Working is now, thoughts are on then

Overall a good week. Except my insomnia — sleep-maintenance insomnia, where the sufferer wakes up and can’t get back to sleep — was in overdrive. Coupled with a couple of unexpectedly late nights and the time Plushie kicked me awake — he sometimes likes to sleep where my feet are — I’m feeling way zonked as I type this. Hence once again using this Jack Kirby cover for the Sandman story “The Man Who Never Sleeps.”But fortunately writing is something I can do in the dead of night if I’m up, then nap during the day. I did that at one point today only Plushie (again) nudged me awake, then waited expectantly for — well, I’ve no idea. Good thing he’s so adorable.As I mentioned last week, Paying the Ferryman loses a lot of the tension — okay, almost all of it — once we get out of New York. This week I rewrote it to increase tension and I succeeded. I also sharpened the direction of the story to fit with the ending — except I still have no idea what’s going to happen to Eleanor, my POV character in the remaining stretch before the end. She needs a challenge to fit her skills (amateur but gifted thief), a danger to go with it and so far I’m coming up empty. But I will find the answer because the rest of the story’s too good to give up on.

I also put some thought in on the next section of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Depending who KC turns to for help, we either get to use a lot of the previous draft or I do more new stuff. I’m not sure yet which is the right way to go.

Today I worked on an old short story, The Love That Moves the Sun. After reading over the feedback from my writing group, I made a few changes but it really required much less work than I’d expected. With any luck, I’ll have it off after the holiday, assuming I can find a compatible market.

I also took one day off to handle various chores: contractor appointments for this or that repair, mailing some presents, planning for the writers’ group Christmas party TYG and I are hosting this weekend. Full credit to my wife, she’s amazing at organizing To Do lists for this stuff. I mostly handle invitations and the cooking (chili, apple tart, cookies, cornbread from the Bread Head book I mentioned this morning).

I also spent some time thinking about next year and what I want to accomplish. Coming up with a not-too-specific list of 2022 goals and getting detailed month by month worked well for me this year. I intend to do it again next year. But I’m also working on a 101 in 1,001 list of goals — 101 things to accomplish in the next 1,001 days — for the first time in several years. I may not use it as an actual goal list but coming up with so many forces me to be creative and think of things I’d like to do or need to do. That will help with whatever list I do make.

And I had two blog posts out, as usual, at Atomic Junk Shop. One expresses my distaste for nonfiction writers who think they’re the story, the other discusses pets and comic books, reworking a post of mine here from several years back. I have to say, this John Romita sketch (over Kirby layouts) of Ka-Zar snuggling with his sabertooth Zabu and talking to him like a beloved pet really touches me.  Wises, bravest, swiftest, I talk to Trixie like that all the time.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Adventures in baking

Last month I got more of an itch to bake than I have in a while. I made vegan, gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies——and ciabatta, though they came out smaller than I’d expected. Still, easy enough I might try it again when I’m having sandwiches.Last weekend I made a peppery squash bread though with sweet potato instead, as I had some of that left over.Last month I also checked a book, Bread Head out of the library. I’ve only gotten around to trying one recipe, a buckwheat flour sourdough banana bread, but it was most tasty.I hope to try a couple more before I send the book back (I’ll give it an actual review then) but overall I don’t think it’s for me. The authors, Greg Wade and Rachel Hotlzman, are into sourdough starter big time. I like sourdough but not os much that it’s worth keeping a pot of starter around all the time. Still the book did serve as a useful reminder on things like checking water temperature for my breads — possibly that’s why the ciabatta came in undersized.

The other recipes came, top to bottom, from Vegetarian Times, 100 Great Breads and a book called Country Baker: Breads and Muffins from Country Living magazine.

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The most merciful thing

In the introduction to Undead Sexist Cliches I discuss some of the reasons people push back against gender equality. Along with misogyny and patriarchy, I think for many people it’s simply easier not to think about how shitty things are for many women.

As HP Lovecraft said in the opening of Call of Cthulhu, “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” His narrator correlates too much and comes to grasp the terrible truth about the existence of the Old Ones and how small and puny our world and our race are. I think something similar takes place when confronting the reality of sexism and misogyny too.

I’m not naive about how bad misogyny gets, but I was still shell-shocked when #metoo hit big and so fricking many of my female friends responded to “Have you been sexually harassed?” with “me too.” It’s hard to grasp how many women (and a few men) have to deal with that, and how little some people care.

Or the number of women who are raped and don’t even try to report it for fear they’ll be slut-shamed, told it’s buyer’s remorse or even arrested for lying.

Plus routine, petty sexism, like a professional woman being told it’s her job to make lunch for the team or to clean the restrooms. Or being denied promotions, or watching the system protect sexist asshats.

When it sinks in, it’s both infuriating and terrifying to contemplate, particularly as it’s been going on so long, and will undoubtedly continue into the future. The pushback against the progress women have made is constant and ongoing. The attitude some men have that women are primarily either a source of sex or a source of sexual frustration won’t go away any time soon.

I think for some people, that makes it easier to believe it’s all overblown. It can’t be that bad, right? Teenage girls don’t routinely get cat-called  by older men, surely not. The truth is always in the middle, so obviously there’s a middle ground between the misogynists who defend sexual harassers and rapists and the feminists who say any level of sexual harassment and rape is unacceptable. The middle ground being, maybe, that rape is bad but not always. And maybe women are just unreasonable about guys flirting with them at work. Can’t we compromise?

Compromise is appealing because, as Martin Luther King said (and as I’ve quoted multiple times) lots of otherwise decent people hate tension. Challenging the system, pushing for reform, that creates tension and conflict; can’t the oppressed go a little slower, demand a little less, settle for half a loaf or no loaf until society is ready?

Hell, no. As Frederick Douglass said, power never concedes anything without a demand. As Dr. King said, what the people who hate tension imagine is peace is oppression, but with the victims staying quiet so nobody gets riled up, nobody has to hear about it on the news, nobody has to think about how bad it is or how fricking angry women (obviously this applies to any other minority group) are.

Like it or not, we have to correlate. And then we have to act.

#SFWApro. Cover by Kemp Ward. You can find my book as an Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers.

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Let No Man Put Asunder: Finding the Sweet Spot

So last month I finished the first chapter of my rewrite of my second novel, Let No Man Put Asunder. I rewrote it once some 15-20 years back; I’d have rewritten it again by now except most of the manuscript is gone. I did get a couple of chapters beyond the cutoff, but somehow every attempt to progress further hit a mental dead end.

This version though is a radical break. My protagonists, Adrienne and Neil, were mostly in good shape when the bad guys kidnap them into another dimension. To their surprise, it turns out that a weekend of death and danger (the story moved pretty fast) also gave them things that were missing in their life. Fresh adventures would have lain in wait …

New protagonists Paul and Amanda aren’t in such great shape. Mandy has been de facto mother for her five siblings and caregiver for her terminally ill dad since she was fifteen — as we learn in the first chapter, Mom decided terminal illness wasn’t something she wanted to deal with and walked out. However it’s been twelve years and Mandy’s recovered from Mom’s betrayal (but has not forgiven her at all).

Paul is in much worse shape as his big blow came less than two years ago. His academically prominent parents pushed him to excel from elementary on. He’s had no social life, has no idea who he’d be if he didn’t have his nose buried in books all the time, so finally he told them, right before senior year, he was taking a year off after college. When he arrived back at school Paul discovered his folks hadn’t paid his tuition, had broken the lease on his apartment and drained the joint bank account they used to provide him with ready cash. But no problem, just take back your foolish decision, son, and everything gets back to normal!

He didn’t take it back.

The Adrienne/Neil version had a first chapter set here on Earth, then we were off into other, wilder dimensions. I’m not sure that’s the way I want to go. The town of Blue Ivy, where Mandy and Paul meet in 1976, feels like a good setting. It’s a grimy industrial town but it also has several colleges, with the usual college/townie conflicts. It seems a shame to just forget about it and go elsewhere, particularly in America’s bicentennial year (I don’t know if I’ll keep using that year but if I do, I should be able to make something of it).

The trouble is, I don’t want to go the urban fantasy route. I enjoy reading books where the normal world is just a shell hiding a reality full of magic but I don’t seem inclined to write them. Southern Discomfort is closer to intrusion fantasy: the normal world works much as we see it but something magical has intruded in, disrupting things. In Questionable Minds there’s no hiding: the world is full of psychic powers but they’re being wielded in plain sight.  In Atoms for Peace the mad science that’s made the world so different from our 1950s is also commonly known. In Impossible Takes a Little Longer, super-powers are the same way.

If I set Asunder on Earth, I want it feel like magic is an intruder, not a regular resident. That was doable in Southern Discomfort because the magic almost all stems from the elves Olwen, Aubric and Gwalchmai and it’s limited to one small town in Georgia. Asunder has a lot more magical people running around with much flashier powers. And the different characters — Mountebank, Grainge, Cordelia Winters and Hypatia, to name four — don’t fit into the same magical mythos. They didn’t have to in the original version and I see no need to change that. But it would, again, make an odd urban fantasy

So do I go urban fantasy anyway and find some way to make it work? Go back to dimensional jumping and kiss Blue Ivy goodbye? Maybe make Blue Ivy some kind of Hellmouth where, like Sunnydale, things are weirder than the rest of the world?

There’s also the practical point that I’d like my protagonists isolated, at least for the first few chapters. That’s harder to do in a setting where they know everyone.

Normally I’d plunge ahead and pants these questions as I go but the first chapter ends with Mandy and Paul falling through a magical gate of some kind. I need to know where they land.

Wish me luck!

#SFWApro. Cover by Samantha Collins, rights to the image are mine.

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Uncategorized

Golems, Jews, zombies: a book I contributed to

JEWS IN POPULAR SCIENCE FICTION: Marginalized in the Mainstream, edited by Valerie Estelle Frankel, is the book that contains my essay on golems in speculative fiction along with a dozen others. Typically for a book like this, some of them didn’t work for me: I’m familiar with debates over Superman as Jewish symbol and couldn’t get into Jewish themes allegedly found in The Last Airbender (the essay on Jewish themes in Tolkien worked better for being conscious it’s an odd thing to look for). Most of them, though, worked very well indeed.

One article, on the Ferengi as “space Jews” argues they do start out as negative Jewish stereotypes but the writing on DS9 makes them more complex and the Jewish elements less stereotypical. A couple of articles look at Jewish characters in comics, concluding that even characters whose Jewish faith initially runs deep get less noticeably Jewish as time passes, and not Jewish at all when they jump to TV. And “Jewish” is often limited to things instantly recognizable to non-Jews, such as menorahs and Hanukkah.

And while I remain a fan of Ragman, one essay makes a good case that his abilities aren’t Jewish — the whole idea of evil souls getting trapped for their sins in the rag suit is much closer to Christian themes.

My favorite article by two teachers showed how they demonstrate to students the way you apply Jewish religious law to new issues. The topic was the zombie apocalypse: given Judaism’s mandate to treat the dead respectfully, is it acceptable to burn or mutilate the living dead? If the zombies are living virus-carriers, is murdering them acceptable? The answers are a)yes, saving the living counts for more; and b)yes, but only if someone’s in imminent danger, not if the zombie is infected but not turned.

My essay’s awesome too, so if you want to pick something up as a gift this month and you know someone who’d be interested, here’s the link.

#SFWApro. Ragman cover by Pat Broderick. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Money makes the world go round. This is not necessarily a good thing

Hospice is now dominated by for-profit corporations. Unsurprisingly some of what they do to generate increasing amounts of profit is unscrupulous, illegal and harmful to patients.

Companies that buy up cheap housing make it harder for people to afford housing.

“As crypto’s self-appointed ambassador to Washington, Bankman-Fried was pressing for federal regulation even as he dodged U.S. oversight from his corporate headquarters in the Bahamas.” — a look at the now toppling crypto-kingdom of Sam Bankman-Fried. Who insists that when his FTX gambled with depositors’ money he didn’t realize that’s what he was doing. Reuters reports the company also bought Bankman-Fried a vacation home. LGM weighs in.

“Time and time again, Americans fall prey to the myth of the billionaire genius, the man (because it is almost always a man) who is better than us mere mortals, able to solve any business or political or philanthropic problem that comes his way — till, suddenly, he is not.” — Helaine Olen. See also Elon Musk running Twitter into the ground and (though she’s not a man) Elizabeth Holmes.

While this Forbes article on Trump’s secret debts to a Korean company is good, but I don’t buy the assertion that most people of Trump’s wealth could be corrupted by a mere $20 million debt. Trump has, after all, allegedly cheated contractors of much less money. I’ve seen this argument before — billionaires have too much money to be tempted — but the billionaire mind doesn’t seem to see it that way.

Alex Jones loves money and he has a lot of it. He’s doing his best to make sure the Sandy Hook parents who won their lawsuit against him don’t get any.

“A nudge is ultimately a highly conservative approach to the question of how a society should think about the public good.”

“The shooter who terrorized a Colorado movie theater in 2012 charged more than $9,000 worth of guns, ammunition and tactical gear in the two months leading up to his attack that killed 12 and injured 70. The man who shot up the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people, put more than $26,000 on credit cards.” Nevertheless, crediit-card companies refused a proposal to create a unique code for firearm sellers which would help flag suspicious purchases.

Amazon’s policy of letting readers buy an ebook, then return it after a week, means some authors end up with negative royalty balances.

 

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Filed under economics, Politics

Reading about war: WW I, War in Space and a Martian Invasion

BLACK MAX Vol. 2 by Ken Pepper and Alfonso Font follows in the same vein as V1, showing WW I pilot Tim Wilson and his Co, “Groucher” Grommett battling against Maximilian von Klorr and his squadron of giant bats. This works some variation on the premise, for example having von Klorr brainwash a British pilot as his agent; a rookie pilot getting in over his head; and Black Max turning one bat into an unstoppable giant after Tim wipes out the rest. Great fun.

URSA MAJOR: Resonance Books II by Casey E. Berger (a friend of mine but my enthusiasm is sincere) is a sequel to First Light in which ex-Marine Jaya and her various allies organize a revolution against Jaya’s father, who’s seized control of the Terran Empire. Unfortunately the Empire is massively increasing the number of super-soldiers its putting in the field so figuring out a kryptonite to stop them is as essential as organizing the colonies to fight back.This is good, with plenty of action on the scientific, political, and character-arc fronts. I’ll probably get V3 next year.

KILLRAVEN: Warrior of the Worlds collects Marvel’s 1970s sequel series to H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds, the premise being that the Martians attacked again at the end of the millennium, having immunized themselves against bacterial infection. A couple of decades later Killraven — former gladiator in the aliens’ slave arenas — launches an insurrection with his warrior skills, backed up by psi-abilities implanted in him by a human scientist.

The series started with Gerry Conway on script and Neal Adams followed by Howard Chaykin on art. Then came Marv Wolfman and Herb Trimpe, followed by what’s considered, I believe, the definitive team of Don McGregor and P. Craig Russell (their 1980s graphic novel wrapping the series up is included too).

Killraven has a cult following but it never clicked with me as a teen, nor now. It’s not awful but somehow it just doesn’t come together: the McGregor/Russell run, for instance, spends way too much time wandering around encountering odd creatures and cultures, as if the creators didn’t really care about the fight against the Martians. I did, however, enjoy Bill Mantlo’s Killraven/Spider-Man crossover in Marvel Team-Up because of Spidey’s horrified realization that despite everything he does to save people, ultimately they’ll be wiped out by the invasion (don’t despair, Marvel later retconned Killraven into a parallel timeline).

#SFWApro. Covers by John Romita (top) and Gil Kane.

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Filed under Comics, Reading

Movies from Halloween to Christmas

HALLOWEEN ENDS (2022) has an aging Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) fretting that even with Michael Myers dead and gone, years of dealing with his attacks have warped her hometown of Haddonfield into a paranoid, fearful mess. Case in point, everyone’s convinced that a local guy whose babysitting charge died accidentally, years ago, killed the kid and got off; that leaves him enough of an outcast to bond with Laurie’s granddaughter but also with the ghost (I think) of Michael Myers …

Despite the film’s efforts to show Michael has joined the choir invisible, gone to meet his maker, become an ex-parrot etc., the implication he can possess others leaves them a path to Halloween: A New Beginning if they want to take it. That aside, this is a mixed bag for me. Curtis gives an amazing performance (“Did you really think I’d kill myself?”) but the babysitter’s arc doesn’t quite work. Still, getting me to watch another movie in this franchise (my last was Season of the Witch) is no small accomplishment. “Did Michael Meyers let you live — or did you escape?”

A SNOW WHITE CHRISTMAS (2018) kicks off my annual deluge of Christmas treacle with a mediocrity in which heiress Bianca’s scheming stepmother using hypnosis to erase the young woman’s memory, thereby ensuring she won’t remember to claim her inheritance before the stepmom gets it. The actors are weirdly self-conscious and mannered, like they couldn’t get into the story, not that I blame them. “It’ll be alright, Bianca — I have a hunter to help me.”

HAUL OUT THE HOLLY (2022) has a recently dumped woman stay in her parents’ home over Christmas while they’re in Florida, only to fall afoul of the homeowners’ association’s Christmas rules which penalize people for not getting Christmassy enough. And which are, of course, enforced by the Most Obnoxious, Most Irritating Man She’s Ever Met. Talking lamp material. “The first thing you do is think of tigers.”

CHRISTMAS ON REPEAT (2022) was more fun, even though it recycles cliches from all the other Christmas time-loop films I’ve seen, such as the protagonist playing matchmaker for her elderly neighbors. The protagonist hopes that if the time-loop keeps repeating she can meet the demands of both her boss and her family and make everything perfect — but is perfection what she really needs? I’ll give them a point for not having her simply choose family over job, though I’m also reminded of the complaint that showing the conflict as Love Vs. High Powered, High-Paying Job ignores that people often end up working 60 hours a week at very low-powered job. Still, this was pretty fun. “If you were up all night, why are you so perky?”The sixth and penultimate season of YOUNGER was enjoyable but feels a lot like shuffling pieces around the board. Last season Liza’s (Sutton Foster) relationship with Charles (Peter Hermann) firmed up but he wound up stepping away from the publishing company, leaving it in Kelsey’s (Hilary Duff) hands. This season has Charles launch his own company before finally returning to Empirical, after which Kelsey leaves, then comes back. And Josh (Nico Tortorella) just wanders around pointlessly now that he and Liza are no longer together. The most interesting element was Charles’ ex freaking out when she learns Liza’s not a twentysomething (losing your husband to a younger woman is one thing but a woman your own age?) and exposes the truth. Overall, it’s probably a good thing there’s only one season left. “Ladies, there are bulging crotches in your face — please focus.”

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Filed under Movies, TV

Metrics aren’t everything, but they help

So I wrapped up November with somewhere under 50 percent of my goals completed … I think.

One of the errors I keep making is that when things get hectic I stop tracking my progress. I don’t record how many hours I’ve spent on writing projects or whether I remembered to wipe the kitchen counters every day. So I don’t know if I achieved them or not. So I’m working to consistently report metrics at the end of the day, before walking the dog (afterwards I’m usually off the computer for too long). We’ll see how I do.

This week was uneven but overall productive. A large part of the unevenness is that my insomnia the past couple of months has been exceptionally consistent. Some of that may be the warm weather — even in a heated house, winter usually makes a difference — and some of it’s definitely psychological. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I psych myself out about “Well, if I try to get to sleep and don’t succeed I’ll have to take naps during the day so I should definitely get up and write because then I won’t need the time but then again I really need sleep …” That kind of chatter makes it impossible to get to sleep.So Wednesday became a waste. I was tired plus I had my second checkup of the year. Overall good, and a couple of things I was worried might be serious are just me getting older. My doctor is way more reliable than the Crime Surgeon on Bob Kane’s cover above.

Today was productive but choppy. I was sitting with the dogs most of the day and they were often barky, plus Wisp came in which meant having to keep three pets happy. I can write and pet Wisp in my lap but if Trixie gets on the couch too, she demands petting too and then I have no hands left to type. And yesterday I walked to a nearby dispensary to pick up Plushie’s meds. It’s close to a mile further away than I anticipated so that was more time lost. The exercise was good, however.

So what got done?

First, I finished a rewrite of Bleeding Blue on Monday. It’s much improved. This may be the next piece I read to my writers’ group as menstruation is important in the story and I need women’s feedback.

I reread Paying the Ferryman and I was dismayed how much the energy and tension drop once we move from New York to a fairy-tale setting. I spent most of my writing time today working to fix that but between naps and pets I didn’t get finished. It’s already improved, though, and shorter.

I wrote 4,000 words on Impossible Takes a Little Longer. The book’s definitely improving, though I still wonder about length.

And I started to think about what I want to do next year.

All totaled, I made my hours for the week.Over at Atomic Junkshop I looked at the time Iron Man deliberately killed his opponent, a drastic thing in the Silver Age. You can see in Gene Colan’s (under his Adam Austin synonym) panels above that Iron Man’s throwing the Black Knight (not the one from Eternals) off his flying horse to his death.

Over at ConTinual I participated in a panel on worldbuilding in small towns and one discussing my two new releases. They’re on FB but they’ll be on ConTinual’s YouTube channel soon.

And speaking of my new books, I sold some copies of Questionable Minds this week! That feels very cool.

And needless to say, our Christmas tree is up.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

A trip to the library/Has made a new man out of me

(Title is a line from the musical She Loves Me).

Last weekend was, of course, Thanksgiving weekend, and I had a great time. It’s rare to have a big block of time as a staycation and it was incredibly relaxing (for TYG too). Thanksgiving dinner, as usual, was at Parizade, a local restaurant that hosts a massive, and extremely tasty, vegan meal. I managed to stop at the point of complete fullness without going over, despite the temptation to eat more, more, and then more.

Saturday, as our date for the weekend, TYG and I went to Durham’s new main library. It closed for remodeling a few years ago which broke us of the habit of regular visits — I hit a closer branch library instead — and when it reopened it was during the pandemic. But we kept saying we should go check it out, and finally we did. And damn, it looks good.Plus some of my books are in the catalog, which is pretty cool.#SFWApro

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Atoms for Peace, Personal