Eight Questions is an occasional series of interviews that I’m including on the site. Being a naturally gifted (read: lazy) interviewer, I will be using the same eight questions in every interview.
Welcome Astrid, David, Ioa, Jeff, Jennifer, Julia, Katherine, Keith, Lee, and Tammy!
1 – What did you do before you did this and what do you miss about it?
Lee: A senior IT executive in a bank. What I miss is helping people grow and believe more in their potential. It sounds corny, but true. I still get letters today from old members of teams I built and it’s very satisfying to hear from people pushing on in directions they didn’t think they could. Corporate politics and the associated superficial relationships in the executive stratosphere are things I’ll never miss.
Keith: I was a primary school teacher, and I miss the teaching. By which, I mean I miss the interaction with the children and helping them learn, but I don’t miss the paperwork, the constant colds caught from the kids and the stress of the job (anyone who thinks teachers have it easy should try teaching for half a term!). Then again, with a job like this, where I am cooped up in a home-office code-monkeying, I miss pretty much all human interaction.
Jennifer: I’d given up herding a classroom of preschoolers in exchange for dancing full-time attendance on one. I was just thinking about forgoing housecleaning during nap time and progressing on that novel when I hit a procrastination goldmine: Literature & Latte’s forums. This inadvertently led to my seduction by the dark side – I mean, to joining the L&L team – and now I look back wistfully to those days and miss all the free time to write that I imagine I had then (I blissfully ignore the part where I may have squandered said free time).
Ioa: Amusingly enough, the commute is what I miss. It was by train for me, and so a sure spot of time every day where I could read, write or just stare out of a window. It’s hard to find that type of time if you need to volunteer it. As for what I did before, I ran the hardware and software for a small graphic design studio.
Astrid: My background has been a thing of shreds and patches. At various times, I have been a technical author, software project manager, freelance writer, general manager of a small software company… I’ve been very involved in software company startups, then took a sabbatical to study Arts & Humanities, and now (being part-time at L&L) I also do the admin, customer support and general “stuff” for a tiny educational software company. I don’t think I miss anything in particular about my previous jobs, but I can’t kick the studying bug.
Katherine: Writer and editor for technology trade magazines. Which I’m mostly still doing, except only the writing part and on a freelance basis. The steady income was nice, but this is nicer.
Tammy: Actually, I’ve always done “this”. And, by this, I mean technical and creative type things. When I was five years old, I wrote my first computer program. Back then, all we had was monochrome monitors and a programming language named Basic. Oh, and dinosaurs! We had those, too.
Speaking of dinosaurs, I used to run a BBS (Bulletin Board System) out of Morris County. That was a long time ago, but I do miss it. There was a certain sense of family within the BBS community. In fact, it was at a SYSOP gathering that I met my husband.
Julia: I was a journalist, specialising in science and health. I do miss having a bit of a window on what’s going on at the peak of human attainment, then getting to chat to the people who’ve actually done the reaching of it. Sometimes I miss living in London, too – though only for about five minutes at a time, and most recently because I’d really, really like to see The Book of Mormon and have a poke about in the exhibition of bits of Pompeii and Herculaneum – but that’s about it.
David: I was the sales and marketing director at a company that sold production line machinery. They sold internationally, so I miss all the associated travel to bustling cities and meeting interesting people. That said, when I was actually doing it, and I’d spent up to 6 weeks on the road going from the U.S. to Chile, then to China and U.A.E. constantly living out of a suitcase, it wasn’t so appealing! Exhibitions, although exhausting, were fun though. They were more like reunions after a few years, and you got a perspective on how small the world, and glazing industry, really is today.
Jeff: It isn’t so much what I did before as what I do concurrently. I write testing and evaluation software for a semiconductor company. If I had enough success in other areas of my life to leave the corporate world behind, I can think of many things I would miss about it. The room temperature always being a scant few degrees above freezing, the co-workers who insist on using speakerphones in a cubicle environment, the toxic smell of other people’s lunch, the atmosphere of distrust…you know what? Nothing. I’d miss absolutely nothing.
2 – How many projects are you working on at the moment and what can you tell us about them?
Keith: In terms of apps, two – Scrivener and Scapple (Scrivener being our writing program and Scapple being our spill-your-thoughts-all-over-the-place app). I’m constantly updating both. We’re also working on the iOS version of Scrivener, which is coming along well again after several setbacks. In terms of attempting-to-write-something, I’m writing a novel of love and teleportation.
Tammy: Honestly, too many to count. But… at the moment, Scrivener for iOS is in the forefront.
In addition to developing Scrivener for iOS, I’m also writing tutorials, working on a zombie game with my two sons, and writing for CreativeBloq.
Like Keith, I’m also working on a novel. Well, two, actually. Having already published a children’s book (Happy Birthday Puppy), I’d like to move my focus on to an older age group. One novel is a YA Fantasy, and the other is a Suspense tale involving project HAARP and a small town Sheriff’s daughter. I’ll give you a hint… evil people are using a small town as their personal science experiment.
Lee: For Windows and Linux desktop, I’m working on Scrivener 2.0 and Scapple 1.0. For Android and Blackberry, I’m working on Scrivener and Scapple ports for phone and tablet. In the background, aside from Literature and Latte work, I set a goal this year to write a draft of a novel I’ve been mulling over in my mind since I started Scrivener for Windows four years ago. It’s a novel about a bio-tech billionaire who has months to live and who’s on the verge of a scientific discovery that governments will kill for. He can save his life by taking the vital organs of an innocent Chinese prisoner, or accept his fate and win back the love and respect of his wayward son. I’m on track to finish a draft this coming December.
Jeff: Aside from juggling my two jobs, I often build emulation-driven arcade cabinets and write the frontend software to run them. I also do a lot of graphic design work for whatever projects my wife has going on this week. Finally, if I have time, I put a little work into that “novel” thing that we all talk about doing. I’m going through a world-building phase right now, so I don’t have much else to share, except that there will be a train crash. Maybe. There will probably be a train crashing. If it fits. I’ll have to get back to you.
Astrid: An ever-changing number as I succumb to new or revived enthusiasms. Writing-wise, my novels have all been abandoned (the world is safe again), and although I keep trying to make myself write fiction again, I am mostly working on a couple of non-fiction book projects instead, of the type that I suspect will never be finished.
Ioa: Outside of my professional work, my ongoing endeavour to refine a simple and effective personal taxonomy for document archival continues. As the “information age” continues to evolve, the importance of understanding one’s own personal media and text collection will only increase.
Jennifer: Oh, I have lots of projects in various stages. There’s the great “Get rid of this strip of gravel across my yard and turn it into grass” project that’s been lingering in the conceptualisation phase ever since I moved here. There’s the “Organise my bedroom so I can paint the walls to create a clean and relaxing retreat” project. I suppose though you mean the kind that might interest readers. Readers like books, so let’s talk about books! My main writing project right now is a collaborative sci-fi trilogy about a disillusioned ex-spy and her genius hacker friend who band with their crew to defend themselves when their starship’s AI makes them targets of a crime syndicate. Sort of Joss Whedon meets J.J. Abrams.
Katherine: Let’s see. Just finished three articles in quick succession, which is why I’ve been so horribly slow in answering these questions. One on customer service at a major corporate client, one an interview with a couple of elite judoka, and one a column on my aikido practice. Next up, LED lighting for museums. With preparation for my third degree black belt test (aikido) running along in the background of all of them.
David: Along with work, my projects suddenly have real impetus. Those fanciful house projects that Jennifer mentioned are being realized as we’re preparing our home for sale. Working to the refrain of “Why didn’t we do this 10 years ago?” I’m building wooden steps, painting the outside of the house, laying floor, etc. I’ve no idea why the next owners get to enjoy the reality of our dreams, but that’s okay. We’re also preparing for an international move from Norway to the U.K., so lots of flying, driving and use of North Sea ferries is going on.
Julia: Hmm, day to day management and development of three children, an indifferent cat and two rather grumpy chickens. Plus trying to find furniture and things to fill our new house – we’ve always rented until now and don’t even have any of the normal things such as pictures to put on the walls because our landlords never allowed us to use BluTack, let alone hammer in nails. Then there’s the novel – so far, a batch of observations and unrelated paragraphs with no real plot or purpose thrown into a Scrivener project. Unformed is a massive understatement.
3 – If you had to quit either reading or writing which would you pick?
Jennifer: Let’s just take my soul out and crush it now.
Katherine: Yeah, what Jennifer said. Or else I cheat, and go with audio books and dictation software. But when push comes to shove, you’ll have to pry my library from my cold dead hands.
Ioa: I would dispense with writing, because if you can’t read, the process of writing would be the mindless inscribing of runes upon a surface. So all thought would appear, from the perceptions of this hypothetical write-only mind, to vanish completely, without a trace and converted into smoke and entrails for all it matters. Meanwhile for the read-only mind, the world of knowledge, metaphor and reason would remain a hospitable geography to you.
Julia: Easy – writing. Then I wouldn’t be pressuring myself into trying to write and would have far more time in which to read.
Keith: Easy: writing. My enjoyment of writing stems purely from my “Huh, that’s cool, wonder how that works, let’s see if I can make one myself” mindset (which is how I came to write software, too). So, without the reading, there couldn’t be any writing for me. Besides, what use are writers who don’t read?
David: Writing. I vividly remember reading a novel in my early twenties, putting it down and thinking, “What’s the point in me trying to write? I’m never going to attain something as rich and rewarding.” Maybe not so coincidently, it was on the same trip that I lost the start of my novel as my Psion decided to forget everything I’d written during the preceding months travelling around India.
Lee: Neither. One can’t exist without the other in my subjective view.
Jeff: I’m with Lee on this one. Reading inspires writing, and writing cannot be accomplished without reading.
Astrid: Writing, definitely. Some authors stop me wanting to write at all. I think I’ve grown out of my childhood dream that I would grow up to be a novelist, but I will always like reading, even if the material I read changes as the years pass. I’m working my way through the iconic novels of the 18th century at the moment.
Tammy: That question is right up there with this one: which of your children is your favorite? It’s impossible to answer. My life would be equally horrible if either was removed.
4 – If you could magic another hour into the day, where would you put it and what would you use it for?
Jeff: Sleep. Don’t judge me! I don’t get nearly enough of that magic elixir as it is, and I would probably be ten times more productive in the other hours if I could just find time for a little more snoring.
Jennifer: It wouldn’t much matter where I put it, since my “schedule” would just absorb it instantly. (Pounce on it and worry it to pieces might be a more apt description.) Were I wise like Jeff, I would use it to sleep, but I’d probably fritter it with wasted minutes here and there. Eventually I might get over the giddiness of an extra hour and sit down diligently to write, and then spend half of it “organising” my project.
David: Keith knows I could do with an extra hour in bed in the morning. He’s probably even considered drugging me at certain points in our lives! We grew up as neighbours. Seeing as we’re magically creating an hour, I’d go for instant teleportation to time with friends where they’ve suddenly got a free hour without commitments too.
Lee: An extra hour at the start of the day strolling the beach and watching the sun rise, time to appreciate a new day would be wonderful. Then, the sprint: the mad rush to get the kids up, pack their lunches, iron their shirts and scramble out the front door and into the car whilst munching on a slice of toast and wrestling with a belt buckle.
Julia: I’d drop it into the day just before midnight, so I could sit in bed and read for longer before I had to go to sleep. It would also handily double as an extra hour down the pub on nights out.
Katherine: Me too. That last hour of the day always seems to force me to choose between sleep and reading one more chapter.
Keith: I’d like to say that I’d use it for writing, or that I’d spend it with my kids. In reality, though, I’d probably waste it looking up pointless stuff on the internet.
Tammy: What? Sorry… you lost me there for a moment. I was dreaming about that extra hour.
If I had an extra hour, I’m pretty sure I would spend it working. It’s what I do. I write. I code. I illustrate. Having an extra hour to do any of those things would be magical, indeed. Keith… if you’re looking up pointless stuff on the internet, will you please add this one to the list: how to magic another hour into the day. Thanks! =)
Astrid: I’d put it anywhere in the day, and I’d spend it lounging in a blistering-hot sauna with a good book and a glass of chilled Sancerre, while someone else cleans my house for me. Did you know that if you read paperbacks in a sauna, the glue melts, and when the book cools down it falls apart?
Ioa: I would divide it eight times, into intervals of seven and a half minutes, spread evenly throughout the day, wherein nothing is done but to ring a small bell and wear blue clothing.
5 – What is your pet hate in writing / language?
Katherine: I recently abandoned two novels in the course of a single cross country flight. I’ll read just about anything when I’m stuck on an airplane, but not these. The first was a dystopian future novel with an interesting premise, except every few pages the author inserted a rant not-so-subtly blaming the whole mess on (a ridiculous caricature of) the Obama administration. The other was a suspense novel with a too stupid to live protagonist matched up with an equally stupid antagonist, both of whom had – despite their stupidity – somehow built world-spanning conspiracies.
Astrid: Random things, like spelling “mediaeval” without the “a”, or saying that something “wants cutting” when, as any fule kno, it “needs cut”. Idiosyncratically, I’m not too keen on reading dialogue; unless it’s a play, I’d rather read a representation of a conversation than a replication of it.
Things that I hate in my own writing are, as you may have guessed, an overgenerous hand with commas and semi-colons… a tendency to overuse ellipses – and repeatedly adding sub-clauses after an em-dash.
Ioa: The notion that some thoughts just can’t be put into words. That always bothered me. But of course it is there, we, all of us, have a huge wall of static on one side of our heads that none of us can articulate to any other human. It’s a tragic malfunction of what language promises, to have such a large block of thoughts that cannot be easily transmitted between us. So I’ve always been fascinated with those languages that map just a bit further into areas that my own native English does not so easily do. The interesting notion is that, individually, nearly all humans have thoughts we cannot express, but collectively, if some magical human could speak every language that has ever been spoken by humankind – that person would be able to articulate, beautifully and poetically, nearly every thought that crossed their mind. The only trouble is, most of their thoughts would be in dead languages nobody knows well or at all, outside of a few scholars, and sometimes not even anyone left alive at all.
Until we all become these “magic humans” that have omni-languages that encompass all forms of thought, then there is no chicken or egg to debate over – yet. This is why we must start with blue robes, a bell, and 7.5 minute intervals spaced evenly throughout the day!
Keith: I have several. For instance, one of my children has started saying, “My friends are going park” – the kids I used to teach in London did that, too, and it seems to have filtered down here. It drives me crazy. But if we’re talking pedantry, then “due to” annoys me, as does the misuse of apostrophes and semicolons. However, more irritating than all of these are pedants who spend their time picking apart the minor grammatical slippages of other people (or who claim that it’s possible to split the infinitive in English).
Jeff: I suppose my pet peeve would be an author in need of a good editor. I read a steampunk novel about a year ago that could have been a good story, if only it had focused on two central characters instead of a dozen, and if it had narrowed the plot down enough for a reasonable person to follow (and saved some of those fifty side-plots for a sequel or two). I expect that sort of thing in a raw manuscript, but by the time it gets published I expect it to have been devastated by a ruthless red pen.
Jennifer: Oh, I don’t know if any of them are pets, exactly; I have more of a menagerie. I spurn the misuse* of apostrophes (followed at a little distance by the misuse of commas, ellipses, em dashes – worse yet, hyphens masquerading as em dashes – semicolons, and parentheses), am affronted by the removal of the Oxford comma, and cringe every time my husband mentions that something “needs done” (Astrid, I’m concerned we may no longer be able to be friends). And I hate being shown up by some guy who used to be an English teacher and likes to throw R.L. Trask in my face, and when this other guy persists in telling me I can’t start sentences with “and”.
I’d better not get started on broader peeves of narrative writing, but I have at least twice in my life hurled a book across the room after reading it (Chekov’s The Seagull, which probably didn’t deserve it, but I was fed up after spending a depressing January buried under five feet of Vermont snow while cramming a couple bleak plays a week for a freshman dramaturgy intensive, and some Russian mystery novel with an inane but lucky detective, which absolutely did deserve breaking its spine on the far wall and worse).
(* – Misuse defined by The Little, Brown Handbook and my own infallible opinion.)
David: Ha, good to hear that Keith takes other people to Trask too! Let’s face it; he probably does it to everyone. Pet peeve: Russian novels that have five names for a single character depending on context. I’m sure I’ve been robbed of a literary masterpiece or two by abject confusion within the first couple of chapters.
Julia: I’m with Jeff on this – authors need editors. A good example is when you have parallel viewpoints in alternating chapters in a book… but one is so, so much more interesting than the other and you end up speed reading the dull bits to get to the good sections. Very frustrating.
Tammy: I’m pretty laid back when it comes to pet peeves. Although, I do try to correct my boys when they make simple (or lazy) mistakes. When they were younger, they would say things like: “Mom, ‘Canya’ let me have xyz?” My immediate response was always: “Kenya is a Country in Africa.” After a while, they got the hint.
Lee: I don’t really have one, but I’m probably not as sophisticated as most writers in the craft. I find writing therapeutic and exciting on the whole. The whole creative process of shutting off the conscious logical-editing-mind and allowing the sub-conscious to ‘create’ is a constant source of amazement to me. I’m no grammar aficionado, so I don’t get too caught up there until the bulk of the writing is done and I can share the work with folks who can help fix issues.
As far as reading the writing of others goes, I’m definitely not a big fan of waffle and fluff or adverbs – like: “Hey!” she said loudly and with contempt. If I get a few of those lines I tend to curse at the author pretty swiftly and put the book down.
I recently went through purgatory after I made a deal with my wife to take possession of a small study room in our house. The deal was she’d let me convert the room into a ‘man cave’ if I read the trilogy of ‘Fifty Shades’. Well, that was worse than tying fishing line to each of my front teeth and having someone yank them out. Clearly, the author achieved something amazing with so many folks praising the work, but for me the writing was, well, ‘Holy cow!’ – It was bad.
6 – Are there any genres that you love to read but which you never write?
David: Plenty, but all I’m coming up with are scientific papers and philosophy. Bizarrely, probably the genre combination that I’d probably most like to write about.
Julia: Sometimes I get fed up with wading through literary works full of hidden symbolism and complex meanings. And at that point, I turn to the collected works of Jacqueline Susann. I can’t really see myself writing 60s/70s potboilers but they’re fun to read all the same.
Keith: Science books, programming books, philosophy.
Lee: Young teen books that I read with my kids, like the Artemis Fowl and Rangers Apprentice series were wonderful. Science Fiction and Murder Mystery are others.
Jeff: I read an insane number of genres, but when it comes to writing I tend to stay within speculative-fiction. I would say the genre that I read the most often that I’m not likely to write are detective novels.
Astrid: Maybe Nordic-noir and Scandi-thrillers? But I’m not sure that it’s entirely truthful to say that I love to read that genre, because I skim over the gory bits so I don’t read the whole thing. I also quite like to read plays, but I can’t see me ever writing one.
Tammy: I tend to only read genres that I would write. That being said, if I were to pick a genre, I’d have to side with Keith and say programming books. Sure, I write tutorials now, but I doubt I would ever write a giant 300 page technical paper weight… uh, er, I mean book.
Ioa: Well, I don’t really write any fiction at all. I play around with it now and then… the Novel in a Day thing, stuff like that is about the extent of it. I probably actually read more fiction than I do non-fiction though! I take them both very seriously, but one is for philosophy and the other is for knowledge, if that makes sense.
Jennifer: Witty, brilliantly-crafted novels. Otherwise, I am either regrettably narrow-minded in my genre reading or optimistically experimental in my writing.
Katherine: I’ll read just about anything, so it’s hard to say. I don’t see myself writing technothrillers or police procedurals, but the last time I said something like that a character said “Really? Watch this!”
7 – Do you have any writing rituals, habits or idiosyncrasies that you can share?
Ioa: Oh nothing out of the ordinary, just a cup of tea or coffee is fine for me. I don’t need much of a reason to haul out the pen. Perhaps my greater weakness is that I have a hard time capping it.
David: I’d like to develop some of Hemingway’s tics; the part of his writing process that involved disappearing to Spain and drinking. Not too bothered about the bull fighting bit though.
Jennifer: Consume dark chocolate and tea. Pumpkin spice lattes tend to make a sudden and frequent appearance each November, along with caramel lattes, crème brûlée lattes, and whatever that new one was that Starbucks put out last year.
Astrid: If I really mean business, I sit at the dining table to write. But usually I write on a laptop on my knee, which just goes to show that I don’t take it seriously enough.
Julia: Hmm. I don’t really ever have a set time where I sit down and write; I just jot things down as they come to me. So I don’t really have any habits, as my writing isn’t habitual. I’m normally to be found with a cup of coffee in my hand, so perhaps that counts?
Tammy: I keep my work area free of clutter. This includes papers, testing devices, mugs, and even my writing sticks. Everything needs to be lined up in perfect order.
When I fire up the computer, the first thing I do is prepare my work area. I check to make sure I have exactly one pen and one pencil. I verify my notepad is directly under my iMac, and that my pen and pencil are sitting perfectly next to it. As it this wasn’t crazy enough, I also make sure my two drink coasters are lined up exactly at the edge of my desk. The last order of business is music. I launch my player, and then I get to work! For the record, since I started using a standing desk, my dance moves have improved! You can read about that over here: http://www.creativebloq.com/design-tools/standing-desk-3132201
Jeff: That would imply that I have any rituals, habits or idiosyncrasies. I would like very much to develop some of those. Okay, I have plenty of idiosyncrasies, but sadly none of them are applicable to writing.
Lee: Writing in a tight pair of Captain America underpants seems to give my writing more of an edge.
Keith: Sit at computer. Stare at screen. Check email. Stare at screen. Look something up on internet. Follow link. Wonder where time went. Resolve to do better tomorrow.
Katherine: Pretty much what Keith said. Although since he used his procrastination time to create Scrivener, I guess I should be so lucky. I’m trying to develop more consistent habits, since otherwise too much time disappears down the Great Internet Black Hole.
8 – What are you selling and where can I buy it?
Keith and Lee (in one practiced harmony): Scrivener (for Windows and Mac OS X) and Scapple (for Mac and Windows soon), both available at http://www.literatureandlatte.com or via the Mac App, Windows 8, or Amazon stores.
Julia: I tend to be the person who organises the L&L interviews, so I suppose you could say I’m selling Keith’s soul. Muhaha…
Ioa: Well there’s Scrivener, and now Scapple! But really, right now that’s it. Maybe some day I’ll have some more to plug, but right now I’m all-in with this project and I’m loving it.
Tammy: As a creative developer, all I have to sell are my services. If you need an app, an illustrator, a writer, or a shoulder to cry on, I’m your gal. Ok, maybe we shouldn’t mention that last one. In any case, you can check out what I do over at http://www.justwritecode.net.
Astrid: My soul… Actually, no, it’s not for sale, but I couldn’t resist the Faustian overtone. I don’t think I’m selling anything in particular – I’m obviously missing a trick, here.
Jennifer: Let me get back to you once I’ve published something…
David: Scrivener and Scapple in abundance http://www.literatureandlatte.com