Ash Valley Church

If you ask me, this looks like a still from an atmospheric horror movie. No, it’s a real thing, which I found on a winding back road one afternoon a few years ago and photographed. It has since become the inspiration for, well, an atmospheric horror tale of my own.

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Kindle: Fired!

I’ve posted previously about my quest to use the Kindle Fire as a creative device, the furtive and devious motive behind my actions being the hope to make an affordable device do what a laptop or even an iPad couldn’t: fit in a picket, but provide the usefulness – and usability – to do real work.

My woeful struggles with the device included the lack of Bluetooth, slow performance and a bad input keyboard. These led me on a fantastic quest down to my local Staples, where I fell immediately in love with the new Asus Nexus 7 by Google, upon which I listed that poor ol’ Kindle on eBay, sold it, and jumped on the Google bandwagon.

I’m very glad I decided to do this. The Nexus tablet provides everything that was missing from the Kindle: an excellent keyboard (which, interestingly, watches and learns from the user, even going to such lengths of cheekiness as to predict the next word that I might be thinking of. In the preceding sentence, I used the predicted word which appeared unobtrusively above my keyboard thrice… the robot revolution has begun!) Shortly after making the switch, Amazon announced their new series of Kindle Fires, the HD branding to go with new innards and a prettier interface. It’s a great product, but retains the original Fire’s media-consumption image, built as it is for sucking in stuff rather than spitting it out creatively from one’s brilliant cerebral cortex. The addition of suggested media additions and ads on the home screen underlines the tablet’s intent. I’ve got a bone to pick with these changes, as they make true concentration – already hard enough for many of us – next to impossible. When I create, I don’t want a constant stream of new information. I want hushed reverence while I spit the aforementioned… etc.

The Nexus 7 (more to come on this beauty) is a fully customizable experience. Should you choose, you can show nothing at all on the home screen. Or, nothing but a great big Evernote shortcut or widget. Something to take you right in to the creation page, your blank slate. This is important for writers, just as is the well designed workstation, devoid of extraneous stuff to get in the way of creativity.

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Summertime Axiom

We crave summertime under any and all auspice
And judge within a grain or two the way
Water weighs against sunshine when both fall on us.
Yet, for all our auguring you and I
Cannot change the color of a single hair
On our fraught, full, fretful heads.

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A poem in a coffee shop

Imagine the alarming, unsentient legion
Of poems penned in coffee houses,
Should they array themselves
To assault some unlucky subconscious at once!

Dare I add one to their #?
Attempt to frankenstine some words
Into a form, say “it lives!”, given
It could be myself they hunt?

I tell you, it is madness, but I am mad
And the worst that a coffee shop poem
Could savage my tender mind
Seems preferable to the flaying it receives

At the hand of the daily grind,
That troll, that wretch, minotaurish
Pursuer of men through labyrinths
Of their own making and undoing.

It lives! Though I live
For a mere moment today
— future generations forgive me
I participated in the desperate penning

Of our own undoing. Only let the songs
Say I defeated the prowler of labyrinths
On my lunch hour, before I realized
That Pandora would be back for me.

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What Just Surfaced?

Microsoft’s Surface tablet is rather exciting. Or at least, it ought to be. There are far too many pundits out there who have become so jaded by the collective gadget-lust of the nation/world, they can’t see the individual trees for the forest – let alone observe, up close, how marvelous are the fine little details of some of those trees.

The Surface tablet seems created around the idea of, well, better user input than any other tablet. Possibly a direct result of Microsoft’s longtime focus on productivity (think, I don’t know, Office maybe?). At any rate, in addition to being one of the nicest tablet designs I’ve ever seen, it has two awesome (providing they work) keyboard options integrated right into the product as first-party covers. Keyboards which are covers. And are also super thin. I like that. A lot.

The truth is, touchscreen productivity is almost a myth at this point, especially for writers. Touchscreens are just too darned finicky. But having an incredibly thin keyboard, either touch-sensitive or fully articulated and “clicky”, now that’s thinking.

I’m not fully sold yet; the thing has to come out and actually work. But if it lives up to its promises, here’s someone who would be happy to call one a tax write-off, providing I actually earn some income from the product of my pen, er, touchscreen (drat you touchscreen).

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Save the oh-noes: he’s having another episode, and that’s a good thing!

Episodic content is good. It grabs people across a much wider demographic than other forms of storytelling generally do – a lot of people don’t have the time to read an 800-page epic. But you still want them to consume your content on a grand scale. You don’t want them to read a single piece of flash fiction and move on to someone else, because, well, who remembers flashfic authors?

So create in episodic format. TV shows stick with people, make them into large-scale consumers of an opus in a way that they can fit into their lives. I would even argue that timed episodic fiction stretches the content into a thing that soaks much deeper, gets at the fore of folks. I experienced that myself with Lost, the only TV show that I’ve spent seasons caring about (please don’t ask me about it now, however. I said don’t). More forms of media have followed suit. Video games in smaller-sized chunks are a big thing now. Alan Wake structured its first, full length game into a collection of six quasi-episodes, like a TV series. The form allowed them to release two additional episodes that continued the story in a completely organic way. Their second game is a single, content-heavy episode over Xbox Live Arcade, also a successful work. Episodic content is a natural for many, many people thanks to television.

In print fiction it’s a less desirable objective due mainly, I’m going to go out on a limb and opine, because of the relatively intensive process of distribution. Magazines are the sole regular print format for episodic storytelling simply because they’re already set up for frequent distribution. So what’s the point? Electronic books, that’s what’s the point.

E-readers allow access to creative works with none of the distribution issues of print. The key takeaway is that some of the necessary evils of print fiction, such as investing in a huge undertaking to finish a novel before it sees the light of day, and the resultant level of dedication it takes for the reader to consume the whole novel to get at its third act and (hopefully) payoff, are effectively overcome by e-distribution on e-readers. If writers are smart, therefore, they (or we) should be taking advantage of this by offering fiction in happily bite-sized chunks, building loyalty over time and making people happier, faster, by accelerating the payoff(s) in more manageable chunks. This also allows writers to capture interest in a work earlier on, and hopefully have a greater incentive to carry it on to a long-term conclusion. Win-badda-boom-win.

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Down with the generic workstation!

Just a quick thought: sites like Lifehacker make much of individualized workstations, which I think is awesome. Beyond just making a customized space around your computer that allows you to do your thing with less effort and more payoff, the big deal about a special little place is that it enhances creativity. To put it another way, the creativity that you invest in the personal space helps you feel better about your abilities when you plop yourself down to do something cool. Creativity, for me at least, often has to work against a feeling of insecurity or probability of failure, and to surround oneself with a space that already says “you” makes it easier to say “no” to that feeling.

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Amazon is rem-EMBER-ing their tablet!

Special credit if you noticed the terrible pun in the title right away. The Kindle Fire got a new update a few days ago, which they’re inexplicably calling v. 6.3. Whatever happened to calling your initial product version 1.0 and incrementally counting up, with an addition to the number after the decimal point indicating a minor tweak, and an addition to the number before the decimal to indicate a whole new version of the product? I understood things back then.

Anyway, Amazon has added some nice new detail-fanatic features, as they should. I mean, we’re their users, right? We need to be kept happy. I like being able to share quotes straight out of a Kindle book on social networks. Probably the (a) most significant update for me, and (b) least significant for most other people would be the subtle improvements to the keyboard. It’s generally faster and less prone to hanging up for no apparent reason, and Amazon took away the dedicated comma key, instead opting for a long press on the period key. They did this basically to offer the spacebar more room, which it urgently needed and which I complained about before. So, a toast to the good people at Amazon, who are at least trying.

They haven’t addressed the terrible autocorrect feature yet, but here’s hoping. Cheers.

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[Insert synonym for intense desire]

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I didn’t know there was actually someone out there who knew that writers need amazing desks that broadcast how cool it is to be a writer. I mean, I knew this, but I’m a wannabe writer, not a furniture designer. Still, someone has done it, capturing the cosmopolitan adventure-spirit, steampunky utilitarianism and semi-obsessive neatness that screams writer, and instantly wormed its way into my heart.

Isn’t it glorious? A handwrought aluminum carapice for traipsing across the globe (no doubt identical to the patchwork biplane I’ll be riding across the Atlantic in an epic thunderstorm). All those small drawers for corresponance (you know, smuggled letters out of countries that don’t allow access to the world wide web). Solid hardwood, cut from the bowels of who-knows-what dark forest populated by human-flesh-eating pygmy tribes.

You consider me sold… if I had an extra $6000 just lying around. Sigh. I’ll take a sponsor any time.

Oh, the irony…

In my corner of the Pacific Northwest, the power has been out for two days. My last couple of evenings have been spent reading Neuromancer (a classic, foundational work of the cyberpunk genre) by the light of an oil lamp (a method of lighting that dates to at least the beginning of the nineteenth century). I’m not sure any of this qualifies as anachronism, since Neuromancer is a work of fiction, not reality, but the irony still screams. Oh, and I want to play a video game. That is all.

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