Just checking in, to let everyone know that I’m still alive, merely incommunicado on my writerly retreat.
Yeah, it’s been, oh, 80 degrees Farenheit (26.6 Celsius, for everyone except the USA). Which is actually a little warm for winter, here. Meanwhile, I believe some of you are experiencing a blizzard of some sort? Ah, well.
I love this screened-in porch, with overhead fans, where I have basically set up my workspace. It’s quite lovely.
I do wish the actual book would be more cooperative… but I’ll keep at it. I’m sure I’m learning all sorts of things about how to fix plot problems, identify dead ends, and persevere despite disgruntlement. It will all come right in the end. I’ve actually done this before, so I know that to be true.
Meanwhile: sunshine, moonlit nights (I love to work at night), fresh air, entertaining birds, and bonus kitty.
This place is not actually isolated — I’m just isolating myself, voluntarily. It’s a quiet neighborhood, with nice scenery. There’s lots of stuff to do nearby, none of which I’ve done yet…
But I’ll be hanging with a local friend on Friday, which I’ll be glad to do, having been on my own for over three weeks now.
Just me and Charlie and the birds… And Rowan and Artos and Bel, and a couple of new people with their own agendas and problems…
Plenty of ibises about:
Seriously, these dudes are everywhere. They’re like the sparrows of Florida. Only big.
Also seen but not caught in photos: Yellow-green Vireos; Ospreys; Kingfishers; Muscovy ducks; Great Blue Herons; some sort of stork; Snowy Egrets; some other sort of small white egrets, which showed up one day mixed in with the ibises, but spent their time scrounging through the shrubberry in search of delicious lizards, of which they found many.
Not seen, but known to be around somewhere: Roseate Spoonbills.
In other, and somewhat perplexing news, I went shopping at Kohls the other day, because I dicovered that I did not bring enough short-sleeved t-shirts. I did not find short-sleeved t-shirts in the Women’s department.
I did find these:
Even if we were not having a heat wave, and the temperature were the winter-in-Florida normal of about sixty degrees — no way would anyone need a puffy quilted winter jacket. Would they? But the store was stuffed with these!
All I can think is that they had them for sale so that all the grandparents could buy them to ship to their grandkids in the frozen north. I guess that makes sense.
Well, back to the tale…
Actually, he does many nice things, all year ’round. He’s just a nice guy!
But around this time of year, he also opens the comment stream of his blog to writers and artists of all sorts to promote their own works, with his Holiday Shopping Guide.
He breaks it out by type. Yesterday (Monday,) was reserved for traditionally published books, ebooks, and audiobooks. Today (Tuesday) is for non-traditionally published works (that would be me). Wednesday is for other creators; Thursday is for fans to share their enthusiasm about any books or other art they want people to know about; and Friday is dedicated to promoting charites.
Last year, I got a good increase in sales from Mr. Scalzi’s blog. He has lots of readers. Another year-end boost would be very useful indeed.
And you might want to check in on his blog daily this week. A lot of people, creators of all sorts (although mostly writers), will be plugging their work. And Christmas is coming! You don’t want to just buy the same old stuff for your friends & family, do you?
Meanwhile: Yes, I am in Florida. Here’s proof:
I am, however, allowed and even encouraged to feed the other wildlife. Well, not in the park; in the yard of the place I’m staying.
And my pal Charlie:
Well. Back to Book 5, which is sort of the whole point of being here, right?
LATER: I posted the promo, but (Darn it!) I forgot that I had wanted to make it shorter first — I think it’s too long. But I just copy/pasted, and hit “post.” I feel it was unkind of me to take up that much space. That’s what happens when you post half-asleep — should have edited it down last night.
On the other hand, I managed to be the seventh person posting (out of what will be, trust me, hundreds). So, yay.
Just so’s you know.
I’ll be treating that Florida house-sitting trip as a writing retreat… Traditionally I don’t post much during those, but you might hear from me now and then.
Right now I’m:
a) writing hard, so as not to lose momentum while I
b) figure out what I need to bring, and gather it all, including some documents required for more Chores of Officialdom, and
c) trying to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of here before going there, and
d) thinking ahead to the holidays for which I will not be actually at home, so plans must be managed remotely, and thank you Internet.
And some other plans that are afoot…
Well. Much to do.
In other news, a shout out to some people who wrote some rather nice reviews:
Christina Vasilevski reviews both books and tea, two things which I can vouch go together very well. I think it’s a charming idea, and you should definitely pop over and see what’s new. She has pledged to write thirty (short) reviews for November (in honor of National Novel Writing Month AKA NaNoWriMo), and there I am, on November 3rd. What’s more, Christina is herself a writer — She provides (and edits) content for the business world.
More recently, Justin Howe has reviewed the series on his 10 Bad Habits blog; apparently he read the old paperback versions, with those overly-spoilerish covers. (Especially for The Outskirter’s Secret. Ouch. Del Rey called it a marketing decision, but Yikes!) Justin is also a writer, and a frequent contributor to the online magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
Well. Back to my doings.
(PS: At some point I’ll say something about the election. Not yet. Can’t quite bring myself to, yet.)
After a semi-downer of a blog post today, I had to do something uplifting immediately.
So, here’s this:
You definitely need to go full-screen for this.
Nice thing #1:
I spent the last weekend of October hanging with some long-time friends at the home of one couple now living in Newport, Rhode Island. It was the annual Fall Hike gathering, and I have to say it was just wonderful to see everyone. Especially one couple in particular, who live much further away from me than the others, who I so rarely get to see. And who also don’t participate in social media at all, so I have no easy way to keep up to date on their lives…
(For those of you not from the United States, Rhode Island is not actually an island. They just call it that. Why? I have no idea.)
Newport is lovely, and the hosts’ house is gorgeous, and welcoming — and right near the water.
I didn’t take any useful pictures of the hike along the Cliff Walk, as they call it, because I was too busy chatting to pals.
It was great. Lots of good food, excellent conversation, plenty of wine.
Crappy thing #1:
I came down with a horrendous cold on Saturday night, and spent the next day dosed up on Nyquil, while everyone else had fun.
And I’ve still got it. The entire week was all Dayquil, Nyquil and occasional excursions into MucinexD. I was functional in a low-level sort of way, thanks to modern cold meds, but I’m ready for this to be over, now.
Nice thing#2: Florida!
The sister of a friend needs a house-sitter in Florida, while she takes an extended visit with her daughter’s family in Oregon. Sabine and I are splitting the duties. I have six whole weeks starting just before Thanksgiving, and Sabine takes over after Christmas. The house is lovely, on a lake with wonderful birds, plus resident cat to scritch and pet — and plenty of solitude, which I’ve been needing for a long time. But I also have friends residing in Florida, so I can visit and socialize when I’m so inclined. This is excellent!
Crappy thing #2: The Dreaded Chores of Officialdom.
If you have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), it’s time to renew. So, I thought I’d do that. Through the website. Simple, right?
I won’t give you all the grim details… suffice to say that right now I’m waiting on a call from someone at AccessHealthCT, because the customer service rep I ended up speaking to on Friday had to escalate my perplexing problem to someone higher up, who did not manage get back to me on Friday.
I’m sure it will get sorted out… but it’s nerve-wracking and time-consuming until then, as I do not know what my coverage status is right now.
I basically spent all Friday night and Sunday afternoon gathering all my materials, printing out supporting documents, making extra copies, planning my explanation of what happened, and what we need to fix — I’m tired of the whole thing, but I can’t quite let it go (in my head) until it’s resolved.
Fortunately, nice thing #3: Genrettes meeting yesterday.
It was Delia Sherman’s turn in the hot-seat, and we all had a great time discussing her work, sorting out some technological issues, plot points, etc. And of course, just catching up on our lives.
This took a lot of the bad taste of Officaldom out of my mouth. I love the Genrettes. Delia Sherman and Laurie J. Marks are amazing friends to have. (Have you read their books? Well, you should get right on that.)
My day so far? Well, here I am, waiting on hold with Access Health CT, coughing every few minutes with that same cold.
This is definitely not how I want to spend my day…
Well, it didn’t last, but it’s definitely a harbinger. I do hope we don’t have another Hallowe’en Blizzard, as we did a few years ago.
And by the way, when did we stop putting the apostrophe in Hallowe’en? We’re spelling it Halloween now, according to my spell checker – to which I say, Fie! It’s spookier with the apostrophe. It just is. I shall dig in my heels on this.
As it happens, snow figures rather largely in the next book — and the book after that, too. Here’s an excerpt from Book 6, The City in the Crags:
Rowan was alone with the old counter-man, who seemed to have fallen asleep. She waited until the sounds of the workers faded, then gathered her maps, donned her cloak, delivered her empty mug, and stepped outside.
It was snowing.
Great, fat flakes, big as her thumb, drifting down smoothly and lightly, filling the air and all the empty spaces about with gentleness, and silence, and motion. The city itself, seen through this fall, was softened, with all its wild masses and angles rendered sweetly mysterious.
And the steerswoman felt her heart lift, in an ascent so sudden and swift that her spirit seemed for a moment something other than her own possession: something free, that flew. This sort of snowfall always affected her so.
At the edge of the Red Desert, where Rowan was raised, winters were ironbound, cracking with cold, but it almost never snowed. Snow came so rarely that each time was a new wonder, yet often enough across the years that her heart did learn it. For the rest of her life, even when she became a steerswoman and knew that heavy snow meant slow and heavy traveling later — even then, whenever Rowan saw this kind of snowfall she felt a perfect joy, however briefly: a child’s joy magnified into a woman’s heart. It was a happiness of utter simplicity, knowing neither future nor past — only the single present wonder of soft whiteness falling from the sky. It made her want to laugh, and if she were alone, she always did. She was alone now; she laughed, holding her open hands up to the sky.
Refreshed in body and spirit, she continued to the foot of the next stairs, stepped to the rail of the landing, and stood facing outward into an emptiness now filled with fat, fast flakes. She savored the sight of snow falling unimpeded for such a great distance: flakes high above her, beside her, beneath her. How odd and lovely, to stand above falling snow; to watch it drift down and down to the harbor, invisible in whiteness, so far below.
Well. Back to the task at hand (Book 5, which still has not title) — since I’ll be occupied all weekend with non-writing activities!.
If it’s been snowing where you are, do drive carefully…
I’m still wrestling with some intermittent fried-brain syndrome, and thought that a touch of back-to-nature and solitude would be just the thing.
Obviously, a walk in the woods was called for. Soothe my spirit! Clear my mind! Plus, whenever I go for walks in the woods, I just naturally start thinking about scenes from the next Steerswoman books. Because of the walking. And the woods. And the solitude. Three things that often go together in a Steerswoman’s life.
I figured that if I wanted to take a walk in the woods, I’d better do it today (Thursday), since it’s going to rain Friday.
And it turned out that everybody else in town and all the surrounding towns had exactly the same idea at exactly the same time.
Again. This keeps happening to me!
I had forgotten to change into my real hiking boots, so I took the flattest trail available — possibly that was a factor, too.
Well, I did have some moments alone.
You know, back in my serious backpacking days, walking in the rain was just a thing that happened. You didn’t stop hiking for a little rain. Rain ponchos were invented for a reason!
That might solve my solitude problem. I’ll have to give that some consideration.
In other news: everyone keeps telling me that Scrivener is the best word processing software for creative writers. I keep digging in my heels, due to being perfectly comfortable with MS Word, which has seen me through a lot of writing…
But I’m currently juggling multiple versions of multiple scenes, with multiple possibilities for sequencing, as well. I thought I’d see if the Scrivener interface was better for sorting things out, as everyone claims it is. So far, I’m just importing my current work into it, so I won’t have a verdict for a while, but I’ll keep you posted.
Let’s see, what else?
Ha! How about a random passage from Book 5?
Mascha met him at the mud-room door, exactly as if she had known he would step outside, and known when he would return. Artos never understood how she managed that; the visit to the stables had been a whim. She stood aside while Gaff took his coat and the boy knelt to brush off his boots.
As they headed toward the dining hall, Artos asked, “Are our guests already there, and do they have any idea how to conduct themselves?”
“The Baron has acquired the notion that they mustn’t seat themselves until you arrive, and the others are taking their cues from him. All our guests are simply standing about, entirely ill-at-ease.” Mascha went on: “The daughter seems pleased at something.”
“She’s just met me. I should have been a boor to her. I seem to manage that well enough when it’s not useful to me, you’d think at least it would rise to the occasion when I need it.”
“Unfortunately, it would likely do no good. Your occasional clumsiness is a significant part of your native charm.”
“Wonderful. It seems I can do no wrong.”
She made a small sound of amusement. “A useful trait, my lord, all told. Many people have to bludgeon themselves to do what’s right.”
Okay, let’s call it a night.
Oh, it’s morning? Well, let’s still call it a night.
I know you’re out there.
The other day, NPR’s Hear and Now had a brief interview (too brief!) with Drew Ackerman, creator and promulgator of the “Sleep with Me” podcast. Sabine had introduced me to this show some time ago, and I keep meaning to mention it here.
Remember when you were a kid, and someone would read you a bedtime story? Remember how sometimes you’d fall asleep before the story was over? But it mattered that the story was happening, right? It was soothing, it made you feel safe, let your mind be free to wander off to dreamland…
Possibly you’re trying to use audiobooks to achieve the same effect, now that you’re an adult and no one reads to you. But audiobooks have a slight problem: they’re interesting! Sometimes exciting! They are good books! You wouldn’t have bought them if you weren’t interested, right? You don’t want to sleep through the story. Plus, you might suddenly jolt awake when the characters start arguing with each other, or cussing each other out. Don’t they know you’re trying to get some rest? Well, no. They don’t.
Books are diverting, and enlightening, but not always soothing.
Enter Scooter, the narrator of “Sleep with Me.” His slightly droney voice, his meandering digressions, his gently odd stories that wander from nowhere in particular to — well, you’re asleep before the end, so who knows where they wind up? Somewhere.
Each episode of the podcast is carefully crafted, specifically designed to be … there’s no other way to say it: boring.
It’s really quite an achievement. Ackerman (aka Scooter) has given great and careful thought to how to design each episode so that it lulls you, becomes progressively more and more boring, less and less involving, soothing you and encouraging your own mind wander as you half-listen to a harmless half-sensible tale, or a possibly pointless digression…
Makes me sleepy even thinking about it.
I admit to being quite fond of Scooter and his tales, even though I have absolutely never heard an entire episode from beginning to end. Which is kind of the point.
The Hear and Now NPR interview didn’t say much… here’s a link to an article in the New Yorker that tells you more.
I’ve noticed that falling asleep to audiobooks can backfire; my sleep isn’t as deep as it would be otherwise, and it seems to fragment my dreams. It does shut up my brain when my brain won’t stop chattering, but it manages that by overlaying some other thing to think about, and doesn’t really let my mind wander away when it needs to.
“Sleep with Me” does a better job. Put it on your smartphone, start it up (don’t forget to plug in the charger!), and set your podcast app’s sleep function to “stop at the end of current episode”.
That’s over an hour of Scooter.
But you won’t hear the full hour. Trust me.
Generally, I don’t closely follow global economics — as well as distracting me from my actual work at hand, it tends to interfere with my mystique as an unworldly artist-type…
But I do watch my sales figures pretty closely, because a) I can, now that I don’t have to wait for my publisher to impart the data at their leisure, usually six months down the line; and b) I am now responsible for my own sales, and it’s actually possible to relate increase in sales to something that happens in the outside world (like a review, or even a tweet); and c) forewarned is forearmed, and if things start trailing, it’s best to know about it.
So, I watch my sales. And dammit, the British pound has lost 25 cents against the dollar since June!
A certain portion of my ebook sales come from Amazon.co.uk, and I’ve always enjoyed doing the conversion, because it makes my income projections look pretty. 79.99 GPB of British book sales in June? Heck, that’s a whole $117.59 in real American money!
Except, not now. It’s $97.59. I feel very hard done by, I must say.
Well. Can’t do much about it, can I? If an entire nation wants to mess with my bottom line, that’s their prerogative, I suppose.
In other news:
Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman had their 20th wedding anniversary party last weekend, held at the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round to the delight of young and old. Except, there seemed to be no actual “old,” since once you climb on to a carousel horse, you immediately become nine years old for the duration of the ride. This I have discovered to be true.
The merry-go-round was authentic, lovingly restored, dating from (I seem to remember) 1927. As well as being open to the public, you can book it for private parties, as Ellen and Delia did.
And the party itself was wonderful, filled with wonderful people, many of whom I actually knew (including Genrettes!). (If you were there, and I didn’t say hi, I do apologize — there was so much to see, and so many to talk to. I’m sure you had as great a time as I did.)
And meanwhile, back at the ranch: Kitchen painting. Those of you who have painted kitchens know what this entails. Those of you who haven’t, you’ll find out. It seems to be one of life’s milestones. Sometime in your life, you will paint a kitchen. No, having painted the living room does not give you a free pass.
It helps to have help. In this case, I’m the help.
And in other news: I’m still hunkered down in the times that are available for hunkering. More than that cannot be said without spoilers, I suppose.