Monday, December 26, 2011

Not coping during the holidays


Once and a while the upbeat American attitudes get on my nerves. I’m naturally a very upbeat person; a yoga addict I’ve also learned to view my world with more balance. Thus I realize that all qualities are both good and bad (being upbeat can earn you “insensitive” as well).

Reading Joan Didion’s new book Blue Nights I was awed by her ability to write with such raw pain. I waver on whether or not to write about myself and her fearlessness in doing so was admirable. She’s brutal on herself in the book and, in my opinion, really hasn’t coped with her daughter’s death. Why must we always put on a happy face or spin positive? Why must we always “cope”?

My family is pretty dysfunctional (anyone else?). As a child I lied about it; I now usually accept it. But holidays can be trying.

So in defense of all of those who sometimes don’t cope, and don’t even want to cope until ready, I have a few new holiday rules. When I’m perfect perhaps I’ll apologize for them but until then:

1. Some gifts are unlikable, insensitive and a waste of money. Smile anyway but feel free to toss them to a local charity ASAP.
2. You don’t have to want to see everyone you’ll see during the holidays. Smile for your own benefit not out of obligation (sometimes the best way to be in a good mood is to force it).
3. Be in a bad mood sometimes. Don’t fight it (just don’t cling to it).
4. If you eat or drink too much forget about it and start afresh the next day (a Weight Watchers rule).
5. It’s okay to buy yourself a Christmas/holiday present.
6. Get mad as appropriate but try to keep your mouth shut. You may be right but saying it to someone who isn’t listening does no good (and makes the day worse for those around you). If you do say it, apologize for saying (not believing) it and move on.
7. Get tired. Take a break.
8. Throw the food you don’t want to eat away.
9. Accept that people will be mad, depressed, unreasonable or even crazy. That’s their problem.
10. This too shall pass.
11. Appreciate being alive and healthy (or whatever it is you have to appreciate) instead of brooding over what you can’t control.
12. Or just brood.
13. The New Year is an immediate “start over”; make it your new favorite holiday.
14. Some food is icky.
15. Some people really don’t behave; try not to be one of them but if you do apologize and forgive yourself.
16. Spend time with some children during the holidays.
17. Donate…to get out of yourself.
18. Make your own list of holiday survival rules.
19. We all ultimately have a relationship with ourselves first. Respect yourself regardless and aim higher next time.
20. Spend time outside, reading a novel or on a stupid web site (email me for suggestions).
21. Forgive.

This post will never be my favorite one because it’s a bit silly. But it made me feel better (write a dumb blog posting?!). I recommend that you read Didion’s book if you want to see the raw emotion of someone who dares not to cope, and write about it. Let’s all aim to do a little bit better next year.

Picture of Maine from Steve K.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Today’s Meaning in Chaos?


I didn’t get enough done today. That reality isn’t exactly my norm but let’s just say it happens more than I’d like. My kids had a half day at school today (not the usual) so I’ve had to make adjustments for that change.

But the bigger thing about today is that I got many, many little things done but no big one. With continual interruptions that goal seemed like the best way to plan my tasks. It feels less satisfying and productive.

I grew up in chaos; thus I’m not a big fan of chaos; I handle it well. Mostly. Too much chaos and one never knows, I might just freak out (I’m also a control freak, a dual partner from having too little control as a child). But chaos leading to a loss of control is a reality of life.

Dictionary.com defines chaos as: a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order. Life is just like that.


So how did I find meaning in my chaos today?

1. I lowered my expectations.
2. I picked tasks that didn’t require too much focus (no writing the final – hopefully - thrilling scenes in my book).
3. I accepted last minute changes to the schedule; and hadn’t calendared any crucial tasks.
4. Went for a beach run…even though it put me behind schedule.
5. I avoided stressful people and situations (not good to push my limits on a day when time is moving much faster than I am)
6. I settled on a simple blog posting and not the more exciting one I’d been planning to write (the importance of an idea and its relationship to execution…coming).
7. I reminded myself that my kids and their friends will only be around for so long before they disappear into college and their own lives (gratitude).

The underlying theme is we all only have so much control. When chaos hits, it’s what you’ve done before that provides grounding for how we cope and survive (or even thrive) with it.

Profound? No, when I can focus and concentrate more! But I like this topic as I ponder my own search for meaning. I’ll be thinking and writing again about predictability, order and chaos and how they impact our concept of life. If we don’t learn how to define our own meaning in the midst of a chaotic and ever changing world then our search will never end. The related saying we all know: the only things for sure in life are death and taxes.

My meaning for today was spending extra time with four kids I adore and have known since they were much smaller. I got to actually notice how much they’ve matured even while they haven’t changed so much. And I learned that I’ll be okay if I don’t finish writing my next book today

The photo is of a Hawaiian beach and taken by my friend Kenny (thank you)!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life’s purpose explained?


Up early this morning I was reading Aristotle (love to write that….note below I’ll question whether I actually understood what I was reading) and was struck by some of his happiness/well being precepts. Since I’m not writing a primer on Aristotle here I won’t get much into details but a core concept is that virtue relates to the proper function of something. He makes ethics a practical and not theoretical study.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m passionate about education. In part, my interest is practical in that I have two kids and don’t believe in education as a passive practice. No, I view kids as that mythical blank slate and feel responsible for what writing fills up that whiteness. Let’s not forget that impressionable minds are especially susceptible to believing what they’re told; kids often lack the perspective to evaluate truthfulness. Hence how they’re trained to reason is critical. I recently explained to my eight year old (seven at the time) that everything on the Internet wasn’t true. It was like a light dawned in his eyes as he self explained all of those contradictions he’d seen over time on a computer screen.

Not that I’m saying life’s purpose is the Internet (though for some people it may be).

But the big puzzle I’m pondering is how relevant school is if it isn’t addressing the bigger person and helping children evaluate and find their proper function. No test will tell you that (as anyone who’s taken one of those career guidance tests knows).

I’m now consciously starting from scratch in understanding education. Yes, in our country it was established to follow the agrarian calendar and enable basic literacy (to create more knowledgeable voters? Better workers?). Education is and always has a public policy aspect to it. Are the government’s goals for my children the same as mine? As my children’s goals for themselves?

I love literature and philosophy for a related reason. If we haven’t defined our life purpose how can we fulfill it? And from what sources exactly is a child expected to draw that conclusion? The humanities allow us to evaluate and decide based on intangibles and not merely a straight linear (rule based) path.

I’ll keep pondering and writing on this issue. Education? Spirituality? Religion? Ethics? Leadership? Which source do I draw on first to begin crafting an answer? We’ll see. I do agree with Aristotle that by taking what we know to be the right actions and for the right reasons we draw much satisfaction (and self respect). The great thing about reading other’s thoughts is that we typically get from them what we want to read. Whether I “understood” Aristotle this morning is irrelevant: I’m now pondering education, learning and self direction in an entirely new way. Our education forms our belief systems and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thrillers, politics or children’s book authors….



I’m looking for authors for an online publishing project.

I’m still intent on getting into the online publishing world but to do so I need some creative and risk tolerant authors (willing to experiment with online publishing models) to be my partners.

The traditional publishing model still works the best for established authors (well, perhaps a few others like Paolo Coelho have thrived by being experimental) but it’s not an easy gig to get for new authors. It also entails giving up control and ownership of your asset, even if the promotional funds for your book are minimal (God bless if you don’t worry about these issues with your draft).

My project is both a labor of love (books in my mind are among the best things on earth) and a practical venture. I had to yank distribution of Captive from the publisher (long story; different post) and learned enough to become a publisher myself. Check out Captive on iTunes! I’m a licensed book seller now. So why not become a publisher? Additionally, a best selling author I know casually broached the idea of me helping him with his online efforts, saying that many authors had only dipped their toes into this world and could also use the help.

Captive has now been downloaded well over 560,000 times and counting. The online promotions built my larger audience but I monetized better using more traditional distribution. We’ll see about going forward. Authors need to do it all (seen my YouTube videos?) yet those other duties making writing that much harder. The decisions on how to promote and related time commitments can be staggering, as I’ve found out first hand. What if your online publisher helped?

I’m almost done with Captive’s sequel and will be playing around with business models once it’s done. Anyone want to join me?

If you’ve written a thriller or other action novel, a political book or a children’s one and want to submit to my in process of being built publishing house email me at meganlisajones1@gmail.com. And feel free to forward this invitation.

Much thanks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Deadlines...


I have a loose deadline now on finishing Escape (at page 324 on draft one and keeping this post short so I can get back to writing). I did it to myself by agreeing to finish the book by a certain date (definition of deadline).

Is my willingness to commit, or over commit, a good thing or a bad one? I do this a lot and was actually discussing it with friends at yoga. We were saying that we think we can do it all until we realize that we can’t (by doing something such as missing a deadline).

But dates and deadlines also motivate me and focus my work. I take it more seriously and need that end date to stay on a track. So, it’s a balance between working hard and working well. Writing a book requires creativity, focus and good writing. I believe that writing is easy to force but good writing isn’t.

Most writers used to work on deadline. Many writers still do. Dickens, most of the early great film writers and I’ll stop now because too many names are tumbling into my head and writing them down will overkill the point. Some writers have come up with drafts that prove they weren’t on track to meet their deadline thus rushed to any end (celebrity autobiographies seem to specialize here).

Can I meet my deadline? Should I have committed? I left a lot of extra give time in the schedule (since I never get as much done as I think I will… the holidays are coming… deadlines scare me) so I will.

Good book or bad? Luck, skill and so many intangibles will decide that outcome. I’m not sure that all of the time in the world will help if the basic storyline doesn’t work. So far I like it, but then the ultimate product is a victim or beneficiary of the revisions. And good writing is a very subjective thing.

Deadlines do make writing blog postings harder to fit in so I’ll end this one here. Back to the book!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ending things...in a thriller


Well I’m coming to the ending of draft one. While that sounds like I’m almost done writing I’m not. Captive, and the sequel, are thrillers so my ending should follow a (very loose) formula. I need a big ending. At page 291 I’m just starting to wind it down (and will likely end up with 400 pages after edits are complete).

So I’m building the grand finale. Someone will die; a bomb may go off; there will be numerous unexpected twists and turns. Mostly at this point I’m following the traps I’ve laid for my characters to their inevitable ends.

I love writing this part of a book. The ending will ultimately take about 100 pages. Draft one will be a little lean…the chronology is more important that the details; or, what happens in the room is more important than what the room looks like. And that’s why the clean up is also fun: I get to clarify and embellish.

Fiction allows for creation, and I play around with my story lines, throwing away outline after outline. Believable, thrilling, compelling and original? Writing thrillers is getting harder and harder as the real world ups the ante on us writers (look at the news from Libya over the last month; or Syria: no one would have believed me had I written it last year!).

Or, as I’m writing about the protests in Egypt, I touched on global unrest not expecting that since the book will end in New York I’d have to add in the protests there!

How fun it all is. So now, inevitably, I’ll follow the story line I’ve sketched out only roughly. Earlier in the week I threw out my already written last chapter because I decided another outcome had more impact.

So truly, when writing fiction, no one really knows how it will end (including me!). Is that so different from the real world in which we live?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: democracy or farce?


The WS protests have spread to a thousand cities (that’s a lot of unhappy people). Select unions have joined them; the media has taken up coverage. The 99% campaign is visual and personal, which tends to draw support. Over $4,000 has been raised on Kickstarter to fund their “paper”.

Today in Cairo the military/police drove armored vehicles into the protesting mobs and started shooting. Domestically, we hear that our WS protestors are defecating on police cars and dancing topless. Both sets of protestors want jobs and a voice in government. Or maybe not.

No one seems to have articulated what the protestors want. What do they want? You can’t be both against corporations and pro jobs (look at how well that worked in the USSR). Being anti-Wall Street is great…I joke we should just shut all of the banks (stop using credit or debit cards, checks, pay back your mortgage or other loans now, etc.).

And, then there are the analogies to kids with no adults in charge.

But isn’t that the point exactly? Where is the leadership? And I don’t just mean in the protesting parks around our fine country I mean in all of those cushy elected ofices in our capitals. Why are people in our country having to mass together to finally be heard…even without a leader or a message?

And to be clear, most of our “leaders” hire experts who craft and write their messages. They practice delivery and talk to reporters to expand their audience. So these protestors haven’t found that charismatic leader yet…they will. I just hope they chose wisely.

I’ve been writing the sequel to my thriller, Captive. The first book addressed a terrorist plot. The second one heads to the streets of Cairo and New York and into revolution, riots and a call for democracy. So to me, these Wall Street protests are very interesting. What I’ve learned about revolution is: it often starts small, creates turmoil, which is then exploited by a savvy and ruthless group to seize control of the momentum and take political power. Not to sound paranoid….

To quote Steve Jobs, a great leader: “It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.” Is it the protestors? While we may not be sure what they want we do know that it’s different from what they have. And they aren’t turning to elected leaders to drive change but are rather joining together to complain. To state the obvious - it’s easier to be heard in numbers.

With any mob comes a group think element. Much like going to a rock concert being a part of a communal event is fun. But so are a lot of other things. Voter turnout in elections can go below 10% for local ones, and rarely gets to 50% even in a presidential election. Are we seeing an increase in activism as it becomes local and personal? Are people more willing to get involved, sacrificing other activities, when they can work together for change (hope versus a rote task)?

I’ve been reading Tocqueville’s book, Democracy in America. It should be required reading for all in our “democracy”. He makes an interesting point, that any wise ruler will shift the social order periodically to lower those in power and empower those lacking to secure his own job. Basically, no other group is able to mass enough power to challenge the ruler.

Is that what’s really happening here?

I really don’t know; but when I don’t know my rule is to go back to what I do know. So here’s my best shot.

People in this country are starved for an inspirational leader that is willing to make tough choices and improve the lives of the most not a few. What steps that leader should take are highly contested.

A leader will fill that void. If he/she doesn’t self select an organized political group will find someone.

Equity is a subjective term.

To the WS protestors, find someone who can write and come up with a mission statement. No political change will come about without a practical platform that people can support. If you want something be specific and articulate what steps will get you there. Personally, I find that if I tell people exactly what I want them to do – they might say yes or no – but at least I get an outcome. “Help,” means little to nothing.

As Lewis Carroll says, if you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.

We really need to pay attention to the social messages in our country. Look at the turmoil in the Arab world and let’s hope we don’t end up there. Revolution is losing control; it isn’t like democratic and orderly change…but rather too easily devolves into chaos and a despotic government (only way to control the out-of-control people). Our demographics are risky: too many educated young are unemployed and have time to congregate in parks. Dangerous. Unnecessary.

Class warfare, the us against them mentality and attack rhetoric are all political tools. Don’t just believe what you think you hear…do the research. Our country is a great and blessed one so let’s pull it together and not tear it apart.

In our democracy people shouldn’t have to protest in over 1,000 cities to be heard. I’ll continue to write on this topic (and am writing a book on it) and am glad to be in America where the related news stories aren’t about torture, imprisonment without charges and death.

One more way in which our system – democracy – works? We’ll see

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Input: should I become a publisher?


I’m in the process of transferring Captive’s distribution from my publisher to me. There may be some disruptions in availability but I’m learning (a lot). And it’s all fairly simple…surprisingly so. Or at least I’m saying that now.

The Captive saga is long; suffice to say, when I decided to go with a smaller publisher I made the decision based on the fact that I kept full rights to the book thus could get creative with my marketing. And now I have distribution flexibility. The benefits and perils of being a lawyer (I was discussing this idea with a Copyright lawyer friend of mine over lunch…I even have great advisors). Not all writers have that skill set and are navigating the publishing world unprotected.

So I’m starting to question whether I should be leveraging all that I’ve learned about the book world from my Captive experiences to help other writers. Maybe I should ask for manuscript submissions and brand a (digital at first) publishing house. There is scale in a steady stream of genre related books.

As we know, book publishing is undergoing disruption and a newer, friendlier business model hasn’t yet emerged. Costs to make a product are lower but generating sales is harder (with the long tale continuing to get longer). Many, many individuals have written books yet new writers have a harder time getting heard as the publishers and agents are wary to take on the risk of a new artist with sales in flux. The burden of marketing is on the author, unless they’re already established or lucky.

In change comes opportunity.

Thoughts or suggestions? Good idea, or bad? Have a manuscript?

All feedback is welcome. I’m a huge believer in drawing on the wisdom of the crowds. Does it make sense to start a digital publisher to launch talented new writers? Any interest in reading their work…chosen carefully and in select genres?

Thanks for reading this far….even if you have no comments…..

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Reality...


I've not been writing about important things today...or yesterday...
So...what have I been doing?

Protecting myself. Not rich or in that top tier I read about I've been dealing with those falling behind. And, as someone currently trying to write about the negative (societal) repercussions of other countries (Egypt) falling I'm facing it here.

So how did we get here?

People who aren't paying and know they aren't paying...which makes running a business harder. Then I wonder, you can't beat a dead horse, so how do you broach compromise? I just want the money you owe me...really... it isn't personal.

But it is more common. And increasingly too common.

In negotiations you always leave something on the table...even if you hold all of the cards. No, I don't mean that you bargain nice. I mean that humiliating people will come back to you someday (if only in karma).

So, what I will do? Not sure yet. But I really hope those in our capital (Washinton DC: Sacramento) realize the extent of the pain in our nation and do something to fix it.

This isn't the world I grew up in and our country deserves better (feel free to go after me for being too hokey). Let's help people help themselves.

M

Friday, September 16, 2011

Do I have Klout?



"If you aren't creating (content) you aren't influencing," said Joe Fernandez, CEO of Klout, at the Wedbush Second Internet Conference last week. I wrote about it and included that exact quote on my other investment banking/digital media blog (www.ibla.us...can't get the link to work!) but I keep thinking about it anyway.

Write another post on IBLA? No, another major theme of the conference was that people now have their own brand. They create it, develop it, promote it. As a writer I'm very aware of the marketing aspect of the book writing. But I've promoted "brands" before as part of a job...it just wasn't mine alone.

I joked with Fernandez offline that he's one of the few people of whom I'm frightened. Wow, now I can be rated on me (my influence) online!

Did I start writing to influence? I never looked at it that way. I'm with George Orwell in that I believe all art is propaganda. But most of what's written doesn't reach a broad enough audience to have much impact (just the writer's own narrow circle). Still, once you say something the words are virtually impossible to retract. The pen is often mightier than the sword (why those that speak out can end up being so harrassed in many parts of the world).

And now, welcome to the Internet! Mass audience reach with a keystroke.

Creating content is very time consuming. I'm (finally) on page 225 of Captive's sequel and that's just draft one! It will need a lot of polishing. I write fast; polish slowly. Right now I'm writing this blog instead of doing page 226.

But I'll keep creating content regardless of the "Klout" it gives me. Thanks for the insight, Joe. So obvious but I never looked at it that way before. Most people have a voice and now they have so many ways to be heard. I guess we should all just remain aware that as we do, so we speak. Most of us want to be heard.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When I don't blog...


is when life interferes...

Writing...other projects...kids (on vacation! and demanding!), a family fight, friends, the newspaper, tweetdeck and a bunch of books I'm reading. The daily stuff.

That's how we also don't write books, start companies, sit with a friend or family member or tell someone that we love them. I love a lot of people but I haven't been telling them lately.

Why? Stress and a to-do list don't bring out the best in me. I like my schedule, yoga and some peace and quiet.

I've neglected it all. And, while summer is my favorite time of year, I still enjoy the coming of fall and a return to a concrete schedule.

This summer I learned a lot. That you can't push people or make them conform to your expectations. That you can add that just one more thing (and stay sane). That people the world over carry on similar conversations no matter how obscure their corner of the world. And that I need to keep trying to be better.

September it is! Back to real work.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bridging differences; or, what I learned from the London Riots


First, let me say that the London riots are deeply affecting to me personally. I’ve said many times that my first introduction to terrorism, and part of why I wrote Captive, was the impact of the IRA bombs scares during my childhood visits to London (en route to my grandparents farm in Wales). To see the city I love so rocked by needless violence upsets me.

I also still have pictures of the Los Angeles riots so many years ago. Our police chief at the time, Chief Bratton, is now advising those in London. Walking through the wreck in my home city (unwisely) years ago was likewise deeply upsetting.

The rioting is absolutely inexcusable. Unfortunately, so are some of the conditions which lead to the riots. The root causes of terrorism and riots are, in my opinion, not that different. I’m now starting to write that the age of genocide (the 20th century) is evolving into the age of riot and rebellion (the 21st century).

Global shifts are leaving too many people in both developed and developing nations behind. Unlike past inequities, the global nature of online media shows them that their lives are worse than some other people’s. And the entitlement systems inherent in developed societies have taken away the belief that the fix lies in them and in working harder. We wonder at the rage?

And, I’m no longer confident that everyone today has the option of working harder to improve their circumstances. Our educational systems are broken (thus many aren’t qualified for good jobs), jobs scarce and tax/regulatory systems burdensome. And that’s just in the United States; options are more limited elsewhere.

I wish I had a solution. But these issues are too complex for easy answers and why I continue to write about them. Only by discussing them honestly can we hope to find a solution. And, I do believe that violence must be condemned. But the greater issues can’t be couched in hiding behind a condemnation of those who committed the looting and rioting. Their actions, especially the cold blooded murder of individuals in the wrong place at the wrong time, are symptoms of deep societal wounds and should be honestly addressed.

Religions and ideologies don’t kill but people use them as and excuse for atrocities. Genocide is based on dehumanizing a group of “others”; the riots and revolutions are actually more frightening in that once violence becomes accepted by any group controlling the direction it takes is virtually impossible. As society crumbles (structures holding it in place disappear; food gets more scarce; safety unpredictable; etc) anyone’s guess as to the eventual society which develops to replace it is as good as anyone else’s. Or, in other words, it’s impossible to predict.

So let’s condemn violence; but not drop the debate there. How can we bridge differences? In Escape, the sequel to Captive that I’m about half done writing, I’ve taken the action to Cairo. One character tells another that what most people want is simple: a good and safe life for their family. We’re all so much the same in our core desires. Can’t we somehow bridge these differences?

Picture for San Francisco by Patrick Gengoux

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Less: overcoming the tyranny of more


Lately I’ve been obsessed with the concept of less. I live in clutter as does everyone else I know. Our society encourages more and I fall into that trap. Right now I want more watermelon twizzlers, more water, a glass of wine (more since I’ve had none), more time outside in the beautiful and sunny weather, more time reading, longer hair and more time socializing. More.

We even use the phrase that “less is more” which surely must be insulting “less”. Shouldn’t the point be that less is less (hence better than more)?

Regardless of how spare may be the homes of my friends (or not), we all encounter cluttered roads, stores, offices and schools. Ads bombard us with the message of more and better (the latter being a different form of more). I have cardigans and shoes in most colors. Many in black. My books cascade and clothes are stuffed. Make-up tumbles. My refrigerator is crowded. Still, I troll the Internet for other options.

All major religions recognize the importance of renouncing worldly goods, wants and desires. A few of the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, wrath, envy, sloth, greed and pride) deal with want, which is directly related to more. The more we want, the more we’ll try to get and then we’ll have more. In Buddhism, Siddhartha renounced his wealth, leaving everything behind to find enlightment. One of his four noble truths addresses the misery brought about by craving, and hence attachment. Hindu and Buddhist monks wander the streets with little but a bowl and their robes. Jesus gave away everything he had. Two of the five pillars in Islam are fasting and alms, both of which are a renouncement of something (your food and money). Less is holy; most of us aren’t even aiming to achieve that level of renouncement (too monastic!).

So why do we all seem to have more? I don’t think it’s a distinctly American phenomenon and we can see the ease with which our consumerism has conquered much of the world. I’m contemplating a personal pilgrimage through the history of renouncement, especially in a holy or literary context, and the ideas of less versus more. An interesting topic to continue writing about or a distraction from finishing the next novel/thriller? Thoughts? Reading recommendations? The more the better.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer reading list inspired by Nicolas Kristof’s similar list


Nick Kristof recently published a list of recommended summer reading books. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/opinion/sunday/10kristof.html?_r=1. He focused on novels, and all were at least fifty years old. Interestingly, he chose those with a social justice theme to them. I love the idea of focusing on great books or at least those that made a big impact on me to compile my own list.

So, in the same spirit as Kristof’s (and using him as my inspiration) I’m going to compile a like list. And, I will have some overlap in authors but am only picking one book in common (the first one). These are some of my favorite books that have also had a lasting emotional impact on me. I can’t pretend that they address social justice issues.

1. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte: This is the classic love story of a woman choosing between her soul mate, who is poor, and the more appropriate man. Beautiful and haunting. The mistakes we make in life…

2. The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene: I love this book. A priest, in a country where religion has been banned, must decide whether to save himself or the souls of those in pain. A whisky priest to boot, with an illegitimate child, it raises complex questions about how society defines a “good” person.

3. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: This book inspires me with the sheer persistence of Quixote. It’s magical and always the answer I give when asked my favorite book. What’s life without faith in something?

4. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell: Sappy and not great literature? I beg to differ. This epic is breathtaking in scope and humanity. Scarlett is inspiring in her unwillingness to break, regardless of what goes on around her. Yet she’s so flawed.

5. The Idiot: Fyodor Dostoevsky: Oh, I read this book over and over years ago. An innocent surrounded by those less good? This book taught me about people.

6. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: James Joyce. I recently read this book and loved the growing awareness of the young man in the title. Transitions and dealing with the life we’re given.

7. Lady Chatterly’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence: I recently re-read this book and was stunned at how lovely the language and descriptions are. I felt for the characters. And, yes, it is everything you remember.

8. Anna Kerenina – Leo Tolstoy: Beautiful and epic: Complex as only Tolstoy can do. I prefer it to War & Peace.

9. Lady Bovary – Gustave Flaubert: A perfect study of the self-obsessed. Better than any psychology book. And it’s beautiful in detail.

10. Pnin – Vladamir Nabokov: I haven’t read a better book on an ordinary, almost invisible, man. Nabokov was for years my favorite writer because of how he can so subtly use language.


And a few I’m committing to over the summer

1. Mauprat - George Sand: I’d read about it in another book and it’s supposed to be brilliant. I’ve never read Sand before so I’m excited.

2. Lawrence Durrell’s quartet about Alexandra, Egypt: Since I’m currently writing a story partially based in Egypt I’m trying to see the country through other fiction writers’ eyes. This series is set in the early 20th century in Alexandra not Cairo (my story) but I like reading various time frames; the landscape doesn’t change as much as the cityscape and while customs may fade they permeate the present. More recent Egyptian literature – that I’ve read thus far – has been more nihilistic, which is only part of the story.

3. The Cairo Trilogy- Naguib Mahfouz: Mahfouz is the most famous Egyptian writer and, again, this trilogy doesn’t take place in the present. It follows a family and neighborhood and I read it a long time ago. Mahfouz describes things so beautifully. I just read that when he decided to become a full time novelist he undertook a project to read all of the best novels to study the form. Perhaps it’s that story which made Kristof’s reading list catch my eye.

4. Under the Dome - Stephen King: I’m not a King reader but can’t argue that he’s one of the most successful current American writers. And I’ve repeatedly read that his actual prose is under-rated. The topic of this book, a dome falling over a city, seems more my speed than some of his other work.

5. The Diary of a Superfluous Man – Ivan Sergeevich Turgenov: Writing about an alienated man by one of the masterful Russians. My characters tend to be alienated so I’m curious to see how he frames that mentality across the pages.

6. Moby Dick – Herman Melville; I’ve never read this American classic!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Casey Anthony Verdict: Comedy or Tragedy?

I heard about the Casey Anthony trial a week ago (yes, really). Someone mentioned this horrible mom who killed her toddler and was on trial in Florida. I looked the case up online and got hooked in about a minute. Such a great story line; which is the absolute temptation for a writer.

The CA diary entry a few days after Caylee disappeared/was killed:

I have no regrets, just a bit worried. I just want for everything to work out okay.
I completely trust my own judgement & know that I made the right decision. I just hope that the end justifies the means.
I just want to know what the future will hold for me. I guess I will soon see -- This is the happiest that I have been in a very long time.

Not reporting her daughter missing and partying instead. The lies and complete lack of concern. The accusations against her parents and how they seemed to be lying on her behalf. The death penalty threat, media circus and crowds lining up outside the courtroom.

It seemed like a slam dunk case and I was going to write a blog about why it caught public attention. In short, a lovely child and the dark side of motherhood. We’re all captivated by what we don’t want to acknowledge might be in ourselves.

But Casey got off, to much public outcry. Casey Anthony got away with murder? I don’t know but it appears that she did. Is any child safe?

So I wrote a blog on privacy instead. But then I saw another blog posting addressing the verdict and how the Anthony family confused the jury with their lies. He said (danexperiment.blogspot.com) they would all have to face the larger world’s judgment going forward. I felt like a coward for not commenting.

So, I’ll invoke Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s sleepless struggle with the blood on her hands. Great story telling isn’t dependent on the outcome; it’s the narrative that move us. Shakespeare wrote comedies and tragedies. Casey Anthony liked to party and her life could have been a fun and carefree one. A comedy? But she made some bad choices and even if she does get away with murder her story is now inevitably a tragedy. Only she knows the sleepless nights she faces going forward. She had wanted to give Caylee up for adoption but her mother forced the issue. When a good motivation turns into horror…. Please, someone other than the Anthony family, write a book. This theme is one of the most basic ones and touches people deeply.

And the jury didn’t even consider it child abuse that Casey “lost” her child to a murderer and couldn't be bothered to report it. No, no picture.

Privacy in what I write


Much of what writers scribe is auto-biographical. All fiction written is. Writer’s have to build upon their experiences, beliefs and personalities, even if only to explore contradictions and alternate viewpoints. Sometimes we write about those we know…in varying levels of clarity.

Indeed, those gradations are a tool. Do we want people from our lives to be recognized in what we write or not? Are we comfortable blatantly discussing events and relationships, especially in today’s world where so many people seemingly are.

Getting feedback from my daughter on a children’s story I’m writing I was forbidden to include a detail she considered too personal. That’s the stuff she sees: what about the stuff she doesn’t? Am I betraying a trust?

Can I write about my childhood (hence my parents), marriage (my ex-husband) or dating? Since I’m not comfortable being totally open and honest about my personal life (go figure, right?) am I actually kidding myself that the people who know me won’t see through the facades I try to construct around details?

Over the weekend I started sketching out how I’ve changed and grown over the past ten years and what factors shaped me during that time. The few pages I have already are so personal and touch most of the important people in my life. If I write it can I actually make it public?

We have gotten so open with tell-alls, confessionals, addiction and abuse stories and, of course, reality television. While relying on “social norms” is generally not a good move for a writer (Lawrence, Cervantes, Nabokav, etc) they shouldn’t be ignored altogether. Your audience can only be pushed so far out of their comfort zone before they disengage. Then there is Salman Rushdie and the fatwa declared after he wrote about the Koran and Mohammed.

I’d planned on posting part of the transformation book today on this blog but chose to write on privacy instead.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fantasy…or what a ten year old knows…


About ten year olds that I don’t.

I love talking to my kids. My daughter is ten; my son is seven. Their perspective on the world is so hopeful, curious and at times surprising. I read somewhere that the only power children have is their imagination (since my daughter believes that she runs the house…I’d add that by using it they can also learn to manipulate). My children both imagine.

Which takes me to what I love about their childhood that is different from mine. When I was young I could imagine being in control through reading a book or watching a television show/movie. Putting myself into the main character’s shoes suddenly I was in charge. Powerful stuff in a chaotic family environment. My imagination could wander into other scenarios or expand upon the original fantasy but mostly it was a passive experience.

My kids kill zombies (and other creatures), dress in amazing outfits, shop, design their igloos, earn money, plow fields and the list goes on. While they may get bossed around after school and told to do their homework on their time they design worlds. The experience is so active.

Asking my daughter about the story I’m writing (for a work project) from a child’s perspective she took me out of the school and put me into fantasy. Which makes sense. In school she’s told what to do; in a fantasy world her options are limitless. And that’s what a ten year old knew that her mother needed help figuring out.

The picture? Decided to support the Jasmine Revolution this morning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chaos to clarity?


Or, is the jumble in my head leading somewhere?

I don’t have a hard time brainstorming and coming up with ideas. And they come out clearly enough that I can usually sit down, organize my thoughts and write them out coherently. My problem lies in having too many thoughts, ideas and light bulb moments. And I can seem like a disorganized (disoriented) mess when brainstorming. That glazed eyes and staring off into the distance with a smile look.

So I:
-Take my ideas for granted and not seriously

-Write them in a notebook then forget about them

-Never bother writing them down then eventually forget them

-Give them away

-Don’t have time to explore or build them all

-Make myself crazy by trying to frantically follow up on more of them than is realistic

Creativity is such a blessing. The world takes on a magical light when you dress up the realities around you. I romanticize everything and have since I was a child (also known as denial). This quality makes you an optimist (because if you don’t like something you dress it up internally and move on). It’s also a good one for a writer. I really see the beauty outside my window and how that might shape people, good or bad.

Visiting Watts last week had a profound impact on my imagination. Parts weren’t so easy to romanticize. There was beauty in the people and some of the interactions I saw, but the back drop was grim.

How do you dress up the realities that defy denial?

Busy…busy…and staying super busy I’m now sitting down to reflect on all of the people I’ve met and spoken with over the past week. Then I need to ponder what I read. Jumble up the mess with my brain storms and scrawled notes and you get chaos. But as I now just stop and search for the clarity within, pictures are taking shape.

What is magic? Wonderment or mastery? That’s part of the clarity I’m seeking in an issue still internally in chaos.



Picture from the Jet Propulsion Lab

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Every book starts with a word


Then a sentence follows. Next comes a full page.

That’s how to write a book.

It’s born in your imagination but takes shape by the hard work of writing it down.

I’ve been asked a number of times now about how I wrote Captive. The story remains the same and like so many other things in life it centers around discipline. If there is one issue I complain about constantly it’s the sunny Sunday afternoons that I spend at my desk writing. Life would even be better if I could take my research/reading outside and at least do that. My friends are enjoying the day; I’m working. And believe, me, today here in Santa Monica is lovely/

But that’s how you get just a little bit more done.

Today I won’t work on the book. I’ve taken a few weeks off to focus on another project. And, with the sequel, I’m behind on my research anyways. I’ll read later but have one more thing to do first (after this posting)

But last week I did do an updated outline. I know what happens (in Escape; Captive’s sequel!). I just need to write it in a narrative. Expect bombs and perhaps, I’m, weighing it, a Harold Robbins turn. Anyone remember those days?

And, if you can’t get past the idea, take a class like I did on novel writing. I did one online, at UCLA Extension. It helped me get past word one, and page one.

Happy Sunday!

The picture is Malibu...one morning...a few weeks ago

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sample reading group questions


I was asked for them….I’ve never written reading group questions before. So, below is draft one. If you haven’t finished the book stop reading now!

1. Captive is about two men who’ve had different options in life and made very different decisions. Character wise, are they similar? Were their lives shaped more by circumstance or by character?

2. The story is told from a woman’s perspective twice: once from the viewpoint of Khalil’s mother, Leila, and the other from George’s wife, Karen. Do their insights add to the story or detract from it? Do you sympathize more for the men after learning something about them from women who love them?

3. Shortly before Khalil turns up at his door, Omar begins to question whether he really wants to die for his jihad. Is this questioning consistent with his character? Why, when pushed, does he ignore his misgivings?

4. Stacy and Jennifer are both smart women who make foolish choices with respect to men. They are minor characters in the book so less fully explored. What about them or their romantic partners provides insights into these disastrous romantic choices?

5. George and Khalil both love to read. George brings Khalil an assortment of books during the captivity. What insights do the book choices add?

6. Captive is essentially about people who are captive in different senses of the word. Is it easier for these characters to break out of their physical or mental captivity? Do any of them truly escape by the end of the book?

7. Is the story line very situation specific or does it have recurring elements from a larger literary or historical perspective?

8. Do George and Khalil ever begin to like each other? Why does Khalil shoot George but not kill him (presumably, he could have ensured George died with another or better placed shot but doesn’t).

9. What happens after the book ends to each of the main characters that perhaps wouldn’t have happened had the Captive events never taken place?

10. George struggles to get information from someone who doesn’t open up easily. Is he effective at his job based on how events occur at the end?

The picture is of the San Francisco Bay and taken by Jonathan Dugan of BitTorrent

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Learning from Hollywood: story telling


Story telling is simply the ability to engage with an audience and draw them into a world of your own creation. It was a central topic of discussion at a recent conference I attended.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center Leadership Forum was at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on May 16 and 17. As a writer, I’m obviously a huge believer in the power of story. What did I learn at the conference on the topic? Or, perhaps to be more precise, what was the message on weaving an effective story?

1. Engage your audience.

2. Make them think differently.

3. Customize or personalize.

4. Touch emotions; no overkill.

5. Keep the characters authentic and believable. None of us is perfect; humanize our characters’ flaws and bless them with some. Certain types of people will dress, think and speak in a predictable way. Portraying them otherwise is false at best, preachy at worst.

6. Context. Always.

7. Respect your audience. Don’t pander or talk down to them.

8. Immerse them in a new world that you create.

9. “Good artists borrow: great artists steal”. Draw story lines from mythology or other common narratives that have crossed history and generations (the Bible, Shakespeare, coming of age...). “A myth is news that’s still news”.

10. Trust the audience’s ability to take on something (a willful suspension of disbelief). Let them decide what they want to take in of what you provide.

11. Artistry and technology work hand in hand.

12. “Good stories are familiar with the content of our unconscious. Bad stories are too turbulent, violent or emotional”.

13. Create a predicament for our character and then provide a solution.

The above draws heavily from a panel of super producers: Don Hahn, Doug Wick and Marcy Carsey.

While a list can’t tell a story a conference is a dense flow of information and hard to summarize in a blog posting. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

But to sum, I view a story based on its outline or structure…then how does that narrative flow? The above rules provide the meat that then sits on those bones and grabs (or doesn’t grab) an audience. I’ll be reading The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim, recommended by Doug Wick.

I also wrote a related posting on my investment banking blog that covers a broader range of topics from the conference. www.ibla.us

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why not on Nook…asks Barnes and Noble loyalist?


Umm…

Captive is now!

And I did it myself on Barnes and Noble’s PubIt! site (my main publisher contact is abroad; I retained the rights to Captive; Nook sees going directly through them and going through PubIt! as essentially the same). I was surprised to realize that Captive wasn’t on Nook, and even more shocked to receive an email stating such. For, Captive (hard copy) is on barnesandnoble.com and in some of their stores through my publisher. I’d just assumed it was also on Nook (first rule in life and publishing…assume nothing).

As my publisher (and many others) knows I am pretty proactive about publishing and marketing opportunities. I’m the original “just do it” type which is why I’d partnered with BitTorrent to explore that opportunity.

Unfortunately, I can explain technology better than I can implement it (I’m too literal and start every service call with “tell me what web page you’re on. No, read me the url letter by letter, please.”). But, to my credit, I did set up my home network just because…why not? And, though my son claims it doesn’t work in his room (Linkys…location of his room with respect to the box) it works everywhere else in the house. The PubIt! process is much easier than setting up a network.

So…Captive… I went to the site, downloaded the book (in ePub format though a word file will do), compressed my cover and blew it. As I tend to do. But I figured out my mistake (a kink and PubIt! is fixing it…it would be me) and now my book is on Nook! It took under an hour, easily. One note, I had a cover already so I’d advise pre-planning that part.

I seem to be becoming an expert in publishing options; I wrote a book and have a technology/media/business background so getting creative is natural for me. The publishing world is changing so fast. As with all businesses, especially those evolving quickly, proactively trying new things can and does make the difference between those who succeed and fail. Maybe it’s me, but I thought writing the book was the easy part. Turns out marketing trumps writing any day with respect to complexity.

What most disturbed me about not being on Nook was that the device (and B&N) has a loyal and devoted audience. Captive should be there. A friend (different B&N loyalist; I seem to know many) had his local Manhattan outlet send a copy of Captive across the country to him since his store was sold out. Second rule in life…don’t offend the gorillas in your industry. Okay, sorry for stating the obvious, but B&N is a huge presence for writers.

Slogging through the sequel to Captive (some days it’s sailing through writing the sequel but I’m editing now…go see my cranky tweets on twitter @meganlisajones) I’m also trying to figure out how to best distribute and promote it, using what I’ve learned from Captive.

My BitTorrent related audience is amazingly interconnected. I’m confident that I can find them when the next book is ready. Now I’m building an audience on Barnes and Noble…not a bad step to take this week. And nothing beats direct interaction with your readers.

The publishing options for new writers are great, much as many are complaining about declining sales and less support for new authors. Building an audience has never been easy; the new options are overwhelming but they also provide such opportunity. Amazon and Barnes and Noble are letting new writers develop their audience (if it exists) inexpensively; publishers can watch their efforts and better determine which writers could benefit from their resources for later books.

Please, please buy Captive on the Nook and write a review on Barnes and Noble’s site. They are supporting new writers; I’d like to support them back!

…very glad to be not only on Kindle but now also on Nook (we are currently working on iTunes books…my understanding is that it’s a formatting issue).

Feedback from other authors or questions about PubIt! or anything discussed above are very welcome. Email me at meganlisajones1@gmail.com

Dolphin photo from Ana Vitalia (thanks!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Are we driving some of our content creators underground?


Today we “officially” released the results of the Captive/BitTorrent promotion: over 400,000 downloads in about two weeks…globally.

I wrote a book, got an agent, got frustrated, tried to find a new agent, got even more frustrated, went with a small publisher (instead of looking for an agent any more), then partnered with BitTorrent. I now have a global audience and a lot more options.

I wasn’t the first “artist” as part of BitTorrent’s new artist program. They’ve had bands, movies and now an audience funded series. The resources available to new artists are staggering: sites that promote or aggregate them with a built in following; drastically cheaper equipment or options for filming, recording, printing, distributing, editing and marketing; social networks and peer to peer communities; and even Kindle with it’s tiered pricing. I could go on with the last sentence but what I wrote says enough.

Contrast that with the “traditional” media world. They are supporting and promoting fewer and fewer new artists preferring to play it safe and stick with established “names”. Not that I necessarily disagree with them. The content world is notoriously hard to predict and studios, publishers and other promoters have lost money on too many artists (new and old) over the years.

But (see above) part of my “I got frustrated” was hearing too many times that the audience only wants celebrities, vampire books and lite chic lit. 400,000 plus downloads proves otherwise (there are lots of free book downloads that don’t build such an audience).

Isn’t it time to interact more with the audience and not force them into “alternative” media? The artists are already there with options for those who want more than celebrities, vampire books and chic lit.

What will I do with the sequel? Don’t know yet; hopefully, finish it (should be writing that and not this…). But the options only continue to expand.

Why are we not building and promoting new artists more in the traditional media world? The costs are so much lower… Some studio or publisher needs to question why they really need to spend so much in this day and age to launch a new artist.

My favorite example of how we can’t so easily define quality content, YouTube’s Annoying Orange, just got a television deal. Watch it and tell me the cost structure to launch those videos online was material in any studio budget (my kids love Annoying Orange so that isn’t a critique! Also, my son loves Superskamory…a 17 year old who makes Mario walkthrough videos…favored over any TV show in his world).

What fun we’ll have watching new artists as they build audiences outside the traditional spheres! I do believe that the traditional studio models will evolve to match the new reality that they’re no longer the only option for a talented new artist.

This piece is a companion to the one I wrote on my investment banking blog; www.ibla.us on whether we’re driving part of our audience underground.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Today I wrote about desire…


Should it be a sin? Or is it perhaps pure at a level we/I never considered? Desire isn’t about gaining or controlling something, is it? No, desire is about admiring and not knowing if you can touch. Dare you?

What about when you desire but know that you can never achieve the object of your desire? So many factors can interfere. Timing, past decisions, physical or other limitations, fate and, yes, God. Isn’t the resulting emotion reverential and self sacrificing? Does that pain feel good or does the knowledge that you’ll get past it suffice?

To desire. We all do. Yet of all the confessions I’ve ever heard this sentiment is the one I’ve heard the least about. Perhaps what we desire defines who we are (and how many people will we trust with that bit of information).

Can you overcome desire? Of course! But you pay a price. At least that’s what I wrote about today.

I like the word. Desire. So many possibilities.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Digital promotion highs; blank page lows


During the BitTorrent/Captive promotion I loved watching the digital download numbers soar. My Facebook and Twitter numbers jumped. I got direct emails from readers…thankfully positive... After sitting in front of a computer screen or hard copy printout for so long writing the book seeing some actual proof of readers is gratifying.

But each day, no matter how exciting or interesting an outward directed event is (even positive feedback from readers!) we are all still responsible for our own work product.

Writing is creative, very much so. But it’s also work. And unless I’m writing I’m not a writer, but a dreamer. Can you force creative work? Absolutely! A friend of mine tells me repeatedly that I should be writing X number of pages a day, even if I have to throw them out. I tune his number out since he’s much more optimistic about what I can complete in a day than I am.

But his point about the discipline is important.

I threw out almost a whole draft of Captive’s sequel. I was writing it to meet someone else’s deadline and I hadn’t done the requisite research to start writing. Clutter and mess. But know what? That first draft, now in the trash, helped me puzzle through the new book - which is so different yet clearly the next step.

All of that time writing helped the draft lead me to where it needed to go. Much as I regret those hours of typing bad fiction they made me a better writer. Now, I still need to continue researching (I need to stop writing these research heavy books) but the story line’s clarity simplifies the process.

I wrote Captive late at night, when my son was napping/daughter at school and occasionally in the car pulled over by the roadside to jot ideas down. Now, sometimes I’ll sit inside my house and stare at the beautiful Santa Monica weather all Sunday afternoon, even when friends have invited me to do something fun, writing. I hate that part. But I do feel proud of what I finish by the time the sun goes down.

The blogs are easy. Tip tap and they’re done. The books are a true commitment of attention and time. Yet when I finish one it contains a whole new world of my creation.

Thank you to my new and old readers, BitTorrent and all of those who listened to me jabber on and on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Democratizing media: update on the Captive/BitTorrent promotion



Democratizing because Captive reached a large, global audience, and so quickly. As of a few minutes ago the completed download total is over 350,000 in under two weeks. I can't comment on BitTorrent's traffic but I can comment on the percentage that clicks through to my sites. Thus far my traffic comes from all parts of the world: Africa, Asia, the USA, Europe, Latin America and Australia/New Zealand. Countries include Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt, Iran, Tunisia and Algeria where I doubt Captive would have a chance of getting published.

One simple thriller and all of those people! I'll be writing more about my experiences with the audience and BitTorrent over the next few weeks.

The picture is UCLA early this morning.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Juggling things when you get busy



My week has been crazy!

My children are on spring break (meaning no school); the Bittorrent promotion has bee ongoing (and going well). I had my Coro class this week (executive education in public policy). How to juggle the practical realities of life when they are all thrown at you at once.

Please tell me...

I draw from yoga and my classes at Maha. "Breathe," Steve Ross, one of my teachers said to me when I went to his class at one of the absolute lows of my life. It was the best advice I've ever gotten. Overwhelmed, lost, confused, scared, scatter-brained or in pain. Breathe.

Mostly I did that this week. I also ate too much candy, snapped at my kids and went to bed way too early only to not sleep. But overall, the week was magical. I connected with so many people. My kids, my classmates, friends, readers and more. Ultimately, life is about people.

Monday, when my kids are back at school, I'll be back at yoga.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Captive and Bittorrent: Democratizing media?


We’re early into our two week joint promotion but I’m amazed thus far with the international buy in. I’ll write a short posting now as I’m spending the night with my kids (and supposed to be making dinner). But the response has been global.

On my www.meganlisajones.com site (which gets about 1% traffic wise as does Bittorrent (www.bittorrent.com) with the download, I’ve seen amazing traffic. The hits have come from every continent except Antarctica. And, I’ve gotten real, meaningful traffic from countries not known for free media: China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt and others.

Media is global now. It’s also democratized. This one posting (rare) will go on both my blogs. Please continue supporting out efforts to create a real community. Much appreciated.

The message really does belong to the street and not the elite.

Photo from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Novel complete: publish, don't or BitTorrent promotion?



Link to BitTorrent edition download http://www.clearbits.net/get/1684-captive---bittorrent-edition.torrent

Okay, you finished your book so now what? Authors have so many options now that didn’t exist before yet overall book sales are down.

What did I do?

I started with the crazy normal path of finding agents who represented authors in my genre, sent them a manuscript then read the standard form letter of rejection.

No fun. And very time consuming.

I entered a contest. Amazon partners with Penguin each year to sponsor a new novel contest. They accept up to 10,000 entries globally and the winner gets a publishing contract with Penguin. I made the semi-finals but didn’t win.

That and an introduction got me an agent. I still adore her but she was too big an agent for a starting writer like me. Her other clients were and are giants. I didn’t even qualify as a midget. To make my project worthwhile for her I needed a franchise…which meant another book. Only I was working full time and don’t write chronologically. The first hundred pages would have sufficed but I don’t write that way.

Meanwhile, I’d gotten to know the people at Polimedia, a small publisher expert in online media marketing. As I worked with companies in the digital media space I saw that traditional media (including book publishers) revenues and business models were getting hit; which resulted in less support for new artists. I decided to have Polimedia publish my book as doing so gave me more flexibility online; I also felt that getting real commitment and support from a more traditional publisher was a long shot. While Polimedia didn’t have the might or influence of a larger publisher it did have flexibility, distribution relationships in place and unique marketing capabilities. And, importantly, I retained all related rights and control over Captive.

Marketing fell heavily on my shoulders, with traditional book promotional events, plus Facebook, Twitter, a Captive site and the blogs. Thanks to Amy at Pissant Productions I even made Captive related videos and put up a YouTube channel.

Then I handed a copy of my novel to someone at BitTorrent (Claude). They asked if I wanted to be part of their new artist program (and the first book thus represented). After initially being shocked (books aren’t done that way) I said great!

What I like about the BitTorrent promotion is that we can hopefully connect with a meaningful audience and build a new business model for books…one that is interactive and audience focused. Being a Silicon Valley girl at heart I love the new technology enabled options available in the media world. We aren’t replacing so much as building alternatives. What could be better than being a part of that experimentation? Let’s all see what happens.

My advice?
Find a contest – like Amazon’s – or a new opportunity – like BT’s new artist program (www.bittorrent.com).

Go with a traditional, experienced agent if you can find one who believes in your book. My issue with this route is that fewer new writers are being developed so finding that agent takes a tremendous amount of time. But if you can make it happen then do. A big name publisher has more resources and impact on the market (if they are committed to you). Still. Period.

A smaller publisher versus self publishing? In both cases, the marketing falls heavily on your shoulders. Polimedia has marketing expertise which makes my life much easier (and relationships with relevant journalists, bloggers and other influencers). They also have distribution relationships in place (though they decided to avoid Borders and were right in that decision).

I don’t know what I would have done had I followed the traditional “self publishing” thing. It’s an option – which I didn’t explore – that has worked well for many. And the economics, if you’re a good marketer or already have an audience – are much more favorable than is going with a large publisher. (But you have a much larger work load!).

What’s most exciting is that the media world is now open to experimentation and variety. Writers tend to be (hopefully) creative types and we’re now so much less restricted in what we can do and how we choose to engage with our audience.

I really hope to get feedback on Captive. Indeed, I want thoughts and ideas on Escape, the sequel I’m currently writing. I’ve moved the action to Northern Africa and New York and brought in the ideologies and strategies of revolution. Anyone have any character name suggestions?


Thanks to Amy at Pissant Productions for doing my videos.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don't take input on draft one




I overcame a major (writer’s) stumbling block yesterday: I stopped caring about the quality of my writing as I was writing a first draft. By the way, my first drafts aren’t good (more a sketch of the painting to come…).

When I wrote Captive I just sat down and wrote…no one reading, commenting or adding input. Then, for a while, I worked with an agent who pushed book two. She wanted it on a time table I couldn’t meet and provided suggestions with each new set of pages; the suggestions weren’t, in my mind, consistent. I got confused and lost sight of where the book was going. I ended up trashing most of it.

Not her fault, however. I should have ignored her and done my own thing. I don’t write chronologically…she wanted chronological. I don’t edit the first draft so her comments only got me confused. Instead, I sketch out the book on the page and then revisit what I’ve done after it’s done.

I lost confidence in myself, my work and that book. And much of the time I spent was a waste.

But instead of crying over spilt milk I’ve learned from the experience. I should have just said no. Enamored by her client base and reputation I deferred to her judgment instead of honoring my own. Yet I’m the one writing!

And I have a new draft. This time, Escape draft has moved to Northern Africa and New York; I’ve left a war zone and headed into a revolution. I’m not second guessing what I write as I spell out the words in the draft. So far I like the 130 plus pages!. Should I show it to an agent now I’d have to explain that all of the first three chapters could end up being the real first chapter; or, as with Captive, I may write the first chapter after the rest of the book is done.

And I’ve asked myself, how did I make that mistake? After all, even when taking UCLA classes and discussing my first book I evaluated the comments before making changes (deciding first if I agreed or didn’t). For the most part (and coming from an investment banking background) I analyze things, and while I’ll consider argument, do hold firm on my beliefs. So what happened?

Two factors weighed heavy and the first continues to nag at me. When I wrote Captive I just wanted to finish a novel. Quality was beyond my ambition. With the second book I now have something to prove: that I can write a book as good or better. The flops tend to come with the number two (in most areas) leaving you with the label “lucky”. Second, I deferred to someone with more experience. The agent knows the book world, market and quality. Yet I forgot that she doesn’t write. While I may sound critical of her sometimes I’m not; she taught me about the conviction a writer must have as they create. Revisions come after the initial draft is done and you personally have revised it a few time.

I’ll never write her way again; I plan on continuing to write my way.

Escape is coming along…not as fast as I’d like but isn’t that how life too often works!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Character; or, do you have a moral compass?




Last weekend someone (Parissh) commented to me that while many are capable some are so lacking in moral compass that their skills or polish no longer matter. Wow!

In this day and age of front page scandal are we judged on character or news value?

The picture is of one of our cats. She has many names: Mischief is the official one but I mostly call her Kit Kat (don’t ask me what I yell when mad at her). She looks like an angel and is loving as can be. She is also a magnet for trouble and always finds everything she shouldn’t. If something is broken in the house the culprit is always Kit Kat. But, sweet and adoring, does that make her a bad cat?

How do we define character? We all make mistakes. Which ones condemn us to the door?

I asked someone to define “personal responsibility” and he couldn’t. I judged. Then I spoke to two pastors (inner city ones) and realized that I shouldn’t. And I was aiming for a funny post...

Trust; faith; and watching people over time? I question people and don’t always have the answer. But I do know that I’m willing to cut those I love some slack. I always say that you commit to people and not (defined, always your definition) relationships. I’ve been rewarded with a few disappointments but so many more wondrous surprises.

What’s to Goo Goo Dolls song…?

If you don’t ask too much from me
You may not be let down

Friday, March 18, 2011

AAP announces books ebook sales up 116% while mass market paperback sales are down 30%




The below is from the AAP web site:

E-Books, Downloadable Audio Books Continue Growth
Based on AAP Publishers January 2011 Sales Report
March 17, 2011, New York, NY– E-books and downloadable audio books continue to grow in popularity according to the January 2011 sales report of the Association of American Publishers.

Figures for the first month of the new year show that E-book net sales increased by 115.8% vs January 2010 (from $32.4 Million to $69.9M). Sales of Downloadable Audio Books also rose by 8.8% vs the previous year ($6.0M to $6.5M). As AAP reported last month in its December 2010 monthly report and full 2010 analysis, E-book sales have increased annually and significantly in all nine years of tracking the category.

Among the other highlights of the January 2011 report:

Total books sales on all platforms, in all categories, hit $805.7 Million for January. This was a slight drop from January 2010’s $821.5M sales (-1.9%).
Adult Hardcover category fell from $55.4M to $49.1M (-11.3%), Adult Paperback dropped from $104.2M to $83.6 (-19.7%) and Adult Mass Market declined from $56.4M to $39.0 (-30.9%)
In the Children’s/Young Adult category, Hardcover sales were $31.2M in January 2011 vs $31.8M in January 2010 (-1.9%) while Paperbacks were $25.4M, down 17.7% from $30.9M in January 2010.
Physical Audio Books sales were $7.3M vs $7.9M the previous year (-6.7%).
Sales of Religious Books grew by 5.6%, from $49.8M to $52.6M.
Sales in the Higher Education category were $382.0M for January 2011, a slight drop (-1.4%) from $387.6M the previous year. K-12 sales hit $82.6M for the month vs $97.0M for the previous year (-14.9%).
In Professional and Scholarly Books, sales grew 1.3%, from $51.2M to $51.8M. Sales of University Press Hardcovers were $3.9M in January 2011 vs $4.5M the previous year (-14.0%) while University Press Paperbacks were $6.2M vs $6.7M (-7.8%).
All figures cited represent domestic net sales for U.S. book publishers.

About AAP
The Association of American Publishers is the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry. Its 300 members include most of the major commercial, education and professional publishers as well as smaller and non-profit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies. They publish content on every platform for a global audience.


What do the numbers mean to me: a numbers girl who writes?

It means that all content providers - either the actual content providers or the means of distribution - need to focus more on the audience experience than on historical business models.

The world continues to change: my seven year old son declared no more movies today. He hates going to a movie theater and has lost interest in the movies once they come to him. If he wants to watch "video" he does it on a tv or computer (dvr or YouTube).

Book buyers are showing a move to digital from mass market paperback. Ease? Selection? Convenience?

My favorite? On Kindle I read the first chapters of the book before I commit to buying it.

As I write Captive's sequel I hope to stay present in the experience I'm creating. I've chosen to move the action to New York and Northern Africa. Can I educate while still telling a story.

And that story is key. Who wants to put down a novel in which you're fully engrossed?

Anyone who wants to provide insight into improving my readers' experience is welcome to do so. People are still reading. But with more choice they are demanding better content, access to the writer and a better and richer overall experience.

The picture? My backyard and where I thought about this post.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Today I didn't write at all...




So says the “writer”.

I had work to do. Yoga. I wasted hours and wonder where they went. Blogs.

I’ll write for a bit now. The book – Captive’s sequel – is so clear in my head. Why can’t I get it on paper?

My mind has been a jumble: projects, kids, friends and life. How do we manage it all? I really want to just sit down with a piece of chocolate and glass of wine (in front of my fireplace) and pretend I can ignore the pressures.

But I really can’t.

End of the month we have an interesting promotion for Captive. The first time this sort of distribution has been done (legally?) for a novel. I think.

I’ll keep you posted and I’ll try to write more often.

Over and over I keep getting asked about publishing a first novel (mine was with a small publisher that had distribution channels in place … after a bad experience with a “big” agent). So I’ll be writing more on that going forward.

Once you have a book what do you do?

Now I need to at least try to work on the next book.

Happy Sunday evening.

The picture? I used it for www.ibla.us a short while ago a just like it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I sat down to write today



I sat down to write today and I didn't.

So many things I did do. Writing wasn't one of them. Our best intentions... And how do we juggle it all?

I gossiped; shot yet another video for Captive, spent time with my kids, went to yoga, obsessed about a bunch of things and did some actual work.

I didn't write. And I was planning to write so much. Behind on the blogs. Doing well on Captive's sequel Escape (But it really does take serious time to write a book doesn't it?). Last night at Coro I learned about HUD, budget cuts and our recent local elections. Sounds so high brow but I still didn't write.

How do I get everything done in a day? As if I know.

And, tonight, hopefully I'll read yesterdays's paper. We'll see about today's.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Charlie Sheen Fired: More Important than Hosni Mubarak Resigning?



No, I’m not kidding. And, what’s more, I’m not going to take a cheap shot at the media/news industry (or bloggers) and say that they cover Sheen’s escapades more thoroughly than they do Mubarak’s.

I’m serious about the question. What impact did each change have on your daily life?

If you watch Two And A Half Men regularly you might be disappointed. If you were planning a near term trip to Egypt then you’ve probably cancelled. So many of us don’t see the butterfly effect from an event that we read about on or offline.

The butterfly effect is that Chaos theory principle which states something along the lines of a butterfly batting its wings causes a hurricane on the other side of the world. In simple terms, small events may have unintended and large consequences that are hard to trace back to their seemingly unrelated cause.

Mubarak’s resignation and the related protests throughout Africa and the Middle Eastern region, and attempting (seemingly) to extend to China, is showing us how control of news, democracy and other communications has been lost. A government can shut down the Internet, phone lines/connections and social networking sites but the damage has already been done. People have seen that other realities exist and they’ve learned how to seize control of their own communications (even risking their lives).

People don’t like to be controlled. Give them the tools and they will break those repressive yokes.

Iran and China are doing quite a job quelling dissent for now (by murdering and terrorizing ruthlessly). Libya is less effective.

Sheen? How does he tie into all of this? Sheen doesn’t like to be controlled either and he has rebelled against his boss (then there is that bad behavior issue). He lives in a democracy so has been able to find his voice and express it. Warner Brothers exercised their legal rights and fired him. Democracies do work better than repressive dictatorships…in my opinion.

In our country Sheen is on the networks ranting. In Egypt they speak out on Facebook. In each case, the people have found a way to be heard. And we don’t yet know the ultimate consequences. I’m staying hopeful.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Do you remember The Shining?



Writing is easy but the editing will drive you (me) nuts! I’ve been comparing myself to Jack Nicholson in The Shining after the impending doom is no longer impending but a full horror. Sitting in a room looking at the same material over and trying to make the real decisions about its direction can drive you (me) nuts. I love writing but the editing gets laborious and that is when I start to feel the pressure of, “what if it’s no good?”

The phone, candy, cats and even getting the mail can be welcome distractions. Ultimately, I need to face the computer screen and just do it. I’ve been writing less on this blog because I’ve been so busy with the writing and editing of Escape, Captive’s sequel.

It has undergone major revisions and moved to Cairo (and part stays in NY).

I like Cairo but visited it so long ago. Would I recognize it if I went back? Most probably yes but as with so many places I’ve re-visted, things do change.

I have a lunch appointment today but then will be back at the computer editing this afternoon. Oh, and I need to pay bills (or will have no power to keep the computer running).

The book is finally making sense. How long will it take for me to finish a full draft? We’ll see.

The photo is frost on my patio furniture this morning (in sunny Santa Monica).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

RIOT; or does that just sell newspapers?



Fascinated, I’m watching northern Africa and the Middle East. People want rights. They want to be heard and the stories are visual, dramatic and touching. We hear the human voice and empathize with the pain.

I cry at senseless death too.

But what remains when the camera crews leave?

We all hope that they get democracy, jobs, equal rights and an education. In an ideal world…

I’m writing some, in Escape (Captive’s sequel) about these people’s protests. The situation there fascinates me. How to take the protest and turn it into good government and not a much worse dictatorships (known to happen after the military takes over). If these countries are lucky, strong leaders, who value the people, will arise and fill the power void. If not, the situations will only get worse.

Revolutions are so much written about in literature. You have the Russians, the French, the American, and so many others. Any time of great change brings out the imagination. A new order will come to replace the old. What will it look like?

Perhaps I should read more science fiction. I’ve read that in those books the most creative visions take hold to captivate a reader’s mind. My 2012 resolution? For now, reality is offering plenty a fertile ground for imagining a new reality. We started online and now it’s spreading beyond into people’s lives.

A few of the people who “like” Captive on Facebook live in Iran. I love that! No country is an island anymore…though many still don’t have connectivity and so can’t hook up to the world. Soon, soon.

As we’ve seen with the coming of this new year, change does come.

The pictures of the riots may sell newspapers: because boundaries continue to blur and the world gets smaller.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is Democracy the Best Religion




Is democracy the best religion: exportable and broadly workable in today’s diverse and divisive world? As practiced in the United States democracy is a representative form of government – with the majority deciding on their representatives. It is less the classic ancient Greek implementation – which went directly to the public for policy and decisions. Armed by the media, we are led to believe that democracy works for all countries. But where in modern history has democracy worked? In Haiti, Somalia, Iran and Zimbabwe? In such countries, democracy is synonymous with anarchy – run by an elected tyrant.

President Mubarak just chose to step down from his Egyptian post (nudged) and the military has taken over. They are reevaluating the country’s constitution. Events are too new for us to know whether the protestors’ cries were really accepted and a true democracy will be allowed to reign. Northern Africa and select middle-eastern countries have similarly been facing cries for freedom from long subjugated masses.
Not so long ago, Iran – nominally a democracy - had mass demonstrations – matched by bullets - against a (most likely) rigged election. Honduras ousted its elected president – Manuel Zelaya – who, taking lessons from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, was using elected power to change the country’s Constitution on his behalf (and was arrested based upon a warrant from the country’s Supreme Court). The American government supports Zelaya – though we don’t support his advisor, Chavez (also elected). We’ve long supported Mubarak and other like regimes in the region. With such examples, can we say that democracy has proven its workability outside of Western-oriented, economically developed countries?

Indeed, the list of recent successful (not nominal) democracies is small, and includes: Chile, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Portugal, Spain and South Africa. What sets these countries apart from those that are democracies in name but not in practice? After all, in 1900 only 10 countries were democracies. That number reached 30 by mid-20th century then didn’t grow for 25 years. By 2005, 119 of the world’s 190 countries considered themselves democracies. So what defines a “true” democracy?

True democracy requires certain factors including: a strong rule of law; property rights; a broad based, effective educational system; a well developed middle class; separation of church and state; a system of checks and balances; fair elections; stable transitions to democracy; a multi-party system; freedoms of the press and speech; and incentives for the wealthy to create jobs and retain their capital domestically. Of these factors, a few typically precede the others. A strong rule of law and – somewhat related – property rights are non-negotiable foundations for true democracy.

Surprisingly, modern true democracies often follow disciplined dictatorships that established such basic rights. An enforceable code of laws creates certainty, fairness, recourse and a basis upon which to make long term planning assumptions. Property rights – and registration of property –protect the rich and support a functioning infrastructure: encouraging the wealthy to retain capital domestically and invest these assets in creating new jobs and industries. Collectively, these rights also provide the poor with stepping stones out of poverty by giving them an asset base to leverage and use as a foundation for building businesses. Capital is what powers a market economy – which then creates a solid middle class.

But establishing such a system can be rocky. In Chile the media still treats lauds Allende (democratic – elected by a minority) and demonizes Pinochet (dictator). Yet under Allende Chile had anarchy and a disrespect of law. The newly empowered masses showed no respect for contract or property rights and the economy spiraled downwards. Chile hadn’t built the necessary base to support a new democracy. Pinochet restored the rule of law, repaired the economy and brought back the middle class. His advisors included free market disciples such as Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago school of thought. True democracy followed; built on the framework Pinochet established using his dictatorial power.

Russia wasn’t prepared for democracy after communism and its rule of law was both weak and selectively enforced. It became a country of mobsters – with the former communist leaders being the mafia bosses. Putin – elected – was a dictator who restored order. Have the changes necessary to establish a true democracy been implimented? Thus far, the signs aren’t promising – in part because the rule of law is still being exercised as a political tool.

Zimbabwe took property rights away from the rich (white) farmers leading to starvation and ultimately chaos. The wealthy fled the country, taking their money and farming expertise. Foreign capital followed them. Today the country is in anarchy.

In contrast, in Peru Hernando De Soto Polar advised (elected) Presidents Fujimori and Garcia – to reform the property system which stabilized the economy and the currency. This upward mob of newly empowered (and better educated) used their newfound capital to increase production and expand the country’s collective wealth and prosperity. DeSoto has since gone on to advise numerous other “fledgling” democracies in helping create the strong middle class and accessible capital necessary for building a true democracy.

Can a true democracy flourish if hindered by religious, ethnic or other inconsistent ideologies? No democracy controlled by religious zealots has yet succeeded. Imams in a mosque aren’t competent rulers. Ultimately, they are taught to honor a holy book and not the realities of modern geopolitics. Dissenters face religious decrees and damnation.

Indeed, ethnic tensions, language differences and religious conflicts greatly complicate the implementation of democracy – the elected majority uses its power against the minority groups. Many countries have used the cover of democracy (or other forms of majority rule) to descend into anarchy, to limit the rights of minorities and to cover up – and perpetuate - war crimes. Yet, the United States – itself the greatest melting pot that ever existed – has shown that people will work together regardless of their differences – in a democracy.

Each political system has proven that the leaders and how they govern profoundly affects its eventual success. Yet no other system outside true democracy gives the people a strong voice and a real chance at long term prosperity. The Internet has “democratized” communication bringing a broad meeting of the masses – making democracy perhaps more relevant today than it has ever been. And, recent events have demonstrated, the people will speak up for their rights when elected leaders try to deprive them of true democracy. To quote Winston Churchill, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”