“I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning.”
William Faulkner

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Someone threw a snowball at me. Now I am a snowpeep.
cooperative solitaire, and a way of keeping score
Mon 2015-01-05 23:13:37 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long

Oh boy! First full week of the new year! Whatever shall I do with it? How about "everything I've been putting off, ever"? Or at least those long-procrastinated tasks which I've codified as "to-dos" in HabitRPG.

I started using HabitRPG early last year. (I may have mentioned it once or twice since then.) It aims to help you break bad habits, foment good ones, and generally be more productive by "gamifying" your life, role-playing game style. You gain gold and experience points for practicing good habits, getting daily tasks done, and completing to-dos. But you lose hit points for succumbing to bad habits or leaving daily tasks incomplete.

It is an oddly compelling interface. I wondered, though, how compelling it would continue being once I'd earned enough gold to buy all the armor, weapons, and shields, once I'd tried all four character classes, and once I'd acquired all the pets and mounts.

Turns out that one key to keeping HabitRPG alive, for me at least, is being in a party and accomplishing quests. I began using HabitRPG along with other writers in the online Codex community--and if you are a neo-pro writer with a pro sale or a pro workshop under your belt, consider joining! Codex has rejuvenated my writing practice and career like nothing else. Having a community to cheer you on, a hive mind whose brain you can pick, and a group of friends you can safely vent to, is more valuable than I can say. I can post, "I just submitted X story to Y market," and there will be a chorus of "Woot!" I can post, "Y market just rejected X story," and there will be a chorus of sympathetic groans--and also woots, because these are writers, and writers understand that there's a satisfaction in collecting rejection letters. Rejection letters mean you're doing what a writer should do, which is finishing and submitting stories. And then there's contests, and market news, and the ability to compare notes about contracts and experiences with editors. If the Absolute Write Water Cooler were a big city, Codex would be the liberal arts college situated in that city.

So imagine how much more motivating it is to team up with a bunch of fellow Codexians in quests to defeat boss monsters! When you're in a quest of the boss monster variety, any daily tasks you leave incomplete will not only do you damage but also your whole party. Many an evening I've contemplated my remaining dailies and considered leaving them undone, because I'm Just That Tired. But then I consider the shame-faced "Sorry for the damage, ya'll" I'd have to post to the Party chat room. So I reconsider, and I set a timer, and do my freewriting after all.

Another thing HabitRPG does to stay fresh: The designers are constantly releasing new content. Every few months a new quest will appear, one that rewards you with a pet you've never seen before. Every season, there's a "Grand Gala," which is to say, an amusing storyline, a new selection of limited edition gear, seasonal tricks and treats, and, again, new quests.

But probably the most useful thing for me about HabitRPG is, it's a list repository. Lists are my favorite coping mechanism. Lists help keep me from losing track of, or getting overwhelmed by, all the things I gotta do. HabitRPG is my one-stop list shop.

On a day-to-day basis, the list of dailies keeps me from forgetting household chores when it's my turn to do them. The 30-day fitness challenge I'm participating in with some of my derby friends, that's a daily too. So are my various writing tasks. I've made "Morning pages," "Freewriting," "Friday Fictionette Preparation," and "actually writing blog" into dailies, not to mention "Five hours of writing every workday!" with a checkbox for each hour so I can at least get partial credit if I poop out an hour early. Some of these are due every day, some only Monday through Friday, and the five-hour writing task is only Tuesdays through Fridays. Thus HabitRPG organizes my approach to the work day.

On a long-term basis, I can make one-time tasks into To-Dos. You know the way a procrastinated task gets heavier and heavier in your head the longer you put it off? I've found that if I encode the task as a to-do, preferably broken down into a bunch of sub-task checkboxes, it weighs less. This is not least because part of the weight of a long-delayed task is "I have to remember. I have to remember. I mustn't forget I have to do this!" Well, once I've made it into a To-Do, I won't forget. It's there, written down.

And then when I do it, I get to check it off and get a ton of gold and XP for doing it. The longer it's been waiting for me to check it off, the more reward I get--and the bigger a whallop it delivers to any boss monsters we might be fighting. That makes checking off to-dos very satisfying.

Today I realized that despite having been home from our trip for almost a week, I still hadn't unpacked my suitcase. Every day I've been tripping over that thought (and also over that suitcase). Today, I said, "Enough already," and I made the task into a HabitRPG to-do. Then I unpacked my damn suitcase already. Then I checked off the to-do. It's amazing, and kind of stupid really, how much motivation the to-do interface added.

Brains! They are so weirdly manipulatable!

Anyway, this week is my "clean up my to-do" list week. I contributed to that goal today by

  • unpacking my suitcase
  • mailing fruitcake and New Year's cards
  • deciding, with John, what appetizer we'd contribute to the BCB Black & Blue Ball potluck
  • and doing my bit to help spread the word about our State Line Roll Out roller derby tournament this Saturday.

Tomorrow, I'll continue by...

  • putting together one writing resume for WFTDA, for their volunteer editor position
  • putting together another, more focused writing resume for Demand Media Studios, for access to the Home & Garden channel
  • doing the books, which task came due on Friday,
  • and making some progress on the revision of "Caroline's Wake."

Because that story revision is a to-do, as well. And my other goal for this week was to have "perfect days" all week long, which is to day, completing all my dailies every day, including the five-hours-of-writing one. Which will be achieved by working on my actual writing.

It's going to be a solid work week, y'all. Hopefully the first of many.

So that's my goal, and that's how HabitRPG helps me achieve my goals. If you're inspired to try it out, I'm playing under the handle "vortexae". If you see me, shoot me a note!

recommend that you not
Tue 2014-10-28 23:13:06 (single post)

So this is my latest trick. (It is not a smart trick.)

I seem to have returned to Second Life. I logged in for the first time in about three years: firstly, because you cannot leave Groups without logging in, and I had some Groups I didn't need to belong to anymore, nor get their emails; secondly, because I wanted to blog about doing NaNoWriMo on Second Life with the Milk Wood Writers and Virtual Writers, Inc.

There will, by the way, be more blog posts of this nature as November arrives and NaNoWriMo proceeds. I may no longer be one of Boulder's Municipal Liaison--emphatically not!--but I'm still your friendly neighborhood Boulder Writing Example, and NaNoWriMo is a big damn writerly deal.

Anyway, so, Second Life. And apparently I had some L$1,350 (in-game currency) sitting in my account along with about $10 (real world money). Now, I used to blog for the Metaverse Tribune. I'd make L$500 per post, and when my balance got to L$1,500 I'd exchange it for U.S. currency (about five or six dollars, depending on the market that day); and this was how I made a little pocket change off Second Life. But the reason I got into that gig was, I was wearing the Earn2Life HUD and participating in their Pay4Visit program. They send you places, you walk around and look at the place for a certain amount of time, they pay you a few Linden Dollars for your visit. So my blog series at the Metaverse Tribune, "Have Avatar, Will Travel," involved writing reviews of the places that Earn2Life's Pay4Visit program sent me.

I had to branch out a bit from there to keep the blog interesting. The places featured in the Pay4Visit program tend to be shopping malls, skill gaming locations, and strip clubs.

Anyway, upon logging in the other day, I thought, "I wonder if the Pay4Visit thing is still happening?" And of course it was. And following that rabbit trail led to the Fruit Mania traffic boost program, and following that led to the Bletaverse traffic cones, and the traffic cones led to the Gold Rush thingie, and the freeplay casino games, and the Coin Mania sphere, and mini-raffles, and so on, and so forth, and...

That's how I ended up using some random casino's L$1/15min dance pad, rather than FocusBooster, to time my freewriting today. "It's kind of like getting paid to do my timed writing session! Sort of. At a rate of a penny and a half per hour, but that's not the point--"

Don't do this, y'all. It does not end well.

Here we see the problem. One of these things is not like the other, and the other is not like the one.
If only both sets of phone jack equipment looked like this, I would be set.
This took way more time and effort than it was probably worth. Also way more spackle.
i fought the phone jack and i think it was a draw
Tue 2014-10-21 23:53:26 (single post)

I may have mentioned that John and I are trying to sell our third-floor condo unit. The goal is to move into something that's a little more like a house, but that isn't too far from where we are now. And now that the roof has been replaced and last year's storm damage has been addressed, we're trying to get all of our home improvement assignments done so we can list the place. We've been moving so slowly, like, "OK, today we did the three polycrylic finish coats on the front side of new sliding closet door number two. Woot! Tomorrow, we'll stain the back side of sliding closet door number three." At this rate, there'd be no question of selling during the beautiful fall weather. At this rate, we wouldn't be able to list until spring.

And even at this lackadaisical pace, I've begun to doubt whether writing and home improvement projects can coexist.

Well, today they could not, not least because we resolved to step up the pace. Today we went to McGuckin Hardware and brought home everything we'll need for everything we still have to do. Well, most of everything, anyway. I detached a kitchen cabinet door and brought it to McGuckin so we could find the right color stain to touch up the below-sink cabinets whose finish was pretty destroyed. We bought grout cleaner, door pulls, more white paint for the kitchen and the shower room, more pre-stain and stain and polycrylic and poly-foam brushes. And then we came home and we did finish clear-coating the front side of new sliding closet door number two. And I just about almost finished spackling the gap around the air conditioner unit so that it isn't floating in a wall-hole lined with black foam insulation. And I cleaned up all the glass from when I broke my quarters jar this morning while getting ready to do some laundry. (Yes, I also did laundry.)

And I finally resolved the phone jack situation. This is the phone jack situation: The phone conduit boxes that live behind the drywall in the bedroom and in the office have their screw holes on the diagonal. But the nice brass wall plates we wish to install over them have a vertical pair of screw holes. All the parts that come with the new nice brass wall plates assume a vertical pair of screw holes. I'm specifically thinking about the steel ring to which is attached the actual phone jack--the module that the telephone plug goes in the front side of, and the four wires that emerge from the wall connect to the back side of it.

(This is difficult to describe because I don't know the proper terms for everything. Please to see attached photos.)

In the bedroom, this is not a problem, because the steel ring for mounting the phone jack has taken care of everything. Instead of being a small ring the size of the phone jack with vertical extensions, it's a wide ring with three pairs of holes: one pair at the diagonal for mounting onto the conduit box, and two pairs on the vertical for attaching the phone jack and the wall plate. It is perfect. The picture of it is not perfect; it is blurry. But the actual implement is exactly what we needed.

So we brought it to McGuckin and said, "Another one like this, please," and they said "We have never seen anything like that before ever. What is that?"

We stumped McGuckin, y'all.

So we're left with the vertical-install jack that comes with the brass plate, and the round steel ring that came with the crappy and unnecessary dual-port jack in the office. That steel ring is almost like the perfect one in the bedroom, only--and this is key--it only has holes for mounting the phone jack to the steel ring. It has no holes for screwing the wall plate onto the ring. Now that I think about it, it's probably meant for an entirely different kind of wall plate. Possibly, now that I think about it, a round one. That's probably where that perfect steel ring came from in the first place. A round modular phone jack. Which we probably could have bought and used. *facepalm*

But here's what I did. I used a pair of long screws to attach the phone jack to the vertical mounting ring to the diagonal mounting ring, all through the same pair of holes. So now I had the diagonal holes on the big wide ring ready to attach it to the conduit box, and the vertical holes on the vertically-extended ring for attaching the wall plate. And this whole unholy cross-wise chimera, which you can see in the third photo, I made flush with the wall by cutting out chunks of drywall with an X-Acto knife.

Spackle is my very best friend.

Anyway, I won the battle! But I lost the war--I'm now entirely out of juice. I didn't even make it to roller derby practice, because all these processes went longer than expected and utterly exhausted me. So I had to declare the productive part of my day over. Damn you, Tuesday! Why have you not more hours and also more energy for me to use?

Dear Wednesday: I have put all my hope in you. Please do not let me down! Yes, yes, I know I'm having lunch down at Cherry Creek with visiting family members. I don't care. I am being optimistic about you, Wednesday. You can do it!

Live on Patreon, it's Friday Fictionettes! Also: A new monster of derby.
Mon 2014-09-01 23:55:51 (single post)
  • 1,242 wds. long

It's September 1, and I've launched my Patreon page. Go ahead, click it, see what you think. Basically, it's a short-short story subscription service, except they're not so much fully formed short stories but rather highly polished excerpts from my daily freewriting sessions. I'm calling these story-like objects "fictionettes." Pledging a dollar or more per month gets you access to the fictionettes I post every first through fourth Friday in PDF format, and at the end of the month I make one of those fictionettes free for all to read. At higher pledge levels, I will read my fictionettes to you, podcast-style, or even mail them to you in handmade collectible editions (limited supplies available).

The first fictionette, "Breaking and Entering," is up on my creations stream. You can also read it right here on the actually writing blog, or on my brand new WattPad account. I'll have an audio version of it up soon so potential patrons can get an idea of whether they like my reading style before they subscribe. I also intend to create a simple cover image sometime this week.

Both Patreon and Wattpad are new interfaces for me, and they're both boggling me in different ways. I can't seem to convince Wattpad that "Breaking and Entering" is its own piece, complete in and of itself, and not a chapter in a larger piece called "Breaking and Entering." And Patreon's creation-posting, creation-editing, and creation-navigating interfaces have so many issues I could write a whole post about them.

But I will not. Instead, I will hang in there and see if things get easier to deal with as I go forward, or if I'll at least figure out smart ways to cope with and around the seeming inadequacies.

Why am I doing this? Several reasons.

  • The possibility of making more money by writing stories than I'm making by blogging at Examiner has a certain appeal. (Hint: It wouldn't take much.)
  • A new weekly deadline means I'm going to be finishing more story-like objects more often, which can't be a bad thing.
  • I'm teaching myself to relax and let go of this whole "Every piece of writing must be saved and its first rights preserved against the day it will become a real publishable story!" Seriously, at the rate of a new freewriting vignette produced almost every day, there will be more of them taking up space in my Daily Ideas .scrivx than I'll ever develop into commercially viable stories. They aren't exactly precious.
  • I like the sound of the word "prolific." I like the thought of applying it to myself.

Call it the crossroads of self-publishing and self-improvement. We'll see how it goes.

In roller derby news, my Bombshells lost to 10th Mountain, and the score was 201 to 207. It was a mirror image of last season's bout against the Mountaineers, with a heroic come-back in the second half and an epic final jam that included two penalties to the 10th Mountain jammer and an amazing effort by our jammer, Sauce, to put huge amounts of points on the board. (Sauce is my hero, y'all. Not even kidding a little bit.) Every pass was a screamingly exciting fight for both teams' very lives, as the Mountaineers blockers clung to their lead and the Bombshells blockers pulled out every trick they knew to get their jammer through the pack.

In the end, I think, if you can't make it through the season undefeated, I think a single loss by a squeaky 6-point margin isn't so terrible. And doesn't every team need a nemesis?

I'm going to call the afterparty a tie. Both teams represented on the dance floor well into the wee hours, and not as separate monochrome bunches, either. We mixed it up real good.

Er. Also. The Bombshells MVPs that 10th Mountain chose for the night were Skinny DipHer as jammer... and myself as blocker. *flabbergasted* Everyone was all, "That's two games in a row, Fleur!" and I'm all, "I know! I don't get it!" I'm not being coy or cute here, I seriously don't get it. But I'm thankful. I hope I managed to show it. I know I hugged a lot of people in 10th Mountain uniforms.

John declared the distinction well deserved and proceeded to explain to me, in great detail and with much enthusiasm, why he thought so. (Have I mentioned how much I love this man?) He also had a lot to say about bout our bout and the "back to school" themed mix-up that preceded it. He and our friend Stras had carpooled to the bout, and when I got home from the afterparty by about 1:00 AM they were in the middle of watching an archived bout on WFTDA.tv (last year's Division 1 game between Windy City and RMRG). They were analyzing the footage, play by play. They paused their viewing to talk derby with me until something like 2:30, and then after Stras went home John and I kept talking until 3:00. By the time I finally fell asleep, my brain was like a computer running a screensaver, and the screensaver featured an endless procession of jammers and blockers whizzing counterclockwise around a derby track.

I've created a derby monster here. John's always been excited to watch derby with me, but this weekend seems to have launched his enthusiasm through the roof. I repeat: He went home from our bout and immediately queued up more derby to watch on his computer. Then we watched more archived bout footage together today (two of this year's D2 bouts featuring Sin City), during which he pressed pause oodles of times to discuss nuances of plays and penalties. There was rewinding and rewatching in slo-mo. There was pausing to look up official rules. There was massive geeking out over derby, y'all.

John said, "I now know why I could never be an official, as much as I want to get involved. I can't be unbiased. I'm too invested in rooting for the Boulder County Bombers."

I thought about this. "Well, with your strategic observations and your tendency to pick plays apart, maybe you could be an assistant coach."

Gods bless him, he didn't say no. In fact, he's seriously considering it. We broached the idea to other league members at the annual league birthday get-together yesterday, to skaters and coaches alike, and everyone thought he'd be a fantastic addition to the team. Gods know we have a need for more coaches, assistant or otherwise, having recently lost a handful of them to the various changing demands of their lives.

He's said he'll come with me to scrimmage on Thursday, and maybe practice on Wednesday too depending on what's on the agenda. We'll see how it goes.

sometimes you just come up flat
Thu 2014-08-28 23:38:50 (single post)

And then there are days that no amount of specificity can help. They start out already so full of things that the schedule consists of an hour here and an hour eked out there, and then they change. Appointments get postponed. Cars get flats.

True. The rear left wheel split its outer sidewall in response to no observable incident whatsoever, and John and I got an opportunity to relearn how to install a spare tire. We were helped by the late '90s legacy of Saturn manufacturers who included numbered and illustrated instructions on the spare wheel access panel. We were not at all helped by the Conoco corner store counter clerk who opined, "Well, if you've got a husband with you, you don't need to change any tires, right?"

I'm reminded of a mid-90s Seattle encounter, wherein some guy, some stranger, encountered me on the sidewalk where I was adjusting the brake pads of my bicycle, and asked me, "Don't you have a man to do that for you?" I seriously don't understand why people say things like this. I guess they think they're being funny. They can't possibly think they're helping in any way.

Anyway, one spare wheel installation and inflation later, I'm spending my next hour at Big O getting the tire replaced, which operation finished just in time for me to rendezvous with my carpool to roller derby practice. Why, yes I've had practice three nights in a row. It's bout week. And if tonight's scrimmage is any indication, it's going to be very physical and hard-fought.

No derby tomorrow--just resting up before the big event. But tomorrow is a big day where the house is concerned--we finally get to move back in. The new carpet went in yesterday, and tomorrow morning is final clean-up, walk-through, and furniture relocation. That's going to eat up my morning some good, but, despite that and the afternoon appointment that's also scheduled, I'm optimistic about getting some writing in. At least, more than I got in today. And I'll get to do it at my own desk, in my own office. Finally.

Until then!

also we research our avoidance processes meticulously
Thu 2014-08-21 22:36:32 (single post)
  • 4,400 wds. long

Holy cow, hotel business centers are super techy these days. You open up the "printerOn" webpage for your particular hotel--if your hotel does have one--you upload your document, you give it your email address and a fresh 5-digit security code you made up on the fly, and then you saunter down to the business center, enter your security code, and you tell it to print on their fancy laser printer. It was a none-too-fast fancy laser printer, but it got the job done. I now have a printed copy of "A Wish for Captain Hook" for me to deface at my leisure.

Now, our household printer is here in the room with us. I was all set to use it. But because the printer got here less with plans for using it and more for just getting it the hell out of the house and out of the way of the restoration project, it has not sufficient paper with it for the job at hand. Our supply of paper, you see, was already stowed at the top of a closet and out of harm's way.

So that's where half the time I spent on the story went today: Printing the draft. (Like I said, slow printer.) Also getting the draft ready to print in the first plase--for reasons I no longer recall, it was a text document with its italics indicated by underscore characters before and after the text to be italicized.

I spent the other half of the time researching.

No, look, it all started with good intentions. I was scribbling away on the freshly printed draft, honest! But I was scribbling things like, "This was true in 1984, but was it true in 2005?" and "When did different libraries reopen after Katrina?" and "Maybe by then you could get an Orleans Parish library card as a Jefferson Parish resident? Again, 2005 v. 1984" and "Double-check: Nov 24 was Thanksgiving that year?"

Next thing I knew, I was looking up not only the days of the week that the story takes place on (yes, November 24 was indeed a fourth Thursday in 2005, thus Thanksgiving) but also sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, and phases of the moon. So now I know for sure that the last scene really can take place on a night with no moon, and when the sun comes up after the characters' long vigil, I will know precisely what time that means.

So, yes, the metaphorical cat has been metaphorically vacuumed within an inch of its remaining fur. This is just one of the many valuable services we writers provide. For an additional charge, we will also metaphorically wax your metaphorical cat. The cat will not appreciate it, metaphorically speaking, but haven't you always wanted your metaphorical cat to really shine?

maybe i could even try that wax seal thing again
Sat 2014-08-09 00:29:22 (single post)
  • 5,975 wds. long
  • 6,779 wds. long

Short story updates and more Patreon goodness! Short story updates first, because they're short.

First: "Impact of Snowflakes" is not yet done, drat and blast. However, I hope to fix that Monday. Monday is usually Farm Day, but next week I am obliged to stay home from the farm and meet the construction techs at my door and give them a key and then run away and hide in a hotel room in Louisville until construction is over. ("Loo-iss-ville" because this is Colorado, not Kentucky. I was oddly unable to convince the Marriott reservationist of this. Not that I haven't made place-name pronunciation mistakes of my own, but when corrected by a local I don't tend to come right back and try to correct them the way this reservationist did me.) So once I'm safely stowed in my temporary home, along with any last-minute objects and plants that need to be rescued from the construction zone, I can hopefully devote hours and hours and hours to finishing the damn story. All the hours the story requires to get DONE.

Second: "Caroline's Wake" will, regrettably, not appear in the Athena's Daughters II table of contents. Alas. After a suitable period of mourning (i.e. one day), it has been sent out again into the world, having first been relieved of some of its typos. (O the typo-embarrassment. O the facepalm. All die.)

And that's that. Now, on to the fun stuff: Sandra Tayler is creating books and a blog!

Sandra Tayler is the author of the children's books Hold on to Your Horses and The Strength of Wild Horses, the blog "One Cobble at a Time," and the Cobble Stones compilation volumes. (She's also another fellow Codexian. Yes, there is a theme here.) If you like stuff like that, funds from Patreon help her create more stuff like that. Therefore you should support her on Patreon.

Tayler is using the monthly pledge structure, and she's defined two pledge levels. Patrons at the $1/month level get access to Patron-only material, "which will include sneak peeks, coupon codes, and other fun things." Patrons at the $2.50/month level get, in addition to Patron-only material, a hand-signed thank you card once a year.

Very simple, engagingly personal. Also, tangible. I love the idea of mailing things, really mailing things that you can hold in your hand. From about third grade through the middle of college, I always had pen-pals. Some of them I met on the then-fledgling internet, with whom I exchanged cassette tapes because those could not be sent by email. (This was way before it got easy to exchange MP3s.) Some were people I met at summer camp before email was readily available. Some of them were people I saw every day in school, but with whom I nevertheless cherished this additional and poignantly intimate communication channel. When I sent them letters, I would practice my best handwriting, use pens of different colors, and draw things in the margins. I put Rush lyrics on the backs of the envelopes. I doodled more weird things in the corners of the front of the envelope. I even experimented with wax seals, although I'm sure they mostly cracked off by the time the envelopes reached their destination.

The age of electronic communications is wonderfully convenient and freeing. I'm glad to be a freelance author in a time when most professional markets take submissions via email or even via web form; it's a tremendous savings on postage and time. But when the only things I put in the actual physical mailbox are utility bills, something seems lost.

See also: Catherynne M. Valente's Omikuji Project. For five years (2008-2012), Valente mailed short stories to her subscribers every month. "Real paper, wax seal, with a little note about life and work and the weather in Maine, signed by her," as Kellen Sparver says in his Patreon-launching blog post. How cool is that?

Could I do something like that? I think, perhaps, yes, at least on a small scale. Also, I have this typewriter.

I've begun actually putting together my Patreon page, filling out the blanks, defining the milestones in terms of what X amount of money pays for, defining the pledge tiers in terms of what Patrons will get. Nothing's in stone yet--the stuff I put into the page today may be totally rewritten tomorrow--but I'm having fun with the possibilities.

I'm thinking of launching the page on September 1.

revision versus avoidance behaviors; also karaoke and a surprise DNS outage
Thu 2014-07-10 23:59:59 (single post)
  • 6,515 wds. long

Tonight I'm writing this from Hurricane's Sports Bar in Metairie, on Vets not far from Bonnabel. My brother tends bar most nights there, so hanging out at the bar means hanging out with him, which is nice. Hurricane's is on Facebook. You may like them if you're so inclined. I quite like them myself, and not just because my brother likes to cover my beers.

It took me a minute to figure out what their event schedule for the weekend was, because rather than hosting an itemized calendar or using FB's event pages interface, they simply take a photo of their calendar and make it their cover image. Once I figured that out, I saw that Thursdays were "Rock the Mic: Live Band Karaoke," and I thought, huh, that's different, and also I like karaoke. I should go. And so I did. And it was joyous. They had one of my standby tunes in their list, and they played it, and I sang it, and they sang backup, and a good time was had by all. It was unlike any karaoke experience I have ever had, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Rock the Mic is also on Facebook, and you may like them if you are so inclined. I like them.

This afternoon I took my short story revision time to the CC's coffee house on Vets at Division. (I had unearthed a decade-old gift card for use there. Alas, its balance turned out to be zero.) I am trying to be virtuous despite being "on vacation," so I am continuing to push my dogged way through the lumps in the draft-in-progress. There are, however, moments when I ask myself, am I actually doing a revision here, or am I just pushing prepositions around in a bid to avoid finishing the damn thing? This is a thing we are sometimes prone to: getting stuck in the mid-book or halfway through a story, and going back to the beginning and endlessly tweaking rather than pushing through the stuckness. I worry that I'm doing that...

...right up until my slow pass through the draft brings me a perfect opportunity to plant a little foreshadowing, based on something I just figured out about how the story needs to end. Then I stop worrying, because obviously revision is getting done here.

Up with foreshadowing! Down with worrying! I like giving myself reasons to stop worrying.

And now, a deep sigh for the frailties of internet. The internet went down at the bar, so I ran along home to upload this, but the internet was down there too, and also for my parents' desktop computer. "DNS server cannot be reached." Ain't no amount of rebooting the router going to fix it when Cox Cable appears to have DNS trouble. I really need to commit some alternate DNS addresses to memory for times like this.

(Oddly, popping in Google's DNS addresses didn't help, nor did it hurt the next morning when service had resumed. I wonder if yet something else was going on. Cox is not saying.)

In any case, this post won't get uploaded until Friday, but it will be backdated for Thursday, just to be confusing. Also I shall be restoring my HabitRPG streaks because I did all the things, I just couldn't click on all the things. Phooey.

as the unicorn said to the harpy
Wed 2014-07-09 17:58:58 (single post)
  • 6,468 wds. long

As it turns out, I was right--I got to Chicago barely 15 minutes prior to boarding time on my connecting train. There was no time for anything except the ridiculous walk down the long boarding platform, into the station, then clockwise around via the main concourse and the central ticketing/passenger services hub to finally arrive in the South Terminal and wait in line to go right back out onto the main concourse and thence to the boarding platform once more.

I was oddly jealous of the passengers connecting with Train 30 who were told, "Your train is on the tracks opposite ours. When you get off this train, just cross the platform and get right on Train 30." None of this walking-the-long-way-around-to-get-back-where-you-started business for them! And "all" it cost them was the stress of a will-we-won't-we nick-of-time arrival in Chicago. Yes, I'm joking. But only sort of.

Anyway, I did manage to get online while the California Zephyr was stopped at the station in Galesburg, Illinois. O fortuitous Galesburg and your free city wifi! I was able to run all my internet errands there: Upload yesterday's blog post, check off all my tasks on HabitRPG, disable the Dailies that I can't do whilst out of town (sorry, plants, but I cannot water you from all the way over here!), attempt to download my email and the latest posts on my roller derby league's online forum. I say "attempt" because the email did not, in fact, download. And while I could retrieve the Activity Stream on the league's VBulletin forum, I couldn't pull up any actual posts. "Response denied by WatchGuard HTTP proxy. Don't think you should be going there?" Apparently the city's wi-fi gateway disapproves of VBulletin cookies. They are too long and full of suspicious characters.

Speaking of HabitRPG, I seem to have turned on my Train 6 seatmate to its joys and wonders. Huzzah! More lives gamified! Let us go smite Shadow Dragons with such fearsome weapons as Taking Out The Trash and Returning Books To Library!

In story news, I am working my way from beginning to NEW AND IMPROVED ENDING GOES HERE slowly, smoothing out the lumps as I go. My hope is to have some idea how NEW AND IMPROVED ENDING goes by the time I get there.

Meanwhile, as part of my campaign to Be An Informed Hugo Voter, I've just finished reading Campbell Award candidate A Stranger In Olondria by Sofia Samatar. (I'm pretty sure I misspelled the title in a recent Tweet. Forgive me!) It is a gorgeous piece of work, written in a lush poetic language that transforms my very thought process as I look out the window of the train and watch towns to which I am myself a stranger roll by. I even dreamt in the book's cadences the other night after reading myself to sleep. Samatar might have my vote for that alone. But then she uses such language to create a rich world complete with competing cultures and vibrant mythologies and their own canonical works of literature. And then on top of it all, the story it tells belongs to that category most near and dear to my heart: In Praise Of Books.

It belongs to other categories, too: Coming of Age Story. Like Father, Like/Unlike Son. Feet of Clay. Unrequited Love. Changing The Course of Empire. Laying the Ghost. But for me, the most important thing is the main character's falling head over heels in love with reading, and how that love frames every other passion in the story.

Once, when I was perhaps eight, on one of the many nights when I stayed up long past my bedtime with a book I couldn't put down, I heard my mother coming up the stairs. Quickly I doused the light and hid my book under my pillow. Moments later, when Mom opened the door, I was pretending to be asleep. She was not fooled. What she said next will live in my brain forever, in shades of both pride and rue: "God help me, I have one child who won't read and another who won't stop!"

Which is why passages like the following speak so keenly to me:

The silence. End of all poetry, all romances. Earlier, frightened, you began to have some intimation of it: so many pages had been turned, the book was so heavy in one hand, so light in the other, thinning toward the end. Still, you consoled yourself. You were not quite at the end of the story, at that terrible flyleaf, blank like a shuttered window: there were still a few pages under your thumb, still to be sought and treasured. Oh, was it possible to read more slowly?óNo. The end approached, inexorable, at the same measured pace. The last page, the last of the shining words! And thereóthe end of the book. The hard cover which, when you turn it, gives you only this leather stamped with old roses and shields.

Then the silence comes, like the absence of sound at the end of the world. You look up. Itís a room in an old house. Or perhaps itís a seat in a garden, or even a square; perhaps youíve been reading outside and you suddenly see the carriages going by. Life comes back, the shadows of leaves. Someone comes to ask what you will have for dinner, or two small boys run past you, wildly shouting; or else itís merely a breeze blowing a curtain, the white unfurling into a room, brushing the papers on a desk. It is the sound of the world. But to you, the reader, it is only a silence, untenanted and desolate.

It doesn't hurt that this passage is saying something else at the same time, about other griefs, other abandonment. But even if it were "only" talking about how reaching the end of a book, even one with a happy ending, is always in some sense a tragedy, it would still give me the chills.

It put me in mind of a similar passage in Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, to which Olondria felt in many ways like a tribute:

If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger--

If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early--

If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless--

If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won't understand what Bastian did next.

What did Bastian do next? Why, he stole the copper-bound volume from the bookshop while Cornelius's back was turned, thus unknowingly committing himself to saving Fantastica. (And no, Cornelius didn't set Bastian up. That knowing nod and smile is entirely a fabrication of the movie. In the book, Cornelius actually lost all memory of ever having had the book at all.)

There's a shock at finding oneself recognized so closely by an author; this, by the way, is why Dorothea Brande warns us that the non-writer may regard us as witches. "Nothing but witchcraft, [the layperson] seems to believe, could have made another human being so wise in the ways of his kind." But after the shock of recognition comes the warm relief of having been recognized. It takes one to know one, as they say. Being understood means not being alone. "Oh, you are like me!" as the unicorn said to the harpy.

Another point in Samatar's favor is that she made me cry in plain sight in an Amtrak sightseer lounge car. Dammit. Talk about your awkward moments.

As I finish this up, the train is sitting somewhere south of Jackson, Mississippi, waiting for the freight traffic ahead to clear. We've been precisely on time up until now. Outside is a swampish waterway lined with trees I ought to be able to name. A constant drizzle polka-dots the surface of the green-brown water. White crestless wading birds with long necks and yellow beaks stand on one black leg, single-knee-deep in the water or perch warily in small trees. The only sign of human encroachment is the very railroad track that brought us here and the small square wooden sign beside it bearing some code unintelligible to layfolk.

No one is in any hurry at all. It's glorious.

I'll upload this post from my parents' house, my old house, in Metairie. But that's several hours off yet. Between now and then, I hope to make some real progress on the story. So, here's to good news on that front tomorrow.

In which we take a step back from the trees, thus to view the forest
Thu 2014-06-26 23:47:49 (single post)
  • 6,291 wds. long

Oh hey there. Blog white-outs are fun, aren't they? Apparently my code isn't quite PHP 5.4 ready, so I've scrolled things back to PHP 5.3 for now. If you can read this, it probably worked. (It's also possible that you're a visitor from far in the future, that being when I'll likely next have the time and patience to try to update my blog code. How are things? Who's president, and have we got flying cars yet?)

I got some feedback on my story today, and it got me thinking not just about this story but also about my writing tendencies in general. That's the best kind of feedback--the kind that doesn't just address the work at hand but also makes me a better writer. Or at least provides me with the opportunity to become a better writer. If I fail to avail myself of that opportunity, it isn't the critiquer's fault. He tried!

The thought goes something like this.

There's a "rule" in writing speculative fiction--and I use scare-quotes advisedly here--that you can get away with one, and only one, impossible thing. Two things and you lose the reader's suspension of disbelief. Now, this is a ridiculously simplistic "rule," but, like most "rules' of writing, it points in the direction of a truth: You have to earn and keep the reader's trust. The reader will trust you when you give them impossible things to believe if, and only if, you continue to be trustworthy when it comes to things they actually have experience with. Your characters have to behave like real people. Your portrait of a real life city needs to ring true for someone who's been there or lives there. Your portrayal of specialized areas of knowledge--guns, archery, horses, astronomy, whatever--needs to withstand at least a cursory fact-check. Basically, "this is a fantasy novel" can account for the flight of dragons that strafes Shreveport, Louisiana, but it can't account for the dragons having set aflame the county clerk & recorder's office in that town (given that Louisiana doesn't have counties), nor the crescent moon on the eastern horizon as the sun sets over the destruction (given that a crescent moon rises around dawn). And if you then have your main characters stand there looking up information about dragons on their smartphones when there are people trapped in the burning building across the street, either you've just lost your reader's patience and good will entirely, or you're one of the authors of the Left Behind novels. Neither is a situation worth celebrating.

Anyway. "You get one impossible thing." And I think there is another "rule" in the same vein, which goes like this: "You get one dramatic reveal."

Again, simplistic, but it points in a direction I apparently need to aim my mind. Because I seem to err on the side of the coy and the subtle these days, understating all the unusual or fantastical things that are going on in the story. This is possibly because my point-of-view character knows all those things quite well, and so it would be out of character for them to narrate about them too explicitly. Still, the result is undesirable. If everything is held close to the chest and revealed only subtly or at the end of the story, the reader has no certainty to stand on.

So I sort of have to decide which one of my unusual facts is the one to be revealed only at the climax of the story. The rest should be stated in a more up-front way, thus to do the work of world-building, scene-setting, and attention-grabbing.

As with the other rule, "one" is a simplistic way to put it. Sometimes "one" means "this handful of things that are all related." The main gist is, the reader has to be able to cling to something in order to make it to the end for the dramatic reveal. That is why not everything can be the dramatic reveal. Choose your dramatic reveal carefully, and put everything else in service to getting the reader there.

And now I am going to lose consciousness in 0.2 seconds, because I am that tired. Zonk