The Journey of 6000 miles

So if the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step, does the journey of 6000 miles begin with 6 steps? Just wondering ….

This morning I left for a 28 day trip, the longest I’ve attempted in decades. The first 12 days will involve me driving over 3000 miles by myself, in a car loaded down with a bicycle, tent, air mattress, camping and cooking supplies, food, and all the clothing and necessities of life for four weeks. Oh, and lots of music stored on four different devices with three different ways to play it. I may be foolish, but I’m not stupid ….

During these first 12 days I’ll be staying with 7 different Airbnb hosts, and if tonight’s lodging gives any clue, it’s that this will be interesting. I’ll also be retracing significant places from my past, something it is time for me to do.

Today’s trip was easy; six hours and 382 miles. Starting out with a short day enabled me to have a leisurely exit from my home in Western North Carolina, and to enjoy the beautiful drive from Asheville NC to Knoxville Tennessee along I-40.  Then it was north along I-75 to Lexington Kentucky.

Crossing state lines reminded me of how knowledgeable we humans are as a group. The speed limits in Tennessee tend to be around 60 mph, and the observant driver soon realizes the actual enforced speed limit must be around 70, as that is the average of what everyone is driving. Kentucky has a 70 mph posted limit, but by the time I am a few miles into the state, the average speed has risen to more like 85, with drivers riding on my rear bumper if I drop much below that in either lane. Okay, new state, new rules.

I cross the Ohio river and arrive at my first stop along the southern edge of Indian about 6:30 p.m. My hostess is friendly edging over into chatty and when she starts in on her own recent travels I make excuses to go to my room. Glancing over my shoulder, I see the TV turned to Fox News. Oh dear. Best avoid discussing politics. My room looks much like the photo, but is decorated in a more religious fashion than I would have expected. Hey, tolerance for all spiritual beliefs …. Still, I think I’d best avoid conversation in general, so I hunker down in my room, planning my route for tomorrow.

I wonder what adventures this trip will bring. My character Ariel doesn’t know the future, but she sees numerous possible events and has a sense of their probability of occurring. She’s not sure what will happen, but she is sure it will be one of the things she saw.

Me, I spend my day driving imagining all sorts of crazy occurrences. You know what the difference is between me and a precognitive like Ariel? I don’t know what will happen either, but I can be damn sure it won’t be anything I came up with.

I did entertain myself today by deciding to pick one song each day that best describes the feel of the day. Today’s song? Ruby Tuesday by the Rolling Stones. It had me at

“Don’t ask her why she needs to be so free. She’ll tell you it’s the only way to be.”

Yeah. Then there was “No time to lose, I heard her say. Catch your dreams before they slip away.” Yeah again.

I may not be at all sure what this trip will bring, but I am sure about why I’m doing it.

Enjoy a 1990’s Mick Jagger singing this classic.

 

Review: Little Computer People

I’m a geek by training and by disposition. When I read the description of Little Computer People I couldn’t resist signing up to review it.

Review summary: Galen Surlak-Ramsey has written a book that is great fun to read, and certain to delight those with an understanding of computers. Details are below.

About this book: When Gabe created the world’s first sentient program, Pi, he thought things couldn’t get better. Now he’s pretty sure things couldn’t get worse.

After a colossal error on Gabe’s part, Pi turns into a binary monster along the lines of HAL, GLaDOS, and SHODAN. As she goes on the rampage, the only thing rendering her mostly harmless is the fact that she doesn’t fully understand the physical world…yet.

But she’s learning.

And unless Gabe quickly finds a way to rein her in or shut her down, the next time Pi starts a fire, it won’t just be his empty house that goes up in flames.

About the author: When not writing, Galen Surlak-Ramsey has been known to throw himself out of an airplane, teach others how to throw themselves out of an airplane, take pictures of the deep space, and wrangle his four children somewhere in Southwest Florida.

He also manages to pay the bills as a chaplain for a local hospice.

Drop by his website https://galensurlak.com/ to see what other books he has out, what’s coming soon, and check out the newsletter (well, sign up for the newsletter and get access to awesome goodies, contests, exclusive content, etc.)

Buy the book at Amazon.

Giveaway: Galen Surlak-Ramsey will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes & Nobel gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Learn more, and register to win.

My full review: I became a fan as soon as I read “there are 10 kinds of people” and realized the author was using binary (where 10 = 2). Brilliant!

This is a niche book, but a well done one. I give it a 3.9/5

What I liked best: 

  1. The overall tone of the book is fun, funny and self-deprecating. The narrator/main character has a shrewd self-awareness that keeps him from becoming obnoxious, even when he does outrageous things like compare himself to God.
  2. His AI creation Pi has all the venom of an angry 14 year old. Her behavior is humorous, but her world view has interesting things to say about humans as well.
  3. I’m not enough of an expert to pick apart the technical details, but the author’s rudimentary understanding of computers adds a nice level of authenticity.
  4. I always like a book when the main character grows and opts for behaving as his best self at the end.

What I liked least:

  1. A lone guy in his living room creating something so phenomenal from scratch in such a short time does push credibility.
  2. That the man most likely to buy Pi has a smart, gorgeous and unattached daughter pushes credibility more, and the fact that she falls for the main character in a matter of days takes a pretty large a leap of faith.
  3. I would had liked to have seen more loose ends tied up at the end.

Those minor complaints aside, I’m glad I read this, and I will seek out more by this author. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys humorous speculative fiction.

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions. Visit Goddess Fish on Facebook  and on Twitter.

Read more reviews of Little Computer People at:

July 12: Long and Short Reviews
July 19: Let me tell you a story
July 26: Fabulous and Brunette
July 26: Kit ‘N Kabookle

My favorite excerpt: The first program I ever wrote was called Pussy Cat Divides. It was six lines of Basic goodness I wrote on my Apple IIe that allowed the user to input two numbers and the computer would then divide them, spit out the answer, and say, “How do you like that, Pussy Cat?” Yes, it was a glorified calculator, but since I was five, I was so in awe at what I had done I might as well have parted the Red Sea. From there I went on to program anything and everything I could dream up. Text adventures. Submarine games. Flight sims. You name it. I made it. And I managed to squeeze all of those programming gems in between elementary school, soccer practice, and developing a budding, but dangerous, understanding of chemistry thanks to my PhD-wielding father.

One sunny, summer afternoon, the garage caught fire. As I stood there watching the firemen pour untold gallons of water on the smoldering remains of our house, I had an epiphany. I realized that while I could easily test the stickiness of homemade napalm on the surfaces of garage ceilings, I could not, whatsoever, control the subsequent fire. And that wouldn’t have been too horrible if I could’ve at least erased the results of that minor oversight and kept my little sister, Courtney, quiet. But alas, that too was beyond my powers (and I’ll be damned if the fire marshal wasn’t a better investigator than I’d anticipated). So I had to admit that I didn’t actually own the universe in which I lived. I couldn’t shape its laws or make it conform to my will. I couldn’t add snippets of code to ensure things went my way, or hit that wonderful backspace key to correct a typo, stray pointer, or bug-ridden function call.

But I could do all of that with a computer. Anything I programmed had to obey me, had to follow the laws I set forth. I could make a world where gravity was non-existent and watch virtual objects float about. Or if I felt malicious, I could design a virus that went on its merry way and multiplied like a dozen cocaine-snorting, Viagra-popping rabbits. And if I could do all of that, I could create Life, the Universe, and Everything. All I needed to do was convince my parents not to kill me outright so I could hammer at the keyboard until my fingers bled.

A personal note: I am a writer myself and therefore come to all reviews with biases born not only of my personal preferences but also of my own writing style. This particular author writes in the vein of so many authors who influenced me years ago, so it may have been inevitable I would enjoy this book.

I also received a free pdf copy of this book from Goddess Fish, the value of which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

If you are interested in a review from me:  I am willing to review both non-fiction and fiction. Please do not ask me to review dystopian novels involving zombies, romance novels of any kind, or stories which promote any particular religion. If you would like to be considered for a review please comment here or contact me at Ariel (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Please understand. I write real reviews. I read your entire book, although I skim parts I don’t enjoy. I tell you and others what I liked best about it, liked least, and to whom I would recommend it. I try to be generous, and I avoid snark that would entertain others at the expense of insulting you. However, if I don’t like something, I say so.

I rate the book on a scale of 1 to 5 and I use decimals because I need a lot more bandwidth. If the rating is 2.4 or lower I will not post it in conjunction with a blog tour but will add it later. If the rating is 2.5 (or anything point five) I will round up on other sites. I cross post my reviews on Amazon, Good Reads and Library Thing, and will post elsewhere upon request.

I am also open to doing an occasional feature of a relevant book without a review.

 

Review: The City and The City

Summary: I’m in awe of this book, and I like to think that I don’t awe easily. It has stuck with me since I finished it; the surest sign of an effective story. I give it a 4.8/5, the highest rating I’ve given since I started this decimal point thing.

What I liked least:

  1. The quotes and reviews on the cover and at the front. That may seem an odd complaint, but this book was given to me as a gift a couple of years ago and I put off reading it because everyone made it sound so depressing. Anything billed as a Kafka-meets-noir-crime-novel doesn’t go to the beach with me, yet this book could have and should have. I wish I’d read it years ago.
  2. The end. I might as well get it out here at the start. I’ll say no more about it, but there were so many ways for this story to go and while I can think of much worse endings, the one that happened wasn’t one of the possibilities I wanted. So it goes.
Author China Mielville

What I liked best:

  1. Everything else, but I’ll try to be more specific.
  2. The author takes an absolutely ridiculous premise, answers your every objection to it while telling the story, and leaves you accepting an alternate history wherein two independent city states exist in the same geographical place, each refusing to see the other.
  3. Once you make that leap, you start to realize how believable the premise is because it touches on ways real humans behave. Then you start to find examples of unseeing all around you and I don’t know how long that goes on for because it’s been a week now and I’m still doing it. I may never stop.
  4. The book is not depressing, at least to me. The reason is that many if not most of the characters have a shred of human decency in them and the main ones hide kind hearts under their tough and expletive laden exteriors. Yes, the overall style is crime novel noir, with a touch of cold war spy and splashes of absurdity, but any time we actually get good guys and gals trying to do what’s right, I’m willing to stand up and cheer.
  5. Main characters are well fleshed out given the author’s sparse strokes. Inspector Tyador Borlu of the City of Beszel’s Extreme Crime Squad, the book’s protagonist and narrator, won my sympathy during the opening scene as he looks out for the young drug dealers who come forward when they find a body. He cemented my high regard when he met the dead girl’s parents and noted how “Grief made them look stupid. It was cruel.”
  6. When Borlu is forced to meet and work with his counterpart, senior detective Qussim Dhatt of the ignored city Ul Qoma, one sees through Borlu’s eyes and is lead to think the man is a jerk. We discover, along with Borlu, how much the two detectives have in common.
  7. I’m female, and I judge how a writer handles his or her women characters. Mr. Mieville treats them all as people, a refreshing delight. In particular, constable Lizbyet Corwi is a tough capable detective, no less female for not being some man’s love interest.
  8. The book is a mix of ingredients one would never expect to work as well together as they do. There is humor, as residents of each city joke about how their weather is better and visit their local Starbucks, which of course has shops in both cities. There is mystery and suspense, some of which surrounds a 2000 year old archaeological dig that may hold the secret to the origin of this bizarre arrangement. Some things are never solved or explained, others reach a satisfying conclusion.
  9. Finally, this author won me over with his dedication. It’s to his mother, which is common enough, but he adds that he “wanted to write a book that my mother would have loved.” Wow. I wish I could have met his mother.

I often get asked to name the writers who inspired me as an author, and I have trouble coming up with a list. Part of the reason is I tend to be inspired by specific books, rather than bodies of work, and the other is the degree to which the list has morphed as I’ve aged.

My approach is to keep a short list of books I can point to and say “I’m trying to write that well.” The City and the City has placed itself at the top of my list.

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.