“My words trickle down from a wound which I have no intention to heal.”
Paul Simon

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

More Plot Revelations
Fri 2006-11-24 22:37:31 (single post)
  • 37,986 words (if poetry, lines) long

Dude! I know where the quill is! And I know what it does!

It came to me on the bus Wednesday night--I was using the hour-long bus ride between Boulder and Denver to get my daily 2K written. I was working on the scene with the one sympathetic family in the neighborhood, the one that actually tried to bring abuse charges against one of the missing kids' parents. The family comes to visit and they have a bit of a pow-wow. Well, the mom is more prepared to trust Gwen than the dad is, mainly because she grew up in the neighborhood too (so why doesn't she already know Gwen? Must think about this), but she wants to make sure Gwen really does have a history with The Bookwyrm's Hoard.

So she tells a story about Mrs. Nimbel and the quill, and she gently challenges Gwen to tell one of her own:

"...Anyway, I stormed out the house and came here. Like always. And Mrs. Nimbel said--" I could still hear her voice, surprisingly agile and sly, her voice "--she said, 'Gwen, what's with the glumsickle you're sucking on? Get over here and spit it out.'"

Cindy gave a little peal of laughter. "What's with that glumsickle, Mommy?" Dierdre patted her hand and favored her with a cautious smile.

"So I told her. And she did get out that quill, didn't she? A peacock's wing feather fitted with a brass wide-tip nib. And she made me tell her a question, just like you said. 'Do I have to be a doctor?' That's what I asked."

"And then what?"

Ron's voice made me jump. I hadn't been expecting him to get into the story. I looked up at him and said, "Well, I flung myself onto this sofa here, all dramatic-like, and I grabbed a magazine. I paged through it, got caught up in the articles, and after a while I reached the back cover and there was Mrs. Nimbel standing there with the paper in her hands. I read the question out loud back to myself, and what came out of my mouth, immediately, was, 'No. I have other obligations.' And then I just--like this--clapped my hand over my mouth, and said through my fingers, 'What the hell does that mean?'"

Among possibly other things, that quill is an oracle. Or a rorshach test. I'm not exactly sure how it works. It's definitely connected with the Space Between The Stories, though.

And I know where it is. That came to me too. I know where it is, why it got there, and how it's going to get found. It has also occurred to me that the thug's message about the parents wanting the bookstore gone isn't entirely a red herring. At least one parent is connected with the evil corporate mastermind guy, but it's not why I thought. It's much darker than that.

That I'm not going to reach THE END by 50K has nothing to do with plot after the Bookwyrm's grand opening. It has to do with how much plot is required in order to reach the grand opening.

Boring Status-Check Post
Tue 2006-11-21 22:09:02 (single post)
  • 33,487 words (if poetry, lines) long

Not much to say today other than it was a 3,400 word day, bringing me past the 33K mark. Also, as I've been telling friends, it looks like--unless I'm horrendously overestimating how much plot comes after the climactic scene at the bookstore's grand opening--this may be the first time I don't manage to reach THE END in 50,000 words. I'm not sure whether that means I'll have more to cut, or less to add, during the rewrite. Is my writing getting fluffier, or are my plots getting more complex? I suspect it may be a touch of both.

Suprise! Political Content
Mon 2006-11-20 22:55:24 (single post)
  • 30,252 words (if poetry, lines) long

Regardless of how the finished product looks, please believe me when I say that I very rarely set out to make a political point with my fiction. In fact, I can only think of one example--the post-Katrina New Orleans ghost story I began writing, flush with rage and helplessness during that first week after the storm as reports came in that the Red Cross had been denied entrance and trucks full of water were held indefinitely at the parish border--and that story will probably never be finished.

I certainly never set out to put politics in the books about Gwen and her bookstore. But tonight's writing turned up politics, all right. Tonight's writing featured the talemouse, that shy, retiring is-not-a-character, giving the Bookwyrm a furious lecture on reproductive freedom. I didn't expect that at all.

Her name is Gwen. Not 'prodigy.' Has a name. Isn't just a function. The talemouse is getting really mad now. How can the Bookwyrm be so obtuse? It knows so much, it governs the entire Fictional Hierarchy--how can it be so blind? Men characters, bad ones mostly, say, 'Woman's function is to reproduce.' Say, 'Should not have a job, should not write, should not be distracted from making babies.' Bookwyrm says, 'Gwen's function is to reproduce. Should not have bookstore, should not have family, should not be distracted from making stories.' He doubles over, panting with the effort of such speech. He has had to remember the voices of certain tertiary characters he's hidden inside in order to express himself so clearly. Bookwyrm. Woman-hating villain characters. Can't tell the difference.
Well then. Rakash Sketterkin tells us how he really feels.

Perhaps we can blame the never-ending Election Thread over at Slactivist. I just caught up on reading it today, watching the thread go from readers staying up all night tracking county-by-county results from Virginia to all abortion, all the time. Or maybe this had been building up for a long time now, and I never knew it until my timid little talemouse got mad enough to stand up and say--to the Bookwyrm, who is for all practical purposes his God--"People aren't just functions. They're people."

Brave little talemouse. Bless him. One day he may become a real character after all.

A Couple Of Quick Observations
Sun 2006-11-19 22:32:18 (single post)
  • 28,235 words (if poetry, lines) long

First: When your main character is reluctant to do a certain necessary thing--like, say, confront the parents of the missing children in hopes of alleviating their suspicions--it helps mightily to give her more than one reason to do it. It's a good idea to get in their good graces, because they're the force behind the neighborhood distrust that keeps her business in the red. It's a great idea because they not only have influence in the neighborhood but they also have the police officer's ear; if they suspect her, he'll suspect her, which will make him less inclined to protect her from knife-wielding thugs. And it's a FANTASTIC idea because she knows she's supposed to think one of them hired the thug that's threatening her life. The last thing she needs is for the Evil Corporation Guy who hired the thug to realize that there's a cuckoo in his nest (the security guard that's in both their pay) feeding her vital information, like, "This actually has nothing to do with missing children. It's to do with property take-overs. Pretend you don't know that."

"Oh, God," she thinks, "I really am going to have to call these people! And talk to them! And make nice with them even though they are trying to run me out of business and quite possibly abused the children that I'm quite certain ran the hell away from home! I have to treat these people like they're human beings who have authority over me. Shit!"

Second: Nothing says "interesting stage directions" during a wee-hours-of-the-morning conversation between the protagonist and her de facto bodyguard like sexual tension! Yay! She's, so, hot-for-him, she's, so, hot-for-him... Bwahahahaha!

Poor Gwen. She's all nervous about having maybe been too forward and stuff. She doesn't know that by the second book she'll end up married to him. I know just how she feels. Well, aside from all the threats to her life, safety, and livelihood, and whatnot.

Brief Status Update, With Short Story Angst
Wed 2006-11-15 23:12:43 (single post)
  • 740 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 20,193 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hullo. Broke 20,000 today on the novel. Tess arrived at the bookstore with all her friends; the Talemouse nipped ahead in the plot and changed the course of events in a very specific way. I'm planning to break 25,000 tomorrow. To that end, I'm hoping to have a useful dream tonight that makes very clear to me exactly what the next three scenes will consist of. Go, subconscious, go!

In other news, my paralysis on "Seeds of Our Future" (nee "Putting Down Roots") persists. In a desperate attempt to get something done, I plan to put it aside for a couple days in order to perform a crash revision on the short-short I wrote at VP (working title: "Turning The Earth"). The hope is to shove it out the door by the end of the week and then return to the longer story with the fresh wind of optimism in my sails.

My, I'm full of gardening titles today. Look! A gardening blog! See, I is prolific, gettin' all bloggity on ur d00dz.

...That made no sense. The management sincerely apologizes and resolves to address the issue.

Another Manuscript Comes Home
Mon 2006-11-13 18:07:05 (single post)
  • 2,764 words (if poetry, lines) long

The cycle comes round again. "Turbulence" will not be published by Aoife's Kiss. The rejection letter was encouraging. It stated that the story had some "very good moments" but ultimately "did not rise above the rest of the pack."

In updating my manuscript database, I am reminded that this story's previous rejection letter was similarly promising; the editor said it "made our second round."

In terms of the notorious "Slushkiller" post at Making Light, I think this story is hovering around Generic Reason For Rejection #11. Maybe. I hope?

In any case, it'll hit a new slush pile tomorrow. Wish it luck with me!

More fun with Adobe Illustrator
Two New Characters Whose Names Start With "T"
Sun 2006-11-12 22:40:41 (single post)
  • 15,685 words (if poetry, lines) long

First off, I promise not to go all anal with this Celtic Knot thing. I'm just having fun doodling, is all.

So. Meet Tess Helen Holland. Tess is the spiral in red. Tess is a middle school girl who likes books (especially those by Gwen Halpburn) and doesn't like boys (much) or sports (at all). Tess is the one who shows up at The Bookwyrm's Hoard and notices the quill is missing. She helps Gwen look for it. They don't find it, but during that time it becomes obvious that the bookstore is a good place for this little mousy misfit. Tess blossoms, sheds her self-consciousness, and even mouths off a little as she and her idol take apart old Mrs. Nimbel's desk in search of the writing implement. Gwen is inspired to keep the bookstore open for the girl's sake if not for her own.

Next, meet Tim Smith. He's the loop in green. When Gwen calls around looking for a security company who can spare guard personnel, like, now, he's the one who shows up. Thing is, after he sees Gwen safe home from the bookstore, he goes directly onto the graveyard shift at the office of a certain corporation which wants the bookstore property and doesn't think twice about using dirty tricks to get it. That's why Tim's loop crosses itself. He's crossing his own interests to take this job. Only he doesn't know it yet.

I might play further with the doodle if I get stuck, see what kind of neat repeating patterns these new lines might cause; they'll make interesting new intersections that might suggest future scenes. But right now I have plenty to work with for several days to come, just with these new characters and all their hangers-on. So for now I'll put away the colored pens and instead open up a paintbox full of words....

Natalie Goldberg Was Right!
Sat 2006-11-11 23:02:42 (single post)
  • 13,461 words (if poetry, lines) long

She said "Get closer." She said, "What are you looking at?" She said, "Keep the pen moving." Presumably she's still saying all of that, and well should she, because it's true.

If the name is unfamiliar to you, get yourself a copy of Writing Down the Bones to start with. Read it. Do the "Try this" exercises. It won't take you long. At worst, you may simply decide it's all new age hokeyness designed to keep amateur writers eternally amateurs, and you'll kick the dust off your heels and move on. Or you may decide that it's a valuable addition to your personal arsenal of inspirational tricks and that you will go forth and do likewise forever more.

I'm in the latter camp. Today's NaNoWriMo session is an example of why.

Gwen is sitting at the big check-out desk in the bookstore, trying to figure out how to save both the store and her life. Doing the one seems mutually exclusive with the other. As she sits there thumbing through the phone book (SELF-DEFENSE, she thinks, and then thinks, but how much can I learn in a week? He said if I didn't clear out of here in a week I'm dead), she does like I do: her brain slides off the difficult thing and onto a thought more pleasant. To wit, herself as the owner of the bookstore she's loved since childhood, doing the things she idolized the previous owner for doing.

"Get closer," says Natalie. "What are you looking at?"

She runs her hand over the wood of the desk (sturdy oak, dark, glossy and smooth with age and use) and notes the many little cubbies, pigeon-holes, and drawers. One for every possible object. There is a cut-glass inkwell permanently affixed to the desk; the ink has dried to a crust in the months since the previous owner's death. Gwen will have to clean it out before she refills it. Metallic purple, she thinks, and remembers how the previous owner would take a quill pen from its place in that inkwell and write a fabulously curly-cued X at the "sign here" part of credit card slips and IOUs. Gwen imagines doing likewise. And because she is a young adult novelist, she imagines signing her name with that quill for teenage fans of her books.

The room takes on all three dimensions. I'm in there with Gwen. I'm reading the titles on the magazine rack, I'm lounging in the faux-leather chair by the window to the left of the door, and I'm opening the door to make the bells tied to the return bar jangle.

It occurs to me that what distracts Gwen from her reverie is a customer. Her first ever. A young girl here against the express wishes of her mother, who knows that the children who went missing over the past year were last seen at the bookstore. And, after much introductory conversation, the girl says, "Where is the quill?"

And Gwen looks around and says, "Crap! Where is the quill?" Neither of them can find it. Finding it will be vitally significant to the plot, especially as regards Gwen's relationship with the Bookwyrm and the Space Between The Stories.

The plot thickens. And all because Natalie Goldberg said "Get closer."

Of course, the guy I'm thinking of who can't stand Natalie Goldberg also doesn't much like NaNoWriMo, so this won't convince him. But for folks like him we can just pretend I didn't say NaNoWriMo, and that this is merely the first draft of a novel like any other novel. It is, actually. I simply happen to be writing it in November at the rate of 1,000-2,000 words per day.

The knot is the plot.
Plotting With Celtic Knots
Fri 2006-11-10 23:06:01 (single post)
  • 12,157 words (if poetry, lines) long

Confession time: I didn't think this up. Not only didn't I think this up, but I only got into it because it's shiny. Its suggested benefit in story building only took effect later. Tonight, actually.

The "this" in question is the idea of using Celtic knots and braids as a plotting mechanism. James D. Macdonald tells us about this in his famous and long-lived "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim" thread over at the AbsoluteWrite.com forums. (Go read it. From the beginning. Yes, it will take you awhile. Take your time and do the homework assignments as you get to them.)

Like I said, my first thought was "Ooh! Shiny!" My first action was not to try plotting a brand new story, but instead to run off and learn how to draw these things, which I mainly got the hang of, and to show off my new hobby in a Comicollage contribution.

Now, I'm not sure I can do what Uncle Jim does anyway. I don't think I can use a knot to come up with a plot from scratch, not the way he describes doing it. What's intuitive for one writer isn't intuitive for another. But I thought maybe I could design a knot or braid based on the way things were already shaping up, and use the resulting pattern to figure out where the Nano-novel was going next.

Three threads were about all I could keep in my head at once. So I named those threads "Gwen and the bookstore" (blue/gray), "The talemouse" (blue), and "The corporate thug" (maroon). (The colors come courtesy of the particular selection of le pens I had on me at the time.) Each thread represented not just that character but also his-or-her goals, interests, and actions.

Then I tried braiding those threads. I quickly found out that in a simple braid, you end up with a rock-scissors-paper conundrum: each thread has only one relationship, "win" (over) or "lose" (under), with each of the other two threads. That makes it exceedingly symmetrical, but it doesn't suggest an interesting progression of scenes. So I messed with it some more, hoping to get a bit more variation--and I got the image you see here.

I think this may well be the perfect basic three-character pattern ever. OK, well, maybe not, but it's pretty cool. See, you have the gray-blue thread for the protagonist, who stays in that tight twist representing the central plot. Then you have the supporting character in blue and the antagonist in maroon who alternately help/hinder the protagonist and oppose each other. The braid runs chronologically along a timeline, and each intersection is a scene that can be described as "[thread on top] [does something] to [thread on bottom]." For a bonus, the braid emphasizes that the secondary and the antagonist have plots of their own which intersect "off-stage." I need to flesh them out.

After I drew this out and labeled the threads, I started labeling the intersections. It mapped surprisingly well to those scenes I already have written or planned, and suggested new scenes I would need to invent. (Note: letters in list correspond to letters labeling intersections in the .GIF, and text in brackets indicates scenes that weren't already planned but were instead suggested by the braid.)

  1. The talemouse first rescues an abused child by disappearing him from Gwen's world and putting him into one of the books Gwen wrote. This affects Gwen because neighborhood suspicion falls on the bookstore when kids start disappearing, and because her books have been changed.
  2. [I guess here the talemouse witnesses something the corporation plans to do, and that spurs the talemouse into action he would not otherwise have taken.]
  3. Gwen accepts, takes possession of, and makes plans to reopen the bequeathed bookstore. This affects the corporation, who wanted to buy the place. Gwen's action threatens the corporation.
  4. The corporation sends a thug to threaten Gwen and scare her off.
  5. [Here the talemouse must take some action to try to protect Gwen from the thug. Maybe he'll influence the neighborhood beat cop, who is currently not well disposed towards Gwen.]
  6. [Here something Gwen does will change the talemouse's course of action, causing him to trust her more maybe, resulting in...]
  7. [...the talemouse indirectly reuniting Gwen with the Bookwyrm, whom she last saw when she was a child.]
A neat aspect of that central twist is the way Gwen-affecting-other is immediately followed by other-affecting-Gwen. Something Gwen does incites another character to react to her directly. For instance, her moving into the bookstore poses a threat to the corporation, so the corporation sends out the thug. It's a very intimate tit-for-tat sort of thing.

Unlike a self-contained knot that might lend itself to the abstract concerns of theme and relationship, this braid is a literal storyboard. That has its limitations. It'll need a shake-up somewhere just to keep the dynamics from getting too predictable. I think that the pattern will have to change drastically after one full repeat, which is to say, after the talemouse causes Gwen to meet the Bookwyrm once more (which is to say, grown-up Peter Pan remembers how to fly, with a little help from Tinkerbell). Also, I should probably put in a couple new threads for Gwen's agent and, once I decide how he gets into the story, Gwen's love interest. (I may have mentioned that she's married in Right Off The Page? Hubby-to-be needs to play a part in this story. Maybe he'll be the security cop Gwen hires when the beat cop makes it clear he can't care less.) Both those characters are going to play real parts, not just be "prop characters" like the Bookwyrm and the missing children. And then there's the beat cop and maybe a representative parent-of-missing child. And then, and then, and then....

And then a lot of stuff. But for now, that's the first part of the book mapped out. Plus I get to make shiny pretties in Adobe Illustrator! What's not to like?

No Writing At The Polls, and No Talking Dogs In My Novel
Wed 2006-11-08 23:17:36 (single post)
  • 10,011 words (if poetry, lines) long

I only got my notebook out once yesterday at the polling place, and that was to jot down the URL associated with the cute fuzzy hat that the Machine Judge was knitting. What was I thinking, finish the short story rewrite at the polls? I didn't even hit the NaNo-novel that day. After my working day ended at 9:30 PM (that's a fifteen-anna-half hour working day, I'll have you know), I was just about up for a bike ride to The Dark Horse for their Tuesday night Burger Madness special, and then sleep.

Today was a different story. Today I broke 10,000 on the NaNo-novel. Most of it was Gwen reminiscing about her "imaginary friend" and her unorthodox book-finding procedure at the bookstore throughout her childhood. The surprise for me today was when I realized that the bookstore was no longer magic for Gwen. Gwen is Peter Pan grown up. Part of the plot development will be her re-learning, so to speak, how to fly.

The other surprise was the totally cliche occurrence of the main character receiving a warning at knife point to pack it in and leave town. This will be the adult version of a Scooby Doo plot, I'm afraid: the villain's motivation is to scare those meddling kids away from his base of operations. In other words, he grabs her, tells her that everyone knows she's involved in the recent child disappearances, and that she'd better leave town before she finds herself on the wrong end of vigilante justice; when in actuality he's connected with corporate interests that want to turn the bookstore property into something new and tall and shiny and profit bearing.

I am both impressed with myself over the Peter Pan angle and depressed with myself over the Scooby Doo angle. But don't worry. I'm not writing in a talking Great Dane for Gwen. I'll be writing in her husband-to-be at some point, but not a big talking dog.