Communion Of Dreams

Sometimes, it’s all about attitude.

Dear Agent-person,

Earlier this year I self-published a book. Said book sold about 100 copies in the first month. About 200 copies the second month. 300 copies last month. It broke that number in the first two weeks of this month. And the rate of increase is still growing. And that’s just with my feeble efforts to promote the book.

People love the thing. The reviews are excellent. Don’t take my word for it – see for yourself.

I’d love to get this book in the hands of a large publisher. With even a half-way decent promotional campaign this book could be a mega-seller. And I’m not talking within the confines of genre-fiction. Please note in those reviews that a number of people have said that they don’t usually read Science Fiction. This has mass-market appeal. This could easily be turned into a blockbuster movie.

There’s nothing that needs to be done to the book – it is finished, popular, and ready to be handed over to a large publisher. If they move fast, they can have the damned thing in stores before the holiday season.

Further, I have at least two more books in this series I want to write, and that people want to read. I can have the first manuscript done in 18 months, perhaps sooner. If I have a decent advance to live on so I can concentrate on writing it.

I’ve thought about doing a Kickstarter to accomplish that. And there’s a chance that sales will just continue to grow on their own accord. But I’d rather not have to mess with all of this, and concentrate on my writing.

Do you see where I’m going with this? I need an agent. Not just any agent. One with the right connections. One who can cut through the crap and land a package deal to turn this book, and then the others in the series, into best-sellers. So I’m contacting you. You’re not the only one I’m contacting. The first one who gets back to me and shows me what they can do for me gets to take their cut of the proceeds.

Don’t delay.

Jim Downey

* * * * * * * *

I must admit, that I’m seriously tempted to send that kind of a query letter out. No, it is not at all my personality to say or do such a thing, but I sold artwork long enough to know that sometimes, it’s all about attitude. Having the hutzpah, the brashness, to claim success long before the race starts.

And what the hell, it’s not like my previous efforts to get the attention of a decent agent were any more successful.

Jim Downey

The fox which wasn’t there.

I was doing a little maintenance weeding on my asparagus bed this morning. It was the perfect time for it – cool and grey, two days after long soaking rains. The weeds were coming up root and all.

A couple doors down I could hear sounds of construction work. Seems like they’re always doing something to that house. My small grey cat weaved between the stalks of asparagus, wanting my attention. My dog sat in the grass nearby, paying attention to the construction sounds.

Neither the cat nor the dog saw the lovely red fox.

* * * * * * *

A friend reacted to something I had posted elsewhere, which involved one of the instances cited in this recent blog post:

I have worked with the TSA screeners in [town]. I have worked with the management team that leads them. I know them personally, and I can tell you this is patently false, disjointed, prejudiced, half-assed reporting of the situation.

* * * * * * *

There was a fascinating long-form segment on NPR’s All Things Considered last night, looking into the “Psychology of Fraud.” The entire thing is worth reading/listening to when you get a chance, but basically it was the case study of how one otherwise ethical man wound up engaging in a series of financial frauds – and how he drew in multiple different people to help him do so.

Like I said, the whole thing is worth your time, but the thing which got me thinking was this bit:

Chapter 5: We Lie Because We Care

Typically when we hear about large frauds, we assume the perpetrators were driven by financial incentives. But psychologists and economists say financial incentives don’t fully explain it. They’re interested in another possible explanation: Human beings commit fraud because human beings like each other.

We like to help each other, especially people we identify with. And when we are helping people, we really don’t see what we are doing as unethical.

Lamar Pierce, an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis, points to the case of emissions testers. Emissions testers are supposed to test whether or not your car is too polluting to stay on the road. If it is, they’re supposed to fail you. But in many cases, emissions testers lie.

And what’s critical in this case is that we help those we identify with. Those emissions testers? They’re much more prone to help someone who is driving an older, inexpensive model car. Because those emissions testers don’t make a whole lot of money themselves, and have cars like that. Someone comes in with a high-end car, they’re less likely to identify with the owner and cut them some slack with the emissions tests.

* * * * * * *

A (different) friend asked me this morning whether I still spend much time reading up on game theory. It was something new to him when he saw it in Communion of Dreams, and my recent posts about it had again piqued his interest.

I replied that I don’t really follow the current scholarship on the topic specifically, but that I saw it in terms of a larger psychological dynamic. I then recommended that he should read Carl Sagan’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. Why? Because it would provide an insight into how humans are very similar to other primates in how we exist in hierarchical groups, and how we act because of our identity to a group – how that we look to our authority figures for cues on how to behave. He’s currently serving in Afghanistan, and I told him that it would forever change how he would see the military as well as those local tribes he’s dealing with.

* * * * * * *

A passage from Wikipedia:

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.[4]

* * * * * * *

I was doing a little maintenance weeding on my asparagus bed this morning. It was the perfect time for it – cool and grey, two days after long soaking rains. The weeds were coming up root and all.

A couple doors down I could hear sounds of construction work. Seems like they’re always doing something to that house. My small grey cat weaved between the stalks of asparagus, wanting my attention. My dog sat in the grass nearby, paying attention to the construction sounds.

Neither the cat nor the dog saw the lovely red fox. It cut across the back of our large yard, disappeared into some heavy brush in the adjacent empty lot.

“Alwyn,” I said, and pointed towards the back of the lot. My dog dutifully jumped up, trotted around the raised bed, and started sniffing the ground. Quickly he caught the scent of the fox, and rushed off to the edge of the yard where it had disappeared.

But he stopped there. He’s well trained, well behaved.

I petted the cat, then headed back towards the house.

My dog followed.

Jim Downey


The other day I posted a video clip which nicely demonstrated one particular aspect of “game theory” and mentioned that it tied in to Communion of Dreams, though I wasn’t explicit how (nor did I explain what I found so interesting in the clip). Partly this was just due to my being preoccupied with the Kindle promotion that day, and partly it was because I like to leave people to figure things out for themselves.

Well, yesterday Bruce Schneier, whom I have mentioned here a number of times, posted an excellent explanation of what was so interesting about the clip (which has been making the rounds). Here’s the gist of the explanation:

Think about Nick’s strategy. He can’t trust that Abraham will split. More importantly, he can’t trust that Abraham will do what he said, because it’s in Abraham’s best interest to say one thing and do another. So he changes the game. He offers to split the pot outside the game — set up a meta-game of sorts — and removes Abraham’s incentive to lie.

Read the whole thing – it’s only a couple of paragraphs long, and nicely goes over exactly why this strategy works.

And that is also why I thought it had such a strong connection to Communion of Dreams: because in one very real sense, the whole book is about what happens when you unexpectedly ‘change the game’. The character of Chu Ling is the key in this regard, both literally and metaphorically, and that is why I had to have her as a game theory prodigy.

Just thought I’d share that.

Jim Downey

Game on.

One of the principal characters in Communion of Dreams is a mystery child who is a prodigy at Game theory.

Game theory first started to interest me back in college, when I was studying economics (one of my undergraduate degrees). I haven’t kept track of all the developments in the field since then, though I do still pay attention when I see something relating to it. And this item caught my eye over at MetaFilter (and if you don’t read MeFi, you should – it has the most intelligent and diverse conversations I’ve found online, and such writers as John Scalzi and Charlie Stross are regular participants). It is a brilliant application of Game theory:

Here’s another brilliant application: get your *free* copy of the Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams all day today. You don’t even need to own a Kindle – there’s a Kindle app/emulator for just about every computer/tablet/mobile device out there. Seriously, it’s free – and it is good, going on the reviews (an average rating of 4.8 stars from 16 reviews to date). Go download it now, if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet!

Jim Downey