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Bark Like A Fish, Damnit!


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Crowned Slug Moth

I am still cataloguing all the species I find in the garden. Today I got the Crowned Slug Moth, and that made me happy in ways I can't even begin to explain.



This is the 240th moth species in the garden, and the 466th species (not including weeds) that I've identified in the yard.

...look, I'm an artist for my job. I have to have an even weirder hobby.

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The Terrible Method That Still Somehow Works

I was lurking over at the Absolute Write forums, as I do occasionaly, and there was a thread about working on multiple projects at one time.

The general wisdom of this (although AW had a number of people bucking the trend) was that you shouldn't get distracted by your Shiny New Idea, because this way lies madness and the Not Finishing Of All Things. You start a project and you plow through it and if you get an amazing idea while in the doldrums of the middle, you jot it down in a notebook and then you go write back and you clean your plate, missy, there are authors starving in garrets somewhere who would be grateful for that wordcount.

So I started writing up a comment and it ran long enough that I figured it was probably a blog post in the making, so...um...endure my rambling commentary, internet! (Or don't. It's cool.)

I do the thing that common wisdom says not to do. I do it a lot, in fact.

I work on multiple projects at a time, because if I didn't, my publisher would be sad and then I would be much sadder! I think most productive writers who are doing this full time are at least always, at bare minimum, editing one and writing another, just to make the whole system work.

But also I do it because that's just the way I work, and I do it very hard and kind of to extremes.

My general method is to start something, work for awhile, hit a sort of natural stopping point (usually the bit where I would send it to my agent, actually) and then go work on another project. Then it might go on hold until A) it sells B) I get an idea where it goes next C) I wonder vaguely what happened to that character D) it occurs to me that I really need to start working on something with an eye to self-publishing it at some point in the future, and hey, I already started that one thing, that's ten thousand words I don't have to write from scratch, let's see where we stand...

If I get a shiny new idea, I absolutely chase it. I chase shiny things like you wouldn't believe. If I am suddenly passionate about X or Y or Z, it would be stupid to waste it. I've got plodding determined work ethic coming out my ears, but mad passion is in very limited supply. Any day that I can whip out three thousand words in two hours is a damn fine day. (I wrote the first Hamster Princess in two days. It is about fifteen thousand words. I cackled while I wrote it. It sold within a week. Castle Hangnail took like two weeks for the first ten thousand words, and they bought it so fast that the contract practically hit me in the back of the head. Chasing Shiny New Ideas has worked really really well for me.)

And having chased down three or five thousand words (or ten, or fifteen--rarely more at once) I toss it in my hard drive, and then when I get that itch to work on it more, I pull it up and throw another five or ten thousand words on it, until I drift away to something else.

Currently in the "just started this but clearly live" phase: A weirdass version of the Goose Girl with an evil horse, the story about the girl who built her dog out of bones, and a version of The Firebird staring Grandma Harken and an enchanted mockingbird stealing her tomatoes.

Currently in the "well along and adding words now and again" phase: The one with the girl with social anxiety and the dog named Copper, a retelling of Tatterhood, the second Goblin book, the Regency version of East of the Sun, West of the Moon with Master Rat, the girl who gets sent to another world by Baba Yaga, the one with the ninja accountant, the retelling of Sleeping Beauty with the changeling raised by greenteeth and the Muslim knight, and the night-gaunt romance (although that's rapidly being cannibalized for spare parts for this middle grade novel.)

And there's like three that are on hold indefinitely until I figure out what to do with them, which include The One With The Armadillo And The Kinda Unlikable Kid, The One With The Barbarian Gynecologist, and The One With The Moth-Riders. They may be dead, they may not be. They are at least waiting for something to click that hasn't yet. (Then again, the ninja accountant one was also on hold until last year, when I suddenly threw another ten thousand words at it, so y'know.)

I do not actually have many trunk novels lying around. Partly I am arrogant enough to think that I can probably pull SOMETHING out of any given project, and partly all my early writing was on an Amiga and probably now on a zip disk somewhere in my ex-husband's attic. There were two reasonably bad novels on that, but one of them I still cannibalize occasionally.* Otherwise, I don't know of anything I'd call Officially Trunked Forever.

(Special mention of Regency Ninja here, which is on hold until my agent sells it, which she is determined to do come hell or high water.)

(Probably I am forgetting at least one project. Someday I will turn it up on my hard drive and go "Oh, WOW! Holy crap! Let me finish this!")

(I like parentheses.)

(I talk in parentheticals sometimes. My friends are very patient.)

Assuming that a story does not fall into the indefinite hold, there comes a point--usually around the 30-40K mark, interestingly enough--where it snowballs and I grab it and crash through the end.

This is a terrible method by all objective measures and all I can offer in my defense is that it works great for me.

At the moment, I've got one for self-pub in the snowballing-to-the-end mode, (the Snow Queen one) and I've also got a middle-grade novel that is about 11K along, except that it has already sold, so I don't have the luxury of my preferred work method and have to work on it straight through. (Which I am capable of doing, particularly if someone waves money in my direction. See above about plodding determined work ethic..)

So the last two weeks, I literally go to the coffee shop, open both files, and write 500 words on one, then 500 words on the other. They are wildly different. If I want them both done soon, this is my only real option. (And in a month or two, I'm going to have to swap out the Snow Queen one, finished or not, and hammer out the rest of Hamster Princess 4.)

(The next one in the chamber after the Snow Queen is probably the retelling of Tatterhood.)

If I absolutely catch fire on one, I will drop 1300 words on it and hold off on the other one. It happens about once a week. But most days--four days a week, one coffee with cream, one refill--I go and put 500 minimum on one, 500 minimum on the other.

There is absolutely no question that this method won't work for everyone. It might not work for the vast majority! I have a hard drive littered with false starts, or at least starts that haven't gone anywhere yet and may never. (The rusalka and the twins! The widow and the horse of power! Maggie Gray from Pocosin and the enchanted fish! The girl who is reflected the right way around in mirrors and the one weird thing with the followers of an evil version of Janus walking through doorways at night to try to wear a hole in the world.) If I never come back to any of those, I may never feel the lack. Or I may start working on one on a whim and look up and find that it's another five thousand words along and starting to feel like a live project. Stuff happens.

This is also a tricky method in that it may take up to eight years to get a story from initial Shiny Idea to published novel. I started Seventh Bride in 2006. But there's also always a bunch of other work in the pipe ready to be completed, so if I finish a book tomorrow, I don't have to go back to the drawing board. I've got plenty of things half-completed lying around already, so I can still put out work pretty reliably.

My friend Mur asks how I keep this stuff in my head. I don't know. Badly, probably. I forget stuff all the time, and then I get excited when I re-read it, because dude, that was awesome! I gotta write more! Still, it works out. In not quite ten years, I've written 17 middle-grade books**, two adult novels, two novellas and a pack of short stories, and I'm not even including Digger in there (though that was a one-foot-after-another march, not my usual flitting from project to project.)

Lord willing and the creek don't rise, in the next ten years I'll finish off a bunch more.

So, um.

Look, do the thing that works for you. If you are a one-book at a time writer, go for it. Do that. If that means you finish the book, then finish it. Finish it like the wind!

But don't let anybody tell you that spending a week hammering out the basis of Shiny New Idea, and flitting between projects like a butterfly with itchy feet, is absolutely a bad thing that will lead to artistic ruin, or whatever. I do it all the time. As long as you know you go back to the old projects and finish them (and you know you, I don't--if you say that you finish stuff and will go back, I will believe you) then hey, the system works.

And that is all the writing advice I have today.

*I will by god! get a blood-drinking hummingbird familiar in something if it by god! kills me! Also the mirror assassins made of glass and the thing with the white deer woman and the visions. I already recycled the crow with two pupils in each eye in Cryptic Stitching.
**Bread Wizard counts as written, damnit, even if the limbo it was in got very, very weird. Publishing is surreal. But it has been mostly freed of said limbo and may even be published someday.

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Jacana and Hippos at Chobe



I couldn't resist one more. (Tomorrow, hamsters. Really!)

I decided to try to do something similar to the other two woodblock-homages, this time with animals instead of a landscape (or maybe with hippos, the trick is that animals ARE the landscape.) This is an African Jacana, which I really did see standing on top of the hippos at Chobe. (Hippos don't care if things walk on them, apparently.)

So the trick to doing these is actually similar to the Art Deco travel posters I was doing earlier--instead of drawing the oulines, I block the whole shape out in flat colors, and use about ten thousand layers, putting thin black outlines around the big blocks of color and then drawing very thin weird lines on other multiply layers to shape the whole thing, and using gradients madly to make the flat colors work.

It is a seriously weirdass way to work. I am having to think much farther ahead than I usually do. Once everything is blocked out, fixing little dings requires sorting through dozens of layers to find out where something is.

But I really like how it all comes out. The thin lines are basically the same kind of black lines I draw on everything, only more useful.

Mad gratitude to Kevin--he took about a hundred photos of hippo piles which were invaluable for making it work. (Hippos have really messed up heads, incidentally. Their eye lumps do things no other mammal does.)

ETA: Prints available!

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Thamalkane Lodge



While the rest of the crew was south of us and experiencing some brief technical difficulties, Kevin and I were hanging out at Thamalkane River Lodge admiring this view. (This was in Maun, Botswana.)

There were a lot of birds. Most of them were egrets.

The artist Yoshida Hiroshi and his son Yoshida Toshi traveled the world and did lots of shin-hanga prints of the various sites, which is why there are gorgeous Japanese wood-block prints of things like Ayers Rock and Mt. Kilamanjaro. That would not be a bad way to spend one's life, if you ask me. This is something of a homage (and something of a "Man, I should go find all my old vacation photos and use them for reference for stuff in this style, because I will actually LOOK at this painting in a few years and maybe remember it, instead of having it moulder on a memory card somewhere.")

I am really only able to do this because I am procrastinating about drawing hamsters, though.

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No, I felt fine before too

An odd sort of thing has happened to me recently. I’ve been losing weight, thanks to the low-carb diet and even though I don’t have a scale in the house, people keep commenting that I’ve lost weight, so I think it’s working on a noticeable level. And I was at a con, where people don’t see you for a year, so we all do the “Oh my god, you look amazing,” thing, too. (Lacking a scale, I can only go by the difference in occasional doctor visits, but probably somewhere around ten pounds at the moment. It all comes off the waist first, so I am an even more exaggerated hourglass than usual and my shirts fit like either Saran-Wrap or potato sacks. Losing weight is probably like crying--there’s like five people who can do it gracefully and the rest of us just lump it.)

That’s not the odd thing. Three or four different people have said “And I bet you feel better, too!”

Uh.

About that...

They mean well, absolutely, and I know they mean well. They are trying to give a compliment. But...no? I didn’t feel bad before. Actually, the only thing that’s ever significantly changed how I feel physically is thyroid meds and having protein for breakfast. (The one time I dropped scads of weight thanks to a medication side-effect, my blood pressure went so low that I would gray out whenever I stood up, and then I menstruated for twelve days straight for no apparent reason. That felt awful.)

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I feel great. I wouldn’t do this if it made me feel WORSE. But I also felt great last month and six months ago and a year before that. I can sling mulch for hours in the hot sun. I have biceps. I do not run unless I am being chased by serial killers or trying to catch a plane, but I can amble along looking at birds in 110 degree weather all day.* My diet is pure vanity and a desire to get my boobs down to a size that is still measured in D’s and not distant, fearsome letters of the alphabet. (Yes, yes, I know, band size will shrink first so I will spend some grim time in the lands of F or possibly even G before it goes down, if at all.)

It’s stuff like this that brings home just how strongly fat = unhealthy is correlated in people’s minds. “You’re thinner! You must feel better!” Well, no. I feel exactly the same as I did before. It’s not like those ten pounds were actually made of slow-release arsenic or something.

I’ve tried saying "No, I felt fine before, too.” It has flummoxed some very nice people who were trying to be supportive, so it’s really not optimal. It’s just weird that this particular phrase keeps coming up over and over again.

*As long as it's a dry heat. I can do that in Texas hill country, but not quite so well in North Carolina.

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Garden Journal July 15th


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And another thing...

I have (not even remotely) recovered from the con and the long drive and I am supposed to be editing things and I am groggy and it appears that I am still a World Fantasy nominee, as weird as that is, and the garden got torrential rain in my absence and is now eight feet tall where it hasn't fallen over and the beans took over the arch that they were supposed to be growing gracefully over, so now you have to go under it bent double, and the tomatoes are probably a loss, but the spaghetti squash is still fighting through the mildew and the ground cherries are taller than I am and the tomatillos are terrifying and the garden is supposed to have a photo shoot next week and it is not a cottage garden any longer but a wild green apocalypse and I am slightly afraid.

You have to shout to be heard in the backyard at night now, between the frogs and the katydids and the cicadas. It is a roar of voices. Southern forests are not quiet places.

I stare at the garden and I think "Is this what I was trying to do?" and I can't remember because I didn't really have a vision going in but it is alive, quite terrifyingly alive, Igor-with-the-slab-and-the-lightning-rod alive, and I think that is probably better than any of the alternatives, even if it is not always good for my nerves.

Tomorrow I have to actually get these edits done and I would like to sleep for a year. But Anthrocon was wonderful! Thank you to my faithful minion Taliabear and my stunt minion Natalie and everybody who came by and I may have bought five skulls and threatened to cut people during the art auction but the point is that I have five more skulls including a horse skull, which I didn't have before, and a replica of a dire wolf, which is kinda cool.

I feel a warm fuzzy exhausted good will towards humanity, which is not a bad thing to feel after a convention.

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World Fantasy Nomination

So I am still at Anthrocon and was in fact at the after party run by the Dorsai Irregulars when an online friend, Ultragotha, congratulated me for my World Fantasy nomination.

Now, the ballot's been out for awhile, and I wasn't on it, so I thought it was just an awkward misunderstanding...and then Cassie, my most faithful of minions, called me and explained (three times--there had been rum) that the ballot had been revised and a short story was moved to novella and thus a slot opened and I was now on the ballot for "Jackalope Wives."

So...uh...whoa.

I am still a little befuddled (there was rum! I've been at a con!) but it appears this is really happening.

Whoa.

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Garden Journal June 29th



I am pretty proud of this squash. Not that you could have guessed.

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This is the best news



...yes, my Bald Eagles look like chickens. I DON'T CARE.

(You may redistribute this as far and wide as you want, because today is a good day.)

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