“A novel is something that stands at the end of a lengthy process called writing.”
Victoria Nelson

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

my personal version of original sin or something like that
Wed 2020-04-08 21:49:27 (single post)

As I've been delightedly chirping about, my work days lately have been fantastic. Partially because of Cat Rambo's co-writing sessions, partially because of all the appointment cancellations and stay-at-home routines of the pandemic, and partially because changing to a different hypertension medication at the beginning of the year means that, after four years of not, I'm getting enough sleep at night... I'm doing all my work, every day. I'm hitting every item on my checklist at more or less the planned time. With results including: I've got a good amount of manuscripts out on submission at any given time, I'm finishing my Friday Fictionette releases a day early, and now I'm rewriting a novel!

It's wonderful. I'm getting an amazing amount of things done every day, and come five or six o'clock, I'm more or less off the clock. My responsibilities are met. I can relax.

But just try telling my scarred little brain that.

Stress is a habit. Guilt is a habit. The conviction that, if I'm playing or reading or cooking a meal or going to sleep early, it's because I'm procrastinating the day's writing and that makes me a bad, lazy, undisciplined wanna-be of a writer, that shit carves a rut in the brain. So that conviction lingers, even when it no longer reflects reality.

Which leads to scenes like this:

It's eight p.m. and I've completed my checklist of writing tasks. I've logged four and a half hours of solid work. I've even taken care of some financial chores during my lunch break. I'm done. Now I get to play! I boot up Spiral Knights, I log in... and then I sit there looking at the mission screen, feeling a nagging sense that I shouldn't be here. I should be doing something virtuous right now. Something productive. It's simply not valid for me to spend the next couple hours smashing jelly cubes and gremlins in the Clockworks.

So maybe I play anyway. And the whole time I'm playing, that sense continues to nag. And it makes the game not fun.

So maybe I don't play. And I sit there at my desk, staring at my computer, wondering what else I should do with my time. No ideas occur.

And that's how the rest of the evening passes: half-heartedly poking at this or that pastime but never really settling in to enjoy myself, and then suddenly it's bedtime. I earned an evening of fun, but I failed to cash it in before my credits expired.

This is not insurmountable. I'm not really complaining. Like all bad habits, this tendency to never feel sufficiently off the hook to enjoy myself just needs to be replaced with good habits, which I will practice until they become, well, habitual. It'll take a certain amount of mindfulness, but I'll get there. It's no big deal.

It's just weird, that's all. I thought it was worth mentioning.

one hundred words closer to upgrading my SFWA membership
Wed 2020-04-08 00:31:07 (single post)
  • 50,347 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 100 words (if poetry, lines) long

I have happy news today! One of the three stories that sold back in January has now been published--it is online where you can read it and everything! "The Rarest of Prey," what I've been referring to as "that tacky little unicorn drabble," is now live for your reading pleasure at Daily Science Fiction.

Meanwhile, I continue plugging away at all the daily and weekly writing tasks...

This morning's freewriting session resulted in a couple potential poems, one about the pandemic, the other about prejudice, and both depressing as heck. (Sometimes poetry is like that.)

This week's Friday Fictionette is slowly but steadily taking shape. That's particularly reassuring to see, since this one started out more nebulous than most.

Another page of a very overdue Fictionette Artifact got typed up. The very last of the the ribbons I ordered back in January 2017 is on its last legs, so I placed an order for more yesterday with Ribbons Unlimited--and they've already been shipped! Should be here Thursday. They are not just speedy, but solicitous, too. In response to a note I included with my order, the proprieter called me up on the phone to reassure me that, despite a change of verbal description, the part number I had ordered was indeed compatible with my particular typewriter (a Tower "Quiet-Tabulator" from the 1950s that an acquaintance in Oregon sold me for $50 back in, oh, 1998 or so).

The early novel revision efforts are inching along. I wrote The Bookwyrm's Hoard using a very early version of yWriter. Possibly version 2? I installed version 6 and it didn't want to open the novel directly; instead, I had to use one of its Import Earlier Version commands. 2006 was that long ago in software years. In any case, I've created a Scrivener project and have begun importing the draft, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. (I'm up to Chapter 3.) As each scene gets imported, I read it and make notes broadly identifying areas I need to fix or pay special attention to. (There are a lot of problems need fixing. Some of them are very embarrassing. No, I'm not going to list examples.) I'm trying not to judge but rather to observe and acquire data. I'm also getting surprised a lot. I remembered the basics of the plot, such as it was, but there are loads of details I'd forgotten, and some of them are actually a delight.

And of course there was dinner. (Bonus food content!) Native Foods said "Hey, it's Takeout Tuesday! Double points if you order today!" so I was like, OK, fine, let's try your fancy Plant-Based Roast. I scheduled an order for 5 PM delivery. It arrived right on time. My hunger also arrived right on time. Only problem was, the fancy Plant-Based Roast arrives frozen solid and requires an hour and a half in the oven. Whoops. Good thing I had also ordered a 4-pack of their burger patties. Those cook up in about 5 minutes on the stove.

The roast, when it was finally done, was delicious. Also it will feed me for days. (Just me. It's not really John's thing, although the burger patties might be.) A+, would recommend. Just understand that, once it arrives at your door, you aren't going to get to eat it for at least two hours, and schedule your delivery accordingly.

someday never happens but nano comes THREE times a year these days what the hell
Mon 2020-04-06 19:31:37 (single post)
  • 50,059 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 50,347 words (if poetry, lines) long

April is Camp Nano--basically National Novel Writing Month but in April and with a summer camp theme. I've never really gotten into it. My annual participation sputtered out around the time I decided that twelve years in a row, ten of them as a Municipal Liaison, was a lot and I was ready to set that particular tradition aside for a bit. (My apologies to anyone who's been hanging out in my "[USERNAME] wants to be friends!" queue for the last 5 months--I only just logged in today and saw you there!) Besides, I was tired of how few short stories I had out on submission at any one time, so I decided I'd get back to my novel-writing attempts once I had a more healthy stable of submittable manuscripts.

Thanks to last year's 100 Rejections goal and corresponding Submit Every Day initiative, and the ways in which I've continued those patterns this year, my stable of submittable manuscripts is much healthier, and I think I'm ready to spend a month focusing on novels again.

My Camp Nano goals--and, to be clear, I'm still not really participating in Camp Nano, not in the social aspects of it, anyway--I'm not joining a "cabin" and I don't feel the need to add new virtual write-ins to my life at this time--my goals for April are very modest. They are as follows:

  • Review existing novel drafts on my hard drive.
  • Pick one to begin completing and revising this month.
  • Spend a little time each weekday doing that.

That's it. No end-goal, no X-amount of words written nor even a strict Y-amount of time to accumulate by the end of the month. I'm just folding novel-writing activities into my day-to-day writing life, into the slot on my timesheet reserved for Revising Stuff Destined For Commercial Submission. And the novel is allowed to take priority over short fiction and poetry. The latter two aren't going away, of course; I've got four new poems to revise and submit thanks to the poetry-writing contest on Codex I participated in last month, and this morning's freewriting session gave me hope I might yet get an entry into Escape Pod's Flash Fiction Contest for 2020 after all. But I have plenty of short works ready to submit and resubmit "'til hell won't have 'em," so this year's collection of rejection letters won't stall out just because I take a month to see where I'm at in regards to long-form fiction.

At this time, I've completed the first two items on the above list. I found myself falling in love with the first couple chapters of 2005's NaNoWriMo effort, Right Off the Page, in which a character goes missing from the protagonist's latest work in progress. But that's the second book in a vaguely planned series. Happily, the next year I took a stab at writing the first book, The Bookwyrm's Hoard, in which that same protagonist inherits a hometown bookstore and discovers its unusual quirks. So that's the book on which I'm going to focus the efforts implied by the third listed item. I'll see where that gets me by the end of the month, and whether I'll want to continue with it or with a different novel for the July edition of Camp Nano.

Bonus food content! So one of our old roller derby friends used to host a "Potluck of the Month Club", but then she moved out of state. Inspired by all the virtual hangouts that the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated, she scheduled an online potluck for yesterday. So John and I made cheese enchiladas and refried beans, which we sat down and ate in front of the computer while logged into our club reunion via video conference. There were a lot of smiles and laughter and gossip and also some ranting and commiserating. It was good. A+ would virtual-potluck again.

And right now this minute I am eating french fries that John made for me. John makes very good french fries.

on the fourteenth day of quarentine my true love gave to me
Mon 2020-03-30 18:20:36 (single post)

It's been two weeks since I came home from the Berthoud Inn and John bid his last Conlorado out-of-town guest farewell. Accordingly, our isolation-from-each-other ends today. From here on out, we isolate from the world as a household unit. We celebrated this landmark date with a very big, much-needed, long-ovedue hug. Several hugs. ALL the hugs.

Tonight I get to sleep in the bedroom again, with my husband, in the Actual Real Bed, instead of in the office alone on the futon. Hooray! The bedroom is also better insulated from neighborhood noise, so you know that won't suck. That one time that snow removal activities woke me up around six a.m. was memorable.

In other pandemic news, for my most recent obligatory excursions out of the house, I followed this tutorial to turn one of my fun colorful bandanas into a better-than-nothing face mask. The tutorial is very easy to follow. It also has an Epic Stirring Soundtrack. But it turns out that I don't have the right sort of ears to hold a face mask on. They just sort of fold over under the tension, two wimpy flaps of skin and cartilage, until the bands just slip the hell off. Not really a surprise; I can't stow a pencil behind my ear, either, left or right, and I have trouble keeping sunglasses on when I tilt my head downward. Just another way in which I'm a damn mutant. Only a small problem, though, easily solved by threading a length of ribbon through the bands so I could tie it behind my head. Et voila! Fashion statement, gesture of community solidarity and rudimentary protection measure, all using items I already had around the house.

Everything else has been more or less "same old, same old." Writing a lot every day, getting my exercise either by skating outdoors or working out with my derby group online, cooking tasty things... and, by those means, mostly keeping my mind off the thought of the world burning down around our ears.

All for now. Tomorrow I'll have the end-of-month Friday Fictionette round-up. Til then!

physically distant but not socially
Wed 2020-03-25 20:41:07 (single post)
  • 2,600 words (if poetry, lines) long

The pandemic with its attendant Stay-at-Home/Shelter-in-Place orders--and yes, my residence has received separate orders from the City of Boulder, Boulder County, and now the State of Colorado over the course of three days--has, oddly enough, made what I do more social, not less. Writers are reaching out to each other in a conscious effort to stay connected in the face of quarantine and isolation, canceled conventions, and more.

Me, I've been attending Cat Rambo's co-writing sessions.

Cat Rambo is an author, a writing teacher, and a member and former president of SFWA. Their novelette Carpe Glitter is a Nebula finalist this year--SFWA members, vote now! Don't wait! The voting period ends March 31! And their Patreon is here.

They've been hosting co-writing sessions open to Patrons supporting them from the $1/month tier on up. (That tier also gets you access to her Discord server, which is a seriously good community for these troubled times, or any time at all.) They've been doing it for a while now, once a week Wednesday mornings, but I only discovered the joy of these co-writing sessions for myself a few weeks ago. When the social distancing measures began to be recommended and the stay-at-home orders came down, they'd already begun hosting a weekend session. Now the schedule's up to darn near daily.

So what's a co-writing session? It's a virtual write-in, basically. Just before time, Cat posts a link to her Patreon and to Discord, which participants use to join their Zoom room. That's video-conferencing software--it downloads and installs itself the first time you use it--but you don't strictly need a web cam to participate. You don't even need a working microphone; there's a chat bar. Sessions will run about an hour and a half. At the beginning of each half-hour, participants introduce themselves and tell the group what they're working on. Then everyone mutes their microphones and gets to work. At the end of the half hour, everyone shares how they're doing. Then lather, rinse, repeat, until it's time to say goodbye.

I cannot begin to tell you what a boon this has been for my workday. Well. I can begin, anyway. When I have an unscheduled day ahead of me, no appointments, no out-of-the-house obligations, nothing on my agenda but writing, I typically... don't, at least not as much as I should. It's so easy to put off getting started. Then once I've completed a task--say, a 25-minute session of freewriting to a prompt--it's so easy to let my 5-minute break become a 10-minute break become a couple hours. Next thing I know, I'm out of time. But these co-writing sessions have increased my accountability to a schedule. If the schedule says Wednesday 8:30 to 10:00 Pacific, I've got to be at my computer and ready to work by 9:30 Mountain. When the half-hour ends, a new one's coming right up, so I have to get right back to work if I want to stay in sync with the group. If I've told them that I'm going to draft this week's Friday Fictionette, I'm not going to futz about in dread and avoidance for the next half hour--however could I show my face at next check-in if I did? And if, as very very rarely happens, Cat hosts two of these in a day (just once, that I know of, and only because of a scheduling snafu), why, I'm going to make darn sure I'm ready to begin my afternoon shift in time for the afternoon session!

I'm not joining in on these every day. But the days I do only reinforce the habit of timely and purposeful work. I've made my aspirational five hours per day more days than not, of late...

...and it's still not enough! I have so much I still didn't get to today! It's maddening! So I have to figure out which part of tomorrow's regularly scheduled routine daily tasks get bumped for the extra-special one-time assignments. Gah. Life!

But that is, as we say, a dilemma devoutly to be wished-for. I mean, I'm going to have this week's Friday Fictionette uploaded a whole day early! For the first time since I started this dang project (in August 2014!), I will have a buffer. A buffer of one single day, mind you, but that's how it starts. Also this month has seen several new poems written and two pieces of flash fiction made ready to submit to paying markets. PRODUCTIVITY! It isn't the be-all end all, but it feels pretty damn good.

Anthology News Recap!

Remember that tomorrow, March 26, Atthis Arts, publisher of forthcoming anthology Community of Magic Pens (which includes my story "One Story, Two People"), will be hosting an AMA ("Ask Me Anything") on Reddit Fantasy. The link should go up around 10 Mountain/Noon Eastern. I'll be participating in some small way, still to be determined. Join us!

Additionally, another of the anthology authors, Ether Nepenthes, has begun tweeting their way down the table of contents: one capsule review of a story daily--spoiler-free!--right up until the May 4 release day. Thread starts here.

(Hey, look--three days of daily blog posts! PRODUCTIVITY!)

a day in the life under the new normal
Mon 2020-03-23 18:42:44 (single post)
  • 2,600 words (if poetry, lines) long

When it's been more than a month since my last blog post, writing a new one seems daunting. I feel irrationally obligated to include Every Single Thing That's Happened Since Then, and because that's obviously not feasible nor even possible, the tendency is to just not. And then another day goes by, a day full of More Things to Blog, and the endless spiral descends further.

So today I'm just going to say Hi! and more or less report on the doings of the day.

Today I woke up in the office, which has become my bedroom since coming home from the Berthoud Inn on March 16. That weekend, I'd gone out to a couple bars (in Berthoud), and John had hosted his annual gaming miniconvention (which was why I was holed up in Berthoud), so we've been sorta quasi-isolating ourselves from each other since then to keep what social exposure we'd had as much to ourselves as possible. We joke that the boundary between his space and my space runs right down the center of the kitchen table, where we sit on opposite sides in the evenings to play Spiral Knights. But of course we both use the kitchen. We even cook together sometimes; we made pad thai together Saturday night, for example. So there's only so much we can do. But we're doing it.

First thing I did upon waking up was call to cancel today's appointment at Cafe of Life and tomorrow's at North Boulder Physical Therapy. I guess I'd been kidding myself until recently, or just not thinking about it, but I thought about it over the weekend and realized that these, too, were non-essential as far as medical appointments go. I have my homework, I have my exercises, I can keep myself from losing ground on what both professionals constantly remind me are marathons rather than sprints. It's fine. We'll reconnect after the curve flattens out somewhat.

So then I made myself tea and got to work. Work looked a lot like work on any weekday. Morning Pages followed by breakfast, tooth-brushing, pill-taking, and catching up on news of the day. Freewriting to a prompt. Work on this week's Friday Fictionette offering (have I mentioned my release schedule is back to normal? Yeah! I done caught up). Work on the next very belated Fictionette Artifact for my exceedingly patient $5/month subscribers (obviously still catching up on that). Break for lunch and some admin duties. Then a solid session of Submission Procedures, because it's Monday. Logged the rejection letters my poetry and fiction got over the past week. Resubmitted my latest flash fiction piece. Did a final proofread on my story in the Community of Magic Pens anthology (which I will talk about a whole bunch tomorrow, so stay tuned).

It is a bit unsettling how very little my work and social routine have changed under pandemic lock-down. Under normal circumstances, I can quite easily go days without seeing anyone but my husband and my roller derby teammates. I'm seeing more of John since he's working from home every day rather than some days; I'm seeing my derby friends online for virtual workouts rather than in person for practice. That's pretty much all that's different; otherwise, it's life as usual for this hermit. And, well, wow. I already identified as an introvert, but I guess I didn't realize how much of an introvert I was until I realized how little this sort of social isolation bothers me--and how much social isolation I was already performing by choice before it became the medically necessary and socially responsible thing to do. I feel like maybe I should be a little bothered by that. But I'm not, not really.

Both John and myself continue symptom-free. But of course I get paranoid every time I blow my nose first thing in the morning or have a small wet coughing fit shortly after a meal. Which I've done, and had, every morning and after every meal for years. Is it still hypochondria when the microbes really are out to get you?

I'm powering through the main storyline quests on 4thewords.com, the system that turns writing goals into RPG-style battles. I'm currently in the Gansu Watering Hole chapter. Before I began writing this blog post, I fired up a battle against the Red Witch: 4,000 words in 1,000 minutes. Woo! With my attack and defense stats, it's actually 3,254 words in 1,200 minutes. I have until tomorrow at 1:30 PM to make the required word count. Sounds entirely plausible; by then I should have done tomorrow's freewriting and Fictionette work. Not to mention I'll have finished this blog post.

The sun's out, it's vaguely warm, and the sidewalks have dried off since the most recent blizzard, so I went skating. I did about two miles going "around the block", which is to say, all the way to the dead end of my street, then onto the path that follows the southbound highway, turn the corner to follow the westbound highway, then hit the creek path that cuts through the neighborhood and puts me back onto my street. There was also an early detour to a neighborhood park for footwork/individual skate skill practice on the cement basketball court.

Lunch was leftover peanut stew with bacon and okra, a variation on the recipe discussed here. I'd gone to the grocery Friday--that and Boulder Food Rescue combined are the one weekly out-of-the-house errand I'm still running; food delivery to those in need is more important now than ever, and while I'm at the donor grocery, I might as well get my own groceries too--and acquired ingredients for the peanut stew, the aforementioned pad thai, and an attempt at Dragon & Phoenix. In the absence of occasional meals at restaurants, I'm cooking my favorite restaurant meals at home. I got the okra, oyster sauce, stir-fry noodles, and various happy-making snacks for me at the Asian Seafood Market on my way home; they are still open too, and they are wonderful. Neither they nor Sprouts had fresh garlic, but I've got a small supply in addition to a bunch of minced roasted garlic in a jar in the fridge. We'll get by.

And now I'm back in the office writing this blog post. John's at the kitchen table finishing up his own day's work. We'll meet up soon for another dive into the Clockworks (I just made myself Mercurial Mail and I can't wait to level it up!). And that, more or less, is the status report for Monday, March 23, 2020.

Please stay safe and healthy, everyone, and treat yourself well.

Cover art incorporates and modifies illustration from page 7 of Mjallhvít (Snow White), an 1852 icelandic translation of the Grimm-version fairytale, via Project Gutenberg.
on the benefits of high pressure fiction practice; also a recipe
Thu 2020-02-06 18:12:43 (single post)
  • 983 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,021 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 2,600 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hey, I just posted another overdue Friday Fictionette yesterday! It was the release scheduled for January 17. It's called "The Huntsman's Assignment" (ebook, audiobook) which, yes, is a reference to the dude who gets sent out to kill Snow White and bring back her heart in a box. It isn't a Snow White retelling, but the assignment remains. Look, it comes with a content note for suggested harm to children. Best go in knowing that.

Now I'm working on the January 24 release in hopes to push it live tomorrow night. It's looking like Momo fan fiction. You know Momo? The lesser-known children's novel by Michael Ende, author of The Neverending Story? The little girl who listens, and the Men in Grey who convince everyone to "save time"? Ok, so, the Jan 24 story-like object is about her, but all grown up and living in a complicated world, and, well, apologies in advance, but I'm about to commit mild character assassination.

I do not always write grim cynical things! OK, the drabble forthcoming at Daily Science Fiction is pretty cynical. But the stories forthcoming at Cast of Wonders and Community of Magic Pens are sweet! Bittersweet, maybe. But they are guaranteed to contain a significant portion of your daily recommended intake of hope and heart! Promise! But... sometimes the grim stuff comes out. You're not surprised, right? I also write horror. You know this.

On a related note, I'm realizing yet another benefit I'm getting from the Friday Fictionette project: behind schedule as I am, I'm still getting a lot of practice at producing presentable story drafts in a very short amounts of time. The Magic Pens story has my Friday Fictionette practice to thank for its existence. Mostly written all in a single evening, but still polished enough to submit and sell? That's not something I could have done without some five years' practice writing four short-shorts a month.

So the project is stressing me out some as I scramble to get back on top of the release schedule, but my writing skills are improving in all sorts of ways because of it. And of course now I have this huge stable of reprintable flash fiction, which has led to two paid publications to date. So. Conclusion? Worth it.

All right. Time for a recipe. Let's talk West African Peanut Stew

I've been making a lot of this lately. And eating a lot of it, too. I could probably eat it three meals a day for three weeks and not get bored. It's hearty, nutritionally dense, and full of complex flavor and texture. It's super easy to make, and it's a great excuse to haul out Mawmaw's big iron gumbo pot.

(Gods I love that pot. Me and that pot, we talk chicken fricassee, we talk mushroom bourguignon, and we definitely talk gumbo. But, yeah, we've been talking peanut stew a lot.)

From looking around the internet, I can see this recipe from Budget Bytes is only one variation on a wider theme; the Wikipedia entry for peanut soup led me to a couple that look really interesting. But the Budget Bytes recipe is convenient, as it's not particularly time consuming or difficult to prepare, and its ingredients are all readily accessible at any bog-standard mainstream U.S. grocery store. I don't have to plan too hard about it. All I gotta do is pick up some sweet potato and a bunch of collards on my regular Friday grocery run. Maybe a can of tomato paste too, since I don't have much on hand all that often. It's also vegan and gluten free, which means I can make it for pretty much anyone I know who isn't allergic to peanuts. And as long as they like things like sweet potatoes and collard greens, I guess.

My vegetarian husband doesn't care too much for sweet potatoes and collard greens, which means 1. more for me, and 2. I can carnivore it up if I want. Last time I made it, I added bacon. I cooked three big slices of bacon until the grease covered the bottom of that iron pot. Then I took the bacon out, chopped it up, and set it aside to be added back in along with the broth, peanut butter, and tomato paste. So basically I substituted bacon grease for olive oil, because I fear no cholesterol (thanks, genetics!). But the other adjustment I made was to throw the chopped-up collard greens in to sautée with the sweet potato chunks, because I'm less interested in collards boiled in soup than I am in collards fried in bacon grease and then boiled in soup.

Meanwhile, I'm making the brown rice in the multicooker. This last time I actually used the BROWN RICE function, not the PRESSURE function. I still don't know how the two functions differ, but it worked just fine. 2 cups brown rice to 2-3/4 cups water, set the timer for 22 minutes, turn it off when it beeps and allow it to sit 20 minutes longer before releasing the pressure. Definitely turn it off; leaving the multicooker to KEEP WARM for too long resulted in burnt, dried-out rice that one time I made that mistake.

Also, don't mistake the BROWN function for the BROWN RICE function. "Why? Why are you beeping at me? What is your emergency? ...Oh. RIGHT. Got it."

It took me maybe three days, maybe less, to get through all of it. Now I am ready to make more. And tomorrow is Friday! Friday is grocery day! How convenient!

this blog got that name for a reason
Wed 2020-01-29 23:56:50 (single post)

Given that this blog was initially intended to chronicle the day-to-day writing process, one might find oneself asking, "What are you actually writing these days, Niki?" And I might find myself answering, "A whole bunch of flash fiction at a ridiculously rapid pace. I'm getting caught up on the Friday Fictionette project, dang it--I mean it this time!"

You remember the Friday Fictionette project? Every first through fourth Friday, I release a new short-short story-like object, like 850 to 1250 words long, for the entertainment of my Patrons. Pledging at the $1/month tier gets you access to the ebooks (pdf, epub, and mobi format); pledging at $3/month also gets you the audiobook, which I narrate. It's part self-publishing experiment, part writing practice, and sometimes, as we've recently seen, it even results in reprint sales. There's really no downside to writing four new short-shorts a month...

...but there is a downside to getting behind schedule. And I've been behind for, oh, the better part of 6 months now. And I'm really, really tired of it. Literally tired! Carrying Mount Overdue on my shoulders saps my physical and mental energy, as well as putting a crimp in my time. I know that if I could just get back on top of that first-through-fourth-Friday release schedule, I'd have so much more oomph in my day! Also more time to spread around to other writing projects.

So for the past week, I've settled into a catch-up schedule which consists of alternating writing days (on which I draft and revise the next story) with production days (on which I compile the ebooks, record the audiobook, and publish the Patron-only posts). It's been working splendidly. Last week I was some four to five weeks behind schedule; as of right now this second, I'm behind by two. I pushed the Jan 10 release today, and if all goes well, Jan 17 will go up on Friday, and Jan 24 over the weekend or early next week at the latest, allowing me most of next week to work on the Fictionette that's actually due at the end of next week.

I've attempted major catch-up pushes before, with only partial success. I think this time's different because I'm taking advantage of my natural rhythms. I have this regrettable tendency where, if I have a fantastically productive day, the next day I'll simply crash and burn. It's like I've got to recover after all that exertion and, I dunno, virtue. But what I can manage to do on low-energy, crash-and-burn days are very mechanical tasks, programmatic tasks, mindless repetitive tasks, tasks that don't involve a hell of a lot of creative brain. On days when the brain cannot word, much less word elegantly, it can handle compiling an ebook out of Scrivener, editing its stylesheet, and tweaking its metadata just fine. So alternating between days where I write a whole damn brand new flash-length story, and days where I read already-written words aloud and poke listlessly at the computer the same way I've poked at it a hundred times before, is working great.

It also helps that the next two poke-at-the-computer days fall on Friday and Sunday. Friday and Sunday are already low-energy days, because they start with high levels of physical and social exertion--Boulder Food Rescue on Friday mornings, roller derby practice on Sunday mornings. The real trick will be getting enough writing in on Saturday. Saturday has some fun items on its agenda. This is why I'm saying "early next week at the latest" about the Jan 24 release.

But then I'll be all caught up on the regular release schedule. I'll be able to relax back into the project's original, undemanding pace of 25 minutes a day. I'll begin to gradually get ahead of schedule, by golly! Meanwhile I'll reclaim all that time and energy to spend on other things. More original full-length short fiction, for instance. Maybe a successful novel rewrite. Maybe 2020 is the year I finally start shopping around a novel! The mind boggles at all the possibilities.

Anyway, that's what I've been actually writing this week.

late fruitcake preparations for a quiet winter solstice
Tue 2019-12-17 14:47:42 (single post)

So I'm baking a fruitcake today.

I almost didn't bother. It's less than a week until Winter Solstice, so it won't really be ready to open up at the annual all-nighter Winter Solstice vigil and open house. It won't have had time to soak up enough booze. Besides, I don't even have the wherewithal to host the all-nighter this year anyway, so why bother with a fruitcake?

And then I thought, screw it. I like fruitcake. I like mailing slices to long-distance friends. And Dad's going to be in town shortly after Christmas, and he likes fruitcake. So let's do this thing.

But let's also be kind to myself about it, all right?

So when I browsed Whole Food's bulk section for dried fruits, I prioritized stuff that didn't need chopping up. I got raisins, both golden and Thompson. I got currants. I got blueberries, sour cherries, and cranberries. The only things I got that needed chopping up were the dates and the prunes. Why prunes? Prunes are tasty. Also they are easier to chop up than dried figs.

Then I forgot about "be kind to myself" long enough to pick up a Buddha's Hand Citron and make plans to candy it. Which I finally got around to doing last night.

Want to play along at home? Here's the recipe I used.

So his ingredients list includes weights for everything except the citrons themselves. Two citrons, the recipe calls for. But in the introductory blurb, the author refers to "one 8 ounce (240g) fresh citron", so I assumed the recipe called for 480 grams of chopped up citron. I also assumed from "cut them up into 1/2-inch cubes" that including the pith of the citron was OK. Thank goodness. I hadn't been looking forward to carefully peeling the zest off a fruit so inconveniently shaped for applying a peeler. I wound up with about 375 grams of citron and adjusted the other two ingredient quantities accordingly.

The bit where you're supposed to "blanch the citron pieces in barely simmering water for 30 to 40 minutes, until translucent" was a lie. Some 75% of the fruit was nicely transparent by minute 45; the remaining 25% only got part of the way there over an additional 45 minutes. This seems extreme even given how widely my citron pieces varied from the prescribed 1/2" cube. The next step took forever too. You'd think at a high altitude it would take less time to boil off sufficient water to result in 230-degree syrup, but my candy thermometer didn't reach the magic number for at least an hour. It was 1:00 am by then, so instead of leaving the citron to sit in the syrup for an hour and then straining it, I left it to soak overnight. I went to bed.

In the morning, the pot contained a block of something that was too soft to be called "citron brittle" but certainly too solid to pour. So I stuck that pot inside another pot to heat it in a water bath until it did pour. I poured it into a strainer and left it there as I went about my morning. When I came back, what remained in the strainer was more or less one solid mass again, so I rinsed it with boiling water (I'd have to rinse it for the fruitcake recipe anyway) until I had individual pieces which I could scatter on parchment paper to dry.

This was not what was meant by "being kind to myself." But I've been snacking on candied citron all morning, which is by no means a bad thing. And I'm kind of eager to do it again, knowing what I know now. For instance:

  • The recipe told me to use the coarsest sugar I could find. The coarsest I had on hand was raw turbinado, which has a molasses component that I probably could have done without. This made the syrup much darker than in the recipe's photos. It also probably made it stickier.
  • I'd probably skip step 4 and proceed directly from "we have reached 230 degrees" to "Strain."
  • I might try doing it with just the zest. I'd hate to lose the slight bitter note from the pith which compliments the sweetness so well, but it might make blanching the fruit take a lot less time.
  • The reason I did this at all was Whole Foods being out of candied ginger when I went fruitcake shopping. Maybe next year I'll candy my own ginger. I'll be able to cut fresh ginger into the long, thin shapes I prefer, rather than trying to cut up already candied ginger cubes. Fresh ginger is much easier than sticky candied ginger is to cut.
  • And I'll darn well start earlier than 9:30 at night!

So now all that remains is to actually bake the fruitcake later this afternoon or evening. That's the easy part.

As for Winter Solstice itself, while I'm not going to announce to every social circle that I'm holding party space open all night long, I'm still going to hold vigil, keeping a fire lit the whole night through and waiting for the return of the sun. That part of the ritual is my own personal Pagan religious observation. I'll always do that, party or no party. And I'll probably still cook all the things I usually cook, because when else do I get to drink home-made eggnog and eat medieval midwinter pie?

And I'll probably spend a good part of the night writing like it's the first few hours of NaNoWriMo. Or the last. If any friends in the area want to join me in writing or crafting, or reading stories aloud, or reciting poetry, or other such quiet celebrations of creativity, my door will be open to you from sundown on Saturday night to sunrise on Saturday morning.

And the fruitcake won't really be ready by then, but we can give it a taste.

Cover art incorporates and modifies image sourced from Pixabay.
developing the means to turn my thoughts around
Thu 2019-12-05 16:40:42 (single post)
  • 1,487 words (if poetry, lines) long

So I learned some things about myself and my workflow this past November. To start with, I learned that I very rarely manage to fulfill all my goals for a given day. Doesn't matter whether it's a kind and even coddling low-bar list, or a ludicrously over-ambitious goal that is sure to end in failure and self-loathing. Be it ever so reasonable, I'm not going to get through it. Some imp of the perverse, an attack of inexplicable fatigue, or just the usual cocktail of anxiety and avoidance, will waylay me between the start of a checklist and its finish. I'll try! I'll try really hard! And I'll tell myself, "Hey, self, if you're any good at all, you'll do this." And then I don't, so I come away feeling like I am in fact no good at all.

But I will try. The fear of feeling like I'm a no-good horrible lazy-ass hopeless case will provide enough motivation at the beginning to get me moving, and then I'll keep going on that momentum for a bit before the self-loathing kicks in, and I accept that I suck, and I shut down.

OK, it's not always as dire as that. Some days things are a lot more positive! The excitement about getting all this stuff done will kick me off, and the happy feeling of accomplishment over the first tasks will keep me going... and then exhaustion will kick in, or the sudden realization that I am TOTALLY OUT OF TIME, and I'll come to a halt while two or three items remain undone.

Either way, I'll generally get about two-thirds of the way through my agenda for the day.

So here's the epiphany: Over-ambitious goals don't have to end in failure and self-loathing. If I make myself a list that's about 130% as long as a list of reasonable length, I can trick myself into getting the reasonable portion done. And if I set my mind right at the beginning of the day, I can forgive myself the undone portion of the list as having been intended as bonus items anyway.

Brains are weird! If explicitly tell myself "These last few items are just lagniappe," I'd expect to completely fail to take those items seriously at all. I'd expect to ignore them, treat the rest of the list like the "real" list, and then only get about two thirds of the way through that. And yet I do find myself trying really hard to get to those bonus items. In video games, I have a completist mind set; this may be the brain-glitch I'm taking advantage of. Still, that being the case, I'd expect to experience a lot more crushing disappointment in myself when I don't complete the list. But somehow the message from that morning lingers: "If you get to these, awesome, but no big deal if not."

It all feels very contradictory. It's certainly not a strategy I deliberately set out to try. I more or less stumbled into it during the latter half of November, when I got really determined to finish and upload all those overdue Friday Fictionettes. I missed some days' revision and submission sessions, but dang I wrote some flash fiction on hyperdrive! And I felt good about it.

Speaking of which: The Friday Fictionette for November 15 just went up yesterday. It's called "The Story Master" (ebook, audio, blame the southern accent on a conversation we had over dinner Tuesday night) and it's based on a recurring family bullying incident, only replace "older cousins and sadistic uncle" with "horrible, sadistic ghost." Also, replace "Stephen King novels" with "graphic tales of violence and abuse, some possibly perpetrated by the ghost when he was alive." The graphic tales are only alluded to, not spelled out on the page, so I don't think any content warnings are called for here. The only one getting triggered here is me; for the rest of the afternoon, my brain kept reliving and futilely reinventing all the greatest and most toxic hits of that era. An overactive imagination can be a terrible thing, y'all. Anyway, I hope to release the November 22 Fictionette by the end of the weekend.

Back to the daily grind. The lesson I've taken away from all this is,

  1. When setting my day's agenda, consciously distinguish between "must do" and "nice to have".
  2. Put the "must do" components first, the "nice to haves" later.
  3. When I complete a task, take a moment to just bask in the happy of it before going on to the next.
  4. When ending for the day, consciously congratulate myself on how much I got done. Remember and relive the post-task happy. Refuse to scold myself over incomplete items.

As alluded to above, my brain is very good at reliving past trauma. It will do it on autopilot and it will do it on infinite loop. But it seems like I ought to be able to put that facility to use in positive ways.

When I was in college, I worked my first regular "real job" at the dorm cafeteria. The length of the shift looming ahead of me seemed terribly daunting. To encourage the hours to pass more quickly, I'd imagine listening to an album I knew and loved. I'd get it started by visualizing an audio cassette tape player's capstans turning while the first song "played." After that, the whole album would run through in my head, one song after the other, and it would almost be like really listening to it on the stereo. It wasn't quite on the level of true auditory hallucinations, but it was the next best thing.

So if my brain can do that, then it can certainly go and sit inside another good memory of my choosing. So that's what I'm going to practice, going forward.

email