“I never had any doubts about my abilities. I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this.”
Cormac McCarthy

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

on your mark get set no pressure go
Thu 2017-10-05 16:00:00 (single post)

It's October and I'm feeling a little inadequate.

Remember how last year, round about this time, I declared the autumn to be my Novel Writing Season? I was going to have as many short stories ready for submission as possible, and then I was going to focus exclusively for a few months on writing a Brand! New! Novel! that I would actually finish this time? And I did all this brainstorming, about this one main character from a country where people are born in animal forms and become human when they grow up, who visits another country where if you violate the terms of a contract you signed then you actually lose your name, and he meets this second main character who in fact did lose her name and is trying to work her way out of identity perjury debt, and they're on a purely professional date when she gets an unwanted phone call from her past, which involves people with really scary magic powers who she wants nothing to do with even though one of them's her mother and another's her daughter, and anyway she takes that first main character on this wild road trip to either go deal with the crisis or run away from it, I'm not sure which, and...

Yes. Well. Never got past the brainstorming stage on that novel, did I? Never even created an entry for that novel in my database to tag my blog posts with. (If you do see this blog post with a novel tag appended at the upper left, then hi! You must be from the future! How's the weather up there? Did we survive 2017? Are we no longer speeding toward several apocalypses simultaneously? Are things better out there? For everyone? Please say yes?)

I'm acutely aware of this because next week I'm heading up the mountains on my annual Thank the Gods It's the Off-Season I'm-a Go Introvert Hard Now writing retreat. That's where I was last year when I did so much brainstorming on the novel. The brainstorming was aided by multiple hot baths and glasses of red wine. Also cheese and crackers. Babbling out loud, too. A lot of babbling out loud. Anyway, I sort of never got back to it once I returned to life-as-usual in the flatlands. (Well, once I returned to Boulder. "Flatlands" is relative.)

So... I guess my new goal for my time up there is to make tangible progress on the outline and worldbuilding so that, come November, I can draft the sucker in an intelligent yet speedy way.

Which means, not-so-coincidentally, we're back to the NaNoWriMo ideal, where October is for brainstorming the novel (while getting my short fiction in order). November is for drafting the novel (at a rate of 50,000 words in 30 days). December will be for resting the novel and writing new short fiction; I guess January will be for the first revision pass. Finish things up during the March NaNoEdMo spree, then submit the damn thing to agents.

It's very much an ideal. If I fail once again to meet that schedule, I'm going to feel like a failure. Won't stop me trying again, but knowing I'll try again won't stop the feeling-like-a-failure thing. (Have you met writers? We're a neurotic bunch, lots of us.) So I'm putting a lot of emotions on the line here. But I really do think it's an achievable set of goals! And I gotta have goals, or else what am I doing anyhow? So.

It's novel writing season. Here we go.

on convincing protagonists to climb trees that are bad for them
Tue 2016-12-06 23:59:37 (single post)

OMG you guys I KNOW WHAT THE CAT SAYS. (No, smartass, the answer is not "Meow.") I mean, I kinda know what it says. Maybe not word-for-word, but enough to get the plot moving both forward and away from the main characters' homes and workplaces.

My problem--what had me stumped--my stumparoo--was in thinking the cat would just open its mouth and impart some sort of Cosmic Wisdom upon poor, confused, troubled Delta. When your pet cat suddenly starts talking to you, it's kind of a momentous occasion. I thought that what the cat had to say ought to be momentous too. Oracular, even.

But that was my mistake. The cat is a kindertotem, an animal made up of all the parts of its human that its human outgrew. An externalized inner child, if you will. Inner teenager maybe. I think Michael was fifteen, maybe sixteen, when he went fully human and the cat showed up? So the cat might angst. The cat might be very intelligent but also whimsical and reckless. The cat might have a simplistic point of view. The cat will most definitely not spout the Wisdom of the Ages.

(This is a good thing. I'm not particularly good at coming up with Wisdom of the Ages for my characters to spout.)

In fact, it's the cat's simplistic point of view that helps move the plot. He points out a very simple solution to Delta's complex problem. Sometimes, it takes a simplistic, straightforward POV to cut through the complexities and deliver a simple solution.

What was it H. L. Mencken said about that? "There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong."

Of all the ways I could get my characters up a tree, "It seemed like a good idea at the time" is a great one. After that, the rocks pretty much throw themselves.

i knew this when I was a puppy
Tue 2016-11-22 22:43:42 (single post)

It's already November 22 and I've barely spent any hours at all working on my new novel. I guess novel-writing season is likely to extend into December. Of course, in theory, thoroughly planning the novel out beforehand can result in knocking the draft out in a week or less. However, I'm new at this 10K-a-day stuff, so I'm trying to keep my expectations reasonable.

Had a worldbuilding brainstorm last night, though, which is incidentally the best way to compensate for being almost entirely unable to sleep. Only, before I can tell you about that, I need to catch you up on some of the story so far.

In the country from which one of the main characters hails, humans aren't born human. They're born chimera--part human, part some other animal. For instance, Michael was born half-cat. More than half, actually. Mostly cat. But over the course of adolescence, the animal features are replaced by human ones. It's a perfectly natural and spontaneous process, comparable to other processes associated with puberty. Its social effect is as you might expect: Where our world has Sweet Sixteen parties, quinceañeros, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and other coming of age rituals and celebrations, Michael's homeland makes a great big Hallmark deal out of children becoming fully human.

(Only some few days after I'd come up with that did I realize this echoed a let's-pretend motif of my early childhood, mostly forgotten until this time. I can't remember the details, but I can remember a specific incident that has the freight of something much repeated. I was all-fouring my way across the kitchen floor and going woof to get Mom's attention. Mom asked me what I was doing. I said, "I'm being [NAME] when he was a puppy." She said "I don't think [NAME] was ever a puppy." I said, with a trace of exasperation that she didn't get it already, "No, the powerful [NAME]." Apparently the person I was pretending to be had experienced a previous stage of life in which he A. had superpowers and B. spent his childhood as a puppy. A. and B. were inextricably linked, as best as I can recall.)

And so but anyway here's the brainstorm: Those animal features don't just disappear. When they're all gone, an animal of that type appears in the newly adult human's life and stays with them forever. It's possible this was influenced by a current reread of The Golden Compass, because this sure sounds a lot like Pullman's daemons. But in this case, the magical animal companion isn't a revelation of your essential nature, but rather the ultimate home of your not-exactly-discarded childhood. We talk about "the inner child," right? The people of Michael's homeland have a very much outer child.

Now, here's the real brainstorm: That's what the talking cat character is. Did I mention the talking cat character? There's a talking cat character that shows up and startles the other main character, Delta, by talking to her. Turns out it's not some random talking cat popping up to be accounted for. It's the part of Michael that used to be a cat.

I haven't decided yet what to call it. "Familiar" has the wrong connotations, and besides, I'm using that in another continuity. "Pet" is entirely inaccurate. "Daemon," as I said before, is taken. And "magical animal companion," though it works well enough as a descriptive phrase when talking about the novel, is a bit too twee for use within the novel. Well, Delta can use the phrase sarcastically while she's trying to come to terms with the critter. But Michael wouldn't. Him and his folks would have some other term, something matter-of-fact, devoid of both fanfare and self-deprecation.

I'll come up with something eventually.

I'm not sure quite what to do with this information, but that's OK. I don't have to know everything just yet. As long as I figure out a little bit more at each novel-planning session, I'm doing fine.

And so I am off to have a novel-planning session now. Cheers!

i see what she means now
Mon 2016-09-26 23:43:12 (single post)

Story time! Some ten or so years ago, I was possessed of a sudden desire to learn to fly. I had walked from my house to the Boulder Municipal Airport, where I saw a sign that said LEARN TO FLY HERE and watched a little plane do a touch-and-go, and I thought, "That's right--I could!"

At the time, I had a neighbor the next stairwell over who was a flight attendant. Upon hearing my thought, she immediately tried to dissuade me. "No, no, you don't want to do that. Those little planes are awful. They shake and they rattle and you can feel every tiniest bit of turbulence like you're going to fall out of the sky any minute, and they're noisy. You know those lawnmowers that you ride on? They're like lawnmowers with wings. And that's what you'd log your first kajillion hours in. You don't want to do that, trust me."

I found her reaction odd. I'd been expecting encouragement. I mean, she was up in planes all the time. Why would she want to discourage another person--another woman, even--from being a pilot? By contrast, my mother, whom I'd expected to get nervous and scared at the thought of her daughter risking her life fifteen hundred feet in the air every week, got really excited about it when I told her. "You can do anything you put your mind to," she told me. "If you want to learn to fly, do it!"

The short story is, I began taking lessons and eventually earned my private pilot's license. Mom was thrilled; she bragged to friends that her daughter was a renaissance woman: "She writes stories, programs web pages, spins her own yarn, and flies planes." I don't remember what my neighbor had to say about it. She eventually moved away, but not before contriving to have a bridge-burning fight with just about everyone in the condominium building whom she knew, including me. (In my case it was a fight about my expecting her to bring used wine glasses back to the kitchen or at least stand them upright on a table when she was done with them rather than leaving them on the couch for me to discover between the cushions the next day. Or something like that.)

Anyway.

I haven't been in the cockpit for years--since before I began skating roller derby, in fact--but that's not the point. The point is, today I learned how to operate a ride-on lawnmower. And whatever else my neighbor was wrong about, she was right about this much: that machine really is rather reminiscent of a Cessna 172. The engine noise is similar, if not to the same scale. Earplugs help. The lawnmower also has in common with a small plane the throttle that you sometimes have to futz with to get things started. It has a checklist for startup and shutdown, if a shorter one than the airplane does. And if its engine suddenly dies on you, your first course of action is to see if you can restart it. Just like in a plane, except without that fiddly "set attitude for best glide speed" or "identify a an emergency landing location" stuff.

And that's my story. The end.

Cover art features 16th century woodcut (public domain)
this fictionette did not ask for your help dude
Fri 2016-05-06 23:59:59 (single post)
  • 1,220 wds. long

Let's pretend it's still Friday the 6th. (I'll make it easy by editing the datestamp on this post. No one'll notice a thing.) *ahem* LOOK! It's the first fictionette of May: "The Spindle's Spell." If you guessed it's a riff on Sleeping Beauty, you're right! I've never run across a retelling that concerned itself with what the sleeping princess dreamed during her enchanted sleep. (I've also never heard anyone comment on whether she snored.)

Everything wound up late today mainly because of my knee. My knee has been giving me trouble for no good reason. I mean, yes, we had scrimmage last night, yes, I had some awkward and or dramatic falls. I took a wheel (maybe my own) to the inside right ankle bone, which made a lot of necessary maneuvers painful, which made me a klutz. But I don't recall any single incident involving my right knee.

You'd think there'd have been something, given the way it kept me up all night complaining at me. When I went to bed, it was sore, but just a little, just in this area about the size of my fingertip on the left side of the joint. A few hours after I'd been asleep, it woke me up yelling that it was stiff and in pain and if I dared bend it just wrong it would scream. And then there was just no good position to try to get back to sleep in.

We think it's nothing serious, just a deep bruise. We're keeping an eye on it. Meanwhile, the plans I had made to run some errands by bicycle were scuttled. Seemed safer to just walk and bus. More conducive to putting the knee through its regular paces under very close observation. But this in turn meant more time walking in the hot sun, which meant I was even more tired when I was done, which meant very long afternoon nap. Good news is, the knee was not noticeably worse after the nap. And it was already noticeably better for walking the stiffness out of it. So that's OK.

So the knee problem led to the walking/bussing rather than biking, and both of them led to an unfortunate encounter at the bus stop. Dude walks up, wheeling his bike, and proceeds to be that aggressively friendly asshole who treats everyone in his vicinity as owing him their attention on demand. He started with the man sitting to my left, grilling him about his shirt and whether it was "tribal" and whether he belonged to a tribe. I think the man said "yes" just to shut him up. Then, upon noticing me massaging my knee, "Hey, hey, is your knee OK? You gonna be OK? I can show you some pressure points that'll help it, it's like acupressure or acupuncture, let me show you--"

"I didn't ask," I tried to shut him up with.

It's never that easy. "Hey, I wasn't suggesting anything sexual, I wasn't going to touch you, I wasn't even flirting, I just want to show you something that will help you, I wouldn't have to touch you to do that, I could just show you on my knee--"

"I want you to leave me completely alone," was my second and final try.

"Ooh, are you going to mace me? Come on, do it! Mace me!"

And so forth while I stared fixedly down the street and away from him. By now I was unfortunately alone with him at the bus stop. I had planned to spend my bus-waiting time on my laptop or darning socks, but at this point I didn't want to give him anything else to comment on. So I just sat there and stared at the approaching traffic and tried to tune dude out. This, by the way, is why we can't have nice things.

Eventually he stopped haranguing me directly and started making up a song on the spot. "I just wanna be friends," he crooned. And then, inexplicably, "Oh, speaking of sabotage, thanks for reminding me--" Sabotage? What?

Anyway, he got on his phone and--it's not like I try to overhear these things, but dude was loud--got into negotiations with someone about a package he's expecting that's addressed in his name but to a place where he no longer works (I wonder why, she said sarcastically). It was a long call, and he was still on the phone when the BOLT showed up and he boarded...

...without his bike.

He just left his bike there, leaning against the side of the bus shelter, not locked up or anything. I think he meant to take it with him on the bus, but between his phone call and his NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO WITHHOLD ATTENTION FROM MEEEEE harassment campaign, he just... forgot it.

I could not make this up. I mean, I could, but the first manuscript critique it got would suggest that the instant karma aspect was just a little too pat, you know? A little too smug. Dude harasses woman who just wants to be left alone; dude loses his bike. This Story Has a Moral! Don't Miss the Moral of the Story!

I do still kinda want to come up with an explanation for "sabotage." There might be some fiction fodder there. I mean, what the heck was in that package he was expecting?

do the one thing, then do the next thing
Fri 2015-12-18 00:10:38 (single post)
  • 1,869 wds. long

Today's revision session was all about making the story's first protagonist and her wife real, living, breathing characters, with interests and dreams and day jobs and food preferences and families. Not all of the above can appear in a story that's only some 1,500 to 2,000 words long, but even just a few sentences alluding to their full, richly detailed lives can make the difference between that and vague character-shaped variables in a story-shaped equation.

One of the biggest frustrations of story revision is the general free-floating sense that the story as it stands is crap and I don't know how to even begin to make it better. I don't always know that's what I'm feeling, is the weird thing. It is such an unpleasant feeling that I push it away, unwilling to admit or even to become aware that this is what I'm feeling. So it gets translated into an even more general sense--a sense that is yet one more step removed--of vague unhappiness and malaise and avoidance.

Once I figured out that was where my head was at, I gritted my teeth and forced myself to focus in. What made the story crap? What were its problems? List them. Be specific. Then pick one and make solving that problem the focus for today's revision session. Thus, today's goal of turning Malika and Cheryl into fully realized characters.

What makes this hard to do is the sense that time is slipping away from me. I only alloted two hours to work on the story today, and I only managed some 45 minutes instead. I got through my morning shift by noon or not much later than, but all my lunchtime tasks just streeeeeeetched ooouuuuuut until it seemed to take forever to get back to work. So my frustration changed from "there's so much wrong with the story and I don't know where to begin" to "there's so much wrong with the story and I'll never have time to fix it all."

But then it's not like this story is on a deadline right now. Well, it sort of is, in that the place I want to send it is only open to submissions until January 15. But I couldn't send this piece to them even if it was ready tomorrow because I already sent them something else last week. I can't send this one in until that one gets rejected. And, who knows, that one might not even get rejected, wouldn't that be nice?

So. No deadline. So no stress. That's what I keep telling myself. No stress. Just take your time and solve the one problem that's in front of you right now. Really, for the most part, that's all anyone can do ever. Do the one thing, then do the next thing. It's expecting ourselves to do all the things at once that causes all that unnecessarily stress.

I know this. Doesn't stop me stressing though.

people who aren't my people
Wed 2015-08-26 22:01:21 (single post)

It is seriously amazing how much inspiration you can get just listening to conversations in a bar. Annoying conversations. Held by conversationalists that are absolutely not your people.

That's my new theory. Bear with me for a bit.

Derby practice is done, and, is as our common practice, John and I have stopped for food before going home. It's a restorative process. I need food (hungry athlete is hungry) and John needs food and decompression time (coaching tends to use up all his extrovert capital). And I need some dedicated writing time because today went all to hell.

Seriously, I was on a great track to get everything done before derby. I was up on time, I got right to work--and then the washing machine died.

It died in the middle of a load of clothes which John needs to pack tonight, because he's getting on a plane for Detroit tomorrow so as to help coach our All Stars at D2 Playoffs this weekend. And the clothes he needs to pack are now just sitting there in a tub of water, going nowhere.

It's probably the lid sensor switch, but I wasn't about to try to DIY that sucker on the spur of the moment, especially since such efforts would probably not play well with our home warranty thingie. So I called the home warranty people, and they called an appliance service, and a tech is going to come out on September the 8th.

Meanwhile, my assignment is to wring out the clothes, rinse them in the bathtub, wring them out again, then put them in the dryer for an all-day session on Auto Dry Moisture Sensor Something Or Other. And John's assignment is to take the other load of laundry to the laundromat, and bring it home in time that my derby jerseys can air dry.

And my work day, the one that was off to such a great start, is now all shot to hell. It's not fair.

But here I am hours later, preparing to hit the reset button on it all over a beer and also a pizza with shrimp and green onions on top. And there's this four top right behind us loudly sharing stories about waking up drunk in strange places and also the One That Got Away And Thank God For That. And they... are so very much not my people. And they're loud and right in my ear and I want to hide under the table and--

--and it occurs to me that no, I don't need them to shut up; I need to be taking notes. I don't know how to write people who aren't my people, not without turning them into some sort of caricature. I need to be taking notes and expanding my character-creation repertoire here.

So... I'll be over here in another editor window, jotting down whatever I can remember. See you later?

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.

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.

I probably should have made sure to get my bare foot in the photo, but it's too cold out for that nonsense.
an antisocial fictionette determines to be a better neighbor
Sat 2014-11-22 00:04:29 (single post)
  • 858 wds. long

This week's Friday Fictionette is called "Your Neighbor's Keeper." And it took me something like half an hour of staring at the screen to come up with that title, so you'd better appreciate it. Seriously, what is with me and titles? Sometimes I wonder whether having to come up with one every first through fourth Friday is using up some sort of non-renewable resource. Like, there's only so many title-length combinations of words in the world. One day I'm going to run out.

Anyway, like the author's note says, this particular short-short started from one of those tiny, mysterious moments that defy explanation, while being at the same time too mundane to be worth wondering about. But being a writer means I have carte blanche to wonder about stuff that isn't worth wondering about, right? That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I changed the building numbers to building letters, and I changed them from condos to apartments, but otherwise that happened right here on my block. Minus the destruction, of course.

The other aspect of the fictionette that's drawn from life is my own shameful inattention to the people around me. I don't know many of my neighbors. I don't attend the neighborly gatherings at the clubhouse. I've a terrible memory for names, and I tend to look at hands and skates and helmets rather than at faces. I don't remember what she looked like, the stranger who interrogated me in the cul-de-sac, and I don't remember the car she drove. All I remember is my bare feet on the sidewalk and my wondering why she then disappeared around the corner of the dog park at the retirement home.

You know, come to think of it, she was probably just visiting someone in the retirement home, or going on a volunteer or staff shift. There isn't much legitimate parking for those purposes. She was probably just making sure that the only witness to her parking job didn't live in the nearby buildings and thus have standing to get her car towed. (Not that it was in any danger of getting towed. As long as you don't park by the yellow curbs or in a covered spot you don't own, you're fine.)

Anyway, I did the final revisions on this fictionettes from a table at Blooming Beets across the street. The server-cum-host who showed me to a table noticed that I'd been working on my laptop while I waited for a table to open up; she pointed out that, as luck would have it, I got the table with electrical outlets. She seemed to be one of only two servers on duty during a rather busy night during First Bite Boulder, but neither of them rushed me nor made me feel weird for dining alone or working on the computer.

I splurged on the wine pairings, which turned out to be quite a lot of wine. I reassured the server that it was OK, I walking home. And that it was very silly that although the restaurant had been open a little while now so close to my house, it took an event like First Bite Boulder to get me to finally visit. She lit up and said she, too, lived just up the street. Check that out: We're neighbors. We gave each other our names and shook hands.

And I made sure, for once, to really look at her as we exchanged "pleased to meet you"s and "see you again soon"s. I still have a terrible memory for names and faces, even when I'm trying my best. But I made sure, for once, to try.

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