“If they weren't solidly real dragons... it wouldn't have been worth doing.”
Jo Walton

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Writing Rituals, No Components Required
Thu 2009-10-01 09:46:09 (single post)

The good thing about writing rituals is, they perform the purpose of any ritual. Which is: to shift your mindset in a conducive direction. Conducive to what? To whatever you're doing ritual for. Going to Mass puts church-goers in a frame of mind more in touch with God, community and prayer. Casting the circle puts Wiccans in a headspace where worship and magic come naturally. And writing rituals, theoretically, make it easier to achieve the focus needed for a productive writing session.

The traditional disadvantage to writing rituals is depending on them. I like to light a yellow candle, sip a mug of Assam or Pu Erh Tuo Cha, and turn on something instrumental and pleasant that won't monopolize my brain, like Blue Man Group: Audio or the Ink movie soundtrack. The combination generally turns on the "Time to write!" switch in my brain. But what if there's no quality tea to be had, the mp3s are on the other computer, and I'm in a no-flame zone?

So I'm trying to come up with writing rituals that require no external components, such that I'm never unable to perform them. This would make relying on them no downside at all. Well, except for the one perceived by people who like to huff that "if you need tricks to get you writing, you aren't a real writer." People like that can just ignore this post, kthxbai.

Three things you always have with you when you write:

  1. Something to write with
  2. Something to write on
  3. Something to write about
That's guaranteed. (Even the third. Maybe you don't know what you're going to write about, but it'll come.) Any writing rituals which require these three components are safe; you'll never be without them when it's time to perform the (w)rite.

For a while my thoughts were excessively religious. "The pen is my athame, which is Fire; the paper represents Earth and the ground I walk on; inspiration is Air; my imaginative attention to the world around me is Water." Except I'm not always using a pen, and my writing isn't always particularly imaginative. I mean, it's hard to get all RomantiWiccan about Demand Studios articles with titles like "How Does the H-R Diagram Explain the Life Cycle of a Star?" (Coming to you soon from eHow.com and Demand Studios and me!)

(And yet writing remains, for me, as much a religious vocation as a career goal...)

So the ritual use of "what I'm going to write with/on" has to accommodate both pen and laptop keyboard, both paper and word processor. The role of "what I'm going to write about" must encompass both the creation of fantastic worlds and the writing of how-to documents.

What I end up with are meditations. Here's one; feel free to use it if you find it useful.

Gaze meditatively at your blank sheet of paper or new word processor document. Envision whatever you plan to write about, even if you have no concrete idea, as a tangible, visible, simple object: a flower, a feather, an apple, etc. See this object on the page/screen. Hold this visualization until it's strong and comfortable.

Now let the object dissolve in your mind's eye and see a Door appearing to take its place. Give it solid detail: see every crack in the wood or inconsistency in its paint. Has it a doorknob? What sort? A doorknocker? Made of what? Is there a peephole? Which side can see through it?

Now see the Door opening. It opens away from you, "inward" from the point of view of someone approaching you. As it opens fully, you see The Muse standing in the doorway, smiling. Let yourself envision The Muse in full detail: gender, complexion, clothing, and all. The Muse need not be adult. The Muse need not be human. The Muse certainly won't be the same every time you do this.

What can you see of the room, or the world, on the other side of the door?

Now The Muse reaches out to you. Imagine that you lean forward, out from the safety of your chair and your body, and you take that offered hand (or paw, or mandible, or tentacle). Imagine that you allow yourself to be drawn through the door.

Remain inside this daydream for a minute or two, experiencing whatever is on the other side of this door.

When you are ready, begin writing.

I Have The Pleasure Of Reporting a Sale of Fiction
Sun 2009-09-06 15:38:58 (single post)
  • 566 words (if poetry, lines) long

It was actually only four rewrites; I estimated and slightly exaggerated on Twitter. Four requested rewrites, and now an acceptance. "The Day The Sidewalks Melted" will be published in Ideomancer Speculative Fiction. Possibly in March.

I don't really have much to say beyond that, except that I'm really happy, and, despite how weary I may sound of rewrites, really grateful to editor Leah Bobet for seeing the potential in this story and pushing me to make that potential reality. Her attention, patience, and persistence were vital.

Now I must write a bio. Hooray, a new assignment to affix my dread upon! I'm off to procrastinate now, which we shall call "reading back-issues of Ideomancer to get an idea of what kind of bios the authors therein do write."

Virtually typing at the Milk Wood Market
Memoirs From Second Life: Typewriters Rattling In The Woods
Sat 2009-09-05 14:33:08 (single post)

I was tired yesterday. I'd started the day early, and after getting back from the Boulder Municipal Airport, I was not, Enn Oh Tee Not intending to leave the house again. I was done. I'd had a lot of stress and dread leading up to that day (for all that flight instructors repeatedly assure me that a biannual flight review is nothing to stress over), and, having walked away from the appointment with a brand-new endorsement at the cost of a slightly bruised ego (stupid power-on stalls, stupid left-turning tendencies, stupid turn coordinator ball making me look stupid) I wasn't planning on doing anything resembling work for the rest of the day.

Writing dates? Not hardly. I had a date for a face-plant into my pillow, thanks.

I fired up Second Life over a late lunch, figuring I'd play some mindless clicky games at my favorite arcade/casino spots until I was ready to collapse. Which was when I got the Writers Guild group notice about the Milk Wood Writers' Meet.

"Hope you can join us for an hour (or so) of focused writing. Bring your WIPs or start a new one. Join us and create something!"

And I thought, oh, what the hell. I haven't done my Morning Pages today; I should at least do that. So I teleported to the attached location and pulled my notebook and pen out of my bag.

The Milk Wood is a lovely forest scene, as you might expect, with trickling streams and crashing surf and swaying tree branches and birds that sing and fly in and out of sight. The Market, or Gypsy Camp, is a forest clearing between a small bridge and a big furnished caravan wagon.

In this clearing are several picnic benches. On each picnic bench is a candle, a stack of books, an apple, and a typewriter. Each object is scripted. You can light the candle, view the writing goals attached to the apple, and I forget what with the books.

The typewriter animates your avatar, of course.

And the effect is oddly compelling. Watching my avatar banging away at the keyboard, listening to the tap-tappity-tap-kaching!-tappity-tap-tap noises coming out of the computer speakers, I'm all, "Well, I might as well be writing too, mightn't I?" And it's not just Kavella Maa's typing that I'm hearing; the typing of other attendees is clearly audible as a series of separate tappity-taps. The space I'm sharing with other writers-in-action may not be physical, but it's absolutely real. It consecrates the hour and charges it with energy for the task. The other writers may in fact be puttering around the kitchen or visiting the bathroom, but from where I'm sitting, they look hard at work, and it gives me that added push to get my own work done.

As with most things Second Life, this simulation isn't meant to replace doing such things in person. But when local friends aren't available, when I don't have the energy to head out to a nearby cafe, or when I'm just craving the company of this particular group, this is a strangely satisfying version of Going On A Writing Date.

It's 1pm SLT on Mondays and Fridays. They are thinking of adding Wednesdays as well. Don't forget to tip your host. And if you're in the Boulder NaNoWriMo group, you will be hearing more about this on the forums come October.

Epiphanies About Magic Realism
Thu 2009-09-03 13:38:59 (single post)
  • 566 words (if poetry, lines) long

Another revision on "Sidewalks" today. My office away from home was The Barking Dog Cafe in Lyons, because I started the day in Longmont and it seemed convenient to go west.

I should report that Highway 66 is all over construction. Ick.

Anyway... magic realism. Epiphanies. The one about the other. Let's see... It's not an easy genre to talk about. I'm not sure I can claim to write it, not being a Latin American author writing in the '60s. I'm not sure I can safely navigate the difference between "the magical" and "the fantastic". I'm not sure I can adequately rebut the accusation that it's just a fancy code phrase meaning "My fantasy writing is literary."

I'm going to keep using the phrase anyway. It seems the best way to label that which I aspire to write.

If you asked me a year ago to define the term, what it means to me, I'd have said, "Fantasy in which the fantastic element is presented as unremarkable, beside the point, or otherwise just a matter-of-fact part of daily life." Today I think that, as far as descriptions go, that works, but as a prescriptive it's not really enough. So here's what I'd say today--heck, here is what I am saying today.:

Magic realism is fantasy in which the fantastic element is not plot, but setting. When it really succeeds, the fantastic element serves to highlight the magical in the mundane. And the particular fantastic element should be of unique necessity to the story.

I'm not sure I've succeeded yet with "Sidewalks," but with each revision, the story has become more about the characters than the unexplained event; and the event has, I hope, stopped being just an SF/F stand-in for an earthquake or a 9/11. I'm starting to see parallels between the precise effects of that event and the dynamics of the main characters' relationship.

I mean, I think so, anyway. I could be wrong. And maybe I'm just overthinking things? Goodness knows the last thing a story needs is its author doing lit-crit analysis on it in public before it's even published. So... that's probably more than enough from me on this topic at this time. OKTHXBAI

Me, spinning the single
Me, plying and beading
The whole skein
Extreme close-up (courtesy John's Nikon Cool-Pix 'cause my Kodak suxx)
Hey, Look! Yarn!
Tue 2009-09-01 16:03:20 (single post)

This is just to let the world at large know that I did manage to enter the "I Made It On My Schact" contest (deadline September 1, why, what a coincidence, today's September 1). I spun up as much more of the 4 ounces of Cloud City's "rose quartz" roving as I could, since I was woefully behind on the project. After about two and a half hours I decided, what the hell, there's yardage here to spare. Just start plying already.

There was a lot to ply. And I am here to tell you that beading navajo-ply is a terribly finicky chore. When I got my 33 beads on I was all, "Yeah! Done with the ordeal! Now all I have to do is ply!" Yes. Ply. For another 3 hours or so. Occasionally breaking the single and having to patch it back in. How the heck do you patch your single while navajo-plying? Very carefully.

And the entry is all emailed off, and I can't wait to knit with this stuff. It's sock yarn, see. You knit cuff-down from the beaded end, so you get a nice beaded lace cuff. It'll be cool, you just wait! Coooool!

...And that is all.

Epiphanies About Flash Fiction
Sun 2009-08-23 14:33:31 (single post)
  • 500 words (if poetry, lines) long

As I mentioned a few entries ago, "Sidewalks" is in rewrites. Which is an awesome thing, because without someone else to push me, I might have left the story alone, never knowing how much better it could be.

And it is better. It started out as a story about a guy whining generically about love lost after having witnessed an extraordinary event. And, well, it still is about that, but the whining is very specific, the love was lost in a particular way, and the extraordinary event is necessary and not easily replaceable by some other extraordinary event.

There are a lot more details in the story. Not necessarily spelled out--that was how I ruined earlier drafts--but they're concrete in my head. They weren't, before. The rewrite request forced me to think about these things, to do a little worldbuilding, for all that the world is our own and the story's only 500 words long.

If you'd asked me last year to tell you how I knew whether a story should be in "short" or "flash" form, I'd have told you, "Short stories are told via a single scene, or a series of scenes. Flash-length stories are implicit in a single moment." I'd still say that today, I think, but putting it that way leaves something important out.

The difference between short stories and flash fiction is in the word-length required to tell them. But a story's word-length is not the same as its size. Short stories and flash fiction stories are exactly the same size as each other, and as novel-length stories, trilogy-length stories, novena-length stories: as big as the world. The characters must be equally real, their worlds equally huge. Word length is simply the frame through which the reader views the story.

Which means there is worldbuilding to be done and characters to be developed, no matter how short the story form is. Developing them fully is necessary before the author can choose which words, which images and thoughts and dialogue, belong inside the picture frame.

Anne Lamont, in Bird by Bird, talks about the one-inch picture frame that sits on her desk and reminds her not to try to tackle the entire task at once. "Just take it bird by bird," she recalls her father telling her overwhelmed brother on the occasion of an overdue homework assignment; similarly, she tells herself to just take her own writing inch by square inch. But that square inch of story remains part of an entire world big enough to live in, big enough to encompass untold thousands of stories.

I've been writing flash fiction for years, but only now do I understood that the flash fiction form is hard.

Hugos are not like Stokers or Oscars. They need regular exercise.
That's me concentrating hard on not dropping the precious.
WorldCon 2009, Monday: In Which I Lay Hands Upon A Hugo
Mon 2009-08-10 21:54:42 (single post)

The aforementioned irrepressible Frank Wu took his Hugo for a walk today. He was one of the scheduled Stars for the final installation of Strolling With The Stars, and he arrived in the mist and rain with rocket ship in tow. And he says to fellow Strolling Star, Stephen Segal (Best Semiprozine, Weird Tales), "Why didn't you bring yours?"

We paused for the daily group photo, and Frank let everyone who wanted a closer look get a closer look. It's worth a closer look--it's an object of great beauty. The rocket ship is just taking off from an asteroid, and if you look close you can see the launch flames are in fact a collection of iridescent maple leaves. I got a very close look. I got to hold it. And what they say about this year's Hugo is true: It's frickin' heavy! It's a frickin' rock!

(Many thanks to Peter Flynn, who came all the way from Ireland, for taking pictures with his cell phone and emailing them to me. If you want to see more pictures, all the group shots will be posted sometime soon on the Anticipation '09 Facebook or LJ or somewhere. 'Twas Stu Segal who took them.)

Now, to sleep, to wake early tomorrow and toss my stuff into its respective containers and boogie down to the train station for a 9:30 AM departure. I missed the dead dog party tonight due to spending lots of lovely time with fellow Viable Paradise X alumni Barbara and Evelyn, but I will be attending the "carrying away the dead dog's corpse" party (as I continue to find it amusing to call it) in the cafe car on Amtrak's "Adirondack" on which several of us Making Light regulars will be riding together.

WorldCon 2009, Sunday: The Hugos and The Community
Sun 2009-08-09 22:03:35 (single post)

This will be a brief post* and not very polished as blog posts go. I'm tired and attempting to make an early night of it. I know, I know--an early night at WorldCon? That's unpossible! Yet I shall try.

Tonight's big event was the awarding of the Hugos, when the World Science Fiction Society presents big heavy rocket-shaped trophies to people what done good. This is my second time attending the Hugos, and once again they made me both giggly and teary-eyed. The reason for that is why I wanted to blog a bit before I slept.

Towards the beginning of the presentation, we get the IN MEMORIAM list. Names of those members of ours community who have died since the last WorldCon are projected on the big screens. Charles N. Brown, founder of Locus Magazine. Forrest J. Ackerman, "Mr. Science Fiction." And, heartbreakingly, the list went on for pages. After each name was a word or two describing what their role had been: author, editor, artist, etc.

The list was a very inclusive list. Walter Cronkite was mentioned, though he was not someone you'd have thought of as being part of SF/F fandom. His tag was "space exploration enthusiast." Michael Jackson, too: "genre music video." Fandom is ecumenical and all-embracing. Many of the people we count as our own might be surprised to find themselves in that number.

So that's the easy answer to why I get teary. But it goes deeper. See, a lot of the names, they got tagged with just one word: "Fan."

Science fiction and fantasy has its celebrities. Dang straight it does--ask Neil Gaiman, who appears increasingly chagrined as the years go by at his rock star status. (He observed at the "Finding Fandom" panel that his power to create a roomful of applause with a single word--"Sandman"--was a dangerous one that ought only to be used for good. He has been heard to observe that his simply walking into a con party halts all conversation.) And yet in fandom, "celebrity" doesn't imply the same sort of separation between the celeb and pleb as it does in other entertainment industries (my parenthetical comments last sentence notwithstanding). The line between fan and pro blurs to the point that someone might get nominated for "Best Fan Writer" the same year they're nominated for "Best Novel." The line blurs because every pro started out a fan, many fans aspire to be pros, and every pro remains a fan. Thanks to cons, acquaintanceships and friendships form across that blurry line and grow strong.

Tonight, John Scalzi won a Hugo for Best Related Book. Last year, I sat down with six or seven other fans at Scalzi's kaffeeklatsch and we all enjoyed a rambling conversation with him about anything and everything. Tonight, Ellen Datlow won a Hugo for Best Editor, Short Form. Friday morning she and I and several other early risers all chatted beside the fountain while waiting for the daily walk around town to get under way. Tonight, Elizabeth Bear won a Hugo for Best Novelette. This morning, I sat in a small conference room with a handful of WorldCon attendees to hear Bear read us some excerpts from her upcoming novel.

And all of us have been passing each other in the hallways, nodding to and smiling to and greeting each other right across that pro/fan boundary line that isn't much of a boundary at all. "Fan." It's a title we all share here. It doesn't get replaced by other titles--it just gets augmented. "Fan." It's title enough to get you missed sorely by the rest of the community when you're no longer with us here on Earth. The inclusiveness of that is truly touching. It reminds me that "home" isn't just a place; it's people too.

So that's the second reason the Hugos make me teary. The third, which is also the reason I get giggly--well, you watch. Watch what happens when someone gets the award and comes up to accept it. Watch Frank Wu (Best Fan Artist sorry, got that wrong before) galumphing up onto the stage, tripping over his own feet up the stairs, out of breath with hurry and utter surprise. Watch him playing with his Hugo, zooming the rocket ship around in the air and making whooshing noises. Watch him bounding back to his seat, still wielding his Hugo in toy rocket position, while the next category gets underway. And this isn't even his first Hugo, either! It's heartwarming and funny and makes you want to go over and give him a hug. Because you'd be galumphing and bounding and whooshing, too! And listen to the recipients who can barely utter their thanks over the sudden lump in their throats. Or the ones who get punchy and start interrupting their own acceptance speech trains of thought by looking down at the trophy they're holding--as though they can't believe they actually have one in their hot little hands--and blurt out, "Fuck this thing is heavy!"

The Hugos event is full of those little human moments--those moments when you realize, with the force of epiphany, "We're all humans together, and I love these humans, they're funny and wonderful and just like me, really." You want to just encircle the entire auditorium in your arms and not let go.

So I'm a little weepy right now and full of smiles. And very, very sleepy. And now that I have said what I wanted to say, hot damn! I get to go to sleep now! G'night!

* or not. Brief, that is.

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)
  • 494 words (if poetry, lines) long

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...

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