Tuesday, March 07, 2017

How query letters illuminated the New Political Landscape for me

WARNING: this blog post is on a political topic (just in case you want to avoid that topic these days)

Every once in a while someone comes along with a flashy new idea about how to revolutionize, streamline, or otherwise improve how writers contact agents. These new ideas are often wrapped in attractive language like "more efficient"  "less time needed" and "better results."

One thing the purveyors of these new plans have in common is they are not agents. Almost as often they're not people who ever worked in publishing. Sometimes they're not even writers.

And to my way of thinking they're trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

Now, I grant that if you are a writer, you may have some quarrels with how the query system works. My position that it's not broken is certainly subject to debate and/or disagreement.

But I think one thing we can agree on is that it really helps to know how the query system functions before you try to improve it.

Which brings me to my new understanding of the new president.
As many of you know, I was in despair at the results of this election.
To me it felt like a repudiation of competence.
I understand intellectually that people voted one way for a myriad of reasons and those reasons are just as valid as mine were for voting the other way.

But now it's clear at least to me that the guiding principal is Everything That Happened Before was Bad, and thus We Must Change/Fix it.

Except no one in this administration has ever served in government. Not locally. Not nationally. And that's viewed as a positive thing. Just like those Query Fixers who think the system is broken because they didn't get the results they wanted.

Each of you reading this blog post is good at something. Something you've spent years learning to do, and are now probably pretty darn good at. It might be your paying job. It might be something you do as a hobby.  To my way of thinking, those of you who are happily married after 25 years should list  marriage as one of your skills.

Now imagine someone who has never done your job, or your hobby, or ever been married is now in charge and tells you things are going to change. Things are going to Improve. Except they don't know anything about your job or your hobby or been married.

If you want to drain the swamp, it's good to have a contractor who knows the difference between an alligator and a cypress log.

Which brings me to a book I'm looking forward to reading: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters by Tom Nichols. 

I welcome your comments on this, and of course, you're free to disagree with me.

Your comment  MUST be civil to other commenters or your comment will be deleted. I don't care what you say to me  but I prefer to engage with people who can frame their position rationally. Comments such as "you're wrong plus your query wears army boots" are not disagreement so much as diatribe. Offer up an opinion backed by facts or reason and I'm glad to listen.

Fire away.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I work with a woman who has never had children, and yet, she is an expert regarding childbirth, raising little ones and teenagers. Her niece just graduated from college so therefore she has become the go-to person for dealing with young adults. It galls me but I keep my mouth shut. (Me quiet, a miracle I know). I say nothing about her misguided sense of expertise because she and I are political allies in favor of sanity, over man-baby rants, which put us all at risk. This year I am astounded by who voted for who and how difficult it is for me to get by the unconscionable-obvious.
You're in for it today Janet.
Us Reiders may not be all on the same page but I hope tomorrow we are all still in the same book.

CynthiaMc said...

One of my favorite baby gifts when I was on active duty in the Air Force and also expecting our daughter was a tiny shirt that said "My mother wears combat boots." It was true.

Kitty said...

I like the posts which don't involve politics.

Stacy said...

I'm all for learning new things. But LEARNING. Not walking into a situation with no experience and doing what's described in this post. And I am marking off every day that we're not in WWIII, thanking our lucky stars we've gotten through another day.

DLM said...

"Repudiation of competence" is one of the best phrases for it I have seen, if not THE best. Janet, I hope you will not mind if I quote you on that extensively, it's too gorgeous not to use/share/credit.

The consistent and concerted effort to shame and disable intellectual achievement in the United States has for at least two decades now bothered - and now terrifies - me. I will be at the March for Science April 22 in DC, probably wearing or carrying something of my dad, who was a lifelong teacher and NOT just in a classroom. He was an experimenter; we ate supper for years off a lab table he converted to a kitchen table. I still have it. Curiosity and consideration MADE AMERICA GREAT. And these are the central reasons I am a writer - researcher - lover of history - asker of questions.

And I think a query that wears army boots might make for an ass-kicker. No? :)

Anonymous said...

From a story POV:

Expert comes in, studies a problem, solves it. BORING

Amateur off the street is dragged in, faces a problem, has no idea where to start. EXCITING

There are exceptions. The TV series Leverage was about characters, each an expert in his or her own field. But in the interest of drama, even those characters were constantly forced to work outside of their "competence zone".

Theresa said...

It's probably a bit of the old Progressive in me, but I've always believed in using experts. How do you choose your doctor, lawyer, and plumber? This is one of the messages The West Wing got across so well.

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember the Kevin Kline movie "Dave"?

Guy off the street has to pretend to be president, and does a better job than the real politicians.

Ly Kesse said...

I think it's a war on the Enlightenment and scientific thought, which brought us modern technology.

The real physical world, unlike the social world, does not care what we thought. I once had a quarter bet with a man who thought positive thinking would change the weather. We are in Western NY and it was cold that day.

He really really thought his positive thoughts could affect that day's weather. Well...I won the quarter bet. It is also referred to as 'magical thinking,' something writers engage in all the time. Except my magical thoughts are confined to paper (or the computer).

My two pennies.

And yes, I agree, the political climate has become very very scary.

Colin Smith said...

It always used to be popular to rant against politicians. They were the problem with government. At some point it occurred to me that there's a lot that goes into running a country. It's not all about balancing budgets and having ideas on how to make the world a better place. You have to craft policy, negotiate, understand the way government works (including the Constitution), and how to work within those parts of the system that have been functioning for over 200 years. Which makes me wonder why people think it's a good thing to elect people with NO experience with government. Sure, they may have run successful businesses, but government is not a business. Government is not about making money, but about maintaining infrastructure, keeping peace, and taking care of the most vulnerable. This requires what we might call "state craft." It's a skill all good politicians learn. This is why everyone who has served as President up until this year has come up through government ranks, regardless of their original vocation, either as a state Governor (Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter), or as a Senator (JFK, Obama). I understand the frustration people feel with gridlock in Washington, and politicians who seem to be out for themselves and not the people they were elected to represent. But the solution is not to have a businessman with no political experience run the show.

And hence Janet's analogy with publishing. Yes, I've been guilty of thinking there must be a more efficient way to manage the query process. If only it could be like the way some businesses manage resumes, or the way you do x or y. But I'm not an agent, and I don't have hundreds of queries clogging my inbox, so all my bright ideas have to give way to the people who do this for a living.

And yes, I too have had to bite my tongue when the unmarried and the childless have tried to tell me how to raise my kids. Their hearts are in the right place, even if their tongues aren't. And yes, we do know what caused us to have six children. We decided to have children, and we decided when to stop having children. Because we know how it works. OK? Sorry, was I wandering there...? :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I get blasted constantly from people way outside publishing for the slow and ragged path I am pursuing- get a good, reputable agent who knows the business to help me sell to a publisher that has walked the walk for a time so one day my books will line shelves of bookstores all over the place. And some worthy voice actor will give voice to wonderful audio books of my work. I am constantly dismissed as being not a serious writer because I haven't gone onto Amazon or some such and simply started publishing myself. It's annoying like people without children trying to tell you about raising your child.

I know some (a tiny almost not worth mentioning percentage) do well in self-publishing but those are few and often people who have more than a rudimentary understanding of publishing and put a crap ton of work into making it work.

That's not me. I can write. But I know exactly jack shit about all the minutia that goes on to take a virtual manuscript and turn it into a well-bound book for sale.

I follow this blog and others, go to conferences to try and learn all I can to secure the expertise I need to make my work successful. I am still in cold dread about my part in marketing and hope someone like Dana Kaye will guide me through this.

This is long way of saying that while I am all for innovation, really I am, and for fixing broken things, there is a use for hard won experience. Any specific fix or improvement to a problem generally requires expertise to improve and flourish. I believe that our Queen in her expertise and passion has done much to improve publishing. As by way of example.

As for politics, we are in a strange time when the politics of Carkoon are more palatable than politics of the nearly free world.

Ly Kesse said...

"The physical world does not care what we think." Not thought.

Sorry about that.

Sherry Howard said...

I participated in a workshop last night where this was discussed. Whether you like it or not, the current climate has an impact on the salability of your writing. Buckle up and hang on for a few years.

DLM said...

To be fair, those of us who never had children are pretty well covered in all the ways we're Doing Life Wrong by those who have had children, are married, etc. There's an infantilization at play: because we are not part of a "nuclear family" we are marginalized as incomplete and/or incompetent in fundamental ways. Because doing *everything* for ourselves, without a partner, is insufficient proof of adulthood. To those who've always had help.

Just sayin'.

Unknown said...

I've worked in and around government for more than 30 years. Watching the country in its current situation, op-eds keeps forming in my brain.

By nature and design, government is not business, especially democratically-based forms of government. Businesses exist to make money, governments exist to protect weak from strong and to foster public good. (By definition, public goods are not, and should not be, subject to the rules of business or pure capitalism). I cringe when people talk about running democratic government like a business. Profit-making means jettisoning those things that cost more than they add. In business that means brands and products. In government, that means people who cannot contribute more than they cost, i.e., the old, sick, handicapped, poor, and others. Is that really what we want of our country?

I've been thinking also about my older relatives with lifetime concerns about communists taking over America. They always argued, (and still do) that such encroachment came from the left in the form of socialism (equal healthcare for all, egads!) They never expected it to come from the right as autocracy. Now, they're frozen in place, unsure what to do. Do they betray a lifetime of belief in conservatism, or "go with the flow" hoping things aren't really headed toward what they've always feared?

Another theme in my brain: if current trends in government are really about cultural re-shaping, history shows us that forcing that kind of change is usually bloody. Our country is in for a very rough ride.

Enough for now. (I could write a book... :)

Colin Smith said...

Elise: I think the path to self-publishing is easier than it used to be. Granted, it still requires a lot of time and effort to do it well, but there's a lot more help these days than there used to be, and I can see it getting easier in the future. However, that said, I agree with your point. People who haven't taken the time to understand how publishing works, and the pros and cons of all the options available, don't need to be pontificating on what you should be doing to get your book in print. They would do better to listen and learn. Which is a good general principle when it comes to things where our knowledge and experience are lacking. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Dellcartoons, I loved the movie DAVE. Where the hell is Kevin Kline when you need him?

french sojourn said...

Things I do well....Married for 25 years, it's actually 30 to date, but with 5 off for good behavior.


At some point the pendulum swings back.

Colin Smith said...

Diane: You're right--those of us with spouses and kids are often guilty of looking at the single and childless as if they're doing something wrong, just as much as the single and childless look at our full quiver and think the same thing. Within our own church congregation, we have a family that has double the number of children we have, and we have a young couple looking to adopt, and we have single people who are not presently seeking to change their status. And this is a good and wonderful thing! :)

EliasM said...

Yeah, I've never tied off a pulmonary embolus before but I totally nail a grilled cheese sammich so same/same, right?

Colin Smith said...

Elias: But I did cut the umbilical cords (or "unbiblical cords" as my son used to say when he was much younger) of five of our kids... so I guess that makes me a doctor? :D

Unknown said...

I married at 40, and adopted our kids at 43. (From Russia, which is partly why I find the current anti-immigrant wave so terrifying!) I'm embarrassed when I think about parenting opinions I dispensed before I had kids. I really had no clue. And, all those married-with-kids people who felt sorry for single me had no clue either. My life was different, but no less rich than theirs. I've been so blessed to have both lives, and I would not have given up either.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

As a person who has lived on this earth as long as I have, I am sure of one thing, I am NOT an expert at anything. I know a lot of stuff, I know a lot of stuff well, but regarding me, marriage, children, my job, writing, publishing, politics, cooking, engine repair work and nuclear science, I am often woefully inept.
I am suspect of those who think only THEY can solve problems, only THEY have the answers.
I am suspect of those who do not accept responsibility for their actions.
I am suspect of those who believe they do not make mistakes, other people do.
I am suspect of those who think their failure is the result of someone else’s ineptitude.
Oh wait a minute, I think I was talking about my brother.

Anyway, I’m off to work boys and girls. Play nice.

Hey DLM. I didn’t marry until after thirty. I still do it all, pretty much. I like it that way. Please do not feel marginalized by my comment. We all have choices and sometimes life simply plays the choice-card for us. My point was simply that my co-worker knows little of which she speaks, and as I state above, I know even less.

S.P. Bowers said...

Aww, I've only been married for 19 years. Guess I better get back to practicing.

Lennon Faris said...

Wow, what a post. I didn't vote for the current president but both my parents (pretty rational people) did. We still love and respect each other. There are so many ways other than politics to impact the world.

dellcartoons I loved Dave. Should we nominate him, next go around?

DLM yes that is a common conundrum. I am very close to my sister. She's single-no-kids and I am neither. We've learned to (mostly) not judge the other.

BunnyBear said...

"...marriage as one of your skills." Janet, you nearly had me spitting coffee across the table with this one!

DLM said...

2Ns, hee. No, you've never made me feel marginalized! My point was more general than specific, nobody here was implicated in ANY way. Nobody here has ever commented on my status, I don't think. It's beside the point, here. But for a long time I got told "you'll change your mind" about having children by people who'd literally never met me before charming me with that prediction, and to this day there are those who commentate on my love life in the most *curious* manner.

Back to the topic - as with intellectualism, so with a few other isms, including feminism. Feminism was *always* demonized, but via co-opting by pop-cultural forces beginning in the 90s, I have seen it actually internally subverted in addition to the external demonization, a destabilization on two fronts. "Political correctness" too has subverted the basic tenet of the golden rule, such that we can revile PC and thereby release anyone from kindness or politeness by way of calling such rules a constraint.

When I was a little girl in the 70s, kids teased me that my father had to be an atheist because he was a scientist.

These kids are now running the world, and they appear still to believe the same old horsefeathers. They scare me no less today than when I was eight. (And my dad was a scientist precisely owing to his awe at the glory of G-d and the universe.)

Susan said...

I wasn't going to mention this, but it relates to this post, so I hope everyone will indulge me with this anecdote.

I'm currently sitting in a hotel room in Delaware because last night I had the absolute honor of speaking on a panel at a conference for nurses on Lyme Disease. It was a packed event in which we listened to a couple of keynote speakers offer education on the seriousness of this disease--facts and studies to back them up--and then I had the chance to share my patient experience.

Two nights ago, we received an email stating that protestors wanted the event cancelled. For those of you who don't know, Lyme is a controversial illness in the medical community, particularly with regard to the disease's persistence after initial treatment, which we call chronic. The conference decided to persist because they felt there was vital information that had to be dispersed.

After I shared my story, I thanked the nurses for being there. I told them that their open minds and compassion and curiosity for learning mattered, especially for patients like me. They were not only willing but eager to understand something outside of their scope, to listen to experiences and make valuable judgments for their patients. Afterwards, many people came up to me and had a conversation. Some didn't understand Lyme before now. Some still couldn't believe the seriousness of the illness but couldn't dismiss what was presented. The point is, we talked.

This experience drove home just how important civil discourse is in our society. Somehow, we've stopped listening to each other and begin speaking louder and louder with only the goal to be heard, no matter what the stakes. But there are people out there who can offer not only their expertise, but their experiences, and those stories need to be heard because that is how we relate to each other. Somehow, we've stopped relating to each other.

The political landscape is what it is, and I'm not happy about it. Sometimes, it feels helpless, and I cringe when I turn on the news because I never know what's next. But then I think of the people, echoing Mr. Rodgers' quote to look for the helpers. Because I know there are people out there who are just as hungry for civil, civic engagement as I am, and if last nights nurses are any indication, they are waiting with open minds and compassion.

Unknown said...

Dellcartoons. Yes. Point taken and loved that movie. With all respect... Three things: 1) not that you're claiming it's real life but it was a movie so lucky Dave didn't have to deal with Russia, war, assigning conspiracy theories to past presidents . 2) dave was a smart, reasonable, rational guy who was very respectful to the president's wife ;-). 3) he brought in his accountant friend, an expert with experience, to balance the budget. That being said I saw it a very long time ago so my memory might be grainy.

BJ Muntain said...

I used to work for a library in the provincial government. New governments always think they know better. I suppose libraries are a lot like publishing that way - everyone uses libraries, so they think they know how a library runs, so they all have ideas of how to make it better. Luckily, after awhile politicians get bored and move on to something else. Libraries are not as exciting as healthcare, business, or oil.

The best leaders either know what they're doing, or they're surrounded by people who know what they're doing.

The most incredible leaders understand that, while things may not be perfect, they do work. While things may be improved, they don't need to be completely changed. Sometimes bureaucracy needs a complete overhaul - but in a well-planned, well-thought-out way, with input from the people who have worked in that bureacracy and understand the unique problems of their area of expertise. Our current provincial government spent millions on outside 'consultants' to re-organize our healthcare system. The consultants may have been great at business reorganizations, but they didn't know beans about healthcare or about our healthcare system.

We had one premier (similar to a governor for a Canadian province) about 30 years ago who most will accept was not very good. He figured the best way to fix everything was to throw money at it. He put the province deep into debt, so much so we were paying for that debt for the next 10 years, just to bring the interest down to a livable level. And then he decided that the way to make the government more profitable for rural areas was to 'decentralize' everything that could be decentralized. He was going to send all the service departments of the government to offices spread around our huge province (this was pre-internet, so you can imagine how that would work out.) He had weekly radio announcements telling where departments were going to be decentralized to.) Luckily, before most of the 'decentralizations' went through, we had an election. He was so sure he was going to be re-elected, because he was the best government, doing the best for his people, giving out money to people for personal projects, sending government to rural areas... and he was beaten by a landslide. That's really the last anyone's heard of him, except when some of his ministers were convicted on several counts of fraud.

And we're still paying on the debt from that 1980s government.

Moral of the story: Lots of things can be fixed. Taking a haphazard approach to fixing them costs more in money and popularity than it's worth.

Colin Smith said...

Susie: Actually, you made the point about "Dave" that I was thinking. That movie encapsulated the very "politicians are the problem with government" attitude that's at the heart of where we are at the moment. Except, being Hollywood, it's idealized. Of course, "Dave" makes the world a better place, because that's the point of the movie. But it's just a movie. In real life, "Dave" would have a much harder time.

Anonymous said...

This was my ex, completely. He never read, but advised me on what I should write. He didn't play an instrument, but had a "revolutionary" drum kit redesign (I used to play drums). He thought owning a camera made him a photographer and collecting synthesizers made him a musician. He'd say, "Oh, I could do that, but I have a real job" with respect to any creative work. He was a walking political op-ed page but ignored my suggestions to check out things like, oh, the Constitution and congress.gov. The fact that I'm a lawyer didn't stop him from declaring he knew more than I did because I was part of "the system."

The kicker: he was offended when I didn't take his advice. Hey, just because I don't say much doesn't mean I know nothing. I'm over here quietly studying and working and learning, always learning.

I guess I should've expected this from a business consultant. Despair.com has a great poster that says, "Consulting: If you're not a part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem."

Amy Johnson said...

I'll share some thoughts on expertise--not regarding politics, but perhaps it might be transferable.

My understanding is I'm not the only one here who decided not to include school attendance as part of their children's education. (Background: Daughter is a college graduate; Son #1 is currently in college; and Son #2 is now a teenager.) When word got out that we would not be sending the kids to school, I started hearing that I'm not an expert in education, not a certified teacher, and therefore, cannot teach my children. I should send them to school. But by the time my kids were old enough to enter school, though I wasn't an expert in elementary education, I was an expert in each of my kids. I'd seen them every day for years, studied them. The teachers at school had not. They had a different kind of expertise, but both of us had expertise.

I know my kids; I have some intelligence; I know how to read, write, do a good deal of math, etc. My kids learned to read and write and do math and participate in intelligent conversations. I taught them how. And when it came to things I didn't know well enough to teach them, like upper-level math, I brought in someone who could do it. (The older kids watched their math DVD's and did the assignments written by the teacher on the DVD's. My understanding is the man on the DVD's used to teach in schools and left that sort of teaching to home educate his children and run his math education business.) I guess we can say things have been successful. Both older kids applied to several colleges and universities and were accepted at all of them. They've gotten excellent grades in college, have been active on campus, and can socialize just fine. They're contributing members of society, and they're kind people. (Not to boast, simply to try to make a point.)

Just last month, a woman I had recently met got to talking to me about her son. He is in his late teens, and he has autism. Somehow she knew I didn't send my kids off to school. And she told me she knows it would have been better for her son if she had not sent him to school. She said she kept hearing that he, especially because he has autism, needed the socialization school would offer him. (Please, nobody take this as anti-school or anti-schoolteacher. That's not my point at all. Thank you.) I can imagine she had many more voices that I had telling her she didn't have the expertise needed to raise her son.

Can any of this transfer to government? I think maybe it can. I'll probably be pondering that today. Thanks for the point to ponder, Janet.

(Sorry if this has already been covered while I've been typing my comment. Also, I won't be able to read later comments immediately--we're about to leave the house and visit a very cool wildlife refuge nearby and surely learn some things. And have fun.)

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, the ex also had plenty of ideas on how to "fix" the query system and the publishing industry too. Can't believe I forgot about that!

Unknown said...

I agree with what Kathy Joyce said about the government existing to foster public good. The danger in running a country like a business is that profit (greed?) too often outweighs the public good. That's not to say a country can't borrow the best business practices. Like hiring experts to do the job: "If you want to drain the swamp, it's good to have a contractor who knows the difference between an alligator and a cypress log."

Here's a perspective on being an expert -- on visa adjudication: We're a foreign service family and we've served overseas in six different countries. I've worked in embassies, and I've seen firsthand the excellent work the consular sections do in vetting applicants for visas. Immigrants from the countries on "the list" WERE thoroughly vetted before being granted a visa. And notice I'm not even making an argument as to the validity of having "the list." That's another story.

Regarding the querying process, I wonder if Janet Reid is referring to the online submission forms I see more and more from literary agencies?

One final note: I also agree with Sherry Howard that politics will be affecting all aspects of the publishing business for the foreseeable future. In YA, I've noticed agents being very specific in their manuscript wish lists that are a repudiation of current political policies. America is getting more decisive; political lines are being drawn.

The only solution is to keep writing. It's cathartic.

BJ Muntain said...

Colin: I would not want to see an automated query system, unless it were connected to an online submission system with specific language keyed in. Automated systems - like the HR resume-filtering systems - filter by certain key words. If you don't know the key words, you are out of luck.

Also, I have a friend with six children. I have great admiration for her - I'm not sure I could do it. When I try to tell others how much I admire her, they almost always say what they say to you. Honestly, I would love to have had a large family, but that wasn't to be. I know that people choose to have large families because children are blessings, not burdens. I think that's a huge problem with society today, in that people don't understand that. And governments don't get it, either, or there would be more support for children and families. (Sorry. Another rant of mine.)

EM: Oh yes. I have friends who insist I should be self-publishing as 'that is the only way to get noticed by a traditional publisher these days if you're not already famous.' Ummm, no. Just because you read in the news that this unworthy famous person or that self-publisher got picked up by a traditional publisher does not mean that's all that is going on in publishing. I've been following publishing for 20 years, reading information from *inside* publishing and from publishing professionals like Janet. I know how the face of publishing has changed. I also know that what you see in the news is not everything. There are very successful authors out there who don't make it into the regular newspapers because they're not considered as newsworthy as the Kardashians or politicians of this world. And self-publishers who make it big are unique enough to catch the notice of the non-publishing media.

DLM: Amen! from another single non-parent.

Kathy Joyce: Here! Here! I hate when people consider a government to be a business. I won't go deeper into that, because I could write another full rant, and no one wants that.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I don't have the energy for political discussions... I'll leave it to people who are much smarter than me.

I wasn't able to comment on the winners last night...(we suffered a heartbreaking loss here at the sanctuary, those of you who follow my FB page may have seen). So I'm popping in this morning to give a huge "congratulations" to Cecilia and Rkeelan. What beautiful creativity and terrific writing. It was an honor to be included among the finalists.

Janet, I do have a question about Rkeelan's entry (which I loved, by the way). And in the great big picture of world events, my curiosity about this is truly trivial, but... The prompt word was 99, but 9 and 9 were never used in consecutive order, isn't that akin to scrambling letters in a prompt word? Er, do I need more coffee? I am in no way diminishing Rk's entry... simply curious in the event numbers are ever a prompt word in the future. HUGS!

April said...

I’m with you, Janet. If I need surgery, I’d very much like a trained surgeon to do it. When I need eyes on a script or a book proposal, I seek out the input of my associates in publishing and production, not my mouthy Grandpa Mike who saw a movie once and thought it could’ve been better. My crazy, anti-government survivalist pal has some colorful ideas about US tax code, but I don't let him do my taxes. We're witnessing the Dunning-Kruger effect at its boldest.

Experts don't know everything and they can be wrong, but they're more likely to be right about their field than I am. Expertise = education + experience, which is a pretty reliable formula for success and I think abandoning it is a monumentally bad idea. If I'm looking for an agent, I hope to find someone who has undergone rigorous (even if informal) training, knows the field through-and-through, and has a proven track record. Why would I want any less from my government?

Julie Weathers said...

Jeff Sessions, Rick Perry, Ryan Zinke, Sonny Perdue, Alexander Acosta, Tom Price, Elaine Chao, David Shulkin, Dan Coats, Nikki Haley, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, and Scott Pruitt will all be surprised to know they have never served in government before.

Frankly, I kind of like the idea of having military people in positions which require military knowledge. Call me foolish for thinking that might be more important than say a failed novelist as a national security advisor.

Colin Smith said...

Amy: We homeschool our six kids, so I hear you. Actually, I see a lot of parallels between homeschooling and self-publishing. Don't be surprised. You all know my brain works in very strange ways. To begin with, homeschooling was looked down upon, as if parents know how to educate children--this was the domain of the paid professional! Send your kids to school if you want to do the education thing properly. And sure, there were parents who used homeschooling as an excuse to letting their kids play truant. But there were also a lot of parents who taught their kids how to read and write, and a bunch of other things along with good values. Over time, homeschooling has become seen as a legitimate alternative to traditional schooling. The trick is for homeschoolers not to assume those who send their kids to public school are somehow committing child abuse, and those who send their kids to public school assuming those who homeschool their kids do so because they want to indoctrinate their kids as opposed to giving them a "well-rounded" education. Like self-publishing, homeschooling is a choice (at least in certain parts of the world). It's not the best choice for everyone, but for some it is. Both self-pubbing and homeschooling are now both respectable choices, with good and legitimate reasons for making those choices. Before judging those who made the choice we didn't make, we should ask them. Most people are actually very nice, and are willing to tell you why they homeschool, or why they didn't homeschool. We may not agree with those reasons, but at least then we can then talk about real issues, and not just assume the other hasn't a clue what they're doing.

Donnaeve said...

"But now it's clear at least to me that the guiding principal is Everything That Happened Before was Bad, and thus We Must Change/Fix it."

So said every other administration before this one.

Many don’t want President Trump to be president, and there were many who didn’t want President Barack Obama to be president either, but it seems to me, the level of detractors and protests didn’t scratch the surface of what is going on now. There are cries of fascism from the left about Trump. Yet, by the very behavior I see by those who don't like him, wish the outcome were different, they’re behaving more in this manner than any conservative I know.

That's about all I got to say on it.

OT: I would like to congratulate RKeelan and Cecilia Ortez!!! I didn't get a chance to do that last night.

Also, I would like to THANK EVERYONE for all of the wonderful, thoughtful comments yesterday about the closing on mom's house. For those that don't know - my dad's been gone two years now - so Mom did good to hang on that long, trying to keep it up for herself. She's actually moving to what's considered a retirement community, only about five minutes from me here in my little town. She will have the luxury of a garage, paved drive, her yard work done for her, and a lot of other little amenities she's never had in her life (garbage disposal! Fireplace flips on with a switch! Granite counters!) So - mixed feelings of excitement and sadness abound.

BJ Muntain said...

Melanie: If I remember right, RKeelan's '99' was separated by a comma and line break, something like:



Which is something people have done with full words. (I know, though. I was looking for it, too. Having it on separate lines like that threw me a bit.)

Colin Smith said...

Melanie: Just to support BJ's explanation, Janet doesn't count punctuation and line breaks when she talks about the letters being consecutive. So, 9. 9 is okay. 919 is not.

DLM said...

*High fives BJ*

Donna, all the best to your mom AND to you. Mine will face downsizing if the long illness of my stepfather comes to an end. There are days she looks forward to that as a liberation from caregiving and pain; days she looks at the administrivia of death as a terror. So much still not ready - especially emotionally. My prayer is it will be relief as much for her as it will be for him.

Did y'all find lovely memories and laughs as you went through things? It can be bittersweet; the trick is to be so grateful for the sweet, and remember that is the only reason absence is bitter. May the shiny and new place be comfortable, and house new sweet memories for you guys.

Back again to the topic of querying, my sense is not that Janet has issues with automated forms OF querying; more, the upstart anti-query businesses that promise to bypass any form of it outright. "We'll get your novel in front of agents" with some catalog as useless as the "we'll make you a model by putting your picture online after you pay us gobs of money for a 'portfolio' photo session" scammers making a buck off of hopefuls.

I don't mind the automated queries at all personally, just because those (a) confirm receipt, which email can't always guarantee, and (b) usually also provide SOME manner of response. On the agents' end, I think tools like that make it easier to macro query management, so I'm all for it if it means one less NORMAN in the world.

Colin Smith said...

Can I throw in a thought to stir the pot?

I would never think to tell Melanie how to raise horses. The last time I rode a horse, I was five. Melanie has a horse sanctuary. She's an expert when it comes to horses. BUT, does that disqualify me from having an opinion on horse care, and, maybe sharing that opinion with Melanie? I would say not. But, as graciously and patiently as I hope Melanie would hear me out, I also hope I would be humble in sharing that opinion, acknowledging her expertise. My point is, sometimes opinions and ideas from outside can be valuable--not always--but sometimes. Experts can get locked into ways of thinking, and sometimes it takes an idea from left field to stimulate progress and growth in a field of study. Arrogance is never a good thing, whether or not it wears a lab coat.

That to say, it's good for publishing professionals not to completely ignore those of us who don't have query-filled inboxes, as if we never have anything useful to say on the topic.

Don Surber said...

Trump has 40 years of experience with government. You cannot build a thing in New York without getting a permit. Getting tax abatements made the Grand Hyatt possible, a feat that sparked a renaissance in Manhattan.

Later he took over that Central Park ice skating rink boondoggle and brought it in ahead of schedule and under budget.

Trump has conquered many a field (best selling book, a top TV series, golf) and failed (magazine, airline, university). He never ran for anything and defeated an opponent who enjoyed nearly universal admiration in the press, twice the campaign budget, and every expert saying she would win.

He won because the experts ran the federal government into the ground, and voters decided to change it. We are $19 trillion in debt and our roads are crumbling, the economy is in the toilet, and Iran and the Norks have nukes.

Government originally was set up to be like business. Over the years politicians screwed it up. Seriously, we cannot fire civil servants for watching porn at work for hours on end?

Frankly, I am tired of people who have not studied a wink about Donald Trump claiming expertise on the subject. They are just like those Query Letter experts that bug Ms. Reid.

Claire Bobrow said...

I find it depressing in the extreme when the world throws out the experts, or disparages people with knowledge and experience. I understand experts do not always get things right. Sometimes they screw up, cost us money, make us wait, make us feel helpless, or stupid.

However, I believe most people who have spent years studying and working at something want to get that something right, whether it’s brain surgery or car repair. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I believe most of those people want to use their knowledge and expertise to help others, or make a positive contribution.

We need fresh perspectives and new insights when systems feel broken, but jettisoning everyone with deep knowledge of those systems is not logical. As someone (Colin?) pointed out, the aims of business and of government are different. My personal opinion is that we need people with government knowledge and experience to run the government.

And there’s this: I am grateful for experts every time I go to the dentist. Or the doctor. “Boy” by Roald Dahl makes me deliriously happy that I live in the age of modern medicine (and anesthesia!), as imperfect as it is. And I simply cannot wait to tell my husband that I’m an expert in marriage. I have the official Janet Reid “Marriage Badge” to prove it. :-)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

BJ ... Colin, I'm an idiot! I'm aware of line breaks and punctuation being allowed in between a prompt word. But I missed Rk's two 9 right together. I see them now.

*begins packing bags for Carkoon.

Colin Smith said...

Don: Honestly, I would suggest that Trump's win was less about Trump and his expertise (or lack thereof, depending on your POV), and more about dissatisfaction with the status quo. And I think your comment indicates that. There really isn't much different about his core ideals and those of any other Republican that might have been where he is now. Others might have gone about achieving those goals in different ways, but I would contend that people were not voting based on Trump's competence to be in office. His "outsider" status appealed to many fed up with "politics as usual." And when he ended up so far ahead of his primary rivals, others fell in line with what he represented vis-à-vis the conservative/Republican agenda.

For the record: I'm not a political scientist, I'm just calling what I see. Experts may disagree. ;)

OK, that was more political than I intended to get. Sorry! :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Oh Donna, a new chapter for all of you. Just when we think we're at the end of the book more pages open up. Good luck.

Susan, my daughter had to sail the rocky sea of Lyme desease with some doctors who dismissed her as a loon and we live in the town next to Lyme, CT. Your battle is great both health-wise and with the medical community. I bow to you, deeply with respect. My daughter is fine now, I hope the same for you, but with Lyme do we ever really know?

BJ Muntain said...

Melanie, like I said, I had to look for it, too. It wasn't easy to spot. :)

evstarkey said...

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10k hours of practice to become an expert, about 10 years full time.

That is so old fashioned. Ask today's kids about their vision for life, and most will want to become famous. Forget the slog to become a scientist, teacher or professional athlete. The easiest way to rake in millions of followers and a permanent vacation is to be professionally outrageous.

Today's politics makes this showmanship deadly. I understand (but don't agree with) the populists' fight against political and academic elitism, but when the every man uses ignorance as a leveling bat, then all we have left is indiscriminate, all-consuming anger. Media revels in outrage. So the cycle continues.

I propose a test for any self-annointed 'expert': teach 10k followers the difference between opinion and fact.

Meanwhile, here's a disturbing fact: "An anti-intellectual society...will have large swaths of people who are motivated by fear, susceptible to tribalism and simplistic explanations, incapable of emotional maturity, and prone to violent solutions. Sound familiar?" - Psychologytoday.com

Beth Carpenter said...

I'm torn on this concept of a campaign against established knowledge. (Nothing new there. I'm usually torn.)

On one hand, I respect competance, and especially hands-on experience. I'm often frustrated when the news brings on "experts" to criticize something in which they have only peripheral knowledge. Like an electrical engineering professor who once had a summer job working with a road repair crew explaining why a bridge collapsed. Yes, he studied basic civil engineering, but those who actually build bridges are the experts. Or the psychologist who diagnoses a person they've never met.

On the other hand, when you're part of the system, it's easy to get comfortable in the proper way of doing things. Next thing you know, your video store is going out of business because everyone is streaming movies. Government doesn't have that reality check of competition. Only elections.

Still, IMHO, it's best to know the rules before you try to break or change them, or at least get advice from someone who does.

RosannaM said...

The book sounds interesting, Janet. I enjoy a good nonfiction book that makes me think and see something from a perspective that I had never considered.

Expertise is important. We once had a consultant come in to tell us how to more efficiently provide care to the babies in our NICU. (in order for us to take a larger patient load and thereby get by with less nurses). One of the things he recommended was based on how many steps we had to take as we walked from one baby to the next. He said we should make the assignment based on the location of the beds. Ie. Nurse 1 would be assigned to two or three babies in a linear row. What a dunce! Those kids could have been the three sickest kids in the unit! We assigned based on acuity and skill level of the nurse…all things he didn't understand.

But at the same point, we are sometimes so bogged down in our thinking along the lines of that's the way we've always done it, that a fresh perspective is needed, if not always welcomed at the time.

What I can control in this whole shebang called publishing (and life) is me. The other stuff swirling around is out of my control. So I will read, write, learn and think.

Steve Stubbs said...

If it is any consolation, almost the only person in the Trump administration who has never served in government is Trump himself, Yes, there are a few others, but mostly in less powerful posts. Pence is a former governor, Sessions is a former senator, the to-be-appointed deputy A-G is a long term member of the D OJ, McMasters and Kelly are general officers. I may not like some of these people, but they are not Larry, Curly, and Moe..

What should concern us is, the boss considers the mainstream media to be purveyors of “fake news” and says a far more preferable source of information about the world is “conservative” talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and outlets such as Breitbart. That is apparently how he knows all the people who voted for Hillary are dead, illegal, or voter frauds. That is how he knows about a terrorist attack in Sweden that the government there is unwilling to admit. That is how he knows Barack Obama ordered the telephones in the Trump tower tapped, That is how he knows Obama is a socialist, a Muslim, and an illegal alien, Most ordinary people live in a fact free bubble. But ordinary people don’t serve in an extraordinary office. The POTUS does.

Something else that should be a concern is that this is the new norm. Whatever else he does, Rush Limbaugh has proved that outright lying works. That example has been studied and followed by “conservative” media and has now been used to elect an unqualified man to the presidency. Success breeds success. Lying and loudmouthing around are the new norm.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

If people were to base their decisions on the Golden rule, "Do unto others as you would like done unto you", a concept which supersedes all laws, races, and religions, I think we would be okay.

But they don't. And so we aren't okay.

Which gives us writers something to write about.

Panda in Chief said...

Checking in after a bit of an absence...I've been trying to get some work done every day, before diving into cyberspace.

You already know what I think about the current US political scene. All I can say is I respect Janet more than ever. You glow with a white hot flame. Blaze on.

Jerry said...

The notion that politics has become so complicated that we need a permanent political class is probably why Donald Trump appeals to so many people. It was never meant to be that way in the United States. Our first four presidents returned to their family business after leaving office—a family business which no one expected them to sell before going into politics.

But when politicians must be chosen only from those who have decided to make a career out of politics we have established a political class that will come to resemble royalty.

The big difference between a plumber and a career politician is that it is reasonably likely that the person who chooses to make plumbing their career is someone who not only enjoys plumbing but who also will be a good choice when you need someone to fix your plumbing problems. It is unlikely that the plumber class as a whole caused your plumbing problems. The kind of person who chooses politics as a career is, like the plumber, the kind of person who enjoys acting politically. But unlike the plumber, the politician who sees politics as a career is always working on our political house. Our political problems have almost all been caused by the political class.

Imagine if the plumber who you chose for your last plumbing problem came by today, changed around your plumbing without your asking them to do it, forced you to pay for those unasked-for changes, and then forced you to pay again when it turned out they’d made your plumbing worse. That would be the equivalent of the career politician.

It may well turn out that politics has become so complicated that only a professional political class can handle it. But if so, that’s where our failure lies, not in electing someone who has not made politics their profession.

Colin Smith said...

Jerry: I think that's a good reminder. One of the great things about the US political system is that anyone, no matter what their background, can hold elected office (albeit providing they fall within the relevant age/citizenship parameters). Of course, that doesn't mean everyone should hold elected office. And it really helps if they know how government works, which doesn't require a law degree or years in Congress to learn. Lawyers tend to make good Congressmen because they know the law, which is helpful in the legislative branch. But that didn't stop Al Franken becoming a Senator, having been a comedian for many years, for example. But clearly the people of his home state (MN?) thought him qualified and able to serve in the Senate.

I don't know that history really helps us here. While there may not have been "career politicians" as such among the Founding Fathers, from what I read, Alexander Hamilton had a hard time letting go of public office, and kept involved in the political system until his untimely demise. There were many involved in the crafting of our government (even if they weren't involved in the final drafting of documents) and that would have given them a certain expertise that could be called upon. There are certainly lessons to learn from history. But times change. It's a lot easier to be isolationist, for example, when it takes days for enemy ships to get to you. A lot harder when North Korea can point a nuke at your shoreline.

Unknown said...

Ow, this is my third comment and I'm sure I could write a full 80,000 words. But I won't! Here's my last two cents for the day.

Anyone can read history to know the origins of centralized governments. Government was never meant to be a business. But, the purposes of government have changed over time. The feudal system emerged from tribal governments because people needed protection and guaranteed food and housing. Monarchies rose to ensure justice, guard from feudal infighting, and protect commerce for the burgeoning middle classes. Democratic forms rose from monarchial absolutism and greed at the expense of their subjects. (Religion played roles throughout, but that's way too complicated for this post).

Here's my point: I believe that our world is going through a significant shift, the kind that fundamentally changes government and its role. It's been going on for thirty-plus years. (Think cold-war ending, rise of global internet and social media, protests against globalism then acceptance, increasing polarization at home, longterm expensive wars while economy and homeland infrastructure crumble).

We need a conversation about the new role of government and the society we want for our future. The time we spend fighting and complaining about "now," especially in terms of individuals, is wasted. We need leadership to guide us through the national and international conversation. (Just voting isn't enough, we need serious, level-headed discussion).

When societies let these decisions work themselves out "naturally," over time, the decision makers are often violence and brutality. I fear that. It's been a long time coming, and no leader has stepped up to lead us away from violence. Presidents and Congressional leaders seem to lead us closer. We really need to talk about where we, as a society, want to be, not where we are now. And we need to do it very soon.

End. Thank you for listening. I feel better!

Barbara Etlin said...

My anecdote on non-experts giving advice:

Several years ago, when I wasn't having luck in querying agents, my best friend took me out to lunch. I tried to explain to her how the publishing industry worked. After talking about query letters, I said that sometimes--rarely--an author gets noticed by writing a bestseller. Then the agents contact the author to offer representation. My helpful friend replied, "So, why don't you just write a bestseller?"

Anonymous said...

In "The Greasy Pole", an episode of "Yes, Minister", Hacker and his staff had to decide whether building a chemical plant in a certain district would pose a threat to public safety.

Hacker and Sir Humphrey each had political reasons for their positions, but none of the people making a decision involving the safety of various chemicals knew the first thing about chemistry. None of them even knew what a compound was.

James Hacker: Why do you experts always think you are right?
Sir Wally: Why do you think that the more inexpert you are, the more likely you are to be right?

James Hacker: Ministers are not experts. They are chosen expressedly because they know nothing.

Joan Littler: What does "inert" mean?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Eh, it means it's not... ert.
Bernard Woolley: Wouldn't 'urt a fly.

PAH said...

This is an interesting conversation. I agree on the surface, but it is not (nothing ever is) that simple.

It's interesting to me, because this line of thought implies that the ONLY (or, perhaps, best) way to be an expert at something is to DO something for long enough. Like a formula. Y x N = Expert (when Y = something and N = number of years). But our entire education system, for the most part, is based on learning from academics -- who are often times not nearly as experience in the subjects they teach as those in the field actually DOing the subject they teach.

Which leads me to my point (about time): I think people can be really good at something while not having done it /officially/ for a long time (note: they still have to DO the work and understand the work, it just doesn't have to have been their title). For example, someone can be really really good with baseball strategy and stats without having played or worked in the industry (see Moneyball). The trick is to not go overboard.

So I can see it both ways.

Kregger said...

It's nice to see the Reiders acting with civil discourse.

I'm not a presidential basher. I don't care who is in office.

America is like a cruise ship with a 5hp outboard motor. No matter how much gas you give the kicker, the boat isn't going to move left or right very fast, let alone turn around.

I understand the angst over running the government as a business. IMO, like in the movie "Dave" the business analogy has more to do with operating the budget within revenue.

The state of Ohio attained a balanced budget under Gov. Kasich. Of course, he balanced it on the backs of county government, but that's another story.

I do look forward to my 7am comedy-news hour every day as I get ready for work.


Colin Smith said...

Kregger: That's cuz we're all lovely ladies and gents 'ere *wipes nose with sleeve* :D

dell mentioned the show "Yes, Minister"--I highly recommend this to my US friends for a comical/satirical look at British government. I believe it was one of Margaret Thatcher's favorite shows. :) And, of course, you should also catch "The Thick of It," which is like "Yes, Minister" only more up-to-date and with a lot more naughty words. :)

Ardenwolfe said...

It's very clear at this point that Trump will be impeached before he makes it four years. If I had to guess? One year. It's been a little over a month, and it's been disaster after disaster for his administration.

Sadly, Janet is right. You need to know what you're doing. Even he has admitted he didn't know what's he's doing, before he before president, but and I quote, "But once I get there, I'll learn it and be the best ever!" or words to that effect. Clearly, that's not happening.

I hope this is a teachable moment for America.

Sherryl said...

Commenting from a distance (Australia, but we get a lot of coverage of US politics here), it seems to me that Americans vote out of hope. Obama was voted in on hope and got stymied by Congress but his ideals and plans were mostly sound. He had a heart.
Trump also got in on hope, but it's misplaced. As you say, he and his cohort of "experts" have no experience, and we outside the US shudder at the damage they will do globally, let alone in your country.
Here in Australia we are well and truly cynical now about our politicians, having been duped over and over, and then seeing how so many of our politicians are all about themselves and their business mates, and how they do everything they can to make the system work for their own benefit, including rorting travel expenses etc.
I don't know what the answer is. It seems only the rich can afford to run for office. We have to keep supporting the ones we see are genuine, and calling out - over and over and over, and loudly - the ones who aren't.

Joseph S. said...

I'm curious how this discussion would go if Oprah Winfrey is elected in 2020.

Elissa M said...

I like to take a long term look at things. History fascinates me. The sky is always falling somewhere, and somehow the world keeps turning. Not much comfort for those who get hit with a chunk of sky in the here and now, I know, but perspective still keeps my blood pressure low.

There are people alive today who survived much more horrific times. I have faith in humanity and in checks and balances. Vigilance will serve us well.

Craig F said...

In the political game it should be simple.When you reach the top you are a figurehead. Trump hasn't figured that out yet. He wants to have his finger on the button. That is bad news because of what one of those buttons is.

He is ruffling a lot of feathers but not much really seems to be happening. It is all talk. It doesn't matter because even the calmest looking ocean has currents and riptides. Help one group as a politician and you hurt another. Unintended consequences happen with every law passed.

We had one President (Carter) who could see such consequences and it didn't go too well for him either. Even, maybe especially, with good intentions some will fall through the crack in the bucket.

Trump was elected by those who felt their bucket needed fixed. How long he can keep those rural people is a good question that will only be answered with time.

If our President does not learn to tell fact from fiction, or to shut up, things will get really interesting. That is if he is not doing what he is doing for a smoke and mirrors effect. That leads to the question of if his intentions are good. That leads to another question, then another and another. That is also an question about all those self appointed experts.

CynthiaMc said...

I thought of a thousand things to say throughout the day and many of you already said them (thanks Julie, DonnaEve, Don, Jerry).

DonnaEve, hugs about your Mom.

Melanie, I've been out of the loop, but hugs to you, too.

I work in healthcare. I used to work for a group of surgeons. A surprising number of operations were on people coming here from Great Britain and Canada to have surgery either because they couldn't get it or they couldn't get it in time to save their lives. They could here. A few years ago it made the news here that some Canadian politician had his surgery done in Miami.

The first thing this clientele told us when the Unaffordable Health Care Act passed was "Great. Now you guys are screwing up your health care system, too. Where are we supposed to go now?" (If anyone's interested, the answer appears to be Singapore).

BJ Muntain said...

And yet, the people who couldn't afford to go to Miami to get something done are pretty darn glad they have universal healthcare. No, it's not perfect, but at least I don't have to pay to go see a doctor or have surgery. If I have a heart attack, it won't cost me a penny in medical bills. If I slip and fall on the ice, I don't have to sue someone to pay for surgery on a broken leg. And while wait times can be kind of long, if you really need something lifesaving right now, you can probably get it.

If the rich people want to go to Miami or Singapore for their healthcare, that's their business. Real people are pretty darn happy to be able to see their doctor without paying for it. Many Canadians can't even fathom having to pay to have a baby in a hospital. It's such a foreign concept.

CynthiaMc said...

These were not rich people (I can't speak to the politician, I didn't meet him). They were desperate to get the care they needed and weren't getting.

Many Americans can't fathom having to leave your country to get the care you need.

Kate Higgins said...

In my favorite art class in school I had a professor that said this about breaking the rules in art and creativity (and life for that matter):

"Rules are departure points. You have to know them very well before you break them...then go ahead and do it. If you break them without know why they are there you will fail to make your point."

I think that applies to everything in someway or other.

However some people including writers, artists, CEOs and some elected officials, need to have half a brain to understand this...not just half an ass.

Timothy Lowe said...

The problem goes way deeper than the American presidency. The default of the American public used to be courtesy, or at least what passed as such. Now it's animosity, fueled by mass publication without any editorial oversight (and I ain't talkin books, self pubbed or otherwise). I am grateful for any conversation in the old spirit, such as what is happening here. I am grateful for you people.

Kate Higgins said...

Confucius said: … Recognizing that you know what you know, and recognizing that you do not know what you do not know—this is knowledge.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely discussion. I was afraid to read the comments, but you all have done a good job of it. Thank you. I don't have anything to add on the topic. You're welcome.

Colin said: "But that didn't stop Al Franken becoming a Senator, having been a comedian for many years, for example. But clearly the people of his home state (MN?) thought him qualified and able to serve in the Senate."

Just a minor quibble, Colin. Al Franken comes from a deeply political family. His family lived in my neighbouhood and his parents and mine were friendly acquaintances. His mother, Phoebe, was especially involved and very active in local DFL politics, as were my parents. I remember Al coming to our house a couple times (long before his career as a comedian) to confer with my dad on certain political issues. I realize there's no way you could have known this and I'm not faulting or criticizing you for that. Just adding clarification. I was not at all surprised when Al Franken ran for office. If I still lived in MN, I'd have happily voted for him.

Colin Smith said...

kd: Thanks for that clarification. Actually, I don't think it contradicts what I was saying because while his family might have been deeply political, Franken did not enter into politics professionally for a long time. Clearly he formed his views early, and was interested in politics, but as far as anyone being able to run for office, I think he still counts as an example. I could be wrong, though... :)

Unknown said...

So much to think about in these comments. Not sure I can add much, but I would agree wholeheartedly with Janet that this election "felt like a repudiation of competence." I don't think it's because of the appointees, whom I loathe just about to a person. They do not represent my values at all -- they're simply destructive -- but I can't really call them all incompetent. If I'm using that word, I'll use it on the elected president, who has shown his ignorance about every major policy area he is currently attacking -- health care, immigration, women's rights, the list goes on and on. This is a guy who doesn't read -- not a newspaper, an intelligence briefing or a novel. You can come into office without experience -- President Obama, whom I greatly admired, didn't have tons of experience either. But wow, that guy read and learned and kept an open mind. He made up for his lack of experience by hiring smart people and fully embracing the task of becoming an expert. If you're going to run as a change-agent, you owe it to the country to understand the ins and outs of what you're changing.

I know I'm not an expert at writing -- either novels or query letters. My job is to to become better at both so I can play with the grown-ups. And I have to learn from those grown-ups if I want to make it in the publishing world. That's one of the many reasons I love this blog -- because I learn so much from Janet and you merry Reiders. Gosh I really hope we aren't seeing the death of expertise. Where would we all be then -- as a nation and a committed group of writers?

Anonymous said...

Oh, I wasn't disputing your point, Colin. Not at all. In fact, I'm a big fan of "regular" people holding elected office. That possibility is a feature of our system, not a flaw. It may well save us in the future. I was just pointing out -- gently, I hope -- that Franken might not be the best example of it.

Unknown said...

Strictly speaking from a sociological perspective, I see a lot of parallels between what's going on right now in the US and what happened in my country over half a century ago. Though the parameters are hardly similar, our government also promoted people with virtually no expertise in the higher ranks, but, honestly, that wasn't the worst of it. The deliberate and systemic weakening of intellectuals' image in the eyes of the general public pervaded our society (gradually; it started with a censored article here and a canceled conference there, and ended up with long prison stints/beatings for anyone speaking against the government/the ideas it promoted) and it's become so ingrained in the minds of the majority, we still have to fight it to this day. You still hear people saying "Who the hell's this guy, with all his fancy diplomas, trying to tell me what to think and what to do?". Yes, it sounds equally ludicrous in my own language. I just hope this new trend is going to disappear along with Trump's presidency.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Didn't get to read all the comments and I'm off to work in a few minutes, so, are we all still talking to each other? Anyone deleted by Janet for being a jerk. Would love to know the Queen's opinion regarding our writer's conduct.
Play nice boys and girls AND have nice day. I mean that.

Unknown said...

Amelia, what country?

DLM said...

Kate Higgins, this: "However some people including writers, artists, CEOs and some elected officials, need to have half a brain to understand this...not just half an ass."

Can I use "People need to have half a brain ... not just half an ass" if I make a sign for the March for Science? That's right up there with "repudiation of competence"!!!!

Ken Frisbie, Jr. said...

Funny you should say that. I was thinking the same thing. I was a member of a government once, a Student Government. As a matter of fact I was a member, a radical member, of the Constitutional Convention that brought that government into existence and was the dean of Robert’s Rules of Parliamentary Procedure. I had no experience, but a knowledgeable advisor.
A far cry from a “real” government to be sure, but I learned a few things. Some things you learn fast; like, it is easy to find adversaries. Then, on a jagged schedule you learn to adequately describe your agenda, enlist proponents, adjust and compromise positions, lick your wounds, and be patient. Kind of like a query, Huh?
It is good to remember that starting any new job, even a similar job in a new setting, involves a learning curve. Gotta give it some time to manifest one’s potential. You will probably make some miss steps.
What to do about Trump? Well, I remember a time when I got a baby sister. She was wreaking my preschool world. She was a girl, ya know, and she just didn’t fit.
We lived on a wide road close to the center of town and there came a time when a circus came to town. A parade of trucks with animals and circus stuff. We were not allowed on the street, but L’sis was all the way out by the trucks. I knew that if I got her back and told Mom she would be in trouble. I liked that idea so I went to get her. The parade stopped for some reason. We were by a trailer with two cages of lions. L’sis was fascinated by the big cats. We had a cat. I got a better idea; A way to eliminate the trauma in my world. I deviously, with much plotting got her onto the trailer. She was fascinated with the big cat.
At home, Mom asked about L’sis. Moms have a way of knowing what kids are up to. She got it out of me, grabbed me up and plopped me down with considerable force on the couch and ran pell-mell after the now moving parade. I knew not to move.
My punishment was to be responsive to my little sister’s every whim. At first I was hostile, then tolerant, then understanding, and eventually accepting. The punishment was a great lesson: Sometimes good things, sometimes really good things, are not recognizable at first glance. An open mind can help create wonders. Sisters are blessings.
We all, regardless of how we voted, need to give Trump some space, expect some miss steps, and help him, not aggravate him, where we can.

Unknown said...

I agree with you 100%, Janet. It seems like what is valued in this administration is non-experience, lack of knowledge, lack of expertise. And the fact that so many of his cabinet nominees have no experience in the area of government they are supposed to manage is astounding. I think this is by design, though. His goal (or the goal of whomever is convincing him to nominate these people) is to dismantle our government agencies, or at least significantly reduce their role.

Some might think that's a good thing. But even if you want to reduce the government's role, shouldn't the person responsible for managing that know what they're doing?

I think that his hard core supporters will never give up on him. But eventually, people are going to experience pain as a result of his incompetence and inexperience. They'll see that we need someone with knowledge and know-how doing that job. They'll have to.

Before the election, I used to say that the only two things that could convince Trump supporters that their guy was wrong for America would be if A) He lost in a landslide. Or B) They actually experienced living through a Trump presidency.

Unfortunately, they can't do option B without dragging the rest of us along, but it looks like that's what we've got.

JD Horn said...

I often think that I'm much like Arthur Dent on Lamuella. If I had to rely on my own expertise for anything, I'd be able to make sandwiches and tell a story or two. That's why I'm so happy there are people in the world who are much smarter than I. (And why I value true expertise.)

Walt said...

Let's acknowledge that some (- a few, many, most? -) experts are accredited as such by reason of substituting credentials for accomplishment. It's just marketing, folks.

Alex said...

There's something incredibly depressing about the result of the election.

It's a government that wants to trash an imperfect-but-improvable healthcare plan because "people can't afford it", even though it would likely leave millions uninsured. It's also a Government that wants to spent at least $15 billion dollars on a wall between the US and Mexico, despite 1) there are more Mexicans leaving than entering, and 2) most illegal immigrants come in on planes and overstay visas.

It's a Government that seems to only be able to engage its supporters with a bizarre mix of impossible promises and crazy conspiracy theories.

And of course, it's incredibly, sickeningly hypocritical.

The only positive thing is that Donald Trump will only get less popular (from a very poor beginning), and likely unite and mobilise progressive America. He only won based on 80k votes across 3 states. I doubt left-leaning voters will be so complacent next time.