Category Archives: writing

User Experience Feedback for Human Infant

To the Developer(s) of the Human Infant:

I recently acquired your product and, for the most part, I enjoy it. However I have some user experience feedback that will provide an overall better experience if implemented.

Let’s start with the process to acquire a Human Infant:

  • It’s tough to get your hands on one! I understand you want to be choosy, but it is confusing, as a customer, why some are able to pick one up right away (the first month of trying!) and others have to wait years. I’ve heard some aren’t able to get one at all. And then there are those who don’t want one, and yet find the acquisition process has begun regardless! Work on your distribution line to clear up these discrepancies.
  • It’s a lot of work to begin the acquisition! Perhaps this could be done in a way with fewer side effects for the end customer?
  • There’s no getting around this: it’s troubling that payment in the form of physical pain is a requirement for acquisition of an Infant. I understand this is a challenging product to acquire, but the amount of pain asked for is unreasonable. Lower this cost for greater future investments. 
  • It takes so much energy to acquire one! It’s really quite a lot of work, which can be a strain on the Mom Module.
  • The acquisition comes with so many side effects. Some don’t even make any sense. Mine came with Flabby Belly and Sore Wrist.

On the Human Infant itself:

  • The product arrives way too immature. I understand there is a DIY component, and it is cool that you can customize it to some degree, but it would be great if out-of-the-box the Infant came with some basics, like Ability to Smile and Understands How to Eat. Giggle would be a great upgrade, too! It just seems crazy that this product naturally comes with so few skills. It doesn’t really do anything at first, for, like, months.
  • Where is the instruction manual?!
  • I understand the digestion module is under development when it arrives, but it would be great if it worked better with the provided breastfeeding equipment. It is really hard to tell if you have a match before the product arrives! Plus it is hard to use and difficult to get it correctly docked. Have you considered a hands-free mode? Just an idea.
  • All the built-in sounds are the same. At least initially, there is no difference between an alarm and the Hungry mode. Some separation would really improve the whole system.
  • I hear Mobility comes with the Toddler upgrade. I’m looking forward to trying it out! Can you explain why the other models come with Mobility and this one doesn’t? I’m thinking of Horse, but even Shark has it, so I know you can do it.
  • Maybe I’m using it improperly, but why does the breastfeeding module, when combined with Human Infant, require a pain payment? Didn’t we pay enough upfront? These microtransactions are getting out of hand.
  • It is LOUD. Please add a mute or volume button.
  • My model did not come with a charging cable; as a result, it goes into sleep mode about every three hours. It also needs regular maintenance. This product would be a lot more fun with more interactive up time.
  • The waste disposal system is a literal mess. Can we get an indicator light or something before dispersal?
  • I’ve seen your other models, such as Seahorse and Emperor Penguin, so I know it is possible to have greater integration with the Dad Module. Please consider implementing these changes; right now, it seems like Mom Module has all the interaction. It is fun, but unbalanced.
  • Is it supposed to produce so much gas?
  • Seriously, why doesn’t it do anything? Literally every other species’ model works right out of the box. It’s kind of boring for the first several months.

Human Infant has many devoted fans; I just believe these would be significant improvements to an already great product. I hope you find this feedback helpful and I look forward to the improved model, which would greatly increase the likelihood I will acquire another to add to my collection.

A Human Mom


PS. Thanks for Dogs and Cats. Both are pretty great as-is.

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Review: Damn Fine Story

Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful NarrativeDamn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t able to attend the DFW Con writing convention this year, where Chuck was the keynote speaker, but I did get to read this book, so I still feel like I got to have a good long conversation with him.

The book is both light-hearted and zippy and meaty and something you’ll ponder. It took me a long time to get through because I kept ruminating. Which is the point! Thank god this was a different kind of writing book! There is no torture over adverbs or controversially short memory devices; Chuck leaves all that to King and the plethora of his imitators. Instead, this book is about the overall shape of a story. That’s a mushy, hard-to-define topic, which Chuck handles with movie story examples, quick jokes, and great illustrative metaphors.

You’ll have something to think about, and you’ll damn well like it, young man!

(Seriously though, I just want to watch TV with Chuck. He has excellent nerd taste.)

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Filed under Editing, Publishing, Reviews, writing

Review: Do I Make Myself Clear?

Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well MattersDo I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters by Harold Evans
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Questions for Mr. Evans’ editor:
1) How intimidating was it to edit a book about quality writing? That must have been a great deal of pressure! The horror, had you let slip an errant comma! So I’m sure you paid quite close attention to the book. Which leads me to ask…

2) How hard was it to deal with someone so pugnacious that he collected, for years, sentenced he found abhorrent solely so he could one day combine them into a book to tell people they were so very wrong? I get it, they are good examples to illustrate his points. I am just guessing at the type of person Evans must be to have that kind of intensity.

3) can you explain to me why you would let Evans write a book about writing—presumably targeted to those who don’t write and/or read well—with such high-minded jargon? I mean, I’m a pretty consistent reader, and I’m a writer and editor—what I’m saying is I know words, and yet the “expensive” 10-dollar words Evans used caused even me to pause. If I didn’t read it easily, how could you expect the non writer to breeze through that horrible introduction?

4) How did you ever let the man publish so much political dreck? Honestly, it’s a problem. If he had wanted to write a book about politics and his opinions, he should have done so. But he didn’t. He wrote about writing, and I wanted to read about writing, so why is so much of the book NOT about writing?
Think of it this way: if you pay for a basketweaving class, would you get annoyed if the teacher spent most of the class droning on about how much he hates a particular pizza joint? Of course you would! That’s not why you’re there and he’s wasting your time.
See, editor, I think easily a third of this book is unnecessary political sniping. I want that shorter book, not this one.

That’s why I had to bail on this book. I can’t even tell if there is good advice in it. There very well may be, but it’s not really a book about writing. It’s a book about one man’s snobbishness, vanity, and dislike for the current political situation. It’s bloated and… well, not particularly clear.

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Filed under Reading, Reviews, writing

Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It has been years since I have been so utterly challenged by a book. Junot Diaz breaks almost every conventional rule of literature—the story is nonlinear; characters are not major historical players despite being set in a historical moment of great change; mixes vulgarities with nerdy references in a way guaranteed to exclude most highbrow readers; jumps around in narration; makes frequent reference to a book most people probably hasn’t read, even if they should (In the Time of the Butterflies); avoids most dialogue punctuation—and yet transcends most books. Read this book to have your mind blown in the best possible way.

I had four years of Spanish in high school and it wasn’t enough, because they don’t teach words like “toto,” “puta,” and “culo” in high school (“pussy,” “whore,” and “ass.” You’ll need them in this book)—though Diaz presents a compelling reason to include them in the next lesson. I’ve never made such frequent use of Google translate as I did with this book, and many times there were words even there that couldn’t be looked up, that only brought up annotations for this very book.

But even if you don’t stop to look up all the words you don’t know, Diaz beautifully and elegantly communicates the feeling of being each character, of dealing with their struggles and their particular viewpoint. It’s rare that you can see inside a whole family in this way, each against each other and yet tied together as one unit, each struggling with their own challenges yet determined to be a united front against the world.

The title of this book and the blurb makes it seem like this is the story of one character—Oscar “Wao”—but that’s misleading. I’m not even sure, except for the end, that Oscar can be said to be the main character. No, this is a story about a family, individually and together, and about the legacy of immigration–both blessing and curse–that has impacted them all. It is a powerful and moving tale–even if it does stretch the limits of your translator.

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Habits of Highly Successful NaNo-ers

I’m way behind on real life, so you get this lovely infographic.

*Note: Their data is at least a little off—I got three hours of writing in on Thanksgiving!

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Almost There–YOU CAN DO IT!

Yeah, go flip some tires and stand precariously on the edge of a building! Sweat a lot or…

Wait, no, that’s not right. Oh yeah, FINISH THAT NOVEL! You’re so close, you can do it! Or maybe you’re not close, but that’s no reason to give up on yourself!

Because finishing something, even if it’s not everything, is sometimes enough. DO IT. Sit down, turn off the internet, and cross that finish line!

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November 26, 2015 · 9:30 am

Happy Thanksgiving: Get Stuffed!

Be thankful for your many blessings this year, enjoy time with family and friends, stuff your face with food… and then get back to writing, you loons, NaNoWriMo is almost over! Take a plate of that turkey and lock yourself in a bedroom until you finish your novel! Go go go!

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November 24, 2015 · 9:20 am

“What Do You Write?”, or The Genre Prison

I just recently read one of those articles about how the “new wave” of self-publishers “must” act, and it left me rolling my eyes. It said, instead of just writing, editing, and publishing something, and then working on a social media platform/blog, you should do it the other way around: blog first, become popular (literally, that was the whole step–oh, ok!), hope you still have time for the book you originally wanted to write.

I’ve seen that advice before, but today it just made me eyeroll particularly hard (because of course it’s as easy as “get popular.” Gag me). The advice was further to pick what you were going to write about–presumably the same thing that is your future book topic–and then write extensively on that narrow subject.

Now, don’t get me wrong, that totally works for some people. I met a woman at a conference who started her blog about kids’ photography, and it led to a book deal and stuff. Great. But guess what? She didn’t start the blog so she could eventually write a book; she started the blog because she wanted to be a blogger.

Anyway, back to the “write about one topic a lot” thing: most broadly, that means writing about a specific genre. But I think that’s locking yourself into a prison for no good reason: so your first book ends up being a steampunk romance, great, but what if you want to do a sci-fi horror for the second one? Do you have to spin off a totally different blog? Start all over again? Insanity!

Besides, sometimes the genre is stupidly hard to define. That’s one of the biggest problems with Undead Rising. What genre is it? It’s got zombies, so that’s sometimes horror, even though it’s maybe PG-13 level scary. Zombies are also supernatural, so it kinda fits in that arena. But it’s also funny, so does that make it humor? Except it turns out, weirdly, that most humor books are nonfiction, so that isn’t exactly a good fit. It’s a gamebook, which is awesome, except it’s a genre completely dominated by children’s books from the 1970s and that’s not exactly a section most people are familiar with… so what, exactly, would my one-genre blog be about?

I guarantee you if I had to talk exclusively about zombies, this blog would have died a long time ago.

The conventional publishing wisdom is contradictory here, too. Officially, you pick a genre and you just write in that genre until your hands fall off. It used to be if you wanted to write in a different genre, your publisher would frown on that and your new stuff wouldn’t be published; you were only “known” in one arena. Except… if you got famous, then it was back to whatever you wanted, apparently. All my favorite authors right now may be best known for a certain thing, but they cross genres at will, following whatever they are interested in: Neil Gaiman (comics, children’s books, YA, adult novels); Brad Meltzer (historical fiction, superhero comics, children’s picture books); Margaret Atwood (dystopian fiction that she likes to call literary fiction, short stories, fantasy); and Jim Butcher (urban fantasy, role playing games, comic books, steampunk).

So I say….write what you want. Following your passion is far more interesting and more likely to keep you motivated. Who cares what the box is supposed to be? Just go for it. Make the box fit you, not the other way around.

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Filed under Publishing, Undead Rising, writing

Truth Behind the Writing Life

The writing life is really hard to get a sense of: it’s way more opaque than most careers, with a lot more glamour associated with it that makes the reality way more confusing. But this article is great, giving a peek behind the writing room curtain. Here are some of my favorites.

Lisa Gardner: What surprises me is that it doesn’t get easier. With thirty books written, you would think I’d feel proficient, but each book is painful in its own way. I’m always just feeling my way to that other side–the completed novel. I feel I’m forever gnashing my teeth and banging my head against a blank computer screen.

Dennis Lehane: What surprises me is that it’s as cool as I had hoped it would be. Even twenty years down the line, it still seems surreal. I mean, there was a time when I was a complete nobody, and in my fantasy life thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if somebody actually wanted me to sign one of my books?’ I still live in that place–where it all seems like a fantasy.

Clive Cussler: I would have to say, the only real surprise has been the success. That’s really been quite unexpected. I get up in the morning, get to the office and write until about six o’clock in the evening. Then I share a bottle of wine with my wife. Everything else is the same.

David Morrell: What surprises me most of all is how things have changed in the writing world. When I started, there were no book signings. Novelists didn’t go on tour or do publicity. None of the chain bookstores existed. There was a time when ten or fifteen book warehouses existed in each state; they serviced mom-and-pop grocery stores and stationery stores. Those warehouses disappeared. The chain bookstores appeared, and now, most of them are gone. And of course, we now have the e-book revolution. I’ve seen a great deal that’s changed in the writing world.


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What is NaNoWriMo and Why Should I Care?


What: NaNoWriMo is a crazy mnemonic for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge: Write 50,000 words (about a novella or a short novel) in 30 days.

Why: Because why not? Because a lot of people say they want to write a book but never actually sit down and do it. Because it’s fun? Because it’s a great way to motivate yourself when you know a lot of other people are all striving for the same goal. Because it’s exciting to challenge yourself to stretch beyond your everyday expectations to see if you can rise above the dreck and do something amazing. Because sometimes NaNoWriMo authors go on to become published, or even wildly successful.

Who: Anyone who wants to. Maybe YOU!

When: THIS MONTH! RIGHT NOW, get on it!

How: A) Sign up at Or don’t, it’s up to you. Then, sit down and write a novel in the method of your choosing. It really is that easy (and that hard).

My personal NaNo experiences have all be wonderful. Largely exhausting, but wonderful. My first novel, Alt.World, grew out of my time in NaNoWriMo, first as the 30-day writing challenge (which I then finished over the next few months), then the next year I used NaNo as motivation to sit down and actually edit the whole thing and refine it, in a little personal NaNo challenge. Then I wrote my book Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny, which was a lot of fun and now can be bought as an actual, real book (or ebook). I don’t know that I would have committed to it without something like NaNo pushing me to reach the challenge. So for three years running I met my goals and “won” the challenge. I took last year off because of a death in the family, but I’ve been waiting for this all year. I’m pretty pumped. It’s the one month of the year that I really protect my writing time above all else, saying, “Ok, world, I’ll be back in a month, but this? This is my time.” A

It really does just come down to that: I make a promise, and I do it. I hope you will, too.

Wanna swap NaNo stories? How’re you staying focused this year?


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