In 2023, I had been scheduled to appear at Boskone, but ended up instead in the hospital. It was a big disappointment and so I was excited this year when I was again selected to appear on the program.

The second weekend in February happens to be also the second week of the semester, so I had a regular workday on Friday. I drove to Boston the night before and then had an early morning meeting and office hours. I had just enough time between office hours and class to run down to the parking garage to meet my confederates to open my car and help move in the books for the Water Dragon dealer table. After class, I was able to get registered, pick up my packet, and then spend a little time selling books before it was time for my first panel.

My first panel was Write My Doctoral Thesis: Science Edition. When I had signed up, I hadn’t noticed that this was supposed to be comedic event (another participant told me that they were under the same misapprehension, which made me feel better for having missed this crucial fact.) After the fact, it was a lot of fun. But during the session it was rather stressful: It was rather like playing madlibs with very smart opponents in front of a live audience. But I felt like I made good contributions and got some laughs. And I was pleased to meet the other participants who all seemed like great folks.

Saturday was my busy day with a reading followed immediately after by a panel, then a break, the book festival, and another panel immediately after. The reading was reasonably well attended: I read The Better Angels and the Military Morale Mishegoss, an excerpt of The Third Time’s the Charm, and The Better Angels and the Super Sticky Situation. Then I had to run to the Speculative Evolution panel. The participants were well selected, with people representing diverse perspectives. I was bit disappointed that the Book Festival was kind of a bust: I had a handful of people who came to speak with me, but it was a general problem: there just weren’t many people there. My last panel, Romance in Speculative Fiction was fascinating: it was an interesting group of participants. A number of audience members, afterwards expressed how much they valued my comments that provided representation for queer and non-binary perspectives.

I spent Sunday in the dealer room selling books. Revin’s Heart bundles sold well, although it became clear that people were planning to get copies of the fix-up which is now out (although I did not have copies to sell at the con.) This should surprise no-one. I was a bit more disappointed that, although people liked my pitch for Better Angels, it did not sell particularly well. People would listen to the pitch, say it sounded good, and then not buy the book. So realized a little tweak. Rather than calling it “light-hearted space opera” I’ve started calling it “fluffy military space opera” which will hopefully generate the right amount of cognitive dissonance.

Boskone is just a month after Arisia, but the two events are quite different. Boskone trends older — maybe 25 years older. And the participants seem clearer on what they want. And what they want is traditional sci fi like they read when they were younger. They seem therefore less interested in the new offerings of a small press. The booth just next to ours was MIT Press selling, among other things, books by Stanislav Lem (mostly written in the 1960s and 1970s) that seemed very interesting to the participants.

Sunday afternoon, we packed everything up and I drove home, getting back just before sunset.

Trying to publicize your books is hard. It’s one of the things that you don’t think much about until you try to transition from “writer” to “author.” At least I didn’t. But I had seen enough authors talking about the need to do publicity that I had some idea what I was getting myself into. What I didn’t know anything about, however, was advertising.

Last summer, I saw a Facebook group that was going to offer a free starter class for people who wanted to learn about advertising using ads at Amazon. I decided to spend a little money up front just trying out the advertising system. I first tried letting Amazon construct the ad (basically just showing a book among search results, I think). But I think I clicked something wrong and it didn’t work at all. It didn’t cost anything because nobody clicked on it — whatever it was (I couldn’t figure out how to get it to show me what the ad was that it was even showing). But it tried again and got some tiny number of clicks. But it was clear that a lot more fine tuning was required. So I tried the class.

The class was based around long screencasts. I quickly found I couldn’t stand to watch the screencasts at all. But accompanying the screencasts were click-by-click directions for the activities. This I could do, so I set up a handful of experimental ads like they recommended. The results were quite discouraging. I didn’t get any sales (as far as I could tell) and, when I spoke with another author who had taken a similar (but more advanced class), he indicated that you needed to get orders of magnitude larger responses in order actually see appreciable sales. And he had decided it wasn’t worth it.

Several people said that Facebook ads were a better fit, so I decided to hold my nose and give those a try. I truly and wholeheartedly despise Facebook. But I gave them some money to “boost” a post I had already written to promote Better Angels: Tour de Force. The interface was less complicated and it seemed like I got better results. So, after that ad finished, I decided to run another. When I did, however, I discovered how enshittified the Facebook ad system is.

The first ad you buy has reasonable defaults that make sense: it defaults to $14 for a week with a goal of getting people to click on your link. But when you try to do the next one, it dicks with the defaults. It tries to get you to spend $42 or $56 or some much larger amount. And it defaults to other weird goals like “get more engagement” or “get more messages via Facebook Messenger”. And it tries to get you link Instagram and What’s App accounts with your Facebook account. Ugh. I feel so unclean.

Since I’ve been playing around with my book promotion posts already, I will probably continue to purchase ads at some low level. Since it does seem to actually put my ad in front of people who do, at some level, click through to the book page. And maybe some of them actually buy a book. If nothing else, it gives me some additional metrics on which book promotion posts are more effective.

It still feels a lot like just rolling the dice.

Last year, I was scheduled to appear at Boskone, but ended up going into the hospital the week before. Tempting fate, I have again proposed myself as a participant and have now received my final schedule.

On Friday Feb 9, since this is during the academic year, I will have office hours at 10am, and then will teach class (remotely) from 1:25 until 3:45. Then, I will be free to participate in the convention for the rest of the weekend.

At 7pm on Friday, I will serve on a panel Write My Doctoral Thesis: Science Edition (in Burroughs). This looks like it will be a lot of fun.

Saturday is my busy day: I have a reading (in Galleria – Cabaret) at 12:30, then Speculative Evolution (in Marina 4) at 1pm, followed by the Boskone Book Party (in the Galleria) at 6pm, then Romance in Speculative Fiction (in Harbor 2) at 7pm.

But Sunday, I’m totally free!

Mostly, when not otherwise scheduled, I’ll be at the Water Dragon Publishing table in the Dealer Room. I’ll have plenty of copies of Better Angels: Tour de Force, as well as bundles of Revin’s Heart. Stop by and visit!

David was still on the bridge of Angels’ Wings, the Better Angels’ starship, when Bebe came out in her nightgown.

“Bebe can’t sleep,” she said, rubbing her eyes.

“Can I get you something? Some warm milk maybe?” David asked.

“Bebe wants you to read her a story.”

David felt his hackles rise.

“What story would you like?” he said, apprehensively.

“Bebe wants you to read Cap’n Capybara and the Case of the Curious Crocodile!”

“Again? Didn’t I read that last time? And the time before?”

She grabbed his sleeve and tugged, “Come. Come!”

David tucked Bebe into her bed, then seated himself. Eyes shining, she wriggled with anticipation under the covers.

“Close your eyes,” David admonished.

Bebe complied and David began to read.

Cap’n Capybara and the Case of the Curious Crocodile. By Cat Cattwaddler.

“‘Catch, Cap’n’!” called Crocodile.

“‘Can’t,’ quipped Cap’n Capybara. ‘Carrying coffee!'”

Bebe began giggling.

“Cup caught casually chucked chunk.”

Bebe started snorting with laughter.

“Crocodile cried, ‘Captivity crummy!'”

“Aw!” Bebe said, plaintively.

“Go to sleep!”

David read the rest of the book to Bebe. By the last page she was finally asleep, her chest rising and falling evenly. He laid the book down and tiptoed out as quietly as he could. Then he turned and found the rest of the Better Angels standing in their nightgowns.

“We can’t sleep, David! Read us a story too!”

“Okay, okay,” he said. “What story do you want?”

Cap’n Capybara and the Case of the Curious Crocodile!” they all said in unison.

“But…” David said, turning to look back at the door. Then he put his foot down. “No. You’ll have to pick something else.”


This story was originally written for a set of prompts for #wss366.

Better Angels: Tour de Force is now available at The Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy.

I’ve been rather surprised to discover that I seem to be pretty good at selling books. It doesn’t hurt, of course, to have books that people want to read. But a huge part of successful selling is to have a pitch that lands with the prospective buyer. And that’s what I seem to be good at.

I think it derives from the years I spent doing educational assemblies. To make those performances work, you need to hone a series of stories and statements so that the wording and timing resonate with the audience and they get caught up in the performance. When it works best, the audience will play along and you can hear them respond and engage with what you’re saying. It’s not a conversation, but you can hear through their laughter or groans when they’ve understood something or gotten the silly joke you were trying to tell.

The first step is judging when to engage with someone approaching or at the table. Some people stand back or refuse to make eye-contact. Or are clearly focused on looking at the books themselves. I usually just offer a quiet “Hello.” Or “Can I help you with anything?” Or, if they seem unsure, I might ask, “Would you like a tour?” Or, occasionally, “What do you like to read?” I’d rather not ask that, because I want to steer them to what I want them to read.

When I’m selling Revin’s Heart, I often begin by pointing at the Airship Pirate ribbon and asking, “Would you like to be an airship pirate?” Most people at science fiction conventions would like to be an airship pirate, although there are exceptions. The ribbon is particularly good because its instantly recognizable to LGBTQIA+ folks who can tell immediately that the book might appeal to them.

I leave a beat while they consider the ribbon and then, as they take it, I say, “It’s for my steampunky fantasy adventure with pirates and airships and a trans protagonist.” I usually tick off on my fingers as list the items.

I leave another beat and say, “It was serialized as seven novelettes. They’re five dollars each, but — if you buy all seven as a bundle — you can get them for $25… [beat] which is like two free!”

If they express interest in the first one, I point at the Third Time’s the Charm and say, “Pro tip: don’t name the first book in a series ‘the third’ something.” This almost always generates a smile, if not a laugh.

At this point, I generally point to Better Angels and say, “This is my newest book. It’s about a group of non-human biological androids [beat] that look like pre-teen girls [beat] and serve as magical girl singing-and-dancing idols [beat] but they can change up their programming [beat] and become a covert military force.” Usually, by this point, people are totally caught up in the pitch and are expressing wonderment or laughing. When I did this pitch at the Steampunk Isn’t Dead panel at Arisia2024, I had been honing it all weekend, the audience responded, as I performed it, with a rising volume of amazement, “aaaaaAAAAAAH!” ending in laughter and applause.

I’ve got a few other pitches. I learned an effective one for the Grimaulkin series from the author. And for two of the Water Dragon anthologies, I will say. “The Future’s So Bright is the bright, hopeful, optimistic stuff while Corporate Catharsis is all the dark stuff you wish you could do to your boss.” This usually generates a laugh and immediately helps the prospective buyer situate those books in their mind.

After making the pitch, there are plenty of other things I can tell buyers about the books. But I’ve realized that having an effective pitch that’s delivered as a performance, sets the stage for everything that follows.

I attended Arisia for the second time as a participant. Last year, I was only one one or two panels and had a reading. This year, I moderated a panel, served on four more, and had a reading. I dressed up in cosplay for the panel “Steampunk isn’t dead.” Well. Sorta.

I moderated the panel on Gender and Sexual Identity Representation in Media. Originally, there were supposed to be four participants plus me moderating. Normally when there are four, the moderator can focus solely on facilitating the conversation. Unfortunately, one of the participants was unable to join us and so I tried to both moderate and participate in the conversation. I was satisfied with providing enough structure to keep the discussion on track and making sure that all of the participants were able to make contributions.

I served on three additional panels which were all fun. The Food in Science Fiction and Fantasy left me with an appetite to write more about food. The Bi+ Panel provided new insight into bisexuality, pansexuality, and current thinking in queer culture. And the panel on Invertebrates and Entomology in SFF was fascinating due to the other interesting participants that each had useful stuff to contribute. I felt like I made good contributions on each of the panels.

I got to offer a reading on Sunday afternoon. The audience was around a dozen. I think they were mostly there to hear the other participants, who all write much more poetical stuff, so my weird space opera stuff left me the odd-man out — quite literally. But the selections I had made (Military Morale Mishegoss and Super Sticky Situation) worked well together I got a polite, enthusiastic response. The other authors were jealous of my giant poster of my cover.

Water Dragon had a dealer table again this year. Last year, I was the lead in running it, but this year another author and his wife attended and took the lead. It was great! Four other authors from the publisher took turns at the table as well and it was great to get to meet them as well. I really value the vital community of authors that Water Dragon Publishing fosters.

I had a new book just out Better Angels: Tour de Force as well as the novelettes that form Revin’s Heart. The copies of Better Angels arrived just in time, but the additional stock of Revin’s Heart didn’t arrive in time. So I plenty of one, but ran short of the other.

I was grateful they required masks. Due to my underlying health conditions, I can only attend events where everyone is masked. Knock wood, it appears I came through the Convention without contracting any respiratory infections.

Next month, we’ll all be back for Boskone.

Early in my fiction writing, I really struggled with writing “stories.” By that, I mean using a narrative structure that presents a problem which is satisfactorily resolved — ideally well-paced, with rising action that climaxes at the right moment. I tended to write a rambling narrative of vaguely interesting events that raised all kinds of problems but did not resolve them satisfactorily.

Sometime — perhaps in early 2022, which is the first example I can find without visiting birdchan — I discovered #vss365: a hashtag prompt for which participants were encouraged to write a very short story (vss) that would be offered each day of the year (365) contained in a single, brief post. Baring my soul, typo and all, here is the first one I have recorded, from Feb 11, 2022:

She visited the garden center when she was depressed. The flowers didn’t cheer her up, exactly, but they helped her remember that better times might come. The annuals were too gaudy for her. She always loved tge reliability of the #perennial that would keep blooming in the years to come. Now that was something to live for.

It’s a story! She’s depressed. She visits the garden center. The perennials give her something to live for.

I found writing a brief post was something I could do, even during the academic year when I was working full time. It reminds me a bit of when I started writing haiku in Esperanto while I was a grad student and no longer had time for anything more. But it was enough.

I enjoyed #vss365 and I have hundreds of examples of brief story fragments I wrote. Some served as the nucleus of a story. And some I would string together, writing a whole rough draft one bit at a time.

But then a narcissistic billionaire purchased birdchan, turned it into a Nazi bar, and I couldn’t bear to visit the Nazi bar anymore to get the prompts. But someone had created a website that would scrape the prompt and share it on the open web. So I started participating even though I had jumped to Mastodon (first to mastodon.lol and then to wandering.shop). But then the site shut down: they where having to pay the narcissistic billionaire money to scrape a single word each day from birdchan. And he finally, perfectly sensibly, decided to quit paying.

So I wrote my last two posts on Dec 31, 2023 and commented that I wouldn’t be participating anymore. A friend, @asakiyume, suggested that we could start our own prompt game on Mastodon. I roped my brother, @philipbrewer into the conversation and we agreed to pick some words, favoring simple ordinary words with more than one meaning. (I had found it annoying to have words that had only a single meaning as being overly restrictive of the kind of post you could write.)

But then Phil suggested that maybe we should create an account to be an authoritative source for the prompt. As I thought about it, I realized that we also wanted a bot: something that didn’t need to be shared, but could be configured easily and contrived to post automatically at a particular time. So I investigating creating a bot for Mastodon.

This is not the first time I’ve done something like this: years ago, I created a bot for birdchan called “dupolusulo” that would randomly post either a proverb from the Esperanta Proverbaro or string of plausible text generated by a baysian algorithm that used the Proverbaro as a corpus. This plausible text was often utterly incomprehsible, but looked like it might mean something and sounded a lot like the proverbaro.

This time was pretty similar, though easier. I wrote a little python script that would figure out what day of the year it was, read in a CSV file, and grab a line matching the day number, parse it, and emit it as a formatted text string. Then, all I had to do was set up a Mastodon account, @wss366 configured to allow a bot to post to it. To be honest, what sold me on the whole thing was when I discovered that I sorta kinda personally know the guy who runs the botsin.space instance that was set up to support these kinds of bots.

It took me about a day to set up the Mastodon account, configure it, create an avatar, add a header graphic, write the script, configure a cron job to call it at 5am. But by the end of the day, I posted an announcement that the post was live and would post to #wss366 (for Wandering Shop Stories and 366 because it’s a leap year this year) was live.

This morning, it posted its first prompt: #brick.

I can’t wait to see what it’s going to post tomorrow. Now that’s something to live for.

My schedule for Arisia 2024 has been finalized. I will be moderating one panel, serving as a panelist on four more, and offering a reading:

Gender & Sexual Identity Representation in Media
Marina Ballroom 3 Friday, January 12, 2024, 7:00 PM EST

Invertebrates and Entomology in SFF
Faneuil Saturday, January 13, 2024, 7:00 PM EST

The Bi+ Panel
Marina Ballroom 3 Sunday, January 14, 2024, 11:30 AM EST

Sunday Afternoon Readings
Faneuil Sunday, January 14, 2024, 2:30 PM EST

Food in Fantasy & Sci-Fi
Marina Ballroom 1 Sunday, January 14, 2024, 5:30 PM EST

Steampunk Isn’t Dead
Alcott Monday, January 15, 2024, 10:00 AM EST

In addition, Water Dragon Publishing and Small Publishing in a Big Universe will have tables in the dealer room where I will be most of the time when not in panels.

Look me up! I hope to see you there!

Wizard Island at Crater Lake National Park

I generally had a good year writing. But I was hospitalized for 12 days in early 2023, which caused me to miss being a participant at Boskone and required much of the spring to convalesce before I was really back to normal. In spite of that, I had many significant writing accomplishments.

I only made 17 fiction submissions, most of which are the previous stories that still haven’t sold. I’ve given up on several manuscripts that I will either need to abandon or rework significantly.

During the first half of 2023, the final two novelettes of Revin’s Heart were released: In March, Then They Fight You and in June, Rewriting the Rules.

I wrote two pieces of flash fiction for Valentines Day on the Truck Stop: The Better Angels and the Super Sticky Situation and The Better Angels and Lambda and Tau. I think Super Sticky Situation may be the best piece of flash fiction I’ve written so far. (Both of these are included in the Better Angels: Tour de Force, described below.)

I gave several readings. I was selected for the Straw Dog Writers Guild January Author Showcase for 2022 and gave a reading from Crossing the Streams. I did a reading at Arisia with James Cambias and A.J. Murphy. And, in April, an hour long reading at an online convention.

While at Arisia, I also served on a panel about Gender and Sexual Identity in Media. I also was the primary organizer of the Water Dragon Publishing dealer table. After that positive experience, I was well prepped to sell books at Baycon.

I had been hospitalized and was convalescing during the time participants were being selected for Baycon so I didn’t make it onto the program there. But ultimately I decided to attend attend anyway and drove to California with my younger son. We had an epic road trip and I was available to help support the dealer table at Baycon, where I sold out of copies of Revin’s Heart.

These bookselling successes, prepped me to get a tent and table to set up a dealer table at the Amherst Farmer’s Market Artisan’s Alley. They were pleased to have another draw and I was welcomed with open arms. I sold books there a couple of times at the end of the summer and also ran a booth at the Mill District Holiday Arts Market.

As a guest interviewer, I interviewed Kathy Sullivan for Small Publishing in a Big Universe. I had met her at Arisia and thought she had a lot of insight about the relation between fandom and authors that I wanted to learn more about. Our conversation did not disappoint.

I had hoped to get back to writing The Ground Never Lies but ended up spending most of my time writing Better Angels stories which will appear on December in Better Angels: Tour de Force, which includes 17 stories (including the original Better Angels story plus 16 more, including the flash fiction stories from Valentines day.)

While I was working on Better Angels stories, I hit on the idea of a group of cooking girls on Volpex who sometimes get mixed up with the Better Angels called the Butter Angels. I’ve got this story mostly finished, along with a piece of flash fiction. I also wrote a flash fiction story for Christmas on the Truck Stop called Just One Question.

I’ve also been working on two new Revin’s Heart novellas, Devishire! and Campshire! plus a new Revin’s Heart series, that begins with Lady Cecelia’s Flowers. These have not been accepted for publication. Yet.

In the fall, I established Straw Dog Writes for the Straw Dog Writers’ Guild. It’s a program modeled on the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers Association Writing Date. I’ve gotten about 20 participants (about half of whom might show up on any particular week). And about half are pre-existing members, half new members (who’ve signed up to participate), and a handful of people who are not yet members but who are considering it. This has been about as good as I could possibly have hope.

I’m looking forward to 2024 with plans to attend Arisia, Boskone, Norwescon, and Worldcon in Glasgow. And writing, of course: lots and lots of writing.

In the spring, Water Dragon Publishing released the last two novelettes of Revin’s Heart, I self-published It’s Complicated via Amazon Vella, and, in December, The Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy released Better Angels: Tour de Force.

  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. Better Angels: Tour de Force. Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy, Water Dragon Publishing, San Jose, California, including
    • “Better Angels” pp 1-10,
    • “The Better Angels and the Very Scary Halloween” pp 11-24,
    • “The Better Angels and the Super Sticky Situation” pp 25-26,
    • “The Better Angels and the Really Rapid Rescue” pp 27-40,
    • “The Better Angels and Lambda and Tau” pp 41-46,
    • “The Better Angels and the Monomaniacal Menageriste” pp 47-62,
    • “The Better Angels and the Repugnant Rampant Rumor” pp 63-72,
    • “The Better Angels and the Nighty-Night Nurses” pp 73-84,
    • “The Better Angels and Bebe’s First Kiss” pp 85-86,
    • “The Better Angels and the Military Morale Mishegoss” pp 87-94,
    • “The Better Angels and the Complicated Camping Catastrophe” pp 95-118,
    • “The Better Angels and the Totally Topsy-Turvy Tournament” pp 119-126,
    • “The Better Angels and the Absolutely Apropos Arrangement” pp 127-136,
    • “The Better Angels and the Persistent Proposals of Prince Philip” pp 137-144,
    • “The Better Angels and the Giddy Genial Gag” pp 145-146,
    • “The Better Angels and the Parable of the Prodigal Pirate” pp 147-154,
    • “The Better Angels and the Insidiously Intolerable Invasion” pp 155-202.
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. To What Do I Owe in It’s Complicated, Amazon Vella. ASIN: B0BZLVPX7H
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. Take My Word for It in It’s Complicated, Amazon Vella. ASIN: B0BZLVN7MB
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. It’s Magic in It’s Complicated, Amazon Vella. ASIN: B0BZLVLLXY
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. Tricks of the Trade in It’s Complicated, Amazon Vella. ASIN: B0BZQJJRSQ
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. It’s Better to Know in It’s Complicated, Amazon Vella. ASIN: B0BZQDMK19
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. Not a Wolf in It’s Complicated, Amazon Vella. ASIN: B0BZQHZK8V
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. What Friends Do in It’s Complicated, Amazon Vella. ASIN: B0BZQGDMN2
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. You Can Bank On It in It’s Complicated, Amazon Vella. ASIN: B0BZQFYPH2
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. Three’s a Crowd in It’s Complicated, Amazon Vella. ASIN: B0BZQGQ7V9
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. Bears Will Be Bears in It’s Complicated, Amazon Vella. ASIN: B0BZQDTS2X
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. Better Angels and Lambda and Tau. Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy Valentine’s Day, Water Dragon Publishing, San Jose, California. Available at: https://truckstop.waterdragonpublishing.com/make-the-truck-stop-your-romantic-destination/better-angels-and-lambda-and-tau/ [Feb14, 2023]
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. Better Angels and the Super Sticky Situation. Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy Valentine’s Day, Water Dragon Publishing, San Jose, California. Available at: https://truckstop.waterdragonpublishing.com/make-the-truck-stop-your-romantic-destination/better-angels-and-the-super-sticky-situation/ [Feb 14, 2023]
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. Rewriting the Rules. Part Seven of Revin’s Heart, Water Dragon Publishing, San Jose, California. 60pp.
  • Brewer, S.D. 2023. Then They Fight You. Part Six of Revin’s Heart, Water Dragon Publishing, San Jose, California. 47pp.