Category Archives: Writing

The thing about subjective assessments

One of the reasons I like keeping written goals is that it gives me an objective standard to measure my performance. Because subjective standards are frequently wrong.

Managers doing annual reviews, for example, are sometimes waylaid by the recency effect: “Wow, Stella’s been amazing this past week, way above average. Okay, time for her annual review, I guess her performance for the year must be ‘above average.'” Likewise if my Friday writing’s going poorly, it’s very easy to feel my whole week was wasted.

And yeah, it was kind of poor today. TYG was out of town, so I took the dogs on the morning walk. Then I had to spend an hour dealing with some lingering stuff involving Mum’s estate (as my sister handled the executor’s duties, which is no small amount of work, I’m happy to do whatever I can to help her). As frequently happens when my morning goes off-schedule, I felt a little disoriented (things like that knock me off my game more than they should). I didn’t get much done today, so I feel like my whole week was unbalanced and ineffective. Actually I did okay.

Leaf work has started back up, so I got in 10 of those.

I finished the current draft of Undead Sexist Cliches. It’s around 40,000 words and I think I’ve resolved most of the problems from the earlier drafts, such as what goes in which chapter. Next up, a print-out and I’ll see if I can do one more edit. Well, plus an index for the hard-copy version. I’m also debating whether I should add endnotes (or links for the ebook).

I got several thousand words done on Southern Discomfort. I think it’s progressing well.After it’s finished, I will need to make one cursory pass though to make sure I didn’t make any massive screw-ups (pointless blank space, repeated paragraphs) — I went back to an early section this week and found a couple. But that will be pretty minor.

I got some more done on proofing Atoms for Peace. Nowhere near as much as I’d wanted, but it’s coming along.

And I got a couple of IRL tasks done that needed doing.

As TYG’s schedule was inevitably crazy after a week away, I also coped with a little extra dog care. Not as much as I’d anticipated, but I think I did well not stressing out over it.

Today was still a mess, but overall I did well.

For humor, here’s Plushie yearning to check out a dead snake (you can’t tell from the image but it’s dead as a doornail) and probably roll on it. He did not get his wish.

#SFWApro. Cover by zakarianada, all rights to it are mine.

 

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals

The merits of taking a break

Okay, not as drastic as proclaiming “Spider-Man … No More!” (art courtesy of the great John Romita), but our vacation last week just reminded me how important not working is. At least for me.

Even though I love what I do, it still takes on a treadmill overtone over time. Get up. Write with dogs sitting next to me. Repeat the next day. And because I spend a lot of evenings and weekends sitting in the living room with the dogs and TYG, sometimes it all blends together — I feel like I’m always just sitting with dogs. And even though I love them, that gets oddly draining.

Doing something different scrubs my mind clean. I’m able to think more clearly, imagine doing things differently, plus of course just being refreshed from the break. These are good things. While the week got slightly crazy for other reasons, I’m way more refreshed and ready to work than if I’d stuck around last week.

Even small breaks make a difference. Working at the paper, it was easy to tell myself “I’m so close to finishing, I’ll just skip lunch break, keep working, get a little ahead for tomorrow.” I ended up with my brain futzed. Doing something different, even if it’s just sitting and reading over lunch, is amazingly refreshing.

It will wear off eventually, but eventually we’ll go somewhere else. And I’m trying to think of ways to do more types of different things on the weekend, so it doesn’t feel all of a piece with the work week.

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

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Filed under Personal, Time management and goals, Writing

I didn’t actually work this week

It was our annual trip to the Mensa national gathering, this time in Indianapolis. I’ll be blogging about it next week. However as this marks halfway through the year, I thought I’d look again at how my Plot Your Work Planner helped me accomplish goals (or didn’t). Or if you prefer, how well I did by the metrics I wrote into it.

Much to my surprise, I did pretty well. Which is a fringe benefit of writing down goals — it’s much easier to see how much I actually got done. Taking the April to June goals, one at a time:

Southern Discomfort went well. I’m actually further along in the final draft than I expected. I have a cover letter drafted (I’ll be revising it), though I didn’t finish my synopsis.

•I completed 30,000 words on the Undead Sexist Cliches book.

•I released Atlas Shagged in hard copy (it’s also available in ebook).

•I finished another draft The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I think I’ve figured out how to fix the problems — we’ll see if my reasoning holds up (I want to get at least half of the revised draft done in the next three months)

•I made some final changes to Questionable Minds, submitted it, and got turned down. I’m ready to go ahead and self-publish this one (though not right away). After all, Barbarian Books accepted it before closing their doors, so I have an outside verification it’s worth reading.

What I didn’t get done: Short stories. I wanted to have No One Can Slay Her done back in March and another story (probably Angels Hate This Man) in June. Nope. Neither done, though No One‘s pretty close — a final draft should have it done, but I have to work out the final fixes first.

Given I was also doing Screen Rant and all my Leaf articles, that’s pretty good results, I think. And the planner is definitely helping me keep track of things — I intend to order another one for 2019.

#SFWApro. All rights to journal design remain with current holder. Atlas Shagged cover is mine; painting is Atlas and the Hesperides by Singer-Sargent.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Atoms for Peace, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals

Links on writing and sort-of related topics

John Scalzi on the difference, if any, between art and entertainment.

Doris Egan on why no amount of research will guarantee a totally accurate book. And ways you can cheat without readers objecting.

Egan again, on heroes whose problems are unsolvable.

The simmering resentment of some Star Wars fans for movies with female heroes depresses me. As Greg Hatcher points out at Atomic Junkshop, they’re on the side of the empire.

Writer Nicole Dieker discusses how self-publishing changed between her first and second novels, and why the second sold so much less.

There’s a lot of gold in dragon hoards. What would happen when the heroes bring it out?

With net neutrality over and AT&T merging with Time Warner, what will it take for Netflix to survive?

Why Pixar makes so many sequels.

Some fans argue that everything Dr. Strange does (or doesn’t do) in Infinity War ispart of his master plan. At the link, an argument on the theology of Dr. Strange and why the argument is unconvincing.

The history of politics and race in country music.

Trends in romance book covers.

And to wrap up, here’s a wild cover. Art regrettably uncredited.

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

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Character in The Thief of Baghdad

As I mentioned Saturday, I love Alex Korda’s The Thief of Baghdad. Rewatching last month, I was struck by the way the film handles several of the key characters.

Abu. Abu, the young thief played by Sabu, has absolutely no qualms about stealing food from vendors in the Baghdad markets. He’s gluttonous and selfish, although when Ahmad needs help, Abu reluctantly gives him whatever he needs (the advantage of dividing the romantic lead and the real hero is that they’re at least a little conflicted). But what I noticed was that in his first appearance, Abu watches a couple of beggars turned away by a fish vendor. He then sneaks a couple of fine grilled fish away, but rather than eat them himself, he throws them to the beggars (the owner does not see this, of course) before running off. It’s as much an act of mischief as charity (Sabu plays very mischievous) but it is charitable. It makes it clear that thief or not, we can root for Abu.

Jaffar. The thing about Veidt is that he truly loves the princess. Oh no question it’s an evil, possessive and obsessive loveut the looks of desperate longing on his face when he beholds her makes it clear his heart aches. He could magically compel her to love him, but he won’t; he wants real love, not enforced (though he’s quite willing to wipe her memory at one point so she forgets Ahmad, in hopes that’ll give him a clear field).

Happily the movie does not imply this makes him a nice character or redeemable or sympathetic. He’s a villain, willing to kill her along with Ahmad when he realizes the princess (who never actually gets a name) will never be his. But it does add some shading to his character. I don’t know if the same thing would have worked on the printed page — it’s all in Conrad Veidt’s performance.

The Sultan. As the Sultan of Basra, Miles Malleson (who wrote a lot of the dialog) initially appears to be a comical eccentric in the classic British style. He’s a lovable fuddy-duddy who collects toys and automatons of all kinds, including a prototype clock (leading to Jaffar’s warning that the people must never know about this: “Once they can tell time, they’ll wonder how time is spent.”). He seems so utterly lovable as he tells Jaffar the wonderful thing about toys is that they do exactly what he wants, exactly the same way, every single time. “My subjects,” he sighs, “don’t do what I want every time. That’s why I have to chop off so many of their heads.”

It’s delivered in the same fuddy-duddy tone as all his other lines. It’s all the creepier for that. To cement the fact he’s not one of the good guys, he then trades his daughter’s hand to Jaffar in return for Jaffar’s new, cool automaton. It’s still hard to think of him as a bad guy — I can’t help feeling a little sorry when Jaffar sends him to the arms of the prophets — but bad he is indeed.

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

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This week seemed to have such promise

I was really optimistic about this week. Next round of Leaf articles hasn’t started yet, Screen Rant is done, I had time to focus on my personal projects.

But TYG was doing a lot of stuff this week that required concentration. And Plush Dog, for whatever reason, was needy. Actively needy, constantly trying to climb on her computer or barking for attention. So I wound up running interference, plus putting in a lot of extra dog walking. The time added up. Plus I was freaking out over some of the political news. It can’t be helped at times, but it’s not productive. I wound up several hours behind my quota for the week.

So what did I get done?

I finished a second draft of Only the Lonely Can Slay. Relocating the action to my old home town really sharpened the setting, and the dramatic arc improved some. However that’s a long way from saying it has a good arc. It’s trickier because I don’t want my protagonist to know exactly what she’s involved in, even when it’s all over. So we’ll see.

I thought a little about the rewrite of No One Can Slay Her but didn’t actually put any words to paper. I did make more progress on the final draft of Southern Discomfort. I’ve gone over four out of the 12 stories in the draft paperback of Atoms for Peace and edited them, though I haven’t made the corrections in the manuscript on my computer. That matters because some of the notes are just “sentence doesn’t work, fix it” when the correction is more than just a word or something concise.

I did not come anywhere near close my 1,000 words a day goal. Come July with no Screen Rant deadlines to make, it should be doable. And I will make it a priority.

I did draft a query for Space Invaders for McFarland but held off submitting it. There’s a couple of markets I’d like to look at first. Next month, one way or the other, it goes out.

Oh, and as noted this morning, I started making some upgrades to this blog. Hopefully that will prove worthwhile. It may be telling that I think of this as a blog first — but when I visit other author’s websites, I usually go to the blog first. After all, it’s the only part that’s likely to provide anything new.

And I also posted an in-depth review of The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse on Atomic Junkshop.

Subject to a couple of personal goals I hope to accomplish tomorrow, I got a little over 50 percent of my June goals go (the crazy schedule this week put paid to a couple of routine things I normally accomplish in the morning).

On the food front, we ate the first of the tomatoes TYG has been growing in the back, along with the herbs. Unfortunately the local squirrels pulled about twice that number off the plants — they don’t eat them, they just bite into them and leave them. Pure spite.

And we took the dogs to get groomed Wednesday. Plushie’s tail was so matted they had to shave it completely, leaving what looks like a little pig’s tail. Packs quite a wallop when he beats it on us.

#SFWApro. All rights to images are mine.

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals

I will try to avoid making anyone’s eyes bleed

So Thursday I upgraded to a paid WordPress plan. This has several features (no ads!) that I think will be useful, plus I got my own domain name.

But I’m also trying to find a different look for the blog. Different background. Different header (the one I want to upload requires some work on the image I haven’t been able to accomplish). Maybe different layout, though this one works quite well.

So the look may be randomly changing as I try styles, decide they don’t work, and try something new. Don’t be surprised. Hopefully I won’t pick anything so garish or awful y’all will just avoid it altogether. But even if all my picks are tasteful, I figured I should let people know. Feedback is welcome.

Below, one shot of Trixie with a little forelock she developed in the past couple of weeks (unfortunately Wednesday’s grooming trimmed it away). Then another photo just to show how adorable she is.

#SFWApro.

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Filed under Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Writing

It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it … don’t they?

Researching my Screen Rant on the Winter Soldier revealed that Bucky Barnes is also (drum roll please) the Man on the Wall!

This concept first popped up in Marvel’s Original Sin miniseries. Over the course of the story, a dying Nick Fury reveals that for decades, he’s been “the man on the wall,” a special black ops guy with the best technology geniuses like Howard Stark have to offer. His mission: go into space and eliminate alien threats by any means necessary: “I’ve killed… More times than I can count. I’ve burned worlds. Destabilized galaxies. Dethroned gods. And I did it without any of them even knowing my name. That’s what it means to be the man on the wall. To be the invisible monster who keeps the other monsters at bay.” The purpose of the miniseries is to pick a new man for the job. The Winter Soldier gets the nod.

This sounds to me like a version of the bad-ass, take-no-prisoners vigilantes I was talking about yesterday. The ones who understand how you can’t protect the world without getting your hands dirty. Fighting fair, not assassinating people? That’s for idealists who have no idea how the world really works.

I presume the “man on the wall” title traces back to the play and movie A Few Good Men. In the movie, Jack Nicholson plays Jessup, a psycho, bullying commander at our Guantanamo Bay base (back before it was known for locking up people without trial) who gets one man under him killed. When the prosecution places him on trial, Nicholson declares that you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs — the dead man had to be sacrificed for the greater good. “Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns” And America needs him on that wall!

Jessup is the villain, a man blindly convinced that it’s a dirty job, someone’s got to do it, so if he did it, he’s a hero. Asking whether the job actually needs to be done never occurs to him.

But just as The Stepford Wives has become, in popular culture, not about misogyny but about the suburbs, a lot of people seem to think “you need me on that wall” is a serious statement — we do need a bad-ass hero who burns worlds and takes the kill shot, answering to no-one but his own heroic gut instinct. Which isn’t surprising, as that character type long precedes Jessup. Dirty Harry is the same, the guy who ignores all the rules because they need him on that wall, dammit!

I’ve never particularly liked this type of hero (though Dirty Harry‘s certainly a good movie). Usually I can’t suspend my disbelief and ignore the consequences in the real world. The CIA thought they were the men on the wall. They overthrew democratic government, supported dictatorships and made the world worse — without making America safer (check out the book Legacy of Ashes for a history). J. Edgar Hoover was a monster who thought being the man on the wall justified his actions. The second Bush administration insisted they had to lock up people at Guantanamo without trial because they were the “worst of the worst” (the overwhelming majority were innocent). 

Of course I could make the same point about Superman: I wouldn’t want anyone to have that much power in the real world. Power, as they say, corrupts. But Superman’s helping and protecting people; I’m cool with hand-waving the reality. When the hero is a killer, I can’t make that leap.

These characters often come off as an exercise in cynical pretentiousness rather than gritty realism — sure, naive sheeple might imagine Superman or Captain American can save us. Really smart understand that the only way to stop a bad man with a raygun is a bad-ass hero with a raygun. To grapple with monsters you have to become one. In reality, Earth has defeated the Skrulls, the Kree, driven off Galactus and the Celestials, all without the Man on the Wall. Sure Marvel can retcon it otherwise, and obviously they do, but I don’t buy that all Fury galactic dirty work was really necessary. A\

s one translation of Anouih’s Antigone put it: “It’s a dirty job, but someone had to do it.” “Did they? Really?”

Often the answer is no.

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

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20 Things About the Winter Soldier That Make No Sense

Bucky Barnes was there on Captain America’s first cover.

Then he died.

Then he became the Winter Soldier.

My new Screen Rant on the Winter Soldier looks at Buck’s whole career. Why did nobody notice that Bucky Barnes had the same name as Bucky the sidekick? Why didn’t the Russians dispose of Bucky as soon as they found his body? What about his brainwashed relationship with the Black Widow? Don’t get me wrong, I think Brubaker created an awesome character, but his stories have a few logic gaps.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Kirby (top) and Steve Epting (bottom), all rights remain with current holders.

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To all things there is an ending. Well, maybe not, but sometimes it’s good to have one

A recent post at CBR looks at 25 characters from the 2000s who looked to become the Next Big Thing, but weren’t. The one I felt worth posting about: Manchester Black.

Created by Joe Kelly, Black debuted in Action #775 (cover by Timothy Bradstreet) as leader of the Elite, a takeoff on the Authority. He and his hard-core superhero team are stunningly powerful (Black has literally world-shaking TK and other psi abilities) and they have no qualms about killing or crippling the bad guys they go up against. Superman’s PO’d they’re operating in Metropolis. He’s more PO’d that the public loves their approach, finding them much cooler than Superman’s stodgy, Boy Scout, don’t kill people way.

Finally Superman challenges the Elite to a showdown on the moon in front of TV cameras — and whichever side loses won’t be coming back down. Superman wins by playing the same hardball his opponents do; a horrified Black accuses him of being a monster. Superman agrees — if he played by their rules, he would be. But it’s all been a trick to drive home precisely that point (this later became the ‘toon Superman vs. the Elite). As Joe Kelly says, Superman’s not interesting because of what he can do but because of all the things he chooses not to do.

Black later escapes prison and ruthlessly destroys Superman’s life, all to prove the truth: Superman’s no better than Black. Push him hard enough and he’ll throw mercy out the window. But even when he believes Black has murdered Lois, Superman doesn’t kill him. Shell-shocked to realize Superman’s the hero (“Guess we know what that makes me.”), Black takes his own life.

The CBR article suggests that was a waste: “Black took the Superman mythos by storm when he debuted. His revenge plan against Superman poised him to become a Joker-like character for Superman — and then he offed himself. Good-bye, potential.”

I’d argue the opposite. By giving his fight with Superman an ending, and a dramatic one, Kelly made him a great character. If he’d stuck around, he’d become what he is in the New 52, a generic vigilante type who sneers at Superman for not making the hard call. He might be popular, because that kind of trite bad-ass often is, but he wouldn’t be as good.

It’s a comics problem many people have pointed out. Great stories have an ending. Sinbad goes on voyages, then retires happily to enjoy his wealth. The Count of Monte Cristo gains his revenge, but then ends his scheme when he sees he’s hurting innocent people. The Empire is overthrown, leaving Luke, Leia and Han free to pick up normal lives. Sherlock Holmes retires to keep bees in Sussex.

In comics (or any serial format), there’s a reluctance to let go of any intellectual property that might generate more cash. Alan Brennert gave a perfect ending to the Hawk and the Dove, but Marv Wolfman promptly retconned it away (and he didn’t even have plans to revive them). Characters get happy endings but someone eventually revives them, often just to kill them.

Kelly made the right call. Black is a bigger thing because his creator didn’t keep him around.

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

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