“and if i should die
god forbid that i
pass away with ideas left in limbo
in creative purgatory”
Brian Vander Ark

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

the delays you get are not the expected delays
Tue 2015-08-04 23:07:25 (single post)
  • 1,200 wds. long

So lunch was indeed delicious. The crawfish count included in it was 37 (live weight 2 lb 4 oz; yield 6 oz), about a third of which were caught in the DIY trap I will talk about at some later point. Also, it wasn't so much lunch as dinner, because I started it late and it took forever.

Started it late: Because I exercised self-restraint (for once) and finished my morning shift first. Some of it I did out by the creek, but some of it required wifi and so had to wait until I came home and plugged the laptop in. Until the new battery arrives, I can't have wifi on battery alone; the poor laptop goes from 98% remaining, to 86%, to 66% barely minutes later, then shuts itself down hard, over the space of fifteen minutes.

"Also it wouldn't be right to just use some random private residence's unencrypted signal."

Right, what she said. Who was that, anyway? My conscience? Right.

Anyway, the bits that required wifi, I came home and did them. Well, first I put the morning's catch in the refrigerator and tidied away my fishing supplies, but then I did the rest of my morning writing shift.

Notably, this included submitting "Keeping Time," a story that has been out into the world twice already, to a brand new likely suspect. Or, if not as likely as I like to think, then at the very least to a market I'd be very pleased to see publish it. "Keeping Time," like "Stand By for Your Assignment," is a story whose first incarnation was A) much shorter, and B) in second person point of view. Unlike "Stand By," which needed to be changed to 3rd person POV, "Keeping Time" remained in 2nd person. I seem to default to 2nd person when I write very short pieces. I worry that it's a sign of laziness. Except, when pieces like that go to workshop, they occasionally get encouraging critiques along the lines of "Normally I hate 2nd person POV but you seem to pull it off," so maybe it's OK.

(This should not be confused with stories like "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" or "Other Theories of Relativity," which, despite including a whole bunch of sentences starting with the word "you," are actually in first person POV. The perspective character is an "I" who is addressing the "you." If it were second person POV, the perspective character would be the "you." But the mere presence of many sentences starting with "you" does not by itself indicate 2nd person POV, no more than the presence of "to be" by itself indicates passive voice. This is a minor sore spot with me, since while shopping "Sidewalks" around for reprints, I got a rejection letter that said "Sorry, I just don't enjoy 2nd person POV," and I kind of wanted to write back, "OK, fine, I accept that you don't care for the story, but did you somehow miss the bit where the narrator refers to himself as 'I'? The narrative is epistolary! Only instead of writing a letter, he's leaving a message on someone's cell phone voice mail! Gahhhh!")

(I didn't, of course. Never write back to argue with a rejection letter! Write blog posts instead. If you must.)

Anyway, so, off it goes.

Took forever: There is nothing about jambalaya itself that takes forever. Ditto etouffee. What takes forever is crawfish prep.

OK, no, boiling crawfish takes no time at all. You bring the water up to a boil, tossing in your seasonings while you wait; you dump in the bugs and let them go for 3 to 5 minutes; you dump in ice and leave them to soak up the spices for 15 to 30 minutes according to your tastes. No big deal. Most of that's just waiting around. But shelling them, and shelling them thoroughly--deveining tails, scooping out the fat, picking out some of the claw meat--that took a little while. (As opposed to eating them right out the shell, which would take no time at all. My friends have to remind me at the Nono's Cafe crawfish boils that I have to slow down to give other people at the table a chance. In this I am very much my father's daughter.) It took a while, and it was a continuous working while.

I have a system for claw meat, by the way. You take a butter knife, and you split the claw vertically. Then you for each half of the claw you use the other half's claw tine to dig the meat out. Quick and easy.

Anyway, lunch prep began around 1:15 with a trip to the grocery and didn't end until I was scooping jambalaya into my bowl around 6:00. And then of course it was time to eat. Leisurely. While reading blogs and online articles. And forgetting, what with my tummy being all full and happy, that time was continuing to pass.

The actual catching of the crawfish coexisted with my writing day quite well, especially since adding the DIY trap to my process. But if you catch them and bring them home, you gotta cook them, and, tasty as the results are, I'm not taking the time to do that again until at least the weekend. Maybe crawfish will turn into a Monday thing. That would work.

So I'll be off to work on the rest of my "afternoon shift" now, shall I? Got a YPP Examiner post I want to write, and a short story whose revision is seriously overdue. Guess which order I'll be doing those in. Go on, guess.

joining the ranks of toasted fictioneers: pretty good for a sick day
Mon 2014-08-25 23:21:17 (single post)

Today is my podcast debut! A few months ago, Tina Connolly bought my flash piece "Other Theories of Relativity" for her podcast Toasted Cake. This week, the podcast episode featuring that story is live. Because it was very short, she paired it with something else that is very short: "Mon pays c'est l'hiver," by Amal El-Mohtar. The two stories go together very well, I think; the main character of one is reevaluating what it means to be family, and the main character of the other is reevaluating what it means to return home. Tina reads both stories very beautifully. No surprises there; Tina always reads beautifully. I've been listening to episodes of her podcast on my drive to roller derby practice, and I've thoroughly enjoyed both her selection and her narration. (Her reading of Paul Hamilton's "Corkscrew" got under my skin and will stay there for a very long time.)

That was the bright spot in my day. The not-so-bright spot was waking up to confirmation that I had indeed caught the crud my husband brought back from Gen Con. I suppose I wasn't so bad off that I couldn't have been a functional member of the Monday farm crew, but, firstly, it's hard to deal with a runny nose when your hands are full of dirt, and secondly, if I've got a cold, should I really be handling other people's produce? "I'm staying home and keeping my germs to myself," I texted to Steph, the volunteer coordinator. "Much appreciated," she responded. "Feel better soon!"

And so I did. John came home in the afternoon with a new box of 12-hour pseudoephedrine. Shortly after that I felt functional enough to go out into the wild and return with take-out from Spice China. Better living through chemistry! Not everything my husband brings home is bad. (He also brought home all the booze remaining from his traditional Gen Con scotch and whiskey tasting. I just sipped my way through a shot of the Balvenie Single-Malt 14-Year Caribbean Cask.)

"Are you still going to roller derby practice tomorrow? Do you think that's wise?" he asked me.

"I have to. It's bout week."

"Then you should wear a face mask. I'll paint a fleur-de-lis on it for you!"

All right. I'll wear a mask. And I'll bring my hand-sanitizer, and reapply frequently. I need my practice, but I don't need to get my Bombshells sick. As things stand, I'm fortunate to have come down with this cold early enough in the week that it should be done and gone by bout day. I don't need to pass it on to someone else such that they'll be still feeling the effects into the weekend.

Tomorrow, in addition to roller derby practice and the usual Tuesday writing schedule, there will be--if all goes well and no unexpected delays are encountered--the project completion walk-through at our home. And if that happens, we'll get to check out of the hotel Wednesday morning and move back home. Keep your fingers crossed.

the hoped-for thing occurs in the space one makes for it
Tue 2014-03-11 21:59:51 (single post)

I have good news! I have sold a story! For publication! Where you can see it--or, at least, hear it! Not yet, but soon!

That's the short story. Now, clear the way, 'cause here comes the long version.

This year I set out to be a more reliably productive writer. I set myself daily goals both in terms of a checklist of particular writing projects and hours spent writing at all. Thus far, at least overall, I've succeeded.

Now, success for a working writer can be tricky to measure. The stuff that's visible to people who aren't me tends to be beyond my control. Getting a story published, for instance, requires the cooperation of an editor who wants to pay me for the rights to print my story. And then there's the matter of my improvement as a writer, which is totally within my control but, to a large extent, not really mine to judge. Not reliably, anyway. Not objectively. So I have to measure my success in terms of those things I can both control and objectively measure: time spent writing, projects in which I make tangible progress, pieces finished and ready to send out into the world.

One of the items that's on my daily checklist and which counts towards hours spent on the clock is submissions procedures--activities surrounding what might be termed the "business end" of this gig. Sending a piece to a market, for instance, or logging a market's response to the submission. Rediscovering something of mine published during college and considering whether it has reprint potential, and, if so, where at. Something along those lines needs to happen every day.

This has resulted in greater success than I've enjoyed for some years now in terms of a particular objective metric: the number of individual pieces of short fiction that are out on submission, i.e. in slush, a.k.a. marked "Pending Response" over at the Submissions Grinder, at a single time. At one point that number was seven. That's small beans compared with some writers, but for me it's personal high.

The amount of stories I currently have out on submission is a number I can control. The amount of stories I have sold for publication is not. But these two numbers are not without causal connection. Even the most cynical writer must agree that your chances at publication go up based on your frequency of manuscript submissions--well, assuming a certain base-level quality of manuscript, of course, and a certain amount of common sense in deciding where to submit what.

Which is taking the long way around to announcing that, attributable at least in part to being determined this year to increase the number and frequency of my manuscript submissions, I've made my first sale of 2014. My sad, sisterly science fiction short-short story "Other Theories of Relativity" will be read aloud during an upcoming episode of Tina Connolly's podcast Toasted Cake.

I'm just tickled all rose-hued about it. I've never had a story of mine podcast before. I've never had a story of mine read aloud to the public by anyone other than myself. I'm excited and also, truth by told, kind of scared about it. There is no rational reason for being scared about it, but I am, a little. It's related to the same mild terror I experience from the time a send a story out to be workshopped right up until the moment I get the critiques back. And, just like I do after I've heard all the critiques, I know I'll feel all glowy and happy after I've finally heard the podcast with my story in it. So I guess what I'm mainly looking forward to is that moment after hearing it for the first time.

I'm also excited because this is my first sale of a Weekend Warrior (WW) story. WW is one of the annual contests hosted in the private online writers' community Codex (which you should check out--if you qualify, if you even think you qualify, do not hesitate to apply, because Codex is awesome). The contest lasts for five weeks. Each Friday, a handful of prompts is posted. You spend the weekend writing a short story from one of those prompts. It must be no longer than 750 words. Winners are determined by averaging all of the contest participants' ratings of each others' stories. Participants also give mini-critiques of each story. (Participation is anonymous until The Big Reveal after the contest is over.)

Between the half-formed stories that came from noodling around on the prompts and the actual stories I ended up submitting, there's a wealth of material from my participation in WW 2012. "Other Theories of Relativity" and, in a roundabout way, "When the Bottom Dropped Out of the Soul Market" are the only pieces from that supply that I have submitted anywhere. (On the same day Tina got back to me offering to buy "Other Theories," I also got the form rejection from the Flash Fiction Chronicles contest for "Soul Market"--not one of the finalists, alas.) There is a hell of a lot more story potential waiting for me in that same pocket of my hard drive. All I have to do is dig it up, revise it, polish it, and send it out.

I hope to have happy reports along those lines later on in the year. Later in the year. My plate is already full to overflowing for the month of March. About that, more later. Probably tomorrow.

Yes, there really is a gap of five years between the completion of the draft and its latest critque. I'm getting better--!
assembly lines in no particular hurry
Tue 2014-02-18 23:32:39 (single post)
  • 3,400 wds. long
  • 3,329 wds. long

With recent deadlines behind me and unstructured fiction time ahead, I'm working on "The Impact of Snowflakes." This is another story that has been through the critique mill several times; most recently it received the attentions of my current neighborhood group.

I'm developing a process for this. It's a gradual process, an unhurried process, a process involving itty-bitty bites at a time, a process above all involving very little pressure upon myself. Revision is not a task I approach gleefully. Any strategy I can use to Not Scare Myself Off is a good strategy.

Anyway, it's how "It's For You" got revised and ready to submit, so I'm doing it again. It goes like this:

First, the scribbled-upon hard copies get three-hole-punched and popped into a three-ring-binder. Yesterday I made this process More Fun by acquiring color tab dividers (to separate story from story) along with sticky tabs in fun quilt-print patterns (to separate copy from copy).

Next, the story finds a home in a new Scrivener project using the short story template. An RTF copy of the story gets pulled in under the "Critiques" folder.

Then, I annotate this critiqued draft by entering each critic's feedback as linked comments. Linked comments can be created in any color; I assign one color to each critic. If the critic left me any general comments, I'll type that into a new file that lives folder-wise inside the critiqued draft.

(Here is where I complain a little about Scrivener for Windows. The manual claims that Scrivener remembers which color you used last in a linked comment, such that it will automatically create the next linked comment in that color. LIES. Every single one comes up in default yellow. So it's Highlight text, hit Shift-F4, hope like heck I didn't hit CTRL-F4 instead, type in the comment, right-click on the comment, select "Purple"... and repeat.)

Lastly, I begin typing in the new draft. I use a horizontal split-screen layout so I can reference the critiqued copy and its comments below the split while I type in the new draft above. The new draft, of course, goes in the "Draft" folder, either as one file or many depending on whether I work the scenes out of order.

Right now, I'm in the annotation stage. I'm giving myself permission to go through a single critiqued copy per day. This means that the work goes very slowly. But it also means a certain amount of composting--that background-level "thinking about things" process--happens too. Each person's feedback gets a day and a night of subconscious chewing-over. Hopefully that means that by the time I begin working on the new draft, possible solutions to the problems raised in the workshop are beginning to bubble into consciousness.

And oh boy are there problems in this story. The main thing I'm wibbling about is the isolation of the main character. I mean, yes, you get somewhat isolated when you live alone and the Snowpocalypse is shutting down the world little by little, but there's phones and internet and TV and stuff, and emergency personnel with their vehicles with their flashing lights and sirens. This is not an intimate two-person story like "It's For You." This is a worldwide crisis story. Which means I have to populate the world in which it occurs.

*wibble*

When wibbling, it's so very helpful to focus in on small, bite-sized tasks. Nibble-sized tasks. Tomorrow, I don't have to worry about populating the whole world. All I have to do is annotate the critiqued draft with the feedback scribbled on the next copy in my binder. I cannot begin to tell you what a relief that is.

In other news, Lightspeed has already declined "Other Theories of Relativity" for their Women Destroy Science Fiction issue. Which means that story is free to go knock on another editor's door. And because it's always easier to knock on a stranger's door if you've got a buddy, I sent along "The Day the Sidewalks Melted," who's seeking a first reprint home, to keep it company.

The two stories are oddly similar. I'm trying to consider this a plus. It's not "oh, dear, not one but two stories about broken relationships and loss and disaster written in a sort of Second Person of Direct Address point of view, hasn't this author any other tricks?" No. It's "My, what a lovely diptych of microfiction this is." Yes. That's exactly what it is.

mother may i
Mon 2014-02-17 23:38:04 (single post)
  • 3,329 wds. long
  • 2,850 wds. long

If last week moved slowly, still it finished up where it needed to be. "Other Theories of Relativity" and "It's For You," both much transformed from the previous drafts, both went out into the wide world. And then, just for grins, so did "First Breath" in hopes of seeing it in reprint.

This is my second time sending it out as a reprint. The first time, I had the unmitigated chutzpah to suggest it might be appropriate for the VanderMeer's feminist spec fic anthology.

About which, I hasten to add, there is nothing wrong. An author needs unmitigated chutzpah to believe her writing worth others' reading at all. And this was a story that at least one editor had judged worthy to pay pro money for and press between hardback covers in a table of contents alongside some pretty awesome authors, so its quality wasn't in question.

However, I had some moments of crawling insecurity about it. One the one hand, the VanderMeers' anthology was to survey feminist speculative fiction from the 1970s onward; did I really think this little story could stand up in that kind of company?

Obviously, the proper answer to that question was, "Don't deny the editors a chance to decide for themselves. Send it in."

But on the other hand, there was the much more devastating insecurity having to do with not having published nor even finished another story since then. Did I think that having made this one sale, I was done? Was I just going to try to milk those 2,900 words or so for all I could get out of them and call it a career?

Well, no, of course not. But all those demons of the family Imposter Syndrome were jeering at me about it. Or shaking their heads sadly. Or just asking, in a tone of grave concern, whether I thought I had the right to try to reprint this story when I hadn't sold any new ones since.

So I sent it anyway. And it was not chosen for the anthology. And that was fine and good and about how these things generally go. (What was chosen? I do not know. A brief search has not turned up news on the anthology. I presume it's still in production.)

Flash forward to yesterday, when I sent it out again. Whole different story.

For one thing, far less pressure: The market I submitted it to is quite respected, but it's just another market. It isn't trying to be a piece of literary history. So that made things easier.

What made it even easier was knowing that it was one of seven pieces I had out in the slush. Seven! Two reprint submissions, one unpublished story on its eighth trip out, and four stories that were Brand Spanking New, Never Before Submitted, Never Before Seen By Editorial Eye, Setting Foot In Slush For the First Time! Seven. And by the end of the week I'll have sent two more reprint submissions out.

That's more stuff simultaneously in slush than I've had since, oh, 2006 or so. I think that's a dandy measure of the success of my new day-to-day work routine.

Now, it can't be overstated that my little fearing monsters' concerns that maybe I hadn't yet earned the right to try to reprint "First Breath" yet were--there's no way to say this gently--total bullshit. Well-intentioned bullshit, true, but bullshit none the less. You earn the right to reprint a story by having the rights of a previously published story of yours revert to you. Simple as that. There's no additional mechanism required and no further permission that you need.

But having what feels like a shit-ton of other writing out on editors' desks really helps.

Yes, this has been an "I feel like a writer!" blog post. Yes, I'm still doing those from time to time. Kinda pathetic, I know. Hey, we get our affirmation where we can, right? And the best kind of affirmation is the kind we can make on our own. Behold: I am a self-affirmation-making machine, my friends. A veritable one-woman factory cranking out the stuff.

Which will no doubt comfort me later on in the week when I'm trying to individually position grains of salt and pepper on the soup of the next short story in the revision queue.

not quite like athena
Thu 2014-02-13 23:11:55 (single post)

And then yesterday didn't happen. But look! Today, I finished a thing and I submitted that thing. I submitted it to Lightspeed. I am helping to Destroy Science Fiction!

*pats self on head*

The opening line I posted earlier? Didn't end up using it. It now lives in a file in the "Deleted Scenes" folder of the story's Scrivener project, along with a few other false starts and removed verbiage. This is because the story went in a different direction than it did during that first draft, which makes it an entirely different story. Which means the story that the first draft was pointing toward could yet happen. You never know.

Writerly observation of the week: Write it down, no matter how little or incomplete.

Unpacking that: Sometime this week, probably during a drive to or from Longmont (tomorrow night will be my first night all week not doing anything derby-related), I got an insight for the story. In the stalled-out draft, the Caroline-type character has just said a thing to the Louise-type character, and her voice sounded very calm and clear despite the situation. In my head, the Louise-type character makes an observation about her sister's voice, how it reminded her of other times her sister had whispered audacious ideas in her ear and led her into trouble. That's it. That's all. Just a small observation that added a small amount to what little I knew about their history.

I spent far too much time turning that over and over in my head. "OK, but so what? What does that mean? How am I going to use that?"

Today I said, "All right already," and took that tiny insight and added it to the draft. And that's when the draft changed direction and raced headlong toward its brand new goal.

I keep rediscovering this: Stories cannot be completed inside my head. They will not erupt from my skull fully formed and with gray eyes flashing. No, sadly, there comes a point where they simply hit a brick wall in there. And yet, magically, once I give in and just write down what I've got so far, that physical act of writing it down (and also the visual act of reading it) sparks the next idea that I'd been straining for in vain thus far. It's like a small plant that's gottne root-bound in its seedling cup; it needs to be transplanted into the wider world. Only once I put it on the page does it finally bloom.

Also, here's another writerly observation: Drop one name from a classic novel, and it's a literary allusion. Drop two names, and you risk your story looking like fan-fiction. This is not ideal if you're trying to sell the piece to a professional market.

Anyway. Here's hoping tomorrow's rewrite project goes as well as today's did.

accidental literary conversations
Fri 2014-02-07 23:43:08 (single post)

Writing at Fuse again today, which makes it three times this week. I think we've finally succeeded in making it a routine, John and I. Either that, or the prospect of a free beer during "Friday happy hour" is sufficient temptation to overcome all resistance.

I'm liking our Fuse workdays, but I find I like them best when we get there before ten o'clock. When we get there later than ten, then we have breakfast upstairs, there there's the inevitable settling-in period downstairs, and what with one thing and another I don't get to my first "real writing" task until about eleven-thirty. Momentum is lost and never truly regained.

But today John had a 9:30 AM meeting to "go" to, which is to say to be present on the phone for, so we made sure to be there by then. Suddenly the day stretched long and full of possibility, and I was able to do all the things with teeny breaks for Puzzle Pirates in between and still not feel I'd left anything undone by the time beer-o'clock rolled around.

One thing I had time for was a lunch-hour walk to the library, just three blocks away, for some short story research. Here's the thing: I'm beginning to realize that "Other Theories of Relativity" appears to have entered into a three-way conversation with Katherine Paterson's novel Jacob Have I Loved and Ray Bradbury's short story "The Kaleidoscope" on the other. So I've checked them out of the library to refresh my memory because these sorts of conversations should be held deliberately.

The Bradbury connection became obvious rather quickly. I mean, you've got some number of astronauts stranded in space and contemplating their inevitable demise--how do you miss that? Unless you hadn't read the story, of course. I had, and it stuck with me in the same menacing, unpleasant way as "A Sound of Thunder" and (I think) "The Rocket Man." Only I couldn't remember which collection it was in nor its name, so I spent some time in the library flipping to each story's first page and reading the first line.

"The first concussion cut the rocket ship up the side with a giant can opener." Yep. That's the one. And on an unrelated note, a story critique note: A line like that, I'm expecting the next line to start with something about the second concussion. But no, Bradbury left me hanging. I also find the story's ending to be slightly off-pitch and missing its rhythm; the little boy's line should be "cried," not "screamed"; and the mother only needs to say her line once.

Why yes I am critiquing a Ray Bradbury story. There's no chutzpa about it. I critique everything to do with story. I critique movies, and video games, and occasionally friends' conversations. It's a writer thing. (At least, it's this writer's thing.) Deal with it.

The nod to the Paterson novel only became clear to me once I'd got some vague idea of the sisters' relationship. The reflection isn't exact, but it falls along similar lines. The main character is very clearly the Louise of this pair, all her life resenting her sister's successes even as she's proud of them; yearning for a deeper connection and, in scrambling after her sister to try to regain it, constantly stepping into emotional bear-traps.

I'm really not looking forward to rereading Jacob Have I Loved. I remember it as being a beautiful, haunting novel, but I also remember how angry it made me. Every injustice visited upon Louise, every callousness committed by Caroline, every circumstance that made utter futility out of Louise's attempts to be her own person--argh. And there's no use being angry on behalf of a fictional character! There is nothing constructive to do with that anger! So I go through my days grumpy and cranky and I take it out on people and then I realize why and I feel stupid!

I think the only book that has come close to having that effect on me since has been Jane Eyre. I was not pleasant to be around while I was reading Jane Eyre.

For now, I might not so much reread Jacob Have I Loved as simply open it to random pages and see if I get an "a-ha!" out of it. I may save actually rereading that book for when John goes out of town in May. Then there'll be no danger of the book making me inappropriately cranky at him.

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