“Why do I write? Perhaps in order not to go mad.”
Elie Wiesel

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

still hard even when it's a different kind of hard
Tue 2019-06-18 23:36:02 (single post)
  • 1,200 words (if poetry, lines) long

Let's talk interactive fiction. Do I know what I'm talking about when I talk about interactive fiction? Hell, no. But I'm trying to learn, because there's a story I've been wanting to submit to Sub-Q for, like, ever, and they're open to submissions right now until July 15.

Sub-Q publish interactive fiction, which is a form of storytelling which allows the readers' choices to alter the reader's experience of the story. Think of the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books--but also think of text-based games like Zork and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Or just go read some of what Sub-Q have available. They're more experts than me. They publish the stuff; I'm just beginning to think about writing it.

What I've got is a piece of flash fiction in which the main character goes on a journey, one of both geography and identity. It's been submitted a few times, but never received anything more than form rejections. Now that I'm looking at it with a mind to overhaul it into an interactive format, I'm starting to see why.

The thing's a travelogue, maybe a travel diary, but it's not a story.

It's also in second person point of view, which is a hard sell most places. But I don't think that's its worst problem, if problem it is. The main problem is, the protagonist isn't shown making important choices. Which means the protagonist is lacking somewhat in agency.

In interactive fiction, eventually, at some point, you invite the reader to make choices. And they have to be meaningful choices. They have to have consequences that the reader can guess at before they choose. They can't just be Bastian going through the House of a Thousand Doors in the latter half of The Neverending Story, choosing between a wicker door or a wood one, a red one or a green one, based on nothing more than gut sense that this material is more associated with the person he's looking for than that one. It's got to be more like, you know the green door will bring you to meet Atreyu, but you also know that the meeting and what follows will not be all rainbows and roses, so if you're having second thoughts maybe you should take the red door and go become writer-in-residence at the Silver City Library. Except that's not all going to be rainbows and roses either, so--which brand of interesting dilemma do you wish to explore, reader?

It's an apt metaphor. The protagonist in my story moves through a thousand doors of their own--through portals from one world to another, each more alien than the last. But in the original story, none of the portals matter. You see a portal, you go through it. As long as it takes you further away from your previous life, it's fine by you. And that's no way to write a story, interactive or otherwise. The protagonist has got to have the opportunity to make meaningful choices.

So today's story revision time was taken up with reading the current draft and identifying opportunities for meaningful choice. Also identifying other potentially interactive moments, like, say, the ability to click on a mention of the protagonist's backpack and get a list of its contents, maybe see how they change throughout the story. Click on mention of the watch and get some backstory about the person who gave it to the protagonist. That sort of thing.

It's daunting. It's daunting because I always had this idea that the story didn't need much more than a quick polish, an easy fix. But now I see that even if it stays traditional prose, it still needs no less than a full overhaul and a significant chunk of brand-new content, because protagonists need the opportunity to make meaningful choices. Otherwise they can hardly be said to protag, can they?

In short: Revising stories is still hard, y'all.

still collecting those merit badges
Mon 2019-05-27 23:57:00 (single post)

And, more than a month later, another blog post. Hi. Please rest assured that my streak of daily story submissions (for weekday values of "daily") has continued unabated through the radio silence. I am up to 33 submissions and 14 rejections for 2019. In May, that's 20 and 10 respectively. Three rejections came in over this past weekend alone, and a fourth even as I was logging those three. Only 86 rejections to go 'til my goal of 100 for the year!

(Remember, rejection letters are merit badges you earn by submitting manuscripts! That said, so is publication. WHATEVER.)

I'd like to briefly highlight one of the places I recently submitted a story: StarShipSofa, purveyor of fine science fiction for your ears. Over the years they've featured stories by both new and established authors (sometimes very established authors). Their narrators are also top-notch; some of them are extremely well known in film and stage. Recently I had the pleasure of hearing my story "First Breath" narrated on their (at the time) sibling podcast Tales to Terrify; if you listened to that, then you know what a good job the District of Wonders community of podcasts can do. I'd be thrilled to hear something of mine included in the StarShipSofa line-up. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to listening to SSS's latest offering next time I've got a solo drive or a 20-minute stint in the traction chair at Cafe of Life.

In the course of maintaining my workweek submission streak, I've learned several things:

  • More markets accept simultaneous submissions than I'd hitherto realized
  • I have more potential reprint submissions than I'd been acutely aware of
  • The previous two observations notwithstanding, I desperately need to get more of my stories submission-ready pronto.

I have had mornings when I simply did not know what to submit where, and I finally just threw up my hands and said, "Let's do a search on the Submission Grinder for yet another simsub- and reprint- friendly market I can submit Story X to." It's not very satisfying. It feels like cheating, and it gives me a sneaking submission that I'm using up appropriate markets for Story X rather more quickly than I should. I'd almost rather just get a rejection letter that frees up one of my unpublished stories for exclusive submission somewhere else.

I've got a bunch of stuff ready to revise or soon to be ready, and after that an infinity of new stories I could write. I just need to make sure I take the time every day to do it.

In other news, I'm a smidge late on Friday Fictionettes again. Look for the May 24th release to go out tomorrow. Thankfully, this week belongs to a fifth Friday, when no release is due. So I'll still be able to get an early start on the one for June 7th while also making some strides towards getting caught up on the Fictionette Artifacts for my $5 Patrons.

Thus the workweek begins!

a tent door closes, a submissions window opens
Thu 2018-05-03 14:00:26 (single post)
  • 1,097 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,722 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 983 words (if poetry, lines) long

The April 2018 edition of Camp NaNoWriMo is over. Toward my goal of 40 revision hours, I got about 10.75. Toward my story submission goal of getting all five Weekend Warrior contest entries revised and submitted, I got a whopping zero. I started one revision but still have not finished it. Still, I did revise and submit something else along the way! So. Not ideal, but toward my meta-goal of "have a healthier daily workflow that regularly moves my commercial publication goals along" goes, it's a dang good start.

I've had to put "Survival, After" on hold again, though. Cast of Wonders has reopened for submissions! But not for general submissions, so I can't simply resubmit "The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner" there (my one completed revision and submission in April) as the folks at Podcastle suggested doing. I ought to have submitted it during their most recent general submission period. I could have done! Podcastle sent me the rejection letter with that suggestion the day before the April 15 deadline, and then by the morning of deadline day I had received the rejection letter from Cast of Wonders for the story I'd had on slush with them at the time. So I could have submitted it without it being a simultaneous or multiple submission! I had about half a day's window to get it in. But I didn't get moving until late that night, however, at which time I discovered that they reckon end-of-day according to Eastern Time Zone hours.

Alas.

Cast of Wonders's next general submission window is probably going to be August 15. That's kind of a long way off, so I'll be looking for some place I can resub "Soup Witch" in the meantime. It would have to accept Patreon reprints of about a thousand words in length that either read a little young or a little like a fairy tale. There must be somewhere, right? Quick! To the Submission Grinder!

Meanwhile, here's what the current Cast of Wonders submissions window is about (in case you want to play along at home). They're preparing for Banned Books Week by inviting submissions appropriate to the theme of libraries. So I've dug through the Friday Fictionette archives for a potential reprint more likely to fit the bill: "Making Friends," in which a lonely orphan child, having learned the pros and cons of friendship from reading through her guardian's carefully curated library, tries to put those lessons to work.

It is not going to be simple. On reread, I'm struck by what a mess it is. The beginning rambles. The ending abruptly cuts things off just before the two main characters can meaningfully interact. It is not made clear what the protagonist's situation actually is. Also the role of the Duchess's library could be heightened just a bit, just to give the story a clearer connection to the theme, but only once I've cleaned up the major malfunctions.

The good news is, with a maximum word count of 3,000, I've got all sorts of room in which to let the story unfold. The bad news is, once again, I'm going to need to generate new draft. It'll probably take me right up until the May 15 deadline to finish.

Well, if it does, at least this time I know not to leave it until ten o'clock at night.

13 Ways Of Looking At... Procrastination
Mon 2009-05-25 20:32:20 (single post)
  • 120 words (if poetry, lines) long

So there's this One-Minute Weird Tales thing, which I may have mentioned before. At this time, there's just one on the site. Weird Tales would like there to be more, so, they're encouraging submissions. So I wrote a little something... oh, Tuesday. I think. Yeah. Tuesday.

I just submitted it today.

Why so long? Because I couldn't decide on a freaking title, that's why! Gah. But then, in a story 120 words long, the title comprises a non-trivial percentage of the text, right? Deserves a bit of thought, right? Possible not six days of thought, though. In any case, I stopped whiffling, and it's on it's way now. Go me.

In other news, I've started pulling another story idea out of the Demonbox and potentially into the light of other people's eyeballs. Kicking and screaming. See, I'm in Chicago. It's Monday night. Monday night in Chicago means Twilight Tales Open Mic! Or, as it turned out, Twilight Tales Mini-Workshop. I wanted to bring something short to share and get critiqued, just in case there was room on the schedule. So I spent much of today trying to decide which half-baked idea might profitably go back into the oven. And then, once I decided, I spent half the afternoon getting around to the blackbirds-leaving-the-wire moment of "OK, all right, time to get to work! Really!"

So I ended up leaving myself only 30 minutes to get a real draft done--as opposed to the "babble draft" that was sitting on my hard drive, containing characters with no excuse for being in the story beyond the fact that they were in front of my eyes when I wrote it. I mean, this two-year-old draft had "I Am A Writing Exercise!" written all over it. You read it, you can almost hear Natalie Goldberg's voice saying "What are you looking at? Fifteen minutes. Go." And this was not getting turned into something presentable in 30 minutes.

Which was fine. On the one hand, the event was well attended, and the last person due a turn in the hot seat ended up postponing until next time. No one was hurting for me not offering up more that my opinions on others' writing. (As to that: Gods, I'm a mouth. Sorry.) And on the other hand, the simple act of getting started on the draft was beneficial in and of itself. Now I have something else to work on during my multi-city writing retreat.

A bit about the "getting started." This came up on the Absolute Write forums: Someone started a thread called "How do you motivate yourself to write?" Someone who, much like me (more frequently than I like to admit), has a work in progress but has a hard time making themselves sit down and work on progressing it. And the thread turned into a real treasure house of strategies for beating writer's block. Writers being a varied bunch, the suggestions offered were wildly divergent. So... read it. If one trick doesn't work for you, another will. Some depend on guilt and duty, others on excitement and play. Others depend on psychology, hypnosis, mood-altering of the non-drug-related kind. Some mix and match!

My main contribution was about the "getting started" thing that I keep mentioning but not really going into. My issue is, once I get the right momentum going, it sustains itself. The trick is generating that momentum in the first place. I've got, like, rubber in my butt and springs in my ALT-TAB fingers--I sit down, I get up again; I open up my word processor of choice, I ALT-TAB away to some blog or other. What finally works is to identify the first bite of any given task: Reading the critiques. Fixing the teeny-tiny nit-picky stuff in the draft. Describing the one scene. Printing out the babble draft and scribbling notes on it. Something, some small nibble like that--it "tricks" me into entering the room where the story is, and being in that room at all will result in story happening. For five hours, if need be.

(I have to admit that being away from constant Internet access does help.)

So I'm all started now. With any luck (and discipline), I'll manage to continue the momentum tomorrow evening on the train. We Shall See.

(Boy, this entry fits under a lot of categories. Also, I'm sure we can dig out 9 other ways of looking at procrastination and make a nifty pastiche reeeeal easy. "A writer and a story / Are one. / A writer and a story and an hour of Puzzle Pirates / Are one." You can probably fill in the rest.)

Markets I Should Be Submitting Stories To, Part 1
Wed 2008-07-09 17:54:11 (single post)

In case you haven't heard about it yet, here's some submissions guidelines we should all be paying close attention to. Please note that I am not affiliated with Haunted Legends in any way except the usual, which is as hopeful author hopefully submitting a story to the editors.

Haunted Legends, to be published by Tor Books, seeks to reinvigorate the genre of "true" regional ghost stories by asking some of today's leading writers to riff on traditional tales from around the world. We don't just want you to retell an old ghost story, but to renovate it so that the story is dark and unsettling all over again.

Classic tales of the Jersey Devil, the spirits of the Tower of London, ghost lights, and phantom hitchhikers continue to capture the imagination. The Haunted Legends difference is that our contributors will tell the stories in ways they've never been told before.

We pay 6 cents a word, up to 8000 words.

The open-reading period will begin on midnight, EDT of July 15, 2008 and end 11:59p.m., July 31, 2008.

All submissions must be emailed as a RTF file to Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas at hauntedlegends@gmail.com. Please send no more than one submission. Please send no correspondence, such as queries, to hauntedlegends@gmail.com either before or after the reading period all mail sent to the address at any time other than the reading period will be automatically deleted unread.

Note that much of the anthology is full and that a large number of ghost stories, especially those with an American or UK origin, are thus already "taken" by authors who have been personally solicited for work. Your best bet for this anthology is to go far afield we are especially interested in renovations of traditional ghost stories from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, or in other tales that may not be well-known.

We also want to emphasize that we are interested only in traditional ghost stories made new again by the ingenuity of the writer. We do not want "campfire" versions of old stories, or slavish recitations. Think of new forms, new voices, new themes, new ways of considering these classic tales. Do not send us your trunk stories. It should be as though your version was always occulted within the classic rendition, but never before perceived or acknowledged.


And now, a brief AFAQ (anticipated frequently asked questions):


May I query you with an idea for a ghost story to make sure that it has not already been taken?

No, you may not. If you believe that your idea is already taken, you may wish to research another idea. Indeed, even if the idea has not already been claimed by one of the solicited authors, you may well still face competition from a dozen other variations in the slush. Novelty is your best approach.


Well, what if I query you anyway?

I may decide to give you a misleading answer, or no answer at all.


So how about if I query Ellen Datlow instead? She's the nice one, anyways.

You have misapprehended the situation. Let us put it this way: when was the last time Ellen Datlow had an open-reading period for any of her original anthologies? She doesn't want your queries either.


Can I just make up a ghost story?

No. You have to find an existing one and renovate it in an utterly brilliant fashion.


How will you will be able to tell the difference?

We are obsessive experts and we are friends with even more obsessive experts.


Is this all some kind of cruel joke?

I'd call it the end result of a large number of compromises, all of which were necessary to guarantee any sort of open-reading period.


This is madness! Why does everything have to be so hard all the time? Why are we pitted against one another in these awful competitions, and for crumbs? Crumbs, I tell you, crumbs! As if we were starving rats. I hate you!

Fools! Your despair only makes me stronger!

Don't look at me. I only copy/paste this stuff.
Hey! You! Submit to this anthology, buster!
Wed 2007-03-07 14:57:49 (single post)

So I have no real progress of my own to report, but I'm not letting that stop me from letting you (yes, you) know about a brand-new short fantasy market that wants your submission Right Now. It's over here. Check it out:

Magic & Mechanica is an anthology of high fantasy stories which chronicle the collision of magic and machines. The interaction of the mystic and the technological in a fantasy world is what we are looking for, a world alive with rational magicks and impossible machines. We are not looking for modern day or science fiction settings but those of high or heroic fantasy. Please note that time travel stories that bring even Victorian-era machines into a pre-industrial setting are not fantasy; they are science fiction stories set in a fantasy world (for without the time travel element - a purely science-driven one - there could be no story). This point cannot be stressed enough: science fiction stories will be rejected.
Half a cent per word on acceptance, no royalties mentioned. Sim-sub OK. Any word length OK. Deadline Aug. 1, 2007, subject to foreshortening should they accept their table-of-contents quota earlier--so if you're like me and don't have something appropriate ready to send right now, go pow-wow with your Muse and start scribbling!

(Caveat: I'm just summarizing the guidelines. Don't rely on me to be accurate. There's a reason I've provided the link. Click it, darn ya!)

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