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SWC: first of a disorganized series of posts about writing a series of books

In late 2017, just before dawn, I had a dream, one of those story-dreams where I am in a movie and I am inhabiting the identity of a person in the movie and living their life, feeling their emotions, doing what they do, all as if it were real. I won’t tell you the dream. (Say thank you.)

But after I awoke I lay in a hypnagogic state, pursuing the story whose beginning I had just participated in. I laid out the romantic arc of the first five books of a series of novels. There was something amazing there. This was huge. My next series. I thought I had it by the tail.

Fast forward three or four years. During that period I came back to this series a dozen times, remembering how passionately I still loved the original inspiration, each time thinking I had figured out what was missing, resolved this or that block, yeahno. But I had fun diving down many research rabbit holes. I’m still down those holes.

One of the blocks was this: as often happens, I fell in love with my hero, and ignored my heroine. In my first several drafts I phoned her in. I knew what she was feeling in those first hours of her adventure, having dreamed it all in vivid detail, but I shied away from working out the backstory for why she felt like that, or what she was contributing to the engine of the story. Turned out, I was avoiding the knowledge that she is rich, rich, rich. Like, ten- or eleven-figures rich. I’d never had a hero or heroine with big money. Didn’t know anyone like that. Didn’t want to know about them.

As it turns out, I know quite a few people like that. I even like most of them. Once I confronted who my heroine was and how her money was the engine of the series external plot arc and the romantic conflict and oh jeez everything, helpful people and research sources began leaping at me from all directions. I would meet wealth managers at author events, at funerals. I actually found a book on the history of economics lying on someone’s lawn, where it had been taken out of a Little Free Library, glanced at, thrown aside, and rained on, that specifically addressed one of my larger plot problems. C’mon.

Okay, so you are now going to get a series of posts about the resources that have jumped uninvited into my rowboat. These have all been crackerjack. I’ll skip the duds.


One of my plot problems has been the question: How do pyramidal corporate hierarchies die?

I had a fairly good notion of what this looks like, boots-on-the-ground, because I spent 18 years temping in corporate Chicago. After two days in your office, I would know which VPs were schtupping which other VPs’ assistants. After a month, I’d know if the business was solvent, where the unsteady divisions were, which vendors were getting paid 60-90-never, and what specific hopes senior management had of saving the place, if any. The rats know stuff, don’t kid yourself.

It seemed to me that the pyramidal hierarchy worked for a while, allowing information to flow rapidly and accurately up and down the ranks, mobilizing each layer to do the best job quickly. And then at some point it stopped working. It was as if the corporate pyramidal hierarchy were a symbiote, an idea that infected businesses and made them run faster and stronger, helped them grow, and then at some point it took over. The founders were not the business anymore. The business was a living organism.

The trouble was, the organism wasn’t very smart. It wanted to eat and grow, eat and grow. At some point, growth became more important than the original purpose of the organism, which was to make shoelaces or sell pizzas or teach other companies’ vice presidents how not to sexually harass their employees. Gradually, the corporation came to focus solely on growth.

At some point after that, the corporation started to die.

This perspective was all well and good, but I wanted a view of the process from a vantage higher than rat’s-eye-view.  After all, my heroine is born to be the boss.

Here’s an article by a former Google employee who both loved and hated his time there. You can tell he still deeply loves parts of it, which is probably easier now that he has left. Read all about it:



2 thoughts on “SWC: first of a disorganized series of posts about writing a series of books”

  1. I certainly hope you do an episode on corporate double speak–they invent a vocabulary that means nothing but gives the impression they know everything and _you_ dare not question them because, duh, obviously if you can’t understand the language you can’t understand the business.

  2. Jennifer Stevenson

    Good point, Phyl. If I do, it’ll be in my rant about my many crap jobs, with a special hate for human resources departments. (I have a separate post about crap jobs that I ought to repost one of these days, very apposite.)

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