Monthly Archives: February 2014

Reading: Scott Adam’s How To Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has written many books on business and success. This might surprise people who only know him through the comics.
I recently read his newest work, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, and found that it had quite a few good sections for people who are trying to earn their livings through creative mediums (like writing).

This post is not a book review per se; instead I wanted to share links to some of the materials Adams created to promote his book. Many of the core ideas that I found helpful from the book appear in this article for The Wall Street Journal:

In The Wall Street Journal article, Adams (2013) writes:

“I wanted to create, invent, write, or otherwise concoct something widely desired that would be easy to reproduce. . . By design, all of my efforts were long shots. Had I been goal-oriented instead of system-oriented, I imagine I would have given up after the first several failures. It would have felt like banging my head against a brick wall. But being systems-oriented, I felt myself growing more capable every day, no matter the fate of the project that I happened to be working on.”

The idea Adams discusses creating a system rather than setting a goal appeals to me and the way that I write. He discusses these ideas in greater detail in the book.

The following slide show appears on the Scott Adams blog. (Warning: there is some inappropriate language.)

The idea that only desire is needed for success is laughable, which is exactly the point Adams makes in the presentation. Forget creativity, forget hard work, forget effort! If we follow the “sound bites” from those who already are rich and famous, we would focus solely on passion (and fail in our endeavors.)

This reminds me of a passage from The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett (2008), where Miss Tick, a teacher, gives the protagonist, Tiffany, some free instruction:

Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say this advice is priceless,” she said, “Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now…if you trust in yourself…”
“…and believe in your dreams…”
“…and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.
“…you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye.”

All in all–this is good advice!



Adams, S. (2013). Scott Adams’ secret of success: Failure. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Pratchett, T. (2008). The wee free Men.United Kingdom: HarperCollins.

(I am not associated with Scott Adams, Terry Pratchett, or The Wall Street Journal in any way.)

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On Writing: What I Listen to When Writing

I came across Imagine Dragons in an unusual way: Kina Grannis (who I discussed in a previous post) did a cover of “Demons.” I liked the song enough to search out the original:

There is a lot of sub-text in the video that enhances the lyrics of the song. There is a special tribute at the end of the video by the band that is touching.

As always, I hope the music inspires you to write.


P.S. If you want to see the video by Kina Grannis and Tyler Ward . . .

Can you tell that I really like this song? :-)

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On Writing: Victorian Influences and Modern-Day Steampunk Part 2

The Crystal Palace

To recap from my first posting on this topic: As a reader, it has always been important to me to understand the culture and the development of a society; this influences an author in the creation of his/her narrative. As a writer, this understanding is important for creating a story world. For example—the juxtaposition of the rural and the industrial ages didn’t just “happen” in Victorian literature There is a history and cultural development distinctive to that age that comes across to readers of their fiction. By researching this era and its influences, I can have a better understanding of the forces that should be influencing my own story worlds. The Victorian model is a great first step toward building a Steampunk setting.

Queen Victoria

When Victoria inherited the throne at the age of eighteen, Britain had moved from a primarily agricultural system to one based in manufacturing. The lower class were abandoning the farms and moving to the cities in droves. The country was in the throes of the first industrial revolution in world history. It would see the birth of the factory system, the production line, and the machine age. It would change not only the nature of industry, but the nature of the society as well.

The factory town slums were far removed from the world of the young queen in her palace with her servants. Victoria knew little of the people who lived in such places and of the machines around which their lives were centered.

At the age of twenty, Victoria married her German cousin, Prince Albert. PBS Empires: Queen Victoria provides details of their “courtship:”

“Prince Albert’s father, Duke Ernest of Coburg, was a brother of Queen
Victoria’s mother, the widowed Duchess of Kent. Since Albert was a
second son, he would have no inheritance and no occupation. The family
conspired almost from his birth in August 1819, three months after that of
Victoria, to link the first cousins in marriage”(“Prince Albert,” n.d.).

Victoria proposed (which was necessary because she was sovereign) and Albert accepted. However, many of Victoria’s subjects viewed her choice of husband with dismay, primarily because Albert was foreign. From the early days of Victoria’s reign a marked distrust of foreigners grew and developed even further as England became a global super-power. In part it was a sense of national pride—in the superiority of the English way of life—that created this mistrust of foreign people and their cultures and customs. Jan Morris explains:

“It’s hard to generalize it by a British attitude, isn’t it? But the attitude of
those people who were thinking about it or in a position to do anything
about it was, I think, that they . . . were masters, not only of industrial
production, but of the means of distributing the things they made around
the world. They were really on top of the world, and it gave them I’m sure
a kind of magical feeling . . .”(“Interview with Jan Morris,” n.d.).

Parliament reflected the mood of the general public and refused to grant Albert any type of a title. Yet the ministers to the Queen noted that he had more patience in dealing with complex matters of state and encouraged Victoria to include her new husband in their daily briefings. Slowly their relationship developed into a co-monarchy. Albert was discharging the duties of a king, in reality if still not in title.

Because Albert had a lively interest in industry and invention, the queen was introduced to new developments in technology. He tried to open her eyes to the ideas and opinions that were still uprooting the old agriculturally-based world around them. Albert focused on technological change as a way to improve the lives of all people, not just the upper and middle class. He wanted the standard of life of the working class improved, he wanted wealth to be more evenly distributed, and he wanted more people to have the advantages of the new inventions.

Crystal Palace

One of Albert’s greatest successes—The Great Exhibition of The Works of Industry of All Nations (informally known as the Crystal Palace)—almost failed because of the British nationalist attitudes. Protests were lodged in Parliament to the Exhibition because of the influx of foreigners that it would attract. Political enemies of the Prince focused on every aspect of the event, complaining relentlessly in Parliament and in the press about the construction of the building that would house the Exhibition, the perceived negative impact that it would have on the economy, and the folly of the Queen for allowing her foreign-born husband to bring such disorder to London. Despite all of the protests, it was an unparalleled success:

“On May 1, 1851 the Great Exhibition opened at the Crystal Palace, an
engineering marvel itself, on the southeastern edge of Hyde Park. A
wonder of iron and glass, it was the first substantial prefabricated building,
and housed a staggering sampling of the new developments in
engineering, manufactures and the arts. Its impetus in fostering change
would be enormous, and the setting, with light streaming through its
293,655 panes of glass, awesome. Six million visitors were recorded,
equal to a third of the kingdom. Charlotte Brontë wrote to her father,
‘Whatever human industry has created, you will find there.'” (“Engines of
Change,” n.d.).

Inexpensive tickets allowed many of the working class to attend the Exhibition. People from the Continent and as far away as America journeyed to London to visit the Crystal Palace. Yet, even when the crowds topped over 100,000 visitors a day, there was no disorder. For many, it was the first time they could glimpse the technological pre-eminence of Britain and it generated feelings of awe and wonderment (“Engines of Change, n.d.).

Crystal Palace

However wonderful the new technology seemed, it also brought about negative results as well. The new technology was akin to the gift of the Promethean fire: the benefits were numerous—almost unlimited it seemed—but there was a price to be paid as well, and it was inevitably paid through human suffering.

To be continued . . .

Engines of Change. (n.d.) PBS Empires: Queen Victoria. Retrieved
Interview with Jan Morris. (n.d.) PBS Empires: Queen Victoria. Retrieved
Prince Albert. (n.d.) PBS Empires: Queen Victoria. Retrieved from

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Scenes of Everyday Life and People in 1790

These are some wonderful pictures from the late 1700s. They certainly could inspire story ideas for a piece set during the Regency period!

Scenes of Everyday Life and People in 1790.

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On Writing: What I Listen to When Writing

I discovered Late Night Alumni after watching a YouTube video by Michelle Phan. This song, “Rainy Days,” is both complex and lovely.

As always—I hope the music inspires you to write.


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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bear With Flowers

Bear With Flowers

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On Writing: What I Listen to When Writing

I discovered the Swiss/German group called Boy about a year ago on National Public Radio. NPR has an acoustic version of their song “Little Numbers” that you can find at the following:

This is from Boy’s official YouTube Channel:

As always I hope that the music inspires you to write.



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On Writing: Victorian Influences and Modern-Day Steampunk

Gustave Dore's London

When I was nine years old, I read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I think this was the start of my love of Victorian literature and the Victorian Era; my interests later expanded to include the Regency Period when I discovered the novels of Jane Austen, and then even more of British and American literature, but the Victorians captured my imagination from the start.

The combination of idyllic pastoral life and overcrowded city dwelling, of horse-drawn carts next to steam-powered trains, of personal workmanship next to mass-produced goods, created a dramatic tension in the literature of the day. The nostalgia and idealization of the past mixed with the ideas that industry and innovation were the only ways to improve the human condition.

To me—this dichotomy is fascinating. To have two world views so diametrically opposite share the same “stage” openly during the era creates a wonderful opportunity for fiction to thrive. Just look at some of the writers from this era: The Bronte Sisters, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Bram Stoker, Alfred Tennyson, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells. The output of this time period is amazing.

Steampunk is often set in an alternate version of this era (or in an alternate version of the American West. I may write about this in another posting someday.) It has that same diametric opposition that the Victorians explored.

As a reader, it has always been important to me to understand the culture and the development of a society; this influences an author in the creation of his/her narrative. As a writer, this understanding is important for creating a story world. For example—the juxtaposition of the rural and the industrial ages didn’t just “happen” in Victorian England. There is a history and cultural development distinctive to that age that comes across to readers of Victorian fiction. By researching this era and its influences, I can have a better understanding of the forces that should be influencing my own story worlds. The Victorian model is a great first step toward building a Steampunk setting.

Gustave Dore's Over London By Rail

Victorian Society

In Britain, in the first half of the 19th Century, a technological revolution occurred that would change the life of almost every person on the planet. Using the power of steam to power engines, the British built railways, steamships, and machines that made their small island nation the workshop of the world.

As Richard D. Altick explains in Victorian People and Ideas (1973), in 1819, the year Queen Victoria was born, the world was closer to the world of the Romans than the world of today. Most people lived in an agricultural community. Machines were powered by wind, water, or, more commonly, horses. “Horsepower” established the limit of speed. Farmers used horses to clear the land, plow the fields, and haul produce. Horse-drawn carriages were the fastest means of public transportation and traveled at no more than 10 miles per hour.

The first steam locomotives heralded a revolution that would give Britain a decisive lead over its trading rivals, but also shake its social and political stability to the core. By 1829 the world’s first public Rail Road was completed, linking the cities of Liverpool and Manchester. The general public could now travel at an astonishing 35 miles per hour and both materials and goods could be shipped with remarkable speed.

In Pax Britannia, Jan Morris (1980) explains that the British of the time were not only masters of production but also of the means of distribution. The items that they made were shipped all over the world. That gave them a “magical” type of feeling, as if they had acquired the promethean fire. They were able to do things that no one else could do, or had ever done.

In Greek Mythology, Prometheus brings mankind the gift of fire. For this act, he pays a terrible price of eternal torment at the hands of the gods. The British, viewing the steam engine as a gift of that magnitude, soon found that it also came at a terrible price. There was social upheaval, as the railways joined with the factories to move the economy from a rural/cottage-industry to a city/factory-industry. There were physical hardships, as the lower class was packed into overcrowded cities. There was also desperate squalor as pollution from the factories destroyed the air and the environment.

As Altick (1973) relates, the compact town surrounded by green hills and golden fields became a thing of the past. In 1800 there was one city—London—with a population over 100,000. By the mid-century there were nine cities that housed over 100,000 souls. In 1891 that number jumped to twenty-three. Banks and warehouses dominated the view, and even in the fashionable areas the smokestacks from the mills and engineering works pumped noxious chemicals into the air. The buildings were covered with soot and pitted and eroded by fumes.

In the slums, as Altick (1973) notes, the cities’ density and expanse bred a sense of captivity. Vice, pollution, and disease filled these areas. Unlike the small towns of the past, where people would know their neighboring families for generations, rootless, indifferent strangers who were focused on their own survival crowed on top of one another. Altick (1973, pp. 77-78) explains:

“Paradoxically, the closer people were brought together physically, as in
mill or slum, the farther apart they drifted in any social or spiritual sense;
in the midst of crowds they were alone. . .There was a grim
appropriateness in the fact that Gustave Dore, having done a set of
illustrations for the Divine Comedy, should have gone on to portray mid-
Victorian London in terms powerfully suggestive of Purgatory and Hell.”

GustaveDore: VictorianLondon

There was never enough housing in the slums. The poor conditions, industrial accidents, and disease lead to early deaths. In fact, most lower class people did not live past the age of 45. Lower class children worked in the factories and mines, as early as the age of 4. Orphans were sold to factory owners. Middle class children who were orphaned were often shipped off to “schools” where they could be trained as servants and governesses, generally under very harsh conditions.

Altick (1973) believes that these circumstances led to the loss of personal identity. A worker was a part of a shift, a group of other workers who performed the same function. Each person came and went at the sound of a bell. The work, monotonous to the extreme, was a mere fragment of the whole. Unlike artisans who worked in cottage industries and created fully integrated products, these workers were, for the first time, making interchangeable parts with no room for a personal touch or expression. Altick (1973, pp. 242-243) writes:

“After his long shift, the worker went home to a congested slum where
again his sense of identity was erased by the sheer numerousness of the
people around him. More subtle but no less destructive was the loss of
any belief that he could command his destiny. The wage he received, in
deed whether or not he worked at all, was at the mercy of so-called
economic laws, often interpreted by the employer for his own

This was the world that Victoria inherited when she was crowned Queen of England at the age of eighteen.

(To be continued in future postings . . .)


Altick, R. D. (1973). Victorian people and ideas. New York: Norton.

Morris, J. (1980). Pax Britannia. New York: Hardcourt.

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Writing Inspirations: Novels Do Not Write Themselves

A friend of mine sent me this as a “Cheer Up” because I’ve been under the weather lately.

(On a side note–how do people remain productive with the flu? Or with a really bad chest cold? It’s a mystery, and yet I know some people do more than huddle under their blankets listening to Audible Books on their iPads. I can’t even make phone calls: after all of the coughing I sound like a mumbling clown trapped in a running dryer.)


This is by the talented Kathy R. Jeffords. This is a link to her Facebook page:

Her postings are very creative and do make me smile.

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On Writing: What I Listen to When Writing

I discovered Delta Rae through the iTunes Featured Song of the Week. Their song, “Run,” is excellent. After exploring more about the band on YouTube, I found this song as well–“Bottom of the River.” The video grabbed my attention first–a spooky atmosphere with the story told through both the music and the images.

As always–I hope the music inspires you to write.


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