All posts by Josh

About Josh

Internet Superhero by day, Creator of Worlds by night. It's a good life. I hail from the Midwest where I work as a web developer when I'm not writing Fantasy and YA fiction. I love languages of all kinds!

Spotify Smarter Playlists

If you use Spotify like I do, you know there are more playlists in the world than you will probably ever listen to. What’s more, finding that perfect blend of tracks can be so close but so far away.

So here’s something interesting: Smarter Playlists

Using this web tool, you can filter, sort, and select tracks using your own or public playlists as data sources. Genre Radio works as a great source of tracks, too.

I’ve set up a playlist for work and writing that takes from “metropopolis,” “shimmer pop,” “synthpop,” and “indietronica”, de-duplicates it (just in case), and then finds the songs with the most energy and a decent BPM to get the blood pumping.

If you’ve got a willingness to tinker a little bit, the possibilities are endless and the results can be interesting. It’s yet another satisfying leap in the direction of getting computers to find new music for us.


Three Teas from Stash

Real talk: I freaking love caffeine. Maybe a little too much. Look up at the URL. I’m not sure what else you were expecting.

It’s come to my attention, however, that the world is full of delicious beverages that are in no way caffeinated. (I guess I have to be able to drink something after 9pm, right?)

Tea is the second best thing to coffee: it’s warm and full of rich flavor. The best ones are, anyway. And if I’m not going to get myself all hyped up on caffeine, I may as well be relaxing and taking it easy.

With that in mind, I went in search of some caffeine-free tea and came back with a haul:

Maple Apple CiderChamomile Nights, and Mellow Moments.

Maple Apple Cider: Rooibos, hibiscus, cinnamon, maple flavor, apple flavor, caramel flavor. This was my least favorite of the three. It was reminiscent of apple cider, certainly. But as I got down to the end of my cup I found myself wishing it was apple cider, and not tea that heard a story about apples and cinnamon once upon a time. Probably someone else’s cup of tea, but not mine.

Chamomile Nights: Spearmint, chamomile, lotus. This one was more like a chamomile night club. It was pleasant and drinkable, not too strongly of chamomile. I didn’t notice an overt calming effect, but drinking a hot beverage has a way of pulling me into the zone either way.

Mellow Moments: Peppermint, chamomile, spearmint, tulsi, lemongrass, guava flavor, cinnamon, grapefruit flavor. “Mellow Moments” lived up to its name with the greatest calming effect and the best flavor. Complex without being overwhelming, fruity and comforting. I tasted notes of citrus but not too much lemon. If I re-order just one tea from the batch, it’s this one.

I’ve got a few more teas on deck to try, but let me know if there’s one in particular that I should be checking out.

Link Roundup: Steampunk Travel Edition

I’m a sucker for all things steampunk. Brass fittings, mad scientists, refined sensibilities. I have a steampunk manuscript in the works, and my office area is slowly transforming into a time-shifted, Victorian-inspired space, complete with tiny metallic dinosaur sculpture.

Because why not.

So when I found the following Steampunk links from around the world, I couldn’t resist sharing.

Oamaru, New Zealand: This city styles itself the steampunk capital of New Zealand, complete with a historic Victorian district, a playground that can probably trace its lineage back to Jules Verne, and a museum calling itself “Steampunk HQ”. I’ll be on the next airship out.

Washington, DC: Introducing “The Alex,” a restaurant and lounge with all the ambiance of an early-20th century steampunk. Named after Alexander Graham Bell, it’s seated in the Graham Georgetown hotel and is easily worth a look if you’re in Washington and looking for a place to tip back a few drinks with some small plates.

Tokyo, Japan: “Steam Garden” is a quarterly (!!!) steampunk festival held organized by the Tokyo Inventors Society with the goal of “expanding the usual neo-Victorian style of steampunk to include different cultures and continents.” Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Now I want to take a vacation.

Root Beer is Awesome

Root beer is my favorite #amwriting beverage that isn’t coffee.  (Yeah, I know.)

Over the past two years, I’ve been slowly sinking into the world of craft root beer. It’s kind of amazing, really, and like any niche, the further you get into it the faster you realize you have only scraped the tip of the iceberg.

Some are good, many are terrible. There’s something for everyone, unless you are afraid of anything that might taste like anise or licorice.

That being said, I love root beer. Each bottle is an adventure! The next one could be the best one you’ve ever had!

I found a local popcorn / ice-cream / soda shop that has several bottles I’ve been wanting to try.  I capped myself at four, because if not, really, then where does it stop?  One of these is waiting for me this evening, while I’m staring at my query, prepping last-minute changes and trying to decide when I want to pull the trigger.


Image Blast: 1 Yard, 24 Hours, 12 Inches of Snow


At the beginning of February, mother nature decided we’d had enough coddling, and that it was high-time to dump a buttload of snow on top of us, quick as you like. And that’s exactly what happened. In less than twenty-four hours, we’d gotten about a foot of snow.

This image was taken partway through the process in the morning, just about when the cabin fever was starting to set in. By this time it was already too rough to leave the house, but I got what I could standing on the steps of our side door. The lighting was just about perfect, so I got out my crappy DSLR and went to work.

The image is actually a composite of about two dozen images, stitched together with the power of Adobe Photoshop and then slightly brightened. It was also my second attempt: on my first try, I made the mistake of not capturing enough of the edge details near the top, bottom, and sides of the images. The software rendered this as empty space and made it nigh impossible to slice out a nice rectangle.


I’m so glad it’s March.


I’m patiently waiting the yearly purging and reclamation of the NaNoWriMo forums so I can spam it with text along with about two thousand other people. But tradition is tradition, so I soldier onward.

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep myself busy. Sure, I could be writing blog posts or plotting, but that’s too useful!  NaNoWriMo prep season must also include procrastination preparation, if only to get it all out of my system.  To that end, here’s what the Internet has served up for me lately to keep me occupied:

The Fox (Bluegrass Edition): If you liked the original video by Ylvis, you at least owe it to yourself to check out these country-style folk giving the tune their own little spin.

Cookie Clicker: One of the strangest “games” on the web, if you can even call it a game. Warning! This game could make you spontaneously burst into cookie dough. Command line radio. It’s no Pandora or 8tracks, but it’s fun for a little while.


NaNoWriMo Has Begun

Pencil and Book
Photo on flickr by jcarlosn

It’s November 2. Do you know where your novel is?

I decided to start the month with a bang and crank out 10,000 words on day one in order to keep my energy high and spirits up.  I’m glad I put so much work into my outline, because now I always know what happens next, and I can feel a little bit more free to play around in the text without too much fear that I’m running off the deep end.

Last night, too, I had something of a revelation: everyone’s a discovery writer on the sentence level.  I dunno.  Over time, I think, writers get better and better at knowing what they want to say and how they want to say it, but each sentence escapes differently from the fingertips.  If it didn’t , we wouldn’t need editors.  So, keeping that in mind has helped me maintain some of the spontaneity of the process.

Another thing that’s helped me keep energy and momentum up is that I love the story I’m working on, and I love the characters.  I’m not sure I could continue if I didn’t.  (And, really, in 2010, that’s what happened.  After three days, I switched stories altogether, because I just was not in love with what I was doing.)

If you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, that’s fine too: cheer on someone who is!  I find it gets easier for me every year, but a lot of new writers struggle with tapping into that creativity vein.  The only way to get used to it is to keep on doing it, over and over, until it’s second nature.  And sometimes all we need to keep going is a little encouragement.

My Writer’s Creed

“The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.” –William Goldman

“I hate writing, but I love having written.” — Dorothy Parker

I believe writing is hard.  It’s not some channeling of magical forces or reaching into the dark recesses of the soul.  It’s work, and it takes time, and life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of it.

I believe anyone can write, and anyone can write well.  It’s not a mystical club only some enchanted few can enter. It’s a wonderfully large organization with lots of brilliant people in it.  I don’t feel threatened by other writers: I’m glad to be in such good company.

I believe inspiration can come from anywhere.  Good ideas can be mundane or exotic.  Sometimes the best ones are combinations of the two.  Whether ideas are worked-for or waited-for, there is no ‘right way’ to be inspired.

I believe my characters are my responsibility.  They don’t have minds of their own.  It’s my job to stay true to who they are, and it’s my job to fix it if I write something stupid or ‘out of character’.  It’s my job to be constantly on the lookout for cool things for them to say, and do, and be.

I believe good editing makes good writing better.   Nobody but Stephen King gets it right the first time, and I’m not convinced he does, either (no offense, Mr. King).  Editing is a totally different skill from  writing — especially self-editing — which makes this process even more maddening.

I believe writing is worth it.  The gratification so far delayed that the end doesn’t always seem to justify the means.  But I get a kick out of writing a great scene or writing “the end” or having even one person fall in love with a character that I made up in my head.  Sure, there are agents and contracts and guest blogs and book tours, but it’s these things keep me going in the face of adversity.  Otherwise, I would have stopped long ago.

…What do you believe?

Goldilocks Syndrome

I’m really picky about my workspace.  Don’t confuse this with ‘organized’: Mrs. Caffeinated will be the first to tell you I’m anything but.

No, it’s a little different than that.  I can’t just write or code anywhere.  It has to be quiet, but I also have to have access to  music, should I want it.  It shouldn’t be too bright, but not too dark, either, with no glare!  And don’t even get me started on temperature (I’d rather be too cool than too warm, but not cold).  Basically, I have to have everything “just right!”  But who wouldn’t want the perfect working conditions?

As for clutter, well, we’re still moving in, but my office is almost put-together.  I’m still searching for the right balance of stuff-to-space among the boxes and other things I should probably donate or otherwise rid myself of.  I have my treasured writing books and fiction favorites on a shelf nearby, for inspiration.  (Some of my less favorites sit on the bottom shelf.  Also for inspiration, or more like determination, I suppose.)

I’m going to get it right, and soon.  November is only a week away!

What do you look for in an ideal working space?

NaNo Prep Day

I wrote the other day about how to prepare for NaNoWriMo, but today has been declared “NaNo Prep Day” – so I figured, it can’t hurt to revisit this a little bit. Even discovery writers (aka “pantsers”, which sounds a little degrading) can stand to gain with a little bit of preparation. Sure, you don’t have to know your whole plot on Day 1, but the more you know, the more you can hit the ground running.

So what can you figure out before you start down the road of fiction? Here are four things you can look into before setting off on your novel journey.

1) Know your Characters

Seriously, this is probably the biggest thing. Characters, characters, characters. The best plot idea in the world will fall flat without memorable characters driving it. They don’t have to be ‘morally’ good, but they do have to be ‘quality’ good. Well-thought-out. If you put ten times as much preparation into characters as you do into your plot, you’ll get a return on the investment. After all, plot is characters who face setbacks / don’t get what they want, working toward their goals. (Even if that goal is to run away from their problems, which is sort of a reversal on the idea.)

Furthermore, you can’t have dialogue without characters; dialogue is often a great way to set up or resolve conflict. The more you know about your characters, the better dialogue you can write involving them. You’ll be able to write from a place of personal perspective instead of cardboard-cutout, and that’s a win.

Either way, it starts with characters.

2) Know your Setting

My preferred style of preparation is a hybrid of discovery + outlining, so I’ve done my share of jumping in and getting my feet dirty on a new story right away on November 1. But whether I’ve prepared a 15-point outline or a two-paragraph summary or nothing at all plot-wise, I know where my story takes place. It’s hard to start writing without a setting, so decide the where and when, and then figure out what makes your ‘world’ vibrant.

Even if that world is a suburban household or a vibrant metropolis: consider the tone of your story. Hopeful? Gritty? Full of wonder or full of despair? That should be reflected in your setting. Or perhaps you want your setting to contrast the tone of the novel. That’s cool too! Make it work for you. The more work you put into your setting before November, the easier it will be to stage your story and add in the wonderful milieu details beyond the action and dialogue.

3) Know your Comfort Zone

NaNoWriMo is about experimentation. It’s about challenging yourself. Examine the work you’ve already done and be willing to try something new. Don’t be afraid to fail! NaNoWriMo is perfect opportunity to pursue the pure, unfiltered act of creation, and we should feel encouraged to move past our current boundaries into uncharted territory.

Keep on stretching, and you can only get better.

4) Know your Community

Hit up the NaNoWriMo forums to find out who else in your area (or your demographic) is working on a novel in November. As I’ve said before, one of the greatest boons of taking this project on at all is the sense of togetherness that NaNoWriMo brings to what is already a solitary career path / hobby / pastime. Don’t be afraid to drop in to the forums, or Twitter, or a local write-in. Participate in a word-war or two. You never know what kind of encouragement, feedback, and even friendship you might find.