“When I write stories I am like someone who is in her own country, walking along streets that she has known since she was a child, between walls and trees that are hers.”
Natalie Goldberg

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

This Is How You Do Visual Storytelling
Wed 2011-06-15 22:57:10 (single post)

The movie Super 8 opens with a long interior shot of a steel mill, and the camera swings in to focus on the big green sign hanging above the workers and the machines. Every assembly line and production factory has one. There's the name and logo of the company in the upper left, and in the upper right a slogan conveying the company's ostensible concern for workplace safety. In the lower right, there are five big spaces with hooks at the top. The three right-most hooks are occupied with digits denoting how many days it's been since the last employee accident: 784.

The camera's slow movement comes to a stop with the sign filling the entire screen just as a man finishes ascending a ladder. Without any expression, he takes the cards reading 7 and 8 and 4 off of their hooks.

He hangs up a card that says 1.

Then he descends the ladder.

Just one scene. Not a word spoken. Just a single, simple action that goes straight to the audience's heart, because with it we know, without any fuss or emotive acting, that someone died yesterday. We also know that we're going to be in very good hands for the next two hours.

Notes From the Front Line
Sat 2011-06-04 01:12:01 (single post)
  • 2,986 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 700 words (if poetry, lines) long

That's not "front line" as in battlefield. That's "front line" like "front of house," the place in the dining establishment where staff interface with customers. (Although back in my days working the university cafeteria, there always seemed to be a certain parallel between the two senses of the phrase.) The back of house is where the stories get cooked up; the front is where they get offered for sale. I was going to use the battlefield metaphor, but I couldn't decide whether my latest rejected stories had come back with their shields or on them. Then I decided war was not the answer. Go with the restaurant metaphor: two potential diners decided the current menu was not to their liking.

"Door" is still looking for a place to get reprinted. PodCastle says short-shorts have been hard to sell. And "Blackbird" has garnered its second rejection letter; it's not quite right for Weird Tales. So there you go. I'd think of new places to send them, but it's rather late tonight and my brain is mush.

I have about enough energy to say this much on the subject of rejection letters:

This newfangled world of electronic submissions makes it hard sometimes to tell whether a rejection is a form letter or a personal note. Compose a sentence by hand or paste it in; the pixels look the same. And, more importantly, Dear Writer, however the sentences got into the letter, they were most likely chosen for you to receive. Don't read anything into a rejection letter that isn't there -- that way lies madness -- but take seriously those things that are. If the rejection letter compliments your story, then by all means enjoy the warm fuzzy glow. And if the phrase "try us again with something else" is included, take them at their word.

The world is full of disappointment and discouragement. If something even remotely looks like encouragement, take it as such.

So. End of Deep Thoughts. Now: Thinking about what next to try Weird Tales with, and where next to try "Blackbird." And also, where Writing The Next Thing is concerned, what the Next Thing might be.

These are good thoughts to feed to a sleepy brain. A well-fed sleepy brain means a helpful dreamy brain.

"Saturday was the longest day I ever lived..."
Tue 2011-05-24 21:55:40 (single post)
  • 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long

It started out in Nebraska, for one thing. I was riding the California Zephyr from Chicago to Denver, and it crossed the state line sometime around 5:00 AM or so. I'm not sure if I was awake for that. I know I woke up several times through the night to see the moon, just past full, shining in on me. Then the sun was rising and my seatmate said, "It was 6:15 a moment ago; now it's 5:30." "Oh," I said, rubbing my eyes, "we must have crossed into Colorado."

I put on my shoes, went downstairs to replace my morning breath with minty toothpaste breath, and went back one car in search of means to replace that with coffee breath. The lounge car had just opened for service and the line stretched up the stairs and halfway through the sightseer deck, so I put off coffee 'til later. Open up laptop and write story now.

I was on tap for story critique for my twice-monthly Wednesday group. It would have met tomorrow, but since not enough RSVPs were received it got canceled. But I didn't know that would happen, so I was slightly panicking. I wanted to email that story the moment I got home. I didn't have much time.

That's the thing with new stories. I can work them over in my head as much as I'd like, but they don't really come out until they come out. Of course, the sooner I start writing the first scene, the sooner I'll know how the second scene goes, and so forth, but I swear I wrote and rewrote the first scene several times and had no clue. Really, the story wasn't actually there to be written the way it ought to be written until I realized that the beginning catalyst and the climax mechanism, if related, would make each other less contrived and the story more efficient. And that didn't happen until sometime Thursday.

Would it have happened sooner if I'd spent more time thinking about it sooner? I don't know. The person I was Thursday is not identical to the person I was Wednesday, or the week before. Maybe the person I was the week before couldn't have figured out what the person I was Friday afternoon on the train needed to know to start churning out scene after scene at last.

Because that's mainly what I did Friday on the train. I also knitted a good deal of sock, read the first chapter of Orphans of Chaos (a free Tor.com download for the site's registered beta users from a couple years ago), and wrote up an article for Demand Studios using web pages I'd Scrapbooked earlier for research. But mainly I wrote the story's first real draft.

Writing a story draft when I only have some 24 hours to do it in is panic-inducing. Every scene I get done, I can't help but think how many more scenes I have to go; and every scene I've written seems to require that the story be at least one scene longer than I'd originally planned. I kept checking my word count and despairing at the realization that it was already 2500 words, already 4000 words.

This, unfortunately, makes for a first draft whose pace gets more and more rushed as the story goes on. But I'm not allowed to fix it just yet. I already mailed it out for critique. It really bugs me when someone responds to comments on his or her story with "Oh, don't worry about that, I've fixed that since, it's totally different now." Might as well just add "Those hours you spent in good faith critiquing my story? Totally wasted. Sorry 'bout that!" I don't know if that bugs other people as much as it bugs me, but I'm not going to do that to anyone else. So I'm not allowed to reread or edit this story until after June 8, which is when my critique was rescheduled for.

So the train arrived and I got home thanks to my terribly sick husband, who peeled himself out of bed long enough to drive down to the Table Mesa Park 'n Ride where the regional bus dropped me off. He went back to bed with my profuse thanks. And I hit the desk to finish writing this dang story.

And I emailed it off.

And promptly regretted it.

It's really pathetic how all it takes to make me insecure about my writing is for me to put it in front of other peoples' eyes. I just have to remind myself that this is how I felt after emailing an early draft of "First Breath," too -- and you know how well that went. (Really well. The anthology it's in will be on bookstore shelves come September 13. I have the PDF of the proof copy right here on my personal hard drive. With a table of contents with my name in them. And Ellen Datlow reports that the galleys are going to Book Expo with her for autograph events scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday. I didn't know galleys went to autographing events. People will see them! People in public! Can I stop hyperventilating now?) Which is not to say this new story is going to be all that and a bag of chips, of course, but it does help remind me that my insecurity isn't an accurate reflection of reality.

So. Story draft done and emailed out. After which, I and five friends drove down to NoNo's Cafe and ate rather a lot of crawfish. Then there were cats to feed, ice cream to purchase, and several episodes of Doctor Who to watch. Also the new My Little Pony cartoons, which, in the capable hands of Lauren Faust (Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Powerpuff Girls), are rather more fun than Hasbro's first go-round.

Conveniently, the world did not go all to pieces at 6:00 PM, so there was nothing stopping us watching cartoons until we were falling-down sleepy.

And that's what I did Sunday.

But oh hey wait not done yet! So. I have this really good friend from high school, right, he actually reads my blog and stuff, he says to me over lunch in Metairie last week, "So when do we get to see more chapters?" And he's right -- I should be posting excerpts more often. So here's the first few paragraphs of my brand new short story draft, which is provisionally titled "The Interfaith Intercessional Fellowship Meets Saturdays at Seven," and is very likely still full of The Suck but hey, it's down in writing now. Ya gotta start somewhere.

Janice Claire joined the cult because, having nothing else to do with her Saturday night, she had no good way to tell Madeline no.

Not that she hadn't tried. "But I don't really believe in prayer," she'd said. "I mean, I hope like anything for the best, but -- I'm not very religious," she finished uncomfortably.

"Oh, that's OK. A lot of people in the group don't pray." Not that Madeline had said please come join our cult. What she'd actually suggested was that Janice Claire accompany her to her prayer group. "It's OK to just hope. Just knowing you're there -- you've given me so much support already, I don't know what I'd do without you."

Not for the first time Janice Claire regretted having opened her mouth. "So much support" had in fact consisted of her mumbling something sympathetic early last week when Madeline had checked her daughter into room 301, bed B. It seemed to be the thing to do. The twelve-year-old had been in and out of consciousness since then, mostly out. No diagnosis had yet surfaced. Janice Claire hadn't been the only one in the records department to express sympathies, but Madeline responded with such an urgently grateful look that she knew it was Uncle Morris's barbecue ribs all over again. Really, she'd known better. Talking to people only got her in trouble. That was precisely why Janice Claire preferred to spend her Saturday evenings in bed with a book.

Ta-da! And that excerpt includes the correction of a major typo that made it out to everyone in the group on Saturday. Dammit. Well. HEY GROUP! Just sort of mentally insert Madeline's name in the sentence that doesn't parse. Where it goes "but responded with," like that. (Sheesh.) Also, it occurs to me that I meant to rename the uncle at some point because naming antagonists after actual real family members sort of sends the wrong message. (I'm sorry! It was automatic! I was in Don't Think Just Write mode! I was visualizing the usual Weilbaecher Family Thanksgiving Dinner, and the name of the annual host of the festivities just dropped in there along with the floor plan of his kitchen! I didn't mean nothing by it! I also didn't mean anything by it!)

And I'm going to stop thinking about this now, OK?

You Can't Win If You Don't Play
Mon 2011-03-21 21:37:42 (single post)
  • 700 words (if poetry, lines) long

I do not habitually buy lottery tickets. In fact, I don't buy lottery tickets. Pretty much ever.

Once upon a time, John and I were driving down a highway in West Texas, looking for a place to spend the night. No hotels were forthcoming. We took an exit out of sheer hope and found ourselves driving down a significantly smaller highway with no end in sight. Nor light. We passed a sign that said CATTLE IN ROAD. We started wondering if we were not on a highway at all.

John said, "I really hope we don't get shot." (Have I told this story before?)

I said, "Don't say that! Don't even say a thing like that!" He looked surprised, and a little hurt, and a lot confused. I dialed it back and tried to explain. "I just feel like, saying a thing makes it more likely to happen. I'm not comfortable giving voice to the things I don't want to happen."

He nodded. There was silence for a moment while we got the car turned around and headed back for the honest-to-goodness interstate highway. Finally, John said, brightly, "Gee, I hope we don't win the lottery..."

But of course neither of us buys lottery tickets. We do, however, play in other lottery-like things. John is going to Gen Con this year as, for the first time, a vendor; he and some close friends have been designing role-playing game systems. They're going to show one of 'em off. And as for me, well, I submit short stories in hopes of finding people willing to pay me for the right to publish 'em.

It's a lot like the lottery in some ways. Well, it's a lot unlike the lottery. Regardless of what some cynics will tell you about either industry, neither game nor fiction publication are matters of pure chance. Quality comes into it. Once you reach a certain level of quality, then we can talk about chance: getting the story in front of the right editor, making the connection with the right game publishers, etc. But you can't get a chance until you've got a product of sufficient quality to be worth putting in front of the potential customer. And you don't stand a chance getting it in front of the right editor/publisher/agent until you've done sufficient homework to aim for one who's a good fit with what you're selling. And you don't just buy a ticket to play; you have to make the ticket yourself, out of star dust and unicorn tears. Seriously. Also blood and sweat and time and patience and more blood and sweat and time.

But it's just like the lottery in that you can't win if you don't play.

It occurs to me that of late I have been playing only very rarely, and this may have something to do with the slow rate of publication I've been experiencing. "I have this crazy theory..."

And it also occurs to me that it was very pleasant to report a certain amount of money for "sale of short fiction" on the portion of our household income taxes described as Income Not Reported Anywhere Else. I should like to do more of that, please.

Hence more submitting.

"Right Door, Wrong Time" is on its way to, possibly, a new home. Its previous home vanished from the internet sometime early last year; the small press Twilight Tales and their website TwilightTales.com would appear to be no more. I'd like to get it out there again, so into the slush it goes.

The Business End of This Writing Thing
Thu 2011-03-17 23:15:15 (single post)
  • 2,986 words (if poetry, lines) long

So I didn't actually announce that "Blackbird" didn't actually sell, right? "Blackbird" got the most adorable form rejection letter ever. Of course, invite-only anthologies mean that "form rejection" takes on a different meaning. It's not like an ongoing quarterly magazine with its dreaded "Did not meet our needs at this time." In this case, a limited amount of people were getting it, all at once, and it was written specifically for this instance, and it was hand-pasted into the body of individual replies to individual submission emails. So. That said, the copy that got pasted was adorable. It also made me grin and look forward to submitting to this editor's next anthology.

Today, I failed to get any new work done on the fiction queue, but I did manage to update my manuscript submissions database. This meant grabbing dates from various emails, and also doing more than a few direct database inserts and lookups via PHPMyAdmin because I never got around to building certain of the key web forms that would make it simple. Yeah, I write my own PHP/MySQL widgets (this blog, for instance -- there's a reason it doesn't look like Wordpress or Typepad). They aren't very well-written widgets. I bought an O'Reilly book that's supposed to help me write better widgets, but first I have to read the book. Meanwhile, I can add a new market or a new manuscript from my Super Sekret Website (Memberz Only), but if I want to juxtapose them interestingly, I have to clamber backstage and futz with the tables directly. For now. Until I get off my butt and fix things.

So. The Feb 15 email submission of "Blackbird" got logged along with the Mar 11 rejection letter in the Correspondence Log table, right after I added the entry for the anthology in the Markets table and the entry for the submission itself (defined as "intersection of this manuscript and that market) in the Submissions table. My table relations, let me show you them! Then I had to go back and add the rejection letter for "Lambing Season" from another anthology last year. Then I clicked "Show stuff in slush," knowing full well I had nothing in slush; when something came up, I had to locate and correct the orphaned Correspondence Log entry.

All of which left me with, like I said, absolutely zero in the slush. We had to fix that.

"Blackbird" has been kicked off the couch with instructions to "get off your lazy bum and get a job or something, I dunno, you can buy your own damn canned herring, these are mine. Especially the herring in cabernet sauce, you try taking those and you pull back a stump, my lad." So the story took the hint and slushed its happy ass out the door.

And then I logged the submission, both here and over at Duotrope, because for once I was submitting not to an anthology but to a magazine, so I could actually pull the market's name out of Duotrope's search engine.

Tomorrow I may be very ambitious and show a couple more manuscripts the slush treatment. Also, I may actually get some work done toward something else being submittable.

Only, I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but, what's up with 70% of all surveyed pro markets, and some semi-pro too, being closed until May? I mean, I knew the industry was smaller than it looked, but damn. Them's some serious cahoots there, y'all.

Writer, Alone With Cats, Says Stupid Shit
Mon 2011-03-14 22:56:06 (single post)

Friends who know me in meat-space (as the kids these days do call it, or the kids from some days or other, maybe not these days, what days have you got?) LIKE I WAS SAYING they know I have a tendency to... vocalize. Think out loud. Talk to myself. A lot.

And as those know who have been present for my feeding of the cats or my diapering of the one cat, interaction with cats tends to exacerbate this behavior. (I plead that this is not unique and has been documented amongst the population in general.)

I have in fact been heard to make up whole nursery rhyme ditties to croon to the one cat as he suffers the indignity of being Pampered. "Oh, dear, what can the matter be / My poor Null-bit can't use the lavat'ry / Wears a diaper Sunday through Saturday / Oh what a tragic affair."

It should be remarked that my husband finds my attempts at Filking trying at best (even though I think they're hilarious, especially "For Lease/Fur Elise" and also a verse of "Be Our Guest" repurposed for a friend's first-timer guest-of-member free day pass at the rock climbing gym), even when I'm performing them with intent to amuse. That he has not signed me into an Institution because of spontaneously Filking at the cats is Commendable.

But sometimes even I think I've hit the deep end.

It was time to make the bed. The bed was full of cats, both of them confused that Mommy had suddenly robbed them of her cuddly body warmth and was now standing over them with intent to Make Them Move. I can only point again at XKCD's fish-shaped graph to excuse what came out of my mouth next.

"Sorry, kitties, but it's time to Make The Bed! I'm-a gonna grab me some two-by-fours..." (straightening the mattress and pillows on the left) "...and some nails, and make me a bed..." (ditto on the right) "...and then I'm-a gonna get me some marshmallows and make me a mattress..." (realigning the sheets) "...and then, 'cause marshmallows tend to be sticky, I'm-a gonna get y'all to shed me some cat hair..." (laying out the big furry blanket) "...and then, 'cause cat hair tends to get up one's nose, I'm-a gonna get me some bedsheets..." (laying out the afghan) "...and then I'm-a gonna MAKE THE BED!" (ta-daaa)

And then I thought, I've totally got to blog this shit. Erm. You're welcome?

You know, the nice thing about deep ends? They make these ladders, you can climb right out again. And then they make these diving boards, you can dive right back in...

Three Eleven, Twenty Eleven
Sat 2011-03-12 22:43:10 (single post)

The earth shifted upon its axis that day.
I did not know. I could not tell.
The news was slow to reach my ears that day.

You could say, "four inches," measure it in the way
That is custom in my country, or "ten centimetres" if not.
The earth shifted upon its axis that day.

Measurements are meaningless and soon forgot.
What can the mere motion of tectonic plates accomplish
That the loosing of so many souls cannot?

Some NaNoEdMo Procrastination, or Why I Won't Be Buying Swain's Book
Tue 2011-03-08 21:25:26 (single post)
  • 4,237 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 3.00 hrs. revised

It's March. That means, if I've got my ass in gear, that it's National Novel Editing Month and I'm doing it. I got two hours in today on the revision of Deaths in a Dream (working title, may change) which was what I wrote back in November; that's the good news. The bad news is, I've only got three hours in total and the goal is fifty. Hee hee?

(The low word count refers to the rewrite. I'm taking the rough draft side-by-side with a new outline and notes on each scene, and I'm rewriting the novel into a new yWriter project.)

Doing a bit of procrastination today, I went back to an old standby, Randy Ingermanson's "Snowflake Method" for writing a novel. His method involves starting with a single sentence, then fleshing it out to a paragraph, then writing out a page of summary for each character, and so forth until you've expanded your single ice crystal of an idea into a snowflake of a novel full of all the detailed pointy bits you'd expect. It's a sort of fill-in-the-blank that gets you to write the shape of the blanks out first. It's a neat idea, but I don't think I've ever really found an occasion to use it. I go into a rough draft with a rough outline, but nowhere near the level of planning Ingermanson suggests, mainly because I write the rough draft to find out what the hell it is I'm writing. And now that I've got a rough draft and a much better idea of what the final should look like, I'm not sure his method goes the way my brain goes. Maybe I'll try bits of it here and there. The character page summaries seem useful; I seem to have less of a grip today on the character of Lia than I did back in November.

I've also discovered I... don't really like Ingermanson's writing style. I'm sorry! But I don't. He keeps inserting jolly comedic bombast that, as a joke, gets old quick. In my opinion. It's not so bad in Snowflake, where he mostly gets it out of the way in the first couple paragraphs and then gets down to business. But I clicked over to his other free article, "Writing the Perfect Scene," and the bombast was something like 40% of the content.

This may seem obvious, but by the end of this article, I hope to convince you that it's terribly profound. If you then want to fling large quantities of cash at me in gratitude, please don't. I'd really rather have a check. With plenty of zeroes.
Yes, this is an example from the beginning of the article. No, he doesn't stop doing it there. I couldn't finish reading the section on "Small-Scale Structure of a Scene" because he would just not stop MY FUNNY LET ME SHOW YOU IT about "writing MRUs correctly." (What's an MRU? Coming to that. Momentito, amiguitos.)

He's also got a little problem with sexist language:

Your reader is reading your fiction because you provide him or her with a powerful emotional experience. If you're writing a romance, you must create in your reader the illusion that she is falling in love herself. If you're writing a thriller, you must create in your reader the illusion that he is in mortal danger and has only the tiniest chance of saving his life (and all of humanity). If you're writing a fantasy, you must create in your reader the illusion that she is actually in another world where all is different and wonderful and magical. And so on for all the other genres.
OK, so, he's got the idea down of alternating "he" and "she" in order to avoid unconsciously treating Male as Default Human. Except... see what he does with the pronouns? Female pronouns for romance and fantasy; male pronouns for thriller. Bets on which pronoun he would have used had he gone on to describe the emotions of science fiction? Bets?

It's a small thing, but it does bug me. Put it together with a tendency to overload every new section with a fresh shmear of LOOKIT ME IN UR ARTICLE BEIN FUNNY before getting around to making actual informative points, and I fall right off the page.

OK so well but anyway he recommends this book, says he's stealing all his scene-building ideas from it. Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. This is where he gets MRUs, or "motivation-reaction units" ("such an absurdly ridiculous term that I'm going to keep it, just to prove that Mr. Swain was not perfect") from. "If you don't have this book," Ingermanson says, "you are robbing yourself blind." All right, already. I go look at the Amazon page.

Would you like to know why I will not be buying this book, robbing myself blind though I might be? Would you like to know? My problem with Swain, let me show you it. Let me rip it straight from Amazon's "Look Inside The Book" feature and show you it:

And each authority is dangerous to the very degree that he's correct, because that's also the degree to which he distorts the actual picture. Put four such specialists to work as a group, designing a woman, and she might well turn out like the nightmare of a surrealistic fetishist, all hair and derrière and breasts and high French heels.

So . . . no magic key. No universal formula. No mystic secret. No Supersonic Plot Computer.

It's enough to plunge a man to the depths of despair.

So. "Man" equals "person" equals "writer." Are women writers? No! They are what Men Writers create. Also, they're nightmares.

This is, perhaps, not entirely unusual given the book was published in 1965. Except no, wait, here are a bunch of other books published in 1965. Some of them are on my shelf. Many of them have caused me less pain, cover to cover, than these few paragraphs did. Swain! More sexist than many of his contemporaries, and possibly proud of it!

According to reviewer T. Velasquez from Beaverton, Oregon, this is no simple unfortunate exception. He goes on like this throughout the book. Says Velasquez,

On the downside, the very dated presentation in the book can made for hard reading to the modern PC crowd. Swain writes very clearly from the POV that his readers are male. He never says that women can't write books but he mentions only one female author and she is used in a negative example. Swain uses the terms 'man/men' interchangeably for people. Of course, Swain was a product of his times but his style of writing borders on the unintentionally insulting.

He refers to a black woman as a 'negress' at one point and his examples portray all wives (and women since this is the only thing he can allow women to be in his examples) as cheating on their husbands the moment that their husband's backs are turned: The understanding being that women are weak and mindless submissive creatures that are easily influenced by other men and must be constantly supervised.

That single female writer he brings up as a bad example? Let's grab another quote from the first chapter of Swain's book. Meet "Mabel Hope Hartley (that's not her real name)...."
...queen of the love pulps thirty years ago.... Old and tired now, she turns out just enough confessions to support herself.
Ah, yes. Ye olde "old and tired," code phrase for "Woman who is no longer sexually interesting to me, and should therefore get out of my face, preferably by hiding herself away in a retirement home or maybe dying so I don't have to look at her." Old and tired. Which has what, exactly, to do with the profession of writer? In any case, old and tired Mabel Hope Hartley's role is to give the hypothetical (male) newbie (his name is Fred) bad advice so that manly Dwight V. Swain (Swain! I swoon) can rescue him and other newbie writers like him (alike to him right down to the male pronoun) from her old and tired badness.

"Modern PC crowd," nothing; Swain's book is painful for me to read as a woman. As one of those female writers that don't exist in Swain's world. As one of those terrible bad-advice-giving female writers who is probably cheating on her husband if he isn't nailing her fins to the floor. And is causing surrealist fetishists nightmares or something, I dunno. Clearly, if Swain were still with us today, I would be causing him nightmares just by existing. And writing. And publishing.

I should note that out of all the reviews on Amazon, most of which are 5 star and say "The writing Bible!" and "Should be required reading for all writers!" (because, Gods know, if women find Swain's writing painful they should just suck it up in the name of Becoming A Writer), Velasquez's review is the only one that mentions Swain's problem with slightly more than half the human species.

Anyway, valuable lesson learned. If a writer with an unfortunate tendency to fall into unconscious sexist language from time to time recommends a book about writing, and recommends it very very strongly as the book he got all his best ideas from, it is not unlikely that the recommended book will be full of a lot more sexist language that's a lot less unconscious. If your mentor is mouthing nasty bigoted stuff about women, or about people of color for that matter, and you learn a lot about writing from that mentor, well, it's hard to come away without having unconsciously internalized some of the nasty stuff.

Choose your mentors carefully to the extent you have a choice, right?

That said: If someone has taken Swain's good ideas, such as still apply today (Velasquez says he has a lot of ideas that don't pertain to today's publishing industry either), and has repackaged them within a writing style that, I dunno, acknowledges women as human beings who might have something worthwhile to say, maybe? then I'm all ears. I have a list, it is currently one author long, that author is Ingermanson. I should like the list to be longer. Suggestions?

Fictional Thunk!
Tue 2011-02-15 11:54:09 (single post)
  • 2,986 words (if poetry, lines) long

I think finishing a story's final revision and converting it for email submission not only before noon but also from a medical waiting room is kind of bad-ass. Don't you? I do. And then submitting it from the diner down the road, over a plate of The Best Tamales In Town, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion).

Brief note about that: The Moonlight Diner is what I do if I have to go to the airport and there is time to wait around. Their staff are friendly and pleased to see me, they keep the coffee coming, and their wi-fi is reliable; but their food is on the whole not worth it. Pick up Popeye's on I-270 and eat it on the way over. But the Parkway Diner off 47th in Boulder is what I do by choice. It's what I do to treat myself after spending the morning at a medical appointment nearby. It's delicious and just as friendly, if not even more so, and if its wi-fi is less reliable, well, today it's working fine.

Anyway. Scene X got a total rewrite, as did the end of Scene XIII. And I changed the title from "The Only Moving Thing" to a line from Stanza VIII, "The Blackbird Is Involved in What I Know." I think that's a better summary of the story. The former was too coy, or cute, or something.

Got an email from my friend late last night announcing that his rewrite was also finished. I really like this submitting in tandem thing, but I bet we could both have done with finishing up about a week earlier than this. Morning of Deadline Day is... stressy.

But it's really hard to rush the composting process. Aside from meditating at the spinning wheel, I have no strategies for speeding things up. I'm not saying I have to wait until I'm inspired to write--I do have the ideal of showing up at the page every day--but it seems that particular stories have to wait until I'm inspired.

Again, it's like compost. Compost proceeds at its own pace; you can't rush the microbes. You can encourage faster composting by tweaking the envirnoment, of course--3 parts "brown" to 1 part "green," maintain proper moisture levels, turn the pile every few days--but none of this will get you instant potting soil on demand.

Just so with stories. I can do my daily free-writing exercises, I can think about the story all day and try to dream about it at night, but until it comes together it won't come together.

I'm just glad this one came together in time for the THUNK of manuscript hitting slush pile to happen on Deadline Day and not after.

Also, the THUNK of a work of fiction doesn't signal the same sort of THUD of imminent author collapse as does the THUNK of, say, all those 15K-word StyleCareer eGuides. I may actually get other work done today. Or at least I'm going to play real hard. Fiction is refreshing!

All for now. Battery failing. Until later!

11th Hour Musings
Mon 2011-02-14 23:16:32 (single post)
  • 2,898 words (if poetry, lines) long

So Friday I produced a new finished draft, mostly at the Moonlight Diner again. Friday night I emailed it to a good friend who's also working on a story for submission to the same anthology. Got some great comments back from him over the weekend, which I mostly fed to the composting brain to work on while I took the weekend off. The biggest thing is that Scene X isn't quite yet there. I figured. It's close, but it's (in my opinion) too much with the clue-by-four to the head between the characters' role-reversal and the backstory exposition, and (in my friend's wise opinion) structurally awkward because of all the "you"s you get when you combine 2nd person narration with dialogue. So I've been idly thinking about that, this weekend.

I also reciprocated with the story critique, which required me to finally learn how to use Google Docs. Google Docs is spooky. It'll tell you if someone you've shared a document is viewing it at the same time you are. It'll let you watch them edit it. This little pink cursor shows up right where the other person has it, so you can tell exactly which of your line-by-line comments they're looking at. And that's where I get all self-conscious and close the browser window. (My friend points out that this means we could have real-time chat in the margins of a manuscript. I admit this sounds useful.)

Tonight I'm working on a final revision. It's not going to be done while tonight is still tonight. My aim is to submit this thing tomorrow morning, which just happens to be deadline day for the anthology. (My friend is on roughly the same timeline.) I know what I'm going to do for Scene X--it's going to have the same goal-role-reversal, but will hopefully be a bit more subtle and a lot shorter. It'll have a lot less exposition because, really, we don't need to know as much backstory as I have personally figured out, does it? And I caught a bunch of typos, repeating words, and other infelicities to fix.

And I realized all over again that serious work on finishable fiction is one of the few things guaranteed to leave me feeling good at the end of a day. So. More of that, yes? Yes. And maybe not just on weekdays.