Category Archives: Nonfiction

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!

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

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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.

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

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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

My plan was perfect! How could I have failed?

Ever since Wisp settled onto our porch, Trixie has been increasingly fascinated. Some evenings when Wisp is out there, Trixie will sit by the door sniffing for her.  When the blinds are open, Trixie watches, as you can see.

The past week or so, though, she and Plushie have gotten more frantic. Trixie claws at the door and sticks her nose under the blinds to get a better look. Plushie barks loudly from the couch. Almost as if they imagine Wisp is—

Tuesday morning it just reached fever point. It was freezing cold so they didn’t get much of a morning walk. They then channeled all that energy into barking their heads off. It was … distracting. And that was on top of being very sleep-deprived (even by my standards). Plus the bug TYG brought back from her travels was now in me, leading to hacking and sore throat and worries my voice was fading.

The long and short of it is that while I had a good Monday, Tuesday fell apart. I got some Leaf writing done, that was it. Otherwise it was sleep, or hacking, or dogs, or doing some budget-crunching that needed doing (not during work, but I did it anyway). As I thought we might have some emergency expenses, the paying stuff was a high priority.

Wednesday I was worried my throat might be worse than it appeared, so I hit the urgent care in the morning. I was fine, but by the time I got back I was again, too distracted to focus. More Leaf!

Thursday I took the car in to get a recurring issue looked at. I took my computer but I didn’t get much done before starting on the paperwork for a loaner. Because like Scotland Yard in an old mystery, they are baffled (the VW dealer’s service people are really good so I take that as a sign the problem is challenging, not that they’ve screwed up). I came home in a loaner and mostly collapsed into extra naps.

Today I just threw in the towel and did more Leaf. As it turns out, we may not need the extra money, but still, it’s nice to have.

Not getting anything else done? Not so nice. I know sometimes it can’t be helped, but this was an exceptionally poor week.  I even skipped writers’ group because I was so tired and I hate skipping group.

Oh well, next week will almost certainly be better.

I did send Southern Discomfort out to three more agents. No One Can Slay Her came back with some positive comments (it’s always nice to be told “remember us for your next story” but not as nice as being accepted) and went out again. I started several other projects, but got nowhere.

But the weekend’s here. I can collapse, watch movies, finish the budgeting, etc., etc. And start over next week with renewed vigor and make up for what lost time I can.

#SFWApro. Cover by Nick Cardy, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

He looked at the future and went mad!

So as I mentioned yesterday, nonfiction squeezed out a lot of fiction writing time in 2018. And the same was true for 2017. That year it hit me hard because I just assumed I’d have a short spurt, then it would fade away. So I skimped on fiction during the spurt … which didn’t go away. Which is good for my bottom line, but not so good for (strikes Byronic pose) my creative soul.

This year I did a better job balancing them at first, but like I said yesterday, the demands of Screen Rant and Leaf combined ate into a lot of time. So now that I’m looking at a year without any Screen Rant (probably plenty of leaf though it’s not guaranteed), and ready to balance fiction and nonfiction better, just how much fiction can I get written?

Answer: probably not as much as I put in the goal list. My plan is to rewrite Impossible Takes a Little Longer over the first two months while I replot another novel. Then try and write a draft of that one almost as fast. And a couple more. These are all old books I have worked on many times in the past, so the basics are there (characters, concepts, setting). It’s just revising the plots (“just” does a lot of work in that sentence, some of them need a lot of work), and in a couple of cases updating them; one of them actually starts in a contemporary setting and that’s changed a lot from the last time I tackled it.

And if I can’t work out a good new plot? Time to say goodbye and bung them into the trunk. On to newer stuff!

Plus I want to write twelve short stories this year. That’s really optimistic; it takes me forever to shape them from the first draft into something usable. But as I said yesterday, I don’t have any sort of reward/penalty system in play, so it’s not like I have anything to lose. Pride? Maybe. But I didn’t get any short stories finished this year and I’m not walking around kicking myself. So I think I can take it.

I was worried that Southern Discomfort running a little into the new year would gum up the works, but I don’t think so. I’m soooo close to done.

I have a bunch of other goals, writing and otherwise. They range from finishing reading John LeCarre to finding my sister Keri’s burial place (she died at about seven weeks).  In fact it’s an insanely long list. And a really huge list of January goals based on them, but that actually makes sense. As we all know, it’s easy to start off the year with high aspirations, then we lose focus. So I might as well make maximum use of the January vigor. We’ll see if that works.

And yes, having fun, relaxing and enjoying life, undefined though those goals are, are definitely on the list.

Here’s to 2019. I hope it’s awesome for all of you. And me too.

#SFWApro. Cover by Earle Bergey, all rights remain with current holder.

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

The Dismal Dregs of Defeat! Okay, delayed victory, that’s not so bad

Well, Southern Discomfort will not be wrapped up by midnight on the 31st. However, it will definitely be done next week (barring illness, exploding computer, etc.) so I can live with it. It would have been nicely symbolic though.

Thursday did me in. One of the car dashboard Danger lights was flashing so I took it in Thursday morning. Trouble was I woke up very early as I so often do; as I was going to have to drive the car and I prefer to do that when I’m not exhausted I kept trying to go back to sleep instead of getting up and writing. Didn’t work, but I did grab enough shut-eye to make it to the dealer and back (and in the best tradition, the light went off as soon as I got there. They couldn’t find anything wrong either). But I was pretty wiped, and the day was not productive. I still made it past 85,000 words this week so the end is in sight (it’s currently at slightly over 96,000)

So as there’s not much else to talk about, let’s talk about time management.

A while back I decided to give the pomodoro method another try. This is the one where you spend 25 minutes completely focused, then five minutes doing something else; every four pomodoro half-hours, you take a longer break. I committed to doing at least one day a week that way, adjusted for the facts of life (if I followed the formula exactly I’d wind up taking the dogs for lunch walkies late. Bad idea).

It’s proven quite effective at focusing me. Even when I’m not actually running the pomodoro timer (i.e., my phone’s stop watch) I’m concentrating better. As I’ve mentioned before, whatever time hacks I try usually run out of steam but for the moment this one’s working. If anything, I’m having trouble with remembering to take breaks if I don’t use the timer. Contrary to pomodoro theory it is, in fact, possible to keep going longer than 25 minutes. However I do find my mind fritzing and getting muzzy a lot sooner, so I’m trying to avoid that. Giving myself a break is a smarter move.

A second trick I’ve found effective is keeping a short list of my most important tasks. Not necessarily immediate tasks or complicated ones but ones that have to be done for whatever reason. Having the list and marking it off works better than mixing them into my calendar app or my general list of monthly goals.

Another time tactic I’ll be imposing on myself in January is starting the day on time. Even when I wake up ultra-early, I usually start my morning routines (exercise, Yoga, breakfast, tea and TV) about the same time (5 AM roughly). But it’s very easy to watch a little extra TV or sit around playing on my computer and not start the actual work day on schedule (7 AM or 7:30 AM depending on whether I’m doing exercise in the morning). I think meeting the official start time will help my focus in the morning. And obviously make a little more space in the day for productive work. It’s particularly important because due to TYG’s schedule I’m often doing more dog-wrangling in the morning so every little bit of time gained helps.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Kirby, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

Skating along the edge of victory

So this week the only thing I worked on was Southern Discomfort. Well except, Thursday, when I was exhausted and spent the day working on my insanely ambitious goals for next year (I’ll get to that in a future post).

I wrapped up last week with slightly over 50,000 words. I’m finishing this week with slightly under 70,000. Given I have five work days left before 2018 ends, it’s possible I can finish, but I’m not quite as confident as I was last week. Especially as I’ll be working around other holiday distractions. But it’s conceivable I can make it.

I’d be better off, obviously, if I’d spent yesterday working on the book too, but cumulative insomnia finally left me worn out. Last night I took an Ambien, this weekend I should get some solid sleep in (I usually do when I don’t have to work the next day), so fingers crossed. If worst comes to worst, I can wrap it up first week of January without disrupting my other writing plans too much.

While I’ve had a lot of tidying up and cleaning up to do — making sure the reactions and conversations flow logically from moment to moment — I haven’t run into any major plot problems since last week. That’s good; hopefully it’ll stay that way as I work through the rest.

Wish me luck.

Oh, and I’ve had a couple of Christmas-themed posts up at Atomic Junkshop. One on the way Christmas sucks movies to it and one about A Christmas Carol as a story of loneliness

And the Science Fiction Research Association Review gave a great review of Now and Then We Time Travel (“Sherman has put in lots of hard work and produced a very useful reference that is fun to sample—open it to page 125 to find Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971 stop motion television special with the voices of Vincent Price and Danny Kaye) followed by Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). There are many similar delights of juxtaposition.”)

While I hope that leads to a few more sales, getting such a good review is a delight in itself.

And here’s a photo I’ve been meaning to post for a while. I batted a pillow at Plush dog but instead of chewing it as he usually does, he simply stared at me. And looked adorable doing it.

#SFWApro. All rights to Scrooge and book cover images remain with current holder. Plush photo is mine, please credit me if you use it.

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Filed under Movies, Nonfiction, Now and Then We Time Travel

Wisp says hello

As I said this morning, she showed up, climbed on top of the table (it shelters the heated house, which isn’t waterproof) and peered in at us. We were very relieved to know she was alright.

Another relatively quiet week. I got several Leaf articles done, the most interesting being 1800 words on “Job Duties of a Nun.” And that’s it until 2019; much as I enjoy the dinero, I’m happy to have added time for finishing up Southern Discomfort.

I made it over 50,000 words so I’m past the halfway mark. I think I’ll be done by New Year’s as planned. After all I have two work weeks, less Christmas, and nothing else on my plate. Fingers crossed.

I did run into one major plotting problem but I fixed it fast. First I realized Joan was breaking a promise to her father to stay at home much too casually — for good reasons, but I’d already established she feels duty bound to keep her word. Then I realized that the FBI would probably have a few questions for her, which makes getting out of the house mandatory. Problem solved!

Hopefully they’ll all be that easy.

Oh, and I received a copy of the October/November History Magazine with my story on the history of the Fordson, the first affordable tractor, and how it and its eventual replacement, the Farmall, changed agriculture.

And I spent Thursday while the dogs were out doing some major cleaning to ready the house for the writers’ group Christmas Party Saturday.

Below, Wisp’s tentative check if we were ready to feed her.

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

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems

Will my reach exceed my grasp? Stay tuned!

As of today, Southern Discomfort is at almost 44,000 words. That leaves me with roughly 50,000 more to get through by New Year’s Eve to finish. That’s doable, but not a slam dunk. If I run into problems with some of my later scenes, or I get sick for a couple of days, I may be SOL.

I added 11,000 words to the book this week, which is definitely not enough if I keep going at the same speed. However I have only one more week of Leaf articles; after that, I’ll be free to work on the novel and nothing else. And this week I was sidelined Tuesday by having an opthalmologist appointment with eye dilation. As a result, I wasn’t able to use the computer for two or three hours after getting home. We’d taken the dogs in for grooming the same morning so I figured I could do some cleaning and giftwrapping while they were gone, as that doesn’t require the same level of fine eye focus. Nope, they were ready much sooner than I’d expected, so I had to push the cleaning to later in the week.

So it’s still doable. I shall stretch like Plastic Man until I achieve my glorious triumph! Or so I hope.

As my writing this week was just the novel and Leaf articles, I don’t have much else to say. Although I did have some more entertaining Leaf articles than usual, such as “Duties of a NASA Mission Specialist.”

I must admit I’ll be glad when I’m done with Southern Discomfort but if it comes to a choice between “get it done” and “make it good,” I’ll go with option B. But I’ll spend the rest of this month trying to avoid that choice.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Cole, all rights remain with current holder. I picked it to fit the “reach” theme, but also because it’s just cool.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

33,000 and counting

I accomplished 57 percent of my November goals. That’s primarily because I underestimated the impact of my colonoscopy on my work Thanksgiving week (and for that matter my off-work activities). And yes, insomnia played a role. As I sleep great on weekends, I’d anticipated making up for lost time over the four day weekend. Instead interruptions from one source or another meant I only got one night of good sleep. Bleah!

The biggest fail on my goal list was not finishing Southern Discomfort. That one I can’t really blame on my colon, though the short work week certainly had an impact. So did the Leaf articles continuing longer than I’d expected.

But the main reason is, it’s been a long while since I read an entire novel aloud, and I’d forgotten how long it takes. Rewriting and changing the scenes is taking more work than I thought too. I’m rewriting the flow of conversation so it makes more sense, adding tension to some scenes (though some of them are simply going to be about setting and character, and that’ll have to be enough), checking formatting. Every decision then leads to more changes (well, not the formatting). Making Maria more skeptical about whether it’s really magic in one scene means she needs to be skeptical in the next scene, or I have to show her changing.

Still, when I counted up the completely finished wordage this week, I was pleased. As of today, I’m a little over 33,000 words done, out of a 92,000 word book. And next month this is my only writing goal besides the Leaf articles, which will wrap up before too long. So I should be done by New Year’s Eve. Well if the good lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say. Even if it rises, I can get it done in January, but I really want to start 2019 fresh.

And I wrote another Dr. Mabuse article for Atomic Junkshop. As I didn’t have time for even a half-hearted film review, I looked at two Dr. Mabuse songs, Dr. Mabuse by Propaganda and Dr. Mabuse by Blue System. Thanks to my friend Ross Bagby for alerting me they even existed. Below is the CD cover for one of the Propaganda versions (there are several of various lengths floating around).

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