Diversicon's coming up fast, reading for better writing, etc.

BIG NEWS!
 
I'm the Special Guest at Diversicon, a small, mellow, local, in-person Minnesota convention! The theme is "The Roaring 2020s" and it will be held July 30th - August 1st, 2021 at Crowne Plaza Minneapolis West in Plymouth, MN. Register for Diversicon: http://www.diversicon.org/
 
D28-Roaring-2020sv23.png
 
Immediately before, I will be doing a reading with Michael Merriam at Dreamhaven. This marks the return of the in-person Speculations Reading Series at Dreamhaven! After difficulties, the Speculations Readings Series returns in July to DreamHaven Books, 2301 38th St E, Minneapolis. As before, the readings will run from 6:30-7:45 p.m., including an autographing and reception with free soda pop and cookies. After the event, interested persons will adjourn to a bistro to hang out. Dreamhaven Books

(This was actually part of my writing markets newsletter, so here's the writing thoughts tip and the link to the whole thing. Also? That whole "write in the diary every day for 10 minutes didn't...uh...stay consistent for long, but I'm not giving up hope.)


Thoughts in Passing
 
So here's a trick you can do to get better at writing ... that doesn't involve practicing fiction writing. Read 20 books. Not only the award-winning books in your genre (read those, too, but not all for this exercise), not the newest hot releases, not even only books in your genre. Don't even read the books all the way through. Go to your local library and pick an assortment of 20 books off the shelves. Do not read the back cover copy. Do not try to find books to your tastes. Grab a few from each genre: mystery/thriller, romance, mainstream, YA, SF/fantasy/horror, western, classics.
 
Go home, pick up a book, grab a notebook and pen, and start reading. In the first 25 pages, does it hook you enough to want to keep reading? When? How? Was it plot, word-craft, character, questions unanswered, worldbuilding, something else? If it didn't, why not? What were you looking for that you didn't find? How do you feel about the main character(s)? Why? What would have made you feel differently? Are there any relationships (romantic or otherwise) that you want to know more about? How about the setting? Does it affect the story's appeal (for you) at all? Why or why not?  Were there any points where you got mad, frustrated, or so bored that you just wanted to stop reading? When you kept reading, did that urge to stop reading change at any point? Why? Make notes, including page numbers.
 
Flip to the end of the book. Read the last 10 pages (not including epilogues). What do you see that connects to the beginning? What do you see that seems totally disconnected? Have the characters had an internal change or do they seem the same? Are the tone and mood different or the same as at the beginning? How about the setting?
 
Take your time to read through the beginning of all the books and take your notes (but remember the library due dates!). Finish the books if you like (why?), stop after 25 pages if you don't (why?). After you've gone through *all* the books, set aside a couple of hours to sit down to read all your notes and flip through to the key points of *all* the books. Try to do this in one chunk of time.
 
That's it. Your brain will figure out patterns, because that's what humans do. Pay attention. For bonus points, read the first 25 pages of your novel in progress immediately after the big notes review.

Full newsletter here: http://www.aswiebe.com/writing/markets.html

Originally posted at https://cloudscudding.dreamwidth.org/1138179.html on Dreamwidth.org.

New Oven!

I have a stove again! Or, I guess technically a range. The terminology is weird to me. Anyhoo, I have a lovely fancy new "black stainless steel" Samsung stove that has a convection oven and five burners, which I guess is a thing now. The middle burner is extra long and designed for a griddle. I would have paid extra for an all-mechanical knobs stove, one where the oven is also controlled by knobs instead of a digital display, but you can't get that.

Of course there is a problem. The hole in our floor for the gas pipe is too far away from the wall, and so that stove is sticking out an extra four inches until we can hire someone to come in, saw a hole in the floor, and adjust the gas pipe.

Because of the pandemic, I've heard that appliances have been tough to order and get in a reasonable time frame, but because of 4th of July sales, the stores have ordered more stock in advance. With that said, my first choice (by a hair) wouldn't have been delivered until the end of July, so we went with the second choice, which I'm still very happy with. I can COOK again! Dinner tonight will be Mennonite sausage and...hmm...maybe cornbread? Have to fire up that oven to let it burn off residual fumes for a bit first.

I think I might keep the electric teakettle out, though. It's nice not producing as much heat and getting hot water pretty darn fast.

So this huge semi pulls up in front of our house on our quiet residential street, and the neighbor's out and he sees that we're getting a stove and he says, "Oh, I thought it was mine. I'm getting a washer today." We laugh, the delivery guys carry in the stove, and then they go to their next appointment--next door. Yes, the neighbor's washer was in the same semi. LOL.

Let's see, what else. I sent out invitations for our 4th of July party. We have no idea how many people are actually going to show up, but we expect it to be pretty small. Some people still aren't okay with socializing in groups, especially with unvaccinated kids. And we basically didn't socialize at all during the depths of the pandemic, so all social connections feel kind of weird and tenuous and awkward, and that's just from our side.

Tuesday morning I went to the coffee shop and working on revisions. I like the idea of dedicating one day a week to *just* writing, as much as is practical for a parent. I do work better when I have a longer chunk of time to sink into things. I didn't do a great job of maintaining that focus last Tuesday, but I'll try again next week. I'm thinking only essential household chores, minimum effort dinner, no social media, working in the evening instead of relaxing. I'm probably going to be crappy at managing this, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, aim at the moon and maybe you'll land on top of a mountain, etc.
Originally posted at https://cloudscudding.dreamwidth.org/1137965.html on Dreamwidth.org.

To-Dos, and MRI

I am declaring myself better, for values of "better" that include still being a bit of a snot-monster but having clear lungs and what feels like close to normal energy levels. The kids are going to be super-disappointed when they come home and it's not all-screens, all-the-time because Mom's sick.

This means a to-do list immediately starts ticking through my brain:

* Set up 4th of July party.

* Clean (house is trashed after a 3-day weekend and me doing very little since I got sick). Focus on the kitchen today, I think, because that's the space that needs to be better for a) stove installation, b) 4th of July party, and c) general livability.

* Write. Because WRITING is my priority, damn it. Which means it should come first

* ...and don't I have rather a lot of writing-related emails and tasks that are urgent or overdue (but not actually writing)?

* Figure out what's for dinner. We have an induction plate right now, which is SO much better, but food still requires even more planning than normal.

* Phone calls. Crap. So many phone calls. Need to schedule regular dentist appointments, garage door repair. Blech.

* Bills? Wait, was I supposed to pay bills recently ... but didn't? Urk. Need to investigate.

A few weeks ago, I walked around a corner and my left knee went all wibbly for a bit and then I had a swollen knee that I couldn't straighten fully for a couple of weeks. Anyone who's had knee injuries will recognize this as being a danger sign.

So today I got slid into the Tight Loud Machine at the hospital! My MRI appointment was postponed a week because I was getting sick, but now that I'm getting better AND I have a negative covid test, I went. I do not like MRIs. The last ten minutes, I'd been stuck in one position so long that things started to hurt. My iffy shoulder started to throb. My hairband was digging into my skull.

Glad that's over and I got hospital Panera as a reward. I'm looking forward to an inside look at my bad knee. It's given me fits ever since my ACL tear and knee surgery (over 10 years ago), so an updated status report will be good.

[Dagnabbit, I was trying to show a photo, but ofc Google Photos don't allow direct image sharing.]

Originally posted at https://cloudscudding.dreamwidth.org/1137772.html on Dreamwidth.org.

Storytime, and Raspberry Bushes

Still sick. But improving! My voice has come back enough that I can do an abbreviated bedtime story for the kids. We’re currently reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (a Newberry Honor book), which is really a perfect bedtime story because a) it’s stories inside of stories, so you always have a complete story even though it’s in a longer book, and b) it has occasional illustrations, which Theia still needs to stay engaged with a story. And it’s just a fun read, and referencing another culture but very relatable. Also it borrows a lot of its plot points from The Wizard of Oz, as Theia keeps pointing out (my smart little literary analyst).

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

I had enough energy yesterday to carry laundry to the basement, put in a couple of minutes cleaning the bathroom, water the raspberry transplants (right before it started raining, ha!), fold some laundry while sitting down, and drive to the library to pick up the kids’ book holds before they were returned. We waited for that Zelda book for like 6 months, and it would have been several more months if we’d had to start over with holds. I do like that we have a thing now where we just wear masks if we have to go out in public when we’re under the weather. Let’s keep that.

I got my raspberry bush transplants from a neighbor down the block (via the Buy Nothing Group) and put them in right before the heat wave. That was not so great for them. They mostly look like dead dried things now, but some of them have tiny new leaves or a green stem, so I’m going to keep watering them. The real test will be if they come back next year. It would be great to have raspberry bushes along bottom of the hill by our front fence--right now nothing really grows there but weeds, it isn’t mowable, etc.

Other that that, not much. Listening to a webinar on writing better back cover copy.

Originally posted at https://cloudscudding.dreamwidth.org/1137570.html on Dreamwidth.org.

Summer School, Reading, Still No Stove

x-posted to Facebook

I am trying a 10-minute morning journaling thing. We shall see. I imagine it will be some part brain dump, some part to-do list, some part memories. Will I even be typing it normally, or will I be handwriting it? I like the idea of posting it so it can be seen again in memories or shared with others, but I also like the quietness of the habit of morning handwriting. We will see. There’s no reason I couldn’t do both, I guess.

The kids loved their first week of summer school. They both came home on the first day claiming to already have best friends, which is status quo for Theia and a delightful surprise for Cassius. Cassius’s class has been biking every day (for, he says, 2 hours?) between parks and then having some playtime at the park. Good thing he got competent on biking in the week before summer school started! Theia spent a lot of her time this first week making a unicorn head pinata, which she proudly brought home. We bought candy and she made special Model Magic sculptures, and then she made individual treat bags and stuffed them inside. We hung the unicorn head pinata on the Russian olive tree in our front yard and walloped it good until all the strings holding it up broke, and then we had batting practice until it split open. Good fun was had by all.

Phil DM’d a one-shot for the Sons’ D&D Friday night. Sounds like it went well. He could use my webcam to point at the board so they could see what was going on. That little purchase has really paid for itself in the last year and a half. I spent the evening curled up on the couch reading a book, which has become my habit. It’s nice, because the living room is quiet with the TV off and so reading is a lot easier. I’m almost done reading Memory in Death by J.D. Robb, a pulpy SF procedural mystery. The whole series is set in a well-drawn SF future with some rough subject matter but engaging characters and loads of found family warm-and-fuzzies to balance it out.

Still no stove. It should arrive Wednesday and hopefully be installed Thursday. Phil snapped and bought a hot plate that will arrive today. I was doing okay cooking with the Instant Pot/Microwave/Toaster Oven combination, but when I got sick and Phil had to take over cooking, he was not comfortable with that.

Originally posted at https://cloudscudding.dreamwidth.org/1137285.html on Dreamwidth.org.

Thoughts on Revisions

I'm neck-deep in revisions right now, and it's reminded me of my favorite trick for making sure that the beginning of a story pops. I pretend that I have one paragraph to persuade someone to read the rest of my story. I'll read from the beginning of the story until I hit that one paragraph that really speaks for the story. This can be a dramatic moment, or a bit of foreshadowing, or a great character bit. My job then is to figure out how to get that one paragraph moved up to within the first three paragraphs of the beginning--ideally the first paragraph.
 
I was worried because the novella I'm revising doesn't have the horror plot kick into gear for the first several pages. I didn't have that poppin' paragraph. But then I thought of the main character and what her deep motivation is, and I found that paragraph. It was the 6th paragraph, but I can easily move it up to the top.
 
Taylor raised her champagne flute as if she were toasting someone across the room, so it might look like she had a friend here. "Happy New Year," she whispered, quietly enough that none of the other party guests would hear. "Maybe next year, I'll actually have someone to toast with." - HitYourTarget!
 
(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)

What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:
 
I've paused in revising my urban fantasy novel, so that I can revise my horror novella. I have such an itch to write new words, but I gotta get it done. Deadlines help me a lot in getting work to that polished, submission-ready stage. In this case, I'm revising the horror novella to submit to Nightfire's novel and novella submission call. It's open until June 22nd: https://tornightfire.com/nightfire-slush-submission-guidelines/
 
I can think of all sorts of reasons why they won't buy my novella (too short, maybe not the right tone...), so why am I pushing to revise and submit it anyway? 
1. Don't self-reject. That is not your job.

2.The work of improving a story is never wasted. If they don't buy it, I can submit it somewhere else. If nobody else buys it, I have something I could self-publish. If it is never published, the work of revising it still improved my writing and editing skills.

(The rest of my writing markets newsletter is here: http://www.aswiebe.com/writing/archive2021.html#061821)
 
Originally posted at https://cloudscudding.dreamwidth.org/1136971.html on Dreamwidth.org.

My first Best-of! And cowriting tonight.

Thoughts in Passing
 
Today I watched an interview that Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers did with Bryan Thao Worra, and a few things he said really struck home. (I am paraphrasing, of course.)
 
Figure out how to write in a way that nobody else can. What makes your writing unique to you? Do more of that. Sure, you could imitate another writer in the hopes that someday she'll get sick and you'll be the lucky understudy called up from the wings, but do you really want that?
 
Create generative work. Perfection is a trap, and there is no perfect work. A rough cut marble may be more powerful. What can you create that will inspire others to create--even if it's to argue with you or prove that they can do it better?
 
Give yourself the freedom to try new things. Try different modes of creative expression. The benefits you reap may not be direct, they may take decades to reach, but they may also be what leads to something great.
 
If you can't get your work seen following ordinary approaches, try something else. Bryan was referring to submitting his poetry to publications outside the USA instead of to North American literary journals, but this applies more broadly.
 
The whole interview was recorded. I'll provide the link when it's available.

(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)
 
What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:
I'm delighted to announce that "The Dinosaur's Valentine," my bittersweet little story about life and love and what we leave behind us, has been published in the Best Vegan Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2020.
Dinosaur's Valentine - Best Vegan F&SF 2020

Over at Escape Pod, you can listen to me narrating "Annotated Setlist of the Mikaela Cole Jazz Quintet," by Catherine George. This is a heart-wrenching but ultimately hopeful SF story of a generation ship that never planned to travel for so long.
Finally, I've started hosting virtual co-working writing sessions on the 3rd Wednesday of the month (one's coming up in two days!). This is for MinnSpec, a Minnesota SFF writers' group. If you're in Minnesota and want some writing accountability, check it out: https://www.meetup.com/MinnSpec/events/xjzfhsycchbzb/

(The rest of my market newsletter can be found here.)
Originally posted at https://cloudscudding.dreamwidth.org/1136792.html on Dreamwidth.org.

Pandemic Productivity Recovery Plan

I swear someday I'm going to make posts here other than the personal bit from my writer's newsletter again. I was thinking about the importance of journaling for me again, and how difficult it is for me to keep memories without it. Of course, I keep saying this. But hey! It could happen! Not today, though.

Thoughts in Passing
For the first time in almost a year, I am alone in my house on an ordinary day. My spouse is working on-site today, and the kids are at in-person school. It is HEAVEN. And I am trying to figure out where to start digging myself out from the mound of all the projects that I have neglected. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I have played the "getting back into the groove" game before, after recovering from injuries and surgeries and newborns. I'm guessing a lot of people will emerge from the pandemic and need to work on recovering their productivity and getting back into writing. If you've been able to keep writing and keep on top of your projects during this time, that's GREAT. You should be proud. If you haven't been able to, well, maybe me sharing my process will help. WARNING: extreme productivity geeking-out below, feel free to skip!
 
Step 1 is simply figuring out where I'm at. This step will take a while.
 
I tend to use my email as a to-do dumping ground. I use "action needed-writing" and "action urgent" email tags to flag these to-dos. That's not enough organization to really keep on top of things, although it does make it easier to find them. List organization isn't quite enough either. This is where the spreadsheet comes in. You knew there'd be a spreadsheet, right?
 
It's pretty simple. The Type column is how I prioritize my tasks. Paying gigs come first, followed by things I've promised to other people (I'm careful not to take on too many of these), and everything else is intuitively sorted by the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. There is a number at the beginning of each Type label so that I can sort the tasks in order, first by Type and then by Deadline.
 
If you are a natural-born procrastinator like me, this is a good time to pay attention to what you've been procrastinating on the hardest. Often it falls in that critical "Action Important & Non-Urgent" category.
 
I also add significant writing projects that have deadlines. I enjoy writing for a particular submission call, so that is where a lot of these deadlines come from initially. This is not the place to track all my various manuscripts in different stages of writing and editing and submitting (again, unless deadlines apply). I track those elsewhere. Scheduling blocked time for writing/editing outside of this task spreadsheet is essential.
 
One final productivity note! As I go through my email "to-dos," I try to apply the 2-minute principle. If it would take me 2 minutes to do, it doesn't go on the list. It gets done then.
 
Next month, I'll talk about scheduling and how getting things done is going. I have 288 "action-needed - writing" emails in my inbox, so wish me luck!
 

(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)
 
What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:

After Dinner Conversations has produced a podcast discussing the ethics and free will implications of "In Their Image." This is just so cool! If you are philosophically inclined, you can listen to at https://www.afterdinnerconversation.com/podcast/e38-in-their-image-what-happens-when-a-teddy-bear-cant-find-its-purpose or on your favorite podcast catcher.

My final reminder is that awards nomination season is wrapping up. If you are eligible to nominate, I am very fond of my small bittersweet story about love in the time of extinction, "The Dinosaur's Valentine." It's available to read at Daily Science Fiction or to listen to at Centropic Oracle.


Originally posted at https://cloudscudding.dreamwidth.org/1136133.html on Dreamwidth.org.

Point A to Point B etc. from the newsletter

Thoughts in Passing
I recently saw a writer posting in distress. They had taken their work to a critique group, where they learned that they wrote with a lot of "filler movement." What does that mean? It means the bits that happen between the action. Opening and closing doors. Walking across a room. Getting out of a car. Traveling somewhere. Getting out a bowl to pour cereal in. Picking up the phone. Opening an envelope. Turning on the lights. Turning on a computer. Unlocking a phone. Getting dressed in the morning.
 
You get the idea. All of these things can be written as plot-critical, but they usually aren't. And that's okay.

This distressed writer asked how they could stop writing these extraneous bits. I can't answer that question, because I do it too. I often find that I can't move a character from Point A to Point B without writing how they moved there. My visual storytelling brain can't handle it. Otherwise, I might as well have them popping in and out of existence.
 
In short stories, there's less room for that. But hey, that's what editing is for! Sometimes? You just have to write through something, even if you know you'll take it out in editing. And that's okay!

(Do you have a writing question? Send it to me, either by replying to this email or by using the comment form on my website, and it may get answered in the next newsletter.)
 
What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:

Oof. Not much this month, aside from my regular #vss365 writing exercises. I have a lot in edits, and a lot of general writing-related administrivia to catch up on. Next month (in 17 days!) my kids start going back to in-person school (for however long that lasts). I have so much stuff that supervising distance learning shoved to the back burner, in writing and in general household management and in other life stuff, that I don't even know where to begin. We've been in distance learning for 10 months here, since mid-March 2020. I start by making lists of things to catch up on, I guess.

 

Full newsletter: http://www.aswiebe.com/writing/archive2021.html#012421

(Note to self: put "make new website" on that list.)
Originally posted at https://cloudscudding.dreamwidth.org/1136113.html on Dreamwidth.org.

Merry Christmas, 2020

Phil & Abra Staffin Wiebe

& Cassius & Theia


Dear Friends and Family,

 

Well, this is one hell of a year to try and write a Christmas letter in, isn't it? The pandemic, the Uprising (we live only a few blocks from George Floyd Square), distance learning and working from home, and that's without even getting into the politics of 2020. So much has happened, yet at the same time so little. To quote the Doctor, time is "a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff," and it has never seemed more wobbly.

 

Phil is still working for Suez Water, but now he is mostly working from home. He has refitted the basement to be his work office, using the ping-pong table as his desk, an old TV as his second monitor, and a rug from India to cushion the icy cold of the tile floor in our unheated basement. He also has an excellent foot-warmer in the form of our black lab dog, Hawk. A few days a month, he has to go in to work to run experiments on the machines, but mostly his life is virtual meetings and data. And driving back and forth to the school to pick up supplies and assignments for the kids, and our weekly school lunch boxes. Thanks to those school lunch boxes, we have enough frozen apples and carrots for the next five years!

 

Abra had surgery to remove her gallbladder this summer. She'd been trying and failing to use a restricted diet to manage the pain episodes, so once the ban on elective surgeries was lifted, she did the thing. Not losing hours to unpredictable pain episodes is a definite improvement! The other major change in her life is her attempt to switch from being a night owl to a morning lark. Before everyone wakes up is the only time she has to work on writing, so she's been trying to switch her schedule to wake up at 5 or 6 AM. Y'all, this does NOT come naturally! She's been enjoying attending virtual conferences and writing talks that wouldn't have been available before.

 

Abra has also been supervising the kids' distance learning since they were sent home this spring. It's a full-time process, from the moment they wake up until 5 or 6 PM. It's rough. There is crying and screaming and hitting and biting and running and hiding. Not every day, of course, but too often. We cannot WAIT for the vaccine roll-out. And our kids are some of the ones doing the best in their classes!

 

Cassius is 9 years old now. He has recently made the strategic decision that pajama pants are the best pants for the whole day. Hard to disagree! He is thriving in advanced math and has started learning piano. He loves all things game-related and is currently obsessed with Minecraft and Terraria. He also loves to read and to play imagination games with his sister.

 

Theia turned 7 before Thanksgiving. She had a gold- and Trolls-themed birthday decorations all over the house, and she enjoyed a birthday Zoom call and card shower. She loves all animals and insects and the weird in-between critters. Her list of desired pets: bearded dragon, chinchilla, hermit crab, kitten, spider, ant farm, owl, bat, unicorn. Her current goal is to be a zookeeper when she grows up--or maybe an opera singer. She loves everything pink, cute, and unicorn- or fairy-related. She also likes to help Mom cook.

 

At least in this, the Year of Our Pandemic and Distance Learning, we are all still here (no, literally here, all trapped in one house 24/7). Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, we wish you a 2021 worth celebrating!

 

With love,

 

Phil & Abra

& Cassius & Theia

Halloween pic
Christmas tree harvest
 

Originally posted at https://cloudscudding.dreamwidth.org/1135686.html on Dreamwidth.org.