“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”
G. K. Chesterton

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

In Which the Author Dies and Is Ded Yay
Wed 2012-01-04 22:40:55 (single post)
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So. Um. Bram Stoker Award Reading List. ...Eeek?

Back up back up back. The story starts here:

New Year's Eve, blogger Diane Dooley starts a thread on the Absolute Write Water Cooler forums soliciting AW authors to interview about their recent or very-soon-now publications. (The first interview is already up. Go read it! Then, go read Lavender Ironside's The Sekhmet Bed.) So I sidle in and I'm all, "Just novelists, or would you be interested in hearing from authors with sorta-recent short story releases?" You know, blinking innocently and giving my most winning grin. Or the internet equivalent thereof.

She very kindly shoots me a private message to talk about that. In the course of which, she asks me, "Weren't you just long-listed for the Stoker?"

*Blink blink blink* I -- what? No no no no. Surely not. Surely we must be thinking of someone else here. I thank her for the kind spot of confusion, but I concede that Blood and Other Cravings has indeed received some nice reviews, some of them making flattering mention of my story. (Also, one of those stories -- Margo Lanagan's "Mulberry Boys" -- is going into The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Four. Ellen just announced the table of contents today.)

Oh, by the way, since we're talking about reviews, and since I was reading a lively discussion about Amazon.com reviews and the tragic tendency to commit the ABM: This evening I decided, what the heck. I toddled on over to Amazon.com, looked up Blood and Other Cravings, and I read the reviews. Then I nodded to myself. "All right," says I, "I've got that out of my system and need never do it again." It's not like I've been avoiding reading the reviews of the anthology. It's not even like any reviews, including those at Amazon, have been less than mildly favorable. It's just that Amazon.com makes it so easy to give into temptation and snap off a quick reply that it's best for an author to just never go there. I hope that when I have a novel of my own out, I remember this decision and stick to it.

Anyway, Dooley wrote me back, saying as how she did make a slight oopsie. In fact it was the Bram Stoker Award Reading List she saw me on. (The list was just released Monday.)

My response was basically to drop my jaw and fall over on the floor, temporarily dead. When I picked myself back up, I communicated this to Dooley, along with my appreciation for letting me know.

So, this reading list is not, N O T not, a long list for the awards. Nor is it the guaranteed source of all of the 2011 Stoker nominees. What it is, is a way for the Horror Writers Association to draw attention to what they feel is some of the best horror fiction of the year. Yes, this is partially for the benefit of those who do select Stoker nominees ("You might find these worthy of your consideration"), but it's also for the benefit of the general public ("Go read this stuff! It's good stuff!").

Out of the 85 titles listed in the short fiction catgory, seven of them are from Blood and Other Cravings. And one of those seven titles is "First Breath."

It's an honor.

...And now it would appear I've a lot of horror reading to do.

World Fantasy Interlude: That Whole Flying Thing
Wed 2011-11-02 17:25:29 (single post)
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OK, so. World Fantasy. A day late, and, as it turns out, a good deal short, because there is no way I'm typing up the entire contents of my head to do with WFC in a single blog post. Let's just pretend I was blogging the con as I went, and my blog posts simply showed up just under a week late. Or something like that.

The first part of any trip is getting there. I got there on a plane.

This was my first time flying commercially since, quite possibly, the North Devon countryside vacation. Certainly it was my first time through the TSA/DHS ritual since the implementation of the notorious "naked or groped" measures. I wasn't particularly worried about either of those options in particular -- which is not to say that concerns about these unnecessary violations of privacy and bodily integrity, not to mention the potential PTSD trigger for sexual assault survivors, aren't absolutely valid; I'm just lucky enough to generally arouse little-to-none TSA suspicion (i.e. I'm small, white, and cisgendered female) and to not be an assault survivor myself; o hai there privilege! this R me, checkin U. No, rather, I was nervous and unhappy about the whole process: take off your shoes, take your laptop out of your bag, do whatever the people in uniform demand, don't protest as possessions are confiscated, don't protest if they tell you they're going to touch your privates, don't demand to know how any of this is serving to make air travel safer, why do you hate America?

I resent the whole circus. I take trains when I can partially in protest of security theater. Unfortunately, between my Dad's visit before the trip and NaNoWriMo afterwards, I couldn't take an extra four days for travel this time around. So I screwed up my resentment and bought round trip airfare via Southwest.

And I did in fact encounter a little hiccup going through the full-body scanner on the way through Denver International. Thankfully, there was no trauma nor any confiscation. When I came out of the round scanning chamber, the image on the screen -- just a childlike outline of a generic female body, since TSA is phasing out the naked pics -- superimposed a square outline over my head area. The security officer, a woman -- they seem to match officer and passenger genders when touching the body is deemed necessary -- asked me to bow my head so she could investigate my hair. Lo! It was my wooden hair pin, by which my hair stays up and out of the way so I don't sit on it or get it caught it doors. She allowed it through, though I suspect that if I'd taken the pin out of my hair so she could see the sharp ends, or simply if another agent who'd been having a bad day was on shift instead, I might have lost it after all.

I resolved to put my hair pin in checked luggage on my return trip and just deal with sitting-on-hair and hair-in-doors problems as they arose. And I resent having to do so. I resent being subject to this behavioral conditioning. I resent that it's working.

By the by, apparently the TSA claims that the new full-body scanners have increased their success. But they quantify their success by how many "illegal or prohibited items" they can find now that they couldn't before. Sure, this includes illegal drugs, but it also includes bamboo knitting needles (and wooden hair pins) depending on how the agent on duty interprets the prohibition on "sharp objects." I think claiming a higher success rate based on detecting "prohibited items" is a lot like claiming higher success for the local police force by counting convictions: you can artificially raise the rate just by prohibiting more items or criminalizing more actions. (Note, meanwhile, that to date no explosives have been detected.)

Anyways. Thence to gate C39 for the Southwest Airline flight to San Diego. I chose Southwest because, like their advertisements say, "Bags fly free!" Because another thing I resent deeply about post-9/11 airport security theater is the paired impact of A) more things you can't take aboard the aircraft, and B) charging $50+ per checked bag. I cynically suspect that some of the major airlines are helping TSA come up with their list of "prohibited items," specifically suggesting dangerous uses for items many passengers won't travel without, to increase the number of bags getting checked at $50 a pop.

I also chose Southwest for their sense of humor. I find their ads utterly charming. And when I arrived at C39, I saw other evidences of fun. For starters, they had decorated the gate desk for Halloween in a Wild West Saloon motif. On the return trip, I'd see even the ticketing desk dressed up for the holiday, but that being San Diego, they went with a pirate theme.

At their gate were some awesome amenities for the electronic generation. Lots of A/C outlets, both at a tall bar-stool-outfitted countertop and between the new comfy-looking armchairs. USB outlets, too, presumably for charging phones. I looked up and down the terminal and did not see similar furniture at other airlines' gates. As I would learn later, Southwest even makes wi-fi available aboard some flights. Just fire up your computer, connect, and pay $5 where prompted at the network gateway. If my flight had been longer, I might have tried it out.

Another features unique to Southwest gates: a series of numerical posts to facilitate passengers lining up in order. Boarding passes come printed with a section letter and position number, which is essentially your place in the first-come-first-served line. I assume the sooner you check in, the forward-er in line you get, and thus the more choice you have in where to sit. They do open seating, see; whatever seat is still open when you get to it, window aisle or middle, is fair game. And here's where Southwest do make a little extra money: for $10 extra, you can do "early-bird check-in", whereas for free you get checked in automatically up to 36 hours before the flight, rather than checking in online up to 24 hours ahead of time like non-fee-paying schmoes do. Or, Gods forfend, an hour ahead of time at the airport, which is what I did. (It wasn't so bad.)

Later, a friend asked me if the flight attendants "sang a little song" for us on landing. Apparently that's what they did last time she flew. On my flight, we just got a little casual humor inserted into the passenger briefing. Also life-size images of Southwest staff members waving us goodbye all up and down the ramp to the plane. These were cheerful, if slightly creepy.

The one thing I regret about my transportation choices, though, was flying home on October 30th rather than on Halloween itself. Southwest apparently gives you complimentary treats (with an alcoholic component for those over 21) on certain holidays, Halloween being one of them. But I really didn't want to have to skip out on another Monday morning at Abbondanza, seeing as how I'd missed so many since August already, so I did not get to sample these treats.

All in all, the flying-between-Denver-and-San-Diego portion of my World Fantasy experience was remarkably pleasant. I would definitely fly Southwest again. Next time I can't take the train, that is.

(One day I will fly myself everywhere. But for that I would have to first A) own an aircraft, because overnight rental hours add up in an expensive way, and B) start practicing again. I haven't been in the cockpit for more than two years, and I'm feeling it.)

Reading Today from BLOOD AND OTHER CRAVINGS at #WFC #WFC2011
Fri 2011-10-28 11:29:22 (single post)
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Oh, hey there, social media. You have corrupted me into putting Twitter hashtags in my blog post titles. Because the blog post title will show up on Twitter. Logical, isn't it?

Anyway. I'm in San Diego. It's Friday, Day 2 of the World Fantasy Convention. Today at 3:00 PM there will be a group reading from the vampirism anthology Blood and Other Cravings; it will take place in the Tor Suite. The Tor Suite will be somewhere in the Royal Palm Towers, the big tall U-shaped building at the end of the property nearest the mall. We don't have a room number yet. But whichever room it'll be in, I'll be there, reading my story "First Breath" and attempting not to stutter from nervousness. Steve Rasnic Tem will also be reading, as will I think three other anthology contributors. And of course Ellen Datlow will be there. Big thanks to her for organizing the reading!

I'll leave it at that for now, and blog more about the convention later on today. At least, that's the intention. I am so very full of good intentions.

Release Day for "Blood and Other Cravings"
Tue 2011-09-13 16:10:21 (single post)
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Hello, Internet!

I always miss you when I am on trains. And I am fabulously jealous of everyone who takes the Coast Starlight up and down the Pacific coastline as often as I take the California Zephyr or City of New Orleans, because they get to be in on Amtrak's onboard wi-fi pilot program and I don't.

I am currently between trains, sitting back and relaxing in Chicago Union Station's Metropolitan Lounge. I'll be boarding my next train in about 2 hours -- this, dear Chicago-based friends (hi Raj! hi Chip!), is why I am not currently pestering your cell phones with last-minute get-together proposals. (It is possible you find this more of a relief than a disappointment. I can be a very pesty person.) Two hours isn't really enough time to race around, rendezvous, and attempt to do all the beween-trains stuff I wanted to do.

All of which, of course, got upstaged because today is September 13th. It's the official release date for Blood and Other Cravings. Which means I went straight to Twitter and into an orgy of retweeting any mention of the book I could find. This is what passes for "promotion" in my world. I am stunningly not good at promotion. (I am also failtastic at "networking." When I finally write about Renovation -- and I still plan to! despite that I'm about to wind up at another convention! -- you will see what I mean.) But hey, look! Another review!

Anyway, I haven't much to say beyond "It's out! Go buy it! Go request that your library stock it!" And possibly also "Sorry for cluttering up your Twitter feed." So I'll say that and sign off.

Hugs!
--
Niki

P.S. Talked to Mom from the train about an hour ago. Turns out that she thinks this book is the best birthday present evar. "But, Mom, I feel like I ought to get you something that's... well... less me-centric. It's your birthday." "Yes, but you're my daughter. And I love good news!" Well. It is good news.

I'm in there. I still can't quite believe it.
Now. Here. In My Hot Little Hands.
Sun 2011-09-11 23:12:04 (single post)
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I got my author copies of Blood and Other Cravings Friday afternoon. They arrived by FedEx, accompanied by the cheerful FedEx delivery driver within whose beat I reside. "Been a while," we said to each other as I scribbled the stylus up and down the handheld's screen in a messy attempt at my signature. "How've you been? How's the weather out there? Still cool, or warming up yet?"

Once I got the package inside, I was all, What the heck is this? It's addressed to me. I didn't order anything.

Then I saw the Tor Books return address, and I was all, I know what this is! Squeeeeeeee!

So here it is. Here they are. Two lovely copies of a lovely hardback, as pictured here. That's one reason to have two author copies: so you can pose them for the camera like this. (Although you could probably do a better job than I did. Gah, that weird foreshortened angle.)

And there was a very lovely surprise waiting for me when I opened the book for the first time so I could do the foolish happy writer-mamma dance. You know how that dance goes? It's accompanied by a song: Look how lovely the paper is! What a beautiful title font! It's a book! It's really a book! Anyway, I turned back the front cover, and there was my name, right there on the book jacket inner flap. In the nature of anthologies, there's a brief summary of each of a sample several of the stories within, the better to snag the attention of random bookstore browsers; and one of the stories so summarized there is mine. How cool is that? That is way cool.

Tomorrow morning at what my husband calls "ass-o-clock" ('cause it's a vantage point from which you can see the crack of dawn, get it? get it? See, it's funny 'cause...) he's going to drive me down to the Amtrak Station for that motorcoach to Raton NM, where I'll board the Southwest Chief train to Chicago, where I'll board the train to New Orleans. And going with me is one of those author copies. Another reason to have two of 'em? So I can keep one, and, according to a tradition started with my very first published stories, give the other to Mom.

The official release date for this book? September 13th. Mom's birthday. Which I suppose makes this a sort of birthday present. I hope she likes it. It's not exactly her favorite kind of fiction. But I suspect that's not going to be the point as far as she's concerned. Heh.

A Handful of Anthology Reviews and Related News
Tue 2011-09-06 22:12:21 (single post)
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I'm getting mentions in reviews. It's surreal.

Blood and Other Cravings is getting reviewed. It's getting quite nice reviews. And the surreal thing is when one of them mentions my story specifically. And favorably. With complimentary adjectives. Wow.

Here's a handful of reviews and/or reader responses that are online right now:

Pretty much all of these made me grin foolishly and sort of float about for the rest of the day. And beyond the immediate happiness of "They like me! They said so! They mentioned me by name!" there's the simple pride in knowing I got to be part of a book that reviewers agree is full of wonderful stories.

Ellen Datlow is posting about reviews on her LJ as they happen. Her alerts are how I'm finding out about 'em.

Another awesome thing that's up: The Vampire Book Club is giving away a copy of Blood and Other Cravings to one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment in response to the post describing "what draws you to vampires." To kick things off, they first posed the question to the anthology's contributors, and the answers some of us came up with are published there for your reading pleasure.

It was a weird question for me. I'm not actually aware of being drawn to vampire stories, and I certainly didn't set out to write one. And yet in a way that's what I ended up doing. Why? "Because I had this weird dream" sort of lacks something as an answer. I hope the answer I finally came up with is interesting, or at least doesn't sound gawdawfully pretentious.

(I have no idea where the paragraph breaks came from. No one else seems to have them, and I'm pretty sure I didn't put them there.)

The last bit of news concerning this anthology is that there may be certain anthology-promoting activities at World Fantasy 2011 should enough contributors be around to participate. I'm hoping to be part of that. It depends on if I make it off the wait list and into actual attending membership; WFC sold out this year because, I think, of its all-star Guest of Honor list. (WFC, what were you thinking? You are small. Why are you fielding a World Con-sized GoH docket?) It also depends on if I just go "F*&# it" and head over to San Diego for the weekend regardless.

So there were email communications about that this morning. Then, because apparently driving around Denver and bussing back up to Boulder is the Most Exhausting Thing Evar, I wound up hard asleep for a few hours this afternoon and dreamt that I suddenly remembered I was supposed to send Ellen a recording of me reading my story by today at 5:35 PM, and it was 5:30 PM now, but I was going to record it anyway, but John was sitting next to me making a lot of noise on his computer so I couldn't. As it happens, 5:35 AM is when my bus leaves the Amtrak station Monday morning, which because the Amtrak station only opens at 5:30 is why I was in Denver picking up my tickets ahead of time. O HAI THER BRAIN I C WUT U DID THER

Er. About that bus. The bus goes to Raton, New Mexico, whence my train to Chicago, whence my train to New Orleans. Yes, this is more complicated than it ought to be. The California Zephyr is not running between Denver and Chicago during the month of September because what with flooding in Omaha and track damage and freight traffic bottlenecks, there was so much constant lateness they just gave up. It seems I've been negotiating non-standard Amtrak accommodations all year. This appears to be what happens to rail travel when every waterway in the US appears eager to flood at the slightest provocation. Please to stop that, US waterways! Also, please to reverse global climate change and stop messing with weather systems. Please?

I suppose I could just break down and get airfare. But I'm out of practice putting up with airport TSA stupidity. It's been so nice not having to worry over whether some bully in a uniform is going to make an issue over my knitting needles, fountain pens, or electronic accessories. And I'm kind of looking forward to riding the Southwest Chief for the first time.

Recent Writing-Related Things I Have Done...
Tue 2011-07-26 20:32:12 (single post)
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...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.

"Saturday was the longest day I ever lived..."
Tue 2011-05-24 21:55:40 (single post)

It started out in Nebraska, for one thing. I was riding the California Zephyr from Chicago to Denver, and it crossed the state line sometime around 5:00 AM or so. I'm not sure if I was awake for that. I know I woke up several times through the night to see the moon, just past full, shining in on me. Then the sun was rising and my seatmate said, "It was 6:15 a moment ago; now it's 5:30." "Oh," I said, rubbing my eyes, "we must have crossed into Colorado."

I put on my shoes, went downstairs to replace my morning breath with minty toothpaste breath, and went back one car in search of means to replace that with coffee breath. The lounge car had just opened for service and the line stretched up the stairs and halfway through the sightseer deck, so I put off coffee 'til later. Open up laptop and write story now.

I was on tap for story critique for my twice-monthly Wednesday group. It would have met tomorrow, but since not enough RSVPs were received it got canceled. But I didn't know that would happen, so I was slightly panicking. I wanted to email that story the moment I got home. I didn't have much time.

That's the thing with new stories. I can work them over in my head as much as I'd like, but they don't really come out until they come out. Of course, the sooner I start writing the first scene, the sooner I'll know how the second scene goes, and so forth, but I swear I wrote and rewrote the first scene several times and had no clue. Really, the story wasn't actually there to be written the way it ought to be written until I realized that the beginning catalyst and the climax mechanism, if related, would make each other less contrived and the story more efficient. And that didn't happen until sometime Thursday.

Would it have happened sooner if I'd spent more time thinking about it sooner? I don't know. The person I was Thursday is not identical to the person I was Wednesday, or the week before. Maybe the person I was the week before couldn't have figured out what the person I was Friday afternoon on the train needed to know to start churning out scene after scene at last.

Because that's mainly what I did Friday on the train. I also knitted a good deal of sock, read the first chapter of Orphans of Chaos (a free Tor.com download for the site's registered beta users from a couple years ago), and wrote up an article for Demand Studios using web pages I'd Scrapbooked earlier for research. But mainly I wrote the story's first real draft.

Writing a story draft when I only have some 24 hours to do it in is panic-inducing. Every scene I get done, I can't help but think how many more scenes I have to go; and every scene I've written seems to require that the story be at least one scene longer than I'd originally planned. I kept checking my word count and despairing at the realization that it was already 2500 words, already 4000 words.

This, unfortunately, makes for a first draft whose pace gets more and more rushed as the story goes on. But I'm not allowed to fix it just yet. I already mailed it out for critique. It really bugs me when someone responds to comments on his or her story with "Oh, don't worry about that, I've fixed that since, it's totally different now." Might as well just add "Those hours you spent in good faith critiquing my story? Totally wasted. Sorry 'bout that!" I don't know if that bugs other people as much as it bugs me, but I'm not going to do that to anyone else. So I'm not allowed to reread or edit this story until after June 8, which is when my critique was rescheduled for.

So the train arrived and I got home thanks to my terribly sick husband, who peeled himself out of bed long enough to drive down to the Table Mesa Park 'n Ride where the regional bus dropped me off. He went back to bed with my profuse thanks. And I hit the desk to finish writing this dang story.

And I emailed it off.

And promptly regretted it.

It's really pathetic how all it takes to make me insecure about my writing is for me to put it in front of other peoples' eyes. I just have to remind myself that this is how I felt after emailing an early draft of "First Breath," too -- and you know how well that went. (Really well. The anthology it's in will be on bookstore shelves come September 13. I have the PDF of the proof copy right here on my personal hard drive. With a table of contents with my name in them. And Ellen Datlow reports that the galleys are going to Book Expo with her for autograph events scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday. I didn't know galleys went to autographing events. People will see them! People in public! Can I stop hyperventilating now?) Which is not to say this new story is going to be all that and a bag of chips, of course, but it does help remind me that my insecurity isn't an accurate reflection of reality.

So. Story draft done and emailed out. After which, I and five friends drove down to NoNo's Cafe and ate rather a lot of crawfish. Then there were cats to feed, ice cream to purchase, and several episodes of Doctor Who to watch. Also the new My Little Pony cartoons, which, in the capable hands of Lauren Faust (Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Powerpuff Girls), are rather more fun than Hasbro's first go-round.

Conveniently, the world did not go all to pieces at 6:00 PM, so there was nothing stopping us watching cartoons until we were falling-down sleepy.

And that's what I did Sunday.

But oh hey wait not done yet! So. I have this really good friend from high school, right, he actually reads my blog and stuff, he says to me over lunch in Metairie last week, "So when do we get to see more chapters?" And he's right -- I should be posting excerpts more often. So here's the first few paragraphs of my brand new short story draft, which is provisionally titled "The Interfaith Intercessional Fellowship Meets Saturdays at Seven," and is very likely still full of The Suck but hey, it's down in writing now. Ya gotta start somewhere.

Janice Claire joined the cult because, having nothing else to do with her Saturday night, she had no good way to tell Madeline no.

Not that she hadn't tried. "But I don't really believe in prayer," she'd said. "I mean, I hope like anything for the best, but -- I'm not very religious," she finished uncomfortably.

"Oh, that's OK. A lot of people in the group don't pray." Not that Madeline had said please come join our cult. What she'd actually suggested was that Janice Claire accompany her to her prayer group. "It's OK to just hope. Just knowing you're there -- you've given me so much support already, I don't know what I'd do without you."

Not for the first time Janice Claire regretted having opened her mouth. "So much support" had in fact consisted of her mumbling something sympathetic early last week when Madeline had checked her daughter into room 301, bed B. It seemed to be the thing to do. The twelve-year-old had been in and out of consciousness since then, mostly out. No diagnosis had yet surfaced. Janice Claire hadn't been the only one in the records department to express sympathies, but Madeline responded with such an urgently grateful look that she knew it was Uncle Morris's barbecue ribs all over again. Really, she'd known better. Talking to people only got her in trouble. That was precisely why Janice Claire preferred to spend her Saturday evenings in bed with a book.

Ta-da! And that excerpt includes the correction of a major typo that made it out to everyone in the group on Saturday. Dammit. Well. HEY GROUP! Just sort of mentally insert Madeline's name in the sentence that doesn't parse. Where it goes "but responded with," like that. (Sheesh.) Also, it occurs to me that I meant to rename the uncle at some point because naming antagonists after actual real family members sort of sends the wrong message. (I'm sorry! It was automatic! I was in Don't Think Just Write mode! I was visualizing the usual Weilbaecher Family Thanksgiving Dinner, and the name of the annual host of the festivities just dropped in there along with the floor plan of his kitchen! I didn't mean nothing by it! I also didn't mean anything by it!)

And I'm going to stop thinking about this now, OK?

Appreciations, part 3 of 3: Having Writers In Your Corner
Fri 2010-08-20 20:25:43 (single post)
  • 2,850 wds. long

Since I've been blogging this week, I've been having doubts. This stuff I say I remember: did it really happen that way? It's more than just "Was the poem on display in first or third grade?" or "Was it tenth grade or twelfth grade when Mr. Day and Ms. Petersen showed me how you submit a story for publication?" Since I've name-checked actual people, I'm half-expecting any of them to show up on Facebook or in my email to tell me, "I don't know what you're talking about. Did you make this up?" I'm very much afraid that I may have done just that.

At some point during the last decade, I was engaging in some of that mild daughter-to-mother-about-husband griping that you hear about in sit-coms and romances. Nothing important, nothing damning, just a half-laughing exasperated kvetch about a silly argument John and I had had that week. At some point, Mom laughed and said, "Niki, hasn't he learned yet that you remember everything?"

Woo uncomfortable. Because, growing up, that wasn't a compliment. It was synonymous with "You sure can hold a grudge, can't you?" When the fact was, I did remember things, hurtful things among them, with a high level of emotional detail and a word-for-word recall. And it would be like living the episode all over again. The only advantage was, the intervening time had allowed me to match words to experience. So I'd describe the memory, explain the way it had hurt, try to get someone who didn't live inside my head to understand.

But was I then, am I now, remembering things correctly? It seems that it's less likely that I have an astonishing memory than that I have a normal, vague, wishy-washy memory alongside a writer's instinct to convert everything into narratives. I tell myself stories about what happened, and the stories take the place of the memory. I'm not sure how much of what I remember is the event, and how much is the cleaned-up, narratively sound story I made up around the event.

I wonder if other writers have this doubt?

The upshot of all this maundering is, I'm not sure exactly when the previous or following events happened, or even quite whether they happened in exactly this way. But this is the story I'm going to tell about them.

Sometime between my sophomore and senior years, Ms. Petersen encouraged me to submit a story I'd written to a local contest. My family will remember this, because I think Mom did a lot of reading it to aunts and uncles over the phone: "Dancers of Land and Sea," a quiet little conversational story that took place in a mental institution between an insufficiently subordinate woman, a psychologically cut-off drowning survivor, and a cynical and skeptical doctor. I didn't know anything about mental institutions outside our high school's recent production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and I had a tendency to get preachy with The Moral Of The Story, but the results seemed to work. The story was apparently pretty decent for my age and lack of experience. It placed second in the contest.

Have I blogged about this before? It feels familiar. Maybe because I've told this story a lot to friends, face to face, fossilizing the memory in layers of tidy narrative. This time around I want to emphasize something specific: I would never have entered the contest without my teacher making me aware of it--and without her telling me, "This story you wrote? You should enter it. It's good." I was a headstrong, independent, stubborn bull of a girl with an ego that could have floated a hot air balloon--but its amazing how far that wouldn't have gotten me just on its own. I needed someone in my corner pushing me out into the center of the ring.

The contest awards were to be given out at the New Orleans Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival. Does anyone remember the NOSF3? Google reassures me that about two people mention it. I wouldn't know; I didn't know the first thing about conventions, didn't go to one until 2002. If I'd had my way that night, I wouldn't have gone at all. I hated getting dressed up, I mean in dresses, and I hated the goddamned pretentious ritual of formal occasions. And I was going to have to put up with all that and keep my elbows off the table and not drink out my soup bowl or use my fingers to pinch the last unwieldy bits on my plate against my fork. But Mom wouldn't let me get out of it. (For which, my sincere thanks.) Off we went to the French Quarter and the convention hotel.

The award banquet was as uncomfortable as I'd expected, of course. The table was cluttered, there was no good place for my legs to go, my feet didn't touch the floor so I couldn't support myself in a relaxed posture, and I was afraid of breaking one of the million incomprehensible rules that made the difference between "good manners" and "I can't believe how badly you embarrassed me tonight!" Nothing really changes; the last bit is no longer a factor, but the rest? Why must there be so many things at every place setting?

But then came the various awards. And then came the award for my contest: something like the NOSF3 Young Writers Award, something like that. And then it was time for me to walk toward the front of the room and accept my certificate from the smiling lady holding out her hand to shake mine.

I was learning a lot about the mechanics of the writing and publishing industry. But I knew nothing yet about the people in it. I knew which authors I liked to read, of course, but of publishers and editors and the sorts of people who go to professional conventions I was very very ignorant. I was shaking hands with Ellen Datlow, then editor of Omni Magazine. I don't think I'd heard either name before in my life.

"You should submit something to Omni," she told me. "Thank you," I said. I went back to my table.

And dang if I didn't take her at her word. A real editor, someone who puts stories in magazines that people actually read, had told me to submit! Hot damn! I wasted no time. I acquired a copy of Omni's submission guidelines. I followed them to the letter. I agonized over a cover letter mentioning our brief meeting at NOSF3 and her kind invitation to submit. I mailed off my contest-winning story!

And, very soon after that, I had my very first rejection letter--and my very first real-life lesson in the importance of researching your market. As you know (Bob), Omni published science fiction. "Dancers" was very much urban fantasy.

Oops. But "Oops" notwithstanding, I had a goal now. And not just a goal, but a set-your-heart-on-it, pursue-it-through-the-years goal. I had failed this time, but just wait. One day... one day... But then Omni Magazine folded, and I still hadn't been published in it. But that was OK, because a few years after that there was SciFiction. And one day... one day... And SciFiction closed its doors too, but still I had this goal. And the intervening years had convinced me it was an important goal: One day, I would sell a story to Ellen Datlow.

Which is the punchline that this series of blog posts has been leading up to: One day is today.

That professional sale of my story "First Breath" I mentioned a few months ago? I get to blab about the details now, because the table of contents (TOC) has been announced and everything. My story will appear in Ellen Datlow's forthcoming anthology Blood and Other Cravings, to be published by Tor in, so the estimate goes, the fall of 2011.

*blink* *blink* Wow. That means that, in addition to being in a Datlow anthology, I'm going to be published by Tor. Wow. *blink*

Maybe if I say it enough times it'll seem ordinary.

But a really important thing here is--I would never have submitted the story if I didn't, again, have a writer in my corner pushing me forward. I've been attending a bimonthly writing class in Denver for about 6 years. Local writer Melanie Tem--I'd say "horror writer," but that would be woefully incomplete; The Deceiver is far too complex a family drama to be simply called horror; and have you read her and Steve's The Man on the Ceiling?--anyway, Melanie hosts a writing group that I've been going to since running into one of her students at World Horror 2004. It's a pretty basic class. Sometimes we critique a manuscript, sometimes we bring in shorter pieces to read aloud, and sometimes we read aloud very short pieces written right there in class. Sometimes we just talk shop.

I volunteered "First Breath" for the group to review, and, as you may remember, my heart was in my teeth about it. I mean, it has sexy stuffs in it! But another student had brought in a piece the time before that had an actual complete sex scene in it, so screw fear, let's do this. And as it turned out the comments around the table were overwhelmingly positive, and the negatives were overwhelmingly helpful, and everything was overwhelmingly awesome. Peer critique went like peer critique should.

Then, about a week later, Melanie emailed me. Ellen Datlow was putting out the call for submissions to a closed anthology, she said, and Melanie, who'd been invited to submit, had also been given the go-ahead to pass the invite along to me. (Apparently she'd said something like, "So I have this student, I have no idea why she isn't published yet, who just turned in this amazing story..." This is me, blushing and stammering: *blush*) The anthology would have to do with vampires, but not your ordinary vampires, and Melanie thought my story would be a perfect fit. "But they're not vampires, not really..." Yeah, but they kinda sorta were, right? Just not blood-suckers. Which the submission guideline specifically wanted them not to be. So. Perfect, right?

Right. Apparently so. I received an acceptance-conditional-upon-revision on May 2, and within a few days I was signing and mailing back a contract. How weird to think that last time I mailed an envelope to this address, I was out by the outgoing mailbox with my purple fountain pen waiting for the post officer to show up so I could beg him to give me the envelope back momentarily so I could scribble VAMPIRISM on the outside like I'd totally forgotten to the day before. Insecurity then, totally incredulity now. Wow.

I cannot begin to tell you--well, I can begin, but "begin" is about all I can do--what Melanie's support means to me. This wasn't the first invite-only anthology she got me permission to submit to. When she emailed me about this one, I thanked her profusely: "I feel honored that you keep sending opportunities like this my way." To which she replied, matter-of-factly, "I'm on a mission to get you published." Support like that, you can't count on getting it. You can only thank the powers that be for the blessing of having it.

I feel sort of like I've written those two pages of writer's acknowledgments you get at the beginning of novels, which is a little silly when the piece I've sold is under 3,000 words long. But this sale feels like a huge landmark in my personal path as a writer. It isn't the goal, certainly not a final destination, but it's a goal I've had close to my heart since that night at a downtown New Orleans hotel. I think goals are like playing connect-the-dots, really. Or climbing a rock face. You only ever aim for the next dot, the next hold, because until you get to the next one, you can't really work on the one after that. But then you do, and so you can. So you go on.

But before going on, this set of holds is a good place to pause, rest my arms, and think about some of the people (and there are ever so many more!) without whose support I'd have never gotten this far up the mountain.

I love you all.

Just Enough Success to Learn the WRONG Lessons
Tue 2010-07-20 20:05:05 (single post)
  • 2,850 wds. long

I'm still under orders to keep mum concerning the details regarding my recent sale of "First Breath," unless by some chance said orders have been rescinded without my knowledge. Playing it safe, I assume that not. But apparently it's never too early for a success to turn me into a stupidly immobile writer-wannabe hack. I shouldn't be surprised; it takes so very little to do that. Besides, we all know how success itself can turn around and cause writer's block. I should have seen this coming.

Now, first off, I feel pretty weird referring to the sale as "success." A success, yes. A very important success, very true. A landmark I've wanted to reach since, oh, age 14. But, nevertheless, a single short story sale cannot be considered Success With A Capital "S" Or A Definitive Article, not when the long-term goal is to be able to support myself and my family by making stuff up and writing it down.

This is why I keep saying, "Time to write the next thing!" Which is... a lot of pressure, oddly.

Because here's the thing: I keep catching myself trying to write not simply the next thing, but the next thing that this editor will buy. Instead of simply looking for another idea I can turn into a story, I've been searching for the idea. You know the one. The one that will turn itself into a story by dint of yanking the hapless author out of bed and plunking her down in front of the typewriter with an inviolable command to Write! and Write now! and Not To Stop Until It Is Finished!

If that's what I've been doing, it's no wonder I'm not getting past "I don't know what to write" these days. Because that idea? That idea is a myth. It is a fantastic creature. It is--

Well, wait. That's wrong. I know it's wrong, you know it's wrong, every writer who ever had an idea haul them to their daily work by the scruff of the neck or had fictional characters insist they take dictation knows that it's wrong to say that such an idea is mere myth. It exists, all right. Really and truly--but only insofar as, given a working writer's full attention, every idea is that idea. It's the difference between "There are no such things as unicorns" and "Of course unicorns exist, duh. Here's a picture of a narwhal."

(For the record, I absolutely believe unicorns exist. Unconditionally.)

There are a lot of wrong lessons to learn from having sold a story. Among them are "Write something else JUST LIKE IT!" and "Save your energy for writing stories that obsess you, like that one did!" It's all well and good to make your ideas compete for your attention and only work on the one that succeeds in grabbing it. But to wait, sit there with your pen or keyboard motionless, until the right idea appears? No.

Any lesson that takes the writer out of the driver's seat is the wrong one.

A better lesson is, "See what you did there? Take the next idea you have, and do it again." Do what again? "Give it your attention. Feed it to your right brain. Dream on it. Spend time typing about it." Take an active role, and turn the next idea into that idea.

Which will turn around and hijack you.

Enjoy the ride.

(...I'm not sure I'm OK with that metaphor, really. Perhaps tomorrow I'll have a better one. Sleep tight, kids.)

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