Sunday, January 31, 2010

Would you read this book?

Yes, I took the weekend off from writing because who really wants to be in front of the computer on the weekend, well, besides almost every person I saw in or near anything even resembling a cafe, coffee shop, dessert shop, or an ice cream shop. But tonight I finally got online to tweak the book summary and the first 5 pages of my book which I will be sending out to an agent tomorrow. So please read the next paragraph and let me know if this blurb would make you at least ask to see more of the book (first 5 pages conveniently enclosed. If not, the I welcome your constructive feedback.

In the isolated valley of Terrene, where technology is grown, not manufactured, no one ventures beyond the surrounding mountains, and no one questions the guidance of the enigmatic Institute... no one except for Flora, an underachieving teen whose constant daydreaming is a frustration for both her mom and her teacher. But then a chance encounter sparks lucid dreams where Flora lives the life of climate-change researcher, Jane Ingram, experiencing the technological wonders of a world outside her tiny village. With the mysterious knowledge gained from her dreams, Flora earns a spot at the prestigious Institute where she encounters amazing discoveries and thrilling new challenges. At the same time, she experiences Jane's trials as she fights to stop the impending doom of global climate change. As Flora works with her new-found friends and discovers the true purpose of the Institute, the events of Jane's life become more and more intertwined with Flora's. Soon Flora realizes that her dreams of Jane may change not just her life, but the lives of everyone in both their worlds.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Being Discovered... by yourself

I'm going to do it. I'm sending out my first query letter to a literary agent on Monday. And now that I blogged about it, it must happen. Sure maybe I'm not totally and completely happy with the fiction novel I've been writing, but by Monday, I'll be happy enough with a brief synopsis and the first five pages to send it off to someone in New York who may or may not actually read it. Yeah, the lack of feedback can really suck. That's why I REALLY appreciate your comments (hint, hint).

Of course this won't really be my first rejection. Like anything else, being rejected is a skill that you can get better at. Or perhaps it would be more fair to say that persisting in the face of certain rejection is a skill that you can get better at. I submitted a short story to a magazine and a contest a few months ago. Rejection. But some of the form letters that come back are actually quite supportive of said recipient. These little things matter. One day when I somehow lack the energy to write something new, maybe I'll post the story.

But back to my main point, I am going to actively pursue becoming a published writer. And doing so does make me feel a slight twinge of hypocracy. Why you ask? Well, in writing as well as in so many other creative fields such as art, music and film, there lies the concept of being discovered. Stars are made by the chance meeting of a famous producer. If only this hot-shot from the record company or this famous publisher saw my work, I'll be signed to ABC records or We-Make-You-Into-JK-Rowlings Book Publisher. That's just how stars are made.

But I'm a self proclaimed futurist. I love the shifting of paradigms, and the road towards stardom is being repaved by the democratization of the arts. It is both becoming easier and cheaper to create works of art (photoshop, garage band, digital film) as well as much easier to distribute your works to the audience without going through the publishing industry (youtube, ebooks, free mp3 websites, facebook, blogger, etc.) I can imagine a day when the sharing of creative works is less corporate and more viral. And with so many other paradigm shifts, catching that revolutionary wave makes history.

And so I should "discover" myself. I should self-publish and self-market in a devastatingly original digital campaign over facebook, youtube, and mobile apps. I should even write a book in a new format to fit the new reading habits of today's readers.

But alas, launching a revolution takes a lot of time and focus, and I don't believe that this one is ready yet. There are other changes coming which I care much more about, and my voice is not yet strong enough to shift its direction. Above all, I yearn for a voice with which to influence this future. For some, their voice comes from the dollars they invest, the celebrity they wield, or the groups they govern. For me, I hope it will come from the readers I influence. I have a voice. But until people can hear it, I'll be throwing pebbles at people's windows, hoping to be discovered.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Learning to be better humans

I occasionally present at new hire orientation for my company, so I had some "presentation training" today and yesterday. What was interesting is that the training wasn't just about the obvious (don't cross your arms, make eye contact, don't pee your pants), but it was also about how to structure your presentation to make the desired impact. In particular, one of the consultant's models was about how the audience must go through phases (like the popularized phases of grief, but with less dying).

"know," where the audience is gaining facts, context and background.
"Understand" where the audience is allowed to draw limited conclusions
"Believe" where the audience is aligning with your argument
"Endorse" where you've converted the audience into advocates for your cause

It's an interesting system of viewing a presentation, especially when realizing that you must go in order and don't want to be pushing for the audience to believe your conclusions before you've given them a chance to know the background and understand the arguments. But I'm not really interested in writing too much about this particular methodology.

Instead I'm going to write about what it represents. This method of viewing presentations or rather arguments in general I find to be useful in everyday life. In fact, the basic building blocks of how to interact with others in our society seems amazingly lacking. I can't even find the right word for it. There are many related topics: debate, rhetoric, advertising to name a few. And I think we can all acknowledge how important these things are in our lives. It seems odd to me that the main manifestation for the teaching of all these seemingly core skills seems to be self-help books, management training, and talk show hosts.

At the same time, there seems to be a trend towards pushing math and sciences in primary education. Now I must admit that I am an engineer and highly value technology and progress. However, it appears to me that our society as a whole may be developing our industry to be technically advanced while our population remains analytically and rhetorically primitive.

I imagine that someone living 3000 years ago is genetically not much different than someone living now. And yet our lives are completely different, not just in the societies we live in, but the way we think, and particularly the way we interact. As our technology grows, and our tools become more powerful, I think it's important that we also progress in our ability to interact with each other, to understand difficult societal problems and work together. Basically, I think our technological growth is far outpacing our societal growth.

Most of our large problems are not technology problems but societal problems. Poverty. racism, wars, and even environmental problems are not technology problems. The political quagmire is not from a lack of computational power but from a structural failure to be able to make and enact good decisions. Imagine a population of well-educated, well-spoken, analytically proficient citizens, able to act as a populist-driven democracy. Imagine a world where the masses were not swayed by the campaigning of the few that wield power. OK, this is getting a little heavy for a short blog. Suffice to say, it would be interesting to examine the goal of primary education in the world.

Much of our educational curriculum is evolved. There are things that are necessary, vocational education such as learning how to make change for a dollar. And at higher levels, this translates into math and science where many of the jobs will be. However, how about training on how to be a citizen of this country? How do we learn to be better humans? Don't we all need to progress to some higher state of understanding? Or are we still just apes with cooler toys?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The World of Misplaced Blogs

I was talking to a friend last night about my aspirations to write a groundbreaking book that inspires people to view the world from a different, and hopefully beneficial perspective, a book that shifts the dialogue of mainstream America and the lens with which people view our conflicts, problems, and challenges when she suggested I write a blog.

"A blog!" I said. "What a great idea." In fact, I had started a blog half a year ago. The problem was that I had made it very specific to a certain framework (I do love frameworks), and that made it somewhat limiting. As a result, I abandoned it like so many other narrowly-defined tools (have you used your corn-on-the-cob holders recently or just lost them). But my friend convinced me that I can write a more general-purpose blog whose aimless wandering between thoughts on happiness, creativity, politics, and any other topic (I promise not to include what I ate this morning unless it has relevance to future geopolitics). So with great determination, I set out to start a new blog or to modify my narrowly-scoped blog into a much more versatile blog of nothingness and..... promptly discovered that I had already done so... ten months ago.

Yes, that's right, I completely forgot about the existence of this blog. This was a moment akin to trying to open the door of the car parked across the street from your own. I felt a little stupid and maybe a little concerned that I would soon need to shop for adult diapers. But alas, I can't stay mad at me. I've decided that this must happen to everyone.

So just how many discarded blogs, myspace pages, and spam-collecting email accounts are out there? In the Internet, how much space junk is orbiting around our servers? Like all things that are cheap (don't get me started on the hidden price of cheap goods), websites have become disposable. And so they're tossed, not even into nice garbage bins. They're just forgotten and left on the street, forcing everyone to just walk around them, head held high pretending they're not there.

Certainly, this form of junk and waste is better than the physical kind. No birds are choking on your last tweet. No fish ingest your toxic SPAM, introducing it into our food chain. And yet data is served on physical computers. Maybe only 5% of the data stored on servers in the internet is used... ever again.

Does that mean that one day we'll have to hire a janitorial staff to help keep the streets clean? In early industrial cities littering and spitting were accepted and commonplace. Now such behavior is a sign of uncultured barbarism. Perhaps we'll one day view the internet as a sanitary haven and reflect back on the days of internet littering and misplace blogs with revulsion. Well, I'm picking this blog up off the floor. How about you?