Where the inane meets the mundane

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Tweet me some book recommendations! @kodermike

I’ve been reading more paper books lately for a couple of reasons. The one that’s germane here is that I like reading at the end of the day to relax, but by the time I get to that obligation free time my eyes are tired, and even  the screen of my paperwhite can give me a headache. Hence, the need for physically printed books in my life again.

My kids know these things. They also know that I’ve asked for more books for my upcoming birthday, because books are great. They occupy free time in a way no interactive screen activity can, and I usually feel better for having spent the time with one. Even books that are just eye candy (brain candy?), fun romps through a made up land with fake peril and mighty feats of magic make me feel better. They exercise a part of the imagination that needs a thorough workout, no matter how serious they aren’t.

This is where you come in. I’m on a tight deadline with everything else going on, and I could really use some suggestions to put on my list. Most of the books I can think of as great to have all have Pre-Order pages only. Some are coming out before my birthday, others are still tentatively scheduled for this fall or later.

Here are the guidelines of what I like. If you know of a book that falls into one of these categories, tweet it to me so I can consider adding it to my list.

  • I like fantasy. Largely epic fantasy, not as much the grim dark stuff, but I’ve been known to dabble.
  • I like Science Fiction, or at least, sci-fi. The difference there being that it doesn’t have to be hard science fiction. I love space operas, alien threats, etc. Neal Asher’s fun, but so is Scalzi, or Schoen.
  • In fiction, I am a bit picky. Stephen King has written some of the best books I’ve ever read (Bag of Bones is my favorite, though The Stand is on that list too), but that isn’t to say I only read horror. General fiction is actually a weakness of mine – it rarely holds my interest, so I don’t pursue it too much.
  • I like memoirs. I didn’t realize this, but I like reading history as recorded by the participant. Granted, I tend to lean towards the memoirs of explorers, adventurers, etc., but I try not to judge before at least reading the first few pages.
  • Nonfiction is a broad category, I know. Some recent reads have been The Analog Revolution (mixed opinions – loved the first half, want to write a blog about it, but the second half felt discordant to me), a history of the atom bomb, and a collection of essays by Sagan. I guess you could say I prefer my general nonfiction to be more in the sciences, though I am willing to take interesting side trips.

No guarantees that I will read the books you tweet me, but I will do my best to consider each. And thank you!!

Scrivener on Linux, for real, almost.

Back in my heavy Linux days, there was a software package known as WINE. Self referentially, it was an acronym for WINE INot an Emulator.  And yet, that’s what it did – it let you emulate just enough of a Windows environment to run windows software on Linux.

And it sucked.

It was nascent back then, prone to crashing if you could even get it to launch an application. Some core Windows software worked fine, but mostly, it was a crapshoot for functionality. I remember it mostly for its position in the gaming on Linux debates. There was one camp that thought games (and by extension, game manufacturers) should make Linux compatible games. The other camp thought that that was a waste of effort, if we could just get WINE working there wouldn’t need to be any extra development.

For a long time, I admit, I was in that first camp. A few companies produced native Linux games, and I played them as much as I could, and it was awesome. The whole point to being on Linux back then was to avoid tainting your world with the likes of Microsoft and their Evil Empire Monopoly.

But times and people change. I am still a big advocate of Linux, preferring it as my desktop when possible. “But you own some Macs!” is a valid argument to throw in my face. In my defense, after moving to the BSD kernel, Mac’s have largely become *NIX boxes with great eye candy. The fact that they all run on the same exact hardware universally means software developed on one doesn’t have to be adapted for another.

In the last year or so, I’ve strayed back to a Linux desktop though. The major moving factor these days isn’t the purity of the OS, but costs. As pretty and shiny as Macs are, they cost a lot. And the slightly used and old hardware I bought five years ago is really starting to show its age now. My iMac is manic these days; either “everything is spiffy, awesome, let’s run some more apps!” or, just as often, it will take ten or more minutes of chugging to do something before giving up and just throwing errors. I know the root cause – the hard drive is starting to fail – but since it’s a sealed case iMac, my only option for fixing it is to take it into a Mac repair shop and pay almost as much as the thing is worth to have it fixed. On top of that, the 8 gigs of RAM that were speedy when it was new just don’t stand up to the pressure of multitasking these days. My 2011 Macbook Air, bought from a company as part of a payout when I left, is still my go to for easy, mobile computing. But it’s also only running with 4 gigs of memory and a ticking time bomb on how many recharges are left on the battery before it’s just a paperweight.

So looking at cheaper hardware running Linux just makes sense. Except for one, seemingly fatal flaw:

I am addicted to Scrivener.

I have tried any variation of alternative approaches. Google docs would be awesome if they worked for me – I have a cheap Chromebook I bought with proceeds from a short story sale last year, after all. But the truth is that when you start working on a novel length document in Google docs, the average Chromebook drags. Opening a 50k novel on the Chromebook (ASUS, average hardware, 4 gigs of RAM) chugs, and there is a visible and dangerous delay between what you type and it actually appearing in your document. IF it even appears as typed.

I’ve tried variations of Markdown text files and complicated folder structures to keep it organized. That works better – plain text will always be king for mobility in this regard – but that’s when I realized what it was about Scrivener that I missed.

Scrivener gives me flexibility. I can keep scenes as discreet objects, move them around, enable or disable them at will from inclusion. I can type a story in any font and look that I want, because Scrivener’s compile options let me manipulate the final product without making any changes to my documents.  I don’t use more than 10% of the features of Scrivener, but that 10% is the bulk of my writing workflow.

There used to be a port of Scrivener for Linux. It was admirable, it was awesome, but (understandably) it became a bear to maintain. Like the camp of gamers that wanted Linux ports of popular games, the biggest issue with making software written for other platforms work on Linux is that there is no consistency. You can make a version that works on vanilla Ubuntu, Debian, or Red Hat, but those are just three of a multitude of options. And with each Linux distro, there are ever so slight variances in kernels, libraries, and compile options that make producing a universally running binary close to impossible. The only way to accomplish that is to be able to run it inside a virtual environment. Docker, a hypervisor, something that can emulate the libraries needed to make a version of the software work.

Which is where WINE comes back to the rescue. Because in the years since I first tried it, it has matured and improved considerably. And with projects like PlayOnLinux, a gui wrapper for WINE, it’s possible to configure and manage applications with amazing control. And that’s how I’m finally getting the best of both worlds. Sure, the Windows version of Scrivener is lacking a few of the bells and whistles of the Mac counterpart – but it is a functional, working, legitimate product. Running it inside of WINE works perfectly.

If you are interested in giving it a try, you can download the Windows trial version of Scrivener and follow the instructions in this video on youtube – . While a little dated (you can use newer versions of WINE than the video suggests), the steps for setting it up worked perfectly. Me, I’ve got some work to do so I can get back to writing this afternoon.

Where have all the posts gone? A brief interlude.

It seems to me that there is plenty enough for us to read about in the world these last few months. I don’t want to make this political, and I don’t know about you, but following the US election this past November, I’ve had a lot to think about.

It’s been pretty distracting to be frank.

In addition to all of that, there has been real life. Nothing sad, nothing overly dramatic, but real life will always win when pitted against less critical activities (which, in the scope of things, writing is at the moment). But more on at least one of those real life interruptions a little further down. First, let’s talk about writing some more.

I see there are still people out there reading what I write, which is a crazy concept to me. Somehow, I’m still getting nibbles on A Scent of Roses. I don’t check in on the book as obsessively as I did when I first put it out there, so imagine my surprise when I found a decent review of the book on Amazon. (By the by, if you’ve read the book, even if you didn’t like it, please consider leaving a review. Even bad reviews are better than no reviews. Thanks!). Every month, I get a small sales report – not quite Happy Meal buying sales, but a few bucks never hurts. And I’m still pushing out short stories, even though I haven’t done more than draft out a few new ones in a while.

So, what am I working on? Well, I still have a couple of almost completed manuscripts sitting here, waiting for their final words to make their first drafts complete. I’ve pulled A Mountain Fell From Heaven out and am trying to give it a proper ending before I go through and rewrite part of it (there’s a scene at the beginning that was all about me trying to be grim and edgy and adult and it just grates on my nerves every time I think about it, so I’m tossing it). I have a sequel to Chrysalis going through the early stages of the first draft (about 30k written, with a rough flow chart of where it’s going), and if I ever find the time I’d like to get back to my YA novel, A Fool’s Gold.

All of that is TBD, though. While this is all actively on my writing road map for the year, and I even get a chance to work on some of it a few times a week, it’s still a long ways off from being submission worthy. I’m still trying to get eyes on Chrysalis, though my hopes of finding a publisher for it are dwindling. I think if I make it to May without even a hint of a bite, I’m going to publish it myself, using what I learned with ASR to do it better.

Later this spring, I’d also like to re-release ASR. The decision to publish on Amazon, and the actual publication, all happened in the span of a weekend last summer. While I still can’t afford to get the book properly copyedited, and I’ve already lost sales for the people who have tried it and dismissed it because of typos, I feel like it would be a good move to re-release it, this time with some better spell checking and common/easy typographical mistakes corrected. I don’t want to change the content – that feels like it would be a cheat, even if I’m aware of at least one continuity flaw now that I missed when hitting publish. But I would like to take an opportunity to clean up the prose a little bit (drop that’s, etc., fix obviously mistaken spelling mistakes, etc.). I’d also like to add some front material (namely to explain what this revision changed), and some end material to encourage people to leave reviews and how to find me online. I think one of the newbie mistakes I made when I published was in not including a way of keeping in touch and giving feedback.

With my writing roadmap for the year pretty much determined (revise ASR, release Chrysalis myself if I can’t find a publisher, and at least finish two other novels), why am I waiting so long to do something about it? Why am I waiting until May, over two months, when I have everything at hand now?

When we moved out to California just under two years ago, we knew this wasn’t to be a permanent home. We didn’t know how long we would stay, but we were pretty sure we weren’t going to stay in the Bay area forever. While on a family vacation this past fall, we took some time to visit Portland, Oregon, and fell in love. While still on the West Coast, there are seasons, which (shocking everyone) we missed. Plus, there is an atmosphere in Portland that just fits our groove. After a lot of talk, and then a lot more talk at the office, I got permission to be a remote employee again. I have my lessons learned from the last time I was remote, so I’m not doing this blindly.

In January, we flew up to Portland again, but this time we were on a mission. We scoped out and started paperwork on a house. Occupying my time this spring, then, will be our move from the Bay area up to Portland. We’re excited (more than the kids, I admit, who see it as just another disruption after only a few years since the last one), with a four bedroom house and an actual yard to look forward to.

Which brings me back to my writing. While I am still working hard (sometimes), I am making no plans to finish or publish anything new before the move is over. But maybe I can get away with a few more blog posts. I’d forgotten how cathartic they could be.

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