Giant Ball of Stress

So we have begun the next Medical Adventure. It is not arduous by comparison with, say, Frodo's journey to Mount Doom.

I am not cut out for the journey from the Shire to Moria, much less Mount Doom.

Anyway, the next treatment step is a bone marrow transplant (henceforth BMT). I don't think I explained this here before, but it's actually pretty nifty. They harvest healthy stem cells from Lut's body, and freeze them. Then they hit him with massive chemotherapy that kills everything in his bone marrow, cancer and healthy cells alike. Then they transplant the harvested stem cells back into him. So since it's his own stem cells, there's no worry about rejection or other long-term complications.

But before they can do this, there are Many Appointments. Many many appointments. So many appointments.

Two weeks ago, they told me they would schedule these appointments for Monday and Tuesday of this week. Last Monday (11/27), I emailed the coordinator to ask if anything had been scheduled yet. She emailed me and the scheduler back and told me (a) they needed to wait for the physical therapy doctor to evaluate him on 11/28 and (b) they had several people ahead of him so they would let me know when they had anything.

On Wednesday (11/29), I still hadn't heard. I emailed them again.

I did not hear back.

I checked Lut's phone for messages. There were none. They did not try to call my phone either. At 6:15 on Friday, I got a voice mail that said "someone in your family has an appointment at [address] on Tuesday 12/5 at 1:15PM."

Well. Okay then, I guess this is taking longer than they expected.

We go to his original oncology doctor on Monday as scheduled. Oncologist: "Since you haven't gotten the BMT stuff scheduled yet, let's keep on with your treatment here." I called the number from the voice mail back to verify that this was connected with the BMT process (it was) and find out what it was. I scheduled the next shipment of Revlimid, Lut's current oral chemo drug.

Then I went to work on Tuesday morning with the plan of leaving early to take him to the afternoon appointment.

At 11AM on Tuesday, Lut got a phone call: "We noticed you didn't make any of your appointments this morning! Is there a problem?"


They called me, and it turned out they sent us the schedule by UPS. UPS dropped it by the door we don't use. The scheduler thought she had emailed it, or maybe she thought the coordinator had emailed it and the coordinator thought the scheduler had emailed it but in fact no one had. Scheduler: "The ones you missed are all with us so they're easy to reschedule. I will email you the appointments you haven't missed yet and then a list of the rescheduled ones."

Me: *vibrating with stress*

Fifteen minutes later, I got a schedule. It had SO MANY APPOINTMENTS. One Tuesday afternoon. Five on Wednesday morning. One on Thursday afternoon. Five on Tuesday 12/12. One each on December 16-21.

I emailed my boss to explain the SCHEDULING EXPLOSION and when I'd be out for what.

Fifteen minutes after that, I got another email: "Here are the rescheduled ones!" There were four more appointments on Thursday morning.


I am basically out of paid time off, but my boss has said I can take unpaid time off THANK GOODNESS. But I am also vibrating with financial stress so I don't want to miss paychecks if possible. So I planned to come to work when possible. Thursday is shot so full of appointments that I'm taking it off. I only missed an hour on Tuesday, because the afternoon appointment was quick enough that I could come back to work afterwards. Wednesday I planned to go to work in the afternoon.

The scheduling snafu didn't make anything significantly worse as far as missing time at work. It basically just transferred all the Tuesday morning appointments to Thursday and he had an afternoon appointment on both days anyway.

Tuesday night, I checked to see how long the trip would take to the med center for his 7AM Wednesday appointment. Google said 17 minutes. At 6-7AM, I did not expect traffic to be significantly worse (rush hour in my city is not serious), so I planned to leave at 6:30 to allow for traffic and time navigating the med center. I memorized the directions because Google Maps has been "upgraded" to the point that it now barely runs on my 2010-model phone. (Six years ago, this same phone ran Google Maps just fine. The problem with tech obsolescence nowadays is that the software changes. So even if you just want to do the same things you did several years ago, YOU CANNOT.)

On Wednesday morning as we were leaving, I tried to get the directions up on my phone anyway as backup. Ten minutes into the trip, we hit a major slowdown on the highway. An accident had closed two lanes and traffic was at a near-standstill for miles leading up to it I finished getting directions up on Google on my phone, and the highway route was now 20 minutes slower than taking surface streets. I fought my way across two lanes of traffic to the nearest exit. My phone managed to give me accurate directions for the first 15 minutes after that, but half a mile away it started doing the "I will tell you what to do two minutes after you've missed the turn" thing. x_x

We finally limped up to the medical center at 7:15, and I let Lut out at what I hoped was the right building and went to park.

Miraculously, we had indeed gotten to the right building (it's a giant complex of like eight) and the entrance was even near his appointment location.

The rest of the morning went unnaturally smoothly. The first appointment saw him ten minutes after we got in and was done with him by 8AM. Our next appointment wasn't until 9AM, but we walked over there anyway to wait. They saw us right away and were done with us by 9AM. Next he had three different kinds of x-rays, which were scheduled to take 90 minutes, first starting at 10:00 and last starting at 11:00. But radiology is walk-ins so they just take you as you show up. They took him within fifteen minutes and were done with him by 10AM. It took a little while to escape the medical center and get back to the car, but I got Lut home, picked up my lunch from the house, refueled the car, and got to work at 10:45. So I'll only be short 90 minutes or so today, too, instead of half a day.

We'll see how well tomorrow goes. He doesn't have any walk-in places tomorrow, so pretty sure that will be more like the normal medical experience. At least we don't have to get there until 10AM. Traffic will be about as bad but no getting up at 5:30AM for it. x_x And Lut has lab work so I don't need to make breakfast. I will probably just have cereal myself, instead of making something hot.

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Me 2012

November in Review

I used my exercise bike in during the first week of the month, because I was doing some writing for Nanowrimo while on it. In subsequent weeks, I've been doing stretches in the living room instead. I have a hard time going down into my dark, dank, miserable basement to exercise, and even when it's warm enough, it's too dark after work to ride my bike outside at this time of year.

I did dance exercises in the living room on Friday night, so I may go back to doing that, though.

I no longer walk to work. I did for a little while, but there've been at least two times where I'd walked or biked to work and Lut had a health emergency in the middle of the day, so I don't want to chance it any more.

I won Nanowrimo!

I started Demon's Sigil for Nano, and it was at 53,000 words at the end of the month. I won it early, on 11/26, despite doing very little writing during the three days I was at the convention across the street in mid-November. So it turns out I can still write quickly when I put my mind to it.

I have not been much motivated to continue the manuscript since I won Nano, though. My plan is to take it easy in December and only write 14,000 words or so. I have to do the cover art for The Sun Etherium, for one thing.

I feel guilty not writing faster. Or working harder. I also feel worn out and don't want to work any more. So, you know, that's a thing.

The Business of Writing
I released a new book! It feels so long ago. Silver Scales is now a thing people can buy!

Scales sold well on launch day. Afterwards, its sales graph per day has turned into a weird little sine wave, something like: 0 1 3 5 4 1 0, repeat. So far, it's selling better than The Moon Etherium did, but not as well as A Rational Arrangement or even Further Arrangements. The sequel will be out in January, so that should perk up sales a bit.

The Sun Etherium will be out later this month. Alinsa finished the initial build on Saturday, so I've started proofreading it. I also started work on the cover on Sunday, and then finished it on Monday. It helped that I'd already figured out what I wanted it to look like and assembled all my references beforehand. I was pleasantly surprised by how it came out; much more mellow about it than I was about The Moon Etherium's cover.

I did some fan art for Poison Kiss, and a promo image for Scales. (Not the cover! The beautiful cover image for Scales was painted by the talented Ilse Gort.) The Sun Etherium cover doesn't count for November.

I did a lot of adulting, too. Adulting. So much.

I miss the PollRPG but I'm not sure I miss it enough to do it again. In part because running a serial that I can't build a buffer for is not well-suited towards my mentality, and in part because I suspect most of the people who were following it have forgotten by now and will not be interested enough to pick it up again.

I went to the convention! I saw people and talked to people and got socialized-out for like a month.


Yeah, not so much. I'm glad I won Nano, and I'm glad I can still write 2000+ words in a day. That was a good thing to be reminded of. But Lut has cancer and I have to be a grown-up and inside I am just screaming and flailing and tantruming like a toddler. Sometimes not just on the inside.

One grace note of this whole situation: Lut and I have remained understanding towards each other. Our frustrations are all directed outwards. (Lut has been astonishingly good-tempered overall. I am the only one tantruming.) So that's one nice thing.

Goals for coming month
* Illustrate The Sun Etherium cover
* Look for an artist for Demon's Lure. I might do the art myself, I haven't firmly decided. I have an idea of what I want it to look like if I do it myself; it wouldn't be either the flat-shape look I've done for my other books or one of my attempts at realistic. I don't know if it'd work at all. Anyway, I should probably try to hire someone because it's a good investment in the long run. It's just that I have horrible cash flow issues right now and I would like publishing to make them better and not worse.
* Talk to my father and/or Telnar for advice about my horrible cash flow issues.
* Write 14,000 words of Demon's Sigil.

That seems like enough.

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Me 2012

So Much Adulting

I won Nanowrimo on Sunday. I made a point of getting it done then, because this week marks the beginning of a new stage of augh so much doctoring in the cancer-treatment process. I am not going to go over it all right now. It's pretty much two solid months of stress and horrible, compounded by my job previously telling me that I could not take unpaid time off and by me being too low on PTO for all the free time the doctors expect me to donate.

This will be managed. Probably by spending a lot of money. -_-

So I started Monday morning by calling Snake n' Rooter to have them install a replacement shower head, and a replacement garbage disposal. The big disadvantage to garbage disposals is that when they stop working, which they will, you can't just go back to not having one. It messes up the drain flow and you end up with rotting food stinking up the kitchen.

The shower head I could've replaced myself, but I figured I would be lazy and have the plumber do it since I needed to call one anyway. Garbage disposals are complicated.

I told the plumbing service that I was available 8-11AM and after 3:30. Lut had an appointment at 12:45 and I wanted the plumber to have time to get both done before we left. They called back almost immediately, and said they'd send someone after 3:30.

After that, I called the disability check people to get a debit card set up for Lut. Their voice mail did not have an option for "get a debit card" or "talk to a person", although the website promised the former. I tried "send your payment to a debit card" and this got me to a human. Miraculously, I did have all the information they wanted for the debit card. So I got that set up, and the rep told me, "You will get the card in 4-6 weeks and after that it'll take a month or two until the disability payments are sent to it, so he'll get 2-3 more checks."

We haven't cashed the checks he has gotten so far. You can't endorse disability checks to someone else, so I can't deposit them in my account. Lut's driver's license expired in 2015, so he doesn't have photo id. I asked the rep if we can put the existing checks on the debit card when it arrives. Rep: "No! But any bank will cash them, even if he doesn't have an account. They're federal checks."

I told Lut, "We need to get you a valid id. We should do this today, if the DMV will take your old driver's license as proof of id to give you a new non-driver's id. Before your appointment because we won't have time afterwards."

So Lut got in the shower while I went online to see what he needed. A birth certificate, which we didn't know where it was, and proof of residency, which the uncashed checks should work for. It didn't say about using an expired ID to get a new ID. I called, and it went to voice mail, so I left a message. I sent a message through the online form, too.

I told Lut that I wasn't going to drag him to the DMV until I knew whether or not this would work. At 10:30, I got a call from the plumbing service: "We have someone who should be able to get there in 20-25 minutes, which is right at the end of your window, I know ... "

I said okay; it didn't seem likely that the DMV would get back to me in time for us to get a new ID anyway.

At 11:15, I figured the plumber wasn't coming and turned on the dishwasher.

At 11:30, the plumber showed up, and I turned off the dishwasher so he could work. It took him 20 minutes to install the shower head. By 12:30, he'd managed to get the old garbage disposal uninstalled. I shrugged and left him there alone to finish it. I think the chances a guy from a service would steal from me are near-zero. The main disadvantage is that there is a much better chance that some seldom used thing will turn up missing and I will wonder "Was it him?" -_- Even though it won't be.

Appointment went as normal. Lut's platelets are up for a change. \o/ But his white blood cell count is still down. Welp. They gave him his chemo shot. Next week will probably be the last of those, as he's going to the care of the bone marrow transplant team instead.

At 2:15 (!) the plumber called to let me know he'd installed the garbage disposal and .. the plumbing part worked? "It ran for half a second and then stopped. I think there's a problem with the switch. I'm very sorry, but I'm not an electrician."

Me: sor that's $400 to not fix the problem ARGH.

After finishing with cancer center, we went home to wait for the social worker. She showed up a little after 4, instead of at 3:30. We filled out the Medicaid app and assembled what we could of supplemental documents they'd want. They wanted a birth certificate too. Social worker: "You can order one online for $31.50 and it'll arrive in a few days."

So after she Ieft, I started to apply for a birth certificate online. This went smoothly for several steps. Then it asked me for his parents' full names.

Lut's father deserted the family when he was seven.

"... do you know your father's full name?"

Lut: "Nope."


Next plan: tear house apart looking for birth certificate.

Lut thought it was probably in the four cubic feet of solid paper jammed into the two drawers near his computer. I pulled out ALL the papers. I dumped 2/3rds of them in his lap, and took the rest -- most of the folders and envelopes and stuff -- into the living room to look through.

Fifteen minutes later, I actually found it.

*does all the happy dances*

After this, I decided to cook dinner. Once in the kitchen, I realized I'd never re-started the dishwasher, and flipped the switch for it.

Nothing happened.

I fiddled with knob and dishwasher lock a few times, and then started cursing the plumber roundly for not only not getting me a working dishwasher but also breaking my dishwasher.

Then I decided that, before I finished freaking out and exploded on the phone at the service, I would check to see if dishwasher & garbage disposal had their own circuit and it had flipped.

It had.

I went back upstairs and dishwasher worked again.

After the dishwasher finished, I tried the garbage disposal switch.

Nothing happened.

Oh well. I flipped it on and off a few times because why not --

-- and on the sixth flip it ran.


It's run a couple of times since so ... maybe it works fine now? I got nothin'.

I wrote a few hundred words in what was left of the evening, and talked to John on the phone for a bit, and played a few games with Terrycloth. Then went to bed early because Lut had a super-early appointment downtown.

Google said the drive would take 21 minutes. I alloted 45. It took 28 to get to the hospital, 3 to find parking, and 12 to get from the parking spot to the actual office where the appt was. So we got there about 2 minutes early.

And then they asked if we'd gotten paperwork in the mail to fill out. x_x

So we filled out 20 pages of new paperwork and saw the two youngest and most attractive doctors I've ever met. They were rehab specialists, and did lots of tests on Lut's reflexes/strength/sensitivity etc. He was feeling pretty good this morning, and did fairly well on the tests. The doctors gave some advice on exercising more (this is becoming critically important to Lut's chances here.) And they cleared him to continue with the bone marrow transplant process. \o/

Afterwards, Lut managed the walk back to the car. I took him home, went to work, and mailed in the Medicaid application.

I still have to mail the social security disability people about why he only gets $30. And get Lut a state id. But these things are fairly straightforward, at least. I might have to take a long lunch to get the state id settled, but I can stay late. Shouldn't need any more time off this week.

And this afternoon at work, my boss got back to me and said I can have unpaid time off as necessary. YAY!

Next week will be harder, but we will persevere.

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Silver Scales is HERE!


He's had his whole life to save his soul from damnation ... and now he's out of time.

The fate of Sir Damon Kildare’s soul rests on finding the silver scales of a living dragon, a quest the woman who damned him wants him to fail. Kildare expects to fail, too: the last dragon was slain eighteen years ago by humans intent on genocide. And the scales are only one part of the infernal challenge: there are two more he hasn't even identified, much less obtained.

But the daughter of the last surviving dragonslayer, Zenobia Gardsmark, is determined to save his soul. She has aid from unlikely corners: from Madden, Kildare's magical hare companion, to indomitable ogres and determined schoolgirls. She'll need whatever help she can get, because all the forces of Hell are against them, and time is running out...

Will God allow demons to drag a good man into the Abyss? And will Zenobia and their friends find the answer before it's too late?

Available now from an e-book-store near your mouse cursor!

I started writing Silver Scales on February 17, 2003. At the time, I'd been working on a Very Serious epic fantasy for the last eight months. The Very Serious epic fantasy was a kind of book I'd never read, which I'd initially taken for originality. But by this time I'd realized it was less "this kind of book doesn't exist" and more "this is not the kind of book I actually like to read so I never seek it out."

Silver Scales would be different. In it, I wrote exactly the kind of book I wanted to read. It's shamelessly inspired by Diana Wynne Jones's lighthearted, cheerful fantasies. I put in my favorite tropes: magic -- of course! -- used to make everyday life better and easier. Talking animal companions! Religion, as both struggle and celebration. Romance! Intelligent fantasy races living alongside humans. Dragons! Men saving women in distress! Women saving men in distress!

Because I am all about people saving one another, y'all.

I wanted a story where people grappled with problems that mattered to them, but where those problems were not the totality of their lives, and certainly not their world. It's a book full throughout of both setbacks and triumphs.

This book, out of all my unpublished works, has lingered in the minds of early readers. Alinsa typeset an early version of it for me in 2015, as a surprise gift and in token of her desire to see it in print. "Publish Silver Scales," Lut said to me, every day, for months after I released A Rational Arrangement. "If people like ARA, they will love Scales."

There, Lut. I've published it.

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October in Review

I've been driving to work a lot, which is one part laziness, one part "I need to be able to get home in a hurry if something goes wrong with Lut" and one part miscellaneous adulting. Last week, for instance, I had a health clinic, a dentist appt, and coffee with a United Way rep. I also had to leave work early on Weds because Lut wasn't well enough to safely navigate the house on his own.

I've been eating more vegetables, though? So there's that. I started bringing nuke-in-the-bag frozen broccoli with cheese to work for a snack. It's a pretty good compromise between "actually healthy", "wiling to eat" and "convenient".


I did very little writing this month. I finished Demon's Lure, which was maybe a couple thousand words. And wrote maybe five hundred words of Fellwater.
The Business of Writing
I did a lot more here:
* Finished last round of edits on The Sun Etherium before first readers
* Finished proofreading ebook of Silver Scales in advance of release.
* Finished last round of edits on The Sun Etherium before layout
* Finished last round of edits on Golden Coils before layout

The ebook for Scales is ready for release apart from cover layout. (I have cover art, just need to put text on it.) So that'll happen soonish.

I did a couple more icons for Scales, and a random ink sketch for Inktober because why not. I did a fan art sketch for Poison Kiss, too. It's also partly colored now but I haven't finished it up.

I read four books by people who aren't me, which was one of last month's goals. Not as many as I'd've liked to, but that was a reasonable number.
Goals for coming month

* Release Scales
* Attempt Nanowrimo
* Do not beat myself up or push myself on Nanowrimo

I want to do Nano, because it's been ages since I wrote a substantial amount of words-per-day. I also feel incredibly rusty and out of practice. So I'm nervous about trying to dive back in. Especially given Lut's health.

Hence: I'm going to try it, but if it doesn't work out, oh well.

I am also giving myself permission to work on more than one story if I want. I'm currently leaning towards writing the second Demon book, because the outline for it is in pretty good shape and I'm excited about the events that come next. But if I decide to work on finishing Fellwater, or work on a new project, that's fine too. I'll count any words of new fiction towards the Nano total. I have completed six books, from draft to final edits. I don't feel like I still need to prove that I can stick with a project to completion. If I wanna multitask, hey, that works.

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Health and General News Update

Lut was running a fever on Friday, and by Saturday it was over 100.5, the threshold his oncologist had set where he was supposed to go to the ER. He resisted going in the morning, so I gave him an acetaminophen and turned off the mattress pad heater and it dropped below 100 for several hours. But by evening it was over 101 again. So at 8PM on Saturday night, we finally went to the ER. His fever had broken again by the time we got to the ER: Lut suggested I take his temperature in the car and if it was normal we could go home. But I figured we were there and we might as well go in. We didn't have as long a wait this time as when we went for his accelerated heart rate in September. This time, he was in an examining room with twenty or thirty minutes.

Because he's a chemotherapy patient with bone marrow cancer, his white blood cell count is terrible and his immune system is pretty much trashed. So they are SUPER AGGRESSIVE about treating possible infection. They took blood samples, chest x-rays, a flu swab (even though he's had a flu shot) and started treating him with anitbiotics and tamiflu within an hour or so. "We don't even know if he has the flu or pneumonia yet but we're going to throw every thing at him anyway. JUST IN CASE." They told me they were going to admit him to the hospital just as soon as they had a room to move him to.

At 11:30PM, I went home alone, then came back Sunday morning. They still didn't know what was wrong with him, and it's possible the fever wasn't the result of any specific infection, more a general reaction to his low white blood count. I spent the day with him; he seems back to normal-for-cancer, really.

This morning, they took him for a bone marrow biopsy. The oncology nurse had mentioned last week that they'd want one in six weeks or so, but I guess they decided to move up the timetable on that. His oncologist may be worried that he's not responding well enough to the chemotherapy.

The hospital took blood cultures on Saturday night, and those results are supposed to come back sometime today. If those also don't show anything, we hopefully get to go home today. He usually gets a chemo injection on Mondays, and the hospital will do that in his room instead of us going to the cancer center.

In the meantime, I am trying to keep myself distracted from fretting and to get some stuff done. I posted my interview of Kyell Gold, one of my fellow Storybundle authors! That was fun. The SFWA Fantasy Storybundle only runs another ten days, so if you want it, now's the time! Twelve fantasy books for $15 -- it's a good deal!

I mentioned this over on Twitter, but forgot to say anything here: Janine Southard interviewed me on her blog a few days, so that was also cool.

I added 1600 words or so to The Sun Etherium, fleshing out various bits per first-reader suggestions. That was surprisingly fun. People had good suggestions (which they usually do) and I enjoyed adding to it (which is not as common.) I still need to do a read-through of all the first reader comments and make other little adjustments, but most of the big stuff is done now.

Work proceeds apace on the layout of Silver Scales. Alinsa got an early draft of the epub back to me, and I am dutifully reading the book again. This is ostensibly to catch any conversion errors introduced by making Google doc into epub. I have caught a few of those! In practice, it also means that I catch some more typos and editing artifacts that I and my first readers all missed on the first 20+ read-throughs. And, inevitably, I fiddle with the wording on a few things. I try to keep "fiddling" down to a minimum. At this point, the text is the book I want to print.

I am planning to do Nanowrimo this year, assuming 4thewords.com gives a big discount coupon as one of the Nano prizes like they have the last couple of years. Yes, that is my biggest motivator for doing Nanowrimo: a discount on my writing motivational tool/game. I haven't decided what I'm going to write for Nano, though. I've been thinking about Fellwater again: that's the ridiculous fantasy BDSM extremely-dubious dubcon erotica I started last November and got bored of in February or so. I might write that. I might start the sequel to Demon's Lure. I might work on a new story set in the Etherium multiverse, but using mortal characters and set in one of the worlds the fey shard passes through. It'd only tangentially feature the fey. Those are the top contenders right now.

If I don't end up doing Nano, or if I lose Nano this year, I'm not going to beat myself up about it. I am also going to count myself as winning Nano if I write 50k of fiction, even if it's not 50k on the same book. (In particular, Fellwater probably doesn't need 50k more to finish it.)

Ideally, I'd like to finish proofing Scales, and get both The Sun Etherium and Birthright to Alinsa's hands before November started. In practice, I'll be happy if I just get Scales finished and declare Birthright done. All I need to do with Birthright is proofread a couple of new scenes that I added, so that'll be easy. I should also do some promotional stuff for Scales. Like writing the launch post and doing some graphics. For now, I will get back to proofreading.

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Me 2012

Interview with Kyell Gold

Kyell Gold is one of my fellow authors in the SFWA Fantasy Storybundle. He kindly agreed to let me interview him, which I was very excited to do because I'd just read and greatly enjoyed his book, Black Angel. I had many questions for him!

You've had a long career as both author and editor! Please share some of the highlights.

I feel like my career is full of highlights. I've been invited to a number of conventions as a guest in places like Dallas, Minneapolis, Seattle, Toronto, Berlin, and Melbourne and Gold Coast, Australia. I've met some truly remarkable people, and conducted a number of panels. I've gotten countless letters from people whose lives have been touched by my books, and each one of those is special. Making the decision to move to writing full-time was a highlight, and teaching at the first residential writing workshop for the furry fandom was another.

There's something of a spectrum in furry fiction, from "these characters could have been human but are furry for aesthetic purposes" (like Disney's Robin Hood) to "this story would make no sense if the characters were human" (such as Richard Adam's Watership Down). Where do you feel your work fits in? Is furriness more plot-critical in some of your books than others?

I'm probably more on the Robin Hood end of the scale, but I always try to work some aspect of the furriness into the plot of the books. Meg's story, because she's an otter, incorporates a lot of water imagery. Green Fairy, the first book in the series, starts with a wolf telling his family that he doesn't want to eat meat anymore.

Two real-world religions figure significantly in Black Angel: vodou and Christianity. What led you to choose those religions in this story? What research did you do to help you portray them?

Christianity is what I'm familiar with, having grown up in it. Like any dominant religion, it is vulnerable to having its principles twisted to create an inequal society. In this case, I was taking the example of some small groups who use Christian texts to justify restricting women's rights. Vodou I chose for the opposite reason: it's a misunderstood religion that puts women in positions of power--the most famous practitioner is Marie Laveau.

To research fundamentalist Christianity, I looked through contemporary news articles (sadly). For vodou, I walked through a traveling museum exhibit, read two books on late 1800s New Orleans, and visited modern day New Orleans to see a voodoo temple and talk to a voodoo priestess (as part of a tour of haunted New Orleans, so I had to take that with a grain of salt, but it was valuable).

One of the characters in Black Angel self-medicates her depression with alcohol and pot, neither of which she can acquire legally. These are fraught subjects, and I am curious to hear more of your thought process on making both self-medication and depression part of the story, and the way you chose to present them.

Depression is something that over the last decade I've become more educated about and aware of. I believe in the power of demystifying through fiction--part of why I like writing about gay relationships is that many people don't have an established idea of what those relationships are like, and many gay people don't have a lot of representation in fiction. I wrote a short story about depression a while back that won an Ursa Major Award ("How To Get Through The Day"), and I thought it would be good to revisit the subject with more education and feel for the complexity of it. I'd like people suffering from depression to feel that they're not alone, even if their company is a fictional character.

As for the alcohol and pot use, well, that's something that teens do. I don't advocate it, but neither does it feel right to completely ignore it. I tried to present their use in a balanced light. Ultimately, neither is really a good solution to the character's problem.

I love your use of mixed first and third-person, and past and present tense in Black Angel. One doesn't see those mixed often, and seldom to such good effect. How did you come up with it?

I've always liked playing around with points of view and ways to tell a story. When I wrote the first book in the series, I was trying to meet the challenge of melding a historical narrative with a modern-day one, and I wanted them to be stylistically distinct. The historical narrative--one of them--was supposed to be an autobiography of sorts, and so having it in first person made sense. I kept that theme going in the rest of the series--each of the books has multiple narratives with different points of view. For Black Angel, in fact, the main narrative was originally in third person, as the main ones were in the previous books, and I was struggling with which of the side narratives to put in first person, because neither felt right. It seems strange that it didn't occur to me until I'd already written several chapters that Meg should be the one in first person, because it felt so natural when I switched it.

The book blurb on StoryBundle made me think that Meg's sexuality would be something like "girl assumes she is straight and then later figures she's either bi or lesbian." I found the actual text is much more nuanced and interesting than that, and would like to invite you to elaborate on Meg's theme of "really, I'm 19, I have done research, and I don't actually know how I feel" and the way most of her friends push/encourage her to Make a Choice or at least Try Things. What drew you to this subject?

Any gay person over 30 has probably been told at least once in their life that they're not really gay, it's just a phase, they just need to meet the right man/woman, etc. Bisexual people are told that they're just gay and in denial. Mainstream America's repertoire of knowledge about sexual orientation is expanding, but there are still people who, when they encounter something outside of it, will try to slot it into an existing box. A trans friend of mine made a really important distinction between two behaviors from friends of hers. Some of them would *tell* her what she was going through; the others *asked* her and listened to her story. I think that's really important, and all of us fall into that trap. Often it's out of the best of intentions: we see someone confused and we want to help them. But we have to listen to them articulate the kind of help they actually want, the kind that will be of the most benefit to them.

Black Angel has several interior illustrations by your cover artist, Rukis. Do you regard the artwork as integral to the story, or a way to help readers visualize the characters/setting, or something else?

With furry fiction, illustrations really help readers visualize the characters. As you noted, there are a lot of different variations in the way people create their characters, and rather than awkward descriptions that rely on referents outside the world of the story, it's nice to have an illustration to put the image into the reader's mind.

What furry and/or fantasy authors have you found inspirational or formative in your work?

Madeleine L'Engle was the first fantasy author I read, and I read her work over and over again. Her feel for genuine characters and the way human challenges are at the core of any story have been inspirations my whole life. Andre Norton was another author whose works I devoured. Most recently, I've found David Mitchell an inspiration.

In the furry fandom, my friends and colleagues Watts Martin, Ryan Campbell, Malcolm Cross, and Kevin Frane have written some great stuff that's inspired me to keep getting better.

Black Angel is a standalone novel, but it's also part of the three-book Dangerous Spirits series. Tell us more about the other books in the series. Is there a recommended reading order? Will there be more books in the setting?

Green Fairy, the first one I wrote, follows Sol, a wolf, through his struggles to get through the last year of high school with a long-distance boyfriend. He finds some solace in a book written by a gay chamois in 1900s Paris, but then starts to dream that he's one of the other characters in the book and gets a different perspective on the story. The dream starts creeping into his waking life, and things quickly get bad both in his life and in his dreams. This story is about confidence in yourself despite the views of the people around you.

Red Devil is Alexei's story--Sol's fox friend--and picks up after they've left high school. Alexei fled an abusive family in Russia, but his sister is still there and he's trying to get her home. At the same time, he's having issues of confidence with a guy he wants to date, so he decides to try summoning Sol's ghost. But the summoning goes wrong and brings him an old Russian soldier who does not approve of his life. This book focuses a lot on issues of family, what it means to be family and who constitutes your family.

I'd recommend starting with Green Fairy and going on to Red Devil and then Black Angel, because that's the chronological order of the story, and while they all stand alone, each of the later books contains a bit of spoiler for the previous ones. As for continuing the series...no plans right now. I'm not sure where I'd go with it. But I do have a new book coming out this year, Camouflage, that is kind of a spiritual cousin to this series. Except it has actual time travel in it.

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Ridiculous! by DL Carter

This is a charming Regency romance framed around the "woman presents as man in order to do things prohibited to women" device. In her case, she's impersonating a specific man after his death, so she and her female relations won't be turned out by his heir. I normally dislike this kind of device, but it's pretty fun here. Mostly this is because Millicent is hoot: she decides she's never going to pass as a fashionable or ideal man, so she sets her persona as a rattle: unserious, continually bantering and joking and being ridiculous. She is utterly delightful. Her male love interest, Shoffer, does not deserve her. The first 2/3rds of the book are wonderful, with most of the action dealing with various social problems, most unrelated to her ruse. Most of them are lighthearted and all are resolved by wit.

The last third is somewhat marred by the romance part kicking in. Shoffer's treatment of Millicent-as-woman is just ... meh. He feels typically misogynistic towards her, and it's in keeping with the period but not nearly as fun or appealing as his treatment of her when he thought she was a man. He improves before the end, but still.

Even so, there's a lot of fun stuff in the last part of the book, so well-worth reading. This was totally going to be a 9, but I'm downgrading it to 8 for wobbling on the ending. Nonetheless, had a good time, well worth reading.

Also, I kinda want to write a trans man story using the same kind of framing, but I'm not sure I have the patience to write in a trans-hostile, misogynistic setting for long enough to do so. -_-

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Black Angel, by Kyell Gold

Black Angel is one of the books in the SFWA Fantasy Storybundle! I was excited to read it, having heard good things about Gold's work, and my good expectations were rewarded. The novel contains a mix of genres: YA, slice-of-life, queer lit, furry, fantasy, science fiction, horror, and romance, not necessarily in that order.

I found it fascinating and immersive, a deeply believable book. Three different stories are woven together: 

* Marie-Belle, a bayou muskrat girl in 1916 whose family wants her to marry and who would rather be a vodou priestess like her grandmother.
* Hannah, a lesbian otter in a strict and grimly depressing Christian-cult future
* Meg, an struggling artist in 2013 who's questioning her sexuality and also her sanity.

The struggling artist, Meg, is compulsively and somewhat unwillingly drawing a comic about the first girl, and having vivid, life-like dreams about the second. Most of the book is about Meg.  There's also a strong supernatural element: Meg's closest friends have had experiences with ghosts and visions/life-like dreams. Meg leans heavily towards "they are crazy and so am I" when she starts having her own possibly-supernatural experiences. The setting is pretty Earth-like, with furry touches: eg, some of the otter characters have houses that incorporate pools or have submerged "floors", characters may have keener noses or ears depending on species, etc.

There is a lot else going on in the book. For example, Meg used to be on prescription anti-depressants and quit them because she felt numb of them. She now self-medicates with alcohol and weed (both illegally obtained.) It's a nuanced portrayal, which has both aspects of "this doesn't seem healthy" and "but it does help sometimes?" That goes for both the prescribed and illegal drugs.

I thought, from the blurb, that Meg was going to be "girl who thought she was straight and now thinks she might be lesbian or bi". But her starting point is more like "asexual??? straight??? Lesbian???? Bi??????? I DON'T KNOW". She is not attracted to anyone or interested in sex, but she kind of wants to be and all of her friends keep pushing her to "get out there! Experiment! How else will you knooooow?" I had the simultaneous experience of gaping at her friends ("what is wrong with you? That is a terrible plan") and also feeling like it was exactly the experience a lot of people go through. I didn't have this problem myself, even though I didn't meet anyone I was attracted to until college. But I know people who did.

The characters are vividly drawn and distinctive. Even the supporting cast has an array of different speech patterns and they're easy to tell apart. All three main characters feel like very different personalities, even when Meg and Hannah think they're each other's dreams. Most of the conflict in the book is driven not by evil or cruelty, but by people trying to do the right thing, or what they think they are supposed to do. Even the "Dangerous Spirits" of the series title feel like complex individuals who are acting rationally within their own belief system. (Which, y'know, does not make them less dangerous.)

One touch I particularly admired: Meg's part of the story is first-person past tense. Marie-Belle's story, which Meg experiences in a kind of creative fugue, is 3rd person present. Hannah's is 3rd person past. It's one of the few times where I've seen this kind of switch and not only thought "that's fine" but "oh, that works really well for conveying the differences in their narratives."

I enjoyed the book a good deal, especially the second half, where it picked up momentum and urgency. I have some quibbles with it, but most of why I give it an 8 and not a 9 is that the subject matter isn't perfectly to my tastes. Eg, the trope of "oppressed women whose society tries to forces them into marriage" is one I am pretty sick of.  Meg is prickly, defensive, and copes with problems a lot by putting them off or ignoring them, which I simultaneously relate to and also find exasperating. (Hi yes it me but it's STILL annoying.) She grew on me as the book went on, but for the first 20 pages I was iffy about her.

I am going to wrap this up with some things behind a spoiler tag, because they are spoilers but also significant to many queer readers. Collapse )

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Surprise Completed Draft

I've been working on the current draft of Demon's Lure since February. Technically, it's a book I started in 2009, but I only wrote around 5000 words back then, plus a rough outline. I scrapped most of the outline and started writing again from scratch. The book went much better this time around.

But, while I'd written a detailed outline for the new version, my draft had severely diverged from the original outline. From where I am now, the rest of the outline works remarkably well all things considered, despite that I've kept changing things as I wrote the story.

The changes I'd made had, however, made the first half of the book much longer than I'd anticipated. I was at 80,000 words and less than 60% of the way through the outline. I complained to Maggie that the book might end up over 150,000 words, instead of the 100-120k I'd been targeting.

"Split it in half?" she suggested.

"Split it in half" is what multiple people advised me to do with Silver Scales and A Rational Arrangement, and in both cases I declined because I don't feel like either book made a satisfying story if I chopped it into two parts. But the way I'd changed Demon's Lure already from the outline did make the current section a reasonably good break point. The central conflict may not have been exactly resolved, but it has mutated dramatically, to the point where it's really a different conflict now. I could finish out the current scene and it ends on a "this obviously needs a sequel" note, but it wouldn't be a total cliffhanger.

So I wrote the rest of the scene and went "Huh. So I guess I finished a book?"

It needs considerable revising and probably some new scenes before I am ready for beta readers on it. I expect that I will plug away at Book 2 as my next-thing-to-write, although I'm not ruling out letting myself work on a different book. I won't be releasing Demon's Lure until 2018 anyway, because I have three books coming out in the next eleven weeks and that's plenty. Really.

But I feel pretty good about having finished a draft and edited three books, with eleven weeks still to go in 2017. I mean, "edit The Sun Etherium and draft another book" was one of my STRETCH goals for this year. I have already finished my regular goals. And those were set when I didn't know Lut had cancer. o__o

Granted, I've decided against serializing Scales and I was still editing it in June and nowhere near releasing it. So my time scale has slipped and I removed one of my goals for business reasons. Even so.

... I still feel kind of like I should finish drafts for another two books this year, though. So I can be sure of releasing three books in 2018 too. And I do have most of a draft of Fellwater written, and book two of Demon's Lure would be comparatively short, by my usual standards ...

I'm not gonna push for this, though. One thing at a time. And Lut is still sick and the new normal is different and not as conducive to writing as the old normal. I need to remember this and not charge off thinking I can write 3000 words in a day and everything else in life will sort itself out.

Regardless: I finished a draft! \o/

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