“Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.”
Clive James

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

For the sixth year running!
Oh, Yeah, I Remembers Now, I Gots Dis Blog
Wed 2007-12-12 18:43:32 (single post)
  • 55,108 wds. long

Did I forget to post here and say that I won NaNoWriMo 2007? And reached the end of the book too? Sorry. I did this. I even posted the last few paragraphs as an excerpt at my NaNoWriMo profile. Posting that is sort of a way of saying it out loud: I did it, I got to the end, and I'm not going to delete it all in a fit of insecurity, or whatever. And of course once November ends, you can't change what you put up there, so posting an excerpt is kind of like making a declaration you can't take back.

Things are fairly quiet on the writing front since. I'm easing back into it slowly. I have another couple freelance work-for-hire projects ahead of me, a short-short I want to have ready to submit by the new year (the one about the sidewalks melting) which shouldn't take me that long really but we can't get too crazy y'know. Also another short story (the one about the plant virus) that's long overdue its overhaul.

I'm also just back from an excellent fun trip to Boston, and soon to go on a trip to Seattle. John's using up those vacation hours that would otherwise go poof at the end of the year, and airfare has been unaccountably reasonable, so we've been Visiting.

That's all the update I can usefully think to make at present. More later, hopefully not too much later.

Day 30: Stupid Word-Count Validator
Fri 2007-11-30 12:32:05 (single post)
  • 49,968 wds. long

Yesterday my word count actually went backwards. I stopped using yWriter's word count and started using the NaNoWriMo Word Count Validator, because I have to get my happy purple WINNER bar and my shiny WINNER certificate, after all. And just like that my total went from some 49,800 to 48,600 or so. (I personally blame the em-dash.)

Yesterday I finally got to the beginning of the end book crisis. I got through the whole sex and death bit, which was admittedly clumsier than I'd have liked it to be but editing will happen later. After that come scenes I've rehearsed in my head for years, so I'm not worried about finishing. I just got done with the confrontation scene after the sex and death bit. It involves a lot of yelling at each other and someone breaking a window to make their dramatic exit off the 4th floor of, hypothetically, the French Quarter Hyatt. Unless it's the Mariott I'm thinking of. Who cares? It's November.

Anyway, today being Day 30, we're going to have our traditional mad dash for the finish line at the IHOP tonight. I'm at Vic's Downtown with the lunchtime crew at the moment, and I'm about to dive back in and write the next scene. The one where the not-so-imaginary-friend is reunited with the main character permanently and all the MCs questions are answered. Then I'll update my word count, get all my happy WINNER stuff, and take a break until IHOP, where I'll write the denouement and the magic words "The End."

And that's the plan.

Goal: Accomplished (with prizes!)
Sun 2007-11-25 10:17:18 (single post)
  • 40,499 wds. long

Yes, I did break 40,000 at the Write-A-Thon yesterday! And my total of some 7500 words produced at that location won me the third prize, a bag full of Neat Stuff! (I now, for instance, own a small Moleskine notepad, so I can maybe figure out why everyone loves these things so much.) I also went home with a lot of the extra stickers from the Denver region, so maybe I can get those to the high schoolers and the Longmont contingent.

The Organizer is actually one of the founding doners for NaNoWriMo, and she'd in fact been to the San Francisco Write-A-Thon. She hopes that next year we can have another Colorado Write-A-Thon with planning further in advance and smaller, localized Write-A-Thons that similarly function as fundraisers for the Office of Letters & Light. I'm looking forward to it.

I would, of course, have blogged this yesterday, but I was already half falling asleep at the keyboard during the Write-A-Thon. John and I pretty much collapsed when we got home. Actually, we collapsed on the sofas out by the Wii, where we downloaded the original NES "Metroid" game and had a very relaxed nostalgia session.

Right now I'm at the Lazy Dog in downtown Boulder, attempting to watch the Saints v. Panthers game at a sort of oblique angle and working on today's 1667. Join me if you're in the area and don't mind football crowds.

Update: We won, by the way. We kicked their butts, and then we kicked their puppies. And now we're biting our nails over next week's game against Tampa Bay.

Live From the Colorado Write-A-Thon
Sat 2007-11-24 15:11:28 (single post)
  • 32,923 wds. long

The Denver NaNoWriMo Contingent has come up with an awesome idea. I just overheard the organizer telling us how this came about. Apparently she was on the phone with Chris Baty (founder of the whole she-bang), who was talking about the famed San Fransisco Write-In, which makes those of us who can't get over to San Fransisco really jealous, and she said to him, "Just shut up about it, I have to go plan the Colorado Write-A-Thon!" And she hung up and immediately began to match deed to word.

So here we are: 4:00 PM, in a conference room behind the Panera in the Park Meadows Mall, fairly close to the dead center of the state, in the company of writers from all over (but mostly Denver and Boulder), getting ready to Write Like The Wind. Apparently there will be prizes for those who write the most words while here. Also for those who write the least, because our Organizer likes underdogs. (She's a Broncos fan.)

You can see how many words I've got. I'll blog again after, and you can see how many I did. Personally, I want to break 40,000, because that's All Caught Up. I got behind this past week what with wrapping up a freelance project that oughtn't to have gone on past October, and I've been banking on today for catching up.

Anyway, better get to it. Hugs & kisses--!

Day 15: Turning Point
Thu 2007-11-15 17:23:52 (single post)
  • 28,244 wds. long

I think this novel, unlike last year's, will actually wrap up in 50K or shortly thereafter. I know this because today, in between 24K and 28K, I reached the midbook climax.

This scene is definitely not one of the boring bits. Not to me. It's one of the scenes that I go over and over again in my head when thinking about writing the novel. This, in terms of Joseph Campbell's oft-quoted thesis, is the "refusal of the call" scene. This is where the not-so-imaginary friend gets far too real, and the MC has to repudiate it/him/her. It/him/her is effectively banished now, but it/etc./etc. has already managed to impart a portion of the deadly gift it needs to bestow. The supernatural powers which the MC has inherited from her mother are now available to her; the knowledge of them, alas, not yet. Which is an accident waiting to happen. Which is the next not-boring-bit in the plot. Which, unfortunately, can't happen for at least 10K and 3 months of story time, or else the pacing goes all to hell.

Appropriately enough, today's Real Author Pep-Talk was exactly about this.

Explanation: This year, Chris Baty asked a handful of published authors to write pep-talks for all us NaNoWriMo participants. These pep-talks are being emailed out at strategic intervals, their topics coinciding with the time of the month. We received a pep-talk from Tom Robbins on Nov 1, and it was all about the excitement of starting the novel. On Nov 6, we got one from Naomi Novik, and it was full of strategies for keeping up the daily writing routine even after the Day 1 excitement fades. Sue Grafton's pep-talk was about beating back those creeping insecurities that appear in the vacuum left when that excitement does fade.

Today, we got Sara Gruen's pep-talk about how to get that excitement back: by writing the fun bits first.

It's a strategy that's really made me appreciate novel outlining in general and Spacejock Software's yWriter in particular. Not that you can't skip to the fun bits without an outline or a software application that encourages creating each scene before writing it, of course. But if you do take the time to outline or to create chapter and scene files in yWriter, you'll end up knowing where all the fun bits are--as well as all the "and then something unspecified happens and takes up a month of plot time" bits. (Knowing where those are is also good. It enables you to figure out what that unspecified something actually is.)

The other nice thing about Writing The Fun Bits is, those bits are fun. Duh. Sorry. What I mean is, them being fun to write has another nice effect besides getting the writer unstuck. They also tend to result in the writer writing a lot. I meant just to get to 25K and stop today. As you can see, I went about 3K longer. Whoo! All caught up and stock-piled for the future!

Of course, the bits that are fun to write accrue extra words because we linger over them. About 1,500 words are probably going to get edited out of that scene. It needs to not go on so long or be so very repetitively explicit. But editing doesn't happen in November. I wrote those words. That's all that matters.

Day 14: A Musical Interlude
Wed 2007-11-14 17:29:28 (single post)
  • 23,381 wds. long

I updated my NaNoWriMo profile recently. The bit where it says, "Favorite writing music," it always used to say "Blue Man Group: Audio" there, because I usually prefer writing to instrumentals. I've even got my computer set to start playing the album at 6:00 AM in the hopes that I will, upon hearing "TV Song," wake up and write. Generally this doesn't work. Generally I just hit the MUTE button on the outside of the computer and go back to sleep.

A couple of years ago I update that field to say, in addition, "FlashBackRadio.com." All '80s, nothing but the '80s, live DJ love for the '80s with listener requests and dedications. I recommend it. When I'm anywhere with internet and I'm not having a craving for anything in particular, that's what I put on. And then I request Rush's "YYZ," and I type "Greetings and departures" where the request form prompts for a new message subject line.

That has changed this year. This year sometime I was listening to a-ha's East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and thinking for the hundredth time that I really ought to get ahold of the actual "one-hit-wonder" album that everyone thinks of when they think of a-ha. The one with "Take On Me" on it. That would be Hunting High And Low. For some reason I finally acted on that thought this November.

And the two albums have been on infinite repeat pretty much since.

That will probably change soon, because I'm starting to get that weird dissatisfied feeling, a sort of almost physical ennui, where I'm still singing along and getting the songs stuck in my head, but it's not as fun anymore. It's not like I get sick of 'em. It's more like getting a surfeit of 'em. Like the way you start munching in response to a sweets or snacks craving and then after a while you realize you're still eating the yummy stuff mechanically but not really enjoying the experience. My sing-along voice is getting a little tired. It's getting bored of the melodies and even the usual harmonies. Some really improbable counterpoints are starting to come out.

There's an unusual amount of storm imagery on these two albums. It's rather striking when strung together into one big playlist. HH&L ends in a song called "Here I Stand And Face The Rain." After that, the first song on ES/WM is "Crying in the Rain." It has some nice rumbly weather sound-effects over the entrance of the main melodic line. The same sound effects accompany the penultimate song on the album, "Rolling Thunder," bringing the album full-circle so effectively that the last song feels like an epilogue.

And, y'know, all that storm imagery is sorta appropriate, isn't it, given the title and topic of the novel I'm working on.

No, I didn't just make that connection. But I was still embarrassingly late making it. Maybe I figured this out by Day 7, I dunno. In any case, I'm probably going to stick with this playlist throughout November, even if I do sometimes feel like the taste has cloyed.

There may be more connections to make, or inspiration to take, from some of these songs' cryptic lyrics.

Day 11: Writing The Boring Stuff
Sun 2007-11-11 14:27:30 (single post)
  • 18,688 wds. long

If the author is bored, the reader is quite definitely going to be bored too. However, sometimes you still gotta write the boring stuff. Maybe on revision it will become un-boring.

I haven't gotten to the really emotionally attached wincing with embarrassment stuff yet. I have to get through my MC's first date, first. And this is not a subject that intrinsically interests me. It's newcomer plot fodder, stuff that got added recently in order to make this story plausible as a Really Truly novel. The story that's been in my head for some 15 years now has mainly been about how the MC inherits her mother's supernatural nature, forces her way out from under her oppressive foster mother's thumb, and learns about her heritage. But in trying to redeem that plot from being a transparent case of angsty teenage wish-fulfillment into being a novel someone other than myself might actually want to read, the original characters have begun acquiring complexities (e.g. the foster mother isn't repressive at all; she's just very detached, and she knows some scary things that the MC doesn't know), and the plot has begun accruing secondary characters. Such as the MC's boyfriend.

And I'm just not really interested in this guy. Scenes with him seem to serve no other purpose than to give the movement time to crescendo (and give me a better chance of hitting the target word count). So I slog my way through those scenes, taking dictation as I watch them hold hands over the red-and-white checked table-vinyl at a second-rate pizzeria in Slidell, and I get bored, and I wonder why I should care.

We'll get there, never fear. We really are getting there. I'm finding new ways every day to tie him into my original conception of how the plot should work, so that his relationship with the MC plays a part in the process of her transformation. For instance, he asks her out only after she trusts him enough to say, "OK, you're going to think I'm crazy, but 1) I haven't managed to outgrow my imaginary friend, and 2) this imaginary friend has started making passes at me, and 3) I'm beginning to wonder whether he's all that imaginary after all." That seems to work on several levels. He genuinely cares for her, and wants to be there for her when she's distressed. And her leap of faith in trusting him with this convinces him that A) she deserves a leap of faith from him in return, and B) she's not going to laugh in his face after relying on him not to laugh at her. But then, for all that he cares about her, he does think she's a little mentally disturbed, and he thinks that it would be healthier for her to have a boyfriend than to have (in his view) externalized all those normal adolescent hormonal developments into an imaginary construct that sexually harasses her.

So... the boyfriend is a loving, caring, trusting and trustworthy person who also is a little patronizing and for-her-own-good manipulative. Which, I think, is realistically complex, and sets up the possibility for a scene where this ulterior motive comes out in the open and causes them to have a bit of a fight. Which tension will in turn be a plausible reason for the crux in the plot between the MC and her not-so-imaginary friend.

Also, the MC's eventual transformation will have a decided impact on the boyfriend. And the outcome of that will shape how the MC relates to her newfound powers. So everything gets worked into the network of causal relationships that push the story forward. It's all good, at least potentially so, and none of it ought to boring.

But it just isn't the stuff I've been looking forward to writing, that's all. It's the writing that's actual work, as opposed to the writing that comes springing fully formed and armed for battle out of the Muse's forehead. Of course, the latter sort of writing is a lot rarer than many people think, so where I get off complaining that I'm bored with the former sort of writing, I have no idea. But it's my blog, so I can complain if I want to. Nyah.

Anyway, that's my so-called insight for today. Take it or leave it.

(If I sound grumpy, blame the NFL. Today's game between the Rams and the Saints was painful.)

Day 10: Avoiding the "Well, Duh" Reaction
Sat 2007-11-10 14:46:55 (single post)
  • 16,811 wds. long

There is an art to withholding information from characters and readers. There's a line beyond which lies the hell of Authorial Contrivance and the "Well, Duh!" reaction. We want to stay on the correct side of that line.

It's only natural that the author knows more than the characters and the reader. The author knows the whole story as one complete thing, whereas the reader is being told the story bit by bit and the characters are living it as it unfurls. But after that things get a little hairy. Some things the characters know but the reader doesn't. Some things the reader knows but the characters don't. Some characters know more than others about certain things.

And eventually everyone discovers stuff. Managing that discovery convincingly is an art.

So here's the thing. The main character's mother was, for all intents and purposes, a supernatural being. She wielded some remarkable powers which were as capable of causing tragedy as triumph. Our main character knows nothing of this, and the woman raising her--who was very close to the MC's mother but won't tell the MC for fear of the MC asking questions--would like to keep it that way. But at the same time, she is scared witless that the main character will inherit both those powers and the related tragedies. In today's scene, these conflicting goals (to keep the MC in the dark, but to forewarn the MC against catastrophe) cause the tension to escalate for both characters. The MC just wants to borrow the car and go on a date; her guardian is scared of the entire idea of the MC experiencing sexystuffs because the MC's mother had a way of causing fatalities when her emotions got out of control.

And here I am knowing everything about it and hating the conversation I'm writing because everything seems far too obvious. "Jeez, I'm writing an MC with an INT roll of 6! Surely she should be able to see through her guardian's lies about the extent to which she knew the MC's mother. Surely she should be able to figure out what her guardian's worried about? And surely any reader can see through what's up with that whole not-so-imaginary friend business, what with the NSIF going on about 'I knew her before.' I mean, well, duh!"

These sorts of insecurities will probably only be assuaged by the reactions of a beta reader. And beta readers aren't getting a hold of this in November, let me tell you. They may never. (You'll notice there's still no excerpt posted at my NaNoWriMo Profile.)

If the above sounds kind of cryptic, it's meant to be. I'm still not ready to get very specific here. I'm mainly just whining. (See? This post falls under the Whining category.) I am not likely to get less cryptic tomorrow, either. The stuff I'm really shy about letting anyone read is coming up in the next few scenes. But it will then be followed by several months (in story time) of the (relatively) boring time-passing stuff that I never bothered thinking about before (because it wasn't emotionally compelling to a daydreaming high-schooler). That might be safe to share. It might even be less boring than I fear. We'll have to see.

...annnnnnd All Caught Up Again!
Fri 2007-11-09 22:55:05 (single post)
  • 15,103 wds. long

Not likely to fall behind tomorrow, either. Will be at the Tea Spot from noon until five. Noon until two is designated for writing, and I can't see why I wouldn't.

You know what I found out today? My main character's brand-new boyfriend (that was a new discovery last month, that she has a boyfriend) has got an elderly relative he refers to as Aunt Widget.

The story all takes place in the New Orleans area. The boyfriend is actually at his grandmother's place in Pearl River. Large southern families get nicknames. They do. Gods know that in my southern family, more people in it have silly nicknames than don't. Some bestowed by parents. Some by siblings. Some by very small children who hadn't got that pronunciation thing down yet. Some by the merciless affection of neighborhood friends (to this day, all the used-ta-been kids from my old block call me "Nooba." Sometimes "Nooba-cheese." I'm not entirely sure why, to tell you the truth). And then there's the collection of family codewords for ordinary objects, and individual phrases as simple as "Oh, apricots!" (I think Mom would have to tell you that one, I'd only get the details wrong) that will reduce the whole holiday gathering to tears of laughter because they all know exactly what hilarious exploit that refers to.

And then there's the way outsiders and former outsiders react to all this chaos. My husband has a southern family, too, but it's not nearly so large, and his left eyebrow got a workout the first time he met all my relatives. I mean, what with him always turning towards me and raising it sardonically while repeating, sardonically, the name he just heard. And being from Houston didn't somehow prepare him for me shopping at (R. I. P.) Schweggmann's. "OK, one more thing on my list," I said, "what was it now?"

"Oh," he says, "the muck-muck."

I looked at him blankly for a moment, then realized. "That's chow-chow, you dingbat!"

Right. Because "chow-chow" is a perfectly normal name for a mustard-based condiment. (Which Zatarain's no longer makes, I am deeply distressed to report. Apparently someone is selling jars of the stuff on Underbid. Soon as I get home on my own encrypted signal, and as soon as I figure out whether anyone's selling the stuff for cheaper, I'm placing a goddamned order, damnit!)

Which--to make a long story short ("Too late!" -entire cast of Clue)--is what sort of stuff I was drawing on when my characters had the following conversation:

"Sorry, my Aunt Widget just walked in. Wanna tell her Merry Christmas?"

"MERRY CHRISTMAS AUNT GIZMO!"

(in the distance) "What? Who you talking to? Get off the phone and come have dinner."

"OK. Gotta go."

"Tell your Aunt Thingamabob bon apetit for me."

I feel like it's trying to turn into a chapter from Good Omens. "Fine old Lancashire name, Device! Nothing wrong with it at all! Are you laughing? Stop laughing!" But, y'know, nothing wrong with that. At all.

On Headaches, Flu Shots, and Other Likely Excuses
Fri 2007-11-09 20:05:29 (single post)
  • 13,392 wds. long

So, no writing yesterday. Not a single word. Lots of reading, lots of sleeping, no writing. Was in bed all day with a headache. (Awww.) It was that tight neck-muscle sort of headache, the one where there's an invisible spike going in at one of those two lumpy edges of skull to the left and right of the top of the spine and out the corresponding eyebrow ridge. I think maybe getting a flu shot Wednesday had something to do with it. No, I absolutely do not believe "the flu shot gives you the flu," that's silly (the killed virii in the injection can't infect you[1]), but I absolutely do get the typical recognized "flu-lite" side effects of achy muscles and touch-o-fever. Achy muscles are tight muscles. Tight muscles mean headache. And there ya go.

[1] Public Service Announcement: There are two good reasons you should get vaccinated if you're able. First, to prevent getting infected and spending a week out of work, in bed, or in the hospital. Second to avoid carrying the disease and thus infecting others and landing them in bed, the hospital, or, if they are very vulnerable, the grave. If you are able (and there are valid reasons why you might not be), you should get vaccinated--if not for your own sake, than for the sake of those who cannot (and there are valid reasons why some cannot) avail themselves of vaccination. The lives you save might be more than your own!

But here's the thing about neck-muscle headaches and staying in bed. The combination means they only get worse. Why? Because staying in bed in practically the same position all day only makes neck muscles tighter. Also, being asleep means not drinking water, and headaches thrive on dehydration. Boy did I feel stupid when I finally got up.

So today I feel much better. The muscle aches aren't less, but the headache is, probably because I've been up and moving all day. The hot soak in the tub probably helped too. (Maybe the aches are less after all.) And now I'm at Cafe Play working on two days' worth of NaNo wordage. As my total right now this minute is greater than 1,667 times 8, I'm allowed a break to blog in. And do other things in, because NaNoWriMo isn't the only thing I'm behind in.

Off to those other things now. Also, bringing the total up to 1,667 * 9. Laters.

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