“If they weren't solidly real dragons... it wouldn't have been worth doing.”
Jo Walton

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

I did say *rudimentary* illustrations.
fly free, little fictionette of July
Fri 2015-07-31 23:59:28 (single post)

It's the last day of the month. Accordingly, one of this month's Friday Fictionettes, "And Did You Bring Enough For Everyone?", has gone free, free as in beer, free for everyone to download as an attractive PDF or to listen to as an MP3 narrated in the dulcet tones of Yours Truly.

It is a fifth Friday, so there is no new Fictionette today. However, I do have one of the July Fictionettes ready to hit the mail tomorrow, right on time, as a quirky typewritten artifact with rudimentary watercolored illustrations and lots of typos corrected by white-out ribbon. Lookit! I took a picture before I stuffed it in the envelope. This is totally a collector's item, y'all. You should sign up to get you some of that while supplies last. Make me type more! Typing is fun!

Speaking of which, I'm pleased to report that the replacement ribbon from Ribbons Unlimited came in earlier this week. It works like a charm. I am no longer typing on a twenty-year-old ribbon, which is kind of important. Maybe not as important as you're thinking; since I only used the typewriter once every two to five years, the ribbon's usable life spanned the two decades fairly well. However, black text was getting unmistakably fainter, and the white corrective ribbon had become all but useless and had ripped in several places. So it's a relief to be able to change it out.

While I was waiting for it to get here, I tried using the ill-fitting universal black-and-red. For some reason, it sagged in the mechanism, so that I'd lose the tops of my letters. Eventually I just turned it over and flipped the type-color switch since red was now on the top and black on the bottom. This worked OK, but I'm glad to have a proper solution at last instead of a kludge. I'm also glad to have a black-and-white/corrective ribbon (whose white half covers all my typos!) instead of black-and-red (whose red half I was going to use... when?).

In other news, I exercised great restraint and did not catch more crawfsh today. I did, however, take my Morning Pages out to the creek. I have the mosquito bites to show for it!

I miss my patio. I can't wait for the building re-painting project to be done so that I can put the furniture back out full time. And my squash, tomato, herbs, pepper plants, and John's sunflower too would really like to be back out on the balcony in full sun...

Adding the crawfish meat to the stew matrix, which is an amazing yellowish-orangish color thanks to the crawfish fat
All ingredients are in. Now we wait for the final round of simmering. Just look how studded it is with crawfish tails!
At last, I get to eat it. You cannot imagine how much restraint it took to wait to take my first bite until after the photo.
three reports on the three major components of my life at present
Thu 2015-07-30 23:59:59 (single post)

First item to report: Writing. (This is a blog about writing.) I submitted that story, I did, and what's more, it didn't suck. It might well benefit from the careful eye of a critique group, but we'll cross that bridge when/if the story comes back with a rejection letter. For now, it's on its way as it is.

Now that it's done (or at least submittable), I'm finding all my worries have turned out largely to be mere borrowed trouble. For one thing, in a fully fleshed-out story grounded in worldly details, the speculative element sells itself as itself a lot better. Worldbuilding FTW! For another thing, the 3rd person POV does seem to be having that reassuringly authoritative effect I was hoping for. And for a third thing, which I had not actually thought about before, why can't the answer to "is the heart beating or is the main character just unstable" be--both? Normal life plus the uncanny incursions are pushing the protagonist toward paranoia and a nervous breakdown, but the pending nervous breakdown doesn't mean the uncanny incursions aren't happening. As they say, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't all out to get you.

Anyway, the story has been submitted. Also, it has been submitted in standard manuscript format but in Times New Roman rather than Courier New, because this market's submission guidelines state that Courier is evil. I mention this because it's an easy detail to overlook, especially when you're of a generation that reads "Standard manuscript format" and automatically translates that to "double-space, 1" margins, monospace font, size 12."

Always reread the submission guidelines sentence by sentence before hitting the big red button. It might just save your manuscript.

Second thing to report: Minor injury. So I have this perpetually sprained left wrist. That is, I sprained it years ago, and ever since then it's been ridiculously easy to re-injure. The damn thing flared up this week, probably because I tweaked it helping to move heavy equipment on Sunday when the BCB Carnival was over. I didn't really notice it until yesterday, but then, hoo boy, did I notice it.

(Brief tangent on gender and idiom: Why are these interjections always male words? "Oh, boy! Pizza!" "Man-oh-man, am I tired!" I can't even easily think of gender neutral phrases to replace them with, let alone feminized ones. I have a sudden urge to replace such idioms with things like like "lady-oh did that hurt" or "A circus? Woo-girl, I love the circus!" Only everyone would look at me funny and genuinely not understand what I was saying.)

(Tangent ends.)

So the wrist was pretty bad yesterday. When I went to pull on my roller derby gear, I just about cried trying to tug on my right elbow pad. That's already a difficult task after getting hot and sweaty and a little swollen (literally swollen, not this "GET SWOL" business) doing off-skates exercises. But with a sprained wrist it's near impossible. Once the gear was on, everything was fine and I had a lovely practice--although I might have yiped if I'd had to give or take a whip--but taking the gear off again was a whole 'nother thing.

Then today I got seriously alarming levels of pain just handling pots and pans while making dinner (about which, see below) or while tugging the seat of my chair to scoot closer to the desk. It was while doing the dishes after dinner and discovering that I can't even pump the pump-action soap dispenser without pain that I decided I'd better stay home from scrimmage tonight. (Which decision had nothing to do with needing more time to prepare my story for submission, understand--but it didn't hurt.)

I'm icing my wrist aggressively (but safely!) and trying to remember what not to do with it. (I can't even scratch my head left-handedly. That's effed up.)

Third thing: Crawfish report! Because I'm obsessed, apparently. I took my cheesecloth-wrapped lumps of tofu bait down to the creek and proceeded to begin my writing day there, while only checking the lines and the wire basket thing at regular and strict intervals. Like, during Morning Pages, I was only allowed to check when I got to the end of a page. That sort of thing.

Which didn't hurt the day's catch at all. As we approach even higher summer temperatures, the water warms up and the mudbugs get even more active. And when the bait's been sitting on the creek floor for about 15 minutes, like as not there'll be three crawfish clinging to it when I pull it out. Whether they all hang on long enough for me to get them to the bank is another question, of course. (I was going to use another tier of the 3-tier wire basket as a net, tie it onto a stick and hold it under the line as it comes out the water, but I didn't think my left wrist was up for it. GOOD CHOICE.)

Anyway, between yesterday afternoon and today, the catch came to 34 crawfish from sizes medium to monstrous. They weighed in live at just under two pounds and yielded about five and a half ounces tail and claw meat. (A surprising number of claws were big enough to be worth cracking open. Miniature lobsters, y'all.)

And I made crawfish etouffee, as the pictures above will attest.

There are tons of recipes on the internet. I wanted a recipe that was roux-based and involved no tomato products, just like Mom used to make. Apparently there are battle lines drawn over things like this. I am firmly of the opinion that adding tomato paste to your holy trinity vegetables results in a creole, not an etouffee. Also, cornstarch is just cheating.

I also wanted a recipe that included the crawfish "fat," since my research yesterday indicated this was something people used it for. The recipe linked above met all of my criteria.

I cut all quantities down by roughly half, to kind of sort of match the available quantity of crawfish meat. I marveled that the recipe didn't call for celery, speaking of the holy trinity; I added three ribs. But I omitted the green pepper. I was going for "like Mom used to make" and Mom never cooked with green pepper.

Speaking of "just like Mom used to make," I'm pretty sure Mom never cooked with crawfish fat. She didn't like crawfish. Her etouffee was aways shrimp, and she started with a heavier roux than what this recipe calls for, one that was equal parts flour to oil. And yet, the moment I added the crawfish fat to the roux-vegetable mixture, everything turned recognizably into etouffee. I mean, the color and consistency were perfect. It was kind of amazing.

At the point where the recipe says "Optionally, add a little more water to thin the mixture," I added about half a cup of the crawfish boil water and a good few ounces of dry sherry. I bought the sherry for the crawfish Monica on Tuesday, so it was conveniently there and tempting.

Yield: Two bowls of etouffee and rice, all of which a single customer will inhale without apparent effort.

I'm including photos firstly to make y'all jealous but more importantly because I still can't get over having made such an amazing dish using crawfish that I caught five minutes away from my doorstep.

Random weird note: Crawfish boil water seems to cure warts, at least in my case here and now. The small collection of warts between my right index finger and middle finger are GONE. Like, between one day and the next. They came into being about... eight months ago? Annoyed the crap out of me, too. I couldn't stop picking at them and fidgeting with them. That's how I know they were still there Tuesday. Wednesday morning, they were GONE. I suspect that the crawfish boil seasonings may have had an effect similar to that of salicylic acid, and that dipping my hands in the pot to grab crawfish after crawfish for processing made the dosage sufficiently intense. But I have no certainty. All I know is, the skin where the warts had been is now smooth and healing over. Weird, huh?

This time I'm really not going back for more crawfish tomorrow. Really! Not even tempted. Not only do I need to rest my wrist, but I'm actually sort of all cooked out. I'm ready to eat simple dishes for a few days. (I'm also ready to take a break from keeping dormant crawfish overnight in the refrigerator. My crawfish casualty record remains goose-egg pure, but the endeavor remains slightly stressful.

I might still take my writing out to the creek, though. Turns out I really enjoy writing by the creek.

(Still need to order a new laptop battery.)

productive ways to give in to temptation
Wed 2015-07-29 23:59:59 (single post)

Good couple of sessions on the short story today. I revised the first scene until it was actually a scene, you know? Which is awesome, because until today it was more of a "see Spot run" sketch. Rough drafts are rough, but that was really rough.

I'm much happier with it now. Instead of panicking because the story resembled a page in a coloring book that can only hope for the attentions of a two-year-old with a box of My First Crayola, I get to panic because at this rate there's no possible way I'll have time to get the rest of the scenes anywhere as complete as the first scene is now. But I'll submit it anyway, because I can sleep better at night with embarrassment than with regret, which is usually the right choice except in this case the editors will read it and say to each other, "Who is this person who thinks she can write? Insta-reject her forever." And the story will languish on my hard drive, because I'll never revise it, because when I think about it I'll just die of shame for having sent such an inadequate version of it out for real people to waste their time reading.

That's a much more interesting flavor of panic than the first kind.

(Don't worry. Panicking is normal. None of the above is actually a prophecy. Editors don't insta-reject over a single sub-par submission, and I will revise if I think the version that gets submitted tomorrow is indeed sub-par. This is just the usual Impostor Syndrome acting out. Look, we'll give it a ten-minute time out, maybe it'll learn to behave.)

One of those short story sessions, I must admit, happened out by the creek, because my laptop appears able to hold an hour's charge after all, and I gave in to temptation and went crawfishing again. I know, I know, I said I wouldn't have time, but--look, I actually got the writing done. It worked out. Turns out, the longer you put off checking the line, the more crawfish crawl on over to check out the bait. So I'd work hard until the next few paragraphs were done to my satisfaction, then I'd go pull up two or three medium-to-huge mudbugs, then I'd go back to the story for another few paragraphs, and so on.

Today's bait was chunks of week-old leftover sesame tofu. Our usual order-out restaurant either had a substitute cook that night or has changed their recipe, so that when we checked "medium" like always, we got food so spicy as to be near inedible. I soldiered through my leftover twice-roasted pork with the help of a beer to mitigate the heat, but John wasn't at all tempted to revisit the tofu. I tried it out on the crawfish by staking out a piece, free to all comers, in a shallow stretch of the creek. Within five minutes, a crawfish marched on up and made off with it. It wandered along the bottom of the bank until it found a suitable hole. Then it backed in and settled down to eat, safe in the knowledge that it could keep an eye on its surroundings but no predator could come up behind it. I had a bit of fellow feeling for it. It reminded me of myself, sitting down to breakfast on my front patio, semi-secluded but enjoying the view.

Since tofu is too soft to tie on the line direct, I enclosed the lumps inside pieces of plastic from a produce bag, which I perforated. Then all I had to do was tie the twine around the knotted plastic end and leave some twine dangling for the crawfish to grab. But when I use up the rest of the tofu I'll wrap it in cotton cheesecloth instead, so that if any of it gets away from me into the water I'll be comforted by its superior biodegradability.

In an hour, I got about 15 crawfish (from a shallow spot about about fifteen yards downstream of the bridge), and I fleshed out my main character's flashback, cleaned up the text to make character voices more consistent, and made the creepy encounter on the bus decidedly creepier.

I have become yet another cliche, y'all. I'm now the writer who takes her work fishing. That's a thing, isn't it? That's fine. If it means I get to have fresh-boiled crawfish all summer long, I'm cool with it. I just need to order a new battery for this laptop, that's all.

And I'm thinking etouffee for lunch tomorrow.

With a glass of dry sherry, because I cooked with it so why not.
in which we discover how far I can make seventeen crawfish stretch
Tue 2015-07-28 23:18:40 (single post)

OMG you guyz I win at dinner like I have never won before. Crawfish bisque and crawfish Monica, starring crawfish that I caught myself in the creek next door and boiled in my own kitchen. How could it be possible for this not to make me win? I win.

Granted, the bisque was very simplified. I didn't serve it over rice, because there was already going to be pasta. And, more to the point, I didn't bother with stuffed crawfish heads, because for one, I didn't want to take the time (although this article and recipe makes it sound like no big deal, totally spontaneous "hey, come on down and we'll have dinner," none of this 2-day prep nonsense)... and for two, when I only have 17 whole crawfish tails, I'm not going to chop them up and coat them in breadcrumbs. I'm going to put them whole in the pasta. When I eat them, I want to know that I'm eating them. And OMG it was a very, very good thing to know.

(Remember writing? This is a blog about writing.)

Right, but who wants to hear about that? Another session of panicking over the short story that must be finished and submitted by Thursday, who needs to know? Another period of pulling up submission guidelines and figuring out where to submit some rejected-and-overnighting manuscripts anew--that's administrivia, that's boring, what's to blog about? Some days you just put in your hours and pat yourself on the head, you know? This was one of those days.

Now can I talk about crawfish?

(Oh, all right. If you must.)

Yay!

This morning I went back out to the creek for another round. I went back to yesterday's fishing hole (I'm afraid "Boondocks" will never again not be stuck in my head), and I took my writing with me, so that was kind of virtuous, right? Only kind of not, because I got up from the writing every two paragraphs to check the lines. But since I started my morning at 7:00 because John got up at 7:00 because today was one of those thankfully rare days when his job required him to actually be in the office. In way-the-hell-South Denver. At 8:00 AM. So we were both up stupid-early. But these things were not to be compared. While he was up at "sucks to be me" o' clock (but thankfully with Gen Con tomorrow to look forward to), I was up at "oh boy, fishing trip!" o' clock. I haven't been up at fishing trip o'clock since my pre-teen days, y'all. So I took my writing with me, and I figured, what the heck, if fishing makes my first writing task take extra-long, that's OK, I started it extra-early.

I learned a few more things about this pastime. For instance, when tying your bait to your line, you must give the crawfish something to grip or they'll slip off before you get them on the bank. Didn't successfully land a one while the bacon was tied directly to the sinker rock. Went back to the arrangement of separating the bacon from the rock by at least a couple inches of twine, and the persistent things hung on a lot more reliably.

When the nibbles slowed down, I began working my way upstream until I was back at the bridge. I still felt exposed as hell, a curiosity for everyone and their dogs walking Wonderland Creek Greenway to stare at, but it was worth it--the bridge was like a crawfish vending machine. Put the bait in the water, wait a minute, pull out a crawfish. And it was shallow enough to see the crawfish approaching the bait, too--or to spot the crawfish and attempt to approach it with the bait.

Another thing I learned: You get greedy, you fall in and get your shoes wet. (Why did I bother wearing shoes today?) I had seven and probably could have caught another ten, but I took the slip-up as a sign that it was time to get on home, cook and process the crawfish, and then maybe actually get to the day's writing work? Maybe?

The ten crawfish left overnight in a plastic pin in the fridge with a moist cloth and some ice cubes for company, they were fine. All ten of them torpid from the cool but entirely alive. These joined this morning's catch in the cookpot with...

  • 1 oz Cajun Land Crab Boil (dry)
  • 2 Tbsp Cajun Land Crab Boil (liquid)
  • 1 quarter of a large onion
  • 4 split garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • couple good glugs hot sauce

Pot hits a rolling boil, crawfish go in. Three minutes later, take it off the heat and add ice to stop the cook. Soak until sufficiently flavorful, about 20 minutes. These proportions weren't going to send anyone screaming with fiery breath for a glass of milk or beer, but then that wasn't the goal.

Crawfish meat got extracted and put in one bowl, crawfish "fat" (which might more accurately be called "crawfish sweetbreads") in another bowl, and shells in a third. First two bowls got saved for the bisque and the pasta, respectively. Shells were sweated in a couple tablespoons butter, then boiled in a few quarts water to make stock for the bisque.

By the way, I can't find any warnings online about that organ at the tip of the crawfish head (seems to be connected to the so-called dorsal vein or "poop line" that many prefer to remove) that explodes in icky black gunk if you squish it--which you might accidentally do while scraping out the "fat." I am happy to provide that warning at no extra charge, like so: Don't squish it! And it might be best to remove it before boiling the shells for stock. You're welcome!

At this point I stuck a big TO BE CONTINUED on the whole process and went about the rest of my day until dinner time, when I cooked myself these marvelous things to eat, all in me-sized portions because that's about as far as you can make 17 crawfish stretch. Still, it was a respectable far distance to stretch 'em. I'm full and happy.

And I'm weirdly, irrationally, and entirely contralogically looking forward to doing it again. There's this semi-subconscious part of the brain (quasiconscious?) that just knows something fun is going to happen tomorrow, and it's looking forward to it, so I keep wondering "Why am I so happy all of a sudden?" And then I realize why, and I feel all disappointed and duped, because I don't actually have any plans to go crawfishing again to look forward to.

Well, I suppose I could go catch and cook more crawfish tomorrow. The pasta dish was pretty easy and quick. So's a plain old boil, though if done with enough frequency it might require me to shore up my supplies of Cajun Land Crab Boil. But I don't actually have time tomorrow for fishing and boiling and peeling and cooking. I have to get John to the airport for an early flight to Gen Con, and that's in addition to my usual Wednesday occupations of volunteer reading, roller derby team practice, and a full working day of writing. (That short story must get finished!) Also, if I'm going to make a habit of this, I should probably be a good citizen and get a fishing license. My online research indicates that one is expected to do that, even for just crawfishing.

But regardless of the impossibility of it happening, that Calvin-and-Hobbes part of my brain is gleeful at the process of running down to the creek to catch more crawfish tomorrow morning wheeeeeee! It is going to be so disappointed. I'll have to make things up to it by taking it back to the creek later on.

Maybe Friday.

My first venture had promising results.
you get a line i'll get a pole because apparently we don't need nets
Mon 2015-07-27 23:59:59 (single post)

It's summer and I feel like Calvin of "and Hobbes" fame. "The days are just packed!" Today I was running around barefoot all over my neighborhood, wading in Wonderland Creek, and fishing for crawfish, honest to any God you care to name. I pretty much spent today being twelve years old.

What happened was, Saturday I biked to The Goat at the Garage, which is a cafe about 15 minutes east of me. (It gets its name from sharing a building with Green Eyed Motors.) There I geared up to roller skate the trails with some friends. We skated the Boulder Creek Path across town and across two zip-codes, from the 80301 post office to the downtown farmer's market. It was pretty epic. After all that, of course, I still had to bike, and I had to get groceries. So I wound up biking home along 30th Street and the Wonderland Creek Path with my baskets full to bursting with milk, potato chips, bread, soda, and assorted stinky-sweaty skate gear.

It was during the final part of this ride that I ran into the group of guys crawfishing in Wonderland Creek. They were leaning over the railing at the little flat bridge, dangling what looked like very long shoelaces into the water. I trundled to a stop and wobbled around a U-turn with my overladen bike and came in close to investigate. They proudly showed me an assortment of plastic containers containing crawfish sorted by size. The largest probably came up to around six inches in length. All in all they had about 30.

"Do you lower one of those bins in on a line with bait inside, and then haul up the bin once they crawl in?"

"No," the nearest guy said, with an almost embarrassed expression, "it's just some turkey knotted into the end of the line. They hold onto it while we pull it up."

The simplicity of it! Also the familiarity--I remembered a fishing trip one summer when we caught not a single fish on the line, but kept finding small blue crabs clinging defiantly to the bait. "What are you going to do with them?"

Another shrug. "Throw 'em back."

I was thinking, Throw them back? What a waste! You've got enough for crawfish monica at least for two, right? But I just nodded and wished them luck. The rest of my ride home, though, I was also thinking, Why didn't I think of that?

So today was Monday, and Mondays are often how I steal back a weekend day that roller derby stole from me in the first place. (Yesterday wasn't a team practice day like usual, but only because it was the league's first annual carnival fund-raiser. I made cotton candy and snow-cones all day. Meanwhile, John ran around playing all the games and eating cotton candy and snow-cones. Yesterday was John's day to be twelve years old.) So having an unscheduled weekend day on my hands, I experimented.

Experiment #1 involved finding a good place to drop my line. I didn't want to hang around on the bridge where everyone passing by would wonder what I was up to. That works fine if you're with your best buds and you have great results to show-off, but I was all alone and I didn't know what I was doing. So I made my way downstream a bit. I figured I was looking for somewhere with shadowy pockets where a crawfish might hide, and lots of little minnows that a crawfish might hunt. Places just downstream of small "waterfalls" seemed to be most likely. A place where I actually saw a crawfish hanging out in the shallows seemed ideal.

Experiment #2 was about setting up my line. I brought some pieces of raw bacon and a ball of twine. After some initial false starts having to do with dropping my ball of twine in the creek and having to jump in after it (the creek's not even knee-deep, but jumping in disturbs all the critters) and indeed dropping my miniature ice-chest in and thus freeing my first catch of the day, I settled into a routine that seemed to work.

  1. Tie bacon to end of twine.
  2. Tie a rock just above that, to pull the bacon down to the creek bottom.
  3. Tie this to a longish stick, to allow greater flexibility in dropping the line.
  4. Prop the stick on the bank and shorten the twine so that the twine is taut.
  5. Repeat with additional bait-twine-rock-sticks.
  6. Relax with a book and/or some tatting and wait for one of your lines to twitch.
  7. Carefully pull up line, hoping crawfish doesn't let go until it's over the bank.
  8. Pick up crawfish and toss it into the ice chest.
  9. Repeat from step 4.

If you don't mind spending a little while at it, you can catch a good handful that way. I got seven over the course of an hour or so--sometimes two at a time. (These are featured in the crappy cell phone photography above.) Probably would have got more over the same period had I dropped my lines by the bridge, but, again, I wanted a more secluded spot.

Experiment #3 was to eliminate the part where sometimes the crawfish gets wise to you and lets go before you get him onto the bank. We have this three-tiered hanging wire mesh basket that we used for storing and showing off tea at the old house. At the new place, we never found a place to hang it up, nor a use for it since all our tea fits in kitchen drawers now, so it's been on a shelf in the laundry room all this time. I thought about it today when I considered what might work as a sort of net.

It worked pretty well. I used a twist-tie to secure some bacon to the center of the top basket, then attached some twine to the hanging chain and hook. I let it sink to the bottom of my most productive fishing hole, where it settled flat. I tied the twine to a handy root on the bank, then I settled down to pass the time with Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and a tatting motif I wanted to finish. Periodically I'd get up and take a look: the basket, painted white, shone clearly up through the shadowy two-foot-deep water. It was easy to see when a crawfish had crawled onto it. I pulled on the line, the basket expanded into three dimensions as it rose off the creek floor, and the crawfish stayed in the basket. (Seriously, that sucker clung to the basket. It took a fight to get it to let go of the wire.)

I now have ten of 'em in the fridge and mean to try one more quick trip tomorrow morning. The plan is to then make a very simplified version of this crawfish bisque recipe.

In the near future, there may be an Experiment #4, involving a DIY crawfish trap made from two 2-liter bottles. That may, however, be too much work for a temporary 12-year-old like myself.

Cover art incorporates the photo “Spyglass” by Wikipedia user Hydrargyrum, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Cover art also incorporates a photo of my desk.
this fictionette had trouble wording its wishes
Fri 2015-07-24 23:55:19 (single post)

We're back to wrapping up the Friday Fictionette at stupid o'clock at night, I'm afraid. In addition to my usual bad time management, there was the problem that this fictionette, despite my having worked on it every day all week long, was still giving me revision trouble. I was three hours in today before I was finally happy with the text. And even now I'm not so sure. I don't think my attempt at Nesbit's prose style is entirely convincing, nor am I at all confident that I got the UK-specific education terms right. And I'm doubtful as to whether the timeline adds up--can an Edwardian-era child have an email-era grandson? Maybe? But not likely as their oldest grandchild, I don't think?

Look, I'm just not going to worry about it. Plot-holes and inaccuracies are part of the acceptable roughness of a fictionette. They come part and parcel with idea generation and early draft revision. They are part of the process, we shall deal.

Anyway. "And Did You Bring Enough for Everyone?" is my first attempt at E. Nesbit fanfic. It is unlikely to be my last.

As for the rest of this week, it featured sparse blogging and sparse short-story work. Indeed. Right after bragging about working on the short story every work day, I wound up failing to work on it at all. The problem is my usual bad time management on days when roller derby eats my evenings. I get my "morning shift" done, then somehow I never get to my "afternoon shift." I tell myself it's OK, I'll do it after practice. Then I come home from practice and I collapse for the night. This is not how work gets done!

I know I've said this before, but it's going to be an iron-clad rule now: No leaving any writing work for after derby! There is no brain or body left to do it with, so I am not to go fooling myself about it! Which means I need to decide on a specific time at which the afternoon shift must start in order to get it done before derby on Wednesdays and Thursdays. And then I have to actually start at that time. No excuses.

If I can successfully get that habit dug in--and, seriously, there's no reason why I shouldn't--then Friday Fictionettes should wind up getting posted actually on Friday, too. As opposed to the wee hours of Saturday morning, which right now happens to be (the datestamp on the blog post is a lie, of course).

But now that's up and this blog post is up, and I can start heading to bed... in time to catch a few hours' sleep before I get up, do my Saturday morning AINC reading, and then meet some friends in East Boulder for trail skating at 9:00 AM. Whee?

rough drafts are rough. don't like it? tough.
Tue 2015-07-21 23:42:19 (single post)

The expansion on the drabble is coming along, but it's coming along rough. I have to continuously remind myself that it's OK, because this really is more of a first draft than a revision. I mean, yes, I'm building off of an already-written 100-word version of the story, but this new version is, for all intents and purposes, all new. The character now has a name, an age, a sister, a mother, a geographical location, a job. The story will have at least five scenes, including the one that got vaguely nodded at by the original drabble. The pacing is different, and the climax will be better developed. It's a whole new story. Of course its first draft will be rough.

At least it is coming along. Getting to spend some time on it every work day feels like getting away with something.

Today also involved some Fictionette work, as usual. The one for this weekend is shaping up to be something like E. Nesbit fanfic from two generations' remove. I'm trying to keep a Nesbit-like voice while firmly setting the story in the era of email. I've also taken some time to begin typing up one of the June fictionettes for my appropriately-tiered Patron (didn't get to it as quickly after the May edition as I'd hoped, but oh well, I'm getting to it now), and I discovered that the task gets ever so much easier when the typewriter ribbon is wound correctly. Who knew? Also, the instructions are not lying when they say that the supply spool goes on the right-hand side; however, it does not mention the existence of a manual ribbon reverse switch, and I had it switched to the reverse direction, so. At this point I'll probably have to retype the first page. It's OK if it's a little messy, but all that fighting with the ribbon resulted in a silly amount of mess.

It is probably time to order a new ribbon, if a ribbon fitting a Sears Tower "Quiet Tabulator" portable can be found. I have a spare "universal" in my desk drawer, but I also have a memory of discovering it to be the wrong width or something. I found a site that sells typewriter ribbon by model number, and discovered that my typewriter's model number is partially hidden under the platen assembly. You can just make it out if you open up the rear enclosure as though to access the tabulator stops, and tilt the hinged bit at just the right angle: 871.600, which seems to match these products. The price for a black-and-white ribbon seems reasonable enough.

I had a lot of fun watercoloring on the typewritten fictionette for May, all the more for doing it outside on the patio. But once again I forgot to take a picture. Maybe I'll remember when I'm illustrating the June artifact.

Not on the patio today, alas. Power-wash operations were underway, in preparation for a new coat of paint on our building. Everything on the balcony out back and the patio out front had to come in. Our entryway looks like a jungle, all crowded with lush spath leaves, and you can barely reach the blinds over the sliding glass door what with all of the containers of tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers getting in the way. It's totally a nightshade paradise over there. All we need are eggplants. And then there are the herbs.

Meanwhile, the birds are so confused. The bird feeders had to come inside, too. There's a young female grackle who keeps perching on the balcony rail and eying the place where the feeder's supposed to hang, as though to say, "Mama told me this is where food comes from! Where did the food go? There is supposed to be food! If I wait here, maybe food will appear?" A couple of sparrows actually flew up there as though under the impression that the feeder had simply turned invisible. I feel sort of bad for them.

Just wait 'til the end of the week, little buddies! 'Til then I'm sure you're capable of finding your own grub. Your mama must have taught you about more than just suet cakes!

Cover art incorporates the actual view out my actual window.
this fictionette skated by faster than the eye can follow
Mon 2015-07-20 23:29:54 (single post)
  • 1,159 wds. long

I swear I got the Friday Fictionette done on time! Early, in fact. It's called "Protective Coloration" and it's got more fairy-like creatures in the corner of the protagonist's eye. It only took about two hours to proof, publish, and record the PDF and MP3. I wasn't up until stupid o'clock getting it done, either, which was way cool.

But then I ran off to skate at ROLL and was up until stupid o'clock for that reason.

Honestly, I thought I'd only stay until maybe 11:00 PM. That would give me a good two hours of fun, and an exit for when the track got crowded and the crowd got drunk. I'm also, admittedly, not a fan of the DJ. I don't understand why you'd have a Thunderdome-themed skate party and never actually play "We Don't Need Another Hero," or an '80s-themed skate party and then mash up the classic anthems of the decade you are supposedly celebrating such that there's no melody line left to sing along to. But being on skates makes everything wonderful, at least for a little while. So I go, I have fun, and when I stop having fun, I leave. I figured that after about two hours I'd run off to a diner to write up a blog post and get a couple other things done.

But I surprised myself by not actually stopping having fun. As it happened, I didn't leave until they kicked everyone out of Tracks at 2:00 AM. So that was a thing.

It helped that I had friends with me--a couple of gals from my roller derby league met me there, and we hung out. It also helped that we spent Peak Crowded Drunken Hour in the karaoke lounge. (It is possible that the skate floor DJ played "We Don't Need Another Hero" while I was in the karaoke lounge. I would not bet on it, however.) And the singers and their supporters were friendly, and the songs chosen ran the gamut from metal to hip-hop to blues to Broadway. When the karaoke DJ shut it down, we went back out to the main floor for the last 15 minutes of the party, and we discovered it was practically deserted. Plenty of room to try fun dance moves or just skate fast. "I didn't know ROLL shut down with a speed skate," I said.

Anyway, that's why I didn't finish my homework on Friday.

no, seriously, pull up the floorboards, i mean it
Thu 2015-07-16 23:41:11 (single post)

Today's Submission Procedures session was extremely productive. I logged a new rejection letter--"It's For You" came back after only 6 days out. I logged it in my own database, and at the Submission Grinder, and I posted about it to a forum where people post about such things. Scrolling up through other people's posts, I saw mention of another pro-paying market I have never submitted to. So I began preparing another story for submission to it. (I didn't quite finish because I ran out of time before derby. I'll send the submission out tomorrow.) Meanwhile, I tweaked my database so that I could use it to note submissions that I plan to make, and it could remind me so I don't lose track. All that, and I still haven't sent "It's For You" back out. Tomorrow!

Rejection letters aren't so terrible. They're the industry's way of confirming that yes, you've been playing the game, and, by the way, it's your turn again.

So, this other submission I'm planning to make. It's an expansion of an existing and unpublished drabble. And it gave me fits today. It's not that I don't know the shape I want it to be. It's that I'm realizing the story lives in that weird borderland between magic realism and psychological suspense-and-dread. It's "The Telltale Heart," that's what the problem is. The speculative element could be easily written off as the protagonist having a nervous breakdown and imagining things. Now, I was that kid in class who insisted that the hideous heart really was beating under the floorboards. But apparently the rest of the literary world agrees that Poe's murderous protagonist is hallucinating, the spoilsports.

So I'm trying to come up with anti-spoilsport ideas. Here's what I've got so far.

Put it in 3rd person to give the protagonist's perspective a sense, however illusive, of authority. Like, look, you don't have to just take the protagonist's word on this; here's a totally reliable narrator voice confirming it for you. It's not a promise on a factual level; obviously you can write an unreliable narrator in 3rd person point-of-view. But it's an attempt to create a particular emotional experience for the reader, encourage them to trust more. It's like painting an oncology waiting room sky blue to induce a sense of calm and comfort in the patients. You're not telling them that everything's going to be all right; you're just trying to help them feel like everything's all right. All right? Right. See also titles like "The facts in the case of..." or "An account of events witnessed at..."

Create internal consistency in the speculative element so that it looks more like an actual coherent thing that's happening and not a series of random weird events. Though it'll never wind up on the page, I need to decide on the complete reality behind these glimpses of the uncanny, and then have every manifestation conform to that. Basically, we're talking about worldbuilding.

Highlight the theme at every opportunity. The story will be submitted to a themed submission call; the theme is "anticipation." The theme of the issue is already present in this story, of course, but it can be underscored, made to do double, triple duty in every scene. Not just waiting, dreading, and anticipating in the context of the spec element itself, but in every incidental detail. In each scene's setting, in each situation, in the protagonist's interactions with other characters, there should be an element of are we there yet? is it over yet? how long to my bus stop? why aren't we done with this meeting? will the person in line before me please hurry up? when will I find out what's going on? what are you waiting for, just tell me! Done right, this will make the story more of a seamless whole, and a claustrophobic one, sort of compressing the reader into identifying with the protagonist. I hope.

Actually, having written them out, they look like pretty decent ideas. For now, anyway. Enough to go on until I think of better ones.

The unicorn looking on is Velvet. He's been with me almost all my life, and he likes to be included in things.
outmoded, inconvenient, messy, elegant, satisfying
Wed 2015-07-15 23:37:55 (single post)
  • 1,141 wds. long
  • 2,850 wds. long

Pictured here is my second-hand typewriter, a Sears Tower which appears to be identical to the 1950s-era portable Smith-Corona Sterling. I bought it from a co-worker back in the late '90s. Then, upon my lamenting that it had features I'd no idea how to use, I was sent a copy of the Sterling's owners' manual by a Usenet acquaintance who guessed my typewriter was largely the same as his. (This was before it was trivial to find PDFs of owners' manuals of just about everything online--though, admittedly, I haven't found the exact document my friend sent me. This is the closest match I've located. My typewriter doesn't have those CL and SET buttons on the right.) That gift empowered me to use the ingenious Page Gage (sic) feature to get consistent bottom margins every time. It's a seriously clever thing.

Five years ago, this typewriter was instrumental in drafting the first recognizable version of "First Breath." This week it'll be key in fulfilling some long overdue Patreon pledge rewards. I owe two, soon to be three "fictionettes in your mailbox" to my $5+ tier patron. This is where, at the end of the month, I type out one of the month's fictionettes, correct some of the typos with white-out, watercolor and scribble and sketch on it, and send it off with my thanks.

At the moment, I am offering this thank-you to the first ten $5+ patrons. That may have been overly optimistic. I am thinking of lowering that maximum to five. A thousand words feels a lot longer on a typewriter than on a laptop. Accordingly, I find myself sometimes revising on the fly and cutting out phrases that no longer seem absolutely necessary. Or rearranging phrases because I got ahead of myself and I am not going back to correct it.

Also, mastering the Dvorak keyboard layout seems to have come at the expense of being able to touch-type in Qwerty. So I do a lot of looking up and looking down between the computer screen and the typewriter keys and the typewriter output, and losing my place in the original document, and shit there went the 1-inch marker on the Page Gage about two lines ago, I guess the bottom margin is going to be a little smaller than planned...

I'm not really complaining. I'm just griping. The difference is, complaints are meant to be actionable but griping is only recreational. I don't seriously want not to do this. I'm enjoying the exercise--reacquainting myself with the typewriter, producing a literary artifact, enjoying the messy elegance of the results (it's not the most precise instrument, this Tower), and creating a physical object as a token of my appreciation. And sending it in the mail! Having an excuse to mail physical letters is wonderful. It's inconvenient and outmoded and I love it. I'm in love with the written word in all its forms. Look, I do my morning pages with a fountain pen. Of course I love the typewriter and the U.S. Post.

Anyway, I intend to finish the May mailable tonight and maybe produce tomorrow the one that was due at the end of June. That'll will put me back on track in time to type up the July mailable at the end of the month. Huzzah! Getting caught up is the best!

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