October 2012

Slate Revisited

In advance of NaNoFiMo I dug out that long ago novel from 2006’s Nanowrimo, about Slate the ninja accountant and the paladin with the dead demon in his head, and started re-reading it, editing as I went.


Reading something six years old is odd.

Most of it is…serviceable. Which is an ugly-sounding word, but I think undeservedly so. Writing has to be serviceable to do the job. There are long stretches where the writing gets you from Point A to Point B and I don’t know that I can come up with a better way to do it. And parts of it really work well.

So, serviceable with flashes of great. Maybe not as good as I’d write today, starting cold, but it hangs together.

And then there’s the dialog.

I have long maintained that dialog is a separate skill from writing the Point A to Point B bits, and I know perfectly well that I’m much better at one than the other. The dialog has points that have me actually laughing at the keyboard. I couldn’t do those better. In fact, I start to think “This would be a good line–” and two lines later, there it is.

It’s just odd, because the contrast between “serviceable” and “awesome” is so much starker. I have gotten better at writing Point A to Point B, but my dialog was as good then as it is now.

The editing at this point is mostly hacking apart over-long sentences and sending sad commas to their eternal reward. Occasionally I skip to the end and make a note in the file.

When I get to the end, though, I have to decide whether there’s enough going on with the plot to make it worthwhile to actually finish the bloody thing.

Plots are my weak point. I can write you a scene all day long, but my plots tend to consist of “Let’s go the long way around, and then perhaps there will be self-actualization/torture/spectacle/cake.” My only hope is that readers come along, scene by scene.

This is why I like fairy tales. Somebody already did that bit.

And there’s a lot to be said for “A fun ramble with good conversation,” but that won’t necessarily sell the book. And there are such potentially big things going on—dude has a decaying demon in his head! Ivory clockwork golems destroy the city! Fatalistic accountant ninja learns to love life again! Tattoos eat everybody!—that having the point of the book STILL be excuse-for-witty-banter-between-assassins becomes…I dunno, a bit bathetic?

I think I know the plot of this one. I suspect that once I get to the end of what I’ve got, I can write down the damn synopsis, go back and chop out a few chunks that do nothing much, and cram bits of plot into the resulting holes.

Just not sure if, on this one, the game is worth the candle.

Random Penguin

So Penguin and Random House are merging, as some of you may have heard on the various news fronts.

Now, I’m a Penguin author. The Dragonbreath books, as well as Bread Wizard and Hamster Princess, are all through Dial, which is an imprint of Penguin. I love my editor, I love my art director, I got quite a nice note from the president of Dial when I won the Hugo. They’ve been good to me.

I have, it must also be said, been good to them. Dragonbreath, as a series, has sold in the neighborhood of half a million books, and while an illustrated book costs a lot more to put out than solid text, they’re still not losing money on me.

They’ve sent out letters to the authors and agents that basically all say “In this day and age, it’s a good idea to combine forces, this will have no effect on contracts, and the various imprints will continue without interference.” Given that, and the above, it’s unlikely the merger will actually affect me much.

My big concern is if imprints get folded together and staff eliminated, which might result in my losing my editor, in which case I will wail and gnash my teeth (that’s part of what happened to Nurk, back in the day, when Harcourt-Brace got bought right as it was in the pipes.) But at the moment, they’re saying that won’t happen.

All of this is infinitely better than what could have happened if NewsCorp had actually made a successful bid (which they attempted.) I would be VERY worried then.

Obviously anything can still happen, but at the moment my concern is all the knee-jerk “But I don’t LIKE change!” rather than any specific concerns, so…we’ll see how it goes.

(As for the statement that’s been going around that this will make them more competitive in dealing with authors—as opposed to Amazon, which I expect is the real cause–I say, feh. They’ve always treated me quite well, and furthermore, my agent is a starving wolf with good hair. I’m not worried.)

Slice Of Life: Idiot Adult Version

SCENE: A hallway, with two very large rabbit paintings hung in it. Our heroine has just opened the bedroom door to find KEVIN’s teenage son standing in the hall, looking perturbed. There is a distant baying of beagles under the bed.


ME: Can we help you?

KEVIN’S OLDEST: What were those…noises?

ME: …

ME: …Y’know, if I were a teenage boy, there are some questions I just wouldn’t ask.

KEVIN’S OLDEST: Gotcha. (flees)

(Learning not to question strange squawks and yelps from other people’s bedrooms is a Valuable Life Skill. He didn’t need to know that we’d actually been doing bad kung-fu movie imitations and poking one another in the ribs, until the squawking set off the border collie’s herding instincts and he began trying to wrangle us both into more dog-acceptable positions.)

Burning Rage and Ebony Spleenwort

Scalzi wrote a brilliant post about Republicans talking about rape yesterday. It’s scary hard stuff and you shouldn’t read it if you don’t want to, but it’s very good.

I tell you true, though, the things that make me most furious in the comments (and there are many, many things to get furious about, you can find a half-dozen without even trying) is not the people who disagree with me ideologically. (They make me plenty angry, but nothing new about that) or the young dumb ones with the stars in their eyes going “but it’s so HEROIC!” because when you’re that young and dumb, your head is generally so far up your ass you can lick the underside of your esophagus, and lord knows, I was no exception at that age.

No, the ones that infuriate me most are the ones who break in and say, with the breathless air of one is who is Delivering A Game Changer, “You know, if you just really thought about it, you’d realize that fetuses are people/fetuses aren’t people/pro-life people aren’t evil/pro-choice people aren’t evil/etc etc.”

And then they sit back and seriously, truly expect you to give them a cookie for being just so awesome.

And this is where I really want to scream and grab people by the throat.

If I just really thought about it?

Sweet god, since the age of eight, when I learned what an abortion was, when have I ever been allowed NOT to think about it?

When is anyone in the possession of a uterus allowed to go ten minutes in this fucking life without having an opinion shoved down their throat about what they ought to be allowed to do with said uterus? When has my reproductive life not been something that other people feel allowed to have opinions about? When, since getting in spitting distance of puberty, has my body not been Fern-motherfucking-Gully?*

Arguments about abortion are of no interest to me, and we will not thrash out the ethics in the comments here. (I really will go after this with an iron fist.) But for god’s sake, whatever side you’re on, do not say “But if you REALLY think about X…”

We have thought. We have been forced to think. We have been forced to think about it a whole goddamn lot.

At best you sound like a stoner going “Did you ever really think that maybe the colors I see aren’t the same as the colors you see?” and at worst….well.


And then I was angry and went and planted a very nice fern called Ebony Spleenwort which we all, regardless of our political opinions, will probably agree has a seriously awesome name.

So there’s that.


*Somebody make sense of this analogy, I’m just pissed and right now it’s all loggers up in my ovaries and somebody thinking I need a man to lead the revolution. Or, err, something. Possibly near Figi.

State of the Word-Swamp

As I promised myself, a list of works in progress with associated word counts, so that I have something to refer to. This is mostly for my own reference at the moment, so I don’t forget some of the things that are there, and sure, I COULD do it in Evernote or something, but where’s the fun in that?

In Progress:

Armadillo Wizard, middle-grade – 19.4K (Probably has a home once finished.)

Bryony & The Beast, (YA? Adult?) – 53K (Finished, awaiting agent feedback.)

Boar & Apples, novella – 11K

Bread Wizard, middle-grade – 74K (awaiting second round of edits from editor)

The YA Night-Gaunt Paranormal Romance, God Help Us All – 18.8K

House With Bird Feet, middle-grade – 34K (awaiting agent feedback)

Goblins, novella — 35K

Regency Ninja – 35K (currently being shopped, getting second read somewhere)


Battlesheep, young reader comic — 3.5K (needs re-write of end bit, been passed around, may be dead but damnit, I love the character designs.)

Familiar Blues, middle-grade comic/chapter hybrid — 4.5K (Proposal stage, maybe after Hamster Princess)

Platypus Files, middle-grade comic/chapter hybrid – 3K (Proposal stage. Need to change to some other species, alas.)

Seventh Bride, aka The One With The Hedgehog — 15.5K — (Passed, possible conflict between YA theme and middle-grade writing. Shove in drawer and poke later.)

Dark House, aka Evil Little House On The Prairie- 15K (Poke much later, when copyright expires)

Moth-Riders, middle-grade – 18K

Not Dead Yet:

The One With The Barbarian Gynecologist – 37K (Stuck. Either turns into heavy political crap I can’t write, or ends rather badly.)

Angler & the Bluebird – 20K (Think I’m writing the wrong book. Might be serviceable with kicking.)

Slate, Ninja Accountant – 67K (Should get off ass and finish.)

Elf & Orc – Can’t find file, have to go digging. Stuck on ending.

Everything Else – A Zillion K

(Yes, yes, I know, people want to see the one with the barbarian gynecologist and Elf & Orc and so on, and they’re not DEAD, but they’re…stuck. Sometimes I get to a point and realize that I either don’t know what happens next, or I do know and don’t much like it. I won’t swear they won’t turn up later, just…at the moment, not in the queue.)

…man, I have too damn many projects. Still, helpful to have them all in one place for once.

What Cannot Be Unseen – A Photo Essay

So today I went to the North Carolina State Fair!

My buddy Otter, her husband, and Kevin and I all tromped out to eat Fried Thing On A Stick and risk E. coli in the livestock barns. Unfortunately they’ve apparently had way too much E.coli around, because there was very little livestock comparatively—half a barn, no more. I was sad. I wanted to see draft horses with gigantic rumps and interesting chickens. No luck. Did get some shots of donkeys and sheep and had much better luck at the petting zoo, where a cow licked Kevin and Otter was menaced by Unsettling Camel Lips. (Definitely my next band name.)

We also met The World’s Most Satisfied Goat.

Awwwwwww…yeah. I have a fence.

But no enormous horse butts. I looked for a place to drown my sorrows.

They also had Key Lime, but that’s just crazy talk.

That should do nicely.

Served with powdered sugar, whipped cream, and cinnamon.

In case you’re curious, Deep Fried Pumpkin Pie Onna Stick will drown a LOT of sorrows. Nearly all of them, in fact. I’m pretty sure that I could learn that I was single, destitute, and had foot herpes and I would greet this news with equanimity, if it came with Deep Fried Pumpkin Pie Onna Stick.

Other fair food of note included Alligator Onna Stick (Kevin rated this as “Chewy, but not bad.”) roasted earns of corn dipped in butter, and Buffalo Chicken Rangoon, which was a little heavy for rangoon but otherwise tasty.

Then we went to the sideshows.

I cannot do sideshows with humans in them because that’s just…urgh, no. But things in jars! I will go leave eyeball tracks all over a three-headed pig in a jar!

One of the two was mostly live animals, mostly livestock with extra bits. They had a sheep with an extra leg and one of those four-horned goats and a steer who probably had a couple of extra legs but was laying down. Plus a Zonkey. Can’t argue with a Zonkey.

The seriously bargain basement sideshow, though, was…well, it was a thing.

It had a half-dozen deformed plastic babies with large signs saying that this was EDUCATIONAL ABOUT THE HORRORS OF DRUGS.  (…’Kay?) They had what purported to be a shrunken head, a Genuine Figi Mermaid (sic)* and a plastic bust of the Long Necked Woman, which would have been more impressive if it hadn’t been a plastic mannequin head with the neck wrapped in steel cable.It had, for no apparent reason, a paper-mache chupacabra. It had a pickled octopus and a number of unfortunate fetal pigs and what claimed to be mummified pygmies from “Astralia.”**

It also had a turtlope, a taxidermied tortoise with a jackalope head hanging out of it, whereupon Otter demanded to know why I had not drawn it already.

But the high point of one of the most cut-rate, tacky, inferior sideshows I have ever seen—nay, the high point of the entire day—was Swamp Man.

Photography was not possible in that space, owing to poor lighting and reflective dusty glass, but on the way out, before we reached the entirely legitimate 200 Alligator Snapping Turtle, underneath the taxidermied 2-headed raccoon, there was a…thing.

It appeared to be a human face, or something close to it, with a rather strange white beard and an open, frowning mouth with four teeth. The eyes were painted, although fairly realistically. There was something odd going on with the nose. It was all covered in dense white hair, with tan sideburns that swept forward.

Otter was gazing at it, baffled (more “Why does this exist?” than “What is it?” I imagine) but something about it was naggingly familiar. I took a step back and felt one of those mental clicks, like when you see a magic-eye puzzle flip the other way and suddenly what you thought was a bowl of fruit is actually a young woman with large kumquats.

“My god,” I said, starting to laugh, “it’s a white-tailed deer butt!”

The tail was the beard. The eyes had been shaved and painted, and they’d done a little work on the nose. And that meant that the mouth was…was made out of…had previously been the deer’s…

Oh dear god.

Teeth and everything.

When we had collected ourselves and gone outside to try and explain the Miracle of Swamp Man to Otter’s husband, I went to Twitter. And an alert reader—god help us all—informed me that no, this was not a singular deviation, this was, in fact, a thing.

Called “Assquatch.”

(Includes Bonus Photo Of Deer-Butt Doorbell!)

These are all much better than Swamp Man was, if “better” is a term that can be applied under these circumstances.

“The thing that amazes me,” said Otter, as we struggled off into the Midway, where the big thing these year was giant stuffed Rastafarian bananas–

Depending on the eyelids, they were either cheerfully stoned or filled with burning banana rage.

–“the thing that really amazes me is that you looked at it for like five seconds and you knew it was a deer’s ass.”

“It’s a gift,” I said modestly. “Evidently.”

Clearly you need to update your resume.”

So that was our trip to the fair. I leave you with Man In Squid Hat Who Does Not Approve Of These Shenanigans.

There will be no more deer-butt shaving on Squid Hat’s watch!


*All in keeping with the grand sideshow tradition! I take my hat off to the Mermaid. Not sure where Figi is.

**It’s near Figi.


Well, another November is cruising toward us, and that means it’s time for–you guessed it!–another episode of National Novel Writing Month, except that in my case it’s National Novel Finishing Month and actually what I aim to finish this year is a novella, so I guess that means it’s…look, let’s just go with it.

I don’t do any of the forums or insane word-tracking, I generally don’t start a new novel (that’s the LAST thing I need right now!) and I am anyway going out of town for a bit on the first week of November. But I love the energy and the dogged determination of NaNoWriMo, I love the acknowledgment that sitting down and writing is important stuff, and I’m all for it.

There are people every year who sneer and say “That’s not how REAL writers do it! They work on it every day all year and you people are just hobbyists who don’t count!”

To these people, I say “Eh, stick it in your ear.”

I, as it happens, am a real writer, according to the IRS, who is frankly the only authority that counts. You can call me a hack or not-a-novelist, as most of my income derives from books with a wordcount in the 15K range, and I will allow as how both or either of these things may be true. You can tell me that my prose lacks deathlessness or wit, and I will nod seriously and agree that it’s a problem. Nevertheless, I’m making my living writing and illustrating so I say it’s broccoli and I say to hell with it.

There are many writers who do indeed sit down and turn out their wordcount every single solitary day in workmanlike fashion, and I salute them.

Me, I go in jags. I had days this summer when that one novella was really cookin’ and I’d slam out nine thousand words on it. I have days when I do no writing at all. (I call those “weekends.”) In fact, I have whole weeks when nothing gets written. (Shock! Horror!) But three out of five days, in a normal week, sometimes more, sometimes less, I go to my nice little local cafe and pop open my laptop and type a minimum of a thousand words.

However—and this is the important bit in this rant—I do not type them all on the same project until it is done.

Generally I limit myself to one thing to work on a day, although sometimes I don’t even do that.

I am not saying that it’s not important to finish your projects. It is vitally important. If you never finish anything, it doesn’t get done and you have nothing to sell. But that said, you do not necessarily have to pick one and work it all the way through to the end, start to finish, unless that happens to be the only way that you ever get things done (You know better than I do whether or not you can be trusted to come back to a project or whether you are a chronic abandoner-for-shiny-new-idea.)

Now, I finish stuff. And I finish it by not writing sometimes and writing a whole lot at other times, and that works for me. It may not work for you, but if you believe that that the One True Way To Write is to sit down every single day and make a word count on one single project until it is done all the way through and nothing else is acceptable and you are a faker and a hobbyist for cramming it all into one month a year, I cordially invite you to pay the taxes on all those books that I did not write that way.

Now, I have at least a half-dozen unfinished things out there, loitering in the 15-to-30K range, and I can be pretty confident that better than half of them will someday be finished.* They will get finished because I slap five or ten thousand words on them a few times a year, and then one day there’s enough there that A) I convince my agent to convince someone to buy it (Bread Wizard) which means that I have to finish it in a timely and dogged fashion, or B) I am suddenly skidding down the cliff toward the climax and it’s time to finish off that sucker (Beauty & the Beast based Novella From This Summer, Hamster Princess Vol 1, etc.)

So my goal for NaNoWhateverTheHellMo this year is as follows:

– Finally Finish The Thing With The Goblins (currently at 35K)

– Put at least 10K on Armadillo Wizard (currently 18K. Huh. How is it only 18K? Weird.)

– Put 10K on one of the other projects

Possible interference: Bread Wizard edits are due fairly soon, and that could knock at least one the projects off the board. But Armadillo Wizard has a tentative home and I need to hammer it into shape. I expect it’ll turn out middling novella length. And the Goblin novella was last poked two years ago and is still a damn good story that deserves some love. (Still nearly impossible to sell, given weird format/audience/length, and my agent has definitely given it the ol’ college try, but at least it’ll be DONE.)

Hmm, I should really cook up a list of currently live projects and their word counts, just for my own reference. I tend to forget things are on my hard drive and how nearly done they are, and then I’m surprised…

Anyway! NaNoFiMo ahoy!


*Some are probably dead. Them’s the breaks. Some of them may seem to be dead for quite some time and will suddenly rise, zombie-like, from the grave. You never really know.

Kitsun E. Coyote (SUPER GENIUS!)

8 x 16, mixed media


I’m just gonna throw this out—red foxes are freaky.

You can scour the internet and find many many images of them being adorable, but the one time I met one in the wild and we stared at each other for a few minutes, it was not cute, it was not cuddly, and only a lunatic would try to scratch it behind the ears.

It was unexpectedly tall and incredibly thin. Its fur was not sleek, but stuck out in gouts and rags. It was shockingly orange. And it had the most alien eyes I have ever seen in a mammal. They were practically reptilian.

It was a beautiful animal, but it was not a pretty one. I could see why they filled the same mythological niche as fairies—as something arbitrary and dangerous and not necessarily well-inclined. But I sure as hell didn’t want to hug it. Actually, I took a step back and was suddenly glad of the sliding glass door between us. (And I love animals with the grim holding-them-while-they-flail-and-claw-and-pee-on-you love common to vet’s offices.)

So I set out to do a painting about how damn wicked foxes look, and I was almost there and Kevin came up behind me and said “Wile E. Coyote…SUPER GENIUS!”


Prints available, as always, original going to FC.



There needs to be a word for that mix of frustration and vindication when you’ve spent twenty minutes trying to get the art lined up on the scanner bed so that the sides are straight and you can get the little selection box juuuuuust right so that you don’t get the bit of black that throws the colors off and then you finally realize that the board itself is a couple degrees off-true on one side and it’s not you.

Germany? Get on that.


Official Warning

This is your official warning, internet. I woke up this morning singing “White Christmas” and lit up a gingerbread-scented candle.

Be afraid.

And have a picture of my cat. (Okay, he’s really Kevin’s cat now. I know when I’m beat.)

I am little! And orange! And compact!

That’s Ben in the background, but in his defense, he is laying at one of those weird angles and is actually made primarily of muscle and entitlement.

Also, I wrote a gardening post over at Beautiful Wildlife Garden, about a low-maintenance garden I don’t actually own, which, which not quite as amusing as my Plea For A Better Class Of Knick-Knacks,still has some pretty good plant lists for our area.

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