Category Archives: Writing

One of those “why isn’t everything finished yet?” weeks

Productive, yes. But I want to see stuff completed!

I finished the current draft of Undead Sexist Cliches, which was an accomplishment. But then I immediately jumped to adding stuff from some of the PDFs I have on my computer, mostly law journal articles about rape law. This will improve the book, but it’s slow going because there’s a lot of information (at some point I may discover I have too much material and have to prune back the text). So I don’t feel I’ve gone much further, even though wrapping up the last draft was.

I have finished writing the proposal for my next McFarland book (assuming they accept it), but I didn’t finish it. I have to open my old computer, convert it into word, check for spelling and polish it up before I send it off. I’ll get it done next week for sure, but it would have been nice to send it out this week.

I sent off one of my previously published short stories, Leave the World to Darkness to a new market that takes reprints. A Famine Where Abundance Lies came back last weekend, but I haven’t found a new market yet.

Fiction just kind of flatlined. I worked on my Tarot in Hollywood story (still untitled) but when I reached the point where I really needed to take it in a new direction, I just blanked. I have ideas where it can go but I couldn’t seem to translate them to the printed page.

And sitting with the dogs is becoming even more distracting than usual. Plushie seems to delight in squirming in my lap in ways that put me in increasingly awkward, uncomfortable positions, which does not sharpen my focus (I had to give up on one Leaf article today because I was feeling that out of balance) I can’t quite bring myself to deny the dogs snuggling opportunities (and it would be a lot of effort to keep them away), but I really need to think of some sort of solution. More, shorter breaks so I’m not sitting there quite so long, maybe?

I did put up a new post at Atomic Junkshop on loving characters vs. particular incarnations of characters. And last week, though I forgot to mention it, I contributed to a round table post about geek stuff we don’t get. Mine was mostly on the sheer amount of geek stuff out there now, and how my knowledge only encompasses a small slice of it, and it’s getting steadily smaller; I have no intention of paying for Disney streaming, so I’m going to miss all the various MCU shows they have planned.

So that was my week. I’ll wrap it up with one of my favorite Hawkman covers, by Murphy Anderson.

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Cuteness and work

Here’s one slice of cute. They don’t usually sit together, but Plushie kind of slid into that position after I got up and removed my lap from around him.

The other slice, while I didn’t get a photo, was that this morning when I opened the door to clean cat dishes off the deck, Wisp plopped herself down on my feet and just lay there, inviting me to scratch her belly. I’ve always been nervous about getting that close to her claws, but she seemed to want it, so I did … and she liked it! We still have to find a way to catch her, though (I suspect doing so will set her back to Suspicious, but it needs to be done).

Now, as to work, a pretty good week. Despite having the Oberlin alumni picnic last weekend, I managed to get in my three hours of Sunday writing. So it looks like I can stick with this approach for a while and quit earlier in the day on weekdays.

I have now rewritten Undead Sexist Cliches through Chapter Eight, on abortion and birth control. Now I just have to work on Chapter Nine about the concept of the “sexual marketplace,” and I can start with the next draft, which will add footnotes as well. I also forced myself to read some of antifeminist Mona Charen’s Sex Matters to get some examples of bad sexist language (among other things, Charen blames feminism for making women cry “date rape” if they have bad sex. No, it doesn’t make any more sense in the original).

Working on the book took more time than I expected, so I didn’t get as much fiction writing done as I’d hoped. But I worked on Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and it’s starting to have an ending. Not a great ending yet, but closer than it was. I keep feeling the urge to set it in the early 1980s but I’m not sure why. I suppose I could just use 1983 as a backdrop but I can’t help thinking there’s something I’m missing. Perhaps it’ll come to me.

Tuesday, I went to the writers’ group and afterwards we went out to Motorco in downtown Durham. It’s a much better place to eat than our usual after-group hangouts and as we’re eating outside, it’s much easier to hear conversations without the background babble building up as it does in enclosed rooms. But due to limited parking in the area and lack of familiarity, I opted for Lyft. This proved more expensive than I expected, and when I called for a pickup at 10:15 PM it took longer to get a ride than I’d anticipated. Perhaps I should switch to my own car next time, but then again I really hate navigating unfamiliar places in the dark.

Oh, and I began thinking seriously about a cover idea for Questionable Minds. I got several suggestions on FB from my friends; I’m thinking a Victorian street with maybe some kind of psychedelic coloring (reflecting the paranormal elements) but I’m not quite sure what people to put on it. Jack the Ripper lurking? Or maybe have an arm wielding a scalpel and Simon’s arm grappling with it, imposed on the street scene? I’ll give it some thought, but I’m on the way there. And I found some street scenes that might do the trick, like this public domain 1867 photo by Thomas Annan below (courtesy of wikimedia commons)

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See? I told you Wisp liked me!

For starters, here’s Wisp graciously receiving my scritching.

This week went well, though I had to take time off Wednesday afternoon for an Alexander technique class. Normally that wouldn’t have affected my schedule that much, but I decided to send the dogs to Suite Paws Wednesday rather than Thursday. That way TYG didn’t need to stay home with them (she’s had a hectic week) and we wouldn’t be picking them up around 6PM Thursday. That left me free to go to a “Published Author’s Chillzone,” a MeetUp a friend from the writing group started for published authors. I’ve been meaning to go for several months, but doggy day care kept getting in the way. This time everything dovetailed. It’s a small group, but fun, though it felt much further away than it really is. Durham has a very odd pattern of development and one long stretch of road felt like I was driving out of the city and into the deep woods. But I had fun, so hey.

I worked on the sexual harassment chapter in Undead Sexist Cliches and got some good work done but not as much as I’d hoped. However I also incorporated my beta-readers’ feedback on the previous two chapters, so that’s good.

I put in some work on the Bleeding Blue short story, and it’s starting to get into shape.

And I did my usual 10 Leaf business articles. Though as sometimes happens, my brain couldn’t quite get into the zone so I took longer than I should have.

And I slept quite well. The temperature’s gone down a little outside and now the no caffeine in the afternoons policy is allowing me to sleep again. Feels good.

That was pretty much it. Satisfying, though not spectacular. Doing three hours on weekends and less at the end of the day is definitely working out — we’ll see if that holds true this weekend, when I actually have events to go to.

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Is it the zeitgeist or the nonfiction?

After I read Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates to the writer’s group last week, it struck me how much of my recent fiction work has been grappling with the subject of sexism.

Chocolates started out as a story about what happens when Hope gets out of Pandora’s box at last. Now it’s a story in which Pandora’s box releases a wave of stupid macho behavior across a small Florida town (Destin, where I used to work, but with the serial numbers filed off).

Bleeding Blue deals with misogyny and sexism in policing.

Only the Lonely Can Slay starts with a woman paying an assassin five bucks to kill the woman’s abusive husband (the assassin’s cut rate is her equivalent of pro bono legal work).

Impossible Takes a Little Longer, if I ever get back to rewriting it, will have a misogynist/incel-ish villain (or so it looks now).

My as yet untitled tarot in Hollywood story may deal partly with the Patricia Douglas rape case (again with the serial numbers filed off).

Am I just responding to the male supremacy rallying behind Trump? Or is it that writing Undead Sexist Cliches has set my mind in this groove?

Either way I don’t think it’s hurting the story so I shall let my mind rove as it will.

#SFWApro. Image by Caroline Marsh, all rights remain with current holder.

 

 

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Wisp likes me!

So this week I went out on the deck to trim some rosemary leaves for a roast potato dish. Wisp was out lying by the pot (like this, although it’s an older photo) and I assumed that as usual, she’d run off under the deck instead of being close to the human.

Instead, she rubbed against me as I clipped the leaves, weaving around my legs, rubbing on my butt, and letting me scratch and stroke her head and back. It was soooo cool.

If I’d had the confidence to pick her up and place her in a carrier, we’d have solved our problem of getting her to the vet. But I suspect she doesn’t like me that much yet. TYG has been trying to snag her with the kind of loop on a pole people use for wild animals, but Wisp’s wary enough to stay away from it. I think the simplest method would be dropping a laundry basket over her while she’s eating, but we’re going to try the pole a few more times.

This was a productive week, though as often happens, it doesn’t feel like it: a lot of the work I did is still in progress, so there’s no tangible result.

I’ve almost completed my proposal for the (hopefully) next pitch to McFarland, Space Invaders. If all goes well I’ll send it off next week.

I pitched my first article query in a couple of months, to The Writer. I think it’s a long shot, but it only took me a few minutes, so what’s the heck.

I posted a blog at Atomic Junkshop in my ongoing series on what comic books are like in comic-book universes. This time up: what was the Marvel Comics in the Marvel Universe like in the 1940s?

I contacted And Magazine again about writing for them, but it looks like a no-go. The current incarnation seems to be more conservative and more national-security oriented than when I was one of the contributors and I don’t think the stuff I want to write will be a good fit (this may explain why my older articles are no longer online there). A shame — I’d really like to reach a larger audience than this blog, though I appreciate all of you who do read me here.

I redrafted Death is Like a Box of Chocolates for the better and read it at Tuesday’s writer’s group. The feedback was helpful, though nobody said anything that helps me see how to end it right. I redrafted Only the Lonely Can Slay and I’m definitely getting a little closer to making it work. Not close enough yet, though. I also read over my untitled Tarot in Hollywood story, trying to figure what I want for the next draft.

I submitted my usual articles to Leaf, although I ended up one short of what I’d intended for the week. My brain just balked and I knew better than to try pushing it.

I finished the rape-cliche chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches, breaking it into two to make the size manageable. The first half deals with cliches about consent (it’s not important. The slut probably wanted to be raped.) and not believing the victim, the second deals with “she asked for it!” and “do we want to ruin his life just for a little rape?” cliches.

My work-week included three hours on Sunday, as it did the week before. It wasn’t as effective, as I was sitting with the dogs that afternoon, but it still feels good getting the last hour of the regular workday to myself.

Oh, and the Medscape video that went live last week has generated more than 1200 hits and some very favorable comments (“Visual presentation from patient makes it interesting and simulates actual consultation.”). So I guess it did some good. To celebrate, let’s look at a spooky tree!

#SFWApro. Weird Tales cover by Joseph Eberle, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Is our writers learning? Magicians on two different worlds

Today I look at two books from recent reading that I liked, but I thought had serious flaws (of course both authors are way more successful than me, so perhaps you should my opinions of them with a grain of salt)

After Year of the Unicorn Andre Norton returned to Estcore for WARLOCK OF THE WITCH WORLD, focusing on Kemoc, the second of the Tregarth triplets. In the aftermath of Three Against the Witch World, Kaththea has found a boyfriend, the noble warrior Dinzil. Everything about Dinzil sets off Kemoc’s alarms, but everyone tells him he’s just jealous of his sister finding someone besides him and his brother. He tells himself that’s right … but then, during one military sortie, he winds up injured, poisoned and alone. And he learns that Dinzil is, indeed, a dangerously bad dude, offering Kaththea training in magic with an eye to luring her to the dark side. With the help of the mer-woman Orsya, Kemoc journeys to Dinzil’s dark tower, picking up a magic sword along the way. Unnervingly, a seer predicts there are three possible outcomes, all of which lead to Kemoc killing Kaththea. As she can’t tell him what events trigger those dooms, he’s completely frozen in deciding what to do next (a nice touch).

The sword, unfortunately, is the book’s big flaw. It’s like a really overpowered magical item in D&D; in addition to standard stuff (flaring in the presence of evil) it can dig through magical barriers, move by itself and at the climax, when Kemoc does kill his gone-to-the-dark-side sister by throwing the sword into her heart, it’s the sword that saves her, turning so she’s just knocked cold by the pommel. That’s the part that really bugged me because it felt like a complete cheat.

AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS by Kat Howard (of Cathedral of Myth and Bone) takes place during a power struggle between the great Houses of New York’s magical community (if Howard referenced any magic outside of NYC, I missed it). Sydney is the key player among several POV characters: recently released from the House of Shadow (which imprisons mage children as a battery of power other sorcerers can draw on), she’s the champion of one man hoping to found his own house; has a hidden agenda assigned her by Shadow; and an agenda of her own, to smash the nightmare House of Shadows once and for all.

The magic system is pretty simple: apparently you just will it and it happens. As the effects are weird and colorful, this doesn’t come off as Charmed-style magic as psi-power. The magic duels are over fast, with little suspense (Sydney’s very, very good) but that’s okay as the focus is more on character and political scheming: actually winning the duels is secondary.

Where the book disappointed me is that all the character conflicts, the political scheming and Sydney’s war on shadow wrap up with about a fifth of the book left to go. The plotline veers to the mysterious malfunctioning of magic (something set up early on), a battle with one evil, ambitious schemer and Sydney sacrificing her own power so that magic doesn’t disappear completely. It felt like none of this tied in to what the book was about — Sydney’s sacrifice and the need for it came completely out of left field.

I liked both books, but I could have liked them a lot more.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Gaughan, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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A time hack that works? Could be

I hate working on the weekends. But last Sunday I put in three hours and it went well. And by so doing I was able to take off the last hour of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday without coming up short.

That’s a very big deal. The last 90 minutes of the day are my low point in alertness. It’s worse now that we have the dogs, because I’ve often spent a couple of hours with Plushie and Trixie (adorable though she is) squishing into or around my lap. This usually results with me bending my body into positions that do not promote concentration or clear thought. Today, for example, it’s 2 PM as I write this and I already feel my brain glitching from my position.But I don’t want to just push them away so I can work.

Three hours on the weekend when I’m not worn out and the dogs may be sitting with TYG works much better. And then I can use the freed up hours in the week to read or relax, which feels great. It’s much easier to kick back and play with the pups when work finishes (with Plushie it’s more enduring his barking until Mommy comes home than actual playing) if I’ve had a break first.

Of course there will be weekends that doesn’t work or isn’t possible, but I’m going to give it a good shot.

As a result of the time hack, I had a productive week. I got my quota of Leaf articles in and a little bit more. I redrafted Death is Like a Box of Chocolates and much improved it, but the ending is still a mess. Too bad, as I’m reading it for next week’s writer’s group; I’d thought it’d be another two weeks before I read, but enough people dropped out to speed up the queue. I’ll give it another going over on Monday.

I got a little bit more done on Undead Sexist Cliches (I’m debating giving it a more serious name. Haven’t decided) but I didn’t finish Chapter Five. The amount of rape-related myths to cover is huge. It may end up the longest chapter in the book.

I spent too much time Thursday arguing on FB. One of my Florida friends, while I’ve always found her sweet and lovable, is a die-hard Trump supporter (I know possibly she’s less sweet than I thought) and she’s been posting a lot of pro-Trump, anti-the Squad stuff, so I’ve been commenting, and she’s been commenting on mine … and Thursday I wound up wasting a lot of time arguing (and by the way, calling them “the Squad” puts me in mind of the cover below, so here it is).

I also posted another Atomic Junkshop piece about my least favorite Dr. Mabuse film, Scotland Yard vs. Dr. Mabuse.

Oh, and the video I did a while back for Medscape is now online. I play Gilbert (“My blood sugars at home are ok, and I think my prostate infection has finally cleared up, but I have a new girlfriend and worry whether I am virile enough. As it is, she’s overlooking my fat belly and balding head!” [they shot me neck up, because it seems I’m not fat enough for the role. Woot!]). You have to sign in to see it, but it’s free. I was critical of my body language (some of it seemed a little melodramatic) but given I had no rehearsal, I think I did pretty well.

And now I’m quitting early for the day. Due to a couple of sleepless nights I’m actually ahead of my 35 hour quota — and as I said, I can’t keep working around the dogs much longer anyway.

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Sleepless but productive

For a variety of reasons (restless dogs, restless wife, caffeine consumption even though I know I’m caffeine sensitive) I didn’t get a lot of sleep this week. On the plus side, I managed to put in a full week of work despite taking time out for an eye appointment Tuesday (all good!) and our futile attempt to trap Wisp.

Undead Sexist Cliches is moving along well. I completed the first four chapters, including incorporating all my beta-reader feedback and the various online references and quotes I’d added. Today, instead of writing short stories (I woke up very early and just couldn’t get into it), I went on and reorganized Chapter Five. It’s the chapter on rape apologist bullshit (e.g., it’s not rape if you’re drunk, most rape charges are lies, you can’t punish a good man for one little error) and it has, unsurprisingly, a lot of stuff in it. I was able to break it down into a coherent set of cliches, grouped various as Don’t Believe The Woman, Rape Is The Woman’s Fault, Rape Is Excusable and Men Can’t Figure Out Consent (as a friend of mine said, straight men grasp consent very easily when they’re in a gay bar). I got about halfway through the chapter before my brain began to sludge. So I’m calling it a day.

I worked on Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and got some ideas for improving Only the Lonely Can Slay. Didn’t get as far with them as I’d have liked, though. And didn’t get any work done on the Space Invaders proposal: I’d scheduled that for Thursday afternoon while the dogs were out, but the two hours spent watching to see if Wisp was dopey enough to be captured killed my focus. I did, however, submit the two stories I don’t already have with a magazine somewhere. That means all my unpublished stories are out. Now I need to start making plans for Southern Discomfort — any agents I haven’t queried yet who might be good targets? Which publishers should I pursue if agenting doesn’t work out?

I also figured out how to work a Square reader for my phone. While I was at Mysticon a few months ago, I discovered it helps to sell books if you can accept credit card payments. So now I can. There’s a fee to Square for each use, of course, but I think it’ll pay off for me.

A good week, though I wish I’d done more fiction. I’ve adjusted next week’s schedule to emphasize more fiction, less Undead Sexist Cliches. Hopefully it’ll balance out, especially as I’m reading at the writer’s group the week after next. I was low enough in the queue I thought it would be two weeks further off, so I need to hustle. Oh, and Leaf has started back up so I’ll be earning actual money come Monday.

I’ll close with a Shadow pulp cover by G. Rozen. Much as I love Doc Savage, the Shadow had the better pulp covers.

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The Hand-Wave Opening

The back-cover copy of Fran of the Floods (which I reviewed last weekend) refers to the flooding as caused by global warming. That’s not it, at least, not as we think of it now. In the 1970s story, it’s simply that the sun suddenly started burning hotter, disrupting the weather. And when the sun calms down by the end of the story, the rain stops.

There’s no explanation why the sun gets hotter, but there doesn’t need to be really: as the title of my post implies, it’s just a hand wave to set things in motion (a decade earlier it would have been nuclear testing; a decade later, the greenhouse effect). And I think that’s perfectly fine. The science of how Britain floods is irrelevant to the story of whether Fran can survive long enough to reach her sister.

For a different hand-wave premise, there’s the British strip Wendy the Winner. This comedy strip from the Diana weekly has young Wendy Blake constantly entering contests and winning all kinds of things: a new ultra-modern house that her family hates, a trained seal that has to move in with them … I don’t have kids myself but I’m sure that most parents, after a few incidents like this would tell their daughter Stop Entering Contests. But that would kill the fun (I read this in my sister’s comics, and I recall it being entertaining).

The hand-wave opening is a variation on the old rule that coincidence can launch your story, but it can’t resolve it. Having your protagonist discover at the start of the story that they’re the exact double of the local monarch? Implausible but workable (in Prince of Zenda and Prince and the Pauper to name two examples). Pull that at the climax (“Wait — it’s our prince! Lay down your weapons!”) without establishing it first and the story’s gonna stink.

Roger Ebert put it a different way: grant the movie its premise. Even if it’s improbable or absurd, if it launches us on a cool journey, he thought it was forgivable. I’d agree. We never learn the cause of magic declining in Sisters of the Raven, but the focus of the story is on how society reacts when men lose power and women start to gain it (the same could be said of The Power).

Of course, what constitutes a believable hand-wave depends partly on the reader. There’s a scene in the play Noises Off where one of the actors playing a double role insists there’s no way his character could be the exact double of a Middle Eastern millionaire; when the director bullshits him that the playwright has explained all this (the two characters are half brothers!) the actor’s satisfied. Some people may not grant the premise. Love at first sight is a hand-wave of sorts, but it only works if you can prove the love has something substantial to it.

It also depends on the genre. If, say, you’re writing a near-future technothriller, you’ll probably need a more plausible rationale than “the sun got hot.” You might be able to hand-wave a miracle forensic science technique in an SF story (assuming it’s not about how the technique works) but probably not in a mainstream CSI thriller.

Fantasy is open to hand-wave premises, like finding a talking head in a washing machine. Just so long as the weirdness plays off at the end. That’s why I love writing it.

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Independence Day slowed me down

Not that we did anything noteworthy, it’s just that it’s one of the holidays I take off even if TYG has her own stuff to do (ditto Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years). Still it was four productive days.

I finished the first draft of a story set in 1930s Hollywood, involving the Tarot. Like all my first drafts it’s not good, but I think the seeds are there. I rewrote Bleeding Blue adding some female support for my protagonist instead of making everyone, male and female, a jerk. That improved things but I still don’t have a clue about the ending it needs.

I also started the third draft of Death is Like a Box of Chocolates. It’s improving with each draft but it’s a long way from where it needs to be. And some of the elements I’ve added, like my protagonist’s feelings about her looks, may not really fit well with the story. I’ll see how the next draft goes.

I’d hoped to get a little more fiction done, but the temptation to do work on Undead Sexist Cliches sucked me in. Of course that’s still productive, but I do want to keep my fiction output up. Next week, I’ll do better with that. But my Undead Sexist Cliches work was satisfying. I rewrote the introduction and the section on anti-feminism, and incorporated my beta-readers’ feedback into Chapter One. I also went through the mass of bookmarks I’ve collected with relevant news stories and added the relevant material to the appropriate chapters. That’s what really sucked up time, but I wanted it done so I’m not having to constantly update the chapters to add material. Now that that’s done, next week I should be able to move a lot faster.

Wisp has been showing up regularly all week, so we’re going to try again to capture her for the vet next week (we didn’t have time with July 4 disrupting the schedule). Fingers crossed we’ll do better than last time.

Hmm. Written down in black and white it’s not an exciting week, but it was a good one just the same.

I’ll close with two covers from House of Secrets (top by Ruben Moreira, bottom by Bob Brown) showing how much fascination quiz shows held back in the 1950s.  While I know the stories would have sucked (DC’s suspense anthologies of that era were pretty poor), the covers do grab my attention.

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