Category Archives: Story Problems

The week, the ducks, the month, the rain

So Hurricane Ian reached us today. Bad, and a downed tree took out the power for a couple of hours, though nowhere near as bad as that gorgeous Pat Broderick cover.

This was one of those weeks where I was nibbled to death by ducks. Three morning appointments — automotive, dog evaluation, booster and flu shots — which coupled with the problem of getting started later in the morning (as I mentioned last week),  takes big chunks out of what’s normally my most productive time. Tuesday, when I took the car in, it was early enough that doing anything after we finished with the dogs just didn’t seem worth it — I’d barely be able to focus before I had to leave.

The car is VW Golf, one of those subject to the rigged emissions system, and a dealer email said it was due for the second part of the government-mandated fix. Surprise! — when I got to the dealer the service department took a look at the car’s history and said we’d already gotten the fix. So I blew the morning for nothing.

On the plus side, I am boosted and flu-protected. All those chumps who declared covid is no worse than the flu must never have had influenza because the two times I had it were unbelievably horrible.

Work, you say? Better than I’d have expected. A lot of promotional work on Questionable Minds, which I hope to wrap up next week. I sat down and re-outlined the next draft of Impossible Takes a Little Longer and dang, it looks very promising. I’ve upped the stakes, added some plot complications and I’ve thought of one twist that might lead to a sequel, as well as removing a plot thread that wasn’t fitting well into the book. I finished Don’t Pay the Ferryman, now retitled Shadows Reflected In Darkness, and submitted it to Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’ve never succeeded with any of my submissions, but perhaps this will be the time. If not, it’s short enough (under 4,000 words) there are several other potential markets.

I also posted on Atomic Junkshop about DC and Marvel discarding potentially good characters; blogging about The Unwritten Vertigo series; and last week speculating whether even “ordinary” people in the DCU and MU are superhuman by our standards.

And a Con-Tinual panel on mythological tropes is live on Facebook.

And in really good news, my new MacBook Air arrived at the Apple Store last weekend. It is sooo nice having a computer where the keyboard doesn’t stick constantly, and a battery that lets me go untethered.

So productive, but those wasted hours always frustrate me. Ditto for the month: I got nothing done on Impossible before this week and I’d planned to do a lot. Nor did I get any rewriting done on Obalus. Of course, with my stuttering keyboard, taking Snowdrop to the vet, etc., that’s understandable.

Bring on October. Fingers crossed for more writing done

#SFWApro. Questionable Minds cover by Samantha Collins. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Three good days, two that tanked

The work week went well up until Wednesday night.

We had a massive thunderstorm so Plushie freaked out, as he always does. When he’s that nervous, he doesn’t eat which meant we couldn’t give him his evening drugs. So we decided to wait out the storm which meant we got to bed close to 10. Not so late, but we’re usually asleep around 8:30. I wake up around 3:30 — and sure enough, that’s what I did. Coupled with several bad nights of sleep earlier in the week, I was too zonked on Thursday to do anything productive.

Thursday night we stayed up to about the same time because TYG was watching something on the TV. I got a full night of sleep but that meant waking up late and getting very little done before TYG and the dogs were up. Might have recovered on an ordinary morning but we had an appointment at Quartet — the dogs’ physical rehab place — so the morning was chunked up into small bits. So another day not getting anything done.

That said, I did get three productive days in. I redrafted Don’t Pay the Ferryman which I’m retitling something like Reflections in Dark Mirrors (I’d use Grin of the Dark but Ramsey Campbell beat me to it); I’m not sure the shorter ending is quite where it needs to be but I may send it out just to get feedback. I also started redrafting a short story called (for now) Obalus. It’s got a great set-up but the finish of the previous draft was a hand-wave. I’m not sure how to fix that yet. Oh, I also submitted a couple of shorts, though I got one back from a previous round of submissions.

I spent Wednesday drafting up article queries for various markets. I tend to dither when I do this, delaying until I’m completely satisfied the query is perfect. This time, while I was slower than I needed to be, I came up with three ideas and sent them out. I need to do that much more often.

I finished the 20,000 words I wanted to get done on Impossible Takes a Little Longer, once again because I could transplant a lot of material from the last draft with little changes. I think I’ve solved some of the problems I wrote about Wednesday but the new stuff and the old stuff still fit together awkwardly. But I think the components of a good book are there — I simply have to put them in the right order, tied together the right way. Easy to say, tougher to do, of course.

So a good week, but I still miss the two days I got nothing done. But I did get a great close up of Snowdrop.#SFWApro.

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Lost in the maze of replotting

So as I mentioned last week, I added another 12,000 words to the current redraft of my superhero novel, Impossible Takes a Little Longer. That was easy because I transplanted most of it straight from the previous draft. I like the scenes; it makes for a dramatic reveal to one of the key points in the story; and it adds a good chunk of characterization to KC’s backstory.

The trouble is, it fits very awkwardly with the new material coming before it. And that material, itself, hasn’t given me an “ah, I see where to go next feeling.”

In the original plot, KC Rogers, AKA the Champion, is targeted by Lahatiel, a metahuman—a paranormal, in my setting—who claims to be an avenging angel. She takes him down, but it soon becomes obvious there’s a bigger adversary backing him. In reality there isn’t, but in investigating who might be behind him, KC draws the attention of a number of people: Captain Wonder, the world’s strongest hero; Darla Jeffries, the mayor of New York (a villain in earlier drafts, now more of an antihero); and the archvillain of the novel. Hilarity does not ensure.

In the redraft, Lahatiel doesn’t target KC; instead he goes after her BFF, Sarah Wyzbecki. This ups the stakes as Sarah doesn’t have KC’s superpowers to fight back with. Lahatiel realizes he needs to eliminate KC first and tries to do so, but it doesn’t go well for him. Lahatiel goes down and it appears the threat is over.

It’s a good mini-arc but as neither KC nor Sarah is still under threat at the end of it, the plot tension sags. That’s not a fatal flaw — it’s just a pause before things start getting more intense — but the plot now feels like it’s going in a completely unrelated direction. The next arc brings Jeffries and a couple of other characters on stage and jacks up the threat level a lot, but the threat doesn’t feel as organically connected to my villain as in my earlier drafts. And the outcome of that second arc, which includes KC’s identity as Champion getting exposed, doesn’t flow smoothly into the old material.

Another plot point I’m having trouble with is that Sarah will disappear, not by choice, from a large chunk of the book. The sooner it happens, the more pain for KC, but given everything else going on, it’s hard for me to believe she’ll keep going without a complete breakdown. Another problem is that KC and Sarah make a great pair of buddies; I want as much of them in the book as possible, which argues for pushing it back in time. Plus, the deeper I make the friendship, the more impact Sarah’s loss will have for readers.

Yet another change I’m not sure about is keeping more of the book set in the Florida Panhandle (though my writing will not capture how pretty some of it, like the shot at left, are). In all the previous drafts, KC travels to New York to ask Captain Wonder to team up with her. This brings her into contact with the nemesis and with Jeffries. Last draft, though, this didn’t work at all. She didn’t have the same motivation for asking Wonder’s help, and even less in the current one. Nor are KC and Jeffries going to be in conflict the way I’d originally seen it.

In the new draft, Jeffries comes to Ft. Walton Beach to recruit KC to fight a misogynist paranormal committing acts of sabotage in NYC (it’s the book’s big bad, though neither of them knows it). Trouble is, there’s another powerful paranormal taking interest in KC, and possibly Captain Wonder showing up in FWB as well. That gets absurd, almost at Chosen One levels (i.e., everyone knows KC is the central character) and KC simply isn’t that. I want Captain Wonder in the book, so perhaps have KC investigate things in New York and then meet her? That would work better, except as KC points out, she’s a hitter, not a detective; until she has someone to punch, there’s not much I can think of for her to do.

This is all solvable but I admit I’m impatient to get it worked out. I put a good deal of time into plotting out this draft in the hopes I could get it done faster. I’m not entirely surprised that didn’t work, but it would have been nice.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Kirby with inks by Steve Ditko, all rights remain with current holder.

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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

A cover reveal and thoughts on goals

Much to my surprise — they hadn’t told me — McFarland has already picked a cover for The Aliens Are Here. I’m not sure what the illustration is from, because it’s not one of the ones I submitted for the book. But that’s fine, because it looks fabulous and captures the tone better than anything I would have chosen.

This was a good week for writing. I put in a lot of work rewriting Don’t Pay the Merryman (oh, it so needs a better title) and read the first section for the writing group. They loved it; now I just have to get the rest of the story up to that level. Several people said the section would work fine as itself if I strengthen the character arcs, so I’ll think about that option.

I rewrote The Adventure of the Red Leech and finally fixed the plot. Holmes is able to crack the mystery and thwart the killer without having to conveniently have a suitable mystic talisman (the rather hand-wave finish of the original published version). Still needs work, but it’s getting there.

I’ve also considerably reworked the plot of Impossible Takes A Little Longer and I’m pleased with it. No more long stretches of talk without compensating action. I managed to restore a lot of the characters who fell out of the previous draft — Rachel Chang, Darla Jeffries — and I think some of the key turning points are better placed. I shall start the next draft this month, with 25,000 words as the minimum goal. Plus fixing the remaining plot issues later in the book.

I didn’t achieve as much on my writing goals (or others) as I wanted to. I keep setting a goal to be more aware of local politics but I just can’t seem to make time. I did, however, send off another 60 postcards encouraging people around the country to vote (while this isn’t the exact link, you can find opportunities to help out here). I didn’t finish Red Leech or get Don’t Pay the Merryman as far along as I wanted. But the goals were ambitious enough to push me: everything’s progressing, even if it’s not as fast as I’d like. There are times when no matter how much I rewrite a story, I end up not improving. That’s not the case now. So setting the goals is doing the job it’s supposed to.

Oh, and I finished the tax forms. Now it’s just a matter of signing them and mailing them out. Once again I made a mistake in the write-off for our HSA, which upped our taxable income by $5,000. I caught that today, so yay!

Overall, I did complete enough goals to reward myself by buying the second Epic Iron Man Collection, which runs from midway through his time in Tales of Suspense through the launch of his own series (Gene Colan provides the cover).

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

 

 

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Thwacked by Thursday, a good week otherwise

I don’t know what it was that made me feel so unenthused about writing Thursday but something definitely did. I got some work done rewriting Southern Discomfort (I think it’s going well) but couldn’t nudge myself to do anything else.

It probably reflects that last weekend got hectic. First we attended a potluck, which was fun but I’m still having trouble scheduling around in-person social events. Then Sunday night the dogs underwent massive puking, then during the day, so there were vet visits, laundry to do and general disruption. Happily they’re fine now — whatever got into them has apparently passed out.

Thursday aside, it was a productive week. I finished Oh the Places You’ll Go and submitted it to Fantasy & Science Fiction, which is one of the few places that takes 9,000-plus stories. Plus it’s a prestige market I’ve been bouncing off (rejections with encouragement to write more) for years, so it’s often my first stop.

I finished the next draft of Don’t Pay the Merryman. The ending still doesn’t make sense, though; all the pieces of the story are there but I can’t make them add up to a coherent climax, nor figure out how my protagonists, Maud and Prudence, get out in one piece. Obviously I could have them die but I’m opting for life.

I put in some really good work replotting the first quarter (approximately) of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Just by making Sarah the target of one of the attacks instead of my protagonist, KC (AKA the superhero Champion),  I was able to increase the amount of action and make things less talky. However things apparently wrap up at the end of this section: Lahatiel the fake angel is down, there’s no other imminent threat, just a few loose ends. The obvious fix is to let the villain behind Lahatiel take a hand but I’m not sure what sort of hand he should take. I can figure it out though.

And today I did my taxes. Going to give them one more going over, then they go off.

I shall leave you with an image of Plushie in one of his favorite sports, rolling in leaves.#SFWApro.

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Surprisingly, things are still going well

Another good, productive week. Somewhat hampered by insomnia reaching peak Wednesday morning but that night and last night I slept fine. Also hampered by added dog care while TYG worked on a special project, but things still went well.

I sat down and read through Impossible Takes a Little Longer and noted the strengths, weaknesses and problems a as I went. A big part of the problems with this draft is that I eliminated several fight scenes that no longer fit. Trouble is that changes the pace from fight/talk/fight/talk to fight/talk/talk/talk. I will need to fix that, along with several other things. I got started on the outline and made a few changes; by the end of the month I should have enough changes outlined to start the next draft.

I tinkered with the ending of Oh the Places You’ll Go and redrafted Adventure of the Red Leech. I think the plot is mostly there but a lot of details need polishing. I also took a look at a story I haven’t glanced it in a year, titled (for want of any other ideas) Don’t Pay the Merryman.  Much to my surprise my first draft looks much, much better than the fourth and most recent — more plot, more action, stronger characters. For various reasons I’d wanted to age the protagonist and her friends out of teenhood but kids work better for the emotional beats. I still need to make sense of the bad guy’s magic powers because they’re at the incoherent whatever-the-plot-needs level right now. A shame, since they’re also creepy as shit, but I want it coherent as well.

I finished another financial article for the new client I mentioned last week. This was on the benefits of using automated accounting. I’m getting the hang of the format fairly fast so this took much less time than the last one.

Oh, and I’ve been remiss keeping up with my posts at Atomic Junkshop. We have one about the Martian Manhunter and his shift from Detective Comics to House of Mystery; one on the classic Le Carré novel The Spy Who Came In From the Cold; and two posts (first and second) about Silver Age Batman.

I did get another rejection but it was from a market I was pretty sure would say no — the story doesn’t quite fit their What We Want but I saw no reason to self-reject.

And now the weekend! Have fun everyone.

#SFWApro. Cover by Joe Cerna, all rights to image remain with current holder.

 

 

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As expected, a slight drop in productivity

As I’ve mentioned frequently in this week-in-review posts, if I’m performing way above average or way below average the odds are that by random chance I’ll do less well the following week. When I’m at my very best it’s just easier to drop to a lower level than stay at the top. That’s the nature of averages.

So unsurprisingly, this wasn’t as good a week as the previous two. For one thing I gave myself Wednesday off: I had to take the car in for annual inspection and checkup and decided I’d just bring a book rather than my computer. Then I kept reading that afternoon. It felt good, so no regrets. We also had the housekeepers in Thursday. I thought we’d be dealing with the new dishwasher Tuesday but that fell through — there’s a part that was out (supply chain issues) so we’re rescheduled for a couple of weeks.

My dizziness continues but at a much reduced level so my daily exercises are apparently fixing things or buying time for them to fix themselves. I could drive safely to the car place and back so that’s good enough. I’m sticking with exercises that do not involve heavy head-jerking for now, though.

This week’s big breakthrough was figuring out the problem with the ending of Oh the Places You’ll Go! My new ending, with everyone in the future world of 2015, works much better though it does need some fixing and editing. I also figured out that the problem with Adventure of the Red Leech is the third quarter: there’s a lot of necessary exposition but no tension, nothing to up the stakes. I don’t quite know how to fix it yet, though.

Other than that, it was mostly Leafs, plus a new client asking for similar business articles. Better paying per article but not as many articles available.

And I had to resolve a problem with a couple of missing photos from the set I sent in as illustrations for The Aliens Are Here. All taken care of now.

All in all, not bad for the last week of the month. Month-in-review post will come next week.

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

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Perhaps this time, the impossible takes a little shorter.

As I’ve said before, my list of 2022 goals doesn’t include a lot of specifics. One of the specific goals is that I want to finish rewriting Impossible Takes a Little Longer and send it off to someone (or alternatively, have it ready to self-publish).

I’ve never managed to write anything that quickly but I think it’s doable. With Aliens Are Here and Undead Sexist Cliches done, I have no other major project (lots of little ones). And this is book that I’ve rewritten several times already so it’s not like I’m starting from scratch.

I’ve been approaching the current draft like a NaNoNaNo project. Figure out where I’m going next and then just charge ahead writing the sucker. If I see possible problems, keep going. I know from experience that can waste a shit-ton of time — I get to the end, realize the draft is completely wrong — but it’s coming along well. A number of chunks are still usable, I just had to shift them around to meet my new plot structure. It’s tighter, tenser (I think) and less rambling.

It’s also created a raft of new problems. In my previous, more rambling plot, the Big Bad doesn’t become aware of KC until halfway through the book (she assumes he’s behind all her problems but it’s coincidence). Now he needs to be working against her much sooner, which will require some changes. I’m not sure what, though. And his biggest moments with her take place in scenes that got cut a couple of drafts ago. Writing now, I definitely need to build up his presence more.

Matt, KC’s close buddy, barely appears in the new manuscript. That’s bad because later events have no emotional punch if I don’t build up their friendship. I’m not sure where I fit him in. Or should I drop him and give his role to Rachel? She’s another friend of KC but much of her original subplot has been cut or handed off to KC’s best friend Sarah. This would give her something to do — perhaps there’s no longer enough material for two characters. Carla Jeffries, the mayor of New York, played a much larger role in the previous draft. It’s much diminished now, which is a shame. She’s a good character and I’d like to expand it when I rewrite this draft, if I can.

There’s also the problem of when KC learns things. A lot of the reveals got moved up much earlier, which has a ripple effect on how she reacts in later scenes and what the conversations cover. Twists I’d have preferred to hold off on until later now happen earlier. But I’m stuck with that unless I can think of a plausible reason for someone not to tell her.

Another problem could be that it’s only running into 60,000-plus words now. However that’s less of an issue than it used to be — there are publishers who’ll take a book that short — and it’ll probably expand in the next revision.

Still, I think the problems are fixable and that this rewrite is much stronger than what went before. We’ll see if I still think so when it’s done and I look it over.

Below, a paining by Giorgio De Chirico, one of my favorite surrealists, simply because I like his work.

#SFWApro. All rights to painting remain with current holders.

 

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

Second week of 2022: Progress and chaos

I came about four hours short of a full work week which is annoying. The trouble is, there are just too many unpredictable elements.

For instance Thursday I had to pick up prescription dog food after lunch, then find a gas station with diesel to fill up our almost empty car (under the assumption the winter storm this weekend might mess up supply). That took longer than planned because the diesel pump at the station we usually use was down, so I had to drive further.

Today, we took the dogs on a big lunch walk which used up some unplanned extra time, then Wisp came in, then I was chatting with TYG for a bit … and so lunch increased by an unexpected 45 minutes. As I’ve said before, there’s really no good place in my schedule to put the time back in and it adds up, day by day.

That said, the work I did get done was good and productive. I decided that Draft2Digital’s payment rate for hard-copy books was less than I liked (their ebook rates, by contrast, are excellent) so I tried KDP, Amazon’s publishing arm. This works out much less well than I remember from earlier books but it pays me more than Draft2Digital on a lower price.

Draft2Digital’s process, however, does provide an Amazon ready PDF but getting the system to handle my friend Kemp Ward’s cover proved remarkably difficult. I finally worked it out, though, and I’ve got a proof coming next week. Assuming no problems, both paperback and ebook will be available this month.

I finished another draft of Oh the Places You’ll Go. It’s very clunky but it does include all the elements I want and has (I think) a workable plot. Next week we’ll see what the writer’s group makes of it. I suspect the best solution to making it less clunky would be expanding it. I don’t want to go novel but maybe 15,000 words or so, about double the price? I think that would slow down the rate at which I share information and it will help explore the character relationships I think are the heart of the story. And it’ll give me time to work with the ending too — it’s kind of rushed right now.

Last week I found myself stymied by the next section of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. This week I saw how to get past that. There are things I don’t like — it takes Sarah off the board for longer than I wanted — but I think the revised plot holds together.

That was pretty much it. Oh, plus I’ve been posting at Atomic Junkshop: The past two weeks I’ve covered out-of-date satire, abandoning movie theaters, Batman’s con-man villains, and that bad Dunwich Horror cover I posted here Tuesday. Much less effective than the poster for the bad 1970 film.#SFWApro. Book cover by Kemp Ward, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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