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.

Habit’s Wake

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I suppose one could describe my current state as “in a mood.” The business of publishing is fit to drive one to distraction, and a particular neighbor is running a pressure washer for hours at a time while the noise goes right across my nerves, dragging spikes and sandpaper.1

It could be that I need a win, however small. It could also be that I’ve hit the limit, so to speak, in many a way. Living with extreme empathy, while great for pouring myself into a character’s skin and figuring out their motivations, is a distinct drawback under current conditions. The number of people who seem to have precisely none while I got a quadruple measure is heartbreaking.

I seem to have reached the limit of even my quadruple measure, to be honest. It pains me to feel that perhaps the bigots who were screaming “fuck your feelings”, refusing to mask up and take the pandemic seriously, are in effect reaping what they have sown. If it weren’t for the collateral damage–the innocent caught in their plague-bearing fire–I might even think it a wee bit justified.

We could have been done with this by now. A few weeks of paying everyone to stay home, vaccinating, and masking afterward could have fixed it. But no, some greedy corporations had to have their serfs kept sick and terrified, and some racists just had to have their fix of propaganda-laden cruelty.

I need a rest in the worst way, but if I take one work piles up and all I do is circle the house aimlessly, wishing I was working so at least I could peek into another world since this one is proving so unsatisfactory. And publishing, festina lente as it is, with the ones at the bottom producing everything the entire edifice depends on–the writers, in case there was any doubt–treated as embarrassing afterthoughts to be abused instead of the jewel of the whole system, well. It’s enough to drive one to distraction.

There’s coffee to swill, and walking the dogs to be done. The minutiae of daily life goes on. Maybe a run will help me feel better. Copyedits have landed, and at least accomplishing those will push a book (and a series) another step towards the finish line. But oh, I’m so tired; I just rolled out of bed under protest and I am already exhausted.

If not for habit dragging me along in its wake, I might decide to simply crawl in a hole and close it up after me. The thought holds a definite attraction.

What’s getting you through the day today, my beloveds? I hope it’s something pleasant. In any case, any way of getting through the day is acceptable. The important thing is to reach the evening somewhat intact.

Suppose I’d best get started. See you around.

Damp Sledgehammer Monday

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Rain! Marvelous, glorious rain all yesterday. I do have to dump out the basins and catchers under the seedling pots, and even though today is already quite busy I should get some of said seedlings in the ground to take advantage of all the nice skywater.

It’s almost enough to make me tranquil. Except revisions have landed, there’s a million chores I didn’t get to yesterday, and school administrators are doubling down on their bullshit instead of simply doing the necessary thing and moving on.

The fact that I just knew they were going to continue with the bullshit when they were called on it makes it even more irritating.

Anyway, there’s the rain to listen to, the dogs to walk, a run in lovely warm summer damp to accomplish, and revisions on the third and final Hostage to Empire book to begin. If I get those final edits out the door this week I might be able to knock off the Sons of Ymre edits next week and be ahead of the game–except for I also need to be producing on Hell’s Acre that entire time. I’m ahead, of course, but not as comfortably as I like to be in a serial. At least the combat scene isn’t giving me trouble.

A scene that takes a writer weeks to craft might be read in a few moments, and sometimes people think it detracts from the value of the writer’s labor. Far from, my friends, far from.

What I really want to be doing is lunging for the end of Cold North. Sol the elementalist and her merry band of companions are in a bad fix indeed; though I know how they get out I am not entirely sure a few of them will make it alive. I suspect, of course, and I’m pulling for them…and yet. It’s hard on a writer’s nerves, not knowing which of the characters will meet a bad fate in the text.

I mean, there are intimations, and occasionally I absolutely know when a character is doomed, but most of the time it’s a surprise even to me. An uncomfortable one, to say the least.

Miss B is very ready for walkies, and is nudging at my knee. Time to get out the door and embarked upon a Monday which has started very Monday indeed and looks fair to continue.

It’s enough to make me grab the goggles and reach for a sledgehammer. I’m ready to tango.

Admin Games

Yesterday was the Prince’s very last day of high school, ever. That’s right, both my kids are officially done with basic edumacation.

Seniors traditionally get out of school a week or so early, so graduation can be arranged before the end of the technical “school year”.1 Which means I’ve spent a couple weeks in a constant round of emails, literally forcing school administrators to do their jobs so the process will go as smoothly as possible for my youngest child.

The teachers have been wonderful all through this. But administration is another kettle of fish entirely. I am forced to the conclusion that in education, as in many other industries, a vast proportion of petty Napoleons habitually rise to the level of their incompetence and do their level best to keep their jobs by inflicting needless torment and paperwork upon the rest of us.

Don’t try to convince me otherwise.

The Prince started the day by getting up early, going over the list we’d made the night before of all necessary items, then tucking a mask in his pocket and shouldering his backpack to walk down to the school. It’s not a long ramble; it’s even enjoyable in good weather. He could have biked, walked, or rode the bus in any normal school year; the pandemic, of course, meant “remote learning”.

I will say the school district’s relatively long-ago decision to invest in cheap but robust laptops for all high school students was a good decision–one of the few. We’re privileged enough to have the hardware for him to do the remote learning without that help, but it was nice to have the school-issued gear and frankly, I would not have sent him into the petri dish during lockdown like the superintendent was making noises about insisting on. I’d’ve pulled him out and just let him take the GED test when things calmed down.

I did not spend millions of calories raising this child to have the malignant neglect of an administrator infect and literally kill him. No, indeed.

Anyway, yesterday was Seniors’ Last Day, which meant turning the laptops and all paperwork in. Of course none of it could be done early, partly because of lockdown and partly because they want to squeeze every last ounce of control over the kids to the max.

And it was, as anticipated, an utter shitshow from an organizational point of view.

Admin: “This is all the paperwork you need to graduate.”
Me: “This is ALL the paperwork? In toto? This is EVERY PIECE of paperwork? There are no hidden pieces?”
Admin: “Why would you ask that? This is everything.”
Me: “This is absolutely everything? You are prepared to swear in writing this is everything necessary?”
Admin: “Why don’t you phone us so we can chat?”
Me: “Because I want a record of everything said. You swear in writing this is everything necessary, every piece of paperwork necessary for graduation?”
Admin: “Yes. We swear.”
The Prince: *walks to school* *turns in everything on the list* “Now, this is everything, right?”
Admin: “Well, there’s one more piece. And it requires running all over the school.”
The Prince: “You mean the school where kids below the vaccination-age are attending classes? You mean a senior who might not have been able to get vaccinated yet2 has to run around the ENTIRE school filling this out?”
Admin: “Of course.” *pause* “Oh, and it needs a parental and counselor signature too.”
The Prince: *texting me* “Um, Mum? They did it…”

Of course we knew they were going to pull some bullshit. But that wasn’t even the final touch. The “senior counselor”3–whose signature was necessary on this piece of paperwork they were dropping on kids at the last minute–had decided yesterday was a marvelous time to take a half-day off.

So the Prince brought the piece of paper home. I signed it, put on my heels4, and drove him back to the damn school after the “senior counselor’s” expected arrival. Then I waited in the parking lot, engine running, and by the gods if I had to turn the car off and go into that complex of buildings, there were going to be fireworks.

Some time later, the Prince strode out, head high, and I knew from his body language that all had been a success. He got in the car, tossed his backpack into the back seat, tore his mask off, and heaved a sigh. “It was,” he said, “a circus in there.”5

I contented myself with two words. “All done?”

If the answer had been no I would have slapped on a mask and gone forth to do battle. But thankfully, my youngest child grinned at me and announced, “All done. I’m free.”

On the bright side, learning how to work an unwieldy bureaucracy, leveraging any inch of privilege one has, is a highly useful life skill. And, as I told him, sadly this sort of thing is the rule rather than the exception in adult life. It’s good to get the lesson and attendant practice out of the way early; they’ve seen me problem-solve this sort of thing all their lives.

I must mention the one piece of school bureaucracy which had its shit together6 was the library crew, who where stellar and which surprises me not at all.

We returned home in victory, had celebratory pho–his favorite meal, one we haven’t had since lockdown started because he kind of prefers the restaurant experience–delivered for lunch, and the Princess came home early from work. Upon hearing the tale she grinned with relief. “Yeah, *senior counselor*’s always been useless. I’d’ve been in the office at 6am to prep for the seniors’ last day.”

Which made the Prince and I laugh like hyenas, because it was exactly what I’d said in the car.

All vastly improved from there, with the Prince retreating to his room for video games, the Princess baking a special celebratory Oreo cake, and a quiet afternoon while the dogs calmed down because omg the humans had left them aloooooone in the hoooooouse for a half-hoooooooour.7

I couldn’t settle, so I was extremely online the rest of the day. And after dinner, we lit a candle and sang the family anthem, and that was wonderful. I was misty-eyed.

But the administration wasn’t done. There had to be a final fuck-you from them to surpass their usual practice for both kids’ school careers and crown the further mess of the damn pandemic year.

Yes, my beloveds, I got an automated call that evening from the school, informing me that my student “had been absent unexcused for one or more class periods today.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’ve been engaged in sort of a running skirmish with the attendance office all damn year-plus-long lockdown, because they have not bothered to get their ducks in a row and put some goddamn protocols and procedures in place for the kids (at first ALL the students, then later just a SIGNIFICANT PROPORTION) doing remote learning. It appears completely beyond them, though there are at least three adults in that single office alone whose entire job remit is “attendance.”

So I had to email them one last time, politely pointing out that there was no way my senior could have attended classes since it was the last day and the damn laptop used for sign-in had been turned in as the school had requested, and they would reply with verification that they had fixed the problem and furthermore would not do this again for the rest of the school year or I would be in touch. Because I wouldn’t put it past them to hold his diploma or transcripts hostage if every last i wasn’t dotted and t wasn’t crossed.

I will, gods willing, never have to force those people to do their jobs ever again. The Princess, of course, fixed me with a mischievous look when I muttered as much at the dinner table.

“Just watch,” she said. “You’re going to foster some kid, and they’re going to go to school, and the school’s gonna try something. And then they’ll see your name pop up in their email notifications and the earth will tremble.”

It’s not that I like being adversarial, I swear. It’s just that when you’re dealing with a child I have taken responsibility for, by every god that ever was, you will behave properly or I will make you, and if you still refuse to behave properly, I will end you. It’s that simple. I don’t ask for special treatment, I am content with you doing your goddamn stated job.

*sigh*

I’m sure I sound bitchy and rude, but when it comes to protecting one’s spawn, well, I’ll be as bitchy as I have to be. And again, the teachers have been stellar8, it’s just the petty, bullying faux-Napoleons who have turned in (far, far) less-than-satisfactory performance.

Same as it ever was, I’m sure. Petty bureaucratic bullshit will be with us lo unto the crack of doom. Otherwise things just might be too easy, and we can’t have that.

But it’s all done now. I’ve gotten both children through high school. I suppose a wee bit of pride is justified, though all I feel is the weary exhaustion and decompression of a major life goal reached. It was an Experience right down to the wire, as they say.

And…well, my children are hilarious, beautiful, kind, crackerjack-brilliant human beings. I can’t wait to see what they do next, and I’m utterly grateful both of them want me in their lives to witness it.

All’s well that ends well, and all that. I’ve got to get back to work…

…but that’s (say it with me) another blog post.

Flakes, Time, and (French) Toast

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A lot of you are on the cake train, and I’ve got to say, if that’s my contribution to the rising relief, I’m happy with it. (Bonus for all the “cake wasn’t a lie!” jokes. I knew you were My People.)

However, I have definitely had enough cake, and though the enjoyment of cake is a renewable resource, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to make another one for a while.

The weather feathers are saying snow today. It won’t last–it never does in this temperate part of the world–but it’ll be nice to drink some hot cocoa and watch it come down, even if nobody told me we were out of sandwich bread.

Bloody hell.

I’m not heading out to the grocer’s under these conditions. Everyone will be out panicking through their French toast shopping–eggs, milk, bread. I suppose I could whip up some bread dough and have that be the day’s project along with getting the end of HOOD‘s Season Three arranged. I need this zero draft done, boy howdy.

I had a hot knitting date last night, so I didn’t get in any work on the Viking Elementalist. It’s all right, I still have to figure out what happens on her first night sleeping away from home. I think the werewolves are going to make an appearance, though not in the way the protagonist might expect.

I originally had a huge set-piece chase and stuff planned for the end of HOOD but it just doesn’t make sense. The story wants a different route. I just wish it would have told me before now, but honestly, it was a bad year for both of us and I’m holding no grudges. I have to have faith that the story knows what it’s doing and will bring us all home safely.

Faith in anything else, however, is in somewhat short supply around here lately. (Need I restate, it was a bad year and the January following was a real dilly too, even though it hasn’t even ended yet?) It hasn’t been a full week since the inauguration, but the time feels endless. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to the pre-pandemic experience of time. I’m reserving judgment on whether that’s a good or bad thing, just like I’m waiting to see if there will be any consequences leveled at violent racist insurrectionists.

I had a whole rant flash through my mind about how we’re all shaky-legged in the first recovery stage after major ongoing abusive trauma, trying to breathe and flinching every time the madness looks like it’s about to start up again. But Boxnoggin is alerting every time a stray gust of wind goes down the street, and I can’t keep a sentence in my head long enough to type while he’s interrupting every other word.

He wants his damn ramble, even though he’s going to pick up his dainty paws and give me many a reproachful glance as soon as he realizes it’s near freezing and yes, we’re bloody well walking even though he’s changed his mind.

You know, I bet I can still have the big chase at the end of Season Three if…

*time passes*

…aaaaaand I managed to get the idea onto a Post-it before Boxnoggin lost his shit again, since a nice lady with a stroller and two well-trained dogs was passing in front of our house, and apparently that Cannot Be Borne. There’s sixty-plus pounds of dopey black boxer-terrier who needs to frickin’ chill, and he won’t until after a ramble.

Wish me luck. It’s cold out there, and maybe I’ll see a flake or two. Atmospheric, though. Not human. (Though our neighborhood has no shortage of the latter…)

Over and out.

Nervousness and Fanfic

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We’re at less than 48 hours until adults are in charge again, and I can’t settle. I can barely breathe for the anxiety. I’m braced for more terrible fascist violence. I expect a good hard run today will help shake some of that out, but the nervousness is going to mount until the actual event.

Quite possibly beyond, too. Already I can’t even sit still.

The dogs don’t know why I’m so nervy, of course, and I’m content to have it so. The last thing they need is politics swamping their tiny doggy brains. Still, they’re both very concerned and sticking to me like velcro, attempting to soothe whatever invisible thing is tormenting their human.

Tormenting me is their job, and they don’t like being superseded.

I was supposed to take the weekend off, and am also not allowed to work today. Burnout is awful. I want to work, not least because it’s how I escape *waves hands* All That. I might–might–be allowed to write some fanfic; the only question there is what kind.

There was a bit of a dustup on social media over the weekend about fanfic. Someone just had to get shitty over it, which is about par for the course and happens with depressing regularity. I was heartened to see everyone whose opinion I respect weighing in on the side of “Fanfic is glorious, stfu”; it let me know I’m following the right people.

You can’t get better as a writer without, well, actually writing. (And reading, but that’s–say it with me–another blog post.) Fanfic is great practice; it can be training wheels, fuel, and bowling bumpers all at once. It’s also a deep compliment to the original writer–I love your characters/world so much, I can’t let go of either.

I have strong and very definite feelings about writing–I believe in writing every day. (Burnout, of course, means only about 200 words a day on something that won’t ever be published, but it’s keeping the habit that matters.) But as for what that daily writing can be? It doesn’t matter if it’s fanfic, drabbles, original, dialogue sparks, or what-have-you.

A writer isn’t a writer without a lot of reading; it doesn’t matter what you read. It matters that you read, and likewise, it doesn’t matter what you write. It matters that you write.

It matters that you get in the habit of prioritizing your writing, that you reserve some of your daily energy for it, that you practice. It matters that you do. Writers write, it’s the nature of the beast.

Now, I’m sure a lot of people will be upset at the “write every day” thing, but you’re here on my site and I’m telling you what I think, so deal. The fact remains that fanfic is a gift, a great practice, plus it strengthens a writer’s grasp of characterization, structure, plot, timing, and craft. I suspect the “writer” of that silly thread touching all this off is just annoyed that nobody likes her characters enough to write ficlets about them.

I can’t, of course, read any fanfic of my own work, for fear of poisoning the well or possible legal ramifications. But you bet your bippy any time I’m told someone loved my stories enough to want to write in those universes, I get a deep warm feeling and can’t help but grin. I consider it a huge high compliment that the characters in my head have also made themselves at home inside someone else’s. It’s a beautiful, joyous, loving gift, even if the fanfic writer was mad at me for an ending or a character’s fate.

Love or hate of my work is fine. The job of a writer is to provoke an emotional reaction, and either is acceptable. The very worst reaction to one’s work is lukewarm boredom; I don’t even mind the hatemail or the how could you emails, because those mean I’ve done my damn job.

So. In case there was any confusion about where I stand on fanfic, let me reiterate: Fanfiction is GREAT. It’s awesome, I love it, and it makes writers better. Do it all you want. It doesn’t matter what you write, it matters only that you write.

And now I go walk the dogs, not to mention run myself ragged, and try to distract myself from dread and anxiety. And later today I’m probably going to write some Madalorian fanfic. Sure, only 200 words or so, but it’ll keep my hand in, and it’s my own personal fuck you to the idea that fanfic writers are somehow lesser creatures.

Over and out.

Swimming, Smile

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The morning has started with Boxnoggin jostling Miss B into punching Yours Truly in the mouth with her paw. Of course when I let out a short blurt of surprise and recoiled, both dogs realized their human was hurt in some fashion and scrambled to attempt aid. Which meant stepping upon my recumbent self, nose-punching me in the eye, scraping my shoulder with doggie nails, and then getting into a shoving match with each other. I had a swollen lip before I even rolled out of bed, and my eye is still watering.

This doesn’t bode well for Thursday, but maybe the day’s just getting everything out of its system early?

At least I have coffee. Some days the java just tastes better, and this is one of them.

I only got 450 or so words on HOOD‘s Season Three before dark yesterday. Once the sun went down, though, things got better and I ended up with a solid 2k+. Of course I’ll have to look today to see if any of them are good words that can be retained.

No silver lining without a cloud, naturally.

Once I get the zero of Season Three out, it’ll be time to cross that off my big to-do list and figure out the next six months’ worth of writing. Normally I juggle one serial, two trad publisher books, and one project Just For Me at a time, with small breaks for revisions, copyedits, and the like. With the loss of productivity due to pandemic, fascist coup, and related stress, I’m not sure if that’s do-able.

But if I don’t write, we don’t eat. It’s that simple. Not to mention I can’t go a day without writing at least something, or I start to feel diamond-tipped insect-feet itches under my skin.1 It’s just easier to continue pushing myself than to allow any sort of break.

It’s very… sharklike. Keep swimming so I don’t suffocate, and wear a smile.

So. Thursday is antsy, but so am I. My coffee has cooled rapidly while typing this, and the dogs are very eager for walkies. I find myself eager to get out for a run; getting rid of cortisol and other stress chemicals through sweat has been a real sanity-saver. Of course, it doesn’t balance out the stress-eating, but then again nothing’s perfect.

Except for dogs, that is. Even when they punch me in the face first thing in the morning.

All right, Thursday. We’re not going to hurt each other (any more), are we? Because I’m in a mood to lay some napalm if you get dodgy.

Over and out.