Once upon a time there was a carrier company. . . . Let’s call it Feebledweeb. It’s been around a long time. I had a lively and robust, not to say ranting, dislike of it over twenty years ago, before I left the States. Before I discovered the true range of global carrier-company incompetence, creative perversity and aggressive unhelpfulness.
Feebledweeb made both of us crazy—although Peter bears crazy better than I do—back at the old house, when we were living out in the sticks of the sticks and there was a lot more hard copy in publishing than there is now. Feebledweeb at the time was, I believe, the only carrier that would pick stuff up in the sticks of the sticks of southern England and deliver it, more or less safely and in one piece, to a Manhattan highrise. And vice versa. Maybe. With a following wind.
They did, however, make their services coughcoughcoughcough as difficult and unservicelike as possible. They toyed with the concept of timed arrivals, and even at that they could never be pinned down to anything more exacting than before noon or after noon. But that was still better than ‘some time in April, and if you’re out, we’re going to reschedule you without telling you for some date which may or may not be at least six months in the future, oh, you have a deadline? You should have thought of that before you took your dogs on that totally gratuitous walk, shouldn’t you? And what do you mean by being so self-indulgent and unprofessional as having dogs that need walking in the first place? We may not reschedule you at all, you’re not our type.’ Which system is what they reverted to. All day, any day, whatever, if you don’t like it you can hitchhike to the coast and swim to Manhattan. But being cruelly imprisoned by a time frame of before or after noon was giving their drivers palpitations and random crying jags and Feebledweeb are totally committed to employee welfare.
And then Peter and I moved into town. And there seems to have been rather a boom in carriers, some of whom are no worse than dire and unreliable. But Feebledweeb, unfortunately, seems still to control the frelling transatlantic routes.
Now it will amaze you to hear this, but I am not the perfect client. I want to believe that I mostly behave myself with Merrilee, but Merrilee’s subrights department has little cause to love me, and it would not stun me with flabbergastery that there’s a doll hanging by the neck in a corner of the subrights department with a pin through her heart and a banner reading ‘Robin McKinley’. I lose things. I don’t remember ever having seen things. When I send things back it turns out I signed the wrong pages, or didn’t sign enough of them*, or I didn’t put the date on when I should have or did put the date on when I shouldn’t. And then New Arcadia’s post office exploded and was removed and rebuilt using reject Lego in the back of the village grocery, you’re no longer allowed to bring your critters with you to keep you amused while you wait in the endless queue**, and I, having been a borderline*** post office user since I moved over here†, became, um, pathological.
Re-enter Feebledweeb. Who will come to my house and fetch my botched, ill-signed documents, and cart them off to a subrights department across the Water, where they will be the cause of screaming and nervous breakdowns—only some of which will be because I screwed up (again).
Recently we’ve been having a nice little extended torment trying to get Feebledweeb to do what it says on the tin/envelope. Subrights and I got all excited—briefly—because according to Feebledweeb’s web site, subrights could include a prepaid return envelope with the documents I’m supposed to deal with in some way other than the way I will deal with them, and I can just pop them in the return envelope and post them in an ordinary post box, and Feebledweeb will take it from there.
Yes, they will. They will deliver it back to me again with large red marks and seals all over it declaring that I am a liar and a cheat and that I haven’t paid them and their dog is going to pee on my shoes††. We gambolled through this amusing cycle, I think, three times.
Okay. The next plan of action is that we are going to revert to the earlier system of their coming to my house to pick up the envelope of mangled documents.
Feebledweeb were supposed to come last Wednesday between ten and two [sic].
Nothing happened. Nobody came between ten and two and there were no postcards through my door when I returned after belated gratuitous critter-hurtling [see above].
Subrights emailed me anxiously that they had spoken to Feebledweeb again and Feebledweeb would now come this Wednesday between ten and two.
Monday I received a phone call from a very pleasant, very fluent young man with a very strong Indian accent, confirming that Feebledweeb was going to be fetching a parcel from me today—Tuesday. Er, I said. Wednesday. Tuesday, said the young man firmly. Okay, I said. Tuesday. What time? Noon to three pm, he said. Fine, I said, in fact, great, and wrote it down.††
Ten minutes later the phone rang again. This time it was a woman with an English accent. Confirming that Feebledweeb is picking up a parcel from you tomorrow, she said. Yes, I said, between noon and three pm. Certainly not! said the woman. You can ring up tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. and they will give you your allocated time slot. But— I said weakly, I have just been talking to someone at your call centre in India . . .
Ring tomorrow at nine, commanded the woman. We never give out advance time slots.‡
I was downstairs and putting my tea water on at eight forty five this morning, I hope you’re impressed. At 8:59 I rang the number the woman had given me. Another woman answered and asked for my tracking number. I gave it to her, watching an unmarked white van backing up the cul de sac and stopping in front of the cottage. We have no record— began the woman, and there was a knock on the door. Excuse me, I said, hope flaring in a sharp uncomfortable way, there is someone at the door.
I threw the door open . . . and there was a man in a Feebledweeb hoodie. YAAAAAAAAAY, I said, and thrust my envelope upon him. I may have said one or two things . . . particularly because this is a guy I know. Several of the regular drivers for the various carriers are regular enough that us (regular) customers say hi when we see them on the street. FEEBLEDWEEB MAKES ME FRELLING NUTS, I may have said. The guy held up his hands (my envelope in one of them), grinning. You are not alone, he said.
He departed. I picked up the phone and discovered . . . the woman had cut me off. Never mind. The package had gone. And she rang back to say that the driver had just confirmed pick up and tracking number and all was well.
Five hours later I received an email from the subrights department saying that they had just got off the phone from Feebledweeb, re-verifying that one of their agents will pick up my envelope tomorrow, Wednesday, some time between ten and two. . . .
* * *
* I start to lose the will to live after about the ninety-third copy. Why does the president of Dormidalump Multimedia Cupcakes and Related Pastry’s wife’s brother’s assistant’s hamster need a copy of the contract anyway? I’m not sure I like the idea of CHALICE being turned into singing apple strudel, even if Merrilee did get a paragraph in there about how they had to use honey. I should have held out for baklava . . . but that still doesn’t explain the hamster.
** It seems to me very sad that Pav may never have the fabulous experience of waiting in an endless post office queue.
*** Borderline as in personality
† THE POSTMISTRESS HATED ME. SHE DID. She also retired some years ago, but THE TRAUMA REMAINS.
†† Note that (a) the payment for this interesting process is coming out of the money that passes through Merrilee’s hands on my behalf and (b) apparently even if they believed they had been paid . . . they would still deliver it back to me again. Because they can’t read. Or because they can’t design forms that are readable.
††† He then asked me where I was from and acknowledged that he was Indian and calling from India. The thing that interests me though is that these overseas call centres have a very bad rep, which is mostly well earned, but allowing for the fact that Feebledweeb is messing him over as well as messing me over, the phone line was clearer than mine to Peter often is and he was intelligent and articulate and able to answer questions . . . off the sheet of bad info they had given him, but hey.
‡ Of course not. OF COURSE NOT.
I NEED A NIGHT OFF.*
So let’s have a LINKS NIGHT.
First: Peter’s EMMA TUPPER’S DIARY, one of my and many other people’s favourites of Peter’s, HAS BEEN REISSUED.
And here he talks a little about writing it:
Second: Lightspeed (e)magazine has reprinted HELLHOUND in their February issue:
You have to scroll down the left-hand column—it is there, I promise—and while of course all of you have already read it in FIRE—there’s a lot of other good stuff in Lightspeed’s virtual pages, and you might find the McKinley author spotlight amusing. You’ll recognise the voice from this blog. . . .
* * *
* Pav is definitely starting to come back out of pheromone hell and to revert to nice normal manic hellterror status—she brought me a toy this morning for the first time in about ten days—but the hellhounds don’t seem to notice. They still aren’t eating, there’s still way too much moaning and they still dash back from hurtles or into the mews to check that she’s still there. And having pranced through the door like Hackney ponies on the way to the carriage driving finals, once they’ve established that in fact she is still there they go all floppy and pathetic-swain-like and IT MAKES ME CRAZY.^
^ The superfluously bizarre thing is that they are all over me for their sofa time. I thought it at least possible that they would be so committed to guarding the hellterror’s crate against alien invasion+ that they wouldn’t want their sofa time with a mere [menopausal++] hellgoddess. But nooooo. They’re all over me like a cheap suit or Miss Havisham’s wedding veil.+++
+ See previous blog post. You cannot be too careful about these things.
I once bought a 16 yo gelding, not knowing he’d been gelded only 6 months before. After a lifetime as a breeding stallion. (These little secrets sellers keep…) He was quite aware of everything’s ovulation and/or heat. . . .
. . . .”Hi, glorious wonderful female person! Am I not beautiful? Am I not gloriously male? Would you not like a hug?” He was gentlemanly about it . . . But there were no mistaking the source of the interest. Fluttering nostrils, upraised lip, and all. That’s how I found out that he recognized (with a slight difference in the behavior) ovulation separately from menstruation.
If I’d paid attention one of mine# might have told me when I was ovulating since I never knew. One of the things this body had trouble with was the whole female-cycle thing, and I was on the Pill## for way too many years### but I love the idea of Rhythm Method by Stallion.
Do any other male domestic critters do this? Given that there aren’t that many stallions around to begin with a lot of women who’ve worked with them will mention this interesting aspect of the experience. But you don’t hear about it with dogs, for example, and there are LOTS and LOTS of entire male dogs cluttering up the landscape. I had already started menopause when I brought the hellhounds home as puppies and most of my dog life till then had been with girls.
I knew an entire male cat once—who was also a prodigiously, gloriously male creature—who was extra-snuggly when you were menstruating, but I didn’t see him often enough to be sure that this wasn’t him reacting to you being curled up in a little ball of misery, and I was on the Pill when I knew him, so he wouldn’t have had a chance to check me for ovulation.
# I never owned one of these glorious creatures; I just did things like muck out their stalls, hang out with them and—when I was lucky—ride them.
## which back in my fertile days kept you unpregnable by suppressing ovulation. Dunno if they may have figured out other tricky methods since.
### My experience of female-cycle specialists—most of them men—became the strong foundation of my profound loathing for the medical profession.
++ NOT MY FACE. GET OFFA MY FACE.
So I’m short of sleep (again). The hellhounds weren’t eating (again) last night so I got to bed later than desirable. And still had to get up in time to sprint down to the mews for the speech therapist coming at 9:30.* Which meant that I spent the hours I did have for sleep waking up every half hour and looking anxiously at the clock (which necessitates turning the light on and focusing) in fear that I’d slept through the alarm. IT’S STILL DARK OUT. IT’S PROBABLY STILL NIGHT, ALTHOUGH I ADMIT THIS TIME OF YEAR THAT IS NOT GUARANTEED. I finally got up about twenty minutes before the alarm would have gone off. . . .
AND THEN SHE DIDN’T COME. THE SPEECH THERAPIST DIDN’T COME. Between diabolical hospital car parks and the non-arrival of therapists—we haven’t had a new one yet, and at the moment they’re all new, who doesn’t get lost trying to find us. Yes okay we are modestly tricky to find but don’t you guys TALK to each other??? So even when they arrive they’re always frelling late—THE NHS IS STARTING TO GET ON MY LAST REMAINING NERVE.
Speaking of experience informing writing, I occasionally wish I could grab a ‘High Forsoothly’ author and stick them on a horse for 5 days, see how far they could travel and whether they might start actually cleaning their horse’s hooves occasionally (not that I put Kes in this category.)
And take its tack on and off, and check it and clean it occasionally, and groom the wretched animal (including its feet) and FEED IT. Good grief. Horses take a lot of feeding because basic grazing is low-cal. And you can only carry so much grain/concentrates/what-have-you on your epic journey before this gets counterproductive: hence your horse needs hours of grazing.** And, you know, rest. Like it was a live animal or something.
It never ceases to confound me how clueless, erm, storytellers can be. What’s their excuse for not having spent two minutes to realise that you don’t turn a live animal on and off like you do a computer or a car? The other thing I always think of when I am faced with one of these horse-shaped vehicles is, hasn’t the author ever had a pet, to have some clue about the whole care-and-feeding issue?
Not that this is necessarily enough. When I was a young writer and hadn’t yet realised there is a vast political/hierarchical labyrinth between writers and readers***, I did some falling in with the wrong crowd. I was immediately made uneasy by the acolyte system† that a few of the big names had allowed to build itself around them. I also became semi-friends with an acolyte of a writer who had a particularly extensive worshipper cult. My semi-friend had written a story for her demiurge, and it had a horse in it. So she asked me if I’d read it before she submitted it. I said yes.
Erm. Well, it was a story. With a horse in it. The problem that I thought I could address was that she was treating the horse like her pet cat. She wasn’t quite opening tins of tuna for it but . . . close. I made a couple of suggestions which she did not take in good part.†† And she made sure to tell me a month or two later that her Most High had rejected the story for her next fanfic anthology, listing weaknesses I had let her down by failing to mention and not alluding to the unchanged horse/cat at all.
. . . I agree [with CateK], but have found that authors who don’t know diddly about horses and want to use horses will ask for help and then not use it. Because they’ve already decided that a) the horse care doesn’t really matter as it’s only fiction, b) they don’t want to spend words on it, c) they had what they wanted to do with a horse in the story all worked out and you’re just getting in the way. Then sometimes they mention the one who gave them the right information in the acknowledgments, with fulsome thanks, while doing exactly what they were told was impossible, thus making the one who gave them the advice looks really, really incompetent. You can drag a writer to the fount of information, but you cannot make him/her USE it.
YES. THIS. Moan, moan, moan. There are still books out there—but I can hope they’re all OP—with my name on the acknowledgements page. NOOOOOOOO. I DIDN’T DO IT. THAT’S NOT WHAT I SAID. THAT’S NOT WHAT I MEANT. IT’S NOT MY FAULT.†††
(And saying that puts me on a very slippery knife-edge, because heaven knows I don’t know everything about everything I’ve ever put in a book. I try, but…fall short. . . .)
Yes. This too. When you’re already having a bad night, this is one of the ruts of conscience that will keep you awake indefinitely. It’s the things you didn’t know you needed to look up that probably haunt me the worst. I knew I was on shaky ground with Taks’ Japanese, but thought I could just about get away with it since it was only a few words and he’d spoken only English for years. But . . . I’m sure I’ve told you this story . . . BEAUTY’s canary was originally female. My copyeditor told me that only male canaries sing much.
* * *
* No, I don’t have to be there. But while the therapists are still figuring out what Peter needs I don’t want to miss anything. And the speech therapist is probably the most important.
** Wild horses spend their lives grazing, you know? We’re interrupting the flow.
*** Some writers and some readers. Some of my best non-writing friends read me. Some of my best non-writing friends don’t. But there is a large social element of weirdness in the corner of genre publishing I know anything about, and while I’ve met people at SF&F cons and book conventions who have gone on to become friends . . . the graphic weirdness that inevitably comes with being a writer at one of these extravaganzas is a major reason why I don’t mind not going to them any more.
† Caveats here too. Some authors can’t help having groupies; it’s the way their books are read, or the luck of the draw, or that the media found them in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person and made a groupie-attracting story out of it, or something. And some authors do a genuine and generous job of mentoring. But a few of them merely relish being adored, and behave accordingly.
†† The McKinley Learning Curve. Sigh.
††† It was my evil twin.
I really need a night off.* So I thought I’d leave you with two Exciting Announcements and a few links.**
Peter’s IN THE PALACE OF THE KHANS has been nominated for the Carnegie long list:
And just in case you haven’t already bought your copy, here’s a reminder:
The ‘buy now’ takes you to amazon.uk but amazon.com and Barnes and Noble have it as well.
And SHADOWS is coming out in the UK:
EBook 5 December
Paperback 2 January
The cover will look pretty much the same and the blurby stuff has been rewritten but it’s still about Maggie and some very peculiar shadows. It should be available for pre-order by now.**
And if you wish to be encouraged, possibly inspired, but not to say hectored, pleeeeease read this:
* * *
* You know there are several people out there who have offered guest posts and then disappeared. . . . Just thought this might be worth mentioning.
** You’ll have to look the link up yourselves. I don’t go near the Robin McKinley pages on amazon.
*** Or if you want to be reminded of my back catalogue you can read this:
Yesterday was a black hole, by the way*, but I’m better today. I think.
Oh, yes, the “Are you published?” after you’ve said that’s what you do. Even after you say how many novels you’ve written (since occasionally that comes first) and you know perfectly well that no one (I think no one in history but I could be wrong) writes over 20 novels just for the heck of it. It’s work. It takes time. It takes time away from other things in life that a writer might want to do. I wrote one monster . . .when I wasn’t published, but chances are very, very high that if the thing had not been published, I would now be much better at knitting, singing, gardening, riding, and the house wouldn’t look like it does…and it would have been my only novel. . . . .(Of course I’d have gone mad. Madder than I am. But I don’t think I’d have sat down to write just about a book a year without deadlines and checks. Also, we’d now be very broke.)
Yes. And that’s the other thing: if you can’t earn a living by writing, then trust funds and/or wealthy spouses aside, you’re going to have to earn it some other way. Now earning a living is a major time suck. It’s just that if you’re doing it for love, you can manage to ignore the forty cents/shilling thruppenny per hour you’re ultimately getting paid, so long as you can keep eating.
Not being a blog follower when PEG came out, but still having visited the website enough to know that sequels were definitely not the hell goddess’ thing, I came to the end of the book . . . I tried my hardest to reason with myself . . . if this was where the story ended, then this is the story that needed to be told and I should look inside it to find the meaning, and I came up with all these beautiful ideas about friendship and perseverance and had completed the grief process up to acceptance… Then discovered the sequel tantalizers online.
::falls down laughing:: Sorry. It’s friendly laughter. Still . . . ::falls down laughing some more::
There certainly could be a story about how Sylvi and Ebon, Marked for Life by Their Tragic Separation, went on to do Great Things Alone. That’s just not the one I’m writing.
Er, this Peg II crashing to a halt business is a little frightening. I’m glad it was past tense and I feel like I’ve heard positive things about it lately? Hmmm.
PEG II crashed and burned because I was refusing to recognise that it needed to be two books. Two more books, making a [YAAAAAAARRRGGH] trilogy. So the pacing, the story arc, the way everything fit together, was totally bodged and gleepy in the original PEG II. This was scaring me quite a lot, as you may imagine. I still don’t know whether it was just I had my head down so far I couldn’t see the forest for the trees or if I really was suffering a total mental block about the idea of a [twitch] trilogy [twitch]. Anyway. By the time I finally figured it out, or let myself figure it out, I had the morale of club moss or a dead octopus or something. I could not face starting over from the beginning right away. Meanwhile—remember that benchmark about eating?—I had to keep eating. So I wrote SHADOWS.
I admit PEG II and I are still not the best of friends. There’s an awful lot of I Have Been Here Before, But Not in a Good Way. But we’re getting there.
I really like the family dynamics in your work- I get rather sick and tired of lowly orphan/foundling hero/heroines- is that just fantasy writer quick hand of being able to send them off questing without too many obstacles??? I think I’m going to do a short story on the peeved mother who gets left behind on the farm who suddenly has to do all the chores and swears at that mysterious old stranger who has gotten little Timmy all excited about saving the world.
Thank you. Yes. I agree. Orphans are fine, but there are a lot of families out there.** And families are interesting. I’ve been thinking about that story about the left-behind mum too. And the other three children, the herd of goats and the ill-tempered pony. And the cabbages. And the mortgage payments. Feel free to write it first. All good stories can be retold indefinitely.
As an avid fantasy reader one thing that bugs me IS sequels that are done just for sequels sake. Singletons are lovely.
Singletons are different. They feel different, they read differently, they hold together differently. It’s not just that they’re perforce shorter, although that’s the obvious thing. It would be a gigantic pity if The Serial Mind totally took over. But I want to put in a word of defense of writers writing less-than-great sequels. Some of them . . . are just writing less-than-great sequels. It happens. But some of them have been told that either they’re writing a series or that there’s a rumour that Wal-Mart is hiring. Remember the need to keep eating. I’m lucky: I’ve been around a long time as a writer of singletons and most people are mostly used to it. I’ve been haunted by sequels all my working life but when I wrote SWORD and HERO while series were desirable they weren’t yet a stick that your public and your publisher beat you with.***
…. I think I’ll stick to quilt pattern designs. Hmmm. A pegasus would look great.
A pegasus would look great. But if it’s a McKinley pegasus remember they are NOT horses with wings.
Thank you for the glimpses into your mind and life that you provide in the blog. I’ve become a compulsive blog reader in the last year or two. It’s not only what you write but the way you write that draws me irresistibly. Thank you!
You’re very welcome and thank you. And I want to say out here on the blog that generally speaking I try not to copy and paste the really nice compliments because it makes me look like such a prat. But I read them with ENORMOUS PLEASURE. Just sayin’.
We shall make t-shirts that say “FRELL YOUR FRELLING SEQUEL” and wear them around.
I’m beginning to think I should officially look into the t-shirt thing as an author who needs to keep eating while she [re]writes her next [frelling] novel. There’s also the footnote t-shirt. Maybe there should be a PEGASI ARE NOT HORSES WITH WINGS t-shirt too.
What I love is books that continue around the edges of them. They are so much more ‘real’ than books where the author finishes everything off.
YES. EXACTLY. As a reader I way prefer books where it’s not all tied up with a big shiny ribbon at the end. The big-shiny-ribbon conclusion tends to kill it dead, for me, and send retroactive gangrenous ripples back through the book that I had perhaps been enjoying—or at least successfully suspending my disbelief for—till then.
. . . I sometimes approach sequels with an attitude of “oh, so these poor characters — don’t they just get to live, well, not happily-ever-after necessarily, but out of the spotlight maybe? With no more than what the rest of us typically have to deal with, at least?” Whereas if they’ve landed in a sequel again it’s because something Very Exciting has happened.
Snork. As a fairly dedicated stay-at-home myself†, who relishes her hot baths, pillows and blankets, and mains-electric reading lights, as well as a writer (mostly) of singletons, I like your attitude.
. . . why, a good 60% of the time is the next sentence out of someone’s mouth Oh, are you published?
AND this one…
Oh, I’ve always wanted to write – everyone tells me I should write a book about (blah blah blah) …
SOOOOO, my question is always: Do you like to read? To which, invariably, the reply from alleged aspiring writer is: ohhhh noooo – I hate to read!
‘Invariably’? You poor thing. You need to find a better class of pub/gym/chat room/alternate reality to hang out in. The aspirers who talk to me usually do love to read—and seem to think this means they’ll be natural writers. Cough. Cough. And it’s a beginning, of course—it’s even a good beginning, being a reader: it’s just not enough.††
* * *
* What a good thing it was already a Saturday! Or I might have been forced to hang a KES ep out of order!
** Harry has a brother! Okay, she’s an orphan, but she has a BROTHER! Also, I was younger then, and it was harder to keep account of too many important characters. Trying to hold everyone straight in HERO was a steep learning curve. If someone had told me then I was on track to write a book with PEG’s cast of characters I might be a manager of graveyard-shift supermarket shelf restockers by now.^
^ This is the Mysterious Disappearing Footnote from the other night, for anyone who was confused by the forum exchange about it.
*** There’s a similar sort of defense to be made about orphan protagonists. I’m sure there are some out there that were created orphans for no better reason than that the author wanted to get on with the story . . . but that’s not actually a bad reason either. What starts to get on my nerves is if there’s a huge doodah about the protagonist’s orphaned or otherwise tragedified state when it isn’t, as I-the-cranky-reader sees it, earned.
† Bell ringing is VERY EXCITING! I rang a HARVEST FESTIVAL today!
†† And the awful truth is that there are a few good writers out there who are not great readers. I Will Name No Names, but I know a few of them. Arrrrgh. It’s like the comforting truth that it takes time to write really well. No. Wrong. It takes some of us a very long time to write anything worth reading. Not all of us. Arrrrrgh. On the whole I’m willing to leave the non-readers in peace because I pity them for what they’re missing. THE FAST WRITERS I WANT SHIPPED TO ANOTHER GALAXY. NOW.