“There are a handful of unfinished stories. And in my head none of them are really dead. Only sleeping.”
Neil Gaiman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Day 10: In Which I Just Get On With It, You Know, Like You Do
Wed 2010-11-10 22:29:04 (single post)
  • 17,902 words (if poetry, lines) long

Some days I don't really have any Interesting Insights About Writing to share. Some days, I just write.

Some days I barely get to the writing at all. As predicted, today was totally a Wednesday. It had unusual Wednesday things in it, like This Is The Wednesday John Flies To Boston. So I did the sorts of things one does when one's spouse is about to go away for 4 days, like staying in bed late for cuddles and mutual enjoyment and stuff, and joining him in the kitchen for lunch and laptop video games, and following him about the house with a nagging checklist of And Did You Remember To Pack This And Also That, and driving him to the airport. When you're talking Boulder to DIA, that's a big old round trip.

And it was full of the normal Wednesday things: an hours' volunteer reading for the Audio Information Network of Colorado, specifically an hour of reading employment ads; and the long drive down to North Denver for my 2nd and 4th Wednesday writing group.

Which meant that today was also full of other people's writing: reading other people's writing and critiquing it, or listening to other people's writing and reacting to it. You can learn a heck of a lot about the craft writing by analyzing your reaction to other people's works in progress. (Maybe tomorrow I will have processed some of tonight's meeting into Interesting Insights About Writing to share. Right now I'm kind of fuzzy about it all. But it's a good fuzzy.)

So what with the Stuff and the Things and my one-day lead on my NaNoWriMo word count, I had the temptation again to take a day off from the novel. But on the drive home, I got to thinking about--and talking to myself about--the next scene. (The talking part is necessary. Thoughts in my head aren't real, you see; I have to say the thoughts out loud so that my ears can hear them. Then they're real.) It's about a 45-minute drive home from the bookstore where my writing group meets. That's a long time to talk to myself about my work in progress without reaching any conclusions.

And so I did reach some conclusions. Only some, of course--one must leave oneself a few mysteries for the morrow, no?

Lia and I fall asleep at last sometime during the desperate last hours of the dark, and I dream. I dream of Lia's earring, the piece of the Swifts she appropriated during her escape. I dream, oddly, that she is me. I watch her stand for the birthday toast, her face revealing nothing of her intentions as Pa Montrose gives a long, long speech. In the dream, the speech takes years to complete because Pa Montrose is talking more slowly than the conversations of trees. But no, the entire scene is in slow motion; obligatory laughter rumbles through the crowd like earthquake warnings, and champagne takes full minutes to slosh from one side of the glass to the other.

Lia tilts her head to listen better, or to appear to listen better. Her copper hair, long in this dream, reaching to the middle of her back in a straight metallic fall, slides like silk toward her right shoulder. Her left ear shows plainly, and its high up spot of blue is like a laser light pointer, getting my attention.

Then all the glasses raise for the toast, and time resumes its regular rate--no, it's faster, we're in fast-forward now. Lia's movement, bringing her glass down sharply against the table's edge, proceeds faster than the eye can follow. Her next motion is a blur. Then time stops altogether, Tresco's head flung back and the blood just beginning to free itself around the broken glass in his throat. I appreciate that, the pause in the flow of time. I appreciate Lia taking a turn being me tonight. Because of these things I am free to observe the reactions of all the witnesses. I see the hate and shock on every man's face in the ballroom. Some of the women wear expressions of undisguised admiration: Tresco's whores, yes, I know they have cause to hate the man, but also wives of real powers among the Swifts, or women who are powers in and of themselves. That seems important. I note the identities of the women glad to see Tresco dead. I file them away for future use.

Then my gaze returns to the lapis lazuli stone in Lia's ear. It comes close to me, without either of us moving, and now I kneel in the grass beside Lia and she says, "You want a closer look? I can take it out." I close my eyes, hold out my hand to the stone, feel its presence fill my world. My world turns lapis blue. But Lia is still saying, "Do you want a closer look? Take a closer look."

Day 9: More of the Same
Tue 2010-11-09 21:38:01 (single post)
  • 16,849 words (if poetry, lines) long

Apparently I'm a day ahead again. It was likely to happen, with two write-ins I could go to. I go to a lot of write-ins. My total cafe and restaurant expenses tend to be pretty high in November.

The wise thing to do would be to use my current lead as a cushion against which to get caught up on my day-job style writing. I've kept up with both Examiner blogs, but I've only done one Demand Media article all month. And it's not for lack of time. Once again, I'm leaving the least pleasant job to last, and before I get to it, I find myself thinking, "I've done so much good work today, I deserve a little break." And next thing I know it's midnight.

I don't think the pattern will change tomorrow--I have a lot on my plate. I have to bring John to the airport, and then I have to go to class. I still have to read the piece for critiquing during class. And in between are the Usual Wednesday Things.

But, who knows? I might surprise myself. We'll see. A good night's sleep followed by rising bright and early--that could turn into any sort of day. Even a productive one.

Speaking of productivity, I'm rather pleased with today's 3,000+ words. They started out all talking headsish, Jet explaining to Lia how the cosmos really works. It felt like I was crossing an As You Know, Bob with a I've Suffered For My Art (Now It's Your Turn), cf. the Turkey City Lexicon. I was waiting for something, anything to happen. And then something did--nothing unpredictable, to be sure, but it was fairly satisfying. As a plot pacing landmark action, it works. I can always revise later the conversation leading up to it.

Lia's shoulders felt bruised where Jet's fingers pressed deep into the muscle. Her eyes remained trapped by the weird desperation in Jet's gaze. "What will you do if I don't help you?"

"Here." Jet let go of her suddenly; Lia swayed back as though those hands were all that had been holding her up. Jet reached her left hand into her hip pocket and drew something out, something that she pressed into Lia's clasped hands. Her attempt prized Lia's hands apart, and Lia knew what she held: a copy of her apartment key. "This is yours. I don't want anything from you that you're not willing to give." She lowered herself into the chair next to Lia's. Her left knee rested atop Lia's right thigh, heavy. It might leave a bruise as easily as her fierce hold had done. Lia transferred the key to her right hand and spread the fingers of her left, let her palm rest on the invading part of Jet, invading her back. Jet said, "I want to do right by you, Lia."

Lia was unsure. Jet had told her an awful lot that, if true, she could hardly expect Lia to believe. Lia wasn't sure how much of it she did believe, from the mad claims of supernatural origin to the impassioned disclaim of all control over Lia's choice. Jet had handed her back her key and her agency in a single motion. And yet--if she wanted Lia to help her, how better to get that help willingly than by insisting willing help was all she'd take?

But in the end, Lia didn't care. She hadn't from the beginning. Her own desires were simple, and she didn't need to trust Jet to get what she wanted tonight. "Then start now," she said, and shut her eyes, and waited.

It felt like a significant fraction of eternity, but it was only a moment later that Jet's lips met hers.

Lia reached out blindly with her left hand, found first Jet's hip and then her pocket. She slipped the key inside and let her hand linger on Jet's hip. She felt Jet rise from her chair, heard Jet's feet shifting in the snow. Then Jet's weight settled gently over her, astraddle Lia's thighs. She kissed Lia again. The snow trapped between them began to melt in earnest.

Lia, untrusting, knowing herself used, determined to use Jet just as heartlessly as Jet would use her. Starting now.

I like when my characters surprise me. The surprise for me in this scene was Lia's stark cynicism. It leaves a lot of room to develop this relationship through a long spectrum of emotions. I only hope I'm good enough to do it on the page. In my head, where everything is perfect and, sadly, nothing is real, it's quite lovely.
Day 8: Distractions
Mon 2010-11-08 21:55:03 (single post)
  • 13,593 words (if poetry, lines) long

I have Toys.

Sunday I brought home the 3-cymbal expansion for our Rock Band drum kit game controller. Now we can play drums in Pro Mode on Rock Band 3. This is an extremely potent distraction, especially for someone who gets home from a morning of hard work (farm Mondays, remember) and feels she deserves some play time.

After an hour of playing on the drums, though, I get tired. So I switch to keyboards, also new for Rock Band 3. I recently downloaded Rush's "Subdivisions", and the expert Pro Mode keyboard part is really enjoyable. It's like I finally found a use for playing that song on the piano besides boring all my friends!

But then I was already tired, so I turn to an electronic toy that may be used horizontally: a brand new wireless mouse for my laptop. It is superior to my previous mouse, not just in being wireless, but also in having a driver that Windows 7 isn't constantly quarreling with. Also, when I click it once, the computer does not think I have clicked it twice. This is very important when playing Plants Versus Zombies and Puzzle Pirates while lying around like a lazy lump.

I can also read! Which I do! A lot! I'm currently rereading Amanda Hemingway's Sangreal Trilogy (The Greenstone Grail etc.) which is really enjoyable even if the third book's constant references to the "spring solstice" make me twitch. And then I can fall asleep in my book, because, damn, I'm tired!

But we have already discussed the inadvisability of taking a day off. And having squandered most of my lead in this race, I needed about 750 words to get to Day 8's recommended total. So I did about that much. Here's how today's sessions starts:

Over countless assignments, I've been wined and dined before. And it hasn't always been unpleasant--that's not what's making tonight a first. Outings like Tresco's birthday party were the exception, not the rule. I've drunk champagne, top-shelf absinthe, blended whisky, single-malt scotch, both vodka and gin martinis (please, do stir them, thank you), various high-octane concoctions calling themselves "everclear," and something I've been told was a Pan-galactic Gargleblaster. And that's just on Earth. I've danced waltzes and foxtrots, I've done the Macarena, I've been taught the Electric Slide. I've thrown myself into mosh pits and acquitted myself well therein. And I've seen more than my fair share of goth clubs. There is nothing unique about the goth club Lia has dragged me out to.

What's new is the lack of alterior motives. My assignment does not involve being Lia's bodyguard or otherwise monitoring her. As far as I know, my assignment does not require my presence at this nightclub at all. Given that, going might in fact have been a bad idea. But Lia insisted that I go, and, well, I went.

I think I'm being taken on a date.

Tomorrow is Tuesday, and I am going to two write-ins. I expect I'll regain my lead and have time for mundane day-job writing. Excellent. Also, as the evening write-in is at the Baker Street Pub, I shall have a beer. Also, very likely, a scotch egg. Tuesdays rock.
Day 7: The Inadvisability of Taking a Day Off
Sun 2010-11-07 21:55:30 (single post)
  • 12,611 words (if poetry, lines) long

I was going to. Yesterday's nibble of what was left after Friday's huge big bites taken out of the work remaining had left me with a Day 7 word count. I was already done for today without having opened the project at all.

But days off have a way of multiplying themselves. Lacking calculators and reproductive systems, still they manage to multiply. So best not to take even one. It was going on 10 PM, and I decided to write for about 15 minutes.

And so I did.

Here is pretty much all of it. (After a light round of editing, of course.)

She crawled out from under the hall table--just in time to startle Mrs. Finch, her next door neighbor. "Why, Lia. What were you doing under there, sweetie?"

"Long story, Mrs. Finch," Lia mumbled. She darted inside, painfully aware that her neighbor was continuing to stare at her. Lia gave her a sheepish smile through the door just before slamming it closed.

The living room was just as she'd left it, except for the dust on the floor. Which is to say, there was none anymore, not even in the corners. And the kitchen was frighteningly clean. The stovetop was white with a gleam like polished lacquer. Lia supposed it had been that color when it was new, long before she'd moved in. For years it had been more of an off-gray greenish-beige, the color of the thin, cement-hard veneer formed from years of spattered oil, spilled coffee, and stray cheesy-mac flavoring powder. "Jet," she called, "why are things so clean?"

"You have a good housekeeper." Jet's voice came from Lia's bedroom, and Lia flashed back on how terrified and violated she'd felt to find Jet there this morning. She stood still a moment, swallowed the feelings and the memory--more important things to worry about now, Lia--and went to meet her uninvited guest.

When she got into the room, the sense of violation returned sevenfold. Not because Jet was sitting on her bed as though she belonged there, no, not now that Lia had decided to just deal with that, but because the contents of every drawer, every keepsake box, and every hanger from the closet were strewn across the floor. "Oh," was all that came out of her mouth. "Oh." She couldn't seem to find a worthwhile obscenity to follow it up with. She took the two careful steps necessary to get her to the foot of the bed without crushing anything, then she sank onto the mattress, her hands covering her mouth. Through her fingers she mumbled, "Tell me you did this."

From behind her, Jet said, "No. I'm sorry. He must have done it while I was out finding you."

"It was the stone. It had to be. And he didn't find it because it's right here--what's going to happen now?"

"I don't know. It would be nice if they never bothered you again, wouldn't it?"

It would be nice... Lia knew better than to hope this would be the case. "I should put things away," she said, and got up. She waded into the middle of the mess. The first item of clothing that came to hand was a pink sleeveless shirt with segments of white lace sewn on any which way. Some of them criss-crossed the three long parallel rips that ran up and down the back of the shirt. It was part of her limited collection of punk costumery, for those nights when she needed to get out of the apartment and go somewhere loud to stomp the night away.

She stood there, holding it, unsure what to do next.

"Lia?" She turned, met Jet's eyes. It didn't seem fair that a killer could speak her name so kindly. "Would it help if we left for the day? Get something to eat, come back and deal with it later?"

Who's 'we'? The thought flickered through Lia's head without finding any place to land. In that it was a lot like the shirt she held. It drifted away again, leaving another thought in its place: Later. Worry about it later. The word later spurred Lia into motion. She knelt again and pawed through the pile of clothing until she found a pair of jeans to match the shirt she held: black denim studded with safety pins, chains of paper clips, other random bits of metal. The cuffs were a mess of tangled strips. Several patches on the back pockets declared dubious allegiances. "Yes," she said. "We are going out. I am going to change clothes now. And when I come back out the bathroom, you're going to tell me everything."

Jet held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. "It's a deal." But she said it after a moment of hesitation, and that moment told Lia a lot about how little to expect Jet to tell her, and how much less than that Lia would be able to trust.

This wasn't news. Lia was already well aware of that. And she made a conscious decision to ignore the hell out of it.

It may have been slightly more than 15 minutes.

Oh! Also. Friday's baked eggplant got mushed up and mixed with a scrambled egg and about 2/3 a cup of falafel. This turned into small patties, which got baked at 350 d F for about 20 minutes. The results were kind of bland and dry, but also kind of nutty and sweet. Made a great side-dish for cooling off my mouth between spoonfuls/bites of kimchi chigae, which I also made Friday as part of continuing that OMG Let's Cook EVERYTHING binge after the Atlas party.

Day 6: But Why Can't You Just Get It Right the First Time?
Sat 2010-11-06 21:43:08 (single post)
  • 11,763 words (if poetry, lines) long

My daily novel excerpts seem to be getting longer. Also, when I do take the time to revise before excerpting, it's more like rewriting. Significantly. Like, totally replacing the sentences I wrote today with new ones. It feels like cheating. But, hell, it added about 100 words, so who's to complain?

Not that there's any worry there. I wrote for a total of 25 minutes today--the combined time of the word sprints we had at today's Healing Tea write-in. (And boy is it fun introducing people to Healing Tea! Everyone was like, "Wow, this bibimbob is tasty! Also, do you want my kimchi?" I was the general kimchi depository. The gal on my left was the general miso soup depository.) And yet I got my word count to where it ought to be at the end of tomorrow. My NaNoStats page says that at this rate I should finish by November 25. Those two facts don't fit together very well; if I'm constantly a day ahead, I should finish a day early. But NaNoWrimo.org is calculating based on average words per day, and getting a different answer. NOT THAT IT MATTERS. THE POINT IS: I don't think I've ever been this consistently ahead of the game before. Word count is not my problem.

No, here's the thing that gets me: If my fifteen-minute revision of this 500-or-so-word segment pretty much scorched the earth and built new words where the old were deleted, why didn't I write the new words in the first place?

It's like I have different brains on. When I write the first draft, I have nothing in front of me yet, so I'm writing down what's in my head--and discovering that, despite the advantages of thinking in complete sentences, I really don't know how to write it down. So I fumble and write some pretty unfortunate sentences. Later, even if I simply read what I had, deleted what I'd read, and wrote the scene anew, I have the advantage of having read the story. I've read it before, I know what it is, and so I can write it down more accurately, more simply, more cleanly.

Which is weird. What is this part of my brain that engages with the written word so differently than the thought-about word? A couple of class times ago, we talked about the different mental modes of listening to books being read aloud versus reading the book, and that much I get, but--it's weird that my need to have words put in front of my face in order for me to learn their content applies even to words I myself write. I have to see it written before I know what I'm trying to write. What the hell? Shouldn't it be enough that they originated in my own head?

I wonder if I could successfully engage that part of my brain by "reading" an imaginary page--by clearly visualizing words on a page as I mentally construct the next scene of the novel?

The circling memory finally stooped, like a hawk upon the mouse that has just come up from underground. "Oh. Oh shit."


Lia lifted a hand to her left ear. "I think he's after this." She indicated her lapiz lazuli earring, the one set high up in the ridge rather than the lobe. Touching it, remembering--oh, this was bad. This was worse than Jet showing up, worse than hallucinations that stuck around or real people who could change shape and then die and come back. "It belonged to Tresco's daddy. I took it when I split."

Worse enough that Lia no longer avoided looking Jet in the face. So she was watching when that strange blank crossed the woman's eyes. Already a brown so dark as to seem black, they became blacker still, the pupils lost like a shadow in a shadow. Then the moment passed. "That's it," said Jet. "My new assignment. It's to do with the Swifts. With Pa Montrose. And I was sent to your home because you're still involved with them."

"What? No! Fucking no. No, I left them years ago. I am done with them."

"They appear not to be done with you. May I--?" Jet reached tentatively toward Lia's left ear. Lia flinched, then steeled herself. Closed her eyes, like a patient getting a shot. When after a long moment she still felt nothing, she squinted through her meshed lashes to see--as best she could out of the corner of her eye--that Jet held her hand cupped near Lia's ear, rock-steady, rock-patient.

"Do you want me to take it out for a moment?"


Jet's eyes fell closed. Her hand remained motionless. Her breath moved quietly, so quietly and slow that Lia could see no motion in her chest, only the subtle shifts of shade and light in the folds of her red blouse. Did it have to be red? After last time? Lia's eyes kept returning to Jet's neck, unwounded, unscarred. A small mole down by the right collarbone was the only feature on that unblemished plain.

Her lips began to mumble things Lia could not hear.

It took several minutes. Lia wavered between nervous boredom and nervous memory of the events that had followed the car wreck. Her eyes, having nowhere else to go, flickered over the cheeks, the hair she'd caressed that day, the lips she had kissed--

Jet's arm fell to her side. Her eyes flashed open; Lia tried not to meet them. "No. It didn't belong to Pa Montrose. But for some reason he wanted everyone to think it did. What is this stone, Lia?"

Happy 1st Birthday, Atlas!
Day 5: From the Stanley to Happy Birthday Atlas
Fri 2010-11-05 20:27:47 (single post)
  • 10,782 words (if poetry, lines) long

Right now this very moment, I am at Atlas Purveyors. I'm slightly typo-drunk on a red plastic cup of Boulder Beer's Flashback Anniversary Ale, poured for me lovingly by the familiar face behind the counter whose name I never quite caught. The cafe is crowded with people here to celebrate Atlas's 1st birthday--a year ago this month they opened where The Tea Box used to be--and I'm being a little antisocial. The only people here that I know are the proprietors and staff, and they're fairly busy (see above). I've escaped the crush by hiding with my beer and my laptop back in the hallway, which is inexplicably empty.

Occasionally someone picks up a bit of chalk and adds a thought to the freshly cleared wall-long blackboard. "We ♥ Atlas." (That was supposed to be a heart. I don't know why it doesn't want to be a heart. ♥, dammit, ♥!)

I've been up since 7:30 this morning, and I've driven up to Estes Park and back. Between the small amount of sleep last night and the trek up to 7,522 feet (I thought it was 8,300 but I was wrong), you'd think I'd be more tired. But I was looking forward to the party, and I kind of feel obliged to be here. A bunch of NaNoWriMo buddies and I, we've been meeting here since Atlas's beginning. It's a favorite office-away-from-office, and I want to help celebrate them, even if it means slipping out of a crowd of strangers to hole up in the hallway under a photo called "Blue Crossing."

Atlas is inextricable from recent memories, and current experience, of NaNoWriMo. So here I am.

But most of today I was in Estes Park, at an all-day write-in that the Municipal Liaison of "Colorado :: Elsewhere" set up. We met at the Stanley Hotel, famous filming location for Kubrick's adaptation of King's The Shining. Appropriately, one of the Wrimos present used a typewriter, an Underwood with features remarkably like my off-brand Sears knock-off. The dining room manager asked her to knock it off, as it was noisy. Shame that.

(Incidentally, I've heard enough "red rum" jokes today to last me until Halloween 2011. You are not allowed to recommence the jokes until then.)

We had word war after word war, and when I surpassed 10,000 words early in the afternoon I gave myself permission to put it away and make a start on my Demand Studios queue. Which is a little backwards. You're supposed to do the Soul-Numbing Professional Hackery first, then give yourself the reward of Working On The Novel. But, oh well, my schedule put them backwards. It all worked.

--oh hey! Speech! Applause! Good things! (Owner Chris Rosen, quoting his dad: "When someone walks through your door, remember: that might just be the best part of their day.") And the raffle prizes are being announced! It took them some 5 tries to find someone present to win the Illegal Pete's gift certificate...

So where was I? Ah. Well. I haven't done any editing since I got back into Boulder--I mostly started cooking. Like a fiend. "Bake the eggplant before it rots! These okra are about to go--quick! Cook them down for frozen gumbo starter! A fly landed on the butternut squash; is it going bad? Quick, roast it! And if I'm going to defrost the pork bellies for lard for the gumbo, I should make kimchichigae with it..." Then I remembered the party at Atlas, and I looked at the time, and I hastily put everything in the fridge. (The eggplant got baked and the squash got roasted and the okra went into the crock pot.)

Anyway, today's excerpt is short, because it's entirely Zero Draft. No light polish this evening. Enjoy... I guess?

What she absolutely did not expect was a short, dark woman in a button-down blouse and jeans of indeterminate color--it was dark in there, the curtains drawn tight, the only light what ventured in from the hallway fluorescents past Lia--a woman fallen from the bed to the floor, legs tangled in the blankets, her arms still outstretched from having reached for the nearest support, which had happened to be Lia's nightstand, temporary rest place for cast-off coins and life accoutrements still on her person at bedtime. The woman lay under the strewn shards of last night's water glass, two pairs of glasses, uncountable loose change, and random silverwhere. Her clothes were no longer bloodstained, but you'd expect a woman to change clothes sometime in five weeks. You might not expect her alive and unwounded if the last time you saw her she'd been dead of a slit throat, though.

Lia stared, her right hand slowly lowering the kitchen knife.

"Oh, like that was going to work," said Jet. "Trained assassin, remember? Well--come on, can I get a little help here?" Lia backed up a step, shaking her head. "Sorry about your glass--I hope it wasn't terribly irreplaceable? Hey--Lia--don't be like that--"

She was slamming the door before she even knew she was moving. Slamming the door, dropping the knife, bolting down the hall and out the door. She knew you couldn't run away from hallucinations, but she didn't know anything else to do but try.

Which is actually from the very first few hundred words of today. After that we have Jet cleaning up the mess and unknown dude trying to convince her he lives here while searching the apartment. And Lia hiding from hallucinations under a bush in the park. It's the dude I'm not sure about--I mean, adding him was a good idea, but I'm not sure what he's up to. I think whatever he's looking for, Lia is wearing it. Maybe on an earring. Maybe on a nipple ring. Something she stole when she fled the city. Fun times!

(Meanwhile - yum, birthday cake! And possibly more beer...)

Day 4: It's OK To Write More
Thu 2010-11-04 22:44:58 (single post)
  • 7,770 words (if poetry, lines) long

So I wasn't much looking forward to today's writing. It's mostly both characters being emo and angsty after parting ways. So, what the hell. I queued up the most emo and angsty song on Hunting High and Low, "The Sun Always Shines On TV" ("I fear the crazed and lonely looks the mirror's sending me these days"), I put it on infinite single-track replay, and I gave in to the mopey introspection. And I got a scene in which Lia is absolutely questioning her sanity, what with having all but convinced herself that Jet was a hallucination or a waking dream or something. Except she doesn't want to believe herself capable of hallucinating that convincingly. Except how else to explain the bit where Jet went from alive, to messily dead, to vanished? Lia has not been having a good five weeks.

("What with one thing and another, five weeks passed.")

I might never have gotten that far if it wasn't for some healthy competition at tonight's write-in. Have I mentioned, by the way, what madly enthusiastic Wrimos we have in Boulder? It's not that huge or far-flung of a region. Denver is bigger. Hell, there's only one region in the entire country of Brazil; it's called "Elsewhere :: Brazil". And yet, in our one-and-a-half-county region, we have write-ins to accommodate every schedule, every neighborhood in every suburb (practically), most of them initiated not by us Municipal Liaisons but by people who just liked the idea of, say, having a write-in at Flatirons Crossing, or who wanted to do Healing Tea Saturdays again. We have a scheduled write-in per day, average.

Today, we had two. One in Boulder, and one in Longmont. Since the two write-ins overlapped, we decided to engage in a bit of Word Warring. Word Wars are a bit like Word Sprints. You set a timer, and you try to get as many words written as you can in the allotted time. That's a sprint. Add competition, and it's a "war." From 7:10 to 7:30, the Boulder-at-Red-Rock-Coffeehouse crew vied with the Longmont-at-Ziggy's crew for the highest average of words per Wrimo.

But I'd been at Red Rock since 5:30--some had been there since 5:00--and I'd already hit 6667 total words, the normal Day 4 goal. Getting there took me through Jet's being emo and angsty over whether maybe she was a bit too attached to playing human and whether it was a problem that making out with her best bud back in her home world just didn't do it for her anymore what with there being no challenge or surprise to it. (Her home world is outside of space and time. "World" isn't the right word for it. Words aren't right for it. You see the problem I'm setting myself here.) And then maybe two paragraphs into Lia Five Weeks Later, and then I was done.

But it was only 6:15. I couldn't let the side down! I had to do more writing come Word War time!

Natalie Goldberg has an anecdote about a student who would write to the end of the ten minutes, to the end of the page, and then stop. This is in Writing Down The Bones, in the chapter called "Go Further." Goldberg writes, "Write to the eleventh minute if you need to. I know it can be frightening and a real loss of control, but I promise you, you can go through to the other side and actually come out singing."

It would have been no big deal if I hadn't. I had reached my goal for the day (get to 6667 words total). I could always right the rest of Lia Five Weeks Later tomorrow. But would I have written the same scene tomorrow as I wrote today? Would it have been the same Lia, the same family she can't cut herself free of, the same foggy mirror sending her frightening looks?

I don't know. This is some of what I got.

Abruptly Lia stood, shouldered her purse, and left the bus stop. Half a block along the way she heard what sounded suspiciously like a city bus's air brakes, but she didn't turn. It was a 10 minute walk back to her house, and the whole way she tried damn hard not to think of anything at all. The first flakes of a November flurry were beginning to fall by the time she got home; her dyed copper hair was salted with snow. She brushed it off as she let her front door slam closed behind her.

She collapsed in the armchair in front of a dead TV and sat there for five minutes or so, her mind as empty as she could make it. A sort of static buzz seemed to snap around her head like a fly. She didn't think about it at first. It stabilized, turning into a generic high-pitched ringing in her left ear, an almost electronic tone being played on a MIDI keyboard that didn't exist outside her own mind. Great, now my hallucinations are auditory. I'm one messed-up cookie. With that thought, she got up and marched herself over to the phone.

"Yeah. Sorry, Di--just can't seem to get out of bed this morning. I think I'm coming down with the latest 'flu that's going round the office. What, Jackie too? Send her my regards. Well, we'll see how it goes. I hope I can make it in tomorrrow--no, don't worry, I have no plans on being the next Typhoid Mary. Thanks, Di. 'Bye."

She hung up the handset, letting it clatter back into its old-fashioned wall-hanging base. The sound seemed to echo from the bedroom, as though something in there had fallen over at the precise moment she'd ended her call. Still hearing things, she supposed. But the ringing in her left ear was gone, that was something.

In the bathroom, she splashed water on her face and blinked, owl-like, at her reflection. Her narrow mouth, once so familiar and comfortable in the mirror, now seemed twisted, as though someone had snuck into her room while she slept to add weights to the ends of her lips. Just a milligram here, a flake of iron there, adding up over the weeks or years. She forced a smile, just to see what it looked like. It looked fake. She relaxed and watched her mouth sag into that warped scowl. Her lips were pale, with little pink in them. They were almost the same faint tan as her skin was at the end of the summer, visible at a distance only because her summer tan was lightening to her usual Celtic pastiness.

It sounds Welsh, said Jet.

Lia sputtered a cursed at the mirror, then began to shout. "Yes, dammit, I guess it does, I guess I can't cut myself off from my family even when I try to rename myself. Thank you oh so fucking much for pointing that out, imaginary person!"

What's that supposed to mean?

"Shut up. Shut up." Lia covered her ears and let her forehead fall against the mirror with a thunk whose echoes bounced around in her skull, less real than the voice of her memories. "It's been five weeks, what the hell are you doing in my head now? You never existed!" Her own voice seemed less real too.

Less real than the voice of a nonexistent woman repeating its query in her head. What's that supposed to mean?

"It means I'm done, I'm done being sick and scared and traumatized! You're just a figment of my--my trauma, OK? Go away. Please."

So, who's the fucking jerk now?

Lia squeezed her eyes shut as tight as they would go, then opened them, then turned on the water in the sink and the tub. Hot as it would go and with as much force as the building pump could muster up to her top floor apartment. She concentrated in the steam and the white noise on the face staring back out from the glass at her. Its expression scared her. The fog from the steaming water below covered it up, but she knew it was still there: a stranger wearing her face and twisting it into crazed permutations of depression, psychosis, loneliness.

Incidentally, Boulder won the Word War. But our averages were pretty darn close - 800 as compared to 750. We look forward to next week's rematch.
Day 3: Don't Try This In Company
Wed 2010-11-03 23:02:50 (single post)
  • 5,401 words (if poetry, lines) long

I love write-ins. I love ten-minute word wars, and the occasional sounds of fellow writers snickering or groaning over what their characters just did, and the exhortations when one writer gets stuck to "have ninjas attack!" I love the industrious sound of several laptop keyboards clacking away. It keeps me focused on my own work, keeps me away from the temptation to just call it a day and go play something mindless.

But write-ins are not the most conducive setting for writing sex scenes. If I'm going to alternate between going red-faced with embarrassment and getting short of breath while trying to find non-ridiculous words for the pornographic pictures in my head, I'd really prefer the privacy of my own home. Also, the fear of someone reading over my shoulder gets intense.

Alas, I got to this scene while in the library with three other writers. So I turned up my headphones, turned down my laptop's monitor brightness, and took nice deep calm soothing breaths.

Then I came home and edited the sucker in private. Yes, I know, editing during NaNoWriMo is heresy. Heresy! But I'd already passed Day 3's target word count of 5001. Where's the harm, right?

"No," Jet whispered, "not enough time. They're right on top of us. No, Lia, stop." She pushed against Lia's shoulders and scooted back along the seat.

Lia cursed softly. She struggled upright. "All right, your loss. I guess I'd better make myself presentable."

Jet ran her hand idly along a bent and torn piece of the car's chassis that came to a wicked backwards-aiming point just above the dash. "You should go flag them down."

She was right, but Lia argued anyway. You can't just give in, not at the start of a relationship, or you'll be giving in the rest of your life. "Why me?"

"One, it's your car. Two, you're not covered in someone else's arterial blood." She indicated her rust-drenched clothes. "Also your shirt isn't ripped wide open."

"Fair enough." She got the passenger side door open--it took some pounding to make it budge--and slithered out over Jet's hips. Jet gave a sharp hiss as she passed, pulling Lia up short. "You OK?"

"Jerk. Shouldn't have let you start what you can't finish. I'm fine."

"OK, well--you wanna take care of business, better make it quick. I'll be right back with the cavalry." Lia walked around the car as Jet worked her way to a sitting position, using the twisted spike of metal for leverage. A miracle that didn't skewer one of us on impact, Lia thought. What Jet had done, did that count as a miracle? She couldn't help glancing back as she made her way toward the sound of sirens--she hoped Jet didn't end up cutting herself.

Later she wondered whether it was a premonition or just paranoia, whether the thought had prepped her to hallucinate or whether something even stranger was going on. In any case, leading the emergency responders back to the car, walking some ten feet ahead of them, she caught a glimpse that tore a scream out of her, the first since the crash. A brief descent in the terrain put the car temporarily skyward, and she could see clearly into the cabin where blood ran over the seats and pooled in the buckets. Jet's face stared without comprehension over the dash, wearing the ghost of a grin that seemed wholly detatched from the deep gash in her throat. Lia screamed again and ran toward the car.

The ground rose once more so that the car's crumpled top lay between her and any view of the interior. Lia collided recklessly with the driver side door, yanked it open. The paramedics, hearing her scream, picked up their pace behind her. She knelt beside the steering wheel, staring at nothing. No one was there. Not a drop of blood, not a shred of clothing. No one was there at all.

I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to write tomorrow. I've come to one of those vague places in the plot-as-imagined. Day 4 seems a little soon for that.

Maybe something will come to me in my sleep.

Day 2: When Characters Decide To Be Real
Tue 2010-11-02 22:46:53 (single post)
  • 3,457 words (if poetry, lines) long

"So what are you writing about this year?" Common question. Probably the most-asked question between Boulder Wrimos last night. My answer? "It's an urban fantasy involving an interdimensional assassin and a woman who's unhealthily turned on by danger." And I haven't been very pleased with that answer, because it makes the assassin, Jet, sound like the only real character in the book. It turns Lia into a sort of mentally deranged caricature who is of course going to be attracted the first James Bond clone who comes along.

Today I wrote the scene where Lia has just picked a hitchhiking Jet on her way south out of town. Jet is bruised and bloody and has just stepped out in front of Lia's car. Now she's Lia's passenger, and she's getting interrogated about what she was up to just now.

Now, before I wrote this scene, while Lia was still an uncomfortably two-dimensional danger-addict, I imagined her losing control of the car as Jet described her most recent assignment. For no better reason than she found the story all exciting and arousing and stuff.

Stupid. Very stupid. But it was all I had.

Then I actually wrote the scene and realized Lia had a connection to Jet's victim, and what turned Lia on was knowing that the bastard was dead.

Miles roll by while I try to decide how far is far enough. They never say. Lia breaks the silence, all abrupt and suspicious: "Were you really trying to kill yourself?"

How much do I tell her? What harm can it do? But not much good, either. "Maybe for a moment there."

"Well, then, for a moment there, you were a fucking jerk." I watch her hands grip the wheel tighter. "You want to kill yourself, you can do it without dragging someone else into your drama. Fucking jerk." Silence again, for just a moment. Then she yanks at the volume knob. Old school punk music soars and batters my dream ears. For the briefest of moments I consider throwing myself out of the car. But no, this might not be far enough away from the scene of my assignment yet. I can't really be sure.

Ten miles I'm still not sure, but Lia turns down the volume again. "Why?"

I'm lost in thought by now, replaying my actions of the last two hours. My right shoulder feels wrenched: Ritchie, grabbing my wrist as I headed for the door. My mind's ear is faintly occupide with the noises Tresco made behind me as I escaped. A job well done is a joy to remember.

"Jet." The sound of my name brings me back to the here and now. I don't hear it often. "Why would you want to kill yourself?" Lia sounds oddly curious this time around, like one artist comparing techniques and preferences with another.

So I think about the question. I think about acceptable ways to answer it. It's never a good idea to get involved with non-involved characters in a dream, not even to the point of conversation. But it's not forbidden, either. What harm can it do? "I just killed a man," I tell her.

She jerks the wheel a little--surprise? Panic?--and punches the accellerator momentarily. When she eases off the pedal, her eyes stay wide. "It finally happened. Five years of picking up any hitchhiker I run across, I finally pick up a criminal." She sounds incongruously delighted. "Shit. An honest to God killer."

"Assassin." The correction is automatic, a reflex borne of long, intense training. "It's different. Well, to me anyway. It's all down to the reasoning."

She's silent awhile, smiling at the road. Outside, the desert is featureless, a far cry from Mapleton Ridge's depressing skyline. Yucca dot the ditch beyond the highway shoulder, and rock formations dominate the distance like the portfolio of an indifferent dilletante sculptor. "Who was he? The man you killed."

That's easy. Talking about other people is a lot easier than talking about myself. I don't have to be guarded. "Called himself Tresco. Leader of a gang calling themselves the Swifts."

Lia's putting on speed again. Just a little, but she's keeping it on this time. "Tresco."

"Sound familiar?"

She doesn't answer. Her knuckles whiten again. Then she laughs, hard and merciless, and I begin to wonder if I'll survive this ride. But that's OK. I'm far enough away now, I'm sure of it. "Tell me about it," Lia demands, sudden and decisive.

"I don't know much. He wasn't a very good gangster. I expected him to be more competent, but apparently he's--"

"Tell me how he died."

I glance at her, sidelong, and I see the set of her jaw. "What do you want to know?"

She grits her teeth--I hear them click and grind. "Make me see it. I want to be there."

And I'm thinking, that's a relief. Lia has some back story now, and she's starting to look potentially rounded as a character. You know. Rather than flat.

Tomorrow: the car crash! A scene I'm pretty sure I know inside out, through and through. Which means I will probably get surprised again.

NaNoWriMo 2010: Day 1. Rocked. Also Fermented.
Mon 2010-11-01 21:59:25 (single post)
  • 1,732 words (if poetry, lines) long

I spent a large part of Halloween weekend doing two things: making kimchi, and stressing about the NaNoWriMo Day 1 activities. Often simultaneously. It is trivial to stress while stirring a rice-flour porridge, running the blender, waiting for salted cabbage to wilt, or chopping up raw oysters. These activities don't occupy the brain. It doesn't take much effort to fill the brain with stress while doing them. Indeed, more effort is required to not stress.

But as it turns out, today rather rocked. So the stress was either A) unnecessary, or B) for a good cause.

I'm going to choose B) here. The stress was like, for instance, the stress over a possible Y2K disaster. In both cases, the stress wasn't just biting-the-nails insecurity; it was the emotional prompt for thoroughness of preparation. And preparedness averts unfortunateness. The result is everyone thinking you stressed for no good reason because obviously nothing went wrong, thus nothing could have gone wrong.

Well, that last bit is true about Y2K (which made a lot of programmers sad). Not so much true about my organizing NaNoWriMo kick-off activities. More "Wrimos" than I can easily count have thanked me for doing so; I do not feel unappreciated. In fact, I think they think I did more work than I actually did. As it turns out, a lot of the work involved asking people "Can we use your space?" and them saying, "Sure!" and me saying, "What, really? Really?" Then I packed a bag full of Stuff and showed up. The rest of the work was Boulder-area Wrimos being awesome.

So. Activity the first: We had an Inaugural Midnight Write-in in the lobby of the St. Julien Hotel. And the staff there were fantastic. Nobody cared whether anyone in our group was actually staying at the hotel; in fact, one couple had taken a room (ooh, luxury! *jealous*), but at no time did I feel compelled to point at them and say, "We're with them!" No. The bar manager and the night manager were both hugely solicitous, helpful beyond our wildest dreams, and exceedingly permissive considering that we taped up posters, took over half the lobby, moved furniture around, unplugged their lamps in order to plug in our extension cords, laptops, and my electric kettle. (In fact, the night manager seemed surprised that we would bother to reverse all the changes we perpetrated.) Aside from patronizing the bar a bit, we weren't paying the hotel any money for use of the space. And they didn't mind. They treated us like honored guests. They were amazing, y'all.

Wrimos began arriving as early as 10:30 PM. They ordered coffee, wine, and beer from the bar. They began moving furniture around, like I said, that we could all sit in rough circles around extension cords. Someone brought cake. Someone else brought cookies. I brought a bag of apples and a bucket of candy and some tea-and-coffee fixin's (the bar provided us coffee mugs galore). We ordered pizza from a nearby Papa John's (yet another thing I was amazed the hotel staff didn't mind us doing). Every once in a while someone would check the clock and announce how long we had until midnight.

Then, at midnight, we all started writing. Silence settled over what had been a merrily chatty party. Silence, that is, except for the clacking of keyboards.

I thought I did pretty damn well getting to 1674 by 12:45 AM. I still do think that's pretty damn good, but I am humbled at having been told that another Wrimo reached 5,000 by 2:00 AM.

Far as I can tell, everyone had fun. More than 20 people attended--that, on a Sunday night! And words got written. Thus: Success!

After the clean-up and the various carpools home, after John and I got home, after I sleepwalked my way through changing Null's diaper (I shall tell the story of How My Cat Got Into Diapers another time), I crashed and crashed hard. Aside from sleepwalking my way through feeding the cats at 10:00 AM, I pretty much slept until noon.

And at 7:00 PM we did it all over again, only with more partying and conversation and less actual writing, and the venue was Atlas Purveyors. And it was crowded--I mean, ker-OW!-ded. I lost count of the attendees attempting to find seats among the Monday night regulars (and there were a heck-a-lotta those as well). One couple did sort of give up and go home shortly after arriving, but most everyone else was able to endure the bustle and the lack of chairs long enough to enjoy meeting their fellow Wrimos and enjoying great conversation about how Day 1 had treated them so far, what word processors or novel-organizing software they preferred, and what genres they were writing in. Some of the non-involved Atlas customers got interested and started asking us about NaNoWriMo. We may have effected one or two conversions.

And now I am home. And I have edited a little of what I wrote this morning, in order to have a paragraph or two worth exhibiting on my NaNoWrimo profile. I hope to keep updating the excerpt on display under my Novel Info there on a daily basis. That's been a goal of mine in years previous, but I've never managed to do it.

So here's my Day 1 excerpt:

Lia's iPod had been repeating her Ramones playlist since pulling out of her mother's driveway four hours ago. At that time, she'd adjusted the car stereo's volume to a level known as I'm So Fucking Pissed I Could Scream (But If I Did I'd Never Stop Screaming, So I Won't). It was a very specific setting. You turned up the volume until the precise point at which the bass line started rattling the dashboard, then you turned the knob another 90 degrees. Some two hundred and fifty miles later, Lia was no longer So Fucking Pissed Etc., but she'd left the volume untouched because, hey, Ramones. And because it warded off the specter of falling asleep at the wheel, which was more likely than falling asleep in her childhood bed. The night was dying; the road was long. Thank God the road was long. Sometimes she suspected that only the distance between her family's home and her own was what kept her from killing herself.
I have also managed to jar up all the kimchi made this weekend and left out to ferment; it's now in the fridge. And it tastes pretty darn good, including the batch with oysters in. I am lucky in many, many ways. To be married to someone who both supports my writing and doesn't object to my making kimchi is to be truly fortunate.