“I find having a mortgage to be a great motivator to keep on working.”
Mo Willems

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Click to view original watercolor illustration by Kay Nielsen
this fictionette ain't goin' nowhere but maybe round the corner for a beer
Sat 2015-10-03 00:40:49 (single post)

The first Friday Fictionette for October is a small folk tale retelling, or a folk tale fanfic if you will. It's called "How the Lassie Didn't Go East of the Sun and West of the Moon," and it posits a lot more communication and common sense than is the norm in folk tales. I mean, seriously, a girl's got more senses than just her sight. If her mother imagines that her daughter needs a candle to tell whether the guy she's sharing her bed isn't a Troll, her mother has a very innocent idea of what goes on in bed. That's all I'm saying.

I was astounded to discover that all of Kay Nielson's gorgeous watercolor illustrations for the folk tale collection East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North are as much in the public domain as the text itself--or at least they are covered by "no known copyright restrictions." I incorporated one of these illustrations for the Fictionette cover art, because it's lovely and because it helps make clear exactly what folk tale I'm playing with.

I've also released a Fictionette Freebie for September, and it's "The Celebrated Frog Forger of Clackamas County." The PDF chapbook and the MP3 audiofictionette are now both available for free to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. Enjoy!

And with that we head into the weekend. If you're in the neighborhood and want to hang out, I'll be among the crowd helping local brewery (and Boulder County Bombers sponsor!) 300 Suns celebrate their Grand Re-Opening on Saturday afternoon. Bring a game to play, buy some beer, and enjoy their new menu! That's what I'm gonna do. (My, that Lushious Belgian Ale with the ginger and lavender sounds tasty...)

Cover art incorporates the actual view out my actual window.
this fictionette skated by faster than the eye can follow
Mon 2015-07-20 23:29:54 (single post)
  • 1,159 wds. long

I swear I got the Friday Fictionette done on time! Early, in fact. It's called "Protective Coloration" and it's got more fairy-like creatures in the corner of the protagonist's eye. It only took about two hours to proof, publish, and record the PDF and MP3. I wasn't up until stupid o'clock getting it done, either, which was way cool.

But then I ran off to skate at ROLL and was up until stupid o'clock for that reason.

Honestly, I thought I'd only stay until maybe 11:00 PM. That would give me a good two hours of fun, and an exit for when the track got crowded and the crowd got drunk. I'm also, admittedly, not a fan of the DJ. I don't understand why you'd have a Thunderdome-themed skate party and never actually play "We Don't Need Another Hero," or an '80s-themed skate party and then mash up the classic anthems of the decade you are supposedly celebrating such that there's no melody line left to sing along to. But being on skates makes everything wonderful, at least for a little while. So I go, I have fun, and when I stop having fun, I leave. I figured that after about two hours I'd run off to a diner to write up a blog post and get a couple other things done.

But I surprised myself by not actually stopping having fun. As it happened, I didn't leave until they kicked everyone out of Tracks at 2:00 AM. So that was a thing.

It helped that I had friends with me--a couple of gals from my roller derby league met me there, and we hung out. It also helped that we spent Peak Crowded Drunken Hour in the karaoke lounge. (It is possible that the skate floor DJ played "We Don't Need Another Hero" while I was in the karaoke lounge. I would not bet on it, however.) And the singers and their supporters were friendly, and the songs chosen ran the gamut from metal to hip-hop to blues to Broadway. When the karaoke DJ shut it down, we went back out to the main floor for the last 15 minutes of the party, and we discovered it was practically deserted. Plenty of room to try fun dance moves or just skate fast. "I didn't know ROLL shut down with a speed skate," I said.

Anyway, that's why I didn't finish my homework on Friday.

The unicorn looking on is Velvet. He's been with me almost all my life, and he likes to be included in things.
outmoded, inconvenient, messy, elegant, satisfying
Wed 2015-07-15 23:37:55 (single post)
  • 1,141 wds. long
  • 2,850 wds. long

Pictured here is my second-hand typewriter, a Sears Tower which appears to be identical to the 1950s-era portable Smith-Corona Sterling. I bought it from a co-worker back in the late '90s. Then, upon my lamenting that it had features I'd no idea how to use, I was sent a copy of the Sterling's owners' manual by a Usenet acquaintance who guessed my typewriter was largely the same as his. (This was before it was trivial to find PDFs of owners' manuals of just about everything online--though, admittedly, I haven't found the exact document my friend sent me. This is the closest match I've located. My typewriter doesn't have those CL and SET buttons on the right.) That gift empowered me to use the ingenious Page Gage (sic) feature to get consistent bottom margins every time. It's a seriously clever thing.

Five years ago, this typewriter was instrumental in drafting the first recognizable version of "First Breath." This week it'll be key in fulfilling some long overdue Patreon pledge rewards. I owe two, soon to be three "fictionettes in your mailbox" to my $5+ tier patron. This is where, at the end of the month, I type out one of the month's fictionettes, correct some of the typos with white-out, watercolor and scribble and sketch on it, and send it off with my thanks.

At the moment, I am offering this thank-you to the first ten $5+ patrons. That may have been overly optimistic. I am thinking of lowering that maximum to five. A thousand words feels a lot longer on a typewriter than on a laptop. Accordingly, I find myself sometimes revising on the fly and cutting out phrases that no longer seem absolutely necessary. Or rearranging phrases because I got ahead of myself and I am not going back to correct it.

Also, mastering the Dvorak keyboard layout seems to have come at the expense of being able to touch-type in Qwerty. So I do a lot of looking up and looking down between the computer screen and the typewriter keys and the typewriter output, and losing my place in the original document, and shit there went the 1-inch marker on the Page Gage about two lines ago, I guess the bottom margin is going to be a little smaller than planned...

I'm not really complaining. I'm just griping. The difference is, complaints are meant to be actionable but griping is only recreational. I don't seriously want not to do this. I'm enjoying the exercise--reacquainting myself with the typewriter, producing a literary artifact, enjoying the messy elegance of the results (it's not the most precise instrument, this Tower), and creating a physical object as a token of my appreciation. And sending it in the mail! Having an excuse to mail physical letters is wonderful. It's inconvenient and outmoded and I love it. I'm in love with the written word in all its forms. Look, I do my morning pages with a fountain pen. Of course I love the typewriter and the U.S. Post.

Anyway, I intend to finish the May mailable tonight and maybe produce tomorrow the one that was due at the end of June. That'll will put me back on track in time to type up the July mailable at the end of the month. Huzzah! Getting caught up is the best!

Cover art incorporates public domain photograph by Nancy Heise (Wikimedia Commons)
this fictionette proceeded from a sinister game of mad libs
Fri 2015-07-10 23:57:04 (single post)
  • 1,149 wds. long

Oh my goodness, two on-time fictionettes in a row. It's like she's finally got her act together, folks. And here it is: "Ill Met by Moonlight," a Friday Fictionette whose title aptly demonstrates the value of serif fonts. It's about long nights spent talking to yourself and being startled when something answers back.

As I mention in the author's note, the original freewriting session resulted not so much in a plot as a plot template. I used for writing prompts the two words assigned to the morning and evening "dashes" over at Virtual Writers' World; for June 12 they were "blench" and "angle". I had no idea what to do with that. Also, I was terribly distracted. That was the Friday I spent in the car driving to Lincoln, Nebraska for a roller derby bout on Saturday, and the car was full of people being fascinating and entertaining pretty much nonstop.

But I tried! I took the two words and I recast them and I made a sentence: "He looked at it from a different angle, and went pale with horror at what he saw." I mistook "blench" for "blanch" there. I'd have looked up the definition online via John's smartphone's wifi tether, but we were passing through a dead zone at the time. If you like, you can rewrite the sentence to say "flinched with horror" and get the same results.

After a few minutes I got frustrated with just staring at the screen and/or rephrasing the basic premise ("Main character discovers the horrific underbelly of his daily life! Which will never be the same again!") and gave myself an assignment that would force me to get specific. You may of course borrow this assignment for your own use, should it look useful.

Basically, the assignment was to make four arbitrary decisions. Decide on the REALM, REALITY, FACADE, and METHOD involved.

REALM: In other words, the context in which the character makes a discovery. I mentally flipped a coin/rolled some dice/threw a dart and got "Corporate office."

REALITY: What's the secret the character discovers? What's the true nature of reality that they've hitherto been been unaware of? "The corporation is sitting on an exclusive trading gateway with Faerie."

FACADE: What's the nature of the deception? How is the REALITY covered up from everyday eyes? "Import of cheap goods for distribution to dollar stores."

METHOD: Whereas REALITY was the secret fact about the character's world, METHOD is the action being taken which is premised upon that reality. So. Given a corporation secretly sitting on a gateway to Faerie for economic exploit, how does that corporation in fact exploit their exclusive access? "Smuggling magic items into our world, and into particular pairs of hands, via dollar store distribution."

Thus the "plot template" got filled out with a viable story idea. Finally.

Depending on your plot template, you may pick different key words. But the point is to identify the key decisions you're holding back from making, and then darn well make them.

Remember, writing fiction is about making arbitrary decisions. There are no wrong decisions, except for the decision not to decide. Every decision moves you closer to the story you're going to write. Ta-da.

having more to read all of a sudden is kind of a mixed blessing
Tue 2015-05-12 23:36:16 (single post)

Habitual readers of the actually writing blog will have noticed habitual mention of an online writing community called Codex. Now, I am here to tell you today that you, too, can join Codex if you, too, are neo-pro speculative fiction writer. And if you are, you should. I will tell you why.

Membership in Codex is free, but depends on the applicant having met one of a number of criteria. All of them are detailed on the page linked above. Just for example, when I applied, I qualified under two different criteria, those being having made a SFWA-qualifying sale of fiction ("First Breath" to the anthology Blood and Other Cravings) and in having attended the Viable Paradise workshop. Agent representation, award nomination, and successful self-publishing are also vectors for qualification. Again, click the link and check it out.

Why should you join? Well, for one thing, the Codex community runs a number of contests throughout the year, and contests are really great sources of motivation.

Some are very casual. Every two months, there's a new forum thread where you can report each manuscript submission as you send it out. Whoever does the most submissions for that two-month period gets bragging rights and maybe a lovely doodle by the contest host, something like that. The prize is not the point. The point is to start thinking of manuscript submissions as something you can darn well do a lot of. Just by actively keeping up with the thread and reading others' submission reports, I find myself thinking things like, "Wait, don't I have a manuscript that came back last week with a rejection letter? I wonder if this magazine that so-n-so just reported a submission to would be a good fit. Time to send that sucker back out again!" or, "They take reprints? I didn't know that publisher took reprints! I have just the thing to send them."

See? Motivation!

I've participated in more formal ones, too, like the annual Weekend Warrior competition. That's where between Friday afternoon and Sunday night you write a brand new short-short story based on one of several provided prompts. During the weekdays, you read each other's entries (which are anonymized) and you vote on them. Come the following Friday, the process starts again. And this goes on for a whole bunch of weeks in a row. (I think it was five.) By the end of the contest, you've written a bunch of new flash fiction and you've gotten helpful comments from other contest participants to guide you in the rewrite. One of my Weekend Warrior shorts, in a heavily revised form, went on to be accepted and published ("Other Theories of Relativity" on Toasted Cake). This is not an unusual fate for a Weekend Warrior story.

The contest I'm currently participating in, the Title Rummage Sale, is similar, but it's for full-length stories and your prompt is whatever title you choose from the list of available titles. The deadline was Sunday night. This week, we're all reading each other's stories so we can vote and comment on them next week. This means that not only have I written a brand new 1500-word story, but now I get to read a bunch of brand-new 1500-5000 word stories.

I don't know about you, but for me, getting to read a bunch of new stories written by my fellow Codexians is a real treat. Also, my eyes are among the first ever to see these stories. One day, when they are published and are wowing readers the world over, I will be able to say I knew it when.

(And maybe someone will eventually say the same about one of my stories. Exciting!)

So! Bundles of writing motivation and oodles of new reading material! What's not to like? I mean, other than the problem of having more things to read when I ought to be taking more time to write, of course. But isn't that always the way?

this is what i read when i was supposed to be writing
i distract you with an awesome book by someone else
Fri 2015-05-08 23:35:00 (single post)

So, I got nothing. No excuses, no good reasons, and almost nothing to show for this week on the writing front. Not even a blog post (barring this one). And now I am two fictionettes behind schedule, which is not a good sign.

You know how it is. Probably, I mean. You get behind in one thing, then you get behind in more things, and the more you think, "I will get All Caught Up now!" the more the pressure of that expectation weighs down on you until you can't move even the littlest bit, and then you get behind some more.

At least, that's how it is for me.

I'm going to try to get All Caught Up this weekend, but even making that statement in the form of an "I'll try" assertion gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Today was going to be my All Caught Up day, and I even managed to get up on time for it! (Part of this week's problem was a constant day-to-day wrestling match with my sleep schedule.) But we also had a plan to go to Loveland for lunch and roller derby shopping. Skate Ratz was having a sale (they still are!), and they are two blocks down from Mo' Betta Gumbo (I had a fried oyster po' boy and a swamp water cocktail with okra infusion). So as it got closer and closer to time to leave, my nemesis brain said, "You know, you can do all that work/writing stuff after you get home..." And then, after getting back to Boulder and dropping some items off at Hazardous Waste Disposal and picking up some boxes from storage and getting groceries and unloading the car, weasel brain said, "It's OK, you have time to nap. And read! You brought more books home! Read one!" And then after napping and reading it was... late. And stupid monkey brain said, "Well, you can always get All Caught Up tomorrow."

And that, my friends, is how my brain works. Or doesn't work, to be precise. That nasty little saboteur.

The book, by the way, was Ink by Damien Walters Grintalis. Damien is a fellow member of Codex, and I was privileged to meet her face to face for the first time at a recent World Horror Convention in New Orleans. I bought her book, eagerly asked her to deface it for me, brought it back to Boulder... and somehow never managed to read it until now.

It was awesome. Which is to say, it was an awesome novel in the creepy body horror genre with a variation on "the magic shop that isn't there when you look for it again later." These things, especially the creepy body horror, are not everyone's cup of tea. But if this is the sort of thing you would like, it is an excellent example of the sort of thing you would like. I liked it bunches.

I admit, me and this book got off to a rocky start, despite knowing and having a lot of respect for the author. The main character showed up on the first page of the second chapter sounding like a whiny boy-child griping about how his wife just up and left him, but he's glad she's gone because she was a horrible controlling jerk. Only he didn't say "jerk." And so I began to worry.

Actually, I expected his story to end very quickly, as the First Victim of the Big Bad. That is often the fate of the Horribly Sexist Stereotype introduced in the first pages of a horror novel. It lets you feel all schadenfreudy when the Big Bad gets him. Horror can be an intensely moralizing genre, where Bad People are Punished For Their Sins by being the First Victims by which we are introduced to the Big Bad. (Think of the slasher film trope wherein the first victims are the young couple who park their car somewhere remote and proceed to initiate sexyfuntimes.) This can be either problematic or satisfying to the reader, depending on how well the reader's sense of morality overlaps with those of the author.

But as the pages turned, it became clear that he would last at least most of the book through--it really was his story--and that the ex was exactly as awful as advertised. So I started to worry some more, despite my faith in the author. I have seen books that start that way, and they don't often end well.

But very, very soon, other female characters began showing up on the page, and it became abundantly clear that the controlling jerk ex was not a stand in for all women or all wives, because all the other women in the novel's cast of characters (mother, girlfriend, nieces, neighbors' kids, random encounters) are all different from each other in interesting ways. None of them are two-dimensional stereotypes. All of them have inner lives. The ones that come the closest to being stereotypes still each have at least one noticeable and deliberate moment of acting contrary to type. And the male protag, he rapidly gets more likable as he, too, gets to show off his other dimensions. I wanted to hug him and protect him from the Big Bad, and I was glad he had people in his life to do just that.

The care the author put into each character was obvious. And, well, I'm not surprised, since I know the author (for "converse online from time to time" values of know). But being unsurprised doesn't preclude being relieved, nor does it diminish what a refreshing read Ink was. That's how you do it, world. Go forth and do likewise.

Also, I would love to see more novels in which the characters occasionally talk to each other as though they've read Captain Awkward and have internalized some of those scripts. It tends to result in a plot that turns on actual problems and not artificial ones created by shitty communication. Seriously, when the protag says (and this is a paraphrase, not a direct quote, because I haven't reread enough to be able to find specific quotes quickly), "Mom, I'm sorry. You have to accept that the marriage has ended. You are free to stay friends with my ex, but you can't expect us to stay married for you." How awesome is that? That is so awesome. (And then Mom does accept it at last because Mom is not a stereotype. She is a character who also grows and changes through the story, despite being a supporting character who isn't on stage a lot. AWESOME.)

So: Sorry for taking so long to read it, Damien! But I've read it now and I loved it!

And now... wish me luck, because Catch-up Weekend starts tomorrow at 8 AM.

There is a stack of notebooks and manuscripts under that manuscript-sized box on the right half, too.
you're gonna carry that weight for a long time
Thu 2015-04-09 23:49:57 (single post)
  • 59,193 wds. long
  • 128.50 hrs. revised

As expected, I haven't been able to write much this week. Any time not spent sleeping or at derby practice, has been spent moving items from our old address to our new. There have been many carloads, and each carload required multiple trips up and down the stairs that I'm so pleased to leave behind. I can almost do those stairs blindfolded by now: Eight steps down, three paces to U-turn on the landing, another eight steps down and another landing worth three paces, one last bunch of eight and three paces forward to finally descend the three steps of the front stoop.

Most of those carloads have been packed solo, either because John did it while I was at derby, or I did it while John was working. A solo carload takes longer, and it takes a higher toll on the person making it happen. I was done today an hour before we had to leave for practice and scrimmage, but it was an hour spent half asleep because I simply had nothing left for anything more productive.

Today was mostly me, and my goal was to completely empty the office closet. Six clear-bin stackable plastic drawers plus a Rubbermaid bin and a couple bags full of crafting supplies, three stackable plastic file cabinets, two big boxes of miscellaneous removable data media (CDs, DVDs, 3.5" floppies), another box full of "all manner of useful cables" according to my Sharpie memo to myself, a great variety of stationery...

...and a surprisingly large amount of my own writing. Early NaNoWriMo novel drafts printed out for revision. Copies of my short stories with critiques scribbled between the lines and in the margins. Spiral notebooks with drafts, writing exercises, and notes toward rewrites. The three chapters of The Drowning Boy that went with me to Viable Paradise in 2006 and came back looking like they had bled from innumerable cuts. (Not that they all bled red. But oh, how they bled.)

There were in that great mass of paper several copies of other people's stories that they chose to share with me or to send by mail as part of a critique exchange. But for the most part, the author whose works were contained in that box was me.

It was almost too heavy for me to lift. But I managed. I got it down the stairs and into the car without breaking either it or me. I felt strangely reassured by both of these things. The weight of that box was a reminder of how prolific I really have been. And yet I am capable of lifting the weight of my own words. There's something symbolic in that.

Still, when I pulled up to our new front door, I was happy to accept John's offer to take one end of that box and help me lift the load. Just because I could do it alone didn't mean I'd always have to.

There's something symbolic about that, too.

literature and sports take turns taking bites out of my brain
Thu 2015-03-19 23:18:39 (single post)

So I was a penalty timer at the Shamrocks And Shenanigans scrimmage tonight. When you're a penalty timer, everyone comes to visit you. Everyone gets penalties, after all. Maybe not everyone on every night, but everyone eventually. If you never ever get penalties, it's questionable whether you're in the game.

When I arrived, I told our head coach, "I'm ready to be assessed! Whenever works for you." (I got injured before the league went through skills assessments and travel team tryouts. I still need to do that before I can skate with any of our teams.)

She said, "Great! Get your gear on."

And I said, "Er, tonight? I... didn't think that would be an option." I hadn't brought my gear. Drat.

By next week, though. Between Sunday practice and the following Thursday scrimmage, I should have ample opportunity to demonstrate my skills to people empowered to fill out my score sheet. After that... team practice again? Please? As soon as possible? Back with my Bombshells? Pretty-please?

Obviously this has been much on my mind.

It has been sharing space in there with something very random: the Mark Reads archives for the Discworld novels.

You know about Mark Reads? Blogger Mark Oshiro began a project some years ago to read the Twilight novels and comment on them, chapter by chapter. And, well, a lot of people came along for the ride. It wasn't so much that they enjoyed watching him suffer, per se--it was that he suffered so entertaingly. And also enlighteningly, if that's a word. His criticisms were spot-on and his pain was shared and familiar.

Inevitably, the blog community began urging him to read something he'd actually enjoy. As soon as he got through Breaking Dawn, they said, he should treat himself. Read Harry Potter, they said. Because, as it turned out, he hadn't read those books yet. There were a lot of books, beloved classics of the fantasy genre, that he'd just never been exposed to. And his fans not only wanted him to enjoy a reading experience, but they wanted to enjoy watching him experience it.

And Mark read it. And it was wonderful.

You can never go back and read a favorite book for the first time all over again. Not so long as your memory is intact, that is. But the privilege of watching someone else read that book for the first time, witnessing them falling in love with the characters you've come to know so well, that's almost as wonderful. Maybe it's even better.

Mark has since then read many, many wonderful books, and his fans have enjoyed the heck out of watching him discover all these worlds and characters. And for a commission of $20, I think it is, he'll add to his written review video footage of him reading the chapter aloud. And that's the best. His reactions are priceless, hilarious and touching by turns.

So about a year ago he embarked upon a chapter-by-chapter read-through and review of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. In--and this is important--the order that they were published. (Which means he's only now making his way through Eric.) Discworld fandom is large and it is contentious; veterans will often try to curate newbies' experiences by telling them which books to read first. "Oh, don't start with Colour Of Magic, he hadn't gotten good yet, you'll be turned off. Read Reaper Man first," or, "Rincewind is tiresome. Read the Vimes books instead," or whatever they'll recommend.

Which is understandable, but at the same time, it's kind of arrogant. Like, dude, you're so proud of having been around when Colour of Magic came out, you read them in publication order because you had no choice--you still fell head over heels in love with them. Why do you think someone approaching them for the first time today couldn't do the same? Why do you think they need you to shepherd them through the experience? And why is it so important to you that they come to the same conclusion about the characters that you did?

Sometimes it's understandable, like I said; you love a thing, you want them to love it too. You want to spare them the jarring moments of the not-quite-good-enough. But sometimes I think, there are some fans who have a bit of ego involved in being the living filter through which someone experiences the material. I suspect that, either consciously or un--, it makes them feel important.

To hell with that. Mark is going into this as completely unspoiled and unbiased as a reader on publication day would, only without the three-year wait between The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. His spoiler policy is aggressive, and I share it: If I haven't gotten there yet, don't talk about it. Allow me to experience it the way you did--without you hanging over my shoulder saying, "Oh, this is when it gets good" and "Just wait until you meet [CHARACTER] in Chapter [X]!"

I only heard that this was a thing the week after Terry Pratchett died. And it's been fantastic. I've been watching his videos or, where appropriate, converting them to MP3 and listening to them in the car. Not only does it convert these old familiar books into brand new experiences for me, but it comes at a time when 1. I wanted to commemorate the author's passing with a read-through of my own, but 2. all my books are in storage and I can't easily get to them. So I get to have Mark read them to me! And I get to hear him react to the awesomeness! And the hilarity! And the puns, dear Gods, the puns. (Oh Gods the "horse d'oeurves" pun. Mark's reaction to the pun. It takes him like three minutes to get past it, it hits him that hard. I love Mark this much, y'all.)

I've just gotten up to Mark's read-through of Mort. And it occurs to me I may never actually have read Mort before. I could swear I'd borrowed it from a friend back in the late '90s, but I'm not recognizing any of it at all. Maybe my memory isn't intact--which would be odd, for me--but maybe The Last Continent isn't the last Discworld book I've yet to read? This is such a treat.

Like I told John, "Mark's reading Discworld! Expect my productivity to dip a bit." And so it has. Drat.

prompts from poughkeepsie for an all-night road trip
Wed 2014-09-24 23:25:42 (single post)
  • 5,975 wds. long
  • 3,380 wds. long

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.