Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Finding Political Unity

Five days ago, 10/13/17, the Vox website published an article about what top political scientists think of the future of American democracy. An academic from Harvard said: “If current trends continue for another 20 or 30 years, democracy will be toast.” You can find the rest of the article at this link: http://bit.ly/2i8OMvT
In 20 years, I'll be, at best, a spry geezer. In 30 years, I likely will be a fond memory to my closest relatives. So this downward trend is going to affect me less than it will younger people. You know, assuming that the Harvard guy knows what he's talking about.
On the chance that he has at least the general direction of things right, I'd say it's time for some intervention. Luckily for us, as we've seen when the GOP tried to screw with Obamacare, people will rise up and bombard their members of Congress with righteous and raucous protest. Being people who, for the most part, want to cling to their jobs, they respond appropriately, i.e. doing what their constituents demand.
That being the case, are there any issues which can unite a broad spectrum of voters to disregard party lines and even long-held biases? I believe there are. For one thing, huge majorities of people, whatever their political affiliation, have high, wide and durable contempt for Congress.
Many people feel that our federal legislators are running, and often ruining, our lives. They are regarded as the middle management of public life, people interested only in their own advancement, who will make everyone else miserable if that's what it takes for them to get ahead. You know, seven-figure salaries as lobbyists once they leave office.
The truth is, though, they are supposed to be public SERVANTS. That leads me to ask: What kind of servants get to raise their own pay? None that I know of, especially in the highly praised private sector of our economy.
If thinking of Congress-people as servants seems a bit quaint, the members of Congress are still public-payroll workers. So the above question is still apt: What kind of workers get to raise their own pay? Taking another step in that direction: What kind of workers get to do their jobs indefinitely without being subject to performance reviews?
Some might argue that elections constitute such reviews, but they lack useful specificity, such as exactly where did this Senator or that Representative fall short? That would be useful information for a voter to have in advance of casting a ballot.
So the questions then become: How can we put in place the reforms needed to seize control of Congressional pay raises and impose regular, publicly available Congressional performance reviews?
The pay-raise issue will require a new amendment to the Constitution, a high hurdle to clear but not an impossible one. The performance review could be achieved as a simple piece of legislation.
Would Congress ever do either of those things? They would if confronted with a sustained, vocal demand to them: As in, "Make these changes or you're out!"
I can see both people on the left and right getting behind these issues. Imagine how voter turn-out would increase in both presidential year elections and mid-term elections if Congress proposed a raise for itself and the voters got to approve or deny it. If during a given two-year period crime was down, jobs and wages were up, health care was widely available and affordable, Congress would get a gold-star review. If the opposite were true, Congress would be found in contempt of the American people. Their pay would be cut 25% and they would be given "Strike One." Any legislator who gets three strikes is out — barred from ever holding federal office again.
Think how changes like those above would unite Americans who otherwise hold starkly different views. Things wouldn't be perfect but our democracy would have a shelf-life of more than 20-30 years.
"If current trends continue for another 20 or 30 years, democracy will be toast."
VOX.COM

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Invoke the power of prayer


In a New York Times story today, 10/2/17, about the mass murder shootings in Las Vegas, five musicians were quoted invoking the power of prayer. 

One respondent, a former strong 2nd amendment advocate, demanded a change in the gun laws, i.e. making them stricter. It seems to me that these two impulses might dovetail perfectly if applied in a meaningful way. 

After praying for the souls of the dead and that the hearts of their loved ones might be healed, congregants who believe in the power of prayer might beseech the God they worship to ask their religious leaders to speak out mightily and ceaselessly to force Congress to ban assault rifles, as a start. 

Jews, Catholics and Protestants all believe some wording of the commandment: Thou shall not kill. I imagine Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other religions have similar strictures. 

So why aren't all the religious leaders in this country publicly exhorting the government to change the laws as to who can own what kind of — and how many — guns? 

The politicians who are in the pocket of the gun lobbyists can easily reject pleas from politicians on the other side who'd want to enact common-sense gun control laws, but they'd have a much harder, maybe impossible, time mocking a wide array of religious leaders pushing for an end to murder by gunfire. 

You'd think these men and women of the cloth, students of God's word not to kill your fellow human being, would rise to the challenge at their own initiative. 

But I haven't seen any sign of this. Maybe we should all pray for them to see the light.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Building a mailing list

Right now, I'm working hard on two projects: finishing a new John Tall Wolf novel and building my mailing list. Writing a new book is always fun, even if it's challenging. Doing the business end of publishing isn't really fun but it keeps the revenue coming in, which lets my wife and me sleep easy at night. That and indulge in non-essentials like buying tickets for plays in Chicago.
Why build a mailing list?
Because when you have a new book to release it helps to have a ready audience of people who'd like to buy it. And how do you build a mailing list? Well, one way is to give away a free book to show you can write a good story. Then people will buy other books you've written, especially if the book you give away is the first in a lengthy series as my novel "The President's Henchman" is.
Giving away a book isn't as easy as it might sound. It helps to have good reader and mass market reviews. I've got those things, but you still have to let people know the book exists. To do that, you have to advertise. My main ad outlet is on Facebook. Since last June, I've added 2,000 names to my mailing list.
That's not bad, but the writer who introduced me to Facebook advertising has 75,000+ names on his list. Being the competitive guy that I am, I want to get to 100,000. I figure there are at least that many people who will enjoy my books. Wouldn't be surprised if there are a million. So I'm going to have to work harder to achieve my business goal.
The next question is, what's the best way to keep the readers who sign up for your mailing list? Some people suggest that you have to email the people on your list frequently. I'm very uneasy about that.
My point of view is to let people know when I have something substantive to say. I don't want people to see an email from me and think it's something inconsequential they don't want to bother with.
So what I'd like to know, from anyone who'd care to comment, is how often, or infrequently, would you like to hear from me via email? Only when I have a new book nearing completion? When I might post a free short story to read on my website? When I announce my retirement? Just kidding about that last one.
Seriously, though, I'd appreciate some guidelines from my readers. Any help you offer will be seriously considered.
Of course, email is one thing, but if I feel a need to spout on some subject, I'll just post it here and on Facebook with no advance warning.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Latest on Jim McGill

It's time to provide some feedback to all the readers who have been kind enough to either buy or download "The President's Henchman," Jim McGill novel #1.
First of all, your numbers are growing, for which my co-publisher Catherine and I are very grateful. Unlike the cliché attached to many writers — that we're neurotic wretches afflicted by creative constipation — I have a grand time when I sit down at my keyboard. I live my stories as I write them. It's a vicarious experience, of course, but it's also intimately personal as it occurs within my mind.
The only thing that comes close to the joy of writing for me — other than spending time in the company of my wife and daughter — is hearing from readers that I've provided them with a good time. Reading a good review on a McGill book always brightens my day.
McGill has actually been around for quite a while now. I wrote the manuscript for "The President's Henchman" in 2003. That was back in the days when I was traditionally published, and well before Amazon came up with Kindle Direct Publishing. The publisher who brought two of my books to market, Bantam Books, rejected TPH. So did many other big name publishers. They didn't see a market for the book.
So I put Jim McGill on the shelf but never put him out of my mind. A number of years went by and a small regional publisher showed interest.
Sorry to say, things didn't work out. I got the rights back, and Jim McGill had to wait patiently once again. His time came when Amazon let authors publish their work independently through Kindle Direct Publishing.
Catherine and I jumped at the opportunity. Using a BookBub promotion, TPH shot up to #6 in the overall Kindle Paid Store. That was early last year, 2016. Then BookBub decided to emphasize traditionally published books and Catherine and I started to advertise on Facebook a couple of months ago. We were following the lead of an English writer named Mark Dawson.
Thank goodness for Mark. Before we advertised on Facebook, we had 550 people on our mailing list. Now, in a matter of weeks, we're closing in on 2,000. We had 1,600 followers on BookBub. Now, we're close to 2,000 there also.
For comparison, Mark has 75,000+ people on his mailing list. So we have a lot of room to grow, and we intend to do just that. We feel, with good reason, we think, that there are many more readers out there who would enjoy McGill's exploits just as much as you have.
So please spread the good word, not just for me but for any author whose work you enjoy. As readers/consumers, you have tremendous power. Amazon and every other smart retailer want as much feedback from you as they can get. So, please, when something — like a good book — really pleases you, write a brief but glowing review.
That's the surest way to get more of what you like.
I'm working on a new John Tall Wolf novel right now. If all goes well, there will be a first post-White House McGill book out next year, as well as some new heroes (and villains) for you to meet.
Thanks again for being a friend of McGill.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Finding common ground

In 2003, I wrote a screenplay called Let's Play Two. The storyline has the team payroll of the Chicago Cubs being stolen by a computer hacker. The team owner is in a financial bind so he can't come up with more money. The hacker who took the payroll says he'll pay each player the highest salary that Cubs' hero Ernie Banks made — a pittance by contemporary standards. Nonetheless, the team pulls together and wins the World Series in the seventh game against the New York Yankees — in a blizzard, Chicago weather being what it is.
Only 13 years later, the Cubs did win the World Series, a product of brilliant management, terrific player acquisition and coming together as a team.
That made me wonder if it would be possible to bring the American voting public together for our common good. There's so much that divides us, could any idea unite us? I think there are a few things. I'll write about one today and another next week.
In my Jim McGill novel, The Last Ballot Cast, McGill is subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Oversight. The committee's chairman doesn't like McGill's attitude and McGill is threatened with being found in contempt of Congress.
McGill's too tough to be scared by that threat, and he asks why any American might be found in contempt of Congress but Congress can't be found in contempt of the American people.
A reporter later asks McGill what the grounds might be for Congress to be found in contempt of the American people.
He responds, “Failure to do their jobs.” Then he elaborates, "Over the course of a calendar year, has the unemployment rate gone down? Has the number of jobs paying a living wage gone up? Has the number of people with substantial health insurance gone up? Has the number of people using emergency rooms for their medical needs gone down? Has the number of U.S. made manufactured goods gone up? Has the number of imported manufactured goods gone down? Has the number of students graduating from high school gone up? Has the number of dropouts gone down? Has the number of admissions to colleges, universities, technical and trade schools gone up? Has the amount of student debt gone down? Has the number of cops on patrol gone up? Has the number of crimes against persons and property gone down? Has the number of people working their way out of poverty gone up? Has the number of whining fat cats gone down?
"If Congress failed in two or more areas of critical concern they would, de facto, be cited for contempt of the American people. Every member of Congress would have his or her pay reduced by twenty-five percent, they would receive no pension contribution for that year or health care coverage for the following year and members of the leadership would be confined at minimum security prisons during Congressional recesses.
How, he was asked, would such a situation come to pass?
“Congress would have to pass a law,” he said.
After the reporters all laughed, McGill added, “The voters could make Congress do that, if they wanted.”
So what do you think? Is this an idea voters spanning the political spectrum could get behind? I think so.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Matter at Hand

In light of a recent political uproar, a personal reminiscence:
In my first job out of college, I was walking up a staircase at an insurance company in suburban Chicago and passed a young woman on her way down the stairs. I gave her a polite nod and kept going. Then I felt a hand squeeze my backside. It wasn't just a pat; it was a full-handed grab. At first, I didn't know what the hell had just happened, but the light dawned quickly.
With understanding came a laugh. The typical roles in such a situation had been reversed, and that struck me as funny. I looked over my shoulder and saw the young woman looking back, not in the least embarrassed.
We both went about our business and that was that. Reflecting on it now, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence still seems humorous. But experiencing such trespasses on a regular basis would get old really fast.
I mean, please, introduce yourself, share a little polite conversation, see if there's any mutual interest. If all that goes well, any physical contact will have more than just shock value. Some things are funny once, for some people. Other things aren't funny at all.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Oops!

I recently received an email from a sharp-eyed reader I’ll identify as JC. The note informed me that I’d given one character, who appears in both “The Echo of the Whip” and “The Daddy’s Girl Decoy” two different names. In “Whip,” he’s named Eugene (Gene) Beck; in “Decoy,” he’s named Eugene (Gene) Ludwig.
Sigh. Over the course of nine Jim McGill novels, I’ve created a very large cast of characters. It appears they’ve finally gotten the better of me. The way all this came about is I first used the surname Ludwig for the character Auric Ludwig, the gun lobbyist. Then I attached it to Gene Ludwig. My wife, the first person to read all my work, pointed out this repetition to me.
I said, okay, I’ll change Gene’s family name to Beck, which is how it appears in “Whip.” But when I was assembling the cast for “Decoy” I used an earlier edition of the preceding novel for reference, and put Ludwig back in by mistake. None of a half-dozen proofreaders caught the glitch.
But JC did. For which I say, “Thank you.”
The writer-to-reader-to-writer loop is very important. It lets me know what you like and what you don’t. It also might tell me where I’ve messed up.
One of the nice things about ebooks is they are easily corrected. So Gene Beck, by virtue of seniority and a preponderance of appearances, will stay. Gene Ludwig is out. We’re uploading a corrected file of the book to Amazon. For those of you who already have a Gene Ludwig copy of “Decoy,” I can’t swear that it will become a collector’s item like a stamp that mistakenly got goofed up, but it might be an interesting piece of small talk.
One bit of unrelated concern: Some readers have complained about copies of “Decoy” and other of my books that seem to have continuity problems, missing sentences and the like. Please be advised that ebook files can sometimes become corrupted during downloading. The thing to do then is to delete the file of the book from your e-reader (but not from your account). Do another download and that will usually solve the problem. If it doesn’t, contact Amazon for advice.