Category Archives: Books and Writing

Reading in a Whole New Way

Kevin Kelly, an author I’ve long enjoyed reading (see Out of Control, a book that had a profound impact on my thinking about technology back in the mid-90’s) has written an interesting piece on the future of reading for Smithsonian’s 40th anniversary issue titled Reading in a Whole New Way. He makes a lot of very interesting and, I think, prescient points. He talks about the ubiquity of screens and that they will soon be watching us in turn. He says that reading will become a much more physical activity much like Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report. These days, I read more and more on my iPhone using the Amazon Kindle app, iBooks, GoodReader, Stanza, and the Borders eBooks App. I have been having fun locating free books in pdf or epub format and getting them onto my iPhone to read. I am, for all intents and purposes, an advocate for eReaders. That said, I do not believe that the physical book is going to go away anytime soon. There is something about the feel and smell of a real book, the permanence of the physical object, and the simple fact that there are just some places you can’t or at least don’t want to bring a book (the beach comes to mind). As this next generation grows up into the digital world we inhabit and as their kids grows up, this will certainly shift more and more to screens from paper but I don’t think we’ll see the paper book go away. Not within my lifetime anyway. Perhaps when the technology is advanced enough, we’ll see objects that look and feel just like real books (pages and all) but that display digital content beautifully. Whatever your thoughts, Kelly’s article is a great read (especially online, using the new “Reader” capability of the latest Safari.) (Found via The Technium)

Writing

I woke up early this morning and sat down to write. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time but never set aside the time or space to do it. Instead, my early mornings and late evenings have been dealing with tending farm, working on my frontier land and cabin, building new and updated buildings in my kingdom, and fighting dragons. Yesterday, I stopped and realized that what little free time I have when I am not at work or doing things with my son were being eaten up by what I always called “Stupid Facebook Games.” So, I quit. Just like that. I removed all of the apps, their permissions, unsubscribed from their mailing lists, and blocked them from showing up on my wall. It was liberating.

So, I woke up early as I always do and sat down to write. Alas, I only wrote a single paragraph today and not a very good one, but it was a start and I’m glad I did it and look forward to continuing tomorrow. If you want to write, write every day, they say. And so I will. Before this, I only ever wrote daily during NaNoWriMo and the three years I have done that have always been wonderful. However, NaNoWriMo is a different sort of writing. There, you write with reckless abandon. You plough forward, never looking back, never editing, never questioning. Your goal is word count, not art. And it is liberating but it also has given me an incorrect view of what writing is. As I began working on this short story idea I have wanted to play with for some time, I realized that I can’t write like that anymore. I need to structure. I need to plan. I need to balance expository dialogue with action and description. I need to care whether my characters sound and feel real. I need the world I am crafting to be fully realized (at least enough for a short story). I could probably write the story in one marathon session and then go back and edit it but that somehow feels like the wrong approach. So, I am stepping back and working out the outline. I want to know where my story is going before I try to go too far into it.

I want to read more, especially paying attention to the craft as much as the story itself. I want to look for a writing class somewhere locally. I want to learn from other writers what works and doesn’t work for how they work and begin to find a process that works for me. So, that is the journey I am undertaking now. And it feels wonderful and exciting.

Robot Exclusion Protocol (Ftrain.com)

I read this wonderful short story (very short) by Paul Ford today (found via this post on BoingBoing.net and loved it. Enjoy!

Robot Exclusion Protocol (Ftrain.com)

NaNoWriMo Complete: Third Year in a Row

NaNoWriMo 30 Days 50000 Words Winner! I have just completed my third NaNoWriMo novel in three years. Clocking in at 50,172 words, the fantasty novel that needs a better title than what I have now is done. One of the greatest revelations about NaNoWriMo… I’ve always wanted to write but never had any ideas I liked. Now my head (and Evernote) is filled with them. A few times a week I bark out an idea or two as an audio note on my iPhone into Evernote where they get typed up and categorized and they sit for when I can realize them. But this year I went a different direction. I used to play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in Junior High through college and a bit afterwards. I played most recently about two years ago and then not again since.

My son is almost old enough to play and I’ve also wanted to get a gaming group together for a once-a-month lose-yourself-for-a-day game. And I got a crazy idea for a campaign I could run while walking Jack to school one day and explaining D&D to him. Out came the iPhone and I recorded the idea and now, 50K words later, I have a rough plot of the story I want to tell. It’s a campaign like nothing I’ve ever seen played before taking traditional fantasy story elements and twisting them a bit. Whether it makes a good novel I do not know. I always think that what I have written us utter crap when I finish it. I only recently went back and looked at last year’s novel and was surprised at how much I liked it. But while I hope to revisit last year’s novel (certainly not 2007’s!) and try to fix it into something I might consider doing something with, this year’s novel is just me fleshing out my campaign idea.

Now in December I will take what I have written, fix the story to make for a better gaming experience (add places for more random encounters, more chances for the players to figure out what is going on, open it up so it can handle them making choices different from those my characters made in the story I wrote) and draw the maps, roll up the big bads, and create the character sheets. “What?!” I hear you say. “Roll characters for your players? That’s blasphemy!” Ah, this is true. But the idea of this story is that our five heroes wake up on the side of a mountain with no idea who they are, no memories whatsoever. Part of the story is their journey of discovery into who they are (and the very nature of what makes an identity in the first place). As such, I create the characters and dole bits of information out to them as they discover their abilities as they go. I hope the gaming group will be willing to let me take them on this ride and that my idea actually works. It could be an epic fail. Or it could be a lot of fun. If nothing else, I really like the story I wrote and even though it was never intended to become an actual novel, it could easily be cleaned up and made into one. Oh, see? I’m already starting to move past that, “I hate this!” stage of my writing. That’s good. Thanks, you helped there by asking all those questions.

Anyway, I’m done and for a few days I will not think about this again as I get back to my real life and do something I have not had time to do in 29 days: pick up a book and read.

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NaNoWriMo 2008

I went dark again this November doing the National Novel Writing Month. This is an annual competition to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. The idea is pure creativity. No editing, no thinking, just write and don’t stop. I just finished (hours earlier than I finished last year despite the fact that I got a late start this year). My story this year is a time travel story (which is a real challenge when you are trying to write straight through — time travel requires a lot of planning and watching for inconsistencies and the like) which is also a love story (I’m a sap, what can I say?) I’m actually very happy with it and, unlike last year’s novel, I plan on coming back to it and editing it and tightening it all up. But not today. Today, I just want to kick back and relax. I did it. I wrote my second novel and just want to bask in the glow of that achievement.

WireTap Anywhere Records from Multiple Sources

My latest article for TidBITS has gone live on their site: “WireTap Anywhere Records from Multiple Sources” — I wrote the initial draft of this article at 11:30PM in my hotel room in Las Vegas after the end of the New Media Expo. The guys at the Ambrosia booth were very accommodating as I kept coming back with more questions every day of the show. It’s an impressive product and I’m very happy to have reviewed it. You’ll note that my only complaints are more about GarageBand being a resource hog (OK, that’s not entirely fair… when I compare it to Audio Hijack Pro I am talking recording 4 channels versus 2 so it’s not so much that GarageBand is a resource hog so much as it is trying to do more than Audio Hijack Pro is in the same situation — as I describe in the article).

It is an expensive tool but for the people who need it, an excellent one.

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NaNoWriMo True Life Tale

I’m thrilled to announce that my “True Life Tale” appeared on NaNoWriMo’s blog today. I won’t say anything about it here. It speaks for itself.

I wrote a book!

nano_07_winner_large

I did it! I completed NaNoWriMo with just over an hour to spare! I wrote about 10 thousand words this week but it all came quite easily. I was worried in week three as my plot was wrappinng up at around 40,000 words and I had to either do the literary equivalent of thinking about baseball players or let it run its course and fill in the missing 10K words in other ways. I chose that path and spent this week adding a good amount of missing description, additional chapters in the middle which better fleshed out some sections and a whole series of events after the grand climax of the book which effectively added a second (and then third) larger set of climaxes (multiple climaxes, my book is so lucky!)

But it’s done. Amusingly enough, the differences between how Pages (iWork ’08) counts words and how NaNoWriMo’s validator counts them meant that I wrote about 50,200 or so. When I uploaded it for counting, it came back as 49,999. So, I added two more: “The End.”

This was a fantastic experience. I have always wanted to write but never had any ideas. This process where I just start writing and see what happens had some really interesting ideas come out of nowhere. Now I know I do have ideas and feel a lightness and freedom I have not felt in ages. I can’t wait until next November. In fact, I won’t. I plan to rework a lot of this book or just shelf it and work on something else.

But, first, time to do some reading and some crossword puzzles. I’ve been starving myself this month to get the book written. Now I can relax and return to my vices.

NaNoWriMo

My NaNoWriMo Progress

I am doing National Novel Writing Month, writing a science fiction story called “Surprise Utopia.” The idea came to me after listening to a number of podcasts about the Singularity. The idea that the exponential growth of technology, especially artificial intelligence research, will lead to a point where the curve of our growth goes nearly vertical. Life after that point in time will be incomprehensible to us on this side of that point. My thoughts got me wondering what would life be like for every day people if they woke up one morning and found that life had fundamentally changed. Originally, it was the singularity and life was surprisingly similar to how it was before (just a hell of a lot better, hence the title) but as I write I find strange things happening to and among my characters and now find that the singularity is still coming and I don’t even know what form it will take.

I am fascinated by this process. I remember reading the story by JMS, creator of Babylon 5, about when the Centauri Emperor was murdered. As the story was outlined, it was going to be Londo. He had a darkness to him and it was a natural fit. But as he wrote the actual screenplay, when he got to that particular scene, it was innocent and timid Vir who stepped up to do the deed. JMS was very surprised at this twist in events but your characters take on their own lives and if you are a good writer, you get out of their way and let them do what they need to do.

And so, I find that all of my ideas of where this story was going to go have gone out the window. My antagonist is no longer an antagonist. One person was shot. One person killed another person. None of these events were planned but just appeared out of the ether as I wrote. I can’t wait to see what they do next and I can’t wait to see where this story goes and how it will end. It’s strange to think like that when I am the actual writer but that’s exactly what is happening and I love it.

It may well be that I am writing complete and utter drivel. But that’s a worry for December. For now, I am doing a crazy sprint (over 8,000 words alone today, doubling the size of my book in a single day) and not editing as I go. I only turn back to previous pages and chapters to make sure that I am not forgetting key plot elements and that I am staying consistent to my timeline. I’ll worry about cleaning it up and whether it’s even worth reading in December. For now, I’m just having a lot of fun.

WireTap Studio Article Published

My review of WireTap Studio has been published and is up on TidBITS’ website. I really enjoyed playing with this tool and as much as I am huge fanboy of Rogue Amoeba’s products, I have to admit that they’ve been leapfrogged by Ambrosia. Of course, that means that the next releases of Fission and Audio Hijack Pro will both be very exciting as I have no doubt that they will, in turn, leapfrog Ambrosia.
WireTapStudio001
I would love to start producing podcasts again, especially my long dormant Take Control of Podcasting Podcast. What I lack is a studio (I had to move my desk into the back of the kitchen for many reasons — right near an old, noisy refrigerator) and every day my aging 1.25GHz PowerBook G4 just seems slower and less able… we’re going to get a new, hot stuff iMac soon and when we do, I fully expect to go a little crazy on that and other projects. So, I’m itching to do more with these audio tools but don’t feel I really can just yet.

For now, I’m content to digitize old cassette tapes and clean up the audio as best I can.