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

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

sore and slow and late, but nevertheless optimistic and full of plans
Tue 2015-08-25 23:05:48 (single post)
  • 5,312 wds. long

It was just a regular cleaning. There was no anesthetic involved, no surgery, no deep probing beneath the gums. It was just a regular dental cleaning.

Nevertheless, dear reader, it kicked me in the teeth.

After the dental hygienist was done with me, I managed enough energy to stop for groceries on my way home and put them away when I got there. Then I visited the creek to bring home the crawfish traps I hadn't been up to bringing home yesterday. (With the exception of a very juvenile specimen, small enough to resemble a centipede with pincers, they were empty.) Then I began to contemplate the work ahead of me today, and got as far as starting the electric kettle for tea before I realized two things:

First, that my gums were sore. I mean, really sore. Like, that background noise in my body that won't stop that I'm just noticing and now that I've noticed I'm not going to be able to stop noticing? That's my mouth. Hurting. All over.

And secondly, I was so sleepy that the thought of remaining upright and doing productive things with pen and paper and/or computer keyboard was physically painful. Apparently, getting up at 7:15 a.m. combined with an hour of enduring uncomfortable and sometimes painful manipulations of the mouth results in exhaustion.

So that's why my homework's late, Teach. Basically I took a half day off for sicksies. (Also, I spent a few minutes just leaning against the walkway wall and staring at the deer that was just hanging out, chillin' on the front lawn under a shade tree. Deer here is a regular occurrence, but that doesn't mean I'm about to get over it.)

But enough whining. Here's what's up for the week:

Revision efforts have brought the current draft of "Caroline's Wake" right up to the bit where Demi gets to talking with Andy, and not quite to the bit where Bobbie Mae starts dancing on the table. My assignment is to not lose the overall sense and desired pacing of the scene, while cutting about 200 words that I had thought helped the scene achieve that sense and pacing but in fact don't. So the play-by-play of the song and dance has to go, but Demi and Andy's conversation which partially reacts to the song and dance needs to stay, and to somehow imply that things are still going on and time is passing all around that conversation, while taking up a lot less space on the page. Did I mention that revisions are hard? Revisions are hard.

Content writing needs to get a bit more balanced. I've been blogging the weekend blockade round-up for Puzzle PiratesExaminer, along with monthly limited edition things (got a post planned about the limited edition Olympian Class Sloop, which I have purchased and am happily sailing around the Lacerta Archipelago), but my posts for Boulder Writing Examiner have been few and far between. And I'm out of practice finding content for that column. So I'll be working to come up with two posts a week. If nothing else, I'll post reviews of work that's eligible for the 2016 Hugos, thus doing my bit to help encourage people to nominate for next year.

Fictionettes -- do you know, I am really, really sick of being behind on the Wattpad excerpts? And of not having even a little musical accompaniment or other sound effects for the audiofictionettes? I know I keep saying this, but I'm going to really make an effort to push through that backlog.

Submissions procedures have slowed down, mainly because I haven't received any preternaturally fast rejections in the past couple weeks. Before that, it seemed like I'd on Tuesday I'd submit a story and log the submission, then on Wednesday I'd be logging its rejection and figuring out where to send it next. Quick responses can be cool--goodness knows authors complain enough about the wait time between submission and response--but they also have a cumulative effect of making me insecure about sending that piece out again. "Everyone keeps rejecting it! Every day, a new rejection! Is this story really ready for prime time after all?" Which is silly, because plenty of stories gather twenty or fifty rejections before finally finding a home. But insecurities don't have to be rational to be emotionally effective. Now that the cycle's slowed down a bit, the insecurities surrounding it are attacking with a bit less intensity. Which is good. But I haven't properly taken advantage of that lull, which is not good. So this week I want to get a few more stories into the slush, so I can be insecure about more stuff at a time.

So those are my aspirations for the week. I hope to look back on them from Friday's scenic lookout and say, "Yes, I did good this week." At least I'll have the advantage of not starting tomorrow with a sore mouth.

mission: completion
Tue 2015-08-18 23:43:00 (single post)
  • 5,391 wds. long

Hello universe! I have a front patio again! Theoretically, anyway--the paint crew finished up the last bits of the front of the building that pertained to our unit and the two above us, so I think I get to put the plants and patio furniture out front again. I've decided to do that tomorrow; it was too chilly and rainy to do tonight. The plants mightn't like it. The wood folding table and chairs definitely wouldn't like it.

Which reminds me: it's about time I gave the furniture another oil treatment. Once a month was the suggestion at the store, and I'm trying to be very good about maintenance and product longevity.

So tomorrow morning I might actually get to start my writing outside--which is to say, outside on the patio, rather than outside at the creek. Then I might just get to leave everything out there on a permanent basis once again.

Meanwhile, the balcony out back is still waiting for the paint crew to come back through and paint the trim. And the plants that live out there are still hanging around the living room. The most successful of our tomato plants is sort of drooping all over everything; I was going to tie it up against the wall, but obviously this plan had to be delayed. John's little sunflower never made seeds, presumably for lack of pollination action. And my squash, denied the ability to range freely all over the floor, is attempting to climb the walls, the screen door, the mystery pepper plants, and, showing a certain amount of desperation, the parsley next pot over.

So much for the household status report. My writing status report is less interesting (IMHO), but since that's what the blog's about, I shall blog it anyway.

Finally made my way back to my Boulder Writing Examiner gig. Just submitted for review tonight an article about John Scalzi's visit to Fort Collins this Sunday. I'll give you a link as soon as I have one. My relationship with Examiner's new review process has been a mixed bag thus far; one article was approved pretty much immediately, but another--a rather timely one, actually, the Puzzle Pirates weekend blockade roundup--was sent back to me with a request to remove specific dates from the headline, and never did get approved in time to be of use to anyone. So clearly I still have some things to figure out. This time, at least, I've got several days before the article I'm trying to get approved becomes obsolete.

I'm also finally making my way back to the rewrite of "Caroline's Wake." Embarrassingly enough, it has almost been a year since an editor returned it to me with a very specific rewrite request, complete with a marked-up copy of the manuscript and everything. I'm not happy with myself about this. The editor told me not to worry about a deadline, but this, I must admit, is ridiculous.

Why have I let it languish for so long? Well, I could say I've been busy. I could cite moving house, my busy roller derby schedule, other writing deadlines I've imposed upon myself... but when I look back over the past year, it's obvious that I've been able to get some things done. Whenever I can't get everything done, this short story revision has been the first thing on the chopping block. I've been avoiding it. It's that simple.

But why? Why avoid following up on a fantastic response to one of my stories?

I suppose that, while I'm between the rewrite request and the new submission, I'm in a state of potential. Great potential! And the thing about states of potential is, they're no-risk until you try to act on that potential. Where it's at now, the story has been given a strong vote of confidence and no rejection yet.

Basically, it's that thing where the writer doesn't finish because "unfinished" has more possibility than "finished." Until it's finished, it can't be pronounced a failure. Until it's sent out, it can't be rejected.

Which is, logically, a ridiculous excuse. But emotionally it makes so much sense.

Still. Emotionally, it's also got me in a state of stagnation. I'm producing very little new fiction while I'm sitting here frozen on this rewrite request. Knowing that I'm in the middle of one project makes it hard to justify starting other projects. So while this doesn't get done, very little else gets done either. I need to move. The unfinished dragon needs to be finished!

So that rewrite is now my mission for this week. Wish me luck.

Cover art incorporates photo of my potato plant. This was too subtle, so I added a potato from the grocery store.
don't get caught with this fictionette
Fri 2015-08-14 23:47:25 (single post)

Ha! I pun. This Friday's Fictionette is called "The Once and Future Hot Potato." Get it? "Don't get caught..." *Grooooan.*

It's about a kids' game, of course, but also about nostalgia and memory and divergent timelines. As always you can read the excerpt by following the link... and scrolling down to the text below the huuuuuge photo. (That's the original photo I used in this week's cover art, taken with my flip-phone at its highest quality photo setting. It's kind of blurry and very, very big.) If you want to read the whole thing, you should follow the links at the bottom of the excerpt to the PDF and the MP3. (Or just click them here.) If you are not already a subscriber to Friday Fictionettes, those pages will provide you with everything you need to become one with minimal fuss.

Meanwhile, over at my main writing gig, which is the writing and attempted selling of short fiction...

So I got a rejection letter today. This is not a surprise; I've been sending out a submission almost every day (yay!), and some of those markets are very quick to eliminate whatever it is they don't want. This particular market took about a day. They're the kind of place you send everything first, because if they say Yes you get a not-insignificant per-word pay rate in a prestigious professional magazine, and if they say No you won't be waiting long to find out.

No, the surprise was the paragraph added to the usual familiar form email, the paragraph reminding me to please in future use Standard Manuscript Format.

How embarrassing. I have been sending out manuscripts in Standard Manuscript Format for over twenty years now. I do not, by this time of my career, need to review an example. I'm more likely to err on the side of old-school Standard Manuscript Format by forgetting to change my underlines to italics or my Courier New to Times New Roman where a market specifically requests it. I was mortified to see that paragraph. Good Gods, what a newbie I must have looked.

Then I opened up the file I'd sent them, and was further mortified.

It was a mess, y'all. Both headers, the first-page header and the all-subsequent-pages header, were on the first page. Which was otherwise blank. Which was followed by nine other pages that were blank except for the all-subsequent-pages header. Which was followed by a page that was almost just as blank, but with the title. The next page had my byline. Then another blank page. Then, a page with just the first paragraph of the story.

Things didn't look normal until page 15, where the second paragraph of the story appeared and was followed by the third, fourth, and fifth paragraphs, and so forth, continuing as normal until the end of both story and document. But of course, by then, the damage was done. I'm amazed they read it at all (I am reasonably certain that they did).

Of course I looked like a newbie. What a total newbie mistake--to send along a manuscript file sight unseen.

So this is your Public Service Announcement, friends and colleagues: Before you hit SUBMIT, always open up the file and make sure the Manuscript is acceptably Formatted according to Standards.

(Also maybe don't make any changes in Open Office. Make all changes in Scrivener and recompile. Open Office is apparently notorious for terrible RTF support.)

another couple rounds, fortified with turbodog and banana cake
Thu 2015-08-13 23:59:58 (single post)

Today was an improvement. Instead of sleeping late and dragging around the house because of headaches and sinus pressure, I slept late and dragged about the house for the sheer pleasure of being pain-free for the first time in two days. Seriously, we are talking no small amount of bliss here.

Also, I had a dream I wanted to dwell on, or perhaps dwell in, for a little while after initially waking up with it. It involved moving into a new house, entertaining a very small child guest therein, and discovering an oven mitt full of cat hair that was defying the laws of physics. I blame late-night reading of the blog and other writings of Robert Jackson Bennett. On the one hand, the bit about acknowledging property boundaries for the communal fiction that they are, and recognizing the implied nightmare therein; and on the other hand, the bit about the Roomba.

So I got started late, but I did get started. I got busy with my submission procedures: I logged two rejection letters and sent one of the rejected stories back out again to a new market. One of the rejection letters was, happily, a response to a query letter I sent out last month seeking the status of a story I submitted last year. While I'd always prefer the story be accepted and published, it's a relief also to have the story simply pop free and be available for me to submit elsewhere. Which I hope to do tomorrow.

I got busy with overdue blogging: I finally wrote up the results of my recent Puzzle Pirates Seal o' Piracy experiments for the betterment of all. Examiner has recently moved to a new editorial model where everything you submit must be reviewed before it'll go live. I was disappointed to not be immediately placed on their list of writers the quality of whose output is sufficiently trusted that they can automatically bypass the review stage, admittedly. But given that I uploaded the post just before leaving for scrimmage, and the post had been approved and published by the time I got home, I can't complain too much. We'll see if they're just as quick at Saturday mornings; the blockade round-up is timely stuff.

Then I got home from scrimmage and got busy in the kitchen. Have I mentioned Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook? It's a cookbook. It's handsomely covered and conveniently spiral bound. You can buy a copy, physical or electronic. I'm in it, hawking my crockpot red beans and rice on page 154, but more to the point, a handful of handy, tasty, quick & easy mug cake recipes are in it. These are recipes where you mix everything up in a mug and then microwave the resulting batter, and you get a one-person dessert that honestly took more time to pull out and measure all the ingredients than it did to cook.

I made the Banana Cake from page 30 in one of my large tea/soup mugs. I had bananas turning black in the fridge, after all, but it's been so hot, I've been reluctant to bake more banana bread. Microwaving a mug for four minutes produces a lot less heat and just as much deliciousness. I did it twice, because the recipe only called for half a banana, and what else am I going to do with the second half of the banana? And that was fine. It was delicious twice. I had one of them before my humongous antipasta salad (we ordered Blackjack Pizza when we got home from scrimmage, and I honestly find that salad with all its cold cuts and bacon and olives and cheese and hugeness to be more filling and more fulfilling than pizza), and another afterwards. With a beer. An Abita Turbodog, to be precise.

I should point out, though, if you should acquire a copy of Ad Astra (and you should! Money well spent and for a good cause!) that the bit about "1/4 c baking powder" has got to be a typo. When you look at the other mug cake recipes, and when you look at the 1/3 c flour and pinch of salt in this one, you realize 1/4 tsp is a lot more likely. I have mentioned this to the wonderful and hard-working editors, in case they are putting together an errata page.

I'm pretty sure my red beans and rice recipe came out as intended. I skimmed it, anyway, and it looked OK. Maybe next time I make the stuff I'll use Ad Astra instead of my usual index card cheat-sheet and double-check.

the delays you get are not the expected delays
Tue 2015-08-04 23:07:25 (single post)
  • 1,200 wds. long

So lunch was indeed delicious. The crawfish count included in it was 37 (live weight 2 lb 4 oz; yield 6 oz), about a third of which were caught in the DIY trap I will talk about at some later point. Also, it wasn't so much lunch as dinner, because I started it late and it took forever.

Started it late: Because I exercised self-restraint (for once) and finished my morning shift first. Some of it I did out by the creek, but some of it required wifi and so had to wait until I came home and plugged the laptop in. Until the new battery arrives, I can't have wifi on battery alone; the poor laptop goes from 98% remaining, to 86%, to 66% barely minutes later, then shuts itself down hard, over the space of fifteen minutes.

"Also it wouldn't be right to just use some random private residence's unencrypted signal."

Right, what she said. Who was that, anyway? My conscience? Right.

Anyway, the bits that required wifi, I came home and did them. Well, first I put the morning's catch in the refrigerator and tidied away my fishing supplies, but then I did the rest of my morning writing shift.

Notably, this included submitting "Keeping Time," a story that has been out into the world twice already, to a brand new likely suspect. Or, if not as likely as I like to think, then at the very least to a market I'd be very pleased to see publish it. "Keeping Time," like "Stand By for Your Assignment," is a story whose first incarnation was A) much shorter, and B) in second person point of view. Unlike "Stand By," which needed to be changed to 3rd person POV, "Keeping Time" remained in 2nd person. I seem to default to 2nd person when I write very short pieces. I worry that it's a sign of laziness. Except, when pieces like that go to workshop, they occasionally get encouraging critiques along the lines of "Normally I hate 2nd person POV but you seem to pull it off," so maybe it's OK.

(This should not be confused with stories like "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" or "Other Theories of Relativity," which, despite including a whole bunch of sentences starting with the word "you," are actually in first person POV. The perspective character is an "I" who is addressing the "you." If it were second person POV, the perspective character would be the "you." But the mere presence of many sentences starting with "you" does not by itself indicate 2nd person POV, no more than the presence of "to be" by itself indicates passive voice. This is a minor sore spot with me, since while shopping "Sidewalks" around for reprints, I got a rejection letter that said "Sorry, I just don't enjoy 2nd person POV," and I kind of wanted to write back, "OK, fine, I accept that you don't care for the story, but did you somehow miss the bit where the narrator refers to himself as 'I'? The narrative is epistolary! Only instead of writing a letter, he's leaving a message on someone's cell phone voice mail! Gahhhh!")

(I didn't, of course. Never write back to argue with a rejection letter! Write blog posts instead. If you must.)

Anyway, so, off it goes.

Took forever: There is nothing about jambalaya itself that takes forever. Ditto etouffee. What takes forever is crawfish prep.

OK, no, boiling crawfish takes no time at all. You bring the water up to a boil, tossing in your seasonings while you wait; you dump in the bugs and let them go for 3 to 5 minutes; you dump in ice and leave them to soak up the spices for 15 to 30 minutes according to your tastes. No big deal. Most of that's just waiting around. But shelling them, and shelling them thoroughly--deveining tails, scooping out the fat, picking out some of the claw meat--that took a little while. (As opposed to eating them right out the shell, which would take no time at all. My friends have to remind me at the Nono's Cafe crawfish boils that I have to slow down to give other people at the table a chance. In this I am very much my father's daughter.) It took a while, and it was a continuous working while.

I have a system for claw meat, by the way. You take a butter knife, and you split the claw vertically. Then you for each half of the claw you use the other half's claw tine to dig the meat out. Quick and easy.

Anyway, lunch prep began around 1:15 with a trip to the grocery and didn't end until I was scooping jambalaya into my bowl around 6:00. And then of course it was time to eat. Leisurely. While reading blogs and online articles. And forgetting, what with my tummy being all full and happy, that time was continuing to pass.

The actual catching of the crawfish coexisted with my writing day quite well, especially since adding the DIY trap to my process. But if you catch them and bring them home, you gotta cook them, and, tasty as the results are, I'm not taking the time to do that again until at least the weekend. Maybe crawfish will turn into a Monday thing. That would work.

So I'll be off to work on the rest of my "afternoon shift" now, shall I? Got a YPP Examiner post I want to write, and a short story whose revision is seriously overdue. Guess which order I'll be doing those in. Go on, guess.

Adding the crawfish meat to the stew matrix, which is an amazing yellowish-orangish color thanks to the crawfish fat
All ingredients are in. Now we wait for the final round of simmering. Just look how studded it is with crawfish tails!
At last, I get to eat it. You cannot imagine how much restraint it took to wait to take my first bite until after the photo.
three reports on the three major components of my life at present
Thu 2015-07-30 23:59:59 (single post)

First item to report: Writing. (This is a blog about writing.) I submitted that story, I did, and what's more, it didn't suck. It might well benefit from the careful eye of a critique group, but we'll cross that bridge when/if the story comes back with a rejection letter. For now, it's on its way as it is.

Now that it's done (or at least submittable), I'm finding all my worries have turned out largely to be mere borrowed trouble. For one thing, in a fully fleshed-out story grounded in worldly details, the speculative element sells itself as itself a lot better. Worldbuilding FTW! For another thing, the 3rd person POV does seem to be having that reassuringly authoritative effect I was hoping for. And for a third thing, which I had not actually thought about before, why can't the answer to "is the heart beating or is the main character just unstable" be--both? Normal life plus the uncanny incursions are pushing the protagonist toward paranoia and a nervous breakdown, but the pending nervous breakdown doesn't mean the uncanny incursions aren't happening. As they say, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't all out to get you.

Anyway, the story has been submitted. Also, it has been submitted in standard manuscript format but in Times New Roman rather than Courier New, because this market's submission guidelines state that Courier is evil. I mention this because it's an easy detail to overlook, especially when you're of a generation that reads "Standard manuscript format" and automatically translates that to "double-space, 1" margins, monospace font, size 12."

Always reread the submission guidelines sentence by sentence before hitting the big red button. It might just save your manuscript.

Second thing to report: Minor injury. So I have this perpetually sprained left wrist. That is, I sprained it years ago, and ever since then it's been ridiculously easy to re-injure. The damn thing flared up this week, probably because I tweaked it helping to move heavy equipment on Sunday when the BCB Carnival was over. I didn't really notice it until yesterday, but then, hoo boy, did I notice it.

(Brief tangent on gender and idiom: Why are these interjections always male words? "Oh, boy! Pizza!" "Man-oh-man, am I tired!" I can't even easily think of gender neutral phrases to replace them with, let alone feminized ones. I have a sudden urge to replace such idioms with things like like "lady-oh did that hurt" or "A circus? Woo-girl, I love the circus!" Only everyone would look at me funny and genuinely not understand what I was saying.)

(Tangent ends.)

So the wrist was pretty bad yesterday. When I went to pull on my roller derby gear, I just about cried trying to tug on my right elbow pad. That's already a difficult task after getting hot and sweaty and a little swollen (literally swollen, not this "GET SWOL" business) doing off-skates exercises. But with a sprained wrist it's near impossible. Once the gear was on, everything was fine and I had a lovely practice--although I might have yiped if I'd had to give or take a whip--but taking the gear off again was a whole 'nother thing.

Then today I got seriously alarming levels of pain just handling pots and pans while making dinner (about which, see below) or while tugging the seat of my chair to scoot closer to the desk. It was while doing the dishes after dinner and discovering that I can't even pump the pump-action soap dispenser without pain that I decided I'd better stay home from scrimmage tonight. (Which decision had nothing to do with needing more time to prepare my story for submission, understand--but it didn't hurt.)

I'm icing my wrist aggressively (but safely!) and trying to remember what not to do with it. (I can't even scratch my head left-handedly. That's effed up.)

Third thing: Crawfish report! Because I'm obsessed, apparently. I took my cheesecloth-wrapped lumps of tofu bait down to the creek and proceeded to begin my writing day there, while only checking the lines and the wire basket thing at regular and strict intervals. Like, during Morning Pages, I was only allowed to check when I got to the end of a page. That sort of thing.

Which didn't hurt the day's catch at all. As we approach even higher summer temperatures, the water warms up and the mudbugs get even more active. And when the bait's been sitting on the creek floor for about 15 minutes, like as not there'll be three crawfish clinging to it when I pull it out. Whether they all hang on long enough for me to get them to the bank is another question, of course. (I was going to use another tier of the 3-tier wire basket as a net, tie it onto a stick and hold it under the line as it comes out the water, but I didn't think my left wrist was up for it. GOOD CHOICE.)

Anyway, between yesterday afternoon and today, the catch came to 34 crawfish from sizes medium to monstrous. They weighed in live at just under two pounds and yielded about five and a half ounces tail and claw meat. (A surprising number of claws were big enough to be worth cracking open. Miniature lobsters, y'all.)

And I made crawfish etouffee, as the pictures above will attest.

There are tons of recipes on the internet. I wanted a recipe that was roux-based and involved no tomato products, just like Mom used to make. Apparently there are battle lines drawn over things like this. I am firmly of the opinion that adding tomato paste to your holy trinity vegetables results in a creole, not an etouffee. Also, cornstarch is just cheating.

I also wanted a recipe that included the crawfish "fat," since my research yesterday indicated this was something people used it for. The recipe linked above met all of my criteria.

I cut all quantities down by roughly half, to kind of sort of match the available quantity of crawfish meat. I marveled that the recipe didn't call for celery, speaking of the holy trinity; I added three ribs. But I omitted the green pepper. I was going for "like Mom used to make" and Mom never cooked with green pepper.

Speaking of "just like Mom used to make," I'm pretty sure Mom never cooked with crawfish fat. She didn't like crawfish. Her etouffee was aways shrimp, and she started with a heavier roux than what this recipe calls for, one that was equal parts flour to oil. And yet, the moment I added the crawfish fat to the roux-vegetable mixture, everything turned recognizably into etouffee. I mean, the color and consistency were perfect. It was kind of amazing.

At the point where the recipe says "Optionally, add a little more water to thin the mixture," I added about half a cup of the crawfish boil water and a good few ounces of dry sherry. I bought the sherry for the crawfish Monica on Tuesday, so it was conveniently there and tempting.

Yield: Two bowls of etouffee and rice, all of which a single customer will inhale without apparent effort.

I'm including photos firstly to make y'all jealous but more importantly because I still can't get over having made such an amazing dish using crawfish that I caught five minutes away from my doorstep.

Random weird note: Crawfish boil water seems to cure warts, at least in my case here and now. The small collection of warts between my right index finger and middle finger are GONE. Like, between one day and the next. They came into being about... eight months ago? Annoyed the crap out of me, too. I couldn't stop picking at them and fidgeting with them. That's how I know they were still there Tuesday. Wednesday morning, they were GONE. I suspect that the crawfish boil seasonings may have had an effect similar to that of salicylic acid, and that dipping my hands in the pot to grab crawfish after crawfish for processing made the dosage sufficiently intense. But I have no certainty. All I know is, the skin where the warts had been is now smooth and healing over. Weird, huh?

This time I'm really not going back for more crawfish tomorrow. Really! Not even tempted. Not only do I need to rest my wrist, but I'm actually sort of all cooked out. I'm ready to eat simple dishes for a few days. (I'm also ready to take a break from keeping dormant crawfish overnight in the refrigerator. My crawfish casualty record remains goose-egg pure, but the endeavor remains slightly stressful.

I might still take my writing out to the creek, though. Turns out I really enjoy writing by the creek.

(Still need to order a new laptop battery.)

the game i'm supposed to be playing
Tue 2015-07-14 23:42:29 (single post)
  • 3,330 wds. long

So apparently it takes me another, what, three hours? THREE HOURS to get what ought to have been a simple Hugo Awards 101 blog post done. Seriously, it is not worth it. I need to be able to prioritize, and, when priorities are low, turn the exhaustive perfectionist dial wayyyyy down.

But speaking of priorities, I have modified my must-dos for the workday mornings. To date, I've required of myself three things to start each workday:

  • Morning Pages (mental morning hygiene)
  • 25 minutes of freewriting (scales and arpeggios)
  • and 25 minutes working on the next Friday Fictionette (getting it done a little at a time, rather than all at the last minute).

Recently I looked at my timesheet template and realized that there was one line I was consistently failing to visit: "Submissions Procedures." Also, I had a rejection letter in my email that I still needed to log a month after I received it. So I've added...

  • 25 minutes of Submissions Procedures

...to my morning gottas.

What do I do with that session?

Log submissions and responses. If I send off a manuscript, if I receive a response to a submission, I've got to log that. I keep such records in a personal database that's hosted at this domain (it feeds the "Recently Published" block on the front page and the "Works Progressing" list here on the blog). I also make note of them in the Diabolical Plots Submission Grinder, which does a lot more with my data than I've programmed my own database to do. It does things with my data that benefit other writers, too, mostly to do with market statistics. Anyway, communications regarding submitted manuscripts go there.

Query long-delayed submissions. This is what I did next after I logged that pending rejection email. I had a couple submissions out since early 2014 with no response logged. I sent emails to both markets asking after those submissions' statuses, and, when one of them got back to me (and resent the rejection letter I'd missed in my spam last year), I logged that too.

Resubmit rejected manuscripts to new markets. I did this Friday! "It's For You" had returned with a rejection letter back in December. It was about time I sent it out again. Off it went to meet the staff of a different magazine, hopeful and full of energy!

Research markets for future submissions. Here's where being on the clock becomes absolutely essential. I can spend hours doing this--reading the stories published by professional markets, deciding whether any of my existing stories would fit well in a table of contents with them, reading my colleagues' reported experiences with those markets, plugging the stats for my unpublished stories into the Submission Grinder search form to find even more markets, reading all their submission guidelines... But because I'm on a 25-minute timer, I try to stay focused.

Today I spent my Submission Procedures session pruning a handful of browser tabs open to various submission guidelines. With one exception, I discarded non-paying markets. Then I discarded the ones I'm honestly unlikely to come up with suitable material for any time soon. Of the ones that remained, I chose two whose current submission period ended on or about July 31 and decided what I was going to send them. In both cases, I chose unpublished drabbles that could be expanded into flash or full-length short stories this week and next. Then I made note of a couple other tabs open to markets whose next submission period opens in August. I've existing pieces I could send them as-is with a clean conscience.

Making this a daily ritual has got me back in the game. I mean, I've sent off a piece to a pro-paying market! For the first time in months! That's huge! But it's also valuable as a regular reminder of what I'm supposed to be doing in the first place. Things like Friday Fictionettes and Examiner blog posts can feel like such an accomplishment when I finish them that it's easy to forget that they're not my main gig. My main gig is writing fiction for love and getting it published for money. So now, every workday, I take time on the clock to plan or enact the next step required to play that gig.

That way, even if I don't manage to spend the bulk of the working day on fiction for professional publication, even if I throw most of my hours down the black hole of FIND ALL THE PERFECT LINKS FOR THIS BLOG POST, I've at least spent half an hour with my head in the right game, so I don't forget which game I'm supposed to be playing.

look behind you isn't that a drabble
Thu 2015-01-08 23:43:35 (single post)

I knew I was going to forget! December 31st came and went, and I totally forgot. It wasn't until I was pulling up my Category Archive page on Specklit to include in my updated writing resume that I realized that my latest drabble is up over there.

Since today was empty of anything but whining to blog about--seriously, I slept pathetically late and got just about nothing done before going to the Denver Roller Dolls' drop-in friendly endurance practice tonight--well, it seemed appropriate to distract you with drabbles!

Far as I can tell, there are three basic types of drabble. There's the one that ends in a punchline: drabble as joke. There's the one that's more of a still-life, each sentence moving the camera focus slowly toward the powerful reveal: drabble as set piece, I guess? And there's the type that's flash fiction in micro, a tiny snapshot that includes just enough detail and motion to imply a longer story. That last sort is my favorite, but probably the hardest for me to write. I'm not sure I've achieved it, but I think I've at least wound up somewhere in the vicinity.

I will not have a drabble up during the first quarter of 2015, alas. Specklit is a market that never buys one drabble per author at a time, and I only submitted two. If one fell short, the other would fall with it. Of course, for all I know, neither was quite up to snuff (though I'm personally very proud of the one based on "The Emperor's New Clothes," and must make sure to find a new potential home to send it to). Anyway, I'm going to try to use all the time between now and the Quarter 2 submission deadline to put together a full ten-drabble portfolio. (Yes, while I'm working on my short story revision and my novel revision. Optimism!) As it turns out, Virtual Writers' World, one of my online sources for daily writing prompts, encourages "Dash 'n' Drabble" Fridays. It makes it easy to roll weekly drabble production into my daily freewriting.

the many hues of being born yesterday
Mon 2014-12-01 23:29:08 (single post)
  • 6,559 wds. long
  • 1,200 wds. long

This blog post comes to you after a successful arrival and first couple days in Avon. I have run away from home for the weekend, which means I've got no responsibilities but the writing ones. Granted, this theory has been put sorely to the test by my having visited the library and brought six books with me back to the Christie Lodge--Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals is the first temptation on the to-be-tempted by pile, and I'm halfway through it already--but it is a test I intend to pass, darn it. Look, there's evidence in my favor. To wit:

  • "Keeping Time," a 1,200-word expansion on what was originally a 739-word entry in the 2012 edition of the annual Weekend Warrior flash fiction contest on Codex, got emailed to a prospective market late Sunday night. Sunday, of course, was the deadline for that particular submissions call.
  • Sunday was also the deadline for submissions to SpeckLit for publication during the first quarter of 2015. I sent in two new drabbles. I'd have preferred to send the full slate of ten, but two was what I had. I'm rather proud of those two, too.
  • Speaking of SpeckLit, I cast my votes for the Best of SpeckLit 2014 Q3 (also a November 30 deadline). Did you?

I got right back to work on the novel today, too, and with inspiration from the most unlikely of places. I recently stumbled across The Pervocracy, "a kinky, feminist sexblog" if I may borrow Cliff's own words to describe it. (My own words began with "a whip-smart kink blog," but I couldn't seem to continue on from the pun. Which, I hasten to add, was meant with sincere admiration.) Cliff is reading Fifty Shades of Grey and blogging about it one chapter at a time. Like many people, I began reading this series for the lulz, but past chapter 12 my attitude became one of horrified ongoing enlightenment. I'd heard about this book's representation of BDSM being offensively inaccurate. What I hadn't known, because I hadn't gone looking for details, was that E. L. James has chronicled a deeply abusive relationship in disturbing detail--you can play Potential Abusive Partner Red Flag Bingo with these books--then marketed it as desirable romance. And if you're saying, "Well, but, duh, it began as Twilight fanfic, and that's exactly what Twilight is." To which all I can say is,

[TRIGGER WARNING]

when Edward broke into Bella's room, all he did was watch her sleep. He did not rape her and leave her sobbing all night long on the bathroom floor.

Seriously. Chapter 12, y'all. It makes Edward's hinge-oiling shenanigans look sweet by comparison. Apparently some people really need to be told that D/s doesn't mean "the Dom is allowed to sexually assault the sub if it sounds like she's trying to end the relationship."

So what does this painful horror story have to do with Iron Wheels beyond a both having a nodding acquaintance with Twilight? I'm getting to that.

Much earlier in the read-through, when there were red flags for potential abuse popping up everywhere but it was still possible to laugh about it, Cliff had a fantastic observation about the character of Anastasia Steele. James has, for the purposes of the plot, carefully written her to be so "pure" as to be unrealistic. This goes well beyond our toxic social notions of "virginity" or "innocence." Ana has not only never kissed anyone, had sexy thoughts about others, or experienced orgasm--she has also apparently never exercised in her life? Oh, and she has no idea how to use a computer. She has never used Google nor sent a frickin' email, ever, in her life. Despite being a college graduate (apparently I'm wrong here, she graduates in chapter 14) who is currently pursuing a career in journalism. I cannot imagine how one can be a journalist in the 21st century without being able to do cursory fact-checks on the internet, but then I can't imagine writing a novel set in Seattle without fact-checking things like what the nearby international airport is called, or the relative positions of Vancouver WA and Portland OR. And yet here we are with a novel for which the author has apparently fact-checked none of these things and more besides. So there you go.

But Cliff's observation is this:

Okay, new theory: Ana spontaneously appeared out of nothingness, full-grown, a few days before the events of the book. She's never done anything before because she literally did not exist.

And I thought, "Oh. That's almost literally true of Etienne Farfield, isn't it?"

Etienne is a changeling. Her entire function for hundreds of years has been to look exactly like, so as to temporarily replace, stolen infants. The way I imagine it, this means she has not been an autonomous being at all until the novel takes place. Between "assignments," she is simply stored, in stasis, a wind-up toy that isn't wound up. So her conscious existence up to now has consisted entirely of a brain incapable of verbal thought and a body incapable of performing any but the most rudimentary of voluntary movements. But now, suddenly, she's walking around like a real girl, pretending to be a normal human high school senior.

For some reason, it took reading Cliff's half-joking observation about Ana Steele to make me realize that if you really do have a character that was born yesterday, you have to put some real thought into all the implications of that. You have to work with those implications. But the good news is, you get to play with those implications. What's it like, thinking in words for the first time? What's it like, suddenly confronting the ability to do things? How does she get up to speed on this whole "being human" thing? How does it work when she's not actually replacing someone this time around? Or isn't she?

So that's what I played with today--writing yet another brand new first scene, one that starts with her narrating what it's like to wake up as a human teenager for the first time.

Where it will go tomorrow is anybody's guess.

good for what ails you
Wed 2014-11-19 23:07:50 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long
  • 1,400 wds. long
  • 5,675 wds. long

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.

email