Rediscovering Apple Pages on the iPad

Apple Pages is free for both macOS and iOS devices, and also is online at iCloud.com

I have used just about every word processor ever made, going all the way back to WordStar on DOS, and WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, Scrivener, etc. (even one called IBM Writing Assistant on a PCjr), but over the last several months I’ve rediscovered Apple Pages, especially the iOS version that I use on my iPad Pro. This is one word processor I tried briefly years ago and dismissed, moving on to Scrivener.

But, as nice as Scrivener is, it’s a pain in the butt, and I’d always end up moving the project over to Microsoft Word for the finishing touches to get the manuscript ready for publication.

So one day I took another look at Apple Pages, because the one feature I knew about it was it outputted an absolutely beautiful final product.

Once I re-familiarized myself with the minimalist user interface I began to really appreciate the fine balance of simplicity and features. It can be used as a simple writing tool, but dig deeper and you find most of the controls you’d consider standard in a word processor.

It has a few quirks, but once mastered they are not a problem. It’s not perfect, but no word processor is. It doesn’t try to do everything for everyone — that’s the main flaw in Microsoft Word. It isn’t overly complex — that’s Scrivener.

I’ve found that if you split a screen and have Notes on one side, and Pages on the other, you have a nice and simple replacement for Scrivener that gives you just enough features but not too much, and the output is beautiful and ready to go without bogging you down with settings.

Apple Notes on one side, Apple Pages on the other… you’ve got yourself a free Scrivener replacement.

Add the new iPad Pro magic keyboard and you have one of the nicest writing machines I have ever used.

Plus it syncs nicely to the desktop version, and … one of the best features: it’s free.

FREE.

That’s a great feature!

Bravo, Apple. Well done. Five stars.

Birds and Squirrels

So like many of us all around the world, I am confined to my home, and I thought I’d be okay with this because I am far into the introverted side of the social spectrum. Being that my primary job is to update things on the Intranet, working from home has always been an option, but this is the first time it’s ever been mandatory.

I find that when it’s an option, it’s a pleasant treat. When it’s mandatory, it’s suffocating.

Here’s what I’m doing to keep sane:

  • Taking a lot of pictures of birds and squirrels out my home office window.
  • Watching the backlog of movies that I’d bought but never watched.
  • Finished the third draft of my latest novel.
  • Played a lot of Animal Crossing: New Horizons

But, mainly, I’ve been taking pictures of birds and squirrels.

March 2020 Updates

Half the people I know are secretly convinced they have Covid-19. Everyone around me seems to be sick. Hell, I’ve been sick for the past 9 days. However, in all the cases (including mine) it’s mild. Whatever it is.

Still, I am caught up in this collective feeling that this may be the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it. And then I remember that every other year for the past 20 something years have felt that way.

And so, life goes on.

I’m most of the way through a rewrite of No Such Thing as Mermaids and kind of stumbled and fell on my face during the last two chapters. They simply don’t work, and so I tossed them out and am rewriting them from scratch. It was far too glib of an ending. The main character has gone through some major shit and he needs to be suffering from some PTSD.

This is a “realistic fantasy” I’m writing, after all, so it needs to be fairly realistic.

I think another thing that gives me echoes of the end of the world is this election we’re about to live through. People are so deeply divided that I feel that is the biggest problem facing us. Not health care, not taxes, not housing prices — the us vs. them mentality with no middle ground.

Yes, I lean very hard to one side, but I am still going to be friends with, and love, people who lean the other way. If we can all do that, then we can all maybe see our way to compromising, no matter who wins the elections. Compromise is the foundation of the United States of America. That’s why we have the word “United” in the name of the nation.

Without that keyword and concept taken to heart, I am afraid that the Divided States of America is headed straight for it’s second Civil War.

And my friends, that is exactly what certain other countries of this world really, really want to happen to us. They feel it’s time for this brash, blustery nation to get its comeuppance. They’re tired of us being “Team America, World Police.”

So that is the hard question this nation has to ask itself: do we want to be a divided nation — or a united one?

Sneak Peek (of the new book cover)

Because I’m horrible at keeping secrets, here’s the tentative first draft of the cover design for the book that hasn’t even seen a second draft yet.

After getting his dreams crushed in Silicon Valley and losing almost everything to patent trolls, entrepreneur and hacker Jack Gilmour takes what he has left, and goes back to his roots to open a small computer repair shop in a rural coastal town in Oregon.

He never imagined he’d fall in love with a witch, and he never dreamed he would see what he thinks he saw out in the stormy ocean outside of town. Because he knows … those don’t exist.

Begon, Demons!

I don’t know if you could exactly say it was writer’s block. I think it was just burnout. I’d produced three books in a very short period of time, and then I just felt like … I was done.

But I wasn’t. You see, I have a “story brain” that just won’t shut off.

My girlfriend brought this to my attention when she finally told me how much she loved it when I would narrate just about everything — from animals to inanimate objects — where I apparently project personalities on them and then offhandedly tell her what is going on. The salt and pepper shakers, you see, were plotting against the syrup bottle … or the cats were in cahoots to murder the dog. Or, as I would explain (and not really even realize what I was doing) the flies would all disappear because we’d pulled out a fly swatter, and they were hiding in a corner somewhere creating diagrams of how they would counter-attack when we were least expecting it.

Seriously, I was totally in the dark that I even did this. It was just how I made small talk.

Another seemingly unrelated thing was what I considered a very bad habit: my mind would constantly come up with the worst possible scenarios for everyday mundane events. These I kept to myself, because I thought I was going nuts. Villians, terrorists, deranged killers, monsters, demons — I would enter a restaurant and scope out the quickest escape, or the most logical counter-attack … not that I believed these things would happen, but the horrible scenarios would play out in my head like a TV show.

I wondered: How long have I been like this? Have I been doing this all my life? Did I do this as a child? It was horrible, and more than once I tried to get in to see a psychologist to find what was wrong with me.

But then, one day only a few weeks ago, I realized it had gone away. Completely. And the reason I noticed this is because suddenly it started coming back — and that is when I discovered why.

This bad habit of imagining horrible scenarios had begun after I’d stopped writing fiction. But in October of 2019 I started writing again, and then didn’t even notice this bad habit had vanished. That is, until I’d finished the first draft of the new novel, then it started up again.

That’s when I realized what was going on.

If I’m not plotting the next several scenes in a novel, my “story brain” has nothing better to do than to have a mad gunman invade McDonald’s, or have an airplane crash into my building at work, or have a meteor strike while I’m driving cross country — leaving me to figure out how exactly I’d survive.

It appears I need to constantly be writing fiction just to keep the demons at bay.

Star System, Galaxy, and Universe are not Interchangeable Terms

THIS IS AN OPEN LETTER TO SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS, PARTICULARLY SPACE OPERA WRITERS, AND ALSO PARTICULARLY TO NEW WRITERS

You really need to get this hierarchy straight:

For the most part, planets revolve around a sun. This is called a Star System.

Stars (with their collective planets) are generally found in big collections called a Galaxy.

Galaxies all exist in a Universe.

YOU REALLY NEED TO KEEP THESE TERMS STRAIGHT.

To simplify it, think of it this way: If a planet was a house, then the Star System is a street of houses, and a Galaxy is a very large city. A Universe is the entire continent.

Also, a note about distances:

Planets inside a Star System can be very far away from each other, but they’re still within the gravity well of a star.

Stars are usually very, very far away from each other, so far away that it takes their light years — sometimes hundreds or thousands of years — to reach each other. That’s why we use the term lightyears as a unit of measure.

A lightyear is 5,878,499,801,210 miles.

Carl Sagan

That is also why we generally use the science fiction term “hyperspace” to cheat and jump from one star system to another, and to bypass the reality of a thing called “time dilation” which would make plotting any kind of fictional story a real challenge.

GALAXIES ARE VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY FAR AWAY FROM EACH OTHER. It takes light hundreds-of-thousands, or millions, or even billions of years to reach each other. Even using “hyperspace” you need to stress how in the heck you can go that far, even if it’s a simple statement that the technology pokes a hole in space to enable instant travel across ANY DISTANCE. If you establish that up front, you might get away with it, but … and this is a big point:

You must respect the vast distances between all these celestial objects, and have a grip on what they all are. Bonus points if you have a good knowledge of what a black hole is, and a quasar, and other exotic and strange things such as a neutron star.

You will never be able to look up into the sky and see something happening at that very moment to a star. If a sun is destroyed by a “Star Killer,” you won’t see it happen from a neighboring star system for years.

Major goof made in a recent Star Wars movie

You should also know that there are many different types of stars, ranging from giants to dwarfs, and various colors, and each color means something — and is an indicator of how much heat and radiation that they spew forth.

But above all, do not get star systems and galaxies confused.

If you do, your readers will laugh at you.

Following Your Passions to Success

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist. Still to this day I am still passionately interested in science. What stopped me from becoming a scientist, though, is I have a mental block when it comes to higher forms of math.

In modern speak: I can’t math. But in reality I can, I just was too ADD (literally, thought I wasn’t diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder until I was in late my 40’s). I was too distracted to push my way thought the math and learn it.

So I drifted into the next logical path, and decided I wanted to be a science fiction writer. And I became one (albeit with very limited success). But then I learned during this journey that the publishing industry is rife with the same petty squabbles, bullying, and rivalry as High School (which I hated) and so I took the Groucho Marx route: I don’t want to belong to a club that would have me in it.

I also used to make Super 8 films with my teenage friends, but I never considered going into film making as a profession. Odd, because that is now a large part of my profession — and one I really enjoy. I daresay I enjoy it much more than writing fiction, though I think that is mainly due to it being an instant gratification endeavor. Much like photography, which is also a large part of my day-to-day profession.

Speaking of photography, I just won another first place in a world-wide (though niche) photo contest.

I’m a winner! And this is an escalator. Exciting, I know.

Another thing I used to do as a young teen, and never seemed to realize I could have done it as a profession, was make silly recording. Well, now there’s podcasting, which I’ve been doing for years, and I’ve even done it professionally.

What actually kept me employed for a large part of my life was computer industry work, and that’s because I have some sort of odd supernatural affinity for it … and it for me. I once wrote a short story about a “voodoo computer healer” and — even though I have never levitated anything (like the character in the story does) — I can in many cases hold on to a laptop or touch a cable and heal the technology. Scoff at me if you will, but at one job they used to have me come sit in the finance offices while they ran payroll because they were convinced the check printers would not break down if I was there. Even now my girlfriend, who is an IT master, has me come over to work on the stuff that stumps her, and 7 out of 10 times all I have to do is touch it and it starts working again.

I kid you not — and no, I can’t explain it.

To sum up: If I had concentrated on any of these interests, and specialized in it, I could have made a career out of it. It’s just pure luck that all these interests which I followed eventually congealed into one career that has helped me succeed. You couldn’t have predicted it, because my profession didn’t exist 20 years ago.

So my friends, you can take it from me: follow your passions, and do not give up. They will lead you to success, though it may not be the success you were expecting.

The Secret Novel

I am writing a secret novel. I can’t talk about it. Or at least, I can’t reveal what it’s about.

I will reveal why it’s secret: because if I tell people about it, I’ll lose interest in finishing it. This has been my problem all my life.

I get a novel idea (I get them all the time, I can’t help it – I seem to have a brain that is wired for stories). I start writing it. I get excited, I tell people about it, I tell them about the characters.

And then I start losing interest, because … now I’ve already told the story. So it gets put away for a while until something sparks an interest in it again, and then the cycle repeats itself.

Then, on my last book, Forever And For Always, the premise and the details are so bizarre that I was embarrassed to tell people about it, so I kept my mouth shut. I would occasionally tell friends that I’m writing “a book about people having to fix physics, because someone broke it,” or “I’m writing a sequel to the last three books in the series.”

End result: I finished it in record time.

So then I started a new one, but I told most of my friends and family what it was about, and guess what? I lost interest. The book sits about 1/3 finished, gathering dust.

So now I have this fun idea for a new novel, and I’ve started writing it, and … I’m going to keep it a secret.

Let’s see if I can finish it before the end of the year.

Donnie Darko: Holden Caulfield as Ressurrecte​d by Philip K. Dick

Ten years ago today, I wrote the following in this very blog:

I knew there was a reason I really liked the enigmatic film “Donnie Darko.”  It turns out writer/director Richard Kelly is a fellow Philip K. Dick fan.  I stumbled across this today in a serendipitous moment whilst searching for something completely unrelated:

First-time writer/director Richard Kelly purposefully wanted “Donnie Darko” to be a genre-busting tale that would mean vastly different things to different people. Kelly offers this explanation of the film, “Maybe it’s the story of Holden Caulfield, resurrected in 1988 by the spirit of Philip K. Dick, who was always spinning yarns about schizophrenia and drug abuse breaking the barriers of space and time. Or it’s a black comedy foreshadowing the impact of the 1988 Presidential election, which is really the best way to explain it. But first and foremost, I wanted the film to be a piece of social satire that needs to be experienced and digested several times.”

Richard Kelly

Present day update:

This is still one of my favorite movies because I so admire the way it was written and put together. Also, here’s some sage writing advice from a more recent 2017 interview with Richard Kelly:

“My movies will take place either on the eve of an election, or in the aftermath of an election.” This device effectively timestamps the narrative in a unique place and time. It’s hard not to make a wormhole of our own between the time depicted in the movie and the current American climate following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Film Daily Medium.com article, Why ‘Donnie Darko’ is just as relevant today as ever

My takeaway is to back up something I’ve already taken to heart. If you place your story in a specific time and place, it can never be outdated. It exists in history.

Cry Me A River, Please?