Category Archives: Short Stories

Not a surreal week, just disorganized

But I’m using a surrealist art work (by Giorgio DiChirico, on exhibit at MOMA) as an illustration anyway. What can I say, I love his work.

A big part of the disorganization was that TYG’s schedule has been crazy since last Friday. That inevitably affects my schedule — extra time spent with dogs, most obviously — and just as inevitably her stress bleeds over a little. Another part was that we had several days of drenching rain this week, which left me feeling on edge. And next week I have my every-ten-years colonoscopy, so I’m currently on a diet to ensure my colon is clean. Cereal has to be low fiber, bread has to be white, etc., etc. It’s nothing that awful, but it feels like I’m being starved. And worrying the colonoscopy might Find Something is unsettling too. Oh, and I made the mistake of buying white bread at the store, and it’s just as bland as I remember. Today I’m making Australian damper bread from one of my cookbooks instead.

Plus I lost a chunk of time Tuesday to my dental visit, and squeezing several errands into the same trip (part of the schedule disruptions). But my teeth, at least, are in good shape.

And while I’d been thinking Leaf was wrapped up for the year, it turns out we’ll be running until early/mid December. So that took about nine hours out of the week I’d planned to work on other things. When planning for next year, I really need to plan my time based on Leaf being a steady gig. It won’t be but it’ll be easier to fill the time during the periods Leaf dries up than have to cut out other stuff when Leaf sticks around.

Fiction wise, I got through several thousand more words on the last draft of Southern Discomfort and about halfway through the final draft of No One Can Slay Her. Not as much as I’d hoped; due to the schedule craziness, I wound up writing my Leafs much slower than usual. I also began flipping through Writer’s Market‘s 2018-19 edition for agents I can submit Southern Discomfort too when it’s done. Again, not quite as much.

I did another blog post on Atomic Junkshop in my ongoing series on what comic books are like in the DC and Marvel universe. This time I try to explain how if Earth-Two’s superheroes were comic book characters on Earth-One, nobody ever noticed that Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman looked exactly like the heroes in those old comic-book stories.

On the feral cat front, I had a minor scare Wednesday night when I heard some sort of snarling kerfuffle outside, peered through the back windows and thought I saw Wisp either being chased or chasing something (presumably another cat, but I couldn’t be sure) off the deck. Thursday morning we put out some food for her but she didn’t eat it, so naturally I started to worry … but then she turned up, dry as a bone and apparently uninjured. I’m guessing she wound up somewhere she could shelter from the rain and didn’t want to come for the food until it stopped.

I’ll close this post out with another deChirico. #SFWApro, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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

Fall weather, falling asleep, finishing stories

It’s been beautiful outside most of this week. I took an hour bike ride Sunday, and a shorter ride Thursday, relishing the cool air, the sunlight through the trees, all of it. The kind of weather that I mentally associate with returning to school, which gives me a nice feeling of cool new things coming down the pike.

On the downside, DST ended this week, and as usual that wreaked havoc with my sleep (which as regular readers may remember is poor even at the best of times). Normally I have trouble getting back to sleep if I wake after 3:30 AM, as a part of me feels it’s too close to time to get up. After the time change, 2:30 AM is the same as 3:30 AM was the week before. My brain has not accepted I still have lots of time before I need to get up. Not good.

Work, though, went well. I began rereading Southern Discomfort aloud, from hard copy, to spot any final mistakes, bad word phrases, etc.. It’s going well, and I’m pleased with the work so far. but it’s also going to be slower than I’d hoped. Ninety thousand words is a lot to read aloud, even without the corrections.

And I’ve worked out the problems in No One Can Slay Her. If I can print it up this weekend, I’ll read it aloud next week. Putting in hard copy works for me because it feels final. Reading it aloud forces me to pay attention.

Leaf work for the year is winding down, but I still had some to do this week. That kept me from getting a lot done on Undead Sexist Cliches.

I’m doing my 1,000 words of fiction every morning, but I’m now wondering about my approach. I’ve turned out first drafts of several stories, unfinished first drafts of possibly longer works, and second drafts of some, but I don’t feel like I’m getting close to finishing anything or even seeing the finished structure. That’s frustrating. I’ve abandoned enough unsuccessful projects that I’m always afraid I’m putting a lot of time that will accomplish nothing.

Wisp is using and presumably enjoying her little house on our deck. She’s usually waiting when I bring out food. Sometimes waiting a while as she doesn’t realize 5pm feeding is now an hour later than a week ago. Sometimes she sits on the railing and watches me through the window as I get the food — or she’s staring at the bird feeder above the window.

Oh, and I’m actually selling copies of Atoms for Peace, which is cheering. Not that I’m going to knock Patrick Rothfuss off the bestseller lists, but it’s cool to know people are buying it (thanks, whoever you are).

On a personal note, I unfollowed one right-winger among my FB friends, and “took a break” from another. Every time I do, I find the satisfaction of not dealing with their bullshit easily outweighs any concerns I might miss a charming puppy GIF.

And here’s another example of a wine with a striking label. Haven’t tried it (anything above $20 is usually a no-go for me)f, but I do like the look.

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

 

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Sleep, goals and pets

For whatever reason I kept waking up early this week. Even on nights I took something to keep me asleep. I take naps to compensate and the one flaw in the new furniture is that the new chair and love seat aren’t quite long enough for me to stretch out and sleep comfortably. Instead I have to take the dog upstairs to the bed, which doesn’t always work — they bark, or start climbing over me. They do quiet down over time, but when I nap I go to sleep instantly, usually while they’re still fidgety.

That said, I still had a good, productive week (one advantage of writing is that I can always do it in the middle of the night). I worked on No One Can Save Her and I think I have the plot problems solved; hopefully when I look at it next week, I won’t see any flaws I skipped over. I worked on several other short stories, including a redraft of Only the Lonely Can Slay, did a couple of Leaf articles, and started replotting The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. And I got a few thousand words done on Undead Sexist Cliches: the Book. While I’m not working on Southern Discomfort until I print it and read it aloud next week, I did work on the query letter (done) and the synopsis (needs more work).

Depressingly I’m wondering whether Schloss and the Switchblade doesn’t need another revision to stay up with current events. I changed it once because after Charlottesville last year, seeing Nazis would produce a much more shocked reaction in Ward, my protagonist. Now that we’re getting increasingly blatant anti-Semitism on the right I’m still not sure it’s enough. Inconvenient to me, but obviously trivial in the grand scheme of things.

After getting 52 percent on my goals for September, I rose up to 62 percent for October despite taking a week for my trip to Florida, I’d have done better, but several of my goals came in at the near-miss level: Almost completely done with Southern Discomfort. Completed five out of six daily-life projects, like getting PMI taken off our mortgage. Eating more fruit and veggie-based meals (even though I’m a vegetarian, I don’t always go with green vegetables). And I finally added a PayPal donation button to the sidebar. I won’t be announcing fund drives or anything, but I figure making the option available can’t help. In the words of countless supervillains robbing charity events, the donations will go to my favorite charity — myself!

Since I took over feeding Wisp, her dinner has been on a regular schedule and she knows it. Frequently I find her waiting on the deck, from which she retreats to the foot of the deck stairs until I set the food down. Thursday, I put it out about a half hour late and found her staring at me with disapproval and sorrow. Then I gathered up some of the old bowls and walked through the back yard to dump them in the trash. Wisp did not take this departure from routine at all well; she ran and hid under the shed in the back, and it took her several minutes watching before she decided she could eat without me infringing her personal space again. She’s getting used to us, but she’s definitely still feral.

Monday, I did my friends Celena and Eric (a few houses down our cul-de-sac) a favor and helped them introduce Tito, their new toy poodle, to their dog Lily. Tito is three years old and full of energy, darting everywhere, marking the street every few steps. He has a weak back leg but he just tucks it up like a bird and runs on three. I’m hoping he becomes a new friend for Trixie and Plush Dog too.

 

#SFWApro. Image is mine.

 

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Story Behind the Story: Cover Stories

Writing the final story in Atoms for Peace posed the same problem as Who Watches the Watchmen. I was still planning to start Brain From Outer SpaceInstruments of Science with the events in so I didn’t want to advance the timeline any further. I was figuring how to do that, and then I thought of Kurt Busiek’s and Alex Ross’s Marvels.

Marvels tells the story of the Marvel Universe through the eyes of Phil, a photojournalist. He witnesses the debut of the Human Torch in the Golden Age. Years later, he’s in New York, working for the Bugle, when the Silver Age is in full swing. He sees the Avengers battle the Masters of Evil, the Sentinels hunting mutants, the arrival of Galactus and Spider-Man’s failed attempt to save Gwen Stacey from death. But he’s seeing it as an outsider, a regular guy. He has no idea what’s going on in the heroes’ minds, what mutants are really like, or exactly how the Fantastic Four defeated Galactus.

Yeah, I said to myself, that would work. Show life as a Science Investigator from an outside viewpoint, rather than the people who sleep, breathe and eat the fight against rogue science. The protagonist of Cover Stories became Cassie Sato (sister to FBI agent Harry Sato), freelance journalist. Atlanta is doing some big celebration of Gwen Montgomery’s father so Cassie pitched the Atlanta Journal a profile on “Mile High” Montgomery’s daughter, the science investigator. We open with Cassie along with Steve and Gwen on an investigation that turns nasty. Then she gets to talk to Claire, Dani, visit the local nightclub the Tower of Mordor, get Gwen’s thoughts on why she does what she does and watch the other agents at work (“A couple of desks down, a fat guy nicknamed Slim flipped through a file about a lab in Ojai that had dissolved overnight. His partner, an Italian woman named DiNaldi, was trying to calm a hysterical leather-jacketed teenager claiming his “chick” had only broken up with him because she’d been mind-controlled.”)

Cassie turned out nowhere near as tough as Dani or Gwen. Which is cool; not everyone’s suited for the front lines of a war. She’s a competent writer, dogged in getting the story, more than a little claustrophobic. Talking to Gwen and Steve in Science Investigations underground base makes her more than a little nervous.

And there my saga ends until I try to replot Brain From Outer Space and get it right.

#SFWApro. Cover by Alex Ross, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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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).

#SFWApro

 

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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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