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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 ( explores creating characters indirectly, through how you construct and describe their surroundings.

 Writer ... With 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.


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


cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (nonstandard spacetime)
I dreamed of a monolithic, hoarfrost-covered space station with rotating rings. Maybe it was alien. We didn't know how it worked or what had happened. Something had gone wrong and killed or vanished all the inhabitants. On the outer rim, where there used to be a park protected from space by a force bubble, now there were ice sculptures, frozen bodies caught forever in play, and no oxygen at all.

The rest of the investigation team had been there for a while when I showed up. I was a teacher. "Sensei," the woman whose culture was a strange mix of Indian and Japanese said, "who are you here to teach?"

"Maybe an artificial intelligence," I said. "Maybe an alien artificial intelligence."

A small, daddy-longlegs-like metal spider, a cleaner bot, skittered up and began trying to eat my skirt, and I had to shift to persuade it to go elsewhere without hurting it.

There were no real walls in the main body of the station, just wall that was really a honeycomb of hollow hexagons, with a force field to keep out sudden death. I experimented, poking books through one honeycomb. They should have fallen out into space, but instead they were transported to another hexagon, and when they got pushed through that one, another.

When the rest of the team were investigating the frozen park, a maglev train circled around the side of the station, filled with light and life and happy people. But nobody wanted to get off the train at the station. I persuaded one woman to get out of the train, and then another jumped off and came along too.

They said they didn't know what had happened. Later, the second woman burst into flames while she was sleeping. I woke her up before she burned, and the flames vanished. She woke up laughing. "You came along to protect [the first woman], didn't you?" I asked her.

I attribute most of this dream to reading Hull Zero Three, by Greg Bear. It's quite different from this dream, but the common elements are there..

x-posted to [ profile] penthius.
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)
I made small strides in making my home office more livable by attacking the moraine of books in front of the bookshelf and sorting them into "keep," "read to see if I actually like," and "sell." Unfortunately, I still have a stack of books that I want to keep, and no extra bookshelf space to hold them. Not to mention having a ridiculously pile of "to read."

I baked carrot cake cupcakes, about which more anon.

I managed the minimum maintenance cleaning.

In the evening, I bussed over to see Beastly for free, thanks to More on that anon too.

And there was the writing!

Circus of Brass and Bone Writing Log

New words: 1,200
Total words: 57,177
Overused word: Christopher - yes, a character name can feel overused, even if every use is necessary.
Gratuitous food: fir needle soup
Type of scene: Confab!
Challenge(s): Deciding which characters to emphasize. Not sure I chose right. Want to use new characters, but--am I hitting new circus character saturation? Hrm. Grumph.
Which line is it anyways?"He likes people. If he got lost, he'd go to the city. We need to find him soon!" He gulped. "Especially if they're getting hungry in there."
Researched: edible fir trees, hoof trimming knives
Added to spellchecker: policemen's, hmph
Notes: Aaaand--haven't even hit plot-point one yet. Oy.
Other writingy stuff:
* Posted freewriting and writing log.
* Updated CoBB buttons and links, because really, why would you have a lovely header image if it *didn’t* link back to the main page?
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Let Me Tell You a Story)

Even if you can't afford to buy the Northern Lights anthology, you can still read it (at least if you're in Minnesota)--because it's at the library!

Check it out!

Something I wrote is at the library! That's like the big time, man! A little piece of me will live there, and sometimes it will visit other people, but it'll always go back. And at night, when everybody leaves and the books speak to each other in papery whispers, a leetle bit of my voice will be in there. This pleases my inner child, the one who spent endless hours practically living in the library, who schemed how she might be able to hide so that she could stay in the library overnight, and who planned to run away to the library (if she ever had to run away).
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  • Listening to In Our Time's discussion of Akhenaten, I realize Elizabeth Peters has given me a lifelong fondness for Egyptology.
  • A construction dumpster has manifested in front of our house! This is a very exciting sign our roof may be fixed soon.
  • Project putting me in the mood for pirate metal. Later, must spellcheck to ensure I didn't type "Alestorm" instead of similar name.
  • Given the guessed reason for this lawsuit, maybe they shouldn't have called that drawing "Exploded View."
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Facepalm Moment #1: Waking up and realizing I turned off the alarm in my sleep and so missed all the morning panels.

Facepalm Moment #2: It finally occuring to me that there are these freebie tables, and I have this free SF/F market listing thing, so maybe I should have printed out some copies of the spreadsheet, with the latest newsletter.* For a promotional thingie, the sort that writers should have.

Facepalm Moment #3: Looking at a small press book table in the dealer room and immediately identifying 3 short story anthologies (steampunk, post-cyberpunk, and--I forget what the 3rd one was, but it also hit the sweet spot) I really want to own, then realizing the dealer room closes in 15 minutes and my credit card is back at the hotel. Fortunately, this is remediable tomorrow morning, when the anthologies shall be mine (and to heck with my no-new-books-until-I-have-bookshelf-space policy).

* This is also an Aha! moment, since I'm going to 2 more cons this year, and presumably they will have freebie tables.
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I have a massive and ever-growing list of books to read. It seems unlikely I'll ever make the list vanish--I tend to add 2 new books for every 1 I read. With that in mind, I'm soliciting for people's opinions on which books within this list I should read first. Take a look under the cut, if you feel like it!

Suggestions for additions are also welcome, though as you can see, it might be a while before I get to them!

The List )
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Freakangels, Warren Ellis' webcomic (also in print form), is turning into a very enjoyable post-apocalyptic story, and the art is beautiful--sort of a "simplified steampunk" style.

"23 years ago, 12 strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment. 6 years ago, the world ended. This is the story of what happens next." Read the story.

I confess that I have a huge weakness for post-apocalyptic survivalist fiction. Some of my favorite books are The Postman, Dies the Fire, The Stand (the first half), and The Day of the Triffids (or pretty much anything else by John Wyndham).
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)
  • 10:06 TOBY funny--and yes, I *am* a fan of Clint Eastwood movies.
  • 11:03 + Got new books! J.D. Robb's "Promises in Death" & C.J. Cherryh's "Regenesis." But can't read, must write. Meep.
  • 15:09 Wow, dojang has declared a snow day. No classes. Me=staying home and warm. Too bad Phil's sick, too, poor guy.
  • 15:45 Attempting to write and edit in description of a clockwork horse's head a young woman keeps hidden in her closet. Failing.
  • 16:35 Yale also offers its lectures as MP3s. I'll never run out of listening material again.
  • 16:42 Starting out with "Introduction to Astrophysics" and "The Good Life: Happiness."
  • 16:57 If you care about universal health care, let congress know (MoveOn):
  • 18:47 If a kid comes by asking to shovel, we're kind of obligated to say yes. At least he took care of the first 4 inches of this snowstorm.
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  • 13:55 Working downstairs on my laptop so I can watch all the inauguration coverage on TV.
  • 13:56 Statuary Hall is decidedly creepy. Just sayin'.
  • 14:05 "The Color Purple" is a great book, but the idea of it as a musical is kinda horrifying.
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I was going to make it a link, but this deserves its own special post. If you read a fair amount of SF/F, this will make you laugh so hard that you may need emergency attention. Mightygodking has rewritten the covers of key books to make them, well, you'll see.

Like this:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
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  • 16:08 Instant Chrysanthemum Beverage is actually pretty good with a little lemon and sugar.
  • 19:12 Look no further for a great list of brain-expandy nonfic: (BoingBoing)
  • 11:32 Did you know carols were originally songs that were danced to?
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  • 09:26 For 2 hrs this morning, a squirrel chattered madly outside our window. Later we discovered a cat had been waiting below all the time. #
  • 21:50 Spam subject line of the week: "challenge the dark knight when you are ready." #
  • 21:52 Meandered around the Stone Arch art festival this PM. Mostly commercial arts & crafts, but some were good. ++Sweepstakes & free stuff. #
  • 22:04 Downloaded sci-fi fiction podcasts from Escape Pod ( and e-audiobooks through Mpls public library. Set for the week. #
  • 23:07 CSA cookin': pea vine, salad greens, radish, & feta salad with cumin/dill dressing was not great. Not awful, but not great. #
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  • 08:06 Woke up at 3 AM. Again. Is there something going on in my neighborhood at 3 AM? I don't know. #
  • 09:23 Coworker fell down and hurt her knee. Now we're both gimping around. #
  • 10:08 Dear AMC, when you say "Special films for select tastes," it is making me think something you don't intend. #
  • 10:35 Listening to audiobook. Displeased by romance novel convention that heroine should be pregnant at the end. #
  • 11:05 Dear noir writers, Please cease using "labial" to describe a wound on somebody's forehead. #
  • 16:56 Timed my finishing big job *perfectly* so that it ended right before my physical therapy appointment. #
  • 16:57 Had hoped that would mean I could spend Monday writing, but no--I'm to go in because there *might* be QC, and there's more tech training. #
  • 16:58 Had been planning on insisting on next week off to work on writing projects, but knowledge is good, so now am irresolute. #
  • 16:59 Reframe: Yay, they're not making me work the weekend! #
  • 17:14 Sadness. Did not advance to the interview level for Program and Events Coordinator position at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. #
  • 18:14 Phil is tired, and will not go out to a games night tonight. Le sigh. #
  • 20:45 Spam subject: "Set Your Wife On Fire." Eeek! #
  • 20:59 Huh. Very interesting "saving for a goal" website at SmartyPig ( But would others contribute? #
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- Ventured out into the cold to go to work (Job #2). Sometimes I think that I only get enough downtime to decompress a little and figure out what I should be doing during downtime--and then I have to be off and running again.
+ Boss and Underboss are off on an exciting trip this week, so I didn't have to interact with anyone. There are days when I wish I could project a force field in front of me that would persuade everyone to unconsciously keep a distance of at least fifty feet from me. Or out of my eyesight, so I wander through a world where everything still runs, the coffee's hot, and things get made, but it's as if everyone vanished right before I stepped into the room. Today was one of those days.
+ Though I couldn't make it to Job #2's Christmas party because of schedule conflicts, they left one of the grab bags on my desk. The theme was fun and games. It held marbles, Play-Doh, a bouncy ball, old-fashioned bubble-gum, bubbles, Dove chocolate, a swizzle straw, a piece of sidewalk chalk, and a green coloring pencil, all wrapped up in gift paper printed with big smiley faces.
- I had to mail vasty amounts of packages made from people's CD and DVD-sized SASEs. They all had to be taken to the post office and weighed and measured and stamped. Not all of them had the right postage. I had to let other people scoot in and take care of their postal business in between packages. I was there for over an hour. I learned a lot about the postal worker, including about the time that hundreds of tree frog pollywogs hatched in his defunct backyard pool. A cool story and a cool guy, but still--not worth over an hour sitting in the post office.
--- Drama.
+ Leaving early without permission.
+ The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski. I should get in the habit of writing at least one-paragraph reviews of the media I consume.
+ Fluffy's Master Plan for World Domination, a very funny song that reminds me of the Mac Trads (acapella college music group) and also of Foundling.
+/- Getting tax forms and discovering that I made over half as much money at Job #2 than I did at Job #1, despite working at Job #2 for only 1/3 the year and less than half-time.
- Realizing that am not entirely healthy after all, and in fact would have some serious trouble breathing through a vigorous workout.
+/- Practice martial arts at home for an hour instead of going to Tae Soo Do.
- Have predicted trouble breathing, along with nasty mucusy gagging and hacking. Remain encouraged by realization that am in fact feeling much better. Resolve to go to Tae Soo Do on Thursday.
- Discover that yes, despite waiting until evening and warming up attic workout space, I lose feeling in my toes and most of my feet within half an hour. Had to take socks off as soon as did anything beyond basic calisthenics. Lack of feeling in toes is big problem when doing spin kicks. Must consider those weird tabi-whatsit martial arts/Asian shoes with very soft soles. May see if sneakers provide enough grip without having too much grip first.
+ Foundling and Nameless entirely entranced by bouncy ball from Job #2. Very funny. I took photos.
+ Discovered Foundling has deep-seated unease about bubbles sneaking up on him and vanishing.
-- Expressing emotions and dealing with interpersonal crap and all that annoying shit. Ugh. Emotions are so annoyingly messy. And as bad as pumpkin vines for invading things that aren't their territory.
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* clean blue flannel sheets on a freshly made bed
* ladybug stud earrings
* cold hard cider
* the pattern of bird and squirrel tracks in the snow around the bird feeder
* an epiphany of self-organization, thanks to Getting Things Done (next action lists)
* returning library books on time
* Ray Bradbury's short children's story, The Homecoming, illustrated by Dave McKean.
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After reading this NYT article about the popularity of his new book, I've just got to say...seriously, Barack Obama is going to be our first black president unless he's got a huge and impressive skeleton hiding in his closet.
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Look upon my new icons and admire them!

More to the point, admire [ profile] yuki_onna. As she puts it, her new book, "The Orphan's Tales: Vol. I: In the Night Garden is out and toddling in the world, available all over the internet and at most any bookstore you can walk into." I plan on picking it up; [ profile] yuki_onna and language are wrapped up in a rich and labyrinthine love affair, likely illicit, that spills over onto anyone who reads her writing.

Her post goes into more detail and also offers a bevy of lovely user icons free for the taking.

Back cover copy:
Every once in a great while a book comes along that reminds us of the magic spell that stories can cast over us -- dazzle, entertain, and enlighten. Welcome to the Arabian Nights for our time -- a lush and fantastical epic guaranteed to spirit you away from the very first page.

Secreted away in a garden, a lonely girl spins stories to warm a curious prince: peculiar feats and unspeakable fates that loop through each other and back again to meet in the tapestry of her voice. Inked on her eyelids, each twisting, tattooed tale is a piece in the puzzle of the girl's own hidden history. And what tales she tells! Tales of shape-shifting witches and wild horsewomen, heron kings and beast princesses, snake gods, dog monks, and living stars -- each story more strange and fantastic than the one that came before. From ill-tempered "mermaid" to fastidious Beast, nothing is ever quite what it seems in these ever-shifting tales -- even, and especially, their teller. Adorned with illustrations by the legendary Michael Kaluta, Valente's enchanting lyrical fantasy offers a breathtaking reinvention of the untold myths and dark fairy tales that shape our dreams. And just when you think you've come to the end, you realize the adventure has only begun...
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Group Intellect)
Why it's a problem:

"...we - residents of what is sometimes celebrated as the most literate city in the country - settled for a library system with arguably the worst hours of any major city. You don't have to look far to see just how bad it is. Minneapolis currently has just one library open six days a week. Across the river, eight different libraries are open seven days a week.

The Star Tribune recently celebrated the boom in library usage.... Virtually all of that growth has occurred outside of Minneapolis for one simple reason: If you can't get into your library, it's pretty hard to check anything out. In Minneapolis, circulation per open hour has grown steadily, but total circulation growth is far behind our neighbors.

...As the Trustees prepare the 2007 budget, we are faced once again with a choice between bad and worse. To live within the Library's budget, we could either further reduce hours so that nine of our 15 libraries are open just three days a week or we could close 10 libraries, enabling the remaining five to be open seven days a week. A compromise would close three libraries, leaving 12 open five days a week."


And it's only going to get worse from there.

Star Tribune Article about impending budget cuts in the library system:

What you can do:

Show your support for better library funding at the Library’s annual budget presentation to the City Council Ways & Means Committee meeting on Wednesday, October 25 at 11 am (Council chambers, 3rd floor, City Hall).

Let the mayor and your council member know why open libraries are a top priority for you and your family:
* Email the mayor at
* Email your council member.

If writing a whole letter seems like too much work, just send an email saying, "I'm writing to encourage you to increase the funding options available for the Minneapolis Public Library System so that all currently existing libraries can stay open with service hours that allow and encourage people to use the Minneapolis Public Library System."

Join The Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library System.

The letter I sent out:

The letter )
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The book being referred to is "Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers" by Amy Sutherland. It looks like a fun read--it's on my list of books to borrow. Oh! And in case you're wondering, I'd choose option 2.


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Abra Staffin-Wiebe

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