Embracing your inner opportunist

Patricia 1How far over the speed limit do you drive? Come on. No one drives it exactly. One mph? Two? Me, I allow myself up to about nine under normal circumstances.

How fast does someone else have to drive before you’re happy to see them get a ticket? If they’re going much more then ten mph over, I feel like public safety is being preserved. Less, and I rant about how we live in police state. Let’s face it. We all push the rules, and we all have our own particular definition of when enough is enough.

In my novels x0 and c3, I crafted villains who were clearly evil. In y1, I opted for someone easier for me to understand. He’s a man who pushes the rules, just like we all do, and a man who knows how to profit well from the little opportunities that his rule bending provides.

I put him in charge of marketing at a pharmaceutical company, not because I dislike prescription drugs or the companies that make them. I have had plenty of reasons to be grateful for modern medicine. But I do know that there is a lot of grey area in selling medication, regarding both the doctors who write the prescriptions and the eager public who watches the ads on television. Just like everywhere else, rules can be bent.

Doctors can be encouraged to write frequent off label prescriptions, something intended by law to be rare. They can feel slightly obligated to preferentially prescribe a new drug in spite of its not fully understood side-effects, and they can be encouraged to do both of these and more with travel, food, honorariums, and gifts. Most people in the medical profession are at the very least decent and well meaning, and they will truthfully insist that they cannot be bought for the price of a lunch.  I am sure that they can’t, and I made the same argument when potential suppliers took me out to lunch in my profession.

raising 3So how many lunches for how many people in the office does it take to have an impact? The folks in marketing are trying to find out. How lavish do the gifts have to be? Should we be ignoring the fact that the product itself has a unique capability to effect the health and happiness of others in a way that only medication, with all its side effects, can?

My villain in y1 is a very fine opportunist, happy to push those boundaries further each day, and glad to pay the nuisance fines slapped against his firm when he goes a little too far. Just the cost of doing business he tells his staff, ignoring the dangers of the products he makes and sells.

I got far enough inside this guys head to make myself squirm, before I let him spiral out of control and engage in the equivalent of doing 70 mph in a school zone. That way I knew that my readers would all be happy to see him caught and punished in the devious way I had intended all along. Before he turned ultra bad, however, I hoped that my reader would squirm a bit as well, and think about the fuzzy boundaries between playing the game well and doing harm.

(Please like writer Patricia Polacco’s Facebook page and the page for Raising Ecstasy, the sources of these two clever images. Please see my x0 blog for a post about crafting villains that are unambiguously evil from the start, and see my z2 blog for an upcoming post about my tale of researching racist groups in America.)

Writing for a Cause

blessed weird 2I had no intention of writing for charity when I began my first novel in the collection of six interrelated stories that I wanted to tell. Much of the action in my first book x0 takes place in Nigeria and as I did my research I became fascinated with the organization Doctors Without Borders. I learned that it was formed by frustrated French doctors who were forced to remain silent about the starvation in Biafra during Nigeria’s brutal civil war. Today they send physicians worldwide with the charge of never keeping quiet as regards human suffering.

That’s incredibly cool, I thought. In a burst of altruism I decided to donate ten percent of my proceeds from the book x0 to this organization. Be it a little or a lot, it seemed a good way to put something back. And that was that.

Then I had this idea of creating a blog for each one of my six novels with the URL’s all matching. Much to my surprise the second URL, the one for y1, was already taken. A little research showed that it belonged to an organization called To the Power of One that was headquartered in Hawaii and worked exclusively to develop self-sufficiency throughout the Pacific. This was surprising because much of the action in my second book y1 takes place in the Pacific. While x0 explores the theme of how we are all alike, y1 focuses on our own uniqueness and self-sufficiency. It was just too good of a fit. I pledged ten percent of the proceeds from y1 to them.

By the time I finished z2, I admit that I was sort of looking for a cause. Racism plays a major role in this book about time and changing attitudes and I often turned to the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center for information. It’s a nonprofit civil rights group dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry. It wasn’t difficult to decide to continue my unintentional trend and earmark ten percent for these fine folks as well.

Lest I sound more generous than I am, it is fair to mention that my husband and I have a fairly dismal record donating to charities. We mean well, we really do, but we tend to be too busy or having some kind of costly emergency ourselves and giving money to worthy causes just doesn’t seem to happen. On the other side of the coin, we aren’t relying on my writing to pay our mortgage or buy groceries, which at this point is a good thing. So while we can always use a little more income, it’s not so difficult for me to make a pledge like this.

Have I done it yet? I set a threshold of a certain number of books sold before I would declare the check big enough to be worthy of sending. So far only x0, first published on Kindle in February 2012 and in paperback in December 2012, has sold enough copies to qualify, although y1 is getting close.

So yes, I sent the check off to Doctor’s Without Borders a few weeks ago, and just got back a wonderful little letter acknowledging what I was doing with my novel and thanking me for it. Terribly cool. I’m going to frame it and hang it in my study. I had no idea that being an author would have the potential to provide joys in so many ways.

(Thanks to the Facebook page Blessed are the Weird for the wisdom pictured above. Please drop by and give them a like.)

Note that this post was originally written for an Orangeberry Blog Tour and has also appeared at Kindle Nook Book, Writers & Authors, Paws on Books, and Blog-A-Licious Authors.

My secret new year wish for you

flowers4People are still wishing me a happy new year and I think what they mean is “may everything go well for you in 2014.”  No thanks, I think.

raising ecstacy 1It’s true that good health, beautiful surroundings and caring companions should make for a wonderful wish. Yet how many people do you know who more or less have these things and yet aren’t particularly happy? My sister works in the travel industry and she assures me that people are capable of being absolutely miserable while surrounded by loved ones in paradise. Meanwhile others manage a fair amount of joy stuck in an airport with strangers in the middle of a blizzard.

blessed weird 3Joy is in the brain, no doubt about it. True wishes for a happy new year ought to be less about good fortune in the times ahead and more about wishes for the wisdom to enjoy whatever does happen, and about the good sense to learn from the things that don’t go well. I’d like to point this out to my well wishers, but it seems ungrateful to correct people when they are trying to be nice. So I smile instead, and wish them a happy new year back.

Just like I now wish a happy new year to you. The only difference is that you know what it is that I’m secretly wishing for you.

(Please like the Facebook pages of Raising Ecstasy and Blessed are the Weird and thanks to them for sharing the witty and wise displays shown here.)

For some fun with New Year’s resolutions please visit my x0 blog here. For thoughts on why January is such a great month, visit my z2 blog here.