“and if i should die
god forbid that i
pass away with ideas left in limbo
in creative purgatory”
Brian Vander Ark

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Cover art incorporates photo
time for this fictionette to run away
Sat 2017-10-07 00:15:18 (single post)
  • 1,055 wds. long

Good evening. This week's Friday Fictionette is "Seven Chickadees" (ebook, audiobook), in which we discover the unexpected dangers of being able to talk to birds. Also the banal irritations. Chickadees, y'all. Can they talk.

After all my blather yesterday about novel brainstorming and getting the short stories in order, I'm afraid nothing of that got done. This entire week has been all about hitting the bare minimum every day. But I guess it's an accomplishment to have hit the bare minimum. I mean, look! A blog post! A fictionette posted on time! Did my twice-weekly core workout twice this week! Go me. Next week, I think, is soon enough to fold the short story revisions and novel prep into the working day, what with it being my annual week on writing-and-introvert retreat in Avon.

I'm getting excited about that. I'm already thinking about what to pack, what to stuff in the ice chest, what favorite food-and-drink places to visit. I'm going to bring my spinning wheel and use it. I'm going to do something delicious with all this squash. I'm going to bring the typewriter and watercolors and get caught up on Fictionette Artifacts. All the plans! I'm even getting excited over the two-hour drive from Boulder. Like, what shall I listen too? And--ooh, I get to use the Chevy Volt's "mountain driving" mode for the first time! Gotta make sure its battery is all charged up. I get excited over the silliest things.

Anyway, that's where my next blog post will be coming from. See you there.

on your mark get set no pressure go
Thu 2017-10-05 16:00:00 (single post)

It's October and I'm feeling a little inadequate.

Remember how last year, round about this time, I declared the autumn to be my Novel Writing Season? I was going to have as many short stories ready for submission as possible, and then I was going to focus exclusively for a few months on writing a Brand! New! Novel! that I would actually finish this time? And I did all this brainstorming, about this one main character from a country where people are born in animal forms and become human when they grow up, who visits another country where if you violate the terms of a contract you signed then you actually lose your name, and he meets this second main character who in fact did lose her name and is trying to work her way out of identity perjury debt, and they're on a purely professional date when she gets an unwanted phone call from her past, which involves people with really scary magic powers who she wants nothing to do with even though one of them's her mother and another's her daughter, and anyway she takes that first main character on this wild road trip to either go deal with the crisis or run away from it, I'm not sure which, and...

Yes. Well. Never got past the brainstorming stage on that novel, did I? Never even created an entry for that novel in my database to tag my blog posts with. (If you do see this blog post with a novel tag appended at the upper left, then hi! You must be from the future! How's the weather up there? Did we survive 2017? Are we no longer speeding toward several apocalypses simultaneously? Are things better out there? For everyone? Please say yes?)

I'm acutely aware of this because next week I'm heading up the mountains on my annual Thank the Gods It's the Off-Season I'm-a Go Introvert Hard Now writing retreat. That's where I was last year when I did so much brainstorming on the novel. The brainstorming was aided by multiple hot baths and glasses of red wine. Also cheese and crackers. Babbling out loud, too. A lot of babbling out loud. Anyway, I sort of never got back to it once I returned to life-as-usual in the flatlands. (Well, once I returned to Boulder. "Flatlands" is relative.)

So... I guess my new goal for my time up there is to make tangible progress on the outline and worldbuilding so that, come November, I can draft the sucker in an intelligent yet speedy way.

Which means, not-so-coincidentally, we're back to the NaNoWriMo ideal, where October is for brainstorming the novel (while getting my short fiction in order). November is for drafting the novel (at a rate of 50,000 words in 30 days). December will be for resting the novel and writing new short fiction; I guess January will be for the first revision pass. Finish things up during the March NaNoEdMo spree, then submit the damn thing to agents.

It's very much an ideal. If I fail once again to meet that schedule, I'm going to feel like a failure. Won't stop me trying again, but knowing I'll try again won't stop the feeling-like-a-failure thing. (Have you met writers? We're a neurotic bunch, lots of us.) So I'm putting a lot of emotions on the line here. But I really do think it's an achievable set of goals! And I gotta have goals, or else what am I doing anyhow? So.

It's novel writing season. Here we go.

Cover art attributions: School bus photo by Die4kids (Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons; wine glasses photo by Agnali (CC0/Public Domain) via Pixabay.com
this fictionette is out of breath and freshly full of bruises
Wed 2017-05-10 01:30:09 (single post)
  • 1,078 wds. long

I had hoped to have last week's Friday Fictionette done early, gloriously finished and filed under "Scheduled Release" by the time I boarded my plane out of Denver. When this did not happen, I thought I might be able to finish it piecemeal over Thursday and Friday, despite all the activity and exhaustion inherent in attending a roller derby tournament. This also did not happen.

Thus, I present to you, four days late and entirely out of breath, "Preventable Dudes" (ebook, audiobook) the Friday Fictionette for May 5, 2017. (I think the ebooks all say May 4. I will fix it tomorrow.)

Sunday was another two-days-in-one day. We got up, checked out of the hotel, caught a taxi to the events venue, and played our final game at 12:30 p.m. PDT. That was Sunday Mark 1. Sunday Mark 2 began immediately after our game, when we rushed over to the airport and proceeded to exist in transit until about 1:30 a.m. MDT. Whee?

Monday did not exist. Sshh. I'm not listening.

So. About that tournament! We did not, in fact, win any of our games. But if the win-or-lose aspect of the game is all a body cares about, that body ain't nobody who knows derby. There was a lot going on, a lot to learn from, and a lot to be proud of in how we played. Those were tough teams we were up against, and we got our full allotment of derby out of every jam.

If you missed the livestream, or even if you didn't, you can watch the archived footage here. (Links go to YouTube. Note that the audio doesn't start up for a few seconds. Be patient.)

I am putting those links there as much for my own convenience as for anything--if I am very diligent, I'll find time to review the footage myself between now and our next team practice.

The full archives, covering the entire tournament with its multiple sets of tournament brackets (women's A teams and B teams, men's league, and junior derby) as well as the expo and MVP bouts (congratulations to our own CatastroPhoebe for being awarded the MVP spot for our team, and for delivering her signature big hits in the Women's MVP bout versus Team USA!), are housed here; click on the playlist icon in the upper left of the 2017 video frame in order to pick out the game you're interested in viewing.

We'll be doing it all over again, only more locally, in less than a month, when Besterns 2017 gets underway. We've got a lot of work to do. Our first game will be a rematch against Jet City, who were the #1 seed in our D2 playoffs bracket last year and the only team we lost to during that weekend. So it's kind of a big deal.

greetings from the wrong side of I-5
Thu 2017-05-04 23:50:52 (single post)

Somehow we fit two whole days into today. There was the first day, the one spent almost entirely on airplanes and in airports. Then there was the second day, the one spent A. in a hotel in Eugene on the unfashionable side of I-5, and B. in the Lane Events Center watching one of our future opponents play the tournament host league in a private, non-tournament, sanctioned bout, and C. in taxi cabs on our way to A. or B.

Then, on top of all that, we managed to stuff an evening's date in, like a scrumptious dessert after a fantastic but carbs-heavy dinner that honestly didn't leave us any room for dessert, so we knew we were going to be painfully overfull afterward, but that dessert looked so good and you gotta live a little, right? Which is to say, after the ECRG v. Pirate City bout, we walked about a mile downtown to have pizza at Sizzle Pie and ice cream at Red Wagon Creamery. After that, one more taxi ride got us back to the hotel in time to say goodnight to that handful of teammates who will be staying down the hall from us.

Anyway, I'm a little tired.

See you tomorrow when this stream goes live!

no no really this is part of the writing process
Tue 2016-11-29 22:40:56 (single post)

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
Sat 2016-11-26 23:17:41 (single post)

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
Tue 2016-11-22 22:43:42 (single post)

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
Thu 2016-11-17 23:35:29 (single post)

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
Wed 2016-11-16 23:58:42 (single post)

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
Thu 2016-10-06 09:19:24 (single post)

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!

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