Category Archives: Writing

Book bans, Elvis, AI writing and more: links!

White House hopeful (more likely hopeless) Ron DeStalinist insists that a school has not banned a famous poem. The federal government says book removals in Georgia may have violated federal law. There’s another free-speech lawsuit against a Florida school-district book ban. A bill in Connecticut would create sanctuary libraries to hold challenged books.

Scholastic picked up Maggie Takuda-Hall’s children’s book but asked her to remove references to racism. She refused. On Twitter, she restates the truth: The Japanese American internment was racist.

Since the current book-ban wave began, people have joked about how the Bible has scenes in it that should be banned. Now it’s happened.

In Florida, a high-school yearbook included a couple of pages for the schools LGBTQ groups. Moms for Fascism complained. The school is providing parents or kids who complain (four complaints so far) with reprints with the material deleted.

The messiness of the Elvis Presley estate. The messiness of how the media treated actor/model Brooke Shields.

AI writing is not writing. Which doesn’t mean film studios won’t embrace AI scripts. The Mary Sue adds more.

AI not only scrapes published, copyrighted works, it rips off fan fiction.

Disney’s not using screen villains much in its cartoons. Is that a good thing?

What happened to hit comedy films? Although as Louis CK is back in business, that part of the article hasn’t aged well.

“We have written music in our hands from 3500 years ago called Hurrian songs from a Canaanite city called Ugarit in what is now northern Syria. It survived because it was carved into clay tablets. But even though they are clearly music symbols, we don’t know what they signify in terms of pitch and rhythm.” — from an article on the challenges of preserving ideas, writing and art.

The messy, toxic culture behind the scenes at Lost.

A high school canceled a school play because of its LGBTQ content. The students staged it off-campus.

Another digital-media pioneer goes down.

Alex Haley’s interview with Martin Luther King may include made-up quotes criticizing Malcolm X.

What goes on behind the scenes at the Guinness Book of World Records.


Leave a comment

Filed under Reading, Writing

May ends. June begins. Things occur. And there’s a cat photo in the middle of this post, so keep reading

One occurrence: I applied a month or so back to do some freelancing for The Local Reporter, a Chapel Hill nonprofit newspaper (Chapel Hill, like Raleigh, neighbors Durham). This week they contacted me, said a change in editor led to my response falling through the cracks, and they were interested. We talked on the phone; sounds like I’d be doing mostly business-related stories, and not a lot of them (the budget, at the moment, won’t stretch to a ton of articles). But it would be income, and the kind of gig I’m familiar with, so I’m down with it. I’ll let you know when something comes out.

Another occurrence: as I mentioned last week, I was blocked on Oh the Places You’ll Go because I hadn’t reconciled to doing more rewriting than my beta-readers had suggested. Monday, I got down to it; by Tuesday evening I’d gone through two rewrites and much improved things, including fixing the problems my beta-readers flagged. However I’ve introduced a couple more: a change in the time-travel rules required more exposition but what I wrote is neither clarifying nor enjoyable, just muddled and confusing. So more work ahead to smooth it out.

I sat down and rewrote the third chapter of Let No Man Put Asunder as I’ll be reading that to the writing group soon as I get on the schedule. I realized the fight scene needed a lot of work — too much banter instead of attacking — and I think I’ve fixed it. We’ll see what the group thinks.

That took up most of the week. Plus I had a post at Atomic Junkshop on Silver Age DC (possibly) knocking off Marvel’s storytelling style. Below, for instance, Gil Kane and John Broome inflict some atypical angst on Green Lantern. Plus I’m in Con-Tinual’s YouTube channel discussing mythological tropes in fantasy.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Nonfiction, Story Problems, Writing

Thank you Netflix!

As I mentioned last month, Netflix is ending its DVD service. Rather than ghost on us, it’s sending out lists of every DVD they’ve mailed us from the first. I was started to see what I watched in my first year on the service — no, that’s not a clickbait lead-in, I really was.

I remembered clearly that the reason I signed up with Netflix was to watch all of Daybreak, a TV series with Taye Diggs as a cop caught in a time loop (I rewatched it for Now and Then We Time Travel). It got yanked for low ratings by ABC and I desperately wanted to know how it all ended so when I saw Netflix had the DVD set … And it was worth it too; it’s an excellent one-season series.That was in February of 2009. After wrapping up the series, I watched a few more things through June (I was on the one-DVD-at-a-time plan) including Coupling, The Big Lebowski and the British Jekyll. Starting in June, though, everything through April of the following year was movies or TV shows I watched for Screen Enemies of the American Way, my book on subversion, infiltration and political paranoia in film and TV. That was a shit ton of stuff I’d have had to buy; streaming wasn’t an option back then and I doubt my library back in Florida had most of it. Local video rental stores could have provided some of it, but still more expensive.That included multiple series such as The Invaders, Surface, Threshold and Sleeper Cell. There were also lots and lots of movies, many of them nothing I’d want to spend money on such as John Wayne’s red-baiting Big Jim McClain.I also caught The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby, JFK, The Quiller Memorandum and a great many other good films.Other films, such as Red Nightmare, were only available on YouTube; some, such as Stepford Wives‘ dreadful sequels, I taped off the air. Netflix was still a life-saver, from the first movie I watched for the book (They Live), through the last (Left Behind and Left Behind II, because Satanist infiltration is a subgenre). Fortunately with Durham Library’s larger DVD selection and the wide range of streaming, doing my next film book without the DVD service won’t be as pricey.

I’ll blog about what I watched after the book was done, assuming there are further interesting insights to mine from the list.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Nonfiction, Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Screen Enemies of the American Way, TV, Writing

Dogs, disorder and doom! Okay, not much doom.

Another week where things did not go as well as planned. But let’s start off with good news: I had my semi-annual checkup this week and all my signs (cholesterol, weight, blood pressure) are better than last time. So yay! This is good.

Otherwise this was a sub-par week. Wednesday Plushie was having a mood, constantly barking whenever I came close to having a coherent thought. Thursday morning, before the doctor’s appointment, I just couldn’t focus. I suppose not eating so they could get clear lab results might have something to do with that. The dogs were both needy this morning, plus we had the housekeepers in.

At several points I wound up working on The Savage Adventures because it required much less creative thought than anything else.

It would have been worse if I’d gone to the in-person writing group Tuesday (as I’ve mentioned before, I wake up exhausted), though next time I’m going. I’ll have to schedule around sleeping late Wednesday or something. I intend to read the first chapter of Let No Man Put Asunder so I worked on that this week, tightening it up.  I got a little work done on Oh the Places You’ll Go; in hindsight not getting more was because after getting it beta-read, I’d started seeing a bunch more stuff I wanted to change. Today I faced up to that and started a more thorough rewrite than I’d planned.

Oh, I also finished proofing 19-Infinity and got some cover sketches. So I guess I’m on the way to publication, though also nervous that somehow I’ll have missed something in editing. Maybe one more pass, just focusing on spelling and grammar? We’ll see.

A few links of interest: I have a post on various Silver Age comics scenes up at Atomic Junk Shop. For example —Does that look like a plain Jane to you? Another post looks at how often superheroes wind up fighting when a little talk could resolve things, like in the Spectre’s encounter with Anti-Matter Man below.Two of the Con-Tinual panels I’ve been on are up on YouTube, one on worldbuilding for small towns, one on Hammer Horror.

One last good note: someone checked out one of my books again on Hoopla. Thanks, whoever! Still, next week needs to be better.

#SFWApro. Art by Bob Kane, Carmine Infantino and Mike Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holders.

Leave a comment

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

It’s day 139 of 2023; so how am I doing?

The 139th day of 2023 — 38 percent of the year — isn’t any sort of benchmark, but I did spend a morning this week reviewing my year goals and how they’re progressing. I had a couple of nights of really bad sleep this week so by mid-week I needed to work on something that didn’t require any creativity.

(Here’s another photo of Wylan the kitten, with one of his favorite toys.)

The year is going well in many ways. I’ve already finished the six shorts I wanted to get done this year. I’ve written 150,000 words of fiction when I’d planned on 100,000 by this point. Work on 19-Infinity is progressing well (I’m debating using the word Infinity rather than the symbol). So is the work on Let No Man Put Asunder and Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I wanted to make 10 story submissions by the end of May; I’ve submitted 18. My blood pressure has improved from late last year (next week my doctor will tell me if it’s improved enough) and I had a fun birthday.

This month, however, I’ve felt the energy slacken. Part of that is that instead of focusing on one or two short stories at a time, I’m now working on multiple stories so none of the get anywhere. Partly that’s because they’re still raw enough I don’t know which one of them will finish first. Even so, I think I need to start concentrating on one or two at a time. I also need to prioritize in other ways. 19-Infinity, Oh the Places You’ll Go and Let No Man Put Asunder come higher than first or second draft stories.

My writing income is still flat since Leaf and my other client stopped soliciting my services last year. Fortunately I have Social Security but it’s still a lot tighter — and lord knows what will happen with the looming debt crisis. And of course it would be really nice to sell something now and again.As for this week’s performance, it was underwhelming. Even with a writer’s work day last Sunday, I just barely made my hours for the week. Maybe it’s that working six days is pushing it, or some other reason but today and yesterday I really slumped. It felt like the days before TYG worked from home, when the dogs would scrunch up with me and erode my personal space to the point my brain fried. As I haven’t had more dog-care than usual this week, I don’t know why that would be. But it was.

That said, I did get some of those 18 submissions out and I met my monthly quota for Let No Man Put Asunder. I read part of Chapter Two to the group and got a big thumbs up (some criticism but more enthusiasm). Big enough I feel slightly nervous living up to it with Chapter Three. But that’s far from the worst problem to have.

Hopefully next week I’ll be fully focused. Wish me luck …


Leave a comment

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

Magic in fantasy: use vs. works

Back last December on Camestros Felapton’s blog (I don’t remember the specific post) there was a comment about two ways of approaching magic in fiction: “it seems to me that some ways of thinking about magic are ontological/analytical, and some are teleological/practical. How does the magic “work” vs how the magic is used. Which is most important to you as a reader/reviewer/critic? Which is most important to the writers creating these systems? Which is most important to the people who live in the worlds created by the writers? There isn’t a single right answer.”

Stories about how magic works would include, of course, the many stories with magic systems: the Mistborn books, Alan Moore’s tedious Promethea comics (very much about his theories of magic), D&D novels. Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry where wizards draw power from an individual’s life force. Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories. A. Merritt’s science fantasies.

The Silver Age Dr. Strange stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (who was probably the prime mover ont he project) are much more about how magic is used.  What’s important is that Stephen Strange uses magic to stand between us and the dark forces: Baron Mordo, Dormammu, Nightmare, Umar and Taboo, Tyrant of the Eighth Dimension.

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books likewise focus on magic in action: the bad guys using it to hurt people, Harry using it to protect them, as in the first book in the series, Storm Front. In Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, what matters is Conan fighting the magic, not how it works.That doesn’t mean “magic has no rules” (the standard complaint by those science fiction fans who dislike fantasy). The Dresden books give us magic rules but the system isn’t the important thing; Ditko’s Dr. Strange stories use magic consistently, they just don’t spell them out. Conversely, stories that emphasize magic systems usually deal with how magic is used: the Lord Darcy stories are all about Darcy and his sidekick Sean using magic to solve crime.

Some stories are a mix of both. In Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife, there’s a lot about the rules of magic; protagonist Norman wins because he’s able to analyze them logically and apply them more effectively than his adversaries. However it’s also about how magic is used: stay-at-home wives working sorcery covertly to advance their husband’s careers.

In Southern Discomfort I deal with the rules enough to keep things consistent but I’m much more interested in what magic does. In Questionable Minds, the rules governing psychic power are much more important. In Let No Man Put Asunder, it’s all about how it’s used: there are multiple character operating under different magic system so the rules are a free-for-all (though individual characters’ skills stay consistent).No real deep insights, I know, but I still find Camestros’ comment interesting.

#SFWApro. Images top to bottom by Rodney Matthews, Steve Ditko, Lee Macleod and Samantha Collins. All rights remain with current holders.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading, Science vs. Sorcery, Southern Discomfort, Writing

This is why I haven’t made it to the in-person writer’s group for a while.

In addition to the bi-weekly writer’s group Zoom meetings, I really enjoy the live action meetings on the alternate Tuesdays … but I haven’t gone to many this  year. It means staying out late, which is fun, but I do need to get to work the next morning. And with the dogs needing more morning care as they age, plus the cats, I don’t have as much flexibility as I used to.

Tuesday I went anyway, had a great time but even though I skipped the after-meeting get-together I got home late enough to be exhausted. That did not leave me in peak form Wednesday morning; coupled with knowing I had a blood donation appointment that afternoon, my brain just stopped cooperating. I did some blogging, that was about it.

Then Wednesday night I had an absolutely awful insomnia leaving me largely fried mentally the next day.  I’ll definitely have to plan better next time I go.

I wound up spending a lot of time on my Savage Adventures book about Doc Savage because polishing and expanding my blog posts is a lot easier than writing more creatively. I’ve now completed about 19,000 words.

I got some work done on the rewrite of Oh the Places You’ll Go and another chapter finished on Let No Man Put Asunder. I edited my rewrite of Love That Moves the Sun and did some more proofing of 19-Infinity. I met with Kemp Ward, who did the cover on Undead Sexist Cliches and he’s going to work up some cover sketches from my ideas.

I was on a  time travel panel at Con-Tinual and posted on Atomic Junk Shop about Fantastic Four Annual #4 and the tragedy of Quasimodo, the Quasimotivational Destruct Organism, shown below. I also blogged about comic-book loose ends.

Sunday I’m hosting a writer’s work day so I’ll make up some of the lost time.

#SFWApro. Cover by James Bama, comics panels by Jack Kirby.

Leave a comment

Filed under Doc Savage, Personal, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Week in review: No need to cry “Mayday!”

Which is to say the week went well. Okay, Obolus got its first rejection but I’ve never sold anything to Fantasy and Science Fiction and have no reason to think this one would do any better. But why not start with an A-list market? To their credit, they always respond fast. I submitted two stories to other markets; perhaps they’ll do better.

I’m having fresh challenges with Wisp as she’s decided my lap on the couch is preferable to her pillow on the back of the couch. That’s fine in itself but if Trixie’s there too she’ll demand equal petting time so I wind up with both hands on my pets and none free to write with. No hostility beyond that, even when I get up and leave them on the couch.

First, I am now officially the publisher Behold the Book, having filed a “doing business as” certificate with Durham County. I have made that official on all my published books at Draft2Digital but haven’t figured out how to do it with the Amazon paperbacks yet.

I got some more work done on my Doc Savage nonfiction book, including rereading The Red Skull; despite the relatively low stakes (land containing valuable deposits) it’s a dynamic, action-packed adventure and a pleasure to reread. There are no scenes as cool as the James Bama cover though.

I got around 3,000 words done on Let No Man Put Asunder. It’s going a lot slower now but I think that’s necessary. As I mentioned earlier this week it’s lost focus along the way and I need to get that back. Part of that is that I’m having to think through What Comes Next a good deal more. But I’m pleased with the results so far.

I read the book’s second chapter to the writer’s group. I’d been concerned they’d find it too slow-paced as the section I read is heavy on talk and not much action. Instead they thought it was a little too fast and needed more moments for Paul and Mandy to pause and reflect (see this post from last month about speed in fiction). Good information to have.

I also got further on the rewrite of The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. It’s also slowing down as I get out of the opening chapters (frequently rewritten) into terra relatively incognita.

I worked on rewriting Oh the Places You’ll Go — feedback from the group was way helpful there — and rewrote The Cheap Assassin, getting it much closer to what it needs to be. If the next draft improves as much, it might be ready for beta-reading. The big problem is that I haven’t come up with an ending that works yet; I may just take it to group with a bad ending and ask for suggestions (I’ve done that before. It helps).

I worked on proofing 19-Infinity and I have a meeting with a possible cover artist next week.Over at Atomic Junkshop I look at Marvel in ’66 and rewrote and reposted and old blog entry here about DC’s Guy Gardner. I’m also over on YouTube in a Con-Tinual panel about the future of pandemic fiction. You can see one of the Marvels I mention, Millie the Model reuniting with the hip Liverpool band, the Gears.

Oh, and someone bought a copy of Undead Sexist Cliches on Amazon! Thanks, stranger (if you are, in fact, a stranger).#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders, Millie cover by Stan Goldberg, Undead Sexist Cliches cover by Kemp Ward.

Leave a comment

Filed under Doc Savage, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Where are we now? Writing and setting

As I mentioned last year, when I started rewriting Let No Man Put Asunder I switched the opening chapter from a small college town to Blue Ivy (I suspect the name will change), an industrial, working-class city in 1976 with a few excellent colleges. The opening scenes around Rolly’s, a grimy diner, were vivid enough I decided to keep Paul and Mandy in town, rather than plunging them into the interdimensional adventures of the previous version.

Trouble is, now I have to come up with more settings that keep me, and hopefully readers, interested. Instead of abandoned cities or sinister towers, I need Blue Ivy settings that look just as cool, and provide somewhere interesting for the action scenes. Up until this month, I’ve been falling down on the job. The settings either felt unreal or generic, like the big, long-established church for one fight scene. Aside from Mandy’s house, the first time since Rolly’s that I said “yes!” was when they stayed at the Mercury Motel.

In the 20th century tradition of quirky roadside lodging (like the windmill image above, courtesy of the Library of Congress), the Mercury remodeled itself in 1961 to take advantage of interest in the Mercury space missions. Space-capsule salt and pepper shakers, cool space and rocket-related decor, all of which has stayed in place as the space program faded away. It’s no longer trendy but it’s colorful enough to attract drivers going by. But between that and Chapter Three it felt like the environment was dull.

My first step was to get a clearer idea of Blue Ivy. I didn’t want it to be the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone. I eventually settled on Pittsburgh as a model, but only a loose one: keeping the town fictional means I don’t have to be accurate about real-world details. Looking at photos of Pittsburgh in the 1970s gives me visuals, like the bridge Paul and Mandy drive over in one chapter(As TYG and I stayed in Pittsburgh for a Mensa event some years back, my photos might be useful too, even though they’re not period).

Even if I didn’t (yet) use specific photos like this one below of the Union Trust Building —— they’ve prompted my mind to start thinking of other locations. Rather than the big old church, it’s now a small church in a working-class neighborhood; when Paul and Mandy run they hop a chain link fence into a warehouse parking lot, then sneak under the nearest road via a drainage culvert. That’s much more what I’m shooting for.

Another drawback to keeping things on Earth was that inevitably the cops got involved. As I mentioned last month, that led to too many sit-and-discuss scenes and a loss of tension. In the course of changing the setting around I’ve also isolated my protagonists so they have little choice but to run. I can always bring the cops back in if Paul and Mandy need help later.

#SFWApro. Pittsburgh images from Only in Your State, all rights to images remain with current holders.

1 Comment

Filed under Writing

Thwacked by Thursday!

Writing for April is now done. Despite everything collapsing on Thursday, it was overall a productive week.

Thursday I’d had a bad night of sleep, then got some bad news about a friend of mine so the day was off to a poor start. Then the dogs came down so early I didn’t have time to stretch out or exercise until afternoon. Trying to exercise with Trixie around invariably convinces her to come over and snuggle; Wisp is much the same.

(Speaking of which, here’s a short of them sharing the couch. It’s an awkward situation for me as I usually wind up having to pet them both so nobody gets jealous. this time, as you can see, I’m up doing something).But as I’ve said before, that’s the nature of “average” —  some days just by blind chance will come out below average. I recovered today, applying for a writing gig and submitting a couple of shorts, but I wound up short of my hours for the week. I’ve been over in other weeks, though, so that averages out too.

I rewrote some more of Let No Man Put Asunder, which I’ll discuss in detail next week. I did a final proof/rewrite of Obolus — formerly Paying the Ferryman — and sent it off to Fantasy and Science Fiction. I also finished rewriting Impossible Things Before Breakfast, based on suggestions from other collaborators in the Ceaseless Way anthology. Plus I began proofing 19-Infinity. As usual, there’s more that needs fixing than I thought.

And that was pretty much it. Except over at Atomic Junk Shop I blogged about the end of Marvel’s Silver Age crime cartel, the Secret Empire, and the creepy way Chris Claremont handled the romance between 14-year-old Kitty and 19-year-old Colossus.

Now the weekend, then a new month starting Monday. To mark the transition, here’s an early morning photo I took a few weeks back.#SFWApro

Leave a comment

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