Secretaries and Chinese-Americans: books read (#SFWApro

SWIMMING IN THE STENO POOL: A Retro Guide to Making It in the Office by Lynn Peril follows the same formula as College Girls and Pink Think, using a mix of pop fiction, how-to guides and personal accounts to show the life of the female secretary in the 20th century, when it was one of the stereotypically female professions (having swung away from predominantly male, as it had been until the late 19th century). As in previous book, Peril’s interest includes the unease many people had about a woman having any career — would she quit as soon as she found The One? Would she become a frigid bitch, unable to love? — and the many stereotype such as the “office wife” who also manages her boss’s personal life, the randy seductress and the ice-princess spinster. Good, but too specialized to be as fun as the first two books.

THE YELLOW PERIL: Chinese Americans in American Fiction, 1850-1940 by William F. Wu is highly specialized but worth reading if the topic is of interest (it was too me). Wu shows how the widespread Chinese immigration starting in the late 19th century inevitably triggered real-world hostility and the birth of multiple fictional stereotypes: the cringing, pidgin-spouting servant, the opium addict, the sinister decadence of Chinatown and the monstrous evil of Fu Manchu and the ruthless Chinese “dragon lady” (which Wu argues began with Fu Manchu’s daughter). It shows the persistence of bigotry that Chinese were suspect no matter what they did: the opium smokers were corrupting American morals, but hardworking Chinese immigrants were just as bad (competing with white workers!). Also very depressing to realize how many of these cliches continued into the days of my youth.

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Spider-Man in danger, John Candy in love: movies (#SFWApro)

I thoroughly enjoyed SPIDER-MAN: Homecoming (2017) in which Peter Parker (Tom Holland) tries to adjust to normal life after adventuring with the Avengers in Civil War: helping out around the neighborhood, crushing on Liz Allen, sharing his secret with his nerd buddy Ned Leeds (for whatever reason everyone in the core high school cast is a nerd — even Flash Thompson is a nerd, though a jerk), waiting to be called back in to the team. But then he discovers agents for the Vulture (Michael Keaton) selling scavenged ET weaponry around Brooklyn, and he just can’t let that pass … Very fun, despite several flaws, such as his high-tech costume (quite aside from feeling very un-Spider-Man, is it really a good idea to give a fifteen-year-old a battlesuit with a kill mode?). With a cast including Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Zendaya as Peter’s buddy Michelle, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and a couple of guest appearances. “You screwed the pooch but then you found it a good home, adopted the half-breed puppies — okay, I killed the metaphor didn’t I?”

ONLY THE LONELY (1991) was my much delayed double-bill to the Lonely People in Love Film Jack Goes Boating. John Candy plays a cop who falls for introvert mortician Ally Sheedy only to discover everyone from partner Jim Belushi to overbearing momma Maureen O’Sullivan thinks he’s making a terrible, terrible mistake (“Better to burn in hell than shake hands with a Sicilian!”). I found this charming and well-performed when I first saw it, and I still do — but at the same time it feels a lot darker due to Candy’s efforts to make sure his mom, though far from bedridden, is taken care of without him, something that has more resonance for me than it did then (I’d suggest I Never Sang For My Father as a different double bill, as it has the same dilemma). Indeed Sheedy’s insistence Candy not fuss over his mom so much comes off kind of insensitive now. With Antony Quinn as O’Sullivan’s possible love interest. All rights to image remain with current holder. “I’m sorry, that was funny but it was the wrong story for a first date.”

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One of those God Says Ha weeks (#SFWApro)

Not in a drastic way like where the car blows up or the a.c. runs down. Just in little ways.

The project for Leaf wrapped up this week, but that did consume some time. Plus as usual, Screen Rant, this one concerning people who got their powers from Captain America’s super-soldier process, like the Captain America of the 1950s (seen above grappling with Steve Rogers, art by Sal Buscema, all rights remain with current holder). It was pretty much done by Wednesday, but then I got a call from GoBankingRates, another website I do stuff for. Short article, $125. I said yes. That took up a few hours Thursday (the information was easy to gather, but fitting it to their format is tougher).

And then late Thursday my Screen Rant editor emailed to ask if I knew anything about the Golden Age Captain Marvel (seen below with the Marvel Family and the wizard Shazam; art by C.C. Beck, all rights remain with current holder). They just announced this week that the Shazam film is the next DC movie to start filming, so SR wanted a story ready by end of day today. That consumed some of yesterday evening and all of today. Though it may not go up tomorrow, if it looks like there’s bigger news coming up that would make for more page views.

Plus I have another GoBanking article due Monday. But after that I’ll be free to focus on fiction the rest of the week. That will be fun.

So outside of the various articles I did this week, I submitted a book proposal (superstitiously I’ll keep mum about it until I know if it’s a go or not) and I finished reading Backlash for my Undead Sexist Cliches book, as I mentioned yesterday.

I had several house and paperwork tasks to do this week, but most of them didn’t get done. Among other things the transition to a new insurer is gumming up getting some prescription refills; I need some records for TYG to file some of the paperwork; but I did get a couple of stuck drawers in the living room unstuck, so yay (didn’t do it myself. Contractor took care of it).

Oh, and I sold a couple more copies of Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast. Kind of cool.

But now it’s all done. I plan a relaxing weekend. Have fun, y’all.

 

 

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Screen Rant, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Time management and goals, Undead sexist cliches, Writing

Feed the birds, tuppence a bag (#SFWApro)

(Title borrowed from Mary Poppins of course)

We’ve had a bird feeder in our back yard for several years. Squirrels appreciate it. Despite various anti-squirrel efforts, they typically clean the feeder out in a day. Using seed they don’t like helped … but then I discovered a squirrel had apparently broken the plastic shell of the bird feeder to get more food. So we replaced it.

They broke it faster.

That was what we found after less than a week. So last weekend we went out to find a replacement. We hit a local wild bird store and found one that looked promising: metal mesh around the plastic, and a sliding weight system so that if a squirrel climbs on board, the frame shifts and shuts off the food.

As soon as we brought it home and took it out back, it was obvious our regular pole wouldn’t work. It would be too easy for the squirrels to hang from the pole stuffing their faces without putting any weight on the frame. I hung it just outside our breakfast nook window (we don’t actually eat breakfast there, but it’s a conceptual breakfast nook). I wasn’t sure if the house wall would be too close for our purposes, but so far it’s working great. I haven’t actually seen Mr. Squirrel try to get in and fail, but the bird seed sure isn’t going down like it usually does.

Probably because it’s close to the house I don’t see quite as many birds. If they see us move inside the house, they flit away. I suspect the dogs’ growling may scare them off too. But they are visiting.

I find this very cool.

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Flashback to Backlash: Susan Faludi plus 25 years (#SFWApro)

So as part of my research for rethinking Undead Sexist Cliches: the Book, I reread Susan Faludi’s 1991 book BACKLASH: The Undeclared War on American Women (cover design Janet Perr, all rights remain with current holder). Depressingly it isn’t at all dated.

Faludi’s thesis is simple: every time women have made big steps toward equality in America (19th century suffragettes, 20th century getting the right to vote, etc.), a backlash has risen to put them back into their place. While some of this is an organized effort by the right-wing to undo the gains since the hallowed age of the 1950s (this was before conservatives started openly pining for the Victorian age instead), Faludi is clear the backlash isn’t an organized movement, it’s a lot of people acting independently but with a shared agenda.

  • Fashion designers and makeup kings push for girly girl looks that require new wardrobes and expensive makeup.
  • Corporations push back against hiring women.
  • Movies put emphasis on Woman As Girlfriend/Mother/Homemaker over independent women.
  • Newspapers, TV news and magazines run endless stories about how the career woman is miserable, or lonely, or doomed to spinsterhood, or burning out, and longing for the good old days when she’d get married and stay home (there are comparatively few stories about men worrying about marriage or burning out or longing to find a woman who can keep them).
  • Feminists are invariably to blame for giving women the idea they can “have it all” (you know, family and career, how unreasonable) which is what makes women miserable, rather than the realization how sexist the system, and some individuals are.
  • Rape and abuse are still not taken seriously.

So we end up with an American landscape that portrays feminism and working mothers, etc., very negatively, plus practical restrictions: tougher abortion laws, opposition to hiring women (let alone affirmative action), and a lack of support for victims of rape or sexual harassment. Sound familiar? It’s been 25 years and the backlash is still ongoing.

If anything, it’s gotten worse in some ways. Faludi wrote before Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio heads were fouling the airwaves with talk of evil feminazis and poor, oppressed men folk. The potential horrors of online death threats and Twitter harassment didn’t even exist. Despite twelve years of Reagan and Bush I, we didn’t have anything as nightmarishly sexist as the Trump administration.

If there’s any comfort, it’s that while feminists are frequently at cross-purposes (another Faludi article), they haven’t thrown in the towel either. Which is not to make light of the situation. Increasing restrictions on abortion, lack of support for rape victims and opposition to birth control all make it harder for women to build an independent life.

The chapter on abortion was a real eye-opener for me. I’ve written before about how the rights of the fetus outweigh the rights of the aquarium that carries them. I didn’t realize how far back this had been going, though. Faludi provides plenty of examples of women who in the eyes of authorities did pregnancy wrong:

  • A woman lost custody of her infant for not eating healthy enough during pregnancy (there was no sign of actual harm to the baby)
  • Another woman lost custody for taking Valium during pregnancy.
  • One woman lost her baby because she’d had sex with her abusive husband, hadn’t gotten to the hospital fast enough and hadn’t done what her doctor told her.
  • A teenager was locked up because she “lacked motivation” to get good prenatal care.

And yet they wonder why the birth rate is declining.

A running theme in some of the debate is that abortion cuts out the father’s right to decide about his child. Which is still an issue for some right-wingers.

As far as giving me inspiration for Undead Sexist Cliches, Backlash definitely encourages me to write. I’m not sure it answers what bothers me about my first draft. And it does set a very high standard for contributing to the debate.

I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

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Hard copy short story out! (#SFWApro)

I love having hard copy versions of my story so I was delighted to receive a contributor copy of CRIMSON STREETS: A Story a Week and Other Tales (cover art by John Waltrip, all rights remain with current holder). This was the first collection of stories from the Crimson Street neo-pulp web magazine, and it included my No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. So obviously it’s the most awesome anthology you will read this year.

I read it while I was down in Florida earlier this month, and I enjoyed it. But I do think it would have been better read at a slower pace, instead of sitting and paging through it in that period before my fellow Mensans arrived (I’ve found this true of a number of anthologies over the year) Read as a clump, there are a few too many Tough PIs Backstabbed By Beautiful but Dangerous Broads stories — individually fine, but not so much one after the other. And I feel a little guilty to realize that my PI story (they’re not all in that genre) had a tough white male protagonist like all the others. Next time I submit, I won’t default to that template.

As individual stories, though, there were a number I really liked:

The Worst Gift by Jordan King-Lacroix is the best of the Backstabbed PI stories, if only for how convoluted the doublecrossing gets.

Ghost Boss by Jamie Mason is a well-done urban fantasy. A federal investigator discovers the mess created by some crooked occultists is more tangled than expected.

Seducing the Angel by Garry Kilworth has a Regency rake set out to prove he can seduce even an angel. Hilarity does not ensue.”

She’s a Knockout by Bruce Harris is a boxing story — there were a lot of those in the old pulps — and does a good job with a familiar set up. There’s a fighter who refuses to take a dive and the manager who has to explain this to the mob, and it doesn’t look good for either of them. I’m curious to people who’ve never seen this kind of story (it was used in more than a few movies and TV shows too, back when boxing was several degrees cooler than I think it is now) make of it.

A Story a Week by Trevor Boeltor was a lot of fun. A writer’s new agent demands he deliver a short story a week. It’s a struggle at first but then the ideas come to him. But it turns out there’s a drawback to his new profession …

King’s Ransom by Don Katnik may have been my favorite in the collection (well, not counting my own work). A group of hoods put the snatch on their small town’s famous writer. But he doesn’t have any money, and he’s not worth enough to his publisher or his agent … so he works out a plan with them to turn himself into a cash cow.

Like I said, this is probably best read slowly. But it is worth reading. So if you want to

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Doc Savage, a pink lady and headless killers! (#SFWApro)

I notice I frequently describe Doc Savage novels in this period as lots of chasing around. Dent and his various ghosts do a lot more of that than in earlier stories — one person gets kidnapped, gets snatched back, Doc goes after someone, finds they’ve already vamoosed, goes back to HQ finds out Monk and Ham have disappeared on another trail. All of which were elements in previous years, of course, but it seems much more frantic here (without sitting down for in-depth comparison, it’ll have to remain a subjective assessment). Case in point, the first of this month’s stories.

THE PINK LADY starts off with a bang: beautiful Lada Harland staggers into a hotel lobby during a storm, and when the shawl over her head slips, it turns out she’s a bright pink. Seconds later, men bust into the lobby and kill her, despite the intervention of young, good-looking Chet Farmer. When Chet learns Lada was trying to reach Doc Savage, he contacts him and asks in on the investigation.

More pink people turn up. Monk is turned pink at one point. And then comes lots of chasing and running and fingers pointed at various characters before we learn what it’s about. As with earlier novels such as Spook Hole or Mystery on the Snow it’s not a super-weapon but a business breakthrough, a ray that can change the colors of things. It could, for example, turn fabrics any color you wanted without the cost of dye supplies. The villains are turning black industrial diamonds into blue-white beauties. And it can turn people pink to pressure them into cooperating in return for a cure (gotta say, as threats go that’s not one of the better ones in this series). Despite all the chasing around, it’s enjoyable. And it did threw a twist I didn’t expect — instead of being one of Dent’s drifter heroes, Chet’s actually a disgruntled crook who wanted a bigger cut than the boss was willing to grant.

Alan Hathaway’s THE HEADLESS MEN, by contrast, is a super-weapon story, and quite an effective one. The masked villain’s tech can laser off a human head in an instant (that’s not the term they use, but the heat ray has the same effect), burn down a building — oh, and he has an army of headless corpses rising up to do his bidding. I figured the latter was a trick (although my explanation was wrong) but it’s still effective.

The mastermind seems to be pressuring the targets of his attacks into sending their payoff money to the Central American dictatorship of San Roble, thereby taking it away from any easy tracking by American banks or Doc Savage. The bad guy is also several steps ahead of Doc, sabotaging his dirigible, sending killers into Doc’s underground garage, and equipping himself with the kind of ultraviolet goggles Doc and his team frequently use. Despite some implausible details here and there, it’s pretty good. Certainly better than Hathaway’s debut effort.

The Cotter book on the Doc Savage series argues that books like this are turning into anachronisms: as Dent’s Doc Savage became increasingly down-to-Earth, these ghostwritten turns hark back to the more spectacular SF stories of the 1930s. Cotter seems to prefer the turn to a more realistic Doc; I’m not the only fan who disagrees. But that’s what makes horse races.

Covers by Emery Clark, all rights remain with current holder.

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