“Writing fiction is...about passion and endurance, a combination of desire and grunt work often at odds with each other.”
Maureen Howard

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

dispatches from the rails
Wed 2019-10-09 21:41:15 (single post)

Guess where I'm blogging from!? I'm blogging from the train! In COACH! ...Apparently trains get more civilized east of the Mississippi. Or maybe there's just fewer dead zones so that it seems worth getting a hotspot up and running. In any case, I'm on the Cardinal, having boarded at its originating station in Chicago and staying right on to its last stop of New York City. And there is wifi.

I'm heading to Montreal for Scintillation 2019. Everything sounds like a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to author readings, outings for dim sum and tea tastings, walking tours of various bits of town, tabletop games, and of course all sorts of panels. But I have to get there first.

It has been an adventure. I knew it would be an adventure going into this. I bought the fare reassuring the ticketing agent on the phone, "Yes, I know. Three nights on board. That's fine. I like trains." And I do! But, let me tell you, I have never been more glad of an impending twelve hour overnight layover than I am now.

My layover between Denver and Chicago was only to be three hours, which felt uncomfortably lean. Look, you take the California Zephyr with any regularity, you know there's a lot of potential for mishap and slowdowns between San Francisco and Chicago. And indeed the train was two hours late into Chicago, just late enough to keep me from relaxing. I spent the hour between trains walking one big and slow clockwise circle from track 26, around the track area, into the main terminal, over to gate C, into the line for boarding (pause for half an hour because boarding started late), then shuffling slowly in that line from gate C over to track 28. You will notice the proximity of 26 to 28, yes? Well. When my shuffling, shambling queue came alongside Train 50, I couldn't help but notice that proximity, either. Physically, mechanically, I could have stepped off Train 6, crossed the platform, and boarded Train 50 in under 5 minutes. Unfortunately, Amtrak connections don't work like that unless you're so desperately super-late that they're actually holding up the departure of the train just for you. And thankfully things weren't that desperate.

So, OK, I got my steps in for the day, as the kids with the FitBits do say.

Those two hours of late, by the way? There was this one half hour in there that was absolutely fascinating. Apparently Amtrak had left a car to be repaired somewhere east of, oh, Osceola, Iowa? Maybe? And it had been repaired. So our crew was tasked with picking it up and dragging it into Chicago. Like, "Oh, hey, while you're out, could you pick up some milk and a dozen eggs?" Only instead of groceries it was an Amtrak passenger car. So I was that passenger, the one who runs off to the back of the last coach to watch the goings-on over the engineers' shoulders. I was on my best behavior, though! I kept my mouth shut and did not bother them with questions. Some of the crew got out to manually throw (or shove) the switches that directly and visibly switched the lie of the tracks so that we could back onto the spur where the car for pick up was. The engineer on board kept saying into the walkie talkie, "Give me three more cars. Give me about a car and a half more. Twenty feet, nice and easy." And thus we backed, ever so gently, right into the orphaned car. Then they did a bunch of stuff I couldn't see to attach the car, then we waited a while, and then we went on our way, one car longer.

Anyway. Train 50, the Cardinal, has a single-decker coach with modern, comfy seats and, by Amtrak standards, very little leg-room. For comparison, in the upper level of the double-decker coach on the California Zephyr, I'd had so much room for my short little legs that I couldn't reach the footrest attached to the seat-back in front of me. The fold-down desk was just useable if I extended my seat's leg rest and sat on that rather than on the seat itself. Not complaining! It was spacious. It was comfy. Just, it was a bit of a surprise to be get on the Cardinal and be reminded of an airplane. First class in an airplane, maybe, but still.

And this worried me because I was going to be in that coach car for twenty-eight hours. (Twenty-eight! Haha ahaha ha. But see below.) Fortunately, I didn't have a next-seat neighbor until sometime past noon the next day, so I was able to curl up on my pair of seats and sleep cozily enough, at least until my knees started complaining about having been too long in a bent position. (Aging! I'm telling you.)

Did I write? Why yes I wrote. I have been writing. I have been doing all the writing every day on every train. I did some freewriting that turned into a flash fiction piece that has muscled its way onto the revision workbench despite said workbench already being occupied. I made some progress on the latest overdue Friday Fictionette. Also I battled 4thewords monsters and submitted a manuscript because, as stated above, there is wifi on this train, so I could do those things.

OK, well, much of West Virginia was dead zone. But then much of West Virginia was too beautiful for gluing eyes to the laptop screen anyway, so.

But here's the thing: Throughout today, this train has been getting more and more behind schedule. It had picked up a forty-five minute delay overnight, and this steadily increased to an hour and a half by the time we got to Charlottesville. Then we hit Washington D.C., where I gawked out the window at the Iconic Architectural Features of America's Capitol, like you do. (I saw the Washington Monument and I think I saw the back end of the White House. It was hard to be sure. It was dark out, and the big double rectangle between me and the recognizable dome could have been just a bigger version of any random IT office back in east Boulder.) And we came to the station, and we stopped, and we stayed there a long, long time.

They had to change off the diesel engine for electric, to start. That was planned. Then they had to do something arcane with the brakes, which was not planned. Then the other passengers in coach started shouting at the Amtrak crew like spoiled children, and I upped stakes and departed for the lounge car where it was quiet.

And then. And then and then and then. Just before the stop in Wilmington, Delaware, there is drama. There is a man who has been in the bathroom a long, long time and is not responding to the crew. I mean, he's not in medical distress, as far as they can tell, but he refuses to come out. And other passengers indicate that earlier conversations with said gentleman made them think he might be doing drugs in there. OR SOMETHING. And the coach attendant is all, "That's going to slow us down some more, because we're going to have to call the police to deal with him." Cue the shouting and the wails of despair and "Please, Lord, just let us reach Philadelphia!" I'd just returned to my seat toward the front of coach. I turned right around and parked myself in the last seat in coach, as far from the shouting and wailing as I could get. Because I've got a sleepless night in NYC ahead of me, and I need a nap.

The stop at Wilmington wasn't actually all that long. As we pulled away, I saw the aforementioned gentleman being questioned on the platform by three police officers. I suppose extracting him didn't turn out to be all that difficult.

So. I'm going to be at least two and a half hours late into New York Penn Station. Which is fine. Once I get there, I have until around 8:00 AM to board my next train. My only regret is, we're going to get in after all the groceries close, and I had wanted to pick up a few things. Well. One of them opens again at 5:00 AM, so maybe I'll get to do my shopping after all.

Meanwhile, you know what's open all night long in New York City? This Korean BBQ place. So it doesn't matter how late I get in, I'm still getting my order of kimchi kalguksu or maybe galbitang or, I dunno, something delicious. Also I have not counted the number of karaoke bars in the neighborhood but a glance at Google Maps tells me that number is upward of A LOT. So it'll be fine.

But I should probably take that nap now.

ah that new writing group smell
Wed 2019-09-11 22:18:11 (single post)

It would appear I am in a writing group again. An honest-to-gosh manuscript-exchange-and-critique group! We have had ONE MEETING so far and I am EXCITE.

This one came about because a colleague on Codex who is also soon to be a fellow Viable Paradise alum decided they strongly enough wanted a writing group to be willing to do the heavy lifting required to set one up. Which is to say: recruiting for it, organizing it, making executive decisions where necessary, and facilitating more consensual decisions where feasible. Also being willing to play the role of Heavy-handed Moderator should that turn out to be a Thing.

This is the sort of heavy lifting I personally have not had the wherewithal to even consider doing lately, and I'm grateful they took it on. And I'm grateful I was active in one of the online communities where they were recruiting. Because I miss being in a writing group and now I am in one. Hooray!

I haven't been in writing group since, oh, 2011? 2012? Not regularly, in any case. I tried! But mostly all I did was collect a series of less-than-ideal experiences with writing-related MeetUp groups that turned out to be, as the typical rejection letter puts it, not a good fit for our needs at this time.

In one case, the group fizzled soon after our first manuscript exchange. I think we must have had wildly different expectations regarding critiques.

In another, the critique process was, on a purely mechanistic level, and in my not-so-humble opinion, doomed. There were two hours during which some thirty-five members were each to take their turn commenting, at length, on a full-length short story, which the author had read aloud earlier in the meeting. And this was supposed to happen twice in those two hours. Just, how?

In yet another, I was one of the very few speculative fiction authors in a group mostly dedicated to literary fiction, creative non-fiction, and journaling. Complete mismatch of goals, yes, but also complete mismatch of reading protocols, which is guaranteed to get in the way of giving each other helpful critiques.

And then there was that one group where the facilitator brought in all these exciting guest speakers! Authors of popular self-published books! Who gave us really questionable publishing advice and held terribly hostile opinions of "traditional publishing." Y'all, I had not signed up for two hours of correcting misconceptions and defending friends and colleagues in the publishing industry.

(In later years I found out, via the magic of Facebook birthday fundraisers, that the facilitator of one of these not-for-me groups was a confirmed anti-vaxxer. This rather saddened me and confirmed my reluctance to take their advice on anything at all, be it medical, literary, or other.)

This new group is a much better fit. Its founder was deliberate about where they solicited members. We are a group of seven spec-fic neo-pros looking to improve our craft and publish more fiction at paying markets, fully in the spirit of the Viable Paradise Oath. We had our first online meeting via a Discord channel on Tuesday. During that hour and a half, we hashed out critique format, decided on a preliminary schedule, shared our goals, and talked a little shop. I'm looking forward to sharing with them the story I'm currently revising, whenever the draft-in-progress is complete and polished up. In a month, maybe? Hopefully? If the inch or two I moved it along today is not indicative of the next few weeks? Please?

Anyway. Writing group! I am excite.

but the demons thing i only figured out just now
Mon 2019-09-09 21:23:05 (single post)

I'm nearing the end of today's writing tasks, and it's not even 8:30 PM. What the crud am I gonna do with myself for the rest of the night? Answer: Probably replay PixelJunk Eden until either my eyes fall out or my thumbs fall off, whichever comes first. Then go to bed early. LUXURY.

During today's short story revision session, I finally moved out of the babble stage and into the drafting process. This shift got me thinking about how I revise stuff. Like I said before, some stories are more fun to revise than others (which isn't the same as being easier or taking less time) and some revision strategies seem more appropriate to some stories than others. But I'm starting to realize that every story I revise requires all my revision strategies, though not all in the same proportion. Which is to say, each time I produce a new version of any given story, the process moves through (loosely speaking) three phases, remaining in each phase for whatever period of time is required and revisiting those phases as necessary.

And I'm gonna blog about those phases, because 1. someone reading this might find such a blog post useful or at least interesting, and 2. blogging about this sort of stuff forces me to think about it closely and concretely terms, and that usually helps to refine and improve my process.

So. Here are the three (loosely speaking) phases of revision I wind up spending time in:

Identifying problems. I wouldn't be revising the story in the first place if it didn't have problems. So the first step of any revision is to identify those problems. This may involve my printing out the existing draft and scribbling on it a bunch, then translating those scribbles into a neat and orderly list. Sometimes the list isn't so neat and orderly. Usually neatness and order break down several items as I discover that the problems are fractal--every problem contains a multitude of sub-problems, each of which contain sub-sub-problems, and so forth down through the layers of the onion whose core is made up of DESPAIR.

I'm finding the DESPAIR quotient non-negotiable. There is always at least one hot second, usually more, during which I just know the story is worthless, nothing will make it better, there is no justifying the time and effort I've spent on it thus far, and shame on me for even thinking I might submit it in any form to professional paying markets. Lately I've been dealing with DESPAIR by simply writing that down on my list: "Problem #92: Story is garbage and should be buried in the compost under the used tea bags and moldy zucchini peelings." And then I just keep going.

It's sort of like rock climbing that way. Several years' practice at the climbing gym didn't "cure" my gut-level fear of heights; instead, it taught me how to keep climbing through an attack of acrophobia rather than freezing up and hanging there trembling until I came off the wall. It's also sort of like the meditation ideal of acknowledging the negative thought in a neutral way. Yep, that's a thought I'm having. Next?

Finding Solutions. This is where I spent the first week I had the current story on the metaphorical workbench. It was fun! Basically, for each listed problem, I opened up a new document and babbled to myself about it, restating the problem, brainstorming possible solutions, and pouncing on new ideas as they arose.This process spawned new documents and more enthusiastic babbling as other facets of worldbuilding or character creation or backstory came to light.

And just as the problem-identification phase has its demon DESPAIR, the problem-solving phase has its own demon: DEPRECATION. "Yeah, you're having fun babbling, sure, but are all these hundreds of words actually getting you closer to a new draft? No. They are not. Basically you are wasting your time. You are pretending to get work done when you actually aren't working at all. That's why you're having fun. If you were actually doing anything worthwhile, it would not be fun." That's what the demon says. I'm working on responding to the demon with "Yep, you're totally right" in my most neutral and boring interior voice while I continue babbling away uninterrupted.

That demon actually means well, but it's laboring under a big misconception. It thinks that finding a solution and implementing it should happen simultaneously. And, well, maybe another writer can go right from "here is the problem" to perfectly polished final draft words all in one go; I, at this time, cannot. I need to give myself room to just talk out a problem with myself in a process- rather than results-oriented way. Once I realized this, life at the metaphorical workbench got a lot more liveable.

Implementing the solutions. This is the phase where I start drafting the new version of the story. I decide to begin doing that today not because I thought I'd successfully addressed every single problem I'd identified thus far, but rather because I'd addressed those problems relevant to the first couple pages of the story. Also I suspected that I'd gotten to the point where the solutions I'd come up with so far would obviate some of the problems still waiting to be addressed. And so they have.

The demon hiding in this phase is PERFECTIONISM, and I have to ignore it. I'm still not trying for perfectly polished prose at this stage. I'm just writing a new draft that implements the solutions to the previous draft's problems. If the protagonist has new and better reasons for their actions, if I've chosen to include a more appropriate memory from their backstory than the one I had before, if the facts of the case are now altered to close the previous draft's plot holes, if each paragraph of the new draft serves a valid story purpose, then the draft is a success.

After all the problems are solved and a new draft is in front of me, then I can worry about polishing the prose to a fine shine. But that's line edits, which I don't really consider part of the revision/rewriting process. Until the revision is complete and every line on the page can justify its existence in the story, there's no point editing those lines for style, spelling, grammar, and flow. They might still get replaced, after all.

I expect I won't make it out of revision and into line edits without having to revisit every phase a couple times. I'll hit a place in the draft where I can't continue without brainstorming some more. I'll probably identify more problems whose solutions will require rewriting bits of story I already rewrote. The three phases are very fluid and lead into each other in unpredictable ways. But if I can tell myself which of the three phases I'm currently working in at any given moment, that helps keep me from trying to do all of it at once, and that in turn keeps things possible.

All the above requires the usual caveat, which is: Different writers do things differently. The above strategies are mine (all mine!). They may not be yours nor that of another favorite author. All strategies are valid to the extent that some writer somewhere finds them effective. And which strategies a writer finds effective will change over time--one's best process is an evolving rather than static thing.

Main thing is, it's not wrong if it works.

Cover art incorporates and modifies image by saltus (Pixabay)
Cover art incorporates and modifies images by keithamoss and Andrzej Rembowski (Pixabay)
from the end of a pretty darn good week you get a pretty darn good view
Sun 2019-09-08 00:27:21 (single post)
  • 1,164 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,009 words (if poetry, lines) long

As promised, the Friday Fictionettes for Week 1 of both August and September are up. They didn't go up on Friday, but given the overdue I'm overcoming, Saturday in the early afternoon is practically on time. So here they are:

  • August 2, 2019: "Eyes in the Rain" (etext, audio) - "I first saw those eyes in the cafeteria, looking at me through the rain. It was raining everywhere in those days. Nothing could keep it out. The rain passed through roofs the way that elementary particles pass through the largely empty space of a living body. It passed through our clothes and glazed our living bodies like a second skin. It joined us for lunch, it slept in our beds, and it threatened to wash everyone’s sanity away."
  • September 6, 2019: "The Best Revenge" (etext, audio) - "I’d never personally witnessed a deathbed curse, let alone been the subject of one. They tend to be something that happens to a friend of a cousin’s daughter’s classmate’s uncle’s co-worker. You never hear about it from the people who get cursed. I found out why. You mention that you’ve been cursed, people start to look at you funny. They start wondering if maybe you deserved it."

It's been a good week, writing-wise. There were no dud days. Even the day I spent biking most of the way across south Longmont, all the way from County Line to Hover and back again, while the Chevy Volt was getting serviced at the dealership from 8:30 AM until 6:00 in the afternoon, I still got all the things done: Submission procedures and short story revision at the Java Stop (highly recommended; a more comfortable space I haven't been in since that late night computer and video game cafe that used to be on The Hill closed), freewriting over a chicken sandwich at 300 Suns (they have a full kitchen now and a new menu, y'all!), and fictionette work and blogging back home late in the evening.

It's amazing--not surprising, exactly but still amazing--the difference a week like this makes in my overall outlook. Weeks where I barely eke out two good days between days of I can't even leave me feeling scared and despondent about everything that still needs to get done. I look back at how little I accomplished in the previous seven days, and I despair of what remains on my plate. But a week like this one, a week in which every day I hit every assigned task--except blogging, and that's kind of sort of optional anyway--I look back on this week and get a generous impression of how much I can get done in a week. Which makes the stuff currently on my plate look like an ordinary meal.

(Pardon the food metaphors. John and I just had an amazing dinner. I put together some caprese, he baked butter fan rolls to serve with spaghetti, and we made apple fritters as a dessert experiment. Talk about a lot on our plates. There are most certainly leftovers. John's probably gonna put up a photo on twitter, but he hasn't yet.)

Anyway, I'm optimistic about my short story revisions and oddly excited about getting the Friday Fictionettes Project all caught up by the end of the month. Like, 1. it's going to happen, and 2. it'll be awesome. Happy weekend, y'all!

things that make rewrites hard (a non-exhaustive list)
Thu 2019-09-05 00:11:59 (single post)
  • 1,633 words (if poetry, lines) long

Over the month of August, and not counting those stories that just needed a quick once-over before being submitted, I successfully revised to completion (as defined by "I'm willing to submit it to all the top pro markets") one story. That's it! One. One measley flash-length short story.

Revision is hard.

One thing that made the task so hard to complete was skipping a bunch of the days I was supposed to work on it. And not always because I was busy driving to Kansas, cheering for and hanging out with my Boulder County Bombers peeps, and recovering from all of the above (hi! I'm a lifelong introvert! Unusually high levels of peopling will require unusually long levels of downtime afterward!) But sometimes it was just because I know revision is hard, so I run away.

This may be a bit of a catch-22.

But I'm discovering that it's really only some rewrites that are hard.

The aforementioned quick once-over before manuscript submission is relatively easy and--well, I wouldn't call it fun, not when I'm stressing out over "I should have had this submitted by now, this is taking up a lot more time than I budgeted for, whyyyyyy" while I white-knuckle my way through the piece line-by-line. But it's oddly compelling. Unless midway through I decide the piece isn't actually going to be submittable, I'm going to do it and I'm going to finish it so that I darn well can submit it. So. Not fun, but easy, for certain values of "easy."

There's also the revision process that's more like a controlled demolition of the existing draft so that the components can be used to build a new story. That one actually is fun. So while it's not easy or quick to complete, it's easy to return to it day after day.

The revisions that suck like supermassive black holes are somewhere in between. That's when a story is mostly there, but it needs fixing on a deeper than line-by-line level. But I can't see how to do it. Sometimes I can't even describe the problem(s) in a useful way. And I can't make myself feel, on a gut-instinct solid-knowledge level, that any amount of pushing words around will improve matters. I start to feel like any changes I make will only break those few things that actually work.

That's what it was like revising last month's story.

But I got it done on time and I submitted it to Uncanny Magazine with two hours to spare before deadline and got to log the rejection 3 days later so YAY! And I mean YAY because, YAY, moving closer to 100 rejections in 2019, but also YAY, one more story I can submit to all the usual places!

And the fact that the next three places I sent it rejected it in under 24 hours just means three more rejections toward target 100 and also three more steps closer to finding the editor who will love it. And those three places are in fact well known among working short story writers for preternaturally speedy rejections. We all send our new stuff there first because 1. hey, they might say yes, and 2. if they say no, they'll do it quickly, so you can send it to the next place sooner. Their slush pile is big, and they publish only a very small percentage of it, and they would even if they only published stories found in the slush pile, which they don't. But we jump in that slush pile anyway, because that's the only way to give them the chance to tell us yes.

Those are the things I tell myself, consciously and repeatedly and determinedly, because they are true. And I need to focus hard on their truth whenever that sadistic little voice in my head pipes up saying "This piece got four rejections in four days; shouldn't you take the hint and accept that you wasted all that effort last month producing GARBAGE?!" Because that little voice totally lies.

(And that's something else that makes revisions hard.)

coming soon to a horror fiction podcast near you
Tue 2019-09-03 23:27:29 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

I signed a contract shortly after getting back from Kansas, which means it's real. So! Announcing a forthcoming Nicole J. LeBoeuf publication: My short story "Lambing Season" will be featured in an upcoming episode of the podcast Tales to Terrify. It will probably be before the end of the year. If I learn more, I'll announce it here. I'll definitely announce when it's out.

While you wait, why not subscribe to the podcast and put some fantastic horror and dark fantasy fiction in your ears on a weekly basis? Tales to Terrify episodes come out each Friday. Your host, Drew Sebesteny, will typically lead off the episode by relating the supernatural legends of a particular North American town. Then there'll be a story or two. Often, the first will be from someone writing today, and the second will be an earlier classic. The production is always top notch and narrators do a great job. Tales to Terrify episodes made my drive to and from Salina that much more enjoyable. I would definitely recommend them for your commute.

Previously at the intersection of me and Tales to Terrify: Episode 350, featuring my story "First Breath" (originally published in the anthology Blood and Other Cravings and recently reprinted by the Denver Horror Collective) as well as Victoria Glad's 1951 classic, "Each Man Kills" (which was originally published in Weird Tales). "Lambing Season" was first published in NAMELESS Digest #3.

In other news, I intend to release two Friday Fictionettes a week for the month of September: the one that's due, and the one that's precisely a month overdue. In that manner the project will be all caught up and back on its proper release schedule by September 27. So this Friday you can expect to see the August 2 release, working title "Eyes in the Rain", and the September 6 release, working title "the one about time travel and deathbed curses".

The Friday Fictionette project is a flash fiction subscription service powered by Patreon. For $1/month, you get a new story-like object every first through fourth Friday (that's the aforementioned proper release schedule) in the electronic text format of your choice, as well as access to all the archived Fictionette since August 2014. For $3/month you also get to download the MP3 where I read it to you, as well as the archived audiofictionettes going back to April 2015.

If you yourself like to write, you may enjoy the Monday Muse feature, where I share the writing prompt associated with the upcoming Friday Fictionette so you can play along at home. The Monday Muse posts are unlocked, which is to say, free for all regardless of whether you subscribe.

Hey, tomorrow I might actually wind up blogging about how rewrites are hard. I've been mentioning that for a while, but as it turns out, blogging regularly is also hard. You may have noticed.

A bunch of yay and also driving
Thu 2019-08-22 22:09:55 (single post)
  • 29 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 46 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hello. I have just driven through a lot of Kansas. This weekend is the War of Wheels tournament in Salina, and I'm here to cheer on the Boulder County Bombers Screaming Mimis as they compete. It's going to be a lot of fun and very exciting and I am looking forward to it but what I'm really looking forward to right now is a good night's sleep because, woo, driving through a lot of Kansas.

Currently I'm at the Ambassador Hotel and Convention Center, and it's... weird. Which I supposed I should have expected. I know better than to take the cheapest hotel Google finds me. I mean, I've seen what happens when teammates do that. They come up to you at the afterparty asking wistfully, "Does your hotel have towels? Clean ones?" But in this case, the very cheap price was tacked onto a convention center. They host conventions! How bad can they be? Also, free breakfast.

And, well, they're not sketch. They're just weird. OK, from the outside they look sketch. To start with, the signage is difficult to make out--I went up and down the block a few times before I spotted it; Google unhelpfully told me "turn left (after the Subway restaurants)" and, well, that describes the driveways of about four hotels as well as an ice cream shop (Braum's) and something that looks like a rebranded Steak & Shake (Spangles!). All I could see was a big red A on black sign presiding over a seriously depopulated parking lot in front of an extinct Irish pub. But inside, it's this huge, cavernous space, four or five levels of balconies jutting out over what's unmistakably a hotel and convention center lobby, with lots of brass banisters and foliage-topped half-walls partitioning out the wide carpeted areas containing tables and chairs and, incongruously, random toy dispensers. You know, you put in a quarter and you get out a little plastic egg with a trinket inside? Yeah. And those toy dispensers make more light than the actual interior lighting of the space, which is super dim. I mean, I described it as "cavernous" advisedly. It's like a town carved into the walls of a great big cave. Also it kind of reminds me of the Christie Lodge in Avon, that one time I stayed there, only, like I said, not as well lit, and instead of pho there's BBQ.

And the place is simply deserted, undoubtedly because there are no conventions going on at the moment (unless you count the "Welcome Baptist Church!" signs visible through the windows near the locked and unlit convention center entrance; maybe it's a convention every Sunday morning) and also because the roller derby tournament hosts reserved their special rate block with the Quality Inn on the other side of the highway. I've run into a total of... three other guests, I think. Hardly anyone seems to be staying here right now. This underground cliff-dwelling is a ghost town. Or, at least, so it seems tonight. Maybe I'll get a better sense of the hotel's current population when I go over for the complimentary breakfast in the morning.

My room is pretty basic. It has the usual assortment of hotel furniture. There is a bathtub, which puts it ahead of some hotel rooms I've stayed in. Honestly, I can't complain.

But back to the actually writing, about which, this blog.

This week has been rough in terms of productivity. I managed about half of a late-starting Monday before getting pleasantly distracted by John's playing Dicey Dungeons. (That's an excellent fun time, by the way. Totally worth whatever Steam is charging for it. I may end up buying it myself.) Then neither of us managed much sleep (and not for lack of trying), so my Tuesday turned into pretty much nothing but recovering from that sleepless night in time to be functional at derby practice. I missed my daily submissions procedures and everything.

Then Wednesday I opened up my mail and found responses to five different submissions.

That's a lot. I've just gotten used to the idea that, with my one-sub-each-workday challenge, I may well have a rejection to log more days than not. OK. Fine. But five? Five submission responses? Accumulated only over 48 hours? That's... well, that's something that only happens when you have a lot of manuscripts out on submission at once. Which isn't something I've ever had before this year.

Here's the thing. Only two of those five responses were rejections.

One of the remaining three was from the Denver Horror Collective, which just reprinted "First Breath", to square away payment details with me. The contract said X amount within Y days of publication, and, hot damn, that's exactly what happened. That's always nice. Well, I say "always," but it's not like I get to deal with the post-acceptance part of the submission process often enough for "always" to mean a lot. This was only my second sale of 2019.

The other two? Were my fourth and fifth sales of 2019. Which is to say: ACCEPTANCE LETTERS. Yay!

I may have yelped and run out into the living room shouting, "It's a two-acceptance day! Eeeeee!" And then I may have tackle-hugged my husband. If so, he took it in stride.

One of those acceptance letters was for an old poem ("Your Disembodied Friends Would Like to Remind You") that I pulled out of the archives for a serious overhaul in order to submit it to a brand new horror quarterly. The other was for a previously published story ("Lambing Season") I'd submitted for reprint to an established podcast. Both should go live later this year. As usual, that's about all I can say until things develop further. In the meantime, please enjoy imagining me doing the happy dance. Any kind of happy dance. What kind of happy dance would you do? That one will be fine.

(If you are wondering, "Fourth and fifth? What happened to the third publication?" the answer is, "Didn't I mention that I sold a poem a couple weeks ago? I sold a poem called 'At Night, the Dead' a couple weeks ago. It'll be out later this year." Again, more details later.)

So my week may have slid into a rough patch, but Wednesday's inbox goodies really perked it right up! ...just in time for it to get all chaotic again what with the solo road trip and the roller derby tournament.

Yay!

Cover art incorporates and modifies images sourced from Pixabay
all right fine i'll stop denying reality are you satisfied
Tue 2019-08-13 00:38:42 (single post)
  • 867 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hey lookit it's a Friday Fictionette! The one that was due on July 19th! At this rate, I'll be caught up... well, never, actually. The past few releases have taken more than a week each. I do not like that, and I expect I'll do something about that real soon now. But I did what I could do today, which was to finish and upload the one for July 19th.

It's "The Indecisive Lifeguard," a title with which the protagonist will almost certainly take issue. But his ability to argue is currently limited. Still, if you put your ear right up close to the granite, you just might get to hear his side of the story. (Ebook edition available for $1/month Patrons; audiobook at the $3/month tier.)

I was hoping to be able to upload that fictionette and blog about it on Friday, but, well, Friday was not a day of Doing All the Things. Friday so rarely is. I should not be surprised by this. I always start off Friday telling myself, "I don't care how tired I am after biking several hundred pounds of food uphill! I will not nap!" And then I get done with my Boulder Food Rescue shift, and I remember why naps are necessary. And then, just about the time I'm recovering from that, another physically and/or socially taxing thing will happen (e.g. Friday night dance skating lessons), which means writing doesn't happen.

This is a pattern. This is a trend. Next Friday will not magically be better. Your humble, introverted, and aging author has finally realized that this means Fridays cannot be workdays. Mostly. There will probably be exceptions. But for now, Saturday will have to be the Day of Doing All the Things, and Friday will have to be the Day of Doing Minimal Things that Saturday had been.

Flexibility! Adaptation! Serious troubleshooting! Honest self-observation an' stuff! It's harder than it looks, innit.

we pause in our endless slog through the Great Overdue for some good news
Thu 2019-08-08 23:58:50 (single post)
  • 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long

So I've spent the last week or so getting even farther behind and am now in the middle of a frenzied new push to Do All The Things Every Day, which is why you're getting a blog post again at last.

I did say I'd let you know when the latest reprinting of my story "First Breath" was out, didn't I? Well, as of... er, about a week ago, actually--sorry?--it's out! The Denver Horror Collective is soon to release their local horror anthology, Terror at 5280', and in celebration of that they're posting some stories to their website ahead of release day. My story is not in the anthology proper, but it's part of the run-up festivities, and you can read it here.

In other very pleasant news, I got an acceptance response to a recent poetry submission. Since nothing's real until contracts are signed, further details will have to wait until probably September. But the acceptance letter was definitely real, for pre-contract values of real.

For those keeping count, we're up to three acceptances in 2019, two of them poetry. The poem that just got accepted, I more or less wrote on the bus from Boulder to Longmont. Clearly I should be writing more poetry.

In case you're interested in how the submit-every-day, get-100-rejections challenge is going, I shall paste in the table with all the 2019 numbers. They are good numbers. I am quite proud of them.

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Total for 2019 (so far)
Submissions: 0 0 3 10 23 20 23 8 87
Rejections: 1 0 0 3 13 19 17 8 61
Acceptances: 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 3

In other news, revisions continue to be hard, and Friday Fictionettes continue to be way behind schedule. More about that quite possibly tomorrow if I manage to Do All The Things again.

i share with you the casserole of my people
Wed 2019-07-24 18:49:26 (single post)

No news today, just a recipe. Because I win at casserole, is why. And you can too! Here is how.

First, acquire seven medium-sized mirlitons. Seven is a good number. If you can't find mirliton, chayote will do. BECAUSE THEY ARE THE SAME THING. If you don't already live in a climate and neighborhood where everyone's growing them all over their backyards, I am sorry. I'm with you. I get homesick about it sometimes. If you can't just run out and pick some, and you can't find them in your usual grocery store, you might have luck with an international market. Here in Boulder, I can usually find them at the pan-Asian market over at Valmont and 28th, and I've never not seen them at the Longmont Packing Company, which is a Latin grocery and butcher shop over at Ken Pratt and South Pratt.

Take those mirlitons and boil them for a while. Half an hour? Forty-five minutes? Stick 'em with a fork. If you'd eat a potato that felt like that when you stuck it with a fork, it's probably done.

When they're cool enough to handle, slice each mirliton in half and scoop out the seeds. The seeds are kind of flimsy but the flesh around them might be kinda tough; scoop the tough bits out too. Peel the mirliton halves and chop 'em up.

Put the chopped up mirliton in a pot over medium high heat. Don't add water; just mash up the mirliton. This is a very watery squash. Use a potato masher or a fork or, if you've got one, hit 'em with an immersion blender until they're about like lumpy mashed potatoes. Add as much bouillon as would make a couple cups good rich broth. I used chicken, but you can use whatever you like. Add a tablespoon or two of butter or your favorite vegan substitute. Add black pepper, cayenne pepper, and salt. Leave the whole mess to simmer, stirring occasionally. You want to boil off as much of the liquid as you can without burning anything.

If you like shrimp, now's a good time to prepare a pound of raw shrimp. If it's frozen, defrost it. If it's got shells on, peel it. Chop it into a nice nubbin size, large enough that your mouth knows it just got a treat but small enough to get several in every spoonful. Ham is another option, chopped to the aforesaid nubbins and added directly to the simmering mirliton mess. Or keep it meatless. It'll be delicious whatever you do.

Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a pan. Chop up and sautée a respectable-sized onion, two or three ribs celery, a fistful of parsley, and some three or four scallions. Garlic wouldn't go amiss, but it won't be missed either. I meant to put some in but I forgot. Oh well. As long as we're talking onions and celery and New Orleans cuisine, you'll be thinking green bell pepper belongs in there too, and you're not wrong, but my mom always left out so I tend to do the same. Anyway, sautée this mess until the onion's soft and translucent, at which point you'll add your shrimp if you're doing shrimp and cook it 'til it just turns pink.

If the stars are aligned and all things are in harmony, your savory vegetables will be done and your optional shrimp just pinkened about the same time your seasoned mirliton mush will be mostly liquid-free. If the stars are not particularly cooperative, you can soak up the extra liquid with half a cup or more of bread crumbs. Actually, just add the bread crumbs regardless. I mean, it is a casserole. Combine the two messes into one big mess, stir it up good, then decant it into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Put more breadcrumbs on the top. Plain? Italian style? Panko? You know what you like. Make it happen.

Bake at 350 degrees F until done. "Done" to me means that there have been visible bubbles percolating up through the casserole for a while and that the breadcrumb topping has gotten some definite golden brown crisping action around the edges. Bake it until it's whatever "done" means to you.

Let sit about ten minutes, then eat it while it's hot. Leftovers may be reheated or eaten cold, optionally right out of the baking pan.

And that is, more or less, The Casserole Of My People.

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