Sunday, June 22, 2008

Writing What You Know

I don't know what to think about it, but I can probably consider the last 5 or so years working in the insurance industry as research. The ideas of risk, losses, risk management, peace of mind and hazard, especially morale hazard, have become vital to at least one paper. . .and could easily become important to the other papers, too.

All the above have become central concepts in insurance, and I read about them years ago, near the beginning of my career in insurance. Unfortunately, I didn't perceive the helpfulness of these concepts to my project until recently. I think this failing on my part came from

+ Something of an unconscious thought process that insurance and my project couldn't have much of anything in common

+ Not having the right frame of mind when being introduced to these insurance concepts to incorporate them into my project. Didn't help that I really had no idea of how to define utopia and dystopia in ways that could apply in a universal manor to utopias and dystopia

After reading some social psychology, including the importance of having the needs for meaning fulfilling for people, and reconciling social psychology and needs for meaning with arguments for human rights and people's psychological motivations for being social rather than anti-social, the need for insurance terms, especially morale hazard, came to the fore.

I won't need the insurance terms so much, though. Using those terms in the context of my project became somewhat problematic. They get used in a professional context and could end up sounding judgmental of the people I'm writing about and non-professionals in the world. And the recent studying I did for continuing ed credits reminded me that people in the insurance industry are professionals, so they have more knowledge than someone else who doesn't really think much about insurance and have the responsibility to help other people understand their insurance policies, situations and concepts.

Even the reasonable, prudent person test can have its problems for the context of my project. This reasonable, prudent person, I believe, fits into the same archetype of the economic man, who is rational and self-interested. We all know people like this, but we also know plenty of people who differ from this archetype.

From somewhere, I've even read that someone who has the knowledge of economic concepts probably fits this archetype more than most, but, in addition, they probably have less pro-social tendencies. In other words, someone with the knowledge of an economist will probably be so rational and self-interested that they have less compassion for their fellow humans.

We all have reached different parts of our lives where we have reached different stages of career, knowledge, instinct, spirituality, etc. etc. Our backgrounds can dictate a fair amount of our destiny. Our social environment and genetic, biological makeup can determine our fate. Sure, we have free will to an extent and all the factors involved combine to create an individual.

Throw all the above factors together, however, along with the large amount of people in poverty, having had bad educations, having stronger motivations for crime that sends them to jail, having grown up in the mob, having grown up in an environment that got you ownership of a corporation but no conscience, having lived with a biker gang, having lived in a cult and the range of experience of people that form their identities can almost reach infinity. Nonetheless, do these life experiences that don't encourage people to develop their sense to avoid loss mean that they're any less human?

I prefer not to believe so. At the level of their humanity, they deserve as much respect as anyone else. Trying to teach them the importance of avoiding loss would certainly benefit them and the world, but the fact that they don't know now does not make them dumb or any less of a person. Hell, they may have some advanced knowledge that we don't know and could help make things more interesting and better for the person who knows better ways to avoid loss.

So I decided to approach the problem from social psychology, specifically by addressing the issue with the concept of diffusion of responsibility, a phenomenon that can actually provide for a motivation to allow for morale hazards in your own life. In many ways, not addressing an issue can make life easier, but dealing with it can also help improve the quality of life.

At least, it can help the quality of life as long as you direct all your energy trying to avoid loss. Doing that can lead you to no longer live life. Enjoyment of life requires that we take risks, which, in itself, could be seen as a form of morale hazards and diffusion of responsibility. Being too cautious leads to staying bed all day, not driving on the roads, staring at the walls and ceiling, trying not to think and all types of neurotic behavior.

Sure, I guess a monk that meditates all day could fall into this category, but, in some ways, even a meditating monk takes risks when meditating. . .not being able to focus and concentrate is failure to some degree. Someone could take that as an indication that they're a failure, and that they're worthless. There you go, someone trying to do nothing and think nothing has just gone had a loss to their self esteem.

Yes, all this thinking came from "research" into the insurance industry and insurance concepts combined into studying into social psychology. Who would have thought so much could come out of these two fields that most people probably don't think about at the same time? Go figure. . ..

Then again, this is me we're talking about. . ..

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sci-Fi Channel Schedule Change for Charlie Jade Shouldn't Surprise Me

Turns out that Sci-Fi Channel moved Charlie Jade to Mondays at 3 AM/2 AM CST.

Just goes to show you the kind of support Sci-Fi was giving CJ.

Makes me frustrated, nonetheless. Probably means no second season forthcoming.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Networking and Learning with Other Writers

The last couple couple weeks had become pretty hectic. Along with the usual seven to eight work day and working on my project, I also had do major studying on Medicare to get insurance continuing ed credits.

I need 30 of them by October to make sure my license renews without hassle in January. So far I've done the work for 16 of them and put into motion the process for the Illinois Division of Insurance to register them.

For now, I plan on taking a break from that studying until after Independence Day, when a couple out of town guests leave. Then onto some more major studying and another test to get 15 more credits, then I should be all set.

But I don't want to think too much more about that until after Independence Day. . ..


Last week, the wife and I attended an author coffee at The Writer's Workspace (where I got that nifty information about the open mic at the Borders last week). The following is the intro from the e-mail that marketed the coffee to us:

Stacy Bierlein's personal trajectory from short fiction writer to international editor promises an interesting conversation at our final Author Coffee until the fall.

Currently in Chicago while on tour for A Stranger Among Us, Bierlein attended Columbia College-Chicago in the 90s (where I [the person who runs The Writer's Workspace] met her), was a founding editor for Fish Stories, and has gone on to serve as an executive editor for the highly regarded Other Voices magazine and OV Books.

Most recently, she's received rave reviews as editor of the international collection of short fiction, A Stranger Among Us (OV Books, 2008). However, she's also published her own short fiction in numerous journals and collections and has extensive experience as a panelist at literary conferences. It's hard to imagine a topic she can't cover when it comes to literary shop talk.

Depending on interest, Bierlein and participants may discuss:

+ how to compile and market a successful anthology,
+ how to market your own work to anthology editors,
+ and how/when to make the career leap from writer to editor.

Sharon did a great job of providing useful information, entertainment, perspective and reassurance to me, as a writer. Unless the other people around the table had much more experience than me (which I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of them did), I bet they had just as much a good time as me. She discussed a breadth of subjects from the topic of soliciting works from known and unknown authors for the anthology, the theme of her anthology, putting her life and soul into the anthology, the process of the anthology from start to finish, enlisting editors to help plow through submissions, the topic of judging pieces, pitching publishers to put together an anthology (but being happy that the publishing company she runs put out the anthology), deciding on what works to put in the anthology, figuring out the order of the anthology, how people read anthologies, marketing the anthology, targeting the academic audience does wonders for anthologies, going on tour from publishing conferences to bookstores to coffee setups like this one to promote the anthology, the reading audience, the publishing industry's view of the reading audience, the difference of the publishing industry in the United States compared to the rest of the world and a whole bunch of other topics between and outside the realm of what I've mentioned.

Some difficulty arises when trying to "review" a discussion amongst something like ten or twelve people. Sharon's discussion of putting together her anthology certainly caught my attention, but being a struggling writer working on a novel, I had a hard time trying to put myself in the place of someone submitting to an anthology.

Frankly, I never really thought much about anthologies and how I relate to them before the coffee. I ended up thinking more about the artistic point of putting together an anthology and the difficulty yet the joy of putting together one. I can imagine it being an organizational monstrosity that sometimes feels overwhelming and like it may never end, but I can also imagine how much fun reading all those pieces from unknown people might be.

The discussion about anthologies felt as if it grabbed the most of my attention when I asked something like, "With all the submissions coming in and not necessarily having the most fleshed out idea of what you wanted, how did you reach the point where you knew what form it would take?" The event having happened a week ago, I can't remember her exact answer, but it took something of an artistic answer about how things slowly formed until things just clicked in her head. At some point, after reading over the breadth of pieces that came in, her vision on the project almost unconsciously took shape until she reached that "ah ha!" moment, and the vision for the anthology just coalesced into the solid idea that grew into the present anthology.

I found the discussion about the reading audience, building writer's careers, the publishing companies and marketing/promoting books and reading as one of the most fascinating parts. Last year, I focused a lot on the technology in my stories possibly become obsolete even as I wrote about them. The society that came from those technologies probably didn't lose their edge, but the technologies just became old news and possibly part of our own past while I tried to write science fiction.

But back then, I also wondered about novel writing and story writing, in general, becoming something of an obsolete career. At the very least, novel reading has felt like it has followed something of a decline. Cynical as I am and following the common meme out there that peoples' attention span grows shorter, I believe that people have had their short attention spans growing shorter and shorter, if not because of their own preferences or because of anything biological, than because of the requirements of our society. To stay on top of things, we need to keep up on everything, and we can best do that by reading one or two sentence headlines on the topics out there without reading much deeper in to the substance of things.

Songs and music videos lasting 3 minutes, less being more preferable. News articles running only a paragraph or two. Editors only reading the first paragraph or two before taking a piece seriously, and if they suck, the manuscript gets throwing into the waste basket. TV shows have to grab the audience's attention within the first couple seconds, not only of the show itself, but also with every act in from the commercials. Commercials, themselves, have to grab people's attention within a second then transfer a minimum of information to the audience. Our doctors don't even have the time to have a relationship with their patients. The list goes on and on, having led me to the thought that the world's audience didn't have the patience to read because they could get as much adventure and story with less effort in a movie, on the TV screen or even on YouTube (C).

Then add the fact that with digital distribution, people could easily get a novel or short story for free easily, if just one person bought it then distributed it to their friends and family. Infinite supply, limited demand with no production problems. Only people without computers and the Internet would find getting literature a problem. Add to that the expectation of people that media should be free or cost nearly nothing to buy. What incentive does a writer to put tons of work into their work other than to express their love for stories through their labor?

This side of the industry really didn't really get addressed, nor should it have been, really, at this discussion. As much as it affects writers, this issue becomes more of a technology and plain distribution problem, thus a technical problem. How does one put restrictions on people once the floodgates have been opened other than to have the good will of the people on the producer's side, and also possibly such a huge demand that people have the willingness to donate a large amount to non-profits, not for profits or whatever form an innovative distribution party or channel takes?

Which brings us back to the audience's interest in novels, short stories and other literature. Sharon surprised my cynical side. After going on book tours, going to publishing conferences, working with fledgling authors and however other numerous ways that she has interacted with The People, she could say that the audience doesn't have a short attention span when it comes to books and stories. The People want books and stories.

There's a fair amount of literate people, and they're ready to do plenty of reading of good stories, if made available to them. On top of that, many people who may not read on a regular basis would read if exposed enough to stories, novels and literature, and not necessarily through the enticement of family or even school, but by the publishers. . .if they only promoted their authors, novels, stories and literature in savvy ways. Give them a sip, a taste and the people will want, is the impression that I got from Sharon when it came to the audience and potential audience for stories, novels and literature.

On the flipside, the publishers, in this day and age, have become short sighted. In the past, the publishers had focused on making careers for good writers. Nowadays, they grab onto the latest genre, famous figures or the latest famous figure writing the latest genre piece of work. Publishers don't want to build and develop the career of a writer that would lead to steadily increasing profits by impressing the audience then keeping them around to read more from that author.

Instead, the publishers want to grab onto a famous figure or topic that has a built in audience that will sell millions and millions of copies to the supposed fickle audience. They want the formula that will make money now, then they will move onto the next formula for lots of money then which will be now and so on and so on. They will keep rushing around for the next big thing, rather than making the next big thing.

I don't want to say that The People need guidance and for big industry to direct people onto what they should be reading, but the market kind of works like that. Unfortunately, we do live in a fast paced world. A lot of things demand all of our attention. Maybe The People don't need to be told what they will like, but they need to know what exists out there that they may like. How will the people know that they will like a story, a novel, a magazine with stories in them, a song, a CD, a movie, a magazine, a car, a TV show, a computer game and so on and so on if people don't get exposed to it first?

Right now, I'm frustrated that The Sci-Fi Channel doesn't promote Charlie Jade as much as their weekend sub par movies that have become their money makers for some reason. To have success, even good TV shows need the support of advertising to get awareness of the show out there. The same thing goes for music, even food, widgets, sprockets, cars, etc. etc.

As much as people like to think that a piece of art, literature or what have you can speak for itself, no one will listen to it, read it, look at it unless someone gets the awareness of that thing out there. The same thing goes for reading, books and stories. If someone doesn't know that reading and stories can be fun, why would someone start doing it on their own? Especially when reading and thinking is portrayed of and thought of as "nerdy" and "lame" compared to sports stars, TV stars, movie stars and other types of celebrities that take action and look glamorous. The biggest reasons people get excited about those things is because the media machine churns out those things as merchandise because they think that's what the people really want.

But really, what do The People want?

Went off on a little rant there. . .losing my writing edge there. . .Also met some other writers and at least one person that had made some great resources for writers to get their work out there and present it in a way that editors can dig. I haven't checked those resources that much in a depth, but if I do, you'll certainly hear from me about them.

So, all in all, the coffee with Sharon Bierlein provided me with a very good use for a couple hours, enlightening me about the writing industry, the story market and also got me to socialize with people. . .for once in a great while. Go figure!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Open Mic Tomorrow Night in Chicago

Last night, while at an event at the Writer's Workspace, I saw a flier on a bulletin for the following:

Open Mic at the
4718 N Broadway Borders
6 PM - 7 PM sign up
7 PM start time

For writers, poets, stand up comedians. . .
(and unfortunately I can't remember the other categories of performers. I'm guessing if you want to play music, it probably shouldn't get incredibly loud or anything.)

I don't plan on performing but am seriously thinking about going. I figure it's good to immerse myself into these types of things and get around creative artists more often.

UPDATE: I've downgraded to very likely NOT going. Too much studying to do for my insurance continuing ed credits. Ugh! What a "career". . ..

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Sci Fi Channel Supports Charlie Jade (FINALLY. . .A Day Before the Show Premieres!)

Sci Fi also has a pretty cool interview with Robert Wertheimer, one of the creators of Charlie Jade, at