“Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature.”
Teresa Nielsen Hayden

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Planning A Picky Prompt Thing
Wed 2008-02-06 22:07:41 (single post)

Since writing yesterday's blog entry, I took a closer look at the write-up that came with the "2008 Beignet Waiter" collectible figurine that came with this year's King Cake. Apparently my little trip down memory lane was quite appropriate: Haydel's was, in fact, thinking of The Morning Call and not the Cafe Du Monde. (Here's Haydel's King Cake Collector Dolls web page. At the time of this writing, it hasn't quite caught up with the times. They're still showing the 2004 doll, which was a porcelain Pete Fountain. He's so cute!)

This tells me two things. First, that Metairie is not officially excluded from Mardi Gras history and nostalgia. That's a relief. I'm used to being a little defensive about my status as a Jefferson Parish native. (Welllll, I may yet have to be defensive. Calling it "Metairie's version of the Cafe Du Monde" is kinda wrong: its original location was on Decatur Street. It only moved to Metairie in 1974. That's pretty darn recent in terms of the establishment's 138-year history, but from my perspective, that's still before I was born. Plus the little slideshow on its web site's front page includes shots of the Metairie location's interior. So nyah.)

Second, since the write-up was in present tense, I'm gonna assume that The Morning Call is not as doomed as my last visit to the place made it seem. And hoo boy is that a relief.

Anyway. So much for that.

For today's thing, I'm reduced to writing prompts. That's right; I can't think of anything to write. So I went over to Writer's Digest's Daily Prompt site... and was immediately disgusted. I know, I know, I shouldn't be picky, the whole point of a prompt is to write stuff I wouldn't otherwise have written, but... I'm sorry, I can't bring myself to do it.

So instead, here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna do a search on Google, open up the first page of links (excluding paid advertisement) in tabs) and choose... let's say the 10th noun appearing on that page. That would be the main block of text, not the sidebar menu or whatnot.

Sounds like an appropriately anal retentive procedure. Only one problem:

What's my search phrase?

...I'll get back to you on that.

I Made A Fiction For You
Sat 2007-08-18 21:43:56 (single post)

Oh look! Another last-minute contest entry. It worked so well last time, I figured it would be a shame if I didn't try it again.

The contest: Write a bit of Yohoho Puzzle Pirates fan fiction. Specifically, give the Antediluvian Conch an origin story. As far as I can tell, the Antediluvian Conch is a whisk token. If you have it, you can transport yourself to Atlantis. Whee! I love game expansions! (complete contest rules)

You can read my entry here. It is much less purple than my previous last-minute fiction contest entry. But it's just as last-minute. Deadline's in about 14 minutes, I think.

Anyway, thought y'all might like to know that my sprained fiction tendon appears to be healing up nicely. (Also, I think I began a new novel the other day. It's cyberpunk. Ish. But that's another story.)

Bedtime Stories, Redux
Thu 2006-04-06 23:51:18 (single post)

A huge black crow swept across the sky accompanied, half a mile below, by its shadow on the forest of apartment building roofs. For half a second the distance between the two birds grew and then shrank again as the crow's shadow passed over a clearing, a small square of soil between the buildings. The bird's wing blocked the sun and flickered in a woman's eye. She blinked and cast above her for the source of the irregularity, squinting against the sun's rays, but the crow had gone, well on its way towards whatever it is crows seek.

Nothing grew on this patch of soil. It had been years since the woman had tried. Now she simply sat there for half an hour out of this day or that, imagining herself a flower that tried to grow in the barren would-be garden. She saw herself a green shoot that sprang up from the half-buried seed, saw her questing tip put forth leaves and then a bud--but she couldn't get the bud to open into blossom. She could not see herself bloom.

Yes, but why?

Because it provides context. It provides a frame. If one writes bedtime stories last thing before sleep and then wakes to make more stories out of what dreams one remembers, these activities form a sort of contextual bracket around the day. It becomes a day in the life of a writer, and not merely a day in which one writes.

That's why.

And so, that settled, good-night.

Bedtime Stories
Thu 2006-04-06 01:21:13 (single post)

All fictional activity between last blog post and this one consists entirely of freewriting stints that may or may not become full stories. Nothing worth titling and entering into the manuscript database at this time. Some of the resulting chunks of babble form a sort of cohesive narrative, but whether it's the acorn of a novel or just me expanding on an abstract theme is not yet clear.

Outside, the city was on fire. This was not the first time, and many citizens continued throughout their day the way you would were your neigborhood undergoing construction. They picked their way around the embers, noted that downtown was not a good place to drive today, and, in ways both small and large, got on with their lives. The city burned and its citizens counted it an inconvenience.

...It was not a city of attached people. Like Zen monks, they took the loss of family heirlooms, homes, and inheritances in stride. It was going to pass someday. Today is merely sooner than not. But unlike Zen monks, they had attachments to other things: getting to work on time, doing what they wanted to be doing. They were philosophical about losing their homes but downright pissed off about getting off schedule.

You wouldn't want to visit.

...There used to be flowers out in front of my house. There used to be a house. It had a red roof, I think, that terra-cotta red they do with shingles and clay corners. But I don't recall the color of the door or even the shape of the door handle. In any case, it's gone now. The fire took it. And what scares me is, I never mourned. My first thought was, "I hope my car's OK. I need to go to Greenwood tomorrow night." And why did I have to go? To buy paint. To paint the living room walls.

The living room walls that are no longer there.

Data insufficient. General failure reading disk. (A)bort? (R)etry? (F)ail? (K)eep writing?

I've been avoiding getting back to work on Drowning Boy. I admit it. I am suffering from, or inflicting upon myself, that classic writer's malaise of being unable to bring myself to start. It's what makes most of my deadlined projects an unmitigated hell during the last few days of the timeline, and what makes so many of my short stories unfinished. I suspect it's a habit I'll have all my life.

In the meantime, in absence of a cure, the only effective workaround seems for me to be to sidle up on a project, catch it unawares. Open up the document and read through it and let myself naturally start editing the bits that need it, maybe. Open up a blank WordPerfect page and start typing, telling myself it doesn't matter. Lie back with the laptop on my knees and type myself a bedtime story.

Did you ever do that? Make yourself up bedtime stories and tell them to yourself at night? It used to take me forever to go to sleep when I was, oh, maybe eight or nine. Took me until darn near the teenage years to outgrow a kid's basic fear of the dark and the slight creaking sounds of a house at night. By the time I was in fifth grade or so, I'd finally gotten to where I didn't need one of my Neil Diamond tapes (usually Longfellow Seranade and Tap Root Manuscript) to drown out the silence, but it still took me an awful long time to get my senses to shut down and drop me off into unconsciousness. So I made up stories to pass the time. Sometimes I'd even whisper them out loud--whispering can tire you out real quick. Usually I just thought them. Pictured them. Tried to dream them. They were almost always a pre-teen's Mary Sue adventures in which she and either her schoolyard crush or her pop-star idols team up to save the world from evil.

(Hey, I grew up watching Scooby Doo. Remember all those celebrity cameos? Of course it seemed reasonable to imagine myself, too, solving mysteries and fighting crime alongside my favorite musicians and actors.)

Anyway. Technology having progressed to the point of internet-enabled word processors small enough to take to bed with you, the bedtime story habit isn't a bad one to revisit. And a surprising number of those mental Mary Sues have redeemable elements, if I can bring myself to remember them.

But tonight's tale, or worldbuilding exercise, or whatever, has nothing to do with those embarrassing old wish-fulfillment fantasies. It's more of a theme that came out of a dream I had some three years ago...

A man shows up after John and I wake up, and he says, "Did you hear about the fires in the night?" I say, "I thought I smelled a fire yesterday morning when I woke so early."
...and what I wrote about it after I recorded it for posterity.
He came into my room quietly, his bedside manner spotless. I was just waking up, moving slowly out of the realms of unconsciousness and into the fields he knew. He let me gather the shreds of myself into a more-or-less coherent handful before gently placing a bomb in my lap. This kind of bomb: "There were fires in the night. You heard?"

Of course I haven't heard, I wanted to say. I've been asleep, you idiot. But I don't say things like that, or so I'm told. All I really said was, "No."

"They were contained quickly, but they did a lot of damage even so." He glanced up at me, as though reading in my face how much more it was safe to tell. Then he returned to studying his hand. I pulled my hand out from under his. "Where?"

He began drumming his fingers, very slowly. First he lifted his index finger and put it down again. Then his middle finger. Then I got impatient. "Where--"

"Several places. Pretty much simultaneously. One - out in the open space. The yucca's still smoking. One in the south, took a few farms. One - one in the northwest of town." He stopped, left his fingers still on the bedsheets. Took a deep breath as though expecting a blow. "In your neighborhood."

"Oh." I found myself mourning more the blue heron nests than my house and what it held. You can't take it with you, they say. How convenient to have it burned up so you can't regret not being able to take it with you. "Oh," I said again, not sure what else to say. Oh good?

"I checked. You insurance policy is good, up to date, they'll pay you--"

"It's all right," I said. "What would I do with the money, anyway?" I guestured at the hospital room surrounding us, with its beeping machines and its dripping IV towers. "I suspected I wouldn't be going home again, this time."

He looked horrified. "Don't talk like that," he pleaded, but I already wasn't really hearing him.

I have no idea where the terminal illness angle came from. Stuff occurs. I follow it. Stories happen. Or at least babbledraft happens, and maybe it could become stories, someday.

And blog posts happen, freakin' long blog posts, posts chronicling very little useful writing in the previous day and acting like a smoke screen obscuring the shame of another day full of procrastination.

And other things. Lots of weird things today. Things I don't plan to go into here because they are either (a) boring, or (b) personal. Today was full of 'em.

But mostly it was full of procrastination.

Angelo's proudly serves Kronos Gyros.
Cities show up, cities pass by.
Somewhere East of Osceola, Iowa
Tue 2006-02-21 13:30:14 (single post)
  • 51,704 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 17.75 hrs. revised

Woke up this morning on a train. The earbuds from my husband's broken iPod were piping music into my ears. Breakfast was out of a lunch sack rather than my kitchen. My writing studio was a table at the back of the snack/lounge car. Otherwise, the routine was about the same: Wake up at 6:00 AM when the computer starts playing the Blue Man Group: Audio CD; snooze through until the playlist switches into Exchange: More Than Words; dawdle over breakfast; acquire caffeine; and finally, once I get around to it, write.

This morning we finish up in the approximate location mentioned in this blog entry's title. We have our first transformation scene. Hurrah! Diane has discovered the magical properties of Babba's talisman by way of getting turned into a unicorn. Yay! Mystical wondrous magic girl scene!

That means it's time for Purple Prose Avoidance 101.

Not, you understand, that I'm qualified to give a lesson in Purple Prose Avoidance. But since the hope is that the second draft will be less maudlin than the first, I can at least list some of the worst offenders that got nixed this time around. And here they are, in no particular order:

  • Single-sentence paragraphs.
  • Single-sentence paragraphs that aren't complete sentences.
  • Single-sentence paragraphs that start with "And then."
  • Overuse of words such as "forth," "very," and "wonder."
  • Overuse of parallel structures.
  • Overuse of, well, words.
No, I'm not going to give examples. I'm not even going to try to explain what made these things despicable symptoms of first draft purple prose. You're just going to have to take my word for it that rereading this section of the story was, to be perfectly blunt, embarrassing.


All better now? Maybe. Some better now, for sure. Meanwhile, it's now 3:30 PM CST and I'm at a deli in Chicago around the corner from Union Station. Angelo's, at the corner of Jefferson and Adams. They gots the wi-fi. My train out of Chicago leaves at 8:00, so I may be here awhile.

Not Being On Speaking Terms With My Tarot Deck
Wed 2006-01-11 09:54:27 (single post)
  • 1,582 words (if poetry, lines) long

As you may or may not know, I like to get my Tarot deck involved in my writing. Sometimes I'm determined to create new material, but I have no idea what to write about. Sometimes I'm just stuck on a story. In any case, I shuffle a few times, draw, and start babbling onto a blank page about what I see.

Typically I use the Vertigo Tarot. At times I'll cross-reference the Rider-Waite deck, which I keep in numeric order specifically for that reason, but it's Dave McKean's imagery that speaks to me much more than Pamela Colman-Smiths; and even if I get a little impatient with Rachel Pollack's interpretations from time to time, I find them more comfortably Jungian and modern than Waite's.

Which is all to explain why I got the impression that my Tarot deck was being singularly uncooperative the other day.

In the "Trilobite" story, Selby Oldham is a psychometrist. That's someone who gets psychic impressions from touching objects. You've probably seen a TV drama or read a book concerning a psychic working for the police, right? He or she touches the murder weapon and objects at the scene of the crime and gets flashes of how the killing occurred? Right. Well, Selby's like that, only less of the crime forensics and more stuff like paleontology and anthropology. Fossils and ancient artefacts.

She has, by the time of the story, lost hope in her dreams. She's living an eventless, unfulfilling life, working as a curator's assistant in a natural science museum. By the end of the story, she will have found inspiration to pursue her ambitions again. Only trouble was, I had no idea what her ambitions actually were.

So, hello Tarot! Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, "What are Selby's dreams?" shuffleshuffle, shuffle. And I drew...

The Heirophant. Reversed.

Again, recall, Vertigo Tarot. Which DC/Vertigo character did they choose for that particular Major Arcana card? That's right. Dream of the Endless. The Sandman. Morpheus His-Own-Self. And I drew him reversed.

That's right. In answer to "What dreams did Selby give up on?" I got, "She gave up on her dreams."

Imagine you asked your friend, "What plans do you have for Friday?" and your friend said, "Yeah, Friday..." and wandered off. That's about the impression I got.

And this ain't the first time it's said that kind of thing to me, either.

Of course, consulting the Rider-Waite's more traditional Heirophant (not to mention consulting a friend who actually supplements her paycheck by reading Tarot during the summertime) helped put things in perspective. "Oh, yes, tradition and passed-down wisdom and heirarchy and such. Maybe Selby was trying to climb a corporate ladder, or pursue a traditional education at a university, and it wasn't right for her for some reason." But still.

There was once a time when I stopped doing my freewriting exercises for a long time. When I started up again months later, and I used the Tarot deck as a prompt, shuffling just as thoroughly as ever, it gave me the same darn card it had given me all that time ago. Ten of Pentacles, it was: it shows a face with ten pentacle-coins stacked neatly atop his head; the tenth coin completely blocks his mouth. (I suppose one could read that the face is actually speaking the pentacle, but I see it stopping up his mouth and silencing him. Especially considering I drew it reversed.) It's a card I personally associate with the kind of writer's block that comes of too much intellectualizing and perfection-seeking.

"You know, that thing you were working on last year? Right. Well, you never quite finished dealing with that."

Yeah. I know. Smart-ass cards.

Another One Bites The Dust
Tue 2005-12-27 14:07:11 (single post)
  • 56,786 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 108.00 hrs. revised
  • 50,304 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 0.00 hrs. revised

Woke up quite late today, toddled down to the mailbox, and found my official form rejection letter from Wizards Of The Coast regarding The Drowning Boy. Reactions?

  1. Darn! I could have sworn my three-chapter excerpt was irresistable!
  2. Figures. My synopsis and chapter outline were teh suxx0r.
  3. Whew! Now I don't have to worry about racing the phone call with my rewrite!
  4. Whoo-hoo! Another number located! Mine is 166! ...I have no idea what that means.
Apparently each rejection letter comes with a number on the envelope. No one is quite sure the significance, but it's been kind of fun "collecting them all" on the Absolutewrite.com forums.

Like I said in the AW thread, I'm going to keep working on this one through December, hoping to have the rewrite close to finished. Then in January I'm going to primarily do whatever the NaNoPubYe Plan says to do with The Golden Bridle, making sure to schedule time for other projects as well. Like short stories. And work-for-hire projects. Etc.

So. Time to hit chapter 13. More later tonight. Probably.

The door opens at midnight.... spooky!
Writing in Strange Places: North Boulder Memorial Garden Edition
Mon 2005-10-03 06:16:08 (single post)
  • 50,252 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 87.50 hrs. revised

No dust bunnes for Niki. *Sigh.* My husband informs me that there will be dust bunnies next week, however, so I should not lose hope.

Why are dust bunnies a good thing? Well, that's for me to vaguely know and you to find out. Mwahahaha. More later.

So the boys' dialogue bit is moving along at a sloggity pace. Another 800 or so words last night, mostly involved with Brian snapping to the revelation that much of what he remembers as dreams weren't dreams after all. There's a lot of dramatic stuff in italics which, were it represented cinematically, would be in sudden, two-second long flashbacks distracting Brian from the current conversation. Sort of cliche, that. Sorry. Maybe today I can clean up the melodrama and get to the end of the chapter.

Last night also involved Writing In Strange Places. Sometimes I just want to get out of the house, away from the familiar, and put myself somewhere else specifically to write. It's an elaborate sort of ritual, a means by which the everyday mind gets jump-started into writer mind, and it really helps when my usual writing places--the kitchen table, the bed, the IHOP, the Tea Spot--get mentally fouled up, associated with web surfing and game playing instead of writing.

I thought maybe I'd go sit among the pumpkins at the grocery store, because sometimes you just have to sit in a pumpkin patch and that's as close as I'm going to get. But the store hadn't quite closed yet, and the fluorescents under the grocery store awning looked uninspiring, and I ended up in the North Boulder Memorial Gardens instead.

I'm not sure what it's really called. It's a long stretch of land in the crook of Diagonal Highway where it turns left from used-to-be-Iris onto also-known-as-Foothills. John and I came to walk here the night before he left town for his Las Vegas start-up software company adventure, back in, oh, 2001-ish. The place isn't lit at night, and I came in from the treeline to the west rather than the walkway from the south, so I had to keep an eye out for the flat depressions where memorial stones lay, thus avoiding a sprained ankle. I headed up to sit on the steps by the central tower.

There's an ornate door in that tower, making it look like some special memorial monument or maybe a mausoleum. In fact, the tower is nothing but a storage shed. I know this for a fact because, as you can see in the picture, the door was actually open. It was cracked just wide enough to admit my hand with a camera in it. Taking pictures with the flash on, I could see there wasn't much more in there than a styrofoam box full of decorative trinkets of a plasticky dulce et decorum est nature.

Which is sad, because when a door you're accustomed to being locked suddenly stands open before you, what you really want to find on the other side is, like, Narnia.

So I sat there on the steps and slogged away at Chapter 10 until I got too cold, at which point I packed it up, headed in, and put myself to bed, where I continued the Chapter 10 slog. Bed is a cool place to continue writing; I woke up with vague dreams about what Mike was saying to Brian. They weren't comfortable dreams, and I can't remember exact words, but the feeling was right, so that's all good.

Instructions To Self: Learning To Breathe
Fri 2005-08-19 23:06:08 (single post)
  • 45,098 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 71.50 hrs. revised

First, boot up your word processor and open the novel in progress. Find where you left of yesterday. Now open up some music-playing software and load up Enya's Watermark album.

Close your eyes and breathe.

Breathe in; focus on your third eye/brow chakra (a spot between and above your eyes, just do it, OK?) as you do. It glows brighter and brighter as your belly expands with air. Pretend you're actually inhaling through your brow chakra rather than through your nose. Now hold onto that breath. Feel your brow chakra pulsing with warmth and light.

Just before you begin to feel tense from holding your breath, begin to let it out slowly. Shift your focus to your heart chakra (a spot in the center of your chest). Pretend you are exhaling out of your heart chakra, and feel it glow brighter and brighter. When you are empty of air, hold onto that emptiness for a little while before inhaling again.

Continue to do this, eyes closed and thinking only of the breath, until the title track of "Watermark" comes to an end.

Now, as the next track, "Cursum Perficio," begins to play, pick up some wool and start carding it. The motion of the combs goes well with the pulse of the song. Stay conscious of your breath. By the end of the song, you'll have a whole bunch of wool ready to spin, so go ahead and spin it. Take your time and enjoy the calm motion of the spinning wheel. Don't rush yourself to feed out the fiber. How slowly can you work the treadles?

Don't try to think about anything. Just trust that as the spinning wheel imposes order on the wool, so will the process impose clarity on the thoughts you are not yet thinking.

Continue spinning until the album is done. Now return to your laptop. You left off yesterday at the beginning of the Chapter 8 rewrite. Go back through what you have written already, cleaning up the narration and smoothing out the dialogue. Now write the rest of the chapter. Wind the tension tighter and tighter until it at last, at the end, it breaks--

and the main character has learned to breathe.

Fibercrafts: Inspiration, or Procrastination?
Wed 2005-08-17 22:04:30 (single post)
  • 42,589 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 67.50 hrs. revised

So John's all GenConning right now, which means it's just me and the cats in the house. Boring. Quiet. A little lonely. But, you know, keeping busy. For instance, right after I got home from bringing him to the airport, I went back to the spinning wheel.

I got the wheel a few years ago when I finally succumbed to the temptation of Shuttles's store-wide 10% while-in-class discount. I was taking the Beginning Wheel-Spinning class at the time, which was super cool in that every student got to actually borrow a wheel for the whole week between classes. This gave me a chance to fall head over heels in love with the Schact double treadle. (My Gods, I'd forgotten how expensive it was. Damn good thing we were a two-income household at the time.) So I succumbed, and the wheel came home with me for good, along with a bottle of oil, a threading hook, and a Lazy Kate.

What also came home with me was a whole big mess of white wool, which it had been my homework to wash and card, and a smaller mess of variegated blue wool, which we'd all dyed together on the last day of class. And I am here to tell you that I still haven't spun it all. I started, and I also started in on some two-ply fingering weight yarn made from "The Beast" (that gray-brown-white wool of no particular lineage which Shuttles sells for something like $.49/lb) which I am proud to say has made it into two thirds of a lacy sock. But after a few months I kinda slacked off.

So now I'm trying to finish off these unfinished projects. Today I carded and spun a whole bunch of the blue stuff, and once it's all spun up I'll ply it together with the white stuff, which will look super goofy and'll probably make a nice pom-pom hat someday. After that, I'll have to figure out how to deal with the whole heel/toe reinforcement thread issue so I can finish the sock. Maybe I'll just skip it. Anyway, I have to finish knitting the darn thing so I can finally get The Beast off my fourth bobbin.

Right. So, lots of time spinning. And spinning is a mindless activity. Keep the treadles moving in a nice, even rhythm; keep the fiber coming in nice, consistent draws. Stop now and again to move the thread onto the next hook of the flyer. Mindless. You would think, with all that mind freed up, a writer could totally use that time to brainstorm her novel.

You'd think so, wouldn't you?

I don't know, maybe it's like meditation. You have to practice that kind of thing. As it is, when I knit or crochet I think math, and when I spin, I think not at all. Well, maybe I think, "Ugh, this blue dye is getting all over my fingers," or, "Yuck, all this lanolin is starting to gross me out." Or, "Damn, this yarn is over-spun. Good thing I'm going to ply it."

But that's all. I try to start myself thinking things like, "OK, here it is--Amy and Todd having a bit of a heart-to-heart, and Russ comes in and starts being an ass. How's that dialogue going to go?" And then I stop thinking. It's like I'm trying to turn the ignition and get the car to go, but all I'm hearing is whirr-whirr-whirr and no vroom. I'm gonna have to push this sucker uphill, 'cause that engine just ain't starting.

And yet, I put off writing and hit the spinning wheel, or the knitting needles, telling myself I'll think about the story while I'm fibercrafting. I'm priming the engine, I'm brainstorming, I'm getting ready to write.


Maybe it just has to be learned.