Not Dead, Just In New Orleans

Actually, I’m back from New Orleans. My buddy Mur had the need for a sudden whirlwind research project for a book, and as I have a flexible schedule and can decide to take four days off on a whim (provided I bust my ass for the weekend prior) I went along to help drive and eat beignets.

We drove up on Tuesday, spent much of the drive trying to find NPR in Alabama and Mississippi long enough to tell us where the election stood, got to New Orleans, got into our hotel, and in the fifteen minutes between when we got out of the car and when we found a bar, they had called the election and Karl Rove was throwing a tantrum with the sound off.

I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed. Not because Obama won—I am somewhere to the left of Al Gore, politically—but because it was anti-climactic! They didn’t even get through the Daily Show!

I drank something called a “Cypress.” It had sugar cane and cucumbers and rum.

The next day we roamed the French Quarter, soaking up local color. We encountered a man who introduced himself as “Hey, ladies! My name is Eddy and I’m always ready!” Then he told us about his four marriages, his great-uncle the voodoo priest (who passed all his powers on to Eddy, naturally) how he boxed Muhammed Ali in the parking lot of a hotel, how he had played the recorder in a past life, and now he wrote poetry on Facebook.

I believe the bits about Facebook. And the four marriages. I expect Eddy would have been difficult to take in the long term relationship department.

Mur, having doubted my tale of feral cats in Jackson Square, was duly chastised by the presence of said cats. We ate much crawfish.  I had another exciting southern-themed cocktail. We made a friend at a restaurant called Cafe Soule, who was having the most eventful week of her life, and was now running the restaurant. The bartender kept sending us shots based on their resemblance to cough syrup. “You have to try this one! It’s exactly like Nyquil!” We became slightly inebriated.


ME: You hugged the chef.

MUR: You’d have hugged him too, if he made you roast duck.

ME: …chefhugger.

MUR: Shut up.


We got free beignets out of the deal, though, so there’s that.

For breakfast, we went to the Ruby Slipper and I had poached eggs over “pork debris.” I still don’t know what pork debris is, but it’s amazing.

I went into a number of art galleries. I bought some prints. Surely there is wall space somewhere. And then I saw a painting of a pepper that pulled me in off the street and I stood in front of it clutching my hair.


ME: I have wasted my life.

MUR: No, you haven’t. Anyway, you have a Hugo.

ME: But I haven’t painted this pepper!

MUR: ….okay. I’m really trying to understand here. Why, of all the art we’ve seen today—including that one with the birds you liked—this pepper here is the thing that makes you say you wasted your life?

ME: I….I need to paint a chicken. That looks like a chicken. The way this pepper looks like a pepper. Does that make sense?

MUR: Not really.

ME: It’s an artist thing. It’s just…art. You know. Hits you. Oh god, look at the water droplet on the pepper there.

MUR: I guess some things just hit people differently.

ME: …Chefhugger.



I had a drink at the Green Goddess called “Glory For Your Salvation.” It narrowly beat out the Ninjarita.

The cucumbers are soaked in ginger syrup. It didn’t taste like alcohol at all. Three of them would have killed me.


We went on a “Vampire Tour.” I have had two very good tours in New Orleans. And now I’ve had this one.


MUR: I started to get a bad feeling when he kept referring to the author of Dracula as “Bram Stroker.”

ME: I was intrigued to hear about the “Goth religion.” And all this time I thought Kevin was a Lutheran!

MUR: I know! What was up with that?

ME: The high point was really the three-legged dog urinating on the street behind him.

MUR: Yeah…did you notice that the dog was, uh, intact elsewhere? It kinda looked like the vet just…missed.

ME: Oh well, could be worse….chefhugger.

MUR: You are just never gonna let that go, are you?


Also, New Orleans has some very educational graffiti.

And they brought their own paper and everything!

The next day we went on a swamp tour. The swamp was fine. As a birder, however, my sensibilities were…somewhat offended. However, I was sitting far away from the tour guide, so most of my commentary went unheeded by anyone except Mur.

TOUR GUIDE: And this is a waterfowl.

ME: It’s an anhinga, actually.

TOUR GUIDE: When I say “waterfowl,” people always think of ducks. But we get these birds, too.

ME: That’s an anhinga.

TOUR GUIDE: Lots of waterfowl!

ME: No, seriously, dude, that’s an anhinga.

TOUR GUIDE (some minutes later): That’s a…uh…

ME: American coot.

TOUR GUIDE: …moorhen.

ME: It’s got a white beak.

TOUR GUIDE: Yep, it’s a moorhen.

ME: The American version of the Common Moorhen was split off into the Common Gallinule last year, so you’d be wrong, but anyway it’s a Coot. It was the word of the day awhile back.

Some minutes later…

ME: AHHHHH Woodpecker!

TOUR GUIDE: And there’s a red-headed woodpecker.

ME, staring through binoculars: …red-bellied woodpecker.

TOUR GUIDE: We have four kinds of woodpeckers out here. Pileated, red-headed, hairy and ivory-billed

ME: …..!!!!

TOUR GUIDE: The ivory-billed is listed as endangered, but we see them out here!

ME: Oh my god that is such a massive lie I do not have words to adequately express the lies that are coming out of your mouth you lying liar that lies!

TOUR GUIDE: Or extinct. Maybe it’s extinct. One of those lists. Regardless, we got em.

ME: I would kill you right now but I don’t think I can steer the boat.

MUR: …you’re really genuinely angry about this. Wow.

ME: Look, this isn’t politics or love or something! Birds matter!

TOUR GUIDE: Yup! Had three ivory-bills out here last week!

MUR: Look, if you need to shove him into the water, scream “I’m taking us to hell, you bastard!” and gun the boat through the swamp screaming obscenities in search of this woodpecker, I’ve got your back.

ME: You are a true friend. Even if you are a chefhugger.

MUR: (sigh.)


And then we drove a million miles home and I had to pee about eight hundred times but we all got home and Kevin got home from Seattle slightly before me and we slept like logs and spent the weekend tearing out the downstairs carpet in preparation for the flooring guys. So I’m exhausted. But it was a good trip.

Except for the woodpecker thing.

In Praise of Polite Heroes & Strange Worlds

So for the last couple of days, Kevin and I have been working our way through Miyazaki films in the evening. Last night was “Spirited Away,” which is my all-time favorite movie, hands down, ever. In the world.

There’s a couple of reasons I like it. Part of it is that the themes of the movie, such as they are,* is that the world is very strange, you should always be polite, and don’t be afraid of hard work.

As these are more or less the themes to Digger, obviously I was pre-disposed to like the movie. (Come to think of it, that was more or less the themes to Jinian Footseer, my favorite comfort book, too. Hmmm.)

I think, as stories go, we have far too few polite heroes. Nobody answers “Conan! What is best in life?” with “Treating people courteously and using a napkin.”

That’s part of why I loved Hannibal Lector. Sure, he might eat you, but he’d use the right fork. It’s certainly why I loved Number Ten Ox from Bridge of Birds. And there’s a really wonderful bit in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards books where, when you meet the Lone Power, you give a very polite little speech, because even if you’re about to fight evil, there’s no sense in being rude about it.

This is particularly uncommon, I have found, in books targeted to teenage boys, where you can more or less count on the hero doing the “I don’t have to listen to you! You’re all just scared and stupid! I’m going to do the thing you told me not to do, despite the fact that I just got here and you probably know more about it!” thing.

And because he’s the hero, he will probably get away with it and come out covered in roses, in which case I will throw your book across the room with great force, because I hate that trope like I hate few other things on earth. (Kevin tells me that this is because I have never been a teenage boy and this is purest of pure wish-fulfillment for much of that demographic. He may be right. I seem to recall thinking it was stupid even when I was a teenage girl, mind you.)

And yet, in fairy tales, which are right down at the bone as story-telling goes,  it’s always the polite ones that win.

Ahem. Getting back to “Spirited Away.”

The other thing I love about it is that it’s as close as any movie has ever come to duplicating the stuff inside my head.

It’s brilliant and baroque and gorgeous and it has lots of bits that I could probably come up with.

Don’t get me wrong—Miyazaki’s twice the genius I’ll ever be. Possibly three times.  I couldn’t animate it, I couldn’t shoot the scenes, I am no cinematographer, that’s a whole nother skill set, and furthermore, the notion of having to paint some of those architectural backgrounds makes my brain bleed. That gorgeous scene where night falls and the lanterns come up and shadows with eyes appear in the buildings and the music is marvelously sinister—that requires a sense of timing and orchestration and is another couple of skills, none of which I possess and which Studio Ghibli has coming out its ears.

But all the critters and the plots? I understand those. I could get there. Maybe not as well, certainly not in the same media, but the stuff inside my head mostly looks like that, albeit more European and with fewer flying machines and more animals. But much more like that than like any other movie I’ve ever seen.

By contrast, there’s a scene in the movie version of “Fellowship of the Ring” where the Ringwraiths are riding out of Minas Morgul, (I think it’s Minas Morgul, and am confident that I will be corrected nigh-instaneously if not.) And the camera swoops crazily around the towers and you see all this insane architecture and the screaming wraiths riding out across the bridge, and if I lived to be a hundred years old, I could never duplicate that.

It’s not a matter of being better or worse, it’s just—there is nothing like that in my head. Whatever I pictured when I read that scene, it was just not even in the same league. The only way I would build Minas Morgul is if I happened to find a Ring of Power in a Cracker Jack box and had a few thousand years as a bored Nazgul to play around with crenelations. (This assumes that being a Nazgul is kind of like eternal torment with Minecraft.)

My brain is stuffed full of weird little creatures, not cathedrals.

There are very few examples where somebody made up a purely brilliant movie out of weird little creatures, and I think all the rest I know are Henson. And as much as I love those, and they have some glorious set pieces, they can’t, for the sheer limitations of plush and puppet wire, go as far as “Spirited Away.”

It’s incredibly cheering to see something that takes stuff that looks an awful lot like the stuff inside your head and makes a movie out of it and holy crap, it’s amazing. Even knowing that you couldn’t do that yourself, unless you decided to make a mid-life career change and work until you were Miyazaki’s age, and that ain’t gonna happen—still, it’s wonderful that someone did.

And of course, the final reason that I love Spirited Away, perhaps more than all the rest:

Radish Nipples.

I would so build a little shrine to Daikon-sama in my vegetable bed, if I had anywhere to put it.



*And it’s dangerous to say what the theme to anyone else’s work is, so take this with a grain of salt.


Wordcount: 6800

Connective Tissue

I am prone to writing scenes at the end of works in progress and then filling in connective tissue later, if at all. So far it’s going well–got from point C to point D, and point A to point B, and now if I can just get B and C to line up, we’re good. Although so far the connective tissues is a lot of talking-about-what-we-are-going-to-do and not many swashes have been buckled, so I don’t know how that’s going to hold up. May have to have somebody fall into a pit. You can never go wrong with pits.

And I think I found about 700 words that are just plain maundering around and need to die, though I’ll keep ’em around at the end in case I find the hole they want to fit in.


Best lines so far:

“You’re wanted by a crime lord!” said Caliban.

“Not that it’s any of your business,” snapped Slate. “And that was years ago! He’s probably forgotten.”

“Oh no,” said Brenner. “Dearie, dearie me, no. You don’t forget being jilted at the altar because you just handed the priest a warrant for your arrest on the charges of horse-buggering.”

“I am curious,” said Learned Edmund, “as to how you actually managed it. There are seals on a warrant, as I understand it, and those are kept entirely by the judiciary.” He steepled his fingers. “Even assuming that the entire thing was prepared in advance, you would still need access to the seals—“

Slate’s grin broke through, and she beamed at Edmund. “Thank you. I have been waiting for five years for somebody to appreciate that.”



And I finished the illustrations for Dragonbreath 9. (pant, pant, pant.)

Wordcount: 5700

NaNoFiMo Attacks!

Well, gang, November has struck, and it’s writin’ time!

I present you with a quote from my dear friend Jeff, who happens to also run Sofawolf Press, and his encouragement on the subject ‘o Nanowrimo.

REAL writers do one thing (they do a lot of things, actually, but for the sake of this discussion just one) — they write. It doesn’t matter HOW they write or how OFTEN (other than, for most you have to write a lot to get good at it) or WHERE. They just do it.

The ones that force themselves to write a little bit each day? Yeah that is admirable. And most of them will tell you that 50% of the time they go back the next day and delete almost everything they wrote the day before because it was forced and their heart wasn’t in it. But they still DID it, and at the end of the process they have a bunch of words that may become a book someday with care and editing and rewriting. And so does the person who pounded it all out in a month. The latter may require a little more work to get into shape by the time it is done (or it may not, this is where the natural skill comes into play), but it is done. And nothing EVER gets the recognition it deserves, deathless or not, until it gets DONE first.

We get plenty of things submitted that “started out as my NNWM project” and lots of them are great. We get plenty of things that are NOT, granted — but that is true whether or not the material had its genesis in NNWM. It matters a whole lot more what you do with the stuff you write in that month AFTER that month — like NaNoFiMo or NaNoEditMo(s) — than what you did during that month.

So as a publisher we encourage everyone who can do it to do it. (I would do it, if I had any time for writing anymore, just to have done it.) When you are done you may have something that looks like a novel which you can then start editing until it IS a novel. Or, you may have a fumbling bunch of pages that may have 2-3 beginnings of novels in them, all disharmonious and lumped together, which you can then do a NaNoFiMo on next year. Or you may even end up with nothing, other than a lot of practice and a sense of accomplishment that you DID SOMETHING HARD. That’s no bad thing in its own right.

So there. Go forth and make wordcount!

Me, I am apparently spending this NaNoFiMo working on Armadillo Wizard (which I added 4K to last week) and Slate. I had hoped to finish the Thing With The Goblins, but Slate kinda sucked me in. May still get to it, but not sure.

If I can make the 50K wordcount—which is only 2500 words five days a week, and not that bad a goal—I’ll be happy.  Ideally that will be split with at least 10K on Armadillo Wizard and another hunk on Slate, with perhaps some other words thrown onto other projects (House With Bird Feet, say.)

Even if I fail to make the wordcount (which is certainly possible) but I still manage to finish one of the big lurking projects, I will be delirious with joy.

The big roadblocks are that I’m going to be on a roadtrip next week, Tuesday-through-Friday, and then upon getting home, I have to immediately tear up the downstairs carpet for the flooring guys to come in and lay laminate. So I expect to find myself at a word deficit pretty damn quickly, but eh, them’s the breaks. Nothing that can’t be made up by sitting in the coffee shop with a bag of espresso hooked to the vein.

Wordcount: 2700