Writing Life #1

Welcome to Writing Life!

For nearly a year, I wrote a blog series called Writing Advice, wherein every week I would dispense pearls of wisdom/useless bons mots (YMMV) designed to help other folks learn how to improve their writing. It was rewarding for me for a lot of reasons, chief among them that it encouraged (nay, forced) me for the first time really to think about how and why I do some of the things I do in my writing.

See, when every day you do something — over and over — that is engrained in you, it’s far too easy to fall into a place where you simply keep doing it, without ever thinking about the how or the why of it. And that’s bad because the only way to grow at anything is by constantly questioning, examining, evaluating, and re-evaluating the how and the why of what it is you do. So when you teach (or try to teach) someone else the same thing, it forces you to examine your own behavior and look for ways to improve.

So, yeah, I really enjoyed Writing Advice. I got a lot out of it, and I hope that the (mostly) silent majority of you who read it got something out of it, too.

Of course, I only have so much to say about the art and the craft of writing, so it had to come to an end. But before I ended Writing Advice, I asked on Twitter if people would be  interested in a series of new posts from yours truly, this time about the Writing Life. Not so much about the nuts and bolts of assembling a story, but more about the day-to-day big picture stuff. The things I love. The things that drive me nuts. That sort of thing. Less science, more art.

The response was a resounding, “Yeah, OK, why not?” And so here I am.

Each week (or so), I’ll talk about what I’m working on, what’s going well, what isn’t going well, etc. I’ll be as honest as I can without revealing spoilers for upcoming projects. I’m going to have to be coy about a bunch of things, so I ask your forgiveness in advance. I have my own notion of what is appropriate to discuss and what isn’t, and since it’s my website, I get to decide what gets out there.

I would LOVE to get your questions. The comments form is there for a reason, folks. If you have questions, ask ‘em! If you have issues you want me to tackle, post ‘em! This is supposed to be for our mutual benefit, so let’s make it a dialogue and have some fun. (I read every single comment. I may not always respond immediately because I might save an answer for a future entry, but I read ‘em all!)

Now, for this first week, I was going to do a run-down of my current projects and schedule, so that you could see what I’ll be talking about going forward. But something happened recently that I wanted to talk about instead, so we’ll save that bit for next week, OK?

I want to talk very briefly about why writing matters to me.

Two weekends ago, I was on a creative writing panel at the inaugural Empire State Book Festival with Carolyn MacCullough and Da Chen. Our moderator had to back out at the last minute and the volunteer who stepped in to fill her shoes didn’t know anything about us or the topic of the panel, so the three of us jumped in and introduced ourselves and opened by talking a little bit about what writing meant to us.

Stephen King famously wrote that writing is telepathy — two people who have never met, thinking the same thing. One person writes it and that thought is then communicated — in utter silence — to another, often across a great distance, sometimes even across a language barrier.

I would argue, though, that writing is more than telepathy; writing is also time travel. Ten years from now or five minutes from now or fifty years now, I will be dead and gone. But my books will continue to sit on shelves and in Kindles and in stacks piled next to beds, and the people who managed to get their hands on them before they went out of print will continue to know exactly what I was thinking and feeling, as though I were right there with them, even though I am no longer alive.

I hope it’s not egoistic or arrogant to say that I think that’s incredibly cool. I don’t think it’s in

Star Wars II!

So cool! I just had to post this. I’d never seen it before (well, maybe I have — I might have seen it back when it first aired, but I don’t have a memory of it). I stumbled upon it on Ain’t It Cool News.

It’s the original trailer for The Empire Strikes Back…voiced by Harrison Ford!

Most amazing thing about it? The way it manages to make a movie that was exciting and fun and make it seem bland as hell! 🙂

My iPad Review

For almost a week now, I’ve been living with my newest toy essential piece of technology: the iPad. For some reason, people seem curious to know what I think of it (as if my opinion matters on these things), and I decided that I would provide something a little more in-depth than, “Ah! Oh! Cool!”

But first: “Ah! Oh! Cool!”


To begin with, I guess I should talk about why I bought the iPad. I have something of a reputation for being an unapologetic Apple fanboy, so no one I know was really surprised when I bought it. But contrary to popular opinion, I don’t buy everything Apple produces, nor do I automatically buy the newest/latest/greatest just because it’s new/late/great. I only buy equipment that I need (bearing in mind that my definition of “need” may differ from yours).

In this case, my venerable iBook G4 was more than a little bit long in the tooth, and I knew that I would have to replace it some time this year. I had a choice: I could spend close to two thousand dollars to buy a new laptop…or I could drop much, much less on the iPad. If the former, I would get something that I knew would meet every last one of my needs…but would weigh quite a bit and be bulky and inconvenient to carry on trips. (The reason I stuck with the aging G4 for so long was its form factor — in terms of surface area, it’s the smallest laptop Apple’s made in years). If the latter, well… I couldn’t be 100% sure that an iPad would meet all of my needs, but I was reasonably certain. Plus, there was the weight/bulk benefit. I travel a lot and every ounce I can leave at home is an advantage.

I’m not a big risk-taker when it comes to spending money, but this seemed like one worth taking.

So, I picked up an iPad, and while I’ve only had a few days with it, I have to say: Thus far, it has absolutely met my expectations and seems like it will fit well with my workflow.

(Weird true fact: As I type this, an iPad commercial just came on TV!)

So, here are some things people are wondering:

  1. Have I had any wifi problems? Nope. None at all. And when you consider that Apple has sold well over half a million of these things, if even 5,000 people have a temporary wifi problem, that’s less than 1%. It happens. In my experience, Apple fixes these things quickly and/or lets you exchange your defective model. Not buying an iPad because “some people on the Internet” have had wifi issues is, to me, like not buying a car because someone else got into an accident.
  2. How’s the virtual keyboard? Pretty damn awesome, if you want to know the truth. I won’t be typing a novel with it, but for e-mails, short articles, etc., it’s just fine.
  3. Isn’t it just a big iPod touch? In form factor, sure. But when you blow up the screen real estate on an iPod touch, you suddenly have an entirely different universe of possibilities at your (heh heh) fingertips. I can’t persuade you of this fact with words — you need to experience it for yourself. For example, Google Maps suddenly becomes something entirely magical when you have a canvas so big to play on. If you’re curious at all, head to an Apple Store and play with an iPad. The proof of the pudding really is in the taste.
  4. Can you get real work done on it? Sure I can. WIth a Bluetooth keyboard, I can write just as well as I ever could on a laptop or a desktop. In fact (and I bet you saw this coming), I wrote this BLog entry while reclining on my sofa, with the iPad propped against my legs and a Bluetooth keyboard on my lap.
  5. Are there any problems? Well…

Yeah. Sure. Of course there are.

  1. Pages (Apple’s word processor) is a really amazing piece of software, but it’s just not a replacement for a “real” word processor. Not yet. It needs a Track Changes feature before I can really use it the way I’m used to using a laptop. If someone else whips up a word processor that can open and save files with Word’s Track Changes intact, I’ll be a happy guy. I’m sure Apple will eventually get around to adding it (the first version of Pages on the Mac lacked Track Changes, too), but in the meantime, I have to work around it. There are other issues, too, most of which are minor and I’m sure will be fixed as time goes on.
  2. I would love the option to install a non-WebKit web browser. For some reason, the content management software that I use to run barrylyga.com doesn’t like WebKit browsers — updating my website with the iPad is an exercise in sheer annoyance, meaning that while traveling, I’ll probably stick to Twitter and Facebook, saving major updates for my return home to my iMac. I’m not sure why Apple doesn’t allow, say, Firefox on the iPad. I just wish they did. Still, this isn’t really a deal-killer. I use a somewhat nonstandard backend for my site. If I used WordPress or any number of other more common platforms, I would have no problems updating from the iPad.
  3. The web browser on the iPad is really beautiful, but it does have one “feature” that annoys me every time i use it — when I tap and hold on a link to open a web page in a new window, I am forced to go directly to that new page. What I really want is what exists on the Mac and Windows: Namely, the ability to say, “Open this link in the background, not the foreground.” This way, I can go through a page, opening links as I go, then look at all of those new pages when I want. As it stands right now, I have to open a window, navigate back to the original page, then open a new page.
  4. There is — and most likely never will be — Scrivener for the iPad. This makes me sadder than you can possibly imagine. I’ve already spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find a reasonable substitute, but so far nothing has made me ecstatic. I will keep looking, though!
  5. The biggie: No remote control! There is, unbelievably, no way to control the iPad at a distance! In other words, if I want to run a presentation from my iPad, I can’t use a remote or even a Bluetooth keyboard to do so. I have to stand AT the iPad. This is just an absolutely absurd and idiotic oversight, so contrary to the Apple Way that I’m still sort of stunned it exists at all. I keep re-thinking it, imagining that I must have missed something obvious. But, no. A very, very sad and stupid misstep from a company that rarely makes them.

Now, are these the only problems? Nah. But they’re the only ones that stand out as worth mentioning. I can’t wait for more new apps to be available, and I can’t wait for some of my favorite apps to be updated for the iPad’s features and screen.

All in all, I’m happy with my iPad. As time goes on, I expect new features and new apps to make it even more useful.

Oh, and one more thing: When the iPad was announced, there were lots of chuckles about the name. Like everyone else, I indulged in a little inner-twelve-year-old comedy when Steve Jobs announced that Apple’s long-awaited tablet would be called the iPad. Hey, look — I’m no prude. I’ll listen to your feminine hygiene product jokes all you want.

But it’s been months now and I still see people making jokes and gainsaying the name in blogs and on message boards, always coming back to the same thing: “iPad? Didn’t they talk to any WOMEN before they named it??? Don’t they know it sounds like…”


So, let’s go through this in slow motion. This is a pad:


And, yes, so is this:


But so is this:

Mouse pad

And this:

Brillo pad

And this:

Brake pads

And this:


And this:


And even this:

Foot pad

I could go on, but you get the picture.

Someday I’m sure Apple will release a computer specifically designed at people who own cooperative housing units. It will be called the CondoMac, and we’ll all have another laugh at that point. But until then, can we retire the iPad jokes?

NYC: The Bay Academy

A couple of weeks ago, I took a ride down to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, where I was pleased to sit on a panel at I.S. 98, The Bay Academy, a middle school for creative, artistic kids. I was invited there by the school and by the organization PENCIL, to sit on a panel in front of some 600 students and talk about writing. It was a pleasure for many reasons, not the least of which was that a fellow panelist was none other than Paul Levitz, legendary author of my favorite childhood comic book, Legion of Super-Heroes.

Also on the panel was Phyllis Ehrlich, former editor of Disney Adventures magazine, while Phyllis’ husband Joel acted as moderator. We all had a great time, and the kids were terrific. Here are some pics from the day…




NYC: Otaku TakeOver

A few weeks ago, I went to the Grand Central branch of the New York Public Library for Otaku TakeOver!, a fun few days of events celebrating fandom in general and the fandom of the branch’s teen patrons in particular. This really was an event by, for, and of the kids.

My first day, I led a panel discussion of kids in which they talked about what they were fans of, why they loved what they loved, and what being a fan means to them.

The second day, I sat on a panel with Raina Tegelmeier (SmileThe Babysitters’ Club graphic novels) and First Second’s marketing guru Gina Gagliano, answering questions from the kids.

The video below is a quick 12-minute trip through what was an entire week of geeky, fannish coolness for the kids and the guests.