cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)

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 (park)
I had all kinds of plans to be wonderfully productive and social etc. this week, and then I was caught by The Sick that had Phil the previous two weeks. It seems to be proceeding according to the same schedule, too. After a week of being sick, I feel normal-with-congestion some of the time, and then The Sick hits me over the head and I feel woozy and incapable of basic reasoning. Happily, it's a three-day weekend, so Phil is home to take care of the kids when The Sick sucker-punches me. Today, Theia also started showing signs of The Sick.

The Sick sidelined some of my plans, including the ones to meet with my resident archaeology/Belize expert to brainstorm about the Belize book. Bah. I am not getting my scheduled number of words written per week, so that whole end-of-the-year time table may be a myth after all. However, I've been doing reading and making notes and trying to figure things out.

Rivers of blood! Crystal skulls! Rivers of scorpions! Coral reefs! Jungles! Howler monkeys!

Writing was going really well until I hit the part where the plot moves to Belize and I have to have actually figured out things like the tour itinerary and what plot movement will happen where and, um, what plot movement will happen at all, and who the supporting characters on the tour are. Turns out I hadn't plotted as much as I thought. I just had a great concept and (general) setting and very little in the way of actual plot. Phil laughed when I said this. Just recently he was telling me that I am more of a pantser* than I think I am.

I'm also figuring out convention stuff for this summer. I'll be going to two local SF and fantasy conventions, CONvergence and 4th Street Fantasy. I have a reading planned for CONvergence, which means I'm also going to be experimenting with homemade donuts. I will be on panels at a number of conventions greater than or equal to 1.

[WARNING: BABY TMI] And I'm trying to figure out how to deal with my darling baby girl, who in the last couple of weeks has decided that rather than weaning as planned, she would like to nurse more. It will be highly inconvenient (for me) if I'm still a milch mom when I'm planning on being gone from early morning into the evening, particularly since I'm not getting a hotel room at either of these conventions. I have no experience in weaning a baby, since Cassius weaned himself cold-turkey when he turned one, and I'm rather terrified of it being an upsetting process. Any tips, other mothers?

* One of the eternal writing debates is whether 'tis better (for a given writer) to plot or to pants, as in
write "by the seat of their pants."
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (park)
These are my notes from the writers seminar. As always, my notes are partially things said by the panelists, and partially ideas sparked by them. I don't attribute, because I have a lousy memory for such things. I haven't divided my notes into sections by what the ostensible topic was, because I noticed that the things I took notes on generally have very little to do with whatever the listed topic during that time was. About the writers seminar in general . . . this one felt a bit more Writing 101 to me than previous seminars have been. That may be because it lacked the narrower focus of, for example, last year's seminar, which was themed to storytelling. It may be because I've leveled up to "pro" and so the intermediate stuff feels more beginnery to me. I do think this will be the last one I attend. Worth noting, however, is that all the *rest* of 4th Street Fantasy this year felt even more writer-oriented than usual. It was definitely a writers conference this year.

Thrillers are all about resetting the world back to normal, but F/SF usually rejects that idea.

You cannot change the world without changing the character, and vice versa. Do it consciously.

Stories are based on the moment of change, but that works because a change is either called for or resisted, and the bit before the change can speak to which it will be and make it more resonant (while hopefully engaging the reader).

Alternative to the Bechdel Test: the Mako Mori ( test. Does a female have a character arc that doesn't center around a male?

Look for source/inspiration material that others haven't mined.

If you're trying to subvert a trope, don't stick with the original trope toolong, or you'll lose some readers.

Consider wish -> wish fulfillment -> consequences. Don't necessarily need to show all the consequences, but is better if you can show the realization that they're there.

If it feels familiar - setting, character, plot, any trope that you want to use - try to step back, figure out conditions needed to make it work, and figure out under what logic/worldbuilding will that ring most true (instead of just using an established set piece). For example, a non-evolving medieval society exists because if you try to advance, people will come and burn your workshop down. That kind of thing. Examine and justify your tropes.

Everybody wants me to read Patrick O'Brian. Still.

California still uses irregular verb forms. Dreamt instead of dreamed, etc. How lovely!

If there is a lot of something allowed or prevalent (in a society, setting, genre, or the rest of the book), it's absence becomes much more striking. This is particularly noticeable if its presence in a genre is new due to relaxed restrictions (i.e. swears, sex).

Definition: "sales blurb" - a blurb from another author that goes in a letter to the editors you're trying to sell to. Not the same as the blurbs for the back of a published book.

Work on figuring out *actually* how long it will take you to write something. Budgeting time and being able to give accurate delivery times to an editor is GOLD.

Plot-wise, remember that climax != payoff (necessarily).

Books can be a pain and a misery to write, but years later you can look at it and enjoy it. Or they can be great fun to write, with no suffering! Keep your head on straight and do not link a difficult/easy writing process to the end product's quality/enjoyability.
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (park)
I had a 4th Street! There were panels! I listened to them, took notes on interesting bits, and worked on writing a story longhand in my notebook the rest of the time. I will talk about these things in a different post. I also went to the writer's workshop beforehand, though I was admonished a bit for going, because it's geared more for beginning and intermediate writers. I managed to share a couple of meals with people, but mostly ate with family/alone. Dietary restrictions are hard, and so are time restrictions, and it's really a pain in the stomach when they combine. No weather catastrophes struck this year, although we did all get little LED lights as our attendance gift.

I am no longer sure if writing a story longhand during convention panels is a good idea. Yes, I end up getting some writing done, which is yay! But I lose that "deluge of ideas colliding against each other and reforming" effect. It's the shower effect; good ideas happen in the shower because the mind's idle cycles are not actually idle. Hearing smart people talk about interesting things is kind of an idea shower, and not doing anything except listen (and take notes) frees up the processing cycles to come up with really interesting intersections and ideas. Writing uses those cycles. Maybe. It's a hypothesis. I might need to try a panel or two without and a panel or two with so that I can compare the quality of my notes/ideas. The amount of writing I get done longhand is relatively small. If I choose to write and lose the shower effect.

I was even on one of the panels, the one about sentences and grammatical structures. I managed to mostly avoid sounding like an idiot, although I did flub my introduction because there was banter! And I was flustered! I need to work on my panel persona, though. Turn the personality and the funny up a notch, as it were, and not just be "painfully earnest studious person," which is not really me either. It would be easier if I were standing on a stage instead of sitting behind a table. As is, I tend to tighten up, which is not so entertaining. I had a pretty dress, though! Cassius told me so, when I left the hotel room. I also did homework for the panel, in the form of reading Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. It's pretty damn good, and I'll have to think about and work on its techniques for a while before I can integrate them fully. I think this was also the only panel where at the end, most of the panelists offered homework assignments, in the form of books they recommend reading.


I also had a six-month-old, a two-and-a-half-year-old, and a thirty-mumble-old in tow, so the amount I was able to do outside of panels was inevitably limited. On short breaks, I was running up to our hotel room to nurse the little girl. On long breaks, I was running up to our hotel room to nurse the little girl, give Phil a break, and try to figure out where I could safely eat food. Mostly Phil and I just ate together, either at a "safe" restaurant or from supplies we'd brought from home (baking a double batch of ginger cookies and taking them along was a great idea!). I could eat some of the food in the con-suite: pita chips, fresh fruit, eggs, that sort of thing. Cassius could (and would) eat some of it, too. One meal we managed to eat at the hotel restaurant with a bunch of my local writerfolk friends. Not recommended--it was overpriced and the food wasn't fantastic. Good company, though. Another meal I ate with friends and Seanan McGuire, who as it turns out knows Martha Hage from way back in the day, so Mars actually showed up at 4th Street for the first time, too. Double-take time! We chose to eat at the Irish pub while America was playing in the World Cup, so that was--a thing. There was loud chanting. Fish and chips was tasty, though!

That was one of the ways I could give Phil a break--take the energetic two-year-old downstairs to run around and burn off energy and maybe see if I could persuade him to eat something while we were at it. Although I couldn't eat the pizza welcome dinner, Cassius managed some of it. I also had success (for the first and possibly only time) walking the boundaries of the conference room with him and explaining that he had to stay inside them or we'd be going back to the hotel room. Another time, I wore Theia in the Moby wrap and took Cassius to the small upper plaza and let him run around while I sat and talked to people; it helped that there were also cards he could look at and play with, even if he was very insistent about the pictures on them being of lizards wearing hats in jars, instead of snakes. They were totally snakes. And after the conference, Cassius and I got to go swimming! He did pretty well with floating, once I got him in a life jacket with one of those foam noodles to hold on to. There was a slightly older little girl who became very upset when he talked about there being fish in the pool, because THERE WERE NO FISH AND EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW THAT. Kids are funny.

I had maybe a couple of half-hour segments in the evening to socialize solo, but I've basically forgotten how to do that. Socialize, that is. I listened to music. I chatted with friends. I played a smidgeon of Cards Against Humanity. I stilted! Gaea taught me how, using one-foot-high stilts and the assistance of Tim, who is large enough to possibly actually catch me if I fell. I did not fall. I only wobbled once. I was impressed by a) how weird it felt to be as tall as a professional male basketball player, and b) how tight those things have to be tied on.

. . . Somewhat more thinky panel notes to follow.
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (shadow)
Miscellaneous notes about things that I found interesting/useful from the "Syncretism, Real and Fantastic," "Journey's End," and "But That's a Different Panel: Swearing" panels at the 4th St Fantasy convention. Also a few thoughts inspired by them.


Beware the "science and magic both exist and have to fight" trope.

Schisms within religious faiths are a good thing to remember when writing religion.

Don't make good guys all Religion A and bad guys all Religion B, especially if there is also a racial/cultural divide.



Historical note: mass production / industrialization was brought back from visiting China.

At the end of the journey, one character arc conclusion is the main character's transformation or failure to transform. Decide this consciously.

Don't forget, people also bring back unfortunate things, intentionally or not. Invasive species, disease, etc.

Ponder the immigrant experience, and also what aspects of it a returning traveler may experience.



If there's going to be swearing and you're afraid of negative reader reaction, cue the reader in on the first page by using a swearword, so that they know what to expect. Can also do this with general tone/mood.

This made me think about cultural comfort with different behaviors that switches for a person depending on what language they're speaking in. For example, my maternal grandfather could be very earthy while speaking Plattdeutsch, but he would never dream of saying such things in English.

Fantastic Profanity [N.K. Jemisin on the cultural context of swearwords]:

All posts from 4th Street 2013:
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (shadow)
Miscellaneous notes about things that I found interesting/useful from the "Narrative Conventions," "Fantasy of Discovery," and "Tell, Don't Show" panels at the 4th St Fantasy convention, and perhaps a few thoughts inspired by them. Also a few unrelated 4th St photos.


If you're going to play games with narrative conventions, make sure you have something simpler to pull the reader through.

Alternative narrative structures can create a sense of strangeness, cause reader to pay more attention, or create surprise humor.



Mystery and discovery novel are not the same. Consider the nature of the antagonist.

Often man vs. nature.

Writing a fantasy of discovery may be sued to counter the stakes-escalation arms-race in sequels.

Expand scope by showing effect and ramification on the society of the disovery.

Keep in mind the character arc must change too.

Fantasy of discovery may lead to more participation for reader and a higher level of reader engagement--if you like that sort of thing.


Tell, don't show, is much easier when writing in a conversational first person tone.

Telling may be a very effective way to avoid showing something else.

You can slow down all the details and show them
a) if the reader knows that things are heading for something bad, or
b) if you want to make the reader think something bad is coming (they will still need *some* payoff).


All posts from 4th Street 2013:
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (shadow)
Miscellaneous notes about things that I found interesting/useful from the "Idiom, Character, and Worldbuilding," "Building the Spear," "Short Fiction," and "Heroine's Journey" panels at the 4th St Fantasy convention, and perhaps a few thoughts inspired by them (and I can't remember which are thoughts and which are notes!).


Shift idiom, addressing nouns to indicate (even if the reader does not notice consciously) a language change.

Idiom is an excellent way to worldbuild and also provide class information.

Consciously using or not using a character's native idioms can show their reaction to being in another culture.

Don't make swearwords interchangeable with their English versions! Make them based on something cultural in-world.

And remember real-world meanings so you don't screw it up.

We carry the idioms of previous centuries with us, long after the originating circumstances have passed.


For worldbuilding depth and character relationships, try using implied instead of explicit history.

Jo Walton has described works which lean on prior events for their emotional impact as being full of "very sharp spear points on some very long spears".

Readers want moments to be bigger than they actually are. They're on your side when it comes to building emotional investment. The trick is figuring out where they're investing.

Exercise: watch High Noon, followed by Rio Bravo, which John Wayne made as an answer to High Noon--because he hated High Noon.

If the spear is emotional, or otherwise not part of the main plot, you can have the plot resolve, launch the spear--and not show it landing. It's a way to keep the reader satisfied yet still going, "Agh!"

In a series, previous books may be building toward one spearpoint, but you darn well bettwer figure out what your readers have been building toward in the current book.

Before ending, stop and think about what your subconscious has been building in when you weren't paying attention.

Jo Walton's discussion of the subject:


For more originality, maybe try making it a non-gendered success (by how you build the culture) instead of breaking gender roles against the oppression of the patriarchy.

Always question automatically assigned gender for characters major and minor, i.e. not just traditional or warrior woman.

Stages: maiden, mother/weaver, matriarch/priestess, crone

Female/queer/non-white/disabled is not necessarily a choose-one-only.

Our genre is very much in favor of the underdog, which can make starting with a character in power (not one who just has it to lose it) very difficult.

Beware the female heroine who doesn't have other female friends because she's "not like other girls."

Campbell's mono-myth, "hero's journey," does not apply to *all the things*.

More female mentors are appearing in fiction now.

All posts from 4th Street 2013:
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (shadow)
One of the things I learned this year about sitting on panels at conventions is that preparation helps me a lot, if only psychologically. I think the 4th Street panel followed the topic of discussion most closely and most (though certainly not all) of the examples and points I'd thought of became relevant. For the CONvergence panels, this certainly wasn't the case. I'm not sure yet how much of those notes I'll be posting, since I used probably only about a quarter of them as a basis for discussion!

My first panel was Intertextuality and Originality, at 4th Street Fantasy. (It was the first panel the morning after the power went out. There was still no electricity.)
No book exists independent of the literary conversation, no matter how much its author may want it to. Elizabethan faeries are inevitably going to compared to each other, just like dark lords, destined heroes, and vampire-werewolf-mortal love triangles will. Given that very little authors can do will seem novel to experienced readers, how should they approach topics that many readers have been conditioned to read in a certain light? How can works that aim to deconstruct cliches avoid being read as "just X from Y's perspective"?
Lynne Thomas (M), Tappan King, Chris Modzelewski, Abra Staffin-Wiebe

Dinosaur rides on a bike fueled by the bones of his enemies! Ahem. Anyway.

Examples that work:

Blood Oranges - Caitlin R. Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney

The author directly addresses the reader in foreword to tell them that despite being a vampire novel, this is not a romance, it is unhappy and unpleasant, and she is taking back the "language of the night."

The protagonist also directly addresses pop culture preconceptions in-story to say, "It's not like that."

Cinder - Marissa Meyer

It is very obvious from start that is a different kind of book of Cinderella retelling, simply because of the genre switch from fantasy to SF about a cyborg

The title and a few thematic elements call back to Cinderella, but it is very definitely telling its own story.

The author may have started out with an advantage because at this point, readers almost expect fairytale retellings to stretch different ways.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow - Jessica Day George

This pulls similar elements together in a way not usually combined, referencing "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," "The Snow Queen," and Narnia.

Adding a lot of cultural depth and worldbuilding is a great way to go with fairy tales. It can make them feel more real and true.

Twilight - Yes, I think it works as a reinvention of the vampire genre even though I personally can't read it (I dislike the main character soooo much!).

It broke vampire cannon, but still satisfied rules because it kept all the "new" romantic urban fantasy conventions.

It also took a high school outsider narrative and combined it with a bad-boy romance, which was what a lot of the readers enjoyed most.


Folk stories and fairy tales have multiple elements that can shift to resonate with the times. Bring out things ignored previously that resonate NOW.

What's the unique part that really resonates with you, that makes you want to explore the story? Bring that forward.

Balance what you're putting in and what you're taking out.

Don't get more invested in telling a TYPE of story than the story you have in front of you.

Retellings can be great for constructing story structure.

Don't forget to put in initial cues to tell reader what filter they should be reading with! They don't have to be huge, but little bits to keep readers from building the wrong expectations.

...aaaand that's all, folks!

All posts from 4th Street 2013:
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (shadow)
These are some miscellaneous bits that I found interesting/useful from the writer's seminar portion of the 4th St Fantasy convention, and perhaps a few thoughts inspired by it.

Random word definition: sitzfleisch
1. A person's buttocks.
2. Power to endure or to persevere in an activity; staying power.
3. The ability to stay seated for long periods of time--very relevant when attending conventions!

If you hit a replot point, stop and consider what this new book is and how to go back to the beginning and make sure the reader is cued/promised appropriately.

Keep a china marker in the shower for taking notes when something occurs to you. Or a scuba-diver's note-taking materials.

Writing exercise: Turn the idea up to 11, do much more. Follow the improv model of "Yes, and?" and keep going until you've gone way too far.

Try writing in different environments (coffee shop, etc.) to shake things up a bit, the same goes for the materials and means used to write.

When dealing with writing block induced by depression, stress, changes, etc., transitional tools can be very good--try a writing journal, freewriting, writing meditation, writing anything for a certain amount of time etc. (morning pages).

The Writing Life
Beware allowing the descriptive ("this successful writer does X") to become prescriptive ("a successful writer must do X").

Choose your own definition of success intentionally. Don't default to successful = rich.

"Never make your ax your taxi." Try not to use the same creativity energy for your day job and your avocation.

Instead of (or in addition to) a summary outline, try doing a structural outline of story, character arc, proportion of set-up, climax, denouement, etc. Can be a very useful editing tool.

Look for resonances between the beginning and the end. Does the end change the beginning? Does the middle add separately to both the beginning and the end?

Take it apart, check the pieces, and see how each piece is supported, linked, etc.

If a thing doesn't work, that doesn't mean it's wrong--the hard part is to figure out how to make it work instead of replacing it. Unless you need to replace it, of course.

Cover letters should definitely not fill the entire page, because that is where all the editor's notes are made (if handwritten).

Try setting a goal of collecting a certain number of rejections by a certain date. Remember that just because you think it's terrible doesn't mean everyone else does. Think of collecting rejection slips as finding the range on shooting a cannon.

Random word etymology: royalty - an income the king received for loaning out the use of his land.


To sell a thing to somebody, you need to provide both information (who wrote it, where is it, what's it called) and impetus to go to the website and get the thing. "I wrote a thing" is probably not enough for most people.

Print advertising is not worth it for first-time authors, because it mostly serves the purpose of informing people who already know you that there is a new thing.

When you have a publisher who has requested a full, it's not a bad time to query an agent and mention that (getting an agent is simpler when you have a publisher on the hook--this is like that, but easier).

Two weeks is the critical sales window that determines whether bookstores will reorder your books, etc. Run giveaways, etc. in the month before release. If serializing/podcasting, start a month or two before release date, include info on pre-order/ordering, plan wrap up several months after release date.

Filtering blog/social media into "writing stuff only" may be a mistake, since it can take away that oh-so-powerful personal connection.

All posts from 4th Street 2013:
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing iffy)
This was the year that 4th Street Fantasy became the premier dark fantasy convention in the Midwest. ...That would be because all the lights went out, and power wasn't restored at the hotel for a couple (?) of days. The summer solstice storm of 2013 hit the Twin Cities area hard, leaving 500,000 households without power, uprooting trees, flooding streets, and creating sinkholes that looked like Godzilla had been stomping around Robbinsdale.

I was at dinner at Super Moon Buffet* with a group of friends from 4th Street when the heavens opened. Between the torrential downpour and the near-tornado-strength wind, it became a question of how to get to the car, and who was going to get in it, and if it was safe even to drive back. You see, half of our party had chosen to walk to the restaurant! I dashed out to the car with the driver and settled in. Driver went back. I was just wondering what the other people were delaying for (and deciding that I wasn't going anywhere unless the car started to float away) when the restaurant lost power. In the end, we were able to get everyone out safely in a couple of car trips. When we got back to the hotel, we learned that it, too, had lost power. They had some emergency lights, and that was it. I was happy that I'd just downloaded a flashlight app on my new cellphone, especially after the emergency lights in the bathroom ran out of power.

Eventually, I got home and discovered that we had also lost power--and many large tree branches, but nothing that caused significant damage. It was actually really nice. Phil and I had a relaxing evening chatting by candlelight while music played on the laptop that still had battery power.


The next morning, I got to see all the damage while I was riding back to the hotel. We got to play a game of bush-branch-tree, identifying what that ground-level foliage was by the side of the road. The answer was often tree. It took a couple of weeks after the storm before the giant tree that was blocking a road north of our house got moved. As of today, a month after the storm, there are still piles of fallen branches pushed to the curb and waiting for the city to collect them. They claim they'll get here eventually.

In many ways, the power outage was good for 4th Street Fantasy. It made the convention memorable, promoted camaraderie, and didn't (quite) persist for an intolerable length of time. People staying in the hotel who remember glacial showers and critical coffee shortages may disagree.


In addition to the lack of power, there were a couple of other differences this year.

Read more... )
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing iffy) that I have a little bit of time again, I should wrap up my 2012 4th Street Fantasy notes! These are my panel notes. I don't transcribe the panel, I just write down the bits that caught my attention. Some of these notes are thoughts the panel inspired, not things the panel actually discussed. I don't attribute because I can never remember who said what!

These are from the "But That's Another Panel" panel, which turned out to be about why we like divine right kings in fantasy (upon hearing this, Phil made the counter-argument that we don't, or at least we haven't recently).


In fantasy, consider divine right kings as personifications of powerful forces--gods, weather, failed crops, plague etc.--that humans cannot control or see. A king? Him, they can see. They can talk to. They can, if necessary, kill.

Or do we have kings just because we want to play with knights and swords? Does that mean that having kings is laziness on our part?

If you want one person to have the power to significantly change the world, a divine-right king or someone close to him is a good choice.

Also implies that God has a hand in things, and that "everything will work out all right in the end."

Etymology side-note: "lord" originally meant loaf-giver, and "lady" meant loaf-maker. Generosity is one of the things that marks a king.

Is a divine mandate good because if bad things happen you can say, "The mandate was clearly withdrawn; time to kill the king!"

Think about what tropes you're using, why they came into existence, what need/function they fill, and how to fulfill/subvert that function. Do not confuse roles things play in fiction with the roles they play in real life, but be aware of the differences as a thing to play with.

I will close my notes about 4th Street with tentacles, but the rest of my posts can be found here.

cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing iffy)
These are my panel notes. I don't transcribe the panel, I just write down the bits that caught my attention. Some of these notes are thoughts the panel inspired, not things the panel actually discussed. I don't attribute because I can never remember who said what! The full description of the panel topics is here.

Families, Festivals, and Fireworks


When you feel truly connected to a place, there is less need to ritualize things like eating traditional ethnic dishes that were eaten at the time you left (or things made by a person who has died or moved beyond reach). Rituals, especially ones centering around food, can be an excellent way to show loss.

Science, Technology, and Fantasy

Should you want to have technology or "laws" of nature prove to be incorrect or incomplete for story purposes later, you need to signal that to readers early on, or at least lay the groundwork for a fallible world view. How to be inconsistent in your worldbuilding, in other words.

The length of history implies certain levels of technological advancement or a powerful interior or exterior force suppressing it. Keep technological innovation timelines in mind when worldbuilding. Cycles of decay are another option, but even with decay, you must consider where it bottoms-out and how long it has had to build up again since. One cataclysm won't do it forever.

Not all technology rises in lockstep. It rises and falls in different areas.

In apocalypses, you need to consider the death of those relying on medications that are no longer manufactured, or aids that are no longer available.

Consider the idea of inherent versus skilled/learned ability and which is valued or reinforced.

Frequently, a writer wants to write in "the vague now-ish," but that is not best achieved by removing all technology. No cellphones, dear horror writer? Really?

This is also the panel where I figured out that yes, I could talk about writing an apocalypse or a post-apocalyptic setting quite a bit.


Blood, Love, and Rhetoric

When avoiding a violence- or conflict-related resolution, establish the heart's desire of the character early on, and show character's changing emotional reactions in a path leading to the conclusion, whether
1) to establish a pattern and then break it at the peak, or
2) to use incremental change as a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the conclusion.

Does having a fight as the climax ending obviate more interesting climax options? Consider before writing that final scene/while doing revisions.

Can you satisfy both sets of readers by having an emotional climax in a story that is structured with a series of fight scenes? See Clint Eastwood. What cues do you need to slide in to make it satisfactory despite them not expecting it (because they totally won't--we've all been thoroughly programmed for the violent story climax).

Consider the structure as nesting code when history or story plot wants violence but not for that to be the climax and yet for the reader to be satisfied. If you want to end not-violence, you need to begin not-violence. Consider nesting themes, character arcs, etc. You can go down multiple layers as long as you close your loops and particularly if you mirror the order of introduced changes (or use overlapping wave patters, I suppose, but as a former comp-sci person, nested loops makes a lot of sense).

In horror especially, the character transformation resulting from it may be the most interesting part.

Violence may lead to expectation of blood and pain, but satisfactory amounts of blood (possibly metaphorical blood) and pain (possibly emotional) can be in the ending without violence, or at least without a fight. Eastwood!


(All my 4th Street Fantasy 2012 posts.)
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing iffy)
These are my panel notes. I don't transcribe the panel, I just write down the bits that caught my attention. Some of these notes are thoughts the panel inspired, not things the panel actually discussed. I don't attribute because I can never remember who said what! The full description of the panel topics is here.

Teens, Work, & Fantasy

Finding a happy profession that makes a difference is a good alternate happy-ending state to marriage, etc.

Writing for kids and other non-genre readers, you may want to create an entry point by starting with something they understand (school!) and then taking small steps forward into the unknown (school for magic!).

(All my 4th Street Fantasy panel notes)
Flip-side: kids are used to filling in blanks in their reading through context, so as long as you don't expect them to understand tropes yet, you may not need excessive history or worldbuilding (which may bore them).

"Work is boring." School is boring, too--but it's a huge genre because kids already have it, so they like the idea of it being more interesting.

Military/vocational school is an interesting work/school intersection that can play well.

Get Your Reality Out of My Fantasy

I was disappointed by this panel. I liked the idea of questioning when we should go all-out for fantasy and just say fuck reality, but instead it went straight to the "how to make writing realistic" place. I was in the mood for strawberry ice cream, and I got chocolate. 4th Street has given me this chocolate ice cream before, and it is tasty, but I am sad that I did not get to try the strawberry flavor this time around.

Does realism come down to "if people do/are this, they will get hurt"?

The humor break that allows a reader to persevere through the grue and the grim does not need to be long--it can be just a small, almost-subconscious detail in passing.

Packaging needs to reflect both genre and tone more than actual plot or characters. Is it grim, thoughtful, fluffy, etc.?

Make it realistic without the grim by populating the world with "real" minor characters by using swift, small, telling details to sketch a ghost of a character.

Also, always consider the light source in a scene. What can be seen, and what cannot?

Accessibility, Genre, and Depth

Does accessibility just come down to "accessible for who?" Choices made to open a book to one audience may pull it away from another.

Intertextual reference works because of textural clues, but of course people who won't pick them up need them to be invisible. Basically, it's like leaving clues only visible through IR goggles, without creating hazards that will trip those who can't see them.

Consider Markov Chains, where a thing may depend only on the previous thing, n-1, not on what n-1 was derived from (n-2). Is this a useful alternative perspective on derivative works?

Accessible does not mean unsophisticated. Do not make that mistake.

Sometimes not writing as an exclusionary "hipster" SF/F insider may mean using what an insider sees as a tired trope. How can you subvert it for their pleasure without ruining the resonance of the trope for an outsider?

Collaborations & Shared Worlds

Establish boundaries of what you can and cannot do with the other writers characters without permission straight from the get-go.

When collaborating with an artist, first ask "what do you enjoy drawing?" (Neil Gaimon)

When handed cover art, it may be wise to revise your manuscript a little to make the cover art work better with the story, since they almost certainly won't be revising the cover art!

In a successful collaboration , the writing of each will change the outcome of the other.

(All my 4th Street Fantasy 2012 posts.)
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)
These are my panel notes. I don't transcribe the panel, I just write down the bits that caught my attention. Some of these notes are thoughts the panel inspired, not things the panel actually discussed. I don't attribute because I can never remember who said what! The full description of the panel topics is here.

Story Templates and the Folk Process

If fairy tales have buried issues in them (incest, child abuse, forced marriage, etc.), and those fairy tales are sometimes now being retold with the grim stuff brought to the forefront, what is the flipside? What grim stories are being told now that could be reworked to make the issues into buried themes in modern fairy tales? Think of memes and urban legends as proto-fairy tales.

In the Darwinian struggle of the memes, new archetypes are being born. Use them!

What rings truest in a fairy tale changes in different time periods. Go back to the oldest roots of a fairy tale to find details that maybe didn't resonate in past times but would be more "sticky" if told now.

All cultures have ways of controlling the narrative of people's lives (theology, copyright, local custom, manners, law, censorship, info-flooding, taboos), and that is reflected in the folk process, whether it has been controlled or whether it is trying to subvert that control.


POV Fixes Everything

Distant omniscient narrative can be substituted for a scene break between close omniscient POV switches, but you need something to reorient the reader. Pull the camera back for a little bit before you zoom back in, in other words.

If you want to put your own strongly held opinion into a story, put it in the mouth of a less sympathetic character and have the sympathetic character oppose that view.

When constructing the plot, the POV tells you where to start the story and where to end it.


Politics, Complexity, and Fantasy

Magic is often an inherited or appointed ability. This can be treated as a metaphor for political power.

Related: the idea that the fairy tale monarchy symbolizes the nuclear family. Not sure I buy it, but it could be fun to play with.

So you want to play games with complicated politics? Consider viewing them from the PoV of lower-down people. This may flatten out the complexities, lead to thinking of it in terms of archetypes, and result in some things just plain not making sense. Laws are one way that lower-down people see politics reflected in their day-to-day lives.

If you're concerned that somebody might dismiss something as "just a joke" that you don't want to be treated as a joke, write it seriously but provide something else for comic relief--for example, someone else's inappropriate reaction to the not-a-joke. For example, see Bujold's treatment of the Lord Donno/Lady Donna plotline and Ivan's reaction to it.

The key to using complicated politics as a background without it taking over the story or boring those who just aren't that into it may be making it all about characterization and interpersonal interactions, leading to irrational responses that may defy a character's own self-interest. Again with Bujold.

(All my 4th Street 2012 posts)
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These are my panel notes. I don't transcribe the panel, I just write down the bits that caught my attention. Some of these notes are thoughts the panel inspired, not things the panel actually discussed. I don't attribute because I can never remember who said what!

Writer's Seminar: Storytelling

How to Sound Professional

If you want your profession to sound respectable, be more specific (not just "writer," but "science fiction writer" or "dark fantasy writer") and insert "professional" in front of it.

Big-Picture Plotting

SF/Fantasy needs something in it that is significant to the created world, not just to the main character.

Using Description and Body Language to Show Emotion and Thought

Focus on focus. The order of description affects the reader. What the character looks at first tells what they are thinking, and the length of time they look at it conveys their emotional reaction, whether it is a long considering stare or a quickly averted glance.

A useful metaphor is to consider fiction writing as seeing a play from the back of the house, in terms of how to describe body language. In other words, excessive head-bobbing is meaningless motion.

Types of movement:
* Aggressive - leaning in, moving toward
* Regressive - moving away from
* Passive - remaining in place

Movement + Action = Emotional Context

Meaningful movement can also describe a space and the props in it, allowing you to avoid describing it all in a blob later.

Reading Aloud - Storytelling

When you're telling a story, use direct links to audience appearance or actions to involve them, i.e. getting the audience to make gestures with you or giving a personal 2nd person comparison like, "Your hair will be thin like this too if you live long enough." Make it very specific and fact-/action-based and 2nd person.

Include onomatopoeia and directly describe sounds instead of using metaphor and simile, i.e. the ching-ching of a light chain.

Lure the listener in with sympathizeable, everyday stuff linked to tactile memory and then take it a step further into the speculative.

Put a tie-back at the end to reference the beginning. Even better if you can work in a reference in the middle too. People get a little burst of brain-pleasure when the pattern completes.

What an Editor Wants

"An editor's job is making a thing more of what it is."

Narrow and choose the opening to cue which possible story path is being taken. You really, really need to cue the editor in from the very beginning, because they naturally think of the ten variations they usually see and try to figure out which one it is.

Keep in mind that you're not just performing the story in your head; you're working with an editor to excavate the best story it can be deep-down.

Back cover copy should distill how you're going to feel at the end, without giving away the plot--it is not supposed to be an accurate summary.

Beware enforcing the mediocre in workshops. Wild talent comes in and turns things sideways. (Of course, there's also confusing the hell out of everyone when you come in sideways, which may not be useful.... Le sigh.) Don't try to homogenize your voice.

Part of the publishing industry's difficulties is the death of "mass market" publishing--meaning the rack of books in the gas station or the grocery store. Can the digital revolution save publishing? Can a cover and a photo scan to download a book and give the store a cut work? How can we get books back in stores? This is something to think about when I get a book published. Maybe it's worth taking a hundred copies at author's discount and trying to figure something out (but not in that order).

Some editors like to be involved from the very beginning (the plotting stage). When you get a book deal, check with the editor to see when they like to get involved with the next thing.

Character Death

Make even minor character deaths meaningful through character sketches--and yes, it is in fact cheating to only kill minor characters.

This may make a positive pull-through even more important, but figure out what it is and calculate the throw-at-wall factor of killing the pull-through.

Retelling a Story and Making It Yours

If you're trying to retell a story, look for the bits that speak to you or that you sympathize with, and expand those.

If you have two plot options, go with the one that is more emotionally loaded for you as the author (while avoiding cliches).

If you're worried about what people might think, you've chosen the right option.

... but just because you're squeezing emotional blood out onto the page does not mean you're doing it right. It really doesn't. You have to do everything else right too.

What is the unique thing that you can do, whether as a storyteller or because of the genre or medium you're moving the original thing into? Doing that thing is what will make it good. For example, what can a science fiction love story do that other love stories cannot?

What is the unique thing that you cannot do? Don't even try. Figure out some way to make not doing it a good stylistic choice. The weaknesses of a genre can also be key.

"If you can't fix it, feature it." - theatre saying.

(All my 4th Street Fantasy 2012 posts.)
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (alas)
This year's writers workshop went very well (the workshop can be kind of hit-or-miss). I signed up not sure if it would do much for me, but because it was a thing that I wanted to continue. I ended up feeling like I got my money's worth in spades (and hearts, clubs, and diamonds). I should mention that the sandwiches provided were also fantastic (2 kinds of ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella, and olive relish, served with pickled okra); I could have eaten twice as much. Apparently all workshop spots sold out, which I was delighted to hear. Now if only we could get some editor pitch sessions started....

4th Street was in a different hotel, Spring Hill Suites. The conveniences of the suites were nice, but the hotel did feel too small for the convention. The consuite area with the food became cramped, though we also had extra space to hang out in the breakfast area. There was no hotel restaurant. There was no hotel bar (the better to buy editors drinks, my dear!). We had a free breakfast for everyone instead of a decadent brunch. I miss the decadent brunch. The decadent brunch was awesome.

There was no merchandise area. I don't miss this much, but it seems unfortunate that authors in attendance didn't have a place where somebody was willing to sell their books on consignment. That is a thing that seems useful, particularly since an "authors in attendance" sign implies "authors willing to sign their books, so you should totally buy them now." I was surprised by a couple of people bringing the MinnSpec anthology over to me to sign, and I can only presume that for some people that's part of the point of conventions. Maybe 4th Street organizers could do something like this? Though I suppose it would take an extra volunteer, and those are in short supply.

The programming was more diverse. [ profile] alecaustin did a fantastic job of keeping it from being the same people talking all the time. Somebody said that none of the panelists were on more than two panels, and that seems about right. Some of the loudest voices from previous years were much more . . . balanced, shall we say. As somebody else said, the first few reunion 4th Streets felt a bit like stumbling into somebody else's class reunion. All the class members are very excited to see each other and talk to each other, but people who weren't part of that class feel like the party really wasn't for them. That's not an effective way to make those other people want to come back to a convention. There was less of that this time around, with one notable exception.

At one point, Steven said something to the effect of, "We're running out of time, so I'm going to call on the important people in the audience first and then I'll get to the rest of you who have your hand up."

It may have been true, for certain values of "important," but that is irrelevant. It may have been said in a joking tone, but that is also irrelevant. It was rude and alienating. I desperately wanted to shout: "Oy! Don't be a dick to your audience!" Alas, in writing circles I am generally trying to hold back on smacking anyone down until I have a bit more published heft to back it up. Me! Exhibiting restraint! Everybody who knows me personally may now gasp in shock.

An auction was added in the intermission between panels, to raise funds for future 4th Streets. I could happily watch the very funny Ellen Klages auction things off for hours. Just sayin'. Things auctioned included hand-knitted items, a delicious Norske Nook rhubarb pie, a poker game, a fireman's hat, signed tentacles, a Singer bowl to be created to your specifications and coated with a glaze incorporating soil from Neil Gaiman's yard (the most tempting auction item for me, and the one most out of my price range!), handmade jewelry with a name and a story seed, and an as-yet-unpublished manuscript of MRK's new work. I want this to be a tradition--as long as Ellen is the auctioneer.

I wasn't part of conversations about writing. It just didn't really come up as a topic, which was somewhat disappointing. The exception is the random explanation of deconstruction that happened in the hallway, where I added my $.02 about expositive deconstruction versus destructive deconstruction. That was fun.

It may be a psychological thing: in a bigger convention, many of us expect to disappear into the crowd and not really connect with people who aren't already more on the friend side of the stranger->acquaintance->friend sliding scale; in a smaller, more intimate convention, it is easier to feel rebuffed when you don't connect with people outside of your own narrow group. Some of those who have been attending for a couple of years have naturally formed into groups of friends that, en masse, act as an introvert would--i.e. not being outgoing towards others (though they may have complained in the past about others doing the same!). This includes the local Minnesota writers group that I'm in. Heading for familiar faces is just more comfortable. I had a goal of always having a meal with at least one different person included, and it was damn difficult. A couple of people I would have liked to see at 4th Street decided not to go because they felt excluded, and I would not like to be a contributing factor to that in someone else. Edited for making unduly sweeping statements. I hate to sweep unduly.

Part of my difficulty may have been caused by me always having to flee during breaks to take care of the baby, of course. No lingering and chatting! On the other hand, a new attendee told me that I was the first person he didn't already know at least vaguely who gave him the time of day. This was after a couple of days of convention, if I recall correctly. Now, that ain't right. That doesn't even qualify as the much-maligned Minnesota nice.

Something must be done.

I think a "newcomers' lunch" would be a good start, whether that means hauling them all off to a buffet together on the first meal break or arranging a sit-down catered dinner for new people and people who want to talk to new people--maybe with some sort of randomized seating order and a pro writer at each table? Or maybe that should be done with everyone to get them all talking right from Day 1. I suppose the writers workshop sort of did that for those who attended that part, but I don't think seating etc. was randomized to promote social expansion.

Or maybe "Lunch with X and Y" groups going out to grab a bite, where X and Y are panelists and the rest are attendees . . . but you'd have to limit the groups, plus panelists do want to socialize with each other too, so it would all get complicated fast.

Still, I feel the need for some kind of mixer. Place to start: newcomers' lunch.
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)
This weekend (for a fairly flexible definition of weekend that stretches from Thursday night through early Monday morning) we attended 4th Street Fantasy Convention 2012 en famille.

4th Street is single-track programming, so there are a whole bunch of panels in a row with breaks in-between. It's not quite like, say, CONvergence, where there are a ton of things going on at once and you sort of pick and choose whether you want to go to a panel or watch a movie or go to a craft room or play games and then you take a nap at some point and circle around all the themed parties in the evening. 4th Street is all about the panels, and attendees are at least 80% writer-related: editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers.

This year, Phil and the baby also went to the hotel and we got a room. During panels AKA all day long, Phil took care of the baby. I would sneak back during breaks to feed the baby, and I had my tablet with me so that Phil could email me updates like, "Baby asleep. Do not come back to the room and risk waking him up," and "Baby awake and fussing. Will hold the fort until the break," and "Oh God. Baby super-pooped. We may need a new room." I would feed baby at the beginning and the end of the meal breaks, and go out to dine with people in the middle. In the evenings, sometimes I wandered out to socialize on my own (this may seem like a contradiction, but it is a sadly accurate reflection of the way I socialize in large groups--I am more of a drifter than a joiner), sometimes I took care of the baby in the hotel room so Phil could have a break, and sometimes I wandered out to socialize and took the baby with me. It was a good dry run for WorldCon, and I'm feeling more confident about doing these things with Phil and baby in tow.

I had a good 4th Street. The panels sparked shiny thoughts. I have more story ideas to add to the list. I have new aspects of the writing craft to explore. I talked to some people, if not as many people as I would have liked. There were things different from previous years, and some of them were good, and some of them were not so much. I did not (I hope) say anything to an editor that will forever blight my writing career. (Phil: "Because you didn't talk to them. Cojones mas pequeño.")

Enjoyable things to remember:

* Seeing Mary Robinette Kowal give her introduction in both "the phone sex voice" and "the gnome voice." Yes, that is what the next two pictures are of.



* Ellen Klages auctioning things off with the authority vested in her by the finger-tentacles.

* Delicious frosted sugar cookies shaped like computers and books and cauldrons and dragons and swords and Minnesota.

* Mary Robinette Kowal, puppeteer extraordinaire, manipulating a shoe that seemed to have a complex relationship with Scott Lynch (to illustrate a point regarding body language and movement in the writer's workshop). "What did you say?"

* Seeing Cassius meet Connor, who is about four months older. Cassius: "It is a person my size! I must follow him! Mama, let me hold your fingers so I can walk after him!" Babies do not understand the idea of personal space. Cassius stalked Connor the entire time. I did have to explain that we do not strangle other babies upon first meeting them, however. (If you think about it, when reaching out to another person, the neck is a convenient place to grab!)

* Getting photographs of people sitting in the seats lit by spotlights. I usually have a camera with me, but at 4th Street I swap that out for a writing notebook, and it has always felt strange to attend such an enjoyable event and end up with no pictures! This year I have pictures. On the other hand, wanting to take pictures did slightly distract me from musing on writingy things, so I think it is not a thing that I should plan on doing for more than a couple of panels. But I am happy I did it. Even if I did forget the low-light telephoto lens I wanted to use (grr).

* Trying dim sum for the first time! I had always supposed it was another type of Chinese food, instead of a serving method for trying lots of different types of Chinese food. Variety-seeker that I am, I liked it very much.

* Sitting on the edge of the pool with Cassius and watching him kick his feet furiously to make the water go splash.

* Discovering that Phil left our front door at home unlocked and open for a couple of days while we were at the hotel, but nothing bad happened because of it! We also forgot to take the trash out when we left (Would-be burglar: "Ugh! What's that smell? Is there a dead body in there?"). The cats enjoyed spending time in our covered front porch (WBB: "Those cats look really well-fed. They've been eating the dead body! I'm outta here!").

* Boggling at the variety of options at the buffet that ate three other buffets (Golden Moon something-or-other?) and trying new foods like snails (They were crunchy! What?!) and frog (pretty tasty).

* Seeing Janet Grouchy in the auctioned-off golden-cream shawl that the 4th Street attendees as a whole bought for her.


* Sipping scotch and learning that (you guessed it) MRK has somehow gotten John Scalzi to agree to wearing a regency dress (possibly with bonnet) at WorldCon if certain fundraising conditions are met. There was also talk of Scalzi and Cory Doctorow doing a Rocky Horror Picture Show dress-up. This was when Phil came out to get me because the baby had woken up fussy (did I mention he was teething?) and needed Mama. Phil took the scotch; I took the baby. Phil may have gotten the better end of that bargain....

* Hearing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" (okay, but why is everyone acting like they're in agony?) and then seeing the video (brain processing overload! does not compute!).

(All my 2012 4th Street posts, of which this is the first.)
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)
(x-posted from Fb because it turned into a real post)

4th Street Fantasy Convention starts tonight! ::bouncebouncebounce::

Agh, not ready yet! (Not least because I was thinking it started tomorrow night.)

In a related note, why *must* my brain produce stories upon demand? Dear brain, I have plenty of ideas for awesome stories, probably "better" stories than the ones that are best suited for a) an improv writing game, and b) a storytelling circle.

As a result, I now have a humorous modern fantasy/tall tale framework for a series of short stories with recurring characters. Argh!

Due to some odd completist quirk in my psyche, those stories will all be written. Because they have passed the "idea" stage and are on to the "plotted" one, at which point I will feel unhappy and itchy until they are written.

Ah well, at least I have a story for the story circle.

Okay, fine. Three stories.

Also a flying dutchman science fiction story that I may write someday but which is separate and (thank god) still only in an idea stage.
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing despair)
These are my notes from the 2011 4th Street Fantasy convention. For this particular panel, these are just the thoughts that I had in reaction to it, not necessarily what was actually discussed.

Magic, Monsters, and Metaphor

A lot of this focused on the transformation from human to beast and vice versa.

In these stories, is transformation the final end point? For example, the Beast transforming back into the Prince at the end.

A monster transforms to--what? if not human? The point seems to be to make the outer shell more true to the self. What else?

There's a long tradition in horror of what happens when a beast [metaphorical or an actual animal] appears to be human, beginning with Little Red Riding Hood and going on to Men in Black [an Ed suit], the horror of an innocent wolf being forced into human ways in the Tiffany Aching books, Mimic, Bodysnatchers--even in Alien, the horror is because of the beast within. Though there's an equal balance where the horror is in the forced concealment/change/rejection of magical or natural creatures. The artificially created chimerae in Moon Over Soho, the shapeshifter in Melusine, the bear husband story.

So we have beast-human transformations representing:
* innocence
* horror
* outside of society because of power or punishment
* hidden beauty/power

Magical transformation as a power corrupts metaphor? See the idea of permanent transformation caused by crime/sin (Wendigo).

Why are monsters/monstrous transformations and aliens not interchangeable metaphors?
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing iffy)
These are my notes from the 2011 4th Street Fantasy convention. They are not at all comprehensive, just the bits that I found particularly interesting and some of the thoughts that they raised in my mind, which I will put in ().

Notes from the Writer's Seminar

While a critiquer's suggested change may be oh-so-wrong, try to figure out what problem they're seeing. Don't dismiss their value just because they're so off base.

Patricia Wrede's blog was recommended for her discussions of writing techniques.

Don't try to fix the problem critiquers are seeing in a scene unless you can see the problem once it's pointed out--otherwise, shelve it for a while and try again.

There are three kinds of critique groups: support groups for encouragement; critique groups; and social groups. (Do I need a support/social group? Is it time to restart Fight Club under another nom de guerre? Perhaps a monthly/every-other-month salon? Something social, with wine, and showing off creative endeavors of all sorts?)

(I need to build up a better network of "experts", and keep track of them. Through geekdom? Social networks?)

The narrative summary/infodump can serve a very valuable purpose, especially in memoir-style writings or fiction that spans a great amount of time. It may work better in 1st person. For a long time span, you must figure out which scenes are actuallykey.

A professional formal support network includes things like an accountant, an agent, a publicist, or a lawyer.

A professional informal support network includes other professional writers.

A non-professional formal support network includes things like SFWA, the Writers Guild, crit groups, conventions, and writer's groups.

A non-professional informal support network includes family and friends.

Figure out how to use those support networks that you have, and how to build the ones that you don't.

What can you give/trade to beta readers? For writers, it's easy. For non-writers--buy them lunch to go over what they've read, put them in the acknowledgments, or maybe deliver the manuscript with cookies.

Train beta readers by encouraging and thanking them for specific comments.

(For critiquing, could I have somebody stop by to read their comments while I work on baby stuff? Would that work?)

How to write with small kids at home! Carry a notebook around the house so you can write in snatches when the idea comes--notes, scenes, etc. You can edit or transcribe during chaos. Experiment in notes/outline phase, not during first-draft time.

(I really need to get myself active again at Critters and that online pro-level crit workshop.)

Consider the rhythm and speed of scenes and dialog.

Emma Bull and Will Shatterly, paraphrased: "What should I do next, sex or violence?" "What did you do last?" "Sex." "Violence!"

To get the most out of online critiquers, read the crits to pinpoint good critiquers, then critique their stuff until they cave and crit you.

Recommended movie for writers: Stranger Than Fiction.


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