“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live.... I'd type a little faster.”
Isaac Asimov

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

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.

Admittedly, it's hard to see the epoxy on the teapot handle in this shot, much less the slight gold tinge to it.
but then they make you do it all over again
Mon 2014-02-03 23:59:21 (single post)

Today was a raging success. Behold:

Finished, had critiqued, revised, and submitted my 243-word entry to String-of-10. My friend and colleague Julie was also entering the contest, and suggested we exchange critiques. We spent some time on the phone tonight helping each other revise, and then we also navigated Flash Fiction Chronicles's Submittable interface together. "What do you suppose they want in that text field?" "I don't know, but my best guess is..." "Oh, OK, that sounds plausible."

We're a team!

Also researched, finished, proofed and submitted my first Demand Media Studios article since November. I have this stupid mental block about working for DMS. Logically, I know that I should be milking the heck out of this gig. I somehow got approved to write articles for LIVESTRONG despite my absolute lack of any fitness or nutrition background at the time--which is weird, considering I have a friend who makes his living as, among other things, a fitness coach, but his application got rejected. WTF, DMS?!--so now I get to write minimally researched 500-word articles for $30 each. This is easy money. I should take better advantage of it.

But somehow my soul sort of rolls over and dies when it contemplates working on an article. Even a softball topic (for me) like "The Crossover Technique on Roller Skates" puts me in a mindless procrastination trance for a week.

Well, the dang thing was due today, so finally around 8:00 p.m. I knuckled into it. I'd already pulled up some useful Derbylife articles and a fantastic tutorial video from Naomi Grigg (a.k.a. The Neutrino, rostered with the Rat City Rollergirls team "Sockit Wrenches") the week before, so really I just had to do exactly what I did last time I led Phase 1 training: Explain the crossover.

I submitted the article towards the end of the 10:00 hour. 11:30, I was perplexed that it wasn't showing on my Work Desk under "recently submitted." This turned out to be because it had already been accepted. That's got to be the shortest amount of time an article of mine ever spent on an editor's desk at DMS. (The editor left very nice comments for me, too.)

Today also featured "finally got around to it" accomplishments enabled in part by McGuckin Hardware. The tube of E6000 epoxy restored the handle to the lovely little Japanese teapot that Avedan gave me some years back. The tip of a bamboo skewer dipped into a tube of gold acrylic paint added just the lightest touch of color to the job, kintsugi style. (Very, very light. These are not actually the right materials for kintsugi, and I didn't want to risk diluting the epoxy too much.) The Elmer's Glue-All finally got me to complete a long-planned project of whimsy and childhood nostalgia: converting an old miniature dry-erase board into a black felt storyboard. I also replaced the roll of gold duct tape that needs to live in my skate bag.

Lastly, I finally processed about a half-inch of the Pile Of Papers That Need Dealing With. Those things that required more than filing--bills to pay and stuff like that--got put in my brand-new wall-mounted inbox for dealing with on the morrow. My brand-new wall-mounted inbox is, very simply, a bit of folded and taped cardboard that I impaled on some of the nails coming through the naked wall in the office.

I'm just resourceful like that.

Thus, today was awesome. And now today is over. Tomorrow looms. It seems dreadfully unfair not to get a little time off between making today awesome and being expected to make tomorrow awesome. I shall have to file a bug report about that.

back in the slush with you
Tue 2014-01-28 22:50:31 (single post)

Dear universe: My complaints about not having submitted anything last week were not, I repeat, not meant as a request that a manuscript I had out in slush get rejected so that I could submit it again. Sheesh! Work with me here, OK?

So "Blackbird" will not be in C.C. Finlay's guest-edited issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Like all non-acceptance outcomes, this is sad. I sigh a wistful sigh. (Wait for it... *sigh* ...OK.)

However! The rejection letter was personal (like almost all rejection letters for this particular issue of F&SF, do not expect this with other issues of F&SF), and described the story in glowing terms. Which means an editor of renown has had the opportunity to link my name to a pleasant prose-reading experience. This is a thing, isn't it? This is definitely a thing. Always look on the bright side.

The problem with this story is, the protagonist is a writer. The plot involves writing. That's kind of not a good thing for commercial viability. The plot also involves a demon, and quite possibly the End Of The World (again), but these elements simply don't outweigh the writing element, it would seem. I've had two rejection letters now that say, basically, "Writers will dig it, but non-writers will not, and among our readership non-writers outnumber the writers like woah." The other rejection letters didn't say that, but since they also didn't say much beyond some form of "did not suit our needs at this time," I can't be sure they weren't thinking it.

Damn it, I am not going to rewrite this story to be about a sculptor who can't let the clay dry or the demon gets out. Besides, that trick wouldn't fool anyone. "Isn't this just writing in disguise?" Yes. That's exactly what it would be.

I have begun to feel foolish for continuing to shop this story around.

After that first rejection that mentioned the problem of writers writing about writing, I got in a conversation with other writers. One of 'em said to me, "So sell it to a literary journal. They love that kind of thing." I lamented, "But literary journals will insist that the demon is merely metaphorical!" And yet, and yet... they had a point.

Today, while logging the rejection at The Submission Grinder (currently in BETA)*, I remembered that conversation. And so, after clicking the handy and benevolent "Find a new home for this story," which kindly and effortlessly produces a market search form pre-filled with your story's details, I tweaked the menus to look for literary/mainstream markets.

Scanning the results, I noticed Glimmer Train.

Glimmer Train? But don't they change reading fees?

Yes. Except for three non-contiguous month-long fee-free submission periods per year. One of which happens to be January.

Well, hell. I dug up my old password to their online submission system (which, it turns out, I last utilized to submit them a story ten years ago), logged in, and shipped "Blackbird" right back out.

Never let a manuscript sleep over, so they say. Well, I didn't. And there you go.

*Sort of a Duotrope replacement for those who don't want to pay for a subscription to Duotrope, and who think Duotrope could have been more useful than it was when it was free. Designed by a web programmer who's a writer, and who's willing and eager to bring writers' dreams of a Duotrope that's more useful than Duotrope to life.(back)

your 'hedonist' quality has increased, delicious friend
Mon 2014-01-27 23:20:43 (single post)

Yesterday the sky was blue and the sun was warm when I arrived at the Bomb Shelter for roller derby practice. But I could smell that "mean wind from Greeley" carrying the odor of cattle down into Boulder County, and I thought, Really? Snow again? Do we have to?

Yes. We have to. Three hours later, an overcast was hurrying out from the horizon. This morning, everything was white.

"John," says I, "I am not at all enthusiastic about leaving the house."

"Well, we don't have to hurry," says he, "but I still want to go to Fuse like we planned."

"OK," says I, and I get ready to go.

This is one of the many ways John is a good influence on me, and also why co-working spaces are awesome. If I had stayed home, guaranteed this would not have been a writing day. This would have been a sleep-all-day day. The sight of snowfall goes in at the eyeballs and down into the bones, producing a sluggishness and a deep sleepiness. Hibernating creatures are smart creatures. I want to be just like them.

But instead, because John insisted, we went to Fuse. There are no beds to go back to at Fuse. There's just a roomful of people Getting Work Done. I actually want to be just like them.

Also, the Commons work area downstairs has no windows, so I don't have to constantly fight off the effect of the sight of snow.

Fuse has gotten more exciting lately with the launch of the cafe. The cafe is simply called "Food at the Riverside," and its menu is full of elegant, tasty things, some simple and some very fancy indeed. Full-time Fuse members get a 15% discount and can run a weekly tab, which is dangerously convenient. But not as dangerous as it could be; the gourmet menu is surprisingly inexpensive.

For example, there's Lobster Benedict. Lobster freakin' Benedict. One perfectly poached egg atop an english muffin of feed-the-farmer thickness, spinach and sun dried tomato laid on thick, hollandaise sauce smothering the lot, and finally, sticking up like a leaning tower of mouthwatering delectability, a lengthwise half of lobster tail with its half of the tail fin on. Also a fruit cup on the side. This meal costs a whopping $6 before member discount, tax, and tip.

I've said before that the future vision of Fuse--that is, once all the things they have planned for the Riverside come to fruition--sounds like a modern-day egalitarian upgrade to the Victorian concept of the gentleman's club. I've said it, but now I'm starting to experience it. Something about being hailed by name by diners and staff alike before we're done stamping the snow off our shoes (it's like a scene out of Cheers), and sitting down to a spot of breakfast (half a lobster tail on top of my egg benedict, I cannot get over that) before heading downstairs to work on my short story in progress. Over endless cups of tea. Punctuated by occasional conversations, brainstorming, networking, and show-and-tell.

It's very pleasant. It's also great motivation to write rather than sleep the day away.

Tomorrow's motivation is unfortunately destined to be less pleasant. I have to take the car in--the 17-year-old car we're trying to keep on the road as long as possible because they don't make it anymore and we like it--to find out where our radiator coolant fluid is leaking from and make it stop. But while the car's in the garage I intend to hang out at Pekoe with my morning's work and a pot of tea. So that'll be nice.

getting ready, taking aim
Thu 2014-01-23 23:55:10 (single post)
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I've put "It's For You" aside for the moment and have turned to another story in the infinite queue of Stories Requiring Rewrites. It's not that I'm trying to avoid ever actually finishing something (although I know it does look that way). It's that I suddenly realized that I only have about three more weeks to attempt to destroy science fiction, and "It's For You" is not science fiction.

So I thought to myself, "Didn't I recently write a short-short that juxtaposes space travel and relativity with the slow erosion on relationships by time and divergent life trajectories?" OK, no, that's not quite true. The thought was more like, "Hey, what about that flash piece that had to use three of a given list of words, 'redshift' and 'twin' being two of them?"

Which led to me pulling up the my 2012 Weekend Warrior submissions and worksheets. Weekend Warrior is an annual flash fiction contest they hold over in the Codex forums (link goes to public front page; forums are member-only). For the first five weekends in the year, give or take a holiday delay, there's a handful of prompts posted on Friday and a deadline on Sunday by which you submit a 750-word (maximum) story based on one of those prompts. Stories are posted anonymously, everyone comments on each other's stories anonymously and rates them on a scale of 1 to 10, and based on these ratings winners are declared at the end of the five weeks.

The story I'm thinking of was what I submitted during week 1. Fellow Codexians may or may not remember it under the title "Other Theories of Relativity." I copied it and all the comments it received to a new Scrivener project--and immediately despaired because it's a piece of aimless, nebulous, meandering woo. It's poetic, and some commenters declared it beautiful, but it's a piece that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. My job will be to tease that out and make something stronger out of that original attempt. (And also not make it look derivative of the movie Gravity, damn it, which it predates by more than a year but that alone will not be sufficient to save me.)

Meanwhile, my yWriter project containing that story also contains my contest submissions for weeks 2 through 5, and also the noodling I did on the prompts I ultimately did not use. ("It's For You" actually sprang from an unused Week 1 prompt, come to think of it.) If I'm diligent enough about the short story portion of my daily work routine, this little treasure trove could keep me feeding slush piles for the rest of the year. Or at least through Midsummer.

magic realism and me
Wed 2014-01-15 23:03:36 (single post)
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One of the random quotes that cycles at the top of this blog is from Jo Walton. It's about the dragons in her genius novel Tooth and Claw. I've been thinking about it today.

The snippet of the quote here is far too pared down to do justice to the original, though. Let me give you the full context.

It's a bit of conversation that went on in the comments following Patrick Nielsen Hayden's post from August of 2005, "Story for beginners." In it, he muses over a review of Kelly Link's fiction, in which the reviewer, who seems benignly confused about it, wonders whether the zombies are "supposed to be a metaphor", and a blazing-hot response to that review in which the blogger protests that they damn well aren't, at least not exclusively; no, they are real damn zombies and they will eat you.

That's not perhaps the best summary, but it'll tide you over if, say, you lose internet connection and need to restart your router while waiting for the above link to load. (You did click it, right? No? WELL DO SO FORTHWITH.)

As is generally the case over at Making Light, conversation ensured. Says one commenter,

I got into a rather heated argument a few months back with someone who was insisting that Tooth and Claw was good because "it isn't really about dragons." I said that it was too really about dragons, and that it would have been a much worse novel if it had not been really about dragons. "But I mean, really about dragons," said the other person. And I said yes, really about dragons. It didn't matter how many kinds of typographical emphasis she attempted to vocalize: Tooth and Claw is about dragons.

It also does other things, but if every little thing in it was a metaphor for man's inhumanity to radishes or some damn thing, it would suck.

Which is wisdom. Them what has ears, let them hear dat.

As is also often the case at Making Light, the author of Tooth and Claw was there to testify,

If they weren't solidly real dragons with parsons who have the right to eat the eyes of the dead it wouldn't have been worth doing.

This is coming to mind now because two very similar exchanges happened to me today.

  1. In a conversation online in a private forum (thus I will paraphrase, not link-and-quote) concerning the gap, difference, and overlap between science fiction and fantasy, one person mentioned preferring science fiction to fantasy because of an instinctive, involuntary need for rational explanations, or at least attempts thereto. But they fare better with magic realism than with straight-up fantasy, because their lit-crit background tells them they don't have to believe in the magic stuff; it's all just a metaphor.
  2. In compiling the critiques of "It's For You," I was reminded how many readers of the most recent two drafts reported not being 100% sure whether the narrator wasn't dreaming the whole fantastical thing, maybe the next-door neighbor who disappears into the painting like Mary Poppins into Burt's sidewalk art was never real to begin with... but that's OK, because they're enjoying the story as either magic realism or surrealism, where this sort of ambiguity is acceptable.

I should just like to take a moment and say a few words on behalf of fantasy everywhere, and also my inner child, and also my inner witch. And as I do so, please bear in mind that I mean no ill-will nor begrudgement to anyone referenced above; nevertheless, I'm a-gonna get shouty.

*deep breath*


pant pant pant wheeze stomp stomp


Also, ten-year-old me wants you to know that there really, truly, actually is a heart beating under the floorboards. BECAUSE POE SAID SO.

And the dragons are solidly real dragons. And the zombies are really going to eat you.

This is how I relate to fantastic fiction of all stripes. I love both science fiction and fantasy, and I am as willing to take the author's word when they say "The narrator turned into a salamander" as when they say "This starship goes faster than the speed of light thanks to wormholes and genetically-designed pilots." It is not in me, no more now than it was when I first read "The Tell-Tale Heart," to doubt the veracity of the narrator's report.

I mean, if that's what the author wants me to think, I may get there eventually, if the author drops enough hints. But I don't go there first. The place I go first is, "I'm trusting you to take me for a ride. The wilder, the better."

This is also how I relate to my own fiction. I can't dictate your experience of it, now. If you prefer to think that Beth in "It's For You" never actually wakes up throughout the course of the story, or that the narrator of "Right Door, Wrong Time" is lying to the little kid about whether he can open a portal to another world, that is your innate right and I can't take that away from you. You may well read fantasy and think to yourself, "Well, that can't happen, so it must be that the narrator is mad, hallucinating, dreaming, or lying. Or maybe the whole thing's a metaphor."

But that is not my logic. My logic is WHEEEEE FANTASY WEIRD SHIT LET'S DO THIS!

Mainly I'm not very much interested in writing stories about sadly delusional people who think they can fly and are destined for a tragically hard landing. I live in that world already. (Or so I'm told. I'm not convinced, but it's politic to play along.) If I write about a person jumping out the window because she thinks she can fly, she's damn well going to soar.

I write fantastic fiction because I want this wide weird world we live in to be even weirder. On the page, I have the power to make it so.

So, my readers, my friends, my family, my loves, I promise you this and I tell you true:

When I write the weird shit, I want you to believe in it.

News from the Slush Front
Fri 2013-06-21 23:34:18 (single post)
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News the First: Bad news is, "The Seeds of Our Future" will not be appearing in Fearsome Symmetries. The not-so-bad news is, it was rejected while still at number 1011 in the queue on the day after World Horror 2013 ended. Which is to say: Having an existing relationship with an editor by no means ensures future sales (no surprises there, right?), but it can sometimes get a story read more quickly than otherwise, especially if the editor would like to append to the response a timely note along the lines of "Good to see you at the con!" Which sentiment I was happy to return. All in all, a pleasant story submission and con meet-up experience. Can't complain.

So there's that. News the Second: When I saw Jason V Brock at World Horror, I asked him, "So can I tell people?" and he was all, "Of course you can!" So now this is me telling people: "Lambing Season" is slated for publication in Issue #3 of [NaMeL3ss] Digest, which is tentatively estimated to go to print for a July release. Tentatively. I'll post updates as updates warrant posting.

(The purchase page for [NaMeL3ss] Issue #2 will probably give a better idea of what the publication is like than will its main website.)

And with that happy news, I shall disappear for the weekend. Chez LeBoeuf-Little is celebrating anniversary number fifteen, which will involve puttering around a historical Colorado mountain town and not doing pretty much anything that counts as "work". See y'all... oh, Tuesday evening sounds good. Let's do that.

World Horror Day 4: Closing Remarks
Sun 2013-06-16 23:23:12 (single post)

Attendance at a convention's closing ceremony is usually only a fraction of that at the opening ceremony. A lot of people are on the road home already. I'd estimate about 50 people, maybe 75, of the 500 or so convention attendees were in the Hotel Monteleone's Royal Room this afternoon when Lisa Morton began thanking everyone who made the weekend possible.

She did something really classy, I thought. After expressing her thanks to attendees for coming, guests of honor for gracing us with their presence and their time, volunteers for going above-and-beyond, the con's board and the HWA's board and everyone else (I am bad and careless and cannot remember every position filled, let alone every name), she did something I don't remember seeing done at other cons I've attended. Much like when panelists open their panel to audience Q&A in the last 15 minutes of their hour, she threw it open to the audience, asking us to volunteer any feedback we'd like to share. What did we like? What didn't work so well? What would we have liked to see?

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Many people commented on how smoothly everything ran; if there were any bumps along the way, they were invisible to the layperson's eye. Quite a few complimented those responsible for the choice of venue. My small contribution was to report that the livestream of the Stoker Awards went off without a hitch (Nicole Cushing and I had opted to watch the stream from the quiet comfort of a hotel room rather than standing awkwardly at the back of the Queen Anne Ballroom); that seemed a useful thing to say. Certainly more useful than my one wistful wish, which would be to take the exact same schedule of events but have an extra day to spread them out over, so as to give attendees a little more time to enjoy New Orleans. Since it's the sort of wish that ends "Also, I would like a pony. With wings," it probably wasn't the sort of actionable feedback that the HWA needed to hear.

No one expected a perfectly spherical value of "con" on a frictionless surface inside a vacuum. I'd hoped for a damn good con, and that's what I got.

The closing ceremonies were allotted an hour, but even with an exuberant crowd volunteering compliments and appreciation, we were done by twenty after. Soon afterwards I was in the car with Mom returning to Metairie for more friends-and-family time, and also for a sack of perfectly boiled crawfish a la Dad. (One of these days I am going to get him to tell me how he does it. Slowly, so I can take notes. There are crawfish to be caught in Colorado. I need to be able to do them justice.)

Madeline tells me that a certain portion of her readers have said she lost them at the end. Now I want to hurry up and finish reading so I can find out why.
World Horror Day 3: Very Briefly (Because I Am Tired)
Sat 2013-06-15 23:09:06 (single post)

This, the third day of World Horror, was no exception to the weekend, in that it contained many lovely things. Among them stands out with distinction a panel presenting a deeply moving appreciation for Clive Barker, who was one of tonight's recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Clive Barker is larger than life; he is not so much an author or an artist or a film writer (though he is all of these) as he is a sort of avatar of the universal creative force. Though he was not here in New Orleans to accept the award in person, he did send a few words for his representative to say on his behalf. Basically, that he hopes to match his 30 years of creativity so far with at least another 30 years of works to come. I'll drink to that.

I rather drank a lot today. It's New Orleans; it's too easy. There was the bloody mary with my baked ham po-boy from Mother's at lunch, the Abita lemon wheat that I pulled out my stash on my way down to Caitlin R. Kiernan's reading (Kiernan received a Stoker tonight for superior achievement in her novel The Drowning Girl), the cabernet shared out during the pre-Stoker "happy hour" reception, and the bottle of Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan nut brown ale I couldn't resist at Cochon where my cousin and I went out for our second dinner together of the weekend. I am surprised I am feeling no worse than tired.

In the spirit of the Stoker Awards, just for fun, I should like to pretend to hand out a few of my own to particularly memorable moments of the day. And so I shall.

The award for "Most Serendipitous Moment" goes to the one where I arrived at the Lovecraft panel, approached a woman seated near the front of the room to ask if I might take the seat next to her, and read her badge as she turned toward me to answer in the affirmative. The panel was already underway, so I just whispered my thanks and hoped against hope she wouldn't leave early. She did not, so I did indeed get a chance to tell Madeline Ashby how very much John and I are enjoying her science fiction novel vN and the stunning world she's created therein. She expressed delighted surprise to hear such sentiments at a horror con, where she's used to going entirely unrecognized; and gave me the heads-up that the sequel, iD, will be out very soon.

The award for "Most Surreal Moment" probably should go to the one during which I went from a fly on the wall to an active part of the conversation: Ellen Datlow and David Morrell turned to me suddenly during the pre-Stoker reception to ask if I could help identify a short story that was giving David fits. (It involved a male main character peeling back wallpaper, convinced he would find the key to some mystery underneath.) I pulled out my ever-present laptop and applied my small share of Google Fu to the dilemma. Success, alas, was not to be ours. I added "-yellow" to the search string to exclude hits for Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"; Google threw up a sinfín of DIYs ("How to easily remove your old wallpaper without breaking the bank or your back"). I hope if David remembers the story he also remembers to let the rest of us know, because now I am intrigued.

And the coveted award for "Most Kind To the Author's Ego" goes to a moment not long after that, when a friend of Ellen's came by to ask her if she'd seen me, then realized he was in fact looking at me, and asked me to autograph his copy of Blood and Other Cravings. I was among those last few contributors whose scrawls he had yet to collect. One day, I suppose, given enough published stories and people reading them, I will get used to the idea that someone would scan a convention's attendee list in search of my specific name and then seek me out at that con to get my autograph. But when that day comes, I hope I continue to feel that thrill of excitement and gratitude I felt today at knowing I'd been the target of such a search.

...OK, so that was less brief than I intended. I think I shall drop off to sleep now.

Tomorrow: The fourth and final day of WHC 2013. Crawfish at Mom & Dad's. And probably a few more beers.

World Horror Day 2: Thinking About the Future
Fri 2013-06-14 23:42:19 (single post)

As predicted, today contained 1) slight irritations that 2) were heavily outweighed by wonderful things1. There were plenty more wonderful things.

I bought lots of books, most of them from the hands of their authors who of course signed them for me. Many of these authors were personal friends/acquaintances whom I only get to see face-to-face at cons like this. And while I was wandering the mass signing, Mort Castle hailed me. I hadn't realized he was here this year; I hadn't seen his usual writing workshop on the program. I was very pleased to see him, and he me. He is a skilled, emotionally evocative writer; a talented teacher; and just an overwhelmingly kind person.

I visited the art show and bought a print of this gorgeous painting by Steven C. Gilberts: an illustration for Simon Clark's novella "Butterfly." I have not yet read the novella, but I do get an inkling of deep sadness underlying the image, a sense of great works which require the sacrifice of self while fueling machines of destruction. But, on an admittedly superficial level, the visual elements of a dreaming/concentrating woman, a sky full of airplanes, and long hair that's getting caught in the gears reminds me of myself.

I got to have dinner with con friends and with seldom-seen family all at the same time, and then continue to spend time with said family member for hours afterwards. "It's been too long since we just hung out like this," I said. Then, "Not that we ever really did hang out like this. What's up with that? We should do it more often."

I went on an entirely unnecessary quest for a credit union ATM, walking at least a mile to avoid whatever small fee the ones within a block of the hotel would have charged. I think I must have had the intent all along to catch the brand! New! Street car on Loyola! (squee!) and ride it from the train station to the French Quarter. This is how I show the Universe my appreciation for the nice things in its catalog of things.

And every panel I went to ignited little sparks in my brain about stories I'm working on and what hitherto-unimagined things I could do with them.

Wonderfulness everywhere!

But what I'd really like to comment on today is an opinion I've heard from several panelists these past two days. The opinion goes something like this:

Ebooks are the future, and the future will be ebooks. Exclusively. This object, this physical book, will no longer be made. All there will be is a screen on your living room wall or in your hand and the internet connection by which you download stories to it. Do yourself and your career a favor: accept that this will be the case and prepare yourself for it.
I heard this said almost verbatim at two different panels, and at both with a certain degree of gleeful anticipation. And it bothered me.

It didn't just bother me because I think it's untrue--though I do think it's untrue, unlikely, and patently unworkable. The codex format has been with us for centuries, and books preserved from centuries before ours can still be read now and will be readable in the future without need for electricity (assuming daylight or a fire-based light source) nor concern for hardware-, software-, or backwards-compatibility. And it's not like humans are going to just stop making paper and binding books; and if we keep doing that, we're going to keep selling the results.

It didn't just bother me because I think it's undesirable aesthetically--though I do think it's aesthetically undesirable. I like the object that is the physical book. My traveling companion from the Denver-to-Chicago train ride said that she loves her Kindle, but she misses the kinethetic sense of where she is in the book. This many pages in, about a third of the way down the page on the left--this is a physical location that helps give the story shape in her mind. Losing that translates to a certain sense of being lost; it affects the very experience of story. I think I know what she means; certainly there is a decreased intimacy in my recollection of books I've read exclusively in ePub form (or have had read to me, for that matter).

But it bothered me primarily because I think it's unkind.

Listen: some of these people I heard, they spoke about being able to relax with an ebook on your phone or e-reader when you're tired of reading things on your computer. As though people like me, who have neither smartphone nor e-reader, do not exist. Which bugs me--damn straight it bugs me. But people like me with our flip-phones or no cell phone at all, no Kindles or Nooks or whatever, can still download ebooks to our computers, right? We have computers. We're privileged. We're people who can afford computers, smartphones, e-readers, gizmos that require non-trivial up-front monetary capital and electricity to make them work. They require a place to keep them, a place to charge them, frequent or constant internet connection to download books and and software upgrades, and the wherewithal to maintain or replace them when they start to break down.

Think of people who can't afford that. Who can't afford an e-reader, who can't pay the electric bill reliably each month, who maybe don't even have homes. Are we predicting--gleefully, joyously, or jadedly--a future in which written stories will be inaccessible to them?

Do we really want literacy to be the exclusive province of the privileged?

I'm not against ebooks. I quite like them. They're not going away anytime soon, and I expect to see improvements in their form and format every year. But they exist in addition to, not as a replacement for, physical writing and physical books. They will never--they must never--force the physical book into extinction.

I want my stories printed on paper and bound on shelves in bookstores, new and used. Available in libraries. Hidden among other books in the 25-cent basket out in front of the thrift store. Piled up in garage sales. Shared hand-to-hand between friends and via "leave a book, take a book" shelves in public spaces. Given away for free. Devoured during a long night hiding from the cold in a church or at the local homeless shelter. Accessible to all, those who have never touched a computer as well as those who have never known a life without.

If reading is worth fighting for, then so are physical books.

1 Hell, the most memorable slight irritation in fact led directly to one of the wonderful things. To wit: "That Guy" ignores my telling him, several times, firmly but pleasantly, that I don't appreciate being treated as though my every personal action were on display for his entertainment and loud commentary. Please stop it. When I finally tell him so in a manner that cannot be mistaken for pleasant, he gets the message, but complains to anyone who'll listen that I yelled at him. Other Guy Who Is Emphatically Not "That Guy" witnesses this and invites me into a very satisfying conversation about boundary-setting and its social challenges. We also end up talking about our con experiences, our writing, and festivals in Chicago. We totally intend to email each other later on. See? A wonderful thing. (back)