Category Archives: Brain From Outer Space

Iron, Blood and Backstory

Unless we’re writing about the birth of time, our worlds always have a backstory. There are several different ways to deal with it.

The backstory is reality. For example in Fritz Leiber’s The Wanderer, a planet-sized space shape crosses hyperspace and emerges in orbit around Earth. The moon is ripped apart, tidal waves and earthquakes ravage the world and the characters struggle to survive. Plus, of course, there are aliens.

Up until the starship appeared, the world was normal. We don’t need to know what it was like before the start of the story because we were living in it (we do get some backstory later on the spaceship and its inhabitants). The backstory is irrelevant.

I come close to this with Atoms For Peace: even though the world is slightly off-kilter (recovering from a Martian invasion) it still seems like that was one crazy fluke. Then Gwen Montgomery discovers a mutated lizard man dead in her street …

The protagonist is a newbie. This is one specfic uses a lot: the POV character is thrust into a new situation knowing nothing about the backstory. This excuses them asking constant questions and sitting through infodumps in response. This is painful to read if the info dump isn’t interesting (it usually isn’t). One of the things I hated about Charles Stross’s The Family Trade was the constant stream of infodumping directed at the protagonist. It doesn’t have to be a problem, though, if it’s done well: Mur Lafferty introduced a newbie to the supernatural world in The Shambling Guide to New York City without leaving me feeling dumped on.

In media res. This is the one I tend toward in my own writing — the protagonists aren’t newbies and whatever’s going on has been going on a while.

I’m not so much talking about starting in the middle of the action (which I do sometimes) as much as establishing that the weirdness pre-existed the events of the book. In No One Can Slay Her, for instance, magic’s a part of every day life in the 1950s. Jennifer Armstrong has been dealing with supernatural threats since her teen years (her wyrd guarantees it); her Beatnik wife Kate has the gift of wild magic. When I wrote Brain From Outer Space (the as yet uncompleted novel that inspired the Atoms for Peace stories), alien invasions, pod people, mutants and mad science were just “Tuesday” for my cast.

It’s common in urban fantasy, which Gail Z. Martin writes, so it’s not surprising she and her husband went that route in their steampunk fantasy Iron & Blood (cover by Michael Kormarck, all rights remain with current holder). Jake and his partner Rick have been relic-hunting for a while (mostly stealing antiques from people whose ownership claim is dubious). Steampunk tech is taken as normal, magic is middling (not everyone believes). And the events that trigger the plot — Jake’s father acquired a rare item that someone wants enough to kill him (and they did) — have been accomplished before Page One. We get some exposition about the characters along the way, but not much about the setting.

I enjoy that approach. Like I said, it’s one I use a lot myself. Although I found having the two federal agents “Sturm and Drang” already hunting a Jack the Ripper type as the book starts made it a little overfull (perhaps it’s because the Martins are going to spin them off into their own adventures). I still really enjoyed the book (and that is my honest opinion, even though Gail’s a friend of mine).

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Brain From Outer Space, Reading, Southern Discomfort

The upside of returning to the mean

I’ve mentioned the Law of Return to the Mean several times in this blog: If I’m performing way above average, sooner or later random chance will bring me back to my norm. The upside is that after a crappy pair of work weeks like Christmas and New Year’s, the odds are things will improve. And behold, they did.

The big news is that I finally finished the next-to-last draft of Southern Discomfort. I will clean it up a little before the end of the month and send it out to two friends who volunteered to beta. Later this year I will print the whole thing out and do the final final draft fix.

I can’t tell you how good it feels. Brain From Outer Space has languished for years because every time I rewrite it, I get to the last third and the plot falls apart. I was really afraid I wouldn’t be able to wrap up Southern Discomforts successfully, or I’d wind up doing endless redrafts. Apparently not. This is very good news.

And as if that wasn’t enough:

My new Screen Rant is out, spotlighting 9 embarrassing final roles for talented actors (e.g., Boris Karloff in House of Evil) and nine that were awesome farewells (Carrie Fisher in The Last Jedi). Below we have a photo from Lon Chaney Jr’s miserable last film (Dracula vs. Frankenstein)

And a shot of Marilyn Monroe working on The Misfits (a good final film for both her and Clark Gable)

I also finished a new draft of No One Can Slay Her. It still needs work, but I got enough of the ending worked out, and enough of the villain’s plan, that I think I can rework the whole thing much better on the next draft. It never hurts to know where you’re going.

I finally sorted out my cover issues with the paperback version of Atlas Shagged. I ordered a print copy to check everything is kosher; it’ll be here next week. Assuming it all checks out, the book will go live by the end of next week (it is, of course, already available in ebook).

And I’ll be a guest at Illogicon in Raleigh this weekend, which is always fun. My voice is still a little strained from last week’s sickness, but I think I’ll be able to manage.

It’s so nice to be productive!

#SFWApro, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Brain From Outer Space, Nonfiction, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

Given Mum’s death, I’m doing surprisingly well (#SFWApro)

I wasn’t quite sure what I’d feel like after Monday, but I’m doing okay. Frequent moments of my guts clenching up. Occasional sniffling. But having a clear path — we have the service date set, I have my tickets booked — is very reassuring, compared to heading down to Ft. Walton Beach with no idea when I’d be back.

And more than that, people talking about her on FB has helped me recover memories of her when she was young and healthy. Most of my memories of Mum are dominated by her illness. Increasing listlessness. Worry and nervousness as she becomes more and more helpless. Going up to help her with one thing or another when she was in Maryland (these were rarely fun trips). Mum spending all day sitting in front of the TV. All of that added a level of misery to my thoughts of her that I now seem to be getting past.

I imagine there’ll be more tears at the service, but we’ll see.

I didn’t attempt to put in a full week’s writing, which was wise. It’s not just that I sometimes had difficulty focusing, it’s that I just lost too much time on practical stuff. Helping my sister with the obit. The travel to the airport Monday and back. A long session with Delta transferring my Monday ticket to a new date (they were very helpful once I explained the situation).  So not enough time, and I didn’t want to do anything with a deadline (Screen Rant knows I’m out of action for a couple of weeks).

That meant getting ahead on blogging, which requires less effort than fiction. I also wrote my first post for the Atomic Junkshop blog, which I’ll link to once it’s up. I’ll be following up with more semi-regular posts.

I also finished polishing the Applied Science collection for reprinting, probably under a different name. Next up: find a cover. This one I’ll probably have to pay for as I doubt there’s existing art as appropriate as the cover for Atlas Shagged.

I rewrote No-One Will Slay Her and got the draft almost finished. Unfortunately the ending still needs work. I know the broad outline but the details — why don’t the cops show up? Just what does the villain anticipate Jennifer (POV character) doing? — need sharpening. I’d hoped to accomplish that today, but my brain

I’d have liked to work on Southern Discomfort but that didn’t happen.

I’ll leave you with a shot of Mum (l.) and our cousin Mary from a long time ago. Looking at the photos from when she was healthy helps too.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Brain From Outer Space, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

One thing pretty much dominated the week (#SFWApro)

My mother is about to die.

From my sister’s reports, it’s not that her health has gotten worse (as long-time readers may recall, it’s been bad for a while), it’s that she’s just tired. She doesn’t want to eat. Doesn’t want to take her meds (they’ve dropped all of them but the absolute life-saving ones). And the latest estimate is within the week. My sister’s theory is that after she saw my brother and his daughter at Thanksgiving (the first time since my wedding), Mum was ready to let go.

So at some point soon I’ll be traveling down there. TYG and I are figuring out the details (doggy boarding options, is it feasible to go before she passes?) and some time soon I’ll be off (TYG too).

At the moment this mostly feels like when TYG has a serious health problem, an odd, unpleasant, but very recognizable (to me, anyway, as I’m the one experiencing it) discomfort that makes it next to impossible to focus on work. I got my Screen Rant in (film actors who flopped on TV but not much else done once I got the news. A little bit of work on No-One Can Slay Her. Some revisions to my Applied Science short story collection.

Plus I spent Wednesday cleaning house (writer’s group Christmas party this weekend — and yes, it’s still on) and Thursday dealing with a structural inspector. Good news on that front at least: the house has some physical problems but we’re not at risk for it collapsing under us. That’s a great relief (fixing a major foundation crisis is high priced stuff).

And my short story End of the World on the Cutting Room Floor will be out next week. That’s very good news.

Mum’s imminent death outweighs everything else though. Though it doesn’t stop the selfish personal thought about how this will affect my schedule or my plans and how inconvenient it is. I believe that’s fairly normal. We’ll see what happens when I’m actually there and dealing with the death.

As I write posts in advance, things should continue as normal on this blog. Expect future personal updates sooner or later. Probably sooner.

At least if she’s going to go, it appears it’s by choice. That’s a good thing, maybe?

Below, Mum and her partner from a happier period.

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Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort

Uncertain and Unfinished (#SFWApro)

51-zssisf7l-_sx348_bo1204203200_That’s sort of how I’m finding the challenge of deciding what to work on while Southern Discomfort sits with the beta-readers and the galleys for Now And Then We Travel In Time are still with McFarland (all rights to cover and to the image reside with current holders)

The uncertainty is that, as I’ve joked before, I’m at the level where nothing I do is particularly more successful than anything else. This does give me a sort of freedom — I never have to choose between the magical realist story about Dadaists in Zurich that I really want to do or the werewolf raunch comedy I can sell for serious money. But right now knowing that one story would be more profitable or marketable would make it easier to focus. Normally what I’d do is go whichever story was in best shape, but at the moment everything is still in relatively early drafts. So nothing’s going to get down soon, even if I do prioritize it.

And of course, I spent a lot of Wednesday and Thursday distracted by the election aftermath. Now my feelings seem back to normal, pretty much. Though for various other scheduling reasons I didn’t get much done. Plus Trixie is getting a little upset at times that Plushie gets the prime snuggle position in my lap. She’ll stand at the far end of the couch, wagging her tale in the tentative “don’t you want to play with me?” way, and I’ll have to stop and arrange things so both dogs are happy. This isn’t always the best position for me, but I’m getting better at it.

I worked a little on Brain From Outer Space, then some on Let No Man Put Asunder. Neither got very far. I did get quite a bit done on the next draft of Trouble and Glass. This required changing a lot of stuff — the villain’s plan really didn’t make sense — and I haven’t got the whole thing worked out yet. For example at the point in the story I reached when I stopped for the week, I can’t see any reason not to smash the McGuffin (the thing everyone’s chasing after) to keep it out of the bad guys hands. But that’ll come.

And I did get some more done on Martinis, Girls and Guns (soon to be renamed Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast) — watching one of the Bond films was about the most I could do Wednesday morning.

Bring on the weekend.

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Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Nonfiction, Now and Then We Time Travel, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

Moving towards the goal posts but no actual goals (#SFWApro)

I real feel like I needed some sort of milestone this week — a sale, a story finished — but outside of getting my next And column in (on the alleged threat of Latino cultural supremacy), I didn’t have one. Not that the work was bad, it was just that everything’s in an intermediate stage.

So here’s a picture of Trixie to make everything better.

img_0908Yeah, that helps.

Part of the dissatisfaction is that I took Monday morning off so TYG and I could go out bicycling for the first time in a while. I’d planned on doing a regular day’s work when I got back but it was the first time in a while and I was too sore to do anything very complicated. So while the work I put in on Southern Discomfort was good this week, I didn’t get as far as I’d expected.

I did get quite a bit of work done on Martinis, Girls and Guns. And some further replotting on Brain From Outer Space, though now I’m up to the point at which the plot always goes off the rails—and I’m not quite sure how to keep it on the rails.

I put in a lot of work on Farewell my Deadly which I’ve retitled Trouble And Glass. As it’s shaping up to be not as much a hardboiled detective fantasy as it started out, I think the change is good. And the story is shaping up surprisingly well for a first draft — hopefully that’s a good sign.

And there was some market research, and one query submitted, all of which may produce results, but not this week.

Plus I took care of yet another couple of repair people (locksmith and gutters) and ran the car in for a quick fix of a problem. So a productive week, it just doesn’t feel like it.

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Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Personal, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

Remember, remember the third of September … no, that’s wrong (#SFWApro)

nichols2Normally I’d be posting from DragonCon (where last year TYG and I got the photo with Nichelle Nichols, left) but our scheduling didn’t work out. So this week and next will be pretty much as usual.

Despite taking Wednesday off, I had a productive week. The biggest accomplishment being that I finished the latest draft of Southern Discomforts and I don’t feel any of the qualms I had with previous drafts—it’s far from finished but it holds together. Next up, I spend this month polishing it, then put it up for beta readers in the writing group. I’m tentatively confident I can get it finished by the end of next year for submittal in January 2018.  We’ll see.

The biggest surprise was that while I had doubts about the personal arc I charted for one of the supporting characters, my brain keeps defaulting to it. So unless I get contrary feedback during beta, I’ll stick with it.

•I did another draft of Making a Famine Where Abundance Lies and I think it’s as good as I’m going to get without beta-reading. So that’s next.

•I also completed a draft of Oh the Places You’ll Go. Though it’s not as far along, it is showing steady progress.

•I got a little further along on Farewell my Deadly, though not as far as I’d hoped. But I have a better idea of the characters and where the story is going, much better than I normally do for a first draft.

•My work on Good Morning Starshine really crawled (which cut into my Farewell my Deadly writing time). Although the previous draft was pretty good (for a second draft) some of the changes I’ve made are forcing further changes, of course. For example, my protagonist, Brian, is now a rather self-serving management type rather than military security; that’s the right call for the story, but it limits the way he’s going to act and the authority he has.

•I resumed replotting Brain From Outer Space for the first time in several months. To my surprise, it went a lot better. Perhaps the story’s not dead yet. I also read over what I have for Let No Man Put Asunder and that was in worse shape than I remembered. Those are both second-tier projects at the moment—we’ll see how they go as I keep chipping away at them.

I hope everyone has a great Labor Day weekend without too much actual labor. Back tomorrow with reviews.

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Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Writing

In Spite of His Rage, Plush is Still Just a Dog in a Cage (#SFWApro)

(With apologies to Smashing Pumpkins)

IMG_0791So Plushie has still been on cage rest this week, but TYG made some changes while I was gone. As you can see, she’s set up one cage around our couch so Plush can sit with one of us and Trixie. He’s much happier being with his pack, and it’s easier than sharing his cage, then moving out to sit with Trixie, then back, but it does have some drawbacks:

•It’s much easier for them to get in a tussle.

•He’s even more likely than usual to try climbing over me as there’s no other way out.

•It’s a big disincentive to me getting off the couch myself (even to pee). Wednesday I pretty much took no breaks in between meals, and that left my mind foggy as hell by the day’s end.

And then last night Plush tried jumping from the floor onto the couch over the cage (or through the cage, who knows), fell back and landed hard on the edge of the coffee table. Doesn’t seem to have set back his recovery any (he’s had plenty of falls before) but we’ll be watching him closely today. Trixie meanwhile has been needier than usual, probably because she doesn’t have Plushie to play with and our routines are all out of kilter. Today, for example, I sat with Plush in his cage (after the all we wanted to restrict him until it’s clear he’s better) and he curled up so close I couldn’t bring myself to move for a long while. When I did get out and sit on the couch, Trixie was ecstatic to have her daddy back sitting with her, so I’ve been letting her snooze next to me for more than an hour (fortunately Plush dozed off).

These working conditions didn’t exactly hone my mind, particularly when I was doing plotting and outlining for rewrites (as this requires a lot of staring into the distance and thinking, it’s very easy for me to get distracted). I was really surprised after we took the dogs in for daycare how much I was able to work on outlines—I’m not turning into an idiot after all! I may reserve any outlining for day-care days in the future.  I think I’ll also start adopting “work on Southern Discomfort” as a default strategy—at this point it’s one I can work on even if I don’t have the focus for other stories (I tried that this morning, it worked well)

So what did I get accomplished?

I did redrafts of It’s Never Jam Today and Button, Button. I finished redrafting The Glory That Was (subject to reviews from the writing group) and submitted it to a new market.

I continued working on my rewrite of The Impossible Takes a Little Longer, which is coming along better than expected (I’ll go into detail at some point).

I’m a long way from having an outline for the next draft of Brain From Outer Space but I’m starting to at least identify the problems from earlier drafts that need fixing.

Having had two stories come back earlier this month, I sent them out to new markets. Everything publishable is now out.

I wrote my new And column, which is now out.

I read Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, which I’ll probably discuss next week.

And due to the lack of breaks, and the shorter walkies for Plush, I’m now done for the week. Time to relax.

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Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

April may, but May may not (#SFWApro)

With our Mensa trip last weekend, I forgot to post anything about how my April goals went. Since you asked, I completed about 80percent of them. That includes most of my writing goals,  sending our taxes in, renewing my passport, and gettng back to work on dealing with contractors. On the downside, I didn’t finish my Southern Discomfort outline, didn’t get anywhere at all on re-outlining Brain From Outer Space and my nonfiction queries went nowhere. But I knew it wouldn’t be a perfect transition from working on the book to concentrating on fiction.

Likewise I knew this week would be a mess. Monday we picked up the dogs in the morning; in the afternoon I had an MRI (nothing serious, some persistent recurring ankle pain). Tuesday and Wednesday, TYG had to leave me in full charge of the puppies, plus I had to run some errands Tuesday, plus the electrician came over to make some fixes in the kitchen wiring (you can see the dogs watching us from the living room). Wednesday I had to start off the day with the dogs following me around—it’s really surprising how much difference it makes having the first 90 minutes or so to myself.

puppy prison

That said, I did manage to finish Schloss and the Switchblade and sent it out. I did finally resolve Maria Rogero’s Very Good Reason in Southern Discomfort (details next week) and started rewriting instead of just outlining (10,000 words so far, though a lot of that is just carried over from the previous draft). I submitted my new And column (on Trump’s claim people only vote for Clinton because she’s a woman) and I finally finished that RPG module I’ve been working on — well finish as in “submit to editor, wait for feedback.” Still even when it was going well, my schedule was chaotic enough that I felt very off-key.

As I’ve said before, when life gets in the way of writing, sometimes you fight back, sometimes you just have to roll with it. This was a roll-with-it week, but I didn’t really roll. I’m so used to structuring my time, having it became all gooey and shapeless like this felt very frustrating.

Bring on next week (well, after a relaxing weekend).

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Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

To all things there must come an ending…I hope (#SFWApro)

daredevil006So this week I was beset by a moment of fear (cover by Wally Wood, all rights to current holder).  Right now, I have lots of time to work on fiction, which is awesome, but what if I don’t actually finish more stuff?

The last novel I finished from scratch was around 2003/4; since then I’ve rewritten The Impossible Takes a Little Longer and worked on several, but no new books finished. Brain From Outer Space has been my top priority (up until I started on Southern Discomfort) and I’ve gone through repeated drafts confident I’d fixed all the problems … except I hadn’t. So as I worked on replotting Southern Discomfort this week, I had to wonder, what if I go through that again? Replot, start rewriting, discover it doesn’t work, replot, start rewriting …. In which case all my added time is just wasted time. Something has to get done, because much as I enjoy writing, there’s no point to it if I don’t finish and then submit.

And there’s no way to know for sure until I do successfully finish. Most of the story looks solid (I’ll be polishing next week and maybe the week after) but Maria still isn’t working. I’ve increased the pressure that drives her to Pharisee, Georgia, but once she’s there, she still doesn’t have enough of a stake in what happens. Fixing that will be a priority next week.

Along with replotting, I started work on another replot of Brain From Outer Space. I was thinking at first I might just give up on it, but it looks like it’s not totally unsalvageable … maybe (one thing about not being a published novelist is that I lose nothing but time if a project doesn’t work out. Yes, thank goodness I don’t have to worry about deadlines for writing fiction or anything. Right. Of course). I rewrote Rabbit Indigneotem—it didn’t fix the problems with the story, but I think I’m closer to seeing the way out. And I made my final rewrite of Schloss and the Switchblade until next month when I print it out and read it aloud (that really helps).

I sold a story to the pulp market Crimson Streets — my tale of the Wandering Jew, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. And they already paid (so if you have a period pulp-style piece, check them out). I’ll give a squeeeee here when it’s published.

And I have a new And column out, Sex as Shopping, on the problems of people thinking of sex as a kind of retail transaction.

As a minor accomplishment, I reread a first draft of a novel (untitled) I wrote a few years back and then set aside. Just as I remembered, it has a lot of good elements — but it’s also far from perfect. I’ve occasionally felt attacks of “You know if I just went back and worked on that other project instead, I’m sure I’d have it done in a snap!” but I’m satisfied that is not the case. I’ll get back to it but Southern Discomfort first

Time management notes: I’m taking longer for my morning pre-work ritual than I’ve been budgeting for, and it’s consistent. Only about another 15 minutes, but after five days that’s another hour out of the work week. And Friday was my worst day for the second week in a row, though unlike last Friday, I kept working and got my full 40 hours for the week. I could try preloading my time and putting in more work on Monday and Tuesday evenings, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, evening work is suboptimal (TYG’s back and I want to be with her, not my Macbook Air).

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Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing