Category Archives: Short Stories

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?

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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

It’s me, it’s me (#SFWApro)

Reading from The Wodehouse Murder Case at Illogicon. Click to see the video.

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Don’t you just hate it when your critics are right? (#SFWApro)

This was a more productive week than I’d expected. I’d been called for jury duty Wednesday, but didn’t have to go, so that was a day added back into my schedule. Huzzah!

The extra time, along with a lot of the scheduled time, went toward working on Southern Discomfort. I had gotten most of the conceptual and character changes worked out, so I figured I’d start replotting. Working everything out, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Tracking the characters, the events, the significant emotional moments. And as I got to around chapter five or six, I had to admit my beta-readers were right, this is very slow and talky (although I only had one of them who couldn’t get into it at all and begged off).

I very much see Pharisee County as a character in its own right. I wanted to explore the community’s character, how it’s been shaped by having two immortal elves running things behind the scene for 300 years. So there are several scenes where the various outsiders (forensic expert Stone, FBI agent Rachel Cohen, Maria, Julie Stanbrook—who’s going to be Laura Rubiero in the current draft, I think) talk to one person or another about local history, politics and power dynamics. I think it’s interesting stuff … in small doses. As much as I’ve put in, it slows things down to a crawl. It’s precisely the kind of emphasis on politics and worldbuilding over story that I complained about in Black Wolves, as I feared when I read it.

To make things worse, there’s no tension in the scenes. The outsiders want information to help them make sense of things, but there’s no sense that it’s vital or urgent. No real conflict with the people they’re talking to. Again, not good. But that’s why we rewrite, isn’t it? Though it’ll take more replotting than I thought to fix things. Some of the scenes I can drop, some I’ll shift until later, but I think I’ll need to come up with some new danger or threat to make up for the lost material.

On the plus side, my mind is starting to see the plot path or a plot path. I’m managing to find newer, tenser scenes, though of course as I diverge from the previous draft, my outline is getting vaguer and less certain. Assuming it holds all the way to the finish, I’ll probably have to go over it a second time before starting to write, to get the same level of detail as the earlier scenes.

Well, if it was easy to write good stuff, everyone would be doing it.

I also started work on my next And column. And wrote a first draft of Angels Hate This Man, a new fantasy story. Plus I redrafted Trouble and Glass. I completely changed one key character and much of the set-up so the fact this draft is even remotely coherent is pretty impressive. I definitely need to keep working on stuff that involves actual writing than plotting. It seems to help my focus.

I made my 35 hours for the week, though I’m giving myself a small mulligan: I spent about 90 minutes today staring at the computer, realizing President Shit-Gibbon has been inaugurated and not being able to think of much else. I have now unfriended one person on Facebook (racist rape apologist) and “taken a break” from two others (I don’t want to spend lots of time arguing on FB and their posts are … bullshit).

For some visual flair, here’s a striking cover by Russ Heath. Marvel’s horror mags from the Silver Age tended to have crappy stories, but the covers were striking, as you can see.

astonishing26

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Story Behind the Story: The Savage Year (#SFWApro)

savageyears3-375x600As I mentioned last week, The Savage Year is now out in the online magazine Lorelei Signal with that great illustration by Lee Ann Barlow (all rights to image reside to current holder).

The opening: “Walking past a half-naked couple making out next to a picnic basket, Artemis West wished she could turn invisible. I never thought my first assignment would involve working magic in front of a park full of hippies.

It’s 1968, Robert Kennedy has just been assassinated, and the country is mourning. And as Artemis soon discovers, her job as a Secret Service sorcerer is about to get much more complicated, thanks to a British black magician and a bronze-skinned, golden-eyed drifter, Diana Savage. Whose father is some kind of brilliant scientist and philanthropist, and everyone expects her to follow in his wake. So she’s run away for a summer of love before she heads to college. Only there are innocent people in danger, and in her heart she’s her father’s child …

Why yes, this is the story about Doc Savage’s daughter that I wrote about starting several years ago. As noted at the link, I’d wanted to write about her (or more precisely my version of her) since the early 1980s, but never came up with a story. Then I hit on teaming her up with Art West, great grandson of James West, the hero of Wild Wild West now following family tradition by working for the Secret Service, though as a mage.
That frankly floored me when I reread it. Now that I think about it I can dimly remember Artemus West, but he’s been Artemis and female so long I didn’t remember it any other way (Jim West’s partner was Artemus Gordon. So descendants are stuck with the name). Although as I write a lot of male/female teams, it’s not surprising (I’ve no idea why I switched).I do know the basic concept shaped up early. Mages in the Secret Service actually have a dull gig. All they do is go around and touch up the bindings Native American shamans used to lock various Lovecraftian outsiders away. As long as the mages do their job, the outsiders can’t get out.Except that when Artemis goes to check the local bindings (originally San Francisco, but it eventually shifted to the Midwest) she discovers someone is letting outsiders loose. Which is, of course, bad. Even with a bronze teenage tornado who fights like ten men (she’s Doc Savage’s daughter. She’s been well-trained) Artemis has a hard time stopping the bad guy.Unfortunately I had no idea what the bad guy planned to do. Or what his plan was — I wanted multiple encounters between his monsters and the women. Or exactly how to stop him. Eventually I figured it out, with the help of Lester Dent’s plotting formula — appropriate as he created Doc. I also trimmed back a lot of the in-jokes. I wanted to make sure that someone who’d never heard of Jim West or Doc Savage could still enjoy the story. That meant avoiding anything that would make readers stop and go “Huh? What’s that supposed to refer to?” There’s one reference to Artemis’ family (creepy uncle Herbert West, from an HP Lovecraft story) but nothing more. Perhaps if there’s a next time …Then I shared it with some beta-readers who made some good suggestions. First, that as the malevolent Covenant-Price doesn’t appear until the end, it’s hard to build him as an antagonist. Now he’s in multiple scenes. Second, that there were places I needed to make things even weirder in a couple of places. I think I succeeded.Lorelei Signal is free, so go ahead and check it out. Especially my contribution.

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2017 began. You won’t believe what happened next! (#SFWApro)

I haven’t noticed doing clickbait post titles actually gets me more visitors, but I can dream.

This was, overall, a great start to the year.

•I redesigned this blog to show some of my books in the sidebar. Unfortunately it appears I can only do two, so I opted with my self-published stuff over Now and Then We Time Travel, as you can see. I may just keep changing them out every week. But regardless of where the images appear, you should feel free to buy all of them (all rights to cover image remain with current holder).

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•I looked up how to start a Patreon. More detail if I actually set one up.

•I reread all the notes I got from my beta-readers for Southern Discomfort, and distilled everything down to specific problems/suggestions. Despite the inevitable white noise (this takes too long to get going! No, it’s just the right speed!) going over it all in one swoop (albeit a swoop stretched out over a day or two) made it much clearer where the problems/potential lie. And it got my brain starting on finding fixes for some of the bigger issues. More on that as I progress.

•I submitted my next And column, on why compromising with the anti-equality forces is always a political mistake (the ethical side I covered last column).

•I released Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, my book on the James Bond films.

•Lorelei Signal published The Savage Year in which a Secret Service mage and Doc Savage’s daughter go up against a renegade British sorcerer (a Story Behind the Story post will follow next week). And I think it has one of the best illos I’ve ever seen grace one of my stories, courtesy of Lee Ann Barlow (all rights to the image belong to the current holder).

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•I began work on a book based on my Undead Sexist Cliches blog posts. With the massive right-wing backlash against women’s rights (along with most other rights for people who aren’t straight WASP men), this seemed like a good time. It may be self-published, though I’d jump at a publisher if I can find one.

That’s pretty good, given everything I had to distract me. Wednesday, TYG came down with food poisoning and was utterly miserable. So was I, of course.  Fortunately, it cleared up and yesterday morning she headed out for a big alumni event, the same annual event that brought about our New York trip a year ago. I’m very glad she went because she’d have been kicking herself over whatever part of the plane ticket, hotel reservation, etc. she couldn’t get refunded. More importantly, she’d have been dismayed not to get to hang with all her friends — much like the Mensa national gathering, there are people she only gets to see once a year.

Of course that meant she was in a rush to pack Thursday morning (when her work schedule is normal, she packs way in advance) and I got dragged in to help, which of course threw me a little off-balance. After dropping her off, I then seized the moment to mail off copies of Now and Then We Time Travel to family, and to hit the Kroger’s nearby. They’re talking three to 10 inches of snow starting this evening (would you believe TYG told me back when we were dating that it almost never snows here? It’s snowed every year since then), so I figured getting the shopping in early couldn’t hurt. But after all that, I could not seem to get my head back in the game. And I didn’t do much better today — solo dog parenting often has that effect. So my plans to redraft Trouble and Glass didn’t get far. I did get a rough outline of the story for the next draft, and began working through it, but I’ll have to finish up next week.

Next week may be even crazier, as we have a vet appointment, a car inspection and the start of Illogicon. Plus wondering whether the snow will keep TYG from returning Sunday (they weren’t predicting this much when she left). Time will tell, as it always does.

 

 

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Filed under Nonfiction, Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Writing