Vivid, Chilly Fire

Crap drifting from the sky? Must be elves.

A particular maple on the daily dog-walkies route turns into flame every year. This time around she’s incredibly vivid, almost incandescent. Standing underneath on a crisp autumn day, I almost forget the leashes wrapped around my waist and the dogs sniffing or finished with their business and eager to keep going.

The maple lays a red carpet along the sidewalk, too, but lately I’ve been peering through the branches. I’ve spent a long while looking down, careful of my footing; I figure it’s time for a change.

The kids and I joke whenever there’s a windy day–especially during autumn–and tree-bits are floating far and wide, “The elves are about again.” You know how every time there’s elves in movies, the air’s full of feathers or falling leaves or sparkles or something? Maybe it’s all the Tolkien I’ve read and my kids have watched. Neither of them can get through the books, but the films are something else.

I think that’s great; the more, the merrier.

Of course soon the branches will be bare, making patterns against the sky. Still, each time we pause under that maple, whether in summer’s green, autumn’s chilly fire, or winter’s nakedness, I try to look up.

Even if only for a moment.

Music and Meatsack

blank

Yesterday was a bit of a wild ride. A very dear friend put me on a dedications page1, another dear friend liked the short story I made for her2, I formally left the house for the first time in ages, and remember those proofs I turned around in 48hrs so a book could come out in November? Well, turns out there’s no room in the November schedule so it’ll be January after all.

Which isn’t bad, mind you! It just means that Future (December) Me will be extremely grateful to Past (October) Me for getting things squared away. It’ll be a little gift to December Me, and also to my editors’ and publishers’ December selves. Frankly, by that point in the holiday season, I’m sure we’ll need all the help we can get.

Today looks to be a little less of a rollercoaster. Oh, sure, the weather people say there’s going to be a “Rain Event” around dinnertime, and the dogs are attempting to make sure I don’t leave the house again today–they had both kids to supervise while I did yesterday, but apparently that wasn’t good enough–and I really have got to get a newsletter out.

In short, all my internal spaces are echoing and it might be time to dust off Beck’s Sea Change album, just to soothe my nerves. I can’t do Pink Floyd since it’s past the equinox, so I’m forced to other measures.

As for the day’s work–once I get the newsletter out of the way–the first third of Hell’s Acre needs a top to bottom reshuffle. Sometimes one has to go down a road a bit to see where it leads, and sometimes even if one knows a book’s general outline…well, things happen. Stories are organic things, and grow in their own way. You can have the skeleton, but the flesh gets distributed differently.3

Anyway, once I get the throughlines in Hell’s Acre arranged, I can move the costume ball (and the interrupted assassination) earlier in the book, which can trigger the prison heist, which will lead to the culmination of Season One. Everything is going along swimmingly, and with that taking one half of my working days I can shift to revising The Black God’s Heart in the other half. And once that’s done, the Tolkien Viking Werewolves can get a second book, and so on, so forth.

I absolutely have all the work I can handle, and it’s a glorious feeling. I also have Klemp’s book (Ghost Squad #2) to get off the ground. It’s been marinating in the back of my head, so I might even do it as my NaNoWriMo this year. We’ll see.

Before that, though, the dogs want their walkies. Yesterday disturbed their usual rhythm, and they’re eager to get back to it. I also have new running shoes to break in, which is a joy and should get rid of that nagging pain in my hip.

Meatsacks, man. Always something aching, always something bruised, always some weird discharge or something. Of course the benefit of piloting one are immense as well, and yet…well, no silver lining without a cloud, and vice versa.

And with that butchering of a proverb, I’m off to start Thursday’s merry-go-round. I’m hoping for more of a slow carousel than Wednesday’s death-defying rollercoaster.

We’ll see how it turns out.

Small Rituals

blank
Blurry, but just right for catching in dog coats.

The season of harvest is upon us, my friends. Which can either be cheerful if chirped with bright optimism, or creepy if intoned with dirgelike seriousness.

These plants have been changing by small increments every time the dogs and I walk past, and we’ve reached the time of year when their seeds tangle even in Boxnoggin’s slick fur. Of course, they’re right where Boxnoggin and B like to stop for a bit of serious sniffing and possibly some liquid unloading, so I spend the next part of the walk picking wee bits out of their hair.

They enjoy the game, I think. Anytime Mum fusses over them is a good time.

Weather has finally become reasonable, pumpkins and spookytimes are everywhere, and I’m about to start accumulating bags of candy. No, we won’t be handing them out this year–the pandemic is still going on, and besides, the doorbell sends the dogs into paroxysms of rage I’m afraid might unmoor what little sanity they have left.

Indeed, no handing out candy this year. Which means the kids and I are going to have to eat it all. Silver linings, and all that.

Have a fabulous weekend, my beloveds. Look for the small things, the tiny rituals. And don’t forget the candy.

Sense Behind Chaos

blank

This morning I sent off the final proof for The Bloody Throne, third and last in the Hostage to Empire series; it should come out next March. (Book one is here.) Writing a series-ender during pandemic (I finished the zero about the same time I wrote Moon’s Knight last year) was uncomfortable in the extreme, and the poor Production department has turned in a yeoman’s job getting it through copyediting, formatting, and proofing.

Not to mention my current editor, who dealt with meltdowns of every conceivable type through the last two books of the series, and especially Bloody Throne. The poor woman deserves some kind of peace prize; I can’t imagine juggling multiple authors through all that.

I also had the great good fortune to read Stross’s The Bloodline Feud while attempting to spool down from the proof, and enjoyed it muchly. Other than that, I’ve been consuming true-crime books at an astonishing rate–probably for the same reasons I’ve been watching horror movies. There’s a kind of catharsis in thinking there’s some manner of narrative which makes sense behind the chaos of Real Life.

The season has turned, and the nights are growing chillier. Not a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned; this past summer was absolutely horrid. Autumn is when my productivity skyrockets anyway, and winter is my preferred season.

I’m taking the rest of October to work at about half-speed in lieu of a vacation. I can’t halt work entirely–neither the pocketbook nor my brain will allow it–but I can, perhaps, slow down a fraction and try to gasp in a breath or two.

Perhaps.

Of course a chunk of work will probably land in my lap later this week, putting paid to that ambition. Never rains but it pours, and all that.

For right now, I’ve coffee and the giant liberating feeling of a series-ending proof sent in. There might be some proofreader queries to finish everything up officially, but…Hostage to Empire is done, and I am relieved. 2022 is going to see some neat stuff from yours truly. I am not quite at the point of anticipating the future with pleasure instead of deep unease, but I’m trying.

The dogs are waiting patiently for their walkies, and since I’ve managed to get two-thirds of my coffee down I suppose a bit of toast is called for, then strapping on their harnesses and getting out the door. Monday has started out reasonably well; I can only hope the trend continues.

See you around, my friends.

Red Leaf

blank

All at once, there’s a carpet of crimson below a tree on our morning walkies. Plenty of the others haven’t changed yet, but this one is a little eager–maybe because of heat damage, maybe they’re just ready for a winter’s nap. I suspect summer has been exhausting for them, too.

Happy Friday. We made it through another week. I wish you a little beauty today, my beloveds, and a peaceful weekend.

See you Monday.

However Eventual

I heard the trains last night.

In summer, clear skies and prevailing winds mean we don’t hear them often; summer is mostly for distant airport-noises instead, on long breathless sunny afternoons. But when the autumn mists and cloud cover move in, late at night when the windows are closed, the cries of moving trains reappear with an eerie underwater quality.

Especially when one is up well past dark reading true crime, as I have been lately. The stories are horrible, yet the idea that somehow there’s a narrative structure–and an ending, however eventual, to every horror–is comforting in times of great distress and uncertainty.

And aren’t we having those now, my friends? You betcha.

Yesterday, curled up tightly on the couch with proof pages for The Bloody Throne, I took some time to watch the rain fall. Each drop was a welcome guest; the kids were home and the dogs quietly satisfied with the entire pack assembled. Miss B and Boxnoggin are most comfortable when all of us are within sight and smell–Boxnoggin, in particular, is excited when he senses a pack member is about to return. He has a positively unerring instinct for the moment just before a pedestrian who belongs to him (or a car bearing said human) will appear.

Today is for yet more proofs. Six hundred and fifty pages is a lot, and I have to consider each one separately, with a fine-tooth comb. It’s taken almost a week to get a hundred pages out of the way, probably due to massive burnout, but things should free up relatively soon now that I’ve found my groove.

Said groove is fragile. I’m still lying on the edge of the abyss, trying to breathe. The gasps aren’t quite as deep or close together, and my heart is beginning to come down from redline. Work helps, of course; retreating from social media helps even more. The tension between retracting for my own sanity and the necessity of some marketing (never my strong suit, though I’m trying like hell lately) is marked.

But at least I’m out. In a little bit I can get to hands and knees, and maybe even gain my feet with a particularly daring effort. Then comes walking away, probably to find another sinkhole. There’s never any shortage, especially with *waves hands* all this going on.

The season has turned. The windows are all closed, even at night. Switching to flannel sheets can’t be far behind, and Miss B is putting on her winter coat. Boxnoggin cuddles very close at bedtime, which is now a blessing instead of a sweating miserable curse, and the heated mattress pad is his new best friend. (Mine too, but that’s beside the point.)

It’s about damn time. I thought summer and its attendant discomforts would never end. The trees are shaking off heat stress, firs dropping damaged needles and rhododendrons damaged leaves as new growth emerges fresh and green; they’re scarred but vital.

Healing means they’ve survived.

Dogs need walkies, my corpus needs its (relatively) high-speed shamble, the proof pages need attention, subscription drops need to be prepped. Peace is tenuous, but deeply welcome. Renewal inherent in rain fills lovely cool grey days. My own survival seems a little more assured, a little more possible.

After all, I heard the trains last night.

Tornado, and Historical Murder

There was an actual tornado in the area last night–“weak”, they say, but even a tiny one is no joke. The dogs didn’t even hear any thunder; I know this because if they had, Boxnoggin would have been pressed as close as possible to me, shaking so hard the entire bed quivered. The poor fellow does not like skybooms.

He’ll adjust to falling water, but noise is a different story. It doesn’t help that he has fennec-style ears, poor thing. The loudest event we had chez nous was a dead branch falling from the Venerable Straight-Backed Fir early in the day, which hit a table and broke one of the planters on it.

I was going to harvest the epazote soon anyway.1

Summer has officially been broken, and not a moment too soon. I was about to desiccate into dust. I did get about a hundred pages of copyedits eyeballed yesterday, while listening to Anonymous 4, Joan Sutherland, and Montserrat Caballé. It was quiet and lovely, but I had to knock off early to make dinner.

I also finished Emma Southon’s A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and now I need to get everything else she’s written. People who say history is boring haven’t read enough of the good stuff, and there seems a positive conspiracy, both in the school system and out of it, to make ‘what happened before now’ as dry and droning as possible. I think it’s because people who know their history are forewarned about the bullshit kleptocrats, plutocrats, autocrats, and authoritarians pull, so said ‘crats and dictators seek to control it–and make it boring–as a matter of course.

In any case, that particular book was a joy to read2, and is full of crunchy historical events and analysis. I am tempted to take another running leap at Homo Necans now that I’ve got Southon’s book under my belt, to compare, contrast, and do some pleasant deep thinking about. An active reading life is somewhat like a spiral; engaging with a book may lead one to a deeper understanding of a previous text, which just happens to be one of my very favourite things.

Of course, I might not have the energy for more than a few pages before I pass out, either on the couch or in bed. Whatever this is–and the current diagnosis is indeed burnout, since I’ve not lost my sense of smell, there’s no fever, and the scratchy-throat is going down–it has robbed me of the will to attempt anything more complex than simply hanging onto the edge of my day with teeth and fingernails, getting the absolute minimum of work done so I don’t fall too far behind.

And I hate it. I positively loathe not being able to work at my accustomed speed. It puts me in quite a temper, or it would if I had the energy to be peeved instead of grimly determined.

In any case, I’ve a limited amount of pep today, and most of it needs to be spent knocking out more CE pages. The sooner I get this done, the sooner I can move to the proofs on the third (and final, I get a lot of emails asking about that) Hostage to Empire book.

I loved that series, but writing the third during lockdown and some of the associated problems (not anyone’s fault, not even the Romans3) robbed me of every inch of joy in an achievement. I will be relieved to have it finished, though I know what happens to the characters several years afterward…well, less said about that, the better.

In any case, the minimum for today is another hundred pages of CEs. In order to get there, breakfast must be attempted, the dogs must be walked, and maybe a few kilometers run to shake me into some kind of alertness have to be achieved. Yesterday’s run in the rain was lovely, but also a torment. Still, it did give me enough short-term energy to untangle quite a few commas, ellipses, and copyeditor queries.

Off we go into Tuesday. Hopefully no more tornadoes are lying about, but if they are, well, we’ve a basement. We’ll see how it goes.

Over and out.