November 2011


Chatting on e-mail with a nice woman who works at a charity for endangered livestock breeds. She sent me photos of turkeys. I could not resist doodling one—those heads! Like something out of Lovecraft! Good lord!

Sketch of a Royal Palm Turkey, from ref by Jeannette Beranger

Seriously, there is a kind of glorious elemental hideousness to a wattled-out tom turkey head. They’re spectacular. I want to woogle them.

The Grim March of the Vegetable

Today I ordered seeds. It’s a sort of masochistic experience, because I am very bad at vegetables, but I do it anyway.

This year’s experiments are Malabar climbing spinach (it tastes like spinach, it likes wicked heat and humidity, it functions as a salad green in midsummer) daikon radishes, Bull’s Blood beets, and a miniature bell-pepper. I am also going to try a short-day onion, direct seeded into the ground this fall, if the seeds actually arrive in time. (We’ll see how that goes…) Parisian heirloom pickling cucumbers and Wando garden peas will also get another run at the garden.

May the gardening gods have mercy on us all…

NaNoFiMo: 7370

Ma Was Hardcore

So today, we had a full day. In the morning we attended a very nice wedding for our friends Dennis and Rebecca (Great reception! There were board games! Why doesn’t everybody do that?) and then went to dinner with our buddy Crimson, who was in the area for a seminar on throwing people through walls.

We pick the cheaper of the two local sushi places and go to have a few rolls and chat. It’s fairly early in the day, and there’s a football game on…and then somebody switches it to Little House on the Prairie. With the sound off.

You would not think that a muted episode of Little House on the Prairie would hold the attention of three geeks. For that matter, what the hell kind of Thai-fusion/sushi restaurant plays Little House on the Prairie during dinner? But there we were.

We stayed for the entire hour, long after we had paid our tabs, staring in rapt horror at the TV.

Those of you who actually watched this show may recognize the episode. We didn’t. In fact, I will swear that I never saw this episode in my entire life. It was…somethin’, all right.

It started with Ma cutting her leg on a piece of barbed wire. (“The tetanus!” we cried, still only semi-paying attention at this point.) Then it gets infected. She puts a moldy bread poultice on it. (We looked up the history of penicillin. The phrase “Siri, when was penicillin discovered?” was actually uttered at the table. However, as moldy bread poultices were a staple of folk medicine, we allowed this to pass historical muster.)

Then Ma started to hallucinate. Given 70’s camera effects, this was mostly the wobble-and-blur variety. Then, mad with pain, she must go and get the stray cow! In the pouring rain! She faints! In the rain! (We debated the likelihood of death by hypothermia by this point.) Meanwhile, the rest of the family has gone off somewhere to party. (I am not making this up.) We cut back to Ma! She is in hideous pain! She wakes up and drags herself inside, bolting the door in case ruffians come to take advantage of her weakened state to come and steal the Bibles. (Known as the Anti-Gideons, this gang was a serious nuisance to the settlers.) While she lies semi-unconscious on the floor, now suffering from blood poisoning, exposure, and cow-related exhaustion, the preacher comes and takes her pies. (This is not a euphemism.) But she is too weak to call for help! The horror! The humanity!

By about forty minutes in, we are staring at this muted screen in dumb astonishment, sushi forgotten, as they cut between happy cavorting Michael Landon and Ma crawling around the cabin floor, dragging a hideously made-up infected leg around, reading her Bible in moments of lucidity. (No shit, it was like Requiem for Dream, Pioneer-Style.)  As Pa and the children dance through sun-dappled water, Ma begins to obsess over the phrase “if thy foot offends thee, cut it off.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” said Kevin, at some point in this sequence.

“Well, if it’s that badly infected…”

“On 70’s TV?”

“I don’t remember this from the books…Ooh! Pigs!”

“Maybe one of the pigs could bite it off!”

“They’d do it.”

“Is it just me, or have the last five minutes been Ma hallucinating and a man trying to get Laura to kiss a piglet?”

Ma proceeds to make a tourniquet, tie it crosswise with a wooden spoon—“Good god!” “Well, yeah, that’d be the thing to do…”—heat a very large knife—“She can’t get through the bone with that! She’d be better off with something they use to butcher hogs!”

“Maybe the hatchet they use for firewood?”

“What is this, a Saw prequel?”

“Seriously, I am SURE this was not in the books…”

At the last minute, Pa stops frolicking and is seized with a Lassie-like sense that Ma is in trouble (or possible the preacher, stuffed with ill-gotten pie, mentioned that she wasn’t answering the door) and runs in, finding her unconscious on the floor. There is a final shot of her in bed, and people talking, but as they were muted, we had to supply our own dialog. “Dude. Your wife tried to cut her leg off. That is not cool.” “I’m sorry I took your pies. Perhaps next time I should knock.” “What does this teach us about folk medicine?”

It ended. Small children ran through flower-spangled grass.




As the final shot does not show her leg or whether she’d actually managed to hack it off, and she spent the rest of the episode in bed, we were forced to go to the internet to discover that Ma only managed to slice into her leg far enough to lance the infection, thereby saving her life or something like that. (I knew it. I would have totally remembered if Ma had a peg-leg for the rest of the show. That woulda been a plot point, damnit.) The implication was that her obsessive reading of the Bible, by advising her to amputate, had saved her life in some fashion, given the somewhat heavy-handed Christian morality of the show, but the real takeaway appeared to be that Ma was ready to saw her own leg off, using only a carving knife and a wooden spoon. Damn the torpedoes! The butter won’t churn itself!

We came away wondering if this was typical of the show or if we’d just somehow gotten the one “Alfred Hitchcock presents…Laura Ingalls Wilder!” episode.  I mean…dude. Little House on the Prairie. Who knew?

Embarrassment of Turkey

So we went to the farmer’s market today to pick up up our CSA share, and the farmer fixed us with a worried eye and said “Have you folks bought a turkey?”

“We’ve reserved one of yours, yeah.”

He nodded slowly. “And, um…how many people do you have coming to Thanksgiving dinner?”

Kevin and I did some math. “Uh…nine? I think?”

The farmer sighed. “I was sort of hoping you’d say thirty-five…”

He went into the cooler and pulled out a turkey drumstick the size of my forearm, only a lot bigger around. Kevin and I stared at it. It made the ones you get at the Ren Faire look like hot wings.

“We prepped five of them, since people wanted turkey, and…well…they’re huge,” said the farmer sadly. “They wouldn’t fit in the pot to scald them.* I had to get a 55 gallon drum and slice the top off. It took two men to lower one in.”

“What are you feeding them?”

“Nothing unusual! They’re free-range!” (They are, too. I’ve seen them, they just wander around the farmyard climbing on things and picking stuff up the ground. These are very active turkeys.) “The breed is just…heirloom….we didn’t expect…” He made vague gestures, not unlike those most of us make when trying to describe my friend Carlota. (The “vast tracts of land” gesture. You know the one.) “The live weight on the things is forty-nine pounds.”

This is a large animal. This is a bird substantially larger than our beagle. Kevin, who had been thinking of deep-frying the turkey, realized that it wouldn’t actually fit in the pot. I vetoed any notion of getting a 55-gallon drum of our own.

Kevin said that we’d warn our family.

“Could you ask them invite a few strangers?” asked the farmer hopefully. “Maybe…twenty or so…?”

God help us all.


*You scald fowl in boiling water prior to plucking to loosen the feathers, as I understand it, although someone may correct me if I’ve got the wrong end of the bird there.

Actually, I Like My Traditional Publisher or “You Leave My Dill Pickle Alone!”

This will be long. I may ramble. Sideways. Through walls. You’ve been warned.

So in the last few weeks, I have found myself, for whatever reason, tripping repeatedly over things on the interwebs about self-publishing. I didn’t do it deliberately, at least at first, but Google+ makes it easy to fall over this stuff, and then you chase links or read comments and suddenly it’s dinner-time and you’re not quite sure where your pants went.

…possibly that last is just me. I have a problem. I’m willing to admit that.

And because it is the internet, one must take things with a fifty pound bag of salt.


…Man, there’s some really bizarre crap out there about self vs. traditional publishing. It’s not quite up there with the some of the Great Internet Debates, which burn like underground coal fires and can last through entire geologic ages—I think breastfeeding* holds the line on this one, narrowly edging out religion, gluten, and operating systems—but it’s definitely got some meat to it.

I have seen people say, in all sincerity, that they would never ever consider being traditionally published because big publishers treat you so horribly and you make so little money at it and they’re all out to screw you over and…well, a lot of stuff. And I have seen people say “Well, a lot of self-published stuff is godawful crap, have you noticed? And there’s kind of a stigma against it because of all that godawful crap, have you noticed? And so even if you write a really damn fine book, as many people do, there’s a good chance a huge swath of the population won’t read it, because of that?” and then be treated as if they were tying people to the railroad tracks while twirling an Olde Timey Mustache Of Evile.

Internet. What’re you gonna do? Still, better to light a candle than curse the darkness, etc.

I am, as y’all know, traditionally published. I have always been traditionally published. Sometimes it’s a small press, like Sofawolf, sometimes it’s a big honkin’ press like Dial, subsidiary of Penguin.**

I have been moved to comment on this because of this post, where an author says, very sensibly, that his series failed through no fault of his publisher, that they went to the mat for him, that they were AWESOME, and hey, shit happens. And he assessed quite correctly that a lot of people would ask questions about why he didn’t self-publish, or self-publish the sequels, or get out t’ol Kickstarter and everything. I suspect this is because he, too, reads the internet.

So, let me say this, from the bottom of my heart—my big traditional publisher is fantastic.

(My little traditional publisher is fantastic too, but nobody seems to be hating on the small presses as soulless bloodsuckers, so I’ll just leave it at that, except to say that you should totally go to Sofawolf Press and buy stuff.)

Seriously, love ’em. Tell my agent every few months that she has utterly changed my life for the better. (I may have to stop that, I think it’s starting to weird her out.)  They are wonderful. My editor is wonderful. My art director is wonderful. I may scream and pace around a bit during edits, but every time we turn out a better book. (Okay, honesty time, once or twice I’ve thought I had a better cover beforehand, but that’s art on demand for you. There’s a universal law about it.)

And when we’re talking about a ten book series, seven of which have gone through the process already, that’s a pretty good thing.

No one has ever drunk my blood. No one has even looked at my neck in a thoughtful fashion. I get nothing but respect. They send me cookies at Christmas, and a gift book that my editor picks out because she thinks it’s the sort of weird morbid silliness that appeals to me. She nags me to come to New York so we can go drinking together. My art director sends me e-mails saying she’s proud to be part of the Dragonbreath team. The nice woman in foreign rights always includes a cheerful note with the Portuguese copies.

Occasionally, sure, we have one of those we-are-two-co-workers-on-one-project-who-do-not-quite-agree moments, but we are eager to talk it around, and everybody goes home figuring it’ll work out eventually. Given what sort of field this is, that’s really damn good. I freely admit that I am fortunate in the people who work with me, but not, I think, terribly unique.

Shortly before the release of Ghostbreath, I got a fan letter from the caretaker of an autistic boy. She said he loved the book, and he’d gotten interested in reading other books as a result of Dragonbreath, and that it had made a huge difference for him.

Well, first I wandered around pretending I had something in my eye. Then I forwarded it to my editor. They said “Look, we just got in the advance copies—we’ll send him one early.” And they did. And that is a small thing, but it matters.

So when you’re talking about those horrible big publishers that are out to stifle your creativity and suck your blood, to you, it may be a faceless monolith who sent you a mean rejection letter. But to me, you’re talking about a group of women that I work with pretty much constantly. Who send me cookies. Who are damn decent human beings.

Likewise, when you gleefully predict the downfall of traditional publishing, you are not talking about blowing up a building with nobody in it. There’s at least three or four real people in mine and a couple of hazy groups like “the marketing team” and “the sub-rights guys” who I also do not wish to see blown up, even if I don’t know their names.

Okay. Enough sentimentality, let’s roll up our sleeves a bit here.

There’s a couple of points I’d like to address more practically, because I keep seeing them and they keep not being as true as people would like them to be when they keep saying them over and over again.

Big Traditional Publishers are on their way out.

I’ve been seeing this one for years now, and…well, they’re an awfully lively corpse. Penguin keeps posting profits. Their sales are up 6%, and that’s adjusting for loss of Borders. They keep writing me checks. The checks keep clearing. They are doing a brisk sale in e-books. My advances went up by a third on the last contract over the one before.

“I don’t care!” you say. “Five years, they’ll all be bankrupt!” (And yes, somebody said this to me recently.)

It’s possible. It’s also possible that they won’t be. It’s also possible we’ll be struck by a meteor. All I know is that they’re making money hand over fist at the moment. We are, most of us, poor prophets. I’m as heavily invested in big publishing as you can be, and I’m still not losing a lot of sleep over it, and neither is my agent.

Now, brick-and-mortar bookstores? Yeah, those should probably worry, and my heart aches for them. But the publishers do not appear to have gotten the memo about their impending demise.

Big Traditional Publishers are running scared of self-publishing!

…’kay. Look, if you say so. I can’t say I’ve seen any indications. If you want to interpret spats with Amazon as “fear of self-publishing” then go for it. I won’t stop you.

My agent has suggested I release things too weird for conventional publishing as an e-book on at least one occasion. As she makes no money off that and quite a lot off the Big Trad Publishers, and is furthermore the cleverest, canniest, and possibly most dangerous woman I know, I am inclined to trust her judgment. (My editor’s entire opinion was “Didn’t you do something with wombats—dear god! You’re still doing that? How do you have time? Do you sleep? Wow!”***) Nobody has ever said “Oh god, if you self-publish, we’ll shake you ’til your teeth rattle!”

(Yes, I read that one article about the one writer too. It strikes me as very peculiar, and there are a few more details I’d like to know before I pass judgment.)

You can make more money self-publishing!

Maybe you can. Me, I’ll take my advance and the bit where I don’t do any of the editing, art layout, design, marketing, more marketing, selling foreign rights, sending out ARCs, wrangling with printers and keeping stock in my garage.

But if you self-publish your e-book, you get a higher percentage!

Higher percentages of e-books are great. I get 25% of e-books. You can get like 70% through some of the various e-books people, or so I hear. That’s quite a bit bigger, yup.

‘Course, you have to actually SELL those books. And if you are confident in your marketing ability to move as many books—hell, mathematically, to move a THIRD as many books—as a big marketing department, then rock on. Do it. Fly free, little self-publisher! Spread those wings! FLAP ON, YOU CRAZY DIAMOND!


I am not confident of this. I could not market my way out of my own pants. (If I knew where they were.) I haven’t a clue how many e-books we move of Dragonbreath. It’s probably on a sheet of paper somewhere in the pile, god knows.

And I like not worrying about it. Are you kidding? Somebody sends me a lot of money and then I get to go sit in a coffee shop (once I find my pants) and get a cup of coffee and a chicken salad sandwich and pull out my laptop (which I bought with money Penguin sent me) and write. For hours.

And they keep filling up the coffee cup! And the sandwich comes with a dill pickle!

You want me to pitch that over for doing lots of work of the sort that I hate desperately, cutting savagely into my writing time, in hopes that maybe I, on my lonesome, can out-market a team of literate mako sharks wearing nice suits?

Feh. Next you’ll be trying to steal my dill pickle.

This, I think, is what a lot of people in self-publishing have failed to understand—yes, if you DIY it, you make a lot more of the profits! Well, great! That’s awesome if you like to DIY stuff! I, however, do not know how to change my own oil, cannot sew, and can just about make mac and cheese on a good day! I DIY nothing.

The only things I am any good at are art and writing.**** I would like to do that.

Just that.

And traditional publishing says “It’s cool, we’ve got people who can’t draw stick figures but who can charm the little birds out of the trees over here, we’ll put ’em on it. And we have printers! And people who know what copyediting marks mean! Here, have a dill pickle.”

So. Self-publishing is a GREAT fit for people who want to run around like crazy and talk about their book to everybody and get into the guts of layout and direction and make sure they know where everything is at every step of the process and are absolutely confident that they know the best direction to get their book sold.

Me, I don’t even do my own taxes. Thinking about numbers makes me tense and unhappy and as if small animals are clawing underneath my sternum. Thinking about marketing makes me want to apologize to everybody who has ever bought my book, ever. I am a bad fit for self-publishing. I am the worst fit for self-publishing. I cannot think of any reason why I would WANT to abandon traditional publishing, unless it’s to put out something I can’t possibly move in traditional circles and which the fans are yelling for.

Now, you can dismiss me as an elitist snob if you’d like—go for it! Rock it! I’ll get my monocle! And you can dismiss me as a hopelessly inept dweeb who wants to make no decisions and be the literary equivalent of a kept woman, and I will say “Yes, now you’re getting it. Also, have you seen my pants?” If you are a self-publishing zealot who thinks big publishers are the Devil, there is absolutely nothing I can say, as a minor demon, that will change your mind.

And I’m cool with that. It’s the internet. These things happen. If you’re looking for things to insult, I am several pounds overweight, snore loudly, and afraid of the monster under the bed.  Also, I have a really painful zit on the side of my ear—you know, the excruciating ones that get up under the fold at the top of the ear? Arrgh!—and you can probably do a good five minutes on how I deserve it. S’cool.

But the moral of this story is that you go where you fit. One size does not fit all. And despite what you might see on the internet, traditional publishers are not bastions of intergalactic evil who want to eat your tasty tasty brainmeats. All of the ones I’ve had have been staffed by real human beings who have been very nice to me and worked long hours to make my book succeed.

And I’d feel kinda bad about myself if I didn’t say that, in public, where people could read it.



(Sidenote here–there’s actually one area where an author can have their pickle and eat it too, that being backlist. I know a couple of big names who are happily self-publishing their backlist, which has gone out of print, as e-books, and sometimes doing very very well at it. There, it absolutely makes sense to go out on your own. It’s out of print anyway, the heavy lifting was already done, this is one area where I think established authors get a seriously good break on the self-publishing end. But, of course, you have to be fairly well established already to make this really work, since it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a backlist if nobody’s buying the front list.)


*Whatever you did, it was wrong. As a result your child is doomed, you are worst than Hitler, and if the other person had their way, SWAT teams would descend on your house and shoot the breast pump from your hand with high-powered weapons. I’m pretty sure that’s still the gist.

**I will state categorically that Sofawolf edited far more intensively and thoroughly and at no point did I run around the room screaming “OH MY GOD, I ONLY CHANGED THAT BIT IN THE FIRST PLACE BECAUSE THEY TOLD ME TO!” On the other hand, Penguin was able to give me an advance as big as my head. So, y’know. There are pros and cons to anything.

***Expressed pre-End of Digger, obviously.

****Even my gardening is mediocre. Just when I think I’m getting good, I harvest an onion that is actually smaller than the set it came from.

Well. That was unexpected.

I got up this morning feeling ambitious. No art due today! Glorious day to go to the cafe and get the bottomless cup of coffee and maybe a taco or something! Gonna go work on Bread Wizard and try to get two thousand words done!

(I know, I know, two thousand words is not all that much of an ambition as novels go. Bear in mind that my usual writing schedule runs around a thousand words, three days a week. What can I say? I write short books. 3K a week minimum gets me a Dragonbreath script in 5 weeks, with plenty of time left in the schedule for noodling around on other projects.)

And then, as sometimes happens, the book picked me up and body-slammed me and I hammered out nearly four thousand words and finished the damn thing.

It’s not quite DONE done–there’s a small chunk of connective tissue in the middle that needs to be written yet–but I got the end written. Another couple of cups of coffee tomorrow and I’m done. Then I make Kevin read it, then I send it to my agent to read through, and then I hand it in…six months ahead of schedule. (Hey, it wasn’t due until May.)

The irony, of course, is that even getting it done stupidly early, it won’t come out until the Dragonbreath books are done, because they don’t want me to compete with myself on sales. I initially thought that would be 2013, but then I stopped and did math, and god help me, we might be sitting on this book until 2014. (Two ‘Breath a year, 6 & 7 in 2012, 8 & 9 in 2013, 10 and Bread Wizard in 2014, yup…)

On the other hand, that’s not as far away as it used to be, and since those were the terms of getting Dragonbreath 8, 9 & 10 sold, and thus providing me with gainful employment for the next year and a half, it’s totally worth it. Lord knows, a book this size needs heavier editing than a Dragonbreath script anyway. It’s just weird sometimes to be in an industry where you write a book and you’ve practically forgotten it existed by the time it hits the shelves.

I feel good about this one. That’s almost certainly a bad sign–it’s always the ones you feel good about that turn out to need gutting!–but this feels like it might be a good one. I’m letting it go with a “hot damn, I think we got somewhere!” rather than a desire to fall down and sob because oh god, there was all this stuff I wanted to doooo and I didn’t and this is all the book will ever be and oh god, where is the scotch?

Feels a bit unnatural, honestly.

We’ll see how I’m doing tomorrow when I get the last little bit in there…


ETA: Oh, hell with it, the book wanted to be done today. Another 850 words and it’s as done as it’s going to get before going under the editor’s knife. I deserve hard cider. And perhaps potato chips.

NaNoFiMo Count: 4770
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