“If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.”
Kingsley Amis

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

It's About Writing This Time
Wed 2012-07-18 15:07:19 (single post)
  • 2,481 wds. long

As promised, this post is about writing. Actually Writing Blog: Does What It Says On The Tin. And I want you to appreciate this, because I'm on my way back from a fantastic roller derby event that I want to blog about So! Very! Much! But I will defer that pleasure for now, because I said my next post would be about writing. And so it shall be.

But it's not such a sacrifice as all that, because a mere three weeks or so before this I was at a fantastic writing event which I kept meaning to blog about. So now I get to do that.

Back in June, several of us from the Codex online writing group got together and had a writing retreat here in the Denver area. For me, this was a hugely needed thing. Like I've been saying, roller derby has been eating my life all up, bones and all. Stealing a week out of its hungry jaws and feeding those seven days to the poor starved writing beast was a matter of self-defense. It was a great big shove on the pendulum to encourage an eventual swing toward equilibrium.

Can I sorta-but-not-really interrupt myself here (of course you can, Niki; it's your blog) to mention that I now have proof positive that one can be a novelist and skate roller derby all in the same life? It's true! Exhibit A: Pamela Ribon, author of Going in Circles. Premise as I understand it, not having read it yet, is that a recently divorced woman joins a roller derby league to find and reinvent herself. I need to read it. Point is, Ribon is writing from life here. In second "Big Idea" guest post at John Scalzi's Whatever concerning her more recent novel You Take It From Here, she says she received the phone call that kicked off the new novel while she was sitting on the bleachers healing up from a derby injury.

I find Ribon's example immensely reassuring. It means my ongoing attempt to balance derby and writing isn't doomed to failure.

Anyway. Interruption over. Returning now to the writing retreat: A week in a house in remote Centennial. Surrounded by writers. Who are writing.

It wasn't just writing. All work and no play etc. There was also going out to eat (where we mostly talked about writing) and playing games (Dixit and Arkham Horror, both in their own ways appropriate for spec fic writers). But mostly it was writing, in the house or out at coffee shops. And critiquing each other's writing. And enjoying the very great privilege that was an afternoon's chat with local literary agent Sara Megibow. Mega awesome.

(Sorry about that.)

(Well, no, apparently I'm not, as I don't seem to be going back and erasing it.)

(I pun. Deal with it.)

The concrete good that I got out of this week of almost nothing but writing was to finally finish a draft of the current short story in progress. This required, as it turned out, not only the writing retreat environment but also finally getting WordPerfect 5.1 up and running on my computer again for the first time since Dell's customer service techs needlessly reinstalled Windows 7 on this machine. (I told them it was a hardware issue. They didn't believe me. They have a Process. But I told y'all this tale already.) Once I had the story up in WP51, it stopped feeling like a solid wall. I could think my way into the crevices and cracks where editing could take place. It was like magic. I swear, should WP51 ever get taken away from me for good and all, there'll be nothing for it but to customize my replacement word processor with a yellow system font on a blue background.

Anyway, the story is called "It's For You". It involves a phone that rings at odd hours from a mystery location, such that the protagonist is helpless to answer it; and a next-door neighbor with a more assertive outlook on life. Everyone at the retreat who critiqued it proclaimed it "surreal" and I suppose they're right. Anyway, this is now my main project: another rewrite followed by submitting it somewhere before the month is out.

This goal is complicated somewhat by a recent tendency for any random freewriting exercise to turn into a brand new story draft, complete with beginning, middle, and end. Which is... good? I think? One of the effects I was hoping the retreat would have on me? Probably? In any case, I now have enough new stories to keep me busy for the rest of the summer. (As though I didn't have enough older stories waiting for me to please revise and submit them, too.)

This ideas business. It's like, feast or famine all the time. But I guess that's what happens when you shove the pendulum writingward. I guess the real goal now is to take another stab at that "writing like it's my day job" thing. Because it is. Right? Right. Writer by day, Fleur de Beast on eight wheels by night. Then perhaps instead of feast or famine it'll be three well-balanced meals a day. With a modest roller derby dessert.

But I've only just gotten off a train in Denver and unpacked my suitcase in Boulder and done my Wednesday AINC reading shift. Now I gotta go view the video footage from our last home bout tonight with the rest of the Daisy Nukes. Then it's serious fun quality time with John, who misses me. And then there's the rest of the weekend, which involves scrimmage Thursday night, a mix-up bout on Friday, and the rematch home bout against the Shrap Nellies on Saturday.

I guess normality and sober dailiness will have to wait for next week.

The Logo of the Beast
Belated Notes From the Roller Derby Track
Tue 2012-06-26 19:54:06 (single post)

It is no secret that I've fallen somewhat shy of the Daily Blogging goal. I probably only ever seem to meet that goal during National Novel Writing Month, when my writing-dailiness is under scrutiny (real or imagined) and so I need blogging-dailiness to stand witness to writing-dailiness. The past few months have not been November; thus, very little dailiness.

And the thing about roller derby is, it moves fast. So if I'm not blogging at least a couple times a week, there's stuff you're not hearing about. Sorry about that. To make amends, here's a big old long State Of The Derby post.

This will probably go more smoothly if I define a few terms.

"WFTDA" - Women's Flat Track Derby Association. The organization behind the modern-day roller derby revival, making derby into an honest-to-goodness sport. They define the rules, the minimum skills needed for a skater to bout, the national tournament rankings, and more. Also they've just spawned WFTDA.tv, where they live-stream and archive bouts in hi-def. If you want to see what modern roller derby looks like, I can't recommend a better URL.

"BCB" - Boulder County Bombers, the league I skate with. They practice in Longmont. They are always taking recruits. No experience necessary! Will train from zero! Recruiting referees, too -- perfect if you want to be on wheels but not get knocked down all the time! (At least, not on purpose!) Also recruiting Non-Skating Officials -- if you can't skate, you can still track penalties, time penalties, keep score, and perform other vital tasks! Get involved! (Here ends the recruitment spiel.)

"Phase 1," "Phase 2" - Specific to BCB. Denotes levels of practice and training. Barring any special circumstances such as league transfers and the like, skaters join BCB at the Phase 1 level. This is where you learn basic skating skills: skate maintenance, speed-skater stance (get low! bend those knees!), cross-overs, three kinds of stops, and five kinds of falls. You build up strength, stability, speed, and agility. At the end of each month, Phase 1 skaters who have met all their dues and attendance requirements have the opportunity to test up to Phase 2. That's where you learn important derby skills like positional blocking, skating "in the pack," hitting, and taking hits. At the end of each month, Phase 2 skaters who have met all their dues and attendance requirements may undergo WFTDA minimum skills assessments. Once you pass that test, you get to scrimmage on Thursday nights and eventually get drafted onto a home team and participate in bouts (games). This is also when you earn your skate name and submit it for registration with twoevils.org.

Here ends the glossary. On with the show:

Way, way back in April, I made my second attempt at passing the WFTDA minimum skills assessment. Did I blog about my first attempt? That first attempt was at the end of March, and it was complicated by a recent hamstring sprain. Still not sure how that happened. I fell down during a rare Phase 2 scrimmage in early March and couldn't seem to get back up without pain. The next morning, the knee was so swollen I could barely hobble around the house. I was on skates again in a week, but it seemed like every time I took a good fall I risked exacerbating the injury -- not to the original severity, but certainly bad enough to end my practice for the night. This wasn't the primary reason I didn't pass assessments in March. No, that had more to do with failing to get 25 laps in 5 minutes (but so close! 5:03! If I just hadn't've fallen...) and displaying insufficient stability overall. Still, the sprain didn't help.

End of April, I passed WFTDA assessments. It felt like a near thing, especially considering I took a few falls that made my injured knee really angry. Thankfully the majority of those were during the final drill, the one I like to call "derby hazing" -- the one where each testee takes a turn at being the trainers' target, and must weave forward and backward through the pack while taking (and not avoiding) hip-checks and full-body hits from the trainers. I managed somehow to keep getting up after every fall, rejoining the pack just in time to get hit again, until the trainers signaled that they were done with me. Then I pretty much crawled into the infield and sat there working on my knee for the rest of the drill. Despite that, and despite some wobbly times during the agility tests, and despite all the many little things that made me sure I'd failed again, they passed me. (My 25 laps, this time, took 4:45.)

Then, the following week, I finally took my knee to a sports orthopedist, who referred me to a month of physical therapy. (The physical therapist hadn't treated a derby skater before. He asked a lot of questions about the sport.) Between that and a second-hand good-quality knee brace purchased from a league mate, my knee's well on its way to healing without my having to take time off skates.

As noted above, passing WFTDA assessments meant I'd earned my skate name and number: Fleur de Beast, #504. "It's like a fleur-de-lis," I tell people, "only with more teeth." (You won't see it at TwoEvils.org yet. Newly submitted names generally don't show up for a year or so. There's only so quickly two gals can keep up with all those incoming submissions.) The number, of course, is the area code for my home town of New Orleans, where the fleur-de-lis holds a lot of meaning. The logo, displayed above, was me being A) surprisingly clever with image editing and B) very naughty. I admit it: I got exactly zero permission from the Saints (fleur-de-lis), Southeastern Louisiana University (teeth and tail), nor from... you know what? I can't even find anymore the logo I swiped the claws from. In any case, other than use the resulting creation as an avatar on Facebook and BCB's message board, pretty much all I've done with it is slap it on my helmet. And on this blog post. Should I ever become awesome and super famous like Suzy Hot Rod or Scald Eagle or PsychoBabble, I promise to make a new logo.

So next came May and weekly scrimmaging and team practices. BCB currently has two home teams. The one I got drafted onto is the Daisy Nukes; the other is the Shrap Nellies. Those two teams faced off on May 18 in BCB's very first home bout, which SOLD OUT and sold out QUICK. Seriously, they turned about 100 or more people away that night. Clearly, Boulder County loves having a league of its own. So. No pressure on us first-timers or anything, right?

I was only in a handful of jams, and as a blocker every time, and that was fine. My second jam, I took a fall and couldn't seem to get up from it -- it took me a moment to realize that this wasn't Revenge of the Right Knee but rather my toe-stop detaching from my skate. So I hauled myself off the track to reinstall it. Whereupon the outside ref -- the referee who skates around the outside of the track and keeps an eye out for major or minor penalties -- jumped over me. Seriously: I looked up and there was a skate above my head. Twice. Later, that same ref leaped over a skater on her way to the penalty box. Refs are scary awesome.

My last jam was also the last jam of the bout. Incidentally, I'm slowly accreting verses for a filk called "Save the Last Jam For Me," about promising to come in fresh after the other jammers are all winded and tired so as to pull off that 20-point jam the league needs regain the lead and win the bout. I am not, however, that jammer. Still, as a newbie blocker, I managed to pry myself out of my reaction-only rut and actually initiate some hits against some of my nemeses on the other team.

I've been chalking up slow but steady improvement since. I'm still pathetically easy to knock down, but slightly less so than a month ago. I'm still not as effective as I'd like to be at getting through the pack, but I've gotten quicker at spotting a chance and going for it. One of my team captains told me I've got potential as a jammer, since I'm small and sturdy. She's tasked me with working on my speed as I approach the pack. I shall do my best. I've started attending Sunday morning scrimmages with Detour Derby in addition to my own league's practices in order to get that much more experience. I hope to make more of an impact as a player in our next home bout...

...which will be on Saturday, July 21st. Don't wait that long, though -- we anticipate another sell-out bout. Visit Brown Paper Tickets to buy your tickets in advance.

And that's pretty much the news, other than my upcoming trip to New Orleans to visit family and participate in the Big Easy Rollergirls' annual hosting of the Running of the (Roller) Bulls. About that, more later -- other than travel, I've still got to piece my plans together.

(Next blog post will be actually about writing, I swear.)

A Review and a Change of Pace, with More to Come
Thu 2012-06-21 23:59:05 (single post)

Hullo all. So, I owe you a big fat blog post about last week's fantastic writing retreat, a status update on where things are writing-wise since then, and also a general State of the Derby. But since you're not going to get all that tonight, have another review of Blood and Other Cravings.

Wag the Fox: Rabid Reads

Incidentally, I should note that although Shia and I pronounce our last names the same, my family spells it right. (You may commence to imagine my nose in the air to deliver this speech in a haughty *sniff*. But also imagine me grinning like an idiot, 'cause those were some very nice things that reviewer had to say.)

Null's favorite toy wearing Null's old collar and name-tag
A Fitting Memento
Tue 2012-05-29 13:40:14 (single post)

So apparently I do have a physical object to remember Null by after all. In cleaning out the cats' supply cabinet this morning, I encountered his old collar, and Uno's. I stored the collars away when the boys became indoor-exclusive cats.

And of course there's the Beanie Baby tarantula, the first toy Null began transporting around the house late at night. Thing is, Null would never chase it or play with it when I was watching, at least not at first. But I began to notice that in the morning the toy was not where it had been left the night before. And when the toy in question is a big furry spider, that can be startling. It was some time before we realized Null's howling was connected to the movement of the toys, and not just your basic "Help I'm lost in the house where is everyone it's darrrrrrk."

So. Here's the spider wearing Null's collar and name-tag.

I'll put up some more pictures soon. Just got finished emailing myself all the Null pictures from my phone. There's also a few on my computer that are just priceless. Not as many as I'd like -- John and I just don't take them all that often. But there were a handful of moments across our cats' lives that just screamed "TAKE-A-PIKCHER, QUICK!" I should share them here, or at least pop them onto Flickr with a link from here.

And then it's back to blogging about writing. And roller derby. Stay tuned.

Love and appreciation to all my friends, near and far, who have been so kind to John and me these past few days. You keep our world turning.

One Minus Zero Is
Tue 2012-05-29 00:04:26 (single post)

It has been a point of amusement in our household for the last fifteen years that we're such geeks, we have binary cats. Uno and Null: one and zero. Uno came first, a preternaturally intelligent brown tabby given to us pre-named in the summer of 1996. When the orange kitten adopted us the next year by means of doggedly climbing up my back whenever I knelt anywhere within range, there was only one possible name for him.

It has been a further point of amusement that Null immediately began living down to his name. He was, it must be said, not very bright. Bright-eyed, yes, curious and responsive and talkative and demanding, but no great shakes in the brains department. Almost no sense of cause and effect, for instance. An un-catlike absence of all sense of dignity. He hadn't the first clue what to do with the mouse that popped out of our radiator that one evening. His hunting instincts, such as they were, were exclusively expressed through various small stuffed animals (most notoriously a Beanie Baby tarantula) which he would carry on multiple trips around the house, howling meditatively as he went.

But he was so sweet. He was our puppy-dog kitten; he'd roll over for belly rubs and he'd lick your face if you let him. He liked to sleep between my ankles all night long, or at least until I finally, reluctantly, dislodged him by rolling over and giving my poor back a break. He had the biggest eyes you ever saw. There was a while when he'd purr at the mere sight of food or loved ones, as though in gratitude that John or I or Uno or, well, food still in fact existed.

Null passed away early Sunday afternoon. His kidneys started to go on him last fall, as cats' kidneys often do. We'd done a faithful job of maintaining him for as long as he'd let us, but this past week he simply fell apart. His lips were suddenly covered in ulcers. He stopped eating. A few days later he stopped drinking.

Saturday night John and I slept with him between us. This time he didn't even try to pull himself over for a cuddle. Sunday morning, he was neither sleeping nor really conscious. All he could do was lie there, flattened out like a deflated balloon on the sofa pillows, only breathing because that's what bodies do absent instructions to the contrary. We picked him up and found that, like a newborn baby, he was incapable of supporting his own head. Around 1:45 PM, he coughed a little. Then he wasn't breathing anymore.

We gave him our last hugs. Then we drove him to the emergency vet, who confirmed that he was really, truly gone, gave us their sincere condolences, and charged us $71 for "communal cremation." That's when the pet family declines to keep the ashes. We also declined to have a clay paw print made to remember him by. I don't really regret that -- we have too many sentimental objects gathering dust about the house already. Still, now I wish I'd brushed him down one last time with the shedding brush before we gave up his body to the veterinary crematorium so that I'd have a handful of his fur to spun into yarn to... I don't know, braid into a ring? Hang from the ceiling? Make into yet another sentimental object to gather dust, I guess. I guess it's just as well I didn't.

Walking back to the car, I couldn't help feeling -- and I know this is irrational -- that we'd abandoned him. Pawned him off onto someone else. Given up, absolved ourselves of responsibility. It wasn't that I felt guilty for having given his body to someone else to dispose of. It was as though he were still alive and I'd abandoned him at the vet. Like I said, totally irrational.

And then there's the usual guilt that accompanies the death of a family member who's been sick in a high-maintenance way. Guilt for feeling relieved. Again, I know I shouldn't feel guilty; I know it's no indication that we did anything wrong. But Null had been requiring extra-special care for the better part of three years now. The paralysis incident in October 2009 left him with weak, stumbly back legs and no control of his bathroom functions. We had to express his bladder several times a day and clean up after him a lot. He was on an anti-seizure medication, so we had to clip pills into eighths and make sure an eighth went down his throat twice a day. When his blood tests began to show evidence of overworked kidneys, we started him on subcutaneous fluids three times a week and the vet visits increased in frequency. In the last month, his already wonky back half let him down entirely, and he often decided it wasn't worth dragging himself to the food or water bowls.

With all the attention he'd required, especially toward the end, it's no wonder John and I both breathed a sigh of relief when he was gone. It makes no real sense to feel guilty about that, but I did feel guilty. Worse, I felt responsible -- I'd known before he died that once he did I'd no longer have to be Super Cat Mom, and now I suspected myself of having been looking forward to his death.

This is all perfectly natural. I know better. But my feelings don't seem to know better at all.

The other weird thing is the habit-forming nature of stress and hyperresponsibility. I've blogged about that before in the context of big scary writing projects with fast approaching deadlines. The day after submitting the manuscript, I'd wake up dreading all the work still ahead of me, only to remember that the work was now behind me. I'd be unable to relax all day, sure that there was something I was desperately supposed to be doing. Just so with Null's absence: I'm constantly realizing it's been hours since he was last expressed and I'd better hop to it before he leaks all over the bed and I should make sure he's lying on an absorbent pad and is today the day he gets fluids and it's probably time I brought him to the water bowl or presented him with a little wet food on my finger or encouraged him to excercise his back legs before they totally atrophy or--

And then I realize, Not anymore, and I start breathing again.

At which point, of course, the guilt starts in once more, because my response to realizing that is thank the Gods.

Today we're both doing better, John and I. We're background-sad instead of foreground heartbroken, if that makes any sense. And though I'm still feeling the guilt, it's receded a bit so that I can enjoying the simplicity of our much-scaled-back daily routine. I had forgotten what it was like to not be giving a cat at-home end-of-life care. It's kind of nice. And now we have room to pay some overdue attention to Uno, who has been feeling terribly confused and neglected of late. We're giving him a lot of attention now.

But I miss Null terribly. When I stop to think about it, it hits me like a ton of bricks. Such was his illness that I can't remember when he last purred. I wish I'd known it would be the last time. I'd have appreciated it more.

Friday night, he was in terrible pain and he didn't want to be conscious, but he squirmed across the bed anyway so he could go to sleep with his head on my ankle. If he'd still been capable of purring, I know he would have.

Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness (5/5)!
Sat 2012-04-28 23:17:19 (single post)

Is it still Saturday? Whew. Made it. Here ya go: a story. Sort of. Sort of a story.

See, here's the thing. It's not complete. It's sort of an excerpt of a longer work that doesn't exist yet, and I don't really know anything about the longer work. So it's not so much a story as a scene, the scene that popped into my head when I began writing on a prompt about Human Versus Machine. It begins like this:

My alarm clock didn't wake me up that morning, but the smell of bacon did. Sadly, bacon is not a perfect substitute for an alarm clock. I was fifteen minutes late and losing time by the second. I bounded out of bed, threw on my grease-stained work pants and my bright red corporate polo, and hurried into the kitchen in hopes of snagging a few slices on my way out the door.

It didn't occur to me that this was an unusually early hour for Meff to be up and moving. It didn't occur to me that anything was unusual about Meff that morning. Unusually annoying, yes, as you'll see, but that's it. Yes, I was distracted, yes I could have paid more attention -- but you have to understand, we're talking about Meff here.

Meff was already at the table, six slices of bacon and a heap of white rice on his plate. "Help yourself," he said, his mouth full. "More rice in the pot there."

I noted the remaining four slices on their lard-absorbing paper towel. "I'll pass on the rice," I said. "Bread's more portable."

My roommate made an urgent "Mmmf!" noise, swallowed his current mouthful rapidly, and said, "Ix-nay on the ed-bray, bro. The toaster's gone evil on us."

You can read the rest of the scene here.

I think the rest of the story is from Mephisto's point of view. Or maybe it would be a series of scenes none of which are from Mephisto's point of view. Just a lot of unrelated witnesses to the moving trainwreck that is the life and adventures of Meff.

Anyway. I hope you've enjoyed this week. I have. Next week I really have got to make a sizable dent in the novel rewrite. Also I have a brand new short story draft I'm working on, which usually happens when I'm procrastinating on short story rewrites. I hope to get something completed and in the mail by the end of next week. (But then I hope that every week.)

Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness (4/5)!
Fri 2012-04-27 23:25:05 (single post)

You will remember I promised you a brand new story, specifically written for this year's IPSTW festivities. But you will also notice that today we have only reached a count of four of five. You will, no doubt, think this a very flimsy excuse for my not posting a brand new story on Friday as promised. Nevertheless, what you are getting is an old poem of mine.

I wrote this during my first year of college on that faithful old Compaq Aero 4/25. It ran Windows 3.1 at the time, and it connected to the University of Washington internet portal via a 144,000 baud modum. Since high school I'd spent a lot of time in the Usenet group misc.writing, where I found and responded to calls for submission. One of them was the summer college litmag, Solstice, who ended up publishing "Rhododendron" in 1994. And one of them was an email 'zine called... do you know, I totally forget? The name had to do with cows, I remember that much. They didn't pay except in exposure. I sent them this poem that same year in the fall. They included it in their next edition.

TRACES IN A FAST FOOD RESTAURANT

The Sprite can is waiting
in faithful ignorance of abandonment.
It remembers your lips.

**

"He was here, I tell you
the ashtray told me so..." And so it goes:
Ashes to ashes. Presence to dust.

**

The cliche of lipstick
on a plastic straw, with a side of fries.
A table for one, tonight.

The story will be coming tomorrow, I promise.

Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness! (3/5)
Thu 2012-04-26 23:29:53 (single post)
  • 1,600 wds. long

Today was one of those days that didn't really happen. Woke up too late, moved too slow, out of time before I knew it.

Tomorrow will be better.

For now, here's today's offering, a letter originally written in 1996 and addressed, simply, "Dear You:"

With most of my stories, I hasten to reassure friends that it's entirely fiction, that though it may draw on real life experiences, it's utter fantasy from beginning to end. But this piece is absolutely biographical. I never actually wrote such a letter, but everything in the letter is true.

Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness! (2/5)
Wed 2012-04-25 22:18:15 (single post)

Today's offering is "A is for A is for..." It's either flash fiction or prose poetry, depending on how you count these things. This final version is dated October 1995, so I suppose I must have written it during college. I wrote it specifically for submission to a themed issue of a Pagan magazine -- the theme was "Songs of the Cyberpagans" or something like that; one of the submission requirements was to send manuscripts on 3.5" floppy disks rather than in hard copy. I never heard another word about it until some five years later when a friend spotted it in a back-issue. Either the editor had mislaid my contact information, or I'd failed to include it on the disk which got separated from the cover letter. The foreword that accompanied the piece made me sound very mysterious.

I'm not sure today whether I think the piece is successful or simply pretentious. I think I still like it, though.

Meanwhile, today has been a Wednesday. Wednesdays are difficult. Wednesday mornings, I have an hour-long show to record for the Audio Information Network of Colorado. And then it takes me about half an hour just to pull up the reading material first, employment ads from the newspapers of three broad regions of the state, each in its own tab, each collection of tabs sorted through to avoid reading any ads that are missing readable contact information, etc. etc. etc. By the time that's done, I've lost both time and momentum for writing. It probably doesn't help that I tend to play Puzzle Pirates while I'm reading, and I tend to keep playing after the reading is done.

Wednesdays this month are further limited because I've got roller derby practice from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. Anything I want to get done, I typically have to get it done before 5:45.

But today was even more of a Wednesday than usual. Everything took longer. The AINC reading took longer mainly because I kept stopping the recording to chat with some old friends on Puzzle Pirates (they're probably reading this now... hi there!). You can hardly blame me; I hadn't "seen" one of them in months and the other of them in years. It was good to catch up. Then, roller derby took more out of my day because I needed to bus-and-bike in. The car is in the shop, getting its engine replaced. Yes. John and I had been talking for the past couple years about how we really would rather replace the engine than replace the car, but not yet, not yet -- well, when the engine idles rough and occasionally stalls out at stop lights, and it turns out that at least three separate parts of the engine are to blame for it... well, it's kind of a hint. So the car's getting its clock odometer rolled back from 235,000 miles to 85,000, and I got my derby schedule pushed out by about an hour in either direction.

And now that I'm home, I'm not only the usual amount of exhausted from practice and sleep, I'm also hurting a bit. Yeah. Just this morning I was telling my Puzzle Pirates friends that I was glad to have picked up no new injuries in a while -- remember that, y'all? -- and, well, I guess the universe heard that too and said, "Oh, I knew I was forgetting something." See, when you practice giving and taking hits, you really need to keep your forearms clamped to your sides. This is not just to prevent yourself getting a penalty for illegal use of elbows or forearms. This is also for your protection. I let my guard slip, and for my sins I got a sharp shoulder jab in the ribs during a game of Queen of the Rink. I'm pretty sure it's just a bruise, but what a bruise it's gonna be! It's all achy when I laugh or move wrong or breathe too sharply.

You know what? This has been a whiny damn post. Here, let me apply the appropriate category label...

Anyway, I never got to the novel rewrite, and I only managed another 300 words on the project for Friday. I feel like I'm micromanaging the characters, trying to puppet them around so that their dialogue will contain this checklist of elements contrived during the first draft. It's probably time to step back, give myself time to just let the scene unfold in my head, and find out exactly how these characters interact when left to their own devices.

Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness! (1/5)
Tue 2012-04-24 21:41:50 (single post)
  • 1,400 wds. long
  • 62,769 wds. long

Today's contribution to the April 23 festivities is my short story "Passengers". You can read it here. (Just as a reminder, you can always click the title of a manuscript in the upper left area of the blog entry to see all blog entries related to it. Then you click "Read more here", if such a link exists, to read an excerpt or the full text, whatever I've made available.)

"Passengers" is another one that counts as juvenilia, if anything does. It's probably older even than "Rhododendron". Possibly. In any case, it, too, was also written during high school, though I can't recall precisely which year -- my notes say 1994, but my notes weren't written in the same century as the story itself, so, grain-of-salt time. In any case, it had to have been the year when Betsy Petersen taught my English class, because I remember someone who shared her class with me critiquing it.

It's like a deathless digital audio recording in my memory, triggered every time I reread (or think about) the line, "...and ties a special knot in her bracelet just for him." My classmate's grinning and saying, "That's when she's got him. She just pops him into her little jar!"

Or something like that. I have a tyrannical memory for conversation -- it forgives-and-forgets nothing -- but it is not infallibly word-for-word.

The line that stays with my husband and me, of course, is, "Everybody likes peppermints." We have been known to quote it at each other on the least plausible provocation.

The other event that dates the creation of the story is its sideways inspiration: my first solo cross-country bus ride. And even that I'm not 100% certain about, timing-wise. Again, though my notes say August of 1993, my notes came a lot later than the actual journey. I know this much: it had to have been after June, 1992, my third attendence at the ADVANCE summer program (a.k.a. "nerd camp"). That was the year I met a boy named John Little and roomed with a girl named Cat Bakewell. Those two would become my closest, dearest, and most lasting friends. (One of them even became my husband!) Well, either later that summer or in the summer that followed, it occurred to me I could take a Greyhound bus to Cat's home in Nacogdoches, TX (not to be confused with Nachitoches, LA) if she and her parents were OK with the visit. It took a lot of wheedling on my part to get Mom to grant the all-important permission (and pay for the bus ticket), but in the end teenage persistence prevailed.

Mom wasn't very happy about it. She was convinced that you meet all sorts of crazy people on bus rides. It would be years before I recognized this as class-and-race prejudice, but right away I sure recognized it as bullshit. If there were any crazy people on the bus, I determined, I would damn well be one of them. I chose my traveling wardrobe accordingly.

Put that together with the friendship bracelet I occupied myself with creating during much of the eleven-hour ride, and also with my seatmate who was not at all crazy but rather delightfully unconventional, and you've got the fictional character who opens the story.

But we can't just go living in the past here. There's writing to be done in the here and now. Today saw about a thousand new words on the rewrite of Like a Bad Penny, and a solid, carefully chosen 300 words or so on the very short story I hope to offer up for your reading pleasure on Friday.

And there you go.

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