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!"
One More Duck
Today I finally secured resort accommodations for Sirens 2012 . I purchased early registration while attending World Fantasy last year, then said to myself, "I have oodles of time before I need to do anything else!" That statement ceased to be true some time ago. The Skamania Lodge (in the majestic Columbia River Gorge, in Stevenson, Washington) showed no availability via their online reservations. I called the 1-800 number in hopes of receiving better news. A charming and pleasantly chatty reservations operator found me the very last room available and slotted me in.
Meantime, we also talked about French last names ("LeBoeuf" may have to be spelled a lot for people outside New Orleans, but it could be far, far worse), urban fantasy (she recommended Laura K. Hamilton; I recommended Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Midnight Hour), and various inspirations for writing fiction. As phone calls to hotel reservations go, it really was an unusually pleasant example of its type.
Now I just need to get my train tickets to Portland. I'm pretty sure I'm going by train. It's a straight connection from the California Zephyr to the Coastal Starlight. I've never been on the Coastal Starlight before. It's got wifi! The entire journey takes two overnights, not materially worse than Denver to New Orleans, though the Denver-to-Sacramento leg is 31 hours compared to Denver to Chicago's 18. But, you know, meh. More time with me and my laptop and/or knitting and/or sock-darning or jeans-patching. And less time trusting my belongings or my person to commercial airlines and airline!TSA, which trusting I'm slightly allergic to. (Amtrak!TSA exists, as far as I can tell, exclusively on video loops on infinite play in the Chicago terminals. I'm OK with that.) I can only rejoice in my spouse-given freedom from the 9-to-5 world that allows me to extend a weekend excursion by 48 hours on either side. Thank you, John! Now, to get this "writing" thing up to the "possibly making a living off it" speed...
Speaking of which, got my doubly-signed copy of the contract for the publication of "Lambing Season" back in the mail this week. Hooray!
Vague Announcements of a Woot-like Flavor
...And of a woolen texture. First publication rights to "Lambing Season" have been sold, and for pro rates, please the Gods that things proceed as expected and hoped-for between now and the first half of 2013. Also as contracted; I mailed back two signed copies of the significant document to the editor in question this morning.
More details will be revealed when prudent and neighborly.
Two pro sales! This may actually not be a fluke! Oh my.
Things That Got Done Last Week
So today was kinda worthless on the writing front. This was mostly because Sunday was roller derby from early morning 'til night, and Monday was a pretty awesomely productive but exhausting volunteering-at-the-farm morning, so Tuesday was "I get to sleep in and be worthless guilt-free for once" day.
(You'd think that leaving the farm at lunch and napping in the afternoon would count towards the sleep-in-and-be-worthless-guilt-free requirement. Except the nap in the afternoon is never long enough nor uninterrupted. And it's never guilt-free. I can't entirely forget that the guys who work on the farm as their actual jobs not only start two hours earlier than I do in the mornings, they also don't get the afternoons off. So I'm a lazy wimp who if I really wanted to be helpful would stay until sundown just like everyone else... I never said the voices in my head were helpful or rational, but they're there and they're loud.)
I think that weekends, rather than always occurring on Saturday and Sunday, should be invoked as needed. I'm declaring Tuesday to have been my honorary Saturday.
Meanwhile, last week I Got Stuff Done.
I did indeed submit the one about the space glue snow apocalypse (now with Brand! New! Title!) to The First Line on deadline day. It required a stupid amount of wrestling with Microsoft Word over formatting styles it insisted on applying to my imported WordPerfect 5.1 DOS document. How did it know to apply "Normal (Web)" to all my paragraphs? I do not know. I mean, yes, I composed the story in HTML code and copied the web output into Word, I'll admit to that, but then I saved as WP51, opened it in WP51, and resaved it in WP51. WP51 format doesn't save Word or RTF formatting styles. To my knowledge, WordPerfect doesn't even know about formatting styles until you get into the WYSIWYG versions for Windows and Mac. Version 5.1 is a DOS program. Plus, look -- if you hit F11 to "Reveal Codes," you can see there's absolutely nothing but the usual hard line break plus tab at every new paragraph. Look! This file is clean! So when I then freshly boot up Word to open this WP51 document, how can Word still detect the former presence of HMTL paragraph tags? How? HOW?! THIS IS NOT HOW THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO WORK!!!
Yeah, I'm a little bitter about this. Also about the way I couldn't change the style of the biography paragraph at the end without changing the style of the entire manuscript. WTF, Word?
Thereafter followed a lot of cursing and brute-forcing and frustration, but eventually everything looked acceptable and I sent the dang thing off. Immediately enough to possibly be an auto-reply, I got an email confirming receipt of my submission. So I guess that was a success.
I also finally got my butt in gear and submitted "First Breath" to a reprint anthology on almost the last day of their reading period. Go me. And frankly I'll be shocked if they accept it. I'm not anywhere near certain that it's a good fit for the anthology, or, if it is a good fit, whether it's good enough.
But I keep reminding myself of two things. First, this is a story that was already published at professional rates. Clearly it's "good enough" for some value of the term. Secondly, even if I'm not certain it's a good fit, I'm not certain that it isn't, which puts the dilemma squarely in the category of Don't Reject Yourself; There Are Editors To Do That For You.
So I sent it.
Next on my plate is "It's For You," a.k.a. the one about the phone that isn't there. My plan is to get that revised over the next few days and submitted over the weekend. Because the next few days are not about sleeping in and being worthless. They are about Getting Stuff Done. DO NOT SCOFF AT MY OPTIMISM BECAUSE IT IS INVINCIBLE.
Stop poking it with pointy sticks! Do not test the invincibility!
NO, REALLY. INVINCIBLE.
Procrastination. Writer's Block. Kindness.
It's a sunny afternoon in Boulder. I'm at Aspen Leaf Frozen Yogurt, sitting at a counter that faces out the window into the parking lot. Cars roll by. Past the lot, Table Mesa Boulevard makes its final stretch west into the foothills and the neighborhood where I envision "Heroes to Believe in" taking place. (And how long has it been since that's been in the slush? Note to self...)
Things are peaceful. I am currently allowing myself what Havi Brooks calls "Island Time." Havi Brooks is an amazing inspiring blogger and you should read her stuff now. Or, well, whenever you get around to it really. No pressure. Your call.
It's been a Day Full of Stuff, which followed a Partial Week Full of Stuff, a Partial Week being all that's left when you're freshly back in town after a weekend at Gen Con. You know how it goes. First, the train is supposed to get back into Denver early on Monday morning, the better to leap back into Life As Usual. But what with the flooding in Nebraska reducing the BNSF to a single railway over which everyone proceeds single file, we didn't actually pull into the station until about 1:00 PM. And the Flat Niki Stage of Recovery stretched into Tuesday. So.
The Amazing Diaper Cat, Null, got a room to himself and his undiapered butt, so my job Wednesday was to Wash All The Things. This involved many journeys up and down the stairs so as to catch the washer at just the right time to toss in a quarter cup of Simple Solution Oxy Formula, which really does make the cat piss stench go away but is not optimized for use by the laundry load. I washed two loads and called it good.
Also, it's been hot enough in our house that guests need to sign a waiver indemnifying us against liability for their heat stroke, so it also fell to me to investigate replacing our air conditioner wall unit. Made the call Tuesday, met the HomeSmart representatives Wednesday, will have a new unit in the wall Friday. After more than a decade of this inefficient, dying, energy-sucking and stingy-with-the-cool-air refrigeration unit, we will have a new A/C box in the wall. I'm not sure I'll be able to take responsibility for whatever crazy impulsive things my unmitigated joy prompts me to do.
Today, Null went to the vet for Acupuncture Experiment #4. After this, we have to make the call: has it being doing him any good? Well... Maybe? He seems to be walking better and dripping less. He goes without a diaper again, because we find "helping" him at the litter box every few hours seems to erase most accident potential. He sleeps on the bed without leaving wet spots. But is any of this due to the acupuncture, or was it already the case if we'd shucked off the diaper sooner? Is he really walking better, or am I talking myself into seeing it? I... don't know. I'll be keeping an eye out for him.
Also, I made phone calls and decisions. Saturday, our old table and our old TV will find new homes at, respectively, Joyful Furniture and Ares Thrift. In the spirit of getting rid of unused things, I cleaned out my stationery drawer of empty or near-empty ink bottles.
So. As stated above: A Partial Week Full of Stuff. But have I been writing?
Well. I've been doing my Examiner posts and thinking really hard about getting back to other long-deferred writing tasks. I filed "Blackbird"'s latest rejection letter and decided where I'll send it next, which I'll do... tomorrow. And, figuratively out of breath from all the other stuff I've been doing, I've been smacking myself with guilt for not getting more done.
Did I mention Havi Brooks?
In my Internet travels, which get more ecclectic the deeper my avoidance cycle dips, I came across a link to Havi's "Bite Me, National Anti-Procrastination Day." I clicked it, thinking I'd read a screed about having One Big Day A Year defeats the purpose because us marathon procrastinators will use it as an excuse to put things off until said Day.
No. That is not what I read.
What I read was some of the wisest, kindest, most compassionate writing on the subject of procrastination. Just... beautiful stuff. Stuff that made the part of me that's sick of getting kicked by the other part of me feel acknowledged, spoken to, valued. And in was more than that -- when Havi writes from her own experience of procrastination and the effects that well-meaning but ineffective advice can have, it's like reading my own diary. If I kept a diary. If I was anywhere near as self-aware.
Or what about this charming quote on procrastination from another ďexpertĒ who wants to terrify you into taking action?
"Understand that this enemy is working diligently, 24 hours a day, to prevent any forward progress, so you must work even more diligently at eradicating it from your life."
Lovely. Thanks. Now I totally want to go get a bunch of stuff done. Oh, no I donít. I want to curl up in a ball and cry.
I work with people who have these issues. People who have big, wonderful things to do in the world and are really, really scared sometimes to put it out there. Or even to talk about putting it out there.
I love these people with all my heart. Theyíre smart, creative and just generally awesome.
And then these so-called experts show up with their war-mongering and guilt-mongering and an entire day devoted to telling my people how much they suck. And itís all so well-intentioned!
But it doesnít help them. It makes them feel worse. They withdraw and retreat deeper into the stuff (guilt, criticism and self-loathing) thatís most harmful for them.
Iím here trying to help people who are traumatized by shoulds learn how to motivate themselves with love and attention. And this stuff freaks them out.
What about all the people who totally need help and arenít getting it because theyíre scared? Because they think it might make them feel guilty and horrible about themselves. Because they think theyíve tried whatís out there and know for a fact that nothing can help.
Well, I hope that everyone knows that not all methods involve kicking yourself and hating yourself. Because ohhhhhhh, thatís just got to hurt.
It does. It hurts a lot. Gods, it's good to read someone who gets that.
See, about half of any given Morning Pages session reads like this: "Here is stuff I gotta do today. [LONG LIST] And I'm gonna do it! Every bit of it! Except there's so much I didn't do yesterday. And I'm afraid if I don't do it today it means I'm worthless. I need to stop beating myself up. Why does even writing a to-do list feel like beating myself up?" And so forth and so on and variations on a theme.
So I just started devouring Havi's blog yesteday. Well, I collected all the Favorite Post type links into Scrapbook so I could read them offline at my leisure. I have another train trip coming up (anyone else going to World Con / Renovation?) and I could use the reading material.
Today I started dipping into it while between tasks. My fingers hurt and I was sick of being vertical, so I took the laptop with me for a lie-down and I read...
Is it scary to talk to your fear? To even acknowledge its shadowy presence in the room? Absolutely. I'm sorry. Hug.
And, Gods help me, I just wept.
Maybe I'm just a sap. I dunno. But reading this stuff has alternately got me energized and allowed me a measure of peace. It also makes me wish I could drop everything along with an extra $600 and run away to Portland for one of Havi's "Rallies," because, dude, blanket forts. I'm not quite ready to order her Procrastination Dissolve-o-Matic, mostly because I've been spending a lot of money this summer already and I'm rather behind on my money-making endeavors, but I would be really tempted if the eBook were available singly. So I continue reading bits and pieces in my breaks-between tasks, and I'm not going to pressure myself to OMG GET JUST ONE MORE THING DONE TONIGHT! but instead I'm going to eat the last few spoonfuls of my frozen yogurt with cookie dough and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and I'm going to watch the light change across the windshields of a hundred parked cars, and I'm going to give John a big smile when he arrives to pick me up and we head to the pizza place for dinner and Spiral Knights. And I'm going to have fun.
And tomorrow I'm going to get things done because each thing is a joy to accomplish, not because I feel guilty.
Well. That's the theory. It'll take practice to put it into practice.
You know, I don't actually like frozen yogurt. Under the freeze, it's still yogurt. It's still got that sour tang that sets my tongue on edge. But I tried it, and I had a wonderful afternoon here. Isn't that weird?
John's here. Gotta go. Hugs!
Recent Writing-Related Things I Have Done...
...roughly in order of actual writing-related relevance.
Firstly. Had the pleasure of seeing myself referred to, for the first time, in a Real Review of Actually Published Stuff, as a "newcomer." Like one's first lumpy handspun yarn, this is to be cherished. Only about 100 times more so. Again, I can't think of better company in which "First Breath" could see the light of print. This is amazing.
Relevant to this: Blood and Other Cravings is slated for release on September 13 of this year. It's available now for pre-order at all your favorite online and brick-and-mortar localities. I've presented here a link to do so at IndieBound.org, who help you place orders at your neighborhood independent bookstore if you're fortunate enough to have one.
Secondly, I've finally put "Blackbird" back into the slush. I'm slightly unnerved by Apex Magazine's insistence that submissions be done through HeyPublisher.com, referred to hereafter as "HP". (This should be unambiguous since I am not going to discuss boy wizards nor printer manufacturers in this post.) I can't submit a cover letter unless it's part of the manuscript; alas that I didn't think to prepend one. I can, however, enter a bio that will be attached to every darn thing I submit via HP -- which just feels weird. Also, in order to submit, I had to upload my manuscript to HP, which is worrisome even considering HP's reassuring privacy clause. Still, Apex specifically want dark fantasy, which this is, and Apex pay pro rates, which option I should like to exhaust before moving down the publishing hierarchy.
I'd have tried Strange Horizons first, but they have a list of horror tropes they really would not like to see again, at least not unless the manuscript is effin' fantastic, and I see "Blackbird" in at least three of those listed items. Which, despite SH wanting to see "stories that have some literary depth but aren't boring; styles that are unusual yet readable; structures that balance inventiveness with traditional narrative," is daunting. So... well, maybe later. Maybe a few rejection letters down the road.
Thirdly and similarly, I'm looking for other places that might like to reprint "Right Door, Wrong Time." Brain Harvest seems like a good fit. When I took a look Saturday, the most recent story was Helena Bell's "Please Return My Son Who Is In Your Custody," which, wow. Chills and shivers and a few uneasy giggles. I still need to read the latest since then, Simon Kewin's "Terahertz." The first few paragraphs tantalize me with their efficient worldbuilding.
Nextly, I've begun play-testing Glitch. Glitch is a very strange, and strangely compelling, MMO. You play the part of a figment of the Gods' (called "Giants") imagination. You learn skills, you do stuff. You interact with other people. You help build the world. Play-test opens again tomorrow, so I hear. What does this have to do with writing? Well, it's a reason why I might not be getting a lot of writing done. (Stupid online game addictions. I can has them. In multiples.) If you also are playing, I'm "vortexae".
And lastly (for this post at least), I am baking pound cake. I had this quart jar of whipping cream that self-soured, and pound cake calls for sour cream. So there.
And what does that have to do with writing? You ask a writer who's ready for dessert.
Actually, I can loop that back into writing. When I get done baking it, if the timing works out I shall take it over to our neighbors' place to share. John's over there with Kit and Austin of Transneptune Games, play-testing Becoming Heroes with some friends. Becoming Heroes is available for ordering right now this minute! Nothing "pre" about that. And if you go to Gen Con Indy this year, you can visit Transneptune Games at their vendor booth and buy it there from the team that made it happen.
I'm really proud of these guys and of the book they've produced, and not just because one of them's my husband. And not just because one of the copy-editors was me. (Gods help me, I'm a copy-editor.) And not just because Alison McCarthy's illustrations are stunning. And not just because the game draws on such a multifarious palette of literary influences. I'm proud of them and this book for all these things, plus because creating a new game and putting it out there for public consumption is an amazing feat to take from concept to fulfillment. And it's something John has always wanted to do, for as long as I've known him, so I'm especially pleased for him on that account.
And it's a dang good game, too. The team has put a lot of thought into it -- heck, they put a lot of thought into games as a category. You should read their blog. You won't take RPG mechanics or RPG terminology for granted ever again, that's for sure.
So Transneptune Games sold their first copies of Becoming Heroes about the same time I saw that Publisher's Weekly review of Blood and Other Cravings, which parallelism really amuses me. Hooray!
And that's the list of Things What I Wanted To Tell You What With Not Blogging Reliably Of Late. Which hopefully will improve in the near future.
Notes From the Front Line
That's not "front line" as in battlefield. That's "front line" like "front of house," the place in the dining establishment where staff interface with customers. (Although back in my days working the university cafeteria, there always seemed to be a certain parallel between the two senses of the phrase.) The back of house is where the stories get cooked up; the front is where they get offered for sale. I was going to use the battlefield metaphor, but I couldn't decide whether my latest rejected stories had come back with their shields or on them. Then I decided war was not the answer. Go with the restaurant metaphor: two potential diners decided the current menu was not to their liking.
"Door" is still looking for a place to get reprinted. PodCastle says short-shorts have been hard to sell. And "Blackbird" has garnered its second rejection letter; it's not quite right for Weird Tales. So there you go. I'd think of new places to send them, but it's rather late tonight and my brain is mush.
I have about enough energy to say this much on the subject of rejection letters:
This newfangled world of electronic submissions makes it hard sometimes to tell whether a rejection is a form letter or a personal note. Compose a sentence by hand or paste it in; the pixels look the same. And, more importantly, Dear Writer, however the sentences got into the letter, they were most likely chosen for you to receive. Don't read anything into a rejection letter that isn't there -- that way lies madness -- but take seriously those things that are. If the rejection letter compliments your story, then by all means enjoy the warm fuzzy glow. And if the phrase "try us again with something else" is included, take them at their word.
The world is full of disappointment and discouragement. If something even remotely looks like encouragement, take it as such.
So. End of Deep Thoughts. Now: Thinking about what next to try Weird Tales with, and where next to try "Blackbird." And also, where Writing The Next Thing is concerned, what the Next Thing might be.
These are good thoughts to feed to a sleepy brain. A well-fed sleepy brain means a helpful dreamy brain.
You Can't Win If You Don't Play
I do not habitually buy lottery tickets. In fact, I don't buy lottery tickets. Pretty much ever.
Once upon a time, John and I were driving down a highway in West Texas, looking for a place to spend the night. No hotels were forthcoming. We took an exit out of sheer hope and found ourselves driving down a significantly smaller highway with no end in sight. Nor light. We passed a sign that said CATTLE IN ROAD. We started wondering if we were not on a highway at all.
John said, "I really hope we don't get shot." (Have I told this story before?)
I said, "Don't say that! Don't even say a thing like that!" He looked surprised, and a little hurt, and a lot confused. I dialed it back and tried to explain. "I just feel like, saying a thing makes it more likely to happen. I'm not comfortable giving voice to the things I don't want to happen."
He nodded. There was silence for a moment while we got the car turned around and headed back for the honest-to-goodness interstate highway. Finally, John said, brightly, "Gee, I hope we don't win the lottery..."
But of course neither of us buys lottery tickets. We do, however, play in other lottery-like things. John is going to Gen Con this year as, for the first time, a vendor; he and some close friends have been designing role-playing game systems. They're going to show one of 'em off. And as for me, well, I submit short stories in hopes of finding people willing to pay me for the right to publish 'em.
It's a lot like the lottery in some ways. Well, it's a lot unlike the lottery. Regardless of what some cynics will tell you about either industry, neither game nor fiction publication are matters of pure chance. Quality comes into it. Once you reach a certain level of quality, then we can talk about chance: getting the story in front of the right editor, making the connection with the right game publishers, etc. But you can't get a chance until you've got a product of sufficient quality to be worth putting in front of the potential customer. And you don't stand a chance getting it in front of the right editor/publisher/agent until you've done sufficient homework to aim for one who's a good fit with what you're selling. And you don't just buy a ticket to play; you have to make the ticket yourself, out of star dust and unicorn tears. Seriously. Also blood and sweat and time and patience and more blood and sweat and time.
But it's just like the lottery in that you can't win if you don't play.
It occurs to me that of late I have been playing only very rarely, and this may have something to do with the slow rate of publication I've been experiencing. "I have this crazy theory..."
And it also occurs to me that it was very pleasant to report a certain amount of money for "sale of short fiction" on the portion of our household income taxes described as Income Not Reported Anywhere Else. I should like to do more of that, please.
Hence more submitting.
"Right Door, Wrong Time" is on its way to, possibly, a new home. Its previous home vanished from the internet sometime early last year; the small press Twilight Tales and their website TwilightTales.com would appear to be no more. I'd like to get it out there again, so into the slush it goes.
The Business End of This Writing Thing
So I didn't actually announce that "Blackbird" didn't actually sell, right? "Blackbird" got the most adorable form rejection letter ever. Of course, invite-only anthologies mean that "form rejection" takes on a different meaning. It's not like an ongoing quarterly magazine with its dreaded "Did not meet our needs at this time." In this case, a limited amount of people were getting it, all at once, and it was written specifically for this instance, and it was hand-pasted into the body of individual replies to individual submission emails. So. That said, the copy that got pasted was adorable. It also made me grin and look forward to submitting to this editor's next anthology.
Today, I failed to get any new work done on the fiction queue, but I did manage to update my manuscript submissions database. This meant grabbing dates from various emails, and also doing more than a few direct database inserts and lookups via PHPMyAdmin because I never got around to building certain of the key web forms that would make it simple. Yeah, I write my own PHP/MySQL widgets (this blog, for instance -- there's a reason it doesn't look like Wordpress or Typepad). They aren't very well-written widgets. I bought an O'Reilly book that's supposed to help me write better widgets, but first I have to read the book. Meanwhile, I can add a new market or a new manuscript from my Super Sekret Website (Memberz Only), but if I want to juxtapose them interestingly, I have to clamber backstage and futz with the tables directly. For now. Until I get off my butt and fix things.
So. The Feb 15 email submission of "Blackbird" got logged along with the Mar 11 rejection letter in the Correspondence Log table, right after I added the entry for the anthology in the Markets table and the entry for the submission itself (defined as "intersection of this manuscript and that market) in the Submissions table. My table relations, let me show you them! Then I had to go back and add the rejection letter for "Lambing Season" from another anthology last year. Then I clicked "Show stuff in slush," knowing full well I had nothing in slush; when something came up, I had to locate and correct the orphaned Correspondence Log entry.
All of which left me with, like I said, absolutely zero in the slush. We had to fix that.
"Blackbird" has been kicked off the couch with instructions to "get off your lazy bum and get a job or something, I dunno, you can buy your own damn canned herring, these are mine. Especially the herring in cabernet sauce, you try taking those and you pull back a stump, my lad." So the story took the hint and slushed its happy ass out the door.
And then I logged the submission, both here and over at Duotrope, because for once I was submitting not to an anthology but to a magazine, so I could actually pull the market's name out of Duotrope's search engine.
Tomorrow I may be very ambitious and show a couple more manuscripts the slush treatment. Also, I may actually get some work done toward something else being submittable.
Only, I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but, what's up with 70% of all surveyed pro markets, and some semi-pro too, being closed until May? I mean, I knew the industry was smaller than it looked, but damn. Them's some serious cahoots there, y'all.
Acceptance Letters! They Make Writers Happy!
"First Breath" has sold. To a professional market, even. Which is a first for me. (Come to think of it, Ideomancer was my first semi-pro sale of fiction this decade. Damn, 2010 rocks!)
On the one hand, this means that the ongoing worldbuilding discussion with my friend is unlikely to result in a significant revision. On the other hand, that's totally OK and I know she'll understand.
This weekend: Floating on euphoria, squeeing to my nearest and dearest, having an extremely short attention span because squee!
Tonight: Angsting over writing the requested bio. What the hell does anyone put in those things? I mean, when they can't say "is the best-selling author of this, that and the other novel."
Tomorrow: Working on the next thing, because there is always a next thing.
And I'm not sure the Ant thing will be the next thing, because if there's something I've learned from this experience, it's this: Write at the intersection of passion and fear. That story that won't get out of your head, that you're kind of ashamed to let anyone else see? That's the one. Get to it.
Bonus points if it came to you in a dream.
I am thinking of another story that matches that description. And, while there's something to be said for the comic relief of something like that Ant thing, that other story does match the description. Which means now it won't get out of my head.
But tomorrow I get to see a bunch of writer-type friends downtown for my usual Tuesday Lunchtime At Atlas thing, and I will probably squee at them a bit more before settling down to writing the next thing. Also! I have a new laptop! It isn't falling apart, and its CD/DVD-ROM works, and it doesn't crash when I unplug it! Tomorrow is totally going to be show-and-tell day.
How To Eat French Onion Soup
- 2,847 wds. long
- 1,312 wds. long
Writing metaphors! They're not just for breakfast anymore! In fact, they're what's for dinner. Also lunch for the next three days, because we cook in quantity.
So on Wednesday John and I had our first Cooking Date of the year. We made French onion soup and insalata caprese. It was all a spectacular success, and, as implied above, I've had leftovers to eat every day since then.
Today at lunch I sat down with a freshly broiled toast-and-cheese top on a rewarmed crock of our awesome soup, and, apropos of nothing extraordinary, I finally figured out how to eat the dang stuff.
Pause. Rewind. Replay a Wednesday night in Metairie, Louisiana circa 1988. Maybe it was a Sunday, I don't know. Once a week, or maybe just once a month--memory is hazy here--a group of neighborhood ladies got together to sing barbershop harmony. They had hopes of founding a brand-new Sweet Adelines chapter. Mom met with them and brought me along, and this was when I first got pegged as a baritone. (Yes: I was a Type A at the age of 12.) But where I'm going with this trip down memory lane is down the road from the neighborhood home in which we rehearsed to the local Ruby Tuesdays for late night appetizers. Where I always, always, always ordered the French onion soup.
And I always made a mess trying to get through that toast-and-cheese lid. And Mom and all the other grown-ups enjoyed great and gentle amusement at my exasperated expense.
It's not simple! A spoon isn't sharp enough to get through that thick swiss cheese. And even if it was, the toast is floating; you can't very well slice it with a knife and fork. There's no leverage. Best I managed to do was poke at the edges of the cheese until I had a hole through which to sip the broth down to a less perilous surface level, such that mangling the toast and cheese no longer caused catastrophic overflow.
Even John asked the question when we sat down to dinner: "Now how do I eat this?" "I have no idea," I told him. "You just muddle through and make a mess. It's why I put the soup crocks on plates."
But today at lunch, I got it. If you just let the soup crock sit, all patient-like, until all components are cool enough to eat without burning your mouth, the soup will have soaked into the toast and softened it up. Then you can push... not too hard... very very gently... at the cheese-topped toast with the edge of your spoon, until it gives way. The cheese will try to glue it together, but once the bread breaks, the cheese will stretch thin and you can bite through it when you eat the broken-off bite of bread.
After that, everything's much easier.
So this was my discovery. And I thought, "That's another metaphor for writing, isn't it?" (Yes. I know. Everything's a metaphor for writing. Shut up, I'm making a point, it's an effin' marvelous point, it's bloody brilliant. Because I say so. Hush.) Of course I thought that. I was in the middle of my writing day, and I was trying to figure out how to get my mental spoon through the thick cheese topping that was keeping me from going deeper than babble draft into anything.
The plan was to spend a good hour moving an unfinished short story closer to submission-ready. Only I didn't know which one. "First Breath" was done and out the door (though it may yet see further revisions pending an ongoing conversation a colleague and I are having about its worldbuilding details). "Lambing Season" also hit the slush again yesterday. A number of stories are in the post-critique "almost perfect, but not quite" stage, but none felt... permeable, if you know what I mean. None felt accessible. I spent half an hour going through my files, looking for some half-baked idea from a freewriting exercise that might spark itself into a full-blown story. Nothing went ping.
Finally I latched onto a "scene" from the Daily Story Idea yWriter file. It had to do with sentient, human-sized Ants coexisting with humans. One of them goes into a coffee shop and orders a cappuccino. As story ideas go, this one was light and fluffy and funny and nothing at all like "First Breath," and it amused me to read it. I had no idea what to do with it, though. I didn't even know what to call it. ("The Ants Go Marching Latte-ward, Hurrah" is very much not a working title. It's an "I have to call this something and I mustn't take it too seriously this early in the game" sort of for-now title.) I set the timer for another half hour and attempted to figure it out where this thing was going.
I pasted that ridiculous excuse for a working title at the top and printed out the not-yet-a-story. Then I read it again, letting its broth soak in and soften things up. Then I got out a pen and began making notes as tentative as the spoon's assault on the toast-and-cheese. "Barista shouldn't be too enlightened; anti-Ant prejudice shouldn't all be big bad boss's." "Would Ant use mandibles for speech? How would Ants speak?" "What barista thinks but doesn't say parallels what Ant doesn't say but telegraphs with her antennae." Several of those notes put together became a solid story development idea, like a nice big bite of toast that lets you finally get your spoon into the soup. And after that, everything becomes much simpler.
Really, everything about writing that looks scary and impossible tends to seem less so once you take that first nibble. But then, isn't that the case for most scary and impossible tasks?