To celebrate a successful settlement, have an audio grab of Squawk pronouncing rhinoceros:
I noticed my walk the other day.
It used to be a no-nonsense, purposeful stride — but sometime over the past (how many?) years, it's degenerated. I could attribute some of it to motherhood: walking with an infant, and now a toddler, is hardly an exercise in speed. And there's been the social isolation of being a stay-at-home mum, of which I've still not entirely clawed my way free (because sleep deprivation, and busy) despite no longer doing the staying at home half. Some of it has to be due to my mental health, which, safe to say, is not currently at peak performance.
But that can't explain it all, can it? Because you guys, when did I get so very shrivelled up and shrunken in on myself?
I noticed it when I was stepping out of the bathroom at work. The place is like grand central station, and navigating its entrance and exit is an exercise in not getting smacked in the face by a swinging door or elbowed in the boob by someone leaping out of the way of said door. And as I was leaving the bathroom, I heard footsteps, so I hesitated where I stood until their owner stepped into view, to avoid a blind corner collision. So far, so normal. But when she appeared, I gave her a tight smile, and then I ducked my head down and to the side and scarpered past her. Like vermin dashing for the safety of darkness.
The realisation pulled me up mid-step. And to combat the self-loathing that washed over me as a consequence, I walked the rest of the way back to my desk with my head high and my shoulders ramrod straight and imagining I actually had the street-fighting cred to punch and stomp a villain to a bloody pulp should the need arise…
It was awesome. I've been making a conscious effort to walk less apologetically ever since, and it remains awesome.
So yesterday I stomped on out and bought new boots, boots to match (and maintain) my butt-thumpin' mood. On sale at half price, because taking names doesn't mean you must also be fiscally irresponsible.
They are helping me out something fierce. Plus they're super comfy, because apparently the Spanish really know how to make shoes.
Came across this printed on a business card today: turns out @RattusAsh stumbled upon it at Swancon and picked it up because he liked the artwork.
This particular piece is called Survivor Slayer, by Austen Mengler, and he is exactly how I picture the theriomorphs from "The Wages of Salt". (Except I never pictured the gas mask, but now I'm asking myself why the hell not?)
Mengler's website features a host of wonderfully horrific creatures, although I think my favourite (apart from the beastie above, because how did Mengler get inside my head so perfectly?) would have to be Robin:
What I planned to spend the last two months doing was talking about Cherry Crow Children in some form or fashion, mostly in the form of guest-blogging.
What I actually ended up doing, after receiving a notice to vacate because the landlord had decided to sell, was obsessively checking real estate sites in an attempt to find somewhere new to live, discovering that rental prices in our neighbourhood have skyrocketed, deciding on balance that moving Squawk to a different childcare centre might well cost me my job and confirming that we really don't want to rock that particular boat right now, and eventually making an offer to buy the place we're currently in. (I have to say, I endured most of this process by feeling nauseated at the sheer concept of money and routinely collapsing on the couch at each day's end and drinking myself into tomorrow.) But our offer was (eventually) accepted and we're about a month away from settlement (and the opportunity to punch holes in walls) and, well, yes. Property part-ownership here I come.
Meanwhile, Cherry Crow Children is (thankfully) chugging along quite nicely for a book abandoned by its author, garnering a smattering of lovely reviews and ratings.
In trawling through my blog drafts for something on-point to mention, I came across my journal entry for a day, sometime in early 2011, when I decided to attack the final pre-submission edits of "The Wages of Honey":
10:30(ish) I boot the boy out of the house (unfed, because I have no groceries worthy of the name) so that he may hunt down breakfast and I may write. This story is going DOWN.
10:40(ish) I make my first cup of tea. And realise I'm starving, but have no groceries worthy of the name. I start munching on some leftover BBQ Shapes that seem to have survived the night relatively unscathed. Since I'm eating anyway, I check my email. Again.
11:04 I make my second cup of tea, and stare at the notes I've made on what needs to be done to this story. My structural edits always start with a staring contest. I stare at the story, scrutinising where and how I should make these cuts, and it stares back, hiding all convenient locations for cutting or slicing. One of us must blink, sooner or later. We have not yet reached that point.
11:50: I decide to live-blog my deathmarch edits on this FVCKING STORY THAT WILL NOT DIE, DIE ALREADY STORY, DIE.
11:51: The story blinks! I make a teensy tiny cut on page 11. Or rather, I try to. In point of fact I make it through the first pressing of the enter key before the laptop battery dies, taking all my work into the void that is emergency sleep shutdown. Spend the intervening 5 minutes making my third cup of tea. Wonder how many cups of Earl Grey a human body can consume in a given time period before the brain starts to pickle itself in the tannins. Contemplate switching to a herbal tea. Yanno, at some point.
12:49: Story being recalcitrant. Still only on page 13. Unsure how to make events flow. Tongue feels pickled in tannins, or else I would have another cup of tea. Really wish I had more food in the house than leftover (slightly stale) Shapes. Wonder if there are wives for hire. Decide I prolly can't afford one even if there are.
13:07: Tim Tams! Who knew I had Tim Tams? How long have I had Tim Tams? By the love of all things sugary, this is a godsend! Make myself a hot chocolate, and suck it through three (3) Tim Tams in quick succession. Now I do not have Tim Tams, and my belly both hates and loves me.
14:27: page 14. This is really not going well at all. Structural edits HURT.
15:50 Well, shit. Guess it's me who's going down, not the story. But at least it's in a shredded mess on my hard-drive. That totally counts as progress.
Something a little different today: (far past) time I introduced you to the cat, since cats are what the internet was made for, even if we didn't know it at the time.
Ani (short for Aniseed) came to live with us in January 2014.
I knew the moment we got her in the car home that we’d picked the right kitten for us:
At the time, I wanted a cat because I'd lived too long without one, and I felt it was important to raise Squawk with pet/s. And I wanted a Burmese because I grew up with the breed and I honestly can't imagine having cats in the house without at least one being a Burmese. I've always loved the breed. Burmese owners will know why; those who have no knowledge of the breed will glaze over if I try to explain it and a cat's nature is always more than the sum of its parts anyway. Suffice to say: time and again I've seen Burmese win the unguarded affection of even people who staunchly hate cats.
Right from the start, she slept … as only the dangerously relaxed can.
She's immensely patient with Squawk and her displays of affection, and whenever Squawk gets her way they do pretty much everything together:
Up to and including bonding over their shared pining for Outside
Truth be told, I nursed a secret hope that Ani would help entertain Squawk and thus maybe free up a scant few extra seconds a day I could squirrel away for my writing. What actually happened was that Ani fascinated and enthralled Squawk and those "few extra seconds" snowballed into hours … all of which I had to use playing referee/lifeguard between the two. Oops.
In fact, it's fair to say the only contribution Ani makes toward my writing is to hinder and hamper it at every turn. From demanding cuddles whenever Squawk is in bed, and those cuddles having to be affairs where she burrows into my neck, thereby needing an arm to support her squirming weight until I get cranky enough to put her down; to climbing fly-screens and bookshelves whenever I dare approach the writing desk; to tearing up and down the corridors, yelling, for the sake of enjoying her own speed and noise, she is, unequivocally, crazy.
As I write this, in fact, she is sitting on the floor, glaring up at the top of the fridge with her tail lashing and her ears back, yelling at it for being too tall. (Burmese!)
But she is also the snuggliest, feistiest and friendliest cat I ever met, and I can't begrudge her a psychological tic or two, given the company inflicted on her.
And she still sleeps like the dangerously relaxed
A quick note (while the evening is still young enough to leave me cogent) to say that I've been working, of late, on digitising a couple of stories from my backlist, since I have a handful of the critters which don't seem to fit any of the reprint markets and I don't see the value in them sitting there completely abandoned even by their author.
Last night I managed to publish the first of them: "The Wages of Salt" is now available on Smashwords.
Set in New Persia and featuring salt flats and chimaeras and archaeology, "The Wages of Salt" is actually the precursor story to my Twelve Planets collection, Cherry Crow Children. (Hence the title "The Wages of Honey" for the first story in the collection.)
Like the stories in CCC, "The Wages of Salt" tends towards the literary in style; unlike the collection, it's a younger, more forthright story. (And shorter. Distinctly shorter.) It was first published in Postscripts #18, but that is now out of print, so the Smashwords edition makes it available once again.
Today I'm over at David McDonald's page, talking on the topic of paying for our passion — which, in my case, translates to the impact motherhood had on my writing.
It's official: today saw the launch of Cherry Crow Children.
I had Squawk with me during the launch, because of course I did. She may not have been around when I wrote and submitted "The Wages of Honey", but I fell pregnant with her while I was trying to write the three stories I'd promised Alisa, and she was simultaneously the reason the collection was late and the reason it exists at all, because without her and my experience of motherhood, I'm not sure I would have found the focus of this collection. Or I suppose it's better to say, without her, this collection would have had a different focus and been a different book. In my head, Cherry Crow Children is therefore very much entwined with Squawk.
She was sadly sick, and so wanted only her mum, because of course that's the way life rolls when you have stuff that needs doing and you also have a two year old — so I did my reading with her cradled in my arms, her hot little head resting against my shoulder while I treated the audience to a passage from "The Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood" which I couldn't quite see over the ears of her beloved bunny stuffed up under my chin:
I meant and of course totally forgot to make any speech apart from my reading, so I'll put it up here:
Thank you to everyone who came to see this book let loose upon the world, and see this ambitious and momentous and worthy project of Alisa's concluded.
Thank you to all my friends and family who helped me along the way, even if it was just a kind word or a faith-filled smile.
And to Alisa, who stood by me and never stopped believing my promise that I would write those stories, I honestly would finish them, once motherhood let me, I offer my most heartfelt gratitude. I'm honoured to have your name alongside mine, and on such a beautiful book.
After the reading, Squawk helped me sign books (appropriate in its way, as this is how I wrote most of the book anyway) and I have it on good authority I managed to actually talk coherently to people, although I personally have no memory of it.
— Stu Ash (@RattusAsh) April 3, 2015
For those who missed the launch, this is the passage I read aloud:
Claudia and her mother were the poorest residents of Haverny Wood, having but a single aging she-goat to call their own.
…They had survived the summer on charity: Brynja Foth dropped around a modest stew every fortnight, and Ida Scult donated them a half-dozen ham hocks, the meat serving them a hearty few meals each and the remaining knuckle bones making good stock for more. And Nonkle Vigi, as generous as he was wealthy, always had milk and greens to spare.
But soon they must face the freeze, and on charity alone they’d not starve—but they might well prove too frail or poorly, come the thaw, to fend for themselves again.
So it was that, as even the memory of summer faded, there came a day—a little after the sporadic snows had begun to muffle the nights, but before the hunter’s moon promised winter’s final grip—when Claudia, just as her mother once had, did the unthinkable.
She risked venturing out alone.
She chose north because the registry indicated no one else had.
It meant being stumbled upon was unlikely, but the price was slim pickings: north was uphill, toward the tree- line, where the white sallee held sway and the silky topaz seldom blossomed. She faced, therefore, all the dangers of a prolonged hike; but balanced against it was her talent for gathering.
Foolish as it was, she couldn’t banish the hope her only problem would be answering (or evading) the questions put to her when she returned with a new-plucked topaz.
Slipping out unremarked proved simple enough: those not gathering or shielding were tucked indoors. Cosy sounds issued from the byrehallan as she passed: the stamping and bleating of goats behind the stone lower walls, and the muted chatter of their owners drifting from the wooden living quarters above. Only Nonkle Jochem saw her, when he reached out to draw in his shutters, and he merely gave her a hearty smile. The dear old man had never entertained a stray thought in his life.
The outermost byrehallan all faced inwards, with no weakness such as door or window presented to the wilds. A narrow span of open ground separated Claudia from the first of the trees, a row of wind-swept white sallee with here and there a grey stringybark. Fear prickled the length of Claudia’s back as she crossed that span, the thorned grass blades tugging at her trousers.
Then she stepped into the patchwork shadows of the trees, and the bush closed in around her—offering, for the first time in her life, true solitude.
Her skin crawled with it.
Despite the passage of months, the black of burnt things was still conspicuous, crumbling charcoal edges stark through the white clumps of last night’s untracked snow.
The fire-crumbled undergrowth shifted and crunched with her passage; the ghostly sallee and the stunted stringybarks alike all groaned of listing backs. Brushtails lurked in the empty branches, too hungry to sleep, beady eyes watching from their pointed faces.
And beneath the wind’s bluster, setting her nerves to twanging, came the crow-song.
There was no mistaking the liquid melody, calling of blood and slashed flesh, which warned of those red and black birds, small as a fist and swifter than sight. Most of the calls were distant, but that didn’t slow the drumming of her pulse. The cherry crows must be as hungry, these fading days, as every other forest dweller.
Following the closest call, with no warm and wary body at her back, set Claudia’s every sense on edge. She kept scanning the branches for silvereyes, since they were a sure sign no predators lurked, but their flittery little bodies remained unnervingly absent. Instead, the crow-song grew louder and the grey boughs began yielding up pockets of fine-shredded flesh stuffed into crooks or crevices.
…Each larder she passed brought her closer to the crows, the meat increasingly pink and moist, blood still dripping from some. At least there were no human eyes today.
It's all systems panic over this way, as I desperately try to pack up a toddler and a cat for their impending trips, one to Swancon and one to a much-needed rest at the cattery.1 It's rather getting in the way of all the blog posts I want to write.
In the meantime, I've been interviewed over at Ellen Gregory's blog, where she asks questions that, innocent though they seemed at first, soon had me waffling at length.
Today I'm up on Kaaron Warren's blog, talking about the spark for Cherry Crow Children:
There's a distinction, for me, between ideas and Ideas…
I'd totally forgotten, but her post reminded me that I met Kaaron in person through a workshop we did together. At the time, I was workshopping what would turn out to be "The Wages of Salt" — which is set in the same world as my Twelfth Planet stories, and can be thought of as the genesis for the collection. Which, given it was written in 2006, means this collection has been a long time coming.