“A poet can survive everything but a misprint.”
Oscar Wilde

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

back to your regularly scheduled reality
Tue 2017-07-18 23:55:23 (single post)

All right! I'm back. I'm back for reals. I took tonight off from practice so I could have time both to have a good, solid, full work day and take care of random errands and crap waiting for me after a weekend away. SUCCESS. For the most part, anyway. I was able to check off the new "Did everything on my timesheet" Habit item, so that's a thing--in addition to my daily gottas, I finally got to the manuscript critique I promised a month ago. Yayyyyy.

Will have to be on my toes tomorrow to keep up the good work and hit yoga-and-practice in the afternoon, but I think I can do it. Chez LeBoeuf-Little has begun getting up at 7 AM which has led to remarkably productive mornings. It has not yet led to me reliably getting to bed before midnight, but it's all a work in progress anyway.

About that bout? We won our game. It was not easy! We spent pretty much the whole first half figuring out how we were going to have a shot at winning the second. I think we did an exemplary job of adapting to unfamiliar terrain (literally and figuratively), and to an unfamiliar opponent, in time to pull off the win. The host league, the Salina Sirens, are utter sweethearts on and off the track. I didn't want to leave the afterparty.

There are pictures, if you want to check 'em out. From the bout, I mean. Not the afterparty. Well, there may be some from the afterparty but I don't have those at hand.

Got back in town Sunday afternoon and pretty much collapsed--and I'm not even the one who did the driving. Took it relatively easy Monday. So it was time to get back to work today.

Look! It's not quite midnight yet! Yayyyyy.

middle ground is where you make it
Fri 2017-07-14 00:03:29 (single post)

Me, yesterday, re: Habitica:

There is probably a middle ground between gaming the system and sabotaging one's own chances of success, but I haven't found it yet.

Maybe I found it today. I went looking, anyway.

To be more explicit: There is a small list of writing tasks I'd like to do each day that I keep! Not! Quite! Getting to! and it's bothering me. Things like: Spending a solid writing session on writing a new short story, or revising an existing one so that it is ready to submit. Working on the novel, for serious. Sending stories back out to new markets (ones they have not been to, of course. I'M STILL EMBARRASSED ABOUT THAT) and logging responses to previous submissions. These things are not represented in my Habitica "dailies," so I can log a "perfect day"--a day in which I check off all the Dailies--without ever getting to that list of much-neglected writing tasks. I suppose it's overstating things to describe this as me "gaming the system," but I'm certainly not making the system work for me here.

Problem is, the act of adding new Dailies to the list does not suddenly cause me to succeed at a task I've failed at week after week. It just makes failing at it feel worse. No more perfect days and it's my fault the party gets thwacked by the quest boss.

An intermediate stage is needed here.

So, Habitica's "dailies" are those task which you hold yourself too every day. If you check them all off, you accomplish a perfect day! But for each Daily you don't check off, you take damage. If you're in a quest, your party also takes damage. That's Dailies.

There's also "habits." Habits are those tasks you'd like, to, well, get in the habit of doing more often. You click them any time you do them, however many times a day is appropriate. Like: "Get up from the desk and stretch" or "Eat a home-prepared meal." You get rewarded with gold and experience points for clicking them, but you don't get punished for not clicking on them. (There's also negative habits which you're trying to break yourself of, and you take damage every time you click them. Example: "Did you pick your nose? Be honest!" But that's outside the scope of this discussion.)

Habit items are perfect for giving yourself incentive to do a thing without putting yourself under a lot of pressure.

So I have added a Habit item for "All items on today's timesheet." (This is a spreadsheet where I track my working hours by task, and it lists all the tasks, including those things I keep not! Quite! Getting to!). It has a positive clicker I can click if I do all the things. It also has a negative clicker, but I'm going to give myself a two-week adjustment period before I start clicking it.

And then, what the hell, I added five more Habit items: "1 hour of writing," "2 hours of writing," "3 hours of writing," and so on up to five. I used to have a "5 hours of writing" Daily, but I pretty much never managed to check that one off. So rather than keep punishing myself with it, I disabled it. Temporarily. Having now brought it back as a series of low-pressure Habit incentives, I might train myself up to a point where it's reasonable enable it as a Daily again.

So that was very technical and will probably make more sense if you go and check out Habitica. You may find it useful. Not everyone does, but it pushes all my buttons very effectively.

Anyway, I did not get to click "All items on today's timesheet" today. But you know what I did do? For the first time ever? I completed a Friday Fictionette early. That's right. July 14th's offering is already up on Patreon for scheduled release. Which means I can begin my road trip to Salina, Kansas (it's bout week again!) on a clean conscience. And I might just get to peck at the novel a bit in the car. I'll certainly get to start next week's Fictionette early. If I can keep this up, I might actually begin building a future fictionette buffer. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Anyway, now I have blogged. Which leaves me only two Dailies left between me and a perfect day (for Habitica values of perfect). Off I go to do them!

minor optimism at tired o'clock
Tue 2017-07-11 23:51:11 (single post)

So I did spend a little time the other day looking at the notes from last year's novel brainstorming session. Got kind of excited about it all over again, like, yes, this is going to be a novel worth writing, and spending time with these characters will be keen, but I didn't have any sudden breakthroughs. I mean, it would have been very nice to reread the notes and suddenly go, "Oh! That's how the novel ends. I see it all now! Must write the first draft NOW!" But no.

I also haven't managed to get back to it since that night. Which isn't very good for maintaining that excitement level. Mainly I've just been plugging away as best as my schedule and energy levels will allow. Mostly not having any crash-and-waste-the-day days, but still haven't reached the sort of daily productivity level I'm looking for.

Meanwhile, the goddamn insomnia is back. Not getting sleep isn't helping, body, please do a thing that is helping, pretty please.

On a different note, there is something very satisfying about getting together with fifteen or so of your best roller derby buddies to reposition the floor tiles and lay down a fresh track. Then, when you get there for Tuesday practice, you get to look at it and skate on it and think, "We did that. Go us!" Very tiring work, especially when the day previous you skated in two very competitive bouts, but very satisfying nevertheless.

OK, I'm off to try to make myself very tired.

which doesn't make the date less significant
Thu 2017-06-29 17:08:10 (single post)

About the same today: Got the daily stuff in--did my freewriting, finished drafting this week's Fictionette release, and typed a page against the Fictionette artifact backlog. Then I had to leave for errands in Longmont en route to the usual Thursday scrimmage. But maybe, maybe, if I am very good, and if I do it in an idle sort of low-energy way that is compatible with the post-derby portion of the evening, I might manage to spend a half hour or so on the novel I started brainstorming last year. I might not actually write any of it--I might spend that half hour simply reading all my notes from last November and maybe adding to them--but it is nevertheless an exciting prospect.

To make that more possible, I'm doing the blog post now rather than later. Hi!

Greens in the fridge notwithstanding, I am enjoying a bowl of pho at Pho Huong Viet. They have become my pre-bout ritual, only I missed out on Saturday what with that whole "oops, I left my shoes at the Fairgrounds and now the building's locked and it turns out the people at the restaurant would really rather I didn't skate on their nice wood floor" thing. I mean, they did let me order spring rolls to go, but it just wasn't the same. So I'm making up for it today.

I made up for a different oversight by calling Dad. My parents have the same wedding anniversary date that me and John do, so generally it's easy to remember to call. But this year, what with our frantic roller derby schedule, we barely remembered our own anniversary. So I called today.

It was weird, though. I had this awful feeling that wishing Dad a happy anniversary would not actually be kind. Like it was more likely to add insult to injury. I mean, if Dad was widowed, there'd be no question; the anniversary of the start of a fantastic marriage is no less something to be celebrated just because death did you part. But it feels wrong somehow when Mom is still around in body but entirely gone in her mind. The marriage continues but one of its participants has changed beyond recognition (and does not herself recognize most of the people closest to her in her life). Are we celebrating? Are we in any position to celebrate? Was the 20th, in fact, a happy day, or was it just an occasion for the calendar to stick a knife in Dad's ribs and twist it?

Dementia sucks and makes everything awkward.

But I called, and I said happy anniversary, and Dad kind of laughed and returned the good wishes, and we took the rest of the phone call as just another opportunity to catch up on the last few weeks. I told him about the most recent bouts; he took the news about his daughter getting a black eye in stride ("So you scored points, and you got a badge of honor. Nothing wrong with that!"). He told me about how his day's been going. Things were OK.

He put Mom on the phone. Mom said hello and that she hoped everything was going well for me, and then, this having used up her scant verbal reserves, she handed back the phone.

"Well, that didn't go so well," Dad said.

"I dunno," said I, "she put words together to form sentences. That's a thing."

So. I guess the moral of the story is, however awkward the conversation, it's never actually wrong to call. Well, rarely, anyway.

but i'm supposed to blog so i guess here is a post
Thu 2017-06-29 00:09:28 (single post)

Hullo the blog. Not much to report. Continuing to plug along at my daily tasks and inch through the overdue ones. Also there are household things and the everpresent specter of roller derby, so each day winds up having less time in it than I think. Still haven't managed to get to the exciting things like "and work on that novel you started brainstorming last year!" or "get a new short story ready for submission!" But that will come. Meanwhile, I am showing up every day and putting in a solid session, and I am no longer actively falling behind in anything.

The linden tree out back started blooming about a day after I complained that it hadn't. So that's nice. The fragrance was particularly delightful late last night.

I am sporting my very first derby-related black eye! It's awesome. One of the staff at Murphy's last night, where we often go for post-practice dinner and drinks, asked me if I gave as good as I got. I had to admit that I had, yes, by definition, seeing has how I had given it to myself in the first place. Remember about the inadvisability of playing offense with your face? Yeah, well, same goes for jamming. Also I need to get better at my hockey stops so I have other options when approaching a pack at speed other than "success!" and "panic, fall over, go boom."

In other news, it's CSA season and my fridge is full of greens. I keep thinking, "I've been good, I've worked hard, I should treat myself to five spice wok chicken at Jin Chan," and then I don't go, because my fridge is full of greens. I have been coming up with all the ways to eat them. There's sauteeed mizuna to keep my leftover kung pao chicken from getting lonely, there's finely shredded kale mixed in with shredded potatoes and scrambled eggs for a sort of hash brown/omelet/egg-fu-yung/potato-pancake hybrid breakfast (don't forget the apple sauce), there's stewed chard in a pot of approximate dal, there's anything leafy at all in my sausage-mac-and-cheese (featuring more cheddar brats from my teammate's farm), there's sprouts on my fake-bacon-and-cheese sandwich, and then there's straight-up salad.

WHAT MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY I AM EATING ALL THE THINGS WITH MAGNESIUM IN THEM.

(The foot does seem to be cramping less during practice... but that could just be the results of, y'know, practice.)

So. Like I said, not much to report. Just stuff. More stuff tomorrow if we're lucky.

walking around on a Monday afternoon (now with more writing)
Mon 2017-06-19 23:10:31 (single post)

I would like to get to the point where I am no longer patting myself on my back just for getting the day's work done. I feel like "puts in the hours writing" is a bare minimum to call myself a writer, much as "has four wheels and an engine" is the bare minimum for calling something a car. But years of painful experience tells me that it's not a given, so: Today was a good day. I put in the hours writing. This week is off to a good start.

I can tell you this about procrastination: It's not fun. Knowing that I've got a writing task to get to, and yet doing anything other than starting on that task, is a weird sort of self-administered torture that makes absolutely no sense at all. So there was a sense of relief today when, rather than doing the avoidance dance for hours on end, I just said to myself, Enough of this crap, clocked in on my timesheet, and got to work on the next task.

By contrast, my four-hour Puzzle Pirates session at the Rayback on Saturday was blissful because I had done my Friday work and had no reason to feel guilty. I had earned my self-indulgence.

It's really, really silly how much it's in my own power to reduce my own stress and increase my own happiness, and how nevertheless I so often don't take the steps to do it.

Speaking of steps (she segued masterfully), I did a lot of walking today. Mondays I take the Volt on my various errands and charge it, which means a lot of walking between whatever charging station I use and whatever errands I have. Today's errands were: 1. While charging the car at the Village on the Peaks station, my weekly Cafe of Life appointment, lunch at Leenie's Cafe (oyster remoulade omelet, grits, biscuit, and coffee while accomplishing some of the aforementioned writing tasks), and groceries; 2. while using the plug that a small business owner in Gunbarrel very kindly makes available to the public via plugshare.com, New Recruit Night at Finkel & Garf. (There will be another on Wedensday at Left Hand Brewing, so if you missed it tonight and you're interested in learning more about roller derby in Boulder County, put that on your calendar.) My knee appears to be all better, or if not all better then as close as makes no nevermind; it got tight and sore from all the walking more quickly than the other knee did, but no more than that. I think I'm in good shape for tomorrow's practice.

I passed linden trees in Longmont that were already in bloom and smelling gorgeously sweet. Not sure why the ones at home aren't blooming yet, but it can't be long now. The two or three weeks of high summer when that scent is constantly wafting in our bedroom window are glorious.

Cover art features original photography by the author, who had to move some furniture to get that alarm clock unplugged. You're welcome.
this fictionette will not get a delay of game penalty
Sat 2017-06-17 00:05:16 (single post)
  • 988 wds. long

Mwahahahahaha--BEHOLD! The Friday Fictionette for June 16, released on June 16. BWAHAHAHAHA! Ha-ha. *ahem* It has been a good week. And so I present to you "CAN'T STOP WON'T STOP" (ebook, audiobook) which is another of those tiresome self-indulgent magic realism numbers wherein the author subverts a physical law in order to say something meaningful and symbolic about the human condition. JUST KIDDING. It's a weird little flash piece about a day when all the off-switches for everything electronic stops working. (Which is kind of the same thing, depending on how you feel about weird little magic realism numbers.)

Thanks to the weave and dodge strategy, I wound up this morning looking at about 1500 words of disjointed pieces of story, all auditioning to be part of the fictionette. It was surprisingly simple to remove the bits that didn't fit and smooth the remaining pieces together into a single work. So. Note to self: this works.

(There is still no Mongo. There is still no cheese.)

And I have a lovely weekend ahead of me, with an unscheduled Saturday (omg!) and a holiday Sunday off from derby. I know, I know, Tuesday's blog post I was all MOAR SKATING PLS. Well, after four hours on Tuesday, a couple hours on Wednesday, and Thursday's double scrimmage which managed somehow to tweak my left knee, I'm oddly OK with taking this Sunday off. Don't nobody panic--it's not comparable with January's grade 2 MCL tear. If it's comparable at all, the comparison is with that injury after four or five weeks of recovery, OK? I'm walking fine. I'm not in significant pain. I'm just stiff and sore and a smidge swollen, that's all. It's responding nicely to a regimen of ice and ibuprofen and some of range-of-mobility exercises from my past PT repertoire. But I'm sure it will appreciate a little extra time off skates before diving back into travel team practice in preparation for that big Bombshells vs. Crossroads bout on the 24th.

(Sunday plans involve dinner-anna-movie and quiet acknowledgment that, gosh, John and I will have been married for 19 years come Tuesday. How about that.)

weave! dodge! parry! thrust! booiiiiinggggg
Wed 2017-06-14 23:03:01 (single post)

Aside from "set unreasonable expectations for oneself," there's that other reason for collapsing on Wednesdays: Tuesday night roller derby practice. Oh yeah. Bodies that get beat up and worn out by night tend to not want to get out of bed the next morning. And this body got beat up and worn out for four hours last night.

(I have a new joke. It's in the style of the Animaniac's short Good Idea, Bad Idea. It goes like this: "GOOD IDEA: Playing offense on the brace. BAD IDEA: Playing offense with your face." The point of this joke is to explain why my chin is all sorts of sore and tender today. Do not introduce your chin with force to someone else's shoulder. Nothing good ensues. Other than inspiration for stupid jokes, that is.)

Well, guess what? Want to or not, the body got its ass out of bed and got to work. That's right. Still didn't get as much done today as I'd like, what with it being Wednesday and there being Wednesday things to do, but work did get done. So that's the report.

(One of the Wednesday things for my body to do was yoga and more roller derby. It occurs to me that one thing last year's absurd dual-team schedule did for me was raise my tolerance for physical activity. Maybe if I voluntarily take on extra practices every week, I'll collapse less readily on the mornings after. It's a hypothesis.)

Anyway. Writing!

I did my daily session today of working on this week's Friday Fictionette release, just like I'm s'pposed to. (That's two days in a row! Go me!) Assuming everything goes according to schedule, Wednesday is about the time when I panic. I've got this hot mess of a freewriting exercise from sometime last month and I'm supposed to turn it into a vaguely presentable thousand-word story-like object. If by Wednesday I still don't know how to do that, things begin to look grim. This is one of the reason we experience Fictionette Delay.

To avoid Fictionette Delay, and to also make other fiction-drafting exercises more enjoyable and less stressful, I have begun employing a strategy I call weave and dodge. It is very simple. It goes like this: If I get stuck on something--can't come up with a way to explain a bit of worldbuilding smoothly, can't think of the right words for a character to say, can't figure out exactly how to fill a plot hole, whatever--I dodge around it. Instead of spending the next half hour writing one sentence and erasing it and writing it again, I just pretend it's already written and keep going. Maybe I put in a bracketed comment, like "[the perfect paragraph explaining how Mongo got hold of the cheese in the first place goes here]" to remind myself that the paragraph still needs writing. But the main thing is, keep going. Keep going so as not to waste time (in theory I'm only putting 25 minutes of each day toward the Friday Fictionettes project). Keep going and I might just find out how to write that perfect paragraph or segue or bit of dialogue. Keep going and I might discover I don't need to write that perfect paragraph/segue/dialogue after all, because that's just not part of the story anymore. Keep going! Dodge and weave! Weave and dodge!

By the way, there is no Mongo, and no cheese to do with Mongo, in any of my stories, fictionette or otherwise. I have no idea how Mongo got hold of the cheese. Besides, Mongo is deathly allergic to all dairy products. Why should Mongo have cheese at all? If you know what's up with Mongo and the cheese, by all means, write that story. Go for it.

after two weeks this is the blog post you get
Wed 2017-06-14 01:05:01 (single post)
  • 4,600 wds. long

Hello the blog! It's been a while. Er. Sorry? But I'm back, at least for now.

There were a lot of factors that, multiplied together, produced a couple of pretty pathetic weeks around here. The big one was roller derby. Are you suprised? Nobody is surprised. Well, I'm a little surprised. I mean, yes, two back-to-back tournament weekends, sure, but what about the weekdays in between them? Where the hell did they go?

I've also been caught up in the tedious and terribly familiar down-the-drain roundabout that happens when I get behind on my work. You know this song, right? The first verse is where you know you're late and you hate yourself for being late and if you had any worth as a person and a writer you wouldn't be late. In the second verse, all the bad feelings built up in the first verse form a Humongous Wall of Avoidance between you and catching up on all the late stuff, and by the end of that verse you're later still. During the bridge you lament all the other writing tasks you're not getting to because you have to give the late stuff priority. The third verse is just the second verse over again, louder, and it repeats until fade-out (studio version) or until the audience gets sick of it and goes home without requesting an encore (live version).

I am not going to say anything as decisive as "But I'm all done with that now!" Whenever I do that, then the next day I tend to crumple under the weight of expectation. But I will say, without making any predictions that might emotionally or mentally jeopardize my tomorrow, that I had a damn good today.

Friday Fictionettes: To make Mt. Overdue easier to climb, I decreed that release dates in June 2017 would be the 2nd through 5th Fridays (there is a fifth Friday). Then I proceeded to miss the June 9/2nd Friday deadline. It's all good, though; I've posted it this morning. Then I went on to knock a typewritten page off the top of the overdue Fictionette Artifact stack and also to log the first session towards this Friday's release. So everything is either A) caught up, or B) hopeful.

Short Stories: "Caroline's Wake" came home yesterday with a form rejection. I processed that today in the usual type-a manner then sent the story out to the next market on my wish list that was open to submissions.

Daily Freewriting: I did it. So there.

Household crap: Paid bills. Dealt with dishes both clean and dirty. Cleaned up the produce drawer in the fridge according to good sanitation and food rotation protocols. Ate a big ol' pot of lentils with mixed greens because they are full of magnesium and protein and iron and stuff and also I have a lot of them--CSA is back in session! And I rode my bike to pick up this week's share because the weather was beautiful and exercise is good.

Roller derby: Travel team practice. In consideration of their hard work at the tournament this past weekend, most of the All Stars (A-team) took the night off. So tonight was primarily the Bombshells (B-team) preparing for our June 24th bout. I got something like two and a half solid hours working closely with the other blockers in my "pod" and we all practiced both playing offense on an opposing wall and resisting offense played on our wall.

I've also started coming in an hour early for extra individual skills work. It started out with just Papa Whiskey fine-tuning my plow-stops and blocking form last week, then another skater joined us this week, and a third skater expressed interest in joining us next week. I've taken to calling it "pre-practice study group."

So. That comes to four hours on Tuesdays. But I feel awesome. I'm on skates, I'm part of a team, I'm rostered for the upcoming bout, and I have a home on a pod within that roster. Skating is life. Life is good.

Not gonna lie, I was disappointed not to get rostered with the All Stars for these two tournaments. But, surprisingly, the not-getting-rostered blues wasn't the big deal. I mean, yeah, I had to process my disappointment, sure, take some time to myself to grieve the version of tomorrow I wasn't gonna get. But then I had to put that aside and prepare for the tomorrow I was getting, the one where I got to assist the coaching staff and cheer on my team and participate in all the team stuff surrounding the games.

No, I'll tell you what the big deal was. THE big deal was not skating at the tournaments and not skating at weekend practice, either, because I was at the tournaments I wasn't skating in. It's not just that roller derby skaters need to skate, and not putting on skates for a week at a time hearts their hearts. It's that, on the one hand, you're not "good enough" to be on the main roster, but on the other hand, you're also not getting a chance to improve, because you had to miss practice to be an alternate in the tournament you're not on the main roster for! Arrrrgh.

Now, us two alternates, we did end up getting rostered once. It was for the Saturday morning game at Mayday Mayhem, which two of the regular skaters got called away from because of work. A couple blockers had to jam, so a couple more blockers were needed to take their place in their lines. I think I wound up playing in two, maybe three jams. I don't know. Not the point. Point was, I got to be a skating member of the team for one game. I participated in the team's on-skates warm-up, which made up a little for not having a Sunday practice that weekend. I got to put on skates! For the first time that whole weekend! It felt so damn good.

So that's why a four-hour Tuesday practice is awesome, and why I'm contemplating attending the optional Wednesday practice too. Because skating is life, and skating better makes life better.

And also there won't be practice on Father's Day, so I'm making up for lost time in both directions.

Anyway, that's where I'm at.

Oh, good grief, is it nearly 1 AM already? *sigh* Why only 24 hours in a day? Why haven't they patched that bug yet?

too likely to get trapped in a book to get things done today
Sat 2017-05-27 01:59:08 (single post)

So... the rest of the week has not been as pleasing. Seems like, I get one gloriously productive and disciplined day, and that's it for the rest of the week. Like, it took the whole week's worth of oomph to produce a day like Tuesday. Or it takes enough oomph that my resilience is significantly weakened for the rest of the week, and small emotional set-backs (which we will not discuss here), and of course the minor blunt-trauma damage incurred on a regular basis via my chosen hobby of roller derby, have disproportionate effects.

It's not so much that I'm whining, or making excuses, or even doing the "poor poor pitiful me" dance. It's more sort of self-observation. I'm collecting data. I am forming hypotheses and floating strategies. Right now, the next strategy to be tested is that of being especially on my guard, on the morning after a very good day, against the impulse to revert to bad habits, as that impulse will be very, very strong.

Anyway, today went entirely to waste, which means another weekend release of a Friday Fictionette. Which will be difficult, considering it's also a bout weekend. But then it's also, theoretically, a writing group weekend, which means dedicated time to write on Sunday afternoon at the very least. So.

I can pin today's wastage on two things.

One: A hard fall tangled up with another skater last night (no real injuries for either of us, thankfully!) resulted in two deep wheel-shaped bruises across my back which make themselves known pretty much every time I change position. Thankfully, I'm not whimpering involuntarily today like I was last night after cessation of activity allowed stiffness to set in. But there was definitely an incentive to spend as much of the day horizontal as possible. The other skater is probably suffering a bit today, too, and she probably didn't have the option to spend extra time horizontal, what with work and all, so, I salute her.

Two: I got past the tipping point in Ada Palmer's Hugo-finalist novel, Too Like the Lightning, and pretty much couldn't put it down all day.

The tipping point was pretty early. I wasn't expecting that. I've read some online discussion of it that amounted to "I'm struggling here. Can anyone give me a reason to continue? Does it start to pull together? Does it start to look like it has a point?" But I can honestly say I do not know what they were complaining about. This book pretty much had me from five chapters in. I could see early on that all the disparate threads were going to be connected, but I couldn't see how, and I couldn't wait to find out.

I suppose the huge cast of characters, some of whom with multiple names depending on who's addressing or referring to them and in what language, might cause some readers difficulty, as might the persona of the narrator and his stilted language. And one of the initial plot hooks--the mystery side of the plot, I guess you could say--turns on a bit of intrigue that was hard for me to understand as intrigue (the whole "seven-ten list" thing), but I treated that as I do any bit of SFF worldbuilding: I kept reading in the certain faith that I'd come to understand with time and pages turned. And ideed, as time went on and pages were turned, I did.

I've also read angry complaints that the book ends with no resolution whatsoever, the story simply cutting off at the last chapter with a note that it will be continued in the book Seven Surrenders. And... yes? That is a thing you get, with book series? That the story is not over when the first book is over? I think the complaints mostly came from readers who assumed it would be a stand-alone novel, and were disappointed when they found out otherwise. Some readers in that category were also in the first category--readers who found the novel difficult to want to continue reading--and they felt their hard effort betrayed. I knew going in that the book was the first of at least two, and I enjoyed reading it, so my reaction was pretty much "I can't wait to read the next book! Is it out yet?"

(It is. And the third book, The Will to Battle, has a release date of December 5 of this year.)

I think I'm more OK with cliffhangers than not, anyway. Robin McKinley's Pegasus took me completely by surprise when it ended on a cliffhanger, which left me anxious for the fate of the protagonists but not in any way angry. I know people who were furious at McKinley over that cliffhanger, and they've only grown more angry as the years pass without the release of a sequel. They resent every blog post she writes and every non-Pegasus-sequel she releases. They feel betrayed, as though the very existence of the book were a promise which the author was failing to fulfill.

Speaking of authors whose fans accuse them of spending too much time blogging and not enough time writing the things they want to read, I recall a friend recommending me George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series, back when there were only four books released yet, with the explicit caveat that "It's not finished yet, so you may want to wait to start it until it is. I mean, given how long he's taking finishing it, there's always a chance he might die first and then you'd have read the first four books for nothing." For nothing! As though four books of great story are nothing if there isn't a THE END on the last page of the last available volume! This particular example isn't entirely apt, because I have no intention of ever reading that series. By all accounts, is not the sort of thing I like to read. But if it were, I would read it, and I would spend the time waiting for the next book reading other things. And probably rereading the existing books from time to time, if they were a pleasure to read in the first place. (I reread Pegasus about once a year.) And if the next book never came out, that would be sad, but the existing books would remain an overall plus in the world.

Anyway, there is definitely a contingent out there for whom an unfinished story is, or can be depending on the circumstances, a source of intense frustration. I just don't belong to it.

Too Like the Lightning is an intensely ambitious book. That rates highly with me in terms of my Hugo ballot, more so than the question of whether the book succeeds at its ambitious aims. And does it? I'd say... maybe? Sort of? I'm honestly not sure. She's created a far future that models itself off of our past and is in constant conversation with our most revered philosophers; it is at times difficult to follow because of that, and because I'm not by any means a student of those philosophers. But I'm fascinated by the juxtapositions and moved to seek out the books of philosophy that Palmer references. So on that account, it works for me, if only just barely. And certainly the narrator can be an irritating jerk to hang out with, what with his smug asides to the reader ("Do I offend you? Are you surprised? Have you forgotten?") and his dogged insistence on misgendering other characters based on his peculiar and baroque ideas about gendered traits consonant neither with our worst stereotypes, nor those of his contemporaries, nor even with those of the fictional people he imagines reading his tale in his own far future. And of course we know from the start that he's a criminal, whose crimes we must expect will turn out to be much more horrifying than any we can imagine, so we're predisposed not to like him. And yet the problems he faces still make him somewhat relatable--what would we do, in his place? How would we respond? He is capable of acts of love and kindness that should not go unrewarded, and is daily subject to mistreatment which is unjust and ought not to go unpunished. So if one of the author's aims was to create an unreliable narrator who is both guilty of horrific crimes and petty bigotries and is yet more sympathetic than not, I think she's succeeded.

But more important than any of the showy features mentioned above, I think, is the theme which emerges through the course of the book: Is there anything or anyone you value, which you would do anything to save? Really, anything? And what would that mean? This book is not unique in centering around that difficult question, but it approaches it more honestly than many books I've read do. The author seems much less interested in instructing the reader in how to answer that question, and more in exploring how different characters react when the question is put to them. No possible answer is painless, or without sacrifice, and the story arises out of what each character is willing to sacrifice for the preservation of what they hold most dear.

Too Like the Lightning currently holds the top position on my Hugo Award for Best Novel ballot. I haven't finished reading all the finalists, so that may change. But it would take at the very least an equally ambitious book to dislodge it from my personal #1 slot.

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