Category Archives: Writing

Wow, Wednesday felt wonderful

Not that the rest of the week was awful. But between the added stress from those deadlines and one weekend getting eaten up by sick Trixie, my mind was really balking at work this week. I got my stuff done, but it was definitely slower and more sluggish.

Wednesday though, was great. Because of a morning snowfall (abnormal for Durham this time of year), TYG didn’t go into the office. She stayed on the couch with the pups, I stayed upstairs and worked in peace. Plus I didn’t have any Leaf articles to do (I worked on them late the night before) and I didn’t have a Screen Rant (I should have, because I’m supposed to turn in one a week, but for various reasons that didn’t happen). So for the first time in a couple of months it was just me working on my stuff all day. It felt incredibly liberating.

As far as the week’s accomplishments go, I’ve proofed most of the Atlas Shagged paperback, and found more errors than I expected. So taking the time to proof was definitely the right call (I may eventually go back and fix the ebook too). I contacted one artist about the cover for Atoms for Peace, but I didn’t hear back, so on to the next one.

I cleared up some of my Impossible Takes a Little Longer problems ; instead of my stereotyped Comanches, I’m using a colony of ET warriors along the lines of a bad 1980s syndicated cartoon (think Silverhawks). I’m still not entirely sure what I want from the villain, but I have some ideas.

I worked a lot on straightening out Undead Sexist Cliches (The Book) prior to the next rewrite.

I looked at some possible markets for Space Invaders, and so far McFarland is looking like the best option. Several other small publishers that take film-reference books have some requirements that won’t work for me, like providing a list of seven peer reviewers who can critique the proposal (or the book, I’m not sure which). I imagine if I were an academic writer, that would be easier, but I’m not.

I’d have gotten a couple more things done except I took today off for some stuff. But it looks promising for getting my last writing tasks for March wrapped up next week.

For your entertainment, here’s a shot of Trixie, in my lap and under my lap desk (don’t worry, it’s not resting on her).

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Atoms for Peace, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Every villain is a hero in his own story? Not really

One of the standard tips for writing villains is that they should see themselves as the hero. In their eyes, what they’re doing is justified, it’s the protagonist who’s in the wrong. Even supervillains wouldn’t call themselves villains in real life, or call their organization the Masters of Evil, Villainy Incorporated, the Sinister Six, etc.

I think I disagree. The villain will usually think he’s the protagonist in the story, but not the hero.

To put some context on this, I’ve been thinking that someone in the online misogynist mode would be good as the villain in the reworked Impossible Takes a Little Longer. After all my protagonist is a superpowered woman, a superhero who protects others; pitting her against a man who despises women makes sense, and it certainly fits the current environment.

Trouble is, I’m not sure I could pull it off . The kind of misogyny critiqued at We Hunted the Mammoth includes, for example, the guy who assumes a woman wearing ripped clothes wants to be raped. Things go downhill from there. Like sobbing Nazi Chris Cantwell, it’s hard to make anyone that vile believable (though I’ll probably try).

And then I began thinking about “the villain sees themselves as a hero.” Because “hero” implies a lot more than protagonist. It has connotations that you’re good, working for the side of good, that you’re active. And no, I don’t think all villains think that way.

For one thing, some people don’t really the world in terms of good and evil. It’s a matter of kill or be killed, dog eat dog. The world is full of sharks, and the only way to survive is to be the biggest shark in the ocean. People like that don’t see themselves as the good guy, they see themselves as the smart guy. They’re the protagonist, but at best they’re an antihero. In D&D I imagine they’d put themselves as neutral alignment, and probably imagine most people are the same.

The Joker, when he’s written sane, seems to see himself less as a hero and more as a star. Crime, mayhem and murder, well-executed, put the spotlight on him, and that’s where he wants it.

While men’s rights activists and other male supremacists believe they’re on the side of good (i.e., patriarchy), I’m not sure they see themselves as heroes. A lot of them see themselves as victims, pushed down by the feminist conspiracy, by the power of hot women to drive them crazy, by the political correctness that won’t let them speak up (of course they’re perfectly free to speak up, it’s just they get smacked down).  The hero of the story fights, these guys skulk and mutter on the Internet. I’m pretty sure when they do lash out with doxing or online threats, they don’t feel heroic. And seriously, can you imagine trying to write someone who thinks online death threats are heroic? Like I said, wouldn’t be easy.

Another possibility is a villain who does see themselves as the hero but they’re lying to themselves. Human beings are good at that. Like the family values conservatives caught having affairs and getting their mistresses abortions, or the right-t0-life women who get abortions. I doubt they see themselves as heroic, they just see themselves as justified, in a way nobody else getting an abortion or having an affair is. One writer in Cosmopolitan years ago said every person she’d interviewed for an article on infidelity believed their affair was rational, justifiable and healthy for the marriage. None of them thought this applied if their spouse had affairs.

Some villains undoubtedly see themselves as the heroes. But definitely not all.

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The actor’s nightmare? Seriously?

I mean, come on! It’s been eight years since I was on stage and I’m having this now?

For those who don’t know, the actor’s nightmare is a dream in which you’re going on stage but you have no idea what your lines are, or maybe even not the show. I’ve had it several times in my life, though none of them were in relation to actually doing a play. So maybe having this one Wednesday night is not surprising.

We open with me driving to where the actors are assembling for a production of Born Yesterday, a 1950s comedy (I was actually in it around 30 years ago) directed by my old drama teacher, Jo Yeager. I know we’re meeting in a hotel before we go to the theater (a lot of my dreams are set in hotels), so I drive into the lobby, which the staff take with great aplomb, directing me to the lower floor. I’m figuring how to get down there in my car, but when I actually arrive, I’m somehow on a bicycle.

Sam, one of my writing group colleagues (he’s a real person, unlike most of the people in this dream), tosses me a line and waits for me to say mine. I’m blank, so he gives it to me. It’s something to the effect of “I have to know it if I’m going to New York,” “it” being some Irish play (because there are lots of Irish Americans in New York). I realize I don’t know any of my lines. I haven’t even practiced them the past week! I spent the rest of the dream trying to pick up peoples’ scripts and flip through them to jog my memory, but none of the scripts have my lines in them. I’ve no idea how this resolves itself; the end of the dream is my driving home and trying to figure out what direction home is.

I’m pretty sure the underlying meaning is that I felt really stressed this week. First, Trixie being sick and not really relaxing this weekend. Then having trouble focusing because Trixie was sick. Then trying to make up for lost time because I’d been unfocused. Thursday was when this week’s Screen Rant was due (on Sailor Moon, hence the illustration), and I was much further from completion than normal for deadline day. So stress is understandable, is it not?

Doing Leaf articles and Screen Rant compounded my stress. Unlike say my film books, they’re short, tight deadlines so I don’t have much wiggle room. And because I’m doing two different Leaf projects, the amount I’ve been writing has been higher than usual. When it’s my own deadlines I can always be flexible if I have a reason. Not so much this week, though I did unclaim a couple of Leaf articles I’d planned to do today (four is enough). One of the projects is wrapping up though, so I’ll be handling much fewer the rest of the month (and April, if the work lasts).

I did complete my Screen Rant on the Sailor Moon/Tuxedo Mask relationship (above is the photo of their wedding from the live-action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon).

I started proofing my test copy of Atlas Shagged and almost immediately found errors. One of which is prominent enough I’ll need to re-upload the corrected text. C’est la vie.

I finished the next draft of No One Shall Slay Her but didn’t make my 1,000-words-a-day quota. Partly that’s the slowing down, partly that the next thing I planned to work on (The Impossible Takes a Little Longer) is at an awkward point that needs some thought to fix. However I got back in the groove today, with a thousand-words on a new story I’m tentatively calling Neverwas. It felt soooo good to write some fiction.

All in all, I think I did well.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

From short story to novel, two examples

Many specfic writers have taken a short story and turned it into a novel. This makes sense — start with a proven success, make more money off it — but I think it’s trickier than it looks.

Case in point, Robert Sheckley’s The Seventh Victim, which became a movie and then turned into the novel The 10th Victim. The short story is an effective little thriller: in a future where humans work out their aggressive impulses through hunting each other (all legally, with targets who volunteer), the protagonist gets assigned a woman. Flirting with her to get close, he falls in love. He discovers, too late, that she knew who he was and she doesn’t love him at all… (This idea obviously appealed to Sheckley as he used it in The Prize of Peril and as an element in the novel Immortality, Inc.).

The trouble with expanding a story to novel length is that it requires adding material, and it’s not always as good as the short story. Borrowing heavily from the movie script (I haven’t seen it so I don’t know how close it comes), Sheckley has the female hunter working in a Hollywood studio. Her boss decides to film the whole thing as a reality show (so we’d call it now). The Hollywood humor takes up a lot of the expanded story, and that just didn’t work for me. It’s old, stale stuff — people have been sending up Hollywood Yes Men since P.G. Wodehouse mocked them in the 1930s.

Sheckley also follows the movie by having his hunter and quarry fall in love. That might have worked with the right performers conveying sexual interest, but he couldn’t pull it off on the printed page.

SPARROW HILL ROAD by Seanan McGuire is a much better book, built in a series of short stories. The premise is that years ago, Rose Marshall died fleeing a soul-stealing occultist, Bobby Cross. Her ghost escaped him and became the Phantom Hitchhiker, wandering the roads of America (the highways are drenched with magic) and helping people out. When she convinces someone to give her a ride, they discover later that if they’d gone home the usual way, they’d have wound up in a fatal crash. But Bobby Cross is still out there, and the time is coming for them to meet again …

I liked this, but I think novelizing a short story series created problems (as I’m doing the same thing more-or-less with Atoms for Peace, this is obviously of interest). It’s not just a short story collection — it has an overall arc that I don’t expect from, say, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes or a Lord Dunsany collection — but it doesn’t have enough. It’s simply Rose having adventures over and over, gaining friends, occasionally running from Bobby Cross, but like Lovecraft Country it doesn’t really build up to anything. Even the final clash with Bobby Cross doesn’t feel like a climax just an installment.

Another problem is that a lot of the information about this system of magic gets repeated more than once. That makes sense in individual, separately published stories, but editing would have helped. It’s something I’ve worked hard to prune from Atoms for Peace, because the original stories did it quite a lot.

Sparrow Hill Road is still a good book, though. Certainly better than The 10th Victim.

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New Screen Rant out: Underwhelming spinoffs you forgot about

For example, The Brady Bunch Hour, which makes The Bradys look like This Is Us.

US of Archie in which the Riverdale gang’s ancestors happen to be around at turning points in American history

Getting Together, the flop spinoff of The Partridge Family

And of course, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space.

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Urgh, insomnia was just too helpful

For some reason sleep this week was really appalling, even by my standards. Can’t say it wasn’t a good, productive week but I felt quite wiped out for a lot of it. Fortunately I had a good night last night or I’d be writing something as incomprehensible as Duran Duran lyrics.

I have my Leaf articles done and a new Screen Rant submitted, on bad forgotten spinoffs. For example The Dukes, Saturday morning’s take on The Dukes of Hazzard. I also talked to the new management at And Magazine about resuming work there. I’m going to give it a shot, though I won’t have time to spare until April, when the Leaf stuff winds down.

I’m giving myself a mulligan on my “1,000 words of fiction every work day” rule, as my not doing it was a calculated choice. It was more practical to do extra fiction on Wednesday and go light Thursday, so I figure I’ll cut myself some slack. Fiction writing was still productive, as I finished the draft of Questionable Minds I’ve been working on. It still needs a couple of sections touched up, then it’ll be ready to submit, self-publish or whatever. I’ll be thrilled when it’s completely finished and I don’t have to think about it.

I worked on No One Can Slay Her, ran into some trouble, stopped. I’ve figured out the solution though, so I’ll have this draft done by the end of next week.

I sold a story, The Grass Is Always Greener, to the Strange Economics anthology (specfic stories with an economic/business element). I am very pleased with that, of course. I also realized that my list of Stories Out was off — a couple of them have been out so long at particular markets it’s obvious they’re not biting. So I have them back on the To Submit list.

And I finally resolved the problems with the hard copy of Atlas Shagged. I should have a copy next week so I can double-check it’s good to go.

Today we had some landscapers come in and spend much of the day working on our yard (trees trimmed, one cut down). It needs it, but man did the dogs freak out. After a while they became sort of resigned, or I’d not have gotten anything done. Here’s Plush in a calmer moment earlier this week.

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Movie reference books, past and future

So I got my royalty check from McFarland, my film-book publisher last week. It’s a pleasant surprise to see that Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan still sells a couple of copies a year 18 years later (even given it fills a niche). Ditto Wizard of Oz Catalog, though less surprising — Oz fandom is pretty intense. It’s disappointing that Screen Enemies of the American Way didn’t sell any this time out. I’m really proud of that one because political paranoia in American films isn’t a subject that gets as much attention as it should. Then again, maybe that’s part of the problem: it isn’t as simple a hook as “made for TV specfic films.”

Now and Then We Time Travel sold 25 copies in the past six months. That leaves me with mixed feelings of “What, only 25?” and “Whee, 25 people bought it!” McFarland books aren’t cheap, so that’s flattering, even if I’d like it to be more. If you’re reading this and you’re one of the buyers, thanks!

So that’s the past. Now we come to Space Invaders, the idea that one university press passed on. I have three options for moving ahead;

  • Submit a proposal to McFarland. I know them, they know me, it should be simple enough.
  • Check out other university presses that do pop-culture books. I’m happy with McFarland but the press I pitched would have taken care of illustrations and indexing. That’s quite a plus, because photos cost money (not a lot, but it adds up) and indexing is a pain.
  • Self-publish. I’m disinclined to this, mostly because of the editing. I can live with typos in a self-published fiction manuscript, but in nonfiction they can be disastrous, like the small-press magazine that misplaced a 9 and referred to “the French Reign of Terror in 1978.” It’s true I pulled off Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast but that took work and it was a small book. This one would be a larger undertaking.

I shall probably check out a couple of university presses and their submission requirements/publishing process before making the decision.

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New Screen Rant: specfic shows we never got to see

There’s the awful pilots for Knight Rider 2o1o and (below) Bates Motel (not the recent series, a 1987 film)

There’s the much better pilots for Global Frequency (which I reviewed yesterday) and Bionic Showdown (with Sandra Bullock as the new bionic woman)

And a whole bunch more. You can read it all here.

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I hate knowing insomnia helps

But yes, a couple of nights of bad sleep left me with a little more time. And because I slept like a log for most of my Mysticon trip, I wasn’t as exhausted as I sometimes get. Goya’s painting to the contrary, the sleep of reason did not bring forth monsters.

That compensated for thousand natural shocks my schedule is heir too. Plushie and Trixie were in the mood for really long walks this week, and I’m not about to say no. Today it was probably around four miles, so we got back a half-hour later than I’d planned.

Morning was partly taken up with TYG and I getting our names on each others’ bank accounts. The death of our friend Neil last month spooked us a little (he and his wife are almost exactly the same age as us) so taking sensible precautions seems like a good idea. We’d inherit the money anyway, but with joint accounts we have instant access. And neither of us is worried the other will empty out the cash and run off (yes, there are cases where this happens).

I didn’t get quite as many Leaf done as I planned, but I planned a lot. I’m working on two different projects so I’m shooting for seven to eight each (the minimum expected) instead of 10 for one. I only made thirteen, but I anticipate doing more next week.

I turned in a new Screen Rant, on TV series canceled after the pilot (both great and godawful pilots). It’s a fun one, but it’s not out yet.

I kept up my 1,000 words of fiction a day, mostly working on No One Can Slay Her. The first third looks really good now — hopefully I’ll say the same for the rest of it at the end of next week.

I got a little done on both Questionable Minds and The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I’d like to do more, but I’m realistic about how much time the Screen Rants and Leaf stuff take. The only things I didn’t do that I’d planned on was resolving the problems with Atlas Shagged (as I mentioned this morning) and starting the hunt for a cover for Atoms for Peace. That’s quite satisfactory. There’s always going to be stuff I could be working on, but as I keep reminding myself it’s okay not to have it all written at once.

The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters by Goya. #SFWApro

 

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Atoms for Peace, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

Goals for February: I’m pleased with myself

Seventy percent, which is good, especially considering I’m working my more personal projects around the Leaf work and my Screen Rants. The new Plot My Work journal I bought does seem to be helping. So is leaving email until late in the day, unless my phone shows me something urgent.

I redrafted No-One Can Save Her and got lots of work done on Questionable Minds and Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I did a review of Undead Sexist Cliches with notes on a couple of extra chapters I need (sexual harassment definitely deserves a section on itself) and various little details I want to add to some chapters. I pitched a column idea to the New York Times but as usual with big markets, I got nowhere. I’ll keep trying, though.

I discovered there were still two problems with Atlas Shagged, one major and one minor. The title on the cover has to match the title in the book (easy fix) and I just realized there’s no table of contents (slightly more complicated). I’ll attend to both those next month. I’d hoped to get started soliciting a cover for Atoms for Peace but that didn’t happen.

Oh, and I attended Mysticon, which was also on the goals list.

I’m disappointed I didn’t make my 1,000 words of fiction every work day, but not too disappointed — it was the right thing to do on the day in question.

My personal goals were a mix. I wanted to up the amount of vegetable and fruit-centric dishes I make, and did so. I did the allotted meditation time, but with very little focus — it’s all monkey mind lately. Though I did manage lots of moments of mindfulness, focusing on what I was doing. While I did exercise, either the weather or the time got in the way of me getting back on the bicycle. Next month, definitely!

So yeah, pleased with myself. Wish me luck keeping up the same level for March.

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