Category Archives: Short Stories

This week started early

Normally I hate writing on the weekend. However, due to our late night vet visit on June 13th, I was too zonked to get any Leaf done the next day (not to mention Plushie’s cone of shame kept banging into my lap desk). As the two Leaf articles I had in my queue would have expired Sunday, and they were paying extra (an incentive to get everything completed before the project expires), I worked on them Sunday afternoon. Not the best use of downtime, but hey, it’s money.

To claim as many of the remaining bonus-price articles, and a few that were regular price but easy (articles about liquor licensing are surprisingly easy. Liquor boards have good websites), I bulked up on Leaf through Wednesday, completing 12 total (I also did an extra bonus one today). It was easier because (I think) the pressure to get them all done got in the way of sleep so I was up early Monday and Tuesday. As a result, I was able to get the Leaf done and a good chunk of Undead Sexist Cliches.

I’m feeling much better about the book after this week. The division of two and three finally makes sense. Chapter Two is sexist explanations why feminism is unnecessary and why women don’t deserve equality (because evolution made men superior). Chapter Three is the sexist rationalizations why feminism is actively destructive. I also took a lot of discussions of antifeminism and made one small chapter out of them.

I also inserted a lot of notes I’d taken on various books and websites into the post, and added examples for several points I was making, such as some Fox News hosts discussing why men get the blame if they rape drunk women: “the point is that the drunk woman is — she’s just not held accountable for anything. The drunk guy, however, is supposed to make all these amazingly perfect decisions, and not make any mistakes.” As if not raping someone who says no was like performing brain surgery while drunk (I’ll have a blog post on this topic soon).

The additions will require I make another pass to incorporate the new material better. Then I’ll sit down with all the critiques my beta-readers gave me and incorporate them. Then comes writing the finished draft including footnoting everything and indexing everything. Then to publication.

I made the book a priority this week but I found time to start redrafting a story I finished a couple of weeks back, tentatively titled Death is Like a Box of Chocolates. Tentative because much as I like the title, I don’t think there’ll be a box of chocolates in the tale when I’m finished.

Plushie’s eye infection (the one that necessitated that vet visit) has cleared up. We were even able to take the cone off after the first day. We do have a couple of worries about the dogs (nothing serious) but we’ll be talking to the vet about them tomorrow when we go in for booster shots.

All in all, a productive week.

For no reason other than my love of showing cool art, I’ll close with what I think is a neat Ghost Rider cover (the Western one) by Dick Ayers:

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

Writing, sleep, dogs and other matters

First off, dogs, because Trixie’s butterfly ears after her Monday grooming are just too adorable not to lead with.

Here’s a picture of them both newly shorn.

They were surprisingly calm while the opossum was on the deck. Trixie has been exceptionally needy this week, wanting lots of pets (I comply as much as work allows), but otherwise the pups are as usual.

Staying off caffeine after noon was a little less effective this week — two nights of little sleep, two solid sleeps and one that was solid due to Ambien. I’m wondering if the decaffeinated tea I picked up has too much caffeine (decaffeinating tea leaves doesn’t completely eliminate it ) so I’ll skip it next week. I still drink decaf chai in the afternoon but there’s a lot less caffeine in it (among other things, because I make it half milk so the volume of actual tea is lower).

That said, things went well. I got 10 Leaf articles in for the first time in a while. And I rewrote slightly more of Undead Sexist Cliches than I’d expected. I know see that what slowed me down earlier is that Chapters two and three are badly organized — they’re both about “why feminism is bad” cliches, but the division into chapters doesn’t really make sense. Next week I’ll look at rearranging the material and maybe cutting them into three smaller chapters.

I rewrote Impossible Things Before Breakfast and I think it’s ready for one final revision. I’ll get to that at the end of the month so my mind has a little time to clear. I went over both Bleeding Blue and Only The Lonely Can Slay trying to figure out how to improve them on the next draft. I think I see a way, but I’m not sure — I had to do the work today while I was still groggy from lack of sleep.

And I finished an as yet untitled story, basically by deciding “okay, I’m ready to finish this today … guess this is the ending!” and pulling what’s close to a deus ex machina. But I’ve done that before and for some stories it works. Even a nonsensical ending frees my mind up to start redrafting and improving.

The best week in a while, I think.

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Bedevilled by batteries!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sleep, car repairs and work: my week

This wasn’t as successful a week as last week, but it was productive enough to feel content.

And my doctor’s recommendation to avoid caffeine after noon is really paying off. I got a full night of sleep most nights this week, and I’ve adapted to it. It was hard the first week not having that extra time in the morning, but the feeling of being fully rested more than makes up for it.

I did have to sacrifice part of two mornings to take the car in. Wednesday we had a combination appointment to take care of a recall issue, a minor unrelated problem and a Check Engine light that randomly comes on and off. Finally they found the problem, a throttle issue, but they had to order the replacement. This morning I went in again and got it done. I was able to get a fair amount done at the dealer’s office, but I also tend to give in and scarf snacks from the vending machines. Bad me!

My big project this week was the Undead Sexist Cliches book. I didn’t get a lot written because I was digesting the feedback from my beta readers. Among the good points were that I needed to make it clear when I was citing a sexist belief rather than declaring it as my own. And that some other stuff wasn’t clear, too. It was a lot of feedback to take in, but it will help. But it also convinced me to rearrange the topics in Chapter One, which slowed me down from a straight rewrite. It’ll make it flow better though.

My current plan is to redraft, then fill in all the footnotes. Then I can do a final proof and begin the process of publishing it.

And that plus Leaf took up most of my week. I started work on another draft of Impossible Things Before Breakfast but I didn’t get very far. No other short stories either. Oh, I did cut about 300 words from No One Can Slay Her to submit it to a particular market. I succeeded without hurting the story; we’ll see if that helps. I’m also kicking around an idea for finishing some of the stories I have lying around undone. If I write on those in the evening it won’t suck up time from more advanced stories, but I’m not great at writing in the evening. We’ll see.

Wisp is back on a regular feeding schedule and rubbing against my legs when I open the door. We’re going to put a cage around the tomato plants on the deck this weekend; I’m hoping it won’t freak her out. She seems to like napping next to the containers, as you can see here. But we’re done with having the squirrels steal the tomatoes. Hopefully she can adapt.

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Back to the mean and then rising above it

As I’ve mentioned before, my performance, like most things in life, is subject to the law of returning to the mean: if it’s really, really poor, the odds are I’ll do better the following week just from blind chance. Or if I’m doing really, really well, I won’t do as well the following week.

And sure enough, after the last week of April turned into a mess, I had a good, above-average performance the past four days (having been off Monday for my return from South Carolina). My Goals Accomplished for April was only 46 percent, which is exceptionally low; I have no trips anywhere this month though and relatively few appointments so I should do better.

I made another draft of Impossible Things Before Breakfast, read it for the writers’ group and got an enthusiastic response. There was also lots of feedback and problems they thought should be fixed, several of them things I’d wondered about myself. Work on the next draft starts next week.

I also worked on Bleeding Blue, Only the Lonely Can Slay and an as yet untitled story involving Pandora’s Box. Didn’t get far with any of them, though. There was just enough extra dog care to distract me and throw me off-focus when I was trying to concentrate and imagine What Next? But I’ve got four more weeks this month to revisit them.

I did some more research for the Undead Sexist Cliches book (I’ll be blogging about that next week) and went over the last draft part way. I think (as my friend Heather suggested) I need to tighten the organization in each chapter some, but that’s doable. I’d like to finish the next draft this month, but I’m not sure that is. We’ll see how it goes next week. It doesn’t help that I have several topics I want to add to the various chapters, based upon my reading. That seems enough reason to display Caroline Marsh’s suffragette poster above.

I also drew up a rough draft of my proposal for my next McFarland book. I’m quite pleased that I set aside Undead Sexist Cliches to work on the proposal; focusing on one project to the exclusion of others I need/want to get done doesn’t usually work well for me.

I got out on my bicycle for the first time in a couple of weeks and had a beautiful ride.

And I did plenty of Leafs. They make a good go-to project when I’m too frazzed to be creative. I got slightly more done than I’d planned, so I’ll make up the creative time by slightly less Leaf next week.

And avoiding caffeine once again proved helpful for getting in a full night of sleep. Of course I’ve thought my insomnia banished before only to be wrong, so we’ll have to see. I’m hopeful though.

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A week of sleep and ducks

When I went to my doctor a couple of weeks back, I mentioned my ongoing insomnia. She suggested I stop my tea intake after noon, or switch to decaffeinated brands. I didn’t think much of it, but this week, starting Sunday, I tried it.

Sunday night I slept well. Ditto Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I woke up early as usual. I’ve no idea if that means the first couple of days were a fluke or there were other reasons I woke up in the early A.M. Thursday (last night I took an Ambien so I slept well). Still, it’s been quite a while since I actually slept well for three nights in a row, I’ll try this again next week (the weekend doesn’t count, I almost always sleep well). More data!

Unfortunately I’ve become so used to waking up ultra-early, having a cup of tea, then starting work, that getting up at a normal hour actually threw me off. I could not seem to find my feet this week,  on top of which I had another crop of tasks to distract me (hence the ducks, as in nibbled to death by). Appointment for the car. Arranging for the trapper to set out a trap for the raccoon. Arranging plane travel for an upcoming trip. Hunting dog-training classes because Plushie and Trixie get very excited when they meet new dogs and we worry they might eventually annoy a big dog that bites them. It looks like finding a good trainer will be expensive, possibly prohibitively so, but we’ll think about it.

I did get my Leaf work on, so that’s something. And I redrafted my short story Impossible Things Before Breakfast for reading at the next (or more likely the one after) writer’s group. It still needs work, but it’s definitely a lot closer. Hopefully a good group critique will make me see what else is needed.

I also read Naomi Wolf’s 1990s book The Beauty Myth, which has some great insights and incidents I can use for Undead Sexist Cliches.

And that was it. I took off today, which didn’t help. But hey, at least we live in a world where a Dutch street artist can turn an apartment building wall into a bookshelf.

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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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