The Crusades revisited. A thousand years later, a Christian leader, Pat Robertson, suggests to a caller with "wife problems" that he convert to Islam so he can beat his disrespectful spouse. A group of (presumably) Christian fanatics create a really stupid video intended to show Muslims that their prophet was a child molester. In response, a group of (presumably) Muslim fanatics kills American diplomats who just supported their efforts to overthrow the tyrants who had been oppressing them. On most social issues, the fantical Christians and the fanatical Muslims agree with one another. There is one minor difference. Each sees themselves as representing the will of god, and the other as representing the devil. I can only conclude that after a thousand years, we really haven't made much progress as a species.
This is the second novel in my "Civitas Rising" series. It's been a joy peeling back the layers of drama and political intrigue that confront the Newman family and their friend Marco Prima.
I've been both surprised and fascinated by the evolving political dynamics in the story. What started as a narrative about finding balance in our personal priorities has uncovered a fundamental truth - that if we hope to achieve an equilibrium in our personal lives, we need to ensure the cultural and political world in which we live isn't an upside-down mess.
Even after their escape from the mainland, Rachel Newman and Marco Prima find themselves caught up in the toxic messiness of Freedom First's America, a country that sacrifices community values at the altar of corporate libertarianism. The results are a roller-coaster ride where these young lovers have to come to terms with their own personal phantoms while desperately fending off an assault on their island refuge by global cartels intent on sinking Civitas once and for all.
I hope you enjoy the read. It's a wild ride.
“So, how are you planning to market your new book?” a friend asked this morning. I thought for a moment, smiled and shrugged.
This is the primary challenge facing writers in the era of open access publishing. It’s equally true whether your book is being released by a big NY publishing house, a small press, or you are going the independent route. If you don’t have an established base of readers who follow your work, how will you connect your stories to those who would enjoy reading them?
Most of us try the usual things, Facebook page, product website, Tweet yourself silly, blog-on, all of which is good to do but has a limited effect. So you look at what worked for the much-publicized new publishing superstars, writers like Amanda Hocking and John Locke. They were prolific, wrote well… and got lucky. Ahh - there’s the rub.
There’s a serendipity factor in how audiences connect with new writers, which by definition is impossible to control and therefore very frustrating until it happens, at which point it becomes magical and wonderful. This isn’t new. In the old world of publishing, you got a lucky break and found the great agent or the perfect Big Six company to shepherd your work. Or someone somehow got a copy of your new book to Oprah. In the new world you load your book on Amazon and Smashwords, let everyone you’ve ever met know about it, send free copies out to bloggers and reviewers you think might be interested, cross your fingers and start outlining your next tome.
The barriers to publishing have been smashed, Amazon is ascendant, paper is giving way to digital, the world of words is wide open. At some point new marketing avenues will emerge to provide a credible connection between writer and reader. For now all I know to do is write my best work, set it free, hope I get lucky - and start writing the next one.
What do you call someone who is opposed to making healthcare available to everyone? A patriot? An idiot? I guess it depends.
In some of the poorest countries in Europe and elsewhere, people have to resort to selling their organs (yes - kidneys, even lungs) to pay for the basics they and their family need to survive. Macabre but true. See the article in today's NY Times at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48008837/ns/world_news-the_new_york_times/?gt1=43001
At the same time, there are those in the United States, hardly one of the worlds hard luck economies, who feel it is offensive, perhaps even treasonous, to consider healthcare a basic service - like public education or a pension system for the elderly. These patriotic folks all have private healthcare insurance of some kind, so it isn't that they want to deny themselves. They want other people to be free of the burden of affordable healthcare. Perhaps this is some kind of punishment for not working hard enough, or getting bad grades in school, or being born into the wrong family, or just being unlucky. Whatever the crime, the penalty is severe. You are to go untreated when you're ill or injured, or have to declare bankruptcy to pay medical bills. Alternatively, you could just die.
The advanced economies of the world have all come up with working, affordable solutions for providing their populations with healthcare. All except the US. For us, it's a matter of principle, of political freedom - we will not succumb to affordable healthcare! We will fight it to our last breath.
Who thinks like that??
I've been thinking about dementia lately. My focus on what most of us quite naturally would prefer to ignore is in part due to a thoughtful article in TIME by Joe Klein on the subject. There has also been news lately of a potential therapeutic breakthrough. But mostly, I think about this because my mom is in the late stages of the disease.
It occurs to me that dementia is a process of death by subtraction. We lose stuff that's important to us - memories, for example, and language, and mobility, and awareness of who our friends are, and then of who our children are, and finally of who we are. It's mostly a slow process, though there are times when abilities or memories disappear overnight.
At the end of it all, before death arrives but once most everything else has gone, those observing the process are left wondering - who is this person? Without our memories, our ability to speak, and perhaps (though this is hard to determine) our thoughts, who are we? Our eyes may still shine brightly, we may smile, enjoy something to eat, hold a hand, but who are we?
The audiobook of "Virtually Yours, Jonathan Newman" is now complete! It will be available for purchase from Audible.com, iTunes, and Amazon in the next couple of weeks. I'll post the links once they're available. This was a fun project, produced with music and sound effects to enhance the experience. I hope you enjoy it.
Here's a thought... Given the formidable task of enacting rational, effective, and affordable healthcare reform, and the fact the insurance industry would fight to the death to defeat any initiative that would truly reduce healthcare costs, I wonder if a State-based system might be our best bet. It would take a leader to forge the way (California?), but could start a movement where some states offer rational, universal coverage. Businesses would flock to those states, I assume, and their economies would thrive. Those who resist (Mississippi, Texas, Kansas...) would see their citizens looking longingly across their borders. Eventually the political climate would shift to embrace a rational national approach. Or perhaps I'm just dreaming.
Out hiking today, a friend mentioned how the current Supreme Court review of health care in the US, and specifically the concept that everyone should have access to needed care here, as they do in all other developed countries, tracks with one of the core themes in VYJN. In the story, Jonathan is forced to take a job to get health care for his critically ill son, Josh. The question is - should our access to health care be tied to our employment? At a time when people change jobs regularly, when large numbers of employers don't provide health coverage, and when many employees are working part-time, multiple jobs, or as "contract workers", does our current approach make any sense at all?
Mary Brown, the Florida small business owner who is the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case challenging the mandate that everyone should be required to have health insurance, has declared bankruptcy. Not earth-shattering news, except part of the reason for her bankruptcy was her inability to pay her medical bills. Like all those who lack coverage, those costs will now be borne by - us. If her family had health insurance, like every single citizen in every western nation except the US, her bills would be paid and she might not be bankrupt. The primary plaintiff against universal healthcare becomes the poster child for why it's essential. If I put this in a novel, no one would believe it.
Some friends were discussing innovation in the context of competition between China and the US. The question was, will China have the kind of society that will be able to innovate in the future or will their growth flatten? The key here is innovation, and it's an issue not just for China. Everyone seems a bit stuck, including the US.
I'm not just speaking of innovation in the development of new products and business opportunities - better phones, cool marketing websites, desirable cars. I'm thinking about rethinking what people do to prosper in a market economy.
This gets to my recurring concern about what we think of as "jobs". Jobs have been the basis of the US economy for a about 150 years. Before that, it wasn't "jobs" in industry, or "jobs" in services, but working on your family farm, or the trade you learned from your father that defined the productive part of your life. That shifted with the vast expansion of industrial production. Then people got jobs in mines, jobs at mills, forestry jobs, railroad jobs, and eventually manufacturing jobs.
That new model worked pretty well until the shift to an information economy. Now we have technologies that can do much of the work we thought of as "jobs", yet we have many more people who need to be able to support themselves and their families. There are still "jobs" that need to be done. What employment growth there has been, has mostly been in lower paying wage labor positions in service industries like food preparation and healthcare. There are still professional opportunities as well of course, some will get degrees in engineering, or law, or medicine, but even these are no longer the professions they once were. Increasing numbers of doctors now work on salary for giant healthcare conglomerates, not as independent professionals.
But with all these rapid changes, we haven't entered the very fundamental conversation about what people will be doing to add value to society, support their families, enjoy a feeling of contributing to the greater good, and grow personally. We lament that there are no "jobs". We need to get past that. What we think of as a healthy jobs economy is not likely to return any time soon - perhaps never. So, what's next? That's the big innovation question that needs to be asked.
Have you read any of the Civitas Rising series? Please share your thoughts about the Great Change, the impact of technology on our lives, healthcare, the role of government, and anything else the books got you thinking about.