Monday, June 30, 2008

Reconsidering The Agent Search

All the recent discussion about the future of the publishing industry, the reasons I write, and all that stuff got me thinking a bit more about my recent decision to look for an agent. I've reconsidered, and I'm not looking for an agent anymore.

I've actually got a pretty good query letter put together (well, let's say it's 90% finished). But I haven't gone back to put the finishing touch on it, I haven't sent it to anyone... I think my heart just isn't in it. Philosophically and practically, I'm just not terribly interested in getting an agent and pursuing a big publishing house. I want to explore digital, Web 2.0, distributist approaches to books.

I really like the freedom and flexibility of Lulu's print-on-demand approach. I even like the small-scale-ness of it all. I like being able to use a creative commons license and give away free PDF's of my books. I like designing my own covers, writing my own titles, picking my own illustrators, and generally handcrafting the books to be the way I want them to be. I like being in control - that is, I like the fact that other people aren't in control of my stuff.

An agent and an editor and a publisher would probably help improve the quality and increase the scope of distribution of my books. I know that. But there's something about that approach that doesn't feel right. I can't quite put my finger on why. I won't rule it out forever and ever, but I need to trust my gut on this one.

I'll hang on to that query letter. Maybe I'll send it to someone someday. But not today. Probably not tomorrow either.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pick Carefully!

I liked this line from Nathan Bransford's blog: writing a book is kind of like spending a year creating a lottery ticket.

Socrates in DC

The latest issue of Defense AT&L is posted online, and this time my contribution is a bit of oddball fiction titled Socrates in DC. It's an homage to Tom Robbins - I'd just finished re-reading Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates when I began writing Socrates, and that book was definitely on my mind.

I deliberately wanted to try to keep people off balance throughout the story, and hopefully got them to somewhat of a solid landing by the ending. I'd love to hear what you think of it!

My buddies and I also have another installment of our 13 Theta comic series (it's more than twice as good as Six Sigma). It's pretty funny, if I do say so myself...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Simplicity Cycle Update

I just published an updated edition of my Simplicity Cycle book. The changes I made to the body of the text were very subtle - if you've read the earlier version, you probably won't notice them, but I still think they're significant enough to be warranted.

The main difference is the new cover - seen here on the left. I'd been thinking about doing something like this for a while, and decided to take the plunge and go boldly simple.

I'm not sure the blog's white background really gives the full effect - the book itself is a 7.5 in x 7.5 in square, entirely white, with the title & author at the very bottom.

I think it looks cool.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summer Scheduling

So the new quarter has begun, the kids are out of school, our trip to NY is over, and we're all adjusting to this new summer schedule.

I've got classes on Tuesday and Thursday (until 5 - ugh!), but nothing on Mon, Wed or Fri. So that means I can save some gas and work from home 3 days a week... except for when I have to go into campus for the occasional event or meeting. But it looks like I'll be home most M/W/F.

That also means the whole family gets to try to figure out how to make sure Daddy can get his work and studying done during the day, without too many interruptions. It'll be interesting.

I'm also trying to figure out how to schedule the DaNoWriMo 2008 (that's Dan's Novel Writing Month, for any new readers). The fourth, and possibly final, novel in the Boomer Sisters series is going to be titled The Boomer Sisters And The Pirates, and I think I'm going to write it in July (and no, it probably won't be the final one - don't worry).

In the past, I've done most of my writing over a pot of coffee at 5:00 am. This year, my early mornings are already full - I'm running with a buddy 3 days a week, and meeting with some guys to talk about God stuff on Tuesdays, so it looks like most mornings are OUT for this go-round.

Which gets back to those "free" days. I'm supposed to be doing school stuff, researching my thesis, etc. And creatively, it would be a whole different experience writing in the daytime instead of the early morning. I'll probably write early on Thursdays and Saturdays, but that won't be enough time.

We'll see...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Free Misinformation!

The New York Hall of Science museum is free on Fridays, from 2:00 until it closes at 5:00. We had a lot of fun visiting it when we were in NYC last week (or was it 2 weeks ago?).

The kids liked climbing around on the mock-up of the Alvin submarine, and "programming a Mars rover," complete with real-time video camera. Lots of cool things to see and play with and learn from. We really enjoyed it.

One blip in the experience was a live demonstration of the principles of flight, in which we learned the amazing fact that a helicopter's blades rotate one way when it's flying up, then suddenly rotate the other way when it descends.

That is so not true. It is painfully not true. In fact, it hurt my ears to hear the otherwise respectable demonstrator say it. Just try to imagine what helicopter flight would look like if it was true.

Gravity does a fine job of pulling a helicopter down, thank you very much. No need to reverse the blades (which typically run at 120-400 rpm's!). Just slow them down a bit, and you'll find your altitude drops quite nicely. When I explained this to the presenter (afterwards, and discretely), asking if perhaps it was a misstatement, she insisted that's what the script says. Then I got a bit firmer (but still polite) and suggested she look it up to be sure.

It's not her fault - it's the fault of whoever wrote the script. Whoever it was apparently decided to just start making stuff up. It's fun to make stuff up, I know, but when you're writing a script for a science demonstration, it's probably important to not completely abandon fact.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Sports Metaphor

As a general rule of thumb, I avoid sports metaphors - partly for reasons of style (I think they're over-used and cliched) and partly for reasons of personal preference (I'm not much of a sports guy). But sometimes, a sports metaphor fits so well it would be silly to avoid it. So, here goes:

Being a writer is like being a baseball player.

Both are fun activities, which lots of people participate in. Some do it on a local level, just for fun, without any aspirations of making money at it. That's not a bad thing. Others move up to the various minor leagues, where they work hard, make sacrifices and are rewarded quite modestly (if at all). Also not a bad thing. And then there's the small number of people who make it to the Big Leagues. But the company softball team isn't going to pay the same as a spot with the Yankees.

Asking how writers will make a living in the digital era is a bit like asking how baseball players will make a living now that the games are broadcast on television. Those who disparage the eBook experience as inferior to the experience of holding actual paper in one's hand are just like those who (correctly) say that watching a game on TV is not the same as attending one in a stadium. It's still baseball - it's just a different kind of baseball. That's not bad (and the players manage to survive, don't they?).

It's not a perfect metaphor - big name writers don't get product endorsement deals, for exampl (we're not likely to see a commercial saying "Stephen King uses Bic Ballpoint Pens..."). But I think there's something there...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Why I Wrote My Books (finally)

And here's the post I promised a few posts ago: Why I wrote my books (hint: it wasn't for the money).

The Radical Elements of Radical Success: Inspired by my first exposure to Tom Peters, I wrote this one to explore my own ideas about organizational behavior, professional excellence, the nature of success, and to basically figure out what I wanted my life to be like. This wasn't the book I wanted to write - it was the book I had to write. In the process, I learned how to write - I learned about writing discipline, structure, flow, voice, editing, etc.

The Simplicity Cycle: Frustrated by dealing with engineers who overvalue complexity, I wrote this book to help myself understand design and to counter those complexity advocates. I wanted to explore and express certain truths about design, and by explaining these truths, to be able to understand and apply them. I was also aiming to help establish my reputation as an expert of some kind, and to create something beautiful and elegant.

The Boomer Sisters books: I wrote these as a gift for my daughters (and future grandkids). I wanted them to impart lessons about creativity, love, family, self-expression and courage. I am glad to report that my oldest often refers to scenes from the books when faced with certain situations. I love it when that happens.

The Desert: This one was an attempt to use my writing in explicit service to God. In a sense, all of my books have a spiritual thread, but this time I was doing it on purpose. The Desert is an exploration of ideas about faith, love and hope - and like the Simplicity Cycle, I was aiming to better understand and apply certain truths by expressing them in writing.

All of my books are experiments and explorations. Maybe they'll make some money some day (a few have already made a little), but making money was never the point. The success of these books doesn't depend on how many of them I sell, but on the journey of writing and the enjoyment my kids get out of them.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Books and Money, Part 2

So much of the discussion about how writers will make money from their books seems to be based on the (unstated) assumption that people write books primarily to make money. I'm not sure that's a good assumption. Sure, writers would *like* to make money from their books, but that's not the only (or even the primary) reason to write.

I'm not saying books aren't legitimate vehicles of economic activity, nor that authors aren't legitimate recipients of said activity. It's good when a writer makes some money from a book. I'm just saying that most of the time, writers don't do what they do just for the money.

So, answering the question "Why did I write my books?" is a bit like writing "Why I had this kind of fun." Because each time I wrote a book, it was a blast.

It was also exhausting, frustrating, difficult, challenging, and did I mention frustrating? But I totally enjoyed both the process and the final product of each of my writing projects.

More on that tomorrow...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Books & Money

There's a great discussion going on over at "Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent," exploring how authors will make money in the era of eBooks, piracy, etc. Since I'm interested in writing and economics, the intersection of the two topics has been fascinating.

His posting and the subsequent comments have got me thinking about my own literary endeavors, such as they are, and the financial aspects of the whole thing. Sometime soon, I'm going to write a post about why I wrote my books (hint - it wasn't for the money). But for now, let me just say this:

Just because you wrote a book and people read it doesn't mean you're entitled to make a living off that book. It's great if you can, but it's not guaranteed. The market does not owe you a living (even a modest living) doing the things you want to do. So let's not whine about how hard it is to make money as a writer.

Also, there's nothing wrong with an artist having a day job. Summer Pierre made that point so much better than I ever could. In fact, I personally think there's something profoundly right about having a day job.

Side Note: Man Nathan Bransford gets a lot of comments on his blog. I guess that shouldn't be surprising - he's an agent, and has a flock of aspiring authors (myself included) who want to be noticed and who don't mind writing stuff...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I Want One!

Saw this on Modern Mechanix, and holy cow, I would love to get my hands on one of these things.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Garden Update

The Great Garden Experiment is cruising right along - I've had several bowls of lettuce that I picked myself. It's yummy, and I love that I get to eat my very own homegrown lettuce.

The green beans are sprouting and getting big, the zucchini plants are spreading and doing great, and the carrot tops are coming along on their own sweet time. There's even some broccoli establishing its own little patch of garden.

The spinach isn't doing so good. Oh well, maybe it's just slow.

It will be interesting to see how they do on their own for the time I'm gone. Here's hoping we get some rain!

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Simplicity Cycle, circa 1984

I continue to encounter examples that support the ideas behind my design book, The Simplicity Cycle. The latest is from the always fascinating Modern Mechanix blog, highlighting an interview from Feb 1984. In the article, Steve Jobs says:

If you read the Apple’s first brochure, the headline was “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.” What we meant by that was that when you first attack a problem it seems really simple because you don’t understand it. Then when you start to really understand it, you come up with these very complicated solutions because it’s really hairy. Most people stop there.

But a few people keep burning the midnight oil and finally understand the underlying principles of the problem and come up with an elegantly simple solution for it. But very few people go the distance to get there

Yup, that's the core concept of The Simplicity Cycle, in just a few lines. Of course, there's a lot more nuance and other elements to the whole thing, but Jobs described the main concept pretty well right there.

I'm still giving away the PDF version for free, so swing on over and join the 727 other people who have downloaded it already.

It's easy...

Cut Grass

As I finished mowing the grass the other day, it hit me that something about a freshly mowed lawn strikes me as beautiful.

It's not the feeling of accomplishment - that's certainly present, but there's something different going on there too. Something like an appreciation of beauty. Something in a primitive, visceral part of my brain.

It probably hearkens back to humanity's origins on the savannah, when primitive man first created the lawnmower (aka a domesticated sheep?).

I don't know what or why. I just know I really like looking at the grass after I cut it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

One More Quarter Finished!

I wrapped up my last final exam this afternoon, and I am now officially finished with school for two weeks! Not that it was a terribly demanding quarter, but it's still nice to be finished. And next quarter, I'll just have two actual classes, plus my thesis to work on. I'm very, very excited about that thesis. It's going to be fun.

I'm not sure what being on break will do to my blogging. Probably diminish it quite a bit... but maybe not. Maybe I'll have more than ever to say. Who knows?

Man, What Was I Thinking?

Some data blatantly stolen from Dan Pink's blog:

Number of new books published last year: 276,649 (That’s 758 new books per day.)
Number of new business books published last year: 7,651 (That’s nearly one new biz book each hour.)
(Source: RR Bowker report, 5/28/08)

And I'm spending my time doing what?

Sigh. Good thing I enjoy writing and think it's fun, 'cause that's a whole lot of competition.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Metaphors We Live By

I'm reading Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff, and it's sort of blowing my mind. I liken it to watching The Matrix (or, more precisely, actually being in the movie The Matrix and discovering that reality isn't what I thought it was).

The basic concept in the book is that we understand the world through metaphor - and we're often unaware of the metaphors we use. These metaphors shape our understanding of the world around us, and guide our behavior by illuminating some aspects of reality, and obscuring others. One implication is that different metaphors would shape us differently (but it's hard to change metaphors).

For example, a common metaphor is MORE IS UP. That is, we equate the condition of having more with an increase in elevation. So, the stock market rises, we get a raise at work, our bank balance goes up, and generally, any number representing a larger quantity is said to be higher than a number representing a smaller quantity... you get the picture. This metaphor correlates with our physical experience of adding more of something and seeing the height of the pile physically increase - but our bank account balance doesn't really go up, does it? It just gets MORE - so our concept of MORE IS UP is metaphorical.

Interesting, we also have a metaphor of HAPPY IS UP. As in, I was feeling DOWN yesterday, but now I'm perked UP. It BOOSTED my spirits, etc. Combine those two (MORE IS UP and HAPPY IS UP) and we get (drum roll please...) MORE IS HAPPY. (I made that connection myself!). Thus, the roots of our consumer culture is at least partly due to our metaphors.

But MORE IS UP is not the only possible metaphor. It would be just as reasonable to use MORE IS HEAVY as a metaphor (we do use that sometimes). So, we could say the stock market gained weight, my bank account is hefty, 9 is weightier than 7, etc.

I wonder if our society would be less consumeristic if we used the MORE IS HEAVY metaphor instead of MORE IS UP. Certainly, many spiritual traditions (Christianity & Buddhism in particular) talk about wealth and possessions in a MORE IS HEAVY metaphor, in which we are burdened down by an excessive accumulation of stuff.

Just a thought...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Power, Part 3

We hear a lot of talk about reducing or eliminating our dependence on foreign oil. There's even some talk about moving away from fossil fuels entirely. But what happens to the Middle East (& Venezuela, etc) when we start building electric cars powered by solar generators, and the US is no longer importing 10 million barrels of oil a day? Sure, oil consumption in places like India and China is rising, but presumably India & China would use solar & wind too, right?

We'll always need some petroleum, but what happens if world consumption becomes a fraction of today's rate?

I think a large-scale move away from oil and towards solar, wind, hybrid vehicles, etc would seriously destabilize the Middle East... and it's not a really stable place to begin with. Their income would bottom out, and we in the West would be quite a bit less interested in what's happening over there. Unless of course people from over there come over here and do bad things. But maybe we figure they'll be too busy fighting each other for water to bother attacking us? I sort of doubt it.

So, while I think renewable, sustainable, non-polluting approaches to producing power are important and good... there is certainly a downside to that story. I still want to see more solar & wind power generation systems, but it's important to keep in mind that nothing happens in a vacuum. As Michael Pollan points out in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma, "you can never do just one thing."

Thanks, Tom

If you've read any business book in the last 20+ years, you've probably been influenced by Tom Peters, directly or indirectly. His 1982 "In Search of Excellence" basically created the popular business book genre. My own Radical Elements of Radical Success book was directly inspired by Tom, and that little project has opened up a lot of opportunities for me. Most of the big events in my career, therefore, trace back to Tom.

Anyway, I recently was introduced to a new Tom Peters Appreciation website (they're trying not to call it a fansite), where people can leave comments about their experiences with Tom. I left a note, and you can too!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Power, Part 2

I'm continuously amazed to hear people advocate for nuclear power generation. It strikes me as a singularly bad idea.

Even if we could do it safely - i.e., if we could guarantee no more Chernobyl's or Three Mile Island's - there's still this enormous unanswered question about waste disposal. As far as I can tell (and I spent nearly two minutes asking Google for information) there is frankly no good plan for effectively dealing with the waste products from nuclear power plants. Seriously, as far as I can tell, nobody has a good plan.

One website helpfully points out "There are many new waste disposal technologies which could prove to be somewhat of a solution to the problem of nuclear waste." Could? Somewhat? Um, maybe we should figure that out before we build any more reactors.

The best we can come up with is "Long Term Storage," (the US's preferred method) which is a bit insane given the multi-thousands-of-years timeline required. Can we really keep something secure for even two thousand years, let alone 20,000? Maybe we could resurrect some ancient Egyptians and have them build nuclear containment pyramids? I suspect "long term" really means "my kids and I will be dead before anything bad happens." For people thinking and talking about thousand-year timelines, they seem horribly short-sighted.

Maybe I'm missing something here - and if so, I'm sure someone will point it out. That's why I'm thinking solar & wind are the most logical alternatives, not nuclear.

This page from has loads of additional information on this topic.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Power, Part 1

I've been thinking about what I want to do when I grow up - that is, when I've retired from the military (I'll be eligible to retire in 6 years, at the ripe old age of 41).

I think it would be fun to write full-time... and will probably try that for a while. But, I might get a little stir-crazy after a decade or so of writing. That's tough to predict (what will I be like when I'm 50?), but I can imagine wanting to do more than just write.

I'm good at leading small teams to develop innovative technologies, but I'm not interested in just building new gadgets and toys - I want to do stuff with real substance. The world doesn't need another color television set (no offense if that's what you make). And after serving in the military-industrial complex for 20 years, I think I'd like to go do something non-defense-related. I'm kicking around a lot of other ideas, and the latest possibility is - alternative energy development.

I think it would be fun to lead a small team of creative, talented people, developing viable sources of alternative energy for consumers. Stuff like backyard wind turbines, rooftop solar panels, and what ever else we can think of. There's something to be said for large-scale energy projects, creating green utility companies, but I think I prefer going straight to the masses (not that we couldn't do both). The idea of people producing their own energy aligns with my distributist approach to economics.

I think developing alternative sources of energy, particularly solar, is a moral, political, social, environmental, even theological, imperative. Fossil fuels are expensive, dirty and irresponsible - not to mention the supply is limited. And don't get me started on the political situation in countries where oil is found.

More on this tomorrow...