David G. Hartwell

David G. Hartwell had a profound influence on my life in science fiction three times.

The first time was in the fall of 1997. Up until that point in my life, I was not very widely read in the science fiction genre. I read deep within a very narrow band of authors. That changed over the course of a few days between September 19 – 23, 1997. I had a bad cold, and for reasons I can no longer recall, I picked up a copy of Hartwell’s Ages of Wonder at Dangerous Visions bookshop in Sherman Oaks, California, which was not far from where I lived back then. I stayed in bed with a box of Kleenex and Hartwell’s book. The effect that book had on me is best described by looking at what I read in the year leading up to it, and what I read in the month or so after finishing it.

Reading pre-Hartwell

And here are the books I read after finished Hartwell’s book about science fiction:

Reading after Hartwell

For the first time, I realized that science fiction a literary movement that went far beyond futuristic adventure stories. Since reading Ages of Wonder, my reading within (and without) the genre has been much more varied.

The second time took place more than a decade later. Kelly was pregnant with our first child, and I was nervous. I needed something to take my mind off the nervousness that I was feeling. Remembering what a revelation Ages of Wonder had been, I got a copy of Hartwell and Kramer’s The Hard S. F. Renaissance, and began reading. We traveled down to Florida that December, and I can remember sitting by the beach, unable to put down that massive book. I read, for the first time, such standout stories as “Beggars in Spain” by Nancy Kress, “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson, “Marrow” by Robert Reed, and many more. For the second time, Hartwell jarred my perception of science fiction, and what science fiction could do. By then, I had published a couple of stories, but it wasn’t until after reading that book, that I tried doing more with my own stories—and began selling to places like Analog.

The third time Hartwell influenced me was when I saw him on a panel or two at Readercon. He always came across as extremely knowledgeable, down-to-earth, and funny. He made it look easy, and that helped me when I started doing panels at conventions. I sat beside him on at least one panel at Capclave, years ago. I can no longer remember the subject of the panel, but sitting up there on the panel with him, I was distracted the entire time. I kept thinking, I’m sitting on a panel with David G. Hartwell!

All of this came to mind yesterday after receiving the sad news that David Hartwell had suffered a brain bleed, and was unlikely to recover. He has shaped modern science fiction and has influenced thousands of writers far more talented than I.

This morning my thoughts are with Kathryn Cramer, and David’s family and many, many friends.

7 Hollywood Memoirs

A while back I mentioned my reading for guilty pleasure. I enjoy Hollywood memoirs. I particularly enjoy audiobooks read by the author. I mentioned, back in December, that I was reading a Dick Van Dyke memoir, and that I hoped to get through few of these Hollywood memoirs while I was on vacation.

Since that post, I’ve finished seven Hollywood memoirs. They are:

  1. My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke
  2. Keep Moving, and Other Tips and Truths about Aging by Dick Van Dyke
  3. I Remember Me by Carl Reiner
  4. I Just Remembered by Carl Reiner
  5. This Time Together by Carol Burnett
  6. Even This I Get to Experience by Normal Lear
  7. My Happy Days in Hollywood by Garry Marshall

Something about each of these Hollywood personalities resonated with me. Experience has taught me that any memoir has to be taken with a grain of salt. Yet the personalities that come through in these seven books seem genuine. They display their good sides and bad. They are forthcoming with their successes and failures. And each and and ever one of the authors came across as down-to-earth. Perhaps that is because every one of the authors is at least an octogenarian. They are, as of this writing, all still alive, and all still active, and that can certainly have an effect on one’s perspective on life. Many of them are on Twitter. Carl Reiner and Norman Lear are virtually tied for being the oldest active celebrities on Twitter. After reading the memoirs I started following both of them, and it delightful to see them in my Twitter stream.

There is a natural evolution to the way I read the books. I started with Dick Van Dyke because he was the most familiar to me. Reading his memoir, made me want to read more about Carl Reiner, who wrote, directed, and produced the Dick Van Dyke show. Carol Burnett had ties to both of them. Norman Lear was mentioned numerous times in the volumes, and so I had to read his book—which was the longest of the bunch by far. And then, of course, there was Garry Marshall. I saw him once, entering a Marie Callendar’s in Toluca Lake near where I used to live. I was in the Marie Callendar’s at the time, and I thought it astonishing that someone of Marshall’s stature would eat in a place like that. Of course, I would have known better had his memoir been published 15 or 20 years ago.

One more thing resonated with me about all 5 of the people who wrote these 7 memoirs: they were all hard workers. Hollywood types are often portrayed as laid back, but not these five. Perhaps it is because of the time they came up in Hollywood, or perhaps it is because they are all multi-talented, but reading the memoirs made it clear that none of them sat back on their laurels. I am always impressed with people who can pack so much into their day.

It turned out that reading these memoirs was far more than a guilty pleasure for me. And I did not want it to end. So I’ve decided to keep it going, at least for a little while longer. I am now well into Tim Conway’s memoir What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life.

Going Paperless 2.0: Using Evernote to Track Library Book Due Dates

Some uses of Evernote are more humble than others. I was reminded of this over the weekend when Evernote reminded me that the Little Man’s library book was due on Tuesday.

I like keeping track of the books the kids check out from the library. I have my own list of books that I’ve read, but mine only goes back to my 20s, and I thought that one day, my kids might like to see the book they read when they were little. Here is how I keep track of them:

1. Snap a photo of the book into Evernote.

Sometimes I do this from within Evernote itself, other times, I just snap a photo from my phone camera and add it to the note in Evernote. It doesn’t have to be a high quality image.

Either way, I use the image to create a note in Evernote. I title the note with the title and author of the book.

2. Tag the note

One of the things for which I find tags particularly useful is associated a note with a family member. So I’ll tag the note with either my son’s name or my daughter’s name, depending on who checked out the book.

I also add a more general tag called “reading-list” so that I can easily call these notes out on a search. Here is what a typical note looks like:

Library book note

This was simple and straight-forward. If I wanted to find the list of books that they’d read, I could simply search for notes tagged with the name and “reading-list”, something like:

tag:reading-list tag:zach

Library book reminders

At some point, I realized that I could use Evernote’s reminder function to remind me to return the library books. On the notes in question, I’d set a reminder for a day or two before the books were due back at the library.

I use Sunrise Calendar because it takes calendars and reminders from many different sources and pulls them into a single calendar view. Sunrise Calendar can pull Evernote reminders onto the calendar, so that when I am looking at my calendar, I can see the reminders along with everything else. Between Evernote’s reminder, and seeing the reminder in Sunrise Calendar, I always know when to put the library books in my son’s or daughter’s backpack to take back to school.

Sunrise_Library_Reminder

When the kids come home with new books, the cycle starts over again.

The reminders have come in handy on a couple of occasions. And so has the list of books. The Little Man sometimes can’t remember which Magic Treehouse book he has or hasn’t read yet. We can pull up the list in Evernote the day before he goes to the library and review it so that he can pick out a new one.

And, of course, other books we read, besides library books, get added to the list as well, but the Evernote reminders are particularly handy for library book due dates.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post:Quickly Access Frequently-Used Information in Evernote.

Enjoy these posts? – Tell a friend

Recommending readers is one of the highest compliments you can pay to a writer. If you enjoy what you read here, or you find the posts useful, tell a friend! Find me online here:

Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Blog | PinterestReddit | MediumRSS

Or use one of the share buttons below. Thanks for reading!

I’m Taking the Day Off Today

I am taking today off. It was about 11 degrees out when I headed to the grocery store earlier this morning. So here is a photo of a contemplative Little Man from a few weeks ago in Florida, when it was about 80 degrees warmer than it is today.

Little Man

Back tomorrow with a brand new Going Paperless post.

Letters: An Obituary

I have been writing and receiving email for more than 22 years. When I got started with email, it was manageable. I could read every message I received, and respond to it on the same day. Today it is impossible to keep up. I used to try, and it stressed me out when I fell behind. I don’t bother anymore. I do the best I can and if things fall through the cracks, so be it.

Every now and then, writing and reading email makes me years for good old-fashioned letters. I can’t remember the first time I wrote a letter, but it is now probably close to ten years since I’ve written—or received1—one. I loved letter writing. My most frequent correspondent was my grandfather. His letters were always great, and together our letters formed a leisurely dialog that took place over a period of months or years. This is opposite the rushed, terse conversations that take place in email messages.

Letter from Grandpa

Email lacks voice, and attempts to inject voice in email are often met with disdain or confusion. In letters, one could find a voice of one’s own, and hear the voice of one’s correspondent when reading their letters.

My grandfather’s letters came in two forms: handwritten, and typewritten. The handwritten letters were illegible, and it took me hours to parse my way through them. Eventually, I got good at reading his letters, although it has been so long that I am a bit out of practice today. For some reason, his typewritten letters were written in ALL CAPS. He used the Royal Quiet Comfort DeLuxe manual typewriter that I own today to compose these letters. Though I never asked him, I suppose he used ALL CAPS because it was easier on his eyes.

Receiving a letter in the mail was a delight. Anticipation of a letter was also a delight. I don’t know about you, but I don’t wake up in the morning in anticipation of the email that I’ll find in my inbox.

It occurs to my that my kids are likely to grow up not knowing what it is like to compose a letter, or to receive a letter in the mail. Already, they skip the email step and, when they want me to check with Kelly on some point they are contesting, they say, “Daddy, just text mommy, okay?”

Today, the idea of sending a letter seems quaint. There was a time, a decade ago, when some friends of mine moved back to their home state of North Dakota. For a while, we carried on a correspondence through the mails, even though we could have done so much more easily through email. Moreover, we wrote our letters longhand. Perhaps half a dozen letters passed between us before the correspondence faded. Facebook had arrived by then, and we had another way to follow one another’s lives. Almost overnight letters became obsolete.

I miss letters, writing them and receiving them. But I feel lucky to have lived through the final phase of their existence as a tool for keeping friends and family abreast of the goings-on in one’s life.

Letters still exist, of course. They will never completely die off. Still, the only letters I get these days are from banks, all of which seem to be trying to convince me to refinance my mortgage at a historical low rate—which turns out, suspiciously, to be higher than the rate I am currently paying.

For these letters, I think we can all agree, the time has come to lay them to rest.


  1. The exception is holiday letters, of which I still get one or two a year.

Life In Pieces: Chapbook Television at its Finest

Regular readers know that I am not a big television-watcher. I can no longer take dramas. And well-written sitcoms are few and far between. I enjoy Modern Family. And I like The Big Bang Theory. But I rarely watch either of them when they are broadcast. Often I’ll watch them months later. Recently, however, I discovered Life in Pieces, a new sitcom on CBS. And for the first time in a very long time, I find myself looking forward to watching an episode when it actually airs.

You may be wondering how I discover a show if I don’t watch TV. In the case of Life in Pieces, it happened this way:

After the kids go to sleep, Kelly will put on the TV for a little while. The kids are usually in bed at about 8 pm. She’ll watch TV for an hour. Usually, I’ll sit in bed and read, and since the TV is on, reading consists of listening to an audiobook. I can’t concentrate on reading words on a page with the TV in the background. So one day she was watching Life in Pieces, and something caught my eye as I listened to my audiobook. After each commercial break, the show would resume with some text that read something like, “Story #2: Gym.”

“What they mean, ‘Story #2’?” I asked Kelly.

“They do these short stories,” she explained.

As a writer of short stories, that intrigued me, and after watching an episode, I was hooked.

There are five things I really like about Life In Pieces:

  1. The format. I like the idea of telling four short stories in 21 minutes. No, make that, I love the idea.
  2. I like how the show is shot. It is not a studio audience sitcom, and there is no laugh track.
  3. I like the actors. I especially like Colin Hanks, who in mannerism and expressions is the spitting image of his father.
  4. Each story is written like a comedy sketch, but produced like a Modern Family-style sitcom.
  5. There isn’t an arc.

This last point is a big with me, and one of the reasons I can’t take dramas anymore. I don’t want to have to invest in watching all of the episodes that came before to understand the current episode. I want to be able to pop into any episode, and enjoy it on its own terms. The characters have clear relationships to one another, but the stories stand on their own. And you get four stories per episode. It is chapbook television at its finest.

I’m already looking forward to next Thursday at 8:30 pm. My only concern is whether or not I’ll still be awake at 8:30 pm.

The Scariest Part of Writing is Acceptance

When I decided to become a writer my biggest fear was that I’d never have an idea worth writing about. Experience taught me this was a needless fear. I found ideas everywhere. The trick is figuring out which ideas are worth pursuing.

Acceptance

When I had an idea worth writing about my biggest fear became the blank page, a fear often magnified by a deadline. Repeated experience taught me that a blank page isn’t that scary after all. Eventually I’ll fill it.

When I filled the pages my biggest fear was that what I’d written might not be good enough to submit for publication. I reminded myself that I was a writer, not an editor. I decided to let the editor make the call, and away the story went.

When I submitted a story my biggest fear was that I would be rejected. Although I knew a rejection was not personal, they sometimes felt personal. I reminded myself that I wasn’t being rejected, the story was. After that, rejection was no longer scary.

The scariest part of writing for me is acceptance. I would never have guessed this when I was starting out.

Until the story is accepted, only a few people have read it: me, a couple of beta readers, a slush reader, perhaps, and an editor. The delay between acceptance and publication is agonizing. It is like that moment half-in and half-out of the airplane door, with a parachute strapped on your back, and the ground little more than colored squares and rectangles far below. Instead of a handful of people, thousands of readers will see my work.

Then the story is published, and the fear vanishes. The story is no longer mine. Like the skydiver, I have lost control. I am at the mercy of a kind of literary gravity. If people enjoy the story, I feel good. If people don’t enjoy the story, there’s nothing I can do about it. All I can do is breath in the experience, look in momentary amazement at what I created, and then begin the search for the next idea worth writing about.

Stephen King’s 11/22/63 on Hulu

My current favorite novel is Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I read it when it first came out, and have read it a total of five times since. Each time I read it, I like it more. I can’t say that it will always be my favorite novel. Favorites change with age and experience. But whenever I am asked for my favorite, this is the book I refer to.

11/22/63 Audiobook

Hulu is doing an 8-part miniseries of King’s novel premiering on President’s Day, starring James Franco and directed by J.J. Abrams. For fans of the book, that seems like exciting news, and it probably is, but I won’t be watching the miniseries. I have nothing against Abrams, or Franco, or any of the cast and crew. I don’t have anything against Hulu. I am in no way boycotting the miniseries. But I can’t watch it.

The reason is Craig Wasson.

The first two times I read the book, I actually read the book. The last three times, I listened to the audiobook. The voice actor for Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is Craig Wasson, and the first time I listened to the audiobook, I knew that Craig Wasson was Jake Epping/George Amberson. No one else could possibly be that character. The story is told in first person, which makes his performance that much more powerful. The actor entirely disappears, and you are listening to a man tell his tale.

It is the best voice acting performance I’ve encountered.

And that is why I can’t watch the Hulu miniseries. James Franco is a fine actor, but he is not, in my mind, Jake Epping. Nor would I want him to be. I’m afraid that if I watched the miniseries, it would interfere with my image of Epping as portrayed by Craig Wasson. Once watched, the show cannot be unwatched.

I once had a similar dilemma nearly twenty years ago. A second Foundation trilogy was announced. I’ve always loved Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and I thought he finished it off perfectly with Forward the Foundation. But I was intrigued with the new series because each book would be written by a different author. Gregory Benford wrote Foundation’s Fear; Greg Bear wrote Foundation and Chaos; and David Brin wrote Foundation’s Triumph. I agonized for months over whether I’d read the books. I finally decided to take the chance, and I had mixed results. Benford’s book was so-so. Bear’s book was better. But Brin knocked it out of the part with Foundation’s Triumph. Indeed, the ending of that book was a rare spark of literary genius.

I lucked out in that case, but I have grown more risk-averse as I’ve aged, and I don’t want to take the chance with the Hulu series. The truth is, I don’t think I can separate out the two mediums in my head as well as other people can, and I just adore Wasson’s performance in the audiobook.

If you haven’t listened to the audiobook version, I highly recommend it.

Red Sky At Night

I am enjoying the sunset this evening.

Red Sky

If I Had a Billion Dollars…

I read that the Powerball jackpot now stands at $1.3 billion. Lots of people are buying tickets in the hope of winning. Today, I thought I’d talk about the lottery.

1. If I won the lottery, Take One

What I would do:

  1. Take the lump sum.
  2. Set up a trust fund for the kids.
  3. Buy the American Heritage dictionary. I’ve been putting that off for a few months now.

What I would not do.

  1. Quit my day job.
  2. Alter my daily routine.
  3. Make any big purchases for at least a year. I’d need that time to think more about what I’d want to do with the money.

2. If I won the lottery, Take Two

If I could get away with it, here’s what I’d really do:

  1. Take the lump sum.
  2. Set up a trust fund for the kids.
  3. Go on a nice vacation with the family.
  4. Buy the American Heritage dictionary.
  5. Take whatever money was left over to the IRS, and say, “Here is more than $1 billion. Never bother me again1.”

3. How I would get a bigger share of the lottery money

I would buy, say, 100 lottery tickets, and pick the same set of numbers for all hundred. When my numbers came up as the winners, along with, say 10 other people, the winnings would have to be split 110 ways. $1.3 billion divided by 110 winning tickets comes to $11.8 million per ticket. And since I’d have 100 tickets, I’d get about $1.1 billion while the other ten winners would split around $110 million. Clever, right?

4. Why I won’t win the lottery

Sure, the odds are small. But my odds are far, far worse than anyone who plays the lottery. My understanding is that to win, you have to buy a ticket. And since I don’t buy lottery tickets, I have no chance of winning. On the hand, I do have all of the money that I might otherwise have spent on lottery tickets. Come to think of it, I could use that money to finally buy the American Heritage dictionary I’ve been wanting for a few months now.


  1. I can’t claim credit for this idea. Isaac Asimov once gave this answer when he was asked what he’d do with a billion dollar. I just like the answer

Going Paperless 2.0: Quickly Access Frequently-Used Information in Evernote

One of the things that attracted me to Evernote back in 2010 was its slogan, “Remember Everything.” Although I am not a canonical GTDer, I’ve read David Allen’s book, and one important take away was getting stuff out of my head so that I didn’t have to remember it. When I started to use Evernote, I let Evernote remember stuff for me. Fast forward five years, and Evernote is remembering a lot of stuff for me. At last count, 12,465 notes. The notes are organized into notebooks, and some of them are tagged. Still, there is a certain subset of information that I find myself needing much more frequently than other information. What follows are some tricks I use to make sure I have quick access to frequently-used information.

1. Create a FREQUENTLY-ACCESSED INFO Note

I have a note in Evernote titled “FREQUENT” on which I keep my most-frequently accessed information. This means I only need to go to one place to find it all.

Frequent Note

In the note, I use a tabular format to keep it simple. I include the information I need right on the note itself. I also add a link to more detailed information. Clicking the link for Blue Cross, for instance, takes me to an image of my current insurance card. The same is true for clicking on a license #, or car tag number.

I created a shortcut to the note which I keep on the shortcut bar so that I never have to go hunting for it.

Having this note saves me a lot of time and frustration, especially when filling out forms, or when I am on the phone with a service organization.

2. Use TextExpander for frequently-accessed info

I am a big fan of TextExpander on the Mac1. If you are not familiar with the tool, TextExpander allows you to use shortcuts to expand longer snippets of text. I have created a bunch of snippets for frequently-used information. For instance, the various pieces of my address all have expansions. So does my home phone number, which I can never remember. Also my kid’s birthdays. Here is example of some of the snippets I have created for frequently used information. Typing the part of the left automatically expands to the part on the right. I preface my shortcuts with ;; so that typing the shortcut word doesn’t cause the snippet to expand.

  • ;;address —> full address
  • ;;street —> street address
  • ;;city —> Falls Church
  • ;;state —> Virginia
  • ;;zip —> our zip code
  • ;;hphone —> our home phone number
  • ;;zach —> Zach’s birthdate
  • ;;grace —> Grace’s birthdate
  • ;;email —> my email address
  • ;;gp —> http://www.jamierubin.net/going-paperless/

3. “Current Travel” saved search

It seems to me that I need some piece of information more often when I am away from the computer than when I am sitting in front of it. Traveling is a good example of this. There are confirmation messages, frequent flyer program information, airline itineraries, notes about interesting places to stop along the way.

When I am getting ready for a trip, I tag any trip-related notes with a “current-travel” tag in Evernote. I have a saved search that I’ve created that shows me everything tagged “current-travel.”

Thus, when I am at the airport and I need to call the hotel I’ll be staying at, all I have to do is tap my “current-travel” saved search and I’ve got easy access to my hotel confirmation, which also contains the phone number of the hotel.

Some notes keep the “current-travel” tag, like frequently-flier and hotel points program information notes. But when I finish a trip, I remove the “current-travel” tag from all of the notes related to that trip. That way I’m ready to fill it up again with useful information on the next trip.

4. Set a reminder to review and update the info at regular intervals

Finally, I use Evernote’s reminder feature to set a reminder on my FREQUENT note so that I review the information there on a regular basis, and update it as necessary. Currently I have this set to six months. When I get the reminder, I review the information on the note, update anything that requires updating, and then reset the reminder for another six months.

Having frequently-accessed information at my fingertips, without having to keep in all in my head, has been incredibly helpful to me. It speeds up filling out paper forms. It makes it easy to provide information when I am away from the house. Checking into hotels, I’m often asked for the license plate # of the car for parking. When I call to order pizza and they ask me, “What’s your home number?” I don’t have to go hunting for it. And it helps ensure that I am giving accurate information.

Frequently-accessed information will vary by person, but I think I have a good model for making sure that information is readily accessible when I need it—whatever the information might be.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: Tracking accomplishments in Evernote

Enjoy these posts? – Tell a friend

Recommending readers is one of the highest compliments you can pay to a writer. If you enjoy what you read here, or you find the posts useful, tell a friend! Find me online here:

Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Blog | PinterestReddit | MediumRSS

Or use one of the share buttons below. Thanks for reading!

  1. On my Windows machine at work,  I use a similar tool called PhraseExpress.

How I Read the Newspaper

In fifth grade, at Cedar Hill Elementary school, I was taught how to read a newspaper. We were taught how to identify the lead story, what it meant when a story was “above the fold.” I even recall learning how to read the stock market pages in our math class. I don’t know if they still teach students how to read a newspaper, especially with so many papers succumbing to the Internet. How I read a newspaper has evolved in the three decades since that fifth grade class. Here is how I read a newspaper today

Washington Post

1. I start with the obituaries, which, in the Washington Post, appear in the Metro section. People are always being reported as dead online. I prefer to get news of a death from a more reliable source.

2. I skim the Metro section, reading the digest and skimming the rest, unless something catches my eye.

3. I skim the Style section for entertainment news. I skim all of the shows and movies that I never watch or see. While some of the plots sound interested, they just aren’t interesting enough to get me to the theater.

4. I skim the Sports section. In baseball season, I read all of the box scores. In football season, I look for baseball transactions. If it’s football season and I know I’m going to be meeting someone who follows football, I’ll read through the football news so that I can at least hold my own in the conversation. I like Tom Boswell, but I’ve got to say that the Los Angeles Times covers baseball much better than the Washington Post.

5. I skim the front page section. I probably only read 2-3 full articles on any given day, but I glance at all of the headlines.

It takes me between 20-30 minutes to get through the paper each morning this way.

When I travel, I try to read the local papers. I particularly enjoy this when I’m in a small town. Small town papers are the best. I still maintain the same basic process for going through the paper, but I delight in the insular reporting of small town papers. Especially the crime reports.

Now, some folks may be wondering why I read the news paper when I can get the same articles online. After all, I am the paperless guy, right? The answer is that I read on screens all day, and reading the newspaper is my one way of starting the day without looking at a screen. My eyes thank me for it.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who do the daily crossword in pen. Unfortunately, I have no time for the daily crossword, and even if I did, I generally don’t read the articles closely enough to be able to finish one puzzle before the next one comes out.