Permission to Write Anything

I have started a new story that isn’t really science fiction It isn’t really fantasy. Isn’t really horror. Yet, for me, the story still falls into the category of popular fiction. I am not trying to be coy with genre here. But it feels like a mainstream popular fiction story that doesn’t fit neatly into the boundaries of any particular genre.

This has been a trend with my stories, lately. “Meat and Greet,” which was published in the January 2015 issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show was more-or-less mainstream story (although one reviewer referred to it as literary). A year earlier, my story, “Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon” (IGMS, January 2014) was an alternate history, but was essentially mainstream fiction about baseball in the 1940s, and the Apollo program of the 1960s. And earlier this spring, my story “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown” was my attempt at writing a long-form Sports Illustrated-style profile. The only difference from real Sports Illustrated profiles is that my piece is fictionalized.

For a long time I have resisted writing these more mainstream stories I think there are several reasons for this:

1. I grew up reading and loving science fiction, and it seemed natural to write science fiction when I began to write.

2. When I began to sell stories, science fiction is what I sold. That is the world in which my writer-friends live, and I wanted to be part of that world.

3. I was afraid to write more mainstream stories because I didn’t know where to send them once they were finished.

4. I felt like I didn’t really have permission to write stories outside my adopted genre. After all, I’ve been writing science stories all this time, who am I to write anything else?

The first two reasons are forgivable, I think, and I suspect many genre writers have done the same. The third reason is easily overcome by some simple research.

It is the fourth reason that has troubled me, the feeling that I need some sort of permission to write outside the genre. Why I should feel this way I can’t begin to say. Permission from whom? I suspect the answer is permission from myself. As a science fiction writer, I have become used to being pigeonholed to a set number of markets. This has nudged me into writing stories that would fit those markets if the stories were good enough for publication to begin with.

But as I said, I have recently started a new story which, while falling entirely into the realm of popular fiction, doesn’t really mesh with the genre boundaries we have today. So whether it was a necessary thing or not, I have finally given myself permission to write these stories. They may be harder to place, but I have to write them. Other writers will understand this, I think. And yet, I am left with a feeling of disloyalty to the genres I grew up with, a feeling that I am abandoning them after all they have done for me.

A guilty conscience, perhaps.

Sometime in the last year, I decided I wanted to be more than a science fiction writer. I wanted to strip away the adjective and be a writer. I have written nonfiction within and without the genre, why not fiction? This is what I am doing now, but the guilt still lingers.

This is not to say that I am giving up on writing science fiction (or fantasy). Instead, I am writing stories. If they turn out to be suitable for one genre or another, great! If not, that’s okay, too. I suspect many of these stories will fall from the nest soon after hatching, but I am hopeful that with practice and time, a few will find their wings, and fly to places far beyond those in which my stories have appeared so far.

Schedule for the Rebooted Going Paperless Series

I have a tentative schedule for the rebooted Going Paperless series. Like the original series, I plan to do a weekly post. The regularly scheduled series will begin on Tuesday, December 29. Every Tuesday thereafter, a new Going Paperless post should appear. So far, I have the first half dozen posts planned out, which would take us through early February. I’m sure I’ll come up with more as time goes on. Of course, I am also open to suggestions.

The first regular post on December 29 will be a simple tips for folks who want to get started going paperless in 2016. So if you are interested in getting started, look for that post at the end of the year.

There may be weeks that I have to skip due to other deadlines, but I am trying to minimize those by writing as many of the posts I can well ahead of time. This is different from my approach in the original series, when I was essentially writing the posts in real-time.

In addition to being available here, the new Going Paperless posts will also be available on Medium, for folks who prefer to read things over there. And of course I will announce each new post on Twitter, and other social media.

Going Paperless 2.0: My Mobile Paperless Office, November 2015 Edition

Back in December 2012, I wrote a Going Paperless post that described my mobile, paperless office. A lot can change in three years, especially when it comes to technology. I wanted to use this inaugural post of the rebooted Going Paperless series to describe my mobile paperless office today. Here it what my mobile paperless office looks like:

My mobile paperless office, November 2015
Click to enlarge

Starting in the center and working around clockwise, here is a description of what makes up my mobile paperless office:

1. My MacBook Air

I got my MacBook Air about 15 months ago, and it pretty much goes with me wherever I go. For a while I was using a Google Chromebook, and that worked surprising well, but there were some tools I wanted with me that I couldn’t use on a Chromebook. (Mostly developer tools like Mathematica, for instance).

I write on my MacBook, of course. And I have Evernote and Skitch available there so I can quickly refer to anything in my Evernote inventory. But I do other things on my MacBook. I write code, I edit photos, and occasionally, I even play games.

I like the MacBook Air because of its long battery life, and relatively low weight and profile. It is easy to lug around in my backpack.

2. Moleskine Notebook, Evernote Edition

Perhaps one of the biggest changes in my mobile office in the last 3 years is the addition of paper. I have been using an Evernote Moleskine notebook for about 5 months now, and I find it incredibly helpful.

It might seem counterintuitive to add paper to a paperless system. But I call my process going paperless because it is an ongoing and evolving process. Two steps forward, one step back. Except, I don’t think of the addition of my Moleskine notebook as a step backward. I switched to it for one primary reason: I found that when taking notes, I remember things much better if I write it out as opposed to typing it out. Perhaps this is a change that has come with age. My memory just isn’t what it used to be.

It has had a few positive side-effects, one of which is that I tend to capture more in real time than I did when I tried to keep notes directly in Evernote on my iPad or iPhone.

And of course, all of these notes find their way into Evernote. I use the Scannable App to take snapshots of the pages, which then get loaded into Evernote. What’s more, my handwriting is clear enough that the text in most of handwritten notes is searchable within Evernote, making it easy to find things that I have written down.

3. Pilot G2 Pens (0.7 mm, Black Ink)

I’ve found this particular pen to be the best one to use with my Moleskine notebook. Everyone has their own favorite in this respect, and like organizing notes in Evernote, you have to do what works best for you. In my case, after trying out a few different types of pens, I settled on these as the best.

I’ve used up nearly two pens in the 5 months that I have been using my Moleskine notebook, and so I’ve taken to keeping spare pens in my backpack, in case one should go dry in the middle of what I am writing.

4. Karma Go WiFi Hotspot

Over the years, it has been rare when I have not had access to the Internet from wherever I may be. Sometime I have to pay for it, and when I saw what Karma was doing with their new WiFi hotspot device, the Karma Go, I jumped on the chance to get one. I have been very happy with my device so far. It is a pay-as-you-go device, and you are credited with data when other Karma users connect to your device–so there is a kind of pay-it-forward mentality to using it.

It has already come in handy on several occasions, most notably when I was working from home one day and we had a rare day-long cable/internet outage. I fired up the Karma Go, and was able to continue to work, and at high-enough speeds that I really didn’t notice a difference.

The Karma device had come in handy also when I am out somewhere with my laptop and need WiFi. Sitting at the park, watching my kids play, I can fire up the Karma Go and have the access I need to get some writing or other work done.

Continue reading Going Paperless 2.0: My Mobile Paperless Office, November 2015 Edition

Going Paperless 2.0: The Reboot

Last week, I did a Twitter poll to see if folks would be interested if I rebooted my Going Paperless series into a kind of 2.0 version. I’d revisit some old ground for newcomers, but forge ahead into new territory, talking about how I’ve changed my processes along the way, and describing new use cases I’ve found for Evernote and Going Paperless. The result was overwhelmingly positive.

Since then, I have been working on a plan to make this happen. I am still working out a schedule, and a list of post ideas to work off of, but it occurred to me that one possible topic of interest for folks sooner rather than later might be on how my mobile paperless office has changed.

Three years ago, I wrote a Going Paperless post which described the contents of my messenger bag. Essentially, it described my mobile paperless office. Lots of things have changed in three years, including what makes up my mobile paperless office.

So, later today, at about noon Eastern Standard Time, the first new Going Paperless 2.0 post will make its debut, describing what my mobile paperless office looks like today.

As I said, I don’t have a set schedule for the series as a whole yet, but I am working on it. In the meantime, I wanted to make at least one new post as a kind of thank you to everyone who responded positively to last week’s survey.

Stay-tuned later today for the new post.

Three Things I’m Enjoying

I have been enjoying 3 things over the last few days, and each one takes a different form of media.

1. Re-reading The Waste Lands by Stephen King. I have been re-reading King’s Dark Tower books. The first time around I listening to them on audiobook. This time, I am reading the trade paper editions (and making lots of marginal notes along the way). It’s been a lot of fun.

2. Listening to Danse Macabre by Stephen King. I really enjoyed the book the first time around, and I’m enjoying it even more this time. I’m listening to the book while I am walking, or in the car, or doing chores, and it is a great way to make the time fly by.

3. Watching Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary. This is my second time around on this one as well, and I am enjoying every minute of this series.

What has been interesting is that one isn’t calling out any more than the other. I am doing each of these things when and where they feel natural. It relaxes me, and it provides some nice changes of pace along the way.

Poll Results: Folks Would Like More Going Paperless Posts

The results of yesterday’s Twitter poll came in this morning. It would appear that folks are overwhelmingly in favor of more Going Paperless posts, and that makes me happy. The poll also got more responses than I imagined, and that makes me happy as well.

Going Paperless Poll Results

Next Steps

I need some time to figure out the best way to do these posts. Part of the reason I stopped the initial series was because I felt like I was beginning to cover ground I’d covered before. Part of the reason was that I felt like I’d run out of use cases to write about. I’d like to have a fairly good list of topics to cover in order to get started. I’ve got 2 right now, but I’d like to get a few more. If you have ideas or suggestions for topics you’d like to see me cover, drop them in the comments.

Also, there is some ground that I will need to cover again for two reasons:

  1. The way I do things may have changes (been refined with practice, I like to think.)
  2. Newcomers to the series of posts might need a more clear introduction.

So I have some things to consider, among them:

  • What to write about
  • How frequently to write
  • How much updating of old territory is necessary

Once I figure these things out, I’ll set a schedule and announce the new series so that folks can follow along, and participate. One thing that made the old series great was good participation and suggestions from readers. Everyone works a little bit differently and how I do things may not be how you do things, but we can learn from each other’s ideas.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the poll yesterday. Stay tuned for more on when you can expect to see the new series kick off.

Over on Twitter, A Poll About a (Possible) New 2.0 Version of My Going Paperless Series

Earlier today, I took advantage of Twitter’s new poll functionality to ask if folks would be interested in a new 2.0 version of my Going Paperless series. There’s about 15 hours left in the poll if you are interested in getting in your response.

3 Days Without My FitBit

Three days ago, the band for my FitBit Flex broke, and I didn’t happen to have a backup handy, as I have in the past. This means that for the first time since around March 2012, I missed three consecutive days of collecting step data. The good news is that a replacement band (my 5th) is schedule to be delivered today.

Broken FitBit

The bad news is… well, there really is no bad news. It is not like I lost any steps. They simply were not counted. I can’t speak for others, but after a while, it seems like if you forget your FitBit (something that’s hard to do with a Flex since you wear it on your wrist) there is a panic because you will “lose the steps” for the duration. But that is nonsense. I still walk. I still take steps. The FitBit device is not the reality. It is only a mirror of reality. I can look into a mirror and see my reflection, but I don’t need the mirror to know I am there. The same is true with my FitBit.

I like data, and I am fascinated by looking at the data and digging out the ore, but I also understand that just because I didn’t collect the data doesn’t mean the thing didn’t happen. I think that is one trap of the quantified self movement–that we begin to substitute the numbers for the reality. If the numbers don’t exist, the reality never happened. And that, of course, is silly.

So I’ve gone these three days without my Flex, but I am okay with it. My left wrist feels strangely naked without the wristband, but that’s about it. I’ll have a gap in my data, but even that is okay. I have enough data (over three-and-half years’ worth) that missing a few days will not upset the overall numbers.

Still, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t eagerly awaiting the delivery truck today.

I Forgot to Go to My Classes!

For the first time in more than 15 years, I had a dream last night in which I had gone back to school–the University of California, Riverside, where I got my undergraduate degree–and I forgot to go to my classes.

I was wandering around a campus that was very different than the one I remembered. But recall walking into the library. There polished marble floors. Tall pillars holding up domed and arched ceilings. It was quiet and virtually empty–nothing like how I remember the Tomás Rivera library at UC Riverside. I knew the books were “downstairs” but I couldn’t find my way down. I ended up going outside, and getting lost. But as I walked the campus, I remember this serene feeling that I was doing the right thing, going back to school. I was at peace with it.

That peace did not last long.

I found my way to a group of people. Among them was Scott Edelman, who pointed out that the way to get back to the library was to follow the metro tracks across a small grassy area. At this point, I had two large suitcases with me, and had to race along the tracks a la the gang in Stephen King’s “The Body1” before the train knocked me off. I made it.

It was only while I was searching for the doors to the lower entrance of the library (no longer with suitcases–apparently, my imagination conjured them only to make that track crossing more exciting) that I realized that while I had been at the school for nearly a full quarter, I had only attended the very first day of classes.

I was sort of bewildered by this. Hadn’t I had dreams about forgetting to go to classes for years after graduating. And now, here I was back in school and I had actually forgotten to go to my classes.

I woke up at this point, relieved that it had all been a dream. But also troubled. I hadn’t had an anxiety dream of this particular sort in 15 years at least. I’ve had others, most commonly, one where I am getting current with my pilot’s license, and take off, only to realize that I have forgotten to contact air traffic control. But it has been a very, very long time since I had the dream about forgetting to go to class.

  1. Or, if you prefer, the movie version, Stand By Me.

A Walk in the Woods

For the last couple of Sundays, we’ve taken the kids for short hikes in the woods. Last Sunday we took them to Scott’s Run, along the Potomac. Yesterday, we went to a favorite place of ours, Burke Lake. Kelly and I have walked around the lake several times over the years. It’s a 4.5 mile walk. Yesterday, we all walked but at the 1.5 mile mark, the Little Miss and I turned around, while Kelly and the Little Man continued all the way around the lake. I took this shot from the northwest corner of the lake yesterday.

Burke Lake, November 2015

There is something about walking in the woods (“No, Daddy, it’s called the ‘Wilderness’,” the Little Miss insisted when we talked yesterday.) that is relaxing and invigorating. Yesterday, especially. We are in the heart of autumn and the woods surrounding the lake were carpeted in leaves, and the smell of the those leaves, and the rich oxygen of the woods managed to wake me up, after an unusually sluggish start to the day yesterday.

There are benches on the lake front here and there, and every time I walk around the lake, I think, It would be great to take a book and sit on the bench for an hour or two, reading, surrounding by lake sounds. But the lake is a little too far from the house to make that practical.

We enjoy our walks in the woods. And the kids did a great job yesterday. The Little Miss managed a total of 3 miles with her short little legs. The Little Man did 4.5 miles. But then again, they’ve always been walkers.

Re-reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series

A few days ago, I began re-reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I first read the series over a period of about 2 months in the summer of 2013. I have always enjoyed King’s books, but had not gotten around to the Dark Tower because I didn’t really know what it was, or if I would like it. By the time I finished the series, I found that I did like it, although I found it to be a little uneven in places. My favorite books in the series were (1) Wizard and Glass and (2) A Wind Through the Keyhole.

The first time around, I listened to the audiobooks. This time, I am reading the paper books. Not the e-books–the paperback editions of all 8 books. I am doing it slowly and carefully, and with a yellow #2 pencil in hand, doing lots of underlining and making marginal notes along the way.

It’s true, having been through the series once, I know the story and the outcome, but knowing that, and knowing how many tendrils the Dark Tower books send out into other stories by King, a more careful reading exposes more of the story that I realized the first time around. Indeed, the first time around, I found The Gunslinger (the first book in the series) to be a bit slow and difficult. This time, more than two-thirds through the book, I am finding it almost new, and revealing.

Of course, I am particularly looking forward to re-reading Wizard and Glass and A Wind Through the Keyhole, but for now, I am completely enjoying the immersion in the world that King has created in these books. I am roaming through them a second time, and knowledge of that first time through has not completely left me. It makes a careful reading that much more enjoyable.

If You Are Interested in Self-Publishing…

You might check out a well-done series of posts on self-publishing by Doug Farren. Doug was part of my Launch Pad Astronomy workshop class of 2013. He has had a good deal of success self-publishing, and while self-publishing is not my particular cup of tea1, I’ve found Doug’s posts on the subject both enjoyable and enlightening. If you have any interest whatsoever in self-publishing, go check out his posts on the subject.

  1. I am too lazy for the self-publishing world.