Category Archives: Southern Discomfort

Questionable Minds and characters out of context

As I’ve mentioned previously, Jekyll and Hyde play a large role in Questionable Minds. Henry Jekyll is a prominent reformer, dedicated to getting young women off the streets and into respectable working-class occupations. A number of his proteges are women with mentalist powers who for whatever reason became unemployable — alcoholics, violent temper, scandal in their past, etc. While there’s no “kill the muties” attitude toward mentalists, the upper classes feel very uneasy about the working class having powers, about women having powers. It doesn’t take much to turn a poor woman with powers into a pariah.Jekyll thinks he’s reburied Hyde and can live a life of virtue but guess what? Hyde resurfaces (I’m sure this isn’t a spoiler — would anyone be surprised?). Writing a post for a blog tour, it occurs to me Hyde comes off better in my book than he should.

He’s not a nice guy at all. He’s violent, hot-tempered and thoroughly self-interested (this becomes a major plot point). I refer in several spots to his crimes, including assault, theft, blackmail and rape. His crimes, though, happened in the past or offstage. On the printed page, he comes off closer to an antihero: cynical, mocking Jekyll’s hypocrisies, selfish but not monstrously so. And he’s up against Jack the Ripper, a far worse monster. Hyde would break a woman’s arm without thinking twice; Jack will slit a woman’s throat and he’ll think about what fun it is the whole time.

As far as I’m concerned, Hyde is a villain, but in the context of Questionable Minds he’s more sinned against than sinning. I think it works, and I don’t think any readers will assume I’m siding with Hyde (I sure hope not). It is an odd feeling though.

The same is true of Cohen and Dini, the FBI agents in Southern Discomfort. They’ve arrived in Pharisee GA to investigate the bombing that killed Aubric McAlister (an elf, though they don’t know that) and a rising black politician. The FBI director hopes to demonstrate J. Edgar Hoover’s old, racist FBI with its attacks on the civil rights movement is dead: the new, more liberal FBI is here! Cohen and Dini are very conscious that there are a lot of eyes on them and failure will not be graded on a curve.

Neither one is a racist but their politics are way to the right of mine. Dini still thinks the FBI’s war on communists and the anti-war movement was a good thing. Cohen, as she says in one scene, thinks the civil rights movement was wrong: even in a good cause, nothing excuses willfully breaking the law the way the protesters did.

In a different story, they could be — well, not villains but antagonists to good-guy leftwing protesters or activists. In Southern Discomfort they’re good guys whose goals nevertheless put them in opposition to Maria, my protagonist. As with Hyde, it’s unsettling to think that. A little more so as the FBI and its crimes are real and Edward Hyde isn’t. I don’t think it’s objectionable: I make their views and the ugly history of the FBI quite clear (sure hope so).

It’s up to the readers — Nov. 14 for Questionable Minds, some as yet unknown date for Southern Discomfort — to let me know if I handled things as well as I think I did.

#SFWApro. Cover by Sam Collins.

 

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Hitting people over the head with a theme I don’t have

I appreciate the editorial feedback I got on Southern Discomfort, but that’s not to say I agree with all of it. One which had me scratching my head, for instance, was a criticism that I lack subtlety — I keep hitting my readers over the head with my theme.

I swear to God, I don’t have a theme. I did not set out to write a “Western Union” book, one with a heavy message. So I was somewhat baffled what the hell they were talking about.

My first thought was that they meant the racial aspect of the book. The cast in my early drafts were almost entirely white. While I could have rationalized that easily enough, that felt like bad form. I began thinking about what it would be like in Pharisee in 1973, just a few years after the major civil rights bills had passed. I decided the McAlisters would have done their best not to draw attention from the rest of Georgia, so they wouldn’t challenge segregation law. They would, however, prevent enforcing it with violence; it’s possible for a black worker to tell a white boss “go to Hell” and not pay for it.

For the older generation who remember when lynching was widespread in the South, Pharisee was a glorious haven. A safe place. A place where they desegregated smooth and fast, without conflict or protests (the McAlisters didn’t want that kind of attention either).  The Baby Boom kids aren’t so sure — are they really supposed to kiss the McAlisters’ hems just for mandating a kinder, gentler Jim Crow?

I don’t think that’s a theme, though, as much as characterization, both of the cast and the town as a whole. I mean yeah, I’m saying racism is bad but it doesn’t rise to the point of a theme.

Then I thought, maybe it’s the Vietnam War stuff? My protagonist, Maria Esposito, is an ex-Army nurse and Veitnam veteran turned anti-war activist turned radical anti-war bomber. She comes to see my villain Gwalchmai, as no different than the US government, rationalizing the deaths he inflicts as a dirty job someone has to do.

But again, I see Maria’s view of Gwalchmai as part of her characterization. “The Vietnam War was a bad idea” is, god help us, still controversial but it’s not something I’d make my theme in 2022. I do emphasize that Gwalchmai sees himself as the hero of the story and that I think he’s lying to himself but again, that’s character.

If it was really a theme-centered book, I’d probably end with the theme resolved, my point made. My ending (in terms of this old breakdown) is both Event — the crisis in Pharisee resolved, order restored — and Character. Maria gets her character arc resolved, so does Joan, who’s probably my chief supporting player. Some of the other characters, such as Olwen and Liz, get lower-key ones.

In any case, that’s one of the pieces of advice I’m not inclined to take. Which is not to say I don’t appreciate it being offered — I ‘m grateful when anyone in publishing takes the time to give me feedback, even if I don’t agree.

While it has nothing to do with this post, I do like this Richard Powers cover, so here it is.#SFWApro

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It is the little rift within the lute, that by and by will make the music mute

(title taken from Alfred, Lord Tennyson). Which is to say, small problems can grow into big ones, which explains some of why my weeks feel like suet.

In theory, I take an hour for lunch. That includes walking the dogs (or co-walking if TYG’s available), eating and then reading, relaxing or doing useful around-the-house stuff. This works out fine if lunch hour is 11-12, but due to TYG’s new schedule, we frequently walk the dogs around 10-10:15. I’m not ready for lunch, but instead of relaxing after walkies I just go back to walk, intending to make it up when I sit and eat. Only instead I do the equivalent of eating at your desk — eat (taking my time, I note), then get back to work.(No, that cover has no thematic connection to my post, I’m just fond of it).

The result is that I don’t take much of a lunch break. Then around 2 PM I burn out for the day. This is not unusual: I’ve had the same experience in the past when I keep pushing without a pause. “I’ll get it all done, then break” isn’t as effective for me as regular small breaks. So I need to remind myself to take a full break at lunch, even if it’s chopped up into separate pieces.

That said, the week went well. I finished my rewrite and proofing of Southern Discomfort and read the first chapter to my writing group. The verdict: Starting with Maria’s story and putting it in first person really improved it. They made several other suggestions, such as giving readers her name sooner and making it clearer this is a fantasy; I made those corrections the next day and mailed it off. Wish me luck. Even if it doesn’t sell, it’s a better book for the added work.

I also completed another draft of The Adventure of the Red Leech. I think it’s done, so I’ll print it up next week and go over it in hard copy. That should get me a solid final draft and spot any typos. After that, off to the Holmes anthology I’m submitting to. Plus I once again submitted Fiddler’s Black to the umpteenth market.

And over at Atomic Junkshop, I ponder the appeal of trains and models as kids’ toys. I didn’t get it as a kid, still don’t get it now.

#SFWApro. Cover art by Dick Dillin, all rights remain with current holder.

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

It feels like a suety puddingy week, but I did get good stuff done.

For starters I finished my rewrite of Southern Discomfort. Next week I read the revised first chapter to the writing group, edit the synopsis, do a quick last-minute error check (were their places I left Maria’s scenes in third person?) and send it off.

I also finished some finance writing that should put some cash in my pocket, so that’s great.

And Wisp stayed in one night this week, which was nice. Here she is lying out on the deck.

And I participated in an online panel for the online Con-Tinual con created by my friend Gail Z. Martin. You can also access Con-Tinual on FB, rather than that YouTube link. Either way, the panel I was on, on female sleuths and killers, isn’t available yet, but I’ll link when it is.

And I posted a couple of Atomic Junkshop posts about DC’s Captain Action: one on the toyline and first issue, one on the remaining four issues. Feel free to check out my review of the TPB last Sunday too.

So why the suet feeling? Well, last weekend I developed an inexplicable rash which didn’t go away, so Tuesday I took time out of the day to see my doctor (who happily had some time to spare). She provided a skin cream that eliminated whatever it was so it’s mostly gone now. But that left me off-balance Tuesday. Wednesday I got up late after the Con-Tinual session Tuesday night and barely had thirty minutes before the dogs woke up and came down. That wasn’t enough time to get my head in the game.

But I did get Southern Discomfort done and it will go out next week. That was my big goal this month, so I shall celebrate accomplishing it. Go me!

#SFWApro. Cover by Kane, as is the Steve Ditko-style scene below from the origin of Action’s arch-foe, Doctor Evil!

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Writing

A short week but not without merit.

Short because I took today and yesterday off for some fun stuff.

I’d hoped that in the three days remaining, I could finish my Southern Discomfort copy-edit, but I fell short. Just a little too much distraction, a couple of errands and a possible new client for my paying nonfiction. This time it’s an insurance website; they sent me a test article to write which took up a couple of hours of Tuesday morning. Without that, maybe I’d have finished but Southern Discomfort won’t put any money in my pocket for a while to come. Clients help pay the bills, so …

Still, I’m very pleased with how well prioritizing the copy-editing has worked out. None of the feedback I got said anything about “you need to edit this better” but I ran across no end of spelling errors and places where having written a paragraph two different ways, I left both in. Embarrassing. Or where someone makes the same point in two successive scenes. Tackling it so fast made it easy to spot such glitches. Hopefully I still remember them when my break is over.

That was pretty much it. Here’s a photo of Plushie and Snowdrop to brighten your day.#SFWApro

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Not the sad, despairing post of failure I anticipated

You may recall that last week I felt blue about my performance in May.

Truth to tell, it wasn’t anything to brag about. For the first time this year, I didn’t accomplish enough goals to reward myself with a fun purchase. I blew most of my writing goals, and didn’t do well on my personal goals either. Financially I wound up spending more than I’d budgeted and my income was way below the norm for various reasons. And I won’t be able to catch up much this month because the first two weeks are consumed with various personal projects and activities, like ConCarolinas this weekend.

While I spent too much time this week catching up on stuff I should have gotten done last week, it still went well. I finished my rewrite of Southern Discomfort (which you may remember changed my May writing plans), putting Maria’s scenes in first person. I don’t know if that makes it saleable, but I think the book is good; barring some amazingly insightful feedback, I’m done changing it.

Then began the proofreading. I got a third of the way through, so I should be able to finish and get the book submitted before month’s end. I’m finding an embarrassing number of errors, ranging from the understandable (not turning a “she” or a “Maria” into an “I) to the seriously sloppy (places where I tried two versions of the same paragraph and forgot to remove one of them). But it’s going fast enough that even with the lack of time I can get it done.

And TYG is thriving in her new job. Seeing her this relaxed makes all the support stuff I did while she was wrapping up her old one worthwhile. It would have been worthwhile supporting her anyway, because she’s awesome, but—well, you know what I mean?

So I don’t feel quite so despairing now. Yay!

Not much else to say about the week, but here’s a photo of a hawk taking off from a car during morning walkies. Man, did Trixie want to mix it up with him. She doesn’t realize she’s only a tiny 10-pound dog.#SFWApro

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Filed under Personal, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

The week that dropped out of time

As far as writing goes, this was a waste of a week.

For starters, I’d forgotten I had my six month medical checkup Monday morning, so there went all that writing time. On the plus side, everything checks out good, so that’s a win.

As TYG wrapped up her last week at her old job (as I mentioned this mornning), the amount of work she put into prepping her team ramped up. So more doggy care and running errands (if they had to be run) devolved to me. Which is fair — she did as much for me when I was wrapping up The Aliens Are Here — but still exhausting. Even when I had time to write, I felt too drained to get much done.

And I had to rewrite one of the Accounting Seed articles I’d done earlier this month. Perfectly reasonable, but that much more time.

I did get a good deal further in rewriting Southern Discomfort, though nowhere near as far as I’d expected. I also rewrote Adventure of the Red Leech and read it to the writer’s group on Tuesday. They really liked it, but did have a couple of suggestions how to improve things. For example, give more of Watson’s perspective on Holmes, which is, of course, a major part of the original stories. They also spotted one point where the logic didn’t hold up, but it’s fixable.

I’d thought I might make up a little time today but we had a thunderstorm this morning so Plushie was freaking. While he hid under the coffee table some of the time (as in this photo from a couple of weeks back), he also decided to climb up with me and demand cuddles for security. Cuddling a 20 pound dog is not compatible with work but obviously I wasn’t going to refuse.

This is how things go pearshaped, of course. A day here, a day there and suddenly everything’s behind. But TYG has started a new and better job and that’s a great thing.

#SFWApro. Cover by Irwin Hasen, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Personal, Sherlock Holmes, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Writing

Mine is a genius for improvisation!

Which is to say this week, while productive, did not go at all as planned. But that’s okay; there are times when throwing away the plans and improvising is the right move. I guarantee you, when my manuscript returns from McFarland I’ll be dropping everything else—okay, not the paying finance articles—to proof it carefully, then index it.

What changed things up was that Gollancz, a British specfic publisher, has announced that in June it will open to unagented submissions. I’m not sure if Southern Discomfort is right for them, but that’s an incentive to finish this rewrite ASAP. That requires putting almost everything else on hold.

It went well this week, though bogged down by continuing extra dog care. That should only last another week though. I also got the cover for Questionable Minds finally nailed down and finished another of my finance articles (on integrated accounting).  I also submitted a query to The Guardian for an op-ed on abortion. It’s timely but I know the competition is fierce, so we’ll see what comes of it.

Oh, and I had my last appointment with my physical therapist for dealing with my vertigo. It’s gone. If it comes back, I have exercises for dealing with it.

Below, another photo from our trip to the North Carolina Zoo.And here’s a gorilla. One of the kids watching him said he looked said — could she give him a hug? I love children at zoos.#SFWAPro.

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

Trixie is adorable. Her tummy, not so much

Wednesday, Trixie once again woke up with a bad tummy. Felt bad, didn’t want to eat, not even her favorite treats. She insisted on coming down to sit with me so my morning plans went out the window. When she started throwing up later, we took her to Park Vet where they gave her an anti-nausea shot. They told us not to feed her until Thursday so I spent evening with Trixie looking around for her food every time I gave Plushie anything. Then looking at me in puzzlement.

Thursday morning, her tummy continued, which is not unprecedented. I had to skip stretching again because it’s not possible to do yoga or any sort of exercise when a small dog insists on snuggling with you. Happily by afternoon she was completely back to normal and this morning I got a full slate of stretching and yoga in.

Despite all that, and a couple of other unanticipated errands I put in a solid week of work.

More on the rewrite of Southern Discomfort.

Another article for the Accounting Seed website.

Another 3,000 words on Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I got past the stumbling block I hit last week, but the changes I made still leave me unclear about what comes next. Still, my instincts have been sound so far.

I finished another draft of Adventure of the Red Leech and it’s looking quite good. I’ll be reading it to my writing group in about a week and a half. I also realized they might be right about Don’t Pay the Merryman (soon to be retitled) when they said the first section would work perfectly well if it had a better ending. I’d like to tell a longer tale and someday I hope I do, but for now I’m going to try cutting it short. I took my first shot at an ending; I’ll give it another go soon.

And I’ve picked the cover for Questionable Minds. I’ll do the requisite cover reveal soon as it’s settled.

Today I was a little exhausted; TYG and I are doing some stuff later so I had to front-load my schedule to get everything in and free up this afternoon. But I succeeded, actually coming in slightly over my required hours. Yay me.

This weekend, though, I intend to crash thoroughly.

#SFWApro.

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

As predicted, returning to average (maybe better).

As I said last week, bad streaks don’t last any more than lucky ones. While this wasn’t a stellar week, I did get quite a bit done.

Most notably I finished the first 25,000 words of my Impossible Takes a Little Longer rewrite and it’s surprisingly good. The surprising part is that after rewriting the first few chapters it goes in several new directions. That’s usually the point at which my rewriting breaks down and becomes a struggle. Instead it’s moving along nicely. A long way from polished, but a solid draft. I added about 12,000 words to what I’d already accomplished.

I also put in a little time on my Southern Discomfort rewrite. Still going well, and putting Maria’s scenes in first person still feels like the right choice.

That was pretty much it other than some Leaf bill-paying work. And getting a rejection on Glory That Was (sigh).  On the plus side, I sold something at Amazon, though I can’t yet see which book it was (I hate that about their publishing system). Oh, and over at Atomic Junkshop I squeeze one last blog post out of rereading 1964’s comics. As you can see from the above Wally Wood illustrations, it involves Daredevil vs … a matador? Plus a remarkable Superman story. Then I cross-posted an old one from this blog, on the travesty of the Will Smith/Kevin Costner Wild Wild West reboot.

In my persona life, I got the second Covid booster Tuesday. Arm hurt way more than previous shots but no other negative effects. Regrettably it didn’t hook my brain up to 5G internet either. Just think how easy it would be to download porn if nobody could see it! And my vertigo has decreased to the point I have only one more physical therapy appointment, a month from now.

In addition to all that, I would have liked to work on the short stories I’m working to finish. Falling behind on a novel, however, usually works out worse.

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

 

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Writing