Writing and copyright links (#SFWApro)

I’d planned something deeper, but I’m too zonked.

•The Supreme Court OKs a patent on cheerleader uniforms. The majority says it’s just about the decorative parts of the uniform; the dissenters say the ruling still goes too far.

•Wicked Cozy Authors on what drives readers away from a series (here’s my own thoughts on the same topic).

•Vulture on why Netflix should have given us an Asian-American Iron Fist rather than a white guy. Matt Foster looks at the general weakness of Iron Fist (I’ve only seen one episode so far, but it didn’t impress me). Atomic Junk Shop argues that keeping the Bronze Age origin and race is part of respecting the source material — but I can’t see that “white guy” is an essential part of the character. And the first episode isn’t respectful at all (hey, let’s turn the story of a martial-arts super hero into a dull soap opera!).

•Justina Ireland argues it’s a mistake to make up oppressed races in a fantasy world rather than tie the setting to real-world discrimination. And that redeeming racists is a plotline that’s geared strictly to white audiences. I haven’t had time to think whether I agree with her, but they’re interesting enough to link to.

•Robert Nielsen looks at cultural appropriation and the Irish — the use of Celtic symbols by white supremacists and “Plastic paddies” who move to Ireland and go native.

•Jim C. Hines has completed his annual survey of novelist incomes.

•The great comics artist Berni Wrightson (cover by Wrightson, all rights to current holder) died this week.

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Is Our Writers Learning: Winterwood by Jacey Bedford (#SFWApro)

WINTERWOOD: Rowankind Book One by Jacey Bedford (cover art Larry Rostant, all rights retained by current holder — and yes, it’s another cover with a Staring Protagonist) is a frustrating example of a book that just doesn’t click with me. Which is not to say I didn’t learn from it

THE STORY: It’s 1800. Rossalinde Tremayne, a wizard and widowed pirate captain, returns to her dying mother only to be saddled with a mysterious box of impenetrable winterwood. Oh, and with a brother she didn’t know she had who’s half-rowankind, a fae treepeople who serve as English slaves. Narrowly escaping the forces hunting her, Ross returns to sea, only to discover the hunt isn’t over. Because that box is very, very important ….


•Women doing things is more interesting than women just wanting to do things. I’ve written before about how I hate women who’s main trait is not wanting to conform to gender stereotypes. And that I’d rather see them doing stuff than grumbling about how patriarchy stops them doing stuff. Ross actually does stuff. She’s a pirate captain and we have very little “but you’re a woman!” nor is the fact that she’s unconventional meant to win us over by itself. That’s nice.

•Having other women do things would be nice too. There are some powerful female fae but once Ross leaves her dying mum, she’s pretty much in an all-male world. With such a strong lead, that’s disappointing.

•Backstory is often tedious. I read a book once that said all backstory should be left until after the first half of the book if you need it at all. I don’t know I’d go that far, but we get several people explaining their history and most of the time I didn’t need it. There’s one Southern pirate who hooks up with Ross and for some reason Bedford gives the story of how he went to see. He’s not a central character, there’s really no need to know this (unlike Ross’s brother David, whose backstory is important). Of course, a lot of people complain I should give more backstory in my writing, so maybe I’m in a minority.

•Errors are forgivable, but not on big things. Ross’s ghostly husband Will is her constant companion. In one scene, he’s able to influence her body enough that they can have sex. So why a few chapters later is she bemoaning that sex is the one thing Will can no longer give her?

•Slavery doesn’t have to be a metaphor. I’ve read a couple of blog posts recently complaining that using mutants/mages/ETs as a discriminated minority or a metaphor for real-world discrimination is a bad thing (something I hope to discuss in a post of my own). First, because it’s not an exact analogy (victims of discrimination aren’t alien/monstrous/inhuman); second, a lot of these stories seem to forget about including real-world minorities. Not a problem here as the rowankind aren’t a metaphor. Real slavery of African Americans still exists; the rowankind are slaves separately from that (and with little signs of a free-the-rowans movement). I think that works.

•Books that don’t click are frustrating. It’s frustrating because when a book has a lot going for it, I want to like it. And I want to figure out why I don’t. But I can’t quite pin down what left me so bored with Winterwood. Part of it, I think, is the dialogue: in addition to the exposition, it often feels stilted (I know David’s part-nonhuman but he still sounds way too old and rational when he talks). But beyond that? Just some x-factor — some writers are simply pitched at a frequency I don’t hear. Which is not necessarily Bedford’s fault, just a writer/author mismatch.

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Filed under Is Our Writers Learning?, Reading

Dragons and sea serpents vs. Doc Savage! (#SFWApro)

THE PURPLE DRAGON by William Bogart (cover by Bob Larkin) is the first novel to really deal with Doc’s crime college since The Annihilist (I don’t really count The Flying Goblin). The “college” is where Doc’s team of surgeons operates on criminals to erase their memories, after which they’re trained into law-abiding citizenship. This is usually portrayed as being more humane and productive than imprisonment; this book throws in that Doc would sooner have the crooks as taxpaying citizens rather than living on the taxpayer dime.

The book opens with the kidnapping of Hiram Shalleck, a likable lunch-wagon operator. After confronting the fire-breathing Purple Dragon, Hiram regains his memories of life as Joe Mavrik, bootlegger and mobster, with no idea of his other life, or that it isn’t still 1929. When he starts to realize what’s happened, the bad guys whack him. Several more graduates get the same treatment but the evidence indicates they were murdered years ago (the cops have no idea where they’ve been). Doc, however, knows better and begins the investigation. It’s a good, twisty mystery with several in-jokes in character names and quirky touches (Doc has trackers implanted in his team’s socks!). It reuses the wristwatch communicators from Merchants of Disaster and also borrows several bits from earlier books. Monk and Ham are apparently stuck back in prehistoric times (a la Giggling Ghosts); the bad guys gas people and put them in compromising positions (Evil Gnome). There are also lots of minor oddities: Doc’s anesthetic gas is visible as a fine haze when he uses it; Doc uses a utility belt rather than his usual vest.

Those are minor continuity glitches though. The real flaw is that we get no hint how the villains pulled this off. They don’t have anyone inside the college giving them tips, so how do they know where to find all the targets (members of a former NY mob who know where to find their late boss’s hidden loot)? How do they even know the college exists? It’s a serious weakness in an otherwise solid mystery.

Speaking of the college, the time frame shows it was operating in 1929, well before the start of Doc’s heroic career. Not surprising (when we hear of it it’s an established operation) but more fodder for my Young Doc Savage concept.

DEVILS OF THE DEEP by Harold Davis (cover by Emery Clarke) opens with a sea serpent, or possibly a giant tentacle, crushing a small fishing boat. In an odd bit, Monk, Ham and Long Tom offer to investigate, just so they have an excuse to go to the coast and fish. Monk deliberately downplays evidence that there’s something going on so Doc won’t feel the need to go with them. Doc, of course, sees through this.

Unusually the story doesn’t waste any time speculating a possible supernatural threat. Doc identifies the menace as mechanical early on. It turns out a group of engineers have developed an anti-sub device that captures submarines with its coils, then holds them underwater until the crew runs out of air. Bad guys have the device, and they’ve used it to seize a submarine; now they’re raiding up and down the coast.

This is a very WW II book, even though it’s still 1940 and the US isn’t involved. Rather than assume it’s the Axis attack (as opposed to Merchants of Disaster, where the oxygen destroyer is assumed to be a Japanese weapon), the thinking is that one or the other side in Europe is trying to manipulate America into coming into the war as their ally. Then it appears that Doc Savage is the one behind it (not the first time he’s been blamed for something like that). Despite the awkward opening, it’s a solid, competent adventure. It’s the first book since I started rereading these that I didn’t actually have (and haven’t read) though not the last (I picked it up used).

Rights to both covers remain with current holder.

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Trump, Trump’s budget and his faithful voters

So as I previously blogged about, Trumpcare actually makes things worse for poor, rural and older voters. And his budget now takes a hacksaw to pretty much everything but military spending, for example Meals on Wheels. Which at the link Trump’s budget director explains needs to guarantee the money is “used in a proper function,” which in this context is pure bullshit. It’s being used to feed people who need it, that’s its function. Mr. Mulvaney doesn’t even go so far as to trot out the usual cliches about waste and fraud, just … oh, I don’t know. Oh, and Trump also wants to gut the CDC and National Institute of Health because … well, he’s got the money for a doctor, why should he care? Echidne offers some thoughts about the budget including cuts to other services to the poor. And about Mulvaney’s tough talk. And that while the CBO predicts insurance premiums will go down after 2020 (after an initial increase), that’s because of things like fewer seniors having insurance. Not to mention that by restricting the use of Planned Parenthood for Medicaid patients, it prevents lots of poor people from getting breast or cervical cancer screenings, let alone abortions or birth control (and will therefore lead to lots more unplanned and unwanted pregnancies (Side note: Paul Ryan, who was able to save for college because his family received Social Security Disability, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to cut Medicaid even while he was back in college).

Given that Trump campaigned on promises of better jobs, better and cheaper health care and a better social safety net, will it matter to Trump voters when he screws them over? Salena Zito, one of the countless oh-so-wise conservatives who tell us what poor whites really think, says that contingent (of course a lot of Trump supporters make quite a bit of money) is solidly behind him: they know industrial jobs, factory jobs, mining jobs are going away, but they don’t mind, “it’s tax and regulation reform that they all believe will truly help their community.” As noted at the link, it’s hard to believe the man on the street conveniently regurgitates Republican talking points. Heck one of the things the election brought out was how little the Republican base cares about that stuff compared to the better deal Trump promised them.

As Zito doesn’t quote anyone actually saying that, I suspect she’s er, interpreting flexibly. Still, it’s quite possible that even if Trump does bring down a world of economic misery, they’ll stay loyal. For some people (based on my experience in the Florida Panhandle) Republican is as much a part of who they are as being Baptist or Catholic (or whatever).  For others it’s the appeal of Trump’s America=White policies; one thing Zito’s interviewees are enthusiastic about is Trump’s hardline on Muslims and Hispanics coming in. But that doesn’t have the same salt-of-the-earth, Republicans-are-decent-people feel she’s trying to convey. And some people see a clear difference between Trump and Congressional Republicans, which might make it easier to keep worshipping him. Some people, like the 25 year old who doesn’t know it’s Obamacare lets him stay on his parents’ insurance, are just clueless. For a lot of conservative Republicans, it’s about abortion — as long as he’s against it, nothing else matters. A Forbes article says a lot of white people don’t notice all the ways government supports them — mortgage interest deduction, employers’ write-off for health insurance, etc. — or see it as something they’ve earned, unlike the black/poor voters who are moochers.

So maybe they’ll cling to Trump fiercely, whether from racism/sexism, cluelessness, rationalization or religion. Or maybe their faith in Trump will shatter once they feel the effects of Trumpcare and the budget. Unfortunately, it’ll be too late for them to get their insurance back (and as Digby notes at the link, too late for lots of people who didn’t vote for President Shit-Gibbon. Stay tuned.

But to end on a cheerful note, former NC governor Pat McCrory is weeping and wailing (and maybe gnashing his teeth) that it’s soooo hard to get a job now because his support of HB2 has set people against him. Why can’t we just get along? Like the Bible says, ex-governor, he shall make of your name a sign and a proverb.



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Filed under economics, Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Maps, shadows, and Dr. Strange: books read (#SFWApro)

DRAWING THE LINE: Tales of Maps and Cartocontroversy by Mark Monmonier covers the kind of material I thought On the Map glossed over such as the Mercator map with its distorted presentation of the world (which he notes is not an issue in its original use for navigation), the maps of Pangea drawn as proof of continental drift, the problem of boundary maps that may not match reality (Trees are uprooted, hills wash away, rivers change course”) and how map design influences our concept of safety (“If our town is included in the map of environmental risks, we automatically assume it’s threatened.”), not to mention the specifically political uses of mapping (some Palestinian maps ignore all developments and settlements since 1948; former British colonies replace European place names with ethnic ones). Monmonier’s core argument is that maps create the illusion of objective fact even though they may be politically slanted or unintentionally skewed by subjective assessments. Very interesting.

THE CHARWOMAN’S SHADOW by Lord Dunsany (cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights remain with current holder) is a remarkable little story and a quasi-sequel to his Don Rodriguez (one character is Rodriguez’ grandson). Ramon, the son of a penniless Spanish grandee goes to work for a wizard learning how to make base metal into gold, something his family needs to give his sister a dowry.  When Ramon learns the wizard’s elderly charwoman (Britspeak for housekeeper) is enslaved because she sold the mage her shadow (“It used to make the grass such a tender green. It never dimmed the buttercups.”) his new priority becomes finding and freeing her shadow. Clever, beautifully written, wryly humorous in spots; I think I liked this more than I remembered.

ORLANDO FURIOSO: The Ring of Angelica was the first volume in Ballantine Adult Fantasy’s translation (courtesy Robert Hodgens) of Ariosto’s epic (regrettably none of the other volumes came out, though I have read it elsewhere). As the story is a sequel to the earlier Orlando Inamorata by Boiardo, it starts in media res as the sorceress Angelica, the knights Bradamante, Ruggiero and Orlando and various supporting players travel across Europe in engaging feats of derring-do and wizardry. Full of wonders and unlike William Morris, Ariosto’s combat scenes really move (he makes me appreciate how much Morris falls short of the people he’s modeling his fantasies on). He’s also surprisingly sex positive, which is different from the English epic tradition I’m used to. I do agree with editor Lin Carter though that the plotting is kind of random, as Ariosto’s more interested in hurling new and exciting things at us than following a mere plotline.

DOCTOR STRANGE: The Oath by Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin has the sorcerer supreme and the Night Nurse (a doctor who runs a secret clinic catering to super-heroes) begin investigating when someone steals a miracle cancer cure (Wong’s terminal) from Strange’s sanctum. What follows is not only a battle of magic, but a look at how Strange’s Hippocratic oath still shapes him — and in different ways, his adversary. The relationship with Night Nurse feels a little forced, but I’d have liked to see it continue — subsequent crossover events took Stephen in a different direction (and not a good one) Well done.

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Nostalgia and Slapstick: movies and a play (#SFWApro)

I haven’t been at all impressed by Woody Allen’s 21st century films such as Anything Else or Whatever Works but Midnight in Paris (2011) holds up remarkably well on rewatching (all rights to poster with current holder). Owen Wilson has the Woody Allen role as the nostalgist who falls in love with Paris, then even more in love with Paris in the 1920s, where he gets to hang with Tom Hiddleston’s F. Scott Fitzgerald, Adrien Brodi’s Dali, Kathy Bates’ Gertrude Stein and most especially Marion Cotillard’s sexy couturier. Rewatching I noticed with interest that it’s a pompous ass at the start of the film who delivers the theme message; and of course I do like that Wilson doesn’t end up back in the present with Cotillard’s exact double. There are some minor quibbles (it’s too early for people to refer to “science fiction”) but they’re forgivable. “Is there a difference in beauty between two rhinoceroses?”

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER (1967) was James Garner’s follow-up to Support Your Local Sheriff in which conman Garner finds himself posing as the front man for a legendary gunfighter who can tilt the balance in a struggle between rival mine owners Harry Morgan and John Dehner. Not as fun as the first film, but certainly entertaining, with a cast including spitfire Suzanne Pleshette, saloon owners Marie Windsor and Joan Blondell, low-life Jack Elam, telegraph operator Henry Jones and Chuck Connors as the real psycho gunfighter. “We share ancestors as far back as Adam and Eve — I desire no further relationship to you than that.”

I suppose the Marvel film DEADPOOL (2016) counts as slapstick of a sort, with all the over-the-top comedic violence, but despite the film’s popularity, I can’t say it clicked with me. Mostly it felt like something that would have been fresh in the 1980s (super hero adventure with boobs! And cussing! And an anti-hero! And look, Deadpool makes fun of the X-Men!) but now kind of stale? And way too much banter—it makes me appreciate Arrow‘s good sense in making Felicity the only one with this kind of patter. Plus for all the comedy, this is still relies on the Cinema of Isolation cliché about the cripple/scarface who must make people PAY for his physical injuries. So color me not impressed (as TYG says, this looks like what a 19 year old would find edgy) “You look like an avocado that just had sex with an older avocado, and not in a gentle way.”

THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS is a commedia dell’arte production I caught with friends on my recent trip, wherein a low-comic servant’s plan to double dip by working for two traveling gentlemen at the same time runs afoul of a complicated romantic quadrangle (suffice to say, one “gentleman” is a cross-dressing woman trying to reconnect with the other, and that’s just part of it). Full of energy and slapstick, very entertaining and great costumes to look at. “If I were queen I would make every faithless man carry a branch in one hand — and all the towns would look like forests.”

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Why no, this was not a productive week, how did you guess? (#SFWApro)

Well, other than me mentioning it in this morning’s post of course. Plus getting back from Fort Walton Beach on Monday, so I had one day down to start with.

Having three dogs, all of whom want to sit either beside me or on my lap, made working on my computer difficult. And Lily seems to be even more eager for cuddles than when we’ve dog-sat her before. Even my backup plan — do some reference reading offline for Southern Discomforts — didn’t quite fly. Partly that’s because dog shenanigans in the bed Wednesday night left me utterly exhausted Thursday (and as noted, my holiday trip had hardly been a haven of sleep, so I had no reserves left).

On the plus side, waking up early Thursday enabled me to finish my next Screen Rant article early Thursday morning (Fifteen Super Heroes Who Quit and Never Returned). And I completed my interview with one news service that wants to use me as a reporter — it’ll be about 10 to 15 hours a week, I think. I’d prefer a little less, but as I’m getting faster and smoother at the Screen Rant articles, I think I can do it without stinting on the Southern Discomfort rewrite.

And that was it. Of course, I was prepared for this to happen — we’ve dog-sat Lily a couple of times — but it is a little frustrating to get so little done after a week of vacation. But no regrets, either. She’s a sweet dog and she’s much happier with us and getting to rough-house with Trixie than if she were in a kennel somewhere alone.

Next week, back into action!


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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework