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Improbability is in the Details
Abra Staffin-Wiebe's Journal
Recent Entries 
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One of my resolutions (along with combing my hair in a reasonable time frame every morning) is to write reviews of what I read and like, so that I can remember these things later. Especially short stories, which I can't rate by simply clicking on a star rating on Goodreads.

Detroit Hammersmith, Zero-Gravity Toilet Repairman [Retired]
Suzanne Palmer

I enjoyed this story tremendously. A repairman who's seen it all sees something new. The story's lighthearted, heartwarming, and it scratches that itch for stories about ordinary working Joes on space stations.

Read if: You liked James White's Sector General books or that one episode in B5 with the repair guys.
Don't read if: You're looking for SF that breaks new ground.
Length: Novelette
First published: Analog, September 2016
Link*: https://www.amazon.com/Analog-Magazine-September-2016-Various/dp/B01J6BMCSQ
How'd I get it: A magazine giveaway in the SFWA suite at MidAmericon II.
Where'd I read it: In the sauna at the gym. I swear, I wasn't lightheaded. This is also how I discovered that the sauna heat will melt some magazine glue bindings.

* They don't have back issues available for purchase. Not even digital ones. Let people give you money!

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Blind Spot publishes French and English SFF in translation (they go both ways), pays $.08/word. Details and more updates:

http://aswiebe.com/writing/markets.html
14th-Feb-2017 10:36 pm - Recipe: S.O.S.
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This recipe is for S.O.S. AKA Shit on a Shingle AKA Same Old Stuff AKA "chipped beef."

Ingredients

Boiling water
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. warm milk
1/2 jar dried beef (about 2.5 oz)
1/3 c. canned corn (or frozen, if cooked)
1 pinch cayenne pepper
black pepper
salt

Toasted bread
Butter

Directions

Put dried beef slices in a bowl. Pour boiling water over them. Let sit briefly and drain (this removes some of the extra salt). Chop into roughly 1/2" squares.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour all at once to form a roux. Whisk in warm milk, a little at a time, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring, until thickened. Stir in beef, corn, and cayenne. Heat through. Add black pepper and salt (optional) to taste.

Serve over buttered toast.
24th-Jan-2017 11:24 pm(no subject)
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Last week was the end of my "catching up on email and socializing and house-cleaning" two week break after finishing a huge project. I dealt with some critical and overdue emails, I definitely got out of the house and saw people, and Phil claims the house looks better even though I can't see a difference, so I guess I'll call it a success. Time to write novels again, which is somewhat intimidating since I've been working on other projects for the last few months. Back to the grind!

Other good things...

I did the second Women in Sci-Fi and Writing Female Characters panel. There was pretty art (it took place in an art gallery in Lowertown) and cupcakes! I said some things that I hope sounded smart, sold two copies of my book, collected a couple of new email addresses for my newsletter, and was gifted with a batcat hat (okay, fine, it's a pussy hat, but I dislike that term even though I understand the reasoning) made by my dear Alis. I thought the event went pretty well.


New microwave! This one doesn't turn itself on and off at random intervals, so I am less worried that an electrical fault will make it burst into flames in the middle of the night when we are all sleeping. It displays actual numbers in the timer instead of weird dancing bars that look like the countdown on a Predator bomb. And it's black and silver, which Cassius thought was really awesome.

I realized that I had missed a deadline (a month ago!) and instead of giving up and being sad because I couldn't do a thing, I emailed people and asked if I could apply late, and they said yes! So I did!

I went to a living room concert and listened to awesome steampunk music, played with my camera and took photos, caught up with friends, made new acquaintances, and heard new jokes. It was good times. And seeing people appreciate my photos later is a nice egoboo.


Diabolical Plots (by David Steffen of the Submission Grinder) included my story in his recommendations for Hugo/Nebulas this year. Eeeee! I've never had someone recommend one of my stories for an award before, so this is a pretty exciting first.

Phil's award bonus from work came through, so I gave him a full grocery list without worrying about whether we had enough to cover the cost. Sometimes it's the small things.

Learned about bubble paragraphs and skipping stone backstory intro scene structure stuff. (Yup, Ginger, your name-coining has stuck!)

I cooked tater tot hotdish for the first time because Steph was posting looking for recipes and gave me a craving. It was delicious gloppy comfort food even if I'm the only one in the house who likes that kind of thing. Also, something about the tater tots makes my brain think it's acceptable eating for breakfast too. Ooookay, silly brain.

I have sparkly red fingernails, and they make me very happy. I don't have a lot of time for frivolous self-care stuff, so this is a special treat.


###

Bonus good things from the previous week, which I didn't post on time:

Making origami flowers and paper "rain" for Theia, and seeing how much she enjoyed playing gardener. (She was a gardener and I was the botanist telling her how flowers grow in this scenario, apparently.)

Insisting on taking the boy to see a healthcare professional, and having it be the right parental decision. This is not a good thing because he has strep (boo!), but because I never feel confident making this kind of call, so I'm glad I didn't waste our time and money.

Chatting with the spouse about publishing industry stuff, specifically novellas and how the markets for them are changing and why.

Writing a quick piece of micro-fic and submitting it minutes later. Fifteen words long!
24th-Jan-2017 10:53 pm - Recipe: Tater Tot Hotdish
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As someone who's lived in Minnesota for over a decade, it was time. Time for tater tot hotdish, AKA tater tot casserole.



Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
1 lb. ground beef
2 large cloves garlic, minced
salt
pepper
1 1/2 cans french-sliced green beans
1 can cream of celery soup (condensed)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (condensed)
frozen tater tots, about 2/3rds of a bag
1-2 c. cheddar cheese, grated

Requires: skillet, 9x13 pan.

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Melt butter and vegetable oil in medium skillet on stove.
3. Saute onion until lightly browned.
4. Add ground beef and minced garlic. Saute until meat is brown.
5. Spread ground beef mixture in bottom of 9x13 pan.
6. Salt and pepper to taste.
7. Layer 1 1/2 cans green beans on top of beef mixture.
8. Spread cream of mushroom and cream of celery soup on top of beans, attempting to distribute evenly.
9. Place one layer of tater tots on top.
10. Bake 50 minutes or until tater tots are browned.
11. Remove from oven. Sprinkle cheddar cheese all over tater tots. Put back in oven and bake 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.
12. Remove and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
22nd-Jan-2017 01:16 am - Market List Update
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Retro Future Wants Love-Themed Pulp SF. All the details plus more market news: http://aswiebe.com/writing/markets.html.
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For the last part of 2016, I was posting three good things daily on Facebook. It helped my mood, and it helped me notice good things despite stress and sickness. I wanted to keep doing something like this. The plan is to post 10 good things weekly on Monday. This one is a little late. Oops!

The kids went back to kindergarten and preschool on Tuesday! This was a surprise, because my calendar had contradictory information so I was braced for a whole 'nother week of them both being home all day long. Surprise!

1. Theia was happy to go to preschool. Hopefully this means the long break has allowed her to forget that she was not wanting to go for a while.

2. I got summoned for jury duty! This has never happened before. I'm excited.

3. Cardinals in winter. Worst camouflage. Best bird-watching. The certified urban wildlife habitat beside Cassius' school bus stop has three or four pairs of cardinals living in it or nearby, so I often see them flying across the street, perching on snow-covered branches, and otherwise being photogenic.

4. Phil got me a new battery for my laptop. He used some of his Amazon reward from work to help *me* do my work. :) Now I'll have more than 10 minutes of battery life again. Such luxury!

5. I got the My Little Ponies of the Apocalypse t-shirt that I ordered as my reward for hitting a weight loss benchmark (thanks, pneumonia!). The kids think the t-shirt is of pirate ponies.
Ponies of the Apocalypse

6. I finished the final draft of my high fantasy novella, "The Unkindness of Ravens," and submitted it to Tor.com. Yay! That is the most rewritten piece I've ever created. It's about 29,000 words long, and only about 10,000 of those words are from the story I started with when I decided to do this. And there I was, thinking that all I would need to do was change the beginning and ending a bit and add a few thousand words. Ha.

7. Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest contacted me out of the blue, to ask MinnSpec to spread the word about the 2017 Minnesota Writing Workshop. I enjoy reading his blog, so that was pretty cool! Also, for pity's sake people. Have a website, and put a contact form on it!

8. I went back to the gym for more than just the sauna! It's been a while because The Sickness meant I couldn't breathe well enough to exercise. Saturday I did a yoga class, and it felt great.

9. First sale of 2017--a reprint sale of an eco-horror short story to an upcoming anthology. Huzzah reprint sale!

10. I started Project: Clean All The Things. Picking up went on my Not-To-Do List while I was cramming to get "Unkindness" finished, so I promised I'd spend the first two weeks after finishing it using my regular writing time to CLEAN (and catch up on emails).
12th-Jan-2017 12:39 pm - Awards Eligibility Post!
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It's time for ... drumroll ... the annual awards eligibility post! This year I only have one thing, so it's easy. And it's a short story, so it's also easy to read!

Escape Pod published "In Their Image" in February 2016. You can read the story or download the MP3 here: http://escapepod.org/2016/02/04/ep519-in-their-image/

This is a sci-fi story about religions on alien planets and finding your purpose. It contains philosophy, fuzzy pink murderbears, and good intentions.

Readers say:
"thought-provoking"
"just that fantastic"
"... Speaker for the Dead which this reminded me strongly of, in a good way."
"What a great story about social pigeonholing. I could write stuff about how much that happens in real life, but it would come over as preachy, and one of the (other) great things about this story is that it isn't preachy. "
"Great fodder for discussion, especially among the inquisitive and open-minded."

Read it! http://escapepod.org/2016/02/04/ep519-in-their-image/

I did write a fair amount last year, but it was mostly longform and so it didn't result in many published short stories (although I've already sold 2 that will most likely be coming out in 2017). Stay tuned for posts about what I was writing last year and what's coming up next year.

(SFWA folks, Nebula Awards nominations are open until February 15th. The Hugo Award nominations are also open. You can nominate if you have/had a membership to the 2016, 2017, or 2018 Worldcons.)
15th-Dec-2016 09:11 pm - New Aswiebe's Market List
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Scout wants near-future hard SF, pays $.08/word. More details and other updates: http://www.aswiebe.com/writing/markets.html
14th-Nov-2016 07:13 pm - My Creative Process
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What's your creative process?

I write fiction, both novel-length and shorter forms. The bulk of my published work is short stories. I have slightly different creative processes, depending on what I'm working on.

I write down story ideas, elements, and characters as they come to me. I tag them by what kind of thing they are (genre, subgenre, theme, character, plot element, setting, etc.) and how high potential I think they are. That way I can find specific ones again.
I always need to figure out what the (at least) two plotlines of the story are before I can begin to outline. I start with an overarching "big plot" story arc idea. Then I need to figure out at least one personal story arc. This is where I start to get ideas about the characters and gender, culture, societal roles, etc. Setting and worldbuilding usually occur organically during the research and writing process.
When I want to write a new short story, I usually look at current open calls for themed submissions, research the editor's personal tastes and the publication, and see if anything connects with an existing short story idea or an idea that occurs to me as I read the open calls.

I listen to several writing podcasts and occasionally read articles/newsletters (less so now that I don't have as much reading time). When I find a really good podcast, I save it. When I find a useful article, I keep the link on my "Shiny or Useful" page at http://www.aswiebe.com/writing/shiny.html. I plan to use short stories more as practice labs for working on some of these techniques, but I rarely do so now.

For short stories, I also figure out two more elements before I start writing. One is what thing will be useful or awesome new knowledge to other people. The other is what Big Question, if any, I want to bury deeply in the subtext.
For novels, I usually go in with a Really Big Idea and do a lot of research and snowball/spiderweb method brainstorming by hand before I start linear plotting.

I outline by hand in my notebook. The book- or story-length outline is relatively short, usually only a few pages. I outline each scene in more detail immediately before writing it. At about the 1/3-1/2 point I usually have to stop and tear the big plot apart and entirely redo it. Sometimes this involves extensive rewriting of what was already written.

After writing, I gather as many critiques as I can get and work through making revisions. Then I start submitting. I often make significant changes depending on what editorial feedback I receive or what publication I am targeting (for short stories). Some of those are only for submitting it that one time, but others will permanently change the story that I submit from that point forward, whether it is to the same editor or a different one.
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