Orison Release Week: Ashen

8853781Normally, I use this blog to discuss my own process and progress, but today I’m making an exception. The folks at Nine Muse Press asked me if I would participate in the release week blog tour for an upcoming publication, and as I am very much a fan of the novel in question, I was more than happy to oblige.

That being said, it gives me particularly great pleasure today to introduce you to Daniel Swensen and his debut novel Orison, which will be released on Friday the 28th.

Daniel has been working on Orison for a long while, and I’ve known him only a relatively short span of that time, but he is among the most insightful and talented writers with whom it is my pleasure to swap ideas on a regular basis. His writing has a spirit, intelligence, and vivacity that leave the reader hungry for more, and Orison is certainly no exception to this rule.

From the first page, I was intrigued, and I read the entire thing in one sitting. It reminded me of the many great gaming adventures and fantasy novels I enjoyed as a younger person—unlikely heroes, desperate gambles, amazing surprises—but altogether lacked the troublesome, outworn tropes that have at times left me at odds with the genre.

Surely there has been no better investment of my Saturday afternoon in a very long time.

While there were many reasons for this, the one that stood out to me most was the character of Ashen One-Howl, and I trust that you will see very shortly why that was so.

Ashen is one of the Warborn, a race of beings by crafted their sorcerous masters for the purpose of waging war. He is intimidating, bred for battle, stripped of all physical weaknesses. Nor does he look human by any stretch of the imagination. His is bestial, with gleaming fangs, tufts of fur, and a face that brings to mind something between a wolf and a pre-human ancestor out of dimmest antiquity.

But if your first guess is that Ashen is little more than the Orison world’s equivalent of an orc—a subhuman creature to be treated by readers and characters alike as a manifestation of mindless, disposable evil—then you would be very wrong.

In so many fantasy works, truly nonhuman races often function as faceless stereotypes. They populate the ravening hordes that can be slain at will without muddying the characters’ morality. Their culture—if the author deigns to give them one—is painted in broad, unflattering strokes designed to provoke disgust or enmity. They seldom speak for themselves. The reader is even more rarely given a chance to witness them think for themselves.

But in Ashen, Daniel has painted a portrait of a character who is at once distinctly at odds with the human world and eminently understandable. This is, in my opinion, to Daniel’s considerable credit. We walk and think and act with Ashen, and we come to understand what drives him as the story unfolds. Most importantly, we do this on Ashen’s terms, and because we are privileged to do so, we come to learn that he is more complex than any first glance would suggest.

I could say a great deal more, but I think it’s best to let Ashen speak for himself, so I am pleased to share with you an exclusive pre-release excerpt from Orison featuring this awesome character:

The sun had set while Ashen lingered in the shadow gap. He left his quarters — a tiny room with the decor of a dungeon cell — and returned to the dim, arched corridors of Stormhelt. It was a lonely walk from the east wing of the castle, through silent arcades and halls hung with tapestries. The moon Pale threw colorless slats of light across his path, and his footsteps echoed in the quiet dark. 

Climbing the broad marble steps to the queen’s chambers, he ordered the chamberlain to announce his arrival. A pair of Scarlets stood before the door, the blades of their pikes giving off the faintly hissing red smoke of runic enchantments. 

The chamberlain waved him in, and the guards let him pass without a word. Ashen stepped into the room, feeling a pang of trepidation at disturbing her so late. 

The queen had not been sleeping. She sat at her desk, writing in a heavy book with a silver quill. She wore no veil, nor the ritual red sigils she wore in public. Her pale hair did not shine with unnatural luster, but lay fine and unruly around her shoulders, shades darker than it appeared at court. Even the magical glamer of her immaculate skin had lapsed — Ashen could see the uneven green of her eyes, the lines at the corners of her mouth, and the light spray of freckles across her nose. 

Her true appearance was a vulnerability she afforded few others, Ashen knew, and it honored him to see it. He wondered if men would still find her beautiful like this, or if it was only the artifice they could love. 

“Majesty, I apologize for intruding at this hour.” 

She continued writing, not looking up from her book. “What is it?” 

Now that the moment had come, Ashen was less confident. “I had a vision,” he blurted.

Without a word, the queen put down her pen and propped her chin on her hand, waiting. Though the queen knew of his magical talents, he could only imagine how this must look to her after his criticism of Ravano’s visions in the carriage. 

“As I was traversing the shadow gap, I saw something.” 

“That’s not unusual, Ashen.” The use of his informal name pleased him in ways he couldn’t quite grasp. 

“It is for me.” Ashen described the phantom Calushain and the appearance of woman he knew to be Penumbra. When he described the red stone, the queen rose to her feet. Ashen’s ears flicked to attention. 

“Describe it again,” she said, her gaze intent. Ashen tried to read her emotions — fear? anger? — but realized that her glamer had returned, her skin and hair turned radiant, her eyes vivid green. Whatever she was feeling laid behind her artifice now. 

“A round red stone, a hand’s breadth in size, polished. Black strands like liquid swimming within. She said you would know its importance.” 

“She said it was coming here?”

“’My gift is already on its way. The only question is who will receive it,’” Ashen quoted. 

The queen turned away from him, biting down on one finely manicured fingernail.

“Majesty,” he said after what he hoped was a courteous pause. “What is this gift?” 

“Yes,” she said in a small voice. She turned to face him again. This time, he saw the dark worry in her eyes. “Orison.” 

“I do not understand.” 

“Chaos. Ruin. The oldest magic. Old when the first humans first crept out of Eiler into the heat of the sun. You must get it for me, One-Howl. If it’s in the city, the other lords must not learn of its existence. It would tear these negotiations apart.” 

“Why?” Ashen realized that the queen was afraid, and for the second time that day, felt fear himself. 

The queen stood silent for a long time before replying. “Because of what it represents. The favor of dragons. The most powerful favor they have. Ashen, you must speak to Penumbra again.” 

A dragon’s favor is the worst slavery of all, Ashen thought. Loyalty and dread churned in his stomach. Surely the queen could not trust the Semblance of Shadows. There must be some greater game he did not understand, and dared not ask about. 

“But I refused her,” he said. 

“Then find her again!” she snapped, rounding on him. Ashen stepped back involuntarily. 

I don’t know how, Ashen began to say, then snapped his jaws shut. He understood at last that his atonement was upon him. He would find this orison for his queen, and if it brought all Calushain to ruin, as Penumbra promised, then so be it.  

She was his Sworn. If she asked for the sun, he would climb the sky until he burned. 

“It will be done, Majesty.”

If you enjoyed this excerpt, I encourage you to check out the other posts in this release week feature. Each details a different character and offers an exclusive excerpt. You can find them here:

Sunday, Feb. 23: Ruth Long and Wrynn

Monday, Feb. 24: Angela Goff and Dunnac

Tuesday, Feb. 25: Myself, at this blog, and Ashen

Wednesday, Feb. 26: Tracy McCusker and Camana (2 pm EST)

Thursday, Feb. 27: Emmie Mears and Story (2 pm EST)

And finally, if you want to own a copy of Orison, you can purchase it in eBook format starting on Friday, February 28th, at the Nine Muse Press store. I can’t recommend the book enough.

Many thanks to Daniel for an outstanding novel, to Anna of Nine Muse Press for an excellent job as editrix, and to all others involved, both known and unknown to me.

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Back on Track With Oath of Blood

Today’s post will be fairly brief, but I feel I should put it out here so that you lovely (or handsome, as you please) readers are aware of my general situation—and, more importantly, my progress with Oath of Blood.

The last two months, like the several before them, have been…special. And not in the way that makes them pleasant experiences or fond memories. However, I am making progress toward getting my personal situation well under control, both in terms of my health and the matter of my soul-suck of a day job (more on that in the weeks to come, I hope).

The result regarding Oath of Blood is that, after an editor-enforced batch of downtime from the manuscript, I am back at revisions and such. The problems that affected the manuscript in the Fall have been largely resolved, and it now falls to me to insert several new chapters to smooth things out, to make sure the rest of the pre-existing content aligns well with the new additions, and the like.

Things have been rough, but I’m able to get my head above water these days, and that is something.

I’d hoped to have Oath out to you all months ago, but that was clearly not to be. However, progress is again being made, and I am grateful to you for your ongoing patience—especially to any of you who backed the Indiegogo campaign and thus put your money behind this project, too.

Oath will be finished.

More updates as revisions progress, hopefully in the immediate weeks to come.

Depression 2: A Very Unsexy Update

I haven’t posted an update since the end of August, and while there are reasons for this, they’re not reasons I like—or even like to acknowledge. In fact, I started working on this post in one form or another about two weeks ago, and only that after an acquaintance, coming to understand my situation, suggested that a general update might be in order for the sake of keeping folks informed. He was right, and I told him as much—but it still took me this long to be able to drag myself to the keyboard to get it done.

As I said, there’s a reason for that. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder about ten years ago. In reality, I’d been struggling with it most of my post-pubescent life, but it wasn’t until a particularly devastating event dragged it to the surface that I consented to let anyone put a name on it. And even then, I resented the naming of the name. We’ll get to why shortly.

Unlike normal periods of sadness and grief, this flavor of depression is pretty brutal—or at least my experience of it is. In essence, it shuts down my life. Most of the time when it hits, I’m resilient enough—just enough—to be able to get necessary things done. I can pay the bills, meet most do-or-die public obligations, go to work and go through the motions, put on a decent face at the store or the bank, not scowl too much when friends pay a visit. But behind that façade, the world feels like another planet, but not the kind where you’d want to have an adventure.

It’s like a veil drops down, and nothing matters. And I do mean nothing. Not just, say, the stack of model robots and airplanes I like to build and which are gathering dust on my office shelf. Not just the book or magazine I started reading four months ago and then suddenly couldn’t be forced to finish if my life depended on it. Things like managing basic daily tasks go to hell, too. Things like caring whether I’ve checked the mail (I think maybe I did Friday), or if I’ve brushed my teeth (maybe), or whether I have clean socks or dishes (nope).

When depression gets me by the throat in the worst way, it can spiral much blacker and deeper, too. I’m not suicidal now, thankfully, but I have been before during past battles, and even though that registers quite clearly as unreasonable to the logical parts of my mind, there’s this howling, nebulous little corner of my universe where it makes an unsettling amount of sense. When I blunder into that space, it’s not pretty. Currently (and for a good long while since last time) it’s not an issue. With any luck, and with hard work, it will hopefully remain that way for a long while to come.

But in spite of what I just said, it’s important to stress that my depression did get hold of me at the end of the summer in a bad, if not the worst, way. It’s had its claws dug in ever since, and I’m not out of its clutches yet. Thankfully, with the support of my very patient spouse and too many others to count or easily name here, I’ve kept the very worst of it at bay. But it is very real.

As I’ve observed before on this blog, I don’t like admitting it’s real. I come from a background where things like depression aren’t “real” maladies. They are signs of sin, excuses, weak-spiritedness, absences of faith, or attempts to secure attention or hurt others. But most significantly of all, people facing such issues are considered to be failures regardless of whether they overcome them or are consumed by them—simply because they have faced them.

So in confronting my own depression, I often find myself unwilling to accept that it exists (and therefore unwilling seek help battling it) despite the fact that I can map with reasonable accuracy every single time it has kicked my ass since about the age of 12.

It’s kicking my ass right now, for instance.

But I’m undertaking to get help with it this time. If you’ll entertain a bit of blunt, dark humor, I’m sick to death of it. That being the case, it’s worth noting that “fixing” this bout of depression so I can finish up Oath as I intend isn’t a precise art. I’m in the midst of a lot of work hauling myself out of the hole, and I’m often consumed by the frustration that I can’t cure it with willpower, or cauterize it like a gaping wound, or lop it off like a rotten appendage and move on with my life, get back to normal quickly, get things done.

I realize that where I’m at right now may look like laziness, but I want to assure you that it is not. I will finish Oath, and I will go on to complete other projects, too. I have many of them planned. Right now, though, I feel like I’m falling down on the job here, being a bad writer, a bad human being, you name it. But I also know my mind, right now, in its current state, wants to “hurry up and fail” so it can confirm what it already believes: that Oath will fail because I, by (an illogical) definition, must fail—you know, because depression.

But I refuse to consign this project or any other to failure just because of a self-sabotaging thought pattern that has no grounding in reality. What that means, unfortunately, is that work on Oath must, by necessity, be slow going until I have attended to this current battle.

I have been advised by folks whom I trust to provide wise external perspectives that this is good. That more time, even if I don’t like it, is what this needs. Right now, I’m going to trust that perspective, as the past months have told me that my understanding of certain things is out of joint. I’m not a little grumpy about it, but so far all the advice I’ve received has turned out to be good.

So if that means more time, whether I like it or not, I have to give it more time. But it will get done. All I can ask of you at this juncture is your patience as I work through this.

Deader Than the Dinosaurs?

A lot of things are happening this weekend, both around the house and elsewhere. One of the biggest and most relevant to SFF as a community is WorldCon, which is underway right now in San Antonio. Sadly, while I’d hoped to make it this year, it wasn’t in the cards for me, but for those numerous friends and acquaintances who will be in attendance, I offer my best wishes for a fun and memorable time.
Where it comes to matters in which I am involved, progress on the rewrite continues. It’s slower than I would prefer, but it is steady and positive—which, to me, is the most important thing. I also head back to work at my day job on Tuesday after a bit of a summer break. This means my writing time will be diminished, so I’m pushing this weekend to make the most of what I have left before the fall semester kicks off in earnest.

But of course, before that—a post. I have something of a whopper of an opinion piece for you today.

Quite recently, an article titled “9 Scientific Breakthroughs That Killed Science Fiction Subgenres”made the rounds in my social media circle. In it, the authors explain how the ineffable march of scientific progress has laid waste to various aspects of the genre. Their first specimen in this apparent charnel house of literary curiosities is the Martian adventure yarn.

As you might expect, that riled me up a bit.

To be fair, they’re not entirely wrong. As I lately cracked to an acquaintance, the Mariner and Venera missions were, in my opinion, the worst thing to ever happen to adventurous science fiction. After all, they gave us the first close looks at Mars and Venus, which were for many years the backdrop for numerous tales of interplanetary adventure.

Finding out, as humanity did, that Venus is a molten deathtrap and that Mars is a cold, arid wasteland put a bit of a damper on that. Publishers (and, perforce, writers) backed away from what had now become relegated to the realm of pure fantasy.

After the fact, the action-adventure type stories, when they did happen, seem to have moved off entirely to other worlds in star-systems either invented or so far from home we had little to no chance of disproving them. Of course, now with exoplanet research, that, too, may be a dying field of play—at least by the article’s measure of things, anyhow.

But therein lies the fault of the article, as I see it. The authors appear to assume that SF attracts readers simply and exclusively because its speculations are scientifically accurate. Taken to its logical extreme, this would mean that any story that becomes outdated by current knowledge can no longer be considered any good.

The rub is that not all of us came to SF for the crunchy bits, and they’re not necessarily why we stay. While I can’t speak definitively for anyone but myself, I can say that I have encountered numerous folks who, like me, seem to have come to it not for the facts and the data, but for the powerful sense of wonder and adventure the stories can inspire.

I may lose something approaching writer street cred for the admission, but my initiation into the genre came courtesy of cartoons. As a child in the 1980s, I loved three things: swords, space, and dinosaurs. (Dragons, too, but they lumped in with dinosaurs in a pretty satisfying way at that age.)

If a program on television had any of those things, I was likely to watch. If it had more than one or even all three, I was pretty much hooked. But this was not because I was interested in knowing how the spaceships worked, or why the dinosaurs were there, or why we could (seemingly inexplicably) have laser guns and broadswords in the same fight.

The appeal was rooted solidly in what those things signified: heroic adventure.

Watching such things, naturally, led to reading them, as it does in a house of readers. Or, rather, it led to attempting to read. This is not, however, an indictment of my family. Few, if any, of my relatives had a taste for science fiction beyond the occasional movie, and while my parents were and remain avid readers, they did not share my interests and could provide little guidance.

So I was mostly on my own. In the beginning, I struck up an easy relationship with fantasy. It was prolific enough that I had no trouble finding something at least mildly satisfying. But I was still in love with space, and I wanted my reading adventures to extend there as well.

When I asked others what they recommended, I was typically pointed to Hard SF, to my infinite frustration. I recall, for example, poring over Foundation, trying rather desperately to care, and eventually returning the book to the library unfinished with the sense that if science fiction overall tended to be like that, I’d had more than enough of it to suit me.

This isn’t because it was too “tough” for me or any nonsense like that, either. It simply did not tell the kind of story I’d fallen in love with, and all the galaxies and spaceships in the universe could not change the fact. So, after a number of disappointments along these lines, I gave it up.

That remained the way of things for a long time. It wasn’t until the latter part of high school, when I belatedly discovered the pulp Sword & Sorcery writers, that I blundered into much of anything SF-flavored that suited my tastes, and then it wasn’t until after college that I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books, which singlehandedly redeemed my faith in the whole affair.

Here was something I could sink my teeth into. Never mind that the whole setup was a fanciful anachronism of the highest order. Never mind I’d sat through enough astronomy class and done enough reading on my own to know that it was all very wrong and could never really happen. I adored it, in spite of the “wrongness” of it. Maybe even because of it. I went on the hunt for more things like it, and in time that opened up a whole new vista for me.

I speak, of course, of the space opera pulps.

I’ve seen folks speak ill of these old gems, and apparently even in their time they were reviled by certain sectors. In the name of fairness, I’ve read some real stinkers, myself. But by and large I wouldn’t trade my love of them. They’re heroic, they’re imaginative, and—yes—usually pretty unrealistic by most standards.

But the rationale behind the interplanetary adventure has never been, as far as I can tell, to intimately explore the laws of, say, astrophysics or such. I don’t fault readers who enjoy those kinds of stories, but I will say without apology that I could not possibly care less about them than I do.

What drew me to the idea of science fiction to begin with was the element of adventure. The idea of what if and not what is. That’s what ultimately drew me back, once I found a name for the kinds of things I liked. The pulps have that, even if they sometimes lack textbook-quality scientific rigor. They’re brazenly, unabashedly fun, and the best among them have a myth-like power, Mariner and Venera and Viking all be damned.

So when folks proclaim, as they do in the article, that certain subgenres have been killed deader than the dinosaurs, I wonder whether they haven’t missed the point.

Nobody’s going to try to convince folks that there really are canals and cities and needy princesses on Mars. It’s a little late for that. But there’s no shame in enjoying such things or in creating them, because the point of them has never been anything more than to tell a good story, to have fun in the telling, and to let others have fun in the sharing.

That much, at least, never gets too old.

On Knowing What You Don’t Know

Today finds me working on the fourth quarter of the Oath of Blood rewrite. I am about halfway finished with this part of the manuscript, and my goal for the end of the week is to have all of the fourth quarter of the story in that state.

As you might ascertain, I have solved my plot woes for the most part. Having done so, I’m now working my way backwards from the end, making sure things pan out as they should. That means, in some cases, yet another rework of earlier material, but that’s just part of the game. And as I’ve finally—finally—settled on the retool of the plot, it strikes me that I am over the worst of the bumps. It’s just a matter of applying the hands to the keys with consistency.

This can’t be entirely attributed to my own persistence, however. I have had a great deal of help from other people, and the solutions would not have presented themselves without that help.

Outside perspective seems to come up often in the discussion of indie writing, and for good reason. When an author chooses to pursue publication outside the realm of traditional publishing, he or she leaves the dedicated infrastructure of that world behind. Unfortunately, that seems to mean that critical aspects of the process sometimes get left out, especially when it comes to revising.

I suspect (hope) it doesn’t need to be said, but self-editing, running spell check a second time, and asking your friends for general input is not a revision. It might be a start, but it will never catch the major problems that afflict a narrative for several reasons.

First, you can’t see what you don’t know is there. In my case, I’ve had Oath in my head for over a year now, and I’ve had the characters in my head for much longer than that (the hero, in his very first incarnation, dates back to 2000). By now I’m so comfortable with the idea of both the characters and the story that a lot of things make a casual kind of sense to me that would never pass muster with a reader. So as a writer, I’m mostly blind to problems arising from these things.

Second, as much as we enjoy knowing someone likes our work, “I liked it!” isn’t helpful feedback in most cases. For a work to be at its best, you have to know the specifics of both what’s wrong with it and what’s right. Which parts really grab the reader’s attention? Which parts bog the reader down? What doesn’t make sense? What seems out of place? And—above all—why?

Third, proofreading is not the same thing as revising. While a solid copy edit is a must, even if your grammar, syntax, and such is perfect, if the content of the text isn’t what it should be, you haven’t eliminated the worst of your problems. They’re just…pretty problems.

No amount of self-justification or soliciting of thoughts from friends and family will help that—well, unless your friends and family are writers or editors and have no problems shredding your work, at any rate. The bottom line is that addressing these things requires an experienced and uncompromising outside reader who will pull no punches about what’s actually on the page and who will hang your darlings up by their heels and gut them without mercy.

As horrible as that sounds, it’s a good thing. Consider:

Back in the spring, I was very confident I had Oath of Blood nailed down. I was sure of myself and of my work—and to be fair to that earlier draft and to Me-Of-The-Past, it wasn’t really the most horrid thing ever written in the English language. But it did have more than its fair share of problems, and they were things I had never even imagined were problematic. They seemed solid and straightforward to me, but to others, they were confusing or disjointed or just flat-out wrong.

Once I knew this, though, I couldn’t let those issues pass by unaddressed, so the ongoing journey through Rewrite Hell began. I’ll cop to having been resentful at first—I mean, I made good grades in English. I’ve been to grad school (for English) and I made good grades there, too. People have always told me, “Hey, Lisa, you’re good at writing.” So how could my work have been problematic?

But I also tutor and proofread for a living, and I’ve had clients make the same protestations to me about work that was plainly troubled. So, in spite of my bruised ego, I (somehow) trusted my editor and outside readers and dug in.

As a result, Oath of Blood has shaped up to be a wholly different beast. It still features the same characters and carries the same general theme, but there have been major changes. The ending is very different, some characters’ fates are radically changed, and the plot is far more coherent. These changes, while they were hard to enact on account of my attachment to the earlier draft, make it much more the story I wanted to tell than the story I originally told could have ever been.

And it’s only because I have sought outside help that this has come to pass.

I cringe now to consider how things would have gone if I’d dashed off a couple of grammatical corrections, polished my word choice a bit, and called myself done. Yes, I would have completed the book “on time,” but in light of the experience I’ve had rewriting, I believe the end product would have been a heap of garbage.

Harsh? Maybe, but also true.

And the manuscript is not out of the woods yet. It may go to a trusted fellow writer in the near future and come back cut to ribbons. It may make it to my editor and experience a similar fate. But even so, if it does, that will be because it still needs more work, and I’ll not be shy about doing that work.

Cranky, perhaps, but not shy.

Distractions and an Upcoming Absence

There’s something to be said for solitude. Especially in the modern age, where digital distractions and the concept of being forever “connected” to work, to friends, to society at large in general, is more the rule than the exception. Don’t get me wrong: connectedness can be nice. The internet at large has enabled me to stay in touch with folks from whom I would have likely drifted were it not there, and it’s enabled me to connect with others whom I’d never have met in any other way.

But the fact remains that such always-on connectedness can be a millstone when the chips are down and the work at hand requires single-minded focus. This is something the past few months have taught me in the most visceral way.

When you discover that a revision is actually a rewrite, and when all your demons well up to “assist” in the process, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to just ignore your work for a while. When that troublesome line—or paragraph—or chapter—is staring you in the face, refusing to relinquish its secrets despite all manner of threats, it’s easy to just go check your email for the twentieth time or to kill an hour or two on Facebook. You know—for the sake of networking or something.

So the problem is that all these “mini-breaks” have become a hindrance rather than a helpmeet.

Some folks a very good at ignoring distractions, setting them aside, buckling down, and Getting Shit Done. But for all my workaholic tendencies, I’m not one of those people. I never was in school—if it was hard or boring, I immediately lost interest in favor of what was fun or easy—and I’m still not as an adult. That’s unlikely to change at my age, I think.

But what I am, thank the various gods, is aware of this fact. That awareness wells up from time to time, driving me to isolate myself from contact with other people. If I’d been writing some decades ago, this would have been as simple as just stocking the larder, unplugging the telephone, and locking the front door. Just me and my beer and the agonizing potential of the empty page.

But even if I were to do the equivalent of that these days, there’s the ever-present temptation to just click over to the browser and avoid the work at hand.

As a result, early this week, a concept struck me that was so astoundingly simple as to have been easily missed. In my junk I have an old laptop, a ten-pound bruiser of a beast I took with me to college just under 15 years ago. Even after all these years and many adventures, it still works (though it seems to think it’s January of 1980—a clock battery problem). It also still retains a serviceable install of Word 2000, but technology is such now that although it theoretically could get online, my usual distractions there would never load, much less run comfortably.

So it struck me that working on Oath of Blood on The Beast was an incredibly solid idea. It took some wrestling to get things up and running—stripping The Beast of everything but what it needed to support Word, converting files to RTF so the old software could read them, transferring said files using a 3.5” floppy (I am a packrat; I still have some) because The Beast doesn’t support USB storage devices—but the thing was done. I immediately saw results. The simple removal of the temptation to dip over into my distractions was enough to force focus.

Still, the subtler distractions of the house made themselves evident in the absence of electronic diversions: the many books I want to read, the antics of the cats, the fact that my husband was in the next room and generally open to idle conversation. The latter, I think, is the hardest one.

Being married, as you might guess, is its own challenge, and even after nearly 5 years of it I’m still adjusting. I don’t in any way grudge my husband’s presence, but we’re both fairly intense people with intense interests. We also both have what are, at very best, irregular schedules. This leads to an environment where it’s tough to tack down a sustained work period where one is truly alone—something I could always rely on when I was single.

Though I haven’t asked him directly, I suspect it’s equally true for him. After all, I imagine it’s less than helpful to him when I go growling up and down the hall trying to unknot a problem while he pores over schematics that look, to my eyes, like lost leaves from the Necronomicon.

Under normal circumstances, I could work around this. However, I’ve reached the point with Oathwhere I need to eliminate even the most benign distractions or risk never finishing the thing. As a result, this weekend I began to cast about for isolation-friendly alternatives to the house, but running off to some temporary escape for a few days, be it a Walden-esque cabin in the woods or even just the local Motel 6, is a prohibitively expensive proposition.

Here providence of a sort seems to have intervened. I have a relative who is planning to depart tomorrow for a week-long vacation, and the offer was made to me that, if I needed an isolated place to set up camp, said relative’s house was available, as was the food in the refrigerator. The one catch was that I must bring my own beer and smoke outside—all in all not a bad trade.

As you might expect, I said yes. My husband, on whom falls the upkeep of the cats and the running of errands in my absence, was also amenable, so provided everything pans out, I’ll be headed that way tomorrow with my duffel bag and The Beast for a week of house-sitting. That means, of course, that I won’t be online in any capacity and won’t be available by phone except for absolute emergencies.

If that seems a bit extreme, well, it is. But it’s also something I’m able to do thanks to the generosity of others and a bit of cosmic serendipity. I doubt I’ll finish my rewrite of Oath completely in that time, but the isolated focus promises the opportunity to make the lion’s share of the progress that remains. Naturally, what I do with the time is up to me, but the fact that I have a means to dig in and seclude myself is a hopeful thing.

So here’s to productivity! See you all on the flipside, hopefully with a good bit of progress to report!

Depression and Other Unsexy Truths

So—I’m behind again. By this point, by my own assessment some weeks back, I should be edging up on 75% done with what is hopefully my penultimate draft for Oath. (Not final, mind you, since that would theoretically negate my editor’s feedback, which is not a polite thing to do.)

But in actuality I’m sitting here at about halfway, if you don’t count the spit-and-polish that’s coming at the end. This is, of course, frustrating. I like things to work out in an orderly way. I have this sense that, by the gods, if I make a deadline, it must happen. You’d think I would know better, but well, no.

A variety of things continue to affect this, and I’d prepared a long post about them last week, but in the end it seemed mostly like whining. So today, since I owe you all an update, I thought I’d touch briefly on them (but with less feeling) and explore how they’ve dug their claws into the process.

Now, I know Conventional Wisdom (and Google) suggests that writer blogs are supposed to be these perpetually upbeat things that tell everyone else out there how to Craft better or how to fix all those pesky problems that (apparently) Brock Bookowitz and/or Writerina McNovelface happen to be immune to. You know, golden advice from Writerly Experts and all that.

But I’ve never liked that kind of thing as much as I’ve liked to know what’s actually going on with the writers whose work I enjoy. Because I’m hopeful somebody will enjoy that same thing from me, I make it a point to be as transparent and honest about my own process as I can. Which is probably for the best, really: I’m not a very good liar when it comes to my own life.

So today, true believers, I’m posting about my old nemesis: Depression.

I try not to give Depression the time of day. He and I have a long history, and he has a tendency to crash parties to which he’s not invited, becoming the center of attention for weeks or months at a time, often with catastrophic results.

I don’t like to admit my depression exists. Who would? After all, it’s one of those things that isn’t easily explained even by someone who’s a long-time case (though Allie Brosh over at Hyperbole and a Half does what is probably the best job ever—see Part One and Part Two for maximum effect).

Since Oath was and remains very important to me, my process has included a massive effort to shore up my defenses against such a possibility. Nothing, by Crom, was going to get in and ruin this. Nothing was going to screw this up. Especially not that sneaky bastard Depression.

But of course, like the soul-sucking ninja that it is, my depression found a way to sneak in and wreak its usual havoc. I’m not even going to pretend I’m done wrestling with it, but by this point I can at least pinpoint its role in what has been a multi-month stall on a quick, brutal set of revisions.

I’m pretty sure it managed to slip past my defenses when my fatigue hit. The sheer exhaustion begat fear, and between them they set up a feedback loop of desolation in which everything sounded horrible, every idea was useless, and every attempt to improve the text looked like crap.

I tried to think my way out of it. I tried to write my way out of it. Lately I’ve tried to research my way out of it. But none of those things really seem to help, and it’s occurred to me that this is so because, at the root of everything, I’m sitting at the bottom of a funk.

It’s better than past funks, which I have spent as a disheveled, shambling shell of a human being barely capable of speech (not to mention work or school), but it’s there all the same. And the most insidious aspect of this fact is that it has sucked my enthusiasm for the work right out of my soul.

To make my point, I hit a stage early last week where I no longer cared about the manuscript, the characters, the story—any of it. You know, fuck them, because—well, fuck them.

(I know, I know: real mature.)

This commenced several days of just staring at the screen, despising everything about Oath of Blood, wishing I’d never started it to begin with. This is, of course, irrational.  I’ve put almost a year of my life into this thing, and by the time I’m completely done that mark will certainly have passed.

And if I really think hard about it, I of course do like my characters and the story with which I’ve chosen to torture them. I don’t think I would have hung onto it all this long if the frustration pointed to a real dissatisfaction with the project on the whole.

But the problem was (and to some degree remains) that I cannot find it in myself to care, at least not in the way that carried me before. I’m still working—mostly because I’m stubborn and because I have friends and potential readers who deserve a finished product that’s worth their time.

But functionally? Right now I feel like I have exactly no shits left to give.

Experience tells me this will change with time and effort, but since we’re being honest here (for good or for ill) such is the state of things in the moment.

All of this naturally leads to a sense that I have lost faith in myself, lost faith in the work, lost faith in the idea that the whole thing is worth doing. Another chain of irrational thoughts, yes, but they follow one right after the other, like cigarettes stubbed out in my ash tray, and they are relentless.

I don’t know if others experience the process in this way. Maybe I’m the only one. In any case, the fact remains that writing can be a lonely, desolate thing. You go through the wasteland of your own mind with precious little assistance, and some days, even the best of help isn’t enough.

If I were feeling up to being pithy, I would quip about how I can channel that to write better about being miserable and the existential woe of the human experience—you know, or something. But that’s just a yarn you spin if you want to make infuriating delays and blocks sound epic.

Translation: it’s a bluff. The reality is actually pretty unsexy. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone.

But stubbornly, the work continues, and as miserable as I think I feel right now, the hard hand of experience has taught me that I will be more miserable if I quit. Just about nothing in the world is worse than the ghost of a might-have-been. So—onward. But first I think I’ll top off my coffee.