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A picture of Madeline Ashby

Madeline Ashby

Sci-fi author, futurist

in futurist, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Madeline Ashby, and I'm a science fiction writer and futurist based in Toronto. What that means is that in addition to writing novels and short stories, I also facilitate workshops that help organizations, corporations, and governments talk about the futures they want to enjoy and the futures they want to avoid. I also do scenario development and science fiction prototyping. I'm the author of the Machine Dynasty series from Angry Robot Books, and a co-author of How to Future: Leading and Sense-making in an Age of Hyperchange. I have two new books out this July.

What hardware do you use?

That’s a tough question, because I’m in the midst of upgrading right now. I cracked my phone and am itching for a new one, plus I’ve been encouraged to get a new tablet, plus my laptop is five years old. I’m literally having a conversation with Charlie Stross right now about what I should buy. He took me around the lot and helped me kick the tires on my last upgrade.

I’m a big fan of using my technologies until they wear out. I don’t buy new things right away just because they’re new. I don’t care if I use stuff that’s generations behind other people. Lots of things make me feel insecure, but that’s not one of them. My parents were the same way. We had a Betamax VCR forever. I think it even overlapped with the DVD player, briefly. My parents never got cable TV when I lived with them. The high-speed Internet, the cable, all that, didn’t come until after I left home. So I got used to doing the most I could with not very much.

My first real job was at a thrift store, and I still buy used or vintage things when I can, and I try to buy Canadian as much as possible. (Obviously this pertains less to hardware, but hey, my InstantPot is Canadian-designed and I’m happy to support the brand.) I honestly think one of my barriers to upgrading technology is that I refuse to pay retail for basically everything else. I feel like such a jackass whenever I pay full price. I wait for sales on everything.

And what software?

I’m a big advocate of Scrivener. It can be intimidating because it has a lot of bells and whistles (a lot of which I never use), but I think the Binder organization system is genius. It’s the only thing that actually works like my mind works. I’ve used it to draft multiple novels at this point, and it’s the only system that actually makes moving chapters and scenes happen as seamlessly on the page as it does in my mind. It lets me try out a bunch of things and then if they don’t work, I can just easily switch back. That’s not true in Word, where even if you have a file for each chapter and then a master doc for the book as a whole, it’s still a hassle to splice chapters and scenes in and out. (I know, because I wrote my first novel this way, as well as two Masters theses. It was a nightmare.) Scrivener really takes the SMART goals approach to writing: small, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based. Novels and other big writing projects are really constructed of chapters, scenes, paragraphs, and sentences. Scrivener lets you break it down to something that small, if you want to, and set targets and deadlines that reflect a more reasonable workflow.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup is less about hardware or software than just physical space. I’d love to have a bigger office, or my own office (I share mine with my husband). I can do a lot with a little space, but in a dream setup I’d have more. (I’d like space for a yoga mat, for example. And for more murder walls. I love me a good murder wall.)

Beyond that, if we’re talking dream setups, I wish there were a door in my place in Toronto via which I could enter the Changeist offices in the Hague, where my colleagues are. I’m in Canada, and they’re in the Netherlands, and we’re separated by six time zones and hardening borders. But we’d get so much more done if I could just be there more often. Mostly because my colleagues are really hard-working people and my productivity improves when I match their schedule. Plus they keep my favourite chocolate pudding in the fridge for me.