“It’s got mystery (what is the source of the death threats?), violence (campaign of terror), money, and even sex (‘learning how to invest is like learning how to kiss’).” So writes “tmeri” in a post to the discussion board associated with the RetireEarlyHomePage.com site in a thread speculating on the content of my second book (I Get a Kick Out of Cash: What You Know About Investing That Just Ain’t So). Given the dramatic tension supplied by the plot elements noted above, “I’m just wondering if hocus [that’s me] is really writing a novel.”
I thought that post showed a great deal of insight on tmeri’s part. Here is the text of the response I put forward to her perspicacious post:
“You are very much on point with this comment, Tmeri. You are getting right to the heart of the process by which I develop a book with this comment.
“I don’t write novels. But I do aim to make my books ‘stories.’ And the stories contain mysteries that are developed in the early chapters, that generate complexities in the middle chapters, and that are resolved in the later chapters.
“I used this approach for the first book and much of the plot line for the book came from conversations I had with aspiring early retirees on the Motley Fool board. Rarely are these conversations cited in the book (there are a few cases in which that happens). But it was my participation in those conversations that brought me to the level of understanding of the mysteries and thrills and heartbreaks of the saving experience that enabled me to write the book the way I did.
“I plan to use that same approach for the second book. I think it makes for a more compelling read. I also think it makes for a less artificial presentation. When you are writing about money, you are writing about life. Life has sex in it. Life has death in it. Life has power games in it. Life has deception of others in it. Life has self-deception in it. If you fail to explore these themes, you are failing to tell the full story of what is involved in managing your money well.
“You are hitting here on precisely the reason why I intend to use the line about learning how to kiss to kick off the second book. I really do think that learning how to invest is in some important ways like learning how to kiss. It sounds absurd when you first say it. But it’s a claim that I think holds up under scrutiny. So we need to ask ourselves why it strikes us as being absurd when we first hear it. What is it about the way we think about investing now that causes us to react to the comparison to kissing as if it was sort of a funny or odd or unlikely thing to comment on? That’s one of the questions I want to answer in the book.
“The thing that you are hitting on here is the thing that I believe I bring to the table that I don’t believe anyone else has ever brought to the table in quite the same way before. It may be that Suze Orman does some of this sort of thing. I need to read more of her stuff to see. She strikes me as perhaps trying to explore the personal aspects of the money management experience to at least a greater extent than some others. I don’t know how deep she goes.
“I believe there is potential in the idea of going deep with this. I think money management really is a personal thing, and that saving and investing bring all sorts of emotional reactions into play. We see that on our boards every day. I challenge anyone to look at the transcripts of The Great Safe Withdrawal Rate Debate and tell me that those participating were not feeling intense emotion when their pet investing theories were brought into question by what we learned about what the historical stock-return data really says.
“Rational investors, efficient markets, and death threats? I think not. Where you see death threats, you are seeing emotion, out-of-control emotion. And where you see emotions going that much out of control, you are not seeing rational investing and you are therefore seeing markets that are in important respects NOT efficient. Only someone living in an ivory tower could come to a different conclusion, in my view. The efficient market (at least as the term is commonly understood) is not a real-flesh-and-blood-world phenomenon.