“Writers are fortunate people.”
Susan Cooper

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Also, she's knitting socks. How cool is that?
This is Leah Bobet. She edits Ideomancer.
Paul Cornell is wearing the coolest shirt ever.
WorldCon 2009, Friday: Squee And More Squee
Fri 2009-08-07 23:17:06 (single post)

I'm in Montreal today, and will be until Tuesday morning. Montreal is where WorldCon is this year. It is full of lovely architecture, found art, great food, and cab drivers that speak only French. This weekend it is also full of science fiction, fantasy, and horror fans enjoying the heck out of each other's company.

Today I took some pictures. That's kinda news. I carry a camera with me but I'm sort of missing the shutterbug instinct, so the machine stays useless in the bookbag most of the time. It stayed there during this morning's "Stroll With The Stars" (a morning walk about town in company with several Industry Names, sort of a moving kaffeeklatsch without the sign-up sheet). That was silly. But I took it out for a couple of things today.

First, there's Leah Bobet doing her half-hour of autograph duty. Leah writes fiction, critiques manuscripts at this year's writing workshops, and edits the online speculative fiction magazine Ideomancer. Which is where I submitted "Sidewalks" at the end of June. Leah's response to this was not a rejection letter, but a rewrite request back on July 20th. This is a first for me, for a fiction submission. And it blows my mind. I always thought short fiction, especially short-short fiction, pretty much got accepted or rejected as is; how could a 500-word story be worth the time an editor takes going back and forth with the writer over revisions? Short fiction magazines are on tight budgets as it is! And yet here we are.

Rewriting "Sidewalks," as I've said here before, scares the crap out of me. Such a short story is like a tightrope walk; it balances on such a fragile line between the twin pitfalls of overwriting and underwriting. And I've already taken some falls on the overwriting side, making me really nervous when I'm asked to make something clearer or more explicit. When the response to my first rewrite came back asking for a second, I swear my mental reaction was "O Gods, what now? Don't make me do this! I'll break it for sure!" But then I printed out Leah's email, poured myself a shot of Glenmorangie and a bathtub of piping hot water, and contemplated the task in as relaxed a manner as my high-strung little self could manage.

I'm extremely glad for this process, and not just because it's not a rejection letter. Without the rewrite request, I might have been content with the story as it was. Sometimes it takes another reader to point out that the story isn't all it could be, and what it could be is worth striving for. Now, even if everything falls through and this process doesn't end in publication, I will still have a vastly improved story. That's pure gold.

I sent off the second rewrite shortly before WorldCon. I'd refrained from blogging about it while the process was still ongoing, up to now, but it's become too hard to resist. I mean, I've got pictures of Leah and me proudly displaying our knitting at WorldCon! (Leah is knitting her first pair of socks. They have a lovely ribbing that's a sort of barberpole lace. It's a pattern from Ravelry whose name I forget.) So not only am I all a-squee over having a fiction editor take this kind of interest in my story, but on top of that I got to geek out about knitting with said editor! How cool is that?

The third picture is Paul Cornell. Paul won a Hugo last year for a two-part Doctor Who episode that he wrote. It was based on a tie-in novel from several Doctors ago which he also wrote. And some readers may have noticed that a chapter in that novel bears a title ripped straight from a Kate Bush lyric. This sort of thing rarely turns out to be coincidence. Paul is a huge Kate Bush fan, and today I got to hear him give a presentation on her music as great fantasy writing. Do you know how seriously cool it is to hear someone whose work you admire totally geek out--in an educated, serious, literature-analysis way--about someone else whose work you admire? It's way cool. In fact, Paul has the coolest theory I have ever heard about the plot of The Ninth Wave (essentially Side 2 of Hounds of Love). (It involves alien abduction.)

This is what makes WorldCon the beautiful wonderful miraculous magical event that it is. Finding out who your heroes consider their heroes. Hearing them enthuse hard in full fan mode about their heroes. Also, finding out that you have more in common with those in the industry than just the industry itself. And I haven't even gotten into the other panels I attended today, or the great conversations at the Making Light party, or or or or or...

It's 3:30 AM. I should wrap this up and go to sleep. Good night!

In case you were wondering...
Tue 2009-07-28 13:18:41 (single post)

I've fixed the blog bug concerning the "Works Progressing" links. Now, when you click a manuscript title, you'll get a list of blog entries to do with that manuscript. You'll get a page header showing the manuscript's title and word count and, if relevant, hours edited (which I'm pretty unreliable at keeping count of, so don't count on it - har har, I pun).

And after I've had a chance to go through my database and make sure everything's presentable, you'll get a bit more blurbage about the manuscript and an excerpt to read. When will I get this done? Sooner than you think! 'Cause this week is actually looking like a manageable week!

More on the writing front later this afternoon. Until then...

The View From Tenaya's Porch
Smiles in the Garden
Ned Writes 2009! - Weekend Writing Retreat
Tue 2009-07-21 15:04:07 (single post)

I spent the better part of this past weekend with my Tuesday writing group in Nederland (elevation 8,233) where we did what writers do when we get together: We wrote. A lot. We also ate a variety of yummy things, walked our feet off, gawked at baby swallows at the post office, oohed and aahed at the scenery, lounged in the hot tub, and enjoyed the constant affections of two cats and a dog.

Tenaya took advantage of her family being out on a fishing trip to invite Ellen and I up to her house, which is cozy and spacious, well furnished in creature comforts, and also possessed of possibly the best view in town. See photo 1: this is the view from Tenaya's porch. The rooftops of central Ned, and the lake behind it--you can just make out the dam. From the desk Tenaya set me up at, I could see this view each time I looked out the window.

Next photo: Tenaya and Ellen smiling big happy smiles of accomplishment! This was taken Sunday afternoon just before Ellen and I departed for the bus station.

We had spent that morning and the day before alternating 2-hour writing sessions with breaks for food, exercise, and self-pampering. I got two brand new scenes for a brand new short story written ("Janet's Fibercrafts and Miscellaneous Services", temporary working title), and I submitted my very first content article to Demand Studios (it was subsequently approved and I got paid for it, yay!). Tenaya and Ellen were both deep in the organization stage of novel revisions, condensing scenes and considering character story arcs. Occasionally hummingbirds would buzz the garden (in which Tenaya and Ellen are sitting in this photo), or the pets would wander through, or someone would put on another pot of coffee or tea.

Group writing retreats: I can't recommend them strongly enough. With writing comes a multitude of snares: loneliness, aimlessness, self-doubt and self-effacement, even despair. A writing retreat can trip all those traps and render them harmless--at least temporarily. The constant company of friends who are equally determined to Get Writing Done is a good antidote for the solitary nature of the work. Holding each other to an agreed-upon schedule adds structure and inspiration to keep a writer on task and excited about it. And the very act of dedicating a weekend together to Writing And Nothing But Writing goes a long way to combat the everyday wear-and-tear damage a writer's confidence can sustain: "Are you working, or are you just writing?" "Am I interrupting something? Oh, you're just writing." "Everyone writes--how hard can it be?" Writers writing together are constantly reassuring each other, just with their continued presence and dedication, that what we are doing here is important. Important enough to protect it by turning off the phones, leaving everyday responsibilities in the hands of a kind friend or family member, to beg off invitations and social would-be obligations with "When--this weekend? Oh, I can't. I'll be busy writing."

We talked about having another one of these retreats soon, taking turns as hosts. I'm going to try to reserve us a weekend at the Sheraton Mountain Vista in Avon come late August or September; that worked out really well a couple years back. It's gorgeous up there in the Vail Valley. But if that doesn't work out, there's no reason we can't just congregate at my house. It's a pretty ordinary space compared to Nederland or Avon, sure, but even ordinary spaces can be consecrated to a purpose. Ask Tenaya: However exotic the location seemed to me, to her it was simply her house. She lives there day in and day out. She invited us up to help her make it special--by virtue of how we used it. Even a small corner of a two-bedroom apartment in the middle of the city can become special, dedicated to a special task. And never doubt that the task is special. Special enough to devote one's working life to it.

Live From Second Life: The Written Word Writers' Circle
Wed 2009-07-08 15:03:33 (single post)
  • 5,737 wds. long

This is precisely what Second Life does best, in my opinion: brings together a virtual group to do the same sort of stuff you might do with a group in real life, only without the travel expenses, while using the tools of the virtual world viewing application to enhance the group experience. That doesn't mean I don't indulge in casino games or spend spare computing cycles with my avatar in camping chairs, mind you; I'm only human and I like free Linden Dollars as much as the next person. But it's the group activity potential that really gets me excited about virtual worlds in general and Second Life in particular.

My avatar, Kavella Maa, is sitting in the audience at a place called "The waterstage and writers' circle". (For those unfamiliar, that link will take you to a portal web page which prompts you for permission to launch the Second Life world viewer and teleport you there.) There are cushions on the wooden dockside risers that you can click on to make your avatar sit properly (which usually works as advertised but sometimes leaves you facing off to the left so you have to get up and try again).

On stage is a microphone where open mic participants stand to read their works.

When an author mounts the stage, everyone in the audience receives a notecard (a text file object that you can create, save, keep in your inventory, and copy to others' inventories) with the text of their material on it. The authors read their material aloud; little green icons that mean "sound emanating from this point" appear above their heads, denoting that the voice you hear is indeed coming from the person controlling that avatar. If you use your camera controls to zoom in on the author reading, their voice gets louder, mimicking the effect of moving closer to hear better in a face-to-face group. (You can also set your preferences to modulate volume based on your avatar's position rather than your camera's.)

Meanwhile, the audience can comment as freely as they like on Local Chat, or even greet new arrivals with great verbosity, without fear of interrupting; Local Chat is text-only.

Each Wednesday at 2 PM Pacific Time, this Writers' Circle meets, organized by Jilly Kid of the Writers Guild - that's a group you can join - and MC'd by Hastings Bournemouth. Jilly sends out notices reminding the group about the event--and assigning a fun theme which authors may choose to incorporate into their offerings. This week, the theme is "Teddy Bear Picnic Day". Attendees can click on a sign beside the stage to have a free teddy bear T-shirt dropped into their inventory. (I'm wearing mine, of course.) Among the works written specifically for the theme are "Life's No Picnic," a poem by Aribella Lafleur, who wonders how teddy bears can even have picnics, having tummies full of fluff as they do; and "The Homophobic Hunter and the Un-caring Bear," a poem with sly humor and a wonderful rhyme scheme by... oh, dang it! the author didn't include his avatar name in the notecard! Dude, by-lines are important! We're also hearing non-themed excerpts from longer works by Huckleberry Hax and Arkady Poliatevska (whose profile appears strangely devoid of URL today, or else I'd make that a link too.

This is, of course, an incomplete list of authors who read today. I'm not taking minutes here.

There are flaws, of course. A bit of lag here and there, some authors having mic trouble, the odd audience member promoting themselves to co-presenters by commenting over the voice channel at inappropriate times. Y'know. Flaws happen. But, on the whole, the event and venue make me happy. It's a virtual world app doing what it should, and it's doing it about writing. I get to hear the voices of people whole states or even oceans away from me while I sit comfortably in the Seven Cups Tea House in Denver and work on a short story rewrite*. And I'm thinking about what I might share next week, if I get my butt in gear in time.

*Short story rewrite: Took another look at "Lambing Season" before resubmitting it and was unhappy with the blah-ness of the first few paragraphs. Am reframing the entire story via a top-end rewrite. Am hoping I have not killed the poor thing.

Into the Slush: June 2009
Tue 2009-06-30 15:41:38 (single post)

This morning, whilst scribbling today's date in my Morning Pages notebook, I suddenly realized that June in fact only has 30 days in it and not, say, the 42 or so I must have assumed. Plenty of time to get a story ready for its first submission! Or, y'know, not.

But if it's under 500 words long, we're looking at possible, right? And if it's 400 words of a story that's been waiting two years to be submitted, when I originally meant it to go from creation to submission in the space of a week--well, it's about time, right?

Thus ends the editing paralysis surrounding "The Day the Sidewalks Melted".

I went back to the original draft, the one I sent around to friends on the day I first wrote it. Then I read my rewrite, the one John told me died on the page. And he was right. I thought it corrected for clunk? It was the clunk. Comparing the two drafts was like a concise lesson in how less is more: two or three sharp details can do a much better job of painting a picture than can twenty. And when the story is about an event that none of the characters (nor even, quite, the author--shh!) understand, but can only describe by its effects, then two or three sharp details about those effects is what the story needs.

Which isn't even getting into the concision required by the flash format (400 words; each one has to be right), or the different implications of different narrative frames (this is not a scholarly treatise! this is a break-up story).

So I sent it off and soon received Ideomancer's auto-response. I did not seek anyone's comments on the draft, because what I really don't need are another two years of paralysis. John will read it tonight. (I hope he likes it!)

And now I am no longer thinking, every single morning, "I really need to repair and submit 'Sidewalks'". Yay. On to the next thing!

On Residual Income Schemes
Mon 2009-06-29 13:14:40 (single post)

W00t! My first eleven cents from eHow.com! Go me!

...that's all.

On Desired Bookburnings In Wisconsin
Wed 2009-06-17 19:00:57 (single post)

Apparently there's this elderly group of self-described Christians in West Bend, Wisconsin, who feel that the presence of non-anti-homosexual literature in their local library ("Baby Be-Bop, a young adult novel in which a boy, struggling with his homosexuality, is beaten up by a homophobic gang") is damaging their mental and emotional well-being and may in fact be putting lives in jeopardy. They want a lot of money in compensatory damages for being exposed to a book that teaches that beating up gay teens is bad (and that gay-bashers have a tendency to shout homophobic slurs while engaged in gay-bashing). They want, further more, all copies of this book delivered unto their pious, shaking hands, that they may pitch them into a holy bonfire and reduce them to char and ash, for the public's eddification and moral betterment.

Says Neil Gaiman, wise man that he his,

...if their mental and emotional well-being was that damaged by the proximity of a Francesca Lia Block book, I'm just happy they didn't pick up and read the library's copy of American Gods; their eyes would have been fried and their lives put so far in jeopardy that their nearest and dearest would have been ordering caskets before the end of Chapter One.
To which I can only reply, in my best wide-eyed Temeraire-like plaint, "Oh! but can we not? It sounds most satisfying, and would improve Wisconsin to no end."
Null Update: "Oh, Nevermind."
Tue 2009-06-16 10:19:59 (single post)

Back to normal now, with a side-order of "WTF?!". Null has no broken ribs and was probably never blind in the first place. All we know for sure is, he had a scary respiratory attack which responded well to oxygen therapy.

Apparently the vet at Alpine discovered, after allowing Null out of the oxygen cage for good, that he was in no pain at all. Even allowing for the dosage kitty pain-killers he'd been given, there should have been some sort of "owie" response when touching the injured area. Null simply wasn't acting at all consistent with the theory that he had broken bones.

Another look at X-rays revealed that the fractures were old. Apparently he got broken ribs and a fractured sternum some earlier time in his life without our having a clue. Which doesn't make John and I feel like particularly good kitty parents, I can tell you. Maybe he acquired them in the weeks of his kittenhood before we acquired him? Unknown.

The vet at Alpine continued to wonder about his vision. We had seen him staring out car windows on the ride over, but he apparently acted in otherwise in the oxygen cage. But when the vet took him out in the afternoon, she and the nurses tested his responses thoroughly and satisfied themselves that, yes, he could see. Maybe he just reacts oddly while high pain-killers, and ignores visual stimuli very thoroughly when in distress. He's obviously visual now, making eye-contact with me and yowling plaintively for attention.

So now the vet suggests that possible scenarios include an asthma attack, a sudden allergic reaction to catnip, or getting the wind knocked out of him in a fall (which would be consistent with the raised levels of kidney enzyme ALT I think it was). John's worried there may be something neurological going on we don't know about. I'm just very confused. Both of us are worried that it might happen again.

But we're both happy to have our Null-bit back to normal, at least for now, and in no sort of delicate condition. What a relief!

{{Picks Null up and gets face thoroughly licked}}

Null Update, Day 2
Mon 2009-06-15 07:53:48 (single post)

Because Twitter sucks as a medium for Getting The Whole Story.

Day 1, by the way, was spent in barely holding ourselves together. So this is Day 2. And here's the story. It has nothing to do with writing, by the way, except possibly why it may be hard to get much of it done this week.

John and I spent much of yesterday at the Estes Park Wool Market. When we left at 9:00 AM, both cats were fine. When we got home around 4:00 PM, Uno was wandering around like normal but Null was in a terrible state. He was lying on his left side, limp, unresponsive, and clearly having difficulty breathing. It was regular but sounded painful, and made a rasping noise like a purr gone wrong.

Predictive chaos and panic ensue. For future reference, if you keep pets, go to the phone book or internet right now and find the number of the emergency vet nearest you. Put that number in your cell phone. Or tack it up on the wall. Whatever. Make sure it is easily found. Because let me tell you, the phone book is not easy to use while you're conscious of your beloved animal apparently fighting for his life. The brain just shuts down. The name of the emergency clinic goes right out of the head. Go. Do it now. This blog will wait.

Done? Good. Continuing now.

Five minutes later John was walking in at the Boulder Emergency Pet Clinic, bearing Null on the cushion of the armchair on which we found him, while I was finding a parking space. Within a minute after that, they had the poor kitty on oxygen therapy and were running all the likely diagnostics. Meanwhile we were frantically cataloguing the contents of our home, wondering if he'd ingested toxins, chewed on a plant, got strangled, what?

Periodically the doctor would come in and tell us what they'd found now. Vitals good, aside from difficulties breathing. Blood-work normal except for raised levels of an enzyme associated with blunt trauma to the kidney. Oh, by the way, did you know he's blind? No "menace response" (he didn't startle at sudden hand motions very near his face). Pupils dilated, but symmetrical, thank goodness.

Finally the X-rays came out. The right lung looked dented. There's no other way to put it. And the indentation corresponded with about four ribs that weren't lying correctly at all.

This is the point at which everyone on Twitter goes, "How the hell did he break ribs? Why was he blind?" and I tweet over and over, "We don't know. We don't know. We weren't home when it happened." But here's my theory.

Null and Uno "get into it" a lot--one will pick a fight with the other, and they'll chase each other around the house, wrestle, yowl, etc. Typically Uno will get tired of it first. Null, however, will persist, being stubborn and dumb. The typical end of the episode is Uno jumping up onto the kitchen counter, the bedroom dresser, the entertainment center, or another raised surface, often knocking down breakables in the process. (On one memorable occasion he attempted to leap into the glassware cabinet in the kitchen which I'd unfortunately left open.) Null will sometimes try to follow him. If he succeeds, he'll usually be convinced to jump down again in a hurry. But with Uno snapping at his front paws as he tries to scramble up, he'll more often just fall backwards down onto the floor again.

Imagine that happening with, say, the coffee table breaking Null's fall, so that his head thwacked the glass and the edge of the table bashed him in the ribs.

The really heartbreaking thing is imagining him dragging himself, blinded and in pain, to the comfort of his armchair.

So he stayed at the emergency clinic all night, super-oxygenated and doped up on pain-killers. Periodic calls revealed he was becoming more alert, aware, and comfortable as the evening progressed, but he still hadn't regained his sight.

The clinic we chose (due to its proximity and having brought Uno there once for an eye injury) only keeps nights and weekend hours, so we knew we'd have to return in the morning to check him out and either bring him home or transfer him to a conventional vet. (This would be why I'm late getting to the farm this morning.) Well, when we got there, they told us he was much improved. He was walking around, complaining, trying to "ooze" off the exam table, all the normal Null-bit stuff. He was breathing normally, none of that alarming open-mouthed raspy stuff. They told us he'd been purring, in that dumb, touching way that he does, sitting around and purring at mere continuity of existence. And just to top it off, he could see again!

They brought him out to us in one of their carriers. He was pacing inside, yowling now and again, clearly wanting out. When we pet him, he head-butted our hands. His pupils were still alarmingly huge, but not so much as before. No lingering effects of head trauma either. In short, he was acting like himself. Except he wasn't yowling very often, and during his ride over to Alpine Vet Clinic, where he will spend the day being weaned off the oxygen therapy and being closely observed, he stared out the windows of the car, clearly more curious than scared. We suspect that's a combination of him being to some extent conscience of having temporarily lost his sight and regained it, so that he was enjoying the heck out of just having vision; and being high as a kite on pain-killers.

So he'll probably come home tonight around 5 or 5:30, and I'll stay home and watch him carefully, and he'll need to be isolated from Uno and kept from jumping up into high places for about 6 weeks. Which will be a pain in the butt, but obviously totally worth it.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Thanks to everyone for their concern and caring and thoughts and prayers and magical energy and etc. We love you all.

Writing As Work, Writing As Play
Fri 2009-06-12 14:51:23 (single post)

Went to my usual bimonthly writing group Wednesday, and, as sometimes happens when there's no manuscript for critique in a given classtime, the conversation turned from commenting on each other's in-class writing to sharing with each other our writing processes. Specifically, the question was, "Where are you in your writing?"

I both love and hate that question. Love, because I love talking shop. I love talking about myself--why, yes, I've got a bit of an ego, how can you tell?--and I love getting together with other writers and attempting to put our experiences into words. Verbalizing my inner world requires a certain introspective clarity; in trying to find the words, I am forced to look more closely at mental realities I've been taking for granted. It's a process that results in knowing myself better. Which, yay!

But I hate that question, too, mainly because, if I'm going to be truthful, I have to give an answer beginning with, "Still difficult. Writing more now, but every single freakin' day it's a struggle to get past the resistances and fears and feelings of inadequacy that I call WRITER'S BLOCK. Every. Single. Day."

So I started there. But in continuing, I shared with my colleagues the current thing that's been working well for me (for certain definitions of "well"). "I've been letting myself consider writing to be play," I said, "so as to escape the downward spiral of guilt I've been flailing around in for years."

One of my friends said, "It's just the opposite with me. I have to tell myself that writing is my job, or it won't get done."

I am, of course, paraphrasing. But the conversation made me think about that balance between work and play that I think needs to be struck.

So. Writing as play. I've spent far too much time stuck in the idea of "OK, I quit my day job. I owe it to myself and my husband to GET STUFF DONE! Must work! Must turn out new short stories! Must get published! WHAT THE HELL I DIDN'T GET ANY WRITING DONE YESTERDAY I AM WASTING EVERYONE'S TIME I'M A BAD PERSON I SUUUUUUCK."

(The above has been dramatized for your entertainment.)

Obviously there's a problem with that. Well, not for everyone. For me, anyway. My reaction to obligation and guilt is less to get the thing done and more to hide away from the thing, because the thing, whatever it is, gets associated with Reasons To Conclude I'm A Bad Person. Also, the more I don't do, the more there is to do, the more impossible it seems to do. So. I've had ample opportunity to watch myself flail between the twin ouchies of "if you don't do it you're a waste of oxygen" and "you have to do it ALL, today, or yesterday for preference."

Which leads to the changes in my routine, methods, and attitude I've been attempting to effect lately. First, instead of Writing As Obligation, there's Writing As Play-On-The-Page. And second, instead of Get It All Done NOW, there's Just Take A Nibble.

But at the same time, I recognize that, as my friend put it, writing is my job now. It's how I want to make money. It's how I want to spend my working day. I can't just play; I have to produce. There's only so far "I'll take care of the quantity and the Gods will take care of the quality" goes before I realize I do have to get some quality out there if I want to be published.

So it's a balancing act. It's got to be play enough that I want to do it. But it's got to be work enough that I do do it, daily, with the aim of finished drafts I can submit to paying markets.

Recognizing that, I'm not so much changing my current approach as I am my perception of it. I'm working on Writing Is Play, No Pressure because until recently I've had too much weight in the Writing Is My Job half of the scale. It'll be time to shift my focus only when the scales shift.

But in the meantime I can probably risk injecting some direction into my daily "playtime". That means two things: Knowing what finishable, potentially submittable project to work on tomorrow, and knowing which, say, two hours of the day (or so) will be devoted to working on it. Having that in mind the night before allows me to wake up with a sense of purpose, a structure within which to Get Things Done. I'm a very Type-A creature; I thrive on structure.

Doesn't mean I did a good job today, mind. But yesterday I was fairly productive: got to the end of this week's rough draft (never mind that it was last week's rough draft, and that of the week before... anyway, about that, more later), and even uploaded an article to eHow (about what? Three guesses). Go me! {{pats self on back}} But then I woke up today, and dragged about the house until my first externally-enforced obligation. Gah.

Well. I knew consistency was once of my Areas Where Improvement Is Needed.

So. To summarize: A possible balancing point is to consider writing play, but impose a structure of What and When upon it in order to get work done. How well will this work? Find out next time, when I babble some more! Maybe.