“It's such a miracle if you get the lines halfway right.”
Robert Lowell

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

in which the author has temporary favorites among her progeny
Fri 2016-03-25 00:21:36 (single post)

Today's topic is The Short Story Development Queue Workflow, also known as "I said I'd work on the new story, but there was this other story screaming for attention..."

This is also about the unintended consequences of holding myself to a daily half-hour Submissions Procedures session.

It's very simple. During Tuesday's session, I decided which market I wanted to submit a story to next. That's usually the only real question. The question of which story is typically very easy to determine. I look at which stories have been submitted before and are A) still not published, and B) not currently in somebody's slush pile. I pick the one of these that is C) the best fit for the market, and I submit it.

The problem is when the story that satisfies all three requirements also D) needs a lot of work before it gets submitted anywhere new. This is what I figured out during Wednesday's session.

So, "Stand By for Your Assignment" last went out to visit with the editors of the late, lamented Crossed Genres Magazine for their themed issue, "Anticipation." Themed issues come with submission deadlines; submission deadlines inevitably correlate with me finishing things in a big goddamn hurry and, as a result, probably sending them a smidge before they're really ready for prime time.

Which is to say, despite having seen the inside of a slush pile before, this story needs a lot of work before it may be allowed to see the inside of another one.

And I'm not talking about a line-level edit. No. Although that's one of the things it needs. No, what it also needs is cohesiveness of theme. It's got two elements in it that could work really well together: the female protagonist is bearing up under the double-barreled assault of familial expectations and corporate microagressions, and she is undergoing increasingly frequent experiences of a disturbing nature that may be hallucinations or may be genuine invasions of her world by the weird. But the story as it stands doesn't actually tie them together. They're just both in there, the latter as plot and the former as background. And in narrative, as in science, correlation does not equal causation. Narrative can go a long way on correlation alone, but in this story, I think, not far enough. So I need to rearrange some things to make them work together deliberately rather than by accident. And then there are the line-by-line infelicities that need to be cleared up...

And that's why, during today's Submissions Proceedures and Fiction Development sessions, I didn't do my assigned homework (the one about Ellen and the man who was a tree). It's because I did other homework (beginning to revise "Stand By..."). I hope I get credit for the other homework, at least.

In other news! That vaguely parental-like guilt that a writer might feel, where all the attention you spend on one of your "babies" is attention you're not spending on the other "baby" and oh my Gods I am a bad "mother" because I am failing to love all my "babies" equally...? Yeah, that's a thing.

doing things by halves
Tue 2016-03-22 23:51:41 (single post)

Well, I survived the weekend. We didn't win, but, looking at the final score, we could have, which is a pretty amazing thing to say the first time you face off against a team of that caliber. Tonight's practice was mostly taken up with talking about the game, about lessons we learned, skills we need to drill going forward, things we wished we could have done better and things we're glad that we did so well.

Next up, I will most likely be skating with our B team on April 30 in Eagle, Colorado, at a one-day tournament hosted by our friends and arch-rivals the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls. Between now and then, all the practice.

Got only half a work day in today, but it was a good solid half-day. Spent a good session on this week's planned fictionette offering--I've got a couple characters and a premise, but I'm still a little undecided on the shape and structure of the story. Figured I could at least start to draft the opening paragraphs despite my uncertainty about where they were going, and, as usually happens when I "just write it anyway," I found out some useful things that way. Seriously, it's amazing how useful and important those throwaway details, the ones that turn up because I sort of filled in a blank at random, turn out to be.

In addition to that, there was my designated half hour for dealing with the business side of freelance writing, which usually involves submitting a story somewhere or figuring out where next to submit a story. This time, since I didn't have anything lined up and ready to go, it was spent in pure research. "Research" here means catching up with an online writers' community bulletin board that I frequent and seeing where others have been submitting stories lately. It's a big, sprawling forum, and it's very easy to get lost in about fifteen different conversations. I focused very specifically on the part of the forum dedicated to discussing individual pro markets. Even so, I felt a little guilty. I was on the clock! I was supposed to be writing! What was I doing reading the internet?! Still, I reminded myself that reading this particular corner of the internet was a legit part of my business plan. Call it networking. Call it market research. I have a half-hour of every writing day set aside for precisely this, and this is how I get to use it.

As a result, I do, in fact, now know where I am next sending a story. Tomorrow I'll probably figure out which story.

springing forward and marching ahead
Tue 2016-03-01 23:44:24 (single post)

Things are getting back on track around here, and not a moment too soon. Daily writing things got done throughout the weekend and right up through today. I'm getting ready to send all the recently rejected short stories right back out into the fray, and I'm wrapping up the end-of-month fictionette tasks. On that note, I've designated "It's That Little Something Extra" as the Fictionette Freebie for the month of February 2016; follow that link to the full text in HTML, and follow links you will find there for the PDF and MP3 options. (I make one fictionette free for everyone at the end of every month, but it's subscribers only who get to download all four per month the moment each comes out. And now you know.)

On that note, I've spent much of today's afternoon shift typing up two of the February fictionettes on my typewriter, getting them ready to mail to my two Patrons at the fictionettes-in-your-mailbox level, and I have to say that there's nothing like manually typing up a piece of fiction to become painfully aware of all the "favorite words" (continue, achieve... what else? I forget now) and the places where I probably could have phrased things more compactly. And then there's the times where I misanticipate the next phrase and end up just going with it because I don't want to spend time and corrective tape fixing it. All of which just goes to show that these typewritten Fictionette Artifacts are entirely limited edition specimens with unique typographical features all their own. *ahem*

In other news, I finally read The Interior Life by Katherine Blake (Dorothy Heydt). It was my first Perk purchase--which is to say, I redeemed Perk (née Viggle) points for a gift card, and I used the gift card to buy the book. Winning! But that's not the point. The point is that this is a dang good book. It's a book the likes of which you don't see every day. Jo Walton wrote a lovely review of it at Tor.com about six years ago, about the way it's really two stories that move along side-by-side, and one of those stories is entirely in the domestic "housewife" domain--Painting the walls! Doing laundry! Trying out recipes in advance of hosting parties!--and that is honored just as much as the other story's domain of adventure, sorcery, warfare, and derring-do.

When the fantasy quest story cuts into the narrative, it's signaled by a change of font so subtle that the author herself had trouble distinguishing it in the published copy. I noticed it--at least, I got the impression that the type had gotten more compact and slightly "pointy" in the way of serifed calligraphy, but I kept questioning whether I'd really seen it. (A comparison of the letter "e" dispelled any doubts.) Thing is, I love that. The subtlety feels right, echoing the main character's having slid from household chores into a fantasy life without realizing it for maybe a page and a half before she goes "Woah, where did that come from?"

Anyway, I love this book with all my heart. Also, reading it made me suddenly quite eager to clean the frickin' house already. Which is convenient. John started his new job this week, such that instead of working from home as he has for the past couple years, he'll now be working from an office nearby in Boulder. Which means the division of household chores will shift a bit towards me, since he won't be able to do a bit here and a bit there between day job tasks anymore. But I was home and I did do a bit here and a bit there between my work-a-day tasks, and now laundry is done and the compost has been taken out and so have the recyclables and I also did large portion of the weekend dishes.

I am bad-ass, y'all.

Also I will be rereading The Interior Life all over again shortly because I need to fortify myself against spring cleaning.

(Spring! Can we call it spring yet? Is it safe to call it spring? Pleeeeeeease? It's March!)

plonkdectomy and depurpling
Fri 2016-01-15 21:10:00 (single post)
  • 1,792 wds. long

Today all I have to report is that yes, I did manage to submit "Down Wind" to the market with the January 15 deadline on its current submission window. I have done little else of use today, but, darn it, I did that.

It's weird. While there were still some three weeks to go, my thoughts on that story were along the lines of "it sucks it sucks there's too much to fix I can't fix it all I can't even begin to fix it" and I had to calm myself down. But this week, with the deadline looming, I caught myself thinking, "You know, it doesn't actually need that much work. It just needs a once-over and a read-aloud."

The truth was somewhere in between. It took me only about an hour today to finish it up, but the edits weren't all just sentence-sounds-better tweaks. Some edits were ruthless deletions because that sentence isn't adding anything to the story, and that other one is just a rehash of something that's already made clear here. On the print-out, there's a big slash-mark over half a paragraph in the first scene, with a note in the margin saying "Angst! Woe! Cut." One has to trust that the angst and woe will come across without the author plonking the reader on the head with an angst-and-woe stick.

Now I have to figure out what to do next. I have ever so many ideas for new stories from doing my daily freewriting--but I also have a few more stories to dig out of revision hell. We'll see which project successfully auditions for my attention next week.

And over the weekend... all the things I didn't do this week (ahem ahem late fictionette). That's the plan, anyway. Without something big like a roller derby bout to beat me up on Saturday, I should have no problems, right? All I've got is six hours of practice on Sunday. No big deal, right? Riiiiiight.

mothballing the mourning wardrobe
Wed 2015-12-09 23:40:01 (single post)
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Today was indeed more productive than yesterday. "Caroline's Wake" got a small amount of fine-tuning (turned out to need less than I anticipated); then it got sent out into the world to meet a new bunch of editor-type people. It feels good, having sent it out again. It's what a writer's supposed to do. And it occasions new hope.

The common advice is, "Never let a manuscript sleep over." That is to say, the moment a rejection comes in, take that story and send it somewhere else immediately. Have a list of places you want to send it, and just send it to the next place on your list. This is very smart from a business perspective: your story, once completed, is a product, and you need to keep trying to sell that product. But it's also smart from an emotional standpoint. It helps the writer end the mourning period and start afresh.

Of course there's a mourning period. Rejections occasion grief. They signal the death of a hope. No, not the Death of Hope, nothing that grand or melodramatic--but the demise of a very particular hoped-for outcome. There was a possibility that the story would be published by a specific market; the rejection signals that the possibility is no more.

So, OK, a writer can grieve. But a writer can also move on. Submitting the story to the next place is how to do that. Also working on the next story.

The next story is "Down Wind," which needs more of an overhaul than "Caroline" did. It needs section breaks and more of a textual differentiation between the three characters' points of view. It probably needs more than that, but I won't know until I pull it out and read it over. Which is next on my agenda!

this fictionette is like an onion but there will be plenty onions
Fri 2015-12-04 23:50:58 (single post)

Lo, another Friday has arrived--well, to be honest, it has just about come and gone; I got to the writing things quite late, but the bills are all paid and the kitchen is really clean. Anyway, I've posted this week's Friday Fictionette. It's "The Thing with Feathers," which as we all know is Hope.

The piece is oddly literary in flavor. The speculative element is more magic realism that urban fantasy. And I had to rerecord the last paragraph for the MP3 because I, er, got a funny sort of cough and maybe something in my eye the first time around. You know what I mean. It would not be the first time something I wrote made me tear up a little at the end, but generally it's the longer stories that do that, longer both in terms of word count and hours spent in revision, and the effect is partially just "Finally I got it right, hallelujah, what a relief." It's a little weird for something as short and quick as a fictionette to do that to me.

So now I'm wondering, maybe I should have saved this one to develop into something I could submit somewhere pro? And I'm reminding myself that the Friday Fictionettes project is partly about teaching myself to let go. Story ideas are plentiful. I don't have to hoard them. There's enough of them to go around.

Meanwhile, the alien space glue apocalypse story did indeed receive a rejection, and has already been sent out to meet more nice people.

Other fiction projects have been put off for next week. Just you wait.

i am very impressed, but then i am easily impressed
went out and spent some money, lookit
Wed 2015-12-02 22:34:32 (single post)
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Rejoice! I have finally replaced my camera. I have also gone grocery shopping and returned home with, among other things, fruitcake fixings. Now I have combined BOTH bits of good news into ONE splendid photo, which you can see here.

Fruitcake! Will contain almonds, currants, green (golden) raisins, candied ginger, strawberries, and dates. I will decide on the booze tomorrow when I actually process everything and start it soaking. It will probably be scotch or bourbon, considering what's currently in the cabinet.

Camera! Currently contains date stamp. This will be adjusted shortly.

The camera is a Nikon Coolpix S3700. It was on sale at Target, and further marked down as a repackaged item. Now, I didn't go into Target thinking about cameras. I was shopping for strings of holiday lights to donate to my roller derby league's holiday parade float (Because we're going to skate in a local holiday parade, of course). But the holiday section was right next door to the electronics section, which reminded me that I'd been meaning to replace my previous camera, it being ten years old and furthermore having recently ceased to function.

So this new camera boasts 20.1 Megapixels, which is a revolution in comparison with my previous. Its view screen is breathtakingly sharp--again, comparing it with my old camera. It's zoom function seems darn near lossless. It has a function list longer than my arm, and--ooh!--an auto-extending lens. Look, I'm over the moon just because this camera doesn't need a rubberband to hold its battery case closed, OK? My standards are somewhat generous here.

Mainly I'm just pleased that my options for Friday Fictionette covers are no longer restricted to A. find Creative Commons (commercial use OK) or public domain images online, or B. take a really crappy photo with my flip phone.

So there's your happy technology content. As for writing content, well, soon as I'm done with this-here, I shall be logging the most recent adventures of "...Not With a Bang, But a Snicker" in the Submission Grinder and in my personal log as well. I got a response to its latest submission just this weekend, but I haven't even opened the email yet because I've been drowning in NaNoWriMo writing and NaNoWriMo catch-up. If it's a rejection, I'll be figuring out where to send that sucker yet. If it's not a rejection, expect some crowing. Next I'll be spending a little revision time with "Down Wind" to get it ready to to go and meet some very nice people itself. I think that's enough for a well-rounded late night, don't you?

they live just down the ice floe from us
Wed 2015-11-25 23:59:59 (single post)
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The weather's getting a head start on tomorrow. It's been overcast all day, and now it's misting down a light sort of rain/sleet mix that's turning everything cement and asphalt into a death trap. I nearly injured myself just walking next door (well, two apartment complexes down) for the late-night cat-sitting visit. There were places where I couldn't walk at all, just "skate"--which is to say, hunker down into good derby position and just slide my sneakers forward very, very carefully.

Speaking of skating, there were plans bubbling through the league to have a Thanksgiving morning "fun skate" at our usual practice location--but with tomorrow's winter weather advisory and the ice only getting worse and the temperatures not predicted to climb above freezing tomorrow, I expect it ain't happening. Well, it might happen, but it'll most likely happen without me. Brrr.

So... a good day to catch up on NaNoWriMo, right? I have a bit of catching up to do. According to the "At this rate you will finish on..." metric, I'm 10 days behind. But according to the "Words per day to finish on time" metric, I only need to increase my daily session from the original 3,125 plan up to about 3,500 or so. This is entirely doable. I've introduced a new plot twist that should be good for at least another 5,000 words, and with any luck it will spawn further plot twists and maybe even a plot resolution.

And speaking of NaNoWriMo: Look look look! I have a title now.

In other writing news, "...Not with a Bang, But a Snicker" (the one about the snow-glue apocalypse) came home from its previous outing this weekend, and it's gone right back out tonight. #WriterDoingWriterThings

a whole thunder of stuff done rolled
Wed 2015-10-28 22:48:43 (single post)
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Behold! Two short stories went winging to their respective targets. Two of them! And all my writing for the day, except for this blog post, done before five pee-em. Folks, I am on fire.

John very kindly allowed me to read "Caroline's Wake" to him, which, given its length, meant the donation of more than half an hour plus some engaged discussion. He is a fantastic writer-support spouse. All the kudos. It was his first time experiencing this particular story, so he was able to offer a fresh perspective on whether it made sense, whether the characters were acting like real people, and whether things the right emotional weight was present. These are all things I worry about when a lot of slicing and dicing goes on between drafts. While "killing your darlings" it's possible to also kill some hard-working support structures. When vital pillars and buttresses go missing, it helps to have someone around to notice.

Speaking of killing your darlings, he also suggested I cut the final paragraph. The one about the crocus heralding a mild winter. Dammit. OK. I cut it, because the requesting editor said the exact same thing (or at the very least she suggested that it shouldn't be the final paragraph) and when two separate readers notice the same problem then maybe it's a good idea to listen to them. Dammit.

(Some darlings are very darling. Alas.)

Anyway, the story went into the email, and very soon afterward I had a reply full of excitement and glee, which was a relief. I'd secretly feared, because I am prone to Writer's Weasel Brain, that she'd be all what, this old thing? Not interested anymore. You missed your chance. But of course that was not the case. Weasel Brain is always wrong. Two reliable things about Weasel Brain: It'll always have something to say, and it'll always be wrong.

As expected, the title of the submission to Alien Artifacts got changed. When that story went to The First Line, it was called "The Rapture of the Santiago Women", as a nod to the famous Roman abduction event known as the Rape of the Sabine Women". Problem was, the allusion really only was skin deep. It was clever but not resonant. So I changed it to "Comin' For to Carry Me Home" both for the literal meaning within the plot and the play on homing device.

(And now you have the song stuck in your head, and my work here is done.)

Also, the first line got changed, as its original first line is best considered the exclusive property of The First Line. Which mean the little boy's name had to be changed, since it had been part of the first line. And then a whole bunch of other stuff got changed until, given that the story's only about 1300 words long, the revision really merited a whole new version number under my private and terribly subjective file-naming system. So Alien Artifacts gets to see Homing Device v2.0, or maybe, given the last print-out and line-edit pass, v2.2.1

Fair warning: I may just take the rest of the week off. Friday is fifth Friday, which means no Friday Fictionette is due. And tomorrow is a Halloween party on skates, which means I have to put the finishing touches on my costume. (John has been helping me with that, too. All the kudos.) So if I get very little done for the rest of the week, it's OK. I done a whole thunder of stuff between last week and now. I can take a small holiday.

a detailed look at the key-forging process as undertaken inside the cell
Tue 2015-10-27 17:01:08 (single post)
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I put in two solid hours on the story revision today, and it is almost done. Tantalizingly close. I hope to submit it tomorrow, at which point I shall crow mightly.

I'd like to write a little about the process of turning one draft into another draft. You might not be interested. You might be all, "Feh! I have my own process. I do not need yours. Feh, I say!" in which case you can skip this bit and scroll down to the next bit. But if you're interested, here's my process. Or at least, here's the process I used for this story and for this draft.

To start with, I had a critiqued copy of the previous draft to work from. The response to its submission last year was to invite me to resubmit if I could get it down to between 4,000 and 5,000 words. So I wrote back, tentatively asking if the editor had any thoughts she'd like to share to guide me in that revision; the editor responded with a line-by-line critique, crossing out text that was slowing down the story and highlighting elements that should be foregrounded.

This, by the way, is the sort of unlooked-for gift that writers dream of getting. We get excited just to get a rejection letter with personal comments, so you can imagine the ecstasy occasioned by an unasked for critique and line edit. Accompanying an invitation to resubmit, no less.

So my first step was to import this critique into my Scrivener project. I moved the August 2014 draft out of the Draft folder (where the documents to compile into a manuscript live) and into my custom Previous Drafts folder, to keep a record and to make room. Then I imported the critique, which was handily in RTF already, into a custom Critiques folder. I converted all of the editor's notes and deletions into linked notes. I also inspected the recommended deletions for any content I didn't want to lose, noted those elements, and considered how I might incorporate them into the surviving text.

Next, I began to type up a new draft from blank, using the critiqued copy and my notes as a reference. This is what took me for-frickin'-ever. This is the part of the process where I kept abandoning it for weeks and then needing to reacquaint myself with the project whenever I tried to pick it up again. I was about a third of the way through this step when I finally got my act together last week.

Thursday night I began the next stage of the revision: print it out and scribble on it (line-edit). I had the foolish idea this would take me, oh, maybe an hour. WRONG! This took the remainder of Thursday and all of Friday too. Lots of crossing things out and attempting to rephrase things. Embarrassing typos to be hunted down and destroyed.

Today I picked up that scribbled-on copy and began to implement the line-edit. I scanned through the printed document for scribbles, and I typed into the new draft whatever the scribbles said. Sounds simple, right? Generally it was. But there were a few "bugs" that were more complex; those I put aside for later, creating a linked note for each to make coming back to them easier.

When the simple fixes were done, I went back to those linked notes, which live in Scrivener's Inspector pane under the Comments and Footnotes tab, and began addressing the more complex line-edits. There were four of them. I got through two before my time was up today.

That's it. Tomorrow I hope to address the last two "bugs" on my buglist, and submit the revision that was requested more than a year ago. I continue to feel silly about taking fourteen months to get this done, but the bad-ass joy of getting it done at last rather outweighs that embarrassment.

Also, as I upload this post to my blog, I will be finished with my work day. All finished. By five o'clock in the afternoon. I honestly can't remember the last time I managed that. It will feel so very good to gear up for roller derby practice in the certain, satisfied knowledge that no work awaits me when I come home. Again, I'm embarrassed that it's taken me until now to find my workday rhythm, but I'm too pleased with having found it to notice the embarrassment overmuch.

Oh! Also, today's submission procedures involved preparing "The Rapture of the Santiago Women," whose title I might yet change, for submission to the forthcoming Alien Artifacts anthology from Zombies Need Brains LLC. I will most definitely change the first line, as it was dictated by the market I sent it to first. I've already edited the story a bit today, just cleaning up the text to make it flow more smoothly. A story's always a little rough when I write it to a themed issue's deadline; I like to make sure it's a bit more polished before it heads out to meet the next slush pile.

This is another thing that feels awesome--as the revision on "Caroline's Wake" comes to a close, I've got brain-space for revising other stories for resubmission. It's like I'd been in jail for a year, but with the means to make the key to the prison door. What the eff took me so long to do it? Damn. Well, door's open now. Free!

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