1200 words long
look it's a thing it's a very late thing but it's a thing
Hark! An overdue Friday Fictionette rises over yon horizon. It's "Love in the Time of Lizard People," nominally the release for June 14, and it has a little to do with the trustworthiness of telepathic aliens but a lot more to do with the trustworthiness of your bar buddy. Patrons at the $1 level can download the ebook in any of several formats. Patrons at the $3 level can download the audiobook too.
I'm-a work on the June 21 release tomorrow, but, knowing me and Fridays, it's more realistic to expect it out Saturday evening. After that I'm going to try for June 28 by no later than Monday. PROMISES PROMISES.
In other news, did you know that an interactive fiction piece about a portal-hopping protagonist need not have all, or indeed any, of its choices be about which portal to hop through? I am just figuring this out. Having figured this out, I am now having a surprisingly enjoyable time with the rewrite.
still hard even when it's a different kind of hard
Let's talk interactive fiction. Do I know what I'm talking about when I talk about interactive fiction? Hell, no. But I'm trying to learn, because there's a story I've been wanting to submit to Sub-Q for, like, ever, and they're open to submissions right now until July 15.
Sub-Q publish interactive fiction, which is a form of storytelling which allows the readers' choices to alter the reader's experience of the story. Think of the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books--but also think of text-based games like Zork and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Or just go read some of what Sub-Q have available. They're more experts than me. They publish the stuff; I'm just beginning to think about writing it.
What I've got is a piece of flash fiction in which the main character goes on a journey, one of both geography and identity. It's been submitted a few times, but never received anything more than form rejections. Now that I'm looking at it with a mind to overhaul it into an interactive format, I'm starting to see why.
The thing's a travelogue, maybe a travel diary, but it's not a story.
It's also in second person point of view, which is a hard sell most places. But I don't think that's its worst problem, if problem it is. The main problem is, the protagonist isn't shown making important choices. Which means the protagonist is lacking somewhat in agency.
In interactive fiction, eventually, at some point, you invite the reader to make choices. And they have to be meaningful choices. They have to have consequences that the reader can guess at before they choose. They can't just be Bastian going through the House of a Thousand Doors in the latter half of The Neverending Story, choosing between a wicker door or a wood one, a red one or a green one, based on nothing more than gut sense that this material is more associated with the person he's looking for than that one. It's got to be more like, you know the green door will bring you to meet Atreyu, but you also know that the meeting and what follows will not be all rainbows and roses, so if you're having second thoughts maybe you should take the red door and go become writer-in-residence at the Silver City Library. Except that's not all going to be rainbows and roses either, so--which brand of interesting dilemma do you wish to explore, reader?
It's an apt metaphor. The protagonist in my story moves through a thousand doors of their own--through portals from one world to another, each more alien than the last. But in the original story, none of the portals matter. You see a portal, you go through it. As long as it takes you further away from your previous life, it's fine by you. And that's no way to write a story, interactive or otherwise. The protagonist has got to have the opportunity to make meaningful choices.
So today's story revision time was taken up with reading the current draft and identifying opportunities for meaningful choice. Also identifying other potentially interactive moments, like, say, the ability to click on a mention of the protagonist's backpack and get a list of its contents, maybe see how they change throughout the story. Click on mention of the watch and get some backstory about the person who gave it to the protagonist. That sort of thing.
It's daunting. It's daunting because I always had this idea that the story didn't need much more than a quick polish, an easy fix. But now I see that even if it stays traditional prose, it still needs no less than a full overhaul and a significant chunk of brand-new content, because protagonists need the opportunity to make meaningful choices. Otherwise they can hardly be said to protag, can they?
In short: Revising stories is still hard, y'all.
just another day on the job
Lesson for today: Submitting fiction is no big deal.
With the new year I am renewing a long-term goal of mine, or ideal, that every workday will include a session of what I call submission procedures. This means tending to the business side of being a freelance author of commercial fiction, which is submitting stories to paying markets.
I successfully did this on January 1 by logging a rejection letter for a story I had submitted, then sending that story on again to another market. I successfully did this on January 2 by identifying a market I wanted to submit to, deciding on a story I wanted to submit to it, and determining to rewrite the story so that I could submit it there. (I began that rewrite today. It's currently a drabble; the rewrite will be about 1,000 words.)
I was sort of stumped as to what to do today.
I mean, I can always pull up my list of what's currently out on submission and double-check that there's been no response yet, but that's sort of busywork. I can't do that every day and call it fulfilling the spirit of my resolution. But what did I have that was ready to submit? Nothing, I thought. Everything's either out or I don't know where else to send it and maybe it should be revised or even trunked because clearly it sucks and no one wants it.
This is not a productive state of mind.
Around this point, my mouse happened to hover over the browser tab with the Codex Weekend Warrior 2018 contest discussion in it. (Codex: an online community of pro and semi-pro writers. Weekend Warrior: a high-pressure contest wherein writing prompts appear on Friday and fresh new flash fiction is due on Sunday. You can see a list of previous winners, as well as contest entries that went on to be published, here.) I'm going to be participating in that contest, and I'm kind of nervous that I just might forget to write my first contest entry this weekend, so I've been keeping that tab open.
Now, a common concern of participants is, where am I going to try to publish all these new stories I'll have written for the contest? So several people helpfully listed markets that publish flash fiction.
Reading through those lists, I felt a light-bulb go on in my brain. It's not that I don't have anything ready to submit anywhere. I have a good handful of unpublished drabbles and short-shorts. But somehow I've mentally disqualified them all as "no one wants drabbles" or "this one isn't ready to go out again" or even "this one I've earmarked for rewriting into an interactive fiction piece, so until I do that rewrite I can't send it anywhere."
I've also got this weirdly elevated idea of the very process of submitting fiction. Like, if you're going to send it, you'd better be sure it's perfect and that it's a precise fit for that market and the stars are aligned just right. I'm not sure I consciously realized I had that idea until just now, but, turns out, I do.
Hell with all that, I thought, and sent two pieces out to two different flash-publishing markets in quick succession. One's a drabble about a unicorn that no one's seen except SpeckLit, who didn't publish it (and who have closed since then anyway). The other's the dimension-hopping flash piece that I want to rewrite as interactive fiction but that's no reason for it to sit on its hands all bored and stuff waiting for me to get around to it.
So I have successfully included Submission Procedures on day 3 of 2018. And it was No Big Deal.
kind of like the way pain just means you're alive
I've been thinking about interactive fiction. Specifically, I've been thinking about a particular short-short of mine, "Keeping Time," and how I might expand it into an interactive piece. I've actually been thinking about this for a couple years now, but it can take me a while to find myself a chunk of time in which I can do more than think about it. You know how Violet "invents" extra time for herself and her siblings to solve a mystery in The Wide Window by Lemony Snickett? I had to invent extra time for myself. Mostly by getting up earlier and figuring out how better to adhere to a daily writing schedule. So far so good. Deliberate invocation of allergic reactions was not involved.
And but so anyway: Interactive fiction, Twine, and me. Twine! "Twine is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories." I'm learning how to use it. I'm going about this the same way I went about learning PHP: By working my way, page by page, through a book about it. This book here: Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine, by Melissa Ford. Her book may or may not align with the kind of interactive story I want to tell, but it looks like it'll make me a competent Twine user, so.
"Keeping Time" is a very short story, originally under 700 words and later expanded to about 1200, about a character who flees Earth and travels via dimensional portal to other worlds, hanging on tight--despite radically changing environments and perspectives--to their identity and humanity for as long as they possibly can. In its current form, it has five scenes that act as a sort of montage portraying the journey and the changes the character undergoes along the way. As a piece of interactive fiction, I want it to have more scenes--that's a no-brainer--but not necessarily more endings. I want it to be a sort of many-roads-lead-up-the-mountain thing. The ending is sort of inevitable, to my mind, but how one gets there, and how many different worlds one experiences on the way there, and how those influence the remainder of the journey by changing the character either according to or against their will--that's where the choice and variety comes in.
So, less of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and more of a roller coaster ride with decision points. You get on and off the ride at fixed places, but the shape of the ride from one to the other is up to you.
(Actually I have just thought of an alternate ending. But I'm not going to go into that just now because spoilers.)
You may or may not have seen my old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story Engine? One of my earliest HTML/PHP projects. It's over here, and you can play with it, but be warned it is probably overrun with spam and awfulness right now because I've been an absent moderator lately. (Note to self: get on that.) Anyway, it's an editor and repository of very simple interactive fiction. The first page ends in a choice. Each choice leads to a new page. Each new page ends in a choice or possibly THE END. Anyone can add onto what went before, so it's interactive and potentially collaborative.
That is not what I want to do with "Keeping Time." I want to do something more like what Michael Lutz does with "my father's long, long legs." And I don't just mean the difference in formatting--the difference between interspersing blocks of story with "What do you do next?" on the one hand, and, on the other, presenting choices as hyperlinks from within the story proper. I mean, the variety of ways the choices are used. What the choices are for. Sometimes, the hyperlinks simply advance the reader to the next part of the story--a way to turn the page. Sometimes they act as footnotes--an invitation to examine the hyperlinked concept in more detail. Sometimes they're decision points which will change the story, or your path through the story, irrevocably. Sometimes they're more like scenic bypasses, or branching, braided streams that take a detour around farms and fields before rejoining the main river. There's a lot of complexity there, many different ways of shaping reader experience. Or, rather, many different experiences to let the reader choose.
Also it never stops being a story. Interactive fiction straddles the line between "story" and "game," with some examples falling more to one side than the other. The exact placement of that line, and what falls on which side of it, is subjective. I want to create something that's still very much a story, not a game--at least according to my version of that line.
On another note: The more I think about this story, the more ideas I get, the more ambitious the whole project becomes... and the more terrified I get of taking it on.
This is worth noting: When I become afraid of a (writing) project, that's generally a sign that the project is worth doing.
Can I please progress to the point where fear turns into excitement and I stop eating my own stomach lining? Please? I would like to get to that point tomorrow. It would make my writing life a more comfortable place. And I would like it to be a comfortable place, seeing as how I intend to spend a lot of time there.
wine, disappointment, ambition, persistence, more wine
Got off to a slow start today. Might have been because it was so cold out--Boulder finally got some snow, and snow makes me want to hibernate. Could also have something to do with the righteously exhausting roller derby practice I had last night. In any case, I slept late, I dawdled a bit, I moved very slowly.
But here's where I'm at now: Two thirds the way through today's NaNoWriMo chunk-o-text, three-and-a-half hours of my workday five done, two half-glasses of red wine toward silly, and one new rejection letter to file away.
Alas, after triumphing over my year of resistance with a gorgeous completed revision, I ultimately received a rejection letter for "Caroline's Wake" from the editor who'd invited me to submit that rewrite. If you also do this freelance fiction writing thing, you won't be too shocked, I hope. This is a thing that happens. A revision request isn't necessarily a promise to buy the results. In fact, it's almost never a promise to buy. It's disappointing, of course, but the story's much better for the revision. It'll have a better chance next time I send it out than it would have had previously.
I won't send it out immediately. The rejection letter included some feedback that gave me pause. I'll see if I can't do some small tweaks in response to that feedback to prevent the problem cited from being a problem for the next slush reader who sees it.
No, the rejection letter did not drive me to drink. Please do not think that. It's just, wine is tasty, and I have some wine here, and I have nowhere to be tonight. Wine pairs nicely with popcorn. Popcorn seasoned with Cajun Land and curry powder. With red wine. My NaNoWriMo characters are also drinking red wine. I have to keep them company.
Where was I? Ah. Yes. So...
I'm also giving some serious thought to converting another story of mine to a form of interactive fiction. There's a brand new web-zine out there, Sub-Q, the interactive magazine for interactive fiction, and they're hungry for submissions. I think "Keeping Time" would be perfect for them, but it needs some work to at least prepare an interactivity proposal. I should probably play a little with Twine just to get a feel for what the kids these days are doing. But I'm thinking something like travelogue-style pop-ups for items and people whom the main character interacts with, a constant sense of the passage of time despite time being weird when you continue on a one-way trip through different worlds, maybe some choice as to which worlds the character visits but with a certain inevitability about the ultimate outcome...
I don't know. I'm still brainstorming.
But not tonight. Tonight I still need to log about 900 more words on the NaNoWriMo novel. And it's nearly midnight, so, really, I need to get back to it.
I do wish the room wasn't spinning so. Stupid wine. Tasty, tasty, stupid wine.
the delays you get are not the expected delays
- 443 wds. long
- 566 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.
the many hues of being born yesterday
This blog post comes to you after a successful arrival and first couple days in Avon. I have run away from home for the weekend, which means I've got no responsibilities but the writing ones. Granted, this theory has been put sorely to the test by my having visited the library and brought six books with me back to the Christie Lodge--Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals is the first temptation on the to-be-tempted by pile, and I'm halfway through it already--but it is a test I intend to pass, darn it. Look, there's evidence in my favor. To wit:
- "Keeping Time," a 1,200-word expansion on what was originally a 739-word entry in the 2012 edition of the annual Weekend Warrior flash fiction contest on Codex, got emailed to a prospective market late Sunday night. Sunday, of course, was the deadline for that particular submissions call.
- Sunday was also the deadline for submissions to SpeckLit for publication during the first quarter of 2015. I sent in two new drabbles. I'd have preferred to send the full slate of ten, but two was what I had. I'm rather proud of those two, too.
- Speaking of SpeckLit, I cast my votes for the Best of SpeckLit 2014 Q3 (also a November 30 deadline). Did you?
I got right back to work on the novel today, too, and with inspiration from the most unlikely of places. I recently stumbled across The Pervocracy, "a kinky, feminist sexblog" if I may borrow Cliff's own words to describe it. (My own words began with "a whip-smart kink blog," but I couldn't seem to continue on from the pun. Which, I hasten to add, was meant with sincere admiration.) Cliff is reading Fifty Shades of Grey and blogging about it one chapter at a time. Like many people, I began reading this series for the lulz, but past chapter 12 my attitude became one of horrified ongoing enlightenment. I'd heard about this book's representation of BDSM being offensively inaccurate. What I hadn't known, because I hadn't gone looking for details, was that E. L. James has chronicled a deeply abusive relationship in disturbing detail--you can play Potential Abusive Partner Red Flag Bingo with these books--then marketed it as desirable romance. And if you're saying, "Well, but, duh, it began as Twilight fanfic, and that's exactly what Twilight is." To which all I can say is,
when Edward broke into Bella's room, all he did was watch her sleep. He did not rape her and leave her sobbing all night long on the bathroom floor.
Seriously. Chapter 12, y'all. It makes Edward's hinge-oiling shenanigans look sweet by comparison. Apparently some people really need to be told that D/s doesn't mean "the Dom is allowed to sexually assault the sub if it sounds like she's trying to end the relationship."
So what does this painful horror story have to do with Iron Wheels beyond a both having a nodding acquaintance with Twilight? I'm getting to that.
Much earlier in the read-through, when there were red flags for potential abuse popping up everywhere but it was still possible to laugh about it, Cliff had a fantastic observation about the character of Anastasia Steele. James has, for the purposes of the plot, carefully written her to be so "pure" as to be unrealistic. This goes well beyond our toxic social notions of "virginity" or "innocence." Ana has not only never kissed anyone, had sexy thoughts about others, or experienced orgasm--she has also apparently never exercised in her life? Oh, and she has no idea how to use a computer. She has never used Google nor sent a frickin' email, ever, in her life. Despite
being a college graduate (apparently I'm wrong here, she graduates in chapter 14) who is currently pursuing a career in journalism. I cannot imagine how one can be a journalist in the 21st century without being able to do cursory fact-checks on the internet, but then I can't imagine writing a novel set in Seattle without fact-checking things like what the nearby international airport is called, or the relative positions of Vancouver WA and Portland OR. And yet here we are with a novel for which the author has apparently fact-checked none of these things and more besides. So there you go.
But Cliff's observation is this:
Okay, new theory: Ana spontaneously appeared out of nothingness, full-grown, a few days before the events of the book. She's never done anything before because she literally did not exist.
And I thought, "Oh. That's almost literally true of Etienne Farfield, isn't it?"
Etienne is a changeling. Her entire function for hundreds of years has been to look exactly like, so as to temporarily replace, stolen infants. The way I imagine it, this means she has not been an autonomous being at all until the novel takes place. Between "assignments," she is simply stored, in stasis, a wind-up toy that isn't wound up. So her conscious existence up to now has consisted entirely of a brain incapable of verbal thought and a body incapable of performing any but the most rudimentary of voluntary movements. But now, suddenly, she's walking around like a real girl, pretending to be a normal human high school senior.
For some reason, it took reading Cliff's half-joking observation about Ana Steele to make me realize that if you really do have a character that was born yesterday, you have to put some real thought into all the implications of that. You have to work with those implications. But the good news is, you get to play with those implications. What's it like, thinking in words for the first time? What's it like, suddenly confronting the ability to do things? How does she get up to speed on this whole "being human" thing? How does it work when she's not actually replacing someone this time around? Or isn't she?
So that's what I played with today--writing yet another brand new first scene, one that starts with her narrating what it's like to wake up as a human teenager for the first time.
Where it will go tomorrow is anybody's guess.