Tag Archives: Questionable Minds

This harrows me with dread and awe

This was a much better week than last week.

You may recall my big disappointment (if you don’t recall, click on the link!) was running into a plot hole at the climax of Questionable Minds. This week, I sat down and started doodling ideas and presto, I found the solution. I’ll want to look over the ending again, but the book is done. I also completed the footnotes of Undead Sexist Cliches so that’s done too. That explains the awe.

The dread is that now I’m going to release them into the world. Self-published stuff, and not previously published like the stories in Atlas Shagged or Atoms for Peace. And much more substantial than Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast. I feel the inevitable trepidation — what if despite all my work, they suck? What if nobody buys them, like, ever? But regardless I’m forging ahead (well of course).

I did have a talented friend working on the cover for Questionable Minds but I think over the course of the pandemic she’s wound up checking out. Which I didn’t worry about when I was slogging through the middle of the book, but now? Kind of need it. So if I don’t get a response to my recent “how’s it going?” I’ll have to hunt elsewhere. Darn it. And also for Undead Sexist Cliches. Though that one’s slightly easier as I have a good idea what I want.  Assuming I can find a cover artist, I’ll be done with both before my birthday. The biggest obstacle will be indexing Undead Sexist Cliches for the hard copy version.

Dread, but definitely awe.

Other than the two books, I did some leafs, watched some movies for Alien Visitors and wrote some of the chapters. I’d hoped to work on some short stories, but no, the added demands of dog care ate into that. Still, I’m pleased with what I accomplished.

Definitely some awe.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover are mine.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Atoms for Peace, Nonfiction, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Second verse, same as the first

Which is to say, this week’s productivity wasn’t an improvement over last week, though the problems were different.

It started Friday night when we decided to keep Wisp in overnight. She doesn’t like being left downstairs by herself — she’s very wary about going upstairs — and around 12:30 her mewing for attention woke me up. I thought she wanted to go out, but no, she just wanted someone to sit with her. There was much petting and belly scritching, then she settled down and went to sleep on the couch cushion next to me. I, however, had no such luck. Sleep was shot for the night.

Sunday, more of the same, plus Plushie had the squirtles. TYG took him outside the first time, then I did, and then he and I settled in downstairs with Wisp. That would make it simpler if he had to go out yet again, which he did; after that, he went to sleep but again, I didn’t. And sleep Saturday and Sunday did not make up for the minimal night sleep. So I started Monday sleep-deprived and never made it up. The sense from last week that my mornings are too busy with pets and I have to get up extra early to get any work done didn’t help. The result was that I spent most of my week a little bit off peak condition.

That being the case, I pretty much dropped my initial plans and focused on the big stuff: more stuff watched for Alien Visitors, some minor formatting for Undead Sexist Cliches and finishing up Questionable Minds. Wednesday, despite all the distractions and lack of sleep, I was optimistic I’d have it done this week, but the last couple of chapter had problems. One was that a key scene involves a convenient oil lamp, but as the house is equipped with gas jets, there’s no real reason they’d have an oil lamp there. That proved relatively simple to fix, but then came the big finish where the bad guy buys it … and for some reason, it doesn’t work. I think I see a way to fix it, but it didn’t occur to me until too late today.

My schedule was also complicated because when Leaf articles were posted for writing it was at odd hours and moments. Normally I adapt to that pretty well but with my brain already foggy that didn’t go well. Still I got some done, and money coming in is always a good thing. And the dogs and Wisp are getting a little more relaxed about having each other around. Only a little, but it’s a good sign.#SFWApro.



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Filed under Nonfiction, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

What rough year slouches towards Bethlehem, ready to be born?

Welcome to 2021. While I can imagine all kinds of ways in which it could be worse for me than last year, I’m nonetheless feeling hopeful that it’ll be better. And that I’ll do better with my goals, particularly writing goals. I’ve run over what worked and what hasn’t worked, plus what has to work (Alien Invaders is due in October, so I’d better be ready). I’m probably still a little optimistic, but not unattainably so. But I’m making hopping John today because Southern tradition says that brings in the good luck. And it’ll be tasty, so why not?

The two immediate goals are to self-publish Undead Sexist Cliches and Questionable Minds. Deadline: My birthday. It’s doable (the one big obstacle might be indexing USC) assuming my cover artist for the novel delivers and I can find a cover artist for USC. Later in the year, I’ll publish a short story collection, Magic Through History, with a mix of published and unpublished shorts. Though I will be submitting the unpublished stuff so it’s possible some of them will be off the table.

I want to finish three short stories — okay, I’d like to finish more than that, but I think that’s doable. That includes finishing Oh the Places You’ll Go! and rewriting my first published story, The Adventures of the Red Leech (which I wrote about here last year).

I want to finish my new draft of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, submit it to beta readers and finish a redraft based on their suggestions. That’s the schedule where I’m really pushing it, but I enjoy writing novels and I want to push on this so why not?

I also have odds and ends: try making YouTube videos, earn at least $20,000, prepare my “writing estate” (so TYG knows what I have out and where the rights are tied up) and pitch several articles and columns. I haven’t had much luck with either (outside of my Leaf articles) but it’s worth a shot, and I have some ideas that might sell.

In the personal field, I want to make my exercise schedule more demanding, and improve my diet: not that it’s massively unhealthy but upping my fruit and vegetable intake can’t hurt. I want to bicycle as much as two hours at least once, and walk six miles at some point, both of which are beyond my current range. I’m planning carefully so that I can (hopefully) work up to that level of intensity.

And there’s a bunch of activities and goals that apply if and when it’s safe to walk outside and mingle with people again. Hopefully not too long.

I want to increase my reading; obviously I read a lot already, but there’s so much to read and there’s more books I can squeeze in if I focus better (with dogs and Wisp, it’s sometimes hard). I also plan to keep improving my photography, just because it’s fun. As a token of which, here’s a recent image from a late night walk.I wish y’all the best for 2021. Let’s roll.


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

2020: not my most productive year

And I can’t even blame the pandemic: after all, I was working at home long before the Trump Virus made it a life-saving option. TYG working from home has in some ways made my work easier, as I don’t have dogs all day. I do, however, get randomly called to take over dog-car for her when she gets busy or Plushie gets fidgety, but it’s still mostly a win.

Nevertheless, I didn’t get anywhere near as much done as I’d anticipated. Partly that’s because pandemic stress did slow me down the first two or three months. Plus Undead Sexist Cliches took much more time to complete than I’d planned (Which is typical. Nonfiction always eats into my fiction-writing time). Redrafting Impossible Takes a Little Longer did too — so much more that I didn’t get beyond four chapters in, though they’re much better chapters. I finished two short stories, submitted shorts 27 times, and sold three (two of them reprints), none of which met my goals. And I fell just a few hundred dollars short of my income goal for the year, due to Leaf work stopping in early December. But I did finish Undead Sexist Cliches, and I’m almost done with Questionable Minds; I’d wanted them finished and published, but I’m still pleased to know they will be done soon.

Plans for travel and for local social events didn’t happen, obviously. Neither did a lot of my personal goals for doing stuff with TYG: she had some ultra-demanding personal projects going on the first couple of months of 2020 and by the time they wrapped up, we were hunkering down at home. The brightest spot of the year for us, though, was her working from home and discovering she not only liked it, she could be more productive even when dealing with dogs. So she’s not going back. It’s much less stress for her, no time spent driving to work, and having added help with the dogs is easier for me.

I donated more money this year, and contributed regularly to a local food bank. Didn’t do as much to contribute to the commonweal as I’d intended to, even so; I’ll work on doing more in 2021.

Wisp was a big success. She’s gone from occasionally coming in the door to eat and get petting to coming in and snuggling on the couch. Last weekend we brought her in late in the evening and left her downstairs all night; I wasn’t sure she’d be happy with that, but it turned out fine. We’re still some ways from making her a permanent indoor cat (we’d like to do that — much safer for the birds) but maybe it’s not as impossible as I was starting to think. In any case, she’s definitely part of our family now: like Plushie and Trixie she has her own Christmas ornament.

And I did accomplish two personal goals. In 2019 I got out of the habit of baking bread regularly so I set myself a goal for 2020 of baking at least twice a month (including muffins and scones). I succeeded. And for the first time since moving up here—okay, and a long time before that—I cleared all the new books out of my to be read shelf. Yes, I know, that just means I’m not buying enough books, but seriously, having a book sit on my shelves for three years before I get to it just annoys me. We’ll see if I can keep up in 2021. Total books read, 214, if you’re wondering, including about 40 percent graphic novels.

Despite the disappointments—all those submissions and only one new story sold?—this was overall a good year for me. Even with all the things I missed, like visiting my family and friends in Florida, it turns out TYG, writing and our pets can keep me pretty happy.

Still I’m ready for the vaccine, though it’ll be a while before TYG or I get a dose. Ready for Trump to be gone. Ready for 2021.


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

A short week because Christmas!

And Christmas Eve, which I’m taking off.

My big push this week was with Questionable Minds. If I could finish the final draft of the book this month, that would feel great, and as noted last week, I’m most of the way there.However this proved tougher than expected. I finished the week with about 40 pages left and it’s slow-going. Everything is coming to a head, there’s constant action, betrayals, impersonations, and I keep finding scenes or actions, or decisions that don’t make sense. For example, Simon deducing the bad guy’s master plan hinged on something I must have cut out of the book because it isn’t there now. Easy to fix, but I keep stumbling across other details like that.

I also need to slow things down a little. Rereading, it’s slam-bang, constant action which is a good thing up to a point, but I suspect I passed the point. A standard complaint when my writing group beta-reads my stuff is that I don’t give readers a chance to breathe, or to absorb what’s happening; while I can’t slow down too much I’ll do what I can. There’s also a couple of abrupt transitions and some lack of description in spots. I’m happy to say I did a much better job on Southern Discomfort so apparently I’m capable of learning and improving.

I have read all the way to the finish, red-inking (okay, black-inking, my red pen died) wherever necessary. But a lot of that is just “fix this” or “need to set this up earlier” notes so there’s still a lot of work. Maybe I can make all the changes next week, but my gut says it’s better not to push it. So I’ll see how I do without pushing.

Wisp came in a lot this week but she doesn’t seem ready to become an indoor cat. Either Plushie or Trixie startle her, or there’s a noise, or she just decides she wants out. I’ve considered not letting her and seeing if she’ll settle down, but I keep thinking it’s better if she knows she can come in or out as she chooses. The most inconvenient is when she wants to go out, feels the cold outside and sits in the doorway debating. Hey, she’s a cat.

Here she is resting her head on my leg one morning.Here’s Plushie resting his head on me, mostly because he’s pleading for an early lunch.And here’s Trixie, looking quite leonine (neither dog has been to the groomers since the pandemic started).#SFWApro.

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Filed under Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Three-quarters there!

So with Undead Sexist Cliches proofed, this week I had a lot more time to focus on proofing my steampunk novel, Questionable Minds. Today I did some math and realized I’m slightly past the 75 percent done mark. That’s a wonderful surprise. I’ve been so focused on what I haven’t gotten done, it’s a real thrill to know I have, in fact, made serious progress. I don’t expect to have it done this year, but maybe January?

On the downside, I didn’t get much done on Alien Visitors. One movie watched (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers). Rough drafts of a couple of chapters. I think part of the problem focusing is that it’s not as encyclopedic as The Wizard of Oz Catalog or Now and Then We Time Travel. Covering everything is a simple concept (though McFarland was probably right that this topic is too big); covering specific topics with just one or two sample films is a good deal harder. How many films do I need to watch to get a feel for a given subgenre? Which is the right film? However I have a deadline in nine months, which should give me an incentive to figure it out ASAP.

Oh, and I ran Undead Sexist Cliches through the Scrivener spellcheck, caught a few more errors.

I think I’d have been more productive but it was another week where TYG’s schedule got crazy and that affected mine, as always. But hey, 75 percent ain’t nothing. I’m feeling good.

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

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Filed under Nonfiction, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

This week EVERYTHING ate my homework

But let’s start with the good stuff, shall we. As of this morning, my redraft of Undead Sexist Cliches is finished.

It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but this is a huge deal. I’ve been working on this for so long and it’s become so much bigger than I’d planned, and now the heavy lifting part is done. There’s still work to do: spell check, getting cover art, writing cover copy, formatting the book, but it’s all trivial by comparison. The book will be out, not this year obviously, but by spring. It’s going to happen. Woot.

And with one big project off the table, I can start work on some others in 2021. Looking forward to doing fiction again.

That said, this week’s schedule was quite a mess. TYG was up very late on Sunday. Monday morning I wound up moving from petting Wisp in the early morning to sitting with the dogs so TYG could catch up on sleep. With non-stop pets I had no chance to meditate, stretch out, exercise or practice Alexander technique. I felt stiff all day. Monday night, for some reason, it took me forever to fall asleep, which is abnormal — I don’t always stay asleep long, but I’m usually out once my head hits the pillow. Instead I got up, eventually caught a small bit of sleep, got up again. Did not leave me in great shape during the day. Wednesday, Plushie and Trixie both wanted loooong lunch walks. Thursday, I had to give them both morning walks. Today we had a re-evaluation for Trixie’s leg — making progress, but still not as good as it should be (solution: more drugs, possibly added therapy). That took around 2.5 hours in the middle of the day; even though a lot of that would have been lunch time, it still threw me off my game when I got home.

So outside of a couple of movies for Alien Visitors and some research reading, Undead Sexist Cliches was about all I worked on. But at least that work paid off. Next week, with only light work on that book, I can get back to Questionable Minds and Alien Visitors. Not a bad Christmas present.

To celebrate, here’s a cute cover by Sheldon Meyer—And one by Billy Graham (no, not the preacher). Nothing says Christmas like Luke Cage trying to save the world from nuclear terrorism, am I right?#SFWApro. All rights to cover images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Nonfiction, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

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.

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

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Writing

The day (or two) that dropped out of time!

This week was a reminder that being tighter and more efficient about my schedule is good, but it can’t always overcome bad luck. As I know from experience, sooner or later a run of good weeks will be followed by a bad. And this was the bad.

Last Friday, Plushie took a couple of indoor poops which was really unusual. Saturday night, he woke me up at 11:30 to go out for a poop. Then again at 1 AM. And a couple more times. I spent Sunday in a stupor and never got any Alien Visitors films watched.

Tuesday night, it happened again. Wednesday day I alternated sleeping— a lot of it — with reading Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill. No work. So not a productive week.

I got almost a full quota of Leaf articles and quite a bit of work done on Undead Sexist Cliches. Nothing on Questionable Minds or Alien Visitors. I wasn’t pleased by this but I won’t beat myself up over it either. Life happens.

And in a minor annoyance, the original Outer Limits, which I’d been watching on Amazon, is suddenly not available in my area. It doesn’t appear to be streaming anywhere else and the DVD set is not only pricey, the reviews saw it degrades fast.

On the plus side, after we took Plushie to the vet on Wednesday he got some meds and his poop has stabilized. Thank goodness.

#SFWApro.  Cover by Irwin Hasen, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

My instincts were, unfortunately, correct

While the rule of thumb is that we shouldn’t be visiting the doctor if it isn’t necessary my teeth need more care than they used to so I went to the dentist for a cleaning Tuesday. Turned out I was right to go: I have a cavity but we’ll be able to fill it before it decays all the way to the nerve. Phew! That said, not at all looking forward to going back in next week.

Despite the dental visit, I managed to put in a full week of work, so recalibrating my schedule is still working. A lot more of it was watching movies for Alien Visitors than I’d planned; I’ll have to watch for that in the future. But I did get other stuff done: proofing footnotes for Undead Sexist Cliches; making it halfway through the final proof of Questionable Minds, plus talking with my cover designer; Leaf articles; and writing more of the text for Alien Visitors.

I’d planned to concentrate my Alien Visitors work so that I’d be watching movies about kids and aliens in a clump, then ET superheroes, alien invasion films, etc. Unfortunately the Netflix DVDs that were supposed to arrive Monday never appeared (I’ve requested replacements) so that threw me off and my viewing was rather random. I could have viewed most of the films on Amazon but they were all for a fee so I chose to wait for Netflix. Perhaps that was an error.

Oh, and I sent in my sales tax for the previous quarter. Annoyingly, the sale of one Amazon print-on-demand copy translates into a $1.66 payment but the minimum fee for paying sales tax online is $2. I lose money. Still, I’d sooner have the sale.

One of our neighbors was out of town this week so TYG or I walked her dog at lunch (the puppy sitter has to work during the day). Wednesday I came across a vulture disputing the rights to roadkill with a couple of crows. The vulture won.


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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing