The Seeds of Our Future
6000 words long
News from the Slush Front
News the First: Bad news is, "The Seeds of Our Future" will not be appearing in Fearsome Symmetries. The not-so-bad news is, it was rejected while still at number 1011 in the queue on the day after World Horror 2013 ended. Which is to say: Having an existing relationship with an editor by no means ensures future sales (no surprises there, right?), but it can sometimes get a story read more quickly than otherwise, especially if the editor would like to append to the response a timely note along the lines of "Good to see you at the con!" Which sentiment I was happy to return. All in all, a pleasant story submission and con meet-up experience. Can't complain.
So there's that. News the Second: When I saw Jason V Brock at World Horror, I asked him, "So can I tell people?" and he was all, "Of course you can!" So now this is me telling people: "Lambing Season" is slated for publication in Issue #3 of [NaMeL3ss] Digest, which is tentatively estimated to go to print for a July release. Tentatively. I'll post updates as updates warrant posting.
(The purchase page for [NaMeL3ss] Issue #2 will probably give a better idea of what the publication is like than will its main website.)
And with that happy news, I shall disappear for the weekend. Chez LeBoeuf-Little is celebrating anniversary number fifteen, which will involve puttering around a historical Colorado mountain town and not doing pretty much anything that counts as "work". See y'all... oh, Tuesday evening sounds good. Let's do that.
The Muse Distracts Me with Goblins in Omaha
- 0 wds. long
- 2,481 wds. long
Yes, I'm easily distractible.
I was going to work on "It's For You" during today's Amtrak1 ride. That poor story has been waiting far too long, and I fully intended to move straight from submitting "The Seeds of Our Future"2 into finishing and submitting something else. That's what a writer does: Writes things, finishes things, submits things for publication, writes and finishes the next thing.
But the train was late. Instead of reaching Omaha, Nebraska in the wee semi-dark hours of them; morning, we got there during daylight, around 8:00 AM when I was diligently doing my Morning Pages in the sightseer lounge. And so I was awake and able to see outside the train when we paused at the station, affording us a fantastic and intriguing view of the backside of the Durham Museum.
That link goes to a Google Maps top-down view, which of course isn't quite the view I was treated to. What I saw was "...a convention center? It looks like a convention center entrance. But who'd enter across the gravel of an empty rail-yard? And why does it appear someone has attached a cattle car to either side of the entrance? Do those tracks actually run right across the threshold--? Yes, there appears to be a short ramp affording passage over the tracks and into the door. Also there is a smoke-stack. What is this building?"
Turns out, it's the Durham Museum. But that does not answer the question of why it has a gorgeous glass-and-steel entryway letting onto the rail-yard, or why there are tracks that close to the outer wall. My best guess is that the tracks actually function, and the aluminum-looking walls that reminded me of a cattle car are in fact garage-style doors which raise to allow a train to back up to the building and unload large exhibits. But still, those doors do not match that vast industrial gravel expanse.
So when I was supposed to be working on a rewrite of "It's For You" I was in fact thinking about how denizens from faerie might arrive upon steam trains appearing from nowhere at some point along the tracks and unload their wares, setting up a goblin market on the gravel. I was wondering how often this might happen, and whether it was according to a predictable schedule or a random one, and how such a market setting up in contemporary Omaha would differ from the one described in Neil Gaiman's Stardust. I was thinking about the inevitable child stolen away by the faeries, or perhaps one who chose to hire on with a market vendor, and why she might choose to do that.
I was contemplating how traditional parental threats of dire fates for misbehaving children would conform to the reality of itinerant faerie salespeople, and whether they might soften in the face of the threat's plausibility. It's safe to say "The boogeyman will get you!" or "I'll feed you to the trolls!" in the clear absence of boogeymen or trolls. But "I'll sell you to the goblins!" becomes a frightening threat in a world where the goblins might show up tomorrow and make your parents an offer. So the threat might soften, be said with a smile and a laugh. The child might respond, "What would you sell me for?" prompting the parents to answer "A far-seeing mirror, the better to keep an eye on you!" or "A magic feather so I could fly over and get you back!"
There are rules about the goblin market. There are ways you conduct yourself among the faeries. And in the stories, someone always breaks the rules or otherwise misbehaves, and they get into plot-causing trouble. But, I thought, surely the protagonist in the story can't have been the first person to break the rules, nor even have done so in the most interesting way. Despite that you should never, never accept a gift from the market, pretty much everyone in Omaha by now probably has a faerie gift on their mantelpiece.
Which means the whole town is in deep, deep debt to faerie.
Perhaps it takes a runaway (or kidnapped) human child every few decades to even the score.
OK, so, this is why I didn't do the work I meant to do. I was too busy noodling towards a draft of a story about a recurring goblin market in Omaha. But I'm not going to be too hard on myself. Much more important than having a particular writing project move is that writing happen at all. I'm trying to make that happen every day.
1 I'm writing this from the Corner Bakery at Chicago Union Station. (The big one outside on the corner by the canal bridge, not the little one inside the food court.) I beg forgiveness of all Chicago-area friends for not alerting you and seeking you out--the train was two and a half hours late, and I find myself with only enough time to catch up on The Internet (all of it!) before running back inside to board the City of New Orleans. (back)
2 The Fearful Symmetries open submission call used the online Moksha Submission System, giving all would-be contributors the option to check their submission's status in the queue. I have refreshed the form every day for the same reason you wander over to see if the pot is boiling yet. And with about as much utility; since May 31 I have moved from about 1048th to 1016th in line. There were a lot of submissions, y'all, and they can only be read so fast. I really should close that tab and forget about it.
Writing + Derby = Bad-ass
I spent pretty much the entire working day finishing up revisions on a short story, which I then submitted electronically to a fantastic pro market just in time to not be late for roller derby practice.
I feel like I don't get to say that very often. I'd like to say it more often going forward. Although probably without risking being late. It would be nice to have less last-minute stress going forward, too. But, hey! Today I was a writer and a derby skater. It CAN be done! And I am doing it! Woot!
I win at today. And the best part is, tonight I got home from practice and said to myself, "Hey! I don't have a scary huge deadline hanging over me anymore! I done finished! I can go play Puzzle Pirates 'til my eyes fall out!"
That's the short version of today. Here's the long one:
Back in 2006 I went to Borderlands Bootcamp, and I brought this story of mine to be lovingly savaged by admirable writers and editors as well as my fellow students.
It was a manuscript critique workshop arranged into four break-out sessions each headed by two teachers and focusing on about eight different students' manuscripts. All students were expect to read and critique every single other manuscript because we weren't told in advance whose break-out group we'd be in, so people who didn't tell you about your story in person told you about it in email. That's a whole heck of a lot of critique. The sheer amount of it was enough to distract a body from the usual challenge of triangulating between different opinions; and there were a lot of different opinions too.
On the one hand, a fellow student emailed me a month before the bootcamp to basically say "OMG this is the best thing I've read in the whole bunch." On the other, one of the teachers in a break-out session started off by saying, "If I got this in the slush pile, I wouldn't buy it" (he is in fact an editor and he reads slush) and continued in a similar vein, hitting such points of interest as "It starts off way too slow. Cut the whole first section," and "Get rid of the aliens, you don't need the aliens, this is a perfectly OK horror story without the aliens," and "The sex scene isn't believable," and also "Here you make it sound like the main character is talking to a banana. 'Hello, banana!'" I think he may possibly have been worried, afterward, about how thoroughly he'd shredded it; when he ran into me at World Horror the next year or so, and he asked me "Are you still writing?" he seemed genuinely relieved that the answer was "Yes."
By far, however, the most interesting comment came in what I think was my last break-out session, from a well-published horror author whose name I should probably not drop here without permission, because when someone gives you explicit permission to drop his name in another context, you respect that, yo. But what he said amounted to this: "This is a really interesting story with a lot of potential. It needs a lot of work, of course... [followed by a thorough and detailed critique] ... but I think after you've revised it--and really revise it, now, don't skimp on the revisions!--you should send it to Ellen Datlow. I think this would be right up her alley." Like, for her next open anthology call, you mean? "No, I mean, just send it to her. You can tell her I said so."
So I did what a lot of insecure writers do who don't deal well with the pressure of This could be IT! I made several abortive attempts to begin revising it, and then I sat on it for years.
Sam, Mac, if y'all are reading this right now, you can proceed to yell at me. But know this: A thoroughly revised version of it has been submitted, as of today, the last day of the open reading period, to Fearful Symmetries. It took me seven years, but I got there at last, yo. (Also, there are still aliens in it. Sorry, Sam. But they're more like Lovecraft aliens now, OK? Like, "Colour Out of Space." And they are the reason for everything.)
I did not mention the above-mentioned author's name in the cover letter. It was an open call, so I didn't figure I needed to drop names to get it read in this particular circumstance. I suspect that "Hey, you published something of mine before! Here's something else" would be a more useful thing to say. Besides, I feel like there's a statute of limitations on permission to name-drop.
But if I get the opportunity (i.e. if she buys it), I'd love to be all "Hey, funny story about this story..."
(It'll probably be the medium-length version of the story.)
The Parable of the Snail
Chez LeBoeuf-Little has acquired a pet snail. Have I told you this story yet? Briefly, we were washing two pounds of fresh spinach and a snail floated to the top. Now we have a pet snail.
It's thriving like nobody's business. Its shell has grown by half a whorl since we first found the wee beastie, and if it doesn't get a nice thumb-sized bit of vegetation to munch on every evening, it gets uppity. And whatever you feed it, it will eat it all up. Not a trace remains the next morning. It's a ravenous eating machine!
Here's the thing, though: its mouth is small. Way small. And it doesn't have teeth. All it can do is put its mouth around the next three millimeters of veg and rasp at it with its little sandpapery tongue. Give a snail enough time, though, and this process will suffice to consume leafs of lettuce three times its size and carrot slices five inches long--the latter remarkably like slucking up a spaghetto in slow motion.
Nibble nibble, bit by bit, "she ate that whale, because she said she would!"
Which puts me uneasily in mind of any writing project that's ever seemed so huge that the only reasonable course of action was to procrastinate the hell of out of it.
Nibble by nibble. Bit by bit. 500 words by 800 words. Scene by sentence by word.
Patient and persistent as a snail.
Which is the quasipoetic way of saying that I haven't finished or even really started my short story rewrite yet--and John and I are getting on that train tomorrow. So you know what I'll be nibbling away at today, in between laundry and housecleaning and all the other things that fill the day before travel. The first nibble in the queue will be a new scene wherein Daphne meets one of the extraterrestrial "Ambassadors" face-to-face and shakes its (for want of a better word) hand. Which starts two separate event-wheels in motion, both deadly in the extreme.
I copped out of describing the aliens before; Daphne merely observed that they didn't respond well to cameras, that something about the way light hit them, or missed them, gave the viewer an impression of a vague gray blob with too many limbs. One of the Borderlands instructors read that sentence out loud and then gave me a look. And I said, "Yeah, I admit it. Cop out." It's coming clearer now. The "too many limbs" are thread-like pseudopodia, root-like even, some carrying the being across the ground like centipede legs, some raised up to manipulate matter like hands at the end of arms, and some giving the impression of a wild shock of hair like dandelion down. The light seems to pass between these threads rather than hit them straight on, so that if they're moving they're hard to catch sight of. If you're very observant and don't blink, you can see the sparkle and shimmer of them passing by.
Nibble nibble nibble.
Declaration of Intent: Goofing Off Saturday, Rewriting Sunday
As usual, I fell behind on my intended work schedule. Thus, 9,000 words to go between now and Deadline. That's OK; there's a lot of today left in today.
I'm going to go ahead and announce for all to hear that the current project will go THUNK in my editor's inbox by 5:00 AM MDT on March 15. (Hey, it's daylight savings time already! Is this actually helping us save on oil and electricity?) This is because I firmly intend to start some Serious Goofing Off right about then. My crewbies on the Viridian Ocean are planning to hunt the sea monsters of Atlantis at noon GMT, and I want to be there! Yarr!
Wait! It's daylight savings time! That means 6:00 AM MDT. Well then!
Don't worry, I won't go into a month of downtime over this. Sunday's writing time is earmarked for rewriting "Seeds of Our Future" or whatever I may end up renaming the short story currently known as "Putting Down Roots." Hopefully it won't take me more than a few hard-working days. If I run into the person I want to submit it to at the World Horror Convention at the end of this month, I want there to be a chance that she's actually already received it.
Also? Next week, the bathroom and kitchen get cleaned within an inch of their life. I really hate the way we can tell how long I've been working to a deadline by the depth of the grime layer on the fixtures.
Slow, Steady, an' Social
- 4,202 wds. long
- 459 wds. long
So this week has been a nibbly sort of week. Each day I've been sort of nibbling away at the March 15th project, and then running off to do something social and fun (cf. Melanie and Steve Rasnick Tem's book launch for The Man In The Ceiling, the rock climbing gym's free Intro To Lead Belay class, dinner with friends, etc). Where I'm at now, I'm looking at about 2100 words a day from here on out. However, tomorrow's Thursday, and Thursday is a nothing but writing day. "I know," you say; "Promises, promises!" OK, well, I have some housecleaning to do. But other than that, nothing but writing.
Meanwhile, as regards fiction rewrites, I'm starting to experience some percolation. Nothing written down yet, nothing to report in detail, but... I got me some plans. They're at that bubbly stage. I expect to see the bubbles begin to splatter all over the page before the week is out.
So, y'know. Stuff. It's going on.
Tomorrow, Life Will Suck.
Which is not to say that you should not visit the polls tomorrow. Not at all. You should totally go to the polls and VOTE. Really, few things are as depressing in this so-called democratic republic than the concept that a 20% turnout is considered high. Go vote! However, I will continue to whine about how much life will suck for me as I work the 14-hour day involved in running my home precinct's polling place. During a general election. With poll watchers telling me how to do my job.
And no laptop.
I am not allowed to bring my laptop! It is electronic. It has ports. It could potentially be used to hack into the electronic voting booth that I'll be running. So it's not allowed on the premises.
And for once I have nothing ready to knit.
So given that work on the Nano-novel tomorrow will be a no-go, I prioritized it today. I brainstormed about how to throw pointier rocks at Gwen, who is up the tree of Being In Charge Of A Bookstore No One Will Shop At Because Of Suspicions Of Past Criminal Activity. She thinks she knows how to handle this. She is wrong! So wrong! Give me an hour, and I'll figure out why she's wrong. Something to do with digging up copies of her own books and discovering one of the missing children in it, I think. Also, I decided that the scene with 7-yr-old Gwen meeting the Bookwyrm, which I've written before, will be rewritten from the point of view of the talemouse, who will be amazed at seeing a story character travel to the place between stories.
Meanwhile, I plan to bring the short story along with me in hard copy tomorrow: critiqued copies, print-out of current work, and spiral notebook. Perhaps by the end of the day I'll have something ready to type up. I am so very sick of dragging this revision out.
On Logic and Math
I hate writing science fiction! It has to make sense! I am sitting here with pen and paper trying to decide what the timeline is for the plant virus to take effect, and how exactly Daphne catches it, and how--if she only contracts it once she gets to Lac Des Allemands--she and Aaron don't hear about it on TV what with people contracting it directly from the source before they even leave Kenner. Gahhh!
On second thought, that sort of logical mechanics isn't just a province of science fiction... I hate writing fiction! Fiction has to make sense! Why can't it all just be striking turns of phrase and smooth dialogue and stunning imagery? I hate having to make it make sense!
As for the other on-going project, I'm still behind schedule. About 20 words per day behind schedule. Which, multiplied by 26 remaining days, isn't so bad. But I have this sense of dread following me around, because I haven't done very much more than rewrite from memory things I've already written here and there in past years. I'm not entirely sure what I'll do when I use up that material and have to figure out exactly how the rest of the novel goes.
Maybe this weekend I can spend some time plotting and outlining. I still haven't played with yWriter's nifty Outliner machinery yet. Maybe I'll do that.
Theory Of Compost, Addendum
Simplifying what I said yesterday: The difference between Procrastination and Soup-making is the difference between thinking about the project and not thinking about the project. And the "must" moment is never totally lost, although the contents of the soup may need to be reheated.
I say this now because I did a lot of soup-making last night and today. Falling asleep, I saw in my head the near-invisible Ambassadors holding their tentacle-like limbs into the air in front of the Saint Louis Cathedral for the small birds to perch on. I re-worded the very ending of the story. Aaron's two moments of realization came clear to me.
And then, instead of writing the scenes down, I played video games. I read blogs. I looked at the clock and said, "Oh, crap! Only an hour left to Novemeber 3! Must log some words so that my bar chart doesn't lose a bar!"
And so I opened up The Bookwyrm's Hoard instead and wrote about how Gwen became a writer.
There is probably a special procrastination hell for writers who pretend to be writing by writing stories whose protagonists are writers. I promise, once again, that Gwen will not become a Mary Sue! I promise!
In any case, the piece of scene I wrote is something I've written before, but rewriting it from memory allowed it to be influenced by my more recent understanding of the character since writing the first draft of Right Off The Page.
OK. Now, I really shall work on the short story. I think part of my problem is, I'm not totally clear on how to rewrite Daphne's banana reverie. I think instead tonight I shall rewrite the ending scene. Actual words bubbled up in the soup this afternoon; I should get them down before the soup cools off.
Is It Soup Yet?
If you don't recognize the manuscript stats at left, that's because I changed the title. "Putting Down Roots" is now "Seeds Of Our Future." I don't guarantee the new title's longevity, but it'll do for now.
There's this thing that I do. It looks a lot like procrastination if you're not me, if you're watching me from outside my head. Even inside my head they look a lot alike. But there's a huge difference in productivity, trust me.
Procrastination goes like this: I know I have to do something. Rewrite a story, clean the bathroom, whatever. But every time I think about doing it, my brain slides right off. It's like trying to grab a frictionless surface and not even noticing that I failed to take hold. At most, I'll think, "Sorry, I can't work on that story yet; I still have this freelance gig to finish up!" And I'll think I'm thinking, "I can't wait to have the freelance stuff done so I can go back to working on fiction," but in reality I'm all like, "Good thing I'm under another deadline, or I'd have to actually work on that story!"
But this other thing. This composting, soup-making, spell-casting thing. It's different. The key difference is, my brain gets a good grip on that slippery mental object and doesn't let go until it's done. In the case of cleaning the bathroom, I start to see myself doing it, I start visualizing myself hard at work at the task, and the visualization sort of accumulates weight until critical mass is reached and I must get up and do it. In the case of rewriting a story--this story, in fact--the story takes shape in my head until it must be put onto paper.
This isn't waiting for the Muse to visit. This is putting Her to work right now and not letting Her clock out until She's done.
Monday I finally finished compiling all the Borderlands critiques. By that time, I'd made some notes both mental and in ink towards plot shifts. Since enough people thought that the aliens were a red herring, I wrote down the question, "Remember why you put them there in the first place?" I thought back to the rough draft and the original plot logic, before I'd ever posited The Locusts of Gaia or any other plausible reason why our two main characters were suspected in the Ambassadors' disappearance. Another note I wrote down: "Notes towards a new opening--" and then the different places that different critiques had suggested starting: "sermon, falls asleep too quickly, supplies are running low." And so forth.
Over the next 48 hours, the new opening scene along with new configurations of, say, the fried perch argument or the banana reverie, underwent a slow congealing at the back of my head. Each time I consciously thought about them, there was something new in place, and it had all the weight of "That's how it happened." (You know that weight, right? When the comments came in and many of them said, "you don't need this fake sci-fi element, just make it about Daphne and Aaron and the pure horror/erotica plant thing," my mental reaction was, "No, you don't understand, the Ambassadors were there. It happened. Like 9/11 and the Challenger disaster and, and, my high school graduation all happened.")
So this morning at last I began to write the new opening scene. The "must" moment had arrived.
Now, don't be fooled. It's possible to squander the "must" moment, to not sit down and write when critical mass is reached but to put it off and put it off some more. A spring can't hold tension forever; it'll break or stretch under the strain. So the story can lose its push, weaken its hold, and then I'm just procrastinating again. I have to start the ignition countdown over again--and with what? I've already reread the old version and compiled critiques. What more can I do? Doubtless I'll come up with something, sometime, but not this and not now.
But I didn't squander the moment. I wrote. And now I've emailed the opening scene to the Super-Sekrit VPX Gmail Address so that my classmates can, if they wanna, tell me if it generates enough "gotta" to keep a reader interested. And I'll be going back to the rest of the rewrite in just a little while.
But first I need to let the next scene come together--it isn't quite soup yet. And while my back-burners simmer it along, I'll get another thousand words done on this year's November novel.
And that'll be the rest of my evening.