“When I write stories I am like someone who is in her own country, walking along streets that she has known since she was a child, between walls and trees that are hers.”
Natalie Goldberg

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Fictional Thunk!
Tue 2011-02-15 11:54:09 (single post)
  • 2,986 words (if poetry, lines) long

I think finishing a story's final revision and converting it for email submission not only before noon but also from a medical waiting room is kind of bad-ass. Don't you? I do. And then submitting it from the diner down the road, over a plate of The Best Tamales In Town, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion).

Brief note about that: The Moonlight Diner is what I do if I have to go to the airport and there is time to wait around. Their staff are friendly and pleased to see me, they keep the coffee coming, and their wi-fi is reliable; but their food is on the whole not worth it. Pick up Popeye's on I-270 and eat it on the way over. But the Parkway Diner off 47th in Boulder is what I do by choice. It's what I do to treat myself after spending the morning at a medical appointment nearby. It's delicious and just as friendly, if not even more so, and if its wi-fi is less reliable, well, today it's working fine.

Anyway. Scene X got a total rewrite, as did the end of Scene XIII. And I changed the title from "The Only Moving Thing" to a line from Stanza VIII, "The Blackbird Is Involved in What I Know." I think that's a better summary of the story. The former was too coy, or cute, or something.

Got an email from my friend late last night announcing that his rewrite was also finished. I really like this submitting in tandem thing, but I bet we could both have done with finishing up about a week earlier than this. Morning of Deadline Day is... stressy.

But it's really hard to rush the composting process. Aside from meditating at the spinning wheel, I have no strategies for speeding things up. I'm not saying I have to wait until I'm inspired to write--I do have the ideal of showing up at the page every day--but it seems that particular stories have to wait until I'm inspired.

Again, it's like compost. Compost proceeds at its own pace; you can't rush the microbes. You can encourage faster composting by tweaking the envirnoment, of course--3 parts "brown" to 1 part "green," maintain proper moisture levels, turn the pile every few days--but none of this will get you instant potting soil on demand.

Just so with stories. I can do my daily free-writing exercises, I can think about the story all day and try to dream about it at night, but until it comes together it won't come together.

I'm just glad this one came together in time for the THUNK of manuscript hitting slush pile to happen on Deadline Day and not after.

Also, the THUNK of a work of fiction doesn't signal the same sort of THUD of imminent author collapse as does the THUNK of, say, all those 15K-word StyleCareer eGuides. I may actually get other work done today. Or at least I'm going to play real hard. Fiction is refreshing!

All for now. Battery failing. Until later!

11th Hour Musings
Mon 2011-02-14 23:16:32 (single post)
  • 2,898 words (if poetry, lines) long

So Friday I produced a new finished draft, mostly at the Moonlight Diner again. Friday night I emailed it to a good friend who's also working on a story for submission to the same anthology. Got some great comments back from him over the weekend, which I mostly fed to the composting brain to work on while I took the weekend off. The biggest thing is that Scene X isn't quite yet there. I figured. It's close, but it's (in my opinion) too much with the clue-by-four to the head between the characters' role-reversal and the backstory exposition, and (in my friend's wise opinion) structurally awkward because of all the "you"s you get when you combine 2nd person narration with dialogue. So I've been idly thinking about that, this weekend.

I also reciprocated with the story critique, which required me to finally learn how to use Google Docs. Google Docs is spooky. It'll tell you if someone you've shared a document is viewing it at the same time you are. It'll let you watch them edit it. This little pink cursor shows up right where the other person has it, so you can tell exactly which of your line-by-line comments they're looking at. And that's where I get all self-conscious and close the browser window. (My friend points out that this means we could have real-time chat in the margins of a manuscript. I admit this sounds useful.)

Tonight I'm working on a final revision. It's not going to be done while tonight is still tonight. My aim is to submit this thing tomorrow morning, which just happens to be deadline day for the anthology. (My friend is on roughly the same timeline.) I know what I'm going to do for Scene X--it's going to have the same goal-role-reversal, but will hopefully be a bit more subtle and a lot shorter. It'll have a lot less exposition because, really, we don't need to know as much backstory as I have personally figured out, does it? And I caught a bunch of typos, repeating words, and other infelicities to fix.

And I realized all over again that serious work on finishable fiction is one of the few things guaranteed to leave me feeling good at the end of a day. So. More of that, yes? Yes. And maybe not just on weekdays.

Epiphany!
Fri 2011-02-11 15:30:49 (single post)
  • 2,875 words (if poetry, lines) long

Wait, I've got it! I've got it I've got it I've--

Pause. OK. At Moonlight Diner again, having dropped Cate off at the airport and waiting for John to tell me he's ready to be picked up from work. Trying to finish this dang draft like NOW. (Also eating the Smothered Fries, which are Smothered in cheese and green chili. The dish is not terrific, but it's redeemable and filling. I swear, it's like I could start a whole new blog just about working my way through their menu while spending 3-hour stints writing at their 4-top behind the bar-side register station.)

So. Struggling my way through the rewrite of Scene VI. ("Icicles filled the long window / With barbaric glass. / The shadow of the blackbird / Crossed it, to and fro.") It's no longer a psychologist telling the narrator that fear obscures our clear vision until we see demons where there are only mundane difficulties. Now it's the narrator's lover, pissed off at having their romantic evening interrupted by another fit of novel revision, saying that the narrator needs to adjust some priorities. (While the narrator gazes out the window at starlings crossing behind ice and in front of the sun.) And the narrator's like, "Oops, sorry, demon's waking up again, I gotta go; also, you left your oven on and the demon is thinking about burning you up in a house fire. Don't let that happen, kthxbai."

About halfway through writing that scene, I got good and stuck trying to make the phone conversation work. Also, a large family gathering eating at the next table had begun to emit exceedingly distressing noises. Look, people: What did I do to deserve your kid's screaming tantrum? I mean, really? Thank goodness for headphones and Kate Bush's The Dreaming. Turned up quite loud.

Anyway, got through that. Then got through the next couple scenes in which the writer/demon relationship becomes sort of writer/demonic Muse ("But I know, too, / That the blackbird is involved / In what I know"). The pacing of that arc seemed to slightly shift as I got through Scenes VIII and IX. I started to like what I was seeing.

Then in was time for Scene X, originally another psych session. The narrator had decided to tell the shrink about the first time the demon became apparent, expecting to finally break through that professional skeptism ("Even the bawds of euphony / Would cry out sharply") and get some real help. Naturally, I'll be replacing that with another phone call with the lover. Or ex. Their relationship is a little bit of both now.

And I realized--their roles are reversed! Now it's the narrator who is looking forward to the demon's voice, because it tells her how the write--and finish, uh-oh--the book... and it's the lover who is now convinced that there's something weird going on. "You were right--the oven was on. How did you know? Is there really something to this? Oh my God, you must not finish that book!"

You want Process? I WILL GIVE YOU PROCESS.

(Wow, it's a good thing that burbling about The Process doesn't jinx The Process. Yay.)

HAY YOU! Yeah, you know who you are. You will have email REAL SOON NOW.

Next, Get Hopelessly Confused
Thu 2011-02-10 23:47:58 (single post)
  • 2,746 words (if poetry, lines) long

Still not done. Still not done. This story isn't easy. It ought to have been easy. Why is it not easy?

So I read it aloud to my writing class last night. And I got some great feedback. I also got a big honkin' case of Doubt and Uncertainty. Like you do.

I mean, look. The narrator's back-story with the monster at the end of the book. Did it actually do something before, and if so, how'd it get reigned in again? Or did it just threaten really loudly, and if so, how, in the absence of some tragedy to remind the narrator that This Could Happen Again And It Will Be Your Fault, do I raise the stakes? Why is every option flawed? Why does every single idea fail to satisfy? Also, everyone's right--the shrink character is one character too many. Maybe replace scenes 6 and 10 with phone calls between the narrator and the lover. When in doubt, condense characters. But what does that make the scenes do now?

The last story I wrote was easy and it came out beautifully and it sold on its first time in the slush. Why can't this one be easy?

Excuse me, I'll just be over here whining.

(In better news, my writing classmates agreed that the connection to the Stevens poem isn't glaringly obvious, not even to those who are familiar with the poem. And they suggested a line from stanza 1 for a title: "The Only Moving Thing." I think it works.)

Next, Apply Slimming Shears
Wed 2011-02-09 14:44:23 (single post)
  • 3,195 words (if poetry, lines) long

Finished a draft yesterday. Still don't know quite what this story is, other than bloated; don't really know what its title wants to be, other than "not that." To fix the one, I'm doing a "quick" (ha!) revision pass this afternoon before emailing it to, or reading it to, friends and colleagues. To fix the latter, I plan on throwing this piece on the mercy of said friends and colleagues.

In case anyone's interested, Open Office Writer will open WordPerfect 5.1 documents remarkably well. However, the conversion is not without its flaws. All table structures in my WP51 document get visible borders that then have to be removed...

  1. Right-click inside table
  2. Select "Table..."
  3. Under "Borders" tab, in the Line/Style section, choose "None"

...and all tabs need to be reinserted, which is most easily done using RegEx Find & Replace. Which isn't simple. Open Office Writer's implementation of Regular Expressions is... non-standard. The expression "\n" means "paragraph mark" in the Replace With field, but "newline" in the Search Field. Or something. So apparently the thing to do is search for the first character of each line and prepend a tab:

Search For: ^(.)
Replace With: \t$1

And you should definitely not click "Replace All." This ends in tears. Have patience and perform the replacement one at a time; when it finds a new line that should not begin with a tab, press the "Find" button to skip this instance and move on to the next.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with a novel-length document. Probably refrain from using WP51 for my draft revisions, I guess. Just export RTF from yWriter and open the RTF with Open Office. Which is fine for novels written in yWriter; not so fine for novels written in WP51.

This is one of those "bridges" you only "cross" upon arrival, so I hear.

No Completion. However: Progress!
Tue 2011-02-08 11:50:22 (single post)
  • 1,393 words (if poetry, lines) long

Which is about it. Neither the story nor the scarf are finished. However, significant progress was made on both.

Most of the progress on the story happened at the Moonlight Diner, a sort of 50s/retro-themed greasy spoon on Tower Road near Denver International Airport. Their food is... OK. Well, it's either acceptable or abysmal depending on what you order. Steak and eggs ordered "eggs over easy and steak as rare as you're allowed" became eggs over medium/hard and a steak that had only hints of pink in the center and was dry and tough like leather. On the other hand, the taco potato skins are absolutely loaded and yummy. And they play a mix of oldies and 80s on their stereo, which is fun, but--what's up with 80s music being the new oldies? I'm only 34, I'm too young to feel old, stop trying to make me feel old!

Anyway, the quality of the food was of no import yesterday. I had already treated myself to Popeye's Fried Chicken for lunch. (New Orleans homesickness ahoy!) All I wanted never-ending coffee and a place to work on my story for three hours. Also wi-fi to check on the status of Southwest Airlines flight 502. I was there to pick up the marvelous Cate Hirshbiel, of course. Have you met Cate? Blog, re-meet Cate. She continues to be awesome.

So by the time her plane was due, I'd written the first five scenes. Of 13, of course. And by the time she called to say she'd got her luggage and was ready for pick-up, I'd spent the last fifteen minutes just gabbing with the waiter about, oh, stuff. Y'know. Driving in the snow, how video games can prepare you for real life situations, how people get very confused about tipping etiquette because it's so hush-hush in polite conversation, how airport security constantly strives to surprise us with more stupid where you'd have thought they couldn't possibly fit more stupid, how trains can be nice if you like trains.

As for the scarf, I knit on that at the Spin-In until my hands were done with knitting and I was ready for bed. Then I went home and crashed, hard.

Today I have until about 3:30 to work on the story some more. We'll see how far we get. The scarf has a new deadline of next Spin-In, when we'll leave our projects at the store to make a big show-off presentation for customers to ooh and aah at.

And tonight it's All You Can Eat Sushi at Japango with John and Cate and Avedan! Yayyyy!

Tools of the trade. That's the new yarn, hanging to dry on the wire shelf.
The scarf at 13 inches, in my pomegranate tree in Metairie
New yarn, ready to ball up and knit, resting on my bookbag in the window of Highlands Common Grounds.
The Meditation Wheel
Mon 2011-02-07 11:06:26 (single post)
  • 994 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today's the day. Today's the day I get a full draft of the new story complete. Today's also the day I come up with a good title for it--"The Monster at the End of the Book" is cute, the way it nods comfortably at Grover in the Sesame Street Golden Books story of the same name, but it's not at all right for this story.

Yesterday was the day I think I figured it out. Also the day I remembered how my spinning wheel makes a great platform for Meditation For Inspiration. Remember that? I hadn't.

But I remembered I had to finish spinning my portion of the group project fleece if I wanted to have a project to show off to the group tonight. Last year, the spinners who meet monthly at Shuttles Spindles Skeins decided to do a group project. So a representative went to the Estes Park Wool Market and bought three fleeces, and at the next monthly spin-in we all paid her back for our pounds, or half pounds, of the fleece. The idea was for each of us to bring finished projects to the January spin-in and Rock Day potluck. As most people weren't finished, we get another chance at tonight's spin-in.

So yesterday I hauled the spinning wheel over beside my desk and spun the last of the singles. And, because I had the poem tacked up over my desk, I meditated on a different stanza for every rolag I spun. (Rolag: a roll of hand-carded fiber. A possible unit work in spinning.)

Read next stanza. Begin to spin. Repeat the stanza out loud. Think about its possible connections to the story, letting "blackbird" equal "demon." Think about more connections, letting "blackbird" equal "Muse." Think about the theme of the stanza and mentally sketch out a scene demonstrating it in the story.

Then, for no better reason than opportunity, recite the whole poem up to that stanza. I mean, why not memorize poetry?

I had exactly enough wool left to get through stanza 12. (I'd already memorized Stanza 13 because it so very perfectly described the weather we'd been having lately. "It was evening all afternoon. / It was snowing, / And it was going to snow.") And I had exactly enough time left in the day that the newly spun singles could sit awhile before plying in the evening and washing the wool.

And now I know what I'm doing. Excellent. Presenting the Schacht Matchless as a Literary Composting Accelerator!

And now I've got to do it.

Hopefully I can blog again tonight or tomorrow morning, happily announcing a new first draft and a newly cast-off and sewn-up hooded scarf. Completing projects: good for the ego! I recommend it!

"And the poets call on Her, too."
Wed 2011-02-02 23:02:35 (single post)
  • 994 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today, Feb 2, is Imbolc, one of the eight Sabbats celebrated in the Wiccan calendar and sacred to many other Pagan traditions as well. Though today's Pagan religious systems vary as to how much actual Real True Ancient Traditions they contain, Imbolc was indeed celebrated in pre-Christian times. It was the feast day of the Goddess Brigid, beloved of the Celts. And when Christianity took hold in the region, she became Saint Brigid, and her Day became Candlemas.

Now, Brigid and Brigid's Day have connections to all things dairy, because Brigid watches over the milk-bearing livestock. Google up the two words "brigid dairy" and you'll find a bunch of them named after Her. Imbolc falls at the time of the year when the cows and the ewes first begin producing milk for the year. And so Brigid watches over dairies, those who work the dairies, and the young animals who need that milk to thrive.

But Brigid has other concerns: healing, the tending of the sick and the poor, the waxing of the light from late winter into early spring. And She is the patron Goddess of those who create. She has a particular affinity for blacksmiths. "And the poets call on Her, too...."

Now you know what poets are like – they are people who feed their souls on beauty, and a verse that won’t run to its meter is as painful to them as a wrenched knee is to the rest of us. But a poet wants more, too – a poet wants a verse to go out and do some good; for the poet shapes the verse – which is what the root of the word poetry means, after all – but then she sets the verse out to do some shaping of its own. So the poets call on Brigid, saying, Brigid, heal my words so that they run to the meter, and Brigid, light the flame of inspiration so that I can bend the words to my purpose, but most of all, they say, Brigid, let my words go out to others to be a source of wisdom, wisdom that does the service of healing, and wisdom that gives the gift that is needed, and wisdom that inspires the souls of women and men.
That's an excerpt from Literata's gorgeous retelling of Brigid's stories, or at least a goodly handful of Brigid's stories because Brigid's stories are so plentiful as to have no end.

And so this comes right back around to yr. humble Blogger, who's a bit of a lapsed Wiccan, or at least an inobservant one, but who couldn't let the day go by with out acknowledging Imbolc, and Brigid, and Brigid's gifts of wisdom and inspiration to poets. You see I've been at Her altar today--there's a word count on the new story. There's a whole bunch of new scenes. They're not very good yet, they're only 1st draft and then some, but, as I've found, I can't write the story right the first time. It's got to be down on the page before I can figure out what the story really is.

Not that it should take a High Holy Sabbat to get me writing--but I wasn't going to not write today. Not hardly.

Maybe tomorrow I can finish that first draft and really figure myself out. And maybe I can also figure out what good this story wants to do in the world. We're in the entertainment industry, us fiction writers, we live by our ability to make readers turn pages, but there's other stuff a good story does. I'm not always sure what else my stories are doing, especially the ones down on the Horror end of the Fantasy spectrum like this one, but when I get 'em right, I know they do something. Brigid knows better than I what that something is, I suppose. I can't go after it in specific. I can only write the best story I can, and trust in that touch of Her grace.

Oh! And I also messed around in the dairy, so to speak. I mean, that jug of milk that's a bit past its expiry date? I made it into paneer. Hooray for paneer! John and me and Avedan all nibbled a bit of the trimmed edges before I put the squared slab into the freezer bag where I accumulate paneer against the next time I make saag. Which should be around spinach harvest time. Eostre, maybe?

On Using the Time You've Got
Tue 2011-02-01 23:40:42 (single post)
  • 0 words (if poetry, lines) long

Sometimes a day just kinda gets away from me, and I just get nothing useful done. The typewriter doesn't come out. The short story scenes don't get written. And then it's 11:30 PM and I'm sleepy and it's so very easy to think, "You know, screw it. I'm going to bed. Writing can happen tomorrow."

But there's always another 15 minutes.

My laptop is coming to bed with me, and I'm going to poke at the half-formed scenes in my head before I lose consciousness.

13 Ways of Procrastinating on a Short Story
Mon 2011-01-31 20:12:13 (single post)
  • 0 words (if poetry, lines) long

The short story I'm currently avoiding working on occurs in a very strange conceptual overlap. Writers do that, and poets; I'm convinced it's a universal part of creativity. Totally unconnected thoughts get their wires crossed, thanks to that unruly and involuntary associative quality of imagination, and the resulting circuit does things that the electronic components manufacturers never dreamed of and would probably get superstitious about.

It starts with a recent homework prompt from Melanie Tem's writing group. (I seem to have mentioned this before.) She shared an anecdote concerning a writer she knew who'd been working on the same novel for years. He'd constantly get within sight of the end, then tear it all up and rewrite from the beginning. It's not all that uncommon; how many of us progress from incremental rewrite to incremental rewrite without ever finishing the first draft? But the prompt was, "Why can't they finish the book? What would happen if they did?"

Then a friend alerted me to an anthology I ought to be submitting to, and its theme dovetailed nicely with the prompt. Clearly, if the book ever ceases to be in a constant state of construction, something nasty will escape and do terrible things.

And of course that thought led to the famous Winchester Mystery House, which Mrs. Winchester kept in a constant state of construction for, so legend has it, a fairly similar reason. More or less. Meanwhile, flailing around for some sort of structure, I considered conversations between the writer and a psychologist, the latter cluelessly offering irrelevant professional insights on writer's block. Kind of like Richard Matheson's short story "Person to Person," in which the shrink tries to convince the narrator that the phone in his head is just an invention of a troubled subconscious mind. It isn't, of course.

So far, so good. One thought leading in an orderly and explainable fashion to the next. What I don't get is why the poem "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" popped into my head as an alternative structural frame.

Then while I was mulling all that over, the uncanny blackbird die-off in Arkansas happened.

So there you go. Lots of weird ideas and not a word written. As author Kit Whitfield put it, I've got mostly ideas about a story but not much in the way of ideas for a story. I don't have a good handle on the main character, I don't know what they write, I can't really see where they live and work, and I can't decide on the supernatural mechanics involved in trapping an infernal monster inside an unfinished novel manuscript.

But I've printed out the poem and hung it over my desk, and I've read some literary criticism about it. I've done some research on the Winchester House and the fallen blackbirds. I've got ideas toward the structure of the story, ideas like "Thirteen small scenes, each somehow connected with a poem stanza and having a blackbird in it somewhere if only in a very minor way. The last scene should involve the bird die-off and a day that dawns directly onto evening because of the snow." Structural clues like that often makes the difference between thinking in futile circles and actually writing something that goes somewhere. It's how "And On the Seventh Day" finally got written all those years ago; once I knew that there should be seven scenes, one for each of the days of the week in an oblique parallel to Genesis 1, I could write the story.

And I think tomorrow I'll be dusting off the typewriter. It worked last time, after all.

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