30 Jun

Why this author downgraded his 2017 MacBook Pro to a 2015 MacBook Pro

For the past 11 months I’ve been using a 13″ 2017 MacBook Pro after my old 2014 MacBook Pro was dropped going through airport security by an agent who picked up my bag without realizing the bag wasn’t zipped. The 13” was a workhouse that did well for me, and I’ve been using the model since it was a 12” form factor.

But I’ve not really been enjoying the 2017 MacBook Pro. Two things happened that were noticeable. One, the new butterfly keyboard by Apple was a huge adjustment. This is to make the laptop thinner. The butterfly keys don’t have much of a ’strike’ and are hard to get used to. It feels like the keys are moved closer together as well to create the smaller laptop. Then, the new USB ports left me scrambling to try and get all my stuff connected to the laptop. Within a week of getting the new MacBook one of the USB-C ports died. But I was trying to get work done and didn’t have time to turn it in to get it fixed. I managed to find a hub and dealt with it.

Now, Apple has done things before that were slightly ahead of the time and left me scrambling for a few months to adjust, and then a year later seemed no problem. I wrote my dissatisfaction off to this. But after 11 months I’ve constantly felt cramped and unhappy with the keyboard and then the keys on the right hand side started not working. Which makes it useless as a laptop. And I couldn’t get under the keys to clean or check why with the new design.

So I took the laptop to the Apple Store and turned it in to get fixed, and I used some of my business credit to set up a payment plan and buy a 2015 15” MacBook Pro. Apple still has older MacBook Pros in stock, advertised as ’MacBook Pro Silver’ for a discount. My thinking was: go back to the old keyboard tray and see how it felt while the 13” was in the shop.

I am, after all, a writer. And it seems like a ridiculous thing, but how well keys work with my fingers every day matters. A lot.

And the older 2015 Mac felt like I’d gotten an upgrade. For the first time since I jumped into using Apples in 2000, after 15 years of using MacBook Pros, it was an upgrade to jump back a unit for me. Here are the four quick reasons why:

1) The Keyboard!

Without a doubt, within just an hour, it was clear I couldn’t go back to the butterfly keyboard of the new MacBook Pros and the MacBooks. Getting the old keys back felt buttery, they were more clearly spaced apart. My fingers knew where they were and they could hit a rhythm easier. A week later, you’ll get my older model MacBook Pro when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

This is such a big deal. I had been testing out a friend’s Lenovo Thinkpad not too long ago, because the keyboard was so nice it was the first time I looked at my own laptop and felt I was compromising. But back on the older Pro, I was happy and back to my fingers feeling happy.

To be honest, I suspect half the reason I learned a way of typing to keep my fingers on the home row more often, detailed here, was due to my hating the keyboard of the 2017 MacBook Pro.

2) USB-C

While I know that USB-C is the future, the new MacBook Pro dropped having even one old USB port. Which meant that my iPhone needed a hub to connect to charge while on the road, as did my watch, as did my external battery that rides in my backpack.

Moving back down to a 15” meant that I could toss out a portable hub, a convertor, and two extra cables that I had acquired to deal with most of my travel stuff using regular USB and the new Pro not having any. This isn’t life changing, but downgrading the laptop made life and cable management simpler. You shouldn’t feel like a downgrade was an upgrade, but it does.

3) Magsafe connector!

The new MacBook Pro gets rid of the Magsafe connector, that pulls off easily if you trip on it. How cool to get that back! Again, if felt like an upgrade. The USB-C cord could come out easily, but some experimenting showed me that at a hard angle, it dragged the laptop with it. And by experimenting I mean ‘Oh shit, I just hit the cord and the laptop leaped across the coffee table and I grabbed it just in time.’

Getting Magsafe back is peace of mind.

4) Loss of windup cord

Okay, this is small, but it’s yet another ‘oh, I love that this is back,’ but the old wall brick power plug for the 2015 MacBook Pro has little pop up hinges that let you wind the power cord around it and store it neatly in a bag. The new one? It was a USB-C wall plug and a USB-C cord. No pop up hinge, so you had two separate items.

And if you accidentally mixed the cord up with some other cords in your bag and left them?

Yeah.

Oh, and the 5th cool point is that I can now use a HengeDock to dock the MacBook Pro easily when I get to the office, and grab it and go when I am leaving. Just another small thing that greases the workflow.

So the 15” 2015 MacBook Pro is huge compared to the 13” 2017. Much more laptop than I usually prefer, but I have decided that it’s worth it for the keyboard. The extra pound is not as exciting, and the 15” will be harder to use on an airplane, certainly. However, the extra screen space is nice, particularly for when I’m away for more than a day or so on a trip and need to get lots of work done.

It’s pricey for me, but I will put my head down and make it work. Because, as a friend of mine pointed out, this is how I make a living and it’s okay to invest in tools that actually work and don’t get in my way. And the new butterfly keyboard gets in the way.

Hackernoon has a great post about the frustrations and unreliability of the new MacBook Pro design that echoes some of my frustrations.

Charg.d blog has a review of the SurfaceBook 2 that I think is dead on and I can’t argue too much with. I’ve played with it and it’s an amazing piece of hardware. I’m still deep in OS-X, but I think this 15” MacBook Pro will hopefully last 3-4 years, as it’s a pretty powerful beast, before I have to make a difficult decision. The nature of the keyboard on Apple’s professional equipment will go a long way to how I make my decision then.

09 Jan

Why I stopped using QWERTY and switched to an entirely different key layout

I’m prone to being into the cult of self-improvement. I keep track of how much I write via spreadsheets and have figured out when in the day I can write more, and when I am more creative. I have kept body weight, body fat, and tape measurements since 2003 (I an not super fit, if anything since 2008 I tracked because I had a heart defect and not allowed to exercise, so I had to be careful about fighting the pounds as they added strain to the heart and I wanted more life, as Roy Batty once famously said). I occasionally will identify things that bug me and set out to change them.

One of the things I had been suffering from over the last few years is wrist pain.

I love being a writer, but I hated that on days when the words would flow, I would end up back on my armchair with bags of ice wrapped around my wrist. So I decided that I would set out to attack it.

Part One: A Better Keyboard

First I decided to try a new keyboard. I had been using a Microsoft Sculpt for ages:

I really liked it, and when I briefly tried a flat keyboard again, went running back as wrist pain got even worse.

I had long been eyeing a Kinesis Advantage. The bowl-shaped tray for the keys seemed wild, but the reviews were so positive I kept a link to one bookmarked on my desktop for years. But the idea of dropping over $300 on a keyboard seemed far out. But then, I thought, how much would damaged hands cost me?

I used some old Christmas and birthday money I had lying around and ordered the Kinesis finally, realizing that if it worked it would be well worth the investment and I could return it if it was a total disaster. It came, if purchased from Kinesis, with a 30-day guarantee.

It looked wild when I got it. Taller and taking up more space than my trusty old Sculpt.

Right away, I saw that getting the keys broken up in the middle created a more natural spacing for my hands. The bowls for my keys also meant that my wrists dipped down, a more natural position for them to hold for long periods. The bowl of keys also meant that my fingers didn’t have to stretch as far to make a strike.

Having more keys for my thumbs was a bit weird at first, but I adapted.

Adapting to the whole keyboard was a trip.

I took a test of how fast I could type online before I ditched the Sculpt. It was about 70-80 words per minute, and I had a high accuracy rate of 98%. By comparison the average touch typer is around 41 words per minute with a 92% accuracy rate (that 92% accuracy rate would kill me, by the way).

Now to clarify: I don’t write fiction at that speed, that’s just how fast I can type words flashed at me on a screen on an online test. But it does give me a good idea of how comfortable I am on the keyboard.

My first day on the Kinesis, October 31st, my ass was well and truly kicked. The bowl shape meant the muscle memory of the fingers would often make me reach too far and trip over the keys.

By the end of the first day I managed to get back up to 41 words per minute. Enough to know that I could make the switch. I felt ‘slow’ and the keyboard felt alien, but I could see myself adapting in real time. I really wanted to be able to get past 55, but tripped whenever I tried to force it.

On the second day my speed kept improving and I soon hit 70 words per minute, though I kept tripping over the N and M key.

It took another six days before I hit my pre-switch comfort and speed levels:

So there, it took a week for me to make the switch.

Was it enough to make me fall in love with the keyboard?

Yes, because two things happened:

1) My speed kept creeping up. I didn’t notice it until I checked my speed again a few days later, I hit scores in the high 80s. Then a few days later, I logged a typing score in the 90s. And finally, 10 days after feeling fully adapted and 17 days after getting the Kinesis in the mail, I passed 100 words per minute on a typing test online.

2) My wrist pain fell off in those 17 days. And I was even able to write four thousand words in a day without needing to ice my wrists.

I was sold.

In fact, just getting a Kinesis may be one of the greatest writerly life hacks I’ve stumbled across. I radically increased my typing speed and decreased wrist pain in one stroke.

But, like Daedalus given wings and the ability to fly, I decided to see how close to the sun I could fly. I wanted more improvement, more help for my hands over the decades of typing to come. Because while the Kinesis would help me in my office, I still used the laptop keyboard when at the coffee shop, or traveling, or upstairs. And whenever I used it my wrists howled.

I decided I would abandon QWERTY…

Part Two: I rearrange all the keys on my keyboard!

So the thing about QWERTY is that it is not an efficient layout of keys and this is pretty common knowledge. When mechanical keyboards first came out and typers got faster and faster, the typewriters started jamming. QWERTY wasn’t, as some folk say, designed to slow typists down, it was more designed to scatter the more common combined strikes apart to prevent jamming. That results in forcing the typist to have to have more common keys scattered among less common keys, which is efficient for keeping mechanical systems working but not for the amount of travel the fingers do.

You can see this on the home row of the QWERTY keyboard:

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How many words can you type on the home row of a QWERTY layout?

About a hundred.

Most of the letters you have to type are on the rows above the home row where your fingers rest (52%). Only 32% of the strokes you make on a QWERTY keyboard are on the home row.

Contrast this to the Dvorak layout, where 70% of your typing strokes are on the home row, 22% are on the top.

Another issue that QWERTY has is an unevenness in the English language that often forces fingers to hurdle whole rows, hit the same keys with the same fingers, and only use a single hand for some long words:

QWERTY typing tends to degenerate into long one-handed strings of letters, especially strings for the weak left hand. More than 3,000 English words utilize QWERTY’s left hand alone, and about 300 the right hand alone. (Try typing exaggerated and greatest, then try million and monopoly). The underlying reason for this shortcoming is that most English syllables contain both vowels and consonants, but QWERTY assigns some vowels (A and E) as well as some common consonants (R, S, and D) to the left hand, and others (I, O, and U, plus H, L, and N) to the right hand. Hence, for about half of all digraphs (two consecutive letters) in a typical English text, QWERTY allocates both letters to the same hand.

There’s even evidence that this causes us to favor different words in our writing:

A past study published in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review tested the QWERTY Effect, even asking English, Spanish, and Dutch speakers to rate words. They found words that used right-hand letters were favored. They even asked people to rate made up words like “pleek” and “ploke.”

One of the sites that I found useful was Carpalx, a site that brings a lot of thinking together about various keyboard layouts into one place.

While CarpalX recommends a computer generated keyboard layout, I found that there were two already installed on my Mac laptop, both of which promised tremendous improvements over QWERTY. Those were DVORAK and Colemak.

Here is the Dvorak keyboard, invented in the 1930s:

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It puts more common letters on the home row and alternates the consonants and vowels to create an alternating strike system, which allows the other hand to move to position itself.

Dvorak is used by many super fast typers, and running a test of words typed on it (running the entire Gutenberg collection through a virtual test of it) showed it nearly halves the distance your fingers travel in a day compared to QWERTY.

Dvorak also has a lot of use in various circles, and it is usually offered in the keyboard layout of most Operating Systems, so it would be very easy for me to use anywhere I went.

Many keyboards will also come with keys in DVORAK.

But…

The idea of relearning not just letters, but all my punctuation, it daunted me.

Additionally, the N and S key, two very frequent letters, being on the two weaker right keys, meant that I could see some difficulty in adapting.

Lastly, I have a lot of muscle memory devoted to hitting CTRL and C to copy something with a left hand while mousing with my right. Losing that on the DVORAK looked like a tall order.

Which is why I decided on Colemak.

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Like DVORAK there was a strong lean toward alternating the vowels and consonants, with the vowels on the right. Most of the most commonly used letters are on the home row. That means that while one can make around 100 words with QWERTY, you can type almost 6,000 on the home row in Colemak.

I could type words like disorientation or station or tender all on the home row without ever moving the fingers about!

I also liked that the more common letters were placed under the strongest fingers. No S on a pinky.

That and I would not have to relearn all my punctuation and keyboard shortcuts, plus similar efficiency improvements, meant that I decided to adopt Colemak on November 15th. I switched my keyboard layout in the settings for Keyboard Inputs and there it was.

Cold turkey. Jump right on in.

Part Three: What is like to actually use a whole new keyboard layout?

Day one was spent memorizing the new keys. I had a print out of the new layout on top of my monitor and I started working with a new typing tutor. My initial speed was 10 words per minute and it hurt my brain.

But I figured I had only taken a few days to learn my new keyboard, so surely that showed I would be a quick study at this.

I thought all I had to do was learn all the new placements, and then it would be a case of building my speed up.

On day three I learned about something called the Colemak-DH variant.

Even after just three days of using Colemak, I noticed something annoying on my ergo keyboard: the most common digraph that I employ is ‘HE’ in the English language. On Colemak that meant hitting the H by moving the index finger over one, which pulled the middle finger over the N key with it in that motion. Then to strike the E key I had to reposition. There were enough other benefits, but that was a weakness on my ergo keyboard, though the travel distance was less noticeable and annoying on the more cramped laptop keyboard.

It looked like this:

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This was amazing, because my pointer fingers naturally slightly ‘curl’ and rest on the very bottom of their respective home keys. The folks behind the ‘DH’ mod argue that this curl makes the key right under your pointer finger a next best thing for effortless strikes:

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With D and H moved down for a curl and strike, I felt the new layout to be more powerful. Of course, I had to relearn things yet again on day three as B, G, V and M, K and J moved around. But the new layout scored very high, keeping the benefits of Colemak and getting rid of its one big pain point that made me really worried about adopting it.

My speed dipped again, but within a day or so was back into the low 20s:

Now, for me, typing at about 25 words per minute felt so slow as to be falling behind in work. I was drilling on the typing tutors, but a whole week had gone by and I didn’t feel like I was making amazing progress. I did not feel confident enough to type and get that ‘flow’ where the words appear on the screen as I will them. I had to think of a word, then spell it out, then think about the letters, and type those letters.

It was painful.

After quick, easy to see growth periods, I got stuck at just under 30 words per minute:

In my second week of the experiment I legitimately panicked. Unable to really type much at under 30WPM I briefly thought I would switch back to QWERTY for a few days to get work done. I tried to use QWERTY and couldn’t. I was torn between two worlds. I couldn’t type in either.

I freaked out.

I couldn’t write! That was what I did! To make money! To earn!

What an idiot I was, I thought. I broke myself!

Well, I was standing at the crossroads, wasn’t I?

One of the things I was learning was that muscle memory is what we use to type with, and just memorizing a new keyboard layout wasn’t the only thing going on. Learning each individual key, that would take me from 10WPM to about 20WPM. But, it turns out, to touch type, we have learned not just individual keys, but combinations of letters.

As I got above the 20 WPM speed, my fingers knew where the Colemak keys were, but when I tried to quickly type a combo, they would then type that combo out in QWERTY, giving me gibberish. So then I had to start memorizing and relearning combos. ‘HE’ is the most common. But ‘IE’ ‘EI’ ‘ED’ ‘ON’ ‘ONE’ ‘ION’ and so on and so on are all baked into my head.

In fact, when I taught myself to touch type 20 years ago I finished up at 35WPM. Over the 20 years, I had slowly burned more and more combos into my finger muscle memory, and that memory kept trying to take over the moment my mind wandered, got flustered, or tried to speed up past where it was ready.

I focused not on speeding up, after that, but on just practice. Just kept drilling, realizing that this was an extreme exercise in neuro-plasticity.

After a couple days I finally broke out of the sub-30 WPM doldrums.

I put in hours of practice every day. In fact, I undid the healing the Kinesis had brought to me. I got so obsessed with getting back to 70 WPM I started drilling 6,000 and then 7,000 and then finally somewhere almost near 9,000 words of quotes in a drill. I started waking up in wrist pain in the middle of the night. I didn’t understand what was happening until I pulled the stats of the typing tutor and realized what I’d done: written almost a novel’s worth of words in a week.

If I had this to do over, instead of spending two weeks drilling on the keyboard for over five hours a day, I would follow the advice of neurologists for the changeover and learning of a new physical skill: use the tutor for 40 minutes before bed, let the physical pathways develop in sleep. The rest of the time, slowly type as accurately as you can.

I went full obsessed.

By the middle of the third week I was as fast as an average typist and slightly more accurate, at 43 words per minute. By the fourth week I was able to get into the mid 50s. And that was when I took my winter break and a break to let my hands heal.

I would also add that there is a third layer (one is just memorizing where the keys are, two is memorizing common patterns) to learning a new keying system. This is that as one hand types, the other positions itself to hit the next letter. From about 50wpm and up, I noticed that my waiting hand moves to the old QWERTY position, so that even as a struck a Colemak as I switched over to it, I’d be placed on the wrong row! So that’s also being retrained now as well.

I now seem to be able to type in the 55-62 words per minute range, with about 50 being comfortable. I fall into the low 40s when I get tired or confused. My accuracy rate is high compared to the average touch typist, but still low for me personally. I am hitting 94-96% accuracy, and I prefer 99%. I feel like I am a month or so away from the old speeds, and sometimes I fall into a nice rhythm here and it’s like, ‘yes, there it is, that’s just typing without me having to think about it.’

My hands are slowly healing again from the stupidity of my typing drills, but it is not as fast as I would like. I wish I had not been so driven, but just went with the flow. I was so determined to make the switch as fast as possible it may have actually backfired and slowed me down and hurt my wrists. This wasn’t the fault of Colemak, but me pushing through pain due to being stubborn. I’ve done it before on novels for deadlines, I did it again here.

However, typing on the laptop doesn’t aggravate my wrists as much. And the keyboard feels… I don’t know, easier. Like the keys I need are always right nearby. The new keyboard on the new MacBook Pro has really sucked for me, I keep missing the right key, and with Colemak now, I am actually starting to not hate it.

Now, to answer some questions:

Part Four: Am I glad I did this?

Yes. If for no other reason than there are few moments in this world to retrain the core muscle memory of something you’ve done almost all your life. I could feel my mind pulling against doing something so profoundly new. I could feel new pathways being etched in.

I don’t feel so restricted by the cramped laptop keyboard now. I strongly suspect this will help me save my wrists some when using the laptop keyboard.

Do you think you will end up faster?

I’m not sure. In theory since more of the common keys are on the home row I might end up faster, but since I am using a whole new system I am probably going to take a while to get back to where I was.

What about when you need to use a keyboard on another computer?

That was a serious question I asked myself. But I mainly only ever use my computer. Plus other keyboards all have the QWERTY printed out on them, I can hunt and peck in the rare event I need to. My phone is in QWERTY, so I haven’t forgotten where the keys are, actually, I’m just slower at it. Eventually as I get stronger at Colemak I’ll go back and practice QWERTY again. I view it like being bilingual.

Would you recommend anyone else do this?

Buy a Kinesis keyboard and that gets you 90% of all the benefits, most likely. This is months of relearning something you’ve spent years learning. If you’re obsessed only with speed, you want to learn stenography. The machines for court reporters use ‘chording’ (striking two keys at the same time’) to get up to 225 WPM and higher, they move at the speed of speech.

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I just thought, after seeing so many writers with RSI in their later years, that a few steps toward ameliorating that would be something valuable for me to do. I don’t regret that down payment on my future at all.

Anything still frustrating about the switchover?

Yeah, the S key. If you looked at the images I shared you will note that the S key moved over one. Just one space. And the reason is a good one. But for some reason the most common mistake I make is to hit R instead of S. When I get going fast it it still the most common mistake I make and have to fix, or get flustered by.

I also have trouble with the M key a little, but I had trouble with the N in the same place on the Kinesis. On Colemak-DH, the K goes where the H is in regular Colemak, that means that words like ‘know’ require a single finger reposition. Because you hardly do that on Colemak compared to QWERTY it stands out a bit.

Mostly I have to remember to slow down and focus on accuracy because even though I have absorbed a lot of it, I still have 20 years of QWERTY lurking about. When I get tired, flustered, or impatient my mind falls back into old patterns and I start making mistakes… which makes me more flustered. Right now I still have to be a little mindful as I type.

03 Jan

2018: Looking Forward

My 2017 wrap up was a bit of a meaty look at a complicated year for me. What does 2018 look like?

Well, I have a story to write every month for my Patreon, so that will keep me busy. I spent 2017 just trying to see if I was even capable of writing a short story a month. I was. The $500 a month from it was a welcome addition to my income stream but I’m eyeing the savings and know that eventually the runway ends, so a goal is to grow the Patreon. I’ve been looking at a variety of author Patreons and I note that backers are often interested in the ‘how’ of writing as much as the raw stories. I have to set aside a week and think about my own Patreon and how to attract enough to hit $1,200/month as a goal.

Right now I’m toying with the idea of weekly essays about writing that come out in the Patreon first and then make their way to the blog? Let me know what you would be interested in and would like to see. I am still in the spitballing stage.

I need to finish the Fantasy novel I am working on. As I mentioned in the 2017 wrap up, it is a passion project and been so much fun to work on.

I need to finish the revisions of a Fantasy novel that David Klecha and I are working on. It’s hella fun, another fun project.

I need to revise a middle grade novel that I promised a long time ago. I mentioned not being in a good headspace last year. The story behind this book is complicated and involves it getting held up for years before being taken back out. The whole situation stressed me out so much that every time I opened the file to look at it last year I would just get furious and unable to work on it in anything like the headspace I needed.

There’s more floating around in my personal life, and some other writing projects I’m noodling around on. Some ‘BIG’ questions I have are:

Can I centralize posting for the Patreon here and offer more ‘early’ content for backers that then goes live after an exclusive period?

Would it be better to use Patreon to serialize a novel? More people read those than short fiction…

Should I continue writing the second Fantasy novel or even the third as well before trying to sell the first? The money would be welcome for the first, but submissions, contracts, and checks from the publishing process are so slow that even were I to finish soon I won’t see a payout for a long time. Long enough it won’t help me this year, likely. So why not keep writing the books in a healthy space without deadline and drama?

That’s what I am facing for the new year.

While those are tough questions, the things I was thinking about last year where about whether to throttle back or stop writing for a period, so I am looking forward to figuring these things out…

In the meantime, I do have a new novel coming out in February that I co-wrote with Paolo Bacigalupi, ‘The Tangled Lands.’

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The early NetGalley reviews from readers are very positive, whereas the review from Publishers Weekly less so, which is fun as usually things break in the opposite direction for my projects. Readers felt in the current world climate the stories resonate, even though the book is a bit dark. We wrote it before all this, but I get why that may be. Dystopian stories often hit a nerve in times like this.

01 Jan

2017: A Year’s Wrap Up

2017.

What a year.

Well, the TL;DR is that:

I saw a new novel come out, HALO: ENVOY, which seems to have been well-received by fans.

My story High Awareness (written with David Brin) appeared in Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere.

My Patreon story Shoggoths in Traffic was reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine and reviewed by Locus Magazine.

My story Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance appeared in Cosmic Powers. This story is getting so many reprint requests, but the two (of many) that I can share with everyone are:
–The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume 12
-The Year’s Best Science Fiction #35

I wrote a bunch more stories for my Patreon, and half a new Fantasy novel. And like every one else, I somehow managed to survive the year. Go us!

Here’s the more in-depth stuff…

World Events

https://twitter.com/JohnMoralesNBC6/status/905554914302144512/photo/1

I knew a whole year under the new administration here in the US would be challenging and it was. I saw it hit the creativity of many writers hard. And it wasn’t fun seeing so many people I value being harmed by the administration.

When the election happened, I sat down and wrote a journal entry to myself detailing all the concrete steps I was going to take to have what impact I could against it all. I decided that I wanted to retain my health and energy, something I would not sacrifice as this would be a fight that could take years. During the Bush administration I spent a lot of time blogging and in comments sections. For this round, I focused on calling senators, and then faxing when that became too stressful for me. I sent money, lots of it, to wherever I felt I could make a difference, even though this was a lean fiscal year. Whenever I got frustrated I would turn back to concrete ways to move the ball forward. I’m doing some small local volunteering as well.

So even though I feel I was less involved in the shouting matches online, I’ve done a lot of real life stuff compared to the last time around.

I also was horrified by the disaster response to the hurricanes that hit this year. The devastation is like nothing that had been seen before. I did some interviews and a blog post about how to help that was widely passed around and that I feel got money to some direct places where they needed to be. People who knew I was from the affected area reached out to me and I was able to connect some folk to each other. Again, I tried to focus on ways to help and not succumb to feeling personally helpless.

Even if I am just a drop of water, many of us together can make an ocean.

My Life

2017 was what I consider one of those years where there are no giant successes that leap out, but where the work you do lays the foundation for success that come later.

One, I decided that I would totally jump all in on Bullet Journalling officially just before the start of the year. I kept doing that and found it helpful for keeping the year going strong and organized. Turns out making lists when things go pear-shaped helps me a lot. I’ve been able to cope with this year much better than I had any right to.

Two, I cleaned up the basement and put my office in there, something I had been wanting to do since it had been flooded.

I also cleaned up a section and built a home gym. I also cleaned up another area for tools and lumber. Getting the basement mostly cleaned and organized felt like a major coup.

Three, I hand built a custom PC, something I had wanted to do since I was a kid. I use it to play Kerbal or Civilization. Mostly it sits and mines Ethereum when I don’t use if for a game.

Four, I kept playing Ultimate Frisbee and getting outside as much as I could and moving more, which I noticed was a great mood booster.

My resting heart rate is down dramatically. Like, scary dramatically. I went from the mid 80s as a resting heart rate to the mid 60s, with my Apple Watch claiming that at sleep I frequently now drop into the very low 50s.

Five, I have been experiencing some really bad RSI as a result of years of writing a ton, but also a lot of mousing was starting to wear on me. I decided to take serious steps to reducing the pain instead of just dealing. I finally ordered a Kinesis Keyboard after years of eyeing them. It’s really gone a long way toward reducing pain. But I also set out to learn a whole new keyboard layout called Colemak to help reduce pain from using the laptop keyboard. I’ll write about that more soon.

Meta career stuff

This is some neepery.

At the start of the year I learned that one of the most lucrative freelance gigs I had ever had was being shut down. But, to be honest, that gig had been eating up all my brain time. I had been putting money aside, so I knew that I could take some risks and spend the rest of the year living off savings.

While I hate losing the savings pile, I did need the time to really reset my writer mind. The words, I could drag them out, but they were getting harder and harder. I’d written two novels under a pseudonym and a HALO novel. I had spent three whole years away from living and breathing ideas that were one hundred percent my own, and I learned from that while doing a fun work for hire project once in a while was great, spending three years working hard at a freelance gig for money and putting all my creative work outside my own control really made me feel boxed in.

So I eased back to focus on writing short fiction. Trying to find more joy. And thinking of Tim Ferris’s challenge to himself about work “What would this look like if if were fun?” I decided that I would not work on things that weren’t looking like fun. That isn’t to say I avoided hard or challenging work, I just wanted to avoid a certain level of drudgery that I was starting to feel like was setting in.

In fact, January 2017 was the first time in 17 years of being published that I struggled with core questions about whether all the work was worth it. I did enjoy the wins, but the negative stuff was piling up throughout 2016 to the point where I wondered if it might not work out better to treat writing as a hobby and double down on freelancing to be a more responsible family guy and earner. I’d gotten a taste of what regular, decent income could look like, and it took a lot of stress out of the constant balancing of irregular income, delayed payments, contracts that take forever to negotiate, that come with writing.

Knowing that I was down, I returned to first principles: why did I want to be doing this? Because I loved books. I spent a chunk of time reading at the start of the year. I ripped through audiobooks, played frisbee, and read books at a rate I hadn’t since I was a kid on summer vacation. By the end of February I had my head coming back together and understood I’d been burned out. And while the freelance money had been great, I was seeing lots of people in that industry getting laid off or experiencing stress as bad as mine. So I found a headspace after some rest that let me reset.

I did a lot of writing down thoughts to myself about my mental state about writing. I’d achieved so many of my goals in terms of a career that I’d wanted since I was 13 by 30 that I did find it hard to figure out what the new ‘thing’ I should focus my aim at should be. I’d been dealing with so much business side stuff that all my new aims were contract, reader-sizes, and money related. All of which are good focuses, but in some ways, out of my control and stormy because the tide of how shiny the world finds you comes and goes.

I often tell people, don’t chain your goals to events you can’t control or you end up whipsawed around, feeling unsuccessful because success is out of your hands. “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” -Marcus Aurelius.

A quote by Henry Miller ended up in my Bullet Journal. “Writing is its own reward.”

What would my daily writing look like if that were true to me? I wondered that at the start of the year. If I focused on writing for fun, and not for outside events, I figured I’d find that contentment again. I needed to follow my own advice and define success very carefully.

In March I decided that I would set out to solve two issues with one project: I created a short story Patreon (I wrote about some things I learned from launching it here) to bring in some steady money while writing stories that were just fun for me. I set a strict time rule for how long each one would take, and focused on joy and experimentation.

That was a confidence builder. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t hoping for the Patreon to get more backers than it did, but being able to write a pre-sold story every month that was just me riffing and cutting loose for fun really got me back into the places I needed.

Another quote from my Bullet Journal: “Anyone who keeps writing is not a failure.” – Ray Bradbury.

Three of the stories from the Patreon have been sold to great markets as reprints. Shoggoths in Traffic, a story I’d wanted to write forever now, ended up on Lightspeed SF.

Shoggoths got reviewed in Locus Magazine, a rare thing for a story created like that.

I started noodling around with some novel ideas in the middle of the year rescued from a fantasy novel proposal from a few years ago that just never left the back of my mind. By June I was building maps in Acorn, a Photoshop-like program, all based off some chapters I’d written up earlier in the year. I test wrote an early chapter and read it at a reading, and it went down well. I began to think that, yes, this was it.

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you want to say. It’s the on and only thing you have to offer.” Barbara Kingsolver

By September, I started working on outlines and ideas with excitement because after all the reading and time to think I found that I had things to say that consumed me fully, and that even if no one ever read the scenes they were once again forming in my head without my demanding them. I was having trouble sleeping because I would lay awake and scenes would play out in my mind’s eye. My old fried, creative insomnia, was back. I welcomed it.

It was time to start a big book again.

I am little over half way through a draft and there is no contract, no expectations or deadline. I found something I really want to see exist and I am making it.

What happens next I don’t know, but writing this Fantasy novel has just been fun, satisfying, and challenging in the all the right ways, and not the stressful ways. It has added to my daily routine, not dragged at it. I hope people get to read it sometime, and that they enjoy it as much as I did writing it.

So I end the year having written 12 short stories, one with a writer I was a big fan of in high school. I am enjoying the daily slog of writing books again, to a point where I feel much like I did when I got into this with passion and enthusiasm. I have half a book written as well.

I have no idea what 2018 holds, how much longer I’ll be able to keep the focus on writing this much before I will need to up the freelancing to balance income, but I found my back after the biggest slump I’ve had since starting this strange vocation.

There are still many things to navigate, and strong headwinds, but I feel like the compass started working again.

And that wasn’t something I felt at the start of 2017. It was just spinning.

08 Sep

Devastation in the US and British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma and How to Help

How to help the Caribbean islands hit hardest by Hurricane Irma:

Other links to local relief in comments appreciated. Some sites were down that I tried to access, so I didn’t link those. Here’s what I came up with.

How to help the US Virgin Islands:

The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands raises funds for VI improvement projects and is a local organization. They are taking Irma donations if you type “FFVI” into the memo area when donating. [local US news article talking about CFVI here and USVI rep to congress encourages folks to donate here]

Money sent to St. John Rescue goes directly to first responders on St. John.

The St. John Community Foundation is a local, on the ground group that could use Irma donations for rebuilding St. John.

Many are concerned about animals. The Humane Society of St. Thomas can be found here. St. John animal shelter is here, the ACC.

St. Croix basketball phenom Tim Duncan is matching money up to a million dollars for St. Croix relief efforts. The link is here.

How to help British Virgin Islands:

The Director of Tourism issued a statement that the BVI government was partnering with Pledging to take money for the BVI recovery effort called the BVI Recovery Fund.

VISAR is the volunteer Marine search and rescue group in the BVI and takes donations here.

How to help Anguilla:

Anguilla Beaches has a page documenting all the damage and recommends a donation to Help Anguilla Rebuild Now, which will give all funds to LOCAL Red Cross only, and will audit the funs. You can get to that page here.

How to help Antigua & Barbuda:

The Halo Foundation, an Antigua & Barbuda registered non-profit, is basically an umbrella organization for charities local to the island. They’re taking donations here.

The local chapter of the Antigua & Barbuda Red Cross is looking for donations here.

TickeTing is taking donations here. It’s an island local app.

How to help St. Martin:

The only resources I can find, due to my not speaking French or Dutch (the island is split between these two countries), are the respective regional Red Cross organizations:

Netherlands Red Cross Irma donation site.

French Red Cross Irma donation site.

General Caribbean IRMA disaster relief

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency has a PDF for direct donations for IRMA relief at their website. Direct link to PDF here. [American readers, it uses direct transfer, as moving money around different countries is difficult and people tend to use transfers. This may be more useful into my readers who are not in the US]

Double the Donation is doing Irma relief and checks to see if your company matches your donation.

Unicef is also a big organization involved in IRMA relief.

The Red Cross is always involved, though many prefer to give more directly due to negative articles about them recently.

Oxfam is another large charity doing Irma and Jose relief.

About the damage to the US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands:

The US Virgin Islands are a territory next to Puerto Rico at the top of the Caribbean Island chain. Most people in the US don’t know a lot about them. Most of the weather coverage hasn’t really pinpointed them because many of the folk working for US news agencies regard the VI as a curiosity.

Here is where they are:

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The USVI was purchased almost 100 years ago exactly by the US. The BVI is a British territory. They’re just across from the USVI.

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The islands contain some of the world’s most beautiful beaches like this:

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And this:

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Hurricane Irma is the strongest hurricane on record in the Atlantic, with winds sustained of 185 miles per hour.

The eye of this passed right over Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands.

Both the US and British Virgin Islands have been devastated on a level that is hard to both convey and imagine.

Here are some of the tweets I’ve posted over the last couple days of some of the information that has come out.

This is Carrot Bay in Tortola

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And the latest picture:

https://twitter.com/CallRoc_K/status/905498103511482368

More images sent out during the eye of the storm:

Video from Tortola:

Here is damage to Jost Van Dyke:

This is a video from Caribbean Buzz Helicopers that shows more damage in Tortola:

And then this video of The Bitter End Yacht Club area of Virgin Gorda was stunning:

The Virgin Islands aren’t the only ones hit. In Barbuda, a small island off Antigua, destruction was near total:

These islands are all often visited by folk on vacation, who enjoy their natural and curated beauty. Please consider giving back if you’ve ever visited.

05 Sep

Product Recommendation: Hot and Cold Icepack Wrist Braces

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I’ve been hitting the word mines pretty seriously of late, and my wrists have been less than thrilled. I started to think that maybe there was a better solution than just holding an ice pack to my wrist, maybe there was something I could strap on.

Sure enough, I found this on Amazon:

Wrist Support Brace with Gel Ice Pack for Hot and Cold Therapy | Adjustable Wrap, Multi-Purpose, Microwaveable and Reusable (if you click and buy I get a small commission, fyi).

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The cooling reduces inflammation after a hard day of typing. The thing that usually gets my wrist is more editing. The use of mouse and keyboard together sometimes flares the wrists up, so I just get out ahead of it by icing to reduce any inflammation.

Weight lifting does more to stop any wrist issues, but I had to ease back due to a messed up shoulder, which then meant the wrists got a bit bothersome. The ice packs after each day of writing while I watch TV did the trick nicely.

I haven’t tried the microwaving heat yet, as that is the trick for getting blood and healing to a stressed area, but the fact that it can do double duty is useful.

04 Sep

Labor Day Cleanup

Today was mostly a day of cleaning up some stuff around my office. Since I put the standing desk in the back has been a mess of cables.

I purchased a cable run tray for under a desk off Amazon and screwed it in today, then started work last in the morning on organizing my million or so odd USB cables and power cables.

The goal was to get them off the floor. I really like the basement office and what I’ve done with it:

But the cables dragging off the back of the desk have been annoying because the concept behind my basement office is that everything is off the floor.

I did that because for one, I just hate anything being on the floor. It leads to chaos and mess for me. Secondly, the basement was flooded once by a half inch of water when Bluffton had one its 100 year floods. Having gone through that, or in the event that a water heater floods the basement (that happened once as well), I wanted my office to be able to be rapidly cleanable.

To that end, I’m slowly putting everything in my office on wheels. The large Ikea divider shelves that split the office from the rest of the basement are on wheels. One of my seven bookshelves are on wheels, I need to put the rest on wheels this month or so. It’ll make it easier to dust for cobwebs and dust, as well as keep walls clean or sweep under them.

So, my desk is easy enough to scoot without wheels if I need to, but the wires all dangling off the back were gathering dust and dirt and looked ugly.

So after an hour or so of puttering around all the cables are nicely wrapped with velcro tie cords and slipped into the cable run, and all the power cords and power outlets are in the tray as well. Only one cable from the outlet runs to a cord, and now it’s easy to sweep around the back of the desk. It’ll also be easy to unplug one cord and pull the desk away from the wall if I need to do anything.

Tidied cables. For some reason I have the biggest sense of accomplishment about that.

Hope all your three day weekends are as exciting.

04 Aug

My Whirlwind July: NASFIC 2017, Puerto Rico Vacation, and then teaching at Shared Worlds

Sometimes life moves so fast you look up and a whole month has passed. Sometimes you look up and then you realize two whole months has gone by and you haven’t posted a single blog post. And then your mother is like ‘is your website dead?’ and you realize you have neglected the site.

I’m still alive!

In the last couple of weeks of June I tried to clean on the other side of the basement across from my office with intent to turn it into a gym when I got back from my July travels. I even rented a dumpster for this purpose. I got everything cleared out and most of it cleaned, but in the process of moving an old entertainment cabinet up the stair I twisted, turned, and blew my back out. I couldn’t get off the floor for a day, it was horrific.

When I told my doctor I was going to be driving eight hours to see my family in Virginia, then fly five hours with my wife to Puerto Rico, he all but laughed and said “do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

I did not.

But on July 1st drive out we did. Every couple hours I stopped to re-apply Icy-Hot to my back. I slept a lot at my parents, but in my defense, I was in a lot of pain.

Surprise ER VISIT!

The night before we flew out to Puerto Rico where I was to be the Guest of Honor at NASFIC 2017 (I mean, woah, right?), I was in a hotel near the airport trying to finish up edits to a story that was commissioned from me at the last minute. Halfway through the edits I was struck by a pain so intense I ended up curled up next to Emily almost unable to speak. It wasn’t lower back pain, but a kidney stone.

We went to the ER late in the night, with the flight scheduled for early in the next morning. I got fluids and painkillers, and thankfully, passed the stone while I was there and we got back to our hotel room with hours to spare before our flight!

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Exhausted, now with all sorts of interesting new residual pain, I flew down to Puerto Rico early the next morning. When we got to our hotel I did my best impression of a body pillow and spent my time watching TV.

Because… fuuuuuuuck.

I got to see Arecibo!

Early that Thursday I got up because I had tickets for a tour of the Arecibo space telescope set up by (if I can recall something that happened a month ago properly) Leane Verhulst. I’d really wanted to see this when I was in Puerto Rico with my family many years ago, but I was out-nerd-voted. Again, my back protesting much, I sat in a bus seat for the one and hour drive. Then walked up a ton of steps. Thrown out back wasn’t too happy about that, either.

It was worth it.

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As I said on twitter, this motherfucker is huge! I mean, you know it’s big from pictures and videos, and from seeing it in Golden Eye when Sean Bean is (yet again) killed.

But in person, scale can be appreciated.

What’s even wilder is that the telescope is not a giant concrete bowl. It looks like that. In the movie it even sort of acts like that. But it’s really a mesh suspended by wires over a giant sinkhole. In fact, workers who maintain it have to wear these giant snowshoe-looking shoes to not fall through it.

Underneath the mesh is foliage, and there’s this big gap between the very bottom and the ground.

I got lucky enough to be on a VIP tour and snag a photo of the underside:

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And here’s a video I took of that:

NASFIC 2017!

After some time to rest up, NASFIC 2017 formally began for me with a panel ‘Working toward Social Equity in Speculative Fiction’ which I moderated and shared with Diana Pho.

Opening ceremonies featured me walking in behind an honor guard of Puerto Rico’s own Starfleet crew with other guests of honor. Science GoH Guy Consolmagno joined my selfie here:

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It was really wild to be the Guest of Honor at a NASFIC. I never expected such a thing to happen. I was quite honored to both be in the Caribbean and at a major science fiction convention and to be the guest. I spent my high school years just ninety or so miles away to the east in the Virgin Islands. So to have known when I first started dreaming of being an SF/F author, that I would be honored by SF readers by being a guest of honor at a NASFIC just miles away from where I spent part of my childhood, that’s cool.

Here’s a Guest of Honor exhibit that Bruce Farr put together at NASFIC. He was very patient and quick to assemble this, as I had been struggling to finish a last-minute commission and deal with a thrown out back that left me on the floor when requests for material came in:

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On Friday I gave a reading which was a sneak peek of some stuff that would be coming out next year. Shaun Duke interviewed me for the convention, and also taped (we still use that word, which lives on after it’s literal meaning) it for his podcast, so hopefully I can link that sometime. I also gave a presentation on English language Caribbean Science Fiction that I hope gave the audience some new titles to read and avenues to explore.

Then, in one of the more unexpected, ‘this is really happening’ moments, went to a presentation where I was given a trading card of myself. Yes, I’m now a science fiction trading card:

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An early panel about the realities of living in extreme climate started my Saturday off. At lunch, ‘The practicalities of crowdfunding’ was accidentally chopped off the panels booklet, so we only had one person show up, but my 2pm ‘Space Access via the Caribbean’ panel, a history of space-related stuff that had happened in the Caribbean, seemed a hit. The projector and my laptop refused to talk, so the AV team was able to quickly get me a spare laptop, I pulled up pictures of the stuff I was talking about as we went along, and I used my iPhone as a hotspot to get us online.

I covered the HARP project which I wrote about for Tor/Forge’s blog here, talked a little about Beal Aerospace’s plan to launch rockets from Sombrero Island and headquarter out of the USVI for a little while in the late 1990s, back when my interest in private space launches was way out of the mainstream. I also talked about the Tektite 1 habitat in St. John, where underwater haps were built to let astronauts practice space missions.

Another panel about the singularity, and then to the last day of NASFIC where I was able to steal some time with Javier Grillo-Marxuach over coffee. I’ve been a fan of him since The Middleman, a before it’s time ABC Family show with all manner of inside geek references.

Then we held closing ceremonies by the pool, and it was all done. So thanks to con chair Pablo Vasquez (who also took us out to a Thursday night street party) and my liaison Debi Chowdry and all the other organizers and volunteers down in Puerto Rico.

EXPLORING PUERTO RICO

After NASFIC, I tacked on some extra time to re-explore Puerto Rico as an adult, as the last time I’d come through I’d either been with a class in high school or with my parents.

First things first, Emily and I passed through Old San Juan on our way to see El Morro, the great fort guarding the bay. Old San Juan has been around since the early 1500s, so the architecture is amazing. But even more amazing was that in Old San Juan, in a baker, I solved a puzzle that had been bedeviling me since I first moved to the USA.

See, in St. Thomas when I lived there, I enjoyed bread pudding that I purchased at local bakeries. It was usually cut into a cube, it was solid (you could pick it up with your fingers and none of it broke off) and almost cake-like. It was unbelievably dense. It was very tasty.

When I came to the USA and got bread pudding, it was like bread, with sweet stuff poured over it. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t USVI bread pudding.

But in Puerto Rico, I spotted BREAD PUDDING in the window of a bakery. It looked right. It looked like this:

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It’s called Budín in Puerto Rico.

I’m not sure if they gave it us or we to them, but I ate a piece almost every day I was in Puerto Rico from then on. I almost wept tears of joy, because it was the solution to a gastronomical puzzle I’d not solved in over 20 years. The consistency comes from soaking the stale bread in evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk.

And there are lots of recipes for the stuff on Puerto Rico sites, so when I get home sick and can afford the carbs, we’ll be able to recreate it.

On that note, I could have left Puerto Rico a happy man, but there was more excitement yet to be had.

We spent a day exploring El Morro:

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Which was great, because it had been a while since I’d been in a fort, and I had forgotten home much they dominate legends, landscape, and economics of an area, and it played in to some gaps I had for some worldbuilding I was doing. I’d wanted to use some of the symbology and setting of a castle, but re-experiencing El Morro helped shoot my thoughts down some new paths.

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We changed our hotels to a hotel closer to Rio Grande, near the foothills of El Yunque. I spent some time in a hammock nestled in between some rocks and near the ocean.

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We also went horseback riding on the beach, which was wild. It was my first time on a horse, I experience walking, trotting, and cantering. Cantering felt like a gallop!

Again, with the thrown out back, this was a reach, but it was fun nonetheless.

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I then worked on editing a short story:

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We also took the time out to rent a Jeep and go explore El Yunque, the rain forest. It was as beautiful as I remember from high school.

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The visitor center for the parks is architecturally amazing, built up so that it’s above the canopy:

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Lots of waterfalls and hiking:

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We finished our exploration of El Yunque with dinner at Luquillo Beach, where 60 or so kiosks run along the beach with all different kinds of food.

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I packed on a few pounds eating lots and lots of good food and lots of budín. We flew back to my parents in Virginia, exhausted. I was also pretty stressed, because at the airport in Puerto Rico a TSA agent accidentally dropped my laptop onto the tile floor, shattering the screen and warping the chassis. I spent the first day at home of a few days with my parents filling out claim reports for the TSA claim.

Because I had a non-working laptop I spent a day at the Apple Store buying a new one, which hadn’t been planned (but neither had an expensive ER visit, so there we go) because I had work to do.

After a few days with my parents, we drove home. I had three days to do laundry and find out that an electrical storm had knocked out the cable modem, our stove, and my monitor. Welcome home.

Then it was back on the road, to Dayton, to fly out to South Carolina where I taught at the Shared Worlds Writing Camp for the next week.

The campers were creative and amazing, as always, I was honored that I was invited back. This was the 7th time in 10 years I’ve been an instructor there. I did, as a result of all the travel right up to the camp, have a bit of a fight with exhaustion and dehydration through the whole week. That had a big impact on my energy levels.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed a little bit of social time with the other writers there this year. That included long time friends Gwenda Bond and Ekaterina Sedia. Kathe Koja was there, I’d met her briefly many moons ago at a Detroit event when I was a sprout of an author. Terra McVoy returned from last year and was fun to hang out with again, and I was super jazzed to get to meet Sofia Samatar for a longer set of chats as we’d only ever had a quick meeting a World Fantasy Con and it turns out that we share some social circles that overlap outside of science fiction.

I roomed with Will Hindmarch, the games designer and writer, as well as Jeremy Zerfoss, the talented artist behind the illustrations in one of my favorite books about writing, Wonderbook. I’ve known Jeff Vandermeer for so long, and it has always seemed like Jeremy was a great artistic collaborator of his. It was a total treat to spend time getting to know Jeremy.

And then, just as abruptly, as I was home and needed to finish a short story for my Patreon. I managed to get it posted just in time for the month, and as I did so I could feel I was coming down with a fever. A horrible fever. I could feel myself fighting it, that scratchy feeling on the back of the throat, since I flew out of South Carolina.

Once I had a new story posted I succumbed and spent most of this week in bed, sick, watching Netflix and catching up on a couple of movies on iTunes that I had wanted to see (neither of them, alas, adding insult to injury, were any good. I’m looking at you, Alien Covenant).

So that gets you current.

Hopefully I’ll start blogging again more regularly.

23 May

Not sure if crowdfunding is so much ‘resorting’ as pivoting

There’s a review of Xenowealth: A Collection floating around that’s nice to the stories, but starts off being saddened about the fact that many authors have to ‘resort’ to using crowdfunding, or Kickstarter, to get their work into print.

Of course I instinctively flinched that this was the framing around the review from the start. I felt it decentered the focus on the stories, the art around the book, or the quality of the book itself, and might have put off some readers by focusing on the nature of crowdfunding. But that was mostly my ego worrying about whether I was being perceived as ‘as good as’ and also I don’t think the reviewer meant to do that maliciously. I think they may have felt a collection of stories they enjoyed should have had more backing by the publishers they were used to buying from. The review said nice things about them, so I have to assume it’s my own ego getting a little defensive.

But once I let go of my ego I stopped to think about it, because this has been my most successful collection of short stories and I think that’s why I was a little defensive.

The collection’s backers and readers gave me $7,105 via that Kickstarter. It’s sold more via my website and Amazon, B&N Nook, and iTunes since then. A year later, it’s tailed off quite considerably. But I think I cleared a little over $7,000 in the first year. I still get a trickle of money off that collection each month. Usually I have charts and spreadsheets, but the last year was so busy, so deadline-filled, that I have barely been able to keep track.

In the general world of publishing no one was offering me over $7,000 for a short story collection. Generally short story collections (from what I hear) are getting advances more like $500 to $2,000. Larger amounts for super stars, or bundled in with exciting novels.

I’m not going over 100% to crowdfunding. I’m really enjoying writing a short short story a month for my Patreon, I may do Kickstarters again. But, I am trying to make a living as a writer, so that means I go where I can demonstrably prove the money flows to me.

If someone wants to pay me more than $7,000 for my next short story collection (with almost 70 in print short stories, I’d love to see a Best of Tobias S. Buckell some day), my agent’s name is Barry Goldblatt of the Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency.

Until then, it’s not something I resort to, it’s something I pivot to because I make way more money this way and I have two kids to feed.

I know it’s dirty to talk about pivoting towards money. It’s not the only consideration. I wouldn’t be a writer if it was only about the money. I’d be a financial type, doing something with stocks. I knew becoming an artist meant money would be in short supply, that I was doing it for the art. I didn’t get into this for the money, or fame, but because I loved writing stories and reading so much that I could hardly imagine any other way to be.

But that being said, I live in a world where the mortgage is due, food comes when I pay for it, and I’m a father. Money is important. When I can do the same art, experience the same love for it, and get more money for the same art, you have my attention.

19 May

I traveled to Bermuda to launch ‘The Stories We Tell: The Bermuda Anthology of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Back in late September of 2014 I was the Writer in Residence for the island of Bermuda, where I taught a 3 week long science fiction and fantasy workshop for island writers. Dr. Kim Dismont-Robinson, Folklife Office from the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs invited me to head this up, and it was one of those amazing life moments. I got to bring together both my Caribbean roots and experience and my genre writing credentials all together. It was like ‘this is the moment I’ve been waiting for!’

Out of that project came a follow-up discussion, would we be able to create an anthology of Bermuda speculative fiction out of the writers we had, plus an open call?

I thought we had enough talent and agreed to the project, and we’ve been working on it in the background throughout 2015 and 2016.

On Tuesday, I flew out to Bermuda to formally launch ‘The Stories We Tell’ for the island of Bermuda.

When I left, my little palm in my basement office had just died due to spider mites:

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So I enjoyed camping out next to the palms near my room at the Grotto Bay hotel in Bermuda:

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My room faced northish, so I got both sunrise and sunset from my balcony. I woke up each morning just drenched in sunlight. I live off sunlight, so it was welcomed. I was up each morning for a swim and wrote nearly a thousand words of fresh fiction each morning. The sunlight cleansed me off some weariness and post-winter blues I was still struggling to shake.

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Wednesday morning I met ‘The Captain,’ a local radio personality, and talked about the important of Bermuda voices in genre and about the book launch. He shared a quick island ghost tale from his childhood, which was perfect:

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Kim, who noted how much I loved Graham Foster‘s artwork, which we used a great deal of to illustrate the stories in the book, took me to Bermuda College library so I could visit the Brian Burland Centre (Burland was a Bermudan writer who became rediscovered by the island in the 2000s, just before he passed) and see the mural he did for that.

I also spent a lot of time looking over Burland’s poster board outline for one of his books, which was amazingly cool from a process standpoint, I might write a whole other post about that.

On Thursday we had the actual launch, but before that I visited Prospero’s Cave, an underground cave right near my hotel room. Just a few hundred feet away.

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Sketchy looking entrance. Then you squeeze through these rocks:

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And bam, you are here:

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and from above a bit:

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I’d explored it the day before, but I came back on Thursday to swim it. The water was brisk, Bermuda is at the same longitude as North Carolina and out in the middle of the Atlantic. The water is still cold out there right now. But I got this snap of me jumping in and swimming right back out:

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The book launch, Thursday night, was great. It was held in the National Gallery, with the Hon. Nandi Outerbridge JP, MP, Minister of Social Development giving opening remarks, and then I gave a few notes about how the anthology came to be and how honored I was to be a part of bringing these voices together. Here we are before opening doors, getting sound and video set up:

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Many of the writers were there, and for many it was their first published story. Reading here is Nikki Bowers. Her story opens the anthology:

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and here is Damien Wilson, who also has a story in Karen Lord’s anthology of Caribbean SF ‘New Worlds, Old Ways.’

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The anthology is ‘The Stories We Tell’ and here is the cover:

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And here is the table of contents:

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The launch was successful. I got to have a last dinner with the director of the department: Heather, Kim (Folklife director) and her husband Jay (we bonded of Seagulls, small outboard engines, air cooled), Veney who runs many things behind the scenes and worked hard to make sure I got to my hotel room and settled in well and got where I needed to go, and the Minister. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone after great conversation.

So the question everyone on twitter has asked is ‘how do I get a copy?’

Good question!

Right now the book is for sale at bookstores (and in the libraries) in Bermuda, so if you’re passing through look for it. There are some conversations about how to make it available elsewhere, so I’ll pass that on when I can. Distribution throughout and around the Caribbean is complicated with books, it’s something being worked on.

So now I’m packed up. I’ve had one last swim in the ocean (it’s still very cold here, out in the middle of the Atlantic, but I wanted the salt water in my hair), and I’m waiting for a taxi to take me back to the airport and back home.

I return curiously refreshed, excited about these stories, excited about telling more of my own, having gotten more writing done here sitting on my balcony looking at the ocean and enjoying soaking up sun like the little lizards that were scampering about underfoot.

I also return with an amazing gift from the people who worked so hard to put all this together, a Graham Foster painting of my own:

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Now to navigate that through airports and customs back to Ohio!