Random Thoughts and Comments 20230527

A lot of random thoughts going on since this is a big transitional time for me where I’m trying not to start new things.

I just finished reading a book called The Body Keeps the Score that I’d seen recommended somewhere or other a couple times. It was a really interesting book for me as a writer because it talks a lot about how people deal with trauma or what symptoms of someone having trauma might be. And it also talks about therapeutic approaches to trauma which was helpful for one book idea I’ve had percolating for a few years. I don’t want to write a world that would cause harm if implemented in real life.

But it also made me think that maybe some people who get diagnosed with something like ADHD really need to dig deeper and look at whether they’re treating a symptom of trauma when they take ADHD meds. Maybe it’s my biased Twitter sample but almost everyone I see on there that talks about their severe ADHD has also mentioned a sexual assault or being no contact with family or something else that would be considered trauma. If so, EMDR or neurofeedback or something like that might be a more permanent treatment.

I’m not a psychologist though, so absolutely no one should take that opinion as more than the idle thought it is. Just something to consider or discuss with a professional.

I’ve also been thinking this week about relationship repair. Why is it that some relationships end and others survive setbacks. My own family is one that’s had more than one period of heavy relationship drama over the years and yet eventually in most cases the parties have set aside their differences and come back together. (Although the weight of all of those prior conflicts are still there just waiting to rear their ugly heads. We are not a family who solves our issues, we just bury them.)

I used to hate the idea that some guy I was dating would mess up and his solution would be, “here are some flowers, sorry” because it was such a kneejerk reaction to the situation that didn’t consider what I personally value or care about. (I’m not big on flowers, especially after my dad died and everyone on the frickin’ planet sent them.)

And I often look at people saying “I love you” with a bit of side-eye because I know that I usually say that to people either out of routine (like at the end of a phone call with my family) or while I’m actively doing something that other won’t like (when I’d tell my dog I loved her as I trimmed her toenails). It’s also a phrase that’s sometimes used to impose obligation on the other, “But I love you, how could you…”

But if I step back from my own personal reaction, I see that both are a good relationship repair or maintenance tool.

They’re either someone taking a first step and saying, “Look, I care enough about the relationship we have to express the fact that I’m sorry” or a way to say, “I still want this relationship to continue.”

And then of course to repair the relationship the other party has to reach back. It has to be a mutual situation where one person reaches out and the other reaches back. And then they continue to do that back and forth.

Usually relationships end when one person stops responding. They fade when both people stop reaching out at about the same time. Sometimes relationships end with a bang and sometimes they just drift to an end. For me personally they’re more likely to drift to a close.

Which is why over the years, being the weirdo I am, I will occasionally think of a situation that went wrong and reach out to that person with the equivalent of “hey, sorry,” because in almost every relationship both sides have contributed to the outcome. None of us are perfect.

Sometimes my doing so is ignored or never seen. Sometimes my doing so results in a “oh, thanks for saying that” comment and then absolute silence. (Which is often all I actually wanted to accomplish.)

On rare occasions it results in a “thanks for saying that and I’m sorry about my part in things, too.” (Although not too often because people suck at admitting their mistakes or failures and also maybe it feels like I was only saying sorry so they’d also say sorry. IDK.)

And then very, very rarely it actually results in being able to rebuild a relationship.

All of which are perfectly acceptable responses. There are people in my past who if they showed up today and were like, “Hey, sorry” I’d be like, “Cool, thanks” and then hope they never reached out to me again. Because some people are simply not compatible, some friendships/relationships worked for a period of time and then fade, and some people have done such harm that sorry is good, but not enough to risk letting them back into your life ever again.

Interestingly enough I find that I reach out that way far more than the people I’ve known do.

And I don’t think it’s because I’ve been that much worse of a person in my relationships than others have. I think it’s because my role in my family has always been the one of mending and emotional regulation. I’m the one that sees that X person is starting to get upset with Y person so steers Y person to do something to fix that before things boil over. Or the one that mediates between X and Y person to get them to repair things. Or the one that puts myself between X and Y and takes the emotional hit so that they can continue their relationship while either X or Y hates me for a bit.

I also just have more free time on my hands to process things and think about them and look at them from different angles so that sometimes I see that my initial characterization of something (that person hates me) was wrong (no, they were actually lashing out in hurt due to things they experienced long before they ever knew you existed).

Most of my friends at this age (mid-40’s) are so buried in work and kids and some probably also have health and addiction issues of their own or someone else’s to deal with that they can barely take a moment to breathe let alone analyze their pasts.

That’s why I’m kind of looking forward to the new job. I need less thinking time. And I need less time to spend seeing the dramas of others on the internet. Especially because when I get too bored I sometimes find my way to pages or sites that are there to amplify the outrage.

As an example, there is one Twitter page I occasionally go to that is there to specifically share some of the horrible, awful things that men will say in dating situations or do in relationships. And it’s meant to be a WTF sort of page or a “see how hard it is out there” sort of page.

But what it really does is highlights that very very small minority of men that really are absolute shits and makes it seem like that’s all men out there. In reality very few guys are like that. Most single guys are not hanging around using weird lingo for women and talking about a woman’s body count and whether she’s used. They just want to find someone who they can spend time with who won’t make them feel like shit or use them. And they may make the occasional, “huh?” sort of comment, but they aren’t women-hating psychos.

I wouldn’t know that though if all the time I spent was online. Because, “Hey, I had an awkward, very boring interaction with a guy who really isn’t interesting to me” doesn’t get shared.

It’s like the news, right? They lead with outrage because outrage drives viewership and so if you were to listen to the news and then rank what you think your actual risks in life are you’d be completely wrong. (You are far more likely to be seriously injured or killed in a car accident than to be abducted and killed by a stranger, but guess which one will be covered on the news and which is so common it’s barely a blip on the radar.)

They’ve done psychology studies to show this sort of bias we develop and that was long before the internet amplified it to such an extreme it’s almost painful.

Anyway. My random thoughts for the day thanks to family drama over a stupid phone.

I now need to force myself to take a walk/hike since I don’t have a sad-eyed dog to drag me outside anymore. Sigh. (For the record, if I had to choose either dogs or humanity, I’d choose dogs.)

Tumblers Clicking Into Place

One of my neighbors is an 84-year-old widow. She recently had me over for tea. (I think this is an 80+ thing because my grandma is always having people over for tea as well.)

Anyway. We talked a bit about my being a writer and the question was immediately asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Of course, the answer is everywhere. And that once you start writing that first idea they just seem to grow exponentially because you’ve told some part of your mind that it needs to start collecting ideas and so it’s back there happily picking up new shinies everywhere you go.

Some person makes an interesting comment, idea. Some news article mentions something you’ve never heard of, idea. A person you cross on the street has an interesting hat or nose or way of walking, idea. You get your heart broken, five ideas. You meet someone you like, a zillion ideas.

But for me there’s also another component to it. And that’s that I’ll have the big idea for a while, but I need to wait for the tumblers to click into place to unlock the whole idea.

So maybe I think about writing a story with a young girl who finds a dragon in a cave. (One of my maybe someday stories I’ve had for a while.) But that story just sort of sits there percolating with no real direction to go.

Until someone makes a comment to me one day and I hear that little tumbler turn and lock into place. Ah, it’s not just a story of a young girl who finds shelter with a dragon in a cave, but the dragon has a story to tell.

And then the idea goes back to percolating some more until the next little piece appears. (I can’t take that particular example too far because that’s about as far as it is for me right now.)

Sometimes you can make your brain bring up the rest of the story by starting to write. There are little bits bubbling around back there that your brain can bring in if you get started but they’re buried too deep or are too peripheral to the core story to click into place just by thinking about the main idea.

But for me it feels like sometimes I’m waiting for that serendipitous conversation to really trigger the whole thing. I can’t write X book now because in six months someone is going to make a passing comment about a book that sounds interesting and I’m going to read that book a year later and that concept the person talks about in the book will suddenly give dimension to the story.

And sometimes that wait is agonizing. Like I just know I’m missing one more piece on this one, where is it?

And, yes, sometimes you can just sit down and write the story you have. But it isn’t necessarily the story that it could be if that one little piece were there. It’s a delicate process waiting for all the little pieces to drop into place, but when it happens it’s magic.

Random Thoughts 20230519

You’re going to have to bear with me on this one, because these are thoughts I’ve had for a while but never tried to organize into any sort of coherence.

So, one of those thoughts: For a society to be healthy and continue to function you need a certain fairly high percentage of the population to live the status quo. You need people who are happy to live in one place and be garbage collectors and fast-food and retail workers or lawyers or doctors or consultants or whatever your society is built upon. And for our society now that also includes people who marry and have kids and raise them to be that next generation to conform.

Another thought: For a society to be healthy it also needs to change and evolve over time. That comes from the fringes. From the minorities and the outcasts and the ones that don’t live by the status quo. The ones who think that “this” is not enough. The ones who can see a different choice. Or who make a different choice for themselves.

A third thought: Often change first appears through creative outlets such as music, art, TV, movies, plays, and writing.

A fourth thought: But there is a hostility from the core of a society who are comfortable with how things are or who even want to go back a bit to those who are pushing the boundaries of society. Hence bans on certain types of expression that threaten the core status quo and a general disdain for many creatives and their choices.

A fifth thought: AI is a way to flood the field with the status quo at the expense of future change. (I saw a tweet yesterday where an AI advocate said that AI doesn’t have to make better content than humans, they just need to make so much content that it drowns out the human-created content.)

A sixth thought: There is an intense motivation by those who benefit the most from the current system to try to keep it from changing. So there is a direct motivation for them to not compensate creatives fairly and make it as hard as they can for creatives to make a living (see the WGA strike right now) so that they can exert those pressures towards the status quo either by only having the privileged create or by being able to exercise control over what is created.

A seventh thought: Everyone talks about how hard it is for disadvantaged communities to participate in our organized creative enterprises, but that’s because those communities are the ones that are most likely to bring change that the money people at the top don’t support. So of course it’s in the money people’s interests to discourage that to the extent they can get away with it.

An eighth thought: Many of our societal problems come from inequalities and insufficient resources in our poorer communities. This could easily be fixed by taxation or other policies that eliminate the billionaire class and redistribute that wealth to create a healthier society.

A subthought: (Too often the changes that are proposed are things like “pay people’s rent” when rents are seen to be too high as opposed to “tax the shit out of excessive rents” or “impose a hefty tax on those who own more than one property in X area”. The changes we often propose actually just feed into that subclass becoming wealthier off of the backs of that community, one they often aren’t even a part of instead of stopping or reversing their actions to acquire more wealth.)

A ninth thought: There is an extremely strong pressure to glorify excessive wealth to help support the status quo especially when most of the communication sources (the news, TV, movies) are controlled by the wealthy.

A tenth thought: Climate change is going to be bad. And there is a subset of wealthy individuals who see the warnings about climate change and have decided it’s time to take the gloves off and suck as many resources as possible up for themselves while they still have time to do so.

An eleventh thought: That strategy will work in the short-term while things are still stumbling along (even though it accelerates things), but not in the long-term because most of what these people are sucking up won’t continue to have value in a failed society (currency, gold, etc.) and what they do have that has value (land, supplies) will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of people desperate to survive. You can’t control eight properties around the world in an unstable society.

(I should note this is one I’m thinking is true, but could be disproven by history.)

A twelfth thought: Religion and societal norms are forms of control over the populace. I think there’s a reason, for example, that suicide is so taboo. Because if you abuse workers to the point they don’t see the point in continuing and they actually remove themselves from the labor force (or from life) you lose the benefit of leveraging their work, so religious and social norms are there to force them to continue despite their instincts that make them want to escape.

A thirteenth thought: No one at the top of the wealth scale is there from their own effort. Yes, they may have had an idea that propelled them to that level and they even may have started the company to implement that idea, but it was usually the work of thousands or hundreds of thousands that was funneled up to them to give them that wealth.

A fourteenth thought: They make attending a top university and qualifying as a lawyer or doctor or consultant or whatever and then working as one hard so that people in those positions believe they are where they are because they earned it. The absolute top of the wealth scale are too few to protect themselves. They depend on the upper middle class and upper class to see themselves as hard workers who deserve their rewards in order to protect them.

A fifteenth thought: Most of that system (top law firms, top consulting firms, medical practice) don’t care if they chew up and spit out a certain percentage of the people who get there because (a) they get the benefit of that labor while they’re doing so for five or ten or fifteen or twenty years and (b) it makes those who survive the gauntlet and achieve that upper class level of wealth support it even more strongly.

A sixteenth thought: And they make those professions put in so much of their time (60-100 hours a week) and isolate them among their peers so that they never stop to question any of it. So they don’t see that others work just as hard at their jobs (teacher, farmworker, etc) but don’t receive those same financial rewards. Animosity to the “uneducated” or poor or “manual workers” is central to the continuation of that system.

A final thought: Knowing this doesn’t change anything or make life better in any way, but it does make it harder to be a part of that system and be rewarded by it. (Assuming you have a conscience, of course, which not all people do. Although I think far more people are simply oblivious because they’re struggling to live in a system that’s deliberately designed to be a struggle at almost all levels.)

No Regrets

As of June 1st I will no longer be a full-time writer. For a while I may not be a writer at all. Oh, I’ll still have way too many books published and available for sale and I still have some audiobooks I want to record. But I may completely step back for a while.

And, honestly, I don’t have any regrets about doing so. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time then you know that I wasn’t the most driven of authors. The idea of fame actually makes my skin itch and I was far more motivated to give my dog a quality life and myself time to breathe than I was to “be the winner” or “be the best”. (While other authors were spending sixty hours a week writing and giving themselves carpal tunnel I was…not.)

Now that my dog is gone it’s a good time to make that transition. I need the structure of a full-time job right now and the one I’ve accepted will pay my bills and leave a bit of a cushion. And I like what I’ll be doing. It actually excites me.

It’s also much more certain and stable than self-publishing. I don’t like what I see coming down the pipeline for self-publishing.

I was already well along the interview path when this news hit, but the recent Amazon paperback pricing changes will increase my print costs for a lot of my books by around 30%*. This at the same time that I think they’re playing some games on the AMS side to drive up bid costs. So that means less profit per sale and making it harder to get those sales in the first place.

(*My product mix is not like most self-published authors. I sell far more in print than most and I also publish in the 7.5″ x 9.25″ size for all of my computer or image-heavy books, which is not the case for most. Also on the non-fiction side I have a lot of new buyers I have to attract for my titles so advertising is more important for me than an established fiction author.)

I also think AI is going to mess things up for at least the next few years and will likely hit non-fiction first. It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough to pass, there will be people who see a pretty cover and spend their time/money on an AI-generated title. And there will be lots of them published. Which is going to further sour the reader experience and drive readers back to “trustworthy” sources. I think it’s also likely that AI can copy non-fiction easier than it can copy a novel.

Established names will be fine. If you have an audience already that autobuys your books, you’re solid. But for those who never established themselves I think it’s going to be rough. Same with new authors who don’t have some sort of support from existing authors who will vouch for them. So if you’ve got friends in a genre and they tell their mailing list about you, great. But if you’re just new and eager? Ouch.

I honestly think it will make trade pub more attractive for some newer authors. And if trade pub ever gets their heads out of their asses about ebook pricing and starts putting out ebooks in the $7.99-$9.99 range with price promotions on a periodic basis? Double ouch.

And I know there will be someone out there who says something along the lines of how you only fail at writing if you quit. Which, fair enough. But there are only so many hours in this life that we get to live and putting those hours into publishing into an increasingly ugly market just doesn’t seem like a good use of mine. (Especially when someone then comes along and outright steals or copies what I just did. Why offer myself up as a victim if I don’t have to?)

I have always been a storyteller. Set me in a waiting room without a book to read or on a long road trip and I’ll be spinning some sort of story in my head. And putting those stories on paper is an interesting experience because the story evolves when it’s written down and turned into 90K words of prose versus that sketched out shape of a story that existed in my head.

But the publishing side is something else entirely. I’ve enjoyed learning the process–formatting books, designing covers, etc.–but at this point I’ve done that. And if I’m not trying to make my writing pay my bills, publishing is not necessary.

I do still have some collections to publish at some point for the non-fiction so I’m sure you’ll see me announce a few more titles here at least. I’ll also still have thoughts about writing because I’m not going to stop reading books anytime soon.

And, who knows? I may have become addicted to all of this and not know.

Between my sophomore year and junior year of college I took a year off with the full intent of taking five or so years off to make enough money to pay for the rest of college flat out. (I was a bit naive.) But I really, really missed studying Mayan hieroglyphs and it turned out that the local library didn’t have books on that. So I decided I had to go back to school. (Not that I spent all that much time studying them when I got back, but I did get to take a cool course on language change.)

So you never know.

I do know that removing the profit pressure from my writing is going to be a good thing. It will let me write whatever fiction I feel like writing because whatever I write will be for me first not some nebulous “market”.

And, yes, I’m lucky that I can do this. I know of authors who had to make it with their writing because they were on welfare/public assistance and had no prospects or were stuck in a minimum wage job and didn’t have a pathway to a different job. Or writers who are busy parents and writing is their escape and validation.

But for me, personally, I did have other choices and I’m taking one of them.

I’ve loved learning all that I have the last decade. And taking the time to see a broader world than I would have if I’d stayed on my original path. I think writing has made me a better person. Not a great person–I’m still arrogant–but at least I know that now. 🙂

Anyway. I’ve shared my writing journey up to this point so figured I should share this, too. Wish me luck. And best of luck to you on your continuing journey, wherever it takes you.

Affinity Publisher 2.0 Versus Original

I put together a quick video about the differences I noticed between Affinity Publisher 2.0 and the original version of Affinity Publisher. It’s mostly appearance differences, but as I mentioned before they did move the Studio information and Resource Manager around.

No guarantees these are all the differences, but they’re the ones I noticed as I was writing the recent Affinity Publisher 2.0 for Book Formatting titles.

(And sorry for any sound issues. My ASUS laptop sucks and I should’ve known better than to try to use it for, well, anything really.)

Affinity Publisher 2.0 New Releases

Just a quick post to let you know that the Affinity Publisher 2.0 titles for book formatting are now out in the wild. These are basically the equivalent of Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts (Part 1) and Affinity Publisher for Non-Fiction (Part 2) but written for the updated Affinity Publisher.

As I mentioned in an earlier post they moved a few key things around and changed the appearance as well, so I figured this was warranted. And this one doesn’t have the terminology error I made in the original books.

I enjoyed coming up with a completely different color look, but I’ll probably decide I hate it a month from now. (As I always seem to do.)

Anyway, if you needed it, enjoy.

Endings Matter

The blurb, cover, buzz, and maybe the first few pages sell the first book in a series. But after that, it’s the ending of the last book that sells the next one. Because every reader has a choice when they reach the end of a book–continue on with the series they’re reading or go read something else.

I just finished reading a book by a new-to-me author. And it was a decent book. Interesting world, good characters, nice twists, nice fantasy elements.

Overall I was giving it a thumbs up. Not my favorite book that I’ve read recently, but solid. It was slow to start, so I wouldn’t have rushed out to buy the next one by this author, but it came together at the end so I probably would have eventually done so when book 2 was out in paperback.

Problem is, the ending. It hit the wrong emotional note.

The core issue of the book was solved, the two main characters worked out their issues, there was some hope for the future but hints that things weren’t perfect, and then…


It turned downward on the last two pages. The couple basically broke up and the future that was shown was bleak.

In a sense it was a cliffhanger. Which can sometimes pull readers to the next book because they want to know what happened. They know they have to keep reading for that emotional payoff.

But in this case it retroactively ruined the last third of the book for me. Like, “Oh, this was where you were headed? Ugh.”

So much writing advice focuses on the first pages. Write that perfect first sentence. Suck them into your story. Grab their attention. Keep them reading. But I think not near enough attention is paid to the ending of a story, which is in one sense even more important.

I can’t remember the first sentence of most stories I’ve read. But I can remember how those stories made me feel at the end.

Which begs the question, what is a good ending for a story?

For me, there has to be an emotional payoff. It doesn’t have to be romantic, but there has to have been a point to the story. The mystery is solved, the good guys win or find the thing, the couple comes together.

We have to end there for a reason. Even if the overall story arc is larger than this one book, there has to be some justification for why this was the ending for the first installment in that larger story.

And for me it has to end on an up beat. There can be that hint that more struggle is coming down the road, but I personally want it to end where things are positive, happy, or optimistic. Or if not optimistic at least resolved to some extent.

(I know some literary novels don’t end that way, but I also don’t enjoy those books.)

So, here, for example, this book could have ended five pages earlier than it did and been a much better ending for me. In my opinion, it should have ended where they solved the mystery and made the agreement that will be the subject of the next book.

Instead it stepped into the bad place. Which means when I closed the book my last lingering memory was “oh, that’s going to be grim” and I have no desire to go there.

Once more and as always, think of your audience and its expectations. Some genres like grimdark maybe are okay with a nihilistic, unhappy ending. But most genre audiences want their emotional payoff to be positive. And if you don’t deliver that, they’ll find an author who does.

Okay. Off to format some non-fiction. Good times.

We Create The World We Live In

First, the WGA is on strike. I’ll post three Twitter threads at the bottom of this post that are worth reading. As noted before, I support them.

And I think the John Rogers post below is worth thinking about. Because we collectively through our values and our laws create the world we live in.

If you criticize a company for taking steps to maximize its share price you will often hear something along the lines of “well, they HAVE to do that because they have a duty to their shareholders.”

But the point that is often missed in that is that we as a society have created the rules that drive that. And we could change them.

We could make it a law that corporations must provide value to their shareholders while also taking into account long-term profitability and viability.

Because a nice little bump in today’s share price is meaningless if you suck all liquidity out of your company so that it’s bankrupt in two years.

And a nice little bump in today’s share price is meaningless if you create such brutal working conditions that you lose the people who make that company what it is. If you drive away your talent with poor compensation and relentless work demands, you will lose value long-term.

A nice little bump in today’s share price is also meaningless if you so mismanage the natural resources you rely on for that business that you once again deprive that company of what it needs to be a long-term viable business.

I would also argue that the type of extremely high CEO compensation we see should not be treated as a good thing, but should be viewed as poor management. If you’re telling me that the CEO of that company is worth $300 million but the people who do the day-to-day work aren’t worth paying a living wage then what you are telling me is that you have mismanaged that company to create a single point of failure. That’s poor long-term management of a company that should get the board that approved it fired if true. If not it’s a grift and they should still be fired for paying someone compensation they don’t deserve. Especially when it comes at the cost of the staff that drive long-term viability for that company.

I remember back in my broker days there was such a thing as “blue chip” stocks that returned a steady, long-term profit. They weren’t sexy, they weren’t flashy, but they delivered value year-in and year-out. And yet we have this environment now that only rewards sexy growth. Big numbers. Even for companies that should not be that type of company. And it’s killing those companies.

It can be frustrating as an individual to know how to counter this hot mess. For me, personally, I’ve shifted from seeing a fancy sports car and thinking, “ooh, nice” to thinking “what a selfish fuck who cares only for themselves”. If we don’t reward people socially for amassing vast amounts of wealth they (may) lose the incentive to do so.

I mean, honestly, does anyone need $300 million let alone $300 million every single year? No. Especially not off of the backs of others.

And I absolutely did call out a friend recently who probably makes over $500K a year when they kept complaining about “rich people” as if they aren’t one. That shit has to stop. Just because one guy has rocket money doesn’t mean that a whole swathe of people aren’t doing very, very well for themselves and couldn’t spare a bit more than a vote every four years.

Oh, and for this case, I canceled my streaming subscription today and won’t be streaming anything while this strike is ongoing. And I’m sharing the thoughts I can with the people I can to maybe take one more chip at that giant boulder that needs to crumble if we have any hope of the world being a good place to live for more than a handful of selfish assholes thirty years from now.

(Oh, and no comments allowed on this thread. I’m not here for anyone out trolling about the strike.)

Here are those Tweet threads: