last month's friday fictionette links and also novel difficulties
- 947 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,079 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,362 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,153 words (if poetry, lines) long
Oh, hello again. I fell off the blogging wagon for a bit. Let me clamber back on with this quick round-up of the Friday Fictionettes for July 2020:
- July 3: "Your SmartFurnace Needs Love Too" (ebook | audio) In a world where large household appliances are sentient, maintenance technicians have to be psychologists.
- July 10: "Swallowed Up" (ebook | audio) It's not the afterlife. It's a village-wide case of mistaken identity.
- July 17: "One Hell of a Guy" (ebook | audio) Guys like this are precisely why we need a functional Total Perspective Vortex.
- July 24: "Lost: One Memory" (ebook | audio) When the wind blows your memories away, where do they go? And how do you get them back?
The Fictionette Freebie for July 2020 is "Swallowed Up." Its links will take you to the complete story in your preferred format. The other links will take you to locked Patreon posts inviting you to pledge a monthly buck or three. (Unless, that is, you've already become a Patreon, in which case, thank you!)
July had a fifth Friday in it. I was hoping to use that extra week to get ahead of schedule again. I had decided to make August another month dedicated to advancing a novel draft toward a publishable or at least submittable state, and being ahead of the Friday Fictionette schedule would have helped with that. Alas, due to a combination of REASONS I did not upload the August 7 release until 1:00 AM on August 8. So much for getting ahead of schedule.
Attempts at novel progress go on regardless, but it's difficult. And it's not just because of the failure to establish a healthy advance upload buffer for the Friday Fictionette Project. Which is not to say that scheduling has nothing to do with it. It's got a lot to do with it. So does the content and quality of the first draft, which leads to despair. Also pathological avoidance. I have a whole bunch of THOUGHTS on the subject, which I will dribble out over the course of several blog posts. Starting tomorrow.
So. Now you know what you're in for. LET THE WHINING COMMENCE!
insomnia forces a body to prioritize
- 520 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 22 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
Oh, hey, so, speaking of recovery days after insomniac nights, I had one of those on Monday night/Tuesday afternoon. And I'm not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg here, but two things were going on: it was very hot, making it difficult to sleep, and also I stayed up stupid-late reading. We're going to say that I stayed-up stupid late reading in order to not be bored while I couldn't sleep, how's that?
The book in question was T. Kingfisher's A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking. It stars a fourteen-year-old wizard whose magic only ever works on dough and baked goods. Bread, cookies, sweet rolls, great. Lightning, fireballs, not so much. Nevertheless, this turns out to be surprisingly useful in many ways, even after it becomes clear that this is a story about political intrigue and war. Also, this wizard's familiar is an omnivorous sourdough starter colony named Bob. Bob has a temper, which also turns out to be useful. Do you want to read this book? YES YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK.
Just try not to stay up all night doing so unless you can afford to sleep all day the next day. Because I did, and I couldn't, and, well.
It wasn't so bad. The crash didn't hit until well after my writing group's critique meeting was over. But it was bad enough. The crash hit while I was holding down a table at Collision Brewery waiting for the Volt to finish getting its leaky windshield wash fluid reservoir tank replaced. Falling asleep at a restaurant is Not Done, especially in pandemic season, so I did my best not to. I drank a lot of coffee. I tried (and failed) to work. But just as soon as I got home, and got my scheduled Bunny Care Chore done, and spent a couple minutes playing Katamari Damacy to sooth my rattled and caffeinated brain with peaceful absurdity, I collapsed in bed and stayed there until late evening.
And that was a small problem because I had a story due that night.
I'm participating in another Codex contest. This one's called Flash: Savior of the Universe. It's a lot like Weekend Warrior, in that each round consists of a handful of writing prompts and the assignment to write a new piece of flash fiction on an absurdly tight deadline, after which point everyone gets to vote and comment on the stories. But the word count for FSOTU is a touch roomier (1,000 instead of 750), and the deadline is less absurdly tight. And thank goodness I'd been actively working on my entry every day since the prompts landed, because I did manage to get that thing submitted, and even slightly polished, with about twenty minutes left before the 1:00 AM Mountain Time deadline. I wrote nothing else that day, but I got that much done. Huzzah!
But hey woo bad timing on the insomniac night and recovery day thing, yeah?
(Hey writers! Contests like these are one of many reasons why you should join Codex the moment you qualify. You get motivation to write new fiction and/or poetry. Plus you get instant feedback on said fiction and/or poetry. This can easily lead to more published fiction and/or poetry. It's a great racket! Remember my announcement that "The Ascent of Inanna" was going to see print in September? That poem originated as a Weekend Warrior short-short story. Remember "Other Theories of Relativity"? Weekend Warrior 2012. And the piece I just submitted to Daily Science Fiction, about which crossed fingers--hey, they liked something of mine before, maybe they'll like this one--that was from Weekend Warrior too.)
(Join Codex, join Codex contests, write more, publish more. That's typically how it goes. See you there maybe?)
odds and ends on a Monday afternoon
So I finished a new story and submitted it last week. It's an expansion on the 500-word story I submitted to Escape Pod's flash fiction contest a couple months ago. At its new 1,300-word length, there's a bit more room to flesh out the characters, the setting, and the resolution. I really like it now and I'm feeling an unwise amount of hope regarding its chances. If that hope founders, ah well. I know precisely where the next two places I'm going to send it will be.
Thanks to this July push to include a revision session in every work day, I proceeded at a somewhat healthier pace than I did during production of the previous story. Because of that, and probably also because this story was only about a quarter of the previous story's length, it was a fairly stress-free procedure. There were still a good two hours of last-minute revision on deadline day, but 1) that's within the bounds of a normal revision session, and 2) it really was revision, and not a race to write the last two thirds of the story from scratch.
And then I did one more copyediting read-through, this one aloud to catch typos and misplaced modifiers and other awkward things, and totally choked up during the last two paragraphs. With the story having unexpectedly passed the "made its own author cry" test, I felt pretty good about sending it out.
One pleasant side-effect of all this social distancing, partial isolation, and public activity shut-down is that in addition to not having contracted COVID-19 (cross fingers, knock on wood, turn three times and curse and spit on the ground), I haven't suffered a cold or flu since well before things got real. And sure, it's summer now, but since when has that stopped me from developing sniffles and coughing and post-nasal drip?
Undoubtedly this has to do with keeping myself well out of range, as best I can, of everyone else, and--because Boulder County is thankfully a place where mask-wearing and social-distancing compliance is relatively high--everyone else is keeping themselves well out of range of me. Your common cold transmits over similar vectors to the current plague (minus the ability for the virus to survive for days on non-porous surfaces *wibble*), so if you successfully keep yourself safe from the novel coronovirus you're probably safe from the less novel sort. Additionally, during normal times I probably catch colds more frequently than I might otherwise because I play roller derby. If one skater's got something, the rest of the league's going to get it pretty soon. I haven't been smearing my body up against other skaters' bodies since early March. Much as I love my sport, I have to admit it makes a difference.
So aside from the odd recovery day after an insomniac night (more to do with the summer heat in a house with no air conditioning than with pandemic anxiety), I haven't really had to give myself a day off work. I've had a remarkably healthy and productive pandemic, is what I'm saying.
Yesterday I tried out this fava bean hummus recipe in all its complex and high-maintenance glory. You may ask, was it worth it? To which I would reply, MOST ASSUREDLY. Yes, the recipe could stand to be simplified (why bother wringing out as much of the water from the blanched spinach as you can when you're just going to add water back in the blender? Why go out of your way to use a neutral oil to make your lemon zest tincture when you're going to add a quarter cup olive oil to the final product?). Also clarified (wait, in step 3 you blend the fava beans and the spinach together, but in step 5 you fold the spinach puree into the fava been mixture?). Also it could use a reminder that fava beans require a second shucking after you blanch them (unless they actually wanted that tough outer skin on each bean included in the puree? Really?). But the recipe seems pretty forgiving of mild variations, and in any case the results were amazing.
I think I'm going to have a little more right now on the sourdough discard naan I fried up over lunch...
look ma i'm in a storybundle
- 2,600 words (if poetry, lines) long
Hope can find its origin in friendship, whether on an alien planet or a New York street corner. It can come from writing, in a myriad shades as multi-colored as the ink in which it's inscribed. It glitters at the bottom of Pandora's box, waiting to escape. Waiting to provide comfort and lightand renewed vigor for the fight.
So this is a bundle centered on hope with a touch of glitter, rather than grit, and I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I did.
Of course the bundle contains Cat's rambunctious Nebula-Awarded novelette Carpe Glitter. which I think is a fine example of hope in both the glitter and the grit flavors. It contains a lot of other stuff I haven't read yet and am really looking forward to reading. I'm told that The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus by Alanna McFall is a wild ride. And I'm eager to explore M. Darusha Wehm's take on generation ship science fiction.
Included also in that bundle is the anthology Community of Magic Pens, which you'll remember contains my short story "One Story, Two People." BABY'S FIRST STORYBUNDLE INCLUSION! I did not know that was on my bucket list, but there it is, and now I can check it off.
If you're new to the whole StoryBundle thing, here's your briefing: You pay what you want (minimum $5) and you get a bunch of ebooks. If you pay more than a particular threshold amount (in this case, $15), you get a bunch more ebooks (the ones marked BONUS). You get to decide how much of your payment goes to StoryBundle.com (so they can keep offering amazing book collections) and how much goes directly to the authors (so they can keep writing/publishing amazing books). You can also choose to have a percentage of your payment go to non-profit charities that StoryBundle supports (at this time, that would be Girls Write Now).
This is an especially important time to support independent publishers, many of whom lost their most important retail opportunities to the COVID-19 pandemic. I know that Atthis Arts, the publisher behind not only Community of Magic Pens but also the two Diamondsong books and Traveling Triple-C, have been hurting bad and are facing uncertainty as to whether they will exist this time next year. Any income this StoryBundle sends their way can only help.
So I'd encourage you to chip in a fiver or more. You'll get lots of good reading and also that warm fuzzy feeling of having created extra hope in the world (with a side of glitter).
(Full disclosure, in case you're wondering: no, I don't stand to make any money off this. The anthology contract was for up-front payment only, not royalties, so I've already earned what I'm going to from the sale of first rights. I mean, yes, of course, I'd love it if more people read my story and said to themselves, "Gosh, that LeBoeuf gal writes a good read; where can I find more?" But mainly I just want to see this bundle do well so that the publishers and authors who do stand to earn a little extra income thereby get to do so.)
So with that, I am off to take my own advice!
i accomplished a thing today dinner counts as an accomplishment
Today was a Friday. Fridays are hard. Today was an especially hard Friday because I had extra errands and it was far too hot. BUT I WON AT DINNER! Here's how:
So, the other week, 63rd St. Farm sent me home with a bunch of dill. I like dill. I especially like dill on smoked salmon. So next time I went to the grocery I picked up a bit of smoked salmon. And then I sort of forgot about them both until today.
Yesterday, 63rd St. Farm sent me home with two zucchini. And when I say zucchini, I mean ZUCCHINI. We are talking humongous. About which the farm did warn us; in their email they included a recipe for stuffed zucchini.
And then I remembered the dill and the stuffed salmon. And I did a thing:
- Preheat the oven to 375 d F, I guess
- Cut one huge zucchini in half crosswise. Cut one of the halves (Zuke Half A) in half lengthwise; scoop out each of these until they resemble canoes. These are what you'll be stuffing.
- Take all the scooped-out zucchini bits and dice them fine. Dump them in a bowl along with a good handful of chopped dill and also a chopped-up garlic scape. (Garlic scapes are the flowering stalk of the garlic plant. 63rd St. Farm gave us a bunch of those, too, and they keep forever in the fridge.)
- Add a good few big spoonfuls mayonnaise to the stuff in the bowl. (Maybe 1/4 cup?) Stir stir stir stir stir. Season with salt and pepper as you like. If it seems too thin, dice up a bit more from Zuke Half B and stir it in. At this point you have essentially made mock tzatziki sauce.
- Take 4 ounces smoked salmon and cut it up to nice bite-size pieces, maybe 1/2-inch cubes.
- Autobots, assemble! Fill up your zucchini canoes with the salmon chunks. Top with the mock tzatziki sauce. Stick the whole mess in the oven and let 'em bake for about 40 minutes or until you've achieved peak tender-baked zucchini. If you get impatient and/or hungry while you wait, chop some zucchini sticks out of Zuke Half B, maybe also some kohlrabi or carrots (also from 63rd St. Farm), and use them to dip up any of that leftover mock tzatziki sauce. Or, if you have more self-control than I do, put the remains of the sauce aside for other things. It is amazing on everything.
- Eat up. Try not to splash it on your computer keyboard.
Thus, at the end of a tired, too-hot, writing-poor Friday, I would up feeling like I maybe actually accomplished something with my day after all. If nothing else, good food doesn't make a low-accomplishment day worse, right? I always figure, if I can't make my brain happy, I can at least make my stomach happy. And my taste buds.
Meanwhile, I've still got the better part of Zuke Half B and also the second gigantic zucchini. I'm having additional zuke-stuffing thoughts. I could stuff that zuke with anything. Like, maybe, the leftovers from last night's beef panang curry and brown rice.
the state of the fictionette is actually pretty good
- 1,213 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,336 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,098 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,199 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,129 words (if poetry, lines) long
So speaking of that Friday Fictionette project that I have no intention of taking a break from, here's an overdue June Round-up and State of the Fictionette report.
As you know (Bob), the Friday Fictionette project is a short-short story subscription service powered by Patreon. Every first through fourth Friday I release a brand-new, never-before-seen short-story-like object in the range of 850 to 1,200 words, which Patrons get to read (or listen to, depending on their pledge tier) as soon as they are released, and one of which per month everybody gets to read or listen to at the end of the month regardless of whether they subscribe. Here's the round-up of the Fictionettes released in June 2020:
The Fictionette Freebie for June 2020 is "The Piano and Her Boy". You can use the links above to go straight to the format of your choice and check it out.
Fictionette production of late has been remarkably stress-free. I spent the entire month of June two days ahead of schedule. I would have liked to be a week ahead of schedule, but constantly uploading them on Wednesday for scheduled release on Friday provided enough advance time buffer to keep me relaxed about the whole thing. The less deadline panic in my life, the better.
Now, speaking of deadline panic, I lost a day last week when I was pushing everything to the side in order to get that short story written and submitted. Which, because of that two-day buffer, meant I uploaded July 3rd's Fictionette on Thursday rather than Friday. Which is a lot better than during the weekend following. Which only goes to show how awesome having an advance-time buffer is. I hope to upload this week's release on Thursday as well--and then steadily increase that buffer over the next few months until I'm a week ahead.
I might succeed sooner rather than later! July 2020 is a month with a fifth Friday in it, which means a week with no Fictionette due. Maybe this time I'll actually use it to add substantially to the buffer.
Meanwhile, I'm poking at this whole "take a past Fictionette and create a full-length story out of it" thing again. I had a freewriting prompt that reminded me of the otherworldly saurian detectives from last year's "Love in the Time of Lizard People." Turns out, there's another young couple in that town who have their own reasons for not wanting telepathic police to pick through their brains. I could see their story multithreading along with Bob's story and several others around the core incident of the lizards' appearance and the diner's disappearance, and, oh, anyway, it's kind of exciting. I sort of want to hit it right now.
But I have a flash rewrite to get through first, because another submission window I want in on closes on the 15th. Don't worry--I should be done well in time to avoid Emergency Short Story Boot Camp.
And with that, my writing day comes to an end, and I'm off to Longmont for a bit of safe, face-masked, socially distant roller skating. 'Til next post!
stop being so indecisive just pick yer poison already
My writing process is inconsistent. My writing needs are inconsistent. I'm going to whine about that now.
Getting back to Tuesday's lament: I wrote a 5K-word story more or less over 48 hours, submitted it Tuesday afternoon, then crashed hard. On Wednesday, I sort of puttered along at half-speed, getting about half my expected workload done. And if there's one huge takeaway I'm taking away from the experience, it's this: that's not sustainable.
Hence my goal of doing a little revision every day in July.
But I can't get away from how well Emergency Short Story Boot Camp worked. I don't just mean that it got written. I mean, there was an immersive quality to the effort that helped it get written. I lived inside that story all day, watching the characters interact, looking closely at pieces of their world, learning by trial and error the rules, such as they were, of the magic they manipulated. And it was magic for me, too.
It was just stressy as all hell, is all.
I find myself going back and forth between two different writers' blog posts concerning the words-per-day question. I don't really judge my output in terms of words per day, though I do track them; I also track hours spent writing, and I structure my writing day around a list of defined tasks I hope to accomplish or at least make progress on. But words-per-day makes a useful generic shorthand for all the different ways one might quantify the daily writing process. And in terms of words per day, these two blog posts I'm thinking of are talking about very different totals.
The first post is Tobias Buckell's "How Much Should You Write Every Day?" To be clear, that's a question he doesn't actually answer. He's not here to tell you how much you should write every day; rather, he describes how he figured out how much he should write every day, at least at this current point in his life. The answer he came up with was 500 words. Just that. 500 words of fiction every day. Only 500 words. But every day. It's a daily amount that allows for a healthy work-life balance, and, given a long enough run-up time, it's a sustainable pace at which to approach a deadline.
The post really resonated with me. Buckell describes periods during college when he'd binge several multi-thousand-word days and then spend the next couple days utterly collapsed--and I have been there. He describes deadline-oriented sprints followed by utter exhaustion--hoo yes. The slow but steady march of a defined and reasonable daily goal toward a finished project with "no drama" makes so much sense to me.
There's also the benefit of having "percolation time" built into the schedule. I can't just sit down at the desk and type until the story's done. I need nights spent thinking about the story as I fall asleep, long walks talking to myself about the plot, maybe even an hour in the bathtub trying to write the next scene out loud. There was a point Tuesday when, climax scene written and only the denouement left to go, I actively needed a fifteen-minute walk-and-talk session to clarify for myself what that denouement should accomplish, but I didn't have time. The submission portal was going to close in an hour. So I had to do my best hammering it out at the keyboard. The results were acceptable, but I think they suffered for the lack of walk-and-talk. A slow-but-steady pace would have allowed for lots of walk-and-talk, lots of hypnagogic brainstorming, lots of opportunities to dream and wake up and go "a-ha!"
But I'm still worried about this daily sessions in July thing. See, I've tried a similar process before: I spent a month holding myself to a daily 25-minute session of creating/revising/polishing the work in progress. And I succeeded at holding those 25-minute sessions fairly regularly. But I didn't seem to get anywhere. Why?
So here's the second blog post I keep coming back to: Kameron Hurley's "Life on 10,000 Words a Day: How I’m Hacking My Writing Process." She describes not writing a little every day, but rather writing a hell of a lot every Saturday. For her, a daily bite of time isn't conducive to that immersive waking trance she needs for writing novels. But with a dedicated six-hour block scheduled during an ideal time of day and in an ideal environment, she gets shit done.
And that resonates with me, too. It speaks to why 25 minutes a day, or even an hour a day, fails to move the meter on my work in progress. Having the freedom-slash-obligation to spend six hours Tuesday doing nothing but writing that story made the story happen in a way that half an hour a day had not.
Could I work that way on the regular? It sounds kind of thrilling, but also kind of exhausting. I don't typically choose to do just one thing over such a long period of time; the thought rather terrifies me. I'm not sure how much of that is me being hard-wired for multi-tasking, and how much of it is my just never having built up that kind of marathon-runner stamina.
Then there's a practical problem: I have too many things I want to do with my work-week--hell, with my work-day--to feel like such a single-purpose day is a good idea. I'm not willing to sacrifice my daily freewriting sessions; that's my time to get warmed up for the day and come up with story ideas. I don't want to fall behind on the Friday Fictionette project; I most certainly don't want to cancel it. Meanwhile, I have multiple stories in the revision queue at all times and I want to finally publish a gods-damned novel! And then there are all those non-writing obligations that life demands. How do I get everything done?
Tallying it all up: I don't want any one writing task to monopolize my day. I want to spend a little time on each of the things every day. But I don't want to work on a project for so little time at a time that I get nowhere at all. And I definitely don't want to keep putting myself through the last-minute panic production process.
I suspect I'm not going to find the One True Answer. If there is a One True Answer, I suspect it will involve staying flexible about what the One True Answer is for any given day, week, or work in progress.
Writing process! What is it even? Well. I'm working on it. TBD.
the just-did-a-big-thing doldrums strike again
So I wrote a brand-new, never-before-seen short story over mostly last night and today, and I submitted it, and now I'm sort of sitting around wondering what to do with my life.
I ought to feel happy. Triumphant, even!
Instead I feel weirdly and intensely aimless.
I keep asking myself, what fun things was I not letting myself do while the story was still unfinished and the deadline was looming? What was I looking forward to doing once the manuscript was successfully submitted? And the only answer I keep coming up with is, "Not be working on that story anymore."
I am not unhappy with the story. I mean, sure, if I had another day to work on it, I'd smooth out some of the prose, work harder to differentiate the characters' voices, throw in more physical details and harden up some of the background worldbuilding. (And if the market I just sent it to declines to purchase, I'll spend a little time doing just that. Probably solicit some feedback from my critique group too.) But more or less I'm pleased.
It's a full-length fantasy story, just under 5,000 words, with character growth and a theory of magic and heroism and action and hard choices and also a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's a good day when I get to add a new one of those to my slush stable.
It's also the first time I've submitted a former Friday Fictionette not as a lightly revised reprint but as a completely rewritten and expanded original. (I checked with the editors ahead of time. The verdict was yes, submit it as an original. So we're good there.) This was something I thought I'd be doing more often when I first conceived of the Friday Fictionette Project. I certainly didn't think it would take almost six years into the project for it to happen. Nevertheless, I've done it now, and I'm proud of that.
(Usually I'd link this post to the Friday Fictionette/short story in question, but the place I sent it requires anonymous submissions, so I don't want to risk anyone stumbling over my blog during the reading period and seeing the title here attached to my name. Kinda paranoid, I know, but allow us writers our superstitions, yah?)
But. Anyway. Now I'm wallowing in this sort of "I ought to be doing a thing" mental space, and it's not fun.
Partially it's the familiar effect of having lived with a deadline long enough that the stress and guilt surrounding it becomes habit. I can't possibly have nothing to do right now! My base state at all times is "ought to be writing, aren't writing, feeling guilty and worthless for not writing, which is why I'm not writing even though I ought to be writing."
But it's also due to having scuttled my usual structured work day to get this done in time. So there's a bunch of daily stuff I haven't done today. I did my Morning Pages, OK, they're kinda necessary to getting my brain functioning for the day, but I didn't do my daily idea generation exercise (i.e. freewriting to a prompt). I didn't do my daily 25-minute-or-so session of working on the next Friday Fictionette. And I'm sitting here feeling like I should be doing those things now. I mean, that was the original plan: new fiction production and revision first, then submission procedures, then the "daily & weekly exercises" shift. And here I am not doing that.
You know why? Here's why. I logged six hours on today's timesheet, finishing up that story and sending it out. I am done for the day.
I just don't feel like I have a right to be done.
And if that's not a compelling argument against this "avoid-delay-avoid-delay-LASTMINUTEPANICPANICPANIC" process I've got going on, I don't know what is.
The Ink Slingers Guild on Habitica, of which you may have heard me speak before, has a monthly recurring challenge in which participants announce their goals at the beginning of the month and check in every Wednesday with their progress. My goal for June had been to make my daily Friday Fictionette work sessions so as to continue uploading weekly releases earlier and earlier. I more or less succeeded at that; all four June releases were uploaded to Patreon two days ahead of time, which felt great. Well, for July, my goal is going to be to hold myself to daily New Fiction Production & Revision work sessions, so that hopefully I don't find myself obliged to conduct another Emergency Short Story Boot Camp over the last two days of the next submission window I'm hoping to make.
Because while I'm damn proud of myself for writing a clean and reasonably polished short story of almost 5,000 words in under two days, I have to admit: this post-boot-camp feeling of hollow, aimless, joyless despondency is kind of crap.
someone's gotta clean up all this mess
- 34 words (if poetry, lines) long
Wow, I suck at this Social Media Self-Promotion thing. I keep forgetting to tell you about my latest poem publication. It's "The Mardi Gras Tree," and you can read it in the very latest edition of Eternal Haunted Summer--the Summer Solstice 2020 issue, whose theme is "Holy Days."
The holy day being commemorated in "The Mardi Gras Tree" is, as you might expect, Fat Tuesday. But it's not about the day of festival and celebration so much as it is about the hangover and mundane clean-up duty of the afternoon after the parades have all passed by, and the morning after when it's time to get back to work. The transition from one to the other happens much sooner than you might think. New Orleans natives know how the unofficial final floats in any parade are the police cars whoop-whooping at spectators to let them know the show's over, and after that the huge street-cleaning trucks with the round brushes and the jets of water scouring the street. Many a child raised in the area knows better than to leave before those vehicles show up--it ain't over until it's over, after all--and many a parent disappoints their kid by yanking them away before that happens--gotta get to the car and vacate your parking spot ahead of everyone else, for fear of having to sit bored in your car waiting for your turn to leave.
(That latter impulse I see at concert venues, with drivers fleeing after the last song proper but before the encore so as to spare themselves the inevitable traffic jam.)
I really like what editor Rebecca Buchanan has to say about my poem: that it illustrates "just how hard it can be to leave sacred space and return to mundane reality." I hadn't thought of it that way--Mardi Gras as sacred space--I'd thought of it more as a drunken Bacchanalia out of which we stumble blearily with a hangover and a certain dread of being confronted with whatever stupid shit we did while the rules of society were temporarily suspended. But that suspension of rules really is a liminal zone, a place where reality is on hold, a "time that is not a time, a place that is not a place" as we Wiccans often say about the magic circles we construct for the purpose of ritual. It was quite normal for a kid growing up in the area to have the entire week of Fat Tuesday off, which made it that much harder to return to everyday life the following week.
(Many of my friends and their families used the week to head up to Colorado ski resorts, a choice I found baffling. Why, I thought, would anyone leave New Orleans during the week of Mardi Gras? Didn't they know Mardi Gras was the best time to be a New Orleanian? Now, ironically enough, I'm in Colorado full time. I still haven't really learned to ski, though.)
Anyway, thanks to such neighborhood monuments as the titular crepe myrtle tree on Bonnabel Boulevard--and I'm sure there are landmark trees like it all over the Greater New Orleans Area; that's just the one maintained in my particular stomping grounds in Metairie--pieces of sacred space celebrate Fat Tuesday all year round. Come spring and summer, they rain petals and pollen down on unsuspecting passersby while their perennial plastic fruit clinks and clatters. "Throw me something, Mister." There are also the barely hopeful idiots in the French Quarter who'll half-heartedly offer anyone presenting as female a string of cheap beads if she should "take it off" and "show your tits"; I guess they're part of the year-round ritual space of carnival, too. I prefer the trees.
I wrote "The Mardi Gras Tree" this year as part of a Codex contest called "Victory in Verse." The contest ran four weeks. The first week called for short poems, twenty lines or less, which were otherwise unrestricted. During the second week, we wrote short formal verse. The third week was all about visual poetry: erasure poems, concrete poetry, found poetry, and other experiments. And the fourth week, dubbed "Take your best shot" (although I seem to persist in misremembering it as "Do Your Verse") featured whatever the hell you wanted to do at whatever length you chose.
The contest facilitator gave us a lot of prompts to spark contestants' imaginations, both pictoral and verbal. One of them was the photo I've included here. Given where I'm from, it was inevitable that it would catch my eye. Thus was born my poem "The Mardi Gras Tree," which I'm so proud to see featured in Eternal Haunted Summer, and so pleased now to share with you.
no. it won't be enough. do it anyway.
OK, so, political thoughts I've been having. It starts with an anecdote about my Mom. And it's not a particularly positive anecdote, so I should probably start with the acknowledgement that in many ways, she was a wonderful person. But people are complicated, and there's a thing she did that wasn't so great.
When I was a teenager, I levied my share of teenager complaints against Mom. As teenagers do. And, because I was a teenager, some of those complaints were bullshit, reflecting nothing more than the muddled mess of heightened emotion and solipsism that teenagers can be prone to. But, because I was also an intelligent young adult who was rapidly acquiring tools for critical thinking and was very aware of the world around me, some of those complaints were spot on.
My Mom had the same stock reaction to all complaints. "Yes, you're right. I'm a horrible mother." These words would be followed by a smug grin as she turned her back on me. Sometimes, if I protested, she'd repeat those words louder (to drown me out) and smile even more widely and twice as smugly. The main implication was clear: any complaints I had were by definition illegitimate, because I was the one making them, because I was making them about her. The only appropriate reaction, she thought, was to ridicule my complaints as absurd on their face using this kind of hyperbolic reductio ad absurdum. "Yes, you're right. I'm a terrible parent. There's the phone; go ahead and call Child Protective Services."
But there was another implication behind this response. "The fact that you are complaining about me means you think I'm a horrible parent. And you will always think I'm a horrible parent, no matter what I do. Therefore I am not going to bother trying to convince you otherwise."
I suspect Mom was always anxious about whether she was being a good mother, so this knee-jerk dismissal of any criticism from me was in some part misguided self-defense. Misguided, because I wasn't the one calling her a horrible parent. The fact that I had a criticism or complaint didn't mean I thought she was a terrible person or a bad mother. It just meant I thought she'd done or said something fucked up and please don't, OK? (Or it meant that I thought it was terribly unfair that she wouldn't let me borrow the car to drive myself to the French Quarter, or that she'd forbidden me to take a job as a pizza delivery driver. Like I said, I was a teenager.)
(To be clear, I know she was anxious about whether she was a good mother. In those months after she'd lost a lot of her vocabulary and cognitive function but was still living at home and able to hold conversations, that's one of the last questions she asked me: "Was I a good mother?" The part I can only suspect, but can't ever know for sure, is that her habit of dismissing my complaints with ridicule stemmed from that anxiety.)
So keep that anecdote in mind while I seemingly change the subject.
Not long ago, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America issued a statement in response to George Floyd's murder, in solidarity with the protests, and in support of #BlackLivesMatter. In that statement, signed unanimously by SFWA's Board of Directors, the organization acknowledged the need to act, admitted their responsibility for having been part of the problem, and outlined a list of first step actions they were committing to immediately.
Now, those first step actions were primarily financial in nature. To me, that scanned. A similar conversation had been going on in the roller derby community, wherein skaters of color were pointing out that the sport's cost of entry was a disproportionately greater barrier to them than to white skaters simply because poverty and race are so inextricably linked. So roller derby leagues began talking about things they could do to address this.
And these were just first steps. Meanwhile, SFWA's statement included a list of educational resources for those looking for ways to help and a list of organizations to support with one's time, money, energy, and signal-boosting power. They ended with a further call to action, and with a link to the organization's email address so readers could share further how-to-help suggestions.
As a SFWA member, I was feeling kinda proud. My organization was being proactive and trying to help! They were fighting the good fight! And I, with my drop-in-the-bucket membership fees, was a small part of that! Yay!
Not long after, I read this response on twitter:
Jennifer Marie Brissett @jennbrissett Jun 4 How about dealing with the fact that several of SWFA approved magazines STILL have 0% black writers in them -- an issue brought to your attention YEARS ago by myself and others and the #BlackSpecFic Reports? Black ppl don't want your charity. We want equal and fair treatment.
And this is why I wanted you to keep that anecdote about Mom in the back of your mind. Because this is where I have personally witnessed a bunch of white people doing kind of the same thing she did.
Maybe it's because they're genuinely anxious about whether they're being good allies, and people are hardly at their best when they act out of their insecurities. Or maybe it's because they never really were allies in good faith anyway, and they're pouncing on an opportunity to let themselves off the hook. For whatever reason, this is where they throw up their hands and say things like, "See? It doesn't matter what we do! It's never good enough! Why should we even try?"
In many cases, what's going on is, these white people are looking for that One Neat Trick to end racism, so that they can perform that trick, pat themselves on the back, cash in their ally chips, and go back to Not Thinking About It. (You will recall that Not Thinking About It is one of the privileges of being white.) So they are asking Black people to all get together and make up their minds about what that One Neat Trick is. And then, when different Black people have different answers, these would-be allies want to know which Black people to listen to. Who's right? Who's wrong? Who's got the One Right Trick and who can be safely ignored?
That's no way to be an ally.
Brisset isn't wrong. If SFWA sponsors Nebula Convention registrations for Black writers and donates to the Carl Brandon Society, but doesn't leverage their influence in the industry hard for greater Black inclusion in SFF publishing (not to mention equal payment!), then they're ignoring a huge part of the good that's in their power to do.
On the other hand, SFWA isn't wrong to take those financial first steps. Racial economic disparity is a very real problem. And the Black writers who are pointing out that very real problem--along with skaters of color in the roller derby version of this conversation--aren't wrong either.
But it would be wrong to mistake the economic symptoms for the whole of the disease. It would be wrong to think that once you've thrown money at the problem, the problem's solved. And it would be wrong to stop with monetary solutions when you have it in your power to do so much more.
Here's the thing: People of color are not a monolith. No one color demographic is a monolith, either. At any given time, different individuals will each face a different subset of that hydra-headed beast that is systemic racism. So they won't all have the same answer to "How can I help?"
And that beast is old. It's older than the U.S. and it's got its paws all over the nation's history and it's still got a hand in writing the nation's future. It came over with the smallpox blankets, and it came over with the slave traders. It staffed desks at Ellis Island, where it sliced people's hair off, made them throw away precious possessions, and fucked up their names. It "reeducated" Native kids. It wielded whips and firehoses and attack dogs and nooses. It's doing it still. It's throwing children into cages without benefit of soap, toothbrush, or face mask, and it's deporting those children's parents. It's shooting Black men for such heinous crimes as carrying a bag of Skittles or being found sleeping in a car.
It's been doing all these things and more for centuries. It's still at it. Where do white people get off thinking they can stop it cold with One Neat Trick, preferably performed in fifteen minutes or less?
Look. Y'all. You're partly right. Whatever you do, it won't be enough. That is because the problem is bigger and older than you. No one individual will slay the beast alone; no one entity can subdue it over the course of a single lifetime. And that's no reason to throw up your hands and storm off in a huff--that's precisely why doing whatever you can matters. What's important is not being the hero that single-handedly slays the beast (my, how we white folks love to center ourselves in the narrative! How angry we get when the story's not about us!) but contributing whatever you've got to the fight that eventually takes the beast down. And you contribute not, pace me several paragraphs ago, to puff yourself up with pride over having fought, but to hasten the day the beast goes down, because that is the priority.
Let's bring science fiction back into it with one more metaphor. You know about generation ships? A large community takes off on an interstellar journey of hundreds, maybe thousands of years. Space is big, and we don't go so fast. The people who board the ship on Earth will be many generations dead by the time the journey ends. But do any of them throw a fit for that reason and declare the journey not worth making? They do not. They celebrate the future arrival of their descendants, and they do whatever's in their power to make sure it happens. While they live and work as members of both a community and a starship's crew, they do their part to keep that ship on course.
Unless I am very much surprised, none of us, not me writing this post in June 2020 nor you reading it, will get to live in a post-racist society. There's light-years still to go. But while we crew this ship of Earth, we can contribute the level best we've got to keep its vector of travel bending toward justice, so that some generation to follow ours can reach that destination.
So, yeah. Do what you can to help. Listen to the people you're trying to help, because they're the authorities on whether you're actually helping. Realize different people will be focused on different parts of the problem, and none of them are necessarily wrong. Accept criticism with good grace. Accept that even if you do everything "right," it won't be "enough." Do it anyway.
...And that's what I've been thinking about these past couple weeks.