“It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
Robert Benchley

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

If you can't spot the arugula, that's OK. It's tiny.
transplanting tomatoes and exposition
Thu 2016-05-05 23:59:59 (single post)

All the things. All the writing things! Every single last one of them, and scrimmage too.

And also gardening! Look, look, I put plants in the dirt. Here are the lovely tomatoes that my teammate gave me, and there's a bunch of arugala seedlings that will hopefully do more than just fall over, and there's also some sunflower starts which it is my fervent desire that the neighborhood squirrel not discover until they less resemble something you find at a salad bar. Since there is no bird feeder out there this year, there has been no squirrel-attracting mess of seeds on the patio floor. So maybe we are no longer on the squirrel's habitual commute. Who knows? I have one more peat pot of sunflower seedings still indoors, just in case.

For today's short story revision session, I finally wrote that phone call that needs to happen during the office scene, the bit where the protagonist is hard at work and her older sister calls her up with a job interview opportunity that the protagonist doesn't want, we have talked about this before, did I ask you to find me job interviews, I don't think so. I thought this might be an opportunity to move some exposition out of the narration, where it was boring, and into the dialog, where it would feel more natural. But as it turns out, not so much. Turns out, the protagonist told her sister, "I am not going to explain this to you again." Which meant she wasn't going to explain things again, not even for the sake of the reader. Drat. Hopefully the thing I wanted to explain will be understood well enough with the hints I was able to include. Hopefully I can get a few eyeballs on it this weekend to tell me whether it worked.

Tomorrow I get to rewrite the board of directors meeting. Or the budget meeting. Or the shareholder meeting? That's the thing. The story as it currently stands can't seem to figure out whether the protagonist works at a non-profit or a shareholder-owned corporation, and whether it's got a board of directors or not, and whether the boss man gets called "the director" or "the CEO" or "the president." Gah. These distinctions are not things I am usually interested in, people! Why do I have to be interested in them now?

Watercolors and wine. Job done.
starting to look like a solid trend
Wed 2016-05-04 23:45:10 (single post)

Two good days in a row! Progress on all the things. Prepared one of the Fictionette Artifacts to be mailed on Friday (with very clever illustrations on page 2, if I do say so myself) and did another solid revision session on "Stand By for Your Assignment."

Here's the thing about a good day: It takes doing. There are things I have to do to make sure they happen. Thing is, between John and myself, it's pretty much understood that I've got some form of mild (undiagnosed) depression weaseling around in my brain, whence comes (among other things) the occasional inability to get out of bed until external forces intervene. So I've got certain self-care strategies to deal with that:

  • John gets to poke and prod and harass me until I am up, feet on the floor, and productively puttering about the house. (External forces!)
  • By the time he leaves for work, that 20 minutes or so of upright-and-puttering helps ensure I'm fully awake and not tempted to go back to bed.
  • I may not feel like writing. But I know that doing that first task will make me feel accomplished and proud, which emotional lift will carry me into the rest of the morning shift. So get to that first writing task!
  • After my first task, I take a walk or otherwise small bit of exercise outside. Exercise and sunlight are known things that help ward off the funks.

But the problem with that last bullet point is, too much exercise in the sun leaves me feeling like I got walloped in the can-do. So today almost bottomed out when my bike ride up to The Diaz Farm for eggs and tasty sourdough took out all my get-up-and-go. But! I've got the evening off from roller derby--the Bombshells got a much-needed rest after all our efforts at the tournament--so enough time remained to restart the day in the afternoon and damn well get stuff done.

OK, yes, in order to convince myself to work on the short story revision, I had to do the hot-bath-and-glass-of-wine trick. But hey! I got work done on the revision, and I got a relaxing soak in the tub with a glass of wine. Win-win!

Tomorrow:A good, full writing day and Thursday scrimmage! Can it be done? YES IT CAN, my friends. Yes, it can.

This is Velvet. He is almost as old as I am. He can still rock a cover pose.
a good time was had by all the story-like objects
Tue 2016-05-03 23:25:42 (single post)

OK! So. We got Friday Fictionette catch-up and short story revision. We got a good day.

The Fictionette Freebie for April, as it turns out, is "Reviving the Legends." (Click for the full text as HTML as a page on this blog or a post on Patreon, as a PDF ebook, or as an MP3 read and recorded by me. I am all about providing options.) I have some trepidations about releasing this fictionette into the wild, though. Generally I am very good about cover art; either it's my own photography, or it's something released under a Creative Commons Attribution license and I attribute like woah. In this case, I'm afraid, I was less than punctilious. So. Featured at right is a possible alternate cover art model. His name is Velvet. He is ready to step in should his services be required.

Bonus fact about me you didn't really need but that I will tell you anyway: My brain is a free-association jukebox. ("Gee, Fleur, tell us something we didn't know," says my entire roller derby league.) The whole time I was converting "Reviving the Legends" from Patron-only to Freebie, I had Neil Diamond's song "Suriving the Life" stuck in my head on infinite loop. Eventually I gave in and just queued up the Beautiful Morn album and sang along very loudly.

Anyhoo. Short story revision! Got "Stand By for Your Assignment" to a place where I could print it out again and consider it as a whole. This draft was spent removing all the things I wasn't 100% sure it needed, so that I could front load the creepy bits rather than the exposition. The next draft will be spent putting some of what I cut back in, but with intention. Like painting over the painting-so-far with a thin wash of Protagonist's Family, stuff like that. I'll start on that tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I seem to have just joined a local critique group. Maybe. They're having their initial meeting this Saturday, just to see if it's going to work, and I'm going to bring "Stand By" or another of the short stories I'm editing to it, see what they think about it. For those of y'all who are my Local Writer Friends who are women and are interested, this is the "Small Circle Women Writers" on Meetup.com, located in/around Longmont. It's public in the sense that any woman can apply, but it's private in the sense that applications must be approved by the organizer.

Anyway, I'm excited about going, and a little nervous, and also I am feeling the pressure of Short Story Revision MUST Be Done By Saturday!!! Which, ultimately is a good thing. A little fire under my butt is useful for cooking up fiction.

in which the author has temporary favorites among her progeny
Fri 2016-03-25 00:21:36 (single post)

Today's topic is The Short Story Development Queue Workflow, also known as "I said I'd work on the new story, but there was this other story screaming for attention..."

This is also about the unintended consequences of holding myself to a daily half-hour Submissions Procedures session.

It's very simple. During Tuesday's session, I decided which market I wanted to submit a story to next. That's usually the only real question. The question of which story is typically very easy to determine. I look at which stories have been submitted before and are A) still not published, and B) not currently in somebody's slush pile. I pick the one of these that is C) the best fit for the market, and I submit it.

The problem is when the story that satisfies all three requirements also D) needs a lot of work before it gets submitted anywhere new. This is what I figured out during Wednesday's session.

So, "Stand By for Your Assignment" last went out to visit with the editors of the late, lamented Crossed Genres Magazine for their themed issue, "Anticipation." Themed issues come with submission deadlines; submission deadlines inevitably correlate with me finishing things in a big goddamn hurry and, as a result, probably sending them a smidge before they're really ready for prime time.

Which is to say, despite having seen the inside of a slush pile before, this story needs a lot of work before it may be allowed to see the inside of another one.

And I'm not talking about a line-level edit. No. Although that's one of the things it needs. No, what it also needs is cohesiveness of theme. It's got two elements in it that could work really well together: the female protagonist is bearing up under the double-barreled assault of familial expectations and corporate microagressions, and she is undergoing increasingly frequent experiences of a disturbing nature that may be hallucinations or may be genuine invasions of her world by the weird. But the story as it stands doesn't actually tie them together. They're just both in there, the latter as plot and the former as background. And in narrative, as in science, correlation does not equal causation. Narrative can go a long way on correlation alone, but in this story, I think, not far enough. So I need to rearrange some things to make them work together deliberately rather than by accident. And then there are the line-by-line infelicities that need to be cleared up...

And that's why, during today's Submissions Proceedures and Fiction Development sessions, I didn't do my assigned homework (the one about Ellen and the man who was a tree). It's because I did other homework (beginning to revise "Stand By..."). I hope I get credit for the other homework, at least.

In other news! That vaguely parental-like guilt that a writer might feel, where all the attention you spend on one of your "babies" is attention you're not spending on the other "baby" and oh my Gods I am a bad "mother" because I am failing to love all my "babies" equally...? Yeah, that's a thing.

plonkdectomy and depurpling
Fri 2016-01-15 21:10:00 (single post)
  • 1,792 wds. long

Today all I have to report is that yes, I did manage to submit "Down Wind" to the market with the January 15 deadline on its current submission window. I have done little else of use today, but, darn it, I did that.

It's weird. While there were still some three weeks to go, my thoughts on that story were along the lines of "it sucks it sucks there's too much to fix I can't fix it all I can't even begin to fix it" and I had to calm myself down. But this week, with the deadline looming, I caught myself thinking, "You know, it doesn't actually need that much work. It just needs a once-over and a read-aloud."

The truth was somewhere in between. It took me only about an hour today to finish it up, but the edits weren't all just sentence-sounds-better tweaks. Some edits were ruthless deletions because that sentence isn't adding anything to the story, and that other one is just a rehash of something that's already made clear here. On the print-out, there's a big slash-mark over half a paragraph in the first scene, with a note in the margin saying "Angst! Woe! Cut." One has to trust that the angst and woe will come across without the author plonking the reader on the head with an angst-and-woe stick.

Now I have to figure out what to do next. I have ever so many ideas for new stories from doing my daily freewriting--but I also have a few more stories to dig out of revision hell. We'll see which project successfully auditions for my attention next week.

And over the weekend... all the things I didn't do this week (ahem ahem late fictionette). That's the plan, anyway. Without something big like a roller derby bout to beat me up on Saturday, I should have no problems, right? All I've got is six hours of practice on Sunday. No big deal, right? Riiiiiight.

the fragility of afternoon writing time
Thu 2016-01-07 23:35:09 (single post)
  • 1,904 wds. long

I've finally realized: On roller derby evenings, my afternoon shift is really fragile. Yesterday I lost it because of a sudden attack of the sleepies that, honestly, I should have just pushed through--writing, like skating, makes me feel better, if only I can exert myself to beat the inertia. Today? Doctor's appointment. Which always takes longer than expected on both sides of the scheduled appointment time, especially if you're chasing down a prescription and some equipment afterwards that turn out to be out of stock. So then you go make groceries instead. And then it's already 4:00 and you planned to leave for derby at 5:30 and you really, really need some downtime in between...

The doctor's appointment was interesting. Seems around this time last year, out of seemingly nowhere, I started exhibiting freakishly high blood pressure on a consistent basis. Like, Stage 2 Hypertension high. I kept hoping it was just a hiccup and things would return to normal, but after Tuesday morning's dentist appointment got me a reading of something-or-other over 104, I made an appointment to discuss it with a doctor.

The long and the short of it is, I'm going to have to start taking blood pressure medication at the ripe old age of 39. Seriously. Despite my exceedingly active, moderate-drinking, non-smoking lifestyle, my perfectly acceptable blood cholesterol and thyroid numbers, and goodness knows I've never really had cause to worry about my weight despite what the BMI says ("Top 10 Reasons Why the BMI Is Bogus," NPR.org)--well, just goes to show, you can do most everything right and still draw an unlucky lottery ticket. But that's a lesson I should already have learned from my experience with leukemia at age 11, right?

But there's a silver lining here! When I mentioned "self-diagnosed Raynuad's Disease" to the doctor (and we discussed that a little bit, like how often does it happen, how severe is it, etc.), she brightened up and said, "One of the blood pressure medications I could prescribe you also happen to treat Raynaud's! What do you think?" I think it's a low priority, but if it's that easy to roll the two issues into a single solution, hey, let's do it. I could sure do with fewer 7-finger days in the winter, that's for sure.

Anyway, after some deep conversation with the doctor, an EKG reading (also perfectly normal), instructions to make an appointment for an echocardiogram just to make sure, I left the doctor's office at about 2:45 and pointed my car toward my usual pharmacy. Only to find the medication wasn't actually in stock yet--"Come back tomorrow after 1:00 PM"--and neither was an automatic arm-band style blood pressure monitor of an approved brand--"You might just have to try the Safeways and the Walgreens and that"--and so I lost another 45 minutes of afternoon shift to futile attempts to run these doctor's-orders errands. And then, like I said, I went to the grocery.

I'm glad I decided to rest and eat dinner rather than work and snack, though, because roller derby practice consisted of a special clinic led by a D1-level skater and then a scrimmage that beat us all up some good. Also last night's squat workout came back to haunt me. I'm sore and tired and this hot bath with epsom salts plus optional beer is really awesome.

Again, I'll get a little bit of work in on the short story. Just not the two hours I wanted to log. Last night, after posting to the blog, I spent about a half hour just reading through it--which means I didn't just read through it, but instead tweaked sentences here and there. Weird thing about my revision avoidance issues: if I can only convince myself to open up the manuscript and "just start reading," I'll find myself unable to resist doing at least a little revision. So tonight I suppose I'll pick up where I left off.

And tomorrow I have nowhere to be in the evening, except maybe in a holiday party on Puzzle Pirates.

a seven-finger and afternoon nap kind of day
Wed 2016-01-06 23:17:53 (single post)
  • 1,869 wds. long

It's cold out there. It's a 7-finger day. By that, I mean that it's so cold that by the time I got where was driving to, seven of my fingertips had turned pale and numb thanks to something called Raynaud's Disease or, colloquially, "being allergic to the cold." Calling it a "disease" makes it sound worse than it is; it's mostly just annoying. Main problem tonight was, with so many fingertips affected, I couldn't start typing comfortably until I'd clutched my Irish coffee long enough to warm up again.

The drive tonight was from roller derby practice to Boulder's legendary late-night burger establishment, the Dark Horse. They serve delicious food, quite decent drinks, and--this was new to me--they now have wi-fi. So I thought I'd get the blogging done while it was still technically Wednesday.

Today didn't go quite as well as yesterday. For one thing, without something like that dentist appointment to get me out of bed early, I wasn't up and moving until about 9:30 AM. I rationalized that this was fine, I was a tired athlete who'd stayed up until 1:00 AM the night before and really needed her sleep. And it still would have been fine if--and this is the second thing--I had managed to get my afternoon shift done, rather than collapsing into an afternoon nap. I guess I needed it; my eyes started burning and squinting, and it began to be actively painful to remain upright.

I am not dismissing the possibility that this was a physical manifestation of avoidance. My next task was short story revision, and I have pathological avoidance issues around short story revision. But it's very likely that last night's roller derby practice was a factor, too. Tonight's as well. Both travel teams' coaches are serious about conditioning, which means lots of cardio and strength training and metabolic workouts and off-skates exercises and endurance til you puke. (Metaphorically. My body doesn't tend to do the puke reaction to extreme exertion. Instead it just decides to stop bothering with other functions, like swallowing and breathing.) And, lest you think being married to the All Stars coach is somehow an advantage--it's not. It just means he tries to get me to do conditioning workouts at home, too.

It's going to take me a few weeks to adjust to this level of activity, is what I'm saying. And there are things I'm going to have to change about the rest of my life--I can't both stay up until 1:00 AM and get up at 7:45 AM every day, for instance. At least I've got a solid scheduling plan for getting the daily writing done, even if some days I don't quite implement it.

Anyway, the result is I'm trying to get my "afternoon shift" done now, between 10 PM and 1 AM after practice. And because I know I have a tendency to just say "eff it, I'm going to bed" after roller derby practice, I took myself out where bed wouldn't be a temptation. Hence the trip to the Dark Horse. Besides, it was a convenient way to make sure I got some protein down me. Kind of important after the kind of workout I've had.

I don't know I'll get my full five hours in today, but I will get SOME work on the short story in after I post this. If all I do is reread it (for the first time in two weeks) and decide what the next concrete task is, that'll let me close down the day with a sense of accomplishment.

Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry, and neither can I.
vroomtime is go
Tue 2016-01-05 23:56:08 (single post)
  • 1,869 wds. long
  • 1,046 wds. long

OK! So. First off, I've finally posted the Friday Fictionette for January 1. It's called "The Wine Cellar That Wished" and it's sort of kind of an Edgar Allan Poe fanfic don't judge me. It's also sort of humor and sort of kind of horror. Hey, I believe in truth in advertising.

Secondly: Today really was a proper Tuesday. Yesterday was a Monday during which nothing much got done and the dirty dishes were really compelling, but today I got to work. Woke up in time to do Morning Pages before the dentist appointment (which went well, thank you). Got home in time to have breakfast and start my morning shift at 10:00 AM. Took care of some necessary household administration tasks during my lunch break. Started my afternoon shift around 2:00 PM. Left for roller derby practice around 5:15 PM with the satisfaction of knowing I had logged five hours and had left no writing task undone other than this blog post right here, which I am writing now.

Basically, I got my butt into gear and I worked like a writer who writes for a living. Then I survived my first A team practice of the 2016 season. Writing and roller derby. That's pretty much how my days go. How they're supposed to go, anyway.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow going about the same. Only instead of the dentist I've got volunteer reading, instead of A team practice I have B team practice, and instead of spending the majority of my work day on fictionette catch-up I'll spend the majority of my afternoon shift revising "Down Wind." It's almost ready to submit, y'all! And still ten days until the submission deadline!

So this week is off to a fantastic start, is all I really have to say.

(I'd say "this year," but I don't want to jinx it.)

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.

hard work is hard you guys
Wed 2015-12-16 21:43:10 (single post)
  • 1,764 wds. long

Finally got around to revisions on "Down Wind" today, with the result that I'm confused and annoyed and in despair. Well, OK, it's not that bad, but--this is not simple fix territory. This is hard, frustrating, mind-boggling work territory. And the darn thing's only 1400 words long! Well, 1750 now. Good thing? Bad thing? Unknown at this time.

The story is very short and cycles between three different characters' points of view. Right there we have potential problems. I received feedback that the scene segues were a little confusing; the reader didn't easily clue in that we'd moved from one scene to another. This is probably because I'd tried to be "clever." I was trying to do this sort of pivot maneuver on a word or concept that two adjacent scenes had in common, like referring to the prospect of a character "leaving" somewhere or someone in both the last sentence of one scene and the first sentence of the next. But while I was busy doing this, I was failing, to some extent, to make clear that we had in fact moved on to another character.

Solution 1: White-space scene breaks! ...which, no, because some of these scenes are more like "scenelettes," barely two paragraphs long. Separating them by white space would be just awkward and annoying.

Solution 2: Some sort of "meanwhile, back at the ranch" lead-in to each scene! ...which, maybe, but runs the risk of sounding hokey if done badly. And even if done well, that lead-in would represent a significant percentage of the scene it's part of.

Solution 3: Eff it, that reader who gave me that feedback was just silly and wrong! ...which, well, NO. I'm often tempted to respond that way to negative feedback, and it's really not a good habit to get into. That way lies golden word syndrome and no one wanting to critique my stuff because of all the unhelpful push-back. Not going there, if I can help it! Besides, even if the reader is dead wrong, there's often useful revision pointers to be unearthed in trying to figure out how they got so wrong.

Solution 4: Still looking for one. Probably some combination of all of the above, though, even Solution 3 in careful moderation, in proportions to be determined on a case by case basis.

Also, on the reread I am spotting theme and character depth and other very ambitious things that I want to salt onto the stew, like the idea that the pigeon singularity really is all about keeping things and people together by infinitesimally slowing the expansion of the universe, and can I show that in each scene, and also these people have lives and background and history and can't I show that in each scene by just adding maybe one more sentence per, only it has to be the right sentence that also plays into the keep-people-together theme, and can I maybe do something meta with this, like right in the very structure of the story?

Argh.

Y'all, revision is hard. I do not understand people who enjoy the revision stage. I really wish I did. What I actually enjoy are those couple seconds right as the revision ends. That's the bit where I sit back, all pleased with myself, and say, "Yes, I have made it perfect. Or very nearly so, anyway. Damn I'm good at this." The long hours of brain-wringing work involved getting to those couple seconds, those are not nearly as enjoyable except in the sort of abstract "hard work that I know will be worth it" way.

Breakthroughs tomorrow? I sure as hell hope so.

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