Friday Roundup

No new Duranalysis this week, though I’m getting closer to honing in on a subject. Next week, maybe? Dunno. Until then, I give you Simon looking soulful and vaguely disapproving of all my procrastination.

Book news: Bias Cut (ABNA semi-finalist, IPPY silver medal winner) is free today and tomorrow at Amazon. Download your Kindle copy now. Come for the “(s)nappy dialogue and accomplished descriptions” (to quote the kind Publishers Weekly review I received during ABNA judging), stay for the thinly-veiled Duran Duran references. As always, you can look at my complete book list here.

Productivity hacks! On the grand spectrum of writers,  I usually (usually) don’t have too many crippling productivity issues. I’ve got eight novels out, not counting ghostwritten projects, with others in various stages of completion. I’ve written a buttload (technical term) of screenplays. I’ve written maybe a hundred thousand words about Duran Duran for this website alone, and probably close to that much about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I’ve never suffered through a serious case of writers’ block, knock on wood.

However. I’m finally coming out a bit of a productivity slump. I wanted to have the first draft of a new book finished in May; instead, I only managed about twenty thousand words. In the first half of June, there were more days where I didn’t work on it than days where I did. That’s not good; on a first draft, it’s crucial to pound out words every day just to keep the momentum going. To get back on track, I’ve implemented a two-pronged productivity method that, thus far, has been working well:

1) I installed the free Chrome extension StayFocusd on my browser and used it to block all the time-wasting websites (mostly news sites and news aggregators) I visit during the hours I should be working. For now, I’ve blocked those sites from 9AM-3:30PM Monday through Friday; I’ll consider whether I need to block them on the weekend as well. Here’s a short Lifehacker piece on StayFocusd.

2) I’m fond of the Pomodoro Technique (here’s a Lifehacker overview), which advocates working in 25-minute focused bursts, followed by a five-minute break. Here’s a countdown timer website with a Pomodoro setting. Click on the Pomodoro link, and it’ll give you a 25-minute countdown followed by a five-minute countdown. When writing fiction, I’ll average somewhere in the range of 750-850 words in twenty-five minutes. I generally think two thousand words is a reasonable fiction output per day, so three Pomodoro sessions gives me more than enough time to get that done. That’s only ninety minutes of writing per day, which is easy enough to squeeze in. I’ve been trying to get one Pomodoro burst done in the wee hours of the morning during my first cup of coffee. If I can get eight hundred or so words written by 5AM (…I’m an early riser), it gets my day off to a damned good start.

Anyhoo. No productivity method works for everyone, so you might find StayFocusd and/or Pomodoro to be entirely rubbish. I’m just throwing it out there for what it’s worth.

I subscribe to GOOP, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle newsletter.  Sometimes I admire her taste; sometimes I shake my head sadly at the cluelessness of it all. Mocking GOOP is a long and time-honored tradition (See: Salon’s Gwyneth Paltrow is Wrong About Everything, or Tech Insider’s 7 terrible health tips from Gwyneth Paltrow), and while I agree with much of the mockery (seriously, her health advice is ridiculously bad), I’ve never felt the need to join the anti-GOOP dogpile.

Until now, that is.

Yesterday’s GOOP featured photos of the demure, expensive, tasteful, minimalist interior of Gwyneth’s NYC apartment. She’s got some nice things! I wish my living room had a sofa suspended by chains from the ceiling, like a kick-ass grownup swing set. Click here to view her photos. It's nice, right?

But… hey, GP, where’s the color? More importantly, where are the books? That one big, lonely book on your coffee table doesn’t count. That’s not a book; it’s a prop. I’m always really weirded out by people who don’t have books in their homes, probably because I live like this:

And this:

And this:

Raise your game, Gwyneth.

So I gave Gwyneth’s living room a fast Photoshop makeover. Ready for this? Here’s the Before:

And here’s the After:

Boom! Two small tweaks--a bookcase and a rug--and her apartment has been officially Richterfied. No need to thank me, GP.

We returned to Food Bazaar recently hoping to pick up more of the awesome Korean fish-shaped ice cream sandwiches from earlier this month. They were out of stock, because everybody is now wise to the awesomeness of fish-shaped ice cream sandwiches, so we got these Taiwanese lychee popsicles instead. Eh. They’re fine. It’s a pretty muted lychee flavor (not at all the “fabulous combination of sour and sweet” that the package promises), but they’re a perfectly nice treat on a hot summer day. The fish-shaped ice cream sandwiches still own my heart, though.

Summer recipe: We’ve been eating a lot of salmon sushi bowls, which are delicious and satisfying and healthyish.  You can use cold poached salmon (I poach it in vegetable broth, fresh dill, and lemon slices, then chill it in the fridge before flaking it apart), but to make it a little junkier and more decadent, we’ve been substituting lox (Trader Joe’s sells a three-ounce package for $3.99, which works well). Very quickly and sloppily, here’s my recipe (exact proportions are for the timid. Do what feels right):

Cook up a cup of brown rice as usual (we have a rice cooker, which is a godsend, but using the stovetop works fine; it just requires a bit more attention. Hell, microwave up some Minute Rice, if it makes you happy). Let it cool to room temperature, then mix in a jigger of rice vinegar (if you like your sushi rice sticky-sweet, add some sugar; I skip it. A jigger of sake would also work splendidly here, if you have some on hand). Mix chopped cucumber in a small bowl with rice vinegar and salt to taste. Cube an avocado and stick it in another bowl. Make up Thug Kitchen’s awesome Creamy Peanut Slaw (recipe follows). Set out a few accompaniments—wasabi paste, soy sauce, pickled ginger—and let everyone assemble their own bowl of deliciousness: rice on the bottom, topped with lox, cucumbers, avocado, slaw, and whatever other components you prefer. Toasted strips of seaweed work well in this, too, as does shelled edamame.

Thug Kitchen’s creamy peanut slaw recipe doesn’t seem to be on their website (it’s in the official cookbook), and I don’t want to repeat it verbatim here, but if you like Thai peanut noodles, this is the same general flavor profile, only using shredded cabbage instead of soba. Whisk together peanut butter, rice vinegar, lime juice, and warm water (roughly a couple tablespoons of each; taste as you go along and see what you like) with dashes of soy sauce and Sriracha plus a good amount of ginger (tip: store whole ginger in the freezer, then grate what you need with a cheese grater or microplane. This is also hands-down the best way to store and use unsalted butter). Add your peanut mixture to a heap of shredded cabbage, and you’ve got an amazing hot-weather side dish.

Song of the week: I’m going to go with Duran Duran’s “Do You Believe In Shame?” (you can read my Duranalysis of the video here), because it’s a beautiful song, and Nick’s remote, glacial beauty in the video always shreds my soul to pieces. BTW, Rhino has put pristine copies of many of Duran’s more obscure videos, including “Night Boat”, up on YouTube; their copies tend to be much higher quality than earlier versions, so they’re worth seeking out. Just look at how much crisper the quality is in this version of “Do You Believe In Shame?” than in the one I used for the screencaps in my Duranalysis. Thank you, Rhino; this was a valuable public service.


DKoren said…
Thanks for the two tips about stayfocused and the pomodoro technique. I've been in a major productivity slump. No, slump isn't strong enough. Chasm of Doom? And I'm sooooooo close to finishing my current novel too. Maybe these will help me stop wasting time.

Ooohhh, clean copies of Night Boat etc? Excellent! Thank you, Rhino!

Also, yes... books. I have bookcase after bookcase of them. One must have books!

Happy weekend!
Illesdan said…
I don't think I've ever been in anyone's home that didn't have a visible bookcase about. Sounds a little pod people-ish to me, but that's me; I live in a house full of comic books and anything else that strikes my fancy.

I'm more than a little disappointed in myself: my (secret; thank God!) New Year's resolution was to have a graphic novel done before the next new year. My craptastic health and all-over-the-map work schedule have conspired greatly against me in that endeavor. On the plus side, it did make me re-evaluate some old storylines to see if I actually had anything good on my hands. I'm thinking about baby-stepping it and going back to what I know best; fan-fiction. I really need to learn how to get back into that writer-rhythm again before tackling something as big as what I wanted to do seven months ago. I haven't written an honest-to-God story in well over fifteen years.

Just curious, Morgan, because technology is not my friend; are your books available in print? I'm a funny person, I prefer good old-fashioned ink and paper books over the other mediums. If so, I'd definitely buy!
Morgan Richter said…
DKoren, trust me, I hear you with the Chasm of Doom. I've been disgusted with myself for the past month for my slump, especially since I've had no good reason for it. I have a pretty good handle on the current book I'm working on, it's pretty clear in my brain, I've cleared good chunks of my schedule to write it... and yet I'm still falling short. I did have a pretty productive week with implementing StayFocusd and Pomodoro simultaneously -- ten thousand words in the last five days, which is right where I should be. I know, realistically, it won't last forever and there will *still* be days where I can't/won't write, but it's a nice start.

And the clean version of Night Boat is a huge, huge improvement. Thumbs up to Rhino.

Illesdan -- I always quietly judge people who don't have a bookcase with books on it. I hope you're able to slip back into the rhythm of writing! I know it's not much consolation when you're just trying to get going, but it's always toughest at the start.

I do have print versions of five of my books right now -- Bias Cut (with the old cover), Lonely Satellite, Wrong City, Demon City, and Charlotte Dent. They're available online through Amazon (Bias Cut can be found on Barnes & Noble's website, too), and you can specially order them at any brick-and-mortar bookstore. Amazon tends to have the best prices. I've got the paperback links on my book page here. Thank you!
Illesdan said…
Very cool, thanks!
Anonymous said…
*drools at thought of more Duranalysis* Yes please...I need me some '80s-ish goodness*. I'm still mourning the cancellation of Moonbeam City.

*though I like their stuff from other eras too
Anonymous said…
none of the suggestions quite worked out, did they? oh noooooo! i was totally pulling for ru and new orleans

i don't think i could've downloaded bias cut again, alas. but if i could've, i would've! (terrible secret: i preferred laurie gazing into my eyes from the first cover, and i'm sad that kindle replaced it when that was the one i bought. i understand why you came up with a new one, since it's more about the mystery factor now than laurie/the 80s. but still, give me a choice, kindle!)

i wish i could cure my procrastination with clever techniques that involve structured breaks, but i know better. if i open an article or thread up, i have to finish it, or it gnaws away at me while i'm trying to work. so instead i have to just say "okay i'm getting this much done" and do it without any internet breaks.

fourthing the weirdness of a bookless dwelling. the hallways in my house are lined with all the books i read as a kid and my parents read as adults, and even though now i mostly do digital, i still have a couple of bookshelves in my room with reference books, things i still haven't read from high school that i mean to read someday, relevant manga, and whatnot. like, even if one is no longer as/never was as voracious a reader, there are still certain types of books that just need to be paper, and that need to be on hand. does she just not have any books on acting, or other crafts that she practices? does she not actually do anything? or is she secretly #robopaltrow, come to destroy us all?

finally, i am glad to hear that fish-shaped ice cream sandwiches are a staple at all asian markets.
Morgan Richter said…
New Duranalysis coming, Anonymous and mousie mouse! I promise! Mousie, I am absolutely using some of your suggestions, though I think first up might be the Violence of Summer video, if I can scrape together enough to say about it, just because... well, it's summer, so it seemed thematically appropriate.

Heh, sorry that Kindle took your preferred Bias Cut cover away. I loved that cover just for the eighties aspect, but I wanted to push the mystery factor more. Still... The paperback edition still has the old cover, for now anyway.

Maybe Gwyneth has a dedicated library in her apartment? Maybe she's digitalized her entire collection? I'm trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, because I refuse to believe she doesn't have any books anywhere.
Anonymous said…
i always forget about liberty, which is funny, because as soon as i read "violence of summer" the chorus popped into my head. i'm glad some of this round of suggestions are definite uses!

as we were speaking, a new duranalysis subject appeared! it's another what's in my bag, but now with the whole band! though i don't think i ever mentioned the first one from 2009, though that's probably because it's just simon and john wandering around the store. amoeba has made their what's in my bags more polished since then, i was surprised watching the newer one.

so i would have to get the paperback version to secure the first cover! what a clever trick to make the paperback more tempting despite the hundreds of physical books already in my house! (j/k, lol)

it's true, even if we assume that this is a tiny new york apartment, i don't think there were any pictures of her bedroom or any sort of office space. it could be you step into one of those and they're just piled up everywhere.
Morgan Richter said…
I love that What's In My Bag video! I used to spend a lot of time at that Amoeba when I lived in Los Angeles...

I figure if I keep switching up my book covers, I can fool people into buying multiple copies of the same books! This is how I'm planning to make my fortune.

I'm hoping Gwyneth has a back room somewhere that's just cluttered with haphazard stacks of books. I'm inclined to doubt it, but hope springs eternal.
it's still me, i'm just on the other computer. ^^; said…
i guess now that there's a new friday post, i should start commenting over there, huh? probably tomorrow.

your plan just might work! the next time i need a little extra to put my amazon order into the free shipping zone, i think i'll use bias cut.
Morgan Richter said…
Ha! Thank you. I'd offer to send you a copy of Bias Cut, but I am fresh out of my own stash. (I have an odd surplus of Lonely Satellite paperbacks at the moment, so if you or anyone else should happen to want one, email me your address and I'll hook you up.)

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