Political Reform

               Talking politics and how government work is not sexy, but when you studied political science and write a political thriller, it is kind of necessary to explore.

There tends to be two types of democratic systems of government, the presidential system and parliamentary system, both have their strengths and their weaknesses. There are aspects of both forms of government which are good. From the presidential system, fixed terms allow for in theory a stronger continuity of government, with no official votes of no confidence or immediate or surprising resignations of prime ministers. From the parliamentary system, allowing the chief executive and ministers are held accountable by the legislature, however there are no set terms. There is an additional problem with the parliamentary form of government, is the members who are selected as executive ministers are still responsible for executive and legislative duties.

               In the United States, our system of government was created to have, in theory, three equal branches of government, the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. However, our system of government is at least in the modern era not achieving much. People elected to the House of Representatives are there for 2 years before having to face re-election. In practice, if they are elected in November 2018, they are sworn in January 2019 and by January 2020, they are in an election year. In theory, the 2 years to a term is supposed to allow the electorate to have a say in who represents them but in reality, 90% of incumbents win re-election.

               The Senate is a bit different as senators are elected to 6-year terms, and 1/3 of the seats are up for re-election every 2 years, compared to every 435 seats in the House of Representatives. This sets up in every non-presidential election year a “mid-term” election, which is seen as a referendum on the current presidential administration, generally the President’s party loses some seats in the Legislature.

               It generally takes a year or two for a newly elected lawmaker to get the hang of the way the House and the Senate works. In the House, this means their first term is pretty much spent learning the ropes then facing re-election. A good alternative would be to expand the term of a Representative from 2 to 4 years, but every 2 years one-half of the house would face re-election. This would still preserve the traditional “mid-term” election and referendum of the current political party in power.

               This is only one alternative to current government. In Within the Grasp of Ordinary universe I created, there is a mixed presidential/parliamentary system. There are three branches of government, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. The Executive is headed by the President who is elected to a six-year term, the Legislative is divided between a Senate and House of Representatives, but executive responsibility does lie in the domain of the Senate. The Senate advises and consents on the President’s nominations for filling Executive Branch positions and Judicial nominations. In addition, the Senate has a special committee the Senate Executive Committee, whose chairperson is in the Presidential Chain of Succession. There is the Judicial Branch, which really isn’t much changed from how it currently works in the presidential or parliamentary forms of government.

               Another contentious debate in the modern system is the call for term limits, I’m in the middle of the road on this issue. I believe the President is rightfully term-limited at two 4-year terms, though a President can technically serve close to 10 years. If President A were elected and started his term on January 20, 2017, the halfway point would be January 20, 2019. If President A were assassinated on January 21st, 2019, the Vice President would be sworn in and finish out his term – without the term counting against them for term-limits. However, if the President was assassinated before the halfway point of their term, the Vice President would have the rest of the term count against their term-limit.

               Getting back to term limits, for lawmakers it is generally good to have experienced lawmakers, who understand the system and how to craft legislation. It is also good to have young, inexperienced people get elected and bring new or different ideas into the legislative body. This rarely happens under the current political system in the United States since 90% of incumbents are re-elected. The idea is to impose term limits to force change. While I don’t disagree with the need for change, I believe the background of a lawmaker needs to be changed. It currently requires hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to get elected to the House or Senate, there is no real publicly funded election system. If there was, there would be more candidates from less well-off or poor economic backgrounds. I think having a more economic diverse Legislative body would do the nation wonders.

               In the Ordinary universe, all Executive and Legislative positions are capped at a total of 24 years, with Representatives serving 4-years and Senators at 6-years a term. A person can be elected as a Representative for 3 terms, total of 12 years, then decide to run for Senate and serve 2 terms. If the person decides to serve 4 terms as a Representative or 16 years, they can still serve 2 terms as a Senator, they aren’t just kicked out after hitting 24 years, they will serve the remainder of their term but won’t be eligible for re-election. The President is capped at two 6-year terms, and a person can easily serve 24 years as a Representative or Senator before deciding to run for President.

               I know it’s not fully in-depth about how the full political system in modern America needs to be reformed (that would be a very long, time-consuming project) or how the whole political system in my Within the Grasp of Ordinary and sequel novel works. It’s just a small glance at the system and there are parts which are there to be explored – by reading the book(s).

Netflix and Amazon

How many network or cable television shows have you watched recently? Within the past month, it has been two shows, Shooter and The Blacklist. I haven’t watched television shows on their regularly scheduled nights for about two years, the last show being The Walking Dead Season 6, which I always watched with my brother and his wife. To me there is no longer “must watch television” aired on the network and cable television shows. In addition, the week-long break between episodes is daunting because I will forget key moments or main/sub-plotlines. I would rather binge watch content on Netflix or Amazon.

Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu (though I hate their commercials and refuse to pay more for none) have in the past few years changed the ballgame. The content created by these three will only get more expansive and consumed by more people. Growing up I always wanted anything I wrote to become a movie but as an adult in this age of streaming, I would rather my work become a series on Netflix or Amazon. Watching the deals Netflix and Amazon (and the money they are willing to spend) to pick up projects is amazing, they are not beholden to the almighty Nielsen rating and are willing to give experimental projects like The Man in the High Castle, House of Cards, and Amazon’s rumored Lord of the Rings television series.

Outside of loads of money, Netflix and Amazon appear to allow content creators to follow their storyline with minimal oversight or intervention. One of my favorite book series is The Expanse and when I started watching the television series by the same name, I was completely disappointed to learn one of the main characters in book four dies in the first season. I am aware sometimes changes are needed for example, translating a book from a first-person narrative is difficult in television and movies. There are other reasons like in The Man in the High Castle series, there is a resistance movement which is not featured in the book at all. However, based off what we know about resistance and insurgency movements now compared to when the book was written, adding a resistance movement makes complete sense.

There are some changes which make sense and others which are mind boggling but any author wants to see their work faithfully adapted. Writing and having what is written produced into first movies then television came around as a dominant force in the 1950s and 1960s, is a give and take game. There will always be authors who have the rights to their work sold and the story made into a movie or television show, and the story will be changed to fit the needs of the delivering medium. However, there has never been a better time to be an author. Netflix and Amazon have made themselves into forces to be reckoned with and ones which will not go away. In 2017, Netflix spent upwards of 6 billion dollars in acquiring and producing television shows. In 2018, that number increased to 7 billion dollars and will only grow from there.

Though there are a few series which are cancelled before completion Everything Begins with Z and Marco Polo come to mind, series come to end at a natural ending point, which offers maximum closure to the audience. I always imagine what Firefly could have become if it was not prematurely cancelled. Another odd example is The Expanse which like a few other shows has been cancelled by a network or cable channel and found life on a streaming service. Now if only the streaming services would pick-up Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe and offer a more concrete ending.

When it is all said and done, if my work is ever offered the silver screen adaption or network or cable series, I would politely decline it. Traditional television series are beholden to the almighty dollar which is primarily earned by key advertising demographics, and a risky show is unlikely to aired during primetime. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have shown less traditional shows like The Man in the High Castle, House of Cards, Handmaiden’s Tale, and the series of Marvel comic book heroes works. There is a show for everybody on the streaming services that caters to their tastes and there will only be more content to suit people’s expanding tastes.

Creative Process

Everyone’s creative process is different and no one process is the right, ultimate process to create success. Over the course of lifetime, I have changed my process to creativity. One of the first things I do seems counterproductive but I sit down and create a backstory. Characters from major to mid-major are outlined with roughly how they look, certain mannerisms, plot points, interactions with other characters. Not everything is set in stone and is subject to change as the story is written. Minor characters are added in later, often with less detail.

After characters, I cover the locations. If part of the story takes place on another planet, I need to know what this planet looks like, when humanity colonized it, etc. I’ll shift course to events, what events happened before the story took place – will they be partially revealed during the story? How about events during the story? Is there a wedding? A death?

The idea behind creating the backstory is because it serves as a reference guide. How is the reader supposed to understand the story if the author does not understand the world they have created? The backstory for Within the Grasp of Ordinary, my first completed novel, is roughly 100 pages. Though the reader will not see everything in the backstory play out in the world, I have a firm grasp of the characters, their mannerisms, what drives them, their strengths, weaknesses, etc.

When it comes to sitting down and doing writing, I don’t retreat to a quiet place of solitude and seclusion and lock a door. I go to work. Literally. Every day I pack my laptop and lunch into my backpack and travel the few minutes to work. The place where I work is loud at times but in the bustling environment filled with people and machines, I find my own solitude. The constant rhyme of machines tingled with the faint echoes of whatever radio-station is playing, provides enough of a distraction to keep me focused.

Is it the most productive work place for some? No. For me, I have tried writing in quiet places and my mind dislikes the silence, something needs to be happening. I’m not always writing at my place of employment – I do attend to my job duties, which provide me a mental break by walking around the facility. In these breaks, I can take my mind away from writing. The walks tend to help especially when stuck on a problem within the story, I will return with an idea which allows me to progress forward.

I’m not always writing. I’m constantly researching either by reading a book or watching a new series off Netflix or Amazon. A small aspect of a show or book can influence me and provide a unique way to handle an ongoing situation or present light on what to avoid. Another great benefit of writing at work is the people here mostly unwittingly can become characters. Their behaviors observed, names scrambled, and before you know it, there is a minor character.

I know my creative process is not ideal for others, to each their own. I am sure I will probably develop a different creative routine later in life. Right now, I enjoy the relatively stress free environment and beautiful distractions and natural breaks of work which allows me to write and read at a leisurely pace.