Category Archives: Short Stories

Friday was only moderately inconvenient

In contrast to the July Fridays, I only suffered a slight inconvenience with added dog care this morning. And I’d already put in extra time this week, just in case, so no time lost.

The big accomplishment this week was getting Atoms for Peace released. While Draft2Digital makes it easy to format the ebook and get a CreateSpace-friendly PDF, having to get a table of contents for the paperback meant doing two slightly different versions. That proved more time-consuming than I expected, especially getting the ToC looking right. So rather than think about the stuff I didn’t get done (as I was doing this morning) I shall take pleasure in having accomplished a demanding job (Michelle Berger’s comment on this morning’s post helped). And now it’s done. Finished. Nothing left to do but watch the dollars pile up as it flies off the digital shelves (I can dream).

I got about 3,000 words further on Southern Discomfort which is good, given I didn’t get anything done Monday or Tuesday (so I could get Atoms out before the end of the month). I did my usual quota of Leaf articles (if you need to know the difference between general liability and public liability insurance, just ask!). A couple of them were higher-paying long-form articles, which took more time than I wanted. As they pay three times as much, I want to finish them in no more than three hours, which is three times what the normal article takes. I took a good deal longer than that. It’s the same problem I had when Screen Rant bumped up articles to a minimum twenty entries — finding that much more information takes a lot of time. I need to fix that or stick with shorter stuff.

I did get some new short story stuff written: I have an unfinished, untitled first draft so I worked on that Thursday. Friday I got past a block in the first draft of a short story involving the Tarot and 1930s Hollywood. That made me feel much better, even though neither one is anywhere near even rough-draft level yet.

And I went to a smaller writer’s group this week and got some feedback on one of the new-this-draft chapters of Southern Discomfort. The feedback was very helpful.

For no particular reason other than I think it’s cool, I’m closing with this glorious image of Earth After Disaster from Jack Kirby’s Kamandi comic.

 

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

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework

The Story Behind the Story: Atoms for Peace

Woot! Atoms for Peace and Other Stories is available for purchase at Amazon in paperback and other retailers such as Barnes & Noble as an ebook. Unlike Atlas Shagged, the stories in this one are all tied together, part of an alternative 1950s in which movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Creature With the Atom Brain, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Them! were all real. While I’ve covered most of the stories in early Story Behind the Story blog posts, I started this blog after the first story had come out. So here’s the odd tale of how the book and the first story came to be.

Back in the 1990s, Clinton’s Secretary of Energy, Hazel O’Leary, declassified the reports about U.S. radiation experiments on unwitting patients (they weren’t told what the doctors were doing, or given an option to consent). That started me thinking (at least I think so, the exact chain of reasoning is a bit blurry after so long) about how that mirrored so many SF films of the 1950s, like I Was a Teenage Werewolf (and gives the lie to every How To Write SF article that declares mad scientists experimenting on innocent people could never happen in real life). And then it hit me: what would the US be like if those movies had been real? If by the end of the 1950s we’d been under attack by multiple aliens, radioactive mutants, pod people and reanimated dinosaurs?

Hmmm …well scientific research would be tightly regulated, of course. With investigators to double-check nobody was doing illegal experiments on the sly. The National Guard would be busy fighting mutant horrors. And maybe we’d have made it into space years earlier than we did. Now if you throw the effects of one of those radiation experiments into the mix …

I liked it. But back then I had a day job, so The Brain From Outer Space took a long time to work on. Finally I had it in reasonably satisfactory shape around 2008 or 9. Then it hit me the first chapter, written to show investigators Steve Flanagan and Gwen Montgomery on a case and so introduce my world, worked pretty well as a standalone short story. So I tweaked it a little and sent it out.

The Big Pulp website liked it and accepted it. Then they suggested I write a series of stories leading up to it, showing how my world came to be so different. I jumped at the chance. The stories are still up there, if you’re curious. Unfortunately some of the elements and relationships in the book no longer fit the backstory. I’d also discovered problems in the story that really needed fixing. The book needed a major overhaul … and to date, I haven’t been able to fix it.

But the stories are still worth it.

The first story, Atoms for Peace, takes it’s name from the post-war slogan: sure, the a-bomb was terrifying but nuclear energy, turned to peaceful uses, was our friend! Wonderful things would come from it (check out the book Nukespeak for a look at the sunny nuclear utopianism of the era). The Atomic Energy Commission (now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) was supposed to both regulate and promote the industry; it usually came down on the “promote” side and did its best to minimize the risks of radiation.

I decided that would be the basis for my story: the first documented case of “rogue science,” using ordinary people as guinea pigs. My protagonist would be Southerner Gwen Montgomery, former OSS agent. As the story opens in 1954, Gwen thinks she’s done with adventuring. But then she found the strange half-man half-lizard under the street light …

It’s a good story and I think it’s a good book. It’s a lot whiter than I’d do it today (I hope), but I know from Southern Discomfort that simply switching some of my characters to black or Latino would take lots of work, especially in a world where segregation is still the norm. As I wrote this to reuse old work, not start fresh, I kept it as it was. Though I’m pleased with my female representation as Dani, Kate Meara, Gwen and Claire all get a good share of the adventure.

I’ll have more to say about the book next week. Hopefully you’ll all have bought it by then.

#SFWApro. Cover by Zakaria Nada, all rights are mine.

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Brain From Outer Space, Short Stories, Story behind the story

What did I do to make Friday hate me?

I must have done something because since I got back from Indianapolis, none of them have been productive. First TYG was out of town so I had the dogs to deal with. Last week I was distracted by running the car in to fix the engine (even though it turned out I didn’t need to). And then today …

Early this morning, TYG had to focus so she asked me if I’d watch the dogs for a quarter-hour. Foolishly I took them up to the bedroom without bringing my computer so I couldn’t do any work. When the 15 minutes stretched into 45 minutes, I volunteered to walk them. Plushie was up for a long walk, so we got back after about an hour, me feeling very sweaty. Then up we jumped again for a play date with Lily, Trixie’s bestie.

This took an unexpected and undeniably cute turn when we all ran into Carmela, a five-month-old puppy living down the cul-de-sac (regrettably she’ll be off to college with her owner in a few weeks). Carmella’s at the very friendly puppy stage, eager to play with Trixie and Plushie. The Plush One, as often happens when other dogs (besides Trixie) initiate play, backed off. Trixie didn’t back off, but didn’t seem entirely happy to have a puppy jumping on her. With Plushie or Lily there’d have been a tussle, so I’m guessing she was reluctant to wrestle a little puppy.

However the end result of all that hot humidity and being on my feet for more than an hour was that I felt completely wiped out. I didn’t really get my shit together until a little before noon. Then I had to devote the afternoon to a new Leaf project, 1800 word articles (three times the length, three times the $). Probably because I was still wiped, it used up the rest of the day. At least I hope that was it; if they’re all this labor-intensive, I may have to go back to shorter stuff.

For the rest of the week, let’s see …

I’ve now finished 52,000 words of Southern Discomfort. That’s better than I’d planned, but as I anticipated, it’s slowing down the further I go. Still, I think I’ll be able to finish before September, as I planned.

I finished proofing and editing Atoms for Peace. Now I just have to upload the revised text and make sure I’ve fixed all the formatting problems I had last time. And for the print version, include a table of contents.

I finally got to sit down and think about the revisions I need to make to No-One Can Slay Her. There’s still a couple of weak points I have to fix to set up the big finish, but overall it’s much stronger. Unfortunately I didn’t get to write any this morning, so I’ve only revised a couple of thousand words.

And I have another post at Atomic Junkshop, about rereading comics.

Not a bad week, but I sure would have liked more progress on No One.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine, credit for Carmela’s cuteness goes to her parents and God.

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

Bludgeoned by the battery!

So Thursday, we dropped the pups off at Suite Paws, the delightful boarding facility we use to give me a puppy-care break. Thursday evening, TYG was leaving work … and found the car battery was dead. And we had only ninety minutes before Suite Paws closed and the dogs had to stay overnight.

When it became obvious AAA wasn’t going to get to TYG in time to make Suite Paws, she texted one of her friends. He very generously picked me up, drove me to Suite Paws, then drove us home. As the car harnesses for the dogs were in the car, I held them both tight by the leash/harness. They actually liked this as it left them free to watch stuff passing by the window. They love that. However, they’ll have to live with getting buckled in when they’re back in our own car.

AAA juiced the battery enough TYG got to the battery store, bought a replacement and drove it home. But she’d never have made it to Suite Paws. So thanks Josh for the lift; I would have felt very guilty if they’d been stuck overnight without us.

A minor side-effect was that the “check engine” light came on after we got the new battery, so I decided to drive down to the VW dealer for a checkup. When I started out this morning, the light was gone so I came home. But structuring my morning around the trip threw me off my game for the next couple of hours (it shouldn’t have, but as I’ve mentioned before, disruptions in my routine often do).

And it’s not as if I got that much time to write on Thursday. I spent an hour at the bank resolving a minor problem with Mum’s estate (my sister’s the executor but I’m happy to help out when I can), and dealing with a debt collector that doesn’t believe I resolved the identity theft case from last year. And dealing with a contractor. But all that would be much tougher if the dogs had been at home.

I got a fair amount done this week. I finished going over the text of Atoms for Peace, though I haven’t made all the corrections to the document on my computer. And some of them are like “rewrite this paragraph” so it’s not just a matter of quick fixes. It’s coming along well, though.

Southern Discomfort is moving along, though slower now. I expected that would happen the further I got in. For instance, an interrogation scene between FBI agents Cohen and Dini and Olwen McAlister needed a thorough going over. The theory the feds (or “G men” as they used to call them) were pushing simply didn’t make sense; I think restructuring it, everything looks logical

I had a light level of Leaf work because the site crashed for a couple of days. Even with the added time I didn’t get much short story work done. This annoys me but if something’s gotta give, better the shorts than Southern Discomfort.

It doesn’t help the dogs are still demanding more attention than usual. And that I invariably fold and give it to them. Still, there are worse ways to spend the day.

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

The thing about subjective assessments

One of the reasons I like keeping written goals is that it gives me an objective standard to measure my performance. Because subjective standards are frequently wrong.

Managers doing annual reviews, for example, are sometimes waylaid by the recency effect: “Wow, Stella’s been amazing this past week, way above average. Okay, time for her annual review, I guess her performance for the year must be ‘above average.'” Likewise if my Friday writing’s going poorly, it’s very easy to feel my whole week was wasted.

And yeah, it was kind of poor today. TYG was out of town, so I took the dogs on the morning walk. Then I had to spend an hour dealing with some lingering stuff involving Mum’s estate (as my sister handled the executor’s duties, which is no small amount of work, I’m happy to do whatever I can to help her). As frequently happens when my morning goes off-schedule, I felt a little disoriented (things like that knock me off my game more than they should). I didn’t get much done today, so I feel like my whole week was unbalanced and ineffective. Actually I did okay.

Leaf work has started back up, so I got in 10 of those.

I finished the current draft of Undead Sexist Cliches. It’s around 40,000 words and I think I’ve resolved most of the problems from the earlier drafts, such as what goes in which chapter. Next up, a print-out and I’ll see if I can do one more edit. Well, plus an index for the hard-copy version. I’m also debating whether I should add endnotes (or links for the ebook).

I got several thousand words done on Southern Discomfort. I think it’s progressing well.After it’s finished, I will need to make one cursory pass though to make sure I didn’t make any massive screw-ups (pointless blank space, repeated paragraphs) — I went back to an early section this week and found a couple. But that will be pretty minor.

I got some more done on proofing Atoms for Peace. Nowhere near as much as I’d wanted, but it’s coming along.

And I got a couple of IRL tasks done that needed doing.

As TYG’s schedule was inevitably crazy after a week away, I also coped with a little extra dog care. Not as much as I’d anticipated, but I think I did well not stressing out over it.

Today was still a mess, but overall I did well.

For humor, here’s Plushie yearning to check out a dead snake (you can’t tell from the image but it’s dead as a doornail) and probably roll on it. He did not get his wish.

#SFWApro. Cover by zakarianada, all rights to it are mine.

 

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals

I didn’t actually work this week

It was our annual trip to the Mensa national gathering, this time in Indianapolis. I’ll be blogging about it next week. However as this marks halfway through the year, I thought I’d look again at how my Plot Your Work Planner helped me accomplish goals (or didn’t). Or if you prefer, how well I did by the metrics I wrote into it.

Much to my surprise, I did pretty well. Which is a fringe benefit of writing down goals — it’s much easier to see how much I actually got done. Taking the April to June goals, one at a time:

Southern Discomfort went well. I’m actually further along in the final draft than I expected. I have a cover letter drafted (I’ll be revising it), though I didn’t finish my synopsis.

•I completed 30,000 words on the Undead Sexist Cliches book.

•I released Atlas Shagged in hard copy (it’s also available in ebook).

•I finished another draft The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I think I’ve figured out how to fix the problems — we’ll see if my reasoning holds up (I want to get at least half of the revised draft done in the next three months)

•I made some final changes to Questionable Minds, submitted it, and got turned down. I’m ready to go ahead and self-publish this one (though not right away). After all, Barbarian Books accepted it before closing their doors, so I have an outside verification it’s worth reading.

What I didn’t get done: Short stories. I wanted to have No One Can Slay Her done back in March and another story (probably Angels Hate This Man) in June. Nope. Neither done, though No One‘s pretty close — a final draft should have it done, but I have to work out the final fixes first.

Given I was also doing Screen Rant and all my Leaf articles, that’s pretty good results, I think. And the planner is definitely helping me keep track of things — I intend to order another one for 2019.

#SFWApro. All rights to journal design remain with current holder. Atlas Shagged cover is mine; painting is Atlas and the Hesperides by Singer-Sargent.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Atoms for Peace, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals

This week seemed to have such promise

I was really optimistic about this week. Next round of Leaf articles hasn’t started yet, Screen Rant is done, I had time to focus on my personal projects.

But TYG was doing a lot of stuff this week that required concentration. And Plush Dog, for whatever reason, was needy. Actively needy, constantly trying to climb on her computer or barking for attention. So I wound up running interference, plus putting in a lot of extra dog walking. The time added up. Plus I was freaking out over some of the political news. It can’t be helped at times, but it’s not productive. I wound up several hours behind my quota for the week.

So what did I get done?

I finished a second draft of Only the Lonely Can Slay. Relocating the action to my old home town really sharpened the setting, and the dramatic arc improved some. However that’s a long way from saying it has a good arc. It’s trickier because I don’t want my protagonist to know exactly what she’s involved in, even when it’s all over. So we’ll see.

I thought a little about the rewrite of No One Can Slay Her but didn’t actually put any words to paper. I did make more progress on the final draft of Southern Discomfort. I’ve gone over four out of the 12 stories in the draft paperback of Atoms for Peace and edited them, though I haven’t made the corrections in the manuscript on my computer. That matters because some of the notes are just “sentence doesn’t work, fix it” when the correction is more than just a word or something concise.

I did not come anywhere near close my 1,000 words a day goal. Come July with no Screen Rant deadlines to make, it should be doable. And I will make it a priority.

I did draft a query for Space Invaders for McFarland but held off submitting it. There’s a couple of markets I’d like to look at first. Next month, one way or the other, it goes out.

Oh, and as noted this morning, I started making some upgrades to this blog. Hopefully that will prove worthwhile. It may be telling that I think of this as a blog first — but when I visit other author’s websites, I usually go to the blog first. After all, it’s the only part that’s likely to provide anything new.

And I also posted an in-depth review of The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse on Atomic Junkshop.

Subject to a couple of personal goals I hope to accomplish tomorrow, I got a little over 50 percent of my June goals go (the crazy schedule this week put paid to a couple of routine things I normally accomplish in the morning).

On the food front, we ate the first of the tomatoes TYG has been growing in the back, along with the herbs. Unfortunately the local squirrels pulled about twice that number off the plants — they don’t eat them, they just bite into them and leave them. Pure spite.

And we took the dogs to get groomed Wednesday. Plushie’s tail was so matted they had to shave it completely, leaving what looks like a little pig’s tail. Packs quite a wallop when he beats it on us.

#SFWApro. All rights to images are mine.

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals

The light at the end of the tunnel was not an oncoming train

It’s what happens when some of the viscous jelly in your eye gets hard and crusty and breaks off.

I noticed flashes in the corner of my eye last weekend, and soon figured out they weren’t reflections of my glasses. Then I got some big floaters drifting across my vision. A quick check online established this is an unremarkable phenomenon, probably due to age, and not a serious issue. Unless, of course, I had an actual torn retina in which case it was an emergency. It didn’t seem extreme enough (I was referencing an eye doctor website so I was confident it was accurate) so I called my doctor Monday and went in for an eye appt. on Tuesday. Happily I was right, nothing serious, though the floaters are distracting (the flashes have faded away).

That took a chunk out of my week, Screen Rant took a bite more. The one I started on last week proved undoable for various reasons, but I spent about three hours on it before giving up. Tuesday I picked up a new one, 20 Things About Winter Soldier That Make No Sense (Jack Kirby’s cover gives us a look back when he was just Bucky, of course). As yet, it’s not up, though I submitted it this afternoon. It took more time than I wanted — upping the minimum from 15 to 20 adds quite a bit more work, both in searching for entries and writing. It may be more than I have the time to keep doing — it’s fun, but this might have to be my last. I’ll give it some thought.

While Bucky Barnes took up a chunk of time, I did continue work on Southern Discomfort and the Undead Sexist Cliches book. I’ve made my wordage on both for the month, but I’ll put in more time on SD next week. I started work revising No One Can Slay Her, though I didn’t get far. I’ll put in time on that next week, plus (hopefully) rewriting Only the Lonely Can Slay.

Oh, and I got a Createspace copy of Atoms for Peace and began proofing. Cover by zakarianada on Fiverr, rights to it are now mine. Going to take more work than I thought, but that just proves I made a good call getting the copy.

#SFWApro. All rights to Captain America cover remain with current holder.

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

Ten years ago, less one month, I met her

And seven years ago last Monday I married her. And I’m so glad I did.

We had dinner last weekend at Sage, a local vegetarian (mostly vegan) restaurant that’s our go-to for special celebrations (Monday would have been rough on our schedules). We also traded gifts as we didn’t want to wait. I got TYG a good ice cream scoop and a charger for her phone; now she no longer has to carry the charger back and forth from bedroom to living room My gift was season tickets for both of us to Playmakers, one of the local theaters. Very good choice! Neither one fit the theme (wool, copper) but we don’t care.

Then Sunday Plushie had his back spasm and we were very stressed. That flowed into the work week. Plus I didn’t make out my schedule Sunday with my usual care, which left me feeling oddly off-balance this week. Though I didn’t let that stop me working. I also wasted a lot of time on a Screen Rant listicle I simply could not find enough items for. Eventually I gave it up, someone else took it and did fine and I found one that worked for me (not out yet) — 20 Weird Facts About Dr. Strange’s Body. For example, it’s actually older than the Earth, due to Earth being destroyed in the Bronze Age, then recreated.

As I’m a Dr. Strange fan, that was a lot of fun, though it took more time than I’d planned. SR Listicles now have more items with shorter text. I think the added time for research undoes the gains of less writing.

I didn’t come anywhere near making my 1,000 words a day of fiction. I did get some more work done on Southern Discomfort so I think I’m revising on schedule. No short story work.

I submitted Atoms for Peace to Draft2Digital, but the cover I commissioned seems to have a technical problem. So do my chapter headings —a lot of headings for scene changes (giving the time or location) are showing up as chapters. If I’m understanding the site’s advice correctly, the latter should be an easy fix. And I probably know enough computer nerds who can figure out the PDF problem.

I also submitted the PDF to CreateSpace. This time I’m going to order a draft copy of the paperback before I release the ebook. I’ll see the mistakes much better that way.

Oh, and Thursday I had coffee with my friend Heather Fredericks, author of the delightful Timber Howligan, Secret Agent.  She’s working on a sequel; I’ve read the rough draft so this was a feedback/critique session. She said it was very helpful. I’m pleased.

Next week, with my SR already picked and no Leaf, I anticipate a lot more fiction writing. Fingers crossed.

#SFWApro. Art by Gene Colan (top) and Steve Ditko. All rights remain with current holders.

 

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

Accomplishments for the week and the month

So I was working on my next Screen Rant, about weird ways movies cover up mistakes, and I ran into a problem: I couldn’t find any. Outside of “keep it in!” when an actor screws up, there’s very little. I emailed my editor for some advice, but she was away, I didn’t ask another editor right away and the end result was I didn’t get it done. So now Rant post this week But on the plus side, more time for everything else! I got another 5,000 words of Southern Discomfort done, including fixing the scene that was giving me problems. And I think I see how to fix the problems with The Impossible Takes a Little Longer — we’ll see how it plays out in the rewrite, but I’m optimistic.

I also tried uploading a PDF of Atoms for Peace to Createspace so I can proofread a copy. Apparently a PDF created from Apple’s Pages program (not a favorite of mine) doesn’t work as well as when I make one with Draft2Digital’s system. So I shall prepare one next week, as I’ll be creating the ebook via D2D anyway.

I read No One Can Slay Her to the writers’ group Tuesday. Got lots of helpful feedback, and lots of enthusiasm for the story.

Plus I finished the usual Leaf articles on topic such as where to find book value of debt on a corporate balance sheet. On the assumption I’d be working on Screen Rant at some point, I squeezed seven of the 10 Leafs I’d scheduled into Monday, to free up time. Very tiring. But it was nice when I finished up Tuesday and had the rest of the week free. It felt awesome being able to put almost two days in on fiction, and actually get somewhere.

For the month I completed 68 percent of my goals, which felt quite satisfactory, especially as most of the ones I didn’t get done were minor or non-urgent. My biggest disappointment is that I just don’t complete short stories as fast as I’d like. Subordinating them to Southern Discomfort and to the immediate-pay gigs (Leaf and Screen Rant) makes sense, but I’d really hoped to have two done by the end of next month. I should have No One Can Slay Her done once I make use of the feedback, but I’d hoped to have Angels Hate This Man done too. Doesn’t look like it. There’s only so much time to go around.

Oh, I did put up two posts on Atomic Junkshop, one on the myth there’s a definitive version of characters (“Spider-Man achieved perfection when I read him as a teen! Clearly if I retcon away all the changes since then, it’ll be perfect again!”) and one on The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, longer than my post here.

 

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

 

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Movies, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing