“Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog


this is the friday fictionette you get when the author fails to take notes
Fri 2014-10-10 23:36:08 (single post)
  • 783 words (if poetry, lines) long

Off to a late start today, being all virtuous and getting the household and admin-type chores done on time for once, but--the Friday Fictionette is up at last on Patreon as of, oh, 9:30 PM or so. All the tantalizing excerpts and extranea here on my blog, over on Wattpad, and in my Patreon activity stream (excerpt here and cover art notes here) didn't quite make it up until 11:00.

(Wowzers, holy link-fest, Batman!)

As I may have mentioned, each week's fictionette is pulled from one of my timed freewriting sessions the month before. And it can't be just any session I haven't already selected yet. It's gotta be one of those from the corresponding week. This is one of the picky little rules I impose on myself to keep myself honest and the fictionettes fresh. So the Friday Fictionette for October Week 2 had to be some freewriting output from September Week 2. And sometimes when it's time to make that choice, I look at what I've got to work with and I despair. "Is this it? Seriously? It has to be one of these? But they're all awful!"

That wasn't quite the case with "Out of Sight, Out of Mind." I was actually kind of excited about it when I wrote it. The half-dream, or maybe hypnagogic hallucination, that it stemmed from made a strong impression on me, and the slow vanishing that the second-person narration describes is pleasantly creepy. I was looking forward to polishing it up and giving it a real ending!

Then I polished it up this week, and I ran smack into the other limitation I hold myself to: Once I'd chosen the vignette that was going to be released as a Friday Fictionette on October 10, that was it. That's what it was going to be. No take-backsies, not even if the revision frankly horrified me. Seriously, I got to what is now the ending, and I thought, "That's... not OK. That needs a content warning or twenty, and also a unicorn chaser. That's just bleak."

Somewhere in the ether there is a third ending, which, much like the original "invisible man at the party" image, came to me as I was falling asleep. It came to me very late on Wednesday night after trying to wrangle the fictionette into shape while I was too tired to think. And it was perfect. It was the perfect ending, with shades of "the biter bit" and satisfying parallel structure and it was perfect. And I did not write it down at the time, so when I woke up in the morning it was gone-baby-gone. But it's out there, somewhere. I hope it finds a nice home in someone else's brain; I fear it's too late for it to come home to mine.

the buck stops here - it also starts here, in my head
Thu 2014-10-09 23:13:58 (single post)

OK, so, here's the thought I've been working my way up to: Fiction writing is not like plumbing. Here's why...

And that's where I get stuck. I don't know how to continue that thought without sounding ridiculously woo. But, y'know, what the hell. I am a firm believer in woo, certain flavors of it anyway. My religion, Wicca, necessarily involves a certain amount of woo. So, OK, I get to talk about writing through the woo lens.

The main thing to make clear before I begin is that this is my woo lens. I am not trying to speak to every writer's experience everywhere. I do think that what I'm going to describe is inherent to all fiction writing, but not everyone will have the same relationship with it. So what follows is my thought about my writing experience. I'll insist that it's a valid experience to have, but I won't assert it to be the experience.

OK? We're all cool? OK.

Let's start over.

*ahem*

Fiction writing is not like plumbing, It's not like making widgets or constructing web pages. Something happens in the writing process that generally doesn't happen on the automobile assembly line, or on the operating table, or while doing dishes, or in whatever job the smug know-it-alls inist that real writers treat their writing like. Writing--and the rest of the creative arts--involves something that those jobs generally don't, and that's this:

The writer has to think it all up.

The writer is responsible for thinking that all up.

The writer is responsible for having thought it all up.

There is all sorts of potential for emotional, psychological mess in there. I mean, everything on the page comes out of my very own brain. No one made it happen but me. For one thing, that may invite judgment on the part of the reader: "What sort of psycho/weirdo/pervert/idiot comes up with that?" While I've entertained the thought, "What was that plumber thinking, cementing the hot water pipes right into the wall?" there was no, like, psychoanalysis involved. There was no cause to question the plumber's fitness as a parent, or their being at liberty rather than committed to the nearest mental health facility. Cementing the hot water pipes into the wall shows a certain lack of foresight, but doesn't inspire homeowners to wonder about the plumber's sanity or childhood or whatever.

For another thing, every story I think up, no one can write it but me. If the plumber bails on snaking your drain, you call someone else in to do it. If I bail on a particular story--well, there are plenty of other writers, so there's no shortage of stories for people to read. But that particular story, the one I was going to write, if I don't write it for whatever reason, it simply never makes it out into the world. That's a huge responsibility! I have to make sure those stories survive to adulthood! No pressure, right?

Again, not every writer is going to feel the way I do about these things. But these things are there. They go with this territory in a way they don't go with, oh, newspaper delivery or new home construction.

And here's where things get woo: The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced there's a sort of shamanic aspect to fiction writing. Which is, I am aware, a problematic thing for me to say, being a white woman with no ties whatsoever to any sort of shamanistic culture. But I just don't know what else to compare it to, this process of going into dream space--into the invisible world of symbols, metaphors, spirits, things that do not exist but should, things that do not exist and that we pray remain nonexistent--and translating what one finds there into a form that the rest of the mundane world is able to experience.

Not every writer is going to think about it that way, of course. But I do, though. And I get a little scared about it. And grateful! Because it's an honor, getting to make that journey. But it's also kind of terrifying.

All that said, I agree one hundred percent that the only way to be a writer is to get on with the writing. But I'd like to register a plea for compassion about those avoidance and resistance cycles that some of us experience, that make getting on with the writing more complicated than the know-it-alls try to make it out to be.

Be patient with us. This can be kind of a heavy gig.

And it's really not like plumbing.

plumbers also don't need to make the plumbing believably three-dimensional
Wed 2014-10-08 23:14:00 (single post)

Yesterday I blogged about my avoidance behaviors and my anti-avoidance strategies, when really what I meant to blog about was one particular moment in the avoidance/anti-avoidance run-up to revision. That would be the moment when I said to myself, "I should be business-like about my writing! I should treat it like it's a business. It's my job. When web development was my job, did I spend hours avoiding the work because of fear and insecurity? No! I did my job! Writing should be no different."

Which only goes to show that I'm not immune to some of the more toxic memes that plague us. For instance:

Plumbers don't suffer from "plumbers' block."

It's pithy, isn't it? And so self-satisfied. You can top it off with "nuff said," just like putting a cherry on top of a sundae. You could make a motivational poster out of it, with a big black-and-white Hines-like photo of the backside of a plumber hard at work, and attribute it to a well-known grouchy writer, and you could post it to Facebook and get a lot of likes and verbal high-fives.

Some writers no doubt find motivation in such slogans. From time to time, so do I. Sometimes it's exactly what I need to hear; at those times, I say it to myself. I'm not sure I really want to hear anyone say it to me, though. In the transitive case, it becomes a scolding, smug denial of the variety of writers' experiences and vulnerabilities: "The right way to be a writer is my way," it says, and "if you have weaknesses, you ain't no writer." It's all the more toxic for masquerading as a kind of tough-love, "truth hurts" kind of lesson. I mean, yes, the truth can hurt. But the fact of pain doesn't prove the truth of the words that caused it. Lies can hurt, too.

Basically, we're talking about slogans which are used by some writers to assert superiority over other writers. They're dishonest metrics for distinguishing "real writers" from "wanna-bes."

Now, Mur Lafferty has some thoughts about the word "wannabe," and how it really ought to be viewed as a positive term. You gotta want to be before you can be, after all, let alone before you can figure out how to become. And every writer at every level is still a "wannabe," too: they want to be better writers tomorrow than the writers they are today. They want to be the writers who have written the stories that they have yet to write.

But so many people use the word "wanna-be" as a weapon. They believe "wanna-be" and "real writer" are mutually exclusive terms. They say you can either waste time wanting to be a writer, or you can get on with the hard but rewarding work of being a writer. Do, or do not! There is no "try!" Well, Yoda, when you put that way, it almost sounds reasonable... except it leads to the poisonously backwards conclusion that "wanting" precludes "becoming," when in fact wanting precedes becoming. It's a necessary prerequisite.

Shaming wanna-be writers for wanting to be writers sure turns this whole "wanna-bes never amount to anything" nonsense into a self-fulfilling prophecy, doesn't it?

And how do these smug border guards with their weaponized words distinguish real writers from wanna-bes? Easy, they say. Look, real writers don't believe in writers' block. Real writers don't truck with "resistance" and "avoidance" and other excuses not to write; they just write. Real writers don't take weekends or holidays. Real writers know that writing is a job like any other job. You sit down at your desk and you do it. Plumbers don't get plumbers' block; they just get on with plumbing!

Except, in very important ways, writing fiction isn't like plumbing.

Don't get me wrong. It's important to get on with the writing despite fear, uncertainty, doubt, lack of inspiration, not knowing what to write, and all those other things that are implicated by the term "writers' block." This is why I am accumulating a toolbox of anti-avoidance strategies.

But all of those strategies depend on realizing in the first place that the fears, uncertainties, etcetera are valid. They aren't things that only wanna-bes (to use the term in its weaponized sense) experience. They don't preclude being a writer. To a varying extent across the fiction-writer population, they kind of come with the territory.

This is getting long again. So, two final summary-style thoughts before I tuck the rest of my thoughts away for tomorrow:

  1. Fear isn't a sign of failing. Fear means what you're trying to do is important to you. (Thank you, Havi Brooks.)
  2. Reclaim "wanna-be" as a term of pride! Disarming those who would use it as a weapon!
look i have some yummy cheese for you
Tue 2014-10-07 23:03:41 (single post)
  • 5,300 words (if poetry, lines) long

This week my major task is to revise "Caroline's Wake" so that I can resubmit it. Today, I have made a start.

Now, me and revisions typically don't get along. Not like me and first drafts do. First drafts are great! They're fun. They involve discovery and imagination and "what if...?" and "Oh, I know!" and a lot of happy babbling until THE END. Importantly, there is no pressure. Pressure is on vacation during the first draft. But it comes back to the office when it's time to revise. Oh, hi there, pressure! Welcome back! Wait, what? What are you saying? Now I have to get it right?

And then I run away.

Really, I do. For me, the first step in any revision process is a period of avoidance behavior fueled by pure terror. The second step is sidling up to the project and cautiously, carefully opening the file. The third step is crucial: I have to fool my terrified Rodent Brain into thinking "I'm not revising yet, so I'm safe." Only once I've successfully lured Rodent Brain out from hiding can I actually start the revision. Lately that means importing the critiqued draft into the story's Scrivener file then manually typing in all the critique notes. This is a mechanical enough process to assuage Rodent Brain's fears, but because it involves a close reading of the draft and the notes, it jump starts Perfectionist Brain. And once Perfectionist Brain gets started, whoa. You just get out of her way, because she's coming through and there ain't nothing gonna stop her.

This time around, the critter notes were in MS Word's "Track Changes" and "Comments" features. If you import such a document into Scrivener, all the margin comments become inline comments. That's fine; I just convert all inline comments to linked comments. There's a command for that. What's less convenient is that all the tracked changes turn into plain text. Additions aren't highlighted, and deletions are quietly reinserted as though never deleted at all. Thus I was obliged to pull up the MS Word and Scrivener documents side-by-side, find each tracked deletion or addition in the one, and manually strike it out or mark it as an inline annotation on the other.

You might think this frustrating, disappointing, or annoying. Maybe a combination of all three? You would be wrong! As it turns out, this was ideal for my purposes. It forced a word-by-word, line-by line rereading that engaged Perfectionist Brain so hard that I couldn't stop thinking about the story for the rest of the night.

No joke. I was at roller derby practice doing Hundred Lap Hell, and I could barely keep count because Perfectionist Brain was trying to figure out how to reincorporate this or that deleted bit without bogging down the pacing. And that, Best Beloved, is why Fleur de Beast was so slow to finish clockwise quarter-century numero uno. She kept count on her fingers, and she kept forgetting to flip the digit as she crossed the pivot line because maybe the conversation from the first scene can be held in real time rather than in flashback, maybe have Demi drift off to a window where she can stare out at the snow and try to ignore all the people, didn't an early draft start out that way?

So. I was going somewhere with this. I was going to start by describing all the fear and avoidance, the trail of cheese crumbs that lures Rodent Brain out into the open where Perfectionist Brain can pounce, and then I was going to defend all that emotional mess as being entirely reasonable in this profession. Only I've run long enough as it is. Tell you what--let's place a metaphorical thumb right here on the metaphorical page and maybe pick up tomorrow where we left off today. Sound good? Excellent. See you then.

a good day to dig up buried treasure
Mon 2014-10-06 23:03:35 (single post)

Today was all about potatoes. I love harvesting potatoes. You dig in the dirt, and you pull up treasure. Well, first you need someone on shovel duty, to stick a shovel under each potato plant and lift it up, hopefully without slicing a potato open. (The farm worker on shovel duty today seemed to be having a splendid time.) But then you get to scrabble about by hand, and I think that's the fun part. It's especially satisfying when you think you've gotten 'em all, but you scrabble around with your digging stick (you do have a digging stick, right?) just to make sure, and up pops another big beauty.

If I remember correctly, we pulled up six different varieties of potato today, in three different colors: Red Dale, Red Pontiac, Chieftain; Cal White, King Harry; and Purple Viking.

Last year I had a potato plant that I started early in the season. I basically just stuck an old, sprouting potato under the ground to see if it would grow. Then I forgot about it until late in the fall when I started turning the soil in the big containers in order to work in some compost, and my spade sliced right into a Yukon Gold. Buried treasure! Agricultural alchemy! One rotting potato goes in, an armful of gorgeous new potatoes comes out! Instant transmutation: just add water. And soil. And time. (OK, well, not exactly instant.)

The potatoes took up most of the morning. When we were done, the harvest weighed in at about 400 pounds (or so I overheard), and we still had another half hour or so to go before lunch was ready. So we also harvested calendula. It smells nice, it has a pleasing bright orange color, it's good for burns and other skin ailments, and its stem is sticky as a honey comb on a pine tree coated in molasses and rolled in tar. We weren't a quarter of the way done before I was obliged to throw each blossom into the bucket with force--I couldn't just drop them anymore, because they stuck to my fingers. I had to wash my hands four or five times before they were fit for dining with.

And then I came home and did All Of The Things. Oh, so many things got done. Yay! A successful Monday!

I hope your week is off to an equally cheerful start. (If not, try adding potatoes. It can't hurt.)

Admittedly, squash vines can be a little prickly. Not THAT prickly, though.
also did you know azalea honey is poisonous i did not know that
Fri 2014-10-03 23:32:35 (single post)
  • 1,156 words (if poetry, lines) long

For this week's Friday Fictionette I would have really liked to get a photo of an azalea hedge densely populated with brilliant blossoms in all different colors, but, for one, I'm not currently living anywhere particularly azalea-rich, and two, it's the wrong time of year. I suppose I could have scoured the internet for something appropriate. A cursory search found me a lot of exceedingly docile azalea bushes, nothing that stood a chance at representing the titular maze, and besides, there were generally people in front of them. For example.

Anyway, I ended up taking a close-up of my heap of squash vines out on the balcony. No, they are not fierce thorn vines that might guard your garden gate. And yes, if you look closely, you can see between the leaves the blue plastic of the Rubbermaid-type storage bin I used for a planter. Whatever. Don't look too closely. It's all about the lush abundance of the foliage, OK?

As Fictionettes go, this one endured bit more revision than most. The end and the beginning were present from the first, but the journey between them needed some reshaping. And so it was done, and so it is now ready for subscribers/Patrons to download and enjoy. The first few paragraphs are available as an enticing excerpt here, on Wattpad, and on Patreon in my Activity Feed.

Now I am about to collapse under the sheer weight of the sushi I ate for dinner. We had friends in from out of town on the occasion of the Great American Beer Festival, which visit traditionally must include a pilgrimage to Sushi Zanmai, which pilgrimage generally involves eyes being bigger than stomachs. We left nothing on our plates, which means I've now got nothing left to stay upright with.

Good night, Internet!

*thunk*

this is the good thing, which is also the terrifying thing
Wed 2014-10-01 23:22:30 (single post)
  • 5,975 words (if poetry, lines) long

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)
Tue 2014-09-30 22:59:39 (single post)
  • 744 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 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?

*Sigh*

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.

And if you remove the wrong pick-up stick, all the marbles fall out...
This is Punch-Out Squirrel. Punch-Out Squirrel loves eir brain. Punch-Out Squirrel is standing on John's new helmet, because John loves his brain too.
in which washington cherries go kerplunk
Mon 2014-09-29 23:40:42 (single post)

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.

Three weeks ago, it was beets. Last week, it was peppers. Today, it was tomatoes.

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.

His arms and legs are still a little insectoid for my taste; still, I am pleased overall.
in which we cast silhouettes on the sand
Fri 2014-09-26 23:53:05 (single post)
  • 5,975 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 3,380 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 744 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.

email