Friday, February 10, 2012

Knowing When to Get Help

There was no help for it.

It has been nearly a year since I published Among Women and the sequel needs to be told. First, it has to be written. Ideas have been plaguing me for days -- since I realize how much time I had left if I was to publish the sequel a year from the first novel -- and I couldn't resist any longer.

I do have two other books to finish, but this seems more important, more time sensitive, and so it goes. I began writing the sequel this morning -- a few moment ago, actually. The bet part is that it feels good and the writing is going moderately well. I should have a chapter or two done today before I have to start my day job. That has to be counted as a plus.

That's the thing about writing. Time lines and such are for people who work best under those kinds of guidelines. I'm not one of them. I write what speaks to me at the time, putting aside other works to get the words down on paper while they're still burning their way through my dreams and waking thoughts. I know I'll work on the other books, too, but this one seems more important, has first priority right now. After all the time it has taken me to get as far as I have on the other projects, a few weeks won't make a difference.

It's not exactly what I should do, but writing isn't always about what you should do -- outside of proper grammar, good sentence structure, 3-dimensional characters, and a solid plot. Those are essential no matter what else goes into the mix. I just don't have the knack -- or the desire -- to hamper the work. I write and devil take the hindmost.

Outlines don't work for me. I begin with good intentions, but along the way the muse, or creativity, or some perversity inside me takes the outline for a ride, usually into the bush or some other wild territory and ending up somewhere near the proposed ending, but often somewhere completely different.

Preplanned and written chapter-by-chapter synopses make me feel constrained and strangled. I throw them out, keeping a copy in case I want to refer back to something that I think might work.

And don't get me started on schedules. The only schedules I've been able to keep are the ones they set for me at work. The threat of poverty and homelessness keep me toeing that line no matter what, thrashing, kicking, and struggling until I'm back in the saddle, pull up the reins, and get it done so I can get back to my less structured life where things happen more organically -- meaning when the mood strikes me.

The mood strikes me often to read, eat, and write, and I write quite a bit, most of which does not end up online or in a book. I enjoy writing . . . letters, journal posts, blogging, and books. Without those, even when the going is hard, I would shrivel up and be a shell of a person tramping through the rut of life never seeing the sun or being able to breathe deeply and dream. Without dreams, I wouldn't want to think.

And so I began a new book with two books already more than halfway finished, because it's time to get the rest of Pearl Caldwell's story out. Maybe it was getting a perfectly formatted for Kindle copy of Among Women and realizing that I can delegate a bit more of the self-publishing task to someone who knows more than I do. Don't get me wrong, lots of people know more than I do, but I know when to delegate and when to keep the tasks for myself.

For instance, I am a fairly good artist, but I'd be an idiot if I didn't recognize the talent that Michael Reighn exhibited when he designed the covers for Among Women, Whitechapel Hearts, and the 3 short stories I published. He did -- and does -- a much better job than I.

I'm also smart enough to know that no matter how good an editor I am, I am not a good editor when it comes to my own work. Myopia is the problem. In laymen's terms, I'm too close to the project to be objective or see what a neutral eye could easily pick out. For that, I have an excellent editor in Mary Ann Peden-Coviello. She is ruthless with the virtual red pencil and points out tics that I have missed or cannot see. I do the same for her.

Now, there's Rik Hall, who formatted Among Women for me, and gave me a template so I can make it easier on him the next time around. Yes, I'll hire him again. His prices are reasonable and the turnaround time is very fast. He even throws in fixing typos if they're found.

All of this means, I now have staff. I even have an extra artist's hand in Aubrey Ayala Boneau, another really wonderful artist, who helped with a couple of the covers for Among Women, and designed 2 beautiful covers that I've used on other versions of the novel. I think I have it covered, at least until I can afford someone to do the PR, something else at which I know my considerable limitations.

Although I prefer to go with the flow when the muse is leading the way, I have enough common and business sense to get help when I need it. I've sent the first few pages to Mary Ann and have alerted Michael that a new cover will be needed by May 2012. In the meantime, now that the business end is in place and working -- or ready to be put to work -- I can concentrate on what I do best -- write -- knowing that I can write without the usual hassles and problems that crop up along the way. All of that kind of planning makes what I do so much easier since I'm not gnawing myself out of the mood and into some serious writer's block. After all, if I've nothing written, there's no need to have staff, and I like having staff. It feels almost like I've arrived.

Oh, and the title of the sequel? Among Men.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Filling the Page

I'm nearly to the end of the current journal I'm keeping and already I'm excited by the prospect of the first blank pages of a new journal. All those possibilities and space and I feel anxious about starting something new with pages and pages of space waiting for me to put words to the paper, cover it in inky words and sketches.

Why isn't it that way with the blank computer screen waiting for words -- or for me to continue where I left off? I don't know.

There is something more daunting about a blank computer screen, cursor blinking, waiting for something, anything to fill up the space, preferably words that form sentences and paragraphs and end in stories. The computer screen, even what you can see, feels endless. A journal is finite, so many pages bound and waiting.

Writing in my journals is fairly easy and few days over the past several decades have gone by without me writing something. There are times when I am pressed to fill a whole page and other when fifty pages is not enough, yet there is always something for me to write. It's often incoherent to the casual observer because I use a kind of shorthand when writing, a combination of short cuts I use for the day job and shorthand symbols I remember from years ago. It's my way for my hand to keep up with the churning thoughts that spill onto the page. There are blots and words crossed out when my mind went too fast for the pen, but mostly it's legible, and a handwriting expert, or anyone who knows me well, can tell my mood by the slant of the letters and how neat they are. When I'm on a roll and the words are flowing, the letters are uniform and very legible. When it's coming rough, not so much, but they're there on the page in mostly black, although sometimes other colors, purple being the favorite. Pages and pages and shelves full of journals of all types and sizes, filled with words and ideas, bits of stories, ruminations on what I've been reading or some question that popped into my mind at random. An idea peeks around the corner while I'm writing and before long I've grabbed it and taken it for a spin.

I work out plot points and character details in the journals. Those are marked with metal clips, a trick I learned because I didn't want to go back through nearly a hundred journals. Dates don't really mean anything except for a way to put the journals in order; they certainly don't pertain to a specific book or character or story because I don't put them by dates. A story may germinate and grow over ten years or ten minutes. There's no way to tell. I do know when the story is ready to commit to paper and I often have to hold back and finish a book or story I've already started. Not so with the journals. I can pick them up at any time and go for hours or jot down a few lines that take an hour or so.

No matter how hard it is to write some days, I always come back and write some more. The journals are my truest voice and my proving ground, my place to discuss things and pour out my anger. In those pages, I am naked and angry, hopeless and hopeful, full of rage and full of joy. Sadness, pain, curiosity, philosophizing, ranting, and wonder are on all those pages.

I watched Any Human Heart, a Masterpiece Theater series based on William Boyd's book of the same name and realized that Logan Mountstuart, despite being blocked in writing another novel, Octet I think he called it, considered himself unsuccesful because his books hasn't sold tens of thousands of copies and he wasn't rich. He even had a few years of living on dog food and wrote about how it was edible with the right condiments -- a lot of the right condiments.

All the while, Logan wrote in his journals, stacks and stacks of journals. He even managed to keep a journal during the year he was imprisoned in Switzerland during World War II, hiding his pages in a hole he dug in the wall and making ink out of what was available, writing with the pointed end of a stick. But he wrote and he continued to write, keeping an account of his musings and trials and tribulations on those blank pages, beginning when he was at university and continuing to the end of his days.

Those journals, the account of his life, was published posthumously as a novel, a best selling novel, though there was no heir to collect the royalties, all of them having died long before he did. He never realized how important his journals were and how successful he was as an author and a writer who chronicled the decades through which he lived.

I have no such delusions of grandeur and it isn't why I keep journals. They are for me, although there have been times I have shared one or two journals with someone so they would know me better, be able to see the real me collected on those pages.

No, I doubt my journals will be published when I die, especially since I have left orders to have them all burned -- or buried -- when I'm gone. I don't keep journals to be published. I keep them because the blank pages beg to be filled and covered with my variable scrawl and because they are my truest self, the one I know the best, the one that changes and evolves, the one I look back on to see how far I've come.

Now, if only I can translate that to the blank screen with its blinking cursor waiting for brilliance -- or even mediocrity -- waiting for me to get busy and be as faithful in writing books as I am in keeping journals. The journals are my life's blood poured out in organized inky scrawl, my yawp and howl that I am here, that I existed, that I write.



Monday, February 06, 2012

Trickle Down Socialism

A utopian paradise is possible as long as there are no people. The Shakers had it, but they all died out because sex was not an option, not even for procreation. No sex = no offspring = oblivion for the sect.

Thomas More died for his utopian beliefs, and because he wouldn't agree that King Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was not his real wife, that the marriage was a lie because Catherine had been his brother's wife first and was not a virgin when Henry married her. That belief set the religious and spoiled Henry on a tear that resulted in a religious schism and strenthened the protestant movement away from the Catholic church.

Utopias begin with the idea that if everyone has enough and takes care of his neighbors everything will be light and happiness. That's not the case. Where there is a way to cheat the system, or the idea, someone will find a way and exploit it. Now politicians bent on saving the rest of the world and humanity cry out against poverty and want. Everyone should have enough to eat, a doctor to care for their needs, and money to fund it all. Share and share alike is the motto as politicians and do-gooders prey on the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens.

Share and share alike was at the heart Marx's utopia. Everyone works and everyone eats. No one gets more than anyone else. Cuba embraced it but Russia embraced it first in the wake of World War I when the Tsar's family was ousted, imprisoned, and murdered. There was no need for royalty or a ruling class. No more ostentatious wealth stolen from the middle class and poor. No more haves and have nots; everyone would have. Except that's not the way it worked. The Soviets had a ruling class and they were ruling from the top in the tsar's palaces and the homes of the ousted royalty and very rich. The ruling class was the government built on the backs of the poor who still didn't have enough and worked for their share of the profits, except none of the profits trickled down. The poor were still poor and the rich and privileged were just as rich and privileged. They wore uniforms and suits, and kept the ermine, jewels, and fabulous art hidden from view.

Prick a liberal and they bleed and the blood trickles down.

It is a shame that there have to be poor who don't have the money to get good dental care and cannot afford doctors and hospitals. It's unfair that they cannot have as much food as anyone else. The cry goes out and laws are passed. Welfare is born. Food stamps are distributed and Welfare gives money for families with children; they need help the most. Food stamps don't cover toilet paper, Kleenex, and household products to keep the house and family clean, just food, and not food that is already prepared. They must cook the food themselves, although chips and dips are perfectly acceptable. They can buy a lobster if they like, but they must cook it themselves or food stamps won't cover it.

The madness continues and the cost trickles down.

The poor are still poor, but for a few days or weeks in the month they eat as well as anyone else -- until the food stamps run out. They trade food stamps for money to buy cigarettes and drugs and booze, or just trade for cigarettes, drugs, and booze without the money. One way or another, they get what they want. They go to the doctor and the dentist on the taxpayer's dime but don't get the same level of care that someone who can afford it gets. It's enough. One finger in a hole in a dike is sufficient for the area it covers. Someone else will have to cover the other holes in the dike.

Socialized health care is a good idea, but it's not workable. If the disease is too chronic or the illness will cost a great deal to heal or manage, take a number and wait in line. At least you're covered. When isn't important. You're covered.

Where does all the money come from? The taxpayers. The fast disappearing middle class. It certainly doesn't come from the richest citizens. They don't pay taxes, not with all the loopholes and government worker palms they cross with silver or gold. Pay for a junket, pass along an envelope full of cash, or a suitcase full of stocks or gold, and th law works in your favor. The rich are still rich and getting richer and the middle class, the engine of the country's economy, gets poorer and join the growing hordes of the poor. They're honest, hard-working people and don't have generations of living on Welfare to know how to work the system, how having more kids means more money and how to turn inadequate food stamps into luxury items and fund their vices. They'll learn.  They have time to learn as jobs dry up and the economy falters.

In the twilight of one of the greatest nations on earth, the rich will still have money and they won't care what happens to the poor who are so much unwashed, lazy people unable to work their way up the ladder. Wouldn't matter if the did. The rich don't given countenance to the nouveau riche or the social climbers, except to use them until there is nothing left to use.

The demands for more trickle down from above and stop in the middle class where the money is made, sucking out the life blood, while the benefits trickle down to the poor. Panhandlers pop up everywhere, and not just the drop-outs and recently poor, but the con artists that doff their rags and wash off the dirt before they go home to their well appointed homes to eat roast beef and ice cream and play with their children in comfortable homes where the roof never leaks and the plumbing always delivers hot and cold while flushing away the debris.

A seesaw works on a fulcrum. A long board goes up and down depending on the weight and thrust of each end, pivoting on  strong center. If the center is weak, the board falls to the ground or it breaks and casts the riders to the ground. It doesn't hold. It won't work.

And the money keeps trickling down.

All the social services come from the working class, the middle class, not from the wealthy and privileged, and the poor benefit. Some poor benefit. The rest eke out a meager existence little better than what they had before Welfare and socialized medicine, but that's all right. Consciences have been salved and the poor are taken care of -- barely. What happens when there is no more middle class to fund the social services? Will the rich pitch in ? Don't count on it.

The top 1% will never pay a dime and most of the rest of the rich will pay as little as possible. The middle class will sink under the demands of a liberal and utopian society while the grafters and grifters will skim off the cream and send the rest to trickle down to the poor, most of whom live better than the people working for a living -- the poor's living. Utopia once again dies like a sinner under the weight of rocks piled on his chest, crushing the heart and leaving the blood to trickle down.

I'm not against providing assistance to those that really want to better themselves, but I refuse to pay for the theft and fraud that the rest exact as their brutal toll on the sensibilities of the working class. Immigrants come to our country and work their way out of Welfare and socialized assistance, working hard and bettering themselves, and become part of the middle class. They won't be there for long, not at the present rate of self-destruction. The poor remain as they have always been and will always be.

Sharing out the profits of a hunt when man lived in caves was workable, but not when man moved together to build towns and cities and countries. The difference between rich and poor was well defined and some went hungry. When we lived in caves, someone who was broken down by ill health and old age was cast out or left to die along the road. The tribe's resources would not stretch to carrying dead weight from those who could not or would not work and they were left to their own devices, or to be preyed upon by wolves, hyenas, and other predators, becoming a part of the cycle of life, a titbit in the food chain.

When we became civilized, it was no longer right that the sick and old should be cast out. There was room and as long as someone was willing to feed, clothe, and house them, they would live until death took them in the course of time. Caring for the sick, the old, and the helpless is still a good idea, but at what price? How long must others bear the burden of caring for them? How much must be taken from someone who has worked hard to give themselves and their families a good life? How much must they be forced by legislation and guilt to give up?

Socialized medicine is a good idea, as long as the money to fund it comes from those who can really afford it, the people who live in one of their many mansions and throw away money on parties for their friends and supporters, vacations in exotic lands, fruits and vegetables and meat and seafood flown in from around the world at the peak of freshness. People who think nothing of buying a jewel-studded toilet seat or paying millions for art that no one will ever see in their private collection vault. Let them fund the programs for the poor since they helped to make and keep them poor. Let the ultra rich oligarchs put their money to use funding factories and businesses that employ the poor and pay for health, dental, and eye care for their employees. They will still have more money than they can spend in 10 lifetimes, but they will do some good.

How much money can one person or one family spend? What good does it do to have such fabulous and obscene wealth except to say you have it? It would be better to own factories, businesses, and stores than piles of cash and the result would be  strong economy that employs more people than anywhere else on earth and gives them a living wage. The middle class have paid all they can stand to pay. Lower their taxes and give them the kinds of breaks the poor get in colleges and universities and businesses and watch them flourish.

Charities get more money from working class people, from the middle class, than from the oligarchs. When times are tough, the charities get less because there is less to go around. That doesn't mean that some rich don't fund charities, and not just for the tax break. That kind of funding won't make a dent in their overall assets.

It's time for the wealth to trickle down, which does not mean I hate the rich and blame them for all the ills on earth. Governments handle that quite nicely on their own. Absolute power and absolute corruption. The rich need to pitch in. After all, how many Rolls Royces and Jaguars can one man drive? Let the funds for socialized guilt trickle down from the wealthy -- legislate it if that's the only way to get it done -- and let it trickle through the middle class and down to the poor. Let the money build a strong middle class and lift the poor, but not at the cost of no more middle class. Kill the engine and the vehicle stops and will move no further.

I don't think we need to get to the point of casting out the members of the tribe unwilling to work to maintain their position, but I do think it's time to be realistic. We cannot save everyone and we cannot abolish poverty. Someone will always get lost in the shuffle. What we can do is be smart and realize that nothing trickles down where nothing remains. If we don't get this right, there will be a revolution of the poor and unwashed, the disenfranchised members of a dwindling middle class, and they will tear down the palaces of the rich and set them against the wall with guns blazing. The fall of the tsar will be nothing to the bloodshed that will follow the collapse of the middle class as prey becomes predator and set their eyes on the wealthy. Chaos will follow and eventually a new wealthy class will arise from the ashes of the old to oppress the people not quick enough or unscrupled enough to get their share. All that will be left is blood trickling down and the argument begins anew.

That is not a world I want. Do you?