A Good Day

It is a good day. It is the sort of day that has restored my faith in humanity. People have been nice to me. I hit the two-third mark on Fairybreath illustrations, right on time. I finally got past the middle of Bread Wizard, and am now able to write the huge screaming Hollywood end, which will involve lots of fire and armies of dead horses and cookie-dough war-golems and all that sort of goodness. I bought a T-shirt with a paisley velociraptor on it. My contract is FINALLY ironed out, and will hopefully be here tomorrow for a signature, accompanied by a royalty check of semi-heroic proportions. (A WOMAN CAN DREAM, DAMNIT!)

There is no improving on such days.

Probably someone will cut me off in traffic tomorrow and all this goodness will be for naught, but it’s nice while it lasts.

In yard news, the vulture (Kevin insists on Ichabod, I insist on Vulture-Bob, we have compromised on Icha-Bob) came back yesterday. A gray fox went by the fence, completely unnoticed by a pooping Border Collie, but spotted by Kevin, and I wrote another column over at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardening.

I feel good. And I and a hard cider are about to go play Alice: Madness Returns and that is also good.

Unggh….

I am getting annoyed at Wachovia sending me constant e-mails screaming “IMPORTANT ACCOUNT INFORMATION!” which makes me think “Crap! Overdrawn!” or “Oh god, I’ve been hacked!” or something, when it is Yet Another Notice that Wells-Fargo bought them and all our accounts will switch over next month. Yes. I know. I heard you the first ten times.

On the other hand, this is tempered somewhat by the fact that I know full well, come switchover, they will get approximately eighty bizillion people screaming “What’s going on!? Why wasn’t I informed?! WHAT’S HAPPENING?” who will swear that they never got any notes, have no idea what’s happening, and this is the first anyone has mentioned to them. For this the poor people at customer service have all my sympathy. (Except for the one dick at the phone bank who I really hope gotten written up after my complaints—I have had piss-poor customer service in my life, but he took the cake.)

Sigh.

Madonna with Parsnip and Goldfinches

The title came to me in the middle of the night. My Catholic upbringing got me most of the way through it, and sheer bloody-mindedness got me the rest of the way, because on a 12 x 24, there is a whole lot of colored pencil work getting the robe textures to pop.

12 x 24, mixed media

Prints are available! Original is also for sale—send a note for price and availability and all that good stuff.

This is the first painting I’ve done for myself in ages…in the middle of the Dragonbreath art death march for book 7, and I’ve had no motivation of any kind to work on art outside of it. I’ll be glad when I’m done and the spark comes back…

So I went to the beach…

…and as my friend Otter and I stood in the duck decoy store, where we were effectively trapped, watching the police route traffic around the area where the bomb disposal squad was working, she turned to me and said “You know, this is all your fault.”

I argued in vain that it was not my fault, that it was the fault of whoever built the bomb in the first place. Otter agreed that I had nothing to do with any of this, but also pointed out that normal people go to the beach all the time and are not trapped in duck decoy stores by bomb squads, whereas because she was with me, she was simply resigned to this sort of thing happening. Had it not been a bomb, it would have been something else. Possibly a rain of sharks. Honestly, we were getting off lightly.

Kevin, via text message, agreed 100% with this assessment. Outnumbered, I retired from the field and went to go grumble into a bunch of elegantly carved pintails so far out of my price range that I could not actually see the decimals from here.

I suspect that it is a testament to Otter’s sturdiness as a friend that she is nevertheless willing to take trips with me, often on a moment’s notice.

It turned out that the “bomb” belonged to a geo-cacher who had driven up, placed a suspicious looking unmarked tube under a light post, looked around and then jumped into a car with out-of-state plates and driven away, thereby freaking the hell out of the ice cream shop who happened to be watching. My sympathy was broadly balanced on this until I read the comments by geo-cachers on this news report, whereupon I fell heavily down on the side of the police.* (Mind you, I am sure that there are many very nice and sensible geo-cachers out there, and this is just a case of “We have met the enemy and they is us,” but goodness, some of those people had an entitlement complex as long as your arm.)

Our other excitement of the trip occurred on the first evening. We got in around four-ish, checked in, and wandered down to the beach. It was glorious. The sun was shining, the air was perfect, the waves broke into soft gliding sheets hissing up the beach and over our feet, pelicans flew by in formation. We wandered around making the happy sighs of people who spend a lot of time hunched over a keyboard suddenly set free.

“Let’s walk down to that pier,” said Otter, pointing to an object that appeared to be about a half mile away. “Let’s!” I said.

We started walking.

Let me take a moment now to point out the peculiar phenomenon whereby visibility at the beach is rather longer than in many other places. The air is clear and crisp and many of the cues of atmospheric perspective that allow one to gauge relative distance do not apply.

This will be important later.

After awhile it occurred to us that the pier might be a trifle farther away than we had realized. Certainly it didn’t seem to be getting any bigger. But it was a glorious day. Glorious! We kept walking.

A bit after that, the pier had become significantly larger. We had also discovered that the tide was coming in. We discovered this the way that we more or less always discover it, which is when a wave hissed gently over our toes and then went on to slap heavily at our knees. But we had learned from the last time we were at the beach! We had worn skirts! No stiff wet salty jeans for us! We had learned from our mistakes, like competent adult women with jobs and driver’s licenses and voter registration cards!

Slightly soggier, but in good spirits, we continued on. The pier was stubbornly refusing to get bigger again.

The ocean hit us again. It got a bit higher this time. “It’s like being goosed by God!” growled Otter, tugging her skirt down. I found that saltwater mixed with sand between the thighs contributes significantly to the phenomenon known as “chub rub.” (My thighs rub together a bit when I walk. It happens. I’m on the far side of thirty. Of the things that bother me about my body, this one is generally barely on the radar, except that I was wearing a skirt. Because I had been determined to learn from my mistakes.)

The pier was definitely closer.

We reached a small wooden structure of some sort and gazed at the pier. “Do we want to keep going?” I asked dubiously. It seemed like we had been walking for awhile. Maybe it was the chub rub talking there. And we still had to walk back. I didn’t want to be the one to cry off out of wussiness, though.

“We can turn around if you want,” said Otter, “but I think we’re nearly there. Look, we can see people!”

“You’re right!” I said. “I’d hate to get this far and quit! We can do this!” Surely it hadn’t been that long, and also my thighs were bound to dry out, since the ocean is so…err…dry and all. (Okay, I didn’t analyze it too closely.)

We kept walking.

The tide kept coming in. We met several nice dogs. The air continued to be glorious. Sanderlings ran back and forth along the surf line. A willet stalked by, looking vaguely ridiculous. God, or possibly Poseidon, goosed us again.

I began to regret not turning around at the last stop.

Suddenly we were at the pier. There was a bait and tackle shop. We went in and bought root beer and sat on the pier watching kayakers drift by and having the wind blow up our skirts, which is also something you generally stop worrying about on the far side of thirty—if somebody wants to check out your underwear, they’re certainly not the first.

Then we turned around to go back.

We checked the time and discovered that we had been on the beach for almost two hours. Hmm. Well, anyway, it was still glorious. Glorious, goddamnit!

My right calf muscle informed me that it was the one with the crappy job, since we had been walking south, and it kept getting brought up short by the slope of the beach and it was not happy about any of this. I promised it that the left calf muscle would now be the one to suffer. It sulked.

My inner thighs humbly let it be known that this salt and sand thing was not what it was cracked up to be. I attempted to walk bow-legged for awhile. My calf muscles threatened mutiny. I stopped.

We kept walking.

The pier was not getting any smaller.

By now it was starting to get dark, and we were desperately trying to remember which of the fifty million identical buildings backed onto the beach was our hotel. Otter kept muttering about a square building and a yellow house and the building right after it. We were walking rather slower now, and the sand seemed deeper and gloopier and less easy to navigate.

The pier shrank infinitesimally. I decided to stop looking at it. It was only going to make me miserable.

The sun sank in the west. The sky turned lavender and teal and ultramarine. It was glorious. The breeze was cool but the water was still warm.

We kept walking.

Otter apologized profusely and profoundly for not turning back when I had suggested it. I absolved her of all responsibility. Both of us kept saying “But it looked so close!” in wounded tones, and occasionally glaring back at the pier, which continued to look quite close, the bastard.

We kept walking.

We discussed our resources, realized none of us had any cash, and thus our backup plan of limping to the road and hailing a cab was not terribly useful. My neck was beginning to abrade under the weight of my binocular strap, so I took it off and wrapped the strap around my wrist, where it went to work enhancing my carpal tunnel. My lower back, which generally does not get involved in walking, was complaining because when you walk in sand, it has to take a far more active role.

We kept walking.

Lights came on along the pier, which made it look even closer again. Otter spat curses at it. I kept shoving my skirt between my thighs in an effort to keep my by-now-abraded skin from simply tearing like tissue paper. This undoubtedly made me look extraordinarily poised and dignified in the eyes of other beach-goers.

We kept walking.

Night fell. The moon was a blood orange being squeezed into the sea. I don’t need to tell you that it was glorious, do I?

“I’ll go ahead,” said Otter miserably. “It’ll be penance. I’ll go to the hotel and get the car and come get you.”

“No,” I said grimly, feeling my thighs as raw as hamburger and thinking that I would kill Mother Teresa for a handful of baby powder. “I will not be crippled by chub rub, goddamnit.” (Unspoken went the thought that she was making no better time than I was, what with the blisters, and that I might well die of exposure on the beach or at least get really really bored before she found the car. Also, serial killers.) “But you’re driving home from the restaurant, because I intend to get really drunk.” She agreed to this.

We kept walking. The tide kept coming in. Since walking on the dry sand reduced our pace to a wretched limp, we resigned ourselves to the wet sand, which meant occasional intimate waves. Poseidon had stopped merely flirting and now seemed determined to perform a full pelvic exam. My lower back was a single cinder block of pain.

We kept walking. I refused to look at the pier. The pier did not exist. There was no pier.

“I think it’s getting smaller!” said Otter hopefully. “There is no pier,” I said grimly. “The pier is a cruel illusion.”

We kept walking.

Heeding, yet again, the words of the man who inserted my IUD, I began to sing to distract myself. So did Otter. I was doing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and she was doing “Muskrat Love,” so, y’know, it worked out.

By now it was so dark that we could barely make out where we were walking. We were starting to fear that we had actually passed our hotel and would wind up in Virginia before we realized our mistake. We were laughing hysterically, because otherwise sobbing would have been in order. All sane people had left the beach. It was only a matter of time before Otter stepped on a crab, and since she has a lifelong phobia of crab-kind, this was going to result in screaming and dancing and bolting and I was going to laugh so hard I peed, and then I was going to try to wash myself off in the ocean where I would undoubtedly be eaten by a bull shark, which hunt at night, and who could probably smell my abraded thighs like chum in the water.

I had largely resigned myself to this turn of events and was just wondering whether I would have the strength to punch the shark in the nose or whether I would embrace my fate when Otter said “I think that’s a square building next to a yellow house.”

We could not run. The pier had beaten us. We staggered and limped and straggled up the beach and there were our shoes, our wonderful wonderful shoes, and there was our hotel, and that meant a car and food and COCKTAILS.

It had taken us two hours to get back.

Some Hours Later…

“I want to drive that,” I said, feeling the after-effects of something called a Razz-tini. “I want us to drive from the hotel to the pier and watch the odometer and figure out how far that really was.”

“You know it was like a mile,” said Otter glumly. “We’re just horribly out of shape. It probably took us four hours to go two miles.”

“Probably,” I said, secure in the invincible armor of the Razz-tini. “But maybe it was a mile and a half. That’s like three miles. On sand! Sand is hard!”

We set out towards the pier, in the car, watching the odometer. “Twenty-seven…” muttered Otter, “twenty-seven, twenty-seven, it’s not changing, twenty-seven…ooh! Twenty-eight! Twenty-eight, twenty-eight…twenty-eight…still twenty-eight…oh god, we’re so out of shape…no wait, TWENTY-NINE!”

By the time we reached the pier, it was well over thirty. Sober verification the next day with maps and GPS confirmed that in fact we had walked seven miles, round trip, over sand, or something like a quarter of a marathon. This activity burned something in the range of 1200 calories. I generally expend that many calories in a day keeping all the vital systems running and making sure my brain doesn’t starve to death, but not in concentrated activity. I believe I made most of it up again in Razz-tinis and crab meat, but crab probably doesn’t count because you burn at least as many calories just tearing the legs apart to get at it, so it’s practically a diet food, damnit.

“We are hardcore,” I said.

“We are in awesome shape,” said Otter.

“Let us never do that again,” I said.

And she agreed.

 

 

*Seriously, I only vaguely know what your hobby entails, and I have lots of crazy geek friends. If you honestly think that the very first action of tourist-town police presented with a suspicious unlabeled tube stashed under a utility should be to go “Oh, those wacky geocachers!” and go consult your website, you have badly mistaken your hobby’s position relative to the center of the universe.

Not dead…

I have nothing much useful to say. I’m just plugging away on Fairybreath art (Halfway! Woohoo!) and laying down a few thousand words a week on Bread Wizard. Everything is on schedule, nothing bad is happening, I am reading books and playing Civ5 and working on digging out the patio in the backyard, and while that is all wonderful to live through, it makes for fairly boring blogging. I assure you, however, that as soon as something improbable or appalling happens, or Vulture-Bob returns, I’ll let you know! (I’m going to the beach for a few days, so possibly there will be hijinks. You never know.)

Meanwhile, have some KUEC!

Also available on iTunes!

Showing Cthulhu

The title popped up in a discussion of House of Leaves, so I wound up reading The Red Tree last night, pretty much in one go.

That should tell you right there that it’s a page turner, and well-worth the read—the writing is elegant and cruel and it was genuinely very scary, go forth, read, enjoy.

Meanwhile, I think these might be spoilers, but it’s kind of hard to tell, and I ramble a lot, so…err…take with a grain of salt.

The problem with supernatural horror, as Stephen King said in Danse Macabre or On Writing or somewhere or other, basically comes down to the bit in Call of Cthulhu where sooner or later, you either have to show Cthulhu or you don’t, and no matter what you do, somebody’s gonna get pissed. (I’m paraphrasing madly here, it’s early.)

If you show Cthulhu, it’s not nearly scary as the build-up—NOTHING is ever as scary as the build-up, I think that may be human psychology in a nutshell—and if you don’t, a fairly large subset of people are going to throw your book across the room yelling “WHAT? All that, and the alien turns out to be her FATHER?”

Okay, I might be mixing my works of fiction a bit here, but you get the point. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The Blair Witch Project was scary…and then it was over, and a lot of people walked out of the theatre pissed, self-included. (Also, I wanted EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE FILM to die.)

Signs, by M. Night Shymalan, was scary for the first thirty minutes…right up until you saw the alien, which could handle intergalactic space-flight but not doorknobs, and then you spent a lot of time checking your watch and sighing heavily.

This, it must be said, is  only true of supernatural horror. When the hero’s a plain ‘ol human serial killer/deranged fan/cannibal/whatever, then it’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Show as much as you like. People are scary. You can never get to the end of the scariness of humans with chainsaws.*

Having said that, I will say that supernatural horror gets a pass in the way mystery DOESN’T. You write mystery, the mystery damn well better get solved, or you have broken the contract and I will growl and snarl and never read any of your books again. With supernatural horror, the contract is different, and you run the risk of getting to the end and never hearing more than Cthulhu breathing heavily in the background, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the book is BAD.

On t’other hand, you have to write REALLY REALLY well, or I get grumpy. I do not do well with cryptic or ambiguous or open-ended non-endings. They make me grumpy. This perhaps marks me as a less enlightened being who could never remember what the heck post-modernism actually meant in class, but there you are.

The Red Tree somehow managed to fall in between these two extremes. It was creepy. You didn’t see Cthulhu, exactly, but you got awfully close. A whole bunch of weird stuff went on. There were a few really unsettling bits that never got more than a cameo and that I really would have liked to have explored, but for the most part, I didn’t come away feeling wretchedly unsatisfied, the way I did with, oh, In the Woods, say. There wasn’t a blow-by-blow explanation of what the heck went on, but you were able to walk away from it going “Whew, bad shit went down there!” and have a good sense of the general outlines. It was vaguely Lovecraftian, if Lovecraft had a sad, confused, sympathetic narrator, and vaguely House of Leaves, if that hadn’t had a raging douchebag for a narrator and the house was a tree and…okay, well, maybe not quite that much like House of Leaves.

And you know right away that the narrator is dead—that’s not a spoiler, it’s on the first page–so you don’t really expect a finely tuned bit of closure, and as Kiernan is NOT Lovecraft, the heroine is not scribbling a paragraph of hysterical adjectives by candlelight as death approaches, instead of running away like a sensible being, and all in all, while I am enough of a closure junkie that I might have liked a little more, I did not walk away going “WHAT? THAT’S IT?” and it was genuinely pretty freaky.

(Tangentially, since I was reading this as an e-book, it was kind of awesome because she kept referring to various other books and quotes and whatnot, and I could just open a window and google it, which made for a very rewarding reading experience on that front.)

I am sympathetic, really, to the plight of authors in this case, because showing Cthulhu is HARD. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who have done it really well. Hell, Lovecraft rarely pulls it off worth a damn, and he invented Cthulhu. China Mieville could do it—Perdido Street Station is basically a whole conga-line of Cthulhus—and on the movie front, Alien didn’t just show you Cthulhu, it took you on a guided tour of his nasal passages. (Also, for having far less budget, Pitch Black did pretty well, I gotta say, although it went all action-adventury and wasn’t really horror. Them were some creepy beasties. Mind you, I may have been blinded by Vin Diesel’s biceps.)

Stephen King, who can scare the bejeezus out of me with humans…well, every time King writes an alien, God kills a kitten. Except for From a Buick 8, which was basically a Lovecraft tribute, and which worked wonderfully for me, possibly because it’s told through a series of narrators and you don’t expect them to be able to express mind-bending extradimensional eldritch horror, and they do a pretty good job.

We won’t talk about Dean Koontz.

I myself don’t write horror. I can do creepy for brief stints, but I can’t sustain it worth a damn. I am the person watching the horror movies yelling “Just leave town, moron!” so…y’know. Unless it involves Mothman. God, I hate Mothman.

I tried once, in my misspent youth, to write Lovecraftian horror and rapidly discovered that I was not very good at it, since my interior worlds tend to be rather kind and I always want to stop and talk to the weird freaky things, and I’d wind up with, at best, a peculiar fantasy where the narrator did fieldwork with ghouls or spent her days banding night-gaunts in an effort to understand their migratory patterns. (You can see that in my attempts with the Gearworld blog, and honestly, no, I have no idea when I’ll need to work on it again, I’m very sorry. Problem is…well…closure. I’d want explanations for too many things. Also, I had to borrow the Spring Green Man for another book.)  So those early attempts, which are thankfully lost to history, mostly involved the heroine winding up in an alternate universe resembling the Hopi Second World, where the North American camel never went extinct and I’d get hung up on the camel for ten pages and then get distracted by something else and we would never get to any actual horror bits.

One of these days I want to write about a possessed garden haunted by the deranged ghost of the heroine’s grandmother who wants her to meet a nice boy and settle down and which ends with the UPS guy nailed to a chair by ropes of rose canes and forced to make awkward small-talk with the heroine while she searches for a can of gasoline and a match. And there, I just did. Whew, good to get that off my chest. Now I can get on with my life.

I have no idea what the point of all that was, except that The Red Tree was good, even without quite showing all of Cthulhu.

 

*Horrible mutant alien squid all through Resident Evil 4, and the ones that SCARED me were the guys wearing burlap sacks over their faces and carrying chainsaws. Brrrrrr.