Book Review: Eloia Born by Britta Jensen

Here’s my newest Reedsy Discovery review, for Britta Jensen’s Eloia Born.

I gave the book four stars — ⭐⭐⭐⭐ — and summed it up as follows:

A well-written narrative of disability, dystopia, and exploration, featuring a main character with partial sight.

Full review below!

Leanora believes that everyone in her community was blinded by the Mists. She believes she is one of the few people to recover partial sight — a secret she is not allowed to share with anyone besides her father. She believes her mother is dead. She believes she is in love with Dex, the boy she’s known since childhood.

The journey Leanora takes in Eloia Born shatters all of these beliefs — and more.

Eloia Born is both a dystopian narrative and a quest story; consider it a spiritual successor to Lois Lowry’s The Giver and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. We learn quickly that the people in Leanora’s community are not blind by chance, but by design. We also learn — though the story does not state this outright — that the grand experiment of “a society without prejudice” has failed. Leanora and Dex are discouraged from pursuing a relationship due to their families’ disparate standing among the community, for example. Blindness may prevent people from judging others on the basis of skin color or physical appearance, but they still judge.

When Leanora and Dex leave their community — as of course they do — the story begins to depart from similar, more predictable narratives. These two teenagers quickly discover that there are other people in the world, and other possibilities for friendship and romance. They learn new skills and their paths begin to separate. I appreciated Jensen’s honest approach to the way people change in late adolescence, and the fact that “high school sweethearts” (for lack of a better term) do occasionally grow apart.

I am not blind, so I cannot speak to the authenticity of Jensen’s depictions of living with limited visual ability; however, she includes a section at the beginning of the book explaining the research she did prior to crafting her characters.

The one false note I found in the story — and it is a jarring one — is the late addition of a character who speaks in a racialized patois: “Dey want you bless dem and stay wit dem,” etc. This character has blue skin and is viewed as an “exotic beauty” by the white and brown-skinned characters, one of whom uses the phrase “like an animal.”

For a world in which racial prejudices have been theoretically eliminated, it looks like some stereotypes are still going strong.

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Andrew Yang on Universal Basic Income and Creativity

Instead of sharing a handful of articles this weekend, I’m going to share an excerpt from Andrew Yang’s The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future.

I loved this book for so many reasons — none of which were its title, which is surprisingly aggressive for a book that presents a thoughtful vision of what America could become if we created a system that provided for everybody.

Since this is a creative practice blog, I’ll give you one relevant quote:

There will also be a dramatic expansion of painting, making music, shooting videos, playing sports, writing, and all of the creative pursuits many Americans would love to try, but can’t seem to find the time for today. Many people have some artistic passion that they would pursue if they didn’t need to worry about feeding themselves next month. A UBI would be perhaps the greatest catalyst to human creativity we have ever seen.

You can read a longer excerpt here.

(Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but Andrew Yang is running for president. On a platform of human-centered capitalism with universal basic income of $1,000/month for all American adults. In case I haven’t, like, mentioned it already.)

I had to wait about a month to get a library copy of The War on Normal People, but it’s just come out in paperback if you want to grab a copy of your own. ❤️

Book Review: Liars Called by Stephan Morse

Here’s my newest Reedsy Discovery review, for Stephan Morse’s Liars Called.

I gave the book three stars — ⭐⭐⭐ — and summed it up as follows:

Alternately brilliant and mind-boggling, Liars Called is a complex adventure story that never quite lives up to its opening chapters.

Full review below!

Liars Called is not an easy book to review — and it’s not an easy book to read.

Author Stephen Morse begins his story with one of the more compelling opening sequences I’ve read in a while: Lance Hawthorn Underwood, currently undergoing physical therapy after a near-debilitating car accident, is invited to board a mysterious bus. (We follow this story through Lance’s journals, which include additional notes and corrections — an excellent way to keep the reader hooked.)

Once on the bus, a creature with pointed teeth gives him some advice:

Heed the clues. The bold are quickest to die. The fearful die almost as fast. A clever man may be tempted to lie, and also die. But to survive, one must be a little of all three.

Each passenger is given a “debt card” and told that everything has a price, and for the first third of the novel we follow Lance as he learns how this new world works, how to use his debt card, and what “the bold are quickest to die” actually means.

However, the remaining two thirds of the novel never stand up to the brilliance of the opening. Once Lance understands the basic mechanics of the world, the story devolves into an extended Dungeons and Dragons session, in which characters who literally identify themselves as “the tank” and “the healer” (Lance is, of course, the rogue) slash at monsters for pages on end.

Lance repeatedly comments on the derivative nature of this world, wondering why his current situation so closely resembles D&D and video games. By the end of the book, we understand that Lance might get an answer to his question in the sequel — but many readers might not make it that far.

If I could review the opening six chapters on their own, Liars Called would get five stars.

Book Review: Women With Money by Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky is the financial editor of NBC’s Today Show and hosts the podcast Her Money — but you might also remember her from an unexpectedly viral November 2017 tweet in which she stated that 30-year-olds should have 1x their income saved for retirement.

When we discussed that tweet on The Billfold, I noted that, at age 35, I had managed to save up one year of post-tax income, or roughly $40K. A little less than two years later, my net worth has grown to $103,608.10, which I achieved through the magic of increasing my income, reducing my expenses (primarily by moving from Seattle to Cedar Rapids and cutting my monthly rent by half), and increasing my savings. Will I hit 3x post-tax income by age 40? We’ll see.

But the tweet sparked ire because, for many people, those kind of financial benchmarks are more laughable than relevant. College debt, credit card debt, healthcare debt, low salaries, stagnant salaries, high housing costs, etc. etc. etc. make it very difficult for people to save.

I even did the math, on The Billfold, to prove just how hard it was to set aside a year’s worth of salary in savings by the time you turned 30.

Everyone shared Chatzky’s tweet specifically because it wasn’t applicable to everyone. Her new book, Women with Money: The Judgment-Free Guide to Creating the Joyful, Less Stressed, Purposeful (and, Yes, Rich) Life You Deserve, is also not for everyone — but if it’s the type of financial advice you need right now, it is well worth reading.

Who’s the target audience for Women With Money? Remember my post on what book covers communicate to their readers. This book (which I received for free as an advance reader copy) doesn’t communicate much with its imagery. Instead, it packs it all into the subtitle:

  • Judgment-Free
  • Joyful
  • Less Stressed
  • Purposeful
  • Rich
  • Life You Deserve

Notice how these words are nearly all subjective (my definition of joyful might be different from yours) and emotion-based. This book is not a guide to increasing your net worth or getting out of debt or asking for a raise, even though all that information is present in the text. Instead, this book is about how to feel better about your money.

If that’s the book you need right now, go get yourself a copy. Chatzky liberally peppers the text with case studies and conversations with real women, so you’ll get to learn how other people feel about their money — and what they did when they realized they weren’t happy with where their money was going. You’ll also read about plenty of journeys towards joyful, less-stressed, purposeful (and yes, rich — or at least richer) lives.

And if that’s not the book you need right now, remember that the personal finance section should take up at least three shelves in your average public library or bookstore, so you’ll have plenty of other options. ❤️

Book Review: Freak, Geek, Goddess by Jessica Lincoln

I recently started reviewing books for Reedsy Discovery, and here’s my first review, for Jessica Lincoln’s Freak, Geek, Goddess; Tales of Survival From Trust Fund High.

I gave the book three stars — ⭐⭐⭐ — and summed it up as follows:

Jessica Lincoln brings a unique voice to the often-told tale of learning to be true to yourself.

Full review below!

“What if being me makes me Freak Girl?”

Riley is worried about high school. Nobody likes her new haircut, she doesn’t know how to get to class, and her best friend Kaitlyn is obsessed with the Dukes and Duchesses — high school royalty. Kaitlyn wants Riley to skip fifth period and drive around with a couple of Dukes who tell sexist jokes and keep lumps of chewing tobacco in their mouths. Riley wants… well, she wants to be herself, but she’s afraid that it’ll make her look like a freak.

While Freak Geek Goddess could be the type of coming-of-age story appropriate for fans of Kody Keplinger’s The DUFF, be aware that Lincoln’s novel goes a little darker than comparable titles. Early chapters find Riley getting pressured into a navel piercing that promptly becomes infected, and earning a poor grade on a project after skipping class. By the end of the book Riley has experienced alcohol poisoning and sexual assault.

The story, told through Riley’s voice, is engaging; a reader may correctly predict that Riley will overcome her insecurities and triumph, but the path Lincoln takes to get there is not so predictable — and, in some ways, more realistic than similar high school narratives.

The book’s biggest flaw? Riley is just as judgmental as the Dukes and Duchesses. Readers who prefer their protagonists not crack jokes about “over-eager anorexics,” “popularity whores,” or “gender confusion issues” may want to look elsewhere; readers who want their heroines to show as much compassion to others as they wish they had been shown will be disappointed by Riley’s lack of character growth. Being true to yourself doesn’t always mean being a good person.

A Very Very Brief Excerpt of NEXT BOOK

310 of the current 13,093 words. ALL OF THESE WORDS ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.

I haven’t named Ellen’s Slack friends yet. But I have begun to suss out their personalities.

ellen.everton: so hypothetically

ellen.everton: if you had the chance to go to Narnia or fairyland or whatever

ellen.everton: would you?

NAME NAME 1: HUNDO PEE

NAME NAME 1: BRING ON THE QUEST

NAME NAME 1: I WILL DRAW MY SWORD AND FIGHT

ellen.everton: what if you don’t know how to do a sword

NAME NAME 1: there’ll be a training montage

NAME NAME 2: idk do you really want to be Frodo though, or Bilbo

NAME NAME 2: it wasn’t all second breakfasts

NAME NAME 3: more like second breakfasts and PTSD

NAME NAME 3: if you examine the literature, you’ve got, like, “everyone dies and they dance around in Aslan heaven” (Narnia) “everyone learns that fantasy kingdoms are a lot harder to govern than they thought” (The Magicians, also a lot of people die) “everyone gets kicked back into their own worlds and they spend their lives struggling to adjust” (6/7 of Narnia, Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children, potentially stuff like Neverwhere and LOTR)

NAME NAME 3: (if you count the Shire as a separate world)

NAME NAME 2: but that’s how the hero’s journey goes according to Joey C: you always end up home again

NAME NAME 2: what’s that TS Eliot quote about returning and seeing the place you once knew as if for the first time

ellen.everton: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” thanks Google

NAME NAME 2: there you go

ellen.everton: so the question then becomes: is it worth it to do the exploring

NAME NAME 1: did you not read the quote you just copy-pasted

NAME NAME 1: WE SHALL NOT CEASE

NAME NAME 1: it can’t be not worth it because you can’t not do it

Also, for those of you following me on Twitter and wondering how this book can have both a mysterious old house with a bunch of secret doors and, like, Slack, let me remind you that this is 2019, we can have all of this AND MORE. ❤️

Indie Author Advice From Seth Godin’s ‘This Is Marketing’

If you’re already familiar with Seth Godin’s blog, or have already read any of his bestselling books — Linchpin, Purple Cow, etc. — you already know a lot of what he’s going to tell you in his newest book, This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See.

  • Make a product that solves a real person’s problem.
  • Get really specific about what kind of person you’re targeting and what problem you’re trying to solve.
  • Don’t be a brown cow (boring, typical), be a purple cow (unique, remarkable, phenomenal).

So I wanted to focus on just one section of this book that happens to be particularly relevant to creative career types (aka “the kind of person this blog is targeting”).

In Chapter Nineteen: The Funnel, Seth writes about “life on the long tail:”

On the left are the hits. There aren’t as many of them, but they each sell a lot. In fact, number one sells ten times as many copies as number ten, and a hundred times as many as number one hundred. A hit is magical.

On the right are the rest. The long tail: good products of specialized interest. Each, by itself, doesn’t sell many copies, but taken together, the long tail sells as much as the short head.

Half of Amazon’s sales are books that are not in the top five thousand. Half!

Half of the music consumed on streaming sites isn’t available in stores. Not half the titles, half the volume.

Amazon can do great with this strategy since they sell all the available books. Each author, though, is in pain: selling one to two books a day is no way to make a living.

Seth’s advice is to become the “short head” of a specialized market, e.g. the best person selling “video courses on using a GH5 camera to make movies.”

Or, in the self-publishing world, the best person writing “steamy older woman younger man romance.”

If you’ve spent any time on Amazon recently, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of indie genre fiction authors have started using specific genre keywords in their titles. We’ve got Gloria King’s Love Thy Neighbor: Steamy Older Woman Younger Man Romance, for example, or A.R. Winters’ Cooks, Crooks and Cruises: A Humorous Cruise Ship Cozy Mystery (Cruise Ship Cozy Mysteries Book 2). They want readers to know exactly what they’re getting, so the readers who want exactly what they’re offering will be incentivized to purchase.

This is one way to get around the “can’t make a living selling two books a day” effect. (At roughly $2.50 in royalties per book, that’d be $1,825 a year before taxes.)

The other way to get around the “can’t make a living selling two books a day” thing is to find ways of earning money besides selling books.

Like keeping your day job. (As many authors do.)

Or freelancing. (Ditto.)

Or freelancing and teaching and editing and speaking and a bunch of other gigs that all support and sustain each other. (Tritto.)

If you do that, and if you are ready to build a career that, as Seth notes, is about solving someone else’s problems*, then you can do the creative work you want to do without having to try to be the best person at “older woman younger man humorous romance where the younger man has a really cute dog.”

Because you’ll be making the art that only you can make, telling the stories that only you can tell, etc.

And, in a world where other people are competing to be the best at a certain set of keywords, this kind of unique creative work can really stand out.

Of course, you still have to figure out how to market it.

Which means you’ll probably still want to read Seth’s book. ❤️

*One of my most popular freelance articles, which still gets retweeted and shared at least once a month even though it was published in 2015, is Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself With A/B Testing at Unbounce. This is a perfect example of using a freelance career to solve someone else’s problems (both Unbounce’s problem of needing a guide to A/B testing, and the readers’ problem of… also needing a guide to A/B testing). When I teach my “how to freelance” classes — and I’ll be teaching another one this summer, so check back later for dates — I get a lot of students who want to build careers as travel writers or celebrity profile writers or writers of stuff that sounds interesting to them. You can absolutely get paid to write about travel (I’ve done it) but you’ll get paid a lot more money if you’re also able to write about A/B testing.

Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey’s ‘A Woman of Independent Means’ Offers Both Financial and Life Lessons

When I read Grant Sabatier’s Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You Will Ever Need three times in a row and decided to go after the financial independence thing, I pulled up this memory of watching this television miniseries, with my family, about a woman who had all the money she would ever need.

I know that particular detail because I had to ask my parents what the title of the movie meant. Of course, I couldn’t remember the title (was it A Financially Independent Woman?); only the moment where my parents explained that the woman in the movie would never need to earn money from a job.

So I looked it up. The 1995 six-hour (with commercials) miniseries A Woman of Independent Means, starring Sally Ford as the titular Woman, was based on the 1978 Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey novel A Woman of Independent Means, which was in turn inspired by Hailey’s grandmother’s life.

The novel is epistolary and written entirely from the perspective of Bess Steed Garner, who learns at a young age that an inheritance has made her financially independent. The book begins as a deceptively quick read — the first few pages take Bess from age 9 to age 20 — but becomes more detailed and immersive as Bess grows in both experience and writing talent.

It also packs in a wealth of advice about both investing and living — but since Bess is constantly maturing and changing, there’s a question of whether the reader should take her insights at face value.

Here’s a letter that the 29-year-old Bess writes her best friend, for example:

Dearest Totsie,

Your letter brought me the first bright day I have known since Rob died. The thought of joining you in Vermont for the summer fills me with delight! What a reprieve from the terrible reality of my life just now!

Once we decided to close the St. Louis office of the company, I knew I had no choice but to sell my house here and move back to Dallas — but to return without a husband and with less money than when we left is an unbearable admission of defeat. And I will postpone it as long as possible.

Your invitation for the summer is such a tangible offer of comfort at a time when words of sympathy ring hollow in my ears. I am so weary of people asking if there is anything they can do for me. Of course I always answer with a polite no, and they go away satisfied at having done their duty. If only one dared answer in the affirmative. But nothing frightens people more than undisguised need. I have kept all my old friends through this difficult time by never demanding the dues of friendship. Not that I doubt they would be paid — but only once. Friendship to me is like a capital reserve. It pays dividends only so long as the principal remains intact. Whatever personal sacrifice is required, I am determined to come through this experience without spending my principal — on any level.

The children are very excited at the thought of a trip east. We are all eager for the sight of a landscape without memories. How I look forward to holding the baby — and you, Please thank Dwight for his share in your kind invitation.

I love you dearly,

Bess

Is Bess “right” about the nature of friendship? Is she “wrong?” I’m not sure that’s the question we should be asking. A Woman of Independent Means invites readers to observe Bess as she observes the world, and take from it whatever lessons are most relevant to our own lives.

In my case, the biggest lesson I took from this book is that whenever Bess works to meet her own needs, her life — and her family’s life — improves. Whenever she does something that she believes is in the best interest of someone else’s needs without asking them first, especially when her actions go against her own needs and desires, her life and her family’s life and the life of the person on whom she’s acting get worse.

I suspect that if I read this book again in a few years, I might take a different lesson from it — because, like Bess, I would have the advantage of a few more years of life experience.

If you’ve read A Woman of Independent Means — or have some vague recollection of the miniseries, like I did — I’m curious which aspects of the story stood out to you. Despite the strong financial component of this book, for example, I don’t think it prompts most of its readers to get into investing.

But it might prompt us to view the world a little bit differently, after seeing it through Bess’s eyes. ❤️

Cal Newport’s ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ Is a Must-Read Guide to Building a Creative Career

I’ve mentioned Cal Newport on this blog before. I started implementing his daily shutdown ritual after reading Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, for example, and it has made my workday (and my evenings) so much better.

But last week I read his 2012 book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, and I am ready to GET EXCITED ABOUT IT.

Here’s the tl;dr, though I really really really think you should r:

If you want to build a fulfilling career, you need to develop both marketable skills and career capital. Being passionate about a particular line of work isn’t enough.

This is kind of the tension at the core of Nicole Dieker Dot Com, btw — like, I’m writing about being vulnerable online and mushing through the draft of NEXT BOOK while also being fairly hard-headed about how this type of career takes schedules and strategies and showing up every day.

Or, as I put it in one of my very first posts: there’s a difference between “the dream” and “the work of doing your work.”

So Good They Can’t Ignore You is about pushing through that difference, and going from the work of doing your work to building a dream career.

It’s worth noting that this “dream career” may not be related to your current creative passion; that is, the end game isn’t “full-time novelist” or “full-time singer-songwriter” or whatever. The end game is to develop a career that capitalizes on your skills, lets you control your time, and helps you create the life you want, which may also include writing novels or making music or working on political campaigns or traveling for three months every year.*

I can hear you thinking “but there aren’t enough of those careers to go around,” which, okay, sure, but Newport makes two additional points:

  • With enough skills and career capital, you can build your own career. (This is what I did.)
  • With enough skills and career capital, you can work to make the world better for everyone else.

To quote Chapter 13, Missions Require Capital:

Pardis Sabeti thought small by focusing patiently for years on a narrow niche (the genetics of diseases in Africa) but then acting big once she acquired enough capital to identify a mission (using computational genetics to help understand and fight ancient diseases). Sarah and Jane, by contrast, reversed this order. They started by thinking big, looking for a world-changing mission, but without capital they could only match this big thinking with small, ineffectual acts.

Go read this book. You might not agree with everything Newport writes, but I bet at least one or two chapters will make you think differently about your creative career.

It did for me, anyway, and I’ve been doing this for seven years now.

Next Tuesday I’m going to review a book that’s more about the emotional and vulnerable aspects of building a life. In case you’re curious. It’s all about balance, after all.

*Yes, you can go straight into trying to become “so good they can’t ignore you” at your current artistic pursuit or passion project. The book has some notes on that path as well — after all, the “so good they can’t ignore you” quote came directly from Steve Martin. But that path might be a lot harder than the one where you use your monetizable skills to build the type of capital that can help you achieve your large-scale goals.