Category Archives: Short Stories

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

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

Dawn of Justice, Dawn of Realism? (#SFWApro)

Watching Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice last month, the thing that annoyed me besides Jesse Eisenberg’s twitchy Luthor was the faux realism.

The movie seems determined to separate itself from the kid-stuff comics of the Silver Age. It’s not just that it’s dark and grim, but that the creators want us to know they’re thinking about the implications of Superman, and how unsettling it would be to have him around. Can we trust him? What happens if he goes rogue? Are superheroes bound by the rule of law and what happens if they’re not?

(A better take on Batman vs. Superman. Cover by Frank Miller, all rights remain with current holder)

The trouble is, the realism is about an inch deep. As I said in my review at the link, for all the sturm and drang about the risk Superman poses, nothing’s actually going to change. Superman’s not going to be outlawed. We’re not going to end up with anything like the 52 State Initiative Marvel instituted after Civil War. The most that will happen is that he and the other superheroes are treated closer to the Marvel style (wary, suspicious, cynical) than DC (trust and respect!). Which is why it’s faux.

I have a similar problem with the old Handbook of the Marvel Universe. The 1980s original handbook, steered by Mark Gruenwald, tried to put everything on a sounder scientific basis. Cyclops, for example, isn’t a solar battery who discharges energy through his eyes; no, his eyes contain tiny wormholes that open onto some other dimension and the energy there just pops our into our world!

Again, faux realism. Nothing can make the DC or Marvel universes physically plausible; the most you can do insert something that sounds like better pseudoscientific bilge (other dimensions! Quantum physics! Psionics!) than previous pseudoscientific bilge.

On top of which, faux realism is unaesthetic. The movie doesn’t gain gravitas from all the discussion, it just bogs down in tedium. Cyclops having dimensional gates in his eyes just doesn’t feel as right as the solar battery theory. And as with magic, I’ll trade grimdark grit and realism for aesthetics any day. Especially when you can’t get real realism. If you’re starting your superhero universe from scratch, that’s another story. One thing I like about Malibu Comics’ 1990s Ultraverse (which I must blog about soon) is that while they do shoot for a more realistic universe than the Big Two they don’t let it bog things down — there are still lots of spectacular fights, superpowers and cool villains.

Likewise there’s the complaint I’ve heard that Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series never really explains how, if dragons have been associating with humans for centuries, the world looks like Napoleonic Europe with dragons rather than a completely different history. It’s a fair criticism, but part of the fun of the books is being the Napoleonic War with dragons — I’m willing to make that trade-off (I’m doing something similar myself in No-One Can Slay Her) as long as I like the results. Of course I also like books that pull off the realism (e.g., Watchmen) but the illusion of realism is not, in itself, something that sells me on a story.

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Sleep. And dogs (#SFWApro)

So I’ve spent the past week sleeping (along with TYG and the pups, of course) on our gorgeous new king-size bed. With the added space I’m sleeping much better, but I’m still falling short of a full night’s sleep. I’m waking up around 4 AM and that close to getting up (typically I’m up at 5) my brain doesn’t want to go back to sleep. So while I’m doing much better and feeling much less zonked during the day, it’s not quite as much sleep as I need. Hopefully I’ll adjust and start sleeping a full night soon. But heck, it’s still great being able to spread out comfortably and having a supportive surface that doesn’t jiggle like jello every time TYG or the dogs moves around.

(Unlike me, Trixie can sleep anywhere).

Another problem is that the dogs are sucking up extra time. Longer walks, now that the weather’s cooler. And about fifteen minutes before 11 A.M. and 5 P.M. walkies, they’re getting really, really restless and needy. Today, for instance, I was reduced to checking email starting around 10:45 because they were too distracting for me to focus on anything else. I don’t have a real solution. I know they want to go out sooner than they do, but I suspect if I went with that, they’d still be pushing for earlier walkies. So no.

Now, as to the writing—Southern Discomfort is up to 45,000 words, though I definitely need to rewrite some sections before I wrap up this draft. Everything is proceeding well. The arcs (or at least recurring appearances) of minor characters are shaping up without feeling forced, the main plot is developing smoothly, but I’ve added quite a few new scenes, and they need tidying up, adding sensory detail, etc.  While I’m on line to get up to 50,000 words by Oct. 31 (my plan for the month), I may have to extend writing/polishing into December to get this draft finished.

I didn’t get any work on the ending plotting done this week, alas. But I think I’m definitely doing better on word count. Last time it was under novel length by a few thousand words, but this draft looks to be back up. I think — obviously it’s hard to tell when I’m mid-book, but by this point (Maria’s been busted, Olwen’s under suspicion and the Hither Country is merging with Georgia) in the last draft, I was several thousand words behind where I am now.

I’m also going to need to fact-check some scenes dealing with medical stuff, to make sure it’s all accurate. Fortunately I know doctors.

I turned in my next Screen Rant though it isn’t out yet: 20 Terrible Sci-Fi Shows You’ve Forgotten.

I proofed about half my next ebook (Applied Science, a collection of stories I did almost eight years ago). It’s pretty clean, but I think I’ll have to go over it and make some minor rewrites. These originally appeared one a month on Big Pulp and information I thought necessary to update new readers probably isn’t now — nobody needs to have Steve’s brother’s life as a spy explained more than once.

I worked some more on Trouble and Glass, now retitled No-One Can Slay Her. I think I have a better grasp of the plot but not quite good enough to finish this draft. I’m hoping to read this at the next writers’ group, but I still have time.

And I rewrote The Schloss and the Switchblade because after this summer, the reaction to being in a room of people wearing Hitler masks is not going to be the same as when I wrote it last year. The rewrite wrapped up, I sent it off.

Ultimately due to dogs and a couple of other issues, I didn’t quite make my 35 hours for the week. Nevertheless I choose to be pleased with what I accomplished. I’ll worry about fixing schedule problems next week.

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Filed under Screen Rant, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

The Story Behind the Story: Backstage With the Hypothetical Dead (#SFWApro)

As I noted Sunday, Backstage With the Hypothetical Dead is now live at On the Premises. The “second place” is because they structure each issue as a contest, and I came in second (obviously). Which was good enough to get published (and paid!) so here’s the story on how it came to be.

Back in 2012, when I read the seminal urban fantasy War for the Oaks, I commented that all the stuff about the protagonist putting a band together became very boring as the book went on. I added I’d have been more interested, maybe, if they’d been working in theater, which is much closer to my heart than music.

Then I reflected that there’s very little theater in specfic. Lots of music — Mercedes’ Lackey’s Bedlam’s Bard, Charles deLint’s buskers and Irish fiddlers — but not much theater. And then I thought hmm, why grumble about it when you could be writing a specfic theater story. So I started work on The Stage is a World, a story that begins with one of the backstage crew discovering a ghost and reacting very loudly — audible to the audience loudly. This did not go over well, particularly with Janice, the stage manager, who came close to kicking him off the show. But didn’t. And then, of course, the ghost returns …

After several drafts, I discovered two apparently intractable problems. I had Janice and Tony, my protagonist, becoming a couple, and that didn’t seem to work. And no explanation I came up with for the ghost seemed to work at all. And while I liked the structure — the ghost appears during different shows in the course of a community theater’s year — I worried it was too inside baseball (the setting is modeled on the group I worked with for years). I read Fritz Leiber’s Four Ghosts in Hamlet for inspiration but that didn’t help.

I eventually decided I’d set Tony and Janice to being friends, instead. And I’d leave the nature of the ghost, who it was, why it was, completely ambiguous. When I read it to the writer’s group, however, the consensus seemed to be that I had no conclusion — everything was too ambiguous. My best friend and fellow writer Cindy Holbrook said it needed more of a personal arc too.

So back to work. I decided the personal arc was the key to having a satisfying ending, so I de-aged Tony, made him a relative rookie with the theater group, and watched him slowly meld into the community over the course of the year. And I had the ghost do something definite at the climax, it’s just that nobody’s sure what or why. I thought that set the balance just right.

Then came submission. Then came rejection. One magazine said it simply wandered in the middle sections, which was a fair criticism, but I decided to keep it the way it was. Then I saw On the Premises was holding a contest for an upcoming issue in which the theme was community, and becoming part of a community. That fit so perfectly, I submitted. And sold it!

Go, read. Enjoy. And as proof of my theater bonafides, here’s a shot of my with one of my two awards from when I was with Act4Murder dinner theater.

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Filed under Short Stories, Story behind the story

Backstage With the Hypothetical Dead is live (#SFWApro)

You can read it at On the Premises. “Story Behind the Story” blog post about how I came to write it will come Tuesday.

To draw eyeballs to this post, here’s a photo of Trixie getting humped by her best friend Trixie.

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Filed under Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Writing