A Practical Planning Exercise

The teacher’s eyebrows shot up. And all the other eleventh-graders in his class were suddenly free to dream because my son had given them permission to do so, and their futures percolated up into a froth of exciting possibilities. Why? Read on.

It was 2001, and my son’s 11th-grade math class was sweltering through the last summer days of the school year. All of the assignments for the term were done, finals were ongoing, and his math teacher decided to use this time to try to give them some practical learning they could use in real life. So he assigned the class an exercise: It’s several years later, after your schooling is done. What are you doing for a living? They were to decide how much they made and submit a budget.

My son Jon thought this was a great idea, and came home full of enthusiasm. Although he did not call it “reverse engineering,” he decided on what sort of life he’d like in ten years and counted up how much things would cost. Then he’d decide on a career to support that lifestyle.

“Well, I’d like to me married,” he mused aloud to me and his grandmother. “I’d rather my wife didn’t have to work, and I want three kids. Hmm.” He chose where he wanted to live, in the foothills of the mountains, what sort of house he’d live in, and what sort of car he wanted to drive (it had to be AWD due to those mountains, especially in icy conditions.) He chose where he wanted to work and how much the commute and maintenance costs of the car would be. And would his wife want the family to have a second car? Of course she would. So he budgeted for two car payments. He looked up house prices, calculated his mortgage and utilities.Calculated how much food would cost, including occasionally taking his wife out to dinner. We looked it over.

“Did I forget anything?” he asked his mother and his grandma. I suggested medical costs. I helped him allow for health insurance, deductibles, etc.

My mother just had one word. “Taxes.”

His face fell. “Oh, that’s a big one–how could I have forgotten that?” Income taxes and real estate taxes got factored in. “They’re going to take a third of my paycheck?!” Yes, son, they will.

Once he had a total figure–I think it was around $150K/yr–he started looking in the New York Times want ads for jobs that paid that well. Some of those required insane amounts of time and money to pursue advanced degrees, so he crossed them off his list of possibilities.

“So I guess I will have to be a medical devices salesman,” he decided.

The next day, in math class, his classmates stood up there with their lackluster lives budgeted out. One was going to be a legal secretary. One was going to be a teacher. Most of them had chosen office work. All of them were safe, expected careers.

Then my son stood up to make his presentation. As he worked through his figures and estimates the class got more and more excited. The teacher’s eyebrows shot up. And all the other eleventh-graders in his class were suddenly free to dream because my son had given them permission to do so, and their futures percolated up into a froth of exciting possibilities.

Their teacher poured ice water on this. “Whoa, whoa, whoa–wait a minute! Let’s set some parameters here! Do the exercise again, tonight, but you can only make… ” I think he set it at $35K a year.

My son Jon turned to his best friend, who was in that class, and said sotto voce, “Well, there go the wife and kids.” But the two of them did the assignment together, budgeted as roommates sharing an apartment, and still kicked the rest of the class’ butts with their projected lifestyle.

Not Microsoft support: a conversation

Me: “Hello.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “Hello. This is Bob Bobson from Microsoft Support. We are seeing a lot of virus activity from your device.”

Me: “Oh no. My device? Are you sure?”

NOT-Microsoft support: “Oh yes, we have many reports.”

Me: “Oh jeez. How can I fix it?”

NOT-Microsoft support: “It’s OK sir. We can help you right now. Are you in front of your device sir?”

Me: “Yes. I was just about to use it. I’m glad you called.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “Yes sir, we are going to help you. Can you please push the Start button?”

Me: “I think it’s already on.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “Okay, sir. Now you want to click on Control Panel.”

Me: “I don’t see that.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “Do you see a bunch of information above the Start button?”

Me: “Yes.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “That is your Control Panel.”

Me: “Wow, I didn’t realize it had a name.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “Yes sir, now press on Internet Options.”

Me: “Yeah, I definitely don’t see any Internet options. I don’t think I purchased that feature. This is just a cheap one.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “They all have the Internet sir. Press the Start button again.”

Me: “OK, it’s the same as before.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “That’s OK sir. We are going to restart your device. Can you please turn it off?”

Me: “Ummm…I don’t know how. I’ve never turned it off. Since I bought it, it just kind of stays on all the time.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “There must be an off button on your device. How do you stop it when it’s running?”

Me: “In those cases, I usually press the big button.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “OK sir. Please press that button.”

Me: “Ok.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “Is your device off?”

Me: “No. The door popped open.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “Door? Is there a disc inside the door?”

Me: “No, there’s a burrito.”

NOT-Microsoft support: “Why is there a burrito in your computer?”

Me: “Computer? I thought you said this was microwave support.”

Legacy this, Legacy that.

There is a lot of talk in my industry about “legacy publishers.” Basically, those would be the old-style big publishers that have brick-and-mortar offices. Sure, they use word processing and Photoshop and format books via software. But just as online retailers are able to cut costs by not having actual retail space, the newer publishers are entirely digital and online. Many small presses have sprung up–some to fill gaps in what the legacy publishers no longer carry (cozy mysteries anyone?) as newer software and tools make them the equal to legacy publishers in all but reach. And, of course, there are the Indie writers, many of them self-publishing at the same quality as the big publishers. The legacy publishers seem to have contracted themselves into mainly carrying the “Sure Thing” and big name authors. Explosive growth is happening in other segments of the industry.

The same thing is happening in film. New software, new tools–drones have replaced helicopter shots for so many things!–have made the little film studios and even individuals competitive with the big names in the industry. AI and software tools plus more powerful computers are giving the big special effects houses a run for their money.

And then there’s legacy media. Just like when the television took over most of the media and ended the Golden Age of Radio, the internet is making the legacy television media take an insignificant back seat.Young people nowadays have no idea how broadcast TV news shaped public opinion.There were no alternatives. They were the news, period. But today anyone with a phone and the internet can now be a broadcast journalist. Therefore alternative views can sneak–nay, streak–past the information censors. Case in point: Joe Rogan’s following severely eclipses a television-sized audience.

We live in interesting times.

And Odd Form of Memory

My husband Brian and I have very different types of memories. I like to think I am fairly normal: long term and short-term memories like the average person, with occasional lapses more due to my not hearing things, over-commitment, or dyslexia that only make it seem like I forgot something. I write a lot of lists and concentrate on having good habits. I get a lot done for someone my age as I am highly organized. I can keep an entire novel I’m editing in my head simultaneously so I am no mental midget.

But Brian…Brian is in a class all by himself. He only seems to have a long-term memory. Whatever goes into his brain just stays there. This means he recalls long strings of numbers for things like credit cards, replacement part designations, phone numbers from when he was a child–the list is endless. It also means he is selective about what he mentally ingests, especially images. Disturbing scenes and photos stick to his brain like long strings of numbers, so he does not watch a lot of TV or movies, and prefers practical “how-to” videos on YouTube.

Last week we had what was, for him, and eye-opening conversation. He had never even heard or conceived of the concept of a short-term memory. It was alien to him. For Brian, entropy of thought was unthinkable. For the average person it’s the norm unless we study to intentionally put information into our long-term memories. Brian has no problem doing complex math in his head, but this–the fact that parts of other people’s thoughts might have a short half-life and deteriorate? He could not wrap his brain around this. He does have what they call a “working memory” where he can intentionally discard things not pertinent to what he is no longer working on but that’s not the same thing.

We are both 68 years old, and he has had a few lapses in his perfect long-term memory, so as that progresses I will be teaching him how to write things down and remember things like a normal person. But Brian at half-speed, mentally, will still be able to run rings around the average person’s ability to recall things. I’m not too worried about it and, now that he knows I will teach him an alternate system, neither is he.

A rescue

Why yes, we do have another cat besides our rescue kitten,Tucker: Snickers. And yesterday we almost lost her.

Three nights ago she did not come home. Two days ago, due to perhaps divine intervention (and I am of the opinion that “coincidences” are when God decides to remain anonymous), Brian felt strongly to look for her in the neighbor’s crawl space. The door to that crawl space, which is directly across from our house, was open the day before Snickers went missing. Now it was closed.

She was in there, with no food or water, and if she’d stayed locked in there overnight when it was in the teens she might not have survived.

She is -my- cat but she spent the next day letting him know how grateful she was, following him everywhere, sitting next to him, and rubbing against him affectionately.

Then she snuggled into my lap, purring and warm.

The Year in Review

Many of my writer friends do a “year in review” post around this time of year.

But I’m an editor, not a writer–or at least I don’t write all that often. So I just want to say that my clients are awesome and I worked on some fantastic books as their editor this year. I mostly developmentally edit novels for new writers in the same way that Abyss & Apex very often publishes new writers in the short form. Some of these authors go indie; some of them submit to major publishers. Other client’s novels end up getting picked up by small presses. This last path has the nasty side effect of them having the small press edit the books from that point on, but since I am mainly here to help their careers that makes me happy. Poorer, but happier! And I still get mentioned in dedications and acknowledgments so that’s always nice.

The inescapable fact is that if you want to submit something to the major publishers or the small presses, you’ll give yourself your the best shot at publication if you’ve had at it professionally edited first. And getting your work noticed as an indie author is hard enough without catching the errors that are invisible to you in your own work. So hire an editor!

I look forward to a new year of making your writing shine, and adding to my bookcase of contributor copies for the projects I’ve edited.

May your New Year be grammatically correct, contain awesome characters, and no plot holes.

First pass on a complex editing project done!

Whoo-whee that was a job and a half, but when we’ve finished the second pass on this novel it’s going to shine. Without going into names or too much detail, here were the main issues:

  • The novel has a braided plot, like The Empire Strikes Back–where half the action is Luke training with Yoda on Daggoba, and half is Han and the crew being betrayed on Cloud City. Except in this case the two halves of the story were 200 years apart, on various spaceships and two planets. How to make that clockwork run smoothly took serious thought for two weeks.
  • It comes across as a tragedy (it’s not). The struggle was to keep it readable until the hope shows up in some slam-bang reveals.
  • A really boring-but-necessary character (just one, the rest were fantastic) who made me want to skim when he showed up.

All are fixed if my client likes my suggestions.

I love my work.

Learning thankfulness

Leading up to Thanksgiving I was thinking about the fact that we set aside a day to be thankful, and although that’s nice we should always be thankful.

There has been a lot of noise lately. Things are changing rapidly, too rapidly to take it all in. So we focus on the problems

Listen to an orchestra playing a familiar symphony and perhaps a single instrument is off. You will probably concentrate on the out-of-tune player, but you’ll miss out on a symphony of perfect players. Your focus is lost to the disharmony.

Humans are built to escape pain, to protect ourselves from the assassin in the crowd. We are wired to hear the discord so we can escape it. We naturally concentrate on what is negative.

It takes a conscious effort to hear the symphony in spite of the discordant player.

Whether it is grand players on the world stage or opportunities to better ourselves in our personal lives, we should always strive to find things to be thankful for.

The symphony of life is always playing. We just have to learn to hear it.

Be thankful.


A friend who wishes to remain anonymous