Category Archives: Personal

Life vs. Art Round Two: This week it’s a win-win!

A very busy week, but very productive. Wisely when I saw the IRL stuff I had to do, I asked if I could skip a Screen Rant (normally I do one a week) which freed me up to concentrate on other stuff. While I’ll be back on the job next week (a Vampire Diaries list), it really paid off for all the other stuff I do.

But first, the IRL. Tuesday, I had a dentist appointment. Nothing serious, just a regular checkup; my teeth are fine though they’re starting to edge toward gum disease again. If I’m not in better shape next time (I will try — gums actually respond to heavy cleaning) — it’ll be a round of scaling, where they clean all the way under the gumline. Not pleasant — it has to be done under anesthetic. I’d rather avoid it, so positive thoughts toward my gums are welcome.

Second, Tuesday I took my first Alexander technique class. My friend, drama teacher/director/actor Laley Lippard, recommended this school of movement training to help me with my voice-straining problems. I finally booked some time with a local teacher. I can’t really describe the training without making it sound dumb, but I think I see how it can help my voice (other things too, it’s a full-body technique). My teacher sent me home with some lessons to work on until I can find time for another class (July, after my Leaf work wraps up and I have more time in the week).

Third, we had three plumbing problems to deal with — clogged toilet, leaking tap, possible gunk leak from another toilet — so I had to deal with plumbers. It went well (though expensive of course): new tap, snaked toilet and the gunk, whatever it was, doesn’t appear to be a leak (yay! One less expense).

Despite which, I got a lot done on writing besides my Leaf pieces and submitting my list entries for the Vampire Diaries article:

The biggest is that I started work on the final draft — and it will be final — of Southern Discomfort. I wasn’t able to print it out at the library last weekend, so our rickety printer churned out the first 10,000 words at home instead. As usual for final drafts I read it aloud, made changes, entered them in the computer. My goal for this month was 10,000 and it’s now done — though I’m not stopping there. This is the part of the story I’ve gone over the most so it’s not surprising it went fast. If I keep going through May it’ll make up when I get to the later parts that need more work. Yay, me!

I made my thousand-words of fiction a day goal, and not just the Southern Discomfort stuff. I also finished rewriting No One Can Slay Her and about 2,000 words of Angels Hate This Man. I resolved the How’s He Doing It question that stumped me last week by deciding yes, Rev. Lennier really is freeing people from Hell. So far it’s working — we’ll see if it steers me to a satisfying end. I also got in a couple of thousand words on a new story, The Cheap Assassin.

I rewrote 4,000 words of Undead Sexist Cliches. Having a solid block of time to focus on it worked really well.

And I tackled a couple of paperwork tasks. I got a question about our state taxes resolved, and I went ahead and commissioned someone on Fiverr to draw up a cover for Atoms for Peace. It’s the first time I’ve commissioned anything along those lines. Wish me luck. And I submitted Schloss and the Switchblade to Allegory—more luck, please!

Getting all that done took a lot of evening work, which I normally dislike, but I’m very satisfied with the results.

Below, a Gervasio Gallardo cover to look at, just because it’s cool (don’t let the HPL name fool you, this was 90 percent Derleth).

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

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Out of chaos, order! Though it doesn’t look like it

As my purchase of graphic novels and trade paperback comics collections has expanded, finding space for them has become a problem. So last weekend I switched a couple of bookshelves around. It took a while, as I had to clear off the shelves, dust the shelves, move the shelves and then restock them, but it was worth it.

This is the shelf that now sits by my recliner upstairs.

It holds books I’m going to read, TPBs I’m going to read, stuff to sell on eBay, reference books. As such I don’t need it to be terribly orderly, as the contents are impermanent and subject to change. In case you’re wondering, I read about one issue of a TPB per week (at the moment it’s about every two weeks, due to the number) so they’ll stay on the shelf a while.

This is the shelf that holds comics TPBs I’ve already finished (at the moment, Abe Sapiens through the Avengers, but that will change) and lots of tchochkes.

I need this one to be orderly because it’s (so to speak) my permanent collection. The big wide shelves work much better for permanence than the weird mix of shelf heights on the other bookshelves. The switch reduces the immediate need to buy a new bookshelf, which is nice.

Both bookshelves, however, need more order than they have at the moment. The photos need to be straightened out or moved somewhere. The books on the impermanent shelves still need to be better set-up than they are (but as long as TPBs and books to be read are in good shape, it’s not urgent).

I also bought a couple of cheap stacking wire shelves to hold our shoes by the door. That makes things a lot more orderly, and it’ll make it easier to vacuum up the crap from that area.

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So today, Plushie sharted on me. The rest of the week was better.

I’m not sure how it happened. Suddenly Mr. Squirrel was up to something on the deck, Plushie jumped up while sitting in my lap and barked — and suddenly I had stains on my shirt and bits of pooh on my computer. ICK!!!!!! Possibly he just backed into me getting up and knocked off a pooh-stain, but it was as gross either way. I’m pleased I kept my cool about it, though I did have to order him off my lap, which had Plush dog staring at me puzzled. And then I washed myself thoroughly and disinfected the computer.

Due to my trip to Greenville, this was a short week. I didn’t get my Screen Rant article approved until Wednesday so I spent Tuesday working heavily on Leaf articles. I was frankly impressed I could get seven finished in a day without massive errors but I doubt I could keep up that pace regularly, even if I had the time. And finally today I finished my Screen Rant on recastings that saved shows and those that hurt them. This time all my photos came from Screen Rant’s library, so none to show here.

I rewrote a lot of No One Can Slay Her and started grappling with the problems on Angels Hate This Man. The big one is that the plot involves a right-wing minister who’s getting people out of hell for a price. If he’s scamming the people paying him, how’s he doing it? If he’s really getting souls out, how’s he doing it? I’ve been focusing more on the emotional drama and character arcs, so the How question largely flew by me. Now I need an answer.

And that’s pretty much it. And to make up for showing Plush Dog in a bad light, here’s a photo of him being adorable.

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Culture Quest!

As I do every year, I drove down last weekend to Greenville SC to play Culture Quest on my friend Courtney’s team. It’s fun and a chance to hang out with one of my pre-Durham friends.

CultureQuest is a Mensan trivia game, though more skewed to knowledge — history, science, literature, plus pop culture and (sigh) sports (I suck at sports questions). Each five-person team gets 90 minutes to cover as much as possible, no Googling or use of any reference sources (it’s honor-system). It’s tough. Frequently humiliatingly tough. There were some questions I should have gotten (the source novel for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is Who Censored Roger Rabbit, not “who shot”), some I had no chance with, some that were lucky guesses. And the same for the rest of the team. Courtney has a good eye for getting a mix of expertise and knowledge, which is a big help. Art and Robert, for instance, get questions I’d have no chance with.

I’m particularly pleased with two answers because nobody else on the local Mensa teams (there’s a group party afterwards where we all hang out together) had a clue. I doubt I’ll be the only one to get them right, but I can hope (one year I was one of two people to answer one question. That’s cool). One was the logo for Alfa Romeo; I was able to answer that one simply because it’s modeled on the city symbols of Milan (including a snake devouring a man) and I’m familiar with that from something I wrote years ago. The other was to name the two characters besides Charley Brown in the first ever Peanuts strip. Having read The Complete Peanuts Vol. 1 (and on from there), I knew one of the kids was Shermy and the other was either Violet or Patty. I guessed Patty, and I was right (Violet actually didn’t appear until later). Go me!

Beyond that Courtney and I (plus her son Baer, and their dog Watson) spent time just hanging out, or going shopping. I picked up some tea, and we had Indian buffet for lunch plus I did a lot of watching Baer while Courtney checked out shoes (much discussion of Lego followed. He’s a fan). I also wound up casing a convenient used book/DVD store when I first arrived (they were out) and of course succumbed. But not as badly as I might have!

Happily the drive both up and back (on Monday) went smoothly. On the way back there was a massive stoppage (from the cop cars, I’m guessing an accident) but it was for cars heading south, not north.

It was a good weekend. As I didn’t take many photos, here’s one of the Gaffney giant peach from our trip to Greenville in March.

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April Goals: 57 percent

Less satisfying than January or February, but better than March.

I got most of my writing goals accomplished, which was great. I didn’t submit Questionable Minds but I should have that done this week. I’m nowhere near finding a cover for Atoms for Peace, though. Time to start hunting for an artist. And I didn’t make the time to post at Atomic Junkshop as I’d planned.

My nonwriting goals? Not so good. I kept up the most important ones, like wearing sunscreen, bicycling regularly (though not as many long rides as I wanted)and putting more emphasis on fruits and vegetables in my cooking (even with a vegetarian diet, it’s easy to skimp on them). But I bought as many books as I read (I’m working on going in the other direction so when I buy a book it won’t sit on the shelf for four months), and almost as many of my unwatched DVDs as I viewed (same. I just feel silly if I spend the money and don’t watch them). And by the end of the month, I got way more stressed out than I wanted to. Everything I try to do with mindfulness and meditation practice just flew out the window. I got so wiped I even fell behind on my cleaning schedule, which is rare — I don’t do a lot, but I usually accomplish what I plan to do.

Checking over my goals for the year, I see that with one-third gone, several projects I want to work on — some research for nonfiction books, a couple of personal things — haven’t gotten anywhere. That’s a combination of all the deadline stuff I’ve been working on for Leaf and Screen Rant; having a lot of activity on the weekends; sick dogs, social events, travel; and TYG sometimes working late. It’s a lot harder to focus on anything when I’m dealing with the pups on my own.

Plus, of course, I had a pretty large goal list.

As I have no travel in May and a relatively light weekend schedule of activities, I’ll see if things improve.

One of my minor goals is to periodically flip through my old photos. Having read through my hard-copy albums last year, I’m now going through digital ones. Here’s a couple of Bactrian camels from the Gulf Breeze Zoo, a picture I took in 2008. Below that, a siamang with its throat pouch at full expansion.

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It was one of those life vs. art weeks

So TYG’s and my car is a VW Golf with a diesel engine. We learned last year that it was one of the cars where Volkswagen rigged the emissions system to show it ran cleaner than it really did. Having been caught, they gave us (and everyone else) the choice of a buyback or an emissions fix with a cash compensation. We like the car so we went with B. I took it in Tuesday for Phase One (it’s a two-phase fix). As I’d set the appointment early, I went without TYG, which meant she couldn’t sign for the loaner. That would require me to run her in to work (the fix would take most of the day) but I figured I’d take the day to get various odds and ends done, so it should work out (I took the day off from writing).

First odd-and-end was donating blood. I’m about a six weeks overdue, so I figured I’d seize the opportunity. I went apheresis, where you donate double the normal amount of blood cells, but I’d forgotten how much that leaves me wiped out. Suffice to say, I didn’t get anything else done that day.

Still, no big, except that very day VW finally greenlighted the Phase Two part of the fix (don’t ask me, I don’t know the tech). We became the local dealer’s first customer to receive it. As a result, we wouldn’t get our car back until Wednesday. While it was good to get it all taken care of in one trip, this cut into Wednesday big time. Drive TYG to her office, a couple of other errands, pick TYG up, it added up. Plus we had the plumber in.

I made up the time with some work in the evening, but I felt really wiped. And still do. I’ve been feeling out-of-balance much of the month; things do seem to be coming back into alignment, but I think this week set things back a ways.

I did finish another draft of Angels Hate This Man, and I finally finished the redraft of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I believe I see how to work out the kinks, I just have to pick one of the two or three options and go with it for the next draft.

I finished my newest Screen Rant, on superheroes who teamed up with Thanos. Hopefully the tie in with the new Avengers film will grab some eyeballs.

One anthology returned Schloss and the Switchblade, though expressing copious regret they weren’t quite large enough to include it (it did get to top 26 out of 700 submissions). It went out again, and came back again. And will go out again, eventually.

And of course, Atlas Shagged is out. I did not get around to submitting Questionable Minds — should have it done next week though.

Plus I got in my slate of little articles for Leaf.

So I think Art held its own against Life. But I sure feel worn out by the struggle.

#SFWApro. Comic book panels by Jim Starlin, all rights remain with current holder.

 

 

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Last Sunday we almost adopted a kitten

It was a relatively lively day for us. Instead of TYG taking the dogs walkies, we went to the nearest dog park for 40 minutes or so early in the morning. We were almost the only mammals there, but Plushie and Trixie had a fabulous time racing about, sniffing everything and chasing each other.

After we got back and had breakfast, I went out for my first hour bike ride of the year. If I ever want to get back to making the ride to the trailhead in Raleigh, I need to push myself a little further than I have been. This trip was a step in the right direction, and fun in its own right.

Torrential rain having wiped out TYG’s first planting of tomatoes and basil, she spent the afternoon working on a new crop. When she opened up the compost bin to throw in the mud from the first planting (too much algae from the rain to keep it) she gave a cry, then called for me to come see. No sooner had she opened it than a cat had rushed out; still inside were three adorable little kittens, not even a few weeks old.

I think if we’d gotten our shit together and trapped the mother and kittens that day (there are local groups that spay/neuter feral cats and adopt the kittens), we’d probably have kept one. They were so cute and TYG was just so worried about them. But we didn’t know what to do, so we just put out some tuna and kibbles for them. Next day we called a feral-cat volunteer group and someone came over with a trap cage. But the cat had already moved her kittens, and the rescue group doesn’t want to trap the mommy and leave the kittens (they have moved to a nearby yard — one of our neighbors stumbled upon them a couple of days ago — so capture may be back on. But it’s no longer our job).

So, no kitten. I think that’s a good thing, even though they were adorable. An extra pet on top of Plushie and Trixie would be a lot of work, even assuming they all got along.

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It is the little rift within the lute/That by and by will make the music mute

“And ever widening, slowly silence all,” according to Tennyson in Merlin and Vivien in Idylls of the King. Which is why my illustration is Julia Margaret Cameron’s Vivien and Merlin.

Tennyson’s point is a version of chaos theory: a very slight crack can shatter something big and strong. Which is why I’m a little obsessive about scheduling and goals: I always feel that if I ease up, the stuff I miss will throw me so far off course I won’t get anything done. Which leads me to this week’s writing .

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been having trouble focusing on my reading in the evenings. So on the mornings I woke up early, the first thing I did was read. It was much easier to concentrate, and as insomnia usually  leaves me with more hours in the week than I planned, it didn’t seem like a problem (normally I work until I fall back to sleep, which more than compensates for naps during the day).

But this morning, TYG had a sudden schedule conflict so I had to walk the dogs. She would have been fine if I just took them out for a squat in the yard, but I hate doing that, so they got an hour-plus walk. That was a chunk out of the morning, and when I got back, I just could not get my head into writing. I wound up settling for some research reading instead. As I’d hoped to get a lot of fiction done today, that was frustrating.

And that brings me to my second Little Rift. I realized this week that because I keep missing my “1,000 words of fiction a work day” goal, I’m beginning to ignore it completely. So this Wednesday, when it was very tempting to give it another skip, I made a special effort and got it done. Only today, due to the extra walkies and losing focus (there were a couple of other non-writing things I had to do too) I didn’t get it done. Next week, I’ll be back to shooting for all five days.

So other than my Screen Rant column and my Leaf articles, not much accomplished to talk about this week. A lot of things almost accomplished (I almost had Questionable Minds submitted) but not beyond that. I look forward to resetting and starting over next week.

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For today, a quote and a cover

 

I heard the quote on Sirius’ Broadway Channel last night, from the musical [title of show] (yes, that’s the title): “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.”

As a writer that’s not a bad goal to shoot for. I’m not sure it’s a practical career goal (if the hundred people all buy my book, option B is probably more profitable) but even so, something about the sentiment clicks with me.

The cover is by Leo and Diane Dillon for Avram Davidson’s fantasy about the Roman poet Virgil, re-imagined in medieval legend as sorcerer Virgil Magus. I’m not a fan of Davidson, a stylized writer whose style I find very off-putting. This book was the best of those I read, and the cover captures its rather quirky tone. Plus it’s a neat image in its own right.

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The Whisper of the Tax

So this week my writing time was distorted by having to finish the state and federal tax forms. Tuesday I went over them and caught a bunch of errors. One was from entering the same deduction twice; one was from writing down a deduction but not subtracting it from my writing income; and several were just math errors. I went over that last lot several times, just to be sure they were finally right.

(Title, by the way, borrows from Richard Condon’s terrorist thriller, The Whisper of the Axe)

After that was all done, I printed them up yesterday and mailed them off today. So they’re done!!! But that did cut into my writing time, so I missed my 1,000 words a day goal for Thursday and Friday. I had a productive week just the same.

I got out my latest Screen Rant, on superheroes and villains fans didn’t know had siblings. Swamp Thing’s brother from a dreadful mid-1970s reboot. Dr. Strange’s vampire brother. And Thomas Wayne Jr., the brother Batman didn’t know he had. I still find that slightly incredible, because unlike Dr. Strange, Swamp Thing and some of the other characters in the list, it was well established Bruce Wayne was an only child. But then World’s Finest as edited by Murray Boltinoff saw nothing wrong with claiming Superman and Batman had kids, either. Below, courtesy of Dick Dillin’s art, Batman learns the truth.

Nick Fury’s brother Jake, on the other hand, has been well established since the Silver Age, he just hovers right below the awareness of the average comics reader. And wow, he’s been really heavily retconned, as I discovered researching the article. Below, writer/artist Jim Steranko introduces him killing Nick.

I completed ten Leaf articles, and got about 6,000 words done on Undead Sexist Cliches. And I finally figured out how to fix No One Can Slay Her and finish it. I still want the writer’s group (or someone) to give it a beta reading, but I feel very pleased with it. I’d hoped to get some work in polishing Questionable Minds, but the taxes took care of that. I did give the green light to publish Atlas Shagged but it won’t be up for sale until next week.

On the downside, my mind could not seem to focus in the evening, so I got next to no reading done. I hate that. As of last night, though, I seem to be over it.

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

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