“As a writer one of your jobs is to bring news of the world to the world.”
Grace Paley

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

that's it, no more crashy-burny for you (you don't even LIKE crashy-burny, what the hell is wrong with you)
Thu 2017-07-20 23:34:13 (single post)
  • 3,339 wds. long

So it turned out to be just 24-hour sinus drama. Went to bed sniffly and feeling crappy, woke up before seven o'clock still sniffly but with boundless energy and well-being. It's confusing as hell, but I'll take it.

I submitted three things to paying markets today, y'all. Three! That's five submissions this week! And one of the things I subimtted today was a brand new drabble (100-word short story) that I just wrote this afternoon. And I finished up the promised manuscript critiques, and I did all the required daily things, and I continue to catch up on the Fictionette Artifact backlog, and I cleaned the toilets. (They really needed it.)

And now I am back from scrimmage. It was a lovely scrimmage. We hit each other really hard, damn near ended in a tie score, and then we had a party with beer and cake. (Also, one of my teammates wore assless booty shorts. It was a themed scrimmage, so this makes sense. Trust me.)

Days like today scare me. Rather, what scares me is the prospect of the day after a day like today. Past recent experience says I'm due to crash and burn tomorrow. I always crash and burn the day after phenomenally productive and fulfilling days. That's what jerk brain says, anyway. I tell it, "Hey, jerk brain, you have selection bias like woah, you're ignoring all the non-crashy-burny days, there is no good reason that I should crash and burn--I mean, unless I get sick again or something, and it would be just like you, wouldn't it, to make me get sick again tomorrow just to prove your crappy naysaying point?"

I spend a lot of time talking to jerk brain. But you should hear the mouth it has. Someone has to stand up to it.

So the thing about drabbles is, I planned to put together a raft of eight or ten brand new ones and submit them to SpeckLit. That went rather well for me in the past. Only I haven't visitied them in ages. I visited them again after writing that one drabble today and trying to remember what kinds of things authors put in their author's notes there. Turns out, they closed their doors last September. Dang it.

But there is, as it happens, no shortage of online markets looking for very very short fiction. Not all of them will pay SFWA professional rates, but at one hundred words the difference between pro pay and token pay is more in the percentage than in the pocketbook. And I just wanted to submit something that was new. You know? Rather than just collect another handful of rejections for the stories I've been shipping around for the past few years?

So I found a place (which does pay pro rates, by the way), and I sent it, by the Gods.

This is me, feeling like Real Writer™ again. It is not my default feeling. I have to work at it. Tomorrow I will work at it some more. It'll be great. (You hear me, jerk brain? It'll be great!)

on realistic scheduling, and things
Tue 2016-12-13 00:16:03 (single post)
  • 3,339 wds. long

First, the good news! "It's For You" reported back from the slush-mines that it had discovered a promising vein. It will let me know again soon whether it manages to dig up any valuable ore.

Er. That's probably more cryptic a metaphor than it needed to be. Basically, the nice people deciding whether to publish it said that they like it quite a bit, so they are going to show it to other nice people further along the purchasing decision chain.

Thus: It has not been rejected! Yet.

It is probably my most-submitted story at this time, which means there are days when I get a rejection letter on it and I think, "Seriously, maybe this story's just not up to snuff. Maybe all the editor people are backchatting about it, like, 'Has she sent it to you yet, too? Gawd.' Maybe I should just give up on this story." Which is silly. Stories get rejected lots of times before they finally cross the desk of just the right editor and get published. I know this--up here (pointing to my head). But I get insecure. I get up, I get down. I get very down. I get epic Yes songs stuck in my head and I share the love. I'm a writer and we do this.

So that's when I remind myself, "Hey. This story has been held for consideration before. It's publishable. Keep sending it out." And I send it out again.

Because that's what I did last time it got rejected, now, going forward, I'll get to remind myself that, "Hey, this story has been held for consideration twice before..." If, that is, it becomes necessary to send it out again. I mean, I might not! It hasn't been rejected! Yet! *(hugs that "yet" very tightly)*

Next, the hopeful news: I swapped my schedule around this week, because life changes and time has to change with it.

I originally decided not to expect a full day's work out of myself on Monday because Mondays were, at that time, when I worked a volunteer shift at a farm. Looking just at the clock, I had plenty of hours left in the day after I came home. But I came home exhausted and unable to do anything useful. So it wasn't realistic to expect a full workday out of myself on Monday.

I considered changing that when Mondays stopped being farm days for me. But that didn't seem wise. It was useful having one weekday available to take care of household chores, administrative tasks, and so forth. So Mondays continued being a sort of gentle half day, and also a good day for random appointments and cleaning the house.

In retrospect, I should have thought harder.

Flash forward to now. I'm going to Cafe of Life for adjustments and traction twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays. I've got roller derby practice on neither of those days, unless I sign up to fulfill my monthly training responsibility on a Monday night rather than a Saturday. And I'm absolutely failing, week after week, to get my Wednesday writing day done.

Why? *facepalm* Because I also have an hour's volunteer reading on Wednesdays. Remember, self? Remember recording the "Employment Opportunity News" for AINC every Wednesday? That you've been doing for years? Remember that? It does not take zero time!

So as of this week, Wednesdays are now my gentle half-day and my household chores day. Mondays are a full five-hours-of-writing, log-it-in-the-timesheet day.

REALISTIC SCHEDULING!

Did I actually do my full five hours today? No. I did not. Because I suck. OK, well, because one of the tasks I had on my docket today wasn't one I relished, and so I managed to put it off and put it off and put it off until far too late for five hours to be mathematically possible. This is not a problem with Mondays; this is a bug in my core programming, which I am working on.

Work in progress! It says it right up there in the header. Doesn't it? Well, it should. 'Cause it's true.

I'll probably manage at least a few minutes' work on the novel between publishing this post and going to bed, so, that's a thing. And there will be more things tomorrow. Hooray for things!

That is not a tiny loaf of bread. That is a normal-sized loaf of sourdough bread.
when you get to the ends of things you might look back
Tue 2016-10-25 23:38:42 (single post)
  • 3,339 wds. long

Would you look at the size of those carrots? This is the last week of veggie shares from my CSA, and those are finale-sized carrots. I dug up the potatoes I'd planted this year in hopes of matching those carrots in a soup, but all I seem to have grown are potatoes the size of kidney beans. Large kidney beans, like you'd make red beans & rice with, but still. Even smaller than the potatoes you might see sold as "pee wees." Will nothing match those carrots for grandiosity? Perhaps I should go buy some parsnips. And a huuuuuuuge daikon radish.

Speaking of retrospectives (I kind of was, if you squint a little), I've reached the point in The Artist's Way where Julia Cameron tells you to reread your Morning Pages. I've been doing so, but slowly, because even only going back to the beginning of the year, even given that I've only been doing them on weekdays, that's a lot of pages and there are other things I'd like to do with my waking time after all. I'm taking along for the ride a brand new blank notebook that I bought in New Orleans at the Tremé Fall Festival in which I'm jotting down any insights which arise.

it's interesting, and sometimes disheartening, to see what problems remain an unchanged part of my life, and most of them my own doing, too, like "Mustn't get distracted and try to multitask other activities during Morning Pages" or "Mustn't let the day leak away through the cracks in the hours." It's refreshing to see, from what I wrote in anticipation of my very first All Stars practice as a just-made-it A/B crossover skater, that I no longer have the insecurities and self-esteem issues I had back then. (I still have insecurities in that area, but they're different insecurities.) It's surprising to see turns of phrase striking the page like sudden lightning with no indication I thought twice about them at the time I wrote them. ("Pin the blame on the donkey"--ouch. "Morning Pages as a devotional practice"--really? Wow, yes, really.) There's a dream back in early January that I don't think I paid much attention to the morning I jotted it down, even though I'd just come back from a family visit, undoubtedly because I was dealing with more dramatic emotional upheaval fresh from Christmas afternoon, still too blindsided by that to notice the chronic low-level background unease that the dream was pointing out. ("I have brand new arrows. Dad borrows them. He says he has to prep the arrows for use. He does this by breaking them about 6 inches behind the arrowhead. He doesn't understand why I'm angry, nor will he promise to stop doing it, so I have to hide the remaining unbroken arrows in the attic behind a loose board in the wall." SHIT THAT'S UNCOMFORTABLY REAL.)

I'm taking notes and hoping to learn from them. And flinching sometimes. *flinch* It's cool. It's just the contents of my head from ten months ago. No big deal. The contents of my head are often thorny.

In other news, "It's For You" came back last week with a rejection letter and went back out again today with fresh reserves of hope. This is its twelfth time out in the slush mines. I know very well that, in this business, twelve isn't that high of a number, nowhere near high enough to mean I should give up on a story, but it's sometimes hard to remember that. I just keep telling myself, "Remember how that other editor loved it and passed it on to the second round? This is a good story! Someone will buy it!" But what would really make me feel better is having a brand new story to send out to meet the nice people. Only one way to make that happen, though. *cracks knuckles, surveys revision queue*

tasty veg for a healthy week!
blogging for people who ought to be editing
Tue 2016-10-18 23:41:45 (single post)
  • 3,339 wds. long

I was wrong--today was not a day with no appointments. Thankfully I remembered before it was too late. Tuesday! Tuesdays mean farm share! So I went and picked that up around 1:00 PM. There were sweet bell peppers and hot poblano peppers and another little half pound baggie of tomatillos and a lovely bunch of carrots and some tasty green chard. Dinner was peppers stuffed with a mixture of sausage, rice, and kale. The leftover stuffing mixture will get rolled up in those chard leaves. The fridge is full of tasty veg and life is good.

I was moving unaccountably slow today and also trying to do all the chores along with my writing, so I didn't quite get to everything I wanted to accomplish. But the daily gotta-dos got done, and "It's For You" went back out on submission. It joins the one I sent out last week (a drabble newly retitled "A Few Words Before We Begin") in the field. I'm sending stories out, y'all! That's what a writer does! (Also the laundry and the dishes are clean, and tomorrow I might just vacuum. RUN AWAY.)

I bought an ebook copy of Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love and have been reading it this afternoon. I wasn't sure at first whether it would hit the spot with me; my problem isn't lack of word count when I'm generating draft, but rather lack of progress when I'm revising. Still, I'm finding many things she says apply. Or might apply, anyway.

I'm thinking very hard about her theory of not-writing, which is to say, writing avoidance--put simply, she says it's because you don't like what you're writing. That can be either because the story is boring, or you're off on the wrong track, or the scene you're working on doesn't actually belong in the book, or you've got the wrong main character; something, in any case, is wrong. Once you put it right, she says, the writing will be enjoyable again and you won't avoid it anymore because you'll want to do it.

Like I said, I'm thinking very hard about it. It makes sense in terms of the short story I'm having such a hard time revising, but its applicability is less obvious as regards my difficulty starting the work day in the first place. Maybe the answer is "You're bored with the routine of doing morning pages and then freewriting and then a half hour on the week's fictionette." Maybe I need to shake up the daily task list, reorder it, put in the number one slot whatever seems the most fun. Maybe the daily freewriting would be more fun if... something. If I changed it up somehow. I mean, it's supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be playtime. Maybe I'm just bored with the current crop of writing prompts and I need something more silly and playful.

Anyway, Part II has a chapter called "Editing for People Who Hate Editing," which sounds like it just might be something I need to read. I'm looking forward to it, anyway.

there's a reason these things become cliches
Wed 2016-08-10 23:53:46 (single post)
  • 3,339 wds. long

Two big good things accomplished today: Finished preparing the June and July Fictionette Artifacts for mailing out to my very patient $5/month Patrons and submitted "It's for You" to the next pro-paying market I would like to introduce it to. As I get slowly caught up on All The Things, I'm beginning once more to feel like I can manage to continue pursuing a career in commercial fiction and running a four-times-monthly self-publishing gig simultaneously.

Tomorrow's task in short fiction: Review, and probably revise, an old, old short story of mine (circa 1995) and see if it's appropriate to submit to an anthology I just now today heard about. This temporarily displaces a couple other short fiction tasks because the anthology has a submission deadline of Aug 15.

I might have got even more done today had I not slept in. Last night's practice was exceedingly effortful. (Also exceedingly bruising, but nothing new there. It makes me weirdly happy to look in the mirror and see bruises polka-dotting my shoulders and upper arms. Like ink-stains on my fingers after doing my Morning Pages with a fountain pen, it's proof that I Showed Up.) Last night's sleep was also exceedingly interrupted--like, four visits to the bathroom, something ridiculous like that. And I woke from it with that stuffy almost-headache that I used to get constantly before I went on blood pressure medication, probably because I forgot to take my blood pressure medication last night. Gah. Stop reminding me that I'm getting older, body!

As usually happens when I sleep in, I had vivid dreams. My remembered dreams have possibly been extra vivid and also more numerous due to rereading Jeremy Taylor's book Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill. I have a sizable library of books about dreaming, lucid dreaming, and astral projection. Rereading them tends to have an immediate effect on my dream recall. I value my dream diaries; they go back to my elementary school days and have been the inspiration for a lot of my fiction.

What was unusual was that I continued the same dream from where it had left off each time I went back to sleep. I honestly can't remember ever managing to do that before. Gods alone know why I would want to; it was a terribly frustrating and anxious dream about scrambling to get my things packed up to check out of a hotel room on time. Well, late. In the dream, it was already something like two hours past check-out time when I realized I had a hotel room to check out of, and my car was at the wrong end of the hotel, and the hotel was long and winding and rambly like a monster shopping mall, and as I packed up things I kept finding more things that needed packing up (hiding not only in drawers and stacked on tables but also under the covers of an impeccably made bed) that I couldn't believe actually all fit in my luggage in the first place. And as I frantically grabbed things and stuffed them into containers, two housekeeping staff members stood patiently watching me, waiting to clean up the room when I was done. One was a small woman with a cheerful demeanor who kept telling me "It's OK, no pressure." The other was a tall, solidly-built man who loomed over the proceedings, clearly there in the role of Unspoken Muscular Threat.

I don't think I was actually trying to get back into the dream each time I hit SNOOZE. I think I was just trying to cement it in memory, because I wasn't ready to get up and write it down. But every time I went back to sleep, there I was again, wondering how all these snack items ever fit into one snack bag, or why I thought I'd manage to work on all of these many quilting, needlework, and knitting projects over an 8-hour drive and weekend stay.

I think the dream had us in Wichita, but I don't think it was WFTDA D2 anxiety so much as other anxieties using the next trip I have planned as their setting. This is actually a recurring subset of a recurring category of anxiety nightmare--I had almost exactly the same dream last month, only in that dream, I raced back to my hotel room only to discover it empty because a member of the hotel's maintenance staff had a policy of confiscating anything left in the room after check-out time.

Since I just this week moved all my data back over to an aging laptop with a noisy sub-performing fan, my immediate interpretation is that I'm anxious about getting all my data backed up NOW before it gets "confiscated" at "check-out time," i.e. before the old Asus tanks and takes my files with it. I've already burned the most immediately necessary writing projects to R/W DVD, along with my Thunderbird and Firefox profiles, but it feels like a drop in the bucket. Another option that occurs to me is the lifelong anxiety about needing to get all the stories in my head written and published NOW NOW NOW because you never know when you're gonna DIE. This is a thought that regularly inspires me to close my eyes, cover my ears, and sing LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU.

The nice thing about both those anxieties is, there's positive action I can take to ease them. I can't get everything done in a day, but I can do a little bit to address each issue daily. I can, say, finally activate my Dropbox account tomorrow, archive the next chunk of data to disk, and, as mentioned above, get the next story ready to submit for publication.

If there is a moral to this story, that's about it: Don't panic because you can't get everything done at once. Just try to do a little every day. Not very deep, I grant you, not exactly innovative, but it's surprising how practical a cliche can be. (I guess there's a reason they're cliches.)

tryin to get the feelin again (and quite possibly succeeding)
Tue 2015-10-20 20:28:13 (single post)
  • 3,330 wds. long
  • 5,312 wds. long

So the other day I was talking about how accumulating rejection letters can make it difficult to convince oneself to keep accumulating rejection letters; or, put another way, how it's hard to keep believing in the viability of a story that has accumulated a lot of rejection letters (for emotional values of "a lot"). There comes a point when the writerly weasel brain starts insisting that the reason the story keeps getting rejected is that it's no good.

Well, whatever the opposite of writerly weasel brain is--writerly angel brain? writerly sweetheart brain?--it starts to sing the moment one hears "Good news! I liked your story and sent it up to the Editorial Board for further review." Or words to that effect.

Words to that effect arrived late last week, providing me with an effective argument against weasel brain. Regardless of whether "It's For You" is ultimately accepted or rejected by the Editorial Higher-Ups, I'll be able to tell myself that someone liked it enough to put it in front of the Editorial Higher-Ups. That's enough to keep me going.

More than that--thinking about it got me excited last night for today's workday. Like, "I can't wait to write" excited. There's a logical component to it: "I can't wait to finish more stories, so I can send out more stories, so I can receive more good news about my stories! And feel good some more!"

This is a good feeling. This is a feeling I need to be able to store in a bottle, then administer to myself via medicinal measuring spoon as needed.

So there's this one story that's been waiting more than a year for me to finish revising it so I can send it back to an Editorial Higher-Up who specifically requested the revision. Never mind the stupidity of my having taken this long about it; I'm trying to focus on fixing it. I'm trying to ride this fresh new happy-excited-affirmed feeling right into the part of my day where I work on that revision. Which is why I'm writing this blog post first. Writing about that feeling makes me kinda-sorta relive that feeling. Kind of like the way writing about bad memories makes me relive the bad feelings associated with that memory? Only this time it's a good feeling.

My impressionable brain! It can be put to work for the forces of good!

(I hope!)

buyin' my lottery tickets
Tue 2015-10-13 23:22:34 (single post)

Which is not, admittedly, the best analogy for submitting fiction to paying markets. It's not purely a numbers game. But it's partially a numbers game. Given a story that's publishable, as you continue sending it out to markets that are a reasonably good fit, the probability of its achieving publication approaches 1. No guarantees it'll reach 1, but it gets closer every time.

(Actually, if you want to be precise, the asymptote graph never reaches 1, but only gets infinitely closer and closer to 1. But forget that, I'm trying to sort of reference Godwin's Law and any number of internet memes that riff on it, and no one worries in that context that "approaching 1" isn't the same as "reaching 1," so shut up.)

But by far the strongest point of similarity between fiction submissions and lotteries is, you can't win if you don't play. Thus "submissions procedures" is one of the gotta-dos in my morning shift. Thus the stories go back out in the mail.

It does me no favors that most of the acceptance letters I've received have been in response to a story's first time in the mail. No one should consider that to be the norm. It's got me badly calibrated. It primes me to think that if a story accumulates two, five, fifteen rejections, then clearly it's not ready for prime time and I shouldn't even be sending it out. Which is bullshit, as any number of rejectomancy anecdotes will attest, but that's the writerly version of weasel-brain for you. It's such a seductive utterance of the weasel-brain, too, especially when the rejection letters come back so very quickly. I start getting self-conscious about particular stories--I start thinking, "Do I seriously believe an editor will want to pay me money for the opportunity to consume one of their precious story slots with this? NO ONE wants this." And also, "Why do I keep sending this story out, instead of writing new ones? Am I trying to rest on my laurels? Before they are even grown?"

That last one's a special grade of bovine feces, because I have sent new stories out. In fact, the story I've been trying to query status on is sitting in its very first slush pile as we speak. Unfortunately, the market that slush pile belongs to uses SPF filtering on their email, and apparently something's borked in my SPF record. I've got a support ticket to my domain host about it.

Weird thing is, though, the weasel-brain only has its say before I send the story out. Once I actually send the story, weasel-brain shuts up and lets me enjoy the fresh glow of "I submitted a story! Professionally! To a paying market! Just like real writers do!" Which only goes to show you that yet again, the only way out is through.

Anyway, I bought a lottery ticket today, and I bought one Thursday too. Metaphorically speaking.

no, seriously, pull up the floorboards, i mean it
Thu 2015-07-16 23:41:11 (single post)

Today's Submission Procedures session was extremely productive. I logged a new rejection letter--"It's For You" came back after only 6 days out. I logged it in my own database, and at the Submission Grinder, and I posted about it to a forum where people post about such things. Scrolling up through other people's posts, I saw mention of another pro-paying market I have never submitted to. So I began preparing another story for submission to it. (I didn't quite finish because I ran out of time before derby. I'll send the submission out tomorrow.) Meanwhile, I tweaked my database so that I could use it to note submissions that I plan to make, and it could remind me so I don't lose track. All that, and I still haven't sent "It's For You" back out. Tomorrow!

Rejection letters aren't so terrible. They're the industry's way of confirming that yes, you've been playing the game, and, by the way, it's your turn again.

So, this other submission I'm planning to make. It's an expansion of an existing and unpublished drabble. And it gave me fits today. It's not that I don't know the shape I want it to be. It's that I'm realizing the story lives in that weird borderland between magic realism and psychological suspense-and-dread. It's "The Telltale Heart," that's what the problem is. The speculative element could be easily written off as the protagonist having a nervous breakdown and imagining things. Now, I was that kid in class who insisted that the hideous heart really was beating under the floorboards. But apparently the rest of the literary world agrees that Poe's murderous protagonist is hallucinating, the spoilsports.

So I'm trying to come up with anti-spoilsport ideas. Here's what I've got so far.

Put it in 3rd person to give the protagonist's perspective a sense, however illusive, of authority. Like, look, you don't have to just take the protagonist's word on this; here's a totally reliable narrator voice confirming it for you. It's not a promise on a factual level; obviously you can write an unreliable narrator in 3rd person point-of-view. But it's an attempt to create a particular emotional experience for the reader, encourage them to trust more. It's like painting an oncology waiting room sky blue to induce a sense of calm and comfort in the patients. You're not telling them that everything's going to be all right; you're just trying to help them feel like everything's all right. All right? Right. See also titles like "The facts in the case of..." or "An account of events witnessed at..."

Create internal consistency in the speculative element so that it looks more like an actual coherent thing that's happening and not a series of random weird events. Though it'll never wind up on the page, I need to decide on the complete reality behind these glimpses of the uncanny, and then have every manifestation conform to that. Basically, we're talking about worldbuilding.

Highlight the theme at every opportunity. The story will be submitted to a themed submission call; the theme is "anticipation." The theme of the issue is already present in this story, of course, but it can be underscored, made to do double, triple duty in every scene. Not just waiting, dreading, and anticipating in the context of the spec element itself, but in every incidental detail. In each scene's setting, in each situation, in the protagonist's interactions with other characters, there should be an element of are we there yet? is it over yet? how long to my bus stop? why aren't we done with this meeting? will the person in line before me please hurry up? when will I find out what's going on? what are you waiting for, just tell me! Done right, this will make the story more of a seamless whole, and a claustrophobic one, sort of compressing the reader into identifying with the protagonist. I hope.

Actually, having written them out, they look like pretty decent ideas. For now, anyway. Enough to go on until I think of better ones.

the game i'm supposed to be playing
Tue 2015-07-14 23:42:29 (single post)
  • 3,330 wds. long

So apparently it takes me another, what, three hours? THREE HOURS to get what ought to have been a simple Hugo Awards 101 blog post done. Seriously, it is not worth it. I need to be able to prioritize, and, when priorities are low, turn the exhaustive perfectionist dial wayyyyy down.

But speaking of priorities, I have modified my must-dos for the workday mornings. To date, I've required of myself three things to start each workday:

  • Morning Pages (mental morning hygiene)
  • 25 minutes of freewriting (scales and arpeggios)
  • and 25 minutes working on the next Friday Fictionette (getting it done a little at a time, rather than all at the last minute).

Recently I looked at my timesheet template and realized that there was one line I was consistently failing to visit: "Submissions Procedures." Also, I had a rejection letter in my email that I still needed to log a month after I received it. So I've added...

  • 25 minutes of Submissions Procedures

...to my morning gottas.

What do I do with that session?

Log submissions and responses. If I send off a manuscript, if I receive a response to a submission, I've got to log that. I keep such records in a personal database that's hosted at this domain (it feeds the "Recently Published" block on the front page and the "Works Progressing" list here on the blog). I also make note of them in the Diabolical Plots Submission Grinder, which does a lot more with my data than I've programmed my own database to do. It does things with my data that benefit other writers, too, mostly to do with market statistics. Anyway, communications regarding submitted manuscripts go there.

Query long-delayed submissions. This is what I did next after I logged that pending rejection email. I had a couple submissions out since early 2014 with no response logged. I sent emails to both markets asking after those submissions' statuses, and, when one of them got back to me (and resent the rejection letter I'd missed in my spam last year), I logged that too.

Resubmit rejected manuscripts to new markets. I did this Friday! "It's For You" had returned with a rejection letter back in December. It was about time I sent it out again. Off it went to meet the staff of a different magazine, hopeful and full of energy!

Research markets for future submissions. Here's where being on the clock becomes absolutely essential. I can spend hours doing this--reading the stories published by professional markets, deciding whether any of my existing stories would fit well in a table of contents with them, reading my colleagues' reported experiences with those markets, plugging the stats for my unpublished stories into the Submission Grinder search form to find even more markets, reading all their submission guidelines... But because I'm on a 25-minute timer, I try to stay focused.

Today I spent my Submission Procedures session pruning a handful of browser tabs open to various submission guidelines. With one exception, I discarded non-paying markets. Then I discarded the ones I'm honestly unlikely to come up with suitable material for any time soon. Of the ones that remained, I chose two whose current submission period ended on or about July 31 and decided what I was going to send them. In both cases, I chose unpublished drabbles that could be expanded into flash or full-length short stories this week and next. Then I made note of a couple other tabs open to markets whose next submission period opens in August. I've existing pieces I could send them as-is with a clean conscience.

Making this a daily ritual has got me back in the game. I mean, I've sent off a piece to a pro-paying market! For the first time in months! That's huge! But it's also valuable as a regular reminder of what I'm supposed to be doing in the first place. Things like Friday Fictionettes and Examiner blog posts can feel like such an accomplishment when I finish them that it's easy to forget that they're not my main gig. My main gig is writing fiction for love and getting it published for money. So now, every workday, I take time on the clock to plan or enact the next step required to play that gig.

That way, even if I don't manage to spend the bulk of the working day on fiction for professional publication, even if I throw most of my hours down the black hole of FIND ALL THE PERFECT LINKS FOR THIS BLOG POST, I've at least spent half an hour with my head in the right game, so I don't forget which game I'm supposed to be playing.

the needle on the compass in my head points toward sheer terror
Tue 2014-08-19 23:36:30 (single post)
  • 5,975 wds. long
  • 4,400 wds. long
  • 3,330 wds. long

"It's For You" came home for the weekend with its tail between its legs, asking to crash on the couch. I did what I could for it: Gave it a shoulder to cry on, ordered us pizza, poured us some local microbrew stout, queued up some cheesy '80s movies to watch together. Then today I gave it a rousing pep talk and sent it back out into the world. "Keep trying," I told it. "Keep trying 'til Hell won't have you. And then keep trying some more." It took a deep breath, narrowed its eyes, and said, "OK." Off it marched, with purpose and new determination. One of these days it'll come home with a big smile, waving a contract in its hand. Until then, I'm good for giving it repeated pep talks and career advice. Also a kick in the rear end, because I kind of want my metaphorical couch to myself.

Meanwhile, "Caroline's Wake" is still out on only its second slush trip ever. It sent me a very encouraging post card!

As for what short story I'll work on next, I've decided it'll be "A Wish for Captain Hook"--the one wherein the island of Neverland locates itself in the middle of Lake Pontchartrain. I originally wrote it for the pirate-themed issue of Shimmer that John Joseph Adams guest-edited, whose submission window was in early 2007. Since failing to win its way onto that TOC, it's been workshopped once... then tucked away into a corner and forgot about. I suppose it's time to pull it out, brush off the dust, and revise it for a serious round of submissions.

Just thinking about it gives me a case of the hives and heebie-jeebies. Nervous. "I don't have to work on 'Hook' next," I told myself. "What about 'The Interfaith Intercessional Fellowship,' that one? The one with the potato salad and the prayer circle?" And that's when I decided that, no, it really had to be "Hook" next. Because "Hook" scares me enough to make me want to slither away, and I should always move toward the thing that scares me.

It took a little more thinking to figure out why it scared me.

Part of the fear comes from knowing that the end needs to be entirely rewritten. The note it currently ends on says very clearly, as though these words were actually typed on the page, "The author did not know how to end this story and hopes you'll understand. Please accept this weaksauce Lady Or Tiger punchline instead, with our compliments." And, well, the last two stories I finished and sent out the door have demonstrated that I have a painful time getting the endings right.

But the bulk of the fear comes from insecurity about my legitimacy, my right to write this story. "Hook" isn't just a story about a little boy who wants to run away to Neverland. "Hook" is a Hurricane Katrina story, the only one I've written so far. And I wasn't even in the state during Katrina and its aftermath. Also my family came through fairly well. There were losses, certainly. Dad's pediatrics office on Robert E. Lee Blvd. was totaled, and his practice had to relocate to the Children's Hospital building in Metairie. The roof did leak for a short while, and some non-critical household belongings were destroyed. While the family was gone, persons unknown scavenged their generator, some fuel, and all of Dad's frozen and slowly thawing venison--which items may well have made the difference for the thieves between surviving and not. Who knows? But the house wasn't flooded. It still stood. Mom and Dad kept it and live in it to this day. The family stayed together. Dad's job survived. As these things go, the LeBoeuf family did pretty OK.

So I'm not entirely sure I get to write a Katrina story, you know? Coming from someone who mostly watched the crisis from afar, it might come across as, I dunno, exploitative, like I'm using other people's tragedy to give my characters some unearned poignancy.

...which is almost word-for-word my exact explanation for why Season 2 of Heroes made me so angry. You know what I mean, right? The part where the little girl says, "Half the people in this county still live in FEMA trailers," thus proving that no one involved in making the show ever bothered to watch real live news footage of the Katrina aftermath nor even opened a map of the affected area. Because if they had, they would know that there are no counties in Louisiana. So, having complained vociferously about how that show exploited the disaster for emotional impact while failing to give the first little damn about the real life people affected, now I'm afraid of coming across the same way. This is like projection, only in reverse.

But my job is to move toward the scary thing. Write it anyway. And to realize that, yes, I too lived through Katrina, I too was affected, and the way I was affected by it can inform the story. And it already has. There are elements in there that are absolutely drawn from my experience, second-hand though much of it is. Like, the way the back-to-school timing of the storm and flood diminished the school-aged population of the greater New Orleans area well into 2006--families who evacuated in August sent their kids to the schools whose districts they wound up in come September, and many of them stayed to finish out the scholastic year. (This affected my immediate family by way of Dad's dramatically decreased patient roster.) Like the way some families, like my parents' next-door neighbors, just never came back at all.

The short story is much smaller in focus than that, but it's deeply colored by the shadows of those huge background movements. One of my jobs during the rewrite will be to make those shadows more apparent, more stark and compelling. And maybe something about the larger movements of the time will help inform the rewriting of the ending, too.

So that's the answer to that question. What will I work on next? "A Wish for Captain Hook." That's what. And may Gods and Muses have mercy on me, Their humble pen.

(runs away temporarily to hide)

email