April Newsletter: Pestilence

Apologies for another newsletter that’s two weeks late. Once again, the reason is pestilence.

So there I was in London, enjoying the wonderful programming at Eastercon Ytterbium with my wonderful friend Emil Minchev, and trying not to feel guilty about leaving Pavlina in Sofia with the kids. “Hello,” I said from my souvenir-strewn hotel room. “Look at this book I got. Look how green it is!”

“Whugh?” said my wife as children destroyed each other in the background. Ellie had a rash on her foot, which Pavlina’s grandma gave her a hard time about until the grandma developed a fever and had to lie down. That was the beginning.

Hadji Dimitar
The rain carries the smells of
Honey and wet leaves

I don’t actually know if the rash and the fever had anything to do with the plague upon our house. Scarlet fever was one of its constituents, but there were at least two other opportunistic infections in there as well. Pavlina had heart palpitations and was told to stay in bed for three days and rest. Rest? With the kids home from school? THEY didn’t have heart palpitations. They were full of energy and not allowed to play with other children, so they were free to focus on their real passion: destruction. I tried to keep a lid on things, all the while feeling as if I had a sheet of warm lead wrapped around my head, with an extra poky bit right over my left eye.

And it was April. The trees were leafing out, Pavlina’s mom was in California, and one of us was confined to a bed, hoping that they just had a passing bug, and not a life-threatening medical condition. It was exactly like two years ago, when I got sick. I kept imagining what I would do if Pavlina’s heart problem got serious. Pavlina, meanwhile, lay in bed while the girls played in the other room and thought “is this what it’s like to be dead?”

They sound ridiculous when you say them out loud, but while those stories stayed in our heads, they were convincing. Talking about these fantasies out loud frightened both of us, but when we brought our fears into the light, they dissolved. Of course nobody was going to die. The situation we were in was still bad – kids, destruction, headache – but the damage our fear was doing was orders of magnitude worse. We took our ibuprofen and antibiotics. We slept as much as we could. The kids went back to school on Monday.

In this parking lot
See the clouds and remember
How wide the sky is

Oh! But Ytterbium! This was my first convention as a Real Published Author(tm) and it was another level of experience. I got placed on two panels, Fantastic Biology (Adrien Tchaikovsky, TJ Berg, and V. Anne Smith) and Mental Health (with Ashley R. Pollard, Karen Furlong, and Aya Elouise). Turns out rats engineered to be unable to laugh are killed by their cage-mates. Also, one of the rats in TJ’s lab escaped its cage and let the other rats out of their cages too. It’s probably fine. I also got to talk to some great people in less formal circumstances (bar con) including Eeson and Becks, who recorded the conversation (and many others) on their podcast, Time for Cakes and Ale.

Trees in the Zoo Park
Rushing to put out thier leaves
The junipers laugh

Which is not to say I was gallivanting around, chatting up science fiction authors and crying out in existential despair. Between those two things, I wrote! I finished the alpha-draft of Wealthgiver in exactly one month. It’s only about a quarter of the length of the novel I have planned, but it’s the most important 25%. It had a beginning, middle, and end. 19th-century geopolitics, subterranean sex, echolocation knife fights, and of course constructed languages! Darzelas da jae uta zemelete!* I’m letting it rest for a while, then I’ll get back to it.

Junction got a very nice review on SFBook.com, and “Treasure Fleet” got a very very nice review from Sea Lion Press. The reviewer really dug into the alternate history and told me what he liked and why he liked it. The next story I write, I’ll do more of that 🙂

And I started work again on The Centuries Unlimited. My agent (and many other beta-readers) said that the main character was a grumpy, paranoid cynic and they hated her. My goal in this next revision is to keep her a grumpy, paranoid cynic, but FORCE you to like her! Haha! But seriously, I’m cutting the long conversations, toning down the sniping, and revealing more about the characters’ backstory so the reader understands their mental problems. I’m also making the protagonist more admirable – she’s good at things and wants to do right by people. She’s just lost the ability to hope. Don’t worry, she gets it back at the end.

Oh, hell. Did we go on a vacation to Belchin too? I totally forgot about that.

Birdsong from a bush
I don’t know what kind it is
But at least we’re fine.

In other news, I enjoyed some media:

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett – you can see how Pratchett thought he was going to explore the concept of royalty in Guards Guards, but ended the book with a lot of stuff still unexplored. That’s what Men at Arms was for 🙂

Fluent Forever by Gabreil Wyner – some very good advice about language learning, stressing the importance of pronunciation and flash cards. Got me using Anki again.

Mastery by Robert Greene – A great book of advice about how to master a craft: find a mentor, absorb all the instruction that you can, be brave when plotting your own course.

I reread Komar by Lois McMaster Bujold – Bujold is a master of echoing her theme back and forth through the story. In this case it’s “talking people down.” A great book, and not a bad way to break into the Vorkosigan Saga, either.

Perhelion Summer by Greg Egan – This is the first climate-change story I’ve been able to stomach. Probably because it bypassed the “oh, how did it ever come to this” blame-game and focused on solutions. GM maggots, apparently. Also, a very refreshing approach to violence, which is that it’s bad.

Bob’s Burgers – I identify with Bob so hard. Come on, kids. Don’t do that. Oh no.

Blocksite – Finally getting Facebook and Twitter’s hooks out of my brain.

*”The Wealthgiver rides again upon the Earth!” … and I only had to look up one of those words!

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