“Beginning to write, you discover what you have to write about.”
Kit Reed

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

A Brief Interlude For Rude Feminist Ranting
Wed 2013-06-19 10:32:08 (single post)

Hey! Hey there! Hey? ...So. What's the deal with giving every creepy, offensive joke or comment ever total benefit of the doubt, but bringing down the full weight of societal disapproval on a woman who openly expresses any discomfort with such?

I mean, just for example, say a woman traveling alone goes to eat dinner in the dining car, right, and the attendant directs her to a table already inhabited by two men sitting opposite one another. And say that the man sharing the side of the table she's been directed to is taking up so much bench that she's about to fall out into the aisle. And just say that the women politely points this out.

And the man says to her, "Oh, you shouldn't feel shy about sitting close to me!"

What are your thoughts on this exchange?

  1. Ew, skeezy!
  2. What? He was just trying to reassure you that he doesn't bite!

Oddly, the first woman to speak to me about overhearing the exchange went with A ("Did he really say to you what I think he said?" "Yes, he did." "Honey, you know you can ask for another seat, right?") while the first man to comment on the subject went with B.

You never would have guessed, right?

For what it's worth, he probably was just trying to reassure me that he wouldn't take it amiss if I scooted closer to him. That's something--and I will bold and italicize this next bit because it's important to understanding how I navigate my world, y'all--something that both a polite, accommodating man and a total creepster perv would have in common. Funny, I am not comfortable making assumptions about which one he'll turn out to be! But, you know, it just figures, if I assume he's a perv and I'm wrong, I'm rude, but if I assume he's polite and I'm wrong, it's "Well, what did you expect, the way he came on to you? You didn't want to be groped, you shouldn't have taken him up on his invitation."

This is called Being In Public While Female.

For the record, my read on the man in question was a combo plate of "Attempting to be polite and accommodating" and "Phenomenally tone-deaf." This entree turned out to include a free side dish of "criminally unaware of the movements of his left elbow and its resulting proximity to dining companion's stomach, arm, shoulder, and/or face." Even if I'd felt comfortable snuggling up to his armpit, I'd've ended up with bruises to rival a Thursday scrimmage, and also half my dinner in my lap.

IN ANY CASE, my immediate response to his unfortunate joke/inappropriate overture was to give him a serious glare and say, "That sounded really creepy. Please do not do that."

He responded with an exasperated chuckle and a mild swear of "JEE-sus!" whilst looking to the man across the table from him for commiseration. The man across the table wisely stayed out of it. (Perhaps he already got an earful and learned his lesson after he greeted the dining attendant with "You can seat me anywhere you like, cutie!" Ew.)

I haven't accepted but I have acknowledged that any sort of pushback from me is going to be met with "Can't you take a joke?" (Yes, when they're funny) or "Couldn't you have been nicer?" (Couldn't he?) or "He was just trying to be friendly!" (He failed). I know that any attempt on my part to set personal boundaries will be read as rudeness and not encouraged. I know that I will always be pushing against societal disapproval for my right to say "That made me uncomfortable and I would rather you stop doing it."

It will never come easy. But it's important to push back. The societal impetus to always excuse, always give the benefit of the doubt to men who make women feel uncomfortable is what gives the genuine creeps cover. The unapologetic perverts, the sexual harassers, the gropers, the skeevy pick-up artists, they are relying on everyone around them to excuse their creepiest overtures under the same umbrella that covers the friendly-but-tone-deaf. And I am full up to here with that shit.

Society wants me to assume everyone who succeeds at creeping me out is just a well-intentioned goof, one whose feelings are much more important than mine--the latter because why else would the onus be on be to swallow my discomfort, keep my mouth shut, and uphold the contract that simultaneously punishes women for assertion and protects men from experiencing consequences for their thoughtless behavior? No, no, and hell no.

In practice, how someone responds to being told "That makes me uncomfortable. Please don't do it" is the only safe way to differentiate between... well, not between Socially Awkward Dude and Genuine Creeper, that's not the binary I'm ultimately concerned with... but between someone who cares about how his actions impact others and someone who doesn't.

The guy whose response is "JEE-sus!" followed by a "bitches be crazy, amirite?" expression aimed toward the other man at the table? Not safe for me. Not pleasant to be around. Not worth my time, now or ever.

Meanwhile, if you're reading this and nodding along at home 'cause you've been there before and you'll be there again and you're fucking sick of wearing the T-shirt, know that--if you need it--if no one else will give it to you--you have my wholehearted permission and encouragement and entreaty to be rude as shit to the next guy who creeps you out.

I swear, sometimes I think that's the only way this is ever going to get better.

World Horror Day 4: Closing Remarks
Sun 2013-06-16 23:23:12 (single post)

Attendance at a convention's closing ceremony is usually only a fraction of that at the opening ceremony. A lot of people are on the road home already. I'd estimate about 50 people, maybe 75, of the 500 or so convention attendees were in the Hotel Monteleone's Royal Room this afternoon when Lisa Morton began thanking everyone who made the weekend possible.

She did something really classy, I thought. After expressing her thanks to attendees for coming, guests of honor for gracing us with their presence and their time, volunteers for going above-and-beyond, the con's board and the HWA's board and everyone else (I am bad and careless and cannot remember every position filled, let alone every name), she did something I don't remember seeing done at other cons I've attended. Much like when panelists open their panel to audience Q&A in the last 15 minutes of their hour, she threw it open to the audience, asking us to volunteer any feedback we'd like to share. What did we like? What didn't work so well? What would we have liked to see?

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Many people commented on how smoothly everything ran; if there were any bumps along the way, they were invisible to the layperson's eye. Quite a few complimented those responsible for the choice of venue. My small contribution was to report that the livestream of the Stoker Awards went off without a hitch (Nicole Cushing and I had opted to watch the stream from the quiet comfort of a hotel room rather than standing awkwardly at the back of the Queen Anne Ballroom); that seemed a useful thing to say. Certainly more useful than my one wistful wish, which would be to take the exact same schedule of events but have an extra day to spread them out over, so as to give attendees a little more time to enjoy New Orleans. Since it's the sort of wish that ends "Also, I would like a pony. With wings," it probably wasn't the sort of actionable feedback that the HWA needed to hear.

No one expected a perfectly spherical value of "con" on a frictionless surface inside a vacuum. I'd hoped for a damn good con, and that's what I got.

The closing ceremonies were allotted an hour, but even with an exuberant crowd volunteering compliments and appreciation, we were done by twenty after. Soon afterwards I was in the car with Mom returning to Metairie for more friends-and-family time, and also for a sack of perfectly boiled crawfish a la Dad. (One of these days I am going to get him to tell me how he does it. Slowly, so I can take notes. There are crawfish to be caught in Colorado. I need to be able to do them justice.)

Madeline tells me that a certain portion of her readers have said she lost them at the end. Now I want to hurry up and finish reading so I can find out why.
World Horror Day 3: Very Briefly (Because I Am Tired)
Sat 2013-06-15 23:09:06 (single post)

This, the third day of World Horror, was no exception to the weekend, in that it contained many lovely things. Among them stands out with distinction a panel presenting a deeply moving appreciation for Clive Barker, who was one of tonight's recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Clive Barker is larger than life; he is not so much an author or an artist or a film writer (though he is all of these) as he is a sort of avatar of the universal creative force. Though he was not here in New Orleans to accept the award in person, he did send a few words for his representative to say on his behalf. Basically, that he hopes to match his 30 years of creativity so far with at least another 30 years of works to come. I'll drink to that.

I rather drank a lot today. It's New Orleans; it's too easy. There was the bloody mary with my baked ham po-boy from Mother's at lunch, the Abita lemon wheat that I pulled out my stash on my way down to Caitlin R. Kiernan's reading (Kiernan received a Stoker tonight for superior achievement in her novel The Drowning Girl), the cabernet shared out during the pre-Stoker "happy hour" reception, and the bottle of Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan nut brown ale I couldn't resist at Cochon where my cousin and I went out for our second dinner together of the weekend. I am surprised I am feeling no worse than tired.

In the spirit of the Stoker Awards, just for fun, I should like to pretend to hand out a few of my own to particularly memorable moments of the day. And so I shall.

The award for "Most Serendipitous Moment" goes to the one where I arrived at the Lovecraft panel, approached a woman seated near the front of the room to ask if I might take the seat next to her, and read her badge as she turned toward me to answer in the affirmative. The panel was already underway, so I just whispered my thanks and hoped against hope she wouldn't leave early. She did not, so I did indeed get a chance to tell Madeline Ashby how very much John and I are enjoying her science fiction novel vN and the stunning world she's created therein. She expressed delighted surprise to hear such sentiments at a horror con, where she's used to going entirely unrecognized; and gave me the heads-up that the sequel, iD, will be out very soon.

The award for "Most Surreal Moment" probably should go to the one during which I went from a fly on the wall to an active part of the conversation: Ellen Datlow and David Morrell turned to me suddenly during the pre-Stoker reception to ask if I could help identify a short story that was giving David fits. (It involved a male main character peeling back wallpaper, convinced he would find the key to some mystery underneath.) I pulled out my ever-present laptop and applied my small share of Google Fu to the dilemma. Success, alas, was not to be ours. I added "-yellow" to the search string to exclude hits for Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"; Google threw up a sinfín of DIYs ("How to easily remove your old wallpaper without breaking the bank or your back"). I hope if David remembers the story he also remembers to let the rest of us know, because now I am intrigued.

And the coveted award for "Most Kind To the Author's Ego" goes to a moment not long after that, when a friend of Ellen's came by to ask her if she'd seen me, then realized he was in fact looking at me, and asked me to autograph his copy of Blood and Other Cravings. I was among those last few contributors whose scrawls he had yet to collect. One day, I suppose, given enough published stories and people reading them, I will get used to the idea that someone would scan a convention's attendee list in search of my specific name and then seek me out at that con to get my autograph. But when that day comes, I hope I continue to feel that thrill of excitement and gratitude I felt today at knowing I'd been the target of such a search.

...OK, so that was less brief than I intended. I think I shall drop off to sleep now.

Tomorrow: The fourth and final day of WHC 2013. Crawfish at Mom & Dad's. And probably a few more beers.

World Horror Day 2: Thinking About the Future
Fri 2013-06-14 23:42:19 (single post)

As predicted, today contained 1) slight irritations that 2) were heavily outweighed by wonderful things1. There were plenty more wonderful things.

I bought lots of books, most of them from the hands of their authors who of course signed them for me. Many of these authors were personal friends/acquaintances whom I only get to see face-to-face at cons like this. And while I was wandering the mass signing, Mort Castle hailed me. I hadn't realized he was here this year; I hadn't seen his usual writing workshop on the program. I was very pleased to see him, and he me. He is a skilled, emotionally evocative writer; a talented teacher; and just an overwhelmingly kind person.

I visited the art show and bought a print of this gorgeous painting by Steven C. Gilberts: an illustration for Simon Clark's novella "Butterfly." I have not yet read the novella, but I do get an inkling of deep sadness underlying the image, a sense of great works which require the sacrifice of self while fueling machines of destruction. But, on an admittedly superficial level, the visual elements of a dreaming/concentrating woman, a sky full of airplanes, and long hair that's getting caught in the gears reminds me of myself.

I got to have dinner with con friends and with seldom-seen family all at the same time, and then continue to spend time with said family member for hours afterwards. "It's been too long since we just hung out like this," I said. Then, "Not that we ever really did hang out like this. What's up with that? We should do it more often."

I went on an entirely unnecessary quest for a credit union ATM, walking at least a mile to avoid whatever small fee the ones within a block of the hotel would have charged. I think I must have had the intent all along to catch the brand! New! Street car on Loyola! (squee!) and ride it from the train station to the French Quarter. This is how I show the Universe my appreciation for the nice things in its catalog of things.

And every panel I went to ignited little sparks in my brain about stories I'm working on and what hitherto-unimagined things I could do with them.

Wonderfulness everywhere!

But what I'd really like to comment on today is an opinion I've heard from several panelists these past two days. The opinion goes something like this:

Ebooks are the future, and the future will be ebooks. Exclusively. This object, this physical book, will no longer be made. All there will be is a screen on your living room wall or in your hand and the internet connection by which you download stories to it. Do yourself and your career a favor: accept that this will be the case and prepare yourself for it.
I heard this said almost verbatim at two different panels, and at both with a certain degree of gleeful anticipation. And it bothered me.

It didn't just bother me because I think it's untrue--though I do think it's untrue, unlikely, and patently unworkable. The codex format has been with us for centuries, and books preserved from centuries before ours can still be read now and will be readable in the future without need for electricity (assuming daylight or a fire-based light source) nor concern for hardware-, software-, or backwards-compatibility. And it's not like humans are going to just stop making paper and binding books; and if we keep doing that, we're going to keep selling the results.

It didn't just bother me because I think it's undesirable aesthetically--though I do think it's aesthetically undesirable. I like the object that is the physical book. My traveling companion from the Denver-to-Chicago train ride said that she loves her Kindle, but she misses the kinethetic sense of where she is in the book. This many pages in, about a third of the way down the page on the left--this is a physical location that helps give the story shape in her mind. Losing that translates to a certain sense of being lost; it affects the very experience of story. I think I know what she means; certainly there is a decreased intimacy in my recollection of books I've read exclusively in ePub form (or have had read to me, for that matter).

But it bothered me primarily because I think it's unkind.

Listen: some of these people I heard, they spoke about being able to relax with an ebook on your phone or e-reader when you're tired of reading things on your computer. As though people like me, who have neither smartphone nor e-reader, do not exist. Which bugs me--damn straight it bugs me. But people like me with our flip-phones or no cell phone at all, no Kindles or Nooks or whatever, can still download ebooks to our computers, right? We have computers. We're privileged. We're people who can afford computers, smartphones, e-readers, gizmos that require non-trivial up-front monetary capital and electricity to make them work. They require a place to keep them, a place to charge them, frequent or constant internet connection to download books and and software upgrades, and the wherewithal to maintain or replace them when they start to break down.

Think of people who can't afford that. Who can't afford an e-reader, who can't pay the electric bill reliably each month, who maybe don't even have homes. Are we predicting--gleefully, joyously, or jadedly--a future in which written stories will be inaccessible to them?

Do we really want literacy to be the exclusive province of the privileged?

I'm not against ebooks. I quite like them. They're not going away anytime soon, and I expect to see improvements in their form and format every year. But they exist in addition to, not as a replacement for, physical writing and physical books. They will never--they must never--force the physical book into extinction.

I want my stories printed on paper and bound on shelves in bookstores, new and used. Available in libraries. Hidden among other books in the 25-cent basket out in front of the thrift store. Piled up in garage sales. Shared hand-to-hand between friends and via "leave a book, take a book" shelves in public spaces. Given away for free. Devoured during a long night hiding from the cold in a church or at the local homeless shelter. Accessible to all, those who have never touched a computer as well as those who have never known a life without.

If reading is worth fighting for, then so are physical books.

1 Hell, the most memorable slight irritation in fact led directly to one of the wonderful things. To wit: "That Guy" ignores my telling him, several times, firmly but pleasantly, that I don't appreciate being treated as though my every personal action were on display for his entertainment and loud commentary. Please stop it. When I finally tell him so in a manner that cannot be mistaken for pleasant, he gets the message, but complains to anyone who'll listen that I yelled at him. Other Guy Who Is Emphatically Not "That Guy" witnesses this and invites me into a very satisfying conversation about boundary-setting and its social challenges. We also end up talking about our con experiences, our writing, and festivals in Chicago. We totally intend to email each other later on. See? A wonderful thing. (back)

World Horror! Day 1! Disjointed and Mechahopzilla'd Thoughts!
Thu 2013-06-13 23:01:17 (single post)

When I first heard that World Horror/Stoker Awards Weekend 2013 would be in New Orleans, and at the Hotel Monteleone too--well, five minutes after hearing about it I had my membership purchased and my hotel room reserved. A chance to do WHC in the French Quarter? To hang out with writers, editors, and publishers right in my home town? You don't have to tell me twice.

And now I am here. Day 1 is coming to a pleasant end, marred only by my headachy reaction to the pint of NOLA Brewery's Mechahopzilla that walked me "home" from my fried shrimp & oyster po-boy at Deja Vu Bar & Grill over at Conti & Dauphine. (I knew there was a reason I generally avoid overly hoppy beers. Tasty stuff, though.)

World Horror is a small, pro-oriented con, which means it's generally me-sized and closely focused on things that I as a writer in the genre (more or less) am intensely interested in. It also means there's a tendency to run into a certain handful of familiar faces, and that the unfamiliar faces are almost always worth getting to know. (Which is not to say that the same isn't true of the larger and equally-to-pro fan-oriented WorldCon; it's just that these particular effects at WorldCon are more diffuse than at World Horror.) Which is to say:

  • During the two hours before opening ceremonies, I got to enjoy a fantastically long and winding conversation in the Carousel Bar with Mike Willmoth and Beth Gwinn. These are two of the people who Make Conventions Happen. Appreciate them.  
  • Also in that conversation was Nicole Cushing, an author I know from the Codex online semi-pro writers' group. She'll be participating in the mass signing tomorrow. I look forward to purchasing something with her words in it so she can deface it for me.  
  • During my cruise of the dealer room, I fell into conversation with author Sue Dent, who as it turns out is also inhabiting the intersection of "writer" and "roller derby." (Also Fußbal.) I've begun reading her most recent book, Electric Angel, and the experience so far has been interesting and positive.  
  • Got to exchange quick hellos with Ellen Datlow in the lobby and congratulate her on her successful Kickstarter campaign for Fearful Symmetries...  
  • ...and finally meet editor Jason V. Brock face-to-face...  
  • ...and exchange Great Big Clumsy Haven't-Seen-You-In-Years Hugs with Nancy Kilpatrick (the clumsiness was all me, mostly tripping over my own chair and swearing it wasn't because I was drunk, which I wasn't, not after only a beer and a rum-and-coke, I'm just a klutz, that's all)

Other awesome moments may go unmentioned here, probably because now I am a little tipsy and also about to drop unconscious and thus am a titch forgetful. Nevertheless, they remain awesome.

I am also taking notes on Things I Will Refrain From Doing When I Am A Big Name. You should take notes, too! These are definitely behaviors to avoid--in others, and in yourself:

  • Hanging around the ballroom where your panel was, loudly and with much profanity conversing with your friends, showing no sign of clearing out and letting the next round of panelists, who are already assembled but whom you are aggressively ignoring, begin having their panel, which they are now five minutes late starting because you have not cleared out!
  • Responding to the question, "Are you the next man reading in here?" with "Better than being the next woman in here!" Sexist jokes aren't funny! Please improve your improvisation skills, lest you drive away at least one of the two women in the room awaiting your reading! Also, attempting to excuse the apparent sexism by revealing that it was merely a transphobic joke ("I mean, better than being a woman who looks like me, right? There's your sex change right there!") will not make things better!
  • When you are on a panel, holding loud whispered side-conversations while another panelist is talking! This goes double if you have already demonstrated that you hold yourself to be in a position of opposition toward the other panelist vis-a-vis publishing models, and triple if you're a man and the other panelist, the one you are so clearly uninterested in listening to or letting the audience listen to, is a woman! Also, you do realize you're having that whispered side-conversation right in front of the microphone?

I am sure Day 2, starting as it does bright and early at 9 AM, will be more than twice as full of both moments of awesomeness and Behaviors To Avoid. And I expect that, just like those that made up today, the former will greatly outweigh the latter.

Besides, I am in New Orleans. At the World Horror Convention. That outweighs any number of run-of-the-mill Boorish Behaviors I may cross paths with. I mean, look! The river's over there! And I am full of po-boy! And there are sporadic jazz/brass/funk street performances erupting off Royal Street at all hours of the night! How bad can a mere indirect encounter with Other People's Rudeness really be, considering?

The Muse Distracts Me with Goblins in Omaha
Tue 2013-06-11 17:16:14 (single post)
  • 0 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 2,481 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) 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
Fri 2013-05-31 22:05:26 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

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.)

It is very shiny and has nothing at all to do with anything important that happened today and that is OK.
I Distract Myself With a New Pen
Mon 2013-04-29 23:27:16 (single post)

My new fountain pen arrived today. I said to myself the other day, "I just had a birthday. I can totally spoil myself." So I visited Sheaffer's website, because of all the fountain pens I have tried at any price, it's been the Sheaffers that are consistently a joy to write with. Smooth action, no missed strokes, good constant ink delivery. And the price ranges from "That's very nice for under a hundred bucks" all the way down to "Eight dollars? For a vintage Sheaffer? HERE IS CASH NOW GIMME."

I ended up ordering the Sheaffer Agio. I picked the black barrel with the gold-plated nib in fine point. It comes with a screw-fill piston converter, just like I like, along with two disposable cartridges I will probably forget to use because they are disposable and also in boring colors. Likewise, the "Luxury Gift Box" is lovely indeed but will probably spend its days forgotten in a drawer; I carry my fountain pens around in my Big Huge Everything I Could Possibly Need It Is My Mobile Office bookbag.

And lo, it arrived today, and it writes as smoothly as expected, and I have filled it not with boring blue but with Midnight Blue ink that I got last year at Papier Plume in the French Quarter. It is shiny. Shiny is good. Shiny keeps my mind off other things.

(Like the fact that a friend of mine broke her ankle at derby practice tonight. She's no newbie to wheels and she wasn't doing anything weird, just one moment she was up and skating and the next she was down and screaming, and it just happened and that means it could happen to anybody. No matter what you do. You can work hard to eliminate a lot of the reasons for injury, you can build up your ankle strength and get out of the habit of dragging your toe stop for balance, and all that means is when it finally happens to you it won't be because of insufficient ankle strength or bad habits. "Freak accident" is always lurking backstage waiting to pounce and there's nothing anyone can do about that.

(If I ever managed to wrap my brain around that and really think about it, I might never put skates on my feet again. But when I put skates on there is nothing in my head except how right skating feels, and that holds true even during the very first exercise we all do right after watching our friend get wheeled away into an ambulance. Seriously, I did not think about it again until we were packing up and leaving the building--and then I just about melted during the drive home. I called John up: "Can you be home when I get there? I need hugs. A lot of hugs." Because of knowing it could as easily have been me and it still could be me, it could happen Thursday at scrimmage, it could happen. Because of how helpless I felt seeing a friend in that much pain and not being able to make the pain go away. And because I felt guilty over freaking out and crying and demanding hugs and comfort, I mean, I'm not the one with the actual injury, this isn't about me, it's selfish and melodramatic of me to freak out when I'm not the one in the hospital tonight. And because oh my Gods what if that happens when I'm the only one around who can take charge what if I go to pieces instead of doing anything useful what then what then what then?! And also because--how could I just stop thinking about it? How could I just go on to the next drill as though nothing had happened? How could the world just keep turning, the clock keep ticking towards 8:30, the practice go on as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened?

(But that's what you do. And that's what our injured friend would want us to do. Keep on skating. For her. Because she can't now, and someone's gotta. And Thursday, somehow, that miracle will occur again, as it does with breathtaking regularity: Despite knowing it could happen to any one of us, we'll all put our skates on and get out on the track and play roller derby.)

So my pen arrived today, and it was perfect timing, because shiny and distracting is exactly what I need right now.

Videos of cute animals being cute would also be lovely right now.

See that black rubber collar on the L-shaped tool? That's the O-ring in question. It may actually be a smidge too large; I'll find out for sure when I finally attempt to extract a bearing from a skate with it.
I Distract You With Roller Derby
Fri 2013-04-26 22:27:36 (single post)

Today was much, much better than yesterday. For one thing, it started earlier. It still started with a headache, but apparently the thing to do about that is get up and make myself a strong cup of tea. Whose idea was it to have caffeine withdrawal headaches begin before a body's even awake? I'm not sure that's entirely fair.

Unfortunately, today was et up with chores. Including an epic trip to McGuckin Hardware for just about everything I've been putting off buying. Gardening things, derby things, kitchen things, plumbing things. McGuckin has all of the things. Also people who can tell you where all of the things are in terms of aisle number and or street name (McGuckin has streets, it's like a miniature Boulder) and shelf height.

Me: "So, this is my skate tool. And this bit here that comes out, this is the specific tool for popping bearings out of skate wheels. And this is the O-ring that's coming to shreds."

Helpful Dude in Green Apron: [opens a drawer with many many O-rings] "Looks like it's either going to be this one, or that one."

Me: "Can I try them out?" [attempts to install the larger of the two O-rings on the bearing tool] "Perfect. I'll take two."

It's that kind of a store. But it took me an hour there to fulfill my list, and then another half hour or so at the grocery store. And then there were other chores... So not so much a writing day as an attempting-to-catch-up-with-housework day. But I did a little writing, at least, just enough to discover that despite a good soak, my pen nib still clogs solid after about a page. Maybe I'll give it an overnight soak and see if that helps more.

But speaking of roller derby: Would you like to watch some? Would you like to actually see me, in particular, skate? (Also other people who are a lot better at this than me, incidentally.) This past Sunday, my team, the Boulder County Bombers "Bombshells", along with some of our "Shrap Nellies" skaters, competed in a 20-minute "teaser" scrimmage as kind of an opening act for the headliner bout between Detour Derby and South Side Derby Dames. Both the teaser and the main bout were filmed, and the film was archived at Justin.tv. Oddly, it looks like user DetourDerby uploaded each file twice - once on the day of the bout, and once the next day. I'm guessing the first versions of everything were what streamed live and the next-day postings were maybe a trimmed and tidied up version of that. Here's all the links so you can watch what you like:

Unfortunately, the layout of the Wagon Wheel and the placement of the camera means that although you get a damn fine view of turn 4, turn 1 and 3 are pretty much everyone's backsides and everyone's fronts respectively, and turn 2 is invisible behind one of those big tree-trunk posts in the infield. But I ain't complaining - that there was live filming of the bout, and that the film was archived so you could view it later, is fantastic.

(I'm going to complain a little bit about the announcer, though. Just a little bit. Since he didn't seek out our team before the bout and ask people how they pronounce their skate names, he made some howling boo-boos on introductions. Lacy Vasive is pronounced like "Lace Evasive"; if it sounds like "vaseline" you're doing it wrong. THE SAME WAY YOU DID IT WRONG LAST YEAR, sheesh! And Jaynesrous Jukes isn't as hard as it looks; just think "dangerous" with a "j". Other than that he did a mostly OK job, although he did seem to slip back into last year's rules a few times. Since the new ruleset was implemented at the beginning of this year, there is no first whistle to release the pack and a second whistle to release the jammers. There is no "creating a no-pack situation to release the jammers immediately" anymore. There is only one whistle, and everyone starts skating at once.)

Since you know me, you're probably looking for the bits I skate in. That would be the teaser bout and only the teaser bout -- and 20 minutes is way too short! The jam I had to sit out because the gal playing the same position as me in the previous line-up was sitting in the penalty box? Painful! WE CAME TO PLAY, DAMMIT, AND WE WILL PLAY!

But but but lemme tell you, the main bout? Was hella exciting! It was close. The score lead kept switching between the two teams, and upon beginning the final jam, the two teams were one point apart. That's somewhat rare in derby. There was screaming and cheering and really awesome skaters being awesome and lots of hugs afterwards. So if you watch any of it, you should watch it all. That's basically what I'm saying here.

This weekend will be an all-derby all-day thing, since BCB's "All Stars" are competing in the Colorado Cup. You can watch that too -- it'll be streamed live here. Or if you're local you can head down to the 1st Bank Center, buy your tickets, and come watch it all unfold right in front of you. That, in my opinion, is the best way to watch roller derby. Here are the "more info" pages from the 1st Bank Center's calendar:

I'll be there Saturday the 27th, hanging out at the Boulder County Bombers merchandise table wearing my black BCB jersey and my (metaphorical) recruiting committee hat. I'll be handing out fliers for our upcoming recruitment events and answering all questions asked about being a Boulder County Bomber. If you're going to be there, you should come say hi.

There's Always Tomorrow...
Thu 2013-04-25 23:24:33 (single post)

So today was not the productive, happy, high-energy day I was hoping for. It started with a headache and it dragged along in slow motion. Today did not represent any sort of significant step in the great plans I have for new-habit-forming and rut-reconstruction. But I promised I would blog, and blog I am indeed doing. So there's that.

Here's the deal: I am tired of getting nothing done. On any given weekday I've been as likely to stay in bed with a book until the early afternoon as I am to get up and write. More likely, in fact. It's pathetic. And while a full-time work-at-home writer can set her own hours, I find I never really get up to useful speed if I stay in bed past noon. I'm a morning person. (A morning person who can't seem to get out of bed. I know, it's weird.) Besides, I've got derby practice three days a week. I can't entirely set my own hours.

So recently I've been collecting strategies to combat that tendency. The best one, the main one on which all strategies depend, is to pattern my schedule after John's such that I wake up with him and then go in to work with him. Well, not with him at his office (though I suspect his coworkers would actually get a kick out of me coming in and taking over an unused desk once in a while), but with him in downtown Boulder. There are at least four co-working spaces set up in that area, and at least two more out on our side of town. I don't have a full membership anywhere, but most of them have a daily rate as well. For $15 or $20, depending, you can work there from 9 AM to 6 PM. And I've been doing that once or twice a week. I've worked a few days out of Scrib, I've tried out Co-Motion and BDA, and I've just about fallen in love with Fuse at The Riverside.

As it happens, the day I checked out Fuse for the first time was also the day John's company moved house. They were in the Colorado Building at 14th and Walnut; now they're in One Boulder Plaza. So after John and I walk to his office together, I continue on for one block south along Broadway. It's very convenient.

(And then, if it's Tuesday, we meet up after work and have dinner, then we both go back down to The Riverside because we're taking swing dance lessons in the event center space there.)

Thing about Fuse is, it's very much still under construction. But it is going to be awesome. It's already got rentable desks and an open seating work area and a creekside conference room. The cafe counter just got finished and revealed this week. Now they're working on the kitchen so that the cafe can actually serve food. And I can't wait for the library and wine bar downstairs to be completed. I'm really excited about what they're going to be. And I am this close to just plunging in and becoming a member and renting a desk. I want to support them. And there's value in getting in on the ground floor, so to speak. I sort of want to be part of the process of Fuse's creation.

But because they're very much a work in progress, they're still trying to build, or perhaps accrete, a community. It's like the physical version of the dilemma of starting a new online bulletin board: you need people to join in order to have a community, but in order to get people to join you need to have a vibrant community. So what they really need is people to be there, working or co-creating or conversing, filling the space with bustle and productivity and excitement, so that prospective members checking out the place see that instead of silent, empty rooms and construction dust.

So I committed to coming in twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That's twice a week that I'm absolutely getting out of bed, going downtown, sitting down at a desk, and working. So far it's been really productive. I have set myself a schedule -- fiction before lunch, "day job writing" after lunch -- and if I haven't adhered to it perfectly, well, I'm at least approximating it.

And I'm hoping that the way I work at Fuse will become a new habit that will play out on my at-home days, too. It didn't happen today. I partially blame the headache for that, and also having to put my skates back together and do stuff like that. But mostly it was just me falling back in that same old rut. It's OK, though. It doesn't mean my attempts to change things are worthless and doomed. There's always tomorrow. Tomorrow could be a productive day. And, at worst, Tuesday will be here again soon.