Atlantis, Hiroshima, Woody Allen, Dick Grayson: Media consumed (#SFWApro)

Lost-Continent-Ballantine-Books-1972I’d assumed THE LOST CONTINENT by C.J. Cutcliffe-Hyne (cover by Dean Ellis, all rights to current holder) would be one of those books I loved as a kid and would find disappointing now, but no, it’s still entertaining. This is an old-school epic in which Deucalion, governor of Atlantis’ Yucatan colonies, is called home to become husband to the usurper, Phorenice, who is now Emperor of Atlantis. This proves rather awkward as Deucalion is both a model of propriety who puts country before self and has little interest in women (it’s clear he’s a virgin), not because he’s gay but because back then a manly man often didn’t (as Jules Feiffer put it, the opposite of the undatable wimp wasn’t Casanova, it was a guy who could get lots of women but is too busy being manly). Surprisingly, Deucalion still comes off as a believable hero for all his nobility, while Phorenice, despite having the beauty required of evil queens, is also extremely smart and ruthless, entirely believable as a conqueror. Throw in some prehistoric life and sorcery and oh yes, Atlantis sinking, and you have a heck of a story.

white light/black rain — the Destruction of Hiroshima (2003) is a documentary in which a-bomb survivors, the Enola Gay crew and others discuss the impact of the bomb both literally (“The destruction just kept spreading outward.”) and psychologically (“I never had nightmares about it.”). Nothing terribly new to me, but hearing the first-person accounts (including their lives since the event) still packs a punch. “After the hysteria passed, I realized my skin was dangling from my arm.”

Woody Allen’s ANYTHING ELSE (2003) strikes me as an inferior remake of Annie Hall in which Jason Biggs has the Allen role as a struggling writer in a doomed, dysfunctional relationship with Christina Ricci. Where the earlier move showed both sides of the relationship were flawed, this unfortunately blames everything in Ricci; Biggs’ only flaw is that he just loves her too much to let go, even when she stops sleeping with him, sleeps with other men or invites her mother (Stockard Channing) to stay in their cramped apartment (it all feels very misogynistic). Allen has an interesting role as an older writer who’s almost as crazy as Ricci, but in different ways. And despite some great lines (“I couldn’t decide whose nihilistic pessimism would make you happier.”), it has lots of clunkers (seriously, jokes about psychoanalysis are as dated as jokes about the Korean War). So thumbs down. Jimmy Fallon plays Ricci’s ex, Danny de Vito plays Biggs’ inept agent. “There must be a million women who’d be thrilled to sleep with you—well you could probably find one provided you got her drunk enough.”

After Nightwing’s supposed death, Dick Grayson transitioned into the GRAYSON series (    ), of which I just read Vol. 2 (We All Die At Dawn) and 3 (Nemesis). The great strength is that the authors really respect Dick, who’s shown to be ultra-capable, heroic, and still with a streak of circus acrobat (the trapeze is his metaphor for a lot of what he goes through). The weakness is that the first volume is choppy to the point of having no narrative thread (judging from other reviews, my not reading the first book isn’t the problem) and Spyral—the secret agency Dick is infiltrating—doesn’t stand out from SHIELD or ARGUS despite its best efforts (the identity-concealing tech they use isn’t cool enough for that). The oddness is the constant emphasis on Dick’s sexiness, not in the sense that he can or does seduce women, but that everyone seems to enjoy looking at him (even the gay hero Midnighter makes quips about Dick’s butt) and thereby invite the audience to do so. It struck me as much closer to the way female heroes often get handled than the guys (so if you’ve ever lusted for Robin or Nightwing, this might be the book for you).

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Blood and souls for Arioch—wait, it was just blood for the Red Cross, sorry (#SFWApro)

Yes, I gave blood today. Atypically, it wiped me out. This may tie in with having walked both dogs separately before I went down, and it was humid and hot this morning after several nice days. And I didn’t do any extra hydration, so that may be all it took. Plus the Plush One decided to demand attention after I got back, so my work today ended up being research reading (my last-ditch solution when I can’t focus on anything else). And eventually I got too wiped/distracted to focus even that much, so I’m just writing today off as a sick day.

painting2(No, giving blood wasn’t this bad. Hung Liue’s Dr. Norman Bethune from when it was at the North Carolina Museum of Art. All rights to image to current holder).

Despite that, the week went well. The high point was that I finished the plot arc of Southern Discomforts. I still have to finish off the character arcs but I knew there’d be a lot of that to do after the final battle went down. I know how most of this plays out, but actually getting it to the page will take work. With any luck, though, I’ll wrap up this draft before the end of the month.

I rewrote Oh the Places You’ll Go! and started to get a handle on the problems. The main one being it’s a character story but I don’t have enough character conflict or arc. I think I see how to fix that though.

And I have the text of Martinis, Girls and Guns written through Casino Royale (the Craig version). Though I’m seeing things I can add that will make it more valuable. Part of what interests me about the series is how it’s survived so many cultural changes, so emphasizing the real-world culturaul and political backdrop at the time they were made is a big part of it. But I think I can do more.

I also started a new short story, a pulp detective thriller (with magic and a female lead) I’m tentatively calling Farewell my Deadly but I don’t care for the title. I think it looks like a strong one—I’ve already got a clear idea of the protagonists—but I ran out of actual plot after a couple of thousand words. Hopefully more will come to me soon.

Oh, and one important thing, I’d learned of a film and a TV show that really belonged in the appendix of Now and Then We Time Travel, so I emailed McFarland and they’ll be able to put them (it’ll be much easier than doing when I get galleys). They both came out before my March 31st cutoff for coverage, so I’m glad to have them in.

And I’m confident my energy will return by tomorrow.

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Filed under Martinis Girls and Guns, Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Pomodoro improv! (#SFWApro)

So for the past year or two I’ve been structuring my schedule in part by using the pomodoro method: 25 minutes of intensive work, a five minute break, then back to work. After three or four periods, you take a bigger break.

Lately it hasn’t been working so well. Part of that, I think, is just that any system I use seems to wear out after a couple of years and I need something different to keep me focused. But part of it is also that with the dogs I can’t structure things as smoothly, especially now that I don’t have time-travel material to watch as part of my job. If they insist on attention mid-way through a pomodoro, I’m probably going to stop and give it to them and make a mental note to count this as an early break. Or simply decide to skip a break because they’re slumped on my legs and quiet and I don’t want to deal with them waking up.

And sometimes, if writing’s going really well, I don’t want to break at all. The end result is that my day’s precise structure becomes as limp as oh, I don’t know … a big floppy watch maybe?

the-persistence-of-memory-1931.jpg!Large(Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory, courtesy of wikiart. Copyright remains with current holder)

So last weekend, I began thinking. My typical work day is 9.5 to 10 hours, less a morning and afternoon break, less a half-hour to walk the dogs at lunch (as I’ve mentioned before that last figure will go up once it gets cool enough for longer walkies). Add in my five minute pomodoros and it’s roughly 2.5 hours of break per day. So what if I simply treat that figure as total break time and use it whenever? Hence the title of the post, though I’m pretty sure improvised pomodoro isn’t pomodoro at all.

So far it’s worked reasonably well. I’m much more conscientious about tracking break time than when I track writing hours. And the flexibility is great for working with dogs, taking naps, etc. Also if I’m writing on a streak or I reach a stopping point where my brain just locks up, I can take or not take a break accordingly.  On the other hand, scheduling regular breaks pushes me to actually take them. If I look at the break period as a pot of time I’m giving up when I get up and stop working, I find myself much more reluctant to break, and that gets tiring (to say nothing of the effect of not getting up and stretching regularly). Still I think I’ll continue trying it and see if I can overcome the problems. I just have to remind myself that I’m not getting a free vacation or comp time if I save up the hours and don’t use them, so I should just go ahead and take the break.


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Free or Not Free, and other writing and copyright topics (#SFWApro)

Ebooks cost authors time and money to publish. The Fussy Librarians site offers free ebooks as a promotion for authors, but points out that if you only read for free, that’s bad news for the writers. Shannon A. Thompson argues that nevertheless free readers are a net gain.

I’m not sure this is even a new issue. For years I lived off what I could buy in used-book stores, which accounts for some of the randomness in my collection. That changes when I have more money to spare than at the moment, but even then spend a lot on discount books—the more expensive it is, the more I want to buy used—and library books. Actual new purchases tend to be few and far between.

•A good article on the problems of writing Y/A bisexuals (hat tip Shannon A. Thompson). For example, if a character ends up with a same-sex or opposite-sex partner, readers often conclude the bi character “really” gay or straight. I’m pretty sure a lot of the issues are applicable to non-Y/A writing.

•Like women, male characters in comics often have absurdly idealized bodies (and more so than they used to—the Hulk in the early Silver Age was much more ordinary physically than he is today). But no, it’s not the same sort of sexual objectification. Hulk, for example, isn’t drawn anywhere near as sex-fantasy as She-Hulk. The link identifies Namor’s lean swimmer’s physique as the only male hero who’s really what women would consider sexy but I think Dick Grayson counts too (I’ll get into that when I review the Grayson series TPBs).

•Now that Charter has merged with Time Warner it thinks it should get some content (Fox News specifically) at Time Warner’s lower rate. Fox disagrees.

•With Matt Damon set to star in the Chinese epic The Great Wall, actor Constance Wu asks why China needs a white guy to save it.

•So the World Fantasy Con has displeased some writers this year with its programming slate: very white male-focused. Foz Meadows puts in historical context as well: Robert Aiken and Arthur Machen got a lot more programming in their anniversary years than horror writer Shirley Jackson is this year (her centennary). She also argues some of the panel descriptions seem clueless about current fantasy.

•A list of bad habits for characters.

•Rebekkah Niles on jewelry-making as a model for writing.

•In a case involving a YouTube video, the poster claims fair use of some incidental background music. Universal, which had it taken down on copyright grounds, argues it shouldn’t have to consider fair use before issuing a warning.

•Citi argues AT&T using “thanks” in a loyalty program catchphrase violates Citi’s own trademarked catchphrase.

•Capitol Records and others are suing Vimeo, charging among other things that Vimeo employees turned a blind eye to pirated material in video postings. A court has ruled that just because employees see a video, that doesn’t mean they must have realized it was pirated.

•Gawker has sold its affiliates sites to Univision in the wake of a lawsuit that broke the camel’s back. A lot of people are discomfited even if they dislike Gawker because businessman Peter Thiel (whom Gawker outed) poured millions of his own money into the lawsuit (by Hulk Hogan)—what’s to stop the same thing from happening to any media site that crosses someone with serious money? LGM points out Thiel’s list of Gawker’s sins focuses on stories involving rich people. The Atlantic looks at the issues.

•Speaking of crappy reporting, don’t tell someone you’re reporting on that their adoptive parents are not really their parents. Outing gay athletes from homophobic nations is even worse.

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Race, Gender and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (#SFWApro)

297627Like Doc Sidhe, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (cover by O’Neill, all rights to current holder) suffers some from the fact its premise (The Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll, Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain as an 1898 super-hero team) is no longer new to me, so I can’t be as blown away by it as I was on first reading. Though the impressive detail, the background changes to history (a cross-channel bridge) and the use of established fictional characters to fill out even minor roles (Mr. Hyde doesn’t just kill a French prostitute in one story, he kills Emil Zola’s character Nana) is cool. And while the story takes a while to get going (there’s no suspense wondering who she’s going to recruit), it builds and becomes more entertaining as it moves along.

However, the book also comes off a lot more racist and sexist than when I first read it too:

•When Miss Murray goes to drag Allan Quatermain out of an Arab opium den, she’s immediately set upon by Arabs lusting for white flesh (and for all the talk about Mina as a strong female character, she has to be saved by addict Quatermain’s trust gunmanship). Nonwhite men lusting for white flesh is a really old racist stereotype.

•The story involves Moriarty, the head of British Intelligence (his role as a crimelord was a government plan to manipulate the criminal underworld) plotting to recover cavorite stolen by Fu Manchu. The scenes of Fu Manchu are straight out of classic “yellow peril” imagery — a sinister, sadistic figure torturing a man and writing on his skin in the man’s own blood. Alan Moore compares his glimpse of Fu Manchu to a look at Satan.

This is true to Sax Rohmer’s own depiction of his creation and the depiction of Asian villains in Victorian fiction. The Arab rapists aren’t out of line with Victorian stereotypes either. But is that good enough?

I’ve seen reviews that defend these scenes as parody or satire, but for the life of me I can’t see how. Satire would involve something that undercuts the obvious, conventional interpretation, but Moore and O’Neill are playing it perfectly straight. So how exactly is this different from promoting and repackaging the old stereotypes? It’s not as if they had to—they have no problems presenting Mina (divorced, independent) as a positive figure rather than imposing Victorian gender stereotypes on her. Fu Manchu’s goal in Rohmer’s books of breaking British imperial control would give O’Neill and Moore something authentic to work with in that direction (Rohmer’s Fu Manchu was always more than just sinister).

Then there’s the chapter in which Griffin, the Invisible Man, is raping the students at a girl’s school (including such wholesome figures as Pollyana and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm). I gather the sequence is a riff on Victorian pornography, but it’s still very … rapey. And while there’s a male/male rape in Vol. 2, it isn’t played as a bowlful of laughs.

I still like the story, but I think it’s got problems.

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Is Our Writers Learning? League of Dragons by Naomi Novik (#SFWApro)

20404555LEAGUE OF DRAGONS (cover illustration by Craig Howell, all rights to current holder) is Naomi Novik’s final Temeraire book, which is frustrating—not that I can’t live with the series ending, but it feels like it needs another book to wrap things up right. I’m spoiling a lot, so be warned.

The story: When we left Laurence and Temeraire in Blood of Tyrants, Napoleon was advancing into Russia. When League opens, it’s over and Napoleon is retreating into France (I had to go back and reread the end of the previous book to confirm I hadn’t misremembered). England and her allies would like to take the fight to him, but there are obstacles, such as Bonaparte offering dragonkind an alliance in which they divide up all the world but France among themselves (which strikes me as a parody of European imperialism). Then it turns out Bonaparte’s dragon Lien has stolen Temeraire’s egg, which forces Laurence and Temeraire to surrender to Napoleon. Can they escape and rejoin the fight? Can they win dragons enough legal rights to counter Napoleon’s offer of the world? Will Laurence ever regain his honor after events in Victory of Eagles and Tongues of Serpents?

WHAT I LEARNED: And while I’m a long way from a multi-book series, I think a lot of this is applicable to any narrative arc

Last-Minute Twists Are Good, Sometimes. Having Lien kidnap Temeraire’s egg to force him and Laurence to surrender is a great surprise, that gives the good guys extra objectives as we move to the finish. Napoleon’s proposal for the title league (though not named that) is even better because it fits into the series’ running theme about dragon/human relations. On the other hand, the twist that brings about Napoleon’s ultimate defeat, while plausible, has zero set up.

Throwing in extra plot threads is not so good. When Temeraire’s egg hatches, we meet Ning, the dragon inside. He spends the whole book equivocating about which side to join and ends equivocating. Which is fine for characterization but for a character introduced so close to the big finish, I expect some sort of pay off, and there isn’t one. There’s also a section early in the book in which Laurence is injured in a duel and gets nursed back to health by a beautiful Pole, who must then choose between two rival suitors. We never see her or the sleazy Russian duellist (he cheats) again, so it feels more like a dead end. The mutinous captains serving under Laurence also go unresolved, though that’s forgivable — they tie in to the plot more (they despise Laurence for some past actions) and Laurence emphasizes he has no good way to deal with them. And then there’s the ending scene in which Laurence learns what happened to the fiancee he had to abandon early in the series—such a minor character I barely remember her, and don’t really care that she’s happy.

You don’t have to resolve everything, but it helps: The main story arcs get wrapped up. Napoleon and Lien are exiled to St. Helena, dragons win their legal rights and Laurence regains his honor and retires with Temeraire. Emotionally, though, it falls flat. Laurence ends unsure of what he and Temeraire will do or where they’ll go, and that’s not enough: I want to know that after everything he’s done, he’s happy, not just resigned. Other characters just fade away or get mentioned in passing and some fans were upset Lien, as one of the archvillains, doesn’t get a final showdown with Temeraire (especially after stealing his egg which is a fell deed among dragons). I’d sooner have had a stronger resolution for Emily Rowland and her lover than learn what happened to Laurence’s ex. And the political machinations that give dragons their rights deserved much more space too. Like I said, it seems there needs to be another book to give real closure.

All of this was of particular use to me as I’m dealing with the same thing, sort of, in Southern Discomfort: I’ve lots of characters affected by events and it’s been an effort to figure which ones need a resolution or to play an active role in the big finish. Reading League doesn’t tell me how to decide, but it confirms the choice is important.

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Filed under Is Our Writers Learning?, Reading, Southern Discomfort

No, Paul Krugman didn’t create Trump either

In the latest variation of the “liberals created Trump” argument, the Daily Beast’s Karol Markowicz argues that the reason voters don’t care about Trump’s flaws is that liberals such as Paul Krugman were too mean to Mitt Romney. Krugman and other pundits said Romney was unfit to be president, sexist, had a bullshit economic plan—and they keep saying things like that about lots of other Republicans! So naturally nobody took them seriously when they criticized Trump—they’d cried wolf too often.

Only I don’t see it as crying wolf. Romney was sexist, his economic plan was bullshit. The reason pundits made charges like that pre-Trump isn’t because they’re unfairly biased against Republicans, it’s because Donald Trump isn’t outside the Republican norm. He’s just a little more open embracing white male supremacy.

And of course, as Digby notes at the link, conservatives have been crying wolf for years. Endless talk about Bill Clinton murdering people, being the most corrupt administration in history (Reagan’s was actually worse). Claims that atheist secularists want to impose sharia on America. Liberals reject a fixed morality which destroys America. Feminists want to destroy families and ruined television. Obama is setting blacks to attack white people.

As proof of a double standard, Markowicz holds up Obama attending Jeremiah Wright’s church for 20 years — why don’t liberals find him unacceptable and crazy? Hmm, maybe because we don’t assume those sum up his view of religion? And that Wright’s preaching doesn’t equate to Obama’s views automatically? I don’t recall the mainstream media making a comparable fuss about Sarah Palin’s husband belonging to an Alaskan secessionist group, or Ted Cruz’s father calling for Christian dominion over business, government, the media (I can just see the reaction of Wright had said exactly the same thing).

And even if liberals had cried wolf about all previous Republican candidates, so? It’s not like Trump hasn’t made his sexism and bigotry clear, yet Republicans are still on his team, trying to keep their distance while agreeing with him. Or opposing Trump while voting for him. I don’t see any of them in some alternative timeline saying “Well liberals were very fair in analyzing Romney—maybe we should back off Trump.” But unlike Markowicz, even my alternate timelines ahve some tie to reality.

In other news:

•David French freaks out at National Review because modern boys don’t have the grip strength his generation did. Clearly men are becoming weaker because they don’t work on cars and don’t get bullied in school.

•Religious conservative Tony Perkins claims floods and fire are God’s wrath on homosexuals. Except his being caught in the Louisiana floods is proof God loves him.

•Can a company making web-snooping software be liable when people use it? In this case (a husband tracking his wife’s online activity) the court says possibly.

•Minnesota has charged a company called CashCall with faking tribal affiliations to get around lending regulations.

•The Justice Department has announced it will phase out its contracts with private prisons. Unfortunately women in local jails still suffer in a system designed more for men. And some prosecutors jail rape and domestic violence victims to make them testify.

•My current state of residence, North Carolina, protests that striking down its voting-prevention—er, voter ID law—could threaten similar laws everywhere! My response: good thing!

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