“And I love the indented border
Every wordís in alphabetical order
Ergo, lost things
Always can be found”
William Finn

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

the turning of the year brings more poetry to your ereader
Mon 2020-11-02 21:04:35 (single post)
  • 14 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long

I've spent most of October running as fast as I could to stay only marginally behind, which is why blogging didn't happen. Blogging is kinda low priority. Except I really shouldn't let more time pass before announcing this:

"Reasonable Accommodations", my sonnet about a were-deer in corporate hell, will be included in the Winter 2021 issue of Departure Mirror Quarterly. Look for it in January!

Departure Mirror Quarterly is a brand-new magazine of speculative fiction and poetry. Its content is meant to reflect the belief that, in the words of editor Arthur Robert Tracy IV, science fiction and fantasy "is a genre that transports us out of our reality while giving us a medium to reflect on our reality and to consider what can and should change. Itís both a departure from and a mirror on reality. It's a Departure Mirror."

I am honored that they considered my poem a good fit with that philosophy.

The first issue, Fall 2020, is live and available in three ebook formats (PDF, EPUB, MOBI). You can download it for free from this page here. Its table of contents is sparkling with gems, some bittersweet, some uplifting, all well worth your time, eyeballs, and brain-space. And do spread the word! Even in the best of times, brand new publications live or die by word of mouth, and COVID-19 has put its thumb on the "die" side of pretty much every scale (except maybe for Zoom futures, if Zoom futures are a thing). So download yourself a copy and tell all your SF-loving friends to do the same!

Meanwhile, I see by the editor's blog that Dreams & Nightmares #116 (the issue that includes my poem "The Ascent of Inanna") has been printed and subscriber copies have hit the mail. If you are not a subscriber, you might consider becoming one. A six-issue subscription is $25 to North American addresses and $30 elsewhere, and a lifetime subscription is $90 wherever you are.

In other news, I am still two weeks behind on the Friday Fictionette schedule, so there will be no October round-up just yet. I will be scrambling to catch up for the foreseeable future. That notwithstanding, I do plan to participate in National Novel Writing Month, after my fashion; but more on that in another post. Good night!

reporting from the personal writerly bright side of 2020
Tue 2020-09-01 16:37:53 (single post)
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 983 words (if poetry, lines) long

Happy September all! I have a couple of things made out of words coming out where you can see/hear them this month, and I thought I should let you know.

"The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner" - Cast of Wonders: This story, originally a Friday Fictionette, was accepted and contracted for reprint back in January. This immediately helped guaranteed that, whatever happened, my 2020 was going to have a bright side. This past weekend, I received word that the story is with its narrator and is slated for publication in a September episode.

Cast of Wonders is the leading voice in young adult speculative fiction, podcasting a new episode every week. Most recently they have been serializing "The Curious Case of Miss Clementine Nimowitz (and her Exceedingly Tiny Dog)", written by Alex Acks and narrated by Sandra Espinoza. It's up to Part 5. Part 1 is here. Go check it out!

"The Ascent of Inanna" - Dreams and Nightmares: Originally a flash fiction story entered in a Codex contest in early 2020, then whittled down to its heart and soul and reimagined as a poem. D&N accepted it back in April and scheduled it for their September 2020 issue. And now it is September 2020!

Dreams & Nightmares is a long-running print magazine of speculative poetry and flash fiction. You can buy single issue (I obviously recommend the one for September 2020) or subscribe. Subscriptions are available in two flavors: six-issue and lifetime. Lifetime sounds like a bit of a gamble until you figure that A. it's only $90 and B. the magazine's been printing issues since January 1986. The landing page of the magazine's website is a blog whereon the editor posts something tiny every day. Usually it's a tiny poem. Sometimes it's a tiny something else.

The numbers! Publishing even a small amount of stuff is largely a numbers game. Which isn't to say it's not also a matter of craft and quality. Just, the more manuscripts of craft and quality that one submits, the more chance of a manuscript happening to cross the desk of an editor inclined to purchase publication rights. Here are my numbers for 2020 so far, including a few submissions and rejections already logged for September:

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep 2020
Submissions: 10 10 15 8 5 9 11 7 3 78
Rejections: 8 11 13 9 4 11 6 7 1 70
Acceptances: 3 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 5

Next time: the August 2020 Friday Fictionette round-up.

dear dev team i have found a bug in the spacetime continuum there is not enough of it
Thu 2020-08-13 13:08:31 (single post)

So! As promised: WHINING. Well, wittering. Thinking out loud in public about what's working, what isn't, and what I might do about it. Thanks for being my sounding board.

As I said Tuesday, I'm trying to make August another novel-progress month. How much progress did I make on the novel during that first week in August? None. Zero, zilch, zip. And even on the days when I did make progress, that progress consisted of five minutes smashing the keyboard about how much the first draft sucks.

It turns out, time is finite.

Trust me, I have complained to the management about this. Loudly. However, the bug remains outstanding and I don't think it's even on the development team's priority list. So I'm trying to come up with strategies for working around this limitation.

STRATEGY #1: Put It On the Daily To-Do List.

I have a LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet I add a page to every weekday morning. The basic template lists all the usual writing tasks I want to get done daily. Then there's space to add any other to-do items like meetings, events, volunteer shifts, derby practice sessions, household chores, etc.

Since specificity in planning makes me more likely to follow through, I'll write a brief description: "Freewriting: 3 random words and Inspirobot." "Fictionette: Please finally finish the Aug 14 draft!!!" I'll clock in and clock out so as to have a record of how much time everything took. After the task is completed, I'll jot a brief note in the Outcome column about how it went.

Great! So let's put "New Novel Draft" in the description for the "Revision" line item. Great! Except "Revision," after "Blogging," tends to be item most likely to fall off my schedule when things don't go to plan. Where's your novel progress plans then, Niki?

Basically, the Daily To-Do List is a strategy for planning. It is not a strategy for dealing with failure cases. No, for that we have...

STRATEGY #2: Start Where I Left Off

At the end of the day, every task that didn't happen gets a big NOPE in the Outcome column, boldfaced and maybe even highlighted in red the better to shame myself instantly see what needs to be prioritized the next day. And the next day I paste those rows right onto the top of the new day's timesheet. The timesheet template now starts with a Leftover Items block specifically for this purpose.

So far it's working. When Monday's submissions procedures session went epic so that I never got to my planned short story revisions, I started Tuesday morning off with those revisions. When those revisions gobbled up more time than expected so that I never got to my daily Freewriting and Fictionette block, I made sure those came first on Wednesday. And when I didn't have time to finish this blog post on Wednesday, I continued it first thing today.

Great! Now no missed task will languish for longer than a day. Plus I'm starting to get a realistic idea of how my expectations match up to reality. Things always take longer than I expect. Also they take more energy. It'll be a rare day when the Leftover Items block on my timesheet stays blank. Maybe I can't actually fit every single task into every single day. Maybe I need a better plan.

STRATEGY #3: Put It On The Weekly To-Do List

Some things are daily things: Morning Pages as daily mental hygiene, freewriting as a warm-up exercise and story idea generator, a little progress on the next Friday Fictionette every day so I don't fall behind. But some things can stand to be done only one day a week.

This year, I moved my submission activities from a daily to a weekly routine. I'd do that, and only that, on Monday afternoons. Why Mondays? Well, for one thing, Monday isn't a derby night, so I'd have time and energy to spare. (These days, thanks to the pandemic, no night is derby night, but I still try to skate or exercise when I would have had derby practice.) Also Mondays conveniently happens to be the one day a week when Strange Horizons is open to submissions.

I wasn't sure it would work. I worried that it was a form of putting all my eggs in one basket, and possibly not a big enough basket. But I told myself it was an experiment. If the experiment failed, at least I'd have gathered data.

It's turned out wildly successful. I feel comfortable taking all the time I need without any pressure to rush through to the next item, because there is no other item. And since Monday is the only day reserved for submissions, I might as well submit everything I can. This past Monday, I subbed five things (including a short story to Strange Horizons). Then I gave myself time to putter around the internet doing market research and considering what I'd submit next week.

So the basket is definitely big enough. And if the basket gets wrecked, Strategy #2 means I can catch the eggs in Tuesday's basket, so to speak. And if rescheduling submissions procedures for Tuesday means some daily thing doesn't get done, well, again, see Strategy #2.

Theoretically, I should be able to wedge a weekly novel-writing/revising session into my week. I've got four afternoons left in which I try to hit revisions; three of them can be for short stories and poetry, and one can be reserved for the novel in progress, right?

Except when a short story wants revising, there's usually a sense of urgency about it. Submission windows close. Contests have deadlines. My critique group is on a schedule. If I get to the revision item on my timesheet at all--and, again, I don't have a good track record on this--I tend to want to use that time to prep a manuscript for imminent submission.

What I need to do is clear the decks.

STRATEGY #4: Pick A Novel Writing Month

I got the idea from NaNoWriMo and Camp Nano: Pick a month and devote it to the novel. It doesn't have to be the same month as those national events. It just has to be is a month where I schlep stories out on Mondays and otherwise ignore them.

August was supposed to be that month. I'd just written a handful of new things for submission in June and July! I knew where I wanted to send them when they came back! Except... one of them came back and I wanted to revise it, since I'd done a rush job of writing it in the first place. Another came back from my critique group and I really want to hit it before my sense of what needs to change fades. Short story urgency strikes again!

I may just have to pick another month. Or, at the very least...

STRATEGY #5: If You Can't Do A Lot, Do A Little

...reduce my expectations. Maybe five minutes a day thinking aloud on the page is acceptable. For August, anyway.

So that's me thinking about my novel-related scheduling problems. There are other problems related to the novel, but we shall talk about them another day.

insomnia forces a body to prioritize
Wed 2020-07-22 18:04:40 (single post)
  • 520 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 100 words (if poetry, lines) long

Oh, hey, so, speaking of recovery days after insomniac nights, I had one of those on Monday night/Tuesday afternoon. And I'm not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg here, but two things were going on: it was very hot, making it difficult to sleep, and also I stayed up stupid-late reading. We're going to say that I stayed-up stupid late reading in order to not be bored while I couldn't sleep, how's that?

The book in question was T. Kingfisher's A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking. It stars a fourteen-year-old wizard whose magic only ever works on dough and baked goods. Bread, cookies, sweet rolls, great. Lightning, fireballs, not so much. Nevertheless, this turns out to be surprisingly useful in many ways, even after it becomes clear that this is a story about political intrigue and war. Also, this wizard's familiar is an omnivorous sourdough starter colony named Bob. Bob has a temper, which also turns out to be useful. Do you want to read this book? YES YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK.

Just try not to stay up all night doing so unless you can afford to sleep all day the next day. Because I did, and I couldn't, and, well.

It wasn't so bad. The crash didn't hit until well after my writing group's critique meeting was over. But it was bad enough. The crash hit while I was holding down a table at Collision Brewery waiting for the Volt to finish getting its leaky windshield wash fluid reservoir tank replaced. Falling asleep at a restaurant is Not Done, especially in pandemic season, so I did my best not to. I drank a lot of coffee. I tried (and failed) to work. But just as soon as I got home, and got my scheduled Bunny Care Chore done, and spent a couple minutes playing Katamari Damacy to sooth my rattled and caffeinated brain with peaceful absurdity, I collapsed in bed and stayed there until late evening.

And that was a small problem because I had a story due that night.

I'm participating in another Codex contest. This one's called Flash: Savior of the Universe. It's a lot like Weekend Warrior, in that each round consists of a handful of writing prompts and the assignment to write a new piece of flash fiction on an absurdly tight deadline, after which point everyone gets to vote and comment on the stories. But the word count for FSOTU is a touch roomier (1,000 instead of 750), and the deadline is less absurdly tight. And thank goodness I'd been actively working on my entry every day since the prompts landed, because I did manage to get that thing submitted, and even slightly polished, with about twenty minutes left before the 1:00 AM Mountain Time deadline. I wrote nothing else that day, but I got that much done. Huzzah!

But hey woo bad timing on the insomniac night and recovery day thing, yeah?

(Hey writers! Contests like these are one of many reasons why you should join Codex the moment you qualify. You get motivation to write new fiction and/or poetry. Plus you get instant feedback on said fiction and/or poetry. This can easily lead to more published fiction and/or poetry. It's a great racket! Remember my announcement that "The Ascent of Inanna" was going to see print in September? That poem originated as a Weekend Warrior short-short story. Remember "Other Theories of Relativity"? Weekend Warrior 2012. And the piece I just submitted to Daily Science Fiction, about which crossed fingers--hey, they liked something of mine before, maybe they'll like this one--that was from Weekend Warrior too.)

(Join Codex, join Codex contests, write more, publish more. That's typically how it goes. See you there maybe?)

odds and ends on a Monday afternoon
Mon 2020-07-20 18:39:57 (single post)

So I finished a new story and submitted it last week. It's an expansion on the 500-word story I submitted to Escape Pod's flash fiction contest a couple months ago. At its new 1,300-word length, there's a bit more room to flesh out the characters, the setting, and the resolution. I really like it now and I'm feeling an unwise amount of hope regarding its chances. If that hope founders, ah well. I know precisely where the next two places I'm going to send it will be.

Thanks to this July push to include a revision session in every work day, I proceeded at a somewhat healthier pace than I did during production of the previous story. Because of that, and probably also because this story was only about a quarter of the previous story's length, it was a fairly stress-free procedure. There were still a good two hours of last-minute revision on deadline day, but 1) that's within the bounds of a normal revision session, and 2) it really was revision, and not a race to write the last two thirds of the story from scratch.

And then I did one more copyediting read-through, this one aloud to catch typos and misplaced modifiers and other awkward things, and totally choked up during the last two paragraphs. With the story having unexpectedly passed the "made its own author cry" test, I felt pretty good about sending it out.


One pleasant side-effect of all this social distancing, partial isolation, and public activity shut-down is that in addition to not having contracted COVID-19 (cross fingers, knock on wood, turn three times and curse and spit on the ground), I haven't suffered a cold or flu since well before things got real. And sure, it's summer now, but since when has that stopped me from developing sniffles and coughing and post-nasal drip?

Undoubtedly this has to do with keeping myself well out of range, as best I can, of everyone else, and--because Boulder County is thankfully a place where mask-wearing and social-distancing compliance is relatively high--everyone else is keeping themselves well out of range of me. Your common cold transmits over similar vectors to the current plague (minus the ability for the virus to survive for days on non-porous surfaces *wibble*), so if you successfully keep yourself safe from the novel coronovirus you're probably safe from the less novel sort. Additionally, during normal times I probably catch colds more frequently than I might otherwise because I play roller derby. If one skater's got something, the rest of the league's going to get it pretty soon. I haven't been smearing my body up against other skaters' bodies since early March. Much as I love my sport, I have to admit it makes a difference.

So aside from the odd recovery day after an insomniac night (more to do with the summer heat in a house with no air conditioning than with pandemic anxiety), I haven't really had to give myself a day off work. I've had a remarkably healthy and productive pandemic, is what I'm saying.


Yesterday I tried out this fava bean hummus recipe in all its complex and high-maintenance glory. You may ask, was it worth it? To which I would reply, MOST ASSUREDLY. Yes, the recipe could stand to be simplified (why bother wringing out as much of the water from the blanched spinach as you can when you're just going to add water back in the blender? Why go out of your way to use a neutral oil to make your lemon zest tincture when you're going to add a quarter cup olive oil to the final product?). Also clarified (wait, in step 3 you blend the fava beans and the spinach together, but in step 5 you fold the spinach puree into the fava been mixture?). Also it could use a reminder that fava beans require a second shucking after you blanch them (unless they actually wanted that tough outer skin on each bean included in the puree? Really?). But the recipe seems pretty forgiving of mild variations, and in any case the results were amazing.

I think I'm going to have a little more right now on the sourdough discard naan I fried up over lunch...

StoryBundle!
look ma i'm in a storybundle
Thu 2020-07-16 17:38:08 (single post)
  • 2,600 words (if poetry, lines) long

May I introduce you to the Glitter and Hope StoryBundle? It's curated by author Cat Rambo who introduces it thusly:

Hope can find its origin in friendship, whether on an alien planet or a New York street corner. It can come from writing, in a myriad shades as multi-colored as the ink in which it's inscribed. It glitters at the bottom of Pandora's box, waiting to escape. Waiting to provide comfort and lightand renewed vigor for the fight.

So this is a bundle centered on hope with a touch of glitter, rather than grit, and I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I did.

Of course the bundle contains Cat's rambunctious Nebula-Awarded novelette Carpe Glitter. which I think is a fine example of hope in both the glitter and the grit flavors. It contains a lot of other stuff I haven't read yet and am really looking forward to reading. I'm told that The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus by Alanna McFall is a wild ride. And I'm eager to explore M. Darusha Wehm's take on generation ship science fiction.

Included also in that bundle is the anthology Community of Magic Pens, which you'll remember contains my short story "One Story, Two People." BABY'S FIRST STORYBUNDLE INCLUSION! I did not know that was on my bucket list, but there it is, and now I can check it off.

If you're new to the whole StoryBundle thing, here's your briefing: You pay what you want (minimum $5) and you get a bunch of ebooks. If you pay more than a particular threshold amount (in this case, $15), you get a bunch more ebooks (the ones marked BONUS). You get to decide how much of your payment goes to StoryBundle.com (so they can keep offering amazing book collections) and how much goes directly to the authors (so they can keep writing/publishing amazing books). You can also choose to have a percentage of your payment go to non-profit charities that StoryBundle supports (at this time, that would be Girls Write Now).

This is an especially important time to support independent publishers, many of whom lost their most important retail opportunities to the COVID-19 pandemic. I know that Atthis Arts, the publisher behind not only Community of Magic Pens but also the two Diamondsong books and Traveling Triple-C, have been hurting bad and are facing uncertainty as to whether they will exist this time next year. Any income this StoryBundle sends their way can only help.

So I'd encourage you to chip in a fiver or more. You'll get lots of good reading and also that warm fuzzy feeling of having created extra hope in the world (with a side of glitter).

(Full disclosure, in case you're wondering: no, I don't stand to make any money off this. The anthology contract was for up-front payment only, not royalties, so I've already earned what I'm going to from the sale of first rights. I mean, yes, of course, I'd love it if more people read my story and said to themselves, "Gosh, that LeBoeuf gal writes a good read; where can I find more?" But mainly I just want to see this bundle do well so that the publishers and authors who do stand to earn a little extra income thereby get to do so.)

So with that, I am off to take my own advice!

the just-did-a-big-thing doldrums strike again
Tue 2020-06-30 21:58:31 (single post)

So I wrote a brand-new, never-before-seen short story over mostly last night and today, and I submitted it, and now I'm sort of sitting around wondering what to do with my life.

I ought to feel happy. Triumphant, even!

Instead I feel weirdly and intensely aimless.

I keep asking myself, what fun things was I not letting myself do while the story was still unfinished and the deadline was looming? What was I looking forward to doing once the manuscript was successfully submitted? And the only answer I keep coming up with is, "Not be working on that story anymore."

I am not unhappy with the story. I mean, sure, if I had another day to work on it, I'd smooth out some of the prose, work harder to differentiate the characters' voices, throw in more physical details and harden up some of the background worldbuilding. (And if the market I just sent it to declines to purchase, I'll spend a little time doing just that. Probably solicit some feedback from my critique group too.) But more or less I'm pleased.

It's a full-length fantasy story, just under 5,000 words, with character growth and a theory of magic and heroism and action and hard choices and also a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's a good day when I get to add a new one of those to my slush stable.

It's also the first time I've submitted a former Friday Fictionette not as a lightly revised reprint but as a completely rewritten and expanded original. (I checked with the editors ahead of time. The verdict was yes, submit it as an original. So we're good there.) This was something I thought I'd be doing more often when I first conceived of the Friday Fictionette Project. I certainly didn't think it would take almost six years into the project for it to happen. Nevertheless, I've done it now, and I'm proud of that.

(Usually I'd link this post to the Friday Fictionette/short story in question, but the place I sent it requires anonymous submissions, so I don't want to risk anyone stumbling over my blog during the reading period and seeing the title here attached to my name. Kinda paranoid, I know, but allow us writers our superstitions, yah?)

But. Anyway. Now I'm wallowing in this sort of "I ought to be doing a thing" mental space, and it's not fun.

Partially it's the familiar effect of having lived with a deadline long enough that the stress and guilt surrounding it becomes habit. I can't possibly have nothing to do right now! My base state at all times is "ought to be writing, aren't writing, feeling guilty and worthless for not writing, which is why I'm not writing even though I ought to be writing."

But it's also due to having scuttled my usual structured work day to get this done in time. So there's a bunch of daily stuff I haven't done today. I did my Morning Pages, OK, they're kinda necessary to getting my brain functioning for the day, but I didn't do my daily idea generation exercise (i.e. freewriting to a prompt). I didn't do my daily 25-minute-or-so session of working on the next Friday Fictionette. And I'm sitting here feeling like I should be doing those things now. I mean, that was the original plan: new fiction production and revision first, then submission procedures, then the "daily & weekly exercises" shift. And here I am not doing that.

You know why? Here's why. I logged six hours on today's timesheet, finishing up that story and sending it out. I am done for the day.

I just don't feel like I have a right to be done.

And if that's not a compelling argument against this "avoid-delay-avoid-delay-LASTMINUTEPANICPANICPANIC" process I've got going on, I don't know what is.

The Ink Slingers Guild on Habitica, of which you may have heard me speak before, has a monthly recurring challenge in which participants announce their goals at the beginning of the month and check in every Wednesday with their progress. My goal for June had been to make my daily Friday Fictionette work sessions so as to continue uploading weekly releases earlier and earlier. I more or less succeeded at that; all four June releases were uploaded to Patreon two days ahead of time, which felt great. Well, for July, my goal is going to be to hold myself to daily New Fiction Production & Revision work sessions, so that hopefully I don't find myself obliged to conduct another Emergency Short Story Boot Camp over the last two days of the next submission window I'm hoping to make.

Because while I'm damn proud of myself for writing a clean and reasonably polished short story of almost 5,000 words in under two days, I have to admit: this post-boot-camp feeling of hollow, aimless, joyless despondency is kind of crap.

The unsung heroes of Mardi Gras, and the mountains of waste they have to clear.
someone's gotta clean up all this mess
Wed 2020-06-24 22:38:33 (single post)
  • 34 words (if poetry, lines) long

Wow, I suck at this Social Media Self-Promotion thing. I keep forgetting to tell you about my latest poem publication. It's "The Mardi Gras Tree," and you can read it in the very latest edition of Eternal Haunted Summer--the Summer Solstice 2020 issue, whose theme is "Holy Days."

The holy day being commemorated in "The Mardi Gras Tree" is, as you might expect, Fat Tuesday. But it's not about the day of festival and celebration so much as it is about the hangover and mundane clean-up duty of the afternoon after the parades have all passed by, and the morning after when it's time to get back to work. The transition from one to the other happens much sooner than you might think. New Orleans natives know how the unofficial final floats in any parade are the police cars whoop-whooping at spectators to let them know the show's over, and after that the huge street-cleaning trucks with the round brushes and the jets of water scouring the street. Many a child raised in the area knows better than to leave before those vehicles show up--it ain't over until it's over, after all--and many a parent disappoints their kid by yanking them away before that happens--gotta get to the car and vacate your parking spot ahead of everyone else, for fear of having to sit bored in your car waiting for your turn to leave.

(That latter impulse I see at concert venues, with drivers fleeing after the last song proper but before the encore so as to spare themselves the inevitable traffic jam.)

I really like what editor Rebecca Buchanan has to say about my poem: that it illustrates "just how hard it can be to leave sacred space and return to mundane reality." I hadn't thought of it that way--Mardi Gras as sacred space--I'd thought of it more as a drunken Bacchanalia out of which we stumble blearily with a hangover and a certain dread of being confronted with whatever stupid shit we did while the rules of society were temporarily suspended. But that suspension of rules really is a liminal zone, a place where reality is on hold, a "time that is not a time, a place that is not a place" as we Wiccans often say about the magic circles we construct for the purpose of ritual. It was quite normal for a kid growing up in the area to have the entire week of Fat Tuesday off, which made it that much harder to return to everyday life the following week.

(Many of my friends and their families used the week to head up to Colorado ski resorts, a choice I found baffling. Why, I thought, would anyone leave New Orleans during the week of Mardi Gras? Didn't they know Mardi Gras was the best time to be a New Orleanian? Now, ironically enough, I'm in Colorado full time. I still haven't really learned to ski, though.)

Anyway, thanks to such neighborhood monuments as the titular crepe myrtle tree on Bonnabel Boulevard--and I'm sure there are landmark trees like it all over the Greater New Orleans Area; that's just the one maintained in my particular stomping grounds in Metairie--pieces of sacred space celebrate Fat Tuesday all year round. Come spring and summer, they rain petals and pollen down on unsuspecting passersby while their perennial plastic fruit clinks and clatters. "Throw me something, Mister." There are also the barely hopeful idiots in the French Quarter who'll half-heartedly offer anyone presenting as female a string of cheap beads if she should "take it off" and "show your tits"; I guess they're part of the year-round ritual space of carnival, too. I prefer the trees.

I wrote "The Mardi Gras Tree" this year as part of a Codex contest called "Victory in Verse." The contest ran four weeks. The first week called for short poems, twenty lines or less, which were otherwise unrestricted. During the second week, we wrote short formal verse. The third week was all about visual poetry: erasure poems, concrete poetry, found poetry, and other experiments. And the fourth week, dubbed "Take your best shot" (although I seem to persist in misremembering it as "Do Your Verse") featured whatever the hell you wanted to do at whatever length you chose.

The contest facilitator gave us a lot of prompts to spark contestants' imaginations, both pictoral and verbal. One of them was the photo I've included here. Given where I'm from, it was inevitable that it would catch my eye. Thus was born my poem "The Mardi Gras Tree," which I'm so proud to see featured in Eternal Haunted Summer, and so pleased now to share with you.

a long road to nowhere but with some interesting stops along the way
Tue 2020-05-12 23:45:53 (single post)
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long

Item the first: I want to make sure I've linked y'all to the correct version of the Dreams and Nightmares website, which is here: https://dreamsandnightmaresmagazine.blogspot.com/. That's kind of important, since the place I linked you before is out of date; I hadn't realized that where it said the May issue had just been released, it was referring to May 2011. Whoops. Sometimes I am not a very careful reader.

It's early days yet. The issue featuring my poem "The Ascent of Inanna" won't be out until September. But why not get a head-start on bookmarking the webpage and maybe subscribing? (I will point out again that for $90, the same price as a three years' subscription outside the US, you can get yourself subscribed for life.) Meanwhile, the editor is posting a new poem every day on the magazine's blog (the page you'll land on when you click the link above), so you might as well make a habit of checking back every day, maybe over your lunch break. Doesn't lunch go down better with poetry? I certainly think it does.

Item the second: The Laptop Saga appears to have arrived at a satisfying conclusion, if by a long and twisty route. No, Thursday's replacement replacement motherboard did not resolve matters. But it got the ball rolling in the right direction.

Also, the onsite technician who visited on Thursday? He was a lot more pleasant than Tuesday's guy.

Tuesday's guy--I wonít sugarcoat this--he was a tool. Rather a jerk, is what I'm saying. He was the kind of guy who shows up during a pandemic under Colorado's "Safer at Home" phase of restrictions with no mask and no gloves (which I was cautiously OK with) and a snide attitude about how "everyone's getting paranoid these days" (which made me less OK about the no mask or gloves thing). The kind of guy who asks you what's going on with your computer, and when you try to answer, he talks over you. The kind of guy who says "I've been doing this thirty years, trust me, I know what I'm talking about" multiple times in a conversation. The kind of guy who, when the planned hardware replacement results in unplanned problems (the aforementioned failure to load Windows), calls up Dell Dispatch and straight-up abuses the dispatch tech. "Do you even know what you're doing? Look, I've been doing this 30 years, I am telling you, this motherboard is glitchy! It needs to be replaced!" The kind of guy who then, after hanging up the phone, starts explaining to you, his captive audience, why it was justified for him to yell at the dispatch tech like that, that dispatch tech doesn't know what he's doing, dealing with people like that dispatch tech is so hard. Also, the onsite tech was white and the dispatch tech was not, but that couldn't possibly have factored into the situation, could it? (Yes, that was sarcasm.)

So Tuesday's onsite tech made everything extremely uncomfortable. But a different technician showed up Thursday to install the replacement motherboard, and the difference was like night and day.

Thursday's tech was not a tool. Thursday's tech was entirely pleasant. Thursday's tech I would quite happily go out for beers with, or coffee, once we're allowed to go out to bars and cafes again, and talk tech and play board games.

To start with, he had no snide attitude about the pandemic; on the contrary, he arrived in facemask and gloves, and he opted to do the repair out on the front patio, "to minimize contact." So I, too, donned a facemask and helped him get set up on the folding table and chair out there. I pried open the screen on the office window so we could pass the laptop's charger cable through. Then I hung out at my desk in the office so we could easily communicate through the window while practicing responsible social distancing.

When he asked me questions about the computer, he listened when I answered. When I had questions, he took them seriously.

When he found the screws that the previous tech had stripped, he replaced them. (Seriously. Tuesday's awful toolish, jerkish tech stripped the screws. I suppose that, when he said, for the tenth or twentieth time, "I've been doing this 30 years," I should have asked, "Doing what?")

And then, after Thursday's entirely pleasant and professionally cautious tech put my computer together again, and it booted up successfully, he said, "I've got a couple other appointments in the area; when I'm done with those, I'll give you a call to see how it's doing and whether you need me to come back." That's how awesome Thursday's tech was.

And indeed, when we spoke again, the computer was not doing so great. Again, on the second or maybe third reboot, right after I installed all the drivers Dell's SupportAssist app told me to install, it choked. Black screen, Dell logo, infinitely revolving wheel of dots forever. Alas.

So the tech set me up another dispatch, one where they ship me a box for me to ship the computer back to the Repair Depot, and that was that.

Only, over the weekend, I got to thinking--am I really helpless here? Does my laptop have to be a paperweight? Must I limp along on the backup ASUS, afraid of running two programs at the same time for fear of bringing the whole machine to a grinding halt? So I booted up the Dell, tapped F8 until the advanced startup options menu appeared, and I invoked Windows Startup Repair.

And it worked. Dang thing rolled back the driver installs and booted up like a charm.

After that, I installed the recommended drivers one by one until I hit the one that caused Windows to fail to load. Turned out to be one of the optional drivers. Easy enough to just refrain from reinstalling it. Meanwhile, replacing the motherboard did seem to have resolved my webcam flicker issue. Sound out the speakers was worse than ever, but after some hours spent juggling Realtek drivers I apparently hit a winning combination; the stutter-lag-static is more or less gone now. I was able join in yesterdayís co-writing session over Zoom and my writing groupís critique session today over Discord without any problems.

The only real issue of note is that the power button will only power the computer on; any attempts to perform a hard shut-down by depressing the power button fail. Which is weird, but hardly worth shipping my computer away for a week. If the computer stops responding and I need a hard shut-down option, I know how to detach the battery.

So, as far as I'm concerned, the computer's fine now.

The box for shipping the computer to Dell arrived yesterday. I emailed the Repair Center to let them know I won't be using it. And they're cool with that.

poetry is a help in times of water falling from the ceiling
Thu 2020-04-30 00:24:13 (single post)
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long

About that poetry sale from the other weekend: I've got the go-ahead to share the details with you! My poem, "The Ascent of Inanna," will be part of the September 2020 issue of Dreams and Nightmares Magazine. Founded in 1986, it's one of the longest-running print publishers of speculative poetry, and I am so pleased to get to be a part of it.

The thing about this poem is, it started as a piece of flash fiction, which I wrote for Codex's annual Weekend Warrior contest. I'm sure I've mentioned it before; this was my third time participating. Each entry must be written new for the contest in the space of a single weekend and can be no longer than 500 words. For Week 2, somehow I lit on the idea that after Inanna hung around three days dead in the Underworld, it must have been just the absolute pits to have to climb back up to Heaven and be Queen again.

So that's what I wrote. But I couldn't figure out how to end it properly. There wasn't enough story in the moment of Inanna's contemplation of her re-ascent to the Great Above. But attempting to pack her entire return into 500 words, right up to the bit where she finds her husband celebrating rather mourning and tells the demons they can have him in her stead, was a little much. I knew that no matter how well or poorly the story did in the contest, it would need a significant revision.

I wound up revising it into a poem. And the editor of Dreams & Nightmares offered to buy it. And you will get to read it in September. Information on subscribing to the magazine can be found here. (I'm intrigued to see that lifetime subscriptions are an option at roughly the cost of a three-year subscription. That's super tempting.)

The acceptance email came on Sunday the 18th, and payment, as the guidelines said it would be, came shortly after that acceptance, on Saturday the 25th. And on Thursday the 23rd, my laptop came home from the repair depot full of brand new hardware that worked blissfully well. It was a good week! And apparently I needed it, because the next week--this week--was gonna start out pretty crappy: In the wee hours of Monday the 27th, I was awakened by the sound of a waterfall where a waterfall had no business being.

About a gallon of water, all told, just poured out of vent fan unit. (This was due, I found out later, to a toilet in the unit above me overflowing. Also, this is not the first time something like this has happened. My upstairs neighbor has let me know she's doing what she can to make sure it's the last.) But it started slowly enough that, before the deluge hit full force, I had time to hop out onto the back porch, select the bucket that was full of pruned bits of tomato plant rather than potting soil, and then--this is key--stand there wavering groggily over what to do with those tomato prunings. I think I stood there for about twenty seconds, just paralyzed over having nowhere to put 'em. This is what happens when I get woken up suddenly at 3:45 AM. My brain does not work. Finally I came to my senses, dumped the compost-to-be onto the patio deck, and raced back inside to position the bucket where it would do the most good. Maddeningly, the water was coming down precisely onto the edge of the toilet seat, not a stable place for the bucket. I wound up using a stool to support it.

Then I went to call the condo association's emergency maintenance line. The emergency maintenance line unexpectedly went to voice mail. I left a rather pathetic message, which was returned around 7:30 AM by the property manager, telling me that they'd get the property restoration people on the case right away, and also that I should have called the emergency maintenance line. "Option four," they tell me. "You press four, that gets you the after-hours emergency people." I told him I did press four, and that's how I got the answering machine. Why did that happen, did they think? "Oh. I don't know why that happened." *facepalm*

So now we are living with two heavy duty fans and a dehydration unit in our bathroom, making the whole bedroom/bathroom area hot and noisy. But the noise is surprisingly easy to sleep through, and the weather outside is nice enough to leave the bedroom window open all night, and the heat in the bathroom has made my sourdough yeast starter experiment encouragingly vigorous. So things aren't all that bad.

Besides, I just sold a poem! I can't get too far down in the dumps before I remember that and smile.

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