Welcome to my blog where I will post commentary on issues ranging from fiction to public policy. Tucked away in the Idea Boxes are “how to” tips on a variety of projects that have become part of our family’s culture over the years. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas there. My blog will take you through the fantastic journey of writing and publishing fiction, as well as commentary on politics, cultural trends, book reviews and family.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

David Brooks, The Social Animal

David Brooks’ The Social Animal is a dense book, packed with data, which may keep it from being an overwhelming commercial success.  That’s too bad because it contains much that it worth reading.

Brooks attempts to teach us about the importance of relationships through a story that is purportedly fiction, following the lives of several people from birth to death.  The characters, it turns out, are props to demonstrate various research findings about the human species, along with Brooks’ ever-insightful views about our culture.

I’m not sure the device of demonstrating psychological and sociological research insights through these characters’ lives works very well.  It probably should have been five or six books instead of one. 

Still, of the various non-fiction I’ve read recently, I keep turning to episodes from this book when talking to friends about ideas.  I don’t always agree with David Brooks’ bottom line, but I’ve never read anything he wrote that didn’t have something of truth and substance in it.

Here are some takeaways from The Social Animal:

Although people are often measured by external achievements (What’s your job?  Where did you go to school?), it’s the choices we make based on intuition and instinct that are more likely to determine our happiness and the measure of our lives (Who did you marry? What do you believe in?).

Research recited in the book on child development, education, careers, human sexuality, marriage and aging supports Brooks’ theory that the human animal is shaped essentially by relationships.

Particularly elegant is his debunking of our culture’s misguided overreliance on data to drive economic and political decisions and on money to solve problems, making a strong case for the superiority of the human mind over the computer.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Should I Self-Publish?

I finished a rough draft of my first novel about a year ago.  Since that time, it has inched along, dutifully slogging through its life cycle of reviews, rewrites, feedback, rewrites, comments, rewrites, professional edits, rewrites. 

The question now is this.  Do I select a digital print-on-demand self-publishing company and put my book out there, hoping the world will find it, or do I take the longer traditional route of seeking an agent and hoping to be picked up by an established publishing house?

I’ve thought from the beginning I would self-publish.  The book publishing industry is under stress.  The new digital technologies are getting better.  You can get a print-on-demand book out faster and cheaper and, if you’re successful, keep more of the proceeds.

True, you have to sell it yourself, but that seems to be the case these days even if you have a publisher.

But here’s the thing.  There are still advantages to having a traditional publisher.  For one, digital books don’t look as good as offset print books.  The covers are glossy and lighter weight than paperbacks printed by the big houses.  They are getting better, for sure, but you can tell. 

This wouldn’t be so much of a problem, were it not for the fact that too many books of poor quality have hit the market.  If you have a publisher, people at least assume a certain level of competence. 

Does that mean traditional publishing has become the new vanity publishing?

I don’t think I can wait another year to have a book in my hand. 

So we’ll see.

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Blog

The life of a writer is a solitary business, but we are fortunate to live in an age when electronic interconnectedness lets us tap into the experiences of other writers and of people who love books.

I hope this blog will give me a window into the community of writers struggling to bring their stories and ideas to life in the face of stunningly new ways to consume information.

I also want to introduce you to the Idea Boxes on this blog page—my way to pass along some of the ideas that have made our family’s life more interesting.

Cousin Camp is our family’s annual summer gathering.  It has evolved into a structured “camp” for the grandchildren and you may find some ideas there to make your own family reunions more meaningful.

The Health Care Act is much in the news these days.  This is a presentation we put together for our New Year’s retreat at Asilomar.  We think it’s a balanced view of the problem and of the case before the Supreme Court, with a focus on why costs keep climbing so fast in U.S. health care and the difficulties in trying to reform the system.

We like social events that have a little structure to them and you’ll see that in the descriptions of how to set up a Robert Burns Dinner or a Bridge Group.

Thanks for your interest and for taking the time to comment.