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What a difference a year makes!

My birthday 2021 was, I wrote, “meh,” starting with having had almost no sleep. I woke up this morning refreshed. Last year we didn’t do anything much because of the pandemic; this year we’re boosted, covid’s dying down (yes, I’m aware a new variant is on the horizon) and we’re going to have fun.

It’s a sign of the changes that last weekend was well, strange. No, not because of an eclipse, that photo’s from the lunar one in December. But TYG and I were actually social, in person, for the first time in ages. A friend of ours was in town so she came over to meet the dogs and then go out to dinner. Sunday I went to my friend and fellow writer Allegra Gullino‘s birthday party (TYG had to work). I ate, chatted with Allegra and a bunch of our fellow writers and had a terrific time.

It’s also been, looking back, a good year. I didn’t get much fiction done but I finished The Aliens Are Here, finished Undead Sexist Cliches (and I hand-sold one to my friend), and finished the golem article I was working on (looking back a year ago, it’s striking how much golem-fiction I was reading). Now I’m looking at a year with lots of time to write fiction.

And of course I have TYG — my personal happy ever after — and the pups, and the cats. I know none of this is forever because nothing is (and lord knows what Republicans will do to this country before I die) but life is better right now than I ever imagined it would be at 64.

Happy birthday to me.

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Not exactly the finish to 2021 I expected …

I’m still dealing with so much non-writing stuff during the morning that it’s very difficult to get into a creative headspace. So nothing on fiction this week.

On the plus side, I gave Undead Sexist Cliches it’s final proof (via a PDF downloaded from Draft 2 Digital). I spotted a few mistakes and several places where I need to clarify what I meant, but it’s done. The Ebook will go out next month; the hard copy too if I can index it fast enough. So woot! I admit I haven’t followed best policy and hyperlinked the footnotes to the text, but that’s more work than I’m willing to take on right now. Hopefully it won’t be a big issue.

I also squeezed three more Leaf articles out of my brain as those don’t require a creative headspace. And batted out an Atomic Junkshop post about Christmas just so I had something up this week.

Looking back at 2021 — man I remember when that was such a futuristic setting — and my goals, it’s obvious I fell way short. Part of that was covid and the anti-vax covidiots ensuring we wouldn’t get out of the pandemic for more than a few months. It was also the sheer amount of work it took to get Alien Visitors — oh, the official title from McFarland is now The Aliens Are Here — finished on deadline. So I’m not beating myself up. And I did well — Undead Sexist Cliches and The Aliens Are Here done (and both good), that golem article finished (and also good) — even if I didn’t get any fiction written.

Still for 2022 I feel quite unenthused about coming up with my usual detailed list of goals, so I’m not. While I’m a firm believer goals should be specific and measurable — it’s much easier to quantify success or failure with “submit sixteen short stories next year” than “submit lots of shorts” — I’ve got a lot of general goals such as “do something interesting locally,” “travel,” “push myself in writing” and “end the year with more money than when you started” (usually my financial goals are more specific). My intention is to set more specific goals for each month and see what works and what doesn’t. Maybe I don’t eat out in January but we have two dinners out in February; if TYG’s schedule doesn’t permit us to take joint day trips, maybe I go solo.

I’ve also got a number of specific goals written, mostly writing related. Publish Undead Sexist Cliches — that one, at least is a done deal at this point. Finish Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Finish six short stories — I do variations of that one every year but this year with no massive nonfiction projects, it should be doable (I hope). And readjusting my schedule to make it more effective again. Eating healthier but also cooking more desserts. If I keep it sensible, both should be doable — though the pecan cream cheese bundt cake I made last weekend is definitely not sensible. I would have made it for a potluck or something but I really liked the recipe and the results were delicious.For January I want to get in 25,000 words on Impossible Takes a Little Longer and the same on Oh the Places You’ll Go (as it’s a short story, that represents multiple drafts). A bunch of other projects too. And to resume bicycling regularly. My aerobic workouts in the morning are good, but too many push-ups and lifts takes a toll on my elbows and shoulders (though my impinged shoulder has improved — I think general strengthening has helped). I’d like to shift more of the exertion to my legs.

I’m also going to reward myself if I get a lot of stuff done. I haven’t done that in years but I’m thinking it might be feasible financially to make more big-ticket purchases this year. So why not treat myself to an expensive book if I do well on my goals?

And I’m also going to research just how to adapt to our current reality. I’ve bookmarked a number of articles about “what is safe to do now” and I’ll be browsing them and thinking what’s possible and what isn’t.

If you’re reading this, you too made it through 2021, hopefully without too many battle scars. Here’s to wishing all of us a better 2022.

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The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and stuff like that

Which is to say I can see real progress on Alien Visitors though nowhere as much as I’d like to see. The biggest challenge is trying to explain my insights into the various subgenres coherently and not having too much of a listicle feel. When I’ve read chapters to my writing group, the recurring complaint has been that there are too many points where I just list movies without any context or identifying information. And because several shows and films are referenced in multiple chapters I’ll eventually have to prune information that I repeat in too many places.

Still I have everything but the comedy chapter in a reasonably good shape (the superhero chapter is a little rough). I’m not sure why comedy is proving so elusive, but it is. But I’ll work on comedy and superheroes this weekend, as well as figuring out how to manage my time for November between now and the Nov. 20 deadline. Then all I have to do is deliver on it.

That includes time for watching various TV shows (Roswell Conspiracies, X-Files) and movies. Because I keep discovering new insights or examples when I watch new movies, so it’s worth making the time. This week, for example, I got good ideas from both Lilo and Stitch and Absolutely Anything (details when I get to the review post in about a week or so). So I keep pushing myself, even though it’s sometimes hard to find the time.

Other than that, I got some Leafs done — I should have most of next week Leaf free, which will be great for the book — and a friend showed me his cover designs for Undead Sexist Cliches. I think we have a winner; cover reveal will come soon. Oh, and I’ve finished all nine chapters so I just have the afterword to proof.

And showing why proofreading is necessary, I discovered I’d screwed up the footnotes to chapter nine, which I am fixing as part of the final revisions. It’s quite obvious I won’t get the book done by the end of this month but I can still finish it simultaneously with wrapping up Alien Visitors. I hope so, anyway.

I did finish and resubmit my edited golem article so that’s out the way. And I’m pleased with my work too. Much like the way I break down Alien Visitor films and TV into various patterns and themes (I did the same thing for time travel films in my last book), I look at golems as defenders, destroyers, artificial life forms, their relationships with other people and golems vs. the Holocaust. My editor was pleased with it too — the rewrites were minor.

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I may be running slightly out of steam …

Which may be due to lack of sleep — okay, it’s definitely partly lack of sleep — or that to get Alien Visitors done, I’m not taking any complete days off.

Either way, I realized this morning that I needed to take a break from the book. I did a Leaf, worked on Undead Sexist Cliches and finished the Golem article. That  required rereading Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem as my editor wanted to include it (fair enough — it was a critically acclaimed novel that sold a lot). I can’t say I liked it more than my first reading, but I can appreciate why it’s strangeness found an audience.

I still have to give the article a final proofread, but I think I’m done.

Earlier in the week, though, things went great. I have a solid draft of every chapter in Alien Visitors except the comedy and Men in Black chapters. The other chapters still need rewriting, but I think they’re at the point where it’ll go smoother, and hopefully faster, than these first drafts have.

I also got lots of movies and TV watched, including more X-Files, a British show called Undermind (doesn’t quite qualify) and a couple of episodes of Ben 10.

Wisp has resumed coming in overnight so apparently she’s over the trauma of being bunged in a cage last week. Snowdrop has been showing up regularly, though she doesn’t come in yet. She and Wisp seem on good enough terms Wisp doesn’t steal her food; then again, she’s quite happy to snarf Wisp’s if she can get away with it.

We had a minor alarm with Trixie midweek, when she moped around as she does with a bad stomach upset, except she was happy to eat. We made an appointment for her but the next day she was fine. We canceled, though we both worried that once it was too late, the symptoms would recur. They didn’t. That’s a relief — I love my little terrier/chihuahua.

Come on, who couldn’t love that face?

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The Secret Origins of Superman? Maybe (A books read post)

Based on a recommendation from my friend Ross I checked Brad Ricca’s SUPER BOYS: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster out of the library to gain more perspective on the Alien Superheroes chapter (which focuses on Superman for obvious reasons). Ricca does a very good job chronicling the guys’ lives and early creative endeavors (Siegel wrote some remarkably funny columns for his high school paper) to the later years when Shuster did kinky illustrations for one magazine and Siegel was working on Archie Comics’ way too camp line of superheroes (curiously, given Ricca mentions Siegel’s fondness for the Shadow, he doesn’t mention his work on Archie’s painfully bad Shadow comic).

Ricca also does a very good job showing how Cleveland, the guys’ home town, was an inspiration. Cleveland was a city of notoriously reckless drivers; Superman makes war on reckless drivers in a couple of stories. Some of his early stunts weren’t that far off from what professional strongmen touring the Midwest were doing. However his determination to trace everything Siegel wrote to a real-world root or some element of Siegel’s tortured soul gets old and unconvincing fast. Overall, though, a good read.

DISGUISED AS CLARK KENT: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth is less persuasive in arguing that contrary to popular assumptions about comics’ many Jewish creators (that the field was desperate enough not to have issues hiring Jews that more prestigious publication avenues might), Jews were naturally drawn to create characters who championed the oppressed and the vulnerable.  And wasn’t Superman losing his entire planet a reflection on how Jews had been cut from their culture when they emigrated, then later on the impact of the Holocaust (while Peter Novick argues the Holocaust wasn’t a major issue for American Jews in the 1950s and ’60s, I suppose a subconscious reaction isn’t out of the question)?

Some of this was interesting: while the idea of the X-Men as a metaphor for Jews isn’t new to me, I had no idea Claremont was half-Jewish himself and specifically referenced that and anti-Semitism as an influence. A lot of the time, he comes off as reaching — the idea Doctor Doom as a Roma is lashing out because of his people’s deaths during the Holocaust doesn’t fit the Silver Age take on Doom at all. This was worth a look but not as insightful as it might have been.

Moving from one project to another: the editor on my golem article specifically asked me to include Marge Piercy’s HE, SHE AND IT in my revisions so I read it this week. While I knew Piercy equated a cyborg character to a golem I wasn’t aware it went beyond that, to include an entire retelling of the Golem of Prague legend.

The story concerns Shira, a Jewish woman in a dystopian, corporate-dominated near future. Having lost her son in a custody dispute, she returns to her Jewish hometown and discovers her mother’s neighbor, Avram Stein, has built a cyborg, Yod, to defend them (yes, the use of “stein” for the scientist is not coincidental). Both Joseph the golem and Yod the cyborg have no problem dealing with ruthlessly with threats, but have to ask if that’s really how they want to live their life.

Unfortunately Piercy’s writing embodies everything I hate about literary SF — constant info-dumps, lots of navel gazing, characters who can understand and discuss the torments of their soul with crystalline clarity, then talk about them at length. I forced myself through so I can finish the article but I am massively underwhelmed.

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White dogs on dope!

So Sunday I was applying the hot water bottle to Plushie’s hips (they get very stiff otherwise) and he began wriggling out of my arms as if uncomfortable. I resisted, he tried climbing up over my arms and then he gave the pain whimper. Once we confirmed that yes, he was in pain, we took him to the emergency vet. This time he managed something new, pulling one of the long muscles in his side. So back on cage rest just a couple of months after last time. I’d be worried it would be non-stop but this is a separate problem from last time.

The painkillers and muscle relaxants he’s on make Plushie dopey, so he spends most of the day dozing in there. Still he gets miserable and demanding enough to distract me from work. And as TYG sleeps downstairs to be near him, just in case he has a pain attack or something, our schedule is a mess. Usually I start writing when I wake up, come down when TYG wakes, write some more (mixed in with dog care) and do my stretching, yoga and exercise later.

Happily, Plushie is improving fast so it couldn’t have been too bad an injury. This makes him needier and more demanding for Freedom!! but we’re happy about it just the same.

Wisp has been a surprisingly good trooper for all this. I have to sleep in the main bedroom with Trixie (Trixie would freak out if we left her alone) so Wisp spends her nights alone in the spare bedroom. Didn’t faze her as much as I thought. Last night she didn’t come in but that’s more because White Cat was hanging around. They seem to get along — no catfights so far — but last night Wisp seemed to be hissing and asserting her dominance a lot.

Despite all that, it was a productive week. I redid the introduction, which I’ll be reading to the writers’ group next week, plus the Invasion chapter and got several other chapters rough drafted. I watched some X-Files and did some research reading.

I finally read my editor’s critique of the golem article. There’s a couple of books she wants me to add to the piece, and a little more commentary in spots (how well did the different stories work?). It’ll be easier to deliver by deadline (end of next month) than I feared.

I also got a couple of chapters final-rpoofed on Undead Sexist Cliches; happily it’s still requiring only light copy-editing. I hope that keeps up. I have an appointment for early October to talk to a cover designer a friend recommended. I’ve also begun work on the book blurb.

There were, surprisingly, no new Leafs this week. I’m guessing it’s the end of the fiscal year and things’ll be back to normal next month. While this is a hit to my bottom line, the timing is great for extra work on Alien Visitors. I’ll be putting in more of that tomorrow, while TYG’s free to sit downstairs with Plush and Trixie.

One more month and I’ll have both books and the golem story done, barring disasters. I like that thought. Oh, and one of my Philosophy and Fairytales collections sold on Smashwords. I like that too! Thanks, whoever you were!

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A man, a plan, a canal — only no canal and not really a plan

(For those who don’t know, the title comes from the palindrome “A man, a plan, a canal — Panama.”).

So last month I just threw up my hands and stopped my usual efforts to make a monthly to-do list. Due to Wisp coming in every morning, the stuff I do early (meditate, voice exercises) hasn’t been getting done. And my writing to-dos are pretty basic: 1)Finish Alien Visitors by the end of October; 2)finish my article on golems by the same date; 3)finish Undead Sexist Cliches, ditto. So why worry beyond mapping out my work for the week?

Now that we’ve moved out of August and into September, I’m finding that a little uncomfortable. I like the structure my monthly to-do list gives me, even if I don’t handle more than half of the list. So I’ll probably bite the bullet and resume for October. I’m already trying to reinstitute some of my morning activities into my day somewhere. It’s just difficult, as I get caught up in writing or I suddenly have to take care of the dogs. I love them, but they are not helpful to achieving a meditative state.

This week I had no Leaf articles so it was almost all Alien Visitors, and it went well. I rewrote the introduction into a reasonably polished state, then rewrote the Invasion chapter as well. Having something finished enough I can say “Yeah, I’ll get this book done” is very satisfying. And that despite some extra dog care, including an unplanned vet trip — nothing serious, just Trixie needed a checkup for a sore foot. She’s now in the cone of shame to stop her chewing on it.

Oh, and I updated one of my old posts — about the Bronze Age Freedom Fighters series — and posted it at Atomic Junkshop.

I also made a start on adding a few final notes to Undead Sexist Cliches — items I bookmarked that were worthy of adding, some information from Jesus and John Wayne. I’d meant to start revising my golem piece as well, but the vet visit took up too much time. I’d thought I could get some research reading done but Trixie, who’s usually into wandering around sniffing everything, insisted on sitting on my lap and getting stroked. So she got her wish, of course.

Wisp has still been coming on at night on a regular basis. This morning she came in mid-morning, which hasn’t happened in a while. I suspect she’ll be spending more time indoors as the weather drops. Hopefully she’ll go back to snoozing while she’s in — it’s much easier to get work done that way. There’s a white cat that’s been sniffing around our house lately, but Wisp doesn’t seem compelled to establish her turf and drive the stranger off. If the new cat comes regularly enough, we’ll schedule a spay/neuter at the local clinic, then trap it. We don’t see it consistently enough yet.

Fall has definitely started. Temperatures were relatively mild earlier this week (I emphasize “relatively”) and this morning it was almost chilly enough to require more than shorts and a T-shirt. It’s quite welcome.

For this weekend, I anticipate cooking, reading and as usual watching Alien Visitor films. If the weather stays nice, maybe bicycling as well.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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This week unfolded almost as I anticipated

With TYG’s and my second vaccine shots on Monday and Tuesday respectively, I wanted to make sure there was nothing on my writing to-do list that had to be completed after Monday. That way, if worst came to worst, as I said a couple of weeks back, I could just lie around doing nothing.

Worst actually came to worst Monday night. I woke after a couple of hours, which was normal, but instead of going back to sleep I got hit by a panic attack: what if I couldn’t get back to sleep? How could I make it to the Walgreens some ten miles away (not my preference, but it was the first available when I was making the appointments) if I was too tired to drive? Aaaaaaah! As usual, fear of not getting enough sleep guaranteed I did not get enough sleep. Fortunately, TYG, while feeling rundown Tuesday after her shot, was able to drive me there; I could probably have managed it but I wouldn’t have trusted my judgment had I had to make any decisions.

You can see a shot of myself here on the monitor at the pharmacy. I thought I looked kind of look a weird troll out of a Twin Peaks dream sequence or something, but it doesn’t quite come across in the photo.

My decision to wrap up everything early proved wise. Wednesday I felt much like I did when my seasonal allergies kick in: tired, drained, almost feverish, strongly desirous of rest. Having gotten my golem article in on Monday, I was free to rest, or as free as possible given the need to walk and care for dogs. TYG, fortunately, was about the same level. It was unpleasant, but livable. I spent Wednesday reading and watching TV, and of course napping a lot.

Thursday I felt normal, just tiring very easily. That may also have something to do with Plushie having digestive difficulties that requires taking him out around 1:30 AM. I sat downstairs with him after that — I divined correctly that he might need more trips — and didn’t catch up on sleep. So more TV and napping, though I also batted out a final Leaf article for the month.

And then last night, it happened again. Fortunately Plushie didn’t need it more than once so I got most of a full night of sleep. I turned in a Veterans Network article this morning (and one I’d written on Atomic Veterans came out this week) and then we had a vet checkup for both pups. The rehab treatment has done well by both of them, particularly Trixie; Plushie still has some leg weakness. I suppose that may reflect his advancing age, sigh.

So not much accomplished this week, but that was planned for. Successfully, if I do say so. For the month I got about 55 percent of my goals accomplished, but given how I had to shift my schedule to prepare for this week, I don’t feel bad about that.

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On working for free

So the golem article is done and off. Which has me thinking about Harlan Ellison’s advice that you should always work for pay, because this piece was a freebie.

Generally speaking, I’m down with Ellison’s argument: this is a business, someone, somewhere is making money off your work, so you should too. But I make exceptions. One is fiction. If I can’t sell a story to a magazine that pays decently, I’ll sell it to one that pays poorly. If I can’t do that I’ll sell it to the free ones (of course, sometimes even they turn it down). Unlike Ellison, fiction isn’t where I make my money. I’d sooner have my story published and readable somewhere that’s free than go unpublished — though as I mentioned last year, I’m thinking of just self-publishing them instead, even given that won’t be massively lucrative either.

That said, even doing something for free or token payment costs me in time and effort, often in spending on research materials. So I try to keep the amount of time manageable, but that doesn’t always work. I’d figured the golem article would be a light, simple one to work on, but it turned out to be way more effort than I’d anticipated. Had I known that in advance, I might not have jumped in. My McFarland movie books don’t generate much in the way of $/hour revenue either. However writing about stuff like this is a lot of fun, so I’m willing to go for it (admittedly I sometimes regret it when I’m pressed for time and half-wiped out).  Ditto blogging at Atomic Junk Shop (where my latest, on Dc’s Bat Lash, just appeared at the link).

Undead Sexist Cliches was supposed to be a much simpler, snarkier book, but it changed as I started working on it. Footnoting alone was a ton of work. I have no idea if it will generate any sales. But it’s a cause I believe in, so why not?

And at this point in my life, I don’t feel concentrating on fiction would make it a cash cow.

That said, after Alien Visitors is done in the fall, I think I’m going to concentrate on fiction (excluding time spent on Leaf, Veteran Network and other clients who pay). I’ve only got so many years left, I might as well devote them to what’s the most fun, even if it isn’t profitable fun. As I’ve said before, if I think of writing as a demanding, time-consuming hobby, I don’t worry so much about the bottom line.

It would be nice if my fiction were selling so well that “is it a paying market?”and “why am I doing this for free when I could be selling a novel?” were pertinent questions. But it isn’t. So what the hey.

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The last golem post: books read

This week’s books skew to the literary, which mostly reminds me that’s a genre I usually can’t get into.

For instance I read Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic some years back and found myself unimpressed. I wasn’t any more enthused about THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW in which Hanna, a Jewish mother in WW II Berlin, decides to send her daughter Lea to France for safety. She prevails on Ettie, a kabbalist’s daughter to create Ava, a golem who will bodyguard Lea from potential danger. We then follow Ettie, Lea and Ava through the war as they fall in love, fight against fascism and try to make sense of what it all means.

THE BOOK OF SPLENDOR by Frances Sherwood is a historical novel so the golem plays a smaller role (that worked great for me as I could speed through large chunks of the book). Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II is out to become immortal, calling everyone from the great astronomers to John Dee to his court; when he learns Judah ben Loew has created a golem, he figures the Maharal can also provide him with immortality. Can ben Loew and his golem Yossel save the Prague ghetto from the PO’d emperor? The heart of the story though is the relationship between Yossel and Rochel, an orphan married to an older man.

Gustav Meyrink’s THE GOLEM is another style of literary, a kind of fever dream in which the protagonist becomes/imagines himself as a resident of the ghetto years earlier, dealing with assorted Jews and lowlifes and wondering about the golem, who serves as a kind of Jewish avatar/portent/bogeyman. As this is the kind of surreal strangeness in which none of the events may have happened and the golem never really appears, I think I can skip it for including in my article.

The pick of the week was THE GOLEM’S EYE: The Bartimaeus Trilogy Book II by Jonathan Stroud, which I read some years back. This is set in an alternate timeline where mages — powered by binding demons rather than any innate sorcery of their own — rule mortals in a fashion Voldemort would approve of (though with more of a velvet fist over the iron glove). The protagonists are Nathaniel, a rising young magician in the cutthroat world of the mageocratic British government; Bartimaeus, the cunning, sardonic jinni bound to his service; and Kitty, a young rebel dedicated to overthrowing the government.

In this particular installment, the trio are working on their own goals, all of which are disrupted when a mysterious Something starts making terrorist attacks. Magic doesn’t stop it; the security ministry in Nathaniel works is useless; and the resistance is getting the blame. Everyone investigates and, of course, it turns out to be a golem. But it’s not even the worst threat they’re going to face … As good as I remember from reading the trilogy some 25 years ago.

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