“When writing doesn't work, the writer is assumed to be the guilty party.”
Teresa Nielsen Hayden

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

a mark of the changing seasons
Mon 2014-11-24 23:44:07 (single post)

Farm Mondays have more or less come to an end for 2014. The default has flipped: From here on out, the assumption is that unless I hear otherwise, there will not be a Monday crew.

Today was the last Monday where it was the other way around, and even so, I was asked to arrive an hour later than the usual. And even still, there was some early downtime involving hot tea and a very needy orange marmalade tabby cat. As a result, the shift seemed to pass very quickly.

The shift comprised three basic tasks:

Preparing dried lavender for sale/use. Rebecca's Herbal Apothecary & Supply turns out, unsurprisingly, to be super interested in locally sourcing some of their herbs. So that's who's getting the dried lavender blossom that I got to help process today. In this case, "processing" meant separating, as much as possible, the blossoms from the stems. The first step was easy: we took bunches of dried lavender and rolled them between our fingers over a couple of buckets. The next step was a little more complicated: We experimented with different gauge screens, and different methods of pushing plant material through said screens, to result in a maximum of blossom and a minimum of stem passing through. In the end we filled a gallon-sized Ziplok bag fairly snugly.

We came away from that task smelling heavenly, which was really nice considering our next task took us in close proximity to another team who were processing pepper seeds. The peppers were in a really advanced stage of fermentation. Trust me on this one.

Preparing the field for the plow. This meant examining the west terraced crop beds for wooden stakes, very large rocks, sandbags, and, in one case, someone's mason jar full of coffee. Anything the plow would have trouble with, or that we didn't want getting plowed under, needed to be removed. Jackets and coats started coming off around now despite the incoming coldfront, because carrying sandbags in full sunlight tends to raise one's core temperature.

And finally...

Picking peppers in the greenhouse. Several varieties, some of which had clearly been featured on the rodent four-star buffet. Even while we were picking the fruit that remained, we could hear mice squeaking as they ran by at top speed underneath the ground cloth.

And then it was one o'clock and time for me to go. I made a stop in Niwot to put gas in the car and pick up a few groceries (including some delicious udon noodles from Sachi Sushi), and my aspirations to get right to sanding the closet door undergoing refurbishing lasted right up until I got home (and devoured the udon).

But I've gotten quite a bit of the sanding done since waking up from my nap, so that's cool.

Anyway, with the farm going into off-season on-call mode, that frees Mondays up to be just another writing work day. Certainly that's true of next Monday, when I'll be in Avon, Colorado, having my sort-of-annual solo writing retreat/vacation from normal life. Works will progress! Also, yummy food will get cooked, karaoke will be sung, and a certain amount of video games will be played. But mainly writing will happen.

And the current closet doors had just better be done by then, that's all I have to say about that.

I probably should have made sure to get my bare foot in the photo, but it's too cold out for that nonsense.
an antisocial fictionette determines to be a better neighbor
Sat 2014-11-22 00:04:29 (single post)
  • 858 words (if poetry, lines) long

This week's Friday Fictionette is called "Your Neighbor's Keeper." And it took me something like half an hour of staring at the screen to come up with that title, so you'd better appreciate it. Seriously, what is with me and titles? Sometimes I wonder whether having to come up with one every first through fourth Friday is using up some sort of non-renewable resource. Like, there's only so many title-length combinations of words in the world. One day I'm going to run out.

Anyway, like the author's note says, this particular short-short started from one of those tiny, mysterious moments that defy explanation, while being at the same time too mundane to be worth wondering about. But being a writer means I have carte blanche to wonder about stuff that isn't worth wondering about, right? That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I changed the building numbers to building letters, and I changed them from condos to apartments, but otherwise that happened right here on my block. Minus the destruction, of course.

The other aspect of the fictionette that's drawn from life is my own shameful inattention to the people around me. I don't know many of my neighbors. I don't attend the neighborly gatherings at the clubhouse. I've a terrible memory for names, and I tend to look at hands and skates and helmets rather than at faces. I don't remember what she looked like, the stranger who interrogated me in the cul-de-sac, and I don't remember the car she drove. All I remember is my bare feet on the sidewalk and my wondering why she then disappeared around the corner of the dog park at the retirement home.

You know, come to think of it, she was probably just visiting someone in the retirement home, or going on a volunteer or staff shift. There isn't much legitimate parking for those purposes. She was probably just making sure that the only witness to her parking job didn't live in the nearby buildings and thus have standing to get her car towed. (Not that it was in any danger of getting towed. As long as you don't park by the yellow curbs or in a covered spot you don't own, you're fine.)

Anyway, I did the final revisions on this fictionettes from a table at Blooming Beets across the street. The server-cum-host who showed me to a table noticed that I'd been working on my laptop while I waited for a table to open up; she pointed out that, as luck would have it, I got the table with electrical outlets. She seemed to be one of only two servers on duty during a rather busy night during First Bite Boulder, but neither of them rushed me nor made me feel weird for dining alone or working on the computer.

I splurged on the wine pairings, which turned out to be quite a lot of wine. I reassured the server that it was OK, I walking home. And that it was very silly that although the restaurant had been open a little while now so close to my house, it took an event like First Bite Boulder to get me to finally visit. She lit up and said she, too, lived just up the street. Check that out: We're neighbors. We gave each other our names and shook hands.

And I made sure, for once, to really look at her as we exchanged "pleased to meet you"s and "see you again soon"s. I still have a terrible memory for names and faces, even when I'm trying my best. But I made sure, for once, to try.

good for what ails you
Wed 2014-11-19 23:07:50 (single post)
  • 5,300 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,400 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 5,675 words (if poetry, lines) long

Lately my writing process, if not my writing itself, has been suffering from a feeling of futility. There's the guilt of still having not revised "Caroline's Wake" and a sinking feeling that I'll never get it revised ever. There's the sense that this rediscovery draft of Iron Wheels will not only not reach 50K by the end of November--my first non-winning NaNoWriMo ever! Say it ain't so!--but also isn't taking me anywhere useful. There's a creeping suspicion that the Friday Fictionettes project is just a cargo cult exercise, a needless new obligation I've imposed upon myself that, although it has the basic shape of finishing and publishing stories, is actually just a waste of time that could have been spent more profitably.

These are not rational feelings. They're not at all justified. But they hang around, stifling my workdays with this general "why bother?" malaise.

Then someone reminded me that a market I've had my eye on would close to fiction submissions on December 1, and I thought, I need to send them something now.

And then I thought, Could the reason I feel like I'm not getting anywhere be that I haven't submitted anything for publication since September?

So I've just emailed "Down Wind" off to that market. And you know what? I feel much better now.

hey look a new drabble
Tue 2014-11-18 23:17:26 (single post)
  • 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 100 words (if poetry, lines) long

I'm not quite sure how it fell off my radar, but November 2 arrived a couple weeks ago and brought with it my latest drabble publication at SpeckLit. It's called "East of Omaha, West of San Francisco," and it's about one person's very small rebellion against the inevitable shrinking of her world. Or about a general tendency to cope with loss via selective amnesia, maybe. It has more than a little to do with Michael Swanwick's "The Edge of the World" (a damn fine story) getting stuck in my brain and taking up permanent residence there.

My second SpeckLit drabble for this quarter, and my last for 2014, will show up right at the end of the year, on December 30. When it goes live, I'll be on a train heading from New Orleans to Chicago as John and I return from a long, leisurely holiday trip to visit my family. I'll try to remember to blog and post a link during our layover.

Meanwhile, SpeckLit is currently in its voting period for Reader's Choice Best of 3rd Quarter 2014. I encourage you to read the eligible stories and vote for your favorites! I have two drabbles that were published during that period, and they are in some outstanding company. The full list of eligible stories is at the linked page, as is the voting form. You should read every single one of 'em (they're only 100 words each, so it won't take long), and then vote for your favorite three. Voting deadline is November 30.

November 30 is also the submission deadline for 1st Quarter 2015, so I've started to tune my freewriting toward drabble production again. Lately I've been using the Daily Dash prompts from the Second Life group Virtual Writers, Inc. It might be more precisely termed a Semidaily Dash, as there are two each day, one at 6 AM and one at 6 PM Pacific Time. As each Dash begins, the group sends a notification to members which includes a single word's dictionary definition as a suggested writing prompt. The prompt for today's afternoon dash was "raindrop," which somehow got me noodling toward a drabble about fallen angels. Because both raindrops and certain angels fall, apparently.

You know, I really see no reason why I couldn't do at least the morning Daily Dash every work day. 7 AM is a perfectly reasonable time for me to be awake and typing. Reasonable, that is, if I stop staying up past one in the morning...

a weekend of mixed blessings (not writing related)
Mon 2014-11-17 23:41:16 (single post)

I skated in my new boots for the first time at Sunday practice. (That is, for the real first time. I don't count the five minutes of rolling around at Skate Ratz so I could adjust my toe-stops to a comfortable height and confirm that the newly mounted plates put the wheels in the right places under my feet.) New boots! So exciting! They got a more hard-core first-time workout than I expected, though.

See, John and I carpool to Sunday practice, but we arrive in time for him to assist with coaching the A team's practice. The combined B and C teams' practice isn't until three hours later. I generally spend those three hours in a side office in that building doing my Sunday morning AINC reading (an hour of employment ads from the three major broadcast regions of the state) and generally poking around on the internet.

But yesterday's A team practice was a little underattended, a common feature of offseason snow days. So John came out and found me and asked me to gear up early. "We're practicing a new three-person defensive formation, but we need a fourth person to jam against their wall. Would you?"

So that's how my brand new skate boots and toe-stops got their first real workout. Jamming against an All Stars tripod. For a full lap of the track. Oh my goodness were my ankles sore! I was pretty much driving forward (adequately) and juking around (slowly) on toe-stops the whole time. I also discovered that my boots weren't the perfect fit I'd hoped for--my heels kept shifting up and down no matter how tightly I tied the laces.

Part of the problem, no doubt, was having heat-molded them to bare feet, but then skating with socks on. So when I geared back up after the B/C team off-skates warm-up, I went without socks. THAT WAS A MISTAKE. A terrible, terrible mistake. That up-and-down rubbing of my heel against the aggressive inward sweep of the boots' heel cup resulted in three huge blisters, each at least the size of a quarter, which made any toe-stop work or transitions utter agony by the third hour of practice. I had to bail on the last fifteen minutes of skating, though I was able to participate in the off-skates plyometrics at the end of practice.

(I also ended up bailing on the farm this morning because I quailed at the thought of putting shoes on at all.)

So today I have taken the boots off their plates and remolded them while wearing a pair of my hand-knit derby stockings, that being a lot more representative of how I plan to skate in them. I'm trying not to be worried about re-installing the plates. It's just four bolts per skate, right? To be sent through existing holes? No worse than reinstalling hinges or slider assemblies after staining our closet doors? And yet I worry. Will I get the bolts as tight as they had been? Will I strip the holes? Will everything explode?

Worrying is my default passtime. I find things to worry about. They don't have to be rational worries, either. It's just my brain, being obnoxious as usual.

I also worry about whether my problems with these boots mean I got the wrong size after all. But then I remember how my Riedell R3s ate big bloody holes into my ankles during my first couple of practices with them on. (No exaggeration there--I remember taking off my skates and discovering wide bloodstains on my socks.) So maybe I shouldn't panic about having a painful breaking-in period just yet. Breaking-in periods are what makes new skate equipment a mixed blessing.

Speaking of reinstalling hinges, the first pair of bi-fold closet doors is reinstalled in the living room. It looks lovely and opens and closes smoothly. Hurray! This, however, is also a mixed blessing, because there are three more pairs to do. The next one is currently on the buckets, getting its paint stripped. And so the interminable home improvement project continues.

I envision Tommy and Rita having their discussion on that stretch of levee between Bonnabel and Causeway, but I suppose the Lakefront will do.
this homesick fictionette does not welcome our kryptonite overlords
Fri 2014-11-14 22:44:20 (single post)
  • 1,327 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 3,817 words (if poetry, lines) long

I'm going to blame today's lackluster NaNoWriMo performance on all the other things I did with my time, primary among them the posting of this week's Friday Fictionette. Last week was my first time being late to upload, and I'd like it to be my last, too. At least for a while.

This week's excerpt is chunkier than last week's, but then the same comparison holds true for the fictionettes entire. You just never know with fictionettes. 500 to 1500 words was the range I had in mind when I started this project, and between last week and this I've almost spanned that whole gamut.

Credits for the photos in that cover image, by the way, are detailed in the author's notes and also in my Patreon activity feed. Basically, I'm not in Metairie right now, so I had to scour flickr rather than just walk up the levee and take the picture myself. Yet another reason to feel homesick! Maybe when John and I are in town for the holidays, I'll re-release this fictionette with the cover photo I really wanted.

As always, if you want to read the whole thing, a pledge of $1 per month lets you do that. It also gives you access to every single fictionette I've uploaded since I started this project, way back in the first week of September. Have I mentioned that? I don't think I mention that often enough. I describe Friday Fictionettes as being an extremely cheap short-short subscription service powered by Patreon, but I ought to add that every "subscriber" (Patron) gets instant access to all the "back-issues" (Creations) that ever were.

Which, again, is why I'm not off the hook for September and October's audio. Which I hope to get to this weekend! I also hope to write about 6,000 words on the new draft of Iron Wheels this weekend. I have lots of hopes! I'm a hopeful sort of person!

I'm also a very happy and excitable person right now. The other major happening that ate up my NaNoWriMo time was driving up to Skate Ratz in Loveland to have my skate plates taken off my two-and-a-half-year-old Riedell R3s and installed on my brand-new Bonts. Skate boots that aren't falling apart! Skate boots that fit dang near skin-tight! So! Happy! Can't wait to skate in them! Which is why I'll be joining John for Phase 1 tomorrow. It will be an ideal environment for getting used to whatever needs getting used to. And figuring out whether my trucks need readjusting. And seeing how my brand-new toestops feel--I replaced my worn down Gumballs while I was there. Also my ripped-up elbow pads.

Derby gear! It is a source of endless geekery. Also of recurring expenses. Hooray for skate shops with roller derby discounts!

i console myself with roller derby equipment
Thu 2014-11-13 23:23:39 (single post)
  • 3,198 words (if poetry, lines) long

It is so very cold along the Front Range this week. It tempted us to light a fire in the fireplace yesterday, which was lovely and cozy and bright and romantic and all--but now the whole house smells like woodsmoke. Also we turned the heater up a notch last night and forgot to readjust it before bed. I woke up overheated, dehydrated, and with a sore throat. I also woke up late, and didn't really get moving until later. This may have something to do with my only reaching 3K and change rather than the hoped for 5K on the Iron Wheels "rediscovery draft."

After my 1,000 words, I gave in to nap temptation and allowed myself to fall asleep reading the 2013 draft. I have to say, the story in the 2013 draft--at least in the first half--isn't all that bad. It's missing huge gaps, but the overall arc is strong. Why can't it just magic itself into shape without my having to do all this work? That's what I want to know.

But enough complaining. My new skate boots arrived yesterday! They are heat-moldable Bonts. So tomorrow I will put them in the oven (at the recommended temperature) and then stick my feet in them and lace them up (after the recommended cooling-off period), and hopefully the results of doing this once or twice will be skate boots that fit skin-tight, like rock climbing boots do. And then I can have them mounted onto my Avenger plates, and then I can skate without worrying that my equipment is about to fall apart. How cool is that?! It is so cool.

in which the avoided thing becomes the exciting thing
Wed 2014-11-12 23:37:03 (single post)
  • 2,179 words (if poetry, lines) long

So I started writing it today. And it's not a revision, it's just rank rough draft, exactly as awful and wrong as I expected. But I kept on writing it, because sometimes the process toward completion involves multiple rough drafts rather than a series of neatly and incrementally improved drafts. And because "discovery writing" leads to discovery, darn it.

So away with expectations of a more structured draft and a more disciplined outline! Let's have experimentation! New points of view! Different framing devices! Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks! If 51K in 2013 wasn't enough to figure this story out, maybe another 50K in 2014 will help.

Not that today's progress represents the rate that will get me to 50K by November 30, mind you. But to go from zero per day for eleven days to 2179 on day twelve is, I think, significant.

Something that helped a hell of a lot was a chance conversation on Saturday with someone who's been on the local roller derby scene for years. He was regaling us with tales from the bad old days of High Melodrama In Colorado Derby. "I probably shouldn't be telling you this," he said, so I'm not going to relate any of it here myself. But what made my ears really prick up was when he said that his dream is to see junior roller derby in the high schools along side football and basketball and soccer & etc. He had a concrete idea of how to do it, too, which he shared with us. And I said, "This may sound weird, but please go on and don't spare the details--I need this for my novel."

Sadly, I don't remember the details. But whatever they were, they totally inspired me.

See, my original idea was that my fictional high school, much like many real life schools in today's political climate of ill-advised austerity, loses its physical education component entirely due to budget cuts. Katie's dad, Mr. Greenbriar, who's the president of school board or the principal or something like that (why I thought I was ready to revise this novel when it's still full of "something like that" holes, I do not know), is trying desperately to keep the kids active on no budget whatsoever. One of the things he does is partner with a nearby league's junior derby program.

My thought now is that it's actually a county-wide recreational junior derby league that he's collaborated with a nearby adult league in creating. Its membership pulls from area schools, resulting in two or three teams that play each other in exhibition bouts at the different schools over the course of the school year.

So in the first scene of the novel, in which Old Mack (the puck) brings Etienne (the changeling) to a junior roller derby bout, the featured bout is an import. It's more of an exhibition bout. Like, "Here's an option we'd like our kids to have. What do you think?" Mr. Greenbriar is desperate to get local parental buy-in so that the rec league he has in mind can actually happen. So when Katie--who's been commuting out to practices with one of these out-of-town leagues for several months now, so she gets to play with them in the expo bout--when Katie gets impatient with her teammates' level of play and just hauls out and hits the opposing jammer as though this were a full-fledged adult WFTDA bout, Mr. Greenbriar benches her. He doesn't want her scaring off the community. (He's also not happy that she got an insubordination penalty on top of the hitting penalty. He wants her to take the rest of the bout to think about what she's done.)

That's another thing. In the first draft, Katie was just penalty heavy in general because she didn't give enough of a damn to be careful, to play clean, or to work with her teammates. But I didn't realize at the time that JRDA rules differ from WFTDA rules--and why the hell was that? Shame on me. Boulder County Bombers has a junior league--I could have picked the brains of any one of our dedicated junior derby instructors! In any case, the missing piece for me was knowing that, for juniors at level 1, all hitting is illegal. And at level 2, though intentional contact becomes legal, it's limited to "leaning into" opposing skaters. Accelerating into the hit or block remains illegal. There's even an added hand gesture for signaling the penalty.

So I could just see Mr. Greenbriar arguing the school board around with, "It's not violent! No more so than basketball. Skaters try to keep other skaters from getting past each other, but they don't hit each other. It's not like what the adult leagues do at all!" And he's just about got them convinced when Katie lays the opposing jammer flat.

Did I mention that Mr. Greenbriar's political goals are going to get more stage time in this draft? It's true. Just as soon as I figure out what those goals are.

Anyway, the climactic Roller Derby Bout Against a Faerie Team With Our Protagonists' Happiness and Freedom at Stake--that's going to echo this first expo bout very closely. For the regular humans who don't know the first thing about Faerie, it's the bout that they've been working toward all school year long: an away team wants to come and play our league! Excellent! They just don't know how very far away is. And, again, Katie's going to pull a totally illegal (for juniors) hit on their jammer. With consequences.

So this has been a lot of enthusiastic brain-dumping about Iron Wheels. I guess that's what happens when I finally sit down and start the rewrite. I get excited about where it'll go this time. Excited is good! Excited keeps the writer coming back to the page day after day.

Tomorrow I'll be looking for the 5K mark. 5K and change, ideally. Wish me luck!

go away snow you have made your point
Tue 2014-11-11 23:41:21 (single post)
  • 0 words (if poetry, lines) long

It's still snowing. It was snowing yesterday and it's still snowing today. WTF, sky? You have the worst dandruff. It's all freezing cold and it clogs up my windshield. It also clogs up my brain. I watch it out the window and all I want to do is curl up in bed and go back to sleep.

I didn't even want to go out in it at all but apparently I made today MMLocal Pick-Up Day for myself, so off I went. Their Boulder base for share pick-ups this time around is the Avery Tap-House, so at least I got to order a beer while I was there. And also devour the most amazing pork belly small plate.

And now there are 24 jars of various delicious and wholesome things in my house. Two of those jars are only half-full now, because you can count on me to yield to temptation where food is concerned, pretty much every time. The holiday beets and the bread-and-butter zuke pickles were just there, taunting me; they were all, "Oh, too bad you're full from dinner, because we are yummy..." and I was like, "Too right you are! Get in my mouth." So.

Meanwhile I continue to have trouble setting words to page on Iron Wheels. Rewrites and me, right? Gahhh. This is why the word count is now set to 0, rather than 51K and change. Because zero is how many words I have logged on this rewrite.

See, I have four characters in that first scene whose interests/motivations/goals/story-arcs need to be moved or at least hinted at, and I do have good ideas about how to do that, but they are ideas that will be expressed mid-scene. Meanwhile the first words of the scene escape me. I just know that the moment I start writing it, it will all be wrong. Argh.

So my freewriting these last few days has comprised attempts at approaching the story by way of worldbuilding and backstory. Which probably doesn't help, but it lets me feel like I'm doing something worthwhile.

Coming tomorrow: Me effin' well sitting down and doing it. Damn it. Even if the snow does persist in coming down. Which it will.

From bad paint job to beautiful refurbishment in... oh, let's not think about how long it take. I have seven more to do.
winter arrives on a monday morning
Mon 2014-11-10 23:30:28 (single post)

Remember last week? Remember "Get the peppers out of the field before the cold snap?" Turns out, that was just practice for the real thing. Today was "Harvest ALL of the greens before the snow falls and temperatures drop to single digits Fahrenheit."

So one crew was in the field, harvesting tot soi and bok choi, lettuce and kale, chard and escarole and frisee, and the other crew washed each incoming basket of greens and packed them away in boxes for storage in the cooler. I was in the latter crew. It meant standing outside with my hands constantly in cold water. I was in short sleeves at first, because the morning was quite warm. By lunchtime I was wearing a borrowed hoodie, I couldn't feel my toes, and I could barely work my fingers. And the water was actually warmer than the air outside. So was the walk-in cooler, when I went in to raid the "seconds" basket for some take-home greens to turn into gumbo z'herbes.

But it was a morning well spent. And I felt pretty good, freezing weather aside. I didn't expect to. I honestly thought I'd have to stay home sick today. Saturday night, I began developing cold symptoms; Sunday, I was blowing my nose constantly. But either it was a 24-hour cold or the pseudoephedrine I started taking successfully masked all symptoms, because I felt fine today. Better than fine: I got up at 6:30 AM without a grumble and ready to do EVERYTHING.

The "Let's Get Everything Done!" mood settled in late last night. It's a great feeling! It makes everything seem possible! Nevermind that it's just the drugs talking--take advantage of it while you've got it, that's what I say. So instead of spending the evening curled up in bed around the achy, tired parts of me that a three-hour roller derby practice had worked out, I applied three coats of polycrylic to the front side of the closet door I was working on, and I wrote. Then this morning I swept all the sawdust off the balcony before the snow could turn it to muck.

Just look at that picture. Check it out. In the backdrop, three bi-folds painted in the "curdled cream" color we're trying to get away from. On the left, the paint-stripped and mostly-sanded half of the bi-fold, still displaying the dark stain from sometime before the door got painted. On the right, the finished product, stained in Minwax "Gunstock" red-brown, coated with water-based polycrylic, and ready to install.

Conclusion: There is life after paint-stripping!

So maybe my good mood wasn't entirely attributable to pseudoephedrine and caffeine. Maybe it was the warm sense of accomplishment. Yeah, let's go with that.