Forging ahead, regardless of the facts

“When you write a story, you have a predetermined end in mind, and the challenge is to make the facts match the ending. This is what I call “the fictific method.” The challenge of the fictific method is to make all the facts along the way to lead to a believable result based on those facts. Unfortunately, more and more we are seeing storytellers whose goal is to reach a certain result regardless of the facts.” — Brian K. Lowe.

Lowe cites two ways this happens: 1)The writer ignores the facts they’ve’ established so that they can make the ending come out the way they want it to. 2)The storyteller establishes false facts: changes history, ignores the way things normally work, or has people behave in ways nobody normally would.

Raymond Chandler’s classic essay The Simple Art of Murder really hammers the classic British mysteries of his day over #2. Cops who don’t follow any of the established rules or use the tools at their disposal to crack the case. Or consider the murder scheme in Dorothy Sayers’ Have His Carcase: it’s an absurdly elaborate plot it’s unlikely any killer would use. But it has to be used to set up a seemingly impossible crime, a man murdered on a beach at low tide with nobody leaving footprints in the sand.

Or consider Avengers #38 (cover by Gil Kane). The Asgardian Enchantress places a love spell on Hercules to get him to attack the Avengers for her. At the end, the good guys snap Herc out of the spell, but the Enchantress still has the magical power to annihilate them. Instead, when Hercules tells her to get lost, she just walks out because … she’s in love with him and can’t bear to kill him along with the others. This comes out of nowhere; she’s shown absolutely no interest in Hercules up to that point, unlike Thor, whom she was constantly hot for. But it was the simplest way to end the story, given her Asgardian magic way outclasses the team.

Or take a scene I wrote into Southern Discomfort. After some nasty magic starts paralyzing people, I had the Pharisee County Hospital treating it as if there were a strange outbreak of stroke cases. My friend doctor and author Heather J. Frederick pointed out that strokes don’t work the way the magic did, so that wouldn’t be the diagnosis. I went back and reworked it and settled on the doctors deciding it was some kind of fast-spreading disease — which was scarier because 1973 wasn’t as prepared for epidemics as we are now.

Which is the key to making the fictific method work. If you can’t get the ending you want, given the facts of your story, either change the facts or change the ending so everything flows logically. Hopefully once it’s finally published, everyone will agree that I did.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover remain with current holder.

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It’s hump day, keep fighting!

See the work week fall before your sword!And never give up, never surrender!#SFWApro. Covers by Ken Kelly top and Jerry Grandenetti, all rights remain with current holders.

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Putting the pieces together

Like (I imagine) a lot of writers, I’m tossing around ideas in my head even when I’m not writing. Maybe more when I’m not writing, as I’m not required to focus on anything.

A lot of it is less plots or characters than just bits of things. Opening lines. Names. Ideas. Scenes unattached to a story (particularly climaxes. I love imagining dramatic climactic confrontations). I sometimes think they’ll just float around in limbo unattached because I’m very linear in my writing: I can’t start with a scene and then write the story that leads up to it. My mind just doesn’t work that way. Lately, though, I’ve noticed I’ve been able to use several them.

Death is Like a Box of Chocolates incorporates bits of several ideas floating around in my head. A story about a small-town reporter. A female lead with the first name Pershing. The idea of a thief stealing something off a baggage carousel that turns out to be supernatural — I’ve had that floating around in my head since before security cameras were everywhere, one reason I wound up setting the story in the 1980s.

Impossible Takes a Little Longer will, if it ends up the way I anticipate, use up a scene I’ve had floating in my head for a couple of decades, which I won’t spoil here. I didn’t start from that scene and work back, it just suddenly struck me how well it would work in the book.

I’ve done this occasionally with earlier stories. Not In Our Stars But In Ourselves, one of the stories in Atoms for Peace, used a name I’d had in my head, “Elegy” Walker, though very differently from my original concept. Maria, my protagonist from Southern Discomfort, drew on an earlier character in earlier drafts, an Italian-American living in a small Southern town. The difference is so marked, I may go back and reuse that earlier version somewhere else some day (ditto a supporting character, Megan O’Donnell, who got dropped entirely).

It feels really good when I get to use up one of these ideas. Really, really good, like an itch that’s been lying there, waiting for the scratching. I’ve got maybe two more climaxes I’d really, really like to put to use — let’s hope the trend continues and I can do it before too long.

#SFWApro. Cover art by Zakaria Nada, all rights remain with current holders.

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Darkly brood the links

“If Trump wins (or “wins”) in November, there won’t be anything left four years from now. It won’t matter whether he gets the SCOTUS to declare the 22nd Amendment unconstitutional and goes on to a third term, or installs one of his imbecile children in the office, or simply refuses to hold an election at all. America as we knew it will be over.” — Paul Campos

The author of an upcoming book about tomboys wonders where the tomboys of popular culture disappeared to (“living examples of the feminist zeitgeist that told me I did not have to be feminine to be female”). I think her discussion of gender stereotypes and nonconformity on TV is much sharper than the Brit Marling piece I linked to last week.

Oh good grief. Proposals to include tampons and other feminine hygiene products in Tennessee’s sales tax holiday have one legislator worried women would buy their whole year’s supply at once and cheat the state of sales tax. Of course, this is true of other stuff they could buy, but that doesn’t seem to bother him.

A conservative evangelical pastor opposes Trump getting re-elected. The reaction from other evangelicals was, shall we say, unChristian.

I’ve discussed before how the majority of people take their cues to what’s acceptable from the committed few. Case in point, a lot of kids, just like adults, think Trump’s bigotry gives them a green light to express their own.

Trump still insists troops suffering brain injuries from Iran’s attack aren’t seriously hurt. Of course, it’s hard to comprehend brain damage when you don’t have one.

The University of North Carolina recently paid the Sons of Confederate Veterans $2.5 million to take over the care of “Silent Sam,” a Confederate statue torn down on the university grounds. A judge just threw the deal out.

“The pursuit of global social justice neither demands nor benefits from the idea that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and my enemy is American foreign policy.'”

“Since the 1970s it’s almost become a taboo to talk of conflict – we’ve become a society geared around consensus, and co-existence – and this has domesticated politics in a dangerous way. ”

“Human suffering is not primarily a metaphysical problem. It is also that, and such metaphysical conundrums are immensely important in many ways. But these philosophical and theological dilemmas are always secondary. The meaning of human suffering is never primarily The Meaning of Human Suffering. The meaning of human suffering is to be relieved.”

It’s total bullshit but belief in the QAnon conspiracy keeps spreading.

Why this is the golden age of white-collar crime.

A Catholic priest has banned 44 lawmakers from receiving communion because they’re pro-choice and that’s much worse than priestly pedophilia. One lawmaker suggests the logical response is posting “a list of pedophile priests not welcome at the State House. That is a much longer list.”

Right-wing supposed thinker David Barton doesn’t grasp you can be a nonprofit without being tax-exempt.

Franklin Graham lied and claimed whatever happened between Brett Kavanaugh and accuser Christine Blasey Ford was completely consensual. When it comes to sexy dancing at the Superbowl, he’s very, very concerned about women.

A new anti-abortion trend: counties and cities declaring they can ban it within their jurisdiction

Republicans are running campaign ads for Erica Smith, a state senator running for the Dem national Senate nomination. Presumably they think she’ll be easier for Trump toady Thom Tillis to beat.

“In California, a teenager who had been detained for 11 months confided to shelter staff that he wanted to die; in an asylum hearing, the confession was read aloud as evidence he was a danger to himself and should be deported.” — from an article about how therapy sessions for refugees and immigrants are used against them unethically.

How Mike Bloomberg’s money shapes the race.

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Simon Templar, Jesus and Batman! Books read

THE SAINT: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Film and Television 1928-1992 by Burl Barer looks at the career of Simon “The Saint” Templar, gentleman adventurer, troubleshooter and “Robin Hood of modern crime,” a man who took down criminals the law couldn’t catch while also using their loot to cushion his bank account. Barer tracks the Saint’s growth from the early 1930s novels to international popularity and an expansion into movies, radio, comic strips, hardback reprints, TV and mystery magazines. He parallels this with a look at creator Leslie Charteris’ career, which came to focus entirely around the Saint after The Saint In New York became a best-seller. Unlike many authors, Charteris was quite protective of Simon Templar in other media, aggressively complaining if he thought their treatment hurt the brand. He also worried surprisingly about whether Simon’s age as the series progressed made his adventures ridiculous; I just accept that kind of agelessness as a gift of the fictional gods.

The book ends right as work on the 1997 Val Kilmer Saint film was beginning which left Barer optimistic it would launch a whole new franchise. Instead it tanked, and I suspect Simon Templar is very much now a “dad hero” in the sense that while he was huge for my generation (particularly when Roger Moore played him on TV), I doubt he means anything for Gen X, Y, etc., any more than the characters referenced in Clubland Heroes mean to me. Damn, I’m old.

ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan acknowledges in the introduction that trying to capture a historical image of Jesus isn’t really possible, then blithely asserts that he’s done it anyway. Aslan’s version is that Jesus was one of the countless Jewish Messiahs out to free Palestine from the yoke of Rome with the help of Jehovah: he came to bring not peace but a sword (Aslan concludes Jesus gentler admonitions were all meant for Jews on how to deal with each other, not outsiders). This is no worse than most other biographies of this sort I’ve read, but no better; Aslan suffers the usual dilemma of having to separate the parts of the Gospels imposed on Jesus’ life by later Christians with the ones that capture authentic history, and his unsurprising conclusion is that whatever fits his thesis is historical.

THE GOLDEN-AGE BATMAN Vol. 6 pretty much continues the style and spirit of the previous volume which despite the increasing number of time-travel stories is, I think a good thing. We have more Joker and Penguin, the introduction of the Riddler and less well remembered villains such as the Gong and the Pied Piper (not the Flash foe, a criminal who uses pipes as an MO). There’s also the debut of Vicki Vale: having only known her as a rather annoying Lois Lane-clone who was either trying to marry Batman or unmask him (Lois at her best was much better than that) it was quite a surprise to see her in her first story as a determined photojournalist with no qualms about taking a risk to get the right photo. Among the standout stories are “The Case of the 48 Jokers” for how Batman and Robin wrap it up by playing practical jokes on the Joker, and “The Man With the Fatal Hands,” a clever riff on the old Hands of Orlac horror plot. I’ve already started volume #7.

#SFWApro. Batman cover by Dick Sprang; all rights to both cover images remain with current holders.

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Batman, a fake pirate, and a man on the run: movies

BATMAN AND BILL (2017) is a documentary by Marc Tyler Nobleman following up on his earlier book Bill the Boy Wonder. Like the book, it lays out the overwhelming evidence that Bill Finger deserved co-creator status on Batman (to say nothing of credit for such classic stories as the Joker’s debut, below), and that when fans began confronting Bob Kane with this, he made outraged denials (the success of Batman on TV is a particular sore spot as Kane’s percentage made him rich while Finger lived in lonely poverty). The documentary traces Nobleman’s efforts to track down an heir who could make a copyright claim for Finger, and eventually succeeded — the closing scene is Nobleman seeing Finger’s co-creator credit on Dawn of Justice. On the whole, better than the book. “This is a statement about Bill Finger as an unsung contributor by the man who’s most responsible for Finger not getting credit.”

I also caught BATMAN: The Scheme Is Sound, a 2019 tribute by the Parkview Elementary School Music Club to the 1966 TV show: Why does the Riddler kidnap a dishwasher heiress? What happens when Catwoman and Batman dance the Watusi? Who can save the Dynamic Duo from death by dishwasher? This was fun, though the actors playing the villains had  more to work with than the straight man roles of the heroes. “This adventure ended on a good note.”

THE PIRATE (1948) is my delayed double-bill to last week’s The Black Pirate as Gene Kelly’s swaggering bravo here is partly a riff on Douglas Fairbanks’ role in that earlier movie. Kelly plays Serafina, womanizing leader of a Caribbean circus troupe in the 1830s. He’s instantly smitten with Manuela (Judy Garland), a repressed, convent-raised girl about to marry her town’s stuffy mayor, Don Pedro. Serafina puts Manuela under hypnosis to get her to admit she loves him, but instead she reveals her fascination with the legendary pirate Black Macocco (“Mac the Black” is one of Cole Porter’s delightful songs added to the non-musical stage show this is based on). When Serafina realizes Don Pedro is Macocco, retired, he contrives to pose as the pirate and win Manuela, but of course that kind of imposture is just bound to go wrong … The leads are awesome, bounding with energy, as are the talented Nicholas Brothers in their one dance with Kelly (black entertainers were limited to numbers the studios could cut out for prints in the south) and the songs are fun. The romance should be unconvincing (there’s really no set up for Manuela falling for Serafina) but the stars make it work; however Serafina’s pursuit of Manuela has enough creepy overtones, it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. “Now that I’ve seen ya/Niña, Niña, Niña/I’ll have neurasthenia/until you are mine.”

THE 39 STEPS (1935) was Alfred Hitchcock’s very free adaptation of John Buchan’s same-name novel, a hit book which introduced Buchan’s series hero Richard Hanney (one of the forgotten adventurers covered in Clubland Heroes), but even Buchan admitted Hitchcock improved on the source. Robert Donat plays Hannay, temporarily staying in London; when a woman invites herself up to his apartment, he’s game, but then she reveals she’s part of a spy operation and staying with him to hide. Doesn’t work: she winds up knifed in the early morning and Hannay, realizing he’d be the prime suspect goes on the run. Can he clear his name? What is the secret of the “39 steps” and the man with no little finger? Will Madeline Carroll, who winds up dragged along with him, come to see that Hannay’s on the side of the angels?

It’s a first-rate film, superior to Hitch’s previous movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much. It’s also very much a model of the themes and tropes Hitchcock would play with for the rest of his career. The man falsely accused of a crime. Traveling hither and yon to bring the bad guy to justice (something that also happens in North by Northwest and Saboteur). The “McGuffin” behind all the espionage not really mattering — we know it’s something involving aviation, but the explanation is just a string of technobabble. The Hitchcock Romance argues that Hannay also undergoes a typical romantic/maturing arc for a Hitchcock protagonist. He starts out unattached — no permanent home, willing to have a casual liaison — and ends up happily restored to society and in love with Carroll.

#SFWAprof. All rights to images remain with current holders. Comics art by Jerry Robinson

 

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This week’s challenges: Sickness, snow and scheduling

The scheduling issue came up Sunday. I’ve been putting in three hours of writing on Sunday for a couple of months now as I get so wiped out at the end of the Monday-Friday work days. Three hours Sunday, I can stop earlier and give myself a little break before walking and feeding the dogs. But as my lunch breaks have been quite short this month — with Trixie’s leg, they aren’t getting long walks — so I figured I could skip Sunday, get my work done in the afternoons and still finish up before dinner walkies.

And I mostly did, but there much less of a break at the day’s end than I’d expected. Either Plush dog got a longer walk than usual or there was some other distraction I was dealing with on lunch hour. For example, Wisp demanding petting. Plus, I suspect the sickness that has me in its grip today was already dragging me down.Wisp, has by the way, been a constant companion on our short walks. I wish I could capture just snuggling with the dogs but Plushie sniffing her but is as close as I’ve managed so far.

Sickness has been a bigger problem. TYG caught a bug last week, probably by the usual transmission process of kids to parents, parents to coworkers, which means her. At first it didn’t seem like there’d be much of a problem, but the past couple of days I’ve had the inflammation and irritation in my throat I repeatedly get. I’m doing my best to stay relaxed not talk and talk all appropriate meds as I have some presentations to make at the end of next week (details will follow). I’d really, really like to be able to make them and losing my voice would make that impractical.

And of course, feeling sick does not do my writing any good. Today I just wiped out in the late morning, so I did this blog post and I’m calling it a day. Unless I revive in the afternoon; I’m not betting on it.

And then snow, of all things, descended on us (and the rest of Durham) yesterday. Given temperatures we thought it wouldn’t stick, but it has. Fortunately it looks like the roads are clear so we should be A-OK if we need to drive anywhere. And TYG picked up food Thursday morning, so that’s taken care of. As long as we take care walking the dogs, we should be fine.

Now as to work … I did my Leafs for the week, though in my depleted state they took much longer than they should have. I also drafted Impossible Takes a Little Longer up to Chapter 23, which was my goal for the month; I won’t have much time for fiction next week so that’s a win. I also worked on a first draft and got a big leap forward this morning when the bad guy finally emerged from my unconscious. I might have finished the draft today but … no. I might squeeze it in next week

I also tidied and footnoted the first section of Chapter Seven of Undead Sexist Cliches. It’s on sexual harassment so there’s no shortage of examples.

Wish me luck for a better next week. I have a lot I want to be in good health for.

#SFWApro. Photos are mine.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

A valentine’s day photo

Not of TYG, who’d rather I not expose her face online. But I saw a Valentine’s Day with a Plush-like dog on the front and I could resist, so here’s the card and the Plush one. He does look that excited sometimes, though it doesn’t show so well when he’s this furry.Valentine’s Day was good. Gifts in the morning, dinner in the evening at a local and very good Italian place. My gift was McVittie’s chocolate digestive biscuits (mmm); hers was that I picked up the cost of the meal. Which was excellent, and large enough I’ll be dining on my pizza for a couple of days.

And I still love TYG and if I had to marry her all over again, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine.

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The magic of writing

“Carole King called an extraordinary number of extraordinary things into being. She sat there one fine day in a world in which absolutely no one was doing the Loco-Motion —  a world in which, in fact, no one ever had done the Loco-Motion. And she declared “Everybody’s doing a brand-new dance now” and even though it wasn’t true or real when she first said it, her saying made it so. If that ain’t magic, it’s something close to it.” — Fred Clark.

That’s a pretty cool thought, and quite true. Writing changes the way we speak: nobody was called Romeo before Shakespeare, Scrooge before Dickens, Svengali before George du Maurier (in his novel Trilby). There were no robots except as a Czech word meaning worker, before Carel Kapek’s play RUR. Private detectives were not Sherlocks before Sherlock Holmes and money lenders were not Shylocks before Merchant of Venice gave us that anti-Semitic figure.

At this point, I doubt I’ll ever contribute anything quite so powerful to the written word or get anyone dancing a brand new dance (I did have someone approvingly quote a line of one of my stories once without realizing I was the author, which was cool). But I’m a line of work where it’s possible, and that’s pretty awesome.

#SFWApro.

 

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Nexus: more than “angsty Punisher in space”

While I haven’t finished the Nexus Omnibus collections completely, Nexus: Alien Justice makes such a good stopping place for the Mike Baron/Steve Rude series (the equivalent of a season ender on TV that could serve as a season ender), I figure I might as well give it an overview.

When the series (initially from Capital Comics, later from First) begins, Nexus is already infamous as a vigilante in the vast spacefaring universe of 500 years from now. There’s the Solar System, which is loosely united; assorted alien races and human colonies; and the repressive Sov empire, the result of Russia taking its communist dictatorship to the stars (when this series started in the early 1980s, it still seemed possible the Soviets would last that long). When Nexus enters one dictatorship’s airspace, the tyrant’s reaction is to have every possible ship and weapon deployed to stop him (they don’t) so it’s clear he’s serious business. Nexus channels fusion power from the heart of a star so he’s near unstoppable (emphasis on the near).

As we learn over the next few issues, Nexus is Horatio Hellpop, whose father was a Sov general ruling one outpost. When his overthrow became inevitable, he followed his duty and wiped out the entire planet, then fled with his wife to an isolated world to hide. After her death, Horatio goes up with his dad and two imaginary friends for company … but they’re not imaginary. They’re agents of the Merk, a cosmically powerful entity that eventually drives Horatio to kill his father by showing him visions of Dad’s ruthless past, then charging him with fusion power. It’s only the beginning: the Merk wants to fight evil, so it sends more dreams of evildoers to haunt Horatio until he kills them. Nexus is born.

On one of his first cases, Nexus kills the boss of a slave labor camp on Thune. The laborers point out that they’ll be blamed and executed so Horatio reluctantly takes them with him back to Ylum, the isolated world where he dwells (it’s linked to the Nexus). This becomes the beginning: Ylum draws more refugees and its development into a functioning democracy is a running plot through the series. Dave, one of the laborers, becomes Horatio’s closest friend. Then there’s Sundra Peale, a spy who eventually falls for Horatio and opens a business on Ylum; and Judah Maccabbee, Dave’s long-lost son, raised Jewish and modeling his role as an interplanetary trouble-shooter on Nexus.

What makes Nexus more than just a standard hardcore vigilante who kills bad guys is — well, several things, starting with Horatio. He’s not a violent man by nature, but the Merk’s torments make it hell for him to refuse a mission. He tries several times, but it doesn’t go well. Later, when the Merk dumps Horatio and appoints a new Nexus, the new man likes killing way too much (Horatio eventually regains his powers in Alien Justice but I didn’t buy it — it seemed he’d be happier to hang up his suit and stay retired). In one story Nexus kills a tyrant, which guarantees vicious reprisals against the oppressed — but Nexus isn’t willing to wipe out the entire government to save them, so what does he do?

There’s also a great supporting cast. Sundra. Dave. Judah. Tyrone, the put-upon leader of Ylum. Ursula who seduces Horatio to begat two girls with psionic power. The Loomis sisters, three young women PO’d Nexus executed their father.

And then there’s the backdrop. Much like Saga, this universe isn’t meant to be taken entirely seriously, as witness we have a cult of assassins known as the Gucci. But it works. There are weird races such as the Heads, disembodied psionics enslaved and used to channel fusion power and political conflict between Ylum (which is largely identified with Nexus) and some of the worlds where he deals death. Even when it’s not serious, it’s usually interesting.

There are some parts of the series that don’t work. Clonezone, a humanoid frog who’s also a chiseling opportunist, is never anything but annoying, but Baron and Rude gave him a backup strip for a while. I just skipped over those stories.

In the Alien Justice miniseries (after First Comics shut up shop and the original series ended), the Merk recruits multiple alternative Nexi without success. Fortunately a rival Merk, “GQ” (see what I mean about not serious?) recruits Horatio to stop them, with Sundra and Judah’s help. GQ then hauls the Merk back to their own plane and offers to power Horatio in his stead. Which like I said, I didn’t buy: with the Merk gone, I think Horatio would happily end his Nexus career and go on with his own life. But either way it represents a stopping point, even if it turned out the series didn’t stop.Despite that, the run of the series is well worth collecting and available in both hard and paperback omnibuses. I’ll be reviewing the remaining collections as I work through them.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Paul Gulacy, others by Steve Rude. All rights remain with current holder.

 

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