Tag Archives: Aliens Are Here

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

The password for 2022 is: recalled to life

Sitting here at the end of the year, it really feels that way. It was a good year for me and TYG in multiple ways.

It started out with lots of room to improve. TYG got a massive, urgent project in her lap starting in January and it kept her running at top speed through March. Then she spent a couple of months on another demanding project, after which she happily jumped to a new job with more pay for a less insane workload. Not that it still doesn’t get extreme but she has more free time to go out with me, go out with friends, sit and read and she’s relishing it.

Needless to say, when she’s happier and less stressed, I’m happier and less stressed. Plus I’m happier to see her happier.

And while covid is hardly gone — a lot of our friends finally came down with it this year — getting vaxxed and boosted has left us both confident enough to resume a lot of normal stuff like going to art museums and eating out. Not to mention finally visiting the North Carolina Zoo.

Coupled with TYG’s added time we’ve been having an official date night every week (usually on weekends) to do something couple-ish, whether it’s watching a movie, taking a walk without the dogs or playing board games. I think it’s really boosting the pleasure we take in our marriage (not that we were miserable before or anything like that).

One of my goals for 2022 was to end the year with more money than I started with. I managed that, partly because I signed up for Social Security early: the payout is slightly less but the added number of payments over the next few years compensates for that.

This was a good year for writing. I got some wonderful compliments on my work from one of my paying clients and I self-published or sold way more than any time in recent memory. For example, The Aliens Are Here is now out.Questionable Minds is available in ebook on Amazon or other retailers.The Savage Year came out at Metastellar. Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates is live on Metastellar. And I finished four short stories this year; my goal was six, but four is closer than I usually manage.

Plus, of course, I kicked off the year by self-publishing Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers.

Along with my writing here I’m still blogging regularly at Atomic Junk Shop and doing panels for Con-Tinual.

Plus 2022 included the usual stuff — eating, reading, playing with pets, snuggling with TYG — and what used to be usual, such as visiting my family in Florida.

What lies ahead in 2023? Well no-one can be certain but I’ll be back with my hopes in my Sunday blog post.

#SFWApro. Questionable Minds cover by Samantha Collins, Undead Sexist Cliches by Kemp Ward, rights are mine.


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Filed under Personal, Short Stories, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Writing to sell (and a discount sale!)

No, not writing stories with an idea of what will sell sell, but things like cover copy, Amazon online blurbs, and ads. I put in a lot of work during the countdown to publishing Questionable Minds. I browsed Amazon ads when they pop up in my FB feed, and they pop up a lot. It was primarily to get a sense of how other authors push books online, though it’s also just part of my love for books in general. When I worked at Waldenbooks in the 1990s I’d read the back copy of lots of books just to see what they were like. “Men’s adventure” books, Sweet Valley High, Babysitters Club, serious literature. It’s one of the things I miss about bookselling — sure I could do it in a bookstore but I rarely have that much time.

The style in promotional copy has changed a lot. Author Gail Z. Martin (I know her from cons) says it’s due to Amazon allowing all kinds of searches so including really nitty gritty specifics about tropes and subcategories helps grab readers. Thus romances (I’ve no idea why I get so many — it’s hardly my first pick) break down into subcategories such as grumpy single dad, grumpy boss, grumpy neighbor, grumpy single-dad neighbor. Plus lists of tropes such as enemies-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, bullies-to-lovers (that one makes me want to vomit), smoldering romance, sweet and gentle romance, frazzled single parents, etc.

So, here’s mine: ”

Enter a “steam-psi” Victorian world where newly discovered “mentalist” abilities are changing everything — and they’ve given Jack the Ripper a path to absolute power.

In Victorian England, 1888, some say Sir Simon Taggart is under the punishment of God.

In an England swirling with mentalist powers — levitation, mesmerism, human telegraphy — the baronet is unique, possessing mental shields that render him immune to any psychic assault. Even some of his friends think it’s a curse, cutting him off from the next step in human mental and spiritual evolution. To Simon, it’s a blessing.

Four years ago, the Guv’nor, the hidden ruler of the London underworld, arranged the murder of Simon’s wife Agnes. Obsessed with finding who hired the Guv’nor, Simon works alongside Inspector Hudnall and Miss Grey in Scotland Yard’s Mentalist Investigation Department. Immunity to telegraphy, clairvoyance and mesmerism are an asset in his work — but they may not be enough to crack the latest case.

A mysterious killer has begun butchering Whitechapel streetwalkers. With every killing, the man newspapers call “the Ripper” grows in mental power and in the brutality of his attacks. Is murder all that’s on his mind or does he have an endgame? What plans does the Guv’nor have for the Whitechapel killer? And if Simon has to choose between stopping the Ripper and unmasking the Guv’nor, how will he decide?

Questionable Minds is set in a Victorian England struggling to preserve the social hierarchy while mentalism threatens to overturn it. The cast of characters includes Dr. Henry Jekyll (and yes, his friend Edward Hyde too) and multiple other figures from history and fiction. It has a tormented, morally compromised protagonist, serial-killer villain, a devoted father-daughter relationship and a passionate but complicated love affair.

Trigger Warning: Multiple brutal murders. Nineteenth-century sexism and imperialism. A child in danger.”

I think it works. I hope I’m right. I’m also thinking of going back and redoing the copy for Atlas Shagged and Atoms for Peace and seeing if that can juice sales any. Can’t hurt! Questionable Minds is available in ebook on Amazon or other retailers. Or there’s the paperback.

And while I’m promoting myself, I’ll note that McFarland iscoffering 40% off all titles through November 28, including all my books such as The Aliens Are Here. Use HOLIDAY22 as the code at checkout!

#SFWApro. Covers by Samantha Collins (t) and Zakaria Nada.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Screen Enemies of the American Way, Writing

Why yes, I have a new book out

I’m hoping The Aliens Are Here will sell well, but who knows? However I’m working a little bit more to promote it than usual. I applied to John Scalzi’s Big Idea feature but no slots were open. However Hugo-winner Cora Buhlert, whom I know from Camestros Felapton‘s comments section, has interviewed me about it! That was cool (thanks Cora!).

Sales are hard to guess. McFarland targets the library and serious movie buff audience which guarantees they turn a profit and I get royalties, but more royalties is always desirable. The Wizard of Oz Catalog was easily my biggest seller — no surprise, given there’s a long-standing fandom for Oz. And I cover a lot of Oz stuff that wasn’t detailed in fan websites at the time.

I always figured Screen Enemies of the American Way would do well because the topic — political paranoia in American films — hasn’t been explored much. It’s probably thee weakest seller but it still generates small regular royalties even several years later. Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan still sells even though it’s been in print for 20 years I have some thoughts upon rereading the book in 2017)

Now and Then We Time Travel did way better than Screen Enemies. To my credit, it’s an excellent, thorough book on the topic. So perhaps The Aliens Are Here, dealing with another popular topic, will do well too.

You can visit Cora’s blog for details on why it’s worth reading and how I came to write it. Or, you know, buy it!

Here’s a set of movie posters representing all four books. First, for Gene Roddenberry’s 1977 TV pilot SpectreThen for the underrated 1985 Return to Oz.Warren Beatty’s 1974 masterpiece of paranoia, The Parallax ViewAnd the 1961 time travel fantasy The Flight That Disappeared

1971’s Andromeda Strain, one of my favorite posters.

And for my self-published Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, here’s the poster for the second Bond film.#SFWApro. Rights to all images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Movies, Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Screen Enemies of the American Way, Writing

Timey-wimey stuff

When I first started freelancing up here, I worked a 40-hour week. After we adopted Trixie and Plushie, it eventually dropped to seven hours a day and that was still a strain. 

About three years ago IIRC I cut back to 5.5 hours a day, excluding blogging. That made it easier to spend time on the dogs (look at them. Aren’t they worth it?) and I’d also read that when working longer than four or five hours, productivity drops. However working on proofing The Aliens Are Here showed I could do more when I pushed so in September I started shooting for six hours a day/30 a week. Given the obligations with dogs, trips to their rehab and various household stuff I take care of (my boss is a lot more understanding about me taking time off from work for such things than TYG’s), I haven’t made 30 hours except maybe once. This week I came close … but not quite. However I am putting in more work than I would if set a slightly lower goal, so I’ll stick with it.

As to what got done, I finished around 18,000 words of the Impossible Takes a Little Longer rewrite. That’s not as impressive as it sounds: the opening chapters needed very little work and as soon as I got to the major rewrites, things started to slow. However the results are good so revealing KC’s identity as the Champion was clearly the right move. I’m doing a blog tour for Questionable Minds, arranged through One World Ink and this week I sent in the four blog posts they wanted for the tour. Only the number was really five, so I’m working on the fifth. Fortunately it’s about writing with pets, so it almost writes itself. I submitted to John Scalzi’s Big Idea blog posts but they’re filled for the next two months. However Cora Buhlert, whom I know through comments at Camestros Felapton’s blog, is interviewing me at her blog about Aliens Are Here, so that’s cool. I’ll update y’all whenever of the blog posts or interviews goes live.

And today I finished one of those accounting articles that help pay my bills.

Next week will be interesting as TYG is away on business so I’ll be handling the pups full-time. We’ll see how this affects work.

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

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Look what came in the mail!

The Aliens Are Here comes out Oct. 30, and my author’s copies arrived this weekend.Why yes, I do feel as happy as I look there. Here’s a look at the entire cover:The image is from the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which explains why I didn’t recognize it — it’s not a movie that grips the mind.

Like I said, it feels really good to have a hard-copy version in my hands. Good enough to make all the work  I put in writing and proofing it feel worthwhile. Though sales would be nice too.

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

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Big screens and small towns

Some years back I read a book called SMALL-TOWN AMERICA ON FILM: The Decline and Fall of Community by Emanuel Levy and wasn’t that impressed.

While working on The Aliens Are Here, however, I reread the section dealing with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and found it stronger than I remembered. A few months back, I sat down and read the whole thing. It is indeed better than I remember.

Levy looks at America’s long fascination with the small town as the heart of the nation and how that played out in films from the 1930s through the 1980s.

The same themes (big city vs small town, community  vs. individual, eccentricity vs. conformity) and stock figures (spinster, richest man in town, disruptive outsider) though they play out differently. Unsurprisingly 1930s films give more weight to the superiority of small-town morals and the value of conformity, though even they can admit some degree of darkness. Small-town widows crop up in a lot of these stories, plus corrupt leaders in films such as It’s a Wonderful Life.

In the 1950s, by contrast, there’s more emphasis on how stifling conformity can be, and that the disruption outsiders cause can be a net gain. In the 1980s, when financial crisis in farm communities was a hot topic, there were multiple “save the family farm” films such as The River, showing the small towns sliding into decline.

In the 1950s we get interest in the suburbs, which movies and print fiction have been scowling at ever since. Not as authentic as the small towns. Lacking the vibrancy and culture of big cities. Shallow settings for shallow people, most of whom are probably cheating on their spouses (always a popular theme, as in the 1960 image below).

Reading Levy’s book got me thinking how this applies to SF films, many of which are set in small towns. For example we have It Came From Outer Spacewhich has scientist Richard Carlson filling the role of the eccentric and outsider who doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the community (the same can be said of the shapeshifting aliens). In  Invasion of the Body Snatchers the community is tight knit; the alien intrusion corrupts and destroys it.

Then there are those time-travel movies that show their protagonist she made a terrible mistake (it’s always a woman) moving away from her small town and thinking she could do better than her childhood sweetheart:  Eve’s Christmas, Holidaze and Back to Christmas to name three. They’re annoyingly sexist, always judging the female lead for thinking that going off to pursue a career is a good idea (a common theme in non-time travel films, such as Sweet Home Alabama).

I’m not sure the small-town setting is always important though. While Midwich Cuckoos (cover by Dean Ellis) plays up the effect of alien rape and impregnation on the small community, and the 1960 Village of the Damned has a community feel, the 1995 remake (reviewed at the same link) is so listless that there’s no significance to setting it in a small town.

Give Small Town America on Film is now 40 years behind in its film coverage, I find myself wondering if there isn’t material enough for a new one. But I have a lot of fiction to get written before I even think of that.

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

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1950s computers, 1980s papergirls and modern voyeurism: movies and TV

In hindsight it would have been interesting to discuss GOG (1954) in the section of Aliens Are Here dealing with 1971’s The Andromeda Strain.

Like the later movie, Gog is a film about science and scientific research; where the Crichton adaptation makes scientific drudgery fascinating, Gog is plodding, talky and dull. That’s partly because where Andromeda Strain is tense — can we stop a xenobacteria from causing a pandemic? — the research scenes in Gog have nothing to do with the main plot of the movie.The plot centers on a series of mysterious deaths in a lab working on space research, including plans for an orbiting solar mirror that could destroy any target on Earth, so clearly our satellite has to get up before any foreign power tries it (the kind of thinking The Space Children later warned against). The mysterious saboteur could prevent that.

Dull as it is, Gog does have a couple of interesting elements. Gog and Magog are the screen’s first non-humanoid robots; the foreign power’s interference with the base’s central computer amounts to an early example of hacking. That’s not enough to redeem it though. Not a maniac, Dr. Burton — we have on our staff a cold, calculating killer.”

If you read this blog regularly you know I’m a big fan of the Brian K. Vaughn/Cliff Chiang Paper Girls comics series so no surprise I watched the Amazon Prime adaptation. PAPER GIRLS is  fun with its story of four kids suddenly caught up in a time war, though I think the originals are so cinematic the various changes to the original storyline were pointless. The best change is giving us a look at adult KJ, which somehow never happened in the comics. The most understandable is that while Mac handles cigarettes a lot, she doesn’t smoke any.

The changes I like least are number one, the lack of all the neat 1980s period references. Number two, the girls in the comics are acting on their own; here they’re constantly led around by one adult authority figure or another. That feels very unsatisfying, as if someone got cold feet about the kids trying to survive on their own in such a nightmare situation. In any case it’s been canceled, though I’ve no idea if the flaws I found are tied to that. “You just told me I’m adopted and you really think I want to listen to Whitney Houston?”

THE RENTAL (2020) is a clunky horror story in which two couples spend the weekend at an isolated coastal vacation house with suspiciously cheap rates — would you believe this turns out as disastrous as seeking refuge from thunderstorms in isolated castles? However it’s very oddly structured, starting off as personal drama (did the homeowner refuse to rent to a Muslim because he’s a racist? Will two of the quartet hooking up with the wrong person ruin everything?), shifting into Voyeur of Doom territory (the entire house is wired with hidden cameras!) then has the Voyeur turn into a Masked Slasher who kills them all. Thumbs down. “I’m not saying we can’t get away with it — I’m saying I don’t want to get away with it.”

#SFWApro. Comics cover by Chiang, all rights to images remain with current holders.


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Filed under Movies, TV

Two strange weekends in a row. But good strange

Labor Day weekend, as I mentioned before, I took off to chill after finishing Aliens are Here. But I don’t think I mentioned how strange it felt to not be doing anything for five days (Sept. 1-5). A little blogging, yes, but no other writing. I rarely take vacations that long and it’s always when I’m going somewhere, which means I don’t just lie around and read or take walks.

Of course, I did do things — shop for food, cook — but still, it was unbelievably relaxing to let myself off the hook for anything more than that. As TYG was out part of Saturday, I couldn’t do much because I had to keep an eye on the dogs. That helped me give myself permission, I think.

Then, last weekend, I attended my first Mensa event since 2019. It was the Atlanta Mensa gathering; I’d been invited because they had a time travel theme and the organizers wanted me to speak on time travel on film. How could I resist? Though work kept TYG away (we could probably have managed it, but by the time we knew that, I’d already had to book the flight).My talk went great, even though I managed to erase the outline I’d saved on my phone. Fortunately I’d practiced enough and know the material enough that I could do it even without notes. Beyond that I got to hang out with my fellow Mensans, eat some good food — the vegan meal Saturday night was so good, apparently even the meat-eaters in the Atlanta group wanted that restaurant to cater — and participated in a quiz or two. Didn’t win but one question asked for a Batman villain with a time-themed name. I gave them four (Clock, Clock King, Time Commander, Calendar Man).

I must admit, though, the socializing was a little overwhelming after so long without. Sure, I was at ConGregate and ConCarolinas this summer but cons are primarily about activities — selling books, sitting on panels — with socializing squeezed in wherever possible. In gatherings, the socializing’s the priority. I spent a lot of time re-energizing alone in my room.

Oh, I also got my first case of acid reflux in years, due to eating chocolate cheesecake late at night. With no other food in my stomach to cushion the shock. But it was very good cheesecake.

I had no problems with my flights though the airport was packed both times. I used to laugh at myself a little for always following the “get there two hours before the flight” standard. I don’t laugh so much any more.

Below, a closer look at that chocolate cheesecake (with a brownie on the side).

#SFWApro. Comics cover by Gil Kane, rights to images all remain with current holders.

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Filed under Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Writing

First week NOT working on Aliens Are Here

It went okay, given that I was off Monday for Labor Day and took most of today off for social activities.

With Aliens Are Here in the bag, I figured the thing I needed most to catch up on was the promotional activity for Questionable Minds. I’ve signed up for a blog tour and spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday prepping materials for that — book blurb, blog posts, stuff like that. I also contacted a couple of book bloggers to ask for reviews, though I think I’ve left it too late.

I also submitted a couple of stories and two queries for nonfiction articles.

Thursday — wait, I forget if I mentioned I’d submitted my short story Impossible Things Before Breakfast to a friend’s anthology. It’s a collective anthology with all of us giving feedback on each other’s stories, selecting the cover, etc. Based on the feedback I’ve been rewriting the story, and it’s done. I didn’t agree with all the suggested changes, but the ones I did follow improved the story. The others, not so much, but that’s typical with more than a couple of beta-readers.

However there were multiple disruptions Thursday so I lost my focus after that. I’d hoped to work on Don’t Pay the Ferryman — I’m thinking the final title will be something like Smiles in Dark Mirrors — but no. Next week, for sure, unless I get some Leaf articles to work on.

I was also slowed down by my computer keys sticking a lot. We ordered some compressed air and I gave the keyboard a blast this morning. I think it’s done the trick so I can postpone buying a computer a bit longer.

One good thing: based on the amount of time I put in proofing and indexing The Aliens Are Here, I figured I might be able to up the time I spend writing during the day. I managed six hours both days which is only a half-hour more but that’s 2.5 hours a week. However it does make it harder to get blogging done.

And speaking of blogging, I posted at Atomic Junkshop about indexing and why Marvel’s Sgt. Fury doesn’t measure up to even a bad WW II movie. Jack Kirby’s cover is for Sgt. Fury #5, the focus of my post.

#SFWApro. Questionable Minds cover by Sam Collins, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, Time management and goals, Writing