“When I am dead
I hope it is said,
'His sins were scarlet,
but his books were read.'”
Hilaire Belloc

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

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.

mothballing the mourning wardrobe
Wed 2015-12-09 23:40:01 (single post)
  • 4,558 wds. long
  • 1,400 wds. long

Today was indeed more productive than yesterday. "Caroline's Wake" got a small amount of fine-tuning (turned out to need less than I anticipated); then it got sent out into the world to meet a new bunch of editor-type people. It feels good, having sent it out again. It's what a writer's supposed to do. And it occasions new hope.

The common advice is, "Never let a manuscript sleep over." That is to say, the moment a rejection comes in, take that story and send it somewhere else immediately. Have a list of places you want to send it, and just send it to the next place on your list. This is very smart from a business perspective: your story, once completed, is a product, and you need to keep trying to sell that product. But it's also smart from an emotional standpoint. It helps the writer end the mourning period and start afresh.

Of course there's a mourning period. Rejections occasion grief. They signal the death of a hope. No, not the Death of Hope, nothing that grand or melodramatic--but the demise of a very particular hoped-for outcome. There was a possibility that the story would be published by a specific market; the rejection signals that the possibility is no more.

So, OK, a writer can grieve. But a writer can also move on. Submitting the story to the next place is how to do that. Also working on the next story.

The next story is "Down Wind," which needs more of an overhaul than "Caroline" did. It needs section breaks and more of a textual differentiation between the three characters' points of view. It probably needs more than that, but I won't know until I pull it out and read it over. Which is next on my agenda!

i am very impressed, but then i am easily impressed
went out and spent some money, lookit
Wed 2015-12-02 22:34:32 (single post)
  • 1,400 wds. long

Rejoice! I have finally replaced my camera. I have also gone grocery shopping and returned home with, among other things, fruitcake fixings. Now I have combined BOTH bits of good news into ONE splendid photo, which you can see here.

Fruitcake! Will contain almonds, currants, green (golden) raisins, candied ginger, strawberries, and dates. I will decide on the booze tomorrow when I actually process everything and start it soaking. It will probably be scotch or bourbon, considering what's currently in the cabinet.

Camera! Currently contains date stamp. This will be adjusted shortly.

The camera is a Nikon Coolpix S3700. It was on sale at Target, and further marked down as a repackaged item. Now, I didn't go into Target thinking about cameras. I was shopping for strings of holiday lights to donate to my roller derby league's holiday parade float (Because we're going to skate in a local holiday parade, of course). But the holiday section was right next door to the electronics section, which reminded me that I'd been meaning to replace my previous camera, it being ten years old and furthermore having recently ceased to function.

So this new camera boasts 20.1 Megapixels, which is a revolution in comparison with my previous. Its view screen is breathtakingly sharp--again, comparing it with my old camera. It's zoom function seems darn near lossless. It has a function list longer than my arm, and--ooh!--an auto-extending lens. Look, I'm over the moon just because this camera doesn't need a rubberband to hold its battery case closed, OK? My standards are somewhat generous here.

Mainly I'm just pleased that my options for Friday Fictionette covers are no longer restricted to A. find Creative Commons (commercial use OK) or public domain images online, or B. take a really crappy photo with my flip phone.

So there's your happy technology content. As for writing content, well, soon as I'm done with this-here, I shall be logging the most recent adventures of "...Not With a Bang, But a Snicker" in the Submission Grinder and in my personal log as well. I got a response to its latest submission just this weekend, but I haven't even opened the email yet because I've been drowning in NaNoWriMo writing and NaNoWriMo catch-up. If it's a rejection, I'll be figuring out where to send that sucker yet. If it's not a rejection, expect some crowing. Next I'll be spending a little revision time with "Down Wind" to get it ready to to go and meet some very nice people itself. I think that's enough for a well-rounded late night, don't you?

a whole thunder of stuff done rolled
Wed 2015-10-28 22:48:43 (single post)
  • 1,285 wds. long
  • 4,558 wds. long

Behold! Two short stories went winging to their respective targets. Two of them! And all my writing for the day, except for this blog post, done before five pee-em. Folks, I am on fire.

John very kindly allowed me to read "Caroline's Wake" to him, which, given its length, meant the donation of more than half an hour plus some engaged discussion. He is a fantastic writer-support spouse. All the kudos. It was his first time experiencing this particular story, so he was able to offer a fresh perspective on whether it made sense, whether the characters were acting like real people, and whether things the right emotional weight was present. These are all things I worry about when a lot of slicing and dicing goes on between drafts. While "killing your darlings" it's possible to also kill some hard-working support structures. When vital pillars and buttresses go missing, it helps to have someone around to notice.

Speaking of killing your darlings, he also suggested I cut the final paragraph. The one about the crocus heralding a mild winter. Dammit. OK. I cut it, because the requesting editor said the exact same thing (or at the very least she suggested that it shouldn't be the final paragraph) and when two separate readers notice the same problem then maybe it's a good idea to listen to them. Dammit.

(Some darlings are very darling. Alas.)

Anyway, the story went into the email, and very soon afterward I had a reply full of excitement and glee, which was a relief. I'd secretly feared, because I am prone to Writer's Weasel Brain, that she'd be all what, this old thing? Not interested anymore. You missed your chance. But of course that was not the case. Weasel Brain is always wrong. Two reliable things about Weasel Brain: It'll always have something to say, and it'll always be wrong.

As expected, the title of the submission to Alien Artifacts got changed. When that story went to The First Line, it was called "The Rapture of the Santiago Women", as a nod to the famous Roman abduction event known as the Rape of the Sabine Women". Problem was, the allusion really only was skin deep. It was clever but not resonant. So I changed it to "Comin' For to Carry Me Home" both for the literal meaning within the plot and the play on homing device.

(And now you have the song stuck in your head, and my work here is done.)

Also, the first line got changed, as its original first line is best considered the exclusive property of The First Line. Which mean the little boy's name had to be changed, since it had been part of the first line. And then a whole bunch of other stuff got changed until, given that the story's only about 1300 words long, the revision really merited a whole new version number under my private and terribly subjective file-naming system. So Alien Artifacts gets to see Homing Device v2.0, or maybe, given the last print-out and line-edit pass, v2.2.1

Fair warning: I may just take the rest of the week off. Friday is fifth Friday, which means no Friday Fictionette is due. And tomorrow is a Halloween party on skates, which means I have to put the finishing touches on my costume. (John has been helping me with that, too. All the kudos.) So if I get very little done for the rest of the week, it's OK. I done a whole thunder of stuff between last week and now. I can take a small holiday.

email