What I want to be paid

There is so much wisdom hidden in our words. I got fascinated a while back when I noticed that there are only two things we spend. Money. And time. Most of us are  comfortable wasting the second but not the first. Yet, which is more valuable? I’ll argue that time is. Money can be replaced.

Then I noticed there are only two things we pay. Money. And attention. The modern digital world seems to recognize this dual value system more than we do, as it sells our attention for money every day. Which would you rather use to pay your debts? Money is easier, isn’t it? At least you know exactly what you are giving up.

I was complaining to a family member about feeling underappreciated in one arena of my life, adding that the real insult was this involved volunteer work for which I wasn’t even being paid. Can’t I at least be paid compliments? I asked. If not that, then maybe pay me a little respect?

Wait a minute. It looks like there are more than two things we can pay. Our language contains so much truth.

Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!

I now count four ways for us to pay one another. Money will certainly buy you a lot and it takes care of most situations, but sometimes paying attention matters as much, or more.

Paying someone a compliment can be worth more money than you can afford, and all the more so if it is genuine. At the least, it will be remembered well after any money that changes hands is spent.

Who doubts that the act of paying respect is a currency? When I say “you are worthy,” I say “you are worth something.” Being told I am worth something is, well, worth something to me.

So pay attention and pay some respect. If you pay a sincere compliment while you do that, our very words recognize that you have given something of value.

Which matters more to you, money or respect and appreciation? I bet you are going to answer money, unless of course, you have ever had the misfortune of trying to stay in a job you need, where you are treated with no respect and receive little appreciation. It does tend to make you rethink your priorities.

All this language analysis has had an effect on me. I’m trying to spend my time more wisely, and pay attention to where my attention goes. It’s got me seeking activities where we all pay each other plenty of respect and lots of compliments.

After all, isn’t the object of the game to be happy?

 

 

Nothing cool about modest ambitions

I’m attending my first conference of writers of any sort, and it isn’t surprising I am having an eye opening experience. The Science Fiction Writers Association is about to hand out this year’s Nebula Awards, and this is something I’ve followed since I was a teenager. Let others care about country music and Broadway plays; I was interested way back when in who wrote the best science fiction.

The organization has publishing standards for membership, and I only qualify as an associate member. This conference is open to non-members, too, but given the cost and programming, you don’t attend unless you are serious about writing speculative fiction. So I really am surrounded by three hundred people all doing or trying to do what I spend my time doing. It scares and excites me.

It also brings my “why do I write” quandary front and center and forces me to confront the part of my dreams I seldom speak of openly. I already know it is admirable and interesting to not care about making money, or to pretend not to care, as the case may be. Being an artist who is driven to create for the sheer joy of it has great appeal. Greed is ugly. Creativity is cool.

Yet, we also have a cultural fascination with being rich, and everyone admires success. To be driven is admirable. To say I believe in my books and trust they will someday be best sellers is also cool. Who doesn’t like a fighter determined to make it to the big time?

Wouldn’t you know it. I’m not either of these kinds of cool.

It is my impression that most if not all of the other writers at this SFWA Nebula Conference want to be successful, and the more successful the better. Those that only care about the pure act of creating have stayed home, or not joined this organization to begin with. Panels on how to sell one’s work abound and I’ve gone to quite a few of them.

Here is my little secret. I want to make money from my books,  just not a lot of it. I want a modest amount of success. As I move into full retirement, I’d like my writing to be there for me, providing a steady stream of play money while not really changing my life. Neither starving artist nor world famous author suits me nearly as well as mediocre success. That’s what I really want. It’s not something you can tell people.

My books started out on a reasonable trajectory to do just that, by the way, but in the noisy market of ever more sparkly self-published books, sales have already fallen below the level of play money, unless one is willing to count a nice lunch out a month as sufficient play. It isn’t for me. I was hoping for something between a dinner at a really nice restaurant every couple of weeks and a couple of trips a year to somewhere exotic. Maybe both. I’m not selling myself short; I’m going for what I actually want, uncool as it is.

Here’s the problem. The last couple of days have made me aware that I am unlikely to find even this modest financial fulfillment unless I make some changes. Those wiser and more successful at this self-publishing thing have told me it can work if, and only if, I plug myself more firmly into genre sales. I need to define what I write (superhero books? urban fantasy? metaphysical fiction?). Then I need to research what other books in this genre look like and I need covers that look like my genre. Then, I need names for my books that define them as being in my genre. Then I need to reissue them.

No one, at this point, has told me I have to rewrite the books themselves, which is good news because I’m not sure I’d be willing to do so, even as I fear lovers of superheros or urban fantasy will find my books lacking in the dazzle they expect. But maybe not.

I’ll never know if I don’t try. My books have more than met my first three reasons for writing, leaving me entertained, saner and more knowledgeable. Can they also provide me with an unimpressive but noticeable amount of play money? I hope so. Guess I’m going to try to find out.

Speaking of being cool, that ties into my fifth reason for writing. Ironic, huh? How did my muse become so entangled in such contradictory desires? I’ll try to sort it out in my next post.

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books,  My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing, I write because it’s cheaper than therapy, I love to be loved and Remember My Name.)

 

 

Pay Attention

We spend two things and only two things, as far as I am aware. Time and money. This fact fascinated me a while back and I wrote a blog post called Spending Time, advocating for using the same care in how we spend our hours and our days that we give to our finances.
Something similar clicked the other day when I was asked if I was paying attention. Interesting term, I thought. What else do we pay? Besides money of course. I’ve been trying to think of anything else, but so far I have not been able to.*
Not sure why I keep getting hit with heart attack ads but it is a little creepy

I write about the future here, and the idea of time and attention as a new form of currency rings true. Note the way online ads compete for your attention. The whole thing with Face Book has made us all painfully aware that we are the product being sold by companies on the cutting edge of technology. Just today, I had to click my consent to new terms for Yahoo. Basically the terms said I understand they will use all content I provide in any way they please. 

Why do they want this data? It is not that I am inherently interesting to Yahoo, Google or Apple. They want to use the data to place specific content where I see it. They want my attention, or rather to sell my attention to their advertisers.  My attention is worth money, it turns out, if I have demonstrated an interest in the advertiser’s product. Once they have my attention, they take up my time, and they hope for some of my money. These are the things I spend. These are the ways I pay.
I like these ads for earrings better!

The scarier part is the idea of using my predispositions  —  my politics, my spiritual beliefs, my hobbies and interests, and even facts about my health, my job and my family — to not only sell me products but to also incite me to action. Attend a rally? Support a cause? If you know enough about me, will you know exactly what buttons to push to get me to act?

Maybe you will. Unless, of course, I pay a great deal of attention to what I see. I predict one of the rising costs of democracy, and of personal freedom, in the brave new future we are creating every time we touch our keyboards, will be the necessity to pay close attention to what appears to randomly flash before our eyes.
Assume you are seeing any online content for a reason. An algorithm somewhere calculates you are likely to respond in a way someone else desires. Do you want to do so? Maybe you do, maybe not.  So pay attention. Your attention matters.
——————————————————————————————
*After writing this post, I began to think about how we pay another person a compliment. Interesting. Expect a post on this idea soon.

What you don’t know …. has the power to amaze you

What you don’t know can’t hurt you. Or can hurt you. What you don’t know could fill volumes. You don’t know what you don’t know ….. and “what you don’t know” is the start of many bits of wisdom, not all of which are wise.

I recently had a wonderful trip to Peru, and came home realizing something new about what I don’t know. It’s the only thing that has the power to amaze me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of knowledge. It’s essential for smart behavior in everyday life, and it makes traveling easier and less stressful. I research my trips ahead of time and I have fun looking forward to experiencing sights, sounds and tastes recommended to me by other travelers. But if that is all I do on the road, I’ll never be surprised. My trip to Peru made me more aware of how it is the unexpected discovery that holds the power to astonish.

Take Machu Picchu. It was wonderful, in spite of the rain and the crowds and many cordoned off areas designed to help preserve this wonder of the past. I’m glad I went. But how could I be amazed? It looked just like the pictures. Just like I expected. Very cool.

The day at Machu Picchu was also long and tiring, starting at dawn and ending with a bus, train and van combo back to Cusco. My travel companion was less exhausted than I, and spontaneously agreed to go on a second venture the next day leaving at three in the morning and involving a lot of walking and donkeys. She was off to Rainbow Mountain, a place she had never heard of and wasn’t sure she even wanted to see.

I’m willing to bet it was the most amazing part of her trip. She walked to over 17,000 feet and found herself here.

My day was more restful, but I had time to wander around the streets of Cusco, to sit in a park, find a small coffee shop, and be surprised be at what could be discovered on a self-guided walking tour of this city. I found things to amaze me, as well.

This epiphany about the unknown has prompted me to ask others who enjoy traveling to describe their favorite “I had no idea” moment. One man spoke of a wonderful trip to Nicaragua. He was hoping to go to this ocean on his last day, but his traveling companion insisted on taking him on a jeep ride well into the jungle. He got out at their destination frustrated, only to find they were at a beautiful, clear fresh water lake known to very few people

A well-traveled couple from South Africa, , also part of our Peru Venture, didn’t hesitate when asked for their most amazing surprise while traveling. It was the city of Assisi in the Province of Perugia, Italy. Unexpectedly beautiful. I certainly would never have guessed that.

I have my own such story. My husband and I stumbled on Slieve League in County Donegal, Ireland years ago after visiting the lovely Cliffs of Moher. Slieve League’s sheer drop of over 1500 feet down to the ocean is three times that of Ireland’s more famous cliffs, and I remember clearly how the two of us stood at the top of it in astonishment, wondering how we could possibly not have heard of this.

I now think every trip needs room for surprises like this. We spent our last night in Peru in Lima, and signed up at the last minute for some tour of a park with fountains. It turns out that the Magic Water Circuit, as it is called, is fairly famous, but we didn’t know about it, and the dancing light shows in 13 giant fountains left us, you guessed it, amazed.

Aren’t we lucky it’s a big world, and none of us have the time or inclination to learn everything about it all before we travel?

(For more on my trip to Peru see woman traveling alone and History at its most exciting.)

 

 

 

Review: The Three-Body Problem

I received this book as a gift from someone who knows me well and shares my tastes in science fiction. He kept eagerly asking if I’d started it yet, but something about the book held me back. It’s big, it’s translated from Chinese, and has physics and geometry all over the cover. “I’ll read it next,” I kept saying.

Next finally came, and I loved this book. I loved the unexpected ideas, the unusual perspective and the way it made me think about issues large and small. I have a fond spot for stories that give me insights into other parts of the world, and for characters who plausibly behave in ways I cannot imagine myself doing. This book has all that and more.

What I liked best (besides all of the above):

  1. I’m not so big on historical fiction, but the window into China’s cultural revolution of the 60’s was fascinating, and it shows some chilling parallels to the wave of populism currently sweeping the west.
  2. The author allows this tale to develop at it’s own pace. He tells it in a non-linear fashion, going back and forth in time more than once, letting the reader learn more with each visit. This worked well for me and I appreciated the lack of gimmicks often used by other authors to grab and hold the attention of a reader. Cixin Liu has a tale worth telling and he knows it.
  3. The science is amazing, and to the best of my limited knowledge, accurate.
  4. The number of women scientists in this story is unusual and refreshing. I wonder: does this reflect reality in China, or the needs of the story, or the  desire of the author? Why-ever, it was a pleasant plus for me.
  5. I had little appreciation for the challenges of translating such a story, bridging not only the gulf between vastly different languages, but between different perspectives, backgrounds and knowledge of history. The translator, Ken Liu, does an excellent job with subtle, short footnotes intended to provide just enough context to the western reader.
  6. Most significantly, just when I thought there could not possibly be a significantly new variation on a first contact story, this came along. I feel like blurbs on this book already give away too much of the story, so I will only say I’m impressed with the originality of Liu’s approach. It will leave you thinking.

What I didn’t like so much:

  1. Liu doesn’t spend a lot of time inside his character’s heads, showing the reader the emotional motivation for their behavior. This sparseness works, for the most part, but a little more would have been nice.
  2. I said the science is amazing, and it is, but some narrative devices used at the very end pushed my limits of credibility.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes stories that inform while they entertain, and/or books that encourage them to think.

Two personal notes:

  1. Having written d4, a book of my own about the survival of the human race and how our behavior now could impact our fate in a few hundred years, I felt something of a connection with this tale and it probably resulted in my liking this book even more.
  2. I was impressed by both the author and the translator’s postscripts for the American edition at the end of the book. Both were insightful, but this particular passage from the author sticks with me:

But I cannot escape and leave behind reality, just like I cannot leave behind my shadow. Reality brands each of us with its indelible mark. Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.

Yeah. What he said.

After I read the passage above, I would have liked any book the man had written.

If I’d only known then …

I’m making an effort to get out more. Specifically, I’m working to engage with other writers, both in person and online. I want to broaden my base of knowledge before I start on my next writing project, one I hope will keep me happily making up stories for many years.

It occurred to me today, while listening to a woman describe to us how she sold her first novel to HarperCollins, that much of what writers crave to know is “what do you know now, that you wish you’d known then.” We give this advice, and we ask it of others, almost endlessly.

I found myself visiting with the woman next to me, who is on chapter one of her first book. “Who is it you are writing for?” I asked her. It’s a question I wish I’d spent more time pondering, back when I was in her shoes. If I’d only known then how helpful that question is. I tell her so, and she nods in appreciation. She is doing what we are all doing at this meeting –  gathering little grains of information from others to soften our learning curves.

Our speaker is Heather Newton, author of Under the Mercy Trees, a book about a southern family. She lives nearby, and published Under the Mercy Trees in 2011 after spending years writing it. She is now sending her second novel to an agent to market.

Yikes. I started writing in 2011 and have written six books since them. I’m certain mine are not of the same literary quality, but I wince when I hear her best nugget of what she wishes she’d known back then. That’s right, she thinks she rushed too much, and sent her first book out before it was the best it could be, squandering opportunities to impress. There is a wisdom in that, of course.

One of the oddities of self-publishing, especially electronic books, is that it can be a never ending process. Hidden typos that reveal themselves can be fixed at any time, and all recipients point forward get the improved manuscript. The first time I made such a fix I felt guilty, like I was cheating by correcting something supposedly etched in stone.

I’ve long since gotten over that. Why penalize myself and my readers for having missed something initially? It serves no purpose.

In my case, my books were born with links to supplemental material, such as music and photography that tied into the story. I thought it was clever and fun, but it gummed up the works for some readers and turned out to be almost impossible to maintain. So, over the last couple of years, I’ve been going back and eliminating the links and the references to them. In the process, I clean other things up too, as I find them, because why not.

I am almost done with this process on d4, the last of the books to contain links. I’m pleased with the result, and will probably do some advertising and giveaways to celebrate this new and improved manuscript. What a shame I couldn’t have gotten this final version in front of my initial readers. Wouldn’t those reviews be better? More copies have been sold?

I can’t go back in time, any more than I can see the future, no matter how often I write about characters who can. Would I have written better books if I’d only known then what I know now? Of course I would. Hell, I’d have lived a whole better life with that kind of knowledge.

Or, at least I like to think I would have.

 

 

Ah, the stock market …

In spite of a year of disturbing news ranging from North Korean threats to Russian meddling to a president with record low approval ratings and an embarrassing compulsion for lying, the stock market keeps going up. It’s hard not to look at Wall Street and say “Really? What gives with you people?”

In fairness, I’m a moderate independent who neither voted for, nor liked, Donald Trump the candidate. However, like many Americans, I would have been happy to have been pleasantly surprised. If, once elected, he had rolled up his sleeves, left behind his junior high school name calling and applied a well-honed business acumen to improving our economy, I’d have given a sigh of relief.

I think we can all agree that isn’t what happened.

And yet, the Dow Jones has climbed from 20,000 to over 26,000 in the last year, reflecting the fact that most of the stocks in my (and maybe your) little retirement accounts are worth a good bit more. A good bit of a little isn’t all that much, but one appreciates the increase. Plus, news about jobs and wages is fairly good, too.

Much of the mild but general improvements in the economy at large are being attributed to the president before our current leader. The economic ship is a giant one, it responds slowly to changes at the helm. It apparently was on a good course last January, and it hasn’t been run aground since. The current administration may even be continuing to nudge it away from the rocks. I’ll take what little good news I can get.

That hardly explains the exuberance of the stock market, which can and occasionally has made drastic changes in the course of a single day.

What drives these changes? The biggest single investors are large funds, such as teacher’s pension funds in various states. These are conservatively run and, in my humble opinion, not the trendsetters of the stock market. They follow.

The mood of the market, if you will, comes from individuals and smaller groups with considerable wealth of their own to manage. These folks, or many of them, appear downright giddy these days. Why?

I’m going to take a guess. I think the common wisdom among this group is that under the current administration they are going to get even richer. Nothing makes the money on wall street happier than the idea that more money is going to be made.

This could be due to a generic GOP lessening of regulation when it is good for wealth (repeal of Dodd-Frank reform) and a tightening of regulation when it is good for wealth (repealing net neutrality). It’s really not about small government, you see, but rather about laws that make it easier to take a chuck of money and make more. This is great for those with a chunk to start with, but less so for those getting by, who will now see a little more skimmed from them in dozens of different clever ways.

This sense that times are good for the wealthy could also be coming from the biography of the current president. He came from wealth, he has wealth, and he is a wheeler-dealer who has spent his life working to increase his wealth. Surely he is going keep the good times rolling.

Or, this positive exuberance could be no more than the enthusiasm of a classroom full of misbehaved children who have just figured out that their substitute teacher is an idiot. Oh boy. Are we going to have fun today.

Or maybe it’s a combination of all three. What do you think?

Never in my life have I seen the behavior of the stock market so at odds with the mood of the country. I live in North Carolina, a politically mixed state that went for Trump, and in which a wide variety of people generally get along. No matter how we voted, most of us here seem to be watching the news and feeling pretty pessimistic about the future.

Can it be true that the future looks bad for most of us, and looks really, really good for the few that set the mood on Wall Street? Maybe for the moment, but I don’t think that is a sustainable situation. We are all interconnected, perhaps in ways we are forgetting.

 

 

 

 

When the future becomes the past

 It was the most likely and the least messy alternative. As she realized that, it became a near certainty, and then the wave of time washed over the moment and the soon-to-happen became the now and it then it became the past…

Of all the things I wrote in d4, this is the one scene I remember the best. I feel this wave of time washing over me whenever long anticipated moments finally happen. In that instant, all the worries and fantasies and hopes and dreads suddenly don’t matter because it has happened the way it will and I feel a magic in that transition.

Yesterday, I published One Too. It’s done, it happened, the water has drenched me and moved on and now there is only the story of how it was. I’m still acclimating to the fact.  Readers can find my book electronically and in paperback now (and for Nook and through iTunes in a few days.)

Above right is one of the many iterations of the d4 cover that was not used. This one featured a wave inspired by the excerpt above, but although the wave lasted in my memory, it didn’t make the final cut. I like the lightening bolts and clouds, but the eye in the sky was a bit much. Jen at Mother Spider and I struggled with this cover almost as much as we did with the cover for z2.

Below, are a few of my favorite excerpts from the new book, along with links to the blogs nice enough to host my work last week. I wonder if any of these scenes will stick with me two years later like my image of the wave of time did.

Lola’s quiet moment of gratitude is interrupted by a armed men in a mysterious black SUV on Author Linda Nightingale’s blog.

Ariel explains to her family the ways she can, and cannot, see the future at Readeropolis.

A dour Irish psychic tries to come between Lola and her daughter at Let Me Tell You a Story.

Violeta is frightened during an icy conversation with her boss’s lawyer at The Avid Reader.

A man afraid of the telepaths of x0 decides to stoop even lower to get the information he wants on Author Deborah A. Bailey’s blog.

Lola and Alex make a pact to keep no more secrets from each other at Sea’s Nod.

A better word than loyalty?

I know exactly what the theme of my fifth novel is, but I can’t find a word for it and I’m even having trouble finding a phrase to describe it. In my mind, it sits across the circle, and the color wheel, from the bright orange joy of being yourself and doing your thing and enjoying your life. That’s a wonderful concept, but we all know that there is another side.

There is the runner in a race who pauses to help another up. There are the first responders charging into a burning building and the social worker who stays after hours to see that a few more will get what they need. There are the soldiers who serve, and the elderly who look out for the others in a retirement facility. There is anyone who stops their own pursuit of happiness long enough to tend to the greater good.

I’m not talking about compassion or empathy. Those are important and wonderful, but they are a one-on-one phenomena. I’m trying to describe a sense of duty or honor that transcends a single interaction or one other person.  At various times I’ve called it concern, responsibility, duty, honor and loyalty. I know that it involves ministering to, caring for, serving and protecting all who need it. It’s about doing what needs to be done.

I realize that what I’m trying to describe is not a fun concept, but it is one that matters. We all know in our hearts that there is a time to do what’s right for everyone, not just you.

When I  came up with the word loyalty, I was sure that I did not mean loyalty to ones nation or family or hometown. That got me thinking. Loyalty to what? I finally realized that what I was trying to describe was a sense of commitment to humanity in general. That really is what d4 is about. Commitment to our mutual survival as a species.

No. We don’t seem to have a word for that, or even a good phrase for it. At least not yet. Given how things are going, I think we really need one.

(For more thoughts on words we need, see A better word than peace?, A better word than joy?, A better word than hope? and A better word than courage?)

 

When in doubt ….

Today is September 26 and, let me tell you, it is one hell of day.

On various September 26’s, the world almost ended, and I changed the course my life. Probably a lot more has happened on this date, but those two are enough for me.

On Sept. 26, 1983, Soviet computers reported the launch of five Minuteman missiles, according to the New York Times. There were only minutes to counterattack before they would strike Soviet cities. The man who was in charge that day was skeptical, partly because the attack seemed too small. So he alerted his superiors to a false alarm. He later recalled it as a 50-50 decision.

He had made the right choice.  It would be discovered that a Soviet satellite had misinterpreted the sun’s reflection off clouds.

Thirty-six years ago today I agreed to be the life partner of the man I loved. I did know that I loved him, however I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to be anybody’s partner for life.

We’re about to go celebrate thirty-six years together with an evening of exploring Asheville.

I also just sent my latest book off to editor Joel. This scene of Ariel playing solitaire is stuck in my mind today.

She started the game, doing the obvious things first then moving on. Okay, now put the red five on the black six. Wait, which red five? They were identical choices. She went down one path. Not so good. Try the other five. Much better. She’d win going that way.

Geez, this game is like my life with premories, she thought. One choice is insignificant and another makes all the difference and you can’t tell the two kinds apart. And, you can’t tell which choice will yield a good outcome for you because it’s not always about good decision making. Sometimes it really is random.

Yup, sometimes there is no choice that is clearly right, at least at that moment in time..

September 26 makes me think that when all else is equal, choose the long term. Choose the truth.  Choose mercy. Choose the greater good. And choose love.