Category Archives: Nonfiction

Another productive week without craziness

—So a good week, but not terribly exciting to write about. Next week I have a root canal and an unrelated doctor’s appointment so that may change.

I wrapped up my Leaf writing for July on Monday.

To my pleasant surprise I finished the last chapter and the afterword of Undead Sexist Cliches. In my head, I’m tentatively setting a publication date in early November, which allows me to think about publicity and promotion and stuff (more on this later). Of course, I have a shit-ton to do on Alien Visitors which has a firm deadline at the end of October, so I still wonder if it’s possible. But if I commit, I’ll have to deliver.

Speaking of Alien Visitors, I did a thorough rewrite on the introduction and a good second draft of the chapter on alien invaders (focus: the George Pal and Spielberg War of the Worlds). Being able to look at them and say that yes, people will actually find this interesting, is a huge booster. Much to do yet, though.

And of course, I watched movies and TV for the book. Memorably, but not pleasurably the Day the Earth Stood Still knockoff Cosmic Man (1959) –— which is still more watchable than the Keanu Reaves remake of Day. And then Atomic Submarine (1960)I suffer for my art.

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The shape of Things to come

For my ET monster chapter, I think I’m going to go with 1951’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982) and the 2011 prequel that mashes them both together.

The seed of them all, of course, is John W. Campbell’s 1938 short story “Who Goes There?” This opens with a crew of scientists at an Antarctic research base debating whether to defrost an alien body they’ve found in the ice (Alec Nevala-Lee later unearthed an earlier draft that starts with the discovery of the ship). They’re confident the alien can’t still be alive, but they’re wrong. Now they have a shapeshifting creature lurking among them, able to kill and replace any of their sled dogs or themselves. If it escapes, it can populate the world with itself, much as Jack Finney’s pod people). Can they find the duplicates first?

This is part of a long print tradition pitting humans against a superhuman alien threat. It was a nail-biting thriller the first time I read it and would probably be again if I wasn’t thinking critically foremost. I can’t help noticing its very heavy on dialog, much more than action or even movement — like the recap of the opening discovery, it’s more people talking about what’s happening than it actually happening. It has a larger cast than the movie adaptations, but there’s logic to that; more people means Campbell can have a high body count and lots of takeovers and still end up in a better place than the end of the 1982 film. The story is also an excellent example of the Othering I’ve noticed in alien invasion movies. There’s no suggestion the alien might be reasoned with or negotiated with. Just looking at its face convinces most of the scientists it’s innately evil. All of that said, let’s move on to the movies —

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is an alien invasion movie, a horror film (it will probably go in my Monsters chapter) and a story of tough guys fighting alone and under pressure, a staple set-up for producer Howard Hawks (while Christian Nyby got the director credit, multiple accounts credit Hawks as the guiding hand). There’s constant banter and crackling dialog (I disagree with Nevala-Lee that the film is mostly “a series of images“), and a woman, Nicky (Margaret Sheridan) who can hold her own with the men. She isn’t the screamer of the poster though she doesn’t get much to do in the struggle.

USAF Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and his crew fly up from Anchorage to help out Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) whose science team have discovered a flying saucer that recently crashed in the Arctic ice. Attempting to melt the ice with thermite destroys the metal of the ship, but it turns out the pilot ejected before the crash. Trapped in a block of ice, he gets taken into the lab — and due to an error, the ice melts. The creature is loose. Can Hendry and his men stop it? Can he and Nicky get over their really disastrous first date?

Rather than a shapeshifter, the monster is just a Frankensteinian-looking James Arness. He’s an intelligent plant (“You sound like you’re describing a super-carrot.”) who feeds on mammal blood. His plan is apparently (he never actually talks) to use blood of living creatures to grow seeds and colonize Earth. He shows little concern for humans; as Carrington puts it, he’s no more interested in a dialogue with us than we’d have a discussion with a cabbage.

Despite that insight, Carrington comes off a nasty piece of work. Like Zellerbee in Village of the Damned, he respects the alien’s superior intellect and doesn’t want it harmed. Unlike Zellerbee and similar movie scientists, he actively undercuts the fight, interfering with some of the men’s efforts and providing blood to grow new seedling Things. He’s often been interpreted as Communist figure (ruthless, emotionless, threatening the good people of the world). However, as Keep Watching the Skies points out, the military high brass take the same view that Hendry should avoid hurting the alien. The cluelessness of military higher-ups is a running gag; it’s the people on the front lines who see things clearly (a right-wing film by Peter Biskind’s standards). The film is tense, scary and deserves its rep as a classic  (I’m amazed the best DVD I could find isn’t full of special features). “I doubt the thing can die as we understand dying.”

JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982) harks back to Campbell’s original by making the monster a shapeshifter. We open with a husky fleeing a Norwegian Antarctic base, a Norwegian following, trying to kill it from a chopper, only to crash and die. By the time the American base — where staff include Kurt Russell, Donald Moffatt and Wilford Bromley — realize what they’re dealing with its too late: any one of them could have been infected and transformed. Who’s who? Can they figure it out before the monster gets away and infects civilization?

This got a resounding critical slapdown when it first appeared: gory and graphic (the transformation scenes, probably influenced by Alien, are pretty gross), the men’s casual drug use, the fact it’s an all-male cast. Forty years later, it’s become a classic; as Nevala-Lee says, it’s probably better known than the Campbell story. While I prefer the Hawks, the 1982 movie is a solid horror film though it suffers the common logic gaps of the genre. There’s no real attempt to watch each other and ensure they’re not turned, nor do they try grilling each other for memory gaps (maybe the Thing duplicates memories, but they don’t even try). That said, I think Carpenter, a big fan of the original, did a good job. “The chameleon strikes in the dark.”

THE THING (2011) is an attempt to hybridize the two films by remaking the Hawks version and setting it up as a prequel to the Carpenter. Scientist Mary Elizabeth Winstead travels to the Norwegian base where they’ve discovered a ship in the ice, and the ice-preserved body of the pilot. Once again it thaws out; once again a scientist suggests they keep it alive, even as it’s killing them, but now there’s the added possibility it could be any one of them.

This one didn’t work for me at all. It has none of the wit and rough humor of the Hawks version, nor the horror of the Carpenter, even with louder, more graphic F/X. It doesn’t help that we know how it’s going to end, but they fudge even that — Winstead survives almost to the end but we never actually see the Thing take her down. My biggest take away is how determined Hollywood is to keep mining its intellectual property over and over (pre-pandemic, there was talk of remaking the Carpenter version). As I mentioned five years ago, it’s true Hollywood has always been into remakes, and it’s also been into series, but it’s much worse now. Strip-mining old movies is both safe (they’re a known property) and economical (why buy something new when you already have the rights to something old?). Of course the box-office flop of this film shows remakes/prequels/reboots aren’t a sure thing, but I doubt that will shatter the paradigm.  “This may be the first and only time Earth has been visited by an alien life form.”

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“I’m making too much money” is a funny complaint

Okay, that’s not actually my complaint. It’s just that I made a big push to get more Leaf articles in and that squeezed out work on pretty much anything else. I started Sunday worked through Monday, then ran into Tuesday because I was too darn slow turning ’em out. Plus Thursday we had the housekeepers in; that’s usually distracting so I took the time to get various house stuff done.

Wednesday I did watch some movies for Alien Visitors and today I mixed more movies with getting some actual writing done. That felt good even if one of them was Killdozer.However when I reached my quota of Leafs for the week — I have some more to do on Monday — I stopped, rather than squeeze out the chance to make a little more money. I lose too much time for other projects if I don’t at some point say “I’ve earned sufficient. Stop now.”

Next week, the Leaf work should be light, so hopefully more will be done on the book. Time’s running out and I gotta move faste.r

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Strangely enough, the guest puppies made me more productive, sort of

With Lily and Tito visiting, and TYG having her own stuff to deal with, I really couldn’t go anywhere last weekend other than the grocery store and the library. So I watched lots of movies for Alien Visitors. I did more of that the first couple of days this week, then settled in to writing on the book. The result was that I ended up with like nine hours of overtime. Which I still track even though I almost never run under-time. Still, knowing I’m not sitting on my butt gives me a certain peace of mind.

After the dogs left I set to work on writing the book. I did some great work on the introduction but as usual didn’t get as far as I liked. Dog care, lack of sleep, occasional errands, in short the usual distractions.

I squeezed in a bunch of Leafs the end of the week and I started the rewrite of Chapter Nine of Undead Sexist Cliches. This chapter deals with the concept of the sexual marketplace — specifically the idea women are selling sex (whether for cash, love, gifts or marriage), men are buying and that women “giving it away” undercuts the rightful order of things.

And that’s pretty much it. As I’m working on so few projects these days, these posts just get shorter and shorter. But that’s better than having some long catastrophe I have to explain, right?

For visuals, here’s a shot I took from inside the Plush One’s cage, up next to the built-in cupboard. We finally took the cage down today.

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My week, demolished by dogs (Wisp helped too)

Having Tuesday sucked up by doctor visits was only part of the distractions from writing this week.

It started Saturday night, July 3. Some clodpates decided to launch fireworks to celebrate Independence Day Eve and Plushie freaked out. He crawled across the bed and began licking at my face for comfort, which is not so comfortable for me — I kept having to shift to avoid getting my mouth or my ears licked (ick!). And he wanted to jump off the bed, which would be bad for his ongoing recovery (more on which soon).

Sunday night, July 4, there were, of course, more fireworks and more of a freakout. My writing day Monday was ultra-groggy; I’d scheduled eight Leaf articles for myself and only finished six. Catching up took more time out of the rest of my week (I try for 10 a week. It covers my share of the bills handily).

Monday night, as I mentioned in this morning’s post, Wisp kept waking me up. Tuesday and Wednesday I just didn’t sleep well. Part of that is that the endodontist gave me antibiotics (there’s a slight infection around the site of my future root canal) and my mind keeps prodding me to get up at 3 AM so I take them on a regular schedule (it’s a four times a day thing), then I can’t get back to sleep.

Then Thursday, a friend called with a problem. They’d previously asked about us dog-sitting Lily and Tito as we’d done before, but for a longer stretch, Thursday to Tuesday (the dogs have never been boarded so the owners don’t want to do that if they can avoid it). Then they’d found someone who could house-sit with the dogs, so we didn’t have to get involved. Thursday their house-sitter got slapped with an emergency and it was too late to either take the dogs or board them, so could we … And of course we said yes. Needless to say, having two more dogs slows my work down to a crawl. Plus our weekly session with our dogs at the dog rehab place took much longer than anticipated. So Thursday was a wash as far as anything involving thinking. Today was too.

At least they’re awfully cute, sweet dogs though.

I did manage to read over Chapter Nine of Undead Sexist Cliches preparatory to rewriting it. I posted on Atomic Junkshop about the obscure Superman villain Zha-Vam (“Say his name and even Superman shakes!”) I got my ten Leafs done for the week, and watched a lot of movies for Alien Visitors. Didn’t get much writing done, though and I really need to. But there’s only so much that can be done when multiple dogs clamor for attention.

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With the year half over …

I’ve had a consistent run of completing 50 percent of my goals each month. And it happened once again for June. Writing went well, though (as usual) nowhere near as fast as I wanted. Lots of little goals didn’t get done but I kept up my exercise and (reasonably) healthy eating goals.

This week went well. My relatively new rule of not counting time spent on email or blogging as writing time really does allow me to get more done. And I don’t feel guilty if I plow through a lot of email. Both these things are good.

I rewrote the Alien Invasions chapter of Alien Visitors and put in a bunch of time breaking down my list of movies decade by decade, to see if I can spot any trends. Nothing concrete yet, but I’ll blog about it when I think of something. And, of course, I watched movies. Leaf was on hiatus most of the week so I had extra time (I’ll be back on that beat starting Monday, or maybe Sunday). I also need to rein in how much stuff I try to do during movies. Sure, lots of them are minor and not really deserving of close attention. Even so, they may spark some insight, but not if I let myself get consumed by blogging or reading the news. I used to be able to double-focus, but not so much now. And switching from close-up computer range eye use to staring at the TV creates quite a strain.

I finished rewriting the abortion/birth control chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches. Now it’s just Chapter Nine (and the conclusion), then indexing, spell-checking, researching a couple of point that need clarifying …and (ugh) rereading Warren Farrel’s The Myth of Male Power. The $17 used copy I ordered vanished in the mail (I got a refund today). As every copy I can find is at least $30, I sold out and bought the Kindle edition for $8. I dislike anything that sends royalties his way, but …

For visual appeal, here’s a photo I took of the spare bedroom window early Thursday, when it’s only lit by the back porch floodlights. It came out much better than most of my darkness photos do.#SFWApro.

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Productive work but was it the right work?

Yes and no. I prioritized work on Alien Visitors but I wound up watching more movies and doing less than writing on the book than I should have.

The week started off with Trixie deciding to get up early to spend time with me. Which got more complicated than usual as Wisp decided to come in and spend time with me. Attempting to handle both of them, keep Trixie out of Wisp’s tuna (Trixie’s stomach usually gets upset after), break up any possible fights — well, I couldn’t get my usual exercises and stretching done. So I pushed that until later in the day and watched movies or TV for the book while I did my physical stuff. That kept me working, but it did not get the writing done. I did complete a rough rewrite of the introduction but I need to do a lot more next week.

I also got my Leaf articles done and proofed Chapter Eight of Undead Sexist Cliches while I was sitting in Plushie’s cage. It’s  too awkward to bring my computer into the cage, but he needed the company.

So not quite the best use of my time, but I did put it to use. And I learned something from the movies, even the crappy ones. So it’s a win, I think. Plus I spent this morning having tea with my friend HJ Frederick, catching up and enjoying real world interactions.

For an illustration, here’s some flowers from the neighborhood.#SFWApro.

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Plushie the jailbird!

So a couple of weeks back when we laid down new rugs, we had to move a lot of furniture around. In the middle of all that, the Plush One jumped up on the back of one of the couches — we’d moved it away from the wall — and jumped to the floor. So perhaps it’s not surprising that last Saturday, his back started acting up again. As in, if we even brushed it, he flinched in pain.

We rushed him to the emergency vet (we have a couple in Durham) and got the anticipated recommendation of painkillers and cage rest.  Here you can see him resting inside the bars.That Sunday I spent a lot of time caged with him because he gets so miserable when cut off from us.Unfortunately Trixie doesn’t like that solution much. Here you can see me comforting her through the bars.Fortunately TYG, being Plushie’s adoring Mommy, opted to work downstairs, outside the cage, as much as she could. She also slept on the couch-bed all week so she’d be there if he whimpered in pain (knowing TYG, I wasn’t surprised). That freed me up from working inside the cage, which is really awkward. The downside was that with her sleeping down there, I had to rearrange my morning schedule so I didn’t wake her up by coming down to get tea. That made for another chaotic week — well, by my standards — but ultimately I was able to get my work done. Not counting blogging and email time as work helped — otherwise I might have been tempted to just give up and bat out some blog posts for a couple of hours.

Happily we took Plush in to our regular vet this morning. We still have to keep him from jumping up and down or climbing the stairs, but we can probably stop cage rest after tomorrow. He’ll be much happier if we put the cage up around the couch and let him snuggle with us

I didn’t have the focus to write much on Alien Visitors but I watched a number of movies for the book. I got my Leaf quota in, and another client finally worked out the kinks in their accounting system and paid up. I was beginning to worry they wouldn’t pay, so that was a welcome resolution to the story ($850 isn’t chicken feed to me). And I finished proofing Undead Sexist Cliches Chapter Seven, on sexual harassment.

It’s hard to believe I only have a week and a half left this month. I’d better keep making good use of my time.

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Chaotic but productive. I can live with that.

Yesterday, our housecleaners made their monthly appearance, as usual amazing me with how good they are. I don’t think I realized one of my shower door was actually clear glass. But I knew they’d make it hard to focus, so I put in a full day of work Sunday instead. That proved wise, because I did indeed get little done yesterday.

I completed plenty of Leafs; other than that, my priority was Alien Visitors. I watched movies (including Earth Girls Are Easy), and got around to rough drafts of several chapters. Whatever’s been bogging me down in working on the book, I’ve finally broken out of the slump. I also read my UFO Abduction chapter to the group on Tuesday, and got some excellent feedback, as usual.

I wound up taking today off to get various stuff — paperwork, mostly — done, and watching more stuff for the book.

And … huh, that’s pretty much it. When things go smoothly, there’s not much stuff to say I guess.

My article on military suicide came out on Veterans Network. I believe this is it until the fall but that works out well — more time for Alien Visitors and finishing up Undead Sexist Cliches.

Wisp has been coming in for snuggles a little more frequently this week, which is nice. Oh, and we belled Wisp, at the request of our neighbor. It’s a breakaway collar, so it’s safe for her, I hope, and perhaps it will make it harder for her to snatch any birds from the neighbor’s feeder. Fingers crossed.

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If nothing else, at least I donated some blood this week

That was this morning. I came home and collapsed much more than I think I usually do. But then it’s been a heck of a week. By the way, how do you like my blood selfie?

I’d really expected a productive week. I didn’t get one. Okay, that’s not fair: I did finish editing Chapter Six of Undead Sexist Cliches and I got nine Leaf articles done. But nothing other than a couple of movies accomplished for Alien Visitors.

The trouble started Sunday night. Wisp came in because it was unusually chilly. She wound up sleeping next to me, but positioned herself where I really couldn’t move or shift comfortably (I was afraid I’d knock her to the floor). That always ruins sleep for me (it’s happened with Plushie a couple of times too) and I’m not sure Wisp would be okay with me moving her, so I wound up not getting enough sleep.

Monday night Wisp wasn’t in. Plushie, however, decided he needed to go out around 1:30 AM, which fell to me, so that didn’t go well. Tuesday night, Plushie tried moving me over because he wanted my spot in the bed. He isn’t big enough to make that happen, but it still makes it impossible to sleep. Wednesday Wisp came in, slept in a good spot, but woke me up around 3:30 AM for attention.

So I’ve been kind of sleep deprived this week. I concentrated on Leaf articles because they don’t require much creative thinking (and yes, they pay). Thursday, though I had sleep deprivation plus taking care of the dogs the entire day, and Wisp spending a lot of time indoors (as I don’t want any fights to erupt this requires paying a lot more attention to pets). So out of a day of work, maybe three hours of writing.

On the plus side, my decision not to count blogging and email as writing time paid off. Not that it made me more productive but the periods when I was doing nothing but reading email didn’t make me feel guilty (“This isn’t productive! I shouldn’t count this as writing time!'”).

It was a mess of a week but now it’s done. I got better sleep last night — not a huge amount but waking myself early always feels better than someone else waking me up. Fingers crossed for a better second week of June.

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