Category Archives: Short Stories

Defying gravity! Will I fall off the cliff? (#SFWApro)

This was a good writing week.

I wrote last Friday that I was nervous about Southern Discomfort because I didn’t have a clear path, plotwise, as I progressed through the book. Surprisingly, that wasn’t even slightly a problem this week. If anything, writing was easy. I finished one chapter, asked myself “Okay, what next?” and presto, I got the answer. That’s surprising — I very rarely get into that kind of flow state — but it’s really enjoyable.

However I know from experience, that’s not a guarantee I’m on the right path (though it certainly feels like I am). Hence the use of the Fool of the Tarot’s Major Arcana (Arthur Waite version). According to one interpretation of the card, it represents the quester passing through the spiritual stages of the other Arcana. Walking to the edge of the cliff, he may be the naive, beginning quester who doesn’t realize the danger he’s in. Then again, he may be the enlightened quester who knows that if he walks off the cliff, he’ll land safely.

And it’s possible I’m either one. If it keeps going this well, I’m the enlightened quester. But it’s possible that 10,000 words from now I’ll discover everything I wrote this week has steered me into a dead end. One potential problem is that several key events, while they flow much better in this draft, now take place about 15,000 words earlier. If I don’t make up the 15,000, I’d end up about 68,000 words, which is way too short.

Nevertheless, writing the book this week felt very good.

That consumed most of my writing week. I also got off one query (as And magazine stopped using my columns, I’m hitting other markets), worked some on Undead Sexist Cliches—the Book, and started a new draft of the short story Trouble in Glass. I also tackled various paperwork issues (taxes and other financial stuff) I needed to catch up on.

I’d planned to take about four hours off to use up some of the extra hours I’d built up, but I just didn’t get around to it. Still with Memorial Day coming up, if TYG takes time off, maybe I’ll use it then.

 

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Filed under Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

The tide has turned and caught me at full flood! (#SFWApro)

So as I mentioned a while back, I picked up three different paying gigs in addition to Screen Rant: the Leaf project (now wrapped up), freelance work for a network of legal papers and money management how-to articles for GOBankingrates. Only the latter two of the four never assigned me anything.

But then the week before my trip to Greenville, GOBankingrates asked if I was up for an article. I had to pass until after the trip, but earlier this week they called again. So I took the assignment (how to get pre-approved for a mortgage). The information was simple enough — it’s similar to the stuff I’ve done for Leaf — but like Screen Rant, they have their own format and style rules, and getting it written to comply with them consumed a lot of time. Not that they’re unreasonable, but it always goes slow the first time I try to follow a style guide. But it’s done, and assuming no problems, it will work out to a great hourly rate.

But all that work on mortgage pre-approval sucked up a lot of time I’d have spent for fiction. And the irrational conviction I Have No Time, I Can’t Get It Done when I have a tight deadline kept me up early. Plus I was working on two Screen Rants, this week’s (not out yet) and a big Wonder Woman article due in a couple of weeks. So it was a little frantic.

And today, the early rising got to me. I went to sleep right after lunch and when I woke up I just lay down with the pups for another hour. Then read for another hour instead of writing. I was in overtime for the week, so I don’t feel bad about it, but I almost never blow off an afternoon even so. Guess I was more tired than I thought.

So what did I get done?

•I reread Undead Sexist Cliches — the Book, because I did almost nothing on it last month and I needed a better sense of what I’d already covered.

•I got another 5,000 words done on Southern Discomforts.

•I had a great idea for my short story, Trouble and Glass, that will resolve some of the problems I’ve been having with it. I’d hoped to actually work on the text, but that time got lost in the nonfiction push.

•I was supposed to talk on the phone with someone I applied to for another nonfiction gig. And that we jumped to phone is a good sign, I think — however, life intervened on his end. Next week, hopefully.

On top of which I managed to keep up exercising, and to give the kitchen a really thorough cleaning while the dogs were in day care (it’s not the best way to spend my dog-free day, but it beats having them try to nose around me while I’m spraying cleaning products).

Next week, now that I know to budget time for the GOBankingrate, perhaps things will go smoother. We shall see …

Oh, and Digital Fantasy Fiction just reprinted my short story He Kindly Stopped For Me. If Death knocked on your door and asked to use your phone, how would you react? Feel free to check out the Story Behind The Story from when it first came out.

Cover art by Jack Kirby, all rights reside with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Story behind the story, Time management and goals, Writing

I had a fabulous weekend. What happened next will shock you! (#SFWA)

Last weekend was awesome. Friday (apr. 28) I drove down to Greenville SC to visit my friends Neil and Courtney (that’s their dog, Watson, in the photo) . Every year there’s a Mensa trivia contest, Culture Quest, and I go down and play with them rather than with the local Durham teams. No disrespect meant to them (they often outscore us), but it’s nice to spend time with people who know me from back before I moved up here.

We hung out and lay around a lot, watched movies (see tomorrow’s reviews) and TV (Westworld, which will get a review of its own eventually), competed in Culture Quest, visited the Greenville Zoo (very nice!) and Neil’s comic book store plus hitting the Greenville library’s book sale. Everything’s cheap and the last day everything’s half-off the cheap price. There’s more stuff to do, and sometimes I’ve spent the whole week there as the Greenville Mensa gathering takes place the following weekend. This time, though, I came back Monday, planning to come back with TYG for the gathering on Friday.

(A brief aside: Gaffney, SC is on the way and has a ginormous water tower painted into a peach. It’s a real shock seeing it when you’re not prepared, like someone in a movie confronting a giant kaijin).

So I spent the three days I had to work concentrating on my Screen Rant column, and doing some more research reading for Southern Discomfort. Plus taking time out for Plushie’s noon eye appointment on Thursday.

But then Thursday morning Trixie suddenly sat on the ground midway through her walkies and refused to budge. She didn’t eat when she got home. And she was lethargic and withdrawn, which is very un-Trixie. We called and got a 10:30 appointment at our vet. Unfortunately they were slammed so TYG had to leave and take Plush dog to his appointment while I waited on Trixie’s results.

The long and short of it: Trixie had eaten something (cloth, hair, grass) which had filled up her stomach. Fortunately it had passed out by 4ish. However we still have to wait and see whether it passes out her intestines or sticks (which could require surgery).

I was still fairly comfortable with boarding Trixie at the vet’s for the weekend, but TYG wasn’t. She volunteered to stay behind and watch Trixie while I went to Greenville, but I decided I’d be too worried about Trixie (and guilty about leaving) to enjoy myself. So I stayed. I wasn’t happy with the decision, but I wouldn’t have been happy going either …

While the stuff hasn’t passed out yet, Trixie is back to her normal high-energy self again, so yay! And I did get a little extra work done (submitted a couple of stories, applied for an editing gig, worked on Trouble and Glass for the first time in forever) which made me feel less disappointed in my choice. I do miss seeing all our Mensa friends though. But Trixie’s my little girl, so there you are.

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

April goals: No covering myself with glory (#SFWApro)

Goals accomplished: 45 percent. My lowest so far this year. Even given I spent a week sick, I should have done better.

Part of the problem was that I still had the last of my Leaf work to wrap up, which took a lot of time. And then I compensated by focusing heavily on Southern Discomfort, which meant lesser stuff — marketing, short stories — didn’t get done. I’d have caught up (maybe) last week, but the sick thing kicked in. Likewise lots of little things — exercise, for instance — got lost here and there in the rush.

I did get 25,000 words written on Southern Discomfort, which is great, and I finally saw Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast out in hardback. Plus my Screen Rant columns were all turned in.

May will suffer from having very little time this first week of May. I got back Monday from visiting friends (details in this afternoon’s post), I’m taking today off (details later), and I had multiple appointments and errands during the three work days. But I think I’ve calibrated tasks to time available effectively. Or so I hope.

For your entertainment, I’ll conclude with a cover by Richard Courtney (all rights retained by current holder). Michael Moorcock novels often promote imaginative covers though I’ve seen wilder ones.

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Filed under Personal, Screen Rant, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals

My week in review makes me think of that TV series Hindsight (#SFWApro)

One of the things I liked about VH1’s Hindsight was that after the protagonist travels 20 years into the past and fixes her big problems (her train-wreck first marriage and her dead-end job), she has no idea what to do next. Knowing what was wrong in her past doesn’t show her what path will lead to happiness (her best friend points out that she’s no worse off than anyone else). Which is sort of what I felt like working on Southern Discomfort this week.

The one part of the book I still haven’t outlined is Joan and Maria journeying to Caer Gwalchmai. It has to be less than the relatively simple “waltz through the Otherworld and get the magic McGuffin” sequence in the last draft, but I’m not sure what. This week I got a clearer idea of what I don’t want: it shouldn’t be just a struggle fighting through supernatural forces and monsters. My gut says that’s wrong, and I trust my gut. However I’m not sure what the alternative is. A series of traps and wards they have to circumvent? Maybe. Or something I haven’t yet thought of. Quite possibly. I’ll keep pushing until I figure it out. And start on the earlier chapters while I’m thinking, so I don’t waste too much time staring into my navel for inspiration.

I did not get as much work on the novel done as planned because of those two assignments I mentioned last week — a History Magazine article assignment and a trial run as a writer for Screen Rant. I got the History research collected and managed to bat out a rough draft (very rough, but it gives me a sense of how I want the piece structured). And I found the photos I need online.

The first Screen Rant column, as I suspected, took much longer than I wanted it to. If I’m going to stick with the gig (assuming they like my work), I’ll have to write much more efficiently. But that was the case with Demand Media: the first few articles were crawling, then I found my rhythm. I’ll also have to structure my time so that I don’t work on them over the weekend — this one will have to be wrapped up Sunday. The writing’s done, except for proofreading, but I have to enter it in the system, which will probably take a bit longer. And I have to find illustrations and crop them which will be a pain. But then again, writing about comics and getting paid for it is pretty damn cool, so onward!

I applied for a couple more freelance jobs, and that was about it for work, even with more than the usual number of hours in. Of course that’s partly because reading White Flight was slow going, because the book’s so packed with information. And I got stressed and tired Wednesday which made hump day less productive than I’d planned.

To end on a high note, here’s a look at Plushie after his new cut. Adorable, is he not?

img_1096

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, 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.

another-stick

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

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)

tree-path

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