Reinvent Yourself: Advice From a Change Master

My wife tells people she has been married to twelve different men; in reality we’ve been married forty-nine years, but I’ve change careers and reinvented myself over a dozen times. Keep in mind that each radical change meant learning to adapt quickly to new work environments, new responsibilities, a new work culture, and new colleagues who often had different educational backgrounds, different values, and markedly different interests. If you think I’m exaggerating, imagine yourself invited to three different parties. One consists of a group of English professors discussing their latest research on Chaucer, Hemingway, and Shakespeare. Another party consists of police officers, mostly with GEDs and no college degrees, comparing notes on the most horrible crimes they’ve investigated. The third party is held by a group of software engineers where almost no one speaks first. Some people attending that party can go an entire evening without saying more than a polite hello. Some but not all of my other transformations include sales manager, hospital lab tech, computer network manager, futurist, software trainer, and market research executive.

In most of these situations I managed to make radical career transformations without taking major salary cuts. The secret to reinventing oneself consists of knowing how to recognize and communicate your transferable skills, know how to learn quickly, and know how to convince a skeptical employer that it makes perfect sense to take the risk of hiring someone with an unconventional background.

Let’s take the art of convincing a skeptical employer to take a chance on someone who wants to reinvent himself or herself. I moved from English professor to software trainer with a major mainframe computer company by identifying the head of training, arranging for us to have lunch together, and then convincing him over that lunch that someone who was an excellent teacher of something radically different could pick up mainframe software programming quickly and then be able to train that company’s customers.

Let’s take futurist as a second example. I convinced my future employer that I was already doing the job of a futurist (in this case a technology analyst who had to forecast future trends for specific industries) even though I was doing it as a hobby rather than as my day job.

Once in a new job, the reinvention part is not complete. You still have to learn the content required for this new job quickly and, this is critical, adjust to a new culture. When I moved from being a college professor to a law enforcement administrator, my educational background could not have been more different from the police officers I worked with every day. I realized I had successfully navigated that change on a Sunday when an officer came over because he had heard I had engine trouble. He took my engine out of my car, had the cylinders reground, and put everything back together without charging me anything but his cost.

So, reinventing oneself means recognizing your potential for completely different types of work by identifying your transferrable skills and convincing others to give you a chance. It also means fitting in a new work environment and quickly identifying the social rules each culture has.

One secret for those of you considering reinventing yourself is to look to new industries where the barriers for entry are not as rigid. When I talked my way into the computer industry, for example, there still weren’t formal computer science degrees offered. Recently I co-authored a book (Paint Your Career Green) that lays out why emerging green industries can be so attractive for people who want to make radical career changes. These new industries do not as yet have formalized educational requirements. Often you can take a few extension courses or earn an extension certificate to validate your knowledge in a new industry such as water purification or solar energy.

Another secret to making radical career changes is to know how to do research. Most people spend far more time researching a new car than they do researching new industries and key contacts. I write at length about this approach in Paint Your Career Green, but the point is that if you can meet a key contact before you apply for a job, you’re way ahead. If you have researched that industry and figured out how you could definitely add value to a particular company, then you’re even further ahead.

So, with the new year approaching, it’s a good time to do some soul-searching and determine if you want to reinvent yourself. In the current economic environment, it is likely it could take an entire year to make the change. Still, you will be a year older whether you make the transformation or not, so why not consider it?

 

Have a Ghostly Holiday Season and Enjoy a Discount

My publisher is currently running a promotion on the electronic edition of A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer. It is available for only .99 cents through December 12th. What makes the book so unusual is that I’ve wedded the traditional police procedure novel replete with a hard-boiled female detective to the paranormal novel that in this case features a sexy and savvy ghost.

So far the reviewers have commented how much they enjoyed another chance to become with the major characters. You’ll find all of them in this Frankie and Josh novel, even though you don’t have to read Silent Partner first. Those of you who enjoy A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer can find the same characters. Enjoy!

 

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Writing a Ghost Novel

I’ve been caught up recently in a novel that features a ghost —not the friendly, sassy spirit I write about in the Frankie and Josh mysteries, but a frightening female spirit that terrorizes the man who dated her before her death.

It’s an interesting exercise for a writer to try to create a frightening landscape, especially in modern times and even more especially if the novel is set in sunny San Diego. Much of the terror the reader feels has to be by his or her inference. I’m in the process of linking social media to the supernatural. It makes for a very exciting story. Two possible working titles interest me at the moment: HELLO AGAIN  or MEET ME IN HELL. I’m leaning toward the latter since the former is found in a movie with Jerry Lewis. Now there is the absolute opposite of scary.

Meanwhile Jane Blond International Spy continues to garner all four and five star reviews. One woman wrote that Jane is the type of girl she would have wanted to have as a friend when she was a teenager. What a nice compliment! Pen-L is readying A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer for its November 15th release and reviewers are currently reading a pre-release copy.

Happy reading!

What Makes a Novel a YA Novel?

Booktrope just published Jane Blond International Spy, a YA novel written by my teen co-author and myself. The book’s publication got me to thinking about what really makes a YA novel “Young Adult”. It sounds like an obvious question, but it’s not since adults now routinely read YA fiction.

I would categorize YA novels as falling into four broad categories: There are contemporary novels set in modern times that deal with contemporary problems. Also there are romance novels –these feature teens who fall in love, lose that love, and then usually regain it. The third category is paranormal –this is where you find all the teen vampire novels. Finally, there are the dystopian novels –the novels set in future times where teens battle for survival.

Jane Blond International Spy is a contemporary novel that features a fourteen year-old girl who faces problems at home (a father in jail and a mother living with her lover), problems at school (a popular girl who is a bully), and a crisis when she realizes she is the only one who could save the President from a terrorist plot.

So, what elements do YA novels generally share. First, of course, they feature teens in lead roles. They are the heroes and, sometimes, the villains. Many younger teen books use first-person to help readers relate to the main character. YA novels generally do not deal with subtle shades of gray when it comes to morality. A good character can do something evil, but most YA novels don’t split a lot of hairs when it comes to complex forces within the hero. After all, that’s why they are called heroes.

Dialog is crucial. My co-author is a teen. She wrote dialog and used expressions I never would have thought of using. Teens have their own expressions and their own language.

Also, adults generally are pictured as unable to provide much help. The teen is forced to take action himself or herself. In our novel, for example, the FBI agents don’t believe Jane. She also knows her mother won’t believe her.

Finally, have you noticed how many teen novels are part of a series? Teen readers like to follow a favorite character through several books. From an author’s perspective, it is a lucrative gravy train since earlier books in a series can often be given away to attract and hook readers who will buy subsequent books at full price.

I should add that Joseph Campbell revealed the deep dark secret of western literature a long time ago by writing about the link between heroes and Jungian symbols and mythology. Heroes generally don’t realize they are special; often they are overlooked and rejected while young. They face danger and risk death; they encounter love, etc. Jane Blond follows this well-worn path.

So, why should you like Jane Blond? She’s bright, courageous, analytical, and a very good friend. She doesn’t think only of herself. She has many of the self-delusions that most people have, but she does grow in the novel and learn to recognize her father’s limitations as well as the special qualities her friends have.

I hope you love the book. Electronic copies are now available online from your favorite ebook dealer. Paperback copies will be available around mid-October.

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Working on a Sequel Requires a Delicate Balance

Pen-L will publish A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer on November 15h. This is my sequel to Silent Partner, the paranormal mystery Pen-L published last year. I’ve already begun kicking around some ideas for a sequel to the sequel. What I have discovered, though, is that writing a sequel is a tricky business. It all has to do with the delicate business of the world you have already created in the first book and the introduction of new readers.

How far should an author go in making each book stand on its own feet? Daniel Silva, in my opinion, has run into a serious problem because he has written so many novels with the same cast of characters. He had to spend countless pages in The English Spy simply reintroducing characters and sketching out their back stories. The problem, of course, is that his legion of dedicated readers found the retelling to be boring and unnecessary. The new readers, on the other hand, I’m sure found the sketchy descriptions of key scenes in earlier novels to be too brief and lacking in details.

As I mentioned earlier, writers engage in world building. Silent Partner created two key characters who had relationships with other people. The effect is much like throwing a pebble into a lake. Every relationship is a part of the character’s world and impacts his or her view. So, how many of these does the author need to mention? In Silent Partner it is critical that readers understand Frankie’s prior relationships and marriage because it made her who she is. Her relationship with a horrible uncle also made her who she currently is. Josh Harrell, likewise, is who he is because of some of his prior failed relationships. How much detail do I need to go into for new readers?

I do think that my favorite ghost in Silent Partner can be appreciated in A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer without the need for the reader to go back and read Silent Partner. My hope, of course, is that new readers of mine who pick up A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer will become so enamored with Andy (short for Andrea) that they will want to go back and read the first book. After all, how often do you find a paranormal mystery that includes the closest thing to lovemaking between a ghost and a human?

I’ve been careful not to make my paranormal mysteries into a series because I think that limits readers’ access to them. They can be read totally as stand-alone books. I intend to make my third volume stand alone as well. I hope some of you are looking forward to A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer. I’m currently distributing early reading copies for reviewers. If anyone reading this blog is interested, please drop me a comment with your email address. Here’s a sneak peak at the cover to set your appetite.

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The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Wonder of a Conditioned Fan Base

I’ve been reading Faye Kellerman’s Murder 101. Shortly before that, I read the latest novels from Michael Connelly and Daniel Silva. I’ve enjoyed reading all three novelists for many years. In fact, I’ve written books about Connelly and Silva. That takes a lot of devotion because it means I read around twenty novels by each of them in order to survey their entire work.

What surprises me is that all three novelists have chosen to age their main characters in real time. The result is a distinct lack of energy. Take Faye Keller’s Peter Decker as an example. Now he’s RETIRED and working in a small-town police department to keep busy. Connelly’s Harry Bosch is out the door into forced retirement and Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon is being kicked upstairs to run the Israeli intelligence agency because he is just too old to be playing James Bond.

Yet, readers who have come to love these characters over the years eagerly await the latest new chapter and give effusive praise in their Amazon reviews. I love the characters as well, but you do need to take off your blinders and look at the current book and not be blinded by previously brilliant books. Kellerman’s book DRAGS. It really does. Not only that, but it grows increasingly tiresome to have a young snotty college grad keep calling Peter “Old Man” repeatedly. Silva’s book drags as well. The most interesting character in Silva’s book is not Gabriel Allon but a much younger Christopher Keller, the heir apparent to the violent scenes in the future. I actually believe that Connelly will grow tired of having Bosch help his half brother and will begin to have him help his daughter. I predict she will join the LAPD and turn repeatedly to Dad for help.

To read the over 600 positive reviews on Amazon for Kellerman’s book is enough to have me scratch my head in wonder. Did they read the same book I did? One reader who routinely gives all Kellerman books four to five stars gave it four stars and commented that he really didn’t understand a lot of the art talk. Still, if Kellerman wrote it, the book automatically deserves four to five stars.

I’m reminded of teachers in high school who often start with assumption they are reading an A student’s work when they pick up a paper from one of their favorites. Starting with that perspective caused them to overlook flaws and gloss over lapses. When I taught college English, I sometimes would have the students put numbers rather than names on their papers just to make sure everyone had an even break.

As a relatively unknown writer, I feel that I’m pushing a heavy load uphill in order to garner good reviews. I found one Goodreads reader, for example, who wrote that she automatically assigns one star to every book on her bookshelf. She changes the number of stars if she likes the book. So, damned to start with and only hopeful for a reprieve if you’re a novelist.

I cannot honestly say that the latest work by all three is of the quality of their earlier work, but you’d never know it from the reviews. Meanwhile, I’ve been writing hundreds of bloggers in an effort to find a group that will review my upcoming release of A Bullet for a Ghost Whisperer. If you’re interested in a free copy in exchange for an honest review, let me know and we’ll talk.

My Take on Last Night’s Republican Debate

Great theater last night watching the Republican debate on Fox. Trump was worth the price of admission. When all is said and done, though, little changed. Trump’s followers will see their hero as a man who stood up to that nasty Megan when she asked the “unfair” question about women.

So, what are the take-a-ways? Kasich is a real threat to Jeb Bush. He comes across as very self-assured while Bush seems disinterested. Marco Rubio came across as articulate while Cruz displayed his customary angry expression. Rand Paul failed to win much traction.

What is deeply disturbing is that we now have one political party so far to the right that they are advocating killing the mother to save the child. Huckabee’s assertion that an unborn child has full Constitutional rights is very disturbing indeed.

There was no discussion of the disparity between the rich and the poor or the power of Wall Street, although Trump did bring up the unholy alliance between Wall Street and politicians. There was no discussion of the environment, of course, except for the baying for a pipeline that won’t solve anything or bring jobs.

The most frightening aspect of the debate is the push for war. Listen to the amateurs like Cruz and Walker talk about how they would talk tough to Iran and “lead” is frightening indeed. They ignore the fact that American sanctions were not what brought Iran around; it was sanctions by our allies. We won’t get them to keep those sanctions in place.

The Republicans would like to believe that the U.S. has a God-given right to tell the rest of the world what to do. We don’t. I would argue that it is the concept of American Exceptionalism that has caused us so much trouble. Remember how we would bring democracy to the rest of the world, including Iraq?

I like Bernie Sanders a lot, but polls show that he has not excited the blacks or Hispanics. His basic support is from the progressive wing; that’s not enough to be elected even if he carries San Francisco, New York City, and Austin, Texas.

Hillary just keeps digging a hole for herself; the Republicans will keep forcing her to appear before committees up until the election. Her disapproval ratings will continue to climb because the oligarchs in this country will spend billions in advertising to cast doubt about her “character.” It’s Hillary’s nomination to lose, and that’s a real dilemma because imagine a world where the clowns run everything, including Supreme Court appointments.

Forget voting rights, women’s rights, higher educational standards, the environment, and health care. Also, because budget hawks will be in power, imagine our country cutting social services, Social Security, and Medicare while pumping still more money into the military industrial complex. Imagine also a push for a national right to work law that will destroy unions.

So, from my perspective, we need Trump to stay in or become so upset with the Republican party that he runs as a third-party candidate. Rubio or Kasich probably could defeat a severely wounded Hillary. Remember the importance of both Florida and Ohio when it comes to determining who will be elected President.

I don’t see Hillary getting stronger once all the Koch brother ads start running. I do see Democratic ads cutting into whatever favorability ratings the Republican candidate has.

So, this is likely to be an election where it will be difficult to get people to the polls (particularly if it’s a Bush/Clinton dynasty race). Hillary is likely to pick up some women voters, but she is not likely to get the same number of black voters who streamed to the polls to vote for the first black president. She also might lose some very right-wing Jewish voters.

I think the only way for Hillary to win is make this coming election a referendum on the growing disparity in this country between the very rich and the poor. I think Elizabeth Warren could make a better case for this disparity, but I’m not convinced she really is ready to run for President or that she could attract independent voters.

If the election becomes a choice between help for the middle class and the poor versus the Koch brothers and if women and minorities can be enticed to vote in huge numbers, there is a chance the Democrats can win despite a severely wounded Hillary.

I also think that the Democratic party needs to emphasize what the future would hold if the Republicans hold all three parts of the government. That might include detailed lists of all the crazy bills they proposed that failed to become laws. Let’s also make this an election about the tax breaks for hedge fund managers. We probably also need to look at all the wars the Republicans have advocated including boots on the ground in Syria, more boots back into Iraq, boots on the ground in the Ukraine, etc. It might be nice to show a graph that compares this country’s military spending with that of the rest of the world. Last night the Republican candidates outdid themselves in demanding we build up the Army, Navy, and Airforce to their numbers during the peak of the cold war.

So, let’s see more Republican debates with more emphasis on who God is talking to and how mothers need to be killed. Let’s have more emphasis on cutting the taxes for the very wealthy and for eliminating Obamacare for a non-specific alternative. Let’s have more talk of war and saber rattling by the group of amateurs. Maybe, God willing, they’ll sabotage the best chance they’ve had in years to seize the reins of power.

 

The “Sharing Economy” is the GOP’s New Snake Oil

Our current employment numbers do not reflect the unfortunate reality. The Republicans in Washington have pushed the economy in the direction that would have thrilled  the robber barons at the turn of the 20th century. First of all, companies’ profits are increasing because they are part of a buyer’s market. They can keep wages low because their Republican friends in power are doing everything they can to break the strength of labor unions.

If you’re just out of college, lots of luck finding a full-time job with benefits. Many kids in their 20s are still living at home while balancing two part-time jobs, neither of which has health benefits. My friends who are in the 50s and are laid off have a better chance of hitting the lottery than they do of finding another comparable job. Instead, they now have to list themselves as “consultants.” That means occasional gigs with no security, no benefits, and steady source of income.

It’s utterly stupid for the wealthy to believe that they are smart in keeping wages down because that means there are less middle-class people to buy their products. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Still, with a pre-occupation on short-term gains, employers  continue to push for contract workers rather than full-time employers. Sure, it gives them more flexibility in hard times, but it’s a two-way street. I remember years ago working for a private company headed by a guy with vision. He treated his employees fairly. The result was that no one left at five. People left when they felt they’d finished the job. They cared about the quality of their work because they knew their leader cared about them.

Contrast that attitude with a manufacturing company I worked for that paid its employees weekly. One reason is that they cut put in a pink slip of paper that terminated the employee with no other notice. That’s probably where the term “pink slip” came from. No one stood in front of the main doors at five pm because they would be run over by the employees who did not want to give the company one minute more than they were contracted for.

Uber has made a fortune on the backs of employees. If there’s an accident, Uber argues that their driver is responsible because he is not really an employee. Health benefits? You have to be kidding. The hourly wages sound appealing, but employees find that after parking tickets, toll road charges, gas, and car maintenance, they earn less than minimum wage.

I talked recently with a man who used to run a small advertising agency. Now he says people will contract on an hourly basis with a free lancer to produce an ad on a PC. It’s tough for free lancers to plan their lives because they don’t have a steady source of income. How can you buy a house or send a kid to college if you don’t know what you are going to make the next month?

Fat cats argue that we live in the world of free enterprise where people are only limited by their desire and brains. That’s a lot of hogwash. It all ties in with the old Calvinistic theory that God gives people what they deserve. So, if someone is poor, they deserve to be poor because of their own failings. This is a wonderful theory for wealthy folks to have because it implies that God has rewarded them because they deserve it.

This helps to explain Donald Trump’s lack of compassion for the poor. If God thought they were as worthy as he, they would be wealthy. Of course, the poor did not have a father who started them off with a couple of million dollars.

Jeb Bush recently came out with a statement on Social Security that reflected the attitude of traditional Republicans. They never have forgiven Franklin Roosevelt for pushing that bill through. They argue that people should have the opportunity to invest their own social security money. Of course, that benefits the biggest supporters of the GOP, Wall Street. People with no financial training should not be thrown into a financial jungle. Wall Street would take a cut out of every financial transaction. Bush argues he is empathetic for poor people. After all, he fell in love with a Mexican. So much for compassionate conservatism.

So, the sharing economy simply means that the wealthy take an increased share from the poor and the declining middle class. If we don’t do something in the next few years, our country will resemble the poor countries of Central America where a few families are incredibly wealthy and live in guarded communities while the poor have nothing.