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

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

he ain't heavy, he just wants new reading material
Thu 2014-04-17 23:13:47 (single post)
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One of the real treats of my visits back home is getting to hang out with my brother. As kids, we were your classic case of sibling rivalry: nothing in common, irritated by each other's very existence, fighting tooth and nail all the time. As adults, we've become friends.

There's a part of me can't quite believe it. Habits die hard, after all, and my childhood relationship with my brother lasted from roughly age 6, the age I was when he was born, to age 18, when I went away to college. I haven't yet firmed up the habit of our adult friendship, since I'm only home two or three times a year for about a week at a time. And I usually see him for about four or five hours during each visit, tops. Most of that occurs during that one evening during each visit that I set aside to linger late with a beer or two and my laptop at the bar where he works. (It doesn't hurt that he catches my tab while I'm there.) So hanging out with him isn't just enjoyable. It's also a reaffirmation that, yes, we hang out. We're friends now.

Now, certain wags--most of them family members or other people who have known us since our tooth-and-nail days--will say that the reason we're friends now is we're no longer living together. Then these wags will laugh a big knowing laugh, winking and nudging, inviting me to admit that if my brother and I were housemates now we'd be at each other's throats within the week. These wags are, to put it bluntly, wrong.

Well. I shouldn't be too quick to state too firmly what would or wouldn't happen. It is given to no one to know what would have happen, as a certain fictitious Lion taught me many years ago. But I can at least state that I know myself better than many of these wags do. A lot better than one might expect. A lot of times, it seems the people who were adults while I was a child didn't actually begin to know me until I grew up. It's not just that adult-me isn't child-me. It's that many adults don't take a child seriously when she says, "This is who I am." They often assume that the child doesn't know shit, being a child and all, so they dismiss the child's claims to self-knowledge. So the adult ends up knowing very well the imaginary version of the child in their head, but often doesn't know the child at all. They express great admiration for the competent adult the child grows into, but they don't see how the seeds of that adult were there all along.

I'm reminded of this every time my mother asks me, "Hey, do you remember that time when you were little and you said...?" And she'll laugh. And I'll remember that time, and I'll bite my tongue and burn inwardly with old indignation, because I do remember that time. I remember exactly what was going on in my head when I said it. I remember how frustrating it was that Mom saw it as entertainment, a cute kid creating a cute anecdote for her to tell, while I was trying to put together a sincere expression of who I was, what I believed, what I needed emotionally. And now Mom's asking me to join with her in finding the memory a cute anecdote, because grown-up me must surely agree with her that child-me was tiresomely precocious but sometimes hella entertaining, right?

Anyway. That my brother and I are friends now has less to do with absence making the heart grow fonder, and more to do with time making grown-ups of us both. We are both more tolerant of other people's differences--heck, if we weren't, my marriage would never work. We're also both more easy to tolerate, having learned better how to make room for others in our worlds. And we've found things in common. We share stories of concerts we've gone to, drinks we've enjoyed, video games we've played, friends we've made and sometimes lost along the way.

And then there's the way siblings sometimes develop a sort of gently conspiratorial relationship as they grow up. They have better perspective now on the family that raised them, and, having gone through that experience as equals, they can compare notes. They start to get into cahoots with each other about it. They help each other understand the past, and they help each other keep an eye on the present as their parents grow older too. At least, so it was with my Mom and her siblings. So it is with me and my brother.

There are ways in which I can talk with Mom and Dad now that I couldn't then, but there are ways my brother and I can talk in which I'll never be able to talk with Mom and Dad. They will never entirely get out of the habit of seeing me as less mature, less wise in the ways of the world, less likely to have insights that are new to them and yet still true. Less likely, should our opinions differ, for them to see my opinions as valid, or me as having a right to them. To some extent, they will always feel responsible for my current outlook on life, and so every place where my worldview differs is a place where they are in conflict: Look how independent she turned out to be! ...and look how I failed to instill my values.

This isn't a conflict my brother's going to have with me. He was never responsible for me.

If anything, I'm the one who's a little guilty, now and again, of perceiving him through a limiting filter. He was five and a half years younger than me. I made a childhood career of dismissing him, underestimating him, feeling superior to him, and avoiding him. Sometimes I slip up and do to him what Mom does to me: "Hey, do you remember when you were, like, four, and you said...? Wasn't that hysterical?"

And so today I'm constantly in awe of the grown-up he turned into. I really shouldn't be. That grown-up was there all along, the same way I was there all along. It's oak trees and acorns, isn't it?

In any case, the things he remembers about child-me constantly surprise me. When the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie came out in 2005, my brother suggested we go together, because he remembered me reading him the books when he was young. When I played him the video of Lindsey Stirling performing the theme from the Legend of Zelda,he said, "I remember that was the first video game you really got into. You were writing down every single room in every single dungeon, every single square, every place where a monster came out--you were obsessed!" I had forgotten all those graph paper charts until then. The deep satisfaction of mapping my way through the first Legend of Zelda game--the first Nintendo game where you could save your progress, that's why the cartridge was gold--came back to me anew.

So anyway, it's Sunday, April the 6th, and I'm hanging out at the bar. We're having one of those long, rambling, segmented conversations that takes place in between and around his customers and friends. And--I forget how we got here--he says, "That reminds me. Why don't I have a copy of the book with your story in it?"

My brother wanted a copy of my first pro sale. Just... sit with that for a moment.

I can't even begin to adequately express how proud that made me feel. I mean, proud like a child bringing home her class project to show her parents. Look, Mom, Dad, look what I did! My brother--my little brother--wanted to look at what I did. Asked to take a look, unprompted.

It was like being the Grinch on Christmas morning. My heart grew three sizes, just like that. And I didn't even know it had room to grow.

Anyway, my brother texted me today to let me know that the copy of Blood and Other Cravings that I mailed him has arrived safely. I told him to be on the lookout for the print copy of Nameless #3 that I ordered for him, too. "Will do," sez he.

Um. Pardon me. I think there's something in my eye.

that writer dude just made my day
Wed 2014-04-16 22:16:15 (single post)
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Today was full of sucky things. There was waking up with the same sore throat I went to bed with and realizing that it had invited its friend, the runny nose, over to stay the week. There was that beautiful and completely legal hit to the sternum that I took during roller derby practice that had me asking myself that question no one ever likes to ask themselves, "Is it a bruised bone or is it a broken bone?" (When blocking backwards, always turn your shoulder in toward the incoming hit. I mean, I knew this, but apparently it takes damn near injury to drive the lesson home.)

And then there was that same roller derby practice called off early due to a fire less than a mile away. (Our first clue was all of the power in the building going out, leaving us in pitch dark. Our second was when we opened the garage door to let light in, and we saw the big column of smoke to the south and west of us. Apparently some railroad ties at 1st and Martin were ablaze, and the fire burned through the power lines.)

But today also had a very lovely thing in it. It's a review of NAMELESS #3 on Amazon. Apparently the reviewer thought highly enough of my story to include it with those he singled out for specific praise:

"Lambing Season" is a thriller that stands on its own two legs and is as original as I have read....nothing like that one out there!

Between the head cold and the very sore sternum (and also the waking up early tomorrow to take my sore sternum to someone who can answer the above question), I'm going to bed early tonight. But! As I do so, I'll be hugging that sentence like a teddy bear while I drift off into happy dreams.

''Lambing Season'' by Nicole J. LeBoeuf, featuring a lovely variegated wool
distracted by proof of publication
Thu 2014-04-10 23:00:01 (single post)
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You know what kills productivity optimism stone dead? Waking up with a headache. A persistent headache. It's entirely unfair. I didn't even get a chance at the day, dang it. I think maybe it was a combination of my first night back at altitude and our thermostat being left, forgotten, at a point inappropriately high for the rapidly incoming spring. Both factors probably meant I needed a lot more water in my system than I'd been putting in. Or something.

So I have very little actual productivity to talk about today. But look! I have a book! Well, a magazine that's as thick as a book, anyway. And I'm in it! Hopefully that happy news will distract everyone, including myself, from today's poor performance.

If you would like a copy of this latest book-like edition of [NaMEl3ss] Magazine, the editors would be happy to set you up with one. Individual issue available as ebook download and as print; you can also purchase a 1-year or 2-year subscription which include both print and ebook editions.

the meticulous and paranoid author submits a story for publication
Thu 2014-03-27 21:21:07 (single post)

Just because I got to the end of my story revision last night didn't mean it was ready to submit.

I mean, there's spell-checking. Which apparently can't be done in the current beta version of Scrivener for Windows. (I am very brave, to beta-test Scrivener with my precious, precious stories. Or very foolish. It's so hard to tell.) So we'll compile to RTF and spell-check that way, making sure to make any corrections in the Scrivener project and not in the RTF.

Then there's reading the story out loud to myself, stopping every few sentences to cringe at the awkwardness and try to figure out how to tidy it up, tighten it down, and make it sound like something a reasonably competent author came up with. And then thinking better of the somewhat related bit three pages ago. And then realizing that the three-pages-ago bit, having been changed, requires a small change six pages ahead.

At some point, the thought occurs to me that three thousand and some-odd words shouldn't take this long to read aloud. We'll brush that thought under the rug because it is not helping.

Then there's another Scrivener-to-RTF compile, another spell-check for the sake of all the bits that got typed anew, and finally a half-hesitant nod of approval from myself to me.

Off to the submissions guidelines web page! Create new email message! Fill in subject header exactly as specified! Fill in correct email address and check it three times! Attach manuscript!

Read the rest of the submissions guidelines. Note, with a sense of "Shouldn't I have noticed this before?" that submissions are read blind, and, as such, attached RTF or DOC manuscripts should have absolutely no identifying information inside.

Open up RTF manuscript. Remove name and contact info from upper-left corner of first page. Remove byline from beneath the title. Remove last name from the header that appears on every page after the first.

Save manuscript.

Attach manuscript to email, replacing previous attachment.

Send email. High-five self. (Tricky, but worth it.) Log submission in personal records and over at The Submissions Grinder. Check off related HabitRPG to-do item and very nearly reach Level 11 thereby.

Realize that, since [MARKET REDACTED] uses a blind submissions process, perhaps I should not be blogging so chattily about how "Anything For a Laugh," which is the story about the [IDENTIFYING CONTENT REDACTED] and whose title I have changed to [NEW TITLE REDACTED], just got sent there today.

But it did just get sent there today. I am pleased.

Now. Back to "Snowflakes" for a few minutes today, with the greatest hopes for getting all the way through it tomorrow and tidying it up over the weekend. It, too, must be submitted by March 31. Working on it tonight is how I'm going to finish my 5 hours. I am going to reach my 5 hours, darn it, even though I have to be up until 1:00 AM to do it.

*hangs head*

Look, I had ever so many good intentions for starting early today. But I didn't get much sleep last night. And no, it wasn't because I was up late playing addictive games. It was because all my roller derby playing bits were sore, with a stealth soreness that doesn't make itself usefully known until I've been tossing and turning and almost drifting away and then waking up again to wonder, "Why am I not sleeping?" and then realizing "Oh, it's because of what feels like a deep tissue bruise on my right arm that yelps when I lie on my right side, and the aching muscle of the inner left thigh that's yelping every time I roll over. And also, I have a headache." At which point I drag myself out of bed and take two ibuprofin, knowing that they won't actually start doing me any good until it's wake-up time. And then it's wake-up time, and I'm only just starting to enjoy sweet, sweet unconsciousness, so I say, "Eff it, I'm not going to stop now that I'm getting good at it." And I turn off my alarm clock.

And that's how oversleeping happened this morning. Also, my imaginary dog ate my homework.

But I did get that story submitted though. Hooray!

stuff of mine that you can read right now this second
Thu 2014-03-13 23:35:24 (single post)
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We interrupt this week of (non)productivity reports to bring you more news from the realms of publication, those fabled fields to which we make far too few visits and to which we always strive to arrive with more frequency. That news is this:

You can now buy and download the e-book version of NAMELESS Digest Issue #3, in which appears my story "Lambing Season". If you like physical copies, especially great big hefty ones that look more like an anthology than a magazine, you can buy that here.

One- and two-year subscriptions are also available. People who produce magazines love it when people subscribe.

Editor Jason V Brock, accompanied by a Liz (a Lizard of Some Distinction), will give you a five-minute video tour of the table of contents. I watched the video last night at the kitchen table where John and I were working. John looked up from his computer and made happy-hands gestures when Jason namechecked me.

(Just so's y'all know, though, it really is actually "Luh-BUFF". At conventions, I hand out little home-printed business cards that say "It ryhmes with 'I write stuff'". That tends to get a chuckle, and also to be memorable.)

If you're interested in a very wide range of what might be considered "horror", head on over and get yourself a copy. As for me, I'm watching my mail like the proverbial hawk, because there will be a contributor copy in the box any day now. And with it a contributor's check. This will be my second sale ever to a professional-rate market; finally having the print and spendable evidence of it in my hands will go a long way towards reassuring me that my first such sale wasn't a fluke.

the hoped-for thing occurs in the space one makes for it
Tue 2014-03-11 21:59:51 (single post)

I have good news! I have sold a story! For publication! Where you can see it--or, at least, hear it! Not yet, but soon!

That's the short story. Now, clear the way, 'cause here comes the long version.

This year I set out to be a more reliably productive writer. I set myself daily goals both in terms of a checklist of particular writing projects and hours spent writing at all. Thus far, at least overall, I've succeeded.

Now, success for a working writer can be tricky to measure. The stuff that's visible to people who aren't me tends to be beyond my control. Getting a story published, for instance, requires the cooperation of an editor who wants to pay me for the rights to print my story. And then there's the matter of my improvement as a writer, which is totally within my control but, to a large extent, not really mine to judge. Not reliably, anyway. Not objectively. So I have to measure my success in terms of those things I can both control and objectively measure: time spent writing, projects in which I make tangible progress, pieces finished and ready to send out into the world.

One of the items that's on my daily checklist and which counts towards hours spent on the clock is submissions procedures--activities surrounding what might be termed the "business end" of this gig. Sending a piece to a market, for instance, or logging a market's response to the submission. Rediscovering something of mine published during college and considering whether it has reprint potential, and, if so, where at. Something along those lines needs to happen every day.

This has resulted in greater success than I've enjoyed for some years now in terms of a particular objective metric: the number of individual pieces of short fiction that are out on submission, i.e. in slush, a.k.a. marked "Pending Response" over at the Submissions Grinder, at a single time. At one point that number was seven. That's small beans compared with some writers, but for me it's personal high.

The amount of stories I currently have out on submission is a number I can control. The amount of stories I have sold for publication is not. But these two numbers are not without causal connection. Even the most cynical writer must agree that your chances at publication go up based on your frequency of manuscript submissions--well, assuming a certain base-level quality of manuscript, of course, and a certain amount of common sense in deciding where to submit what.

Which is taking the long way around to announcing that, attributable at least in part to being determined this year to increase the number and frequency of my manuscript submissions, I've made my first sale of 2014. My sad, sisterly science fiction short-short story "Other Theories of Relativity" will be read aloud during an upcoming episode of Tina Connolly's podcast Toasted Cake.

I'm just tickled all rose-hued about it. I've never had a story of mine podcast before. I've never had a story of mine read aloud to the public by anyone other than myself. I'm excited and also, truth by told, kind of scared about it. There is no rational reason for being scared about it, but I am, a little. It's related to the same mild terror I experience from the time a send a story out to be workshopped right up until the moment I get the critiques back. And, just like I do after I've heard all the critiques, I know I'll feel all glowy and happy after I've finally heard the podcast with my story in it. So I guess what I'm mainly looking forward to is that moment after hearing it for the first time.

I'm also excited because this is my first sale of a Weekend Warrior (WW) story. WW is one of the annual contests hosted in the private online writers' community Codex (which you should check out--if you qualify, if you even think you qualify, do not hesitate to apply, because Codex is awesome). The contest lasts for five weeks. Each Friday, a handful of prompts is posted. You spend the weekend writing a short story from one of those prompts. It must be no longer than 750 words. Winners are determined by averaging all of the contest participants' ratings of each others' stories. Participants also give mini-critiques of each story. (Participation is anonymous until The Big Reveal after the contest is over.)

Between the half-formed stories that came from noodling around on the prompts and the actual stories I ended up submitting, there's a wealth of material from my participation in WW 2012. "Other Theories of Relativity" and, in a roundabout way, "When the Bottom Dropped Out of the Soul Market" are the only pieces from that supply that I have submitted anywhere. (On the same day Tina got back to me offering to buy "Other Theories," I also got the form rejection from the Flash Fiction Chronicles contest for "Soul Market"--not one of the finalists, alas.) There is a hell of a lot more story potential waiting for me in that same pocket of my hard drive. All I have to do is dig it up, revise it, polish it, and send it out.

I hope to have happy reports along those lines later on in the year. Later in the year. My plate is already full to overflowing for the month of March. About that, more later. Probably tomorrow.

mother may i
Mon 2014-02-17 23:38:04 (single post)
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If last week moved slowly, still it finished up where it needed to be. "Other Theories of Relativity" and "It's For You," both much transformed from the previous drafts, both went out into the wide world. And then, just for grins, so did "First Breath" in hopes of seeing it in reprint.

This is my second time sending it out as a reprint. The first time, I had the unmitigated chutzpah to suggest it might be appropriate for the VanderMeer's feminist spec fic anthology.

About which, I hasten to add, there is nothing wrong. An author needs unmitigated chutzpah to believe her writing worth others' reading at all. And this was a story that at least one editor had judged worthy to pay pro money for and press between hardback covers in a table of contents alongside some pretty awesome authors, so its quality wasn't in question.

However, I had some moments of crawling insecurity about it. One the one hand, the VanderMeers' anthology was to survey feminist speculative fiction from the 1970s onward; did I really think this little story could stand up in that kind of company?

Obviously, the proper answer to that question was, "Don't deny the editors a chance to decide for themselves. Send it in."

But on the other hand, there was the much more devastating insecurity having to do with not having published nor even finished another story since then. Did I think that having made this one sale, I was done? Was I just going to try to milk those 2,900 words or so for all I could get out of them and call it a career?

Well, no, of course not. But all those demons of the family Imposter Syndrome were jeering at me about it. Or shaking their heads sadly. Or just asking, in a tone of grave concern, whether I thought I had the right to try to reprint this story when I hadn't sold any new ones since.

So I sent it anyway. And it was not chosen for the anthology. And that was fine and good and about how these things generally go. (What was chosen? I do not know. A brief search has not turned up news on the anthology. I presume it's still in production.)

Flash forward to yesterday, when I sent it out again. Whole different story.

For one thing, far less pressure: The market I submitted it to is quite respected, but it's just another market. It isn't trying to be a piece of literary history. So that made things easier.

What made it even easier was knowing that it was one of seven pieces I had out in the slush. Seven! Two reprint submissions, one unpublished story on its eighth trip out, and four stories that were Brand Spanking New, Never Before Submitted, Never Before Seen By Editorial Eye, Setting Foot In Slush For the First Time! Seven. And by the end of the week I'll have sent two more reprint submissions out.

That's more stuff simultaneously in slush than I've had since, oh, 2006 or so. I think that's a dandy measure of the success of my new day-to-day work routine.

Now, it can't be overstated that my little fearing monsters' concerns that maybe I hadn't yet earned the right to try to reprint "First Breath" yet were--there's no way to say this gently--total bullshit. Well-intentioned bullshit, true, but bullshit none the less. You earn the right to reprint a story by having the rights of a previously published story of yours revert to you. Simple as that. There's no additional mechanism required and no further permission that you need.

But having what feels like a shit-ton of other writing out on editors' desks really helps.

Yes, this has been an "I feel like a writer!" blog post. Yes, I'm still doing those from time to time. Kinda pathetic, I know. Hey, we get our affirmation where we can, right? And the best kind of affirmation is the kind we can make on our own. Behold: I am a self-affirmation-making machine, my friends. A veritable one-woman factory cranking out the stuff.

Which will no doubt comfort me later on in the week when I'm trying to individually position grains of salt and pepper on the soup of the next short story in the revision queue.

We're Fixing a Hole Where the Rain Gets In
Fri 2014-01-10 22:38:55 (single post)

Our closest circle of Boulder friends have a tendency to come up with cute names for our abodes. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's a gamer nerd thing. Maybe it's like the way families develop unique terminology based on things various members said when they were very young. In any case, we don't just say this house or that apartment. Our homes have developed names.

For instance, there's "The Caboodle," an apartment so named because one of the people living there is named Kit. Obviously.

Then there's "The White House," which is the apartment inhabited by the trio one of whom has a cat named Richard Nixon. Really, it all makes perfect sense.

Our place? Well, John informed me that "Chez LeBoeuf-Little" wasn't cool enough for prime time. One of the White House denizens came up with the winning replacement nickname: "The Observatory."

Why? Because you can see the sky through the holes in the roof.

Not really. But there are certainly holes where the rain gets in, having the expected effects on the minds of everyone inside. That's been the case since we moved in. We know this because there was a stain in the area of the ceiling that started leaking water some years later. Up until then, we'd thought it had been a past problem adequately handled by previous owners who simply failed to follow up with the interior damage. Oh, how wrong we were!

The saga of our leaking roof has been a constant source of pain and stress to us ever since. Maybe not as intimate as living with a bad back or arthritis, granted, but just as constant, and just as much a source of uncertainty: Are we going to make it through this spring without having to tell the homeowner association manager we need another patch job, and argue with the homeowner association board that really, really, this time, isn't it obvious the patches aren't sufficient? Really?

I'm not going to go into the sequel saga involving several changes of management, one of whom finally put the leaking roof problem on the board's TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY radar, and the installation of an HOA board who actually seem to care, just in time for the Storm of the Century to make the roof leak utterly unignorable, followed by a lot of very slow moving meetings and consultations and then realizing that we needed a competent management company if we were going to get anything done--

But I'll tell you this. Today, a notice appeared on the corkboard of our stairwell advising residents not to park in the circled section of the map and if they didn't move their cars they would be towed and the HOA will not be responsible for any breakable items falling off walls or shelves so be prepared, y'all, 'cause NEW ROOF CONSTRUCTION BEGINS JANUARY 13 WOOT!

Come February, we're going to need a new nerd name for our condo unit. Or else we're going to need a telescope to justify it. (Hey, wait, I've got one back in Metairie!)

Caution: Contains sheep.
Woolen Printness Imminent
Wed 2014-01-08 23:03:12 (single post)
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So I have a Thing to announce. Remember that story that was going to come out in that magazine sometime, maybe, hopefully? Right. So, we're closer to actually seeing it in print. I got to review the PDF proof of [NaMeL3ss] Digest Issue #3 (née "Spring 2013") back in mid-December.

A PDF proof exists, y'all. I saw it with my own eyes. Can a print issue be far behind?

Stay tuned.

That's all I got today. Today started early and it involved a lot of driving. Also roller derby practice. I'm beat. I've being doing the little bits of everything, but they are very little bits.

See y'all tomorrow.

Practice Makes Permanent, On Skates and Off
Fri 2013-08-09 21:11:42 (single post)
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As blogged earlier, I was a RollerBull in this year's San Fermin en Nueva Orleans celebration. This was my second year participating, and I have every intention of going next year, too.

Last year, it felt like a huge big deal that I opted to skate from the Bourbon Orleans (roughly in the center of the French Quarter) to the Encierro starting line and central wrangling point at the Sugar Mill (a ways down Convention Center Boulevard). For one thing, it was more than a mile (or 27 laps as reckoned by WFTDA, for those of you playing along at home). For another it was more than a mile skated on unfriendly terrain.

I'm talking about the flagstones and cobbles around Jackson Square, treacherous to roll over. I'm thinking about grates and utility hole covers requiring unexpected sessions of careful toe-stop walking. I'm remembering how every bump and pebble on Decatur rattled right up my shins for blocks. And then there were the sidewalks that slouched down to the street at the curb, the curbs pocked with helpful raised bumps, the cross-streets where the asphalt broke up into holes filled with gravel and sand.

So, yeah, all that, and I was wobbly like a baby deer. But I got better over the course of that long Saturday. By the time I was hours deep in the Crescent City Derby Devils' "To Skate or Not To Skate" pub crawl, I was toe-stop hopping up curbs on Bourbon Street and skating backwards on Royal. I didn't fall down but once, and that was on a particularly rough curb-street seam on Rampart as I parted ways with the remaining pub-crawlers and headed back to my hotel room

Even more impressive was the improvement between last year and this. We are talking leaps and bounds here. Things I used to toe-stop walk over, I just rolled over without a second thought. Or I hopped over them. I started hopping over the street car tracks, y'all. Or cross-stepping over them at an angle, at speed. I climbed stairs.

Sure, you'd hope I was a more stable skater after a year of constant derby practice, right? If not, what would be the point? Still, it's improvement that comes gradually. Like the increasing height of a younger sibling you live with for years: You don't necessarily notice until you suddenly look up one day and realize he's taller than you are. And when it's a skill, you don't just fail to notice improvement; you actively deny it, because every practice is full of "I shouldn't have done that" and "I could have done better."

But then one day it's a year later and you watch yourself moving around downtown New Orleans on your roller skates like you were born that way. And you think, "When did that happen?"

During the afterparty after the Bombshells' July 6 bout, one of my earliest Boulder County Bombers trainers--now retired from the league though still teaching skaters in a different capacity--gave me a fantastic compliment. "You've come so far since last year," she told me. "You weren't looking at your feet at all. Instead, you were all like, 'I know where I want to be and what I want to do, and I'm gonna do it!'" I took that compliment and I hugged it, y'all, it meant that much to me. But it took all my street skating on San Fermin weekend to come to know it as truth.

It gets even better. During the CCDD scrimmage the next day, I barely fell down at all. None of this wiping out while trying to return to the pack after chasing the jammer crap. And even in the second half when I suddenly seemed to be every opposing blocker's favorite target, I didn't so much go down as get pushed around. Temporarily. Which is great, because I wasn't looking forward to catching air over that concrete surface. But it was surprising. This wasn't just "better than last year." This was "better than last week," including the July 6 bout. What gave?

What gave was, I'd spent the whole previous day staying stable on unfriendly terrain. The day before, too. You can't spend some eight hours on skates in a weekend and not be affected by it.

Practice makes permanent, as my old guitar teacher used to say.

So this is where I bring things around to writing. ("When I talk about derby, I'm talking about writing.")

That scrimmage was Sunday the 14th. Monday the 15th I got on my departing train. And Tuesday the 16th, displeased with having done precisely nothing productive during the New Orleans to Chicago leg of the journey, I devised a schedule of writing tasks to do while in transit from Chicago to Denver.

Item 1: 30 minutes of "story idea of the day" freewriting, starting as soon as the sleeper car attendent has finished with the "welcome to the train, here are your amenities" ritual.

Item 2: 60 minutes of short story revision, rewriting the ending of "It's For You" from the bit where Arista's phone starts ringing, starting an hour before my dinner reservaton.

Item 3: 60 minutes of novel planning, starting as soon as the attendent converts the seats in my roomette into a bed.

And then I did those tasks. I did them almost precisely to order and to my planned schedule. I went to sleep Tuesday night feeling quite pleased with myself. I thought, "If only I could keep this kind of work day practice up, it would become a habit. Practice makes permanent, after all."

Unfortunately, I have far more practice making permanent the habit of avoiding the work and fleeing anything to do with writing. So it's an uphill battle. I've gotten very little done between then and now.

But today, knowing my working day would end at 1 PM (Avedan was coming over for lunch and Spiral Knights!), and being kind of disgusted with blog posts like the one I wrote yesterday (whining about not writing, making excuses about not writing, anything at all about not writing), I still managed to do 30 minutes of freewriting, 60 minutes of revision work on "It's For You" (the bit where Arista discovers the mystery phone's location and takes steps to answer it), and 60 minutes of novel planning.

My next working day is Monday, and the work will begin after I get home from the farm. We'll see if I can't get a little practice at making healthy work habits permanent then, too.

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