Category Archives: Story Problems

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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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).

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Filed under Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

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.

#SFWApro. Cover by Carmine Infantino, all rights remain with current holder.

 

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

I see stormy storms ahead …

So I made it up to 16,000 words of Southern Discomfort this week, which is well ahead of what I planned for this month. However I hit the first place that requires an intensive fix, and that slowed me down some. So I won’t be surprised if it starts going a lot slower from hereon in. Even so, I don’t think I’ve set myself an unreasonable pace, so by the end of September I should be done. Barring, of course, disasters. Sometimes they happen.

My Screen Rant on Deadpool 2‘s Shatterstar is now live, and it was a lot of fun. How can you not enjoy writing about someone who’s a genetically engineered mutant extraterrestrial time traveler? And also his own grandfather. And who got merged with Starfire in a DC/Marvel crossover to become — Shatterstarfire!

For some reason writing it went a lot slower than usual, which was annoying. Writing it on just Monday/Tuesday still works well for freeing the rest of the week up, but I think the work may be expanding to fill the time available. Which is Not Good.

I submitted a column pitch to The Guardian, without success. And I’m up to 20,000 words in the Undead Sexist Cliches book. It’s much better organized than the last draft, but the next couple of chapters are really fragmentary, so next month may be a lot slower.

No short story work, due to the time put in on Southern Discomfort.

A productive week, though not terribly exciting to write about.

#SFWApro. Images by Rob Liefeld and Roger Cruz (top and bottom), all rights remain with current holders.

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What is the point of Sherlock Holmes?

One of the panels I attended at Mysticon back in February was on Sherlock, Elementary and Holmes in general. At one point someone raised the question, just what use is Sherlock Holmes in the modern world? Given the scope of police forensic science and surveillance videos, what does he bring to the table?

I forget who responded but their reaction stuck with me: if modern police work can solve the crime, Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be on the case. You bring him in when police can’t crack the case, when the connections or the evidence are something ordinary methods won’t find — you need a genius.

This is not, actually, a new topic. Way back in 1963, detective Ellery Queen came to the same conclusion in The Player on the Other Side: there’s simply no place for a talented amateur detective in the world of modern policing. Over the course of the story, Queen naturally figures out he’s wrong. The killer is a lunatic whose non-linear thinking proves impossible for the cops to anticipate; it takes Ellery’s creative, out-of-the-box analysis to get the answers.

I think that’s generally good advice if you’re creating an exceptional, awesome protagonist. A cozy mystery can work with an ordinary crime because most cozy detectives are just regular folks, like Sarah Winston in my friend Sherry Harris’s Yard Sale series. There the challenge is to make it plausible the protagonist will crack the case (and has a good reason for investigating) when the cops don’t. For Holmes or Queen (or Nero Wolfe or Gideon Fell, etc.) the challenge is a puzzle that the cops can’t crack. This can be because the puzzle is fiendishly complicated; because the police are incompetent (usually not the best approach); or because the police have seized on a wrong theory or wrong suspect (much more plausible — it happens in real life after all).

I think this might be a useful insight beyond detective stories. Like the old rule about the hero needing a worthy antagonist, we have to give them an adventure they deserve. If an ordinary warrior can save the day, you don’t need Conan. If the Special Crimes Unit can take down the supervillain, you don’t need Superman (Superman does stop a lot of ordinary crimes and help out in minor matters, but it isn’t the focus of the story). One of the perennial challenges of comics is trying to provide heroes with challenges without simply turning every story into an apocalypse.

It doesn’t have to be exceptional power or intellect that makes the difference. Sometimes it’s just their spirit. “Down these mean streets a man must go who is neither mean nor afraid,” as Raymond Chandler put it. And there are lots of stories where the protagonist isn’t supposed to be exceptional, just an average (wo)man on the street/cop/reporter.

But if the hero is exceptional, the challenge should be too.

#SFWApro. Image by George Hutchinson.

 

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The actor’s nightmare? Seriously?

I mean, come on! It’s been eight years since I was on stage and I’m having this now?

For those who don’t know, the actor’s nightmare is a dream in which you’re going on stage but you have no idea what your lines are, or maybe even not the show. I’ve had it several times in my life, though none of them were in relation to actually doing a play. So maybe having this one Wednesday night is not surprising.

We open with me driving to where the actors are assembling for a production of Born Yesterday, a 1950s comedy (I was actually in it around 30 years ago) directed by my old drama teacher, Jo Yeager. I know we’re meeting in a hotel before we go to the theater (a lot of my dreams are set in hotels), so I drive into the lobby, which the staff take with great aplomb, directing me to the lower floor. I’m figuring how to get down there in my car, but when I actually arrive, I’m somehow on a bicycle.

Sam, one of my writing group colleagues (he’s a real person, unlike most of the people in this dream), tosses me a line and waits for me to say mine. I’m blank, so he gives it to me. It’s something to the effect of “I have to know it if I’m going to New York,” “it” being some Irish play (because there are lots of Irish Americans in New York). I realize I don’t know any of my lines. I haven’t even practiced them the past week! I spent the rest of the dream trying to pick up peoples’ scripts and flip through them to jog my memory, but none of the scripts have my lines in them. I’ve no idea how this resolves itself; the end of the dream is my driving home and trying to figure out what direction home is.

I’m pretty sure the underlying meaning is that I felt really stressed this week. First, Trixie being sick and not really relaxing this weekend. Then having trouble focusing because Trixie was sick. Then trying to make up for lost time because I’d been unfocused. Thursday was when this week’s Screen Rant was due (on Sailor Moon, hence the illustration), and I was much further from completion than normal for deadline day. So stress is understandable, is it not?

Doing Leaf articles and Screen Rant compounded my stress. Unlike say my film books, they’re short, tight deadlines so I don’t have much wiggle room. And because I’m doing two different Leaf projects, the amount I’ve been writing has been higher than usual. When it’s my own deadlines I can always be flexible if I have a reason. Not so much this week, though I did unclaim a couple of Leaf articles I’d planned to do today (four is enough). One of the projects is wrapping up though, so I’ll be handling much fewer the rest of the month (and April, if the work lasts).

I did complete my Screen Rant on the Sailor Moon/Tuxedo Mask relationship (above is the photo of their wedding from the live-action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon).

I started proofing my test copy of Atlas Shagged and almost immediately found errors. One of which is prominent enough I’ll need to re-upload the corrected text. C’est la vie.

I finished the next draft of No One Shall Slay Her but didn’t make my 1,000-words-a-day quota. Partly that’s the slowing down, partly that the next thing I planned to work on (The Impossible Takes a Little Longer) is at an awkward point that needs some thought to fix. However I got back in the groove today, with a thousand-words on a new story I’m tentatively calling Neverwas. It felt soooo good to write some fiction.

All in all, I think I did well.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

Urgh, insomnia was just too helpful

For some reason sleep this week was really appalling, even by my standards. Can’t say it wasn’t a good, productive week but I felt quite wiped out for a lot of it. Fortunately I had a good night last night or I’d be writing something as incomprehensible as Duran Duran lyrics.

I have my Leaf articles done and a new Screen Rant submitted, on bad forgotten spinoffs. For example The Dukes, Saturday morning’s take on The Dukes of Hazzard. I also talked to the new management at And Magazine about resuming work there. I’m going to give it a shot, though I won’t have time to spare until April, when the Leaf stuff winds down.

I’m giving myself a mulligan on my “1,000 words of fiction every work day” rule, as my not doing it was a calculated choice. It was more practical to do extra fiction on Wednesday and go light Thursday, so I figure I’ll cut myself some slack. Fiction writing was still productive, as I finished the draft of Questionable Minds I’ve been working on. It still needs a couple of sections touched up, then it’ll be ready to submit, self-publish or whatever. I’ll be thrilled when it’s completely finished and I don’t have to think about it.

I worked on No One Can Slay Her, ran into some trouble, stopped. I’ve figured out the solution though, so I’ll have this draft done by the end of next week.

I sold a story, The Grass Is Always Greener, to the Strange Economics anthology (specfic stories with an economic/business element). I am very pleased with that, of course. I also realized that my list of Stories Out was off — a couple of them have been out so long at particular markets it’s obvious they’re not biting. So I have them back on the To Submit list.

And I finally resolved the problems with the hard copy of Atlas Shagged. I should have a copy next week so I can double-check it’s good to go.

Today we had some landscapers come in and spend much of the day working on our yard (trees trimmed, one cut down). It needs it, but man did the dogs freak out. After a while they became sort of resigned, or I’d not have gotten anything done. Here’s Plush in a calmer moment earlier this week.

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

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I found her

So it was Valentine’s Day Wednesday. Which put me in mind of Kipling’s poem The Thousandth Man, albeit genderflipped:

“One woman in a thousand, Solomon says
Will stick more close than all others.
And it’s worthwhile seeking her half your days
If you find her before the other.”

It did take half my days (we met when I was fifty), but I did find her. And that’s made such a wonderful difference. For Valentine’s Day we went out to Ted Turner’s Montana Grill (it’s close, and we had a limited time window). TYG got me a new belt, which I’d asked for. I got her bath bombs and typhus (see left).

Now, as to this week’s writing:

First, the Space Invaders proposal for a movie book got thumbed down. The editor I’d been working with contacted me Monday to let me know. Apparently they’re having some internal upheaval and he’s no longer associated with them either. However even though it was his idea, he gave me the blessing to shop it around on my own. I intend to do so, possibly to McFarland, maybe to a different press that works with this topic. And there’s always self-publishing. Though my experience with editing and proofing my McFarland books makes me slightly dubious about the editing: even my relatively short Bond book took a lot of work (errors in fact are far more grievous than errors in self-published fiction, I think).

Another thing that’s not happening, at least yet: I received an email from the new owners of And Magazine, asking if I wanted to take up column-writing again. I’m interested, but I haven’t heard back since I said “Let’s talk.” Whether they lost interest or something fell through I don’t know, yet.

Other news was more upbeat. I reviewed the last draft of my Undead Sexist Cliches book at the start of the week rather than leaving it to the end. I was pleasantly surprised that it went much smoother that way. By the end of the week I had a much clearer idea of what will go in which chapter (some chapters will be substantially larger than others, but I think that’s okay). And I went through a ton of articles I’d bookmarked around the web and mined them for more stuff. I’ll start the next draft in March.

Despite my pessimism last week, I also figured out how to fix No One Can Slay Her and completed the latest draft (number fifteen, sheesh!). I feel much more optimistic I’ll have it polished and finished by the end of March. I also did a lot of work on The Impossible Takes a Little Longer and Questionable Minds.

I didn’t get a Screen Rant done. I pitched several ideas but I only got a green light on one, with instructions to wait a couple of weeks (it’s close to another we did recently). A couple of others are still maybes.

And I got my quota of Leaf articles done.

I also dealt with a couple of different contractors and got the state car inspection taken care of Monday. So a good, productive week.

I shall attempt to make the weekend as unproductive and leisurely as possible.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder (it’s a very good book by the way, i read it some years back).

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Screen Rant, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Short Stories, Story Problems, Writing