Category Archives: Story Problems

I think things fell apart when I went to the library …

But I’m still glad I went.

The Durham Library recently reopened, though only for picking up books placed on hold (maximum of five). Which is disappointing — they just completed a massive remodel of the main library and I’d love to visit — but obviously the right thing to do. As my pile of new books is vastly shrinking (no used bookstores or library sales to visit) I reserved some books and picked them up Thursday afternoon, as they don’t open Saturdays. It went smoothly, with no major risk and everyone masked, though to my disappointment Ghosts of Manhattan turned out not to be the superhero novel of that name but a mainstream book about a stockbroker’s personal crises. I may read it anyway.

However, after I got back from the library I had to engage in some extra dog care and wound up getting very little done Thursday. Then this morning I took Plushie for his walk and for a change he was ready to go on a long one. We spent probably an hour, which is good — he really needs to get some weight off — but quite exhausting for me. I not only lost a chunk of writing time but it took me a while to get over the stiffness and focus on writing (I exercise plenty but walking wipes me out way more than most workouts. I’ve no idea why). This may happen again, as we’re now taking one dog each in the morning, which makes it easier to get them walked before the heat is unendurable.

I also made the mistake of dropping Thursday morning’s planned focus on Questionable Minds to do a little extra work on Undead Sexist Cliches and Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I think there are two ways to juggle multiple projects: allot each of them some time in your schedule and give them the time or make one project the priority and do whatever it takes to get that work done, even if it cuts into the time spent on others. I set my priorities based on option A — get something done on each of them per week — but then I wind up shifting them around. I still got work done in that time, but I’d be happier, I think, if I’d gotten some on all three big projects instead of skimping on my Minds final draft.

Oh, and I took Monday off, which was the right call. I’d let a lot of life stuff build up unfinished (paperwork, bills, checks to deposit, things to clean) plus my brain was slowing down from cabin fever some. That didn’t help with productivity either, but I’m glad I did it. Unfortunately the library doesn’t do appointments on Mondays or I’d have taken care of it then.

On Impossible I got through Chapter Three on the new draft which brought me up to a scene I had no idea how to fix, where Lahatiel (evil fake angel) attempts to kill KC (alias the Florida Panhandle’s superhero, the Champion). The old version didn’t work — it plays on fears and worries KC no longer has — but I think I figured out where to go with my current concept of her character. I’ll try it next week. And I posted Ch.2 to my writers’ group, as I’ll be reading it next week. Undead Sexist Cliches has the first two chapters done on the final draft. Questionable Minds … well, nothing, obviously. Plus I got some Leaf articles done (most interesting: “Do Physician Assistants Wear White Coats?” There’s more to the answer than I’d have thought.

For illustration, here’s a photo I took of someone’s broken lawn ornament recently. I’d like to claim it as an allegorical artistic statement on the ongoing statue controversies, but it’s just a photo.#SFWApro. Image is mine.

Leave a comment

Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

It’s the weekend, let’s hit the beach!

Okay, probably a bad idea right now with Florida cases skyrocketing … but it does give me an excuse to post this whimsical Sheldon Mayer cover.This was a productive week. Not productive enough, but when do I ever say it was enough? But I did feel at times like cabin fever was interfering with my creative process; I may take Monday off just to clear my head, even though it’s not like I can go anywhere.

I got a few Leafs done, but we were on the wrap-up end of the current spurt. It’ll start up again next month, one reason I want to take Monday off when it won’t interfere with money-making. I made good use of the added no-Leaf time, finishing the introduction and first chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches. It was slow going because I rewrote more than I expected. Part of that was making the logic flow smoother, part of it just to tighten the material. I knocked 1,000 words or more out of Chapter One so I guess I succeeded.

I continued replotting Impossible Takes a Little Longer, including rearranging some of the sections for overall pacing and introducing some characters earlier. I’m still not sure whether it’s long enough and there’s one key scene, Champion’s first battle with Lahatiel, that I don’t have figured out. The original attack, which I’d thought would last into this version, doesn’t work; I have a vague idea what might work in its place but I’m not sure. I also wrote out the second chapter, as I thought I might be reading at Tuesday’s writer’s group. However that won’t happen until July 7 (a few years ago, TYG and I would have been at the Mensa national gathering but like so much else, that didn’t happen this year). I’ll give it another glance next week but I think I may have outlined as much as I can — I’ll continue with the next draft and wing it where I have to.

I finished a rough outline for the next draft of Oh the Places You’ll Go! and started on the next draft. It’s way stronger, but still needs some work. Right now I’m squeezing a ton of exposition in up front, just to make sure I get it in, but next draft I can spread it out. I have a feeling this will stretch out to substantially longer before I’m done.

I did not get anything done on the final draft of Questionable Minds. Bad me! Part of Monday will be figuring out just what I can get done and how fast, and which projects are top priority, etc. I hate to say it but I can’t do it all, at least not at once.

Oh, and a magazine called Overdraft accepted my reprint story Dark Satanic Mills so whoot! After getting so many rejections earlier this month, it feels good.

Have a great weekend everyone, and stay safe.

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

Leave a comment

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

Little baby steps feel better than crawling

Which is to say that while I haven’t brought anything to a conclusion any more than I did last week, I made enough progress I feel more satisfied.

On Oh the Places You’ll Go, for instance, switching to 1972 as the “present” works as well as I’d hoped. For the first time I feel like I’ve got a stronger plot without sacrificing the character dynamic and the McGuffin is actually something interesting. There’s still a lot of stuff to sort out on the next draft, but I’m confident the story is there.

On Undead Sexist Cliches I actually finished proofing the introduction. That’s a very small piece of the book, but it still feels like an accomplishment, as opposed to stopping somewhere mid-chapter.

I didn’t get quite as much done on Impossible Takes a Little Longer but the outline for the next draft is firming up. There’s a couple of points that have me baffled but I’m hopeful I’ll crack them by the end of the month. I’ll probably be batting out a second chapter early next week in case I’m called on to read at Tuesday’s writers’ group (I’m only one of the backups, but if anyone doesn’t show …)

While the Leaf article pipeline has been erratic, I finished several articles so I’m contributing to the family bottom line again.

I got another short story back with “we liked it but …” compliments and it’s now out again. As I said last week, it’s frustrating to come close and miss, but I’m in a good enough mood today I’m more inclined to accept the compliments.

Oh, and following up on my review of first season Star Trek, I posted about what everyone gets wrong about Kirk over at Atomic Junkshop.Still feeling a little cabin-fevery; having no meetings of any sort this week didn’t help. Neither did the drenching rain keeping us indoors Monday through Wednesday. But until I’m more comfortable going places casually (I’m still very wary), there’s not a lot of options for changing things up. All things considered though, my life is still very good.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, TV, Writing

Sherlock Holmes: Incidental vs. Vital

Looking over my Sherlock Holmes mug this week, I came upon a phrase that’s relevant to my rewriting of Oh the Places You’ll Go!: “It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to recognize, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which are vital.” (I don’t know which story it’s from, sorry).

As a “pantser” my initial draft of any story is usually far off the final version. When I revise the first drafts into something usable that requires figuring out which arethe vital elements I want to keep and which are incidental. In One Hand Washes the Other I started with a teenage protagonist, then aged him about 15 years. In Peace With Honor I flipped from Vietnamese male and American female protagonists to the other way around. In both cases I knew the basic plot concept was sound, but my initial concept of the protagonist wasn’t vital.

With Oh the Places You’ll Go! — which involves people who can use old maps to travel to the past — I want to keep the protagonists pretty much as they are and restructure the plot around them. My core cast are best friends Charlotte and Michelle and their respective kids, Nora and Kurt. Both kids, as sometimes happens, think the other’s mom is so much cooler, why couldn’t she be my mom instead? By the end of the story, kids and parents have managed to more or less bridge the generation gap.

While one of my writing group loved the story as it was, most felt it needed a lot more, both in exploring the setting and adding some tension. Much as I’d like to agree with the dissenter, I think they were right: the conflict is so low-key it almost fades into the paper. It needs more. But I also think the family dynamic and some elements of the plot — Kurt and Charlotte in the past, Michelle and Nora in the present — are essential, so I have to find some way to keep them.

For this draft, I tried adding some action involving a McGuffin everyone is after, but that didn’t work — it’s definitely not an action story. So I’m looking at it as a character story, primarily. That fits with my original concept but it requires more of a character arc for my quartet. I haven’t figured out what that is yet, but I suspect it may be vital.

Up to this point I’ve set the “present” of the story as now, but I think that’s incidental. There’s a plot element I consider vital, involving a map from the future, but my writing group said it wasn’t that interesting a vision of the future. If, say, the present of the story is 1972, I could use a map from 2020 or 2025 (the thought of someone traveling through time and arriving in the Trump presidency is so depressing it makes me favor the latter). It’ll be an amazing future to my characters (Montenegro is a country again, Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe, no U.S.S.R. and East and West Germany one country) and it’ll be a lot easier for me.

We’ll see if any of this helps with the actual writing, but I’m optimistic.

#SFWApro. Cup design by Philosophers Guild, all rights to image remain with current holder.

2 Comments

Filed under Sherlock Holmes, Story Problems, Writing

Normally I feel the other way around

I’ve noticed that in a lot of these week-in-review posts I say that while it felt like I didn’t get anything much done, when I actually write it all down, I did quite a bit. Looking over my writing goals for May, I feel the opposite: I wasn’t quite as productive as I felt I was. Not as productive on non-writing goals, either, but that’s partly still adjusting to the new status quo.

As to this specific week, it went pretty well. As TYG took part of Monday off for Memorial Day, I took it off too, something I haven’t done in a while. That felt really good; I must remember to take more holidays. However I slept wretchedly and woke up early Monday morning, which made me feel rather dazed the rest of the day.

Tuesday morning I had to visit the doctor (all well!) which consumed much of that morning. So only 3.5 days of work this week, but I managed to put in slightly more hours than that.

I redrafted Oh the Places You’ll Go! and while it still doesn’t work, I can see what it needs. This past draft I tried adding a little more adventure and danger, but I think it really needs to be a character-arc story. And it doesn’t really have a character arc as much as relationship arcs between the four core cast members, and even those arcs are a little too low-key. So that’s where I need to look at fixing it before next draft.

I got part of the way through a redraft of Laughter of the Dark. Here I really like the character development this draft, but the plot is a little weak.

And I finished Glory That Was, all ready to submit next month

I got through most of a pre-hard copy review of Undead Sexist Cliches but not all of it, which is what I wanted. This was where I got the most productivity, probably because it doesn’t require as much creative thought. And I finished a book, Before Roe v. Wade which I’ll review next week.

And I posted at Atomic Junkshop about my love of movies and the saga of writing my first one.

For the month as a whole, I know I put in plenty of time, it’s just that nothing got as finished as I wanted. Almost no work on Questionable Minds (even though my cover artist is not currently up for delivering anything, I’d like to get my edits done). No short stories finished. And Undead Sexist Cliches, as noted, remains unfinished. I suspect it’s less the distraction from the pandemic and possibly pushing to get more finished than I could.  And some of the stuff — marketing plans and related activities — are outside my usual skill set.

On the plus side, Trixie is doing so much better. Her leg occasionally gets weak, but mostly she’s bouncing around with all her old energy. It’s wonderful to see, and to know we handled everything right.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

Titans have fallen! My week in review

First off, while it doesn’t relate to my work, here’s a shot of Wisp. I’d gone into the kitchen to get her cat food and when I came back, she’d jumped into the chair. That was a surprise as she’s usually a “bush cat” staying on the floor. Unfortunately we had to remove the pillow because Plushie’s been chewing on it and it’s worn enough he could swallow some of the stuffing.I decided this week I would focus on my two big projects, the Undead Sexist Cliches book and Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I wanted to get the current drafts done this month and … they are.

I’m really pleased with Undead Sexist Cliches. The last two choppy chapters (the final one, on the metaphor of the “sexual marketplace,” was particularly disorganized) now flow smoothly; the footnotes are all in place; and I have my bibliography and my “final thoughts” section done (I hadn’t planned to include final thoughts but my beta readers said I should).  Now I take a break, and then in June I start final revisions. I’ll probably print up one copy via Amazon next month so that I can do them in hard copy — I’m much better at spotting errors that way.

I’m a little less satisfied with Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Partly that’s because I reused the spine of the current ending, though with changes to the details (KC doesn’t have the same power level at the big finish she did previously), and it needed more changes; however I didn’t have a better idea and I really wanted to finish, so I forged ahead. The other part is that it’s simply at a much earlier stage than Undead Sexist Cliches, and it shows: there’s a whole bunch of changes I’ll need to make next draft before I solicit my beta readers. Still, so much of the book fell neatly together, I’m hopeful everything I need is lying buried in my subconscious somewhere. Current plans are to take a month off, then rewrite it over the summer. If all goes well, I’ll have it ready to beta in September.

I got A Famine Where Abundance Lies back from the last market I sent it to. Next week, with the big projects done, I’ll be submitting everything that isn’t currently out, working on a couple of short stories and resume proofing Questionable Minds, which is the project I’ve been slack about.

And I paid my state sales taxes. One book sold on Amazon so I had to send in about 16 cents … with a $2 fee to do it online. That actually costs me more than the payment for the book.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine.

1 Comment

Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Cats, distractions and undead sexist cliches: My week at work

This was a somewhat frustrating week. Despite working in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep and getting up early generally, I actually fell short of my desired 35 hours. Extra dog walking and multiple food and item deliveries sucked up a surprising amount of time. Worse, in the time that was left, I sometimes wound up too frazzed to focus and working in too-small bursts of time to build up any steam. Can’t be helped though: TYG’s job is less flexible than mine so I can adjust my schedule more easily (my boss is very understanding). I really must find ways to keep my focus despite distractions, though. Particularly when Leaf work gets started again — for some reason that suffers in the current environment more than anything else.

On the plus side, it seems I can work with Wisp snuggling in my lap.

So what did I get done? Well, I finally got the abortion/birth control chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches worked out and footnoted. I had to rearrange it a lot to work logically and clear up a lot of repeated information, plus adding some scientific detail (no, abortions do not cause breast cancer or depression). I also made a rough outline of Chapter Nine, on the concept of a sexual marketplace (the assumption women are supposed to trade sex for marriage). That should make it easier when I start on it next week.

I finished a couple of chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Now I’m up to the climax, but the changes I’ve made already will mandate more changes; one character who played a major role is dead, for instance, so not so major. I want this draft done this month.

I read my revised version of The Glory That Was to the writers’ group Tuesday night and got generally favorable responses. The big change from the previous draft was shifting from third person to multiple first-persons, and it seems to have worked. However there was a general consensus the opening was too rushed for anyone to find their feet, so that’ll be my primary concern on the next draft.

Oh, and over at Atomic Junkshop we’re suffering some puzzling tech problems. One post I made this week vanished, came back and now it’s vanished again. Very annoying.

Have a great weekend. Here’s another photo of Wisp, scrunching her eyes shut in response to getting petted.#SFWApro. Photos are mine.

 

2 Comments

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

Pandemics and productivity: my new normal

Happily, I recovered a lot of my regular rhythm this week. Exercise, meditation, juggling practice, cooking (baked bread last weekend). It feels good to have structure.

This is slightly complicated by having TYG at home. I spend a lot less time with the dogs, which frees up a little more concentration. However I can’t predict when she’ll need me to take Plushie because he’s acting up and distracting her, or when she’ll come down and eat lunch (again, I have to distract Plushie so he doesn’t just demand food). I have no problem with the request — she is, after all, watching them most of the day now — but it does make my schedule less predictable: I may end up feeding Plushie lunch early or walking him late or having to watch him when I was anticipating going outside. The first couple of days that really seemed to throw me off my game, but things have picked up since. I’m not sure if that means I’m adapting or that Trixie going to surgery and back was really pulling focus or that I was working on Leafs both days and they didn’t hook me the same way my own work does.

But I did make my Leaf quota, and I got some of my personal work done too:

•I finished the Undead Sexist Cliches chapter on sexual harassment. Two more chapters to go; I’m hoping to finish this draft next month.

•I tackled the big reveal of Impossible Takes a Little Longer which as I mentioned last week I had no idea how to pull off. When I actually sat down and started, however, it was obvious: the hell KC winds up trapped in is an emotional one, targeting her particular vulnerabilities (which have nothing to do with sex — I was determined not to have the villain rape her or reduce her to a sex slave). It worked, and segued neatly into the follow-up chapter. As it turns out, it no longer reveals who the villain is, but I may change that back again. I think he needs at least a little build-up before the climax or the reaction will be “Huh? When did he show up in the book?”

The Schloss and the Switchblade came back, which I expected. A story taking place at a con feels wildly unreal right now (of course that may not have been the issue); sure, everyone’s still gathering together on TV, but even so it seemed to scream “pre-social distancing.” So I rewrote it and set it in 2014; I think it actually works better, plus it avoids having to rewrite again the next time President Tiny-Brain does something that changes the world around us. I resubmitted it yesterday.

•I rewrote Laughter of the Dark, but didn’t finish it. It’s shaping up, but still a long way from usable.

•I attended a local writing meet up, Shut Up and Write, which I’ve been meaning to get to for months but never got around to. No, I didn’t break social distance, we did it on Zoom. My regular writing group will be doing the same with their next meeting.

•I posted on Atomic Junkshop about the enduring mystery of Teen Titans #32.

•And I’ve joined in a Smashwords promotion so Philosophy and Fairytales is free from Smashwords until April 20.

I’ll wrap up with a 1959 cover dealing with the pros and cons of self-isolation. Art by Curt Swan.

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

Leave a comment

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

Clobbered by the cleaners

So while I was at Mysticon, TYG did something we’ve occasionally talked about: she hired a cleaning service to come in this week and clean the house. She made the appointment for Thursday when Plushie was in doggie day care, and that’s a good thing: Trixie getting excited I can handle (she’s only ten pounds, after all) but Plushie is 20 lbs and very forceful when stirred up.

They arrived around 10:30 and did a fantastic job. I clean regularly and I’m proud I keep the kitchen and bathrooms sanitary and the floors vacuumed. However they showed me how inadequate my work is compared to a real professional. As Sherlock Holmes says, true talent has to recognize genius, and I do. So we’ll be doing this monthly.

Unfortunately, it pretty much wiped out my Thursday afternoon. I’d planned to do some Leaf articles, but Trixie decided with all these STRANGERS in the house she was going to be very needy, so nothing got done. I wound up blogging, then just fiddling around. However I woke up this morning early and got one Leaf in so I’m only short one for the week. Insomnia is occasionally useful.

Beyond Leaf, what got done?

I got another chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer finished. After one more chapter of action, though, I’ll have to deal with one of the major changes to my previous draft’s plot. I’m really not sure how to pull it off or exactly what I’m going to do, but I’m hoping it just flows as smoothly as adding Stardian City to the story did. Fingers crossed.

I finished my first draft of an untitled story I’ve had sitting on my computer for a while (one of my goals for this year is to finish up a lot of those drafts). I think the core of the story is there, but it may be buried pretty deep. Still as long as it’s there, I’ll unearth it eventually.

I submitted three short stories. One came back the same day, which is good — I can send it out again — except for the coming back part. Some positive comments on it, an encouragement to try again, so I will. But that’s still not as good as a sale.

I got some work done on Undead Sexist Cliches and I began proofing the hard copy of Questionable Minds. As usual, lots of red pen marks in just the first two chapters. I’m going to have to take it slow and try reading a chapter or two a day so as not to overstrain my overtaxed voice.

And that’s on top of voting (looks like me voting Warren did not turn any tides) and going to the dentist Tuesday morning.

So while I’m tired and ready to call it a week, I don’t feel anywhere near as stressed as this guy. Art by James Meese.#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

Leave a comment

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

Forging ahead, regardless of the facts

“When you write a story, you have a predetermined end in mind, and the challenge is to make the facts match the ending. This is what I call “the fictific method.” The challenge of the fictific method is to make all the facts along the way to lead to a believable result based on those facts. Unfortunately, more and more we are seeing storytellers whose goal is to reach a certain result regardless of the facts.” — Brian K. Lowe.

Lowe cites two ways this happens: 1)The writer ignores the facts they’ve’ established so that they can make the ending come out the way they want it to. 2)The storyteller establishes false facts: changes history, ignores the way things normally work, or has people behave in ways nobody normally would.

Raymond Chandler’s classic essay The Simple Art of Murder really hammers the classic British mysteries of his day over #2. Cops who don’t follow any of the established rules or use the tools at their disposal to crack the case. Or consider the murder scheme in Dorothy Sayers’ Have His Carcase: it’s an absurdly elaborate plot it’s unlikely any killer would use. But it has to be used to set up a seemingly impossible crime, a man murdered on a beach at low tide with nobody leaving footprints in the sand.

Or consider Avengers #38 (cover by Gil Kane). The Asgardian Enchantress places a love spell on Hercules to get him to attack the Avengers for her. At the end, the good guys snap Herc out of the spell, but the Enchantress still has the magical power to annihilate them. Instead, when Hercules tells her to get lost, she just walks out because … she’s in love with him and can’t bear to kill him along with the others. This comes out of nowhere; she’s shown absolutely no interest in Hercules up to that point, unlike Thor, whom she was constantly hot for. But it was the simplest way to end the story, given her Asgardian magic way outclasses the team.

Or take a scene I wrote into Southern Discomfort. After some nasty magic starts paralyzing people, I had the Pharisee County Hospital treating it as if there were a strange outbreak of stroke cases. My friend doctor and author Heather J. Frederick pointed out that strokes don’t work the way the magic did, so that wouldn’t be the diagnosis. I went back and reworked it and settled on the doctors deciding it was some kind of fast-spreading disease — which was scarier because 1973 wasn’t as prepared for epidemics as we are now.

Which is the key to making the fictific method work. If you can’t get the ending you want, given the facts of your story, either change the facts or change the ending so everything flows logically. Hopefully once it’s finally published, everyone will agree that I did.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Comics, Reading, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Writing