“Why do I write? Perhaps in order not to go mad.”
Elie Wiesel

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

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.


For now, anyway.

An Interlude, With Snark
Fri 2006-06-09 23:48:27 (single post)

I'm sorry, I have nothing new for you here. I am currently in the middle of another laptop crisis simultaneous with a deadline crisis. But you should visit Miss Snark, just in case you, as a genre writer, ever again get asked, "When are you going to right a real book?"

ps. critiques are trickling in. joy! thank-yous will be forthcoming.

Sat 2006-05-13 23:57:57 (single post)
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  • 1,689 wds. long

OK. Everyone who knows my husband needs to give him a hug for me. Like, right now. Because if it wasn't for him and his generosity in emailing me the latest copy of "The Right Door, The Right Time" (title now condensed to the latter phrase) on absolute short notice and in spite, it must be admitted, of my sickness-shortened temper, I wouldn't have been able to enter that story in last night's Flash Fiction contest.

In which I placed third! Squeeeee! Happy dance!

And among the illustrious personages upon the judges panel was WHC 2006 Toastmaster and, of course, celebrated horror writer Peter Straub! Squeeeeeeee!

There were pictures taken of everyone involved, which Tina Jens of Twilight Tales will be emailing to me, so, pictures as soon as I've got 'em. Tina also invited all the winners to send her their stories so they could be published on the Twilight Tales website, so, links when I've got 'em too.

(Interesting. I hadn't been aware, until going to their website, that Twilight Tales was connected to Tim Broderick's Odd Jobs series. It's obviously been awhile since I've checked in--maybe it's not called that anymore--but they seem to have the whole Lost Child storyline hosted there, and they sell a hard copy graphic novel edition of Something To Build Upon.)

I won a great Twilight Tales T-shirt and copy of one of their anthologies, Blood and Donuts. But I am in much covetous admiration of the first place prize--which was well earned by that winner, whose story was amazing and funny and totally effed up. That was a plain white shirt with black sleeves which sad, simply, in red serif print, "I Read Like A Motherfucker"--in homage to that immortal countdown which starts the five minutes ticking for each competitor. ("Three... Two... Rrrrread like a motherfucker!")

I'm writing this while sitting in on the traditional Gross-Out Contest, which I am emphatically not going to participate in. I could absolutely not compete with champions in this tournament. There's a lot of potty humor involved. In great detail. And with much hilarity. After a few minutes, the MC takes away the microphone and asks the audience to show by their thumbs--up or down--whether the contestant should be allowed to continue. I'm almost ready to leave, not because I'm too grossed out or anything--I've no problem hearing descriptions of things as long as I don't have to watch them acted out on TV--but because some of the more enthusiastic contestants get a little close to the mike and sting my ears.

As for the second session of the Editing Workshop, that went well. We only went over out 3-hour time window by about 15 minutes, which was pretty impressive, and the critiques were more in-depth than I would have expected from a read-aloud format. Stephen Jones did indeed join us, but not for the reading and critiquing; instead he gave us a great talk and Q&A on the business of anthology publication. He also gave us his atcual web address, which found myself strangely unable to Google up yesterday. My story went over well, with much love for the POV character and the diary format, and the main thing everyone pointed out that needed improvement was the ending. No surprise; I still haven't figured that on out myself. I got some good suggestions as to how I might resolve that. The title needs changing, too; I need to think about that.

Next, I hope to get a new draft done in time to submit it to Borderlands Press's "Writer's Boot Camp" (deadline May 15, no application fee, workshop takes place August 4-6).

And I'm feeling much better today, thanks!

Uh-oh. Gotta go. They're about to start throwing chickens at the contestants.

Fan Fiction: Good For The Soul
Fri 2006-04-21 21:09:58 (single post)

Well, sometimes fan fiction is bad for the brain, or at least is accompanied by a lack of a brain, as is evidenced by the case of Lori Jareo. Lori wrote a Star Wars fanfic, cranked it through a POD-machine, and then put it up for sale on Amazon. Despite trying to make a buck off of it in Bezos's backyard, she thinks she'll dodge the impending copyright/trademark violation cease-and-desist with the claim that she only did it for friends and family and that no one knows it exists. John "Whatever" Scalzi begs to differ.

But I digress. In its place, fan fiction can be good for the soul. It can be a playground in which the blocked writer lets the creative self play and play out from under the thumb of the editor-ego. And that's what I've been up to this week.

My dabblings in that arena have been few and, aside from one story that was turned in as an assignment in high-school English (a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale set in the world of Rush's 2112), largely unread. But every once in awhile I get this Idea. It tends to be the sort of Idea that sticks around for awhile.

Here's one of 'em.

I just got done feeding my annual craving to reread Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. If you've only ever seen the movie (and if, Gods forfend, you've suffered through the abomination that is the second movie), then you owe it to yourself right now to go get this book and read it. But if you've seen the movie, you'll remember how this disembodied narrator voice comes out of nowhere in the last minute of the movie and says something like, "Bastian made many more wishes and had many, many adventures. But that's another story." In the book, the narrative does that all the time. Some chapter will come to an end, and a secondary character will wave goodbye, and the narrative will hint at what will become of the character but then break off with, "But that's the beginning of another story that will be told at another time."

Ever since I first read this book, I've wanted to write a cycle of short stories, each one inspired by one of these "another story" teases. So this week I started playing around with one of the first prompts. It involves Cairon, the black zebra-striped centaur physician who assigns Atreyu his quest, whose "destiny was to lead him over very different and unexpected pathways" after he successfully delivers his message and nearly dies of the effort.

I have no illusions that the results will be publishable, not without seeking all the right permissions and of course rewriting and revising and rewriting again. But it's fun to dabble. It's a good thing to work on when I've just finished one project and can't seem to get started on another. And who knows? Maybe it will have a destiny upon unexpected pathways itself, ones beyond gathering cyber-dust at the bottom of my writing archive zip disk.

(And come to think of it, the Rapunzel story might in fact become publishable if the fanfic element remains oblique enough. Someone's looking for retold fairy tales.)

Public Service Announcement: Scam Agents Are Bad
Thu 2006-04-20 10:02:44 (single post)

Quoth Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

Want to strike a blow against scam agents? Link to the 20 Worst Agents list. While you're at it, link to Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors. You could even link to Everything you wanted to know about literary agents and On the getting of agents. But the 20 Worst Agents list—that's the important one.
So she has said; so it has been done. Because I want my very own cease-and-desist letter from Barbara Bauer. Because I hear they're collector's items.

Remember, friends, the wisdom of Yog Sysop: "Money Flows Towards The Author." Remember that a literary agent who is paid out of your advance and royalties has an economic incentive to sell your book, and a so-called "agent" who is paid from up-front fees, editing charges, and annual "retainers" has no such incentive. Remember that an advance against royalties is a both the publisher's estimate of how much a book will sell and a publisher's investment in getting that book to sell; realize what that implies about a $1 advance. Remember that an agent who makes a big deal about being "first-time author friendly" or a publisher who claims to "give your book the chance it deserves" isn't interested in your career; s/he's interested in your naivety.

Follow the links above and innoculate yourself against scams.

On Kicking Other Manuscripts Off The Couch, The Lazy Bums
Thu 2006-04-13 23:05:43 (single post)
  • 5,000 wds. long

Aaaaaand another one goes back out into the world.

Have I ever linked to The Black Hole? Black Hole good. It's a database of paying F/SH/H markets and their minimum/maximum/average submission response times. It also contains relatively up-to-date guideline and masthead information. It's toothsome, low-fat, and high in fiber. Go nibble on it yourself.

Now. Now I have so badly got to write a synopsis for Drowning Boy. More later. Probably after sunrise.

Mostly About Train Accomodations
Thu 2006-03-02 19:15:00 (single post)
  • 58,644 wds. long
  • 119.25 hrs. revised

Approaching Omaha, Nebraska. All roads lead there. This track goes there, in any case. I'm going to bed, having finally gotten myself out of chapter two and into Mike's gold corvette at the beginning of chapter three.

One of these days I'll actually get through the whole damn book. And then I shall hobble out to the bus, being too old to safely drive, and limp into the post office, and say, "What new-fangled devices do you have for sending two hundred and fifty page manuscripts to publishers? Back in my day, we used cardboard boxes. Do you have some sort of instantaneous matter transport for this now? Because," and here I shall flip my long white hair most fetchingly, "I didn't get to the age of one hundred and seventy just to keep on using cardboard boxes!" Because that is how old I shall be when this damn book is finally ready for prime time.

Meh. Back on the train. I upgraded to a sleeper because, y'know, I could, and I was curious, and I liked the idea of complimentary dinner in the diner and a room/closet of my own with privacy and a bed.

I got a lot of writing done. There is an outlet in the room (it says "razors only" but I don't think they actually mean that anymore), so I could keep my laptop charged without worrying about the cafe lounge steward asking me, "Did you take the duct tape off that outlet?" all accusatory-like. And since I'm not in the cafe lounge, I am not constantly being asked "So is that schoolwork? What are you studying?" and being told, "Writing, huh? I wrote a few things myself," and being invited to play spades with a trio headed for Greenwood, Mississippi, and being asked where the outlet is, and all. And I've been playing my music without headphones, and singing along, and everything.

On the other hand, all of the above are reasons why riding coach is great for socializing. I had a lot of fun playing spades last night, and I got into all sorts of neat conversations that started with someone asking me what I was studying, and I was able to find Laura at The Corner Bakery because my cell phone conversation with her was overheard by someone with a map. On this leg of the trip, the only socializing I've really done has been over dinner--but whoa, boy, did some socializing get done. (Hi, Jason! You're supposed to be writing, remember? Go on! Meh-heh-heh-heh.) And I've only been in the cafe lounge twice. The first time was to acquire a cup of hot water for my tea (the steward was all like, "No," and "Where did you get that cup?!" and then, "Oh, sleeper? OK," and then he filled it up with hot water finally. Apparently the cups by the coffee machine in sleeper are distinctive and arouse suspicion in the lounge car). The second time was to contiune the conversation begun over dinner when the dining car stewards asked us to leave so they could clean up.

So I suppose the summary is, riding coach is like staying in a mobile youth hostel, while riding sleeper is like being on a cruise ship. The lack of privacy in coach leads to meeting a lot of people, unless it leads to covering your face with your jacket and your ears with your headphones, which it does for just about everyone at night because the aisle lighting and general movement about the car can lead to insomnia. The availability of privacy in the sleepers leads to much enjoyment of said privacy, which includes the ability to turn off all the lights and sleep in whatever state of undress you please. And, y'know, I'm OK with that. Once in a while. When I have the extra $$ to spend on it.

Tomorrow: Breakfast, another hour or two of novel revision (that would be Brian's abortive road trip and much flashback of his conversation with Todd the night before), and arrival in Denver. And finally getting to post these blog posts I haven't been able to yet. Beware Of Backdating.

Period of Mourning
Mon 2005-11-14 17:18:11 (single post)
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So, I did about 2,000 words yesterday. I plan to do another 2,000 words today. But I'm having one of those "Who the hell cares about my petty concerns?" days, ever since hearing that they're pulling the plug on SciFiction. Damn it. Without my ever managing to sell Ellen Datlow a story for it. Double damn.

You should go there, now, and read the voluminous archives of short fiction. I think it'll be on display until the new year; after that, all bets are probably off. Today I read the latest original story on it ("Man For The Job," by Robert Reed) and over the next few weeks I'll read the archives in backwards order, one story at a time. Such a wealth of fiction should not go to waste. I hope someone (Ellen Datlow maybe?) will anthologize it.

So, yeah. Huge, huge bummer.

Talk to you in another 2,000 words, I suppose.

You mean I'm allowed to do Adam & Eve spec. fic.?
Sat 2005-10-15 21:34:20 (single post)
  • 257 wds. long

So y'all know about Mr. Scalzi's call for submissions? The one where you're supposed to take a big fat science fiction cliche and reinvent it in 5,000 words or less?

I got me an an idea. Maybe I'll even be able to finish it in time.

Sex and the YA Novel
Fri 2005-03-04 20:10:41 (single post)
  • 52,888 wds. long
  • 7.50 hrs. revised

Western society lives in a most incredible state of denial. The more I hear about schools wanting to ban books like The Giver and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, the more I'm amazed at the sheer duplicity of it all. "We can't let teenagers read about sex like it was normal!" When of course not only is sex normal to humanity, it's exceedingly normal to adolescence. I mean, think about the hormonal storm that puberty unleashes in a teenager. If YA literature conspires to pretend sex doesn't exist--or to only acknowledge sex as That From Which Godly Folk Refrain--why are we surprised when kids don't know how to handle their urges and start hating themselves for having those urges?

It's just freakin' stupid, OK? That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

None of which helps me figure out how best to handle the main story arc of my novel, in which a love spell comes to fruition with frightening effectiveness. The "climax" of that problem occurs when the two main characters Very Nearly Do It, and if you can't put that in YA literature, where the heck do you put it, given that the characters are high-school students? How do you write about real live fourteen-year-olds with hormones and emotions and believable complexity and still escape the censure of your community?

You get one lie for free, because it's fiction. I've already used up my lie quota on the magic notebook. I'm not going to push my luck by pretending that teenagers Never, Ever Think About That.

I remember a phone conversation with my grandmother recently; she had just finished complaining about all the sex and violence in today's TV, all the nudes in today's artwork, all the sex in today's pop songs... and then she wants to know when she gets to read my book. "I don't think you'll like it much," I said.

Neil Gaiman: "I once said in an interview that I'd just about got used to the idea that my parents would probably be reading anything I wrote when I realised that my kids were now reading anything I wrote."
None of the above, of course, excuses the extremely self-indulgent way I treated the almost-sex-scenes in the NaNoWriMo draft. The rallying cry of "Realistic Teenagers, For Gods' Sake!" shouldn't be confused with the ubiquitous spam come-on of "We Got Yer Hot Teen Pr0n Right Here." So I'm making lots of notes in the margins along the lines of "Back off," or "She only gets as far as touching his zipper," or "What are you, fixated? Stop it!"

Whoo-boy, type-in's gonna be fun.