“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.”
William Stafford

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Days Thirteen Through Seventeen: Nine Does Not Equal Nine
Thu 2011-11-17 16:38:04 (single post)
  • 28,437 words (if poetry, lines) long

Been continuing along on the novel at an average sort of pace. Haven't done any more multi-thousand-word heroics since Saturday's 5K, but I've kept my stats graph right on the diagonal line. See for yourself!

(Note: It would appear that the current incarnation of the NaNoWriMo website uses one's novel title as a building block of one's stats URL. Thus: NaNoWriMo.org/[2-letter Language Code]/participants/[Username]/novels/[Novel Title]/stats. So when I finally come up with a better title, that URL might change. Unlike here at actually writing blog, where each work in progress gets its own unchanging 8-letter code, and changes to titles simply cause confusion on earlier blog posts where I refer in the text to the crappy working title but the blue word-count block shows the sparkly new right title, which may yet change again in some future time and cause more confusion. AND SO FORTH.)

I'm still working on Chapter 4, otherwise known as Bitsy and Her Sister's Ghost. Also, I've begun reading the archives of Mimi Smartypants. This is a blog full of the snark. It makes me chortle. But it also makes me feel kind of stupid. See, Mimi often talks about her daughter Nora, and Nora at eight sounds a lot more sophisticated than the voice I've given Bitsy to talk about her ninth birthday party in.

(Erm. So. You click on that link, and then you scroll past Mimi's gynecological musings -- hee! socks -- and finally you get to the Nora bit at #9 and following.)

It's not that I don't remember what it was like to be eight. I just forget which memories went with which number of years old. Ask me about third grade and I will reel off all sorts of memories. I will tell you what games we played at recess, who was in my home room, who I had a crush on, what books I read in the library, what field trips we took, what I did in the afternoons, and what kind of fights I had with my parents. I'll tell you about the cold fusion exhibit we got all fruitlessly exited about. I'll tell you about schmoozing my way into a Haley's Comet camping trip and it being too overcast to see the actual comet. (That might have been fourth grade rather than third. Same home room though.) I'll probably also tell you, because I have no freakin' filters, all sorts of other things I remember doing that were so stupid and embarrassing that when I think of them today I start humming reflexively as a sort of mental LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU. But ask me about being eight years old, and before I tell you all that stuff, I'll have to go, "Wait. When was that? Let's see... eight minus five is... Oh! I was in 3rd grade. That was the year that..." Only then can the nostalgic brain dump from 1984 commence.

And you will undoubtedly smile in a pained sort of way and look for a good excuse to exit the conversation before I really got going.

All this is just to say, I know I've written Bitsy too young. But I don't realize it on autopilot. I wanted the point of view of a small, scared, unsophisticated child, and I picked an arbitrary single digit. Which turned out to be the wrong digit. Only now I've gotten attached both to Bitsy's voice and to all sorts of things that depend on nine being the right digit after all. Crap.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do to resolve this conflict, but I know when I'm going do it: Not in November. First draft, peeps. First draft.

"But even though that monster let her through, she ran into more monsters and every single one of them wanted something. The lady gave away her pretty robes and her sparkly dancing shoes and her beauty and her hair and her voice and everything. Now she was nobody. That's what it takes to go into the land of the dead. You have to stop being your alive self."

Bitsy felt cold and all numb with scared. She knew now that Camerie was taking her to the land of the dead. Camerie had to go. She'd been a ghost for more than nine years, and ghosts have to go away sooner or later. Being in Bitsy's body didn't matter -- it just meant Camerie would walk there instead of blow away. Bitsy didn't want Camerie to go there. Bitsy really didn't want to go there herself. Bitsy didn't want to stop being Bitsy.

"Finally the lady who used to be a queen ended up in front of the throne of the queen of the dead. That was her sister. But the alive queen had given away her crown and her clothes and her face and her self and everything. So the dead queen didn't recognize her. She just said, 'Someone living has come to visit me. And I'm hungry!' Dead people are always hungry. 'So hang this person on a hook and we'll eat her up!' So that's what the court of the dead did. They tapped the living queen on her head, and she wasn't alive anymore. Then they hung her up on a hook in a cold meat locker. Then they got ready to carve her up and eat her."

Bitsy couldn't keep quiet anymore. Is that what's going to happen to me when we get to the land of the dead?

"Don't be stupid. We're not going to the land of the dead."

Then where are we going?

Camerie got mad again. "Don't ask that! Stop asking questions! Shut up!" She started running again.

Days Ten through Twelve: Put Something In
Sat 2011-11-12 22:07:54 (single post)
  • 21,391 words (if poetry, lines) long

It's been a good few days on the novel. I've been slacking off with the blogging of it, but not with the actual writing. I've discovered that if I spend two hours alternating 15-minute word sprints and 15-minute rests, I generate between 3,000 and 3,200 words. So that's what I did on Thursday. I did it again today. And since @NaNoWordSprints challenged everyone to have a #5Kday, I kept going. In pure word count terms, I am all caught up.

In story terms, things keep happening unexpectedly. Which is kind of fun and kind of nervous-making.

Driving to the airport the other night, I saw what looked like the tattered remains of a garbage bag rise up on the wind, whip around a bit, then sink down again. And I thought, "Ah, ghosts on the side of the road." And I continued thinking, "Imagine if that were a normal sight. Ghosts on the side of the road. Just part of the acknowledged world. You'd have to learn about it in driver's ed, along with other unexpected things you have to be able to handle as a driver. Wildlife, inclement weather, ghosts. And are the ghosts going somewhere or are they waiting to get picked up?"

So I had my next chapter. It was about time I set a chapter in a world whose reality wasn't quite like ours. In this chapter, a little girl acquires a costume ring from a gumball machine in that shop, and it lets her interact with a very particular ghost.

Bitsy was bad. She went where she oughtn't. But it's not her fault! She just forgot. She forgets things sometimes. Momma tells her, Don't you go in that store. Don't you go in there. Bad things for sale in there. Bad things a little girl shouldn't see. Bitsy is a very little girl -- she's eight and three quarters precisely. Any littler and she'd be a baby. Bitsy's too little to see the bad things on the shelves, because they're way up high where Momma would have to lift her. Pa used to lift her up high, way too high, and Bitsy would scream and scream, but Momma knows how to lift Bitsy up safe and sound so she can take down her ghoulie-bear or see the family picture of herself and Momma and Pa and her old big sister Camerie who lives on the side of the road. Bitsy wants to go visit her. Pa took her once, but it was so long ago Bitsy's forgot. Pa says Bitsy was very brave and didn't cry or try to run away, that Bitsy tried to hug Camerie, and Camerie, who was singing and singing Oooooo ah oooo, stopped singing and got so startled she shrank down to the size of a mouse and blew away. Bitsy knows that's how it happened because Pa only tells true stories, but Bitsy's forgot it all. That's why she wants to see Camerie now. She forgot what her old big sister was like.

Bitsy forgot about the store, too, about Momma saying no no no, she was so set on visiting Camerie all by herself. Since she's so little, it took her about two times forever to get halfway there, following the sidewalk and then turning left because Bitsy isn't supposed to cross the street by herself, then following the sidewalk under the great big highway. Bitsy isn't sure if that's crossing the street or not. Is crossing under the same as crossing, period? Camerie crossed under, long before Bitsy was born -- a whole year, Momma said.

The store's another forever along the sidewalk, right about when Bitsy's getting confused about where Camerie lives. The store's got dirty windows Bitsy couldn't've seen inside even if she weren't so little, and when she runs her hand along the reddy brown wood its walls are made of, she gets a splinter. It's not the kind of splinter that hurts. It just sticks out like a little tree that got blown over in the wind. Bitsy's still staring at it inside the store, because there isn't much other than that for a little girl to see in the store, what with all the shelves being way up high, and the splinter is interesting the way it sticks out of her hand.

And the chapter just kept going. I've been writing on it for three days, and the chapter's word count is 9,549. I think I may have stumbled across an entire novel here.

NaNoWriMo feels very self-indulgent. This year especially. It's not the first time I've started the month with no clue where I was going, but it's the first time that the shape of a novel hasn't arisen quickly and naturally. I mean, the year I drafted Like a Bad Penny, all I had to go on were two men coming out of a bagel shop, but before two days were out I knew what the novel would look like. This? I continue to explore. And constantly working day after day on something that doesn't guarantee to become potentially publishable, that's what feels so self-indulgent. Like, I can't really justify it to myself. It feels like writing, but is it productive? I don't know.

So I keep reminding myself, "It's NaNoWriMo. It's supposed to be self-indulgent. It's your chance to make unexpected things happen."

John and I were talking finances the other day. As is often the case, I mentioned feeling a bit like a slacker because I wasn't working as hard as I felt I should, producing as many stories as I knew I could, or doing as much "day job writing" as I felt I ought. And John said something that kind of blew my mind. He said, "Well, I often feel like I'm not the force for good in this world that I ought to be. But by supporting you, giving you time to not only write but volunteer and stuff like that, I feel like I am making the world a better place after all."

And that sort of hit me right in the teary-eyed spot. I'm sure if I thought too hard about what John said, I could convince myself to feel terribly pressured about it, like I needed to produce enough positive change in the world to justify two people's existence instead of just one, so work HARDER work MORE stop SLACKING... but right now, what I mostly feel is affirmed. Like a great big permission slip just got handed to me, and I can believe in it.

So noodling around in November, following this or that clue through my imagination in search of a story with no guarantee of what I'll find -- that's OK. It's part of the process. It does, eventually, lead to story. And it's true to that good old Shel Silverstein motto of Put Something In: "Put something silly in the world / That ain't been there before." I think as long as, whatever I do with my days, I take Put Something In as my guide beacon, I'm headed in the right direction.

Day Eight: Having Skipped Days Six and Seven
Tue 2011-11-08 22:33:21 (single post)
  • 11,842 words (if poetry, lines) long

I spent most of the weekend fighting with a mild but obnoxious intestinal bug, with the result that I've eaten very little in the past four days and, owing perhaps to the dearth of energy that results from eating about half a meal per day, written even less. On the 6th and 7th of November, in fact, I wrote precisely nothing. Argh, damn, and blast. But today I wrote more than 2,000 words. If I keep that up daily, I'll be caught up by the 15th.

THIS JUST IN: Make that just over 3,000 words. Because I just got challenged to a word sprint, and one can't exactly take that lying down.

As I've enthused to everyone within earshot, the Boulder Public Library has given us Wrimos a dedicated space three times a week through the month of November. So I've been there quite a bit since NaNoWriMo started. This not only makes 2K-word days more likely, but also results in my returning home with library books more often. I mean, they keep putting interesting books in various face-out displays! This month I've taken home John Connolly's The Gates, Gregory Maguire's Out of Oz, Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw, and, today, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's retold fairy tale anthology Black Swan, White Raven.

(Ah, John Connolly. One of these days I must rant about John Connolly. Such a clever, satisfying narrative voice, but once in a while such strange and harmful social ideas that can't quite be passed off as "This book takes place in the 1940s." Mostly I'm troubled by that bit in The Book of Lost Things where the omniscient narrator tells us about the consequences of learning about sex at too young an age, and what this implies Connolly believes about A) cultures where there's less barriers to kids witnessing their parents' intmacy, and B) abuse survivors.)

Anyway, the novel crawls onward. You may laugh at the word "crawl" after the today's word count, but I assure you that's what it feels like. Still, I did progress, thanks to a couple of random shots of inspiration in my daily life.

Filed under "wildly omnivorous," there was that guy at the Baker Street Pub on Sunday. My usual brunch group was gathering at a booth with a good view of the Saints/Buccaneers game, when we noticed one member of the staff circumambulating with an odd, slow, deliberate step and a strangely spooky look on his face. I supposed he was waiting for tables to bus, but in the meantime he was... pacing? Practicing for the next zombie crawl? Doing walking meditation while getting into character as Evil Overlord's Minion #2?

In my novel, he is waiting for a signal from... well, I'm not sure yet. Maybe the mothership. Maybe his cybernetic body's manufacturer. Maybe Dracula. In any case, it's all one with the interdimensional bats.

And filed under "yet another magical item," there's this tweet:

Quote of the day: "Never trust a man who, when left alone with a tea cosey, doesn't try it on." –Billy Connolly

Clearly the next chapter-story's magical item purchased from the magical shop will be a tea cozy. But of course I needed to set up my character such that he would be left alone with it.

"Hey, thanks for having me over, Linda," the man said. He was pacing up and down the ample kitchen, around and around the large food prep island that was itself bigger than most people's dining room tables. He was obviously ill-at-ease, searching for something to say.

The woman he was addressing smiled a comfortable smile. She was in her own home, after all. She was the one calling the shots. "My pleasure, dear. You're new in the neighborhood and in need of introductions. It would be an act of sheer, unmitigated rudeness to leave you out in the cold."

It was July, and Linda's central air conditioning unit was going full blast. If anything, she'd invited him into the cold, not extracted him from it. But the man, whose name was Hank, refrained from correcting her metaphor. He shifted an electric can opener from its stance towards the back of the counter and brought it forward, opened and re-closed a floating cabinet, moved magnets around on the fridge. He was aware that this was rude behavior for a guest only newly invited into a stranger's home (and face it, everyone was a stranger these days, Linda and her neighbors only more so than most), but he couldn't stop himself. He'd always been burdened by nervous tics and fidgets.

He was spared having to think of something else to say when the front door opened without even a knock. "Yodel!" called out a distinctly non-yodeling voice. "Anyone home?"

"Francis!" Linda dropped the knife amongst the finely sliced celery on the cutting board and sprinted for the door. Her path took her counter-clockwise around the gloriously large refrigerator (with its double doors and ice maker) and out of sight. Hank could hear her pleased squeals reverberate off the low foyer ceiling. "I was hoping you'd make it! How was Spain? Didn't you just get in this morning?"

"Oh, tut. I can wander from my bed to here as easily as to my own kitchen, and this way I don't have to cook. Spain was wonderful. Full of sun and beaches and Spaniards. But it's good to be home."

Hank's inappropriate explorations found him the cabinet with the large tumblers at last, and he took one down and tried out the ice maker. Then he opened the fridge, found a pitcher of something that looked like iced tea. Linda had told him to make himself at home, after all. Maybe he'd pour glasses for everyone; wasn't that how one made friends? By making oneself useful? He was out of practice.

It took about 1,500 words to introduce the tea cosy, and another 750 or so to get Hank to the point of putting it on his head.

Day Five: This Is Why I Did 4 days of 2K/Day
Sat 2011-11-05 22:48:14 (single post)
  • 8,823 words (if poetry, lines) long

Bleeaaarrrgh. I'm tired, I was sick, I only got some 900 words done today, here, have an excerpt.

Immediately she had a dilemma. The amazingly tiny mini-laptop didn't appear to be large enough along any axis to admit a CD. Perhaps it needed an external drive? Maggie was on the verge of calling the clerk for help when her fingers tripped a release switch and the computer extracted what was unmistakeably a disk drive. It was pretty skeletal, for sure, but it was a CD-ROM drive for all that. She snapped the disk onto the flat spindle, then, doubtfully, pressed the button that had released it in the first place.

The CD-ROM drive retracted into the computer's body with a jerky motion. Maggie watched, expecting the drive shelf to stop at any moment. Once half the disk was inside, that was surely enough for the drive to read the disk, right? But the disk shelf kept on going until it had retracted completely. The outside of the computer was smooth and the disk had entirely disappeared, without even the faintest sound of disk destruction, into a space that was patently too small for it.

Maggie stuck around to install and run as many of the OEM disks that she thought she'd have use for, and all the programs ran flawlessly. But it was the impossible insertion of that first disk that decided her. She had to have this machine.

Day Four: Wildy Omnivorous
Fri 2011-11-04 22:30:48 (single post)
  • 7,919 words (if poetry, lines) long

So today it happened: I simply could not push forward with the plot line from the previous three days. After the end of yesterday's scene, I had absolutely no idea what would happen next. And any new conversations with the shop keeper would seem repetitive. So I skipped over to something else, like I've been threatening too.

There's a thread in the Boulder Regional Forum where we're talking about the dilemma, for some of us inevitable, that arises when we lose confidence in our stories and want to just start fresh with a brand new novel plot. Different people's responses range from "Don't be afraid to start over, but don't erase your word count back to zero" and "Push through, no matter how much you've come to hate the plot, if only so you can have the satisfaction of deleting the entire thing on December 1." As for me, I've given myself a plot structure that allows me to start over at any time and simply call it a new chapter. Totally stuck on the vampire dress plot? Start a new chapter about a new magic item.

What magic item? Dunno. Let's pull up my dream journal and find out.

5/2/2011: I get a call back from PC Express about my Compaq Aero telling me to just buy a new computer. "Well, I did; I just want to keep this old computer running." The man on the phone, who is now standing before me on a balcony patio, doesn't really understand this, and in fact actively disapproves. I exasperate him.

Oh, well, then. That's easy. The next chapter should be about a laptop.

The year was 2002 and Maggie was in the market for a new computer. One purchase later she'd still be in the market, but it's not like you can see a lemon sitting on your horizon like a sour sunrise. Hindsight, as they say, is twenty-twenty. Foresight is more like twenty-eighty-five.

This being November, it is not the time to berate myself for coming up with yet another protagonist name that starts with "M". Nor is it time to interrogate whether 2002 is really the year I want to set Maggie's chapter in. This is the time to just plain output. If the stupid creeps in, so what? The stupid spill on aisle four can wait until after November to be cleaned up.

But I did more than just start a new chapter. I gave myself permission to be wildly omnivorous.

Last night -- or rather, more to the point, this morning, at the unholy hour of 3:30 AM, I woke up. The cats weren't being loud or unduly active, John wasn't snoring or thrashing, no cars on the street had unleashed the full fury of their alarm systems. No. I woke up because my back was killing me. Have you ever been in so much pain that you wanted to scream, but you were afraid that if you did scream, you wouldn't be able to stop? Well, this wasn't quite that bad. I've been that bad, and this wasn't it. But I could see that place from the place 3:30 found me at. The rest of the "night" was a blur of trying to sleep, failing to find a compatible position, visiting the bathroom for a glass of water and a pee, climbing back into bed, and whimpering a lot.

And somewhere during those long uncomfortable pre-dawn hours, I was close enough to sleep to have a half-dream involving a bat fluttering around between the bathroom and the closet. But I wasn't asleep, not really. I was awake enough to think, "This hallucination has got to be worth at least 500 words."

So at tonight's write-in, I started not with the computer shop scene but rather with the description of the dreamed bat sighting. Did it have anything to do with the novel so far? Not that I could see. But it was writing, which is a good in and of itself. And it may yet tie in to the main plot. Better to write it down than to let it fade just because I can't justify putting it in the novel. So I just created a new chapter file, called it "Stuff Without a Home," created a new scene file, called it "The Bat," and I wrote about the bat.

It was more than 500 words, as it turns out, and it involved the suspicion of an interdimensional portal where the bat got in and was trying to get out again, the way a sparrow flies in a window and then has trouble finding its way out again. Also, another new scene file in which I described my all-over bleargh feeling (the sore back turned out to be part of me coming down with that sort of cold that manifests as fever symptoms minus the actual fever, as it was later joined by skin sensitivity and hot flashes) connected the malady with the character's early warning supernatural defense system. Yeah, this could definitely be part of the novel. Or some other novel.

And only then did I start Chapter 2: The Bit About The Computer.

But this store was even more untidy, even less antiseptic than that. Take the clutter of a pack-rat computer nerd, then add several boxes more of equipment from perhaps 1995 and earlier, and replace the blue nubbly carpet with autumn-leaf shag, and give the walls some off-white streakage that looked rather like the roof had sprung leaks the owners would prefer to just ignore, and you'd get something like this. Also there was a closet door with a menacing look to it, as though opening it might lead to a darkened labyrinth of 1960s card-reading behemoths that were willing and able to chew up and spit out today's spoiled computer users.

It was pretty dark in the store, too. The owner appeared to rely entirely on daylight through the storefront windows, allowing him or her to save money on not installing overheads. The ceiling was made of dingy plaster squares, some of which had unevenly cut edges and seemed capable of falling through the steel laticework at inopportune times of their own choosing.

Maggie soldiered on, determined to give her dollar to the local economy. Besides, some of those boxes looked fascinating. In no time at all she found herself forgetting why she'd come in. The new laptop she needed for her college computer science classes and word processing needs fell off the back of her mind while rare and no longer produced hardware called to her in the siren voices that live at the intersection of antique and electronic. Eventually a shop clerk interrupted her. She was working her way slowly through to the bottom of a cardboard box of 1990s home-use modems, and she was in the process of extracting a 300-baud monstrosity for closer inspection, when the voice at her ear said, "Looking for something in particular?"

The voice was harsh, scrapy, the exact opposite sort of voice as those that could be "velvet" or "crooning," and it startled her into abrubptly yanking at the modem. A corner of it tore the final blow into the aging cardboard, which had probably once been left in the path of the aforementioned roof leaks. The box's side sagged and blew out, spilling outdated hardware across the counter. Only by shifting quickly to her right and blocking the avalanch with her chest did Maggie prevent the modems from taking a long drop to the shag carpeting.

Day Three: Friends Don't Let Friends Wear Vampire Dresses
Thu 2011-11-03 20:22:52 (single post)
  • 6,060 words (if poetry, lines) long

So I'm auditioning an Idea. In my head. An Idea about how this novel is going to be structured. I think each chapter will be a different story, maybe a fairy tale retelling or maybe not, in which a purchase from the magic shop sparks adventure and disaster and heroism and tragedy. And each will also feature a conversation between the shop keeper and someone who's tracked her down (or him, or otherwise; gender is as fluid as species, and needs to be, for a shop keeper who can open shop doors on any world) and wants to know about her (or his, etc.) role in all this.

And I'm thinking that, like Dream of the Endless through the long narrative of The Sandman, the shop keeper's idea of her (we'll say "her" for convenience's sake) responsibilities toward her customers and her agency in their stories will subtly change over her millenia. But she doesn't realize it. As far as she's concerned, everything she tells each chapter's interrogator is true and has been true throughout her career.

Thing is, if I want this novel to ultimately be about her, it can't be because some THING happened to suddenly thrust her front and center into a story. She's been doing this magic shop thing for uncounted years. She's practically a deity. What aspect of the vampire dress story could possibly be special enough to spur her into sudden action? It makes more sense for me that her urge to assert her own will over story events is an urge that grows on her gradually over many, many hundreds of thousands of years.

In trying out that structural Idea, I'm free to keep noodling along the story of the vampire dress. Because I need to see that chapter through, right? And in this chapter, the shop keeper sends two people after Martha to try to stave off disaster. One is Cathy, one of the three young women Martha was simultaneously envious of and shamed by in the shop before she tried on the dress. Cathy gets the spotlight for today's excerpt. She's wearing an item of clothing that the shop keeper gave her. It's also enchanted, but I'm not sure in what way. It allows her to see through the glamour that the vampire dress casts, that's for certain, but I'm still figuring out the rest.

The second person the shop keeper sends is her interrogator -- yesterday's "you" character. That whole bit about her words not being a free gift? Well. Her words also were part of her merchandise, also a magical item. Again, I'm not sure how that all fits in, but I like the idea that anything you take with you out that shop's door has the power to direct Story.

"And that gorgeous collar you're wearing?" Rachel stabbed an enthusiastic finger at Cathy's throat, oblivious to the way her friend pulled back sharply from the weapon-like digit, tipped as it was with a long, sharp, red-hued nail. Rachel had always been fastidious about her nails. "It matches perfectly, all old-fashioned and stuff. Did your cousin really wear that, too?"

"It's so elegant," put in Jacqueline.

Cathy blushed and admitted that it had been a gift, and that she was indeed lucky that it matched the dress, but then black lace is black lace when you get right down to it. She fidgeted with the single black teardrop hanging from the choker's center.

"Oh, look--" Jacqueline interrupted Cathy's stammerings and pointed toward the entrance. "It's Mr. Willingham. Oh, that's so sad -- you heard about him right?"

"Is that him?" Cathy recalled the newspaper item covering the protests in Northside. "He's the one who's daughter went missing?"

"Yeah, that's him. Martha Willingham. She was just two years behind our class at Withervine. Classmates saw her leaving campus and heard her say to a friend she was going to Old Town. No one saw her since." Jacqueline continued with the unnecessary details, recounting the news story they'd all read in a melodramatic voice, clearly relishing the tragedy. Cathy thought her enjoyment in poor taste.

Rachel sniffed. "What's he doing here, then? He's so distraught over his daughter he's got to organize half of the Withervine neighborhood to protest, what's he doing at a party?"

"Maybe he hopes she'll turn up here," said Cathy. She wasn't sure what to think of the whole thing, really, but Rachel was always so judgmental. Cathy couldn't help jumping to the defense of anyone Rachel started ranting about. It was an unthinking reflex, and it sometimes got her into trouble, especially when Rachel actually had the right of it. But it was hard to let Rachel's condemnations go unanswered. "Or maybe he's coming to realize she's gone for good, like the police have, and he's trying to cheer himself up. If I'd lost a daughter, and some bigwig was offering me a chance to drink myself into oblivion on their dime, I'd take it."

"You wouldn't." Jacqueline laughed. "Have you ever been drunk?"

Cathy admitted she hadn't. "But I've also never lost a child under mysterious circumstances, either."

Day Two: Noodling Around Behind the Check-out Counter
Wed 2011-11-02 22:58:12 (single post)
  • 3,798 words (if poetry, lines) long

Did I mention I have no idea where this year's novel draft is going? Also I'm having acute attacks of "Why am I writing yet another new first draft? Why am I not seriously editing an existing draft? Why am I not trying to get a book published yet?"

  1. Because it's November.
  2. Because it's November.
  3. Because ... I've wasted a lot of non-Novembers up to now.

The question of wasting no more non-Novembers will have to wait until December. For now... it's November. And I have this story to create out of pure nothingness.

So I'm trying to take the advice I am preparing to give to the whole Boulder region come Week 2: When in doubt as to which option to choose, choose them both. Write the scene both ways. Write continuations to both scenes. All the words count toward your 50K, and they also (by some mysterious alchemical process) count toward your figuring things out. Because, as I discovered last year, you don't know what you're going to write until you've written it and read it.

So since I didn't know whether to continue with the vampire dress storyline or cut out to the shop keeper telling her story, I did both. And I suppose tomorrow it'll be continuing the vampire dress plot or starting a new magic-item-leads-to-adventure/disaster plot. Depends on what's in my head at that time.

Here's the shop keeper on choices, responsibility, and free will, and at some tiresome length too:

Believe me when I tell you there is nothing I could have done. And don't you tut-tut at me like that -- I'm far too old to put up with such clucking from my own parents, let alone random people who walk into my shop. And, trust me, you've got nothing on my father. At least, I think so. It's been so long; my memories of home and hearth are foggy. I think I had a father. Once. In any case, if I did have, you weren't in his league.

But no, listen. I am under certain constraints. Anyone who can pay my price may buy what they will; I am not allowed to interfere. I cannot interfere. The thing about stories is, characters have to have agency, right? What's the use of a story in which no one has a choice and no one stands a chance? Even you, even you have a choice. You paid my price, and so you get my words. Did you think those were for sale? No. Everything has a price tag, everything is stamped with its particular UPC. Trust me, you can pay it. And you want to. Look, don't worry about it -- it will become clear to you later. You will have no regrets. Well, I wouldn't, were I you.

But that's the paradox, isn't it? In order to allow His creations free will, God, Who can do anything, cannot choose what we would have Him choose. If it makes you feel better, perhaps it is better said that He must not. And I am no God. I am less powerful. The choices I cannot make -- to refuse the sale, to hide the dress, to chase poor Martha out of the shop or simply lock the door after she disappeared into the dressing room -- I really can't make them. I owe my livelihood and my existence to -- a contract, say. Call it a contract. I, the undersigned, waive my ability to interfere in my customers' choices; in return, I get many hundreds of thousands of years of life in an infinite multitude of multiverses and an inventory that takes care of itself. And absolutely no responsibility for those things I cannot control: no moral responsibility for my customers' selections, no liability for the disasters they may incur, no obligation to accept returned merchandise.

The most I can do, as you have seen, is offer my wares without asking for money, and throw in word or two of advice. Not for free -- nothing, as I have been at pains to tell you, is for free. We bartered, did Cathy and I. I gave a thing if she accepted the duty to use it. I asked for her willingness and gave a thing in return. Oh, it was nothing said in words, but the exchange happened nonetheless.

The shop takes care of my needs and it exacts my obedience to the clauses of our contract. If that bothers you so much, go out yourself and do something about it. Martha's still out there. That poor boy may not be her last conquest. Go make yourself useful and stop scolding me.

Or go across the street and buy me a coffee. Even that will be useful. Pay you back when you return. What else am I going to do with money?

Oh, make your choice already. You have choices, isn't that enough for you? Why must you flaunt what you have that I do not by dithering? Choose, and go.

Don't look to me to make this easy.

World Fantasy Interlude: That Whole Flying Thing
Wed 2011-11-02 17:25:29 (single post)
  • 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long

OK, so. World Fantasy. A day late, and, as it turns out, a good deal short, because there is no way I'm typing up the entire contents of my head to do with WFC in a single blog post. Let's just pretend I was blogging the con as I went, and my blog posts simply showed up just under a week late. Or something like that.

The first part of any trip is getting there. I got there on a plane.

This was my first time flying commercially since, quite possibly, the North Devon countryside vacation. Certainly it was my first time through the TSA/DHS ritual since the implementation of the notorious "naked or groped" measures. I wasn't particularly worried about either of those options in particular -- which is not to say that concerns about these unnecessary violations of privacy and bodily integrity, not to mention the potential PTSD trigger for sexual assault survivors, aren't absolutely valid; I'm just lucky enough to generally arouse little-to-none TSA suspicion (i.e. I'm small, white, and cisgendered female) and to not be an assault survivor myself; o hai there privilege! this R me, checkin U. No, rather, I was nervous and unhappy about the whole process: take off your shoes, take your laptop out of your bag, do whatever the people in uniform demand, don't protest as possessions are confiscated, don't protest if they tell you they're going to touch your privates, don't demand to know how any of this is serving to make air travel safer, why do you hate America?

I resent the whole circus. I take trains when I can partially in protest of security theater. Unfortunately, between my Dad's visit before the trip and NaNoWriMo afterwards, I couldn't take an extra four days for travel this time around. So I screwed up my resentment and bought round trip airfare via Southwest.

And I did in fact encounter a little hiccup going through the full-body scanner on the way through Denver International. Thankfully, there was no trauma nor any confiscation. When I came out of the round scanning chamber, the image on the screen -- just a childlike outline of a generic female body, since TSA is phasing out the naked pics -- superimposed a square outline over my head area. The security officer, a woman -- they seem to match officer and passenger genders when touching the body is deemed necessary -- asked me to bow my head so she could investigate my hair. Lo! It was my wooden hair pin, by which my hair stays up and out of the way so I don't sit on it or get it caught it doors. She allowed it through, though I suspect that if I'd taken the pin out of my hair so she could see the sharp ends, or simply if another agent who'd been having a bad day was on shift instead, I might have lost it after all.

I resolved to put my hair pin in checked luggage on my return trip and just deal with sitting-on-hair and hair-in-doors problems as they arose. And I resent having to do so. I resent being subject to this behavioral conditioning. I resent that it's working.

By the by, apparently the TSA claims that the new full-body scanners have increased their success. But they quantify their success by how many "illegal or prohibited items" they can find now that they couldn't before. Sure, this includes illegal drugs, but it also includes bamboo knitting needles (and wooden hair pins) depending on how the agent on duty interprets the prohibition on "sharp objects." I think claiming a higher success rate based on detecting "prohibited items" is a lot like claiming higher success for the local police force by counting convictions: you can artificially raise the rate just by prohibiting more items or criminalizing more actions. (Note, meanwhile, that to date no explosives have been detected.)

Anyways. Thence to gate C39 for the Southwest Airline flight to San Diego. I chose Southwest because, like their advertisements say, "Bags fly free!" Because another thing I resent deeply about post-9/11 airport security theater is the paired impact of A) more things you can't take aboard the aircraft, and B) charging $50+ per checked bag. I cynically suspect that some of the major airlines are helping TSA come up with their list of "prohibited items," specifically suggesting dangerous uses for items many passengers won't travel without, to increase the number of bags getting checked at $50 a pop.

I also chose Southwest for their sense of humor. I find their ads utterly charming. And when I arrived at C39, I saw other evidences of fun. For starters, they had decorated the gate desk for Halloween in a Wild West Saloon motif. On the return trip, I'd see even the ticketing desk dressed up for the holiday, but that being San Diego, they went with a pirate theme.

At their gate were some awesome amenities for the electronic generation. Lots of A/C outlets, both at a tall bar-stool-outfitted countertop and between the new comfy-looking armchairs. USB outlets, too, presumably for charging phones. I looked up and down the terminal and did not see similar furniture at other airlines' gates. As I would learn later, Southwest even makes wi-fi available aboard some flights. Just fire up your computer, connect, and pay $5 where prompted at the network gateway. If my flight had been longer, I might have tried it out.

Another features unique to Southwest gates: a series of numerical posts to facilitate passengers lining up in order. Boarding passes come printed with a section letter and position number, which is essentially your place in the first-come-first-served line. I assume the sooner you check in, the forward-er in line you get, and thus the more choice you have in where to sit. They do open seating, see; whatever seat is still open when you get to it, window aisle or middle, is fair game. And here's where Southwest do make a little extra money: for $10 extra, you can do "early-bird check-in", whereas for free you get checked in automatically up to 36 hours before the flight, rather than checking in online up to 24 hours ahead of time like non-fee-paying schmoes do. Or, Gods forfend, an hour ahead of time at the airport, which is what I did. (It wasn't so bad.)

Later, a friend asked me if the flight attendants "sang a little song" for us on landing. Apparently that's what they did last time she flew. On my flight, we just got a little casual humor inserted into the passenger briefing. Also life-size images of Southwest staff members waving us goodbye all up and down the ramp to the plane. These were cheerful, if slightly creepy.

The one thing I regret about my transportation choices, though, was flying home on October 30th rather than on Halloween itself. Southwest apparently gives you complimentary treats (with an alcoholic component for those over 21) on certain holidays, Halloween being one of them. But I really didn't want to have to skip out on another Monday morning at Abbondanza, seeing as how I'd missed so many since August already, so I did not get to sample these treats.

All in all, the flying-between-Denver-and-San-Diego portion of my World Fantasy experience was remarkably pleasant. I would definitely fly Southwest again. Next time I can't take the train, that is.

(One day I will fly myself everywhere. But for that I would have to first A) own an aircraft, because overnight rental hours add up in an expensive way, and B) start practicing again. I haven't been in the cockpit for more than two years, and I'm feeling it.)

Day One: The Vampire Dress Dream, Scene One
Tue 2011-11-01 01:44:59 (single post)
  • 2,358 words (if poetry, lines) long

Later on this afternoon (meaning Tuesday, November 1), I'll blog about WFC. (I mean it. Really!) (The reading went very well, by the way -- but more details on this and other weekend activities later.) Right now it's time to admit that I'm doing NaNoWriMo again and post an excerpt from today's writing to the blog.

Why, yes it's only 1:30 AM Mountain Daylight Time. The inaugural midnight write-in is a Boulder tradition! And I'm pretty pleased with myself for logging over 2000 words by 1:15 even with having got up around 12:40 to refill the electric kettle (from a water fountain, using a paper cup as intermediary transport; it takes about 3 full pours to fill the kettle). And it doesn't seem to matter that it's a Monday night; I think we've got as many people in the St. Julien lobby as we did last year when Halloween fell on a weekend.

I have very little idea where this novel is going. At some point I decided that since my dreams handed me about 95% of a complete short story the other day, I should start with that story. When I got done with it, I figured, I'd either know what happens next or I'd search my dream journals for another juicy one.

As it turns out, I'm pretty much done storyfying the content of the dream, which goes something like this...

I'm in an elegant dress and accessory shop, and I'm staring hopelessly at a slinky black dress, knowing I could never wear something like that, I'm too short and my butt's too big and my boobs are too small... and this gaggle of girls near me who each would be perfect in a sexy dress like that just make me feel really small. Then I say what the hell, I try it on. It fits me perfectly. And I am supremely confident, I know I'm beautiful and sexy, and also, as it turns out when a teenage boy walks into the shop, I'm now a vampire. I totally seduce him, and then I drink blood from the vein inside his elbow, and he's absolutely OK with th"is. The shopkeeper gives me such a disapproving stare when I go to buy the dress, though. Oh, and then there's this lacy choker collar I'm thinking of buying too.

...and I'm thinking the main character of the novel isn't the woman with low self-esteem and a non-Hollywood-compatible figure, no, it's the shopkeeper. And the shop is one of those little magic shops that just appear and disappear without warning, remaining around just long enough to sell you some object that turns your life inside-out without your consent. I imagine the shopkeeper saying, "I'm not the one in the stories. I just start the stories." But she can't have a novel about her without that becoming less and less true as the pages wear on.

Today's scene was mostly through the eyes of my dream point-of-view character. At least, until the dress vamps her. Then it goes sort of omniscent. Look, it's a rough draft, that's the point of NaNoWriMo, deal with it. The following excerpt? Not prettied up at all. Just a few paragraphs from the raw output.

The dress said, Try me on.

Of course it didn't. Dresses can't speak. So it had to have been Martha's own mind throwing out the words in technicolor and surround sound in the theater of her mind. Try it on. Nevertheless, she answered aloud: "No."

Go ahead.

"No!"

Motion from the main store. The clerk's voice -- Martha hadn't heard the clerk's voice yet, but it had to be her, the shop door hadn't jangled again -- "Is anything wrong in there, sweetie?"

"No," Martha said again, louder, relieved to have a reason to shout the word. She let the sound's natural ambiguity cover both the clerk's question and the dress's command, which was just how cowardly Martha was externalizing her own temptation so she didn't have to own it, of course. "No," she told herself and the dress, and watched her hand stroke the midnight silk.

There, and that's my Day One NaNoBlogging duty done. More after I clear out of the hotel, give people rides home, go to sleep, and wake up very late in the morning or later still.

Reading Today from BLOOD AND OTHER CRAVINGS at #WFC #WFC2011
Fri 2011-10-28 11:29:22 (single post)
  • 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long

Oh, hey there, social media. You have corrupted me into putting Twitter hashtags in my blog post titles. Because the blog post title will show up on Twitter. Logical, isn't it?

Anyway. I'm in San Diego. It's Friday, Day 2 of the World Fantasy Convention. Today at 3:00 PM there will be a group reading from the vampirism anthology Blood and Other Cravings; it will take place in the Tor Suite. The Tor Suite will be somewhere in the Royal Palm Towers, the big tall U-shaped building at the end of the property nearest the mall. We don't have a room number yet. But whichever room it'll be in, I'll be there, reading my story "First Breath" and attempting not to stutter from nervousness. Steve Rasnic Tem will also be reading, as will I think three other anthology contributors. And of course Ellen Datlow will be there. Big thanks to her for organizing the reading!

I'll leave it at that for now, and blog more about the convention later on today. At least, that's the intention. I am so very full of good intentions.

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