Category Archives: Nonfiction

I didn’t see the labyrinth until I was lost inside it

Wisp has a nasty cut/infection/something on her side. We’re planning to trap her again and take her to the vet, and TYG wants some tuna fish to bait her into the cage. This morning I combined my exercise bike ride with a trip to Walgreens for tuna and a couple of other items.

As I prefer to make my rides at least 30 minutes, I went up the road by Walgreens and cycled around a little subdivision there. When it came time to turn around, either I took a wrong turn or I cycled past the right road or something because I wound up cycling up an around with on idea where the right turn was (it’s a bigger subdivision than I realized). Eventually I whipped out my phone and GPSed it … too bad I asked the road home, rather than to the Walgreens, because I only got more lost.

Eventually, though, I figured it out, partly by guessing that the car that shot by me fast and turned was probably rushing for the main road and work .. yep!  So I made it home after an hour, which was way more than I thought. A very good thing I started early, because I’ve experienced heat stress while biking and it’s very unpleasant.

So after that TYG needed me to take over the dog care, so it was breakfast, walkies and then sitting upstairs with them until her stuff calmed down. The double exposure to the heat left me more wiped than I expected. The end result was that by the time I’d called the vet and asked some stuff about Wisp, my brain was too fragmented. I wound up doing research reading most of the day.

Yesterday I’d taken off, confident I’d have a full day of work today. I needed to sort out some stuff around the house, like the contents of our just-in-case emergency evacuation kits (we need to add some stuff, and I had to throw out some outdated meds). And I wanted to review my writing schedule and figure out why it’s been so unproductive this year. Partly it’s the crazy distractions that keep popping up. Partly that I was just too ambitious in what I wanted to do, including trying to do too many projects at once. And Leaf articles, at the moment, are taking more time out of my schedule than usual, so I have less for other stuff (the paying gigs come first).

Wednesday I had a half day because of an Alexander technique class. Monday and Tuesday I finished rewriting Chapter Two of the Undead Sexist Cliches book (plus I got some Leaf articles done). As one of my beta readers said, it’s not well organized. First I’m going to reorganize, rewriting while I go. Then I go over it for any changes suggested by my betas. Then I add footnotes.

Oh, and I’ve been remiss noting my posts on the Atomic Junkshop site. I’ve recently posted about the Brain Boy Archives, the comics of the early Silver Age and what comic books look like in DC’s post-Crisis universe.

And I sold two different books this week, a copy of Philosophy and Fairytales and one of Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast (you can find details about the books and links to buy both on this page). So woot!

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Sleep, car repairs and work: my week

This wasn’t as successful a week as last week, but it was productive enough to feel content.

And my doctor’s recommendation to avoid caffeine after noon is really paying off. I got a full night of sleep most nights this week, and I’ve adapted to it. It was hard the first week not having that extra time in the morning, but the feeling of being fully rested more than makes up for it.

I did have to sacrifice part of two mornings to take the car in. Wednesday we had a combination appointment to take care of a recall issue, a minor unrelated problem and a Check Engine light that randomly comes on and off. Finally they found the problem, a throttle issue, but they had to order the replacement. This morning I went in again and got it done. I was able to get a fair amount done at the dealer’s office, but I also tend to give in and scarf snacks from the vending machines. Bad me!

My big project this week was the Undead Sexist Cliches book. I didn’t get a lot written because I was digesting the feedback from my beta readers. Among the good points were that I needed to make it clear when I was citing a sexist belief rather than declaring it as my own. And that some other stuff wasn’t clear, too. It was a lot of feedback to take in, but it will help. But it also convinced me to rearrange the topics in Chapter One, which slowed me down from a straight rewrite. It’ll make it flow better though.

My current plan is to redraft, then fill in all the footnotes. Then I can do a final proof and begin the process of publishing it.

And that plus Leaf took up most of my week. I started work on another draft of Impossible Things Before Breakfast but I didn’t get very far. No other short stories either. Oh, I did cut about 300 words from No One Can Slay Her to submit it to a particular market. I succeeded without hurting the story; we’ll see if that helps. I’m also kicking around an idea for finishing some of the stories I have lying around undone. If I write on those in the evening it won’t suck up time from more advanced stories, but I’m not great at writing in the evening. We’ll see.

Wisp is back on a regular feeding schedule and rubbing against my legs when I open the door. We’re going to put a cage around the tomato plants on the deck this weekend; I’m hoping it won’t freak her out. She seems to like napping next to the containers, as you can see here. But we’re done with having the squirrels steal the tomatoes. Hopefully she can adapt.

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

Back to the mean and then rising above it

As I’ve mentioned before, my performance, like most things in life, is subject to the law of returning to the mean: if it’s really, really poor, the odds are I’ll do better the following week just from blind chance. Or if I’m doing really, really well, I won’t do as well the following week.

And sure enough, after the last week of April turned into a mess, I had a good, above-average performance the past four days (having been off Monday for my return from South Carolina). My Goals Accomplished for April was only 46 percent, which is exceptionally low; I have no trips anywhere this month though and relatively few appointments so I should do better.

I made another draft of Impossible Things Before Breakfast, read it for the writers’ group and got an enthusiastic response. There was also lots of feedback and problems they thought should be fixed, several of them things I’d wondered about myself. Work on the next draft starts next week.

I also worked on Bleeding Blue, Only the Lonely Can Slay and an as yet untitled story involving Pandora’s Box. Didn’t get far with any of them, though. There was just enough extra dog care to distract me and throw me off-focus when I was trying to concentrate and imagine What Next? But I’ve got four more weeks this month to revisit them.

I did some more research for the Undead Sexist Cliches book (I’ll be blogging about that next week) and went over the last draft part way. I think (as my friend Heather suggested) I need to tighten the organization in each chapter some, but that’s doable. I’d like to finish the next draft this month, but I’m not sure that is. We’ll see how it goes next week. It doesn’t help that I have several topics I want to add to the various chapters, based upon my reading. That seems enough reason to display Caroline Marsh’s suffragette poster above.

I also drew up a rough draft of my proposal for my next McFarland book. I’m quite pleased that I set aside Undead Sexist Cliches to work on the proposal; focusing on one project to the exclusion of others I need/want to get done doesn’t usually work well for me.

I got out on my bicycle for the first time in a couple of weeks and had a beautiful ride.

And I did plenty of Leafs. They make a good go-to project when I’m too frazzed to be creative. I got slightly more done than I’d planned, so I’ll make up the creative time by slightly less Leaf next week.

And avoiding caffeine once again proved helpful for getting in a full night of sleep. Of course I’ve thought my insomnia banished before only to be wrong, so we’ll have to see. I’m hopeful though.

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A week of sleep and ducks

When I went to my doctor a couple of weeks back, I mentioned my ongoing insomnia. She suggested I stop my tea intake after noon, or switch to decaffeinated brands. I didn’t think much of it, but this week, starting Sunday, I tried it.

Sunday night I slept well. Ditto Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I woke up early as usual. I’ve no idea if that means the first couple of days were a fluke or there were other reasons I woke up in the early A.M. Thursday (last night I took an Ambien so I slept well). Still, it’s been quite a while since I actually slept well for three nights in a row, I’ll try this again next week (the weekend doesn’t count, I almost always sleep well). More data!

Unfortunately I’ve become so used to waking up ultra-early, having a cup of tea, then starting work, that getting up at a normal hour actually threw me off. I could not seem to find my feet this week,  on top of which I had another crop of tasks to distract me (hence the ducks, as in nibbled to death by). Appointment for the car. Arranging for the trapper to set out a trap for the raccoon. Arranging plane travel for an upcoming trip. Hunting dog-training classes because Plushie and Trixie get very excited when they meet new dogs and we worry they might eventually annoy a big dog that bites them. It looks like finding a good trainer will be expensive, possibly prohibitively so, but we’ll think about it.

I did get my Leaf work on, so that’s something. And I redrafted my short story Impossible Things Before Breakfast for reading at the next (or more likely the one after) writer’s group. It still needs work, but it’s definitely a lot closer. Hopefully a good group critique will make me see what else is needed.

I also read Naomi Wolf’s 1990s book The Beauty Myth, which has some great insights and incidents I can use for Undead Sexist Cliches.

And that was it. I took off today, which didn’t help. But hey, at least we live in a world where a Dutch street artist can turn an apartment building wall into a bookshelf.

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Old ventures and new

Another good week, huzzah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other blossoms, though, have had their day.

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New frontiers in time management!

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

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

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

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

As to actual accomplishments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My answer was ‘recalled to life’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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i bounce back, at least a little

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting nibbled to death by ducks beats defeat by doggie diarrhea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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