inasmuch as it concerns Mapping Territories:
Writing from the road. Writing about roads. Writing in the middle of the road. Squish. Just like grape.
no no really this is part of the writing process
I've never planned a novel out the way I'm trying to plan this one. But then, I've never actually finished a novel at all, so it was probably time to change my approach. Oh, I've reached THE END before, I've reached 50,000 words, but I've never quite managed to clean up the babble into proper drafts and chapters, fill in the holes marked I'LL THINK OF SOMETHING LATER, or clean up the infelicities and unfortunate implications. I've never gotten more than the first three chapters of a novel ready to submit anywhere, and since the rest of that novel was still a mess, those three chapters were probably a mistake. But all the novels I've ever not finished, I wrote them according to the NaNoWriMo method: 1,667 words a day, come hell or high water, and fifty thousand by 11:59 PM on November 30th.
Which is to say, until this fall, my novel writing experience has consisted of pounding away at the keyboard whether I knew what came next or not. It's a perfectly feasible way to do it, but I can't help but think my failure to finish revising any of them is connected with this untidy method of creating them.
So this fall I determined to plan everything out before I wrote Scene 1. Instead of the Chris Baty "No Plot? No Problem!" method, I'd give Rachel Aaron's "from 2K to 10K" strategy a try: The more you know about what you're going to write, the faster you can write it, the more you'll enjoy the process, and the more developed your first draft will be right out of the gates.
Aaron's first step is to write down everything you already know about the novel. Cool. Check. Good. It's her second step that's bogging me down: Fill in the gaps. Take all the stuff you don't know, and figure it out. I'm having trouble figuring things out. Like, oh, how the novel will end. And a large chunk of the middle, too, I don't know that either. Every time I sit down, I figure out more about the characters, their surroundings, their conflicts, and their backstories, but I still don't know how things will proceed. It's like there's a barricade constructed right across the plot timeline about two weeks into the narrative, and I keep running into it--wham! Ouch.
Today, taken as a whole, went swimmingly. I worked my "morning shift" right on schedule (at the Avon Public Library, as planned), so I had plenty of time to stroll around town, shop, eat, and then go back to the room and read (library books!) and nap. Then I sat down to my novel planning session, also right on schedule. I had allotted myself two whole hours to work on that novel, and not the last two hours of the conscious day, either! It was, in theory, fantastic.
In practice, I immediately got uneasy and restless. Like I wasn't properly utilizing my work day. As though sitting there planning a novel was wasting time. Like I was cheating my timesheet, crediting myself for two hours of writing when all I'd done was sit there staring into space, talking to myself, and typing incoherently into my Scrivener project. Which, yes, is part of the writing process, I know that intellectually, but deep in my gut where the butterflies live I feel like it doesn't count as writing at all.
It's not precisely that I feel I should be typing up the draft rather than planning it--although actually typing out actual scenes would probably help mitigate the uneasiness. It's more like I'm feeling that any time spent on this novel is a waste, and that I ought to be spending my day on more worthwhile projects that actually have a hope of getting finished. Like revising one of my already sorta-finished novel drafts. Or writing new short stories and revising existing ones for publication. What if this novel never gets finished? What if I never figure it out enough to write it? What if I secretly know that it'll never get finished, and that's why I'm doing it, as an infinite means of procrastination such that I'll never finish or publish anything else again?
Reminder: These are not my logical thoughts. This is the shape of my uneasiness. Have you met me? I am a very insecure person. If you didn't know that, awesome. Maybe I've gotten better at hiding it over the years. (I hear that's like 85% of adulting right there.)
Sometimes, when I'm stuck, things will come unstuck if I just talk to myself about them. Not on the laptop; just talking to myself, out loud. Admittedly, I'm always talking to myself. It's like my thoughts aren't real until I've made them into words that my ears can hear. So that's what I did tonight. I put the laptop away, ran a hot bath, and commenced with the relaxing and talking to self. (The talking to self method works better while relaxed. Relaxing works better in a hot soak. Also, a hot soak was really necessary after this afternoon's hour and a half walk to the Walmart and back. I forgot to pack my scrimmage jerseys, OK? So I needed cheap T-shirts in black and white. $2.79 in the craft aisle along with all the fabric paint pens you can choke on.)
What I was hoping to figure out was more street-level details of the neighborhood Michael's currently living in: what his daily commute looks like, what cafes and restaurants and bars he frequents, what his apartment complex is like. I can't really write forward without knowing the terrain the characters are going to be moving through. I didn't get any of that. What I did get was a few more details about childhood in Allemondia, the kinds of fairy tales and fantasies that those facts inspire, and a tragedy in Michael's childhood that was a factor in his decision to be a doctor.
Argh. More background and backstory. Still no narrative progression. But I got out of the tub and I wrote all of it down, because I'll take whatever I can get. In the end, it's all going in there.
the postponement that surprised no one
Turns out food coma is a thing, even on vacation. Especially on vacation. Thus the Friday Fictionette which I said to expect on Saturday will come out on Sunday instead (which you probably saw coming), but not for lack of trying. I'm working on it right now. But it's 10:30 at night and I am a realist.
My day was pleasantly full of travel. I like public transportation, for the most part, and I got to sample several flavors of it today. I'd especially been looking forward to the Greyhound portion because all their buses are now equipped with wi-fi and electrical outlets. But of course that wi-fi is only as good as the signal strength where the bus is traveling, and signal strength is poor on mountain roads. But even knowing that, I was surprised by the stretch of I-70 where I could download and install a Java upgrade, play Puzzle Pirates, and yet be unable to load web pages. (This is why no blockade post today.) So I played Puzzle Pirates and read ebooks until the Greyhound arrived in Vail.
Twenty minutes later I arrived in Avon on the westbound Highway 6 bus, and my annual week of "run away and hide from the world and get lots of writing done!" commenced. It was sunny and bright and warmer than I'd expected, the forecast snow not having arrived yet. I figured I'd better enjoy the weather while it lasted. Besides, I'd arrived too early to check into my room. So I wandered down the street in search of dinner.
Used to be, my first meal in Avon would be at Finnegan's Wake, the Irish pub next door to Loaded Joe's. Used to be. Some years ago, I arrived to discover Finnegan's Wake was gone and had been replaced by some barbecue and sports bar thing called Montana's Smokehouse. I've eaten there once. It didn't really speak to me.
I think my new Welcome to Avon ritual is going to be China Garden. I already make sure to get there at least once per stay; why not on Day 1? Today I had the crispy duck and a pot of tea, and I consumed it all. (OK, maybe not all the fried rice. But close.) And of course this gluttony occurred after a day full of travel, which itself included the altitude spike of Vail Pass and also the ant-under-a-magnifying-glass factor of several hours in buses on a sunny day. Thus the food coma to which I succumbed the moment I got to my room.
So the "get lots of writing done!" aspect of the week is starting a little later than usual. But it is starting.
i knew this when I was a puppy
It's already November 22 and I've barely spent any hours at all working on my new novel. I guess novel-writing season is likely to extend into December. Of course, in theory, thoroughly planning the novel out beforehand can result in knocking the draft out in a week or less. However, I'm new at this 10K-a-day stuff, so I'm trying to keep my expectations reasonable.
Had a worldbuilding brainstorm last night, though, which is incidentally the best way to compensate for being almost entirely unable to sleep. Only, before I can tell you about that, I need to catch you up on some of the story so far.
In the country from which one of the main characters hails, humans aren't born human. They're born chimera--part human, part some other animal. For instance, Michael was born half-cat. More than half, actually. Mostly cat. But over the course of adolescence, the animal features are replaced by human ones. It's a perfectly natural and spontaneous process, comparable to other processes associated with puberty. Its social effect is as you might expect: Where our world has Sweet Sixteen parties, quinceañeros, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and other coming of age rituals and celebrations, Michael's homeland makes a great big Hallmark deal out of children becoming fully human.
(Only some few days after I'd come up with that did I realize this echoed a let's-pretend motif of my early childhood, mostly forgotten until this time. I can't remember the details, but I can remember a specific incident that has the freight of something much repeated. I was all-fouring my way across the kitchen floor and going woof to get Mom's attention. Mom asked me what I was doing. I said, "I'm being [NAME] when he was a puppy." She said "I don't think [NAME] was ever a puppy." I said, with a trace of exasperation that she didn't get it already, "No, the powerful [NAME]." Apparently the person I was pretending to be had experienced a previous stage of life in which he A. had superpowers and B. spent his childhood as a puppy. A. and B. were inextricably linked, as best as I can recall.)
And so but anyway here's the brainstorm: Those animal features don't just disappear. When they're all gone, an animal of that type appears in the newly adult human's life and stays with them forever. It's possible this was influenced by a current reread of The Golden Compass, because this sure sounds a lot like Pullman's daemons. But in this case, the magical animal companion isn't a revelation of your essential nature, but rather the ultimate home of your not-exactly-discarded childhood. We talk about "the inner child," right? The people of Michael's homeland have a very much outer child.
Now, here's the real brainstorm: That's what the talking cat character is. Did I mention the talking cat character? There's a talking cat character that shows up and startles the other main character, Delta, by talking to her. Turns out it's not some random talking cat popping up to be accounted for. It's the part of Michael that used to be a cat.
I haven't decided yet what to call it. "Familiar" has the wrong connotations, and besides, I'm using that in another continuity. "Pet" is entirely inaccurate. "Daemon," as I said before, is taken. And "magical animal companion," though it works well enough as a descriptive phrase when talking about the novel, is a bit too twee for use within the novel. Well, Delta can use the phrase sarcastically while she's trying to come to terms with the critter. But Michael wouldn't. Him and his folks would have some other term, something matter-of-fact, devoid of both fanfare and self-deprecation.
I'll come up with something eventually.
I'm not sure quite what to do with this information, but that's OK. I don't have to know everything just yet. As long as I figure out a little bit more at each novel-planning session, I'm doing fine.
And so I am off to have a novel-planning session now. Cheers!
engage winter mode
It started snowing today. First snow of the season, at least down here in the (relatively) flats. Finally it really feels like November.
I was lying in bed looking out the window when it began. The linden tree has lost enough of its leaves that I can now reliably see the moon on its way down from zenith, but it still has enough that it's noticeable when any precipitation starts. I may not be able to see the raindrops or the snowflakes, but I can see them hit the leaves and cause them to bounce up and down on their stems. Not all the leaves at once, but one here one second and one there the next. It always takes me a moment, though, to understand what these random explosions of movement outside my window are, or what's causing them. But I get there eventually.
"Oh," I thought, "it's started to snow. Shit, I haven't brought the plants in yet!"
I brought in the plants. Just the ones that are in containers small enough to easily move. The chives, dill, and parsley. The kale in one of the big self-watering containers, hastily transplanted. The shade-tolerant plants from the front porch, which had been moved to the back patio at the end of September to make way for contractors scraping off the old deck coating and applying the new. (It's a little disappointing that now that I theoretically could put all the front porch stuff back out there, I actually can't, because it's snowing.) I also harvested all the cherry tomatoes that were anywhere near ripe and all the San Marzanos of any color and size. (The immediate future holds fried green tomatoes in tempura batter.)
It's fireplace weather now, but we're both too tired from tonight's scrimmage to manage it. (Also, the herbs and kale are on the hearth until I can find them a better arrangement.) No doubt because of the weather, we had only enough people tonight to run four-on-four, with one side having the luxury to sit their fifth skater. We all decided that increasing line-up time to 45 seconds was a good idea, at least for the first half. Very few officials made it out, too, so the skaters had to time their own penalties. We all tried to be gentle with each other emotionally, though not necessarily physically. A lot of learning happened on both the skater and referee sides of the track.
Despite the weather, it seemed relatively warm in the practice space. There will be worse nights, nights when it's painful to take off the outerwear in order to gear up. Tonight wasn't so bad.
I should be happy that it snowed. We've had a dry and extra-long fall. (Say it with me now: "We need the moisture.") But the first snowfall always brings with it a sort of deep and creeping depression for me, like, "Good times are over and everything is going to suck from here on out." It's the bookend paired with the first-rain-of-spring feeling, "Winter's over! Life begins anew! Hooray!" I'm pretty sure I have a little of the seasonal affective disorder going on, but mostly it's just that I don't like snow. I don't like what it does to the roads, or the limitations it puts on outdoor activity. (I dreamed about trail-skating this morning. I woke up to the likelihood of no trail-skating at all until spring. Unfair.) I don't like the cold, or at least the very cold. In that, I remain a southern girl at heart. I haven't truly enjoyed winter since moving away from New Orleans. What I like best is the fall, when the brutal heat of summer has been mitigated by gentle cool-fronts and the leaves turn amazing colors. The colors went on and on this year, but the weather stayed more or less in the summer furnace region right up until, well, now.
(Maybe I'm exaggerating. Selection bias is real.)
In any case, the first snowfall has hit and this household is going into winter mode. Right now that means getting in the habit of closing the blinds to keep the windows more insulated at night, and kicking off our shoes by the door so as not to track melting snow across the carpet. Probably also means less assuming that I can bus-and-bike to Longmont, and more frequent negotiations for car custody. What winter mode means for my writing routines I have not yet determined, but I'll be giving it some thought in the coming days. Will let you know when I figure it out.
because i am weak and it was there
There's this particular style of Chinese restaurants in the U.S. known as the "super buffet," which is exactly what it claims to be: an all-day all-you-can-eat buffet of about a bazillion different things upon which you stuff your face until your stomach begs for mercy. I have been to some very good ones. Recently, I went to a terrible one. I went back to it tonight. I'm still not sure why.
I was first introduced to the concept in my home town of Metairie, Louisiana. My parents took my husband and me out to Mandarin House on Severn Avenue. It was perfect, they said, because everyone could have what they wanted no matter how different their tastes. This was true. Dad filled plate after plate with spicy boiled crawfish (available year round, as far as I can tell), boiled shrimp, and oysters on the half-shell. I followed his lead, but made room for green-lipped mussels with dynamite sauce, black bean mussels, and sushi. Mom had a lot of some sort of fried chicken dish. And John had mac 'n cheese and mashed potatoes and dinner rolls.
(Mandarin House was the first place I ever had raw oysters, by the way. Up until then, despite priding myself on living up to the Justin Wilson joke about how Cajuns will eat "any damm t'ing", I'd never been able to make myself put that big, wobbly, unappetizing blob in my mouth. But I'd had a bit of a practice run with little raw bivalves at Legal's Seafood during a visit to Boston, so I gave it a shot. Thus the monster was created.)
Then there's the Great Wall Super Buffet in Lakewood, south of Denver, on Wadsworth just a little ways north of Hampden. I treated myself to a big lunch there coming home from a scrimmage with RMRG just before heading to playoffs. (Damn, I still haven't done the D2 round-up post. Seems a little anti-climactic now that Championships are done, though.) I was astounded at the extent to which their buffet contents matched those of Mandarin House. They even had boiled crawfish, although not, it must be said, very well spiced. If there is a spectrum that ranges from "picky eater" to "adventurous omnivore," if you'll forgive the American-centric description, Great Wall was a few clicks past Mandarin House toward the adventurous side.
Turns out that super buffets also exist on a spectrum from Must Eat All The Things to TERRIBLE, and in the latter end of that swimming pool is Longmont's China Buffet. I cannot bear to link to them for fear that they will read this. I feel rotten saying bad things about them, especially considering that, Gods help me, I will probably go back. Again. But I am afraid it's true. Their food is terrible.
The jalapeño beef was tough. The salmon, swimming in its own juices on the steam table, nevertheless turned out to be dry. The green-lipped mussels were dessicated and their mayonnaise sauce had congealed. The "seafood pie"--sort of a mock-crab casserole, really--looked delicious, but its seemingly crispy-crunchy edges turned out to be made of leather. The hot and sour soup had a flavor I didn't care for, though that might have been the not-so-fresh chopped scallions I was fooled into garnishing it with. Even the little cream puffs on the dessert table were awful, the shell unpleasantly tough and chewy around a half-frozen filling. I guess they were defrosted badly. There were sushi rolls. Vegetarian, it looked like. Mostly cucumber. They were sitting under plastic wrap. I did not venture to try them.
I admit, the king crab legs were just fine. They were served with drawn butter that was also just fine. I cleaned out about five crab legs into a small cup of drawn butter and ate it all up with a spoon. That was just fine. My mistake was in eating anything else.
And I went back today.
The notion crept into my head as I was thinking about my appointment at Cafe of Life, and about how I needed to stay out and get some work done. I have not had a great start to this week, work-wise, because I keep screwing up my sleep cycle. I lost my Tuesday afternoon to food coma because I can't seem to keep from eating the whole serving of Five Spice Wok at Jin Chan Zhang. (Seriously, I have got to learn to either package away leftovers before I start eating, so as to blunt temptation, or just save Jin Chan lunches for days when I can afford the afternoon nap.) So I stayed up until 3 AM last night to get everything done. So I slept until noon today. So I really, really had to not collapse after my appointment. And one nice thing about a super buffet is, they typically don't seem to mind if I take up a table for several hours, nibbling leisurely and poking at my computer and not requiring much in the way of frequent refills or table-clearing.
I kept trying to talk myself out of it all day. Go literally anywhere else! Don't go there! You will eat a finite amount of meals in your lifetime; why waste one on bad food? These were good arguments. I agreed with them completely. And I still kept planning to go. Even as I was locking up my bike in front of the restaurant, the smart voice in my head was saying, "It's not too late. You could still go to Leenie's Cafe next door." But apparently not-smart me was in charge of the body today.
And everything was just about the same as it was last time. I tried items I did not try last time, and they were bad too. I employed strategy, by which I mean, I watched the kitchen doors for new trays to come out, hot and fresh and theoretically not yet dried out. The next fresh tray to come out contained a battered fried chicken. It was hot and fresh, true, but it consisted of a small, sad, bland nugget that rattled around inside a bready shell that managed somehow to be mushy and crispy at the same time. Strategy failed. (Also, I do not like fried chicken at a super buffet. It is simply not interesting enough to take up stomach real estate in an all-you-can-eat situation. Strategy failed twice.)
New strategy is to more or less just eat the crab legs and maybe one or two other items that might be improved by drawn butter. The stir-fried button mushrooms were OK that way. Also the flan did not seem to have come to any harm, so dessert was not a total loss.
The best strategy would surely be to not go back. And yet, I'm pretty sure I will. Because of nostalgia. Because of being able to get work done. Because they are right there and I'm stubborn. Because, despite all the reviews on Yelp that seem to agree with me, the place still gets busy around 6 PM--that many customers clearly see something worthwhile there. And because I guess all-you-can-eat crab legs for $11.99 is not actually a bad deal.
But you should probably not go there. This is not a recommendation. This is an admission of weakness. Don't be fooled.
story solutions, unexpected uptime, and tempation
Hello from the new Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago Union Station! My first time there since the renovation. It is an elegant two-story monstrosity accessible from the Great Hall or from the west side of Canal Street or from the stairs inside the main west-side Canal Street entrance. Stowing luggage is now self-service in a big closet to the right of the Great Hall check-in desk. Showers are available. There's a self-serve espresso machine and chilled sparkling water on tap. Round 12:30, they say, they bring out a cheese and veggie tray, though I will probably not be here for that since I've got a lunch date with a high school friend. (Obviously not the same high school friend I had lunch with in Covington.) The furniture is comfy and upholstered. There are AC outlets everywhere. There are also TVs everywhere, but I was able to find an upstairs corner where the ambient music is louder than the ambient news anchors, so that's OK.
So I've been thinking about my problems with "Stand By for Your Assignment" and I think I've figured them out. By which I mean, I think I have the right diagnosis and the first steps to a solution. Here it is: I'm trying to fit too much story into too few words. This is why I'm having so much trouble on a sentence-by-sentence and paragraph-by-paragraph level--I'm trying to make each syntactical unit convey too much information. Therefore, the solution is this: More scenes. A longer story.
I was working on it last night on the train. Which is to say, I was thinking about it really hard while trying to fall asleep. I'm afraid I let the unexpected wi-fi distract me. And why not? Since when has wi-fi been available on train 58/59? Or on any cross country train at all, really? Aside from the Coast Starlight, that is--and that one is no longer listed on the official wi-fi page, anyway (wait, it is still mentioned on the route schedule brochure as available in business class service). Certainly I've never seen it advertised on the City of New Orleans (though, as this forum post points out, it's offered officially on the Illini and the Saluki, which are essentially the same route but only between Chicago and Carbonale, IL). I suppose it's in a pilot phase. All I know is, as part of the usual feature orientation speech and greeting, the sleeping car attendant said, "In just a moment I'll have the wi-fi gateway set up and I'll post the network information near the water station at the top of the stairs," and my jaw dropped and continued hanging open right until he was done speaking.
It worked pretty well! There were a small handful of places where I was connected but with no internet, about the same as if I were connected to my husband's smartphone wi-fi hotspot and we hit a dead zone, but outside of that, the signal was effortlessly reliable. Only real outage was just after the power cycle in Memphis round about 11:00 PM; that SSID simply fell off the list of available networks and didn't reappear until sometime after I went to sleep. It was up and working perfectly when I got up at 7:00 AM, though, and remained so right into Chicago Union Station. So I was able to do all the wi-fi things, like update my submissions log, research manuscript submission possibilities (see? I was doing virtuous writing-related things online!), catch up on some blog community conversations, check in with my roller derby league via Facebook, all those things. Tried playing a little on splix.io and Puzzle Pirates, but I kept getting disconnected from the server. I guess even very simple live multiplayer games are beyond that little hotspot's capabilities. But for web pages and email, and even playing video off Facebook (a leaguemate had posted a few minutes from last night's Lindsey Stirling concert at Red Rocks, very nice to listen to during final hour of the trip), it was just fine.
Can't count on wifi on the train to Denver, though--not only is it, again, not officially listed among the promised amenities, but there's a lot of dead spots along that route, big ones. So that even if they do provide a hotspot, it will be of only limited use. Hence blogging now rather than later.
Anyway, more scenes. My plan is to reread the current draft of "Stand By..." and note wherever things get cluttered and awkward, or wherever I've tried to provide more flashback or exposition than comfortably fits into that point in the narrative. I'll experiment with making them full-blown scenes in their own right. (Possibly the story will be restructured to alternate between scenes set now and scenes set in Dolores's past, but I'm not wed to that idea yet.) Additional scenes will not only make things less clunky, I hope, but will also give the story room to better develop the necessary tension. Better pacing, in other words.
With several of my completed stories, I can point to a moment during the revision process where I restructured the narrative and everything came unstuck like magic. I am hoping I just reached that moment with this story. Only hindsight will be able to say.
OK. I swear this evening I will not just think about it but also TYPE about it. Even if there is wi-fi. I will be good! I will be a hard-working little writer person! I will make words appear on the screen! Promise!
short story season, novel writing season
I'll be getting on a train in about three hours (as of the time of starting this blog post), so I'm blogging now rather than later. Today's topic: My cunning plan to accomplish all my fiction goals, both long and short.
I have for many years now considered myself a novelist as well as a short story writer. Even so, I still haven't finished a novel to the point of commercial viability. Some may say this means I don't get to call myself a novelist; I am not going to waste time arguing with them, as there's no profit in it for them nor me. I'm more concerned with problems that actually need solving, to wit, (1) there are only so many hours in the day, and (2) I have not historically excelled at time management.
In short: Until something about problems (1) or (2) changes--say, the Earth's rotation slows down to afford us extra hours in a day, or, possibly more likely, I start using my available hours more effectively--it's simply not realistic to expect myself to make progress on both the short and the long fiction goals in a single work day.
So I'm looking at the space of a year instead.
The inspiration for this obvious-in-hindsight idea was episode 11.33 of the podcast Writing Excuses: Crossover Fiction with Victoria Schwab. Schwab writes across the age spectrum of audiences, from middle grade to YA to adult. She writes one novel in each of those three categories every year. What caught my ear was the way she does it--and I'm having trouble finding the exact quote, but what I remember is, she designates a particular season of each year to each to each of those projects. Which struck me as an absolute genius solution to my own problem. If I were to designate certain months of the year for short fiction and others for novels, then I'm not responsible for making time for both in every single day. Instead, I'm only responsible for making daily time for fiction, period. And that is a reasonable goal.
While I don't want to try to plan the whole year out from here--there are probably factors I'm forgetting to take into account, like travel and appointments and the rhythms of the 2017 roller derby season--it's a no-brainer to reserve November for novel work. Which means this month, October, I'm buckling down to get several short stories newly ready to go. That way, during novel-writing months, all I have to do with short stories--all I am allowed to do with them--is submit and resubmit them.
Which means this month I'm going to get a little antsy about days without a short fiction work session. My hope is that yesterday will have been the last of those. Shouldn't be too hard to bank today toward the goal, since I'll be getting on a train in about two hours (as of the time of uploading this blog post)....
well maybe more of a workout vacation
I've come to the last night of what has been an exceedingly active visit to the New Orleans area. It has not in any way been a working vacation, which, OK, I shouldn't have expected. But it has been an active one. Darn near athletic.
I've spent a lot of time with Dad, mostly to do with cooking, sometimes to do with housecleaning, often just watching TV and chatting. We went to the Tremé Fall Festival, then out for a beer at Dad's favorite bar. (Between beers while out and mixed drinks while home, I accuse Dad of trying to get me drunk. Which isn't to say he should stop, mind you.) We went grocery shopping several times. I've visited a couple times with my brother, once at the bar and once here at the house. Visited also with various people who dropped by. I've been up early every morning and asleep early every night, because that's what Mom and Dad do and I have an easily influenced sleep schedule.
But I've also been dropping off early every night because I am exhausted. And this is probably because I've been skating. And by skating, I mean a lot. I came here with the intention to skate all the trails, and by all the Gods, I have skated on the trails. Not all of them, but a healthy selection thereof. And every single full day of my stay.
It goes like this:
Saturday, October 2: Home to Bonnabel Boat Launch via streets and Lakefront Trail (0.8 miles)
Mom goes to mass every morning. Her routine these days has contracted to a small handful of set rituals, and that's one of them. She can't drive anymore (at least, not and reliably get where she's going), so Dad and their network of friends have arranged for a transport rota.
On Saturday AM, a friend of the family drove her there, and with that particular friend there is also a ritual: After mass, they drive over to the Bonnabel Boat Lanch to look at the waves and the sea gulls. Dad and I met them there, him by car and me by skates.
The Bonnabel Canal is a big landmark of my childhood. It flows right behind my neighborhood and into the lake; the Bonnabel Pumping Station sits where the one meets the other. If you cross the canal on any of the little bridges and head north on Bonnabel Boulevard you wind up at the boat launch. Since my childhood, and since Hurricane Katrina, there has been a lot of development on all of the above-named structures. The pumping station has a concrete storm shelter on concrete pillar stilts, three stories above the ground, so that never again will the pumping station lie inactive during a storm because of the engineers having been evacuated out of reach. The boat launch is cleaned up and green and built out, with lots of parking spaces for vehicles and a park with a children's playground and a fenced dog yard and a pier that's strong and new and surfaced with concrete. The bike path crosses the canal on a flat bridge behind the pumping station, so there's no need for pedestrians, bicyclists or skaters to detour through the neighborhoods as I used to have to do.
And the little cross street that I take from my house to the bike path access spur has been repaved since last time I was in town. That was a nice surprise. It was smooth and pleasant on my way up to the levee, and safe to descend to from the levee at speed. So I got to the boat launch about the same time as Dad's car arrived and only just a few minutes behind Mom and the family friend who was driving her, and got home before any of them did.
It was a nice easy start, sort of an appetizer. Other trips would be longer. Not heroic, not epic marathons, but certainly longer.
Sunday, October 3: Home to Lakeshore Drive, Picnic Shelter No. 1 via streets and Lakefront Trail (5.6 miles)
That bike path I was on Saturday, labeled by Google Maps as "Lakefront Trail" but referred to on other websites as "Linear Park," traces the entire length of Jefferson Parish along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, never leaving sight of the water. As of 2014, its 10-mile length is entirely uninterrupted, to say nothing of the much shorter distance between the Bonnabel Canal and Old Hammond Highway. So it was without much difficulty that I rolled in at the door of Captain Sid's Seafood at 9:50 AM and asked for a dozen boiled blue crabs.
"They won't be ready until about 10:45," I was told. "Can you take another few laps around?"
So I continued on into Orleans Parish and over down Lakeshore Drive to watch the sailboats for a while. This was somewhat bumpier, as the streets aren't uniformly in as good condition as the trail, and the sidewalks along Lakeshore Drive are paved with red brick, but it was pleasant. Things smoothed out like a skating rink when I reached the park along the water. I remember being taken out to this park, which the grown-ups simply called "The Lakefront," to sit on the sea steps and drop crab nets in the water. Skating alongside those steps now, I reflected that, in case of a fall, roller derby gear will protect one from impact but not necessarily from a wetting (nor the undertow, which a friend's parents informed me would, should I fall in, promptly suck me under the stone steps to drown--that's hot spicy nightmare fuel if ever an 8-year-old heard some), and proceeded with caution in the area.
At 10:45 the crabs were ready for pick-up. The folks at Captain Sid's put them in a brown paper bag, I put that in a plastic kitchen garbage sack, and the whole thing went carefully upright in my Riedell gear pack. Dad and I ate the whole dozen practically in a single sitting. They were that good.
Monday, October 4: Covington to Abita Springs via the Tammany Trace (6.92 miles)
Plans could not have been more perfect, I thought. Lunch with a high school friend in Covington, skating the Trace into Abita Springs, then a beer at the Abita Brew Pub. The weather was good and the trailheads were each pretty much on the doorstep of what I wanted to do in their respective towns.
Only problem: A fair number of restaurants are closed on Monday. Including the ones I had planned my day around. I thought I'd done my homework, but apparently I missed some little details.
It wasn't a day-wrecker. It was just a disappointment. Dad had been talking up DiCristina's and I really wanted to try it. And not only have I wanted to visit the Abita Brew Pub since I first realized it existed, but I was holding that visit out to myself as a reward for all that good exercise on the trail. "I did it! I got here! Yay! ...Oh." I'll have to do it again next trip, and not on a Monday. Meanwhile, lunch wound up being at a deli that was even closer to the Covington trailhead, and the beers I enjoyed at Rosie's Tavern across the street from Abita were in fact Abita seasonals I'd never tried before. So that was fine.
The trail was just gorgeous. Skating it was its own reward. Just the portion that crosses Bogue Falaya I would happily skate back and forth on for hours. And the whole way the trail traveled on land, it was bordered by those same lush ribbons of varied plant life, narrow strips of something like swamp forest, that I've always loved staring at out the window of my parents' car on the way to visit northshore family. Dragonflies everywhere. Birds and bugs and things. And shade. Shade is important. Also there was a snoball stand where the Trace continues on after crossing Highway 190. There is nothing like skating along a scenic trail with a purple king cake flavored snoball in my hand. Unless it's skating along with a snoball of a different flavor, of course. (Purple is my least favorite color of king cake. It tastes like numerical red food dye. Should have had the wedding cake flavor, or the coffee-and-cream.)
I had my only real fall of my whole 5-day stay. It was on my way back to Covington, after--ironically--the bartender at Rosie's had said having my wheels on in the house was fine as long as I didn't fall. Well. I didn't fall there. Anyway, during much of the ride there and back I'd been practicing my transitions at speed, which is to say turning around to skate backwards then turning around to skate forwards without affecting my rate or vector of travel. That had been fine. But for some reason when I transitioned just one more time to get a better look at some asphalt splotches that seemed to form letters across the track, I went down backwards on my ass. Thankfully, nothing took damage, neither the laptop in my gearpack (snug against my back and cushioned away from the point of impact by my hoodie stuffed into the large compartment where my protective gear usually goes) nor the camera hanging off my wrist nor my phone tucked into the strap of my left elbow pad. I did not even rip my brand new Saints leggings. (I have brand new Saints leggings! I got them here.).
And then I drove back across the lake to the southshore, listening to podcasts the whole way.
Tuesday, October 5: Audubon Park to Oschner Hospital via the Mississippi River Trail (5.6 miles)
The Mississippi River Trail aspires to continue along the river all the way from Louisiana to Minnesota. This has not yet been accomplished, but some hefty segments are done and ready for travel. Among them is the 60-mile stretch along the east bank from New Orleans to Reserve, Louisiana. I skated the first half hour of that today--which is to say, a half hour out and a half hour back. That amount of time took me from my car in the Audubon Zoo parking lot (Google tells me I was where Aquarium Drive meets West Drive, where the River Drive one-way begins) onto the trail and back the way I'd come as far as Oschner Hospital on River Road.
For the first ten minutes, I seriously considered giving up, turning around, and just skating a lap around the golf course in the park. That trail has been recently paved and is said to be smooth as silk as it circles under the shade of the old oak trees. By contrast, the Mississippi River Trail is in full sun and starts out punishingly rough with no view whatsoever to speak of. But then it finally ascends to the top of the levee on smoother pavement. The view of the river is fantastic. Looking over the city, you get the feeling of being at the top of the world.
Unfortunately, the sun is very much a factor. Despite the trip being shorter than the day's before, and despite the two bottles of water consumed over the hour of travel, I was starting to get slighlty short of breath in that particularly asthmatic way that I associate with impending sunstroke by the time I returned to the car.
If I do that trail again, I'll skip the zoo parking lot and come in by way of one of the access spurs I spotted in Jefferson Parish, one at The River Center and one at Oschner. Just skip that awful bit of trail that's sandwiched between a chain link fence and a parade of what appeared to be industrial government facilities. And I won't forget my sunscreen next time.
So that leaves Wednesday. Wednesday I get on the train to start the two-day trip back to Colorado. I have my usual volunteer reading to do and parents who'll want to maximize our visiting time before I go, so I doubt I'm going to get a chance to skate more tomorrow. Besides, four days of trail skating in a row is plenty; I think my body needs a slight break. But I won't swear not to do any skating in Chicago on Thursday.
this fictionette fulfilled almost all expectations
The Friday Fictionette nominally for September 23, 2016 but functionally for September 30 has gone up. I put it up last night, but then I pretty much collapsed, so you get the blog post today. It's "Living It Up," and, as mentioned before, it's mostly a shameless hate-fic in reaction to one of my least favorite stories of recent years. (Because of the Puppying of the Hugos, I feel I should specify that nothing makes it onto my "least favorite stories" list if it didn't stand a chance of not being on that list in the first place. Otherwise the list would be unmanageably long.) But as I wrote it and had to give examples of the main character's boyfriend being a jerk, I wound up coloring him in with the broad brush I obtained as a small child being bullied by my older cousins and one particular uncle. The rest of the family had various enabling spins on the bullying; one of them was that I clearly had no sense of humor or else I'd find the bullying funny. So... that kind of informed the development of the antagonist of this fictionette.
Look, I never promised you subtlety in this exercise. You get an ebook and an audiobook version depending on your subscription tier, you get them four times a month, you get sentences and paragraphs that more or less make sense and add up to a story-like object, and you get a glimpse into my writing process whether you want it or not. You don't necessarily get literature.
I had a nice long day in Metairie after my nice long day on the train: rental car adventures, traffic on I-10 West, the last 15 minutes of game play (which is to say, the better part of an hour) of my high school's homecoming game--which they won by a comfortable margin and with several showy interceptions too--and then dinner courtesy of My Father the Cook. (Venison and green onion sausage with a side of garden-fresh okra? Yes please thank you any time!) Stayed up late talking with Dad and exchanging stand-up comedian recommendations--not the best of ideas, as it turns out; he didn't get Maria Bamford, and I'll be happy not to hear any more of Anthony Jeselnik pretty much ever. But we both partake of the geek/nerd/fan nature and want so much to share with each other the things we enjoy! In any case, we didn't part ways for the night until well past 9:00 PM. Generally I consider that downright early, but after all the day's activity and travel I was ready to drop.
Oh, right, predictions for Thursday. They were good! Everything happened as hope--including skating in Chicago! There was no rain falling when I got there, though it clearly had fallen (and was still falling in Naperville). I did indeed skate the Lakefront Trail to Navy Pier. The trail's paving is not the best for skates--it's very bumpy--but it goes all the way there. Then a very diligent security guard made me de-wheel myself on the pier itself. I met my friend for dinner at Giordanos by the Children's Museum and we had a far too short visit before he had to drive me back to the train station.
Once I got settled on the train, I spent some time trying to prepare "Stand By For Your Assignment" for submission. That story is giving me such trouble. I can't seem to make the words do what I want them to do. The story goes clunk, clunk, clunk. I think I need to stand back and give it more of an eagle's eye once-over, ask myself what I'm trying to do with the story overall, and only once I have the larger structure pointing in that direction will I be able to get any joy on a line-by-line level.
I'm terribly afraid I'm stuck in the perfection trap, though. The one where you never finish and you never move on because you can't seem to get it perfect. I keep telling myself, just let the story stand as a record of where your craft is now, so you can move on to where your craft is trying to go. But the story needs to be at least publishable before I let it go, right? In theory?
Anyway, that was Thursday night. Friday morning, instead of doing more work on "Stand By...," I played around with a new story idea inspired by an anecdote I overheard, told by one of the train staff (assistant conductor, maybe?) in the sightseer lounge. I'm not going to get this right, and I have no idea how true it is, but it began, "This town we're passing through here, Stanton, Iowa..." Seems there was a woman who traveled from France to the U.S., took a job as a nanny for some family somewhere, but turned out to be unsuited for the job, possibly due to mental illness, also possibly due to not having the proper immigration documents, and she just... ran away? Disappeared into the midwest, I guess, and wound up in Stanton, Iowa. And that's where the immigration officials finally caught up with her, months later. Or at least found out what became of her? I'm not sure; I just remember that the last thing the storyteller said, which seemed like a complete non sequitor, not to mention at right angles to reality, was, "I guess the feral cats got to her."
*Blink. Blink.* Feral cats? Did I mishear? I don't know, but that day's freewriting exercise had the writing prompt "The feral cats of Stanton, Iowa." (It may also have been influenced by having recently read "If You Were a Tiger, I'd Have to Wear White" by Maria Dahvana Headley.) It seems likely to turn into a real story, too. And that's good, because I need to stockpile submission-ready short stories this month--but that's another story which I shall tell at another time.
eighty percent chance of solid offline productivity
Tonight, like last night, I'll spend on a train with no internet access. My only chance to upload a blog post will be during my five-hour layover, and only a very little of that since I have made plans to visit with an old friend. Which means I'm blogging from the naive and optimistic beginning of the day rather than from the resigned and exhausted end.
So. Hello from 9:20 in the morning!. That's rather earlier than my morning shift usually starts. But I gave up on sleep as a lost cause when I heard the man in the seat behind me saying, loudly, clearly, in an unmoderated daytime voice, "They don't start serving coffee until six o'clock." Thank you, good sir, for that information, which is only relevant to my life because you and your loud voice and lack of situational awareness wouldn't let me sleep past six. But since you have made it relevant to me, thank you for passing it along. Also thank you for your continuing updates on how you think everyone around you slept. Slept, past tense, as though no one around you were still trying to sleep.
From here it is still impossible to tell whether I'll get to go trail-skating in Chicago. I leaned on another passenger and their smartphone to give me an update on the weather forecast; they told me "Sixty percent chance of rain diminishing to fifty and then forty as the day goes on." That sounds slightly more optimistic than the NOAA's bare-bones prediction of fifty percent all day. I do not like uncertainty! I want to make plans. I don't want to spring last-minute changes on my friend, who has to drive and park and navigate a work schedule. I'm almost to the point of saying, whatever, fine, I'm skating, I'm committing to it, meet me at Navy Pier. If my wheels get wet, who cares? I'm riding on my oldest and crappiest set of bearings. But then I think about attempting to get traction over two miles of wet pavement, and I get doubts.
From here, too, I can't so much report on today's writing as make predictions about it. So. Based on the time available to me on the train, I predict hitting the five hour mark. Based on how close I got to completing the overdue September 23 fictionette during yesterday's five hours, I predict there will be a solid session of short story revision today. I'm a little disappointed over not having a revision session yesterday, but it couldn't be helped. The fictionette's lingering. The story itself is... well, not very subtle, I guess. Not a surprise. Lack of subtlety is why it's a fictionette. One way a freewriting session becomes a fictionette is, when the 25-minute timer goes ding, I say to myself, "I'm going to get a lot of satisfaction out of turning this into a real story, but there is no way any editor in charge of a budget will want to buy it." But it would appear I'm less resigned to producing a 1200-word clue-by-four to the head than I thought I'd be. Also there's this temptation to turn the author's note into a full-on detailed review of the short story to which this fictionette is reacting. Not a favorable review, as you might imagine. Intensely unfavorable. There's the temptation to go on and on.
Still, I got it mostly done. I expect to get it all the way done today, or at least as close to done as I can while both offline (no uploadig) and in public (no recording the audiofictionette), such that what remains will be easily accomplished Friday evening in Metairie.
So those are my predictions. Come back tomorrow to see how accurate they were!