Johnny Michael – Love Life People

Johnny Michael is part of the team behind LoveLifePeople and the man holding the red balloons.  These are his good things.

Good things to read.

Your emails before you send them.

Things twice if they make you feel good.

This out loud dramatically, “Together, we can make people!”

Good things to watch.

A good dose of Late Night shows. Comedy before bed is good medicine.

The sky. Especially when it’s blue.

People. Watch them walk down the sidewalk – watch them do what they do. I myself, have a particular and pleasant fascination of observing pretty women. They’re the finest things on earth.

Good things to use.

The stove. To hell with that demon machine known as the microwave. Make real food. Use fresh stuff. Heat the left lovers in the oven or on the stovetop. Grill something. Better food is worth the wait.

The Beatles Albums. And not on shuffle or a mixed compilation of their hits. Listen to their core albums from start to finish. Please Please Me all the way to Let It Be. I never really understood why they were so great until I did this. I suggest doing this multiple times – until you can hear the next song in your head when the current song comes to an end. Realizing they created all this in seven years is really something to wrap your head around.

Shoelaces. A couple years back I noticed that the process of slipping on my already tied shoes was ridiculous behavior. Running in the door still standing, trying to balance on one foot while ripping of a shoe was also something that needed to stop. Ever since then I got in the habit of tying my shoes everyday. I sit down, put the shoes on my feet and lace ‘em up. I enjoy it now. It gets me ready for the day. When I get back home I sit down and untie them. It’s a wonderful little routine.

Connect with Johnny on Twitter, @JohnnyBalloons.

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Amelia Beamer – Author

Amelia Beamer is the author of The Loving Dead, the number two zombie novel of the past decade according to Barnes & Noble. Read the first four chapters, short fiction, and accounts of her international travel at  These are her good things.

Good things to read.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. My favorite book and a primer on writing humor. Open to any page and you’ll probably find something absurd.

Way of the Wizards: New Blood by J E Honey. This is a silly and fun book about wizards who need apprentices and children who are learning how to wizard. It has puns and arm flapping and wildly different people who learn to trust one other.

The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz. A true narrative of a journey on foot from a Russian prison in Siberia to safety in India. It’s harrowing and heartening and shows the depths of the human spirit.

Good things to watch.

Louis CK on Conan. Louis CK’s comedy is honest, revealing, emotional, and brilliant. This five minute piece starts with why he doesn’t want his children to have cell phones and includes singing and talking about the value of sadness.

Mary & Max. This Claymation from Australia is the story of a pen friendship between an old man in New York City and a shy girl in suburban Australia. It’s touching and will make you laugh and probably cry.

Kikujiro. A naïve boy finds an unlikely protector in “Beat” Takeshi Kitano while looking for his mother in this Japanese film which is both gentle and gritty.

Good things to use.

Water. I think many people are dehydrated most of the time and don’t notice. The best water in the world comes out of the tap in Iceland and is unprocessed glacial melt. Tap water in Wales is also amazing, and makes great tea.

Sunlight. I try to get some sun on my face every day, even during a Chicago winter. People in northern climates, especially those who have darker skin tones, can be low in Vitamin D without realizing it.

Olive lip balm from Good Rich Goods. This is the best lip balm in the world. It heals chapped lips rather than just coating them like other balms. The feeling is of natural soft lips that can’t help but smile.

Connect with Amelia on Twitter, @Amelia_Beamer.

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.

Katelan Foisy – Mistress of Magic

Katelan Foisy is a multi-media artist, performer, and tarot reader. She has been featured in the NY Times, Bedford and Bowery an offshoot of New York Magazine, Time Out NY, and Italian GQ among others. She currently performs in “Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning and “The Brothers Booth”.” She is known as La Gitana, is co-owner of London Conjure and co-producer of The Witches’ Compass a interactive monthly lunar circle in NYC.  These are her good things.

Good things to read.

Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens with a translation by H. M. E. de Jong. Michael Maier was a 17th-century alchemist and physician to the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. During this time he wrote a number of alchemical texts but the Atalanta Fugiens remains the most impressive with it’s detailed prints by M. Merian. The the 50 emblems presented consist of a motto, print, epigram, and a three-part musical piece for each. H. M. E. de Jong translates the mottos and epigrams of the emblems and provides a summary of Maier’s work as well as her own findings such as sources, the importance and relationships between the emblems. The Atalanta Fugiens provide an important source in art history, science of the 17th century (Science changed drastically within 50 years of these emblems being published) and musical composition in association to alchemical texts.

Magic Circles In The Grimoire Tradition by William Kiesel. William Kiesel discusses various forms and function of the circle in magical traditions. The role of the circle in Western tradition is one of protection, divination, containing and concentrating energy, and discovering treasures. This is a valuable work that aids not only the ceremonial practitioner in understanding the significance of the circle in both historical setting as well as contemporary ones; but also those interested in the historical aspects of grimoires, design, philosophy, and the sciences. A beautifully written, printed, and designed book filled with traditional illustrations of the seals and circles of the grimoire tradition.

50 Drawings To Murder Magic by Antonin Artaud. Antonin Artaud spent nine years in and out of mental asylums. During this time the playwright, actor, philosopher, essayist, director, theorist, and poet filled exercise books with his experiences from the institutions dealing with magical worlds. Where as once he wrote of healing the space between the mundane and the magic, within the asylum walls he took a dark turn where deities took on demonic and vampiric qualities which he claimed were sucking his life force. He filled twelve books in all with his experiences from the asylum. The first eleven of these were filled with sketches and fragments of thoughts and experiences. The twelfth however became an incantation interspersed with totemic drawings. This would be the last book he wrote in a dissension into madness, a journey where one must forget the ideas of both reality and imagination but to experience the uniting of what was separated, the split between things and words. Two months later he died. An incredible piece of art inside the mind of both genius and madness.

Good things to watch.

Pull My Daisy by Alfred Leslie. This film was a personification of the Beat generation. Based on an incident in the life of Neal Cassady and his wife Carolyn, it’s the story of a railway brakeman whose painter wife invites a respected bishop over for dinner. The dinner goes south when brakeman’s bohemian friends crash the party. The way this was filmed seemed to be the way the whole Beat generation ran, disheveled, slapped together, but upon further inspection you realize it’s a masterfully done piece where each scene was rehearsed, repeatedly and filmed with professional lighting. Deliberately sloppy and intentionally slapstick. A brilliant piece including so many of that generations favorites.

A Streetcar Named Desire directed by Elia Kazan, written by Tennessee Williams. A gorgeous adaption of the play where a beautiful Southern Belle with delusions of grandeur visits her sister in New Orleans. Her behavior towards her sister and husband masking her madness and alcoholism as well as the reality that she has lost everything due to a sordid past . The acting in this is superb as most of the actors from the theater performance joined for the screenplay. The interactions between Brando and Leigh are intense and hard to watch at moments. The symbolism throughout the film is flawless. This piece is haunting and heartbreaking and one of the best films adapted from a theatrical performance.

Nosferatu directed by F.W. Murnau. Originally released in 1922 as Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens, director F.W. Murnau’s adaption of Stoker’s Dracula is a silent masterpiece. The beautiful quality of silent film is it forces you to interact and pay attention. The way this film portrays Dracula is one of the most if not the most terrifying depiction of the legend. During the filming of this names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain the rights to the novel. Dracula became Nosferatu etc. Stoker’s widow sued the director for copyright infringement and the courts ordered the copies be destroyed. One however managed to survive. Beautifully chilling and eerie, this film remains both an inspiration and a classic in cinematography and artistry.

The Color of Pomegranates – Sergei Parajanov. The Color of Pomegranates is a biography of the Armenian ashug Sayat-Nova (King of Song) that attempts to reveal the poet’s life through visuals and poetry during the time of Armenian culture being oppressed and persecuted . Each frame in this film was created as an art piece on it’s own as well as with the writing. It debuted in the Soviet Union in 1968. It was refused a license for export outside of the Soviet Union and was withdrawn after a two months circulation in the Soviet Union due to religious censorship. One of the most beautiful and symbolic films ever made.

Latcho Drom - Tony Gatlif. This film is one of the most beautiful honest depictions of Romany culture ever to be made. Latcho Drom (“safe journey”) is a 1993 French documentary film following the journey of the Romany people from north-west India to Spain. The visuals are breathtaking and the film relies on the music of the people to tell their story.

Good things to use.

Thrift store items as canvases. I’ve created some of my best pieces from throwaway items at thrift shops. I made a plastic elephant head into a timeless Ganesha altar. A cabinet I found at an antique store was sanded and made into a an art piece on Voodoo with the cabinet insides being transformed into an altar piece containing specific ingredients for a working. Both my Amy Winehouse and my William S. Burroughs pieces were built from wood headed to the scrap pile. By using pieces of furniture and other oddities you can create a fantastic and different form of art than just painting on a canvas which while fun, can sometimes get old.

Sauce and coffee cans, wine bottles, and cigar boxes. Nicely designed sauce cans, coffee cans etc to hold your supplies and pens in. Cans like Scalafani tomato puree and others have great vintage looking designs and look great on top of my old wardrobe trunk. I put all my pens and paintbrushes in them Cigar boxes work great too. I used to host a bunch of parties. I loved the look of absinthe bottle, wine bottle etc. I started to save them and use them as candle holders. It makes the house look a little more bohemian especially with the wax dripping down the sides. If you are looking for films, interviews, writing etc. ubu is the place to look. UbuWeb is a completely independent resource dedicated to all strains of the avant-garde, ethnopoetics, and outsider arts. It has so many resources. Maya Deren films, music from Nosferatu, Interviews with writers, Lydia Lunch mp3′s. I adore it.

Connect with Katelan on Twitter, @KatelanFoisy.

Brian Staveley – Author

After teaching literature, philosophy, history, and religion for more than a decide, Brian began writing epic fantasy. His first book, The Emperor’s Blades (put out by Tor Books in January), is the start of his series, Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. has been good enough to release the first seven chapters as a teaser.

Brian lives on a steep dirt road in the mountains of southern Vermont, where he divides his time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and adventuring, not necessarily in that order.  These are his good things.

Good things to read.

The Last Samurai.  There’s no relation here, to the horrible Tom Cruise movie. The Last Samurai I’m talking about is a novel by Helet DeWitt about a single mother in London struggling to raise a super-genius of a young boy, and about that boy’s struggle to find a father figure he can believe it. Hysterically funny, tragic, smart, and compassionate.

Mr. Wuffles. I groaned when my two-year-old pulled this one off the shelf in the library. It looked like a boring picture book about cats. To my delight, it is, in fact, a tale of interstellar first contact, busted hyper-drives, enormous and malevolent predators, and cooperation against the odds. Also, Cheez-Its play an important role in cementing the friendship between alien races.

A News Outlet with a Different Political Slant.   I saw a depressing chart recently (of course, I can’t find it now) indicating that we (Americans) have become more polarized in our reading choices. More than ever, conservatives read conservative newspapers, books, and magazines, while liberals read liberal stuff. This is a disaster. We don’t and shouldn’t agree about everything, but it’s worth knowing what the other half of the country thinks and why.

Good things to watch.

Fire.  There’s not much of a plot to a campfire or a roaring blaze on the hearth, but while there are thousands of hours of television that I’ve regretted watching, I can’t say I look back on any evening around a campfire and think, “I really should have been watching reruns of Family Feud.”

Unforgiven.  This 1992 western starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, and Morgan Freeman was one of the great disappointments of my childhood. I rented it hoping for wise-cracking, gun-slinging heroics. I wanted Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. Instead I got a dark tale about vengeance and loss, one in which there didn’t seem to be any good guys, no one was particularly clever or particularly beautiful, and everyone is over the hill. I didn’t watch it again for maybe five or six years, when it immediately claimed the number one spot on my list of favorite movies. It has yet to be dethroned.

Figure Skating.   What’s not to like? Unbelievable athleticism. Brutal wipe-outs. Sequined costumes. Great music. Bitter rivalries. Doesn’t get any better than that.

Good things to use.

Studded Snow Tires.  Granted, if you live in Baton Rouge or Dallas, snow tires might not prove the most practical investment, but I live in Vermont, and it’s no exaggeration to say they are one of my favorite possessions. There’s no sensation quite as awful as that moment at the top of a long, steep, unplowed dirt road when you feel your car start to drift beneath you, a horror that is multiplied ten-fold if your kid’s in the car. On the flip side, there’s nothing like looking out the window, seeing the snow’s a foot deep on the ground, and thinking, “No problem.” Freedom of movement and peace of mind – the ultimate luxuries.

Heavy Clay Poker Chips.   Even losing money feels good when you’re not playing with those shitty plastic chips.

Google Calendar.  It’s free. It syncs automatically across devices. You can share all relevant information with all relevant people. It’s utterly intuitive. This isn’t to say I use it – I’m still wedded to the massive paper thing stuck to the refrigerator, but then, I’m an idiot.

Connect with Brian on Twitter, @brianstaveley, Facebook as brianstaveley, and Google+ as Brian Staveley.

Mike Vardy – Productivityist

Mike Vardy is the author of The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want.  He also co-hosts the Mikes on Mics podcast and is the founder of Productivityist.  These are his good things.

Good things to read.

The Authentic Swing by Steven Pressfield. In this book, Pressfield uses the story of how he wrote his novel The Legend of Bagger Vance as a means to get this message across — and while the novel (and subsequent film) illustrates the message very well, the actual process of writing also does this effectively. As a writer, this resonated with me very much. But you don’t have to be a writer to get the underlying message behind The Authentic Swing. That said, how you interpret the message will definitely be personal rather than universal…and that’s what makes this book so worthwhile to read. (And I do have a soft spot for it since he used golf as a metaphor in the book, as I did in The Front Nine.)

Here is New York by E.B. White. While in New York late last year, someone recommended that I pick up this book after I told him that I was fascinated with the city. What amazed me about the book wasn’t so much that it still stands the test of time, but there are some mentions in there that seem almost ominous in today’s setting. I don’t want to spoil those for you, but I will recommend that you read this book so you can find out for yourself. It’s a short read, and a very good one.

The Tower by Chris Guillebeau. This is one of the best books I’ve read in the past couple of years…and it didn’t cost me a dime. The author turned his focus from the tower-building game to his tower-building life, and he had the courage and the generosity to share his story. It’s not a long story, but it certainly is a full one.

Good things to watch.

A Football Life. The thing I really like about this series is that it humanizes NFL players – both past and present – in a way that brings you even closer to the game of football itself. I am a big football fan, and this series makes me appreciate it on a much larger scale.

Arrow. As a comic book fan, this series appeals to me. It’s the one show that acts as my escape hatch every week, and it even got me to take up archery. It’s the best non-zombie oriented comic book adaptation on television in recent memory, and it’s the only show my wife and I watch together. That last thing might be the main reason why it’s so good to watch.

Living In A Material World.  This was the film that made me really appreciate Scorsese’s work. I’ve been a fan of his work for eons, but the fact he took my favourite Beatle (who oddly enough for me, is the one who was known for being quiet) is admirable. Even more admirable is how he crafted a film that stands among one of his best…and it’s a documentary, no less!

Good things to use.

Pilot Coleto Hi-Tec C. I have a wide variety of notebooks I use, but the writing utensil I always seem to grab for is this one. I’m big on using colour when I capture things on paper, and the Pilot Coleto Hi-Tec C offers one of the best pens in four different colours in a single body.

iSlider.  This has become the iPad stand I use more often than any other. It’s incredibly portable, keeps my iPad stable, and is impeccably designed (much like all of Rain Design’s products). In fact, it’s the only stand I dare to use when I’m writing on the desk I mention below.

FitDesk.  This exercise bike/desk combo allows me to write and stay in shape all in one go. I’ve logged over 5000 words and 20 miles in about two weeks on this thing. There’s something about keeping my body active while in the process of writing that helps ideas flow more efficiently and effectively. Maybe it’s because my mind wants to get me off the thing. Maybe it’s because there’s really something to the concept of exercising while working. Whatever the reasoning, it’s working for me so I’ll keep on using the FitDesk.

Connect with Mike on Twitter, @MikeVardy.

Jennifer Stevenson – Author

Jennifer Stevenson writes fluffy yet digestible romance, fantasy, and romantic fantasy set in Chicago. She feeds crows, bicycles, speed skates, gardens, and taunts cats for the exercise. Her first sex-demon series was Hinky Chicago, her current series is Slacker Demons, and her upcoming series will be Coed Demon Sluts. For sex-demon-free Jennifernalia, try her Backstage Boys series about stagehands and the women who prefer them to the skinny, painted, self-centered guys in front of the curtain.   These are her good things.

Good things to read.

Valya Lupescu wrote a sort-of memoir sort-of about her grandmother, who left the rural Ukraine during WWII and spent some time in the German prison camps. The Silence of Trees is powerful and authentic. Lupescu has a really strong feeling for nature. Subversive element: a happy ending!

Nalo Hopkinson’s The New Moon’s Arms, a gorgeous, literary account of one Caribbean woman’s menopause and how it goes magically pear-shaped. It’s funny, it’s beautiful, it’s fantastical. Some of my favorite scenes take place in an abandoned cashew ghost-orchard, a wonderfully squishy, wild, fragrant place. Subversive element: the sekrit power of hot flashes.

Chris Dolley always excites my admiration, whether writing steampunk PG Wodehouse pastiche or one of his quirky fantasy-mystery-romance mashups…or memoir. When he bought an abandoned French village in Brittany, he moved there with his wife, his mother-in-law, and “a ridiculous number of animals.” En route his identity and his life savings were stolen. The French police wouldn’t help because he was British. The British police wouldn’t help because it happened in France. Chris went after the thief, caught him, got his money back, and wrote it all up in a witty memoir called French Fried. Deservedly a bestseller.

Good things to watch.

D.E.B.S. is Angela Robinson’s brainchild, one of those conceived-written-directed-produced films that can be great or they can go terribly wrong in an interesting way. D.E.B.S is terrific. A fluffy teen girl gang flick about college kids at a secret school for spies. The heroine falls in love with the school’s arch-nemesis, a reclusive criminal mastermind. This movie goes down the hatch like shiny hard candy. Subtext? The student spy and the arch-criminal are both girls. Look for Holland Taylor and Michael Clarke Duncan as professors at the spy college.

America’s Sweethearts is another written-produced job, this one by Billy Crystal. Anything with Billy Crystal, Julia Roberts, John Cusack, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is bound to be fluffy. In this one the subtext is about how it looks to the audience, how Hollywood eats people, and how professionalism can warp your personal life. Alan Arkin and Stanley Tucci steal the show; Arkin as Cusack’s new age shrink (again–this is, what, his third or fourth turn as Cusack’s shrink?) and Tucci as a completely conscience-free movie producer.

1 900 Sensitive Men is written and produced by two crazy women doing some very good “comedymercials.” If I had the money, I’d hire them to pimp my books! In fact, search for anything by Quiet Duke. For some reason, Adarable also uploads their work.

Good things to use.

For athletes who tend to overdo the quad work, I recommend this cheap, ultra-portable alternative to the $25 styro roller or the $30 “magic stick”–the dollar store rolling pin. Every roller derby girl knows that you need to crush the kinks out of your bunchy quads and loosen your IT bands. Bicyclists, ball players, anybody who does a lot of fast-twitch work, throw this $1.00 solution in the gym bag and use it right after your workout. Cheap, and it spares you a knee injury down the line.

Guaranteed 100% moneyback method for ending winter at your house! Buy 10.27 lbs. of suet. (Slabs of raw beef fat.) Spend an hour slicing it into small cubes. Pack the cubes up in quart freezer bags, and bring the first quart out to the crow feeder and sprinkle it over 5 lbs. of cheap dry dog food pellets which have been soaked in hot water and bacon grease. Since crows will come to your feeder only if it is either snowing heavily or below 5 degrees fahrenheit or both, your winter blues are officially over! Because the weather will warm up immediately, the crows will ignore the feeder, and all that suet will sit in your freezer until next winter. PS, squirrels will eat the dog food.  An easier way to end winter is to put a spare shovel in your car.

Phone compartment in your bag too loose? Does the phone go flying when you put the bag down? Slip in a piece of felt, cut to the size of the compartment, adding layers until the phone is a snug fit. Glue the layers together into a rigid pad. This will keep the felt lining from bunching up.

Connect with Jennifer on Twitter, @JenStevenson.

Ilana Teitelbaum – Author

Ilana Teitelbaum was born in New York City but lived many years in Jerusalem, where she worked as a freelance journalist. Her writings have appeared in Salon, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Huffington Post, and The Globe and Mail. Her debut novel, an epic fantasy, will be published by Tor/Macmillan in 2015 under the pen name Ilana C. Myer.  These are her good things.

Good things to read.

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt.   Painfully moving and deeply hilarious is how I’d describe this book, overuse of adverbs notwithstanding. It’s massive and brilliant and seems to take up its own category in the world. With inimitable genius, Helen DeWitt explores the sublime agony of being a genius, and somehow makes it relevant and touching to those of us who occupy the somewhat lower stratospheres. I realize I’m not doing justice to this book. Just read it, if you love books.

The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.  Dorothy Dunnett is a goddess. Her series of six novels about the adventures (and traumas) of a Scottish nobleman in the sixteenth century is mindblowingly intricate and emotionally powerful at the same time. The books will twist your brain and break your heart, and sometimes the other way around. As Lymond travels around Europe, from Scotland to France, Malta, Constantinople, and Russia, a truly wonderful and often horrific tapestry emerges. I’m not sure I’ve ever read books more challenging than these, but few are more rewarding.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay.  It’s tough to know which Guy Gavriel Kay novel to recommend—each is exquisite in a different way. But perhaps because Tigana was my first, and I recognized even at the age of 16 that it was something special (before rerereading it many times since), it will always be the book I suggest as a starting point. It’s also the book that first showed me that while I enjoy the standard tropes of fantasy—the journeys, the battles, the ragtag bands of companions—it is a genre that can also take us to a richer place, the magic revealing complexities about the world and our own hearts.

Good things to watch.

Ripper Street.  Not enough people are watching this amazing show, so two seasons are all we get now that BBC has canceled it. But what a stunner of a couple of seasons. What begins as a Victorian procedural grows into a show that uses its wonderful characters and involving plots to deliver, consistently, in just about every episode. Instead of using each episode to load the gun for an explosion in the finale, Ripper Street fires the gun at the end of almost every episode and builds to a fantastic finale. These are writers committed to telling great stories.

Top of the Lake.   There are elements of Veronica Mars in this show about a tough, tormented young woman with trauma in her past, but without the bright colors and soft focus. Elisabeth Moss is perfect in the role, along with a great cast and a chilling, suspenseful story set against the awe-inspiring backdrop of New Zealand.

Slings and Arrows.  A show about a witty, dysfunctional Shakespeare director in a struggling public theatre. Each season explores a new theme based on the Shakespeare play being performed…so basically if you have any interest in theatre or Shakespeare or both, this is a must to track down. And of course, when it ends with King Lear, prepare for some high-voltage intensity.

Good things to use.

All my life I’ve avoided buying things so I could save up for plane tickets. But there’s almost no point if you don’t also invest in good shoes—even sneakers just don’t cut it on unevenly paved or cobblestone streets. Merrells and Keens are a good option—I got the former, but it’s whatever works best for your foot.

While working on a new book, I’ve discovered the wonders of the Anti-Social app. I use the internet while I’m writing sometimes—for music or research—so would rather not turn off the router. Anti-Social blocks social media and any other site you specify, in set blocks of time.

I love my insulated coffee cup, because it takes me hours to drink one cup of drip coffee. (Espresso is a treat!) This way it stays warm the whole time.

Connect with Ilana on Twitter, @IlanaCT.

Ken Liu – Writer

Ken Liu is a Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award winner.  His most recent story – Reborn – is part of a free, three part series at  Ken’s first novel – A Tempest of Gold – will be published in early 2015.  These are his good things.  

Good things to read.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. A funny, moving, beautiful coming-of-age novel about a 13-year old boy in Thatcher’s England. The voice is simply gorgeous.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn. Completely transformed the way I think about science and the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Also gave me a new understanding of the value of history.

Trading Up, by Candace Bushnell. I’m not a fan of “Sex and the City,” but this novel is completely different in style and tone. I read it as a tragicomic new iteration of the “Great American Novel” (like Gatsby). Brilliant characterization.

Good things to watch.

Fawlty Towers.  The very definition of funny.

Coupling. I seem to have a thing for British comedies. If you don’t laugh at this, something is wrong with you.

Not One Less. A restrained, beautiful film about a young woman’s attempt to do the right thing, set against the backdrop of the difficult conditions faced by students and teachers in China’s rural education system. The film portrays a vision of heroism that may be foreign to many Western viewers.

Good things to use.

MacBook Pro Retina 15 inch. The best computer I’ve ever owned.

All-Ett Black Nylon Billfold Wallet. Holds all my cards and stays thin. Life before it was barbaric.

OXO Can Opener. I believe it’s better to own one tool that works well rather than multiple tools that just get the job done. OXO products are worth every dollar.

Cat Rambo – Author

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Her short story, “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” from her story collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012.  These are her good things.

Good things to read.

Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.  Beyond the joy of the prose, anyone remotely interested in working with Arthurian fantasy should know this book. I’m not saying it’s the only one – there’s plenty of others further down the line, like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s excellent Mists of Avalon — but here’s the stories in a form that’s shaped all the rest.

The dictionary.  I will confess I am a dictionary dipper. I like to find new words as well as shades of meaning I’ve never known about before.

Poetry.  Because there’s never enough of it in our lives. Good poetry, poetry that, as Dickinson says, takes the top of your head off, makes you see the world in new, wild, weird ways.

Good things to watch.

I am enamored lately of the new SF show Almost Human. The writing is terrific, the visual effects splendid, nuanced and well conceived, and the actors are adorable.

I recently saw the movie Future Folk. The premise is that a conqueror from another planet comes to Earth and is amazed to find something no other creatures have produced: music. What does he do but become a folk singer, of course?

I remain a steadfast fan of the show Parks and Recreation. Though it’s partially for the resonances with my own Midwestern upbringing, it’s mainly for Amy Poehler.

Good things to use.

Dictation software.  I was getting carpal tunnel and switched to Dragon Dictate. It’s not only helped my wrists, it’s made me more productive.

A standing desk: I love mine. It’s a cheap IKEA desk adapted to this form.

Recently I starting subscribing to Tonx coffee. It has made me a coffee snob. That’s my referral link if you want to try it, but I will confess I got turned onto it by Chuck Wendig, who has an extended blog post about coffee snobbery that is worth the read.

Connect with Cat on Twitter, @CatRambo.