Teacups and Thaws

teacupMy writing teacup lives on my desk. Not because I drink tea from it while I’m writing — not often, anyway, I’m usually facedown in a bucket of coffee — but because it’s a sort of story-talisman, I suppose? When I saw it for sale I thought, That is exactly the sort of teacup Farin would have, and so I bought it. It is a concrete Farin Thing that lives in my world.

Farin is the sixtysomething widow who runs the tea house in Nishar. My alpha reader calls her Tea Grandma and summed her up in a comment thusly:


You will meet her first of anyone in the book (well, if you’ve read “After Burning,” you’ve already met Vulo — the Wolf — but Farin is the first book-POV you meet in the book), and I love her to bits, but she’s also been a character I’ve struggled with and for a while I was tangled in the question of whether or not I should excise her entirely. But after I spent this last miserable weekend running stupidly into walls, I managed to break through a wall, and what was waiting on the other side of it was the Answer to Farin.

When I hit a story-wall or get tangled in a story-problem, I tend to want to stare at it, sweating blood, until I solve it or die trying. But I’ve also found (often enough that I really should know it by now) that solutions will almost always come to me when I walk away from the story and let my brain wander around something else for a while — a book, a TV show, a video game.

So we’ve entered the foothills of Readercon and I will definitely not have this draft finished by then, but — I’m going to WorldCon in Helsinki next month, and I do think I can have it ready and readable by then.

New goal! Don’t look at the old goal!

Writing things: Morning pages, yesterday and today, check and check. No new or side projects, all focus is on the novel, but that’s flowing again at least (for a given definition of the word flowing).

Life things: I will send in my passport renewal forms tomorrow, I will, I will. Making butter chicken in the slow cooker for dinner tonight; last night was a homemade pizza night (broccoli and béchamel; caramelized onions and thyme). Many walks have been had.

Reading: Just embarked on A Darker Shade of Magic.

Watching: Witnesses on Netflix.

Today’s novel-relevant research: Many YouTube videos of thawing river ice flows. The growing range and seasonal cycle of Hamamelis mollis.

Today’s novel-working song:

Back in the Mud

Oh, friends.

Today I accomplished almost zero of the things I meant to accomplish — which isn’t to say I didn’t work on the book, it’s that I did almost nothing but work on the book, and still managed to get almost nowhere in hours and hours. A frustrating, wheel-spinning sort of day.


For your entertainment (?) I will leave with another of Sirin’s songs from the novel’s working playlist, though in fairness it’s more of a second-book sort of song:

And here’s the link to my Pinterest board, if you want to see the sorts of things I’ve collected from the internet for book-inspiration.

I’m going to go catch up on the Great British Bake-Off and give my bruised brain a break.

Farther Down the Path, No Nearer Its End

PathThis picture is of the path at the end of the road that goes through the woods into the meadow behind the cemetery. W used to like to take it on our walks together — climbing up the steep and secret little cut through the trees at the meadow’s edge to slip into the back of the cemetery was always some kind of adventure — but once after we’d made the climb I found a tick on her leg so she refuses to have anything to do with the place now and insists we go in decently through the cemetery’s front gates.

I’ve been walking with her in the cemetery for so long — since I was pregnant with her, in fact — that it had never occurred to me she didn’t really know what a cemetery was. It was only a couple of months ago that she learned there are actual dead people buried in it, and she was thrilled. She wanted to know whether we could dig some of them up sometime to look at them.

My four-year-old goth.

Writing things: I have two days to report on, I didn’t update yesterday and promised I’d include it, so — the news is that on the one hand things are gelling really well and I’ve produced a few thousand words all told in the last couple of days. On the other hand, I am in serious doubt now of this Readercon deadline. I do think I have an honest shot at the end of July, but I’m still going to aim at Readercon just to keep myself hurtling forward.

My disorganized brain makes such a massive undertaking (note that this book is intended to be the first of three, so there’s a lot of road down this road) hard to hold onto all at once. At this point I’ve sprawled across four Scrivener projects (they are called Ash working draft.scrivAsh beta draft.scrivAsh Ordinary.scriv and Ash notes.scriv, and if you can guess which is the actual and current manuscript I will give you a sticker), an assortment of unhelpfully-titled Google docs, the several Evernote text jottings I’ve made on my phone when awakened in the night by an idea, and various pages of various notebooks. (I keep finding notebooks squirreled away in my office or bedroom, and within those notebooks, random flurries of book-notes.) Members of my writingfriends Slack suggested using a wiki for a story bible, and I begin to think I’m going to have to do just that or at this rate I’ll inadvertently change the protagonists’ names between books or something.

Daily things: Speaking of unhelpfully forgetting things! I need to renew my passport! So that I can go to Finland! In August! Which is soon! I also need to fill out W’s application to the Montessori school, which I told the head teacher I’d probably get to her today, and then absolutely did not! Also I just remembered that I have some towels in the washer which I need to move to the dryer, which may sound like an ordinary enough problem except that these same towels have been in the washer for the last three days and every day I have remembered, and washed them again (because eugh, mildewy smell), and then forgetfully abandoned them again.


On the bright side, I caught a Pikachu this morning and when I picked W up from day camp and told her she was so ecstatically delighted she laughed half the way home. So, I mean, achievement unlocked.

I really should go see about those towels.

Pruning the Weird

bes Rudbeckia on a neighbor’s front steps.

Today was the kind of hot where you step out onto the shady front porch and think, Oh, that’s a nice summer day, what a breeze! and then you take a second step out into the sun and your skin starts sizzling while the rest of you melts like a candle from the inside out.

Anyway it wasn’t the awesomest day of the week to have Everything To Do And Everywhere To Go, is what I’m saying.

Writing things: Morning pages ride again! Had some thoughts on re-tangling with Nasrin’s story and also Sister Milo and the Archive. I really want to write some Archive stories. Weaponized space library, ho! Also had some excellent, congeal-y novel-thoughts.

A thing that’s happened repeatedly to me in the process of drafting this thing is that the original monstrosity of it in my brain was this great sprawling complicated thing and I spent probably literal years thinking That’ll never sell, this isn’t commercial, this is too weird and tangled and viciously pruning it back, but now every time I run into a problem with it the answer is usually: put back one of those weird things you cut. So, okay, I will just let it sprout its luscious weirdnesses everywhere.

(It’s not, sadly, because I’ve had any kind of artistic epiphany about Owning Your Weird or anything like that; usually it’s because I run across another work I admire that’s done something just analogous enough that I feel like I’m granted permission.)

(I do need to work on Owning My Weird, clearly.)

Daily things: Took W. to visit the Montessori school for herself in the morning, and then had to spend a while cajoling her out of the Montessori school — she wanted to stay in the reading loft, and when I got her down from there she wanted to pet the chickens — but I prevailed by promising a trip to the farm. So then we went to the farm en route to the grocery store, and then the grocery store, and then we went for a walk and then to the playground and then to gymnastics, and at some point in among all of this I did three loads of laundry and two of dishes and made supper. (Green chili braised chicken with yellow rice and refried beans and corn on the cob.)

W’s in school tomorrow (she’s been complaining all evening that it won’t be the Montessori school, she wants to go there now), and I’m debating whether I oughtn’t try to take the laptop and work someplace outside the house for a change. I’m so distractible at home.

Fireworks and Excerpts

Writing things: No morning pages today, because it’s a holiday and I do what I want. (Or because I slept lazily late and then got ambushed by life-already-underway.) I did, however, get approximately as far as I’d hoped in the novel-draft. We’ve sent unhappy Sirin off after Dire Forebodings; Vulo has in very strange fashion learned some things he probably oughtn’t know, and now we’re out of the tower and back to our fugitives.

An excerpt for you! It is a sort of summy-uppy bit before Action Happens and so requires no special knowledge. It’s also alpha draft, so think gently of it:

Esmat no longer knows whose country they cross. The river is a dark thread of memory behind and below them; the river-plain fell away two days ago, and they traverse a hill-ridge through pale corridors of poplars veiled in spring catkins and a green mist of new leaves.

They haven’t seen an ash-barren in a day and a half, but nor have they seen any human sign. The plague-markers had continued to appear at regular intervals for many more versts than Esmat liked to think about, but they had stopped — died, she’d thought irresistibly — long before they reached the foothills.

She doesn’t like the height of this place, and she doesn’t like the trees. They hem her in, obscuring her view. At night when they make camp, she lies sleepless within the ring of makeshift ward-light, one hand on the rifle like a lover beside her, and imagines what things lurk behind and between those silent pillars. Sometimes she thinks she hears voices in the leaf-whisper.

The only monsters they’ve seen since entering the hill-country have been a handful of shy leshii, slipping watchfully behind trees. One of them had beckoned to her, but that was the most malice any of the creatures offered. Luka barely paid them heed, only whistling sharply at the beckoner to startle it back into shadow. His growing confidence in their surroundings offsets Esmat’s increasing unease.

Some childish part of her has always imagined that if she ever returned to the country of her birth, it would feel like homecoming: the familiar embrace of something natural, long-lost. Instead she finds herself climbing into a world more and more alien.

Beyond the novel-stuff, nothing to report.

Daily things: Walks — one very early and hot, and on which I forgot to wear my Fitbit thingummy, and one late in the smoky twilight with fireworks pop-popping distantly. Baked hamburger buns and pineapple upside-down cake, and marinated zucchini which husband grilled with hamburgers. Re-watched Austenland, and maybe it’s just the gin and pineapples talking, but I’m fairly sure it was somehow funnier this time. (I’d forgotten Ricky Whittle is in it, for one thing, and completely lost it when he appeared.)

Hoping to catch up on the season finale of Doctor Who tonight. I hear it’s a good’un?

Reading: Wolfhound Century. Comps, comps every where, nor any book to query.

Going to leave you with this loveliness from Holcombe Waller, because I’m in that kind of a mood:

Lazy July Monday

IMG_20170703_092429_869Writing things: Morning page. Should have been pages, but was interrupted so often and so clamorously by kiddo that I gave it up as a bad business after a page-plus. Or maybe I’m making excuses for my distractible brain. Some good brainstorms and notes for book-things though, and oh God, what if I put in another romance subplot at this late hour? Someone stop me before I romance again.

Made it nearly through the rest of the tower, post-bog-mud. Tomorrow I may finish off Nishar intrigues and then we can return to our fugitives’ flight across the steppe and rumors of plague.

Finished Ratri-and-Shrike revision and sent it back out again. Fly, little story, fly.


Daily things: More language review. Three long walks in this morbid heat. There are golden foxgloves growing along the tree-shadowed corridor of Crook Street, but there is also a brutal fog of gnats there in the afternoon. The cemetery was full of moth-gangs whirring frantically around every tree. I accomplished zero things around the house, except to help move a sheet of plywood at one point, and to make dinner at another. (Lemony chicken over pearl couscous and veg.) I didn’t even make the coffee myself this morning. Tomorrow I’ll attempt more industry.

Some Slack writer-gang discussion about social media and its perils (of stress, of time-eating, etc.). Twitter, I wish I knew how to quit you.

Oh, the across-the-street people are setting off fireworks.

Day 4, No End In Sight

Here! Here, and hot, and tired, but here.

Writing things: Morning pages. Pushed through that bog-mud scene! Something clever happened in the background of it while I wasn’t paying attention, so I feel pleased. Now we embark on funner, stranger paths, and I will try not to look back at the bog and wonder whether I shouldn’t just go back and see maybe if I step on these rocks this time …. No, no. Do not poke the bog. It will be there to come back to in time. Hoping to shove forward into the next scene tonight and then leave myself hanging mid-it so I have some momentum tomorrow.

Began the Ratri revision. I have markets in mind — four of them, at last count? — but am unsure which to send it to first. Either I’ll have decided by the time it’s revised (Tuesday, latest, I am hoping) or I will roll dice or something.

Some novel-research on angels. The scary kind, not the inspirational card kind. Why yes, it is a scary-angels sort of novel. Have I mentioned that? Smol obsession with nephilim, comin’ through.

Got story crits on “A Family Business” from Katie and Chelsea; gave Katie her crit in turn. (Chelsea opted out this month.)

Daily things: Walked. Poked language study a bit in the morning, inspired by the discovery that Fred is learning Russian. (Everyone should learn Russian, really.) (That is no kind of Current Political Comment — I really and genuinely love the language. I was a Russian major in college before I switched to medieval studies.) Went for ice cream at the newish place with kiddo + husband. It was meh; still prefer the Black Cow. Made spaghetti bolognese and spicy sauteed kale for dinner. The kale was amazing. Snuck a grated zucchini into the bolognese, so now my child has ingested zucchini. Ha ha!

Sighed over some Kusmi Russian teas for a while, then added them to my wish list. Virtual window-shopping, with hopes for impending birthday. I am and continue to be really annoyed they don’t make Petrushka anymore; it was my favorite, and since Golden Moon stopped doing their rose tea I’m all in the woods as far as nice ones. If you have a good rose or rose-ish tea to recommend (Petrushka was rose and almond, with whiffs of vanilla and orange; Golden Moon’s was just a deeply, exquisitely rose-fragrant black teaplease do.

Oh look, nattering-about-tea. Must be time to get back to writing.

Wonders and Wading


The new sign on my office door, courtesy of my daughter. My office is the only room in our downstairs with an air conditioner in it, and today was a molasses-sticky midsummer misery, so at regular intervals my husband flung my door open to declaim, “PANOPLY OF WONDERS!” before stalking in to flop in an armchair.

Writing things: Morning pages. Pushing through this wretched scene (tower, nighttime, Isak’s request). I feel like once I break out of it I will have some momentum for what comes next, but right now I’m wading through bog-mud to reach that steadier shore. I did wade through a few hundred words of the bog-mud, though, and did some outliney things in my notebook. A secondary character is going to do something interesting I didn’t originally expect; also there may be more poisoning than previously anticipated.

I’ve been looping this version of this song a bunch lately — it’s very Sirin. Angry postapocalyptic revolutionary dame is kind of Sirin’s thing.

Daily things: Walked. Baked the new neighbors’ cookies. Separated a lot of sticky, squablous small children, enforced some penalty hugs, and ministered several minor injuries. Roasted a chicken with some of the CSA veg, which Facebook reminds me I also did exactly two years ago today, except that now my kid can pronounce “turnips” and won’t eat them. Ate said chicken and veg with drippings on bread.

Watched: Great British Baking Show (4.4, Batter).

Reading: Rat Queens, trade vols. 2 and 3.