Category Archives: Atlas Shagged

I survived the death of a thousand cuts! (#SFWApro)

Events whittled away at my time this week, but it was productive just the same.

The first cut was Monday morning having to drive about half an hour to a local clinic for a preliminary interview. A few years ago I learned I had a too-small-to-operate aneurysm, and it’s overdue to be checked up on — the possibility it’s expanded is unsettling enough I’ve been lax in following up, then the insurance company kicked up a fuss. So the clinic visit was part of the insurance approval process, though it seemed like everything could be handled over the phone. The drive actually took longer than the session — I will give Duke neurology credit for doing everything smooth and efficiently.

Tuesday and Wednesday I was bogged down by the time change, the seeming greater darkness, and an overcast, drizzly sky on top of that. It all got inside my head and distracted me — plus I kept reading up on all the good election news from Tuesday. Nice to be distracted by good political news for a change.

And then this morning … TYG had to stay up late last night, which led to me going to bed late. Then about 3AM, Plushie puked up this new treat we’d gotten him (it was very large, apparently too large for his digestion) and TYG cleaning that up (even though she’d crawled into bed in the spare room to avoid waking me) woke me up. I wound up going downstairs with the pups (Plush was fine post-pukies) and working on the couch, shuffling my morning schedule because if I tried exercising or stretching out I’d have dogs on me (“It’s human body language for ‘play with me!’ We’d love to!”). And I wound up walking them because while I knew TYG would do it, she needed a little extra sleep. Then we took them in to the groomer, which gave me three hours to work solo and get my exercise done. Except the groomer had a cancellation so I got less than planned, plus I had to take a nap … so anyway, less productive than I’d planned.

Still, I got quite a bit done:

•Submitted several ideas for Screen Rant columns, none of which made the cut.

•Confirmed that an article I submitted to History Magazine earlier this year on tractors will be coming out in a couple of months.

•Submitted Fiddler’s Black to Fireside Magazine.

Atlas Shagged is now live on Kindle as well as the other outlets. I hope to have Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast up soon but like the paperback of Atlas Shagged there are cover issues I have to fix.

•Got up to 62,000 words on Southern Discomfort. So far all proceeding more or less smoothly, though I’m approaching the point at which it all spiraled into chaos last draft. Positive thoughts welcome.

•Finished another draft of No-One Can Slay Her and read it for the writers’ group Tuesday. It got good reactions all round, which satisfied me I’m on the right track. Some of the group did think the opening scene with Jennifer and her aunt was wasted space; I shall give that some thought (I have reason to want it there, and I think I can make it worse).

•I reread the Undead Sexist Cliches manuscript and started the next draft. Like Southern Discomfort, I want this to be the last draft before hard copy review, so I’m taking my time and resolving any problems, like topics I bring up in multiple different chapters. I got through Chapter One and Two today, despite the craziness.

So a good week, even if I do feel dead to the world.

Atom cover by Gil Kane, all rights to image remain with current holder. Photo of Plush Dog below by me, all rights mine. Please credit me if you use it.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Nonfiction, Screen Rant, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

The tail end of October proved surprisingly beneficial (#SFWApro)

I got a surprising amount done at the start of the week.

Sunday, I had one of the writers’ group’s work days at our house: I provide food (chili, chickpeas and tomatoes, cornbread) and soft drinks, guests bring what they can, we sit around and chat, pet the pups, and work, in various quantities.

(art by Jack Kirby)

As I had a screen rant (Thor’s Most Brutal Injuries) due Monday, the timing worked out very well. It was harder to talk with my friends when I had a deadline to meet, but by early Monday morning I was done. That left me the rest of Monday and Tuesday to squeeze out a bit more of my October writing goals. I rewrote the opening of Questionable Minds and went on through Chapter Ten. And I finally finished the next draft of No-One Can Slay Her.

Plus I got various odds and ends of my goals done, so I ended up with 72 percent of my goals met. That’s most satisfying.

(Art by John Romita Jr., I believe)

The rest of the week I worked mostly on Southern Discomfort. I turned in another 4,000 words, but haven’t had much luck with replotting ahead. However as I seem to be doing okay on the plotting, I guess I’ll keep winging it without.

I also did yet another rewrite of No-One Can Slay Her because I’d like to read it at next week’s writers’ group. However I couldn’t quite complete the last stretch — either I wrap the rewrite up Monday or I go with a chapter of Southern Discomfort. But the story is looking way better than before this week: I have most of the plot and Jennifer’s personal arc sorted out, it just needs tidying and strengthening.

Alas, I still couldn’t make the cover for Atlas Shagged work for CreateSpace.

(Art by Walt Simonson)

The dogs were somewhat needy. Mornings, due to shifts in TYG’s schedule, I’m dealing with them a little more in the mornings, which sometimes makes getting going a lot harder. When Plushie gets into my recliner, he tends to just stretch out over me and I wind up petting him instead of writing. Still thanks to the extra hours on Sunday and a couple of nights of bad sleep, I wound up with more hours than usual. That’ll make up for next week when I’ll spend a few hours in a doctor’s appointment (don’t wanna! But needs must when the devil drives and all that).

All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Like Macbeth, my dog doth murder sleep (#SFWApro)

(Jack Kirby cover for the story The Man Who Never Sleeps. All rights remain with curren tholder).

I could not figure out why every night this week I woke up at almost exactly 3 a.m.  Then when I mentioned it to TYG this morning, she said she kept waking up too. Apparently some vehicle going by or something is causing the pups to wake up and move around on the bed, enough that even with its motion-absorbing properties it wakes us. Unfortunately, while TYG can get back to sleep, I haven’t been able to manage it. So I’ve been feeling pretty tired (particularly today. My two attempts at a nap were spoiled by the dogs barking at various car doors opening in the vicinity. Apparently a lot of car doors).

And they’re continuing to require longer walks and more petting. Fortunately TYG spent some extra time at home this week and took over dogsitting, so that helped me a lot.

In any case the week was going to be off-kilter, as I took Thursday off to catch up on various non-writing stuff. I’m trying to find a lawyer to handle some paperwork for my mum (no look so far); completed paperwork for my pension application to the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (I’d like to get at least a little money before Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan decide to axe it so they can have bigger tax cuts); cleaned out the fridge again; bicycled; worked out our health insurance (time to pick a new plan again!); and kicked back and read some (it wasn’t all grunt work). Worth passing up a day of writing.

In the remaining four days I got Southern Discomfort up to 50,000 words, which was my goal for this month, and still had time to go over and check the newer sections for problems (I have about two chapters left to check). I finished my next Screen Rant (Twenty films that got forbidden messages past the censor), and started on next week’s (Thor’s most brutal injuries) as it’s due Monday to be ready for Thor: Ragnarok.

With the day off, I didn’t get the work in on No-One Can Slay Her that I wanted. Perhaps Monday or Tuesday, if I’m lucky.

And I’m having no luck turning Atlas Shagged into a Createspace paperback. The image I used on the ebook isn’t right (not enough DPI), and I haven’t been able to fix it so far. So I’m now scouring the Internet for more images.

It was actually a very good week. I’d feel better about it if I wasn’t so exhausted.

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When you gaze into insomnia, insomnia gazes back into you (#SFWApro)

Ironically, after mentioning last week that sleeping well cuts into my writing time, this week I found myself sleeping very poorly. That did indeed help get work done, though not as much as usual — I indulged in some pleasure reading during a couple of the early mornings.

A big part of the problem is psychological. To go back to sleep I have to relax. A lot of nights, my inner voice blocks that: “What if you lie here for an hour trying to sleep? You’ll wake up late or nap during the day, and then you won’t get all your writing done! Get up and work until breakfast, it’s the only way to win!” Feeling dog-tired is not actually a win, but knowing that doesn’t help me shut out the voice. As others have observed, worrying about whether you’re going to get to sleep is guaranteed to keep you awake. If I knew why I slept so much better last week, I would apply that knowledge … but I don’t.

All that said, I did get a productive week:

•I fixed almost all the issues with the paperback version of Atlas Shagged on CreateSpace. Unfortunately the one that remains — getting the cover image right — poses technical problems beyond my capability, so I’ll have to turn to some of my friends for help before completing it.

•I’m up to 37,000 words on Southern Discomfort. They’re looking good, though I’ll need to schedule time at some point to go back and revise a few sections. I also put in some time replotting the ending third (finally!) though I’m far from finished. The big challenge is needing something for Joan to do after she’s kidnapped — even if I allow time to run differently in the Hither Country, her situation stretches out over more chapters than it should while everyone else is reaching her. I need to have her doing something different or handle what she is doing so it works better.

•I rewrote Angels Hate This Man! and it was a big improvement, which is not to say it’s actually good yet. But the central character has much stronger scenes than the main characters I started with, so that’s a win.

•I finished another Screen Rant, 17 Things You Didn’t Know About Jor-El, and it’s now live. Below is a great Nicholas Cardy cover I used for one of the illustrations (all rights remain with the current holder).

•I started another draft of Trouble and Glass (I still haven’t found a replacement title I like) and it went well. Rather than try to squeeze in condensed information, I’m letting it expand, filling in whatever worldbuilding details feel necessary as I go along. The results are much more to my liking. However the plot still doesn’t hang together.

 

•I gave a last review to the proofs of Backstage With the Hypothetical Dead and signed the contract. It should be live next week.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Nonfiction, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

I know where I’m going (#SFWApro)

While I’ve been calling the current draft of Southern Discomfort my “next to last” I’ve been a little fuzzy in my head on how to make that happen, or even what exactly I meant by that. For some reason this week clarified things a lot.

Working on the rewrite for the first couple of chapters I suddenly understood exactly what I meant: I want to finish this draft ready to print it out and give it the final, hard-copy proofread every story of mine gets (though not right away, I’ll need a break so I can see it clearly). Which is a big job, but I’m ready to get this sucker done and move on.

To make it happen, I have to rewrite every chapter until I’m satisfied, no fixing it next draft. If I discover a problem, I fix it. If I realize in Chapter 10 that Chapter 2 has to change to foreshadow things, I make the change, then go on. If I come up with a “hmm, that might be neat” idea, I try it, or discard it, and keep writing. For example I’ve added one bizarre event at the start of the book that I’d kept for mid-book. If I discover a few chapters in that it raises too many problems, I fix it. Likewise, I made FBI agent Drake into Agent Dini, a guy from northern Italian stock. The north has a history of looking down on Sicilians like Maria, so that should juice up some of the FBI scenes. If it doesn’t work, it shouldn’t be too hard to fix.

I got about 7,500 words on this draft done, which is good but not that amazing — the early chapters are the ones that need least editing and fixing. But I’m pleased with the results. I did not get to replotting on the remaining chapters; having taken Monday off, I only had a four-day week. I’m glad I took the break though — I felt incredibly refreshed Monday (in case you’re wondering it was a quiet weekend at home, though TYG and I did go out bicycling).

I got several more articles done for Leaf and submitted a revised proposal for the Space Invaders book. I also submitted my next Screen Rant, but as usual it’s not out yet. I started turning Atlas Shagged (which is also available via Apple Books) into a paperback, but I haven’t finished the process yet.

Once again, no short story work and also no Undead Sexist Cliches.

Still, I think I’m pretty pleased.

All rights to image remain with current holder. I Know Where I’m Going is a charming movie by the way, worth a look if you get the chance.

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The Story Behind the Story: Dark Satanic Mills (#SFWApro)

Dark Satanic Mills is the last story in Atlas Shagged to get a Story Behind the Story blog post because it’s the first one to be published. It came out in 2007 in Tales of the Talisman, and I wasn’t doing these posts back then. I didn’t even have this blog—my writing-related blog posts were still going up on MySpace (god I’m old). The first drafts came several years earlier, and in contrast to Dean Wesley Smith’s advice, they were rewritten and transformed radically by the time I finished.

As originally conceived, the story was going to be grimdark before grimdark was a word. A bleak, unflinching look at how horrible life can be and how we paper it over with comforting lies and illusions. I’m not sure what exactly prompted me to start down that road, because that’s not my usual style. Was it some particular horror that had happened in the world? Personal issues? I don’t know.

What I do know is that at one point in the story, the protagonist’s friend quotes from a magazine article that mentions in passing that every guy working in corporate America has had the experience of banging a hot coworker in the supply closet. That was something I’d seen in an actual article about dating and sleeping with coworkers and reading it just made my eyes roll (I do not for a minute believe every man has had that experience). When the friend talks about the article, the protagonist sneers that nobody has the kind of perfect lives the friend reads about in lifestyle magazines. In reality everyone’s just as miserable as they are.

Not a crucial scene, though I did enjoy venting. But then on the next draft I threw in the protagonist saying something to the effect of “I know all those articles are shit, because I used to write for those magazines.” And on the next draft followed that up with ” … which are all the tools of Satan to make us miserable!”

Suddenly it was no longer grimdark. I suppose it could have been, but over the next few drafts it mutated into a chick-lit parody. As so many chick-lit novels involved young women trying to make it in publishing (e.g., Devil Wears Prada) so my male protagonist became Cerise, a plucky Midwestern Satanist struggling to make it in Big Apple lifestyle-magazine publishing. Which is indeed all the work of Satan to make us miserable, hence articles built around Buy this $300 tie and finally get laid! or The high-sugar diet — science proves the pounds melt away!

Suffice to say, things got absurd fast. And I really love some of the little details, such as Cerise’ boss wearing clubbed-sealskin boots. Some details I did not love so much: there was some non-consensual sex offstage that made me a little uncomfortable when I reread it, so I cut that for this publication (I think it was appropriate for the setting, but it still didn’t work for me).

The title comes from an old English hymn tied to the movement against child labor, referring to England’s factories as “dark, Satanic mills.” Photo of a dark, not particularly Satanic mill comes from Diamond Environmental Ltd., all rights remain with current holder.

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The Story Behind the Story: Atlas Shagged (#SFWApro)

The roots of my Atlas Shagged collection’s title story Atlas Shagged unsurprisingly lie with Ayn Rand. Or more specifically the 2012 Atlas Shrugged Part Two film.

Not anything specific to the film, but after TYG and I saw it (she liked it a little better than I did) I joked Atlas Shagged would be a much better film. And then my brain went hmmm ….

TYG had mentioned once that when the Internet was in its infancy, the peopel working for online porn sites were considered very cool because they had the best, most advanced toys — porn sites were taking online payments long before anyone else, for instance. So I conceived of a future where “Big Johnson” Galt is a former porn star who sets out to stop the motor that runs the world — sex.

The story came of Big Johnson Galt and porn producer Ayn Randy came together pretty quickly. Then I read it to my writers’ group, who loved it, but made several suggestions for improvement. I followed them and sent Atlas Shagged out into the world.

The world sent it back. Repeatedly. Some of the responses were our old friend, “not quite right for us.” One humor magazine loved it, but worried too many people wouldn’t be familiar enough with Rand to get the joke (that’s certainly possible). Several complained that what I’d written wasn’t really a story: there was no central character, no dialog and the whole thing was written at a distance, like I was recapping an even for a history book instead of telling a story.

That last one is a valid criticism — I was writing it more like a news article summarizing events than regular fiction. But I think that still counts as a story; I’ve read a few published SF stories that did the same. At flash fiction lengths, it didn’t seem an unworkable tactic. But editors didn’t agree.

Besides which the range of markets I could submit to was smaller than usual. A number of magazines say flat out they don’t want erotica or graphic sex, and while nobody’s actually having sex on the page in Atlas Shagged, I was pretty sure it qualified.

So finally I tried rewriting it into a more conventional structure, using a minor government employee as my central character. But after getting a few pages into my first draft, I gave up. I was pretty sure reworking Atlas Shagged would lose a lot of the humor and wouldn’t gain much of anything. And it’s not as if reworking it would guarantee a quick sale — my stories never sell quickly. So why was I bothering?

Instead, the idea of just publishing it myself took root, and finally that’s the route I went. Backed up by multiple other stories, of course (as listed here). As it didn’t cost me anything except time, what have I got to lose?

So there you have it. I’ll be back tomorrow with the story behind my chick lit parody Dark Satanic Mills.

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