Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Memories of a Future Life - Episode 1 of 4: The Red Season

Last night, I grabbed this from Amazon for a whole 99c. It's the first fiction book Roz Morris has published under her own name. She's written a lot of stuff before, but it's all been ghost-writing for people like [SSSHHHH! trade secret!]. I was intrigued to see what she would do when writing with her own voice.

Carol is a gifted musician who needs nothing more than her piano and certainly doesn’t believe she’s lived before. But forced by injury to stop playing, she fears her life may be over. Enter her soulmate Andreq: healer, liar, fraud and loyal friend. Is he her future incarnation or a psychological figment? And can his story help her discover how to live now?

A novel in the vein of The Time Traveller’s Wife, Vertigo and The Gargoyle, My Memories of a Future Life is much more than a twist on the traditional reincarnation tale. It is a multi-layered story of souls on conjoined journeys – in real time and across the centuries.

I have to confess that after the first episode, I'm still slightly confused as to what's going on. That's not a bad thing - it's because this is not a complete story. It's the opening part of a 4-parter. I'm very much looking forward to the next part (due out next week) - a feeling I haven't had before with prose. We're used to episodic content in comics or TV, but it's a form that's more or less disappeared from literary fiction since the glory days of pulp SF magazines.

Roz's writing is beautiful, simple, and evocative. She makes you empathize with the characters almost instinctively, despite - or more likely because of - their flaws and weaknesses. They, more than the plot, are what kept me reading until I'd finished the book in one sitting. I cared what happened to them more than I cared what happened next.

In my review on Amazon, I've given this four stars rather than five only because I'm still unsure where this is going. The story could develop in several different ways, some of which appeal to me more than others. The elements of hypnosis, sci-fi and time travel are intriguing, but I'm hoping the Ripper sub-plot doesn't turn out to be too much of a cliche.

Roll on September 5 and Episode #2! I'll happily throw Roz another dollar.

(If you don't like the idea of waiting for each part, hang on until September 19th and buy all four episodes.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Yellow Flowers

That, as you probably can't see, is the title page of the manuscript of my novel-that's-been-languishing-in-a-trunk-for-twenty-years. Twenty-one and three quarters, if you want to be precise.

I wrote it one December while recuperating from a motorcycle accident. I was ruthless with myself. Every morning, I wrote a chapter, tapping away on my Amstrad word processor with one hand, and didn't allow myself lunch till it was done. Then after lunch, I rewrote yesterday's chapter. Then on Saturdays, I re-read everything I'd done in the week, and on Sunday rewrote it all. The book was finished in three weeks - about the same time it took for my shattered hand to become usable again. (Sadly the bike wasn't so lucky. That was scrapped.) It's unashamedly inspired by Stephen King's The Eyes of the Dragon - not so much the plot, but the tone.

No-one told him the yellow flowers were for the princess, but then, no-one ever tells you anything when you're ten. Gareth was sitting in the loft of the barn, swinging his legs over the edge and thinking gloomy thoughts. To make matters worse, his mother had spanked him in front of the whole Court, and everybody, except of course the King, had laughed at him.

I nearly got it published too, but I turned it down.

Why? Looking back on it, total and utter stupidity.

It was a young teenage fantasy romance, exactly the kind of thing that was huge in the very late 1980s. I submitted it to just one publisher, who loved it, but said that they wanted to do it as a trilogy, because fantasy trilogies were what you did back then. I thought about it for a couple of days, and decided that I didn't really see how the story could continue from there, so I suggested to them that maybe I should write two other unrelated books instead. They said no, and that was the end of that.

Wait, I did what?

A leading publisher offered me - an unknown author - real actual money for two further books as a start of a series, and I said no because I wasn't inspired? These days I'd take that deal instantly, and then figure out what goes into the next two books. Hell, I'd send them a proposal for a trilogy of trilogies. And merchandise. And spin-offs. And versions for every medium ever invented and a few new ones. That's the kind of deal that most aspiring authors would kill for.

As I said, total and utter stupidity.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading through some fiction submissions, and thinking we should do more novels. (Did I mention I'm part owner of a digital publishing house?) And then I remembered The Yellow Flowers. You know that moment where it dawns on you that you've been even stupider than you realised? It was one of those. I've got a novel of my own sitting right here ready to go. After all, it can't be that bad if someone was prepared to offer me an advance for it and demand more of my work.

So here it is, no longer in a trunk. It'll doubtless get some re-editing in the process of getting re-typed, and then I'm damn well going to publish it. And this time, it'll be The Yellow Flowers, Volume 1.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The myth that's killing America

A lot has been written in the last few weeks about the American economy, the growing wealth divide, and how best to address debt. The most controversial aspect is, of course, taxation of the very wealthiest.

One argument that's repeatedly trotted out is that taxing the wealthy means fewer jobs. After all, it's the wealthy who create jobs, and if the government takes their money away, they won't be able to help people get back to work. And, by extension, poor people don't create jobs.

That's a myth, and I call bullshit.

Wealthy corporations have just one aim: to make profit for their stockholders. Yes, they create jobs, but they create the cheapest possible jobs. That means laying off expensive American workers and offshoring as much as possible to the developing world.

By contrast, the poor and the middle classes do create jobs. Not in huge numbers at a time, but there are millions of small entrepreneurs who are creating jobs for themselves, bringing on help, and starting small businesses. Every little shop, every small service industry, every roadside stall, every family diner, every business who employs a cleaner - they're all creating jobs, one and two at a time.

Take the guy who fixes our air conditioning. He's just taken on an assistant, and is teaching him a trade. There's the lawn guy who used to be a one-man outfit two years ago and now has a crew of three working for him. There's the pest control guy who set himself up in business last year. The auto repair guy we got our car from has recently taken on a part-time helper. Our friends who run a boutique employ part-time shop assistants. Our friends who started their own spa employ therapists, nail techs, and reception staff. There's the lady who runs her own dance studio and employs teachers. There are the tattoo artists, the comic shop guys, and the web designers. Our own promotion business helps local artists sell their work.

In fact, very few of the people I know in Orlando work for companies started or owned by wealthy people. Nearly all of them work for themselves or for small businesses, often started by friends or family.

It's not even just the middle classes who start businesses and employ people. Every food truck, every repairman, every cleaner - they're all creating jobs, usually from absolutely nothing. Millions upon millions of jobs, right here, on our doorstep.

It's a dangerous myth, and it's killing the economy.

While the rich get bailouts and handouts and exemptions, the middle classes and working classes are getting squeezed even further. As a result, we're seeing small shops closing, small businesses failing, and entrepreneurs giving up before they even start.

Of course, the wealthy are only too happy to see this happen. It gets rid of the competition. When the small businesses are gone, the consumers have no choice but to go to the massive national chains and franchises. We're paying our tax money to concentrate wealth even more in the hands of the wealthy than it is already.

Even the poor have been brainwashed into believing this is a good thing. They want the rich to get richer. The only future they can see for themselves is big companies opening up new plants or offices and giving them work. But it's not happening that way, is it?

This myth needs busting, and it needs busting now.

The truth is simple.

It is high taxes on the wealthy that create jobs, not low taxes. Raising taxes sends a clear message to the rich: use it or lose it.

Don't take my word for it. Look at the facts, as presented by none other than billionaire investor Warren Buffett. "I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation."

Let's face it, Buffett knows more about capitalism, investment and job creation than you or I ever will. He knows these people personally. He knows this is a myth, and he knows how damaging it will be - for him as well as everyone else - if the economy continues to skew further and further in favor of the elite.

It is small business that creates the overwhelming majority of local jobs, and it's small entrepreneurs who should be stimulated and rewarded, not millionaire investors who pump money into offshore schemes that actually destroy local jobs.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


This morning, my friend Hugh Hancock made a comment on Facebook.

Rioting is, obviously, Not Good. However, working on the assumption that the sole reason it's happening is because the people involved are idiots / "animals" / chavs / etc may not be the most viable long-term strategy. We've had idiots for a while now, and they ain't always a-rioting.

This led me to a rather long reply, which several people have asked if they could repost. So I figured I'd repost it myself somewhere more prominent than half-way down a thread on Hugh's FB feed.
What we're seeing is anger leavened with a large dollop of dontgiveafuck.

If you have a kid, and spend their entire life telling them that they're worthless and lazy, telling them to shut up, not giving them pocket money but expecting them to help out around the house, promising them stuff but not delivering it, dangling your shiny toys in front of them, and meanwhile constantly ramming down their throat that the only measure of success is wealth, expect them to be resentful and surly instead of grateful and happy.

One day, if they don't top themselves in a fit of depression, they will snap. They'll lose their heads and go crazy. It will be over some trivial, pointless thing, like the colour of your tie. If you try to figure out what was wrong with your tie, you're totally missing the point. It ain't about the fucking tie. It's not even a protest. It's not rational. It's just an explosion of pent-up emotion and aggression.

So what do you do? Yell at them? Lock them in their room while you carry on partying? Take away the little they do have in order to pay for your smashed porcelain that's worth more than they can ever hope to repay? Beat them for being uppity?

Or maybe you should try talking to them and figure out what's actually wrong. In fact, if you go to a neutral person, they'll probably tell you to start treating the kid differently. The kid doesn't have control over his circumstances. You do. So it's up to you to make the changes.

I'm not in any way condoning the riots. But if we want to stop them happening again and again, we need to understand why they're happening, and address the circumstances that lead to people feeling this way. Yes, some of them, maybe most, are idiots along for the ride, but the mood in the country is so discontented that it's not surprising that they've turned to looting shops en masse instead of scratching cars in parking lots and spraying graffiti on the walls.

Give people decent jobs with a living wage. Give them hope for a better life. Help them get out of debt instead of bailing out the bankers. Reduce the gap between rich and poor. Lock up corrupt politicians and businessmen instead of people who just want to smoke a bit of weed. Educate people instead of closing schools.

Then the idiots will be the crazy outcasts once again, not role models for thousands of pissed off people who've had enough of feeling that they might as well kick the shit out of something.
By way of explanation for those who don't know me, I'm a social anthropologist by training. Understanding social phenomena does not imply approval of the behaviour involved. Understanding is, however, necessary to engaging with members of that society in a meaningful way, especially if you wish to change that behaviour.

Please feel free to repost.