cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (park)
I'm an invited local pro at CONvergence, and these are the panels I'll be on this year! Tell me--what questions do you have on these topics? What concerns would you like to see addressed?

Friday, July 1

Risk of Going Nowhere
As a safety and headline driven nation, how will we explore dangerous, distant places that are inherently unsafe without losing the public will or disrespecting the lives of those who go? Panelists: Desiree Schell (mod), Sarah Prentice, Jim Tigwell, Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Rebecca Watson

Westerns in Sci-Fi and Fantasy
These days, the Western is the genre equivalent of peanut butter: not often served on its own, and yet it seems to go with just about everything. Why is the Western so appealing and adaptable, and what are the best examples of great Western fusion? Panelists: William Leisner, Camille Griep, Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Bradford Walker, Eric Heideman

Saturday, July 2

Diversity in Writing
"If you want more diversity, you should go out and create it." That's just part of what needs to be done to get more representation in fiction. We will discuss the importance of creation, good representation, and support. Panelists: Michi Trota, Briana Lawrence, Jessica Walsh, Mark Oshiro, Abra Staffin-Wiebe

Face Value: The Truth is Trickier Than You Thought
That thing you posted? It's not real. Why do humans keep believing false things over and over, even though it's easier than ever to check the facts? We'll discuss the history and psychology of false beliefs and how they apply to the modern digital era. Panelists: Siouxsie Wiles, Kavin Senapathy, Brianne Bilyeu, Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Stephanie Zvan
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (park)

I went to the AWP (Association of Writers and Writers Programs) conference and all I got was a tote bag, a bunch of useful writing knowledge, a whole bunch of candy, and that weird lobster sperm metaphor! This post is about my overall conference experience; my panel notes can be found here:

Let me explain. The AWP is a BHD (Big Hairy Deal) literary conference that happened to be happening in Minneapolis this year, and they happened to have a special $40 day pass deal for Saturday. So I went. Okay, there was a lot more waffling because, "But it's literary fiction, not genre! And I won't know hardly anybody, or how to talk to anybody! And I'm not prepared!" Phil listened for a bit, and then he must have decided that this was one of those "insecurities are preventing wife from doing useful thing" moments. Pressure was applied. So I went!

First, for my genre-writing peeps, fear not! Although AWP is a conference primarily for literary fiction writers and academics, genre writers were not shunned. The only times that science fiction / fantasy / horror writing was mentioned in my hearing, it was in a positive light. Short stories have horror DNA in their bones, time and structure is often explored well in SF, etc. The most popular panel I saw (and sadly was not able to attend because even the standing room was taken) was about fairy tales. When I mentioned to a couple of other people that I was a genre writer, I got a good reaction. YMMV, but it went well for me.

Read more... )
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Lots of works start off promising something, but never deliver. Why is it important that books/movies/whatever keep the promises that they make? Panelists: Melinda Snodgrass, Sean M. Murphy, Caroline Stevermer, Abra Staffin-Wiebe

These are my brief outline notes for the keeping promises panel that I was on. The actual panel may or may not have discussed things quite different from this.

Negative promises: "I promise I won't..." Caveat: unless I do it really, really well. Much easier to get away with in a short story.

Be aware of genre promises. No deus ex machina, magic is real, crime will be solved, main male and main female character in love at the end.

Tour guide: promise sunny Caribbean and take them to Antarctica - some will like, but most don't have proper clothes or had really pinned their hopes on those sandy beaches.

Relationship promises may result in more reader emotional engagement--and greater anger if broken.


Fiction can be a collaboration between the author and the reader - one writes down words, the other imagines a world out of them. Reader believes that they're building one thing, author is really building another--the whole thing can fall apart.

Breaking previously established world rules--works best if can establish as "characters were mistaken."

Think of books that failed the "Wall Test" - often it's because of broken promise
resolution not worth reading to
resolution betrays reader's understanding of main character, or how fantasy/sci-fi world works
failure or deliberate breakage of emotional tone and resonance
ignore the limits the story sets, and not in a good way
ending not really an ending!

It's all about proper cuing for the reader--for the casual browser in the bookstore!--down to little things like "there will be erotica in this book" or "bad things will happen." First couple of pages. Consider setting, hints of themes, warnings of hot button stuff, etc. But don't stress--should all be a natural and organic part of the opening! Some people use prologs to do this kind of thing. Be vewy, vewy careful.

Beyond the story itself, author promises can include things like
I won't be a dick
I will write more of this series
I will finish this book and have it out by such-and-such a time
This is the kind of experience you get from my books

Good to be aware of that kind of promise, but as always, "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch."


All CONvergence 2013 posts:

...aaaand, that's all folks! The end of my panel notes for this year! I also sat on the "Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Writing" panel, but I'm not posting my panel prep notes for that since 9/10ths of the subject matter didn't come up--so I can save it for some other day.
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (shadow)
These are my brief outline notes for the apocalyptic fiction panel that I was on. The actual panel may or may not have covered most of this.

I was on the panel with Fred Greenhalgh (lives off-grid, does The Cleansed podcast/radio drama), Matthew Boudreau (radio drama producer), and Ryan Alexander (mod - computer guy, hacker, Burner, etc.).

...I went back and counted, and so far I've brought about the end of civilization as we know it 4 times.

"Every death is the end of the world, every divorce an apocalypse."

Sometimes worldwide destruction is the only thing that seems big enough to speak to the pain.

All sorts of worlds come to an end on an everyday basis, whether that means the end of a relationship, a job, a dream, politics, loss of religious faith, shattered dreams, serious personal injury or illness, or the death of someone close.

Restarting of the world in fiction can give us hope that our small, personal worlds can restart as well.

Philosophically, one could argue that most stories in all genres are apocalyptic!

Undervalued skills--and therefore people--become important.

Esp. appealing to makers and hackers (not computer variety) - a chance to make society from the bones of the old.

Can emphasize the coming together of different groups of people.

For writers, a chance to rebuild the world better
bicycles are the best means of transport
hand-made goods are more valued
re-emphasize values

Lots of real-world stimulus for apocalyptic scenarios: global climate change, nuclear war (very earliest childhood), volcano that's a few years overdue on errupting that will make life impossible in the northern hemisphere. Or see world closing in around us with ubiquitous surveillance and ever-increasing legislation.

Feeling of accomplishment after reading some of these, as if we've done part of our homework!

Books: World War Z, The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham, The Stand - Stephen King, There Will Be Dragons - John Ringo, The Change series - S.M. Stirling

When one man dies, it's a tragedy, when thousands die, it's statistics, when millions die, it's entertainment.

Misc. things to look up: TEOTWAWKI, Lehman's catalog


All CONvergence 2013 posts:
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (shadow)
CONvergence is not the most thinky of the conventions I attend, but I do have a smattering of notes from panels I watched. And a smattering of unrelated photos.


How to Write an Interesting Hero

Are you thinking of your character as a hero, a protagonist, or a PoV? There are different nuances.

Flaws may drive action more than virtues, whether by giving in to them or overcoming them.

Science Questions

Quantum mechanics leading to consciousness outside the brain = very bad science.

The Science Behind British Sci-Fi

It is a huge resource use to have limbs (or extra limbs) if you can get food without them. Look at snakes!

Fun with panspermia.

Do remember that aliens could probably not eat Earth things or at least they'd have a funny effect.

On the other hand, invasive species tend to be generalists, tolerating a wide range of food, temperature, etc.


Dystopic vs. Optimistic SF

Good site for science/fiction brainfood:

The biggest pitfall of writing in a utopia is dullness and lack of conflict.

Beware writing in a solution to the dystopia that's easy. Multiple possible solutions (all with difficulties) can add good conflict.

Contemporary Sword & Sorcery: Leaving the Battlefields for the Back Alleys

The current trend is for small-scale epic fantasy.

I also wrote down a cryptic note whose meaning I have no clue about: "Prime Books, Yamamoto, Parker." WTF, past me?

Beyond SF 101

What are your goals along the way that benchmark your progress to (your definition of) success? It helps to know the mile-markers as well as the end destination.


All CONvergence 2013 posts:
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (shadow)
This was the most useful (writing-related) panel that I watched. Although it was talking in specific about real, existant London, there were lots of excellent worldbuilding nuggets to take away.

London in Fact and Fiction

One effect of the Blitz is that there remain Tudor-era buildings beside the most modern of structures. Construction from radically different time periods is side-by-side because of the patchy destruction caused by the bombs--keep this kind of effect in mind for world-building.


Clean-looking cement still exists in some places. The technique for making it has been forgotten since.

Often, old ruins (previous history) are discovered and quickly excavated before they have to be covered back up again so that the city can keep on growing.

Historically, "The X Arms" is the pub you'd go to in order to meet people from X profession. Bricklayers, etc.

The first city to invent or implement a new thing is the city that has all the errors and bugs. For example, the London Underground only has one track, so they have to shut it down every night to go in and clean, instead of letting it run continuously. (The people responsible for cleaning out the hair from the Underground to keep it from catching fire are called fluffers, by the way!)

Secret London:

Great discoveries are made in places that are horrible to live in. For example, the cause of cholera was discovered because of crowding and water pollution.

London has laws requiring the keeping/presenting of a historical object in public view despite it existing in a commercial space.

If you're writing something set in a foreign city, try having the PoV be a non-native to help cover for errors.


All CONvergence 2013 posts:
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (shadow)
AKA the year of the 5-hour badge line! CONvergence keeps growing and growing. It's kinda crazy. This year they expanded into I-don't-know-how-many overflow hotels for congoers, they started hosting programming in a secondary hotel as well, and they had the Line of Infamy. As a "participating local pro," I got to pick up my badge in a separate, very short line, something I was very, very grateful for when I saw how bad the lines were (and these were the lines for picking up already-purchased badges, mind you!). While I picked up my badge, some poor woman came up to say that she'd lost her badge and needed a replacement. She was practically in tears because she'd waited in line for 5 hours, dropped the badge, and it vanished before she retraced her steps 30 seconds later.

IMG_0554 IMG_0553

I had an okay con. I did a little of almost everything, which I've figured out is the best way for me to enjoy CONvergence. Attend some panels, do some tabletop gaming, take photos of the cosplayers, participate in some crafty activity at Connie's Sandbox, listen to some soundstage entertainment, investigate the merch room, etc. It was a bit more challenging for me this year since a) I had no hotel room to retreat to (definitely a good idea for CONvergence if you can afford it!), and b) I was about five months pregnant. But money's tight, and the main reason I was able to go this year is that as a participating local pro, I didn't have to pay admission. A hotel room was out of the question. I was pretty wiped-out a couple of the days, especially before I figured out that as a pregnant woman, I reeeeaaaally needed three square meals in addition to the snacks available at consuite. Rice with cheese-broccoli soup on top is delicious but inadequately filling. Big thanks to the Merriams for inviting me to their hotel room to watch the opening ceremonies and Masquerade (go, Dana!) and to Danielle for volunteering to drive me home several evenings. The evenings were not so alluring to me since I couldn't drink (and needed to avoid loud music) and it was really difficult to tell if there was anything *other* than booze at a party.


Overall, I had a good time. Next year, I won't be going to CON, because I'll have a 6-month-old in tow. Practically, this means that the best way to attend conventions is to get a hotel room and have Phil, the toddler, and the baby hunker down for the duration while I dash between convention activities and the hotel room to nurse the baby. 4th Street is still a go, Wiscon is a maybe, and CONvergence is a no.


This year was my first attending CONvergence as a participating local pro. What this meant is that I agreed to talk on three panels, I didn't have to pay admission, and I got a much shorter line to pick up my badge (a much larger bonus than I was expecting!). There was also a reception, but alas, our annual 4th of July party was a scheduling conflict. I flipped a coin on whether or not I'd be able to get a ride there in time to participate, and sadly the answer was no. I spoke on panels about Apocalyptic Fiction, Keeping Promises, and Things I Wished I'd Known Before I Started Writing. Yes, I will be posting my talking point notes from the first two panels! Not from the last, because mostly we talked about other things. This whole sitting-on-panels thing has really made clear to me that having talking point notes is a great help, especially as a stress-reliever, but that they may barely be touched, depending. I think the panels went okay. I only had a couple of pregnancy-brain-related word flubs (28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later damn it!), and they were panels I enjoyed attending. I also got a good idea for a non-fiction writing article out of it, so we'll see how that goes.


As far as panels I attended, London in Fact and Fiction really stood out as having excellent material relevant to worldbuilding. Other than that, as is usual for CONvergence, I only took a smattering of notes.


All CONvergence 2013 posts:
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)

When we went to Chicago for WorldCon, we also made a visit to the Shedd Aquarium. I could have done with an even more awesome jellyfish exhibit, but I did manage to get a couple of nice shots despite challenging lighting conditions and fast-moving jellyfish.
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)
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 (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.

4th Street

Jun. 24th, 2011 07:30 am
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (manatee)
Getting ready to go to 4th Street Fantasy! As the massively pregnant person, I'll be easily identifiable. Say hi if you're there--but be kind and remember that I'm terrible at names normally, and now pregnancy has eaten my brainz.
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing despair)
Circus of Brass and Bone Writing Log

New words: 164
Total words: 164
Overused word: smelled
Gratuitous word: fathoms
Type of scene: the opening
Challenge(s): Fighting off the backstory hobgoblins.
Which line is it anyways? The first one: The night the ringmaster died, so did the world.
Notes: Beginning a story is rough. I am not ashamed of this wordcount. Okay, just a little.
Other writingy stuff:

And...catching up on posting writing logs....

08/08/10, Sunday, extra hours working from home on day job project
* Finished working out the plot and began actual writing on "The Circus of Brass and Bone."

08/07/10, Saturday
* Balancing a character's pain:

* Responded to agent partial request for Vicesteed.
* Wrote up and posted CONvergence notes, except for profanity panel.

07/30/10, Family reunion

* Wrote 2 pgs on "Remediation Village" while listening to family meeting updates.

07/22/10, Thursday, extra hours on day job project
* Posted freewriting, writing log.
* Heretic's Hope, beg. 10:10, 21,310 words - end
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (crazy)
Life has been--distracting, lately. So much going on, so much that I don't know what or how to talk about it. But my CONvergence report is overdue! Other writing commitments interfered, so I was only able to attend for a couple of days. This time I made a conscious effort to do more activities and to try and relax and enjoy the convention and not just feel driven to attend everypossiblepanel! I was sorta successful in that. I did the t-shirt modification crafty time, and I think it turned out pretty awesome, though I still need to add lacing to the shoulders to drop the bottom another couple of inches.
t-shirt modification

I also wrote a number of pages on "Remediation Village" while I attended panels--handwriting short stories in my notebook has kinda become my knitting: something I can do in bits and pieces while listening/attending something else. Did some of that at the family reunion I just got home from, too. Handwritten short stories--not just for bus time anymore!

I didn't take as many panel notes this time. Perhaps that means I'm leveling up as a writer, or perhaps it means that I simply didn't choose the right panels this year! The really notable exception was the Profanity as a Function of Language panel, which deserves (and will get) a post of its own.

Panel Notes (in brief)

How to Create a Good Villain
* To make a villain scary--give them pieces of yourself, but exaggerated. The kind of thing that will make them wonder, "Would I do that, if I were in that situation?"
* Can use fear of "the Other."
* Break the social contract: things like politeness, no contact in elevators, etc. This is seriously unnerving.
* Remember that everyone's a villain from somebody's POV.
* For figuring out motivation, consult the 7 Deadly Sins. (My thought--and to balance, at least 1 of the Virtues?)

New Discoveries in Evolution
* For idea generation, see
* Some bacteria can basically "absorb" DNA from whatever they run across.
* Viruses inserted in the middle of a gene act by destroying the gene and creating a mutation.
* Remember that migrations go both ways, in waves of expansion and contraction. They may also be in slow increments of a couple of miles a generation.
* For fun, try Googling "Every culture has" and seeing what it auto-completes. Today it was, "Every culture has a word for Democracy," and "Every culture has a religion."

Can't Put it Down Pacing
* William Goldman's 2 books on writing screenplays.
* "How to Read a Book" - Mortimer Adler.

4th Street

Jun. 27th, 2010 09:57 pm
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)
4th Street is over. Thursday night (playreading) through Sunday afternoon of instructive and/or entertaining panels, interesting people I have met a time or two before but generally don't know well enough to feel relaxed around, and generally worthwhile but exhausting writerly goodness. Can I have a weekend to recover from my weekend?

...probably not.

And next weekend is CONvergence, which is more of the same, though the pressure there is more "large and impersonal crowd" than "smaller crowd that will probably notice if you do something particularly stupid."

I have fewer panel notes this year than I have in the past, perhaps (hopefully) because I've internalized much of the writing techniques and wisdom that was discussed. Much other good stuff went on, too. I hung out and chatted with many people that it was good to see again. Wrote 8 handwritten pages on the Inner Mongolia desertification/unspoken love story. Jo Walton gave me some great advice about selling Vicesteed. I got a full-blown story idea (that I didn't really need)--something about my brain processes "shouldn't" and "can't" as a challenge. Grr. "Can't write a story where the POV shifts every paragraph without section breaks or indicators." Oh yeah?. Stupid brain.

panel notes )
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)
[Jim Brown] 1:07 pm: It has been researched that around only 7% of
what you use to evaluate what is being said actually comes from the
[Jim Brown] 1:07 pm: The rest comes from body-language, context, tone

Deena] 1:52 pm: It might help to break down how the various social
media platforms work, what they do. Facebook is a semi-closed
system; so is Live Journal. They draw readers from their users. is a bit more open, it also cross-promotes between
users better than Facebook and LJ. Red Room is great for authors, a
kind of one-stop shop. A standalone website is good, with blogging
software, especially if you cross-post to Facebook and Twitter. I don't
recommend Blogger because it doesnt...
[Deena] 1:52 pm: have that cross-promotional strength the others have.
[Jim Brown] 1:52 pm: A lot of people don't like Blogger because of that.
[Deena] 1:52 pm: And, as several people have mentioned previously, LJ
is great for the speculative author community; there are a lot of them
on LJ.
[Jim Brown] 1:53 pm: Wordpress is good because you can put it on your
own server.

[Deena] 1:54 pm: Blogger, maybe because it's owned by Google, does
seem to have a little bit of a leg up in search engine results.
[Caras Galadhon] 1:54 pm: ?
[Jim Brown] 1:54 pm: Something we have found VERY useful lately is
[widdershins] 1:54 pm:    
[Deena] 1:54 pm: Oh, yeah, lots of people have talked about the power
of Goodreads, also library thing. There's some disagreement as to
which is best.

Caras Galadhon] 2:04 pm: (Sorry, I seem to be talkative today.) LibraryThing
has a similar promotional program each month called Early Reviewers. It
seems as if GoodReads has a larger casual userbase, but LT is more serious/st
ickier (and I find the folks behind the curtain are in more constant communic
ation with their userbase).


May. 22nd, 2010 06:07 pm
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing despair)
I have to write the synopses for Vicesteed now, and it's terrifying me. I mean, I can get it down to three paragraphs, but anything less than that feels impossible. And I'll definitely need a one-paragraph version and (ack!) a one-sentence pitch.

This is my best attempt at a sentence pitch (logline), and it's clunky, and doesn't address everything:
Vicesteed is a steampunk locked-room murder mystery set in a
far future where a woman whose only memories are of the vices of
others must fight through an unfamiliar neo-Victorian world to find
out who she was, who took away her memories, and what she really did
in her role as a vicesteed.

And for the paragraph, I've got this, but again, leaves maybe too much out, and the last sentence I fear is cliche:
In a Victorian steampunk future, QUINCY is a private investigator ordered to find the cause of the comatose Prince Consort's affliction. Two very different women are the key to solving this locked-room mystery: VALINDA, a former vicesteed searching for her identity--and her revenge--after escaping a theme park of depravity where her experiences were broadcast to a discerning audience; and ROSEMARY, a gently bred young lady with dangerous ties to a rebel underground and an unfeminine inclination to build clockwork automata. They unravel the conspiracy, but not before they find passion, betrayal, unwanted truth, and murder.

My problem:
How do you condense it all down to a pitch when you've got three separate plotlines equally balanced with three main characters, all of which interrelate but are more than just different views of the same thing? Just pitch the opening plotline and allude to the others? I can figure out how to get it down to three paragraphs, but a one-paragraph or heaven forbid one sentence pitch is beyond me. If I focus on the thing that they start out with in common, it requires way too much explanation of how they fit together. How did you do it? Any good resources to read for key things to include or exclude or look for?

CoyoteCon general summary advice )
cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (editing iffy)
Why transformative sex?
[teresawymore] 12:10 pm: yep Joely...and erotica has been limited in it
because it's viewed as a means to an end--a genre defined by its effect
rather than its storytelling. This focus on its effect makes authors
afraid to risk personal revelation, leading to procedural writing that
plays into myths and stereotypes about sex. Doesn't allow transform
ation of character or reader. Erotica has great potential to reveal
character through interplay of public and private information that no
other genre dares to embrace.
[joelysueburkhart] 12:10 pm: If a reader can skip your sex scene and not
miss something crucial, then it's not a transformative scene.

How to make it transformative
[joelysueburkhart] 12:16 pm: I like what Anna does with her sex scenes --
she treats each one like an individual hero's journey.
[Deena] 12:16 pm: Joely, and Anna, can either of you expand on that?
[joelysueburkhart] 12:16 pm: There are dark moments in each scene, inner
caves that must be explored, before you can return with the elixir.
[Deena] 12:17 pm: heh. I'm 12.
    [AnnaB] 12:17 pm: I try to treat my sex scenes like any other scene.
There should be something both or one of the characters wants, obstacles to
that goal and some sort of resolution.
[joelysueburkhart] 12:18 pm: Something is at stake. At any point they might
have to abandon the quest. That raises the emotion to a new high.
    [AnnaB] 12:18 pm: When I plot my stories (and I'm definitely a plotter) I
try to keep the Hero's Journey in mind for not only the external and internal
journey of the characters, but also their emotional journeys, which, since I
write erotic romance involves sex.

Remember the characters
[joelysueburkhart] 12:30 pm: For me, the spanking (or other sexual element)
has to be integral to the character. Why does he/she need it? What does it
show? It's not just the act.


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