The Diptych, Done

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.

Luck to Get Through

blank

I’m pretty sure it’s not the plague.

Of course when I start watching a series of lectures on the Black Plague1 and reading John Kelly’s The Great Mortality2, the Prince develops a deep cough and I’m afflicted with postnasal drip and a fatigue so deep I feel like I’m under a mile or two of clear water. Of course, I don’t know why I expected anything different. We’re both coughing in spates, though we can both smell so it’s probably not the current plague.

Though it would be ironic, don’t you think? So close to vaccines being at least theoretically available. (The appointments to get them jammed into your arm are somewhat less than available; there’s always a catch. Always.)

Work proceeds apace. Sending off the revision for Book 1 of Black God’s Heart means now I can really get started on Book 2, swinging from one handhold to the next. The other spot in my working day is taken up with Hell’s Acre, which is beginning to move into my skull and make itself very comfortable indeed. And I just saw cover drafts for it, which are going to be amazing.

While I’m juggling those two, Cold North will be a refuge, and a way to make them both behave. Either you tell me what happens next or I go to the Tolkien Viking werewolves is a helluva threat.3 It might even make the steampunk sit up and take notice.

Regardless of how exhausted I am, work needs to get done and dogs need to be walked. I’m only hoping for the luck to get through this, whatever it is, and have it not be plague. I’m hoping it’s just the result of a pretty intense pollen season; anecdotal evidence has the cherry blossoms and forsythia filling the air with a vengeance this year. I’m somewhat at a loss to figure out how the illness found us in lockdown, but even with masks and the Prince’s distance learning we still have some points of interaction with others, like the Princess’s job and my own venturing out for things that can’t be delivered.

All the same, we haven’t had nearly the cold/flu season we’re wonted to in this area, for which I can only thank the masks and hope they stay.

I can still smell coffee, and the Prince says he feels much better this morning. (Since he actually went to bed at a decent hour, but that’s another story.) So maybe it’s not quite as bad as I feared yesterday, but I’m still so tired. My eyelid isn’t twitching, but even my hair feels exhausted at this point.

Here’s to hope. I hate feeling it, since the last year and a half have been full of hope rising only to be kicked in the teeth. It just keeps coming back, whether I will or no.

And with that cheerful note, I’m off to let the dogs drag me around the block. Fortunately they know exactly where to go, and habit will keep them mostly behaving. Habit will also pull me through another day’s work.

Suppose I’d best get started.

Order, Ritual, Merry-Go-Round

blank

Tomorrow’s a release day, and I am all at sixes and sevens. I have even snarled, “oh, for fuck’s sake” thrice before coffee, which isn’t quite a record but does herald an Interesting Morning.

The dogs are trotting up and down the hall, peeking in to see if I’m moving towards walkies yet. Soon Miss B will settle herself with a sigh in my office door, so I can’t possibly leave without tripping over her. Boxnoggin, of course, is keeping watch out the front window. If a gust of wind comes down the street, he’ll start screaming his fool head off, in the hope of drawing me out to see what the ruckus is, and while I’m out there of course he might as well ask about walkies.

There is an order and a ritual to mornings chez Saintcrow, and the canines don’t want us to forget it.

I dreamed of snow, which isn’t usual in spring. Snow, and wolves, and black pines under a white coat. The coffee is helping get the images stowed properly; what I really want to be doing is working on The Cold North. Instead, I’ve the revisions on Black God’s Heart to finish, Book 2 of that to write, Hell’s Acre to get underway (though the entire thing is outlined, as far as I ever outline anything) before I can even think of slotting the Tolkien Viking Werewolves into the merry-go-round.

Still, it’s a good sign that a book’s living in my head. The past year has been so strained, I sometimes thought I’d lose words altogether. I’ve only lost words once in my writing life–that was post-divorce, buying the house–and it’s a terrible feeling. Even having a book up and die on me (like the Steelflower sequels, or Deadroad) isn’t so painful.

I’m also moonlighting with The Innkeeper’s War, which centers on a very cranky ex-mercenary who runs an inn, and one day her old adventuring friend the wizard shows up with a farm boy in tow. Then her inn gets burned down, and…but that’s giving the game away. Maybe I’ll write it, maybe I won’t; for right now it’s fun to have bits of different things for the machine inside my skull to chew on.

Keeps it from chewing on me. At least, that’s the idea.

I suppose I’d best finish this coffee and stagger for the door, which will trigger a cascade of excitement from the canine component of the household. I was wise enough to get my shoes tied without their help this morning, though, which qualifies as a win.

At least, I’m going to treat it as such. And try not to think about a release day tomorrow. Fingers crossed, and all that.

See you ’round.

Snail-House Rock

blank

I have coffee, and have pulled back from some social media. Last week was not optimal for a variety of reasons, but I’m sure having access to all that at my fingertips didn’t help. It’s time for yet another “retreat into the snail house” period, not least because we’re having more sunshine (spring hath definitely sprung) and that means all sorts of mad people are out on the sidewalks.

It’s not that I think the sidewalk are mine alone, of course. I’d just like it if others shared with a bare minimum of courtesy, that’s all.

In any case, I attempted to take half Sunday off. It worked moderately well; I’m only itching to get back to work the usual amount instead of beside myself with furious scratching. So, progress! This book isn’t going to revise itself, more’s the pity.

Of course even if it would I might not let it.

So it’s getting the dogs walked between bands of rain, getting my own weary corpse shambled at what passes for high speed just afterward, onward, excelsior and all that. The good thing about the werewolf story I spent last week moonlighting with is that it’s so different than anything else I’m writing it was almost like a vacation, and it provided a crucial bit of distance. Now I’m fairly sure I won’t need to rip out a lot of under-structures in The Black God’s Heart; I think I can fix another intrinsic problem with a single scene. Which is a blessing, since I don’t want to add too much more to Book 1.

Have to leave some dishes for the second course, and all that.

All things considered, I’m glad to be back to work. It wasn’t comfortable to skirt the edge of burnout the way I have for a few weeks. Trying to process last year and still keep moving with current projects is deeply un-fun, and leaves little time for anything else.

I know NaNo is in November but I’m probably going to do one in April just to get this book off my plate. My fingers are already throbbing with the thought. It will be nice to be out of revision and into creation again; I’m definitely more comfortable in the latter state than the former. A period of high focus is just what the doctor ordered, and of course, before I forget, there’s a book dropping later this month.

blank

It’s neat to have preorder graphics! I like it a lot.

I’d best finish my coffee and get to it, then, hadn’t I. The book won’t revise itself, and Monday won’t machete itself either. The work of the weary or the wicked is never done.

See you around.