“Writing fiction is...about passion and endurance, a combination of desire and grunt work often at odds with each other.”
Maureen Howard

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

a whole thunder of stuff done rolled
Wed 2015-10-28 22:48:43 (single post)
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  • 4,558 wds. long

Behold! Two short stories went winging to their respective targets. Two of them! And all my writing for the day, except for this blog post, done before five pee-em. Folks, I am on fire.

John very kindly allowed me to read "Caroline's Wake" to him, which, given its length, meant the donation of more than half an hour plus some engaged discussion. He is a fantastic writer-support spouse. All the kudos. It was his first time experiencing this particular story, so he was able to offer a fresh perspective on whether it made sense, whether the characters were acting like real people, and whether things the right emotional weight was present. These are all things I worry about when a lot of slicing and dicing goes on between drafts. While "killing your darlings" it's possible to also kill some hard-working support structures. When vital pillars and buttresses go missing, it helps to have someone around to notice.

Speaking of killing your darlings, he also suggested I cut the final paragraph. The one about the crocus heralding a mild winter. Dammit. OK. I cut it, because the requesting editor said the exact same thing (or at the very least she suggested that it shouldn't be the final paragraph) and when two separate readers notice the same problem then maybe it's a good idea to listen to them. Dammit.

(Some darlings are very darling. Alas.)

Anyway, the story went into the email, and very soon afterward I had a reply full of excitement and glee, which was a relief. I'd secretly feared, because I am prone to Writer's Weasel Brain, that she'd be all what, this old thing? Not interested anymore. You missed your chance. But of course that was not the case. Weasel Brain is always wrong. Two reliable things about Weasel Brain: It'll always have something to say, and it'll always be wrong.

As expected, the title of the submission to Alien Artifacts got changed. When that story went to The First Line, it was called "The Rapture of the Santiago Women", as a nod to the famous Roman abduction event known as the Rape of the Sabine Women". Problem was, the allusion really only was skin deep. It was clever but not resonant. So I changed it to "Comin' For to Carry Me Home" both for the literal meaning within the plot and the play on homing device.

(And now you have the song stuck in your head, and my work here is done.)

Also, the first line got changed, as its original first line is best considered the exclusive property of The First Line. Which mean the little boy's name had to be changed, since it had been part of the first line. And then a whole bunch of other stuff got changed until, given that the story's only about 1300 words long, the revision really merited a whole new version number under my private and terribly subjective file-naming system. So Alien Artifacts gets to see Homing Device v2.0, or maybe, given the last print-out and line-edit pass, v2.2.1

Fair warning: I may just take the rest of the week off. Friday is fifth Friday, which means no Friday Fictionette is due. And tomorrow is a Halloween party on skates, which means I have to put the finishing touches on my costume. (John has been helping me with that, too. All the kudos.) So if I get very little done for the rest of the week, it's OK. I done a whole thunder of stuff between last week and now. I can take a small holiday.

a detailed look at the key-forging process as undertaken inside the cell
Tue 2015-10-27 17:01:08 (single post)
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I put in two solid hours on the story revision today, and it is almost done. Tantalizingly close. I hope to submit it tomorrow, at which point I shall crow mightly.

I'd like to write a little about the process of turning one draft into another draft. You might not be interested. You might be all, "Feh! I have my own process. I do not need yours. Feh, I say!" in which case you can skip this bit and scroll down to the next bit. But if you're interested, here's my process. Or at least, here's the process I used for this story and for this draft.

To start with, I had a critiqued copy of the previous draft to work from. The response to its submission last year was to invite me to resubmit if I could get it down to between 4,000 and 5,000 words. So I wrote back, tentatively asking if the editor had any thoughts she'd like to share to guide me in that revision; the editor responded with a line-by-line critique, crossing out text that was slowing down the story and highlighting elements that should be foregrounded.

This, by the way, is the sort of unlooked-for gift that writers dream of getting. We get excited just to get a rejection letter with personal comments, so you can imagine the ecstasy occasioned by an unasked for critique and line edit. Accompanying an invitation to resubmit, no less.

So my first step was to import this critique into my Scrivener project. I moved the August 2014 draft out of the Draft folder (where the documents to compile into a manuscript live) and into my custom Previous Drafts folder, to keep a record and to make room. Then I imported the critique, which was handily in RTF already, into a custom Critiques folder. I converted all of the editor's notes and deletions into linked notes. I also inspected the recommended deletions for any content I didn't want to lose, noted those elements, and considered how I might incorporate them into the surviving text.

Next, I began to type up a new draft from blank, using the critiqued copy and my notes as a reference. This is what took me for-frickin'-ever. This is the part of the process where I kept abandoning it for weeks and then needing to reacquaint myself with the project whenever I tried to pick it up again. I was about a third of the way through this step when I finally got my act together last week.

Thursday night I began the next stage of the revision: print it out and scribble on it (line-edit). I had the foolish idea this would take me, oh, maybe an hour. WRONG! This took the remainder of Thursday and all of Friday too. Lots of crossing things out and attempting to rephrase things. Embarrassing typos to be hunted down and destroyed.

Today I picked up that scribbled-on copy and began to implement the line-edit. I scanned through the printed document for scribbles, and I typed into the new draft whatever the scribbles said. Sounds simple, right? Generally it was. But there were a few "bugs" that were more complex; those I put aside for later, creating a linked note for each to make coming back to them easier.

When the simple fixes were done, I went back to those linked notes, which live in Scrivener's Inspector pane under the Comments and Footnotes tab, and began addressing the more complex line-edits. There were four of them. I got through two before my time was up today.

That's it. Tomorrow I hope to address the last two "bugs" on my buglist, and submit the revision that was requested more than a year ago. I continue to feel silly about taking fourteen months to get this done, but the bad-ass joy of getting it done at last rather outweighs that embarrassment.

Also, as I upload this post to my blog, I will be finished with my work day. All finished. By five o'clock in the afternoon. I honestly can't remember the last time I managed that. It will feel so very good to gear up for roller derby practice in the certain, satisfied knowledge that no work awaits me when I come home. Again, I'm embarrassed that it's taken me until now to find my workday rhythm, but I'm too pleased with having found it to notice the embarrassment overmuch.

Oh! Also, today's submission procedures involved preparing "The Rapture of the Santiago Women," whose title I might yet change, for submission to the forthcoming Alien Artifacts anthology from Zombies Need Brains LLC. I will most definitely change the first line, as it was dictated by the market I sent it to first. I've already edited the story a bit today, just cleaning up the text to make it flow more smoothly. A story's always a little rough when I write it to a themed issue's deadline; I like to make sure it's a bit more polished before it heads out to meet the next slush pile.

This is another thing that feels awesome--as the revision on "Caroline's Wake" comes to a close, I've got brain-space for revising other stories for resubmission. It's like I'd been in jail for a year, but with the means to make the key to the prison door. What the eff took me so long to do it? Damn. Well, door's open now. Free!

i think it's a story
Sat 2014-02-01 23:47:46 (single post)
  • 1,300 wds. long

It got finished. It got submitted. I'm not entirely sure I'm happy with what I ended up with, but that's life with what's essentially a very polished first draft. It's 1300 words with a beginning, middle, and an end, which means at the very least it is a story.

I feel very bad-ass when I spend a sustained number of hours bringing a story draft to completion. I also feel exhaustion. Endurance was never my strong suit, but I'm working on it.

In logging my submission on my personal database, I had occasion to notice I hadn't logged my previous rejection from The First Line ("Anything For a Laugh," which has recently been critiqued by my neighborhood group). In correcting this lapse, I had occasion to reread the previous rejection letter. It was a form rejection, very brief, but appended just beneath the signature was an even briefer personal note: "Fun story, Nicole. Just missed. Try us again."

I think I failed to notice it before. I don't recall feeling this encouraged at the time. It made me grin, reading it today.

So I have tried them again, and intend to try them more often. Writing to prompts is fun! The next prompt, with a due date of May 1, is "Please, Sylvia, give me a moment to think." (Why am I flashing on the Doctor Who 2005 riff on The Weakest Link?)

Tomorrow: Working weekend continues, as I get my 250-or-fewer words in order for the String-of-Ten contest.

the house in conversation
Thu 2014-01-30 23:02:35 (single post)

Still no complete draft. But today I babbled to myself on the page about the layout and contents of Nena Santiago's house. I'm a firm believer in setting as character, for one thing. For another, if the entire story comprises a single conversation held in a single location, then that location better be able to contribute to the conversation.

Mostly, what the location has to say is how triumphant its inhabitant feels at having outlived an abusive marriage. It also has a few things to say about the lives she could have lived, and has not yet given up on living.

I was surprised to discover that Nena makes collages out of her junk mail and her magazine subscriptions. Her table is covered in evocative photography on glossy stock, letters urging her to accept life insurance policies and energy efficiency inspections, coupons for chuck roast, fancy card stock in all colors, and glue sticks. It's sort of like the way my paternal grandmother always had a jigsaw puzzle on the table, only this is messier. There's slivers of paper all over the floor.

Her house is a cluttered mess, not because she buys crap and hoards it but because she doesn't have to hide things away neatly anymore. It's clutter as ongoing celebration.

She's the most interesting person in the story, and she's never even on stage. That's why her house needs to be a real, living, breathing character in this story. It's her surrogate. It's her representative on the page.

Well, that and her journal, of course. Which Lucita (and, therefore, the rest of us) will be reading in backwards chronological order. Hey, her mother's up and vanished, she finds her mother's journal lying out on the desk in the bedroom--she's going to start with the most recent entry and work her way back, isn't she?

A draft tomorrow for sure. Because I want time to sleep on it and edit it before sending it in on Saturday.

the author in conversation
Wed 2014-01-29 23:27:51 (single post)

Today was kind of a blah day. Slow moving, no new breakthroughs, hung up on non-writing tasks. Today was kind of not.

The only thing to report is this:

I'm working on the story I want to submit to The First Line on February 1 (that's Saturday, by the way). That's the one with the prompt, "Carlos discovered _____ [fill in the blank] under a pile of shoes in the back of his grandmother's closet."

As I mentioned, I filled in the blank with "homing device." The main idea is that this device has been passed down through the family from mother to daughter for generations, with the understanding that someday, something or someone not of this planet will arrive. Carlos finds it and brings it to his mother, Lucita, who somehow never got given it or told about it. Lucita is only just finding out this, her family's secret, by reading her mother's journal. They are going through her mother's house and things because her mother has just died.

I'm trying to avoid the sort of last-minute stressy race to beat the deadline I put myself through with "Anything For a Laugh." So I'm getting a little worried about not being finished yet.

Like I said, today didn't really move. I had hoped to complete a draft before I left at 5:45 PM for roller derby practice. That did not happen.

But here's what did happen: I discovered, or rediscovered, that my tendency to think out loud can be used for good and not just embarrassment of me and irritation of others. If I leave the radio off and drive in silence from home to the Bomb Shelter, and I just start talking to myself about my story, I discover things about the story. It's like my 25-minute freewriting exercise: a few minutes in and everything takes a sharp left turn off the rut I've been stuck in.

So apparently Nena Santiago isn't, in fact, dead, but missing. Her mother went missing when she reached advanced age, too. And her mother before that. The homing device isn't calling one single arrival during some future generation, but is arranging the rapture, so to speak, of each successive woman in the dynasty. But Nena never did pass the homing device on to Lucita because she didn't believe in it, and besides she resented the whole "Now you have to get married and have a daughter" thing, which got her saddled with a real jerk of a husband whom she may or may not have in fact murdered. And by the way did you know that old pile of shoes has rock climbing shoes and tap dance shoes and moon boots next to the dress flats and sandals? And oh my goodness Nena's journal is full of things.

And also there's the title, which just came to me like a punchline when I hit the word "rapture." Only if I'm going to give it that title, I had better find a way to connect this story with that chapter in Roman history it's alluding to. And also, there'd better be a nod to how all the women in this dynasty share a last name despite living in the here-and-now of the U.S. where it's more common for married women to take their husband's name.

And did I mention that I'm shooting for flash fiction?

The important thing is, the story's moving now! Hooray for 25-minute commutes.

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