Category Archives: Writing

Second verse, same as the first

Which is to say, this week’s productivity wasn’t an improvement over last week, though the problems were different.

It started Friday night when we decided to keep Wisp in overnight. She doesn’t like being left downstairs by herself — she’s very wary about going upstairs — and around 12:30 her mewing for attention woke me up. I thought she wanted to go out, but no, she just wanted someone to sit with her. There was much petting and belly scritching, then she settled down and went to sleep on the couch cushion next to me. I, however, had no such luck. Sleep was shot for the night.

Sunday, more of the same, plus Plushie had the squirtles. TYG took him outside the first time, then I did, and then he and I settled in downstairs with Wisp. That would make it simpler if he had to go out yet again, which he did; after that, he went to sleep but again, I didn’t. And sleep Saturday and Sunday did not make up for the minimal night sleep. So I started Monday sleep-deprived and never made it up. The sense from last week that my mornings are too busy with pets and I have to get up extra early to get any work done didn’t help. The result was that I spent most of my week a little bit off peak condition.

That being the case, I pretty much dropped my initial plans and focused on the big stuff: more stuff watched for Alien Visitors, some minor formatting for Undead Sexist Cliches and finishing up Questionable Minds. Wednesday, despite all the distractions and lack of sleep, I was optimistic I’d have it done this week, but the last couple of chapter had problems. One was that a key scene involves a convenient oil lamp, but as the house is equipped with gas jets, there’s no real reason they’d have an oil lamp there. That proved relatively simple to fix, but then came the big finish where the bad guy buys it … and for some reason, it doesn’t work. I think I see a way to fix it, but it didn’t occur to me until too late today.

My schedule was also complicated because when Leaf articles were posted for writing it was at odd hours and moments. Normally I adapt to that pretty well but with my brain already foggy that didn’t go well. Still I got some done, and money coming in is always a good thing. And the dogs and Wisp are getting a little more relaxed about having each other around. Only a little, but it’s a good sign.#SFWApro.

 

 

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Filed under Nonfiction, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

I don’t think the black-eyed peas I ate New Years Day brought that much luck

Because my first work week of the New Year was kind of a mess. Still the hopping John was quite tasty

Monday went great, actually. I watched the 1953 and 2005 War of the Worlds for Alien Visitors and wrote a rough draft of the Alien Invaders chapter (Wells’ work and its adaptations will be the main focus). For the first time in a couple of months I seemed capable of organizing my thoughts, catching the key details of Alien Invader movies — it felt great! I also did another spell-check on Undead Sexist Cliches (good move — Word spellcheck caught a lot that Scrivener didn’t) and started rewriting an old short story, Love That Moves the Sun, to read to the writers’ group Tuesday. I’d thought a relatively cursory rewrite would get it in at least good enough shape for presenting, but I was wrong. About 2,000 words in I started seeing the need for substantial changes, but that’s actually good: I haven’t really had an idea how to fix this but maybe my brain’s coming up with something. Unfortunately part of the fix will be turning it into at least novella length — the ending doesn’t work and to reach one that does, I’ll need an expansion — and  I still  don’t know where it goes beyond the original story.

However, the response from the group on Tuesday was very positive, so I’m encouraged to keep working on it. I got the standard criticisms I always receive — needs more detail on the setting, things happen too damn fast — and they’re absolutely right. Slowing it down and filling in detail will improve it and perhaps somewhere in there I’ll see how to expand it successfully.

Tuesday I did some more Alien Visitors work. And then Wednesday the shit hit the fan. No, not Trump’s attempted coup, at least not at first. It was Plushie: he needs heat applied to his hip joint every day, and we’ve started doing it in the morning so we don’t let it slide (he gets painfully stiff if we skip it for a few days). Coupled with other dog stuff and coping with Wisp, I wound up starting work about 90 minutes late, which put me off my game for much of the day. I’d intended to make up the time in the evening, but then I heard about the attack on Congress and spent the rest of the afternoon on into the evening doomposting. And not the fun Doom either.

Thursday and Friday I did more doomposting. And I had either Wisp or Trixie down with me in the early morning. That’s the only time I really feel is private, because nobody’s up; normally I can adapt when pets intrude (I won’t send them away) but this time I was stressed enough that petting and watching over them became like chaff in my brain. And then Thursday afternoon we had an appointment at the rehab vet.

Today I did a little better with Wisp lying next to me. But then TYG was doing something techie and I had to get off the Internet for an hour and help her with grunt work, so that cost an hour, plus I was hardly focused when the Internet came back up. So since Tuesday all I’ve done is a small number of Leaf articles.

Frustrating, but hopefully the hopping John will kick in after this.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Kirby, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

What rough year slouches towards Bethlehem, ready to be born?

Welcome to 2021. While I can imagine all kinds of ways in which it could be worse for me than last year, I’m nonetheless feeling hopeful that it’ll be better. And that I’ll do better with my goals, particularly writing goals. I’ve run over what worked and what hasn’t worked, plus what has to work (Alien Invaders is due in October, so I’d better be ready). I’m probably still a little optimistic, but not unattainably so. But I’m making hopping John today because Southern tradition says that brings in the good luck. And it’ll be tasty, so why not?

The two immediate goals are to self-publish Undead Sexist Cliches and Questionable Minds. Deadline: My birthday. It’s doable (the one big obstacle might be indexing USC) assuming my cover artist for the novel delivers and I can find a cover artist for USC. Later in the year, I’ll publish a short story collection, Magic Through History, with a mix of published and unpublished shorts. Though I will be submitting the unpublished stuff so it’s possible some of them will be off the table.

I want to finish three short stories — okay, I’d like to finish more than that, but I think that’s doable. That includes finishing Oh the Places You’ll Go! and rewriting my first published story, The Adventures of the Red Leech (which I wrote about here last year).

I want to finish my new draft of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, submit it to beta readers and finish a redraft based on their suggestions. That’s the schedule where I’m really pushing it, but I enjoy writing novels and I want to push on this so why not?

I also have odds and ends: try making YouTube videos, earn at least $20,000, prepare my “writing estate” (so TYG knows what I have out and where the rights are tied up) and pitch several articles and columns. I haven’t had much luck with either (outside of my Leaf articles) but it’s worth a shot, and I have some ideas that might sell.

In the personal field, I want to make my exercise schedule more demanding, and improve my diet: not that it’s massively unhealthy but upping my fruit and vegetable intake can’t hurt. I want to bicycle as much as two hours at least once, and walk six miles at some point, both of which are beyond my current range. I’m planning carefully so that I can (hopefully) work up to that level of intensity.

And there’s a bunch of activities and goals that apply if and when it’s safe to walk outside and mingle with people again. Hopefully not too long.

I want to increase my reading; obviously I read a lot already, but there’s so much to read and there’s more books I can squeeze in if I focus better (with dogs and Wisp, it’s sometimes hard). I also plan to keep improving my photography, just because it’s fun. As a token of which, here’s a recent image from a late night walk.I wish y’all the best for 2021. Let’s roll.

#SFWApro.

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

2020: not my most productive year

And I can’t even blame the pandemic: after all, I was working at home long before the Trump Virus made it a life-saving option. TYG working from home has in some ways made my work easier, as I don’t have dogs all day. I do, however, get randomly called to take over dog-car for her when she gets busy or Plushie gets fidgety, but it’s still mostly a win.

Nevertheless, I didn’t get anywhere near as much done as I’d anticipated. Partly that’s because pandemic stress did slow me down the first two or three months. Plus Undead Sexist Cliches took much more time to complete than I’d planned (Which is typical. Nonfiction always eats into my fiction-writing time). Redrafting Impossible Takes a Little Longer did too — so much more that I didn’t get beyond four chapters in, though they’re much better chapters. I finished two short stories, submitted shorts 27 times, and sold three (two of them reprints), none of which met my goals. And I fell just a few hundred dollars short of my income goal for the year, due to Leaf work stopping in early December. But I did finish Undead Sexist Cliches, and I’m almost done with Questionable Minds; I’d wanted them finished and published, but I’m still pleased to know they will be done soon.

Plans for travel and for local social events didn’t happen, obviously. Neither did a lot of my personal goals for doing stuff with TYG: she had some ultra-demanding personal projects going on the first couple of months of 2020 and by the time they wrapped up, we were hunkering down at home. The brightest spot of the year for us, though, was her working from home and discovering she not only liked it, she could be more productive even when dealing with dogs. So she’s not going back. It’s much less stress for her, no time spent driving to work, and having added help with the dogs is easier for me.

I donated more money this year, and contributed regularly to a local food bank. Didn’t do as much to contribute to the commonweal as I’d intended to, even so; I’ll work on doing more in 2021.

Wisp was a big success. She’s gone from occasionally coming in the door to eat and get petting to coming in and snuggling on the couch. Last weekend we brought her in late in the evening and left her downstairs all night; I wasn’t sure she’d be happy with that, but it turned out fine. We’re still some ways from making her a permanent indoor cat (we’d like to do that — much safer for the birds) but maybe it’s not as impossible as I was starting to think. In any case, she’s definitely part of our family now: like Plushie and Trixie she has her own Christmas ornament.

And I did accomplish two personal goals. In 2019 I got out of the habit of baking bread regularly so I set myself a goal for 2020 of baking at least twice a month (including muffins and scones). I succeeded. And for the first time since moving up here—okay, and a long time before that—I cleared all the new books out of my to be read shelf. Yes, I know, that just means I’m not buying enough books, but seriously, having a book sit on my shelves for three years before I get to it just annoys me. We’ll see if I can keep up in 2021. Total books read, 214, if you’re wondering, including about 40 percent graphic novels.

Despite the disappointments—all those submissions and only one new story sold?—this was overall a good year for me. Even with all the things I missed, like visiting my family and friends in Florida, it turns out TYG, writing and our pets can keep me pretty happy.

Still I’m ready for the vaccine, though it’ll be a while before TYG or I get a dose. Ready for Trump to be gone. Ready for 2021.

#SFWApro.

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

A short week because Christmas!

And Christmas Eve, which I’m taking off.

My big push this week was with Questionable Minds. If I could finish the final draft of the book this month, that would feel great, and as noted last week, I’m most of the way there.However this proved tougher than expected. I finished the week with about 40 pages left and it’s slow-going. Everything is coming to a head, there’s constant action, betrayals, impersonations, and I keep finding scenes or actions, or decisions that don’t make sense. For example, Simon deducing the bad guy’s master plan hinged on something I must have cut out of the book because it isn’t there now. Easy to fix, but I keep stumbling across other details like that.

I also need to slow things down a little. Rereading, it’s slam-bang, constant action which is a good thing up to a point, but I suspect I passed the point. A standard complaint when my writing group beta-reads my stuff is that I don’t give readers a chance to breathe, or to absorb what’s happening; while I can’t slow down too much I’ll do what I can. There’s also a couple of abrupt transitions and some lack of description in spots. I’m happy to say I did a much better job on Southern Discomfort so apparently I’m capable of learning and improving.

I have read all the way to the finish, red-inking (okay, black-inking, my red pen died) wherever necessary. But a lot of that is just “fix this” or “need to set this up earlier” notes so there’s still a lot of work. Maybe I can make all the changes next week, but my gut says it’s better not to push it. So I’ll see how I do without pushing.

Wisp came in a lot this week but she doesn’t seem ready to become an indoor cat. Either Plushie or Trixie startle her, or there’s a noise, or she just decides she wants out. I’ve considered not letting her and seeing if she’ll settle down, but I keep thinking it’s better if she knows she can come in or out as she chooses. The most inconvenient is when she wants to go out, feels the cold outside and sits in the doorway debating. Hey, she’s a cat.

Here she is resting her head on my leg one morning.Here’s Plushie resting his head on me, mostly because he’s pleading for an early lunch.And here’s Trixie, looking quite leonine (neither dog has been to the groomers since the pandemic started).#SFWApro.

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Filed under Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Three-quarters there!

So with Undead Sexist Cliches proofed, this week I had a lot more time to focus on proofing my steampunk novel, Questionable Minds. Today I did some math and realized I’m slightly past the 75 percent done mark. That’s a wonderful surprise. I’ve been so focused on what I haven’t gotten done, it’s a real thrill to know I have, in fact, made serious progress. I don’t expect to have it done this year, but maybe January?

On the downside, I didn’t get much done on Alien Visitors. One movie watched (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers). Rough drafts of a couple of chapters. I think part of the problem focusing is that it’s not as encyclopedic as The Wizard of Oz Catalog or Now and Then We Time Travel. Covering everything is a simple concept (though McFarland was probably right that this topic is too big); covering specific topics with just one or two sample films is a good deal harder. How many films do I need to watch to get a feel for a given subgenre? Which is the right film? However I have a deadline in nine months, which should give me an incentive to figure it out ASAP.

Oh, and I ran Undead Sexist Cliches through the Scrivener spellcheck, caught a few more errors.

I think I’d have been more productive but it was another week where TYG’s schedule got crazy and that affected mine, as always. But hey, 75 percent ain’t nothing. I’m feeling good.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

The story behind the story: Rabbits Indignateonem

So my flash fiction story, Rabbits Indignateonem — “Rabbit Wrath” more or less — is out at Flash in a Flash. I can’t provide a link because the stories go out by email and I didn’t realize that in time to alert y’all. However, Flash will republish it in an anthology so I’ll alert everyone when that’s available. And in the meantime, here’s the usual story of how it came to be written.

Just as my Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Clown (available in Atlas Shagged) was inspired by Jorge Luis Borges,  so this story began with a throwaway line from another of my favorite authors, Diana Wynne Jones. The father of the protagonist in her novel Archer’s Goon is a writer whose daily writing exercise — one thousand words on any topic — becomes vitally important to a clan of wizards. As they harass the family repeatedly, he starts turning out ridiculous stories to meet the quota, one of which was titled “The Day the Rabbits Started Eating People.” Jones doesn’t offer any details about the story, but the title intrigued me. Hmm, I said, what if rabbits did turn carnivore  …

My early drafts, as much as I can remember them, involved a family holing up as the rabbits attacked. The almost-final draft was much different. It focuses on Steve, a corporate drone, who’s desperate to close a big sale. As Steve’s refining his pitch, one of his coworkers insists on showing him a YouTube video where a rabbit bites off a human’s fingers; he dismisses it as a fake (yes, there’s a Monty Python reference) and heads off to the meeting. He ignores all the evidence that it’s not a fake until it’s too late …

It had a lot of amusing elements, I think, but it lacked a satisfactory finish. After trying without success to come up with something, I showed it to my friend Cindy Holbrook, who suggested it needed a little more heart. Based on her suggestions, I eventually revised it to its current form. Now Steve’s torn: he’s falling behind at work, not making quota, he hates missing his little girl’s birthday party but dammit, he’s got a job to do! And over the course of a thousand words — well, click on the link and you’ll see.

#SFWApro.

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This week EVERYTHING ate my homework

But let’s start with the good stuff, shall we. As of this morning, my redraft of Undead Sexist Cliches is finished.

It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but this is a huge deal. I’ve been working on this for so long and it’s become so much bigger than I’d planned, and now the heavy lifting part is done. There’s still work to do: spell check, getting cover art, writing cover copy, formatting the book, but it’s all trivial by comparison. The book will be out, not this year obviously, but by spring. It’s going to happen. Woot.

And with one big project off the table, I can start work on some others in 2021. Looking forward to doing fiction again.

That said, this week’s schedule was quite a mess. TYG was up very late on Sunday. Monday morning I wound up moving from petting Wisp in the early morning to sitting with the dogs so TYG could catch up on sleep. With non-stop pets I had no chance to meditate, stretch out, exercise or practice Alexander technique. I felt stiff all day. Monday night, for some reason, it took me forever to fall asleep, which is abnormal — I don’t always stay asleep long, but I’m usually out once my head hits the pillow. Instead I got up, eventually caught a small bit of sleep, got up again. Did not leave me in great shape during the day. Wednesday, Plushie and Trixie both wanted loooong lunch walks. Thursday, I had to give them both morning walks. Today we had a re-evaluation for Trixie’s leg — making progress, but still not as good as it should be (solution: more drugs, possibly added therapy). That took around 2.5 hours in the middle of the day; even though a lot of that would have been lunch time, it still threw me off my game when I got home.

So outside of a couple of movies for Alien Visitors and some research reading, Undead Sexist Cliches was about all I worked on. But at least that work paid off. Next week, with only light work on that book, I can get back to Questionable Minds and Alien Visitors. Not a bad Christmas present.

To celebrate, here’s a cute cover by Sheldon Meyer—And one by Billy Graham (no, not the preacher). Nothing says Christmas like Luke Cage trying to save the world from nuclear terrorism, am I right?#SFWApro. All rights to cover images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Nonfiction, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

This is probably not safe behavior

For Wisp, that is. When she follows us, sometimes she’ll just lie out in the street like this. Cars come; she just stays there and double-dares them. Fortunately the drivers either navigate around her or they go slow enough she can get up. And I usually try to chivvy her to safety. Still, given she’s survived at least three years on her own, I would have assumed she had better sense about cars.

On the plus side, she came in for breakfast every morning this week. I turn the back door lock, she comes out of the heated shelter we have on the deck. She eats, then she usually sleeps on the couch next to me, and eventually up and leaves. This throws off my morning schedule because when I exercise she freaks out; at first I tried doing it later in the day, but that’s inconvenient. Today I woke up early and tried a different solution: meditation, stretching and exercise, only the inviting Wisp in. It worked better. I’ll try that again.

My goals for November — I’ve no idea. Very unusually for me I lost track, so I don’t really know how I performed. As there’s no rewards or anything attached, it doesn’t really matter but I do take pride in reviewing my progress. I think the miasma has lifted though.

And I did have a productive week. My Leaf quota. Proofing through most of Chapter Eight (abortion and birth control) in Undead Sexist Cliches. A few chapters of Questionable Minds edited and almost all of the book marked up in red pen (a lot of the marks are just “fix this” so it’s not really edited yet). No writing done on Alien Visitors but a couple of movies and some TV watched.

TYG had to take Plushie into the vet Tuesday when he seemed to have trouble walking. Turns out we have not been doing our share of home rehab (heat to his hips and massage) so despite the laser treatment, his muscles have been stiffening a little. We applied the heat treatment today and yesterday and it seems to perk him up. He’s not enthused about sitting there, but with enough petting and cuddles we can make him do it. So we shall!

#SFWApro.

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Filed under Nonfiction, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

First do no harm: Star Trek’s Prime Directive

Star Trek‘s Prime Directive is a nice moral statement but a pain in the butt when it came to actually writing episodes.

The Prime Directive, as every Trekkie knows, is the rule that the Federation and its starships don’t interfere with cultures that have not achieved spaceflight. No intervening in them politically or changing their natural course of development. No giving them signs that life exists beyond their world, such as showing advanced tech or evidence of alien life. This is so fundamental, if it’s choice between saving your ship, your crew and yourself and breaking the Prime Directive, a starship captain should choose death before dishonor.

I’ve read this was partly a pushback against the Vietnam War. During the Eisenhower presidency the U.S. had supported the French colonial regime to stop the Vietnamese independence movement — communist oriented, therefore the bad guys — from winning. Eventually the country divided into two parts, North and South Vietnam, with elections to follow; as it was obvious the revolutionaries would win, the U.S. and its allies refused to let elections happen. Instead, we provided military support for South Vietnam, then eventually committed our own troops. It was a major scar and influence on U.S. society at the time, and increasing numbers of people went anti-war (you can read Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam for an excellent history of the nation and the war).

Vietnam wasn’t a unique screw-up. We overthrew lots of democratic governments in the 20th century — El Salvador, Guatemala, Iran, Chile — because we didn’t like who the people voted for. While we saw ourselves as the champion of freedom against tyranny, all too often we went in the other direction. And as David Rieff says in A Bed for the Night, any attempt at a humanitarian military intervention is a contradiction in terms: military force isn’t humanitarian in nature. As in a lot of things, I think the part of the Hippocratic Oath that says “first, do no harm” might be good advice for us.

In practice, though, the rule was a mess. If we go by the Prime Directive, Kirk had no right to challenge the Landru-computer’s control of its world in Return of the Archons, or to take down Vaal in The Apple. Indeed, the latter story seems like a textbook example — Vaal’s control of his people is totalitarian, but it does apparently keep them at peace, happy and immortal. Will destroying Vaal improve things? Will shutting down the war computers in A Taste of Armageddon actually end the nightmare war, or will they go fully nuclear? As a kid, these episodes worked fine; as an adult I wonder if Kirk has not, in fact, done harm.

Of course not intervening is the opposite of how we expect heroes to work. When good guys stumble into a tyrannical society, fictional convention says they’re supposed to liberate the people, not turn a blind eye. That can, of course, make for dramatic tension, but it could obviously turn a lot of people off: what if the Enterprise crew doesn’t intervene at all to affect the repressive caste system of The Cloud Minders?

There have been multiple expansions and explanations of the details of the directive to handle all the contradictions and try to rationalize it. Ultimately it’s an interesting idea but very awkward, perhaps unworkable, in practice.

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

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