curse you, tempting canadian comfort food.

On Friday, I loaded the kids into the car and went down to Manchester. We had lunch at Chez Vachon, which has the best poutine south of the border. (Side note: iOS autocorrect does not know “poutine” and thinks I mean “pouting.”) Then we went to We-B-Toyz, where the kids picked out Halloween costumes and some small toys.

Poutine, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a Quebecois dish that consists of fries with cheese curds topped with gravy. It’s about as healthy as it sounds, but it tastes pretty damn good. I don’t know that I’d do the 120-mile round trip routinely just for a plate of it, but I’ll definitely go back there the next time I have business in Manchester or surroundings.

Also on Friday, we got an iPhone 4S (at the Verizon stand inside BJs, very little waiting in line involved), so now both adults in the house are schlepping around iPhones. This is actually my first Jesus Phone–up until now, I’ve used an old flip phone and an iPod touch for comms on the go. It’s nice to have all one’s digital tools in one device, and the iPhone is really an electronic Swiss Army knife. It has all the features of the iPod touch, plus a GPS and a camera (my old iPod touch didn’t have one), and it makes phone calls on top of that. Now I have a HD video and still camera plus a miniature laptop and a cell phone all in one little glass-and-steel brick. I immediately passed the Manly Pink Camera down to the kids, and they’ve been running around the Castle doing photographic essays like The Sleeping Dogs That Sleep All The Time, Out-Of-Focus Siblings, and Daddy Really Doesn’t Want His Picture Taken When He’s In The Bathroom.

The iPhone was my birthday gift from Robin. I got myself a modest little trinket for my upcoming 40th as well: a Spyderco Sage 2.

This is a handy little blade that combines the ergonomics of the Spyderco Native with the looks, feel, and frame lock of the Chris Reeve Sebenza. I’ve dubbed this one the Spyderbenza. The blade is only three inches long and should be legal to carry around in most jurisdictions outside of NH. (Here in the Granite State, we can carry whatever we want, no matter how long the blade or how it is deployed.) It’s also a very sedate-looking folder, without the black coating or serrations that make a knife twice as lethal in the eyes of office drones and police officers in more uptight localities.

Rounding out the New Toy lineup is my latest pen acquisition, a Platinum Carbon fountain pen. This is an inexpensive Japanese desk pen for writing and drawing. It has an insanely fine nib that somehow still manages to be very smooth. It’s designed for Platinum’s carbon ink, which is a pigment-based waterproof artist ink that will clog fountain pens not designed for it. (It’s basically India Ink without the shellac.) The pen is just a bit over ten bucks at JetPens. I also got the desk stand for it to keep it upright when I’m not using it. This pen is kind of addictive to write and draw with, and the ultra-fine smooth line it produces makes me want to doodle tiny little stick figures in the margins of my notebooks.

So that’s the birthday loot haul, even though my birthday won’t be for another week and a half. I don’t have all the toys I want, but I most certainly have all the ones I need, and the rest is pure gravy.

Thank you again, all of you who hit the tip jar for the short story. I feel like I ought to be giving refunds–a buck or so seems fair to me for a short story, so many of you greatly overpaid. That little experiment makes me think about posting an entire novel on the same pay-me-if-you-like-it basis, despite my earlier assertions that I wouldn’t self-publish. Five or six bucks was the rate at had in mind for a novel, not a short story. (For any writer friends who may be curious: I’ve not made professional rate money on that little story yet, but it’s quite a bit more than I would have gotten from a market that offers semi-pro or token payment.) Most importantly, the story is being read and enjoyed by Actual Readers, not languishing in a folder on my hard drive.

For the rest of the day, I’ll be putting some ink down with the new pen, and later on there will be some interskyping with my brother in Germany on my new iPhone. I suspect this Sunday will also involve cocktails at some point. Living in the future is pretty cool.

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borders loot, and ZOMG the heat.

Our local Borders in West Lebanon started its Going Out Of Business sale today, and I was in the area with the kids, so I stopped by. Considering the circumstances, the staff were downright chipper.

The kids got a book each—a giant dinosaur pop-up book for Quinn, and a Winnie the Pooh picture book for Lyra. I got this:

Borders closing sale 003

That’s the latest in the “Knights Who Say ‘Fuck’” fantasy series, and four more Piccadilly graph-ruled medium notebooks. Borders was my source for the Piccadillys, which are perfectly serviceable Moleskine clones. With the current “Ah, Fuck It” discount at Borders, the medium ones are a hair over four bucks a pop, whereas the Moleskines in the same size are $12 and change. Luckily, I’m a packrat when it comes to paper, so I have enough Piccadillys of all sizes stashed away to keep me scribbling for a decade or so.

The minivan has a leak in the Freon system, which means that I got to do a three-store grocery run with two kids without a functioning AC today. The console thermometer showed 101 degrees while I was stuck in traffic on our shopping mile in West Leb, and it felt like driving the van through a giant pizza oven.

I was going to do something productive this afternoon, but after this morning, I just want to sit in front of a fan and chug ice-cold beverages for the rest of the day.

clicky ink-sticks.

With all the fountain pen advocacy on this blog, some may be surprised to learn that <gasp> I don’t always use fountain pens for writing. In some situations, they’re not the best tools for the job. When I take the kids to the playground, for example, I don’t want to bring along a $100 pen with a screw cap–you need two hands to open it, and there’s always the possibility of a lost or stolen pen.

What, then, does the fountain pen guy use when he’s not using a fountain pen?

I’m a fan of these:

That’s the Pilot G2 gel ink pen. The two in front are the metal-barreled G2 Limited version in charcoal and champagne colors, and the one in the back is a standard plastic G2 in blue.

It’s not a fountain pen, but in all honesty, it writes almost as well as one. It also has the advantage of being cheap. The standard model is about $2 in most places, and even the much more expensive-looking Limited can be had for right around $10. The best thing about them is that the refills come in four point sizes and are available just about everywhere. Even my local pharmacy carries them. I like the standard “fine” 0.7mm point for my notebooks, and the “broad” 1.0mm for loose-leaf paper. On occasion, I also use the “ultra-fine” 0.38mm. The pens and refills come in a dozen or more different colors, and the gel ink is smooth and fairly durable.

Unlike a fountain pen, the G2 can be opened and closed with one hand, which is convenient when you do the kind of stop-and-go writing I practice during the day. If you can’t or don’t want to write with a fountain pen, the G2 gel pens are a pretty good alternative–not quite as good as a smooth fountain pen nib, but much better than any ballpoint pen, and less of a hassle to maintain than a fountain pen. They’re great little workhorses, and I always have a few of them on my desk.

storyboarding your novel.

I don’t outline my novels, strictly speaking.  I make a list of narrative waypoints I need to hit, and sometimes that evolves into a chapter outline, but I don’t sit down and nail down the plot from start to finish.  The chapter outline is more of a loose guide, and whenever I do one, I end up deviating from it. They do help to keep things flowing, however, and they are a handy way to chart your narrative arc.

What I’ve started doing for those chapter outlines is storyboarding them.  I swiped the idea from Jo Knowles, who shared her method at a Q&A she did a few months back over in Vermont.  She draws a picture for each chapter containing the central visual of the chapter, and then jots brief chapter notes underneath.

I went to Printable Paper and downloaded their free letter-sized storyboard template, which gives me nine chapter panels per page.  (They have other sizes of storyboards as well, with fewer or more panels per page.)They’re just the right size for a quick sketch and few sentences about the chapter.  It’s helpful to have a visual index of your narrative, and it’s kind of fun to do.

Here’s the sheet I’m currently doing for the Urban Fantasy detective novel I’m working on:

storyboard

Disregard my rather lacking drawing skills. I think about the main image that comes to mind for the chapter, and make a quick sketch of it in the picture panel. Then I write a two- or three-sentence chapter synopsis underneath. Each sheet has space for nine chapters, and you can lay them out next to each other and have the whole story in visual format, with chapter highlights. It’s easier for me to see where I need to swap things around or tighten them up, and how the whole narrative flows.  Mysteries are really dependent on good plot construction, and this is a big help for keeping the plot tight.

(Thanks for the brilliant idea, Jo. It’s a part of my writing toolbox now.)

pen pimpage.

Latest in the series of “Let Me Help You Spend Your Money On Trinkets” posts comes a pointer to my favorite online pen dealer, JetPens.  They now have the Pilot 78G in stock, which is the best low-cost fountain pen I know.  It’s made in Japan, and has a very fine yet very smooth nib.  The 78G comes with a built-in converter that lets you fill it from a bottle, but it also takes Pilot-type ink cartridges. 

If you’ve been looking for something nicer than a $1.50 ballpoint from Staples, here’s a really good pen that writes great and won’t break the bank at $12 and change.  I’ve ordered from JetPens many times, and they’ve always had my stuff in my mailbox two days later, even though they’re a.) on the other coast, and b.) shipping their stuff First Class.  It’s magic, or something.  (I don’t get a cut or any freebies for mentioning them—I’m merely a happy customer.)

joe haldeman on technology and scribbling by hand.

Mitch Wagner at Copper Robot has an audio interview with SF author Joe Haldeman (“The Forever War”) about writing habits and unplugging from technology to create. 

Joe Haldeman works in longhand with a fountain pen, using spiral-bound blank books.  He doesn’t write on the computer for the same reason I’ve turned my back on it for writing: the temptation to goof off and “just check email for a second” when the writing slows down is just too great, and writing in longhand is physically more enjoyable.

(I don’t use spiral-bound books, though, because I dislike the hump of the spiral binding in the middle of the book…it’s always in the way of my hand somehow.  I like bound books that lie flat when opened.)

Poll a hundred writers, and you’ll get a hundred different processes and work habits…

your brain on paper.

Since I’m an admitted pen & paper addict, it should come as no surprise that I liked this article:

The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men

I’ve mentioned before that I write my first drafts in notebooks, but I also carry around a small Moleskine-type notebook, to hold brain scraps that would be lost otherwise.  I’m not the most organized person in the world, so I need a repository for all the information that would be lost to entropy otherwise.  This little notebook isn’t for first drafts–instead, it holds ideas, notes, lists of stuff, phone numbers and addresses of friends, ink and nib writing samples, and bits of research for novels.  It’s sort of my outboard brain, and whatever else I’m working on, the little notebook is nearby for reference or to put down ideas that need offloading.

Now, I’m nobody famous, and I don’t expect to be asked to donate my notebooks to the archives at Really Expensive University some day, but it’s still interesting to see that a bunch of smart and famous people had the same habit…and that they used their notebooks for much the same purpose.  There’s something about writing down an idea on paper that makes the mind get a hold of it better.  Fixing it with a pen lets the brain consider it in more dimensions, like plopping down a blob of clay on a pottery wheel.  You can look at it from all angles, prod it, and slowly form it into shape.