Quarantine Dreams

I’m having trouble sleeping.

I wake up multiple times in the night, thinking I’ve heard our dog bark or someone move in the house beneath our bedroom.

Sometimes I fall right back to sleep, but often I’ll just lay there, my brain chewing over some problem from the day, unable to rest.

When I do sleep, I dream. But nothing comforting: I dream of the world we’ve lost.

I dream of going to a pub for dinner. Of going on a trip at the airport. Seeing a movie.

Mundane things. Well, mundane before.

Even there, the pandemic intrudes. I go to a pub, intending to meet friends like normal, but my wife and I take masks with us, and sit 6 feet apart. The airport we go to is mostly deserted, and the planes never arrive. On our way to the movie theatre, someone yells at us for being outside.

So my dreams bring no comfort. No escape from reality.

In truth, I know I’m lucky. Both my wife and I have been healthy so far. We’ve had enough food and toilet paper (though it was touch and go the first two weeks). And our current house is new enough that nothing major has broken on us (yet).

I just…I wish I could relax enough to rest, and sleep, again. And dream of something else.

Spotlight on Local Author: Henry Herz

Intro

Henry Herz intimidates me.

He’s written and sold ten children’s books, along with numerous short stories, and he’s one of the few writers Jonathan Maberry trusts to run the Writers Coffeehouse when he can’t host it himself.

Did I mention he frequently runs panels for Comic-Con and WonderCon? And that he edited an anthology that includes stories from Peter S Beagle, Jane Yolen, and Jim Butcher?

Thankfully, he’s as friendly and approachable as he is super-organized (more on that later). He recently spent some time with me over Zoom to talk about his writing process, children’s book publishing, and his dive into the world of middle-grade novels.

Writing Process

What is your writing process like for a picture book? With something that short, does pantsing vs plotting come into play?

I’m a plotter by nature, and because of my background in industrial engineering, I don’t like wasting time. For me, being a plotter is more efficient than being a pantser because I don’t write myself into corners.

But it’s an artistic endeavor, and it may be that someone who loves to be a pantser can’t plot. They would actually be slower, so every writer must discover what works best for them.

For a picture book, there’s usually 13 to 14 two-page spreads, so I’ll just do an outline to show what I want to have on each of these spreads. Then I can look at everything and go, “Okay, do I have rising tension? Do I establish the problem in the first one or two spreads? Do I have a resolution about three-quarters of the way through?” And that’s easy to check. Then I can draft each of the pages and go from there.

With a picture book, you could easily get away with pantsing, because the word count is so low. And picture books typically go through a lot more revisions than a novel.

Really?

Well, how many passes are you going to make through a novel, realistically?

Three or four. Maybe.

Yeah, exactly. I have picture books that have gone through 25 revisions, but that just means me making a pass and making changes and tightening things up, or me soliciting feedback from critique group members and integrating the feedback that I think is constructive.

How does your writing process change for a short story or novel vs a picture book?

So I’m organized in both cases, but I’m a lot more organized for the novel or the short story, because it’s a bigger word count. I just feel like I’d be flailing if I pantsed a novel. I would be very likely to write myself into corners or spend too much time in one area.

I found a resource that I really like. It’s called Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, by Jess Brody. There was originally a book by Blake Snyder, Save the Cat!, which analyzed how movies are structured, and Jessica Brody took the same idea and applied it to novels.

So her book gives you a template, a starting point, which was invaluable to me, since I’ve only written one novel. I used her structure for that novel and about half-a-dozen short stories in the 3,000 to 6,000 word range.

It guarantees you have the arc that you want. The character development is still obviously up to you, but it helps with the pacing and the arcs.

There’s also a great resource for character development, the book that Jonathan Maberry always touts, which is the Writing the Breakout Novel Handbook, by Donald Maass. There’s a bunch of questions in there that help you understand your own characters.

In my idealized process for writing a novel, I start with a rough idea of the story just in my head through inspiration, but then I flesh out the characters using the Donald Maass workbook, and then I come up with an overview and story beats from Save the Cat! Writes a Novel.

And that helps chunk it down, because I’m a picture book writer used to writing 500-word books. The first novel, the first and only novel I’ve written, is a 30,000-word middle-grade novel. 30,000 words is intimidating to somebody who’s only written 500. If you’re an adult novelist, you’re like, “Pfft. I do 100,000 words all the time. It’s no big deal.” But for me, it was a lot.

So staring at a blank document that I know will have to contain 30,000 words is pretty intimidating. But if I use the Save the Cat template, then the writing is broken down into anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand word chunks, and that makes it much easier. “Okay, I know how to write that. I don’t know how to write the whole thing, but I know how to write this little piece.”

Like the parable about how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

What does your novel outline look like?

Jess Brody breaks the novel up into about 15 beats.

Beats like “The Opening Image”, “The Theme Stated”, “The Set Up”, and then there’s “The Catalyst”. Then you break into Act II.

So having a couple of sentences about each of these beats, it gets me far enough to start writing.

So you had all the beats mapped out first? Or did you map out a beat, write it up, then map out the next beat, etc?

I map out all the beats up front, before I start writing.

Only somebody as ridiculously organized as me would pay attention to this, but Save the Cat Writes a Novel suggests roughly what percentage of the word count should be in each beat. Obviously, you fiddle with it. But that really helps me.

For example, The Opening Image, I think, is 1%. It’s just an opening image, right? So if I have a 30,000-word novel, then I know, “Okay, I have about 300 words to play with.” Now, they’re not strict limits, but it tells me what I’m aiming at. There is a big difference between writing 300 and 3,000 words.

I find it helps with the pacing, to make sure that things are happening at the right times, and that there are head-fakes, that you’re moving in a direction and something shifts. You’re building tension, and then you ramp it up even more. It’s just helpful. I know Jonathan [Maberry] has done this so many times that it’s instinct for him, but since this is my first novel, it was really helpful to have a tool.

How do you go about building a scene in your head? Do you think cinematically, or…?

Let’s take Stephen King’s novel, Carrie.

So if I was writing Carrie, and I’m doing the opening scene, how do I want to set the stage? Would I want to have Carrie in her room levitating something, or would I want to have Carrie in the high school locker room getting picked on by the other girls?

But once I made that decision, then I would envision the scene in my head. “Okay, what’s going on? Who’s going to say what?” Make sure that the dialogue and the action is consistent with what the characters want.

In the end, these are stories about characters, so you always have to make sure that you’re being true to those characters.

I probably pants that more in that I have a general idea of what the character’s like, but I let the character’s voice emerge as I’m writing as opposed to having it all worked out ahead of time.

I can think, “Okay, this character is smart but a little self-centered, has a good sense of humor, mouths off in class when they shouldn’t.” And then having those rough guidelines, then I can let the character’s personality take shape, let it flesh out as I’m writing.

Do you use beta readers? Or maybe a critique group?

I’m a member of a group here locally that I like. It’s some experienced writers, and we do 3,500 words a week that we share and critique. I got through my novel in nine sessions, nine weeks, which feels slow to me as a picture book writer, but I know as a novelist that’s pretty fast to get detailed feedback from multiple people on your novel.

Do you all email out your selection to each other?

So this group uses Dropbox to pass out the pieces and then to give feedback. But then we were meeting face-to-face on a weekly basis until coronavirus, and now we’re doing it all through Dropbox. Just sharing marked up versions of the manuscripts.

No Zoom meetings where you read aloud something and critique it?

No, that would take too long also to read aloud. 3,500 words times five people, that’d be a long meeting.

Oh, it’s 3,500 each for each person, so each week you’re reading 15,000 words or more?

Yeah, but it’s a lot easier to read and critique somebody else’s stuff than to write 15,000 words.

Fair enough. To get back to the critiquing real quick, how hard is it for you to switch between the draft brain and the editing brain?

Oh, for my own stuff? Very easy, very easy, because I draft until I have a complete draft, so I’m not context-switching on a daily basis. I’m drafting, drafting, drafting, drafting until I have a draft completed, and then I switch to revision mode.

Some people edit as they draft. I’m guilty of that too. But I try to discourage myself because it is important to get that first draft out.

But with short stories, I allow myself to edit as I go. That also means that when I’m done, the first draft is tight.

The last three I short stories I wrote, I was ready to submit after version two. One revision pass, and I was ready to go, because I had been editing them as I typed them in. So they were close to finished in the first draft. Then it’s just a matter of polishing.

When you get feedback from your critique group, do you always make the changes they suggest?

It’s a good question, and the answer depends on context. Sometimes I just get, “Hey, this isn’t working,” and sometimes I get, “Hey, this isn’t working. Have you thought about this?”

And I will consider what they say, but I’m not feeling bound to do it. My choices are reject it completely, do nothing, accept it as is, or accept that there’s a problem, but fix it a different way. Any of those are possible. It just depends on the situation.

I don’t feel constrained by a critiquer’s proposed solution, but I’m happy to hear it. The suggestion might be really good, or it might prompt me to go, “That’s a good point, although that won’t work because of something the reader isn’t aware of,” but it gets my brain spinning. “Okay, yeah. I do need to address that, and I know how to do that. I’ve got to go back a couple of chapters and plant something so that I foreshadow that.”

Publishing

Have all your picture books earned out?

No. Some of them have, some of them haven’t.

Oh. Is that hard to do for a picture book? I guess it depends on the level of advance.

Yes, it depends on the level of advance, and it also depends on how much effort the publisher puts in.

Because there’s an 80/20 rule that applies to a lot of things, and I think it also applies to how publishers market their books. I think 80% of their marketing budget gets focused on 20% of their books that they have a really good feeling about. These are their top authors, proven authors with good track records, who get the lion’s share of the marketing budget.

I’ve sold 10 picture books, but I am nowhere near the top of the field, not even close. I get a modest amount of help marketing-wise. They solicit professional reviews, and they put it on their website, and they do the things they do for everybody, but it’s not like they’re paying for me to go on a tour around the country.

I’d say the most critical thing is can they get your book in Barnes & Noble, because that’s the biggest chain.

And they can’t always do that. Just because a traditional publisher produces a book, it doesn’t mean Barnes & Noble will take it. They have finite space, and they’re going to pick the books they think will sell the best. It’s perfectly logical from a business perspective, but it sucks if you’re not a well-known author.

Do you have an agent?

I don’t have an agent currently, and I think the novel is a good opportunity for me to approach agents, because there’s a lot more picture book manuscripts floating around than novel manuscripts floating around in children’s literature, I think.

And if an agent likes my middle grade novel, then I can say, “By the way, I also have a number of picture book manuscripts.”

Some agents specialize in picture books. A lot of them skip them, because unless you’re at the top of the field, the advances for picture books are small, and the agency gets 15%. The agent gets less than that if they’re not the owner of the agency.

So imagine seven-and-a-half percent of a $4,000 dollar advance. That’s not a lot of money for a picture book agent. $300 isn’t going to pay the rent.

I’m hoping that this will increase my appeal because now I’m a dual threat, I can write picture books and I can write novels.

Do you have a list of agents already in mind for the middle-grade?

I have a list of agents who I like for picture books, and what I’ll probably do is go through that, because I want somebody who works for a reputable agency and somebody who’s interested in the same genres.

You have to align with what the agent is interested in reading, and I tend to write a lot of science fiction and fantasy.

So I will start with my list of picture book agents and go through them again, and go, “Okay, does this agent also represent middle-grade,” and if they do, then “do they like fantasy and sci-fi?”

How do you feel your background in process improvement engineering helps you with your writing?

It doesn’t help me with writing, but it helps me with my career in terms of being organized and being efficient about all the non-writing things that I have to do: submitting, soliciting an agent, and tracking when markets are open that you can submit to. And what you sent and whether you’ve heard back or not.

If you’re being active, you could easily just drown in all the data. If you don’t use a spreadsheet or something to manage it, you’ll just completely lose track of what you’re doing. I’m a pretty prolific writer, so I have to do that.

How do you keep track of it all?

For my picture books I have a spreadsheet. The columns represent the different manuscripts, and the rows are for the different publishers.

For each cell, there’s really two dates, when I submitted it and when I heard back, either a rejection or an acceptance.

So that’s a helpful thing to have, because then you know who’ve you sent to. I can put notes in there too, like if they rejected but they gave me some feedback, then I can stuff that in there as well.

And then I do something similar for my short stories, which are submitted to online magazines, print magazines, and anthologies.

Has your system evolved over time?

I didn’t used to have that spreadsheet. I used to just have the Evernote list, organized by market.

For example, I scroll down past Amazing Stories, Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies to Clarkesworld. I can see that I submitted ABC to Clarkesworld on this date. It was declined or accepted on that date. So under each market, I list every one of the stories I’ve submitted. I may also list stories I’m planning to submit.

But many of these markets don’t accept multiple or simultaneous submissions. That makes it really hard to know at a glance “Can I submit there? Where else have I submitted that story?”

That’s when I built a short story spreadsheet, where each row is a story and each column is a market. That format makes it easy to see at a glance where I’ve submitted it, and where I might submit it. You can use color-coding to show which markets allow simultaneous submissions and which ones don’t.

I want to push my writing out into the world. There are some markets that will give you a fast response, within a few days. But most of them, it’s weeks or months. I think, “Okay, which one do I want to send to in what order, and if I send there, that means I can’t send it over to these other markets until I hear back.”

So it’s like a three-dimensional chess match. I’ve found that I needed the spreadsheet just to retain my sanity and get these stories out in as expeditious a manner as possible, get responses, and then if it’s a no, move on to the next market.

Field Trip to Earth

Why go for a middle-grade novel after having written and successfully published so many picture books?

I’ve been published more than once in the picture book market, but writing a middle-grade novel makes sense for a couple of reasons. First is career-wise, it’s better to be able to write in more than one market. But also, when you’re writing picture books, your vocabulary is tied behind your back. You’re writing for young readers, and are constrained by what words you can use and what concepts you can cover.

You also have to very carefully leave room for the illustrator, because picture books, at roughly 500 words, don’t give you word count to describe the scenes. You have to leave room for the illustrator to do a lot of the scene description.

Writing middle grade lets me use my full vocabulary and describe scenes and incorporate motivations that are too mature for a picture book. So writing for older markets supports both self-expression and career growth.

I chose middle-grade as opposed to young adult or adult, because I’m also being practical. I’ve written a number of picture books of anywhere from 500 to 1,000 words. I sold an early chapter book, which was 6,500 words, so that was a step up. But nothing longer than that.

I thought, “I don’t want to jump to a 100,000-word epic fantasy. That’s just a bridge too far. Middle-grade novels can be as short as 30,000 words.

I figured I would hone my novel writing chops by writing a shorter novel.

It’s also closer in tone to picture books than an adult novel would be.

So, what’s the novel about? What genre is it in?

The middle-grade novel is science fiction with a good dose of humor.

It’s called Field Trip to Earth, and it’s basically an alien middle school student finds herself in academic trouble, and she needs to take an unauthorized field trip to Earth to collect data for her school report.

Some of her friends go with her, and hijinks ensue.

That sounds great.

It’s been fun to write. Soon I expect to be done with my second full pass, and then at that point, I’m going to throw it out there and see if an agent wants it.

Have you gotten any feedback that made you completely rewrite part of it?

Partially. So in my sci-fi novel, the main character is a middle-school kid from Proxima Centauri.

And she realizes she needs to go to Earth. Now, she has attended driver’s ed, so she knows how to fly a spaceship, but she doesn’t own one.

In my original version, after school ends, she basically hijacks a school vehicle and flies it to Earth.

I got feedback from more than one person saying, “That’s a little too dark. It offers a behavior that’s not one parents would want to encourage in their kids.” I can’t pull off what Eoin Colfer did with Artemis Fowl.

So instead, she has a nemesis at school. Now, the nemesis is wealthy and has his own ship, so she enlists his cooperation into doing the trip.

Oh, that’s a neat solution

Another piece of feedback: In my early version, the two of them would have verbal sparring, and the nemesis was a different species and chubby.

I had my protagonist teasing him about his size and his eating habits. The feedback I got was, “Your protagonist is being kind of a bully there.”

Even though it was in reaction to the nemesis’ actions, my protagonist’s responses felt too mean and bullying. So I toned that down.

Those weren’t complete rewrites, but they definitely were significant changes to the character and for one plot element. But that’s the idea, right? I’m making it better.

Definitely. When making those changes, did you revise the outline first, and then the text?

No, because the structure is still solid. I don’t need to change the structure. The beats are the beats.

In the way that I am operating, following the Save the Cat! Writes a Novel structure, the beats come in a specific order, and the relative size of those beats is unchanged. I just go into the individual chapters and tweak what I need to tweak to make the desired changes.

I don’t have to rewrite the whole thing. I may have to insert pieces that I needed to set the stage in an earlier scene, but that’s it.

Keeping Score: April 24, 2020

This week has been…strange.

I received the contract (and check!) in the mail for my first short story sale, which is getting published soon in Galaxy’s Edge magazine after being accepted last August. That’s been an emotional roller-coaster ride all its own, but it’s going to work out in the end.

The same day, riding high on waves of optimism, of the proof that I can write something someone will pay for, I received the latest rejections for two of my short stories that are out circulating.

I know I can’t take any of it personally, but it truly felt like one step forward, two steps back, that day. Made me wonder if perhaps the one sale is all I’ve got in me. It’s nonsense, of course — I’ve got twenty or thirty years of writing left (with luck), and surely can improve a little in all that time — but it’s hard to stare self-doubt in the face and insist you know the future when everything is so uncertain, for everyone.

So, I’m going to do the only thing I can do: Write more, and revise it, and send it out. The only thing I have control over.

How about you? What do you do, when you feel like you’re getting conflicting signals from the outside world about your writing?

An Outline for The Boys, Season Two

I haven’t truly binged-watched a show in a long time. Yes, even with the epidemic, I’m more often working or doing chores than watching something on streaming.

But The Boys is so irreverently good, so twistedly watchable, that I started it on Friday and spend Saturday finishing it off.

There’s currently only one season, and when the last episode was over, I thought: Well, they just blew everything we knew up. Where could they go from here? Could a Season Two be even close to as good as this?

Dear Reader, I think it can.

Below is my outline for a Season Two.

Major Spoilers for the The Boys Season One follows

Butcher

Butcher starts Season Two with everything he’s built his life on for eight years suddenly knocked out from under him. His wife’s alive, she’s been raising the kid she had with Homelander, and she’s never, not once, tried to contact him about it or tell him the truth.

He’s going to struggle to come to grips with that. He’ll be in denial at first, and then angry when his ex-wife (and is she even his ex?) lays it all out for him. There’ll be fights. He might try to move in with them — insisting on a husband’s prerogative — he might try to “rescue” Becca (which she’ll resist, confusing him more).

He might even try another attempt on Homelander’s life, using his new family as bait.

All of these efforts, this raging at the new reality, will fail.

Finally, at the end of the last fight with his ex-wife, when the bleak truth has settled in, he’ll remember something Homelander dropped at the end of Season One, when he was talking to Stillwell (who was all tied up with explosives at the time): The name of the scientist who created Homelander.

Butcher will shift gears at that point, away from Becca, and towards a new goal: To track down this scientist, and guilt him into making a formula to undo his greatest mistake. Something that neutralizes the effects of Compound V, making Supes normal again.

Homelander and Becca and the Kid

Meanwhile, Homelander has been trying to play house with Becca and his son.

But he’s bad at it. Incredibly bad at it. Becca doesn’t really want him there, the kid wants a dad but can’t relate to someone raised in a lab, and Homelander himself has no role models to imitate.

Butcher himself might help here, in a scene where he’s feeling low and takes pity on Homelander for once. Gives Homelander an in, something he can do to bond with his son.

But it’s too little, too late. In an attempt to show “tough love”, Homelander ends up killing the kid’s favorite pet. Becca drives him out of the house, tells him not come back.

The Seven (as was)

With Homelander distracted, Maeve steps in to lead The Seven.

It’s a literally thankless job. Their new manager at Vought feels nothing but contempt for Supes, seeing them as just more dangerous versions of spoiled celebrities. And every interview Maeve gives, someone asks her about Homelander. Even when he’s gone, he overshadows her.

So she begins making some changes, to get some attention. She brings back a disgraced Supe, makes them part of the Seven. She gets back with her ex, and comes out of the closet.

It all unravels, though, when she finds out how Starlight has betrayed them all (in working with Hughie to take down Vought from the inside, tracing the route of Compound V to supervillains) and Homelander returns, all in a rage from his failed family experiment.

Hughie and Starlight and the Gang

Finally, “The Boys” has stopped being an all-boys’ club. Kimiko and Frenchie are an item, and more and more Kimiko is willing to help them in their crusade against Vought (though reluctantly at first).

Hughie and Starlight’s relationship remains fragile. They’re friends and allies, but arguing constantly about the best way to go about things. Each time of them reaches out to rekindle their romance, the other pulls back, wounded and mistrustful from their last fight.

Because of all this back-and-forth, Starlight doesn’t realize how deep she’s gone to the other side until Maeve confronts her about it towards the end of the season, framing everything as Starlight’s attempt to undermine her and take over leadership of the Seven.

The Climax

Everything comes to a head all at once.

Homelander returns in the middle of Maeve and Starlight’s fight, pissed at everyone and everything.

Starlight’s fight delays her helping Hughie and the gang getting into Vought’s headquarters for the final piece of the evidence, making them think Starlight’s betrayed them.

They break into the lab themselves, where they find Butcher, happily switching everything over to churn out the Compound-V antidote. He’s carrying a rifle that’s been modified to fire doses of the antidote, so he can make Homelander mortal.

And everything goes to shit when the world’s first supervillain team chooses that moment to assault The Seven in their Vought HQ.

Keeping Score: April 17, 2020

Another week. I’ve kept the writing streak going; currently at 36 straight days.

Managed to pick up work on the novel again. I worried I might not be able to get back in the headspace that easily. But it turns out if you’ve worked on something for two years, you can dive back into it without too many issues 🙂

Had to think back through the chapter I was working on, though. The plot I’d had when I last put it down didn’t fit with the setting I’d established, and — to be perfectly honest — wasn’t that interesting.

This new version I’m writing is harder, emotionally, but it’s better.

Which seems to be true about a lot of the rewrites I do. The ones that are harder for me to write, to push my characters through, are the ones that make the story shine.

I’m keeping my daily goals modest, though. Sketch out a conversation here, set down a turning point over there, and that’s it. Slowly stitch it all together over the course of the week. Review it — but don’t edit it yet! — and mark the progress made.

It’s these little steps, little victories, that keep me going.

What about you?

Review: Brydge Pro Keyboard

I’ve tried both Logitech and Zagg’s versions of the iPad keyboard/case combo before, and neither of them worked out for me. The Logitech version was rugged and had a good keyboard, but it was too hard to get the iPad out of the case when I wanted to use it as a tablet. The Zagg folio felt cheap, and wasn’t comfortable to type on.

I’m currently using the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio, and it’s…fine. The angle that it sets the screen at is too steep to be comfortable, and it doesn’t sit very stably on my lap, but it works, and I can type on it fast enough.

But I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Brydge keyboards, especially the “it makes it work just like a laptop” line. Comfortable to type on. Holds the screen at any angle you want. Easy to pull it out to become a tablet again.

So when they recently went on sale — because the new version, with a built-in trackpad, is coming — I snapped one up.

First Impressions

First off, this thing is absolutely gorgeous in the box. Like, I didn’t want to take it out, it was so pretty.

And the box itself is pretty impressive; it’s got a cheatsheet of what all the different function keys do printed right on the inside cover. There’s almost no need to refer to the included QuickStart instructions.

Getting the iPad in the clips isn’t too bad. They’re stiff, but moveable. Ditto taking it out again. You need a firm grip, and a willingness to pull hard on something you might have paid $1,000 for, but it can be done.

Typing

The typing experience on this keyboard is, in a word, miserable.

My accuracy immediately plunged when I tried typing anything at all on it. The keys are both small and very close together, making the whole thing feel cramped. I felt like I was typing with my hands basically overlapping, it’s that small.

On top of that, the keys sometimes stutter, or miss keystrokes. I had to strike each one much harder than I’m used to, which makes their small size and tight spacing even worse.

And the keyboard itself has a noticeable lag between when you open it to use it, and when it manages to pair with the iPad. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but when you’re used to the instantly-on nature of everything else on the iPad, it’s a drag to have to wait on your keyboard to catch up.

Oh, and did I mention the whole thing — keyboard, screen hinge, everything — lifts off the table as you tilt the screen back? So the further back the screen goes, the more the keys tilt away from the plane of the desk. Yes, that means you have to adjust your typing to the angle of the screen, which is…not normal?

Still, a proper Inverted-T for the arrow keys is nice to have back.

And controlling screen brightness from the keyboard is cool. Not worth losing all that space that could have been put into larger keys or better key gaps (or just better keys, period), but here we are.

Portability

Jesus, this thing is heavy. I mean, it feels as heavy as my 16″ work laptop. Definitely not feeling footloose and fancy-free while the iPad is locked into it.

As a bonus, it’s really slippery when closed, making it both heavy and hard to hold onto. Just an accidental drop waiting to happen.

And I don’t see how the tiny rubber things sticking up from the case are going to protect my screen when it’s closed, especially as the thing ages and those rubber nubs become…nubbier.

Using it as a Laptop

The clips holding the iPad in place are really stiff, except when they’re not. That is, anytime you forget it’s not a real laptop and pick it up by the ipad.

There’s also no way to open it when closed without knocking any Apple Pencil you have attached out of place.

It’s fairly stable on my lap, so long as I don’t tilt the screen back too far. There’s a point where the whole thing just starts to wobble.

While the iPad’s in it, it’s kind of hard to hit the bottom of the screen to dismiss the current application and get the home screen back. Thankfully, they included a dedicated Home button on the keyboard, a nice touch.

However, the “On-Screen Keyboard” key doesn’t work. At all.

Comparison with the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio

Using this made me realize things I want in an iPad keyboard that I never noticed before:

  • I don’t want to have to worry about plugging my keyboard in.
  • I don’t want to worry about having it come on and re-pair it with my iPad every time.
  • I don’t want to have to jerk on my iPad every time I want to convert it back to a tablet.

And the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio checks all of those boxes.

It’s also lighter, and the keys are spaced further apart, making it less cramped. They also don’t need as much pressure to activate.

Final Thoughts

So, yeah…I’ve returned the Brydge, and gone back to using the Smart Keyboard Folio.

I always thought of Apple’s version as the “default,” and that third-party keyboards would naturally be better. But it turns out weight, portability, and ease-of-use (no charging, always on) matters a lot more to me than I thought.

Keeping Score: April 10, 2020

Current writing streak: 29 days.

Another week of forcing myself into the chair, every morning, for at least 30 minutes. Am I writing new words all 30 minutes? No. But I’m working all the same: planning, outlining, brainstorming, and finally putting fingers to keyboard.

When I feel the usual terror setting in, I tell myself: Write one sentence. Just one. One sentence is a victory. One sentence is enough.

It turns out that once I have one sentence down, I can usually write another. And another. And before I know it, I’ve written a few hundred words.

Sometimes. Sometimes it really is just one sentence. And I have to treat that like the achievement it is; because that sentence didn’t exist before, and now it does. It might be terrible, it might be great, but I can edit it later. It exists to be edited later, only because I’ve written it.

So while forcing myself into the chair, I’ve finished a few projects:

  • Finished editing the short story I worked on last week
  • Sent that story out to beta readers for feedback
  • Submitted two more short stories to markets, one for the very first time

Next up: Back to the novel. I really, really, really want to finish the current draft; I feel like I’ve been working on it forever. It’d feel so good to have it done to the point where I could send it to beta readers, or at least have enough raw draft material down that I can whip it into shape via another editing pass.

41

Weird to have a birthday during a pandemic. To have a day when I’m supposed to gather my friends together and celebrate. Now there can be no gathering, and any celebration feels macabre.

People have been asking me, what are you doing for your birthday? And the honest answer is the worst one:

  • First thing in the morning, I’m going to check the LA Times page for updates on the spread of Covid-19 in California, paying particular attention to the shape of the curve for San Diego. Today: it’s bending down, and has moved to doubling only every 3 days (last week it was doubling every two).
  • Next I’m going to check the latest news from The Economist and The Atlantic. The Economist because they’re going to put things in a global perspective. The Atlantic because they employ Ed Yong.
  • After dumping all that in my brain, I’m going to try to write. I may fail.
  • Later I’ll go to work, where everything is normal since we were all working remotely before the virus. Except we all know it isn’t, and it can’t be.
  • At some point I will probably take thirty minutes — alone, in my office, where no one, including my wife, can see — and just grieve. For what’s been lost, and how much more we will probably lose before this is over.

None of which is really something you can confess to someone who just casually asks that question.

So instead I try to smile, and just say “We’ll think of something.”

And who knows? Maybe we will.

Keeping Score: April 3, 2020

Current writing streak: 22 days.

Switching from tracking words written to time spent writing seems to be working. So far this week I’ve:

  • Finished the script for an 8-page comic as part of Gail Simone’s Comics School
  • Finished writing up an interview with a local author
  • Finished revising 3 of 5 scenes in a short story
  • Submitted a flash fiction piece to a new market

I’m trying to use one of the tools Gail Simone said we need in our toolbox to make it as professional writers: Focus.

For Comics School, it meant keeping the overall goal modest (an 8-pg story) and working each day on just one piece of it, till it was done.

For me, I’m thinking of it in terms of goals per piece. This week, my goal is to finish editing the short story I mentioned above. Then I can submit it to beta readers, and move onto the next thing while I wait for their feedback.

Next week, I think I’ll finally return to working on the novel. I’d like to take it chapter by chapter, with the goal of finishing one per week. We’ll see how it goes.

How about you? How are you measuring success, during the pandemic?

More Social Distance Streaming Recommendations

We’re halfway through the third week of shelter-in-place here in California.

It’s starting to feel almost normal, this staying home and avoiding other people thing. Natural to move aside when walking on the sidewalk to avoid passing within six feet of someone else. Odd to think about leaving the house.

But then I think about going out for coffee and donuts, or driving out to the bookstore, and I remember. What we’re doing, and why. And what we’re trying to prevent.

I hope you’re own stay-at-home is going as well as it can. That you’re safe, have enough food, and don’t have to worry about being kicked out by your landlord.

Here’s a couple more shows to keep your mind occupied while we wait for the viral storm to pass:

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

I didn’t want to like this show. True, it’s about a programmer, which should immediately draw me in, but it gets everything about being a programmer at a startup wrong, right from the very first episode. It’s the equivalent of the lazy “enhance” trick we’ve seen on too many shows, drawn out into an entire plot point. It rankles me, every time.

And the lead is….let’s say bland, shall we? The main character is the least interesting part of the show.

But the rest of the cast is phenomenal, the musical numbers are both weird and fun, and it nails the mix of guilt, hope, and love that comes with caring for a terminally ill family member.

So I’ve been gritting my teeth through the software-world bits, and enjoying everything else.

Source: Hulu

Birds of Prey

Ok, not a TV show, but have you seen this movie? It’s currently battling it out with Thor: Ragnarok in my head for the best superhero movie of the last ten years, and I thought nothing would ever get close to Thor.

It’s got goofy comics action — one scene has Harley shooting people with glitter bombs — fantastic fight scenes, a crazy sense of humor (wait till you see what Harley will do for a breakfast sandwich), and incredible sets (one scene takes place inside multiple rooms in a fun house).

The cast is phenomenal, with the exception of the kid playing Cassandra Cain (but she’s young, so can be forgiven).

My wife and I found ourselves watching it twice in a row one night (the second time with the director’s commentary on) and I didn’t even mind. It’s that good.

Source: Online Rental