“If this is not what you expected, please alter your expectations.”
Mark Morford

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Day 20: Same Old Same Old, Only Elsewhere and Special-Like
Sat 2010-11-20 21:56:37 (single post)
  • 38,328 wds. long

I'm in Estes Park tonight, at the Bighorn Mountain Lodge, at the celebrated 24-Hour Write-In. I shall probably spend my sleeping hours curled up under the car blanket on one of these plastic tables, or maybe on that brick fireplace hearth that looks so well insulated. I've been here since noon and I will be here until noon tomorrow.

You'd think this would mean a huge increase in the novel's word count. Strangely enough, this is not the case. I've written just under 2000 words--not bad for a day's work, but nothing special. I've submitted an article to Demand Studios and I've done my Puzzle Pirates Weekend Blockade Schedule blog post (hooray for getting a large chunk of database entry and retrieval structure done!). And I've answered emails. And, I'll admit, I've also done a decent amount of playing.

It's a lot like a regular day at home, really, only in an exotic location surrounded by writers. Which is fine. A 24-hour write-in isn't just about the word count. It's about the camaraderie. It's about that huge box of Cup Noodle that one of the attendees brought from Costco. It's about walking down to Lake Estes when I need a break, or splurging a little on elk and red wine at a chop house about three hotels down. It's about moving the daily round into a new location, and not having to worry about the daily grind of the usual location.

The novel's poking along. I'm honestly surprised at yWriter telling me "Added today: 1976" because I feel like I only added a sentence or three here and there between the lines. I certainly didn't advance the plot. Mostly I just took yesterday's writing and tried to flesh it out so that it would feel more like a natural part of the book rather than like something I tossed at the wall without any sort of character-arc or plot-pacing in mind. I'm starting to get an idea of the shape of this portion of the book, which is a relief.

Nevertheless, I'm getting increasingly uneasy with Jet's whole "the dream provides" thing. It's starting to sound, at least to me, a lot like "the author will provide." Author fiat is not the best reason for stuff to happen. Granted, a lot of things happen because of a certain amount of in-book author fiat, that's the point of the plot, that's the big reveal that we're building up towards, but how well is that excuse going to hold up in the end?

Never mind. It's too soon for that kind of meta. Here's your daily excerpt. Enjoy.

The dream keeps us in motel money and an endless procession of instant just-add-water meals. I am not conscious of money changing hands, except sometimes when I find myself handing over the check-in desk an uncounted wad of paper marked by one or the other of the U.S. Mints. The night manager gives me a key. We never see him, or her, again. It is all according to the logic of dreams, which pushes me into the next scene without all that tedious mucking about with adminstrative details. But I wonder why it can't simply push me past these other tedious details, the ones where I have to play detective and figure things out. I wonder why a dream needs an actor at all. Can't the Commanders of Adjustments make their own adjustments? Why do they need to Command them at all?

Lia stays in the motel room, reading books that I bring her or watching the TV. She acts like one hunted. It would be understandable enough if we were still in Silberne, but I feel it's somewhat overblown in Painted Sands. The Swifts do have a few tentacles here, but they're stiff from disuse, atrophied. Nevertheless, Lia won't go out the door until check-out. I feel like all seven dwarves in a single person, with a distrustful Snow White back at the cottage. "While I'm gone, don't you even let housekeeping in," I say, making a joke of it. "Especially don't admit anyone claiming to sell combs or apples." That makes her laugh. She runs both her hands through her short hair, back and forth, making it stand up in a disordered array of copper spikes that wouldn't hold a toothpick, let alone a comb. "Never liked apples anyway," she says.

I don't hear her laugh very much these days. I hope these days don't last.

Day 19: In Which I Get Distracted By Web Programming
Fri 2010-11-19 23:34:11 (single post)
  • 36,352 wds. long

I keep a couple of blogs going over at Examiner.com. One of them is National Puzzle Pirates Examiner, where I post mini-game tutorials, announcements of monthly limited edition ships and trophies, and blockade schedules.

The latter, blockade schedules, takes up a bit more of my time than I think it's probably worth. Except, I think it's worth it just to create a web resource that didn't already exist. You can get a flag's info, a crew's info, a player's info, and even the various top rankings of these entities as regards their puzzle standings and fame, all by going to the yoweb pages--but you can't get an up-to-date schedule of upcoming blockades (huge multi-player sea battles determining the control of an island) on the web. You have to log in to get this info.

So I create this resource as best I can, by logging in myself. To each of the nine servers. Every day.

It goes like this. The weekend schedule goes up on Sunday night or Monday morning, and the weekday schedule goes up on Friday night or Saturday morning. Creating the post involves logging in to each of the nine servers, or "Oceans," and copying down what I see on the Blockades tab of the Notice Board into an spreadsheet. Then I sort the spreadsheet, separate out the blockades that start during the block of time the current post covers, and type up a list. Sometimes I come up with something witty to write in the intro para and sometimes I don't.

Then, each day throughout the week, I log onto each of the nine servers again to see if additional blockades got scheduled for the current post's time period. If so, I add them into the current post.

Every single time I write up one of these posts, I find myself thinking, "I need to create a proper database infrastructure, and then a web page that spits out the blockade list so I can just copy and paste it into Examiner's edit page. One of these days..."

This morning, I started creating that database infrastructure. Relearning PHP/MySQL. Navigating timezone offsets and PHP's DateTime object. Scraping the rust off my memory of basic Javascript event handlers, PHP looping syntax, and MySQL INSERT statements. I had a great time kvetching about the DateTime object over lunch with John today. Who couldn't help me much, being more of a Java guy than a PHP guy, but he did help me take a second look at my logic.

("You'd think if you gave it a date/time string AND a time zone, it would create a DateTime object set to that time in that time zone. Wouldn't you? But noooooo, it creates a DateTime object set to that time in the web server's time zone, then it converts the timestamp to the time zone you specify! This is Not Useful to me!" "So why don't you do the conversions client side?" "Because Javascript can't answer the question 'What timezone offset holds in Pacific Time?' It only knows that my computer is 420 minutes short of UTC." "Date objects are universally hinky, aren't they?")

Guess what I didn't do today? Pretty much anything else! Thank goodness for the write-in at Barbed Wire Books today, or I'd have failed to write the next 1800 words of the novel too.

As it turned out, Lia didn't get to keep the car. Which is to say, it wasn't hers. It was both of theirs, because they had to start living in it.

That was Jet's suggestion, but Lia would have brought it up if Jet hadn't. That night, she'd let Jet precede her up the stairs to her apartment, just in case one of the Swifts' thugs was waiting. They weren't. There was no trouble. But Lia couldn't bring herself to lie down on the bed. Standing there in her living room, the sense of insecurity was so great that Lia had trouble believing in the walls. She actually walked through the front room to lay a hand on the window, just to make sure it was solid.

Before Jet said word one, Lia announced, "We can't stay here."

"You're right. Pack what you need, and we'll go."

Lia blinked. She'd expected some sort of argument over this--but only because Jet always argued with her, not because she thought Jet would disagree with her reasoning. She got over her surprise quickly.

Walking into the bedroom, she half-expected someone to shoot her from the fire escape. No one did. No one was there at all.

They traveled north, on Lia's suggestion, though driving through Mapleton Ridge made her cringe even at 65 miles per hour on the highway. She shrank down beneath the level of the passenger window, hoping no one would see her. Hoping no one would recognize Jet, who was plainly visible. They made it through the city unscathed, then crossed another hundred miles of desert on their way to the town of Painted Sands.

Lia's home town. The town where her parents lived, and her brother, and all the years between them. Years suffered don't leave their place of origin. They stay and wait for you to return.

Jet glanced at her as they entered the city limits, then gave her a second look. "You all right?"

Lia shook her head and burrowed even further down in her seat.

Day 18: So Who's the Support Spouse Again?
Thu 2010-11-18 23:41:01 (single post)
  • 34,526 wds. long

It's not quite U.S. Thanksgiving yet, but I'll count my blessings.

John started his new job this week. The company he works for is starting up a brand-new Denver-based group to work on a brand-new project, so they need a brand-new office. They do not yet have this office. They spent the first three days of the week meeting in a conference room at a hotel in Louisville where the folks flying in from L.A. were staying.

Last night apparently the team all got told, "Sorry, still no office. Take your company-issued laptops and work from home for the rest of the week."

So I got to spend pretty much all day sharing "office space" with my husband. And by "office space" I mean the Parkway Cafe this morning over a long breakfast and Red Rock Coffeehouse over a very long afternoon. He spent it on IM with co-workers, working on building their brand-new code base. I spent it blogging and noveling and programing personal PHP/MySQL projects. Eventually other Wrimos joined me at Red Rock. We did three 15-minute word-sprints, over the course of which I got some 1670 more words of rough draft into the word processor, and we talked about how our novels were going. I posted to the forum that "the Red Rock group is here, ready for word wars! There are three of us and a support spouse." After a moment I looked over at John, hard at work in about five different application windows, and amended that aloud: "I couldn't tell you which of us is the support spouse, actually. We're sort of reciprocal like that."

It's been a really nice day. Tomorrow looks to be equally nice.

Really nice days like today ought to happen more often.

"Wait. Montrose. Is he--"

"Oh, he's alive. So's the thug. Won't be too long before they come around, so let's get out of here."

I start walking, but she doesn't move, so I accidentally wrench my hand free of hers as she stands there staring at her erstwhile captors. "Kill him," Lia says. Her teeth make that grinding noise I remember from our first afternoon together. "I want that bastard dead."

I study her face; what I see there makes me slightly ill. "That's not why I came," I tell her.

"If you don't kill him, I will."

"No." But she turns, takes a step toward the unconscious bodies. The state she's in, I truly believe she might kick Pa Montrose to death with those ridiculously spray-painted sneakers. I grab her arm, yank her toward me hard enough to make her cry out. "I said no."

She gives a long shriek like I've never heard come out of her before--and if that doesn't bring the rest of this hornet's nest down on top of us, I don't know what will--but the vengeful obsession seems to leave her with the sound. The next thing out of her mouth is a petulant whine: "Well, why not?" I'll take petulant over obsessed any day. "Why that poor security guard, then? He wasn't your target either. Why kill him but spare this piece of shit?"

"Because I had no choice. I had to be in that building for an hour or more. He'd have woken up and called the whole police station down on me." It bothers me still. There'd been a photo next to the parking lot cam monitor: a small boy laughing in a spray of rain. "I don't kill where I don't have to. And I don't have to kill him. He's an asshole, but he's not why I came."

"Then why--" She turns a pleading look on me. "Why did you come?"

I tell her the truth. "I came for you, Lia." Well, I think, and the words are lapis blue, but not the whole truth.

Day 17: Less (Detail) Is More (Credibility)
Wed 2010-11-17 22:29:54 (single post)
  • 32,686 wds. long

It's this weird balance. In order to establish credibility and to really put your reader in the scene, you need details. Aspen, not tree. Prius or Civic, not car. You don't say "Somehow she managed to figure it out." You show how she figures it out. ("Somehow" means "The author doesn't know, either.") And when your character slips beneath a box-spring to hide inside the hotel-style frame it rests upon, you can't just say "she panicked when she realized she'd never get out again by herself." You have to describe the onset of nausea and the feeling of a scream trying to get out. You have to make the reader smell the dust under that box-spring, taste the air going stale in that airless space, hear how sounds in the rest of the room are muffled by the smothering mattress.

But then if you're too detailed about other things, you invite disbelief. It's like the way writing too-detailed rules invites people to game the system. I continue to have a problem figuring out or even simply imagining the detective game Jet plays to figure out the connection between Councilman Hackforth and the Swifts, for instance. I can't say "and then she got it!" with no supporting detail. But I also can't describe her getting into Lia's workplace incognito and tracing various financial records until she finds the dirty money, because A) I don't quite know my way around plausible details for that, and B) if I attempt to make them up, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. And I can't rely on "Because she's dreaming, the dream magically provides things like key cards and passwords" too much or it becomes the sonic screwdriver of my novel.

I think I need to rewatch some Leverage episodes. I always feel like everything about the computer hacking and info-stealing is plausible while I watch the show, only to realize later that I really didn't quite follow. There was enough detail to keep me nodding along, but (usually) not enough to get me picking it apart. (The big exception is whenever they do something with airlines. The writers for Leverage really need to sit down with the latest FAR/AIM before trying to write another "bluffing the pilot with a surprise inspection" scene.)

I haven't quite figured out that balance yet, which is why I skipped right over all that stuff and wrote the assassination scene. I'll figure it out on the rewrite, I guess. Or in December.

But the problem rears its head once more as I try to figure out how Lia outsmarts the gang leader in his own home, despite a room with no hiding places, no windows, no weapons, and constant monitoring via regular and infrared cameras. Here I am with a stack of cards again and instructions to make a house out of them...

Oh, screw it. How about we have Jet come back at a time convenient for engineering a power outage? Which Lia takes advantage of admirably, so she's not just a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued?

Nevertheless, I'm sure that even this more simple scheme involves plot holes which one might drive a truck Chevy Tahoe through. But screw it anyway. This is rough draft. This is NaNoWriMo. I'll figure it all out eventually.

"Oh, and about those cameras," he said. "They're infrared. You have no secrets here." He turned out the light as he left, locking her into complete darkness.

Lia once more lay in a defeated state of aching disarray. Degraded was not a strong enough word. Nor was violated. Just--defeated. But the feeling passed sooner than before. Maybe that was because she was less exhausted now, having slept a night through. Maybe it was putting a night's sleep between herself and Jet's--departure. That's all it was, she told herself: a departure, a temporary goodbye. She tried hard not to remember what Jet looked like dead. But having slept and eaten since then, and having the more immediate problem of her captivity to worry about, it was easier to hold that memory at bay. Departure. And she'd made a decision when she awoke this morning, if it were indeed morning. She'd made a decision not to just wait to die.

So she found herself on her feet once more, turning the lights back on, running another bath to clear her body and her mind. She washed off the blood and other fluids, inventoried her body for new bruises, studiously ignored the hidden cameras she couldn't do anything about. She also inventoried the room--mentally, since she couldn't investigate physically without alerting her monitors to her actions. But she walked tens, hundreds of laps around the room, considering possible hiding places (though the room was devoid of hiding places). She calculated possible escape routes (though escape routes were notoriously absent). And she thought about possible weapons. Jet had made a deadly weapon out of a champagne glass. Pa Montrose's exposed throat lingered in her memory: an opportunity. If she could only find a single sharp object easily hidden in the hand, if only she could secret it away without the cameras catching her, she might actually look forward to the next time he screwed her. She'd screw him right back, fatally. Let his thugs kill her for it; she'd die happy. She walked around the room again, evaluating her resources.

If only she were Jet. Jet wouldn't even need a weapon. She'd simply strangle him with her bare hands.

If only Jet were here.

The next day--she had to assume these were days, measured as they were in three meals per and ending with a bedtime visit from Pa Montrose--a strange static snapped somewhere in her consciousness, and a ringing began in her left ear. She thought very little of it, other than that the auditory hallucinations were especially loud in this silent prison of a room.

Then, about ten minutes later, the lights went out.

Day 16: On Describing the Indescribable
Tue 2010-11-16 21:05:28 (single post)
  • 31,010 wds. long

As I mentioned some posts earlier in passing (in parentheses, even), I've set myself a rather difficult problem for a NaNoWriMo-timed novel draft. The character of Jet is largely imaginary. Obviously every character in a novel is generally imaginary, but Jet is even more so. She is merely a projection into space-time, a fiction created by a undimensional being in order to have an effect on a physical dimension. In reality she has no physical form, does not communicate or think in words, does not use physical senses to perceive the world, doesn't live in a world that can be perceived by the physical senses. Words as we use them--words in which this book are being written, thanks--do not apply. Even names used on that plane (see excerpt below) are merely convenient fictions.

Jet's real existence is quite literally indescribable. This presents a problem for the author wishing to describe it.

Mostly the novel is set on Earth, where Lia lives and where Jet is visiting. No problem there. And I can explain away Jet's thinking in terms of space/time by saying "Well, she is dreaming. When you're dreaming, even when you know you're dreaming, your memory of waking reality is limited, right? Same here. Jet's awareness is limited by being in a dream of Earth."

But then I have a few scenes where Jet "wakes up" in her really real reality, the place where the illusion of space/time exists only as a sort of role-play or metaphor for non-spacial beings to play with, and I run out of excuses.

What do I do about it? Well, so far, when I write scenes in Uberreality or whatever we want to call it, I start noticing and questioning spacial metaphors...

"I push the thought away." But away implies distance...
"I try to keep him at a distance." But you can't have distance if you have no space.
"I perceive the shape of what he's thinking." But shape is a feature of physicality.

Spacial metaphors are everywhere in the English language. I participated in a 15-minute word-sprint and got only 366 words instead of my usual 500-700 mainly because I was thinking really, really hard about this stuff. Every time these sorts of turns of phrase come up, I tried to explain away, or subvert, or replace the physicality implied by the turn of phrase.

So I've been coming up with what are probably inadequate attempts at describing Jet's experience in Uberreality. Where we would walk away from a person or go looking for a person, Jet expands or contracts her awareness to include or exclude their awareness. Except "expand" and "contract," again, imply the growing or shrinking of physical space or physical shapes. Gah! I fail. I think I set myself up to fail.

(Just keep telling yourself, "This is only a rough draft." Forget the impossibility of the impending revision. Just generate rough draft.)

You know what? I think I need to reread the Seth material. If not now, then at least in December. Because the idea of physical space/time being more or less a consensual fiction sounds a heck of a lot like the Seth material. Seth/Jane Roberts probably did a great job describing non-physical existence.

I wake up, and I think I'm still dreaming. I'm lying on a wide lawn, the sort of water-wasteful endeavor you see in front of office buildings. The bullet wound in my left shoulder is throbbing, and I can't breathe straight. Of course I can't; my left lung is punctured. I've just plummeted nine stories to the ground. I am on intimate terms with pain, and I can identify every broken bone. There are many. And from the rest of the internal damage I should have bled out minutes ago. I should be dead. And Lia was here, right here, just a moment ago--where is she? I need to get the lapis stones to her--

Or did I already do that?

Why hasn't the dream ended?

A lightly amused chuckle cascades through my awareness like an unexpected waterfall through a suddenly leaky roof. A tall blond man stands over me, grinning. His eyes are an unlikely purple.

And I remember. The dream has ended.

"Chender, these tricks are getting old." It takes me a moment, just an extra effort of will that I hope Chender doesn't notice, to disperse his illusion. Then the office lawn is gone, and with it, my mangled human body. Pain is no more than a fading memory. Pain is incomprehensible; physicality is imaginary. Why do you continue playing such games?

For a moment Chender's human form remains, bending the experience of existence around him into a remarkable semblance of space. Then the body he uses explodes into confetti, into a cloud of dazzling lights, into nothing at all. Sight itself is exposed as a fiction. There is only a shared awareness in which we communicate.

You believe the dream so implicitly. It makes you irresistably easy to fool.

Day 15: And Counting
Mon 2010-11-15 22:32:17 (single post)
  • 27,679 wds. long

Well, today didn't start all that auspiciously. Snow was coming down in buckets around the time I should have been getting ready to go to the farm. Since I could neither see myself busing and biking in that weather nor expect John to bus in it, I texted the folks at the farm to regretfully bow out of my usual Monday morning shift. John drove off for his first day at the new job. Then, of course, the snow stopped, late enough to keep me from retracting the no-go decision (besides, what if it started dumping again and I got stuck?) but early enough for me to feel terribly guilty about it.

And then I didn't manage to do anything besides answer a few emails all morning.

I blame guilt, personally. Guilt is no good. It was like, since I had no right to having this morning free, I couldn't let myself do anything else with the time. Or maybe it was just the gray, overcast morning spitting snow on and off that made the morning so blah. Maybe it was just my usual failure to get moving without externally enforced schedules to oblige motion.

In any case, that whole "action first, then motivation" thing. Action did not happen until pretty much dinner time.

However, at dinner time, I wrote. I worked on that novel. I ate my stir fry (bokchoi, brussels sprouts, tofu, mushroom) and I wrote that next scene. Because I am not allowed even one day off.

Between a joke that one of the Boulder NaNoWriMo participants made early in the month and a blog thread I spent a lot of this afternoon reading, I find myself tempted to put the whole "no days off" thing into AA terms. "Hello, my name is Niki. I've been writing every day for 15 days now. I know now that even one day without writing is too many. Some days are harder than others, but I'm just taking it one day at a time." It's remarkably apt.

Lia had not even realized Jet was on the roof yet. She had thought she'd have more warning, hear something more tell-tale than the sound of cars driving down the street. She had only just realized that they were driving way too slowly when the first gun shot, zzzzip!, yanked her eyes upward as though her head were on a string. Oh no, not yet, said her involuntary thoughts as she found the lone figure standing up on top the building. Please, not yet. But it was too late for that. Lia was thrust all unprepared onto the set of a TV firefight. She heard the eruption of bullets from street level, ugly explosions nothing like the single shot Jet had fired. And there was Jet, motionless amidst the deadly hail, arms spread like Christ for the cross. Lia's angle allowed her to see Jet clearly, if on the slant; the sun would have made her a featureless silohuette to her assailants, but to Lia she was real and fragile and suddenly blooming with blood. Lia whimpered softly with each impact, feeling the sound hiccup up her throat but hearing nothing but the gunshots.

When Jet took the dive, Lia screamed. She couldn't help it. She knew better, Jet had warned her, but the sound ripped its way out of her without stopping to consult silly things like knowledge. She stood screaming as Jet fell, frozen in place until she heard the too-quiet thump of a body hitting the ground. Then she was running, bursting out of the grass, sprinting across the corner of the parking lot, skidding to a halt on the lawn in front of the office building--

Where Jet was dying but not yet dead. After a fall of nearly a hundred feet, she still breathed. She must have deliberately managed that fall to give her time after impact--for what? To get checked into a hospital? To say something dramatic to Pa Montrose?

"Knew it." Jet's voice was low and hard to hear, but to Lia it was the only sound the world was capable of making. "Told you, 'go home.' Knew you--wouldn't--" Her eyes, too bright, got lost for a moment in a fit of coughing. Afterwards her voice was even fainter. "Predictable"

Lia put a tentative hand on her shoulder, then drew back, then touched her again. She wanted to hold her; she was afraid of hurting her. "Jet--"

Jet's hand closed around her wrist. Where she found the strength, Lia could not guess. "No time. Listen--coat pocket. Here." She drew Lia's hand to her own chest. "Quickly. Hide them. I'm coming back for them." When Lia hesitated, not so much unsure as simply uncomprehending, the dying woman squeezed her wrist painfully enough to make her gasp. "Do it, damn you! This hurts--this--so I could tell you--" Her fingers went slack, falling off Lia's arm. Her next words were barely an exhalation. "Take them and get out of here."

Lia fished inside the pocket and found the four blue pebbles, each a twin to the one in her stolen earring. She stared at them them in disbelief, then looked back to Jet for answers.

Jet had no more answers.

Day 14: You Want Process? I Will Give You Process.
Sun 2010-11-14 21:37:32 (single post)
  • 26,236 wds. long

The novel-organizing software I've been using for several years now, yWriter, accompanies each scene with several spaces for you to comment on the scene. During October, when I was freshly excited about this plot but not yet allowed to start writing it--not if I wanted to play by the conventional NaNoWriMo rules, that is--I created droves of new, empty scene files and babbled all over the "Description" fields. I roughly organized these scenes into chapters named after various a-ha songs, as seemed appropriate, and popped the lyrics to each song in its chapter's description field. And I gave each scene a roughly descriptive name, like "In which Lia is driving along when she sees a figure step out into the road," or "So how's Lia adjusting to life since then? NOT WELL."

The scene I wrote today is in a chapter named for the song "Early Morning," and the scene, all 2182 words of it, is called, "Jet shoots a dude."

I just felt like sharing that.

I wait until each car spits out its additional passengers. Each man has brought along a couple toughs to ensure top standing in the posturing contest that ensues. I wait a moment more, making sure every single one of them will be able to see me.

Then I pull the trigger, and Hackforth goes down in a spray of red.

I rise to my feet, standing clear against the dawn. I toss the rifle down the nine stories to the ground. It clatters loudly in the near-empty streets. I blow a kiss to Pa Montrose, then, smiling, I spread my arms to the sky.

Disappointingly, the first bullet to hit me is the fifth one I hear. It thuds painfully but not lethally into my left shoulder. Montrose's toughs have terrible aim. I guess it's hard to find good help these days.

I raise myself onto my toes, take a deep breath, and follow the rifle down to the sidewalk below.

Day 13: The Inevitable Skipping Ahead Bit
Sat 2010-11-13 23:51:15 (single post)
  • 24,054 wds. long

I got too tangled up yesterday trying to figure out how to get my characters from There to Here, so I just skipped straight to Here instead. "Here" would be a chapter I've had in my head since mid-October, one I've been looking forward to writing for some time. Skipping ahead to it, I risk using up some of my "candy." (You know. Candy-bar scenes. The stuff that's pure fun to write--as opposed to those necessary scenes that are sort of a chore and will need a lot of work before anyone will be remotely more excited to read them than you are to write them.) On the other hand, eating one candy-bar does provide a temporary sugar rush that can last me for another 2000ish words. And it's better than getting bogged down for days in the land of "I don't know what happens next."

So I got started today writing the chapter where Jet assassinates the city council dude. I got through the first couple point-of-view blocks, and then I called it a day. I'd reached my word count goal for the day, and I wanted to stop while I still had candy left to look forward to. Stop in the middle of an exciting bit and you'll look forward to getting started the next day.

Lia turned to lock the door behind them, then followed Jet down the stairs and out into the night. It was not quite midnight; a bulging gibbous moon was just beginning to think about setting. That moment's glance skyward was enough to lose Jet in the shadows. The assassin moved like an assassin ought, noiseless and no more noticeable than the play of shade and dark. Lia hurried toward the place she'd last seen her and breathed a sigh of relief as Jet seemed to materialize before her.

Jet barely spared her a glance. "I said, keep up."

She let them out of the Sunspring Valley neighborhood and into a long stretch of grassy empty lots. Come next spring, the bulldozers would arrive and the next development would start being developed here. Ahead of them, about a mile, was the squat skyline of Silberne. Like many sprawling municipalities that constellated over the two hours of highway south of Mapleton Ridge, Lia's current home was named after the natural features its residents wished it had but had in fact dug up or torn down in order to develop the town. The burn, or creek, itself was mostly gone; what was left of it snaked weakly in from their left as they made their way toward the city center. Jet stepped over it as though it were a crack in a sidewalk. Lia got her toes wet and nearly lost her balance. She left a spreading stain of fresh black spraypaint in the water.

They reached a tall building on the edge of the town where the field they were in ran out. Jet abruptly stopped, hunkering down amidst the dying rye-grass. Lia followed her lead.

"Now," Jet said, "here's the plan. Listen up and do exactly as I tell you, and everything may just go the way it ought."

That's not where I stopped. But it seemed a good length for an excerpt. Today's writing took me through Jet getting into the building; tomorrow's will see her onto the rooftop and then off it once more.
Day 12: You Just Show Up. Because You Can't Not.
Fri 2010-11-12 22:31:01 (single post)
  • 22,044 wds. long

Today was one of the not-so-great days you sometimes hear tell about. I got more than 2000 words down, but most of those words were just saying "I don't know what happens next" in wordy kinds of ways.

That's not precisely true. I do know what happens next: Jet eventually has to get onto that rooftop and snipe some important dude, and then exit the dream with a very showy swan dive. That scene's pretty clear in my head. The problem is, who's the dude, how does she find out, and what all does it have to do with Lia precisely?

So I'm still blathering my way through the Getting There From Here bit. I'm going through a day in the life of Lia, who turns out to be a programmer for a financial institution. Sounds... slightly familiar doesn't it? When nothing else comes to mind, grab a piece of biography. Then I'm writing about Jet who's shadowing Lia through the same damn day. By the end of the 2000+ words, I think I finally know what really was supposed to happen in those scenes and how it fits into the bigger picture--but why must it take several hours of "I don't know what to write" to get there?

This is the point where, were I an established author with a long list of published titles to my name, I'd toss a bit of unedited rough draft up on the screen and call it a backstage look at The Process. And y'all would read it and go, "Wow, even awesome successful writers like Nicole J. LeBoeuf have crappy first drafts, isn't that encouraging?" However, as Nicole J. LeBoeuf is not yet an awesome successful writer but rather a writer aspiring to awesome success, the effect would be more like "HEY U GUYZ LOOK I WROTE SOME STUFF IT STINKS LOLZ."

So instead I present those few paragraphs from today's output that, brushed off and given a bit of a polish, turn out to sort of suck the least. I'm putting it here for the same reason you raise your hand and say "Here" when the teacher calls your name. I was present. I showed up. Even though I felt totally uninspired, I showed up on the page. Because that's what you have to do.

For starting as unusually as it had, Lia's day was not unusual. It was yet another a poster child, in a long line of poster children, for Lia's Boring Life. Lia had never liked boring--who does? Well. Some people seemed to. Safe behind their cubicles, pushing code or financial figures across a lighted screen, getting all the excitement they needed out of World of Warcraft or Monday Night Football. She didn't understand those people. She didn't understand why she was living one of their lives. Maybe some Java programmer cum MMORG nerd had misplaced his life, or her life, and Lia had stumbled across it on her escape from Mapleton Ridge, just when she needed to pick up a new life of her own.

Obviously she wasn't displeased with her boring present life as compared to her exciting days with the Swifts. And anything, even the Swifts, was better than the family and the house that she couldn't stop thinking of as home. Not that she'd thought so during her time in Mapleton Ridge. Crushed beneath Tresco's idiot weight in the bedroom of an Upton Street mansion, her thoughts had reached with desperate fondness toward her older brother, who'd done terrible things to her in the years when she'd been too young to comprehend how terrible things were. But just this past September, sitting across the table from her brother, listening to her mother sniff and sneer about how fucking grateful Lia should be that her parents still allowed her to cross their threshold--ah, then she fixed her mind firmly on the glamorous nights spent leaning on Tresco's arm or dancing with Ritchie under a thousand refractions of ballroom spotlights. It kept her from screaming awful bridge-burning things at her family, memories like that.

And now? Sitting in front of her computer screen, pushing code meant to enable rich investors to risk their funds for more riches, what did she think of now? She thought of the night she'd fled the Swifts at last, hitching north with nothing more than the clothes she stood up in, hiding in the bushes outside her parents' house so she could sneak into her old bedroom after both her parents were out of the way--her father in the arms of yet another too-youthful mistress, her mother in the arms of drugged sleep--then taking what she needed, then driving away, driving south, driving, driving... She wished she could be driving anywhere, now. The lack of a car still pinched.

Day 11: When Characters Say More Than They Say They're Saying
Thu 2010-11-11 22:58:36 (single post)
  • 19,864 wds. long

So. One possibly interesting insight from writing class, coming right up. It's sort of a third-hand anecdote, so the details of exactly how it transpired may be off. Bear with me; the insight comes at the end.

One of the group members who wasn't actually there yesterday had been trying to work on a short story that had been commissioned from an anthology and was now significantly past deadline. He told us about this last month. He was just having a terrible time trying to figure out how to make the story work when its action comprised a single conversation.

One of the group members who was there yesterday had gotten to talking with him after class that night, and suggested that the conversation in the story be crafted to do double-duty. While it was ostensibly about one thing, its real meaning should be something else. Say one character is ostensibly talking about his emotional state; in describing it he's actually obliquely relating a crime he committed and how he feels about that.

Apparently this piece of advice sent the first group member home in a hurry, inspired to get to work on the story. It also enchanted those of us present last night, and Melanie suggested we use it as our "homework" prompt for next class.

So I'm thinking of three basic ways a conversation can do that kind of double-duty. Actually, they're more like points on a spectrum of character awareness, where at one end the character is aware of their words' double-meaning and intends it to be so, and at the other end only the author and the readers are aware of the double meaning. There are in-between possibilities as well.

Example: It's Thanksgiving dinner, and one character is telling the family about a movie she just saw. But the way she recaps the plot and her emotional reaction to it actually relates to a traumatic memory of how she got bullied by one of the people here now at a Thanksgiving dinner 20 years ago. Moving from the one extreme to the other, here are ways that might come about...

Aware & Deliberate: She is being intentionally passive aggressive, attempting to jog the culprit's memory of bullying incident with the way she talks about the movie.

Aware & Accidental: As she recaps the movie, she realizes the words coming out of her mouth could just as well apply to the bullying incident. She wonders if the culprit picked up on it too.

Unconscious: She doesn't realize consciously how the movie plot relates to her childhood trauma, but the connection influences how she talks about the movie. Maybe the rest of the family pick up on it, maybe they don't, but the connection is definitely present in the text.

Literary Metaphor: Here the connection is only present in the subtext. The character is simply recapping the movie, but the words the author puts in her mouth are meant to make the reader aware of the character's painful past.

And how does this relate to my own novel? Ooh, glad you asked! Well, today's scene was mostly taken up with Lia and Jet arguing. Because I didn't really know what they were supposed to do next. I hate that crap. The only thing I can do is follow the boring, talking-headsy argument until one of the characters spits out something revealing.

The character doesn't know they're being revealing. And my eventual readers (should this get published) won't know it, either, because most of the argument will be edited out of existence. But I'll know, and I'll go, "Whew! Finally! We can get on with it now," and I'll write the next scene.

I suppose that's even further toward the "unconscious" extreme. "Literary Metaphor" is where the author and the reader are aware of the double meaning, but the characters cannot be. We should call this fifth critter "Author's Note To Self," because it serves no purpose beyond giving the author a gosh-darned clue.

Anyway. I'm not sure I got to the clue yet. But I would like, once I know more about this story, to come back and revise the argument so that it performs a double-duty that the reader can appreciate. Perhaps by the time class meets next I'll be able to do that, so I can bring this scene in and share it with my classmates.

Lia stared at Jet, trying to force a brain abruptly awakened to early in the morning to accept this information. "They what? But why would they--" She couldn't seem to form a coherent response. "And how would you know?"

"Because I dreamt about it and received some information that made that clear."

"Oh, come on." This bit of nonsense on top of all of last night's nonsense, pleasant though the circumstances had been, was just too much nonsense to take. Lia wished that, instead of telling Jet to tell her everything, she'd restricted herself to asking very specific questions. That way maybe Jet wouldn't be throwing the incomprehensible at her every time she opened her mouth. It felt like being told that the sky was velvet, breakfast was desperately igneous, and, by the way, godzilla is on the agenda at yesterday's pumpkin secession. "No, no, no, this is ridiculous--"

"We don't have time for this, Lia, not if the Swifts are coming for you."

"How can you know that just from a dream?"

"Look, I dreamt that you were the assassin who killed Tresco! Then you were insisting that I take a closer look at the stone. OK? Clear? Satisfied?"

"No!" Lia covered her face, scrubbed at her eyes, and let loose a mock-scream of exasperation. A baby began to wail from the apartment on the other side of her bedroom wall. Lia sighed. "Look. Listen. I just dreamt that my mother and I were riding a horse, and I fell off, and she kept going without me. I am capable of waking up and going about my day without an urge to call her up and doublecheck that she hasn't just, I dunno, drawn up a new version of her will and left me out of it or something like that--"

"Why not?" Jet seemed genuinely surprised. Or else she was determined to be contrary. "It seems like a real possibility."

"Because I'm already out of her goddamned will, and besides, dreams are stupid! They're not psychic, they psychological, and half the time they aren't even that!"

The infuriating tolerance of Jet's smile made Lia want to dream agian. "That, while probably true for you, isn't the case with me. When I dream, I--bilocate, I guess you could say. Part of my awareness returns to reality, making more information about my assignment available to me. Usually I remember it in the form of a dream, with all its symbolism and metaphor. My colleagues and I get very good at dream interpretation." Jet's smile went from condescending to simply wry, a change that changed Jet from someone Lia wanted to punch into someone Lia wanted to kiss. And then punch, just to make clear she wasn't forgiven.

Lia began, "Look, assuming that I--" then cut herself off. She'd been going to say, assuming that I believe your stupid story about being from another world, which I don't, because I don't accept that my life is just your dream-- But that seemed to violate some sort of agreement they'd come to between the lines last night. And while she was trying to figure out how to rescue that sentence, her morning alarm went off.

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