the west wing

D.B. Jackson – Author

David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning writer of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His current series, The Thieftaker Chronicles (Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry), is set in pre-Revolutionary Boston and combines historical fiction, mystery, and urban fantasy. Learn more about David and his work at http://www.dbjackson-author.com.

Good things to read.

The Tamir Trilogy (The Bone Doll’s Twin, Hidden Warrior, and The Oracle’s Queen) by Lynn Flewelling. This is one of my favorite fantasy series of all time, and, for reasons surpassing understanding, it is relatively unknown. The series plays with the trope of the royal prince born with a hidden twin, but does so in a way that is unique, chilling, and masterful. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay. I love Kay’s work. Always have. He was an inspiration to me when I was still an aspiring writer, and I continue to be impressed by every novel he writes. His first work, the Fionavar Tapestry, remains a sentimental favorite of mine, and so when he released Ysabel in 2007, I was delighted to see that he had returned to some key themes from that earlier work. Read the Fionavar books, and then read Ysabel. Definitely worth the investment of time.

The New Yorker. Yes, magazines still exist, and this one contains, week in and week out, some of the best writing you can find anywhere. I will admit that I don’t read every article. Some topics interest me more than others. But that’s the beauty of The New Yorker: every issue has something in it that will appeal to every reader. Politics, world affairs, history, fiction, sports, cinema, fashion, theater, music, science — the magazine’s articles have covered all of these things. In the past four weeks.

Good things to watch.

Sports Night. This one is only available on NetFlix or the like, but it is just a wonderful show. Created and written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing could just as easily have made this list, but everyone is already watching that, right? Right??), starring Felicity Huffman, Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Joshua Molina, and Robert Guillaume, it tells the story of a SportsCenter type news program struggling to make it in prime time. The writing, like all of Sorkin’s writing, is crisp, funny, totally brilliant. But the networks never knew what to make of the series — it was too smart for them — and it only lasted about three seasons.

Birds. Someone else said this down the list a bit, but it is worth reiterating. I have been birdwatching for nearly all my life. Seriously. I started when I was seven. And it has never, ever gotten old. Start with a feeder or two in your backyard. Maybe put up a hummingbird feeder in the summer and one that holds sunflower seeds in the winter. Get a field guide and a pair of binoculars. Go look at warblers during spring migration (April and May) or hawks in the fall (September and October). You’ll be amazed by what you see.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. ‘Nuff said. (Except to warn that it is a bit dated, and there is a moment of rather disturbing gender abuse in one of the early scenes — he smacks her, rendering her unconscious. You’d never see it done so casually in a movie today. But in every other way the movie is terrific.)

Good things to use.

MyRadar, is my favorite iPhone app. It’s a weather program that gives you live radar anywhere in the country, as well as forecasts and all the other things weather apps offer. But the radar is the kicker. It is absolutely accurate, has never crashed on my phone, and looks really cool.

Kirk “L” Bracket. I’m an avid photographer. Nature photography mostly: macro work, landscapes, that sort of thing. I have learned over the years that I do much better work when I use a tripod rather than hand-holding the camera. Not only are my images sharper, but I also take more time and care in composing my shots. The “L” Bracket, made by Kirk Industries, is an attachment that goes on the camera, making it possible to mount the camera on the tripod on its bottom or on its side. In other words, it basically allows me to turn my camera from horizontal orientation to vertical orientation in a matter of seconds, without having to reposition the tripod at all.

Intellitouch PT 10 Tuner. I am also a long-time guitar player, and I LOVE my little clip-on guitar tuner. It clamps to the headstock of the guitar and senses the vibration of the note in the wood. Tuning my guitar has never been easier.

Find David on Twitter at @DBJacksonAuthor and on Facebook under the same name.

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Mjke Wood – SF/Fantasy Author

Mjke Wood is an award winning SF/Fantasy writer and non-award winning saxophone player.  He blogs at Travelling in a Box and his personal site – mjkewood.com – lists his collections of stories, these are his good things.

Good things to read.

I wanted to pick from a range of book types, so I decided to choose one genre, one literary and one non-fiction.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is an easy choice in the genre category. This has long been one of my favourites. This is a book with such an emotional punch it will bring the most hard-hearted soul to tears. It is always my number one recommendation for anyone seeking a route into Science Fiction.

The Van by Roddy Doyle sneaks into top spot for non-genre fiction. The language is a kind of raw, but it could be no other way because it is an honest, down to earth story about simple characters whose take on life is to muddle through. It is a tale with no life or death outcomes at stake. It is warm and funny and after reading it you will require no further prompting to seek out the other two books in Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy.

For non-fiction I have gone with Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. It is a travel memoir by an American living in Britain. I have been banned from reading this book in bed, because my wife complains that when I start laughing the whole bed starts to shake and it keeps her awake. Similarly I avoid reading it in public places because there are some laughs you can never keep bottled up.

Good things to watch.

Similar to reading I have selected one each from a range of visual entertainments.

My top TV choice is The West Wing. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and never watch it live. But I have the full DVD box set of the West Wing and every now and again I start at episode one and become hooked, all over again, for several months. The good thing about watching TV on DVD is the absence of adverts. Apart from the multi-layered, intelligent stories the series offers, I am held forever in awe by the dialogue writing skills of Aaron Sorkin.

And so to the cinema. For this I decided to pick the film I have watched again and again, and it is not SciFi or fantasy, or action thriller, because although I enjoy such films I generally only watch them once. No, my choice of film is a romantic comedy called. Only You. It stars Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei and is the unlikely story of a woman who jets off to Italy in search of her soul mate, just days before her wedding. It is funny and moving and is set in Rome and Venice (two of my favourite cities) and it has wonderful music and scenery and Ferrari’s and… (sigh) I need to watch it again.

Sweeny Todd, the musical by Sondheim, is my third choice. I had to include live theatre and I had to include music. This ticks both boxes. It is unconventional in both story and musical style. It is funny and horrific all in one. My preference is the live show over the movie. Musicals need live performers and a full orchestra. They don’t work any other way. If we’re looking for something more generic here, just take in some live theatre. Any live theatre. You will rarely be disappointed.

Good things to use.

I have a caravan. (It might be called a trailer in the US) I hook it up to the car every weekend and head out into the wilds. Each weekend I have a different view out of the window. I write. I walk. I think. I breathe. My wife is an artist and she gets the inspiration she needs from nature to paint. So, number one good thing to use: a caravan. Can’t afford a caravan? Try a tent (but take thicker socks and a hat).

Play a musical instrument. I have a saxophone. Any musical instrument is good for a writer. Playing music uses different parts of the brain for motor skills and stretches the creative parts of the brain in ways in which they are not used to being stretched. There’s also a good fit with writing in that appreciation of musical performance is instant, as against that of writing which is deferred over months or years. On the other hand, a piece of writing endures, while an improvised jazz solo is fleeting and gone forever at the moment of conception.

I use a Moleskine notebook. This might sound a little retro. I know many writers, these days, prefer to use tech such as iPads and smart phones for their note-taking. Yes, I use these too, but they don’t really do it for me. They don’t offer the same tactile experience as putting an idea straight down on paper. And sometimes I lose electronic files, or the batteries expire just when I need them. No such problems with a notebook. I never venture outside the house without one. I have a desk drawer full of old Moleskines, and whenever I need an idea for something to write, my notebooks are the first place I look.

Mjke also writes on Twitter, connect with him @MjkeW.

Dan Andrews – founder of TropicalMBA

These are Dan Andrews good things.

Good things to read.

When Dan was getting out of debt he still wanted to read, budgeting 10% of his take home pay or books.  Some of those on that list were Purple Cow, The Ultimate Sales Machine, and The 4-Hour Work Week.

Good things to watch.

Besides people watching and south Asian scenery? Dan says that he limits what he watches now although he would “gorge himself” on The West Wing while in college.  The main reason is “I don’t feel like I need to get away from my business to be entertained.”


Good things to use.

Dan is on Twitter and does the Tropical Talk radio podcast.  “When you record audio for anything, make sure your mic plugs in with a USB. Anything else sounds bad. Toss in a little EQ and compression in FREE audacity and boom, you’ll sound like a pro.”  He also updates what he reads on his Kindle and uses Instapaper and noise cancelling headphones on all his flights.

Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook creator

These are Mark Zuckerberg’s good things.

Good things to read.

His Facebook page lists two good things to read, Ender’s Game and Plato.  In a New Yorker interview from 2010 Zuckerberg said about Ender’s Game, “Oh, it’s not a favorite book or anything like that” and that books like Aeneid were ones that he enjoyed reading a lot more.

Good things to watch.

His Facebook pages lists a handful of movies, Django Unchained, Moneyball, Iron Man, and Waiting for Superman the most recent films.  In the New Yorker interview he also said – ironically enough – that The West Wing is one of his favorite TV shows. When informed of this, show creator Aaron Sorkin said, “I wish you hadn’t told me that.”

Good things to use

Favorite games are Lux Delux, and Song Pop.  And for good cooking, how abut the iGrill app.

For more about Mark Zuckerberg check out the New Yorker interview above or scroll through his Facebook Timeline.