Thursday, June 16, 2011


Photographing a model

Image via Wikipedia

Gulp! I collect economists. When I say that, I don’t mean that I have them hanging in neat rows – as in suspended by the neck from the ceiling, or perhaps from a line of hat-racks  (though some undoubtedly deserve such a fate) but more that I’m constantly on the lookout for economists that make sense of our current chaotic economic environment; and, better yet, who have ideas of how we can get out of the mess we’re in; and make some progress in the future.

Where are those guys?

The reason why this is seen as a vice – at least by the publishing business – is that authors are supposed to stay within genre; and stepping outside your label is frowned upon severely. Since I am best known as a thriller writer, I should stick to writing thrillers; or, at worst, write an economic thriller. Similarly, romance writers should stick to romance and so on.

I find this kind of mindset – this tendency to typecast people, and then to box them in - utterly frustrating, but it is all too common in this Great Nation. Perhaps we can only cope with such a large population if we label people; and we are certainly conditioned to respond to the concept of branding from an early age; and socially conditioned not to think out of the box.

My favorite story about such groupthink concerns a photographer in New York who had built up a very successful business photographing food, but now wanted to try photographing something else (intimate photographs of breakfast cereal can get monotonous). Though it was widely accepted that he was both creatively and technically brilliant, his efforts to diversify were entirely unsuccessful. Art directors had him classified as a ‘food man’ – and that was it. Eventually, he decided there was only one solution. He would, so to speak, clone himself, and set up another studio under another name. That rather drastic and expensive strategy succeeded – and he ended up being as successful in fashion as he continued to be in food. The irony here is that world of photography is small, so most of the art directors who commissioned work from him knew of his modest deception; but he still needed his two identities, and two studios, to achieve his breakout.

One of the truly alarming things about being limited to a genre relates to non-fiction. Non-fiction is typically sold to a publisher by way of a proposal a proposal, possibly accompanied by a sample chapter or two, but unless you are a celebrity or a have background specific to the field you are writing about, you haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of selling your work. The quality of your ideas and the elegance of your prose appear to have no value in themselves. I find that deeply troubling because often it is the very perspective that the non-specialist brings that finds the answer. A fresh mind is a wonderful thing.

In my own case, initially I started to collect data on this country shortly after I arrived in 2001 primarily just to learn about my new home – and I’m innately intellectually curious. Soon, I came to the view that the U.S. economy suffered from deep structural flaws. In 2004, I became convinced that we were heading towards a major recession. All of this research eventually lead to TITANIC NATION: How To Avoid Icebergs. The Case For Fundamental change In The American ay Of Life

I’m now convinced that unless we change our ways fairly drastically – which will require vastly more fresh thinking than we seem culturally able to either originate or absorb right now, our economic future will not be pretty.

But you’re not an economist I hear you say; so how would you know? Hmm! Well, of course I don’t know. I’m merely making an educated guess (otherwise known as an ‘expert opinion’). But, just to muddy the waters; as it happens, economists have a track record of being particularly bad at forecasting; and I confess I am one (courtesy of Trinity College, Dublin – plus some decades of subsequent study).

But, I write thrillers too.





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