Time is never on our side.

Time is never on our side.

It was a pretty typical Saturday morning writing group–some writing, some socializing, some knocking ideas around. In discussing how some town names are more common than others, a story idea was born.

Well, less an idea and more of a seed. A McGuffin.

And when it was suggested that I write that story, sooner rather than later, I might have snapped a little. I got…defensive. Like, weirdly defensive.

This morning, I figured out why while doing bookkeeping. Not balancing my check book or doing my personal taxes. No, the kind of bookkeeping that is an essential part of being a working author. The care and feeding of creative projects kind of bookkeeping.

Once I broke it all down, I could see why I cracked.

As it stands now, midway through February I have on my docket:

  • My urban fantasy novel Ink Calls to Ink which has been looking for a home for over 2 years now.
  • The pulp sci-fi novel from a few years ago that I recently did a rewrite on that needs one more pass before I send it out into the world.
  • The orphaned urban fantasy/horror novella I wrote last year that was intended to be part of a trilogy. I’ve done two strong passes of rewrites. Now I’m wrestling with whether I want to sell as a novella trilogy or write the other two parts and combine them into a single novel.
  • The first part of the epic fantasy Ravensgate triptych, Rooks and Ravens, which got a solid second draft that wrapped up a month ago. It needs one more edit pass before I consider sending it out, but I might want to find beta readers for it first.
  • The new Cobalt City novel, Thicker than Water that I wrote last fall. I did a second pass on it earlier this month, but will need to do another close pass and need to get an editor to look at it prior to the planned September release. On top of that, I want to get copies out for early reviews, etc. And I need to get the cover and other promotional material ready for it.
  • The SECOND part of the Ravenstage triptych, Redemption of the Yellow Wolf is now halfway through the first draft. It’s what I’ve been spending my time on in the last week. After nothing but editing the previous two months, it feels nice to write again.

Now, keep in mind that Norwescon is coming up the first week of April. I’ll be running the Horror track which includes moderating a panel or three, so I want to do some prep for that. Two weeks after that, I’ve got a writing retreat on the books, so that will help balance things out a bit, otherwise I might be crying right now.

Time is never on our side. There are 168 hours in a week. Once you take out the hours spent at the day jobbery (including time too and from) and sleep, there’s about 50-55 hours in which to cram in everything else. Some of that will be eaten up by basic adulting stuff: minimally some housecleaning, eating, interacting with people that keep you from stepping in front of a speeding bus, and at least a little bit of down-time.

I used to try to write every day. Every. Single. Day.

It was a recipe for burnout. At least for me.

Now, I still carry my notebooks around with me everywhere. I’m constantly jotting down notes for existing projects or ideas for future projects. Sometimes I get scene set pieces. Sometimes I get dialogue. I’m making an effort to do something creative every day. But I can go days without opening up my work in progress documents.

I’m fond of saying that if you try to find time to write, you’ll never find it. Something else will always soak up those hours. You have to make time.

Currently, I spend most of Saturday, from around 8am, sometimes until as late as 6pm, working on my writing. I also write on Sundays, every-other week from around noon until 5pm or so. (I run a D&D game on alternating Sundays, so I set aside those afternoons to get the game prepped and ready for my players). I have a writing group that meets every Thursday for a few hours, and if I’m feeling in the zone I can get a solid 2-4 hours of writing in then. I also have the option of a writing group on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays that I hit when I have the time.

That gives me somewhere around 12 hours of writing time on a sub-optimal week, and around 25 on a really ambitious week. When I’m in the zone, I can write pretty fast. And editing, well, it takes the time it requires, and that varies depending on a lot of factors.

I still don’t have enough time. I’ll never really have enough time. But finding more comes with sacrifices I’m not comfortable making. Day jobbery and commute is kind of non-negotiable because bills have to be paid. I have some flex with sleep, but that’s no long-term fix unless I’m wiling to sacrifice my health and sanity. And there’s only so much I can cut social time before those relationships suffer, and the relationships I have now are too valuable to let atrophy.

So no, I’m not going to write that story right now. I’m not going to write that story soon, even. Because I don’t know what the story is yet. But the seed is there, notated with crisp block lettering in my Field Notes notebook in purple ink. And if the seed takes root, we’ll see. Until then, I have books to work on.

Two ingredients and an owl!

Two ingredients and an owl!

Have you ever watched the TV show Leverage? If not, you really should because it’s perfection. Basically Oceans 11, the series, but there’s only 5 of them. Or a modern Robin Hood. Or…you know what? I’m getting off track. The leader of the merry band is an alcoholic, and he sets up shop, for most of the series, upstairs from a bar.

It’s pointed out to him what a bad idea that is.

When you have a problem, ease of access to your given vice is, to put it mildly, a bad idea. But hey, that kind of tension creates some good stories in the world of fiction. So bad idea, but good entertainment.

A high-end, nay, FRINGE candy store opened up in my neighborhood by the name of Violet Sweet Shoppe. It’s on my bus route. I pass by it every night on the way home. In fact, there’s a stop right goddamned in front of the store. The same stop I get off at when I go to meet friends of mine who live a block away. (It is, in fact their second location which only sells candy. Their primary store is not as convenient and is a vegan bakery. It looks delicious. Fucking Seattle. It is what it is.)

So, in general, fuck my life. I know my strengths. I know my weaknesses. And I knew that eventually I was going to end up going there. And if you haven’t been paying attention to the world of fancy candy in the past few years I have some news for you: it’s a hipster fringe candy geek’s Garden of Earthly Delights out there.

I’m not even going to go into the goddamned preciousness of the name. (Shoppe? Sure. Because when I’m buying expensive candy, I want to think of motherfucking Chaucer.) The interior has shelves along the sides and two small, round tables stacked high with chocolate bars I’ve never freaking heard of before (along with glass containers of taffy-like chews and other delectables). The clerk was helping the other sole customer for a bit, and when done, turned her full tattooed charm upon me.

“Can I help you find anything?”

Gotta admit, I was overwhelmed. Maybe she saw me drowning and was lowering me a branch. Usually I can recognize most brands of sweets. Not the case here. I hadn’t heard of most of the chocolatiers represented there. And they had no white chocolate which I’ve been on the lookout for on account of my cohort’s recent white chocolate cravings. So I got handful of chocolate chews because I like that kind of thing, and a single bar of chocolate.

Why the Parliament Chocolate bar, you may ask?

Other than instinct, which is usually pretty good when it comes to candy, I liked the simplicity of the design. Nice font choices. An owl (which what I can only assume is a walrus mustache) done in the same black ink on an eggshell white cardstock with a nice tooth to it. Plus, it’s from Redlands, California where one of my brothers lives. I like Redlands. It’s a cool town. I’ve since gone to their site and checked them out and I love their mission statement, their commitment to fair trade and artisanal, small batch chocolates. I would totes share a craft brew with these guys. Maybe a regional wheat beer with slice of orange straight from the groves in Redlands while we talk about the Kimberly Crest Manor or something.

I love that they have 3 flavors of chocolate bars differentiated not by additives (mint, nuts, tortilla chips), but by where the single origin cacao comes from. Yeah. That’s right. Their flavors are Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Guatemala. And if the tasting notes are accurate (and I have zero reason to suspect otherwise), each are distinctive.

The Parliament bar is small. Only 1.7oz, but it’s rich like Scrooge McDuck with flavor. It has only two ingredients: cacao and cane sugar. The cacao (or cocoa to you neophytes) of the one I tried is ethically sourced from the Dominican Republic and is a nice, mellow 70%. The chocolate has a nice, sublime bitterness but isn’t overwhelming, and it melts smoother than satin. It has a complex finish and deserves to be savored.

This sumbitch will transport you. This is the kind of chocolate that can end a feud.

At around $6 a bar, it’s too pricey for every day consumption. But who says chocolate needs to be an every day treat? This is a chocolate to be shared among loved ones, broken out for special occasions like a great day at work, anniversaries, or when you just want to spoil yourself. Pair it with a good, bold red wine and turn it into a party. You’re an adult now. Live it up.

I mean, shit, you probably can’t afford that new Audi, but you can spring for the fancy chocolate. You deserve it.

If you can find it.

That will not be a problem for me. No, my problem now will be too much access.

Pray for me.

Onward Ho Into 2015!

Posted: December 31, 2014 in Novels, Random Geekery, Short Fiction
The devil rides tonight!

The devil rides tonight!

Well, it’s the end of the year again, and you know what that means. Yep. Buckle up, me hearties! It’s time for yet another look back at the year that was and some hints about the year to come.

On a personal front, my daughter got married in August, meaning I got to wear a rented tuxedo in St. Louis at the end of August. The wedding was lovely. St. Louis had some charm. Their pizza is a cautionary tale.

Oh, and something else was happening in St. Louis around that time, namely the systemic racism of our institutions. While the underlying situation wasn’t exactly new to the people who had to navigate it daily, for most of white America, it was like Nosforatu had been dragged out into the midday sun, killed a few people, then skittered back into the sewers to fester. A lot of people wanted to deny what they were seeing, rationalize it away. And then there were the allies who started laying in supplies of wooden stakes and holy water to kill this fucking beast. I was gratified to see many of my friends on the side of justice, calling for an end to brutality at the hands of police and complicity of the legal system. I was disheartened by those who remained silent, or worse, tried to justify the murders of citizens.

2014 was a year for exposing vampires: racism, sexism, transphobia, economic oppression, the ugliest aspects of nationalism…

I hope that 2015 is the year that we drive the stake through the heart of some of these blights, leave it staked out in the sun to wither in its ugliness for all to see. Maybe 2015 will be the year that no reasonable person will start a sentence, “But not all…”

The rest of my travel was an interesting mix of planned and last-minute. World Horror in Portland in May of 2014 was a blast. I always love going to Portland. And then about a week or so after returning from St. Louis, I had the chance to go on a writing retreat to Port Townsend for several days. It was a short-notice sort of affair, and it was exactly the kind of “vacation” my writing needed. The year was capped off with a post-Christmas trip back to Portland with my partner-in-crime to introduce her around, hit up Powell’s, Pok Pok, and some wineries. We even added in a stop at the Doug Fir and Salt & Straw, so it was a great way to end the year.

Speaking of Powell’s, this has been a great year for reading for me. I tend not to read as many books as many of my literary friends. This year I saw a significant uptick, including several books that I made me want to be a better writer. My reading highlights included (in no particular order):

  • Tim Powers–Three Days to Never
  • Max Gladstone–Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise
  • N.K. Jemisin–The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (If you haven’t read this, you’re missing out)
  • Jeff Vandermeer–the Area X trilogy (Annihilation in particular floored me)
  • Richard Kadrey–Devil Said Bang
  • Huey P. Newton–Revolutionary Suicide
  • David Grahme Shane–Urban Design Since 1945 – A Global Perspective

Now, as for writing, it was a mixed year.

For the first time in ages, I had only one short fiction sales this year. “Goat” which appeared in the superlative That Ain’t Right: Historical Accounts of the Miskatonic Valley, was accepted just a week into 2014 and that’s been it.

I got close to publication with a novella trilogy project I worked on middle of the year, including sending it out to beta-readers for feedback. But sadly that fell apart and I’m not entirely certain what to do with that project now. One plan is find a publisher for the original novella trilogy format, while another is to write the other two parts and turn it into a novel.

I also got close with a comic book project late in the year that, despite going nowhere, at least cut me a decent check for the work I’d done. I can’t complain about that.

As for Ink Calls to Ink, it continues to be floated around various places. I’m growing increasingly tempted to publish it myself.

As for the work I had planned to do in 2014, well, shit.

I had thought I’d finish Rooks and Ravens by the end of LAST January. Then it was decided to change the POV from 3rd to 1st person POV, which made the rewrite much more intensive. I’m still deep in the rewrites. Maybe I’ll finish those rewrites in the next few months. They’re my priority, so we’ll see what happens. Maybe then I can get back to Redemption of the Yellow Wolf and finish that draft in 2015.

I also put out my short fiction collection Dark but for the Stars, and re-released Dark Carnival and Chanson Noir as e-books.

In Cobalt City news, Cobalt City Los Muertos went live on schedule, and I’m very happy with it. It’s even gotten some good reviews. The next Cobalt City book, Thicker Than Water was written in November and I’ll get it rewritten, edited, and polished in time for a September release this year. Featuring three women POV characters, two of whom are Asian, it’s a good reflection of the diversity I want to see more of in the genre. Increasing visibility is a big theme for me in 2015.

That’s a bit of a hint of what I’m planning for 2015: creating the diversity I want to be seeing. If all goes as planned, I’ll finish several projects this year: Rooks and Ravens, Thicker than Water, the novella trilogy/novel, and Redemption of the Yellow Wolf. Only one of them features a cis hetero white dude as the hero. I’m not sure what I’ll be writing for next November’s Cobalt City NaNo, but I guess we’ll see what happens. While I’m at it, maybe I’ll find homes for some of my weird orphan stories, too.

If time and circumstance permits, I might resurrect the Anwat RPG sourcebook and re-tool it for D&D 5th edition. Stranger things have happened.

I figure maybe it’s best not to over-plan things.

On Writing Dialogue

Posted: December 17, 2014 in Novels, Short Fiction
Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

“Shit. That’s not a job. That’s a hustle!”

I love writing dialogue. It is, arguably, one of the the more finely honed skills in my writer’s tool box. Being able to bring characters to life with natural, unforced conversations, just makes me happy.

The trick is to listen.

It’s that simple.

It’s that difficult.

We’re social creatures by nature. Even the most introverted of us deals with people occasionally. And in doing so, oftentimes certain aspects of our dialog degrades into shorthand and common phrases. I never used the word “totes” until I made a good friend who used it all the time. Until about a year ago, I never used the word “legit” the way I do now, but I picked that up from another friend. We influence each other, whether we like it or not.

If we rarely venture outside of that communication circle, it can be easy to forget that not everyone sounds like us. And different groups will have different cadence and even different words. It’s an entirely different song, and it helps inform who they are, and how they sound around their peers.

For that reason, you need the occasional field trip.

I suggest bringing a small, unobtrusive notebook and pen (Field Notes are my personal favorite–great size, so they can slid into just about any pocket, and a good grade of paper that takes ink well). Alternatively, if you have a good recorder on your phone, you can use it instead–I find mine particularly useful for capturing the rants of people talking to themselves on the bus. But whatever tools you take with you into the field are kind of secondary.

The key is to go somewhere people are talking and listen. Really listen. Be conscious of where you’re staking out, and who is clustered around the watering hole. A food court in the business core will score you all kinds of office drone conversations. The bar in a fancy hotel gets you different conversation than a dive bar down the street. The McDonald’s with the PlayPlace™ in the suburbs will likely get you a different kind of conversation than the McDonald’s at 3rd and Pine that a lot of locals point to as “everything that’s wrong with downtown Seattle,” because it feels unsafe.

For the record, I’ve never felt unsafe at that particular establishment. It’s one of my favorite places to get a quick meal and listen to people.

If you’re a commuter like I am, take the headphones out. There is almost always a conversation happening on the bus or train. Listen to the cadence. Listen to the sentence structure. Listen to word choice. Listen for repeated words, because you’ll hear them. People don’t speak in complete sentences all the time. Contractions abound. Don’t listen for specific content so much as the nature of the content. The details of their lives aren’t important, really. But sometimes context is. A person generally talks differently with a friend than they would with a stranger or authority figure.

You might have some reservations about this. Might think of it as eavesdropping. And it is, sort of. But to help cut through the sense of guilt, remember–your not listening for gossip or tidbits of what they’re talking about. You’re not writing about them. You’re listening to how they’re talking about what they’re talking about. Also, as long as you’re doing this in a public place and not being overly intrusive, the odds of them talking about anything really personal are next to zero.

Also, just like any good note taking from school, don’t write down everything. If you try and do that, you’ll be paying more attention to writing and trying to keep up. Instead, just pay attention. If something catches your ear, a sentence or two, jot it down as accurately as possible. Capture the pauses and inflections with punctuation and underlining. Heck. While you’re at it, take notes about the people–quirks or characteristics that help make people unique, whether they’re a one or two phrase visual hook or some kind of mannerism.

Eventually, you’ll get a better feel for how a wider range of people talk just by listening and paying attention. But be prepared to take notes (a general writing tip I follow whenever I can). That will help translate into more natural, and more diverse dialog. And that will make your writing better.

Chanson coverThe origin of Cobalt City as a literary entity is a strange one. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe all mythical places start small, a seed unaware of the tree that sleeps, coiled inside.

The first Cobalt City tale was a short story, maybe 8,000 words or so. On a challenge, i wrote the first novel–Cobalt City Blues. It had been intended for friends, but spread out of that circle to other readers unfamiliar with the characters at the heart of the novel. They suggested a prequel, and I obliged, writing Chanson Noir (which was recently re-released as an e-book after having been out of print for a few years).

At that point, I had it in my mind to turn the Protectorate story into a three-book arc. A trilogy, as was the style at the time. So when I commissioned covers for Cobalt City Blues and Chanson Noir, I commissioned a cover for the third book as well (Requiem of Ash), and listed them as a trilogy.

I don’t have many regrets in life, but that is a big one.

See, Requiem was meant to be the final book, the closing chapter on the Protectorate Era of Cobalt City. And there are far too many stories left to tell in Cobalt City. Between the three anthologies (Cobalt City Christmas, Timeslip, and Dark Carnival), the books that take place during the Protectorate Era (Los Muertos and the recently completed Thicker than Water), the post-Protectorate de la Vega novels (Greetings from Buena Rosa and Ride Like the Devil), and the post-Protectorate books written by others (Jeremy Zimmerman’s Kensei, Rosemary Jones’ Wrecker of Engines, Nikki Burns’ Tatterdemalion, Erik Scott de Bie’s Eye for an Eye, and Minerva Zimmerman’s The Place Between), I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface. Hell…and that’s even with the award winning audio dramas.

And that’s not a bad thing.

See, the three Protectorate books (ok, two and projected third book), aren’t really a trilogy in any real sense. Yes, they take place in order. But they are not one big story. They’re more like a triptych: three separate novels that tell big stories of the team of superheroes known as the Protectorate at the beginning, middle, and end of that era. And there are a lot of smaller stories that take place in between those novels. The Protectorate has, at its peak, eight active members and two reservists. The Protectorate novels are full-team stories. More epic in scope. The other novels are smaller and include fringe characters who are not part of the Protectorate. For example, Los Muertos features three heroes, of which only one, Mister Grey, is a member of the Protectorate, while Gato Loco is a solo vigilante and the Tatterdemalion is even less of a team player. The all-women cast of Thicker than Water, which I will be publishing next fall, features only Velvet from the Protectorate, while Roberta “Bantam” Pak and Xia Lo enter the story from other directions.

I still intend to write Requiem of Ash. I have the story sketched out, and I’ve dropped some hints as to what happens in Greetings from Buena Rosa. But I’ll be honest with you: that book is a long time away. And that’s intentional. If you’re waiting for the third book to come out to start reading the others, it really isn’t necessary. I admire your dedication, but each novel is meant to be read as a stand-alone.

If you want big-adventure, start with Chanson Noir, which brings flavors of cosmic-style horror to the superhero mix. Cobalt City Blues isn’t a sequel, but it does touch on concepts introduced in the earlier book and brings in several more characters and is more straight up adventure.

Likewise, each of the individual novels is a stand-alone. They might mention superheroes that don’t appear in the book, but no prior knowledge is required to jump in and enjoy from the ground floor, as it were. The smaller books also let me explore different kinds of stories and different ways of telling them. Los Muertos was a lightly spooky homage to the Weird Hero phase of 70’s comic books that brought us Swamp Thing, Doctor Strange, and the brilliantly strange Dracula comic from Marvel. Thicker than Water gave me the chance to write about human trafficking, modern slavery, and organized crime. On deck, I have books about time-travel and legacy heroes as well as rock ‘n roll refugees from space outlined and ready to go.

Eventually, all of the individual heroes from Cobalt City Blues will get their time to shine. The current plan is to write a Cobalt City novella-novel length work or two every year. I’ve got two done now, and two more fully outlined. I have rough ideas for three more.

Then, and only then, will I consider writing Requiem of Ash. Until that happens, there are a lot of adventures waiting to be shared.

Fresh for NaNoWriMo 2014

Fresh for NaNoWriMo 2014

It’s a multi-billion dollar industry in a country that would rather look away–an insidious crime so horrible that authorities are powerless, or unwilling, to stop it.
Not even Cobalt City, the bright, cosmopolitan center of the superhero world, is safe from human trafficking and sexual slavery. For heroes used to dealing with madmen and megalomaniacs, the decentralized nature of the blight is difficult to comprehend, much less impact. How do you combat not just criminals but the very nature of a crime itself?

Velvet–dillitente by day, hard-hitting heroine by night.
Bantam–a cop on the take, trying to redeem her father’s legacy.
Xia Lo–enforcer for Cobalt City’s vast criminal underworld.

Three extraordinary women against impossible odds and a twisted, thriving culture that survives in the shadows.

Due to be written this November, part of my process involves dream-casting.

So without further ado, the three heroes of Thicker than Water.

Victoria SmurfitFor Velvet I wanted someone who projected sophistication and confidence. Who better than the actress who gave Dracula a run for his money in the NBC series from last year as Lady Jane–Victoria Smurfit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hettienne_parkFor Bantam, I really just wanted the amazing Hettienne Park who I loved in the first two seasons of Hannibal. Great actress with solid range, and I really relish the idea of her as a cop with a secret legacy as an ass-kicker.

 

 

 

 

 

Zhao WeiZhao Wei is a bit of a wild card, but then again, so is Xia Lo. Zhao was amazing in Shaolin Soccer, and I understand she played an excellent Mulan for Chinese TV. Far as I’m concerned, that’s high recommendation.

Ramping up for my 10th NaNoWriMo

Posted: October 18, 2014 in Novels
Authorial Essentials

Authorial Essentials

It came to my attention earlier this week that this marks my 10th year doing the annual madness that is National Novel Writing Month. I suppose that it’s only natural that I’ve kind of come full circle in a way.

My first NaNo novel turned into Greetings from Buena Rosa. The impulse to write that particular novel was two-fold: I wanted to write a pulpy Gato Loco novel, and I had heard a news report on NPR about a number of unsolved murders of women in the Jalisco/Chihuahua area of northern Mexico. The police were under so much pressure that they were arresting random women and torturing them until they confessed to crimes they knew nothing about. It was outrageous. And it made me wish there was some sort of justice there.

I visited justice upon the border region in the form of Gato Loco. Considering what’s going on there in our world, I suppose I was naïve to think a vigilante and his panda sidekick could change things.

So here I am gearing up to write again. The tenth anniversary of that weird baptism. I had my outlines ready to go. Everything was set.

Then a good friend and fellow author, Jeremy Zimmerman forwarded a piece about sex slavery here in this country. And after a particularly long week where the toxic vitriol of the anti-feminist movement kept trying to out-do itself, it was kind of the last straw.

I wanted justice.

So I scrapped the other story and put together something different. Something darker. Something far more compelling. Something featuring a trio of morally complex and compelling women in the lead. Something that I felt I had to write.

We’ll see how it goes. But I’m excited to see where November takes me.

Enough

Posted: October 9, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,
Guardian Sculpture

Guardian Sculpture

I suppose if I had an agent or publicist or manager of some sort, they would advise me against this post. It is, as an office-drone friend of mine calls it, something of a “career limiting maneuver.” It’s one thing to be political, but to be openly, passionately political, is to risk alienating readers.

But if I have to chose between losing the sale of a book or keeping my outrage under wraps, I’ll take the loss of a book every time. Because my outrage is righteous. It is justified. And being able to express it is a privilege not everyone has.

And I don’t depend on book sales to pay my bills, so there’s another privilege exposed.

I’m goddamned exhausted of how the deck is stacked. Even though it’s stacked in my favor, it makes me weary to the soul. I can’t even begin to imagine how exhausting it must be for people it’s stacked against!

I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on.

Women are rising up and exposing an institutionalized sexism across a wide swath of fields: from science to writing and gaming. And a small but truly horrible vocal minority is reacting to this spotlight of shame like petulant toddlers.

An inherently racist police force is waging war to protect their right to kill black and brown folk without consequences. To make matters worse, way too many white folk either agree with them, or are complicit in their silence.

In short, while there are a number of brave and dedicated people standing up to make this world a better place, there remains this entrenched, scared, shitty streak of people who will fight to the death to remain just truly horrible people. And lumped in with that vanguard of horribleness is a far-too-large group of people who figure that none of this is their business.

Fuck. For all I know you’re one of those people. You know, the ones who think, “Well, I think equality is fine in theory, but I’d never say I’m a feminist because that sounds to aggressive.” Or maybe “You know, the police have a really hard job. We should calm down and wait until all the evidence is in before we jump to conclusions.” Or “My friend is 1/4 Cherokee and he’s not offended by the mascot so it shouldn’t be a problem.” Or simply, “It doesn’t affect me, so it’s not my problem.”

Damn but I hate that “not my problem.” Because there are a lot of things in this world that really aren’t our problem. Like how much a former TV star weighs. Or if some pop musician is back in rehab. Entire industries have been built around keeping you informed of shit that doesn’t matter.

But the big stuff? If you have an ounce of compassion? That should absolutely be your problem.

Two months ago, an unarmed 18yr old boy was executed by a person whose whole job is to protect and serve that community. At the absolute worst, Mike Brown was jaywalking. All other charges that were conjured against him as some form of justification have proven to be utter fabrications. And even so, none of them justify shooting someone to death in the street then leaving him there under the sun for over four hours. None. If you think there can possibly be any just reason for that level of response, I politely invite you to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut because you’re a bad person. Since then, the police there (and elsewhere) have continued a reign of terror, virtually unrestrained by any respect for laws or due process. The police involved in the situation in Ferguson, Missouri have boldly instituted a police state where they can lock people up with no charges, where they use people they’ve arrested as bargaining chips to get peaceful demonstrations to disperse, where they have indiscriminately used methods and armament that is banned by the Geneva convention. All to protect a murderer who is still being paid, and is being kept under guard. And who may never be charged for his crime.

You’re goddamned right I’m outraged. Because we shouldn’t tolerate this kind of bullshit in our country, against our own citizens. If it was happening somewhere else, folk would be mad as hell. It shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere. But somehow when it happens here, it’s not news. Because the deck is stacked, and to point that out undermines the system.

I’m so outraged that when there was another shooting in St. Louis last night, my immediate reaction was to distrust the police version of events.

Because if I’ve learned anything in the past two months, it’s that the police are not to be trusted.

And that’s dangerous. That’s why this is everyone’s problem. A police force that can’t be trusted, that has no moral authority, is a recipe for chaos.

It doesn’t even matter that my instincts were right on the most recent shooting: multiple witnesses contradict the police version, and the police not only didn’t bother to take any witness statements, they were heard joking about the shooting immediately after the fact.

Meanwhile, we have a systemic culture of violence towards women that is so ingrained that many of us don’t even see it. We just accept the narrative as “That’s the way it is.” Case in point, and a geeky one at that, the new CW series The Flash premiered this week to very positive reviews. As a long-time comic geek, I really enjoyed it. It took someone to point out that the hero’s whole motivation stems from his mother being murdered when he was eleven.

They “fridged” the mom. And I was so familiar with that element of his background I didn’t even question it. Would I have enjoyed the story just as much if his mother had been written out otherwise, if Barry’s motivation stemmed from something other than his mom’s death? Sure. Would it have been “cannon?” Nope, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, these same producers are responsible for Arrow which I also enjoy, but which is no less problematic. They have a long record of treating female characters poorly on their show. I’m hoping both series can do better this season.

I’m challenging all of you to do better.

Don’t sit by and let the bullshit slide. Show some genuine compassion and don’t punch down. Keep your eyes open. Question things that feel off, from language (bitch or pussy used as pejoratives, ghetto or thug used casually without recognizing the baggage those words have) to inherent injustices like disproportionate application of the law or threats of violence. Step up and call that shit out. Help lift people up. And help them lift others up.

Let’s say enough with the bullshit and the whiners trying to prop up their rightfully crumbling privilege.

And maybe, just maybe, we can help make this a better place.

Return to Cobalt City

Posted: October 7, 2014 in Novels
The cat. The dead man. The tattered woman.  Will they be enough to save Cobalt City from an evil centuries in the making?  Because Trepanning Mary has returned to the city. And hell is coming with her.

Trepanning Mary has returned to the city. And hell is coming with her.

Some cities just get under my skin. After a while, it’s a compulsion that drives me to want to go back, be it Portland or Santa Fe or New Orleans.

Or Cobalt City.

Cobalt City made it’s debut ten years ago in the novel Cobalt City Blues. It was my first novel, written for myself and friends–and to prove to myself I could finish a long project. It wasn’t even part of a series at that point. Just one book jam packed with superheroes and a city that won’t let me leave it behind.

I’ve written several more novels set in that world, including the prequel to Cobalt City Blues, and two follow-up books with Gato Loco set a few years in the future. I’ve written a little short fiction, published three anthologies and five novella length works from other people set in Cobalt. I’ve even written radio dramas which were wonderfully produced and serialized, allowing me to expand out the world a little bit more. (For the curious, the full timeline of what stories happen when is available here.)

But it’s been years since I’ve taken a long walk in Cobalt City. Other books had taken me away. I missed the view of the orange cranes towering above the docks in Quayside, with the neon glare of Casino Row beyond. I missed the historic streets of the Cannonade, with narrow, cobblestone streets and ivy-enshrouded brick buildings and the golden glow of quirky bistros and late night book stores. I missed the quiet of Lafayette Park while the towering condos of Parkside loomed along the eastern edge of the park. I missed the idea of a cup of coffee at Schrodinger’s Cup up near the University, or watching the Cobalt Blue Blazes whip some ass on the basketball court. I missed the little ethnic neighborhoods secreted away in the twisting streets of Karlsburg. Even missed the suburban sprawl of Moriston to the north, and the crumbling buildings and danger of The Hollows.

But mostly I missed the heroes.

I love the idea that you could look up some day and see the golden contrail of Stardust slicing through the blue sky. That your evening commute might be disrupted by Wild Kat and Velvet tumbling out into the road, wrestling with a dragon. That you might see a mugging interrupted by the appearance of Gato Loco. That a bank of fog might materialize into Mister Grey somewhere ahead of you and a dangerous night suddenly feels safer.

I love the fact that other writers have fallen in love with the city and helped it grow: from Jeremy Zimmerman’s Kensei and Rosemary Jones’ Wrecker of Engines in Cobalt City Rookies to Erik Scott de Bie’s Lady Vengeance and Stardust and Minerva Zimmerman’s Tempest in Cobalt City Double Feature. Jeremy has another Kensei book coming out soon and I promise you all, I’ll be one of the first people in line to read it.

It was time for me to revisit Cobalt City. I’ve been away too long.

Los Muertos marks my return–a love letter to Cobalt City and to the weird heroes of the comics of the 1970’s. Inspired by an era that saw horror cross over into superheroes with titles like Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, Doctor Strange, the Demon, Swamp Thing, I wanted to tell a story about Halloween in Cobalt City. Because horror eventually creeps into most things I write, I suppose. And I already have a Cthulhu element in the city with Louis Malenfant and the King in Yellow. The antagonist, Trepanning Mary, was inspired by a wall of nineteen trepanned skulls from Peru I saw on display at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, so I suppose I really have to thank my friends Krista and Brendon for taking me there a few years back.

I’ll be setting up shop in Cobalt City for a while. There are just too many stories to tell.

Because the world needs heroes. Even the weird ones.

Especially the weird ones.

Thinking I should wear a tux all the damn time...

Thinking I should wear a tux all the damn time…

Looking back, it’s been a while since my last post. A lot has changed. Some has even changed and changed back. Some of that will be addressed in a separate post as I’d rather not dilute it.

My daughter got married a month ago. The wedding took me to St. Louis for the first time in my life. It was hot and humid, but I survived. If nothing else, it gave me new respect for how nice the weather is Seattle.

St. Louis was also surreal because I was there for a week starting about two weeks after the unarmed teen Michael Brown was executed in the streets of Ferguson where his body was left for over four hours. They were even talking about it on the news in the airport newsstand while I was waiting to fly out. But other than talking with one or two family members it might as well have been happening in another country. I was surprised at how segregated, how insulated, communities can be. It was unsettling. But that’s for another post.

I was out there for over a week, and got no writing done while I was there. No editing. No notes. Nothing.

When I got back to Seattle, I realized the time away gave me a bit of perspective on my writing. Back in town for only a few days, I had an epiphany.

See…I’d been working on big projects pretty much all year. With the exception of one short story I turned out for an anthology request, I’d done pretty much nothing but work on novels or novellas, either writing or editing. Burnout was coming around the bend and it was coming hard. Everything I was doing was high labor with no visible progress. There was no end in sight. The novel I was rewriting wouldn’t be done until next year, at the rate I was going. And after that, two sequels loomed.

And for what?

What?

No one was waiting for these novels. No agent. No editor. Quite possibly, no readers. I already have one urban fantasy novel that I’m shopping plus a novella in this strange limbo state with an editor as of this writing. Did I really need one more big project gathering dust?

Add to this that I’ve been reading some truly outstanding novels this summer that highlight for me how much better i want to be. I know that’s crazy and arbitrary and other bullshit. But every author does it–holds themselves up to an icon of some sort and finds themselves lacking. Cue the crippling self-doubts, etc.

As excited as I was (and still am) about the Ravensgate Cycle, I was writing entirely on spec. Ultimately, I was writing these books for me.

They were killing me.

So I stopped. I set Of Rooks and Ravens set aside for later and got other things cleared off my plate instead. And in doing so, several smaller projects popped up.

I started collecting small projects, and then went to a 5 day writing retreat out in Port Townsend run by some truly outstanding writers and human beings. In the evenings, we played games and drank wine, and by day I wrote, and edited. Nothing I touched was longer than 5,000 words. Nothing.

I ended up editing and polishing five mic0-stories, wrote and rewrote three one-page treatments for a possible future collaborative projects, edited and submitted my sun princess story, finished a parade story that a friend dared me to write and gave it two hard edits, and wrote and rewrote two fresh stories that I never would have tried before. It was a productive several days.

Now it’s just the question of where do I go next?

Here’s a glance at some of the signposts.

I’ve made a commitment to do at least one Cobalt City book a year, be it a novel or novella. The first of those is coming out in a few weeks. I’ll also be making Chanson Noir, the early Protectorate novel available as e-book for the first time. Then in November I’ll be writing two new Cobalt City novellas. One stars Gallows and is part Whitney Houston’s Bodyguard and one part Ziggy Stardust with a heap of alien invasion thrown in. The other is sort of Back to the Future from a villain’s point of view and features Libertine. Both are roughly outlined and  I’ll be tightening that down next month.

After that, I’m following advice from the writing retreat. Don’t write a series. Write a novel.

Yeah, the Ravensgate Cycle is kind of daunting. But the first novel? Heck! That’s already done. I just need to rewrite and edit. So unless some other project comes out and demands my attention, I’m going back to Of Rooks and Ravens in December. Hopefully I’ll have a good, finished draft by sometime in January.

I can’t decide to NOT be a writer. I never could.

That’s the real epiphany.