Right Door, Wrong Time
700 words long
micromanaging the soup
- 3,258 wds. long
"Right Door" is on its way to a new slush pile, one that's reprint friendly. Which makes two submissions this week, hurrah! The other was "Blackbird."
Neither of these are strangers to the field. And while it feels good to keep 'em out in the slush ("'til Hell won't have it," as Jim D. Macdonald is wont to say), I miss the thrill of sending a story out for the very first time.
I am inching closer to being able to do just that with "It's For You," but when I say "inching" I do mean it.
You know, I love the freedom of National Novel Writing Month. I love my daily 25 minutes of freewriting, too. I love writing rough draft. I get to transmit thought to page at the rate of 90wpm without worrying about perfection or even competence. It needn't be good so long as it's story.
Revision is a whole 'nother matter. I look at the previous version, I begin to type the new version, and immediately my brain freezes up under a blinking red banner that says THIS HAD BETTER BE RIGHT.
And it doesn't help that, after compiling the recent batch of critiques, I realize that this piece wants a lot more than discrete fixes to discrete bits. I wouldn't say it needs an overhaul, but the fixes it does need are sort of all-encompassing. The flavor needs adjusting. The ingredients need to be better integrate. It's like making soup, OK, but I can't just twist the grinder over the pot and then stir. I have to place each grain of ground pepper individually.
And that is all.
magic realism and me
One of the random quotes that cycles at the top of this blog is from Jo Walton. It's about the dragons in her genius novel Tooth and Claw. I've been thinking about it today.
The snippet of the quote here is far too pared down to do justice to the original, though. Let me give you the full context.
It's a bit of conversation that went on in the comments following Patrick Nielsen Hayden's post from August of 2005, "Story for beginners." In it, he muses over a review of Kelly Link's fiction, in which the reviewer, who seems benignly confused about it, wonders whether the zombies are "supposed to be a metaphor", and a blazing-hot response to that review in which the blogger protests that they damn well aren't, at least not exclusively; no, they are real damn zombies and they will eat you.
That's not perhaps the best summary, but it'll tide you over if, say, you lose internet connection and need to restart your router while waiting for the above link to load. (You did click it, right? No? WELL DO SO FORTHWITH.)
As is generally the case over at Making Light, conversation ensured. Says one commenter,
I got into a rather heated argument a few months back with someone who was insisting that Tooth and Claw was good because "it isn't really about dragons." I said that it was too really about dragons, and that it would have been a much worse novel if it had not been really about dragons. "But I mean, really about dragons," said the other person. And I said yes, really about dragons. It didn't matter how many kinds of typographical emphasis she attempted to vocalize: Tooth and Claw is about dragons.
It also does other things, but if every little thing in it was a metaphor for man's inhumanity to radishes or some damn thing, it would suck.
Which is wisdom. Them what has ears, let them hear dat.
As is also often the case at Making Light, the author of Tooth and Claw was there to testify,
If they weren't solidly real dragons with parsons who have the right to eat the eyes of the dead it wouldn't have been worth doing.
This is coming to mind now because two very similar exchanges happened to me today.
- In a conversation online in a private forum (thus I will paraphrase, not link-and-quote) concerning the gap, difference, and overlap between science fiction and fantasy, one person mentioned preferring science fiction to fantasy because of an instinctive, involuntary need for rational explanations, or at least attempts thereto. But they fare better with magic realism than with straight-up fantasy, because their lit-crit background tells them they don't have to believe in the magic stuff; it's all just a metaphor.
- In compiling the critiques of "It's For You," I was reminded how many readers of the most recent two drafts reported not being 100% sure whether the narrator wasn't dreaming the whole fantastical thing, maybe the next-door neighbor who disappears into the painting like Mary Poppins into Burt's sidewalk art was never real to begin with... but that's OK, because they're enjoying the story as either magic realism or surrealism, where this sort of ambiguity is acceptable.
I should just like to take a moment and say a few words on behalf of fantasy everywhere, and also my inner child, and also my inner witch. And as I do so, please bear in mind that I mean no ill-will nor begrudgement to anyone referenced above; nevertheless, I'm a-gonna get shouty.
THE VERY OLD MAN REALLY HAD REAL GREEN WINGS, OK, AND THE DOOR IN THE HOME DEPOT ACTUALLY GOES TO ANOTHER WORLD, RIGHT, AND ARISTA REALLY ACTUALLY TRULY DISAPPEARS INTO A PAINTING.
pant pant pant wheeze stomp stomp
Also, ten-year-old me wants you to know that there really, truly, actually is a heart beating under the floorboards. BECAUSE POE SAID SO.
And the dragons are solidly real dragons. And the zombies are really going to eat you.
This is how I relate to fantastic fiction of all stripes. I love both science fiction and fantasy, and I am as willing to take the author's word when they say "The narrator turned into a salamander" as when they say "This starship goes faster than the speed of light thanks to wormholes and genetically-designed pilots." It is not in me, no more now than it was when I first read "The Tell-Tale Heart," to doubt the veracity of the narrator's report.
I mean, if that's what the author wants me to think, I may get there eventually, if the author drops enough hints. But I don't go there first. The place I go first is, "I'm trusting you to take me for a ride. The wilder, the better."
This is also how I relate to my own fiction. I can't dictate your experience of it, now. If you prefer to think that Beth in "It's For You" never actually wakes up throughout the course of the story, or that the narrator of "Right Door, Wrong Time" is lying to the little kid about whether he can open a portal to another world, that is your innate right and I can't take that away from you. You may well read fantasy and think to yourself, "Well, that can't happen, so it must be that the narrator is mad, hallucinating, dreaming, or lying. Or maybe the whole thing's a metaphor."
But that is not my logic. My logic is WHEEEEE FANTASY WEIRD SHIT LET'S DO THIS!
Mainly I'm not very much interested in writing stories about sadly delusional people who think they can fly and are destined for a tragically hard landing. I live in that world already. (Or so I'm told. I'm not convinced, but it's politic to play along.) If I write about a person jumping out the window because she thinks she can fly, she's damn well going to soar.
I write fantastic fiction because I want this wide weird world we live in to be even weirder. On the page, I have the power to make it so.
So, my readers, my friends, my family, my loves, I promise you this and I tell you true:
When I write the weird shit, I want you to believe in it.
The Internet Never Forgets
Just a quick note regarding "Right Door, Wrong Time" -- I still haven't found a place to reprint it yet, drat me. (Really. It's embarrassing how long ago I said, "I should send it to Brain Harvest." Have I done so? Well, have I? *ahem* Not as such...) However! Thanks to the magic of the Wayback Machine, you can still read it online! Twilight Tales may be gone, but the snapshot lives on, here:
"Right Door, Wrong Time" by Nicole J. LeBoeuf, appearing for the first time in print at TwilightTales.com in July of 2006.
This note brought to you by the question "Where can people read your stuff online?" and the realization that I am struggling to come up with three titles that meet the criteria. In addition to slushing the reprint of "Door," I suppose I should put some of my older stories up on this site like I've been promising to for years...
Question: Can I call my college-era and high-school-era writing "juvenilia" yet? Or is that only something I get to do once I'm a lot more published and a good deal older?
Recent Writing-Related Things I Have Done...
- 2,850 wds. long
...roughly in order of actual writing-related relevance.
Firstly. Had the pleasure of seeing myself referred to, for the first time, in a Real Review of Actually Published Stuff, as a "newcomer." Like one's first lumpy handspun yarn, this is to be cherished. Only about 100 times more so. Again, I can't think of better company in which "First Breath" could see the light of print. This is amazing.
Relevant to this: Blood and Other Cravings is slated for release on September 13 of this year. It's available now for pre-order at all your favorite online and brick-and-mortar localities. I've presented here a link to do so at IndieBound.org, who help you place orders at your neighborhood independent bookstore if you're fortunate enough to have one.
Secondly, I've finally put "Blackbird" back into the slush. I'm slightly unnerved by Apex Magazine's insistence that submissions be done through HeyPublisher.com, referred to hereafter as "HP". (This should be unambiguous since I am not going to discuss boy wizards nor printer manufacturers in this post.) I can't submit a cover letter unless it's part of the manuscript; alas that I didn't think to prepend one. I can, however, enter a bio that will be attached to every darn thing I submit via HP -- which just feels weird. Also, in order to submit, I had to upload my manuscript to HP, which is worrisome even considering HP's reassuring privacy clause. Still, Apex specifically want dark fantasy, which this is, and Apex pay pro rates, which option I should like to exhaust before moving down the publishing hierarchy.
I'd have tried Strange Horizons first, but they have a list of horror tropes they really would not like to see again, at least not unless the manuscript is effin' fantastic, and I see "Blackbird" in at least three of those listed items. Which, despite SH wanting to see "stories that have some literary depth but aren't boring; styles that are unusual yet readable; structures that balance inventiveness with traditional narrative," is daunting. So... well, maybe later. Maybe a few rejection letters down the road.
Thirdly and similarly, I'm looking for other places that might like to reprint "Right Door, Wrong Time." Brain Harvest seems like a good fit. When I took a look Saturday, the most recent story was Helena Bell's "Please Return My Son Who Is In Your Custody," which, wow. Chills and shivers and a few uneasy giggles. I still need to read the latest since then, Simon Kewin's "Terahertz." The first few paragraphs tantalize me with their efficient worldbuilding.
Nextly, I've begun play-testing Glitch. Glitch is a very strange, and strangely compelling, MMO. You play the part of a figment of the Gods' (called "Giants") imagination. You learn skills, you do stuff. You interact with other people. You help build the world. Play-test opens again tomorrow, so I hear. What does this have to do with writing? Well, it's a reason why I might not be getting a lot of writing done. (Stupid online game addictions. I can has them. In multiples.) If you also are playing, I'm "vortexae".
And lastly (for this post at least), I am baking pound cake. I had this quart jar of whipping cream that self-soured, and pound cake calls for sour cream. So there.
And what does that have to do with writing? You ask a writer who's ready for dessert.
Actually, I can loop that back into writing. When I get done baking it, if the timing works out I shall take it over to our neighbors' place to share. John's over there with Kit and Austin of Transneptune Games, play-testing Becoming Heroes with some friends. Becoming Heroes is available for ordering right now this minute! Nothing "pre" about that. And if you go to Gen Con Indy this year, you can visit Transneptune Games at their vendor booth and buy it there from the team that made it happen.
I'm really proud of these guys and of the book they've produced, and not just because one of them's my husband. And not just because one of the copy-editors was me. (Gods help me, I'm a copy-editor.) And not just because Alison McCarthy's illustrations are stunning. And not just because the game draws on such a multifarious palette of literary influences. I'm proud of them and this book for all these things, plus because creating a new game and putting it out there for public consumption is an amazing feat to take from concept to fulfillment. And it's something John has always wanted to do, for as long as I've known him, so I'm especially pleased for him on that account.
And it's a dang good game, too. The team has put a lot of thought into it -- heck, they put a lot of thought into games as a category. You should read their blog. You won't take RPG mechanics or RPG terminology for granted ever again, that's for sure.
So Transneptune Games sold their first copies of Becoming Heroes about the same time I saw that Publisher's Weekly review of Blood and Other Cravings, which parallelism really amuses me. Hooray!
And that's the list of Things What I Wanted To Tell You What With Not Blogging Reliably Of Late. Which hopefully will improve in the near future.
Notes From the Front Line
That's not "front line" as in battlefield. That's "front line" like "front of house," the place in the dining establishment where staff interface with customers. (Although back in my days working the university cafeteria, there always seemed to be a certain parallel between the two senses of the phrase.) The back of house is where the stories get cooked up; the front is where they get offered for sale. I was going to use the battlefield metaphor, but I couldn't decide whether my latest rejected stories had come back with their shields or on them. Then I decided war was not the answer. Go with the restaurant metaphor: two potential diners decided the current menu was not to their liking.
"Door" is still looking for a place to get reprinted. PodCastle says short-shorts have been hard to sell. And "Blackbird" has garnered its second rejection letter; it's not quite right for Weird Tales. So there you go. I'd think of new places to send them, but it's rather late tonight and my brain is mush.
I have about enough energy to say this much on the subject of rejection letters:
This newfangled world of electronic submissions makes it hard sometimes to tell whether a rejection is a form letter or a personal note. Compose a sentence by hand or paste it in; the pixels look the same. And, more importantly, Dear Writer, however the sentences got into the letter, they were most likely chosen for you to receive. Don't read anything into a rejection letter that isn't there -- that way lies madness -- but take seriously those things that are. If the rejection letter compliments your story, then by all means enjoy the warm fuzzy glow. And if the phrase "try us again with something else" is included, take them at their word.
The world is full of disappointment and discouragement. If something even remotely looks like encouragement, take it as such.
So. End of Deep Thoughts. Now: Thinking about what next to try Weird Tales with, and where next to try "Blackbird." And also, where Writing The Next Thing is concerned, what the Next Thing might be.
These are good thoughts to feed to a sleepy brain. A well-fed sleepy brain means a helpful dreamy brain.
You Can't Win If You Don't Play
I do not habitually buy lottery tickets. In fact, I don't buy lottery tickets. Pretty much ever.
Once upon a time, John and I were driving down a highway in West Texas, looking for a place to spend the night. No hotels were forthcoming. We took an exit out of sheer hope and found ourselves driving down a significantly smaller highway with no end in sight. Nor light. We passed a sign that said CATTLE IN ROAD. We started wondering if we were not on a highway at all.
John said, "I really hope we don't get shot." (Have I told this story before?)
I said, "Don't say that! Don't even say a thing like that!" He looked surprised, and a little hurt, and a lot confused. I dialed it back and tried to explain. "I just feel like, saying a thing makes it more likely to happen. I'm not comfortable giving voice to the things I don't want to happen."
He nodded. There was silence for a moment while we got the car turned around and headed back for the honest-to-goodness interstate highway. Finally, John said, brightly, "Gee, I hope we don't win the lottery..."
But of course neither of us buys lottery tickets. We do, however, play in other lottery-like things. John is going to Gen Con this year as, for the first time, a vendor; he and some close friends have been designing role-playing game systems. They're going to show one of 'em off. And as for me, well, I submit short stories in hopes of finding people willing to pay me for the right to publish 'em.
It's a lot like the lottery in some ways. Well, it's a lot unlike the lottery. Regardless of what some cynics will tell you about either industry, neither game nor fiction publication are matters of pure chance. Quality comes into it. Once you reach a certain level of quality, then we can talk about chance: getting the story in front of the right editor, making the connection with the right game publishers, etc. But you can't get a chance until you've got a product of sufficient quality to be worth putting in front of the potential customer. And you don't stand a chance getting it in front of the right editor/publisher/agent until you've done sufficient homework to aim for one who's a good fit with what you're selling. And you don't just buy a ticket to play; you have to make the ticket yourself, out of star dust and unicorn tears. Seriously. Also blood and sweat and time and patience and more blood and sweat and time.
But it's just like the lottery in that you can't win if you don't play.
It occurs to me that of late I have been playing only very rarely, and this may have something to do with the slow rate of publication I've been experiencing. "I have this crazy theory..."
And it also occurs to me that it was very pleasant to report a certain amount of money for "sale of short fiction" on the portion of our household income taxes described as Income Not Reported Anywhere Else. I should like to do more of that, please.
Hence more submitting.
"Right Door, Wrong Time" is on its way to, possibly, a new home. Its previous home vanished from the internet sometime early last year; the small press Twilight Tales and their website TwilightTales.com would appear to be no more. I'd like to get it out there again, so into the slush it goes.
OK, We're Live.
You can now read "Right Door, Wrong Time" at Twilight Tales.
I hope you like.
Changing Titles, and Something To Look Forward To
On Friday, June 16th, I'll have fiction published again. Yes! Having undergone yet another title change (from "The Right Time" to "Right Door, Wrong Time"), my Award Winning Flash Fiction Story[TM] will see the light at Twilight Tales. The title change was the idea of the fiction editor, Ed deGeorge--and may I just say that an editor whose name is Ed is just set, you know? He can use "ed" as his email handle at the twilighttales.com domain, and it can mean "editor at Twilight Tales" or it can mean "Ed at Twilight Tales." That's totally cool. You just can't do neat wordplay like that with "Niki". I mean, you can, but I've heard all the possibilities sung at me on the kindergarten playground, and they're all goofy and unuseful.
Anyway, it works for me. The title, I mean. It's a title that tells us what's known up-front, rather than giving away what is revealed at the end. Then again, "The Right Time" was ambiguous enough to apply to both before the revelation and after--but I think wittering about which of several very similar titles is best is right up next to inserting a comma in the morning and taking it out in the evening. It's a sign that it's time to let the editor make the changes.
Besides, what sense does it make to talk about "the revelation" in a 700-word short-short? I mean, yes, suspense can be done in flash fiction, it ought to be there, but it only lasts about a minute or two, since that's all the time it takes to read the whole thing.
In any case, there's a date attached to the promise of publication. When the story goes up on Friday, I'll post a link.
OK. Everyone who knows my husband needs to give him a hug for me. Like, right now. Because if it wasn't for him and his generosity in emailing me the latest copy of "The Right Door, The Right Time" (title now condensed to the latter phrase) on absolute short notice and in spite, it must be admitted, of my sickness-shortened temper, I wouldn't have been able to enter that story in last night's Flash Fiction contest.
In which I placed third! Squeeeee! Happy dance!
And among the illustrious personages upon the judges panel was WHC 2006 Toastmaster and, of course, celebrated horror writer Peter Straub! Squeeeeeeee!
There were pictures taken of everyone involved, which Tina Jens of Twilight Tales will be emailing to me, so, pictures as soon as I've got 'em. Tina also invited all the winners to send her their stories so they could be published on the Twilight Tales website, so, links when I've got 'em too.
(Interesting. I hadn't been aware, until going to their website, that Twilight Tales was connected to Tim Broderick's Odd Jobs series. It's obviously been awhile since I've checked in--maybe it's not called that anymore--but they seem to have the whole Lost Child storyline hosted there, and they sell a hard copy graphic novel edition of Something To Build Upon.)
I won a great Twilight Tales T-shirt and copy of one of their anthologies, Blood and Donuts. But I am in much covetous admiration of the first place prize--which was well earned by that winner, whose story was amazing and funny and totally effed up. That was a plain white shirt with black sleeves which sad, simply, in red serif print, "I Read Like A Motherfucker"--in homage to that immortal countdown which starts the five minutes ticking for each competitor. ("Three... Two... Rrrrread like a motherfucker!")
I'm writing this while sitting in on the traditional Gross-Out Contest, which I am emphatically not going to participate in. I could absolutely not compete with champions in this tournament. There's a lot of potty humor involved. In great detail. And with much hilarity. After a few minutes, the MC takes away the microphone and asks the audience to show by their thumbs--up or down--whether the contestant should be allowed to continue. I'm almost ready to leave, not because I'm too grossed out or anything--I've no problem hearing descriptions of things as long as I don't have to watch them acted out on TV--but because some of the more enthusiastic contestants get a little close to the mike and sting my ears.
As for the second session of the Editing Workshop, that went well. We only went over out 3-hour time window by about 15 minutes, which was pretty impressive, and the critiques were more in-depth than I would have expected from a read-aloud format. Stephen Jones did indeed join us, but not for the reading and critiquing; instead he gave us a great talk and Q&A on the business of anthology publication. He also gave us his atcual web address, which found myself strangely unable to Google up yesterday. My story went over well, with much love for the POV character and the diary format, and the main thing everyone pointed out that needed improvement was the ending. No surprise; I still haven't figured that on out myself. I got some good suggestions as to how I might resolve that. The title needs changing, too; I need to think about that.
Next, I hope to get a new draft done in time to submit it to Borderlands Press's "Writer's Boot Camp" (deadline May 15, no application fee, workshop takes place August 4-6).
And I'm feeling much better today, thanks!
Uh-oh. Gotta go. They're about to start throwing chickens at the contestants.