Sunday, November 6, 2016


I am doing (er, attempting) National Novel Writing Month again.
In case you don’t know, the goal for NaNoWriMo participants is to write 50,000 words throughout the course of November. A daunting goal for most. It does seem slightly less onerous when broken down to a daily total of 1,667, but it is still a challenge (and no, smartass, typing the same word 1,667 times in a row does NOT count).
I got pretty far in 2012… a bit over 36,000 words. Unfortunately, I let a couple of unfortunate situations throw me off track. My subsequent efforts didn’t go even that well.
Flash forward to last week. I had been going back and forth for several days:
  • Do I really want to attempt NaNo?
  • What makes me think I could actually win (a.k.a., finish the month having written 50,000)?
  • Do I really want to fail AGAIN?
As it turns out, I did start Nano. Starting it was actually the very first thing I did when I woke up on November 1st. I get out of bed at the appointed time, walked to my desk (not a challenge, as it is mere steps from my bed) (my apartment is small, okay?), turned on my computer, and went at it. I pounded out a few sentences, then went on with my day. Between getting to the office a bit early and writing, as well as making good use of my lunch break, I made a pretty decent showing on day one. It didn’t quite get to the requisite 1,667, but that’s fine. I was going at it. I was giving it a shot.

I kept it up through the remainder of the week. Some days I managed to get out more words than other days. As I write this, it is Sunday evening, the sixth day of Nano. My word count is significantly far behind where it needs to be in order to finish at 50,000 words. It’s still well within the realm of possibility that I can catch up. I may actually win this thing (winning defined as, of course, getting to that magic 50k)... who knows?
I may not get to 50,000, and that’s okay. I have promised myself that I will not give up, no matter what my word count says. Winning for me, at least with regards to this round, is about not giving up. Winning is also about trying, no matter what the negative little monkey brain chatter in my head tells me.
So I guess that as of the sixth day of National Novel Writing Month, I have already won.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


I have written values. They are as follows:
  • Kids first
  • Self-mastery
  • Intelligence
  • Harmony
  • Integrity
  • Ikigai
Values are a prism through which one can view life, set goals, and make decisions. Values can help you get and keep your life on track. In short, having set, written values will allow you to more easily navigate through life. I can’t say that I exemplify everything on my list… in reality, some of them (especially under the “self-mastery” category) are there because I am trying very hard to integrate them more fully into my life.
Kids first: I’ll not dive too deeply into this one, as it is self-explanatory. Simply, I make my kids my unquestioned first priority and motivation for most everything I do. Really, nothing more needs to be said.
Self mastery is a constellation of several things… self-discipline, grit, kaizen, positivity, growth mindset, and stoicism.
Self-discipline: My personal discipline is an ongoing struggle, especially when it comes to being consistent over an extended period of time (I suppose that’s true for all of us, though) (so maybe I shouldn’t be so damn hard on myself when I stumble, huh?) (anyway…)
Discipline applies to so many things; not just getting to the gym, eating right, or showing up to work on time. Ultimately, it boils down to doing what you should do, when you should do it… whether you feel like it or not.
  • It’s about standards.
  • It’s about execution.
  • It’s about being consistent.
  • It’s about self-control.
  • It’s about goals, little and big.
  • It’s the difference between mediocrity and excellence, between success and failure.
Grit is the ability to keep going over time, even when things get rough, even as one’s initial motivation wears off and the shine dampens on that goal.
Growth mindset is the difference between “I can do better” and “I am the way I am”. A person with a growth mindset sees their self as capable of evolution. Someone with a fixed mindset feels that if they meet a challenge that they can’t overcome initially, that’s it. Game over. The growth mindset person comes face-to-face with failure and considers how they might change to meet and overcome that challenge. This is something that I am working on quite a bit of late. Having read Carol Dweck’s book about this subject, I can see where having a growth mindset would be the foundation for a lot of personal development.
Kaizen is closely allied with the growth mindset. It is a Japanese word that roughly translates as “constant and never-ending improvement”. To me, it means ‘better every day”. My goal is to do something each and every day that will improve me and/ or my life in some fashion. That can mean many different things.
  • One more rep or a little more distance in a workout (or maybe trying out a new yoga pose!).
  • Polishing a scene from my new novel.
  • Work on getting better organized.
I could go on and on (and on and on and on) with this. I will spare you the details. Ultimately, the phrase “better every day” is what matters here.
By positivity, I don’t mean a pollyanish/ rose-colored glasses outlook 24/ 7/ 365. To me, it’s more about making sure that I don’t default to the negative, admittedly a hard task at times.
Stoicism is something I have only recently begun studying. Ultimately, it’s less about being like Mr. Spock and more about choosing one’s reaction to the ebb and flow of life. In short: “Men are disturbed not by things, but the views which they take of them” (Epictetus, Enchiridion).
I have long been a practitioner of cognitive behavioral therapy. The main thrust of CBT is identifying and challenging negative, unproductive thoughts… thoughts that can lead one down the path to anxiety and depression. Stoicism exemplifies that.
NOTE: I plan to cover CBT in more depth in another post.
Intelligence: I value intelligence in myself and others. It’s important to devote time and energy to learning and enhancing one’s cognitive skills… everyday (see Kaizen, above). Granted, there are those that seem to have a greater degree of natural intelligence than others. Good for them, but I am more concerned with, as above, valuing intelligence along with prioritizing intellectual growth and development. So do a little something on a daily basis to expand your mind:
  • Learn a new word (and use it).
  • Make it a point to learn something new everyday.
  • Watch a documentary.
  • Take an online course about something of interest to you.
  • Conquer a challenging brain teaser or some other puzzle.
  • Listen to some music that you might not normally listen to.
  • Read non-fiction when you usually read fiction.
  • Read poetry when you usually read prose.
  • Just read. A lot.
Being “dumb” is not funny. It’s not cool. We were all born with a certain amount of native intelligence, and I believe that we all have a certain amount of responsibility to ourselves and those around us to work diligently at developing it.
Integrity is two-fold. One, it’s all about treating others as I would want to be treated (to act in any other way is, in my view, a bit hypocritical). Two, it’s simply about being honest and doing right by yourself and others. Fortunately, the two typically go together.
I don’t like it when people are rude to me or those I care about, so I won’t treat others that way. I don’t like it when people try to take what’s mine, thus I won’t do that to anyone else.
Ultimately, it’s very simple: fair is fair.
Harmony: I’m not one to argue just for the sake of arguing. I believe that life is much easier when people at least try to get along. Yes, I will stand up myself and my beliefs when necessary, but I carefully pick my battles. Striving for harmony has become more important as our nation (and world) becomes more divided. So many people are consumed with labels and being right all the time. They insult others merely because someone dares disagree with them.
We need more people who at least attempt to get along with others. Ultimately, we are stronger when we band together.
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that translates to “reason for being”. Having an ikigai to consider can have a powerful, galvanizing effect on your life. My children certainly give me a reason for being, but I also strive to encourage and inspire those who struggle in life, as I have.

As I stated above, your values can act as framework for decision-making as well as a guide to how you conduct yourself. Take for example, the current state of political discourse. I see people become unhinged and hurl insults at one another, all as a result of differing opinions. Some post memes and links with no attempt to verify any “facts” therein... information that defies credulity. There are those who try to appear authoritative, yet exhibit sub third grade English skills. Being mindful of some of the value above could help in any of these instances:
  • Before calling that person on the other side of the ideological aisle an “idiot”, or throwing out the insult du jour, why don’t you stop and think? Does insulting this person advance your cause or boost your argument? Name calling helps no one while deepening the divides between people.
  • Prior to posting that meme about the other side’s candidate, take just a moment to do a little research. A quick Google search will generally give you a sense of whether your post is factual or not. A minimal investment of time and effort will help prevent the spread of untruths.
  • I have seen comments on political posts that are so poorly written as to be incoherent. Take a second to capitalize, punctuate, and put that spell check to use.
Take a moment. Take a deep breath. Think. Acting completely on the emotion of the moment helps no one and serves nothing. Exert just a bit of self discipline and rise above the this mire. Use your intelligence to make certain that your comment is, at least, legible. Consider whether jumping into that argument is worth disturbing your harmony. I could go on, but I don’t wish to belabor the point.

There are times that one’s values can conflict with one another.
Navigate using your values as a road map, and your life will certainly be richer and more peaceful.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Greenspace: A Neighborhood Story

Dichotomy: noun  di·chot·o·my \dī-ˈkä-tə-mē also də-\ : a difference between two opposite things : a division into two opposite groups. (source:

My neighborhood is unusual.
I don’t mean that I live on probably the only street in my city that has two published authors as next door neighbors (sorry, just had to throw that in there!). No, my neighborhood is an unusual one in that it has a very interesting, dichotomous nature.
My own street is a quiet one. Generally older people reside here. Even the young people who rent houses are temperate, well-mannered, and hard-working college students. Tires hum along in a pleasant rhythm along the brick pavement. The narrow sidewalks are cracked in places, yet are still walkable. The houses here are a bit worn, but generally still solid. Even the one unoccupied home on the block, two doors down from mine, has been nicely kept up.
I can walk just a block or two to the west and see houses that are falling into more aggressive states of disrepair. A number of houses even have the telltale condemned sign on the door. There are even a number of empty plots where homes once stood, victims of decades of neglectful owners and tenants or, in at least one case, fire. People often while the time away by sitting on their porches, drinking cans of beer, smoking, or merely watching whoever or whatever passes on by.

One street, about four blocks west of my home, stands out. There is a house, perched on a small hill at one end of the block, that looks as if it might topple over in a harsh crosswind. The pillars supporting the porch roof lean slightly to one side. The exterior badly needs a paint job, the roof is missing more than a few shingles, and an upstairs window has been replaced by a vintage 7-Up sign.
Then there is a home at the other end of the block, a large and well-maintained Victorian, newly and artfully painted. The owners have a sizable, nicely landscaped lot that includes an elegant gazebo tucked neatly into a corner; all within the confines of a wrought-iron fence.
Typically though, when my son and I go for one of our frequent walks, we head east. We cross the street, pass by a hospice/ acute care facility and take a shortcut that involves a well-worn path and a gap in an aging chain link fence. A couple more blocks east and we find ourselves on the campus of Augustana College.
Augustana is a private, liberal arts college that boasts an enrollment of around 2,500 students. The campus is known for its beauty. It is 115 partially wooded acres, with a long path that runs through said woods and along a natural slough. The quadrangle at the heart of the campus is a crisscross of sidewalks that issue from the main academic buildings, themselves a mix of old architecture and modern construction.
I enjoy walking around campus, and not just for its aesthetic appeal. There is much to be said for soaking up a bit of the energy of ambitious, goal-oriented young people, all of whom have hope that they are at the cusp of amazing things (and many of them, I suspect, eventually will do amazing things).

My own street had a somewhat different tenor just a couple years ago.
There was a house, about five doors down from mine, that from the outside straddled the very fine line between worn/ weathered and about to be condemned/ potentially dangerous. Two middle-aged brothers lived there along with their elderly mother. I never got the impression that any of them held a job… in fact, I later learned that one of the brothers had been to prison on drug-related charges. They had both been busted for dumping mysteriously acquired car tires into a nearby rural river. I think they actually subsisted on some sort of black market tire trade, thus accounting for the stacks of them outside of their garage.
Mom and the brothers were abruptly and forcibly evicted from their home for non-payment of their mortgage. The house sat abandoned for a month or two. Myself and another neighbor cleaned up the broken glass and other garbage. Someone else arranged for the stack of tires to be carted away and recycled.
Not long after, I learned that Ray and Carol, the owners of the house next door, were preparing to buy the property. I assumed that the couple (a retired police officer and wife, a semi-retired hairdresser) would restore the house and rent it out to college students. That was similar to their own plan, but unfortunately the condition of the house was so poor that it was beyond repair. They chose instead to demolish the house and create a greenspace for their grandchildren.
Ray invited both myself and my fellow-author-next-door-neighbor for a quick tour the night prior to the bulldozer’s arrival. The first thing I noticed upon stepping inside was the smell, a cocktail of mildew, tobacco, over-used cooking grease, and a few other scents that were harder to identify and I preferred to not think about. It was just about dusk, so the only light was a burnt-orange cast courtesy of the beginning of that evening’s sunset. There was no carpet and no furniture, so our voices echoed ever so slightly.
There were holes in walls, in the floor, in ceilings. The wallpaper (what there was of it) was ripped and/ or stained. Windows were cracked and screens were torn.
“Man, you really tore this place up,” I said to Ray.
“Nah,” he said, shaking his head. “I took a couple doorknobs, that’s it.”
The kitchen sink was covered in an alarmingly thick layer of grime and the stovetop was splattered with food, likely the result of a spaghetti dinner gone bad.
“These people lived like this…” I trailed off, unsure whether I was making a statement or asking a question. The condition of the house was well past the benign neglect I had observed throughout other parts of the neighborhood. This home had been abused, a victim of anger and family fights and self-loathing and the sloth of those who didn’t feel they deserved any better.
Ray responded with a shrug and a long sigh. I continued my tour. It was clear that this was once a fine home. There were three rather spacious bedrooms. Large bay windows were throughout (albeit, the glass was opaque with dirt). There was a sizable yard, though at this point it was more of a twisted jungle of tall grass and weeds than any sort of lawn.
One interesting feature was the garage. The house was poised on a fairly steep hill, accessible from the street by some cement stairs. The garage was street level and the two brothers spent a lot of time hanging out in front of it, usually leaving quite a bit of trash there, along with the aforementioned tire collection.
I yanked open a wooden door (not easily, it was stuck) and ventured down the narrow stairwell from the house to the empty garage. The garage itself was empty, save for an old milk crate containing motor oil and brake fluid containers. A large mouse (okay, I think it was a rat) skittered across the dirty, dusty floor.

The house came down over the course of the next week or so.
I visited the site at one point with my kids. We were greeted with mounds of dirt and debris. Ray told me that his contractor had already started hauling everything away and he expected to begin landscaping soon.
The steep hill no longer has any evidence of the former rat trap garage. Instead you will find retaining walls and planters, with annuals and perennials planted throughout. The lot at the crest of the hill is now lush, green grass. There are no more used tires, broken glass, or empty beer cans littering my path when I want to take a walk.

Where there was once ugliness, a little bit of beauty has taken hold.

So my neighborhood is steeped in dichotomy and I am at the tipping point.
Beauty and ugliness.
Ambition and sloth.
Renewal and decay.
I can walk out my door on any given day and go whichever way I choose. I can step east or step west. I can help effect some change, fix what is broken, and repair what is worn out. I can walk with the ambitious or lounge with the slothful.
It’s up to me.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Fellow Authors: Let's Do Better

I’m right at the tail end of writing my new book, Requiem.
Once it’s done, I will still have work to do. Editing, formatting, producing a cover, etc. It will be available within the next few months (message me or leave a comment should you want to read an excerpt).
Anyway, I’m using the launch of Requiem to effectively reboot my career as an authorpreneur. I’m going to republish my first book and create a new cover. Next, I will fix a formatting issue with my second book (the next few months will be very busy for me).
Going forward, I will start publishing print versions of my ebooks and perhaps dip my toes into the world of audiobooks.
A big part of my reboot initiative is to increase my knowledge of publishing and book marketing. I’m already learning a lot and I’m starting to turn much of that knowledge into action and strategies. I’m also doing a bit more networking with fellow authors. A lot of them have had considerable success and I have much to learn from them.
And then there’s the other, vastly less enjoyable, side of that particular coin.
One of my favorite sources of information is the Facebook page for Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). My books are available via Kindle, thus their page is a treasure trove of useful hints, tips, and information.
I perused a few comment threads the other night, in hopes of finding some fellow scribes to network with… unfortunately that didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Said comment threads are little more than heaping piles of spam, generally from authors trying to promote their works. I further noticed, upon looking through a few more threads, that it’s often the same authors each time (and by “each time”, I mean REPEATEDLY OVER AND OVER AND OVER). Really, people… comment spam is not a great marketing strategy. I know it’s free, but the reach is limited and anyone that actually does see your link will likely be annoyed by it, thus unlikely to make a purchase.
The aforementioned comments are generally nothing more than a link to the author’s book on Amazon and not commentary on the article that KDP published. I clicked on a couple of the links out of sheer curiosity.
Oh boy.
One book of the few I looked at was over 100 chapters of two or three not very well-written paragraphs each. The POV and tense changed without rhyme or reason. I caught two spelling errors in the first paragraph. I could go on, but you catch my drift.
Another book I previewed appeared to be at least fairly well done, but the author would personally attack anyone who gave him a less than stellar review.
Need I go on?

There are millions of ebooks available. Apparently a large number of them are not very good. I am not basing that statement on my rather small sample. Many folks complain that they have to wade through big stacks of crap to get to the Kindle gems. There are many who have given up on Kindle books (and other ebook formats) for that very reason.
So I have some goals for my authorpreneur career. Selling a goodly number of books is, of course, a big part of my strategy. Making myself known and heard and seen is a daunting task, one made vastly more difficult by the amount of low-quality books out there. Granted, this may be something of a double-edged sword, as I can more easily distinguish my (presumably) higher quality work and (hopefully) rise above the crowd. However you look at it, it won’t be easy.
I suppose I resent those authors that produce low-quality books. I wonder if writing and publishing is merely a cash grab for them, some sort of vanity play, or (most likely) a little of both? Frankly, I would be embarrassed to put my name on some of those books, just as I would be to market via comment spam.
I don’t think of myself as having especially high standards. I mean, I’m not exactly writing Proust here. My next book is an action-adventure that could just as easily be a Saturday matinee stand up and cheer 3D extravaganza (granted, I do have a couple important themes at hand). In the end, I have tried to write an engaging, entertaining story and write it well. I know it’s not perfect. I know some folks won’t like it. I did do right by my story, my characters, and my potential readers, however. Requiem may not be a nuanced work of literary genius, but I am still proud to put my name on it.

So fellow writers/ scribes/ authorpreneurs I ask you:
  • Can we always push to do a little bit better (myself included)?
  • Can we be more professional?
  • Can we all edit, use spell check, and make sure our grammar is up to par?
  • Can we stop promoting via spam or attack any review that’s less than glowing?
  • Can we write and publish at least up to the standard of books that we already read?

So let’s all do better. Let’s raise the bar and rise above the morass of lousy books and unprofessional behavior. I’m looking to develop an “Authorpreneur Code of Professionalism”… I would love to get some suggestions on that (just send me an email or leave a comment below).

By the way, I did report a few of those commenters for spam, some of them several times (this is what happens when I’m grumpy). I checked the KDP page this morning, and the most recent posts are completely and utterly free of comment spam (*pats self on back*).

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Happy New Year!

Like most of us, I set goals for the new year*.
It’s something I enjoy doing and I’m good at it as well. I devote a good amount of thought to my goals and put a lot of energy into planning and tracking. I generally do pretty well, achieving about 75% of what I set out to do in a given year.
Two things have occurred, however, to change how I set and plan my goals.
  • ONE: Early in the year I ran into some stumbling blocks. I won’t go into any detail about what occurred (some of you know what I’m talking about), but suffice to say that some significant changes came to pass after a period of upheaval and confusion. I let those circumstances throw me off track and hinder my progress. Once things settled down somewhat I began to reassess more than a few parts of my plan (okay, everything).
  • TWO: If I accept the premise that I’m accomplishing about 75% of my goals, what would happen if I were to set significantly higher goals? Would I still reach that 75% level? There’s only one way to find out...
I ultimately decided to reboot all my goals. The centerpiece is a comprehensive, detailed plan that takes me to the end of of 2017. It’s an ambitious set of objectives. Accomplishing all of them will drastically change my life. Accomplishing even 75% of my 2016_2017 goals will change my life as well, if only to a lesser degree. Just trying, even giving this plan a shot, changes me, in fact it already has to some extent… I have already upped my game in a variety of ways. Just creating this plan and believing I can get it all done was something of a breakthrough itself.
This set of goals is pretty comprehensive. It encompasses my writing career, some (sorely needed) home improvements, and fitness (mental as well as physical).
An important part of this initiative has been setting up systems for all of my goals (in business parlance, SOP or standard operating procedure). Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, is a proponent of of systems over goals. Same for one of my favorite writers, James Clear. While I think that Adams’ position is a bit extreme, I do agree agree that systems are of great importance.
My systems help me govern my day-to-day activities and following my standards consistently keep me on track and going in the right direction.
I have setup a tracking component as well. I developed a spreadsheet through which I can track daily activity relative to different goals… that way I will know whether I’m on actually on track or not. I will be able to see where I might be falling behind and make any necessary corrections. It’s important to note that tracking my activity takes mere minutes of time each day.
You may be thinking that all of his was a lot of work. It was, but I know that I am already (one month into a twenty-month plan) solidly on track to reaching some very ambitious goals.
To recap:
  • Set goals, not resolutions*.
  • Create systems designed to get you where you want to go.
  • Track your efforts, so you know where you stand.

*Please note that I set goals, not resolutions. I see goals as having plans and details behind them. Resolutions generally just very broad statements that don’t have any planning to back them up and are frequently abandoned by mid-February (or earlier).