Karl Schmieder M.S./M.F.A.

Career Advice to a Molecular Biologist Starting to Write

If you want to write, you need to write.

Write and write some more.

Read the science media.

Fill your head with the best writing you can find. Read The New Yorker. Read annual anthologies of the best writing — not just science writing either. Here’s The Best American Essays of 2016.

Practice generating ideas on what to write every day. Especially after you read a science story and some really great writing that isn’t science. Look for ways to combine ideas.

Start a blog to demonstrate your writing skills.

Then guest post on blogs that are in your topic area. Start developing the relationship with those bloggers as soon as you start writing your own content.

Find the publications that you want to write or work for.

Follow the writers and editors on Twitter, Facebook, and Quora.

Develop relationships with them. Be transparent. Tell them you want to write for them. Ask them questions.

After you’ve developed those relationships, start pitching ideas. Pitch them lots of ideas.

Don’t have any expectations.

Remember, like writing, getting a job in writing is a process. The more you work on pitching, the luckier you’ll get. The more you write, the luckier you’ll get.

Remember that if you’re going to make a living as a writer, there are a lot more opportunities writing for companies. You can carve out a very nice niche writing for life sciences companies.

I don’t work in the media but work with and speak to people at publications regularly and I know there aren’t enough science-trained writers.

I wish someone would’ve given me this advice when I was starting out. It took me 10 years to figure it out.

Here’s my original answer.

A Brief, Personal Reading List – Fiction September 2016

Y the Last ManI recently shared this reading list with thesalesblog author and sales guru Anthony Iannarino. Anthony’s extremely well read but admitted he didn’t read much fiction. Here’s what I wrote him:

I grew up on science fiction and have read a lot of it and admit it’s inspired my career. But I’ve also read a lot of magical realism, international fiction, juvenile/middle grades (thank you kids!), binge-read mysteries and have a soft spot in my heart for trashy novels (like those of Lee Childs, Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susanne).

Mostly, I like books that explore an idea, but the books that I’ve read and reread the most times are:


Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, a very short, very Mexican book that has blown me away and inspired me every single time I’ve read it. At this point, I’ve probably read it dozens of times. It’s considered to the book that defined the magical realism genre and  inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez to write One Hundred Years of Solitude. The book was so influential on Marquez that he could recite long sections of it from memory.

The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. It’s his shortest novel but you can get most of his themes and big ideas there: paranoia, consumerism, American exceptionalism, and layers upon layers of mystery. Pynchon is probably most famous for Gravity’s Rainbow, written in the 1960s. It’s been couple of decades since I read that monster tome but parts have stuck with me. I haven’t gotten to his newer work but have been looking forward to reading Inherent Vice for a long while.
Neuromancer by William Gibson. That’s the one where cyberspace is defined and first explored. It’s a fast-moving thriller/mystery. Been a while since I reread but it’s an old friend. I’m also partial to his Pattern Recognition, which is about marketing (just reread this summer) and Idoru (which you might enjoy since a rock star marrying an AI is part of the story). His last book, The Peripheral was a thought-provoking look at our not-so-pleasant near-future.

Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, a 1960s SF novel.

Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard. I’ve read most of his novels — there’s too many to list — and this one’s about a pair of 1960s drop outs trying to pull one big job. If you’re a movie fan, Out of Sight with Clooney and J. Lo is the best adaptation of Leonard novel. It’s also J. Lo’s only great movie role, though John Travolta is great in Get Shorty, and you can see Leonard in most of Tarantino’s films.
Y the Last Man
 Y! The Last Man, which is a series of graphic novels about a plague that kills all but one man. He has to deal with women who have to deal with rebuilding the world. It’s awesome.
All The Birds in the Sky
Most recently, I read All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders and The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupo — highly recommend those. Earlier in the year, I was blown away by Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I’ve also been rereading Octavia Butler.
I track what I read on a couple of Pinterest boards. This one shows books I’ve read and reread, you’ll notice a fair amount of J.G. Ballard, William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut. I can steer you to the best of those if you’re interested.
Ballard, Burroughs, Dick, and Vonnegut were huge influences on my thinking when I was writing fiction. Ballard and Burroughs were masters of description and people making their ways through unreal situations. Dick was one of the most prolific SF writers (Blade Runner, Minority Report were based on his books) and his influence is wide. Vonnegut’s view of the American condition is among the most critical and hilarious.

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Book Review: Ready Player One

Posted in 100 Days of Writing, 50-Word Epics, Book Reviews, Influences, Writing by Karl S. on August 31, 2015

Ready Player One Review is a geektastic nerdgasmIt’s 2044, the world’s a dystopian mess and people escape to, learn, live and work in a virtual world called OASIS (the followup to William Gibson’s cyberspace and Neal Stephenson’s metaverse).

At the start of the book, videogame designer James Halliday, the ultimate 1980s geek, leaves his vast fortune to the person who can find three magical keys (Easter eggs) hidden in the vast OASIS.

Enter one Wade Watts, an 18-year old living in the Oklahoma City “stacks” of trailers upon trailers left behind by people migrating to the cities. Compared to the other egg hunters (“gunters”), the poverty-born Wade is at a disadvantage and can’t travel OASIS. But what he lacks in finances he more than makes up in his knowledge of 1980s pop culture, and videogames skills. As a result, he finds the first key and starts the race that will continue until all three keys are discovered.

The quest is a blast. There are allies and enemies, a romance and an overload of 1980s nostalgia. I read it laughing aloud along the way, handed it to my son Alejandro, who enjoyed it, then I reread it. It’s a total blast.


Your Founder Is Crazy, Isn’t He? (Part 1)

Posted in 100 Days of Writing, 50-Word Epics, Advertising, Influences, NYC, Observations by Karl S. on August 27, 2015

Is your founder crazy? Insane? Bonkers? How can you tell?At the beginning of the week, the Founder swore he’d have me back on payroll by the end of the month. It’d been six weeks since any of us had been paid.

“What about the options?” I asked.

“I’ll take care of those by the end of the week,” he answered. It was the same answer I’d heard every month for a year – the length of time I’d been working there.

That whole week, my other co-workers were in a bad mood and nothing seemed to go right. It wasn’t one thing that had put us in a bad mood – it was a series of little things: The tone of voice the founder took when asking about a client, how he disappeared from the office for a week, how he wouldn’t return phone calls.

Yet I continued to hold out. We continued to hold out. Just a few months earlier, we had all believed in the company we were building. We believed in the founder and we would have followed him into any battle.

My hand, my right hand – my writing hand – was sore and bothering me. Every little thing pissed me off and I was yelling at my kids and my wife all the time.

The next day, the CFO called, “There’s something I need to tell you… I feel super shitty about this but every other week I have to release the funds.”

“What funds?”

“The funds to pay the president. The president is still getting paid.” The CFO told me he’d had a conversation with the Founder who admitted he had to continue to pay the President so he wouldn’t get distracted.

“Distracted from what?” I asked. “Isn’t a startup CEO, a startup president supposed to feel the same pain as his team?”

“You know the founder hasn’t taken a salary in years. He hadn’t paid his mortgage until the investors stepped in. They almost turned off his lights.”

I was sitting alone in the conference room. The President, the one guy who was getting paid in the company, was down the hall in a shared office. Presumably on the phone.

I felt my stomach rise into my mouth. I no longer felt comfortable there.

“I can’t talk about this any more,” I told the CFO. I hung up and left.

I almost vomited in the elevator down.

I took the subway home, tasting my sour stomach the whole way, praying I wouldn’t become one of those people that vomited and caused a medical emergency shutting down the entire Brooklyn-bound F-train line. I had a sense that drowning in alcohol might help but my stomach was so wrecked I knew it would only make things worse. No matter how much I imagined I’d drink I knew alcohol couldn’t drown away the anger and erase the disappointment.

When I got home, Alejandro was there to greet me. I mentioned that my hands and stomach were hurting because of the stress.

“How is that even possible?” he asked. Only an innocent fourteen-year could ask such a question.

I explained that stress can manifest in your body, that you can feel the fight that happened before you walked into a room. At that moment, the stress was manifest in my stomach and the part of my body I used to make my living. He looked at me like I was crazy and I realized that I was but didn’t have to be.

The next day I didn’t go back.


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The Pool at 4 A.M.

The Pool at 4AM

My father’s pool is, was, and always will be –– all skaters agree –– absurd. The pale blue surface is very hard, durable, very fast, and sentient. The coping is a great grindable bullnose. The shape is a perfect kidney, just under nine-feet deep. To ride the pool from one lip to the other across the deep end, a skater must roll no more than three seconds (I know, I’ve timed it) but to measure this distance in time is folly. It should be measured in synapses fired, neurochemicals released, DNA unwinding from histones and proteins synthesized while calculating your next move, the one you’ll make when you hit that coping.

Its name is YinYangles, not because of the Chinese philosophy of yin-yang or yin and yang which describes the interconnectedness and interdependence of the natural world. (Truthbetold, we’re not so keen on cheap Chinese knockoff paper decks and those living wheels that die much too soon. And fans of their red paper currency we are not.) No, YinYangles is some HighIQ’s joke about the mathematical reduction of the perfect transitions into evolving y-angles and it stuck much to the amusement of dumbshits who don’t understand math and nostalgize the days of lifeless petroleum-based wheels and static, concrete bowls.

Our bowl is the best in the land, every skater rips – a not-so-secret interaction of YinYangle’s intelligence with your own. At this pool every skater’s a legend – an Alva, a Burnquist, a Hawk, a Sheckler, a Way, every fan’s a teaching critic, every biohacker’s an angel investor and every punkDJ’s Kanye himself. To assure the sentient being understood the subtle energies of the sexes and the problem-solving skills of today’s vertical gene-rippers, my father’s genius was to feed the bowl the fearlessness of the male and female skaters who first skated it and the collective intelligence of the bio-engineers and genome hackers who worked in the deep end ceaselessly. Those who do not ride can bask in the glow of the bowl’s subtle energies. I was the only one who thought himself crippled.

(22.100 After Bartheleme. Previously published in Three Pool Rhumba)

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Why I Write (Or How I Started Writing)

“Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11 year old that could see that potential.”
– C.R. Stecyk

My first stories were skateboarding stories inspired by C. R. Stecyk‘s Skateboarder Magazine articles, his fabrication and chronicling of the Dogtown’s Z-boys’ adventures. As a sheltered kid turned skateboard geek growing up 60 miles away from Santa Monica, I was blown away by the exploits of the Z-boys and the skaters that became my heros. But I also devoured and dissected the stories and began “borrowing” his openings (which I would later learn he’d borrowed from Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett or Hunter S. Thompson), then wrote my own skateboarding procedurals.

My main character was a teenage private eye, asked to solve some mystery or another, find a missing person. Criss-crossing Southern California in a hot-rodded Volkswagen Transporter, blasting Led Zepplin and Ted Nugent, and (later) punk rock along the way, the stories inevitably climaxed with the arrival at an empty backyard swimming pool or hidden ditch that begged to be ridden. After an epic skate session, he’d solve the mystery and arrive home in time for dinner.

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