Category Archives: Story Problems

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.

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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.

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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.

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Juggling, insomnia and a wendigo! Okay, I was kidding about the wendigo

Another rather disorderly but quite productive week. So that’s a win, I think. And my post title gives me an excuse to post one of Herb Trimpe’s Hulk covers, which is another win (Trimpe and Sal Buscema are very much “my” Hulk artists).

The disorder started around midnight Saturday when Trixie woke up, needing to go to the bathroom. I took her out, but an hour later she needed to go again. After that I just settled with her onto the couch downstairs. She was fine with that, but her constant quivering from her tummy upsets made it impossible to sleep. While I’m used to insomnia I’d had some bad nights earlier in the week and this one was just a bridge too far. I was so wiped out Saturday that everything I’d planned to do got either postponed to Sunday (planning some stuff, cleaning) or dropped (going to the movies). I wound up taking a nap that was close to three hours, which is way long for me.

On the plus side, Trixie’s tummy settled down and she went back to normal. However her bad leg definitely felt worse after doing all that extra squatting and relieving herself. But she’s been improving steadily, I think; as I said this morning, I hope she’ll escape needing surgery. Even if not, better a happy, contented puppy in recovery than a miserable sad, diarrhea-ridden puppy.

Now, the juggling; I’ve been practicing juggling for years, based on a couple of how-to books. I’ve known for a while I was never going to get any better without help, so I took a one hour class Monday at Triangle Circus Arts.My teacher was very helpful. She pointed out the mistakes in the way I was doing things and showed me some basic steps I wasn’t taking. It was a huge quantum leap in my understanding of what I was doing, and a modest leap in my performance. But even when I wasn’t doing it right, at least I could spot what I was doing wrong. I’ll keep practicing at home, then next month I’ll go back again.

But the thing is, I normally practice five minutes at a time. Juggling for a solid hour really exhausted my arms and left me wiped out for the rest of the day. Coupled with Trixie’s appointment slicing the morning in two, I got nothing done. However my insomnia was still running so I wound up making up the time at the cost of sleep. Not exactly a win, but …

And as for the writing?

I finished chapter four of Undead Sexist Cliches. I’ve gone light on a couple of sections, such as whether or not a pay gap between women and men exists (yes) and is partly due to sexism (yes), and told everyone to read some of the posts in footnotes if they want to get into serious number crunching. Still it’s in much better order, with all footnotes added.

I got one more chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. After the trip to Stardian City I’m not quite sure where it goes to get to the big superhero/supervillain confrontation (not the climax but a big turning point) but my gut’s lead me well so far; hopefully that will continue.

I redrafted and slightly shortened Death is Like a Box of Chocolates based on last week’s critique from the writers’ group. It’s improved, but I think the ending may still need work. I’ll give it another look next week, then off to another beta reader. If she thinks it works, I’ll have it finished next month.

I worked some on finishing this month’s first draft (as yet untitled), but I didn’t get very far. And other than knowing it’s a riff on Sleeping Beauty, I have no idea what kleptomaniac Mary “Stealer” Holt has to deal with. But it’s a first draft, I can always change the answer later. I hope to finish it this month, but I won’t bet on it.

That’s a satisfactory amount of work. Next week, hopefully, I can accomplish work and sleep.

#SFWApro. Rights to cover image remain with current holder.

 

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Well my output is good, but the results?

I really, really would like to sell something besides Leaf articles. I’m happy to sell those because they make me a decent income, but would it be too much to sell some fiction too?

This week I got a form letter turn-down for one reprint story, and a rejection for a regional con (I may go in person. We’ll see). Late last week, I was told another submission came within a “handwaving asymptote” of acceptance, or it wasn’t accepted because it was a handwaving asymptote. I wasn’t really clear, but a friend with better mathematical understanding thinks they meant A. Oh, and the artist who’s working on a cover design for me is way behind on responding. I know her and she’s got a lot on her plate, but it would be nice to hear back.

Sometimes, like Blue Beetle it seems there’s no escape, no chance — but then I get back up and resubmit something again.

Like the title says, output this week was good. A little disorganized due to Leaf having switched the way it posts articles; I still got in enough to pay my share of the bills, but not always at the times I’d blocked out for them. I kept working on something though, so I didn’t waste time.

I also lost time because of sleep. Got back in late after going out with the writer’s group Tuesday; couldn’t sleep Wednesday for stress (I wound up with some Leaf articles I was having serious trouble finishing — though I succeeded Thursday); and last night, Trixie woke me out of a solid sleep because she needed to go to the bathroom. As her bad leg precluded her usual body language — running to the door and waiting — I decided she was just being needy, petted her for a bit, then got up and did some work. I should have trusted my gut and taken her out, then TYG wouldn’t have had to deal with poop on the floor when she got up.

Oh, and Plush Dog spent much of today as a lap dog, choosing the most awkward positions for my writing — that is, I end up with my legs spread, tilted slightly over on one side, propping my lap desk up on the arm of the couch. Makes focus hard.

Now, as to the actual output. I got two more chapters on Impossible Takes a Little Longer done, set in the Stardian City I talked about in a previous post. This sequence turned out really well; however I’m looking back at the early chapters, which I changed relatively little, and thinking I need to change a couple of them a lot. The villain’s opening attacks on my superhero, Champion, are just not working in the context of the whole book, though I’m not sure what should replace them.

I put in some work on an as yet untitled short still in first-draft stage. It involves a 1938 socialite and compulsive thief stumbling into a portal fantasy. I’ve never figured out what’s on the other side of the portal for her to deal with, but I’ve got a better handle on her character now and that’s going to help. I hope.

I read the revised Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates to the writers’ group and got some good feedback. Mostly that a lot of background detail could be cut and should be. And that the ending needs more oomph, which I agree with — nobody could pinpoint what, but perhaps I’ll think of something. I hadn’t thought it needed that much tightening, but they’re good judges so I’ll keep that in mind when I review it next week.

And I got a start on redrafting and footnoting Chapter Four of Undead Sexist Cliches. I restructured the chapter and I think it’s in good shape. Hopefully I won’t change my mind as I go through it again.

Oh, and I submitted a story which has not come back yet! In fact all my non-reprint stories are out, so who knows?

#SFWApro. Cover by Chris Wozniak, all rights remain with current holder.

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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

Crawling from the wreckage

Well that’s unusual. Normally if the week goes poorly, it starts well, then tanks. This time it started as a mess, then picked up.

Due to worry and vet appointments for Trixie’s injury, Sunday and Monday crawled. I got some Leaf done, but that was it, and it took forever to focus.

After that, though, things started to resolve and I began to get into the swing of things. It was still awkward trying to fit Trixie and Plushie and me on the couch, inside the cage, but we made it work, though not very comfortably. Yeah, maybe “swing of things” isn’t the best phrasing. So along with a full slate of Leaf I made some minor changes to Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates for my reading at writer’s group next week. And I completed another two chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, as KC enters Stardian City (which I blogged about yesterday).

And I finally got my revised proposal for Space Invaders off to McFarland. It all seemed to come together in my head Thursday, while Plushie was at Suite Paws. With Trixie at home I didn’t get my usual full day all to myself, but not having Plushie sitting in my lap and squishing me into awkward positions was apparently a brain boost (I could try moving him off, but he’s just so cute). As I couldn’t go out cycling with Trixie to watch over, I probably wound up spending more time writing than usual. My brain was quite fried by the end of the day.

As I made the most of my no-Leaf weeks the first half of the month, I ended up doing well meeting my goals. Only about 60 percent, but almost all of my writing goals, and a lot of the important personal ones. So I’m pleased.

The goals included contributing a one-day quiz to the Learned League online trivia game I play in. I’ve been working on it for a while, but I finally reviewed the feedback, fixed some problems and submitted the final draft of the questions on Monday (it went live yesterday). The topic was “The Other Oz Films” which I think I’m well-qualified to write. My description on the website:

The 1939 MGM Wizard of Oz wasn’t declared a classic until after years of TV airings. Over time, though, it eclipsed L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz novel and its sequels, not to mention casting a long shadow over every other Oz movie ever made. There are lots of other Oz films in that shadow. Oz characters are so iconic, they stay recognizable even when they’re plugged into horror films, SF, educational videos or soft-care porn. That flexibility, and Baum being out of copyright, makes them irresistible. The questions that follow cover 12 Oz films from the silent era onward. Head over the rainbow and test your knowledge of the Oz films that don’t star Judy Garland.

And now the weekend. There’s a bunch of little errands and tasks I need to deal with but I intend to get maximum relaxation in too. I think I could use it.

#SFWApro. Dog photos are mine. All rights to cover image remain with current holders.

 

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There will be blood! And it was mine!

No, I didn’t have an accident, I finally donated blood on Thursday.

While I’d arranged my schedule to account for the wiped-out feeling a double donation of red blood cells gives me, this trip still threw me off my game. There was a rash on my left arm when they were ready to stick the needle in — probably a reaction to something on the blood-pressure cuff — and as a result they decided to use my right arm. The veins weren’t as good, so they slowed down the system and I got out 30 to 40 minutes later than I normally would have. Then I had to walk across the parking lot and almost to the street to call a Lyft because the Red Cross is in a cell-phone dead zone.

But it’s done! And with a double dose, I won’t be ready to give again until May, so being wiped out the rest of the day (the only thing I got done was a post on Death-Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse on Atomic Junkshop) is worth it to cut back the number of appointments. And overall this was a productive week. That’s good, as I’ll be starting back on Leaf articles next week, so there’ll be less time for other stuff.

I rewrote Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates which I’ll submit to the writing group in a week or two. Now that the McGuffin is a box of Stuckey’s praline candies, I’ll leave it up to the group whether the title still works or if I need an alternative (It Flutters on the Soul would be my backup).

I finished Chapter Six of Sexist Myths and went on to incorporate a number of bookmarked web pages into the book. I’ll jump back and start on Chapter Four next week (it’s much rougher so I figured I’d be more able to tackle it if I got a couple of other chapters under my best).

I went over the rewrite of Fiddler’s Black I did last week and it looks good. Next week I’ll start looking for markets.

I completed two more chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Despite all the changes from the last draft, it’s flowing very well. A big part of that is the first person voice works so much better than third-person did, conveying much more of the intensity. I’m on track to get to Chapter Eighteen by the end of the month, which was my plan. However it’s shaping up to be very short for a novel length work. Then again, so did Southern Discomfort and it’s now a comfortable 90,000. Fingers crossed.

I finished a first draft of Death’s Jester though that’s definitely not the final title. It involves a couple of teenage schoolgirls in 1960s London getting entangled in a supernatural struggle. However the ending is really rushed, because I was bone-weary this morning and I couldn’t think very well, so I just wrapped it up all of a sudden. There are some bits in the ending I like, but I may revisit it next week and mess around with other options.

And I gave blood which is something I take pride in doing as much as possible. So yay.

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

 

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Overpowered by pets! My week in review

I knew that with TYG out of town Wednesday through Friday, this week would be a little demanding. But like Don Blake beholding Dr. Doom’s scarred face, I never dreamt it would be like this!

First, the background: TYG has an alumni event around this time every year. Normally it overlaps with Illogicon, the local SF con, so we board the dogs for the weekend. This year, however, hotel issues led to the con skipping until 2021. Even though TYG was out of town last month, she left Friday; this year she left Wednesday. It’s been at least a couple of years since I had to cope with handling the dogs solo on a workweek morning.

(And this is not a complaint about my spouse: I’m glad she’s having fun, and it’s not like I don’t travel solo sometimes).

Knowing they’d want long morning walks, I figured I’d get up, have breakfast, and work until it was light enough to take them out. But Trixie and Plush Dog follow me downstairs when they don’t have TYG upstairs to snuggle with. That’s distracting, plus my brain kept insisting this was my warmup period before work, not a time for actual writing, and I couldn’t seem to get past that.

Plus Wisp, as I noted this morning, has been really keen on coming in for petting, and that took up some extra time. And so did the walkies. This morning I got back from the walk at 9:15, which is almost two hours after I’d normally start writing. And I just went screw it, and gave up.

Despite which I did get some stuff done. I’m getting close to the end of Sexist Myths Chapter Six, which is all I expected to finish this month (I may have been wrong). I got through another chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Contrary to my worries last week, I think I’ve figured how to progress through some key scenes in KC’s personal arc. Didn’t get around to working on it further, though.

I redrafted Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates part-way. It’s improving steadily; I hope my next batch of beta-readers agrees with me the title works even though there’s no longer a box of chocolates — I think it’s funnier if death comes from a box of Stuckey’s praline candies.

And I submitted three stories Monday to various markets, as well as reworking and finishing Rabbits Indignateonem (thanks to feedback from my friend Cindy Holbrook). I also revised Fiddler’s Black based on feedback from the last market I submitted it to, tdotspec. They thought one of my two leads was undeveloped, and that the opening needed tightening; after looking it over, I agree on both counts. I’ll go over it again before I resubmit it somewhere.

So pretty good, even if I didn’t stick the landing. And after all my dogs are worth losing time over. So is my wife.#SFWApro. Dog photo by me, cover by John Buscema, all rights remain with current holder.

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

Trixie sees her shadow (and other events)

So Wednesday morning, TYG and I took the dogs for a walk. On the way home we were upon a slope with the sun to our right—And man, when she saw our shadows, she wanted to run down and meet us. It was adorable. And the walk also let me photograph the first heron and first sunrise of 2020:New Year’s Day was otherwise quite relaxed. New Year’s Eve was very relaxed as we don’t go out: TYG has no urge to stay out somewhere until midnight, and I worry about drunks on the road. I was also exhausted so we went to bed without even trying to stay up to midnight. It paid off though: I had a solid nine hours of sleep, which was amazingly refreshing.

Now, as to the rest of the week:

I redrafted Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and it’s getting close to the point I can show it to someone — either the writer’s group again, or one of my out-of-group beta readers. And I’m keeping the title, even though it doesn’t quite fit as it’s now a box of Stuckey’s praline candies that kicks off the plot

I worked on a first draft I’d largely forgotten about, involving a couple of teenage girls in 1969 getting caught up in a battle with a mysterious sorcerer. I have a lot of unfinished drafts on my laptop, so one of my goals for this year is to get twelve of them finished. This one’s not there yet, but it’s 2,500 words closer.

I worked two chapters on Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I might have gone further, but I ran into an obstacle: I’m now at a couple of chapters where KC’s personal arc takes precedence over the action, and the arc’s changed completely. I like having a pause in the action but a lot of the discussion and conflict no longer works. Hopefully when I look at it again next week, I’ll see the path.

And I finished Chapter Five of Sexist Myths. Reordering the chapter’s argument and entering all the time was a slog … and that’s chapter was in good shape. Chapter Six is a lot less ready, so that may be all i get done on the book the rest of this month.

And I made samosas. They tasted great, but didn’t look at all like the ones you get in restaurants. I’ve had that problem before — next time I make them, I’ll make sure I have enough free time to really work on them.

A good start to 2020. Hope it keeps up.

#SFWApro. Photos are mine.

 

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Productivity and plague: my last writing week of 2019

The plague was the same problem I’ve been dealing with for four years now: the combination of dry heated air from the heating system with my asthma plus bad breath control makes me vulnerable to any virus that comes along. It gets into my throat and leaves me hacking, wheezing and eventually without a voice.

Fortunately I’ve learned to strike first when I feel the symptoms, and so Tuesday, went I felt a familiar hacking and wheezing, I went in to the urgent care near our house. Good move: they confirmed I had a virus (probably the one TYG acquired on a recent trip) and gave me some nasal drops. They seem to be working, though I’m also careful about not talking (the breath control problem — I can really strain my throat). I rested most of the day, which was smart, but cost me more work time. Plus I don’t work on Christmas. Still, I got quite a bit done.

I completed the third chapter of Sexist Myths but discovered Chapter Four is one of my weakest. Nothing that can’t be fixed, but it requires more thought than I can manage with the dogs squished up against me non-stop (I didn’t get my break last week due to Trixie’s tummy troubles so I’m feeling the loss of personal space more than usual). I started Chapter Five and did much better; I’ll come back to Four when the pups are in doggy day care again next week.

I put some more work in on Oh, the Places You’ll Go and reviewed a slightly revised version of the original version. I’ve got to say, despite one member of my writing group saying it was fine as it stood, I think it does need a lot more, so the big reboot is probably necessary.

And I completed the nine chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer I set myself as one of my goals for the month. Chapter Nine introduces the villain, and I was very unsure because he’s so radically rebooted from the previous version. However early this morning I saw a way to make him work and forged ahead. Hopefully my new approach will prove itself as I progress.

Just a few more days this year and then enter 2020. But for now, enjoy the weekend!

#SFWapro. Photograph is mine.

 

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