“Cut a good story anywhere, and it will bleed.”
Anton Chekhov

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

an invitation to recall neil gaiman's views on political correctness
Fri 2014-08-22 16:45:01 (single post)
  • 4,400 wds. long

For the following post, and, well, pretty much forever, please of your kindness consider the phrase "Political correctness gone mad!" a non-starter with me. Thank you. Now, on with your regularly scheduled actually writing blog.

So today on the TV at the bar during lunch there was the preseason football game between the Cleveland Browns and the Washington team. It was being rerun from Monday. Apparently it drew the second-highest rating ever for an NFL preseason game. So sayeth NBC Sports. What NBC Sports is not sayeth-ing, at least not unless you count the post's tag, is the actual name of the Washington team. They didn't say the name of the Cleveland team, either, so I'm not sure whether it was a conscientious decision, like that of The Washington Post editorial board, or just a coincidence.

Anyway, John looked up and proclaimed it the Potatoskins Game. Which is awesome. Potatoes come with both brown skins and red skins. Also gold. Also purple. Green, too, if they're not ripe, but we don't see those in the supermarket.

"I want there to be a sports team called The Purpleskins," I told John. "Its mascot would be an all-organic fingerling potato. There would also be a sly rebuke therein to all those But-I'm-Not-A-Bigots who declare themselves so colorblind that they couldn't give a damn if you're 'black, white, or purple.'"

You know who doesn't stint at saying the racist slur that is the Washington team's name all the hell over the place? J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan.

You know who actually submitted a story to Shimmer with that slur all the hell over the text? Me.

*dies of shame*

The problem is, I've got a story in which a main character is obsessed with both the original text and the Disney movie of Peter Pan. In both forms of that story, you've got racist stereotypes of Native Americans like woah. It doesn't exactly help that the fictitious sometime-allies, sometime-enemies of Peter Pan and his Lost Boys aren't meant at all to represent the people who lived on the North American continent before European invasion; in fact, that maybe makes it worse. It's one thing to reduce real people to stereotypes; it's yet another to erase real people in favor of the stereotypes.

All this is hardly arguable in this day and age, unless you're Washington's NFL team owner Dan Snyder, who will argue it into the ground because listening to people isn't his strong point. But. But but but that said, what the hell am I going to do with a story in which a six-year-old boy plays Let's Pretend in the imaginative playground of Neverland as Barrie wrote it?

How the heck do I remain non-complicit in the ongoing slur-flinging and stereotype-propagating without turning my other main character, the boy's thirteen-and-a-half year-old sister, into a caricature of a social justice spokesperson?

Argh.

No, I'm not asking for answers. I'll come up with something. Probably it'll occasion another iteration of the older sister and younger brother arguing over whether Neverland is real. Maybe it'll involve the older sister telling him, "Hey! What did we say about using the R word, Jimbo?" I'll figure it out.

For now, I'm just griping, and thereby exorcising my mortification that I submitted a story in Year of Our Common Era Two Thousand and godsdamned Seven that used "the R word" absolutely uncritically from page 5 through page 14.

*dies all over again*

Don't worry. I'll get over it. And the story will be better later for my abject embarrassment now. But abject embarrassment is... well, it's embarrassing, that's what it is.

also we research our avoidance processes meticulously
Thu 2014-08-21 22:36:32 (single post)
  • 4,400 wds. long

Holy cow, hotel business centers are super techy these days. You open up the "printerOn" webpage for your particular hotel--if your hotel does have one--you upload your document, you give it your email address and a fresh 5-digit security code you made up on the fly, and then you saunter down to the business center, enter your security code, and you tell it to print on their fancy laser printer. It was a none-too-fast fancy laser printer, but it got the job done. I now have a printed copy of "A Wish for Captain Hook" for me to deface at my leisure.

Now, our household printer is here in the room with us. I was all set to use it. But because the printer got here less with plans for using it and more for just getting it the hell out of the house and out of the way of the restoration project, it has not sufficient paper with it for the job at hand. Our supply of paper, you see, was already stowed at the top of a closet and out of harm's way.

So that's where half the time I spent on the story went today: Printing the draft. (Like I said, slow printer.) Also getting the draft ready to print in the first plase--for reasons I no longer recall, it was a text document with its italics indicated by underscore characters before and after the text to be italicized.

I spent the other half of the time researching.

No, look, it all started with good intentions. I was scribbling away on the freshly printed draft, honest! But I was scribbling things like, "This was true in 1984, but was it true in 2005?" and "When did different libraries reopen after Katrina?" and "Maybe by then you could get an Orleans Parish library card as a Jefferson Parish resident? Again, 2005 v. 1984" and "Double-check: Nov 24 was Thanksgiving that year?"

Next thing I knew, I was looking up not only the days of the week that the story takes place on (yes, November 24 was indeed a fourth Thursday in 2005, thus Thanksgiving) but also sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, and phases of the moon. So now I know for sure that the last scene really can take place on a night with no moon, and when the sun comes up after the characters' long vigil, I will know precisely what time that means.

So, yes, the metaphorical cat has been metaphorically vacuumed within an inch of its remaining fur. This is just one of the many valuable services we writers provide. For an additional charge, we will also metaphorically wax your metaphorical cat. The cat will not appreciate it, metaphorically speaking, but haven't you always wanted your metaphorical cat to really shine?

avoidance activity gets scheduled a month in advance these days
Wed 2014-08-20 23:41:02 (single post)
  • 4,400 wds. long

It is ever so much more fun and easy and exciting to work on my Friday Fictionettes material for the September launch of my Patreon page than it is to dig up a story from 2007 and force myself to read it, let alone prepare to make it into something I can be proud of. I have spent so much time experimenting with Scrivener to epub, Scrivener to pdf, compile settings, font settings, cover photos, maybe no cover photos, I don't know. And then there's polishing up the raw material I chose to make a Fictionette out of, because, sorry, you're not seeing it in its raw state. I need to maintain some boundaries here. Anyway, Friday Fictionettes prep is so much less threatening than Serious Short Story revision.

Which is, of course, the danger of the Friday Fictionettes project. It doubles as avoidance activity.

Anyway, finally buckled down and investigated the contents of the directories marked "Pirates", "Pirates.v01", and "Pirates.v02". First surprise: I don't have any versions of this story older than February 28, 2007. I guess I remembered wrong: the story got workshopped before it got submitted to Shimmer on March 1. Which is a relief, because the second surprise is this: the story is rough, y'all. Very, very rough. There are places where whole words and concepts failed to make it onto the page. There are paragraphs that use the word "just" or "really" five times in four sentences. The thirteen-year-old first-person narrator rambles worse in places than the protagonist of Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven. Well. That last may be an exaggeration. My main character, it must be said, never falls over into the land of caps-lock and multiple exclamation points. Still, before the workshop, this story must have been truly painful to read.

The good news is, I'd already edited out the bit that signaled my inability to think of a good ending. I do remember the workshop calling me out on it, I just hadn't remembered that I'd in fact fixed it. And the story is structured according to the basic fairy tale style rule of threes. The Action Block happens once, happens a second time with minor variations, then happens a third time with great differences that lead the story to its climax. So it's not like I don't know where things have to go--I just have to make those things a lot less lumpy.

So there's hope! Now, I'm overdue for my post-derby falling-over-comatose-into-bed ritual. Time I pushed the laptop away before it gets crushed beneath the collapse of my exhausted frame. 'Til tomorrow...

the needle on the compass in my head points toward sheer terror
Tue 2014-08-19 23:36:30 (single post)
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"It's For You" came home for the weekend with its tail between its legs, asking to crash on the couch. I did what I could for it: Gave it a shoulder to cry on, ordered us pizza, poured us some local microbrew stout, queued up some cheesy '80s movies to watch together. Then today I gave it a rousing pep talk and sent it back out into the world. "Keep trying," I told it. "Keep trying 'til Hell won't have you. And then keep trying some more." It took a deep breath, narrowed its eyes, and said, "OK." Off it marched, with purpose and new determination. One of these days it'll come home with a big smile, waving a contract in its hand. Until then, I'm good for giving it repeated pep talks and career advice. Also a kick in the rear end, because I kind of want my metaphorical couch to myself.

Meanwhile, "Caroline's Wake" is still out on only its second slush trip ever. It sent me a very encouraging post card!

As for what short story I'll work on next, I've decided it'll be "A Wish for Captain Hook"--the one wherein the island of Neverland locates itself in the middle of Lake Pontchartrain. I originally wrote it for the pirate-themed issue of Shimmer that John Joseph Adams guest-edited, whose submission window was in early 2007. Since failing to win its way onto that TOC, it's been workshopped once... then tucked away into a corner and forgot about. I suppose it's time to pull it out, brush off the dust, and revise it for a serious round of submissions.

Just thinking about it gives me a case of the hives and heebie-jeebies. Nervous. "I don't have to work on 'Hook' next," I told myself. "What about 'The Interfaith Intercessional Fellowship,' that one? The one with the potato salad and the prayer circle?" And that's when I decided that, no, it really had to be "Hook" next. Because "Hook" scares me enough to make me want to slither away, and I should always move toward the thing that scares me.

It took a little more thinking to figure out why it scared me.

Part of the fear comes from knowing that the end needs to be entirely rewritten. The note it currently ends on says very clearly, as though these words were actually typed on the page, "The author did not know how to end this story and hopes you'll understand. Please accept this weaksauce Lady Or Tiger punchline instead, with our compliments." And, well, the last two stories I finished and sent out the door have demonstrated that I have a painful time getting the endings right.

But the bulk of the fear comes from insecurity about my legitimacy, my right to write this story. "Hook" isn't just a story about a little boy who wants to run away to Neverland. "Hook" is a Hurricane Katrina story, the only one I've written so far. And I wasn't even in the state during Katrina and its aftermath. Also my family came through fairly well. There were losses, certainly. Dad's pediatrics office on Robert E. Lee Blvd. was totaled, and his practice had to relocate to the Children's Hospital building in Metairie. The roof did leak for a short while, and some non-critical household belongings were destroyed. While the family was gone, persons unknown scavenged their generator, some fuel, and all of Dad's frozen and slowly thawing venison--which items may well have made the difference for the thieves between surviving and not. Who knows? But the house wasn't flooded. It still stood. Mom and Dad kept it and live in it to this day. The family stayed together. Dad's job survived. As these things go, the LeBoeuf family did pretty OK.

So I'm not entirely sure I get to write a Katrina story, you know? Coming from someone who mostly watched the crisis from afar, it might come across as, I dunno, exploitative, like I'm using other people's tragedy to give my characters some unearned poignancy.

...which is almost word-for-word my exact explanation for why Season 2 of Heroes made me so angry. You know what I mean, right? The part where the little girl says, "Half the people in this county still live in FEMA trailers," thus proving that no one involved in making the show ever bothered to watch real live news footage of the Katrina aftermath nor even opened a map of the affected area. Because if they had, they would know that there are no counties in Louisiana. So, having complained vociferously about how that show exploited the disaster for emotional impact while failing to give the first little damn about the real life people affected, now I'm afraid of coming across the same way. This is like projection, only in reverse.

But my job is to move toward the scary thing. Write it anyway. And to realize that, yes, I too lived through Katrina, I too was affected, and the way I was affected by it can inform the story. And it already has. There are elements in there that are absolutely drawn from my experience, second-hand though much of it is. Like, the way the back-to-school timing of the storm and flood diminished the school-aged population of the greater New Orleans area well into 2006--families who evacuated in August sent their kids to the schools whose districts they wound up in come September, and many of them stayed to finish out the scholastic year. (This affected my immediate family by way of Dad's dramatically decreased patient roster.) Like the way some families, like my parents' next-door neighbors, just never came back at all.

The short story is much smaller in focus than that, but it's deeply colored by the shadows of those huge background movements. One of my jobs during the rewrite will be to make those shadows more apparent, more stark and compelling. And maybe something about the larger movements of the time will help inform the rewriting of the ending, too.

So that's the answer to that question. What will I work on next? "A Wish for Captain Hook." That's what. And may Gods and Muses have mercy on me, Their humble pen.

(runs away temporarily to hide)

activate the program and run behind the scenes
Wed 2014-08-06 23:04:35 (single post)
  • 6,779 wds. long

Got a good hour in on the story today, despite my Wednesday exploding with a certain percentage of leftover Tuesday. But in between boxing things up and talking to insurance agents, I did manage to check in with "Snowflakes." Sad thing is, I've gone back to the beginning again. It still doesn't feel like wasted effort--I'm smoothing out more lumps and seeding a bit more foreshadowing--but I'm so sick of not having finished!

My main difficulty with the ending is how to portray Ashley's emotional reaction to The Big Reveal. It's tricky. First she gets news to which the natural reaction should be shock and grief. A breath later, she gets a revelation that provokes righteous indignant anger. This is a complex moment which is hard to faithfully render. It's too easy to let one thing overwhelm the other. If the anger overwhelms the grief, she looks callous. But the grief and shock can't overwhelm the anger, either. That was a huge problem with the previous draft: She was pretty much robbed of her agency, both in the present and retroactively over the course of her entire life, and she was fine with this. That's not her. What's more, that's not any character I ever want to write--especially, for obviously reasons, when they're women.

I'm leaning towards a partial solution of having the anger not so much overwhelm the grief and shock as redirect them. But finding the words is tricky.

Another change I'm making is that, unlike in the previous draft, where Josh tells her, "I chose you" (Ew. No), in this draft he says, "I recognized you." Which will additionally help to keep readers from attributing too much of the story to Josh's choices, I hope. There was a lot of confusion expressed on this account in critiques of the previous draft.

Gah. One reason I keep this blog is, I like sharing peeks behind the scenes. But it's tricky with short stories. There's "a backstage pass" and then there's "total spoiler before it's even in print! Nice going, stupid." Novels run the same risk, I suppose, but they have bigger backstages. You've got more room to explore, examine the costumes and the props, without prematurely running into a dramatic reveal or important plot twist.

Speaking of novels and peeks behind the scenes, here's another of my Codex colleagues on Patreon: William Hertling is creating science fiction novels.

William Hertling is the author of the Singularity series, comprising Avogadro Corp., A.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall. He is currently at work on the fourth book in the series as well as an entirely separate stand-alone novel. He's using Patreon via the per-month model in order to raise funds towards the cost of producing a novel, like copyediting, cover design, layout, proof-reading, and also writing the darn thing.

I'm intrigued by the way Hertling fits the whole "backstage pass" idea into his pledge tiers rewards. The exclusive material offered as a thank-you to Patrons who pledge $1.50 a month (I was wrong--apparently pledges needn't be in whole dollar amounts) includes the occasional bonus unused scene, or bits of worldbuilding that never made it onto the page (I assume that's what "descriptions of future technology" means). That's really neat.

I would love to do something like that. But, again, it strikes me as easier to do with a larger work, be it a novel or a series of shorts in a shared world. When I'm working more persistently on Iron Wheels I could totally see myself creating bonus material out of all the thousands of words I spend talking to myself on the page about exactly how my Land of Faerie works, about other changeling/baby swaps and other jobs that Old Mack has been assigned over the centuries. But there's less potential for that when what I'm working on is a 6,000-word short about a summer solstice snowpocalypse. What little I can do in that arena, I already do right here at tiresome length, free for the world to read. See above. Still, it's something to think about.

Something else to think about: Should at least twenty Patrons pledge at the $10/month level, Hertling's gift to those Patrons will be a special bonus book, just for them, full of surprises. Maybe an anthology of short fiction, maybe a parallel work to the Singularity novels taking place in an alternate universe or featuring an alternate ending. "Whatever the final form," he writes, "it will be fun and unique, handcrafted for my biggest supporters as a thank you."

Now, when John and I talked about Patreon and its possibilities the other day, he put a lot of emphasis on using it to help create and deepen a connection between the creator and the supporters. "If, as an artist, all you're doing is selling a product," he said, "you're wasting your time. You should be building a relationship." This strikes me as exactly the sort of thing he was talking about. I'd love to be able to do something like that. Not, perhaps, to the scale of an entire book, considering how slow I am at putting out the ones I already want to write. But certainly something shorter might be possible. Flash fiction written to prompts of supporters' choosing, maybe. Again, stuff for me to think about.

I intend to keep highlighting Patreon pages this week as a sort of show-and-tell, sharing my discoveries as I explore and get excited about what's already being done. I hope you will visit their pages and consider supporting these authors. That would be cool. They're friends of mine, after all, so I want to see them do well. But, more importantly to y'all-out-there, they write some pretty amazing stuff that more people ought to read. I hope you'll take a look-see and then, if you like what you see, get your friends to take a look as well.

who left this mess at the end of my july
Thu 2014-07-31 23:59:08 (single post)
  • 7,164 wds. long

Apologies for the radio silence. It's been a month-end sort of week. There's been stuff. Hugo-nominated stuff to read and vote on, a friend moving to Boulder to help unpack, late night celebrations of said friend having arrived in Boulder and of getting successfully unpacked and moved in, needing to pack up our own stuff in advance of some heavy-duty kicking-us-out-of-the-house-for-a-week renovations, and, OK, well, the July Seal o' Piracy to earn on all the production oceans and Ice too because I'm a total nerd.

However, I have been working away like a beaver on the short story. I'm still having a stupid time with the ending, but I'm happy to report that one of the interim scenes got heavily overhauled to make room in it for things that should make the ending more possible to write. So there's that.

Also I have decided where I'm going to send it when it's done. Hint: The deadline is August 15. So this thing is getting done by then, OK?

(OK.)

Meanwhile, the end of July means the beginning of August. I have allowed some good writerly friends to talk me into doing this nonsense over here over the month of August, and now I'm rather looking forward to it. At the very least, I will not lack for Daily Idea writing prompts.

Speaking of the Daily Idea/freewriting portion of my routine, I'm researching the viability of a Project. At this point, it can only be described as subscription-based along some regular time line or other, possibly Patreon-enabled, and hopefully more feasible than my track record on dailiness thus far would indicate.

Well. That was very nearly-information free. There may be more information tomorrow. Stay tuned.

that fine line between good days and bad
Fri 2014-07-25 23:06:59 (single post)
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In terms of time spent writing, yesterday was pretty much non-existent. Today was only about an hour better. (Context: I aim for five hours a day Tuesday through Friday.)

Despite the low time clock report, today feels better. Its emotional weight rests more lightly upon the psyche. I can think of two reasons for that; there may be others.

First reason is, it was better even if it wasn't much better. Half an hour's work on the short story is better than none at all, even if that half hour was mostly me staring at the final scene, typing out a sentence, and then erasing it again. And then re-writing the sentence at the end of the fifth scene. And then staring at the screen, trying to decide whether the flashback at the end of the fifth scene really belongs there or closer to the end of the story. What I'm saying is, it didn't feel like progress at all. However, it was process, and I take it as an item of faith that the process itself is an element of progress. You gotta show up on the page, right?

The other half-hour was my daily freewriting. (Allegedly daily; it didn't happen yesterday either.) My most recent freewriting has been to prompts I came up with Tuesday, when I tasked myself with generating a list of magic realism style concepts which involve mismatched categories. The inspiration was rereading Karin Tidbeck's short story collection Jagannath, which is wonderful and strange, full of elegant nightmares and emotionally resonant weirdness galore. It opens with a story whose theme, I think, is to do with miscommunication and projection, but whose explicit text is about a man who falls in love with an airship and briefly rooms with a woman who is pursuing a love affair with a steam engine. This is what I mean by mismatched categories. Another of her stories expresses the universal angst of parents watching their children become their own unexpected selves, but does so through the textual medium of a woman creating a homunculus in a jam jar. Reading Tidbeck's fiction is like a jolt of electricity to the brain's inspiration center. It makes me want to dream up weird stuff of my own.

So I did. Some of the mismatched category prompts I came up with were: Doors in people's chests which opened upon the heart; a bicycle that hatches out of an egg; buildings as public transportation vehicles; a harp hung up on a wall. The last one isn't exactly a mismatched category situation--musical instruments do often get hung up on the wall--but in my head it was the grisly harp from a particular well-known ballad, years and years after the story takes place, when it begins to "play alone" once more for reasons TBD. After noodling around on the idea today (and trying to determine those reasons), I slapped the "To Do" label on it in Scrivener because I think I'm on to something here.

So it wasn't just that an hour of writing was better than none. It was also that a day on which I come up with a brand new story idea is better than a day on which I don't.

Second reason? It's kind of silly, but, here it is: Yesterday, I mostly poked around listlessly at the internet, thinking, "I really ought to write," until I ran out of time in which to make it happen. Today, by contrast, I very definitively thought, "I ought to get back to the writing, but, dammit, I'm going to play some Puzzle Pirates." And I did.

The moral of the story is this: If you're going to procrastinate, do it deliberately and have fun with it. Otherwise, you might as well get to work.

Hey, look! A blog post. Something else I did today but not yesterday. Third reason!

the dragons of the i-25
Wed 2014-07-23 23:37:30 (single post)
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They are invisible, but horribly bulky. They have presence. They press in on both sides of the interstate, making every driver feel oddly constricted, such that they slow to a crawl and bottleneck the entire highway from Aurora to Thornton. Soon, the entire population of Denver is waiting in the queue. We are talking about traffic so slow that the swallows are perching on the roofs of the trucks as they inch along north and west. Have you ever seen a yellow-bellied swallow hitch a ride on top of a corporate van on the interstate? Well, now I have.

This is the only explanation I've got for why it took me more than two hours to get from Denver International Airport to Longmont. I mean, yes, rush hour traffic, a bad time of the day to take I-70 to I-270 to I-25, but I have never seen it this bad before. So the explanation I'm going with is dragons.

I eventually got to practice and got geared up. About 45 minutes late, but I got there. I very nearly gave up and went home, but I kept telling myself, "You know how much putting on skates cheers you up. Go on. You'll feel better for it." And I do. I really do. Although I also feel extremely tired.

Still managed to take some time to work on the story. I still haven't finished the final scene, but at least I'm not doing yet another revision pass on the whole damn thing. Instead, it's more like, I turn the scene over and over in my head, try to hear the dialogue and pin down the last questions of cosmology, and in doing so I'll stumble upon some element or other that can be cleared up, inserted, or reassembled elsewhere in the story such that the final scene--whatever it turns out to be--will work better. So I feel like I'm slowly spiraling in, getting a better fix on my destination with each turn around the point. When I finally land this plane, it will be awesome.

That's all I've got. Good night all--Channel LeBoeuf-Little is going off the air until morning.

the demons of doubt are multilingual
Tue 2014-07-22 23:26:53 (single post)
  • 6,883 wds. long

In terms of story revision, today was solid. The read-through edit on the draft in progress finally reached the point where I'd left off drafting before, and I feel a lot more able to finish the draft. Mainly I'm trying to get that last phone call right, along with Ashley's reaction to it. Also, I know a lot more about this story's peculiar apocalypse than I did when I wrote previous drafts. Full sized short stories are different from flash. In a 566-word short-short that's focused more on relationship dynamics than actual worldbuilding, I can get away with not really knowing why the sidewalks melted. In a 5,000-word short story that's focused very specifically on the main characters' roles in the Snowpocalypse, I kind of have to know what those roles are.

I still need to work on the timing. There's no good reason why the last scene needs to take place two days after the scene before it. Again, there's just no leeway for a lull in the action after the OMG moment.

So. One of the thoughts from yesterday's blog post stuck with me. The one about how there are few greater joys than increasing your competence in an activity you love, but how the photo-negative image of that joy is the creeping existential dread that you'll never excel at the activity you love after all. And how the intensities of both the joy and the fear are directly proportional to how much you enjoy or even identify with that activity.

Yesterday I was rambling on about that fear and that joy with regards to roller derby. But this is not primarily a roller derby blog. This is a writing blog. I am a writer. Roller derby may have taken over my life, but writing is my life.

Oddly, that paired joy and fear do not play as blatant a role in my relationship with writing.

I think it's because writing is a lot more... nebulous? Intangible? ...than roller derby is. I can observe with certainty my ability to skate backwards or to positionally block from a sideways stance, and compare my current ability to do these things with my ability last year or the year before. Observing my own improvement in writing is a less sure thing. While I can say that this year I'm sitting down to the keyboard more often, finishing more stories, and making more sales, I can only take it as an item of faith that what comes out of my keyboard when I do sit down is better now than it was in the past. And it's not so much the religious tenet sort of faith as it is the mathematical axiom sort. A + A = 2A. More writing + more reading = better writing.

(No, more sales doesn't necessarily mean better writing. More sales has a lot more to do with submitting more stories more often and to more markets. The axis of saleability is on a separate graph from the axis of quality. Besides, editors aren't just looking for well-written and interesting but also "a good fit with our publication," which you can drive yourself mad trying to plot on a chart.)

So I don't experience so much the joy of watching my skills improve, as I do the satisfaction of watching myself get serious about this "I want to be a writer when I grow up!" thing, treat writing like my day job, and go to work every scheduled workday.

As for the fear/dread/doubt question... no, I don't find myself doubting that I can do this writing thing. Writing is one of those things that I know I can do well. I've proved it to myself over the years. It isn't something like a physical sport where I fight with my body's agility, strength, and reaction time. It's more like... oh, like singing. It's something that to some extent comes naturally to me, something that I've done all my life and have witnessed myself do well at. I've received enough positive feedback on it to be confident I'm not deluding myself here. But unlike singing, writing isn't subject to sudden attacks of stage fright or forgetting the tune/words/harmony/etc. It's not a performance. It's more like architecture. You don't let anyone into the house until you're pretty sure the walls and roof are solid. (And you try not to take it personally if someone notices a windowsill is sagging.)

So, no, it's not my ability to do writing well that I find myself doubting. No. Weirdly, what I angst over is whether I will do it.

Doesn't that sound silly? To be afraid of something that I have total control over preventing from happening? It's as silly as being afraid of the dark while having my hand on the light switch.

And yet that's the shape of my doubt. I fear failing myself. If writing is my life (hyperbole, but a useful one), my fear is getting to the end of that life without having written (and published) the stories I lived to write.

Which I suppose makes my regular workday writing schedule a way of keeping that fear at bay. It's a way of reassuring myself that I've done what I can, today, to prevent an unhappy ending to my story.

That's all I can reasonably ask of myself: That I do, indeed, go to work every scheduled work day. That I don't stand afraid in the dark when I have the power to turn on the light.

Today, I turned on that light.

Tomorrow, I intend to install a brighter light bulb.

a drabble where you can read it; also, revising away some story problems
Fri 2014-07-18 00:20:24 (single post)

I'm pleased to announce that as of today you can read my drabble, "Priesthood Has Its Privileges," on SpeckLit. The other drabble that SpeckLit acquired will appear on the site in September, so stay tuned for that announcement then.

A drabble is a work of fiction that is exactly 100 words long. They are compact and easy to digest, a nutritious part of your daily breakfast. Bookmark SpeckLit to add a new drabble to your diet every other day.

I'm less than pleased to announce that today I was... not as respectful, shall we say, as one should be, of the sharpness of the edge of the scissors blade I was cleaning off. The result is merely a flesh-wound, but there is nothing "merely" about that when it's across your index fingertip and you're trying to type. You ever heard a typo referred to as a "fat finger" incident? Bandaged fingertips are literal fat fingers, hitting two keys where one will do and generally wrecking one's wpms.

Thankfully, this flesh-wound came after a solid session of story revision today. It was solid not only as measured by the formula "butt + chair x time," but also from the standpoint of story problems solved, or at least brought closer to solved. To wit:

1) Raise the stakes. The story has an "OMG shit just got real" moment about halfway through, but I think the draft my friends read suffered from a bit of stall-out after that. The narrator gets home from encountering the "OMG" moment--and almost immediately forgets about it, or at least stops mentioning it, while she listens to some voice mail from her chatty and insufficiently worried friend. So with this revision I'm trying to keep the tension high by correcting both of those oversights. If I've done my job right, I've corrected them both in a single edit to do with what's in the phone message and how the narrator reacts to it.

Wow. That paragraph is a great example of why talking about writing is sometimes not the greatest idea. Trying to discuss a particular edit in generalities rather than specific detail results in hella confusion cum circumlocution. Well, I'm-a leave it up there, let it fend for itself, 'cause I know what I mean, and one day, publishers willing and the markets don't flop, you will too.

2) Everyone's got a story. There is a character in this story more talked about than talking, and it finally occurred to me I have to give him something to do. He's away in a ski resort with the chatty friend, which is to say, they're in what's basically a fancy hotel suite. I visualize it as a kitchen/living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. That's it. Yet the chatty friend manages to leave our narrator phone messages that this other character in the room is not overhearing. How did I solve that problem in recent drafts? Well, apparently I had him taking a lot of naps. This... is not ideal. He is not meant to be the Amazing Hibernating Man. So with this draft I tried to figure out, well, what does he do while they're in the resort? Especially considering the special role he plays in the development of the plot? And how can I then reveal what he's doing such that it lays groundwork for later revelations?

So now he spends a lot of time sitting on the balcony out in the snow, oblivious to the cold, staring out into the storm. Which doesn't sound like much of an improvement, but in my head there is a reason. I just have to figure out how to make that reason more clear.

This blog post has been brought to you by a somewhat out of date bottle of New-Skin (R) Antiseptic Liquid Bandage. Protects small cuts without all that bandaged fingertip awkwardness! I think I'll go put on a second coat now. And buy a new, not-out-of-date bottle tomorrow.

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