We offered, you refused

Dear Republicans and/or conservatives,

I don’t know how to break this to you, since you obviously haven’t figured it out yourselves yet, but it’s starting to become a problem. So here it goes.

You lost.

Last November, the American people took a good hard look at where your ideas and policies have taken us, and decided, as they say in showbiz, “to go a different way.” It’s not that we didn’t understand your position, it’s just that, well, we’re just not that into you.

I know it hurts. I know you’re used to throwing your weight around and getting your way. But that’s just not going to happen anymore. Democrats, liberals and other folks you’ve spent the last three decades demonizing are calling the shots now. It’s over.

It didn’t have to be like this. President Obama (gee, I just love saying that) and the rest of the Democratic leadership tried to reach across the aisle. They asked for your input into how we should go about fixing the mess you put us in. We tried, so very hard, to be not bipartisan, but post-partisan. We wanted your help.

What we got instead was a bunch of petulant prima donnas stomping their feet, holding their breath and shouting “NO!” at the top of their lungs at anything and everything. In the greatest crisis most Americans have seen in their lifetimes, Republicans have opted to act like three-year-olds. Well, that’s your call.

But here’s how it’s going to go down. We’re going to fix this country with or without you. We’re going to do what’s necessary, even if it’s not popular. We’re going to raise taxes to pay for necessary infrastructure. We’re going to spend taxpayer money to create jobs. We’re going to negotiate with other countries rather than just waving bombs at them. And we’re going to see if just maybe you create fewer terrorists by building schools than by blowing them up.

And as we do this, you will have no input and no choice. This is entirely your own doing. We asked for your input, and the only thing you offered was the same tired and thoroughly discredited ideas that got us into this mess in the first place. Let me be very clear. Neocon ideology, of prosperity through tax cuts for the rich and peace through belligerent nationalism, is has been proven just as wrong as the flat Earth theory. We don’t believe the sun revolves around the Earth, and we don’t believe in Reaganomics. The extreme version of conservatism espoused by the Republican party has been proven to be wrong. It simply doesn’t work. So we’re not going to do that anymore.

And as long as that’s all you’re willing to bring to the table, you will remain in exile, ignored and irrelevant. If we have to, we’ll start forcing you to actually filibuster the bills you want to force to 60 votes and show the Americans you supposedly represent how you’re trying to hurt them for your own political gain. It’s sad, but it’s your own decision. When you’re willing to act like adults and have a serious discussion about our serious problems, we’ll be here. But we’re not holding our breath.

Interludes in reality

I know one of the biggest mistakes in blogging is to blog about why you’re not blogging (META ALERT) but as you’ll see below, avoiding mistakes doesn’t seem to be one of my talents. So I thought I’d let my readers know what’s going on in my life these days and how that’s affecting my writing, both fiction and nonfiction. If my personal life or how I try to work writing into it along with everything else doesn’t interest you, move along. Maybe today’s Marmaduke is funny.

I got a bit of a shock Wednesday. I had expected a maintenance guy to start re-tiling my shower, in which I’d jammed fallen tiles back into place at angles so they braced against each other. It’s been this way for nearly a year. Such is the quality establishment in which I currently live. I’ve also had my car stolen out of the reserved parking spot literally ten feet away from my balcony. Klassy with a K is what I’m saying.

When I got home, it looked like they hadn’t even started. Curious, I headed over to the leasing office to find out what was up. The apartment manager, a real sweetheart who has always been on my side, told me that the workman complained about the smell and that her boss told her that I had to go. There was nothing she could do. She’d give me a good reference and it wouldn’t be treated as an eviction if I cooperated, but I had until the end of the month.

I’ll freely admit that legally, I had this coming. One of my cats, Kosh, is a “special” cat. If the catbox isn’t completely clean, he’ll go elsewhere. I try to clean this up when I know about it, but there’s only so much a vacuum cleaner can do, and if he whizzes somewhere when I’m at work, I won’t even notice it on the tan carpet until long after the odor molecules, which form unbreakable bonds with acrylic carpet fiber, have become permanent additions. No matter what I do, the place smells like a catbox. I’ve become completely inured to it, and hardly notice it anymore, but I’ve been told it’s pretty noticeable. So sure, they have a legit beef.

It was a shock, coming with no warning, but I rallied. I still had some of my tax refund in the bank, and had two paychecks coming by March 1st, so all I had to do was find a place with an immediate vacancy and move in. I made an appointment with the complex I wanted to move into last year but couldn’t quite pull together the money. The plan was to sign the new lease Saturday morning and start moving my stuff over there. I’d planned to move in August anyway, and this way meant I could spend the summer in a new place with central air (my current digs faces southwest and has two barely functional wall units, so it bakes in summer afternoons).

On Saturday morning, I woke up and did what I do every morning on waking up. I grabbed my phone and checked my email. I noticed an insufficient funds notice from my bank, and thought, “That shouldn’t be possible. Yesterday was payday, and I have all that tax refund money left.” So I got up and went to the desktop computer to better take a look at my bank website and figure out what was up. And there, plain as day, was the problem. All my money was gone. Just vanished, poof!

I called my bank and they told me there was a court-ordered hold on my account. They didn’t have much more info and won’t until Tuesday, as Monday’s a federal holiday. They did tell me who the hold was for, which sounded familiar. I tracked it down to a law firm here in town that tried to sue me to collect on a credit card on which I’d defaulted in my 20s. I called them, and they explained that they hadn’t accepted my payment arrangement offer, they’d tried to contact me to negotiate and I hadn’t returned their calls. I don’t remember that happening, but as it’s my policy to screen calls and delete voicemails unheard from blocked CallerID numbers, I couldn’t prove them wrong.

So now I’m losing my place to live and have no money with which to secure another. And if I really was as alone as I’m sure we all sometimes feel in this old life, I’d be well and truly screwed. But as it turns out, that’s not the case.

I’m moving in with my parents, and if that doesn’t work out for some reason, I have a standing offer from my sister to take me in. A friend gave me enough cash to tide me over until next paycheck (which, though garnished, I should be able to access). And friends both here in Denver and all across the internets have made sure I know they care and are standing by to help if needed. I may not have my own place, but I have everything I really need.

Over the next few months, I’m going to save up as much money as I can to try to both pay off this debt and save up for my own apartment. It might take longer than I planned. I might not actually move out on my own again until next spring. But I know I’ll be okay. And I’ve learned, the hard way, that I have to take a more active role in my own life, stay on top of things rather than letting them snowball out of hand. Maybe this is the time to find a GTD solution I can really stick with. Toodledo looks promising.

Oh, and yeah, writing. I’ve been distracted this week, and I’m going to be pretty busy for the next two weeks at least. My fiction is on hold until I get settled, but only until then. I’m going to get back to Homeworld in early March, and I’m outlining another project that I might work on after my Homeworld second draft, or maybe concurrent with it as a change of pace. But the blogging will recommence immediately. Microsoft is going to make some exciting announcements at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week and I’ve got a few things to say about them. I have my netbook, I have my smartphone, and there’s no reason I can’t keep blogging (and tweeting) while I move into this next phase in my life. A writer writes. It’s just that simple.

Mainstream media admits ebooks to become, uh, mainstream

It’s getting really hard to deny my Cassandra Complex. This sounds an awful lot like what I wrote back in 2000 (yes, nine gorram years ago):

People are already circumventing all this by self-publishing. The self-publishing industry is the only area of paper-book publishing that’s thriving right now. Soon enough, a huge number of authors are finally going to get fed up with the publishing industry and just self-publish electronically. They’ll hire their own freelance editors, and do the marketing themselves. The publication of a finished manuscript will take minutes, rather than months.

Couple this with the rampant speculation that Amazon will start providing Kindle ebooks for other platforms (the Kindle format is based on MobiPocket, so this should actually be pretty easy), and speculation that self-published ebooks read on cell phones as the future of publishing isn’t looking so crazy anymore. Who’s crazy now? (well, yeah, still me, but for completely different reasons)

The paradox of thrift

Really good article explaining how recessions work and why tax cuts and “letting people keep more of their own money” may sound nice, but doesn’t actually help anything.

Now we’ve entered “paradox of thrift” territory. People are saving more. And the increased saving isn’t being cycled back into the economy as new investment. In part, that’s because of problems in the financial system. But in part, it’s because with short-term demand slumping so much, there’s not a lot of worthwhile investing to be doing. The economy needs someone to decide to borrow some money and start a new firm that employs these newly unemployed people. But with the volume of consumption going down so rapidly, nobody’s really in the mood to start a new business. And existing businesses are busy scaling back production, not interested in borrowing money to ramp it up. The result of this is an overall fall in the average level of income. And that means that even with the share of income being saved going up, the actual level of savings can be going down and we can truly end up in the toilet.

The ultimate point of a fiscal stimulus policy is to avoid that toilet scenario. To get money flowing in the economy again, so that savings gets translated into investment which gets translated into jobs which pay salaries which, in turn, are spent and saved in ways that create jobs.


Second time around

Now that I’ve started rewrites on my NaNoWriMo ’06 project, I thought this might be a good time to describe my approach to fiction. This is by no means the only way or even the “right” way to write fiction, it’s just what works best for me.

For the first draft, best written for NaNoWriMo with reckless abandon, I take to heart Stephen King’s concept of stories as fossils, found things in the ground. The writer’s job is to dig up the fossil so its shape is visible and recognizable while breaking as little as possible. With that in mind, I start with an idea, a few characters and a vague sense of where I want to end up and start writing. The story twists and turns, tries to buck me off and I wander down a blind alley or three that go nowhere and force me to pretend they didn’t happen and start over at an earlier point in the tale, but I usually end up with a workable first draft this way. It’s not readable by anyone but me, and vast swaths of it even lack punctuation, much less perfect spelling, as those parts were typed literally with my eyes closed as fast I could go. This is what I finished three Novembers ago with Homeworld, my Mars novel.

A few weeks ago, I started reading back through that first draft, reintroducing myself to the story and characters. Two years may seem like a long time to let a story lie fallow, but it took that long for me to get enough distance from it to approach it again with fresh eyes. Rereading the story as a new reader I was by turns impressed and horrified at what I’d written. Some parts were great, others not so much. But the story beneath the telling was just as amazing as I’d remembered.

As I went through the first draft, I jotted down the major scenes, just simple reminders of what each scene was about. Like:

Bev is attacked by a space aardvark. The crew drives it away with Nerf bats.

(no, that’s not a real scene from the book)

This gives me a very loose outline (no Roman numerals here, despite what you were taught in school) for the second draft. Just a beat by beat summary of what happens.

Then, with the characters and their voices firmly in mind, I start the second draft. This is complete draft, taking nothing from the first other than the vague outline. I’m rewriting every word over again. And, as you might expect after a separation of two years, the second draft is different. So far there are things I prefer in the new draft over what I wrote originally, and there are things I think I did better the first time.

When I’m done with this draft, which will also be the first truly complete draft since the first draft got stuck in act 3, I’ll go back over both drafts and compare them scene by scene, and merge the best parts of each into draft number 3. After that, I’ll go back over the third draft for style, continuity, and then finally give the whole thing another polish to reduce word count as much as I possibly can, shooting for 80-85% the length of draft number 3, the combined version.

That’s the plan. For those of you working novelists out there (published or not), how does this compare with your process?

Update: Fittingly (or ironically, depending on your perspective) for an article about second drafts, I forgot to mention a few things on the first run through. Specifically, I told you what I do, but not why. Which is kinda important.

The outline process between drafts one and two is vital. While the first draft is all about creative abandon, the outline process is where I take the key elements of the story, rearrange and otherwise change them as necessary, and then reassemble them into a narrative structure that makes sense. This is where I find and plug plot holes, unconvincing character motivation, etc. When I start on the second draft, I’m secure in the knowledge that the story is solid. This is also where I get to do a lot of foreshadowing, since I know what’s coming up, knowledge I didn’t necessarily have in the first draft. But unlike draft number three, which is about style and craft, draft two is still about story, which is why I start over from scratch. There’s still room for surprises, but over an underlying structure rather than out of nowhere.

Searching for the perfect cloud

I’m still having trouble finding an ideal cloud computing solution. I haven’t written much recently because Google Docs is just enough of a pain in the ass to get to that I don’t bother with it. Turns out I have to be able to write locally, including on my phone. So a 100% web-based solution is out.

For the moment, I’m back to writing in plain text files (not only do I not need word until my third draft, which is more of a revision of the second than a full draft, but it’s actually a distraction dealing with italics and word count when I’m trying to compose) and keeping them in sync via Live Mesh. This works, and works well, but the Mesh clients on my netbook and smartphone chew up a lot more CPU and battery than I’d like.

Rumor has it that Google is going to announce their GDrive cloud storage any day now, and that it will provide access from any device. Given that they say the same thing about Google Docs, and Docs is frustratingly read only on mobile devices, I’m not sure how much to believe them there.

On the PIM side, I’ve ditched hosted Exchange and it’s montly fee (hey, in these troubled times, etc.) and opted for NuevaSync. This works just like Exchange as far as Windows Mobile is concerned and gives me “set and forget” over the air sync to my Google Calendar and Gmail contacts. I’m not one of those “thousands of contacts in discrete categories” kind of people, so Gmail contacts is fine for my needs.

I am currently without a tasks solution, though. I’ve tried implementing GTD for Evernote, but the Windows Mobile client is too limited to really manage my tasklist in Evernote on the go. I’ve tried RememberTheMilk, but don’t like the web interface and don’t like their timed-sync client for Windows Mobile. Google opened up Gmail Tasks to mobile users yesterday, but Opera 9 can only handle the basic XHTML client. If NuevaSync can bring the same easy syncing I get out of Gmail contacts to Gmail tasks, that will be a home run. But until that happens, I’m pretty much at a loss.