“Thank you, God. My character is all built up now. You can stop.”
Debra Doyle

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

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.

some positive uses for the Anvil of Guilt
Tue 2014-08-05 23:59:13 (single post)
  • 7,164 wds. long

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.