Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Razor's Edge

John Philipp loves my coffee so much, here at Over Coffee, he's willing to come and drink my coffee and make us laugh this morning. Grab a cuppa and something to munch and have a *set* and enjoy his *philosophizing*.

Razors were once touted as an example of American business innovation. Shaving was hard and dangerous. As a result, a lot of men wore beards. Then the safety razor was invented and practically given away(gasp!). It was only later that people understood the Machiavellian motive behind this bold marketing move. You got it, now whatcha gonna do with it? Buy our blades of course.

  • NOTE: The term "safety" in safety razor is used to indicate that because most of the business end of the blade is nestled inside the razor, you can't slit your throat accidentally as you could with a straight razor. You can still nick yourself until you look like the "before" picture in a Clearasil ad but it's unlikely you'll bleed out.

The safety razor was introduced at a time when the American economy was unsaturated, which means that people had more money than there were products they wanted to buy. (From time to time I invent terms to make a point. This is one of those times.)

This was also a period when a man named King Gillette owned the Gillette Company outright. As the company grew it went public and hired professional managers.

When managers who are not owners run companies, several things happen. One, the managers develop a nasty rash because they know they can be fired on the whim of the board. Two, because a chronic rash wreaks havoc with a manager's social life, he avoids the rash by doing everything he can to make profits improve every quarter.

Television caused the American economy to become saturated. Some economists think it was billboard advertising but they forget that you have to drive by a billboard for it to have any impact. A television set just sits in your living room, daring you to turn it.

Steady revenue and profit growth is no problem in an unsaturated economy. When the economy becomes saturated — when there are more things to buy than money to buy them with — American business managers are forced to adopt new strategies.

One thing managers do is improve the product. Often this is accomplished by altering customer perception, such as changing the color of the product and adding the word "Improved" to the packaging. When that wears off another cosmetic change adds the words "New & Improved."

The second tactic businesses use to maintain growth is to hound its customers by increasing advertising. An ad will show sad people with the "old" product and happy people with the "new" product. The consumer, always wanting to be in the happy group, rushes out to buy the new product.

Back to the razor story: Gillette made a fortune selling blades. One day some still-wet-behind-the-ears MBA who didn't know any better asked why the company couldn't make a profit on its razors as well. Foreheads slaps all around the boardroom.

With the concept of a razor that actually makes a profit firmly in mind, Gillette's corporate research department rose to the challenge and created a new razor. How to get consumers to buy a new razor? Simple. Create a new and improved razor blade, say one in a cartridge that requires a new razor to hold it. No one is sure to this day why a cartridge blade is any better than the old blade, but there it was on television every day, being used by happy people, and the American consumer just had to have one.

This set the stage for a decade of continual cartridge improvement, adding an additional blade each time. Of course, each new cartridge needed a new razor. Corporate profits were off the charts to which companies responded by buying bigger charts.

But the managers got greedy. They forgot that too many improvements could come back and bite them in the butt. While each extra blade added marginally more cutting surface, it also created a place for cut hairs to congregate, clogged the blades and thereby diminished the effective cutting surface. The net out is that the new five-bladed razors are worse than the old safety razors.

When they add the sixth blade I believe beards will come back in style.


John Philipp is a weekly humor columnist for four Marin County, California newspapers and has won numerous humor and memoir writing awards. His humor columns are posted at wisdom (with Phil Prank's cartoons) is posted at Thought~Bytes

Monday, January 18, 2010

Can’t WAIT For the Muse

I'd like to welcome back Tawny Weber to Over Coffee. I always learn a lot from Tawny. She's a gifted writer with a great imagination, but she's also well grounded in the realities of writing. Her topic today, is one that my writing group and I were discussing just recently.

  • How do you write when your Muse takes a hike?

Tawny, of course, has deadlines to meet. That doesn't mean it's an easy skate just because you're an experienced writer/author, but does mean you have to meet your deadlines.

I'll let Tawny tell you how she manages it.

I’m a big believer in the power of writing on the Muse’s wave of inspiration. Those intense “WOW” moments, when the entire story just seems to coalesce into a solid, well-conflicted, strongly motivated plot are amazing! Or when the characters suddenly come together –their actions well-motivated, their inner and outer conflicts clear and empathetic. Or better yet, those moments when the Muse seems to be right there behind you, pushing and motivating and inspiring hours-long writing sessions that require absolutely no stress or forehead-to-desk moments.

  • Seriously, I love those times.

And then there are the other 8500 hours a year. You know the ones. The staring at the screen wondering how many seconds have passed since you wrote that last word. Doodling little flowers on the yellow pad instead of making character notes. Making scary faces out of the sticky-notes on your plotting board instead of scene notes. (oh yeah, I’ve done that) And then there are the stressed-out, written the characters into a corner, wondering if adding murder to a rom-com would fix the mess moments.

Those moments bite. And, IMO, those are the moments that make us writers. Not happy writers, but writers all the same. Because they test us, they prove to us that yes we CAN write. I love those times even more than the good Muse times.


Okay, so maybe it’s a form of self-hypnosis to tell myself these are the moments that make me a writer, but hey, I have so many more of them than the Muse-driven moments, I’ve finally decided to make the best of them.

And you know what, it works. I wrote YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS during a very non-Muse driven time period and honestly, in reflection, think its one of my best stories to date. I wrote it through stress, on a super tight deadline (6 weeks) and while dealing with a bunch of personal problems. And I told myself the entire time that it was going to rock – because I loved the concept. I adore fairy tales and was so excited to have a chance to put my own Blaze-twist on The Frog Prince, which was a story I’ve always loved. I told myself that writing half my familiar word count (30k instead of 60k) was going to make it easier (hahahahaha). And when I finished that story –and finished revising it – I realized that one of the greatest tools in those non-Muse driven times is the ability to lie to myself. Because it worked. Telling myself all those great things worked.

So here’s to those little lies we tell ourselves...

  • Do you ever resort to twisting reality in order to get yourself to do things? Write, exercise, face the unfamiliar? Has it worked? Share with me and I’ll be happy to offer up a copy of any book in my backlist to one kind commenter today :-)


Tawny Weber is usually found dreaming up stories in her California home, surrounded by dogs, cats and kids. When she’s not writing hot, spicy stories for Harlequin Blaze, she’s shopping for the perfect pair of boots or drooling over Johnny Depp pictures (when her husband isn’t looking, of course).

Come by and visit her on the web at


“What?” Jordan asked, trying not to sound as defensive as she felt. As soon as Sebastian thought he had the upper hand, he’d go right back to nagging her to leave.

“There’s only room for one Golden Boy, and you’ve got that position nailed.”

“What a stupid title,” he muttered.

Jordan’s smile widened. Walking through the room, she made sure he had plenty of towels and blankets. Then she headed for the door.

“What’s the matter,” she teased. “You didn’t know that was your primary designation at Machismo? Closely followed by Stud King, of course.”

She expected him to laugh. Instead he looked as if she’d punched him in the belly and called him a pansy.

“What?” she asked, her hand on the doorknob. No wonder she always ended up with losers. She obviously didn’t know how to talk with men. “I’m not poking fun at your masculinity or anything.”

He got this weird look on his face. Almost like panic. Then it was replaced by a set, determined expression that sent a trickle of worry down her spine. Kind of like the kind she got when someone told her she couldn’t do something. A look that warned, ‘Oh, yeah? Watch me.’

Brow furrowed, he strode slowly toward her. Jordan didn’t know why, but she suddenly wanted to run. Stupid. She wasn’t afraid of Sebastian Lane. Except...maybe she was a little afraid of that look on his face. And the way her body reacted to it.

Her thighs quivered. Warmth trickled from her suddenly beaded and aching nipples to deep in her belly. She forced herself to keep breathing normally as he stopped just a few inches from her.

Jordan swallowed, looking up to meet Sebastian’s gaze. A wicked glint sparked in his eyes, but beneath it she saw something else. Something edgy. Dangerous. Sexy as hell.

“Is that why you won’t leave, Princess?” he murmured, planting one hand on the wall next to her head and leaning closer, so the warmth of his body wrapped around her like a silken blanket. “You’re wanting to find out for yourself just how studly I am?”

“Yeah, right,” she dismissed, shooting for sardonic. Instead, she sounded breathless and needy. It was hard to care, though, with Sebastian’s mouth just inches from hers. She stared, noting the laugh lines fanning from those hypnotic eyes and the dark whiskers starting to shadow the sharp edge of his jaw.

“Do you listen to the gossip often? All those whispered reports about how I like it in bed? Whether I’m a traditional, missionary style kind of guy? Or if I play on the kinky side?”

“Who whispers,” she said, her eyes locked on his lips. Smooth, full and enticing, they were right there, tempting her to do something stupid.

“The talk about you is done in giggles and shouts. And traditional is the last word associated with your preferences.”

“And you’re wondering?”

“Only about your stamina.”

His grin was fast, appreciative and the final straw for Jordan. She couldn’t stop herself. She ran her tongue over her bottom lip. Just the tip of it.

That’s all it took. Sebastian’s eyes went from amused to molten. Then he lowered his head. Excitement did a happy sprint through Jordan’s tummy, her heart keeping pace. Desire, hot, wild and intense flamed through her.


Like a whisper, his lips brushed hers. Just barely a taste, a hint of the decadent deliciousness yet to come. Her breath lodged tight in her chest. Her heart pounded so hard she was sure he could feel it against his mouth.

Then he pulled back. Eyes closed, he shook his head and turned away. Jordan almost screamed in protest. She wanted her kiss, dammit. It was all she could do not to grab him back as he strode toward the bed.