“Write what you feel and not what you think someone else feels.”
Stephen Sondheim

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Woot.
2011 Means 10 For 10
Wed 2011-11-30 22:57:55 (single post)
  • 50,306 wds. long

Woo. NaNoWrimo 2011, done and won. Hooray!

Catch is, I'm still not sure what I've written. But that's OK. That's something I can figure out later.

Certain the different short stories that made up each chapter started to come together. Tonight, I was no longer sure what to do with that convergence point... so I went back and continued each of the four individual stories I'd begun before.

Like, where did Hank go when he put the tea cozy on his head and vanished from Earth -- and why wasn't he too worried about this?

Nevertheless, he was a lot less worried than he might have been under the circumstances. For one thing, this wasn't his first time traveling unconventionally. Well, unconventionally from the point of view of someone like Linda and her neighbors. For another, he did have a good idea of what it was he'd put on his head. He remembered visiting the world where it had originated. Or, rather, where the design had originated. The beings that made them weren't big on crochet. They preferred a cloth-making craft that a human would find mostly reminiscent of weaving, and they used a sticky, self-spun fiber that humans would consider akin to spider silk.

Which told him that someone on Earth, or at the very least someone Human, had copied Harbinger technology. This was not comforting to Hank at all. His current position in a gray-red limbo was less disturbing to him than the idea of someone who crocheted having the know-how to make a Harbinger Transport Device. And to decorate it with the constellations familiar to the Harbinger sector -- well, that just screamed smugness, didn't it? (Smugness doesn't "scream," silly. Forget it.) That betokened an engineer who was smugly sure no one would ever catch on to what they were doing.

And Linda just bought it? In some antique store somewhere?

That's the odd thing, Francis -- it's not there anymore.

Oh. One of those. Great. As if there weren't enough troublemakers bouncing around the galaxy.

I suspect Hank is a Time Lord. Dang it. Next time I write Doctor Who fanfic, could I at least know that's what I'm doing before I do it? Stupid bait-and-switch Muse.

Anyway. There's also Maggie and her computer. I still haven't decided what her computer does. It functions impossibly and it does something rather horrible. I just don't know what yet.

Still, I managed at least to follow her away from the shop for a few miles.

Maggie didn't take her new purchase home immediately. She felt terribly possessive of it. It was her secret! So instead of heading back to her house where her little brother would barge into her room -- wasn't that supposed to stop happening once you got out of high school? Only if you also got out of your parents' home, it would appear -- where her parents would want to exchange tales of the day, where she'd get questions about this machine that was hers, all hers! Or, worse, where she'd get waylaid on her way to trying out her new computer. The moment would be lost in a fog of "How was your day" and "have you got homework" and "will you be joining us for dinner tonight."

Besides, she also felt vaguely embarrassed. The shop keeper had charged her a dollar. One hundred pennies. That was all. Maggie had a strange sick clawing feeling in her gut about it. On the surface, it was dread that someone would confront her with having all but stolen the little miraculous computer.

Underneath, where she didn't want to look but still couldn't help but know it was there, she dreaded that the monetary price was only a tiny fraction of what she'd paid.

I'm not sure I want to talk about what happened next with Cathy after the joint started jumping. Or what happened to her boyfriend after Martha-possessed-by-the-Vampire-Dress got her claws in him. FIRST DRAFT FIRST DRAFT SHUT UP oh, well. Here's a fairly harmless excerpt.

More memory flowed back. The shop. That old consignment shop -- but that was a dream, too, right? There hadn't been a shop in that location for years. So where did this memory come from?

"Meet me @ Mimi's."

"What u doin there? Drag queen."

"Get u a prezzie. Or not. Up 2 U."

"Shut up. BRT."

He'd hit SEND. He'd walked into the shop. He knew he'd walked into the shop that didn't exist. Also, he was lying fully clothed on the ground in what appeared to be a filthy alley in one of those big inner cities you see in movies. Gotham. God help him, he was passed out in an alley in Gotham City. He hoped Batman was on his way.

Which just leaves Lucille and her cousin Bitsy. I didn't do anything with them tonight, though. I finished Bitsy's part of the story Monday. It looks sort of final for her, right now.

The whole thing is starkly unfinished, but it's at a point where I can take a step back and think about it as a whole. Which I suppose I'll do very soon now.

But not tonight. Tonight I get to relax. I get to take a break from life for the rest of the night, 'cause I done did it, so I did. Hooray for another successful National Novel Writing Month!

And wait oh hey! I also have a better title for the novel now! Which -- yep -- does in fact change the URL of my novel info page at NaNoWriMo.org. Awkward! Guess I'd better go back a few entries and fix the previous link where the title was still "Selling Dreams and Stealing Hearts." (Dumb title. Why'd I ever call it that? Sheesh.)

I Get a Sunrise!
Mon 2011-11-28 08:56:50 (single post)
  • 40,984 wds. long

Sometimes I am not so smart.

Today is Monday, which means I'd usually be heading to Abbondanza for my weekly volunteer shift. Only, it's also November. As the fall season drifts into winter, the weather gets less predictable. And even when the weather is fine, the farm is slowing down -- getting put to bed, you might say. So I've been getting in the habit of texting the farmer on Sunday just to confirm that I should, in fact, be coming on Monday.

I forgot to text yesterday. Oops.

This morning, I missed the bus by that much -- and it really wasn't necessary. I mean, in the first place, it's not necessary to be late getting out the door. I was up by 6:15 AM, leaving myself plenty of time get dressed, get fed, and even check in on some kitchen processes I started last night.

One process was the fruitcake I finally got around to baking. I left it in the oven to cool overnight, and this morning I boozed up a cheesecloth in brandy, wrapped the cake in the cheesecloth, and sealed up the whole package so it can do its stuff until Winter Solstice. Like I say every year: You Have Been Warned. (In case you're interested: Walnuts, almonds, currants, raisins both golden and not, dates, figs, dried strawberries, diced dried-and-sweetened papaya. I think that's all. Did I mention the brandy?)

The other process was a pot of chicken stock in the slow-cooker. One of this year's end-of-season offerings for Abbondanza's CSA members was a small frozen chicken specifically for making stock. I defrosted it last night in a pot of simmering water and then tossed it and a bunch of vegetables into the slow-cooker last night. This morning I poked at it, decided it had enough water for the rest of the morning, and ate the drumsticks. I can see why it's emphasized that this is a chicken for stock only. It's not particularly plump or tender, this chicken. But eight hours in a crock-pot on low along with carrots, onions, garlic, celery, bay, and "Italian Spices" (I didn't have any thyme on hand) made a yummy couple of bite-sized drumsticks.

Yay kitchen stuff! You bored yet?

Anyway, I had plenty of time to do all that and my Puzzle Pirates blockade schedule besides, and also to clean up after the inevitable mess the cats left me. (Null is not only unable to control his bathroom functions these days, but also he managed to find all the almond slivers I dropped last night. He's a freak for almonds, that cat, and he's not supposed to have them -- too high a concentration of protein for his degenerating kidneys. How do I know he got into them? I cleaned up the barf, that's how I know. Ew.) None of this is responsible for my getting out the door late. No. The real culprit was deciding, "Oh, I have time for a few minutes on Glitch."

And I still would not have missed that bus if, upon the point of departing, upon the point of setting foot to bike pedal, I had not discovered that my wallet was not on my person. It was in the gym bag from yesterday's indoor climbing session. But still I'd have been fine if I'd stopped to think, "You know, this is no emergency. I know exactly where my wallet is. And I don't need it. I've got cash and bus tickets in my book bag. I'm set." But no. Up I run to retrieve the wallet. Down I run to pedal like mad toward the bus stop. And of course I watch the bus pass my stop while I'm still a block away.

The weather was gorgeous. The sunrise was shrouded in a thick cover of puffy pink-and-blue clouds. The wind had calmed down some from its pre-dawn gusting. It was still significant, but mostly it blew my way. And it was warm -- it was supposed to be only 37 degrees in Boulder, but that was while it was still dark. I had to shrug out of my jacket and overshirt 'round about Jay Road. It was a great morning for a bike ride. In fact, I'm half convinced I went back for my wallet because I had a subconscious desire to start my day with a 50-minute bike ride on this beautiful morning.

As I cycled along, I sent a text message to the farmer: "Running a bit late this am. probably there by 8:30. til then!"

I did not realize he'd responded until I got to the stop light in Niwot and pulled out the phone to check the time. "Today is open! No crew and I'm working on tractor."

Oh. OK then!

I turned off Diagonal Highway onto Niwot's Main Street I mean 2nd Avenue, locked up my bike at The Eye Opener, acquired a cup of coffee, and sat me down. Out came the laptop, and here we are.

So this weekend I was not exactly at my brightest as far as planning goes. On the other hand, if I hadn't forgotten to text yesterday, I probably wouldn't have been up and writing before 9 AM, and certainly not in Niwot after a half hour of brisk biking through the tail end of a gorgeous sunrise. I'd have slept in for who knows how long. But I did forget, so I did get up, and that's how these things work sometimes.

More later. Hitting the novel now. I'm still behind schedule and there's only three days left to go!

One Stuff Equals Two Things, Which I Will Update For You
Sat 2011-11-26 22:17:21 (single post)
  • 40,984 wds. long

This'll be short because I'm tired. It's been a long dang Saturday, full of Stuff. Stuff, as you know, is made up of Things. Today's Stuff consisted roughly of two Things, which I update for you as follows:

Thing the First: NaNoWriMo update. Nothing at all written yesterday. Some 2200 words written today. Sticking with the notion that some representative of each of the previous chapters shows up in the current chapter, most of them in response to an ad that Martha's father takes out in the town paper.

Maggie Eirenholdt had blown into town some few months before Lucille but about a year after Ben. She was, she said, on an extended vacation -- at least, that was the story she'd given her family. But the long and the short of it was, she was putting distance between herself and everyone she loved as a defense mechanism, both for herself and them.

"It all went wrong. And it's this thing's fault." Then she alarmed Ben momentarily by pitching the tiny computer against the wall. She put some heft into the throw, too. Any team on any town's recreational softball league would have been proud to have her. The machine hit the wall at about twenty miles an hour then rebounded, skittering, across their table, narrowly missing Ben's coffee by inches. Finally the computer rattled its way into the corner formed by the floor and wall beneath their booth.

"Ouch," Ben said mildly as the machine hit his exposed toes.

Maggie retrieved it. "Sorry. I'm just so angry, and that thing wouldn't break if you took a sack of hammers to it. Sometimes I think that's the only good thing that's come of owning it. I get an indestructable punching bag to vent my frustrations on. Of course," she said, letting her fist fall into a lifeless open palm atop the computer, "I'd have a lot less frustrations to vent if I hadn't bought the thing."

Also, it's no coincidence they're all meeting up in this one town that no one can place on a map, where night mists blow up out of bone-dry days and bring with them crowds of half-heard voices. It's definitly no coincidence the shop showed up here.

Thing the Second: Skating update. This evening I took myself off to the nearest roller skating rink. That would be Skate City in Westminster. Guess what? I still got it. To the extent that I ever had it, I do in fact still have it. There were two reasons I got fooled into thinking I'd lost it somewhere along the way:

  1. Skating on city sidewalks is no fun.

Cement makes my skates stupid. Yesterday I put 'em on to go pick up the car at the neighborhood Big O, and the moment I got off the sidewalk and onto their smooth floor, I was suddenly all grace and competence. Well, competence anyway. Ditto when I got out on the rink tonight.

Also,

  1. My skates appear to be falling apart.

Not all of the skates. Just the bushings. (See diagram.) They've probably been coming apart since Wednesday night. Tonight, they pretty much came to pieces on me. Whee. Time to find me a skate shop!

And also,

  1. I appear to be falling apart.

I'd just gotten over being all sore from Wednesday. Now I'm all sore again. My left groin muscle is so sore I'm having trouble lifting my leg from the hip, and both my knees are grumbling at me. We will not, however, discuss this, because I am totally in denial. Knees? What knees? My knees are fine. Shut up, knees.

And that is all. Good night.

Quick! To the Roller Rink!
Thu 2011-11-24 23:51:48 (single post)
  • 38,744 wds. long

Today's topic: Why Niki Is So Effing Sore Today. (Don't worry -- this story is totally safe for work. All activities were legal and rated G.) It'll probably be a long post, or at least long-ish, so let's go ahead and talk NaNoWriMo briefly.

I'm behind again, but only tolerably so. Returning to my original 2k per day routine will get me to 50K on time. The real question is, what to fill those 2k per day with? I've gotten stuck on Bitsy and Camerie; the old man from the store shows up and drives them to the land of the dead, but what happens there and why it's so important that Bitsy go I'm not sure.

But the thought occured to me that I hadn't yet written a chapter in which someone tries to return an object to the shop. So I started in on that a few days ago. A 20-something computer hacker name of Lucille is waiting around for the shop to appear so she can do just that. She's got illegal access to all sorts of closed circuit monitoring cameras and a fancy battery of programs to automatically spot anomalies in the footage. And she finally gets what she's waiting for. The shop quietly appears during the predawn hours in what had been a blank gray brick wall:

"What do you want to bet," Lucille said to the open air, "that the pawn shop owner will swear this store was here when he moved in?" Or at least that it had been open for years upon years. Lucille knew how these things happened. She'd grown up on the stories of similar miracles. And this was the miracle she'd been waiting for.

She was alone in the room. She got no answer, and she expected none. But her phone did gently vibrate in her right hip pocket. She ignored it, watching the storefront shape itself into existence. She watched the door open. An elderly... person; Lucille could not hazard a guess towards the person's sex... stepped outside with a broom and a watering can. She, or he, calmly watered the flower box. Inside, anonymous green shoots were pushing their way toward the sky. She set the watering can down on the corner of the flower box then set about sweeping the stoop and the sidewalk. There was a stoop now; Lucille cursed herself for not noticing this small transformation. Yes, the person with the broom had to step down, sweeping first the top cement step then the next and then the next. Then they swept the sidewalk with brusque, practiced strokes that said I don't much care where the dust goes so long as it settles somewhere else.

Only once the woman, or man, had gone back inside, only once Lucille were satisfied that no further changes were forthcoming, did Lucille take her phone out and look at the message that had arrived. Anomaly: Camera 62, 04:16 AM. "No shit, Sherlock," Lucille said. Then she flipped the phone open and made a call.

"Yeah," she said. "Yeah, it's happened. Well, that's for me to know, isn't it? OK, fine, yes, just messing with you. Four-fifteen Davinger Street, right next door to the pawn shop. Yes, I know. Yes. That's the point, isn't it? It wasn't going to be like another frikkin' J. C. Penny's, was it? Right. Put on your wakey face and meet me there."

Lucille snapped the phone closed and held it to her cheek for a moment, thinking hard. Then she slipped it into her right hip pocket. From her left, she drew a small blue ring box. (Her pockets were huge. She liked cargo pants for their capacity.) She flipped open the box and gazed at the ring. It was inlaid all round with a pattern reminiscent of wind currents or perhaps ghosts passing down an empty byway.

"This is for you, Elizabeth," she murmured.

Then she put on her coat and left that place, locking it up behind her as she went.

I wrote that Tuesday. By today, Lucille had become part of a small cabal of people who have all lost family to the shop's questionable merchandise, and the plan is possibly to return the objects all at once together with a little bit of exploding lagniappe tacked on. Maybe. In any case, "Elizabeth" is Bitsy. Whether Camerie is still in the ring, I don't know.

Yesterday's writing introduced Ben Willingham, Martha's father. (Martha was the gal in the first chapter, the one who bought the vampire dress.) Yesterday's writing happened at the Baker Street Pub on 28th Street. And I got a bit of a wild hair. I decide I would rollerskate there. All 1.4 miles of the way.

Like I said on Twitter, this was probably my first time in rollerskates since well before the kids online started deriving terms like "lollerskates" and "lolrus" from the original acronym for laugh out loud. (I suspect "LOL" was already a thing when I last circumnavigated a rollerskating rink, but that the LOLcats phenomenon hadn't yet taken off. The original Happy Cat had not yet begun requesting Cheezburger.) I've ice-skated since, what with Boulder being possessed of a fine seasonal ice rink, but it's been a long while since I had wheels on my feet.

What brought on this sudden nostalgic wild hair? Well, a few weeks ago I got introduced to roller derby.

As you know (Bob), I've been following Havi's blog The Fluent Self. Havi Brooks is one of the most compassionate writers I've ever read on those subjects that bring out the self-loathing in me: procrastination, avoidance, the inability to "just let it go," and so forth. She is on a mission to eradicate, or at least reduce, that toxic societal tendency to find ways to blame people for their own suffering. I took her telecourse "The Art of Embarking" and it was pretty damn magical.

And then I read that she would be in Boulder. Very soon! For the Divide and Conquer Roller Derby Championships. Because she sponsors a roller derby team. So she was going to take the opportunity to teach a Shiva Nata workshop in Boulder.

I cannot explain Shiva Nata better than Havi herself, so go read the "sponsors a roller derby team" link and let her have her say.

It fell off my radar, and by the time I remembered it, it was all sold out. But I emailed myself onto the waiting list, and within hours a spot opened up. So on Thursday the 10th I walked down 30th Street to the Alchemy of Movement dance studio and spent two hours laughing, flailing, laughing some more, and feeling my brain go ping.

Really, that workshop deserves its own post, and this post ain't it. This post is about me getting inspired to dig my skates out of the closet. So. Actually meeting Havi for the first time and then spending two hours deconstructing patterns for their individual parts and putting the parts back together in interesting ways -- that all had an effect. Mainly the effect was to make my brain go "Why not?" at the least provocation. (It also had my brain completely overthinking the lyrics to the sea shanty Havi taught us in the last hour of the workshop. "Who are my 'rolling kings' and what are they 'heaving away' at?" Because that's what Shiva Nata followed by a 15-minute walk does. "Hot buttered epiphanies!" Indeed.)

So when Havi suggested we come out the next day and root for the Rose City Rollers, indeed, my brain went, "Why not?"

Which is how I ended up on a bus to the 1st Bank Center (formerly the Broomfield Event Center) for 2:00 PM on Friday, November 11th.

I watched the first three of the four bouts scheduled that day. It was awesome. I'd never seen roller derby before. I know this much about it: it involved women on skates, it involved physical contact, and, if Jim Croce was to be trusted, it involved an asthetic skewed less toward lingerie and more towards "built like a 'frigerator with a head." Apparently I was wrong in thinking lingerie would be entirely uninvolved; many participants wear fishnet stockings. But other than the occasional mention of a product for keeping your hiney shiny (what is this I don't even), the play-by-play announcers made no mention of body parts except when describing whose elbow slammed into whose side and who got a forearm penalty and who had just demonstrated phenomennal agility on their feet.

By the time the Rose City Rollers came out to play, Havi had invited me via Twitter to come find her, so I got to root for her team right alongside her and pester her with my newbie questions. "So, how exactly does one score points?" "What does the stripe on that one gal's helmet mean?" "What's up with the lines on the ground?" She was exceedingly patient. She was also totally rocking the purple wig and rainbow boa constrictor plushie.

Watching roller derby also had the effect of sending me on a trip down memory lane. Anyone remember the roller rink Phil's Big 8 in Metairie? Right under the clover-leaf ramp from Causeway onto Jefferson Highway? I went to so very many birthday parties there. I participated in all the floor games and won my share of free Cokes off the two-lap races. For the longest time, I thought the J. Geils Band song was called "Free Skate" because the DJ so often played it upon reopening the floor. During the free skates, I would zip through the crowd, zig left, zag right, and imagine myself in some competitive event in which I'd have to take down my opponents by clashing my wheels with theirs.

And there were these skates in my closet that I hadn't worn for at least a decade. Well... why not?

(I mentioned to Havi, "Watching this makes me think, 'Dude, I could do that!'" She said, "You totally should!" Then she introduced me to Juno, who was sitting next to her on her other side, and Juno introduced me to the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls Derby Days. As soon as NaNoWriMo is over, I am so there. My roller derby name will be "Fleur de Beast." Mwahaha.)

So this is why yesterday I got the bright idea to put on my skates. For, as I say, the first time in more than a decade. And to attempt to skate the 1.4 miles from my house to the Baker Street Pub. I was unreasonably optimistic.

I had this vision of me whizzing down 30th in the bike lane, texting to Twitter as I went: "Hee. I'm on my lollerskates. :)" NOT HARDLY. Being a decade out of practice doesn't just mean my endurance was no longer up to speed. My balance was also out of whack. It didn't help that I'd probably never skated with a backpack on before. There was no question of doing anything with my cell phone while skating. I windmilled and jerked and whoopsied my way down 30th, falling down at least three times and acquiring a gorgeous pre-adolescent-style skinned knee on the way, before putting my shoes back on at maybe the half mile point. It was a disappointing experience. I walked the rest of the way to the write-in in a bit of a funk.

But I couldn't help but notice that the newer sidewalk that starts around the big Barnes & Noble at 30th and Pearl and continues on past Walnut was so very wide and smooth...

On my way back home, I sat down on a parking spot bump in front of Karlequin's Game Knight and I put my skates back on. And I kept them on all the way home from there. I didn't fall down again, either.

It's starting to come back to me.

But that's why Niki's really, really sore today. Ow.

Days Thirteen Through Seventeen: Nine Does Not Equal Nine
Thu 2011-11-17 16:38:04 (single post)
  • 28,437 wds. long

Been continuing along on the novel at an average sort of pace. Haven't done any more multi-thousand-word heroics since Saturday's 5K, but I've kept my stats graph right on the diagonal line. See for yourself!

(Note: It would appear that the current incarnation of the NaNoWriMo website uses one's novel title as a building block of one's stats URL. Thus: NaNoWriMo.org/[2-letter Language Code]/participants/[Username]/novels/[Novel Title]/stats. So when I finally come up with a better title, that URL might change. Unlike here at actually writing blog, where each work in progress gets its own unchanging 8-letter code, and changes to titles simply cause confusion on earlier blog posts where I refer in the text to the crappy working title but the blue word-count block shows the sparkly new right title, which may yet change again in some future time and cause more confusion. AND SO FORTH.)

I'm still working on Chapter 4, otherwise known as Bitsy and Her Sister's Ghost. Also, I've begun reading the archives of Mimi Smartypants. This is a blog full of the snark. It makes me chortle. But it also makes me feel kind of stupid. See, Mimi often talks about her daughter Nora, and Nora at eight sounds a lot more sophisticated than the voice I've given Bitsy to talk about her ninth birthday party in.

(Erm. So. You click on that link, and then you scroll past Mimi's gynecological musings -- hee! socks -- and finally you get to the Nora bit at #9 and following.)

It's not that I don't remember what it was like to be eight. I just forget which memories went with which number of years old. Ask me about third grade and I will reel off all sorts of memories. I will tell you what games we played at recess, who was in my home room, who I had a crush on, what books I read in the library, what field trips we took, what I did in the afternoons, and what kind of fights I had with my parents. I'll tell you about the cold fusion exhibit we got all fruitlessly exited about. I'll tell you about schmoozing my way into a Haley's Comet camping trip and it being too overcast to see the actual comet. (That might have been fourth grade rather than third. Same home room though.) I'll probably also tell you, because I have no freakin' filters, all sorts of other things I remember doing that were so stupid and embarrassing that when I think of them today I start humming reflexively as a sort of mental LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU. But ask me about being eight years old, and before I tell you all that stuff, I'll have to go, "Wait. When was that? Let's see... eight minus five is... Oh! I was in 3rd grade. That was the year that..." Only then can the nostalgic brain dump from 1984 commence.

And you will undoubtedly smile in a pained sort of way and look for a good excuse to exit the conversation before I really got going.

All this is just to say, I know I've written Bitsy too young. But I don't realize it on autopilot. I wanted the point of view of a small, scared, unsophisticated child, and I picked an arbitrary single digit. Which turned out to be the wrong digit. Only now I've gotten attached both to Bitsy's voice and to all sorts of things that depend on nine being the right digit after all. Crap.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do to resolve this conflict, but I know when I'm going do it: Not in November. First draft, peeps. First draft.

"But even though that monster let her through, she ran into more monsters and every single one of them wanted something. The lady gave away her pretty robes and her sparkly dancing shoes and her beauty and her hair and her voice and everything. Now she was nobody. That's what it takes to go into the land of the dead. You have to stop being your alive self."

Bitsy felt cold and all numb with scared. She knew now that Camerie was taking her to the land of the dead. Camerie had to go. She'd been a ghost for more than nine years, and ghosts have to go away sooner or later. Being in Bitsy's body didn't matter -- it just meant Camerie would walk there instead of blow away. Bitsy didn't want Camerie to go there. Bitsy really didn't want to go there herself. Bitsy didn't want to stop being Bitsy.

"Finally the lady who used to be a queen ended up in front of the throne of the queen of the dead. That was her sister. But the alive queen had given away her crown and her clothes and her face and her self and everything. So the dead queen didn't recognize her. She just said, 'Someone living has come to visit me. And I'm hungry!' Dead people are always hungry. 'So hang this person on a hook and we'll eat her up!' So that's what the court of the dead did. They tapped the living queen on her head, and she wasn't alive anymore. Then they hung her up on a hook in a cold meat locker. Then they got ready to carve her up and eat her."

Bitsy couldn't keep quiet anymore. Is that what's going to happen to me when we get to the land of the dead?

"Don't be stupid. We're not going to the land of the dead."

Then where are we going?

Camerie got mad again. "Don't ask that! Stop asking questions! Shut up!" She started running again.

Days Ten through Twelve: Put Something In
Sat 2011-11-12 22:07:54 (single post)
  • 21,391 wds. long

It's been a good few days on the novel. I've been slacking off with the blogging of it, but not with the actual writing. I've discovered that if I spend two hours alternating 15-minute word sprints and 15-minute rests, I generate between 3,000 and 3,200 words. So that's what I did on Thursday. I did it again today. And since @NaNoWordSprints challenged everyone to have a #5Kday, I kept going. In pure word count terms, I am all caught up.

In story terms, things keep happening unexpectedly. Which is kind of fun and kind of nervous-making.

Driving to the airport the other night, I saw what looked like the tattered remains of a garbage bag rise up on the wind, whip around a bit, then sink down again. And I thought, "Ah, ghosts on the side of the road." And I continued thinking, "Imagine if that were a normal sight. Ghosts on the side of the road. Just part of the acknowledged world. You'd have to learn about it in driver's ed, along with other unexpected things you have to be able to handle as a driver. Wildlife, inclement weather, ghosts. And are the ghosts going somewhere or are they waiting to get picked up?"

So I had my next chapter. It was about time I set a chapter in a world whose reality wasn't quite like ours. In this chapter, a little girl acquires a costume ring from a gumball machine in that shop, and it lets her interact with a very particular ghost.

Bitsy was bad. She went where she oughtn't. But it's not her fault! She just forgot. She forgets things sometimes. Momma tells her, Don't you go in that store. Don't you go in there. Bad things for sale in there. Bad things a little girl shouldn't see. Bitsy is a very little girl -- she's eight and three quarters precisely. Any littler and she'd be a baby. Bitsy's too little to see the bad things on the shelves, because they're way up high where Momma would have to lift her. Pa used to lift her up high, way too high, and Bitsy would scream and scream, but Momma knows how to lift Bitsy up safe and sound so she can take down her ghoulie-bear or see the family picture of herself and Momma and Pa and her old big sister Camerie who lives on the side of the road. Bitsy wants to go visit her. Pa took her once, but it was so long ago Bitsy's forgot. Pa says Bitsy was very brave and didn't cry or try to run away, that Bitsy tried to hug Camerie, and Camerie, who was singing and singing Oooooo ah oooo, stopped singing and got so startled she shrank down to the size of a mouse and blew away. Bitsy knows that's how it happened because Pa only tells true stories, but Bitsy's forgot it all. That's why she wants to see Camerie now. She forgot what her old big sister was like.

Bitsy forgot about the store, too, about Momma saying no no no, she was so set on visiting Camerie all by herself. Since she's so little, it took her about two times forever to get halfway there, following the sidewalk and then turning left because Bitsy isn't supposed to cross the street by herself, then following the sidewalk under the great big highway. Bitsy isn't sure if that's crossing the street or not. Is crossing under the same as crossing, period? Camerie crossed under, long before Bitsy was born -- a whole year, Momma said.

The store's another forever along the sidewalk, right about when Bitsy's getting confused about where Camerie lives. The store's got dirty windows Bitsy couldn't've seen inside even if she weren't so little, and when she runs her hand along the reddy brown wood its walls are made of, she gets a splinter. It's not the kind of splinter that hurts. It just sticks out like a little tree that got blown over in the wind. Bitsy's still staring at it inside the store, because there isn't much other than that for a little girl to see in the store, what with all the shelves being way up high, and the splinter is interesting the way it sticks out of her hand.

And the chapter just kept going. I've been writing on it for three days, and the chapter's word count is 9,549. I think I may have stumbled across an entire novel here.

NaNoWriMo feels very self-indulgent. This year especially. It's not the first time I've started the month with no clue where I was going, but it's the first time that the shape of a novel hasn't arisen quickly and naturally. I mean, the year I drafted Like a Bad Penny, all I had to go on were two men coming out of a bagel shop, but before two days were out I knew what the novel would look like. This? I continue to explore. And constantly working day after day on something that doesn't guarantee to become potentially publishable, that's what feels so self-indulgent. Like, I can't really justify it to myself. It feels like writing, but is it productive? I don't know.

So I keep reminding myself, "It's NaNoWriMo. It's supposed to be self-indulgent. It's your chance to make unexpected things happen."

John and I were talking finances the other day. As is often the case, I mentioned feeling a bit like a slacker because I wasn't working as hard as I felt I should, producing as many stories as I knew I could, or doing as much "day job writing" as I felt I ought. And John said something that kind of blew my mind. He said, "Well, I often feel like I'm not the force for good in this world that I ought to be. But by supporting you, giving you time to not only write but volunteer and stuff like that, I feel like I am making the world a better place after all."

And that sort of hit me right in the teary-eyed spot. I'm sure if I thought too hard about what John said, I could convince myself to feel terribly pressured about it, like I needed to produce enough positive change in the world to justify two people's existence instead of just one, so work HARDER work MORE stop SLACKING... but right now, what I mostly feel is affirmed. Like a great big permission slip just got handed to me, and I can believe in it.

So noodling around in November, following this or that clue through my imagination in search of a story with no guarantee of what I'll find -- that's OK. It's part of the process. It does, eventually, lead to story. And it's true to that good old Shel Silverstein motto of Put Something In: "Put something silly in the world / That ain't been there before." I think as long as, whatever I do with my days, I take Put Something In as my guide beacon, I'm headed in the right direction.

Day Eight: Having Skipped Days Six and Seven
Tue 2011-11-08 22:33:21 (single post)
  • 11,842 wds. long

I spent most of the weekend fighting with a mild but obnoxious intestinal bug, with the result that I've eaten very little in the past four days and, owing perhaps to the dearth of energy that results from eating about half a meal per day, written even less. On the 6th and 7th of November, in fact, I wrote precisely nothing. Argh, damn, and blast. But today I wrote more than 2,000 words. If I keep that up daily, I'll be caught up by the 15th.

THIS JUST IN: Make that just over 3,000 words. Because I just got challenged to a word sprint, and one can't exactly take that lying down.

As I've enthused to everyone within earshot, the Boulder Public Library has given us Wrimos a dedicated space three times a week through the month of November. So I've been there quite a bit since NaNoWriMo started. This not only makes 2K-word days more likely, but also results in my returning home with library books more often. I mean, they keep putting interesting books in various face-out displays! This month I've taken home John Connolly's The Gates, Gregory Maguire's Out of Oz, Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw, and, today, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's retold fairy tale anthology Black Swan, White Raven.

(Ah, John Connolly. One of these days I must rant about John Connolly. Such a clever, satisfying narrative voice, but once in a while such strange and harmful social ideas that can't quite be passed off as "This book takes place in the 1940s." Mostly I'm troubled by that bit in The Book of Lost Things where the omniscient narrator tells us about the consequences of learning about sex at too young an age, and what this implies Connolly believes about A) cultures where there's less barriers to kids witnessing their parents' intmacy, and B) abuse survivors.)

Anyway, the novel crawls onward. You may laugh at the word "crawl" after the today's word count, but I assure you that's what it feels like. Still, I did progress, thanks to a couple of random shots of inspiration in my daily life.

Filed under "wildly omnivorous," there was that guy at the Baker Street Pub on Sunday. My usual brunch group was gathering at a booth with a good view of the Saints/Buccaneers game, when we noticed one member of the staff circumambulating with an odd, slow, deliberate step and a strangely spooky look on his face. I supposed he was waiting for tables to bus, but in the meantime he was... pacing? Practicing for the next zombie crawl? Doing walking meditation while getting into character as Evil Overlord's Minion #2?

In my novel, he is waiting for a signal from... well, I'm not sure yet. Maybe the mothership. Maybe his cybernetic body's manufacturer. Maybe Dracula. In any case, it's all one with the interdimensional bats.

And filed under "yet another magical item," there's this tweet:

Quote of the day: "Never trust a man who, when left alone with a tea cosey, doesn't try it on." –Billy Connolly

Clearly the next chapter-story's magical item purchased from the magical shop will be a tea cozy. But of course I needed to set up my character such that he would be left alone with it.

"Hey, thanks for having me over, Linda," the man said. He was pacing up and down the ample kitchen, around and around the large food prep island that was itself bigger than most people's dining room tables. He was obviously ill-at-ease, searching for something to say.

The woman he was addressing smiled a comfortable smile. She was in her own home, after all. She was the one calling the shots. "My pleasure, dear. You're new in the neighborhood and in need of introductions. It would be an act of sheer, unmitigated rudeness to leave you out in the cold."

It was July, and Linda's central air conditioning unit was going full blast. If anything, she'd invited him into the cold, not extracted him from it. But the man, whose name was Hank, refrained from correcting her metaphor. He shifted an electric can opener from its stance towards the back of the counter and brought it forward, opened and re-closed a floating cabinet, moved magnets around on the fridge. He was aware that this was rude behavior for a guest only newly invited into a stranger's home (and face it, everyone was a stranger these days, Linda and her neighbors only more so than most), but he couldn't stop himself. He'd always been burdened by nervous tics and fidgets.

He was spared having to think of something else to say when the front door opened without even a knock. "Yodel!" called out a distinctly non-yodeling voice. "Anyone home?"

"Francis!" Linda dropped the knife amongst the finely sliced celery on the cutting board and sprinted for the door. Her path took her counter-clockwise around the gloriously large refrigerator (with its double doors and ice maker) and out of sight. Hank could hear her pleased squeals reverberate off the low foyer ceiling. "I was hoping you'd make it! How was Spain? Didn't you just get in this morning?"

"Oh, tut. I can wander from my bed to here as easily as to my own kitchen, and this way I don't have to cook. Spain was wonderful. Full of sun and beaches and Spaniards. But it's good to be home."

Hank's inappropriate explorations found him the cabinet with the large tumblers at last, and he took one down and tried out the ice maker. Then he opened the fridge, found a pitcher of something that looked like iced tea. Linda had told him to make himself at home, after all. Maybe he'd pour glasses for everyone; wasn't that how one made friends? By making oneself useful? He was out of practice.

It took about 1,500 words to introduce the tea cosy, and another 750 or so to get Hank to the point of putting it on his head.

Day Five: This Is Why I Did 4 days of 2K/Day
Sat 2011-11-05 22:48:14 (single post)
  • 8,823 wds. long

Bleeaaarrrgh. I'm tired, I was sick, I only got some 900 words done today, here, have an excerpt.

Immediately she had a dilemma. The amazingly tiny mini-laptop didn't appear to be large enough along any axis to admit a CD. Perhaps it needed an external drive? Maggie was on the verge of calling the clerk for help when her fingers tripped a release switch and the computer extracted what was unmistakeably a disk drive. It was pretty skeletal, for sure, but it was a CD-ROM drive for all that. She snapped the disk onto the flat spindle, then, doubtfully, pressed the button that had released it in the first place.

The CD-ROM drive retracted into the computer's body with a jerky motion. Maggie watched, expecting the drive shelf to stop at any moment. Once half the disk was inside, that was surely enough for the drive to read the disk, right? But the disk shelf kept on going until it had retracted completely. The outside of the computer was smooth and the disk had entirely disappeared, without even the faintest sound of disk destruction, into a space that was patently too small for it.

Maggie stuck around to install and run as many of the OEM disks that she thought she'd have use for, and all the programs ran flawlessly. But it was the impossible insertion of that first disk that decided her. She had to have this machine.

Day Four: Wildy Omnivorous
Fri 2011-11-04 22:30:48 (single post)
  • 7,919 wds. long

So today it happened: I simply could not push forward with the plot line from the previous three days. After the end of yesterday's scene, I had absolutely no idea what would happen next. And any new conversations with the shop keeper would seem repetitive. So I skipped over to something else, like I've been threatening too.

There's a thread in the Boulder Regional Forum where we're talking about the dilemma, for some of us inevitable, that arises when we lose confidence in our stories and want to just start fresh with a brand new novel plot. Different people's responses range from "Don't be afraid to start over, but don't erase your word count back to zero" and "Push through, no matter how much you've come to hate the plot, if only so you can have the satisfaction of deleting the entire thing on December 1." As for me, I've given myself a plot structure that allows me to start over at any time and simply call it a new chapter. Totally stuck on the vampire dress plot? Start a new chapter about a new magic item.

What magic item? Dunno. Let's pull up my dream journal and find out.

5/2/2011: I get a call back from PC Express about my Compaq Aero telling me to just buy a new computer. "Well, I did; I just want to keep this old computer running." The man on the phone, who is now standing before me on a balcony patio, doesn't really understand this, and in fact actively disapproves. I exasperate him.

Oh, well, then. That's easy. The next chapter should be about a laptop.

The year was 2002 and Maggie was in the market for a new computer. One purchase later she'd still be in the market, but it's not like you can see a lemon sitting on your horizon like a sour sunrise. Hindsight, as they say, is twenty-twenty. Foresight is more like twenty-eighty-five.

This being November, it is not the time to berate myself for coming up with yet another protagonist name that starts with "M". Nor is it time to interrogate whether 2002 is really the year I want to set Maggie's chapter in. This is the time to just plain output. If the stupid creeps in, so what? The stupid spill on aisle four can wait until after November to be cleaned up.

But I did more than just start a new chapter. I gave myself permission to be wildly omnivorous.

Last night -- or rather, more to the point, this morning, at the unholy hour of 3:30 AM, I woke up. The cats weren't being loud or unduly active, John wasn't snoring or thrashing, no cars on the street had unleashed the full fury of their alarm systems. No. I woke up because my back was killing me. Have you ever been in so much pain that you wanted to scream, but you were afraid that if you did scream, you wouldn't be able to stop? Well, this wasn't quite that bad. I've been that bad, and this wasn't it. But I could see that place from the place 3:30 found me at. The rest of the "night" was a blur of trying to sleep, failing to find a compatible position, visiting the bathroom for a glass of water and a pee, climbing back into bed, and whimpering a lot.

And somewhere during those long uncomfortable pre-dawn hours, I was close enough to sleep to have a half-dream involving a bat fluttering around between the bathroom and the closet. But I wasn't asleep, not really. I was awake enough to think, "This hallucination has got to be worth at least 500 words."

So at tonight's write-in, I started not with the computer shop scene but rather with the description of the dreamed bat sighting. Did it have anything to do with the novel so far? Not that I could see. But it was writing, which is a good in and of itself. And it may yet tie in to the main plot. Better to write it down than to let it fade just because I can't justify putting it in the novel. So I just created a new chapter file, called it "Stuff Without a Home," created a new scene file, called it "The Bat," and I wrote about the bat.

It was more than 500 words, as it turns out, and it involved the suspicion of an interdimensional portal where the bat got in and was trying to get out again, the way a sparrow flies in a window and then has trouble finding its way out again. Also, another new scene file in which I described my all-over bleargh feeling (the sore back turned out to be part of me coming down with that sort of cold that manifests as fever symptoms minus the actual fever, as it was later joined by skin sensitivity and hot flashes) connected the malady with the character's early warning supernatural defense system. Yeah, this could definitely be part of the novel. Or some other novel.

And only then did I start Chapter 2: The Bit About The Computer.

But this store was even more untidy, even less antiseptic than that. Take the clutter of a pack-rat computer nerd, then add several boxes more of equipment from perhaps 1995 and earlier, and replace the blue nubbly carpet with autumn-leaf shag, and give the walls some off-white streakage that looked rather like the roof had sprung leaks the owners would prefer to just ignore, and you'd get something like this. Also there was a closet door with a menacing look to it, as though opening it might lead to a darkened labyrinth of 1960s card-reading behemoths that were willing and able to chew up and spit out today's spoiled computer users.

It was pretty dark in the store, too. The owner appeared to rely entirely on daylight through the storefront windows, allowing him or her to save money on not installing overheads. The ceiling was made of dingy plaster squares, some of which had unevenly cut edges and seemed capable of falling through the steel laticework at inopportune times of their own choosing.

Maggie soldiered on, determined to give her dollar to the local economy. Besides, some of those boxes looked fascinating. In no time at all she found herself forgetting why she'd come in. The new laptop she needed for her college computer science classes and word processing needs fell off the back of her mind while rare and no longer produced hardware called to her in the siren voices that live at the intersection of antique and electronic. Eventually a shop clerk interrupted her. She was working her way slowly through to the bottom of a cardboard box of 1990s home-use modems, and she was in the process of extracting a 300-baud monstrosity for closer inspection, when the voice at her ear said, "Looking for something in particular?"

The voice was harsh, scrapy, the exact opposite sort of voice as those that could be "velvet" or "crooning," and it startled her into abrubptly yanking at the modem. A corner of it tore the final blow into the aging cardboard, which had probably once been left in the path of the aforementioned roof leaks. The box's side sagged and blew out, spilling outdated hardware across the counter. Only by shifting quickly to her right and blocking the avalanch with her chest did Maggie prevent the modems from taking a long drop to the shag carpeting.

Day Three: Friends Don't Let Friends Wear Vampire Dresses
Thu 2011-11-03 20:22:52 (single post)
  • 6,060 wds. long

So I'm auditioning an Idea. In my head. An Idea about how this novel is going to be structured. I think each chapter will be a different story, maybe a fairy tale retelling or maybe not, in which a purchase from the magic shop sparks adventure and disaster and heroism and tragedy. And each will also feature a conversation between the shop keeper and someone who's tracked her down (or him, or otherwise; gender is as fluid as species, and needs to be, for a shop keeper who can open shop doors on any world) and wants to know about her (or his, etc.) role in all this.

And I'm thinking that, like Dream of the Endless through the long narrative of The Sandman, the shop keeper's idea of her (we'll say "her" for convenience's sake) responsibilities toward her customers and her agency in their stories will subtly change over her millenia. But she doesn't realize it. As far as she's concerned, everything she tells each chapter's interrogator is true and has been true throughout her career.

Thing is, if I want this novel to ultimately be about her, it can't be because some THING happened to suddenly thrust her front and center into a story. She's been doing this magic shop thing for uncounted years. She's practically a deity. What aspect of the vampire dress story could possibly be special enough to spur her into sudden action? It makes more sense for me that her urge to assert her own will over story events is an urge that grows on her gradually over many, many hundreds of thousands of years.

In trying out that structural Idea, I'm free to keep noodling along the story of the vampire dress. Because I need to see that chapter through, right? And in this chapter, the shop keeper sends two people after Martha to try to stave off disaster. One is Cathy, one of the three young women Martha was simultaneously envious of and shamed by in the shop before she tried on the dress. Cathy gets the spotlight for today's excerpt. She's wearing an item of clothing that the shop keeper gave her. It's also enchanted, but I'm not sure in what way. It allows her to see through the glamour that the vampire dress casts, that's for certain, but I'm still figuring out the rest.

The second person the shop keeper sends is her interrogator -- yesterday's "you" character. That whole bit about her words not being a free gift? Well. Her words also were part of her merchandise, also a magical item. Again, I'm not sure how that all fits in, but I like the idea that anything you take with you out that shop's door has the power to direct Story.

"And that gorgeous collar you're wearing?" Rachel stabbed an enthusiastic finger at Cathy's throat, oblivious to the way her friend pulled back sharply from the weapon-like digit, tipped as it was with a long, sharp, red-hued nail. Rachel had always been fastidious about her nails. "It matches perfectly, all old-fashioned and stuff. Did your cousin really wear that, too?"

"It's so elegant," put in Jacqueline.

Cathy blushed and admitted that it had been a gift, and that she was indeed lucky that it matched the dress, but then black lace is black lace when you get right down to it. She fidgeted with the single black teardrop hanging from the choker's center.

"Oh, look--" Jacqueline interrupted Cathy's stammerings and pointed toward the entrance. "It's Mr. Willingham. Oh, that's so sad -- you heard about him right?"

"Is that him?" Cathy recalled the newspaper item covering the protests in Northside. "He's the one who's daughter went missing?"

"Yeah, that's him. Martha Willingham. She was just two years behind our class at Withervine. Classmates saw her leaving campus and heard her say to a friend she was going to Old Town. No one saw her since." Jacqueline continued with the unnecessary details, recounting the news story they'd all read in a melodramatic voice, clearly relishing the tragedy. Cathy thought her enjoyment in poor taste.

Rachel sniffed. "What's he doing here, then? He's so distraught over his daughter he's got to organize half of the Withervine neighborhood to protest, what's he doing at a party?"

"Maybe he hopes she'll turn up here," said Cathy. She wasn't sure what to think of the whole thing, really, but Rachel was always so judgmental. Cathy couldn't help jumping to the defense of anyone Rachel started ranting about. It was an unthinking reflex, and it sometimes got her into trouble, especially when Rachel actually had the right of it. But it was hard to let Rachel's condemnations go unanswered. "Or maybe he's coming to realize she's gone for good, like the police have, and he's trying to cheer himself up. If I'd lost a daughter, and some bigwig was offering me a chance to drink myself into oblivion on their dime, I'd take it."

"You wouldn't." Jacqueline laughed. "Have you ever been drunk?"

Cathy admitted she hadn't. "But I've also never lost a child under mysterious circumstances, either."

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