Standing room mostly

I’ve transitioned to a standing desk.

I started thinking about it a year or so ago, after reading about the benefits of standing rather than sitting for desk work. Those benefits include (for a lot of people) increased energy, diminished back pain, weight loss, and–most interesting to me–improved focus and concentration.

I don’t have any back pain, but the other stuff sounded pretty good.

For a long time I pined for the GeekDesk, a hydaulic beauty that lets you raise and lower the work surface in seconds with the push of a button. (The ability to alternate easily between standing and sitting seems to help the transition to a standing desk, and even many long-time standers say it’s good to take a sitting break from time to time.)

But the GeekDesk is pricey, especially when you add the cost of shipping. I could never quite justify it, so I dithered and did nothing. Meanwhile, the awesome Cat Rambo did the opposite, i.e., something. She rigged up a standing desk and started using it. Her FB and G+ posts about the results inspired me, and when she posted that the IKEA Frederik desk can be used or modded as a standing desk, I went out and got one. At $149 it’s hella cheaper than the GeekDesk, although it can’t be raised and lowered, and I did the shipping myself.

I’ll pass lightly over the assembly process, except to say that: (1) this desk is the first IKEA product I’ve ever assembled that did not come with an Allen wrench, and (2) I put the desk together in our living room, while enduring the godawful Syfy movie “Swamp Volcano,” and getting it into my office eventually involved taking a door off its hinges and, when that proved inadequate, taking the damn desk partly apart and reassembling it in the office. So, um, put the thing together in the room where you plan to use it. Duh.

Anyway, I got it set up last night. My old sitting desk is on the left, the new standing one on the right:


My work habits are pretty jumpy; I usually take frequent bathroom, TV, walk, play-with-cat breaks, so it’s not like I’m going to be standing for hours on end in one place, like some literary-assembly-line worker. (Although my publisher might find that an  improvement.) But for sitting breaks at my desk, I got a $20 IKEA bar stool with a padded footrest. I’m also going to take Cat’s advice and get a gel floormat, like the ones chefs use.

I’ve only been at the desk for a couple of hours, but I like it. I’ve gotten some work done: revising an outline for my nonfic publisher, revising a short story, and writing this blog post. Time to down tools and see what that cat’s up to.

Nice start to a New Year

I woke up this morning to find that the January 2012 issue of 10Flash Quarterly has gone live. It contains my zombie flash piece “Base Instinct,” which was fun to write.

Super-short-form writing doesn’t come easily to verbose me, but it was satisfying to pare a story down to its essence–and there are lots of markets for flash. I plan to submit a few more 1000-word (or shorter) stories this year. My main writing goal, though, is to finish the draft of the novel I’m writing, and that right speedily. We shall see.

2011 was neither a bad nor a good year for me. Meh, I would have to say. I would look forward to 2012 with less trepidation if it did not include the specter of a presidential election. Still, I hope it turns out to be a terrific year for all of us, and that the Mayans will have the last laugh and the world will not end.

New YA adaptation coming soon

I’ve finished the primary draft of a nonfiction project near and dear to my heart: turning a scholarly work on the history of American immigration into a book for young readers.

The book is A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, by Ronald Takaki, who was a leading scholar of immigration history and a professor of ethnic studies at the University of California at Berkeley. The young people’s adaptation, which I have based very closely on Professor Takaki’s original text, will be called A Different Mirror for Young People.

This project has been special for me for two reasons.

First, most textbooks in U.S. history classes spend little time on the great waves of immigration that shaped this country. Textbooks often ignore the relationships among immigrant and ethnic groups, or between immigrants and native-born Americans.  Takaki’s book focuses on how different ethnic and racial groups of immigrants cooperated, competed, and were pitted against each other by politicians and employers. It also looks at the experiences that different immigrant groups shared–the ways the groups were similar, and also the ways in which each group was unique.

Second, I not only admired and respected Ron Takaki as a scholar, I cared for him as a friend. I was lucky to get to know Ron and his wife and colleague, Carol, years ago, when I turned another one of his books into a multivolume series on Asian American history for kids. The Takakis’ warmth, generosity, and passion for learning and communicating were inspiring. We remained friends, and I was always delighted to see them when our paths crossed.

Ron died in 2009. His work touched the lives of many students, teachers, and readers. I know it would please him enormously to know that A Different Mirror will soon be available to young readers.


Zachary’s in Italy for a couple of weeks. At such times I enjoy taking on projects: sorting out the hall closet, say, or organizing the pantry. This time I’ve inventoried my fiction output.

Two realizations led me to spend the last couple of hours sorting files, an enterprise that eventually required me to fire up Z’s oldest, most dust-covered computer.

One realization was that I want to use Scrivener for writing and revising fiction from now on. To this end I consolidated all the files for current or recent stories and novels from my laptop and netbook into one set of files with a consistent labeling system. The next step will be to decide what’s worth working on, prioritize it, and import those files into Scrivener.

The other realization was that there was a shocking amount of stuff–from mss. of romance novels that were published in the 90s to proposals, ideas, and correspondence–languishing on 3.5-inch floppies in a box in my office. Hence the firing up of the aforementioned ancient computer, the copying of files from many floppies onto a flash drive, and the examination of those files on my laptop.

They were full of surprises related to my nonfiction career and to fiction projects I’d started but set aside long ago. In addition to the usual kind of thing–letters I don’t remember writing to people I don’t remember meeting–I found that I have full mss. (some in WordPerfect 4.2! but OpenOffice converted it) of successful nonfic books from decades ago. That got me thinking about self-pubbing some of them, now that rights have reverted, on the “nothing to lose” principle.

On the fiction front, I found proposals and ideas for romance novels from back when I was writing for Harlequin. Some that got turned down then as too weird or unconventional would seem tame in today’s romance market. I also rediscovered a fat Civil War novel I ghost-wrote for a CEO in the 1980s; the surprise here was how little I got paid for it, although I must’ve thought it was enough at the time.

The best part was that while copying the files for a historical novel I started a long time ago, but gave up on after 105 pages, I got an idea for turning it into a steampunk novella, so now I can be excited about it all over again.

After all this filing, an afternoon of yard work might be positively refreshing. But probably not.

Shout-out to

In lieu of some “best of 2010” list, I’m going to close out the year with props to a site I think is one of the most useful I’ve found:

If you’ve read HPL’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” you’ve seen his remarks on, say, Edward Lucas White’s story “Lukundoo.” If you then thought, Hey, I’d like to read that story, and googled it, you probably wound up at HorrorMasters, a site with a vast library of classic horror, novels as well as short fiction, all free, readable online or downloadable. There’s new fiction, too, but for me the best thing about the site is the availability of hundreds of older works, including many that cannot be found at Project Gutenberg or Google Books. It’s a priceless resource.

If you haven’t checked out HorrorMasters, give it a try. “Lukundoo” isn’t a bad place to start.