Category Archives: Story Problems

Thinking a lot gets very tiring

Seriously. I put in a good week’s work and by the end of every day I feel wiped. Not quite as bad as Sgt. Rock, but still exhausted. But it is, as they say, a good tired. I even got in slightly more hours than I’d planned to, which will make up for whenever my schedule goes south later this month.

I added 4,ooo words to my rewrite of Let No Man Put Asunder. It’s holding together surprisingly well considering I’m really pantsing it — finish one scene, think what comes next, jump on that. It may turn out I’ve plotted myself into an unworkable hole but it’s going A-OK so far. Fun too.

I worked on Mage’s Masquerade which has reached the point I need plotting rather than pantsing. I think I’ve solved the main flaws in the last draft and I got halfway through the next one.

I worked on a werewolf comedy short story, Inherit the Howling Night, but I’m not sure there’s a story there yet. Or maybe ever. But I’ve thought that before and proven myself wrong after a few more drafts. Another (untitled) story — an unusual riff on Jekyll and Hyde — has characters and a message, but no real plot. Hopefully I can find one.

I finished Bleeding Blue and sent it off to F&SF. I admit I’m not hopeful — I’ve never gotten better than “Thanks, try again some time” but why not start off with a prestige market? And hey, even with a no, that’s my first finished short story of 2023, already subbed. Regrettably the market-guide website Ralan.com shut down this week — they were easily the best guide to which markets were open, when new markets started up and so on. There are alternatives but none I like as much.

I looked at Shopify, the online-sales app, and it should be doable to integrate it with this website. By the end of the month I hope to have stuff up for direct sale. Doesn’t mean anyone’ll be buying but as with F&SF, there’s no reason not to try.

And my new plan for managing email — basically devote an hour at the end of the week to going through whatever hasn’t been opened — is working well.The romance anthology Starlit Bridges is now out, with my Wodehouse Murder Case included. You can buy it in ebook or paperback. And I have more Con-Tinual panels available, one on writing in the Roaring Twenties, one on how to write psychic detectives, as in Questionable Minds.

#SFWApro. Covers top-to-bottom by Joe Kubert, unknown (sorry!) and Samantha Collins, all rights remain with current holders.

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Contrary to “Macbeth,” it’s sometimes good to cry “Hold, enough!”

Which is a way of saying I need to take more breaks. Not the vacation kind, but during the day. It’s less eye-strain if I get up and away from the computer regularly, plus I have non-writing chores that need doing. But when I get caught up it’s easy to forget and only realize it when my brain’s fried and I still have writing to do. So next week, I’ll try setting a timer.

That said, this week went well. I finished the current draft of The Impossible Takes a Little Longer and I’m pleased with it. A long way from publishable but the story has taken on the right shape for what I want and the ending finally works for me. Though admittedly I cheated by having one big battle take place off-stage — I’d love to do that in the finished draft but I doubt I could pull it off. But we’ll see. Now I put it aside for a month, then review.

I rewrote my short story Mage’s Masquerade and it improved considerably. I need to build up the romance more but I think the relationship is on a solid foundation — Cecily shows she has both intelligence and a cool head — and I think I have the plot holes in the previous draft fixed.

I started rewriting another untitled story, an oddball take on Jekyll & Hyde set during the early 1980s. Then I got restless and started (as in at least a couple of paragraphs) for other Jekyll and Hyde versions. The trigger being viewing the 1931 and 1941 adaptations of the novel, which I’ll review in tomorrow’s post.

I’ve started researching Shopify to see about setting up an Internet store to sell some of my stuff directly. Not that I’m going to dump Amazon but they take a lot of the sale price — so why not explore alternatives? You will, obviously, hear when anything is for sale.

I also spent way too much time reviewing my performance for the month and my plans for next month. It’s a very easy way to avoid writing when my brain’s tired and it’s necessary work, so I gave in.

All in all, I should have been more focused, but I’m still pleased with what got done.

I got Shadows Reflected in Darkness back again but I also sold another book. Or maybe two, Amazon announces the sale well before details like what sold and how many become available. It’s annoying, given that if they know the sales took place, they should certainly be able to share the data.

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

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A “disorder under heaven” week

A line of Mao Zedong I’ve occasionally quoted is that “there is disorder under heaven but the situation is excellent.” That sums up this week. It started off frustrating but turned out much more productive than the shakedown cruise of the first week in January.

Monday I had to deal with Plushie’s puking, plus help TYG out with some stuff. That sucked up much more time than expected and chopped up the day into small bursts of time where I couldn’t accomplish anything. Tuesday TYG and I had more stuff to take care of, plus I had my dental cleaning in the afternoon. Once again the day broke up into periods to small to build any focus.Still, I’m pleased with my work. I got another 4,000 words done on Let No Man Put Asunder, which is harder than I thought. After waffling in December, I’ve committed to keeping protagonists Paul and Mandy in the city of Blue Ivy (which I’ll probably rename) at least for the early part of the book. That means instead of having them on the run, alone, they’re having to deal with Mandy’s family, the city police department, plus the bad guys who are after them. All of that changes things up and my mind keeps suggesting more changes. Plutarch, a psionic boy from an alt.Greece is now Flavia, a Nubian slave from an alt.Rome, still psionic but also blind. She gets to keep Plutarch’s living-metal bodyguard, Talos, however.

I rewrote Paying the Ferryman and I think I’ve fixed the problems. I’m going to have my writing group beta-read the second half, however (it’s 8,000 words) to see if it holds up as well as I think, and what to do if it isn’t. I rewrote Bleeding Blue and I think that definitely works: I’ll wait until the end of the month, then make a final proof in hard copy.

The one where those missing two days hurt me most was Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I did get some work done on the book but nowhere near as much as I’d have liked.

On the downside, Adventures of the Red Leech came back from the Sherlock Holmes/Lovecraft anthology I submitted it to. I may send it out again, or save it for Magic in History, the historical fantasy collection of my own stories I plan to put out (needs a better name, though). More disappointingly, Gollancz sent back Southern Discomfort. I’m not shocked — a big publisher announces a window for unagented submissions, the competition’s bound to be tough — but it’s frustrating. I’ve hit almost all the specfic publishers who accept books without an agent and the remaining ones are currently closed to subs. Perhaps it’s time to self-publish again?

Over at Atomic Junk Shop I’ve published a late MLK Day piece and a look at the new generation of comics writers — Roy Thomas, Cary Bates, Denny O’Neil, Jim Shooter — who debuted at DC or Marvel in 1965 and ’66.

I’ll close with a look at Trixie and Snow Drop nuzzling. I wouldn’t say our cats and dogs are friends but they get along okay.#SFWApro. Cover by Gil Kane, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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A smoother cruise this week than last

I wrote a week ago that the first week of 2023 felt like a shakedown cruise. This week the ship seemed to stabilize. We still had a lot of distractions but the work went well despite that.

The big distractions came Tuesday. Snowdrop had peed on the couch the night TYG kept him indoors and she could still smell it. We had someone come in to clean the couch off, after which we and the dogs had to stay off it for several hours while it dried.

Unfortunately that resulted in me and the pups sitting on the other couch for most of the afternoon. It’s much harder to work on my computer around them — the couch arms are too high to rest the computer there for instance — so I wound up doing some research reading instead.

We also had someone come in to check out the chimney as well. It has some damage which make it unwise to use the fireplace so TYG wanted a price estimate on repairs. Suffice to say, repairs would cost more than we want to spend, given that we didn’t use the chimney much even when it was in good shape. However if either of us gets a big payday down the road we might reconsider.

Thursday I’d planned to run out to the library and pick up the new Elric book I’d reserved, otherwise the reservation would have expired. That turned into a much larger expedition as I also wound up getting Trixie’s prescription food from the vet, plus food shopping done, plus picking up a prescription. TYG is away this weekend at an alumni event out of town — she left mid-morning — so I’ll be sticking home with the dogs and not going out. That saves me having to crate Plushie — he gets up to mischief otherwise – or the slight possibility something happens to me while driving and then there’s no-one here for the dogs until Monday.

Anyway, that bulked up the trip until I had no focus left for work by the time I got home. Still, I did get quite a bit done this week:

I redrafted a story I last worked on a couple of years ago, before Undead Sexist Cliches, Aliens Are Here and Questionable Minds sucked up so much time. It’s a long way from good yet, but I see more potential in the tale of a ruthless, objectivist businessman and his mysterious nemesis. Currently untitled.

I got several thousand words further in Impossible Takes A Little Longer, getting a lot of Reveals out of the way before things move into the climax (Hitchcock recommended that, so nobody’s distracted from the action by waiting for exposition). I stopped when it became time to move against the bad guys because I’ve no idea what they’re going to do. Hopefully it’ll come to me when I resume.

My research reading involved a couple of urban fantasies I’ll be reviewing soon, Fae of Fortune by John P. Logsdon and Eric Quinn Knowles and rereading Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn. I prefer doing that kind of reading outside of writing hours but with so many to-do things distracting me, I compromised.

I got about 3,000 words further into Let No Man Put Asunder. I also read the first two or three thousand words to the writing group who gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up plus some feedback I’ll be discussing soon.

So go me! Let’s hope next week is as productive.

#SFWApro. Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holder.

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Cats! Insomnia! The car! But the work got done

First the good news: Snowdrop is coming in early mornings and sitting on the couch. He’s come up on the couch before, when Wisp was settled on her pillow, but he’s always been wary. Not any more.

Yep, he’s now cool with me giving him belly scritches, though sometimes I have to sit on the floor to preserve his personal space. I think this is a big advance in our relationship.

The bad news? He still freaks out if we close the door on him. That’s not so good when the temperature’s in the low thirties. I tolerate it as long as I can — an hour or so this morning — but eventually no. However he’s not panicking quite as fast as he did so just possibly we’re making progress there too.

The other bad news is that dealing with cats in the morning really throws my schedule off. As I’ve mentioned before, early morning’s the best time for exercise, a little reading over a cup of tea, and some yoga or stretching. The more fussing I do over the cats, the less time I have for any of that. I’ll always let them in — they are our cats now — so I don’t know there’s any solution beyond “suck it up.”My sleep-maintenance insomnia plays a role in this too. I had a couple of nights where I woke up around midnight. Normally I’d get up for a bit and go back to sleep or failing that, write and then nap during the day. Both nights, however, Snowdrop and Wisp detected someone was up and sat on the deck waiting … so I let them in and got much less done than normal.

And then this morning the battery failed when TYG went off on an errand. We called AAA, they came out, found the battery was fine, but the dashboard computer warned us something else was off. I made an appointment to deal with it next week, but the whole experience sucked up much more time than I wanted and threw me off my game the rest of the day.

Despite which, the week was really productive. I finished another draft of Paying the Ferryman; I still don’t have the problem part nailed down but I can feel I’m getting closer. I reread Love That Moves the Sun, an older short story, and it needs much less work than I thought to fix it. I also reread Oh the Places You’ll Go! with feedback from the last editor I sent it to in mind and I don’t think I agree with their diagnosis (no disrespect intended).

I read Bleeding Blue to the writer’s group and the feedback was much more positive than I expected. They did point out several problems and I rewrote and improved the story yesterday, based on their suggestions. The big action scene at the climax still needs the most work, though — it’s better, but still doesn’t work.

I got several thousand words done on The Impossible Takes a Little Longer, much of it by refitting some of the last draft into a new position in the book. It worked there, too. It’s now up to 54,000 words though I suspect it may come in a little short compared to what novels run these days.

Oh, and my Con-Tinual panel on favorite Christmas Carol versions is now live. It’ll be up on the Con-Tinual YouTube channel in a few days.

So yeah, pleased with my week. Have a great weekend everyone.

#SFWApro. Please credit me if you use my photos.

 

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Working is now, thoughts are on then

Overall a good week. Except my insomnia — sleep-maintenance insomnia, where the sufferer wakes up and can’t get back to sleep — was in overdrive. Coupled with a couple of unexpectedly late nights and the time Plushie kicked me awake — he sometimes likes to sleep where my feet are — I’m feeling way zonked as I type this. Hence once again using this Jack Kirby cover for the Sandman story “The Man Who Never Sleeps.”But fortunately writing is something I can do in the dead of night if I’m up, then nap during the day. I did that at one point today only Plushie (again) nudged me awake, then waited expectantly for — well, I’ve no idea. Good thing he’s so adorable.As I mentioned last week, Paying the Ferryman loses a lot of the tension — okay, almost all of it — once we get out of New York. This week I rewrote it to increase tension and I succeeded. I also sharpened the direction of the story to fit with the ending — except I still have no idea what’s going to happen to Eleanor, my POV character in the remaining stretch before the end. She needs a challenge to fit her skills (amateur but gifted thief), a danger to go with it and so far I’m coming up empty. But I will find the answer because the rest of the story’s too good to give up on.

I also put some thought in on the next section of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Depending who KC turns to for help, we either get to use a lot of the previous draft or I do more new stuff. I’m not sure yet which is the right way to go.

Today I worked on an old short story, The Love That Moves the Sun. After reading over the feedback from my writing group, I made a few changes but it really required much less work than I’d expected. With any luck, I’ll have it off after the holiday, assuming I can find a compatible market.

I also took one day off to handle various chores: contractor appointments for this or that repair, mailing some presents, planning for the writers’ group Christmas party TYG and I are hosting this weekend. Full credit to my wife, she’s amazing at organizing To Do lists for this stuff. I mostly handle invitations and the cooking (chili, apple tart, cookies, cornbread from the Bread Head book I mentioned this morning).

I also spent some time thinking about next year and what I want to accomplish. Coming up with a not-too-specific list of 2022 goals and getting detailed month by month worked well for me this year. I intend to do it again next year. But I’m also working on a 101 in 1,001 list of goals — 101 things to accomplish in the next 1,001 days — for the first time in several years. I may not use it as an actual goal list but coming up with so many forces me to be creative and think of things I’d like to do or need to do. That will help with whatever list I do make.

And I had two blog posts out, as usual, at Atomic Junk Shop. One expresses my distaste for nonfiction writers who think they’re the story, the other discusses pets and comic books, reworking a post of mine here from several years back. I have to say, this John Romita sketch (over Kirby layouts) of Ka-Zar snuggling with his sabertooth Zabu and talking to him like a beloved pet really touches me.  Wises, bravest, swiftest, I talk to Trixie like that all the time.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Metrics aren’t everything, but they help

So I wrapped up November with somewhere under 50 percent of my goals completed … I think.

One of the errors I keep making is that when things get hectic I stop tracking my progress. I don’t record how many hours I’ve spent on writing projects or whether I remembered to wipe the kitchen counters every day. So I don’t know if I achieved them or not. So I’m working to consistently report metrics at the end of the day, before walking the dog (afterwards I’m usually off the computer for too long). We’ll see how I do.

This week was uneven but overall productive. A large part of the unevenness is that my insomnia the past couple of months has been exceptionally consistent. Some of that may be the warm weather — even in a heated house, winter usually makes a difference — and some of it’s definitely psychological. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I psych myself out about “Well, if I try to get to sleep and don’t succeed I’ll have to take naps during the day so I should definitely get up and write because then I won’t need the time but then again I really need sleep …” That kind of chatter makes it impossible to get to sleep.So Wednesday became a waste. I was tired plus I had my second checkup of the year. Overall good, and a couple of things I was worried might be serious are just me getting older. My doctor is way more reliable than the Crime Surgeon on Bob Kane’s cover above.

Today was productive but choppy. I was sitting with the dogs most of the day and they were often barky, plus Wisp came in which meant having to keep three pets happy. I can write and pet Wisp in my lap but if Trixie gets on the couch too, she demands petting too and then I have no hands left to type. And yesterday I walked to a nearby dispensary to pick up Plushie’s meds. It’s close to a mile further away than I anticipated so that was more time lost. The exercise was good, however.

So what got done?

First, I finished a rewrite of Bleeding Blue on Monday. It’s much improved. This may be the next piece I read to my writers’ group as menstruation is important in the story and I need women’s feedback.

I reread Paying the Ferryman and I was dismayed how much the energy and tension drop once we move from New York to a fairy-tale setting. I spent most of my writing time today working to fix that but between naps and pets I didn’t get finished. It’s already improved, though, and shorter.

I wrote 4,000 words on Impossible Takes a Little Longer. The book’s definitely improving, though I still wonder about length.

And I started to think about what I want to do next year.

All totaled, I made my hours for the week.Over at Atomic Junkshop I looked at the time Iron Man deliberately killed his opponent, a drastic thing in the Silver Age. You can see in Gene Colan’s (under his Adam Austin synonym) panels above that Iron Man’s throwing the Black Knight (not the one from Eternals) off his flying horse to his death.

Over at ConTinual I participated in a panel on worldbuilding in small towns and one discussing my two new releases. They’re on FB but they’ll be on ConTinual’s YouTube channel soon.

And speaking of my new books, I sold some copies of Questionable Minds this week! That feels very cool.

And needless to say, our Christmas tree is up.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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The third axe man almost did me in

Not for the first time, I find this cover by Billy Graham embodies the way I can think I have everything handled, then discover otherwise. This week everything was going great, then Thursday and Friday rose up to bushwhack me.

Normally when Plushie has his eye checkup, TYG takes him. Wednesday she said that as she’d have to take a business call in the middle of his Friday afternoon appointment, I’d need to come along and deal with the eye-vet. As it’s some distance, that guaranteed the loss of Friday afternoon for any productive work.

That may have contributed to the stress that made me wake up a little before midnight Wednesday, I had a cup of tea, then headed back to bed, only to have Trixie wake up and insist on leaving the bedroom to join me. That, plus Wisp coming in later, killed my sleep and left me a little glazed over Thursday. I had a couple of errands, including visiting an opthalmologist to check out their eyeglass selection, but I was in no shape to drive. Friday, the schedule didn’t work out either; I can get some of the work done tomorrow but the spectacles-shopping will have to wait until next week.

Despite all that, I managed to put in a full week’s worth of work and it was good work. Impossible Takes a Little Longer is progressing slowly but the latest revisions really add a lot of oomph. Likewise Bleeding Blue looks better after another draft; Don’t Pay the Ferryman does too but the changes once again have me wondering what the right ending is. But it’s there, I just have to write and rewrite until I find it.

I also started work on a new/old story of sorts. A while back I was playing around in my head and came up with a couple of characters I liked. As an experiment I’m plugging them into an old novel I’ve been meaning to rewrite for years, Let No Man Put Asunder. It’s an odd choice as a)I really love the original leads in that book and b)the storyline started changing in other ways. Not because of the new leads, but it’s inching towards an urban fantasy/Neverwhere feel where all the magical action is going on below the surface of the seemingly placid city of Blue Ivy in 1976. I’m not sure if that’s the way I want to go, but I’ll play with it when I have more spare time and see what develops.

And, of course, Questionable Minds is now out! Not only that, but three or four people promptly bought a copy, plus a few other friends who’ve said they intend to soon. I am, of course, delighted. Thanks to all y’all, including MA Kropp.

I signed up for a blog tour through Otherworld Ink. While I have no way to measure yet whether that turns into more sales, I got extra promotion on FB and some blog tour posts done:

It feels very good. And on that note, have a great weekend.

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

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Today was exhausting but the week was good

What was with today? TYG was out for the morning which threw my schedule off. Then at lunch she was back, plus we had the pressure washers in to clean the house, plus the dogs were freaking out because the pressure-washer team were DUDES MAKING STRANGE NOISES!!! Fortunately I woke up early enough to complete my week’s 30-hour quotient.

The week went well overall. I did a couple of presentations Tuesday night on Continual, one on small-town fantasy and another on new books we had out. I’ll share the links when I get them.

I worked on Obalus which I’m now retitling Don’t Pay the Ferryman (or maybe Pay the Ferryman) — I’d dropped that because Shadows Reflected In Darkness was titled Don’t Pay the Merryman but now that it’s changed, they’re not so similar. To my surprise when I tried writing through the parts I was uncertain about I found an ending. It’s not a good ending but unlike the deus ex machina of the previous draft’s ending, it does follow logically from what’s going on. I can work with it and improve it.

I had a similar experience working on The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. By moving up some of the bad surprises lying in wait for KC I was able to keep the tension high without feeling its too rushed. In several ways it’s going to work better than the previous draft, which is of course the goal.

The downside is that I’m cutting out a lot of stuff. The previous drafts have KC taking a trip to New York to meet fellow superhero Captain Wonder. It took up several chapters. Gone now because it doesn’t make sense (trust me). I’m wondering if I’ll end up with a really short novel or an unacceptably long novella but hey, in the age of ebooks and self-publishing that’s not a dealbreaker. So onward! The only way out of the crazy maze is to keep going!

And today I completed one of my for-pay accounting articles. I don’t know if there’ll be another assignment this month but if not, more time for fiction!

So that was all good. And Metastellar put up my short story The Savage Year on their webiste.

And now the weekend. Bread baking, a friend’s play, and reading a book about spiders. Fun!

#SFWApro. All rights to cover images remain with current holder. Strange Tales cover by Jack Kirby.

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That is a little more like it

Which is to say the week went much better than most of October did. Relatively few interruptions and most of those went well. We took the dogs for a checkup at the physical rehab place and the stiffness and pains they were experiencing a month ago (nothing horrifying, but still there) have faded. We can ease up a little on their painkillers and some of the at-home therapy. More importantly, it’s always good news to hear they’re okay. Below is Plushie with his new teddy bearish cut.I met with yet another gutter-repair professional but this one, recommended by a neighbor, was a vast improvement. No sales pitch and the price for a gutter repair plus some upgrades was only slightly higher than the straight gutter repair job we’d gotten from one of the other bidders. So yay!

As to writing, I think that well. I rewrote my short story Bleeding Blue and switched the protagonist from a rookie cop to someone drafted for temporary duty (this makes sense in the setting). This really helped the character and simplified a number of story choices. It still needs a lot of work but there is a story there now.

My work on Obalus was less satisfying, but I did make progress. I have a clearer direction for the story, which may stretch out to novella length; if not, it’s going to be a long short story (then again, I may cut much of what I’ve written in later drafts). But I still don’t know exactly what Eleanor’s going to face in the Tower Without Doors or how she’s getting a prisoner out. Hopefully by the time I resume writing, my subconscious will have dredged something up.

I completed another chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer but I realized at the end that the shocking twist I’d developed to pull the action forward didn’t work. Now I have to think of some way to keep the tension going until the next big hook.

I also submitted three short stories — one of them came back the next day but such is life.

Wisp has started coming in at night, though not consistently. She also came in a couple of mornings and took a nap on her pillow. The cats do throw off my morning routine, but they’re worth it.#SFWApro.

 

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