Category Archives: Impossible Takes a Little Longer

Trixie is adorable. Her tummy, not so much

Wednesday, Trixie once again woke up with a bad tummy. Felt bad, didn’t want to eat, not even her favorite treats. She insisted on coming down to sit with me so my morning plans went out the window. When she started throwing up later, we took her to Park Vet where they gave her an anti-nausea shot. They told us not to feed her until Thursday so I spent evening with Trixie looking around for her food every time I gave Plushie anything. Then looking at me in puzzlement.

Thursday morning, her tummy continued, which is not unprecedented. I had to skip stretching again because it’s not possible to do yoga or any sort of exercise when a small dog insists on snuggling with you. Happily by afternoon she was completely back to normal and this morning I got a full slate of stretching and yoga in.

Despite all that, and a couple of other unanticipated errands I put in a solid week of work.

More on the rewrite of Southern Discomfort.

Another article for the Accounting Seed website.

Another 3,000 words on Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I got past the stumbling block I hit last week, but the changes I made still leave me unclear about what comes next. Still, my instincts have been sound so far.

I finished another draft of Adventure of the Red Leech and it’s looking quite good. I’ll be reading it to my writing group in about a week and a half. I also realized they might be right about Don’t Pay the Merryman (soon to be retitled) when they said the first section would work perfectly well if it had a better ending. I’d like to tell a longer tale and someday I hope I do, but for now I’m going to try cutting it short. I took my first shot at an ending; I’ll give it another go soon.

And I’ve picked the cover for Questionable Minds. I’ll do the requisite cover reveal soon as it’s settled.

Today I was a little exhausted; TYG and I are doing some stuff later so I had to front-load my schedule to get everything in and free up this afternoon. But I succeeded, actually coming in slightly over my required hours. Yay me.

This weekend, though, I intend to crash thoroughly.

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When superpowers reboot history

The basic idea of Impossible Takes a Little Longer is that superpowers are normal, superheroes are not.

Lots of people have paranormal abilities; only comic book nerds like my protagonist KC, dress up in costume. Which is not meant as any sort of metacommentary on comics — if you read my Books Read posts, you know I love superheroes — but just to make my world different. So no glorious gatherings of heroes like this one below from DC’s All-Star Squadron (art by Arvell Jones).My original concept for this book was to have the people with powers working behind the scenes, but then I wondered, why would they do that? Why not flaunt it if you’ve got it? And then I started to think about how the world might change …

The first “para-normal” individuals (paranormal wouldn’t become a noun for several decades) appeared at the start of the last century. “Ubermensch” Wilhelm Fischer. Randall Holcroft, the Deathless Duke. The initial assumption was that this was the next step up in evolution — the Caucasian male, the summit of human existence, was becoming something greater. More white men with superstrength or similar physical powers seemed to confirm it.

That theory collapsed in the Great War. Johnny Billings of the Harlem Hellfighters proved as strong as any paranormal white guy. Sister Mathilde, the “Iron Nun,” began walking into No Man’s Land and back with the wounded, protected from attack by an impenetrable force field. She was the first woman with paranormal ability and the first known paranormal who wasn’t simply physically enhanced. Only a few more followed, mostly claiming religion or magic as the source of their power.

Obviously if women and blacks could have powers, the theory was bollixed. In the coming years people speculated about the cause without succcess: was it possible all superhumans were gifted by God? Or Satan? Or both — beliefs that black paranormals were demons fit in very nicely with America’s history of lynching and segregation. But there’s never been a general hostility toward paranormals comparable to mutant-hating in the Marvel Universe.

At this point I haven’t thought of any radical changes to history prior to WW II, though that may change. WW II however came out very differently. Josef Mengele became the first person to successfully induce paranormal powers in himself (a lot of people tried; it didn’t go well) and the first to acquire mental powers. He became a supergenius whose Ubermenschen super-warriors and Second Horseman Virus enabled Germany to crush all opposition between the Russian front — protected by Baba Yaga — and the English Channel. After assassins took out the royal family and Winston Churchill, it looked like Hitler would take England too.

Fortunately Arthur returned to defend his kingdom, along with Merlin. Merlin’s magic stopped the invasion cold, but Arthur declared himself isolationist — no involvement in the war as long as Hitler stayed on the continent. That meant the US couldn’t base troops in England which made taking the war to Germany more difficult. Plus Germany did not declare war on us after Pearl Harbor, so the U.S. war was entirely against Japan.

After the war, things changed further. Instead of spreading communism, the Soviet Union focused on protecting itself so there was no Cold War, no Korean War, no Vietnam War. I haven’t worked out all the ways that changes things yet, but suffice to say the list of presidents will be very different. The current president is someone we’ve never heard of.

Other changes followed. Silicon Valley seceded in 1980; as they don’t share their tech, computers in the rest of the US haven’t advanced any further than what was available around that time. No cell phones, for instance; VHS tapes but no DVDs or streaming.

The heroic alien Stardians arrived in Dallas in the 1980s along with the evil adversaries, the Unhumans.

Wyoming was the victim of a white supremacist nuclear bombing incident near the end of the same decade.

The rest of the world has had its share of upheavals. Kukulcan returned to rule Central America in the 1950s, overthrowing the many American backed dictatorships in the region. Blacks in what was once Rhodesia discovered their ancestor’s lost psionic science in the 1960s, overthrow the white supremacist governments of Rhodesia and South Africa and formed New Zimbabwe.

In Iran, Zohak, the evil tyrant of the Persian Shah Nameh, returned and seized control of his former kingdom. His armies of the Corrupted swept forth in the late 1960s, forcing the Arab states and Israel to form an alliance against him. The alliance held; while Israelis and Arabs have never become fond of each other, Zohak’s threat has replaced most of the conflicts in our timeline.

Where do all these powers come from? Are supposed magicians just super-powered, or are paranormal powers just a form of magic? I’ll discuss some of the in-world theories in a later post.

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A good week, though not because of writing

This was not a wildly productive week, but I anticipated that. Today, you see, I set aside time to give blood; after I got back, I knew I wouldn’t be feeling creative. It’s the double-dosage donation though, so I won’t be back until  September.

Wednesday, also planned, we went to the North Carolina Zoo. TYG got us memberships as an anniversary gift in 2019 but our anniversary is the summer — way too hot — and the fall got crazy. Then came the pandemic. So it’s been a while. It’s laid out very well, with large enclosures for herds and animal families and lots of walking — it’s been a long time since I walked six miles on one day. Above, a hellbender; below, a puffin.It was a great day. It turns out I can turn down the noise in my mind  and focus when I have something this cool to pay attention to. And it’s always good to see that TYG and I can still spend hours together and enjoy it. The dogs went to a local day-boarding place for the first time in two years; I was quite tickled the staff remember them. But hey, they are awesome.

Somewhere in there, I did get work done. I sent off two short stories and two nonfiction queries on Monday and revamped Undead Sexist Cliches so that the paperback version now has a table of contents (I’d screwed up and omitted it). Amazon is currently reviewing the text for problems so I’ll have to link to the ebook for now.

Tuesday was the day to bat out about 5,000 words on Impossible Takes a Little Longer. It turned out to be the day that got nibbled to death by distractions. A dead animal in the driveway that TYG asked me to remove. A spider in the house (ditto). And driving the car to get the tires checked before our 90 minute drive to the zoo. Plus it turns out that I simply sketched the plot of the next few chapters, figuring it would be much like it was in the last draft. Due to the changes in the first 25,000 words, it’s not going to fly. So not much done.

I had better luck Thursday with Adventure of the Red Leech. Going over it, I found my plot holds together much better than I thought. Rewriting shouldn’t be too hard. I didn’t get as far as I expected this week, though. First, I was still tired from our hike Wednesday. Second, I discovered Oh the Places You’ll Go!, which has been at the magazine I submitted to for around two months, wasn’t being strongly considered — they rejected it the first week but didn’t say so (possibly now that they’re using Moksha they expect everyone to check for themselves). That put me in a very unenthused mood for a couple of hours.

But it’s a good week, regardless. We must make an effort to do more fun stuff like this.

#SFWApro.

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As predicted, returning to average (maybe better).

As I said last week, bad streaks don’t last any more than lucky ones. While this wasn’t a stellar week, I did get quite a bit done.

Most notably I finished the first 25,000 words of my Impossible Takes a Little Longer rewrite and it’s surprisingly good. The surprising part is that after rewriting the first few chapters it goes in several new directions. That’s usually the point at which my rewriting breaks down and becomes a struggle. Instead it’s moving along nicely. A long way from polished, but a solid draft. I added about 12,000 words to what I’d already accomplished.

I also put in a little time on my Southern Discomfort rewrite. Still going well, and putting Maria’s scenes in first person still feels like the right choice.

That was pretty much it other than some Leaf bill-paying work. And getting a rejection on Glory That Was (sigh).  On the plus side, I sold something at Amazon, though I can’t yet see which book it was (I hate that about their publishing system). Oh, and over at Atomic Junkshop I squeeze one last blog post out of rereading 1964’s comics. As you can see from the above Wally Wood illustrations, it involves Daredevil vs … a matador? Plus a remarkable Superman story. Then I cross-posted an old one from this blog, on the travesty of the Will Smith/Kevin Costner Wild Wild West reboot.

In my persona life, I got the second Covid booster Tuesday. Arm hurt way more than previous shots but no other negative effects. Regrettably it didn’t hook my brain up to 5G internet either. Just think how easy it would be to download porn if nobody could see it! And my vertigo has decreased to the point I have only one more physical therapy appointment, a month from now.

In addition to all that, I would have liked to work on the short stories I’m working to finish. Falling behind on a novel, however, usually works out worse.

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

 

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Things fall apart, the schedule does not hold

I know intellectually that an occasional crappy, unproductive week is inevitable, but I still hate the feeling.

Monday I wrote an article. I could not seem to come to grips with the information (about product accounting) and it took twice as long as it was supposed to, running into Tuesday.

Wednesday the dogs came down extremely early so I never had the hour or two of calm that helps me get my head in the game. Thursday the same; coupled with the added doggy care I’ve been doing while TYG wraps up her big project, my brain just rebelled. I spent the day mostly blogging.

And today it rebelled even more. I could tell I wasn’t going to get anything done, so I stopped. I feel guilty but I’d end up feeling worse if I sat there staring at the computer and doing nothing.

I did get a little bit of work done on Impossible Takes a Little Longer — not enough, but it’s good work. And I got a lot of hours in on my Southern Discomfort rewrite, which is also looking good.

I also got a couple of posts up at Atomic Junkshop. One deals with several open-ended plotlines in various comics at the end of 1964, such as the Outsider plotline beginning in Detective Comics 334.

The other deals with one of my favorite Silver Age love interests and Namor’s god-awful sweetheart, Lady Dorma.

So that’s about it for the week. Next week will be better!

#SFWApro. Art by Gene Colan, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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The work went well, the numbers vanished

So part of my improved time management this year is budgeting X hours for various projects, given what I have available. This month, for example, it’s 40 for Leaf and other nonfiction, 25 for Impossible Takes a Little Longer and 10 hours on rewriting Southern Discomfort.

Somewhere since the first of the month, the list vanished. But I can’t blame the Time Commander, I think it’s safe to say I Cut without Pasting. I remember some, but not all of the time plan so it’s not serious. However there were a couple where I had to make hard choices so I’m sure it will throw off my planning a little. Plus I just hate being that sloppy.

This week, though, went very well. I rewrote around 11,000 words of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. The changes I’ve made have improved things hugely—more action/pausing instead of looooong pauses. The little details of worldbuilding and character are falling into place better too. Of course there’s tens of thousands of words to go but hopefully I’ll be able to keep building from here. Fingers crossed.

I put in a couple of hours rewriting Southern Discomfort. The first person voice for Maria’s sections makes more of a difference than I thought. She’ s much more intense and, I think, a little more sympathetic. That should help. Enough? We’ll see when I send it out again.

I had a 1700 word article on financial statements for one of my paying clients. That took up Wednesday.

No short-story work this week. By the time I finished up on Thursday my brain was fried from working intensely, coupled with sitting with the dogs every day this week while TYG tackles a big project. Plus I spent part of my downtime writing Be Sure To Vote postcards for Activate America (if you want to help push back against the looming spread of fascism, this is one way)

So Friday I went with relatively low-intensity stuff. I spent the morning submitting multiple stories so once again everything is out, plus a couple of reprint stories. Fingers crossed for some success here too. The afternoon I did some promotional research: bookstores that I could ask to host a signing, sources for promotional bookmarks (these come highly recommended as a marketing tool), updating the About Me and Published Nonfiction pages of the blog (nothing new in fiction in a while, alas).

And now the weekend. One reason my mind was tired was that I put in extra work at the end of the day to get blog posts written for next week, both her and for Atomic Junkshop (here’s my two latest, on sexist heroes and dropping a comics series). That way I won’t have to get on my computer on the weekend and do them, which should lead to a more relaxed two days, more time to read, etc. We will see.

#SFWApro. Cover by Gil Kane (t) and Mike Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holders.

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A cover reveal and thoughts on goals

Much to my surprise — they hadn’t told me — McFarland has already picked a cover for The Aliens Are Here. I’m not sure what the illustration is from, because it’s not one of the ones I submitted for the book. But that’s fine, because it looks fabulous and captures the tone better than anything I would have chosen.

This was a good week for writing. I put in a lot of work rewriting Don’t Pay the Merryman (oh, it so needs a better title) and read the first section for the writing group. They loved it; now I just have to get the rest of the story up to that level. Several people said the section would work fine as itself if I strengthen the character arcs, so I’ll think about that option.

I rewrote The Adventure of the Red Leech and finally fixed the plot. Holmes is able to crack the mystery and thwart the killer without having to conveniently have a suitable mystic talisman (the rather hand-wave finish of the original published version). Still needs work, but it’s getting there.

I’ve also considerably reworked the plot of Impossible Takes A Little Longer and I’m pleased with it. No more long stretches of talk without compensating action. I managed to restore a lot of the characters who fell out of the previous draft — Rachel Chang, Darla Jeffries — and I think some of the key turning points are better placed. I shall start the next draft this month, with 25,000 words as the minimum goal. Plus fixing the remaining plot issues later in the book.

I didn’t achieve as much on my writing goals (or others) as I wanted to. I keep setting a goal to be more aware of local politics but I just can’t seem to make time. I did, however, send off another 60 postcards encouraging people around the country to vote (while this isn’t the exact link, you can find opportunities to help out here). I didn’t finish Red Leech or get Don’t Pay the Merryman as far along as I wanted. But the goals were ambitious enough to push me: everything’s progressing, even if it’s not as fast as I’d like. There are times when no matter how much I rewrite a story, I end up not improving. That’s not the case now. So setting the goals is doing the job it’s supposed to.

Oh, and I finished the tax forms. Now it’s just a matter of signing them and mailing them out. Once again I made a mistake in the write-off for our HSA, which upped our taxable income by $5,000. I caught that today, so yay!

Overall, I did complete enough goals to reward myself by buying the second Epic Iron Man Collection, which runs from midway through his time in Tales of Suspense through the launch of his own series (Gene Colan provides the cover).

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

 

 

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Thwacked by Thursday, a good week otherwise

I don’t know what it was that made me feel so unenthused about writing Thursday but something definitely did. I got some work done rewriting Southern Discomfort (I think it’s going well) but couldn’t nudge myself to do anything else.

It probably reflects that last weekend got hectic. First we attended a potluck, which was fun but I’m still having trouble scheduling around in-person social events. Then Sunday night the dogs underwent massive puking, then during the day, so there were vet visits, laundry to do and general disruption. Happily they’re fine now — whatever got into them has apparently passed out.

Thursday aside, it was a productive week. I finished Oh the Places You’ll Go and submitted it to Fantasy & Science Fiction, which is one of the few places that takes 9,000-plus stories. Plus it’s a prestige market I’ve been bouncing off (rejections with encouragement to write more) for years, so it’s often my first stop.

I finished the next draft of Don’t Pay the Merryman. The ending still doesn’t make sense, though; all the pieces of the story are there but I can’t make them add up to a coherent climax, nor figure out how my protagonists, Maud and Prudence, get out in one piece. Obviously I could have them die but I’m opting for life.

I put in some really good work replotting the first quarter (approximately) of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Just by making Sarah the target of one of the attacks instead of my protagonist, KC (AKA the superhero Champion),  I was able to increase the amount of action and make things less talky. However things apparently wrap up at the end of this section: Lahatiel the fake angel is down, there’s no other imminent threat, just a few loose ends. The obvious fix is to let the villain behind Lahatiel take a hand but I’m not sure what sort of hand he should take. I can figure it out though.

And today I did my taxes. Going to give them one more going over, then they go off.

I shall leave you with an image of Plushie in one of his favorite sports, rolling in leaves.#SFWApro.

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Impossible information

A big part of replotting Impossible Takes a Little Longer is figuring out where to share information with the readers.

There are two kinds of information I need to get out. One is the basic world-building stuff: paranormals exist, very few of them use their powers as superheroes, being superhuman is normalized, Hitler won WW II with bioweapons and genetically enhanced soldiers, etc. Then there’s the stuff that’s specific to the plot on and character arcs. KC wants to go friends-with-benefits with her friend Matt. KC’s love of Supergirl. KC almost gave herself up to the forces of Unlight as a teenager.Why KC uses her powers as a superhero. All of which has to be shared out without info-dumping, but well in advance of when it’s relevant or at least mentioned.

If, say, nobody brings up Hitler winning and then I reference it mid-book, I imagine I’ll get a very WTF reaction because that’s a big chagne in the world. Likewise there’s stuff about the nature of paranormal powers that needs to be mentioned before it becomes important.

One way to do this is with little excerpts from nonexistent books or news articles at the start of each chapter. They’re short, deliver innformation in a paragraph or two, and as they’re not part of the narrative they don’t require me to work it into conversation or KC’s first person monologues. The first chapter introduces the basic paranormal concepts; a later chapter references the Keel hypothesis about paranormals, which will become significant in the story.

A second is KC’s monologues. This is a standard method of sharing information in urban fantasy; it’s how we learn most of what we know about magic and the wizarding world in Jim Butcher’s Storm Front. So long as the information is interesting, and not too much at one time, it should go fine.

Third, of course, is dialog.

Figuring out where to place the information can be tricky. For example, at some point KC learns time-tampering plays a role in what’s happening. I want to time the revelation for maximum drama, but I also have to figure out its effect on the plot — and when it’s most plausible someone mention it. In my previous draft it came after the halfway point in the book. Now it’s much earlier. I think it has more impact as a later reveal but there’s a character who would probably mention it sooner. Can I come up with a good reason for her not to reveal it?

So along with reworking the plot, I’ll be reworking the knowledge.

#SFWApro. Cover by Curt Swan, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Back to where it began: rereading Storm Front

Jim Butcher’s first Harry Dresden novel, STORM FRONT  established urban fantasy as it’s now known — magical protagonists fighting evil in an urban environment. Before that I’d seen the term used for fantasy stories set in contemporary cities but nothing like what it means now. And while Butcher isn’t the first wizard PI, Glen Cook’s Garrett and Michael Reaves’ Darkworld Detective were operating in a fantasy setting, not contemporary America.

It’s noteworthy that Butcher spends the first few pages establishing the premise. A mailman sees the “Harry Dresden, Wizard” sign on Harry’s office door and makes some jokes. Harry explains that yes, he is a real wizard tackling magical matters — something anyone picking up an urban fantasy two decades later probably takes for granted.

After the light, expository start, things get serious. Murphy, Harry’s friend on the force, calls him in to investigate two people whose hearts were ripped from their breast during sex. Harry confirms that yes, it’s magical. There’s also a worried woman who wants Harry to find her missing husband. Complications ramp up fast. Johnny Marcone, the Chicago mob-master, warns Harry off Murphy’s case (if there was an explanation later in the book, I skimmed over it). One of the victims worked for a vampire running an escort service. A wizard who thinks Harry is a killer — Harry had to murder his mentor in self-defense years earlier — is convinced he’s behind whatever’s going on. The killer’s magic attacks on Harry get stronger and stronger.

It’s a really good book and holds up despite the boom in urban fantasy since. I’m not sure if the plot ties together perfectly but it moves fast enough I don’t mind. My only real issue is that Harry’s a sexist jerk who feels women are beautiful flowers who should be sheltered and cared for accordingly, even someone as tough as Murphy. The book (and the characters) keep calling Harry on his sexism but as I’ve said before, that’s not good enough.

I was reading this to get a better handle on urban fantasy as a genre in relation to Southern Discomfort and Impossible Takes a Little Longer (you can see some of my past reading on those lines here). The first thing I noticed is that it’s very much in the hardboiled PI vein. Harry’s a loner (though unlike Raymond Chandler’s heroes he has a very large supporting cast), largely isolated from the police and almost as cut off from the wizarding world. His friendship with Murphy is a tenuous one as there are things he can’t tell her. The worried wife who hires him has a hidden agenda. There’s nasty stuff going on below the surface of Chicago and not everyone’s what they seem. And yes, the wife hiring him ties into the big murder case.

Another is that after the low-key opening, things get tense — the bloody murder doesn’t hurt — and keep getting tenser. Harry’s unable to tell Murphy everything because of wizard rules, which makes her increasingly hostile and unhelpful. Initially the focus is on the mystery; then, as he gets a few clues, the personal attacks start. They elevate in intensity until at the climax Harry is dealing with the wizard’s attacks, plus some giant scorpions, plus a demon. By the time of the recent Peace Talk, Harry’s suffered from the same kind of power creep as Superman, so nothing less than a demigod can take him down. Here, though, everything’s still manageable.

Unlike Date With Death and Crossroads of Bones (see the list-link above), the tension doesn’t fade away when Harry gets involved with Susan, a tabloid reporter interested him as both a story and a guy. Harry’s apartment is under attack and he’s dragged Susan inside a protective circle. Unfortunately she’s downed a love potion Harry made (not for unethical reasons) and now Harry’s having to fend her off while also fending off the mage attacks.

As I’ve commented before, I’m not sure much of this will help with Southern Discomfort because it’s more urban fantasy-adjacent than UF itself. But it does make me think I’m on the right track in my Impossible rewrite: tighter plot (not everything coming together), more mystery, rising threat levels. So it was worth the time, aside from my enjoyment.

#SFWApro. Cover by Lee Macleod, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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