“I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

With witch's broomstick, stirring the witch's brew. Said brew was probably of the tomato variety 'stupice'.
Letting gravity separate the good seeds from the chaff.
Clean seeds!
miracles of... not very modern technology, actually
Mon 2014-10-20 23:05:28 (single post)

As though to make up for last week, this morning's farm work went a little long. It featured seeds, seeds, and more seeds, seeds of tomato and pepper varieties, seeds to be wet processed for drying, winnowing, and sowing next season.

It began when the farmer, Rich, gave me a broom and said, "Why don't you give each of these seed buckets a good morning stir?" Thus I got my fifteen minutes being a classic Halloween witch, stirring a disgusting cauldron with my (sadly nonmagical) broomstick.

The tomatoes that were harvested a few weeks ago, and the peppers from the week before that, had been collected into buckets according to variety, covered with water, and left, essentially, to rot. Or ferment, I suppose, if you want to be all precise. All I know is that there was a layer of moldy yuck on the surface of each bucket, and as I vigorously stirred them, they released a smell that was part appetizing fruit and partly the sweet stench of decay.

I am constantly grateful for my iron-clad stomach. Not only can I eat darn near anything I want, and in vast quantities, and shortly before a two-hour roller derby practice without getting nauseated during our endurance session, but I also tend not to get queasy at the sight, smell, or thought of various forms of yuck. I'm sure some flaw or other went to pay for that particular merit. I'm guessing several points in gluttony?

But here's the cool thing. Viable seeds sink while immature seeds, fruit pulp, stems and mold all float. This means you can go from a bucket of pink frothy yuck to a window screen full of clean seeds drying in the greenhouse by means of no higher tech than gravity. You add water, you carefully pour off the floating stuff, you repeat until there's no more floating stuff and the seeds are clean. It's kind of amazing.

Eventually those seeds will be dry, and they will be further winnowed by means of an electric fan. You gently sprinkle the seeds from a height, and the fan will blow away the lighter, immature seeds, leaving only the heavier, viable seeds to land in your collection bucket. Simple physics rules the day once more.

After the bucket stirring, I was on pepper seed duty all morning long. I was stationed at the wide-screen prep step of the assembly line. That is, before the fermented mess entered the pour cycle described above, it was poured atop a screen where we smooshed it around with our hands, getting the seeds to fall through and the larger pulp chunks and stems to remain behind. We didn't wear gloves or anything, which might have been a mistake in the case of the huge barrel of Hot Portugals. By lunch time, my hands were well and truly irritated. I won't say they were burning--it wasn't that bad--but they were gently simmering, to be sure. They were also very orange.

Takeaways? First, gravity is kind of awesome. Second, latex gloves are potentially awesome too.

And, despite a long bath, I still smell like hot peppers.

Yes, I knitted that. And I'm going to wear it.
putting that fictionette in the end zone after the two-minute warning
Fri 2014-10-17 23:04:49 (single post)

I've been running late all day, and I'm beginning to question whether writing can coexist with home improvement projects. And cooking. And having a social life. Also eating and sleeping... Whatever. Here is a Friday Fictionette! If you are a Saints fan, it is just for you. I have not finished all of the uploading procedure just yet, but I've at least put the new creation up on Patreon and the teaser excerpt here. The excerpt is not up on Wattpad just yet, partially because, like I said, I'm late, but mainly because Wattpad itself is currently inaccessible, i.e. "over capacity."

Anyway, I wanted to blog while it was still, y'know, today.

Like the Author's Note says, this fictionette began with the prompt sentence, "A man and a woman arguing over whose fault it was the Saints lost this week." Because Saints fans, like devoted football fans everywhere, have their game day rituals which they invest with disproportionate importance in a "ha ha only serious" kind of way. I do it too. For one thing, I haven't worn my Saints scarf (pictured here) on a single game-viewing outing this season, and it shows. I will not only wear it to Harpo's this Sunday, but also to our Sunday morning trail skate. We'll see if it works.

The raw timed writing session output sounded like I was just making fun of my poor characters. I hope that the revision portrays them in a fonder light. I also wanted to make it clearer that this is a world where fans' actions really can affect the outcome of the game. The only question is, which actions? Which game day rituals work, and which are placebos? There's a lot of room in the gray areas for my characters to argue.

Anyway, there it is. The excerpt and cover art notes will hit the Patreon activity stream shortly. Have a great weekend, y'all! WHO DAT!

whimsical pronouns for everyone
Wed 2014-10-15 22:40:55 (single post)

Apropos of this blog post by author John Scalzi, you are all on notice that henceforth the actually writing blog here will be pleased to employ the non-gendered pronouns whee/whim/whir wherever appropriate.

Singular they/them/their will also be utilized on occasion, but they've got nothing on this new set for sheer fun. Observe:

A visitor to OUT OF THIS WORLD AMUSEMENT PARK is sure to have a good time. After whee pays the admission fee, a mere five dollars, whee can enjoy any of our thrilling rides as often as whee cares to until closing time, which, thanks to the interdimensional nature of the campus, never actually arrives. Long lines will never trouble whim, for each ride has been replicated by a potentially infinite number due to our cutting-edge temporal engineering. Whee can look forward to telling whir future grandchildren about whir stunning day in the park, though--fair warning--they may be disinclined to sit still and listen to whir stories when they could be riding the rides and making memories of their own on the very same endless day.

OUT OF THIS WORLD AMUSEMENT PARK! Bringing countless generations together for a literally timeless adventure!

Wheeeeeee!

housework, skate parties, and john and me
Tue 2014-10-14 23:50:36 (single post)

Today wasn't so good on the writing front. Writing productivity got attacked from the front end and the back end. Both attacks were relatively pleasant, but--there goes my Tuesday.

The front end attack was an inability to get out of bed. You ever hear Jim Gaffigan do his comedy bit about the snooze button? It was kind of like that, and it went on until mumble-mumble o'clock AM. When I finally got up, it was all PANIC! Gotta do stuff! Gotta write! Gotta stain the closet door! Gotta do other housework too! Also gotta make cookies! All in the next five hours! PANIC!

The cookies had to do with that rear-guard attack on the day, which was our league's skate party. Which was a lot of fun. I'd been looking forward to it for weeks! But of course, there was baking cookies to bring, and there was the hour-long drive there and back, and there was how tired I was when we finally got home...

"We." Yeah. That was the best part: John came too. He put on his brand new skates, and he skated. He skated pretty darn competently for someone who hasn't hit a rink more than once in the past twenty years. And he skated with me! Everything was awesome, and nothing hurt. Well, that's not quite true--John reports a non-zero amount of pain in all of the muscles that skating requires unaccustomed use thereof. "Quadratus complaintae," I think I heard him mutter. (That's a pun.) But he had fun, and he's eager to do it again. ("I hear they have an adult skate here on Wednesdays," he said, and also, "Are you up for Detour Derby this Sunday?") Just--not tomorrow or anything. ("Next Wednesday, though. Next Wednesday's adult skate for sure.")

So we are both tired tonight, and happy. And utterly non-productive. Ah, well. Just wait 'til tomorrow.

sunflowers, plagiarists and me
Mon 2014-10-13 23:29:52 (single post)

My session at the farm today was relatively short, and it was all about sunflowers: removing the protective layers of agricultural cloth from each freshly cut seed head and assessing the seeds therein for maturity. (These sunflowers were being grown for planting-seed, not eating-seed. By the end of the session, my thoughts about sunflowers had fallen into orbit around two basic themes:

  1. Sunflowers are huge. I mean, I knew they were big, but it's not often I get to hold one up and compare it to the size of my head.

  2. I'm not entirely sure how commercial growers manage to have a crop. I mean, most of these seed heads were picked bare. The agricultural cloth that was supposed to protect them was pecked right through in multiple places. I suppose commercial growers must either grow their sunflowers in a covered space, to keep it bird-free, or maybe they spray everything with magic bird repellent. Or maybe they are eternally vigilant sharp-shooters, I don't know.

So that's the field notes portion of the post.

In the writing world, I appear to have acquired followers on Wattpad whom I don't actually know from my existing writing community circles. They don't appear to have actually read the Friday Fictionettes I post there, if the statistics on each work are to be trusted--but that's OK. I came into this knowing that Wattpad, for the most part, is not about posting teaser excerpts in hopes of attracting readers willing to chuck a buck at my Patreon. The community, by and large, is said to be excerpt adverse. So I totally understand. Read or don't read; totally up to you. No harm, no foul. I'm happy to see the "Followers" count go up for just about any reason. So: hooray for people following me who don't already know me!

However, I can tell you without hesitation what one of those reasons not covered by "just about any reason" is: Apparently, one of these potential future friends who began following me, who clearly hoped I'd reciprocate by following them back and reading their stuff and loving it enough to vote on it... is a plagiarist. No, seriously, I went to read their most recent work, and it was an in-their-own-words retelling of the first chapter of Maggie Stiefvater's YA werewolf novel Shiver. Have you read it? I'll understand if you haven't--in my conversational circles, the novel rather suffers from looking like trying to ride the Twilight popularity wave. Also, in the first few chapters, there are some real factual howlers. That said, it didn't strike me as badly written, and I was actually kind of intrigued by the idea of lycanthropes for whom temperature is a factor.

Anyway, you can read the first two scenes for free. It'll take you all of two minutes. Done? OK. Now, realize that this Wattpad user of whom I speak essentially retold those two scenes in her own words, gave the two characters the same names, and even included the detail that the girl was on a swing in her backyard when the wolves dragged her away. And, look, it's a popular book--it's not like the user ought to have had any illusion that they'd get away with it. *facepalm*

I'm not naming the Wattpad user, mainly because I've already used appropriate channels to report them to Wattpad HQ. (I have also shown my displeasure to them personally by leaving a comment, un-following them, and "muting" them.) And even if Wattpad HQ takes no action, I don't see it as my job to lead an anti-plagiarism campaign against them. I expect they aren't the only Wattpad user trying to get unearned praise (and votes) by plagiarizing popular fiction.

However, they are the first plagiarist I know of to have specifically followed me in hopes I'd follow them back. So I thought I'd just take a blog-style snapshot of the occasion for posterity.

Awww! Baby's first plagiarism experience on Wattpad! How sweet!


this is the friday fictionette you get when the author fails to take notes
Fri 2014-10-10 23:36:08 (single post)

Off to a late start today, being all virtuous and getting the household and admin-type chores done on time for once, but--the Friday Fictionette is up at last on Patreon as of, oh, 9:30 PM or so. All the tantalizing excerpts and extranea here on my blog, over on Wattpad, and in my Patreon activity stream (excerpt here and cover art notes here) didn't quite make it up until 11:00.

(Wowzers, holy link-fest, Batman!)

As I may have mentioned, each week's fictionette is pulled from one of my timed freewriting sessions the month before. And it can't be just any session I haven't already selected yet. It's gotta be one of those from the corresponding week. This is one of the picky little rules I impose on myself to keep myself honest and the fictionettes fresh. So the Friday Fictionette for October Week 2 had to be some freewriting output from September Week 2. And sometimes when it's time to make that choice, I look at what I've got to work with and I despair. "Is this it? Seriously? It has to be one of these? But they're all awful!"

That wasn't quite the case with "Out of Sight, Out of Mind." I was actually kind of excited about it when I wrote it. The half-dream, or maybe hypnagogic hallucination, that it stemmed from made a strong impression on me, and the slow vanishing that the second-person narration describes is pleasantly creepy. I was looking forward to polishing it up and giving it a real ending!

Then I polished it up this week, and I ran smack into the other limitation I hold myself to: Once I'd chosen the vignette that was going to be released as a Friday Fictionette on October 10, that was it. That's what it was going to be. No take-backsies, not even if the revision frankly horrified me. Seriously, I got to what is now the ending, and I thought, "That's... not OK. That needs a content warning or twenty, and also a unicorn chaser. That's just bleak."

Somewhere in the ether there is a third ending, which, much like the original "invisible man at the party" image, came to me as I was falling asleep. It came to me very late on Wednesday night after trying to wrangle the fictionette into shape while I was too tired to think. And it was perfect. It was the perfect ending, with shades of "the biter bit" and satisfying parallel structure and it was perfect. And I did not write it down at the time, so when I woke up in the morning it was gone-baby-gone. But it's out there, somewhere. I hope it finds a nice home in someone else's brain; I fear it's too late for it to come home to mine.

the buck stops here - it also starts here, in my head
Thu 2014-10-09 23:13:58 (single post)

OK, so, here's the thought I've been working my way up to: Fiction writing is not like plumbing. Here's why...

And that's where I get stuck. I don't know how to continue that thought without sounding ridiculously woo. But, y'know, what the hell. I am a firm believer in woo, certain flavors of it anyway. My religion, Wicca, necessarily involves a certain amount of woo. So, OK, I get to talk about writing through the woo lens.

The main thing to make clear before I begin is that this is my woo lens. I am not trying to speak to every writer's experience everywhere. I do think that what I'm going to describe is inherent to all fiction writing, but not everyone will have the same relationship with it. So what follows is my thought about my writing experience. I'll insist that it's a valid experience to have, but I won't assert it to be the experience.

OK? We're all cool? OK.

Let's start over.

*ahem*

Fiction writing is not like plumbing, It's not like making widgets or constructing web pages. Something happens in the writing process that generally doesn't happen on the automobile assembly line, or on the operating table, or while doing dishes, or in whatever job the smug know-it-alls inist that real writers treat their writing like. Writing--and the rest of the creative arts--involves something that those jobs generally don't, and that's this:

The writer has to think it all up.

The writer is responsible for thinking that all up.

The writer is responsible for having thought it all up.

There is all sorts of potential for emotional, psychological mess in there. I mean, everything on the page comes out of my very own brain. No one made it happen but me. For one thing, that may invite judgment on the part of the reader: "What sort of psycho/weirdo/pervert/idiot comes up with that?" While I've entertained the thought, "What was that plumber thinking, cementing the hot water pipes right into the wall?" there was no, like, psychoanalysis involved. There was no cause to question the plumber's fitness as a parent, or their being at liberty rather than committed to the nearest mental health facility. Cementing the hot water pipes into the wall shows a certain lack of foresight, but doesn't inspire homeowners to wonder about the plumber's sanity or childhood or whatever.

For another thing, every story I think up, no one can write it but me. If the plumber bails on snaking your drain, you call someone else in to do it. If I bail on a particular story--well, there are plenty of other writers, so there's no shortage of stories for people to read. But that particular story, the one I was going to write, if I don't write it for whatever reason, it simply never makes it out into the world. That's a huge responsibility! I have to make sure those stories survive to adulthood! No pressure, right?

Again, not every writer is going to feel the way I do about these things. But these things are there. They go with this territory in a way they don't go with, oh, newspaper delivery or new home construction.

And here's where things get woo: The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced there's a sort of shamanic aspect to fiction writing. Which is, I am aware, a problematic thing for me to say, being a white woman with no ties whatsoever to any sort of shamanistic culture. But I just don't know what else to compare it to, this process of going into dream space--into the invisible world of symbols, metaphors, spirits, things that do not exist but should, things that do not exist and that we pray remain nonexistent--and translating what one finds there into a form that the rest of the mundane world is able to experience.

Not every writer is going to think about it that way, of course. But I do, though. And I get a little scared about it. And grateful! Because it's an honor, getting to make that journey. But it's also kind of terrifying.

All that said, I agree one hundred percent that the only way to be a writer is to get on with the writing. But I'd like to register a plea for compassion about those avoidance and resistance cycles that some of us experience, that make getting on with the writing more complicated than the know-it-alls try to make it out to be.

Be patient with us. This can be kind of a heavy gig.

And it's really not like plumbing.

plumbers also don't need to make the plumbing believably three-dimensional
Wed 2014-10-08 23:14:00 (single post)

Yesterday I blogged about my avoidance behaviors and my anti-avoidance strategies, when really what I meant to blog about was one particular moment in the avoidance/anti-avoidance run-up to revision. That would be the moment when I said to myself, "I should be business-like about my writing! I should treat it like it's a business. It's my job. When web development was my job, did I spend hours avoiding the work because of fear and insecurity? No! I did my job! Writing should be no different."

Which only goes to show that I'm not immune to some of the more toxic memes that plague us. For instance:

Plumbers don't suffer from "plumbers' block."

It's pithy, isn't it? And so self-satisfied. You can top it off with "nuff said," just like putting a cherry on top of a sundae. You could make a motivational poster out of it, with a big black-and-white Hines-like photo of the backside of a plumber hard at work, and attribute it to a well-known grouchy writer, and you could post it to Facebook and get a lot of likes and verbal high-fives.

Some writers no doubt find motivation in such slogans. From time to time, so do I. Sometimes it's exactly what I need to hear; at those times, I say it to myself. I'm not sure I really want to hear anyone say it to me, though. In the transitive case, it becomes a scolding, smug denial of the variety of writers' experiences and vulnerabilities: "The right way to be a writer is my way," it says, and "if you have weaknesses, you ain't no writer." It's all the more toxic for masquerading as a kind of tough-love, "truth hurts" kind of lesson. I mean, yes, the truth can hurt. But the fact of pain doesn't prove the truth of the words that caused it. Lies can hurt, too.

Basically, we're talking about slogans which are used by some writers to assert superiority over other writers. They're dishonest metrics for distinguishing "real writers" from "wanna-bes."

Now, Mur Lafferty has some thoughts about the word "wannabe," and how it really ought to be viewed as a positive term. You gotta want to be before you can be, after all, let alone before you can figure out how to become. And every writer at every level is still a "wannabe," too: they want to be better writers tomorrow than the writers they are today. They want to be the writers who have written the stories that they have yet to write.

But so many people use the word "wanna-be" as a weapon. They believe "wanna-be" and "real writer" are mutually exclusive terms. They say you can either waste time wanting to be a writer, or you can get on with the hard but rewarding work of being a writer. Do, or do not! There is no "try!" Well, Yoda, when you put that way, it almost sounds reasonable... except it leads to the poisonously backwards conclusion that "wanting" precludes "becoming," when in fact wanting precedes becoming. It's a necessary prerequisite.

Shaming wanna-be writers for wanting to be writers sure turns this whole "wanna-bes never amount to anything" nonsense into a self-fulfilling prophecy, doesn't it?

And how do these smug border guards with their weaponized words distinguish real writers from wanna-bes? Easy, they say. Look, real writers don't believe in writers' block. Real writers don't truck with "resistance" and "avoidance" and other excuses not to write; they just write. Real writers don't take weekends or holidays. Real writers know that writing is a job like any other job. You sit down at your desk and you do it. Plumbers don't get plumbers' block; they just get on with plumbing!

Except, in very important ways, writing fiction isn't like plumbing.

Don't get me wrong. It's important to get on with the writing despite fear, uncertainty, doubt, lack of inspiration, not knowing what to write, and all those other things that are implicated by the term "writers' block." This is why I am accumulating a toolbox of anti-avoidance strategies.

But all of those strategies depend on realizing in the first place that the fears, uncertainties, etcetera are valid. They aren't things that only wanna-bes (to use the term in its weaponized sense) experience. They don't preclude being a writer. To a varying extent across the fiction-writer population, they kind of come with the territory.

This is getting long again. So, two final summary-style thoughts before I tuck the rest of my thoughts away for tomorrow:

  1. Fear isn't a sign of failing. Fear means what you're trying to do is important to you. (Thank you, Havi Brooks.)
  2. Reclaim "wanna-be" as a term of pride! Disarming those who would use it as a weapon!
look i have some yummy cheese for you
Tue 2014-10-07 23:03:41 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long

This week my major task is to revise "Caroline's Wake" so that I can resubmit it. Today, I have made a start.

Now, me and revisions typically don't get along. Not like me and first drafts do. First drafts are great! They're fun. They involve discovery and imagination and "what if...?" and "Oh, I know!" and a lot of happy babbling until THE END. Importantly, there is no pressure. Pressure is on vacation during the first draft. But it comes back to the office when it's time to revise. Oh, hi there, pressure! Welcome back! Wait, what? What are you saying? Now I have to get it right?

And then I run away.

Really, I do. For me, the first step in any revision process is a period of avoidance behavior fueled by pure terror. The second step is sidling up to the project and cautiously, carefully opening the file. The third step is crucial: I have to fool my terrified Rodent Brain into thinking "I'm not revising yet, so I'm safe." Only once I've successfully lured Rodent Brain out from hiding can I actually start the revision. Lately that means importing the critiqued draft into the story's Scrivener file then manually typing in all the critique notes. This is a mechanical enough process to assuage Rodent Brain's fears, but because it involves a close reading of the draft and the notes, it jump starts Perfectionist Brain. And once Perfectionist Brain gets started, whoa. You just get out of her way, because she's coming through and there ain't nothing gonna stop her.

This time around, the critter notes were in MS Word's "Track Changes" and "Comments" features. If you import such a document into Scrivener, all the margin comments become inline comments. That's fine; I just convert all inline comments to linked comments. There's a command for that. What's less convenient is that all the tracked changes turn into plain text. Additions aren't highlighted, and deletions are quietly reinserted as though never deleted at all. Thus I was obliged to pull up the MS Word and Scrivener documents side-by-side, find each tracked deletion or addition in the one, and manually strike it out or mark it as an inline annotation on the other.

You might think this frustrating, disappointing, or annoying. Maybe a combination of all three? You would be wrong! As it turns out, this was ideal for my purposes. It forced a word-by-word, line-by line rereading that engaged Perfectionist Brain so hard that I couldn't stop thinking about the story for the rest of the night.

No joke. I was at roller derby practice doing Hundred Lap Hell, and I could barely keep count because Perfectionist Brain was trying to figure out how to reincorporate this or that deleted bit without bogging down the pacing. And that, Best Beloved, is why Fleur de Beast was so slow to finish clockwise quarter-century numero uno. She kept count on her fingers, and she kept forgetting to flip the digit as she crossed the pivot line because maybe the conversation from the first scene can be held in real time rather than in flashback, maybe have Demi drift off to a window where she can stare out at the snow and try to ignore all the people, didn't an early draft start out that way?

So. I was going somewhere with this. I was going to start by describing all the fear and avoidance, the trail of cheese crumbs that lures Rodent Brain out into the open where Perfectionist Brain can pounce, and then I was going to defend all that emotional mess as being entirely reasonable in this profession. Only I've run long enough as it is. Tell you what--let's place a metaphorical thumb right here on the metaphorical page and maybe pick up tomorrow where we left off today. Sound good? Excellent. See you then.

a good day to dig up buried treasure
Mon 2014-10-06 23:03:35 (single post)

Today was all about potatoes. I love harvesting potatoes. You dig in the dirt, and you pull up treasure. Well, first you need someone on shovel duty, to stick a shovel under each potato plant and lift it up, hopefully without slicing a potato open. (The farm worker on shovel duty today seemed to be having a splendid time.) But then you get to scrabble about by hand, and I think that's the fun part. It's especially satisfying when you think you've gotten 'em all, but you scrabble around with your digging stick (you do have a digging stick, right?) just to make sure, and up pops another big beauty.

If I remember correctly, we pulled up six different varieties of potato today, in three different colors: Red Dale, Red Pontiac, Chieftain; Cal White, King Harry; and Purple Viking.

Last year I had a potato plant that I started early in the season. I basically just stuck an old, sprouting potato under the ground to see if it would grow. Then I forgot about it until late in the fall when I started turning the soil in the big containers in order to work in some compost, and my spade sliced right into a Yukon Gold. Buried treasure! Agricultural alchemy! One rotting potato goes in, an armful of gorgeous new potatoes comes out! Instant transmutation: just add water. And soil. And time. (OK, well, not exactly instant.)

The potatoes took up most of the morning. When we were done, the harvest weighed in at about 400 pounds (or so I overheard), and we still had another half hour or so to go before lunch was ready. So we also harvested calendula. It smells nice, it has a pleasing bright orange color, it's good for burns and other skin ailments, and its stem is sticky as a honey comb on a pine tree coated in molasses and rolled in tar. We weren't a quarter of the way done before I was obliged to throw each blossom into the bucket with force--I couldn't just drop them anymore, because they stuck to my fingers. I had to wash my hands four or five times before they were fit for dining with.

And then I came home and did All Of The Things. Oh, so many things got done. Yay! A successful Monday!

I hope your week is off to an equally cheerful start. (If not, try adding potatoes. It can't hurt.)

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