Last week I did something I don’t remember having done for at least two years: I didn’t post anything on this site, at least nothing of consequence. If you’re wondering how it felt, don’t. The reason I took the hiatus was because I’ve been so swamped with matters of life, work, and money (learning, not financial trouble) that little energy has been left for blogging. This is why, for your entertainment and education, I’ll go over a few of the things I’ve been thinking about this week. (Believe it or not, this will actually be a useful post, so read on.)
- Books: Did you know they sell books in thrift stores? Yes, I know, this probably seems like a completely ignorant, inane, and likely insulting statement, but until about a month ago I didn’t know they did. Furthermore, for those of us who live in Broward county (I’m not sure about anywhere else in Florida), the county libraries have a section called “Friends of the Library” in which you can buy donated and retired books. Here’s the cool part: many of these books are almost new!Here’s what I’ve noticed: if you go to a thrift store (I’m talking Goodwill and Salvation Army here, since my experience with used book stores has been less than stellar), most of the books will look used, some a lot more than others. These stores tend to have a fairly good selection of books (at least the ones around here do), and the books there, while not new, are in fairly good shape about half the time. Once in a while they’re pretty much brand new. Prices here tend to be between $.75 and $1.00 for paperbacks (both trade and mass market) and $2.00 for hardcover.
If, on the other hand, you go to a Library, there your luck gets better (especially if you live in a “good” area like Weston or Southern Ranches). The books sold at libraries go from OK to brand-spanking-new, and the prices can’t be beat: $.25 – $1.00 for mass market and trade paperbacks (depending on where you go) and between $.50 – $3.00 for hard cover, depending whether the library uses a flat price (usually $1.00 per book) or whether it prices according to how recently the book was published.
On the average, the books I’ve gotten lately run at about $.75 a piece, and I’ve been able to expand my library by adding a few collections I didn’t think I’d be able to add. For example, I now have almost all of the “Jack Ryan” books from Tom Clancy in hard cover, and they’re all in like-new condition. (I’m only missing The Hunt for Red October.) I’ve also acquired a large number of Stephen King books (mostly hardcover, though some paperback), as well as books by Michael Crichton, Robert Heinlein, Kim Stanley Robinson, Peter F. Hamilton, Robert Ludlum, Amy Tan, as well as a number of biographies, self-help, and reference books. Now, I know some people will say “Hey, you know that nothing of that money goes to the author?” to which I reply “If it wasn’t for these libraries and thrift stores I wouldn’t even have tried most of these guys. Also, this money is used by the people I buy from for good purposes (helping the community and buying more books) which is how I justify buying second-hand books from these sources. Besides, when I finish reading a book, if I’ve liked it, I’ll talk about it to everyone around me. That’s gotta translate to sales somewhere, right?” (Trust me, if you’re looking for a mouthpiece, I’m the guy you want to talk to.)
Now, there are a lot of authors you’ll find and a lot you won’t in thrift stores. The ones I’ve found the most of include: Stephen King, Tami Hoag, Mary Higgins Clark, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Michael Crichton. In addition, I’ve found a lot of Star Trek and Star Wars universe books, as well as some Dragonlance (mostly Weis/Hickman) and Forgotten Realms books (though surprisingly few by R. A. Salvatore or Troy Denning; Dear Troy, more Dark Sun, Thanks.). Finally, in every book store — almost without fail — I’ve found a copy of Lee Iaccoca’s biography. (I even sent one to a friend in Malaysia, Pelf, which I got for a grand total of $.35 in a Tampa Goodwill.) What I haven’t seen many of are books by Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Michael Stackpole, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan (other than Contact at any rate), Larry Niven, Ben Bova, Anne McCaffrey, Neil Gaiman, Robert Kiyosaki or Donald Trump. I guess the good stuff people keep for themselves, unless you’re talking about the Iaccoca biography: that one’s just so popular that you can’t help but see it everywhere, in light of the fact that most people don’t realize its true worth. Also, I’ve yet to see any Harry Potter books in thrift stores. (This from a guy planning to buy the whole darn collection once it comes out in a boxed set. And no, I don’t care if Harry dies, even if Steven King asked Rowling not to kill him off.)
Now, if you’re looking for new authors thrift stores are NOT the place for you. Stick there with Barnes and Noble’s and Amazon. But if you’re looking for books by widely read authors with established careers and lots of best selling books, then take a peek at what thrift stores have to offer.
- Writing: Interesting that for someone who hasn’t been blogging, writing has been a big concern. Nevertheless, it is true that this is one of the reasons I haven’t been blogging. I’ve been honing in my writing skills by working on fiction. Specifically, I’m writing a novel. For the record, the story I’m working on now didn’t start as a novel. It was supposed to be a short story, 10,000 words. Yet here I find myself, 20,000 words later, realizing that I could easily put in a few thousand more. Might as well just make it a full 100,000 worder, no?Anyway, along with my writing I’ve enlisted the help of author Michael Stackpole. Inasmuch as I wish I could tell you “yeah, a best selling author’s been coaching me on how to write a damn good book and get published”, the truth is I’ve been getting help from the guy via his newsletter for writers (The Secrets) and his podcast (also titled The Secrets). You can grab the podcast for free at his site, Stormwolf.com (which has just recently been totally redesigned). You can get the newsletter from there, too, but it costs $2 per issue, or you can get a 25-newsletter subscription for $25. For me the newsletters have been worth it, since they’ve helped me fine tune a number of issues within my writing which are apparently commonplace among beginning novelists. Anyway, I recommend you listen to the podcast and maybe pick up a copy of one of his books. (I believe his most famous book is I, Jedi, though personally I really liked A Secret Atlas and will be reading its sequel Cartomancy fairly soon).
(By the way, Matt and Quantum, if you’re reading this, trust me, you two will be the first to receive copies to the text. I’m looking for your feedback most of all.)
For the record, whenever I’ve told people that I’m in the process of writing a book, they all decide to give me the same piece of faux-sage advice, usually speaking in hushed, patronizing tones as if to tell me some sort of deep secret while laughing under their breath: “There are only [X] number of plot lines: Man against self, Man against man, Man against…” Frankly, I’m getting seriously sick of these people, since not a one of them has ever written as much as a bathroom-wall graffiti poem. To quote Stackpole on this point:
Lots of people try to reduce creativity down to numbers and patterns and motifs to suggest, for whatever reason, that itâ€™s all been done before. The fact is, for example, that there are probably only a half-dozen routes for driving a car from Phoenix to Chicago, yet every journey from Phoenix to Chicago will be different for the people making it. So it is with stories. They may follow the same basic plot lines and have similar characters, but the differences are what will make one story more memorable than another.
Are there a lot of books that are hopelessly similar to others? Sure. Why? Because the authors got lazy or just didnâ€™t have the skill needed to raise that story out of the ordinary to the extraordinary. I think that is where each author owes it to himself and his readers to push himself to excel. They day I stop doing that is the day I stop writing. Every writer may be using the same bricks to construct her story, but that doesnâ€™t mean the final product has to look anything like someone elseâ€™s story. Thatâ€™s where true
[Source] Also, I’d like to punch these people in the face. Repeatedly.
- Work: I know I don’t often talk about work here, and I’m not about to start now, but if I can pinpoint one thing that’s been keeping me from writing lately, this might take the cake. There’s a big conference coming up soon and I’ve been tasked with a few presentations, so I’ve been pretty busy with those. It’s only gonna get worse from here, at least until next week. Then, mercifully, it all cools down for a little while.
- Money: While most of us equate work with money, that’s not what I’m talking about. Lately, The Wife and I (especially The Wife) have been on a learning kick when it comes to finance. Though our finances aren’t too bad, we realized that we’d been doing some seriously stupid things with out money recently. We learned this after buying the game Cashflow 101 by Robert Kiyosaki (the Rich Dad, Poor Dad guy) and running through it a few times. After seeing how much money we’re letting slip by and how much we could be doing with what we have, we decided to start taking action towards improving our financial position. Translation: the acquisition of assets. (Funny enough, I wrote about that before, but seeing as The Wife is now full throttle into it, the subject has taken on a completely different dimension.)Once we awoke to the fact that we could do more with what we have, we started looking for places to learn about how to diversify a bit and increase our asset base. We got advice from friends who are a in much more stable financial position than us, in addition to signing up for a few workshops in order to learn about not only business, but also programs designed to help young entrepreneurs. (Many of these are government programs like the Community Development and Building Grants (CDBG) which are great for me, since they’re very closely related to the field I write manuals for.) As it happens, next week will be a killer one for the both of us: Saturday and Sunday we’re at a 2-day conference in Orlando; Monday night we’re at a grants workshop; Tuesday we’re at a business building and networking workshop; then the following Saturday and Sunday we’re at another 2-day business educational seminar. Lots of learning. Very exciting.
Of course, all of this really started when we bought Cashflow 101. At almost $300.00 this is by no means a cheap game, but between that and Monopoly (I recommend the “Here and Now” edition), you can learn a ton about not only business, but about your own attitudes regarding business.
Alright, so that about does it. Reading, writing, work and money have conspired to keep me from the blog. From the looks of things, it may yet be a bit sporadic over the next two weeks, but I’ll try to keep the content coming. I have a few pieces in the back end that need to be cleaned up, but are ready to go, and I might post up one of my first endeavors into fiction (a horrible little short story full of clichÃ©s and bad humor about God being pissed off at humanity and taking it out on Florida. (Yes, it’s supposed to be funny, in a Terry Pratchett sort of way. Hopefully it’s not too horrible.)
By the way, if you don’t get the title reference, let me help you out. Hint: I saw it on Digg.