Category Archives: Southern Discomfort

I rode myself hard and hung myself up—wait, does that sound right? (#SFWApro)

It was a week that did not go as I planned.

I submitted my first Screen Rant article, and then my second, but they both took way longer than wanted. And that required really pushing myself, hence the title. I need to trim the time down, and I need to relax and have more fun with the writing too. I love comics, which makes it easy; I’m working under a tight deadline and specific format requirements which makes me veer serious. I did better with the second one though (I’ll post a link when it’s up), so hopefully next week will be better yet.

I have my History article on tractors 80 percent done, and I should be able to get it out next week. So yay!

And I started indexing Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast for a Createspace edition. If I’m going to go hard-copy, it should have an index. Annoyingly, I found one minor error in the intro, so I have to correct the ebook too. I’ll wait to see if I find any more — indexing is good for that.

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But I got almost no fiction written, which is not yay. That’s happened before and not that long ago — back last year when I was wrapping up Now and Then We Time Travel, for instance. However, I don’t want to be doing that now, if I can help it. I enjoy nonfiction (obviously. I’ve written enough of it), but fiction is the reason I write. And I do want to get two more drafts of Southern Discomfort in this year. So like I said, I’d better get more efficient.

I am pleased that despite the rush to finish up Screen Rant #2, I made time for essential stuff like exercise, and making sourdough bread while the dogs were in doggy day-care on Thursday. It’s important not to let even demanding deadlines roll over normal life, if I can possibly help this (and if I want to do Screen Rant regularly, I have to help it). I was sufficiently rushed I forgot adding the salt to the dough (sourdough buckwheat bread) but that’s easy to fix with a little salt sprinkled on each slice. It’s an easy mistake — I’ve done it before when I was rushed.

I’ll close with a shot of some dead leaves I took this week. It symbolizes … well, whatever you want. Free symbol! Please credit me if you want to use it.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Now and Then We Time Travel, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

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

Research for Southern Discomfort (#SFWApro)

My research this past week or so was pretty grim. A reminder that America has always been haunted by the shadow of racism, and the resistance of whites to doing anything to change their privileged status.

According to HOW THE IRISH BECAME WHITE by Noel Ignatiev, the early Irish immigrants were the lowest of the low, little better than blacks, and considered by Protestant America the ones most likely to “amalgamate” with blacks. The Irish had been treated as a lower race in their own country since the English occupation, and many of them — such as Daniel O’Connell, who was active in Ireland fighting to repeal the union of Ireland and England — were abolitionist. Others were not, seeing abolition as alienating potential American support for repeal. Many embraced the white labor axiom that the life of a slave, with guaranteed shelter and food, was easy compared to that of the real slaves, the white working men (Frederick Douglass pointed out that if they really believed that, his running away had left a slave position vacant). Beyond that, racism against free blacks became common, both before and after the Civil War. Free blacks doing the same job as whites was seen as lowering white workers to their level. The Irish, like most whites, wanted to establish they were well above that level, which meant as much segregation as possible.

Ignatiev’s focus is primarily the north, which limits its usefulness for Southern Discomfort. It does make me conscious that I’m not going to be able to sum up all of Irish/black race relations in one novel (yeah, I know, obvious). However it does give me ideas for a couple of background details.

345070(Cover image from the Calvin Fred Craig papers at Emory University. All rights reside with current holder)

WHITE FLIGHT: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin M. Kruse looks at how Atlanta, known as “the city too busy to hate” for its moderate desegregation efforts (in contrast to other parts of the South that believed the color line had to be defended at all costs), actually did quite a bit of hating from the post-war years through the 1970s. While the civic and business leaders were willing to work with black Atlanta — allowing blacks to buy homes in white neighborhoods, desegregating some public parks, minimally desegregating schools — the working-class saw this as a sell-out by rich people whose private schools and private parks wouldn’t be affected. For some the solution was neo-Nazi groups or the KKK, but over time they adopted more euphemistic approaches, such as their right to “freedom of association” — which in their eyes meant a)they should be free not to associate with blacks; b)therefore segregation so blacks were kept away from them, even in public spaces; c)if segregation fell, then whites simply abandoned facilities to Those People and over time fled to segregated suburbs. Kruse argues that the roots of modern conservative attitudes were born here: a conviction white taxes went to support black moochers, enthusiasm for privatizing public facilities (in the hopes they could then deny blacks the right to use them), opposition to spending on public projects or infrastructure (when Those People would use it) and so on. While Kruse didn’t tell me anything about racism I didn’t already know, it’s gut-wrenching to read 250 pages about so much hate.

This book definitely got me thinking about how I handle racism in Pharisee, and how desegregation came to the town. And also about the makeup of the white newcomers from Atlanta; obviously if they’re moving to a town that isn’t all-white, they probably aren’t the die-hard segregationists. Not necessarily liberal on racial issues, but more moderate than I’d be thinking. It also gives me some insight into the generational divide for Pharisee’s blacks (the older go-slow generation and younger more aggressive activists).

In its own right, a very good book but horribly depressing.

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Filed under Politics, Reading, Southern Discomfort

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

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

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.

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

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Filed under Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Writing