Epic Fantasy Cake

The day I finished The Poison Prince‘s first-draft revision, I could not word. I was reduced to pointing and going, “The…the thing, that thing,” until one of the kids supplied the proper word. (Which is, not gonna lie, a type of hell for a writer, not to be able to find a damn word.)

So, of course, the Princess decided to bake me a cake. She even decorated it. “It’s a good chance to practice my tip work,” she said, modestly.” It was super tasty and I even had cake for breakfast the following morning.

I love being a writer, but I love being a mother even more. It’s hard, sleep-deprived work in the beginning, but the rewards once one gets over the psychotic break induced by lack of REM are amazing.

Hives and HARMONY

I got out for a run while it was still cool this morning, or at least, cool-ish. Still, I couldn’t take the dogs; the poor things do even worse with heat than I do. They’re unhappy, but it’s better than them getting prostrated by the damn temperature.

They may also be cranky because I’m cranky, having awakened covered with hives. Last night I made the distinct mistake of drinking some red wine–a completely forgivable error, you know–and watching the Assassin’s Creed movie. Frankly, it would have been a lot better if the whole movie had been alt-history instead of alt-historical and modern uneasily bolted together. I could very much have watched a dirty Fassbender lisping Castilian all the way through, thank you and amen.

It still might have turned out all right, except the heat was really bad last night. Normally, up here in the PNW, the heat breaks in the evening and we get relatively cool nights. When that doesn’t happen, the cumulative stress makes my skin try to eat itself.

But it’s all good. I got out for a run and sweated out the worst of the stress, and have rinsed the rest off and made coffee. Even the bees were giving me somewhat of a wide berth today, bumbling over my hands and shoulders instead of nesting in my hair or trying to crawl into my mouth. Maybe they could smell the irritation coming off me in waves.

At least I’m back at work, revising HOOD‘s Season One. We’re coming up on the end of that, and I’ve got so much fun planned for Season Two, you just don’t even know. It’s going to be so much fun, and I have the last season in my head as well. It took longer than I liked to recover from revisions on The Poison Prince, but at least I have an answer for one of the knottiest plot problems in the third book of that series.

Said answer occurred to me quite naturally as I woke up this morning, my skin itching like a hive and my temper frayed almost past bearing. I had consigned it to the great engines beneath the floor of my conscious self, pretty sure that the Muse had an answer she’d give in due time.

Fellow writers often say you never learn how to write books more easily, you just learn how to write this one specific book you’re working on. That’s true as far as it goes, but one of the things an experienced writer can learn is when to consign a question to the great engines and leave it alone until the solution bursts forth, full-fledged, from said writer’s forehead. After a while you can feel the things working beneath the floorboards, chewing and grinding, and can even sense with something’s going to swell and burst.

It’s a particular type of relaxed concentration married to the willingness to keep yourself distracted with other work, with a large dash of learning to trust the Muse. I know I anthropomorphize the creative process, but it helps if I think I’m consigning the problem to her rather than to something impersonal.

So much of this career is learning how to game yourself. How to get the wild thing inside your head that’s fucking up your life and snap the traces on to put it to plow.

Anyway, I should remind you that if you want to read the first bit of Harmony for free, you can do so right here. Also, I’m hearing that some readers are experiencing quality issues with the Amazon-bought paperbacks of that book; if you are, please contact Amazon customer service. When Amazon folded CreateSpace in, the quality of their printing took a steep dive; this is something I have no control over. I did choose to offer the Harmony trade paperback through KDP instead of IngramSpark’s extended distribution for reader convenience, but if it’s going to mean this sort of hassle I won’t ever do so again.

I suppose I should finish my coffee, check the focaccia dough–of course, it’s going to be umpty-scrump degrees outside and I’m baking, because I lack all sorts of smarts–and get the subscriber perks for the week out the door. That, along with revisions, should keep me busy enough to stay out of trouble.

At least, for a little while. Over and out.

Fire Bad, Books Pretty

Rattlesnake Wind

I finished first-draft revisions of The Poison Prince on Saturday, and spent the rest of the weekend almost nonverbal and staring. I was afraid I’d busted my word-makers, because Saturday night I pointed at a packet of bread and could not, for the life of me, figure out what the motherfucker was called. The kids stepped in, of course, and were highly amused at having to do so. I felt like a three-year-old, pointing and making helpless sounds until someone supplied the word.

It’s much better now, though I found myself staring at the plastic bin I keep my morning gruel mix in (thank you, Bob’s Red Mill, for being awesome) and thinking, milk bits? No, that’s not it…plant bits? Ground-up…Wheaties…what the fuck?, before I finally got to “SEVEN GRAIN CEREAL WITH FLAXSEED,” which I bellowed loudly enough (in tones of complete triumph) to give both dogs somewhat of a turn.

At least I knew what to call coffee. Whether it’s “java” or “precious life-giving fluid that makes the murder retreat,” it’s named correctly, amen and thank you.

So Poison Prince is safely with the editor, and I can return to HOOD. I’m not going to push myself too hard today, since I’m out of the office (and consequently not answering anything even remotely close to work emails or calls) through tomorrow, I figure I’ll just poke at Season Two and also poke around to see what I want to finish next. There’s the storm-god-and-the-witch tale, or the sort-of-Assassin’s-Creed Victorian one, or the profiler-and-the-codependent, or the vampire reaper. It’s the last that interests me the most. I’ve been writing healers for a while, it feels like I need to go back to kickass bitches, and there’s not much more kickass than the woman they call in for supernatural law enforcement. I’m fascinated by the thought of what a society of near-immortals would consider as consisting of law enforcement or capital punishment, and how they would treat the members responsible for dispensing such.

Like, what happens when you’re a relatively young superhuman thing, who remembers your human days but are so gifted you’ve been tapped to basically commit state-sanctioned murder on a regular basis? What would that do to a person? What kind of person would survive that, and how would they get through it–especially if they run across something or someone most of their society would kill to own? Like, say, a young kid with the power to let a Reaper walk in the daylight?

It might not go anywhere, but it’s been a while since I wrote a protector instead of a healer, and I think I’d like to do it again. I’d have to put some deep thought into the rules of the world, especially the engagement with mortal beings. Which sounds like a pleasant way to spend my days off, along with reading.

I finished Max Hasting’s Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy over the weekend, which focused largely on the American experience. Then again, the subtitle makes it clear it’s 1945-1975, and America was the elephant stamping around most during that time, and Hastings is clear upon the point that Vietnamese archives and other primary sources are beyond the reach of most if not all Western scholars, so there are good reasons for the lacunae. Still, my heart aches.

In any case, it’s a warm morning, and I’ve got to get out before it gets worse. At least I have a little time to breath before the next project heats up. I can almost feel the wrapping going back onto my exposed nerves; pushing myself at white heat for two projects in a row will only be a choice worth castigating myself for if I don’t pay attention to recovery time.

Remember to treat yourself gently between projects, my dears. It saves you from lost time and crappy creative choices down the road, an outcome devoutly to be wished for. And, now that I’ve given you that advice, I’m going to go try and take it myself.

Over and out.

Endurance Novel

HOOD

5k on The Poison Prince yesterday, and I can see the shape of the end. All I have to do now is hang on long enough, and it will sort itself out. It’s 85k of epic fantasy, and will only get bigger through the publication process. For right now, though, it’s all mine, and all on me.

I did get to play ES Posthumus’s Kalki several times and write a particular chase scene I’ve had in my head since the series started. So that was pretty awesome. I had to stop before I was absolutely exhausted and done-in for the day, giving myself enough candle to burn today, and I resented every moment of having to feed myself and sleep when what I’d rather be doing is writing, but that’s a given when I get so close to the end of a project. Especially a HUGE one like this.

The third book is going to kick my ass, I can tell. But between then and now, I need to finish the zero of this one, and the zero fo HOOD‘s Season One too. After those two zeroes are in the can and marinating, I can take a look around and think about what I want to do next. Probably Dolls, though I want to write a high fantasy epic with dragonriders and do it right.

What I don’t want to do is write The Highlands War, which was next on the list. Most people have been exceedingly lovely about the format choices for Kaia’s stories, but there’s always the bad apples. It will happen if it’s meant to, I suppose.

I feel like I’ve always been writing Poison Prince, like there’s never been a day I’ve not been writing it, and like I will be writing it for-fucking-ever, world without end, amen. Every novel is an endurance race, this one’s just…longer. If I stay stubborn enough, I’ll eventually get there.

…it occurred to me I have Harmony and Incorruptible to revise, so maybe I’ll do that while the zeroes are marinating and push off the decision about a fresh new world to play in for a little while longer. Getting more work out and before the eyes of the ravenous public would certainly feel better than this hack-slash-cut at a book that refuses to die no matter how many times I stab.

Five more scenes at bare minimum, then I can be done with Poison Prince. I’ll love the book again, probably in revision when I come across bits I don’t remember writing. But for right now it’s just one more enemy to slay.

I’m ready. I think. I mean, I suppose.

*buckles on goggles*
*the goggles do nothing*

Advent Madge, and Clarence, Too

Gallow & Ragged

April was difficult. Between recovering from several birthdays, late celebrations of said birthdays, freaking out over approaching epic fantasy deadline, and worrying about everything under the sun, it’s a wonder I didn’t lose what little sanity remains to me.

I did wake up today with Jody Watley and Glenn Campbell duking it out inside my earworm space, so at least there’s that. And I have, courtesy of a bead show, some new chandeliers to try earring designs with.

There’s also this beautiful lady:

Her name is Madge. I did some work for Dee’s Darlings, and Madge decided to come work for me for a bit as a thank-you. She is adorable and gets along well with Veronica and Isabelle. (You’ve met Veronica the Office Oracle, Isabelle is…difficult to explain. Maybe later this week.) Veronica in particular is happy to have an amanuensis, though Madge’s shorthand is impossible for anyone but her to read.

Veronica: CHICKEN SCRATCHES. AND I’VE NEVER SEEN A CHICKEN.
Madge: YOU CALL IT SCRATCHES, I CALL IT JOB SECURITY.
Isabelle: YOU TWO AREN’T FIGHTING, ARE YOU? WE ALL NEED TO GET ALONG.
Veronica: NOBODY’S FIGHTING, IZZIE.
Madge: *scribbles furiously*
Isabelle: ARE YOU SURE? BECAUSE I COULD BRING YOU SOME FISH–
Madge and Veronica, in tandem: NO FISH.

…yeah, things have been interesting around here lately. I should tell you guys about Clarence the Squirrel. It’s more of a title than an actual name, because Clarence is “the squirrel what’s actually got the peanut, you see,” and dinner hour a la Chez Saintcrow has gotten really strange since the kids love to put out a handful of peanuts while we eat, then wait for developments.

Anyway, the Clarence is the mug what’s got the peanut, and Ralph and Jeff are the mugs what don’t, and the deck has become the scene of a dinnertime drama almost Lynchian in its feverish intensity. (I almost made a Blue Velvet ether-sniffing joke the other night and caught myself just in time.) Clarence constantly wishes to keep their find from Jeff and Ralph, and the instant one of those picks up a peanut they become Clarence. (It’s kind of like Olsen Twins, who, being older no longer vibrates at such a high frequency.) Jeff and Ralph usually team up against the Clarence, and once a squirrel loses a peanut they become a Jeff or Ralph.

Understand? Good, because I didn’t for days and the kids had a sort of “Who’s on first” routine they were running. And poor me, with my head stuffed full of preindustrial technology and travel times, not to mention worrying about the damn mortgage, didn’t quite catch up with the train for a bit.

Parenthood, man. It never stops being a complete and total trip.

I even got some gardening done this weekend, which only brought home how much more there is to do. Maybe I’ll just grow nasturtiums this year instead of turning over the veggie garden.

In any case, it’s time for a run, and if I play my cards right, I can finish the zero of The Poison Prince this week. It would be nice to get that corpse on the table so it can be revision time instead of “I keep stabbing this book and it won’t DIE” time. Of course once I do, it’s time to get the zero of HOOD‘s Season One out. Then there’s revisions on Harmony, and and and…

…so, just as usual, my chickadees, I bid you a fond farewell until tomorrow, and vanish, cackling, in a cloud of scented smoke.

Freeing, Not Optimal

Jozzie & Sugar Belle

Writing epic fantasy is very…different. For one thing, I’m not getting the “oh, this phase of the project is done” hit of dopamine as regularly as I’m accustomed to, and that makes me cranky. For another…well, let’s just say that working under another name is freeing, certainly, but it’s not even close to optimal. It would be better if the books weren’t regularly orphaned, or if I wasn’t treated like an embarrassing bodily noise instead of the person who’s writing the damn books everyone else’s job relies on.

But hey, you know…nothing’s perfect.

Anyway, I’m super cranky today. Lord Boxnoggin is whistling with his desire to get out the door for a run or get down the stairs to find a cat, whichever. And yes, his whine is so high and prolonged it sounds like a whistle. Not a train whistle, more like a kettle at low boil, right before all the water evaporates and you’re left with a lump of metal melted to the stovetop.

Not that I’d know anything about that, no sir. *clears throat*

I know exactly why I’m so upset. I dislike being ignored when it’s my work that creates the value for everyone else in the stream; if I’m not going to be granted a reply to my quite reasonable questions I shall work to please myself, and that might mean finishing another story or two for some sweet sweet dopamine before I go back to this beast. I have to have faith, and trust that the Muse knows what the hell she’s doing. Fifty-plus books in and I’m still having to hold my nose and step blindly where that bitch leads.

It’s enough to make me want to call the girls for a drunken night, stay absolutely sober, and write another Jozzie & Sugar Belle. At least that was fun and I got answers when I bothered to ask anyone about Tuckerisation or the like.

I suppose a run will put me in a better mood. I’m not being allowed to do my usual detailed work from start to finish with these books, and it irks me far more than I thought it would. In any case, I’ve learned my lesson: if I ever write YA or epic fantasy ever again, it will have to be for a publisher who doesn’t think readers are stupid or treat me like a rancid afterthought.

I hope such beasts exist.

*wanders off to run, muttering*

Rules for Chasing

I have Poe’s Spanish Doll running inside my head this morning, a stagger-step of nostalgia and loss. The dogs are in fine fettle, especially Boxnoggin, who has taken to rolling over and begging for tummy rubs with the single-minded intensity and desperate cuteness of Oliver Twist asking for some more. He seems to have finally realized he’s not going back to the shelter, and it does him a world of good, poor fellow.

He’s not going to like running in the rain today, but he’s full of fidgets and I am too. If it’s any consolation to his dainty-pawed self, it’s a short run.

My writing partner gave me a clutch of walnuts, which she dislikes but I happen to love. I even like the faint bitterness of the skins and bits that cling to the brain-folded nut. Plus it’s fun to put a couple on the deck railing and watch the squirrels lose their tiny little minds over it. Remember that cartoon with the squirrel and the cocoanut? Much Ado About Nutting. That’s pretty much exactly what it looks like when the little bastards stumble across a treasure.

That was one of my ex-husband’s favorite cartoons. He had a passion for Buster Keaton too–the little guy who keeps getting bashed by circumstances, especially when he thinks he’s on to something good.

I know, it’s kind of…well, there was a reason that resonated with him, let’s just put it that way.

Anyway, one of the rules of Looney Tunes is that the “villain” or the hapless butt could stop at any time. This is most famously expressed in Chuck Jones’s Rules for Writing the Road Runner, which may be apocryphal but is damn insightful anyway.

The coyote could stop at any time. Now, they add, if he were not a fanatic, but that’s really gilding the lily. What makes the Road Runner cartoons–and plenty of other Looney Tunes–so funny is that it’s true, the pursuer or comic butt could stop at any moment.

They just don’t.

The kids and I have been talking about that a lot lately. It’s a good thing to halt in a dust cloud every so often, look around, and consider, what could I stop if I wasn’t so invested in? The answer may not be what you think.

Yesterday I spent a lot of time thinking about the current project, and came to a number of decisions. A few things I do with my books aren’t helpful in the current situation; I need to get out of the way and let my agent take care of a couple problems instead of sitting on them and brooding.

We all know how I love sitting and brooding. *snork*

So, my dear chickadees, I leave you with this question: what could you stop at any time? Are there diminishing returns? Is it a sunk costs fallacy? Is there anything that, when you stopped doing it, you would feel relief and have energy freed up for things you like better?

Notice I’m not saying any action other than thinking is required here. I’m not saying you have to immediately stop chasing your road runners, whatever they are. I’m just saying…think for a minute. Just consider. The option’s there, even if you don’t want to take it–and sometimes, knowing that an option exists frees up plenty of mental and emotional energy you didn’t even know you were pouring into a hole.

I often say I can put up with anything if I know when it’s going to stop. Or when I decide at what point I’m going to halt chasing the road runner and just order a bento box from Acme instead.

Now it’s time for me to take the dogs on a run. Sure, I could stop that at any time, but tired dogs are well-behaved dogs and I need the exercise. Besides, we took yesterday off, so we’re rested and ready (for whatever variety of “ready” we can muster) today.

See you around, friend-os.