Category Archives: Writing

Once again, life thwarts my plans

Which is to say, this was a busy week in the non-writing areas of my life.

Wednesday we had the electrician come out to check some of our outside lights. That turned out to be more time-draining for me than I’d expected, as it was a constant “go inside and turn on the lights … turn off the lights … turn them on again …” It paid off (he identified the problem), but it took more time than I’d expected. And left me with very little time to concentrate on anything before the dogs went on afternoon walkies (I settled for research reading, which doesn’t demand creative thought). After that we had the guy in to repair the washing machine; I’m happy to say that after dealing with two other companies, Wright Appliance finally seems to be competent.

This morning I had unexpected extra dog watching, and at noon I had one of my appointments for the Alexander Technique, the body training I’ve been doing since last year.

It’s not just the time each side activity consumes, but the time it takes to get refocused on writing again. And I’m still too slow in my Leafs. Plushie’s neediness in the evening makes it very hard to make up the time then.

I did get a bunch of Leaf articles done, and even going slow, the pay is good. I got some more work done on both Let No Man Put Asunder and Impossible Takes a Little Longer, though those were the big casualties of this week’s lost time. But Impossible definitely works better in first person, as I said last week. However both of them reached a point where the relatively slight plot changes I’ve made so far have suddenly forced big changes in the next scenes. That stumped me quite a bit.

I submitted Fiddler’s Black to a new market, which means all my shorts are out. It’s been a while since that happened. And Southern Discomfort went out to five more agents.

I rewrote Only the Lonely Can Slay a couple of times, but there’s still something missing. It might be that Heather, my protagonist, needs more at stake, or maybe something else? I feel frustratingly close to what I want but I can’t quite jump across the last mental boundary to get there. I may send it out as is to a beta reader or two to get some insight.

So that was my week. On the plus side, I’m not battling a giant monster on a Silver Age Jack Kirby cover!

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

Assorted writing and reading links

So a writer declared on Twitter that if you’re writing while keeping your day job, you’re doing it wrong. John Scalzi disagrees.

Five red flags to look for in contracts.

A look at law and freelancing. It includes links to a 2018 California court case making it harder to classify employees as contractors and a proposed change to Texas rules that would benefit employers.

Atomic Junkshop on the excitement of reading comics and paperbacks in the 1970s. From the same site, a post of mine about the myth that successful creators are good from the start.

Why Marvel got sexier as the Silver Age moved along. Look at John Romita’s Mary Jane below for an example.

You can’t trademark a generic word like “booking” for a travel site. Unless, a court ruling says, you make it a domain name first.

A Q&A with comics veteran Roy Thomas.

For years, Disney’s comic books didn’t divulge the names of the people who worked on them (the company preferred the illusion that Walt did it all). Here’s the story of how Carl Barks, the creator of Uncle Scrooge, finally got some attention.

Captain America, horror comics host?

Hybrid authors publish traditionally and indie both. Hybrid publishing isn’t the same thing.

Brian Cronin rips into the assumption that white male leads are a natural choice, whereas anything else is suspect.

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A newspaper op-ed that doesn’t understand journalism?

Ever since the 2016 election, the “Trump safari” has been a recurring feature of newspaper journalism: let’s go talk to some Trump voters and try to understand them. Let’s explain how they’re uneasy with changes in their country and the way they’re losing ground in the economy. Let’s help big city liberals try to figure them out.

Which is not a bad thing in itself. But as countless liberal bloggers have pointed out, it results in coverage of white working-class voters and never say, what black working-class voters in rust belt cities want. Nobody ever suggests that the Trump voter needs to have their stereotypes about big-city liberals challenged. And the stories just keep coming, over and over.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed column, Jill Abramson suggests it’s all a failed effort: “there is little evidence that reporters have fulfilled their pledge to report on and reflect the interests and values of the people who voted for him. There have been some good dispatches from the heartland, but too often what is published amounts to the proverbial ‘toe touch in Appalachia.'” Why? Because they’re big city reporters coming in for a brief visit. The only way to get real answers is from someone who actually lives there, “to bring their audience up close to the different and difficult realities of life in rural America.”

Urgh. As a former journalist, I cannot begin to describe how clueless and trite I think this is. Okay, I can begin to describe it, because that’s why I’m writing this post.

First off, I agree that the loss of local coverage or locally based correspondents anywhere is a bad thing. If you don’t have someone attending city council or county commission meetings every week, and send reporters only when something major is happening, a lot of stories fly under the radar. Lots of things happen that people will never hear about. That’s bad because a lot of stuff that affects people happens in low-key meetings: development decisions, spending decisions, new policies.

And if you’re just doing a “toe touch’ yes, that can make it harder to give context. If an issue crops up again and again — in Destin, where I worked, that would have included traffic and beach erosion — a regular reporter gets perspective (institutional knowledge as they say). It’s a lot harder if you only attend meetings once in a quarter.   But that’s true of everything that doesn’t get regular coverage. Lots of regulatory agencies don’t undergo the coverage they used to. Fewer local newspapers have reporters in their state capitals. There’s no reason to single out rural America as uniquely worth of an added spotlight

And “toe touch” doesn’t automatically equal bad reporting. It’s the nature of reporting that you often have to learn about an issue/community/person really quickly to write the story; full immersion isn’t possible, or necessary. If Abramson wants to cite some examples of how Trump safaris are getting it wrong, fine … but she doesn’t. So what’s the point? Is she upset the articles aren’t sympathetic or understanding enough? Because as someone who used to live in Trump country and knows lots of Trump voters, I don’t feel any more sympathetic about them than the legendary big-city liberal reporters. And why exactly are Trump voters worthy of more coverage than, say, black workers in the rust belt? Small-town voters in Ferguson? Orthodox Jews in NYC? Homeless people in LA?

The only reason I can think of is that as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it, these people have a lot of grievances and white grievances have to be taken seriously.

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Today I got that nibbled to death by ducks feeling

But first, a look at Plush Dog nuzzling with Tito, new sibling to Lily, the dog up the street we sometimes dog-sit for.

The feeling of having one’s day eaten up by multiple little distractions is in some ways worse than having one big project. With one major distraction, like a repair, I can block time and when it’s over, it’s over. Today, though, I had multiple distractions: washing-machine repair guy (third one we’ve dealt with, first one I feel good about), arranging an electrician appointment for next week, upgrading our security system, doing some research on the cost of a replacement washing machine (probably won’t be necessary), providing extra dog care … plus Plushie completely freaking out over the repair dude being In The House (we fenced off the area so the pups couldn’t get in his way).  And talking on the phone is not the best thing for my strained voice. However it’s definitely growing stronger every day so I must be nursing it sufficiently.

Despite that, it was a productive week. Though novel writing is still going slower than I want, and Leaf articles are taking way too long (not their fault, it’s me). So what did I get done?

I rewrote the first chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer in first person. It’s closer to urban fantasy as a genre than anything else, and first person is the default setting there. Plus I found I could work in a little more needed information with first-person narration.

I finished the first chapter of Let No Man Put Asunder and read it for writer’s group. The feedback was, as always helpful. As my voice frayed a little by the end of the reading, I skipped out on the usual hanging out after. A shame.

I sent a Southern Discomfort query off to five agents, queried two magazines about articles and one newspaper about an op-ed column.

I submitted A Famine Where Abundance Lies, and I may have found a publisher to submit Questionable Minds too.

I rewrote the story Neverwas, which is now titled The Impossible Years. It’s definitely closer to being readable, but I still lack the ending I need. I rewrote Only the Lonely Can Slay, and it’s coming along well. Here I have the ending and the general structure but I need more obstacles for my protagonist, Heather, to overcome. I was working on another draft today, when all the ducks began nibbling.

And I did my usual array of Leaf articles to help put bread on the table. I gave up on doing any of those today too, but I got them in, and some requested rewrites, every other day this week.

It’s helpful to write all that down and see that despite my feeling right now, I had a good, productive week.

Below, Plushie lets the greyhounds at Piney Woods Park know that he’s the boss of this cell block.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

A blood heir, a fraud and other writing links

I haven’t read Amelie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir, but Zhao pulled it pre-publication after criticism that the book is racist. Depending who you talk to, this was a good decision or a massive injustice; Slate does a good job covering the issues

Thriller author Dan Mallory allegedly advanced his career by lying a lot. On Twitter, editor Ruoxi Chen vents that Mallory can fall upwards while women of color in publishing are stuck going nowhere.

How to write superhumans well.

Isabel Cooper argues Tolstoy was wrong: all happy families are not alike.

Netflix and other streaming service are pumping out new content. That’s nevertheless leaving writers and actors worse off financially.

As the media landscape keeps splintering, is Paw Patrol the last kiddie mega-hit?

Another day, another slice of toxic fandom.

In Finland, they don’t do small talk. I think cultural details like that could add a lot to a fictional setting.

Julie Moffett on writing Y/A that’s geared to actual teenagers.

Does Kevin Spacey’s recent attempt at a career-salvaging video violate the House of Cards copyright?

“There is no shame in comfort, in paying your bills, in eating food and enjoying the shade from a ceiling which itself is underneath a roof. You may even be likelier to make great art while comfortable, because you aren’t desperate.” — Chuck Wendig on the starving writer stereotype

Switching subjects, here’s a photo of a husky puppy I met in Petco recently. Very sweet, very recognizably puppyish in its motions. TYG was much amused it pooped all over the floor a few minutes later.

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Honor and its discontents

In the quotes post from early in January, I included a line from Lois McMaster Bujold: “Guard your honor. Let your reputation fall as it will. And outlive the bastards.” I like those sentiments, but I don’t think separating honor and reputation is actually possible. They’re twinned and they don’t separate well.

Being honorable has a lot to recommend it. Keeping your word. Paying your debts (though there are lots of circumstances where not paying your debts is not dishonorable). Doing your duty. But like chivalry, the good stuff is tangled up with a lot of stuff that I don’t think is so positive.

Most significantly, honor, like I said, is tied to your reputation. Honor isn’t about doing the right thing or the noble thing, it’s being seen and respected for doing them. A warrior can do the right thing even if nobody knows about it. They can be courteous and just towards the weak and helpless, even if everyone thinks they’re a vile bully. But if people think the warrior acts dishonorably, then they have no honor.

That’s why people fought duels in 18th century America, among many other eras and places. Honor mattered, but it was never enough to live by a code of honor if someone else questioned it. A suggestion you were a scoundrel or a coward (in the U.S., “puppy” was a fighting word too) tarnished your honor even if it wasn’t true. To disprove it, you had to issue a challenge; you didn’t necessarily have to fight (seconds would negotiate a truce, if possible) but you had to be willing to fight.

I don’t see a lot of this side of honor in fiction, probably because it’s not very attractive. Characters like Dumas’ Musketeers, who challenge a stranger to a duel at the drop of a hat or an impolite word, look irrational and unappealing by today’s standards (and I say that as someone very fond of the Musketeers). Post-ST:OS handling of the Klingons, while showing them as violent, makes their honorable ways more commendable than irrational (a subjective opinion). But generally, the only way to guard your honor was to hit, stab or shoot someone.

A related problem is that like chivalry, honor is very much tied up with fighting and masculinity. Being a Marine and doing your duty gives you “honor”; nobody says that about working yourself to the bone to support your kids. Paying your gambling “debts of honor” is one thing; keeping your promise to your kids is another. A woman’s honor was traditionally limited to “is she a virgin?” And like other forms of honor, whether she was didn’t matter as much as whether people thought she was; even a rape victim could be “dishonored” and worthless. For a woman, “death before dishonor” didn’t mean heroic fighting, it meant choosing death over rape (some examples here).

Which is why I have mixed feelings about being told I should respect a character because oooh, their sense of honor is so noble and awesome. By itself that’s not enough. And there are other virtues — honesty, loyalty, bravery — that can get the job done just as much.

Honor is, in short, one of those things I’d love to see deconstructed in a story some day.

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Missed it by that much! Quite a big ‘that much’

Like most people I start off the year full of enthusiasm for my various year goals. In January that gives me the drive to complete 70 to 80 percent of them.

This January? Not so much. More like 54 percent. Part of that was having a really big goal list. Part of it was that one miserable week I experienced. And some of it was that several goals I’d written down turned out to be non-starters. Focusing on a single project one day a week (a novel, a short story, pitches) didn’t work because I’m back doing Leaf articles. It’s easier to handle them if I do a couple a day rather than clump them, but that means I can’t do a full day of anything else. So that one’s off the table.

Other ideas just need more practice. I want a more relaxing lunch break rather than rushing to eat so I can walk the pups. That takes a conscious effort. But I’ll get there.

The big disappointments for the month were a)not getting beyond a chapter or two in Impossible Takes a Little Longer; b)not getting anything done on the Undead Sexist Cliches book. Well and c)not selling anything I’d submitted to anyone, but that’s not within my control. I am very pleased that I submitted five stories (technically; some of them were the same story sent out twice), two articles and one column idea.

And I did finish Southern Discomfort and submitted that to eight agents (two refusals so far). I’ll keep sending it to agents until I’ve exhausted the list. Then I’ll switch to publishers. Then I’ll self-publish. Take that, uncaring publishing universe!

Tday I started work on rewriting another novel, Let No Man Put Asunder. This went slow too, and I’m starting to see why: I’m just thinking and editing as I go and it’s slowing me down. I need to let go and let the words flow.

I was pleased that this week I made real progress on two short stories, Only the Lonely Can Slay and Neverwas (that title will definitely be reworked). On Lonely I can actually see what the story arc should be; Neverwas is almost there. Once I get that, it’s mostly a matter or refining, fixing and improving. Being able to see progress makes me more optimistic about my ambitious goals for the year.

I did a fair amount of hanging out at Illogicon (yes, that was a goal) but I didn’t get out much the rest of the month due to my desire to rest my voice. I didn’t get as much bicycling in as I planned, either as I didn’t want to expose my throat to the cold.

I did get lots of Leaf articles done. And that helps pay the bills so yay!

Oh, and I found where my baby sister Keri was buried years ago, which was one of my goals for this year. I thought it would take a lot of work but it actually went smoothly: I checked the US Consulate records for deaths and births of American citizens abroad. That led me to ancestry.com, which, after I signed up, gave me a digital copy of Keri’s death certificate. I’m impressed with myself (I thought I’d blogged about this before but I can’t find it).

Despite what didn’t get done, I feel pretty pleased.

Below, Trixie nervously contemplates going to doggy day care. She loves it there, but she dreads the car trips.

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

Bill Maher vs. fluff!

Bill Maher does not like comic books.

A couple of years ago, he declared a culture which loves superheroes naturally leads to President Trump. Last year after Stan Lee’s death, he reported the point and told comics fans to just grow up. He hasn’t changed.

As The Mary Sue points out, loving comics is no more juvenile than, say, obsessing over sports or playing fantasy football. But more than that, who cares if it’s juvenile? As C.S. Lewis once put it, part of being an adult is learning not to care that people think your idea of fun is childish.

For the most part superhero comics are fluff (though that doesn’t stop them making political points). But I like reading fluff. If I want gritty realism, I can read the headlines or browse many excellent nonfiction books about the darker side of our past. When I read fiction I want to enjoy myself. That doesn’t necessarily mean fluff, but it frequently does. So what?

The resistance to fluff runs deep in some people. The late Joanna Russ once wrote a column comparing people who read escapist fiction to drug addicts. Lots of comics, like long stretches of X-Men have embraced the view that life is dark, dark, dark and full of suffering thereby proving they’re mature and sophisticated. Happiness, as Ursula LeGuin once put it, is seen as something shallow. Or as Carlie Simon said, “it’s hip to be miserable/when you’re young and intellectual.”

And some people need a break from the real world way more than I do. They’re battling depression, their parent has cancer, they’re about to be homeless, they work with terminally ill babies. As Preston Sturges said in Sullivan’s Travels, sometimes laughing at a movie is all people have. Mystery author Cindy Brown makes the same point.

So here’s to everyone who writes fluffy, upbeat books and stories that make me, or you, or someone else feel better for a while. I’m glad there’s other kinds of fiction, but joy is more important than Maher seems to think.

Two more thoughts, once from screenwriter Richard Curtis: “I’m sometimes puzzled by the fact that when I write films about people falling in love they are critically taken to be sentimental and unrealistic. Yet, four million people in London are in love tonight and today, all around the world, hundreds of thousands of people will fall in love.”

And author KJ Charles on why she likes fluff:  “I want and need to read about a world where a woman can get emotional support from a man who respects her, or a queer couple can have a happy ever after, and I know everything will work out absolutely fine. More than that: Sometimes I want stories where those things go without saying. I want books where a woman’s problems in the workplace don’t include misogyny or sexual harassment. Where the big obstacle to the gay romance isn’t homophobic relatives but the need to find the stolen diamonds. Where the trans spaceship captain’s gender is an aspect of the character, not the plot. Where black women wear the best floofy dresses to Regency balls; where the bad guy’s aim is to steal the family estate rather than rape; where women and POC and LGBT+ people and all the intersections thereof can exist without being harassed, bullied or hurt for their identity just like white cishet male characters can all the goddamned time.”

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CL Moore and my love of pulp

Rereading THE BEST OF C.L. MOORE reminded me how good a writer she is. And like Leigh Brackett’s Sword of Rhiannon, it also reminded me how much I love a certain kind of pulp SF.

The book collects an excellent list of stories including her first story Shambleau, (I wish I’d been that good when I started) starring space adventurer Northwest Smith, and the sequel Black Thirst; the first Jirel of Joiry story, Black God’s Kiss; and several stand-alones including the very good love story Bright Illusion, the frustrating alternate futures yarn Greater Than Gods, her classic Vintage Season (way better than I remembered it) and my least favorite, No Woman Born. This story of a famous actor/singer/dancer transplanted into a metal body has some great ideas about what makes us human but they’re dealt with mostly in drawing-room SF style, with the characters sitting around and talking about them. And the emphasis on Deidre as some freak who can’t possibly feel human any more feels uncomfortably close to disability cliches.

Greater Than Gods has a great concept: a scientist deciding between marriage to another scientist and a socialite receives simultaneous cross-time messages from his descendants in both timelines. One is a sweet, wonderful young woman in a timeline where humanity has gone full Eloi; another is an idealistic young man in a militaristic totalitarian state. And it’s the scientist’s choice of partner that will bring one or the other future into existence … so out of the blue, he proposes to his assistant, guaranteeing a middle path. That made no sense on first reading, nor now.

But then we get Black God’s Kiss which sends Jirel, ruler of the province of Joiry, into Hell to get revenge on the man who conquered her kingdom. Moore’s Hell is both weird and creepy, like one scene where a herd of blind horses rushes by Jirel and one of them suddenly rears up and screams out a woman’s name, then rushes on. That stuck in my head for years (the ending of the story, though, is, as they say, problematic).

Black Thirst is the one that captures what appeals to me about some of the old stories (and I emphasize it’s a matter of appeal, not a claim they’re somehow better than modern stuff). On Venus, a woman named Vaudir leads Smith into the fortress of the Minga, a race of stunningly beautiful courtesans bred for centuries under the fortress’ hereditary leader, the Alendar. Vaudir wants Smith to kill her master, but that, of course, is tougher than it sounds. He’s (there’s never been more than one Alendar) the human form of some prehuman ooze creatures dwelling below the fortress. The Alendar captures them and his telepathic attack reveals his ancient racial secrets to Vaudir, leaving her traumatized. He reveals that beauty is a kind of energy, and his people feed on it, hence breeding the Minga (why they sell some of them isn’t explained, but I don’t think that’s a huge issue). Taking Smith and Vaudir deeper into the fortress he shows Smith women whose beauty is so heightened it’s almost beyond human comprehension.

While I generally prefer my magic to be magic, not science, this kind of thing is an exception. It’s fantasy in all but name, and the concepts no longer feel very scientific (I don’t know if they ever did): prehuman races, psychic abilities (another story refers to the energy of our brains leaving impressions on our homes), the beauty force — for me it hits the sweet spot between science and sorcery. It stirs me more than when people use contemporary tech as magic (“I turned that man into a frog by using nanotech to rebuild his body at the molecular level!”).

I’ll be reading more Moore and Brackett this year. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it all just as much.

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My plan was perfect! How could I have failed?

Ever since Wisp settled onto our porch, Trixie has been increasingly fascinated. Some evenings when Wisp is out there, Trixie will sit by the door sniffing for her.  When the blinds are open, Trixie watches, as you can see.

The past week or so, though, she and Plushie have gotten more frantic. Trixie claws at the door and sticks her nose under the blinds to get a better look. Plushie barks loudly from the couch. Almost as if they imagine Wisp is—

Tuesday morning it just reached fever point. It was freezing cold so they didn’t get much of a morning walk. They then channeled all that energy into barking their heads off. It was … distracting. And that was on top of being very sleep-deprived (even by my standards). Plus the bug TYG brought back from her travels was now in me, leading to hacking and sore throat and worries my voice was fading.

The long and short of it is that while I had a good Monday, Tuesday fell apart. I got some Leaf writing done, that was it. Otherwise it was sleep, or hacking, or dogs, or doing some budget-crunching that needed doing (not during work, but I did it anyway). As I thought we might have some emergency expenses, the paying stuff was a high priority.

Wednesday I was worried my throat might be worse than it appeared, so I hit the urgent care in the morning. I was fine, but by the time I got back I was again, too distracted to focus. More Leaf!

Thursday I took the car in to get a recurring issue looked at. I took my computer but I didn’t get much done before starting on the paperwork for a loaner. Because like Scotland Yard in an old mystery, they are baffled (the VW dealer’s service people are really good so I take that as a sign the problem is challenging, not that they’ve screwed up). I came home in a loaner and mostly collapsed into extra naps.

Today I just threw in the towel and did more Leaf. As it turns out, we may not need the extra money, but still, it’s nice to have.

Not getting anything else done? Not so nice. I know sometimes it can’t be helped, but this was an exceptionally poor week.  I even skipped writers’ group because I was so tired and I hate skipping group.

Oh well, next week will almost certainly be better.

I did send Southern Discomfort out to three more agents. No One Can Slay Her came back with some positive comments (it’s always nice to be told “remember us for your next story” but not as nice as being accepted) and went out again. I started several other projects, but got nowhere.

But the weekend’s here. I can collapse, watch movies, finish the budgeting, etc., etc. And start over next week with renewed vigor and make up for what lost time I can.

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