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...Not really - Interview with Mitchell H. Allen
This week I thought I would interview a Deplatformable “friend of the show“ - Mitchell. He’s been a perfect subscriber who likes to comment, as well as click that little like button at the bottom of the posts. The “One Thing“ section of the newsletter often contains puzzles, riddles, and questionable/strange occurrences.
Mitchell’s About Page starts with:
“Why Read Yet Another Newsletter? Hello, there, curious person! I’m Mitchell H. Allen and I create stuff”!
Q: Can you tell us about your early years, where you grew up, where did you go to school, any post graduate studies?
I grew up in Philadelphia, PA. Most of my elementary and ALL of my secondary school education was at the famous J. R. Masterman School. I was part of the first high-school graduating class of 1979! After that, I went to Temple University, where I dropped out after four years of eating, sleeping and even working in the Computing Center.
Q: First Jobs:
A sign of a bygone era, my first job was bagging groceries for tips at the local A&P supermarket. That was followed by shoveling snow and delivering newspapers. I always tuck folded my papers and tossed them just short of the porches, and I didn't know anything about above the fold. LOL
After a 19-year stint in law enforcement, as a civilian fingerprint identification technician at the FBI and the Philly PD, I moved to Virginia to work for myself. From real estate to website design to computer programming, I finally landed on RentACoder (defunct), Guru, Freelancer, PeoplePerHour, Fiverr and Upwork. Along the way, I picked up direct clients, whom I help with Excel Automation.
I have seven grown children (married twice.) In my free time, my wife Toni and I do jigsaw puzzles and design games. I also create puzzle books, which Toni has collaborated on.
Q: What do you enjoy when you are not working?
Some of my favorite things are family game nights. Nothing beats a bunch of folks of all ages playing game after game, laughing, eating pizza and telling wild stories. I miss those terribly, but my kids still play with me. (Yay!) Thank you, Internet. We get together to play chess and Dominion online. Sometimes, we sit around the table and play Smashup.
When I want to entertain myself, I have Empires & Puzzles on my phone (that's basically a glorified Bejeweled-style match-3 game); and, on the laptop, my obsession is Factorio.
The beauty of the computer and Internet is that I can dip into and out of online games when the mood strikes. I was doing Wordle for a while. Now, I'm into Merriam-Webster's Blossom.
When it comes to television, I really only watch during mealtimes. That gives me so much more free time for Factorio! LOL Our favorite genre is K-Dramas. We just finished Law CafÈ. It was cuteness overload. So kawaii, but a great plot, too!
Q: Other Newsletter Recommendations:
Two Recommended Substacks: Yours, especially "One Thing"; if that doesn't count, then Jeremy Caplan's WonderTools and Skeleton Code Machine
Q: What is your greatest concern about the future of the world?
My greatest concern about the future of the world is that humans will become so divided that all of the social evolutionary winners will fail. Democracies will disintegrate, Capitalism will crumble, and Social contracts will revert to "bellum omnium contra omnes". Also, AI will predict this ahead of time and preemptively wipe us all out. (Just kidding.)
Q: What are a couple of traits that are the most important to you?
The only trait that is important to me is the one which governs treachery. Everything else is negotiable, in the sense that I can just avoid people with whom I don't vibe, with the understanding that we will leave each other alone.
Q: Favourite piece of advice you’d like to share.
Favorite piece of advice? "Be the fisher, not the bait." Not least because, as far as I know, I coined it. LOL
Q: What would you like to be known for?
Honestly, I'd like to be known for bringing joy to others.
Q: Who do you admire most?
My father is the person I admire the most. He taught me how to be a better father, husband, colleague and friend. I emulated much of what I learned at his knee and beyond. He still guides me, today, with his words of wisdom and common sense.
Ah, the newsletter! I've been writing my whole life, and blogging since 2005. At times, I dreamed of having a newsletter, but the whole online software dashboard thing was too much. I learned the basics with an AWeber account, but I didn't really have anything to write about.
That changed after I published my first puzzle book.
During the journey, I learned enough about marketing to know I should try to keep in touch with my readers with more than just the pleas to buy my book. So, in January of this year, with encouragement from my writer friends on Slack, I dove into Substack.
Thankfully, it was drop-dead simple. I was able to focus on writing. I had so much to talk about those first few months! Then came the dreadful moment: what should I write about? Luckily, some readers engaged early on and provided ideas for content.
Q: How did you get your first subscribers?
The first subscribers came from my Family, my Slack group, one of my customers, whose newsletter I read every day, and my Dad's email list (yes, borrowing an audience totally works!)
I'm investigating ways to augment organic growth. Thus far, Substack network has been the main source of new subscribers. Recently, I spent some time putting together a lead magnet, a PDF of all of the printable puzzles I had created for readers to enjoy. I fleshed it out with a bunch of new, never-before published puzzles and put it on Gumroad. The plan is to advertise it and get folks to subscribe to the newsletter. I mentioned that in Clueless. (https://puzzlebooks.substack.com/p/clueless)
My target audience includes people who are curious about the mind of a puzzle maker. There are loads of tutorials, review sites and whatnot. I like to do those as a backdrop for my opinions and thought processes, rather than as a curator or being a definitive source. This is why the newsletter's "mission" is to explore what I call my GPS: Game design, Programming and Storytelling.
That perspective gives me a chance to share how I connect those three endeavors as I create puzzles. It also informs the scope of my puzzle book series: I don't just serve up puzzles, I make an experience.
Q:What was your most memorable issue?
Father's Day (https://puzzlebooks.substack.com/p/fathers-day). I got to give my dad his flowers while he could appreciate it. He replied to me in an email, expressing surprise that I had kept his stream-of-consciousness piece all these years. He was touched.
I embarked upon this newsletter journey with the intention of writing once a week, on Sunday. I don't ever want to have that dreaded feeling again, so any time I get a puzzle idea, I flip a mental coin: next puzzle book or next issue? If the newsletter wins, the idea goes into the newsletter folder.
Your writing process:
My writing process typically begins on Thursday. I set that day aside to brainstorm, develop and write the issue. Brainstorming starts with a glance through the idea folder, unless something more interesting or timely comes to mind.
I have a super simple writing process. I put the paragraphs together in EditPad, which is a text file editing program like Windows' Notepad. Then I paste the lot into MS Word for spell-checking. After the corrections are made, I paste it back into the text file, before loading it into the Substack Editor.
Finally, I add images, hyperlinks and text styles. If the test email looks good, I schedule it for Sunday and take the rest of the day off!
Before I left Twitter, I would occasionally share a post there. But, without that blue tick, maybe three of my followers saw those tweets. I rarely post on FB, but when I do, I use the featured image and say something silly to entice people to check out the issue.
My tech stack:
EditPad for text; MS Word for spell-check and grammar suggestions
DepositPhotos, YayImages and CreativeFabrica for images
Screenpresso for screen grabs
Eagle.cool for image storage
Excel for custom puzzle creation
Affinity Publisher for the printables
Any Tips or suggestions for your fellow writers?
Tips for writers: just have fun with your newsletter. Change things up when you must. For example, I recently let my readers know that I would be posting briefer issues while working on my third book. I make up for it by including more printables.
Life hacks: I swear by this in my business and in the creative process - if you get stuck on a really tough problem, walk away from your desk and do something else. Give your subconscious a chance to work it out. You know how ChatGPT pauses before spitting out text? That's your brain working on the problem. Sometimes, it may take two weeks! But if you trust the process, the answer usually reveals itself.
Morning habits: Bah! I'm fluid. First of all, I don't have a set bedtime, so my day begins anywhere between 4:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Breakfast is usually mid-morning, so I may have some fruit and a cup of tea while catching up on Substacks.
The only routine I try to maintain is a daily walk. But, between the endless rain and searing heat, I wind up staying inside most days.
Q: What would you like to tell people, that only just a few of your closest friends know about you?
Something only a few of my friends know: my alter egos are Anklebuster and ParserMonster. The first has been in use since the the early days of dial-up Bulletin Board Systems, while the second is my business brand.
Thank you! Say hi to Anklebuster (Mitchells Newsletter) at:
Thanks for reading.