Category Archives: Impossible Takes a Little Longer

What rough year slouches towards Bethlehem, ready to be born?

Welcome to 2021. While I can imagine all kinds of ways in which it could be worse for me than last year, I’m nonetheless feeling hopeful that it’ll be better. And that I’ll do better with my goals, particularly writing goals. I’ve run over what worked and what hasn’t worked, plus what has to work (Alien Invaders is due in October, so I’d better be ready). I’m probably still a little optimistic, but not unattainably so. But I’m making hopping John today because Southern tradition says that brings in the good luck. And it’ll be tasty, so why not?

The two immediate goals are to self-publish Undead Sexist Cliches and Questionable Minds. Deadline: My birthday. It’s doable (the one big obstacle might be indexing USC) assuming my cover artist for the novel delivers and I can find a cover artist for USC. Later in the year, I’ll publish a short story collection, Magic Through History, with a mix of published and unpublished shorts. Though I will be submitting the unpublished stuff so it’s possible some of them will be off the table.

I want to finish three short stories — okay, I’d like to finish more than that, but I think that’s doable. That includes finishing Oh the Places You’ll Go! and rewriting my first published story, The Adventures of the Red Leech (which I wrote about here last year).

I want to finish my new draft of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, submit it to beta readers and finish a redraft based on their suggestions. That’s the schedule where I’m really pushing it, but I enjoy writing novels and I want to push on this so why not?

I also have odds and ends: try making YouTube videos, earn at least $20,000, prepare my “writing estate” (so TYG knows what I have out and where the rights are tied up) and pitch several articles and columns. I haven’t had much luck with either (outside of my Leaf articles) but it’s worth a shot, and I have some ideas that might sell.

In the personal field, I want to make my exercise schedule more demanding, and improve my diet: not that it’s massively unhealthy but upping my fruit and vegetable intake can’t hurt. I want to bicycle as much as two hours at least once, and walk six miles at some point, both of which are beyond my current range. I’m planning carefully so that I can (hopefully) work up to that level of intensity.

And there’s a bunch of activities and goals that apply if and when it’s safe to walk outside and mingle with people again. Hopefully not too long.

I want to increase my reading; obviously I read a lot already, but there’s so much to read and there’s more books I can squeeze in if I focus better (with dogs and Wisp, it’s sometimes hard). I also plan to keep improving my photography, just because it’s fun. As a token of which, here’s a recent image from a late night walk.I wish y’all the best for 2021. Let’s roll.

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2020: not my most productive year

And I can’t even blame the pandemic: after all, I was working at home long before the Trump Virus made it a life-saving option. TYG working from home has in some ways made my work easier, as I don’t have dogs all day. I do, however, get randomly called to take over dog-car for her when she gets busy or Plushie gets fidgety, but it’s still mostly a win.

Nevertheless, I didn’t get anywhere near as much done as I’d anticipated. Partly that’s because pandemic stress did slow me down the first two or three months. Plus Undead Sexist Cliches took much more time to complete than I’d planned (Which is typical. Nonfiction always eats into my fiction-writing time). Redrafting Impossible Takes a Little Longer did too — so much more that I didn’t get beyond four chapters in, though they’re much better chapters. I finished two short stories, submitted shorts 27 times, and sold three (two of them reprints), none of which met my goals. And I fell just a few hundred dollars short of my income goal for the year, due to Leaf work stopping in early December. But I did finish Undead Sexist Cliches, and I’m almost done with Questionable Minds; I’d wanted them finished and published, but I’m still pleased to know they will be done soon.

Plans for travel and for local social events didn’t happen, obviously. Neither did a lot of my personal goals for doing stuff with TYG: she had some ultra-demanding personal projects going on the first couple of months of 2020 and by the time they wrapped up, we were hunkering down at home. The brightest spot of the year for us, though, was her working from home and discovering she not only liked it, she could be more productive even when dealing with dogs. So she’s not going back. It’s much less stress for her, no time spent driving to work, and having added help with the dogs is easier for me.

I donated more money this year, and contributed regularly to a local food bank. Didn’t do as much to contribute to the commonweal as I’d intended to, even so; I’ll work on doing more in 2021.

Wisp was a big success. She’s gone from occasionally coming in the door to eat and get petting to coming in and snuggling on the couch. Last weekend we brought her in late in the evening and left her downstairs all night; I wasn’t sure she’d be happy with that, but it turned out fine. We’re still some ways from making her a permanent indoor cat (we’d like to do that — much safer for the birds) but maybe it’s not as impossible as I was starting to think. In any case, she’s definitely part of our family now: like Plushie and Trixie she has her own Christmas ornament.

And I did accomplish two personal goals. In 2019 I got out of the habit of baking bread regularly so I set myself a goal for 2020 of baking at least twice a month (including muffins and scones). I succeeded. And for the first time since moving up here—okay, and a long time before that—I cleared all the new books out of my to be read shelf. Yes, I know, that just means I’m not buying enough books, but seriously, having a book sit on my shelves for three years before I get to it just annoys me. We’ll see if I can keep up in 2021. Total books read, 214, if you’re wondering, including about 40 percent graphic novels.

Despite the disappointments—all those submissions and only one new story sold?—this was overall a good year for me. Even with all the things I missed, like visiting my family and friends in Florida, it turns out TYG, writing and our pets can keep me pretty happy.

Still I’m ready for the vaccine, though it’ll be a while before TYG or I get a dose. Ready for Trump to be gone. Ready for 2021.

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“Stick to the status quo” … or don’t

(Title inspired by the song from High School Musical. Two discussions of the status quo follow)

Sticking to the status quo is an understandable impulse, especially in any sort of series. If you write about a single PI who beds a different woman each book, marrying him off can kill off audience interest (case in point, Carter Brown’s various swinger protagonists). When the creators have a set-up that involves sexual/romantic tension — will they or won’t they go to bed? Will Superman ever tell Lois his identity? — they often worry that resolving the big issue will have the same effect. If the urban fantasy premise requires magic fly under the radar in a secret war, you don’t want it going public.

Trouble is, this can easily lead writers to cheat. Superman II, for example, has Lois finally discover Clark’s identity; he renounces his powers to be with her, but then he has to take them back to stop the bad guy. At the end, Clark resolves the conflict by kissing her and wiping her memory that he’s Superman. Everything back to normal, cue Superman III (which wound up not using Lois). Only … how the hell does he do it? Sure, Superman has powers far beyond those of ordinary mortals, but they aren’t magic; he can’t just induce amnesia with a kiss because the plot calls for it. And it didn’t really call for it (even given Lois was kind of upset and confused about the situation), it was the long-term future of the franchise that did (this was years before the comics and Lois and Clark proved he could unmask and they could get married and the series wouldn’t die).

Likewise after a certain point straining to keep sexual tension up by throwing new obstacles in their path just gets ridiculous. While I wasn’t a fan of the 1990s sitcom Anything But Love, I give the creators top marks for ending the sexual tension after about a season rather than keeping it frozen. As one of the producers said, having a relationship actually happen doesn’t mean everything gets easy or no obstacles crop up

It’s really frustrating in comics. I’ve read stories of several creators who made changes during their run, then promptly undid them so that the next writer would have the same options and characters available they did. I mean, what’s the point of that? Or the countless examples of creators going back years later and unmaking changes to the status quo. Barry Allen replaces Wally West and becomes the Flash again. Spider-Man’s marriage gets erased. And so on. People in the industry talk a lot about how fans don’t want change, just “the illusion of change,” but it’s far more the writers. Sometimes I wish they’d just take the pieces on the board and play from there instead of starting the game over.

For another take on the status quo we have a thread by mystery novelist Laura Lippman complaining that the whole point of mystery fiction is to restore the status quo: catch the killer, solve the crime, restore order. And this “presumes the status quo is worth restoring.” Instead writers should think whether the protagonist’s job is “to restore the old order or create a new one.” (Barbara Ross has some thoughts in response). It strikes me the same could be said about a lot of SF: in a 1950s monster movie/alien invasion story, the typical response is that things are OK once the monster is destroyed. But society still goes on its merry way, with racism, sexism, etc. unchanged.

It’s certainly possible to do a novel where the protagonist does more. Day of the Triffids is very much about the chance to start the world over, though Wyndham isn’t very clear how that will work out. Impossible Takes a Little Longer will end with KC hopefully making some serious changes. And I’ve seen a blacksploitation movie or two that shows the protagonist making the system at least a little fairer, pushing back against the white powers that be. Swashbucklers are all about creating a more just society, albeit in most cases by putting a good king on the throne rather than a bad king. Zen Cho manages it well in Sorcerer to the Crown and I do love that it focuses on systemic change for women, not just changing things for the female lead.

But as a general rule … I don’t buy it. Most protagonists aren’t in a position to reform the status quo or create a new order beyond toppling a corrupt official or two. It wouldn’t be believable beyond a certain point if they tried — if there’s one thing the past few years have demonstrated, making sweeping changes is hard. As journalist David Rieff says, sometimes applying a bandage is all you can do. Even in a book like Lovecraft Country, which deals with systemic racism, the most the good guys can do is break free from the control of one particular racist — they can’t make the system fairer (it is, after all, the “real” 1950s, so we know Jim Crow segregation ain’t going away yet). In SF it’s possible — we can assume that the protagonists in the Star Wars universe do make things better for everyone (then again, does defeating the Empire end anti-droid prejudice?) — but the closer it gets to reality, the harder a sell I think it is.

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Not planets orbiting the sun but stars in their own right

A couple of years back I blogged here about how, contrary to standard advice, fictional antagonists do not have to see themselves as the hero. The protagonist of their story, yes, but not necessarily a hero (lots of protagonists aren’t heroes). When I mentioned this elsewhere online last month, someone informed me I was wrong (the impertinence!) and that what I’d said was meaningless — obviously they were the protagonists of their own story, what else could they be?

I didn’t have the chance to respond before comments closed, but the answer to that question is, characters don’t have to be protagonists of anyone’s story. I see lots of fiction where the characters are simply supporting characters in someone else’s story. They shouldn’t be, but they are.

As I wrote when my cousin Peter wrote The Lie That Settles about our family, I’d always envisioned my aunts and uncles as supporting players in my life. The book made me realize they had their own lives, feelings and goals, many of which had nothing to do with me. And so it should be with fictional characters. Whether they’re an antagonist or a supporting character they should usually have an existence separate from the protagonist even if it’s not part of the story.

That’s not always how it works. I’ve read stories where the high school Mean Girl’s life revolves around persecuting the protagonist. Or supporting characters who don’t have lives of their own, they just exist to admire the protagonist. Or everyone who meets the protagonist realizes she is just the most amazing person they’ve ever encountered, as in Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs and its sequels. Romance writer Jude Devereaux had an article in Writer’s Digest in the early 1980s making the same point: some romance novelists write female leads who are so cosmically charming that everyone is happy to help them, except the villain who wants to rape them and the romantic rival who hates them. But they’re all fixated on her.

It’s particularly acute with female love interests, who often have no other role in the story. Tim Hanley’s Betty and Veronica makes this point about how the girls of Riverdale were often written with no reason to exist besides Archie. It’s far from the only example. By contrast, one of the things I love about the 1980s TV series Square Pegs is that the in crowd barely cares the protagonists exist. They have their own lives to live; if Patty and Lauren weren’t constantly trying to be friends with the cool kids, both groups would go their own way.

I don’t think every supporting character has to be written this way. Minor characters can be walk-ons who serve the protagonist their meals or trim their hair. Or they can have some quirky trait that makes them stand out while still being clearly supporting characters, like Moriarty’s constant bullying of his butler in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. But a lot of times giving them a life of their own can add to the story, like mystery story-obsessed Hume Cronyn in Shadow of a Doubt or the occasional comic-book spotlights on super-villain henchmen.

I make a conscious effort to do this in my own writing, at least at novel length (with shorter stories sometimes everything does need to revolve around the protagonist to save space). KC’s best friend Sarah in Impossible Takes a Little Longer is getting married in a couple of weeks as the story opens. That gives her something to focus on besides KC’s problems. In Questionable Minds Scotland Yard’s Mentalist Investigation Department has multiple cases to work on besides the central one. Hopefully this creates the feeling the characters have some existence outside the central story.

So I think I was right and my critic was wrong. But of course.

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I begin to understand the problem

I’ve been reading the early chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer to my writing group. While the reaction has been mostly positive, several people have pointed out that I’m spending a lot of time showing casual interactions between KC and her friends (Matt, Sarah, Skeeter) rather than on the plot — is this really what I should be setting up? Will the investment in these people pay off?

The answer, I hope, is yes. KC’s friends play a very large role in the book and her need to connect with people is important to her character. But after reading Dima Zales’ The Girl Who Sees: Sasha Urban Series I I can see why they’re concerned.

I picked up the book (cool cover by Orina Kafe) despite urban fantasy being a tough sell for me. That’s because it’s about a stage mentalist who discovers she has real magical powers. The interplay between magic and stage magic fascinates me (I’ve seen it occasionally) so as this was a free download (a hook for the seven book series) I gave it a try.

It read like the first issue of a new superhero comic book (which is not a bad thing) stretched out to 300 pages (that’s the bad part). The set-up far outweighed the plot: we hang out with Sasha’s roommates, hang out with her at work and spend long stretches where the magical initiates are explaining the magical world to the newbie (that almost always turns me off). If it had been Sasha Urban #1 I’d have been okay with this, but for a novel, even the first in a series, it seems like a waste of space.

So yeah, the feedback on Impossible has a point. The relationships will pay off but too much time spent on them is going to give the book the wrong feel. Of course this is the first draft of my redraft so like a lot of writers I’m setting up a lot of stuff up front to make sure I can put it in. I can shift it around and sharpen the focus of the early chapters in the next draft.

While The Girl Who Sees didn’t work for me, it was useful to read it.

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This would be a great time hack if it only worked

Used to be that when I woke up early I would do some writing, then start my normal morning routine (meditation, stretching, yoga, exercise, breathing exercises). Trouble was, I usually wanted to sleep by that point which means I often just stretch out or yoga it (stretching is essential for my comfort, the rest is disposable).

So the past couple of weeks I’ve tried a new approach: get up, have tea while I read, then launch my morning routine early, then start writing when I finish. It should give me a jump on the day, and if TYG and the dogs get up early, I don’t have to work my exercise around them (Trixie loves demanding attention when I exercise. The exercise usually loses). But somehow when I get a normal night’s sleep — unusually this week, I did that consistently — it doesn’t happen. Either TYG and the dogs wake up and I’m occupied with them, or Wisp wants in (adorable though she is), or there’s this narrow window of time that I don’t use productively. So I don’t gain as much breathing room as I’d like. But I do get the meditation and other stuff done, so it’s not a total washout either.

I did have a productive week, or 3/5 of a week. I finished the sexual harassment chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches, rewrote Chapter Three of Impossible Takes a Little Longer for reading at the Tuesday night SF group, read The Midwich Cuckoos (as it’s the basis for several alien-invader movies, it’s a good kickoff to my Alien Visitors research) and edited several chapters of Questionable Minds. I hoped to get more work done, but Thursday Plushie began mysteriously whimpering in pain — not consistently but it was clear something was wrong, which didn’t lend itself to creative thought. Today was oriented around watching him until we could get a vet appointment; nothing obviously wrong, so they’re just sending him home with painkillers for now. We’ll see how it goes in the coming week. Man I hate unexplained dog problems!

That left me too fragmented for creative thought so I squeezed out some extra Leaf work. If I can’t make art, I can at least make money. And hey, I had a better week than this guy did!#SFWApro. Art by Dick Dillin, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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It was overall a good hand, but not the cards I expected

So after putting lots of extra effort into Leaf work the previous couple of weeks the latest cycle of articles ended last week. I figured I’d make up for the lost time on personal project this week … but to my surprise, the new cycle started up Monday. As I like making money, I immediately started claiming Leafs, but it was a little disappointing. My work on Impossible Takes a Little Longer Monday morning really felt good and I wanted more. However for the moment it’ll have to wait as Undead Sexist Cliches, Questionable Minds and my Alien Visitors film book come first.

Unfortunately, my sleep Monday – Wednesday night was for shit. The first two nights may be the Zoom writing meetings — I’m beginning to feel there’s something to the idea being on computers/phones in the hours before bedtime interferes with sleep. Wednesday night Trixie, who’s been very restless of late, paced up and down for a bit, clacking her claws on the hardwood floor. That woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. As a result I didn’t get much done beyond Leaf, and some work on Chapter Four of Undead Sexist Cliches (feminism destroys families, education and the workplace!).

I thought I’d make up for that today a little, but today I woke up sick and draggy. No, doesn’t appear to be COVID-19, most likely it;s allergy-based (possibly because that morning I was coping with Wisp and Trixie, I forgot my meds). I know from experience the best treatment is simply to do nothing all day, and so I did.

On the plus side, I’m seeing a marked improvement in my juggling this week, and much better focusing in my meditation practice. So at least something of my own is getting done. And I did make money, which right now is very reassuring.

I’ll leave you with this uncredited cover (though a friend of mine says the art is by Emsh). #SFWApro, all rights to image remain with current holde.r

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Say goodbye to July, hello August

So I accomplished 55 percent of my goals for July, though very few of them were writing goals. Between Leaf and Undead Sexist Cliches I got very little done on anything else. Next month I need to manage my time much better; I took Wednesday off precisely to think about what comes next.

  • Undead Sexist Cliches get top priority, though not 100 percent of my time. It’s the “eat the frog” approach — proofing it is the toughest job ahead and I’ll be happy when it’s done.
  • I need to start work on the Alien Visitors book for McFarland as it has an actual not-just-personal deadline. I’d hoped to finish Undead Sexist Cliches and Questionable Minds first, but as that’s not going to happen …
  • The final proof of Questionable Minds comes next.
  • The rewrite of Impossible Takes a Little Longer is third place.
  • And getting back to short stories comes after that.
  • I also need to read more on marketing and make some plans for my self-published stuff. The joy is in writing it, not promoting it, but if I don’t market, nobody reads and nobody pays me. Both would be desirable.

That may prove ambitious but I’m not setting my total accomplishment in any of those so absurdly high it’s unattainable. I have alternate goals depending when Leaf, which wrapped up the most recent cycle this week, starts up again.

To achieve them I really need to take breaks regularly during the day. It’s very easy to get locked in until I get just that one little extra section/chapter done, maybe five more minutes … and then I look up and it’s been an hour. I’d be fresher if I took the break with the section/chapter unfinished and came back to it. And fresher will make me more productive at day’s end.

I’m also spending some of my break time to pet Wisp. Sometimes she doesn’t want it and swats at my hand; other times she can sit there for five minutes, almost dozing while I stroke her. We’ll have to take her in to the vet next month; hopefully it won’t set back our relationship too much.

Oh, I did get one thing done I can link to: a post at Atomic Junkshop on sexy movies of my teen years. Like this mesmerizing poster.

To celebrate the ongoing struggle to finish stuff, I’ll wrap up with this Powers cover. Because it’s always good to include a Powers cover.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

 

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Enter the furniture, exit the work week

So we got new bookshelves this week. Like the pantry and hutch we bought a while ago, this is something TYG has talked about for awhile and with the added time from not commuting to work, she went ahead and did it. Three bookshelves, two tall one short. Unfortunately the company was nowhere near as good as the first furniture supplier: they were in poorer condition (staples and a nail or two sticking out), we kept getting contradictory delivery notices and the second tall case didn’t come with the first order. Bad!

So we spent part of Monday evening getting the two bookcases we received out of their packing. Wednesday we got the word that #3 would arrive Thursday so we began making ready. Clearing the furniture it would replace. Putting stuff on shelves. Moving one old bookcase up to my room to replace one that doesn’t have much shelf space (it’s designed primarily for CDs so the shelves are oddly sized for most other uses). Moving the old bookcase out. Putting all the books off one bookcase, then onto another one. This a)took time and b)got physically very draining. Thursday morning I felt quite wiped, and then we spent time getting the new one set up Thursday.

On the plus side, the changeover is done and the books are in place (I still need to get my issues of Vegetarian Times back in order). That’s a good thing. I’d be much more likely to dawdle but TYG’s efficient. I’d show you photos but I haven’t taken any yet.

Leaf articles were my priority this week because that’s paying work, but there were only a few in the pipeline. I did finish another chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches which is good, and one chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer which is less than I’d wanted. I read Chapter Two to the writing group and incorporated several changes based on their suggestions. That was pretty much it. Well, that and finishing our taxes: sales tax (none, I had no sales in the past quarter), estimated tax (have to pay in), federal 1040 (ditto) and state tax (they pay us). That’s a lot of paperwork that needed doing so it’s not surprising I got less actually writing done.

Next week we have nothing arriving, no appointments, no tax paperwork and hopefully no emergencies so I anticipate doing better. Certainly an easier week than these guys are having.#SFWApro. Art by Jerry Grandenetti, all rights remain with current holder.

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I think things fell apart when I went to the library …

But I’m still glad I went.

The Durham Library recently reopened, though only for picking up books placed on hold (maximum of five). Which is disappointing — they just completed a massive remodel of the main library and I’d love to visit — but obviously the right thing to do. As my pile of new books is vastly shrinking (no used bookstores or library sales to visit) I reserved some books and picked them up Thursday afternoon, as they don’t open Saturdays. It went smoothly, with no major risk and everyone masked, though to my disappointment Ghosts of Manhattan turned out not to be the superhero novel of that name but a mainstream book about a stockbroker’s personal crises. I may read it anyway.

However, after I got back from the library I had to engage in some extra dog care and wound up getting very little done Thursday. Then this morning I took Plushie for his walk and for a change he was ready to go on a long one. We spent probably an hour, which is good — he really needs to get some weight off — but quite exhausting for me. I not only lost a chunk of writing time but it took me a while to get over the stiffness and focus on writing (I exercise plenty but walking wipes me out way more than most workouts. I’ve no idea why). This may happen again, as we’re now taking one dog each in the morning, which makes it easier to get them walked before the heat is unendurable.

I also made the mistake of dropping Thursday morning’s planned focus on Questionable Minds to do a little extra work on Undead Sexist Cliches and Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I think there are two ways to juggle multiple projects: allot each of them some time in your schedule and give them the time or make one project the priority and do whatever it takes to get that work done, even if it cuts into the time spent on others. I set my priorities based on option A — get something done on each of them per week — but then I wind up shifting them around. I still got work done in that time, but I’d be happier, I think, if I’d gotten some on all three big projects instead of skimping on my Minds final draft.

Oh, and I took Monday off, which was the right call. I’d let a lot of life stuff build up unfinished (paperwork, bills, checks to deposit, things to clean) plus my brain was slowing down from cabin fever some. That didn’t help with productivity either, but I’m glad I did it. Unfortunately the library doesn’t do appointments on Mondays or I’d have taken care of it then.

On Impossible I got through Chapter Three on the new draft which brought me up to a scene I had no idea how to fix, where Lahatiel (evil fake angel) attempts to kill KC (alias the Florida Panhandle’s superhero, the Champion). The old version didn’t work — it plays on fears and worries KC no longer has — but I think I figured out where to go with my current concept of her character. I’ll try it next week. And I posted Ch.2 to my writers’ group, as I’ll be reading it next week. Undead Sexist Cliches has the first two chapters done on the final draft. Questionable Minds … well, nothing, obviously. Plus I got some Leaf articles done (most interesting: “Do Physician Assistants Wear White Coats?” There’s more to the answer than I’d have thought.

For illustration, here’s a photo I took of someone’s broken lawn ornament recently. I’d like to claim it as an allegorical artistic statement on the ongoing statue controversies, but it’s just a photo.#SFWApro. Image is mine.

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