“A person who sees nothing of the numinous in the everyday has no business writing.”
Kit Whitfield

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Improv Cooking Thing
Mon 2008-02-04 22:23:33 (single post)

The thing about Thing-a-day is, it's sort of unspecific. I mean, think about it: "Starting on February 1st, make one thing a day." Thing. Sort of noun-ish. Creativity is involved here, also newness ("no recycled old work"), but of what sort?

For obvious reasons, most of my things tend to be literary things. Today, however, I'm going with culinary.

Annie's Mac with Squash Brabant and Sauteed Walnuts

  1. Cook the pasta from one box of Annie's Alfredo And Cheddar. Drain.
  2. Defrost about 1.5 C cubed sweet potato and acorn squash. Alternately, you can start from fresh vegetables and cook them to tender.
  3. Melt 2 Tbsp butter and toss in the vegetables, a handful of walnut pieces, and a clove or two of minced garlic. Sautee for a bit.
  4. Add about 1 Tbsp onion powder, 1 Tsp paprika, and pepper to taste. Sautee a bit more.
  5. Add one or two chopped up green onions (scallions) and the Annie's cheese packet. Mix well.
  6. Add 1/4 C milk and 2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream. Lower heat, stir, and cook until warm.
  7. Add cooked pasta, mix well, and allow to simmer until sauce has reached desired consistency.
This comes frightfully close to "recycled old work," I confess. What's new here is the extra savory treatment of the squashies. They needed a bit more flavor than I'd previously managed to coax out of them by merely dumping the frozen chunks in with the pasta.

Enjoy! And leave yourself time for a nap afterwards. I came home pretty tired from work and this meal topped my sleepy right off.

Parody Thing
Sun 2008-02-03 22:25:48 (single post)

Tonight we had some friends over and took turns playing a favorite video game on the Sony PS2. Which game? Well, the one that would star in this parody of recent blockbuster film Cloverfield.

The scene begins from the point of view of a digital video recorder at a crowded party: dim lights, the press of bodies, a spilled drink, music thumping out of an overenthusiastic sub- woofer. Suddenly the room shakes and the lights flicker and die. People grab for the furniture and fall all over the place. Our intrepid camera person is on his feet quickly and runs to the window.

We're some thirty floors up looking down over the neighborhood streets. We can't see very far because the nearby buildings are just as tall. But everything shakes again and a sort of rolling roar rumbles across the middle distance, right to left. There's screaming along with it and air horns and car alarms and police sirens. After it passes there's quiet enough to hear the other party-goers ask each other what the hell is going on.

The sound, or montage of sounds, begins to approach again from the left, much closer this time. It gets louder and louder (somewhere in the middle of it one dog is barking at the top of its lungs) until it's a deafening, thunderous din. Something huge passes in front of us. We're aware only of a massive, indistinct shape whirling by. After it passes, the horizon is wide open--all the buildings across the street are gone.

At this point, the viewer wants to hear some sort of dramatic soundtrack accompanying the revelation. But this is a documentary style movie, so all we get is the shocked silence of the party-goers taking in the suddenly empty skyline.

The noise starts again to our right, but this time it's far in the distance. The camera is jostled as people crowd against the window alongside our camera person. Hands on the glass frame the view. The noise gets louder.

Someone shouts, "Look!" and someone else moans "Oh my God." The indistinct shape is easier to see from this distance. It rolls with an uneven gait into the middle of our field of vision. It's mostly round, but something's sticking out, something tall and pointed at one end. As the thing comes to a stop directly in the center of the frame, we finally understand what it is. It's the Statue of Liberty.

Then the thing seems to get its bearings, and it rolls right for us.

In the darkness caused by the thing blotting out the world, the movie title fades in.

PROJECT: KATAMARI DAMACY

About Cloverfield: You should go read this thread at Making Light.
Thingness Continues
Sat 2008-02-02 22:02:58 (single post)

So, about a week ago, I had this dream.

I dreamt that there was a parade passing by and fireworks and they were all for me (and I was a lot younger than I am now) but my parents didn't want me to go out and enjoy it. And I knew they were right, and what they wanted was all for the best, and what I was supposed to do now was eat this special sesame-bun and drink this special peach fizzy soda and they would make me forget. I would eat and drink and then not remember anything special had happened. And that was really the right thing to do. But I really, really wanted to see the parade! So I promised that I would eat and drink the forgetting stuff after I'd watched the parade and the fireworks. In the dream, I knew that this wasn't the first time I'd been made to forget special things happening. I hoped this time I'd at least remember that something had happened.

So that was the dream, and that's what came to mind when I tried to think of a Thing to write today.

This is rather more of a short story than a scene.

It had been the best night in Little May's entire life. And she was a whole ten years old tonight, so that was saying something.

Every year on her birthday, May was allowed to stay up past her bedtime, as long as she liked. She was allowed to eat all her favorite things for dinner, even if they were ice cream, freezie- pops, crawfish sushi, and M&Ms. She was allowed to stay home from school if she wanted, or go to school and have all her classmates sing Happy Birthday to her. Little May's birthday was the one day of the year that belonged to no one but her.

But tonight, the night of her tenth birthday, tonight was special even by those standards. Tonight there'd come a knock at the door, and a little girl May's age was standing there in a dress redder than a valentine card and with sparkling gold hair down to her toes. "Come out," she'd said, "We all want to see you!" May had let her take her hands and had followed her into the street. The little girl's hands were slightly furry, like velvet.

Her mother had stood in the door behind her and begun to say something unhappy, but then she'd stopped. "Go on, dear," she'd said. "It's your birthday."

The parade was like nothing May had ever seen, not on Mardi Gras, not on Saint Patrick's Day, not ever. There were no marching bands or Shriners cars or clowns or floats or people yelling Throw me something mister. Instead there were--other kinds of people. People made of light, of wind, of bells, people with the faces of cats and birds, people with wings like bats and dragonflies. Like no people May had ever seen.

But they all knew her name. They all knew it was her birthday.

After the parade came the fireworks. Red and white and gold and green, they all exploded low in the sky, right above her head, fooling the street lamp into thinking it was dawn. And the noise! The whizzing and the booms and the popping and the sputtering! The strange, lovely people all stood in a crowd around May, looking up and going Oooh and Aaah. Every once in a while one of them would hug May. They looked so happy. Some of them were crying.

When the fireworks were over, the people walked away down the street waving goodbye. May waved after them. The last to leave was the little velvet girl in the red dress. She said, "You can't come with us tonight, not the way we came. But tomorrow--" And then she whispered in May's ear a series of instructions, one after the other like a how-to project in the magazine May's teacher brought to school. "You'll remember? We miss you, May. Come home." And then the little girl ran after the strange and wonderful people, out of sight.

May went straight up to bed, but she couldn't sleep. She felt like her skin was full of bees and her head was made of fireworks, she was that excited. And tomorrow--tomorrow she would do what the little velvet girl in the red dress had said! She would see all the strange and beautiful people again! While she lay there remembering and remembering and remembering, her mother came in with a glass of milk and little piece of pie. "Here," she said, "just a little midnight snack. 'Cause it's your birthday."

"What kind is it?"

"It's your favorite. Go on."

May ate it up, every bite. Her mother sat with her until she was done, and then she took the plate and glass away with her. May heard her parents' voices murmuring in the hall, but now she was very sleepy and couldn't quite make it out. Her mother's voice was high and sad. Her father's voice was low and rumbly. "...with it like we always do," was part of what he said, and "you'll see, it'll be OK."

In the morning, May woke up already disappointed. It wasn't her birthday anymore. And she felt, like she felt every year the day after her birthday, like maybe she could have had more fun if she'd thought of more exciting things to do. She'd gone to school, her class had eaten cake and ice-cream, she'd blown out her candles... there'd been presents, including the computer game all her friends were playing, just like she'd asked for... she'd had candy and, and pie for dinner, and... and she'd watched TV with her parents until she'd gotten sleepy. Seems like she'd wasted it, somehow.

Oh well. Next year she'd think of something exciting. Maybe a big party at the amusement park, maybe all her friends could come. Maybe fireworks just like it was New Year's Eve. Maybe...

"May," called her mother, "aren't you awake yet? You'll be late for school."

Introducing "Thing-a-day"
Fri 2008-02-01 19:18:35 (single post)

Yesterday John says, he says to me, "Hey, so, I'm going to be doing thing-a-day." And I says, "What?" And he says, "Thing-a-day?" And I says, "No. What?"

And after a few more volleys along those lines the conversation settled down into a more informative groove, with him telling me all about Thing-a-day and me getting all enthused.

He's gonna do it. (He's doing it now. Hey look! And now he's done! For today, anyway.) And me, I'm gonna do it too. Maybe I didn't get to the Official Site in time to register for this year's session and have a cool Thing-a-day.com blog of my own, but, y'know, oh well. I have a blog here.

And, it being Feb. 1, I have a thing here. Here it is. It's a scene-thing, circa 530 words. Maybe I'll be doing Scene-a-day.

Most people didn't get off the bus here. All of the offices were empty, and many of them had been vandalized. The neon orange and red of gang tags glowed from the dusty, broken glass and crumbling pebbled facades. For those who didn't know how to read them, their scrawl still communicated loud and clear: don't be here after dark if you know what's good for you. All the locks were busted. None had seen their rightful keys all winter.

The cable news channels and the top-tier blogs called it "The bust after the boom after the bust," or simply "The second dot-com crash." It had left programmers, project managers, and technical writers without jobs. Business districts like this stood to no further purpose. Some of the signs you could still read: SineWave, WebNet, SpectralCore. Names that described nothing directly. Titles that appealed to an instinctual awe of the new and the shiny. Very little shone here now. The lawns were overgrown, the creek drowned in weeds, and the geese reigned supreme over grass and pavement. Why the bus even ran here at all was a mystery. The riders shrugged, called it a testimony to inertia, and waited for their stops. Their stops were further along, in retail and dining districts where business still flourished.

Closer inspection of the area revealed that a lot of the tagging was nearly as old as the bust, and the turf wars had already migrated east. Newer marks were subtler. A tracker might have sussed them out, or a bravely curious pedestrian might have observed the tracks being laid. For instance:

...inside an office formerly belonging to an online guerilla advertisement company, the handholds on the rock climbing wall that ascended beside the central stair were suspiciously well maintained. The ropes looped over the top bar were new. Each dawn found fresh handprints in the chalk.

...inside what used to be a broadcasting studio, down a windowless and electricity-less corridor, each recording booth had been altered. Where computers, microphones, and mixers once stood, there were now mechanical potters' wheels installed in the countertops. Red clay piled to the ceiling. On the walls were niches for tools, shelves for drying the greens, and sconces for the ten, fifteen, twenty candles per booth that gave the sculptors light.

...inside the former FedEx depot was a nest of generators gently humming, gently waiting for a neighbor squatter to ask it to do its job. The smell of gas filled the small storage space. A web of wires led to the closest buildings where electrical inventions underwent development. A cache of fuel and spare parts suggested a system of scavenge and contribution.

And the industry inside the buildings wasn't all there was to see. The crash had taken place late last summer, and the gangs had given up the space to the artisans some three or four months later. The frost hadn't left the ground yet, but you could see compost piles here and there, if you knew where to look. If you knew how to look. You could see that the shrubbery beds had been turned and tilled. They were waiting for seed-sowing time.

Of course, tomorrow, who knows, tomorrow might find me quilting. Or knitting. Or baking, even. But I'm guessing that the majority of my things will be writing-things, like this thing here.

It's a good thing, doing things like this every day.

Good Stuff! Pass it on.
Mon 2008-01-21 14:46:00 (single post)

Another disappointingly non-writing-related blog entry from me. Except, it kinda sorta relates to writing. Inasmuch any philosophy of how society should work can apply to writing, that is. I'm just passing it along because it's that good.

My current rules for working in this new world:
  1. Make something other people can use.
  2. Respond to existing conversations.
  3. Buy real.
  4. Use your best material.
  5. The neighbor you beggar is a customer you've lost.
  6. You own a share in the world, your country, your government, your laws, your economy, your community, your public discourse, and in the well-being of its citizenry. Do not let yourself be tricked into despising it. The share you abandon will be snatched up by the same people who are telling you it's worthless.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden, in commentary.

Read the whole thread for both artistry in blogging and further discussion of what it means to be a viable and beneficial part of today's creative economy. (One might argue that there is no other economy worth speaking of, but that is a discussion for another time. You can have that discussion if you want; I have Deadlines and must disappear now.)

The way these rules apply to writing are fairly obvious, although, like the symbols of an alethiometer, the applications reveal more hidden depth the more you follow the associations...

What other people can use. The writer should never forget that s/he's part of the entertainment industry. Well, that's probably overstating things. Not every writing is meant to be entertaining. However, it must be part of what might be termed a communication industry. If the writing fails to communicate, then the reader cannot use it, and no amount of artistry can save it.

Existing conversations. Writing doesn't live in a vacuum, no more than does the writer. It responds to the pressures, issues, and concerns surrounding the writer's life. A book responds to the real conversations of the day, or it doesn't get read much.

Real. The thread in which Teresa posts talks about buying objects made with real components: oak rather than pressboard, leather rather than plastic, wool rather than fake fur. There's an analog to this in writing, I think. In writerly circles, the question "What does the writer owe the reader?" often comes up. It elicits answers varying from "The truth" to "A ripping good story" to "Nothing at all." My own response is somewhere in between. It's not that the writer owes the reader anything directly. Who knows whether there will, in fact, be a reader? The writer's obligation is, I'd say, to the writing. To the story. And to him/herself. The obligation is to write something real. A story we had to tell, one that we're emotionally invested in, one that speaks to real concerns we ourselves have. If we do that, then we'll find we've fulfilled our obligation to the reader quite adequately. But if we don't, we've pulled a cheap trick and made the equivalent of bubble gum and cheap pleather purses, something valuable not in lasting service to the consumer/reader but rather in its producer-enriching need for frequent replacement.

Put another way: if we ourselves are bored with what we're writing, how can we expect a reader to be interested in the result?

Best material. Never do a half-assed job. Never be a hack in the pejorative sense. If you hold a certain publisher in contempt (say, it's a second-string magazine and you don't want to "waste" your best writing for $0.01/word), it is better to not submit anything at all to them than to submit sub-par work. Anything you publish is attached to your name. Anything you write that isn't published is still attached to the way you view yourself as a writer. Well, that's how it works with me, anyway. Don't hold back: always write the best material that's in you. You won't waste it. There will be more. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but your name, your self-esteem, your craft are where you rise or fall. Never sell yourself short.

The neighbor you beggar. What can I say? Contempt for your reader is the road to self-destruction. I suppose I might point out the recent anti-piracy circus in the SFWA, but really, does a rational human being need to be shown examples as to why it is bad business to treat one's customer as though s/he were a criminal or an idiot? Is this not simply obvious on its face? As a writer, your customers are your publisher and your readers. Respect them, or suffer their disrespect in return. It's really that simple.

The share you abandon. This is the most abstract and all-encompassing of Teresa's rules, I think, and the one that deserves the most thinking-about. I don't think I want to try to reword it much. Mostly I want to just meditate on it. But I'll offer the conversation this much: We all have unique opportunities to make the world a better place. We mustn't let the cynics convince us not to bother. Else entropy triumphs. This is true in writing as much as it is true in philanthropy and politics.

Finally, Teresa further clarifies "buying real" some hours later in the comment thread.

This is your reading assignment. Go to it. (Meanwhile, like I said, disappearing now.)

Will The Owner Of These New Year Wishes Please Report To The Front Desk
Sat 2008-01-12 23:47:15 (single post)

Sometimes John twits me a bit about my cell phone. He tells me it's the Twenty-First Century already, I should upgrade. When I tell him, "It makes phone calls! What else am I supposed to want out of a phone?" he laughs and calls me a Luddite.

I am the most high-tech Luddite you ever did see. Really. I've got nothing against technology. Whatever would I do without my laptop? But phones are for making phone calls with. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Which is why I don't generally feel like I need to upgrade. My cell phone is an elderly Sprint LG that showed up after I signed on to Working Assets Wireless (now known as CREDO Mobile) in 2003. It was a little behind the times even then, because Working Assets seemed to share my thoughts on cell phones. They should make phone calls. Anything else is an added expense that would either make the customer pay more or make Working Assets less able to donate money to good causes. So this phone makes phone calls, contains a limited phone book apparatus, has a reminder function suitable for use as an alarm clock except that its snooze feature is hardwired for five minutes rather than the traditional nine, and, just for bonus, has a couple of very, very simple video games on it.

About a year after signing on I discovered that it could also receive text messages. I received spam from China on my phone. And this was odd, because the phone most definitely cannot send text messages. I called up Working Assets and asked them what my email address was. They said they had no idea. Text messaging wasn't part of my wireless plan.

Eventually I found some online resources that listed how to figure out your email address based on your phone number and your character. Mine was something like [phone number]@messaging.sprintpc.com or so. I've got it written down somewhere.

And every once in a while, a well-meaning friend will send me a text message. And this is often unfortunate, because when the text message comes from a phone, rather than from an email, I can't see who sent it. Seriously. I tell my phone, "Extract phone number," and my phone says, "There is nothing to extract." When an old neighborhood friend sent me a message that said nothing but, "WHO DAT!" after the New Orleans Saints' championship win against the Eagles in Jan '07 that brought them within one game of the Superbowl, I knew it was him because I'd just been home visiting and we'd gotten to talking about football. Or when a friend who just moved sent me their new number, it was very helpful that they ended the message with their name. But sometimes I am less lucky, and context is not so forthcoming.

So here are the wonderful messages I got on New Years' Eve while John and I were vacationing in Seattle:

Happy New Year! May 2008 shower you with blessings, scrub you with wisdom, loofah you with success and towel you off with happiness.
Hope you're having a great NYE! Why am I wearing a tiara?
(I also got a nice "Merry Christmas!" from somebody back on the 25th.)

Thank you, anonymous donors of lovely New Year wishes that made me giggle! I have my guesses (it's you and you, isn't it? I see you over there!) but I cannot confirm them with the technology available to me at this time. Do not think that I did not appreciate your messages, however!

Maybe I need to upgrade after all.

Besides, if you can send text messages, apparently there's this subscription service that lets you order your coffee over the phone...

For the sixth year running!
Oh, Yeah, I Remembers Now, I Gots Dis Blog
Wed 2007-12-12 18:43:32 (single post)
  • 55,108 words (if poetry, lines) long

Did I forget to post here and say that I won NaNoWriMo 2007? And reached the end of the book too? Sorry. I did this. I even posted the last few paragraphs as an excerpt at my NaNoWriMo profile. Posting that is sort of a way of saying it out loud: I did it, I got to the end, and I'm not going to delete it all in a fit of insecurity, or whatever. And of course once November ends, you can't change what you put up there, so posting an excerpt is kind of like making a declaration you can't take back.

Things are fairly quiet on the writing front since. I'm easing back into it slowly. I have another couple freelance work-for-hire projects ahead of me, a short-short I want to have ready to submit by the new year (the one about the sidewalks melting) which shouldn't take me that long really but we can't get too crazy y'know. Also another short story (the one about the plant virus) that's long overdue its overhaul.

I'm also just back from an excellent fun trip to Boston, and soon to go on a trip to Seattle. John's using up those vacation hours that would otherwise go poof at the end of the year, and airfare has been unaccountably reasonable, so we've been Visiting.

That's all the update I can usefully think to make at present. More later, hopefully not too much later.

Day 30: Stupid Word-Count Validator
Fri 2007-11-30 12:32:05 (single post)
  • 49,968 words (if poetry, lines) long

Yesterday my word count actually went backwards. I stopped using yWriter's word count and started using the NaNoWriMo Word Count Validator, because I have to get my happy purple WINNER bar and my shiny WINNER certificate, after all. And just like that my total went from some 49,800 to 48,600 or so. (I personally blame the em-dash.)

Yesterday I finally got to the beginning of the end book crisis. I got through the whole sex and death bit, which was admittedly clumsier than I'd have liked it to be but editing will happen later. After that come scenes I've rehearsed in my head for years, so I'm not worried about finishing. I just got done with the confrontation scene after the sex and death bit. It involves a lot of yelling at each other and someone breaking a window to make their dramatic exit off the 4th floor of, hypothetically, the French Quarter Hyatt. Unless it's the Mariott I'm thinking of. Who cares? It's November.

Anyway, today being Day 30, we're going to have our traditional mad dash for the finish line at the IHOP tonight. I'm at Vic's Downtown with the lunchtime crew at the moment, and I'm about to dive back in and write the next scene. The one where the not-so-imaginary-friend is reunited with the main character permanently and all the MCs questions are answered. Then I'll update my word count, get all my happy WINNER stuff, and take a break until IHOP, where I'll write the denouement and the magic words "The End."

And that's the plan.

Goal: Accomplished (with prizes!)
Sun 2007-11-25 10:17:18 (single post)
  • 40,499 words (if poetry, lines) long

Yes, I did break 40,000 at the Write-A-Thon yesterday! And my total of some 7500 words produced at that location won me the third prize, a bag full of Neat Stuff! (I now, for instance, own a small Moleskine notepad, so I can maybe figure out why everyone loves these things so much.) I also went home with a lot of the extra stickers from the Denver region, so maybe I can get those to the high schoolers and the Longmont contingent.

The Organizer is actually one of the founding doners for NaNoWriMo, and she'd in fact been to the San Francisco Write-A-Thon. She hopes that next year we can have another Colorado Write-A-Thon with planning further in advance and smaller, localized Write-A-Thons that similarly function as fundraisers for the Office of Letters & Light. I'm looking forward to it.

I would, of course, have blogged this yesterday, but I was already half falling asleep at the keyboard during the Write-A-Thon. John and I pretty much collapsed when we got home. Actually, we collapsed on the sofas out by the Wii, where we downloaded the original NES "Metroid" game and had a very relaxed nostalgia session.

Right now I'm at the Lazy Dog in downtown Boulder, attempting to watch the Saints v. Panthers game at a sort of oblique angle and working on today's 1667. Join me if you're in the area and don't mind football crowds.

Update: We won, by the way. We kicked their butts, and then we kicked their puppies. And now we're biting our nails over next week's game against Tampa Bay.

Live From the Colorado Write-A-Thon
Sat 2007-11-24 15:11:28 (single post)
  • 32,923 words (if poetry, lines) long

The Denver NaNoWriMo Contingent has come up with an awesome idea. I just overheard the organizer telling us how this came about. Apparently she was on the phone with Chris Baty (founder of the whole she-bang), who was talking about the famed San Fransisco Write-In, which makes those of us who can't get over to San Fransisco really jealous, and she said to him, "Just shut up about it, I have to go plan the Colorado Write-A-Thon!" And she hung up and immediately began to match deed to word.

So here we are: 4:00 PM, in a conference room behind the Panera in the Park Meadows Mall, fairly close to the dead center of the state, in the company of writers from all over (but mostly Denver and Boulder), getting ready to Write Like The Wind. Apparently there will be prizes for those who write the most words while here. Also for those who write the least, because our Organizer likes underdogs. (She's a Broncos fan.)

You can see how many words I've got. I'll blog again after, and you can see how many I did. Personally, I want to break 40,000, because that's All Caught Up. I got behind this past week what with wrapping up a freelance project that oughtn't to have gone on past October, and I've been banking on today for catching up.

Anyway, better get to it. Hugs & kisses--!

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