Category Archives: Southern Discomfort

Iron, Blood and Backstory

Unless we’re writing about the birth of time, our worlds always have a backstory. There are several different ways to deal with it.

The backstory is reality. For example in Fritz Leiber’s The Wanderer, a planet-sized space shape crosses hyperspace and emerges in orbit around Earth. The moon is ripped apart, tidal waves and earthquakes ravage the world and the characters struggle to survive. Plus, of course, there are aliens.

Up until the starship appeared, the world was normal. We don’t need to know what it was like before the start of the story because we were living in it (we do get some backstory later on the spaceship and its inhabitants). The backstory is irrelevant.

I come close to this with Atoms For Peace: even though the world is slightly off-kilter (recovering from a Martian invasion) it still seems like that was one crazy fluke. Then Gwen Montgomery discovers a mutated lizard man dead in her street …

The protagonist is a newbie. This is one specfic uses a lot: the POV character is thrust into a new situation knowing nothing about the backstory. This excuses them asking constant questions and sitting through infodumps in response. This is painful to read if the info dump isn’t interesting (it usually isn’t). One of the things I hated about Charles Stross’s The Family Trade was the constant stream of infodumping directed at the protagonist. It doesn’t have to be a problem, though, if it’s done well: Mur Lafferty introduced a newbie to the supernatural world in The Shambling Guide to New York City without leaving me feeling dumped on.

In media res. This is the one I tend toward in my own writing — the protagonists aren’t newbies and whatever’s going on has been going on a while.

I’m not so much talking about starting in the middle of the action (which I do sometimes) as much as establishing that the weirdness pre-existed the events of the book. In No One Can Slay Her, for instance, magic’s a part of every day life in the 1950s. Jennifer Armstrong has been dealing with supernatural threats since her teen years (her wyrd guarantees it); her Beatnik wife Kate has the gift of wild magic. When I wrote Brain From Outer Space (the as yet uncompleted novel that inspired the Atoms for Peace stories), alien invasions, pod people, mutants and mad science were just “Tuesday” for my cast.

It’s common in urban fantasy, which Gail Z. Martin writes, so it’s not surprising she and her husband went that route in their steampunk fantasy Iron & Blood (cover by Michael Kormarck, all rights remain with current holder). Jake and his partner Rick have been relic-hunting for a while (mostly stealing antiques from people whose ownership claim is dubious). Steampunk tech is taken as normal, magic is middling (not everyone believes). And the events that trigger the plot — Jake’s father acquired a rare item that someone wants enough to kill him (and they did) — have been accomplished before Page One. We get some exposition about the characters along the way, but not much about the setting.

I enjoy that approach. Like I said, it’s one I use a lot myself. Although I found having the two federal agents “Sturm and Drang” already hunting a Jack the Ripper type as the book starts made it a little overfull (perhaps it’s because the Martins are going to spin them off into their own adventures). I still really enjoyed the book (and that is my honest opinion, even though Gail’s a friend of mine).

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Brain From Outer Space, Reading, Southern Discomfort

Crazy dog parent week

So Tuesday I discovered we’d lost Plush Dog’s tags. They were hooked to his collar, the metal loop was loose and he was wandering through brambles. Or it could have been one of his roll-in-the-dirt moments. No way to tell now. But as a result we’ve been doing most of their walkies in the back yard. Yes, he’s microchipped, but we still don’t want him running off without an easily identifiable phone number on his harness (I’ve ordered new holders and tags, but they ain’t here yet).

Possibly that’s why the pups have been so wired this week. I don’t recall them being quite so frantic and excited in the mornings. Thursday (doggy day care day this week) they were so needy and lively I wound up playing with them for an hour so TYG could get some stuff done. Not the best use of my day off, but such is dog-owner life.

Oh, and Plush chewed through one of their balls Wednesday, and had licked some of the stuffing out. Fortunately I caught him before he could swallow.

Then this morning Trixie came downstairs with me for the first time in a while. This slightly disrupted my schedule as I always wind up snuggling on the couch with her. Still, she’s worth it.

So, all that said, how did the work go? Not too bad.

I think I completed about fourteen articles for Leaf, which will help pay for — well I’m not sure yet, but it’ll certainly help pay for something.

I continued working on the rewrites of Questionable Minds and Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I also read a couple of heavy-exposition scenes from Southern Discomfort to the writing group and got (as usual) great feedback.

I got next to nothing done on No One Can Slay Her. The last half of the story needs heavier restructuring than I’d thought and while I’ve diagnosed the problems, I don’t have the solution yet. I’ll blame that partly on the dogs — it’s really hard to do thinky/planny stuff when they’re piled on my lap. And Thursday was devoted to Screen Rant work (not out yet) and the Leaf stuff. Regrettably I wasn’t able to make my 1,000 words of fiction a day on Thursday. I was hoping I’d keep it going the whole year, but I could be happy with “every day of 2018 but one.”

And I worked out my transportation and hotel for Mysticon later this month — I’m a guest. Actually credit goes to Carla at Mysticon for finding a room at the con hotel when I wasn’t able to do it.

Plus I squeezed in a dentist visit. Teeth are in good shape, yay.

And now I crash. Slept poorly last night and I’m done in. But the weekend is here.

 

#SFWApro Photos are mine, please credit me and source blog if you use ’em.

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

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

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

Is Our Writers Learning? The Thing in the Woods by Matthew W. Quinn

I decided to read THE THING IN THE WOODS by Matthew W. Quinn after reading his discussion of how the cast would have voted in 2016. It’s a contemporary-set horror which has some definite similarities to Southern Discomfort (small town with a secret, lots of newcomers moving in), though happily not too many.

Fair warning: it came out from Digital Fiction, which also publishes Where Angels Fear to Lunch. Their royalty model says we all divide up the pot equally, so if Thing in the Woods sells, that’s good for me. Nevertheless, I really did like it.

THE STORY

James Daly is a teenager whose father recently uprooted the family from Buckhead in Atlanta to Edington, Ga., a small town partly transformed into a bedroom community. What James doesn’t know, but will soon learn, is that there’s a local cult that feeds people who piss them off to their tentacled god. Once James learns about the cult, he’s #1 on their shit list.

WHAT I LEARNED

Setting can be an asset. I think the strength of the story is that it’s set very much in the modern south. Characters coping with recession, businesses dying, old-school Southerners who bitterly resent the newcomers in town, the changing demographics, the fact life just ain’t the way it used to be. References to Chapel Hill and Destin, both of which I’m familiar with. It’s a South I recognize. And while the bad guys get my back up (I’ve known too many people like them), Quinn does a good job making them decent. Except, you know, their bigotry and the whole human sacrifice thing.

Setting the cult and its god against that backdrop is the book’s strength, making the story much more interesting (to me, anyway), than if it had been, say, Innsmouth or something equally old-school.

Obviously there’s a parallel to Pharisee, Georgia, in Southern Discomfort: the clash between locals and outsiders, the magic secret. Pharisee’s secrets, though are a lot nicer.

Keeping the story moving is good. Well, obviously. What I mean is, Quinn does keep things moving a lot faster than I do, dealing with the town’s situation in dribbles as the plot advances. But of course the cult is a lot more incidental to Edington than the McAlisters are to Pharisee, so the effects of Aubric’s death are a lot more far-reaching. Which is likewise why I have more POV characters many of whom aren’t involved in the action: I’m shooting for a bigger overall view of Pharisee than Quinn is. Obviously his approach worked; hopefully mine will too.

Endings are tricky. The final battle with the monster is lively, but I was a little disappointed they used brute force and modern weapons rather than anything occult. It isn’t huge issue though — lots of monsters get blown up, shot, poisoned, gassed, buried, etc. — but I did expect the creature to be more supernatural than it appears to be.

Overall, it was a satisfying book. Hopefully it’s not going to launch a wave of fantasies set in Southern bedroom communities before my own comes out.

Cover image is uncredited; all rights remain with the current holder.
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The upside of returning to the mean

I’ve mentioned the Law of Return to the Mean several times in this blog: If I’m performing way above average, sooner or later random chance will bring me back to my norm. The upside is that after a crappy pair of work weeks like Christmas and New Year’s, the odds are things will improve. And behold, they did.

The big news is that I finally finished the next-to-last draft of Southern Discomfort. I will clean it up a little before the end of the month and send it out to two friends who volunteered to beta. Later this year I will print the whole thing out and do the final final draft fix.

I can’t tell you how good it feels. Brain From Outer Space has languished for years because every time I rewrite it, I get to the last third and the plot falls apart. I was really afraid I wouldn’t be able to wrap up Southern Discomforts successfully, or I’d wind up doing endless redrafts. Apparently not. This is very good news.

And as if that wasn’t enough:

My new Screen Rant is out, spotlighting 9 embarrassing final roles for talented actors (e.g., Boris Karloff in House of Evil) and nine that were awesome farewells (Carrie Fisher in The Last Jedi). Below we have a photo from Lon Chaney Jr’s miserable last film (Dracula vs. Frankenstein)

And a shot of Marilyn Monroe working on The Misfits (a good final film for both her and Clark Gable)

I also finished a new draft of No One Can Slay Her. It still needs work, but I got enough of the ending worked out, and enough of the villain’s plan, that I think I can rework the whole thing much better on the next draft. It never hurts to know where you’re going.

I finally sorted out my cover issues with the paperback version of Atlas Shagged. I ordered a print copy to check everything is kosher; it’ll be here next week. Assuming it all checks out, the book will go live by the end of next week (it is, of course, already available in ebook).

And I’ll be a guest at Illogicon in Raleigh this weekend, which is always fun. My voice is still a little strained from last week’s sickness, but I think I’ll be able to manage.

It’s so nice to be productive!

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Brain From Outer Space, Nonfiction, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing