On the Internet as a record of our work (#SFWApro)

A week ago, the Raleigh Public Record website shut down. It was there on Monday when I checked the date of a couple of my old stories; by Friday it was a You Can Own This Domain Name Site. I presume that means the paper’s folded, though there’s nothing about it on their FB page (but all the links are to the dead site).

I think that’s a shame. It was a good paper, and I did some good stories for it, though not in a few years. But my point is not to mourn its passing but to point out, if you don’t already know, that we can’t rely on the Internet to preserve our work.

The Internet is an amazing library of news and information and and astonishing amount of stuff has been recorded online. But there’s no guarantee that a specific thing we want to keep — i.e., our articles, our fiction — will continue to exist. With Raleigh Public Record gone, so are the eight or nine stories I wrote for them. Fortunately, I already have them downloaded. I’m really glad — my stories on problems at Butner federal prison and on moving a Colonial era house out of the way of new development were both outstanding, if I do say so.

The Destin Log is still around, but none of my old stories are online since they switched to a new owner (I’m not sure we kept everything online even before that). That one hurts more because while I have copies of some of my best stories, there’s a lot I didn’t keep. And I don’t have digital copies because Freedom Newspaper used a different program (for ease of editing) and translating everything would have been too much work. Plus I didn’t at the time see the need to.

That’s why I also archived all my And columns on my laptop. The site is still up even though I’m no longer writing for it (first they told me to rewrite one piece to make it less anti-Trump. Then my next two columns, which carefully avoided any Trump references, never appeared, nor did I get an explanation. But I take a certain pride in my old columns taking up a lot of space on their front page). But if it ever goes, I’ve got my stuff.

Several magazines that published my fiction have closed too. But I have all that work as well.

Of course a fire or a hurricane could wipe out everything I’ve preserved. But at least the Internet can’t.



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1959’s Anatomy of a Murder and historical fiction (#SFWApro)

Although a little dated, ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) — all rights to image remain with current holder — is an excellent film. And it’s a good example of what a gold mine movies can be for writers.

Taking the film first: based on a roman a clef novel, this stars Jimmy Stewart as Biegler, a prosecutor now listlessly running a private practice since his Michigan county voted him out of office. He becomes less listless when Laura Manion (Lee Remick) recruits him to represent her husband, an Army lieutenant charged with gunning down a local man. Lt. Manion claims the man raped Laura, but Biegler explains to him that avenging her isn’t a defense (it was well after the crime took place). Instead, he goes with an “irresistible impulse” defense — that Manion lost control of himself in the heat of learning what happened. Prosecutor Dancer (George C. Scott) will try to prove Mannion was completely rational, and that maybe he killed the man because Laura was sleeping with him.

It’s a great cast (also including Arthur O’Connell as Biegler’s sidekick and Eve Arden as his long-suffering secretary), a well-done film (for an analysis of its legal weaknesses, check out the book Reel Justice). What was once shocking — a discussion in court about Laura’s underwear — now seems tame, but that’s not the movie’s selling point. And I wasn’t as bothered as usual by the “was she really raped?” aspect as the issue isn’t “did she falsely accuse a guy?” as much as “is she giving her husband a phony alibi?” (though Reel Justice points out that even if she hooked up voluntarily with the victim, irresistible impulse could still apply). Though the ending has overtones (involving Manion’s alleged spousal abuse) that make me a little queasy. Still, even at 2hrs 40 minutes, it never felt slow to me.

Now, back to the gold mine. In his Hollywood History of the World, novelist George MacDonald Fraser said he would give his eyeteeth to have a visual record of the Victorian age equivalent to 1930s Hollywood films: the way people dress, the way the streets and fire escapes look, the way a man holds a cigarette or clasps a woman. And that’s pretty much true of Anatomy of a Murder. Shot on location, it gives us a view of a small Upper Peninsula town, a cluttered law library, a trailer park. Manion smoking a fancy cigarette holder. Descriptions of women’s underwear (even as someone born in 1958, it’s startling to realize how many underwear items a woman might be wearing). The streets. A small bar. Cars. Men’s clothes. Men’s hats. Women’s clothes. Of course, it’s fiction and can’t sum up the entire era or even the year (the book Hatless Jack points out that a lot of younger men in this period went hatless), but it brings to life what books about past fashions or styles can only describe.

And it’s a heck of a good movie.

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China, Italy, the Old West, art theft and Paper Girls: books read (#SFWApro)


















KAI LUNG UNROLLS HIS MAT has the villains of the previous book descend on Kai Lung’s village, kidnap his wife and raze his home to the ground; with no allies and no money, can he cross China, track the bad guys down and outwit them with nothing but his storytelling skills? Well, obviously, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. However as with the first one this is a 1920s Orientalist fantasy of China, so if that’s not to your taste, avoid. Cover by Ian Millar, all rights remain with current holder.

TWENTY DAYS OF TURIN by Giorgio de Maria is a creepy Italian work from the 1970s, newly translated, in which a reporter investigating the eponymous reign of terror (individuals randomly attacked and battered against walls until death) discovers it was not only weirder than he imagined but that Sinister People would just as soon he not investigate it. The translator’s intro says this was probably intended as a veiled metaphor for the continuing presence of fascist and neo-fascist groups in Italy in the era it was written, but it works just as well as a magical realist Lovecraftian take. Also curiously prescient about social media in its portrayal of a library where people swap their diaries and intimate confessions.

SIXTH GUN: Sons of the Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt was surprisingly disappointing — this story of General Hume’s band of killers tries to make them more than generic thugs, but it didn’t hold my interest at all. Partly that’s because without Becky and Sinclair as the focus, this is just a lot of horrible, eerie things happening to people I don’t ccare about at all.

MUSEUM OF THE MISSING: A History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt looks at the history of the topic including outright robbery, conquest (while I’m familiar with Nazi art thefts, I hadn’t realized Napoleon likewise sucked up art from his conquered provinces), cultural appropriation from the Third World and some of the more horrifying incidents (the mother of one art thief tried to hide the evidence by throwing it in a canal). Houpt concludes that in some ways, things are getting worse (paintings are now used as bargaining chips in underworld deals, which makes them much more profitable to swipe) and the laws for recovering them are surprisingly weak (in much of Europe, even a stolen painting can be kept if you bought it in good faith). On the other hand, the Internet makes tracking and identifying stolen goods a lot easier, and the methods for planting GPS trackers on art are surprisingly cheap. A good read.

PAPER GIRLS 3 by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang was less fun than Vol 2 because time travelers in prehistoric times is such a stock set-up, certainly more so than 1980s tweens winding up in the present (in the previous collection). Still, the characters kept my interest so I’ll be looking for Vol. 4


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I’m not so sure “being blocked from FB hurts my profits” is a free speech stance

A blog called Chicks on the Right claims to be a very strong proponent of free speech on college campus, which, according to them, is being stifled by the leftists, who refuse to allow robust, vigorous debate in favor of protecting themselves from hateful speech that hurts their feelings. Oh, but they’re also celebrating that a professor who tweeted Irma was “instant karma” for Texas got fired for that remark. Apparently hateful speech is a bad thing, when it comes from liberals; their post on the topic makes no mention of the countless Bible-thumpers who’ve blamed past storms on The Gays, The Feminists, The Abortions (and I doubt the Chicks will freak out over them making the same claims for Irma).

This is why I’m invariably skeptical about right-wingers who claim a deep devotion to free speech: they’re frequently lying. The same people who loudly criticized the government under Clinton and Obama also condemned anyone who dared criticized George W. Bush — don’t they realize he’s our president? Criticizing him in a time of war is treason, so First Amendment doesn’t apply (note: questioning the president is not treason). And besides, liberals are evil, and we’re righteous, so it’s totally different if we do it!

In fairness, plenty of people on all sides feel there are limits to free speech. I’ve seen lots of liberals in recent weeks argue banning Nazi protests and speech is just fine with them. I disagree (with exceptions noted at the link). However lots of right-wing bloggers and pundits set limits based purely on who’s giving and receiving the speech. If liberals say the same things about a Republican Republicans said about Obama, that’s unacceptable. If they spit out their loathing for gays/feminists/immigrants, that’s fine, but it’s wrong to criticize them back. Or identify them as Nazis.

And as Facebook, Twitter and other social media try to do more to rein in trolls, people who normally defend the rights of private companies to do whatever they want have suddenly decided that if what they want is blocking right-wing bullshit and hate speech, that’s not fair! Maybe we should start regulating Facebook and Twitter as public utilities so they have to provide a fair platform for everyone! And Google too!

I do not believe, for a minute, they want a fair platform — they just want to cover their own asses. Which is why we have National Review‘s Jeremy Carl suggesting that “if I can’t get access to the 2 billion people on Facebook because Facebook doesn’t like my politics, my rights of free expression are greatly curtailed.” Um, no. Your chance to promote yourself and sell your books/articles/whatever would be greatly curtailed, but that’s not the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong, getting shut off from FB or Twitter is a big deal (Screen Rant gets most of its readers through FB). And it’s certainly possible it could be used against people who don’t deserve it. The power of Internet companies to shut down the Daily Stormer could likewise be abused. At the same time, businesses are free to discriminate, within the usual limits. They can’t refuse service based on race, gender, religion, disability, etc. but they can refuse people for being jerks, Nazis, liberals, conservatives, etc., etc. Likewise customers and employees can refuse to work for someone who supports David Duke. To say you can’t refuse anyone for any reason is a radical step, and completely opposite most right-wing/libertarian positions on free business!

But then of course, conservatives have been shrieking for years that government should Do Something about sex on TV, regardless of their normally stated belief that the market is always right. So this is nothing new. And I don’t believe for a minute they want the same protection for left-wing ideas or anything they disapprove of.

So they may bite me.


Filed under Politics

New Screen Rant out— (#SFWApro)

This should be my book review post for the week, but my schedule got messy, so that’ll be out Tuesday. For today, my new Screen Rant featuring nine superheroes who are secretly jerks. Eight who are secretly sweethearts.

For one of the sweethearts we have Herb Trimpe’s Hulk from the Bronze Age, when Hulk was just a lonely kid who desperately wanted friends.

For a jerk, here’s Otto Octavius (from his time as Spider-Man) deciding not to get Mary Jane into bed (she thinks he’s Peter) because he can voyeuristically experience Peter’s sex with MJ in the past. There is much debate online whether the creators really appreciated what a dick Otto was in this story. Art by Ryan Stegman.

All rights to images remain with the current holders.

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A stalker, forgers and another projectionist: movies viewed (#SFWApro)

INGRID GOES WEST (2017) because she’s a lonely Instagram addict (Aubrey Plaza) who’s become fixated on Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), a female social-media influencer and goes to great lengths to insinuate herself into Taylor’s life. The result is about one rewrite away from a thriller about a psycho stalker, but instead it’s a black comedy that TYG and I enjoyed despite some familiar tropes. “I need you to be Batman.”

F IS FOR FAKE (1973) is Orson Welles’ rumination on forgery, focusing on Elmyr de Hory, an art forger profiled by writer Clifford Irving, and Irving’s own fakery writing a supposedly authorized biography of Howard Hughes based on the billionaire’s diaries (he never even met Hughes). The film has all the visual style I expect from Welles, but it’s more style than substance, getting very pretentious in Welles’ ruminations. Entertaining even so. “To make an omelet, first steal an egg.”

In the wake of last week’s movies, I rewatched CINEMA PARADISO (1988) is a wonderful Italian film about a boy whose lifelong love of movies leads to him first sneaking into his local small town theater, then eventually landing a job as a projectionist (hence my decision to rewatch this) and later going on to direct them (something the expanded cut of this film deals with). A very moving love letter to cinema, with some great moments I won’t spoil. All rights to image remain with curren tholder. “By god — they’re kissing!”


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I know where I’m going (#SFWApro)

While I’ve been calling the current draft of Southern Discomfort my “next to last” I’ve been a little fuzzy in my head on how to make that happen, or even what exactly I meant by that. For some reason this week clarified things a lot.

Working on the rewrite for the first couple of chapters I suddenly understood exactly what I meant: I want to finish this draft ready to print it out and give it the final, hard-copy proofread every story of mine gets (though not right away, I’ll need a break so I can see it clearly). Which is a big job, but I’m ready to get this sucker done and move on.

To make it happen, I have to rewrite every chapter until I’m satisfied, no fixing it next draft. If I discover a problem, I fix it. If I realize in Chapter 10 that Chapter 2 has to change to foreshadow things, I make the change, then go on. If I come up with a “hmm, that might be neat” idea, I try it, or discard it, and keep writing. For example I’ve added one bizarre event at the start of the book that I’d kept for mid-book. If I discover a few chapters in that it raises too many problems, I fix it. Likewise, I made FBI agent Drake into Agent Dini, a guy from northern Italian stock. The north has a history of looking down on Sicilians like Maria, so that should juice up some of the FBI scenes. If it doesn’t work, it shouldn’t be too hard to fix.

I got about 7,500 words on this draft done, which is good but not that amazing — the early chapters are the ones that need least editing and fixing. But I’m pleased with the results. I did not get to replotting on the remaining chapters; having taken Monday off, I only had a four-day week. I’m glad I took the break though — I felt incredibly refreshed Monday (in case you’re wondering it was a quiet weekend at home, though TYG and I did go out bicycling).

I got several more articles done for Leaf and submitted a revised proposal for the Space Invaders book. I also submitted my next Screen Rant, but as usual it’s not out yet. I started turning Atlas Shagged (which is also available via Apple Books) into a paperback, but I haven’t finished the process yet.

Once again, no short story work and also no Undead Sexist Cliches.

Still, I think I’m pretty pleased.

All rights to image remain with current holder. I Know Where I’m Going is a charming movie by the way, worth a look if you get the chance.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing