Category Archives: Nonfiction

Golems, Jews, zombies: a book I contributed to

JEWS IN POPULAR SCIENCE FICTION: Marginalized in the Mainstream, edited by Valerie Estelle Frankel, is the book that contains my essay on golems in speculative fiction along with a dozen others. Typically for a book like this, some of them didn’t work for me: I’m familiar with debates over Superman as Jewish symbol and couldn’t get into Jewish themes allegedly found in The Last Airbender (the essay on Jewish themes in Tolkien worked better for being conscious it’s an odd thing to look for). Most of them, though, worked very well indeed.

One article, on the Ferengi as “space Jews” argues they do start out as negative Jewish stereotypes but the writing on DS9 makes them more complex and the Jewish elements less stereotypical. A couple of articles look at Jewish characters in comics, concluding that even characters whose Jewish faith initially runs deep get less noticeably Jewish as time passes, and not Jewish at all when they jump to TV. And “Jewish” is often limited to things instantly recognizable to non-Jews, such as menorahs and Hanukkah.

And while I remain a fan of Ragman, one essay makes a good case that his abilities aren’t Jewish — the whole idea of evil souls getting trapped for their sins in the rag suit is much closer to Christian themes.

My favorite article by two teachers showed how they demonstrate to students the way you apply Jewish religious war to new issues. The topic was the zombie apocalypse: given Judaism’s mandate to treat the dead respectfully, is it acceptable to burn or mutilate the living dead? If the zombies are living virus-carriers, is murdering them acceptable? The answers are a)yes, saving the living counts for more; and b)yes, but only if someone’s in imminent danger, not if the zombie is infected but not turned.

My essay’s awesome too, so if you want to pick something up as a gift this month and you know someone who’d be interested, here’s the link.

#SFWApro. Ragman cover by Pat Broderick. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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For some reason I only got about three days of work done … oh, wait

And most of the three days went to working on another of my paying-gig accounting articles. So not much else to discuss.

I did rewrite Don’t Pay the Ferryman (I may retitle it Paying the Ferryman) and I think I have an ending that will work. I also finished the first chapter of my revamped Let No Man Put Asunder but I’m not sure where to go next (I’ll discuss that in its own post soon). And then came Thanksgiving and today, which I’m also taking off. so that’s about it. Though I did post at Atomic Junkshop about DC’s new characters from 1965 and my love of Sherlock Holmes.As Charon plays a role in Paying the Ferryman, here’s Ernie Colon’s depiction from Arak, Son of Thunder.#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Writing to sell (and a discount sale!)

No, not writing stories with an idea of what will sell sell, but things like cover copy, Amazon online blurbs, and ads. I put in a lot of work during the countdown to publishing Questionable Minds. I browsed Amazon ads when they pop up in my FB feed, and they pop up a lot. It was primarily to get a sense of how other authors push books online, though it’s also just part of my love for books in general. When I worked at Waldenbooks in the 1990s I’d read the back copy of lots of books just to see what they were like. “Men’s adventure” books, Sweet Valley High, Babysitters Club, serious literature. It’s one of the things I miss about bookselling — sure I could do it in a bookstore but I rarely have that much time.

The style in promotional copy has changed a lot. Author Gail Z. Martin (I know her from cons) says it’s due to Amazon allowing all kinds of searches so including really nitty gritty specifics about tropes and subcategories helps grab readers. Thus romances (I’ve no idea why I get so many — it’s hardly my first pick) break down into subcategories such as grumpy single dad, grumpy boss, grumpy neighbor, grumpy single-dad neighbor. Plus lists of tropes such as enemies-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, bullies-to-lovers (that one makes me want to vomit), smoldering romance, sweet and gentle romance, frazzled single parents, etc.

So, here’s mine: ”

Enter a “steam-psi” Victorian world where newly discovered “mentalist” abilities are changing everything — and they’ve given Jack the Ripper a path to absolute power.

In Victorian England, 1888, some say Sir Simon Taggart is under the punishment of God.

In an England swirling with mentalist powers — levitation, mesmerism, human telegraphy — the baronet is unique, possessing mental shields that render him immune to any psychic assault. Even some of his friends think it’s a curse, cutting him off from the next step in human mental and spiritual evolution. To Simon, it’s a blessing.

Four years ago, the Guv’nor, the hidden ruler of the London underworld, arranged the murder of Simon’s wife Agnes. Obsessed with finding who hired the Guv’nor, Simon works alongside Inspector Hudnall and Miss Grey in Scotland Yard’s Mentalist Investigation Department. Immunity to telegraphy, clairvoyance and mesmerism are an asset in his work — but they may not be enough to crack the latest case.

A mysterious killer has begun butchering Whitechapel streetwalkers. With every killing, the man newspapers call “the Ripper” grows in mental power and in the brutality of his attacks. Is murder all that’s on his mind or does he have an endgame? What plans does the Guv’nor have for the Whitechapel killer? And if Simon has to choose between stopping the Ripper and unmasking the Guv’nor, how will he decide?

Questionable Minds is set in a Victorian England struggling to preserve the social hierarchy while mentalism threatens to overturn it. The cast of characters includes Dr. Henry Jekyll (and yes, his friend Edward Hyde too) and multiple other figures from history and fiction. It has a tormented, morally compromised protagonist, serial-killer villain, a devoted father-daughter relationship and a passionate but complicated love affair.

Trigger Warning: Multiple brutal murders. Nineteenth-century sexism and imperialism. A child in danger.”

I think it works. I hope I’m right. I’m also thinking of going back and redoing the copy for Atlas Shagged and Atoms for Peace and seeing if that can juice sales any. Can’t hurt! Questionable Minds is available in ebook on Amazon or other retailers. Or there’s the paperback.

And while I’m promoting myself, I’ll note that McFarland iscoffering 40% off all titles through November 28, including all my books such as The Aliens Are Here. Use HOLIDAY22 as the code at checkout!

#SFWApro. Covers by Samantha Collins (t) and Zakaria Nada.

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Today was exhausting but the week was good

What was with today? TYG was out for the morning which threw my schedule off. Then at lunch she was back, plus we had the pressure washers in to clean the house, plus the dogs were freaking out because the pressure-washer team were DUDES MAKING STRANGE NOISES!!! Fortunately I woke up early enough to complete my week’s 30-hour quotient.

The week went well overall. I did a couple of presentations Tuesday night on Continual, one on small-town fantasy and another on new books we had out. I’ll share the links when I get them.

I worked on Obalus which I’m now retitling Don’t Pay the Ferryman (or maybe Pay the Ferryman) — I’d dropped that because Shadows Reflected In Darkness was titled Don’t Pay the Merryman but now that it’s changed, they’re not so similar. To my surprise when I tried writing through the parts I was uncertain about I found an ending. It’s not a good ending but unlike the deus ex machina of the previous draft’s ending, it does follow logically from what’s going on. I can work with it and improve it.

I had a similar experience working on The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. By moving up some of the bad surprises lying in wait for KC I was able to keep the tension high without feeling its too rushed. In several ways it’s going to work better than the previous draft, which is of course the goal.

The downside is that I’m cutting out a lot of stuff. The previous drafts have KC taking a trip to New York to meet fellow superhero Captain Wonder. It took up several chapters. Gone now because it doesn’t make sense (trust me). I’m wondering if I’ll end up with a really short novel or an unacceptably long novella but hey, in the age of ebooks and self-publishing that’s not a dealbreaker. So onward! The only way out of the crazy maze is to keep going!

And today I completed one of my for-pay accounting articles. I don’t know if there’ll be another assignment this month but if not, more time for fiction!

So that was all good. And Metastellar put up my short story The Savage Year on their webiste.

And now the weekend. Bread baking, a friend’s play, and reading a book about spiders. Fun!

#SFWApro. All rights to cover images remain with current holder. Strange Tales cover by Jack Kirby.

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

Surrounded by pets, but missing my angel

So last Sunday, TYG headed out of town for a business trip, leaving me as a single doggy parent until she returned this morning. Quite aside from missing her, it was a weird adjustment.

Our dogs aren’t the independent type: when we’re home, they expect to be with us. Snuggled in the lap is, of course, the ideal. Or being in the kitchen hoping for a delicious treat.We usually adjust to their wishes. So I’d wake up, go down and make tea, come back up and drink it in bed while I read. Then I’d do some work for a couple of hours. Then we go down and begin the morning dog routines and walkies.

At least that was the theory. The practice proved erratic. Tuesday morning Plushie wanted very badly to go downstairs. Thursday and Friday I made sure to give him extra snuggles in the bed — he doesn’t always come and ask the way Trixie does — and he liked it so much he squirmed into my lap in a position where I couldn’t write (I’d have had to rest the lap desk right on him). I did not, of course, remove him.

As we walk the dogs separately that meant twice as much time devoted to walkies. Fortunately it’s beautiful out this week, chilly-to-cold but I can live with that. And as I didn’t exercise other than walkies or do my yoga — dogs take it as body language for Snuggle With Me — I guess the time balanced out.

Things did get more complicated when Wisp or Snowdrop showed up and I had more pets to deal with. Still it’s great to see Wisp coming in more and even napping on the back of the couch again.

Snowdrop began meowing plaintively when she met up with me and the dogs in the yard. I think he missed TYG — we’ll see how he reacts now that she’s back.

As TYG went off with a lot of her ingredients unused I postponed my own cooking plans and worked on using up the leftovers: rice and veggie bowl, frittatta, apple tart, roasted grapes with rosemary. Good stuff.

Oh, work? The week started off well but bogged down. When I take care of the dogs for this long, there’s something about the constant lack of space that sands down my ability to think. Thursday I was working slow; today I got nothing but the bare minimum done, even after TYG came back.

I completed almost all my promotional work for Questionable Minds. I’ll wrap up the rest Monday.

I got another chapter done for Impossible Takes a Little Longer … and promptly decided to revise it. It’s a slow, character-centric chapter which would be fine except it’s following another one. So once again, I’m moving up catastrophes originally scheduled for later chapters. I’ll get onto that next week.

I also had an insight how several disconnected ideas might work together to create one novel. But that’s for later … well, maybe.

And I got another accounting article done. While I fell several hours short of my hourly goal for the week but under the circumstances I think that’s acceptable. Hopefully the multiple appointments we have next week won’t derail me further.

Oh, plus I got paid for the upcoming reprint of Happiest Place on Earth, plus one book sales of Undead Sexist Cliches, plus someone checked out Atlas Shagged on Hoopla (a library service that pays a little per checkout). Whoever my two readers are, I hope you liked the books and I thank you for investing the time on my work.

#SFWApro.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, The Dog Ate My Homework, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Timey-wimey stuff

When I first started freelancing up here, I worked a 40-hour week. After we adopted Trixie and Plushie, it eventually dropped to seven hours a day and that was still a strain. 

About three years ago IIRC I cut back to 5.5 hours a day, excluding blogging. That made it easier to spend time on the dogs (look at them. Aren’t they worth it?) and I’d also read that when working longer than four or five hours, productivity drops. However working on proofing The Aliens Are Here showed I could do more when I pushed so in September I started shooting for six hours a day/30 a week. Given the obligations with dogs, trips to their rehab and various household stuff I take care of (my boss is a lot more understanding about me taking time off from work for such things than TYG’s), I haven’t made 30 hours except maybe once. This week I came close … but not quite. However I am putting in more work than I would if set a slightly lower goal, so I’ll stick with it.

As to what got done, I finished around 18,000 words of the Impossible Takes a Little Longer rewrite. That’s not as impressive as it sounds: the opening chapters needed very little work and as soon as I got to the major rewrites, things started to slow. However the results are good so revealing KC’s identity as the Champion was clearly the right move. I’m doing a blog tour for Questionable Minds, arranged through One World Ink and this week I sent in the four blog posts they wanted for the tour. Only the number was really five, so I’m working on the fifth. Fortunately it’s about writing with pets, so it almost writes itself. I submitted to John Scalzi’s Big Idea blog posts but they’re filled for the next two months. However Cora Buhlert, whom I know through comments at Camestros Felapton’s blog, is interviewing me at her blog about Aliens Are Here, so that’s cool. I’ll update y’all whenever of the blog posts or interviews goes live.

And today I finished one of those accounting articles that help pay my bills.

Next week will be interesting as TYG is away on business so I’ll be handling the pups full-time. We’ll see how this affects work.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover images remain with current holders; Questionable Minds cover by Samantha Collins.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Look what came in the mail!

The Aliens Are Here comes out Oct. 30, and my author’s copies arrived this weekend.Why yes, I do feel as happy as I look there. Here’s a look at the entire cover:The image is from the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which explains why I didn’t recognize it — it’s not a movie that grips the mind.

Like I said, it feels really good to have a hard-copy version in my hands. Good enough to make all the work  I put in writing and proofing it feel worthwhile. Though sales would be nice too.

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

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That is a little more like it!

This week went a lot better than September, as witness I made my hours for this week. And they were productive hours too.

It helped that I wasn’t nibbled to death by ducks like I was so much of September. I had a dental appointment (teeth are great!) Wednesday, deposit a state and federal tax refund, then went to lunch … which did waste some extra time as the appointment was for today (I’ve no idea how I made that mistake). The state refund was one we originally received during the pandemic, then never cashed so I had to go through a lot of hoops to get a replacement check (which is cool, for something like that NC Department of Revenue should have hoops).

Using my revised outline, I rewrote the first five chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. It’s the part of the book that’s most together so it didn’t require huge amounts of rewriting. Nevertheless there’s no question the changes — letting the evil fake angel escape, outing KC as the superhero Champion — improved things. Hopefully I’ll build on them for the next section.

I had less success working on my short story Obalus. I have a clear sense of my protagonist, Evelyn Holt’s arc and who her adversary is, but the details? Crickets. Evelyn’s opposing the bad guy but I have no idea what she has to do to beat him or what obstacles he has to throw in her way. I tried doodling and coming up with ideas, sitting and thinking … nothing’s worked so far.

I got some Leaf articles done and most of the promotional material for Questionable Minds. Plus I have two Atomic Junkshop blog posts out, one on the Justice Society of America’s almost-revival in 1965, the other on the stereotype of Silver Age adventures as innocuous and harmless.

Oh, and last weekend I bought a new printer to replace our deceased one. I lucked out at Office Depot and was able to order the exact one I wanted; today I got it plugged in and set up … only it can’t hook up to the Wi-Fi yet. I will leave that to TYG who has the expertise to understand router and firewall stuff.

Despite that, a good week: let’s hope all month is this awesome!

#SFWApro. Covers by Jim Mooney and Mike Sekowsky.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

The law of Proteus: all things change

When I started October, one of my goals was to push my daily output up to six hours of writing from 5.5. Not a huge increase, but an extra 2.5 hours a week isn’t anything to sneeze at.

I’m a little surprised that it worked: I’ve been able to keep up work at that pace, taking breaks so that I don’t fry my mind before work ends for the day. Though the distraction such as dragging Snowdrop to the vet

mean I’ve wound up putting in less total time each week than I normally do. Still, putting in six hours a day in October — far fewer events scheduled — should produce good results.

But as I’ve mentioned before, when you’re living with other people, time management is never smooth. As TYG’s job became increasingly demanding the past couple of years, she’s been getting up earlier — easier to get stuff done when nobody at work is awake to demand help — and going to be earlier. Now she’s in a job which is much less of a pressure cooker. She’s staying awake later and getting up later. Having adjusted to her early cycle, I’m now having to adjust back.

Well, not “have” to. But I like going to bed with her and snuggling, and so I’m staying up later. As I can’t get my body to get up much later — that’s always been a weakness of mine — I sometimes wind up shortchanged on sleep. Then, because TYG’s rising later, we take the dogs out later (dawn shifting later in the morning plays a role in that too) which pushes the time to start work later in the morning.

The best solution would be to start work in the stretch between me finishing breakfast and the dogs coming down. That’s hard to make myself do because I have no idea how much time I’ll have and it’s difficult to start something knowing I might have to cut it short at any second. That may be what it takes, though. I’ll give it a shot next week.

Workwise, this was a routine week. A bunch of articles of Leaf, another of those accounting articles — and my client absolutely gushing about how much they liked last week’s article. That’s always nice. Oh, and I got a request to do an advance review for Questionable Minds so I sent that out Tuesday. Now I just hope they like it …#SFWApro. Cover by Samantha Collins, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Writing

Clawed by Cats! Clobbered by Computers!

No, not literally clawed, thank goodness. Neither Snowdrop nor Wisp seems inclined to get physical, even when the dogs get in their grill. But Snowdrop did tear up a chunk of writing time for me this week.

As our cats live outdoors most of the time, catching them for the annual checkup is hard. We caught Wisp in July and now it’s Snowdrop’s turn. We couldn’t get him last week but I’d already made a backup appointment for Tuesday the 13th. Monday night, while I was hosting my Shut Up and Write Zoom group, TYG called me down. Some years back she bought a pole-and-lasso contraption to catch Wisp, but it never worked — until now. However, ensnaring Snowdrop in the loop did not get him into the cage for transport so she needed my help.

Eventually we caged him, but not before he’d astonished up by running up the blinds on the French doors and then up the outside of a bookcase. Of course, once he was caught we were in for hours of plaintive meowing, and more in the morning. So my regular morning routine went out the window, plus I was the one who had to take him to the vet (my freelancing schedule is way more flexible than TYG’s time).

It used to be they’d tranquilize the cats before examining them, but they’ve moved away from that now. Which is good, except that meant I stuck around with Snowdrop instead of coming back hours later. You can see him below, looking at me and hoping for rescue. He didn’t get it.To my surprise, he didn’t put up a fight at all, but let the vets examine him, give him his shots and so forth. He’s in great shape (yay!) and not overweight (yay again!). I took him home, then we let him out in the backyard. He didn’t bear us a grudge and was quite happy to accept petting later.

Now, as to the computer: my laptop has been suffering from keys sticking for a while but it’s been getting really bad lately. I cleaned out the keyboard with compressed air but it didn’t improve things enough, so Monday I ordered a new laptop. Arrival: Wednesday.

Or so I thought. Because I added memory, they couldn’t just take one off the rack and the delivery date is Oct. 5. I didn’t realize that — they didn’t exactly highlight that detail — so Tuesday afternoon after getting back from the vet I just blew work off, ditto Wednesday morning. Why work with a glitchy keyboard when I’d have a smooth-operating computer so soon?

That’s a couple of days I won’t get back. I’m annoyed at my inefficiency, though I still finished one of my paying accounting articles. And I got most of my advance promotional work for Questionable Minds done Monday. I also posted at Atomic Junkshop about the New Mutants team and Richard Powers’ cover art.For really good news, I got my payments from Draft2Digital for a couple of books that sold this summer. And my golem article came out in Jews in Popular Science Fiction at last.I haven’t read it yet but the table of contents looks interesting.Being published makes up for a lot. Have a great weekend everyone.

#SFWApro. Rights to book covers remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Writing