Category Archives: Writing

Lost in the maze of replotting

So as I mentioned last week, I added another 12,000 words to the current redraft of my superhero novel, Impossible Takes a Little Longer. That was easy because I transplanted most of it straight from the previous draft. I like the scenes; it makes for a dramatic reveal to one of the key points in the story; and it adds a good chunk of characterization to KC’s backstory.

The trouble is, it fits very awkwardly with the new material coming before it. And that material, itself, hasn’t given me an “ah, I see where to go next feeling.”

In the original plot, KC Rogers, AKA the Champion, is targeted by Lahatiel, a metahuman—a paranormal, in my setting—who claims to be an avenging angel. She takes him down, but it soon becomes obvious there’s a bigger adversary backing him. In reality there isn’t, but in investigating who might be behind him, KC draws the attention of a number of people: Captain Wonder, the world’s strongest hero; Darla Jeffries, the mayor of New York (a villain in earlier drafts, now more of an antihero); and the archvillain of the novel. Hilarity does not ensure.

In the redraft, Lahatiel doesn’t target KC; instead he goes after her BFF, Sarah Wyzbecki. This ups the stakes as Sarah doesn’t have KC’s superpowers to fight back with. Lahatiel realizes he needs to eliminate KC first and tries to do so, but it doesn’t go well for him. Lahatiel goes down and it appears the threat is over.

It’s a good mini-arc but as neither KC nor Sarah is still under threat at the end of it, the plot tension sags. That’s not a fatal flaw — it’s just a pause before things start getting more intense — but the plot now feels like it’s going in a completely unrelated direction. The next arc brings Jeffries and a couple of other characters on stage and jacks up the threat level a lot, but the threat doesn’t feel as organically connected to my villain as in my earlier drafts. And the outcome of that second arc, which includes KC’s identity as Champion getting exposed, doesn’t flow smoothly into the old material.

Another plot point I’m having trouble with is that Sarah will disappear, not by choice, from a large chunk of the book. The sooner it happens, the more pain for KC, but given everything else going on, it’s hard for me to believe she’ll keep going without a complete breakdown. Another problem is that KC and Sarah make a great pair of buddies; I want as much of them in the book as possible, which argues for pushing it back in time. Plus, the deeper I make the friendship, the more impact Sarah’s loss will have for readers.

Yet another change I’m not sure about is keeping more of the book set in the Florida Panhandle (though my writing will not capture how pretty some of it, like the shot at left, are). In all the previous drafts, KC travels to New York to ask Captain Wonder to team up with her. This brings her into contact with the nemesis and with Jeffries. Last draft, though, this didn’t work at all. She didn’t have the same motivation for asking Wonder’s help, and even less in the current one. Nor are KC and Jeffries going to be in conflict the way I’d originally seen it.

In the new draft, Jeffries comes to Ft. Walton Beach to recruit KC to fight a misogynist paranormal committing acts of sabotage in NYC (it’s the book’s big bad, though neither of them knows it). Trouble is, there’s another powerful paranormal taking interest in KC, and possibly Captain Wonder showing up in FWB as well. That gets absurd, almost at Chosen One levels (i.e., everyone knows KC is the central character) and KC simply isn’t that. I want Captain Wonder in the book, so perhaps have KC investigate things in New York and then meet her? That would work better, except as KC points out, she’s a hitter, not a detective; until she has someone to punch, there’s not much I can think of for her to do.

This is all solvable but I admit I’m impatient to get it worked out. I put a good deal of time into plotting out this draft in the hopes I could get it done faster. I’m not entirely surprised that didn’t work, but it would have been nice.

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

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Story Problems, Writing

I’m counting the first week of July as a win

Partly that’s just random luck; as I’ve often observed, when performance is sub-par and problems arise, random swings of the pendulum push me back towards average, if not over it.

It’s also that I’ve solved the problem I mentioned last week of not taking breaks. A break mid-afternoon to write out Remember To Vote postcards for Activate America. A longer lunch break. That second one’s still messy because I’ve been sitting extra with the dogs this week, which limits what I can do at lunch time — if I exercise, Trixie takes it as a call to snuggle. But it does help keep me going to the end of the day.What did I get accomplished? For starters I finished Adventure of the Red Leech and sent it in to a Holmesian anthology. I put in a little work on Don’t Pay the Merryman (I so have to change that title). And while I haven’t mentioned it before, a friend of mine is putting together a collaborative self-published anthology and my Impossible Things Before Breakfast is one of the stories. I took a look at the feedback from the other authors this week and made edits. I didn’t follow all their suggested changes but the advice I did take improved the story. I’l review it again next month for final decision on a couple of points where I was uncertai.

I got 12,000 words in on Impossible Takes a Little Longer, which is less impressive than it sounds: I took most of it straight from the last draft with very little changed. The results aren’t entirely satisfactory though, something I’ll discuss in a post next week.

I started researching Amazon ads, though I balked at actually spending money on them. I will authorize a small test for Undead Sexist Cliches next week, but it’s difficult for me to spend money on something that may not pay off at all. However I felt better about it when I crunched budget numbers and even with my upcoming trip to Congregate this month I can afford at least a small trial run.

Oh, and I posted a couple of times at Atomic Junkshop about Marvel Comics in 1965, and the end of Giant-Man’s series. Go ahead and check them out if you’re interested in the topic.

And now the weekend is here.

#SFWApro. Undead Sexist Cliches cover by Kemp Ward.

 

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Abortion under siege (other rights too)

A lot of people, including the right-to-life movement insist there’s zero chance of the Dobbs decision leading to bans on contraception or gay marriage. Of course, the right-to-life movement also claimed they didn’t support prosecuting women who get abortions but when it happens they aren’t out there protesting. So I think they’re lying again. And their goal to establish full personhood for fetuses (see the first link) will be a great hammer that law enforcement will use to hurt mothers, as it does already. So will the threat to doctors if they abort to save the mother and a court decides the risk wasn’t great enough.

Texas is quite willing to take the lead cracking down on gay marriage and gay rights period. It’s only a matter of time before the case hits the current theocrats of the Supreme Court. The results won’t be pretty. Several Supreme Court decisions have included comments that if people dislike the law, elect someone who can change it. This is some impressively brazen bullshit given the Supremes will support any Republican scheme to gerrymander and they may soon eliminate any power state courts have to prevent such schemes. They’re eager, in Josh Hammer’s words, to deliver justice—which Josh Hammer, for one, defines as punishing enemies and rewarding friends.

As Erik Wemple says, there were no shortage of pundits saying SCOTUS would not overturn Roe. Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker was one of them but she insists (at the second link) she was “At the time it was written, it was accurate — it was on the nose.” Meaning that she couldn’t possibly have foreseen Trump electing enough conservative justices to make Roe a dead precedent (if she didn’t foresee that possibility, she’s a poor predictor). And besides, Kavanaugh, whom she predicted would uphold Roe, would totally have done it if the radical pro-choicers hadn’t protested against him! Of course, Parker is the same hack who predicted Trump would totally not be a shock to the established system.

Other pundits are recycling an argument that Western Europe has way more restrictive laws than the U.S. Not true.

Forced-birthers are still hoping to find ways to stop patients leaving the state for abortions. That includes making it harder for 10-year-old rape victims not to bear the child, never mind the mental and physical toll. And yet, as Scott Lemieux says, we’re supposed to respect their high moral fiber. Or buy into the idea that if we’d compromised more on abortion, they’d be more compassionate. Nah. But variations of “now that abortion is gone, we’ll be really concerned about helping mothers” are widespread on the right. See Peggy Noonan try this approach and get mocked for it!

Some judges are still blocking anti-abortion laws. Florida too. Good for them (though a higher court overturned this one, alas). I know these restraining orders will fall eventually, but every day they stand, some woman who needs an abortion is free to get one. Which makes it disastrous that after the Biden administration appointed a record number of judges its first year, Senate Democrats are sitting on their butts about filling vacancies. These positions matter! Here’s another example.

Of course the forced-birthers on SCOTUS are protected from dealing with protesters by a buffer zone — but when buffer zones inconvenience anti-abortion activists, they’re unconstitutional.

Helaine Olen explains why companies paying for employee out-of-state abortion trips is not the fix we need. However, anti-vax bullshit artist/attorney Matt Staver is on the case, declaring that this reduces women to slave labor.

Biden has called for a filibuster exception to pass pro-choice legislation. That’s good, though I doubt it can happen.

Some men are rushing to get vasectomies in the wake of Dobbs.

Let’s hope Jennifer Rubin is right and forced-birthers’ total disregard for women will rebound on them.

While it came out before the Dobbs decision, my Undead Sexist Cliches covers a lot of the misogynist and inaccurate thinking that fuels the forced-birth movement. It’s available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers. Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

It is the little rift within the lute, that by and by will make the music mute

(title taken from Alfred, Lord Tennyson). Which is to say, small problems can grow into big ones, which explains some of why my weeks feel like suet.

In theory, I take an hour for lunch. That includes walking the dogs (or co-walking if TYG’s available), eating and then reading, relaxing or doing useful around-the-house stuff. This works out fine if lunch hour is 11-12, but due to TYG’s new schedule, we frequently walk the dogs around 10-10:15. I’m not ready for lunch, but instead of relaxing after walkies I just go back to walk, intending to make it up when I sit and eat. Only instead I do the equivalent of eating at your desk — eat (taking my time, I note), then get back to work.(No, that cover has no thematic connection to my post, I’m just fond of it).

The result is that I don’t take much of a lunch break. Then around 2 PM I burn out for the day. This is not unusual: I’ve had the same experience in the past when I keep pushing without a pause. “I’ll get it all done, then break” isn’t as effective for me as regular small breaks. So I need to remind myself to take a full break at lunch, even if it’s chopped up into separate pieces.

That said, the week went well. I finished my rewrite and proofing of Southern Discomfort and read the first chapter to my writing group. The verdict: Starting with Maria’s story and putting it in first person really improved it. They made several other suggestions, such as giving readers her name sooner and making it clearer this is a fantasy; I made those corrections the next day and mailed it off. Wish me luck. Even if it doesn’t sell, it’s a better book for the added work.

I also completed another draft of The Adventure of the Red Leech. I think it’s done, so I’ll print it up next week and go over it in hard copy. That should get me a solid final draft and spot any typos. After that, off to the Holmes anthology I’m submitting to. Plus I once again submitted Fiddler’s Black to the umpteenth market.

And over at Atomic Junkshop, I ponder the appeal of trains and models as kids’ toys. I didn’t get it as a kid, still don’t get it now.

#SFWApro. Cover art by Dick Dillin, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Sherlock Holmes, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

It feels like a suety puddingy week, but I did get good stuff done.

For starters I finished my rewrite of Southern Discomfort. Next week I read the revised first chapter to the writing group, edit the synopsis, do a quick last-minute error check (were their places I left Maria’s scenes in third person?) and send it off.

I also finished some finance writing that should put some cash in my pocket, so that’s great.

And Wisp stayed in one night this week, which was nice. Here she is lying out on the deck.

And I participated in an online panel for the online Con-Tinual con created by my friend Gail Z. Martin. You can also access Con-Tinual on FB, rather than that YouTube link. Either way, the panel I was on, on female sleuths and killers, isn’t available yet, but I’ll link when it is.

And I posted a couple of Atomic Junkshop posts about DC’s Captain Action: one on the toyline and first issue, one on the remaining four issues. Feel free to check out my review of the TPB last Sunday too.

So why the suet feeling? Well, last weekend I developed an inexplicable rash which didn’t go away, so Tuesday I took time out of the day to see my doctor (who happily had some time to spare). She provided a skin cream that eliminated whatever it was so it’s mostly gone now. But that left me off-balance Tuesday. Wednesday I got up late after the Con-Tinual session Tuesday night and barely had thirty minutes before the dogs woke up and came down. That wasn’t enough time to get my head in the game.

But I did get Southern Discomfort done and it will go out next week. That was my big goal this month, so I shall celebrate accomplishing it. Go me!

#SFWApro. Cover by Kane, as is the Steve Ditko-style scene below from the origin of Action’s arch-foe, Doctor Evil!

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Writing

Streaming, copyright, gendercide and other writing/reading/viewing links

Are streaming services becoming increasingly like broadcast TV? And should Hollywood gloat too much about Netflix losing subscribers?

“Streaming shows compared with the era of (US) broadcast shows have fewer episodes, fewer seasons and a bigger emphasis on story arcs. ” — Camestros Felapton, who argues this has become a problem for streaming-era Star Trek.

The late George Perez planned to marry off Etta Candy and Steve Trevor at the end of his Wonder Woman run. Here’s why it never happened.

Mark Waid says the late Neal Adams “was a crusader for creators’ rights. He looked out for others and was fiercely protective of his colleagues. He was passionate, he was loud, and he didn’t like bullies. In fact, I say he never left a dollar behind, but that’s not really true — he left lots of money behind over the years because he wouldn’t betray his principles, an admirable trait.”

The Mary Sue and Vox ask whether “gendercide” stories such as Y: The Last Man are transphobic.

I’m inclined to agree with Brian Cronin that contrarian positions on movies (“X was the real villain of the story all along!”) are amusing but in most cases shouldn’t be taken seriously.

First they came for the school libraries, now they’re coming for the bookstores. Even so, Barnes & Noble is in resurgence with a philosophy that “nothing happens until it happens at retail.”

The Mary Sue argues that if Moon Knight is Jewish, he should be played by a Jewish actor. I don’t agree, but I’ll link to it.

NYC’s public libraries push back against book banners. Texas AG Ken Paxton is on the banners’ side.

Long before Maus, a 1945 comic-book gave readers visuals of the Holocaust.

How the Internet encourages plagiarism. And then there’s academic plagiarism

James Patterson insists it’s just soooo hard for white men to make it in publishing.

Winnie the Pooh is now public domain, but not 100 percent.

Here’s a bizarre take on character ownership: if you make your characters suffer you deserve to lose the rights to them.

I have no strong opinion on Charlie Jane Anders’ “sweetweird” genre theory but I do like this quote: “he world makes no sense, but we can be nurturing, frivolous and kind. We don’t have to respond to the ludicrous illogic of the world around us by turning mean and nasty, or by expecting everyone else to be horrible. At the very least, we can carve out friendly, supportive spaces in the midst of chaotic nonsense, and maybe help each other survive.”

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Filed under Movies, Reading, Writing

A short week but not without merit.

Short because I took today and yesterday off for some fun stuff.

I’d hoped that in the three days remaining, I could finish my Southern Discomfort copy-edit, but I fell short. Just a little too much distraction, a couple of errands and a possible new client for my paying nonfiction. This time it’s an insurance website; they sent me a test article to write which took up a couple of hours of Tuesday morning. Without that, maybe I’d have finished but Southern Discomfort won’t put any money in my pocket for a while to come. Clients help pay the bills, so …

Still, I’m very pleased with how well prioritizing the copy-editing has worked out. None of the feedback I got said anything about “you need to edit this better” but I ran across no end of spelling errors and places where having written a paragraph two different ways, I left both in. Embarrassing. Or where someone makes the same point in two successive scenes. Tackling it so fast made it easy to spot such glitches. Hopefully I still remember them when my break is over.

That was pretty much it. Here’s a photo of Plushie and Snowdrop to brighten your day.#SFWApro

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

If there are rules, it’s science, not magic? No, that’s wrong

I’m not sure which online discussion I was in (possibly more than one) when I heard someone make that argument. It’s one Isaac Asimov has made too: if there are rules on what can happen, then magic is merely a different kind of science. It’s only fantasy if anything can happen.

As both Jim Butcher and Lisa Goldstein have observed, this is wrong. Anyone can turn on a cellphone and activate their home security cameras, Google for information, communicate across the miles. It takes no special skill. Scrying in a crystal ball to do the same things takes intensive training; scrying in a palantir is a very bad idea. Which is another point of difference: magic reacts to whose using it. Magic has its own agency. Even a retina or handprint scanner that only lets in authorized people isn’t the same as a guardian spirit that judges your worth before letting you in.

Of course, lots of fantasy does provide a scientific rationale for what’s happening. A. Merritt used the technobabble of a century ago — ancestral memory, other dimensional entities, destructive supersonic vibrations — for stories that feel supernatural. Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think underpins magic with psi-power; Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife implies a sort of underlying symbolic logic. Randall Garrett makes magic an alternative science in his Lord Darcy stories.

Then there are books where the magic is magic but the rules are developed to the point that it feels like science. These are the books with the elaborate magic systems where everything is quantified and understood rationally. Systems like that usually don’t work for me. They lack the wild energy of Merritt or the cleverness of Garrett. But I know a lot of people are into them.

Then come the stories where magic works and has rules but non-logical rules. In Southern Discomfort I draw on bits and pieces from Celtic stories and don’t explain things like how Olwen McAlister can run over the tops of grass blades without bending them. Magic Robert E. Howard’s excellent People of the Black Circle has rules — the villain can’t kill someone with sorcery until the stars are right — but it’s not logical, and it’s a better story for that.

And then there are the stories where things simply … happen. Britt Schweitzer’s 1960s short story En Passant, for instance, has the protagonist’s head fall off his body because he stopped too suddenly. Now he has to find a way to climb back onto his neck. Or Walter Tevis’ “Rent Control,” where a couple discover as long as they’re together and not arguing, time stops. I suppose that is a rule, but at the same time it feels like an “anything can happen” story, one where the impossible is taking place with no attempt to rationalize it.

Outside of personal preference, none of these approaches are better than another. I’ve done magic with rules (I Think, Therefore I Die) and also “anything can happen” when a stockbroker wakes up and finds he’s literally turned into a clown—that’s Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Clown, available in Atlas Shagged.

So yes, you can have rules and still be fantasy. But the rules need to be good ones.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders. Lord Darcy cover by Gary Ruddell

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Filed under Reading, Science vs. Sorcery, Writing

Not the sad, despairing post of failure I anticipated

You may recall that last week I felt blue about my performance in May.

Truth to tell, it wasn’t anything to brag about. For the first time this year, I didn’t accomplish enough goals to reward myself with a fun purchase. I blew most of my writing goals, and didn’t do well on my personal goals either. Financially I wound up spending more than I’d budgeted and my income was way below the norm for various reasons. And I won’t be able to catch up much this month because the first two weeks are consumed with various personal projects and activities, like ConCarolinas this weekend.

While I spent too much time this week catching up on stuff I should have gotten done last week, it still went well. I finished my rewrite of Southern Discomfort (which you may remember changed my May writing plans), putting Maria’s scenes in first person. I don’t know if that makes it saleable, but I think the book is good; barring some amazingly insightful feedback, I’m done changing it.

Then began the proofreading. I got a third of the way through, so I should be able to finish and get the book submitted before month’s end. I’m finding an embarrassing number of errors, ranging from the understandable (not turning a “she” or a “Maria” into an “I) to the seriously sloppy (places where I tried two versions of the same paragraph and forgot to remove one of them). But it’s going fast enough that even with the lack of time I can get it done.

And TYG is thriving in her new job. Seeing her this relaxed makes all the support stuff I did while she was wrapping up her old one worthwhile. It would have been worthwhile supporting her anyway, because she’s awesome, but—well, you know what I mean?

So I don’t feel quite so despairing now. Yay!

Not much else to say about the week, but here’s a photo of a hawk taking off from a car during morning walkies. Man, did Trixie want to mix it up with him. She doesn’t realize she’s only a tiny 10-pound dog.#SFWApro

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

Today I travel. Let’s hope I return safe and COVID-free

ConCarolinas starts today and I’m in! I’m quite pleased as this was my second or third time applying. Hopefully I’ll give a good account of myself.

It’s the first time TYG and I have been apart for a weekend — she’s staying home — since the pandemic started. The first time I’ve driven outside the Raleigh-Durham area in almost as long. It feels a little freaky so send positive thoughts. My programs:

Let’s Build a World today at 6pm, followed by an autographing session. Not that there are many people craving my autograph but perhaps I can sell them a book and then sign it.

Dive Into Marvel and DC tomorrow at 11 AM.

Steampunk & Gaslamp. I think I may bring up Questionable Minds.And at 5pm, Superheroes as Vigilantes. Needless to say, the two comics/superhero related ones are going to be fun.

The rest of the time I guess I’ll be hanging around, trying to handsell books, browsing the sale table (not that I have much money to spare) and hanging out with the writers I know. Find me if you’re there; if not, have a great weekend just the same.

#SFWApro. Cover by Samantha Collins, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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