“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”
G. K. Chesterton

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Dinner is served. Well, appetizer, anyway.
Should last up to 10 days in the fridge.
Useful tools and a lovely note.
got a shucking knife, not afraid to use it
Tue 2021-03-16 19:29:34 (single post)
  • 2,810 words (if poetry, lines) long

Writing content in this blog post will be minimal. THE OYSTERS HAVE ARRIVED and I'm a little obsessed.

You remember, right? The mail-order oysters I mentioned splurging on? Yeah. They showed up today. And I have successfully shucked and eaten a few of them. Hooray!

There was a little anxiety at first, because I had no idea how to read a timestrip. The Real Oyster Cult FAQ says that if the temp sensor hasn't turned blue, you're cool. Great! So I open up the package, I pull out the two baggies of live oysters (Truro Pearls and Irish Point, 20 each), I find the temp sensor strip at the bottom of the box, I flip it open, and it is all blue. Oh shit! Panic! Needlessly. I was looking at the completely cosmetic faceplate color, rather than the actual temp sensor window--which was still empty and white, indicating that the oysters had spent no appreciable time above 50 degrees. To be fair, making the faceplate the same color as the temperature sensor dye was definitely a choice. Anyway, an email to ROC with a photo of the thing cleared up the whole misunderstanding without delaying my dinner one bit.

And I had been very good. I had put in my time and my wordcount by then. I'd got the beginnings of a new poem, a decent start on the February 19 Friday Fictionette (still a month overdue, but still uploading a new one every Friday or as soon afterward as possible), and real progress on revising the story I intend to submitting to Nightmare Magazine this week. (I've got until Sunday to submit it, so everything's fine.) I'd even done my bunny chores--I gave Holland his daily fresh veg, tidied up his habitat, refilled his various hay containers, and gave him treats.

I'd done my homework, is what I'm saying, so I was free to play with oysters.

They were a lot easier to shuck than I remember from when Dad taught me several years ago. But then they were a lot smaller than gulf south oysters and also a bit pointier around the hinge. I made myself up a lovely little plate with a half dozen on the half-shell, each with a dollop of that fantastic caramelized shallot spread on top, and then a couple pieces of crawfish bread. Crawfish bread is not as effective as plain French bread for sopping up oyster brine, being already fairly sopping with cheese and spices and crawfish tails, but that's OK. It's tastier. And I am not above tilting the plate up to my mouth and simply drinking whatever's left.

As I mentioned before, this splurge was in celebration of a rather special huge big deal of a story sale, so when I placed the order, I left myself a little gift message commemorating that. It sounds hokey, and it is hokey, but I still got such a happy thrill when I opened up the shipping box and found a hand-written gift card inside saying, "Dear Niki: Congratulations on your first sale of fiction to Apex! Love, Niki."

So now I have a very hard choice to make. Do I commit the sin of drowning the delicate briny flavor of these maritime gems in kimchi? Or do I give myself the joy of homemade kimchi flavored with fresh delicious oysters? That's a trick question, of course. The answer is yes, and also yes. Besides, I'm only going to make half the recipe anyway, so there will still be a few oysters left to do other things with. (I'm thinking of subbing a few in for the shrimp in this dragon & phoenix recipe.)

So that's the story. It's Tuesday, I'm feeling accomplished, and life is delicious. I hope things are going just as well for you, whoever you are and wherever you may be.

an occasion to rethink and revise before reprinting
Tue 2021-03-02 22:46:47 (single post)
  • 3,453 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

So, just to remind y'all that the author is a New Orleanian author, lemme tell you what happened this week. So yesterday, OK, the payment for the short story I sold to Apex Magazine arrived via PayPal. Hooray! So today I decided to celebrate the sale, as I had not tangibly celebrated it yet, by splurging on mail-order oysters. In fact, I ordered the gift bundle (it's a gift for me! From me!) on the strength of it including a free shucking knife and gloves, reason being, I don't own any yet and I probably should, and I don't want to make a special trip to--where would I even buy an oyster shucking knife in Boulder, Colorado? A restaurant supply store, I suppose. Or I'd have to mail order it from somewhere and try to get the two separate shipments to coincide. Hell with that. This is easier.

Anyway. Oysters coming mid-March. Forty of 'em. I'm gonna slurp up a dozen on arrival, then chop up the rest for kimchi. (That link there, that's the recipe that got Dad's whole hunting club asking, "Niki's coming home next week, you say? Will she make us kimchi again? Tell her to make it spicier this time.")

All right, yes, I could have been responsible and left the money in my PayPal account against actual household necessities. But it's not like we're relying on my story sales to make household ends meet. (Hoo, girls-n-boys, would we be in trouble if we were!) Besides--a sale to Apex Magazine! The hell to the yes that deserves celebrating!

(Don't worry, it only cost about half the check. I'm sure I can find something responsible to do with the rest.)

So for my next trick, I'd like to see if I can get "Lambing Season" reprinted again. It initially appeared in NAMELESS Magazine #3 in March of 2014. (You can still purchase the issue as an ebook from that link for $3.99. I recommend it; there's a lot of good stuff in there, including a haunting story by my friend and colleague Nicole Cushing.) It's been reprint only once so far, as episode 413 of Tales to Terrify, narrated beautifully by Summer Brooks, on December 19, 2019. (You can listen to it there for free, along with a retrospective of the horror of the two-thousand-teens.)

...And that's probably a good thing. The only having been reprinted once, I mean. Because... Wow there's some problematic bits in the story. Which I completely overlooked when I wrote the story because Hi there, white privilege! Without even having laid eyes or ears on it since the Tales to Terrify outing, I knew I'd need to revise the opening a titch. Here's the second paragraph so you can see what I mean:

I'd so badly needed to escape. Months had passed since I'd last been able to relax. In my mind, I was always on duty, no matter what the clock said. Then my partner went to the hospital on a bullet fired by a twelve-year-old girl, and I started suspecting everyone I met of being armed and dangerous. The chief suggested I take off the uniform and badge for a while before I wound up shooting someone for startling me.

Wow. Just... wow. That sounds like nothing so much as a "Blue Lives Matter" defense of the cop who murdered Tamir Rice. "How was he supposed to know it was only a toy gun? Some of those urban kids out there, those little monsters'd shoot you soon as look at you. You try taking time in one of those neighborhoods to verify if the gun is real, you're dead."

Eeeuuurgh. No. So much no. There is no way I'm submitting that story to be reprinted with that opening. Should be simple enough to fix, though. Instead of a crisis of paranoia, the main character can have a crisis of conscience over her partner having shot a child, and the rest of the department rallying around to defend him, and maybe the protagonist's reluctance to join in the defense is why the chief suggests she take a temporary unpaid leave. Much more believable of a scenario (except for the crisis of conscience part, I fear), and a lot more defensible then what's there now. Because, face it, what's there now is doing white supremacy's work of upholding the narrative of cops who are more wronged than wrong-doing even when they've just fired a bullet into a Black child's body, or knelt on a Black man's neck until he suffocated. As though that had anything to do with justice and keeping the peace. My God. No. I will have no part of even appearing to support those abominations. Not if I can help it. Not any more than I already have, Gods forgive me.

(Virtue signaling? Damn straight I am, and what's wrong with that? The bigots are out there signaling to each other all the time with their dog-whistles and bullhorns everywhere from the corner store to the Capitol. The rest of us are gonna damn well "signal" that we stand four-square against that shit. Got it? Good.)

Except it's not going to be as simple as fixing the opening, turns out.

The manuscript was still in one long LibreOffice RTF, so the first thing I did tonight was pull the manuscript into a Scrivener project and break it up into scenes. There were hard-coded tab-indents, too, so I had to remove those by hand because Scrivener for Windows still doesn't have find-and-replace for special characters. So that required traveling paragraph by paragraph through the whole story. Which meant I was lightly skimming the text as I went along. Which resulted in my realizing the racism kinda permeates the whole story.

I'm not going to get into the details at this time. It's not that I'm worried about spoiling the story for you; you can go read or listen to it right now if you haven't already. No, it's that I know, with a sinking, that I have yet to uncover all the details. Right now I just have a general impression of the dehumanization of non-white people in this story. And you could argue that it's not just the shepherds but all the townspeople too who are under Maud Shempf's sway, they're all going to wind up fleeced and turned into mutton eventually. But the predominately (implied) white townspeople get to act like human beings, even so, while the predominately (heavily implied) black and brown shepherds get to have "dead shark stares" while they menace the protagonist (including with a gun!). And yeah, that could stand as a metaphor for the way systems of authority regularly dehumanize non-white people--but that's not how it looks on the page at this time. At this time, it looks hella racist, and it makes me cringe.

So I'll be taking my time the rest of this week going over the story with a fine-toothed comb, trying my damnedest to blunt its capacity to do harm. It may take more than a week, in which case I'll put it aside temporarily, because the next story in the revision queue has a deadline. But then I'll come back to it, because this is job that needs to be done right more than it needs to be done in a hurry.

Whew. I warned y'all a while back this blog was gonna get political from time to time. Because the alternative is to be silently oblivious, and all that does is prop up the status quo. And the status quo has really gotta go.

my online writing community is the best online writing community, fight me
Thu 2021-01-28 21:17:13 (single post)

Today had a smaller wonkiness quotient, so let's talk about why Codex is the greatest and its contests are the bestest.

Only sorta kidding. But to put it in less superlative tones: Codex is an online community for semi-pro writers, primarily in the speculative genres (see the New Member Qualifications on the linked page to see what that means). I joined shortly after making my first pro sale in 2010. To be very precise, I joined shortly after the convention at which editor Ellen Datlow hosted a reading from that anthology, in which I participated. I spent a large part of the train ride home in the lounge car chatting deep into the night with other author attendees who urged me to join Codex. And so I did.

Since then, Codex has been the biggest single boost to my writing career. Or, rather, it has represented multiple boosts. It's been a motivator, a networking outlet, an industry information warehouse, and just an all-around uplifting experience. I'm in a "face-to-face" critique group (over Zoom) because of Codex. I've found out about markets I might not have otherwise because of Codex. I've found out important things about the markets I might or might not submit to because of Codex.

And I've written a lot more than I might have otherwise because of Codex's contests.

Right now we are in week 3 of an annual flash fiction contest called Weekend Warrior. The conceit is simple. Friday afternoon, writing prompts go up. Sunday at midnight, the story you wrote inspired by one or more of those prompts is due. It must be 750 words or less. Until the next Friday afternoon--when the cycle starts over again--everyone reads each other's (anonymous) contest stories, gives each story a mini-critique (optional), and assigns each story a score from 1 to 10 (essential). It's super fun when your story scores high, but scoring isn't the real point. The point is, you wrote five new stories! And got them mini-critiqued! And now you can go revise them and start sending them out to paying markets!

Another benefit of the contest is having to read and critique some twenty tiny stories every week. I stress about it, because that's a lot to add to my weekly task list, but I really do benefit from it. Having to focus in and clearly identify what works for me and what doesn't helps me in turn to write stories that work well more often than they don't. And reading other peoples' comments directs my attention to aspects of those stories I might not otherwise have noticed.

I am doing unusually well in time management this week, yesterday's wonkiness notwithstanding. I've divided up my reading assignment into four parts, one of which I read per day. I'll be hitting the third batch tonight after this post goes up, and the fourth tomorrow afternoon after I get home from my BFR shift. I've feeling very proud of myself because of this. I can't tell you how many times I've done the whole lot in a panic during the last two hours on Friday, and then guilty about it. In my rush, I probably failed to read as closely as my fellow participants deserve. Better time-management this week means I can be so much more careful and deliberate and thoughtful about my reading--and that benefits everyone.

I am also very proud of the story I submitted for this week's consideration. I'm looking forward to what everyone else had to say about it.

I have a whole bunch of stories in my To-Be-Revised queue already, and they will stay there, untouched, because I'm not allowed to get started on them until I'm caught up on the Friday Fictionette project. (I'm sort of participating in three Weekend Warrior contests simultaneously. There's the one story I write for the actual contest, and then theoretically there's two Friday Fictionettes I'm writing a week in order to get caught up. Argh.) And yet I'm looking forward to adding five new stories to the revision queue. Well, really what I'm looking forward to is sending them out to play in various slush piles, and revision is just something that's got to happen along the way. Except I'm genuinely looking forward to getting these stories right.

So that's why Codex is the greatest and Codex contests are the bestest. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

first publications and appearances for the new year
Fri 2021-01-22 21:00:03 (single post)
  • 45 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 3,453 words (if poetry, lines) long

If I'm being honest, my initial impulse is to announce these things in a manner something like this:

WHEEEEEEEE TWO ACCEPTANCES IN ONE WEEKEND and OMG I SOLD A STORY TO AN ABSOLUTE DREAM MARKET AAAAAAAAAA!!!!! I'M GONNA FAINT--

but that seems unprofessional. All the authors I admire tend instead to calmly and professionally post matter-of-fact announcements about where you can find their writing and/or hear them read their writing. So I'm going to try to be a professional about this.

*deep breath*

"Apotheosis" (poem) to be reprinted in The Future Fire - "Apotheosis" was originally published in the Summer Solstice 2019 issue of Eternal Haunted Summer. It was the first poem I wrote, and the first poem I published, after a poem drought of about twenty-five years. (I really don't know why I spent so much time not poeming. It seems rather silly of me in hindsight.) It will now be the first of my poems to be reprinted.

When will it be out? Current rough estimate is April. Emphasis on "rough." Might have a firmer estimate in a week or so. Stay tuned!

"Survival, After" (short story) to be published in Apex Magazine - This is where I start hyperventilating. Apex! Effing! Magazine! *wheeze* After I got the acceptance letter, I spent the rest of the evening emitting screams and other strange noises at random intervals, startling the bunny and making myself hoarse. It's a good thing John wasn't home at the time. I was insufferable.

And this story! I love this weird little story with all of my heart. To have it finally find a home--and for that home to be Apex! Effing! Magazine!

It began as a 750-word entry in a Codex contest, where it fared relatively well. (Codex contests are the source of a not insignificant portion of my published works. Codex is made of awesome.) Then it sat around in the "I really should revise this" pile until Shimmer Magazine announced its imminent closure and kicked me in the butt. But of course my time management is on point (that was sarcasm) and so I barely touched it until deadline day, when I pulled a five-hour forced march of panic and despair to create and at last submit the new 3,500-word draft. As history shows, it did not get accepted on that outing. The editor, who'd once sent me a revise-and-resubmit request which did not ultimately result in a publication (hey, it happens), sent me the kindest and most wistful of personal rejections, regretting that we would not get to work together on a Shimmer story after all. I regretted that too. But hey, now I had a new story ready to be submitted to all the other places!

I submitted it to twelve of the other places over the following ten to twelve months. And then I submitted it to Apex. And here we are.

This, too, I do not yet have a firm date for. I'm told it'll likely be in Issue 124, maybe 123. That's just an early estimate, though. As scheduling firms up, I'll let you know.

I will be featured in an upcoming episode of The Story Hour - One of many examples of how the pandemic is why we can have nice things, The Story Hour began as a way to pierce our shut-in, isolated bubbles with live story-sharing. They put out a call on Twitter recently for published authors who might want to participate, and, as it happens, I've had some things published recently that I'd quite enjoy reading to a live audience. So I volunteered.

Of course I had to go and choose two stories which both make me cry at the end. I knew that already, but then I did a practice read-through in order to get a concrete idea of how much time each of them takes to read, and I found out it's worse than I thought. Well. I'm just going to have to practice a lot until I get better at holding it in, or until I've read these stories enough times to have worn out the effect.

The Story Hour airs live on Facebook and Zoom every Wednesday evening at 7:00 PM PST (so 8:00 PM here in Boulder, Colorado), and if you miss an episode live you can listen to its recording via Facebook. This one I have a date for! Unless something changes, I'll be reading on May 5, 2021. It's a ways out, but I'll remind you as we get closer.

And that is my first Upcoming Author Appearances and Publications post of 2021! Ta-da!


what all of mine got published in hell year
Thu 2020-12-17 23:18:58 (single post)
  • 2,600 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 34 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 983 words (if poetry, lines) long

Just a short note today, because my day started late and went slowly and now I'm tired. But there is Actually Writing content, so yay for that.

Way back in April, I woot-wooted over having a poem newly accepted: "The Ascent of Inanna", originally a short-short then reimagined as a 22-line poem, was purchased by Dreams & Nightmares for publication in Issue 116, then-upcoming in September 2020. I am happy to report that my contributor's copy reached me safely despite this year's postal wonkiness, and it has been added to my Happy Shelf. While I wish I could just give you a link you could click to go read the poem (and the rest of the issue), there's something kinda fantastic, in an old-school way, about having a copy I can hold with pages I can riffle through. (Exceedingly affordable copies are available for purchase from the editor at the link above.)

Captain Holland, of course, has demonstrated a predilection for chewing on things made of paper. To keep the production of the above photo tragedy-free, I put my copy of the magazine inside the clear-sleeve front cover of a three-ring binder.

I am reminded by my colleagues on Twitter that it's time to make Awards Eligible posts. That is, to list all the things I had published this year, so that you can go read them and, if you wish, nominate them for awards. The very thought makes all the brain-weasels in my addled pate rear up and holler, "Who the hell do you think you are, suggesting that people nominate your drivel for awards? The nerve! The effrontery! The very idea! Hmph." So, OK, here is a list of things I had published this year, so that you can go read them. If you wish. The end. OK? *Nervously glances at brain-weasels* OK. (And I'm only including the word and/or line count to give you an idea of how much of a time investment reading each involves.)

Short stories

"The Rarest of Prey" in Daily Science Fiction (102 words)

"One Story, Two People" in Community of Magic Pens, print anthology, Atthis Arts (2600 words)

Poetry

"The Mardi Gras Tree" in Eternal Haunted Summer (34 lines)

"The Ascent of Inanna" in Dreams & Nightmares, print journal, see above (22 lines)

Reprints

"The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner" in ep. 431 of Cast of Wonders (980 words)

I do not think that reprints are award-eligible. But this is not an Awards Eligible list. It is a list of stuff I had published in 2020, that's all. So "Soup Witch" belongs on that list.

So now I have fulfilled my promise to blog about Actually Writing "tomorrow" and thus may go to bed with a clear conscience. Huzzah! (There'll be more in days to come, of course; this was all I had the oomph for posting tonight.)

the turning of the year brings more poetry to your ereader
Mon 2020-11-02 21:04:35 (single post)
  • 14 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long

I've spent most of October running as fast as I could to stay only marginally behind, which is why blogging didn't happen. Blogging is kinda low priority. Except I really shouldn't let more time pass before announcing this:

"Reasonable Accommodations", my sonnet about a were-deer in corporate hell, will be included in the Winter 2021 issue of Departure Mirror Quarterly. Look for it in January!

Departure Mirror Quarterly is a brand-new magazine of speculative fiction and poetry. Its content is meant to reflect the belief that, in the words of editor Arthur Robert Tracy IV, science fiction and fantasy "is a genre that transports us out of our reality while giving us a medium to reflect on our reality and to consider what can and should change. It’s both a departure from and a mirror on reality. It's a Departure Mirror."

I am honored that they considered my poem a good fit with that philosophy.

The first issue, Fall 2020, is live and available in three ebook formats (PDF, EPUB, MOBI). You can download it for free from this page here. Its table of contents is sparkling with gems, some bittersweet, some uplifting, all well worth your time, eyeballs, and brain-space. And do spread the word! Even in the best of times, brand new publications live or die by word of mouth, and COVID-19 has put its thumb on the "die" side of pretty much every scale (except maybe for Zoom futures, if Zoom futures are a thing). So download yourself a copy and tell all your SF-loving friends to do the same!

Meanwhile, I see by the editor's blog that Dreams & Nightmares #116 (the issue that includes my poem "The Ascent of Inanna") has been printed and subscriber copies have hit the mail. If you are not a subscriber, you might consider becoming one. A six-issue subscription is $25 to North American addresses and $30 elsewhere, and a lifetime subscription is $90 wherever you are.

In other news, I am still two weeks behind on the Friday Fictionette schedule, so there will be no October round-up just yet. I will be scrambling to catch up for the foreseeable future. That notwithstanding, I do plan to participate in National Novel Writing Month, after my fashion; but more on that in another post. Good night!

reporting from the personal writerly bright side of 2020
Tue 2020-09-01 16:37:53 (single post)
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 983 words (if poetry, lines) long

Happy September all! I have a couple of things made out of words coming out where you can see/hear them this month, and I thought I should let you know.

"The Soup Witch's Funeral Dinner" - Cast of Wonders: This story, originally a Friday Fictionette, was accepted and contracted for reprint back in January. This immediately helped guaranteed that, whatever happened, my 2020 was going to have a bright side. This past weekend, I received word that the story is with its narrator and is slated for publication in a September episode.

Cast of Wonders is the leading voice in young adult speculative fiction, podcasting a new episode every week. Most recently they have been serializing "The Curious Case of Miss Clementine Nimowitz (and her Exceedingly Tiny Dog)", written by Alex Acks and narrated by Sandra Espinoza. It's up to Part 5. Part 1 is here. Go check it out!

"The Ascent of Inanna" - Dreams and Nightmares: Originally a flash fiction story entered in a Codex contest in early 2020, then whittled down to its heart and soul and reimagined as a poem. D&N accepted it back in April and scheduled it for their September 2020 issue. And now it is September 2020!

Dreams & Nightmares is a long-running print magazine of speculative poetry and flash fiction. You can buy single issue (I obviously recommend the one for September 2020) or subscribe. Subscriptions are available in two flavors: six-issue and lifetime. Lifetime sounds like a bit of a gamble until you figure that A. it's only $90 and B. the magazine's been printing issues since January 1986. The landing page of the magazine's website is a blog whereon the editor posts something tiny every day. Usually it's a tiny poem. Sometimes it's a tiny something else.

The numbers! Publishing even a small amount of stuff is largely a numbers game. Which isn't to say it's not also a matter of craft and quality. Just, the more manuscripts of craft and quality that one submits, the more chance of a manuscript happening to cross the desk of an editor inclined to purchase publication rights. Here are my numbers for 2020 so far, including a few submissions and rejections already logged for September:

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep 2020
Submissions: 10 10 15 8 5 9 11 7 3 78
Rejections: 8 11 13 9 4 11 6 7 1 70
Acceptances: 3 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 5

Next time: the August 2020 Friday Fictionette round-up.

dear dev team i have found a bug in the spacetime continuum there is not enough of it
Thu 2020-08-13 13:08:31 (single post)

So! As promised: WHINING. Well, wittering. Thinking out loud in public about what's working, what isn't, and what I might do about it. Thanks for being my sounding board.

As I said Tuesday, I'm trying to make August another novel-progress month. How much progress did I make on the novel during that first week in August? None. Zero, zilch, zip. And even on the days when I did make progress, that progress consisted of five minutes smashing the keyboard about how much the first draft sucks.

It turns out, time is finite.

Trust me, I have complained to the management about this. Loudly. However, the bug remains outstanding and I don't think it's even on the development team's priority list. So I'm trying to come up with strategies for working around this limitation.

STRATEGY #1: Put It On the Daily To-Do List.

I have a LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet I add a page to every weekday morning. The basic template lists all the usual writing tasks I want to get done daily. Then there's space to add any other to-do items like meetings, events, volunteer shifts, derby practice sessions, household chores, etc.

Since specificity in planning makes me more likely to follow through, I'll write a brief description: "Freewriting: 3 random words and Inspirobot." "Fictionette: Please finally finish the Aug 14 draft!!!" I'll clock in and clock out so as to have a record of how much time everything took. After the task is completed, I'll jot a brief note in the Outcome column about how it went.

Great! So let's put "New Novel Draft" in the description for the "Revision" line item. Great! Except "Revision," after "Blogging," tends to be item most likely to fall off my schedule when things don't go to plan. Where's your novel progress plans then, Niki?

Basically, the Daily To-Do List is a strategy for planning. It is not a strategy for dealing with failure cases. No, for that we have...

STRATEGY #2: Start Where I Left Off

At the end of the day, every task that didn't happen gets a big NOPE in the Outcome column, boldfaced and maybe even highlighted in red the better to shame myself instantly see what needs to be prioritized the next day. And the next day I paste those rows right onto the top of the new day's timesheet. The timesheet template now starts with a Leftover Items block specifically for this purpose.

So far it's working. When Monday's submissions procedures session went epic so that I never got to my planned short story revisions, I started Tuesday morning off with those revisions. When those revisions gobbled up more time than expected so that I never got to my daily Freewriting and Fictionette block, I made sure those came first on Wednesday. And when I didn't have time to finish this blog post on Wednesday, I continued it first thing today.

Great! Now no missed task will languish for longer than a day. Plus I'm starting to get a realistic idea of how my expectations match up to reality. Things always take longer than I expect. Also they take more energy. It'll be a rare day when the Leftover Items block on my timesheet stays blank. Maybe I can't actually fit every single task into every single day. Maybe I need a better plan.

STRATEGY #3: Put It On The Weekly To-Do List

Some things are daily things: Morning Pages as daily mental hygiene, freewriting as a warm-up exercise and story idea generator, a little progress on the next Friday Fictionette every day so I don't fall behind. But some things can stand to be done only one day a week.

This year, I moved my submission activities from a daily to a weekly routine. I'd do that, and only that, on Monday afternoons. Why Mondays? Well, for one thing, Monday isn't a derby night, so I'd have time and energy to spare. (These days, thanks to the pandemic, no night is derby night, but I still try to skate or exercise when I would have had derby practice.) Also Mondays conveniently happens to be the one day a week when Strange Horizons is open to submissions.

I wasn't sure it would work. I worried that it was a form of putting all my eggs in one basket, and possibly not a big enough basket. But I told myself it was an experiment. If the experiment failed, at least I'd have gathered data.

It's turned out wildly successful. I feel comfortable taking all the time I need without any pressure to rush through to the next item, because there is no other item. And since Monday is the only day reserved for submissions, I might as well submit everything I can. This past Monday, I subbed five things (including a short story to Strange Horizons). Then I gave myself time to putter around the internet doing market research and considering what I'd submit next week.

So the basket is definitely big enough. And if the basket gets wrecked, Strategy #2 means I can catch the eggs in Tuesday's basket, so to speak. And if rescheduling submissions procedures for Tuesday means some daily thing doesn't get done, well, again, see Strategy #2.

Theoretically, I should be able to wedge a weekly novel-writing/revising session into my week. I've got four afternoons left in which I try to hit revisions; three of them can be for short stories and poetry, and one can be reserved for the novel in progress, right?

Except when a short story wants revising, there's usually a sense of urgency about it. Submission windows close. Contests have deadlines. My critique group is on a schedule. If I get to the revision item on my timesheet at all--and, again, I don't have a good track record on this--I tend to want to use that time to prep a manuscript for imminent submission.

What I need to do is clear the decks.

STRATEGY #4: Pick A Novel Writing Month

I got the idea from NaNoWriMo and Camp Nano: Pick a month and devote it to the novel. It doesn't have to be the same month as those national events. It just has to be is a month where I schlep stories out on Mondays and otherwise ignore them.

August was supposed to be that month. I'd just written a handful of new things for submission in June and July! I knew where I wanted to send them when they came back! Except... one of them came back and I wanted to revise it, since I'd done a rush job of writing it in the first place. Another came back from my critique group and I really want to hit it before my sense of what needs to change fades. Short story urgency strikes again!

I may just have to pick another month. Or, at the very least...

STRATEGY #5: If You Can't Do A Lot, Do A Little

...reduce my expectations. Maybe five minutes a day thinking aloud on the page is acceptable. For August, anyway.

So that's me thinking about my novel-related scheduling problems. There are other problems related to the novel, but we shall talk about them another day.

insomnia forces a body to prioritize
Wed 2020-07-22 18:04:40 (single post)
  • 520 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 22 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 100 words (if poetry, lines) long

Oh, hey, so, speaking of recovery days after insomniac nights, I had one of those on Monday night/Tuesday afternoon. And I'm not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg here, but two things were going on: it was very hot, making it difficult to sleep, and also I stayed up stupid-late reading. We're going to say that I stayed-up stupid late reading in order to not be bored while I couldn't sleep, how's that?

The book in question was T. Kingfisher's A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking. It stars a fourteen-year-old wizard whose magic only ever works on dough and baked goods. Bread, cookies, sweet rolls, great. Lightning, fireballs, not so much. Nevertheless, this turns out to be surprisingly useful in many ways, even after it becomes clear that this is a story about political intrigue and war. Also, this wizard's familiar is an omnivorous sourdough starter colony named Bob. Bob has a temper, which also turns out to be useful. Do you want to read this book? YES YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK.

Just try not to stay up all night doing so unless you can afford to sleep all day the next day. Because I did, and I couldn't, and, well.

It wasn't so bad. The crash didn't hit until well after my writing group's critique meeting was over. But it was bad enough. The crash hit while I was holding down a table at Collision Brewery waiting for the Volt to finish getting its leaky windshield wash fluid reservoir tank replaced. Falling asleep at a restaurant is Not Done, especially in pandemic season, so I did my best not to. I drank a lot of coffee. I tried (and failed) to work. But just as soon as I got home, and got my scheduled Bunny Care Chore done, and spent a couple minutes playing Katamari Damacy to sooth my rattled and caffeinated brain with peaceful absurdity, I collapsed in bed and stayed there until late evening.

And that was a small problem because I had a story due that night.

I'm participating in another Codex contest. This one's called Flash: Savior of the Universe. It's a lot like Weekend Warrior, in that each round consists of a handful of writing prompts and the assignment to write a new piece of flash fiction on an absurdly tight deadline, after which point everyone gets to vote and comment on the stories. But the word count for FSOTU is a touch roomier (1,000 instead of 750), and the deadline is less absurdly tight. And thank goodness I'd been actively working on my entry every day since the prompts landed, because I did manage to get that thing submitted, and even slightly polished, with about twenty minutes left before the 1:00 AM Mountain Time deadline. I wrote nothing else that day, but I got that much done. Huzzah!

But hey woo bad timing on the insomniac night and recovery day thing, yeah?

(Hey writers! Contests like these are one of many reasons why you should join Codex the moment you qualify. You get motivation to write new fiction and/or poetry. Plus you get instant feedback on said fiction and/or poetry. This can easily lead to more published fiction and/or poetry. It's a great racket! Remember my announcement that "The Ascent of Inanna" was going to see print in September? That poem originated as a Weekend Warrior short-short story. Remember "Other Theories of Relativity"? Weekend Warrior 2012. And the piece I just submitted to Daily Science Fiction, about which crossed fingers--hey, they liked something of mine before, maybe they'll like this one--that was from Weekend Warrior too.)

(Join Codex, join Codex contests, write more, publish more. That's typically how it goes. See you there maybe?)

odds and ends on a Monday afternoon
Mon 2020-07-20 18:39:57 (single post)

So I finished a new story and submitted it last week. It's an expansion on the 500-word story I submitted to Escape Pod's flash fiction contest a couple months ago. At its new 1,300-word length, there's a bit more room to flesh out the characters, the setting, and the resolution. I really like it now and I'm feeling an unwise amount of hope regarding its chances. If that hope founders, ah well. I know precisely where the next two places I'm going to send it will be.

Thanks to this July push to include a revision session in every work day, I proceeded at a somewhat healthier pace than I did during production of the previous story. Because of that, and probably also because this story was only about a quarter of the previous story's length, it was a fairly stress-free procedure. There were still a good two hours of last-minute revision on deadline day, but 1) that's within the bounds of a normal revision session, and 2) it really was revision, and not a race to write the last two thirds of the story from scratch.

And then I did one more copyediting read-through, this one aloud to catch typos and misplaced modifiers and other awkward things, and totally choked up during the last two paragraphs. With the story having unexpectedly passed the "made its own author cry" test, I felt pretty good about sending it out.


One pleasant side-effect of all this social distancing, partial isolation, and public activity shut-down is that in addition to not having contracted COVID-19 (cross fingers, knock on wood, turn three times and curse and spit on the ground), I haven't suffered a cold or flu since well before things got real. And sure, it's summer now, but since when has that stopped me from developing sniffles and coughing and post-nasal drip?

Undoubtedly this has to do with keeping myself well out of range, as best I can, of everyone else, and--because Boulder County is thankfully a place where mask-wearing and social-distancing compliance is relatively high--everyone else is keeping themselves well out of range of me. Your common cold transmits over similar vectors to the current plague (minus the ability for the virus to survive for days on non-porous surfaces *wibble*), so if you successfully keep yourself safe from the novel coronovirus you're probably safe from the less novel sort. Additionally, during normal times I probably catch colds more frequently than I might otherwise because I play roller derby. If one skater's got something, the rest of the league's going to get it pretty soon. I haven't been smearing my body up against other skaters' bodies since early March. Much as I love my sport, I have to admit it makes a difference.

So aside from the odd recovery day after an insomniac night (more to do with the summer heat in a house with no air conditioning than with pandemic anxiety), I haven't really had to give myself a day off work. I've had a remarkably healthy and productive pandemic, is what I'm saying.


Yesterday I tried out this fava bean hummus recipe in all its complex and high-maintenance glory. You may ask, was it worth it? To which I would reply, MOST ASSUREDLY. Yes, the recipe could stand to be simplified (why bother wringing out as much of the water from the blanched spinach as you can when you're just going to add water back in the blender? Why go out of your way to use a neutral oil to make your lemon zest tincture when you're going to add a quarter cup olive oil to the final product?). Also clarified (wait, in step 3 you blend the fava beans and the spinach together, but in step 5 you fold the spinach puree into the fava been mixture?). Also it could use a reminder that fava beans require a second shucking after you blanch them (unless they actually wanted that tough outer skin on each bean included in the puree? Really?). But the recipe seems pretty forgiving of mild variations, and in any case the results were amazing.

I think I'm going to have a little more right now on the sourdough discard naan I fried up over lunch...

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