Category Archives: Short Stories

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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The taxman cometh! And so did the pollen!

Durham has heavy pollen this time every year. This year it got really heavy.Running down the gutters after a rain.

Washing off the driveway.

Even turning our dogs’ leashes yellow.

It got so bad that even though I’m on Claritin (to avoid rashes from all the grass pollen carried on the pups’ coats), allergies laid me low mid-week. This was a regular problem a couple of times a year back in Florida but I’ve never had it here before. No sneezing, just this insane draggy feeling that nothing in the world would be better than lying down and watching television all day (trust me, that’s not normally a thing I say). So that cost me a day and a half.

And then about two days went to taxes. I had almost everything figured out, but the state income tax form wouldn’t let me enter data on the computer so I had to print it up, then write it out. Then print it out again to fix my mistakes. I suspect it will come back to me: the NC Department of Revenue scanning system is much stricter in how it’ll take data than the IRS, so most years I’ve had to re-enter my return because of some technicality. But it’s done, so that’s good. We’re paying in this year, but that’s primarily because I made more money than I expected and didn’t have to pay estimated taxes, so we got socked with a bigger bill than usual. Ouch. And our printer is slow, which drew the process of printing the forms out longer than it should have. Next year I shall take steps to avoid that.

In the remaining time, I did some research reading for the Undead Sexist Cliches book and got some useful feedback from beta readers (one yet to come). I got a lot of work done on a redraft of Impossible Things Before Breakfast, though I still lack a good finish. And that was pretty much it. But taxes needed doing before Monday, like it or not.

Wisp has been an erratic presence on the deck. She’s still not showing up regularly for her meals the way she used to, and there’s another cat we caught eating at least one of the meals we put out. As Wisp has fought to drive off strange cats before, I’m guessing she’s getting food at someone else’s house and so can afford to turn up her nose at ours. Even though someone else might be better situated to take her in, I do feel a twinge of jealousy at the thought.

Trixie has had a hacking cough the past couple of weeks. It’s mostly faded, but we kept her home from Suite Paws day care this week just in case. Much as I enjoy a dog-free day, she’s pretty easy to handle when she’s by herself. But if the hack doesn’t go away, we’ll call the vet next week (I’m wondering if it’s pollen-based).

I’ve also realized that one reason I have trouble focusing after lunch is that Plushie likes to settle into my lap, then stretch out, rather than curling into a ball. This usually puts me in a position that, while not exactly uncomfortable, it strains my body enough that I have a hard time focusing (Trixie’s position on either side of me sometimes makes it worse). I like Plushie curling up in my lap, but I’ll have to position my legs so he can’t expand out.

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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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It’s like 10,000 short stories when all you need is a finished draft

So one of my goals this month was to finish a third short story, following No One Can Slay Her and Rabbits Indignateonem last month. I settled on Only the Lonely Can Slay, in which a mystery woman offers to kill my protagonist’s abusive husband for five bucks (yes, there’s a fantasy element).

It didn’t happen. Partly because I’m not a fast writer, but also because, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, the schedule I blocked out for February suffered the death of a thousand cuts. Plus I lost three days traveling to Mysticon. So I don’t feel I massively screwed up, which doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

Part of the frustration is that I have so many short stories in various phases of completion, it’s hard to know which one to focus on. Which leads to the nagging fear I picked the wrong one. Would I be finished (or closer to finishing at least) by now if I’d concentrated on Bleeding Blue or Pro Bono instead? Is Only the Lonely a dead end? Am I wasting my time trying to finish it?

It doesn’t help that I know from experience my unsuccessful early drafts usually evolve into something good via repeated rewrites. But not always; a lot of drafts on my computer will probably never reach final form for one reason or another. So during the intermediate rewrite phases, there’s always a fear I’m just spinning my wheels and the story will never gain traction.

It’s like … a crazy maze (thank you Jack Kirby for that visual). And I don’t know which of my stories will lead me out (hopefully most of the ones I have under construction) and which will do it fastest.

I definitely didn’t get an answer this month. Hopefully March will do better.

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Once again, life thwarts my plans

Which is to say, this was a busy week in the non-writing areas of my life.

Wednesday we had the electrician come out to check some of our outside lights. That turned out to be more time-draining for me than I’d expected, as it was a constant “go inside and turn on the lights … turn off the lights … turn them on again …” It paid off (he identified the problem), but it took more time than I’d expected. And left me with very little time to concentrate on anything before the dogs went on afternoon walkies (I settled for research reading, which doesn’t demand creative thought). After that we had the guy in to repair the washing machine; I’m happy to say that after dealing with two other companies, Wright Appliance finally seems to be competent.

This morning I had unexpected extra dog watching, and at noon I had one of my appointments for the Alexander Technique, the body training I’ve been doing since last year.

It’s not just the time each side activity consumes, but the time it takes to get refocused on writing again. And I’m still too slow in my Leafs. Plushie’s neediness in the evening makes it very hard to make up the time then.

I did get a bunch of Leaf articles done, and even going slow, the pay is good. I got some more work done on both Let No Man Put Asunder and Impossible Takes a Little Longer, though those were the big casualties of this week’s lost time. But Impossible definitely works better in first person, as I said last week. However both of them reached a point where the relatively slight plot changes I’ve made so far have suddenly forced big changes in the next scenes. That stumped me quite a bit.

I submitted Fiddler’s Black to a new market, which means all my shorts are out. It’s been a while since that happened. And Southern Discomfort went out to five more agents.

I rewrote Only the Lonely Can Slay a couple of times, but there’s still something missing. It might be that Heather, my protagonist, needs more at stake, or maybe something else? I feel frustratingly close to what I want but I can’t quite jump across the last mental boundary to get there. I may send it out as is to a beta reader or two to get some insight.

So that was my week. On the plus side, I’m not battling a giant monster on a Silver Age Jack Kirby cover!

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Today I got that nibbled to death by ducks feeling

But first, a look at Plush Dog nuzzling with Tito, new sibling to Lily, the dog up the street we sometimes dog-sit for.

The feeling of having one’s day eaten up by multiple little distractions is in some ways worse than having one big project. With one major distraction, like a repair, I can block time and when it’s over, it’s over. Today, though, I had multiple distractions: washing-machine repair guy (third one we’ve dealt with, first one I feel good about), arranging an electrician appointment for next week, upgrading our security system, doing some research on the cost of a replacement washing machine (probably won’t be necessary), providing extra dog care … plus Plushie completely freaking out over the repair dude being In The House (we fenced off the area so the pups couldn’t get in his way).  And talking on the phone is not the best thing for my strained voice. However it’s definitely growing stronger every day so I must be nursing it sufficiently.

Despite that, it was a productive week. Though novel writing is still going slower than I want, and Leaf articles are taking way too long (not their fault, it’s me). So what did I get done?

I rewrote the first chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer in first person. It’s closer to urban fantasy as a genre than anything else, and first person is the default setting there. Plus I found I could work in a little more needed information with first-person narration.

I finished the first chapter of Let No Man Put Asunder and read it for writer’s group. The feedback was, as always helpful. As my voice frayed a little by the end of the reading, I skipped out on the usual hanging out after. A shame.

I sent a Southern Discomfort query off to five agents, queried two magazines about articles and one newspaper about an op-ed column.

I submitted A Famine Where Abundance Lies, and I may have found a publisher to submit Questionable Minds too.

I rewrote the story Neverwas, which is now titled The Impossible Years. It’s definitely closer to being readable, but I still lack the ending I need. I rewrote Only the Lonely Can Slay, and it’s coming along well. Here I have the ending and the general structure but I need more obstacles for my protagonist, Heather, to overcome. I was working on another draft today, when all the ducks began nibbling.

And I did my usual array of Leaf articles to help put bread on the table. I gave up on doing any of those today too, but I got them in, and some requested rewrites, every other day this week.

It’s helpful to write all that down and see that despite my feeling right now, I had a good, productive week.

Below, Plushie lets the greyhounds at Piney Woods Park know that he’s the boss of this cell block.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

Missed it by that much! Quite a big ‘that much’

Like most people I start off the year full of enthusiasm for my various year goals. In January that gives me the drive to complete 70 to 80 percent of them.

This January? Not so much. More like 54 percent. Part of that was having a really big goal list. Part of it was that one miserable week I experienced. And some of it was that several goals I’d written down turned out to be non-starters. Focusing on a single project one day a week (a novel, a short story, pitches) didn’t work because I’m back doing Leaf articles. It’s easier to handle them if I do a couple a day rather than clump them, but that means I can’t do a full day of anything else. So that one’s off the table.

Other ideas just need more practice. I want a more relaxing lunch break rather than rushing to eat so I can walk the pups. That takes a conscious effort. But I’ll get there.

The big disappointments for the month were a)not getting beyond a chapter or two in Impossible Takes a Little Longer; b)not getting anything done on the Undead Sexist Cliches book. Well and c)not selling anything I’d submitted to anyone, but that’s not within my control. I am very pleased that I submitted five stories (technically; some of them were the same story sent out twice), two articles and one column idea.

And I did finish Southern Discomfort and submitted that to eight agents (two refusals so far). I’ll keep sending it to agents until I’ve exhausted the list. Then I’ll switch to publishers. Then I’ll self-publish. Take that, uncaring publishing universe!

Tday I started work on rewriting another novel, Let No Man Put Asunder. This went slow too, and I’m starting to see why: I’m just thinking and editing as I go and it’s slowing me down. I need to let go and let the words flow.

I was pleased that this week I made real progress on two short stories, Only the Lonely Can Slay and Neverwas (that title will definitely be reworked). On Lonely I can actually see what the story arc should be; Neverwas is almost there. Once I get that, it’s mostly a matter or refining, fixing and improving. Being able to see progress makes me more optimistic about my ambitious goals for the year.

I did a fair amount of hanging out at Illogicon (yes, that was a goal) but I didn’t get out much the rest of the month due to my desire to rest my voice. I didn’t get as much bicycling in as I planned, either as I didn’t want to expose my throat to the cold.

I did get lots of Leaf articles done. And that helps pay the bills so yay!

Oh, and I found where my baby sister Keri was buried years ago, which was one of my goals for this year. I thought it would take a lot of work but it actually went smoothly: I checked the US Consulate records for deaths and births of American citizens abroad. That led me to ancestry.com, which, after I signed up, gave me a digital copy of Keri’s death certificate. I’m impressed with myself (I thought I’d blogged about this before but I can’t find it).

Despite what didn’t get done, I feel pretty pleased.

Below, Trixie nervously contemplates going to doggy day care. She loves it there, but she dreads the car trips.

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My plan was perfect! How could I have failed?

Ever since Wisp settled onto our porch, Trixie has been increasingly fascinated. Some evenings when Wisp is out there, Trixie will sit by the door sniffing for her.  When the blinds are open, Trixie watches, as you can see.

The past week or so, though, she and Plushie have gotten more frantic. Trixie claws at the door and sticks her nose under the blinds to get a better look. Plushie barks loudly from the couch. Almost as if they imagine Wisp is—

Tuesday morning it just reached fever point. It was freezing cold so they didn’t get much of a morning walk. They then channeled all that energy into barking their heads off. It was … distracting. And that was on top of being very sleep-deprived (even by my standards). Plus the bug TYG brought back from her travels was now in me, leading to hacking and sore throat and worries my voice was fading.

The long and short of it is that while I had a good Monday, Tuesday fell apart. I got some Leaf writing done, that was it. Otherwise it was sleep, or hacking, or dogs, or doing some budget-crunching that needed doing (not during work, but I did it anyway). As I thought we might have some emergency expenses, the paying stuff was a high priority.

Wednesday I was worried my throat might be worse than it appeared, so I hit the urgent care in the morning. I was fine, but by the time I got back I was again, too distracted to focus. More Leaf!

Thursday I took the car in to get a recurring issue looked at. I took my computer but I didn’t get much done before starting on the paperwork for a loaner. Because like Scotland Yard in an old mystery, they are baffled (the VW dealer’s service people are really good so I take that as a sign the problem is challenging, not that they’ve screwed up). I came home in a loaner and mostly collapsed into extra naps.

Today I just threw in the towel and did more Leaf. As it turns out, we may not need the extra money, but still, it’s nice to have.

Not getting anything else done? Not so nice. I know sometimes it can’t be helped, but this was an exceptionally poor week.  I even skipped writers’ group because I was so tired and I hate skipping group.

Oh well, next week will almost certainly be better.

I did send Southern Discomfort out to three more agents. No One Can Slay Her came back with some positive comments (it’s always nice to be told “remember us for your next story” but not as nice as being accepted) and went out again. I started several other projects, but got nowhere.

But the weekend’s here. I can collapse, watch movies, finish the budgeting, etc., etc. And start over next week with renewed vigor and make up for what lost time I can.

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

I’m getting those colored lights going!

Title is a paraphrase of Jean Kerr’s play, Mary, Mary. It’s a sort-of way of saying that while I’m zonked, I had a very productive week (if you want to figure out the context, I recommending reading the script or catching the stage play — the movie version is disappointingly dull).

While insomnia frequently allows me to get some extra work in, and at an hour of the day I’m not dealing with puppies, this week it was as much a hindrance as a help. TYG came back from her trip last weekend with the equivalent of con crud so she’s been coughing in her sleep pretty much every night (the cough’s lingering although all the other symptoms are gone). I sleep way too lightly not to wake up when she coughs, and then I can’t get back to sleep because she’s still coughing. And once I’m up, I can’t seem to get back to sleep at all.

I have the freedom to take naps throughout the day, whenever I want, but I can’t nap long enough to make up for the sleep I missed. I suppose I should have slept somewhere else, but I’m not sure it would have helped. TYG’s coughs are loud!

Despite all that I had a productive week. I resumed work on articles for Leaf so I have some money coming in, which is nice. Although due to being so tired, they kept taking much longer than I’d budgeted for them. That was frustrating. Another week I might have tried putting in extra hours to compensate, but I was too wiped.

I finished No One Can Slay Her (finally!) and submitted it, as well as sending off Rabbits Indignateonem, a flash fiction I finished last week. I also submitted queries for one article, one op-ed and sent Southern Discomfort to a few agents. I haven’t quite decided how I’m going to work submissions: at what point do I give up on agents (assuming I don’t land one) and submit to publishers directly? But I’ll figure it out.

I’m really pleased about this. Submitting stuff usually stops cold when I’m working on Leaf articles, and if I don’t submit, I don’t sell. So this is a big improvement.

I didn’t get much done on Impossible Takes a Little Longer. The rewriting is still going much slower than I anticipated, and it wound up being the main victim of the added time spent on Leaf articles. However the replotting for Let No Man Put Asunder went freakishly well. It actually left me wondering if I was doing something wrong, but on reflection, it’s just a very different book from Impossible or Southern Discomfort. Those both have rather tangled, non-linear plots; Discomfort has a large cast with several POV characters. Asunder has two first person narrators and a fairly simple set-up: freak event happens, two people caught in it become targets for a mysterious villain and they end up running across the multiverse to escape.

So other than lack of sleep, I think I’m grading this week as an A.

Below a couple of photos I took during an early morning drive recently.

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He looked at the future and went mad!

So as I mentioned yesterday, nonfiction squeezed out a lot of fiction writing time in 2018. And the same was true for 2017. That year it hit me hard because I just assumed I’d have a short spurt, then it would fade away. So I skimped on fiction during the spurt … which didn’t go away. Which is good for my bottom line, but not so good for (strikes Byronic pose) my creative soul.

This year I did a better job balancing them at first, but like I said yesterday, the demands of Screen Rant and Leaf combined ate into a lot of time. So now that I’m looking at a year without any Screen Rant (probably plenty of leaf though it’s not guaranteed), and ready to balance fiction and nonfiction better, just how much fiction can I get written?

Answer: probably not as much as I put in the goal list. My plan is to rewrite Impossible Takes a Little Longer over the first two months while I replot another novel. Then try and write a draft of that one almost as fast. And a couple more. These are all old books I have worked on many times in the past, so the basics are there (characters, concepts, setting). It’s just revising the plots (“just” does a lot of work in that sentence, some of them need a lot of work), and in a couple of cases updating them; one of them actually starts in a contemporary setting and that’s changed a lot from the last time I tackled it.

And if I can’t work out a good new plot? Time to say goodbye and bung them into the trunk. On to newer stuff!

Plus I want to write twelve short stories this year. That’s really optimistic; it takes me forever to shape them from the first draft into something usable. But as I said yesterday, I don’t have any sort of reward/penalty system in play, so it’s not like I have anything to lose. Pride? Maybe. But I didn’t get any short stories finished this year and I’m not walking around kicking myself. So I think I can take it.

I was worried that Southern Discomfort running a little into the new year would gum up the works, but I don’t think so. I’m soooo close to done.

I have a bunch of other goals, writing and otherwise. They range from finishing reading John LeCarre to finding my sister Keri’s burial place (she died at about seven weeks).  In fact it’s an insanely long list. And a really huge list of January goals based on them, but that actually makes sense. As we all know, it’s easy to start off the year with high aspirations, then we lose focus. So I might as well make maximum use of the January vigor. We’ll see if that works.

And yes, having fun, relaxing and enjoying life, undefined though those goals are, are definitely on the list.

Here’s to 2019. I hope it’s awesome for all of you. And me too.

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