Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games: Inspiration vs Plagiarism

One of the most popular movies in America right now is The Hunger Games. A critic said of the book that it was part The Most Dangerous Game, Lord of the Flies and the TV show Survivor.

This struck a chord with me because it’s been said there are no more original stories—just recycled ones. That’s a fairly pessimistic view and one that could quite intimidating to inspiring authors.

I’ll openly admit I’ve been influenced by different books, movies, characters and such in what I’ve written. Having said that, I have never consciously plagiarized anything. Yet, there times when I’ll be re-watching a favorite movie or TV show, or rereading book when I’ll come across something that inspired me. It may be something someone said, or perhaps a sequence of events—yet I can draw a line between it and something I’ve written.

When this first started happening, I’ll have to admit I was concerned. Was I a fraud? Was I just taking other people’s ideas and recycling them? However, the more I thought about it, the more I came to a conclusion: the significant difference is intention.

In writing The Hidden Sun, I fully intended to create an original story. Are there certain elements and characters that are familiar? Yes. Were these copied with the intention to get gain from someone else’s work? No.

I enjoy including metaphors in my books. In The Hidden Sun, there is a scene where a gardener creates a tree sculpture that he calls “joy”. The owner of the garden doesn’t see it. The tree relates to the book I was writing and the owner represents those who thought it a foolish pursuit.

In my upcoming book, The Waxing Moon, there is a character named Bearach. He’s a crafter with a gift for mechanics. I’d be lying if I didn’t say he was somewhat inspired by MacGyver.

In the scene where he is introduced, Bearach demonstrates to the king and queen an invention of sorts. After they observe it, the king and queen ask how he came up with such an idea. Bearach’s answer was that he took elements he was familiar with and combined them into something new.

In a sense, I believe that is what most, if not all writers do.

So, does The Hunger Games have elements of The Most Dangerous Game, Lord of the Flies and the TV show Survivor?


Is it a wholly unique book?

I for one would say yes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Survey says . . .

I’m always a bit leery of information based on a “recent survey”. There are so many factors involved in any sort of survey that if they aren’t done correctly, it can be misleading.

Case in point: if I were to take a survey of the people under the age of 18 that are currently in my house, 100% of them would be female. In addition, all of them would be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But wait! There’s more! All of them were born in the USA. Using this data, I could say, “In a recent survey, all females under the age of 18 born in the USA are LDS.”

Often there are surveys that contradict each other. I can’t help believe that some of the surveys are biased based on what the person conducting the survey is hoping to prove.

Keeping all this in mind, I came across a recent story that claims, “Working More Than 40 Hours a Week is Useless”. That’s a pretty big claim—and frankly a bit misleading.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in total agreement that the work week should be kept at 40 hours a week. However, while I agree with parts of the story, my reasons are somewhat different.

The story claims that “According to a handful of studies, consistently clocking over 40 hours a week just makes you unproductive (and very, very tired).” Also, “What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them. On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day.”

I’ve stated in other posts my distain for companies that abuse the “exempt” laws for employees. Basically, if you are considered to be an “exempt” employee (which to over simplify it means you are paid a salary) you don’t have to get paid overtime if you work more than 40 hours. It’s been my experience that larger companies equate the number of hours you spend at work to how dedicated of an employee you are. To that I say: hogwash!

I had a boss that claimed to work from 7 am to 7 pm every day. However, he would often be gone for large chunks of time during the middle of the day. Sometimes he was getting his hair cut. Sometimes he was getting his car tuned up. Sometimes he was at the doctor. Now, I don’t begrudge him having to do these things. But it does help support my position for a 40 hour work week: work / life balance.

To me, a bigger argument for a 40 hour work week is to have a work / life balance. The best employees I’ve had were those that were actively involved in their family / church / community / hobbies and or any of those in combination. They were happier at work which made them more productive. We’d get better work done in 8 hours than during 10 or 12 hour shift.

I’ll admit there are times that working more than 40 hours may be needed time and again—but that should be the exception and not the rule.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

R.I.P. cursive

I took the GRE test yesterday. If you aren’t sure what that is, it’s like the SAT for graduate school. I studied very hard for a week and then took it on Friday. When I was done, it felt like I’d stubbed my toe, only instead of my toe, it was my brain.

I can’t really disclose too much information about the GRE. They’re super secretive about that. I can say they test took about four hours and consisted of essays, math questions and English questions. Each section was timed—so you had to pace yourself on figuring out the answers or you’d run out of time. Aside from that, I can’t say much about it. I had to sign a form promising my first born if I revealed too much—ok, maybe not my first born, but you get the idea.

On the form where I promised to not share the answers with the world, there was a section where I had to re-write a paragraph stating just that. When this was explained to me by the nice man at the desk, he underlined the part of the directions that said DO NOT PRINT. This meant I was to write the paragraph in cursive.

Cursive? Really?

The only thing I use cursive for is to sign my name. When I print anything, it’s in all capital letters—and it’s a mess.

I blame my poor handwriting on two things. First, college. This may sound strange, but it’s true. When taking notes in class, I would write as fast as I could and I wasn’t concerned about how it looked because I was the only one who needed to decipher the mess. Second, working as a TV director. During live programs, directors are marking scripts, making notes and such. During live programs, you have precious little time, so speed trumps neatness.

But back to cursive.

I had arrived early for the test so I had plenty of time to fill out the forms. I did my best to remember how to make all the letters in cursive—but frankly, I didn’t remember some of them. I dare say it took me twice as long to copy the paragraph in cursive as it would have by printing it. Thank goodness that wasn’t part of the graded test.

I remember my kids saying how cursive is being phased out of the school systems. I’m sure some traditionalist are freaking out about that. I did some digging and came across an interesting article which can be found here.

Some interesting facts I learned was that, quote “44 states no longer mandate teaching cursive in the classrooms. Of those 44, two of them--Indiana and Hawaii-- have taken it out of the curriculum completely.”

Why is that? Well, it states that, quote “computers in the classroom have left little time for educators to teach print, cursive and typing. Something had to give. It certainly wasn't going to be math or science. Instead, it's cursive.”

From my point of view, cursive is a dying art form. During my lifetime I’ve seen it become less and less prevalent. As I stated before, I don’t use it—and until yesterday, I hadn’t missed it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

To dream (sequence), perchance to sleep

There was a recent discussion amongst several authors about their feelings on including dream sequences in their books. If you’ve read any of my blogs, it will be no surprise that I have an opinion on the matter.

The question started innocently enough. One author posted the question, “What are other author’s thoughts on starting books with dream sequences?” The answers were varied.

The majority felt that for one reason or another, it shouldn’t be done—and I’m with that group. Why? Well, I can only speak for myself.
First of all, I think it is very cliché to start a story with a dream sequence. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen that in books, TV shows and movies.

Second, I think it’s a cheap way of grabbing the reader’s attention. Generally the dreams are outlandish and / or shocking—and then we are told, “Just kidding! It was a dream!” While the dream was meant to give us insight into the character and what they are dealing with in “real life”, I think it sets the wrong tone. It’s almost like the boy who cried wolf. When someone shocking does happen later in the book, I feel like saying, “No, no! You fooled me once already! I’m not buying it.”

Third, I think dream sequences bog down the story unless the story itself depends on dream sequences for various reasons. One of the authors mentioned that dream sequences tend to bog things down to the point where it can drag out of the book. Once again, I echo this statement. My mind tends to drift during dream sequences.

And just like most rules, there are exceptions. One of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, has a dream sequence in it. However, it totally works with how the story is framed.

How against dream sequences am I? In The Hidden Sun there are no dream sequences. In fact, in my upcoming release, The Waxing Moon, I actually put a spin on the whole dream sequence device. What is it? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Expected to volunteer

Warning! Highly opinionated blog to follow!

I spent a few years working in the banking industry. When I first started, I was impressed that we were given paid time to do volunteer work in the community. Granted, we had to volunteer for certain types of qualified activities, but still, I was happy the company would be willing to do that.

Every so often we’d get notifications of certain events the bank was sponsoring and they would ask for volunteers. Over time, the paid time allowed to do volunteer work was reduced and the bank sponsored events moved from being voluntary to an expectation—especially for salaried managers. Regardless of what volunteer activity was completed, it needed to be documented.

There was one activity that was held on a Sunday. It conflicted with my church obligations. I remember getting a call from my district manager asking me why my name wasn’t on the list of volunteers from my branch—I was the manager after all. I explained I had a previous commitment to my church. His response was “This is the biggest event we do all year! How will it look if I don’t have all my managers there?” I went on to explain I had already made a commitment to my church at that time. He responded, “It’s just this one time! Your God will understand.”

I didn’t back down and I kept my commitment to my Heavenly Father. To me, jobs come and go, but it’s the eternal things that matter the most.

It was some time later when I was studying one of the many rules and regulations we needed to follow as bankers. One of them is something called the “Community Reinvestment Act” (or CRA). The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977 as a federal law designed to encourage commercial banks and savings associations to help meet the needs of borrowers in all segments of their communities, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

Banks are audited time and again to make sure they are following this act. What is one thing banks can do to make sure the will do well in these audits? Simple: have proof that the bank is doing “qualified” volunteer work.

So in the end, the bank leaders weren’t paying us to do volunteer work or holding these volunteer events out of the kindness of their hearts. It was all part of the plan to make sure they were able to pass the CRA audits.

To be fair, a lot of people in the community benefited from these volunteer activities. And I know that whenever I give service to another, I feel good inside—so I can only imagine there were many other employees that felt the same way.

But the question lingers: how sincere are the bank’s motives when they are basically forced to do something?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book review for "A Woman’s Power" by Fay Klingler

To be honest, I was a bit surprised that I was asked to review this book. I’m not a woman and I haven’t played one on TV. However, I have been married over twenty years and have four daughters (and no sons) so perhaps those are the reasons I was meant to read this book.

I was fearful that this book could be one of those that bash men and point out how women had been oppressed throughout history. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case. If I had to choose one word to describe this book, it would be “inspirational”.

From the beautiful cover to the stylish interior design, everything about this book gives off an impression of dignity. It’s a fitting compliment to the message this book offers. To borrow a quote from the blurb supplied by the publisher, “Uplifting and empowering, this book offers women everywhere a message of hope.”

The book isn’t a long read, but it is packed with information that can be read several times and the reader will get something more from it each time. In a sense, it is much like the scriptures in the regard that depending on where you are in your life or what you are going through, certain things will resonate with you at different times.

A Woman’s Power is full of stories from the author’s life, as well as other stories that help the reader relate to the topic she is covering. I find this method very effective. Just as we are told to “liken the scriptures unto ourselves”, Klingler takes this to heart by introducing a concept and then using examples to help the reader connect.

As a man, what did I take away from this book? To be honest, a great number of the subjects discussed aren’t unique to women. I was able to apply many of the concepts to my own life. But more importantly, it helped give me insight to my wife and my daughters. Men and women are different. We have different roles. Society right now is screaming out for equality—but equality doesn’t mean people are exactly the same. Try as I might, I will never be able to get pregnant. I can love and comfort my daughters, but there is something special about the bond between a mother and child that I can’t offer. And I’m all right with that.

At the very least, reading this book has helped me appreciate the women in my life and what I can do to help them reach their full potential.

So, would I recommend other men reading this book? Yes, yes I would. Not only will it help you be a better husband / father / friend, but it could save you from spending nights sleeping on the couch.

Fay Klingler

For more on the author, click here.

You can purchase this book at Deseret Book or Amazon as well as other places. (Click on the store names to be taken to the order page.)

To view the book trailer, click here.

**Disclaimer** I received an advanced copy of this book to review, but it in no way influenced my honest review.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Are some corporations a form of religion?

I’ve worked with several different types of companies over the years. Some were small, some were huge. There are advantages to both.

I enjoyed working for a small company in Idaho. It had a family feel to it and I honestly felt like the management knew me and cared about what I did. The down side was that the pay was pretty low and the benefits weren’t all that great.

I went to work for bigger companies after that, mainly for the benefits. My wife and I were in that stage where we were having kids and wanted to have better benefits.

A common trait of all these larger businesses was something called “orientation”. The new hires sat in a room and learned about the history of the company, its leaders and the company goals. Over time, these also included the company’s “core values” or sometimes called “vision and values”.

While working for one company a few years back, it was taken over by even a larger company. I was a manager at the time and had to attend a two day course to learn about our new “masters”.

I remember a video being shown at the start of the first day. It was a “day in the life” of a typical manager. It started out with, “This is Bob. He’s a manager. He loves fishing, hiking, traveling, and spending time with his family.” We were shown scenes of Bob doing these activities. “Here is what Bob does in a typical day.” From there, it outlined a day that started around 7:00 am and ended after 8:00 pm. In addition, “Bob” works half days on Saturdays.

Right away, I thought, “How does Bob do any of the activities he likes when he is working so much?”

Another video showed testimonials of various employees gushing about how much they love working for the company and why. Over the next two days, we learned how the new company did business. In the end, our vacation time was reduced dramatically, we lost two paid holidays, our bonus opportunities were cut in half and so on. Yet, the whole time this information was told to us, we were instructed that as managers we needed to believe in these changes so that our employees would as well.

Over the next few weeks, our regional managers were replaced with people from the new company. When these new people spoke of the company, they did so almost reverently. It was clear that this new company culture was based on doing what you were told and not to question things.

We were given a list of the company’s “vision, mission and values” that were supposed to memorize and put into practice with our employees. However, I found these vision, mission and values were wonderful in concept, but in practical everyday application, the company would often bend, twist and even break them. For example, one of the values was based on integrity. However, our leaders decided to have a blitz to see how many sales we could get in one day. Their plan? For two weeks we were supposed to sell all we could, but only on paper. We wouldn’t enter the sales into the computer until that one day. There was even a memo stating we needed to come in really early and stay late that day to enter in all the sales.

This caused me great concern. I went to my immediate supervisor to express my concern. Their answer? “This is the way things are done. Do as you’re told.” I felt badly enough about this that I reported it to the ethics line set up by the company.

In the end, the leaders got in trouble—but not nearly as much as I did. Because I’d gone to my supervisor first, as I should have, it was made known that I was probably the one that called the ethics line—even though it was supposed to be anonymous.

Here is what I learned: I applaud that large companies have defined visions and values, but not if they don’t practice what they preach. For me, religion is a very personal thing that helps guide my actions and the decisions I make. It gives me hope. It gives me a feeling of peace. It gives me a desire to be a better person. Sure, there are “rules” to follow, but I’ve found that they are designed to build me up.

As devoted as I am to my faith, I’ve met people with that same amount of devotion to the company they work for. I could write pages and pages of the differences, but there is one perfect example that sums it up.

I knew a lady who had worked for the company her whole adult life. She had worked her way up the ladder. She came to work early. She stayed late. She ate lunches at her desk. On the weekends, she would volunteer to do company sponsored events. However, when times got tough, her position was eliminated. In the end, all her hard work and devotion didn’t matter to the company. I spoke to her a few weeks after that. She had a lost look in her eyes. She said to me, “That job was everything to me. I don’t know what to believe in now.”