this is the good thing, which is also the terrifying thing
So I promised "more of that stuff" today, where the stuff under discussion was "happy and hopeful" news. And I got some of that for y'all. But I did less with it today than I wanted to, and that tends to be a drag on the "hopeful" part of the equation.
Let me backtrack and explain.
Remember how I said "Caroline's Wake" sent me a very encouraging postcard from its current slush pile? And then I said it was going to be revised per editorial request? Well, the editor in question didn't just request a revision--the editor in question sent me a detailed critique with copious notes and restructuring suggestions. I am all a-squee! When the editor of a market you'd adore to get published in chooses to spend that much time helping you get a story right, you darn well say thank you and get to work.
Except I am also a creature of terror and avoidance, and I am having my usual reaction to story critiques. Which is to say: "Oh, dear Gods, someone wants to tell me what they think about my story--run away and hide!" And also the one that goes, "O crap, I thought I got the story right, but it's not right, and it will never be right, because if I so much as touch it I'm sure that I'll break it--"
Well, I never denied that I was irrationally insecure.
I have been spending today, and will spend the remainder of this week, trying to quell those neurotic voices in my head so that I can hear myself think. And also trying to drown out those voices by repeating to myself, "The editor thought this story worth spending time on. The editor believes in this story. This story is worth it." And also working up the courage to take those edits in my two clenched fists and use them to revise the heck out of this story, because that's what's got to happen before y'all can read it.
Sometimes I'm a total mess, y'all. I'll own it. But I'm a mess in constant progress. Onward and upward, then.
everyone gets something to read today (that means you)
- 566 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,400 words (if poetry, lines) long
September's "Fictionette Freebie" is out and available to the public, Patron and non-Patron alike. It's "What Dreams May Hatch," which you may download as a lovely PDF from Patreon, read in one of Wattpad's versatile formats, or simply click to read it here on the actually writing blog.
September 30 also means it's deadline day for the call for submissions to An Alphabet of Embers. How did I do in that whole "improving my relationship with deadlines" thing? Well... I wasn't up until 2 AM, how's that?
I woke up this morning feeling like I'd already lost. Like, I drafted it with two weeks to go, right, but then I didn't touch it all last week and I didn't touch it over the weekend and I didn't get to it yesterday either which meant... yup, once again I'm pulling the bulk of the work during the last 24 hours of the reading period. Defeat.
Except, here's the thing: I did draft it two weeks before deadline. And I didn't end up submitting it in the wee hours. So, y'know, improvement. I think I'm entitled to feel at least a little happy about that.
Not to forget: I did, in fact, submit the story. And it went from vague brainstormy concept to submitted story in something like three weeks. Yay, right? Yay. And look! It has a real title now! A title with a terrible pun.
Anyway, it's in. And in rereading the guidelines I saw that 1. they allow two submissions per author, and 2. they appear to be open to reprints. So I sent "Sidewalks" along, because why not? I may not be personally 100% sure it's right for Embers, but that's properly the editor's decision, not mine. So off it goes.
Today has been a mix of happy and hopeful news. Tomorrow will feature more of that stuff. Stay tuned.
in which washington cherries go kerplunk
The fall harvest season brings with it a series of exceedingly homogenous Farm Mondays. At other times during the year, my Monday morning shift might consist of several tasks, a miscellany of Things What Need To Get Done. Culling seedlings, filling seedling trays with potting soil, weeding the berm, watering the potted trees, whatever. I'm an extra pair of hands. I'm handy when the high priority items prevent the core staff from getting to the items of slightly less high priority. But during the fall, my whole shift tends to be taken up with that day's great big harvest task.
Tomatoes for seed: identify the plants whose fruit consistently demonstrates the desired traits; collect only from those plants, and only those fruit that best demonstrate those traits. Tomatoes for food: gather everything that's neither rotten nor green, pretty much. Tomatoes for snacking on while en route to the next tomato: I fully except my mouth to break out in sores tomorrow from the overdose of ascorbic acid.
The tomato plants grow in round tomato cages. Their branches bust out all over. To get to all the tomatoes, you have to dig and tunnel your way through the foliage. Your arms turn green and yellow from the juices in leaf and stem. And sometimes the tomatoes--especially the cherry varieties--especially the Washington Cherry reds--are so ripe and ready to go that the moment you touch them, let alone jostle the foliage in order to reveal and reach them, they fall right off the stem. It's like playing some weird arboreal version of KerPlunk.
So that was my Farm Monday.
After that came a roller derby shopping pilgrimage. I'd heard good things about Skate Ratz, so when John decided that learning how to skate would be part of learning how to coach, I suggested we check them out. That's how we came to spend most of the afternoon and evening in Loveland getting John equipped for derby. Not only that, but it turns out that Skate Ratz keeps on hand a sample Bont boot in every size from 3 to Something Huge, expressly for fitting. They also had an Antik boot in my size so I could make an informed choice between those brands.
So I have finally ordered the Bont Hybrid in leather, color black, size 3.5. This will replace my current pair of Riedell R3s, which are two and a half years old, and one of which, for a couple of months now, has only been holding heel and sole together by an army of denim strips (cut from old jeans) and veritable gobs of Loctite Flexible Adhesive.
We celebrated our life-changing purchases over dinner at the Pourhouse, which is the best house.
And that was my Monday.
in which we cast silhouettes on the sand
- 3,380 words (if poetry, lines) long
This week's Friday Fictionette went up on Patreon, with public excerpts there and here and on Wattpad, round about five this afternoon. I'm not only very pleased with the story, but I'm tickled about the cover art. I wanted to set up a silhouette of Humpty Dumpty on his wall, looking out over the desert. So I went down to the volleyball pit at the top of Center Green Drive, built a little wall out of railroad track ballast, and made a miniature Humpty Dumpty with my darning egg and a couple of pipe cleaners. I got to go play at sandcastles, more or less.
Despite that, I'm not sure in the end that it's obvious to someone who hasn't read the story yet that this is Humpty Dumpty sitting on his wall. I'm proud of it nonetheless.
I have discovered this week that it is all but impossible to give all three of the most time-consuming things in my current daily life sufficient time. One of them tends to have to give. Writing, roller derby, and our home improvement checklist: they are fighting for the crown, and they cannot all have it. This week, a surprisingly full derby schedule and a bedroom that needed painting has resulted in The One With The Feathers still sitting around at more than twice its target word count. I expect some weekend work is going to happen.
It will have to, because it's got to get submitted by Tuesday. Then "Caroline's Wake" is getting revised just as soon as possible, as per editorial request. Editorial request! Such a happy dance is being done by me. It is not an offer to publish, understand; it's, at best, an acknowledgment of the possibility that a revised version might convince them to publish it. If nothing else, my story received a critique from the senior editor at a highly respected publication, so now I get to take that critique and make it an even better story. That's certainly worth the time and email pixels.
stupid word prompt tricks
- 51,730 words (if poetry, lines) long
The tricks, I mean. Nothing stupid about the word prompts. Mis-aimed, perhaps, maybe less then entirely appropriate for what I'm trying to do, but certainly not stupid.
See, I remembered this morning another podcast whose every episode ends in a writing prompt: Writing Excuses with Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Taylor, Dan Wells, and Brian Sanderson. The very memorable slogan is, "Fifteen minutes, because you're in a hurry and we're not that smart." It's perfect for my roller derby commute, or will be once we move into our new practice space that's not even 15 minutes away from home. (Tonight's practice, by contrast, was an hour's drive each way.)
The latest episode featured an interview with Patty Garcia, Director of Publicity for Tor & Forge Books. Accordingly, the writing prompt for that episode, which they post in their show notes as well as announce in the podcast, was this:
Write a short essay that touches on one of your books, and that will drive interest in your book.
This was very much not the prompt for me. I mean, yes, where the resistance is, there is the strong writing, sure, but this isn't a story idea prompt. I wanted a story idea prompt, darn it.
So I turned it into a story idea prompt. I took the prompt sideways. Instead of writing an essay meant to drive interest in my book, I wrote the beginning of a story in which a teenage girl got interested in my book. The book was Iron Wheels, only in some alternate reality where it had been published early enough to have been a favorite of her mother, and written with a fourth-wall-breaking narrator who promised that there was a secret within those pages meant just for her, only for her. And that secret was, of course, that the Fae are real.
I'm realizing lately that I have countless story ideas that take place in the world of Iron Wheels. Which is awkward, because I still don't feel like I have a handle on the shape of that world. Maybe all these random sessions of freewriting that take me back there will help me figure it out. Maybe they'll even help me get Iron Wheels finished and ready to visit agents. Wouldn't that be something?
Anyway, that was my stupid writing prompt trick. Ta-da.
prompts from poughkeepsie for an all-night road trip
- 3,380 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 566 words (if poetry, lines) long
I've been playing with a new source of writing prompts this week: "News from Poughkeepsie," as presented by Mur Lafferty. This is, or at least originated as, a series of writing prompts from the brain of Jared Axelrod. I suspect--though I haven't got a citation for this--that its title comes from Harlan Ellison's famous smart-ass answer to the perennial question, "Where do you get your ideas?" At one point I think Mur was reading one at the end of each episode of her I Should Be Writing podcast. In any case, I'm currently receiving them in her weekly email that you can get if you support ISBW on Patreon. Chuck a buck Mur's way each month and you can get her weekly email too! All while knowing that you're helping to keep the podcast's metaphorical lights on!
Anyway, I've been a supporter for two weeks now, so I've received two of these emails. This week I dug up the writing prompts and used them in my freewriting. Both of them, the one from this week and the one from last, had to do with your antagonist: exercises to help you get to know your story's villain as a three-dimensional character with agency and motives of their own. And I was stuck for a moment, because I don't know who the heck is "my villain." The last few stories I've been working on haven't had villains, not exactly.
Well, "Caroline's Wake" has Caroline's murderer; I guess he's an antagonist, of sorts. But, for one thing, I don't feel like he brings the true central conflict in the story. For another, that story is out in the slush now, so there's limited use in noodling over its antagonist's human moments.
OK, so, what am I working on now? The new story, the one with the feathers. The one that I still haven't come up with a good title for. It doesn't have an antagonist. What it has is a semi-random act of the supernatural and a handful of satellite characters affected by it. Those characters aren't pitted against villains or even banal antagonists. They just have the small day-to-day conflicts that we all do. It's rather like "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" in that way. Hell, it's almost written to the same formula, if "Sidewalks" can be said to have a formula.
In the end I gave up on trying to find a way to make the prompt work for any work in progress. I just made up a new character, decided she was a villain in a story I don't know yet, and let the writing prompt help me ease my way into that story. And that was fun. I had no idea where I was going, but I kept stumbling across signposts as I fumbled my way forward through the 25 minutes. It was E. L. Doctorow's "driving a car at night" style of writing, where "You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
That's the best kind of writing, when there's a surprise at the end of every sentence that tells you how to write the next sentence. It's what I love about first drafts.
the secret trap behind the job description of full time writer
It's not a secret because no one tells it, mind you. Everyone tells it, to every writer who ever contemplates quitting their day job. No, it's a secret because it is rarely believed until it is experienced. To put it broadly, it is the secret no one can know until they learn it for themselves. And then, if they're me, they need to relearn it countless times.
Here is that secret: The phrase "I've got plenty of time" is a lie.
It makes sense. It seems obvious. But somehow I keep falling for the lie. I say to myself, "Look at this long beautiful Tuesday stretching out in front of me, with nowhere to be and nothing to do except my own things!" I tell myself, "I'll have a pleasantly lazy working day. Plenty of time to get all my tasks done, even if I take long breaks between them. Plenty of time, even if I sleep late. Plenty of time!"
It's such a seductive lie. How nice it would be, a work day with no urgency to it! Why, it wouldn't even feel like work. It would make the work feel like play. No stress, just playing with words at a leisurely pace all the day long.
But the very lack of urgency has a tendency to result in no work at all.
This is why it's so important for me to make a schedule at the beginning of the day, and affix the scheduled items to scheduled times--or at the very least, work out how long each item will take. "Plenty of time" is in fact a finite amount of time. Remaining aware of that helps put the urgency back into the work day.
Also, I'm not allowed to read books early in the morning anymore. I have a distressing tendency not to put a book down until I've finished reading it, even if it contains real howlers about my hometown.
I did manage to spend a half hour polishing up this week's planned Friday Fictionette release. I'm really rather pleased with it. Tickled, even. When I first approached the writing prompt that it sprang from, I groaned, thinking, "This is twee and embarrassing and likely to be No Fun At All." Then I did it anyway, and, surprise! it was exceedingly fun.
And that's the secret to writing prompts, which, again, no one may know until they learn it for themselves (and they may need to relearn it on occasion): The greater the resistance, the greater the potential. There is fun and interesting stuff on the other side of the "Do I have to?" wall. Go get them.
you should be sitting down for this, and also not in the middle of dinner
So you know that moment when you're out in the field picking relleno-type chili peppers, and you go to pick a great big red one--huge, like two inches wide at the shoulder and a foot long from stem to tip--and you ready your clippers, and you grab that sucker, and it turns out that the dang thing is rotten, and one of your fingers just sinks right through the skin into the putrid soup inside? And then the whole thing disintegrates and drips all over your hand and your pants and your shoes? And it stinks to high heaven, and you realize you just aren't hungry anymore?
You know that moment?
Well, honestly, for your sake, I hope the answer is "no."
I now know that moment. And there is no unknowing it.
On the bright side, we picked upwards of 300 pounds of huge, ripe, red chilis this morning, and they weren't rotten. And my appetite returned in time to sample one. It was delicious.
have camera, will create Friday Fictionette cover art
- 1,141 words (if poetry, lines) long
One of these days, I'll publish my Friday Fictionette somewhat earlier in the day. Like, maybe while it's still light out. This ten-at-night business is silly.
In any case, it's up now. You can read an excerpt right here on this blog, over at Wattpad, or in my Patreon activity stream. You can read the Fictionette in its entirety by becoming a Patron at the suggested minimum pledge level of $1/month. As a reminder, Patrons get to see a new one of these every first through fourth Friday, and one of those four will become free for non-Patrons to read at the end of the month.
"While the Sun Still Shines" went through almost as heavy a revision process as last week's Fictionette. I wanted to give it more shape than just "Oh, good Lord, Katie's whining again, make it stop." And I kind of wish I'd done this back when I was trying to get "The Impact of Snowflakes" out the door. I chose these characters to write a slice-of-life scene about in hopes that I'd get to know them better, but it wasn't until I revised the scene this week that I realized that, gosh, Ashley's kind of being a jerk here. It's not two patient, stoic characters against one whiny one; it's one patient character and one fun-loving character together against one easily irritated narrator throwing a bit of a tantrum.
This would have been a useful insight to have before submitting the short story. Well. Revisions may yet happen. The story's fate in its current slush pile has yet to be determined.
To create cover art for this Fictionette, I scoured Flickr for photos having to do with Mount Sanitas. Most of what I found were copyrighted, "all rights reserved." The few that were released under Creative Commons licenses also specified that commercial use was prohibited. That left one gorgeous photo of Boulder as taken from a Mt. Sanitas trail overlook--but it wasn't quite what I wanted.
Heck with that. I'm a capable person in possession of a functional camera. I went and took a photo myself.
Then I finished the brief walk up to the stone shelter on the cultural resource trail, and I sat inside the shelter in the cool of the stones and I did my morning pages. It was my first time visiting the structure in years. I wondered why that was. I think the previous time I was there, I climbed on top of the shelter (like you're not supposed to do) and watched a meteor shower--again, that was several years ago. It's a nice place. The hike to get there from 4th and Valley View Drive is short but steep, a pretty respectable workout for only 15 minutes.
I was surprised to see new residential lots marked out and new houses going up in an area centered on of 4th and Dewey. There's also a brand new stairway giving access to the trailhead from within what's now the construction zone.
Anyway--click the links, enjoy the view, see you on Monday!
soon to reappear upon the hundred-word stage
- 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
Good news in the email today: Two more of my drabbles will be appearing at SpeckLit in the very near future! One'll be showing up in early November, and the other in late December. I'm very pleased. Out of the batch of five that I submitted this time around, I'm proudest of these two. So I'm just really pleased and delighted that you'll get to read them at SpeckLit.
(SpeckLit is organized blog-style, with a tag for each author. If you want to pull up all drabbles by a particular author, you click on their tag. For instance, here's mine.)
And that's all the news I've got for you today, since I kind of totally flubbed it as a work day, and that's not something the day can recover from at eleven-thirty at night even when it isn't scrimmage night. There was an off-season low turnout, too, so everyone rotated through all the positions and stayed on the track for at least two jams out of every three. It was a fantastic scrimmage, though. We made it work. We really worked our endurance. I think I jammed pretty darn well for a blocker.
John got to learn the scorekeeper job today. John coming with me to scrimmage is becoming a regular thing. I love it. I love how he's getting to know everyone in the league better, and how they're getting to know him, and they love having him there and he loves being there. Then we had a great post-scrimmage "post-mortem" conversation that started over beer and burgers and continued the whole way home. I love that too.
Tomorrow, as always, is another day, and one that stretches free and clear of external obligations from eight in the morning until one at night. Plenty of time to make up for today. Tomorrow is also a Friday, and I do enjoy my Fridays these days. So, really, I can't complain.