“Thank you, God. My character is all built up now. You can stop.”
Debra Doyle

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Next, Get Hopelessly Confused
Thu 2011-02-10 23:47:58 (single post)
  • 2,746 words (if poetry, lines) long

Still not done. Still not done. This story isn't easy. It ought to have been easy. Why is it not easy?

So I read it aloud to my writing class last night. And I got some great feedback. I also got a big honkin' case of Doubt and Uncertainty. Like you do.

I mean, look. The narrator's back-story with the monster at the end of the book. Did it actually do something before, and if so, how'd it get reigned in again? Or did it just threaten really loudly, and if so, how, in the absence of some tragedy to remind the narrator that This Could Happen Again And It Will Be Your Fault, do I raise the stakes? Why is every option flawed? Why does every single idea fail to satisfy? Also, everyone's right--the shrink character is one character too many. Maybe replace scenes 6 and 10 with phone calls between the narrator and the lover. When in doubt, condense characters. But what does that make the scenes do now?

The last story I wrote was easy and it came out beautifully and it sold on its first time in the slush. Why can't this one be easy?

Excuse me, I'll just be over here whining.

(In better news, my writing classmates agreed that the connection to the Stevens poem isn't glaringly obvious, not even to those who are familiar with the poem. And they suggested a line from stanza 1 for a title: "The Only Moving Thing." I think it works.)

Next, Apply Slimming Shears
Wed 2011-02-09 14:44:23 (single post)
  • 3,195 words (if poetry, lines) long

Finished a draft yesterday. Still don't know quite what this story is, other than bloated; don't really know what its title wants to be, other than "not that." To fix the one, I'm doing a "quick" (ha!) revision pass this afternoon before emailing it to, or reading it to, friends and colleagues. To fix the latter, I plan on throwing this piece on the mercy of said friends and colleagues.

In case anyone's interested, Open Office Writer will open WordPerfect 5.1 documents remarkably well. However, the conversion is not without its flaws. All table structures in my WP51 document get visible borders that then have to be removed...

  1. Right-click inside table
  2. Select "Table..."
  3. Under "Borders" tab, in the Line/Style section, choose "None"

...and all tabs need to be reinserted, which is most easily done using RegEx Find & Replace. Which isn't simple. Open Office Writer's implementation of Regular Expressions is... non-standard. The expression "\n" means "paragraph mark" in the Replace With field, but "newline" in the Search Field. Or something. So apparently the thing to do is search for the first character of each line and prepend a tab:

Search For: ^(.)
Replace With: \t$1

And you should definitely not click "Replace All." This ends in tears. Have patience and perform the replacement one at a time; when it finds a new line that should not begin with a tab, press the "Find" button to skip this instance and move on to the next.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with a novel-length document. Probably refrain from using WP51 for my draft revisions, I guess. Just export RTF from yWriter and open the RTF with Open Office. Which is fine for novels written in yWriter; not so fine for novels written in WP51.

This is one of those "bridges" you only "cross" upon arrival, so I hear.

No Completion. However: Progress!
Tue 2011-02-08 11:50:22 (single post)
  • 1,393 words (if poetry, lines) long

Which is about it. Neither the story nor the scarf are finished. However, significant progress was made on both.

Most of the progress on the story happened at the Moonlight Diner, a sort of 50s/retro-themed greasy spoon on Tower Road near Denver International Airport. Their food is... OK. Well, it's either acceptable or abysmal depending on what you order. Steak and eggs ordered "eggs over easy and steak as rare as you're allowed" became eggs over medium/hard and a steak that had only hints of pink in the center and was dry and tough like leather. On the other hand, the taco potato skins are absolutely loaded and yummy. And they play a mix of oldies and 80s on their stereo, which is fun, but--what's up with 80s music being the new oldies? I'm only 34, I'm too young to feel old, stop trying to make me feel old!

Anyway, the quality of the food was of no import yesterday. I had already treated myself to Popeye's Fried Chicken for lunch. (New Orleans homesickness ahoy!) All I wanted never-ending coffee and a place to work on my story for three hours. Also wi-fi to check on the status of Southwest Airlines flight 502. I was there to pick up the marvelous Cate Hirshbiel, of course. Have you met Cate? Blog, re-meet Cate. She continues to be awesome.

So by the time her plane was due, I'd written the first five scenes. Of 13, of course. And by the time she called to say she'd got her luggage and was ready for pick-up, I'd spent the last fifteen minutes just gabbing with the waiter about, oh, stuff. Y'know. Driving in the snow, how video games can prepare you for real life situations, how people get very confused about tipping etiquette because it's so hush-hush in polite conversation, how airport security constantly strives to surprise us with more stupid where you'd have thought they couldn't possibly fit more stupid, how trains can be nice if you like trains.

As for the scarf, I knit on that at the Spin-In until my hands were done with knitting and I was ready for bed. Then I went home and crashed, hard.

Today I have until about 3:30 to work on the story some more. We'll see how far we get. The scarf has a new deadline of next Spin-In, when we'll leave our projects at the store to make a big show-off presentation for customers to ooh and aah at.

And tonight it's All You Can Eat Sushi at Japango with John and Cate and Avedan! Yayyyy!

Tools of the trade. That's the new yarn, hanging to dry on the wire shelf.
The scarf at 13 inches, in my pomegranate tree in Metairie
New yarn, ready to ball up and knit, resting on my bookbag in the window of Highlands Common Grounds.
The Meditation Wheel
Mon 2011-02-07 11:06:26 (single post)
  • 994 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today's the day. Today's the day I get a full draft of the new story complete. Today's also the day I come up with a good title for it--"The Monster at the End of the Book" is cute, the way it nods comfortably at Grover in the Sesame Street Golden Books story of the same name, but it's not at all right for this story.

Yesterday was the day I think I figured it out. Also the day I remembered how my spinning wheel makes a great platform for Meditation For Inspiration. Remember that? I hadn't.

But I remembered I had to finish spinning my portion of the group project fleece if I wanted to have a project to show off to the group tonight. Last year, the spinners who meet monthly at Shuttles Spindles Skeins decided to do a group project. So a representative went to the Estes Park Wool Market and bought three fleeces, and at the next monthly spin-in we all paid her back for our pounds, or half pounds, of the fleece. The idea was for each of us to bring finished projects to the January spin-in and Rock Day potluck. As most people weren't finished, we get another chance at tonight's spin-in.

So yesterday I hauled the spinning wheel over beside my desk and spun the last of the singles. And, because I had the poem tacked up over my desk, I meditated on a different stanza for every rolag I spun. (Rolag: a roll of hand-carded fiber. A possible unit work in spinning.)

Read next stanza. Begin to spin. Repeat the stanza out loud. Think about its possible connections to the story, letting "blackbird" equal "demon." Think about more connections, letting "blackbird" equal "Muse." Think about the theme of the stanza and mentally sketch out a scene demonstrating it in the story.

Then, for no better reason than opportunity, recite the whole poem up to that stanza. I mean, why not memorize poetry?

I had exactly enough wool left to get through stanza 12. (I'd already memorized Stanza 13 because it so very perfectly described the weather we'd been having lately. "It was evening all afternoon. / It was snowing, / And it was going to snow.") And I had exactly enough time left in the day that the newly spun singles could sit awhile before plying in the evening and washing the wool.

And now I know what I'm doing. Excellent. Presenting the Schacht Matchless as a Literary Composting Accelerator!

And now I've got to do it.

Hopefully I can blog again tonight or tomorrow morning, happily announcing a new first draft and a newly cast-off and sewn-up hooded scarf. Completing projects: good for the ego! I recommend it!

"And the poets call on Her, too."
Wed 2011-02-02 23:02:35 (single post)
  • 994 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today, Feb 2, is Imbolc, one of the eight Sabbats celebrated in the Wiccan calendar and sacred to many other Pagan traditions as well. Though today's Pagan religious systems vary as to how much actual Real True Ancient Traditions they contain, Imbolc was indeed celebrated in pre-Christian times. It was the feast day of the Goddess Brigid, beloved of the Celts. And when Christianity took hold in the region, she became Saint Brigid, and her Day became Candlemas.

Now, Brigid and Brigid's Day have connections to all things dairy, because Brigid watches over the milk-bearing livestock. Google up the two words "brigid dairy" and you'll find a bunch of them named after Her. Imbolc falls at the time of the year when the cows and the ewes first begin producing milk for the year. And so Brigid watches over dairies, those who work the dairies, and the young animals who need that milk to thrive.

But Brigid has other concerns: healing, the tending of the sick and the poor, the waxing of the light from late winter into early spring. And She is the patron Goddess of those who create. She has a particular affinity for blacksmiths. "And the poets call on Her, too...."

Now you know what poets are like – they are people who feed their souls on beauty, and a verse that won’t run to its meter is as painful to them as a wrenched knee is to the rest of us. But a poet wants more, too – a poet wants a verse to go out and do some good; for the poet shapes the verse – which is what the root of the word poetry means, after all – but then she sets the verse out to do some shaping of its own. So the poets call on Brigid, saying, Brigid, heal my words so that they run to the meter, and Brigid, light the flame of inspiration so that I can bend the words to my purpose, but most of all, they say, Brigid, let my words go out to others to be a source of wisdom, wisdom that does the service of healing, and wisdom that gives the gift that is needed, and wisdom that inspires the souls of women and men.
That's an excerpt from Literata's gorgeous retelling of Brigid's stories, or at least a goodly handful of Brigid's stories because Brigid's stories are so plentiful as to have no end.

And so this comes right back around to yr. humble Blogger, who's a bit of a lapsed Wiccan, or at least an inobservant one, but who couldn't let the day go by with out acknowledging Imbolc, and Brigid, and Brigid's gifts of wisdom and inspiration to poets. You see I've been at Her altar today--there's a word count on the new story. There's a whole bunch of new scenes. They're not very good yet, they're only 1st draft and then some, but, as I've found, I can't write the story right the first time. It's got to be down on the page before I can figure out what the story really is.

Not that it should take a High Holy Sabbat to get me writing--but I wasn't going to not write today. Not hardly.

Maybe tomorrow I can finish that first draft and really figure myself out. And maybe I can also figure out what good this story wants to do in the world. We're in the entertainment industry, us fiction writers, we live by our ability to make readers turn pages, but there's other stuff a good story does. I'm not always sure what else my stories are doing, especially the ones down on the Horror end of the Fantasy spectrum like this one, but when I get 'em right, I know they do something. Brigid knows better than I what that something is, I suppose. I can't go after it in specific. I can only write the best story I can, and trust in that touch of Her grace.

Oh! And I also messed around in the dairy, so to speak. I mean, that jug of milk that's a bit past its expiry date? I made it into paneer. Hooray for paneer! John and me and Avedan all nibbled a bit of the trimmed edges before I put the squared slab into the freezer bag where I accumulate paneer against the next time I make saag. Which should be around spinach harvest time. Eostre, maybe?

On Using the Time You've Got
Tue 2011-02-01 23:40:42 (single post)
  • 0 words (if poetry, lines) long

Sometimes a day just kinda gets away from me, and I just get nothing useful done. The typewriter doesn't come out. The short story scenes don't get written. And then it's 11:30 PM and I'm sleepy and it's so very easy to think, "You know, screw it. I'm going to bed. Writing can happen tomorrow."

But there's always another 15 minutes.

My laptop is coming to bed with me, and I'm going to poke at the half-formed scenes in my head before I lose consciousness.

13 Ways of Procrastinating on a Short Story
Mon 2011-01-31 20:12:13 (single post)
  • 0 words (if poetry, lines) long

The short story I'm currently avoiding working on occurs in a very strange conceptual overlap. Writers do that, and poets; I'm convinced it's a universal part of creativity. Totally unconnected thoughts get their wires crossed, thanks to that unruly and involuntary associative quality of imagination, and the resulting circuit does things that the electronic components manufacturers never dreamed of and would probably get superstitious about.

It starts with a recent homework prompt from Melanie Tem's writing group. (I seem to have mentioned this before.) She shared an anecdote concerning a writer she knew who'd been working on the same novel for years. He'd constantly get within sight of the end, then tear it all up and rewrite from the beginning. It's not all that uncommon; how many of us progress from incremental rewrite to incremental rewrite without ever finishing the first draft? But the prompt was, "Why can't they finish the book? What would happen if they did?"

Then a friend alerted me to an anthology I ought to be submitting to, and its theme dovetailed nicely with the prompt. Clearly, if the book ever ceases to be in a constant state of construction, something nasty will escape and do terrible things.

And of course that thought led to the famous Winchester Mystery House, which Mrs. Winchester kept in a constant state of construction for, so legend has it, a fairly similar reason. More or less. Meanwhile, flailing around for some sort of structure, I considered conversations between the writer and a psychologist, the latter cluelessly offering irrelevant professional insights on writer's block. Kind of like Richard Matheson's short story "Person to Person," in which the shrink tries to convince the narrator that the phone in his head is just an invention of a troubled subconscious mind. It isn't, of course.

So far, so good. One thought leading in an orderly and explainable fashion to the next. What I don't get is why the poem "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" popped into my head as an alternative structural frame.

Then while I was mulling all that over, the uncanny blackbird die-off in Arkansas happened.

So there you go. Lots of weird ideas and not a word written. As author Kit Whitfield put it, I've got mostly ideas about a story but not much in the way of ideas for a story. I don't have a good handle on the main character, I don't know what they write, I can't really see where they live and work, and I can't decide on the supernatural mechanics involved in trapping an infernal monster inside an unfinished novel manuscript.

But I've printed out the poem and hung it over my desk, and I've read some literary criticism about it. I've done some research on the Winchester House and the fallen blackbirds. I've got ideas toward the structure of the story, ideas like "Thirteen small scenes, each somehow connected with a poem stanza and having a blackbird in it somewhere if only in a very minor way. The last scene should involve the bird die-off and a day that dawns directly onto evening because of the snow." Structural clues like that often makes the difference between thinking in futile circles and actually writing something that goes somewhere. It's how "And On the Seventh Day" finally got written all those years ago; once I knew that there should be seven scenes, one for each of the days of the week in an oblique parallel to Genesis 1, I could write the story.

And I think tomorrow I'll be dusting off the typewriter. It worked last time, after all.

Remember those New Year's resolutions?
Sun 2011-01-30 23:57:48 (single post)

I made some. One of them was, "Devise a writing schedule with great specificity, and stick to it." This post is to announce my having done the first half of that.

It goes something like this:

  1. Four days a week (Tue.-Fri.),
  2. write a 6-hour work day,
  3. which includes
    • blogging gigs,
    • fiction,
    • and paid content writing.
In practice that should come to a couple Examiner articles, a Demand Studios article or two, and a good solid 2 hours minimum toward the submission-for-publication of short stories, novels, and poetry.

The time spent on blogging and content writing can shift. The people paying me to blog and write articles can shift. But the fiction has to happen. It absolutely does, and for no less than 2 hours a day. It's what it's all about, after all. So I'm trying to put it closer to the beginning of the day, to make sure it happens. Or at least to change the order of tasks around every day so that no one thing becomes The Thing That Never Happens. (About this, more later. Like, later this week. Probably.)

As to the second half of that resolution... well. Tomorrow is Monday. A whole new week. A whole new week plus an extra day because Abbondanza has not yet called its volunteers back to the farm for the spring. Every week is a chance to start fresh! And so I shall.

That blogging once every work day? Blogging here? I'd like to get back into that too. Consider this a new start.

The Author Discovers a Kryptonite Strata in Her Daily Diggings
Mon 2011-01-17 01:03:16 (single post)

So recently I've been trying to create and adhere to a useful daily schedule, as per New Year's Resolution the First. And one of the things I want to get done during a typical work-day, rather than, say, once per week, is a spot of web content writing or other project guaranteed to result in money. In trying to improve my output there, I have figured out something really important about researched content writing, such as a writer for Demand Media Studios ends up doing. About how I do said writing, anyway; your mileage may vary.

You ready? Here it is:

Too much data kills.

So I'm researching an article about fruit trees and how they metabolize stuff. This naturally leads to college course study guides describing photosynthesis and cell respiration. And the photosynthesis equation, which I dimly remember from high school. And the krebs cycle, to which I attribute most of the physical pain and nausea that resulted from my taking the AP Biology test (which I passed, but which the University of Washington had absolutely no use for, so there went uncounted hours of my life I will never get back). And molecules of ATP and ADP and NADP, some with ionic plus signs on the end signifying something or other and--

And this is a $15 article I'm writing, here. I should not feel like I have to write a chemistry thesis. But I'm staring at these course study guides and my brain is spinning and my tummy is churning and writing is not happening.

Then I find a PDF describing the process in a chatty, breezy tone and from a broad top-down view rather than from under a microscope. It's all "Light hits leaves, therefore chemical energy, therefore water breaks down and carbon dioxide breaks down and viola, oxygen and glucose! Yaaaaay!" And suddenly things are very simple in my head, and I'm mentally composing the first two sections of the paper. Yaaaaay.

It really comes down to finding the right reference articles that have the right balance of info detail. Also to knowing what kind of info needs to go into the article, so I can distill the right amount of detail from a microscope-level description of photosynthesis if I need to. Also remembering that I'm only getting $15 to $20 for the article, let's keep the time spent per article short, OK?

Besides, I've got a novel to edit. I can't do that if I'm spending all day attempting to relearn the krebs cycle.

The Book Thief: A Literary Confession
Fri 2011-01-07 23:54:17 (single post)

When I was in fourth grade, I stole a book.

I won't say it's the only time I've been a thief. As a youngster, I once "borrowed" a few pennies from my grandmother's table when she and her daughters were playing penny-ante Boo-Ray. In fifth grade once I picked up fifteen cents, the exact amount of spare change you got back from a dollar from the lunch cashier at St. Catherine, telling myself that found change on the ground was fair game, even the ground right underneath the monkeybars right after classmates had been hanging upside down there. As an adult in the workforce, I've committed my share of "oops, I cooked too many hot dogs, these will have to be thrown out" and I've taken home the odd office supply item too.

But only in one case did I steal a thing outright, with no rationalization prepared, with no contrived justification in my head but only a blatant desire for a thing that wasn't mine. And it was a book.

There was this battered copy of Edmund Wallace Hildick's The Active-Enzyme, Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch amongst the random collection of middle grade books in my home room. It was on the bottom shelf, half-invisible due to the dog-eared state of its spine. Already a committed fantasy reader, attracted to stories about kids and magic, I settled down on the carpet to read as much as I could before my block of free time came to an end. I read it over several days, nibbling it and biting it and swallowing it whole over a series of free periods. I loved it.

I loved it so much I took it home with me and never brought it back.

Actually, depending on how you count vices, this book was the occasion of more than one.

Arrogance, for instance. Thinking that what I enjoyed must necessarily be univerally enjoyable, I eagerly brought it to the teacher's attention when she was next looking for read-aloud material. Shame and embarrassment soon followed when my classmates bored of it and the teacher abandoned it before the end of Chapter 1.

Then there's witchcraft itself, and heresy, and disobeying one's parents. This was the book that firmly cemented in my head the notion that casting spells was something I could really do, thus laying the groundwork for my discovery of witchcraft as part of a religion people actually practiced. Which the Catholic Church was probably not down with, and my parents definitely weren't down with.

See, unlike most stories of youngsters doing magic I'd read until then, this one was realistic. Hildick's protagonist, Alison, is neither spirited away to Narnia nor visited by fairies nor given supernatural gifts. Instead, she finds a book forgotten on a shelf and begins experimenting with the magic spells described therein. The synchronicity wasn't lost on me: I, too, had found a book forgotten on a shelf, just as though, meant for me alone, it were disguising itself against other curious eyes. And the spells Alison performs are clearly spelled out on the page, easy for a reader to try -- complete with Alison cavalierly substituting whatever came to hand when the grimoir called for things she couldn't find. And the author left the results of her spells deliberately ambiguous: coincidence, or magic? You decide.

Remember the furor over kids turning to witchcraft over Harry Potter? I found that ridiculous from the start. Any kid who tries to emulate Rowling's wizards will be disappointed on the first attempt. No, if you want a book that gives real-world-followable instructions on magic that you can convince yourself actually worked, and bears certain resemblances to modern-day Wicca, that's Hildick's book.

So. Fiercely wanting to hold onto my newly found witchcraft instruction manual, freshly convinced that I was alone in valuing the story, and worried that the teacher, having been made aware of its existence and its universal disapprobation (well, near-universal, but I was a known freak; I liked Neil Diamond and I was a girl who played with Transformers), might cull the shelves and make the book vanish forever... well, I simply preempted her, and performed the vanishing act myself.

I still have it today, even more battered than ever, squirreled away in a chest of precious things. I get it out and reread it periodically. It's a damn good book. Hildick died in 2001, recently enough for me to feel keenly the regret of never getting a chance to tell him how that book changed my life. And it did. The witchcraft thing? Superficial. I'd have gotten there eventually. No, there were more important effects. In that book, Hildick spoke to the pre-teen's constant undercurrent of frustration in a mature flowing language that challenged the young reader to competence. He didn't talk down to me; he understood me, and he respected me. In under 300 pages, in a book published three years before I was born, he conveyed to me what it was to be me.

Being a child means being surrounded by, ruled by, and often belittled by a sea of adult voices. Those adult voices said that if I thought I was being treated unfairly, I was wrong and it would all make sense when I was older. They said that if I was unhappy it was because I brought it on myself, usually by being disrespectful. They that if I was frustrated I must be overreacting. If A then B. QED.

But Hildick created the character of Alison, and from the first page her frustrations are respected even when they are overreactions. Her sense of injustice is validated even when no one really can be accused of being unfair. In writing Alison, he told me I was not alone. I wasn't a freak. Gods, it was good to hear.

Why am I telling this story now?

Well, see, I lied way up there in the third paragraph, about that being the only time I stole something outright. Sort of. I mean, had I told this story this morning it would still have been true. Um. Except not if I hadn't been very good Tuesday afternoon...

I confess. I have discovered in myself a disturbing tendency to wish to liberate books. Specifically, neglected books. Books being misused as decorations. While others steal coffee cups from Denny's, I'm tempted by the monogrammed blank hardbacks in the Banana Republic outlet in the Lakeside Mall. (Why does a clothing store have a decorative pile of books? And why not use real books from a library sale? And how cool would it be to use one of their blanks as my next dream diary?) The obviously valuable collectables getting dusty at the Dark Horse, those I don't think I'd touch...

...but this book that's now in my canvas tote bag, it was published in 1981, it has library markings all over it down to the shelving sticker on its spine, it was hardly a valuable collectable, and it wanted so badly to be read.

When I was at my cousin's pre-wedding cocktail party at a French Quarter restaurant, I stole a book...