“Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”
G. K. Chesterton

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Day 24: In Which I Contemplate the Conversations I Cannot Have With You
Wed 2010-11-24 23:25:54 (single post)
  • 42,641 words (if poetry, lines) long

OK, so not a 2K day. Today sort of got away from me. It was full of Wednesday stuff, and also distractions. So just about 1K, and that in the last hour and a half.

Again, this being a 4th Wednesday, one my Wednesday stuff things was going to my writing class. In addition to critiquing a couple more chapters from a classmate's novel, we got to talking about NaNoWriMo. Two of us in the class are participating, so everyone else wanted to know how we were doing.

Is that how we got on the subject of...? No, wait. Let me go out and come in again.

We got to talking about critiquing novels, and about people who can't quite bring themselves to finish their novels. About the tendency to go back to the beginning and edit rather than writing the last chapter of the first draft. Or, worse yet, to throw the whole thing out and start over.

Melanie put forth the idea of having one's sense of identity bound up in the process of writing a novel, such that the author can no longer imagine themselves not writing that novel. If it were ever finished, who would they be? Someone else, inspired by the idea of having your novel be your identity, suggested that there's sometimes a fear of letting the novel have its own identity. Fear of letting the novel stop being an extension of yourself and just be itself.

Which is where I volunteered the information that I have indeed been putting bits of my novel's first draft onto my blog, "you know, just to tell the world I showed up on the page today." The connecting thought was this: Finishing a work of fiction means the author can no longer enjoy the exclusive privilege of saying what that fiction is. Once you put it out there, you open it up to the act of communication, co-creation, redefinition maybe, that takes place between the reader and the text. The author, having had her say during the writing of the piece, is now cut out of that conversation. One might understandably have a fear of ending one's role in the creation of a novel, of turning it over to the readers act of creation which is totally out of the author's immediate control. And that fear is something I do in fact confront when I put up another snippet of Jet and Lia's story.

"And you're comfortable with this?"

"Not really, no," I said. "But that's kind of why I'm doing it."

"To encounter that discomfort?"

"...yeah. To push my boundaries, step outside my comfort zone. Something like that."

Which was, for all that I sounded like I knew what I was talking about, something I hadn't really thought about before. I mean, yes, I was absolutely aware of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, but only in that I was presenting something imperfect to the world. What I'm challenging myself to do is to allow unpolished, imperfect me out into public. (Yes, I do a quick polish before I post. But it's not finished novel. It's still pretty rank rough draft.) That, and, yes, the whole showing up on the page thing. The whole "blog every day or the world will know you didn't write today" stick, in terms of carrot-and-stick motivation. (The carrot is going back and reading my blog entry, and knowing I wrote something new today, something that didn't exist when the sun rose this morning. "Put something silly in the world / That ain't been there before," as Shel Silverstein wrote. It's a good feeling, knowing I have.)

But I hadn't thought before about how everything I put up here immediately leaves my hands and goes out into the world and has conversations of its own, conversations in which I can have no further input, with anyone who claps eyeballs to this page.

Quite frankly, it's scary. I'm not entirely sure how I keep doing it.

He wore blue jeans, a plain white T-shirt, and, against the chill of a desert winter, a plaid flannel overshirt. His feet were bare. And he did indeed resemble an angel, at least one of those in a racially myopic children's picture book: tall and muscular, his skin the colorless color of the moon straddling the highway to the east, his hair one shade too blond to seem real. At any moment he would begin to glow, she thought, exuding a soft golden-pale light that, though invisible under the moon, would be detectable like napped velvet to the touch of her hand on his flesh. Her fingers would come away coated in fine dust as from a moth's wing.

When Lia said, "What are you doing here?" she could have slapped herself for the naked suspicion in her voice. But why shouldn't she be suspicious? Just because he'd startled her so excitingly, just because she inexplicably wanted to get him into a dark bedroom to see if she could read by his light, that was no reason to forget he had startled her. She folded her arms, a gesture intended more to remind herself to stay on her guard than to advertise her distrust to him.

"I might ask you the same." He stepped closer, but not so close as to engage Lia's instinct to back away. The choice appeared to be deliberate, but whether respectful or manipulative she couldn't say. His bare feet coming down onto the sand made the grains roll away in small avalanches. "It's late, and you're inconveniently far from town. If you shouted for help, I don't think anyone would hear you."

The distance between them kept the implied threat in his words from slamming into her at full force. Her alertness sharpened: flight or fight decision coming. Be ready. The sensation was more spine-tingling than spine-chilling. Lia took a step closer and shivered.

Day 23: It's Crap, But With a Beat You Can Dance To
Tue 2010-11-23 23:38:40 (single post)
  • 41,688 words (if poetry, lines) long

OK, so much for skipping ahead. Somewhere between then and today, I sort of got an idea of the shape of the in-between bits. How X and Y and Z happen, and how they're all related and internecessitated, I mean interdependent, and how I might get there from here. So I rearranged the order of some scenes, dropping some of them into different chapters, and babbled to myself in yWriter's scene description blocks, and moved other chapters firmly toward the end in a group of unused and unusable chapters... and finally placed the editor's cursor right where I'd left off Sunday morning.

I'm still not sure I like it. The whole thing feels very contrived: while Jet's supposed Monitor, Chender, is slipping secretively onto Earth to mess with an emotionally vulnerable Lia, Jet just happens to run into Lia's asshole brother Jack and get involved with him because she, too, is emotionally vulnerable in her own doggedly determined way. Again, there is only so far I can push Jet's dream's synchronicity. It begins to feel like a get-out-of-disbelief-free card for me, and that card's getting decidedly shabby around the edges.

But the plot had begun to feel claustrophobic in this section, containing as it did nothing but Jet and Lia and Jet's angst and Lia's scared boredom. They're getting out of the house for a bit--er, motel of the week, whatever, they're getting out of the motel for a bit, and they're meeting people and doing things. Which gives me an opportunity to tie things together, if I'm observant enough to take advantage of the opportunity.

And even if I'm not--sing it with me, now--this is only a first draft. It's amazing the connections that arise after the draft has been set aside for a few months and the author comes back with fresh eyes to evaluate it.

So. Trusting the process, trusting that I am unconsciously providing myself with opportunities to make really stunning things happen to this book in January, I continue writing a whole buncha crap. At least it's crap with a direction again.

She couldn't blame Jet for not knowing. She hadn't told her. She had never told her about her so-called family, about her mother's near-psychotic insistence on control and "civility" (because no matter what terrible things are going on in the dark, we must never be uncivil about it), about her father's stern, warped oblivion (because Lia was only a girl, not worth his time or concern), about her brother's--shit. Of course she'd never told Jet. She'd have to think about it then. Not just because she'd said, but because Jet would ask for more details. Whatever Lia chose to say, Jet would her interrogate her for more. Jet would probably think it had something to do with her infernal "assignment."

Lia sighed and turned toward the TV. She wasn't really watching it. She'd left it on so that its play of light and shadow would make the room seem active, less empty, its puppet show holding back the night. The volume was off. Lia's own thoughts, where they might go, that was bad enough, but the TV's chatter was worse. The TV was her mother's constant companion and a foil against which civility might be enforced. Civility meant keeping voices down so that the TV could be heard. And if Lia shouted, or screamed, or cried, Lia's mother would slap her. And Lia's father would say nothing. And Lia's brother would do whatever he liked, which was usually why Lia had been screaming, which was something Lia did not want to think about right now. TV. The TV was mute. It was better that way. And it was better for Lia to think instead about Jet and her putative assignment.

It wasn't that Lia didn't believe Jet now. She had no skepticism left, at least not about the supernatural stuff. She had accepted Jet's claims into her own understanding of existence. She accepted that Jet was not of this world, that Jet could die and return to her on the third day--or even on the next day, one-upping everyone's usual go-to example for resurrrection. She didn't accept that Jet's world was the real one and hers was not, but she accepted that there were more worlds than one. And she accepted that Jet arrived with assignments to piece together and perform, and that she received her instructions while she slept

But what Lia wasn't sure about was Jet's insistence that every random thing was a message from beyond. Jet could be a being from another world and still be a bog-standard paranoid conspiracy theorist. Lia though it highly likely, and it was pissing her off.

There now. And speaking of crap, I'm done with crap daily word counts. Tomorrow will be a 2K+ day. Just watch.
Day 22: On Taking One's Own Advice
Mon 2010-11-22 23:45:18 (single post)
  • 40,471 words (if poetry, lines) long

Mondays are often hard. (This has come up before.) I get home from my morning shift at the farm, I take a shower and a nap, and then if I get anything else done in the day I'm lucky. Usually I take care of whatever I feel strongly obligated to do, like a load of laundry, but the things I want to have done for my own sake often don't get done at all.

Add to the general Mondayness that the novel is at an "I don't know what comes next" place, and the motivation to write decreases further.

One of today's obligations was to write up a regional email--an email that goes out to everyone in the Boulder region--on the occasion of NaNoWriMo Week 4 starting. These weekly emails usually contain a round-up list of events for the week, reminders about extra special events or about the ongoing book drive, and some little rah-rah pep talk about writing novels.

Since it's Week 4, I wrote about what to do when "The End" feels far too far away: Skip right to The End and write it first.

After sending the email, I let more time pass until writing today at all felt futile. It was already 11:00 PM - what could I possibly get done before the end of the day? Besides, I had no idea what to write...

"Hello, Niki. This is Your Own Advice calling. Yes, yes, I am off to visit your friends like you suggested, but it seems I've forgotten my keys and my wallet, so I had to come back for them. And while I'm here, I thought maybe I'd offer you a little help with your daily noveling task."

So I set a timer and wrote one of the end-of-book scenes while it was ticking.

As it turns out, it really is good advice. It can come home to visit any time.

And this is where I give up.

I have tried. I have tried as hard as anyone from any world can try. Since the beginning of memory, I have fulfilled every one of my assignments faithfully and to the letter. I have not questioned them. I have set my conscience aside, making every Adjustment required of me regardless of my personal feelings. If I have not obeyed every tradition to the letter, I have followed it to the utmost according to its spirit. But it is not enough. It will never be enough.

Yes, I got involved. I began to care. When reality ceased to hold my interest, I found love in a dream. And why not? Am I not assigned to the dream often and often? Don't get attached, Chender said--damn him, damn him forever--or it will impact your assignment. But it didn't--I did what I was sent to do, every time. Except now, when I can't figure out what it is. Even when I am awake, my Employer tells me nothing. And in the dream it seems all guidance is gone. This, after every attachment has been broken, every tie loosed. Look at me! Every day I practice forgetting her. Every night I ignore the loneliness. I have given myself entirely to the assignment--and still there is no guidance. You give me nothing.

So I give up. I take the lapis stones in my hand, letting them fall on my palm into different arrangements, trying out of habit to see clues in demonstrations of random chance. I clench them in my fist until the pressure against the flesh of my palm is painful.

Then, one by one, I swallow them.

(Though the advice is good, the writing is not necessarily good writing, except in that it is on the page now, which makes it by definition better than any writing that remains solely in the head.)
The elk have the event center surrounded.
Day 21: Well, Tell It To Stop Doing That
Sun 2010-11-21 23:37:03 (single post)
  • 40,018 words (if poetry, lines) long

The all-nighter write-in at Bighorn Mountain Lodge in Estes Park ended very well. The morning dawned sunny with a dramatically pink snow cloud looming behind a nearby peak. By 9:15 or so that snow cloud had reached us. It dumped its contents on us for about two hours, during some of which time it nevertheless persisted in being sunny. As the snow cleared up and I was about to drive away, I realized that the couple of elk I'd scene towards the bottom of the hill was now a huge herd of elk grazing their way right up to the parking lot. Huge, like thirty elk or more, of all ages.

They're very big, elk. But since you can't get that close, you don't always realize how big they are. Not until they pose for your camera right by a picnic table do you get a sense of scale.

About the writing--look, I really don't like what I wrote today. After meandering from idea to idea yesterday, I have Jet wandering around town trying to figure out what she's supposed to be doing, in about the same way I'm wandering around with words trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be writing. She'd like to examine the MacGuffins mysterious gems more closely, so she wants a microscope to look at them with, so I had her meet a guy in a pub, a guy who'se in pharmaceutical chemistry. And because random convenient guy is too convenient, I decided he was Lia's no good brother. What followed was a bog-stupid drunken seduction scene that will not survive to the second draft, thank you.

This is from the bit where he drives her from the bar to his lab, which she finagled by giving him to understand that she was totally hot for chemists in situ. Like I said: bog-stupid. And, hey! note the angst. Gah.

I'm nervous the whole way there; he's too drunk to drive, he's speeding, and he runs a few red lights. Usually I wouldn't worry. Death just means waking up, after all. But waking up prematurely isn't useful to the assignment, and who knows how I'd get the stones back if I dropped them here. I try to calm myself with the thought that the dream led me to him and I'm only doing what I'm told.

But I can't get rid of the doubts. Doubts are like stray animals; once you begin to feed them, that's it--you've got a new pet. It's remarkably the same on every world I've been assigned to. There are planets with methane atmospheres where the young of the dominant sentient species are told, "Don't give that crixxith your leftover stwthyl or you'll never get rid of it." And so with doubts. I began entertaining them back at the hotel, asking myself: did the dream really send me to Lia for a purpose beyond recovering the gems? Or am I just too attached to her? (You are, my thoughts think in Chender's voice. You are too attached. They die, you know. They die and they're gone as if they never were. Don't fall in love with fictions. It is indeed a remarkable imitation of Chender's voice. I can almost hear it. With my fictional ears.) The doubts cause me now to be unsure I'd recognize the dream's cues even if a ten-foot sacred clown materialized in front of Jack's car at the next red light and beckoned me to get out, go that way, do this.

The dream wants something. And I am here. That's all the certainty I can manage.

Day 20: Same Old Same Old, Only Elsewhere and Special-Like
Sat 2010-11-20 21:56:37 (single post)
  • 38,328 words (if poetry, lines) long

I'm in Estes Park tonight, at the Bighorn Mountain Lodge, at the celebrated 24-Hour Write-In. I shall probably spend my sleeping hours curled up under the car blanket on one of these plastic tables, or maybe on that brick fireplace hearth that looks so well insulated. I've been here since noon and I will be here until noon tomorrow.

You'd think this would mean a huge increase in the novel's word count. Strangely enough, this is not the case. I've written just under 2000 words--not bad for a day's work, but nothing special. I've submitted an article to Demand Studios and I've done my Puzzle Pirates Weekend Blockade Schedule blog post (hooray for getting a large chunk of database entry and retrieval structure done!). And I've answered emails. And, I'll admit, I've also done a decent amount of playing.

It's a lot like a regular day at home, really, only in an exotic location surrounded by writers. Which is fine. A 24-hour write-in isn't just about the word count. It's about the camaraderie. It's about that huge box of Cup Noodle that one of the attendees brought from Costco. It's about walking down to Lake Estes when I need a break, or splurging a little on elk and red wine at a chop house about three hotels down. It's about moving the daily round into a new location, and not having to worry about the daily grind of the usual location.

The novel's poking along. I'm honestly surprised at yWriter telling me "Added today: 1976" because I feel like I only added a sentence or three here and there between the lines. I certainly didn't advance the plot. Mostly I just took yesterday's writing and tried to flesh it out so that it would feel more like a natural part of the book rather than like something I tossed at the wall without any sort of character-arc or plot-pacing in mind. I'm starting to get an idea of the shape of this portion of the book, which is a relief.

Nevertheless, I'm getting increasingly uneasy with Jet's whole "the dream provides" thing. It's starting to sound, at least to me, a lot like "the author will provide." Author fiat is not the best reason for stuff to happen. Granted, a lot of things happen because of a certain amount of in-book author fiat, that's the point of the plot, that's the big reveal that we're building up towards, but how well is that excuse going to hold up in the end?

Never mind. It's too soon for that kind of meta. Here's your daily excerpt. Enjoy.

The dream keeps us in motel money and an endless procession of instant just-add-water meals. I am not conscious of money changing hands, except sometimes when I find myself handing over the check-in desk an uncounted wad of paper marked by one or the other of the U.S. Mints. The night manager gives me a key. We never see him, or her, again. It is all according to the logic of dreams, which pushes me into the next scene without all that tedious mucking about with adminstrative details. But I wonder why it can't simply push me past these other tedious details, the ones where I have to play detective and figure things out. I wonder why a dream needs an actor at all. Can't the Commanders of Adjustments make their own adjustments? Why do they need to Command them at all?

Lia stays in the motel room, reading books that I bring her or watching the TV. She acts like one hunted. It would be understandable enough if we were still in Silberne, but I feel it's somewhat overblown in Painted Sands. The Swifts do have a few tentacles here, but they're stiff from disuse, atrophied. Nevertheless, Lia won't go out the door until check-out. I feel like all seven dwarves in a single person, with a distrustful Snow White back at the cottage. "While I'm gone, don't you even let housekeeping in," I say, making a joke of it. "Especially don't admit anyone claiming to sell combs or apples." That makes her laugh. She runs both her hands through her short hair, back and forth, making it stand up in a disordered array of copper spikes that wouldn't hold a toothpick, let alone a comb. "Never liked apples anyway," she says.

I don't hear her laugh very much these days. I hope these days don't last.

Day 19: In Which I Get Distracted By Web Programming
Fri 2010-11-19 23:34:11 (single post)
  • 36,352 words (if poetry, lines) long

I keep a couple of blogs going over at Examiner.com. One of them is National Puzzle Pirates Examiner, where I post mini-game tutorials, announcements of monthly limited edition ships and trophies, and blockade schedules.

The latter, blockade schedules, takes up a bit more of my time than I think it's probably worth. Except, I think it's worth it just to create a web resource that didn't already exist. You can get a flag's info, a crew's info, a player's info, and even the various top rankings of these entities as regards their puzzle standings and fame, all by going to the yoweb pages--but you can't get an up-to-date schedule of upcoming blockades (huge multi-player sea battles determining the control of an island) on the web. You have to log in to get this info.

So I create this resource as best I can, by logging in myself. To each of the nine servers. Every day.

It goes like this. The weekend schedule goes up on Sunday night or Monday morning, and the weekday schedule goes up on Friday night or Saturday morning. Creating the post involves logging in to each of the nine servers, or "Oceans," and copying down what I see on the Blockades tab of the Notice Board into an spreadsheet. Then I sort the spreadsheet, separate out the blockades that start during the block of time the current post covers, and type up a list. Sometimes I come up with something witty to write in the intro para and sometimes I don't.

Then, each day throughout the week, I log onto each of the nine servers again to see if additional blockades got scheduled for the current post's time period. If so, I add them into the current post.

Every single time I write up one of these posts, I find myself thinking, "I need to create a proper database infrastructure, and then a web page that spits out the blockade list so I can just copy and paste it into Examiner's edit page. One of these days..."

This morning, I started creating that database infrastructure. Relearning PHP/MySQL. Navigating timezone offsets and PHP's DateTime object. Scraping the rust off my memory of basic Javascript event handlers, PHP looping syntax, and MySQL INSERT statements. I had a great time kvetching about the DateTime object over lunch with John today. Who couldn't help me much, being more of a Java guy than a PHP guy, but he did help me take a second look at my logic.

("You'd think if you gave it a date/time string AND a time zone, it would create a DateTime object set to that time in that time zone. Wouldn't you? But noooooo, it creates a DateTime object set to that time in the web server's time zone, then it converts the timestamp to the time zone you specify! This is Not Useful to me!" "So why don't you do the conversions client side?" "Because Javascript can't answer the question 'What timezone offset holds in Pacific Time?' It only knows that my computer is 420 minutes short of UTC." "Date objects are universally hinky, aren't they?")

Guess what I didn't do today? Pretty much anything else! Thank goodness for the write-in at Barbed Wire Books today, or I'd have failed to write the next 1800 words of the novel too.

As it turned out, Lia didn't get to keep the car. Which is to say, it wasn't hers. It was both of theirs, because they had to start living in it.

That was Jet's suggestion, but Lia would have brought it up if Jet hadn't. That night, she'd let Jet precede her up the stairs to her apartment, just in case one of the Swifts' thugs was waiting. They weren't. There was no trouble. But Lia couldn't bring herself to lie down on the bed. Standing there in her living room, the sense of insecurity was so great that Lia had trouble believing in the walls. She actually walked through the front room to lay a hand on the window, just to make sure it was solid.

Before Jet said word one, Lia announced, "We can't stay here."

"You're right. Pack what you need, and we'll go."

Lia blinked. She'd expected some sort of argument over this--but only because Jet always argued with her, not because she thought Jet would disagree with her reasoning. She got over her surprise quickly.

Walking into the bedroom, she half-expected someone to shoot her from the fire escape. No one did. No one was there at all.

They traveled north, on Lia's suggestion, though driving through Mapleton Ridge made her cringe even at 65 miles per hour on the highway. She shrank down beneath the level of the passenger window, hoping no one would see her. Hoping no one would recognize Jet, who was plainly visible. They made it through the city unscathed, then crossed another hundred miles of desert on their way to the town of Painted Sands.

Lia's home town. The town where her parents lived, and her brother, and all the years between them. Years suffered don't leave their place of origin. They stay and wait for you to return.

Jet glanced at her as they entered the city limits, then gave her a second look. "You all right?"

Lia shook her head and burrowed even further down in her seat.

Day 18: So Who's the Support Spouse Again?
Thu 2010-11-18 23:41:01 (single post)
  • 34,526 words (if poetry, lines) long

It's not quite U.S. Thanksgiving yet, but I'll count my blessings.

John started his new job this week. The company he works for is starting up a brand-new Denver-based group to work on a brand-new project, so they need a brand-new office. They do not yet have this office. They spent the first three days of the week meeting in a conference room at a hotel in Louisville where the folks flying in from L.A. were staying.

Last night apparently the team all got told, "Sorry, still no office. Take your company-issued laptops and work from home for the rest of the week."

So I got to spend pretty much all day sharing "office space" with my husband. And by "office space" I mean the Parkway Cafe this morning over a long breakfast and Red Rock Coffeehouse over a very long afternoon. He spent it on IM with co-workers, working on building their brand-new code base. I spent it blogging and noveling and programing personal PHP/MySQL projects. Eventually other Wrimos joined me at Red Rock. We did three 15-minute word-sprints, over the course of which I got some 1670 more words of rough draft into the word processor, and we talked about how our novels were going. I posted to the forum that "the Red Rock group is here, ready for word wars! There are three of us and a support spouse." After a moment I looked over at John, hard at work in about five different application windows, and amended that aloud: "I couldn't tell you which of us is the support spouse, actually. We're sort of reciprocal like that."

It's been a really nice day. Tomorrow looks to be equally nice.

Really nice days like today ought to happen more often.

"Wait. Montrose. Is he--"

"Oh, he's alive. So's the thug. Won't be too long before they come around, so let's get out of here."

I start walking, but she doesn't move, so I accidentally wrench my hand free of hers as she stands there staring at her erstwhile captors. "Kill him," Lia says. Her teeth make that grinding noise I remember from our first afternoon together. "I want that bastard dead."

I study her face; what I see there makes me slightly ill. "That's not why I came," I tell her.

"If you don't kill him, I will."

"No." But she turns, takes a step toward the unconscious bodies. The state she's in, I truly believe she might kick Pa Montrose to death with those ridiculously spray-painted sneakers. I grab her arm, yank her toward me hard enough to make her cry out. "I said no."

She gives a long shriek like I've never heard come out of her before--and if that doesn't bring the rest of this hornet's nest down on top of us, I don't know what will--but the vengeful obsession seems to leave her with the sound. The next thing out of her mouth is a petulant whine: "Well, why not?" I'll take petulant over obsessed any day. "Why that poor security guard, then? He wasn't your target either. Why kill him but spare this piece of shit?"

"Because I had no choice. I had to be in that building for an hour or more. He'd have woken up and called the whole police station down on me." It bothers me still. There'd been a photo next to the parking lot cam monitor: a small boy laughing in a spray of rain. "I don't kill where I don't have to. And I don't have to kill him. He's an asshole, but he's not why I came."

"Then why--" She turns a pleading look on me. "Why did you come?"

I tell her the truth. "I came for you, Lia." Well, I think, and the words are lapis blue, but not the whole truth.

Day 17: Less (Detail) Is More (Credibility)
Wed 2010-11-17 22:29:54 (single post)
  • 32,686 words (if poetry, lines) long

It's this weird balance. In order to establish credibility and to really put your reader in the scene, you need details. Aspen, not tree. Prius or Civic, not car. You don't say "Somehow she managed to figure it out." You show how she figures it out. ("Somehow" means "The author doesn't know, either.") And when your character slips beneath a box-spring to hide inside the hotel-style frame it rests upon, you can't just say "she panicked when she realized she'd never get out again by herself." You have to describe the onset of nausea and the feeling of a scream trying to get out. You have to make the reader smell the dust under that box-spring, taste the air going stale in that airless space, hear how sounds in the rest of the room are muffled by the smothering mattress.

But then if you're too detailed about other things, you invite disbelief. It's like the way writing too-detailed rules invites people to game the system. I continue to have a problem figuring out or even simply imagining the detective game Jet plays to figure out the connection between Councilman Hackforth and the Swifts, for instance. I can't say "and then she got it!" with no supporting detail. But I also can't describe her getting into Lia's workplace incognito and tracing various financial records until she finds the dirty money, because A) I don't quite know my way around plausible details for that, and B) if I attempt to make them up, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. And I can't rely on "Because she's dreaming, the dream magically provides things like key cards and passwords" too much or it becomes the sonic screwdriver of my novel.

I think I need to rewatch some Leverage episodes. I always feel like everything about the computer hacking and info-stealing is plausible while I watch the show, only to realize later that I really didn't quite follow. There was enough detail to keep me nodding along, but (usually) not enough to get me picking it apart. (The big exception is whenever they do something with airlines. The writers for Leverage really need to sit down with the latest FAR/AIM before trying to write another "bluffing the pilot with a surprise inspection" scene.)

I haven't quite figured out that balance yet, which is why I skipped right over all that stuff and wrote the assassination scene. I'll figure it out on the rewrite, I guess. Or in December.

But the problem rears its head once more as I try to figure out how Lia outsmarts the gang leader in his own home, despite a room with no hiding places, no windows, no weapons, and constant monitoring via regular and infrared cameras. Here I am with a stack of cards again and instructions to make a house out of them...

Oh, screw it. How about we have Jet come back at a time convenient for engineering a power outage? Which Lia takes advantage of admirably, so she's not just a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued?

Nevertheless, I'm sure that even this more simple scheme involves plot holes which one might drive a truck Chevy Tahoe through. But screw it anyway. This is rough draft. This is NaNoWriMo. I'll figure it all out eventually.

"Oh, and about those cameras," he said. "They're infrared. You have no secrets here." He turned out the light as he left, locking her into complete darkness.

Lia once more lay in a defeated state of aching disarray. Degraded was not a strong enough word. Nor was violated. Just--defeated. But the feeling passed sooner than before. Maybe that was because she was less exhausted now, having slept a night through. Maybe it was putting a night's sleep between herself and Jet's--departure. That's all it was, she told herself: a departure, a temporary goodbye. She tried hard not to remember what Jet looked like dead. But having slept and eaten since then, and having the more immediate problem of her captivity to worry about, it was easier to hold that memory at bay. Departure. And she'd made a decision when she awoke this morning, if it were indeed morning. She'd made a decision not to just wait to die.

So she found herself on her feet once more, turning the lights back on, running another bath to clear her body and her mind. She washed off the blood and other fluids, inventoried her body for new bruises, studiously ignored the hidden cameras she couldn't do anything about. She also inventoried the room--mentally, since she couldn't investigate physically without alerting her monitors to her actions. But she walked tens, hundreds of laps around the room, considering possible hiding places (though the room was devoid of hiding places). She calculated possible escape routes (though escape routes were notoriously absent). And she thought about possible weapons. Jet had made a deadly weapon out of a champagne glass. Pa Montrose's exposed throat lingered in her memory: an opportunity. If she could only find a single sharp object easily hidden in the hand, if only she could secret it away without the cameras catching her, she might actually look forward to the next time he screwed her. She'd screw him right back, fatally. Let his thugs kill her for it; she'd die happy. She walked around the room again, evaluating her resources.

If only she were Jet. Jet wouldn't even need a weapon. She'd simply strangle him with her bare hands.

If only Jet were here.

The next day--she had to assume these were days, measured as they were in three meals per and ending with a bedtime visit from Pa Montrose--a strange static snapped somewhere in her consciousness, and a ringing began in her left ear. She thought very little of it, other than that the auditory hallucinations were especially loud in this silent prison of a room.

Then, about ten minutes later, the lights went out.

Day 16: On Describing the Indescribable
Tue 2010-11-16 21:05:28 (single post)
  • 31,010 words (if poetry, lines) long

As I mentioned some posts earlier in passing (in parentheses, even), I've set myself a rather difficult problem for a NaNoWriMo-timed novel draft. The character of Jet is largely imaginary. Obviously every character in a novel is generally imaginary, but Jet is even more so. She is merely a projection into space-time, a fiction created by a undimensional being in order to have an effect on a physical dimension. In reality she has no physical form, does not communicate or think in words, does not use physical senses to perceive the world, doesn't live in a world that can be perceived by the physical senses. Words as we use them--words in which this book are being written, thanks--do not apply. Even names used on that plane (see excerpt below) are merely convenient fictions.

Jet's real existence is quite literally indescribable. This presents a problem for the author wishing to describe it.

Mostly the novel is set on Earth, where Lia lives and where Jet is visiting. No problem there. And I can explain away Jet's thinking in terms of space/time by saying "Well, she is dreaming. When you're dreaming, even when you know you're dreaming, your memory of waking reality is limited, right? Same here. Jet's awareness is limited by being in a dream of Earth."

But then I have a few scenes where Jet "wakes up" in her really real reality, the place where the illusion of space/time exists only as a sort of role-play or metaphor for non-spacial beings to play with, and I run out of excuses.

What do I do about it? Well, so far, when I write scenes in Uberreality or whatever we want to call it, I start noticing and questioning spacial metaphors...

"I push the thought away." But away implies distance...
"I try to keep him at a distance." But you can't have distance if you have no space.
"I perceive the shape of what he's thinking." But shape is a feature of physicality.

Spacial metaphors are everywhere in the English language. I participated in a 15-minute word-sprint and got only 366 words instead of my usual 500-700 mainly because I was thinking really, really hard about this stuff. Every time these sorts of turns of phrase come up, I tried to explain away, or subvert, or replace the physicality implied by the turn of phrase.

So I've been coming up with what are probably inadequate attempts at describing Jet's experience in Uberreality. Where we would walk away from a person or go looking for a person, Jet expands or contracts her awareness to include or exclude their awareness. Except "expand" and "contract," again, imply the growing or shrinking of physical space or physical shapes. Gah! I fail. I think I set myself up to fail.

(Just keep telling yourself, "This is only a rough draft." Forget the impossibility of the impending revision. Just generate rough draft.)

You know what? I think I need to reread the Seth material. If not now, then at least in December. Because the idea of physical space/time being more or less a consensual fiction sounds a heck of a lot like the Seth material. Seth/Jane Roberts probably did a great job describing non-physical existence.

I wake up, and I think I'm still dreaming. I'm lying on a wide lawn, the sort of water-wasteful endeavor you see in front of office buildings. The bullet wound in my left shoulder is throbbing, and I can't breathe straight. Of course I can't; my left lung is punctured. I've just plummeted nine stories to the ground. I am on intimate terms with pain, and I can identify every broken bone. There are many. And from the rest of the internal damage I should have bled out minutes ago. I should be dead. And Lia was here, right here, just a moment ago--where is she? I need to get the lapis stones to her--

Or did I already do that?

Why hasn't the dream ended?

A lightly amused chuckle cascades through my awareness like an unexpected waterfall through a suddenly leaky roof. A tall blond man stands over me, grinning. His eyes are an unlikely purple.

And I remember. The dream has ended.

"Chender, these tricks are getting old." It takes me a moment, just an extra effort of will that I hope Chender doesn't notice, to disperse his illusion. Then the office lawn is gone, and with it, my mangled human body. Pain is no more than a fading memory. Pain is incomprehensible; physicality is imaginary. Why do you continue playing such games?

For a moment Chender's human form remains, bending the experience of existence around him into a remarkable semblance of space. Then the body he uses explodes into confetti, into a cloud of dazzling lights, into nothing at all. Sight itself is exposed as a fiction. There is only a shared awareness in which we communicate.

You believe the dream so implicitly. It makes you irresistably easy to fool.

Day 15: And Counting
Mon 2010-11-15 22:32:17 (single post)
  • 27,679 words (if poetry, lines) long

Well, today didn't start all that auspiciously. Snow was coming down in buckets around the time I should have been getting ready to go to the farm. Since I could neither see myself busing and biking in that weather nor expect John to bus in it, I texted the folks at the farm to regretfully bow out of my usual Monday morning shift. John drove off for his first day at the new job. Then, of course, the snow stopped, late enough to keep me from retracting the no-go decision (besides, what if it started dumping again and I got stuck?) but early enough for me to feel terribly guilty about it.

And then I didn't manage to do anything besides answer a few emails all morning.

I blame guilt, personally. Guilt is no good. It was like, since I had no right to having this morning free, I couldn't let myself do anything else with the time. Or maybe it was just the gray, overcast morning spitting snow on and off that made the morning so blah. Maybe it was just my usual failure to get moving without externally enforced schedules to oblige motion.

In any case, that whole "action first, then motivation" thing. Action did not happen until pretty much dinner time.

However, at dinner time, I wrote. I worked on that novel. I ate my stir fry (bokchoi, brussels sprouts, tofu, mushroom) and I wrote that next scene. Because I am not allowed even one day off.

Between a joke that one of the Boulder NaNoWriMo participants made early in the month and a blog thread I spent a lot of this afternoon reading, I find myself tempted to put the whole "no days off" thing into AA terms. "Hello, my name is Niki. I've been writing every day for 15 days now. I know now that even one day without writing is too many. Some days are harder than others, but I'm just taking it one day at a time." It's remarkably apt.

Lia had not even realized Jet was on the roof yet. She had thought she'd have more warning, hear something more tell-tale than the sound of cars driving down the street. She had only just realized that they were driving way too slowly when the first gun shot, zzzzip!, yanked her eyes upward as though her head were on a string. Oh no, not yet, said her involuntary thoughts as she found the lone figure standing up on top the building. Please, not yet. But it was too late for that. Lia was thrust all unprepared onto the set of a TV firefight. She heard the eruption of bullets from street level, ugly explosions nothing like the single shot Jet had fired. And there was Jet, motionless amidst the deadly hail, arms spread like Christ for the cross. Lia's angle allowed her to see Jet clearly, if on the slant; the sun would have made her a featureless silohuette to her assailants, but to Lia she was real and fragile and suddenly blooming with blood. Lia whimpered softly with each impact, feeling the sound hiccup up her throat but hearing nothing but the gunshots.

When Jet took the dive, Lia screamed. She couldn't help it. She knew better, Jet had warned her, but the sound ripped its way out of her without stopping to consult silly things like knowledge. She stood screaming as Jet fell, frozen in place until she heard the too-quiet thump of a body hitting the ground. Then she was running, bursting out of the grass, sprinting across the corner of the parking lot, skidding to a halt on the lawn in front of the office building--

Where Jet was dying but not yet dead. After a fall of nearly a hundred feet, she still breathed. She must have deliberately managed that fall to give her time after impact--for what? To get checked into a hospital? To say something dramatic to Pa Montrose?

"Knew it." Jet's voice was low and hard to hear, but to Lia it was the only sound the world was capable of making. "Told you, 'go home.' Knew you--wouldn't--" Her eyes, too bright, got lost for a moment in a fit of coughing. Afterwards her voice was even fainter. "Predictable"

Lia put a tentative hand on her shoulder, then drew back, then touched her again. She wanted to hold her; she was afraid of hurting her. "Jet--"

Jet's hand closed around her wrist. Where she found the strength, Lia could not guess. "No time. Listen--coat pocket. Here." She drew Lia's hand to her own chest. "Quickly. Hide them. I'm coming back for them." When Lia hesitated, not so much unsure as simply uncomprehending, the dying woman squeezed her wrist painfully enough to make her gasp. "Do it, damn you! This hurts--this--so I could tell you--" Her fingers went slack, falling off Lia's arm. Her next words were barely an exhalation. "Take them and get out of here."

Lia fished inside the pocket and found the four blue pebbles, each a twin to the one in her stolen earring. She stared at them them in disbelief, then looked back to Jet for answers.

Jet had no more answers.