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 β€” 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 β€” perhaps in early 2022, which is the first example I can find without visiting birdchan β€” 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
    • β€œBetter Angels” pp 1-10,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Very Scary Halloween” pp 11-24,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Super Sticky Situation” pp 25-26,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Really Rapid Rescue” pp 27-40,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and Lambda and Tau” pp 41-46,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Monomaniacal Menageriste” pp 47-62,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Repugnant Rampant Rumor” pp 63-72,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Nighty-Night Nurses” pp 73-84,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and Bebe’s First Kiss” pp 85-86,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Military Morale Mishegoss” pp 87-94,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Complicated Camping Catastrophe” pp 95-118,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Totally Topsy-Turvy Tournament” pp 119-126,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Absolutely Apropos Arrangement” pp 127-136,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Persistent Proposals of Prince Philip” pp 137-144,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Giddy Genial Gag” pp 145-146,
    • β€œThe Better Angels and the Parable of the Prodigal Pirate” pp 147-154,
    • β€œThe 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.

For years, I mostly scorned LinkedIn. I had made a profile early on, but mostly didn’t bother to maintain it. Luckily, I never lost my job at the University, so I didn’t need to look for work. I was kind of surprised when the CIO of the University talked about having used LinkedIn to make connections with employers saying (in effect), “Hey! Did you know you have X number of UMass graduates working for you? Maybe you should be more involved to help with recruitment.” And then some Department told me that LinkedIn was how most of their students found work. I was stunned, because it always seemed like kind of joke or wasteland. Still, I decided to take it a little more seriously and I’ve actually kept my profile more-or-less up-to-date.

With the demise of Twitter, LinkedIn is making a more serious effort to become a social media player. About a year ago, they changed my categorization to reflect that I posted regularly to my news feed. And they invited to join their “authors and writers” group, which I did. Although, as far as I can tell, nobody actually reads any of the stuff people post there. The whole site feels like a place where people post stuff that nobody reads. Most recently, they’ve started inviting me to contribute to “collaborative articles”.

Right around the time they did that, I saw a parody that absolutely nails LinkedIn and their “collaborative articles.”

Today, they wanted me to share “what are the best apps to help you be most productive.” Well, I had something to say about that. In terms of apps to…

Plan and organize your writing projects

In spite of (or perhaps because of) being a technologist for many years, I’m inherently suspicious of apps and use as few as possible. Apps on mobile devices are mostly funded by surveillance capitalism and I would recommend against installing any. I use a text editor for writing (currently Pulsar) — it’s very simple, generates universally readable text-files and offers no distractions.

Block out distractions and stay in the flow

I like to write in fits and starts, so I don’t mind having a browser running alongside my editor and keeping up with social media while I write. Maybe I’m just a weirdo, but I can’t be productive if I’m only writing anyway. Oh, I also listen to K-pop music and stand up and dance when favorite songs come on. Since I don’t speak Korean, I don’t get caught up in the lyrics and its a good idea to get up and move frequently, so it kills two birds with one stone.

Track and improve your writing habits

I hate being tracked. I check word counts as I’m finishing a manuscript for submission, but I don’t like paying attention to things like that otherwise. I also don’t like the structure of having particular blocks of times or a schedule: I write when I want to write and do other stuff when I don’t feel like writing. And I don’t use any apps because they’re mostly evil.

Edit and polish your writing

I do leave a spell check running, though I rarely need it. And my grammar is good enough that the grammar checkers are nearly always wrong for me. I have human beta readers that read early versions of my manuscripts to identify problems with pacing or story structure and then I have an editor to edit my manuscripts before publication. Apps are the devil.

Maybe, after this, they won’t bother to ask me to contribute again. I wouldn’t cry about that.

Revin, a young man from a poor mining town, has pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become the student apprentice of a law professor. But then, everything goes wrong: their airship is captured by pirates and Revin loses his mentor. Born female, Revin must make his way in a world oriented toward men while he struggles with his own identity.

Set against the backdrop of a war between island nations, a young man must navigate a world divided between the aristocracy and the common people. And, as a promising young man, he must choose whom to align himself with β€” and to serve. But what does Revin’s Heart say?

Originally serialized as seven novelettes, Revin’s Heart is being published in a collected edition with expanded material including interludes, three side-stories, and (maybe) a sneak peak of Devishire!

Several months after I joined Water Dragon Publishing the editor invited me to submit a manuscript to their shared-world anthology The Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy. This was just as the first other stories were being prepared to appear. But I was game to give it a try. It sounded like a lot of fun.

Patricia Monk wrote an interesting review of shared universes in 1990 and concluded that they represent an extension of collaborative writing that can become an effective way to foster in-group bonding among authors. And they can be an effective way to help readers bridge the gap to becoming writers.

I hadn’t been there for any of the initial discussions and creation of the shared-world setting so I didn’t really have any idea what it was all about. But, in a couple of days, I knocked out a weird short story and ran it by the editor, who was enthusiastic. It was about a somewhat odd man named David who is trying stop a bad guy from selling non-human biological androids, called “Little Angels,” as sex slaves.

David knew from past experience that the β€œLittle Angels” did not exhibit a programming interface. All androids, whether biological or mechanical, were required by law to exhibit a public programming interface, even if locked, that would allow anyone to confirm their status and the responsible party: the owner or manager of the android. But it wasn’t just a feature of daytime dramas for rogue androids to have their interface turned off.

from Better Angels

By the end of the story (not to give too much away), the Little Angels have been rescued and have been returned to their original mission as singing and dancing idols called “Better Angels”.

It was just a short story, only available on-line as an eBook, but I really enjoyed writing it. And I particularly enjoyed playing with the characters. As a daily writing exercise I participate in the #vss365 group, which offers a prompt word every day. Early on, I actually found participating very helpful to let me sharpen my ability to tell an actual story with a problem, rising tension, and some kind of payoff β€” in just a few characters. I found myself telling some Better Angels stories this way.

In many of them, the Angels make David’s life difficult:

“Play dodgeball, David!” the Better Angels called.
Reluctantly, David joined the game. One by one, the girls were eliminated until it was just David and Zaza.
Zaza tossed it to David who tried to not catch it, but it stuck to his hands.
“I’m out!” shrieked Zaza. “David wins!”
“Wait! Who covered the ball with glue?”

Or where Zaza is one step ahead of the other Angels:

“Let me hold your hand, David!” Zaza said. David held his hand out and Zaza took it.
“No fair! No fair!” the other Angels called, crowding around.
“Here!” David said. “You can each have a finger.”
After two steps, Zaza said, “I have a thumb!”
“No fair! No fair!”
David sighed.

Most of them could have the caption “Poor David”:

“What should we eat tonight?” David asked.
“Fun Meals!” shrieked the Angels.
“No!” David said, putting his foot down. “You need a balanced diet. You can’t keep eating Fun Meals everyday!”
“Look, David,” Zaza said with a sly look, opening the replicator. “We already made Fun Meals for tonight. But we made you a Fun Dinner.”

For Halloween that year, a friend persuaded to me to write a Better Angels story which I did:

The lights suddenly cut out and there was darkness. There were a handful of screams in the giant space. Then the drums started up and the space stadium erupted with cheers. The bass picked up the beat. Then a spotlight stabbed down illuminating Zaza, wearing a pink-and-blue magical girl costume. She made a dramatic gesture and the stage lights came up, illuminating the rest of the Better Angels who struck a pose while the crowd went wild. They moved smoothly into their first number, a cover of a favorite PuzzyCure song.

The Better Angels and the Very Scary Halloween

My editor was interested enough that he encouraged me to write a few more stories. And then I found I couldn’t stop. He finally suggested constructing an anthology to contain them all. Eventually we got to sixteen and I thought a title might be The Better Angels and Sixteen Seriously Sweet and Significantly Sanguinary Stories Set on the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy. My editor suggested that would simplify creating artwork for the cover, since there wouldn’t be room for any. But then I wrote one more story so the number wouldn’t work anyway. And, after much discussion we settled on Better Angels: Tour de Force. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

On Sunday, Nov 19, 2023, I set up a vendor table for Water Dragon Publishing to sell books. The event had originally been scheduled for the day before but the weather looked iffy, so they exercised their rain date for the following day. There were some 50 vendors there selling different arts and crafts.

I was in the second group to set up and arrived around 9am. I’m starting to get the hang of setting up and running a vendor table, but it’s still a lot of work to do by myself and I have recognized the need to set up a checklist to make sure I get everything and do everything in the right order. But I was easily set up well in advance of when the public began to arrive.

The occupant of the booth next to mine was a woman I had met earlier in the week via a Zoom meeting because she also teaches a course for the Honors College at UMass. She was as surprised to find that I was an author as I was to learn she was a potter. It was nice to have a friendly face nearby and we found several moments to exchange pleasant conversation over the course of the day.

Revin’s Heart once again sold extremely well. I didn’t sell out, but sold nearly half of the books I had received from my publisher. And a handful of other books, including a book of haiku. I had hoped to have Better Angels: Tour de Force ready, but we just couldn’t make it happen. The woman commented that she was impressed at how well Revin’s Heart sold and said that my pitch was very effective. From a strictly monetary perspective, I shouldn’t quit my day job. But it’s fun to meet with the public and talk about my writing.

In the morning, the weather was sunny and it was very comfortable. But by noon, the weather turned cloudy and a cold breeze started up. I nearly lost the canopy of my tent and had to take down the Water Dragon banner because it was like a sail blowing the tent around. I will need to get some weights to hold down the tent going forward — another thing to add to my checklist.

By the end of the day, I was utterly exhausted. Loading the car, setting up, spending a whole day interacting with people, and battling the wind had left me totally beat. I came home, just left everything in the car, fixed a strong cocktail, and then went to bed by 7:30pm. But I had mostly recovered by the next morning.

Overall, it was a very successful day. And I look forward to doing more of these events in the coming weeks.

The Better Angels. Entertainment. Music and Dancing. (And Rescues!)

Life is tough for non-human biological androids trying to make their way in a big galaxy. You have to be prepared to install whatever programming modules are needed for any given circumstances. Join the Better Angels and their associates as they launch their careers on the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy.

Tour de Force, an anthology of Better Angels stories, comes out December 15, 2023!

twitter logo

I joined Twitter in March 2008 and, after initially puzzling about what it was for, found it to be an amazing place. I particularly appreciated the focus on text, rather than copypasta pictures that seemed to dominate most of the other social media environments. I loved the requirement to be concise. I enjoyed taking the time to carefully craft a complete thought in 140 characters.

But it was also who else was there. Authors, scientists, journalists, historians. It was like a 24-hour cocktail party — especially when events were happening. It was also where you could call out a corporation and they would immediately respond to head off having your issue go viral.

And I used the Twitter API for a number of projects. I had created a twitter bot that could post Esperanto quotes. I had set up system to capture my tweets and save them at my website. I had a block on the front page of my blog to show my tweets. I frequently embedded tweets to support posts I was writing. I had set up Discord bots to gateway tweets for my publisher.

When I became a published author, my publisher encouraged me to create a separate social-media account for my publishing work, and so I created a new twitter handle and began developing a readership focused primarily on science fiction, fantasy, and publishing.

On Oct 27, the purchase of Twitter was completed. And, unlike some who immediately bailed, I thought I would wait and watch for a bit. But it didn’t take long to perceive what the new owner was going to do. And so, I began looking for alternatives.

I had actually created a Mastodon account in June, 2019: @limako@esperanto.masto.host. I was very much in favor of the idea and the model. (And, actually, I also had created another account for an instance created by a student.) But most of the people I was interested in interacting with just weren’t there. So I’d logged in a handful of times, but had not spent much time there.

On Nov 10, I created a new Mastodon account and began to wean myself away from Twitter. This was during a huge exodus and the entire fediverse was straining to accommodate so many new users. I could see that wandering.shop was probably the best instance for SFF authors, but I couldn’t get an invite code. And, rather than waiting patiently, I decided to create an account at another instance that seemed interesting: mastodon.lol: “A Mastodon server friendly towards anti-fascists, members of the LGBTQ+ community, hackers, and the like.”

It was a rather heady time, with vast numbers of new people trying to figure out this different thing. The guy who ran mastodon.lol was adding capacity like mad to accommodate all the people looking for new accounts. It went from 8000 to nearly 80,000 users in just a few months. He set up a patreon and people contributed money such that, in short order, it was financially self-supporting. But he quickly decided that trying to run such a service on his own wasn’t any fun. He never said exactly what happened β€” at least not that I ever saw β€” but he evidently became disillusioned and, by February, had flamed out. He posted a bitter message that the service would be shutting down in a few months. And then he vanished.

By this point, I was easily able to get an invite code for wandering.shop and, on February 9, 2023, I migrated my account to @stevendbrewer@wandering.shop.

For a while, my publisher had encouraged me to continue to post book promotion tweets at Twitter. And I did so until Jun 21, 2023, when the owner of Twitter asserted that “cis” and “cisgender” were slurs and would result in people saying them being suspended. This was a bright line for me and I informed my publisher that I would no longer be posting at Twitter. He indicated that this was fine.

By this point, I had largely finished grieving. I was already no longer visiting Twitter. But it was sad to watch all of the cool services around the Internet that had depended on Twitter gradually vanish. The block on my blog quite working. The bots for my publisher quit working.

Every so often, I would see another high profile defection as people gave up and grieved what they had lost. I still feel some pain, like a phantom limb. I like the new community at Mastodon. But it’s not the same.

It’s still astonishing to me how many people are still ostensibly there.

Even more astonishing to me are the people who, after watching their whole online world purchased and set alight to satisfy the ego of an unbalanced lunatic, are migrating to other commercial properties, like Bluesky or Threads. Did you learn nothing? Sigh…