“As a writer one of your jobs is to bring news of the world to the world.”
Grace Paley

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

prompts from poughkeepsie for an all-night road trip
Wed 2014-09-24 23:25:42 (single post)
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I've been playing with a new source of writing prompts this week: "News from Poughkeepsie," as presented by Mur Lafferty. This is, or at least originated as, a series of writing prompts from the brain of Jared Axelrod. I suspect--though I haven't got a citation for this--that its title comes from Harlan Ellison's famous smart-ass answer to the perennial question, "Where do you get your ideas?" At one point I think Mur was reading one at the end of each episode of her I Should Be Writing podcast. In any case, I'm currently receiving them in her weekly email that you can get if you support ISBW on Patreon. Chuck a buck Mur's way each month and you can get her weekly email too! All while knowing that you're helping to keep the podcast's metaphorical lights on!

Anyway, I've been a supporter for two weeks now, so I've received two of these emails. This week I dug up the writing prompts and used them in my freewriting. Both of them, the one from this week and the one from last, had to do with your antagonist: exercises to help you get to know your story's villain as a three-dimensional character with agency and motives of their own. And I was stuck for a moment, because I don't know who the heck is "my villain." The last few stories I've been working on haven't had villains, not exactly.

Well, "Caroline's Wake" has Caroline's murderer; I guess he's an antagonist, of sorts. But, for one thing, I don't feel like he brings the true central conflict in the story. For another, that story is out in the slush now, so there's limited use in noodling over its antagonist's human moments.

OK, so, what am I working on now? The new story, the one with the feathers. The one that I still haven't come up with a good title for. It doesn't have an antagonist. What it has is a semi-random act of the supernatural and a handful of satellite characters affected by it. Those characters aren't pitted against villains or even banal antagonists. They just have the small day-to-day conflicts that we all do. It's rather like "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" in that way. Hell, it's almost written to the same formula, if "Sidewalks" can be said to have a formula.

In the end I gave up on trying to find a way to make the prompt work for any work in progress. I just made up a new character, decided she was a villain in a story I don't know yet, and let the writing prompt help me ease my way into that story. And that was fun. I had no idea where I was going, but I kept stumbling across signposts as I fumbled my way forward through the 25 minutes. It was E. L. Doctorow's "driving a car at night" style of writing, where "You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

That's the best kind of writing, when there's a surprise at the end of every sentence that tells you how to write the next sentence. It's what I love about first drafts.

activate the program and run behind the scenes
Wed 2014-08-06 23:04:35 (single post)
  • 6,779 wds. long

Got a good hour in on the story today, despite my Wednesday exploding with a certain percentage of leftover Tuesday. But in between boxing things up and talking to insurance agents, I did manage to check in with "Snowflakes." Sad thing is, I've gone back to the beginning again. It still doesn't feel like wasted effort--I'm smoothing out more lumps and seeding a bit more foreshadowing--but I'm so sick of not having finished!

My main difficulty with the ending is how to portray Ashley's emotional reaction to The Big Reveal. It's tricky. First she gets news to which the natural reaction should be shock and grief. A breath later, she gets a revelation that provokes righteous indignant anger. This is a complex moment which is hard to faithfully render. It's too easy to let one thing overwhelm the other. If the anger overwhelms the grief, she looks callous. But the grief and shock can't overwhelm the anger, either. That was a huge problem with the previous draft: She was pretty much robbed of her agency, both in the present and retroactively over the course of her entire life, and she was fine with this. That's not her. What's more, that's not any character I ever want to write--especially, for obviously reasons, when they're women.

I'm leaning towards a partial solution of having the anger not so much overwhelm the grief and shock as redirect them. But finding the words is tricky.

Another change I'm making is that, unlike in the previous draft, where Josh tells her, "I chose you" (Ew. No), in this draft he says, "I recognized you." Which will additionally help to keep readers from attributing too much of the story to Josh's choices, I hope. There was a lot of confusion expressed on this account in critiques of the previous draft.

Gah. One reason I keep this blog is, I like sharing peeks behind the scenes. But it's tricky with short stories. There's "a backstage pass" and then there's "total spoiler before it's even in print! Nice going, stupid." Novels run the same risk, I suppose, but they have bigger backstages. You've got more room to explore, examine the costumes and the props, without prematurely running into a dramatic reveal or important plot twist.

Speaking of novels and peeks behind the scenes, here's another of my Codex colleagues on Patreon: William Hertling is creating science fiction novels.

William Hertling is the author of the Singularity series, comprising Avogadro Corp., A.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall. He is currently at work on the fourth book in the series as well as an entirely separate stand-alone novel. He's using Patreon via the per-month model in order to raise funds towards the cost of producing a novel, like copyediting, cover design, layout, proof-reading, and also writing the darn thing.

I'm intrigued by the way Hertling fits the whole "backstage pass" idea into his pledge tiers rewards. The exclusive material offered as a thank-you to Patrons who pledge $1.50 a month (I was wrong--apparently pledges needn't be in whole dollar amounts) includes the occasional bonus unused scene, or bits of worldbuilding that never made it onto the page (I assume that's what "descriptions of future technology" means). That's really neat.

I would love to do something like that. But, again, it strikes me as easier to do with a larger work, be it a novel or a series of shorts in a shared world. When I'm working more persistently on Iron Wheels I could totally see myself creating bonus material out of all the thousands of words I spend talking to myself on the page about exactly how my Land of Faerie works, about other changeling/baby swaps and other jobs that Old Mack has been assigned over the centuries. But there's less potential for that when what I'm working on is a 6,000-word short about a summer solstice snowpocalypse. What little I can do in that arena, I already do right here at tiresome length, free for the world to read. See above. Still, it's something to think about.

Something else to think about: Should at least twenty Patrons pledge at the $10/month level, Hertling's gift to those Patrons will be a special bonus book, just for them, full of surprises. Maybe an anthology of short fiction, maybe a parallel work to the Singularity novels taking place in an alternate universe or featuring an alternate ending. "Whatever the final form," he writes, "it will be fun and unique, handcrafted for my biggest supporters as a thank you."

Now, when John and I talked about Patreon and its possibilities the other day, he put a lot of emphasis on using it to help create and deepen a connection between the creator and the supporters. "If, as an artist, all you're doing is selling a product," he said, "you're wasting your time. You should be building a relationship." This strikes me as exactly the sort of thing he was talking about. I'd love to be able to do something like that. Not, perhaps, to the scale of an entire book, considering how slow I am at putting out the ones I already want to write. But certainly something shorter might be possible. Flash fiction written to prompts of supporters' choosing, maybe. Again, stuff for me to think about.

I intend to keep highlighting Patreon pages this week as a sort of show-and-tell, sharing my discoveries as I explore and get excited about what's already being done. I hope you will visit their pages and consider supporting these authors. That would be cool. They're friends of mine, after all, so I want to see them do well. But, more importantly to y'all-out-there, they write some pretty amazing stuff that more people ought to read. I hope you'll take a look-see and then, if you like what you see, get your friends to take a look as well.

some positive uses for the Anvil of Guilt
Tue 2014-08-05 23:59:13 (single post)
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My goal for this week is to finish "The Impact of Snowflakes." Not necessarily finish-and-submit, but finish. Finish the new ending, for the love of little orange cheez-its! Stop circling in and just land this sorry lawn-mower of a plane!

And today I made absolutely no progress toward that goal. Today I was running errands both in person and on the telephone, most of them to do with the catastrophe-related restorations on our home that will start Monday the 11th. These errands stole most of my morning time, and, indirectly, by way of exhausting me utterly, most of my afternoon too. Essentially, the less said about weeding the garden, the better.

But I remain optimistic. Tomorrow is a whole new day. So are Thursday and Friday. With their help, I feel sure I'll get where I want to go.

Meanwhile, I am have been giving more thought to this Patreon-enabled short story subscription service I've been brainstorming. I've also been having a look around at what other authors are doing with their Patreon pages. I'd like to share a few of them with you this week.

Thus: Kellan Sparver is creating short stories and fiction.

Kellan Sparver is a colleague of mine whom I met via Codex, an online community of neo-pro genre writers. He's just launched his page recently. What he's doing with it highlights one of Patreon's patronage models, that of pledging a certain amount of money per creation. It works like this: You pledge, say, five dollars per story. Then, when he posts a story--for example, the SF short "Hitchhiker"--you're automatically charged for it at the end of the month. (Note: Patreon allows you to specify a maximum monthly amount--a budget, if you will--to protect you in case of sudden and expected prolificness on the part of the creators you're supporting. Details here, under "For Patrons.")

The pledge form is pre-filled with a suggested amount of $3 per story, but you are welcome to pledge as much or as little as you like, in, I think, whole dollar amounts. (Currently it looks like Sparver's Patrons are pledging an average of $5 per story.) Below that, Sparver defines a couple of "milestone goals" to give Patrons a bit of context. Should the total of all pledges reach $25 per story, he'll be earning an equivalent amount to what he would if he sold each piece to a "token" or "for the love" market. Should he reach $200 per story, that's like selling a 3500-word story for pro rates, as defined by SFWA as 6 cents per word.

Another example of per-creation pledges is the Patreon page of Clarkesworld Magazine. As an alternative to subscribing at a fixed rate, you can pledge your preferred amount per issue. Clarkesworld pledges in return to include extra stories in each issue depending on having reached certain milestone goals. Clarkesworld's page also defines several tiers of individual support that will earn Patrons rewards both tangible and intangible--access to downloadable electronic copies of the magazine, having print copies mailed to you, having your name included in the annual anthology's list of "Clarkesworld Citizens."

For me, the upside to the per-creation model is not tying myself to a production schedule. If something went terribly wrong for me one month, I wouldn't have the added stress of knowing that I was failing to give my supporters the stories they'd paid for. No story means no one gets charged. Simple. (Although John would probably say that's the wrong way to think about this. "Patreon isn't about selling a product," he told me the other day. "It's about giving people a way to support your art, and thanking them for that support.") But the upside is also a downside--it wouldn't hold me to a production schedule. Not that a production schedule is impossible on the per-creation model--again, see Clarkesworld. But I'm not sure I trust myself to stick to a schedule without hanging the Anvil of Guilt over my head.

Anyway, thoughts are still coming and going. These are some of them. There will be more thoughts tomorrow.

and i say this as a big fan of garlic
Mon 2014-06-30 23:23:38 (single post)

At the farm, I spent my first hour and some-odd there harvesting garlic scapes--the flowering stalk of the garlic bulb. I spent nearly the rest of the my working time there tying up bundles of garlic scapes and hanging them in the barn to dry so that they might eventually be turned into garlic powder. And when we took a break for lunch, we ate eggs scrambled with garlic flowers.

This sort of thing has an effect. I have showered and scrubbed virtuously, but the smell of garlic is still following me around.

I mean, I like the smell of garlic as much as the next garlic-loving person. But the smell of garlic itself is one thing; the smell of a person who smells of garlic is an entire 'nother kettle of aromatherapy.

Today was not a good day to be around me, is what I'm saying. Thankfully, I wasn't around anyone else post-farm other than my husband, and he is very tolerant of a smelly wife. As you can see:

Minutes after the BCB Bombshells vs. South Side Derby Dames bout ends, Fleur de Beast hug-tackles Worldnamer on the bleachers.

Worldnamer: "Good job, sweetie! Congrats! Er... you kinda smell."

Fleur: "I know! I smell like derby! Isn't it glorious?"

Worldnamer: "It's... strong!"

OK. But he didn't seem to mind my sitting behind him for pretty much the entirety of the BCB All Stars vs. DRD Bruising Altitude bout.

In other news, I've been slowly making my way through various Hugo-nominated works so as to cast my ballot. And I'll be honest with you: I don't always finish all the works in the category before I cast my ballot. Like slush readers and bookstore customers, I have a tendency to form an opinion before I read the whole thing, and sometimes that opinion is a form of "I've seen enough. Next?"

This is a subject that's been a titch contentious this season. I'm not going into the whole thing here (it would take too long, and besides, others have gotten there first); I'm just going to point vaguely at the part of the kerfluffle where a small contingent of bigots and bigot-enablers have been challenging "lefties" to honestly evaluate each nominated piece "on its own merits" rather than on assumptions about the authors' politics. Then I'm going to point at what they're holding behind their backs, which is the slate of works they campaigned for getting nominated purely based on those authors' politics.

Which is the long way of saying that, by declining to abstain from a ballot just because I haven't read each work start to finish, I am undoubtedly Doing Hugo Voting Wrong by some people's lights. And if it means enough to them to take up a significant portion of their brain with disapproving of me (and others) for it, that's cool. It's no more my business how they use their brains than it's their business how I use my vote. But I'm not going to change how I use my vote in response to how they use their brains, so.

That said: Here are some things that can make a work a work, shall we say, smell of garlic to my nose long before I've reached the end of the piece.

  • Dialect so thick as to transform Character into Caricature, especially a racist and classist caricature.
  • Persistently maintaining that thickly-spread stereotype of a dialect despite logical reasons not to, i.e. having a character painfully sound out the words on a page yet flawlessly transliterate those words into dialect as they go.
  • Distracting me from the story by committing glaring factual error in the narration.
  • Failing, after five chapters, and despite ample opportunity, to introduce any female characters who aren't A. objects of male desire, or B. secretaries.

These are just a few examples taken from what I've read so far. There will be more. There have already been more. These are just the ones that jump immediately to mind.

Lastly, not so much in the "smelling of garlic" as in the "just not getting my vote" category: In-jokes, cute Tuckerizations, scatological humor, and other flavors of funny that destroy my sense of wow. There were laugh-out-loud moments in works that I am voting at the top of my preferential ballot, but they were more ilke human-to-human humor, if that makes any sense. A self-deprecating turn of narrative, dialogue that's heart-warming as well as clever, absurd situations for the characters to navigate, wry observations of human foible that I can relate to--I don't know. Both humor and wow are very subjective senses. I'm sorry. It's not you, it's me.

I suspect I shall continue Doing Hugos Wrong for the foreseeable future, or at least for the better part of the next month. But I shall only smell of garlic until my next shower. I hope.

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

select all, copy, paste, send
Fri 2014-06-20 23:45:13 (single post)
  • 6,270 wds. long

So, this story. This story that I began trying to write seriously since at least midway through 2011. This story that began with a dream from some undocumented time long before that, at least as early as May 2004. (At least, that's the date on the story's oldest draft.) This story that has been through multiple false starts and aborted attempts over the years to achieve a publishable revision of that original dream-scribble. This Gods-damned story.

It's finally finished.

That is, a respectable draft of sufficient quality to put before other readers' eyes--in this case, a small handful of friends who have been kind enough to volunteer to read it--is finished and has been sent off for their critique.

I will probably have another "Oh my Gods it's finally done!" moment when I finish the (probably post-critique) draft and submit the story to a market, mind you. (And that will probably be next week.) But just getting it to this point is huge. Once a story reaches the critique-ready stage, anything is possible.

(Just shut up about all the stories that have been through one or more critiques and still haven't reached the submittable stage. I'm getting to those, OK?)

So, huzzah and hallelujah! Io evohe and stuff! And also thunk. (That's the sound of me falling over in triumphant exhaustion. But you knew that.)

See you after the weekend.

It's kind of ridiculous how happy this sign makes me.
moving to the south side
Thu 2014-05-29 14:38:30 (single post)

As I have mentioned, I am a vehement introvert with a distressing inability to tune irritations out. Thus the photo included here is probably the happiest thing I have seen all day.

Which is actually saying quite a lot. Today, John and I are spending our work day at Impact Hub: Boulder, and we've seen a lot to be happy about. We'd been meaning to drop in for some time now, as part of our long-term quest to try all the different co-working environments in the Boulder area. Today turned out to be that day.

Things I am enjoying about the space include: Unlimited free access to tea, coffee and espresso. Loose-leaf tea infusers. A faucet dispensing near-boiling water. Plenty of electrical outlets within reach of any desk, table, or countertop. No standing on chairs required. Lots of natural light despite being below ground level. A handful of "phone booths" where one can take phone calls or Skype sessions. (John's in there attending a tele-meeting for work as I write this.) And just about everything on the South Side, including the fact that it exists. The sign in the included photo says,

This space is for individuals who want to work in a quiet environment.

We encourage conversations and collaborative work to be held on our North Side to respect those who are working quietly in this space.

Much as I love the community at Fuse, I am always conscious there of the absence of any space designated "quiet," any etiquette resembling "respect those who are working quietly." There is a sense that, by virtue of my choosing to work there, I am signaling my willingness to be saturated in community interactions all day long. Part of it is pragmatic: there is currently too little open working space at the Riverside to be divided into a collaboration zone and a quiet zone. But part of it is simply the clear preference of the community for a working space that's always in Mode: Social OK, Go Go Go!

It's not that there are signs at Fuse saying "Now entering EXTROVERT ZONE! You have been warned!" The problem is, there's no particular etiquette governing the shared working space at all. There is no deliberate attempt to set the tone. Thus the tone winds up being set by the loudest voices. The people who are the most accommodating find themselves obliged to accommodate those who fail to accommodate others. And if one person asks another person to modify their behavior in any way, the asker may well be seen as having violated the community standard for not holding each other to community standards... which standard is clearly expressed by the deliberate lack of explicit community standards.

That's what's so refreshing about Impact Hub (and Boulder Digital Arts, come to think of it). There is a social expectation concerning noise versus quiet, and where each goes, and that expectation is spelled out in no uncertain terms. A community member asking another for quiet--"Oh, hey, maybe we should take this conversation around to the North Side"--isn't being some thin-skinned special snowflake trying to impose their expectations on others; they're just reminding each other of the rules of engagement that we've all agreed to.

Well, that's the theory, anyway.

I know that my yardstick for evaluating a co-working space is somewhat skewed from that of others. I'm not primarily here for networking, collaboration, or community events. I'm here mainly so I can spend my work day in an office environment that's quiet but not entirely isolated. I came to drink tea and to write. And while it's nice to be able to raise my head, look around, and connect with others, I want to do that on my own terms. I want to decide when to engage and, more criticically, when to disengage. It's a relief to find a co-working environment that appears likely to enable that.

I'll probably purchase a "Connect" membership for June. That's $25/month in order to get half-off the per-day drop-in rate. Meanwhile, we'll keep dropping in at Fuse now and again as well, mostly on those days when we can afford to be pleasantly distracted from our work. Figuring out which days those are requires my becoming more consciously aware of where I am on my personal "Extrovert-Introvert-Total Misanthrope" scale on a day-to-day basis. Which seems like something I generally need to do anyway, so, OK.

a pot of tea please and the extinctinction of all other life forms
Tue 2014-05-06 23:54:34 (single post)
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Today I rediscovered Ku Cha as a place to get writing done. Ku Cha bills itself as a traditional Chinese tea house. While I have never set foot in a tea house in China and cannot therefore verify this claim, I'm reasonably convinced. They have oodles of teas in all the colors teas can be. Then they flavor some of them with stuff, and there are even more colors. And scents. And flavors.

Generally I go there for the greens, oolongs and pu-erhs. I go there to buy them by the ounce, or I go there to enjoy multiple steepings of them in Ku Cha's elegant, quiet, and entirely wi-fi-less tea room where I can write the afternoon away without interruption or distraction.

As y'all know, I've been a member of Fuse Coworking for some time now, and a full-time all-hours-access member since late October. I love the community, and I'm excited about what they are doing with the historic Riverside building. But I find I don't actually work there more than once or twice a week, so it's not really economical for me to carry a full-time membership--especially considering that, if all goes well, we'll be looking at paying double our current mortgage payment each month. Thus, as of May first I've demoted myself from full-time member to pay-as-you-go drop-in.

There are several reasons I haven't been working there more often. Some days I'm bouncing between writing work and household tasks all day, so I need to stay home. Some days I'm not able to get my work started on time, whether because certain drop-dead tasks claimed my attention or because I just slept late; on those days I don't want to delay things even further with transit, parking, and "settling in." If I go by car, parking is expensive. If I go by bike or bus, I'd better count on good weather--and extra time in transit. And then there's Wednesday and Thursday, when I have roller derby in the evenings and volunteer reading in the mornings. Sometimes going to the coworking office means less time actually working.

And then there's the painful reason I don't really know how to talk about with anyone, or even whether I should: I can't always get work done there at all.

It's sad! I feel like a traitor even admitting it. But coworking communities each have their own "flavor," their own styles of interactions, their own particular atmospheres... and the Fuse atmosphere is too often too noisy for me. Not always! Not every minute of the day. But any minute of the day could be a problem. Sure, there are specific times designated as "social hours," and I don't expect peace and quiet during those. I join in on the beer and chit-chat happily. But I'd have thought that, this being a co-working office, the default would be quiet time. Turns out, it just ain't so. There is no protected quiet time or quiet space. Rather, the atmosphere is one of jocular camaraderie, where everyone's encouraged to give voice to whatever's on their mind, at any time, in any corner of the Commons or the cafe, at any volume that feels natural. Or, at least, so it has seemed to me.

It is an exceedingly extroverted atmosphere. And I am a vehement introvert with the occasional capacity for out-and-out misanthropy. Basically, we're talking about a personality clash. Nobody's fault! No one's to blame! It's just an unfortunate thing that happens.

For some people, the way Fuse works is probably ideal for them. Most people I see there seem to enjoy it. They seem to thrive where there's always someone nearby to bounce an idea off of or just to strike up small chat with, and where their impulses aren't constrained by "quiet time" rules. But me, though--oh, how I fervently, desperately wish for more formal constraint! Something along the lines of "People are working hard all around you, so please take your phone calls and conversations outside where you won't disrupt them." But for the kind of co-worker for whom Fuse is absolutely perfect, that would no doubt be stifling.

I respect that. And that's why I haven't really said much about it--I recognize that Fuse's atmosphere has evolved out of deliberate choices in its community. And if at any moment I might be rendered absolutely incapable of writing, all my verbal circuits completely overwhelmed by a loud conversation less than ten feet away, it's not because anyone's doing anything wrong. It's just that my needs are a mismatch for the nature of the space.

So I'm now a drop-in member, paying by the day instead of by the month. That means I can reserve Fuse for those days when my workload isn't incompatible with an unpredictably raucous atmosphere, or for when they have special community events I wouldn't mind interrupting my work for. And that means I'll be a much happier person to be around when I am there, so I won't be a drag on the community. Hooray for not being a drag on the community!

Today was the kind of day when I knew I'd need quiet. But at the same time, I wanted to get out of the house. For the first time in several months, I had no disincentive against going somewhere other than Fuse to work.

The reasoning behind the disincentive goes like this: "Well, I could go to the tea house, I could go to a cafe. But then I'd be spending extra money there only to waste the money I already paid for a full membership at Fuse."

Today's reasoning went instead like this: "I need to work on three different short stories, one of which is in heavy revision mode. If I go to Fuse, and a spontaneous karaoke party breaks out in the Commons, I will not get anything done and that will make me unhappy. Instead, I could go to Ku Cha, where there's an aggressive 'no cell phones or loud conversations' policy in the tea room. Also a peaceful fountain, like I used to enjoy when Tea Spot was open. (Ah, Tea Spot.) Ooh! And I won't need to bring my own tea ware to keep myself in quality tea all day long. And I'm biking; carrying my tea ware around on my bike is awkward. That settles it! Ku Cha today, Fuse on Friday. And I'll make sure I have things to do Friday that can get done during spontaneous karaoke parties. Win-win!"

My reasoning is wordy like that.

The tea was Bi Luo Chun. Ku Cha was featuring it at the free tasting station. I had some and liked it well enough to want more. I spent about two hours there. I spent a little time freewriting on "Caroline's Wake" and on the prompt for Shock Totem's flash fiction contest. Then I threw myself against the mud wall that is the "Impact of Snowflakes" rewrite. Mud walls, unlike brick walls, do move, but it takes a ridiculous amount of effort to budge them even an inch. But that's all right; I was able to make that effort, sipping my tea and listening to the fountain.

And by the time the noisy pair of college dudes came in, laughing, bouncing on the cushions, and striking sudden poses, well, I was mostly done by then anyway.

Turns out, no place that has other people in it is perfect. Who'd have thought?

everybody gets presents
Wed 2014-04-23 23:10:02 (single post)

I've been saying "I'm 38" pretty much since the turn of the year--not, "I'll be 38 this April," because that sounds like trying to draw attention to when my birthday is and then expecting people to remember it, which I'm not; and not "I'm 38 and three-quarters" because that sounds like something little kids do when they want to sound older than they are and still get credit for being scrupulously accurate, which I'm not; but just, "Meh, I'm 38." Or "I'm about 38." Or even "I'm almost 40," which is kind of like the little-kid-trying-to-sound-older trick, but it's more like what a grown-up with a touch of impostor syndrome and too much baby-face does to try to get taken seriously by the 40-something set.

But today I am actually 38. At 4:15 a.m. Central Standard Time, however that translates to timekeeping in the United States 38 years later, I was exactly 38. Huzzah for completing another lap around the sun!

Since 2007, April 23 has also been celebrated amongst us online writer types as International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day. In honor of this, I humbly link you to several early, early online publications of mine--really early, like, "I'm not sure I actually want to try to get this reprinted" early--whose original homes have gone the way of late-90s websites and remain with us today by the grace of the Wayback Machine (in two cases) and of someone who decided to mirror the entirety of the old Geocities website community (in the third).

"Deadline Performance" (the ink blotter, ed. Chris Donner, 1999)
No, that's the right page. It's after Claudia Carver's piece, "Is It Writing Yet?" Which you should also read.

"Twice Told Conspiracy Theories, or 'Look at the cute little kitty!'" (The Raven Chronicles, July 1997)
Errata: Cats generally only have 18 claws, not twenty. I hadn't lived with one yet, so I'd never had occasion to count their toes. Also, the sentence about dandruff lost a clause and a half but I'm not sure what it originally said. My own file is in WP51 format and I haven't enabled this computer's copy of MS Word to translate it yet, or I'd check.

"A Mirror's Lies, A Moment's Rainbows" (The Raven Chronicles, Spring 1995, print edition)

Tonight being my birthday, John and I went out to celebrate at the Melting Pot in Louisville (that's "Lewis-ville, Colorado" not "Louie-ville, Kentucky"). We had a fantastic bottle of wine and a decadent four-course meal, three courses of which involved dipping things into delicious, delicious molten lava. John's favorite lava is chocolate-flavored. I'm partial to cheese lava, myself, although I think my favorite is filet mignon cooked in that spiced and seasoned lava they call "court bouillon."

While we were enjoying this, a mother and very small son duo gently interrupted our meal, conversation, and game of Ticket To Ride (the card game is compact and can be played almost anywhere) in order to give us a copy of Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters. This is a book that sounds right up my alley. From its back-cover blurb to its choice of front-matter (the paragraph from Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales that ends, "Would you like anything to read?"), it sounds like it might, alongside books such as Jo Walton's Among Others and Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, stand as a novel-length praise song to books and the love of books. I look forward to finding out for sure by reading it. Ravenously. Possibly without sleeping.

So I got a birthday present from a complete stranger. Thus was I reminded that April 23 is also World Book Night in the U.S..

April 23 is truly an auspicious day for a writer to be born on! Obviously. I mean, it worked for Shakespeare...

derby gets into everything
Tue 2014-02-11 21:53:30 (single post)

The week is not off to a great start, writing-wise. I came down with yet another cold this weekend, which peaked Monday morning. Since Monday evening I've been in non-stop go-mode about non-writer things.

As I still intend to submit stories for two deadlines at the end of this week, I predict a flurry of frantic revision activity starting... in about eight hours or so.

Would you like to hear about some of the other things I did? Would you? I bet you would. You will note a certain theme throughout much of the list.

Received a much-needed massage. I've been sort of aware for a while now that I haven't been able to truly get comfortable and relaxed at bedtime; the right shoulder is just chronically tense. I call it "mousing crud" because it's undoubtedly due to spending most of my waking non-derby hours at the computer. But when I took a fairly moderate shoulder-check to that area and that shoulder practically yelped, I figured it was time I took things seriously.

And then, last week, a south-Denver writing friend of mine popped up on my Facebook, announcing a moving sale... because she's downsizing and moving house the better to facilitate her massage business. Which she happens to bring up to Boulder one day a week. WELL THEN.

I am here to tell you that Autumn is totally a wizard. With psychic hands. It was a glorious hour, I got a glorious night's sleep, and I woke up in less discomfort than I had in quite some time. Also, it was fantastic catching up on things--I hadn't seen her since the writing retreat she hosted in 2012.

Anyway, if you would like to treat your muscles to a similarly glorious healing treatment, this is her website and this is where she is on Mondays.

Led a Phase 1 derby practice. Used to be, BCB had a training committee whose members led all the Phase 1 and Phase 2 practices. That became untenable really quickly, especially as that committee's membership decreased. Now, every A and B team member takes a monthly turn leading a Phase 1 or 2 practice instead, and each practice is led by one member from each team.

Which made me really nervous when my turn came around that first time. I mean, what the heck do I know? I can't count the number of times I've felt like the stupidest skater on the track. My skills are improving all the time, but they're still lacking in all sorts of key ways. What if I mess up, and a bunch of skaters get into bad habits and then fail assessments, and it's my fault? What if they just don't like me and think I'm a naggy boring whiny shouty stupid person?

As it turns out, there's nothing like teaching a subject to make you realize you know more than you thought you knew. I found out that when obliged to explain a skill, I got to know that skill and its component movements that much better, which not only allowed me to talk about it more usefully but also to practice it more effectively myself. As for messing up... at one practice per month, there's only so much damage an individual trainer can realistically do. Especially when she's got another trainer to catch her mistakes and offer a different perspective.

(A surprising amount of what I've learned from roller derby can be summed up as, "Relax. You're part of a team. You don't have to do anything alone.")

And all the skaters have been uniformly gracious, patient with my uncertainties, eager to do the drills and improve their skills, and--which will probably never cease to surprise me--they always seem happy I'm there. So by the time practice is over, I'm happy that I was there too.

So that was Monday night.

Learned a new NSO role: Lineup Tracking! Instead of their regular practice, tonight our A team hosted a neighboring league in an unofficial scrimmage. I came to watch, but because there were non-skating official roles needing to be filled, I wound up NSOing.

So... lineup tracking. OK. This involves writing down the numbers of all five skaters who participate in each jam on a single team, every jam, and whether any of them get penalties, and, if so, when they went to the penalty box and when they returned to the track in terms of which pass the other team's jammer was on at the time. This is a lot to keep track of, especially when you switch from tracking your team's lineups in the first period to tracking the other team's lineups in the second period.

And just when you think you've got the hang of it, the team you're tracking performs a star pass. Of course.

I am super grateful to the visiting NSO who did lineup tracking opposite me. She knew what she was doing, and she kept up a steady stream of communication so that anything I missed with my own eyes I was able to catch up on by hearing her point it out. Thanks to her, I didn't make a royal mess of things, and now I'm a lot more confident in my ability to perform the role.

Made conversation hearts for Valentine's Day! Thursday we're hosting a themed scrimmage for V-Day. There will be a bake sale. I had this recipe I wanted to try out. It involved a bunch of grocery shopping. It involved getting powdered sugar in unexpected places. It resulted in 149 heart-shaped candies, which involves all the baking sheets in the house plus a dinner plate to dry them on. Once they're dry, it will involve using my brand new set of food dye felt tip pens--how cool is that? Felt tip pens for writing on food with, eeeeee!--to write fun derby-themed mottos on them. You know: "Hit Me Harder", "Be My O," "Derby Kisses," and, speaking truth to every skater's gear bag eventually, "You Stink." Stuff like that.

I'm guessing that 149 candies is a bit much for Thursday night. Might have to save some for a design-your-own activity at a special someone's birthday gathering this weekend. (Valentine's Day is also John's birthday. He was not involved in the candy making, but he has indicated interest in the eventual candy eating. No, he knows these candies are not vegetarian. Your point?)

OK, so, now I get to sleep. And tomorrow maybe I'll get somewhere on the short stories.

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