Conversation, Research, Edits

Yesterday, my writing partner and I played hooky and hit the Concordia Library book sale, where I got a solid foot of Penguin Classics for eight bucks and Costain’s four-book History of the Plantagenets in its original box. Since we were on the south side of the river, a trip to Everyday Music was in order, too. Then a leisurely lunch at Ginger Pop, and by then the heat was getting a bit much, so we called it a day.

The entire time we were sharing industry gossip, finishing conversations we started years ago, continuing ones we started even further back, and starting new ones. Along with in-jokes, meta analysis, and just plain zaniness, it makes for a stimulating verbal stew.

Of course I came home to a fresh crop of hatemail about Afterwar. I was going to do a whole post about it, but for fuck’s sake, who’s got time to deal with preshus manbaby feefees? If you’re afraid you might be mistaken for a nazi because you act like one, well, try not acting like one. *shrug*

Today it’s back to work while the air conditioning hums and Odd Trundles snores, blissful in the coolness. I should get a run in as soon as my sunscreen finishes soaking in and before the worst of the scorch settles; I must also decide what to spend serious working time on before Lammas. Maybe I can get the vampire erotica in reasonable zero-draft shape; it’s a relatively short work. And there is, of course, Robin Hood in Space to consider. Lammas, of course, is when I have to start serious revisions on The Maiden’s Blade; the competing agendas in that book need to be clearer. Half the edit suggestions are “why is X doing Y?” and my frothing reply of “BECAUSE A, M, AND S” isn’t helpful because it’s not in the text. Just because it’s clear inside my head doesn’t mean it’s reasonably outlined on the page, and that’s one of the major reasons to have an editor–to have another pair of eyes searching for those lacunae.

Which also means, now that I’ve finished Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician, I should begin the clutch of further research reading I need for Maiden’s Blade and its two follow-up books, starting with a survey of Japanese literature in the shogunate. I’m really looking forward to that and to an exegesis of The Tale of Genji, but the REAL prize is a doorstopper anthology of women writers in ancient China with accompanying critical articles. If I’m very good, I might even split my daily reading between the anthology and the survey, and keep the exegesis for a chaser.

So that’s the plan. And now, before it gets too hot to breathe comfortably, there’s a run to accomplish.

Over and out.

Release Day: JOZZIE & SUGAR BELLE

Five or six friends got together in a Google Hangout. All writers, mostly drunk, they are Very Funny Ladies. Happily, I was one of them; sadly, I was stone-cold sober. One of the ladies is an Australian, and her care packages sent to us poor benighted fools in the Northern Hemisphere are legendary; apparently, a recent one sent to a Dear Husband of a Writing Lady included several kangaroo-scrotum tchotchkes.

Because yes, they use all parts of the ‘roo, and the scrotums can be coin purses, corkscrews, bottle openers–you get the idea. (Look, I’m not gonna link any of this, you can traumatize yourself with Google just fine.) The Dear Husband could not contain his glee, and showed off his new gifts.

“Wait,” someone said. “What if that was a kangaroo shifter’s ballsack instead?”

Being the only sober one in the room, I was charged with writing the story. A few hours later, we had all the main characters fleshed out for a fucking series of these things. (The echidna-shifter one sounds particularly hilarious.) The Writing Ladies eventually separated to nurse their upcoming hangovers, or, in my case, shambled to bed giggling.

And lo, I wrote the kangaroo-shifter novella. The working title was Scrotum Search, but good luck getting that past any Amazon algorithms, amirite? And now, my dear friends, you can read it too!

Jozzie & Sugar Belle This ‘roo has problems.

Jozzie Shale, missing a particularly intimate piece of his person, lands in LA with a hangover and plenty of determination. He needs help, fast–and fortunately, he’s got the address of a witch who owes his buddy Petey a favor.

She’s a solution.

Sugar Belle, of the Virginia Belles, is only mildly amused when a drunken shapeshifter shows up in her tattoo chair. Add a warlock with a necromantic book, coyote shifters, the end of the world, plus a few hundred pounds of cheese, and even a witch of Sugar’s caliber might be in for a bad night.

It’s gonna be a bumpy weekend…

Available through Gumroad, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. The print edition is now available, too.

As for the others there that night (you know who you are), the gauntlet’s thrown, bitches. I expect your novellas in short order.

*runs away, laughing*

Always Tomorrow

I was going to talk about the hatemail I’ve received about Afterwar, but I’m a bit cranky this morning. On the bright side, it cooled off overnight and Odd Trundles slept all the way through so I don’t have to worry about his fuzzy ass nearly as much.

It was a busy weekend–we got some concrete laid, and I managed to get a layer of sealant on the freshly-washed deck floor. Of course daubing all the railings will be time-consuming, but the kids can help with that. The big thing was getting at least one layer of sealant on freshly pressure-washed wood. I also caught up on some reading. I’m finally old enough to read Faulkner, I guess–I tore through As I Lay Dying, my heart in my throat, waiting for the next damn thing to happen. I also attempted a translation of Gogol’s Taras Bulba, which was difficult to finish, not least because the misogyny. I also have serious questions about the economics of Cossack raiding as portrayed in that particular romance. After a while, you’d think there was nothing else for them to steal and nobody left to murder.

In any case, I’m glad I read both, and I am setting out my plan of attack for more Faulkner once I finish Jesus the Magician (highly readable) and work through a few books on The Tale of Genji1 and some on classical Chinese literature. Both are research reading for the epic fantasy. I need plenty of material inside the well before I start on book 2.

I also finished Harmony revisions and sent them off, which means I can focus on writing HOOD and getting the scripts for Blood Terraform2 done. Plus, I really want to go back to Imprint, which is just-plain-vampire-erotica. It will be nice to be writing instead of revising for a while. I do need to sit down and think about Blood Terraform, since comic book scripts are different than novels. It’s been a while since I wrote one–I think the last was Serafim? Once that’s out of the way, revisions on the next Steelflower can commence. I’m still on track to release the first half of Kaia’s adventures in Skaialan later in the year.

But first, I think, a run, and eventually I do need to leave the house and pick up more sealant for the deck. It’s always something, and I can always write about the hatemail tomorrow. It’s not like the hatred’s going anywhere, I guess.

Over and out.

On AFTERWAR: Research

Afterwar I began gathering supplementary materials1 for Afterwar in late 2015; work commenced on the book in earnest in March-April 2016. I knew I was going to write it, but not how it would be received or even if it would ever be sold. It’s too outlandish, I thought. I’ve been saying this is where Fox News and the like is going to end up for a decade and a half, I thought.

Much to my surprise, my editor at Orbit wanted the book with a white-hot passion, and since I trusted her implicitly to have my back–to let me write the book that needed to be written without committee interference from internal groups that would want it watered down–I went for broke. I tore my heart out, and ate the bitter organ whole, retched it free and did it again.

And I pestered. Goodness, how I pestered. Knowing more than a few vets, I bought drinks, bought lunches, went to coffee, peppered them with questions. “So…if you were running an insurgency in the American Southwest…okay, so how successful is asymmetric force really when you’re the boots on the ground…look, I need to know how far a Humvee can actually go in offroad conditions without refueling…so, what did it smell like? Really?…what’s the one thing you were always short of, in combat…?” You get the idea. I’d start out with questions, and then I did what any writer who wants to learn does.

I shut up.

Once people know you’re sincerely interested in them and their lives, they will talk endlessly, and with active listening you will find out more than you ever dreamed. At that point it was simply a question of who had the better bladder, since a loo trip not only breaks conversation but also breaks “the seal” and you have to pee every five seconds afterward. (Or so it seems.)

None of them asked what my book was actually about. Most of the time I had introductions from other people they’d served with, and once word got out that I was trustworthy, gentle, and genuinely interested in their experience I had more contacts than I could ever plumb and the social credit to spend on slightly more outré questions. “Say you’re behind enemy lines and on your period, what’s the planning for that?2 How common is diarrhea in combat?3 If you could only take two weapons with you to operate in unfriendly territory, which would you? What kind of coping mechanisms have you seen others use under combat stress?4

My other research was not so nice or so enjoyable. I’ve spent years reading about the Eastern Front in WWII, and about the occupations of Ukraine and Poland by several successive totalitarian waves. It’s been an interest of mine since reading Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad because, I thought, there was no way I would ever write about something so brutal and horrific. Having something to read that, even though awful, wasn’t grist for the story-mill, was necessary in order to give my brain a break.

Perhaps the Muse was precognitive, and prepared me well beforehand. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes follow the same damn playbook, with only small adjustments for culture and territory. Plus, I had taken a bath in American Civil War history, and still picked up logistical and other studies, just on the principle that it’s always good to know how an army will feed itself on your home territory.

Everything I’d been reading and thinking about for years crystallized. Afterwar took on a life of its own.

And then, the election happened.5

I saw the beginning stages of my private nightmares playing out in realtime. I don’t think I’ve quite recovered from that, but I had other problems as well.

Not content to reflect current events, Afterwar was about to get blindsided by publication woes as well.

To be continued…

Color and Form Again

Jozzie & Sugar Belle We’re about a week away from the release of Jozzie & Sugar Belle, also known as Scrotum Search (I couldn’t use that as a title, though God knows I wanted to) and “that damn nutless kangaroo shifter story”. The print edition is available, ebook all set and pretty for release on the tenth, and I am quietly giggling each time I think about it.

I wish I was better at writing humor. I’d love to be able to consistently write comic stuff; it’s way harder than angst and I’m just generally not a funny person. The things I find hilarious tend to be somewhat macabre, which is, I’m sure, a drawback.

Last week was somewhat terrible. Finishing several large projects one-after-another caused a sort of blowback; I thought I was going to get Harmony revisions done and also get serious wordcount on HOOD. Neither happened. Instead a black hole threatened to swallow me, and I was on the event horizon (everything turned grey, light struggling to escape) for a while, skating around and grabbing for handholds. Both kids reminded me it was okay to feel tired, and we talked a lot about how managing your own energy and self-care are sometimes the most difficult things. It’s good to be able to discuss adult coping skills with both of them, and show them that it’s a process rather than a destination.

I used to think it was bad for them to see me struggle, but as they’ve gotten older, it’s opened up chances to talk about things like burnout and respecting your own limits. Both kids seem to have healthy boundaries, so perhaps my own struggle to acquire some was useful not just to me.

In any case, I got enough sleep and woke up at a reasonable time this morning. There’s a run to accomplish today, and it’s back into Harmony revisions. I suppose I’m just annoyed at the thought of ripping apart the last third of the book and drawing out the crisis for a few more chapters. I think when I was finishing the zero I got tired, and who wouldn’t after 100K words? Part of revision is to fix that very thing. It just seemed insurmountable last week, though I knew exactly what needed to be done.

So I’m back on the horse, and the world has color and form again. Odd Trundles is sprawled in his bed, snoring with a vengeance to make up for lost sleep, since he was (the horror!) bathed as is usual every weekend and it set his nap schedule back something awful. B is sleeping too, but her nose is resting on my left shoe so she cannot possibly miss me standing up and moving away to go on a run. She’s determined not to be left behind today–poor thing, as she gets older she can only go on short, slow runs. I work a lot more of those into my schedule so she gets the exercise she needs without going overboard.

I suppose I should wake her up and get going. Recovery is okay–I got a lot of reading done–but now it’s time for work again.

Over and out.

On to the Next

I began poking at HOOD–that’s the Robin Hood in Space story–yesterday. Frankly it was a relief to work on something that wasn’t Maiden’s Blade or Atlanta Bound, not because I dislike them, but because a new obsession is a good way to get rid of old ones and I need time off from both stories if I’m going to be able to revise them properly later.

At the same time, shifting my engines from one story to the next is always difficult. I have to slow (or speed) the flywheel inside my head to the proper speed for the new story, and make the teeth fit so it will pull with the minimum of grinding. It’s a matter, as always, of sitting and picking, picking, picking, until an internal click happens and the story starts to slide out through my fingertips in fits and starts. Yesterday, it was the name of Maid Marian’s spaceship that triggered the click. I hadn’t even realized it was a necessary component.

A funny thing about writing stories, at least for me, is that the way is hardly ever straight and broad. Everything happens in ellipses. So, I spent my run yesterday thinking about a particular scene that involves a sort of speeder race (Maid Marian is a woman of many talents, indeed) and the question of her spaceship’s name wasn’t even on the horizon. But it was a long chain of thought from the speeder-race scene, which may or may not make it into the book, to Marah Madán’s introductory scene, where she’s skinning her knuckles in her ship’s engine room and contemplating a frozen death in the wide reaches of space if she can’t get things working again, involving (among other things) how to get into and out of a gravity well, faster-than-light messaging, whether the book’s main setting should be a space station rather than a planetary system, how wartime rationing loosens after victory or defeat, and on and on until suddenly, staring into the distance, it occurred to me that the ship’s name was Ivanhoe and the click sounded.

Consequently, I fell into the book and almost missed dinner; thankfully, it was the Princess’s night to deal with that problem. The dogs were dancing with impatience, thinking that perhaps their servant-goddess had forgotten the Magic Foodtime. Which means I surfaced from writing Guy of Gisbourne’s intro to find Odd Trundles’s long, very disconcertingly warm tongue curling around my ankle. I’m not sure whether he was asking for my attention, or just obeying his usual habit of licking any patch of bare skin he finds, or realizing I’m made of meat. Consequently, I hurried to fill the bowls with kibble, and was a little miffed that I couldn’t jump right back into the book.

Today is going to be all about Hood. And Harmony‘s revisions. I have a couple comic-book scripts I should start outlining, too. And I’m sure edits for Rattlesnake Wind are going to drop anytime now. Recovery is over, it’s on to the next.

It pleases me. There are always more stories, they line up around the block, some standing patiently, others elbowing. What’s in short supply is the time and effort needed to sit and let them come through. That time and effort needs to be guarded like a dragon hoard. Protect your writing time, chickadees, your stories need it.

I’d better get some more coffee and get back to work.

Hood and Harmony

It’s only 9am as I start this post, but dear gods above, my daily teaspoon of patience is quickly being licked dry. It’s only uncaffeinated fumbling, and if I just wait a little bit for the stimulant to finish hitting my bloodstream I suppose I’ll be fine. Right now, though, I am in a somewhat savage mood. So are the canines; Miss B got shirty with Odd over breakfast (she keeps trying to get into his bowl, for God’s sake, even though they both get the same damn thing) and poor Odd, while extremely mellow, does not like that. So I had to stand between them and encourage both to eat from their own damn bowl, but then Odd got stubborn, as he is wont to do sometimes, and decided FINE, he would simply GO DOWN THE HALL and SLEEP IN THE OFFICE and when his tummy gets upset later, THAT WILL SHOW EVERYONE.

Really, the only person it will show is me. Yep, I’m going to be looking at dog vomit later, unless I coax him to eat a bit of kibble directly from my palm to take the edge off. It’s a good thing I love both of these damn creatures.

The weekend was nice, though. I planned to keep away from work the entire time, and largely succeeded. Unfortunately that makes my mood a whit savage, since the discomfort of not writing for two days is cresting under my skin, itching and uncomfortable. I get to go back to HOOD today, and also start Harmony revisions. The latter needs its last third expanded, and it will probably be a monster book after it’s done. Today I get to write Maid Marian’s fixing of a starship engine and her copilot arguing with an android about all sorts of things, but mostly the music the android plays to “up Terran efficiency by a few percentage points.” Heh. I’m getting to like the android; I can’t decide if he has a great sense of humor or none at all.

Then again, I’m the same woman who has long conversations with china squirrel figurines. We’ll anthropomorphize anything around here. (It reminds me of #8 here, which is honestly what I consider really close to what an android would actually think of humans.)

So that’s going to be fun. I need to spend some more time thinking about interplanetary travel and other aspects so the Robin Hood story is a valid response to the world’s constraints. And of course I’m going to name Hood’s home system “Sagittarius,” because it amuses me to no end. I could do a whole zodiac-themed series with different star systems…but that’s a thought for another time.

Today’s run will be all about putting those pieces in place while I sweat and curse. At least it’ll get rid of some of my fidgets, and probably B’s as well. Maybe she’ll come home and be less of an asshole to Odd Trundles. If not, I’m going to have to referee dinner too.

Running will also refill my teaspoon of patience, so I’m going to get to it. Happy Monday, dear Readers, and I hope your teaspoon is full.