“Cut a good story anywhere, and it will bleed.”
Anton Chekhov

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

One More Duck
Tue 2012-09-11 22:06:13 (single post)
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Today I finally secured resort accommodations for Sirens 2012 . I purchased early registration while attending World Fantasy last year, then said to myself, "I have oodles of time before I need to do anything else!" That statement ceased to be true some time ago. The Skamania Lodge (in the majestic Columbia River Gorge, in Stevenson, Washington) showed no availability via their online reservations. I called the 1-800 number in hopes of receiving better news. A charming and pleasantly chatty reservations operator found me the very last room available and slotted me in.

Meantime, we also talked about French last names ("LeBoeuf" may have to be spelled a lot for people outside New Orleans, but it could be far, far worse), urban fantasy (she recommended Laura K. Hamilton; I recommended Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Midnight Hour), and various inspirations for writing fiction. As phone calls to hotel reservations go, it really was an unusually pleasant example of its type.

Now I just need to get my train tickets to Portland. I'm pretty sure I'm going by train. It's a straight connection from the California Zephyr to the Coastal Starlight. I've never been on the Coastal Starlight before. It's got wifi! The entire journey takes two overnights, not materially worse than Denver to New Orleans, though the Denver-to-Sacramento leg is 31 hours compared to Denver to Chicago's 18. But, you know, meh. More time with me and my laptop and/or knitting and/or sock-darning or jeans-patching. And less time trusting my belongings or my person to commercial airlines and airline!TSA, which trusting I'm slightly allergic to. (Amtrak!TSA exists, as far as I can tell, exclusively on video loops on infinite play in the Chicago terminals. I'm OK with that.) I can only rejoice in my spouse-given freedom from the 9-to-5 world that allows me to extend a weekend excursion by 48 hours on either side. Thank you, John! Now, to get this "writing" thing up to the "possibly making a living off it" speed...

Speaking of which, got my doubly-signed copy of the contract for the publication of "Lambing Season" back in the mail this week. Hooray!

Vague Announcements of a Woot-like Flavor
Wed 2012-08-22 20:11:26 (single post)
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...And of a woolen texture. First publication rights to "Lambing Season" have been sold, and for pro rates, please the Gods that things proceed as expected and hoped-for between now and the first half of 2013. Also as contracted; I mailed back two signed copies of the significant document to the editor in question this morning.

More details will be revealed when prudent and neighborly.

Two pro sales! This may actually not be a fluke! Oh my.

French onion soup, and the spoon with which I hope to conquer it.
How To Eat French Onion Soup
Fri 2010-04-02 21:59:59 (single post)
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Writing metaphors! They're not just for breakfast anymore! In fact, they're what's for dinner. Also lunch for the next three days, because we cook in quantity.

So on Wednesday John and I had our first Cooking Date of the year. We made French onion soup and insalata caprese. It was all a spectacular success, and, as implied above, I've had leftovers to eat every day since then.

Today at lunch I sat down with a freshly broiled toast-and-cheese top on a rewarmed crock of our awesome soup, and, apropos of nothing extraordinary, I finally figured out how to eat the dang stuff.

Pause. Rewind. Replay a Wednesday night in Metairie, Louisiana circa 1988. Maybe it was a Sunday, I don't know. Once a week, or maybe just once a month--memory is hazy here--a group of neighborhood ladies got together to sing barbershop harmony. They had hopes of founding a brand-new Sweet Adelines chapter. Mom met with them and brought me along, and this was when I first got pegged as a baritone. (Yes: I was a Type A at the age of 12.) But where I'm going with this trip down memory lane is down the road from the neighborhood home in which we rehearsed to the local Ruby Tuesdays for late night appetizers. Where I always, always, always ordered the French onion soup.

And I always made a mess trying to get through that toast-and-cheese lid. And Mom and all the other grown-ups enjoyed great and gentle amusement at my exasperated expense.

It's not simple! A spoon isn't sharp enough to get through that thick swiss cheese. And even if it was, the toast is floating; you can't very well slice it with a knife and fork. There's no leverage. Best I managed to do was poke at the edges of the cheese until I had a hole through which to sip the broth down to a less perilous surface level, such that mangling the toast and cheese no longer caused catastrophic overflow.

Even John asked the question when we sat down to dinner: "Now how do I eat this?" "I have no idea," I told him. "You just muddle through and make a mess. It's why I put the soup crocks on plates."

But today at lunch, I got it. If you just let the soup crock sit, all patient-like, until all components are cool enough to eat without burning your mouth, the soup will have soaked into the toast and softened it up. Then you can push... not too hard... very very gently... at the cheese-topped toast with the edge of your spoon, until it gives way. The cheese will try to glue it together, but once the bread breaks, the cheese will stretch thin and you can bite through it when you eat the broken-off bite of bread.

After that, everything's much easier.

So this was my discovery. And I thought, "That's another metaphor for writing, isn't it?" (Yes. I know. Everything's a metaphor for writing. Shut up, I'm making a point, it's an effin' marvelous point, it's bloody brilliant. Because I say so. Hush.) Of course I thought that. I was in the middle of my writing day, and I was trying to figure out how to get my mental spoon through the thick cheese topping that was keeping me from going deeper than babble draft into anything.

The plan was to spend a good hour moving an unfinished short story closer to submission-ready. Only I didn't know which one. "First Breath" was done and out the door (though it may yet see further revisions pending an ongoing conversation a colleague and I are having about its worldbuilding details). "Lambing Season" also hit the slush again yesterday. A number of stories are in the post-critique "almost perfect, but not quite" stage, but none felt... permeable, if you know what I mean. None felt accessible. I spent half an hour going through my files, looking for some half-baked idea from a freewriting exercise that might spark itself into a full-blown story. Nothing went ping.

Finally I latched onto a "scene" from the Daily Story Idea yWriter file. It had to do with sentient, human-sized Ants coexisting with humans. One of them goes into a coffee shop and orders a cappuccino. As story ideas go, this one was light and fluffy and funny and nothing at all like "First Breath," and it amused me to read it. I had no idea what to do with it, though. I didn't even know what to call it. ("The Ants Go Marching Latte-ward, Hurrah" is very much not a working title. It's an "I have to call this something and I mustn't take it too seriously this early in the game" sort of for-now title.) I set the timer for another half hour and attempted to figure it out where this thing was going.

I pasted that ridiculous excuse for a working title at the top and printed out the not-yet-a-story. Then I read it again, letting its broth soak in and soften things up. Then I got out a pen and began making notes as tentative as the spoon's assault on the toast-and-cheese. "Barista shouldn't be too enlightened; anti-Ant prejudice shouldn't all be big bad boss's." "Would Ant use mandibles for speech? How would Ants speak?" "What barista thinks but doesn't say parallels what Ant doesn't say but telegraphs with her antennae." Several of those notes put together became a solid story development idea, like a nice big bite of toast that lets you finally get your spoon into the soup. And after that, everything becomes much simpler.

Really, everything about writing that looks scary and impossible tends to seem less so once you take that first nibble. But then, isn't that the case for most scary and impossible tasks?

Live From Second Life: The Written Word Writers' Circle
Wed 2009-07-08 15:03:33 (single post)
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This is precisely what Second Life does best, in my opinion: brings together a virtual group to do the same sort of stuff you might do with a group in real life, only without the travel expenses, while using the tools of the virtual world viewing application to enhance the group experience. That doesn't mean I don't indulge in casino games or spend spare computing cycles with my avatar in camping chairs, mind you; I'm only human and I like free Linden Dollars as much as the next person. But it's the group activity potential that really gets me excited about virtual worlds in general and Second Life in particular.

My avatar, Kavella Maa, is sitting in the audience at a place called "The waterstage and writers' circle". (For those unfamiliar, that link will take you to a portal web page which prompts you for permission to launch the Second Life world viewer and teleport you there.) There are cushions on the wooden dockside risers that you can click on to make your avatar sit properly (which usually works as advertised but sometimes leaves you facing off to the left so you have to get up and try again).

On stage is a microphone where open mic participants stand to read their works.

When an author mounts the stage, everyone in the audience receives a notecard (a text file object that you can create, save, keep in your inventory, and copy to others' inventories) with the text of their material on it. The authors read their material aloud; little green icons that mean "sound emanating from this point" appear above their heads, denoting that the voice you hear is indeed coming from the person controlling that avatar. If you use your camera controls to zoom in on the author reading, their voice gets louder, mimicking the effect of moving closer to hear better in a face-to-face group. (You can also set your preferences to modulate volume based on your avatar's position rather than your camera's.)

Meanwhile, the audience can comment as freely as they like on Local Chat, or even greet new arrivals with great verbosity, without fear of interrupting; Local Chat is text-only.

Each Wednesday at 2 PM Pacific Time, this Writers' Circle meets, organized by Jilly Kid of the Writers Guild - that's a group you can join - and MC'd by Hastings Bournemouth. Jilly sends out notices reminding the group about the event--and assigning a fun theme which authors may choose to incorporate into their offerings. This week, the theme is "Teddy Bear Picnic Day". Attendees can click on a sign beside the stage to have a free teddy bear T-shirt dropped into their inventory. (I'm wearing mine, of course.) Among the works written specifically for the theme are "Life's No Picnic," a poem by Aribella Lafleur, who wonders how teddy bears can even have picnics, having tummies full of fluff as they do; and "The Homophobic Hunter and the Un-caring Bear," a poem with sly humor and a wonderful rhyme scheme by... oh, dang it! the author didn't include his avatar name in the notecard! Dude, by-lines are important! We're also hearing non-themed excerpts from longer works by Huckleberry Hax and Arkady Poliatevska (whose profile appears strangely devoid of URL today, or else I'd make that a link too.

This is, of course, an incomplete list of authors who read today. I'm not taking minutes here.

There are flaws, of course. A bit of lag here and there, some authors having mic trouble, the odd audience member promoting themselves to co-presenters by commenting over the voice channel at inappropriate times. Y'know. Flaws happen. But, on the whole, the event and venue make me happy. It's a virtual world app doing what it should, and it's doing it about writing. I get to hear the voices of people whole states or even oceans away from me while I sit comfortably in the Seven Cups Tea House in Denver and work on a short story rewrite*. And I'm thinking about what I might share next week, if I get my butt in gear in time.

*Short story rewrite: Took another look at "Lambing Season" before resubmitting it and was unhappy with the blah-ness of the first few paragraphs. Am reframing the entire story via a top-end rewrite. Am hoping I have not killed the poor thing.

Weird Tales Submissions Update
Sun 2009-04-05 20:57:10 (single post)
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Oh, hey, it's past March 31 now! Weird Tales should be open to submissions again, right?

Well... no.

It's always a good idea to check the guidelines again instead of going, "Oh, hey, it's past March 31 now!" and blindly shooting off a submission.

Weird Tales’s traditional story submissions remain closed until Memorial Day — but we ARE opening up submissions for a new flash-narrative format: ONE-MINUTE WEIRD TALES!...

These are sharp little micro-stories of 20 to 150 words, presented in a quick sequence of brief one-screen chunks — sort of a funky hybrid of a movie trailer, a Zen koan, and an Adult Swim between-show bumper.

Click the link above for an example video and more details. Do not despair if you lack mad video-making skillz--you only have to send in the "script," which is to say, just the story itself, with some indication of where the screen breaks should be. Again, click the link and get it from the horse's mouth.

I guess I have another writing assignment. A short one. (I like those.)

Meanwhile, rather than wait to resubmit "Lambing Season" in late May, I'm thinking I might give it a shot at F&SF. If that's not meant to be, I'll know in way less than two months. The Slush God is hella quick that way.

If You're Submitting Fiction to Weird Tales...
Sat 2009-02-21 10:50:19 (single post)
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...then you will probably find the following information helpful.

When I last checked the Submission Guidelines (around the end of December), the Weird Tales website directed authors to look for them at Ralan.com. (If you write fiction of the fantastic, you ought to have Ralan bookmarked.) These listed the editor as being Ann VanderMeer, and the address for e-submissions as weirdtales at gmail dot com. On my inquiring for further details as regards attachment format and the like, Ms. VanderMeer emailed me the following:

I prefer the first 3-4 paragraphs pasted into the body of the email and the entire document attached, either as a PC MS-Word document or an RTF file. Currently closed to submissions until March 31.
This is why "Lambing Season" isn't in the slush at this time. (I'll be resubmitting it in April.)

Poking around today for links, I find that both Ralan and Weird Tales have updated their websites. Weird Tales once more hosts their own submission guidelines (although with the same lack of technical details as prompted me to email in late December), and both websites announce the temporary closure to submissions.

HTH. :-)

In Which The Author Is Inspired
Wed 2009-01-21 11:42:29 (single post)
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To my fellow United States citizens and residents, and to my fellow citizens of the global community: Happy Inauguration Day! The U.S. has a new President as of yesterday, and his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and I can't stop grinning.

I will put my exuberance here, for the record. Should I have occasion to regret it, as supporters of the previous President eventually did, I'll own up to it. But right now I can't imagine being disappointed because I don't expect miracles--I expect a continuation of the hard work and competence I saw during his campaign.

What the heck does this have to with a writing blog? Just this: I pledge to work as hard, in my own life, in my own career aspirations, in my craft and art, as I see our new President working for his own ideals. I admit that sounds cheesy. But watching him during his candidacy, watching his constant activity since the election (really, since when have we seriously paid attention to the Office of the President-Elect?), and watching him get to work on Day 1 (I am actually tuning in to CNN to find out what's up to--I've never done that before, and I actually avoided coverage of the previous President because he made me angry and nauseated), is nothing short of an inspiration. And it makes me feel like a bum. And I don't want to feel like a bum.

We find our role models where we can. I pledge to work as hard as I can see my role models have and do--because that's what "role model" means. We model our behavior--hopefully--after the inspirational examples set before us. So. Add another name to my list of role models.

It's kind of like a New Year's Resolution, except made on Inauguration Day rather than New Year's Day. I think that's fairly appropriate.

In other news, "Lambing Season" is in the slush again; I wish it well. And on the freelance non-fiction side, I'm working on some articles for upload to Constant Content. I was mildly excited to learn that one of my existing CC articles was recently purchased, and to find that this customer, unlike some previous ones, honored the Usage License requirement of including my by-line. (Read it here.) Apparently CC has also lowered their payment threshold from $50 to $5, which effectively removes the disconnect between selling an article and getting paid. All of which makes seeding that particular cloud look more worthwhile. So I will.

In The Slush Again
Wed 2008-11-26 13:18:32 (single post)
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In the tradition of Silly Names Authors Have For Their Works, this blog entry is brought to you by the Demonic Sweater story. It is "finished" (scare quotes in acknowledgment of the eternally tenuous nature of that label) and in the mail. Huzzah!

As I may have mentioned, it was horrendous with typos, copy-paste errors, irrelevant infodumps, and stage-blocking stupidity when it first saw other eyes than mine. Among the logical errors were a man getting out of a car twice but only getting back in once, a woman working with a rigid-heddle loom on the ground (owie back!), and a full-grown sheep getting grievously injured by nothing more than an average-sized woman falling on it. Also, one of my friends actually googled the fictional address I gave Maud's farmhouse, and Google told him it was outside Colorado Springs. Fine. Fine! You don't get a fictional address, K? How d'ya like them apples? You just get told "east of Brighton and north of Weld County Road 2," and you're going to accept it!

The version I sent to my writing teacher Monday was better, but still embarrassingly full of typos. I spent a good chunk of the write-in reserved for actual NaNoWriMo'ing churning through and creating the new draft, and I am not so smooth that I can hide a rush-job. Probably one of the most mortifying "brain typos" in there--y'know, where at the last minute your brain inserts the wrong word for the one you want based on sharing an initial letter or basic sound?--was having someone set up her portable loom on the "big woman table". (Should be "wooden," obviously.) The visual is evocative and lovely, but not particularly appropriate.

Anyway, two days later and several detailed reviews later, the story is in the mail. Guaranteed 99% more typo-free! (That last 1% is properly left up to the powers that be, in about the same spirit as apocryphal Quaker quilting mistakes.)

I won't bore you with another glowing description of how much like a real writer putting a submission in the mail makes me feel. I do that song and dance every time. But I'm also on fire a bit because the last three days have been spent finishing a story. Not fartin' away time on the internet. Actually working on actually finishing an actual story for actual submission. My Gods, it's like I have a job or something!

Time to get back on shift - NaNoWriMo is a-callin' and I've fallen behind again!

A Bit of Self-Examination Upon Finishing A Story
Mon 2008-10-20 08:58:18 (single post)
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Saturday morning I finally finished a complete draft of this story and emailed it to my writing group. Well, not so much Saturday morning as Saturday afternoon. It was 12:30. It was laaaaaate. I had promised to distribute it Wednesday, October 15th. I'd thought, "Tuesday's my nothing-but-writing day! Tuesday I'll finish it for sure!"

Yyyyeah right. Since when have I managed to do anything more productive with a Tuesday than sleep until noon (unless I went to the rock-climbing gym with John for 8:30 or so, and went back to sleep when I got home), crawl out of bed to do maybe half-an-hour of work of some sort, then crawl back into bed all disproportionately pleased with myself and feeling due a break? Yeah. Tuesday the 14th went much like that, only, no half-hour of work. And then, y'know, Wednesday through Friday were Wednesday through Friday. Full of stuff and things.

For what it's work, very soon the rest of the week will look like Tuesday. October 31st will be my last day on the clock at my part-time job. I'm gonna be an honest-to-garsh full-time writer finally. I mean, being a full-time writer was my plan back when I quit my full-time corporate web design job back in April 2004, but soon after I did that, the director of the non-profit I volunteer for asked me if I could spare ten to twenty hours a week to come in and fix their web page and do other miscellaneous tasks. And here I am four and a half years later. You'd think I wouldn't have any trouble staying productive on my own terms when I only work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--and volunteer Thursdays at a local farm--and continue volunteering some four hours a week for the non-profit that is now also my employer--but by the time I bike home from the office I'm feeling like I ought to be allowed some play-time. And by the time I finish playing, it's bedtime. Apparently my self-discipline and time management skills are a bit more, say, non-existent than I like to admit.

So, starting November 1st, I'm a free agent again. Which is good news for for me on the NaNoWriMo front; I will have more time to go to write-ins and to organize stuff. However, Nov. 1 comes too late to help me out with current projects, so I need to dig up some self-discipline from somewhere or other and get things done. (About that, more later.)

Anyway. I finished this story Saturday. It has this is common with its origins: there's still a magically manipulative sweater involved. However, it's no longer set in and around a New Age store in north-west Denver. Its antagonist is no longer an individually acting eccentric employee. Instead, it's set in a fictitious community it unincorporated Adams County, east of Brighton. The antagonist is the central figure and namesake of the not-quite-town, and the whole town is in on her schemes. Which is to say, the magic involved in the sweater happens to be part and parcel of the community's way of life. And the protagonist walks right in thinking nothing's out of the ordinary. Think Wicker Man, only without the outsider's investigative motive. Think, if I've done this right, Shadows Over Insmouth.

Only I probably haven't done it right yet, which is why I volunteered it for Wednesday's critique session. Aside from one email bounce due to the recipient's mailbox being full, email did what email should and now several people whom I see twice a month and respect quite a lot will be reading it. Cringe! Nervousness and fright! I mean, given the last-minute nature of this story's composition, it's rather rough. It's probably a bit rushed at the end, even though the end came about a lot more organically and easily than I feared it would back when laying down scenes felt like a fractally infinite task. It's probably got copy-paste errors you could blow up a fictional neighborhood with.

And then there's knowing that I haven't exactly been the most gentle contributor to my writing group. I have been prone to Thinking Myself Right when commenting, rather than humbly offering "if it were my story I would" suggestions and "this might be just me, but" observations. And, being the prickly and temper-prone creature that I am, I've been guilty of causing a bit of... well, social tension. Which is the nice way of saying I've been kind of a bitch lately. I'm not proud of it. And I'm not under any illusion that people are going to be any kinder to me than I've been to them--not that I think anyone would be deliberately unkind out of some impulse towards vigilante justice; just that my effect on the tone of this group's discussions has not been for the better. I have to live in the environment I've helped create. So. Having given others a hard time, I don't expect to be given a particularly easy time myself. So I'm living on a steady diet of stomach lining and belated good intentions at the moment.

Um. Hi, y'all! I love y'all bunches! I promise to be good! (Please don't kill me.)

However frank and even merciless Wednesday's critique turns out to be, I think I'm going to need it. My head is an echo chamber, and when I last turned in a story (cf. "Turnips"), I was careless. The manuscript still had the blank template page header, for goodness's sake! It said "LeBoeuf / TITLE" in every upper-left-hand corner. And I mean, literally, "TITLE". Dammit. When Ellen Datlow lamented that so many manuscript submissions she had received revealed a lack of concern for manuscript submission format, she may well have been talking about me (if, that is, Nick Mamatas actually did think my story worth passing on to her, which I doubt). Beyond that, the story had stupidity in it, structural stupidity as well as line-by-line dumbness. Which is not to diminish the awesome assistance of my friend from VPX who did read it and gave me some great feedback on it, and then took the time to read the rewrite and confirm whether I'd fixed what he'd pointed out before as broken. Without his time and effort, the story would have sucked harder. It would have sucked great big granite boulders until the feldspar was striated. However, there's still a great deal of work to do. I printed out that story a couple weeks ago and began marking it up, and by the time I got to page five I understood that revisions wouldn't be a matter of a quick hour's gloss. Oh no. They'd begun to look like a good couple of afternoons' worth of work.

Which I would have taken care of by now. Really! Except, well, this story. Which I am sure will also get marked up thickly before the week is out. Or at least before the end of the month. Maybe. I hope. In any case, this story I have no illusions that is ready for prime time.

Is It THE END Yet?
Fri 2008-10-17 10:16:53 (single post)
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I hate that I didn't begin putting this story down on paper (electronically) until so late. I hate that I couldn't seem to get started on it for so long. The time spent composting seems to have helped, because the story has gone in an entirely different direction than I originally thought and this is certainly a change for the better. See? Better title already! But the late start means a late finish, because unlike some stories I've written, this one feels ... quantum?

No. The other word.

Fractal.

Every scene is not one scene closer to the end, because it reveals something else that has to happen before I reach the end. Look closer at one detail and many more details are revealed. It's turtles all the damn way down. Or sheep, really. It's sheep all the way down.

It feels like I'm building a goddamned house. Isn't it time to put the roof on yet? No! No it is not! And what's more, you forgot the insulation in this wall and the plumbing over here so you're going to have to tear down the drywall again. Dammit!

The result will be a better story. I have faith in this. But meanwhile the process of writing it seems endless. And I'm tired.

Hey, you! You little wide-eyed naive so-n-so who was all like "But writing's never really work, is it? Not if you really love it?" Remember? And I was all like, "Uh, yes, yes it is, actually," and she was all like, "I'm sorry you feel that way, maybe writing isn't really your calling"? Prepare for mental psychic slap-across-the-face number 417! You are my anti-muse and I hope your ears are burning!

I bet you pasted a little "lol" at the end of your post, too. Dingbat.

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