inasmuch as it concerns Spit and Polish:
Contortions performed upon that endless search for perfection.
a little light comedy with your fictionette
- 852 wds. long
Despite the aforementioned difficulties, I think I'm getting better at this. Which is to say, getting all the fictionette things revised, posted, and settled still took longer than it should have (I seriously need to simplify the system), but it was my content writing gigs and not my freewriting or my short story revision that paid the price for it. Priorities! I might possibly have a few.
And for a story-like object that had me in fits all week, it didn't turn out all that bad.
Favorite place this week to revise stories: Over a huge steaming bowl of pho at the neighborhood restaurant. I'm told there are better pho restaurants in Boulder, but this is the one I can walk to, and I think it's yummy. The artwork on the walls is kind of creepy, though.
Least favorite place this week to revise stories: On the BV bus, heading from Boulder to Denver, and realizing that the person sitting next to me is actively and unabashedly reading my work in progress over my shoulder. That is in blatant contradiction of public transportation etiquette, y'all. Don't do that shit.
Not counting for the purpose of Amtrak departures and arrivals, I hadn't been down to LoDo in ages. The occasion for this trip was having heard that the Sklar Brothers would be performing at Comedy Works in Larimer Square this weekend, and thinking, "Why not?" So I went. And they were pretty darn funny, so I was glad I did. The opening acts weren't too bad, either. Stand-up comedy can be a bit of a minefield for me, as exemplified by Jackie Kashian's pin-pointedly accurate summary of the jokes that male comedians tell about their wives. When I'm listening to the comedy channel on the radio, and I hear a comedian start in on his wife, or how it was censorship when a venue wouldn't let him use his favorite ethnic/gender/ableist slur, or how violence against women can be perfectly justified, amiright guys, that's my cue to change the channel for a while, because they ain't going nowhere good from there.
I'm happy to report that tonight's show didn't go there. It occasionally went to places from which you could see it, and once or twice it brought out a copy of the map and pointed to key landmarks, but it didn't actually go there, you know? So I left reasonably happy.
Before I left, I randomly ran into a derby skater in the crowd. Well, I assumed she was a skater. She could have been a fan. Anyway, she had on a High City Derby Divas hoodie, so I said hello. I introduced myself by skate name and league and I asked her whether she'd be at the Pikes Peak Derby Dames mix-up on Sunday. I may have been a bit too enthusiastic. I didn't actually say "OMG YOU'RE DERBY I'M DERBY TOO IT'S A SMALL DAMN DERBY WORLD ISN'T IT DERBYYYYYY!!!!!" but mmmmaybe I came across that way? The interaction went all unexpectedly awkward. At least I had enough self-restraint to keep it short.
For a few hours before and a few hours after the show, I worked on the aforementioned Friday Fictionette stuff over at Leela's European Cafe. They're on 15th between Champa and Stout, they're open 24 hours, they have wifi and comfy seating and a nice variety of music, and they serve really tasty hot chocolate. Also beer and cocktails. Heck with coworking--I want to spend my working day at Leela's. Well, sometimes, anyway. Their late night crowd is really interesting.
In conclusion: I should go down to Denver more. There's enjoyable stuff down there.
but fridays are supposed to be not quite ready for prime time
It's only my second week into this project, but I'm already running into difficulties with Friday Fictionettes. They aren't insurmountable, nor are they unforeseen, but they sure are noticeable. And prompt!
The obvious one is the temptation to spend my entire working day on them. And, well, that might be reasonable if I had oodles of patrons pledging me gob-tons of money. For gob-tons of money I would happily treat Friday Fictionettes like my entire day job. As things stand, however, they are merely one of a number of regular writing tasks on my daily agenda.
To keep them in their place, I've been allotting them only one half-hour per day. Friday's the exception. Friday, all bets are off. (Friday I'm in love! Wait.) Since they gotta go up on Friday, they get to take up all the Friday they need to get publishable. But every other day of the week, they get one pom, one 25-minute session on the timer plus another five to wrap things up.
The other difficulty is related to the first. It's why I find it so tempting to spend all day on them. I'm not spending hours and hours fiddling with the craptastic cover art. No, it's the text itself that's giving me trouble. This week especially I am convinced that the piece I chose for Friday's offering simply sucks.
Yes, I know. I'm doing a fantastic job of selling my product here. "If you pledge me a buck per month, you get to read some really sucky writing!" OK, OK, it's not that bad. But I'm not as fond of this one. When I wrote it back in August, spinning off of four random words from one of Gabriela Pereira's CTC29 prompts, it started off vague, ran off in a non-promising direction, then, by the end of the timed writing session, found itself in the opposite direction from which it was going. And in the process of cleaning it up this week I've discovered a third development that wasn't there last month, and that is not compatible with either of the first two story ideas. So I'm spending my daily half hour in serious revisions.
And the whole point is that these fictionettes are supposed to be raw. Not so raw as to be terrible, not Draft Zero raw--they should definitely be presentable--but they're supposed to be a glimpse at the writer's daily process. They're supposed to resemble the practice from which they sprung. That's why, when I select the fictionette for next month's Week 2, I limit my choices to those timed writing sessions produced within this month's Week 2. If I don't like any of them, tough. Friday Fictionettes are about what happened when I showed up on the page.
That this fictionette isn't quite ready for prime time is supposed to be a feature, is what I'm saying.
Still, every morning that I look at it, it keeps failing the test of "Would I be embarrassed if people read this?" So I keep revising it. What's the worst that can happen? I might wind up with something that's actually good. Something I'll regret not submitting to a professional market. But that's OK. That's the other whole point of this exercise: Story ideas aren't so precious that I can't give a few away. Another one will be coming along tomorrow, after all.
At least this one's craptastic cover art is already finished.
it's a very nice rabbit hole, its bookshelves are well-stocked
Today has been a surprisingly exhausting day for not having actual physical roller derby in it. There was a lot of not knowing the shape of my day because I was waiting for the next phone call to tell me what shape it would be. Just for starters, I brought the car to the shop at eight in the morning, so I was waiting to hear back from the mechanics all day. I had errands to run that I couldn't run until I had the car back. And because of various circumstances, the location and time of roller derby practice was TBD right up until less than an hour before I'd have had to leave for it. (The combination of these factors were a large part of me not going to practice at all, but that's neither here nor there.)
Turns out, I don't function very well when part of my brain is On Call. My brain translates On Call into On Hold. The tendency is to fly a holding pattern, unable to exert real effort while uncertain of what my immediate future holds.
So I'm quite pleased with myself for actually getting some work done on the short story.
Granted, it was mostly down the rabbit hole of research. But I was finally persistent enough to get the answers I needed to the questions I'd scribbled on the first couple pages.
Example 1: My main character laments that there are no suitable books in the house to distract her little brother from Peter Pan, because the roof leaked during the storm right onto their bookshelves. And they couldn't just go to the library because the libraries weren't open yet. True or false?
As it turns out, false. While the Jefferson Parish Library system was deeply crippled, and some branches were entirely destroyed along with all of their books, there was library service in Jefferson Parish as early as October 3. At least, that's what I understand to be the case from what library director Lon R. Dickerson writes in "Building Even Better Libraries, Post-Katrina" (American Libraries, Nov. 2005, Vol. 36, Issue 10):
With a service population of 455,466 residents, Jefferson Parish Library was already the largest library in Louisiana. Before Katrina hit, we had an operating budget of $15 million. By default, we're now the only large library in metropolitan New Orleans that can serve people as they return to Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines parishes.
JPL has dropped its nonresident fees and is issuing "Katrina library cards" to anyone in the area. Staff and library users alike say that having libraries open is part of their need for normalcy. We expected the rush of people on October 3 who wanted to use our computers, but we also had long lines of people waiting to check out books. We expect to have at least 10 branches open by November. Schools are more dependent on us than ever before, and our library is essential lo the rebuilding of this community's economy. A stronger and more vibrant library will help us attract new businesses and residents.
Now, the last time this story was workshopped, the critique hive mind basically side-stepped the question of veracity. They informed me that most readers wouldn't need an explanation for the dearth of books in the narrator's house. "A lot of people just don't read much. Certainly not as much as us writers do," they said. "You're spendig a lot of energy trying to explain a situation that most creaders won't even question in the first place."
It made sense at the time--at least, once I got past my initial "Huh? Houses without books? That is un-possible!" reaction. But today I'm not so sure. Seems to me, the readership of the types of market I'd try to get this submitted to, they're readers. Right? I mean, someone who reads commercial science fiction and fantasy short fiction... is a reader. I think it's not unreasonable to expect that the target audience of, say, F&SF or Shimmer, is someone who sees unoccupied walls as an opportunity for more bookshelves, then stacks those shelves double-deep with paperbacks. (Also, a not insignificant portion of that reading population comprises writers.)
In the end, though, that's not what matters. What matters is, the family in my story used to have a lot of books before Katrina hit. Now, they do not. This is notable enough for the main character to mention it, even though she herself is not the huge reader that her brother and mother are (or so I've decided for this draft). Revision should result is these facts being plausible character notes and part of a larger important story theme.
(Of course it's an important theme. The main character's little brother is literally getting lost in a book. Of course books are important.)
Example 2: The main character notes that her father used to take the kids fishing in Lake Pontchartrain, despite there being nothing much to catch. True or false?
Again, false. In this case, I was going off my memory of being a kid in the late '70s and early '80s watching Dad catch nothing but the odd croaker--which he'd throw back--and then getting his bait stolen by a needle-noser. That's not a particularly reliable memory to go from. It lacks perspective. It's not accurate to infer the fishing viability of the entire lake from vague memories of Dad casting a line next to the Bonnabel pumping station.
Also, those forays were some 20 years before my story takes place. The lake had benefited from a concerted clean-up effort in the years since my single digits. Heck, in 2000 some parts of the lake were actually declared safe for swimming. That still blows my mind.
Anyway, not only was there plenty of successful fishing in Lake Pontchartrain just before Katrina hit, but it turns out that the environmental impact of Hurricane Katrina on Lake Pontchartrain was surprisingly benign, and in some respects actually beneficial. No reason to think the narrator wouldn't have seen any fish caught on those family expeditions.
In summary: Research is fun! And it is useful. It might even keep the author from looking shamefully uninformed about her own hometown. Yay research!
a case of the unexpecteds, but it will NOT triumph
This week I'm back to work on "A Wish for Captain Hook." I finished scribbling my way through the previous draft's print-out today. Once I stopped feeling deathly embarrassed over the constant unironic use of an ethnic slur throughout the draft--or, at least, once I managed to put the deathly embarrassment on a mental shelf so I wasn't constantly stubbing my mental toes on it on my way to and from other mental tasks--I figured out what overarching single thing was really wrong with it.
Shaping. It's got none. It's got architectural plot-wise structure, but its emotional shaping is uneven in places and simply off in others. Characters' reactions to each others' actions aren't what they need to be. As a result, tension isn't smoothly built toward a climax, but rather lumped here and bled out there. I'm going to need to do some big-picture thinking and eagle-eye viewing in order to figure out how to fix it. I foresee timeline sketches pinned to my office wall with multicolored Sharpie scribbles.
(Speaking of deathly embarrassment: I had the little boy Jimbo pretending to be a Neverland Indian brave on the war path, woo-woo-wooing his way up and down Houma Boulevard. Oh the irony. All die. On the bright side, I'm now thinking more concretely in terms of the regional and cultural contexts for this story, such as the United Houma Nation and also the long-standing New Orleans tradition of the Mardi Gras Indian tribes. Admittedly, what I know about either, you could fit in a brand new matchbox after lighting a toddler's birthday candles, so this isn't going to be easy.)
I drew up a very specific hour-by-hour schedule for everything today, as per my newest resolution for Getting Stuff Done. It called for two hours of work on "Hook," from 1:30 to 3:30. It also called for more work on my Friday Fictionettes project, mostly to do with setting up my Wattpad profile, during a planned lunchtime outing that was to start at 11:00 AM. (Just because I launched it yesterday doesn't mean there isn't work yet to be done.)
And then... stuff happened.
I ended up being obliged to be At Home to surprise work crews: One to disinter our utility outlets from the new wall where they had been mostly drywalled over, and one to reassemble (or, as it turned out, replace) our floorboard heater cover. Then I realized I'd neglected to make time for paying the bills and doing the household accounts, which absolutely had to be done today. Yet more time had to be made for filling out and signing the e-document format Seller's Disclosure Form. The contractor who might help us replace, update, and/or fix our unit's persistent door problems had to be called. Messages needed to be left on answering machines. And so forth.
This is why I'd resisted hour-by-hour schedules in the first place. Stuff happens.
The solution I'm trying out today is this: Deal with the unexpecteds as they arise. When they are done, pick up with the schedule at whatever hour it is and whatever task I should be doing at that hour. Whatever tasks got erased by that case of the unexpecteds, get back to them during a previously unscheduled hour or whenever all scheduled tasks are done. The theory is that this will help me avoid feeling like the unexpecteds Ruined My Whole Day. Sure, it ate up my morning chunk of schedule, but there's no reason I can't faithfully complete my afternoon tasks. Empowerment!
So, yeah. The unexpecteds did eat up my morning, gnawing thence into my afternoon. Out of the 2 hours I'd planned for short story work, I only got about 45 minutes. And I never hit the Friday Fictionette work at all. But seeing as how the rest of my tasks today got done more or less precisely in their allotted timeslots, I'll have plenty of time to return to those other tasks that got eaten up.
Plenty time! Just as soon as we deal with that e-document. Bleargh.
100 words of avoidance, and more
More, because this blog post will not be 100 words. 100 words, because I am committing avoidance by working on drabbles.
I defend myself thusly: Specklit will make their next decision in early September, which means I really should submit my next raft of drabbles by the end of this week if I want my work to be considered for Quarter 3. And I have some good ones waiting. I'd like to have more than just five, however. You can submit up to 10 at a time. So I'm taking this week to prioritize a portfolio of new drabbles. "Hook" can wait, because it is not currently under deadline.
All perfectly logical. But not, alas, perfectly respectable logic. I am terribly aware that I left off with "Hook" at a difficult place. See also. How very convenient that I have found something more pressing to do.
Well. I have three completed drabbles and two more awaiting a bit of revision. This particular manner of avoidance can only last so long.
(Yes, and then you'll notice other deadlines you might apply yourself to. There are always a few.)
Anyway. If this blog post strikes anyone as slightly florid, I must confess to being a little drunk right now. Or, rather, "tipsy." Being a lightweight used to moderation, I suspect what I consider nonfunctional is what others might call pleasantly buzzed. But it's inarguable that I'm not much good for anything other than sitting in a hot bath post-derby (getting clean could not wait, I don't just smell of B.O., I smell of sick person B.O., and that's just beyond disgusting) while typing badly on a wireless keyboard--wireless because I do have some sense of self-preservation, badly because the first thing to go when I get drunk is my ability to pair high wpms with high accuracy. O hai there, backspace key. You are my new bff. Also, O hai there drunken run-on sentence.
Anyway, I've been back to the house for a futile attempt to reach my spare Dell laptop charger, which apparently I stowed on top of a desktop computer, under several blanktets, at the top of a closet which is simultaneously blocked by all four components of our queen-sized bed leaning against each other against the closet, under a sheet of plastic that has been taped to the wall to prevent these components getting stained by the ongoing plaster-and-paint job in our two-bedroom condo unit (a.k.a. "The House," as "The Observatory" is no longer appropriate--a new roof plus new ceiling components mean, thankfully, you can no longer see the sky from our living room).
No, we do not get to move back into The House tomorrow. There have been Delays. We hope for Friday.
Right. So, the charger wasn't accessible. Thankfully I had one more spare at the hotel. It's disconcerting when small electronics simply crap out on you.
While I was at the house, I also picked up my collection of spare corks. This meant I could at last break into, without having to finish all in a single night, the bottle I just bought of Gravity Brewing's "Tsar Bomber," their imperial stout. On draft, it is remarkably tasty, rich and smooth and chocolaty with very little bitterness. But when they bottled this imperial stout, they aged it in bourbon barrels. For, if I remember the tapmeister's description correctly, two years.
If I remember incorrectly, it doesn't matter because O my Gods this stuff is tasty. "John, you have got to try a sip," I cajoled.
"No, I shouldn't. My throat is sore."
"But, but, just try it."
"I'll smell it, how's that?" He smelled it. "Wow. That smells good."
John doesn't like beer, but he likes distilled spirits. That I suggested he try it might suggest to you one of two things: A. That I'm one of those jerks who's all, "Oh, but you just haven't tried the right beer." Or, B. that this beer is like drinking a very chocolaty bourbon, straight, Please do guess B. You probably know me for disliking cilantro, reggae, and rap, and therefore running into people who think I just haven't heard the right reggae, the right rap, or tasted the right dish full of cilantro. Right? Why would I run that sort of proselytizing campaign against my best friend and husband? I ask you.
Choose B. This beer is like drinking a rich, chocolate-flavored bourbon. The smoothest of chocolate-flavored bourbons. No wonder I got drunk.
Also, combine a stupidly high percent ABV with the circumstance of sitting in hot water. Also, did I mention lightweight? And oh so moderate. I maybe had twelve ounces of the stuff. But food was admittedly about ten hours ago, and the intermittent hours included strenuous roller derby practice, pseudoephedrine HCl 120 mg at the appropriate 12-hour doses, and the dregs of a 24-hour cold. Also my ears are popping. Gah.
If you are quite done with me, I shall wobble myself off to bed now. With maybe just a nip more of the Tsar Bomber. And a big plate of leftover Spice China. Whatever of it is left in the fridge, I don't care, it's food.
an invitation to recall neil gaiman's views on political correctness
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?
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
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
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
- 5,975 wds. long
- 3,330 wds. long
"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
- 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.