Category Archives: Story Problems

Once again, life thwarts my plans

Which is to say, this was a busy week in the non-writing areas of my life.

Wednesday we had the electrician come out to check some of our outside lights. That turned out to be more time-draining for me than I’d expected, as it was a constant “go inside and turn on the lights … turn off the lights … turn them on again …” It paid off (he identified the problem), but it took more time than I’d expected. And left me with very little time to concentrate on anything before the dogs went on afternoon walkies (I settled for research reading, which doesn’t demand creative thought). After that we had the guy in to repair the washing machine; I’m happy to say that after dealing with two other companies, Wright Appliance finally seems to be competent.

This morning I had unexpected extra dog watching, and at noon I had one of my appointments for the Alexander Technique, the body training I’ve been doing since last year.

It’s not just the time each side activity consumes, but the time it takes to get refocused on writing again. And I’m still too slow in my Leafs. Plushie’s neediness in the evening makes it very hard to make up the time then.

I did get a bunch of Leaf articles done, and even going slow, the pay is good. I got some more work done on both Let No Man Put Asunder and Impossible Takes a Little Longer, though those were the big casualties of this week’s lost time. But Impossible definitely works better in first person, as I said last week. However both of them reached a point where the relatively slight plot changes I’ve made so far have suddenly forced big changes in the next scenes. That stumped me quite a bit.

I submitted Fiddler’s Black to a new market, which means all my shorts are out. It’s been a while since that happened. And Southern Discomfort went out to five more agents.

I rewrote Only the Lonely Can Slay a couple of times, but there’s still something missing. It might be that Heather, my protagonist, needs more at stake, or maybe something else? I feel frustratingly close to what I want but I can’t quite jump across the last mental boundary to get there. I may send it out as is to a beta reader or two to get some insight.

So that was my week. On the plus side, I’m not battling a giant monster on a Silver Age Jack Kirby cover!

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Today I got that nibbled to death by ducks feeling

But first, a look at Plush Dog nuzzling with Tito, new sibling to Lily, the dog up the street we sometimes dog-sit for.

The feeling of having one’s day eaten up by multiple little distractions is in some ways worse than having one big project. With one major distraction, like a repair, I can block time and when it’s over, it’s over. Today, though, I had multiple distractions: washing-machine repair guy (third one we’ve dealt with, first one I feel good about), arranging an electrician appointment for next week, upgrading our security system, doing some research on the cost of a replacement washing machine (probably won’t be necessary), providing extra dog care … plus Plushie completely freaking out over the repair dude being In The House (we fenced off the area so the pups couldn’t get in his way).  And talking on the phone is not the best thing for my strained voice. However it’s definitely growing stronger every day so I must be nursing it sufficiently.

Despite that, it was a productive week. Though novel writing is still going slower than I want, and Leaf articles are taking way too long (not their fault, it’s me). So what did I get done?

I rewrote the first chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer in first person. It’s closer to urban fantasy as a genre than anything else, and first person is the default setting there. Plus I found I could work in a little more needed information with first-person narration.

I finished the first chapter of Let No Man Put Asunder and read it for writer’s group. The feedback was, as always helpful. As my voice frayed a little by the end of the reading, I skipped out on the usual hanging out after. A shame.

I sent a Southern Discomfort query off to five agents, queried two magazines about articles and one newspaper about an op-ed column.

I submitted A Famine Where Abundance Lies, and I may have found a publisher to submit Questionable Minds too.

I rewrote the story Neverwas, which is now titled The Impossible Years. It’s definitely closer to being readable, but I still lack the ending I need. I rewrote Only the Lonely Can Slay, and it’s coming along well. Here I have the ending and the general structure but I need more obstacles for my protagonist, Heather, to overcome. I was working on another draft today, when all the ducks began nibbling.

And I did my usual array of Leaf articles to help put bread on the table. I gave up on doing any of those today too, but I got them in, and some requested rewrites, every other day this week.

It’s helpful to write all that down and see that despite my feeling right now, I had a good, productive week.

Below, Plushie lets the greyhounds at Piney Woods Park know that he’s the boss of this cell block.

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Missed it by that much! Quite a big ‘that much’

Like most people I start off the year full of enthusiasm for my various year goals. In January that gives me the drive to complete 70 to 80 percent of them.

This January? Not so much. More like 54 percent. Part of that was having a really big goal list. Part of it was that one miserable week I experienced. And some of it was that several goals I’d written down turned out to be non-starters. Focusing on a single project one day a week (a novel, a short story, pitches) didn’t work because I’m back doing Leaf articles. It’s easier to handle them if I do a couple a day rather than clump them, but that means I can’t do a full day of anything else. So that one’s off the table.

Other ideas just need more practice. I want a more relaxing lunch break rather than rushing to eat so I can walk the pups. That takes a conscious effort. But I’ll get there.

The big disappointments for the month were a)not getting beyond a chapter or two in Impossible Takes a Little Longer; b)not getting anything done on the Undead Sexist Cliches book. Well and c)not selling anything I’d submitted to anyone, but that’s not within my control. I am very pleased that I submitted five stories (technically; some of them were the same story sent out twice), two articles and one column idea.

And I did finish Southern Discomfort and submitted that to eight agents (two refusals so far). I’ll keep sending it to agents until I’ve exhausted the list. Then I’ll switch to publishers. Then I’ll self-publish. Take that, uncaring publishing universe!

Tday I started work on rewriting another novel, Let No Man Put Asunder. This went slow too, and I’m starting to see why: I’m just thinking and editing as I go and it’s slowing me down. I need to let go and let the words flow.

I was pleased that this week I made real progress on two short stories, Only the Lonely Can Slay and Neverwas (that title will definitely be reworked). On Lonely I can actually see what the story arc should be; Neverwas is almost there. Once I get that, it’s mostly a matter or refining, fixing and improving. Being able to see progress makes me more optimistic about my ambitious goals for the year.

I did a fair amount of hanging out at Illogicon (yes, that was a goal) but I didn’t get out much the rest of the month due to my desire to rest my voice. I didn’t get as much bicycling in as I planned, either as I didn’t want to expose my throat to the cold.

I did get lots of Leaf articles done. And that helps pay the bills so yay!

Oh, and I found where my baby sister Keri was buried years ago, which was one of my goals for this year. I thought it would take a lot of work but it actually went smoothly: I checked the US Consulate records for deaths and births of American citizens abroad. That led me to ancestry.com, which, after I signed up, gave me a digital copy of Keri’s death certificate. I’m impressed with myself (I thought I’d blogged about this before but I can’t find it).

Despite what didn’t get done, I feel pretty pleased.

Below, Trixie nervously contemplates going to doggy day care. She loves it there, but she dreads the car trips.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Wisp says hello

As I said this morning, she showed up, climbed on top of the table (it shelters the heated house, which isn’t waterproof) and peered in at us. We were very relieved to know she was alright.

Another relatively quiet week. I got several Leaf articles done, the most interesting being 1800 words on “Job Duties of a Nun.” And that’s it until 2019; much as I enjoy the dinero, I’m happy to have added time for finishing up Southern Discomfort.

I made it over 50,000 words so I’m past the halfway mark. I think I’ll be done by New Year’s as planned. After all I have two work weeks, less Christmas, and nothing else on my plate. Fingers crossed.

I did run into one major plotting problem but I fixed it fast. First I realized Joan was breaking a promise to her father to stay at home much too casually — for good reasons, but I’d already established she feels duty bound to keep her word. Then I realized that the FBI would probably have a few questions for her, which makes getting out of the house mandatory. Problem solved!

Hopefully they’ll all be that easy.

Oh, and I received a copy of the October/November History Magazine with my story on the history of the Fordson, the first affordable tractor, and how it and its eventual replacement, the Farmall, changed agriculture.

And I spent Thursday while the dogs were out doing some major cleaning to ready the house for the writers’ group Christmas Party Saturday.

Below, Wisp’s tentative check if we were ready to feed her.

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33,000 and counting

I accomplished 57 percent of my November goals. That’s primarily because I underestimated the impact of my colonoscopy on my work Thanksgiving week (and for that matter my off-work activities). And yes, insomnia played a role. As I sleep great on weekends, I’d anticipated making up for lost time over the four day weekend. Instead interruptions from one source or another meant I only got one night of good sleep. Bleah!

The biggest fail on my goal list was not finishing Southern Discomfort. That one I can’t really blame on my colon, though the short work week certainly had an impact. So did the Leaf articles continuing longer than I’d expected.

But the main reason is, it’s been a long while since I read an entire novel aloud, and I’d forgotten how long it takes. Rewriting and changing the scenes is taking more work than I thought too. I’m rewriting the flow of conversation so it makes more sense, adding tension to some scenes (though some of them are simply going to be about setting and character, and that’ll have to be enough), checking formatting. Every decision then leads to more changes (well, not the formatting). Making Maria more skeptical about whether it’s really magic in one scene means she needs to be skeptical in the next scene, or I have to show her changing.

Still, when I counted up the completely finished wordage this week, I was pleased. As of today, I’m a little over 33,000 words done, out of a 92,000 word book. And next month this is my only writing goal besides the Leaf articles, which will wrap up before too long. So I should be done by New Year’s Eve. Well if the good lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say. Even if it rises, I can get it done in January, but I really want to start 2019 fresh.

And I wrote another Dr. Mabuse article for Atomic Junkshop. As I didn’t have time for even a half-hearted film review, I looked at two Dr. Mabuse songs, Dr. Mabuse by Propaganda and Dr. Mabuse by Blue System. Thanks to my friend Ross Bagby for alerting me they even existed. Below is the CD cover for one of the Propaganda versions (there are several of various lengths floating around).

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Life came out swinging. I took a dive

So instead of a bad Friday, the entire week was a mess for writing I think by Wednesday I’d unconsciously thrown in the towel.

It didn’t help that the next section of Southern Discomfort needs serious changes. When I got to the second scene (a confrontation between Maria and FBI Agent Rachel Cohen) I realized Cohen’s actions didn’t make sense. I’m not sure what will work, which made it very easy to wander off mentally.

Monday, disruptions in TYG’s schedule led to me sitting up in bed in the early morning with the dogs. I’d intended to write, but they positioned themselves so there was nowhere to place the computer. I settled for research reading instead. And gave way and spent the whole day (other than my Leaf articles) finishing the book.

Tuesday, I’d had my second Alexander technique class. As noted at the link, the technique is supposed to counteract bad posture and body-tensing habits, like the ones that put such strain on my voice. Taking the class, then practicing the exercises at home definitely has a good effect, though I’m a long way from incorporating them into my everyday movements.

Wednesday I woke up from a very bad night of sleep. I also had to meet with an electrician for a light-repair job. He’s efficient, but I still lost some time. And dang, I was soooo tired. So I did some work, but not much (except, again, the Leaf. That’s the money stuff at the moment).

Thursday I had to go back to my eye doctor to check on my floaters. They have receded back to normal levels so I can relax — my retina’s not about to fall off. But I’d forgotten the checkup required dilating my eyes; I arrived home in no shape to stare at a screen. Instead I took a nap, then started cleaning (which I normally do on the day the dogs are in day care). And just kept cleaning: fridge shelves wiped, spices sorted, old stuff in the back corners of the closet thrown out (sun dried tomatoes from 2013!), storage containers tidied up. It was productive, but not the kind of productive I’d planned to do. But I just couldn’t drum up any enthusiasm for writing, even after my eyes recovered.

Plus the cat that gave birth in our compost bin is still hanging around, and so we’re going to get it spayed. Working out the details with a local clinic consumed some time, and today I left work early to pick up a cat trap. Now let’s just hope the cat actually goes into the trap (we’re baiting it with tuna).

With the rewrite blocked, I went back to some of the early Southern Discomfort chapters and read them aloud to make final corrections and word-choice edits. So far I haven’t found anything that needs more work.

Oh, and I put in more time than I should on a new post at Atomic Junkshop on what comic books were like on Earth-Two. Was there a Superman in comics in a world where he was also in the newspapers (spoiler: yes).

Ah well, occasionally slacking off won’t kill me. If anything, blowing stuff off once in a while is kind of liberating. But next week I’d better do better.

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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

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.

 

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