“"...till by the end you feel you have lived many lives: which is perhaps the greatest gift a novel can give."”
Ursula K. Le Guin

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

From this point, you continue forward until you reach the next fork. Then turn left to visit the stone shelter.
have camera, will create Friday Fictionette cover art
Fri 2014-09-19 23:20:38 (single post)
  • 1,141 wds. long

One of these days, I'll publish my Friday Fictionette somewhat earlier in the day. Like, maybe while it's still light out. This ten-at-night business is silly.

In any case, it's up now. You can read an excerpt right here on this blog, over at Wattpad, or in my Patreon activity stream. You can read the Fictionette in its entirety by becoming a Patron at the suggested minimum pledge level of $1/month. As a reminder, Patrons get to see a new one of these every first through fourth Friday, and one of those four will become free for non-Patrons to read at the end of the month.

"While the Sun Still Shines" went through almost as heavy a revision process as last week's Fictionette. I wanted to give it more shape than just "Oh, good Lord, Katie's whining again, make it stop." And I kind of wish I'd done this back when I was trying to get "The Impact of Snowflakes" out the door. I chose these characters to write a slice-of-life scene about in hopes that I'd get to know them better, but it wasn't until I revised the scene this week that I realized that, gosh, Ashley's kind of being a jerk here. It's not two patient, stoic characters against one whiny one; it's one patient character and one fun-loving character together against one easily irritated narrator throwing a bit of a tantrum.

This would have been a useful insight to have before submitting the short story. Well. Revisions may yet happen. The story's fate in its current slush pile has yet to be determined.

To create cover art for this Fictionette, I scoured Flickr for photos having to do with Mount Sanitas. Most of what I found were copyrighted, "all rights reserved." The few that were released under Creative Commons licenses also specified that commercial use was prohibited. That left one gorgeous photo of Boulder as taken from a Mt. Sanitas trail overlook--but it wasn't quite what I wanted.

Heck with that. I'm a capable person in possession of a functional camera. I went and took a photo myself.

Then I finished the brief walk up to the stone shelter on the cultural resource trail, and I sat inside the shelter in the cool of the stones and I did my morning pages. It was my first time visiting the structure in years. I wondered why that was. I think the previous time I was there, I climbed on top of the shelter (like you're not supposed to do) and watched a meteor shower--again, that was several years ago. It's a nice place. The hike to get there from 4th and Valley View Drive is short but steep, a pretty respectable workout for only 15 minutes.

I was surprised to see new residential lots marked out and new houses going up in an area centered on of 4th and Dewey. There's also a brand new stairway giving access to the trailhead from within what's now the construction zone.

Anyway--click the links, enjoy the view, see you on Monday!

it's a very nice rabbit hole, its bookshelves are well-stocked
Wed 2014-09-03 23:46:17 (single post)
  • 4,400 wds. long

Today has been a surprisingly exhausting day for not having actual physical roller derby in it. There was a lot of not knowing the shape of my day because I was waiting for the next phone call to tell me what shape it would be. Just for starters, I brought the car to the shop at eight in the morning, so I was waiting to hear back from the mechanics all day. I had errands to run that I couldn't run until I had the car back. And because of various circumstances, the location and time of roller derby practice was TBD right up until less than an hour before I'd have had to leave for it. (The combination of these factors were a large part of me not going to practice at all, but that's neither here nor there.)

Turns out, I don't function very well when part of my brain is On Call. My brain translates On Call into On Hold. The tendency is to fly a holding pattern, unable to exert real effort while uncertain of what my immediate future holds.

So I'm quite pleased with myself for actually getting some work done on the short story.

Granted, it was mostly down the rabbit hole of research. But I was finally persistent enough to get the answers I needed to the questions I'd scribbled on the first couple pages.

Example 1: My main character laments that there are no suitable books in the house to distract her little brother from Peter Pan, because the roof leaked during the storm right onto their bookshelves. And they couldn't just go to the library because the libraries weren't open yet. True or false?

As it turns out, false. While the Jefferson Parish Library system was deeply crippled, and some branches were entirely destroyed along with all of their books, there was library service in Jefferson Parish as early as October 3. At least, that's what I understand to be the case from what library director Lon R. Dickerson writes in "Building Even Better Libraries, Post-Katrina" (American Libraries, Nov. 2005, Vol. 36, Issue 10):

With a service population of 455,466 residents, Jefferson Parish Library was already the largest library in Louisiana. Before Katrina hit, we had an operating budget of $15 million. By default, we're now the only large library in metropolitan New Orleans that can serve people as they return to Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines parishes.

JPL has dropped its nonresident fees and is issuing "Katrina library cards" to anyone in the area. Staff and library users alike say that having libraries open is part of their need for normalcy. We expected the rush of people on October 3 who wanted to use our computers, but we also had long lines of people waiting to check out books. We expect to have at least 10 branches open by November. Schools are more dependent on us than ever before, and our library is essential lo the rebuilding of this community's economy. A stronger and more vibrant library will help us attract new businesses and residents.

Now, the last time this story was workshopped, the critique hive mind basically side-stepped the question of veracity. They informed me that most readers wouldn't need an explanation for the dearth of books in the narrator's house. "A lot of people just don't read much. Certainly not as much as us writers do," they said. "You're spendig a lot of energy trying to explain a situation that most creaders won't even question in the first place."

It made sense at the time--at least, once I got past my initial "Huh? Houses without books? That is un-possible!" reaction. But today I'm not so sure. Seems to me, the readership of the types of market I'd try to get this submitted to, they're readers. Right? I mean, someone who reads commercial science fiction and fantasy short fiction... is a reader. I think it's not unreasonable to expect that the target audience of, say, F&SF or Shimmer, is someone who sees unoccupied walls as an opportunity for more bookshelves, then stacks those shelves double-deep with paperbacks. (Also, a not insignificant portion of that reading population comprises writers.)

In the end, though, that's not what matters. What matters is, the family in my story used to have a lot of books before Katrina hit. Now, they do not. This is notable enough for the main character to mention it, even though she herself is not the huge reader that her brother and mother are (or so I've decided for this draft). Revision should result is these facts being plausible character notes and part of a larger important story theme.

(Of course it's an important theme. The main character's little brother is literally getting lost in a book. Of course books are important.)

Example 2: The main character notes that her father used to take the kids fishing in Lake Pontchartrain, despite there being nothing much to catch. True or false?

Again, false. In this case, I was going off my memory of being a kid in the late '70s and early '80s watching Dad catch nothing but the odd croaker--which he'd throw back--and then getting his bait stolen by a needle-noser. That's not a particularly reliable memory to go from. It lacks perspective. It's not accurate to infer the fishing viability of the entire lake from vague memories of Dad casting a line next to the Bonnabel pumping station.

Also, those forays were some 20 years before my story takes place. The lake had benefited from a concerted clean-up effort in the years since my single digits. Heck, in 2000 some parts of the lake were actually declared safe for swimming. That still blows my mind.

Anyway, not only was there plenty of successful fishing in Lake Pontchartrain just before Katrina hit, but it turns out that the environmental impact of Hurricane Katrina on Lake Pontchartrain was surprisingly benign, and in some respects actually beneficial. No reason to think the narrator wouldn't have seen any fish caught on those family expeditions.

In summary: Research is fun! And it is useful. It might even keep the author from looking shamefully uninformed about her own hometown. Yay research!

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

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

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

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

I spent the other half of the time researching.

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

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

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

arranging metaphorical furniture a month in advance
Mon 2014-08-18 22:40:24 (single post)
  • 7,077 wds. long

It did not take me until 5 AM to get "Snowflakes" ready for submission Friday night/Saturday morning. (Thank goodness.) It only took me until 2 AM. I continue to ask myself, why do I do this to myself? But that's not the important question. The important question is, which of my many remaining unfinished short stories shall I work on this week?

For the answer, tune in tomorrow!

September inches closer. Today and yesterday, my very brief task toward launching the Friday Fictionettes project (oooh! It has a name now!) was to choose the story-like objects which will provide the raw material for the first two Patron-locked offerings of September. Meanwhile, the first freebie is ready to go. My intent is to do everything a month in advance. That way I have a huge margin of error before I fall behind my promised schedule.

If I can get this month-in-advance process down cold, that'll be a huge step toward "implementing important changes in my time management strategy which lead to a much healthier relationship with writing and with deadlines."

Meanwhile, waking up in a hotel in Louisville meant a half hour drive to the farm this morning rather than the fifteen minutes it usually takes from home. Only it was longer than that, because I had to stop by home anyway and pick up necessary things. Watered the plants, too. And our home was at that time in stasis between stages of repair, the abatement procedure done and the restoration not yet begun. Most of the large furniture was shoved, stacked, and stowed in a sort of cube formation roughly in the kitchen and dining area. To get at the kitchen sink, I had to sidestep an upended sofa, step on the edge of the coffee table, and step over the back of the futon, sometimes with a full watering can in tow. To get into the refrigerator, I had to shove aside a bookshelf that was standing right up against the fridge door. To get a shirt out of the bedroom closet, I had to wedge myself behind a trio of bed components, all leaning upright against where the door would be if that closet still had a door. In any case, that's the state the house was in at 6:45 this morning. Given that the restorations began at around 9 and I haven't been back since, I have no idea what configuration the furniture is in now.

By comparison, the farm was very simple. Rake up loose beet leaves, hoe the beds in preparation for sowing cover crop, pick all the purple string beans, pick the best of the green string beans. No climbing over furniture involved. And now I have about a half pound of fresh-picked string beans in the fridge. (The hotel fridge, not the fridge I needed to wrestle with a bookshelf to get into.) Given my propensity for snacking on them raw, I predict that none of them will see the hot side of a stove.

I have been awake since just before six, and I am feeling it. Time for bed. Niki out.

the exit may as well have been labeled Temptation Drive
Wed 2014-08-13 23:19:03 (single post)

Today was as unproductive as I expected, for all the reasons I feared. My plan was to drive from the airport straight up to Longmont, order a pot of tea at Cafe Luna, and write everything. But on the drive back from the airport I got hit with a wave of I'm Tired And Also I Have a Headache In My Neck. (This is a thing that happens to me.) And look! How convenient, there's an exit for Dillon Road off the tollway, and, well, I could stick to the plan, turn north on 96th Street, and continue onto Highway 42 and then take 95th Street all the way into Longmont, exactly as planned. Or I could just follow Dillon Road until I get to the turn for my hotel, and maybe take a nap. Not a long nap. Just for an hour. Just enough for the headache/neck-ache thing to go away, and for me to feel less like I'm melting. That's all. Just a short little recovery nap.

It was a long nap, of course.

The good news is, John and friends have arrived safely in Indianapolis, and they're preparing to enjoy the heck out of Gen Con Indy 2014. I am looking forward to a weekend full of entertaining con tweeting. And... that's all the news I've got.

I'm now going to declare today over with for all productive purposes and go to bed early. Tomorrow's report will a lot more interesting. Or at least a lot longer.

Bonus: Check out that iron street lamp off the right. I did not notice it at the time of the photo.
six hours of wyoming is the best excuse
Fri 2014-07-18 22:37:36 (single post)

The latter half of today was spent entirely on the road, driving to the town of Gillette, Wyoming; the earlier half was spent preparing for the drive. And now we have arrived. John and I are currently at the Old Chicago next door to our hotel, anticipating late night pasta, and tomorrow I will be skating with my Bombshells against the Powder River Rousta Bout It Betties in our single away bout of the season.

That's my excuse for getting no writing done, and I think it's a damn good one. So there.

Driving north across Wyoming was interesting. Visible features of the Colorado/Wyoming border at I-25 include 1) a wind farm, and 2) a camel ranch. After that come the rolling hills forever and ever amen.

"That's the problem with Wyoming," said John. "It's boring. I mean, look! Nothing but boring as far as the eye can see!"

Then about an hour later, somewhere north of Cheyenne, we found ourselves in the Roger Dean dimension of fantastic rock formations. I kept waiting for the dragon-thing from that Asia album to come swimming up out of the Glendo Reservoir.

We very briefly visited Chugwater. Because where else do you refill your water bottles, right? I mean, it's named for good hydration! While we where there, we had ice cream shakes at Wyoming's oldest soda fountain, and I had a cup of the town's famous chili. I can't say whether it is good enough to deserve the hype, but it was exactly what I wanted right at that moment.

By the way. Chugwater? Most awesome-fun-absurd place name to say since that time we passed the I-5 interchange for Chuckanut Drive. Just say it. It's right up there with "Huggbees!" and "It's Spaghetti Time!" for turning your frown upside down.

And with that thought I leave you, as I wander, full of lovely carbs and proteins, back to the hotel and thence to sleep. Wish us luck tomorrow!

not dead, just acting like it for a bit
Wed 2014-07-16 22:48:56 (single post)

I do not know why I continue to think that I'm capable of working a full productive day on the day I get back from a trip. I really should know better.

Oh, I know the rationale behind the thought. It goes something like this: "I'll have had a full night's sleep in an actual bed by the time the train gets in, which will be before 8 AM if it's on time. There's no reason I can't just go home and get right to doing things!" What I don't know is why I persist in thinking that despite my experience of every homecoming on a westbound California Zephyr ever, whether the darn thing is on time or late (and today it was about three hours late), which involves getting home, seeing the bed, and crashing hard in the bed. All day long.

For that reason, nothing of use got done before roller derby practice. And nothing of use is getting done after practice for the usual reason, which is that I'm painfully tired.

So this blog post will be just a "hello, here I am, not dead, just going to go imitate dead for awhile." Other and more interesting things will occur tomorrow, or at least that's my hope.

further rail misadventures and their companion silver linings
Tue 2014-07-15 12:31:45 (single post)

Got on the City of New Orleans train yesterday afternoon, and it's coming into Chicago today. It was scheduled to get in at 9 this morning, but someone driving an 18-wheeler near Independence, Louisiana decided they were in just too much of a hurry to wait for those seven or eight cars of our southbound opposite number to go by. The ensuing collision disabled the engine of train, leaving them immobile on the tracks while they waited for a replacement locomotive to come get them. So we sat around in Hammond for a few hours, and are now running 4 hours late.

Once again, instead of a five-hour layover, it looks like I'll have just 15 minutes before it's time to board my connecting train.

My sympathies go out to anyone who was hurt, or worse, in the collision. All I know is what they told our crew, which is that the crew on train 59 were all fine, and that the load the 18-wheeler was carrying swung around and knocked a hole in the wall of the first car behind the engine. At the very least, that had to have seriously startled some people. As for the driver of the truck, I don't know. I do know that when we finally passed the site of the accident, it looked like the cab was unharmed but its load had been reduced to scrap, and that scrap was being loaded into a dumpster.

Update: Reading the link above, it looks like all passengers were unharmed, but the driver of the semi was ejected from the vehicle and is now in the hospital in stable condition.

What is it about the area between Hammond and McComb that tempts people to race the train? Don't ever, ever try to race the train, y'all. Not for anything. Not even if lives depend on your on-time arrival. Because you will not arrive on time. You will lose that race, and you will lose it messily.

Despite indirect misadventures, I've had a pleasant trip. I'm returning via sleeper car, enjoying the chance to decompress in solitude after an extremely social vacation. The meals have been tasty, and oddly peaceful; I've been fortunate to not have to sit with that aggressively gregarious sort--sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, always older than me and conscious of it--who interrogate other travelers for every single personal detail in the name of making conversation. I think they especially do it because they see I'm traveling alone and don't want me to feel left out, bless their hearts. But they leave me feeling invaded, without socially acceptable recourse to say, "Those are uncomfortably personal questions for a woman traveling alone, and I choose not to answer."

I mean, I've said almost those exact words before, but before I say them I have to be willing for the rest of the meal to be chilly and awkward. Society exacts a price when a woman patrols her boundaries, and it's shitty. But I've blogged about that before and I won't bore you with it now.

Anyway, I was ready for that sort of person, should I have encountered them; I had determined, at the least provocation, to talk their ears off about roller derby. But the family I sat with last night and the couple this morning were mostly content to talk quietly among themselves, asking me nothing more than, "What are you knitting?" For the most part, whole-table conversation tended to be low-pressure, and centered on shared present experience: speculation about the collision, observations of the world outside the train, guesses about how far we'd come and what town we were passing through.

Speaking of which, somewhere in southern Illinois there is an A-J Bank. I think it stands for Ann-Jones; at least, that's what I thought I read on another building. Maybe that was the name of the town. When I have a little internet time and no errands to run, I'll look it up. But at first I thought I was seeing a different letter, and I thought, "Oh, the Wyverary has a bank!"

I can tell you who I'm glad I didn't sit with at dinner last night. I had to overhear him all through the meal. [TRIGGER WARNING FOR EFFIN' RAPE CULTURE, Y'ALL. THERE IS A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS PARAGRAPH.] He was one of those jolly married gentlemen who, seeing the opportunity to "entertain" another couple across the table, makes a belittling joke out of every single thing his wife says. Every single word out of her mouth, he pounced on it to show how stupid he thought it was, how silly, how easy to serve it up for common ridicule. Oh, the condescension. Oh, the mocking. It was awful. But then he capped it off at the end of the meal by saying, presumably to the other man at the table, "I don't have to get her drunk; she's my wife!" Because when casual misogyny is already a fun social party game for you, why not make jokes about how sex with the person you supposedly love never actually involves getting her consent?

I was so relieved that he left the diner before my table received our entrees, and that he was only just going to breakfast this morning when I was returning from my meal. I suppose the lady in the next room who woke me up at 5:45 AM (seriously, y'all, these compartments aren't soundproof, so please refrain from shouting) is in fact to be thanked; she's the reason I went to breakfast pretty much the moment they opened at 6.

So, anyway, it's been a good trip. All my direct encounters have been pleasant, I'm about halfway through my writing day already, and I'm looking forward to a solid afternoon of short story revision on the Californial Zephyr. That is, as long as I don't miss my connection. And I don't think I'm going to. As I type, it's 12:57 and we're waiting on the signal that we can enter the station. I suppose it's possible we could sit here until 2 PM, but I'm going to be optimistic about that.

(Update: Made it into the station with minutes to spare, and another few minutes to upload this. Yay!)

what i learned on my summer vacation
Mon 2014-07-14 10:57:52 (single post)

That while a skating distance of 2.1 miles looks unremarkable on paper, and indeed is not so difficult on a bike path in the Vail Valley, it's somewhat more grueling in high heat, high humidity, and over streets that are in dire need of repaving.

That when skating from the warehouse district to the Irish Channel on a beer pilgrimage, it's very important to check the tap room's hours of operation so that one need not wait another 45 minutes to get a cold glass of water out of the sun.

That a 10oz pour of NOLA Brewery's "Girl Stout Cookie" is always worth it.

These were only some of the things I learned during the 2014 edition of the San FermŪn en Nueva Orleans celebration. And here is one more:

That if you skate some 8 miles in a day, in crowds, up and down curbs, over treacherous terrain, and you fall just once, it will not be somewhere discreet, like under an oak tree on the ridiculously wrecked sidewalk on Washington Avenue. No. It will be at high noon on the corner of Canal and N. Peters in front of God and the street cars and everybody.

However, I did only fall just the once that day. So there's a thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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