Category Archives: Nonfiction

Work in my second week of social distancing

Not so good, although not all the fault of this strange new world. I woke up way, way early two nights this week, to the point I was in something of a fog. My Leaf work slowed down to a crawl; I got it done but way slower than I’d intended. That left less time for other stuff.

Wednesday being my birthday, I goofed off and watched TV a lot of the day while clearing out my huge list of bookmarks. This was actually productive — I found several links that will be useful for current projects — but not much actual writing. But hey, birthday.

Thursday I got two more short stories submitted and talked with the artist doing the cover of Questionable Minds. She had some layout suggestions; I took a look and said which I liked best and why. It’s kind of fun. But by afternoon, my mind just stopped jelling.

Today I got a shit ton done on the sexual harassment chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches. I thought I could finish it but … not quite. Next week, definitely, assuming I don’t get sick with you know what.

My schedule is still a work in progress. I tried not working Sunday and sure enough, with TYG helping take the dogs part of the day and some of the evening, it’s much easier to put in a full day’s work. And I do like not working on the weekends, so I’ll probably stick with that (though not for this coming weekend, for various reasons). I’m consistently starting later in the mornings, though, which is my best time normally; with TYG at home, it’s easy to spend more time with her and the dogs during breakfast. That’s one reason I didn’t get more fiction done this week: morning became a very small slice of time. I do not think this is an unfixable problem though (I could just go upstairs and shut everyone out of my thoughts, but I don’t feel like doing that).

While it’s disappointing not to get more fiction done this week, I think overall it was satisfactory.

Have a good weekend and remember — no matter how boring it gets in social isolation, do not experiment with weird chemicals, let alone drink them yourself!#SFWApro. Art by Jack Kirby, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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And the Red Death shall hold dominion over all

Okay, not that bad. But COVID 19 did majorly disrupt my work week (which is, obviously, far from the worst thing about it. First world problems).

The big change was that TYG started working from home, which is great for her (more time to spend with Plushie) and fun for me, plus I get a bit more of a break from the dogs when she takes them upstairs. However it also changes the rhythm of the day — when she gets up, when the dogs come down for breakfast, when she or I walk them at lunch — and it throws me off. Sometimes I start work, then the dogs have breakfast a quarter-hour later and by the time they’re finished I’ve lost momentum.

It’s a fixable problem, but this week it threw me off. It was, after all, on top of the daylight savings time hour-ahead weekend, which always leaves me sleeping poorly and feeling a little groggy. And I’m way distracted by the pandemic we’re in. It was hard not to stop whatever I was doing and check FB every so often, or browse the news, or Tweet to President Tinybrain about how he’s being a coward and putting millions of Americans at risk. I did it even as I was typing this post.

So most of what I accomplished this week was Leaf. Actually more than my usual quota: they had so many interesting articles I wound up doing 14 rather than 10. I’ll cut back some next week to make up. I really dislike doing that — somehow I never recapture the time I wasn’t spending on my own projects — but then again, my mind was so fractured, I don’t know how much good I’d have done on my own stuff.

I did look over the story I hoped to redraft this month, now titled Laughter of the Dark. And I rewrote the next chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, which went much easier than expected. I will be thrilled if the next chapter goes as well, as it’s a twist and a big reveal that I’ve been struggling with ever since I dropped the core of the original novel. I have no regrets about the change, but I am a little nervous that it won’t go well at all.

And that was pretty much it. I think I’ll do better next week. I may even skip working on the weekend, seeing as I’m not handling the dogs all day, and see if I can put in more hours Monday-Friday.

In the minor annoyance department, I tried renewing my prescriptions online today. Turns out that as our new health coverage has an entirely different mail-order pharmacy, all my prescriptions are effectively reset to zero. Fortunately I’ll be seeing my doctors before I need refills.

And now the weekend, when I shall endeavor to chill as much as possible.

#SFWApro.

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This week’s challenges: Sickness, snow and scheduling

The scheduling issue came up Sunday. I’ve been putting in three hours of writing on Sunday for a couple of months now as I get so wiped out at the end of the Monday-Friday work days. Three hours Sunday, I can stop earlier and give myself a little break before walking and feeding the dogs. But as my lunch breaks have been quite short this month — with Trixie’s leg, they aren’t getting long walks — so I figured I could skip Sunday, get my work done in the afternoons and still finish up before dinner walkies.

And I mostly did, but there much less of a break at the day’s end than I’d expected. Either Plush dog got a longer walk than usual or there was some other distraction I was dealing with on lunch hour. For example, Wisp demanding petting. Plus, I suspect the sickness that has me in its grip today was already dragging me down.Wisp, has by the way, been a constant companion on our short walks. I wish I could capture just snuggling with the dogs but Plushie sniffing her but is as close as I’ve managed so far.

Sickness has been a bigger problem. TYG caught a bug last week, probably by the usual transmission process of kids to parents, parents to coworkers, which means her. At first it didn’t seem like there’d be much of a problem, but the past couple of days I’ve had the inflammation and irritation in my throat I repeatedly get. I’m doing my best to stay relaxed not talk and talk all appropriate meds as I have some presentations to make at the end of next week (details will follow). I’d really, really like to be able to make them and losing my voice would make that impractical.

And of course, feeling sick does not do my writing any good. Today I just wiped out in the late morning, so I did this blog post and I’m calling it a day. Unless I revive in the afternoon; I’m not betting on it.

And then snow, of all things, descended on us (and the rest of Durham) yesterday. Given temperatures we thought it wouldn’t stick, but it has. Fortunately it looks like the roads are clear so we should be A-OK if we need to drive anywhere. And TYG picked up food Thursday morning, so that’s taken care of. As long as we take care walking the dogs, we should be fine.

Now as to work … I did my Leafs for the week, though in my depleted state they took much longer than they should have. I also drafted Impossible Takes a Little Longer up to Chapter 23, which was my goal for the month; I won’t have much time for fiction next week so that’s a win. I also worked on a first draft and got a big leap forward this morning when the bad guy finally emerged from my unconscious. I might have finished the draft today but … no. I might squeeze it in next week

I also tidied and footnoted the first section of Chapter Seven of Undead Sexist Cliches. It’s on sexual harassment so there’s no shortage of examples.

Wish me luck for a better next week. I have a lot I want to be in good health for.

#SFWApro. Photos are mine.

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Juggling, insomnia and a wendigo! Okay, I was kidding about the wendigo

Another rather disorderly but quite productive week. So that’s a win, I think. And my post title gives me an excuse to post one of Herb Trimpe’s Hulk covers, which is another win (Trimpe and Sal Buscema are very much “my” Hulk artists).

The disorder started around midnight Saturday when Trixie woke up, needing to go to the bathroom. I took her out, but an hour later she needed to go again. After that I just settled with her onto the couch downstairs. She was fine with that, but her constant quivering from her tummy upsets made it impossible to sleep. While I’m used to insomnia I’d had some bad nights earlier in the week and this one was just a bridge too far. I was so wiped out Saturday that everything I’d planned to do got either postponed to Sunday (planning some stuff, cleaning) or dropped (going to the movies). I wound up taking a nap that was close to three hours, which is way long for me.

On the plus side, Trixie’s tummy settled down and she went back to normal. However her bad leg definitely felt worse after doing all that extra squatting and relieving herself. But she’s been improving steadily, I think; as I said this morning, I hope she’ll escape needing surgery. Even if not, better a happy, contented puppy in recovery than a miserable sad, diarrhea-ridden puppy.

Now, the juggling; I’ve been practicing juggling for years, based on a couple of how-to books. I’ve known for a while I was never going to get any better without help, so I took a one hour class Monday at Triangle Circus Arts.My teacher was very helpful. She pointed out the mistakes in the way I was doing things and showed me some basic steps I wasn’t taking. It was a huge quantum leap in my understanding of what I was doing, and a modest leap in my performance. But even when I wasn’t doing it right, at least I could spot what I was doing wrong. I’ll keep practicing at home, then next month I’ll go back again.

But the thing is, I normally practice five minutes at a time. Juggling for a solid hour really exhausted my arms and left me wiped out for the rest of the day. Coupled with Trixie’s appointment slicing the morning in two, I got nothing done. However my insomnia was still running so I wound up making up the time at the cost of sleep. Not exactly a win, but …

And as for the writing?

I finished chapter four of Undead Sexist Cliches. I’ve gone light on a couple of sections, such as whether or not a pay gap between women and men exists (yes) and is partly due to sexism (yes), and told everyone to read some of the posts in footnotes if they want to get into serious number crunching. Still it’s in much better order, with all footnotes added.

I got one more chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. After the trip to Stardian City I’m not quite sure where it goes to get to the big superhero/supervillain confrontation (not the climax but a big turning point) but my gut’s lead me well so far; hopefully that will continue.

I redrafted and slightly shortened Death is Like a Box of Chocolates based on last week’s critique from the writers’ group. It’s improved, but I think the ending may still need work. I’ll give it another look next week, then off to another beta reader. If she thinks it works, I’ll have it finished next month.

I worked some on finishing this month’s first draft (as yet untitled), but I didn’t get very far. And other than knowing it’s a riff on Sleeping Beauty, I have no idea what kleptomaniac Mary “Stealer” Holt has to deal with. But it’s a first draft, I can always change the answer later. I hope to finish it this month, but I won’t bet on it.

That’s a satisfactory amount of work. Next week, hopefully, I can accomplish work and sleep.

#SFWApro. Rights to cover image remain with current holder.

 

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Well my output is good, but the results?

I really, really would like to sell something besides Leaf articles. I’m happy to sell those because they make me a decent income, but would it be too much to sell some fiction too?

This week I got a form letter turn-down for one reprint story, and a rejection for a regional con (I may go in person. We’ll see). Late last week, I was told another submission came within a “handwaving asymptote” of acceptance, or it wasn’t accepted because it was a handwaving asymptote. I wasn’t really clear, but a friend with better mathematical understanding thinks they meant A. Oh, and the artist who’s working on a cover design for me is way behind on responding. I know her and she’s got a lot on her plate, but it would be nice to hear back.

Sometimes, like Blue Beetle it seems there’s no escape, no chance — but then I get back up and resubmit something again.

Like the title says, output this week was good. A little disorganized due to Leaf having switched the way it posts articles; I still got in enough to pay my share of the bills, but not always at the times I’d blocked out for them. I kept working on something though, so I didn’t waste time.

I also lost time because of sleep. Got back in late after going out with the writer’s group Tuesday; couldn’t sleep Wednesday for stress (I wound up with some Leaf articles I was having serious trouble finishing — though I succeeded Thursday); and last night, Trixie woke me out of a solid sleep because she needed to go to the bathroom. As her bad leg precluded her usual body language — running to the door and waiting — I decided she was just being needy, petted her for a bit, then got up and did some work. I should have trusted my gut and taken her out, then TYG wouldn’t have had to deal with poop on the floor when she got up.

Oh, and Plush Dog spent much of today as a lap dog, choosing the most awkward positions for my writing — that is, I end up with my legs spread, tilted slightly over on one side, propping my lap desk up on the arm of the couch. Makes focus hard.

Now, as to the actual output. I got two more chapters on Impossible Takes a Little Longer done, set in the Stardian City I talked about in a previous post. This sequence turned out really well; however I’m looking back at the early chapters, which I changed relatively little, and thinking I need to change a couple of them a lot. The villain’s opening attacks on my superhero, Champion, are just not working in the context of the whole book, though I’m not sure what should replace them.

I put in some work on an as yet untitled short still in first-draft stage. It involves a 1938 socialite and compulsive thief stumbling into a portal fantasy. I’ve never figured out what’s on the other side of the portal for her to deal with, but I’ve got a better handle on her character now and that’s going to help. I hope.

I read the revised Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates to the writers’ group and got some good feedback. Mostly that a lot of background detail could be cut and should be. And that the ending needs more oomph, which I agree with — nobody could pinpoint what, but perhaps I’ll think of something. I hadn’t thought it needed that much tightening, but they’re good judges so I’ll keep that in mind when I review it next week.

And I got a start on redrafting and footnoting Chapter Four of Undead Sexist Cliches. I restructured the chapter and I think it’s in good shape. Hopefully I won’t change my mind as I go through it again.

Oh, and I submitted a story which has not come back yet! In fact all my non-reprint stories are out, so who knows?

#SFWApro. Cover by Chris Wozniak, all rights remain with current holder.

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Crawling from the wreckage

Well that’s unusual. Normally if the week goes poorly, it starts well, then tanks. This time it started as a mess, then picked up.

Due to worry and vet appointments for Trixie’s injury, Sunday and Monday crawled. I got some Leaf done, but that was it, and it took forever to focus.

After that, though, things started to resolve and I began to get into the swing of things. It was still awkward trying to fit Trixie and Plushie and me on the couch, inside the cage, but we made it work, though not very comfortably. Yeah, maybe “swing of things” isn’t the best phrasing. So along with a full slate of Leaf I made some minor changes to Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates for my reading at writer’s group next week. And I completed another two chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, as KC enters Stardian City (which I blogged about yesterday).

And I finally got my revised proposal for Space Invaders off to McFarland. It all seemed to come together in my head Thursday, while Plushie was at Suite Paws. With Trixie at home I didn’t get my usual full day all to myself, but not having Plushie sitting in my lap and squishing me into awkward positions was apparently a brain boost (I could try moving him off, but he’s just so cute). As I couldn’t go out cycling with Trixie to watch over, I probably wound up spending more time writing than usual. My brain was quite fried by the end of the day.

As I made the most of my no-Leaf weeks the first half of the month, I ended up doing well meeting my goals. Only about 60 percent, but almost all of my writing goals, and a lot of the important personal ones. So I’m pleased.

The goals included contributing a one-day quiz to the Learned League online trivia game I play in. I’ve been working on it for a while, but I finally reviewed the feedback, fixed some problems and submitted the final draft of the questions on Monday (it went live yesterday). The topic was “The Other Oz Films” which I think I’m well-qualified to write. My description on the website:

The 1939 MGM Wizard of Oz wasn’t declared a classic until after years of TV airings. Over time, though, it eclipsed L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz novel and its sequels, not to mention casting a long shadow over every other Oz movie ever made. There are lots of other Oz films in that shadow. Oz characters are so iconic, they stay recognizable even when they’re plugged into horror films, SF, educational videos or soft-care porn. That flexibility, and Baum being out of copyright, makes them irresistible. The questions that follow cover 12 Oz films from the silent era onward. Head over the rainbow and test your knowledge of the Oz films that don’t star Judy Garland.

And now the weekend. There’s a bunch of little errands and tasks I need to deal with but I intend to get maximum relaxation in too. I think I could use it.

#SFWApro. Dog photos are mine. All rights to cover image remain with current holders.

 

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There will be blood! And it was mine!

No, I didn’t have an accident, I finally donated blood on Thursday.

While I’d arranged my schedule to account for the wiped-out feeling a double donation of red blood cells gives me, this trip still threw me off my game. There was a rash on my left arm when they were ready to stick the needle in — probably a reaction to something on the blood-pressure cuff — and as a result they decided to use my right arm. The veins weren’t as good, so they slowed down the system and I got out 30 to 40 minutes later than I normally would have. Then I had to walk across the parking lot and almost to the street to call a Lyft because the Red Cross is in a cell-phone dead zone.

But it’s done! And with a double dose, I won’t be ready to give again until May, so being wiped out the rest of the day (the only thing I got done was a post on Death-Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse on Atomic Junkshop) is worth it to cut back the number of appointments. And overall this was a productive week. That’s good, as I’ll be starting back on Leaf articles next week, so there’ll be less time for other stuff.

I rewrote Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates which I’ll submit to the writing group in a week or two. Now that the McGuffin is a box of Stuckey’s praline candies, I’ll leave it up to the group whether the title still works or if I need an alternative (It Flutters on the Soul would be my backup).

I finished Chapter Six of Sexist Myths and went on to incorporate a number of bookmarked web pages into the book. I’ll jump back and start on Chapter Four next week (it’s much rougher so I figured I’d be more able to tackle it if I got a couple of other chapters under my best).

I went over the rewrite of Fiddler’s Black I did last week and it looks good. Next week I’ll start looking for markets.

I completed two more chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Despite all the changes from the last draft, it’s flowing very well. A big part of that is the first person voice works so much better than third-person did, conveying much more of the intensity. I’m on track to get to Chapter Eighteen by the end of the month, which was my plan. However it’s shaping up to be very short for a novel length work. Then again, so did Southern Discomfort and it’s now a comfortable 90,000. Fingers crossed.

I finished a first draft of Death’s Jester though that’s definitely not the final title. It involves a couple of teenage schoolgirls in 1960s London getting entangled in a supernatural struggle. However the ending is really rushed, because I was bone-weary this morning and I couldn’t think very well, so I just wrapped it up all of a sudden. There are some bits in the ending I like, but I may revisit it next week and mess around with other options.

And I gave blood which is something I take pride in doing as much as possible. So yay.

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

 

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Productivity and plague: my last writing week of 2019

The plague was the same problem I’ve been dealing with for four years now: the combination of dry heated air from the heating system with my asthma plus bad breath control makes me vulnerable to any virus that comes along. It gets into my throat and leaves me hacking, wheezing and eventually without a voice.

Fortunately I’ve learned to strike first when I feel the symptoms, and so Tuesday, went I felt a familiar hacking and wheezing, I went in to the urgent care near our house. Good move: they confirmed I had a virus (probably the one TYG acquired on a recent trip) and gave me some nasal drops. They seem to be working, though I’m also careful about not talking (the breath control problem — I can really strain my throat). I rested most of the day, which was smart, but cost me more work time. Plus I don’t work on Christmas. Still, I got quite a bit done.

I completed the third chapter of Sexist Myths but discovered Chapter Four is one of my weakest. Nothing that can’t be fixed, but it requires more thought than I can manage with the dogs squished up against me non-stop (I didn’t get my break last week due to Trixie’s tummy troubles so I’m feeling the loss of personal space more than usual). I started Chapter Five and did much better; I’ll come back to Four when the pups are in doggy day care again next week.

I put some more work in on Oh, the Places You’ll Go and reviewed a slightly revised version of the original version. I’ve got to say, despite one member of my writing group saying it was fine as it stood, I think it does need a lot more, so the big reboot is probably necessary.

And I completed the nine chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer I set myself as one of my goals for the month. Chapter Nine introduces the villain, and I was very unsure because he’s so radically rebooted from the previous version. However early this morning I saw a way to make him work and forged ahead. Hopefully my new approach will prove itself as I progress.

Just a few more days this year and then enter 2020. But for now, enjoy the weekend!

#SFWapro. Photograph is mine.

 

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There is disorder under heaven but the situation is pretty good

For starters, the digital magazine Kzine, which published my Kernel of Truth in 2015, now makes hard copy issues available via Amazon.

I got mine. As I love having copies in hard copy, this made me very happy. Though my smile looks weird here, it’s sincere.

The big disruption this week was Trixie. Sick stomach again on Sunday, vet appointment Wednesday. They suggested another new food, but Thursday she wouldn’t eat it, so we kept her home from daycare. At the end of the day, she scarfed down a kong full of soft food, so she’s back to normal.

But what is normal? Is her lack of interest in breakfast a sign of a constant low level of whatever this problem is? Or is it that she just doesn’t like kibble (we thought about a tooth problem but she has no hesitation with hard foods that she likes)? Given we’re supposed to feed her mostly the new kibble plus a little of the soft food, will we have to go the other way around to get her to eat? Stay tuned.

I’d planned to use my dog-free Thursday to donate blood and catch a movie. But even if Trixie had been hale and hearty, it wouldn’t have worked. TYG has a bad bug, I have a mild version, but I didn’t think I should give blood. And we had a contractor stop by in the afternoon so I couldn’t have made the movie anyway. Frustrating. And today hasn’t been massively more productive, mostly research reading. And an Atomic Junkshop post on Christmas time-loop movies.

Despite all of which, the week was productive. I did a redraft of Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and I think I see how to fix the ending on the next draft. I wrote a couple of chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer and redrafted my Oh the Places You’ll Go. I’d been planning on a much more elaborate rewrite, but one of the writers in my group said that it worked great as it was; I’ll look at the redraft next week and see if I agree (it certainly would be quicker to get it done).

I only got about 40 percent through Chapter Three of Sexist Myths And Why They’re Bullshit. I wound up doing more Leaf this week than I’d expected and for once the time came out of my nonfiction rather than my fiction. I’m okay with that, and I think I can make it up next week.

So confused, and certainly stressful when Trixie was miserable (though the veterinary drugs we got help a lot), but pretty good. And now it’s only a few days to Christmas — where did the time go?

#SFWApro. All rights to Kzine cover (art by Dave Windett) remains with current holders.

 

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Lot of stuff done, though it wasn’t very creative

But I did bake some bread that came out great. I guess that’ll be my artistic accomplishment for the week.

It’s a beer bread from 100 Great Breads, in case you were wondering. Not as strongly flavored as some beer-based breads I’ve made, but quite tasty.

So last weekend, I was housebound with the pups while TYG was traveling. Result? Sunday work didn’t come off. In the morning we had a three mile walk; by the time I got back, had some hot chocolate (it was a cold morning) and got read to work, I only had 90 minutes before lunch walk (the shrinking daylight has pushed the start time a lot later than a couple of months back). And that was another three mile walk, after which I felt too stiff and wiped to do much. So poof!

So rather than try to squeeze in my usual mix of fiction Sexist Myths and Leaf articles, I decided I’d switch to all Leaf for a week and then going all (or mostly) in on my personal stuff the rest of the month. Result? Sixteen Leaf articles done. I’d actually hoped to do more, but with no break from the work, my mind found it harder and harder to focus.

I might do some next week anyway, but a lot less than usual. Or maybe none — we’re getting close to the point where the remaining articles are topics I can’t do.

Thursday I devoted my hours to cleaning. We’re having the writers’ group Christmas Party Saturday so I wanted to get as much cleaning out the way as possible. That included bringing in a couple of contractors to check out a ceiling problem (minor, happily) and the carpet cleaning company (dogs deposit a lot of mess on carpeting. Who knew?). Plus Google Fiber is available in our neighborhood, and we’ve switched, so I had to deal with the installer. He was good, but it took more time than I expected.

So not much creative work done. But a lot will get done in the next couple of weeks. Woot!

#SFWApro. Photo is mine.

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