Muse, Exercise Vengeance

images The Muse has decided that I need to write short stories after finishing revisions on Cormorant Run. I finished a 7K short for an upcoming anthology, and it made me feel almost frantic with loathing. Not because the story is bad, though it could very well be, but because it’s Perry. If there’s a single character that makes me want to scrub myself with hot water, bleach, and a wire brush, it’s him. If I didn’t feel like scrubbing myself raw after a scene with him, I went back and did it again, over and over. Trying to do justice to a hellbreed’s disgustingness is no small order.

So it’s leaving that zero draft to soak in itself for a little bit, while I write the carnivorous mermaid one–alternately titled Fish and The Sea Has Time, though I suspect in the end its title will be a third choice–and then it’s straight into revisions for The Marked. I know Cormorant Run will need another pass, because it’s just that type of book.

So it’s all short stories all the time over here, for at least the next couple of days. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I dislike writing them, I do find them difficult in different ways than novels. A full-length book is an endurance contest, and I am particularly fitted for those. Short stories are a sprint, an iaido cut instead of a drawn-out slugging match, and they require that I know the arc already before my hand even moves for the hilt. It’s an entirely different set of mental muscles, one I don’t use naturally. So, short stories are hard, and I prefer not to work in that vein.

Which just makes it ever so much more ironic that the Muse is serving them up now. “Here,” she says, “is the entire arc, I already did it for you, now write me this.” Serving up what she thinks I need, dammit. It doesn’t help that short stories aren’t very financially viable, either. Not a good return on my investment of working time. Although I should put together a collection of them, one of these days.

It doesn’t matter–my job is to swing for what she pitches, no matter what brand the spinning globes are. But I really would prefer it otherwise. I think maybe she’s getting back at me for exercising her in new ways. Cormorant Run was probably the strangest thing I’ve ever written to date, and Afterwar, the next big project, is similarly complex, new, and terrifying.

So maybe the Muse is just giving me her version of a breather before we go into the trenches for Something Different again. it’s a version that’s twice as much work as regular work, of course, because the Muse is a bitch and wants me to despair.

*sigh* Off I go to write a mermaid. Enjoy your Monday similarly, my chickadees.

The Madhouse Reopens

WhatsOperaDoc After two years, the Madhouse fan forum is back open! It had some significant teething troubles, but I think it’s at least workable now. Enjoy.

We’re also coming up on the release of Wasteland King, the third and final installment of the Gallow & Ragged series. It drops on the 27th, and people are already emailing me with questions and begging for ARCs. I’m sorry, but I have no ARCs to give. (The Madhouse also has a dedicated Gallow & Ragged forum.) I should also say, if you liked the series, please leave a rating or review on the online bookstore of your choice. It really does help, and the more it helps, the more books I can write for you!

Okay, that’s all the shilling I’ll do for today. I know I have to do marketing stuff, but I always feel like a jerk when I do.

The kids have roped me into playing Pokemon Go. The Princess chose Red Team, the Prince chose Blue, so I had to choose Yellow as to keep things fair. (I kind of wanted blue, but alas.) I can see why it’s so popular, but the kids are not allowed to go hunting alone. The risk of walking into traffic or something similar is just too high. On the bright side, I’ve found it can be up while Runkeeper is logging my run, so I can grab a Pokestop or two on my morning sweat-and-stride. I do not catch Pokemon while running, though I will admit to thinking, maybe I should double back and get that one when I’m finished.

So the kids have to buddy up or go with me, and we did a nice long walk last night. We all three bagged a Clefairy, which is good, I guess? I still think someone is going to get badly injured or God forbid killed while doing it, and that dulls any enjoyment a great deal as well as making me somewhat of a wet blanket to go on expeditions with. But the kids are all agog and it’s something we can do as a unit, so there’s that.

And now it’s time for me to go get some of these short stories out of my head, including one told from Perry’s POV for an upcoming Urban Enemies anthology. It’s going to take a couple stabs before I get that one out whole, and there’s the carnivorous mermaid one, as well as one titled Fifteen Wings I need to take a running start and bounce off from before it will settle down. I have no idea why my brain is suddenly turned to short stories; they are viciously difficult for me and I don’t really enjoy them as much as, say, fresh wordcount in a novel. That’s what the Muse wants, and what she wants she gets, at least while I’m in that magical, fairy-dusted period between deadlines.

Internal Notes

alla nazimova I’m back in my body again, mostly. I can feel the edges of “me” and the edges of my physical parts aligning. I’ve never endured quite this sort of thing before, and was busy taking internal notes. Who knows when a character will need this particular sensation?

All things serve the work.

After writing for a while, there’s always a section of your brain thinking, “okay, going to have to remember this, a story might need it later.” Heartbreak, car accident, joy, panic–everything serves the work, everything goes into that hopper inside your head. Everything is material. Maybe there’s a bit of self-protection in there too–when you’re taking internal notes about the exact sensations and what the other parts of you are thinking and doing, you aren’t losing your shit over what’s going down.

Of course, motherhood means you can’t lose your shit, either. When there are small humans depending on you, you just can’t afford to let go, no matter how satisfying it might be to have a monkey tantrum. I can’t count the number of times a good old-fashioned screaming meemie fit would have felt luxurious, but if Mum starts losing her cool, the little humans will lose theirs, and then everything is just so much more difficult. Who has time for that?

So, yeah. The interesting thing is, as my writing partner suggested, that this may be how I deal with severe stress when I have meds to even everything out and make the anxiety manageable. It’s preferable to a half-dozen physically exhausting “I am going to die” panic attacks per day. Some research suggest a feeling of derealization or depersonalization is common with high anxiety and can trigger panic attacks, so maybe this is what it feels like when it doesn’t? It wasn’t painful, or even really distressing, it was just…odd. Allowing myself to experience it, knowing it was more than likely temporary, turned out to be the best way through.

It’s more Cormorant Run revisions today. I think I have to write a whole new scene, and expand another in a new direction. I knew the complexity of this book was under the surface, but my first run through it I was too busy getting the bones down to really dive. Now I have the luxury of uncoiling the strands and peering deeper, and it’s turning out to be fascinating. Sometimes I am a little chary of the worlds that apparently lurk inside my head. It’s an odd thing, to think that maybe one is simply channeling or taking dictation from somewhere else. There’s a certain submission to the shape and the strictures of the work, difficult for anyone stubborn to practice. Especially when that stubbornness must be fed and grown monstrous to keep you writing day in, day out.

First, though, Miss B needs a walk, and so do I. Maybe it will clear my head and bring me fully back into my body. You never know.

Over and out.

Run, Think, Write

bang. Afterwar is taking a direction I don’t want, don’t like, don’t care for, and one I almost don’t understand. It wants to be a much bigger book, and it wants me to get inside the head of a banal evil. Part of me knows it’s the next step in my evolution as a writer, but the rest of me is digging in its heels for several reasons.

I haven’t yet reached the point of no return, where the story punches its spurs into my sides and pulls my hair, refusing to let go. Once I do, I’ll have to finish the damn book, even if it takes staying up nights because I’m working on paying projects during the day. There’s plenty of fear involved–fear of doing it wrong, fear of not serving the book well, fear that it will be the thing that breaks my career. Every step forward is accompanied by these wrenching feelings, and it gets…well, not precisely old, but I heave an internal sigh and think okay, so we’re on THIS merry go round again.

The only path is straight through, the only cure is work. So I’m taking this week to do all Afterwar, all the time, except of course for those moments when I’m chasing down people who owe me things. (Including money. The least-glamorous part of being a writer: submitting invoices and politely but firmly demanding they be paid.)

Miss B’s leg is better, but I’m not taking her running for a while yet. She, of course, despises this turn of events and grudgingly accepts ambles with Odd Trundles as better than nothing. I’d forgotten what it was like to run without her, really, and I miss my partner. On the other hand, I don’t have to drop my center of gravity and keep going nearly as much, and I don’t have to do fancy footwork to avoid her getting tangled up underneath me when a delivery vehicle or another dog passes by. It’s much calmer, and I fall into the peculiar trance of effort and sweat, things shaking loose and my subconscious busily putting together the next few scenes for when I sit down and focus.

So for this week, I run, and I think, and I write. It should at least give me an idea of where and what this book actually wants to be when it grows up. And after I spend some quality time with it, I can turn to Cormorant Run with fresh eyes and insert all the things I glossed over in its messy, very quick birth. That particular book tore itself out of my brain like it was on fire and needed to get to a lake. Now that I have some distance from it, I can see where the holes are, and fortunately I know everything that goes on inside those holes.

Which means at least there’s something I know how to do coming up. It’s a small comfort, but I’ll take it.

Yes, Something’s Afoot

109ram_icons004 I stepped out on the back porch with my coffee this morning, and a crow landed on the deck railing. She looked at me sidelong, I straightened under the inspection, Miss B for once did not decide to go scrambling after something new and quite probably chase-able…

…and Odd Trundles, wriggling between my ankles, threw himself at the railing. Which held up, thank goodness. The crow rode out the shuddering, cawed sharply three times, and flew away with a wingsnap and something suspiciously like laughter.

After the bees the other day and every cat in the neighborhood coming out to greet me on my 5K yesterday, I’m beginning to suspect Something Is Afoot.

Yesterday I tried cooking eggplant for the second time, and the results were…unsatisfying. I think when I eventually get a grill, I’m going to have to just grill the snot out of some eggplant and hope for the best. So far, though,it’s like okra–I never want to put that in my mouth again, world without end, amen.

This morning I tried the new habit of sitting down at the piano just after breakfast. Hava Nagilah is still difficult, but it’s not making me cry now. I can limp along through it, so not it’s just a question of brute practice. I’m up to the seventh piece in my Bach book, too, and either they’re getting a little easier or he’s just trying to fake me out before dropping something full of sixteenth notes on me.

At least it’s not Mozart. I get the sense that Bach really wants you to succeed and is pulling for you, where Mozart is sort of a bro who really loves adversarial music, deliberately trying to trip you up. I hate rigged contests, so I don’t think I’ll ever like playing Mozart.

In the “really good news” department, B was allowed to accompany Odd Trundles on his daily constitutional yesterday. A very slow, very gentle, very short walk did wonders for her nervous twitches, and stretched out her injured leg. Consensus is it was a simple sprain, and the only thing to do is keep her activity level down until it heals, and watch her carefully for a long while before she can be my running buddy again.

In short, it will be torture for her, but Odd Trundles’s slow ambling is the only speed available for her silly furry butt right now. Every time she gets snitty with me about not going on a run I just tell her, as Hyperbole and a Half so memorably said, “DOG, YOU DO NOT MAKE GOOD DECISIONS.”

That’s all the news from this side of the fence, I think. Now I go back to work revising Cormorant Run and knocking down my List of Things To Do Today, which has grown to truly massive Wednesday proportions. I’m sure whatever the crows, bees, and cats have been warning me of will hit soon.

*sigh*

Proprietary Imperative

victory The mason bees are back! I checked their little house recently and found a female busily filling one of the tubes with mud to seal up her freshly laid eggs. It feels like a small victory, even though I’ve been worried the little fellows won’t have enough to eat since it’s been so warm but the flowers aren’t really out yet. I hope they haven’t hatched too early.

They probably know what they’re doing, and all my worry is for naught. Still, I can’t help but feel proprietary.

Cormorant proceeds apace. Why is it that a book only heats up when I have fifty million other things going on? It’s like the Muse only wants to show up when she knows you only have a few minutes to steal, because time you’ve specifically set aside is so boring. Everyone has that time, but it’s the heart-in-mouth, slightly sweating, sneakthief moments she’s after. Maybe she’s only attracted by that heart-pounding sense of doing something forbidden.

She’s a bitch, but she manages to get the job done.

So we’re down to just the characters for the last half of Cormorant‘s third section, and as far as I can tell, the book is just about to heat up to the point where I can’t think of anything else, the point where I lunge for the end of the zero draft and pretty much everything that isn’t writing (or dealing with children’s critical needs) gets tossed out the window. This book would choose the week we have an exchange student and several events that require my complete (and maybe somewhat grudging) attention.

I keep telling myself I can just stick to the wordcount for each day and not go over, just get up and walk away when I’m finished with the day’s minimum quota, but that never happens in the last third of a book. The goddamn things worm inside my head and beat in time to my pulse, a swollen-sweet pain.

I wonder if that’s how the bees feel when it’s time to hatch. An imperative, so to speak. There comes a time when one has to struggle out of a mud-caked hole and fly, and when that time comes, nothing but testing your wings will do.

There’s no point in staying safe when there’s living–and writing–to be done.

Today, Adulting

Escribano An incredibly productive day yesterday means I’m probably going to fail at adulting today, but them’s the breaks. If I manage to get to dinner without my head exploding, I’ll count it as a win. Especially for a Tuesday.

I’m liking transcription work. It exercises a different part of my brain, and doesn’t use up the emotional energy I need for writing. It’s a good palate-cleanser, and the best thing is, it’s really cheap dialogue training. Listening tot he rhythm of how people talk is great for one’s stories.

I’ve shelved the amulet-maker story, and am concentrating on the smartmouth genie and the rationalist insurance adjustor. (At least, I think she’s an insurance adjustor. She doesn’t want to talk about work right now, having many other things on her mind.) This story is fun, I’m mostly writing it for my writing partner. It’s also taking a pattern different than other books. Normally I write somewhat sequentially, but this book wants the arc for the two main characters mostly done before I go back and take a whack at the villains. (Who kind of aren’t villains at all, just selfish assholes who want shortcuts.) It’s very rarely that a book does this, demanding to be told somewhat out-of-order even though I know pretty much what happens in each scene.

The bulk of my effort, though, is reserved for the Rifters story, which is now titled Cormorant Run. My homage to Tarkovsky and the Strugatskys is growing into its own peculiar beast inside my head, and invading my dreams as well. I love this book, weird and brutal as it is, with the fierce love of a thousand fiery suns. It’s wanting to be written sequentially, unlike the genie book, and more excavated than written. Each day I brush away a little more dirt and debris and find the shape of a room underneath, a room needing to be emptied with a shovel or a spoon, depending. I love the books that are a whole organic thing under the surface of your brain, but the labor to excavate them is sometimes backbreaking.

I’ve written almost sixty full novels now, and each time, it’s different. Each damn book wants to be written in its own special little way, and will balk unless coaxed correctly. There are some commonalities, like the long slog in the middle with the BOOK THAT WILL NOT DIE NO MATTER HOW YOU STAB IT, but each novel teaches you how to write just-it, it alone, and nothing but it. A certain amount of submission to and trust in the process is necessary, as well as the discipline to sit down every goddamn day and get the writing done[1].

Right now my fingers are a bit chilled, so it’s time to stretch, get a cuppa–I’m trying turmeric tea right now, and with the addition of more ginger it’s actually quite palatable–and get back to the grindstone before the doldrums hit. I may fail at adulting later today, especially when t’s time for errands, but for now I have some shiny new willpower, and am going to use it.

*cracks knuckles* Tuesday? I’ll see you now…

[1] Yes, I know there are professional writers who don’t write every day. But you’re here on my blog, and I’m going to tell you the best way I know. ‘Nuff said.