“If this is not what you expected, please alter your expectations.”
Mark Morford

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

doing things by halves
Tue 2016-03-22 23:51:41 (single post)

Well, I survived the weekend. We didn't win, but, looking at the final score, we could have, which is a pretty amazing thing to say the first time you face off against a team of that caliber. Tonight's practice was mostly taken up with talking about the game, about lessons we learned, skills we need to drill going forward, things we wished we could have done better and things we're glad that we did so well.

Next up, I will most likely be skating with our B team on April 30 in Eagle, Colorado, at a one-day tournament hosted by our friends and arch-rivals the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls. Between now and then, all the practice.

Got only half a work day in today, but it was a good solid half-day. Spent a good session on this week's planned fictionette offering--I've got a couple characters and a premise, but I'm still a little undecided on the shape and structure of the story. Figured I could at least start to draft the opening paragraphs despite my uncertainty about where they were going, and, as usually happens when I "just write it anyway," I found out some useful things that way. Seriously, it's amazing how useful and important those throwaway details, the ones that turn up because I sort of filled in a blank at random, turn out to be.

In addition to that, there was my designated half hour for dealing with the business side of freelance writing, which usually involves submitting a story somewhere or figuring out where next to submit a story. This time, since I didn't have anything lined up and ready to go, it was spent in pure research. "Research" here means catching up with an online writers' community bulletin board that I frequent and seeing where others have been submitting stories lately. It's a big, sprawling forum, and it's very easy to get lost in about fifteen different conversations. I focused very specifically on the part of the forum dedicated to discussing individual pro markets. Even so, I felt a little guilty. I was on the clock! I was supposed to be writing! What was I doing reading the internet?! Still, I reminded myself that reading this particular corner of the internet was a legit part of my business plan. Call it networking. Call it market research. I have a half-hour of every writing day set aside for precisely this, and this is how I get to use it.

As a result, I do, in fact, now know where I am next sending a story. Tomorrow I'll probably figure out which story.

Cover art incorporates original photography by the author, who can't seem to help collecting cheap masks.
this fictionette is very, very nervous but STRONG LIKE OX
Sat 2016-03-19 00:51:36 (single post)

OK, real quick 'cause it's late and all: It's Friday--well, it was Friday about 51 minutes ago--and we got Fictionette. "This Will Be My Origin Story" is about someone who thought she knew her own strength, but didn't really, and now it's all gone to hell. You know how it is.

It was another night up late reading again (my self-control is indirectly proportionate to my proximity to a book) and sleeping until noon. So I got started quite late. And yet somehow I managed to get all of the things done, writing and otherwise. By otherwise, by the way, I mainly mean my motor vehicle registration renewal and change of address. This required two phone calls so far. It will also require a trip to the emissions testing tomorrow morning and a visit to the license tag renewal site in the middle of next week.

I put in another hour on the new short story. Or, rather, I eked out another hour. Turns out I didn't have all that much more ready to scoop out of my head and dump on the page. So I wound up talking to myself about the story in the Document Notes fields of my virtual index cards. A lot. Unfortunately, this doesn't count toward the story's word count. Well, maybe fortunately. It was a lot of babble. Also, I did some research and found out that first off, dryads are literally the spirits of oak trees, and secondly, there doesn't seem to be a handy word for the spirits of maple and cottonwood trees. Then there's the bit about dryads don't so much turn into trees as they simply live inside them. I may need a different mythological creature word entirely for what I'm trying to do.

The reason I deliberately let myself sleep so late is roller derby. Of course. Scrimmage last night was particularly rough--fun, satisfying, exciting, but rough--and further more Saturday is bout day. Our A and B travel teams are going to play Rocky Mountain Rollergirls' Fight Club and Contenders, respectively. That's "Fight Club" as in "Currently ranked #16 in the world," by the way. And also? I've been substituted in for someone on our A team. Baby's first bout with the BCB All Stars is also going to be baby's first sanctioned bout is going to be against Fight Club. Egad. Cue all of the imposter syndrome. And also the nerves.

So I think maybe we can forgive me for indulging in all the sleep? You know. Just in preparation for stuff?

Um. If you're in town and free tomorrow night, it would be awesome to see you in the stands. ALL THE HEARTS AND FLOWERS Y'ALL.

approaching the rough draft in scattershot fashion
Fri 2016-03-18 01:48:35 (single post)

Today's been an unusually glorious and productive day. I'm hoping to do something about the "unusually" part, going forward--days like this ought to be routine, drat it all!--but I've been in deplorable sleeping habits the last few days (or weeks). Up reading until sometime past two (and I'm not going to try to say how far past two, because around two is when I just stop looking at the clock), then, as effect follows cause, unable to get out of bed until dang near noon.

I did mention I was binging on T. Kingfisher ebooks, right? This would explain the "up until sometime past two" part of the equation. Nine Goblins was a lot of fun. Bryrony and Roses was amazing. Now I'm waiting on a paperback of The Seventh Bride to come in the mail.

Anyway. Today, despite being up until stupid-o-clock reading last night, I got up on time. That made everything else possible, including a substantial session on the new short story.

Yes! The new short story. It still doesn't have a title, but I've changed the working title (more like a working not-a-title) to reflect the main character's name. She has one now. It's Ellen. Well, in full, it's Barbara Ellen, and if you are at all of a folksongish bent you'll see what I did there. Maybe.

Good grief, was February 18 really the last time I touched it? (My database doesn't lie, but sometimes I forget to give it the whole truth.) Well, the draft is about 1500 words longer than it was. A neat trick, considering I really didn't know where to go after the first scene, or even how to finish the first scene.

I had--I continue to have--certain things I want in the story, plot elements and character backgrounds and so forth, but no clue just yet how to get from one to the next narratively. So, instead of spending another hour obsessively revising the first 500-word chunk, I switched over to what I'm thinking of as the Scattershot Strategy.

For each story element I knew that I wanted to include, I created a new Scrivener text file, and I just started writing in it without any thought for how the results would fit into the overall story. Just get everything that's in my head down on the page, regardless of whether it all works together yet. It wound up feeling a lot like plotting with index cards, only instead of physical index cards I've got virtual ones that I can drag and drop into any order. One of them has the very last two sentences of the story, and nothing else. One of them tells the tale of Ellen's mother's disappearance. Another is the scene where Ellen and the man who was a tree show up at Ellen's sister's house--that will probably be the third scene in the story. (The second scene still hasn't come clear.) Yet another "index card" has a few disjointed lines representing the climax of the story's central dilemma.

Point is, once I stopped worrying about how I'd get from here to there and gave myself permission to just teleport, more or less, it got fun. Like my freewriting sessions are fun. Like writing rough draft is supposed to be fun. I'm in the sandbox, playing with words and characters and ideas! Nothing has to be perfect! This, this right here, this is something I absolutely love about writing.

I sometimes lose track of the things I love about writing. Today I got reminded.

Hooray! More tomorrow.

Click through for excerpt and also all cover art attributions
there is a sound of electric feedback and footsteps walking across a darken
Wed 2016-03-16 00:11:36 (single post)
  • 1,085 wds. long

[insert tapping noise and cliched quip about microphone testing here]

Er. Hi. So... writing! How about it? I hear this blog is supposed to be all about actually doing that thing.

Haven't touched the new short story in some time. It keeps falling off the back of the priority list while Other Things take over. I've been thinking about it, though--and while they say (and they say true) that "thinking about writing isn't writing," thinking can help prepare the way for the writing. Hopefully when I finally get to finishing the draft (this week! Maybe?) some of that thinking will show up on the page.

I did get last week's Friday Fictionette out on time, more or less. It's called "How Fetches Become Real" and it's sort of like the first act of The Unlikely Ones (Mary Brown) meets the last act of The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams). So that's fine. What I'm embarrassed about is how late I am at getting the Fictionette Artifacts ("fictionettes in your mailbox, typewritten and illustrated by me!") into the mail. This is something that matters to exactly two people in the world so far; to them, my apologies. Tomorrow! The mail will go out... tomorrow, betcher bottom dollar that tomorrow... there'll be mail... *ahem*

So, with very little to report on the writing front, how about a book review? Semi-review? A book report, maybe? I just finished reading T. Kingfisher's The Raven and the Reindeer. In fact, I've been on a bit of a T. Kingfisher binge, because why haven't I read everything by her yet? Well, get on that! So I am. It is now my absolute favorite retelling of "The Snow Queen," and it had Kelly Link's "Travels with the Snow Queen" ("Ladies. Has it ever occurred to you that fairy tales are hard on the feet?") to contend with for that title. So very much is right about it. From the start, Gerta is introduced as a young girl with a crush on her oldest friend, with all the uncertainties and squirming insides and embarrassment and worry that comes with. Not to mention that naive blindness to Kay's faults, the willingness to explain away the ways he's careless with her feelings because he is everything she always wanted and without wanting him who would she be? My heart went out to her and stayed with her the whole way through.

Kingfisher's treatment of the robber girl, here named Janna, was superb. I can't get over how much depth and complexity she's given. Plus she and the protagonist are my OTP, y'all, I have shipped them in my little fannish heart forever, and here Kingfisher has put their romance right on the page, growing from tiny seeds of discovery into an engine of courage that drives both characters to suffer any hardship necessary out of love for each other. (Speaking of which--there is no nonsense on these pages about Gerta's greatest strength being her "purity" and "innocent heart", thank you very much Hans Christian Andersen. What a burden of expectation to put on a child! Kingfisher's Gerta is no angelic paragon, thank goodness. She's a teenage girl full of emotions and insecurities and desires, some of which desires are unashamedly sexual.

Gerta's journey has the explicit purpose of rescuing Kay, but that's not the most important thing it accomplishes. Gerta's journey is about Gerta growing up and discovering who she might choose to be.

And then there's the titular raven and reindeer, and what the latter gives to Gerta, and lessons learned about death and life, and there's a whole troupe of otters who are utterly adorable, and and and everything is fantastic. And I was having a tough day, the day I finished reading it, and the book made me cry happy tears at the end, which is always a good remedy for a day that involved crying not-happy tears. It sort of transmutes the weepiness into beauty, detaches the tears from the hurtful experience and reattaches them to a transcendently enjoyable one.

TL;DR: I really liked this book and heartily recommend it.

driving through the fog of an unscheduled day
Fri 2016-02-19 23:15:33 (single post)

You know what's the worst? Totally unscheduled days. No, really--you get up right on time, you do your first writing task, then you think, "I have all day to do the rest of my writing," and then you go bike all over town, take yourself out for lunch, run errands, take a long nap because you just biked all over town in the gloriously warm sun--and then suddenly it's late in the evening and there is not enough time in the world to get everything done.

Well, OK, maybe you don't. Maybe you're smart. I seem to not be very smart when it comes to managing totally unscheduled days. Hence, Saturday is the Friday, etc. etc., many apologies, check back tomorrow.

Meanwhile! New fiction. The new short story is proceeding slowly in a sort of NaNoWriMo-esque way. Not as regards word-count, though. As regards discovery. I only really know what happens in one scene, which makes the whole endeavor sort of scary--but, so what? Write that one scene. It is amazing what little details pop up when writing that one scene, and what guiding stars those details can be. For instance, when the main character noticed that the weird tree had oak bark but "five-fingered leaves that reminded me of my father's maple farm"--OK, that's a clumsy sentence that could use some revision, but shut up, that's not the point. The point is, now I know her Dad runs, or used to run, a maple syrup operation. Which in turn gives me a clue about where she might have grown up, what kind of activities she might have enjoyed as a child, and also the nature of her relationship with trees. The latter is more significant than you might think; the first scene depicts a tree transforming into a man right in front of her eyes.

We're back to E. L. Doctorow analogy of writing being "like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." Some versions of the quote add the extra hazard of fog. Imagine a blizzard, too, if you like. The point of the analogy remains the same: The little chunk of road (story) that you see now enables you to drive into (write) the next chunk of road (story).

Anyway. Fictionette tomorrow. For serious. pMost of tomorrow afternoon is entirely unscheduled, after all...

Click through for excerpt and also all cover art attributions.
but half these puzzle pieces are blatant forgeries
Wed 2016-02-17 00:33:09 (single post)
  • 917 wds. long

Please excuse the radio silence. It was bout weekend. (No, we didn't win, but we gave 'em a darn good fight. We also picked up some good experience to help us prepare for our next bout in 6 weeks.)

Anyway, despite not blogging about it on Friday night, I did get last week's Friday Fictionette out on time. Barely. It's "Day-to-Day Invasions," and while it looks a bit like "The Magpie's Big Heist" only with a different type of bird, it's not, OK?

Meanwhile, there's the new short story to write. The freewriting session I chose as its source material is worryingly slight. I mean, there's a tree that turns into a man, and a woman who's turned into a bit of a hermit, and they absolutely positively do not fall in love at all. I've got that much. That's... not a lot to got, honestly. It's enough to make my resolve to Write A New Thing waver like the air over a hot road. I kind of want to run screaming back to my revision queue where I know all the stories back to front even if I'm not sure how to make them right.

When did "writing a new thing" become the scary part of this gig?

Anyway, I spent some time today babbling to myself about the possible plot points, thematic aspirations, potential pitfalls, and obvious literary allusions. There's actually a good deal of material available in that initial freewriting session, but it's like a collection of random jigsaw puzzle pieces which number somewhat less than the 2500 that the box promised and include too few edge pieces to be of use. Most of what I've got are middle pieces depicting things like blue sky and undifferentiated masses of tree leaves.

If this was actually a jigsaw puzzle, I'd probably throw it away. But the thing about writing, which is not a thing about jigsaw puzzles, is, you get to make up the missing pieces. Just invent them, out of your own head. No photo-printed cardboard nor scroll saws required!

So that's the rest of my week taken up. I hope yours is off to at least an equally good start.

a day off to consider the next day
Tue 2016-02-09 23:24:04 (single post)

So I'm not at derby tonight. It seemed unwise to skate six days out of the seven in a week culminating in a bout. "I'm saving myself for my Bombshells this week," I said, "'cause that's who I'm going to be on the track with this Saturday." Then, having decided to take the night off from All Stars practice, I promptly used that as an excuse to take the afternoon off from writing. Which means another late night trying to get all my hours in. I'm so smart, y'all.

Late or not, I am writing. Did all my daily gottas. Now I'm contemplating my next fiction project. This is not as easy as it sounds. When I'm in the middle of a project, it is my whole life. I am eating, breathing, sleeping it, and when I'm not, I'm feeling guilty about it. I never seem to think, "When I'm done this, I'll do that." No, instead I think, "THIS IS MY LIFE NOW." Then it's over, the story's finished and submitted, and I don't really know what to do with myself anymore.

I think I want to write something new, rather than digging something out of the revision queue and working on it. I mean, I have plenty of stories languishing in the revision queue, but I sort of need to remind myself I can write new stories.

Good thing I have this daily freewriting habit. Plenty of potential there. Every day, theoretically, I open up my "Daily Writing Idea" Scrivener project and create a new file, pull up a writing prompt or three, and fire away at that blank page for 25 minutes. Sometimes it's just 25 minutes of playing scales on the keyboard, but sometimes it turns out to be more. If I feel like I might want to come back and explore the story idea further, I slap a "to-do" status marker on the file to make it easier to dig up later. Later, as in, when I'm looking for an idea for a brand new story to write. Like now.

So the plan is, run a search on the "to-do" status marker, browse the results, see what nibbles. Start work on whatever that is tomorrow.

It's a good plan. Let's see if I can manage to stick to it.

no, seriously, pull up the floorboards, i mean it
Thu 2015-07-16 23:41:11 (single post)

Today's Submission Procedures session was extremely productive. I logged a new rejection letter--"It's For You" came back after only 6 days out. I logged it in my own database, and at the Submission Grinder, and I posted about it to a forum where people post about such things. Scrolling up through other people's posts, I saw mention of another pro-paying market I have never submitted to. So I began preparing another story for submission to it. (I didn't quite finish because I ran out of time before derby. I'll send the submission out tomorrow.) Meanwhile, I tweaked my database so that I could use it to note submissions that I plan to make, and it could remind me so I don't lose track. All that, and I still haven't sent "It's For You" back out. Tomorrow!

Rejection letters aren't so terrible. They're the industry's way of confirming that yes, you've been playing the game, and, by the way, it's your turn again.

So, this other submission I'm planning to make. It's an expansion of an existing and unpublished drabble. And it gave me fits today. It's not that I don't know the shape I want it to be. It's that I'm realizing the story lives in that weird borderland between magic realism and psychological suspense-and-dread. It's "The Telltale Heart," that's what the problem is. The speculative element could be easily written off as the protagonist having a nervous breakdown and imagining things. Now, I was that kid in class who insisted that the hideous heart really was beating under the floorboards. But apparently the rest of the literary world agrees that Poe's murderous protagonist is hallucinating, the spoilsports.

So I'm trying to come up with anti-spoilsport ideas. Here's what I've got so far.

Put it in 3rd person to give the protagonist's perspective a sense, however illusive, of authority. Like, look, you don't have to just take the protagonist's word on this; here's a totally reliable narrator voice confirming it for you. It's not a promise on a factual level; obviously you can write an unreliable narrator in 3rd person point-of-view. But it's an attempt to create a particular emotional experience for the reader, encourage them to trust more. It's like painting an oncology waiting room sky blue to induce a sense of calm and comfort in the patients. You're not telling them that everything's going to be all right; you're just trying to help them feel like everything's all right. All right? Right. See also titles like "The facts in the case of..." or "An account of events witnessed at..."

Create internal consistency in the speculative element so that it looks more like an actual coherent thing that's happening and not a series of random weird events. Though it'll never wind up on the page, I need to decide on the complete reality behind these glimpses of the uncanny, and then have every manifestation conform to that. Basically, we're talking about worldbuilding.

Highlight the theme at every opportunity. The story will be submitted to a themed submission call; the theme is "anticipation." The theme of the issue is already present in this story, of course, but it can be underscored, made to do double, triple duty in every scene. Not just waiting, dreading, and anticipating in the context of the spec element itself, but in every incidental detail. In each scene's setting, in each situation, in the protagonist's interactions with other characters, there should be an element of are we there yet? is it over yet? how long to my bus stop? why aren't we done with this meeting? will the person in line before me please hurry up? when will I find out what's going on? what are you waiting for, just tell me! Done right, this will make the story more of a seamless whole, and a claustrophobic one, sort of compressing the reader into identifying with the protagonist. I hope.

Actually, having written them out, they look like pretty decent ideas. For now, anyway. Enough to go on until I think of better ones.

another night like all the rest
Wed 2014-12-31 23:43:08 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! Goodbye 2014 (and good riddance). Welcome in 2015--we're putting a lot of hope in you. No pressure, now.

As it's also the last day of a month, have a Fictionette Freebie. That's the link to its Creations page on Patreon, where anyone can now download the PDF of the full text. If you prefer to have it in plain HTML or on your mobile device, I've swapped out the excerpts here on the actually writing blog and over there on Wattpad for the full text.

I still haven't recorded the audio versions. Believe me, when I finally do, I will crow about it here. Heck, when I get my first Patron I will crow about it here like something that crows loudly and obnoxiously. I'm trying to think of something special to do to celebrate--I'll put it down as a "personal milestone" on Patreon. I think the tradition in some circles is to record a highly embarrassing video, possibly of one singing karaoke badly. I hear there are virtual karaoke bars in Second Life. We should go.

I should have some sort of New Year's Resolution to record here so y'all can hold me to it in 2015. But more than "write more, avoid less," I'm not exactly sure what to say. Let's see what I can come up with:

I'll finish out this week in the half-vacation mode I've been on since leaving for New Orleans. (I'm back now, by the way. Hi Boulder! I am in you! And you are very very cold! It gives me a sad.) Which is to say, I'm not holding myself to the five-hour-writing-day goal, but I am doing my morning pages, practicing my freewriting, producing fictionettes, and keeping a timesheet of these things.

Next week, the first full week of 2015, I'm back on the clock for real. My hope is accomplish a full work week, all five hours on each of Tuesday through Friday, and make significant progress (by which, I admit, I mean a significant start) on the revision of "Caroline's Wake." Before January is over, I want to be able to resubmit that story to the editor who showed such interest in it.

After that, I want to make a major new story submission every month of 2015. That means either a brand new story that hasn't ever gone out yet, or an old story that went out a few times but then went back into the editing queue. Meanwhile, rejected stories are not to sleep over. At most, they get a week for minor revisions. Then it's off the couch and back into the world with them.

And before 2015 is over I want to send Iron Wheels out to meet some literary agents. 2015 will be the Year of My First Finished Novel. It may not be the Year of My First Novel Sale, since that requires action which I can make possible but cannot compel--which is to say, an agent or publisher deciding to accept it. But I want to at least start collecting serious rejection letters.

There. I've said it. Now I have to do it.

Welcome in, 2015. You and me, we're gonna be good friends.

story production engines firing on all four cylinders
Wed 2014-09-17 23:13:42 (single post)
  • 3,380 wds. long

I finished the exploratory draft of the new story today. It's still got no title, but that's OK. That'll come during revision. More troubling is that it clocks in at 3,380 words. That's more than double the cut-off called for in the submission guidelines. It's even more than double what the draft was at yesterday, when I figured I was about halfway through.

Such an occasion calls for introspection, or at least evaluation. Which is to say: Can this really be cut down to 1,400 words?

The part of my brain arguing for YES points out that there is, as I observed yesterday, a lot of cruft to be culled. Several things get said over and over again and also redundantly, and many things get said that need not be said at all. For instance: It is less important to remark on Rosalind's Sunday exception to her morning routine of reading the entire newspaper, back to front, than it is to mention that she no longer bothers reading the obituaries. It is less important (for the sake of the story, anyway) to voice Elaine's disapproval of the labels "homeless" or "transient," given her permanent residence under a particular tree in the park, than it is to capture the voice of her tree asking her to be its new dryad.

The theory that YES-brain espouses is this: Now that I've met all the characters in this story and gotten to know their backgrounds, I'm well equipped to trim their surrounding exposition down to those few phrases that best crystallize who they are and what's at stake for them.

NO-brain is more pessimistic, as you might expect. There's too much going on here, says NO-brain. This story needs at least 2,500 words for the reader to have any clue what's going on. Don't sell your characters short!

On the other hand, NO-brain is also bringing some optimism to the table. It points out that as easily as this story idea arose from my freewriting sessions, just as easily might another that's more apt for the submissions call. YES-brain concedes the point, but counters that, this being the case, there's no harm in making the revision attempt here. I've made such good progress while still nearly two weeks to deadline remain, that there will be time to pan for more gold in my Daily Idea .scrivx should this story remain stubbornly above the maximum word count. And then I'll have two brand new stories to shop around!

What strikes me here is how very natural it was to go from "The deadline's imminent and I've absolutely nothing to send!" to "Well, what came out of my timed writing sessions lately?" That didn't used to happen as readily. But now that I've begun the Friday Fictionettes offerings, it's happening every week at the very least. Every Friday, I'm looking at the past week's scribblings and deciding which of them I'll polish up, stick some cover art on, and upload to my creation stream during the corresponding week of the following month. It only makes sense that this mental process would fire up in response to the need for new story material in additional contexts.

This was one of my sneaky self-improvement goals with Friday Fictionettes. The headliner goals were, firstly, to get more of my stuff out where y'all could read it, and more frequently; and, secondly, to potentially earn a little spare change doing so. But behind the scenes I was also hoping to see some improvement in my larger Story Production Process. I wanted to get in some regular practice making that transition from "just a wisp of an idea that I'm noodling on" to "fully fledged and publishable story." I wanted to see that process go more smoothly and happen more often.

With the current story, I'm seeing evidence that this is happening. And I'm delighted.

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