“It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
Robert Benchley

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

these are things that happen
Fri 2014-01-31 23:49:25 (single post)

One of the nice things about being a full-time writer, working from home, being your own boss, and all that jazz, is if on some Friday or other you manage to sleep until noon, hey, it's OK! You've got nowhere to be tonight. You can just shift your work day later into the evening. You set your own schedule, and that's cool.

Another nice thing about being a full-time writer, etc., is that if in the middle of your work day, your husband, after pretty much isolating himself with his nasty sinus cold on the couch all week, suddenly sits up and says, "Hey, what are you up to? I thought maybe we could order out and watch TV together," well, you can decide to drop everything and do that. It's been a rather long and lonely week, after all.

The only problem is, should both of those things happen on the same day, well. There goes your Friday.

But another nice thing is the ability to designate Saturday your substitute Friday.

See you tomorrow.

the house in conversation
Thu 2014-01-30 23:02:35 (single post)
  • 303 words (if poetry, lines) long

Still no complete draft. But today I babbled to myself on the page about the layout and contents of Nena Santiago's house. I'm a firm believer in setting as character, for one thing. For another, if the entire story comprises a single conversation held in a single location, then that location better be able to contribute to the conversation.

Mostly, what the location has to say is how triumphant its inhabitant feels at having outlived an abusive marriage. It also has a few things to say about the lives she could have lived, and has not yet given up on living.

I was surprised to discover that Nena makes collages out of her junk mail and her magazine subscriptions. Her table is covered in evocative photography on glossy stock, letters urging her to accept life insurance policies and energy efficiency inspections, coupons for chuck roast, fancy card stock in all colors, and glue sticks. It's sort of like the way my paternal grandmother always had a jigsaw puzzle on the table, only this is messier. There's slivers of paper all over the floor.

Her house is a cluttered mess, not because she buys crap and hoards it but because she doesn't have to hide things away neatly anymore. It's clutter as ongoing celebration.

She's the most interesting person in the story, and she's never even on stage. That's why her house needs to be a real, living, breathing character in this story. It's her surrogate. It's her representative on the page.

Well, that and her journal, of course. Which Lucita (and, therefore, the rest of us) will be reading in backwards chronological order. Hey, her mother's up and vanished, she finds her mother's journal lying out on the desk in the bedroom--she's going to start with the most recent entry and work her way back, isn't she?

A draft tomorrow for sure. Because I want time to sleep on it and edit it before sending it in on Saturday.

the author in conversation
Wed 2014-01-29 23:27:51 (single post)
  • 1,699 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 110 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today was kind of a blah day. Slow moving, no new breakthroughs, hung up on non-writing tasks. Today was kind of not.

The only thing to report is this:

I'm working on the story I want to submit to The First Line on February 1 (that's Saturday, by the way). That's the one with the prompt, "Carlos discovered _____ [fill in the blank] under a pile of shoes in the back of his grandmother's closet."

As I mentioned, I filled in the blank with "homing device." The main idea is that this device has been passed down through the family from mother to daughter for generations, with the understanding that someday, something or someone not of this planet will arrive. Carlos finds it and brings it to his mother, Lucita, who somehow never got given it or told about it. Lucita is only just finding out this, her family's secret, by reading her mother's journal. They are going through her mother's house and things because her mother has just died.

I'm trying to avoid the sort of last-minute stressy race to beat the deadline I put myself through with "Anything For a Laugh." So I'm getting a little worried about not being finished yet.

Like I said, today didn't really move. I had hoped to complete a draft before I left at 5:45 PM for roller derby practice. That did not happen.

But here's what did happen: I discovered, or rediscovered, that my tendency to think out loud can be used for good and not just embarrassment of me and irritation of others. If I leave the radio off and drive in silence from home to the Bomb Shelter, and I just start talking to myself about my story, I discover things about the story. It's like my 25-minute freewriting exercise: a few minutes in and everything takes a sharp left turn off the rut I've been stuck in.

So apparently Nena Santiago isn't, in fact, dead, but missing. Her mother went missing when she reached advanced age, too. And her mother before that. The homing device isn't calling one single arrival during some future generation, but is arranging the rapture, so to speak, of each successive woman in the dynasty. But Nena never did pass the homing device on to Lucita because she didn't believe in it, and besides she resented the whole "Now you have to get married and have a daughter" thing, which got her saddled with a real jerk of a husband whom she may or may not have in fact murdered. And by the way did you know that old pile of shoes has rock climbing shoes and tap dance shoes and moon boots next to the dress flats and sandals? And oh my goodness Nena's journal is full of things.

And also there's the title, which just came to me like a punchline when I hit the word "rapture." Only if I'm going to give it that title, I had better find a way to connect this story with that chapter in Roman history it's alluding to. And also, there'd better be a nod to how all the women in this dynasty share a last name despite living in the here-and-now of the U.S. where it's more common for married women to take their husband's name.

And did I mention that I'm shooting for flash fiction?

The important thing is, the story's moving now! Hooray for 25-minute commutes.

back in the slush with you
Tue 2014-01-28 22:50:31 (single post)
  • 2,986 words (if poetry, lines) long

Dear universe: My complaints about not having submitted anything last week were not, I repeat, not meant as a request that a manuscript I had out in slush get rejected so that I could submit it again. Sheesh! Work with me here, OK?

So "Blackbird" will not be in C.C. Finlay's guest-edited issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Like all non-acceptance outcomes, this is sad. I sigh a wistful sigh. (Wait for it... *sigh* ...OK.)

However! The rejection letter was personal (like almost all rejection letters for this particular issue of F&SF, do not expect this with other issues of F&SF), and described the story in glowing terms. Which means an editor of renown has had the opportunity to link my name to a pleasant prose-reading experience. This is a thing, isn't it? This is definitely a thing. Always look on the bright side.

The problem with this story is, the protagonist is a writer. The plot involves writing. That's kind of not a good thing for commercial viability. The plot also involves a demon, and quite possibly the End Of The World (again), but these elements simply don't outweigh the writing element, it would seem. I've had two rejection letters now that say, basically, "Writers will dig it, but non-writers will not, and among our readership non-writers outnumber the writers like woah." The other rejection letters didn't say that, but since they also didn't say much beyond some form of "did not suit our needs at this time," I can't be sure they weren't thinking it.

Damn it, I am not going to rewrite this story to be about a sculptor who can't let the clay dry or the demon gets out. Besides, that trick wouldn't fool anyone. "Isn't this just writing in disguise?" Yes. That's exactly what it would be.

I have begun to feel foolish for continuing to shop this story around.

After that first rejection that mentioned the problem of writers writing about writing, I got in a conversation with other writers. One of 'em said to me, "So sell it to a literary journal. They love that kind of thing." I lamented, "But literary journals will insist that the demon is merely metaphorical!" And yet, and yet... they had a point.

Today, while logging the rejection at The Submission Grinder (currently in BETA)*, I remembered that conversation. And so, after clicking the handy and benevolent "Find a new home for this story," which kindly and effortlessly produces a market search form pre-filled with your story's details, I tweaked the menus to look for literary/mainstream markets.

Scanning the results, I noticed Glimmer Train.

Glimmer Train? But don't they change reading fees?

Yes. Except for three non-contiguous month-long fee-free submission periods per year. One of which happens to be January.

Well, hell. I dug up my old password to their online submission system (which, it turns out, I last utilized to submit them a story ten years ago), logged in, and shipped "Blackbird" right back out.

Never let a manuscript sleep over, so they say. Well, I didn't. And there you go.

*Sort of a Duotrope replacement for those who don't want to pay for a subscription to Duotrope, and who think Duotrope could have been more useful than it was when it was free. Designed by a web programmer who's a writer, and who's willing and eager to bring writers' dreams of a Duotrope that's more useful than Duotrope to life.(back)

your 'hedonist' quality has increased, delicious friend
Mon 2014-01-27 23:20:43 (single post)

Yesterday the sky was blue and the sun was warm when I arrived at the Bomb Shelter for roller derby practice. But I could smell that "mean wind from Greeley" carrying the odor of cattle down into Boulder County, and I thought, Really? Snow again? Do we have to?

Yes. We have to. Three hours later, an overcast was hurrying out from the horizon. This morning, everything was white.

"John," says I, "I am not at all enthusiastic about leaving the house."

"Well, we don't have to hurry," says he, "but I still want to go to Fuse like we planned."

"OK," says I, and I get ready to go.

This is one of the many ways John is a good influence on me, and also why co-working spaces are awesome. If I had stayed home, guaranteed this would not have been a writing day. This would have been a sleep-all-day day. The sight of snowfall goes in at the eyeballs and down into the bones, producing a sluggishness and a deep sleepiness. Hibernating creatures are smart creatures. I want to be just like them.

But instead, because John insisted, we went to Fuse. There are no beds to go back to at Fuse. There's just a roomful of people Getting Work Done. I actually want to be just like them.

Also, the Commons work area downstairs has no windows, so I don't have to constantly fight off the effect of the sight of snow.

Fuse has gotten more exciting lately with the launch of the cafe. The cafe is simply called "Food at the Riverside," and its menu is full of elegant, tasty things, some simple and some very fancy indeed. Full-time Fuse members get a 15% discount and can run a weekly tab, which is dangerously convenient. But not as dangerous as it could be; the gourmet menu is surprisingly inexpensive.

For example, there's Lobster Benedict. Lobster freakin' Benedict. One perfectly poached egg atop an english muffin of feed-the-farmer thickness, spinach and sun dried tomato laid on thick, hollandaise sauce smothering the lot, and finally, sticking up like a leaning tower of mouthwatering delectability, a lengthwise half of lobster tail with its half of the tail fin on. Also a fruit cup on the side. This meal costs a whopping $6 before member discount, tax, and tip.

I've said before that the future vision of Fuse--that is, once all the things they have planned for the Riverside come to fruition--sounds like a modern-day egalitarian upgrade to the Victorian concept of the gentleman's club. I've said it, but now I'm starting to experience it. Something about being hailed by name by diners and staff alike before we're done stamping the snow off our shoes (it's like a scene out of Cheers), and sitting down to a spot of breakfast (half a lobster tail on top of my egg benedict, I cannot get over that) before heading downstairs to work on my short story in progress. Over endless cups of tea. Punctuated by occasional conversations, brainstorming, networking, and show-and-tell.

It's very pleasant. It's also great motivation to write rather than sleep the day away.

Tomorrow's motivation is unfortunately destined to be less pleasant. I have to take the car in--the 17-year-old car we're trying to keep on the road as long as possible because they don't make it anymore and we like it--to find out where our radiator coolant fluid is leaking from and make it stop. But while the car's in the garage I intend to hang out at Pekoe with my morning's work and a pot of tea. So that'll be nice.

on research, and deadlines
Fri 2014-01-24 22:41:11 (single post)

Today I spent an hour and a half of the working day reading through the HowStuffWorks article "How Special Relativity Works". There are 23 pages in that article. It starts with a run-down of the basic building blocks of the space-time continuum, and it winds up taking you through several iterations of the "twin paradox." By the time I was done, I had expended woefully unnecessary brainpower cycles on just keeping myself clear on which twin remained on Earth and which traveled away from Earth for 12 subjective hours at 60% the speed of light (and why they chose to name the stationary twin "Hunter" I will never know), but I was sorta kinda confident with my understanding of the whole concept in general, and also I needed to take a walk.

The upshot of all this research--for a 750-word flash fiction draft I'm thinking will expand to maybe 1500 words, if that--was the opening line,

We now know that the speed of thought is also a constant, acting as a constant across all reference points.

At least I have until February 14 to submit.

Meanwhile, I still haven't submitted anything this week to anywhere at all. Conscious of this, I started yet another story today, because if ever there's a project I have a chance at starting and finishing on the same day, it's a new short-short written to the latest prompt in The First Line's submission guidelines.

(What did Carlos find under a pile of Grandma's shoes? A homing device, of course. What? Why are you looking at me like that?)

It did not get finished today. Which is technically OK, since this one's got a deadline of February 1, but I'd really like to say I submitted something this week. And I'd like to get back to "Other Theories of Relativity." And also "It's For You."

I hear there are authors who work on only one thing until that thing is done. Only then do they start a new thing. One new thing. Which they work on until it is done. I do not understand how this is possible. Sometimes I kinda wish I did.

getting ready, taking aim
Thu 2014-01-23 23:55:10 (single post)
  • 3,258 words (if poetry, lines) long

I've put "It's For You" aside for the moment and have turned to another story in the infinite queue of Stories Requiring Rewrites. It's not that I'm trying to avoid ever actually finishing something (although I know it does look that way). It's that I suddenly realized that I only have about three more weeks to attempt to destroy science fiction, and "It's For You" is not science fiction.

So I thought to myself, "Didn't I recently write a short-short that juxtaposes space travel and relativity with the slow erosion on relationships by time and divergent life trajectories?" OK, no, that's not quite true. The thought was more like, "Hey, what about that flash piece that had to use three of a given list of words, 'redshift' and 'twin' being two of them?"

Which led to me pulling up the my 2012 Weekend Warrior submissions and worksheets. Weekend Warrior is an annual flash fiction contest they hold over in the Codex forums (link goes to public front page; forums are member-only). For the first five weekends in the year, give or take a holiday delay, there's a handful of prompts posted on Friday and a deadline on Sunday by which you submit a 750-word (maximum) story based on one of those prompts. Stories are posted anonymously, everyone comments on each other's stories anonymously and rates them on a scale of 1 to 10, and based on these ratings winners are declared at the end of the five weeks.

The story I'm thinking of was what I submitted during week 1. Fellow Codexians may or may not remember it under the title "Other Theories of Relativity." I copied it and all the comments it received to a new Scrivener project--and immediately despaired because it's a piece of aimless, nebulous, meandering woo. It's poetic, and some commenters declared it beautiful, but it's a piece that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. My job will be to tease that out and make something stronger out of that original attempt. (And also not make it look derivative of the movie Gravity, damn it, which it predates by more than a year but that alone will not be sufficient to save me.)

Meanwhile, my yWriter project containing that story also contains my contest submissions for weeks 2 through 5, and also the noodling I did on the prompts I ultimately did not use. ("It's For You" actually sprang from an unused Week 1 prompt, come to think of it.) If I'm diligent enough about the short story portion of my daily work routine, this little treasure trove could keep me feeding slush piles for the rest of the year. Or at least through Midsummer.

little life lessons
Wed 2014-01-22 22:49:17 (single post)

First: Don't save writing--even the little bits--for after roller derby practice. Do not save anything for after roller derby practice that cannot be done with a body and brain that just went through two or three hours of roller derby practice.

Second: Sometimes you just gotta forgive yourself.

Third: There will be a tomorrow. Tomorrow will be better.

dreams during sleep and waking
Tue 2014-01-21 21:13:22 (single post)

Two things I've been getting back into the habit of, these past few weeks. They're related. Dream recall is one and freewriting is the other.

I have a long history of writing down my dreams. My earliest formal dream diary dates from 1987 (age 11), but I know I wrote them down even before that. Somewhere in a spiral flip notebook is the penciled record of dreaming about Mom and me baking bread together, "and then today, Mom suggested we bake bread!" That's right: My first written dream record was of a precognitive dream. Believe it or not.

But occasionally I get out of the habit. My last dream narrative from 2013 was on Halloween morning. Between then and January 5 I mostly just didn't remember any dreams, but I know I was also guilty of not bothering to write down those shreds that survived the journey back to consciousness.

This was Not Ideal. I rely on dreams for inspiration. I look forward to them as entertainment and recreation. Even my nightmares I tend to look back on as an exciting adventure. I regard my own lack of dream recall as a tragic waste of opportunity. So I attempted to revive my dream recall practice as part of revamping my writing work schedule.

If you, too, want to recall your dreams, and if you've had little luck at doing so, a solid strategy is to send a clear and concrete signal to your subconscious that you're listening. It's amazing how well it generally responds to that signal. You send that signal as follows: Last thing before bed, prepare your dream recording device, whether it be electronic or manual. First thing after you wake up, before you even open your eyes, observe your first thoughts. Write them down, whatever they are. Keep up this morning practice and it's very likely that those first thoughts will have become dream memories.

So that's what I did. Each night, last thing before going to sleep, I would boot up Alchera on my laptop, open up the "New Dream" dialogue, and date it and timestamp it for when my alarm was set to go off the next morning. Then I'd hibernate the laptop and leave it within easy reach.

(By the way, Alchera is wonderful. I have been using it, and corresponding with its creator, since 2001.)

This may not work for you, it doesn't work for everyone, but it seems to work really well for most people. It works dramatically for me, and this January has been no exception. After two full months of no dream recording at all, I've got 12 for the month of January so far.

(Recording dreams fulfills my animal instinct to COLLECT ALL THE THINGS. The two word summary for your basic Taurus personality? "I HAVE.")

My freewriting practice--in which I think up a prompt, however slight, and write to it for 25 minutes straight--has improved similarly since I made a point of doing it every working day. At first, prompts were hard to think up, and every prompt seemed barren of potential. 25 minutes seemed to take forever. But after a few days either I lowered my standards for "potential jumping-off point" or just started getting inspired more easily. Everything started to look like a writing idea. And while the 25 minutes remained long and scary, I got back in the habit of trusting one word to lead to another.

For instance, today I was drinking a cup of post-gumbo coffee at Milo's, and that made me think of an old Velvet Hammer song, "To Be," about endless cups of coffee and endless games of solitaire as the narrator waits for the right moment to act, which of course never comes (and boy is that a song that hits home from time to time)... So I started off describing the cup of coffee, and how it looked, how it was a deep well of black that was almost green, and... damn if it didn't look like a surface you might scry in. Before I knew it, I was beginning a story about a reluctant oracle who was trying to not see visions in every cup of coffee and every game of solitaire, and who is being compelled by a former acquaintance and a new customer to pick up her divinatory tools and deliver up a prophecy, pronto.

No time to stop and wonder "Where the heck did that come from? How'd I get from describing my cuppa to this?" No time to think about that! I've only got 21 minutes left to find out what happens!

Here, as with dream recall, it seems the imagination just needs to be reassured that I won't shoot down its every idea. The process is the purpose. The point of the journey is not to arrive. And so forth and so on. You get the picture.

But of course, this is the easy part.

what i did on my three-day weekend
Mon 2014-01-20 22:44:05 (single post)

John informed me that his current employer, being a big established company and not a new startup, includes Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in its list of official holidays. "I get the day off!" says he.

"Well then! So do I!" says me. "Let's spend some of it together."

And so we did. We spent a great deal of our three-day weekend together, and it has been glorious.

(Nota bene: When I say "three-day weekend," I am indeed referring to Saturday through Monday. I got a respectable amount of work on both novl and short story done on Friday; I just forgot to blog, is all. *shamefaced*)

We played four or five games of Tigris & Euphrates, a board game simulating four "dynasties" vying for primacy within their expanding river kingdoms. Avedan and John, having played it Friday evening, introduced me to it on Saturday, and then John and I played it all weekend long. So far, other than quibbling over their use of the term "dynasty" (I don't think that's the best word for "nation-states with their own leaders existing at the same time and competing for power"), I have no complaints. Though its theme puts one in mind of Agricola and Stone Age, it's not actually a resource allocation game. It's more of a positional and regional conflict game. Like Risk, I suppose, only with constantly moving boundaries and a more complex conflict-resolution mechanism.

John spent a good many hours, including those usually reserved for sleeping, playing The Last of Us on the PS3. As I am usually not up for witnessing games that are also emotionally traumatic movies, I spent those hours mostly holed up in the bedroom playing Puzzle Pirates. I'm pleased to say I impressed one of my senior officers with my whirlpool-navigating skills. Go me!

We also spent a little time together watching videos of stand-up comedian Matt Braunger, who's like everybody's hilarious drinking buddy who tells the best stories. He also passes my privilege dynamic test with flying colors. That's where I answer questions like, "Do I have to brace myself for getting punched in the face every time his stories involve women?" No. He did not punch me in the face. I laughed myself to tears, and nothing hurt. So we watched his Comedy Central appearance, and now we've ordered his two albums on 12-inch vinyl. Also I now follow him on twitter, where he continues be Good People.

Yes, there was also roller derby. The 2014 schedule involves 3-hour practices for all three travel teams on Sunday, with the Bombshells and the Shrap Nellies (B and C teams, respectively) overlapping for an hour and a half of scrimmage. Only we're not doing that for a couple weeks yet, so practice was only two hours long yesterday. Given how beat up I feel today, I'm beginning to worry about the full three hours.

You know what else I did this weekend?

I missed writing.

No, I mean, I missed it. Like, "Aw, it's a weekend. No writing today."

I'm not talking about a conscious complaint or a serious disappointment. It's more like, after four days straight of actually doing what I should, I was experiencing this weird sort of background-level happy expectation of returning to the works in progress. It's kind of like being in the habit of stress, like continuing to suffer from a constant involuntary feeling of "Oh, shit, I have so much work to do" even after the big scary project has been turned in. Only this would be the opposite of that. The enjoyable version of it.

I'm so very glad there is an enjoyable version of that.

Hey! Guess what?

Tomorrow I get to write!