me around the block and see what fires remain in my email inbox. I’ll work as long as I can, and probably end up sacked out on the office floor at some point in the day. The nice thing about that is the dogs will be overjoyed to have me so accessible, and probably stomp on both my kidneys and my liver to boot. I’ll call it “canine massage.”

In about a week vaccinations should be open in our state. That means the Prince and I have a shot (ha ha) at getting appointments. I suspect I’ll feel a lot better once both kids have at least the first jab, and once we’re all three thoroughly immunized I’ll probably have some variety of crying fit from sheer relief. If I focus on that–and on the fact that I have to finish the second book of Black God’s Heart–I can ignore everything else. At least I’m making progress on the latter, if only in longhand. It’s even soothing to write in a spiral-bound notebook again; my gods, how that takes me back.

Boxnoggin is resting his chin on my knee and Miss B is right behind him, crowding close and giving me the full benefit of sad doggy eyes. They want their walkies; who am I to deny them such a small pleasure? Wish me luck, or at least enough energy to get around the block.

Over and out.