Category Archives: Writing

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like the contents of our just-in-case emergency evacuation kits (we need to add some stuff, and I had to throw out some outdated meds).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!

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Kirby with Steve Ditko inking; all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Undead sexist cliche: Women are buzzkills

This is the flip side of the cliche that women have to civilize men to make them marriage material. Because being a civilizing influence means your husband gets to be the fun one, you have to nag him to do the dishes (like the sitcoms so many conservatives freak out about).

Consider, for example, the unfunny, unromantic rom-com Knocked Up. As Meghan O’Rourke says in Slate, Seth Green is out for a good time until the prospect of parenting with Katherine Heigl forces him to shape up and grow up. Green is nervous about giving up his fun times; Heigl’s Alison and her sister “are entirely concerned with pragmatic issues. We never see Alison or her older sister, Debbie, pursue or express her own creative impulses, sense of humor, independent interests; their rather instrumental concerns lie squarely in managing to balance the domestic with the professional. It’s as if women’s inner worlds are entirely functional rather than playful and open.”

Or consider the odious Sean Connery film A Fine Madness. Connery, playing a selfish jerk — er, a rule-breaking free spirit — has no use for fidelity, monogamy, day jobs or consideration for others. His wife (Joanne Woodward) labors at a waitress job to support him so he can finish his poetic masterpiece. At the end, it’s clear that due to Woodward getting herself pregnant (the movie doesn’t use the phrase but that’s the tone), Connery’s jackass will be tied down to domesticity and supporting a child. We’re supposed to feel sorry for him, not Woodward for being stuck with him.

Or the novel The Warded Man, where the primary function of women is to grumble about how men keep going off on adventures instead of staying behind to raise a family. Women in specfic have often been portrayed as dream-wreckers, as The Hathor Legacy website says about the 1930s short story He That Hath Wings, about a man who can fly, but sacrifices the skies to marry a woman who slowly drains the joy away. As the Hathor Legacy says, “his wife is the personification of Society and Expectations and Domesticity. She’s his golden prison.”).

Underlying this USC is the assumption that women really don’t aspire to anything but marriage. It’s their end goal, their dream, the be-all and end-all of everything for them. They lose nothing, men give up their freedom. Writer Tracy McMillan made that point in a godawful HuffPo article some years back entitled Why You’re Not Married (I’m not giving her any clicks but you can google it). McMillan assumes that women just have to get married, the way lemmings supposedly rush into the sea and drown. Marriage, as McMillan paints it, sounds kind of sucky: “You’re just going to need to get rid of the idea that marriage will make you happy. It won’t. Once the initial high wears off, you’ll just be you, except with twice as much laundry” but she’s convinced her single readers are so desperate to get a ring they’ll happily trade it for a life as live-in laundress, maid and cook.

Yet at the same time, McMillan says this is fair because men are the ones who pay a price for marriage, as it “involves sacrificing their most treasured possession — a free-agent penis — and for us, it’s the culmination of a princess fantasy so universal, it built Disneyland.”

The possibility that women like having free agent private parts does not occur to her. Or she ignores it to make her point (a TV writer in her fifties has to be pretty blind not to have noticed some women do, in fact, enjoy sex without commitment).

And it didn’t occur to Edmond Hamilton, author of He That Hath Wings (which I still think is an excellent story), or other male authors of that era. As The Hathor Legacy puts it, they didn’t grasp “that perhaps the women who tempted the Davids of the world into marriage (seemingly against their will) and tamed their wild sides…well, maybe those young women had wings of their own, or wanted them, and the last thing they wanted was to have a man latched onto them, and were as trapped by societal expectations as any male was.”

I made the same mistake in some of my earlier writing. I think I’m doing better now. I certainly hope I’m right.

#SFWApro. All rights to image (I don’t know the artist) remain with current holder

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Bedevilled by batteries!

First tech problem: some glitch with our alarm made it go off randomly early Wednesday morning. Freaked the dogs out, woke us out of sleep and wasted time searching for possible intruders and then on the phone with the alarm people. Who gave us two contradictory explanations, which didn’t help things.

Early Thursday morning, a different window went off. Early Friday, it was the other window again. Fortunately we were savvy enough that TYG was able to go back to bed and let me deal with it the second and third nights. Unfortunately that meant I got no sleep; I was useless Thursday and worse today. Fortunately the company sent a tech; turns out the batteries are way overdue for replacement. We’ll replace them on the other windows and doors before those go haywire too.

Second, my Mac’s battery is losing power fast and I’m getting the “service battery” warning. So, Thursday I took it into the Apple Store. Yep, battery’s dying (after two and a half years, not that shocking). They’re ordering in a replacement so I’ll have to give up some writing time in the next few days to take it in and get it repaired.

Before the alarms reduced my brain to mush. I redrafted Impossible Things Before Breakfast based on the writing group’s feedback and it looks good. Maybe one more pass (and a review by one more beta-reader) and I’ll print it out for a final reading.

I got part way through another chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches. Would have been more productive but lack of sleep Wednesday and having no computer today…

On the plus side, Wisp hasn’t been fazed by the cage around the tomatoes. And two of my writing group friends who know cats say her purring around us and rubbing against us means she really does like us. Cool!

She’s also defended the little shelter against an intruding cat, though she seems comfortable with cats eating on the deck as long as she’s fed.

And that’s about it. Computer’ll be back next week.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine.

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

Doc Savage and Branding

“Branding” gets tossed around as a magic word a lot (I rarely see any branding-related writing advice that wouldn’t work just as well if you didn’t take the word “branding” out) but I think it’s reasonable to argue that any long-running character — James Bond, Superman, Archie — is a brand of sorts. It’s inevitable that the character changes, but it’s essential they don’t change so far they no longer fit the brand.

Superman, for example is light years from the original Siegel/Shuster brawling roughneck — more powerful and a lot better behaved. Nevertheless, he’s still the same character. While I hate the way writers handle Batman in the 21st century, I’d hardly argue he’s no longer Batman. For many fans, however, the 1950s Batman battling monsters and alien invaders was very, very off-brand (I like the 1950s a lot better, but its critics do have a point).

Archie has proven to be an exceptionally flexible brand. At various points he’s been a superhero (Pureheart the Powerful), a spy (The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.), a zombie slayer, grown up and gotten married and played in a rock band. He’s remained Archie throughout, though as writer Mark Waid has said, there are limits (“Betty fails a pregnancy test” or “Opening shot: Jughead’s meth lab.” would not make the cut).

But rebranding doesn’t always work for every character. Wonder Woman’s been through a lot of changes as my WW-reread shows, but the non-powered, karate chopping Diana Prince phase didn’t work at all for me (or most people). As I’ve said before it would have worked as a new character, but not for the Amazing Amazon. The Snagglepuss Chronicles was too far from Hanna-Barbera’s original to work for me, though others liked it.

And then there’s Doc Savage. As both Bobb Cotter and Will Murray have written, Doc’s 1940s adventures became much more realistic, with Doc himself much more human. The Derelict of Skull Shoal and Satan Black have very little in common with stories such as The Squeaking Goblin or Sargasso Ogre. Doc’s adventures are more down to Earth; Doc himself is just tough and competent and much more fallible.

Cotter and Murray like the transition to a more human Doc Savage; for me they damage the brand. I’ve enjoyed some realistic pulp and paperback adventures over the years, but that’s not what I read Doc Savage for. I read Doc to watch the amazing Man of Bronze take on and triumph over wild threats like the cult of the Thousand-Headed Man or Ool from the Land of Always Night, not to smash a relatively ordinary adversary. I want gadgets, deathtraps, bizarre lost races and doomsday weapons.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the WW II adventures, but for me they are not adding luster to the brand.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Joe Shuster, Sheldon Moldoff, Fiona Staples, Modest Stein and the rest by James Bama.


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Books about women, by women

I honestly don’t remember why I wanted to read A HISTORY OF WOMEN’S BOXING by Malissa Smith, and it was definitely more information than I needed to know (which is not the author’s fault). Still, it was an interesting and informative work, showing that women’s boxing has been around since at least the 1700s, with bare-knuckles brawlers such as ass-driver Ann Field, who fought in the 1720s. Needless to say, women boxers suffered from mockery, sexism and a lack of support on into the 20th century — as amateur boxing associations wouldn’t accept women as members, that limited the experience they could get before turning pro. Even so by the late 20th century, women’s boxing was on a firm footing, though as bedeviled as the male sport by manipulative promoters and celebrities (Muhammed Ali’s and daughter, Smith writes, sucked a lot of attention away from better boxers). There are several interesting profiles in here, such as Barbara Buttrick, a 4′ 11″ Brit who became known as the Mighty Atom when she was boxing in the US in the 1950s. I sooo want her to be a superhero on the side.

ASKING FOR IT: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture — and What We Can Do About It, by Kate Harding, does an excellent job covering its subject. Chapters deal with the fear of false rape charges, the desire to blame the victim (“Even if both parties are drunk, so what? We don’t excuse a drunk driver because the person they hit and killed was drunk too.”), persistent failures in investigating and prosecuting rape (cops are often quick to conclude there’s nothing to investigate) and the assumption the victim should have done something different like pack heat or take self-defense courses (as she points out, one woman wound up with a three-year sentence for firing a warning shot at her attacking husband). Harding predicts in her intro that events will outstrip her book and she’s right. She celebrates the then-new Title IX protections for rape victims and now Betsy DeVos (who says she has no idea whether there are more fake rape accusations than true ones) is dismantling them; that Harvey Weinstein was a major figure in the push to let Roman Polanski return to the US without being imprisoned for rape has more significance now than it would have then.  Despite that, it’s still a very strong book on the subject.

When I first read THE BEAUTY MYTH: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, by Naomi Wolf, I found it both brilliant and frustrating; rereading it, I felt the same. The frustrating part is that in showing the overpowering effect of beauty on women’s lives, Wolf strains and interprets facts more drastically than they deserve (her arguments about Beauty as Religion just don’t work for me). But enough of her analysis hits home I’m glad I reread it. For example, discussing how women have been fired for looking too sexy, not looking sexy, wearing too much makeup, not wearing makeup, looking feminine and not looking feminine — there’s simply no rule that can guarantee she looks “right.” And the constant emphasis on beauty in society leaves women vulnerable to doubt and insecurity (e.g., “Yes, you’ve put on weight, but I think you’re incredibly sexy” doesn’t go over well … er, not that I’ve ever said anything like that) to say nothing of the added expense looking attractive requires (even earning the same salary as men, the makeup and fashion expenses will cut into it). Despite its flaws worth reading.

#SFWApro. 1912 photo shows Fraulein Kussin and Mrs. Edwards boxing. Public domain, courtesy of wikimedia.

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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.

#SFWApro. Image is mine.


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Writing links and a couple of neat comics covers

The worldbuilding of Us.

What makes character growth believable?

Asians and the cultural appropriation of other Asian cultures.

Why Hollywood writers are firing their agents.

Michal Wojcik on first and second generation immigrants being told writing about their culture isn’t authentic (“getting pigeonholed and then ostracized for not reflecting the dominant narrative of “the immigrant.”)

Comics cover the first: One of John Romita’s (best known now for his Silver Age Spider-Man work) romance covers:

It’s okay to be good and not great. Which is an updated version of “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” but it’s still worth saying.

Tips for writing query letters.

Shannon A. Thompson on outlining.

How do your characters have fun?

John Scalzi on writing for free. Though while I do like getting paid for my short stories, I’m open to submitting them to free/very low pay markets if they don’t sell anywhere else (probably not something Scalzi has to worry about).

Michelle Berger on 10 things to do for your writing life.

Raven Oak on separating writers from their works.

And the second cover, by Jerry Grandenetti for one of DC’s war books.

#SFWApro. All rights to covers remains with current holders.


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MR James, whistles and magic

After finishing the disappointing E.F. Benson collection Night Terrors last year, I went back to M.R. James, the master of the Victorian ghost story. Even reading at the rate of one story an evening, I finished COLLECTED GHOST STORIES a while back, but didn’t find space to blog about it until today.

James is much better than Benson and consistently entertaining. Several of his stories are frightening, but even the ones that aren’t still work as intrusion fantasies. Even when he doesn’t explain exactly how or why the magic works, the stories hold up, just as his obscure antiquarian references to various architectural details don’t throw me off. So I wanted to take a detailed look at one of his least explained hauntings, Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad.

Parkins, a professor taking a golfing holiday in a small village, agrees to check out a nearby ruined preceptory (a small building used by Knights Templar or the like) for an antiquarian friend of his. Groping in the rubble, he discovers a small hollow in the wall and draws out a tube he later recognizes as a whistle. There’s an inscription on it, “Who is this who is coming?” and after cleaning it off, Parkins blows it. He then gets visions and dreams of someone running along the nearby shore, pursued by Something … And it seems someone has been playing around, making noises in his room and messing up the other bed.

Parkins doesn’t believe in ghosts so he doesn’t freak out as a sensible person might. He continues on with daily life including bridge games, golf, dinner with his fellow guests … but James manages to keep the story interesting even in the middle of all the mundane detail.

Finally, one night, Parkins discovers something risking from the bed, using the bedclothes for its body (he later refers to a face of crumpled linen, but refuses to describe its expression). Fortunately one of his friends rushes in, which drives off the spirit. Said friend then throws the whistle into the ocean the following day and the haunting is over.

What I found interesting rereading the story is how little we learn about what’s really going on. We don’t know what the whistle was for, what the spirit was, why it pursued him (possibly just a standard reason like taking something from the ruin, of course) and what exactly it was. We don’t even know what the killer sheets would have done; Parkins’ friend guesses it’s only power was frightening its victims into doing something foolish or driving them mad. Yet despite that, the story works.

But then, most of M.R. James stories work. If you like ghost stories or creepy fantasies I recommend him.

#SFWApro. Image by James McBryde, all rights remain with current holder.

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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.

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


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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.

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

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