Monthly Archives: May 2017

On passive vs active

It was going to be one helluva day. He was sitting on a bench in the early morning before class. She was standing next to the trashcan, unwrapping an energy-bar. The sky was blue, like a three year-old would paint it; the sun was just climbing over the university buildings. It was then he saw the black motorcycle jump the curb and start to ride over the grass towards he and the girl. The rider was wearing a black leather touring suit and wore a tinted glass helmet. There was nothing he could do he reflected later. He was caught up with the audacity of the spectacle. So was she; the girl who was now chewing on her breakfast. She was just standing there. And then she wasn’t. No, she was now laying there, a dark red spot spreading from the hole in her chest; her cream-colored was sweater soaking up the blood that was ebbing from that fatal wound.


This is how I might have written this scene last summer, or anytime in the last 30 years, were I to put my mind to writing such a passage.

Let’s count the passive verbs… Sixteen. So, why does this matter? Here’s the thing, writing that came so easy to me. I simply pictured the events and wrote it without thinking about the actual writing. (Although I must confess, now that I’m getting a smidgen better at NOT writing passive narrative, I had to intentionally try and write passive for much of that scene.)

Writing passively is a natural tendency for new writers. Or rather: New writers tend to write passively. Or perhaps, unrefined writers write in a passive mode primarily due to the fact that they (we) witness the world in a passive fashion.

The sky was blue. Yes. Yes the sky was most certainly blue. He looked up and witnessed the sky and saw that — yes — it was blue.

This problem of passive writing exposes the “reporter” in all of us. If you reread that passage above you may find that it reads like a police blotter. Like a reporter stood by and dictated notes into a tiny recorder held protectively to his mouth. You can almost see the guy on the bench, called to the witness stand and hear him recite those exact words, first person: “There was nothing I could do. I was caught up with the audacity…”

I’m pointing all this out as I’m examining my own tendency to “report the news.” Is there a mindset, an alternative view of events, scenarios, people and places that shifts our reporting approach to writing? And can I adopt this approach — permanently?

I’ve become ultra-sensitive to passive writing. Every time I read the word “was” I react. Sixteen times the passive voice reared its dull head in the passage above. Sixteen times better phrases, wording and verbs could have been used to evoke more emotion, more impact in what must have been quite traumatic.

It was going to be one helluva day.
The events of the day would haunt him forever.

He was sitting on a bench in the early morning before class. She was standing next to the trashcan, unwrapping an energy-bar.
Sitting on a bench early that morning before class, he noticed her standing next to the trashcan, unwrapping an energy-bar.

The sky was blue, like a three year-old would paint it; the sun was just climbing over the university buildings.
The sky ached pure blue, like the color a three year-old would paint.  The sun’s probing rays peeked over the university buildings; the girl’s hair shown golden in the light.


Focusing on the action rather than focusing on the actors may be part of the trick here.

“You see a bucket, full of water, sitting on the edge of a stone water well, the young boy next to it is distracted by a spider crawling up the windlass rope.”

What will happen? Should we focus on the boy? On the bucket? The spider, or the well? Or should we focus on what any of these four things may end up doing? The actions any of them may take; the events that will unfold?

Will the boy /spill/ the water? Will the bucket /tip/ /tilt/ /tumble/ or /spill/ into the well? Will the spider /swing/ to start her web, or /jump/ to land on the boy? Will the well /yawn/ wide to /welcome/ the boy into its inky black depths?

We focus so much on the things around us that when we start writing we end up paying them the most attention. But it’s not the things that are enticing, or alluring, or interesting. It’s what these things *do*.  Shifting our minds to consider events, actions, or activities — first and foremost — may be one of the keys to learning how to write well.


With this in mind let’s review the top passage a bit more.

There’s this guy sitting there ogling this girl. Now, as an author we want to introduce a motorcycle and its rider. How should we think of this? Do we think about the guy noticing the bike? The bike and its condition or state of being? Or do we think of the bike jumping the curb, startling the guy, careening over the grass, charging toward he and the girl?

It was then he saw the black motorcycle jump the curb and start to ride over the grass towards he and the girl.
An engine’s throaty exhaust startled him from his day dream. He looked up and saw a black motorcycle jump the curb and charge across the grass toward he and the girl.

Now what happens? Do we focus on the girl’s existence, and then her position on the ground, the hole in her chest, her sweater? Or do we think about her reaction, the muffled shot of the silenced pistol, her collapse, the seeping wound, the sweater soaking up the spreading blood?

She was just standing there. And then she wasn’t. She was now laying there, a dark red spot spreading from the hole in her chest; her cream-colored sweater was soaking up the blood that was ebbing from that fatal wound.
The girl stood frozen in place, a look of shock and confusion tainting her beauty. A tiny black hole appeared in her chest like the attack of a hornet. Her knees buckled and she twisted to collapse face up staring empty-eyed at the deep blue above her. Dark blood seeped from the wound onto her cream-colored sweater staining it burgundy, a Cabernet spilled in manic laughter.

Learning to write: hour 637

In my 10,000 hour long task of learning to write I find myself struggling with the craft. And in that struggle, accept, I think, that because I struggle I’m getting better.

Last summer I wrote a novel. 1000-3000 words a day for 70 days. POW! Done. Of course what followed was dozens of hours of editing and rewrites. But the original process was fantastic. Really — I had a great time writing it. I was in the groove and enjoying the story as in unfolded.

Unfortunately, and it’s no surprise, the writing sucked. The story turned out excellent: novel, sweeping, fresh, emotional, moving. But the writing lacked the 10,000 hours of mastery that I’m now attempting to rectify.

And what I find is that the verve and energy I had while writing that book, now that I’m focusing on craft (and its myriad wrinkly impacts on the practice) the process has slowed to a desert-crawl-in-the-sun pace.

But, that’s okay I tell myself. I WANT to learn the craft. So, for now, I’m accepting that the momentum of writing will eventually catch up once I learn more of the ropes. I’m hoping this at least. Because for now, the story gets clogged up and hard to decipher when the writing itself unfolds so slowly (good, but slow).

Publishing narrative = cattle auction

There are a few sites out there where authors of narrative fiction (among other media types) can submit their work for evaluation:

are two that I’m familiar with.

The problem with these sites, and the problem is systemic within the industry, is that the process of connecting authors with publishers is upside down. It’s inverted, inside out.

It’s easiest to picture the situation through analogy: enter the cattle ranch.

Imagine if every cattle rancher had to, one-at-a-time, schlep their cattle in a truck to every buyer of beef, haggle with that buyer, and if the cattle were not up to the desired grade or the price was not agreeable, the rancher would move onto the next buyer.

And the next. And the next. Talk about inefficient!

Instead, (and this is one of the ways it’s done), ranchers take their cattle to an auction. At these auctions buyers from all around congregate to bid on cattle. Numerous ranchers present their herds and buyers make bids.

Cattle, i.e. narrative content, from many ranches (authors), arrives at the auction (some new service yet to be created or identified), and buyers (publishers) peruse the offerings and purchase what suits them.

That’s the way it should work for submitting narrative fiction or artful media. Content should enter an auction to which publishers have subscribed. If a publisher only wants adult mystery, then there will be an auction for that genre. When new content is created by authors and artists they can submit their work to the service which holds it until the auction. Or, if the creator chooses, have their work enter the always-on-auction where content is collected and metadata about it then channels said media to publishers who have voiced interest in the media’s genre.

As it stands, this process is so backwards and contradictory, quality authors get ignored unless they schlep their content from publisher to publisher. And publishers miss out on authors who have great content but who ignore or simply skip the publisher out of ignorance or lack of time or awareness. needs to get built. Who’s with me?

UBI is not the solution

The idea of Universal Basic Income is like a band-aid on a sucking chest wound, it appears as though the situation is solved, but the underlying problem remains.

UBI tries to solve the problem of inequality but will fail at this. Why? Because the problem of inequality can only be solved by the equalization of wealth. Yes, giving cash — outright — to a select few individuals, or group does, generally, lift those people up out of the mire of poverty, or elevate them enough, give them a glimmer of hope so that the specter of impoverishment is pushed to the shadows.

But, give everybody the same allotment of cash and all you’ll do is inflate the currency and we’ll be back to Zimbabwe or the Weimar Republic. The elites will still be thousands of times more wealthy than the median population.

That’s the inequality that will not be cured. That’s why a full coverage UBI will fail.

But what can we do? Well, we could start with understanding why the wealthy are wealthy. If we figure that out, and universally distribute that — whatever it is — then perhaps the inequality will be reduced, eventually, to a socially acceptable level.

So, why are the wealthy wealthy? No doubt there are dozens of reasons we could cite, but the primary one is that they do not work for their income. As Warren Buffet famously said “If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die.”

Okay, so what can we do with that thought? Let’s see, if the wealthy let their wealth earn them money, and if this is predominately done with investments in the corporations, the means of production, the growth and expansion of productivity, then somehow we need to get that into the hands of everyone.

What about this: create a financial instrument which can be distributed — UBI style — to every citizen of the country. Let’s say we create an ETF, an exchange traded fund, which is comprised of the rolling top 10000 companies and utilities, include bonds and treasuries in the instrument – a smorgasbord of components that represent the country’s economy.

We take that EFT and we give shares of it away to every citizen, one share per month, for life. We make investors out of every single person in the country, invested in the country itself, its progress, its future.

Some people will turn around and sell their shares right away. That’s okay, let them. They can use that money like the common UBI that has been proposed.

Others will let their shares sit. Accrue. Gain value and multiply. When they need cash for emergencies or buying a house or car, they can sell them then.

We could label this ETF: USAA — United States of America for All.

This would give cash to those who need cash, but for most, I suspect, it would give them a sense of participating in the wealth growth of the nation. Their investment would be making them money – “while they slept.”

This let’s every citizen participate in the economy just like the elites on Wall Street. This distributes Wall Street level prosperity down to Main Street where it’s needed.



Sure, this is not the whole solution — the wealthy still have thousands or millions of times more wealth than the median population. And there are solutions for that too — namely progressive taxation…

Employee Income Inequality Tax

Scaled Tax Schedule:

Scaled Federal Tax Schedule
Individual Income %Tax $Tax $Net
10000 10 $1,000 $9,000
11000 10.1 $1,111 $9,889
15000 10.5 $1,575 $13,425
25000 11.5 $2,875 $22,125
50000 14 $7,000 $43,000
75000 16.5 $12,375 $62,625
90000 19 $17,100 $72,900
100000 20 $20,000 $80,000
200000 21 $42,000 $158,000
300000 22 $66,000 $234,000
500000 24 $120,000 $380,000
1000000 30 $300,000 $700,000
10000000 40 $4,000,000 $6,000,000
100000000 50 $50,000,000 $50,000,000
1000000000 60 $600,000,000 $400,000,000

Google to buy Netflix


Alphabet (Google) has offered $180/shr for Netflix in a 1/2 cash 1/2 share buyout.

Netflix will join YouTube in Alphabet’s (Google’s) growing media powerhouse. Details of the deal were not available as of this writing. However, Alphabet’s bank account, (GOOG: Marketwatch) can more than deal with the purchase. NFLX CEO Reed Hastings remarked, “With Google’s, I mean Alphabet’s, introduction of their ChromeView — [their television plus intelligent agent set-top box] — Netflix will have even better domestic and growing world-wide exposure. I look forward to working with that team creating vivid and engaging content, both for our flagship Netflix platform as well as the quirky but wildly popular YouTube channel venue.”

Officers at Alphabet were unavailable for comment, but a quick tweet from CEO Larry Page “A natural fit: Netflix and Google” and positive remarks from Sundar Pichai seem to indicate that the deal will succeed. Anti-trust sources at the DOJ were also unavailable for comment.

End of the boom?

Is the current “economic boom” over?

Although the unemployment rate is 4.4, this chart shows a more telling number:

“The employment-to-population ratio for prime-age workers, which measures the proportion of the population between the prime working ages of 25 and 54 who are employed.”


Not only this, there is another hidden factor, one we do not see even in this chart: what is the ratio of workers vs the TOTAL population? I’d have to say that this is much lower and sinking.

Why aren’t wages going up? Because there are so many people — not tabulated in this chart — those who have given up even trying to look for a job, though they could still work, who, when an opportunity presents itself, step in and go back to work.

If you had a huge inventory of canned peaches in your pantry, what would be the price you would pay for canned peaches in the market place? Pretty much nothing right? If you need peaches you just go into your spare peach pantry and pull out a can.

That’s the working economy these days. When new jobs show up, companies don’t compete to pay more for the rare peach who can do the job. They simply go out to the people pantry and pick up one who hasn’t worked for a year or five and start paying them their paltry wage. There’s no reason to increase wages when you have spare people, waiting on the sidelines, anxious to jump back in, if the opportunity is right.

I look at this curve and think: It’s over. Not just for this cycle, but forever. We’ve topped the chart in 2000 and the curve will now oscillate lower and lower. Work, as we knew it, is over.

Now vs Then

Flashbacks in narrative may be a necessary device to retain the attention of a reader.


Harold crept to the edge on hands and knees, slabs of shale cracking and shifting beneath him. He had to look, he had to know. The closer he got the more he could see; the base of the cliff, strewn with boulders and scree, came within view; the corner of a pink jacket, the sole of a boot — the new ones she’d bought just last month. “Oh god! Oh my god, Mary, no, no…”

They’d decided that this Thanksgiving, rather than gorge themselves as Westerners did, the holiday becoming a celebration of gluttony rather than a ritual of thanks, they would travel somewhere. Travel and hike a few of the peaks they’d hiked years ago during their courtship.

Atop the cliff Harold lay on his belly, his arms spread wide while sobs wracked his body. He’d warned her not to stray too close. He could tell that what looked flat and inviting, like a table perched upon a mountaintop, was probably unstable. “Step away, please, Mary. Yes, the view is incredible.”

That morning, with daypacks and a thermos of steaming coffee, they’d set off from the trailhead, up through the pines and fir, and within an hour had hit the switchbacks. Mary kept count, “Fourteen, Fifteen…” as we zigzagged our way up the trail that rose a thousand feet in a mile.

Harold edged a little closer, just a inch, or two. She couldn’t have survived such a fall.

He thought back on their thirty years together. They’d had no children, and Ricky, their poodle, had died the year before. I could follow her. I will follow her.

He stood then, carefully, Why be careful? He gazed out over the hazy blue mountains, rolling like waves. The sky a piercing blue with a pair of clouds, puffs atop the highest peaks, looked down on him. He stared at the body of his wife; he could see her fully now, her pink jacket, her grey braid, khaki pockets stuffed with energy bars. He leaned into the wind blowing in his face and urged himself over.

As he fell, as gravity grabbed ahold of him and his mind whirled in the fall, he forgot all about why he was falling; the terror reached up and seized him by the throat. In the last half second before his bone crushing impact, his eyes focused on Mary’s twisted body. In the last quarter second he remembered why he had jumped. And just before his own body crumpled into the jagged rocks Mary lifted her head and smiled.


In this piece we time travel back multiple times to enrich the current events of the story.

The human mind, in and of itself, time travels. We think about now, what we’re doing, what we need to do, and what we did. What happened yesterday, last year. What may happen tomorrow or next week. We skip around in time within our minds.

A story that is purely linear in temporal treatment may feel dull to us. A story told 1,2,3… does not enjoin our own tendency to jump around in time. A story that, like the above, dances on the face of the clock, on the calendar, keeps our minds — the time focused creatures that we are — engaged.