Category Archives: Short Stories

Not the blazing return from vacation I’d anticipated

It seems I never return from vacation and spring immediately into writing, refreshed and energized.

Monday I decided I would take the morning off writing and catch up on various tasks: calling the electrician about why our back deck plugs didn’t seem to work, getting a car appointment scheduled, fixing a problem with our alarm system, ordering medication for a colonoscopy next month (never fun), paying my share of the bills, going through mail. That all went well. Afternoon, as work on Leaf articles has started up, I did a couple of those, and 1,000 words of fiction (starting working with some ideas from vacation).

Tuesday I was ready to start back on Southern Discomfort. But I’d scheduled a HVAC company to check out our heat pump (all good) and Plushie and Trixie completely lost their minds. There was a Dude! He came in the house! Then he did bangy things under the house in the crawlspace!

Trixie took to the high ground which wasn’t too bad. Plush Dog got up in my face. Particularly any time I tried using the computer, he just had to have my full attention. Normally I’d discourage him (I have an unpleasant whistle app on the iPhone) but as he was upset, I didn’t have the heart. Suffice to say, this used up a lot of the morning (and I’d gotten up late, too!). Then the electrician came which took up more time.

And Plushie’s eager for longer lunch walks now that the weather’s turning to autumn. That cut into my work day some too.

On the plus side, our heat pump is fine and the electrician was able to fix the problem with our outside plug. Wisp the feral cat has been using the little under-deck shelter we made for her, but it’s not good enough for winter (too open, for one thing). So we ordered a heated shelter that will work much better, but only if we can plug it in. We can, and it looks like she’s already using it.

I got plenty of Leaf work done; much as I’d prefer to devote the time to fiction, I can’t ignore paying gigs, any more than I’d ignore a day job. I got about 3,000 words done on the short-story ideas that sprang out of the trip (nothing directly tied to it, just odd thoughts like someone stealing a suitcase off a baggage carousel and discovering a horrible something inside it).

I didn’t get much done on Southern Discomfort and I suspect it won’t be completely finished by Oct. 31. I got badly stuck Thursday — the two interweaving action threads at the climax didn’t come together right — but with a little tinkering, I was able to make it work

I still have about 5,000 words to go, then to fix a couple of medical scenes based on advice from my fellow writer and MD Heather Frederick (author of the spy-cat adventure Timber Howligan). Then I print the whole thing out and read it aloud a final (I hope) time. That’s a lot to get through. But it won’t be that long now.

#SFWApro. Photo copyright is mine.

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

I’d be finished if not for those meddling ideas!

When I started this draft of Southern Discomfort, I was working with a previous draft of 78,000 words. Too short for a lot of markets, but I figured I’d expand it.

And I did. It’s now up to 89,000 and a bit, which is more marketable, so good. But I can’t help thinking if I’d kept it the old length, or maybe expanded it to only 80,000 words, I’d be done by now! But at 84,300 I still have 5,000 words to go. And I suspect it’ll be a little longer by the time I reach The End.

Yes, I know, if the story needs to be longer it should be longer. I don’t think there’s any padding in the added wordage — it’s visual and action details that need detailing, conversations that need to be more explicit. But it’s frustrating to be so close and wrap up the week unfinished. More so, because I’m traveling to Florida next week for Dad’s 90th birthday (TYG will be at home with the puppies, but she’ll attend at least a bit of the festivities by FaceTime). So no work. And when I get back, I’ll be back doing Leaf again, which is money in my pocket (yay), but less time for fiction (boo). It’ll be a little harder to keep up my fiction productivity, but I’m ready.

As I mentioned last Friday, I’ve begun doing my 1,000 words of new stuff in the morning as my first writing project. Last week was too chaotic to succeed, but this week went great. I finished a first draft of one story about honey, and one about menstruating witch hunters (don’t ask). Neither of them anywhere near polished enough to show, but it felt very good finishing them. I also completed a second draft of Neverwas (I like my core idea, but my ending is a mess) and a third draft of Only the Lonely Can Slay. Which is very cool, though I’m always reluctant to feel pleased until something’s actually finished. I’ve had lots of experience with rewriting and redrafting and not having much finished output.

While I didn’t finish No One Can Slay Her, I think I solved the big plot problems. I figured out what the bad guy’s scheme is, and added a needed extra scene to replace one I took out. It’s still got some logic glitches but hopefully I’ll be able to iron them out now.

And I got another 4,000 words done on Undead Sexist Cliches. That was my quota for this month, which is good, as it frees up time for the Leaf articles.

So yeah, good week. To celebrate, here’s a shot of Wisp, “our” feral cat. She’s still around, we’re still feeding her and we bought a small heated shelter for her for when winter comes (will she use it? We’ll see).

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Filed under Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Time hacks that work, hacks that don’t

 

One that works: doing my 1,000 words of new stuff first thing in the morning, rather than squeezing it in later in the day. I really got some good work done: finished the first draft of an untitled story about honey and magic, almost completed a second draft of Only the Lonely Can Slay and got a little work done on a story set in Hollywood in the 1930s.

I’m also up to 76,000 words on Southern Discomfort, which is good, but I’d really expected to get further. Time just got away from me and there were just too many robots to smash, so to speak.

The time hack that isn’t working is doing some writing Sunday evening. I thought that way I’d be ready when unexpected problems cropped up. However between making dinner and family stuff that popped up Sunday the last two weekends, that hasn’t worked out. I could do it earlier in the day, but that feels much more like it’s cutting into my weekend. And even though I enjoy my work, I like having two days not to think about it. However I’ll try that this weekend.

It didn’t help this week was full of unexpected problems. The light downstairs died and we had to replace the whole fixture. The price was great (our electrician is very reasonable) but it took longer for him to fix things than expected.

I had another class in the Alexander Technique, for better posture and body control. And because I forgot to erase a rescheduled appointment I spent part of Thursday driving to my opthalmologist when I didn’t need to. And we got a second piece of furniture delivered today, and I spent a lot of time arranging our new layout.

Plus TYG’s schedule was a mess, so I gave the dogs a couple of extra walks. And as it’s finally cooling off, lunch walks are talking longer, which adds up to more walkies-time.

And then there was the hearings. I haven’t been this distracted and pissed about politics since the election. I don’t know that I’ve ever vented this much about politics on FB, but the sight of several high-school friends declaring that big whoop, who cares if he tried to rape someone … I read a lot about how conservatives don’t care about consent, but it’s unsettling to see that view among people I know (excepting a couple I already know are rape apologists).

On the bright side, Trixie and Plushie did get to play in the yard next door with Calla, the dog there, and with Carmella, a dog from up the cul-de-sac. She’s below. I love the ears — as a friend of mine said, she looks like she stepped out of Gremlins.

That’s a much better thought to end the week on.

#SFWApro. Cover by Billy Graham, all rights remain with current holder.

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

Story Behind the Story: Not In Our Stars But In Ourselves

As I’ve mentioned before, my protagonists in Atoms for Peace are a lot less racist than they’d probably be in the real world. In some vague gesture of realism, one of the leads in Not In Our Stars, Not in Ourselves, is a good deal more bigoted.

L.G. “Elegy” Walker was born in East Jesus, Kentucky, grew up poor white, but by 1958, he’s a mid-level official at Cape Canaveral. The space program, a joint US/USSR effort, is about to launch humanity’s first lunar mission (reverse-engineering alien ships has jump-started space flight). Walker has remade himself into a calm, accomplished professional. He’s shrewd about who to kiss up to and who he can safely ignore, and intensely career focused. Like a lot of people who know what it’s like to have nothing, he’s a little intense about not losing what he has, hence security officer Valentina Eisenstein nicknamking him Elegy.

Despite the changes in him, the racism Walker grew up with is alive and well in him. He’s able to accept that a few blacks can be as good as a white man (there are black astronauts in the program), but they’re the exception. When ‘s framed for murder, the horror isn’t the murder but the supposed motive: he had a black lover, she got pregnant so he killed her to avoid scandal. The thought that people might think he’d crossed the color line, the thought that his parents or the other folks back home might believe it … his brain pretty much shuts down with horror.

Fortunately Eisenstein’s brain is working. A WW II Soviet sniper turned security officer, she identifies with Elegy in a way; they’ve both had to work and fight to get their present position. She knows he wouldn’t take a black lover, or one who was bottom-drawer of the working class (that’s what he’s running away from). But can she prove it? And given that he’s not really anyone important, what possible motive could anyone have for the frame?

I really like Eisenstein. She’s smart, capable, smokes a pipe (it keeps men off balance, which is useful for a security officer), and hates life in Florida with its head, humidity and lack of culture. I’d love to use her in Brain From Outer Space but I doubt I can work her in.

This was the first story in the series I wrote after moving to Durham, and the writer’s group helped a lot, straightening out some plot points. Thanks, y’all!

#SFWApro. Cover by Zakaria Nada.

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Another short story available, free!

Buckshot published my A Many Splendored Thing, showing the challenges for a goddess of love in the 21st century. I’ll have a Story Behind the Story up next week, but don’t wait until then to read it. After all, it’s flash fiction so it’s really short.

Image is Manfred Werner’s Venus and Love, courtesy of Wikimedia commons. #SFWApro

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Strange Economics: it’s a good anthology to be in

I’ve been in multiple anthologies, as you can find out from my published fiction page. I’ve read them all, and most of them were excellent. Happily STRANGE ECONOMICS: Economic Speculative Fiction is another good one.

In addition to The Grass Is Always Greener, the book includes more than 20 added short stories. There’s also an excellent essay at the end on economics as a form of specfic, written by Jo Lindsay Walton (before you ask, although she’s a British SF writer, she’s not the same as the Jo Walton of Among Others). Among my favorites:

The Rule of Three by Steve Dubois. Can a small independent magic shop survive against a big, ruthless chain undercutting their magic prices?

The Slurm by M. James. An aspiring villains sets out to kill a monster, which is also providing a valuable product to local villages. This does a really funny job with the villain’s POV; it may be my favorite.

All Rights Reserved by Xauri’El Zwaan. Can a downloaded human consciousness stir up trouble in a digital corporate workspace?

The Short Soul by Jack Waddell. Can the residents of one netherworld stop Hell ruining them by cornering the market in souls?

The Price of Wool and Sunflowers by Samantha Rich looks at how a cabal of wizard economists keep the Empire’s balance of trade in the black. Probably my second favorite.

Some of the stories, like Rich’s, actually deal with economics. Others, like mine, are built around magical businesses or a trade in magical goods. We have SF and fantasy, happy endings and very not-happy, so it’s a good mix. I enjoyed reading it (I liked a lot more stories than I’m listing here) and I’m glad to be in it.

Now go buy a copy. Or two.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jonathan Maurin, all rights remain with current holder.

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Story Behind the Story: The Mind That Wanted the World

Story seven in Atoms for Peace, The Mind That Wanted the World, is the one that required the most changes.

In Brain From Outer Space, the bad guy was Torgo, an alien mind-creature Steve and Gwen had confronted a couple of years before. As the point of the Applied Science series on Big Pulp was to create a backstory for the book, telling the story of their first encounter with Torgo — inspired, but not based on, the villain in Brain From Planet Arous — was a natural for one chapter.

Unlike most aliens, Torgo’s not an evil envoy from an evil world, he’s a crook from a good world, or at least as good as Earth. That’s an advantage against the good guys: he favors cunning, subtlety and blackmail over brute force and ray weapons. Like the alien brain in Arous, Torgo finds having a body capable of physical sensation stimulating. In the movie, the brain-possessed John Agar attempts to rape his fiancee; in my story, Torgo does. He also has a dungeon full of kidnapped sex slaves, both sexes, as from his alien perspective it doesn’t matter which gender his partners are (only one woman shows up as a prisoner in Mind, but Brain establishes his tastes are broader).

So the opening scene is one woman telling Steve that her boyfriend has raped her, although she can’t bring herself to use the word. Steve, perpetual hater of bullies, is ready to bust the guy; Gwen, however dismissed the rape in the original version. Gwen was usually smarter and saw things clearer than anyone else; I thought it might be interesting to make her dead wrong for a change, representing the era’s outdated attitudes towards rape.

Going over the story for Atoms for Peace I found that didn’t work for me. After a year of #metoo, having one of my protagonists toss off standard rape-apology lines about how the woman was over-reacting, and just felt guilty about going all the way … it left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. And I realized that I could make Gwen wrong even without that. In the book’s rewrite, she informs Steve that rape doesn’t prove Professor Caldwell is an alien; lots of respectable men turn into brutes when they get the chance. And if it’s not ET-related, they have no authority to take action (the woman has refused to call the police). Same result but a lot less repellent to read.

As revised, it remains one of my favorites in the twelve short stories. Atoms for Peace is available for purchase at Amazon in paperback and multiple retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble as an ebook (and someone just bought the ebook, woot!). #SFWApro, cover by Zakaria Nada. All rights to poster remain with current holder.

 

 

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September goes in, August goes out

I accomplished about 55 percent of my August goals and almost none of them were writing goals. Part of that was working on the Leaf articles; part was devoting the last week to my sister’s visit and then Dragoncon; and part of that just getting distracted by extra doggy care and other duties. I also didn’t get a lot of various paperwork tasks done — no bills left unpaid or anything, but stuff like finding replacement lights for one fixture (it’s an older one and apparently it won’t be easy) has fallen by the wayside.

This month I have no Leaf to work on, and I’m determined to get tasks accomplished (I have a list). Plus, you know, regular stuff. And after the wonderful relaxing week hanging out with TYG I feel up to the job. Hopefully the feeling will stick around. To make that easier, I’ve also been rearranging my schedule in various ways so that I can hopefully adapt to unplanned extra dog care when TYG has a sudden work call or the like.

I’d expected Wednesday, the first day I got back, would be wasted. I’d be off my game and the dogs would be uber-needy after being in Suite Paws all week. Don’t get me wrong, the staff there are wonderful and clearly love dogs, but Trixie and Plushie really missed us. Surprisingly, the day went great: a few thousand words done on Southern Discomfort, a little bit of progress on No One Can Slay Her, two short stories submitted and another blog post up at Atomic Junkshop.

Thursday though? I had a great night’s sleep but when TYG got up, she found Plush had puked on the bed. Cleaning that up took us some time, then I drove to the 24-hour drugstore near us to get him some Omneprazole. Plush began puking every night mid-August so we took him and the vet suggested we try it for two weeks. It stopped the puking and generally he seemed happier and more comfortable. Tuesday evening, which was about a day after he went off the drug, he puked massively. So it looks like he needs the stuff to keep his tummy happy (the doctor says we may able to lower the dose, but it won’t hurt him if not). It’s already making him more comfortable; unsettling to realize his stomach may have been aching a lot and we didn’t know.

Anyway after all that, I finally got back to work maybe 25 minutes before my morning tea break. So it seemed pointless to start work until after the tea … yeah, you can see where this is going and it’s not “I finished the entire manuscript before dinner!”

Friday we finally had to take Plushie into the vet for the puking. No real conclusion what caused it yet, so we’re giving him special food and meds while they run some tests to rule out stuff. He did seem much better this morning so possibly whatever it was has passed but best to cover our bets.

Even so I got more work done on Southern Discomforts. I put a lot of thinking into No One Can Slay Her — I think I’m going to have to write another scene to make the plot build properly.

So a good start to September’s writing, not good at all as puppy parent.

#SFWApro. All rights to images are mine.

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Filed under Now and Then We Time Travel, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Story Behind the Story: The Grass Is Always Greener

If I’d known I’d wake up early enough to blog about The Grass Is Always Greener this morning, I wouldn’t have posted about it earlier. As I said then, this story is out in STRANGE ECONOMICS: Economic Speculative Fiction, so here’s the story of how it came to be.

I wrote the original version of this story back in 2006, so I’m not entirely sure how I came up with the idea — protagonist Reed learning his future has been sold to someone else and struggling to reclaim it. Part of it was probably that I was a little blue about my own life: not a novelist, no story sales in a while, limited funds, no love life. It’s also possible I was influenced by the Angel episode The House Always Wins from a few years earlier, concerning a casino where gamblers unwittingly bet their future happiness/success/greatness (which inspired my story And Many a Knot Unraveled By the Road, published in Challenging Destiny the previous year).

In the earliest version, Reed’s a failed writer living in a trailer park. A dwarf mysteriously appears, knowing way too much about Reed’s life and many failures. The dwarf reveals that all those agreements we sign for software updates, credit cards, etc., contain some fine print, like allowing the company to sell your destiny to someone else. Reed had a great life ahead of him, but it’s no longer his. Now what will he do to get it back?

The initial version didn’t sell, so I began reworking it. Reed became an artist instead of a writer, which gave me a little more distance. And instead of an expository conversation in his trailer, I set it at the fast-food place where he works (it became McDonalds in the final draft) and threw in his girlfriend breaking up with him. That drove home his plight a lot more effectively. The dwarf became a normal human, but a really crass one. And I played up the subtext that this is about an entitled, privileged guy who feels entitled to take Reed’s future, and doesn’t give a fig what happens to Reed.

Trouble was, it still didn’t sell. So I brought it into the writing group. They liked it, but made some suggestions: in the current economy, was working fast food really a sign of failure? Good point, so I acknowledged it. I also tinkered with a couple of technical points to make it more plausible. Then I began submitting again, without much more success. Until I saw Strange Economics and thought hmmm, that seems like a logical market. Turns out I was right.

It’s a good story and a good anthology too (a review will follow some time in the next week).

#SFWApro. Cover by Jonathan Maurin.

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Another short published

The Grass Is Always Greener is out in STRANGE ECONOMICS: Economic Speculative Fiction. Reed Simms discovers someone bought his awesome future, which is why he’s now working minimum wage. I’ll have more details about the story in a post next week, but don’t let that stop you buying the anthology — I finished reading it this week and it’s a good collection.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jonathan Maurin.

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