Category Archives: Writing

I totally did not see these plot twists coming (#SFWApro)

Plot twist the first: after a big get together last weekend, TYG came down with a nasty cold. As of today, it appears I’ve caught it too, but in much less virulent form (that’s how it usually works with us). I felt like all I want to do is nothing, but I’m not hacking or sneezing any. So yay for small mercies.

Plot twist the second: I routinely submit query letters to various non-fiction magazines, but my success rate is so low I’ve often wondered if writing and finishing more fiction wouldn’t be smarter. But this week, guess what? I got a go-ahead from History magazine for an article proposal. After the initial panic at having committed myself (I’m so used to working without deadlines or obligations these days) I took a deep breath, relaxed, and enjoyed the moment.

PT the third: I also apply for freelance gigs through the Journalism Jobs website, usually without much success. But this week I pitched Screen Rant on a gig writing about comic books, and they liked my stuff. It’ll be a trial run at first to see if it really works out on both sides, but writing about comic books (list-style articles) is like a dream job. More details when I have something posted.

This, of course, leaves me with the challenge of adjusting my schedule for the new assignments. That’s tougher than you’d think, simply because I don’t want to give up time on fiction — but most probably, work on short stories will take the hit. Next to actual paying gigs, Southern Discomforts is the top priority, lesser projects will have to go on stand-by.

Speaking of which, this week’s replotting went reasonably well. I have a rough outline of how things should happen and how everyone reaches their endpoints. I do not have, however, the scene by scene breakdown that I wanted; my vague outlines tend to fall so far apart midbook that I have to give up and start over, and I don’t want that. I’ll continue scene-by-sceneing it but I may start work on the early, well-detailed chapters as well. But I’m still concerned that I may be losing some of the sense of Pharisee as a community outside the plot of the story. I’ll have to watch that as things progress.

I delivered my next And column, though it’s not out yet, and got another 12,000 words written on Undead Sexist Clichés: The Book (not how it will be titled, but it’s the simplest way to distinguish from the same name blog-post series). I also took care of getting a second opinion on one household project (major repairs not necessary for a while, whoot!), and took the car in for its annual inspection.

A good week. With surprises that were mostly pleasant ones. I’m as happy as a plush dog chewing on a stick.


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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Undead sexist cliches, Writing

Out of the gate: January goals (#SFWApro)

Like last year this time, I did well meeting my January goals: 79 percent. That may merely be the same determination that fuels most people to work on their New Year’s Resolutions right after they make them, but it does feel good.

Unfortunately my biggest writing goal was completely replotting Southern Discomfort and I didn’t manage that. There were several short stories I’d planned to work on too, that I didn’t get around to. And I didn’t get any work done on my taxes. I did get my 35 hours a week in, but just barely.

On the other hand, I did finish redrafts of three stories, so that’s not bad — though Rabbits Indignationem still needs a better ending. I got in several non-fiction queries, published Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast and submitted two and columns. I submitted Fiddler’s Black to a new market, but it came back (though with Send Us More attached).

I tinkered with a rewrite of Atlas Shagged but decided it wouldn’t actually fix the problems so many editors have with it. I’ve gotten enough positive feedback (from editors and others) I think I’m going to self-publish it with reprints of some previously published short stories.

I researched starting a Patreon (haven’t decided), and I redesigned this blog so that you can see covers in the sidebar. Hopefully that will help sales.

I had a number of personal and exercise goals this month, including rereading a book on photography (I did, now I’ll start applying the lessons) and bicycling for one hour twice — if we’re ever going to travel the American Tobacco Trail from Durham to Raleigh again, I need to start rebuilding my exercise legs. Only made it once, but I did manage to get one hour-long exercise walk in (another goal). I hadn’t thought I would, but I took the dogs for a lunch walk last Saturday and they were in the mood to walk a lot.

And speaking of the dogs, here’s Trixie with the Big Ball–it doesn’t show here but it’s bigger than her head.


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Filed under Personal, Time management and goals

Quarry and Discomfort (#SFWApro)

3215040As part of my replotting Southern Discomfort, I checked The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins out of the library (all rights to cover reside with current holder, but I forgot to check the artist). I’d enjoyed Collins’ handling of period detail the first time I read it, so I thought it might be instructive.

As I mentioned at the link, Collins never dwells on any single reference, he just tosses them off. Beehive hairdos. Bullet bras. Split-level homes. Bonanza on the TV. Vietnam as the crucible that forged Quarry (he’s a sniper turned hitman). Car brands. It creates a period feel but never gets heavy-handed.

I’m not sure how applicable Collins’ approach is to Southern Discomfort. The discussion of clothes, hair, etc., definitely. But my book deals a lot more with politics, and I can’t simply name-drop that stuff. In the opening, aspiring senator Richard Cannon refers to Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s campaign for president in 1972; there’s no way Richard’s not going to think about how it was received and what he’ll have to do differently. He can’t just name drop. Which is not to imply I’m doing something deeper or better than Collins, only different.

Rereading it for study, I’m struck by the times Collins tosses off references without context. Not that anyone in the 1970s would be thinking “Bonanza, the wildly popular Western about the wealthy, powerful Cartwright ranching family that ran for years” but the price of not forcing an explanation into the story is that a lot of people TYG’s age (for example) won’t get it. Not that this is a problem, as it’s just as a show on the TV seen in passing. But in another scene, Quarry looks at an attractive woman and compares her to a Breck Girl. It’s a slightly bigger moment, and it also has no context. Again, appropriate for the 1970s, but I’m sure there were readers who had to stop and look it up; heck it took me a second to figure it out and I was old enough to have seen the commercials (Breck Girls were the cuties in Breck Shampoo commercials).

Does that mean I could get away with similar no-context references? Maybe, though I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on it. Collins, after all, has a legion of fans (I’ve read and liked his work); if I have a fan base, it’s considerably smaller. So I wouldn’t rely on getting the same amount of slack.

Either way, an instructive read. And as noted the first time I read it, a good yarn too.

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Filed under Reading, Southern Discomfort, Writing

Fame at last! (#SFWApro)

My friend Chris Manson publishes The Beachcomber back in Florida, and he interviewed me about Now and Then We Time Travel. Coolness.


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Old problems, new tools (#SFWApro)

So as of Tuesday I had a reasonable outline plotted for the first half — though with the cuts to the last draft, it may only be the first third — of Southern Discomfort. But as I tried to reach beyond that, I hit a wall.

I have increased the pressure on Maria (reflecting lessons learned from Whispers Beyond the Veil) and I’d like to keep her under pressure. Getting arrested by the feds does that, except Gwalchmai’s threat level drops at the same time. I need to fix that. But given Maria has no power of her own, I need reasons he won’t, or can’t kill her. Having her arrested took her off the board in the last draft, so he stopped worrying about her — but like I said, that reduced the pressure too much.

Another challenge is that while my betas wants a higher level of magic and danger — which I think is the right call — I have lots of character stuff I don’t want to lose, or need to add. Liz and Susan trying to make sense of Pharisee. Joan learning about her heritage. Maria discussing her complicated racial makeup (dark enough to pass for a light-skinned black woman, and with one-eighth black ancestry). The relationship and power structures in Pharisee are important too: I spent way too much of the opening of the last draft talking about them, but if I don’t deal with them I’m short-changing the book. Getting all of that in may be a challenge (“Listen, before that dragon attacks, explain to me again about the racial makeup of the Pharisee County Commission?”).

So I spent Thursday employin the methods I don’t normally use. Writing different events down on index cards I can shuffle to change the order. Mind-mapping ideas — start with one concept (visit to the Hither Country, say), then see what ideas it sparks. Plus just sitting and thinking. It did generate some useful ideas, but nothing that helps me see where everything fits in the plot. So I took a break today, to resume on Monday and Tuesday as January ends.

I worked on some sort stories too. I started the next draft of Oh the Places You’ll Go! based on writing-group feedback. I also read A Famine Where Abundance Lies to the group, and the feedback helped there too (the takeaway: I really need more supernatural overtones earlier in the story). I worked on Trouble and Glass and decided (after doing a few pages) not to rewrite Atlas Shagged. Everyone who reads it likes it except the editors I submit it too (even some of them like it) so I think I’ll include it with a couple more stories in another ebook.

I found a couple of online freelance job openings and submitted a resume and writing samples. I submitted two magazine queries, and I have a couple ready to go next week. Those two are to high-profile markets so I want to reread and proof them once more to ensure they sound good.s too.

I checked up on a couple of stories that had been out for a while. Sigh — one was rejected last year but the No email got lost. The other publisher no longer exists. Back out they will go — in fact Schloss and the Switchblade already went out. But  Philosophy and Fairytales had a couple more sales. As Kristine Kathryn Rusch has pointed out (not a link to that specific post), one advantage of self-publishing is that you don’t have to worry about your book going out of print — you can keep it available as long as you want.

So that was my week. Plus getting outside a little. Here you can see part of the American Tobacco Trail near our house (photo by me, acknowledge if you use it)


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Filed under Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Writing

Trusting to instinct (#SFWApro)

My ongoing revisions of Southern Discomfort have reminded me of something I’ve known for years. When deciding which path to follow I should trust my instincts.

I don’t mean in the sense of ignoring my beta-readers’ recommendations — while there are some I am ignoring, their criticisms have been mostly right. I’m talking about not listening to my own inner critic.

Inner critics can, of course, be notoriously negative and insecure. But I’m not talking about the inner voice that whispers “your work is crap! You suck! Give up and devote your life to landscaping!” (that is not a direct quote, but you get the idea) but the voice pointing out specific problems. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve found the voice is usually right.

I first noticed this working on the second of my several unpublished novels (what can I say? Even a good internal critic can’t fix everything), Let No Man Put Asunder. I’d worked through one crucial scene and found that I was completely blocked. My gut just clenched when I thought about writing anything further. Eventually I realized it was because my gut knew I’d blown the scene. I went back, rethought it, rewrote it, and finally it clicked (unfortunately it’s lost along with most of the manuscript, which is why it’s taking me forever to rewrite it again).

As a general rule, if my gut tells me something is a problem, I should fix it. Even if none of the beta-readers makes the same objection, it’s worth fixing. For example, in the opening scene of Southern Discomfort, a soon-to-die character makes reference to his wife being out of town. Three drafts back, she played a large role in later events. Two drafts back, she played a small role. This last draft she disappeared completely. And all through the last draft, that bugged me. It felt very Chekhov’s gun — a man’s murdered, he has a widow, but she’s not at all talked about? Or demanding action from the cops? None of the beta readers brought this up as a problem, but still …. so in the current draft, Richard Cannon is single. Problem solved.

It’s different for stuff I’m right on the fence about. I debated having an epilogue showing how Pharisee and the various characters had turned out a year or five years later. The consensus view from my betas was that no, it ends at the right place. Not unanimous, but my instinct is not complaining.

Instinct is not, of course a miracle worker. I’ve written lots of stories I thought were awesome, no negative reaction in my gut — but either editors or beta readers pointed out problems I hadn’t even considered. That’s why I beta stuff, and listen to the feedback. Case in point, I hoped Oh the Places You’ll Go was in pretty good shape, but the writing group pointed out lots of problems and lots of stuff they’d like to see added. I’m now working on that.

Still, my inner compass is an invaluable aid to getting my stories going in the right direction.


(photo courtesy of Pexels, used by permission. Source is Unsplash)

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Filed under Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Writing

If you’re on pinterest (#SFWApro)

So am I. I’m not terribly active, but lately I’ve been putting up a board of time-travel movie posters and stills, to celebrate releasing Now and Then We Time Travel (and hopefully encouraging more people to buy it, of course). Click on the link if you’d like to check ’em out. The sample image below is from 11 Minutes Ago, which I quite liked. All rights reside with current holder.


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Filed under Movies, Now and Then We Time Travel, Writing