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Author: Kristopher Neidecker

Writing Hardware

Writing is a very personal process…

Blech, I feel dirty even writing that.

I mean, yeah, it is, but so are most things. But writers, oh precious and fragile artists we aren’t, make it a real personal thing. Like, crazy personal.

“I write best in a crowded zoo while listening to the chimpanzees mate to the beat of Skrillex.”

“Oh no, one needs complete silence! A zen like space, positive energies flowing though their ear holes like angry African ants.”

In reality, almost anyone can write anywhere under any conditions on anything. But, no doubt, we aren’t all equipped to deal with certain things as well as others. I, for one, am ADD as fuck, and humming and whistling, tapping and bumping, throw me off my game. I can write at a park. But I don’t.

In the same way, writing hardware and devices can play to our strengths and weaknesses.

This gives rise to the writing snoots, all aquiver with excitement to convert you to their way of working, their particular hobby horse…

Longhand via pen.

Typewriter via well-muscled-fingers.

Windows PC only.

Mac only.

I want to take a moment to wipe away the dusty, dried yak poo coating these ideas, and talk positives and negatives, as well as basic reality, about writing hardware.

Software is for later. Trust me, I have a lot to talk about there. But we’re dusting the yak poo from hardware today.

Doing it Twice, or I Like to do More Work:

Longhand, i.e. the Cold and Dark Days of Yore

Some folks swear by longhand writing. For those youngins born into the age of the iPad, longhand means writing things (scratching into) on other things (dead tree matter) with cylindrical objects filled with slightly toxic fluid (the elders called them…pens).

(Note, as you read, I like to make fun of stuff, but it’s all in good humor. If you enjoy longhand, I’m not here to take a shit on it.)

I mean, but damn, you know?

Some swear it’s the only way to write, and that it has a sort of mythical, magical feeling to it. It unlocks their inner writing monster and teleports them to a zen place of composition.

Maybe it does. Not for me, of course. My hand is cramping just thinking about it. But if it works for you, and you like the smell of hot ink on cool paper, go for it!

But here’s the deal: no one accepts hand written manuscripts. At all. Period. No agent, no publisher, and Amazon would zap you with a laser from space if you tried to stuff a sheet of notebook paper into their Kindle site—not to mention how unhappy your CD drive would be if you tried to shove your manuscript through it in a desperate bid to turn 300 pages of hand written manuscript into an ebook.

Before you dive into the world of longhand fiction, think long and hard how you plan to get it into someone’s sweaty little palms for reading. You’d likely have to type the whole thing anyway.

If you are adverse to working on a keyboard, ask yourself why. Slow typist? That’s ok. Get a typing program and practice. Or just ignore it and type slowly. Need the smell of paper to get in the mood? Keep some nearby and idly rub your nose on it.

Because, really, you shouldn’t be writing much with pen and paper unless there is a damned good reason. It’s just adding a very lengthy step to your process.

Typewriter, i.e. the Clacker

Oh, there it is. A beauty. Shiny keys, clacking clacking typing action.

A physical way to write, no doubt. And fun enough.

Like the longhand writing above, there are diehard typewriter folks as well.

Who doesn’t want to look like Asimov, IBM Selectric whirring away in front of him? Very writerly, no?

But here we come to a similar problem: typewritten manuscripts are almost never accepted now. We’ve entered the digital age, my friends, and like it or not, it’s a good thing. As a slush reader for a magazine, I can tell you I’m perfectly content with a digital pile of doc files instead of a literal pile of typewriter paper.

If you buy into the “typewriter is the best and only way to write” line some folks spout, be prepaired to have to retype the whole thing into a computer later.

And don’t think you can OCR that bad boy with that fancy assed scanner of yours. I’ve tried. Doesn’t work.

I have a green first gen IBM Selectric on my desk. Told you, I like typewriters. It has a special, easy to read “type” ball on it that OCRs well enough. And even so, there’s an error introduced every few words, spaces missing, and worse. It’s almost as much work to fix the shit as to just retype the work.

Doing it Once, or Keeping up with the Joneses:

Desktops and Laptops: Mac vs Windows vs Linux

This is where we cut through the bullshit and send the fanboi communities to sit in their respective corners.

I’m a tech man, period. I have a Macbook, a Windows PC, an iPhone, iPad, a Kindle, multiple Android tablets, an Atari 130XE from the early 80s with 128 kb of RAM… I play no fanboi games, and worship no brand. The following are from personal experience.

When combing through the myriad choices for writers, there are a lot of things to consider. But, in the end, these systems are as similar as thay are different.

But that doesn’t stop people from endlessly comparing, and yapping, about how only a moron would use Mac/Windows/Linux because of price/stability/etc.

But, let’s step back, brush aside the crap, and dive into what really separates these different systems, pros and ugly cons all on display.

Windows computers

The Good

Let’s get one thing straight: Microsoft is no more, or less, evil than Apple. Just push that all out of the way. Companies do shiesty shit. Big companies do more. World dominating companies like Microsoft and Apple do way more.

Another bit of bull to shovel out of the way: Windows does not crash more, or less, than OS X (now, MacOS…yay, useless name change!). Not anymore, at least. The last few Windows versions have been quite stable, since about Windows 7. Granted, one could ask what took them so long, but I doubt they’d answer your strongly worded letter.

First up, for us writers, Windows is ubiquitous. There is a ton of writing software for Windows, and the newest iterations of Word link up nice with the free cloud service Microsoft offers, which allows for work on Word via your iPhone, iPad, or Android device.

Then there are all the fiction specific software you can find for free or cheap on Windows: yWriter, Sonar 3, Scrivener (the Windows version), WriteMonkey, and more.

Windows machines can be found pretty cheap, and if you’re on a real budget, most of these programs can be run on a fairly old machine bought off eBay.

Your work computer is likely Windows, so yeah, writing on your down time (or when you’re supposed to be doing something else…) is possible.

And Windows is easy enough to use if it is all set up for you already. If you avoid surfing fishy sites and mucking with your drivers, well, it should be as simple as clicky-start-menu, clicky-application-icon, write. Though, for some reason, people above a certain age (my parents for example), somehow mess up their computer every other week clicking on some dumb-assed email that looks, smells, and tastes like a scam, but they click that link anyway…

Windows laptops can be be found really cheap, and often are good enough for writing.

The Ecosystem

Due to how Windows programs may be Windows only (like many OS X programs are Mac only) be aware that working on a Windows machine may lock you into the Windows “ecosystem,” in other words, that world of computing and software.

If you work in yWriter, you will need to keep working in yWriter. If your system doesn’t have yWriter, or you want to write on a mobile device when out of the house, no joy my friend.

But, of course, Word is linked up to its own little cloud system that works well on Windows, OS X, and all mobile devices worth a damn. So, if you are a big-honking-Word-document-for-my-whole-novel writer, this would work great for you.

But other than Word, or Scrivener for Windows, or pure text files (maybe in Markdown), Windows will become your home from here on out.

The Bad

It’s Windows, so let’s be real here: even though they improved a lot in the security department, it’s still possible to nab yourself a nice bit of malware.

The backup system is not nearly as robust as Apple’s Time Machine system, so be ready to put your stuff on the cloud somewhere, or futz around with Windows’ sub-par backup system.

When a Windows machine breaks, it breaks. It usually requires a full re-install of the operating system to get stuff running again, unless you’re a geek like me, and that could be wasted time and energy, not to mention a headache, when you’re trying to write. That sub-par backup system doesn’t help here, except for restoring lost documents. See the following section on Apple’s Time Machine to see how backup systems should work.

Low-level Windows laptops will likely be prone to breakage and have crappy displays. Seriously, it’s the way of things. Ever try to use a Walmart level laptop outside on a sunny day? Not gonna see shit. Battery life? Poo. Keyboard feel? Meh. Note, this is just the budget laptops I’m talking about here, as there are plenty of high-end, very nice PC laptops out there. Just be very careful to look for a super HD screen, like the MacBook’s “Retina” display, with a nice clear picture. We write, folks, which means squinting at little letters on a screen all day. Be wary of budget PC laptops for this reason.

OS X (MacOS), otherwise known as an Apple computer

The Good

Another moment here to scoop up the horse-poo that confused folks may dump on your doorstep: Apple computers are no more expensive than a Windows PC with similar hardware. Sorry folks, I’m a computer guy, and I’ve priced this stuff out. If the hardware specs are the same, the price is the same, give or take $100.

Apple computers tend to be made of pretty stern stuff. In the ten years or so I’ve had Apple computers in the house, along with my Windows boxes, I’ve only had one major issue with one—a power supply took a dump. In that time, I’ve had PC hardware shit the bed multiple times, from hard-drives failing to keyboards just forgetting how to keyboard. You pay for this sturdy hardware, of course, and if you buy yourself a nice $1500 Dell, your milage may be the same as if you bought that iMac, but I’m just telling you what I know.

There is also a distinct difference in the quality of software for creatives on a Mac. This isn’t because Macs are better, or more cool, or whatever. Anyone that tells you that is full of shit. But facts are facts: more writers and graphic artists use Macs, and so more companies writing software for those folks make them on Macs. This is just a “better batteries for the same flashlight” thing here—computers are computers, and honestly there is little reason Windows PCs couldn’t be brimming with gems like Ulysses or Storyist (we’ll get more into software in the next post).

The backup system is way better than anything I’ve ever used before. Time Machine, what Macs use to back up files, makes incremental backups of all files, including certain system settings. You can click a file, go into Time Machine, and reset that file to any version it has backed up, from a day ago to hours ago to months ago. The real benefit, however, is how Time Machine is used to restore a screwed Mac or change over to a new one. Boot up a Mac into its restore mode, or boot a new one up fresh and hot from the store, and point it at your Time Machine backup, and boom—all files, all settings, even your messy-assed desktop, is restored to just how it was before.

Macs are also very good when it comes to malware. You really, really have to fuck up to get spyware on your Mac, people. The reason is simple: like Linux, OS X is based off the age-old operating system of Unix, and Unix is designed for multiple users in a public setting. Think old 70s colleges. Everything is locked behind a wall of passwords and limits, so an app can’t insert itself into the guts of the operating system like one can with an older version of Windows, or even the newest versions of Windows (when those pesky loopholes are found and exploited). That isn’t to say it can never happen, as it can and has, but these malicious programs are few and far between, and Apple tends to patch out whatever loophole they used within days.

The Ecosystem

Like Windows, when working on a Mac, you are going to get the most of your writing software if you work within the ecosystem.

Apple has recently changed its half-assed iCloud into a better iCloud Drive, something like a Google Drive or Dropbox, but integrated into the system itself.

Most writing apps on the iPhone/iPad/iPod/iToilet/whatever are able to sync via this iCloud Drive back to your home base iMac or MacBook.

This means, write on Ulysses on the Mac, open the file on your iPhone, continue writing on the bus, come back home, open Ulysses on the Mac, continue like you never left home.

While you can simulate this with various tricks via Dropbox and apps in Windows and mobile devices, none are as seamless as the Apple iCloud system, except maybe Word and Microsoft’s own cloud system.

That’s not to say it can’t be done on Android with your Markdown editor on Windows, just that I’ve never had it made easier than this before, and I’ve tried it all…I mean all. Windows to Android, iPhone to Windows, even writing on a Kindle. Trust me when I say, Apple got this thing right this time.

The Bad

There are no budget Apple products. The cheapest MacBook is still $800. If you’re on a budget, this can be a real problem.

Apple is super proprietary. All their goodies are designed to get you to use their systems forever. Now mind you, I like their systems, and since switching to a Macbook to write, I’ve been much more productive. But thisisthing, and it might not be your cup of tea.

Linux, or NERD!

The Good

Time for the standard “nip the bullshit in the ass” moment: Linux is not hard to use. Not anymore. No sir/ma’am. Install Ubuntu or Linux Mintand you will have access to a perfectly nice, even amazing, user interface with windows and menus and all the standard modern PC goodness.

Linux can be installed on almost anything, and will run fine in one configuration or another on almost any machine made in the last decade or more. This means a cheap laptop, one that chokes on Windows 7 (the oldest version of Windows I’d say is at all secure and stable), will run Linux like a champ. You may have to forgo some pretty effects, or use a more simple windowing system like XFCE, but damn if it won’t run.

Basically all software on Linux is free and open source. This complicates things a bit sometimes, as open source is sort of nerd code for “always in beta” and may be lax in updates, but on the same token, it may mean it’s way better and more streamlined than anything you have ever worked with. Take OpenOffice for example. It’s a complete Word compatible program, with everything a word processor needs, and is the cheap price of $0.

Linux is about as stable and secure as they come, next to OS X and other Unix type systems. You can crash Linux, but you have to try pretty hard. You can infect Linux with some piece of malware, but oh man do you have to screw the pooch to let that happen.

Linux can, with a certain amount of luck and computer know-how (look up Wine), run Windows software like a champ. So if you like Windows, but are worried about performance or security, this can be an avenue.

There is also an (unsupported) version of Scrivener for Linux, but it seems it’s been abandoned, so it won’t be keeping up with the other versions (so don’t expect them to play nice with each other).

The Ecosystem

There isn’t much of one to speak of in Linux. Linux utilizes free software what can usually be found compiled on Windows or Mac, or simply compatible with software on those systems. OpenOffice, for example, can save in the industry standard doc or the newer docx formats. You can open those in word, no problem, on Windows or Mac.

But, then again, this lack of ecosystem has a certain disadvantage: no integration with mobile devices. Again, hacky use of Dropbox and compatible mobile apps can mitigate this, but don’t expect to find a smooth and easy way to do this, unlike iCloud with Ulysses or Pages, or OneDrive with Word.

The Bad

Linux is a nerd’s heaven. If you aren’t a computer geek, and something goes wrong, have a nerd on hand to help. It can get ugly down there in the old command line.

Linux doesn’t support all hardware (at least out of the box), so be aware of that when picking out a computer to Ubuntu up. Often this can be worked around, as the Linux community is lively and usually has a fix for everything, but this is nerd territory again.

No mobile integration, so if that matters to you, take note.

And you are basically stuck with the software you can find. If OpenOffice doesn’t do it for you, or you really want to use a Mac app, or something along those lines, Linux might not be your cup of tea. This isn’t a slight against Linux, and there are many great pieces of writing software out there for it (if you are a super-geek, you can even dip into Vi, Vim, or Emacs), but the selection can be more limited than the other, more commercially successful systems.

Backup systems are nerd only, folks. There are a lot of quality and amazing backup systems for Linux, but they are usually not plug-and-play like Time Machine.


The Good

Chromebooks, for those who don’t know, are Google Chrome/Chromium based laptops. It runs what is less of an operating system than a well integrated Chrome browser that takes the place of the normal icons and start-menus of more traditional machines.

While I haven’t messed too much with Chromebooks myself, I hear nothing but good things—they are cheap, use Google Docs by default, and are light and portable.

The Ecosystem

Chrome, Chrome, Chrome, and Google. As they run nothing but web-apps, I’d expect almost everyone using one is Google Docs/Drive only, meaning instant sync and all the good stuff that goes along with it.

The Bad

It is, again, a web-app only device. No Scrivener, or as far as I know Word or OpenOffice. They like to be online, and though you can save documents for offline use, that’s an extra step you may forget.

Though, if Google Docs is your thing, well, I don’t think this is an issue.

Doing it Mobile, or “Look at what I have in my pocket!”

Apple vs Android vs um…is there anything else?

Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, etc.)

The Good

I used to use Android phones, and loved them. Lots of freedom, lots of apps, many free things…

But I’ve slowly moved over to Apple devices through and through.

Apple phones and tablets are expensive, but again, this is a hardware thing. A similar Android device, with a similar “Retina” like super HD display, will cost you much the same.

There are way more creative apps on the iOS systems than Android systems. When I used Android a few years back, there wasn’t a word-smith program worth a damn. No Markdown apps, no apps with bold or italics. This has changed a bit from then, and Word is on Android systems now, as well as others, but there is still a large gulf between them.

Take, for example, Storyist, Ulysses, and now, Scrivener. All are writer-specific apps. All are for writing other than business writing. All support some form of instant syncing back to the home base computer. All allow subdocuments for chapters or scenes, character sheets, and the like.

Or take Apple’s own word processor, Pages. It works the exact same on a Mac, on the web via, or on an iDevice. Exactly the same. Every feature, every shortcut. And it syncs instantly via iCloud.

These are all iOS only apps, and I’ll be damned if I found anything even close when I was an Android user.

The Ecosystem

The same as it is for Apple computers above. You use an iPhone? You’d best stick with an app that works well with iCloud (or Word, which uses Microsoft’s own cloud). You can work through Dropbox and a text editor, etc., but you give up some of the best features of the ecosystem that way.

The Bad

There are no budget Apple devices. It’s an all or nothing affair, or eBay for a used phone. Android device, however, can be found inside cereal boxes if you look hard enough, and can be more budget friendly. The same warning applies here as above: these cheaper devices likely have shit screens, so be aware of your eye’s needs when shopping budget Android devices.

Android devices

The Good

Android is an operating system, not a hardware manufacturer (Google is Android, in fact, and Android is Google).

But, one can find an Android phone for dirt cheap, and a tablet for under $100 if you know where to look.

The higher-end Android devices can be very nice indeed. Nice displays, lots of storage (a big failing of Apple devices is a pricier markup on storage), etc.

While there was not a lot of writing apps on Android when I switched, there are more now. Mostly, I’d say Word is the best here for syncing and having a full-fledged document, and not a stripped down text only file.

The Ecosystem

Android is Google and vice versa.

If you use Android, you are likely using Google for everything. Google Drive/Docs is a very good cloud word processor, and can be used for pro level writing.

Word on Android is as good as Word on anything else, and you can swim in the Microsoft ecosystem with that just fine.

Apple stuff, on the other hand, is less accessible to you. With some Dropbox trickery, you can make this work, but don’t expect a Scrivener on Android, or to be able to open Pages documents.

The Bad

Again, Android has a limited range of creative apps. I blame this on the odd decisions Google made with Android, like a custom version of Java for all the apps to use to run. This makes porting software from one platform, say iOS or Windows, to an Android device a bear, and there are simply less of those out there.

Compare this with Apple and iOS. Ulysses is a Mac app. They ported it, feature complete, to iOS, and now we have it on iPhones and iPads. I can promise you, as a programmer myself, this was way easier than doing the same between a Mac or Windows app to Android.

Many of the lower-end Android devices are, in a word, shit. Slow, shit display, shit RAM. Don’t expect a snappy experience from a Walmart Android phone.

That’s my quick and dirty rundown of the hardware you can use to write, and next up will be the software. It might get messy…

It Begins Anew

Hey there, remember me? No? Likely not, but that’s ok. I’m pretty sure this blog gets more visits from Russian spam bots than humans.

But that’s cool. Our future Russian spambot overlords need to read once in a while too. Who am I to deny them that?

This writing blog was a map of my tentative, wobbly steps as a fiction writer. A ‘wannabe’ or ‘aspiring’ writer of nerdy fiction. It spanned a few years, and included a bunch of missteps, odd ideas, whacky formatting, and assorted theme snafus and site issues.

So, no longer being ‘aspiring’…stupid word…I’ve decided to sweep much of the old and dusty detritus under the nearest available rug and start with a fresh slate. Some of the best old posts remain for intrepid Google surfers, but starting here and now, I’d like to refocus and sharpen this blog into something useful and interesting.

Of course, I’m far from finished learning as a writer. In no way does this imply I think I’m oh so amazing and have learned it all! But, in the end, the web is chock full of early level fiction writers wobbling about drunkenly, and I see no need to add to the existing pile of blog posts already out there about this or that low level topic.

Instead, come join me by the fireside…what do you mean there’s no fire? Of course there is a fire. It’s right there next to that pink elephant playing the harmonica. Anyway, join me as we delve into some writing subjects that interest me, like hardware and software, books and stories that excite me, news in the writing world, and even some of my own work on Amazon and Patreon.

You in?

Groovy. Sign up to my RSS feed at, follow the blog on your favorite reader like Feedly, and maybe join my reading group on the left side of the screen (the group is for my book and story related news only, no spam, minimal emails).

Next up, let’s talk writing hardware, once and for all, bullshit aside, and fanboi brand fanaticism kicked to the curb.

Word Processors of Yore: Write in WordStar 4.0 for Giggles

Going oldschool…

“Once, my child, WYSIWYG was little more than the sound a man made when sneezing and farting at the same time…”

The young word-warrior blinked at his elder, “But, how could you know what your words would look like when you were ready to make an eBook?”

“Ha!” The old woman crinkled her bulbous nose at the warrior. “You’re soft, boy. When I was your age, eBooks were no more than a nightmare haunting the publishing industry! A tale told to baby publishers to frighten them!”

The elder grunted as she pushed herself from the chair.

“Oh, no, my youngling. We wrote words of power in ASCII and ATASCII, where bold and italics were dreams, and printers screeched in the night air…”

Continue reading Word Processors of Yore: Write in WordStar 4.0 for Giggles

Guest Post: Mur Lafferty — “I do writing wrong”

A post by someone cooler than I

Today I have a treat for you and me both, dear reader.

In my quest to absorb ALL THE THINGS about writing in print and audio form (it helps if you boil it all in a cauldron and bathe in it) I came across the podcast I Should Be Writing. (Subscribe: iTunes || RSS)

“I should be writing,” I mumbled to myself as I gleefully parked my work van on someones front lawn. Using my finely honed skills of deduction, I realized this must be a writing podcast — exactly what I was looking for at the time.

And this was the gateway to all things Mur Lafferty.

Mur Lafferty has written podcast fiction, published novels, penned words for RPGs, all the while keeping up a regular scheduled podcast on the art and craft and insanity that is writing.

And when I heard she was looking for places to pimp her new book, Ghost Train to New Orleans, out March 4th, I said to myself, “Hey, I have a blog…” and promptly contacted her via smoke signals and carrier pigeons. And when that didn’t work, I used email.

I am almost done with the first book in this series, The Shambling Guide to New York City, an inventive and fun mix of the absurd and the mundane — a New York City filled with water sprites, demons, fiends and zombies, all living in plain sight, yet hidden among us clueless humans. And the human woman who is writing a travel guide for them sure has her hands full not becoming lunch.

It’s like Terry Pratchett, clothed only in pages torn from urban fantasy novels and scrolls of ancient lore, ended up on the set of In the Mouth of Madness and decided to sit down and type out a book.

Ghost Train to New Orleans takes us to the next city that needs a good travel book for the undead — New Orleans.

There better be a zombie Mardi Gras, or Mrs. Lafferty is gonna hear from me…

From the blurb:

Zoe Nor­ris writes travel guides for the undead. And she’s good at it too — her new-found abil­ity to talk to cities seems to help. After the suc­cess of The Sham­bling Guide to New York City, Zoe and her team are sent to New Orleans to write the sequel.

Work isn’t all that brings Zoe to the Big Easy. The only per­son who can save her boyfriend from zom­bism is rumored to live in the city’s swamps, but Zoe’s out of her ele­ment in the wilder­ness. With her super­nat­ural col­leagues wait­ing to see her fail, and rumors of a new threat hunt­ing city talk­ers, can Zoe stay alive long enough to fin­ish her next book?

Needless to say, I got that bad boy on pre-order.

So, without further blathering, I present to you Mur Lafferty.

⊛ ⊛ ⊛

I do writing wrong.

The TV movie about my fascinating life will have to be edited heavily. I’m bad at things that writers are supposed to do.

I don’t smoke. But i’m not sure if that stereotype still holds true, as smoking has gone out of style. I used to smoke, but not since the 90s.

I don’t drink scotch, whiskey, or absinthe. We have it in the house, my husband enjoys all of those things. But I can’t stand any of it. I enjoyed gin for a while, and sometimes would make myself a martini in a martini glass and feel like an ad exec coming home from work, and sometimes I’d make a martini and put it in a coffee cup and call it my writer’s martini- give me the gin, not the fancy crap. But then gin and I had a falling out, and we don’t talk much anymore.

Now I drink wine, which is just so very New York loft party. (actually I haven’t been to New York in a while. Is it NYC loft party to drink wine? Am I making stuff up? I can call it North Carolina suburban writer’s party of one. But that’s just sad.) I also like rum now, and was delighted when my favorite drink – rum and ginger ale – turned out to be called a “dark and stormy.” How is that for perfection? This is a WRITER’S drink! (<– best Klingon voice here.)

Lastly, I don’t do coffee well. I like coffee, but I’ve done the fancy beans, and the Chemex carafe, and the filters that look like a folded napkin BUT MORE EXPENSIVE BECAUSE CHEMEX. I read my friends talk about it like it’s a new religion, OMG COFFEE MUCH DIFFERENT SO BETTER, and then I make my own and… It’s good. It hasn’t changed my life, but it’s good. I even joined Tonx so I could get fancy coffee beans delivered to my door every 2 weeks. And the new coffee is… good. I’ve looked online to make sure I’m doing everything right, from warming the carafe to letting the coffee “bloom” to keeping the beans airtight and whole until I am ready to grind and brew. I even play the coffee soothing music while I go through the holy ritual, and make sure I only use water wept from orphans on the full moon.

OK, I exaggerate. The children who weep at the full moon have parents. Their parents just hate them, that’s all. Why do you think they’re crying? You monster.

But after all this, my coffee is still… good. I like it. And the ritual is a nice way to start the day, get the brain going and all that. Sleepy brain must wake in order to not break glass or burn self, after all. But even after all this, I’m not getting why this coffee is better than the coffee I was drinking before. And my writer friends still talk about all these things as if they’ve found Jesus. Would you like to hear the good news about coffee?

On bad days, I feel left out. On good days, I enjoy my coffee and try not to think about how much I’ve spent on coffee compared to how much someone with Dunkin Donuts coffee and a Mr. Coffee maker has spent. On bitter days, I assume this coffee is my ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ and I just am too chicken to stand, point, and go THIS COFFEE IS THE SAME AS ALL THE OTHER COFFEE, ONLY WE ARE STUPID AND SPEND MORE.

I’m also very sensitive to caffeine and have 1-2 cups a day, max. Very not writerly.

Lastly, I’m allergic to cats. All writers have cats. I have dogs, and they’re not allowed in my lap or on my desk and they do nothing cute to keep me from writing (eg. sit on my chair or lie on my keyboard or hold down my lap so I can’t possibly get up and write.)

Thus, I will fail as a writer. It’s over. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. It looks like all that’s left is the actual book that’s coming out, which has a distinct lack of cigarette smoke, whiskey stains, or coffee cup rings on the manuscript. The only thing this book has is WORDS.

But I hope you like them. Ghost Train to New Orleans. Out March 4.

⊛ ⊛ ⊛

Head over to Amazon and pick up Ghost Train to New Orleans and the first in the series, The Shambling Guide to New York City now, or the zombies will get you!

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About Mur Lafferty

Winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, 2013

“…one of the worst-kept secrets in science fiction and fantasy publishing.” – author/blogger Cory Doctorow via BoingBoing

Mur Lafferty is an author and podcaster. She lives in Durham, NC, with her husband, daughter, and two dogs.

  • Books: Building her audience since 2006 with podcast-only titles, Mur has written several books and novellas. Her first professionally published book, The Shambling Guides 1: The Shambling Guide to New York City, is in bookstores now. The sequel, The Shambling Guides 2: Ghost Train to New Orleans will be out March 4. She writes urban fantasy, superhero satire, afterlife mythology, and Christmas stories. All of her early works are available via podcast and ebook.
  • Podcasts: She has been podcasting since 2004 when she started her essay-focused show, Geek Fu Action Grip. Then she started the award-winning I Should Be Writing in 2005, which is still going today. She was the editor of Escape Pod from 2010-2012, and she currently hosts the Angry Robot Books podcast.
  • Nonfiction: Mur has written for several magazines including Knights of the Dinner Table, Anime Insider, and The Escapist.

In January 2014, Mur graduated from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine with an MFA in popular fiction.

Mur was born in Charlotte, NC, and currently lives in Durham, NC with her family. She enjoys running, martial arts, board games, video games, and cooking.

Contact Info:

Mur Lafferty


Twitter: @mightymur

Snail Mail:
8311 Brier Creek Parkway
Ste 105274
Raleigh, NC 27617

Jennifer Udden (
Donald Maass Literary Agency
121 W. 27th Suite 801
New York, NY 10001


Ghost Train to New Orleans (Orbit Books, March 2014):

Zoe Norris writes travel guides for the undead. And she’s good at it too — her new-found ability to talk to cities seems to help. After the success of The Shambling Guide to New York City, Zoe and her team are sent to New Orleans to write the sequel.

Work isn’t all that brings Zoe to the Big Easy. The only person who can save her boyfriend from zombism is rumored to live in the city’s swamps, but Zoe’s out of her element in the wilderness. With her supernatural colleagues waiting to see her fail, and rumors of a new threat hunting city talkers, can Zoe stay alive long enough to finish her next book?
Available via paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
Amz) (BN) (Indie) (Waterstones)

The Shambling Guide to New York City (Orbit Books, May 2013):

Zoe Norris is a human returning to her hometown in disgrace, wishing to get a new job in publishing. After many strikeouts, she finds the perfect-sounding job, only it happens to be at a publishing company that writes travel books for monsters.
Oh yeah, and monsters are real, too.
Available via paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
Amz) (BN) (Indie) (Waterstones) (Audible)

This is a great start to what promises to be one of the gems of the comic urban fantasy crown. The Shambling Guide sets the wonderful world of the supernatural–and the slightly more esoteric world of travel guide publishing–on its ear, and the result is nothing short of delightful.” (New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire)

An engagingly funny, and fun, romp through NYC. You’ll love Zoe… to bits.” (New York Times bestselling Tobias S. Buckell)

Shows exactly why so many writers have been buzzing about Mur Lafferty for so many years: an unbeatable mixture of humor, heart, imagination, and characterization. I want to live in Mur’s New York.” (Cory Doctorow)

A wild ride through the secret side of New York City, Mur Lafferty’s mighty debut is urban fantasy the way it should be: fast, funny, with bags of action and characters you’ll love. A total delight from cover to cover.” (Adam Christopher)

The Shambling Guide to New York City is a monstrously fun romp by one of our most engaging new authors.” (Tim Pratt)

Zombies and vampires and golems, oh my! The Shambling Guide to New York City rounds up the biggest cast of the undead and never-quite-alive ever to appear in a single novel, along with a wisecracking heroine whose picture belongs over the dictionary entry for spunky. This is a comic tour-de-force by a writer who lives and breathes popular culture. Mur Lafferty is throwing a monster party and you’re invited.”
James Patrick Kelly, Hugo and Nebula Award Winner)

With really interesting restaurant recs and sightseeing suggestions, and unusual (to say the least) takes on the Statue of Liberty and Grant’s Tomb, it’s got everything you need to know for the trip of a lifetime–or longer! And with the smart and intrepid Zoe to show you around, how could you possibly get in trouble? I give it 5 Michelin stars and 8 Zombie Planet Thumbs Up (with real thumbs)!”
Connie Willis)

The hip, knowing and sometimes hysterically funny narrative, interspersed with excerpts from the guide of the title, lurches along in splendid fashion. Combine wit, style and acute observation: the result is irresistible.” (Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review))

Charming debut… an enjoyable tour of the city’s supernatural side.” (Publishers Weekly)

The Shambling Guide to New York City shows that Mur Lafferty has something different to bring to the urban fantasy genre. She’s created a character that can experience the human/non-human dynamic via researching a travel guide, which we’d never see through the usual detectives and ass-kicking central characters, and with snappy dialogue, a creative cast and can-do central characters, we have fun tagging along.” (Gavin Pugh,

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More Resources for your Fantasy Mapping Needs

Mount Gribbleblat on the Plains of Oxburp

Mapping, mapping, mapping!

It’s one of those things — like it or not, you need to have some basic idea of what your world looks like when writing fantasy (or Sci-fi if you are planning an extended stay on a particular planet).

Not to mention that us fantasy geeks expect some maps in your novel, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth will occur if you rip us off in that department.

As I have said in previous posts, I am mapping my fantasy world on the computer using the free Photoshop-like program Gimp.

I stand by my original opinion of keeping things simple — you are writing a story, not mapping every crevasse of the world of Blaffbrip for some science project.

The longer you spend mapping, the less time you are using to write the story. And unless you are a graphic design powerhouse, you aren’t likely to make a map worthy of printing in any case.

If you publish on dead tree, your publisher won’t be impressed by your scribbles.

If you go the independent publishing route, you may shoot yourself in the foot by putting a kindergarten level Mickey Mouse map in your book.

The point? You will need to hire, or have someone hired for you, to make the final map for your project anyway.

However, if you have some skill with Gimp or Photoshop, take a gander at these:

I have flicked pixels in Gimp for years now, starting waaaaaaay back when Winamp wasn’t a bloated beast and Internet speed was measured in bytes per second.

The program is not foreign to me, and the concepts behind graphic design, like layers, transparencies, masks, and filters are second nature at this point.

If your skill level with Photoshop and Gimp is like mine — good enough — then feel free to check out these great links to add a little flair to your map (remember, simple is the key here. Just a little flair is all you need).

First up: Brushes!

These are some amazing brushes by StarRaven over at DeviantArt.

Sketchy Cartography Brushes
Oooh, pretty…

Not bad, eh?

Take those brush files and throw them in your brushes directory (Gimp for windows, it’s under “c:users<your user name>.gimp-2.8brushes”) and use them to make nice forests and mountain ranges very quickly.

And that’s the point — they look great and let you move along at a rapid pace. Don’t get bogged down with perfection. Just add a new layer, call it mountains, and use the mountain brushes to make some ranges. Same for forests and cities.

Find them here.

A little more advanced: Tutorial to create nice landmasses with Gimp.

This is a Gimp specific tutorial, but if you know your way around Photoshop you will have no difficulty following along.

There is a website known as the Cartographers’ Guild.

It’s filled with madness.

The entire site is devoted to map making, mostly for fantasy and RPG use. You will find some of the most stunning examples of fantasy maps there, but also a rabbit hole full of maps and hints and tips.

Don’t get lost! You most likely aren’t as talented as those folks! It takes these people weeks to hand craft those maps. Keep your eye on the ball.

You can, however, find very useful tutorials that don’t require a high level of artistic skill or time to follow.

Take this for example: Using GIMP to Create an Artistic Regional RPG Map made by the user RobA.

It is a simple tutorial that, if you follow it closely, will get you a nice custom group of landmasses, complete with shallow water coastlines and bumpy looking mountains.

At very least you will learn some crazy tricks you can use later.

It would take maybe 30 minutes to get a nice, realistic map using this method, so if you are looking for something more photo-realistic and complex than slapping some lines down in MS Paint, this may float your boat.

Always keep it simple.

But feel free to have some fun at least.

You may find that simple lines on a white background is all you need, or you may find some mountain and forest brushes give the map a little life that helps inspire your writing.

Go with whatever way works for you!

Some Software to Map With

Mapping it softly

In this post I talked about mapping your fiction world, specifically fantasy worlds, and I got all nerdy on yo’ ass with tectonic plates and the like.

Today I am going to throw some software in your general direction, programs you can use to doodle your maps in various levels of detail — keeping in mind simple is probably best for you and I, the authors, and we should let the pros make the real maps later.

The stalwart companion

Time-sink warning: Super low
Pretty factor: Ugly as shit

This map took minutes to make (and looks it)
This map took minutes to make (and looks it)

Microsoft Paint on Windows (already installed on virtually all Windows computers) and Paintbrush for OS X. So simple it’s almost like drawing in the sand with a stick.

But you know what?

Brandon Sanderson used MS Paint to sketch his first map for Elantris. The map to the left is not that map.

Different color lines, some dots here and there, slap some text over the dots and squiggles, and that’s that.

MS Paint comes with Windows, and can be found under the ‘Accessories’ folder on the start menu.

Paintbrush, a nifty Paint type program for OS X, is free to download.

Getting a little Gimpy

Time-sink warning: Low
Pretty factor: Ugly as shit – Almost not ugly as shit

Gimp is a free program for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux (in yo’ repo, foo, no linky for you).

If Photoshop is that $100 steak with the fancy name, then Gimp is the tasty $10 steak from the Greek place down the road.

Both fill you, both look quite similar, but one breaks the bank.

While Gimp will never replace Photoshop for the design crowd, it will do everything you ever need when it comes to mapping.

Remember: keep it simple. Lines and dots, squiggles and zigzags.

Why use Gimp over a simpler program then?

  • Layers: You can make a layer for terrain, a layer for text, a layer for nude froliking elves, whatever.
  • Exports: Save the file as the default Gimp format, XCF, or export it to bmp, jpg, png, etc.
  • Effects: While you are keeping it simple (right?), feel free to throw in a drop-shadow under your city names or other very simple effects to give it that bit of pizzaz. Youare going to have to look at this mess while you write, so dress it up a bit.
  • Free: Works on all operating systems you likely use, and so you can edit your map on the Mac, and later on your Windows laptop with the same program.

Painting in hexes

Time-sink warning: Low-Medium
Pretty factor: Nice and nerdy

Are your geeky, miniatures collecting fingers twitching as you stare at this image?

Here’s one right in between the ‘draw it all yourself’ crowd above, and the ‘pro mapping, need a book to figure it all out’ crowd below: Hex mapping.

Hex maps, used in war-gaming and other miniature nerd-fests in our child(adult)hoods, can be both simple to create and elegantly informational at the same time.

Water looks like water, mountains have a little more spunk to them than zigzags in MS Paint, and yet it doesn’t take long to make.

One of my favorites can be used for free (with some limitations) called Hexographer.

While these maps are usually fairly zoomed in deals, with each hex being a few miles or even mere meters, nothing is stopping you from making a zoomed out overview of your entire world, each hex being a hundred or two hundred miles.

For the cartographers out there (NEEEERRD!)

Time-sink warning: Electric nerd storms with a chance of never writing your book
Pretty factor: Possibly professional looking

Some people don’t suck at this stuff like I do.

Maybe you want to get into better mapping programs because you can — you’ve DMed a hundred games of D&D since the blue box, and live on vibrant worlds and Mountain Dew.

AutoREALM is like a CAD system for map-nerds. Free, but by default, it’s pretty damn ugly (though some intrepid folks are working on updating the whole thing as we speak), but it can draw fractal lines, city icons, compass roses, etc. With a little work, however, you can make a decent old-style map with continents, mountains, rivers and ruins.

And the holy grail of mapping software: Campaign Cartographer. This is the real deal. Pro software with a pro learning curve, tons of map icons and filters, and a hefty price tag to top it off. If you want to be the sole creator of your map and never have another taint your magnificent creation with their unwashed hands, here’s what you need. If you go this route, good luck to you, for many have traveled those dark and dust roads, never to be seen again.

Remember, don’t get yourself so wrapped up in your mapping you lose sight of what you are mapping for — to write a story that takes place in that world — but I hope these programs are useful to you!


Whew – drawing is fun! (Not)

Ok — I am writing the next great fantasy masterpiece. And what do you need with a fantasy masterpiece?

A map!

Hell, even if it’s crappy fantasy.

Still need a map.

Fantasy fan-fic?


Squiggly lines and strange out-of-place mountain ranges, names like ‘Fooberpoolich’ and ‘The Mountains of Shoddymap’.

This is all well and good. I like maps. I need a map. My characters are going to move around the world, and I need a map to get distances, continent shapes, funny lakes shaped like groins — if I don’t know what my world looks like, how can I describe my world to you?

Flobo and his trusty dracodonkey traveled some distance to a place, maybe crossing some river or mountain range, or something.

Not all that convincing.

Continue reading Making My Map or OMG I SUCK AT DRAWING

Interview: Michael R. Fletcher

I’m interrogating … er … interviewing Michael R Fletcher today, author of the science fiction novel 88. Mr. Fletcher’s debut novel is quite a good read, and is reviewed here on The Blaagh.


So, to start off, tell us a little about yourself.

Um. No.

The thing is, I’m not very interesting. Anyway, it’s not about me; it’s about the stories I tell. Plus, if I told you the truth, I’d have to kill you afterwards. Which would be awkward because I don’t even know where you live and it seems like a lot of effort.

Okay. Maybe a bit.

I moved a lot as a child and lived in eighteen different towns in fifteen years. I think it had something to do with the Witness Relocation Program, but my parents roll their eyes every time I mention it. Later I met this absolute goddess, all long dark hair and flashing dark eyes, and for some reason she was willing to marry me. Seriously, I’ve looked in the mirror. I don’t get it. Anyway, I wrote a science fiction novel, 88, while the goddess planned our wedding. We now have a daughter who is the Centre of the Universe.

The novel 88 is chock full of ideas. Virtual reality, human rights, assassin ninja robots … What sort of things influenced and inspired you to write this book?

The truth is, when I wrote 88 I didn’t expect it to get published. What I really wanted to write was a story my half-dozen closest friends would enjoy. The problem is my friends are all physicists and engineers. I’m sort of the odd-man out, the token artsy in the group. These guys know their physics and they know their technology and they’re all industry leaders in their fields. To make it worse, they all read a lot of science fiction. I had to write a story they hadn’t read a half dozen times before, and I had to do an awful lot of research to get the details right.

Beyond that, I’m not sure where it all came from. I certainly didn’t create the idea of scanning human minds. Kevin O’Donnell and Robert Sawyer went there long before I. I did think, however, there were aspects of the idea that hadn’t been explored. Really, the entire story came out of one idea: What minds will make the best computers? The answer seemed obvious. After that it was all about pushing it into the darkest corners I could find.

Characters like Archaeidae, Wandering Spider, SwampJack, and Oo-Suzumebachi came out of being repeatedly slaughtered in on-line shooters by fourteen year old kids with nothing else to do with their time but become killing machines.

I have to read the rest of this interview!–►