“The world always seems brighter when you've just made something that wasn't there before.”
Neil Gaiman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

stupid word prompt tricks
Thu 2014-09-25 23:10:53 (single post)
  • 51,730 wds. long

The tricks, I mean. Nothing stupid about the word prompts. Mis-aimed, perhaps, maybe less then entirely appropriate for what I'm trying to do, but certainly not stupid.

See, I remembered this morning another podcast whose every episode ends in a writing prompt: Writing Excuses with Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Taylor, Dan Wells, and Brian Sanderson. The very memorable slogan is, "Fifteen minutes, because you're in a hurry and we're not that smart." It's perfect for my roller derby commute, or will be once we move into our new practice space that's not even 15 minutes away from home. (Tonight's practice, by contrast, was an hour's drive each way.)

The latest episode featured an interview with Patty Garcia, Director of Publicity for Tor & Forge Books. Accordingly, the writing prompt for that episode, which they post in their show notes as well as announce in the podcast, was this:

Write a short essay that touches on one of your books, and that will drive interest in your book.

This was very much not the prompt for me. I mean, yes, where the resistance is, there is the strong writing, sure, but this isn't a story idea prompt. I wanted a story idea prompt, darn it.

So I turned it into a story idea prompt. I took the prompt sideways. Instead of writing an essay meant to drive interest in my book, I wrote the beginning of a story in which a teenage girl got interested in my book. The book was Iron Wheels, only in some alternate reality where it had been published early enough to have been a favorite of her mother, and written with a fourth-wall-breaking narrator who promised that there was a secret within those pages meant just for her, only for her. And that secret was, of course, that the Fae are real.

I'm realizing lately that I have countless story ideas that take place in the world of Iron Wheels. Which is awkward, because I still don't feel like I have a handle on the shape of that world. Maybe all these random sessions of freewriting that take me back there will help me figure it out. Maybe they'll even help me get Iron Wheels finished and ready to visit agents. Wouldn't that be something?

Anyway, that was my stupid writing prompt trick. Ta-da.

i wrote you this contest entry but the time zone difference ated it
Wed 2014-05-07 22:59:31 (single post)

Argh, damn and blast. I temporarily delayed work on other things in order to enter Shock Totem's flash fiction contest for May. They released the photo prompt on May 2 and we had until midnight the night of May 7 to submit an entry. Well, I procrastinated all week, and I procrastinated all day, and I finally finished it at 10:15 or so here in Mountain time--

--and the dang contest closed at midnight Eastern time. Argh.

So here I have this creepy horror story, about 1,000 words in length, which very, very obviously stars this creepy wasp nest statue thing as its featured creature... what the crud am I supposed to do with it?

Argh.

I supposed I'd be asking this same question if I'd managed to enter on time but didn't end up winning.

Usually when I write to a specific prompt--say, for an open anthology call or a themed magazine issue--I wait a few months after it's rejected to try to send it elsewhere. And I usually massage it a bit to disguise its origins and/or make it more accessible to the world outside of the original market's theme.

But this one, this one here, the contest said that the prompt had to be so integral to the story that it would simply fall apart without it. And so it is. And it's such a recognizable prompt, what with the photo going viral and all.

Arrrrrrgh.

Here's to better luck and more productive work tomorrow. On stories viable in more than one market.

Madeline tells me that a certain portion of her readers have said she lost them at the end. Now I want to hurry up and finish reading so I can find out why.
World Horror Day 3: Very Briefly (Because I Am Tired)
Sat 2013-06-15 23:09:06 (single post)

This, the third day of World Horror, was no exception to the weekend, in that it contained many lovely things. Among them stands out with distinction a panel presenting a deeply moving appreciation for Clive Barker, who was one of tonight's recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Clive Barker is larger than life; he is not so much an author or an artist or a film writer (though he is all of these) as he is a sort of avatar of the universal creative force. Though he was not here in New Orleans to accept the award in person, he did send a few words for his representative to say on his behalf. Basically, that he hopes to match his 30 years of creativity so far with at least another 30 years of works to come. I'll drink to that.

I rather drank a lot today. It's New Orleans; it's too easy. There was the bloody mary with my baked ham po-boy from Mother's at lunch, the Abita lemon wheat that I pulled out my stash on my way down to Caitlin R. Kiernan's reading (Kiernan received a Stoker tonight for superior achievement in her novel The Drowning Girl), the cabernet shared out during the pre-Stoker "happy hour" reception, and the bottle of Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan nut brown ale I couldn't resist at Cochon where my cousin and I went out for our second dinner together of the weekend. I am surprised I am feeling no worse than tired.

In the spirit of the Stoker Awards, just for fun, I should like to pretend to hand out a few of my own to particularly memorable moments of the day. And so I shall.

The award for "Most Serendipitous Moment" goes to the one where I arrived at the Lovecraft panel, approached a woman seated near the front of the room to ask if I might take the seat next to her, and read her badge as she turned toward me to answer in the affirmative. The panel was already underway, so I just whispered my thanks and hoped against hope she wouldn't leave early. She did not, so I did indeed get a chance to tell Madeline Ashby how very much John and I are enjoying her science fiction novel vN and the stunning world she's created therein. She expressed delighted surprise to hear such sentiments at a horror con, where she's used to going entirely unrecognized; and gave me the heads-up that the sequel, iD, will be out very soon.

The award for "Most Surreal Moment" probably should go to the one during which I went from a fly on the wall to an active part of the conversation: Ellen Datlow and David Morrell turned to me suddenly during the pre-Stoker reception to ask if I could help identify a short story that was giving David fits. (It involved a male main character peeling back wallpaper, convinced he would find the key to some mystery underneath.) I pulled out my ever-present laptop and applied my small share of Google Fu to the dilemma. Success, alas, was not to be ours. I added "-yellow" to the search string to exclude hits for Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"; Google threw up a sinfín of DIYs ("How to easily remove your old wallpaper without breaking the bank or your back"). I hope if David remembers the story he also remembers to let the rest of us know, because now I am intrigued.

And the coveted award for "Most Kind To the Author's Ego" goes to a moment not long after that, when a friend of Ellen's came by to ask her if she'd seen me, then realized he was in fact looking at me, and asked me to autograph his copy of Blood and Other Cravings. I was among those last few contributors whose scrawls he had yet to collect. One day, I suppose, given enough published stories and people reading them, I will get used to the idea that someone would scan a convention's attendee list in search of my specific name and then seek me out at that con to get my autograph. But when that day comes, I hope I continue to feel that thrill of excitement and gratitude I felt today at knowing I'd been the target of such a search.

...OK, so that was less brief than I intended. I think I shall drop off to sleep now.

Tomorrow: The fourth and final day of WHC 2013. Crawfish at Mom & Dad's. And probably a few more beers.


World Horror Day 2: Thinking About the Future
Fri 2013-06-14 23:42:19 (single post)

As predicted, today contained 1) slight irritations that 2) were heavily outweighed by wonderful things1. There were plenty more wonderful things.

I bought lots of books, most of them from the hands of their authors who of course signed them for me. Many of these authors were personal friends/acquaintances whom I only get to see face-to-face at cons like this. And while I was wandering the mass signing, Mort Castle hailed me. I hadn't realized he was here this year; I hadn't seen his usual writing workshop on the program. I was very pleased to see him, and he me. He is a skilled, emotionally evocative writer; a talented teacher; and just an overwhelmingly kind person.

I visited the art show and bought a print of this gorgeous painting by Steven C. Gilberts: an illustration for Simon Clark's novella "Butterfly." I have not yet read the novella, but I do get an inkling of deep sadness underlying the image, a sense of great works which require the sacrifice of self while fueling machines of destruction. But, on an admittedly superficial level, the visual elements of a dreaming/concentrating woman, a sky full of airplanes, and long hair that's getting caught in the gears reminds me of myself.

I got to have dinner with con friends and with seldom-seen family all at the same time, and then continue to spend time with said family member for hours afterwards. "It's been too long since we just hung out like this," I said. Then, "Not that we ever really did hang out like this. What's up with that? We should do it more often."

I went on an entirely unnecessary quest for a credit union ATM, walking at least a mile to avoid whatever small fee the ones within a block of the hotel would have charged. I think I must have had the intent all along to catch the brand! New! Street car on Loyola! (squee!) and ride it from the train station to the French Quarter. This is how I show the Universe my appreciation for the nice things in its catalog of things.

And every panel I went to ignited little sparks in my brain about stories I'm working on and what hitherto-unimagined things I could do with them.

Wonderfulness everywhere!

But what I'd really like to comment on today is an opinion I've heard from several panelists these past two days. The opinion goes something like this:

Ebooks are the future, and the future will be ebooks. Exclusively. This object, this physical book, will no longer be made. All there will be is a screen on your living room wall or in your hand and the internet connection by which you download stories to it. Do yourself and your career a favor: accept that this will be the case and prepare yourself for it.
I heard this said almost verbatim at two different panels, and at both with a certain degree of gleeful anticipation. And it bothered me.

It didn't just bother me because I think it's untrue--though I do think it's untrue, unlikely, and patently unworkable. The codex format has been with us for centuries, and books preserved from centuries before ours can still be read now and will be readable in the future without need for electricity (assuming daylight or a fire-based light source) nor concern for hardware-, software-, or backwards-compatibility. And it's not like humans are going to just stop making paper and binding books; and if we keep doing that, we're going to keep selling the results.

It didn't just bother me because I think it's undesirable aesthetically--though I do think it's aesthetically undesirable. I like the object that is the physical book. My traveling companion from the Denver-to-Chicago train ride said that she loves her Kindle, but she misses the kinethetic sense of where she is in the book. This many pages in, about a third of the way down the page on the left--this is a physical location that helps give the story shape in her mind. Losing that translates to a certain sense of being lost; it affects the very experience of story. I think I know what she means; certainly there is a decreased intimacy in my recollection of books I've read exclusively in ePub form (or have had read to me, for that matter).

But it bothered me primarily because I think it's unkind.

Listen: some of these people I heard, they spoke about being able to relax with an ebook on your phone or e-reader when you're tired of reading things on your computer. As though people like me, who have neither smartphone nor e-reader, do not exist. Which bugs me--damn straight it bugs me. But people like me with our flip-phones or no cell phone at all, no Kindles or Nooks or whatever, can still download ebooks to our computers, right? We have computers. We're privileged. We're people who can afford computers, smartphones, e-readers, gizmos that require non-trivial up-front monetary capital and electricity to make them work. They require a place to keep them, a place to charge them, frequent or constant internet connection to download books and and software upgrades, and the wherewithal to maintain or replace them when they start to break down.

Think of people who can't afford that. Who can't afford an e-reader, who can't pay the electric bill reliably each month, who maybe don't even have homes. Are we predicting--gleefully, joyously, or jadedly--a future in which written stories will be inaccessible to them?

Do we really want literacy to be the exclusive province of the privileged?

I'm not against ebooks. I quite like them. They're not going away anytime soon, and I expect to see improvements in their form and format every year. But they exist in addition to, not as a replacement for, physical writing and physical books. They will never--they must never--force the physical book into extinction.

I want my stories printed on paper and bound on shelves in bookstores, new and used. Available in libraries. Hidden among other books in the 25-cent basket out in front of the thrift store. Piled up in garage sales. Shared hand-to-hand between friends and via "leave a book, take a book" shelves in public spaces. Given away for free. Devoured during a long night hiding from the cold in a church or at the local homeless shelter. Accessible to all, those who have never touched a computer as well as those who have never known a life without.

If reading is worth fighting for, then so are physical books.


1 Hell, the most memorable slight irritation in fact led directly to one of the wonderful things. To wit: "That Guy" ignores my telling him, several times, firmly but pleasantly, that I don't appreciate being treated as though my every personal action were on display for his entertainment and loud commentary. Please stop it. When I finally tell him so in a manner that cannot be mistaken for pleasant, he gets the message, but complains to anyone who'll listen that I yelled at him. Other Guy Who Is Emphatically Not "That Guy" witnesses this and invites me into a very satisfying conversation about boundary-setting and its social challenges. We also end up talking about our con experiences, our writing, and festivals in Chicago. We totally intend to email each other later on. See? A wonderful thing. (back)

World Horror! Day 1! Disjointed and Mechahopzilla'd Thoughts!
Thu 2013-06-13 23:01:17 (single post)

When I first heard that World Horror/Stoker Awards Weekend 2013 would be in New Orleans, and at the Hotel Monteleone too--well, five minutes after hearing about it I had my membership purchased and my hotel room reserved. A chance to do WHC in the French Quarter? To hang out with writers, editors, and publishers right in my home town? You don't have to tell me twice.

And now I am here. Day 1 is coming to a pleasant end, marred only by my headachy reaction to the pint of NOLA Brewery's Mechahopzilla that walked me "home" from my fried shrimp & oyster po-boy at Deja Vu Bar & Grill over at Conti & Dauphine. (I knew there was a reason I generally avoid overly hoppy beers. Tasty stuff, though.)

World Horror is a small, pro-oriented con, which means it's generally me-sized and closely focused on things that I as a writer in the genre (more or less) am intensely interested in. It also means there's a tendency to run into a certain handful of familiar faces, and that the unfamiliar faces are almost always worth getting to know. (Which is not to say that the same isn't true of the larger and equally-to-pro fan-oriented WorldCon; it's just that these particular effects at WorldCon are more diffuse than at World Horror.) Which is to say:

  • During the two hours before opening ceremonies, I got to enjoy a fantastically long and winding conversation in the Carousel Bar with Mike Willmoth and Beth Gwinn. These are two of the people who Make Conventions Happen. Appreciate them.  
  • Also in that conversation was Nicole Cushing, an author I know from the Codex online semi-pro writers' group. She'll be participating in the mass signing tomorrow. I look forward to purchasing something with her words in it so she can deface it for me.  
  • During my cruise of the dealer room, I fell into conversation with author Sue Dent, who as it turns out is also inhabiting the intersection of "writer" and "roller derby." (Also Fußbal.) I've begun reading her most recent book, Electric Angel, and the experience so far has been interesting and positive.  
  • Got to exchange quick hellos with Ellen Datlow in the lobby and congratulate her on her successful Kickstarter campaign for Fearful Symmetries...  
  • ...and finally meet editor Jason V. Brock face-to-face...  
  • ...and exchange Great Big Clumsy Haven't-Seen-You-In-Years Hugs with Nancy Kilpatrick (the clumsiness was all me, mostly tripping over my own chair and swearing it wasn't because I was drunk, which I wasn't, not after only a beer and a rum-and-coke, I'm just a klutz, that's all)

Other awesome moments may go unmentioned here, probably because now I am a little tipsy and also about to drop unconscious and thus am a titch forgetful. Nevertheless, they remain awesome.

I am also taking notes on Things I Will Refrain From Doing When I Am A Big Name. You should take notes, too! These are definitely behaviors to avoid--in others, and in yourself:

  • Hanging around the ballroom where your panel was, loudly and with much profanity conversing with your friends, showing no sign of clearing out and letting the next round of panelists, who are already assembled but whom you are aggressively ignoring, begin having their panel, which they are now five minutes late starting because you have not cleared out!
  • Responding to the question, "Are you the next man reading in here?" with "Better than being the next woman in here!" Sexist jokes aren't funny! Please improve your improvisation skills, lest you drive away at least one of the two women in the room awaiting your reading! Also, attempting to excuse the apparent sexism by revealing that it was merely a transphobic joke ("I mean, better than being a woman who looks like me, right? There's your sex change right there!") will not make things better!
  • When you are on a panel, holding loud whispered side-conversations while another panelist is talking! This goes double if you have already demonstrated that you hold yourself to be in a position of opposition toward the other panelist vis-a-vis publishing models, and triple if you're a man and the other panelist, the one you are so clearly uninterested in listening to or letting the audience listen to, is a woman! Also, you do realize you're having that whispered side-conversation right in front of the microphone?

I am sure Day 2, starting as it does bright and early at 9 AM, will be more than twice as full of both moments of awesomeness and Behaviors To Avoid. And I expect that, just like those that made up today, the former will greatly outweigh the latter.

Besides, I am in New Orleans. At the World Horror Convention. That outweighs any number of run-of-the-mill Boorish Behaviors I may cross paths with. I mean, look! The river's over there! And I am full of po-boy! And there are sporadic jazz/brass/funk street performances erupting off Royal Street at all hours of the night! How bad can a mere indirect encounter with Other People's Rudeness really be, considering?

You Can't Win If You Don't Play
Mon 2011-03-21 21:37:42 (single post)
  • 700 wds. long

I do not habitually buy lottery tickets. In fact, I don't buy lottery tickets. Pretty much ever.

Once upon a time, John and I were driving down a highway in West Texas, looking for a place to spend the night. No hotels were forthcoming. We took an exit out of sheer hope and found ourselves driving down a significantly smaller highway with no end in sight. Nor light. We passed a sign that said CATTLE IN ROAD. We started wondering if we were not on a highway at all.

John said, "I really hope we don't get shot." (Have I told this story before?)

I said, "Don't say that! Don't even say a thing like that!" He looked surprised, and a little hurt, and a lot confused. I dialed it back and tried to explain. "I just feel like, saying a thing makes it more likely to happen. I'm not comfortable giving voice to the things I don't want to happen."

He nodded. There was silence for a moment while we got the car turned around and headed back for the honest-to-goodness interstate highway. Finally, John said, brightly, "Gee, I hope we don't win the lottery..."

But of course neither of us buys lottery tickets. We do, however, play in other lottery-like things. John is going to Gen Con this year as, for the first time, a vendor; he and some close friends have been designing role-playing game systems. They're going to show one of 'em off. And as for me, well, I submit short stories in hopes of finding people willing to pay me for the right to publish 'em.

It's a lot like the lottery in some ways. Well, it's a lot unlike the lottery. Regardless of what some cynics will tell you about either industry, neither game nor fiction publication are matters of pure chance. Quality comes into it. Once you reach a certain level of quality, then we can talk about chance: getting the story in front of the right editor, making the connection with the right game publishers, etc. But you can't get a chance until you've got a product of sufficient quality to be worth putting in front of the potential customer. And you don't stand a chance getting it in front of the right editor/publisher/agent until you've done sufficient homework to aim for one who's a good fit with what you're selling. And you don't just buy a ticket to play; you have to make the ticket yourself, out of star dust and unicorn tears. Seriously. Also blood and sweat and time and patience and more blood and sweat and time.

But it's just like the lottery in that you can't win if you don't play.

It occurs to me that of late I have been playing only very rarely, and this may have something to do with the slow rate of publication I've been experiencing. "I have this crazy theory..."

And it also occurs to me that it was very pleasant to report a certain amount of money for "sale of short fiction" on the portion of our household income taxes described as Income Not Reported Anywhere Else. I should like to do more of that, please.

Hence more submitting.

"Right Door, Wrong Time" is on its way to, possibly, a new home. Its previous home vanished from the internet sometime early last year; the small press Twilight Tales and their website TwilightTales.com would appear to be no more. I'd like to get it out there again, so into the slush it goes.

The Business End of This Writing Thing
Thu 2011-03-17 23:15:15 (single post)

So I didn't actually announce that "Blackbird" didn't actually sell, right? "Blackbird" got the most adorable form rejection letter ever. Of course, invite-only anthologies mean that "form rejection" takes on a different meaning. It's not like an ongoing quarterly magazine with its dreaded "Did not meet our needs at this time." In this case, a limited amount of people were getting it, all at once, and it was written specifically for this instance, and it was hand-pasted into the body of individual replies to individual submission emails. So. That said, the copy that got pasted was adorable. It also made me grin and look forward to submitting to this editor's next anthology.

Today, I failed to get any new work done on the fiction queue, but I did manage to update my manuscript submissions database. This meant grabbing dates from various emails, and also doing more than a few direct database inserts and lookups via PHPMyAdmin because I never got around to building certain of the key web forms that would make it simple. Yeah, I write my own PHP/MySQL widgets (this blog, for instance -- there's a reason it doesn't look like Wordpress or Typepad). They aren't very well-written widgets. I bought an O'Reilly book that's supposed to help me write better widgets, but first I have to read the book. Meanwhile, I can add a new market or a new manuscript from my Super Sekret Website (Memberz Only), but if I want to juxtapose them interestingly, I have to clamber backstage and futz with the tables directly. For now. Until I get off my butt and fix things.

So. The Feb 15 email submission of "Blackbird" got logged along with the Mar 11 rejection letter in the Correspondence Log table, right after I added the entry for the anthology in the Markets table and the entry for the submission itself (defined as "intersection of this manuscript and that market) in the Submissions table. My table relations, let me show you them! Then I had to go back and add the rejection letter for "Lambing Season" from another anthology last year. Then I clicked "Show stuff in slush," knowing full well I had nothing in slush; when something came up, I had to locate and correct the orphaned Correspondence Log entry.

All of which left me with, like I said, absolutely zero in the slush. We had to fix that.

"Blackbird" has been kicked off the couch with instructions to "get off your lazy bum and get a job or something, I dunno, you can buy your own damn canned herring, these are mine. Especially the herring in cabernet sauce, you try taking those and you pull back a stump, my lad." So the story took the hint and slushed its happy ass out the door.

And then I logged the submission, both here and over at Duotrope, because for once I was submitting not to an anthology but to a magazine, so I could actually pull the market's name out of Duotrope's search engine.

Tomorrow I may be very ambitious and show a couple more manuscripts the slush treatment. Also, I may actually get some work done toward something else being submittable.

Only, I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but, what's up with 70% of all surveyed pro markets, and some semi-pro too, being closed until May? I mean, I knew the industry was smaller than it looked, but damn. Them's some serious cahoots there, y'all.

Weird Tales Submissions Update
Sun 2009-04-05 20:57:10 (single post)
  • 5,737 wds. long

Oh, hey, it's past March 31 now! Weird Tales should be open to submissions again, right?

Well... no.

It's always a good idea to check the guidelines again instead of going, "Oh, hey, it's past March 31 now!" and blindly shooting off a submission.

Weird Tales’s traditional story submissions remain closed until Memorial Day — but we ARE opening up submissions for a new flash-narrative format: ONE-MINUTE WEIRD TALES!...

These are sharp little micro-stories of 20 to 150 words, presented in a quick sequence of brief one-screen chunks — sort of a funky hybrid of a movie trailer, a Zen koan, and an Adult Swim between-show bumper.

Click the link above for an example video and more details. Do not despair if you lack mad video-making skillz--you only have to send in the "script," which is to say, just the story itself, with some indication of where the screen breaks should be. Again, click the link and get it from the horse's mouth.

I guess I have another writing assignment. A short one. (I like those.)

Meanwhile, rather than wait to resubmit "Lambing Season" in late May, I'm thinking I might give it a shot at F&SF. If that's not meant to be, I'll know in way less than two months. The Slush God is hella quick that way.

If You're Submitting Fiction to Weird Tales...
Sat 2009-02-21 10:50:19 (single post)
  • 5,737 wds. long

...then you will probably find the following information helpful.

When I last checked the Submission Guidelines (around the end of December), the Weird Tales website directed authors to look for them at Ralan.com. (If you write fiction of the fantastic, you ought to have Ralan bookmarked.) These listed the editor as being Ann VanderMeer, and the address for e-submissions as weirdtales at gmail dot com. On my inquiring for further details as regards attachment format and the like, Ms. VanderMeer emailed me the following:

I prefer the first 3-4 paragraphs pasted into the body of the email and the entire document attached, either as a PC MS-Word document or an RTF file. Currently closed to submissions until March 31.
This is why "Lambing Season" isn't in the slush at this time. (I'll be resubmitting it in April.)

Poking around today for links, I find that both Ralan and Weird Tales have updated their websites. Weird Tales once more hosts their own submission guidelines (although with the same lack of technical details as prompted me to email in late December), and both websites announce the temporary closure to submissions.

HTH. :-)

NaNoEffects: Writer, Meet Non-Writer
Tue 2008-12-02 21:52:42 (single post)
  • 51,704 wds. long

Met Ellen and Lady T for lunch today at Saxy's. Wrote. Inserted a new small something into the current Rocket-and-Timothy scene (the one where I left off Nov 30). That being, "Don't just have Timothy say that 'I'm better and quicker at this teleporting thing now.' Have him demonstrate it. This will both terrify and impress Rocket--but it will not change his mind." Ooh, more contradictions!

Anyway, we gently bothered the couple sitting beside us to pass my power cord under their table and plug it in for us. This was followed by my usual explanation for why I keep a 6-plug power outlet with me at all times; because often, and especially during November, I am in cafes with limited outlet availablity in company with several writers-with-laptops. The couple sitting at the table next to us were impressed, or curious, or something, and so we got to talking.

Confession: I don't have too many "clueless non-writers say the darndest things!" examples. Many writers have them, but I have been blessed with supportive family, lots of writer friends, and a laptop-cafe culture. When I whip out my laptop in a restaurant, I get mistaken for a college student, which occupation is much more widely understood. I don't typically get inundated with "What are you working on?" style questions followed by clueless assertions about my answer.

I have a few examples. They're pretty mild.

Example the first: I recall my former boss telling me over lunch that, whatever novel I was currently working on, I should try to get it published by Random House, because they publish good books. I said, "But I'm not sure this will be suited for Random House." (In fact, I was thinking Tor would be a better first choice. Or simply seeking an agent who works with urban fantasies, and letting them make that decision.) He said that I should try Random House anyway. What could it hurt? I might even get published by them! ...Now, I've received my share of "not suitable for this market" rejection letters, and those from markets I actually consciously concluded were suitable matches. Their opinion differed from mine on that subject, but not for lack of my trying. Sometimes you just miss. But at least you're trying to hit the dartboard, not just flinging missiles at random vertical surfaces! But, I suppose, to someone who has not made a study of the industry, there are simply publishers who publish good stuff and those who do not. I think he intended to pay me a compliment by suggesting that my work was good enough for a publisher he admired. Sweet, but rather baseless if so; he hadn't actually read my writing.

(Herein lies a rant about "if you think I'm easily pleased enough to accept baseless flattery as a compliment, you're not complimenting me; you're insulting my intelligence!" But that is not the topic for today.)

Another example: Once upon a time at the bar at Gunther Toody's (the one on middle Wadsworth in Denver, possibly no longer extant), I pulled out my spiral notebook and began a fifteen minute writing exercise on the topic "I am looking at." Restaurants are a great place for these, because there's a lot to look at. Furnishing, bric-a-brac, customers, oh my. Anyhoo, some of them customers came up to sit near me, and one asked, "What are you writing? A book?" I didn't feel the need to discuss, so I gave a curt little Yeah, sure, whatever. "Can I read it?" Er, sure. Once it's published. I kept scribbling. This was really par for the course. What made my jaw drop was the man responding with, "Well, I'm a publisher!" What the hell do you say to that? Indeed you are, my dear, and I'm Agatha Christie! I think what I actually said was Then you can read it when it's finished.

So much for my limited repertoire of Clueless Non-writers Say The Darndest Things anecdotes. I actually have more Clueless Writers Say... anecdotes than otherwise, strangely enough. Among them is the oft-cited "But if writing is your life, it isn't really work, is it?" Yes. Yes, it bloody well is. "Oh! I'm sorry to hear that you consider it work. But I have to ask, though, if that's the case, do you really consider writing to be your calling?"

This year's NaNoWriMo added to my anecdote stash admirably! Because here's the thing with NaNoWriMo: You write in public places a lot, and you do it in groups. And so you print out a "National Novel Writing Month Write-In" table tent so that other participants who may not recognize your face can find you. And this means explaining to non-participants what the words on your table tent mean.

Generic Conversation While Waiting For Write-In Quorum:

Me: "National Novel Writing Month is an annual challenge: Write a story of minimum length of fifty thousand words in thirty days."

Them: [Expressions of awe at this feat, followed by] "So you're a writer?" [Followed by inquiries as to subject matter, followed by Clueless Non-writers Say The Darndest Things! anecdote.total++]

Probably the silliest to date had been some disjointed conversations after sharing my table in the Twisted Pine. Silly, but not surprising. "Is your novel fiction?" showed up, as did, "There, you hear that? [referring to some conversation with her friends] You should put that in your novel!" I should be keeping track on a BINGO card.

But today... You know, I'm really not sure where today's conversation falls. Non-writer, or writer? Depends on why the man in Saxy's asked me what he asked me...

Conversation with table-neighbor at Saxy's:

Him: "So do you write for yourself, or do you write to be published?"

Me: "Well... I write. And then sometimes I try to publish the results."

Him: "But do you do one more than the other? Or at the same time? Or..."

Me: "At the same time, certainly. All my fiction begins as something I write for myself. Otherwise it's no good; it doesn't get finished or polished or sent out."

Him: "But, don't you sometimes just give the audience what they want?"

Me, getting bewildered: "No, not really--if I wasn't personally interested in it, the results wouldn't be good enough to give them what they want, see? It wouldn't be any good."

Him: "Not necessarily. They might not have the intelligence to see that or to want better."

At this point Ellen saved me by mentioning her technical writing, which reminded me that "Oh, well, I guess you could say I 'give the audience what they want' with my freelance gigs, where I'm contracted to write on a certain topic that may or may not be of interest to me, and I do it.... But never in my fiction."

I suspect he left unconvinced. And I was left to wonder: is he a generic salesman mistaking writing for an industry akin to sales (he was clearly a real estate or apartment lease broker, judging by the cell phone conversations none of us could help but overhear)? Is he someone who simply misunderstands the entertainment industry? Or is he perhaps nursing dreams of busting out as a novelist, and he wants to hear that it's as easy as "giv[ing] the audience what they want"?

The one thing I clearly got from that conversation was a clear and distinct contempt for the consumer. And, hey, having worked in customer service, I can share that contempt in very specific anecdote format. I have some war stories, boy. But contempt for the consumer as a business model? Bad, bad, bad bad bad wrong. Worse still when I hear it from the mouths of fellow writers! Ick ick ickity ick! Add to the "ick" factor the implied assumption that I should share this contempt--ew! I... I need to go wash my soul off. With anti-bacterial scrub, chlorine bleach, and vinegar.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Er.

For now, anyway.

email