Quick story I thought I’d share here, as it’s been running through my mind the last two days:
I’m the music leader for the children at church. Being the music leader means that every Sunday, for 2 hours, I circulate between 4 groups of children and we sing music. Having taught dance for half my life and studied a little about what helps children’s brain develop, we use lots of movement and lots of props. Props include paper stars, felt raindrops, windwands (pictured below), paper plates, rhythm sticks, and so on. The children love the variety.
Well, most of the children do. Sometimes I offer a prop to a child and they don’t want to take it and that’s okay – the option for them to get one is always open.
This Sunday we used paper plates for one of the first songs (it’s amazing what kind of choreography you can up using two paper plates), and as the children had used them last week for a different song, they were excited to make noise with them again – well, most of them.
One boy sat on his chair with a scowl on his face and body posture that said not to bother him – he was NOT in the mood. He didn’t volunteer or participate in any of the activities leading up, and even as I taught the simple paper plates choreography (I was the only one using paper plates at the beginning), it was clear that, like the week before, he wouldn’t be participating.
It came time to ask for helpers. Normally I try to reward positive behavior and let the grumpy slide by, but my eyes fell on that little boy and I knew he needed to help me. Or, in reality, I needed to offer him the chance.
So I asked him to stand by me and be my helper.
The brightening of his face lit up the room. I asked an even younger boy, equally struggling that day for whatever reason, to be my second helper, and he responded similarly. They loved helping me, and I won’t lie, it felt so good to know I’d helped them feel special.
It doesn’t always work out like that. Sometimes, as a dance teacher, I’d give a child a special part or ask them to help me in some way, and the idea would fall flat. The same thing has played out at church, too. Sometimes people don’t want the special part or to help or to have attention drawn to them, and that’s okay.
But the reaching out is the important part for me, as I could have passed the grouchy kids by until they had a better attitude. This time I didn’t, and it seemed to me that we had a happier group of children after the fact.
So that’s my simple reminder today – if we only bestow kindnesses upon those in our group, or upon those who are already deserving, and withhold it from the ‘naughty’ ones, we may be waiting to reward the ones who need that love and kindness the most for a long, long time. Let’s offer a kindness today to someone who didn’t show up on the obvious list, because they deserve to feel loved and included too.
So it’s the end of the day and I just remembered that my latest story, “Troubleshooting Your Doomsday Device,” came out from T Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog, and here’s another link to it! This is my first time appearing on Gene’s blog, and I’m pleased this story found a home there.
“Troubleshooting” is one-half of a conversation entirely from the perspective of the helpdesk operator talking poor Dr Dreadful through properly detonating his doomsday device. The title came from a Title Rummage Sale contest on Codex, an online writing forum, while the POV choice was inspired by “Half a Conversation, Overheard While Inside An Enormous Sentient Slug,” a marvelously funny story that I recommend you read right now. RIGHT NOW.
Also, if you haven’t read “Leslie’s Love Potion #4,” it’s still free to read at Galaxy’s Edge for another week or so. The link won’t exactly self-destruct on September 1, but after the end of August the link will send you to the newest issue and you’ll need to buy issue #21 to read my story, which looks like this:
I do not recommend actually trying to make Leslie’s Love Potion #4 unless you’re a fully trained witch/warlock. Sorry, kids.
In other Dantzel news, July was a busy month for sales! It’s feast or famine around here, I’m telling you. Contracts have been signed and all that so I feel free to mention I sold three reprints and three originals. WHEEEEEE! “Troubleshooting Your Doomsday Device” was one of those originals. In the coming months you can find my dark SF story “The Fascinator” in the Dark Magic: Witches, Hackers, and Robots anthology, and “A Vocabulary of Remorse” in the Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities Short Story Contest Anthology, which is another SF story, though decidedly less dark than “The Fascinator.” The announcement for the short list is here. Maybe the Sci-Fi and the Med Hum antho will have a different title – I’ll update when I know.
As for reprints, “Love, Your Wolpertinger” sold TWICE to reprint markets. Soon you’ll be able to read it in Truancy, a lovely magazine that seeks out legends and fairy tales, and listen to it on The Way of the Buffalo Podcast, a super cool podcast that is quite easy to subscribe to. Finally, “Birthing Fire” will be reprinted in the Mad Scientist Journal in the spring. It’s perfect story-to-market matches like this that tell me the world is a decent place.
That’s quite enough updates for now.
ArmadilloCon, which took place July 29-31, was as excellent as the first time I attended in 2011 – which is to say it was 5 stars awesome. Two thumbs up! Would recommend to a friend!
That’s even taking into account missing all the fun on Friday as I drove all over Texas to get my daughter to my husband before heading to Austin. Barconning made up for a great deal, however, as I got to talk to Paul Abell about exactly why a Pilates Reformer isn’t on the International Space Station yet. Though I can see the main points why (hasn’t been thoroughly tested, pinch points are a concern, and the necessity to change the springs at regular intervals before they get volatile) make sense, there’s something that tells me Pilates should be a thing NASA should look into more.
Just saying. Maybe AeroPilates was more prescient than I’ve given them credit for.
I mean, look at those bungies! I still prefer the feel of springs over bungies when I’m working out, but bungies ARE probably safer on a space station.
ANYWAY, I’ll stop nerding out (unless someone wants to talk about this more. I’ll totally talk about Pilates In Space more.) and get on with the rest of the convention.
My reading Saturday morning was well-attended and I read my story in the upcoming LITTLE GREEN MEN ATTACK! Anthology from Baen Books titled “Good Neighbor Policy,”as well as “Brothers in Stitches,” a sweet little flash about the survivors of a mad scientist’s experiments. This story is somewhat new to the world and has not yet found a home.
I similarly enjoyed my ‘SFF Poetry Discussion and Reading’ panel and the Fannish Feud, though I can’t believe how hard it is to remember my own answers on the survey! First category was naming a British SF author, and I blanked out on Douglas Adams. Ugh. Whatever. I would totally play again.
The ‘Flash Fiction Discussion and Reading’ was my first chance to officially moderate a panel, and I feel like it went rather well. I could talk about flash fiction for a long time. The discussion and the pieces each author read was fantastic, and led to a nice idea of what flash fiction can cover.
Another highlight was when I meshed my dance world with my writing world at Open Mic. Rob Rogers took my offer to do an interpretive dance while he read. He read from his novel Devil’s Cape, and it was a fun collaboration: It’s a fun and challenging exercise to react to the words as they’re read and turn those words into movement. I miss this kind of stuff – well, and dancing in general. I don’t attend nearly as many classes at Texas Ballet Theatre as I’d like to.
I know many people would balk at the idea of doing interpretive dances, but why not? Movement is beautiful to experience, whether from the audience or the dancer, and it was a perfect (and unintentional) way to celebrate World Dance Day.
I’ll finish with some much-deserved praise for the other panelists – I love what people come prepared to talk about and read. The readings were fantastic! The science panels, while never long enough for me, covered a great deal of ground, and those panelists deserve mad props for stuffing such broad topics into an hour’s discussion.
ArmadilloCon will always be near and dear to my heart. I met one of my best friends there in 2011 and many, many talented writer, artist, and fans since, and I’m lucky to count them among my friends.
Fandom isn’t dead in Texas.
This weekend I taught a class at DFW Writers Conference, titled “Rayguns or Magic Wands: Building Your World in 500 Words or Less,” and while prepping for this class ate up many, many hours of writing time, it was a great experience and I’m glad I got to share this information with the attendees.
(And now I take this moment to recommend DFW Writers Conference – it was a great use of my time, and I plan to go back. You should too!)
Unfortunately we didn’t get to cover the last bit, so I promised I’d include notes from my presentation on my website, and here we are.
So. Today’s post focuses on crafting a beginning that pulls the reader in and gives a taste of the worldbuilding that the writer has spent more time than they’d probably care to admit developing. Which leads us to the first of several important questions:
What does my beginning need?
A first line!
From Elizabeth Bear’s list of oughta’s, a first line oughta:
- Illuminate the theme of a book.
- Raise a question.
- Begin to develop setting, character, and tone.
- Hold the keys to resolution.
Some great first lines are zingers (“Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.” ~ Elantris), while others have softer beginnings (“The primroses were over.” ~ Watership Down), but both indicated different types of worldbuilding.
They don’t try to ‘do it all.’
The Elantris opening line indicates, among other things, the type of government set up, a name of what will likely turn out to be an important country, a time of day, and the understanding that in this world, people are capable of being damned for all eternity and it’s likely to take one by surprise.
The Watership Down setting indicates the time of year and the (very) pastoral setting.
What each story chose to focus on says a great deal about what type of story they are planning to tell.
What else does a beginning need?
- A protagonist with at least one strong, defining trait that will come definitely into play in the scene.
- A strong, clearly-conveyed motivation for that protagonist.
- An interesting conflict that is easily understood regardless of setting.
- Highly polished writing.
- A twist at the end of the scene. – get them to keep reading past what amounts to a one-note character, simple setup, and hints of an intriguing world.
Question marks are shaped like hooks for a reason – so leave lots of questions!
Also, we discussed Elemental Genres (as defined by the podcast Writing Excuses) later in the presentation, which leads us to something I mentioned in the first line section that I wanted to discuss a bit more:
An indication of the type of story this will be.
This isn’t just a hint that this will be a fantasy novel or a historical novel set in 1600th century China, this indicates the tone promises you’re making to the reader. For example, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green is probably best categorized as Adventure+Humor+Relationship.
The tone set at the beginning should match the rest of the story, though as I mentioned in my presentation, there’s always an exception to the rule. Thus…
FOLLOW NO RULE OFF A CLIFF.
Writing Excuses has an abundance of resources on their website on Elemental Genres and on many, many other topics. Please look around their website to see if any of their topics in the past 11 seasons covers something you need to work on in your own writing, because they are amusing and instructive.
That’s all I have time for tonight. Next up we’ll talk using swear words, insults, and idioms for fun and profit.
Apparently I’m doing enough with my writing that my alma mater’s English department wanted to feature me on the alumni page. In essence it’s the same information I’ve written for many bios, but framing it for my English department seems to have given this a firmer narrative than any of my other bios have had.
If you’re interested, the link is here, below the bio for Robert Bird.
I’ve been so caught up with taxes and preparing for DFWCon that I neglected to mention that C/O The Village of Monsters Past went live at Galaxy’s Edge. So go and read! It’s free to read online until the end of April.
I love this setting with the heat of a hundred and two suns, and I’m excited to write more stories about it when I have time.
In related news, Tangent Online went and reviewed it. As usual they keep their reviews brief, but I’ll take ‘heartwarming’ and snuggle that until my next sale comes along.