Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Samantha Allen

Samantha Allen

Writer, journalist

Posted in journalist, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Samantha Allen, author of Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States and a GLAAD Award-winning journalist. Real Queer America is a travelogue about a road trip I took through LGBTQ communities in Utah, Texas, Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia. (It was basically my dream project and I can die happy now that I've written it - and now that people I respect have said some very kind things about it.) My first book Love & Estrogen was a relationship memoir about meeting my wife in the Kinsey Institute elevator during the early months of my gender transition. I've worked at The Daily Beast and at Fusion - and I've also written for The New York Times, CNN, and many other outlets, primarily focusing on LGBTQ issues but sometimes following my curiosity to write about topics like Seattle's neon signs or Jack Donaghy's hair in 30 Rock.

These days, when I'm not working on forthcoming book projects, I am writing for LGBTQ media outlets like NewNowNext and Them. Since going freelance full-time, I've had a chance to write more focused work about subjects I'm interested in, like transgender subtext in the movie Midsommar or the first same-sex relationship on Bachelor in Paradise.

I also write a travel newsletter called Get Lost on Substack in which I take readers to unsung and under-sung places, writing about them through a personal lens: So far, I've covered Water Valley, Mississippi; Madison, Wisconsin; and Greece - with future entries exploring Johnson City, Tennessee; Van Horn, Texas; and more. This is my baby. I'm writing it mostly for me as a way to process life on the road. It's also a continuation of the work I started with Real Queer America: I want to keep shining a spotlight on some of my favorite locales even if it's not for a hardcover book.

My other side project is a podcast about the WNBA called Double W, which I co-host with my friend Laurel Powell. This past year, I became a Seattle Storm season ticket holder. I've never been into sports before 2018. Laurel's got more sports knowledge but is new to following the WNBA and fell in love with the Washington Mystics during their championship season. So the podcast is a fun way for us to follow the league but also an excuse for us to hang out on a virtual phone call fairly regularly.

What hardware do you use?

I went laptop-free back in 2017: I use a 10.5" iPad Pro, a little silicone stand for it, and a Bluetooth Logitech K811 keyboard. (It's a compact-enough setup for an airplane tray table, which is the horizontal surface I'm currently using to type these interview responses.) I bought the iPad Pro before I left on a two-month road trip across the United States to write my book Real Queer America because I wanted something small and lightweight enough to carry with me at all times but powerful enough to record long interviews, take high-quality pictures, and handle intensive word processing. It ended up being the perfect tool for that task: my iPad Pro came with me while I hiked in Utah canyons, strolled along the Chattahoochee river, and walked dogs in East Tennessee. On the road, I got so used to working on the damn thing that, when I got back home, I wrote my whole book on it. The only thing I used my clunky old custom-built desktop for was to view a particularly marked-up draft with a bunch of comments and tracked changes on it - and I've since figured out how to see all that stuff on my iPad Pro anyway.

I'm glad I wrote my book on a fairly small screen: I'm a recovering academic, so if I had used a desktop with a dual-screen setup like I used to, I would have probably jam-packed Real Queer America with unnecessary details and made it super dense. I wanted to write a book that was rigorous and fact-filled, yes, but that was also breezy enough to read at a beach or on an airplane. Writing on an iPad Pro - often on airplanes and trains and buses - helped me hit that tone: informed but fun. I've continued to travel a lot since writing Real Queer America both on my book tour, and for personal reasons - and laptops are just too freaking heavy for me to ever consider going back to that life. I need to be able to spend whole days at a time with everything I need in a backpack.

The only other piece of hardware I carry with me at all times is a pair of Skullcandy Venue headphones, which are essential for filtering out ambient noise on planes and trains. I learned while writing Real Queer America that the co-founder of Skullcandy bought a house in Provo, Utah and rents it to an LGBTQ youth organization called Encircle for $1 a month and that factoid was enough to earn my headphone loyalty for life. (Plus, I just like the little skull. The branding works for me.)

And what software?

So, given my setup, my preferred OS is obviously iOS.

For writing, I use Word against my better judgment. I know other authors swear by Scrivener but I like an old faithful word processor. One of my weird quirks is that I have to write in page view. I can't write unless I can picture what the finished product would look like printed out. (Don't ask why. I'm full of these neuroses. For instance, all of my paragraphs have to look more or less square-shaped, with nothing dangling on the final line. I've literally changed whole sections of writing to satisfy this quirk.)

To edit Double W, I use Zencastr to record and GarageBand to polish up the postproduction. (I'm trying to figure out a different recording software because Zencastr doesn't work on iOS yet, so I have to either hijack my wife's laptop or go over to my mom's house and use her desktop.) I might give Anchor a try, which is the app that I use to publish and distribute the podcast.

What would be your dream setup?

One of those slightly bigger and square-edged iPad Pros - maybe a 12.9" - but that would still be small enough to take on my travels. I'd love a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard, too - maybe an Anne Pro 2 complete with Pride-themed rainbow lighting. And a pair of Skullcandy Crusher headphones in deep red would be pretty sweet, too. So overall, I'm happy with my current setup but would just like a slightly upgraded version of every element in it.