inasmuch as it concerns Selling My Soul:
"Psst! Wanna buy a story? Hot new manuscripts, exclusively yours to publish! First American, First Serial, E-rights and reprints! Get 'em while they're hot!"
good for what ails you
Lately my writing process, if not my writing itself, has been suffering from a feeling of futility. There's the guilt of still having not revised "Caroline's Wake" and a sinking feeling that I'll never get it revised ever. There's the sense that this rediscovery draft of Iron Wheels will not only not reach 50K by the end of November--my first non-winning NaNoWriMo ever! Say it ain't so!--but also isn't taking me anywhere useful. There's a creeping suspicion that the Friday Fictionettes project is just a cargo cult exercise, a needless new obligation I've imposed upon myself that, although it has the basic shape of finishing and publishing stories, is actually just a waste of time that could have been spent more profitably.
These are not rational feelings. They're not at all justified. But they hang around, stifling my workdays with this general "why bother?" malaise.
Then someone reminded me that a market I've had my eye on would close to fiction submissions on December 1, and I thought, I need to send them something now.
And then I thought, Could the reason I feel like I'm not getting anywhere be that I haven't submitted anything for publication since September?
So I've just emailed "Down Wind" off to that market. And you know what? I feel much better now.
hey look a new drabble
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I'm not quite sure how it fell off my radar, but November 2 arrived a couple weeks ago and brought with it my latest drabble publication at SpeckLit. It's called "East of Omaha, West of San Francisco," and it's about one person's very small rebellion against the inevitable shrinking of her world. Or about a general tendency to cope with loss via selective amnesia, maybe. It has more than a little to do with Michael Swanwick's "The Edge of the World" (a damn fine story) getting stuck in my brain and taking up permanent residence there.
My second SpeckLit drabble for this quarter, and my last for 2014, will show up right at the end of the year, on December 30. When it goes live, I'll be on a train heading from New Orleans to Chicago as John and I return from a long, leisurely holiday trip to visit my family. I'll try to remember to blog and post a link during our layover.
Meanwhile, SpeckLit is currently in its voting period for Reader's Choice Best of 3rd Quarter 2014. I encourage you to read the eligible stories and vote for your favorites! I have two drabbles that were published during that period, and they are in some outstanding company. The full list of eligible stories is at the linked page, as is the voting form. You should read every single one of 'em (they're only 100 words each, so it won't take long), and then vote for your favorite three. Voting deadline is November 30.
November 30 is also the submission deadline for 1st Quarter 2015, so I've started to tune my freewriting toward drabble production again. Lately I've been using the Daily Dash prompts from the Second Life group Virtual Writers, Inc. It might be more precisely termed a Semidaily Dash, as there are two each day, one at 6 AM and one at 6 PM Pacific Time. As each Dash begins, the group sends a notification to members which includes a single word's dictionary definition as a suggested writing prompt. The prompt for today's afternoon dash was "raindrop," which somehow got me noodling toward a drabble about fallen angels. Because both raindrops and certain angels fall, apparently.
You know, I really see no reason why I couldn't do at least the morning Daily Dash every work day. 7 AM is a perfectly reasonable time for me to be awake and typing. Reasonable, that is, if I stop staying up past one in the morning...
everyone gets something to read today (that means you)
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September's "Fictionette Freebie" is out and available to the public, Patron and non-Patron alike. It's "What Dreams May Hatch," which you may download as a lovely PDF from Patreon, read in one of Wattpad's versatile formats, or simply click to read it here on the actually writing blog.
September 30 also means it's deadline day for the call for submissions to An Alphabet of Embers. How did I do in that whole "improving my relationship with deadlines" thing? Well... I wasn't up until 2 AM, how's that?
I woke up this morning feeling like I'd already lost. Like, I drafted it with two weeks to go, right, but then I didn't touch it all last week and I didn't touch it over the weekend and I didn't get to it yesterday either which meant... yup, once again I'm pulling the bulk of the work during the last 24 hours of the reading period. Defeat.
Except, here's the thing: I did draft it two weeks before deadline. And I didn't end up submitting it in the wee hours. So, y'know, improvement. I think I'm entitled to feel at least a little happy about that.
Not to forget: I did, in fact, submit the story. And it went from vague brainstormy concept to submitted story in something like three weeks. Yay, right? Yay. And look! It has a real title now! A title with a terrible pun.
Anyway, it's in. And in rereading the guidelines I saw that 1. they allow two submissions per author, and 2. they appear to be open to reprints. So I sent "Sidewalks" along, because why not? I may not be personally 100% sure it's right for Embers, but that's properly the editor's decision, not mine. So off it goes.
Today has been a mix of happy and hopeful news. Tomorrow will feature more of that stuff. Stay tuned.
soon to reappear upon the hundred-word stage
Good news in the email today: Two more of my drabbles will be appearing at SpeckLit in the very near future! One'll be showing up in early November, and the other in late December. I'm very pleased. Out of the batch of five that I submitted this time around, I'm proudest of these two. So I'm just really pleased and delighted that you'll get to read them at SpeckLit.
(SpeckLit is organized blog-style, with a tag for each author. If you want to pull up all drabbles by a particular author, you click on their tag. For instance, here's mine.)
And that's all the news I've got for you today, since I kind of totally flubbed it as a work day, and that's not something the day can recover from at eleven-thirty at night even when it isn't scrimmage night. There was an off-season low turnout, too, so everyone rotated through all the positions and stayed on the track for at least two jams out of every three. It was a fantastic scrimmage, though. We made it work. We really worked our endurance. I think I jammed pretty darn well for a blocker.
John got to learn the scorekeeper job today. John coming with me to scrimmage is becoming a regular thing. I love it. I love how he's getting to know everyone in the league better, and how they're getting to know him, and they love having him there and he loves being there. Then we had a great post-scrimmage "post-mortem" conversation that started over beer and burgers and continued the whole way home. I love that too.
Tomorrow, as always, is another day, and one that stretches free and clear of external obligations from eight in the morning until one at night. Plenty of time to make up for today. Tomorrow is also a Friday, and I do enjoy my Fridays these days. So, really, I can't complain.
one down, all of THE FUTURE to go
- 1,135 wds. long
Hey look! The first Friday since launching Friday Fictionettes has come, and I have indeed published a Fictionette to my Patreon creation stream. Huzzah! It's called "Those Who Would Dance for the Gods." You can read an excerpt in all three of the places (Patreon, Wattpad, and right here).
Reading it in its entirety is at this time exclusively the privilege of Patrons pledging at the level of $1/month or higher. It will probably remain so for some time, as I want to reserve September's end-of-month freebie slot for the fourth Friday offering. But please do not let that stress you out. If you'd rather put off pledging until you have a better idea of whether I can actually stick to this weekly deadline thing, that is totally cool and understandable. (You read this blog. You know about my relationship with deadlines.) Also, you won't miss a thing. "...Dance for the Gods" will remain in the content stream for as long as there is a content stream. Creations do not, to my knowledge, get archived and hidden away once they get too old or something. The work required to dig them up may increase as more and more fictionettes stack on top of them, but I'm reasonably certain everything will still be down there.
So that's the shameless plug portion of today's blog post. The rest of the blog post will be given over to shameful confessions. Well, not shameful per se, but kind of embarrassing.
To wit: My goodness, it's easy to spend a lot of time tweaking this stuff.
Seriously, I spent more than three and a half hours on revising the Fictionette one last time, coming up with some Author's Notes, creating minimally presentable cover art, compiling the PDF from scrivener and then combining it with the cover art and then doing that all over again about three times to correct mistakes noticed just a titch belatedly, taking all the same material and creating the Wattpad upload, then creating the manuscript record whereby you can read the excerpt here at the blog, figuring out why the Author's Note at Wattpad suddenly wound up locked, going back and fixing one more thing pretty much everywhere, deciding I should probably be pledging support to other people's Patreon campaigns, doing that, and then thinking, "Gee, Ursula Vernon's 'thank you' page sure is snazzy and fun to read. Maybe I should take a few minutes to improve my own." Which I did.
I suppose it's only... cyclical? Yesterday I spent too much time working on a Boulder Writing Examiner post to get any progress on the Friday Fictionette offering. Today I spent too much time on Friday Fictionettes to do my freewriting or short story revision. I guess that means next time I should spend so much time on all things fiction that no content writing gets done. And so the torch is passed!
Except that Friday Fictionettes eating up freewriting time is disturbingly cannibalistic. It's eating its young, y'all. I mean, without freewriting, Friday Fictionettes do not arise.
I guess that's OK so long as freewriting can happen over the weekend, just like it did when I was participating in the Conquer the Craft in 29 Days challenge. Actually, in light of CTC29, I thinking of taking freewriting into a 7-day schedule anyway. That would help keep my writing muscles limber rather than letting them go stiff from three days of non-use. It would also give me more material to choose from when it's time to select the next Friday Fictionette.
Meanwhile, in the name of staying a month ahead of this game, I was supposed to have chosen October's first Friday Fictionette by now. Oh dear.
(Nobody panic. I got this.)
Live on Patreon, it's Friday Fictionettes! Also: A new monster of derby.
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It's September 1, and I've launched my Patreon page. Go ahead, click it, see what you think. Basically, it's a short-short story subscription service, except they're not so much fully formed short stories but rather highly polished excerpts from my daily freewriting sessions. I'm calling these story-like objects "fictionettes." Pledging a dollar or more per month gets you access to the fictionettes I post every first through fourth Friday in PDF format, and at the end of the month I make one of those fictionettes free for all to read. At higher pledge levels, I will read my fictionettes to you, podcast-style, or even mail them to you in handmade collectible editions (limited supplies available).
The first fictionette, "Breaking and Entering," is up on my creations stream. You can also read it right here on the actually writing blog, or on my brand new WattPad account. I'll have an audio version of it up soon so potential patrons can get an idea of whether they like my reading style before they subscribe. I also intend to create a simple cover image sometime this week.
Both Patreon and Wattpad are new interfaces for me, and they're both boggling me in different ways. I can't seem to convince Wattpad that "Breaking and Entering" is its own piece, complete in and of itself, and not a chapter in a larger piece called "Breaking and Entering." And Patreon's creation-posting, creation-editing, and creation-navigating interfaces have so many issues I could write a whole post about them.
But I will not. Instead, I will hang in there and see if things get easier to deal with as I go forward, or if I'll at least figure out smart ways to cope with and around the seeming inadequacies.
Why am I doing this? Several reasons.
- The possibility of making more money by writing stories than I'm making by blogging at Examiner has a certain appeal. (Hint: It wouldn't take much.)
- A new weekly deadline means I'm going to be finishing more story-like objects more often, which can't be a bad thing.
- I'm teaching myself to relax and let go of this whole "Every piece of writing must be saved and its first rights preserved against the day it will become a real publishable story!" Seriously, at the rate of a new freewriting vignette produced almost every day, there will be more of them taking up space in my Daily Ideas .scrivx than I'll ever develop into commercially viable stories. They aren't exactly precious.
- I like the sound of the word "prolific." I like the thought of applying it to myself.
Call it the crossroads of self-publishing and self-improvement. We'll see how it goes.
In roller derby news, my Bombshells lost to 10th Mountain, and the score was 201 to 207. It was a mirror image of last season's bout against the Mountaineers, with a heroic come-back in the second half and an epic final jam that included two penalties to the 10th Mountain jammer and an amazing effort by our jammer, Sauce, to put huge amounts of points on the board. (Sauce is my hero, y'all. Not even kidding a little bit.) Every pass was a screamingly exciting fight for both teams' very lives, as the Mountaineers blockers clung to their lead and the Bombshells blockers pulled out every trick they knew to get their jammer through the pack.
In the end, I think, if you can't make it through the season undefeated, I think a single loss by a squeaky 6-point margin isn't so terrible. And doesn't every team need a nemesis?
I'm going to call the afterparty a tie. Both teams represented on the dance floor well into the wee hours, and not as separate monochrome bunches, either. We mixed it up real good.
Er. Also. The Bombshells MVPs that 10th Mountain chose for the night were Skinny DipHer as jammer... and myself as blocker. *flabbergasted* Everyone was all, "That's two games in a row, Fleur!" and I'm all, "I know! I don't get it!" I'm not being coy or cute here, I seriously don't get it. But I'm thankful. I hope I managed to show it. I know I hugged a lot of people in 10th Mountain uniforms.
John declared the distinction well deserved and proceeded to explain to me, in great detail and with much enthusiasm, why he thought so. (Have I mentioned how much I love this man?) He also had a lot to say about bout our bout and the "back to school" themed mix-up that preceded it. He and our friend Stras had carpooled to the bout, and when I got home from the afterparty by about 1:00 AM they were in the middle of watching an archived bout on WFTDA.tv (last year's Division 1 game between Windy City and RMRG). They were analyzing the footage, play by play. They paused their viewing to talk derby with me until something like 2:30, and then after Stras went home John and I kept talking until 3:00. By the time I finally fell asleep, my brain was like a computer running a screensaver, and the screensaver featured an endless procession of jammers and blockers whizzing counterclockwise around a derby track.
I've created a derby monster here. John's always been excited to watch derby with me, but this weekend seems to have launched his enthusiasm through the roof. I repeat: He went home from our bout and immediately queued up more derby to watch on his computer. Then we watched more archived bout footage together today (two of this year's D2 bouts featuring Sin City), during which he pressed pause oodles of times to discuss nuances of plays and penalties. There was rewinding and rewatching in slo-mo. There was pausing to look up official rules. There was massive geeking out over derby, y'all.
John said, "I now know why I could never be an official, as much as I want to get involved. I can't be unbiased. I'm too invested in rooting for the Boulder County Bombers."
I thought about this. "Well, with your strategic observations and your tendency to pick plays apart, maybe you could be an assistant coach."
Gods bless him, he didn't say no. In fact, he's seriously considering it. We broached the idea to other league members at the annual league birthday get-together yesterday, to skaters and coaches alike, and everyone thought he'd be a fantastic addition to the team. Gods know we have a need for more coaches, assistant or otherwise, having recently lost a handful of them to the various changing demands of their lives.
He's said he'll come with me to scrimmage on Thursday, and maybe practice on Wednesday too depending on what's on the agenda. We'll see how it goes.
avoidance activity gets scheduled a month in advance these days
It is ever so much more fun and easy and exciting to work on my Friday Fictionettes material for the September launch of my Patreon page than it is to dig up a story from 2007 and force myself to read it, let alone prepare to make it into something I can be proud of. I have spent so much time experimenting with Scrivener to epub, Scrivener to pdf, compile settings, font settings, cover photos, maybe no cover photos, I don't know. And then there's polishing up the raw material I chose to make a Fictionette out of, because, sorry, you're not seeing it in its raw state. I need to maintain some boundaries here. Anyway, Friday Fictionettes prep is so much less threatening than Serious Short Story revision.
Which is, of course, the danger of the Friday Fictionettes project. It doubles as avoidance activity.
Anyway, finally buckled down and investigated the contents of the directories marked "Pirates", "Pirates.v01", and "Pirates.v02". First surprise: I don't have any versions of this story older than February 28, 2007. I guess I remembered wrong: the story got workshopped before it got submitted to Shimmer on March 1. Which is a relief, because the second surprise is this: the story is rough, y'all. Very, very rough. There are places where whole words and concepts failed to make it onto the page. There are paragraphs that use the word "just" or "really" five times in four sentences. The thirteen-year-old first-person narrator rambles worse in places than the protagonist of Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven. Well. That last may be an exaggeration. My main character, it must be said, never falls over into the land of caps-lock and multiple exclamation points. Still, before the workshop, this story must have been truly painful to read.
The good news is, I'd already edited out the bit that signaled my inability to think of a good ending. I do remember the workshop calling me out on it, I just hadn't remembered that I'd in fact fixed it. And the story is structured according to the basic fairy tale style rule of threes. The Action Block happens once, happens a second time with minor variations, then happens a third time with great differences that lead the story to its climax. So it's not like I don't know where things have to go--I just have to make those things a lot less lumpy.
So there's hope! Now, I'm overdue for my post-derby falling-over-comatose-into-bed ritual. Time I pushed the laptop away before it gets crushed beneath the collapse of my exhausted frame. 'Til tomorrow...
the needle on the compass in my head points toward sheer terror
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"It's For You" came home for the weekend with its tail between its legs, asking to crash on the couch. I did what I could for it: Gave it a shoulder to cry on, ordered us pizza, poured us some local microbrew stout, queued up some cheesy '80s movies to watch together. Then today I gave it a rousing pep talk and sent it back out into the world. "Keep trying," I told it. "Keep trying 'til Hell won't have you. And then keep trying some more." It took a deep breath, narrowed its eyes, and said, "OK." Off it marched, with purpose and new determination. One of these days it'll come home with a big smile, waving a contract in its hand. Until then, I'm good for giving it repeated pep talks and career advice. Also a kick in the rear end, because I kind of want my metaphorical couch to myself.
Meanwhile, "Caroline's Wake" is still out on only its second slush trip ever. It sent me a very encouraging post card!
As for what short story I'll work on next, I've decided it'll be "A Wish for Captain Hook"--the one wherein the island of Neverland locates itself in the middle of Lake Pontchartrain. I originally wrote it for the pirate-themed issue of Shimmer that John Joseph Adams guest-edited, whose submission window was in early 2007. Since failing to win its way onto that TOC, it's been workshopped once... then tucked away into a corner and forgot about. I suppose it's time to pull it out, brush off the dust, and revise it for a serious round of submissions.
Just thinking about it gives me a case of the hives and heebie-jeebies. Nervous. "I don't have to work on 'Hook' next," I told myself. "What about 'The Interfaith Intercessional Fellowship,' that one? The one with the potato salad and the prayer circle?" And that's when I decided that, no, it really had to be "Hook" next. Because "Hook" scares me enough to make me want to slither away, and I should always move toward the thing that scares me.
It took a little more thinking to figure out why it scared me.
Part of the fear comes from knowing that the end needs to be entirely rewritten. The note it currently ends on says very clearly, as though these words were actually typed on the page, "The author did not know how to end this story and hopes you'll understand. Please accept this weaksauce Lady Or Tiger punchline instead, with our compliments." And, well, the last two stories I finished and sent out the door have demonstrated that I have a painful time getting the endings right.
But the bulk of the fear comes from insecurity about my legitimacy, my right to write this story. "Hook" isn't just a story about a little boy who wants to run away to Neverland. "Hook" is a Hurricane Katrina story, the only one I've written so far. And I wasn't even in the state during Katrina and its aftermath. Also my family came through fairly well. There were losses, certainly. Dad's pediatrics office on Robert E. Lee Blvd. was totaled, and his practice had to relocate to the Children's Hospital building in Metairie. The roof did leak for a short while, and some non-critical household belongings were destroyed. While the family was gone, persons unknown scavenged their generator, some fuel, and all of Dad's frozen and slowly thawing venison--which items may well have made the difference for the thieves between surviving and not. Who knows? But the house wasn't flooded. It still stood. Mom and Dad kept it and live in it to this day. The family stayed together. Dad's job survived. As these things go, the LeBoeuf family did pretty OK.
So I'm not entirely sure I get to write a Katrina story, you know? Coming from someone who mostly watched the crisis from afar, it might come across as, I dunno, exploitative, like I'm using other people's tragedy to give my characters some unearned poignancy.
...which is almost word-for-word my exact explanation for why Season 2 of Heroes made me so angry. You know what I mean, right? The part where the little girl says, "Half the people in this county still live in FEMA trailers," thus proving that no one involved in making the show ever bothered to watch real live news footage of the Katrina aftermath nor even opened a map of the affected area. Because if they had, they would know that there are no counties in Louisiana. So, having complained vociferously about how that show exploited the disaster for emotional impact while failing to give the first little damn about the real life people affected, now I'm afraid of coming across the same way. This is like projection, only in reverse.
But my job is to move toward the scary thing. Write it anyway. And to realize that, yes, I too lived through Katrina, I too was affected, and the way I was affected by it can inform the story. And it already has. There are elements in there that are absolutely drawn from my experience, second-hand though much of it is. Like, the way the back-to-school timing of the storm and flood diminished the school-aged population of the greater New Orleans area well into 2006--families who evacuated in August sent their kids to the schools whose districts they wound up in come September, and many of them stayed to finish out the scholastic year. (This affected my immediate family by way of Dad's dramatically decreased patient roster.) Like the way some families, like my parents' next-door neighbors, just never came back at all.
The short story is much smaller in focus than that, but it's deeply colored by the shadows of those huge background movements. One of my jobs during the rewrite will be to make those shadows more apparent, more stark and compelling. And maybe something about the larger movements of the time will help inform the rewriting of the ending, too.
So that's the answer to that question. What will I work on next? "A Wish for Captain Hook." That's what. And may Gods and Muses have mercy on me, Their humble pen.
(runs away temporarily to hide)
arranging metaphorical furniture a month in advance
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It did not take me until 5 AM to get "Snowflakes" ready for submission Friday night/Saturday morning. (Thank goodness.) It only took me until 2 AM. I continue to ask myself, why do I do this to myself? But that's not the important question. The important question is, which of my many remaining unfinished short stories shall I work on this week?
For the answer, tune in tomorrow!
September inches closer. Today and yesterday, my very brief task toward launching the Friday Fictionettes project (oooh! It has a name now!) was to choose the story-like objects which will provide the raw material for the first two Patron-locked offerings of September. Meanwhile, the first freebie is ready to go. My intent is to do everything a month in advance. That way I have a huge margin of error before I fall behind my promised schedule.
If I can get this month-in-advance process down cold, that'll be a huge step toward "implementing important changes in my time management strategy which lead to a much healthier relationship with writing and with deadlines."
Meanwhile, waking up in a hotel in Louisville meant a half hour drive to the farm this morning rather than the fifteen minutes it usually takes from home. Only it was longer than that, because I had to stop by home anyway and pick up necessary things. Watered the plants, too. And our home was at that time in stasis between stages of repair, the abatement procedure done and the restoration not yet begun. Most of the large furniture was shoved, stacked, and stowed in a sort of cube formation roughly in the kitchen and dining area. To get at the kitchen sink, I had to sidestep an upended sofa, step on the edge of the coffee table, and step over the back of the futon, sometimes with a full watering can in tow. To get into the refrigerator, I had to shove aside a bookshelf that was standing right up against the fridge door. To get a shirt out of the bedroom closet, I had to wedge myself behind a trio of bed components, all leaning upright against where the door would be if that closet still had a door. In any case, that's the state the house was in at 6:45 this morning. Given that the restorations began at around 9 and I haven't been back since, I have no idea what configuration the furniture is in now.
By comparison, the farm was very simple. Rake up loose beet leaves, hoe the beds in preparation for sowing cover crop, pick all the purple string beans, pick the best of the green string beans. No climbing over furniture involved. And now I have about a half pound of fresh-picked string beans in the fridge. (The hotel fridge, not the fridge I needed to wrestle with a bookshelf to get into.) Given my propensity for snacking on them raw, I predict that none of them will see the hot side of a stove.
I have been awake since just before six, and I am feeling it. Time for bed. Niki out.
no sleep til pago pago
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It's 11:30 PM. Do you know where your story is? "Well. Um. It's almost done. I got to the end! But... it could be so much better than it is. It certainly could stand to lose a few hundred words." Well, Niki, you had better hurry up. You only have until 5 AM Mountain Time.
Well, that's a relief. I'm going to get this story submitted, in whatever shape it's in when I finally just crash for the night. But it's also kind of disappointing. Every deadline I latch onto, I think, "This time, it'll be different. I'll finish with time to spare." But no, as the deadline gets closer and closer, it becomes clear that once again I'm going to pull it off by the skin of my teeth, if at all.
I do not have a healthy relationship with deadlines.
Some people theorize that people like me get a sort of existential thrill out of creating artificial crises. Putting off work until the last minute before a drop-dead deadline injects a bit of excitement into our lives, they say. It makes us feel important. It gives us the adrenalized oomph we need to finally get shit done.
That may be true for some people, I don't know. It's not true for me. Though the imminent deadline does jolt me into action, it's less excitement and more dread that does the trick. Dread of letting yet another deadline go by without me. Dread of adding to my collection of regrets.
Meanwhile, there's stress. I don't need more stress.
I'm not so much looking for sympathy or solutions as I am just griping. I'm also sort of leaving this post here like a bookmark to which I can point from some future time and say, "That was the last deadline I let beat me over the head with stress and angst. The next day, I began implementing important changes in my time management strategy, which lead to a much healthier relationship with writing and with deadlines."
At least, I hope I can say that. I'm going to try really hard to enable Future Me to do so.