Category Archives: Nonfiction

Old ventures and new

Another good week, huzzah!

Part of the credit goes to TYG. When possible, she’s been doing her morning work upstairs in the bedroom, with the dogs. They’re much quieter up there so she gets to snuggle with them without Plushie demanding attention by climbing on her laptop. That leaves me free to work without distractions too, which is a great start to the morning.

My Leaf articles have started back up, so I didn’t get to put in as much time as I’d expected on personal projects. On the plus side, it’s income! And I’m writing them faster than the last load I was doing, so that’s good.

I’ve worked on Impossible Things Before Breakfast to the point where it’s good to go for the writer’s group. I don’t think it’s close to being done, but I need feedback to figure what it still needs. I hope to revise it again next week for a possible reading at the end of the month (I’m far enough down the list it’s a probable no, but I want to be ready). I also worked on Only the Lonely Can Slay but I’m still running into the same problem: great first third, but after that there’s no tension. I may have found a way to fix that this week, but maybe not.

I also redrafted several chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Switching to first person is definitely improving the book, but there’s a lot at the start (a secondary villain’s initial attack on my protagonist, for instance) that no longer makes much sense. I have some thoughts for fixing that stuff but I’ll wait until the book is done. I don’t want to end up stuck on revising the first chapter over and over.

I got another rejection on Schloss and the Switchblade, but I also sent out one of my other stories to a different market.

I submitted my old steampunk novel Questionable Minds to a small publisher. While I’m anticipating publishing it myself, it did sell once (the publisher folded) so I won’t give up if there’s an opportunity.

And I finally submitted a Space Invaders query to McFarland. They said to send them a proposal so I may be starting film book #6 before long.

And the weather has been beautiful. Warm enough for shorts, but not really hot, though I did start carrying my water bottle when I go cycling. As you can see, the clover is responding to spring.

Other blossoms, though, have had their day.

#SFWApro. Photos are mine, please credit me if you use them.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, Time management and goals

New frontiers in time management!

Yep, once again I have tinkered with my time management approach and found something that works. At least for the moment. But after the constant distractions of February and March, it feels great to be productive again. If I were Dali, all my clocks would be firm, hard, erect … er, I’ll be in my bunk, okay?

For one thing I don’t have any Leaf articles at the moment, which frees up time to do other stuff.

For another I decided to break up my 35-hour week into 20 hours of actual fiction writing and 15 of other stuff: submitting queries, doing major replotting work, paperwork, working on nonfiction (along with Leaf, whenever it starts up again, I’m working on a proposal for a new film reference book. And I’m always hopeful other stuff will come along), research reading, blogging. This was the first week I tried it and it worked well. I had another Alexander technique session mid-week and it was much easier to not lose any fiction writing time this way.

It’s not perfect. It’s very easy to wind up spending the whole non-writing afternoon blogging or doing research reading instead of drafting queries. However so far it does seem to work, and it reduces the amount of deep thinking I do at the end of the day, when I’m at my low point. And if I have to use more time for fiction writing because I have an imminent deadline or something (someday …), I can adapt.

As to actual accomplishments:

I finally found an ending for Only the Lonely Can Slay that I like. It still needs a lot of work, but I have a story arc I can build on, instead of tossing it out every time and starting over.

I have a story arc for Impossible Things Before Breakfast (formerly known as Neverwas) too, but the last quarter is ultra-vague. I know the ending (Susan and Hal save the world and find each other) but I don’t see how to justify it yet. I’ve also lost a lot of the weirdness of the earlier drafts in building up Susan/Hal; I think that’s the core of the story, but I want some of the weird stuff back.

I redrafted Bleeding Blue, following the rather dark story line of my first draft (the ending’s upbeat, though). I really hadn’t intended to write dark, but that’s where my mind is going. The story arc, though, is a mess, more a string of incidents than a plot. So more work!

I did about 4,500 words on yet another novel, Good Morning Starshine (spec-fic/rom-com). I wanted to replot it too but didn’t get very far.

I drew up a query letter for Space Invaders, a book on alien-invasion movies and TV I was working on a couple of years ago (the academic publisher I was dealing with decided on massive cutbacks, so no go). I’m still deciding where to submit it but my query letter is, if I do say so, awesome.

It’s a good start to April. I shall endeavor to live up to it the rest of the month.

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My answer was ‘recalled to life’

The use of the Dickens quote in the title is my way to say after close to two months of lackluster performance, I had a good week of writing.

The biggest accomplishment was that I finished a draft of the Undead Sexist Cliches book. This was a minor landmark because it’s the first coherent draft. I kept shifting back and forth in earlier drafts on how to break things down, which fact or anecdote went in which chapter and frequently repeating myself. Now I think I’ve honed it so that it has a logical structure. There’s the introduction (about why I’m writing it, and about sexism in general). A chapter on “everyone knows men and women are different” which is the bedrock on which most of these cliches rest. A couple of chapters on why feminism is supposedly evil. One on why all the heroes have to be men. One on rape cliches (probably the largest), one on sexual harassment and one on sex and relationships in general. I may expand them with more examples of sexism, but I think the set-up is solid.

Next up: beta reading! I sent it out to a couple of friends, one in the writing group, one generally interested in this sort of thing. Both women, because the one thing I can’t provide is a woman’s point of view. I might ask a couple of others (I’ve asked one more beta, but haven’t heard back). And then, after I get their feedback, the revisions begin.

It feels really good to have made significant progress on something.

I also mailed out three short stories (one already came back), found a possible market for one of my older novels (hopefully it’ll go out next week), submitted a query for a column (no interest), and put up a couple of items on eBay. They’re movie posters from some of my movie books, so I count that as writing time — and I’d be quite happy to get rid of them productively (i.e., putting them in the trash is just a waste).

I also got back to my regular exercise routine, which had tanked with everything else during March. It looks like I’ll make about 50 percent of my March goals at best (I may accomplish a couple this weekend). However I rearranged my schedule some, and I think that helped. I’ll blog more about that next week.

Wisp, alas, was not happy with us leaving her for last weekend’s Mensa trip. Whether it was not getting her food on the schedule she’s used to or having our neighbor come over to put the food out (Wisp’s still pretty cautious — I could easily see her having a Stranger Danger reaction), she’s gone back to staying invisible and quiet (the photo’s an old one). Usually we don’t even know she’s there until after the food is eaten. Hopefully having us put out food regularly will restore her confidence in us; she did show up one evening and stare at the dogs through the window so she’s not completely alienated.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine, please acknowledge if you use.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

i bounce back, at least a little

Not a stellar week, but more productive than last week. I still didn’t have the presence of mind to focus on fiction so I returned to my Undead Sexist Cliches book. I got about 11,000 added words done. That felt good. And I got my Leaf articles done for the week.

And that was about it. Added dog care used up some of the time. So did a trip for a car check-up (unnecessary as it turned out; things were fine). And Tuesday, both pups freaked out because the gutter cleaners came and that meant STRANGER DANGER! HE”S MAKING NOISES! HE HAS A LADDER! DADDY, DO SOMETHING! That kind of thing makes it really hard to work.

I did, however, finish my first post at Atomic Junkshop in a while, dealing with what comic books on DC’s Earth-One were like.

Plus I seem to have maxed out my body’s insomnia tolerance. I still wake up early, but my naps have been getting a lot longer.

However, we’ll be doing some fun stuff this weekend, and I’m confident next week will see some real improvement.

Below, a symbolic photo of a flour arising amidst winter’s detritus Deep, aren’t I?

#SFWapro. Photo is mine, please credit me if you use it. Comic book panel by Carmine Infantino with Joe Kubert inks, all rights remain to current holder.

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I went out there a nobody, I came back a star with low testosterone!

As I said this morning, this week was a mess.

TYG’s schedule exploded, so I was busy with lots of extra dog care, starting on the weekend. As a result it was next to impossible to get much done: any time I’d start to concentrate, there’d be dogs. And even when they were lying quietly in my lap, the accumulated extra time was wearing me down. I’ve had this experience before; after a certain point I just feel my personal space is eroded and my brain clogs up. So while I got some Leaf articles done, that was about it (to make it clear, no blame attaches to TYG. She’d much sooner walk the dogs in the morning than have me do it, but it just wasn’t an option. Not her fault).

So let’s talk about Wednesday and my return to acting for the first time since I arrived in Durham (I also finished my federal taxes, but that’s not as cool).

Walking the dogs, I’ve met a lot of people in the neighborhood. One of them, Gwen, the owner of a shih tsu rescue dog (too abused to be friendly to other dogs, alas), works for Web MD. Via MedScape that company puts up training videos for doctors, where they get to see scripted doctor/patient interactions. Gwen mentioned last month that they were working on a video for English MDs and were having trouble finding a middle-aged English man to play the role. And here I was, and I’d mentioned I used to do theater, so—?

I said sure! And after paperwork, and talking with one of WebMD’s people by email, I showed up at their Durham office Wednesday to play The Man With Low Testosterone. Actually, that’s only alluded to in passing; most of the conversation in the script they sent me focused on symptoms and life situations. As “Gilbert” I have Type II diabetes and some urination problems (antibiotics helped with that). I also can’t seem to get it up. And I have a younger girlfriend so I’m scared I won’t be satisfactory when we get to the bedroom. The script ends after I detail all this and the doctor reassures me I’m perfectly normal.

The office/studio was in a fancy big office building off Miami, conveniently close to my home. It looked almost like a TV set, somehow: lots of people writing or working at desks, sandwiches available for lunch (including vegetarian happily), and the studio. Both the director and the woman playing the doctor were Brits too. I talked with the director about how I figured on playing the part (comfortable, pleased with progress on my urinary issues, embarrassed and awkward when we reached the sex talk). He approved. I got made up, took a seat on the set and did my acting with face and some hand movements. And voice, of course. The lines were on a teleprompter so I didn’t have to worry about getting them right; my biggest challenge was looking as if I were actually making eye contact with the doctor when she spoke.

They’d set aside two hours for the gig, but we wrapped up in 40 minutes. Other than a couple of instructions (pausing in a couple of spots) the director was pleased with my reading so it was just a matter of getting two or three takes they could pick from. Then we were done. And I even get paid!

Getting done so early, I went to the blood bank to donate, but they were booked up with an hour of appointments when I arrived there. I ran some errands instead, including getting a haircut. And I discovered chai tea at the local coffee/tea shop is not the same as their chai latte, and considerably less satisfying.

It was a fun day in an otherwise frustrating week. But the pups are still adorable, so that’s something.

#SFWApro. Image is mine.

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Getting nibbled to death by ducks beats defeat by doggie diarrhea

So after my disappointing performance last month, I was cheered to be doing better this week. I got close to 10,000 words done on rewriting Impossible Takes a Little Longer Monday and Tuesday morning. And by going through my morning routines immediately when I wake up early, that ensured I’d get my meditation, stretching, exercise and such taken care of even if TYG and the dogs came down earlier than usual (like most small dogs Plush and Trixie translate any sort of exercise as body language for “Please, jump on me and snuggle!”).

Even after going to the eye doctor Tuesday I didn’t get thrown off my stride — I segued into my Leaf articles for the day after I got back.

But around 3:15, Trixie began doing her I Really Need To Go dance, which is not usual; they stick pretty dependably to the schedule. Her poop was very runny, and then an hour later we had to go through this routine again (this did not make for a productive end of the day). Then there was nothing until after I left for writing group, so I hoped it was just a momentary problem. Outside of needing to go, she was her normal, energetic self.

Uh-uh. Got to bed after group at 11pm. Woke up 12:15 to Trixie’s claws clicking as she paced in front of the bedroom door. I took her out — oh, this was during the recent cold snap so it was below freezing. Which was unpleasant in itself, but it also made the process that much longer because of the bundling up time. But she pooped fast, then we came in and fell asleep in the spare bedroom, to avoid waking TYG by going back to our usual sleeping quarters.

3:15, up again. Apparently I pulled Trixie in too soon because 3:45, out again. After which I couldn’t get back to sleep. We made a vet appointment later in the day, and it didn’t appear anything was seriously wrong. Vet’s orders were a few days of bland food, some probiotics and they seem to have done the trick.

However getting around 4.5 hours sleep and that chopped into bits, on top of my usual sleep deprivation, left me glassy eyed and useless the rest of Wednesday. Wednesday early morning was another wake-up call from Trixie — no poop, happily, just peeing and wanting to get extra outdoor time. So Thursday not much better. Plus a couple of contractors coming in. Plus we kept Trixie at home instead of in doggie day care. Though it was interesting to see how snuggly she got without Plushie around. She’s more or less conceded him the rights to my lap, but with him gone she made it quite clear I should allow her to sit in her royal throne, so to speak.

Today was another early morning, just from general insomnia. And then Trixie came down early so she could go out and take a solid poop (woot!), which threw my schedule off, and what with that and a couple of other things. I managed to get a couple of Leaf articles done and that was about it.

Fingers crossed next week will be back at least to average performance. Normally I’d expect so, but I’m feeling a little jinxed right now.

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February staggers to its finish

So my goals accomplished for February as 51 percent. Not surprising given all the distractions and my trip to Mysticon. This week, for example, my late return Sunday meant I got up even later Monday than expected. Because of TYG’s crazy schedule I had extra dog care demands the rest of the week, and I felt weirdly wiped out after Mysticon (I wondered if I came back with con crud but it feels way too mild). Thursday I just threw in the towel and worked on various non-writing projects (dealing with insurance, cleaning, disposing of some old medicines).

While 51 percent isn’t catastrophic, it’s dismaying how little writing I got done. Lots of Leaf which is important, because it pays the bills. But next to nothing on any books or short stories. And yesterday I got one rejection (for No One Can Slay Her) and another story came back today when the magazine folded.

So for March, I’m tinkering with my schedule again. First off, while reducing the frequency I check email has helped, I think I need to start budgeting time for email. It still takes quite a bit of time to get through it all so I should get over my illusion that it’s like five minutes every time I check. Accepting it’s .5 to 1 hour a day will give me a more realistic perspective on how much time I have for everything else (I intend to squeeze some of my other mundane activities like writing pitches and hunting for markets into the same time period, which should be doable).

I’m also going to try cutting back to just one email session, at the end of the day, unless I see something important when I check my phone. After about 3:30, my brain really gets worn out a lot of days. Part of that is having spent much of the day with Plushie in my lap, though I’m not sure if it’s the loss of personal space or the odd positions I wind up sitting in.

Second, I’m accepting that for a while I’ll be spending more time on dog care during the week. I think I can compensate by cutting back my break times mid-morning and mid-afternoon (evenings, for various reasons, don’t work so well). We will see.

Hopefully that will get results. Today went pretty well: I got some more work done on our taxes and Only the Lonely improved a lot from the previous draft. In my first couple of drafts, I kept my protagonist, Heather, almost completely in the dark about what she was involved with. I changed that, but now I’m changing it back. I’m also applying a lot more pressure to Heather from other sources, financial and legal. If I keep ratcheting that up, I think it’ll fly. Eventually.

On the Wisp front, I opened the deck door wide one afternoon when Trixie and Plushie were in doggy day care and then went into the kitchen to get her food. Not only did she not come in and explore, she found this disconcerting enough she retreated to the deck stairs. So not a house cat any time soon, I suspect, no matter how curious she seems about us.

To wrap up, here’s a cover by Greco (whoever that is — obviously not “El”).

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder. Photo is mine.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Once again, life thwarts my plans

Which is to say, this was a busy week in the non-writing areas of my life.

Wednesday we had the electrician come out to check some of our outside lights. That turned out to be more time-draining for me than I’d expected, as it was a constant “go inside and turn on the lights … turn off the lights … turn them on again …” It paid off (he identified the problem), but it took more time than I’d expected. And left me with very little time to concentrate on anything before the dogs went on afternoon walkies (I settled for research reading, which doesn’t demand creative thought). After that we had the guy in to repair the washing machine; I’m happy to say that after dealing with two other companies, Wright Appliance finally seems to be competent.

This morning I had unexpected extra dog watching, and at noon I had one of my appointments for the Alexander Technique, the body training I’ve been doing since last year.

It’s not just the time each side activity consumes, but the time it takes to get refocused on writing again. And I’m still too slow in my Leafs. Plushie’s neediness in the evening makes it very hard to make up the time then.

I did get a bunch of Leaf articles done, and even going slow, the pay is good. I got some more work done on both Let No Man Put Asunder and Impossible Takes a Little Longer, though those were the big casualties of this week’s lost time. But Impossible definitely works better in first person, as I said last week. However both of them reached a point where the relatively slight plot changes I’ve made so far have suddenly forced big changes in the next scenes. That stumped me quite a bit.

I submitted Fiddler’s Black to a new market, which means all my shorts are out. It’s been a while since that happened. And Southern Discomfort went out to five more agents.

I rewrote Only the Lonely Can Slay a couple of times, but there’s still something missing. It might be that Heather, my protagonist, needs more at stake, or maybe something else? I feel frustratingly close to what I want but I can’t quite jump across the last mental boundary to get there. I may send it out as is to a beta reader or two to get some insight.

So that was my week. On the plus side, I’m not battling a giant monster on a Silver Age Jack Kirby cover!

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

A newspaper op-ed that doesn’t understand journalism?

Ever since the 2016 election, the “Trump safari” has been a recurring feature of newspaper journalism: let’s go talk to some Trump voters and try to understand them. Let’s explain how they’re uneasy with changes in their country and the way they’re losing ground in the economy. Let’s help big city liberals try to figure them out.

Which is not a bad thing in itself. But as countless liberal bloggers have pointed out, it results in coverage of white working-class voters and never say, what black working-class voters in rust belt cities want. Nobody ever suggests that the Trump voter needs to have their stereotypes about big-city liberals challenged. And the stories just keep coming, over and over.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed column, Jill Abramson suggests it’s all a failed effort: “there is little evidence that reporters have fulfilled their pledge to report on and reflect the interests and values of the people who voted for him. There have been some good dispatches from the heartland, but too often what is published amounts to the proverbial ‘toe touch in Appalachia.'” Why? Because they’re big city reporters coming in for a brief visit. The only way to get real answers is from someone who actually lives there, “to bring their audience up close to the different and difficult realities of life in rural America.”

Urgh. As a former journalist, I cannot begin to describe how clueless and trite I think this is. Okay, I can begin to describe it, because that’s why I’m writing this post.

First off, I agree that the loss of local coverage or locally based correspondents anywhere is a bad thing. If you don’t have someone attending city council or county commission meetings every week, and send reporters only when something major is happening, a lot of stories fly under the radar. Lots of things happen that people will never hear about. That’s bad because a lot of stuff that affects people happens in low-key meetings: development decisions, spending decisions, new policies.

And if you’re just doing a “toe touch’ yes, that can make it harder to give context. If an issue crops up again and again — in Destin, where I worked, that would have included traffic and beach erosion — a regular reporter gets perspective (institutional knowledge as they say). It’s a lot harder if you only attend meetings once in a quarter.   But that’s true of everything that doesn’t get regular coverage. Lots of regulatory agencies don’t undergo the coverage they used to. Fewer local newspapers have reporters in their state capitals. There’s no reason to single out rural America as uniquely worth of an added spotlight

And “toe touch” doesn’t automatically equal bad reporting. It’s the nature of reporting that you often have to learn about an issue/community/person really quickly to write the story; full immersion isn’t possible, or necessary. If Abramson wants to cite some examples of how Trump safaris are getting it wrong, fine … but she doesn’t. So what’s the point? Is she upset the articles aren’t sympathetic or understanding enough? Because as someone who used to live in Trump country and knows lots of Trump voters, I don’t feel any more sympathetic about them than the legendary big-city liberal reporters. And why exactly are Trump voters worthy of more coverage than, say, black workers in the rust belt? Small-town voters in Ferguson? Orthodox Jews in NYC? Homeless people in LA?

The only reason I can think of is that as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it, these people have a lot of grievances and white grievances have to be taken seriously.

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Today I got that nibbled to death by ducks feeling

But first, a look at Plush Dog nuzzling with Tito, new sibling to Lily, the dog up the street we sometimes dog-sit for.

The feeling of having one’s day eaten up by multiple little distractions is in some ways worse than having one big project. With one major distraction, like a repair, I can block time and when it’s over, it’s over. Today, though, I had multiple distractions: washing-machine repair guy (third one we’ve dealt with, first one I feel good about), arranging an electrician appointment for next week, upgrading our security system, doing some research on the cost of a replacement washing machine (probably won’t be necessary), providing extra dog care … plus Plushie completely freaking out over the repair dude being In The House (we fenced off the area so the pups couldn’t get in his way).  And talking on the phone is not the best thing for my strained voice. However it’s definitely growing stronger every day so I must be nursing it sufficiently.

Despite that, it was a productive week. Though novel writing is still going slower than I want, and Leaf articles are taking way too long (not their fault, it’s me). So what did I get done?

I rewrote the first chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer in first person. It’s closer to urban fantasy as a genre than anything else, and first person is the default setting there. Plus I found I could work in a little more needed information with first-person narration.

I finished the first chapter of Let No Man Put Asunder and read it for writer’s group. The feedback was, as always helpful. As my voice frayed a little by the end of the reading, I skipped out on the usual hanging out after. A shame.

I sent a Southern Discomfort query off to five agents, queried two magazines about articles and one newspaper about an op-ed column.

I submitted A Famine Where Abundance Lies, and I may have found a publisher to submit Questionable Minds too.

I rewrote the story Neverwas, which is now titled The Impossible Years. It’s definitely closer to being readable, but I still lack the ending I need. I rewrote Only the Lonely Can Slay, and it’s coming along well. Here I have the ending and the general structure but I need more obstacles for my protagonist, Heather, to overcome. I was working on another draft today, when all the ducks began nibbling.

And I did my usual array of Leaf articles to help put bread on the table. I gave up on doing any of those today too, but I got them in, and some requested rewrites, every other day this week.

It’s helpful to write all that down and see that despite my feeling right now, I had a good, productive week.

Below, Plushie lets the greyhounds at Piney Woods Park know that he’s the boss of this cell block.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals