Category Archives: Writing

Lo, there shall come furniture

I didn’t get anywhere as much done this week as I’d expected, probably about 3.5 days of actual work. Part of that was that the dilation drops from my opthalmologist Tuesday seemed to hit me harder than usual: I’d expected my eyes would be normal by afternoon but I wasn’t comfortable looking at the computer the rest of the day.

Then on Wednesday we got furniture. A few months ago, TYG had talked about replacing some of the old shelving she’s had since college with something new and pretty. I assumed she’d just given up with all the pandemic distraction but no, she hadn’t. Last weekend, a pantry arrived and we spent much of Saturday putting it together and rearranging the dining room around it.It was a lot of work, but I can’t deny it was worth it. The storage frees up a lot more space and our food stores are no longer taking up the table.

Wednesday, the second piece arrived. The good news was that it was only two pieces so we didn’t have much assembly; the bad news was that the upper half weighed more than 150 lbs so we sure as heck couldn’t put it up there ourselves. Fortunately our neighbor Eric, who’s bigger and stronger than either of us, came by (we all wore masks) and both directed us and did most of the heaving. With most of our pet treats, meds and food in the hutch (along with our small supply of booze) I was able to take some of the shelves that held that stuff and use them for my cookbooks and food-history books.I moved the plants that took up some of the shelving but I’m not satisfied with the arrangement below. I looked at ordering some shelving, but the creeping charlie is in a big, heavy pot and none of them are stable according to the reviews. As it’s hard to judge based on Internet reviews, I may just put them on a table until such time as I’m comfortable going to Home Depot or Target and checking them out physically (my ophthalmologist visit left me quite panicked so I don’t think I’m ready yet).So anyway, getting the boxes for the hutch in and putting it together consumed a lot of time, so I only had a half day of work Wednesday.

I got some more done on Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Apparently my mind has decided I should think this draft through carefully rather than just dashing it off as I usually do. I’ll trust I know what I’m doing. I also finished the redraft of Glory That Was so I’ll look for a market next week.

I went over more of Undead Sexist Cliches, prepping it before I print a hard copy for final proofing; finished a couple of Leaf articles as that source of income is back (yay!); wrote an article on Silver Age comics covers for Atomic Junkshop; and ordered the first of several reference books I’ll be buying as research for the Alien Visitors film-reference book.

Overall, pretty good. Plus I “sold” two more of the free copies of Philosophy and Fairytales (free until the end of the month, unless Smashwords extends the sale). Whoever you are out there, thanks for reading me.

#SFWApro.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Sherlock Holmes: “Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

The Holmes quote on my mug says that it’s a mistake to theorize in advance of the facts (though Holmes did that quite a bit), but I think his reason why is much more applicable to writers. In fiction it’s perfectly fine to theorize about your story (plot, character, twists) before you write it. The trouble comes when what we have in mind doesn’t work for the story on the page, but we don’t admit it.

Case in point, my original concept for No One Can Slay Her was set in the 1930s. Jenny was harboiled instead of aristocratic; her wife was a Nisei instead of a beatnik; the opening of the story involved a foreign agent putting her under a sleeping beauty-type spell.

Trouble was, as I fleshed out the main concept it didn’t hold up. The rationale for the spy enchanting Kate didn’t make sense, neither did Jenny’s response. Even after I changed the characters to their current, 1950s versions, the villain’s scheme still seemed pointlessly convoluted. So I rewrote pretty much the entire plot until it worked.

The alternative is to twist your story or your characters to suit your concept. One of the things I hated about Lost was that maintaining the mystery required massive amounts of idiot plot: Locke makes a cryptic comment about what the island wants, everyone looks thoughtful but nobody ever grills him about what, exactly he knows or intuits. In the mystery novel Have His Carcass the murderer’s plot is absurdly complicated because that’s the only way Sayers’ can justify her opening, in which Harriet Vane finds a fresh-bleeding corpse on a beach at low tide with nary a footprint around it.

Avoiding twisting can require changing the original concept, but it may be your characters or your story has to change. Every cozy mystery is built around the concept of an amateur detective investigating a mystery; as mystery novelist Barbara Ross says, that requires giving your protagonist a very good reason for investigating instead of leaving it to the cops. If you don’t have a good reason (and some novels don’t) you can’t drop the murder investigation so you have to change your character or your plot to provide one.

I had the same problem, as I’ve mentioned before, with Southern Discomfort. My protagonist Maria really didn’t have a good reason to help Olwen McAlister avenge her husband’s death, and I kept trying to find one that would make her stick around Pharisee and fight. Turns out there wasn’t, so I had her do what most normal people would do when threatened by a supernatural killer: run. Only it turns out this isn’t an option … This makes Maria considerably less heroic than I wanted, but there’s no way around it.

#SFWApro. All rights to mug image remain with current holders.

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Puppy problems pummel productivity!

Along with my doctor’s appointment this week, Trixie at the vet also sucked up a lot of time. Recovery from her knee surgery was progressing great last month, but the past couple of weeks she’s been backsliding.It started about a week and a half ago, when she started limping and kept it up for about half an hour. The doctor said not to worry unless it happened again; last weekend it did, briefly. I drove her in to the vet Monday morning and they said everything looked fine and it was normal to expect some bad days. TYG and I were still unsettled that it happened after so many weeks doing perfectly well, but still that seemed reasonable.

Then this morning she didn’t want to come out of her cage (we keep her in there so she can’t jump off the bed in the night or anything that would set her back). Her leg drags when she walks and she flinched when we touched her. I took her in to the vet and picked her up a couple of hours later. Everything seems fine but clearly she isn’t. We gave her some anti-inflammatory drugs which helped, but she’s almost as miserable as when her leg first went out. The vet said she’d lost a lot of muscle in that leg — not really a surprise, she’s been on restriction since January — but I still find it hard to believe it would just suddenly affect her. We have her eight-week checkup Wednesday, combined with her knee surgeon giving her another look. Hopefully that’ll get us some answers (and treatment).

So that sucked up quite a bit of time this week. I still got a fair amount done but I was hoping to finish at least one short story draft as well.

The biggest accomplishment was that I finished going over Undead Sexist Cliches to clean it up before ordering a print copy. It was very productive — though there’ll be more cleaning in hard copy no doubt — though I think Chapter Nine, on the metaphor of the sexual marketplace (women control the sex supply and dictate the terms — cash, fancy dinners, marriage — under which men get it) still needs work. Next week I’ll look at that chapter again, and see if some bits I edited out of various chapters can be fit in anywhere else. Then I go over the footnotes to smooth them out and start indexing (won’t be finishing that next week but the sooner I start, the easier it’ll be). I’m also looking at other options for printing than Amazon’s Kindle print-on-demand service.

I put a little work in on Laughter of the Dark and Oh the Places You’ll Go! but it’s going slowly. Partly that’s because I’m putting in more planning time than I usually do on a second or third draft, to see if I can cut down the number of drafts. We’ll see how that works.

And that was pretty much it. Leaf work is starting up again, but it’s not going to be much this month, so I’m hopeful I can squeeze in plenty more work. And that Trixie isn’t too badly hurt.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

Assorted writing, art, publishing and music-related links

The book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was a Christian-publishing sensation. Turns out it was a lie.

The movie 9 to 5 in which three secretaries take over the office ends with a better workplace than most people have today.

How book clubs helped sustain the British in World War II. And libraries have resources we can access even in a pandemic.

As the pandemic drives away museum visitors, some are loosening the rules on selling art.

From Atlas Obscura, appropriately, an article on fictional maps.

Merck Mercuriadis is out to own all the hit songs — not the recordings, but the rights to the lyrics.

With a captive audience for online journalism, what is the media’s responsibility?

Speaking of online journalism, Slate does an outstanding job going over old records and papers and concluding Trump unsurprisingly exaggerated his baseball skills.

Want to self-publish your racist, anti-Semitic tract? Hate groups are doing it on Amazon.

Land o’ Lakes has dropped the Native American image from its butter packaging.

What do famous people have on their bookshelves?

Indie bookstores are flourishing during the pandemic.

Why do maps and globes show north is up?

A writer argues for Professor X as a great disabled character who’s been demolished over time.

I am so surprised that online misogynists can’t stomach a book that fights back against victim blaming.

Naturally the focus of a Bruce Lee biopic should be on his white friend … wait, what?

Just what does the Internet Archive do with our books?

The trademark-troubled world of print-on-demand T-shirts and other merchandise.

Nine awesome libraries from around the world.

Elvis Presley and cultural appropriation.

Hearst Corp. tried to block its writers from unionizing. The conservative-dominated NLRB found Hearst’s arguments so inept it kicked them to the curb.

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A blog post to blow your minds! Or maybe not

First, McFarland finally accepted my proposal for a book about ETs on Earth, tentatively titled Alien Visitors. It will be a simpler structure than Now And Then We Time Travel: Rather than cover every movie, each chapter will take a different theme (alien invasion, alien superhero, aliens and kids, alien love) and focus on one particular movie as an example, with a list of other films at the end. While I enjoy the encyclopedic approach, this is probably better for me: the time travel book consumed a huge amount of time — not that I have any regrets — and I won’t be sorry to work on a more manageable project this time around. It’s due October of 2021, which is more than workable.

Second, McFarland, by a happy coincidence, is offering all its pop-culture books at 40 percent off through May 17. So if you want my time travel book or any of my others, now is the time to strike. Or if you’d look some of their other excellent books such as The Saint, Bell, Book and Camera or Keep Watching the Skies.

Besides mulling over a delivery date and then signing the McFarland contract, I had a productive week. I reviewed several chapters of Undead Sexist Cliches looking for any major glitches or edits, and added quotes from several websites and Twitter feeds, like right-wing hack Michelle Malkin declaring that Prince Harry has been emasculated by American feminism — look, here’s a picture of him in the military and now he’s married and wears a suit! Apparently Malkin would like us to think no military men pre-feminism have ever worn civilian clothes or gotten married.

I got a little more editing done on Questionable Minds and started reading up on marketing and promotion. I don’t anticipate this book (or Undead Sexist Cliches) turning into a cash cow, but I wouldn’t mind selling more copies than my previous self-published books. I’m also thinking about trying a service besides, or more likely in addition to Amazon’s self-publishing arm; some services would let me sell straight through my website, and I’d get a better slice of the profits than Amazon provides.

I didn’t get much fiction written, but I did put in a lot of work. On Laughter of the Dark I got a workable structure for the story (I think) and finally got an opening I’m reasonably happy with. Even though I didn’t get very far writing it, that’s a win. I rewrote The Glory That Was and I think it’s ready for a final draft later this month. And I worked out the rules for traveling to the past via old maps, which should make the next draft of Oh The Places You’ll Go a lot smoother.

I read some useful articles about pitching to magazines and websites because I’m in the mood to do more of that. Oh, and I had a post on Atomic Junkshop discussing comics writer Steve Englehart and his flair for turning obscure characters such as Deadshot into stars, or at least good supporting players.

And now the weekend and a chance to relax. Stay safe in these pandemic days, everyone.

#SFWApro. Comics cover by Marshall Rogers; rights to images remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Now and Then We Time Travel, Short Stories, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Do what everyone else is doing! It’s the secret to success!

At least that’s the argument of this 1981 Writer’s Digest article on writing genre fiction: write to market and do it by slavishly followingly the formula of those who’ve gone before. If you want to write a classic whodunnit, the article recommends, study Agatha Christie: write yours using her moral view, her voice, her pacing, her chapter structure. The same for a Regency. I remember reading the article when it came out and feeling somewhat dubious; ditto other articles in the same vein. One from a few years later asserted that unless you’re a total genius, you’re an idiot to think you can get published any other way.

Rereading it, my opinions haven’t changed; if anything, I’m more dubious. Not that I think writing to market is a bad strategy (though it’s not one I have any knack for). John Scalzi does it and he does great. Lots of other writers do too. And even if we’re not writing to market, some degree of genre knowledge is important; writing a cozy  where the murder goes unsolved would probably not find a home on the mystery shelves. But there’s a big difference between reading and knowing genre and slavishly following a formula.

Let’s take mysteries. Studying Christie, a master of the genre (I’m not that fond of her myself, but that’s a matter of taste), makes sense; slavishly following her not so much. Genres change over time and her glory days were decades before that article came out; sure, they still sell, but would they do as well if they didn’t have a famous name on them? I love Sherlock Holmes and Peter Wimsey and they’re still popular but I wouldn’t recommend anyone try to clone them for success today.

And of course following the proven successes eliminates the possibility of creating something new and successful. If nobody’s currently publishing X, studying the market won’t tell you there’s a huge market eager to read X, because they don’t have the chance to buy it. Urban fantasy is a massively popular subgenre, but before Anita Blake and Harry Dresden it didn’t exist. If Laurell K. Hamilton and Jim Butcher hadn’t taken contemporary fantasy in a new direction, it might not exist yet. Christie herself actually broke a lot of what was considered the formula back in her day, writing stories where the narrator or the police detective turns out to be the killer.

Or consider Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. RWA’s magazine (I used to read my best friend’s copies, back when she was a member) pointed out once that it was a romance novel that broke all the rules: heroine older than the hero, more sexually experienced than the hero, heroine is married to someone else. And while there had been earlier time-travel romances, such as Jude Devereaux’s A Knight in Shining Armor, there was no reason to think there was a huge market for a time-travel romance by a new writer (Devereaux was an established name). But Gabaldon proved otherwise and now there’s a whole subgenre of time-travel romance.

And of course, following a formula slavishly can preserve bad elements: sexism, racism or simply a total lack of diversity because the successful books you’re studying are all white and male-dominated so obviously trying for a more diverse cast would be a mistake.

That said there’s nothing wrong with writing to market; lots of formula books are popular (would I be reading Doc Savage so much if they weren’t?) and lots of writers have found success tweaking the formula just a little. If someone can making a living sticking to formula I’m not going to judge them for it. But it’s definitely not the only option. If your heart leads you off the beaten path, it might be worth following it.

#SFWApro.

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A delayed double feature to last week’s movies

One the Night of the Comet commentary track, writer/director Thom Eberhardt listed TARGET EARTH (1954) as an influence on the film, so that was my first choice for viewing last weekend.The film’s opening scenes in which Kathleen Crowley wakes up (having tried and failed to commit suicide by sleeping pills) to find the small city she lives in completely empty are extremely effective. Then she meets up with a similarly baffoed Richard Denning and a couple of party animals; together they figure out that the city was evacuated while they were all passed out for one reason or another. Then the sight of some rather unconvincing robots tells them why everyone else left … meanwhile the military tries to figure out how to stop the robots sent as the first wave of a Venusian invasion.

Despite the robots and the underlying absurdity (I’m familiar with evacuation issues and clearing out a city in 12 hours is impossible), this is pretty good. I don’t like the gangster who wanders in late in the movie but I do like that the protagonists are just trying to survive; they’re not part of the fight against the aliens and don’t really know what’s going on (I used a similar approach in my Atoms for Peace short story The Claws That Catch). “All we can be sure of was that this invasion was not launched by any power upon this Earth!”

Kelli Maroney says Eberhardt told her to watch Carole Lombard in MY MAN GODFREY (1936) for her role as Samantha and I can sort of see why. Lombard’s character is something of a space cadet, a ditzy heiress who recruits derelict William Powell as a find in a scavenger hunt, then gets him to work for her family as the new butler. Much to her annoyance, he refuses to fall in love with her, but her efforts to change his mind keep the movie humming. With Eugene Pallette as Lombard’s grumpy father and Alan Mowbray (to the left of Powell in the post above) as a former college chum of Powell’s. Definitely worth rewatching in its own right. “What does it matter where one puts flowers when one’s heart is broken?”

And to go with Webber’s Phantom of the Opera I rewatched Lon Chaney’s classic silent THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). While I suspect Webber may have replaced Chaney as the definitive version of this story, this is truly spectacular production in the sets Chaney’s powerful performance and his grotesque makeup (unlike most later versions, Erik here was born a freak; later incarnations were the result of accidents). Another one that’s a pleasure to rewatch, though Christine has a better role in the stage show. “No longer shall I spew venom like a toad.”

I also caught an episode of the old DESILU PLAYHOUSE, The Time Element, which I’ve wanted to see for years because it’s the pilot from which Twilight Zone launched. William Bendix plays a bookie telling psychiatrist Martin Balsam about this recurring dream in which he wakes up in Hawaii — specifically Pearl Harbor, Dec. 6, 1941. Initially he plans to exploit his knowledge and bet on every upcoming sporting event, but then he starts having qualms and tries to warn people about the Day That Will Live In Infamy — but will anyone listen? The version of the grandfather paradox given here doesn’t make sense, but the cast is solid and the situation is effectively intense; it says a lot about the limited exposure to SF most of the audience had back then that Desi Arnaz, as host, reassures viewers this was all the psychiatrist’s imagination. “The U.S.S. Arizona’s never been sunk!”

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Second month of writing while quarantined; how’d I do?

Decently. I met 58 percent of my goals which is better than the last two months (particularly March). Part of that’s because my goal list has dwindled — nothing that involves hanging out with people besides TYG, no plans to catch plays or go to museums, etc. Not even visiting the nearby coffee/tea shop, though I did order some tea from them (I’d like them to be there when this mess ends).

I do not see this changing any time soon. Durham’s stay-in-place order ends the 15th of this month, but TYG and I were social distancing before it became official and we’re still going to stick with it. This shit is scary; much as I’d like to see my friends other than on Zoom, it won’t be happening soon. When? I wish I knew.

The improvement in goal-meeting also reflects that I’m adapting. I’m getting exercise done, cooking regularly and managing to get work done despite a lot of extra dog care. And my Leaf work hasn’t started up again which meant I had a lot more time to work on my own stuff. Much as I enjoy that, I’d prefer to have steady income; next month I’ll be working on drumming up new clients, as a good freelancer should.

As I mentioned last week, I finished the latest drafts of Undead Sexist Cliches and Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I submitted four short stories, finished an untitled first draft, rewrote Laughter of the Dark and Glory That Was and finished Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates. I resumed work on proofing and correcting Questionable Minds, though I’m far from where I wanted to be (the extra work on the other two books had to come out of something).

The biggest obstacle to getting even more done is that Trixie’s injury requires a lot more time. A lot more watching to ensure she isn’t doing anything to hurt her leg. Walking her separately from Plushie — if I’m doing both morning walks or both lunch walks (or both of both) that adds up to quite a bit more time (same if TYG’s doing the work). So this month I’m assuming I’ll start work 8:30 AM, work for two hours, get four hours in the afternoon and make up the last hour of my day after dinner. Planning for that will make me less frustrated in the morning, I think, which should help me focus better.

For today’s visual entertainment here’s something Wisp (I assume) puked up on our front stoop. You can make out the eye of whatever she ate.#SFWApro.

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

Titans have fallen! My week in review

First off, while it doesn’t relate to my work, here’s a shot of Wisp. I’d gone into the kitchen to get her cat food and when I came back, she’d jumped into the chair. That was a surprise as she’s usually a “bush cat” staying on the floor. Unfortunately we had to remove the pillow because Plushie’s been chewing on it and it’s worn enough he could swallow some of the stuffing.I decided this week I would focus on my two big projects, the Undead Sexist Cliches book and Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I wanted to get the current drafts done this month and … they are.

I’m really pleased with Undead Sexist Cliches. The last two choppy chapters (the final one, on the metaphor of the “sexual marketplace,” was particularly disorganized) now flow smoothly; the footnotes are all in place; and I have my bibliography and my “final thoughts” section done (I hadn’t planned to include final thoughts but my beta readers said I should).  Now I take a break, and then in June I start final revisions. I’ll probably print up one copy via Amazon next month so that I can do them in hard copy — I’m much better at spotting errors that way.

I’m a little less satisfied with Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Partly that’s because I reused the spine of the current ending, though with changes to the details (KC doesn’t have the same power level at the big finish she did previously), and it needed more changes; however I didn’t have a better idea and I really wanted to finish, so I forged ahead. The other part is that it’s simply at a much earlier stage than Undead Sexist Cliches, and it shows: there’s a whole bunch of changes I’ll need to make next draft before I solicit my beta readers. Still, so much of the book fell neatly together, I’m hopeful everything I need is lying buried in my subconscious somewhere. Current plans are to take a month off, then rewrite it over the summer. If all goes well, I’ll have it ready to beta in September.

I got A Famine Where Abundance Lies back from the last market I sent it to. Next week, with the big projects done, I’ll be submitting everything that isn’t currently out, working on a couple of short stories and resume proofing Questionable Minds, which is the project I’ve been slack about.

And I paid my state sales taxes. One book sold on Amazon so I had to send in about 16 cents … with a $2 fee to do it online. That actually costs me more than the payment for the book.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Nancy Drew rebranded: the first CW season (with spoilers)

The second half of Nancy Drew‘s freshman season delivered on the first half, but it also disappointed. Disruptions to production from the pandemic crisis mean the last four episodes got kicked over to next season so it wrapped up this week. It’s a satisfactory stopping point: enough stuff resolved to count as a season ender, but a couple of major elements left as cliffhangers.The season launched with the murder of wealthy Ryan Hudson’s wife, but by mid-season another murder had loomed equally important: Lucy Sable, a classmate of Ryan and Nancy’s father Carson, known as “Dead Lucy” after she jumped off a cliff for reasons unknown. At the midseason break, Carson was arrested as the killer; over the second half, Nancy cleared him, solved Tiffany Hudson’s murder and in the process learned Lucy’s ghost has been haunting her because they’re related. As in mother/daughter: Ryan and Lucy were lovers but the conniving Hudsons convinced Lucy he’d rejected her; after she gave birth she gave the baby to the Drews, then killed herself. One of the elements left hanging for next season is that Nancy’s not speaking to Carson right now, resenting that he’s lied to her his entire life.

The second element is that a spirit, the Aglaeca, that she and her friends (whom I think of as the Scooby Drews, but “Drew Crew” seems to be the name online) raised to get evidence to clear Carson. They didn’t deliver the blood price the Aglaeca required and at first it appeared to be very PO’d. Their attempts to placate the Aglaeca failed because, it turns out, they were placating the wrong entity: whatever they summoned is a human ghost, and so the ritual just enraged it. At the end of the episode, the death portents are getting more ominous, including Nancy seeing herself falling over the same cliff as her mother …

The point of this post is not to thumb up the series, though I really like it, but to look at the successful rebranding of Nancy (well played by Kennedy McMann) and her crew. Part of the change is the added diversity I’d expect from any 21st century take: George is Chinese-American, Ned’s black, Bess is a lesbian. The other part, which is less expected, is turning Nancy into a ghostbuster. Dead Lucy and the Aglaeca are only a couple of the spectres and entities haunting Horsehoe Bay, all of which seem to have taken an interest in the Drew Crew.

This doesn’t work for everyone — my brother says he’d have preferred Nancy crack the case and expose the ghosts as fake — but it does for me. I think that’s because even in her new, supernatural environment, Nancy’s still a detective. There are mundane murders and she cracks those; faced with the supernatural she investigates their origins, tries to identify the spirit, figures out its agenda and how to satisfy or thwart it without loss of blood. It’s no different from stopping a mortal killer, except for, you know, the perp is dead.

Making the series a contemporary version of the novels or the Bonita Granville films with greater diversity might have worked, but I think adding the supernatural side was a smart choice. Changes like this don’t always work: the more down-to-Earth Doc Savage of the post-WW II years doesn’t feel like Doc to me and DC’s The Snagglepuss Chronicles didn’t work at all. Nancy Drew pulls it off.

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

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