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Magic Wand Giveaway

Buckthorn, 9 1/2 inches. Quite firm.

We could all use a little more magic in our lives.

That’s why I made this magic wand, and that’s why I’m giving it away. To you, I hope.

This actual magic wand is 9 1/2 inches of buckthorn harvested from the felled monstrosity in my back yard. It’s a lovely decorative piece, and perfect for the occasional Wingardium leviosa as long as you’re VERY careful.

How do you enter the giveaway?

Well, see, here’s the thing. I’m in the process of building up my mailing list. If you join between now and March 1st, you’re in. I’ll draw a random name from the mailing list in the beginning of March.

My newsletter offers a story recommendation, announcements, and musings about, um, well, mostly the weather, I guess. I send it out approximately once a month. I try to make it as painless as possible and you can always unsubscribe once you have your grubby hands on this super sweet magic (actually for real magic) wand.

This wand has a gorgeous grain, and I’m really quite happy with how the polish turned out. I’m getting better at my lathe craftsmanship, and to tell the truth if I don’t start giving some of this stuff away I’m going to bury my house in magic wands, pens, and possibly bowls if I ever manage to figure out how to do that without a catastrophic lathe disaster.

Subscribe to my mailing list to enter the giveaway

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CONvergence 2017 Announcement

CONvergence 2017An invite for CONvergence 2017 arrived the other day, and I’m super excited about it. CONvergence is a fantastic convention up in Bloomington, MN, and this year it’s July 6-9.

*checks watch*

*checks watch again*

*checks calendar*

*scowls at the snow covering the ground outside the window*

I don’t know my panel schedule yet, but badge prices go up on January 15th, so if you’re thinking of coming now’s a good time to pick up that badge.

*waits while you buy a badge*

This is one of my favorite conventions each year. Not only is it near home, but it also always has so much cool stuff going on. The panels are always well run, the movies and activities are always a blast, and for some reason every time I go Michael Underwood sells me more books than I can possibly carry.

*checks watch*


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CONFusion 2017 Schedule

Two weeks till CONFusion! I’m really looking forward to this convention and if you’re there, I WANT TO MEET YOU.

Here’s my schedule as it stands:

  • Friday, 7:00pm – Defying Gravity – Too often we see new writers compared to Neil Gaiman or Margaret Atwood for purposes of marketing. Standing in the shadow of greatness can be overwhelming. Even more so if that shadow is cast by a relative or mentor. How does a writer escape the orbit of those who’ve come before and is it even worth worrying about?
  • Saturday, 11:00am – KidFusion – Reading to kids and whatnot. If you’re a kid, you should probably come. I think I’ll bring some Shel Silverstein or something.
  • Saturday, 7:00pm – What’s Your Favorite Apocalypse? – A discussion on scientific advances that might tip the world towards an apocalypse.

I’m also planning on getting to the GoH Dinner, if I can drive fast enough on Thursday. And… I’ll be around. Come say hi if you find me there. I’m always happy to chat.

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UMTYMP Test Tips for Parents and Students

UMTYMP is a math program in MinnesotaThe University of Minnesota Talented Youth Math Program (UMTYMP) is one of the most coveted programs for Minnesota kids who are interested in math and parents who really, really want their kids to be good at math. UMTYMP has a notoriously difficult entrance exam, and the better prepared your kid is, the better chance they have to pass.

The UMTYMP test has an odd format. There are two columns, A and B. Every question on the test is simply a test of which is greater. The answers also include C, which indicates that A and B are equal, or D, which is the “not enough information” answer.

So, if I said:

A=The number of pencils I sent with my kid
B=The number of pencils he returned with

Then your answer would obviously be B. They say to show up with two pencils. He had those, plus an extra backup pencil. Right before he went in, we asked where they were, and he couldn’t find them. They were in his pocket, but, hey, I didn’t know that at the time. I gave him three more pencils.

He came back with SEVEN PENCILS.

Easy, right? Well, apparently they can write some pretty tricky questions in this simple format. Here are some tips to help your kid succeed.

UMTYMP Tips for Parents

  1. Acknowledge right now that your child is probably smarter than you. Look, maybe the kid doesn’t know as many THINGS, but that’s not really a measure of intelligence. She can pick up new information way faster than your old brain and you’re just going to have to live with that.
  2. In the UMTYMP test, points are scored for successful answers, but nothing is taken away for wrong answers. Therefore GUESSES ARE GOOD. Practice by asking your kid impossible questions and praise them for giving up quickly and guessing.
  3. Teach your kid what an absolute value symbol looks like. Hard to get those right if you’ve never seen |-5|. Bombard her with every math symbol you can think of in the week preceding the exam.
  4. Don’t let your kid see how freaked out you are about this test. Kids can sense fear. Don’t worry, though. They can only see movement, so if you think they’re on to you, just hold perfectly still.
  5. If your kid fails the test, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean she’s stupid. She’s probably just smart enough to have figured out that passing the test means more homework. Also, taking the test multiple times is allowed (even encouraged).

UMTYMP Tips for Students

  1. The test is only 25 minutes. During this time, NEVER STOP WORKING. Go back and check your work, over and over again if you need to.
  2. Even if you fail horribly, YOUR PARENT STILL LOVES YOU. Probably. I mean, I guess I don’t know your specific situation. But, you know. Probably.
  3. This test is packed with trickery. Their goal is to BOG YOU DOWN IN CRAP MATH so that only the kids who figure out shortcuts are allowed to pass. So:
    A=(456 * 1240 * 85) + 934543
    B=(756 * 9421 * 0 * 45) + 7
    You know the answer is A because you are clever and noticed that anything times 0 is 0. Those chumps stuck working all that multiplication for A are going to waste their time and possibly fail to complete the test.
  4. COMPLETE THE TEST. Really. Go quickly through it. If you hit a problem that seems like a TON of work, just guess. Come back to it later. It helps to write down a list of hard questions so that they’re easy to find.
  5. If you tried your best on this test, YOU DESERVE ICE CREAM. Don’t let anyone cheat you out of that. This is a big deal.

That’s all I have for you. Good luck on the test.

If you like what you’re reading, please take a look at my books or sign up for my newsletter (in which I will sometimes tell you about my books, other books, and the occasional Books and Beer event.)

UPDATE: My son got into the UMTYMP program. I’m excited to get him something of a challenge in school and he’s excited to get that extra study hall every day. We’ll see how this works out. I think the keys to him passing were the work we did on pacing and some general terminology review. The sample tests found online were also very helpful, mostly because I could give him small timed tests and work on his technique for getting every question answered.

UPDATE: I used to have more videos and links here, but they’ve all moved and I can’t keep up. I find Googling ‘UMTYMP Practice Test’ sometimes gets good results, but those tend to disappear pretty quickly, so I’m not going to link them again. Good luck.

UPDATE: My kid is doing well in Geometry, somehow figuring out how to do those awful proofs. This is officially a math that I didn’t master, so he’s making good use of the homework help sessions. I don’t know if he’ll continue on to Calculus, but UMTYMP has provided a great challenge for him.

Update (07/20/2021): It’s been a while, so I wanted to post an update. My first son ended up dropping out of Calculus (it wasn’t the math that was hard, but the writing requirements of the assignments). Even though he’s not completing the whole thing, the program has definitely been worth it. He finished high school math before starting high school, freeing up time to work on other skills and just have a little bit more space during the day. My second son started UMTYMP and struggled due to the virtual classes during Covid. He’ll continue, and probably see better results with in-person classes. As before, I’m a huge fan of this program. It’s doing wonderful things for our kids and for certain children this kind of challenge can really make them thrive.

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Notes on Preparing for the Doom that is to Come (or, Autumn)

Some people love Autumn. “It’s beautiful,” they say. “Look at the wonderful colors.”

It’s like standing on the great, gaping maw of Hell and saying, “Listen to the glorious bells as they toll our final hours.” Or, at the edge of a black hole, “See how the light refracts so wonderfully, just as it is sucked into nothing never to return from its unknown doom?”

I prefer summer.

Autumn is a time of preparation, especially for homeowners. We fortify our homes against the oncoming doom, knowing that one crack in the outer shielding of our houses will cost us our lives or worse, hundreds of dollars on our gas bills.

To make this easier for those of you who share a similar fate, I’ve put together the following list.

  • Disconnect your hose. You don’t need to put the hose anywhere, just make sure it’s not attached to the house. If it’s still attached when the first freeze happens, ice demons will crawl up its entire length, slipping their frigid appendages into your home and cracking your pipes.
  • Avoid raking. It’s hard sometimes, but try to avoid doing anything like raking. Once you make big piles of leaves, you have to bag them up and then where do you put them? That, or you’ll just leave the piles and that kills your lawn. Better to just mow the leaves and mulch them in. (I’m actually serious about this one. One of the professors in my Horticulture school did a study)
  • Close and lock all windows. Creatures of wind and ice will be pounding on them all winter long. Windows that are not perfectly locked are sure to come open.
  • Put those insulator things in all of your outlets on outside walls because that totally does some good.
  • Take a moment to gaze upon your garden and curse all those damn vegetables you forgot to harvest. It’s too late now. Start planning next year’s garden. Why the hell did you plant kale, anyway?
  • If you set out pumpkins for Halloween, make sure they’re in a good spot so that they don’t get in the way when you’re shoveling all winter long. It’s a real pain in the ass to shovel around rotten, frozen jack-o-lanterns.
  • Make sure your Netflix streaming account is all paid up. Did you ever see The Shining? Jack didn’t have Netflix.
  • If you have kids, they’re going to want to play out in the snow making snowmen and angels. Now is a great time to prepare a list of excuses so that you don’t have to think up something on the spot.
  • Now is also a good time to think up some clever things to say once that first big snow hits. Snowpacalypse, snowmageddon, you know, that kind of thing. If you can, try to mix the word snow with the word Ragnarok. If you can pull that off, people on Twitter are going to think you’re so cool.
  • Wrap your young trees because it gets cold out there and a flimsy sheet of paper totally helps.
  • If you own a three car garage, now is a good time to ponder how horrible a person you are. I mean, really, do you really need that much space in your garage? Would Jesus want you to have that many spaces? If, like me, you only have a two car garage, then now is a good time to try to cram all that shit into the corners because there’s no way you’re getting two motorcycles, a car, and a truck in that tiny fucking garage. No. Way.
  • Sprinkler systems are a nightmare of maintenance. If you haven’t already had the special guy stop by with his special truck, then you’ve probably already ruined your whole system. Ice demons, you guys. Why doesn’t anyone believe me?


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Books and Beer

Books-BeerLonging for adventure on the high seas with your IPA? Would you rather trudge through the snows of Germany for your Kölsch? Visit Trappist Monks for your Belgian Blond?

Visit the LTS Brewing Company September 29th to experience the joy of stories told by authors while you relax with a delicious brew. Continue reading Books and Beer

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CONvergence Schedule

IMG_20150424_182554CONvergence is this week!

I’m excited about it. I’m there to learn a little about publishing, find some good sci-fi books, and meet people. You can maybe help me with that last objective if you happen to be at the con and you are a person. Come find me! I look like that crazy person in the picture.

But I’m not crazy!


2:00pm –  3:00pm P Can You Ever Leave a Universe Behind?

DoubleTree Atrium 4
  3:30pm –  4:30pm P E-books and the Marketplace

DoubleTree Atrium 7
  5:00pm –  6:00pm P Panelist 101

DoubleTree Atrium 7
  7:00pm –  9:00pm P Gaming with Authors at the Source -not officially CONvergence, but I want to check it out anyway.


 11:00am –  12:00pm P Genre Feminism

DoubleTree Atrium 6
 12:30pm –  1:30pm P Long and Short of Storytelling

DoubleTree Plaza 1
  2:00pm –  3:00pm P Dealing with Difficult People in Publishing

DoubleTree Bloomington
  3:30pm –  4:30pm P Building Worlds for Fiction

DoubleTree Plaza 3
  5:00pm –  6:00pm P Science vs. Religion in Dystopia

DoubleTree Atrium 4


 11:00am –  12:00pm P Adding Humor to Your Writing

DoubleTree Atrium 4
  2:00pm –  3:00pm P Creating a Dystopian Society in Your Writing

DoubleTree Atrium 7
  3:30pm –  4:30pm P Art of the Plot Twist

DoubleTree Atrium 7


  2:00pm –  3:00pm P Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing

DoubleTree Edina
  3:30pm –  4:30pm P One on One with Wesley Chu

DoubleTree Plaza 1