“I find having a mortgage to be a great motivator to keep on working.”
Mo Willems

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Pre-Sirens Avon Writing Retreat, Day 2
Tue 2011-10-04 23:00:33 (single post)
  • 1,050 words (if poetry, lines) long

In some ways, today went even better than yesterday. Remember yesterday's checklist? Everything got checked off today that got checked off yesterday: Morning Pages, both Day Job Writing components (those being Examiner.com and Demand Media), and Fiction. And this time I didn't cheat on the Day Job Writing -- which is to say, instead of just completing a rewrite request on a Demand Media article, and a rewrite request which consisted only of a copy editor's request for reference clarification, today I wrote an actual article. And submitted it. (And got it accepted, too. So: yay! More money on Friday!)

But there was a cheat component today, too. I didn't get to the short story until about half an hour ago -- at least, not to the putting-words-on-the-page part; I was thinking about it all day, including while asleep -- and all I wrote were a few sentences.

They were fairly lovely sentences though, I think. They came out of an observation that yesterday's writing lacked specificity. Who were all these people in the womens' house? Which normal human beings come to the funeral of a Goddess? What names do I put in the places where I've currently got "[NAME]"? These questions did not get answers yet. But I imagined myself standing where Demi stands, gazing from her living room out across the frozen lake, and I thought of the chill that bites through window glass when it's cold enough to freeze lakes. And that's what's in the few sentences I pecked out tonight.

That's stories for you. Sometimes they come in miserly dribs and drabs, and you've just got to set your bucket out to catch whatever little falls in.

Lori and I continue enjoying our retreat. We took a walk aroud the lake that's at the far end of the soccer field -- Nottingham Lake, Google Maps tells me. And, on my insistence, we dropped by the library again. I got a library card for the Eagle Valley District a couple years ago, thinking that John and I could check out DVDs to watch together. This week I've been checking out Julia Cameron books. Yesterday it was Vein of Gold, but after reading through the first few chapters I don't think it's where I am right now. So today it was Walking in this World, which still isn't exactly right, but it's closer. Lori and I are doing quite a lot of walking, after all.

The Italian restaurant in the Lodge at Avon is under new management. The Tuesday lunch special, a baked tortellini with a Caesar salad side, was very tasty and just the right size.

Loaded Joe's continues comfy and convenient. Especially comfy. Both today and yesterday I nearly fell asleep on their sofa. So both days I came back to the Sheraton Mountain Vista after Joe's and had a nap. (This is the "including while asleep" I mentioned earlier.) Tomorrow and Thursday Loaded Joe's will be closed for some minor renovations. I hope we get a chance despite the conference to see how those renovations turn out.

We had dinner in the room tonight. Lori makes a delicious pesto. She bought some wine to go with it. Now I am full and sleepy.

Somewhere tonight I got distracted by the archives of the web comic Three Panel Soul. Now I am trying to remember the short story that Lem's guest strip is referencing. Neither title, author, nor anthology are coming to mind. I remember this much: it involves living one's life over again several times on the way to saving the world and dying too soon. I think it's on my bookshelf back home.

That's pretty much it for today, and probably more than was really necessary. It's late and my blogging abilities are devolving into brain-dump. Heigh ho.

I suppose tomorrow I should continue the strategy of starting with whatever I skimped on the previous day. Today I hit the Demand Media article directly after Morning Pages because I'd skimped on that part of my checklist yesteday. Tomorrow I suppose I had best start with the short story.

Pre-Sirens Avon Writing Retreat, Day 1
Mon 2011-10-03 23:27:18 (single post)
  • 2,615 words (if poetry, lines) long

Another writing-related event is around the corner: Sirens, a conference dedicated to women in fantasy literature. (I have been telling people "women in science fiction and fantasy," but looking at the Sirens website now, I see that was too broad a description.) This will be my first year attending, since I only just found out about it last year during NaNoWriMo (which is just around the corner, by the way) when Zak and Sharon visited around Thanksgiving and asked if I'd be going.

The theme of Sirens for 2011 will be "monsters," and panels promise to focus not just fantastical beasts who happen to be female, but also on the distressing tendency to treat women as monstrous. It should be no surprise to anyone to hear that this is right up my alley.

I'll be blogging about Sirens over at Boulder Writing Examiner, of course, because this is the sort of thing that Boulder-area writers should know about. What I'll be blogging about over here, where things are All About Me, is the awesome half-week of pure writing retreat that Lori and I are having during the run-up to Sirens.

We're staying at the Sheraton Mountain Vista, same place as Bridget and I stayed at last year (though, looking back, I see I got the hotel/resort's name wrong), writing and perpetrating yummy cooking experiments. (Looking back, I also see that weekend was where "Blackbird" started taking off in my head. "Unfinished Letter" has made no progress since then, to my shame.) Using the timeshare week for a writing retreat has, as I said then, become a bit of a tradition for me. It seemed the convenient thing to do when Lori and I stopped waffling around and decided that yes, dang it, we'll be attending Sirens.

We drove up yesterday, but no writing got done then, mainly because we had just driven up from Boulder. Add to this my early-morning start driving a friend to the airport, and the sum was exhaustion.

But today was a different story. We were both up by 7:30 AM, drinking coffee and doing writerly things. Writerly things continued throughout the day. Lori is concentrating exclusively on her novel-in-progress; I heard her say "Finished the chapter!" at least twice today. As for me, my writerly things consisted of the following:

  • Morning Pages (for the first time in ever)
  • Two Examiner articles (here and here)
  • The first scene in the Persephone/Demeter story's new draft (from blank page, hence the word count drop)
  • A Demand Media rewrite

Also a bunch of Glitch got played, much of it while watching Monday Night Football. I was rooting for the Buccs over the Colts, 'cause I want our division to represent, yo.

My main goal this week is to find a way for my fiction writing to coexist peacefully with my "day job" writing, ideally such that both get some of my time each day. If today is any indication, this is indeed possible. At least, it is when I have not cats and bills and housework and groceries and other errands of daily life to run. Making it work while on retreat is easy. Bringing the lessons back to the day-to-day will be something else entirely.

But I'm not going to fall into the trap of "That's nice, but it could be better" or beat myself up with the stick of "That's nice, but it's not much, is it?" I'm going to appreciate what I get done each day. Which isn't something I've been historically good at, sure, but new habits gotta come from somewhere.

For the Sake of Six Seeds
Sun 2011-09-25 22:10:36 (single post)
  • 2,615 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today, John and I cut open and ate half the seeds of a pomegranate that grew on the tree I planted from a seed when I was in high school, and that Mom took over caring for when I left for college. It spent most of the intervening years in a big red pot either inside the pool enclosure or just outside it in the back, where you can look out over the grass of the levee to the big concrete hulk of the Bonnabel Pumping Station. (See also: Bonnabel Boat Launch, whose nifty new website mispells levee as though it were a tax.) Mom would move it between the two locations whenever the little tree, root-bound at about three feet high and half that diameter, lost its leaves and looked dead. Soon after being moved in from out, or out from in, it would re-leaf itself. It did this with no particular regard for weather or season. Mom took to calling it "The Resurrection Plant." At one point it began flowering, but the flowers would fall again without issue. And then so would the leaves. And Mom would move the pot, and it would stage another dramatic renewal.

Pomegranate bushes have narrow oval leaves veined with the red that the fruit bleeds when you cut it, and irregular spines an inch long that take you by surprise, since it's easy to forget they're there. This particular bush had a habit of subletting its pot to local ant colonies, which occasionally Mom or Dad would poison with a scattering of teeny golden grains that come in a green and white box whose labeling implies it means business. At some point someone looked up pomegranates on the internet and determined that they don't actually like humidity much, which might explain some things.

A year or two ago, I forget precisely, Mom and Dad brought home some satsuma trees to plant out back, and while they were at it, they transplanted the pomegranate too. It promptly grew to a height at least three times my own and filled out until it could have easily hidden five of me up against its trunk (if there were in fact five of me, all with thorn-proof skin). And when it next blossomed, it blossomed all over. Hummingbirds visited it, and I'd never seen a hummingbird in that neighborhood before.

And finally the darn thing bore fruit.

I was just there -- I now have two conventions, not one, which I'd like to blog about and haven't yet -- and on my last morning in town Mom and I went out back and tried to decide which of the five or six fruit hanging from its boughs was ripest. September's awfully early for pomegranates, I'd have thought; I never see them in the stores much before Halloween. Three were medium big, and two were half-sized and paired like cherries. None had that wine-red pebbly skin I remembered from the grocery. I chose the one that was the reddest, which is to say, it had the least flushes of yellow and the most overall salmon coloring. Its hide was stiff like cracked old leather.

I brought it back to Boulder with me and showed it to John. I brought it to Sunday brunch and showed our friends. (Sunday brunch was temporarily moved, at my request, to a venue showing the Sunday NFL line-up, so I could watch the Saints win their hard-fought, mathematically calculated, teeter-totter Week 3 victory over the Texans.)

Then John and I got home, and, half-fearing what we'd find -- was it ripe? was it rotten? -- sliced the pomegranate in half. Juice flowed from the cut. The seeds were oblong rubies pressed into facets by their close-packed quarters, the perfect little Lite Brite pegs we hadn't quite dared hoped for. There were less of them than in a store-bought pomegranate, and there was more pith between them and the skin, but they were beautiful. And delicious.

The big question now is, am I now obliged to spend half of every year in the greater New Orleans area?

That... wouldn't be so bad, actually. Bilocating between Boulder and New Orleans is pretty much my best-case eventual scenario, seeing as how it's unlikely we're going to just move outright. So, yeah, let's call this piece of fruit my happy infinite homecoming spell, a piece of sympathetic magic to keep me coming back.


Oddly, this whole experiment in home-grown fruit culminates at a time when I'm working on a story that draws heavily on the Demeter/Persephone myth. Also oddly, there is no pomegranate in that story. (There is, however, a crocus. Also several hundred bottles of mead, and elk backstrap medallions smothered in bearnaise sauce. Between that and Janice Claire's potato salad, I may wind up writing foodie horror/fantasy.) I suppose the story takes place millennia after the fruit was eaten and the compromise drawn up. It's about fulfilling the bargain, not about the striking of it in the first place.

Release Day for "Blood and Other Cravings"
Tue 2011-09-13 16:10:21 (single post)
  • 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hello, Internet!

I always miss you when I am on trains. And I am fabulously jealous of everyone who takes the Coast Starlight up and down the Pacific coastline as often as I take the California Zephyr or City of New Orleans, because they get to be in on Amtrak's onboard wi-fi pilot program and I don't.

I am currently between trains, sitting back and relaxing in Chicago Union Station's Metropolitan Lounge. I'll be boarding my next train in about 2 hours -- this, dear Chicago-based friends (hi Raj! hi Chip!), is why I am not currently pestering your cell phones with last-minute get-together proposals. (It is possible you find this more of a relief than a disappointment. I can be a very pesty person.) Two hours isn't really enough time to race around, rendezvous, and attempt to do all the beween-trains stuff I wanted to do.

All of which, of course, got upstaged because today is September 13th. It's the official release date for Blood and Other Cravings. Which means I went straight to Twitter and into an orgy of retweeting any mention of the book I could find. This is what passes for "promotion" in my world. I am stunningly not good at promotion. (I am also failtastic at "networking." When I finally write about Renovation -- and I still plan to! despite that I'm about to wind up at another convention! -- you will see what I mean.) But hey, look! Another review!

Anyway, I haven't much to say beyond "It's out! Go buy it! Go request that your library stock it!" And possibly also "Sorry for cluttering up your Twitter feed." So I'll say that and sign off.

Hugs!
--
Niki

P.S. Talked to Mom from the train about an hour ago. Turns out that she thinks this book is the best birthday present evar. "But, Mom, I feel like I ought to get you something that's... well... less me-centric. It's your birthday." "Yes, but you're my daughter. And I love good news!" Well. It is good news.

I'm in there. I still can't quite believe it.
Now. Here. In My Hot Little Hands.
Sun 2011-09-11 23:12:04 (single post)
  • 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long

I got my author copies of Blood and Other Cravings Friday afternoon. They arrived by FedEx, accompanied by the cheerful FedEx delivery driver within whose beat I reside. "Been a while," we said to each other as I scribbled the stylus up and down the handheld's screen in a messy attempt at my signature. "How've you been? How's the weather out there? Still cool, or warming up yet?"

Once I got the package inside, I was all, What the heck is this? It's addressed to me. I didn't order anything.

Then I saw the Tor Books return address, and I was all, I know what this is! Squeeeeeeee!

So here it is. Here they are. Two lovely copies of a lovely hardback, as pictured here. That's one reason to have two author copies: so you can pose them for the camera like this. (Although you could probably do a better job than I did. Gah, that weird foreshortened angle.)

And there was a very lovely surprise waiting for me when I opened the book for the first time so I could do the foolish happy writer-mamma dance. You know how that dance goes? It's accompanied by a song: Look how lovely the paper is! What a beautiful title font! It's a book! It's really a book! Anyway, I turned back the front cover, and there was my name, right there on the book jacket inner flap. In the nature of anthologies, there's a brief summary of each of a sample several of the stories within, the better to snag the attention of random bookstore browsers; and one of the stories so summarized there is mine. How cool is that? That is way cool.

Tomorrow morning at what my husband calls "ass-o-clock" ('cause it's a vantage point from which you can see the crack of dawn, get it? get it? See, it's funny 'cause...) he's going to drive me down to the Amtrak Station for that motorcoach to Raton NM, where I'll board the Southwest Chief train to Chicago, where I'll board the train to New Orleans. And going with me is one of those author copies. Another reason to have two of 'em? So I can keep one, and, according to a tradition started with my very first published stories, give the other to Mom.

The official release date for this book? September 13th. Mom's birthday. Which I suppose makes this a sort of birthday present. I hope she likes it. It's not exactly her favorite kind of fiction. But I suspect that's not going to be the point as far as she's concerned. Heh.

A Handful of Anthology Reviews and Related News
Tue 2011-09-06 22:12:21 (single post)
  • 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long

I'm getting mentions in reviews. It's surreal.

Blood and Other Cravings is getting reviewed. It's getting quite nice reviews. And the surreal thing is when one of them mentions my story specifically. And favorably. With complimentary adjectives. Wow.

Here's a handful of reviews and/or reader responses that are online right now:

Pretty much all of these made me grin foolishly and sort of float about for the rest of the day. And beyond the immediate happiness of "They like me! They said so! They mentioned me by name!" there's the simple pride in knowing I got to be part of a book that reviewers agree is full of wonderful stories.

Ellen Datlow is posting about reviews on her LJ as they happen. Her alerts are how I'm finding out about 'em.

Another awesome thing that's up: The Vampire Book Club is giving away a copy of Blood and Other Cravings to one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment in response to the post describing "what draws you to vampires." To kick things off, they first posed the question to the anthology's contributors, and the answers some of us came up with are published there for your reading pleasure.

It was a weird question for me. I'm not actually aware of being drawn to vampire stories, and I certainly didn't set out to write one. And yet in a way that's what I ended up doing. Why? "Because I had this weird dream" sort of lacks something as an answer. I hope the answer I finally came up with is interesting, or at least doesn't sound gawdawfully pretentious.

(I have no idea where the paragraph breaks came from. No one else seems to have them, and I'm pretty sure I didn't put them there.)

The last bit of news concerning this anthology is that there may be certain anthology-promoting activities at World Fantasy 2011 should enough contributors be around to participate. I'm hoping to be part of that. It depends on if I make it off the wait list and into actual attending membership; WFC sold out this year because, I think, of its all-star Guest of Honor list. (WFC, what were you thinking? You are small. Why are you fielding a World Con-sized GoH docket?) It also depends on if I just go "F*&# it" and head over to San Diego for the weekend regardless.

So there were email communications about that this morning. Then, because apparently driving around Denver and bussing back up to Boulder is the Most Exhausting Thing Evar, I wound up hard asleep for a few hours this afternoon and dreamt that I suddenly remembered I was supposed to send Ellen a recording of me reading my story by today at 5:35 PM, and it was 5:30 PM now, but I was going to record it anyway, but John was sitting next to me making a lot of noise on his computer so I couldn't. As it happens, 5:35 AM is when my bus leaves the Amtrak station Monday morning, which because the Amtrak station only opens at 5:30 is why I was in Denver picking up my tickets ahead of time. O HAI THER BRAIN I C WUT U DID THER

Er. About that bus. The bus goes to Raton, New Mexico, whence my train to Chicago, whence my train to New Orleans. Yes, this is more complicated than it ought to be. The California Zephyr is not running between Denver and Chicago during the month of September because what with flooding in Omaha and track damage and freight traffic bottlenecks, there was so much constant lateness they just gave up. It seems I've been negotiating non-standard Amtrak accommodations all year. This appears to be what happens to rail travel when every waterway in the US appears eager to flood at the slightest provocation. Please to stop that, US waterways! Also, please to reverse global climate change and stop messing with weather systems. Please?

I suppose I could just break down and get airfare. But I'm out of practice putting up with airport TSA stupidity. It's been so nice not having to worry over whether some bully in a uniform is going to make an issue over my knitting needles, fountain pens, or electronic accessories. And I'm kind of looking forward to riding the Southwest Chief for the first time.

In Which Composting Happens on Purpose
Mon 2011-09-05 21:41:16 (single post)
  • 2,615 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today was a lovely productive day.

Well... more productive than many days have been.

And... the producing was sort of spread out over the entire day with large breaks in between for 3-player Dominion (base set + Intrigue; picked up Cornucopia but haven't opened it yet) and Plants vz. Zombies (Vasebreaker Endless).

And also... productivity only happened at all thanks to Glitch being closed up between play-tests. When it comes to my various video game addictions, I have about as much self-control as does my cat Uno when encountering a loaf of bread on the table and no humans within earshot.

(There is a point here to be made about the similarity between collecting resources in Glitch and repeatedly hitting a slot machine's button in a casino, but I suspect that will wait until I finally get to my Renovation blogging. My much delayed but definitely planned Renovation blogging.)

But, all self-deprecating caveats aside, stuff done up and got done. And not just Examiner-blogging and DMS articles (although two DMS articles in a day is pretty big, for me; that hasn't happened in months). No. Some of it was fiction.

Getting anything done at all was a bit of a feat considering that Mondays usually start off with four or five hours at Abbondanza Organic Seeds & Produce, helping out the crew in some capacity or another. Today being Labor Day meant no guaranteed exception. Three years of weekly farm shifts, more or less, have led me to forget holidays exist; plants don't stop growing just because the post office closed its doors, you see. But on July 4 this year I showed up only to discover that sometimes farm crews do take holidays. So it seemed wise to double-check. Good thing, too. The reply came, telling me to stay home and enjoy a day off.

Now, Mondays that start on the farm, if the work is hard and the sun is hot, usually send me to bed for the afternoon and leave me in a daze for the rest of the evening. Writing-wise, they go nowhere. But Mondays where unforseen circumstances keep me home also tend to go nowhere, too. It's like part of my brain is punishing me for letting folks down. "Don't think this means you get to enjoy the day, you lazy sod. You don't get rewarded for weaseling out of your shift."

(This part of my brain is not well disposed towards me. Next time it shows up I think I should make it some hot tea and give it Velvet the unicorn to hug. Maybe I should do that for myself, too, next time I'm in a snit and hard to be around.)

But today I stayed home and work got done. (I suspect that having been explicitly told to stay home helped assuage the punishment monster.) Work got done... and fiction actually got worked on. Working on fiction was what I set out to blog about, here. ("Remember Alice? This is a song about Alice...")

Looking back, I think two things made a huge difference. One was deciding that fiction was going to come first today. The second thing was deciding that "fiction" meant something specific. More specific than "Write a new short story." More specific even than "Work on that short story you claim tried to eat your brain last week, whatever happened to that, eh?" More specific even. "Do you really need a Maiden/Mother/Crone triad in this story?" There.

John gets credit for this. Some time ago, when I was describing my checklist method for getting through a day's work, my husband got skeptical and questioned the effectiveness of a checklist item that simply read "Fiction." The likelihood of a task getting done, he pointed out, is directly proportional to how well defined that task is. His advice stuck with me, somewhere in the vague back of my head, and it jumped out and pounced on me in the shower this morning.

So the question Does a Demeter/Persephone story benefit from being conflated with the Maiden/Mother/Crone template, and if so, who is the Crone? sort of rattled away in my brain, until I remembered this wonderful article a friend of mine wrote about the Mysteries at Eleusis. And then I got to poking the internet until more stuff about Baubo fell out. Baubo was, to oversimplify things terribly, an old woman who cheered Demeter up during the time of Persephone's abduction by, depending on the version of the story, telling lewd jokes, dancing suggestively, and/or lifting up her skirt and flashing her lady-bits.

That's awesome. I suddenly had this image of Demi standing at the window of a big house up by Wonderland Lake, staring out into the rain, wishing she didn't have to go through Cory's death all over again, and hoping that old Billie Rae wasn't going to do something embarrassing at the wake tonight. (These names are probably temporary. I suck at names.)

And then the last scene in the story totally rewrote itself in my head. Whereas before the Crone figure would come in and be very serious about the unpleasant ritual thing that had to happen, now I saw her coming in with a joke and a silly grin. And her jovial attitude would make the unpleasant ritual thing seem even more dire than a serious all-business attitude would.

I didn't actually commit new words to paper. But I got a new lead on the story. That's huge. It's like I'd entered a circular maze last week but found the inner wall sealed until today, when a new door opened up and allowed me one step closer to the center.

It's like, instead of putting off a story for weeks and weeks and feeling terribly guilty about it and then realizing later that those weeks and weeks had to happen for the story to turn out the way it did, I sat down and made composting happen on purpose.

As is often the case, Havi Brooks speaks directly to this important difference:

This is what most people in the "productivity" world aren't realizing. Procrastination is almost never actual procrastination. It's almost always just this:

You processing or letting something percolate + fear + guilt

That's all it is. If you remove the guilt and the fear, it turns out that you're not procrastinating at all, you're just thinking about something.

So this morning was like every other morning that's come and gone since the brain-hijacking incident, in that I didn't actually write the new draft of the story. But this morning was different because instead of lying down under a guilt-inducing herd of stampeding shoulds, I sat up and did the "thinking about something" deliberately. This was active composting. And rather than focusing on the not writing part, which always results in feeling like a failure, I specifically gave myself permission to consider it progress, because that's exactly what it was. A door opened up in what was previously smooth, unbroken wall. Progress.

Active composting: Highly recommended.

In Which a Story Hijacks the Author's Brain. Again.
Tue 2011-08-30 14:11:56 (single post)
  • 2,615 words (if poetry, lines) long

Generally this is a good thing. The best thing, even. When a story hijacks an author's brain, it isn't an attack to be resisted or defended against, though life circumstances may require its temporary deferral -- a day job, children to care for, family emergencies, etcetera. (I am blessed in having no reason to defer other than my own procrastinatory tendencies. Except maybe because other stories have been trying to hijack me too.) No, a story with that kind of compulsive energy is rather a sign that the author should be writing that story. So. Yay!

I'm not sure to what extent I actually believe those who say "If you're going to be a writer, you need to not be able to not write." I mean, I believe it in the general and in the abstract: I am a writer, I need to be a writer, I don't know who I'd be if I weren't a writer, I'm not sure there'd be anyone else for me to be if I couldn't be a writer. But speaking in the everyday activity sense, I am rarely compelled to write. Every once in a while I undergo typewriter rage, but most of the time it's really easy not to write.

This is normal. Work is work. It's beloved work, it's my life's work, but it's still work. If you don't experience it that way, good for you, I am envious, but please don't think that your experience is prescriptive for every other writer. Don't give me the line, "If you think it's work, maybe it's not really your life's calling." The only reasons to think writing isn't one's life calling is if one has identified another life calling, and/or if one does not enjoy writing.

Well, in some way or other, anyway. "Enjoy writing" has many valid interpretations beyond "constantly finds the act of writing to be sheer bliss." It can also mean "Feels tearfully fulfilled when a story is complete and wants to do it again despite finding the actual act of writing an unmitigated tormentuous ordeal."

I'm somewhere in between. I love telling stories. I love babbling out rougher-than-rough draft. I put myself to sleep at night by imagining stories as though they were movies I were watching in my head. I have wept tears of joy to reread a much-revised story and realize, "Yes. This is it." And then I find the act of revising a story to a potentially publishishable state to be work. So I avoid it.

There is more to be said about avoiding writing even though one experiences writing as one's life's calling. I think I'll say it later, because I had a point I was getting to here.

My point here is, I was procrastinating my day's work again this morning when a story showed up and hijacked my brain.

I was packing up my bookbag when I spotted the book I'd fallen asleep rereading last night, Patricia McKillip's Winter Rose, and I thought, "Oh, one more chapter". Which of course meant two hours later, having reached THE END, I looked rather guiltily at the clock.

But while I was reading, a story crept up on me and grabbed hold.

I do this, sometimes. I can't do it with books that are new to me, but even on the first reread a book can become a comfortable, well-known friend, and I can relive its story while simultaneously chewing on my own. Or getting chewed on by my own stories. This morning, it was more the latter than the former.

The story that hijacked me is a Maiden/Mother/Crone story. And it's a transformation story. (I seem to be mainly writing transformation stories. Remember I said that when Deaths in a Dream, or whatever it finally ends up being called, finally makes its way to bookshelves. In the year 2052, if I'm lucky.) It involves some fairy tale images that have stuck with me, hard, such that they are personal powerhouses of myth and emotion.

And, looking back on it, I realize it's a subversion of Wiccan... liturgy, I guess. Whatever we've got that, in a non-heirarchical, non-organized religion, counts as scripture. Traditional Wicca -- which is to say, Wicca as it was described by its founders and first promoters -- is agressively heteronormative. There's a Goddess; there's a God who is Her consort. Every year the God fathers himself upon the Goddess at Beltaine, dies at Samhain, and is reborn of the Goddess at Winter Solstice. The High Priest and a High Priestess embody the God and Goddess in the Circle, often reenacting the divine sex act symbollically by means of the Priest inserting the athame (ritual knife) in the chalice (fancy cup). THIS IS NOT SUBTLE.

Obviously this is not true of all Wicca or of all Wiccans, but it's the spin you get when you read Buckland and Gardner and even as ecclectic and non-hetero a writer as Scott Cunningham. It was certainly the only deity story I knew in my own practice for a long time. And I spent an embarrassingly long time, for a bisexual woman who wants to be a good QUILTBAG ally, being perfectly comfortable with this.

But it seems in my fiction I am unconsciously subverting this, because here I'm envisioning a Maiden/Mother/Crone triad who do their own damn eternal reconceiving and rebirthing, thank you very much. We do not require a divine penis in this mythology! Take that, evildoers! It took me awhile to realize that this is what I was doing, but now that I do realize it, I'm feeling pretty damn smug about it.

(Come to think about it, this is not my first time rejecting heterosexual reproduction in speculative fiction. As you shall see. Click link below, order book, yadda yadda promotional yadda.)

Additionally, today's brain-hijacker had its origins in a dream I had years ago. This is true of many of my most complusvie "write me NOW" stories; it was true of "First Breath" (which will see print and bookstore shelves as part of Blood and Other Cravings This Month! Squee!). In the case of this story, the one that's hijacking me today, less of the plot was in the original dream than is sometimes the case. (I don't conceive of stories whole cloth from dreams. I get really emotional kernals of story whose complete stories I have to figure out. My dreams make me do all the work. I WISH TO MAKE A COMPLAINT.) The dream goes something like this:

I am grieving the death of a close friend. And suddenly there's her ex-boyfriend revealing to me that he killed her. Apparently they had so many mutual friends that his social circle became a very uncomfortable place after they broke up. He had to remove her from the picture. I fly into a rage upon hearing this, pounding fists against his chest and screaming You killed her! She was my friend, and you killed her! He laughs bewilderedly at my ineffectual fury and cannot understand why I'm so angry.

I have no idea now where the rest of the story came from, the stuff where the murdered woman is actually a Goddess who is reborn periodically by means of the rest of Her triad of Goddesses, but it started with this dream. And, as with "First Breath," a lot of time has gone by since the dream and the original conception of the story. It will be fascinating to see what years of unconscious back-burner time has done to it.

So that's where I'm at this morning. Also, I intend to blog about my happy shiny World Con / Renovation experience. More than a week late. STAY TUNED.

Procrastination. Writer's Block. Kindness.
Thu 2011-08-11 17:58:51 (single post)
  • 2,986 words (if poetry, lines) long

It's a sunny afternoon in Boulder. I'm at Aspen Leaf Frozen Yogurt, sitting at a counter that faces out the window into the parking lot. Cars roll by. Past the lot, Table Mesa Boulevard makes its final stretch west into the foothills and the neighborhood where I envision "Heroes to Believe in" taking place. (And how long has it been since that's been in the slush? Note to self...)

Things are peaceful. I am currently allowing myself what Havi Brooks calls "Island Time." Havi Brooks is an amazing inspiring blogger and you should read her stuff now. Or, well, whenever you get around to it really. No pressure. Your call.

It's been a Day Full of Stuff, which followed a Partial Week Full of Stuff, a Partial Week being all that's left when you're freshly back in town after a weekend at Gen Con. You know how it goes. First, the train is supposed to get back into Denver early on Monday morning, the better to leap back into Life As Usual. But what with the flooding in Nebraska reducing the BNSF to a single railway over which everyone proceeds single file, we didn't actually pull into the station until about 1:00 PM. And the Flat Niki Stage of Recovery stretched into Tuesday. So.

The Amazing Diaper Cat, Null, got a room to himself and his undiapered butt, so my job Wednesday was to Wash All The Things. This involved many journeys up and down the stairs so as to catch the washer at just the right time to toss in a quarter cup of Simple Solution Oxy Formula, which really does make the cat piss stench go away but is not optimized for use by the laundry load. I washed two loads and called it good.

Also, it's been hot enough in our house that guests need to sign a waiver indemnifying us against liability for their heat stroke, so it also fell to me to investigate replacing our air conditioner wall unit. Made the call Tuesday, met the HomeSmart representatives Wednesday, will have a new unit in the wall Friday. After more than a decade of this inefficient, dying, energy-sucking and stingy-with-the-cool-air refrigeration unit, we will have a new A/C box in the wall. I'm not sure I'll be able to take responsibility for whatever crazy impulsive things my unmitigated joy prompts me to do.

Today, Null went to the vet for Acupuncture Experiment #4. After this, we have to make the call: has it being doing him any good? Well... Maybe? He seems to be walking better and dripping less. He goes without a diaper again, because we find "helping" him at the litter box every few hours seems to erase most accident potential. He sleeps on the bed without leaving wet spots. But is any of this due to the acupuncture, or was it already the case if we'd shucked off the diaper sooner? Is he really walking better, or am I talking myself into seeing it? I... don't know. I'll be keeping an eye out for him.

Also, I made phone calls and decisions. Saturday, our old table and our old TV will find new homes at, respectively, Joyful Furniture and Ares Thrift. In the spirit of getting rid of unused things, I cleaned out my stationery drawer of empty or near-empty ink bottles.

So. As stated above: A Partial Week Full of Stuff. But have I been writing?

Well. I've been doing my Examiner posts and thinking really hard about getting back to other long-deferred writing tasks. I filed "Blackbird"'s latest rejection letter and decided where I'll send it next, which I'll do... tomorrow. And, figuratively out of breath from all the other stuff I've been doing, I've been smacking myself with guilt for not getting more done.

Did I mention Havi Brooks?

In my Internet travels, which get more ecclectic the deeper my avoidance cycle dips, I came across a link to Havi's "Bite Me, National Anti-Procrastination Day." I clicked it, thinking I'd read a screed about having One Big Day A Year defeats the purpose because us marathon procrastinators will use it as an excuse to put things off until said Day.

No. That is not what I read.

What I read was some of the wisest, kindest, most compassionate writing on the subject of procrastination. Just... beautiful stuff. Stuff that made the part of me that's sick of getting kicked by the other part of me feel acknowledged, spoken to, valued. And in was more than that -- when Havi writes from her own experience of procrastination and the effects that well-meaning but ineffective advice can have, it's like reading my own diary. If I kept a diary. If I was anywhere near as self-aware.

Or what about this charming quote on procrastination from another ďexpertĒ who wants to terrify you into taking action?

"Understand that this enemy is working diligently, 24 hours a day, to prevent any forward progress, so you must work even more diligently at eradicating it from your life."

Lovely. Thanks. Now I totally want to go get a bunch of stuff done. Oh, no I donít. I want to curl up in a ball and cry.

...

I work with people who have these issues. People who have big, wonderful things to do in the world and are really, really scared sometimes to put it out there. Or even to talk about putting it out there.

I love these people with all my heart. Theyíre smart, creative and just generally awesome.

And then these so-called experts show up with their war-mongering and guilt-mongering and an entire day devoted to telling my people how much they suck. And itís all so well-intentioned!

But it doesnít help them. It makes them feel worse. They withdraw and retreat deeper into the stuff (guilt, criticism and self-loathing) thatís most harmful for them.

Iím here trying to help people who are traumatized by shoulds learn how to motivate themselves with love and attention. And this stuff freaks them out.

What about all the people who totally need help and arenít getting it because theyíre scared? Because they think it might make them feel guilty and horrible about themselves. Because they think theyíve tried whatís out there and know for a fact that nothing can help.

Well, I hope that everyone knows that not all methods involve kicking yourself and hating yourself. Because ohhhhhhh, thatís just got to hurt.

It does. It hurts a lot. Gods, it's good to read someone who gets that.

See, about half of any given Morning Pages session reads like this: "Here is stuff I gotta do today. [LONG LIST] And I'm gonna do it! Every bit of it! Except there's so much I didn't do yesterday. And I'm afraid if I don't do it today it means I'm worthless. I need to stop beating myself up. Why does even writing a to-do list feel like beating myself up?" And so forth and so on and variations on a theme.

So I just started devouring Havi's blog yesteday. Well, I collected all the Favorite Post type links into Scrapbook so I could read them offline at my leisure. I have another train trip coming up (anyone else going to World Con / Renovation?) and I could use the reading material.

Today I started dipping into it while between tasks. My fingers hurt and I was sick of being vertical, so I took the laptop with me for a lie-down and I read...

Is it scary to talk to your fear? To even acknowledge its shadowy presence in the room? Absolutely. I'm sorry. Hug.

And, Gods help me, I just wept.

Maybe I'm just a sap. I dunno. But reading this stuff has alternately got me energized and allowed me a measure of peace. It also makes me wish I could drop everything along with an extra $600 and run away to Portland for one of Havi's "Rallies," because, dude, blanket forts. I'm not quite ready to order her Procrastination Dissolve-o-Matic, mostly because I've been spending a lot of money this summer already and I'm rather behind on my money-making endeavors, but I would be really tempted if the eBook were available singly. So I continue reading bits and pieces in my breaks-between tasks, and I'm not going to pressure myself to OMG GET JUST ONE MORE THING DONE TONIGHT! but instead I'm going to eat the last few spoonfuls of my frozen yogurt with cookie dough and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and I'm going to watch the light change across the windshields of a hundred parked cars, and I'm going to give John a big smile when he arrives to pick me up and we head to the pizza place for dinner and Spiral Knights. And I'm going to have fun.

And tomorrow I'm going to get things done because each thing is a joy to accomplish, not because I feel guilty.

Well. That's the theory. It'll take practice to put it into practice.

You know, I don't actually like frozen yogurt. Under the freeze, it's still yogurt. It's still got that sour tang that sets my tongue on edge. But I tried it, and I had a wonderful afternoon here. Isn't that weird?

John's here. Gotta go. Hugs!

Recent Writing-Related Things I Have Done...
Tue 2011-07-26 20:32:12 (single post)
  • 2,986 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 700 words (if poetry, lines) long

...roughly in order of actual writing-related relevance.

Firstly. Had the pleasure of seeing myself referred to, for the first time, in a Real Review of Actually Published Stuff, as a "newcomer." Like one's first lumpy handspun yarn, this is to be cherished. Only about 100 times more so. Again, I can't think of better company in which "First Breath" could see the light of print. This is amazing.

Relevant to this: Blood and Other Cravings is slated for release on September 13 of this year. It's available now for pre-order at all your favorite online and brick-and-mortar localities. I've presented here a link to do so at IndieBound.org, who help you place orders at your neighborhood independent bookstore if you're fortunate enough to have one.

Secondly, I've finally put "Blackbird" back into the slush. I'm slightly unnerved by Apex Magazine's insistence that submissions be done through HeyPublisher.com, referred to hereafter as "HP". (This should be unambiguous since I am not going to discuss boy wizards nor printer manufacturers in this post.) I can't submit a cover letter unless it's part of the manuscript; alas that I didn't think to prepend one. I can, however, enter a bio that will be attached to every darn thing I submit via HP -- which just feels weird. Also, in order to submit, I had to upload my manuscript to HP, which is worrisome even considering HP's reassuring privacy clause. Still, Apex specifically want dark fantasy, which this is, and Apex pay pro rates, which option I should like to exhaust before moving down the publishing hierarchy.

I'd have tried Strange Horizons first, but they have a list of horror tropes they really would not like to see again, at least not unless the manuscript is effin' fantastic, and I see "Blackbird" in at least three of those listed items. Which, despite SH wanting to see "stories that have some literary depth but aren't boring; styles that are unusual yet readable; structures that balance inventiveness with traditional narrative," is daunting. So... well, maybe later. Maybe a few rejection letters down the road.

Thirdly and similarly, I'm looking for other places that might like to reprint "Right Door, Wrong Time." Brain Harvest seems like a good fit. When I took a look Saturday, the most recent story was Helena Bell's "Please Return My Son Who Is In Your Custody," which, wow. Chills and shivers and a few uneasy giggles. I still need to read the latest since then, Simon Kewin's "Terahertz." The first few paragraphs tantalize me with their efficient worldbuilding.

Nextly, I've begun play-testing Glitch. Glitch is a very strange, and strangely compelling, MMO. You play the part of a figment of the Gods' (called "Giants") imagination. You learn skills, you do stuff. You interact with other people. You help build the world. Play-test opens again tomorrow, so I hear. What does this have to do with writing? Well, it's a reason why I might not be getting a lot of writing done. (Stupid online game addictions. I can has them. In multiples.) If you also are playing, I'm "vortexae".

And lastly (for this post at least), I am baking pound cake. I had this quart jar of whipping cream that self-soured, and pound cake calls for sour cream. So there.

And what does that have to do with writing? You ask a writer who's ready for dessert.

Actually, I can loop that back into writing. When I get done baking it, if the timing works out I shall take it over to our neighbors' place to share. John's over there with Kit and Austin of Transneptune Games, play-testing Becoming Heroes with some friends. Becoming Heroes is available for ordering right now this minute! Nothing "pre" about that. And if you go to Gen Con Indy this year, you can visit Transneptune Games at their vendor booth and buy it there from the team that made it happen.

I'm really proud of these guys and of the book they've produced, and not just because one of them's my husband. And not just because one of the copy-editors was me. (Gods help me, I'm a copy-editor.) And not just because Alison McCarthy's illustrations are stunning. And not just because the game draws on such a multifarious palette of literary influences. I'm proud of them and this book for all these things, plus because creating a new game and putting it out there for public consumption is an amazing feat to take from concept to fulfillment. And it's something John has always wanted to do, for as long as I've known him, so I'm especially pleased for him on that account.

And it's a dang good game, too. The team has put a lot of thought into it -- heck, they put a lot of thought into games as a category. You should read their blog. You won't take RPG mechanics or RPG terminology for granted ever again, that's for sure.

So Transneptune Games sold their first copies of Becoming Heroes about the same time I saw that Publisher's Weekly review of Blood and Other Cravings, which parallelism really amuses me. Hooray!

And that's the list of Things What I Wanted To Tell You What With Not Blogging Reliably Of Late. Which hopefully will improve in the near future.

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