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Thoughts in Passing

I'm in the middle of a massive hack-and-slash on a finished novella project, cutting 29,200 words down to 25,000 so that I can submit it a shorter version to a particular place. That means I need to cut enough words that they would make a good-sized short story all by themselves. I'm about a quarter done. I approach this project in the spirit of taking out everything that I possibly can, from adjectives to not-entirely-critical character interactions to whole scenes that can be summarized or omitted.

That is not how I normally approach editing. I don't believe that cutting down to the bone is best for every story. You can lose a lot of your personal voice and style that way. (I still cut my fair share of weasel words and plot going nowhere and bits that only exist to get from Point A to Point B, I assure you!)

I've also cut a couple hundred words from my "finished" long version. Maybe 1/10th of the time, the shorter version is stronger, not just different. I don't recommend gutting your story simply to see what works better that way, but it's a good exercise to try once. Save the original version first!

What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:

I held back on announcing this, because reasons, but I have a new publication to announce! My short story, "Miracle Material," appears in Mother's Revenge: A Dark and Bizarre Anthology of Global Proportions.

In this mixed genre group of eco-tales, thirty-two authors from around the globe offer up some lessons in why it's wise to be kind to Mother Earth. Read and take heed. Your very life may depend on it!


 
And if you're in Minneapolis, next Sunday I'm leading a free workshop on PoV (Point of View). Come and say hi!


Meetup event: https://www.meetup.com/MinnSpec/events/239675908/

(Read the rest of this Aswiebe's Market List update here: http://www.aswiebe.com/writing/archive2017.html#081617)
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The concept of the Sin du Jour novella series is that there is a catering company that works specifically for the high-powered supernatural set. Yes, the dietary requirements and ingredient quests are as hair-raising as you might imagine. It's also great to see a behind-the-scenes look at a (highly unusual) catering company and what the day-to-day life of the people who work there is like.

 

In Greedy Pigs, the caterers find themselves double-booked for two inauguration ceremonies, one human, one not. They have to adjust on the fly. Meanwhile, one of their own is not acting like himself. It all comes to a head at the inaugurations. There is a certain amount of commentary on our political system, but not to a degree that should push away readers who are sick of the political news cycle right now.

 

This book pays off on a lot of the interpersonal stuff that was set up previously in the series. To which I said, "At last!" The motivation for the main plot depends on it. Although this series is intentionally episodic, you probably want to read at least the previous book (Idle Ingredients) before this one. I recommend the Sin du Jour series if you're interested in something that's funny, dark at times, a little crass, and rooted in the lives of everyday working folks. Most of the books stand alone quite nicely.

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: I'm a fan of Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace's Ditchdiggers podcast about writing, so I went into this story hearing his voice reading it and also with a lot of outside context about the author, which changes things a bit.


Read if: You like stories with working class protagonists.
Skip if: You hate novellas or politics.
Length: Novella.
First Published: Tor.com Publishing, May 2017.
Link: https://www.amazon.com/Greedy-Pigs-Sin-Jour-Affair-ebook/dp/B01N5EUN84
How'd I get it: Won it in a Goodreads giveaway.

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Thoughts in Passing

As a panelist at conventions, I am fortunate enough to be put in a position where I need to intensively study a certain story-related question. It changes my reading list. It changes the way that I read my reading list. It changes the way I read things that are not on my reading list. Maybe you're not on any panels. Maybe you don't go to conventions. You can still benefit from a narrow focus on the topic. Find a nearby convention, choose a panel that you're interested in, and plan as if you're going to be talking on that panel: questions, observations, and reading lists. You may be surprised by how much you gain from this.

What I've been up to lately, writing-wise:

I recently wrapped up a short writing project. I've gone back to working on my novel(s), except the next 6 weeks are full of conventions, related convention panel prep, and teaching classes. Classes! I am teaching classes! If you are interested in these, register. If someone you know in the Twin Cities area would be interested, please pass this information along. Register now!


Read more:
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We are in the thick of the part of the year known as "convention season." This is a mixed blessing for my reading list. Reading books is panel prep! It counts as working! On the other hand, I try to keep distractions out of my reading list and so there are all kinds of wonderfully tempting books that I'm postponing reading for the next couple of months.

This summer, I'm on panels at 4th Street Fantasy Convention (next week!) and CONvergence. I'm also teaching a couple of one-day classes at The Loft Literary Center, but they aren't the kind that require reading whole novels.

Stealth Characterization via Setting (https://www.loft.org/shop/product_detail/2/classes/998/stealth_characterization_via_setting/) explores creating characters indirectly, through how you construct and describe their surroundings.

 Writer ... With Kids: Finding Time to Create (https://www.loft.org/shop/product_detail/4/adult_class/1015/writerwith_kids_finding_time_to_create/) is a class for creative people with too little time.

 Interested? Go register!

 For 4th Street, I'm reading urban fantasy. I've started with a re-read of War for the Oaks by Emma Bull. It's been a few years since I last read it, but I know I'll enjoy it.

 My 4th Street panel is the very first panel of the convention: Even in Byerly’s, You’re Not Out of the Woods.

 Description:

Thirty years ago, Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks gave us a vision of Minneapolis in which the magic was, much like Minneapolis’ own, hung on a balance between the pastoral influence of parks and wilderness and the urban jungle of clubs, skyscrapers, restaurants, and cavernous grocery stores. How has this intersection of asphalt and isolation influenced the genre moving forward? What unique elements of the numinous can we find where green spaces touch city shadows? Fantasy fixed itself up a nice place in the city a few generations ago — is it still a comfortable tenant? What does pastoral even mean to those who’ve never known magic outside the shadow of a smokestack?

 Panelists: Holly Black, Pamela Dean, Casey Blair, Dana Baird, and me.

I'm on three panels at CONvergence. Two of the panels are discussing writing techniques, but I'm going to need to brush up a bit for the third one, which is about the surveillance state in reality and fiction.

Thursday, Jul 6, 8:30 PM
Soul of Wit
Description: Short story and flash fiction authors discuss their writing techniques and provide tips on how to make the most of a limited word count. Panelists: Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Aimee Kuzenski, Ben San Del, Elizabeth Bear (mod), Roy C. Booth

Friday, Jul 7, 5:00 PM
What to Do When They're Watching You
Science fiction writers have long been concerned about a surveillance state, but recent technologies have made this fear more and more realistic. What technologies are watching us and what does science fiction tell us to do about it? Panelists: Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Dave Walbridge, Craig A. Finseth, Jamie Riedesel, Eric Zawadzki (mod)

Friday, Jul 7, 7:00 PM
Pixar's Story Writing Rules
Pixar has published 22 rules to aid in writing stories. Which ones work? Do any NOT work? Panelists: Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Melissa Olson (mod), John Heimbuch, Dave Walbridge, Tex Thompson

 

 Do you have any recommendations for good SF about living in a surveillance state? Let me know! The setting can be near-future or far-future. I am especially interested in stories that came out within the last few years.

 Do any of the panel topics raise questions in your mind? What are they? I want to be as prepared as I can be for what the audience might want to know.

Finally, if you know anyone who might be interested in the productivity or advanced characterization classes, please point them that way!
 

 Painted eyes

 

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Come to my experimental SF performance tonight! Kieran's in downtown Mpls, doors at 8 PM, I'm performing after 9 PM.

Inspiration: chance operations, love and loss, many worlds hypothesis, alternate timelines, wave function collapse, and choice strategies.

http://www.wordsprout.org/the-not-so-silent-planet-a-speculative-open-mic.html
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New Aswiebe's Market List update! Unshattering wants SF/F/Lit leading to a better future, pays $.10/wd. All the details and more: http://www.aswiebe.com/writing/markets.html
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Rosie Revere, Engineer is the best children's book I've read to my kids in a couple of months. It's about a little girl who stopped showing people the things she invented after she got laughed at. It is funny in the absurd way that kids love, it has detailed illustrations that can be studied for long periods of time, and it gives great reinforcement to the idea that failure is only a reason to try again, better. My son bonded really hard with the girl in the book because he wants to be an engineer, too.


Test

Apr. 16th, 2017 04:21 pm
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Testing cross-posting to LJ. Testing. Testing. Testing.
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Beautifully written. Time travel, betrayal, revenge, family, love, cybernetics, and multiple identities, linked together into a coherent story that shoots ideas into your skull like bullets.

Read if: You're interested in a multi-layered story, and I do mean multi.
Skip if: You dislike spiral structure stories.
Length: Short story, 5,881 words.
First Published: Clarkesworld, Feb 2017. A good issue, this one!
Link (FREE!): http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/harris_02_17/
How'd I get it: I too clicked on a link.
Where'd I read it: In bits and pieces on the computer.
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I loved this book. I am ALL GOOD with flawed female protagonists who are proficiently violent. I am also a third culture kid like the protagonist (I even grew up in Chad and frequently visited Cameroon, featured in this book). It didn't give me linguistic superpowers, although I can pick up languages pretty well, but many of the character references clicked with me as being "done right."

Reading other reviews, I'm seeing a lot of comparisons to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I disagree. That book is drenched in and fueled by sexual violence. This one isn't. The protagonist was raped in the past, but it is described in pretty much just those words. It isn't dwelt on, and it isn't described in detail. Judging by the description of later books in the series, sexual violence may become a theme, and so I will approach with care.

Read if: You enjoy female protagonists who feel no need to conform to pressure to be "nice" or likeable.
Skip if: You avoid books where you feel the protagonist has unrealistic skills.

When did I read it: In one gulp, over the course of a morning in which I should have been doing other things--and wasn't.
How did I get it: From the library, after BookBub brought it to my notice.
Length: Novel
Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004IK8PWS
First published: 2011
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Grimdark Magazine wants the darker, grittier side of fantasy and science fiction. All the details and more market list updates:
http://aswiebe.com/writing/markets.html
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We have returned safely home from our trip to Wisconsin for the funeral of Phil's grandmother, Romayne. There was (just our) family cabin time and snow and more travel and funeral and funeral ham with cheesy potatoes and then the kids besieging their teenaged cousins and (extended) family stories and drinking and family gossip and very poor sleep (because my three-year-old has been waking--and staying--up at 3 AM, and also that hideabed was awful) and the most country kitsch motel I've ever seen, let alone stayed at.

Today there was a lot of driving home. The kids had predictable we-hate-traveling meltdowns and less-predictable we-hate-chicken-nuggets meltdowns. We made it home, hitting the beginning of rush hour traffic. Then I found and cleaned up all six places the cats had puked and pooped around the house, changed the cat litter, and wrangled the kids through dinner and homework and baths and bed.

And nobody killed anybody.

And I am all disoriented due to travel and missing work/school days and daylight savings time starting, so I thought today was Wednesday and I was going to save this to post in Small Victories Wednesday. It is Tuesday. I am still very proud of this victory, though, so. Posted.
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In which I continue reviewing things I have read, especially short stories.

Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty's Place Cafe
Naomi Kritzer--ahem, Hugo award-winning author Naomi Kritzer

This story does what it says on the tin. It is mostly about past events and what people need to get resolution, framed against the background of an imminent danger to the whole world.

Read if: You're looking for LGBTQ warm fuzzies.
Skip if: You only like your end-of-the-world stories extremely apocalyptic.
Length: Short story, 4,743 words.
First Published: Clarkesworld, March 2017.
Link (FREE!): http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/kritzer_03_17/
How'd I get it: I too clicked on a link.
Where'd I read it: Over a breakfast of pancakes, which seemed quite appropriate!
Disclaimer: I know the author.



Of interest: Apparently, when the story was initially posted it cut off at the following paragraph. That ending would have left the story with a very different feeling!

It was dark out. Someone from the town had dragged out a box of fireworks left over from last year’s 4th of July and everyone took turns lighting them off, including me. (Mom had never let us have fireworks when I was a kid, because we might blow ourselves up, but if there was ever a time for YOLO, it’s when there’s a 4.3 kilometer asteroid on a collision
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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
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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.
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (park)
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!
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (park)
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.
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Retro Future Wants Love-Themed Pulp SF. All the details plus more market news: http://aswiebe.com/writing/markets.html.
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (park)
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).

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