“I can fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank one.”
Nora Roberts

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Image courtesy Atthis Arts, LLC
i show you a thing! two things! only one might make you go eww!
Tue 2020-02-18 19:54:43 (single post)
  • 2,600 words (if poetry, lines) long

Work on the Magic Pens anthology is progressing. Author bios are getting finalized, and final story edits are due back in the next couple of days. My story got the benefit of a couple more pairs of eyes, and I'm thrilled with all the care and attention that this editorial team is bringing to the project. I'm also thrilled to see who else is in the table of contents with me; the Codex online writers' group is well represented.

And the cover art is finalized! I get to share it with you!

If you want to get a head start on ordering your copy, the preorders page is here. Note that the limited editions are only guaranteed available through March. Mid-May is what I'm hearing for shipping (of any edition).

Because you have come to expect foodie content on this blog, and I am loathe to disappoint, BEHOLD: How I learned to love tolerate liverwurst.

Look. I picked some up thinking, "Hey, look! Liverwurst! I've never had liverwurst. I wonder if I'll like it?" because that's how I approach food. I sliced off some and spread it on toast and lo, I did not like it. The ingredient list said "pork, pork liver, spices," but as far as my mouth was concerned, it was just liver paste. I may have actually gagged.

But I didn't want to throw the rest away. I hate wasting food. So I found these sandwich recipes. I like the cream cheese and cucumber one best; it has enough bright, crisp flavors in it to balance out mask the liver muddiness. And, as a bonus, there's literary content.

(I was also open to frying slices of liverwurst in bacon fat along with a bunch of chopped collard greens, as I remember actually liking a charbroiled liver and collards dish I got at the French Quarter Fest some years back. I had no fresh collard greens in the house at the same time as the liverwurst, however. Maybe next time. If there is a next time.)

And that's what I've got for you today!

Cover art incorporates and modifies “Mint Julep” by Flickr user Brenda (CC BY-SA 2.0)
within range of the smell of the violets that grow atop Mt. Overdue
Wed 2020-02-12 21:14:55 (single post)
  • 2,600 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 996 words (if poetry, lines) long

I released another overdue Friday Fictionette the other day! The January 24 offering is "Listening," the aforementioned Momo fanfiction piece. It turned out not to be nearly the act of character assassination I feared. It's just that she's a grown-up and so are all her friends, and grown-up problems are complicated and don't always have good solutions. The ebook, available at the $1/month subscription tier, is here; the audiobook for the $3 monthly sub tier is here.

Meanwhile, the text of the Friday Fictionette that was due last week, February 7, is done and ready for production tomorrow morning. Which in theory means the February 14 offering could be ready to release on February 14. Not making any promises, mind you; Friday afternoons remain difficult and low-energy. But if it doesn't go live on February 14, it'll show up not long after. And then I'll be back on schedule: one release every first through fourth Friday, requiring only 25 minutes of work per day for me to keep up.

Then I will be able to do so much short story revision! Three two-hour sessions of short story revision per week! Luxury! There's so much I want to do. I want to expand the creepy doll flash piece, for one thing; I just got a personal rejection from a big-name magazine on it, and that feedback has finally convinced me that the story needs another scene or two to make it feel less rushed and railroaded. And I was halfway through rewriting the potato salad story towards the end of December when I laid it aside because A. it wasn't going to make GALACTIC STEW's deadline, and B. right about then I began the aggressive push to get the Friday Fictionette project back on schedule. I'm eager to return to the potato salad story, not least because I originally wrote it something like six years ago and it's time, y'all, it's more than time I sent that sucker out. I've got at least a couple "science fantasy" style pieces released as part of the Friday Fictionette project that, with a bit of expansion, might be good candidates to submit to Escape Pod, especially considering how warmly the Escape Artists podcasts encourage Patreon reprints. (See also.) And I'm just finishing up the final week of a rapid-fire flash fiction contest, which means I have four new flash-length stories ready for revision attention.

All those short stories, waiting for my loving attention! Not long now, friends! I'll be with you soooooooon!

In news of imminent publication, I just turned in my biography paragraph for Community of Magic Pens, and the latest estimated release date I'm hearing for that anthology is mid-May. Pencil it onto your calendars, y'all.

there will be book
Wed 2020-02-05 00:08:48 (single post)
  • 2,600 words (if poetry, lines) long

I signed a contract today! You know what that means? DETAILS! Here are all the joyous details. Almost all, anyway. Everything I know thus far. Which is this:

My brand new short story, "One Story, Two People," will be included in Community of Magic Pens, a forthcoming anthology from Atthis Arts. It will be a multi-genre celebration of "the joy, power, community, and diversity of writing"--and it's going to be fun! You can preorder copies in hardback, ebook, or in special commemorative limited editions, right now! Shipping is estimated to be sometime in May. (I don't know the precise release date yet.)

So I already told the tale of how this story got written, how I stayed home from roller derby practice on Deadline Day, January 15th, to make sure it got written and submitted in time. What I haven't mentioned is how, after I got the story drafted and more or less in its final form, when I gave it one final line-editing pass, and I got to the end, the damn thing made me cry. John got home around about then, and I had to reassure him: "It's OK! These are good tears. These are 'I wrote a story and it appears to have emotional weight' tears." Except, between y'all and me, I cry at any damn thing. It's true. I am so known for it, I don't even bother to be embarrassed about it anymore. So I'm never actually sure how useful "Author cried during revisions Y/N" is as a metric for whether my story's any good.

But it did get accepted, so there's that. And in the acceptance letter, the editor talked about the story in terms that made me think that maybe I'm not the only one who got a bit weepy at the end...? So, not sure whether it's a metric, but it's a data point. We can correlate it with the more salient data point, "Story got published Y/N" and see if there's supporting evidence for the hypothesis.

As of right now, my story has been through an initial round of line edits with the editor. It may get tweaked just a titch more, since I took her recommendation that we give it to a particular other editor on the team for a look-through. In any case, the contract is signed and THIS THING IS HAPPENING. Excitement! Happy dance! Whee!

Now get over to the publisher's website and check it out!

The Macabre Museum, Vol. 1 Iss. 1. (I'm in it.)
trick or treat, you get a new poem, it's over there
Wed 2019-10-23 15:43:29 (single post)
  • 29 words (if poetry, lines) long

It's very nearly Halloween, which means it's also very nearly RELEASE DAY for the inaugural issue of The Macabre Museum, "a quarterly horror literary journal and online gallery featuring fiction, poetry, and art." You can pre-order the issue for Kindle on Amazon, but if you're a supporter of the Macabre Museum's Patreon, you can get the digital issue into your hot little hands (so to speak) right now this minute as well as snag yourself exclusive access to the online gallery.

The reason I'm bothering telling you so is not just because horror poetry is a pretty cool thing which you should support and read and enjoy, but also because this issue features one of my poems: "Your Disembodied Friends Would Like to Remind You". (This is one of the poetry sales I somewhat coyly announced late in the summer. The other is still waiting on its contract and publication date; stay tuned.) The poem is--well, I've been calling it an interrupted sonnet, but apparently that term is already taken, so let's try this: It is a blank-verse sonnet with lines of free verse interspersed throughout. The sonnet describes an everyday scene of a father and son talking over breakfast; the free verse lines describe something altogether more horrific. Think of it as a cold open for a sort of CSI/X-Files crossover TV show.

Content warning, if you wind up reading it, for harm to a child and for graphic description of a dismembered body. Just so we're clear. This is supernatural horror with a heavier emphasis on the horror part than is my usual.

In other news:

I just got a full-length short story back from my writing group with a pretty clear roadmap for revision. That's exciting. It's been a while since I had a new full-length short story to shop around. This one started as a response to a submission prompt for The First Line, and that was its first slush outing, but, as expected, it came home with a rejection letter. It was still very rough at the time. Also it's SF-horror in the Lovecraftian mode, and, word is, The First Line doesn't typically accept speculative fiction at all. Not that I'm going to stop trying them, mind you--their prompts generally turn into stories worth polishing up and sending out. Like this one.

I'm also about to throw a new flash piece into the slush arena, a trick-or-treat story in the tradition of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Its first incarnation was an attempt at Reedsy's weekly flash fiction contest, back before they started grabbing up the first publication rights of every entrant and not just the winner of the $50 prize. (I recommend subscribing to Reedsy's weekly writing prompts email. I recommend absolutely nothing else about Reedsy.) Later, I chopped the story down to 500 words and entered it into a Codex contest. The feedback it got served as guidance for yesterday's revision, in which I expanded it back up to about 850 words. And today--today it hits the slush!

I'm almost caught up with the Friday Fictionette release schedule. All the posts still overdue had October 2019 release dates, and look! it is still October 2019. That's as hopeful as things have been for months. Getting caught up there gives me a little breathing room to start moving hard on all those overdue Fictionette Artifacts. I miss my typewriter, y'all!

And then there's NaNoWriMo. I intend to commemorate NaNoWriMo in some way or another; I just haven't decided precisely how. I just might write a brand new novel draft from scratch. *gasp!*

There's also this convention I just went to--but that's definitely a story for another day.

ah that new writing group smell
Wed 2019-09-11 22:18:11 (single post)

It would appear I am in a writing group again. An honest-to-gosh manuscript-exchange-and-critique group! We have had ONE MEETING so far and I am EXCITE.

This one came about because a colleague on Codex who is also soon to be a fellow Viable Paradise alum decided they strongly enough wanted a writing group to be willing to do the heavy lifting required to set one up. Which is to say: recruiting for it, organizing it, making executive decisions where necessary, and facilitating more consensual decisions where feasible. Also being willing to play the role of Heavy-handed Moderator should that turn out to be a Thing.

This is the sort of heavy lifting I personally have not had the wherewithal to even consider doing lately, and I'm grateful they took it on. And I'm grateful I was active in one of the online communities where they were recruiting. Because I miss being in a writing group and now I am in one. Hooray!

I haven't been in writing group since, oh, 2011? 2012? Not regularly, in any case. I tried! But mostly all I did was collect a series of less-than-ideal experiences with writing-related MeetUp groups that turned out to be, as the typical rejection letter puts it, not a good fit for our needs at this time.

In one case, the group fizzled soon after our first manuscript exchange. I think we must have had wildly different expectations regarding critiques.

In another, the critique process was, on a purely mechanistic level, and in my not-so-humble opinion, doomed. There were two hours during which some thirty-five members were each to take their turn commenting, at length, on a full-length short story, which the author had read aloud earlier in the meeting. And this was supposed to happen twice in those two hours. Just, how?

In yet another, I was one of the very few speculative fiction authors in a group mostly dedicated to literary fiction, creative non-fiction, and journaling. Complete mismatch of goals, yes, but also complete mismatch of reading protocols, which is guaranteed to get in the way of giving each other helpful critiques.

And then there was that one group where the facilitator brought in all these exciting guest speakers! Authors of popular self-published books! Who gave us really questionable publishing advice and held terribly hostile opinions of "traditional publishing." Y'all, I had not signed up for two hours of correcting misconceptions and defending friends and colleagues in the publishing industry.

(In later years I found out, via the magic of Facebook birthday fundraisers, that the facilitator of one of these not-for-me groups was a confirmed anti-vaxxer. This rather saddened me and confirmed my reluctance to take their advice on anything at all, be it medical, literary, or other.)

This new group is a much better fit. Its founder was deliberate about where they solicited members. We are a group of seven spec-fic neo-pros looking to improve our craft and publish more fiction at paying markets, fully in the spirit of the Viable Paradise Oath. We had our first online meeting via a Discord channel on Tuesday. During that hour and a half, we hashed out critique format, decided on a preliminary schedule, shared our goals, and talked a little shop. I'm looking forward to sharing with them the story I'm currently revising, whenever the draft-in-progress is complete and polished up. In a month, maybe? Hopefully? If the inch or two I moved it along today is not indicative of the next few weeks? Please?

Anyway. Writing group! I am excite.

but the demons thing i only figured out just now
Mon 2019-09-09 21:23:05 (single post)

I'm nearing the end of today's writing tasks, and it's not even 8:30 PM. What the crud am I gonna do with myself for the rest of the night? Answer: Probably replay PixelJunk Eden until either my eyes fall out or my thumbs fall off, whichever comes first. Then go to bed early. LUXURY.

During today's short story revision session, I finally moved out of the babble stage and into the drafting process. This shift got me thinking about how I revise stuff. Like I said before, some stories are more fun to revise than others (which isn't the same as being easier or taking less time) and some revision strategies seem more appropriate to some stories than others. But I'm starting to realize that every story I revise requires all my revision strategies, though not all in the same proportion. Which is to say, each time I produce a new version of any given story, the process moves through (loosely speaking) three phases, remaining in each phase for whatever period of time is required and revisiting those phases as necessary.

And I'm gonna blog about those phases, because 1. someone reading this might find such a blog post useful or at least interesting, and 2. blogging about this sort of stuff forces me to think about it closely and concretely terms, and that usually helps to refine and improve my process.

So. Here are the three (loosely speaking) phases of revision I wind up spending time in:

Identifying problems. I wouldn't be revising the story in the first place if it didn't have problems. So the first step of any revision is to identify those problems. This may involve my printing out the existing draft and scribbling on it a bunch, then translating those scribbles into a neat and orderly list. Sometimes the list isn't so neat and orderly. Usually neatness and order break down several items as I discover that the problems are fractal--every problem contains a multitude of sub-problems, each of which contain sub-sub-problems, and so forth down through the layers of the onion whose core is made up of DESPAIR.

I'm finding the DESPAIR quotient non-negotiable. There is always at least one hot second, usually more, during which I just know the story is worthless, nothing will make it better, there is no justifying the time and effort I've spent on it thus far, and shame on me for even thinking I might submit it in any form to professional paying markets. Lately I've been dealing with DESPAIR by simply writing that down on my list: "Problem #92: Story is garbage and should be buried in the compost under the used tea bags and moldy zucchini peelings." And then I just keep going.

It's sort of like rock climbing that way. Several years' practice at the climbing gym didn't "cure" my gut-level fear of heights; instead, it taught me how to keep climbing through an attack of acrophobia rather than freezing up and hanging there trembling until I came off the wall. It's also sort of like the meditation ideal of acknowledging the negative thought in a neutral way. Yep, that's a thought I'm having. Next?

Finding Solutions. This is where I spent the first week I had the current story on the metaphorical workbench. It was fun! Basically, for each listed problem, I opened up a new document and babbled to myself about it, restating the problem, brainstorming possible solutions, and pouncing on new ideas as they arose.This process spawned new documents and more enthusiastic babbling as other facets of worldbuilding or character creation or backstory came to light.

And just as the problem-identification phase has its demon DESPAIR, the problem-solving phase has its own demon: DEPRECATION. "Yeah, you're having fun babbling, sure, but are all these hundreds of words actually getting you closer to a new draft? No. They are not. Basically you are wasting your time. You are pretending to get work done when you actually aren't working at all. That's why you're having fun. If you were actually doing anything worthwhile, it would not be fun." That's what the demon says. I'm working on responding to the demon with "Yep, you're totally right" in my most neutral and boring interior voice while I continue babbling away uninterrupted.

That demon actually means well, but it's laboring under a big misconception. It thinks that finding a solution and implementing it should happen simultaneously. And, well, maybe another writer can go right from "here is the problem" to perfectly polished final draft words all in one go; I, at this time, cannot. I need to give myself room to just talk out a problem with myself in a process- rather than results-oriented way. Once I realized this, life at the metaphorical workbench got a lot more liveable.

Implementing the solutions. This is the phase where I start drafting the new version of the story. I decide to begin doing that today not because I thought I'd successfully addressed every single problem I'd identified thus far, but rather because I'd addressed those problems relevant to the first couple pages of the story. Also I suspected that I'd gotten to the point where the solutions I'd come up with so far would obviate some of the problems still waiting to be addressed. And so they have.

The demon hiding in this phase is PERFECTIONISM, and I have to ignore it. I'm still not trying for perfectly polished prose at this stage. I'm just writing a new draft that implements the solutions to the previous draft's problems. If the protagonist has new and better reasons for their actions, if I've chosen to include a more appropriate memory from their backstory than the one I had before, if the facts of the case are now altered to close the previous draft's plot holes, if each paragraph of the new draft serves a valid story purpose, then the draft is a success.

After all the problems are solved and a new draft is in front of me, then I can worry about polishing the prose to a fine shine. But that's line edits, which I don't really consider part of the revision/rewriting process. Until the revision is complete and every line on the page can justify its existence in the story, there's no point editing those lines for style, spelling, grammar, and flow. They might still get replaced, after all.

I expect I won't make it out of revision and into line edits without having to revisit every phase a couple times. I'll hit a place in the draft where I can't continue without brainstorming some more. I'll probably identify more problems whose solutions will require rewriting bits of story I already rewrote. The three phases are very fluid and lead into each other in unpredictable ways. But if I can tell myself which of the three phases I'm currently working in at any given moment, that helps keep me from trying to do all of it at once, and that in turn keeps things possible.

All the above requires the usual caveat, which is: Different writers do things differently. The above strategies are mine (all mine!). They may not be yours nor that of another favorite author. All strategies are valid to the extent that some writer somewhere finds them effective. And which strategies a writer finds effective will change over time--one's best process is an evolving rather than static thing.

Main thing is, it's not wrong if it works.

things that make rewrites hard (a non-exhaustive list)
Thu 2019-09-05 00:11:59 (single post)
  • 1,633 words (if poetry, lines) long

Over the month of August, and not counting those stories that just needed a quick once-over before being submitted, I successfully revised to completion (as defined by "I'm willing to submit it to all the top pro markets") one story. That's it! One. One measley flash-length short story.

Revision is hard.

One thing that made the task so hard to complete was skipping a bunch of the days I was supposed to work on it. And not always because I was busy driving to Kansas, cheering for and hanging out with my Boulder County Bombers peeps, and recovering from all of the above (hi! I'm a lifelong introvert! Unusually high levels of peopling will require unusually long levels of downtime afterward!) But sometimes it was just because I know revision is hard, so I run away.

This may be a bit of a catch-22.

But I'm discovering that it's really only some rewrites that are hard.

The aforementioned quick once-over before manuscript submission is relatively easy and--well, I wouldn't call it fun, not when I'm stressing out over "I should have had this submitted by now, this is taking up a lot more time than I budgeted for, whyyyyyy" while I white-knuckle my way through the piece line-by-line. But it's oddly compelling. Unless midway through I decide the piece isn't actually going to be submittable, I'm going to do it and I'm going to finish it so that I darn well can submit it. So. Not fun, but easy, for certain values of "easy."

There's also the revision process that's more like a controlled demolition of the existing draft so that the components can be used to build a new story. That one actually is fun. So while it's not easy or quick to complete, it's easy to return to it day after day.

The revisions that suck like supermassive black holes are somewhere in between. That's when a story is mostly there, but it needs fixing on a deeper than line-by-line level. But I can't see how to do it. Sometimes I can't even describe the problem(s) in a useful way. And I can't make myself feel, on a gut-instinct solid-knowledge level, that any amount of pushing words around will improve matters. I start to feel like any changes I make will only break those few things that actually work.

That's what it was like revising last month's story.

But I got it done on time and I submitted it to Uncanny Magazine with two hours to spare before deadline and got to log the rejection 3 days later so YAY! And I mean YAY because, YAY, moving closer to 100 rejections in 2019, but also YAY, one more story I can submit to all the usual places!

And the fact that the next three places I sent it rejected it in under 24 hours just means three more rejections toward target 100 and also three more steps closer to finding the editor who will love it. And those three places are in fact well known among working short story writers for preternaturally speedy rejections. We all send our new stuff there first because 1. hey, they might say yes, and 2. if they say no, they'll do it quickly, so you can send it to the next place sooner. Their slush pile is big, and they publish only a very small percentage of it, and they would even if they only published stories found in the slush pile, which they don't. But we jump in that slush pile anyway, because that's the only way to give them the chance to tell us yes.

Those are the things I tell myself, consciously and repeatedly and determinedly, because they are true. And I need to focus hard on their truth whenever that sadistic little voice in my head pipes up saying "This piece got four rejections in four days; shouldn't you take the hint and accept that you wasted all that effort last month producing GARBAGE?!" Because that little voice totally lies.

(And that's something else that makes revisions hard.)

Cover art incorporates and modifies dollhouse image by Tomasz Mikołajczyk (Pixabay)
in praise of those arsonists who light fires under my butt
Tue 2019-07-02 23:58:50 (single post)
  • 921 words (if poetry, lines) long

So my roller derby league does this thing where on Mondays they post a member profile to their public Facebook page, and this week the member being profiled is me. And that feels weird. Like, one, Anxiety Brain is sure that this makes me look like the biggest ego on the planet, despite how patently ridiculous that conviction is. I mean, it's not like I thought that about anybody else; why should anyone think that about me? ("But it's true!" says Anxiety Brain. "Doubly so now that you're boosting the signal on that post. You must want everyone to think you're a total narcissist." You know what? Anxiety Brain can take a hike.) And secondly, Perfectionist Brain is all, "Why'd you give them your Patreon link? Now everyone is going to look and see just how woefully behind schedule you are!"

Well. I'm a lot less behind schedule than I was. The Friday Fictionette for June 21 went up yesterday: "Thinking Outside the Dollhouse." It's kind of what happens when you cross Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" with Cat Steven's "Wild World" and then you miniaturize the result. (Patron-locked post: ebook here, audiobook here.) And today I got a metric shit-ton done on the Friday Fictionette for June 28; I hope to produce that one tomorrow night, then have the rest of the week to get July 5 done on time. Which means the only thing I'm really, really behind on are the Fictionette Artifacts for my $5 Patrons, who have been immensely understanding.

That aside, I am getting a lot done on the writing front. My week-daily submission streak continues with only one missed day since April 18. That missed day did not send me into a spiral of avoidance and despair; I got right back on the horse the next day and haven't fallen off since. So I guess we can cautiously pronounce that new work habit solidly implanted. This month I'm working on a new streak to carry simultaneously: at least 25 minutes of commercial fiction revision every weekday. It's not like that wasn't already in my list of Habitica Dailies for Monday through Friday, but it's officially no longer in my mental category of "eh, nice to have, but if I can't, that's cool--I'll just use my Stealth skill to avoid damage." Two days in: so far, so good!

Credit where credit is due: The support structure for both these endeavors comes from Guild Challenges hosted by the Habitica Guild "Ink Slingers". I won't bother linking it because you have to be logged in to see it, and if you're logged in, you can just search for that Guild by name. But, briefly, "Ink Slingers" is a Guild headed up by the fabulous, hard-working, and much-decorated writer Mary Robinette Kowal. In addition to writing top-notch science fiction and fantasy, she teaches writing classes and hosts monthly online writer dates via her Patreon. She's logged a number of years on the board of SFWA and has taken the reins as President as of yesterday. She's part of the team behind the podcast Writing Excuses. She's also an award-winning puppeteer. Somehow she still finds time to be active in various online writing communities, one of which is the aforementioned Habitica Guild.

Guilds serve as small communities within Habitica. And because those communities tend to share overall goals (like, say, "be a writer"), Guilds can create and host Challenges for their members. The Ink Slingers Guild hosts a lot of challenges, some created by MRK herself and others by enthusiastic community members. My recent successes at improving my work week can be attributed almost entirely to two Ink Slingers Guild Challenges in particular: the Rejection to Acceptance 2019 Challenge, in which participants strive to receive 100 manuscript rejections in a year, and, just now, the July Wednesday Writers Challenge, in which participants set a big goal for the month and then break it down into smaller weekly goals that will help them achieve the big goal.

The Rejection Challenge you already know about, because I've been yammering about it here for the last three months. But this is the first month I joined the Wednesday Writers' Club, despite having seen guild members reporting in and cheering each other on ever since I joined the Guild. So I set myself a goal for July of adding two stories to my stable of submission-ready manuscripts; and the weekly goal of sitting down to a 25-minute minimum story revision session every Monday through Friday. Tomorrow being Wednesday, I get to report on my progress so far, which, assuming I'm as diligent tomorrow as I have been today and yesterday, should be all smiles and thumbs up.

I've encountered people who will haughtily assert that real writers don't need tricks or brain hacks or special challenges or communities in order to write. They just write! Because they can't not! And anyone who relies on the aforementioned list of crutches shouldn't dare arrogate to themselves the lofty titles Writer or Author. Well, I can say without hesitation or exception that every encounter with such a person has been an encounter I regretted having. Such people should own the claims they are making and absent themselves from any sort of community forthwith, is what I think, because who needs that kind of attitude? Look, brain hacks can be necessary. Community can be life-saving. And I am here to tell you that a friendly peer challenge can be a game-changer.

Hence today this post expressing gratitude for one those communities whose challenges have changed my game. Thanks, y'all!

Cover art incorporates and modifies vector images from Pixabay.
look it's a thing it's a very late thing but it's a thing
Thu 2019-06-27 23:34:13 (single post)
  • 1,200 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,129 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hark! An overdue Friday Fictionette rises over yon horizon. It's "Love in the Time of Lizard People," nominally the release for June 14, and it has a little to do with the trustworthiness of telepathic aliens but a lot more to do with the trustworthiness of your bar buddy. Patrons at the $1 level can download the ebook in any of several formats. Patrons at the $3 level can download the audiobook too.

I'm-a work on the June 21 release tomorrow, but, knowing me and Fridays, it's more realistic to expect it out Saturday evening. After that I'm going to try for June 28 by no later than Monday. PROMISES PROMISES.

In other news, did you know that an interactive fiction piece about a portal-hopping protagonist need not have all, or indeed any, of its choices be about which portal to hop through? I am just figuring this out. Having figured this out, I am now having a surprisingly enjoyable time with the rewrite.

still hard even when it's a different kind of hard
Tue 2019-06-18 23:36:02 (single post)
  • 1,200 words (if poetry, lines) long

Let's talk interactive fiction. Do I know what I'm talking about when I talk about interactive fiction? Hell, no. But I'm trying to learn, because there's a story I've been wanting to submit to Sub-Q for, like, ever, and they're open to submissions right now until July 15.

Sub-Q publish interactive fiction, which is a form of storytelling which allows the readers' choices to alter the reader's experience of the story. Think of the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books--but also think of text-based games like Zork and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Or just go read some of what Sub-Q have available. They're more experts than me. They publish the stuff; I'm just beginning to think about writing it.

What I've got is a piece of flash fiction in which the main character goes on a journey, one of both geography and identity. It's been submitted a few times, but never received anything more than form rejections. Now that I'm looking at it with a mind to overhaul it into an interactive format, I'm starting to see why.

The thing's a travelogue, maybe a travel diary, but it's not a story.

It's also in second person point of view, which is a hard sell most places. But I don't think that's its worst problem, if problem it is. The main problem is, the protagonist isn't shown making important choices. Which means the protagonist is lacking somewhat in agency.

In interactive fiction, eventually, at some point, you invite the reader to make choices. And they have to be meaningful choices. They have to have consequences that the reader can guess at before they choose. They can't just be Bastian going through the House of a Thousand Doors in the latter half of The Neverending Story, choosing between a wicker door or a wood one, a red one or a green one, based on nothing more than gut sense that this material is more associated with the person he's looking for than that one. It's got to be more like, you know the green door will bring you to meet Atreyu, but you also know that the meeting and what follows will not be all rainbows and roses, so if you're having second thoughts maybe you should take the red door and go become writer-in-residence at the Silver City Library. Except that's not all going to be rainbows and roses either, so--which brand of interesting dilemma do you wish to explore, reader?

It's an apt metaphor. The protagonist in my story moves through a thousand doors of their own--through portals from one world to another, each more alien than the last. But in the original story, none of the portals matter. You see a portal, you go through it. As long as it takes you further away from your previous life, it's fine by you. And that's no way to write a story, interactive or otherwise. The protagonist has got to have the opportunity to make meaningful choices.

So today's story revision time was taken up with reading the current draft and identifying opportunities for meaningful choice. Also identifying other potentially interactive moments, like, say, the ability to click on a mention of the protagonist's backpack and get a list of its contents, maybe see how they change throughout the story. Click on mention of the watch and get some backstory about the person who gave it to the protagonist. That sort of thing.

It's daunting. It's daunting because I always had this idea that the story didn't need much more than a quick polish, an easy fix. But now I see that even if it stays traditional prose, it still needs no less than a full overhaul and a significant chunk of brand-new content, because protagonists need the opportunity to make meaningful choices. Otherwise they can hardly be said to protag, can they?

In short: Revising stories is still hard, y'all.

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