“It's funny how just the simple act of answering a day's worth of e-mail will keep the crushing inevitability of the entropic heat death of the universe at bay for a good half hour to an hour.”
John Scalzi

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Define "Chagrin"
Tue 2010-06-29 20:16:22 (single post)
  • 55,010 wds. long

I'm only up to chapter 3 of the re-type? Really? Really?

That... ain't right. For serious values of "ain't" and "right." Maybe what I'm calling Chapter 2 is really, really long and ought to be divided into two or more chapters. Or maybe I'm just slow.

Well, if so, the "serial publication" aspect isn't going much faster. Got to appreciate these small blessings.

On the Pressures of Serial Publication
Tue 2010-06-22 21:49:41 (single post)
  • 55,005 wds. long

I think I know a little how Charles Dickens felt. At least insofar as to do with publishing a novel serially.

Today I finally finished the retype of the chapter where Melissa finds the upstairs room of the castle. That's one more chapter safely written, one more ready to be delivered to its audience. Its audience of one.

Both my husband's birthday and our latest anniversary have passed us by, so I'm not finishing the novel retype in time for either of those. And I've given up on using my code from winning NaNoWriMo 2009 for a free proof copy from CreateSpace, because the deadline for that is at the end of this month, and I don't want to do a rush job. Besides, Amazon is pretty much dead to me these days.

So instead, on the evening of our anniversary, I read the prologue and first chapter aloud to an audience of one: the man I've been happily married to for twelve years. Because he's so amazingly supportive of me and my crazy idea to be a writer when I grow up. And because this is his book.

Now I just have to stay at least two or three chapters ahead in the type-in as we continue reading our way through this work-in-progress. This may be the deadline that finally gets me to move! If not, my "editor" is bound to be more forgiving of my lapse than I will be.

On Hardware and Software and Shifting Writing Environments
Tue 2010-05-18 14:31:25 (single post)
  • 54,673 wds. long

I'm an hour into today's work on the Melissa's Ghost retype, which took a surprising amount of tech savvy to enable. The why of that may be summarized thusly:

Running Word Perfect 5.1 (for DOS) on Windows 7.

I got a new laptop recently. It's another Dell Inspiron 15. It differs from my previous Dell Inspiron 15 in that it meets certain required criteria such as having a CD/DVD-ROM that functions and a chassis that isn't coming apart at the corners and video drivers (I think it's the video drivers) that do not cause the computer to crash when I switch from AC power to battery power. Also enough processor speed and memory that simple multitasking doesn't bring the whole system to a crawl.

These are important concerns. And then there's this other key difference: the new laptop is running Windows 7. My previous ran XP. The world of 64-bit operating system is entirely new to me as of May 2010. And it became a scary, scary place when I copied over WP 5.1 from the old laptop to the new and discovered that it would not run.

I should have been prepared. I should have read this article. I hadn't. It's on my to-do list.

At this point, it's not unreasonable to ask, as some have, why I persist in using WP 5.1 in the year 2010. Well. The answer is somewhere between "Because it is a superior piece of word processing software" and "Rawr you kids back in my day rawr get off my lawn." It goes something like this:

It's 1992. I'm a sophomore in high school. I'm taking as an elective course a semester-long writing workshop in the fancy-dancy computer lab. The computer lab is full of Macs. The computer my parents just bought is a PC running Windows 3.1. To work on the same document at home on Microsoft Works and at school on MS Word for Mac requires a very clunky conversion process. I complain, I am overheard, I am soon the proud owner of a quietly pirated copy of Word Perfect 5.1. MS Word for Mac can convert from and to WP 5.1 for DOS. Life is good.

Almost 20 years later, just about everything I've ever seriously written is in WP 5.1 format. Open Office will read that natively, sure, but I don't want to use Open Office as my writing studio. I'm 20-years familiar with WP 5.1. I've got it's weird commands mostly memorized. I am accustomed to a mouse-free, keyboard-only environment. The blocky, monospace on-screen font fades into the background for me. And the mental shift I get from writing in a DOS-based environment helps stave off the distraction of knowing that the entire Internet is waiting for me to drop in and waste the day away.

Put simply: I'm used to WP 5.1, I'm comfortable there, and it's as close to the bare essence of words on a page as I can get while still using a word processor at all. That's the experience I want, and I don't care if Windows 7 is going to be all snobby about 20-year-old software.

So I spent a bunch of time on Google, discovered DOSBox, then figured out how to reconfigure its keyboard commands so it would quit stomping on Word Perfect's keyboard commands, and then belatedly discovered the above-mentioned website with its clear and sophisticated instructions on how to do what I did only much better and more easily and felt very, very silly. But that doesn't matter! I get to do this!

So that on the left is yWriter, the novel-editing software I spent most of November 2009 inside. On the right is DOSBox running WP 5.1, in which I'm typing up the new draft. And running along the top left is FocusBooster, a timer application.

And that's my current writing environment. Ta-da!

Old Story Now In Print. New Story Now On Typewriter.
Tue 2010-03-02 20:15:33 (single post)
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  • 54,629 wds. long

Big news: "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" is now live for you to read in Ideomancer volume 9, issue 1. Read it here. And since it won't take you all that much time to read, go read the rest of the free, online magazine while you're at it. The other stories are breathtaking, the poetry likewise, and the reviews illuminating.

And consider donating, since that's how the staff of Ideomancer keep the magazine going and the contributors paid year after year.

Meanwhile, I'm working on a new story, which is news and really oughtn't to be. That is, I ought to be doing it often enough--writing new stories--that it's not newsworthy. But I finally realized, considering the woefully slow progress I've been making on finishing the NaNoWriMo 2009 draft of Melissa's Ghost (I'm afraid John's getting the proof copy for an anniversary present; it wasn't done in time for his birthday), that putting off everything else until I'm done with that job is a recipe for unhappiness.

Recipe for happiness:

  • One story idea that won't let you go.
  • A portable Smith-Corona that's gathering dust.
  • Five minutes reviewing the typewriter's instruction manual.
  • About two and a half hours.
Which got me through the first half of the story. Now I'm having a hard time sitting down to the second half because I'm constantly thinking of ways to fix the first half. Which I'm not allowed to do until I've typed the second half.

It's not actually a new story, but it's such a revision over the first time it showed up that it might as well be. What's it about? Well, in one sense, it's about succubi and how they reproduce. In another, it's about lives of ennui, lives of substance, and profound transformation. It's probably only going to be about 1500 words by the end of the day.

The end of the day will not be later than this weekend. I have promised it to the twice-monthly critique group. No, not the original typewritten draft. It'll get retyped into WordPerfect and revised first. Then emailed.

See, I'm not entirely a luddite here. (I mean, look! Blog post! On the internet!) It's just that sometimes, to recover from a stall, I have to switch from my daily laptop to something a little more "me plus words minus everything else". Sometimes I need to dust off the Ancient Decrepit DOS 6.2 Compaq, hide away from the wifi and from all my fancy editing tools. And sometimes I need to escape the bureaucracy of file names and directory trees and run away to where the paper shows up before the words rather than after, to where each letter has weight and the price of going too fast is a key-jam or the whiteout ribbon.

And sometimes I just need that immediate reward of a bell going "ding!" every time I invent a new ten-word sequence or so. "Go you! Now come up with another ten. Good job! Again!"

Seriously. You should try it. It's refreshing.

Starting From Scratch
Wed 2010-01-20 20:24:52 (single post)
  • 54,103 wds. long

Not as drastic as it sounds. The novel wouldn't let me in to edit it, so I've started a brand new Word Perfect document and have begun a re-type.

Unpacking that. Um. So, you know how I said I barely knew where exactly the holes were, let alone what shape they were? And how I was rereading and taking notes as to how to rework scenes such that the holes would kind of fill themselves? Sounds like a good plan, right?

Except I get kind of attached to the draft I'm looking at. For one thing, the current yWriter project is sort of like Baby's First Draft. I kind of want to print it out and wrap it in flannel and stow it in the cedar chest. Second of all, once I've written a draft, the draft is the story. It's incredibly hard to visualize it any other way. Oh, in my head it's been revised and it's all sparkly, but when I get down to actually editing the old draft, it does its best impression of The Platonic Ideal Of This Story and won't let me in.

I'm terribly susceptible to first impressions.

So I'm blending my re-type with my read-through, which you never never never do when your goal is a submittable draft. Good things my goal is merely a complete first draft I'm not embarrassed to let my husband read.

Also, this past week of no blogging doesn't indicate a week of no writing. It indicates a week of "Dang, look at all the spectacular crap I did today! Now I'm tired."

(Hee. That's what Maangchi said at the end of her How To Make Kimchi video. "Kimchi is done! I'm tired." It's so true.)

Day 1 of the Rest of My Life, Take 967
Sat 2010-01-09 22:01:14 (single post)
  • 51,283 wds. long

I'm sure I've used that as a blog title before. But, so? Every day is the first day of the rest of your life. You get do-overs.

Today was good. Only, writing two articles for Demand Studios takes at least forty-five minutes longer than it should. Right now, there are writers complaining in the DS forum about how few titles they're allowed to have in their queue at a time because they would like to write more than their current average of 60 articles in a week. I don't know how they do it. Seriously. It took me 3.25 hours just to write two. I guess if I worked 8 hours a day on nothing but DS articles, that's how I'd do 60 articles a week. But I don't want to. I've also got some 3rd-party blogging to do (oh hai Metaverse Tribune, I'm in ur Second Life bein kloo-less!). And, oh yeah, a novel draft to finish and short stories to revise and put in the mail.

In the end, today only about 1 hour of my 5 went to the novel. I spent it mostly making notes.

In the second half of November, I started jumping around the novel's chronology, mainly because I wanted to write the end of the book before the month was out. 50,000 words wasn't going to be a problem. The problem was how many words it took to get Melissa out of elementary school. NaNoWriMo philosophy holds that you should make 49,999 and 50,000 be "The" and "End" because you can't count on the momentum to keep itself rolling into December. Except skipping around the book in order to make that happen doesn't leave me all that much better off. I am missing a lot of material from Melissa's college years and beyond, and I don't even know what shape it's supposed to be.

So I've been rereading and taking notes as I go. Essentially, I've been performing Holly Lisle's One Pass Manuscript Revision method on an unfinished first draft. I'm hoping that by the time I get to the holes I'll have got enough of a sense of the big picture to know what goes into the holes. Hell, if I even recognize that I'm looking at a hole, I'll be in better shape than I think I am.

It's working so far. I got a glimpse of the rough shape of Melissa's crisis scene with the Ghost Prince. I think I might even be able to write it tomorrow. But I probably shouldn't, not until I've worked my way through the rough draft to that point. I am probably still missing necessary data. I can afford to put it off; I put in the first few sketchy brush strokes, so to speak, when I had that flash of "ah-ha!" and began typing into yWriter's notes field in the appropriate scene file. I can come back to it. I'll probably come back to it several times, filling in a brush stroke here and a brush stroke there until the whole avalanche comes down.

And now that I've thoroughly mixed my metaphors, I shall run off to the Sage Ocean before someone makes me clean up after myself. Whee!

A 2009 Win: That's 8 Wins For 8 Attempts, You Know
Quickest November You Ever Did See
Tue 2009-12-08 15:23:21 (single post)
  • 50,358 wds. long

It occurs to me that I forgot to blog for the entire latter three-fourths of November. You may have been under the impression that NaNoWriMo kicked me under a bus and left me for dead. If so, you would be wrong. Not far wrong, but wrong nonetheless. The bus analogy is just a bit too much. If you want accuracy, we could say that NaNoWriMo sort of prodded my backside while I was looking at something else, with the result that I sort of stumbled out in front of a moped puttering along at about 3 miles an hour, with the result that, to prevent my picking up moped tracks on the back of my favorite jacket, I had to keep running at a slow, steady, but unwavering pace for the entirety of November.

Which didn't leave me a lot of time for blogging, this year. That'll teach me not to watch my back.

In any case, the story's about the same as last year: Crossed the 50K line (see attached 2009 Winner Badge), failed to reach The End. Also, only managed to do about 9 of the hoped-for 30 Demand Studios articles; nevertheless, this total surpassed the totals of each previous month. So. Progress!

Going forward...

I have pledged to the other inhabitants of the "Life After NaNoWriMo" forum that I will finish this novel! I will finish this first draft in time to use my "free proof copy" code from CreateSpace (expires July 1). And, personally, I hope to finish it much sooner than that. Like, in time to give my wonderful, supportive husband a birthday present. "Limited edition," I told him. "Very limited. Like, just one copy. Signed and numbered and everything." This amused him.

As for my "day job," Demand Studios is doing something very special this month: Write For a Cause with Demand Studios. (Link goes to Facebook, where you can "become a fan" or just follow the cause's progress through the month.) For every eight articles their writers complete and their editors approve, they will donate a book to a child in need, via First Book. If you've been considering writing for Demand Studios, now's a darn good time. And this month's also a darn good time for me to finally reach a more respectable "day job" level of output with them.

And that's the news for now. Summary: Not dead, not under a bus, have won NaNoWriMo, will continue on.

No, really, 's good!
On Vegan Pot Roast and the Loneliness of Millenium-Old Ghosts
Fri 2009-11-06 20:14:21 (single post)
  • 10,622 wds. long

So. First, you gotta make stir fry. Stir fry requires sauce. Sauce requires soy, hoisin, mushroom sauces. Also hot sauce and a spoonful of dill relish (because it's easier than chopping chilis and acquiring sezchuan pickles). Also veggie broth. And you gotta totally overestimate how much veggie broth the stir fry sauce needs. Those dried mushrooms don't really soak up all that much juice, reconstitutin', after all. So you end up making a really soupy stir fry.

Oh well. You serve it with a slotted spoon and use some of the extra to moisten the rice. It's damn good. Mmm, mushroom stir fry with selection of Asian greens from Abbondanza's last veggie share.

Meanwhile, you have all this stir fry sauce left over and, incidentally, the leaves of all that young celery you chopped up. The celery was really more leaf than stem, to be honest. You hate wasting it. So. You toss those leaves and that sauce into your crock pot. You put an extra cup of water in. You crush up one of your home-grown tomatoes that's starting to reach the use-it-or-lose-it stage. You set the crock pot to "low" and you go to bed.

Good morning! Now. You've been defrosting that lovely 1/2-lb Celebration Roast since a couple days ago, because you wanted to roast it up with some vegetables. Now is the time. Pull out your pyrex casserole dish with the clear lid. Set the roast in the middle. Surround it with the results of chopping up one onion, two potatoes, and two big carrots.

Ladle over it a little of that broth that's been simmering all night. Did you strain out the solid bits first? I recommend this.

Put the covered casserole dish into the oven on 425 degrees F for half an hour. When the buzzer goes off, baste with more broth. Give it another half hour and another basting. Then give it another 10 minutes but this time uncovered.

During that last 10 minutes, make a roux of about a tablespoon each olive oil and whole wheat flour. It's not going to be a gumbo roux. It's just going to be a basic thickener. When the roux is well mixed and bubbling creamily, pour in the last of the broth. The roux will go all shreddy; don't worry. Stir it casually and let it simmer until the mixture gets homogenous again. This is your gravy. It will need salt.

Serve the field roast with veggies and cover all with gravy. Do not be afraid to invite your vegan friends to the table, or indeed to create this dish if you are yourself vegan, 'cause it is.

Eat leftovers cold for maximum delight.

Go forth and try this come thanksgiving.

(This post coming to you live from BeauJo's Pizza in south Boulder. We started tonight's write-in at the Baseline Brewing Market, but they unexpectedly closed early "for cleaning." So we hopped across the parking lot and had pizza and garlic-cheese bread and fountain drinks in mini mason jars. Today, Melissa finished up her first visit with the Ghost Prince, and I discovered that the first lesson she learns from him is, "You think you've got it bad? You think you're lonely? You, missy, are eight years old. Come back and whine when you've endured loneliness for ten centuries." Except the Prince was a lot nicer than that, breaking this to her.)

Meeting Ghosts and Goals
Thu 2009-11-05 21:00:47 (single post)
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So Melissa did meet the Ghost Prince in today's writing. And the conversation was terribly stilted. And every line felt really, really unnatural and hard to eke out. And some days are just like that. I just keep telling myself, someday I'll know more about the story than I do now, and that will be a better day to think in terms of perfection. Today I know very little, and so I must content myself with exploration. Sometimes exploration is done by eking out stilted dialogue and out-of-character narration. Sometimes it's the only way to get from here to there.

My additional challenge this NaNoWriMo is to do one article a day for Demand Studios,, a work-for-hire content provider that publishes in respectable places (eHow, GardenGuides.com, etc.) and pays reliably on schedule. That's my endorsement. Go ahead and apply; I won't try to stop you. Some people who write for them make a full-time living wage from them, all working from home. Me, well, I've been patting myself on the back for four articles a week. I'm not satisfied with that, neither as an accomplishment nor as a paycheck. (Also, Demand Studios will soon be offering an optional health plan but only to writers who average 30 articles a month. I should like to qualify, if only to know I have that option.) So I'm trying to do one article a day in addition to 1667 words on the novel.

How've I been doing so far? Well, divide my current word count by 5 and then multiply by 30; I think you'll find the result to be slightly in excess of 50,000. However, I've only done two articles. Gotta be behind in something, I guess. But there's time yet to catch up. I've done two articles in a day before. I'm not worried. Tomorrow is a new day with lots of writing time scheduled in.

(Schedule, you say? Why yes! There's a calendar at the top of the Boulder Regional Forum home page. Go take a gander.)

That's enough for today. Food blogging tomorrow. Maybe. (But I still feel clever!)

NaNoWriMo 2009: Off To A Good Start
Thu 2009-11-05 07:03:40 (single post)
  • 6,733 wds. long

Those with an eye on the calendar may have noticed that it's November. Yes, I'm doing NaNoWriMo again. Yes, I am a Municipal Liaison for Boulder again. You can buddy me at Nanowrimo.org via my handle "vortexae" if you like.

It's been going well. I've been sticking rather precisely to a schedule of 1667 words per day, which is just few enough to keep from getting overwhelmed by despair that my main character still hasn't met the ghost in the castle yet. Or that I don't really know much about my character once she's a teenager, a woman in her 20s, a woman in her 30s, etc. I just keep telling myself that exploring her childhood in detail will help me get to know the possibilities for her growing up. Meanwhile, I think I know why the ghost is in that castle. It's sort of half the traditional Beauty and the Beast set up, and half High Spirits only without the comedy.

My rough draft already has a beta reader volunteer--not that I usually like anyone to read my rough draft, but for this story there's precedent. I could have sworn I blogged this, but apparently I have not: Round about July 2005, I sat down with the creative writing prompt to take one of Tori Amos's more inscrutable songs and write a story that the lyrics could possibly, if you squint at them over your shoulder, be said to describe. I cued up "Toast" (audio link; lyrics here). After about an hour I had finished what I thought was the first scene of a short story. OK, a long scene, but rough drafts tend to be full of babble that'll get cut later, so, not worried. And I emailed it to John. And he called it "chapter 1" and asked "when can I read the rest?" And I said to the Muse, "You lied! You said this was a short story!" and She said, "No! Not lied, I was just, you know, mistaken..."

October this year had started and I still hadn't quite decided what plot I was going to try to stretch out over 50,000 words this year. John said, "When are you going to finish my ghost story?" I said, "You know what? I'll finish it in November." So I'm working on it.

(Also? It is not particularly subtle, naming the main character Melissa. Given that "Toast" is the last track off The Beekeeper. I C WUT U DID THERE.)

Today, I think, Melissa will finally meet the ghost. It will be midway through Chapter 2. Or it will be the cliffhanger of Chapter 2 and continue into Chapter 3, I'm not sure. I'll report on it later today, along with yesterday's pot roast. Because I feel very clever about yesterday's pot roast, that's why.

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