Great writing advice from this year's Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy writing workshop


Sam J Miller sez, "I just graduated from the amazing Clarion Writer's Workshop, and transcribed over 300 great pieces of advice and guidance from my instructors and fellow students. I did it for the benefit of myself and my Clarion Comrades, but hoped other folks would find it helpful."

I'm a Clarion grad, teacher, and board member -- I'll be back teaching next summer, in fact, after a five-year fatherhood hiatus. This is a great collection of the kind of stuff you learn at the workshop.

“A common way to structure stories is: ESTABLISH NORM. UPSET NORM. COMPLICATE & ESCALATE. CLIMAX. RESOLUTION.”

“Whenever you think you’re going to create a really strong character by putting “I” at the beginning of every sentence, you’re digging yourself a hole. It’s actually harder to bring “I” to life.”

“When it’s broken, you don’t always have to fix the whole thing. You can fix half—you just have to know which half. And that’s not always easy.”

“The problem with people is they have beer and they want egg in it. Things are good and they’re unsatisfied.”

“Opening the vein is where the best writing comes from.”

“You have to write things you genuinely are not sure about.”

“Frequently, your back brain is wiser than your front brain.”

“You left yourself a lot of hints that I don’t think you even know about.”

(Thanks, Sam!)

Clarion 2012: Every Brilliant Piece of Writing Advice*

Bigfoot checks

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I don't write many checks, but if I did, I'd prefer Bigfoot checks. (via Cryptomundo)

What is climate change ruining today?

Chocolate and high school football are being affected by climate change, according to two stories published on the Scientific American website yesterday. In the case of chocolate, the cocoa its made from is grown in several countries in West Africa, a region heavily affected by higher temperatures and extreme weather patterns. By 2020, there will likely be a 1.5 million ton shortage in cocoa production. As for football, the problem is the fact that, across the United States, cool weather season is kicking in later in the year than it used to. That affects football practice. Specifically, schools are increasingly concerned about the health risks of forcing high school students to get really physical, while fully suited and padded, in today's warmer Augusts and Septembers. So I think it's safe to say that climate change hates fun. It's a fun-hater.

Rise of the omics

 Public Resources Images P1-Bh565B Omics G 20120813175704

Wall Street Journal science reporter Robert Lee Hotz posted a funny-cause-it's-true essay about the curious rise in the suffix "-ome" or "-omics," as in foldome, physiome, biome, and sociomics, pharmacogenomics, datanomics, and on and on. In fact, there's even a scientific journal named Omics, and you can track other bio-related omes over at Omics.org. "It sounds futuristic. It sounds computational," said Harvard medical geneticist Robert C. Greenm who studies the incidentalome (seriously!). "When you use the term "omics," it signals you are a new paradigm guy." Futuristic, eh? That's probably why Institute for the Future's exec director Marina Gorbis sent the article out to the whole staff this morning. OK, Marina, we get the hint. Although futuromics does sound cooler than futurism or futurology.

"Here's an Omical Tale: Scientists Discover Spreading Suffix"

Stan Lee is taking questions on Reddit right now

If you're a Marvel fan, or a non-discriminating fan of comics in general, then you might be interested to know that the Generalissimo Stan Lee is conducting an IAmA over on Reddit right now! Excelsior! (via Facebook)

Free NASA iPad book on space food

There are some topics that inspire an almost universal fascination—weird animal penises, for instance ... or, more SFW-ly, space food. The question, "what do people eat in space?", quickly leads down a rabbit hole of strange preparation machines, esoteric packaging, and futuristic gels. Decades after we gave up on a 1950s idea of what the 21st century would be like, space food remains this sort of weird holdover, combining modern science with the physical/design sensibilities of a different time.

And there's more to it than just freeze-drying some Neapolitan ice cream. Space menus are highly organized things—a function of limited storage space and long missions to the space station. They're also deeply researched. There's no entree, not even a snack, that reaches the space station without a very good reason for it being there. Caloric intake, nutrient content, every aspect has been thoroughly micromanaged.

At Download the Universe, Veronique Greenwood reviews Space Nutrition, a new NASA ebook for iPad that's available for free download online. The book is written with children in mind, but Greenwood says there's enough detail and behind-the-scenes perspective that adults can get something out of it, as well. The formatting is occasionally frustrating (it only works in portrait mode), but for a free book, it's hard to complain too much.

.. the book's primary charm is in the photographs and asides that you can’t find in a Wikipedia article on the subject. One photogallery is full of snapshots taken by excited Nutritional Biochemistry Lab members as they drive to Kennedy Space Center to pick up astronaut blood samples from the ISS, which they use to determine the effects of space flight on nutrient absorption, bones, and muscles. The shots of the Experiment Payload truck that retrieves the samples and of the little blue NASA duffel bags they are carried home in give the process of space research a refreshing physicality.

And spaceflight seen from a food scientist's point of view is endearingly kooky. Crumbs are a big no-no for space foods—they fly around and clog the instruments. Tortillas that last almost a year, on the other hand, are a very exciting development, the authors write, because you would need three hands to make a traditional sandwich with two slices of bread and a slice of baloney in space. The book's history of manned spaceflight missions reads like no other you'll find. Gemini: Shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, pudding, applesauce. Apollo: bread slices, cheddar cheese spread, frankfurters, fruit juice. Skylab: steak, vanilla ice cream.

Read the rest of the review at Download the Universe

A miracle! Adult Swim will air a Moral Orel prequel special in November

Lying is a sin, so I would never bear false witness when it comes to Moral Orel coming back to Adult Swim. Dino Stamatopoulos announced on Twitter not too long ago that his stop-motion show would return for a one-shot prequel special, Beforel Orel, Monday, November 19 at midnight.

According to MTV Geek, the story will focus on how Orel Puppington became such a devout little gent as well as the circumstances of the birth of his brother, Shapey. Why is Shapey something of a mystery? Because he's Orel's half-brother. And since we know that Orel's parents, Clay and Bloberta, have a rather tenuous relationship, this probably means that we'll get a better look at the unholy goings-on outside the Puppington household.

But mostly, it's going to be a ton of fun to see exactly what made Orel become the most dangerously optimistic person ever.

'Before Orel' the 'Moral Orel' prequel dated for November [MTV Geek]

Brain Rot: Hip Hop Family Tree, Harlem World!

Read the rest of the Hip Hop Family Tree comics!

Read the rest

3D printing buildings and other structures with soil and binder

Stone Spray is a promising-looking 3D printer that is intended to produce building-scale structures by combining soil with binder from a spray-nozzle. Unfortunately, all the meaty tech information is locked up in a weird "book" player that doesn't work well on my screen, but you can get a general idea from the video above (I recommend scrolling at 10-20 second intervals and turning off sound).

Stone Spray Project

United Airlines loses a 10 year old girl

Bob Sutton writes about a horrible ordeal his friends Annie and Perry Klebahn had in late June and early July when United Airlines "lost" their 10 year-old daughter, who was traveling as an unaccompanied minor.

Here is the headline: United was flying Phoebe as an unaccompanied minor on June 30th, from San Francisco to Chicago, with a transfer to Grand Rapids. No one showed-up in Chicago to help her transfer, so although her plane made it, she missed the connection. Most crucially, United employees consistently refused to take action to help assist or comfort Phoebe or to help her parents locate her despite their cries for help to numerous United employees.

The emergency was finally solved, he says, when the parents reached a United employee who was also a mom, and agreed to help them not as a United employee, but a fellow parent who had empathy.

Read the rest

Military spy blimps used in Afghanistan will now patrol US-Mexico border

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. military and border-patrol officials are teaming up on a new initiative to bring dozens of surveillance blimps from Afghanistan war zones to the Mexican border.

Over the next few weeks, the military will oversee a test in south Texas to determine if a 72-foot-long, unmanned surveillance blimp—sometimes called "the floating eye" when used to spot insurgents in Afghanistan—can help find drug runners and people trying to cross illegally into the U.S.

The project is part of a broader attempt by U.S. officials to establish a high-tech surveillance network along the border and find alternative uses for expensive military hardware that will be coming back from Afghanistan, along with the troops.

In other words, hardware recycling. Read more: Battlefield Blimps to Patrol U.S.-Mexico Borders (WSJ).

Image: REUTERS. A US military blimp carrying surveillance imaging equipment flies over eastern Afghanistan, September 2011. Devices like this are being tested along the US-Mexico border.

How to compound bad business with bad social media: @Progressive's crummy job explaining the company's legal defense of a policy-holder's killer


Last night, Mark wrote about Matt Fisher's experience with Progressive Insurance, the insurer for his late sister, who was killed in a traffic accident. Progressive tried to deny Fisher's claim (the other driver was underinsured, but Fisher's Progressive policy included coverage for underinsured third parties) In order to collect full benefits, Fisher's family has had to sue the other driver, and, incredibly, Progressive paid its lawyers to defend the driver that killed its policy holder.

Understandably, the Progressive Twitter account has attracted a lot of negative attention. But whomever is running the social media strategy at Progressive has gotten stuck in a loop. No matter what you tweet @Progressive, you get the same bland PR-speak non-answer assuring you that Progressive has looked into it and everything is just fine, nothing to see here.

Wil Wheaton's got an audio interpretation of what the @Progressive account sounds like to him:

[Flash 9 is required to listen to audio.]

Dear Progressive Insurance PR Bot

WTFNASA?

A website that auto-generates answers to the question, "What the fuck has NASA done to make your life awesome?" (via Rob Sheridan)

Steve Jobs' Palo Alto burglarized in "totally random" attack

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the Palo Alto home where deceased Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once lived was burglarized in a "totally random" attack last night. More than $60,000 worth of "computers and personal items" were allegedly stolen, and a suspect has been taken into custody. (via Steve Silberman)

Thailand: politician accidentally kills woman with machine gun in restaurant

CNN reports that a Thai politician accidentally shot and killed his ex-wife with a submachine gun in a restaurant in northern Thailand. "Senator Boonsong's gun was accidentally fired off while he was trying to keep his pistol into its case." The shot went "straight in" to his female dining companion. Other news organizations report the deceased as his cousin, or his secretary.