Running, an Inch

Steelflower in Snow

This morning, I was in a bit of a mood. Out the door with two fractious dogs into cold rain, one dog unfazed and the other wanting to pull ahead to finish the damn deed so he could go home and dry off, my patience was all but exhausted.

And yet, while my feet pound and my breath comes high and hard, I realize, this is not who I want to be. The irritation falls away; I leave it like a discarded skin and run into the future of who I do want to be.


Years ago, the stark grief of a broken heart pushed me further, faster. I ran until I couldn’t, without dog, bee, or any other companion, and when I stopped and closed my eyes, all that touched me was sunshine, dust, and the knowledge that I had done what was necessary. It still hurt.

It hurt.

And yet, when I opened my eyes, there was nothing to do but keep moving. I had to get home, after all. Sitting in the middle of a street and waiting for the rest of my life is not who I want to be.

So I chose differently. And kept going.


I began running because it was something I could do on a treadmill in the solarium. A single mother can’t leave her babies unprotected; besides, my body had become a stranger. I ran at first because it was the best of several bad options, then I kept running because the endorphins had me hooked, then I ran because it had become a habit.

Now I run because it soothes me, because it is still the only time I have to be truly alone. Despite the company of dogs, it is while running that my soul expands a little. The rest of the world falls away and I can see who I’ve been, and more importantly, who I want to be.


Irritated? I write. Happy? I write. Sad? I write. I do it because it’s what I was meant and made for, what I was designed to do. I am helpless to stop writing.

But running is a choice. The static vanishes. Physical motion, the thunder of my pulse, dripping sweat–all reminders that I can choose. There is only an inch allotted to us, a small, separate piece caught in the net of circumstance, privilege, physics, and obligation. They can take every inch of me–they have certainly tried, all my life–but one.

That small piece keeps me human. It is the part where I choose.


The dogs don’t like it when I run alone. Boxnoggin is protective; Miss B simply thinks it’s her duty to crawl under my skin and stay there. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes, whether because of injury, weather, or other considerations, I find myself solitary.

I am alone, but I am never lonely while that small inch of me remains.


B slows near the end of even short runs now. She doesn’t want to, but she is becoming elderly, and her body does not do as she wishes. It doesn’t matter. Speed isn’t the issue. Looking down and seeing her grin as she paces me, in her accustomed place and all right with her world despite our slowness, fills me with aching love. I have so little time left with her; I slow as much as she needs.

Boxnoggin doesn’t quite have the rhythm down yet. He’s young, and though it’s been months, he learns at his own pace. Above all, he wants to protect his pack; the constant changing of our route during runs to make it easy for him to behave and get accustomed to the fact that when I need him to snap or growl I’ll let him know takes a lot of bandwidth. Still, we persevere. Eventually he’ll learn, and I will have become the person who gave him the space for that teaching to sink in.


When I was a child, my primary female caregiver wanted me to become a doctor. It was her own unfinished dream, and I was responsible for seeing it through. The knowledge loomed on the horizon like a mountain at the end of a sea journey, just a smear at first and for a long time neither larger nor smaller no matter how fast one sails. Suddenly, it begins to grow, and the shadow of expectation pressed on me from crown to soles. I couldn’t breathe.

I chose passive resistance to her dreams all my young life. But when I left that house, I had no idea how to find out what I wanted to be–or even who I was. I’ve spent decades trying to unravel the mystery, making false starts, drowning in other people’s needs, pouring myself into black holes, lighting myself on fire to keep others warm.

And then I began to run.


“I can tell you haven’t run today,” the kids say.

“I can tell you haven’t run today,” my writing partner says.

I can tell I haven’t run that day, and I close my eyes, imagine my feet hitting pavement and the wind making that low sweet sound in my ears. Even when I don’t run I can choose who I want to be. Running only reminds me. It shakes me, and while everything is whirling inside my skin I realize there are some things nailed down, some handholds I can trust on my internal cliff-face.

There is a me who can decide. I just have to give her an inch.


Today it was raining. The dogs were both tetchy, their fidgets not quite worked out yesterday. It took twenty damn minutes for the red cloud of irritation around me to blow away. Both beasts needed constant reminding and redirecting. Before I snapped, I took a deep breath, slowed my pace, untangled both of them, and swallowed the unkind things I might have muttered at their poor, silly, excited selves.

Unkind is not who I want to be.

The carapace falls away and I am damp and new, slowing to a walk and petting the canines who depend upon me. I tell them they are good, and they believe me. Sometimes–not very often–I slow enough to listen to them tell me I am good, and I try to believe them, too.

We walk home. Because we choose to.


I have kept a single inch to myself, one thing I have never mortgaged, sold, smothered to please someone else. I have fed others from my broken body and kept a single crust from the feast despite those who tell me it is selfish treachery to avoid subsuming myself completely. The world is hungry, abusers are famished; they will take even that last inch and leave for other tables while your bones rot.

I hid that inch so successfully it took running to find it again. And, over and over again, it expands to fill me while I write.

Running doesn’t fill me. It strips away the noise, the constant pressure, the weight of people who sold their inch or never found it, who want to crack my bones and eat my marrow to fill their own unending hunger where that small space used to be.

I learn, over and over again, that I choose who and what I am. There is an inch of me beyond reach, a table in the presence of mine enemies, and every time I lace up and buckle the dogs in, reach the end of warmup and pitch forward to take the first few steps into the uncertain future, I realize again that I am not lonely.

How can I be, while I run?

Cracked, And Serviceable

My favorite mug has survived a bookstore fire, losing its handle, having its handle glued back on, having the glued handle fall back off, and various other mishaps. It still works, though it’s a bit battered, and I plan to use it until it doesn’t.

The fact that it yells “I AM GOING TO HEX YOUR FACE OFF” is just…a bonus. I forget where I saw that particular term–I think it was in a Harry Potter fanfic about Bellatrix (and she’s probably the character who would most likely utter such a thing, unless Molly Weasley got really angry) and it just encapsulates my every feeling before sweet, sweet life-giving caffeine goes down my throat.

I’ve rarely had things stay in my life. The mug has lasted longer than my marriage at this point, and given me quiet steadfastness the last years of said marriage utterly lacked. That’s enough reason to keep it around.

Plus, every time I see its smoke-scarred glaze, I’m reminded that we survive, we endure, and just because a thing is cracked or discolored doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful and worthy and good. The older I get, the more I appreciate the cracked, discolored, and still quietly serviceable.

My other favorite mugs say It’s Motherfucking Tea Time and She Who Must Be Obeyed. I…suppose that says a lot about me, but nothing Readers didn’t already know.

Remember, even if we’re cracked, we’re still useful, beautiful, and worth keeping. Have a good weekend, chickadees.

Tomaters

I have taken to experimenting with my red sauce. This time, after the tomatoes and garlic had enough time to sweat, cook, and reduce, I took out the bay leaves and used a stick blender to puree everything, then added browned meat, mushrooms (raw but rinsed because I wanted all their juiiiiicues and glutamic acids), seasonings, and carrot bits.

Carrots are your friend in tomato sauces. They provide sugar and fiber to soak up the tomatoes’ acidity, buffering what could be a watery, astringent mess. You don’t need to use white sugar if you add chopped-fine or grated carrots, and the result in the finished sauce is ever so subtle but unignorable.

I’ll be using the red sauce to make lasagna in a crock pot today, and I’m looking forward to it. I will not be making the noodles by hand; I do have some limits.

It’s kind of funny, because I hate lasagna…but that’s a story for another day.

Welcome to the weekend, chickadees.

Pondering

Rattlesnake Wind

Here’s a short list of the things I’m wondering about lately:

  • Reading about the bombing of Europe in WWII, I came across a description of the frantic effort to save cultural treasures from the air war. In particular, a Botticelli was spotted on the floor among men drinking tea, and it halted me in my tracks. I know the painting, of course, and I thought about what it would mean if it was lost in a bomb attack before technological advances made the art galleries available to anyone with a few spare bucks a month to pay for electronics.
  • The democratization of media–“highbrow” and “low”–made me think of this Sententiae Antiquae piece on classical learning and how it functioned as a gatekeeper for a long time…until, that is, technological advances opened up access. Nowadays, of course, the rich just pay for their kids to flood schools with the leftover prestige of yesteryear.
  • Nora Roberts is suing that CopyPaste Cris woman. Which is great, but I’d love to see Amazon as a codefendant, because we all know they’re profiting from the book-stuffers and plagiarists. They refuse to take down stuffed or plagiarized books until public outcry reaches a certain pitch, they don’t offer refunds as a matter of course, and if one is so unfortunate as to publish solely through them, their terms and conditions make it difficult if not impossible to get recourse (financial and otherwise) against plagiarizers or against Amazon itself as a bad actor.
  • It’s also very…interesting that the moment Amazon does take any steps to cut down on book-stuffers and plagiarists, the scammers in question already have a back door, one they share through their forums and “author” loops. Some of the scammers even have their own dedicated KU reps. I’m sure those “reps” get bonuses for their pet authors gaining “sales rank.” I am naturally a suspicious type, and I smell something foul in the water.1
  • Gelatin used to be only for the higher castes, which makes me laugh and laugh.

Just little things I ponder, turning them over and over inside my head and examining them from different angles. I think a lot about how the infrastructure for electronic communication isn’t ubiquitous, though it feels like it is when you’ve enough money to get an entry device (even a smartphone). I also think a lot about humanity’s habit of war and what it costs not only in terms of blood spilled but also cultural progress frittered away.2

I ponder and I wonder, and sometimes I find a piece of the puzzle that leads me in a different direction entirely. Such is life. I’ve met people who dislike the sensation of active thinking–there are quite a lot of them–and I don’t understand, finding it quite pleasant.

Right now, though, I’ve got to stop the wondering and get out the door. We took yesterday off, and while the enforced rest did both Boxnoggin and me good, we’re both itchy and a little peevish this morn. Miss B will be extremely peevish at being left home, but she is an Elderly Statesdog now, and is only taken on short jaunts. She gets plenty of exercise playing rough-and-tumble with Boxnoggin, and it’s keeping her young–but after mid-range runs she limps a bit, and while I know she would run her heart out if I asked, I wouldn’t.

What are you thinking about this fine Thursday morn, chickadees?

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.

Burden, Borne

It’s that day! The Complete Roadtrip Z is now available in ebook directly, or from the distributor of your choice. That’s all four seasons of the serial in one handy (and very large) chunk. (The paperback edition is here.)

The genesis of the Roadtrip books is a long ongoing conversation with my writing partner about just who would survive the zombie apocalypse, and how such an apocalypse would be likely to spread, assuming it was viral. There are other considerations–a bacterial or occult zombie-making plague was ruled out early in the game, since Mel loved biology in school. (She and I have another ongoing conversation about mass conversion in shifters, but that’s neither here nor there.)

We talk sometimes about survival, and about how it’s going to be the people who are already used to scraping by that are going to make it during the initial catastrophe and the secondary wave of bad-luck deaths afterward. I’m sad to say that without Lee’s help, Ginny probably wouldn’t have–and without Ginny, Lee might never have made it out without the survivor part of him deciding to do some dreadful and perhaps unnecessary things. They needed each other badly.

There’s also Juju, who’s had the deck stacked against him all his life, and who’s pretty sure any new world from the toxic ashes from the old is going to be just as bad for him. I’m not sure he’s wrong, either, but at least he’s got people watching out for him now.

I didn’t know who would survive when I started writing. I knew where the survivors would end up, but not what that group would look like when it got there. Some people I badly wanted to survive made it; some people I really wanted to see make it didn’t. The kids could probably tell you about me staggering down the hall after a long day of writing, tears on my face as I begin making dinner.1

There was plenty of poring over atlases, checking tactical layouts, researching average meteorological conditions, and more than one emails to Mel saying “Ask the Boy Scout2 how he’d solve the problem of xyz, please?”

Lee, however, was based mostly on my maternal grandfather. He was an honorable man, and Lee is all the best of him rolled into one quiet package. Not that Papa was a silent fellow, unless he got serious. Most of the time he wanted to laugh through life, and he could make anyone laugh with him. He liked hunting, percolator coffee on Sunday mornings, and Wile E. Coyote. Even now, if I hear the meep-meep, I can hear him laughing. He had a stuffed Wile E. atop his gun cabinet, and he was the one family member I deeply regretted not being able to speak to.

I got to see him once before he passed, but he didn’t ask why I wouldn’t talk to them. Instead, he took me through a calendar of old military planes and told me about each one, especially those he worked on in Korea.

It was his way of telling me he still loved me, even though he didn’t understand.

Now that he’s gone, I hope he understands why I couldn’t answer what he wanted most to know, and forgives me. And I hope he gets a kick out of me putting a man he’d like into a book.

Ginny came from a different place. I wanted someone who would be at a distinct disadvantage during an apocalypse, someone comfortable with civilization and thinking it was permanent or even particularly “civilized.” One or two readers said Ginny was too stupid to live, but in each situation, she’s trying to respond as normally as possible. It wasn’t the best coping mechanism…but it was hers, and while Lee and Juju got everyone through physically intact, it’s to Ginny’s credit that they got to the end mostly emotionally intact. Sure, everyone involved will need oodles of therapy, but that’s to be expected when the world falls apart.

I was experimenting with serial format all the way through, and I must thank my Readers for their patience with said experiments. Thanks to those who allowed me to Tuckerise them, too–your characters are as sharply and finely drawn as I could make them, and if a few meet gruesome deaths, well, that’s to be expected in any book of mine, right?

I think it’s good that it ends where it does. (Of course I do, or I wouldn’t have ended it there.) I’m pretty sure my grandfather wouldn’t have read it–his taste was more Zane Grey, though he had a soft spot for Louis L’Amour, especially Last of the Breed–but I’m also pretty sure he’d be tickled pink to know a character was based on him. I ain’t interesting, he’d say, but his blue eyes would hold a little pleased twinkle.

Some of my work is offerings to the dead. Not so they stay down, but so I remember them by doing what I love most, and what is sometimes the only gift I can give.

So thank you to you all. I’m writing HOOD as a serial now, but Roadtrip Z will always hold a special place in my heart. I was able to play, to expand, to practice both bringing each episode to a good end as well as keeping the much larger (good Lord, it’s easily 200K words in final form) story and its various arcs clearly in mind. It was a helluva ride, and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself now that it’s over.

I mean, I know what I’m going to do, of course. I’m going to write more.

But maybe, with the omnibus finally out in both paper and e-formats today, I’ll take a bit of a rest and think about how those I’ve lost are still with me. Not just because I write them, but because I carry them wherever I go. If it’s a burden, it’s one I bear proudly–and one I’ll keep writing underneath.

See you around, guys.

Irritability, Meet Shark

One of the kids has been leaving the heat on overnight, which, added to flannel sheets and my favorite green blanket, means I sweated almost to death last night and the one before. It’s definitely time to change out of said flannel sheets. Contrary to popular belief, winter is over.

Boxnoggin, however, loves the heat. Loves it. Miss B doesn’t mind, since she has all the air trapped in her undercoat to keep her insulated, but she’s spending more and more of the night flat on tiled loo floor, soaking up coolth.

There’s been a lot of rejection a la Chez Saintcrow lately. Publishers (both trad and otherwise) don’t want to make a decision within a reasonable timeframe, so I’ve been taking my toys and going home. Technically I’m the one doing the rejecting, but it’s also frustrating as fuck. If you don’t want my work, just say so in the first round and we’ll be done. Don’t try to keep me in your back pocket while you shop around for something younger, sweeter, more tractable. I never was that girl, and that goes double now.

I don’t mind a publisher saying “not for us, thanks!” What I do mind is them sitting on submitted work for silent months, then getting shitty with me or my agent when we pull the work they’ve had for a significant amount of time to make a decision on. If they’re too understaffed to make a decision, that’s not my problem–a publisher’s poor planning is not my emergency.

Nobody’s poor planning is my emergency, except for my kids’. That’s it.

It’s nice to be at the stage in my career where I have the confidence and the tools to say so and make it stick, but I wish I could work with these people instead of despite them. We could do such amazing things together.

I’m probably also a little irritable because I’m on somewhat of a social media fast. I took the Twitter app off my phone and only interact with birbsite during scheduled, outside-of-work times. Of course I have Whalebird open while working, but Mastodon (especially my instance) isn’t nearly as toxic. It feels exactly like a detox, and I’m in the cranky phase.

Add to that the problem of The Poison Prince1, and I’m snarling halfheartedly at everything in sight. It doesn’t help that my running mileage has taken a helluva hit lately.

So today I’ll probably do a reset. Take the dogs on a long walk, put my headphones in and my head down, and stretch my legs while I think about things. I need to decide what mountain I’m going to scale next–probably the Dolls book, but in order to get there I need to clear Poison Prince off my deck and get both the new Watcher book and maybe the lightning-god book at least to zero draft.

It would be nice if I could sleep at night, too, so today means no more flannel sheets. I’ll miss crawling into a bed that isn’t cold to begin with, but such is the price of waking up without damp sheets clinging to hip, ankle, wrist, neck while sixty-plus pounds of dog attempts to put his nose in my ear.

That’s probably why I’ll never date again, honestly. I hate sharing the bed, unless it’s with dogs. At least when they keep me up it isn’t because they have a need to tenderize their victim for psychological warfare, it’s because they really can’t help it. I could just toss my dates out but that sounds like too much effort, and I don’t like sleeping in other people’s beds. It would take something very special indeed for me to change my mind, and I’m almost halfway through my life with no time to look. I’ve got too much to do.

…wow, this post has gone everywhere, hasn’t it? The irritation means it’s time for me to get back to work. But first, a ramble with the canines, both to work their fidgets out and to make some decisions.

Publishing requires one to be sharklike–never stop swimming lest you suffocate, and always smile. Some silly people think the smile is weakness instead of an amused warning.

See you later, chickadees.