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Friday, October 14, 2011

Trip to Brussels Sprouts Work Life Envy, Book Idea

An homage to Obama in a Brussels waffle shop.

I worked in Brussels, Belgium last week, delivering a class to 30 European co-workers, who traveled from Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, Italy and the UK to improve their financial acumen (translation: learn how to make more money for our company). Lucky for me that our common language is English; I get to travel the world performing this important “work”. (Next stop: Malaysia) 

Working in a global company gives you insight into how differently Europeans view work.  The saying “Europe closes in August” is mostly true.  We see it in our sales figures (customers are gone too).  Almost everyone takes a two-week holiday (sometimes longer as many employees have a legally mandated minimum of 25 days off plus bank holidays annually).  And they really do take off -- no emails, phone calls, project work.

Having this view, I am amused by the political campaign rhetoric concerning our impending fall into socialism.  My European coworkers enjoy access to health care whether or not they have a job. (I know they ration care --but they still have mostly better health outcomes than we do.)  Going to a university doesn't require taking a second mortgage.  They have pensions, retire sooner than we do and their governments mandate longer separation packages should they lose their jobs to layoffs.  It’s far from a perfect system; their economies are failing, and some, like Greece and Italy are nearing catastrophe.  

Returning home, I think of Europe's worker protections (and high taxes) as I listen to the presidential campaign candidates present their solutions to creating jobs that will spur the economy.  It's all Republican candidates now -- so pro-business and capitalism rules.  But the crowds at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations make me wonder if we have a revolution brewing.  This time it's the haves against the have nots -- fighting over jobs with living wages, health care, education, equal distribution of wealth (but don't even think about raising taxes).

I want to write a novel someday, and I imagined the makings of a book when the Tea Party started rattling cages and the Arab Spring changed the political scene in the Middle East.  It's happening again, and the viral nature of the connected world suggests a chaotic new world order is coming.

Which plot would be a more interesting (and more marketable) read?  Redistributing wealth through worker protections (like Europe) or governments yielding even more power to business?  Which scenario sounds better for you as a reader?  Which sounds better for you as a world citizen?


  1. Chris, I love the wit in your title.
    The current protests remind me of the sixties and Viet Nam. Do these times feel more revolutionary than then?
    As far as which plot is more readable. I'm fine with learning/being challenged to think about the larger world when I read a novel, but mostly I want strong characters. So, if you're marketing to women readers like me, character relationships need to be central. If you want to write a world problems plot driven novel, that may be very marketable, but I think to a different audience than character/relationship readers like me.

  2. Europe work life sounds great but not sure Americans would accept the taxes it takes to support health care, education and early retirements. It will never fly here. I agree that there feels like an econominc revolution is in the making. As a reader, I would enjoy the scenario where the power shifts to the people. But don't forget: power corrupts.

  3. I agree with Carol, the characters (and plot development) are more important than the socio-political context they are set in. But why do you have to choose? You could write a classic screwball comedy where one character is working toward "redistributing wealth through worker protections" and the other is working toward "governments yielding even more power to business" and they begin hating each other and then fall in love and have to work things out (or not). And you could even confound stereotypes by having the man be the former and the woman be the latter.

  4. Deborah WelshOctober 22, 2011

    Way to go, Chris. Something's got to give and contributions like yours in any way shape or form do make a difference one word at a time. I like Bob's screwball comedy idea knowing you have your own screwball tendencies!!! Whatever you do, keep writing, thinking lively like this, and teaching to the big picture.

  5. I'm a little late commenting, Chris, but I'm with Carol that characters make and often move the novel for me. But I think the current political climate would be an exciting setting and would give your characters lots to do. The tricky thing is keeping the setting fresh and relevant for readers five years from now, who of course will still be buying and reading your novel!