the wire

Max Gladstone – Author

Max Gladstone is a novelist, author of Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise and the up-coming Full Fathom Five.  He was also a 2013 Campbell Award nominee and these are his good things.

Good things to read.

I’m on record all over the internet encouraging people to read Roger Zelazny and Dorothy Dunnett, so let’s treat those as a given for the purposes of this exercise and focus on more recent discoveries.

John M. Ford, basically everything, but The Final Reflection and The Dragon Waiting will be the easiest to find.  I was introduced to John M Ford’s work at Boskone this year and I’m now in a desperate frenzy to track as much of it down as possible. He’s a great writer, fast-moving and densely plotted while at the same time deeply concerned with his characters as human beings rather than Story Engines. His prose is poetical in the elevated sense of “elegant sentences garnished with perfect detail” rather than the failure mode of “so purple it looks like someone’s been at it with a carpet beater.” And he’s funny! Read him if you haven’t already.

Sara Gran’s, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead.  Gran’s two psychedelic detective novels are brilliantly written mystical journeys into the souls of cities and the people who live there. Claire DeWitt, ex-girl sleuth and World’s Greatest Detective, is a student of a French school of detection that employs dreams, the I Ching, and drug-addled visionquests as much as old-fashioned policework. These books are sharply observed, well-written, horrific and beautiful and mind-expanding by turns. A lesser writer might use this territory to play pure metafictional games, but Gran’s as interested in the social reality of her settings—post-Katrina New Orleans and modern San Francisco—as in authorial gamesmanship. I don’t know any books quite like these, and I can’t wait for the next in her series.

Saga.  Saga is a rip-roaring space opera about the karmic consequences of violence, starring a woman with wings and a guy with horns, their baby, and their ghost baby sitter. They’re fugitives from opposite sides of an interstellar war, being pursued by a robot prince and a mercenary with a psychic sentient cat and an infinitely extensible lance. Read this book. Read it now. In fact why are you still reading this article when you could be reading Saga, or Claire DeWitt, or something by John M Ford?

Good things to watch.

BBC Sherlock.  My wife and I recently came through a very intense span of work, and are only now settling down to catch up on the third season of Sherlock. I know, I know! But man, I missed this show. The actors remain amazing. I would watch most of these people read from the phone book in combinations, and Martin Freeman’s Watson continues to be the emotional core of the show, and the defining modern Watson. Though I’m given to understand I should check out Lucy Liu in Elementary.

The Wire.  This is a master class in storytelling disguised as a show. I’ve started watching with notebook in hand, and after every episode I go back through to dissect what the writers are doing. Of course the actors are great, and the show does this wonderful job of showing us moral ambiguity rather than showing people talk about it. Also, Idris Elba, who Idris Elba.

The Lego Movie.  This may be the best Batman movie ever made. Bonus points for sneaking neat theological issues like God’s relationship with time and art into a movie about block toys! Also +1 for the duplos reference at the end.

Good things to use.

Mechanical Keyboard.  I like it when my keyboard clicks. It lets me know I’m actually doing something. I use a Leopold Tenkeyless with Cherry MX Blue switches, and it feels like espresso for the fingers.

iPad.  Tablets are a personal gift from Computer God to writers. They’re lousy as a rule for composition, but they’re ideal editing machines: the portrait orientation resembles a piece of paper enough to shock me out of screen-reading-aimless-skim mode. My iPad has made the infinite redrafting process a lot faster and more pleasant. The new iPad Air is also light enough to hold for hours at a time without giving myself horrible RSIs.

Standing Desk.  I do my best writing—and I mean here the actual core productivity “adding words to novel” stuff—while sitting down, but I spend a lot of time on the computer writing blog posts, responding to email, editing, and doing a bunch of other stuff that isn’t core but without which the core would just sort of flop around the universe like an ungainly literary catfish. Standing desks are awesome. And when you use a standing desk, you can dance while you’re working—like I’m doing right now!

Connect with Max on Twitter, @MaxGladstone.

Alex McClafferty – Entrepreneur

Alex McClafferty is the co-founder of WP Curve, Content Club, ConvertPress and Informly. He lives in San Francisco with his beautiful wife Brittany and loves content marketing, powerlifting and making new friends. An ex-MBA and former wantrepreneur, Alex made the leap into entrepreneurship in July 2013 and hasn’t looked back.  These are his good things.

Good things to read.

The Sticking Point Solution.  Jay is called ‘The Billion Dollar Man’ for a reason. This book is the best I’ve read about business strategy… and I’ve read A LOT of business books. Jay unpacks 9 different ways your business can become stuck and breaks down the actual tactics and actions you can take to get your business back on track.

Poor Charlie’s Almanack.  When Warren Buffett says someone is a smart guy, it’s worth reading what they have to say. Charlie’s book on investment, psychology and mental models is absolutely brilliant. When you pick up this book, you might be thrown off by it’s ‘picturebook’ look and feel… but once you reach the Psychology of Human Misjudgment section… you will be highlighting, writing notes and bookmarking like your life depends on it.

Choose Yourself!  If there was a hashtag for James Altucher’s writing, it would be #nofilter. James challenged my assumptions and forced me to ask… why? Why should everyone follow the path most travelled? Although this book feels choppy in parts, James is honest, authentic and real. I read this book on my honeymoon, then told my wife and later, my co-founder to read it. It is that good!

Good things to watch.

The Wire.  To me, HBO series are the pinnacle of quality TV. You get characters that feel real, high production value and an evergreen storyline. I’ve watched this series twice. I will probably watch it again later this year.

Blackfish.  Documentaries sometimes present a one-sided account of the ‘facts’ to strengthen the impact of their story. In Blackfish, res ipsa loquitur… the thing speaks for itself. Check it out on Netflix.

Fight Club.  The first rule of Fight Club is… you don’t recommend Fight Club on 27 Good Things.

Good things to use.

Chuck Taylor All Stars.  This product has stood the test of time. First produced in 1917, these shoes are durable, comfortable and have been worn by NBA stars, rap icons and world class powerlifters. If you want to learn about how to develop a product for a low cost that can be customized to satisfy the wants of everyone, check out a Converse store… you can make your shoe any color, style or material that you like. Comfort, style and durability for $50.

Your gym membership.  I’m serious! You only need to do 45 minutes of exercise a few times a week to reap the benefits. If you really want to challenge yourself, try powerlifting. Powerlifters invest years into perfecting their form and strengthening their weaknesses, which is the same mindset you need for being a successful entrepreneur.

Duolingo.  Excuses for not learning a language – be gone! Duolingo is a brilliant app that will help you crush your New Year’s resolution of learning an exotic language. It’s fun, free and you can compete against your friends.

Connect with Alex on Twitter, @alexmcclafferty.

Emma Newman – Author

Emma Newman is the author of the Split Worlds series published by Angry Robot Books, a podcaster and an audio book narrator, these are her good things.

Good things to read.

I’m currently reading The Scar by China Miéville. I say ‘reading’, I should say I’m currently ‘madly in love with’ The Scar. I adored Perdido Street Station and this is just as immersive and imaginative.

I’m also reading the YA novel Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve which is damn good. The world-building is gorgeous and I find a new delight on practically every page. It’s the first part of a trilogy forming a prequel to the Mortal Engines books. Highly recommended.

I recently read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It’s one of those books which is very simple on the surface but plumbs great depths at the same time. It’s also one of those books that you read as a writer and think, “damn, I may as well give up now”. Funnily enough, I felt exactly the same way when I read American Gods. Oops, that’s four.

Good things to watch.

I’ve started to watch Legend of Korra (about 7 episodes in) and I think it’s fabulous. I loved the Legend of Aang (don’t mention the film) and was concerned Korra would have too much to live up to. The writers have done a fantastic job on several fronts; the world is fascinating and feels wonderfully different to Aang’s setting. It’s more politically complex. But most importantly (for me anyway) is the fact that the lead character is female and doesn’t fall into so many of the traps we see in film and TV. She’s rounded. She’s strong and afraid. She’s not sexualised (hallelujah). In episode 6 there was a battle fought between two women and various attackers and my goodness, it made me so happy I nearly burst. The female fighters were tough, capable, proactive and worked together beautifully as men stood by and watched. There was no damsel rubbish, no “Oh please fight while I stand and watch with adoring doe eyes”. They just got on with it. I want more please.

I’ve recently binged on the first three seasons of Mad Men. I love it. I think the first season is the strongest – having such a mysterious protagonist at its centre really fascinated me. The acting is superb and I have a raging lady crush on Joanie.

I feel almost redundant saying this, seeing as practically everyone I know has been telling me this for years, but please, watch The Wire. It is simply the best television I’ve ever seen. It’s complex, elegant and beautifully constructed. Idris Elba is delicious in it too.

Good things to use.

I was tempted to talk about good manners online, but hell, I’d be pissing into the wind. Instead, I’ll talk about the three things I use when writing novels whilst travelling.

Scrivener is the best thing that happened to me since… since I learned how to use a computer. Seriously, it has removed all of the time-wasting agony of Word and is well worth the investment (small) of time to learn how to use it. Even though it provides templates for screenwriting and other things, I’ve only used it for novel writing, so I can only speak about that. The other things that are great about it? The man behind it is a lovely chap and the support is excellent. Oh and it’s very reasonably priced too.

Plaintext, a very simple app that I use on my iPad when I’m travelling, which I’ve done a lot of this year. It’s free with ads but such a tiny cost to remove them that I happily did so. Coupled with a ZAGG flex keyboard I can happily bash out a few thousand words without feeling irritated by not being at home in front of my PC.

Dropbox is the third pillar of splendid. Plaintext can sync directly with it, so when I get home it’s easy to bring the stuff I wrote on the road into my Scrivener project. That’s in addition to the back-up facility that I primarily use Dropbox for and it’s very easy to use.

Connect with Emma on Twitter, @emapocalyptic.

Lavie Tidhar – Author

Lavie Tidhar is the award winning author of the novel Osama.  He’s recently published Martian Sands and The Violent Century will be released in October.  In addition to novels he writes a blog, comics, and novellas, and these are his good things.

Good things to read.

Some recent genre books I read/blurbed.

Osiris by E.J. Swift.  Literary climate-change science fiction set on the world’s last (floating) city.

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee.  A collection of excellent science fiction short stories, many with a military theme – my favourite was perhaps “The Bones of Giants” – mecha-skeletons!

Witchcraft in the Harem by Aliya Whiteley.  Strange and wonderful stories including the unforgettable 1926 in Brazilian Football.

Good things to watch.

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.  No one has ever done a retro-bad sci-fi series as well as the fictional “Garth Marenghi: writer, director, visionary, also actor!”

The Wire.  Well, goes without saying. I’m on a rewatch at the moment…

The Good Wife.  So refreshing to see a series with real women characters taking the spotlight. Can’t wait for the next season to start.

Good things to use.

A decent chef’s knife – makes all the difference!

Weightlessbooks – a boutique e-book store specialising in SF/F.

Icy Tower 2.  How else to waste some productive time. Addictive.

Connect with him on Twitter, @LavieTidhar.

Jeff Atwood – Coding Horror

Jeff Atwood blogs on things like parenting, founded, and is currently working on – these are his good things.

Good things to read.

How to Talk to Kids So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. This book recommendation doesn’t apply to you because you don’t have kids, right? Wrong! We’re all just grown-up kids, some of us more than others. It is continually amazing to me how many “inituitive” things about parenting I was doing completely utterly bass-ackwards. This book helped me become not just a better parent but a better human being. Protip: it also works on adults. Like gangbusters. Learn to relate to kids and you will accidentally master how to relate to adults. Trust me on this one.

Predictably Irrational.  News flash: people don’t behave rationally. Understand the most common patterns of irrational but common behavior here, lest they be used against you by marketing weasels, or worse: your coworkers, your boss, or your family. My favorite? Loss aversion. Knowing about these patterns lets you avoid accidentally falling into these patterns and doing what “feels” right, but is The Wrong Choice.

59 Seconds. Why does this self-help book work when so many others fail? In a word, science! The author goes out of his way to find actual published scientific research documenting specific ways we can make small changes in our behavior to produce better outcomes for ourselves and those around us. It’s powerful stuff, and the book is full of great, research backed insights. I have changed a few of my own behaviors based on the data and science presented in this book.

Good things to watch.

The Wire. I know, I know, it’s totally Stuff White People Like, but The Wire is electrifying and scary and scratches at the soul of American cities, for better or worse. If you can only watch one thing on a screen, ever, watch this. All of it.

Breaking Bad. A show that’s not afraid to depict the harrowing impact of crystal meth and drug money on micro and macro levels. It’ll give you an ulcer in the nicest possible way. Plus it has a recurring olive green Pontiac Aztek — what’s not to love?

Brazil.  I first saw this movie in a beautiful art deco movie theater in Richmond, Virginia with my mother at age 14. It was, and is, a haunting view of the future that was presented as semi-safe satire, but felt every bit as claustrophobic and suffocating as I knew the real world to be as my teenage self. And even as an adult, the future depicted in Brazil always remains a possibility in my mind’s eye just around a few odd corners — who knows what could happen if we’re not careful?

Good things to use.

Smartphone.  The ultimate Batman utility belt item is your smartphone. What else can be a phone, portable gaming device, GPS, digital camera, web browser, email client, music player, video camera, book, watch, alarm, flashlight, scanner, level, ruler and more all in one device that fits in your pocket? Pick an awesome new model and learn how to use it effectively for all the above.

Leatherman Squirt PS4. Because you can’t use your smartphone to cut stuff. Yet. This is an essential set of eminently tiny and carryable tools: pliers, scissors, knife, file, flat and phillips screwdriver. The best tool is the one you have with you, and I use mine all the time.

The Internet.  Sure you use the Internet, but do you really know how to use the Internet? How do you tell if an article on a web site is credible? For that matter, how do you know if the Wikipedia page on a certain topic is credible? The ultimate skill for the next century is not blindly clicking and reading web pages, but learning how to become an intelligent, scientific skeptic that can research and evaluate the zillion sources of data you’ll get on any topic.


Brandon Thompson – DJ

These are Brandon Thompson’s AKA DJ B-Funk good things.

What are some good things you’ve read?

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Walking Dead graphic novels which are currently in television form on AMC.

HUSH by DC comics is another great comic story-line  Especially if you are a Batman fan. Has an amazing two panel spread of Batman upper cutting Superman. Worth the price of admission.

Preacher by Garth Ennis is a amazingly dark and funny comic series involving a preacher who has super powers and is looking for God. But not to ask him questions but to kick his ass. 🙂

What are some good things you’ve watched?

Hot Cheetos and takis is a great rap viral video by little kids in Minnesota.

Just re-watched John Carpenter’s The Thing the other day. Excellent flick!

Breaking Bad, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, and Game of Thrones are just to die for television.

What are some good things you use?

Workflowy that mike turned me on to makes making lists so much easier.

Purchase an X-Mini if you enjoy music. It’s a speaker the size of a oversize golf ball and it BELTS OUT SOUND. Great for vacations or the outdoors and costs about 20 dollars.

AroundMe for my iPhone is a must for those go travel. Finds everything you need then you can use Urbanspoon rankings for where you’ll eat!

Steve Cavins – web designer

This is Steve Cavins and these are his good things.

What are some good things you’ve read?

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I read a little of this in college, but finally got through the thing over the summer. It completely demystifies the concept of war in a way that I’ve not really experienced, in that, yes, it’s got this Vietnam narrative going on in which we basically are able to tidily organize history between these battles, but in that we are able to immortalize ourselves in the subjectivity of stories, which may or may not even be truthful. He says never to believe a war story with a moral, because there is no moral in a war story. I think that probably goes for any kind of story.

2666 Roberto Bolano. Totally strange, creepy, sad, and violent. Bolano pivots his universe on a “fictional” border town between the U.S. and Mexico where women are being routinely killed with no end in sight. The story weaves through time and space somewhat chaotically, but never without style or a sense of purpose. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit here: economic imbalance, political corruption, and class isolation, but Bolano seems to merely shrug his shoulders and lift these things up to some sort of spiritual mysticism that transcends logical explanation.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt. This sort of thing hits a sweet spot for me: New England private college, murder mystery, privileged academics. These students live in this cocoon-like world and find refuge and meaning in esoteric subjects, never ceasing in the desire to lap each other intellectually, and yet totally failing the most basic or trivial exercises of whatever might be considered Normal Life. Of course, the thing is as bleak as it sounds, and really offers nothing of a way out for these characters or this type of living.”

What are some good things you’ve watched?

It seems to be a great time for television at the moment. I’ve nearly completed The Wire, and obviously have much admiration for Breaking Bad. The length that a series affords really allows you to go deep into a subject, which makes a 90-minute film seem utterly futile (and often times, it probably is.) But I should probably toss a film in here. We Need to Talk About Kevin stuck out to me as an interesting, sad, fractured thing that (cliche) had me thinking about it for weeks. It’s true, Tilda Swinton probably walks out of the sea whenever she is beckoned to perform. Bless.

What are some good things you use?

I’m a terrible consumer. Really anti-American when it comes to this department. I’m often so gutted by the prospect of adding anything to my life in way of material objects, in that I must turn the thing over and over again in my head, attempt to talk my way out of the purchase, and see if the need persists. When I moved to New York, I pretty much threw away everything I owned. I recently purchased a kitchen table after two years of eating on the couch. I’ve had a Kindle for about a year now and the thing is totally useful for a train commute. Oh, and my mother gave me an industrial clothes wardrobe to hang my clothes on. Closet space is awfully limited in my apartment, and I no longer have to hang my shirts on the upper molding of the wall.