Building Common Ground

I had a great experience tonight at the Teradata Apex Awards, sitting at a table with a Canadian and three Koreans, all marketers, and it reminded me of the importance of bridging the gaps between people.

When the Korean folks sat down, I had the feeling they felt a bit intimidated by the whole event, and they probably felt a little out of place, although their English skills were 99% better than my skills in any non-English language. There must have been 500 people, and the tables were primarily full of US business representatives, although there were some people from other countries. As an introvert, I can relate, regardless of whether I can speak the language or not.

We introduced each other and immediately started talking shop, because we’re marketers, right? Customer-centric this, data-driven analysis that, and we used that common ground to rebound into Dennis Rodman’s contraversial trip to North Korea, the sadness of the Malaysian airline crash this weekend, our Canadian buddy’s travels to Kathmandu and the Everest basecamp. We even discussed the customer-centric philosophy of Wells Fargo (where I work).

Still, there wasn’t so much common ground there. Politics is fine and all, but we really didn’t have an emotional connection to much except a common appreciation of the sad separation of North and South Korea.

So, I turned the conversation to Starcraft, because I’m a nerd, and that’s where I go, you know? That’s a bit of a risk… but an educated one. If you don’t know, Starcraft is a popular video game worldwide, and many South Koreans play and watch with a vim and vigor that’s normally reserved for South American football fans. I happen to be a fan of the sport myself, and so was the Hyundai representative. It helped to get us excited about something cool and fun. We also talked about the awesome films Oldboy and Five Fingers of Death, and the tendency of Chinese film production companies to use Korean directors.

We had an animated, fun discussion, and it all came from finding our common ground. Our common games, work, and stories all made that possible in a way that gave us an immediate connection. This is the kind of cultural connection that our world needs more of if we’re to move peacefully into the next century, and it makes me happy to see that it’s possible, and easier than ever with the proliferation of the internet and global cinema and video game distribution.

I believe this is necessary, even if it’s Dennis Rodman and a young dictator. Because in the end, every one of us will find the need in our lives to bridge a gap with some common ground, any common ground, to feel comfortable, and to share our experiences and our needs with other people who have no idea what we want or feel.

You gotta start somewhere, right? So, challenge for the day: get out there and make some connections with other people. Let them know what you love, and learn what they love. You never know. Those connections could last a lifetime, or change the course of history.

More Women, Please

The Bechdel Test has been on my mind recently. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a simple little ditty you can sing in your sleep, namely:


1. The story/movie/whatever has two named women characters
2. Who have a conversation (meaning that they both talk to each other)
3. About something, not a man.

Anything. Shoes. Genetic manipulation of sapling DNA. Clouds of choking dust. The freaking wall color. Anything. (For a list of movies, see BechdelTest.com)


As they say in some commentaries, this is neither a guarantee of a balanced story nor of a story that has women as compelling or powerful characters. However, it’s a start, you know? It’s a start.

Because, when you apply the opposite rule, you get like 100% of movies and 100% of books ever written, except maybe Thelma and Louise (which I haven’t seen, so I’m just making things up, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie or read a book that did not have two male characters having a conversation about not women).

Romantic comedies are particularly bad at this, I’ve noticed. There actually are women characters in romcoms, but they don’t often bother to discuss anything other than the problem getting or having a relationship with a man. Unless it’s a lesbian comedy, of which I can think of like one independent film. Maybe two. Which is sad.

I think one of the problems is that there’s not a lot of competition on this front yet, despite the whole women’s movement. There’s not a lot of content out there yet that goes the other way. Because I believe that to obtain balance, we need to have content available that shows the other side of the spectrum, dramatically. Books and movies that minimize the male voice as much as possible.

Why? Well, because in my personal world, I work with women. I work with a lot of women. I live with women. Believe it or not, I respect my friends and co-workers who are women. And I rarely, if ever, discuss men with them. Seriously.

So, if they say you should write about what you know, I really should be writing about women running multi-billion-dollar Fortune 500 companies. I should be writing about girls who build things out of cardboard and duct tape. I should be writing about women who create cooking and entertainment shows on YouTube and become famous.

Because that’s life today. I’m just kind of sad that our fiction in many ways hasn’t caught up to the reality of the world of fact around us.

I’d also like to see more women in video games. And no, I’m not talking about cheesecakey women who fight with big guns, have bigger guns hiding under their clothes, and look like they should be posing for a glamour shot on a nerd’s shelf. I’m talking about women like in The Walking Dead video game, who try to navigate the zombie apocalypse. I’m talking about Mass Effect, where my Commander Shepherd can be female, has women on her team, and hardly ever talks about anything other than the mission.

So, if you’re like me and you want to see more of this stuff, buy it. Promote it. Talk about it. Because it’s all about us. We’ve got to make our voices heard, every day.

Wow. Soap box. Step off, dude…

Back to your not-so-regularly scheduled commentary…

Wouldn’t it be cool?

Oh, it totally would be cool to have Random House distributing my book. I just found this  2012 Random House video fervently explaining why it’s great to have a major publisher back you as a writer of any sort. 

I totally agree. They seemingly do everything for you – they provide you with an in with the major media networks, they have relationships with book bloggers, they gather audiences to book readings and create viral promotions. They even help you edit your book!

I’m really not being snarky there (well, maybe a little). The things that Random House and the other major publishing houses do is truly awesome. Those groups give your work quite a boost. Some say (although I do not trust these wily rumors) that some publishers will actually pay you to write a book before you have written it.

Now that’s awesome. I wish I could go to work and get paid in advance for my Motivational Technologist gig. Alas, my salary gets paid to me a week or so after I deliver the Motivation or the Technology.

Oh well.

Let’s apply some Motivational Technologist know how and common sense to Random House’s claims.

First, let’s examine the concept that major publishers provide good editorial support for most authors. Random House, according to Yahoo Finance, has over 200 publishing arms. Despite their large size and global reach, they only did $2.2 Billion in revenue in 2011.

That’s revenues, not profit. Much of that gets paid back to authors, who are de-facto contract-employees, but not noted as such. Fortunately, they don’t have to pay most of those authors benefits. By comparison, Costco, a much less sexy operation, but a favorite investment of mine, did $87 Billion in revenues that year (and pays benefits).

Costco? Why compare them? You are right to ask. Well… They employ 170,000 employees. And they’re profitable. They help millions of customers and thousands of manufacturers the world over. If you’ve visited a Costco, you know that it’s fairly hard to get help from one of those diligent employees, simply because of the number of transactions they do. They even sell some Random House books on the side.

Random House reportedly has 5,343 employees. This is prior to them taking over Penguin, though. Still. These employees range from printers to editors. Not all of them are editors. Each editor’s time is restricted. They have to eat and sleep, right? Need time with their mistresses and time to go clubbing in Manhattan, right?

How many books can these editors cook in a year? According to their website, 11,000.

Interesting. How many books came out last year? I’m not really sure, and quick searches yielded zilch (let me know if you know), but I can tell you this. There are, at the time of this writing, 1.8 Million books available on Amazon Kindle.

Here’s a little math for you. 11,000/1,800,000 = 0.6%

Now, I will admit, Kindle does have some older books. I mean, it’s not like Amazon just started selling ebooks a few years ago and not all of the old ones have converted to digital…

Oh. Yeah. They did. Still, some of these books are older. So, what’s current?

Well, in the last 90 days, new releases totaled 170,000. If that is a fairly constant rate, we can multiply by 4 to estimate total new releases for a year. That’s about 680,000 publications. Not precise, but it’ll do for a comparison.

Let’s see… 11,000/680,000 = 2%

So. I guess we all know where the 2% get their editorial services.

Please don’t take this the wrong way all you awesome editors, printers, and publicists out there. You have great taste, great resources, and can be a huge help to any author in polishing a product and marketing it. The thing is, you simply don’t have the time to be a help to every author.

You can and do help about 2%. I’m not one. That’s ok. And in a way, I respect that you want to share with authors and readers more about your business. We all want to be understood.

I hope you will also respect that the other 98% of us also want to be read and heard, and you’re not standing in our way anymore. And I, for one, believe that’s a good thing.




Analysis paralysis and more

Well, at long last, I’ve made a few steps toward my next works.

First, I’ve got pages written for my analysis book. I always wanted to put down in book form some of what I’ve learned working with my friends and colleagues at Wells Fargo. I’ve met many people over the years who seemed to be interested in analytical work but didn’t know how to get into the job, and didn’t think they were technically astute enough to make a career in analysis. Hopefully this book can help connect me to those folks, and maybe even give some decent advice. Regardless, it’s going to be rather funny, because all of the case studies I’m putting in are rather risque. I can’t help it.

Second, I just had a comforting breakthrough on my outline for Demigod Resistance (current title), the second Demigod Chronicles novel. I wouldn’t say that it’s a done deal; you never know what will happen to the plot when the characters get hold of it. Hopefully their ad-libbing will be contained. I’m on track to have the novel finished this year, should all go well.

Third, I procrastinated on writing today in order to put together the cover for Demigod Resistance. You can have a look at it on Facebook. While you’re there, hit me with a ‘Like,’ eh?

Special thanks to my daughter for collaborating with me on the cover design. That girl has a good eye. When she’s older, I bet she’s gonna to be my illustrator.

A Higher Species

What does it mean to be a higher species?

The definition is toyed with by philosophers and scientists constantly, and changed as we come to understand the world around us. Usually, the definition is meant to include ONLY humans, and to exclude all other animals we know of.

What makes us different? We build cities? Ants build cities.

We talk? Whales seem to talk. Heck, one even tried to talk to us.

Lots of things get proposed, but then we find out it’s not what makes us different. Perhaps, like the concept of a disaster needing seven mistakes to happen all together before a plane goes down, we are merely a conglomeration of several dramatic higher level functions all combining to make us unique.

Or perhaps we are wrong to exclude the other animals.

When science fiction writers get hold of this idea, they usually bring in alien species, or ‘raise’ one of our own species to our level. But what is this really? It is an anthropomorphic tendency that people fall into, I think. They want these other species to be like us, but that’s not necessarily needed, in my opinion.

I want to add something to the mix, if it’s not already there: the concept of trust. I don’t know how many other species ‘trust’ other members of their societies to the extent that we do. Perhaps ants do, but I doubt it.

Trust is an intrinsic part of our civilisation. We trust each other not to steal. We trust each other not to scream at each other (most of the time). We trust that something that we own today will be with us down the road. We trust we will be allowed to live peacefully, and to control our own bodies. We go to such extents to solidify these trusts that we imprison (or even kill) those who breach that trust: murderers, thieves, rapists.

When wars are fought, they are generally fought to punish or enforce a trust. A border, the safety of others, etc. Note that our U.N. is reluctant to punish even rogue nations that engage in untrustworthy behaviors within their own borders – so strong is the feeling that we must maintain the trust that we will not interfere with the ruling of another geographic region, lest the other nations not trust us.

The United States Bill of Rights is a list of trusts encoded into our history and our societal DNA.

Trust makes even something like banking go around. Think about why we have banks and what function they serve, aside from greasing the wheels of capitalism. What is that word, but the simple idea that we trust people to follow the money?

Banks take your money and agree to give it back later. We today spend thousands of dollars on credit cards – never even touching the moneys of the past. There’s no gold or silver, there’s no paper with fancy images. Just digital ones and zeros, and a bank behind it saying “Our data is right, our systems are accurate and secure, this person has so much money.” And others trust that. The bank also trusts you.

The bank trusts that your payment history and your tendencies to pay something back will be followed. Banks give away billions of dollars based on the idea that most people will pay their debts. It may take them 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years, but the banks, and thus the investors buying and owning the loans are willing to trust the people paying on the debts for that long.

They are putting their trust in this whole huge system, based on the counterintuitive notion that humanity actually trusts each other. We trust each other to do what is right, most of the time.

This is actually really optimistic of us. Perhaps naive, but it has served us well. Without this trust, would we be at the level we are today?

Would we be a higher species at all? I think not.

Top ten inspirations for Demigod Conception

I had a great time with some friends this last weekend and we had some deep conversations about what a weird world we live in, and how hard it can be to get by from day to day, especially if you’re poor, out of work, addicted, or homeless. Think about other people when you cast your votes this season – I don’t care who you vote for, so long as you do it with good conscience and measured thought.

Demigod Conception - Demigod Chronicles IWe also had a much shallower, but more fun conversation about what inspired me to write my book. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have inspirations – many, in fact. Some people, some were events, some were things I know I like or dislike. However, I don’t remember many of them, as I wrote Demigod Conception over such a long period.

So, here’s a rundown of some of the main ideas I wanted to get across, in a top ten list, because who doesn’t love lists? Before anyone gets angry and says they hate any of these, remember: My book. Not yours. That said, feel free to disagree in the comments below. :D

10) No Royalty. (Not royalties, I like those.) I dislike kings, dukes, barons, and princes. Queens are okay, but only if they’re gay. Princesses are not okay, neither are duchesses, nor baronesses. I hate knights, errant or straight. Unless they guard bridges. Royalty bothers me. I’m American, okay? We’re born this way now.

9) No teenage boy coming of age story. *Yawn*. Read it too many times. Also, I dislike the awkward non-sexual crush they must have on the only cute but unobtainable girl in their village.

8) My hero wants to go home. One of my favorite facets of heroic literature is the uncomfortable hero. They are thrust into their position and must decide: will they take up the challenge?

7) Battles aren’t won by warriors and feats of strength. Not always, anyhow. Battles are sometimes won by logic, timing, and cunning. Remember the invasion of Iraq? We hardly shot a bullet there because we had great timing and troop movement.

6) I want a female hero! When I started writing this, I felt like you could only find female heroes in Anne McCaffrey fantasies. There wasn’t even a Buffy back then. I was dying for a powerful female character willing to bust some heads. Kyla fit the bill.

5) No weak women. I love Ursula LeGuin’s work. I would love to have that kind of talent. But, I can at least follow her lead and promote my female characters to the helm. I have a baddie, a hero, and several female side characters that I hope are strong parts of the story. I’m particularly fond of Cameo, who will take a much bigger role in the sequel.

4) I want action. I remember reading a book where the main character had an entire battle described like this: “Stepping crow, cross-sweep. Upward crane, flying cheese-cloth. Split the silk with dragon tooth.” The author had jumped the shark for me, and had been watching waaaay too much kung-fu. I love kung-fu movies, don’t get me wrong. But this is a book. There’s no cool action on screen to back up the fancy-snappy names for the moves. The reader has to see it. The author must describe it. That’s the arrangement. I decided I would have action in my stories. Always. If I ever make a story with no action, slap me.

3) People are complex. We’re both experts and novices, perfect and flawed. Even people I dislike are complex, and deserve respect. Everyone’s a hero in their own story.

2) Black holes are awesome. (Think about it. There’s a black hole MacGuffin in the book.)

1) Bald people rule.

 

Allegiance – a night with George Takei and Lea Salonga

Allegiance official site
I feel privileged to have gotten to see Allegiance before it ventures off to the bright lights of Broadway.

First off, I want to thank the cast, crew, and the Globe Theater for producing this wonderful musical. In many ways this is an ‘unmarketable’ production, but they believed in it, and made a beautiful, important thing come to life.

In another way, there’s no way this play would not have been made, in some media or form, eventually. The story is too good, too central to what it means to be American, to stay quiet and hidden for long. The events described here bring together so many American paradoxes that we hold dear and hate with vitriol that we need to see it, we need to process it as a nation, as a people. We need to remember, not with our minds, but with our hearts.

The amazing thing is that the writers brought all of this together with such a deftness of skill and truth that I decided to give them a writeup here, even though this is a speculative fiction blog (for the most part) centering on Science Fiction and Fantasy most of the time. But, in two important ways, the Allegiance story has bearing on my writing.

First of all, it is a story about a people subjected to relocation, estrangement from the people around them, and who had so much taken from them in a country that promised that could never happen. In a country based on the idea that all men are created equal. (Ha. Ever listen to that sentence? What about women, huh? Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about.) My next book will also feature a situation similar to this, but on a different world, with different outcomes, and with different reasons.

Second of all, the entire experience was so outlandish, so counterintuitive, so speculative, that if you didn’t know it was real, it would be hard to maintain the audience’s suspension of disbelief. But we know it was real. We know that no Hawaiian Asians were sent to camps, even though Hawaii was the only US territory attacked by the Japanese. That makes no logical sense, even if you believed in the original reason for the relocations. We know that Japanese were interned all across the country, but only up to the Mississippi. Then on the east coast, they were left alone. That makes no sense. We know that Japanese who had been born in the United States of America (citizens!) were held without charge, bail, or any sort of due process based on a piece of paper signed by the President.

That makes no sense.

But it all happened, and it could happen again. Remember the other George? Not Takei, the terrifying one. Bush. What would that man have done to our Asian brothers and sisters if he had been president at the time, knowing that he authorized torture of the men alleged to be a terrorist or thought to at one point have walked down the same street as a terrorist?

We have long known the extent of presidential power in the United States goes far above and beyond what most of us are comfortable with. I feel that I speak for people on both sides of the fence politically when I say that an executive order that you don’t agree with could totally ruin your life.

Think about your skin color. Your religion (or lack thereof). Your social status. Your partner. Your family. Ask yourself, what if your particular sub-group was the first to be targeted by the next man who thinks himself a king, not an elected ruler?

What if you were first? What if you went to the camps? To Guantanamo? For what? Something you thought innocuous. Loving someone you “shouldn’t.” All it takes is the threat of war and a cozy Congress and suddenly your president becomes your judge, jury, and perhaps executioner.

Seems like science fiction. Fantasy, maybe? But no. This is all too real. All too possible. No, that kind of story is called Horror.

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