Category Archives: Writing

Should we worry?

So an article in Vanity Fair by Nick Bolton argues that computer technology is going to wipe out Hollywood. Already people are using streaming services and bootleg streaming rather than going to movie theaters (note: “I steal movies because Hollywood didn’t put them out when I wanted” is yet another bullshit argument for piracy. I’ve known restaurants that took forever to bring out my food, but I don’t think that entitles me to snarf from the buffet and walk out without paying), and the trend will only increase. Not only that, computers will eliminate lots of Hollywood jobs. Given a few years they’ll be able to edit, write a screenplay (a crappy one, but lots of movies are crappy), and with CGI maybe dispense with human actors.

These possibilities are not new ideas. Eric Frank Russell’s The Darfsteller has robots replacing human actors, and that was back in 1955. Connie Willis’s 1994 Remake imagined a Hollywood where the movies simply reuse the images of famous stars rather than real actors (you may be old enough to remember a few commercials doing this some years back).

Where I disagreed with those stories was that they assume a 100 percent changeover, and I don’t buy that. There will probably always be directors who’d sooner use real actors than computer effects. I suspect there will always be indie movies that do it the old-fashioned way. In Hollywood itself, Bolton might be right — anyone who’s not an A-list star will simply find no roles available. And rather than pay screenwriters, studios will simply use software programs to churn out mindless bit special-effects action epics. I doubt we’d get anything the caliber of Star Wars IV that way, but eliminating all the people would undoubtedly make it bottom-line attractive to the studios.

So what about print writers? I’ve heard speculation that within a decade or less, it’ll be possible to have a software program write a readable novel. Again, I doubt we’d seen anything truly inspired, but plenty of us like mindless pap (I’ve certainly read my share). It might very well be profitable, and all the profits would go to the publisher. Then again, it’s not like royalties are bankrupting publishers now. And the other costs — laying out the book, printing physical copies, proofreading — would still be there.

If it did happen, whither those of us who are not the A-list (e.g., John Scalzi, JK Rowling)? Even if there’s a market for us, would bottom-line thinking convince publishers to drop everyone who’s not a big gun? Indie publishing is an option if that happens, but what if the publishers simply flood the market with cheap computer-written books? Would that make it too hard to sell our books at a price worth selling for? Or would quality win out (assuming that’s the case)?

I imagine in the coming years we will find out.

Cover by Curt Swan, all rights remain with the current holder. #SFWApro

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I hate working working on the weekends, but …

Given that I had an eye doctor appointment Tuesday morning, and that I wouldn’t be much use for a while afterwards (I can’t stand using a computer with dilated eyes), I did some advance work Sunday. Definitely not my ideal weekend, but I got some work done on my new Screen Rant (Deaths That Destroyed TV Shows and Deaths That Saved Them) and some of those Leaf articles.

Necessary, but it left me feeling a little stressed the rest of the week. I felt waaay more relaxed this morning when I had all my deadline-related stuff done. And I did have a productive week.

I completed about 12 Leaf articles for the Houston Chronicle’s website, our current client. Not exciting, but profitable.

I got several more chapters done on my rewrite of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. It’s going well but the really tricky chapters (which I will probably blog about soon) are yet to come. I also resumed rewriting Questionable Minds, which is much closer to getting done. I don’t think there are any major problems with it, this is just one final going over before I either self-publish or start sending it out again.

I started on a fresh draft of No One Can Slay Her. It’s really improving, though I didn’t get as far as I’d hoped. And it just sunk in I want it finished by the end of March. No, no market call or anything, but if I’m going to finish four stories this year — well, do the math. So I really need to push.

I also posted a blog post about the Dr. Mabuse films over on Atomic Junkshop. I’ll be reviewing the films in more detail over there than over here, as I have more than enough post topics for this blog.

Given I’m juggling multiple projects,  I ordered a planner some writer friends recommended for setting deadlines and tracking performance when you’re writing several things at once. I seem to be doing okay, but as I’ve liked using a journal again, I thought it would be worth expending some Christmas money to see if this thing helps.

Oh, and my eyes are in good shape. Always nice to hear. And after my eye appointment, I finally got my first haircut in several months. I definitely look better with short hair.

I’ll close with this 1970s historical-adventure cover (courtesy of Books from the Crypt) by Frank Brunner, better known for his Marvel work on Howard the Duck and Dr. Strange. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

January goals: how’d I do?

Before we get to that, here’s a photo of the Denver sky, 2008. My sky photos like this one don’t usually work, but I think this came out great. I stumbled across it looking at photos of the Denver national Mensa gathering where I met TYG.

As usual for January, I did well meeting goals — 76 percent. What surprised me is that I did much better with my writing goals than usual, probably because I really thought them out this year and tried to keep them realistic.

I completed Schedule C for my taxes (that one covers my writing income)

I finished the next to last draft of Southern Discomfort and sent it out to beta readers.

I started rewriting The Impossible Takes a Little Longer and I got two redrafts in on No One Can Slay Her.

I finally broke myself of wasting too much time on email.

I wanted to get the cover selected for the Atoms for Peace short-story collection and fix the cover problems for the Createspace Atlas Shagged. But the paying work I’m doing for Leaf squeezed that stuff out. However I did keep my goal of putting in at least 1,000 words of fiction a day, despite the paying gigs.

On the personal stuff, I got my bicycling and walking goals done by default: I have a “weather permitting” out and the weather this month really didn’t permit. Okay, technically I could go cycling in freezing weather — I’ve done it before — but l’m willing to cut myself some slack.

By meditating in the morning, before the dogs are up, I’m finally doing it regularly, though not always effectively (but that’s why I practice). I’d like to do something at the end of the day to mark the break from work but Plushie and Trixie don’t see much point in the contemplative life (“Daddy, play now! Now Daddy!”).

I think you can see why my sweet pup distracts me so.

There were several projects I’d hoped to start, such as finding where some of my English relatives are buried, but I didn’t get very far with that. The missed goal that surprised me most was not keeping the bird feeder filled — I didn’t buy bird seed one week and when the blizzard hit, the food ran out. My bad.

I don’t know how well I’ll do next month, as I have a trip to Mysticon planned and the Leaf work. I’m taking that into account setting my goals, but I fear it will slow me down for the year. But I like money and I like being a con guest, so there you are.

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Filed under Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

Armageddon Inferno vs. Justice Society Returns

Now here’s an instructive comparison. Two miniseries with the same concept, an all-powerful demon-god sending his unstoppable agents to destroy the world. Superheroes rise up to oppose him. One worked beautifully. One sucked.

In 1992’s four-issue Armageddon: Inferno by John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell, the demon Abraxis transforms sixteen mortals into his agents and scatters them across time to create gates that will let him enter and occupy Earth’s time-space continuum. The time traveler Waverrider recruits heroes to stop him, but they fail. Finally, in a Hail, Mary play, Waverider pulls the Justice Society out of the interdimensional limbo in which DC had trapped them six years earlier, consigns Abraxis agents there and with the JSA pitching in, the demon falls (this led to a short-lived JSA series in the early 1990s.

In The Justice Society Returns, Stalker — a sword-and-sorcery hero from Bronze Age — is dedicated to freeing himself from the god of war who controls his soul by wiping out war, which he’s learned requires wiping out all life. Having elevated himself to godhood since his series, he materializes on Earth in the 1940s (individual issues used 1940s comics title: All Star Comics, More Fun Comics, Adventure Comics, etc.)and recruits a half-dozen Nazis to begin annihilating us. The JSA fights back and eventually destroys the Nazis, then their master.

The difference between the two is instructive. In Armageddon, the biggest problem is its simply too crowded. Four issues, sixteen Abraxis agents, and several heroes to fight each one. Armageddon Inferno gives Abraxis’ agents characterization but in a good way. When each agent first appears, they announce themselves — “I’m Pete Best, the Beatles’ original drummer! I missed out on their fame, but now I’ll be a god king!” (Ostrander did not actually use Pete Best) — but as the story is hardly character-centric, what’s the point? It’s not enough to deepen them, it’s just a distraction.

In Justice Society Returns, we have 11 issues and one villain per issue. The villains don’t get much characterization (and don’t really need it) but what they do get is effective. Equally important, the heroes get some space for characterization; it doesn’t always work (I have some problems with how they wrote the Golden-Age Atom) but it mostly does.

A second problem is that in Armageddon: Inferno the villains are invincible. The heroes can’t do a damn thing to them, which makes the whole thing feel pointless: endless efforts to hurt entities who can’t be harmed. Plus the use of non-super characters such as Enemy Ace seems even more pointless when Superman can’t make a dent in them. In Justice Society Returns, Stalker’s agents can be defeated and destroyed, which makes a big difference.

The end result? Like I said, one succeeds, the other doesn’t. Both books led to a Justice Society ongoing series, which is something I’ll discuss in a future post.

First cover by Michael Netzer, second by Dave Johnson; all rights remain with current holder. #SFWApro

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Writing historical specfic with Romans and paper girls

SHARDS OF HEAVEN by Michael Livingston and PAPER GIRLS by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang are both set int he past, one in ancient Rome as Octavian rises to power, one in the 1980s. They both faces challenges setting a story in the past, but while Vaughn brings it off, Livingston doesn’t.

Shards is a “what really happened in history” saga set during Octavian’s war against Antony and Cleopatra. When Octavian’s Numidian foster brother discovers the Trident of Poseidon, its power to command water guarantees victory in the battle. Beyond that, if they can unearth the secret location of the Ark of the Covenant from the Library of Alexandria, they’ll be able to wield power absolute on behalf of Rome.

My big problem was that the characters all felt contemporary to me. Cleopatra’s son, for example, is a major player. He’s the heir to Egypt’s rule, worshipped as a living god, revered by his people something I’d expect Egyptian royalty of that era to treat normally. But no, he’s written more like a modern celebrity uncomfortable with his sudden fame, more a president’s son than a future monarch. I didn’t buy it.

It’s more pronounced in the scene where a Jewish scholar reveals that artifacts such as the Trident and the Ark are literally shards of god,: to save us from a mechanistic universe, God had to die, and bits of his body fell to Earth, charged with power. The Trident is the same magical talisman as the staff of Moses and all gods — Yahweh, Olympian, Egyptian, Christian — are the same one deity.

That’s a pretty shocking set of revelations; even today being presented as fact would throw a lot of people for a loop. Livingston’s cast? They’re fine with it. They don’t come across like believers of 2,000 years ago, they sound more like the secular scientists of The Seventh Plague discovering the biological cause of the Ten Plagues of Egypt. I just couldn’t believe in them. Particularly the Jewish guy; even given that he already knows this stuff, the knowledge Yahweh and enemy gods such as Moloch and Baal are the same deity ought to have been shattering.

PAPER GIRLS Vol. 1, the challenge is one I’m dealing with in Southern Discomfort, filling in background detail of the recent past. As someone who was in his twenties during the 1980s, I think Vaughn does a great job.

Much like Max Alan Collins in First Quarry, Vaughn tosses off period references without any context, apparently confident his readers will get it. This does make me curious: are the readers all people old enough to remember the 1980s? If not, do the references throw them?

The references are perfectly appropriate for the time, but some of them are particularly obscure. The 1980s War of the Worlds TV series. Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign. The latter, in fact, isn’t really tossed off, one of the protagonists’ moms refers to him as bringing on the Rapture by seeking political support from gays (or so I interpret her reference to “those people.”). It works for me because I remember Dukakis’ campaign, but millenials?

So am I wrong that when making these kind of references I should be as be unobtrusive and understandable as possible? In which case great, that will help if some of my 1970s references are too obscure. Or is it some other factor I haven’t thought of (not so great for me, probably). Either way, the series clearly works, so I guess Vaughn’s pulling the references off.

Cover by Cliff Chiang, all rights remain with current holder. #SFWApro

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It’s too easy … it could be a trap!

When I was younger I had dreadful trouble when I worked hard and got ahead of my self-imposed deadlines. Rather than get a little extra work done on something else, I’d wind up dawdling or daydreaming until my deadlines caught up with me.

I think I’m over that. This week my two big goals — spruce up Southern Discomfort and send this draft off to a couple of beta readers and redraft No One Can Slay Her — wrapped up surprisingly fast (hopefully that’s a sign the novel is in really good shape). Despite that I stayed busy and put in time on a few other projects:

I began redrafting The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I’ve worked out the kinks in the story, at least in theory, and I hope to get it rewritten this year (most of it’s in good shape, so it’s not as big a project as it sounds).

I also continued working on Questionable Minds. This one’s also in good shape — this is more double-checking than a serious rewrite.

I finished Schedule C for my writing taxes and the related forms (business use of the home, self-employment taxes).

And I started my new round of Leaf articles. I’m going to try to crank out slightly more than usual, if I can do it without slacking up on the fiction side too much.

 

I didn’t complete a Screen Rant — suggested some ideas, didn’t get a go-ahead — but I did get one assigned for next week (X Character Deaths That Ruined TV Series, X That Saved Them). And while I got a paperback copy of Atlas Shagged from CreateSpace, apparently in all the cover changes I messed other stuff up, so I’m going to have to put in more work.

I also went to my FB friends for advice on a cover for Instruments of Science, the collection of my Applied Science stories from Big Pulp. The feedback was very helpful, but I’m definitely going to have to pay for a cover — I can’t see myself finding a stock cover that works. And I may change the collection title to Atoms for Peace, the first story in the series. I think it captures the feel of the stories better.

I’d have gotten more done, but Thursday I just took off work to get non-writing stuff done. Some extra cleaning. Paperwork dealing with my share of Mum’s inheritance. Paperwork for Plush and Trixie’s dog tags (they need a special tag to use the city dog parks). Various other odds and ends. It’s a lot easier to do all that stuff when the pups are in doggy day-care.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the week.

#SFWApro All rights to image (art by Murphy Anderson) remain with current holder.

 

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

One thousand words a day

One of my goals for 2018 was to put in 1,000 words of fiction every work day. Or at least Monday-Friday work day — if I have to meet deadline by doing extra on a weekend, I’m not going to add some fiction too.

Three weeks into January, I’m wondering if that was a good goal or not.

I set it because whenever I got busy with Leaf articles or work on Now and Then We Time Travel in the past couple of years, I’d cut back on fiction. Obviously I have to give up time spent on something, but fiction is what I want to write most, so that’s counterproductive. And it takes that much longer to get things finished. I’d have been done with Southern Discomfort in possibly October if not for the time I put in on Leaf and Screen Rant articles.

And I’d be foolish to think it won’t happen again. I may end up doing the Space Invaders book I’ve worked on (the publisher’s still mulling it over). I just picked up another round with Leaf rewriting articles for one of their websites. This past month, though I didn’t have either. And I’ve begun to notice that a lot of fiction-writing isn’t actually turning out words. It’s plotting. Or replotting. Or editing. None of which count, but they’re all important. And when I start proofing the final draft of Discomfort that’s going to be a lot more important than writing new material.

Still, I think it’s a good goal. It’ll keep me creating or writing something or rewriting something constantly, and that can’t be a bad thing. And if it turns out it is, I can just say OK, No and give it up (it’s not like there’s any penalty for changing my mind). But for the moment I shall forge ahead.

All rights to image remain with current holders. #SFWApro

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