“As a writer one of your jobs is to bring news of the world to the world.”
Grace Paley

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Look at that face! Look at those hooves! Look at the cuteness!
day of reindeer and binge reading
Thu 2014-12-04 23:17:05 (single post)

Hoo boy, today. Today was not a productive day. The first half of today got eaten up by a headache that wouldn't go away no matter how long I stayed in bed, and the rest of the day got eaten up by a gorgeous, gorgeous book. (Some days you hold strong against temptation. Other days, you just give in and enjoy it.) Somewhere in the middle there was a reindeer, and also the best pastries in Avon.

The reindeer was Cupid, and she was the star of the Avon Public Library's annual reindeer-and-elf visitation. I gotta say, the poem doesn't lie. Reindeer are tiny. When I read The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, I imagined them huge as elk, but in fact they're about the same size as whitetails, and in some cases smaller. And cute? I am here to tell you. When the editors of The Toast met the miniature horses, I thought nothing could possibly be cuter. I was wrong, dear readers. I was wrong.

It has been a day to bring Meredith Ann Pierce's novels to mind twice over. The reindeer was the first; the second came with the binge reading. As you shall see.

The librarian told me to help myself to hot chocolate. But there was far too much chaos in the activity room. It was crowed with kids waiting their turn to pet the reindeer, and make crafty things at the tables, and get their plate of hot chocolate and donuts. I gave up and walked across town to sooth my hot-chocolate-and-pastry cravings at the Columbine Cafe & Bakery. Then I soothed my tea cravings, which had become unbearable since using up the last bag of Taylors of Harrogate Pure Assam, by buying more tea. City Market does not stock T&H, but they did have Two Leaves and a Bud Assam and Tazo Darjeeling. Though the Two Leaves version isn't quite as malty as the T&H, it is nevertheless a specimen of The Good Stuff, and it will do.

Now, today's visit to the library was very exciting. The library had all three of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy on the shelf, and I was in terrible, terrible need of finally reading the third book. I've been meaning to buy a copy, but just haven't made it out to the bookstore yet--and the library copies were right here. Opportunity! But I knew the experience would be even more magical if my memories of what had come to pass in books 1 and 2 were fresh, so I checked them out one at a time and reread them. Today I traded in Days of Blood and Starlight for Dreams of Gods and Monsters, and I began reading it as I walked out the the door, kept reading it as I walked across town, and--pausing only for such necessities as ordering and paying for pastries and hot chocolate, or navigating a grocery store, or getting a phone call from John telling me all about the epic scrimmage I missed tonight what with not being in town for it and all--continued reading it until it was done.

At which point there seemed to be something in my eye, and I kind of had to sit with that for a bit.

There was a point where I very much feared this trilogy would go the way of Meredith Ann Pierce's The Darkangel trilogy (thus, the second time a Pierce novel came to mind today). And, there being a fine line between spoilers and encouragement, I hope to remain firmly on the encouragement side when I say this: Dear readers, Laini Taylor has no desire to rip our hearts out and stomp on them. She loves us too much. Can you truly doubt it? She gave us the character of Zuzana "Neek-neek" Novakova and a companion novella called Night of Cake and Puppets. Of course she loves us.

Thus I go to my daily rest, still headachy, bummed at not having written, but feeling loved despite all that.

Tomorrow: Your mostly-weekly Fictionette and other stories, probable adventures beyond walking distance, and, if I get out of bed on time, and if the baker at Columbine did not grievously mislead me, donuts.

have laptop, will go drinking
Thu 2014-12-04 00:39:29 (single post)
  • 7,020 words (if poetry, lines) long

I'm finishing up my writing night at Loaded Joe's. The only event listed was "free games," but as it turns out there's live music tonight too. It's a little louder than I like, and the performance can most kindly be described as "unstructured," but what the hell. I was stalling out in the hotel and I needed some stimulation. So I came over here, bought a cup of darjeeling tea and a pastry, and made a small but meaningful bit of progress on the new opening to Iron Wheels.

It's weird. You'd think that "introvert trying to get writing done" would require being alone somewhere quiet. But sometimes where I really want is to be alone is somewhere out in a noisy, happy, rowdy public place. Hence, writing in coffee shops and bars.

Writing in coffee shops has come to be generally accepted. Sometimes I hear people mutter all disgruntled about how no one ever goes to a coffee shop to talk to their friends or just think--no, they always have to be on a computer. Kids these days! My lawn, get off it! But for the most part, writing in coffee shops has become the norm.

But sometimes--not tonight! Not so far, anyway. But sometimes--I get bothered in bars.

I'm not talking about getting hit on. Fortunately, I've been more or less spared by the lamentably common "woman! alone, in a bar! must be available!" phenomenon. I suspect it's a combination of my not performing femininity particularly well, so that I'm not the first woman whom That Guy wants to approach; and my failure to pick up on the subtle openings of the flirtation game, so that I inadvertently signal "Not interested, scram." Which is exactly what I'd want to signal if I knew flirtation was going on, so, great.

(I also have a tendency to shut down some forms of gendered approach with the verbal equivalent of a tactical nuke. Somewhere along the way I decided that if someone else fires the first shot in the rudeness wars--by, say, physically grabbing my arm or acting aggressively entitled to my attention--I will have no compunction about firing the second shot, and it will damn well be big enough to be the final shot. Ain't nobody got time for that shit.)

No, what I get subjected to is better described as, "woman! alone, in a bar! must be lonely. I will remedy this!"

Last year I was at Loaded Joe's on karaoke night and, as often happens, I was here alone. With my laptop. And to the woman sitting at the booth next to mine, this was obviously a tragedy. So she took it upon herself to relieve my loneliness by chatting with me.

Now, this could have been enjoyable if I hadn't really just wanted to play on my computer and rock out to the music. And even then, it could have become enjoyable if what she had to say was interesting. But it was bog-standard drunk person chatter. And every new volley in the conversation began with her practically punching me in my shoulder and shouting, "Hey! Hey!" in my ear.

(At one point she noticed my computer, a Dell, and began trying to convert me to the holy church of Mac. Only she kept framing the comparison in terms of Mac versus Dell, rather than Mac versus PC or Mac versus Windows. It was disorienting.)

I remember being a little irked that, while she chatted at me relentlessly, she never took the opportunity to say something like "Hey, nice job up there," after I took a turn at the karaoke mike. (I think she didn't care for karaoke in the first place, and considered it a necessary evil to be endured in the acquisition of booze on a Friday night.) It's not that I needed her to compliment me on my singing; it's more that she declined the opportunity to turn the conversation in a direction I'd actually demonstrated interest in.

The other version of this when someone--either a man or a woman, it's been kinda 50/50--leans in to scold me: "Hey! You are in a bar! You're supposed to be having fun." But thankfully this type of interaction tends to end after I say, "I am having fun," or, if they're being particularly rude about it, "Who the hell do you think you are to tell me what I'm supposed to do?"

Anyway, despite the pervasive narrative of "you're doing being-in-a-bar wrong," the above examples are more exceptions for me than they are the rule. For the most part I do succeed at carving out my Circle of Protection: Intrusive Extrovert (please, someone design that Magic: The Gathering card for me?). Which is awesome. I get to enjoy the atmosphere--and a drink--without giving up my alone time. I get to have my cake and eat it too. Tonight is, happily, no exception.

So why am I thinking about it? Well, I am at Loaded Joe's, and I'm even sitting in the exact same booth where I was last year when Generous Chatty Woman talked my ear off. But also, earlier today I was reading this Captain Awkward post and its subsequent comments about men acting entitled to women's attention, and this related Doctor Nerdlove post. Particularly, I was reacting to the Doctor Nerdlove post asserting that it's generally OK to approach a woman in a bar because that's a social context in which being approached is expected. And I thought, "Well, yes, usually, but not always..."

But it's OK. Doctor Nerdlove has that covered too:

People who are uninterested in talking to people – especially people they don’t know – will often make a point of signaling that they wish to be left alone through non-verbal means. ... Similarly, someone who is engrossed in a book, her laptop, her phone, an iPad or a sketchbook is likely not interested in talking to a random person at that moment.

There is an order of operations here, and, alas, some people get it wrong. Just remember: the non-verbal signals trump the locational context, 'k? K.

notes from a mountain town
Tue 2014-12-02 23:46:49 (single post)

As mentioned before, I'm in Avon, Colorado for the week. This is a little town just down the highway from Vail, in Eagle County. Given its nature as a ski resort/mountain town, it has certain peculiarities which I feel moved to mention at this time.

First off there is no straight line path to anywhere. Even if you can see the building you want to get to, there's no "as the crow flies" route from where you're standing. All the streets curve, and many of them have large traffic circles at their intersections. I'm pretty sure I've unnecessarily doubled the length of my trip between points A and B, for any given points A and B, by choosing to walk the long way around intermediary landmark C when it looked like it would be the short way around. It's very hard to gauge these things, especially when what looks like a direct route turns out to involve a six-foot drop or a near-insurmountable pile of snow.

And speaking of snow: Every day since I arrived has been sunny and warm, or at least sunny and warmer than you'd expect from a prediction of highs in the low 40s. I looked at the forecast before I left Boulder, and I thought, "Sunny and warm-ish, at least until mid-week. I'll bring my skates." But the problem with street skating in Avon in early December is this: it may not be snowing now, but it has snowed. And that previous snow is still hanging around, melting. And depositing mud and truly malicious gravel at every cross road.

Which is the long way of saying that my trip home from the library yesterday was--uncharacteristically, given how much I love skating--not particularly fun. But I did get a good toe-stop workout out of it. And I only fell once. Go me!

Meanwhile, have some pictures of the place where I'm staying. I'm at the Christie Lodge, which is unusual, but there was nothing available at the Sheraton Mountain Vista that I could take advantage of, so here I am. The Christie Lodge is much more convenient to Loaded Joe's, which I'm sure I'll appreciate on karaoke night when I will no doubt stumble back to my room late, tired and tipsy. It's also closer to the grocery store, which I have already had occasion to appreciate.

On the other hand, its layout is weird. It feels a little bit like staying in a long, narrow shopping mall made to look a little bit like an outdoor retail village. And it is built on a slope. This is obvious at all times. There is only one set of elevators at the center of the arc, near the lobby, and unless you are very lucky your trek from the elevator to your second-floor room at any distance down the east or west concourse will involve a half-flight of stairs. Maybe two. This is no fun at check-in.

Even some of the first floor rooms are inaccessible to wheelchairs. There are ramps for getting from one level of first-floor concourse to the next, but then you get to your room and there's a four-step rise to the door. It just looks like the architects, designers, somebody wasn't wearing their best thinking cap when attempting to solve the problem of building on a slope. Or maybe their target demographic is exclusively able-bodied enjoyers of snow sports, I don't know.

On the positive side, here is one of the things that the odd layout makes almost too convenient: Pho 20, their newest in-resort restaurant. It's practically right below me. I am no judge of how authentic a particular restaurant's pho is, but I can tell you that it was yummy and warm and filling, and the spring rolls were tasty too. I have been very, very good about eating most of my meals in the room--salads, instant noodle bowls in the microwave, omelets in the electric skillet--but Pho 20 is right there, beckoning.

Maybe tomorrow.

I'm so lucky. I could have been assigned a room on the Subway Sandwiches end of the resort.

the many hues of being born yesterday
Mon 2014-12-01 23:29:08 (single post)
  • 6,559 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,200 words (if poetry, lines) long

This blog post comes to you after a successful arrival and first couple days in Avon. I have run away from home for the weekend, which means I've got no responsibilities but the writing ones. Granted, this theory has been put sorely to the test by my having visited the library and brought six books with me back to the Christie Lodge--Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals is the first temptation on the to-be-tempted by pile, and I'm halfway through it already--but it is a test I intend to pass, darn it. Look, there's evidence in my favor. To wit:

  • "Keeping Time," a 1,200-word expansion on what was originally a 739-word entry in the 2012 edition of the annual Weekend Warrior flash fiction contest on Codex, got emailed to a prospective market late Sunday night. Sunday, of course, was the deadline for that particular submissions call.
  • Sunday was also the deadline for submissions to SpeckLit for publication during the first quarter of 2015. I sent in two new drabbles. I'd have preferred to send the full slate of ten, but two was what I had. I'm rather proud of those two, too.
  • Speaking of SpeckLit, I cast my votes for the Best of SpeckLit 2014 Q3 (also a November 30 deadline). Did you?

I got right back to work on the novel today, too, and with inspiration from the most unlikely of places. I recently stumbled across The Pervocracy, "a kinky, feminist sexblog" if I may borrow Cliff's own words to describe it. (My own words began with "a whip-smart kink blog," but I couldn't seem to continue on from the pun. Which, I hasten to add, was meant with sincere admiration.) Cliff is reading Fifty Shades of Grey and blogging about it one chapter at a time. Like many people, I began reading this series for the lulz, but past chapter 12 my attitude became one of horrified ongoing enlightenment. I'd heard about this book's representation of BDSM being offensively inaccurate. What I hadn't known, because I hadn't gone looking for details, was that E. L. James has chronicled a deeply abusive relationship in disturbing detail--you can play Potential Abusive Partner Red Flag Bingo with these books--then marketed it as desirable romance. And if you're saying, "Well, but, duh, it began as Twilight fanfic, and that's exactly what Twilight is." To which all I can say is,

[TRIGGER WARNING]

when Edward broke into Bella's room, all he did was watch her sleep. He did not rape her and leave her sobbing all night long on the bathroom floor.

Seriously. Chapter 12, y'all. It makes Edward's hinge-oiling shenanigans look sweet by comparison. Apparently some people really need to be told that D/s doesn't mean "the Dom is allowed to sexually assault the sub if it sounds like she's trying to end the relationship."

So what does this painful horror story have to do with Iron Wheels beyond a both having a nodding acquaintance with Twilight? I'm getting to that.

Much earlier in the read-through, when there were red flags for potential abuse popping up everywhere but it was still possible to laugh about it, Cliff had a fantastic observation about the character of Anastasia Steele. James has, for the purposes of the plot, carefully written her to be so "pure" as to be unrealistic. This goes well beyond our toxic social notions of "virginity" or "innocence." Ana has not only never kissed anyone, had sexy thoughts about others, or experienced orgasm--she has also apparently never exercised in her life? Oh, and she has no idea how to use a computer. She has never used Google nor sent a frickin' email, ever, in her life. Despite being a college graduate (apparently I'm wrong here, she graduates in chapter 14) who is currently pursuing a career in journalism. I cannot imagine how one can be a journalist in the 21st century without being able to do cursory fact-checks on the internet, but then I can't imagine writing a novel set in Seattle without fact-checking things like what the nearby international airport is called, or the relative positions of Vancouver WA and Portland OR. And yet here we are with a novel for which the author has apparently fact-checked none of these things and more besides. So there you go.

But Cliff's observation is this:

Okay, new theory: Ana spontaneously appeared out of nothingness, full-grown, a few days before the events of the book. She's never done anything before because she literally did not exist.

And I thought, "Oh. That's almost literally true of Etienne Farfield, isn't it?"

Etienne is a changeling. Her entire function for hundreds of years has been to look exactly like, so as to temporarily replace, stolen infants. The way I imagine it, this means she has not been an autonomous being at all until the novel takes place. Between "assignments," she is simply stored, in stasis, a wind-up toy that isn't wound up. So her conscious existence up to now has consisted entirely of a brain incapable of verbal thought and a body incapable of performing any but the most rudimentary of voluntary movements. But now, suddenly, she's walking around like a real girl, pretending to be a normal human high school senior.

For some reason, it took reading Cliff's half-joking observation about Ana Steele to make me realize that if you really do have a character that was born yesterday, you have to put some real thought into all the implications of that. You have to work with those implications. But the good news is, you get to play with those implications. What's it like, thinking in words for the first time? What's it like, suddenly confronting the ability to do things? How does she get up to speed on this whole "being human" thing? How does it work when she's not actually replacing someone this time around? Or isn't she?

So that's what I played with today--writing yet another brand new first scene, one that starts with her narrating what it's like to wake up as a human teenager for the first time.

Where it will go tomorrow is anybody's guess.

See Patreon activity feed or Wattpad excerpt for cover art credits.
I can't even begin to tell you how happy this makes me. Well, I can begin. But I can't finish.
this fictionette has a faerie in the family
Fri 2014-11-28 23:13:08 (single post)
  • 1,172 words (if poetry, lines) long

And it's up at last, on Friday by the skin of its teeth (and some judicial database tweaking): "The Importance of Faerie Godmothers." It's about Thanksgiving, and families both functional and dys-, and about generational differences in how to handle unexpected magic. Patrons pledging $1/month or more can read the whole thing right now this second--everyone else must make do with the first 400 some-odd words which appear here, and on Patreon, and at Wattpad.

Remember that on Sunday, November 30, one of this month's four fictionettes will be released in its entirely to be read for free by the vast internet hordes. I haven't yet decided which of the four it'll be, but I'm leaning heavily towards this one, because out of the four right now it makes me happiest. I don't typically blog here on Sundays, but if you watch my Twitter feed you should see some notice about it sometime on that day.

This one gave me trouble. In its original form, it didn't really have an ending. On the search for one, I wound up inventing at least as much again as was already on the page, word-count wise. (The animal crackers, for instance.)

It's beginning to dawn on me that my original intent to just publish a slice of my writing process each week isn't going to reliably cut it. Sometimes the story isn't all there. Sometimes what is there is littered with endless permutations of "I'm going to babble until I figure out what to write." And there's only so raw that I want Friday Fictionettes to be. I want them to have beginnings, middles, and ends. I want them to imply whole worlds and lives. I want them to be viable pieces of flash fiction.

And that's why today's fictionette took so long. I hope you like it!

In other news, the second pair of folding closet doors is DONE. It looks amazing. Or maybe that's just two weeks of hard work talking? I look at it and I feel such a mixture of accomplishment and relief. All that hard work went somewhere, darn it. It went somewhere attractive, too.

That door--of the two stained bi-folds, it's the one on the left--used to stick something awful. Friends found it impossible to close after hanging up their coats. I'd apologize, saying "There's a trick to it" as I gave it a tug at its happy spot. But now? Now that we've reinstalled it? There is no happy spot, because there is no getting stuck. It opens and closes beautifully. I think it's because, when we took it down, we accidentally shifted the position of the bottom bracket, and apparently we're magically good at repositioning brackets.

I can only hope a similar transformation occurs with the remaining two bi-folds, because their action really suffers by comparison.

an overly elaborate manifesto about the games i don't play
Thu 2014-11-27 23:00:48 (single post)

Today's post is difficult to write. It's heavy, emotionally, for me. It'll be too easy for me to come across as defensive. And there's also a sticky matter of confidentiality, in that the conversation that moves me to write happened in a private space. But the opinions and thoughts it inspired are my own and I would like to express them. I can only hope I have succeeded at doing the latter without violating the former.

It's a mess, is what it is. I hope you'll bear with me.

Monday, a dismaying event happened on the national scale. A grand jury announced its decision that a white police officer who killed an unarmed black boy need not go to trial, and that the killer's demonstrable racial prejudice was somehow a mitigating factor and not evidence that the a police officer was unfit for his job and not to be trusted with a gun. The grand jury made this announcement at 7:00 PM Mountain Time, 8:00 Central. The announcement and its implications have dominated national and online discourse since then.

Here are other things that happened Monday:

  • I had my last regularly scheduled farm day for 2014.
  • The Saints played the Ravens to a disappointing loss.
  • I did some more work on the Refurbish the Closet Doors porject
  • I blogged about the farm work and the closet doors.

Now, I have a TwitterFeed account set up such that anytime I blog, that blog post gets announced on Twitter. Which means that in the middle of a Twitterstorm about injustice in Ferguson, I not only blogged about something that had nothing to do with that outrage at all, but I committed a self-promotional tweet telling people to go check out that blog post.

Which is something I would not have thought twice about--except that in the course of the aforementioned private conversation, I became informed that such a tweet makes a person look self-absorbed, tone-deaf, offensively oblivious. It would have been even more offensive, apparently, if I'd live tweeted my reactions to the football game (as I sometimes do), or promoted my Patreon campaign (as happens on those Fridays when a fictionette goes up). But my one self-promoting tweet was bad enough. As a responsible citizen of the internet, and especially as a writer with a Twitter account, I should have gauged the online climate before allowing such an inconsequential tweet to go through. Given what an important conversation was going on, I suppose I should have turned off automatic Twitter announcements of my blog posts for the night. Or, better still, not blogged at all unless it was about Ferguson.

Except... well, no.

There's a difference between disrupting a focused conversation on someone else's blog (like, say, the comment thread at the above-linked Slacktivist post) and, well, using Twitter for what Twitter is for. It's a grave misunderstanding of any social media to think that there is only one conversation going on at any time, to which you either contribute appropriately or shut up. Twitter is a microblogging platform on which millions of people have hundreds of thousands of separate conversations at any one time. And different people are listening to different pieces of that conversational storm depending on whom they follow. It's not unlike a huge version of a party where you can talk to your friend about whatever, and other people can overhear you or not as they choose. You can still abuse the venue by interrupting someone else's conversation--for example, at-checking someone inappropriately with your book-promo tweet--but simply talking to someone else about something else while in that room is not an abuse of the venue.

So I blogged Monday because I hold myself to a Monday-through-Friday blogging schedule, and I'm damn proud of myself when I succeed at keeping to that schedule. I post a Friday Fictionette every first through fourth friday because that's the committment I've made to potential Patrons. And someday I hope to be able to tweet that my first published book has become available in bookstores. If something globally awful happens on a day when I'd be blogging, fictionetting, or book-promoing, I'll probably still blog, fictionette, and/or book-promo, though I may choose not to. I may or may not have anything useful to say about the globally awful thing; that too is entirely up to me. One thing I know for sure: My tiny "off-topic" tweet is not going to make the globally awful thing objectively worse.

There is room on the internet, much as there is room in a single mind, for many things at once: raging at injustice, conversing quietly about the changing season, complaining about how long it takes to sand a paint-stripped door, and wondering when the national sportscasters will get tired of their love affair with Jimmy Butterfingers Graham and turn some of their attention to, say, players who are actually catching the ball tonight (or running it for 70+ yards holy fuck Joseph Morgan you are my hero).

That football game it would have been tone-deaf of me to tweet about Monday? A significant subset of both teams' players were a hell of a lot more personally affected by the Ferguson outcome than I. Some of them have sons who could have been Michael Brown. Some of them could have been Michael Brown. I don't know if they got to hear the grand jury's announcement when it happened, or if they were shielded from the news until the game was over. In either case, they had to know the announcement was coming. They probably predicted the way it was going to turn out, while hoping it would turn out otherwise.

And they still played that game, because Monday Night Football happens on Monday night. They participated in post-game interviews and they talked with their coaches and teammates about what tonight's game means for next week.

Normal life doesn't stop for tragedy. Sometimes we wish it would--sometimes it seems downright malicious that the world should keep spinning and gravity keep tugging as though anything could possibly be the same again. And sometimes we're grateful that normal life just keeps driving on regardless, because a veneer of normality can make the difference between coping and spiraling into a black hole of despair.

What you need right now, at this particular moment in American history, is a story that doesn’t stoke your feelings of rage, depression and moral exhaustion. And I am here to give it to you.

--Mary Elizabeth Williams, "The Ferguson library gives a lesson in community"

Monday we learned, or had our suspicions confirmed, that we have a lot more work to do as a society than we might have hoped, that the road toward justice is a lot longer than it has any right to be in 2014. And yet we still have to cook the next meal, earn the next paycheck, write the next story. We may not have to tweet about the latest football game or converse with friends via at-replies, but small pleasures and human interactions can make the hard work easier to bear. It certainly can't hurt.

And metaphorically wearing sackcloth doesn't materially aid the cause of justice any more than finishing your lima beans did a damn thing for the children starving in Ethiopia.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: There are things going on in my life. I'm going to talk about them. I may use Twitter to do it. I'm not going to preemptively gag myself on subjects that aren't objectively as important as the latest breaking national news. The conversations I choose to have aren't subject to anyone else's sense of propriety. That I choose to have one conversation doesn't mean I'm incapable of caring about other issues. The game of Prove That You Care is rigged, and the only way to win is not to play.

You don't have to be in those conversations with me. You may judge me harshly for having those conversations at all. But you can't reasonably expect me to always make the same choices you would about which conversations to have and when. If the choices we make differ enough to make you unhappy with mine, by all means disconnect from me on social media. We'll probably both be happier that way. But I think maybe composing nastygrams about How Dare You Tweet Banalities While Ferguson Is Burning isn't a positive contribution to any situation.

What might be a positive contribution? Well, if you're so inclined, you can donate to the Ferguson Library, because they need it and because they are awesome. Change.org has a petition demanding that Michael Brown's killer be prosecuted in the Missouri Supreme Court; the petition has nearly reached 150,000 signatures tonight. And this HuffPo article has more suggestions for activism in addition to these.

That's (some of) what's on my mind tonight, so that's what I'm choosing to blog/tweet/FB about.

That's how this works.

on taking a permanent vacation from nanowrimo
Wed 2014-11-26 23:12:15 (single post)
  • 6,559 words (if poetry, lines) long

Confession: I'm not going to win NaNoWriMo this year. I'm not even going to try. My current word count means I'd have to write 8,689 words every day to reach 50,000 on November 30, and that includes today. That's not going to happen. Even if I didn't have other things taking up my time this week, I'm just not sure it's worth the blood, sweat, and tears. Which isn't to say NaNoWriMo isn't worth it, in and of itself, but this year, given my current situation, it's not worth it to me.

My novel draft is at a point where madly producing word count by the thousand isn't really the next step. The "rediscovery drafting" I've dabbled in this month has helped, certainly, but in the way of a kind of brainless blunt instrument. I'd be better served by nuance and planning. Planning! Heresy! But there's so much that I don't know about this novel. I could get lost, nibbling away at it one scene at a time, producing huge amounts of material that may never get used at all--because the scene doesn't end up making it into the book, or because the voice I've given my character is all wrong, or because I haven't actually figured out exactly what Mr. Greenbriar's political aims are or what Old Mack is really scheming or the exact nature of some other large-arc game-changer...

Argh.

Meanwhile, November 30th is the deadline for two different calls for submissions to which I want to send stories. Getting the stories ready to email by Sunday is doable, but not if I'm using all my time trying to navigate a changeling protagonist through the day-to-day intrigue of a fictional Wyoming high school.

On the other hand, on November 29th I get on a Greyhound bus for Vail, in which region I'll be staying for a week, all by myself, just me and my laptop. I'll be there a glorious six more days after meeting my November 30th deadlines. Which means I can dedicate my solo writing retreat to digging this novel out of its rut and putting it on track toward a publishable state.

I've done NaNoWriMo every year since 2002. Do something for a decade or more, and people expect you to do it forever. Heck, I expect me to do it every November. But, honestly, I'm sitting on a lot of novels in rough draft form, and I'm tired of it. I want to publish novels, and that's not going to happen until I rewrite, revise, polish and submit. That's work. That's work I don't actually know how to do yet. I need to spend time doing that before I crank out another 30-day 50K monstrosity.

So that's my Vacation From NaNoWriMo Manifesto. Hopefully it will lead to Interesting Developments!

they're a dime a dozen around here
Tue 2014-11-25 23:30:23 (single post)

Bear with me a moment. I've had an epiphany. (Yes, another one.)

The other day I was, once again, doing my daily freewriting exercise. I was using for a writing prompt the dream I'd had that morning, which had posited some fairly out-of-character behavior on the part of a friend of mine. In the dream, she was reviewing a list she'd had me write of near-term personal improvement goals; upon reading the item "explore my religious/spiritual growth" (or something like that), she muttered something like "Well, this one's clearly bullshit." I decided I wasn't going to just politely let her spit all over an important part of me. I told her, "Well, I am religious, and you're just going to have to deal with it." Then I woke up.

It was terribly banal, as dreams go, but I thought I'd scribble on it anyway. Which seemed foolish. I mean, I'd already written the dream down once. What was I going to do, write it down again?

Apparently, I wasn't. I instead found myself writing a story about two sisters, the older one trying to replace their missing parents for the younger. Why was the younger sister putting up with it at the age of twenty-one? What had growing up been like for the two of them, that the older sister's intrusive, nosy micromanagement was just par for the course--and where did she get all those unhealthy ideas about age and beauty? Also, why were their parents missing? Well, they were in Alaska when the whole state went missing. Wait--the whole damn state of Alaska? Disappeared? When was this?

By the time my timer went off, I still hadn't reached the actual incidents from the dream. I was still writing a family history, figuring out some worldbuilding backstory, and feeling my way into the younger sister's idea of normal.

Here's the epiphany: There's always more to write beyond what the writer sat down with the idea to write. Which means writing isn't just about taking what's inside one's head and spilling it onto the page. The act of writing actually adds to that initial supply.

Why, it's almost as if writing were a creative act...!

Obvious, right? Except, oddly, not. There's talk of creativity and imagination, but there's also a tendency to say "I don't know what to write" as though it were reason enough not to start. That old metaphor about "opening a vein and bleeding onto the page" makes it sound as though words were simply (if painfully) poured out like water from an existing reservoir. It's like the creativity is supposed to all happen quietly, behind the scenes, long before the pen hits the page. Even that evocative image of driving a highway by night, such that you can only see a few feet ahead at any one time but you're always moving that illuminated area forward to reveal more, can be considered to fall into that camp: It's all in there, you just can't see it all until you start to write it down.

I have to insist it's not so. At least, not for me. I don't think the rest of that highway actually exists until I start to drive. I think the writing causes it to come into existence.

Which means that "I don't know what to write" is never the last word. Which is glorious. It doesn't matter how lost or ignorant or out of ideas I'm feeling; it's always worth it to just start typing. I will never find that reserve empty; the act of tapping it actually causes it to refill.

Realizing this, or, if you prefer, coming to think about it that way clearly for the first time, was like finding my faith. It was practically a religious epiphany. ("I am religious. You're just going to have to deal with it.") And, like a closely held religious faith--which I think I'm going to say it actually is--it gives me great comfort to think about.

So that's what was on my mind this morning.

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.

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