“It's such a miracle if you get the lines halfway right.”
Robert Lowell

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

the work goes slowly but nevertheless it goes
Thu 2021-03-18 21:11:51 (single post)
  • 2,810 words (if poetry, lines) long

Food content in today's blog post is going to be minimal because I'm in the middle of revisions, and revisions are hard, and I'm going to whine about that.

Also there isn't much to say about the food, beyond that 1. if you're going to substitute oysters for shrimp in this recipe, you probably need to account for the oysters being rather smaller than your average prawn to begin with and then shrinking as you fry them. Which is not to say they weren't delicious. I would happily eat a meal of nothing but those oysters in that fry prep and sauce, noodles optional. But that would be rather labor intensive what with the shucking and all, and I have kimchi plans for the rest of these oysters.

AND ALSO 2. if you are going to put the oyster brine into the dish, you have to subtract an equivalent amount of liquid from the recipe, or else you get a slightly soupier result. Unless you just cook it longer, in which case you might end up with overcooked noodles. One or the other. (Next time I think I'd sub the brine for the 2 tbl water in the cornstarch slurry.)

It was tasty, though. I ate it all. And that's all I have to say about that.

So. Revisions! I'm simultaneously revising two things, a poem and a short story, both of which I want to submit to Nightmare Magazine before their current open submission window closes on Sunday. And the work is going remarkably slowly.

In the case of the poem, it's mainly that I've got an image I am telling a very short story about in verse... and that's pretty much all I know. The rest is the problem of UNLIMITED CHOICE, and I'm having the darndest time deciding anything concrete. So I keep throwing words and phrases at the page, hoping that something will stick. There's a lot of uncertainty here. Today's session felt a bit more successful to the extent that I reduced the amount of uncertainty more than in previous sessions. Hooray. But sometimes poems come easily and sometimes they just suck, and this poem is definitely not an example of the former.

As for the story--ye gods, this story. It's got a major pacing problem. The tension tightens and tightens like a good horror story do, and then all of a sudden we end up at the end without having hit the anticipated turning-point-of-no-return. I've suspected it will take a new scene to fix it, but without any clue what that scene will look like or where it should go. So I've been putting that decision off, or, to put it more generously, laying the groundwork for making that decision, by doing line-level edits to the rest of the story. And it's working! I have a much better idea of what the new scene will look like! It will look like several new scenes.

Did I mention this thing needs to be submitted by Sunday? Argh.

I console myself with the indisputable fact that I have managed to find time and energy for revision sessions four whole days in a row. Four! And each of those sessions has brought non-trivial improvements to the story. So while it's easy to think I've spent all this week circling around the real problem without actually landing--because I'm a writer, right, and writers are by and large very good at talking smack about ourselves, and devaluing our own accomplishments, and catastrophizing about what we perceive as our failures--in truth, I really have been making progress.

But progress is happening so slowly.

Look, I'm going to submit something by Sunday, OK? One poem, one story. But I might keep revising them afterward, right? Because odds are they're going to get rejected so I can submit them again. That's not self-smack-talk! That's just sheer numeric probability, given how prestigious the market is, how few open slots they've got, and the skill and talent and artistry of the authors competing for those slots. Hell, even if I am fortunate enough to make a sale here, there will likely be a revisions phase. So basically, what I'm saying is, deadlines happen but the work continues.

For how long? Until I've decided it's enough, dang it. At which point, back to the reprint rewrite. Woo.

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.

there's such a thing as overdoing it
Wed 2021-03-10 12:57:17 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 2,540 words (if poetry, lines) long

Ha. So remember that "long and deeply satisfying skating session" last week? Well, it turns out that when I kick my own butt skating for three hours straight, including over less than hospitable terrain (the sidewalks! OMG, the sidewalks on the east side of 28th Street! Whyyyyy?), and then the very next day I take part in an exceedingly ambitious 40-minute HIIT workshop that's heavy on the same muscles I wore out skating the day before, the result is several days of being pretty much good for nothing but whining.

I have been a little more cautious in my daily workout since.

I mean, I'm still trying to have a daily workout. That has been my goal for March. A year of no roller derby has meant fewer hours of physical activity per week, and lower-quality exercise when I do exercise because I'm not a particularly strict self-coach. My endurance has suffered, and so has my strength, both in terms of both ability and muscle mass/definition. I am a pathetic noodle during the league's Thursday night Zoom workouts. I've put on weight, and though weight is a number that never meant much to me before, it says something when that number's the highest it's ever been in my adult life. (I've never paid much attention to BMI either, except to note that it, like one's credit score, is a metric that is notorious for being misused, with malice aforethought, to make people's lives measurably worse. But realizing that my current BMI might qualify me for the COVID vaccine a little earlier than I had hitherto expected is just weird.) And my blood pressure, which metric does mean quite a lot to me, has been up a titch. So! Daily exercise is my current goal.

Yesterday's exercise was going to be skating, but I left it for too late, and now it's going to be snowing through the weekend. Yuck. So yesterday's exercise was an extremely modest amount of squats, sit-ups, crunches, knee-lifts, and leg-lifts. Like, fifteen minutes, all told. Not an impressive session. Enough to say there was a non-zero amount of exercise in the day, which is the main thing. Today will be similar. Then tomorrow, being a Thursday, will kick my butt again, but because I won't come to Thursday's workout with a pre-kicked butt, I should be functional the next day.

Which is all very much the long way of saying "No, I haven't gotten back to the revision of 'Lambing Season' yet, sorry." I'm going to put that sucker to the side for now, though, because I would very much like to have a horror original to send to Nightmare Magazine when it opens to all demographics for the week of the 14th. And I know just the story. I think I can get it revised in time, but I need to start today.

(Oh, look! They'll take poetry that week, too!)

Meanwhile, I promised you a recipe. Or a method. Or a something involving chicken, mushrooms, asparagus, and cream. Here, then, is that something.

Step One: Read this. Then put it away. We're not so much following a recipe as improvising on an idea. This recipe is the idea. Also preheat the oven to 350.

Step Two: The big cast-iron pan. Bacon in little chunks. Medium heat until greasy.

Step Three: Chicken breasts, liberally coated on both sides in LOTS of fresh ground pepper (seriously, this makes the dish) and a little salt, on top of the bacon. While they sear, sliced onions and mushrooms on top of that. Eventually, when that first side has cooked enough, flip the chicken, let the other side cook a bit. Then slice it into slices. Introduce those slices more thoroughly to the onions and mushrooms and also the heat.

Step Four: Now what? You want to boil some pasta, but your chicken onion mushroom mess is taking up the burner you want to use! Guess you'd better just shove that whole cast iron pan into the oven along with the crawfish bread. (The crawfish bread was why we preheated the oven in the first place.) Problem solved! Now boil up that pasta.

Step Five: While the pasta's cooking, check on the pan in the oven. Add some cream to the liquid being released from the mushrooms. It'll look a bit like cream of mushroom soup. That's fine. Let it boil down. When convenient, return the pan to the stovetop and the heat to medium-high. Add more cream if you want. It's sort of a balancing act between "is it thick enough" (no? cook it longer) and "is it creamy enough" (no? add cream). The flow chart also includes "can you wait any longer?" (no? eat it).

We are not worrying about the chicken. The chicken isn't getting overcooked or dry in this mess. The chicken is getting braised.

Step Six: So the sauce is the right consistency, the pasta is waiting to be introduced to it, you're ready to eat. BUT WAIT! There's asparagus! Toss it into the sauce and leave it on the heat only as much longer as it takes to get the asparagus cooked to your taste. Then: remove from heat, sprinkle with parmesan, and toss it all about so the parmesan gets melty.

And now it's done. Serve it over that pasta. Eat it all. Lick the bowl. And save a little bread to mop up the pan. The sauce is really tasty.

a refreshing lack of direness and some surprise chicken
Wed 2021-03-03 23:03:03 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

Dear Diary: Today is a Red Letter Day! I have got up on time and done all my writing (excepting this Very Important Missive) by four of the clock in the Afternoon. As you might Imagine, this has left me simply oodles of daylight and evening for all sorts of Pleasant Pastimes...

*Ahem.* No, seriously, it's been great. I had a long and deeply satisfying skating session outside, taking advantage of this single perfect day between snowstorms when enough of the previous storm's accumulations of ice have melted away to allow for rolling, but the next storm hasn't yet started. Then I came home and logged into Story Hour to hear Meg Elison and Gabriela Santiago read their glorious and heartwrenching tales. (I was very good and did not get any tears on my cross-stitching.) And now I am pleasantly ensconced in the bath with a beer, writing this blog post and letting my poor abused adductor muscles relax.

You may recall my announcing an upcoming appearance on Story Hour. That is scheduled for May 5. I suggest you make this Zoom or Facebook livestream part of your weekly routine, so that by the time that date rolls around it'll simply be habit and you'll be able to catch it easily. Story Hour airs each Wednesday at 7:00 PM Pacific Time and runs for an hour, with two authors reading for half an hour each. I know that's pretty darn late for y'all in the Eastern time zone; if you can't catch it live--or even if you can!--you'll be able to watch the archived video on Facebook whenever you like.

Today was also weird and surprising in that we got some windfall groceries. Some chicken breasts, mushrooms, asparagus, and heavy cream that no one at this address asked for are in the fridge now, and there's a packet of sliced almonds and some shallots in the pantry. John ordered his usual game night snack food supplies from Safeway, and they brought him the wrong order. Unfortunately, this means John doesn't get chocolate and potato chips during tonight's Apex Legends session. On the other hand, I'm now plotting a creamy pasta dish for after tomorrow evening's BCB workout. Of course I will share the details with you. Probably in tomorrow night's blog post.

(I'll probably save the shallots to do the caramelized shallot, anchovy, and tomato paste sauce/spread again. That stuff was excellent. I finished off the leftovers by spreading it on the toast I made an open-face green onion omelet with.)

"But what about the story?" I hear you cry. "The one that was tying you up into guilt-ridden knots and revision angst?" Yes, well, never fear, I did not shirk my duty. Avoidance came calling, but I said "Not today, avoidance!" and got right to it. I read the manuscript through carefully and left myself nearly a thousand words of margin notes. That sounds kind of daunting, but I'm honestly not sure I'm going to act on the majority of those notes. It is an extremely imperfect story in many ways, and in many ways it will remain imperfect. I don't want to set myself the task of making an entirely new story out of it except at dire need.

And the need may not be so dire. The themes of dehumanization are more evenly balanced than I remembered; it's the (presumed white) townspeople who have the first episode of inhuman aggression. (That would be the scene where the stranger rolls through town and is careless at a 4-way stop.) And I think that once I fix the beginning, and of course those bits directly affected by the change in the beginning, certain resonances will emerge to shift the balance away from the "white neighbors friendly, brown shepherds scary" dynamic, and more towards "Oh, shit, another group of people I came to trust that I suddenly can't trust. Maybe I can't trust myself, either."

All right, I'm not happy about Bob making the racist joke about worshipping cows in India. If I leave it in, it's gonna need some pushback. I think I know how to do that, but I'll have to see how the fix looks on the page.

Anyway. Not saying I'm perfectly satisfied that the limited changes I'm now planning will fix everything. But I am willing to start out with just those changes, and then to see where things stand.

So that's the state of the rerprint revisions. Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I hope to give you more good news (and possibly a recipe) tomorrow.

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.

whining intensifies but so does determination
Mon 2020-08-24 16:57:30 (single post)
  • 50,347 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hi. It's been another week. Almost two. And I'm still having trouble keeping the novel on my radar. This certainly has to do with all the time management problems I strategized about last post, but only in part. There's another problem larger than all of those combined.

The self-appointed gurus of writing with their demoralizing pronunciations that pass for "advice" like to say that no real writer would have trouble finding time to write. If you want to write, they say, you darn well make time, and if you don't, well, you must not want to write that badly, huh? And despite the utter toxicity and privilege behind that so-called advice, I must grudgingly admit that in this very particular case, it's applicable. I don't want to work on the novel. When I think about the novel, I do not get excited. I fill with dread and embarrassment instead. So, no, I don't go out of my way to make time for it, and I often forget even to put it on my daily timesheet.

And for once it's not just the usual miasmic avoidance dread that afflicts almost every project I work on at some point or another. No, this is very specific avoidance dread. It comes into play for a very specific reason. That being, this novel sucks.

No, it really does. I'm not just suffering from revision pessimism when I say this. No. This novel draft is really, really terrible. And it's not just because I spat it out during National Novel Writing Month. I've got plenty of NaNoWriMo drafts from over more than a decade of participation, so I've got some basis for comparison here.

The main problem is, the main character is unlikeable. No, this isn't just widespread social misogyny speaking. She's actually kind of horrible. She does and says and thinks horrible things off-hand, and it's got nothing to do with how I envisioned her character or what I was trying to do with her character arc. There are so many places where my margin notes say "Stop that. That's obnoxious." and "Gah, I hate it when people do this in real life, why is Gwen doing it?" I think mainly I was just trying to log my daily 1,667, and I guess I got a bunch of wordcount out of letting her indulge in whatever behavior enraged me the most about certain people I had the misfortune to encounter repeatedly that month? (Note to self and others: Being a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison does not oblige you to endure bullying and bigotry at your write-ins in the name of Being a Gracious Host.) So the more I examined the 2006 draft, the more I realized what a jerk my protagonist was, and the less time I wanted to spend in her company. Thus I find myself avoiding the novel now.

So that's the big problem. There are others, none of them particularly daunting on their own. It's set in New York City but the people behave like they live in a stereotypical rural small town. Fine. I can fix that. There are so many ways I can fix that. I have no more idea how the story ends than I did in 2006, but that's fine. That's a story drafting issue, not a revision issue. Story drafting is my favorite part of this writing gig. The motivations driving two of the major side characters are implausible, to say the least. Cool. I'll brainstorm on it. Brainstorming is fun.

These are all fixable things! And they should be fun to fix. But during the read-through, the combination of the plot's aimlessness and the protagonist's horribleness rather dampened my enthusiasm. So I've been avoiding the whole shebang.

I mentioned other drafts. Maybe I just chose the wrong draft to spend time with? Maybe I should pick up one that I'm more excited for, one that's objectively less terrible? Maybe... but revision pessimism is still a thing, even if it isn't the only thing. I'm dreadfully afraid that whatever novel draft I pick up with the intent of Finally Finishing a Novel, time spent examining it will leave me similarly unenthused.

So this is the novel I'm going to work on, despite my misgivings. The Bookwyrm's Hoard. And I'm going to work on it by pretending I'm not revising an existing draft at all. The existing draft is just a 50,000-word outline, a collection of story ideas, a place from which I can start writing a brand new story. A story that happens to share mostly the same characters, setting, and premise, but a new story nonetheless.

And new story ideas are where I'm a superstar!

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.

Almost 5 down, lots more to go
but i guess temptation was strong and i was weak
Tue 2020-04-21 22:01:18 (single post)
  • 50,347 words (if poetry, lines) long

So the thing about the novel is, it's a NaNoWriMo novel. As such, it's got certain features that are making it a challenge to edit.

Way back in the day, when I was more active on the NaNoWriMo forums, there was a particular category of "advice" that popped up at the beginning of the month. "When you're reaching for 50,000 words, every word counts," certain contributors would say, "so make sure you spell out every contraction and every acronym! Write 'do not' instead of don't, 'Personal Identification Number,' instead of PIN. Be conscientious about this and you'll hit 50K in no time!"

This would invariably make me *facepalm*. I mean, fine, if you think of NaNoWriMo as a game, there's nothing wrong with wordcount-padding strategies to help you win it. But if you think of NaNoWriMo as the motivation to finally write the first draft of an eventually publishable novel, why in heaven's name would you send your character to use an Automated Teller Machine on campus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology? Why would you strew your first draft with litter when you'll only have to clean it up at the revision stage? I mean, yes, first drafts aren't perfect, sure, and sometimes you do babble out any old thing as a placeholder for those names or details you'd rather not break your current flow to research. But that's a different animal than deliberately inserting crap that A. you know is crap, and B. serves no purpose other than to pad your word count!

Look, I compose my drafts on 4thewords. Every day is NaNoWriMo when you've got monsters to battle. The interface counts words as they are typed, rather than words I commit to saving, and yes, I will take all sorts of advantage of that. I will happily babble and keyboard-smash my wordy way into a story idea. But that babble is actually serving a purpose. I think out loud on the page; that's the only way I find out what I'm thinking. If the babble weren't genuinely part of my process, if it weren't serving my art and my career, then I might as well win my monster battles by copy-pasting Wikipedia entries for all the good it would do me.

So. Those are my holier-than-thou thoughts about NaNoWriMo. So you can imagine my chagrin when I discovered that I, too, was playing the game of Wordy For Word Count's Sake back in 2006. And, y'know, I'm pretty sure I knew that's what I was doing at the time. Maybe I wasn't omitting contractions or spelling out acronyms, but I was definitely--just for instance--having my protagonist list the songs on favorite albums, or having her say in quoted dialogue something that she'd already told the reader via first-person narration. I was absolutely padding my wordcount with crap that I knew was crap and that served no purpose in the draft or to my process, except inasmuch as my process was "win NaNoWriMo."

And now it's my job to clean it up.

Thanks, past me. Thanks awfully much.

In other news, the granny square afghan continues apace. Here, pictured above, are the squares I've begun or finished, laid out according to the pattern's directions for assembly. I think there's a metaphor in there for assembling a second draft novel out of first draft scenes, but I don't really feel like going into it. Dealing with the novel itself is hard enough as it is; I don't need to deal with it on the meta level as well.

talk about foreshadowing
Thu 2020-04-09 22:39:40 (single post)
  • 50,347 words (if poetry, lines) long

About that novel: The easy part is almost over.

I have imported into the new Scrivener project seven chapters comprising in total 13 scenes and 26,455 words. Since the entire novel is just over the NaNoWriMo finishing line of 50,000 words long, that means I've imported half of the existing novel in about a week. Taking it slow, remember. Reading each scene through and jotting down notes along the way.

The problem is, my notes are already saying things like, "You don't know either, do you?" and "Ah, still need to figure this out, I see."

In one of the scenes I imported today, a teenager, Tess, says to the protagonist, Gwen, "Have you found Mrs. Nimbel's quill pen yet? It's important!" and Gwen says that no, sorry, she hasn't even had a chance to look for it, what with trying to save the bookstore from a really nasty and unfounded reputation in the neighborhood, trying to stay alive long enough to do that, and, oh yeah, trying not to miss the deadline on her next book. "Can you tell me why it's so important?"

This is where the reader (who is me) says Yes, please tell us! What is up with the damn quill?! And Tess... does not tell us. She says, "You mean you don't know? You expect me to believe you practically grew up in this bookstore, and now you own the place, and you don't know? You don't know anything, do you?" Whereupon she runs off in a passion and loses herself among the bookstore shelves.

Which is where I say to the author (who was me), "You don't know either, do you? You never figured it out at all. Oh crap. That means I'm going to have to figure it out. Great."

So, yeah. I'm only halfway through the easy part in terms of word count, but I'm very much almost to the hard part in terms of content. I'm very much almost to the part where I have to come up with the answers I failed to come up with fourteen years ago. And then I'll have the harder part still to do, which is to make it all hang together as an actual novel I might consider sending out to agents someday.

See, I remember thinking up the quill. I remember being so damn proud of it. I'd gotten to one of those middle-of-November crisis points where I had no idea what to write next, so I pulled one of my usual tricks: I reread my material so far looking for a throwaway detail that I could make into a plot point. I found a description of Mrs. Nimbel's desk with its permanent inkwell, and how Gwen remembered watching her dip a quill pen in that ink to write special notes and letters and even sign credit card slips. Ah-ha, said I, that quill pen will be the engine that drives the next third of the novel! It's gone missing, and Gwen has to find it in order to save the bookstore! I'll figure out the details later.

I guess later is now.

Amusingly, when Tess comes back out from among the shelves with a book to buy and an apology for her tantrum (which Gwen, not being a total jerk, meets with an apology of her own), she and Gwen exchange email addresses so they can talk about it later. You know what that means, right? Come on. What happens in pretty much any story full of intrigue when a secondary character has vital information but, instead of revealing it right away, tells the protagonist that they will have to tell them later?

Well, no. There will be no underage deaths in this book. But Tess is probably going to have to be the next kid to go missing, isn't she?

If I didn't write that in the first draft, I'm damn well writing it into the second.

Image courtesy Atthis Arts, LLC
i show you a thing! two things! only one might make you go eww!
Tue 2020-02-18 19:54:43 (single post)
  • 2,600 words (if poetry, lines) long

Work on the Magic Pens anthology is progressing. Author bios are getting finalized, and final story edits are due back in the next couple of days. My story got the benefit of a couple more pairs of eyes, and I'm thrilled with all the care and attention that this editorial team is bringing to the project. I'm also thrilled to see who else is in the table of contents with me; the Codex online writers' group is well represented.

And the cover art is finalized! I get to share it with you!

If you want to get a head start on ordering your copy, the preorders page is here. Note that the limited editions are only guaranteed available through March. Mid-May is what I'm hearing for shipping (of any edition).

Because you have come to expect foodie content on this blog, and I am loathe to disappoint, BEHOLD: How I learned to love tolerate liverwurst.

Look. I picked some up thinking, "Hey, look! Liverwurst! I've never had liverwurst. I wonder if I'll like it?" because that's how I approach food. I sliced off some and spread it on toast and lo, I did not like it. The ingredient list said "pork, pork liver, spices," but as far as my mouth was concerned, it was just liver paste. I may have actually gagged.

But I didn't want to throw the rest away. I hate wasting food. So I found these sandwich recipes. I like the cream cheese and cucumber one best; it has enough bright, crisp flavors in it to balance out mask the liver muddiness. And, as a bonus, there's literary content.

(I was also open to frying slices of liverwurst in bacon fat along with a bunch of chopped collard greens, as I remember actually liking a charbroiled liver and collards dish I got at the French Quarter Fest some years back. I had no fresh collard greens in the house at the same time as the liverwurst, however. Maybe next time. If there is a next time.)

And that's what I've got for you today!

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