“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

Day 13: The Inevitable Skipping Ahead Bit
Sat 2010-11-13 23:51:15 (single post)
  • 24,054 words (if poetry, lines) long

I got too tangled up yesterday trying to figure out how to get my characters from There to Here, so I just skipped straight to Here instead. "Here" would be a chapter I've had in my head since mid-October, one I've been looking forward to writing for some time. Skipping ahead to it, I risk using up some of my "candy." (You know. Candy-bar scenes. The stuff that's pure fun to write--as opposed to those necessary scenes that are sort of a chore and will need a lot of work before anyone will be remotely more excited to read them than you are to write them.) On the other hand, eating one candy-bar does provide a temporary sugar rush that can last me for another 2000ish words. And it's better than getting bogged down for days in the land of "I don't know what happens next."

So I got started today writing the chapter where Jet assassinates the city council dude. I got through the first couple point-of-view blocks, and then I called it a day. I'd reached my word count goal for the day, and I wanted to stop while I still had candy left to look forward to. Stop in the middle of an exciting bit and you'll look forward to getting started the next day.

Lia turned to lock the door behind them, then followed Jet down the stairs and out into the night. It was not quite midnight; a bulging gibbous moon was just beginning to think about setting. That moment's glance skyward was enough to lose Jet in the shadows. The assassin moved like an assassin ought, noiseless and no more noticeable than the play of shade and dark. Lia hurried toward the place she'd last seen her and breathed a sigh of relief as Jet seemed to materialize before her.

Jet barely spared her a glance. "I said, keep up."

She let them out of the Sunspring Valley neighborhood and into a long stretch of grassy empty lots. Come next spring, the bulldozers would arrive and the next development would start being developed here. Ahead of them, about a mile, was the squat skyline of Silberne. Like many sprawling municipalities that constellated over the two hours of highway south of Mapleton Ridge, Lia's current home was named after the natural features its residents wished it had but had in fact dug up or torn down in order to develop the town. The burn, or creek, itself was mostly gone; what was left of it snaked weakly in from their left as they made their way toward the city center. Jet stepped over it as though it were a crack in a sidewalk. Lia got her toes wet and nearly lost her balance. She left a spreading stain of fresh black spraypaint in the water.

They reached a tall building on the edge of the town where the field they were in ran out. Jet abruptly stopped, hunkering down amidst the dying rye-grass. Lia followed her lead.

"Now," Jet said, "here's the plan. Listen up and do exactly as I tell you, and everything may just go the way it ought."

That's not where I stopped. But it seemed a good length for an excerpt. Today's writing took me through Jet getting into the building; tomorrow's will see her onto the rooftop and then off it once more.
Day 12: You Just Show Up. Because You Can't Not.
Fri 2010-11-12 22:31:01 (single post)
  • 22,044 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today was one of the not-so-great days you sometimes hear tell about. I got more than 2000 words down, but most of those words were just saying "I don't know what happens next" in wordy kinds of ways.

That's not precisely true. I do know what happens next: Jet eventually has to get onto that rooftop and snipe some important dude, and then exit the dream with a very showy swan dive. That scene's pretty clear in my head. The problem is, who's the dude, how does she find out, and what all does it have to do with Lia precisely?

So I'm still blathering my way through the Getting There From Here bit. I'm going through a day in the life of Lia, who turns out to be a programmer for a financial institution. Sounds... slightly familiar doesn't it? When nothing else comes to mind, grab a piece of biography. Then I'm writing about Jet who's shadowing Lia through the same damn day. By the end of the 2000+ words, I think I finally know what really was supposed to happen in those scenes and how it fits into the bigger picture--but why must it take several hours of "I don't know what to write" to get there?

This is the point where, were I an established author with a long list of published titles to my name, I'd toss a bit of unedited rough draft up on the screen and call it a backstage look at The Process. And y'all would read it and go, "Wow, even awesome successful writers like Nicole J. LeBoeuf have crappy first drafts, isn't that encouraging?" However, as Nicole J. LeBoeuf is not yet an awesome successful writer but rather a writer aspiring to awesome success, the effect would be more like "HEY U GUYZ LOOK I WROTE SOME STUFF IT STINKS LOLZ."

So instead I present those few paragraphs from today's output that, brushed off and given a bit of a polish, turn out to sort of suck the least. I'm putting it here for the same reason you raise your hand and say "Here" when the teacher calls your name. I was present. I showed up. Even though I felt totally uninspired, I showed up on the page. Because that's what you have to do.

For starting as unusually as it had, Lia's day was not unusual. It was yet another a poster child, in a long line of poster children, for Lia's Boring Life. Lia had never liked boring--who does? Well. Some people seemed to. Safe behind their cubicles, pushing code or financial figures across a lighted screen, getting all the excitement they needed out of World of Warcraft or Monday Night Football. She didn't understand those people. She didn't understand why she was living one of their lives. Maybe some Java programmer cum MMORG nerd had misplaced his life, or her life, and Lia had stumbled across it on her escape from Mapleton Ridge, just when she needed to pick up a new life of her own.

Obviously she wasn't displeased with her boring present life as compared to her exciting days with the Swifts. And anything, even the Swifts, was better than the family and the house that she couldn't stop thinking of as home. Not that she'd thought so during her time in Mapleton Ridge. Crushed beneath Tresco's idiot weight in the bedroom of an Upton Street mansion, her thoughts had reached with desperate fondness toward her older brother, who'd done terrible things to her in the years when she'd been too young to comprehend how terrible things were. But just this past September, sitting across the table from her brother, listening to her mother sniff and sneer about how fucking grateful Lia should be that her parents still allowed her to cross their threshold--ah, then she fixed her mind firmly on the glamorous nights spent leaning on Tresco's arm or dancing with Ritchie under a thousand refractions of ballroom spotlights. It kept her from screaming awful bridge-burning things at her family, memories like that.

And now? Sitting in front of her computer screen, pushing code meant to enable rich investors to risk their funds for more riches, what did she think of now? She thought of the night she'd fled the Swifts at last, hitching north with nothing more than the clothes she stood up in, hiding in the bushes outside her parents' house so she could sneak into her old bedroom after both her parents were out of the way--her father in the arms of yet another too-youthful mistress, her mother in the arms of drugged sleep--then taking what she needed, then driving away, driving south, driving, driving... She wished she could be driving anywhere, now. The lack of a car still pinched.

Day 11: When Characters Say More Than They Say They're Saying
Thu 2010-11-11 22:58:36 (single post)
  • 19,864 words (if poetry, lines) long

So. One possibly interesting insight from writing class, coming right up. It's sort of a third-hand anecdote, so the details of exactly how it transpired may be off. Bear with me; the insight comes at the end.

One of the group members who wasn't actually there yesterday had been trying to work on a short story that had been commissioned from an anthology and was now significantly past deadline. He told us about this last month. He was just having a terrible time trying to figure out how to make the story work when its action comprised a single conversation.

One of the group members who was there yesterday had gotten to talking with him after class that night, and suggested that the conversation in the story be crafted to do double-duty. While it was ostensibly about one thing, its real meaning should be something else. Say one character is ostensibly talking about his emotional state; in describing it he's actually obliquely relating a crime he committed and how he feels about that.

Apparently this piece of advice sent the first group member home in a hurry, inspired to get to work on the story. It also enchanted those of us present last night, and Melanie suggested we use it as our "homework" prompt for next class.

So I'm thinking of three basic ways a conversation can do that kind of double-duty. Actually, they're more like points on a spectrum of character awareness, where at one end the character is aware of their words' double-meaning and intends it to be so, and at the other end only the author and the readers are aware of the double meaning. There are in-between possibilities as well.

Example: It's Thanksgiving dinner, and one character is telling the family about a movie she just saw. But the way she recaps the plot and her emotional reaction to it actually relates to a traumatic memory of how she got bullied by one of the people here now at a Thanksgiving dinner 20 years ago. Moving from the one extreme to the other, here are ways that might come about...

Aware & Deliberate: She is being intentionally passive aggressive, attempting to jog the culprit's memory of bullying incident with the way she talks about the movie.

Aware & Accidental: As she recaps the movie, she realizes the words coming out of her mouth could just as well apply to the bullying incident. She wonders if the culprit picked up on it too.

Unconscious: She doesn't realize consciously how the movie plot relates to her childhood trauma, but the connection influences how she talks about the movie. Maybe the rest of the family pick up on it, maybe they don't, but the connection is definitely present in the text.

Literary Metaphor: Here the connection is only present in the subtext. The character is simply recapping the movie, but the words the author puts in her mouth are meant to make the reader aware of the character's painful past.

And how does this relate to my own novel? Ooh, glad you asked! Well, today's scene was mostly taken up with Lia and Jet arguing. Because I didn't really know what they were supposed to do next. I hate that crap. The only thing I can do is follow the boring, talking-headsy argument until one of the characters spits out something revealing.

The character doesn't know they're being revealing. And my eventual readers (should this get published) won't know it, either, because most of the argument will be edited out of existence. But I'll know, and I'll go, "Whew! Finally! We can get on with it now," and I'll write the next scene.

I suppose that's even further toward the "unconscious" extreme. "Literary Metaphor" is where the author and the reader are aware of the double meaning, but the characters cannot be. We should call this fifth critter "Author's Note To Self," because it serves no purpose beyond giving the author a gosh-darned clue.

Anyway. I'm not sure I got to the clue yet. But I would like, once I know more about this story, to come back and revise the argument so that it performs a double-duty that the reader can appreciate. Perhaps by the time class meets next I'll be able to do that, so I can bring this scene in and share it with my classmates.

Lia stared at Jet, trying to force a brain abruptly awakened to early in the morning to accept this information. "They what? But why would they--" She couldn't seem to form a coherent response. "And how would you know?"

"Because I dreamt about it and received some information that made that clear."

"Oh, come on." This bit of nonsense on top of all of last night's nonsense, pleasant though the circumstances had been, was just too much nonsense to take. Lia wished that, instead of telling Jet to tell her everything, she'd restricted herself to asking very specific questions. That way maybe Jet wouldn't be throwing the incomprehensible at her every time she opened her mouth. It felt like being told that the sky was velvet, breakfast was desperately igneous, and, by the way, godzilla is on the agenda at yesterday's pumpkin secession. "No, no, no, this is ridiculous--"

"We don't have time for this, Lia, not if the Swifts are coming for you."

"How can you know that just from a dream?"

"Look, I dreamt that you were the assassin who killed Tresco! Then you were insisting that I take a closer look at the stone. OK? Clear? Satisfied?"

"No!" Lia covered her face, scrubbed at her eyes, and let loose a mock-scream of exasperation. A baby began to wail from the apartment on the other side of her bedroom wall. Lia sighed. "Look. Listen. I just dreamt that my mother and I were riding a horse, and I fell off, and she kept going without me. I am capable of waking up and going about my day without an urge to call her up and doublecheck that she hasn't just, I dunno, drawn up a new version of her will and left me out of it or something like that--"

"Why not?" Jet seemed genuinely surprised. Or else she was determined to be contrary. "It seems like a real possibility."

"Because I'm already out of her goddamned will, and besides, dreams are stupid! They're not psychic, they psychological, and half the time they aren't even that!"

The infuriating tolerance of Jet's smile made Lia want to dream agian. "That, while probably true for you, isn't the case with me. When I dream, I--bilocate, I guess you could say. Part of my awareness returns to reality, making more information about my assignment available to me. Usually I remember it in the form of a dream, with all its symbolism and metaphor. My colleagues and I get very good at dream interpretation." Jet's smile went from condescending to simply wry, a change that changed Jet from someone Lia wanted to punch into someone Lia wanted to kiss. And then punch, just to make clear she wasn't forgiven.

Lia began, "Look, assuming that I--" then cut herself off. She'd been going to say, assuming that I believe your stupid story about being from another world, which I don't, because I don't accept that my life is just your dream-- But that seemed to violate some sort of agreement they'd come to between the lines last night. And while she was trying to figure out how to rescue that sentence, her morning alarm went off.

Day 10: In Which I Just Get On With It, You Know, Like You Do
Wed 2010-11-10 22:29:04 (single post)
  • 17,902 words (if poetry, lines) long

Some days I don't really have any Interesting Insights About Writing to share. Some days, I just write.

Some days I barely get to the writing at all. As predicted, today was totally a Wednesday. It had unusual Wednesday things in it, like This Is The Wednesday John Flies To Boston. So I did the sorts of things one does when one's spouse is about to go away for 4 days, like staying in bed late for cuddles and mutual enjoyment and stuff, and joining him in the kitchen for lunch and laptop video games, and following him about the house with a nagging checklist of And Did You Remember To Pack This And Also That, and driving him to the airport. When you're talking Boulder to DIA, that's a big old round trip.

And it was full of the normal Wednesday things: an hours' volunteer reading for the Audio Information Network of Colorado, specifically an hour of reading employment ads; and the long drive down to North Denver for my 2nd and 4th Wednesday writing group.

Which meant that today was also full of other people's writing: reading other people's writing and critiquing it, or listening to other people's writing and reacting to it. You can learn a heck of a lot about the craft writing by analyzing your reaction to other people's works in progress. (Maybe tomorrow I will have processed some of tonight's meeting into Interesting Insights About Writing to share. Right now I'm kind of fuzzy about it all. But it's a good fuzzy.)

So what with the Stuff and the Things and my one-day lead on my NaNoWriMo word count, I had the temptation again to take a day off from the novel. But on the drive home, I got to thinking about--and talking to myself about--the next scene. (The talking part is necessary. Thoughts in my head aren't real, you see; I have to say the thoughts out loud so that my ears can hear them. Then they're real.) It's about a 45-minute drive home from the bookstore where my writing group meets. That's a long time to talk to myself about my work in progress without reaching any conclusions.

And so I did reach some conclusions. Only some, of course--one must leave oneself a few mysteries for the morrow, no?

Lia and I fall asleep at last sometime during the desperate last hours of the dark, and I dream. I dream of Lia's earring, the piece of the Swifts she appropriated during her escape. I dream, oddly, that she is me. I watch her stand for the birthday toast, her face revealing nothing of her intentions as Pa Montrose gives a long, long speech. In the dream, the speech takes years to complete because Pa Montrose is talking more slowly than the conversations of trees. But no, the entire scene is in slow motion; obligatory laughter rumbles through the crowd like earthquake warnings, and champagne takes full minutes to slosh from one side of the glass to the other.

Lia tilts her head to listen better, or to appear to listen better. Her copper hair, long in this dream, reaching to the middle of her back in a straight metallic fall, slides like silk toward her right shoulder. Her left ear shows plainly, and its high up spot of blue is like a laser light pointer, getting my attention.

Then all the glasses raise for the toast, and time resumes its regular rate--no, it's faster, we're in fast-forward now. Lia's movement, bringing her glass down sharply against the table's edge, proceeds faster than the eye can follow. Her next motion is a blur. Then time stops altogether, Tresco's head flung back and the blood just beginning to free itself around the broken glass in his throat. I appreciate that, the pause in the flow of time. I appreciate Lia taking a turn being me tonight. Because of these things I am free to observe the reactions of all the witnesses. I see the hate and shock on every man's face in the ballroom. Some of the women wear expressions of undisguised admiration: Tresco's whores, yes, I know they have cause to hate the man, but also wives of real powers among the Swifts, or women who are powers in and of themselves. That seems important. I note the identities of the women glad to see Tresco dead. I file them away for future use.

Then my gaze returns to the lapis lazuli stone in Lia's ear. It comes close to me, without either of us moving, and now I kneel in the grass beside Lia and she says, "You want a closer look? I can take it out." I close my eyes, hold out my hand to the stone, feel its presence fill my world. My world turns lapis blue. But Lia is still saying, "Do you want a closer look? Take a closer look."

Day 9: More of the Same
Tue 2010-11-09 21:38:01 (single post)
  • 16,849 words (if poetry, lines) long

Apparently I'm a day ahead again. It was likely to happen, with two write-ins I could go to. I go to a lot of write-ins. My total cafe and restaurant expenses tend to be pretty high in November.

The wise thing to do would be to use my current lead as a cushion against which to get caught up on my day-job style writing. I've kept up with both Examiner blogs, but I've only done one Demand Media article all month. And it's not for lack of time. Once again, I'm leaving the least pleasant job to last, and before I get to it, I find myself thinking, "I've done so much good work today, I deserve a little break." And next thing I know it's midnight.

I don't think the pattern will change tomorrow--I have a lot on my plate. I have to bring John to the airport, and then I have to go to class. I still have to read the piece for critiquing during class. And in between are the Usual Wednesday Things.

But, who knows? I might surprise myself. We'll see. A good night's sleep followed by rising bright and early--that could turn into any sort of day. Even a productive one.

Speaking of productivity, I'm rather pleased with today's 3,000+ words. They started out all talking headsish, Jet explaining to Lia how the cosmos really works. It felt like I was crossing an As You Know, Bob with a I've Suffered For My Art (Now It's Your Turn), cf. the Turkey City Lexicon. I was waiting for something, anything to happen. And then something did--nothing unpredictable, to be sure, but it was fairly satisfying. As a plot pacing landmark action, it works. I can always revise later the conversation leading up to it.

Lia's shoulders felt bruised where Jet's fingers pressed deep into the muscle. Her eyes remained trapped by the weird desperation in Jet's gaze. "What will you do if I don't help you?"

"Here." Jet let go of her suddenly; Lia swayed back as though those hands were all that had been holding her up. Jet reached her left hand into her hip pocket and drew something out, something that she pressed into Lia's clasped hands. Her attempt prized Lia's hands apart, and Lia knew what she held: a copy of her apartment key. "This is yours. I don't want anything from you that you're not willing to give." She lowered herself into the chair next to Lia's. Her left knee rested atop Lia's right thigh, heavy. It might leave a bruise as easily as her fierce hold had done. Lia transferred the key to her right hand and spread the fingers of her left, let her palm rest on the invading part of Jet, invading her back. Jet said, "I want to do right by you, Lia."

Lia was unsure. Jet had told her an awful lot that, if true, she could hardly expect Lia to believe. Lia wasn't sure how much of it she did believe, from the mad claims of supernatural origin to the impassioned disclaim of all control over Lia's choice. Jet had handed her back her key and her agency in a single motion. And yet--if she wanted Lia to help her, how better to get that help willingly than by insisting willing help was all she'd take?

But in the end, Lia didn't care. She hadn't from the beginning. Her own desires were simple, and she didn't need to trust Jet to get what she wanted tonight. "Then start now," she said, and shut her eyes, and waited.

It felt like a significant fraction of eternity, but it was only a moment later that Jet's lips met hers.

Lia reached out blindly with her left hand, found first Jet's hip and then her pocket. She slipped the key inside and let her hand linger on Jet's hip. She felt Jet rise from her chair, heard Jet's feet shifting in the snow. Then Jet's weight settled gently over her, astraddle Lia's thighs. She kissed Lia again. The snow trapped between them began to melt in earnest.

Lia, untrusting, knowing herself used, determined to use Jet just as heartlessly as Jet would use her. Starting now.

I like when my characters surprise me. The surprise for me in this scene was Lia's stark cynicism. It leaves a lot of room to develop this relationship through a long spectrum of emotions. I only hope I'm good enough to do it on the page. In my head, where everything is perfect and, sadly, nothing is real, it's quite lovely.
Day 8: Distractions
Mon 2010-11-08 21:55:03 (single post)
  • 13,593 words (if poetry, lines) long

I have Toys.

Sunday I brought home the 3-cymbal expansion for our Rock Band drum kit game controller. Now we can play drums in Pro Mode on Rock Band 3. This is an extremely potent distraction, especially for someone who gets home from a morning of hard work (farm Mondays, remember) and feels she deserves some play time.

After an hour of playing on the drums, though, I get tired. So I switch to keyboards, also new for Rock Band 3. I recently downloaded Rush's "Subdivisions", and the expert Pro Mode keyboard part is really enjoyable. It's like I finally found a use for playing that song on the piano besides boring all my friends!

But then I was already tired, so I turn to an electronic toy that may be used horizontally: a brand new wireless mouse for my laptop. It is superior to my previous mouse, not just in being wireless, but also in having a driver that Windows 7 isn't constantly quarreling with. Also, when I click it once, the computer does not think I have clicked it twice. This is very important when playing Plants Versus Zombies and Puzzle Pirates while lying around like a lazy lump.

I can also read! Which I do! A lot! I'm currently rereading Amanda Hemingway's Sangreal Trilogy (The Greenstone Grail etc.) which is really enjoyable even if the third book's constant references to the "spring solstice" make me twitch. And then I can fall asleep in my book, because, damn, I'm tired!

But we have already discussed the inadvisability of taking a day off. And having squandered most of my lead in this race, I needed about 750 words to get to Day 8's recommended total. So I did about that much. Here's how today's sessions starts:

Over countless assignments, I've been wined and dined before. And it hasn't always been unpleasant--that's not what's making tonight a first. Outings like Tresco's birthday party were the exception, not the rule. I've drunk champagne, top-shelf absinthe, blended whisky, single-malt scotch, both vodka and gin martinis (please, do stir them, thank you), various high-octane concoctions calling themselves "everclear," and something I've been told was a Pan-galactic Gargleblaster. And that's just on Earth. I've danced waltzes and foxtrots, I've done the Macarena, I've been taught the Electric Slide. I've thrown myself into mosh pits and acquitted myself well therein. And I've seen more than my fair share of goth clubs. There is nothing unique about the goth club Lia has dragged me out to.

What's new is the lack of alterior motives. My assignment does not involve being Lia's bodyguard or otherwise monitoring her. As far as I know, my assignment does not require my presence at this nightclub at all. Given that, going might in fact have been a bad idea. But Lia insisted that I go, and, well, I went.

I think I'm being taken on a date.

Tomorrow is Tuesday, and I am going to two write-ins. I expect I'll regain my lead and have time for mundane day-job writing. Excellent. Also, as the evening write-in is at the Baker Street Pub, I shall have a beer. Also, very likely, a scotch egg. Tuesdays rock.
Day 7: The Inadvisability of Taking a Day Off
Sun 2010-11-07 21:55:30 (single post)
  • 12,611 words (if poetry, lines) long

I was going to. Yesterday's nibble of what was left after Friday's huge big bites taken out of the work remaining had left me with a Day 7 word count. I was already done for today without having opened the project at all.

But days off have a way of multiplying themselves. Lacking calculators and reproductive systems, still they manage to multiply. So best not to take even one. It was going on 10 PM, and I decided to write for about 15 minutes.

And so I did.

Here is pretty much all of it. (After a light round of editing, of course.)

She crawled out from under the hall table--just in time to startle Mrs. Finch, her next door neighbor. "Why, Lia. What were you doing under there, sweetie?"

"Long story, Mrs. Finch," Lia mumbled. She darted inside, painfully aware that her neighbor was continuing to stare at her. Lia gave her a sheepish smile through the door just before slamming it closed.

The living room was just as she'd left it, except for the dust on the floor. Which is to say, there was none anymore, not even in the corners. And the kitchen was frighteningly clean. The stovetop was white with a gleam like polished lacquer. Lia supposed it had been that color when it was new, long before she'd moved in. For years it had been more of an off-gray greenish-beige, the color of the thin, cement-hard veneer formed from years of spattered oil, spilled coffee, and stray cheesy-mac flavoring powder. "Jet," she called, "why are things so clean?"

"You have a good housekeeper." Jet's voice came from Lia's bedroom, and Lia flashed back on how terrified and violated she'd felt to find Jet there this morning. She stood still a moment, swallowed the feelings and the memory--more important things to worry about now, Lia--and went to meet her uninvited guest.

When she got into the room, the sense of violation returned sevenfold. Not because Jet was sitting on her bed as though she belonged there, no, not now that Lia had decided to just deal with that, but because the contents of every drawer, every keepsake box, and every hanger from the closet were strewn across the floor. "Oh," was all that came out of her mouth. "Oh." She couldn't seem to find a worthwhile obscenity to follow it up with. She took the two careful steps necessary to get her to the foot of the bed without crushing anything, then she sank onto the mattress, her hands covering her mouth. Through her fingers she mumbled, "Tell me you did this."

From behind her, Jet said, "No. I'm sorry. He must have done it while I was out finding you."

"It was the stone. It had to be. And he didn't find it because it's right here--what's going to happen now?"

"I don't know. It would be nice if they never bothered you again, wouldn't it?"

It would be nice... Lia knew better than to hope this would be the case. "I should put things away," she said, and got up. She waded into the middle of the mess. The first item of clothing that came to hand was a pink sleeveless shirt with segments of white lace sewn on any which way. Some of them criss-crossed the three long parallel rips that ran up and down the back of the shirt. It was part of her limited collection of punk costumery, for those nights when she needed to get out of the apartment and go somewhere loud to stomp the night away.

She stood there, holding it, unsure what to do next.

"Lia?" She turned, met Jet's eyes. It didn't seem fair that a killer could speak her name so kindly. "Would it help if we left for the day? Get something to eat, come back and deal with it later?"

Who's 'we'? The thought flickered through Lia's head without finding any place to land. In that it was a lot like the shirt she held. It drifted away again, leaving another thought in its place: Later. Worry about it later. The word later spurred Lia into motion. She knelt again and pawed through the pile of clothing until she found a pair of jeans to match the shirt she held: black denim studded with safety pins, chains of paper clips, other random bits of metal. The cuffs were a mess of tangled strips. Several patches on the back pockets declared dubious allegiances. "Yes," she said. "We are going out. I am going to change clothes now. And when I come back out the bathroom, you're going to tell me everything."

Jet held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. "It's a deal." But she said it after a moment of hesitation, and that moment told Lia a lot about how little to expect Jet to tell her, and how much less than that Lia would be able to trust.

This wasn't news. Lia was already well aware of that. And she made a conscious decision to ignore the hell out of it.

It may have been slightly more than 15 minutes.

Oh! Also. Friday's baked eggplant got mushed up and mixed with a scrambled egg and about 2/3 a cup of falafel. This turned into small patties, which got baked at 350 d F for about 20 minutes. The results were kind of bland and dry, but also kind of nutty and sweet. Made a great side-dish for cooling off my mouth between spoonfuls/bites of kimchi chigae, which I also made Friday as part of continuing that OMG Let's Cook EVERYTHING binge after the Atlas party.

Day 6: But Why Can't You Just Get It Right the First Time?
Sat 2010-11-06 21:43:08 (single post)
  • 11,763 words (if poetry, lines) long

My daily novel excerpts seem to be getting longer. Also, when I do take the time to revise before excerpting, it's more like rewriting. Significantly. Like, totally replacing the sentences I wrote today with new ones. It feels like cheating. But, hell, it added about 100 words, so who's to complain?

Not that there's any worry there. I wrote for a total of 25 minutes today--the combined time of the word sprints we had at today's Healing Tea write-in. (And boy is it fun introducing people to Healing Tea! Everyone was like, "Wow, this bibimbob is tasty! Also, do you want my kimchi?" I was the general kimchi depository. The gal on my left was the general miso soup depository.) And yet I got my word count to where it ought to be at the end of tomorrow. My NaNoStats page says that at this rate I should finish by November 25. Those two facts don't fit together very well; if I'm constantly a day ahead, I should finish a day early. But NaNoWrimo.org is calculating based on average words per day, and getting a different answer. NOT THAT IT MATTERS. THE POINT IS: I don't think I've ever been this consistently ahead of the game before. Word count is not my problem.

No, here's the thing that gets me: If my fifteen-minute revision of this 500-or-so-word segment pretty much scorched the earth and built new words where the old were deleted, why didn't I write the new words in the first place?

It's like I have different brains on. When I write the first draft, I have nothing in front of me yet, so I'm writing down what's in my head--and discovering that, despite the advantages of thinking in complete sentences, I really don't know how to write it down. So I fumble and write some pretty unfortunate sentences. Later, even if I simply read what I had, deleted what I'd read, and wrote the scene anew, I have the advantage of having read the story. I've read it before, I know what it is, and so I can write it down more accurately, more simply, more cleanly.

Which is weird. What is this part of my brain that engages with the written word so differently than the thought-about word? A couple of class times ago, we talked about the different mental modes of listening to books being read aloud versus reading the book, and that much I get, but--it's weird that my need to have words put in front of my face in order for me to learn their content applies even to words I myself write. I have to see it written before I know what I'm trying to write. What the hell? Shouldn't it be enough that they originated in my own head?

I wonder if I could successfully engage that part of my brain by "reading" an imaginary page--by clearly visualizing words on a page as I mentally construct the next scene of the novel?

The circling memory finally stooped, like a hawk upon the mouse that has just come up from underground. "Oh. Oh shit."


Lia lifted a hand to her left ear. "I think he's after this." She indicated her lapiz lazuli earring, the one set high up in the ridge rather than the lobe. Touching it, remembering--oh, this was bad. This was worse than Jet showing up, worse than hallucinations that stuck around or real people who could change shape and then die and come back. "It belonged to Tresco's daddy. I took it when I split."

Worse enough that Lia no longer avoided looking Jet in the face. So she was watching when that strange blank crossed the woman's eyes. Already a brown so dark as to seem black, they became blacker still, the pupils lost like a shadow in a shadow. Then the moment passed. "That's it," said Jet. "My new assignment. It's to do with the Swifts. With Pa Montrose. And I was sent to your home because you're still involved with them."

"What? No! Fucking no. No, I left them years ago. I am done with them."

"They appear not to be done with you. May I--?" Jet reached tentatively toward Lia's left ear. Lia flinched, then steeled herself. Closed her eyes, like a patient getting a shot. When after a long moment she still felt nothing, she squinted through her meshed lashes to see--as best she could out of the corner of her eye--that Jet held her hand cupped near Lia's ear, rock-steady, rock-patient.

"Do you want me to take it out for a moment?"


Jet's eyes fell closed. Her hand remained motionless. Her breath moved quietly, so quietly and slow that Lia could see no motion in her chest, only the subtle shifts of shade and light in the folds of her red blouse. Did it have to be red? After last time? Lia's eyes kept returning to Jet's neck, unwounded, unscarred. A small mole down by the right collarbone was the only feature on that unblemished plain.

Her lips began to mumble things Lia could not hear.

It took several minutes. Lia wavered between nervous boredom and nervous memory of the events that had followed the car wreck. Her eyes, having nowhere else to go, flickered over the cheeks, the hair she'd caressed that day, the lips she had kissed--

Jet's arm fell to her side. Her eyes flashed open; Lia tried not to meet them. "No. It didn't belong to Pa Montrose. But for some reason he wanted everyone to think it did. What is this stone, Lia?"

Happy 1st Birthday, Atlas!
Day 5: From the Stanley to Happy Birthday Atlas
Fri 2010-11-05 20:27:47 (single post)
  • 10,782 words (if poetry, lines) long

Right now this very moment, I am at Atlas Purveyors. I'm slightly typo-drunk on a red plastic cup of Boulder Beer's Flashback Anniversary Ale, poured for me lovingly by the familiar face behind the counter whose name I never quite caught. The cafe is crowded with people here to celebrate Atlas's 1st birthday--a year ago this month they opened where The Tea Box used to be--and I'm being a little antisocial. The only people here that I know are the proprietors and staff, and they're fairly busy (see above). I've escaped the crush by hiding with my beer and my laptop back in the hallway, which is inexplicably empty.

Occasionally someone picks up a bit of chalk and adds a thought to the freshly cleared wall-long blackboard. "We ♥ Atlas." (That was supposed to be a heart. I don't know why it doesn't want to be a heart. ♥, dammit, ♥!)

I've been up since 7:30 this morning, and I've driven up to Estes Park and back. Between the small amount of sleep last night and the trek up to 7,522 feet (I thought it was 8,300 but I was wrong), you'd think I'd be more tired. But I was looking forward to the party, and I kind of feel obliged to be here. A bunch of NaNoWriMo buddies and I, we've been meeting here since Atlas's beginning. It's a favorite office-away-from-office, and I want to help celebrate them, even if it means slipping out of a crowd of strangers to hole up in the hallway under a photo called "Blue Crossing."

Atlas is inextricable from recent memories, and current experience, of NaNoWriMo. So here I am.

But most of today I was in Estes Park, at an all-day write-in that the Municipal Liaison of "Colorado :: Elsewhere" set up. We met at the Stanley Hotel, famous filming location for Kubrick's adaptation of King's The Shining. Appropriately, one of the Wrimos present used a typewriter, an Underwood with features remarkably like my off-brand Sears knock-off. The dining room manager asked her to knock it off, as it was noisy. Shame that.

(Incidentally, I've heard enough "red rum" jokes today to last me until Halloween 2011. You are not allowed to recommence the jokes until then.)

We had word war after word war, and when I surpassed 10,000 words early in the afternoon I gave myself permission to put it away and make a start on my Demand Studios queue. Which is a little backwards. You're supposed to do the Soul-Numbing Professional Hackery first, then give yourself the reward of Working On The Novel. But, oh well, my schedule put them backwards. It all worked.

--oh hey! Speech! Applause! Good things! (Owner Chris Rosen, quoting his dad: "When someone walks through your door, remember: that might just be the best part of their day.") And the raffle prizes are being announced! It took them some 5 tries to find someone present to win the Illegal Pete's gift certificate...

So where was I? Ah. Well. I haven't done any editing since I got back into Boulder--I mostly started cooking. Like a fiend. "Bake the eggplant before it rots! These okra are about to go--quick! Cook them down for frozen gumbo starter! A fly landed on the butternut squash; is it going bad? Quick, roast it! And if I'm going to defrost the pork bellies for lard for the gumbo, I should make kimchichigae with it..." Then I remembered the party at Atlas, and I looked at the time, and I hastily put everything in the fridge. (The eggplant got baked and the squash got roasted and the okra went into the crock pot.)

Anyway, today's excerpt is short, because it's entirely Zero Draft. No light polish this evening. Enjoy... I guess?

What she absolutely did not expect was a short, dark woman in a button-down blouse and jeans of indeterminate color--it was dark in there, the curtains drawn tight, the only light what ventured in from the hallway fluorescents past Lia--a woman fallen from the bed to the floor, legs tangled in the blankets, her arms still outstretched from having reached for the nearest support, which had happened to be Lia's nightstand, temporary rest place for cast-off coins and life accoutrements still on her person at bedtime. The woman lay under the strewn shards of last night's water glass, two pairs of glasses, uncountable loose change, and random silverwhere. Her clothes were no longer bloodstained, but you'd expect a woman to change clothes sometime in five weeks. You might not expect her alive and unwounded if the last time you saw her she'd been dead of a slit throat, though.

Lia stared, her right hand slowly lowering the kitchen knife.

"Oh, like that was going to work," said Jet. "Trained assassin, remember? Well--come on, can I get a little help here?" Lia backed up a step, shaking her head. "Sorry about your glass--I hope it wasn't terribly irreplaceable? Hey--Lia--don't be like that--"

She was slamming the door before she even knew she was moving. Slamming the door, dropping the knife, bolting down the hall and out the door. She knew you couldn't run away from hallucinations, but she didn't know anything else to do but try.

Which is actually from the very first few hundred words of today. After that we have Jet cleaning up the mess and unknown dude trying to convince her he lives here while searching the apartment. And Lia hiding from hallucinations under a bush in the park. It's the dude I'm not sure about--I mean, adding him was a good idea, but I'm not sure what he's up to. I think whatever he's looking for, Lia is wearing it. Maybe on an earring. Maybe on a nipple ring. Something she stole when she fled the city. Fun times!

(Meanwhile - yum, birthday cake! And possibly more beer...)

Day 4: It's OK To Write More
Thu 2010-11-04 22:44:58 (single post)
  • 7,770 words (if poetry, lines) long

So I wasn't much looking forward to today's writing. It's mostly both characters being emo and angsty after parting ways. So, what the hell. I queued up the most emo and angsty song on Hunting High and Low, "The Sun Always Shines On TV" ("I fear the crazed and lonely looks the mirror's sending me these days"), I put it on infinite single-track replay, and I gave in to the mopey introspection. And I got a scene in which Lia is absolutely questioning her sanity, what with having all but convinced herself that Jet was a hallucination or a waking dream or something. Except she doesn't want to believe herself capable of hallucinating that convincingly. Except how else to explain the bit where Jet went from alive, to messily dead, to vanished? Lia has not been having a good five weeks.

("What with one thing and another, five weeks passed.")

I might never have gotten that far if it wasn't for some healthy competition at tonight's write-in. Have I mentioned, by the way, what madly enthusiastic Wrimos we have in Boulder? It's not that huge or far-flung of a region. Denver is bigger. Hell, there's only one region in the entire country of Brazil; it's called "Elsewhere :: Brazil". And yet, in our one-and-a-half-county region, we have write-ins to accommodate every schedule, every neighborhood in every suburb (practically), most of them initiated not by us Municipal Liaisons but by people who just liked the idea of, say, having a write-in at Flatirons Crossing, or who wanted to do Healing Tea Saturdays again. We have a scheduled write-in per day, average.

Today, we had two. One in Boulder, and one in Longmont. Since the two write-ins overlapped, we decided to engage in a bit of Word Warring. Word Wars are a bit like Word Sprints. You set a timer, and you try to get as many words written as you can in the allotted time. That's a sprint. Add competition, and it's a "war." From 7:10 to 7:30, the Boulder-at-Red-Rock-Coffeehouse crew vied with the Longmont-at-Ziggy's crew for the highest average of words per Wrimo.

But I'd been at Red Rock since 5:30--some had been there since 5:00--and I'd already hit 6667 total words, the normal Day 4 goal. Getting there took me through Jet's being emo and angsty over whether maybe she was a bit too attached to playing human and whether it was a problem that making out with her best bud back in her home world just didn't do it for her anymore what with there being no challenge or surprise to it. (Her home world is outside of space and time. "World" isn't the right word for it. Words aren't right for it. You see the problem I'm setting myself here.) And then maybe two paragraphs into Lia Five Weeks Later, and then I was done.

But it was only 6:15. I couldn't let the side down! I had to do more writing come Word War time!

Natalie Goldberg has an anecdote about a student who would write to the end of the ten minutes, to the end of the page, and then stop. This is in Writing Down The Bones, in the chapter called "Go Further." Goldberg writes, "Write to the eleventh minute if you need to. I know it can be frightening and a real loss of control, but I promise you, you can go through to the other side and actually come out singing."

It would have been no big deal if I hadn't. I had reached my goal for the day (get to 6667 words total). I could always right the rest of Lia Five Weeks Later tomorrow. But would I have written the same scene tomorrow as I wrote today? Would it have been the same Lia, the same family she can't cut herself free of, the same foggy mirror sending her frightening looks?

I don't know. This is some of what I got.

Abruptly Lia stood, shouldered her purse, and left the bus stop. Half a block along the way she heard what sounded suspiciously like a city bus's air brakes, but she didn't turn. It was a 10 minute walk back to her house, and the whole way she tried damn hard not to think of anything at all. The first flakes of a November flurry were beginning to fall by the time she got home; her dyed copper hair was salted with snow. She brushed it off as she let her front door slam closed behind her.

She collapsed in the armchair in front of a dead TV and sat there for five minutes or so, her mind as empty as she could make it. A sort of static buzz seemed to snap around her head like a fly. She didn't think about it at first. It stabilized, turning into a generic high-pitched ringing in her left ear, an almost electronic tone being played on a MIDI keyboard that didn't exist outside her own mind. Great, now my hallucinations are auditory. I'm one messed-up cookie. With that thought, she got up and marched herself over to the phone.

"Yeah. Sorry, Di--just can't seem to get out of bed this morning. I think I'm coming down with the latest 'flu that's going round the office. What, Jackie too? Send her my regards. Well, we'll see how it goes. I hope I can make it in tomorrrow--no, don't worry, I have no plans on being the next Typhoid Mary. Thanks, Di. 'Bye."

She hung up the handset, letting it clatter back into its old-fashioned wall-hanging base. The sound seemed to echo from the bedroom, as though something in there had fallen over at the precise moment she'd ended her call. Still hearing things, she supposed. But the ringing in her left ear was gone, that was something.

In the bathroom, she splashed water on her face and blinked, owl-like, at her reflection. Her narrow mouth, once so familiar and comfortable in the mirror, now seemed twisted, as though someone had snuck into her room while she slept to add weights to the ends of her lips. Just a milligram here, a flake of iron there, adding up over the weeks or years. She forced a smile, just to see what it looked like. It looked fake. She relaxed and watched her mouth sag into that warped scowl. Her lips were pale, with little pink in them. They were almost the same faint tan as her skin was at the end of the summer, visible at a distance only because her summer tan was lightening to her usual Celtic pastiness.

It sounds Welsh, said Jet.

Lia sputtered a cursed at the mirror, then began to shout. "Yes, dammit, I guess it does, I guess I can't cut myself off from my family even when I try to rename myself. Thank you oh so fucking much for pointing that out, imaginary person!"

What's that supposed to mean?

"Shut up. Shut up." Lia covered her ears and let her forehead fall against the mirror with a thunk whose echoes bounced around in her skull, less real than the voice of her memories. "It's been five weeks, what the hell are you doing in my head now? You never existed!" Her own voice seemed less real too.

Less real than the voice of a nonexistent woman repeating its query in her head. What's that supposed to mean?

"It means I'm done, I'm done being sick and scared and traumatized! You're just a figment of my--my trauma, OK? Go away. Please."

So, who's the fucking jerk now?

Lia squeezed her eyes shut as tight as they would go, then opened them, then turned on the water in the sink and the tub. Hot as it would go and with as much force as the building pump could muster up to her top floor apartment. She concentrated in the steam and the white noise on the face staring back out from the glass at her. Its expression scared her. The fog from the steaming water below covered it up, but she knew it was still there: a stranger wearing her face and twisting it into crazed permutations of depression, psychosis, loneliness.

Incidentally, Boulder won the Word War. But our averages were pretty darn close - 800 as compared to 750. We look forward to next week's rematch.