Class Warfare is in Your Head

In this country, the United States, and perhaps many others, it is easy to believe that you will always belong to the socio-economic group your parents belong to. Work hard, stay focused, take advantage of the right opportunities, and the promised land is yours.

Raise your hand if you were taught this.

This is thinking I would like to unlearn. I don’t know how to unlearn it yet, but it is one of my missions.

Here is an example of why I think this is wrong thinking. When I was in school, from elementary all the way through college, I was in class with the elite kids. I was a great test taker. I learned new material quickly. I wasn’t afraid to say what I thought. But I never made an attempt to socialize with the elite kids. Many of them are doing really well right now, so bless them and their success. But why did I never network with or befriend these people? Most of them were pleasant, not too full of themselves, and they were just as clueless about the world as I was.

What I have come to realize recently, in writing this third novel, is that I didn’t believe I was in their class. I grew up believing in a caste system and didn’t even realize I was believing it. My friends all had working class dads, like mine. My friends’ moms were mostly stay-at-home moms like mine. My friends’ parents drove middle class cars, like mine did. Most of my friends grew up to be teachers, middle managers, and military professionals. All of those are great professions. But that kind of career was never my goal. I never wanted to be responsible for the destinies of other people.

But there is something in my head that says a career as a creative professional, making great money, signing books at book stores, and doing the interview circuit is something that happens to other people. Like winning the lottery.

Where do these thoughts come from and why can’t they go harass someone else for a change?

I think part of the challenge is about understanding the terms Work Hard and Stay Focused and Take Advantage. I think these three terms mean completely different things to different socio-economic groups.

When I figure out what they mean for creative professionals I’ll let you know.

More on Virtual Silence

As I wrote down all of my ideas for my novel Virtual Silence years ago, and started writing the manuscript, I wondered how would I categorize this book? It has youth, love and sex. It has age, wisdom and death. It has crooked businessmen and terrorists. It has a songwriter in love and organic cookies. So how do you boil all of that down to one line you can pitch?

At one point I had merged all four of the stories into one, like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. But later I broke it up into the novel and three related stories to eliminate confusion. They’re all connected, but they have different focal characters.

In the story also called Virtual Silence, Harry Bones escapes his abusive step mother and tries to woo Callie Wilson-Cox, his girl next door who has moved from San Antonio to Oakland to start her adult life. Wooing her in Oakland doesn’t work out, so he returns to San Antonio and gets a mail room job with the Amalgamate United Corporation. The AUC is the largest corporation on Earth, and owns a substantial share of many governments, including the US. The AUC arranges for the homeless to be shipped to Mexico where they are obligated to work for a Mexican drug lord, out of sight and mind of the US economy. Harry meets Simon DeMont, the sensitive HR director who is secretly in love with Morgan Vale, the Procurement Director, who is the leader of a protest/hacker group that seeks to shut down the mind-numbing and controlling media.

What Harry doesn’t know is that Callie is in love with him, and is on her way back to Texas to jump into his arms. What Simon doesn’t know is that Morgan wants him to ask her out, even if he is soft and weak. And what Morgan doesn’t know is that Simon already suspects she is the leader of the Virtual Silence Brigade and isn’t bothered by it. What none of them realize is that Tim Dank, the devious, artificially upbeat Facility Director at their site, has used his influence and insider knowledge to garner a majority share in the AUC, and is on his way to becoming the most powerful man on Earth. Does his executive assistant, Art Smith, support or thwart his insidious plans? The tension and intrigue build to an explosive crescendo where bricks fly, buildings rock, and Art and love triumph over greed and power.

In the second story, The Strobe, we learn more about Garrison Ensor, an accountant with the AUC who used to work for their competitor, the UUM, until he got laid off after a huge corporate growth spurt. His crush and former boss Janna McCafferty is also let go, and the two of them decide to have a night on the town. They discover a shiny orb of energy that turns out to be an accident of alien technology. They use it to travel through time and space to learn how aliens created corporations, and encouraged humans to make weapons and wars. The aliens wanted humans to stay focused on war, technology and TV so they could take the Earth’s resources without a fight. Garrison and Janna do not age in the Strobe, so they must decide whether to spend eternity together in this alternate universe, or return to the real world and deal with all of its imperfections.

The Money Machine is about an electronic money-laundering device that former hockey star Ronnie Day creates in order to buy back American slaves from Mexican drug lord Juan Manual Hermosa Chihuahua. Day has a plan to ship them by train to Alaska where they can live free, if not wealthy or warm, on a commune he created. In a corrupt world, one must be careful with whom one does business. So Ronnie gets a big surprise when the train doors open up in northern British Columbia, and a new life begins for him and his lover, former AUC executive Kitty Le Monde.

The Dialer is about the Second Coming of Sonny Mahon, who finds himself in a wrinkled business suit and sandals on a sidewalk in Downtown San Antonio, just down the street from the AUC Building. He tries to tell people about love and forgiveness, but no one wants to hear it. They are too busy going to work, or shopping, or getting to the next big thing. Venture Capitalist Burt Long sees Sonny as an opportunity, and convinces him to work for his new 900 number start up as a Dial-a-Jesus. When Sonny confronts Burt about his tiny paycheck, Burt fires him and tosses out his auto dialing machine, which Sonny retrieves from the dumpster outside. Art Smith convinces Sonny to start his own business with the dialer, calling people at random and helping them solve their direst problems.

So this book asks this question: Do you believe your life is about more than just where you work, what you watch, or what you buy? Is your passion for sale or subject to terms and conditions? Is your soul a wholly-owned subsidiary of the AUC and its affiliated companies? Or are you some assembly required?

It’s your choice to buy or sell the corprocracy.

Virtual Silence free on Kindle this weekend

My first novel, Virtual Silence, is a free download this weekend on Kindle. Check it out, write a review, and buy a copy of my second book, Fugue in C Minor for $1.69! Both are literary fiction with a dash of mystery, romance and intrigue thrown in.

Have a great weekend!

A Bizarre Way to Measure Progress

The first draft of my work in progress novel, The Dying Art of Conjugation, is 46% done. That means I am on page 126 of 275. But as I go through the manuscript, the total number of pages ought to increase as I re-write and replace the original text from years ago. I am expecting this book to end up around 350 pages. So next time I update my progress, it could be page 140 of 285. That’s how this is going to have to go.

In between writing sessions I play free cell. It makes you see that there are a number of ways to try to solve a puzzle. Some of your tries will fail. Some will succeed. None of them will succeed if you surrender. Sometimes you have to go backward before you can go forward. Sometimes you have to bury your ace in order to free up space. Then you can unbury the ace.

So that’s what I’m doing with this book.

May you unbury all the aces and deuces you find buried in a pile of seemingly useless cards. And may all your dreams come true.

 

The Oppression

Sometimes an idea can drive you, and other times it can drive you away.

When I decided to focus on The Dying Art of Conjugation, I was planning to repaint a few rough spots initially. Once I got started, I noticed some dry rot and had to replace a few boards. But now that I am about 40% of the way through the manuscript, I am finding myself razing the entire building and starting over. The idea of this book, started in 1988, was a great idea. My execution of it when I was young, arrogant and lacking experience, was poor. This is why I say your first novel will probably suck.

Now that I am completely re-writing this book, I feel a sense of relief. Patching 100 miles of pavement is a lot more work than just digging up the road and laying new asphalt.

The book will not be finished by Christmas, or even Valentine’s Day. But now I have a stronger feeling that it will be 100 times better than the original concept I started in 1988. This time it will not suck.

Review of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas

I don’t generally gush about books. I love the idea of books. I really like some of them. Others are nice, probably won’t read them again. But this one makes my Top 5 all-time list, if such a thing were written in stone.

Mitchell takes six stories written about six different periods in history, narrated by six different voices, in six completely different literary styles, and makes one magnificent symphony of a novel. It’s ok to use that metaphor because he does. In fact, at one point in the narrative, the composer Robert Frobisher asks his friend Rufus Sixsmith in a letter if his own Cloud Atlas Sextet, described as “a sextet for overlapping soloists,” is Revolutionary or Gimmicky. But really Mitchell is asking the reader. And my answer is Both.

I’ve seen the movie twice and will watch it again tomorrow. It’s very good. But Mitchell’s novel is better.

It’s better because it boils all the ills of society and corprocracy into a few gems of narrative that each of the focal characters share with people close enough to listen. And so no matter if you’re a notary sailing on a schooner from Australia to California in 1849, an unknown bi-sexual composer in 1931, a libbed female journalist in 1975, an imprisoned senior citizen trying to get back to your publisher’s world in 2004, a surprisingly self-actuated fabricant fast food server 100 years in the future, or a simple goatherd trying to protect his family from marauders in the deep future after the Fall of Civilization; the truth about life and death and happiness and sadness and power and will are the same. Find your place. Love your life. Respect everyone you can. And always know that what you do makes an impact.

If you haven’t read this book, do it.

Sloosha’s Crossin’

I’m still reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. It’s a long book and I’m savoring it rather than gobbling. You don’t gobble Almond Roca.

I just finished the story of “Sloosh’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After,” which is set in the very distant future after the Fall of what we refer to as civilization. The time and effort that must have gone into writing that story is mind boggling. Being mindful of all the style changes, how he uniformly misspells everything and uses apostrophes like Van Gogh used brush strokes, makes me wonder how long it took Mitchell to write this story.

One thing that has surprised me is that the movie and the book are very different. The age of Zachry, his destination at the end of the story, the fate of his family, even his relationships are very different from the book to the movie. The way that Sonmi-451 exits the restaurant, and the reason for Yoona-939’s death are also different from book to movie.

As I read this book, I can’t help but wonder if Mitchell wrote six great stories, realized none of them was long enough to make into a novel, and so he linked them with a comet-shaped birthmark and connected each story’s documentation as historical of the others. For example, the first story is told as “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” which is read by composer Robert Frobisher in the second story. Frobisher’s letters to scientist Rufus Sixsmith are read by journalist Luisa Rey in the third story, who befriends Sixsmith late in his life. Rey writes a memoir that is read by publisher Timothy Cavendish in the fourth story. Cavendish writes the story of his adventures, and the film of that story is watched by server-turned-prophet Sonmi-451 in the fifth story. Sonmi-451’s final testimony (her orison) is viewed by Prescient Meronym and Valleysman Zachry in the six story, where the Valleys People believe in re-incarnation.

Or did Mitchell intend to write the book this way?

Maybe one day I’ll get to ask him.