Stand By for Your Assignment (full-length)
2784 words long
story solutions, unexpected uptime, and tempation
Hello from the new Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago Union Station! My first time there since the renovation. It is an elegant two-story monstrosity accessible from the Great Hall or from the west side of Canal Street or from the stairs inside the main west-side Canal Street entrance. Stowing luggage is now self-service in a big closet to the right of the Great Hall check-in desk. Showers are available. There's a self-serve espresso machine and chilled sparkling water on tap. Round 12:30, they say, they bring out a cheese and veggie tray, though I will probably not be here for that since I've got a lunch date with a high school friend. (Obviously not the same high school friend I had lunch with in Covington.) The furniture is comfy and upholstered. There are AC outlets everywhere. There are also TVs everywhere, but I was able to find an upstairs corner where the ambient music is louder than the ambient news anchors, so that's OK.
So I've been thinking about my problems with "Stand By for Your Assignment" and I think I've figured them out. By which I mean, I think I have the right diagnosis and the first steps to a solution. Here it is: I'm trying to fit too much story into too few words. This is why I'm having so much trouble on a sentence-by-sentence and paragraph-by-paragraph level--I'm trying to make each syntactical unit convey too much information. Therefore, the solution is this: More scenes. A longer story.
I was working on it last night on the train. Which is to say, I was thinking about it really hard while trying to fall asleep. I'm afraid I let the unexpected wi-fi distract me. And why not? Since when has wi-fi been available on train 58/59? Or on any cross country train at all, really? Aside from the Coast Starlight, that is--and that one is no longer listed on the official wi-fi page, anyway (wait, it is still mentioned on the route schedule brochure as available in business class service). Certainly I've never seen it advertised on the City of New Orleans (though, as this forum post points out, it's offered officially on the Illini and the Saluki, which are essentially the same route but only between Chicago and Carbonale, IL). I suppose it's in a pilot phase. All I know is, as part of the usual feature orientation speech and greeting, the sleeping car attendant said, "In just a moment I'll have the wi-fi gateway set up and I'll post the network information near the water station at the top of the stairs," and my jaw dropped and continued hanging open right until he was done speaking.
It worked pretty well! There were a small handful of places where I was connected but with no internet, about the same as if I were connected to my husband's smartphone wi-fi hotspot and we hit a dead zone, but outside of that, the signal was effortlessly reliable. Only real outage was just after the power cycle in Memphis round about 11:00 PM; that SSID simply fell off the list of available networks and didn't reappear until sometime after I went to sleep. It was up and working perfectly when I got up at 7:00 AM, though, and remained so right into Chicago Union Station. So I was able to do all the wi-fi things, like update my submissions log, research manuscript submission possibilities (see? I was doing virtuous writing-related things online!), catch up on some blog community conversations, check in with my roller derby league via Facebook, all those things. Tried playing a little on splix.io and Puzzle Pirates, but I kept getting disconnected from the server. I guess even very simple live multiplayer games are beyond that little hotspot's capabilities. But for web pages and email, and even playing video off Facebook (a leaguemate had posted a few minutes from last night's Lindsey Stirling concert at Red Rocks, very nice to listen to during final hour of the trip), it was just fine.
Can't count on wifi on the train to Denver, though--not only is it, again, not officially listed among the promised amenities, but there's a lot of dead spots along that route, big ones. So that even if they do provide a hotspot, it will be of only limited use. Hence blogging now rather than later.
Anyway, more scenes. My plan is to reread the current draft of "Stand By..." and note wherever things get cluttered and awkward, or wherever I've tried to provide more flashback or exposition than comfortably fits into that point in the narrative. I'll experiment with making them full-blown scenes in their own right. (Possibly the story will be restructured to alternate between scenes set now and scenes set in Dolores's past, but I'm not wed to that idea yet.) Additional scenes will not only make things less clunky, I hope, but will also give the story room to better develop the necessary tension. Better pacing, in other words.
With several of my completed stories, I can point to a moment during the revision process where I restructured the narrative and everything came unstuck like magic. I am hoping I just reached that moment with this story. Only hindsight will be able to say.
OK. I swear this evening I will not just think about it but also TYPE about it. Even if there is wi-fi. I will be good! I will be a hard-working little writer person! I will make words appear on the screen! Promise!
this fictionette fulfilled almost all expectations
The Friday Fictionette nominally for September 23, 2016 but functionally for September 30 has gone up. I put it up last night, but then I pretty much collapsed, so you get the blog post today. It's "Living It Up," and, as mentioned before, it's mostly a shameless hate-fic in reaction to one of my least favorite stories of recent years. (Because of the Puppying of the Hugos, I feel I should specify that nothing makes it onto my "least favorite stories" list if it didn't stand a chance of not being on that list in the first place. Otherwise the list would be unmanageably long.) But as I wrote it and had to give examples of the main character's boyfriend being a jerk, I wound up coloring him in with the broad brush I obtained as a small child being bullied by my older cousins and one particular uncle. The rest of the family had various enabling spins on the bullying; one of them was that I clearly had no sense of humor or else I'd find the bullying funny. So... that kind of informed the development of the antagonist of this fictionette.
Look, I never promised you subtlety in this exercise. You get an ebook and an audiobook version depending on your subscription tier, you get them four times a month, you get sentences and paragraphs that more or less make sense and add up to a story-like object, and you get a glimpse into my writing process whether you want it or not. You don't necessarily get literature.
I had a nice long day in Metairie after my nice long day on the train: rental car adventures, traffic on I-10 West, the last 15 minutes of game play (which is to say, the better part of an hour) of my high school's homecoming game--which they won by a comfortable margin and with several showy interceptions too--and then dinner courtesy of My Father the Cook. (Venison and green onion sausage with a side of garden-fresh okra? Yes please thank you any time!) Stayed up late talking with Dad and exchanging stand-up comedian recommendations--not the best of ideas, as it turns out; he didn't get Maria Bamford, and I'll be happy not to hear any more of Anthony Jeselnik pretty much ever. But we both partake of the geek/nerd/fan nature and want so much to share with each other the things we enjoy! In any case, we didn't part ways for the night until well past 9:00 PM. Generally I consider that downright early, but after all the day's activity and travel I was ready to drop.
Oh, right, predictions for Thursday. They were good! Everything happened as hope--including skating in Chicago! There was no rain falling when I got there, though it clearly had fallen (and was still falling in Naperville). I did indeed skate the Lakefront Trail to Navy Pier. The trail's paving is not the best for skates--it's very bumpy--but it goes all the way there. Then a very diligent security guard made me de-wheel myself on the pier itself. I met my friend for dinner at Giordanos by the Children's Museum and we had a far too short visit before he had to drive me back to the train station.
Once I got settled on the train, I spent some time trying to prepare "Stand By For Your Assignment" for submission. That story is giving me such trouble. I can't seem to make the words do what I want them to do. The story goes clunk, clunk, clunk. I think I need to stand back and give it more of an eagle's eye once-over, ask myself what I'm trying to do with the story overall, and only once I have the larger structure pointing in that direction will I be able to get any joy on a line-by-line level.
I'm terribly afraid I'm stuck in the perfection trap, though. The one where you never finish and you never move on because you can't seem to get it perfect. I keep telling myself, just let the story stand as a record of where your craft is now, so you can move on to where your craft is trying to go. But the story needs to be at least publishable before I let it go, right? In theory?
Anyway, that was Thursday night. Friday morning, instead of doing more work on "Stand By...," I played around with a new story idea inspired by an anecdote I overheard, told by one of the train staff (assistant conductor, maybe?) in the sightseer lounge. I'm not going to get this right, and I have no idea how true it is, but it began, "This town we're passing through here, Stanton, Iowa..." Seems there was a woman who traveled from France to the U.S., took a job as a nanny for some family somewhere, but turned out to be unsuited for the job, possibly due to mental illness, also possibly due to not having the proper immigration documents, and she just... ran away? Disappeared into the midwest, I guess, and wound up in Stanton, Iowa. And that's where the immigration officials finally caught up with her, months later. Or at least found out what became of her? I'm not sure; I just remember that the last thing the storyteller said, which seemed like a complete non sequitor, not to mention at right angles to reality, was, "I guess the feral cats got to her."
*Blink. Blink.* Feral cats? Did I mishear? I don't know, but that day's freewriting exercise had the writing prompt "The feral cats of Stanton, Iowa." (It may also have been influenced by having recently read "If You Were a Tiger, I'd Have to Wear White" by Maria Dahvana Headley.) It seems likely to turn into a real story, too. And that's good, because I need to stockpile submission-ready short stories this month--but that's another story which I shall tell at another time.
lateness adds to lateness but this train comes equipped with brakes
Hey! So. All the things are late. What I'm mostly trying to do is keep the late things from making the not-yet-late things late. Thus, today I put in my ''pom'' on this week's Friday Fictionette, then at least two on last week's. It's possible that they'll both go up at the same time. Mainly what I don't want is for any of this to bleed over into July's Week Five, because I cherish my Week Fives. I'd rather use Week Five to get a head start on August. I'd actually rather take Week Five off, but it never really works out that way.
Speaking of "poms," I've swapped Pomodoro timers. Since moving to the Windows 10 machine, I have this whole Windows Store full of free "universal" apps to choose from, all of which work natively on my computer and don't drag every other function down to a speed resembling molasses in January. This is, alas, a thing that both the Android emulators I've made use of, Bluestacks and Windroye, do. Firefox is of course affected, because Firefox is the biggest resource hog I can't seem to quit using, but Libre Office and Scrivener are also prone to waving the "(Not Responding)" flag when Bluestacks is in session.
Why this matters is, Productivity Challenge Timer (formerly Pomodoro Challenge Timer) is not available in the Windows Store, and Pomodoro Tool is. Now, Pomodoro Tool says it won't run in the background, but I am actually not seeing that; it keeps counting down happily while I type away in Scrivener, so that's good.
Also, it's just so much more cheerful than Productivity Challenge Timer. So much more encouraging! When sessions end, it says "Time to get some fresh air! :)" With a smiley at the end, just like that. When breaks end, it says, "A new session to do lots of things. :)" See? Encouraging! So much less hostile than that snide "Does putting off work make you feel good?" or whatever. And it doesn't repeatedly blast whistles at me if I don't come back and click the button immediately. Yes, I was initially happy about the Coach Makes You Work factor, but there's no way to tell the coach that OK, seriously, I'm done for the day. In contrast, Pomodoro Tool has a Stop button. Pomodoro Tool has a Pause button, even. And Pomodoro Tool does not have an exceedingly male-centric cast of generic characters, subtly reinforcing the commonly held idea that the default of "human" is man. So, really, the only thing Productivity Challenge Time has that's of interest is day-by-day data tracking, which I'm honestly no more than idly curious about. I'm already tracking my day-by-day in my timesheet spreadsheets, so. All in all, I'm happy to make the switch.
I still need to log a little work on the short story tonight, so I'm going to end this here, maybe get to the tale of the Saturn's Ride Home on another day. Maybe not. I mean, the short version is, "More stuff turned out to be broken, but we got home and got it fixed. The end." Is the long version worth telling? Eh. We'll see. If it looks like fun at the time.
being the tragic comedy and comic tragedy of the death and resurrection of the 1997 Saturn SW2
Oh, my goodness, it's been a normal day at last. A normal day, with normal workday expectations, with the normal workday rituals, and with the normal battle between me and the short story currently under revision. (There are things I want said in the first scene, and there seems to be no good way to say them.) A normal Tuesday also with its normally scheduled roller derby beat-down because what doesn't kill us makes us strong. A normal day. Bliss.
So. Now that things have returned to normal, I will very briefly (Ha!) recount for you the tale of woe known as The Death and Resurrection of the 1997 Saturn SW2.
Here's the thing about a 20-year-old car: We knew quite well it needed replacing. We'd been talking about it all year. The problem is, we hadn't managed to find time to go car shopping, or even to think about what we might want in a new car. "After Boise," we kept saying to each other, referring to the last roller derby bout in a series of bouts each placed uncomfortably soon after the previous. "We'll have a little room to breathe after Boise."
We also knew quite well that, the car being 20 years old, it should get a check-up before we entrusted it with our trip to Salt Lake City. So on Thursday morning, June 23, I took it to the shop. The shop recommended some work be done. We did that work. The car was then proclaimed fit for the drive.
I am telling you this so that you will know that we did our due diligence.
On June 24, six hours into the eight-hour drive, 90 miles short of our destination, our transmission went out. Just died. By flooring the gas pedal, we managed to limp into the Pilot Travel Center in Evanston, Wyoming, exit 6 on I-80 west, at about 25 miles per hour and with our hazard lights blinking. We pulled into a parking space in a cloud of steam and a waterfall of bubbling-over coolant fluid. Things looked grim.
Thanks to the magic of Triple A Plus and the miracle of having made it just close enough, we were towed at no charge the whole rest of the way to our hotel. So at least we were there, more or less on time, and ready to participate in the Wasatch Roller Derby Great Salt Skate as planned. We'd be relying on our teammates' good graces and the remaining empty spaces in their cars to ferry us between the hotel and the venue, but our ability to skate or coach (depending on who you're talking about) at the event remained unimpaired.
The next day, the mechanic around the corner from the hotel (recommended to us glowingly by the Triple A agent) gave us the bad news. Why did the transmission go out? Because all the transmission fluid had leaked away. Why was there a leak in the transmission? Because the transmission was one of the few things remaining in that car that was actually still 20 years and 285,000 miles old. (The chassis is one of the few other things. The engine is not.) There was no sign of impact. It wasn't an accident. It was simple wear and tear--and nothing we could have expected our usual mechanic to have discovered, because it hadn't developed that leak until midway through our drive. It was just rotten luck and terrible, terrible timing. And our transmission, due no doubt to having been driven without fluid, fried its little self to a crisp. The only way that Saturn was riding again was with a new transmission--which the mechanic wasn't 100% certain he could source, it being for a car that not only was 20 years old but also whose manufacturer was no longer around to make parts for a Saturn SW2.
I got this news during half time of our first bout of the weekend. Imagine me geared up, phone at ear, rolling back and forth behind the short bank of spectator bleachers. Pacing. On roller skates. "Fleur? Is your head in the game?" Yes. Well. It will be.
John, that is to say Papa Whiskey, was in full-on coach mode, having just given the half-time pep talk when I got off the phone and told him what I'd learned. He put his arm around me and he said, "Whatever happens, we will figure this out, and we will handle it together." It was just what I needed to hear, and, weirdly, just the way I needed to hear it. A reminder that I wasn't alone. And that we weren't there alone. It wasn't just the Niki-and-John team, which is a pretty valiant team in its own right. The two of us had the rest of the BCB All Stars team with us, and we were part of that team, and just knowing that, I think, made both of us feel more capable. Indomitable. Up to whatever challenge life threw at us. Strong, Smart, Together. You hate for crisis to hit, but if it must, let it hit while you've got your roller derby team surrounding you.
We pause while the author composes herself. *ahem.*
So we had several decisions to make, some more urgent than others. The big one was, if the mechanic can source a replacement transmission, do we have them put it in? Into--I repeat--a 20-year-old car? The urgent decision was, how are we getting back to Boulder so that people can go to work on Monday? The answers transpiring on Saturday the 25th were "Maybe? Depending on the price?" and "Probably Niki will stay in SLC with her friend, and the rest of the carpool will find room in other carpools. We hope? And then maybe Niki will wish she had just gone home if it turns out the mechanic can't source a new transmission and/or we decide to abandon the vehicle? But at least she'll get a nice visit with her friend out of it?"
Then on Sunday morning we remembered that rental cars existed. The original carpool could go home Sunday afternoon/evening as planned, just in a 2016 Dodge rather than in a 1997 Saturn. Don't think we didn't notice the difference in the ride. (We were, in the course of things, reminded how expensive one-way out-of-state rentals can be, especially if you pick the car up at an airport but do not return it to an airport. What price peace of mind, right?) And I'd return to SLC alone if need be. So. We finished out the tournament, checked out of the hotel, and drove back to Boulder without incident.
That's Part 1 of the story.
Now, before I get to Part 2, I need to tell you this: I've retold this story several times, and very, very often, well-meaning friends will hear the bit about the transmission being fried and reflexively burst out, "No! A new transmission? No way. And it would cost how much? No. Not worth it. Get a new car. Stupid to put that kind of money into such an old car." And then they hear Part 2, and realize that they pretty much just called us, their friends, stupid. So it goes. Friends do that. They say unfortunate things to each other, they forgive each other, they move on. But, see, I really want to say this:
Everyone's got a right to make the best decision for themselves regarding the use of their particular resources, and, well, respect that, yeah?
Also, unfortunately, I kinda have Daddy Issues in this department. My Dad has many good qualities, don't get me wrong, but no parent is perfect, and, well, he authored a few of my most notable neuroses. Right now what I'm thinking of is the approach he took to Teaching Good Judgment. It goes like this: Any time young Niki had a decision to make, it was a test. Will Niki excercise good judgment? It was an easy test to evaluate. Either young Niki made exactly the decision her Dad would have made, in which case she had exercised good judgment, or she would make ANY OTHER DECISION which was by definition WRONG and STUPID and proof that she did not have good judgment and could not be trusted with responsibilities or privileges.
(Friends who know me well may also see the seeds of my own tendency to just assume that any plan I come up with is Obviously THE Most Logical Way to Do Things. I'm working on it. Sorry, friends.)
So you can see where I struggled with the decision. I knew very well what The Right Decision was. The Right Decision was to abandon the car and redirect the money that would have gone into the new transmission into the down payment on a new car. To do anything else would be WRONG and STUPID and proof that Niki Cannot Be Trusted With Money Or A Car.
The problem was... abandoning the car would leave John and I with no car. We can get by with no car, but not comfortably, and not for long. (For instance: During the week we had no car, there was a day I could not secure a ride to roller derby practice, so I biked it. It's possible! It also takes 45 minutes to an hour each way, there is no street lighting for almost the entire way, and a bike ride of that length requires an expenditure of physical energy that I'd rather save for roller derby practice.) And, remember, we had made no start on new-car-shopping yet, and new-car-decisions need to be made by people who can walk away from the table, not by people who are under the We Have No Car We Need A Car We Must Buy A Car NOW pressure. So we were really deciding between two different "wastes of money"--prolonging the life of the existing car so we could have time to make the right decision for ourselves on a new car later in the year (and enjoy having two cars for a little while), or pressuring ourselves into making a quite possibly poor decision on a replacement car NEXT WEEK.
(That's the logical stuff. There was emotional stuff at play, too, like I'm not ready to let it goooooooo! I'd be lying if I said there wasn't. But it was the logical stuff that won the day.)
The mechanic in Salt Lake called Monday and quoted us a price on a remanufactured transmission with a 100,000-mile/3-year warranty attached. We discussed it, determined that we could afford it, and--after much more discussion, because this was the hard part--decided that it was worth it to us. We told the mechanic to go ahead. Then I reserved train fare for the following weekend.
(I dithered over whether I should ever admit to Dad that this is, in fact, happened. We'd been talking about the car situation on and off for some time; besides, it was roller derby adjacent, and I tell him all my best roller derby stories. In the end, I did tell him the whole Salt Lake City saga. It was like pulling off a Band-Aid. And, as it turned out, he did not say anything about poor judgment. I guess he really has adapted to the idea that his little girl is a grown-up now. Like I said, my Dad has many good qualities.)
Intermission over. We now proceed to Part 2. Part 2 is me returning to SLC to recover the car.
That, by the way, is my first attempt to Storify something. It doesn't tell the whole story, but it gives a good outline. You can see, by the way, why it took me so long to find time to blog about it. I'm not even sure I really had time tonight. But we all make the decisions that seem the best for us with the resources that we do have, and I'm blogging it tonight anyway.
So from the Storify you've got the basics: Sunday, July 3rd, at 5:00 AM, I biked down to Boulder Downtown Station to get on the 6:00 AM bus to Denver Union Station, arriving at 7:00 AM or so. I boarded the Amtrak train to Salt Lake City at 7:45 and began that 15-hour journey at 8:05. Amtrak, you see, was much cheaper than another car rental, since I have a goodly stash of Amtrak Guest Reward points stashed away for just such occasions. Well, mainly I have them stashed away to spend on single-zone one-way sleeper accommodations, but they are also useful for this sort of situation. Amtrak was much cheaper in terms of stress, too; I'd already have to make one 8-hour drive alone, so why make two if I could help it?
It was a super relaxing ride. It was gorgeous. The whole drive up to Salt Lake the first time--well, as far as John and I were driving--I kept exclaiming about the geology, the erosion-sculpted rocks, the colors of the strata, the way the mesas looked like giant children's play-dough sculptures plopped atop a table draped in a flowing tablecloth with crumbs spilling down the folds. "Fleur, you missed your calling," my teammate joked. Don't we all have multiple alternate lives we could have lived, and maybe are living now in some alternate universe somewhere? Anyway, I got to really feast my eyes on it this time through. I also was able to get some writing done, and some reading too. And playing, of course. Computer full of little clicky games, why not?
AND I GOT TO CATCH UP ON SLEEP. If you've been reading along, you know how important that was.
July 4 was a small respite from all the comings and goings. Not only did I get to skate around downtown Salt Lake City for a bit and then relax in my hotel room like someone with nothing better to do (bliss! having nothing better to do!), but there was time also for a long, unhurried evening having dinner with my very dear friend and her family. Even if I didn't already have Sound Logical Reasons for going to all this expense and effort to get our car back, even if those Reasons weren't in and of themselves perfectly sufficient, there was knowing also that if I went back to Salt Lake City, I'd get to see my friend again, and with any luck for more than that very hurried hour in the hotel lobby that was all we got during the first trip. It was worth that whole second trip, Monday the 4th was.
OK, wow, I've been at this blog post for two hours. Two hours after roller derby practice. And this post has exceeded 2,000 words, sez Scrivener. So, um... more later? There will be more later. The Storify has the short version, but I'm not really good at non-verbose. You may have noticed.
and sleep but not too much at all is really all i want
- 2,684 wds. long
I think I have managed to do all the things.
The car has received needed maintenance. My back has received needed maintenance. I have completed all of this week's fictionette that couldn't be done on the drive or in the hotel, which means finishing the text, recording the audio, and rough-assembling the cover art. That just leaves the mechanical assembly of the PDF, and the publishing of the ebook and audio posts to Patreon. I have even managed a good hour on "Stand By"--I will call it a "good" hour, despite that the hour didn't quite see me finished typing in edits to the first scene.
I've packed my clothes and my bout uniform. I've washed my wheels and bearings. I've reassembled the kneepads that I washed yesterday. I made a start on the AINC reading. All the plants that need to be have been moved to the front patio so a friend can come over and water them midway through the week. Several containers, watering plants, for use of, have been filled and staged.
I've picked up healthy snacks for nibbling in the car. We'll pick up a little more on the way. I've emptied the ice maker tray into another container in the freezer so that the ice maker tray will fill up again, so we can have more ice in the ice chest when we leave. I've mapped our route so I can print out key elements--from our home to our teammate's address for carpool pick-up, from Boulder to Salt Lake, all permutations of hotel to/from friend's house to/from bout venue. (Sorry, still no smart phone for me. I navigated by homemade TripTiks. Remember when TripTiks were customized flip books you picked up from your local AAA office? Now apparently TripTik is a web application.)
What's left? Finishing and uploading my AINC reading. Finishing and uploading this blog post. Reassembling my skate wheels and bearings once everything's dry.
Oh, and sleep. Can't forget that.
stick a fork in it and call it entertainment
- 2,631 wds. long
There's a point with any piece of writing when you have to just declare it done and send it out into the world. There are a number of ways to recognize when you've come to that point. For instance, author and writing instructor Jim Macdonald reminds us that your story is done "at the point where you're putting in a comma in the morning and taking it out again in the afternoon." But there are other symptoms that may present. The telling symptom in the case of "Stand By for Your Assignment" is... Well, it doesn't package well into a single sentence. Tell you what, I'll start a new paragraph and try to describe it there.
Today it occurred to me that it's been a couple weeks since I hit the story last--weeks in which I really didn't get a lot done, what with lack of sleep and too much upper back tension and also brain weasels. But for whatever reason, I didn't recall where precisely I'd left off with the edits. I had a vague memory of hitting the last page, though, so I figured I'd more or less finished the previous iteration and might begin a new one.
That's the main symptom I'm recognizing here. "Iterations." The idea that being done with revisions means starting revisions over again. It's not a key symptom in and of itself; stories can often benefit from multiple passes. But there needs to be a purpose to the new pass. I'm afraid that right now my purpose was to look for, or, if necessary, manufacture evidence that the story needs more revision.
Now, I think the story really did need more revision. When I printed out and read through, I encountered a bunch of lumpy bits, awkward passages, top-heavy paragraphs, and missed opportunities. These things do need fixing.
But after this pass, after the next few afternoons spent implementing the edits suggested by the marginalia I scrawled today, I think we're going to have to call it done and submit the sucker. It still won't be perfect, but it never is. Perfection isn't a feasible destination; it's just the direction in which you aim yourself. And hopefully each story I write will wind up farther along that vector before I decide it's as done as it's gonna be and I send it out to meet the nice editors.
On the bright side, I did get a revision session in today. After several weeks of not touching the story at all, that's huge. That's a victory, and I'm going to celebrate it. I may celebrate it by going to bed early, mind you, that may be all the celebration I'm up for tonight after a hard roller derby practice in 90-degree weather, OK, but I will celebrate.
everything is a metaphor for writing, ask any writer, they'll tell you
- 2,506 wds. long
Like I said, normal life. Which means there isn't much to report. Writing got done in quantity, as did other things.
Finally got a chance to read through the comments on "Stand By..." from my new critique partner. Her critique did what a critique ought--showed me my story through the eyes of someone who isn't the author. This is critically (ha!) important, whether it's simple details that aren't as obvious to the reader as I thought, or more complex things like the last couple sentences of a paragraph that made no sense to anyone who doesn't live inside my head. (Frankly, those particular sentences didn't make much sense to the only person who does live inside my head. At least, not until I'd reread the whole paragraph several times.)
I reread the submission guidelines for a market I was thinking of submitting to before its May 31 deadline. Good thing, too. Little details like "We will not read stories longer than 1,100 words" can change your entire submission strategy! Well. What have I got that's under 1,100 words? Seems like I used to have more drabbles and flash fiction, but seems like I've also been expanding a bunch of my flash fiction into full-length short stories of late. Hm.
On the non-writing front, I played in the dirt today. My compost bin is full, full, full and its contents, despite all being far enough along in the process that they smell more or less like soil, are still decidedly mixed. I turned it out onto a tarp and began screening it, using a bit of plastic mesh scavenged from a discard pile at a nearby construction site. (I am absolutely sure it was discarded. The long snake of straw-inside-mesh-tube was no longer pegged into the ground along deliberate lines, but was bunched up in a pile at the curb. There were holes in it where the straw was spilling out. It was trash and I repurposed it.) Anyway, anything that passed through the mesh went into buckets for soil/compost mix, probably to be screened through a finer sieve and then pasteurized in the oven depending on how meticulous I'm feeling. Anything that didn't (corn cobs, bones, egg shells, wads of leaf mulch, last year's dried squash vines) went back in the bin to decompose some more. I got about halfway through the original contents of the bin, and I'm feeling very accomplished about it.
I am also feeling a little sunburned. I should remember to wear a hat the next time I wind up standing on the back porch for any amount of PM time. That sun was fierce.
There is probably a metaphor or parallel to be drawn between sifting compost and revising a short story, but I am not feeling motivated enough to investigate.
transplanting tomatoes and exposition
All the things. All the writing things! Every single last one of them, and scrimmage too.
And also gardening! Look, look, I put plants in the dirt. Here are the lovely tomatoes that my teammate gave me, and there's a bunch of arugala seedlings that will hopefully do more than just fall over, and there's also some sunflower starts which it is my fervent desire that the neighborhood squirrel not discover until they less resemble something you find at a salad bar. Since there is no bird feeder out there this year, there has been no squirrel-attracting mess of seeds on the patio floor. So maybe we are no longer on the squirrel's habitual commute. Who knows? I have one more peat pot of sunflower seedings still indoors, just in case.
For today's short story revision session, I finally wrote that phone call that needs to happen during the office scene, the bit where the protagonist is hard at work and her older sister calls her up with a job interview opportunity that the protagonist doesn't want, we have talked about this before, did I ask you to find me job interviews, I don't think so. I thought this might be an opportunity to move some exposition out of the narration, where it was boring, and into the dialog, where it would feel more natural. But as it turns out, not so much. Turns out, the protagonist told her sister, "I am not going to explain this to you again." Which meant she wasn't going to explain things again, not even for the sake of the reader. Drat. Hopefully the thing I wanted to explain will be understood well enough with the hints I was able to include. Hopefully I can get a few eyeballs on it this weekend to tell me whether it worked.
Tomorrow I get to rewrite the board of directors meeting. Or the budget meeting. Or the shareholder meeting? That's the thing. The story as it currently stands can't seem to figure out whether the protagonist works at a non-profit or a shareholder-owned corporation, and whether it's got a board of directors or not, and whether the boss man gets called "the director" or "the CEO" or "the president." Gah. These distinctions are not things I am usually interested in, people! Why do I have to be interested in them now?
starting to look like a solid trend
- 1,039 wds. long
Two good days in a row! Progress on all the things. Prepared one of the Fictionette Artifacts to be mailed on Friday (with very clever illustrations on page 2, if I do say so myself) and did another solid revision session on "Stand By for Your Assignment."
Here's the thing about a good day: It takes doing. There are things I have to do to make sure they happen. Thing is, between John and myself, it's pretty much understood that I've got some form of mild (undiagnosed) depression weaseling around in my brain, whence comes (among other things) the occasional inability to get out of bed until external forces intervene. So I've got certain self-care strategies to deal with that:
- John gets to poke and prod and harass me until I am up, feet on the floor, and productively puttering about the house. (External forces!)
- By the time he leaves for work, that 20 minutes or so of upright-and-puttering helps ensure I'm fully awake and not tempted to go back to bed.
- I may not feel like writing. But I know that doing that first task will make me feel accomplished and proud, which emotional lift will carry me into the rest of the morning shift. So get to that first writing task!
- After my first task, I take a walk or otherwise small bit of exercise outside. Exercise and sunlight are known things that help ward off the funks.
But the problem with that last bullet point is, too much exercise in the sun leaves me feeling like I got walloped in the can-do. So today almost bottomed out when my bike ride up to The Diaz Farm for eggs and tasty sourdough took out all my get-up-and-go. But! I've got the evening off from roller derby--the Bombshells got a much-needed rest after all our efforts at the tournament--so enough time remained to restart the day in the afternoon and damn well get stuff done.
OK, yes, in order to convince myself to work on the short story revision, I had to do the hot-bath-and-glass-of-wine trick. But hey! I got work done on the revision, and I got a relaxing soak in the tub with a glass of wine. Win-win!
Tomorrow:A good, full writing day and Thursday scrimmage! Can it be done? YES IT CAN, my friends. Yes, it can.
a good time was had by all the story-like objects
OK! So. We got Friday Fictionette catch-up and short story revision. We got a good day.
The Fictionette Freebie for April, as it turns out, is "Reviving the Legends." (Click for the full text as HTML as a page on this blog or a post on Patreon, as a PDF ebook, or as an MP3 read and recorded by me. I am all about providing options.) I have some trepidations about releasing this fictionette into the wild, though. Generally I am very good about cover art; either it's my own photography, or it's something released under a Creative Commons Attribution license and I attribute like woah. In this case, I'm afraid, I was less than punctilious. So. Featured at right is a possible alternate cover art model. His name is Velvet. He is ready to step in should his services be required.
Bonus fact about me you didn't really need but that I will tell you anyway: My brain is a free-association jukebox. ("Gee, Fleur, tell us something we didn't know," says my entire roller derby league.) The whole time I was converting "Reviving the Legends" from Patron-only to Freebie, I had Neil Diamond's song "Suriving the Life" stuck in my head on infinite loop. Eventually I gave in and just queued up the Beautiful Morn album and sang along very loudly.
Anyhoo. Short story revision! Got "Stand By for Your Assignment" to a place where I could print it out again and consider it as a whole. This draft was spent removing all the things I wasn't 100% sure it needed, so that I could front load the creepy bits rather than the exposition. The next draft will be spent putting some of what I cut back in, but with intention. Like painting over the painting-so-far with a thin wash of Protagonist's Family, stuff like that. I'll start on that tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I seem to have just joined a local critique group. Maybe. They're having their initial meeting this Saturday, just to see if it's going to work, and I'm going to bring "Stand By" or another of the short stories I'm editing to it, see what they think about it. For those of y'all who are my Local Writer Friends who are women and are interested, this is the "Small Circle Women Writers" on Meetup.com, located in/around Longmont. It's public in the sense that any woman can apply, but it's private in the sense that applications must be approved by the organizer.
Anyway, I'm excited about going, and a little nervous, and also I am feeling the pressure of Short Story Revision MUST Be Done By Saturday!!! Which, ultimately is a good thing. A little fire under my butt is useful for cooking up fiction.