Category Archives: Writing

Copyright vs. Hollywood, Ronan Farrow vs. National Enquirer and other writing links

Wow. Copyright law may allow the writers behind Terminator and multiple other movies to regain the rights to their work, which could have a big impact on sequels and remakes. Hollywood Reporter has a close-up on the Friday the 13th case.

Are the allegations of pedophilia against Arthur C. Clarke solid enough that the Clarke Award should change its name?

Dylan Howard, former top editor at the National Enquirer, is not only threatening to sue Ronan Farrow’s publisher over an upcoming book on the magazine, but to sue bookstores that carry it.

A George Carlin clip has him explaining that while he supports the right of comedians to say racist sexist jokes, he thinks they’re wrong.

Another article on the perennial question of how we deal with good art by bad people.

“For visual reference, he put up a giant image of a basketball stadium packed with 20,000 people. ‘Like, in what world is this not enough?’ he sputtered. ‘I don’t understand! What systems have we built where this is insufficient for a person to make a living?'” A look at Patreon and whether it really helps creators struggling to earn income in the digital world.

File 770 discusses false allegations of digital piracy.

Laurie Penny discusses the importance of fanfiction to women, nerds and minorities.

In the wake of SNL firing Shane Gillis over past racist jokes, some comedians, inevitably, complain Political Correctness is stifling comedy. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suggests we ask three questions: how old are the incidents? Has the person changed their attitude? How sincere was their apology? He does not think Gillis’ apology (“I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss.”) hits the mark (“This statement is distilled from every reality show ever.”).

And speaking of putting things in context, blackface did not suddenly start becoming offensive in this century.

Writer Stacie Ramey discusses a lifetime of being othered for being Jewish. Including in the publishing industry (“a few of my friends attempted to join that diversity movement and were told that Jews are not marginalized because we are largely successful.”).

Some male fans have had fits about Rose Tico of the Star Wars films being a hero alongside the guys. Is it coincidence that she’s been removed from Rise of Skywalker merchandise?

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Seize the day! Download this book!

Strange Economics, the anthology including my The Grass Is Always Greener, is temporarily free for Kindle download. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but it’s a good anthology, even aside from the awesome genius of my work (no false modesty here!). Give it a shot.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jonathan Maurin, all rights remain with current holder.

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Teeth, lack of sleep, contractors — I hit the trifecta again!

So early Saturday morning, some time between 1 am and 2, TYG shifted into bed into Trixie’s sleeping space. Trixie, rather than just move a little ways, got off the bed, ran around to my side and tapped me to move so she could jump up. I woke, settled her on the bed … and found I’d been too thoroughly awakened to get back to sleep.

Sunday morning, Trixie decided she wanted to go out. Turns out she didn’t need to go, she just wanted to explore (this happens every so often). Again, sleep denied.

Sunday evening, we dropped in on our neighbor for a puppy play date and a glass of wine. The wine apparently messed up my sleep rhythms (which I was aware might be a problem) and I got almost no sleep.

Combined, that left me with a sleep deficit I haven’t quite made up until today. My work was correspondingly … uninspired.

Then on Thursday I had a follow-up dental appointment to replace my temporary crown with a permanent one. I showed up, got my mouth numbed … then it turned out the lab had made a misaligned crown so we had to cancel. That was a waste of potentially productive time, and I’ll still have to go back for my next appointment.

That afternoon I had to spend a couple of hours dealing with a contractor for some upgrades to TYG’s bathroom (new shelf, new small mirror).

I managed to squeeze out one redraft of Bleeding Blue that doesn’t come near enough to fixing the problems (I’m scheduled to read at one of the next two writers’ group meetings, so I want it at least a little more polished). I posted about cool book covers on Atomic Junkshop. And I got a fair amount done on Sexist Myths. But by and large, I felt kind of like the guy on the cover below.

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

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

Yes, and …

While I wasn’t a fan of the Kamandi Challenge round-robin limited series, one or two of the text page discussions stuck with me. Most notably Greg Pak discussing the old improv phrase, “yes, and.”

 

The point of the phrase is that in improv, you don’t reject whatever weirdness the other performers throw at you, you accept it, then build on it. Say yes, then add “and …” That forces you to go up, instead of down. My Mum made a similar point about theater (she was an awesome community theater director): if one actor’s going so big they overshadow the rest of the cast, you don’t want to damp them down, you want everyone else to go up and match them.

I think that’s good advice for writing too. Don’t just stop at “well, that’s a good idea.” Where does it lead us? What does it lead us to? What could it lead to?

For an example, there’s the Chip and Dales Rescue Rangers episode, A Case of Stage Blight. Sewernose de Bergerac is an alligator who lives in the sewers under an opera house. Growing up there after his owner flushed him down a toilet, he’s fascinated by show biz and dreams of performing on stage. The Rescue Rangers run up against him when he kidnaps the lead in the current production to take his place.

Which is weird, in a good way. But they don’t stop there. Sewernose also has two hand puppets, Euripedes and Voltaire, who alternate between giving him pep talks and critiquing his performance. It takes a wild idea and makes it several times wilder.

As does the H. Rider Haggard/Andrew Lang The World’s Desire. We start with Odysseus hunting Helen of Troy in Egypt, then the authors pile on a reincarnate love triangle and the Ten Plagues of Egypt taking place in the background. It creates a truly wild result.

Or Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run, which just piles weirdness on weirdness.

Of course, improv is a lot more forgiving if “yes and” leads us to the wrong place than readers will be. But unlike improv, we can go back and rewrite when that happens. So what’s to lose?

#SFWApro. Image by Jack Kirby (top), covers by Vincent diFate (middle) and Mike Sekowsky. All rights remain with current holders.

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Undead sexist cliches: “Women never do anything for political reasons”

If I remember correctly, I ran across that phrase in Marjorie Rosen’s Popcorn Venus. Rosen’s point (or whoever, if I’m misremembering) was that in movies, men fight for ideal (or power), women fight for men, or for ideals if men share them.

In Adventures of Robin Hood, for example, Errol Flynn’s Robin opens Maid Marian’s (Olivia de Haviland) eyes to the injustice King John and Guy of Gisborne are wreaking on the Saxons. She’s inspired, but it’s in large part by her love for Robin. In Casablanca, Victor Lazlo’s the idealist, Rick’s an idealist who needs to regain his ideals, Ilsa takes her cue from the men. She goes off to support Victor’s fight against the Axis because Rick told her it was the right thing to do.

In more recent times we have the Helen Slater Supergirl film, wherein her clash with Faye Dunaway comes off less about Faye Dunaway’s plans for world conquest and more about which of them gets to cuddle with hunky Hart Bochner. Or Paycheck, in which Ben Affleck is out to stop Aaron Eckhart’s evil plans, Uma Thurman is out to love Affleck. She’s willing to fight, but only because she’s supporting her man.

Heather Greene’s Bell, Book and Camera makes the same point about witches. Male film witches are out for power (e.g., Julian Sands in Warlock); female witches’ endgame is love (Bell, Book and Candle or I Married a Witch for example).

And as writer Shannon Thompson says, female villains are often defined by wanting the same guy as the protagonist: “When girls get antagonistic roles at all, it is usually as the dreaded other woman. She’s the soulless, vicious, popular harpy you love to hate, prepackaged in the designer clothes you’ve always wanted (but you’d never admit it), and she is on her way to steal your man.”  Of course, a lot of villains are out to get the girl, but it’s never just about the girl. Conrad Veidt in Thief of Baghdad is in love with the same princess as the hero, but he’s about getting power, too. Ditto Guy of Gisborne in the Flynn Robin Hood.

Or consider DC in the Silver Age, when Supergirl and Wonder Woman got saddles with lots of romance-comics tropes in the hopes of bringing in more female readers. Sure, Supergirl saves the world but what good is that if you don’t have a date?

I do think things have improved since Popcorn Venus came out 50 years or so ago. We have more women soldiers, more women PIs and cops, more female superheroes, and I see more of them whose motives do not revolve around the man in their lives, if there even is one. Even back in the 1940s, we had Wonder Woman, and C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry. The CW’s Supergirl fights for truth, justice and the American way, not for a boyfriend, even though romance plays a role in the series.

This is a good thing.

#SFWApro. Supergirl cover by Bob Oksner, rights to all images remain with current holders.

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I hadn’t planned on a three-day week

I’d thought maybe a four day. Trixie had to go in for a dental cleaning yesterday, which threw my schedule off enough (not only trips to and from the vet, but wanting to cuddle her once she made it home) I figured maybe I’d take the day off and clean. But I also started to feel run down; I’m not sure if it’s due to a bug or allergies (they don’t usually get this bad up here, as opposed to Florida, but once in a while …) butI started to feel tired yesterday (though I did get some major cleaning done) and wiped out today. So no work. Though I take some comfort that my reaction was “darn it, I was going to be creative!” rather than “yay, vacation!”

Plus Trixie got up very early to poop a couple of nights, so I had to take her out and got little sleep after that. Happily it seems to have passed.

So what did I get done? Well, a lot of work browsing through various books with information for Sexist Myths, and adding it to the manuscript. I’d hoped to over the early chapters and straighten out the footnotes (I haven’t kept up with the constant addition of data) but still, I think the book’s coming along well.

I rewrote most of Bleeding Blue. I plan to be reading at one of the upcoming writer’s group meetings so I wanted one, or preferably two rewrites first. That would have been a major part of today’s work.  And after thinking about Oh, the Places You’ll Go last week, I started on a rewrite. Didn’t get far, though.

On the bright side, I was able to apply Wisp’s topical anti-flea meds this week. The vet told me it would be easy (and it’s only once every three months) but I had my doubts. She was right though. And Wisp has been very friendly, asking for pets and catching Trixie to rub up against her when we go out. So here are some photos.

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Sherlock Holmes: “The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.”

Once again it’s time for seeing how a Sherlock Holmes quote applies to writing. With this line from Sign of Four I think Holmes is letting his ego get in the way.

The quote was his review of Watson’s first published account of Holmes’ exploits, A Study in Scarlet. Holmes grumbles the story should have been little more than a true-crime monograph, showcasing Holmes’ deductive genius. Instead Watson drags in all those dramatic, emotional details to make an entertaining yarn, thereby muddying the sublimity of Holmes’ intellect.

Though supremely egotistical, Holmes was, of course, as brilliant as he thinks he is. But he’s dead wrong. It’s the emotional stuff in Watson’s stories that makes them stand out: his banter with Holmes, Holmes’ own arrogance, quirkiness and intense emotional drive, the plight of the clients at finding themselves inexplicably imperiled. The logical stuff is secondary. Jacques Futrelle’s Augustus Van Dusen, AKA “The Thinking Machine” was a titan of logic, but that’s all he is; he’s devoid of any of Holmes’ passion or personality. Futrelle’s mysteries are fun to read, but they don’t stick with me the way Doyles’ do. Neither do the excellent Dr. Thorndyke mysteries of R. Austin Freeman or the mediocre Martin Hewitt mysteries by Arthur Morrison (Hewitt and his sidekick are exceptionally bland).

That’s not to say that clear reasoning isn’t important. To write the best stories we can, we have to apply reasoning to the plot, the characters and the editing. Even if people’s reactions are irrational, they have to make sense. The ordinary character who confronts supernatural horror or tries to solve a mystery needs a very good reason for sticking their neck out. Nobody should do something stupid just because the plot needs it; I’ve seen more than one story where a careful, calculating villain becomes inept and ineffective when they have to kill the hero. Or the romance has no motivation beyond “they’re the protagonists, they should get together.”

But the emotional quality of the story probably hooks readers more than story logic. If we care about the characters, that’s a plus. Or if we don’t but the story makes us feel strongly anyway: Lovecraft’s protagonists aren’t particularly engaging, but his best work conveys a definite feeling of horror.

As for Holmes, it’s possible that underneath his indignant dismissal, he was happier with Watson’s work than he admits. Holmes usually let the detective on the case take credit in the papers; Watson’s stories must have been excellent publicity for Holmes’ business in the early years. Holmes periodically recommended one story or another as suitable for Watson to adapt. The stories undoubtedly grew Holmes’ legend (they had to be at least as popular in-story as in reality) and his ego could hardly have objected to that.

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Thank heaven for little girls? I don’t know ..

Honest to god, it has been a long time since I thought of thirteen year olds as romantic figures. Not since maybe, I was fifteen? Which made rereading James H. Schmitz’s The Witches of Karres a little odd.

Not that there’s any statutory rape or inappropriate thoughts about the relationship between the book’s adult hero, Captain Pausert, and his psionic “witch” sidekick, Goth, who’s thirteen at most. Or even any romance on Pausert’s side. But early on, Goth informs him that they’re going to get married when she’s of age (sixteen for the people of Karres) and it’s quite obvious yes, that will happen eventually. And before that, when Goth’s fourteen-year-old sister Maleen says she’ll marry Pausert (she’s not sincere), Pausert gives this serious thought (Maleen’s a lot prettier than Goth).

As a general rule, I’m not much bothered by age differences in real life and not necessarily in fiction. Once you get into adult/teen stuff, it gets a little … well, not so much squicky as just unconvincing. Pausert’s at least in his early twenties’ marrying a sixteen-year-old does not seem like the best option. It wouldn’t have struck me as odd when I first read it because I’d have been around thirteen, and so a thirteen-year-old romantic interest wouldn’t have seemed strange (that it would be weird for an older male protagonist didn’t concern me). Now, though, that age gap leaps out at me when I see it. And that a lot of creators apparently do think it’s sexy or romantic.

For example, George Lucas thought Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark could have been 11 or 12 when Indie, in his twenties, deflowered her. A plotline in Steve Englehart’s run on Green Lantern involved the teenage alien Arisia using the power ring to mature herself physically so she’s old enough to be Hal Jordan’s girlfriend. A run of Dr. Fate in the 1980s has a ten-year-old boy magically matured and becoming involved with his stepmom (even given they turn out to be reincarnates who’ve been together in countless lifetimes). The Storm miniseries has her losing her virginity to T’Challa when she’s twelve (even given he’s only a few years older that’s way too young to portray as a romantic moment). In some of Fritz Leiber’s later stories of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser his heroes’ interest in nubile young girls has a very dirty old man vibe to it. Schmitz comes off pretty good by contrast; like I said, Pausert isn’t into Goth and writes her interest off as a teenage crush. But it still struck me as odd (even given we’re little more than a century from when the age of consent was 10).

I’m less bothered by older teen/adult romance (not so much the legal issues of age of consent as whether it feels like the kid’s old enough to be in a relationship), depending how its handled. For example if it’s a prime-time soap where everyone’s banging everyone. Or where immortals are involved; once you hit a hundred, let alone 1,000 years, why would you care about a few years either way? And I’ve read stories where yes, they made me believe the relationship was true love.

My age definitely influences my perception of this, but I’m not sure whether it makes me see more truthfully, or less.

#SFWApro. Cover by Kurt Miller, all rights remain with current holder.

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What a change: Spider-Man … No More!

So last year, after rereading the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man run, I started the Stan Lee/John Romita era that came afterwards. While I prefer Ditko, it wasn’t until Romita took over the art that Spider-Man became Marvel’s biggest hit. Reading Spider-Man: Spider-Man No More confirms that I prefer Ditko but it’s interesting to see how things changed.

One big change was that John Romita sexed things up. The Lee/Ditko relationship between Betty Brant and Peter Parker (the big romance of the early years) was so chaste I frankly wondered if they were just good friends. Romita had been drawing romance comics for years; he knew how to make his leads look sexy, he had a stronger sense of cool-looking fashion that Ditko (whose style sense, even in the 1970s, seemed stuck in the 1950s) and there was just more sizzle to the relationships, with more of a romance comics vibe to the stories. Peter himself gets to be a little cooler: he moves out of Aunt May’s house and in with his friend Harry Osborn, gets a motorcycle and finds himself torn between the flamboyant Mary Jane and the sexy, but less wild Gwen. Gwen was much more Stan Lee’s style of love interest, sweet and (once they got together) devoted to Peter; it was later writers who deepened MJ’s character and made her Peter’s definitive love interest.

That’s not to say the stories were lacking in action. The Romita/Lee era continued to add new villains, including the Rhino (seen on ASM #43 here), the Kingpin, a new Vulture and Jonah’s son John, who became a hulking brute temporarily. The hulking part is significant: Lee/Romita went much heavier for big, burly villains. Even the Kingpin’s presented as a mass of muscle, as dangerous a physical threat as he is by virtue of running the underworld

Stan Lee’s flair for melodrama didn’t fail him during this period. Frederick Foswell, a supporting character for years, returns to crime but redeems himself by dying to save Jameson. In #50, Peter finally resolves to walk away from his life as Spider-Man, live normally, find happiness. He’s Spider-Man … No More! But in the end he realizes he can’t do it; Uncle Ben died because of his neglect, he won’t let that happen again.

Lee’s dialogue get a lot snappier among the supporting cast, as if to keep up with Romita’s hipper visual rendition. That sometimes felt a little forced, but I didn’t find it so as a kid (of course I didn’t find Teen Titans’ swinging dialog silly either). And the melodrama often felt melodramatic and overdone, which it didn’t when Lee was with Ditko. That may reflect that by the end of this TPB, it’s 1967, Marvel’s line was expanding and Lee had a lot more to write.

So I’m not sure if I’ll get the next collection any time soon. But I did enjoy reading this one.
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A cute photo of a puppy, then my week in review.

Here’s the puppy, a corgi I met at Petco last weekend:

Now, the week. It’s part of a two week stretch with no Leaf to write, and it went well, despite the dental visit Tuesday and some extra dog-walking.

I submitted three stories to various markets.

I found an artist (my friend Samantha Collins) for the cover of my soon-to-be-self-published Questionable Minds.

I heavily reworked Chapter Three and Four in Sexist Myths (I’m also considering Lies That Sexists Tell as an alternative title), lumping “Feminists hate men” and “feminists won’t let men be chivalrous heroes” into one chapter (the latter was my original chapter four) and other “feminists destroy society/families/the government” in another. I think it works. However Chapter Four (feminists destroying stuff) needs a lot more information and examples than I’ve provided so far. Doable, but it’ll take work.

I didn’t get as much fiction done as I’d hoped, but I got quite a bit. I reworked The Schloss and the Switchblade yet again before submitting it to a movie-themed anthology. I did another draft of Death is Like a Box of Chocolates and it’s really showing some improvement now. And I finally took a second look at one of my older stories, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. When I read it for the writers’ group, the reactions were that I needed to explore the concept (people being able to time travel via antique maps) more and give it a stronger plot. They were good criticisms though I didn’t want to give up the core of the original short story, which was the family dynamic. After giving it some thought yesterday while the dogs were in day care (as I’ve mentioned before, having dogs on my lap is too distracting to just think or outline or brainstorm), I came up with a tentative outline, some ideas about the “traveling” community and various ideas to give it more plot. I don’t know how long this revised version will be (several people said I should make it a novel, but I don’t know if that’s the right length) but I’ll let the story play out and see.

Overall nothing earthshaking, and nothing actually finished (sigh), but a week to be pleased with nonetheless.

To wrap up, here’s a blackberry goat cheese tart that I made last week. Very tasty.

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