“[L]ife is a good thing for a writer. It's where we get our raw material, for a start. We quite like to stop and watch it.”
Neil Gaiman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Cover art incorporates a photo of an oven taken by Wikimedia Commons user ArnoldReinhold and licensed under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
a fictionette, a typewriter, and a new occasion for carpet snow-angels
Mon 2015-05-11 23:53:58 (single post)
  • 779 wds. long

Ok! So. Got a Friday Fictionette for you. It's the one for May 1, so I've still got last week's and this week's to go before I'm all caught up. But! I have been doing all sorts of catching up things, and then some.

First things first. The May 1 Friday Fictionette is called "To Come Before The Queen" (click for excerpt and also links to full versions). At 779 words, it's probably the shortest one I've posted yet. Any shorter and it would feel like a waste of time to publish an excerpt. But it's precise. Once I had the basic structure and story in mind, I set myself the challenge of writing only half the dialogue such that the other half could be inferred. It's a neat exercise, and it forces you to really think about word choice.

I wanted the cover art to be a huge honkin' commercial oven like the one the pastry chef baked hundreds of breakfast treats in every morning, back in the university dorm cafeteria where I worked in the mid-90s. You really could imagine a grown woman climbing in and sleeping in it at night. Alas, Google gave me very slim pickings. I might as well have just photographed our own oven (in which John, incidentally, has been baking lots of bread and other yummy things lately; I am, even more so than usual, a very fortunate spouse).

Another thing I caught up on this weekend: I typed up a Fictionette on my typewriter for the first time! See, at the $5/month pledge tier, I send you one of the month's Fictionettes typed up on an actual typewriter with actual typos and everything. Also illustrated capitals, watercolor doodles, and other unique surprises. Now, in my eternal optimism, I limited this tier reward to the first 10 Patrons to sign up for it. However, I think I'll have to lower it to 5. Why? Because 1400+ words on a typewriter takes a lot longer than I remembered! And not just because I'm no longer able to touch-type flawlessly in QWERTY! (I lost that skill when I learned the DVORAK layout. Apparently my fingers only have room for one layout for typing 90wpm with my eyes closed in.)

At least we now live on the bottom floor, with nothing beneath us but the garage. I'd be worried about shaking the floorboards otherwise.

So that was cool, and it's already gone out in the mail. (I was going to take a picture, but I forget to before I sealed it up in the envelope. Oh well. Next week!)

And here's one more cool thing I did this weekend:

I wrote a whole brand new story.

I did! It was for a contest on Codex, the annual Title Rummage Sale, where you pick a title from the virtual hat and then you write a story for it. I just barely made the lower word limit, and the story is about as drafty as a draft can get, but I finished it and I uploaded it and people are going to read it. And then I can make it better, and submit it somewhere.

That's exciting! It's been months since I last submitted something anywhere! Despite my intention to send out something new every month, and resubmit something every week! Well. Better late than never, right?

Also also also, I cleaned up the office. I took most of the boxes and things that have been hogging the floor and the futon since we moved in, and I shoved them all in the closet. Actually, I arranged them neatly and thoughtfully in the closet such that they can be accessed whenever necessary. So now I have a functional closet, and I can sit or sleep on the futon, and I can walk from the office door to the office window without dodging boxes.

How awesome is that? So awesome.

I... I think I have to make snow-angels in the carpet again.

'xcuse me.

imagine if we had to do this every year
Fri 2015-04-10 23:22:24 (single post)

With many an apology, I must sadly announce that this week's Friday Fictionette will be late. Now: Raise your hands, anyone who is surprised by this. Seriously, I thought I'd be able to get at least a little writing done in between stuff-moving carloads and roller derby practice. Turns out I was wrong. My intention is to finish it up and post it tomorrow afternoon between my morning roller derby obligation and my evening one. I'm hoping this will turn out to be possible.

I'm happy to say, though, that in one respect I am most definitely not late. John and I will relinquish possession of our old address on time tomorrow, having emptied it of all our possessions today. Finally. It required pulling a 14-hour day today on that job, maybe eight or ten carloads, I don't know. I don't even want to talk about that last carload. I was hitting the despair cycle of project fatigue and bodily exhaustion. It showed. Also, it is amazing how little seems to fit in the Saturn wagon when we're trying to get stuff out of the old house, but how very much there seems to be in the car when it's time to unload into the new. Does it multiply in there? Does it become extra slippery?

Nevertheless, by about 10:30 PM we were able to walk through a completely empty house, and by 11:00 PM we were unloading the final carload at our new home. (Which is now, of course, choked with boxes and random piles of stuff. But we have all the time in the world to get it organized. It's OK.) Even before we'd quite begun unloading, we'd already placed our order for late night delivery from Golden Sun, because celebratory comfort food is the best. My celebratory comfort food will be chicken egg foo young and a cup of hot-and-sour soup.

Now I just have to compile the packet of things to give to the buyer's agent tomorrow. Shouldn't be too hard. All the owner's manuals are in the file cabinet, neatly sorted. Except possibly a few that are still in the great big packet of paperwork from the original purchase. But I know exactly where that is too, so everything's fine, right? Right? Please? *sob*

My feet are ridiculously sore. I can't say I'm looking forward to putting skates on them tomorrow. But I'm sure once I'm on wheels I'll feel better. That's usually how it works. A good night's sleep can't help but help, too.

Very, very soon, life will get back to normal. Or about as normal as life ever is around here.

this piece of paper pleases and frightens me greatly
Wed 2015-04-01 23:47:25 (single post)

Today we closed on the sale of our home of fifteen years. Put that way, it sounds like a nostalgic, bittersweet occurrence. It's not. We are so, so ready to move. Although at this point it's less a matter of dissatisfaction with certain features of the property as it is just eagerness to finally see the end of a process begun in August of 2013.

A year and a half ago.

A year and a half ago, we said to each other, "You know, we could move out. That really is an option that is open to us. Let's go talk to someone about that." A year and a half ago, we wandered into Pedal To Properties and met a realtor who began demystifying the process for us. A year and a half ago, we began gleefully carting box after box of stuff--mostly books and media and also shelving--to a newly rented storage facility unit. We were going to de-clutter and tidy and clean and get the place ready to be listed.

And then the storm of September 2013 hit. Water soaked through the roof and ruined a bunch of our home's innards. It was clear we wouldn't be selling the place any time soon.

It wasn't until April 2014 that our roof was replaced. Then it wasn't until August 2014 that our unit's interior got repaired and renovated. And then, because we had not, admittedly, been using the intervening time wisely, it wasn't until mid-February 2015 that we finished our own personal hand-wrought home improvements (e.g. OMG THOSE CLOSET DOORS) and were ready to put the place on market.

And then on February 19 and 20 we hosted about a million walk-throughs, received a bunch of offers, and accepted one. Everything just followed schedule from there. Which is how we wound up, today, very briefly, for the amount of time it took us to drive from the title company's office to the bank, with custody of a check made out to us in an amount that gently exceeded that with which we'd actually bought this place 15 years ago.

That's a weird feeling. It's not so much Daffy Duck crowing "I'm rich! I'm rich!" and diving through piles of gold coins, right? Because for one thing, it's all going toward the closing costs and down payment of the purchase of our new home. It won't be ours for long. And for another thing, it's frankly terrifying. Like, I have a piece of paper worth MY FUTURE sitting in my bookbag, all fragile and easily lost or stolen. We got to the bank and we were all HERE PLEASE TAKE THIS OFF OUR HANDS AND PUT IT SOMEWHERE SAFE IT SCARES US.

And then we had lunch. And we crowed a bit.

Now there's just the aforementioned closing next week, and then the moving-in operations. Which, to be honest, don't look so daunting now that yesterday's great big to-do list is to-done. All the wheels are in motion and all we have to do is ride them out.

By Sunday the 12th, the process started in August 2013 will be over (give or take a few weeks of leisurely emptying out our storage unit). I'll finally be able to breathe.

And, y'know, maybe write a little.

Oh, look, an original photo for once!
All done. No more to do. Finished. Complete. FINALLY.
better late than ooh hey look shiny
Mon 2015-02-23 23:37:27 (single post)
  • 1,379 wds. long

Well. It wasn't up Saturday, and it wasn't up Sunday. But it's up now: "Ink That Casts a Shadow," the Friday Fictionette for (nominally) February 20. It's totally pretentious and meta and a story whose protagonist is an author that's totally not me, totally, promise. I sure can sell these things, can't I?

In other news of lateness, we'd put off taking the listing photos until tomorrow, because we weren't sure we'd get that lovely low winter sunlight brightening up the place today. Turns out we would have, but we desperately needed the extra day to clean the house. John deserves all the kudos; he's been doggedly cleaning the bathroom walls, floor, baseboard, tile grout, and more. The place gleams. I cleaned and tidied in the office and the bedroom, streamlining them down to a sort of "minimalist cozy" aesthetic. I cleaned the mantlepiece and the hearth, then laid a new fire in the grate.

I removed almost everything from the refrigerator door. "Nothing says you're about to move out," said John, "like cleaning off the fridge." Years of greeting cards, drawings, newsletters, business cards, and magnets came down and were categorized into things to keep, things to give away, and things to dispose of.

And tomorrow morning there's still the windows to clean, everything to vacuum, a trip or two to storage, under-bed bins to buy, all before one o' clock. Panic!

Did I mention the closet doors are done? The closet doors are done. All done. All four of them: Done, done, done, done.

[We pause while the author goes hop-skippity-boing like Daffy Duck on that gold hoard.]

And then after all that, it'll be a normal working Tuesday--the first workday of a week for which I have very high expectations. No pressure or anything. I suspect, knowing me, that I will collapse for a bit between the photos and the writing, and thus end up writing quite late. Which is fine. But it's best not to be surprised by these things.

Not pictured here: The hinges, because they are filthy.
when cliched platitudes are startlingly spot on
Thu 2015-01-22 23:14:20 (single post)
  • 5,653 wds. long

I'm happy to report that I met today's small goal. I made a copy of the scene-to-be-rearranged, and I moved paragraphs around like Lego. Or, actually, more like wooden blocks; the bits aren't "snapped" together like Lego are. They're like a stack of bricks with no mortar. But that's OK. That stack of bricks was what I wanted to accomplish today.

Tomorrow's small goal is as follows: Take that first brick in the stack and turn it into a plausible story opening.

Meanwhile, today saw an upswing in the rate of home improvement projects. I realized all at once this morning that there's no reason not to run the various projects on parallel tracks. While waiting for stain or polycrylic to dry, why not get to work painting the office closet doors or re-staining and finishing the weathered kitchen cabinets?

Why not, indeed. The usual "why not" is an extremely limited energy budget. If I can manage to do one coat of stain on a closet door in a day that contains writing, roller derby, and volunteer reading, not to mention household chores and trips to the grocery, I'm doing good.

Then it occurred to me: I can't skate roller derby for at least a month, and my first physical therapy appointment isn't for a week. My schedule is miraculously clear right now. And for all I complain about the stairs, I'm reasonably able-bodied for an injured athlete. I can move around unassisted. I can sit, stand, kneel, or sit on the floor. I can paint and stain and sand and whatever. And now I have the time to do it in.

It's not just a platitude. This injury really was the Universe's way of telling me to slow down. The silver lining, it has been spotted.

The other thing holding me back was a mental block. I kept looking at the kitchen and all I could see was a fractally complex job involving bits and detail and impossibility. But today I gave it a shot. I removed one of the under-sink cabinet doors, the one with the worst staining and the most deteriorated finish, and I washed it off, and I sanded it some, and--with several prayers to any Gods that might be listening--applied Minwax wood stain.

This was nerve-wracking. For one thing, I knew that I hadn't removed all of the surviving finishing coat from the wood. I couldn't do it. I couldn't bring myself to try. That level of comprehensive detail work would put the project way outside my ability, patience, and time frame. And if you don't get rid of all the previous paint and stain and finish, maybe the new stain doesn't sink in so good. Still, I reasoned that any place where finishing coat survived probably didn't need new stain anyway.

Secondly, matching stain colors is an iffy process. Even having brought one of the cabinet doors that was in like-new condition to the store with us, we weren't very confident that the tin of Minwax "Lt Pine" we'd chosen was going to be the right stain.

Turns out we'd chosen just the right stain. How do you know you've chosen the right stain? When you brush it on, you think, "Is there any color in this liquid, or did I get scammed into buying a tin of water?" Seriously, it just looked like I'd gotten the cabinet door wet.

In my excitement at how easy this turned out to be, I did the second under-sink cabinet door and the entire panel surrounding them. Pretty much the whole area bounded by the dishwasher, the sink, and the oven. It's the most important area, being fairly central, thus right where your eye first falls upon entering the kitchen.

The realtor came to visit today to help us get back on track for a mid-February listing. He looked at the cabinet work and pronounced it likely to "pop." That's realtor speak for "will give a potential buyer a great impression." He said that the refurbished and newly stained/finished living room closet doors also "pop." I'm pleased to hear it.

Between today's progress on the living room closet doors, the kitchen cabinets, and the office closet doors--not to mention today's work on the short story revision--I'm feeling pretty darn accomplished tonight. I just hope I can keep up this level of accomplishment for the next couple of weeks, is all.

look behind you isn't that a drabble
Thu 2015-01-08 23:43:35 (single post)

I knew I was going to forget! December 31st came and went, and I totally forgot. It wasn't until I was pulling up my Category Archive page on Specklit to include in my updated writing resume that I realized that my latest drabble is up over there.

Since today was empty of anything but whining to blog about--seriously, I slept pathetically late and got just about nothing done before going to the Denver Roller Dolls' drop-in friendly endurance practice tonight--well, it seemed appropriate to distract you with drabbles!

Far as I can tell, there are three basic types of drabble. There's the one that ends in a punchline: drabble as joke. There's the one that's more of a still-life, each sentence moving the camera focus slowly toward the powerful reveal: drabble as set piece, I guess? And there's the type that's flash fiction in micro, a tiny snapshot that includes just enough detail and motion to imply a longer story. That last sort is my favorite, but probably the hardest for me to write. I'm not sure I've achieved it, but I think I've at least wound up somewhere in the vicinity.

I will not have a drabble up during the first quarter of 2015, alas. Specklit is a market that never buys one drabble per author at a time, and I only submitted two. If one fell short, the other would fall with it. Of course, for all I know, neither was quite up to snuff (though I'm personally very proud of the one based on "The Emperor's New Clothes," and must make sure to find a new potential home to send it to). Anyway, I'm going to try to use all the time between now and the Quarter 2 submission deadline to put together a full ten-drabble portfolio. (Yes, while I'm working on my short story revision and my novel revision. Optimism!) As it turns out, Virtual Writers' World, one of my online sources for daily writing prompts, encourages "Dash 'n' Drabble" Fridays. It makes it easy to roll weekly drabble production into my daily freewriting.

hey look a new drabble
Tue 2014-11-18 23:17:26 (single post)

I'm not quite sure how it fell off my radar, but November 2 arrived a couple weeks ago and brought with it my latest drabble publication at SpeckLit. It's called "East of Omaha, West of San Francisco," and it's about one person's very small rebellion against the inevitable shrinking of her world. Or about a general tendency to cope with loss via selective amnesia, maybe. It has more than a little to do with Michael Swanwick's "The Edge of the World" (a damn fine story) getting stuck in my brain and taking up permanent residence there.

My second SpeckLit drabble for this quarter, and my last for 2014, will show up right at the end of the year, on December 30. When it goes live, I'll be on a train heading from New Orleans to Chicago as John and I return from a long, leisurely holiday trip to visit my family. I'll try to remember to blog and post a link during our layover.

Meanwhile, SpeckLit is currently in its voting period for Reader's Choice Best of 3rd Quarter 2014. I encourage you to read the eligible stories and vote for your favorites! I have two drabbles that were published during that period, and they are in some outstanding company. The full list of eligible stories is at the linked page, as is the voting form. You should read every single one of 'em (they're only 100 words each, so it won't take long), and then vote for your favorite three. Voting deadline is November 30.

November 30 is also the submission deadline for 1st Quarter 2015, so I've started to tune my freewriting toward drabble production again. Lately I've been using the Daily Dash prompts from the Second Life group Virtual Writers, Inc. It might be more precisely termed a Semidaily Dash, as there are two each day, one at 6 AM and one at 6 PM Pacific Time. As each Dash begins, the group sends a notification to members which includes a single word's dictionary definition as a suggested writing prompt. The prompt for today's afternoon dash was "raindrop," which somehow got me noodling toward a drabble about fallen angels. Because both raindrops and certain angels fall, apparently.

You know, I really see no reason why I couldn't do at least the morning Daily Dash every work day. 7 AM is a perfectly reasonable time for me to be awake and typing. Reasonable, that is, if I stop staying up past one in the morning...

From bad paint job to beautiful refurbishment in... oh, let's not think about how long it take. I have seven more to do.
winter arrives on a monday morning
Mon 2014-11-10 23:30:28 (single post)

Remember last week? Remember "Get the peppers out of the field before the cold snap?" Turns out, that was just practice for the real thing. Today was "Harvest ALL of the greens before the snow falls and temperatures drop to single digits Fahrenheit."

So one crew was in the field, harvesting tot soi and bok choi, lettuce and kale, chard and escarole and frisee, and the other crew washed each incoming basket of greens and packed them away in boxes for storage in the cooler. I was in the latter crew. It meant standing outside with my hands constantly in cold water. I was in short sleeves at first, because the morning was quite warm. By lunchtime I was wearing a borrowed hoodie, I couldn't feel my toes, and I could barely work my fingers. And the water was actually warmer than the air outside. So was the walk-in cooler, when I went in to raid the "seconds" basket for some take-home greens to turn into gumbo z'herbes.

But it was a morning well spent. And I felt pretty good, freezing weather aside. I didn't expect to. I honestly thought I'd have to stay home sick today. Saturday night, I began developing cold symptoms; Sunday, I was blowing my nose constantly. But either it was a 24-hour cold or the pseudoephedrine I started taking successfully masked all symptoms, because I felt fine today. Better than fine: I got up at 6:30 AM without a grumble and ready to do EVERYTHING.

The "Let's Get Everything Done!" mood settled in late last night. It's a great feeling! It makes everything seem possible! Nevermind that it's just the drugs talking--take advantage of it while you've got it, that's what I say. So instead of spending the evening curled up in bed around the achy, tired parts of me that a three-hour roller derby practice had worked out, I applied three coats of polycrylic to the front side of the closet door I was working on, and I wrote. Then this morning I swept all the sawdust off the balcony before the snow could turn it to muck.

Just look at that picture. Check it out. In the backdrop, three bi-folds painted in the "curdled cream" color we're trying to get away from. On the left, the paint-stripped and mostly-sanded half of the bi-fold, still displaying the dark stain from sometime before the door got painted. On the right, the finished product, stained in Minwax "Gunstock" red-brown, coated with water-based polycrylic, and ready to install.

Conclusion: There is life after paint-stripping!

So maybe my good mood wasn't entirely attributable to pseudoephedrine and caffeine. Maybe it was the warm sense of accomplishment. Yeah, let's go with that.

this is the good thing, which is also the terrifying thing
Wed 2014-10-01 23:22:30 (single post)
  • 5,975 wds. long

So I promised "more of that stuff" today, where the stuff under discussion was "happy and hopeful" news. And I got some of that for y'all. But I did less with it today than I wanted to, and that tends to be a drag on the "hopeful" part of the equation.

Let me backtrack and explain.

Remember how I said "Caroline's Wake" sent me a very encouraging postcard from its current slush pile? And then I said it was going to be revised per editorial request? Well, the editor in question didn't just request a revision--the editor in question sent me a detailed critique with copious notes and restructuring suggestions. I am all a-squee! When the editor of a market you'd adore to get published in chooses to spend that much time helping you get a story right, you darn well say thank you and get to work.

Except I am also a creature of terror and avoidance, and I am having my usual reaction to story critiques. Which is to say: "Oh, dear Gods, someone wants to tell me what they think about my story--run away and hide!" And also the one that goes, "O crap, I thought I got the story right, but it's not right, and it will never be right, because if I so much as touch it I'm sure that I'll break it--"

Well, I never denied that I was irrationally insecure.

I have been spending today, and will spend the remainder of this week, trying to quell those neurotic voices in my head so that I can hear myself think. And also trying to drown out those voices by repeating to myself, "The editor thought this story worth spending time on. The editor believes in this story. This story is worth it." And also working up the courage to take those edits in my two clenched fists and use them to revise the heck out of this story, because that's what's got to happen before y'all can read it.

Sometimes I'm a total mess, y'all. I'll own it. But I'm a mess in constant progress. Onward and upward, then.

And if you remove the wrong pick-up stick, all the marbles fall out...
This is Punch-Out Squirrel. Punch-Out Squirrel loves eir brain. Punch-Out Squirrel is standing on John's new helmet, because John loves his brain too.
in which washington cherries go kerplunk
Mon 2014-09-29 23:40:42 (single post)

The fall harvest season brings with it a series of exceedingly homogenous Farm Mondays. At other times during the year, my Monday morning shift might consist of several tasks, a miscellany of Things What Need To Get Done. Culling seedlings, filling seedling trays with potting soil, weeding the berm, watering the potted trees, whatever. I'm an extra pair of hands. I'm handy when the high priority items prevent the core staff from getting to the items of slightly less high priority. But during the fall, my whole shift tends to be taken up with that day's great big harvest task.

Three weeks ago, it was beets. Last week, it was peppers. Today, it was tomatoes.

Tomatoes for seed: identify the plants whose fruit consistently demonstrates the desired traits; collect only from those plants, and only those fruit that best demonstrate those traits. Tomatoes for food: gather everything that's neither rotten nor green, pretty much. Tomatoes for snacking on while en route to the next tomato: I fully except my mouth to break out in sores tomorrow from the overdose of ascorbic acid.

The tomato plants grow in round tomato cages. Their branches bust out all over. To get to all the tomatoes, you have to dig and tunnel your way through the foliage. Your arms turn green and yellow from the juices in leaf and stem. And sometimes the tomatoes--especially the cherry varieties--especially the Washington Cherry reds--are so ripe and ready to go that the moment you touch them, let alone jostle the foliage in order to reveal and reach them, they fall right off the stem. It's like playing some weird arboreal version of KerPlunk.

So that was my Farm Monday.

After that came a roller derby shopping pilgrimage. I'd heard good things about Skate Ratz, so when John decided that learning how to skate would be part of learning how to coach, I suggested we check them out. That's how we came to spend most of the afternoon and evening in Loveland getting John equipped for derby. Not only that, but it turns out that Skate Ratz keeps on hand a sample Bont boot in every size from 3 to Something Huge, expressly for fitting. They also had an Antik boot in my size so I could make an informed choice between those brands.

So I have finally ordered the Bont Hybrid in leather, color black, size 3.5. This will replace my current pair of Riedell R3s, which are two and a half years old, and one of which, for a couple of months now, has only been holding heel and sole together by an army of denim strips (cut from old jeans) and veritable gobs of Loctite Flexible Adhesive.

We celebrated our life-changing purchases over dinner at the Pourhouse, which is the best house.

And that was my Monday.

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