I have much to be thankful for

I’m married to TYG, who is better than I deserve and more remarkable and awesome than my fantasies ever were.

I have Plushie —

Trixie — — and now Wisp.TYG and I remain in good health (knock wood) and we’re both able to work from home (and since TYG started doing that, it’s destressed her so much).

In lieu of going out, we’ll be having an excellent vegan Thanksgiving takeout later today from Cafe Parizade.

I do my best to stay conscious of how amazingly lucky I am and never take it for granted.

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Publishers allegedly behaving badly

First, Disney. According to Cory Doctorow,  Disney acquired publishing rights to a number of Alan Dean Foster’s novels when they acquired Lucasfilm and Fox. They have not paid Foster any royalties since they became the publisher, nor provided him with royalty statements. The reason? They acquired publication rights when they bought the other companies’ assets, but not their debts — so basically they’re not legally obligated to pay him. They’re also refusing to negotiate or discuss things unless Foster signs a non-disclosure agreement first. Which sounds like a ginormous red flag — NDAs are often used as part of a settlement agreement, but not as a precondition for negotiating.

SFWA is on this, understandably. If Disney can get away with this there’s nothing to stop other corporations that buy up publishers from doing the same. Or one publisher under an umbrella corporation could sell the rights to another publishing company in the same organization. Keep in mind, they’re not washing their hands of what Lucasfilm owed Foster: Disney is selling copies of the books he wrote so there’s no excuse I can imagine that makes it legal.

From Disney’s perspective I would guess this looks like a no-lose move. If they win, or if Foster just gives up, they keep the royalties. There’s no court ruling to stop them from trying again. If the case goes to court and runs another five years, it will be a great deal of sweat and effort for Foster but none at all for Disney executives; they’ve got lawyers for that. And if they lose, well, it’s unlikely whatever court costs and damages they pay will hurt their bottom line much. Disney’s FY 2018 report says they spent $38 million settling litigation; another million wouldn’t be much of a problem.

Which is the thing about America today: if you’re rich and you don’t want to follow the law, the system can’t do much to stop or deter you. Disney Co. is very rich. Small wonder that aggressively as they protect their intellectual property, they keep getting accused of ignoring it when it’s inconvenient.

Then there are the allegations against Audible, Amazon’s audiobook company (I should add that I believe both sets of allegations). As detailed at File 770, writers receive only 40 percent of the sale price even though they pay for recording their books, which isn’t cheap. Now it turns out that Audible has launched an exchange program where you can trade in one audiobook for another, even if you liked the recording and listened all the way through (there’s a “return” button at the end). You can make the exchange up to a year after purchase. Audible then reduces the authors’ sales: you sell 10 books, three readers return them, you get payment for seven. It’s not obvious on the sales reports (my publisher McFarland’s sales reports make returns crystal clear). Nor did writers learn about this deal or get an option to opt out — oh, and even when Amazon changes the rules, writers can’t pull their books for seven years after they launch.

I presume this works out well for Audible: they make money off reader memberships and I’m sure turning themselves into a de facto library makes membership that much more attractive. Not at all well for writers.

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Covers for Thanksgiving week

But not Thanksgiving themed.

One by EmshUncredited art for a great short story collection.One by Powers for Amis’ much criticized book on SF.An uncredited cover for a book that became a 1950s SF film.  A truly weird title on this uncredited cover. “Blood in their veins (so it doesn’t whistle)” — WTF dude?A mystery cover by Mort KuntslerAnd a mystery cover by Griffith Foxley that looks almost like a strange sf/fantasy cover.And I’ll wrap up with this one by George Ziel.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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An incompetent, unsuccessful coup attempt is still an attack on America

One of the questions I’ve seen discussed on liberal blogs lately (links here) is how much of Trump’s appeal is his bigotry and misogyny, how much is Trump himself. The question shapes the future of the Republican Party: if Trump’s success is partly from his ability to perform and inspire at rallies, sober, serious Republicans who are equally extreme and authoritarian won’t inspire the same fervor (some discussion here). If not …

But either way, it’s pretty clear the Republican Party is totally wrong for America. Biden won. He won legitimately despite Republican vote suppression and the hysterical rants about how Democrats will shut down all the churches, destroy the suburbs and drink adenochrone from American children. And Republicans are attempting a coup. It looks like it will fail, but most of the party supports Trump’s efforts. Some of those displaying integrity would probably have changed their tune if it was close enough that cries of fraud were a little more believable (see here for more. Also here). Presumably they’ll do it again. Which means Democrats for the rest of my life will not only have to win, they’ll have to win by cheat-proof margins. And even then, we may have Republican loyalists like the GSA’s Emily Murphy refusing to allow a transition. It’s like McConnell’s declaration his top goal starting in 2008 was to make Obama a one-term president; running the government is less important than crushing Democrats (and democracy).

And we have right-wing news pushing to defend Trump — sure, he’s given us no proof yet, but any minute he might come up with the evidence Dems are as dirty as Real Americans always suspected. Or right-wing arguments that really, Dems are just as bad. What Murphy’s doing is no worse than Whoopi Goldberg telling Republicans to get over it, am I right? No, you’re not (and at the Murphy link, Howard Kurtz does make that argument).

Part of the problem is that the Republican agenda — anti-gay, misogynist, pro-the 1 percent, anti any regulation at all — is unpopular with most of America. Democracy works against them unless they change, and they’ve made it quite obvious they’re not going to change. Plus a lot of them are true believers. Many of them buy into the same the same right-wing “news” that Trump does. In the words of I.F. Stone, governments are in trouble when they start smoking the hashish they’re selling to the public.

No More Mr. Nice Blog says part of the Republican advantage is that they and their media allies have been screeching for decades about how eeevil liberals are. Dems aren’t doing the same back. So Democrats committing fraud or working against America seem more reasonable to a lot of people — certainly to people in the media — than the idea that Republicans are a threat to America. Looking at how even lying right-wing shits like Newt Gingrich rarely pay a consequence for their conduct, the blog wonders if we don’t need to get just as dirty as they do.

I sincerely hope not. We definitely need to play hardball — we should be out there reminding everyone that Republicans have rejected democracy, racial equality, gay rights, etc. — but turning outselves into Republican clones won’t work out well. I also think there’d be much more blow back than Republicans get. For a variety of reasons, Dems are typed as the nice ones: Republicans fighting for the right to discriminate against gays doesn’t generate the kind of shock that stories about Democrats refusing to date Republicans do. Being vicious and bigoted is part of their brand; we’re expected to be tolerant and fair.

Keeping Republican treachery in the public eye might help change that. Maybe. We should also challenge the Republican myth they’re the party of military duty and military leadership. Newt Gingrich, who never served, once mocked Sen. George McGovern, a fighter pilot, as a war wimp; Bush II, who dodged the draft and blew off his National Guard service, painted decorated veteran John Kerry as a shirker who faked his war wounds. Mitt Romney, who never served, once mocked Jimmy Carter (“Even Carter could have given the kill order,” dismissing Obama ordering bin Laden’s death), who did. Can we change that narrative? Maybe. Not for hardcore Repubicans (I’m pretty sure the veterans who told me they couldn’t tolerate Bill Clinton’s draft dodging voted happily for W and Trump), but perhaps for others?

Then there’s religion. Lots of Democrats have faith; Biden’s a lifelong Catholic, Obama and the Clinton’s are churchgoers. Nevertheless, Republicans still represent themselves as the God Party. Part of that, as blogger Fred Clark once said, is that people tend to equate meanness with faith: zealots who oppose interracial marriage or women’s right to vote are seen as more devout than people who are open to equality and gay marriage. Believers who let children die rather than give them medical treatment (it’s in God’s hands!) are more devout, by this thinking, than people whose faith inspires them to run a soup kitchen or a free clinic.

How do we push back? There you got me. I can blog about it, but I’m sure that’s not going to turn the tide (I am thinking of ways I can do more. No ideas yet). But it needs to be done. As does the kind of on-the-ground door-to-door organizing and energizing Ihlan Omar does.

Republicans are the enemy of America. As for the Republican voters … but that’s for next Monday’s post.

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Catch, kill and battle: books read

Working on Undead Sexist Cliches I’d read enough about the Weinstein case and Ronan Farrow’s exposé on it I wondered if Farrow’s CATCH AND KILL: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators had anything to say I hadn’t heard. Turns out yes: this is an absorbing story about Farrow’s efforts to cover Weinstein’s history of harassment and rape despite NBC suddenly backing off (“the consensus about the organization’s comfort level moving forward,” in the words of Farrow’s then boss Noah Oppenheim). Farrow believes the reluctance involved both Oppenheim’s sexist conviction that harassment wasn’t that big a deal and NBC’s unease about how close it struck to harassment cases inside their own company. While it doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t know about rape and harassment, the details, as always, are horrifying (like one actor who went to the cops, got Weinstein’s confession on tape — and still nobody prosecuted).

THE REGIONAL OFFICE IS UNDER ATTACK! by Manuel Gonzales starts well but runs out of steam as it goes along. The Regional Office is a SHIELD-like organization that like Buffy’s Watchers trains paranormal women to fight against threats to humanity — but now one of their own as turned against them, leading to the title set-up. Gonzalez’ breezy, meta-commenting omniscient narrator voice is amusing in small doses but after a certain point it feels like Look How Clever I Am — all the meta stuff needed a payoff and I don’t think we got one.

HELLBOY AND THE BPRD: The Beast of Vargu and Others by Mike Mignola and assorted writers is a random selection of Hellboy adventures rather than the year-by-year approach Mignola’s been doing in previous and the BPRD volumes. The stories are a mixed bag — I honestly can’t make sense of the title tale — with the best being Krampusnacht, in which Hellboy battles yes, Krampus.

I really enjoyed Greg Pak’s run on Hulk, which introduced Korean-American genius Amadeus Cho as Banner’s sidekick. I didn’t have as much fun with THE TOTALLY AWESOME HULK: Cho Time by Pak, Ryan Cho and Mike Choi. Here, Amadeus has saved Bruce Banner by draining the Hulk’s essence into himself; as he doesn’t have Bruce’s traumatic past, he figures it’ll be easy to keep the Hulk’s brutal side under control … right? Something about the bantering dialog and the light-hearted situations just made this a little too cute.

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Small-town Hitchcock, Evil Superman and some TV viewed

Rewatching SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) in the course of an Alfred Hitchcock rewatch makes me appreciate how much it has in common with HIichcock’s earlier films — not just the camera work but the quirky supporting characters, the family dynamics (reminiscent of some of the parts of Young and Innocent, for instance) and a female lead becoming restless in her current station (as Hitchcock Romance says, similar to Joan Fontaine in Rebecca or Suspicion).That said, this film still feels unlike anything else of Hitch’s work. Joseph Cotton is Charlie, the “Merry Widow Killer,” who escapes a police dragnet and holes up in a small town with his relatives, including his namesake “Young Charlie” (Teresa Wright). It’s a warm, vibrant town where everyone knows everyone and where Henry Travers (as Wright’s dad) and coworker Hume Cronyn can happily dicker over which mystery’s method would work best in real life; it makes for a sharp contrast with Charlie’s view of the world as a cesspool where dog eats dog. Can Charlie hide there? Will detective MacDonald Carey open Young Charlie’s eyes to the threat? This one remains a personal favorite. “This world is a hell — why does it matter what happens in it?”

BRIGHTBURN (2019) is an obvious Superman riff in which a young couple rescue a baby from a downed space capsule; when his powers manifest as a tween he immediately begins using them in bad ways, from killing people who diss him to stalking the pretty classmate he’s crushing on. Dark Superman is an idea that has been done a lot — Super-Menace in the 1960s (depicted by Curt Swan here), Stalinist and Nazi alt.Supermen in recent years and the Superman-inspired Irredeemable — and all of them better than this; as Rolling Stone‘s review puts it, it’s like a sub-par version of The Omen where everyone who gets in the kid’s way dies horribly. The implication here is that Brightburn is some form alien advance guard (voices in his head keep telling him to “take the planet”) though that makes him less interesting than if he were just corrupted by power.  “My real parents were — superior.”

The third season of YOUNGER (s2 review here) has Liza and Josh coping with familiar relationship issues (he wants kids; she’s done with that) and the added sexual experience age gives her (“Everything I want to try, you already did with your husband.”); at work Liza and Kelsey have to deal with a tech bro millionaire moving in and trying to remake the publishing house. Once again things fall apart at the season ender when Josh catches Liza kissing her boss just when he was about to propose (he conveniently forgets giving her permission to stray at least once in an earlier episode); more interesting is Liza finally confessing the truth to Kelsey. Still fun. “You put your workout bench in my bedroom?”

The BBC’s 1981 miniseries of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS is more faithful to the John Wyndham novel than the film version, with the exception of making the triffids a much larger menace earlier on. The faithfulness has both good and bad sides, the good being that the triffids are just as alien as in the book and without the convenient weakness that ensures their destruction in the movie. On the down side, this carries over Wyndham’s sexism (“Most women want babies — husbands are just a means to an end.”) and bogs down in talk as we get away from the imminent triffid threat and into the mundane job of rebuilding civilization; focusing primarily on the triffids turns out to have been a wise move on the film-makers’ parts. And like Wyndham the prospect that blind people from before the catastrophe might have some useful advice doesn’t occur to anyone, nor does anyone even consider that the blindness might be temporary, which would complicate the moral calculus. All that said, this did have some excellent moments.

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The Man Who Lost Thursday

(And yes, I picked the title because I really like the Gervasio Gallardo cover).

Following last week’s mess, I expected to rise back to my normal level of productivity this week, but it was not to be. I had three reasonably productive days, getting work done on Undead Sexist Cliches, and watching material for Alien Visitors. Plus, of course, my Leaf articles.Then came Thursday. It was one of the days where there’s a bunch of real-world stuff that had to be done — so I dropped my work and did it.

Two of them were surprises. The Low Tire warning light went on the day before and with all our driving back and forth to the veterinary rehab, it seemed wise to take care of it. That morning I took the car to the nearest gas station which has an automatic air-pump that inflates tires to the right pressure without having to check. I also figured out how to reset the tire pressure so the light goes up, something that’s not as simple as with our previous VW Golf. That way if there is a slow leak or something — I’m assuming it was just time, our lack of regular tire checks and cold air effects — it’ll alert us again.

Then there was my teeth. They normally stay sore for a while after I have work done on them, so at first the temperature sensitivity after last month’s filling didn’t bother me. But it seemed to be becoming more acute, and included heat sensitivity, which is a warning sign of Something Serious. Given that it spread over both the upper and lower right side of my mouth, TYG suggested it could be sinuses. However, while that seemed plausible, it could have been worse … and I didn’t want to have to go in two or three weeks later with COVID-19 in its winter surge and my teeth having deteriorated. So I called the doctor and made an appointment for noon.

It was sinuses. Which despite paying $120 for the exam, I was happy to hear. Relatively simple to treat and no going under the needle again! Or paying for fillings, root canals or whatever. And I don’t have to worry something’s seriously wrong, which I would have if I’d skipped going.

The other stuff I did Thursday was matters that I knew needed taking care of but I hadn’t gotten around to yet. Hall light replaced upstairs. Chatting with our medical insurer and determining that no, we hadn’t met our high deductible yet which is why a couple of bills were higher than expected. Figuring out how to access our HSA to pay for them — our old HSA let you just withdraw at the ATM, but this one is much more complicated to get money out of (I got it figured out though). I wanted to submit to our pet insurer for rehab coverage too, but that will have to wait.

So not much done. Then today we had dog stuff for much of the day: take our dogs to the vet to get their nails trimmed (Plushie’s are long enough they could break, which would be painful), then to rehab. Normally we go evenings, but this time we scored an early afternoon appointment. Preferable, but not good for productivity (it’s a good half-hour drive).

On the plus side, though, Flash in a Flash accepted my short story Rabbits Indignateonem. That’s the first new story I’ve sold in two years. It doesn’t necessarily change my October views on selling stories, but it is quite nice.

And it looks like Leaf, as usual, will not have articles for the last week of the month so I can make up for lost time next week, despite the Thanksgiving weekend.

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I think it’s Rochester’s wife in the attic!

So on my morning walks with Trixie I frequently pass by this place.There’s something about those huge stretches of blank wall that just looks sinister to me. I realize it’s purely a side effect of being on a slope — something a lot of houses around us have to adapt to — and that the lower portion of the wall is probably just enclosing the crawl space. But knowing that can’t still the whisper in my mind that this place is not right. That maybe somewhere inside in a windowless room, someone is undergoing an unrequested brain transplant — with a hedgehog!

This is probably just me. But I am me, so what do you expect?

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Not planets orbiting the sun but stars in their own right

A couple of years back I blogged here about how, contrary to standard advice, fictional antagonists do not have to see themselves as the hero. The protagonist of their story, yes, but not necessarily a hero (lots of protagonists aren’t heroes). When I mentioned this elsewhere online last month, someone informed me I was wrong (the impertinence!) and that what I’d said was meaningless — obviously they were the protagonists of their own story, what else could they be?

I didn’t have the chance to respond before comments closed, but the answer to that question is, characters don’t have to be protagonists of anyone’s story. I see lots of fiction where the characters are simply supporting characters in someone else’s story. They shouldn’t be, but they are.

As I wrote when my cousin Peter wrote The Lie That Settles about our family, I’d always envisioned my aunts and uncles as supporting players in my life. The book made me realize they had their own lives, feelings and goals, many of which had nothing to do with me. And so it should be with fictional characters. Whether they’re an antagonist or a supporting character they should usually have an existence separate from the protagonist even if it’s not part of the story.

That’s not always how it works. I’ve read stories where the high school Mean Girl’s life revolves around persecuting the protagonist. Or supporting characters who don’t have lives of their own, they just exist to admire the protagonist. Or everyone who meets the protagonist realizes she is just the most amazing person they’ve ever encountered, as in Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs and its sequels. Romance writer Jude Devereaux had an article in Writer’s Digest in the early 1980s making the same point: some romance novelists write female leads who are so cosmically charming that everyone is happy to help them, except the villain who wants to rape them and the romantic rival who hates them. But they’re all fixated on her.

It’s particularly acute with female love interests, who often have no other role in the story. Tim Hanley’s Betty and Veronica makes this point about how the girls of Riverdale were often written with no reason to exist besides Archie. It’s far from the only example. By contrast, one of the things I love about the 1980s TV series Square Pegs is that the in crowd barely cares the protagonists exist. They have their own lives to live; if Patty and Lauren weren’t constantly trying to be friends with the cool kids, both groups would go their own way.

I don’t think every supporting character has to be written this way. Minor characters can be walk-ons who serve the protagonist their meals or trim their hair. Or they can have some quirky trait that makes them stand out while still being clearly supporting characters, like Moriarty’s constant bullying of his butler in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. But a lot of times giving them a life of their own can add to the story, like mystery story-obsessed Hume Cronyn in Shadow of a Doubt or the occasional comic-book spotlights on super-villain henchmen.

I make a conscious effort to do this in my own writing, at least at novel length (with shorter stories sometimes everything does need to revolve around the protagonist to save space). KC’s best friend Sarah in Impossible Takes a Little Longer is getting married in a couple of weeks as the story opens. That gives her something to focus on besides KC’s problems. In Questionable Minds Scotland Yard’s Mentalist Investigation Department has multiple cases to work on besides the central one. Hopefully this creates the feeling the characters have some existence outside the central story.

So I think I was right and my critic was wrong. But of course.

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I begin to understand the problem

I’ve been reading the early chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer to my writing group. While the reaction has been mostly positive, several people have pointed out that I’m spending a lot of time showing casual interactions between KC and her friends (Matt, Sarah, Skeeter) rather than on the plot — is this really what I should be setting up? Will the investment in these people pay off?

The answer, I hope, is yes. KC’s friends play a very large role in the book and her need to connect with people is important to her character. But after reading Dima Zales’ The Girl Who Sees: Sasha Urban Series I I can see why they’re concerned.

I picked up the book (cool cover by Orina Kafe) despite urban fantasy being a tough sell for me. That’s because it’s about a stage mentalist who discovers she has real magical powers. The interplay between magic and stage magic fascinates me (I’ve seen it occasionally) so as this was a free download (a hook for the seven book series) I gave it a try.

It read like the first issue of a new superhero comic book (which is not a bad thing) stretched out to 300 pages (that’s the bad part). The set-up far outweighed the plot: we hang out with Sasha’s roommates, hang out with her at work and spend long stretches where the magical initiates are explaining the magical world to the newbie (that almost always turns me off). If it had been Sasha Urban #1 I’d have been okay with this, but for a novel, even the first in a series, it seems like a waste of space.

So yeah, the feedback on Impossible has a point. The relationships will pay off but too much time spent on them is going to give the book the wrong feel. Of course this is the first draft of my redraft so like a lot of writers I’m setting up a lot of stuff up front to make sure I can put it in. I can shift it around and sharpen the focus of the early chapters in the next draft.

While The Girl Who Sees didn’t work for me, it was useful to read it.

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