Obligatory End-of-Year Post

Posted: December 31, 2018 in Uncategorized

Last year I set some numbers goals for my writing life. I wanted to submit every week, edit one major work per month, and write every day. The sheer volume of the work, I thought, would produce results.

The hardest of those goals to achieve was to write every day. In fact, when NaNoWriMo came around, I struggled writing at all. I ended up abandoning one project and starting another one on which I made only modest progress.

The second hardest was the revision work. Turns out, revising is harder than I thought it was. In the past, I’ve just opened the work and read it, making small tweaks here and there. But in this year’s efforts, I was trying to get the work publish-ready. I needed more specific processes and outcomes for revising. I abandoned the rotation by June and just focused on the vampire novel.

The third goal, submitting every week, worked well until football season when my Saturdays were no longer available for perusing Submittable.com and spot-editing stories for submission. I had a few four- and five-submission sessions and was able to put in 52 literary journal submissions this year. The results were less encouraging: just one story accepted.

Any time we set goals and work toward them, we learn something about ourselves.

As an entrepreneur, I live by the “build, measure, learn” mantra of new endeavors. In my writing life in 2018, I built some volume-based goals. Then I measured my success in achieving those goals and their relationship with achieving the results I wanted in my writing life. So, what have I learned?

I need an action plan for revision that includes specific tasks, tools, and foci to make sure I make real progress on the book. This year I’m working the vampire novel through a beta reader and preparing Interstate Butterflies, a GenX novel, for the 2020 South Carolina Novel Prize contest. I need plans for both that break “revision” into manageable tasks assigned to the time I have available and executed as work.

I need to focus “submit” activities on the very best work. I only queried three agents and three small presses this year for After December, my finished novel (or my finished Word document as it were). I need to increase those numbers, focusing on getting attention on a single piece instead of working the portfolio of stories. That singular focus will increase the odds of acceptance.

Lastly, the “write every day” goal was one I did very well at except I wasn’t always writing fiction. I need to block that fiction writing time off and guard it. Don’t let anything interfere with it. And commit to what I plan to write before I sit down so I don’t waste time wandering through a piece and wondering where I need to pick up.

While I’ve been writing for pleasure since I was 13, I’ve only been working this “job” of writing for five years and, even at that, it’s been a part time labor of learning. While I’m a little discouraged by 2018’s results, I know that year-over-year I’m still better off now than I was before. Incremental progress is how we get better at things. I’m confident 2019 will afford more opportunities in my writing life.

Did you set goals last year? How’d you do? Comment below.


On October 30th I got to sub for Keven Cohoen on the Morning Drive show on 100.7 The Point, local Columbia, S.C. radio. I have two other shows on this station, Start Something, Columbia! and Write On, SC. Since today’s bit didn’t really fit either of those audiences, I decided to put the show notes here. Enjoy!

So Bohemian Rhapsody opens this week, it’s a film about the band Queen. Rami Malek is playing Freddie Mercury; he was on 24 the TV show and in Night at the Museum, but I know him from Twilight. Which got me thinking about vampire movies. It doesn’t take much for me to walk that path, you know, to teen movies and specifically vampires. And since tomorrow’s Halloween I have every right to just talk vampires today, right? So that’s what we’re going to do. List and rank and discuss vampire movies. Cool? Best done at 7 a.m.

So let’s start with kids’ movies: Hotel Transylvania 1, 2, and 3 Adam Sandler voices Drac, meant to be Dracula, right? Who runs a hidden resort where monsters vacation. Monsters are hidden from the human world – humans are the enemy, right? Drac’s daughter, Mavis, it’s her birthday so the Hotel is full for her party, and a human stumbles in, and of course she’s fascinated by him. The second one is a continuation of this mixed family human-and-monsters and the third is a Summer Vacation story where hijinks occur over travel.

sound speaker radio microphone

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

Okay, then teen movies: of course the Twilight series in which Bella falls for Edward and then he’s all tortured and weepy and leaves her and then she starts up with a wolf and Edward returns and there’s the teen love triangle and the How-does-a-human-exist-alongside-supernatural beings thing. Mixed in with some angsty teen love stuff which is great. Thinking, too, that for 109 years old, Edward is pretty immature.

Takes on the original vampire, Dracula and what, in scholarship might be called “seminal” work: Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Keanu Reeves which stands out because 1) it’s directed by Francis Ford Coppola who did the Godfather movies, 2) it starred Winona Ryder when she was at her peak of teen-stardom, right after Heathers and Edward Scissorhands, right? She was white hot and a box office draw; and 3) it’s ever so satisfying when Reeves as Jonathan Harker, the misguided attorney is toyed with by Gary Oldman’s Dracula.

Then there’s Tom Cruise being the vampire Lestat in Interview With a Vampire which may be the only time in history we’ll like him better than Brad Pitt. Pitt’s this weepy, whiney self-loathing victim and Cruise is a great vampire villain. But Kirsten Dunst, at 12 years old steals the film as a child vampire who while her mind ages, her body remains forever a pre-teen.

Finally, The Lost Boys which is a classic 80s film with both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman uncovering and then trying to slay a coven of vampires led by Kiefer Sutherland. This is from 1987 when Kiefer Sutherland had just done Stand By Me and was about to do Young Guns, so it’s before he’s Jack Bauer and these roles are really why we think he can be Jack Bauer, ya know? He’s gonna do Flatliners and A Few Good Men and The Three Musketeers but it’s really The Lost Boys that taught us how uber cool he was. So, Jack Bauer, who is the guy from 24 and 24 was where Rami Malek got his start, right? And he’s in Bohemian Rhapsody which opens this week. See how we brought that back?

So that’s it, a short but happy tour of some vampire movies you can check out to get ready for Halloween. The only day of the year it’s actually acceptable to wear those fangs you purchased.

Next segment, movies about rock bands that made us love or hate the band. We’ll be right back.

Segment 2

We started the show talking about Bohemian Rhapsody which opens this week. So let’s get into that. Movies about bands.

What’s your favorite movie about a band?

So ranker.com has a list. Let’s count them down.

#10 Walk the Line– about Johnny Cash, Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix, 2005

#9 The Commitments– 1991 film about working-class musicians in Dublin who form a soul music band

#8 Ray– 2004, Jamie Fox, Oscar winner

#7 That Thing You Do!– 1996, Tom Hanks, about the one-hit-wonder trend during the 60s, has Liv Tyler right after she’d done Empire Records, another great music-movie; then she does Inventing the Abbots and Armageddon, she was really having a Winona Ryder period, right? In everything for a while there

#6 School of Rock– 2006, Jack Black and Sarah Silverman

#5 The Doors– 1991, Val Kilmer plays Jim Morrison, Meg Ryan right after When Harry Met Sally and Top Gun had been just a few years before; this should have been a climbing role, but it wasn’t very well received and he’d have to wait for Tombstone a couple of years later to really match that Top Gun success

#4 A Hard Day’s Night– the Beatles, of course, 1964 kind of silliness but fun and full of good music

#3 The Blues Brothers– 1980, John Belushi, Dan Akroyd take their Saturday Night Live characters to the big screen; lots of great lines from that film and chock full of stars like James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles

#2  This is Spinal Tap– 1984, great Rob Reiner film that mocks the music documentary genre beautifully, features Billy Crystal and some classic gags like the drummer always dying, the amps being turned up to 11, just a good enduring music film

#1 Almost Famous– 2000, Cameron Crowe film about a rock band on the cusp of super stardom and the fans that surround them; Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, but the star, really, is the soundtrack. Crowe was a music journalist and the film might be a little autobiographical, regardless, the connection to the music is just fantastic.

So, vampire movies, movies about musicians, now we can probably move on to something else, right? We get it, Kasie, Bohemian Rhapsody is coming out this week.

Next segment: The Nutcracker and the Four wants us to be ready for Christmas. Too soon?

Segment 3

Also releasing this week, The Nutcracker and the Four a Disney take on the classic Tchaikovsky theatrical – ballet – production. Keira Knightly, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren. Probably going to be amazing, right?

So The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition. It premiered in 1892 and was pretty much hated by theatre and ballet critics. Tchaikovsky himself didn’t have high hopes for it. This great articletalks about all the bad things said about it. Here are a few:

  • It’s for children. It features children. Boo on both counts.
  • It has no artistic merit. It’s not even really ballet.
  • It has no story. It tries to hide its lack of story with diversions and the diversions aren’t that good.
  • It will be the ruin of ballet. It’s beneath Tchaikovsky’s musical talent.

Interesting how something so maligned can endure, huh? And how it can become part of a holiday tradition.

What are some holiday traditions you keep?

  • We try to go see Dracula: Ballet with a Bite every year
  • We watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year.
  • We have Thanksgiving brunch for our neighbors and friends.

Got me thinking about the timing of the holidays and how quickly they come up and race by.

Segment 4

I was at a writer’s conference this past weekend, there’s another one coming up this weekend in Beaufort and two weeks ago, I was in Beaufort at the Pat Conroy Literary Center for their Book Club Convention, so I’ve got books on the brain.

This weekend I met Therese Anne Fowler who wrote Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and she’s promoting her newest book A Well Behaved Woman.

In Beaufort I met Natasha Boyd, author of The Indigo Girl

So I thought I’d bring a few titles that are releasing this week and share those with our listeners. You know we have Write On SC on Saturdays which is a show for writers about writing and this weekend we’re talking about First Person Point of View and Unreliable Narrators which should be fun.

But also, there’s an all-day event here in Columbia called the Writing Workshop of South Carolina, it’s at the Marriot and it’s featuring agents and publishers and the topic is how to get published. So if you’re interested in that, visit https://carolinawritingworkshops.comand get registered. You can pitch an agent, learn about self-publishing, just basically get the lay of the land in that world.

Anyway, here are some notable books coming out this week (and a link to the liston Publishers Weekly):

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinmeier Hansson – this by the guy who wrote Rework, which is a great entrepreneur start-up founder book I recommend all the time.

Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking — Two defense experts explore the collision of war, politics, and social media, where the most important battles are now only a click away.

Best of Enemies: The Last Great Spy Story of the Cold War by Gus Russo and Eric Dezenhall – if you watched The Americans and were fascinated by the friendship between Stan and Philip this book is for you.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Eric Idle – fans of Monty Python, Life of Brian, right? The Holy Grail? Will enjoy this Sortabiography

The Best American Short Stories 2018 by Roxanne Gay, guest editor; Heidi Pitlor, series editor – if you want to see how the top of their craft authors are getting it done in short format, this is the book to get.

Gone So Long: A Novel by Andre Dubus III – he wrote House of Sand and Fog, so if you liked that book, this is his latest.

4 Novels by Women Novelists:

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher – one of those untold stories of a historical woman books

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

The Little Shop of Found Things: A Novel by Paula Brackston

Segment 5

Last Night’s Game is a newsletter that helps you keep up with the relevant sports stories you need to know to not sound like a moron about sports. It included highlights like Florida State setting a record this weekend for its worst home loss ever. And the link to that viral picture of the bare-chested fan reading the Gillian Flynn book in the upper deck.

Made me wonder what other short cut newsletters were out there that you could subscribe to.

The Skimm — https://www.theskimm.com/recent

Tips like: Things to do before November 6th…

Learn about your candidates? Check.

Read up on the issues? Check.

Know the key races? Check.

Get some gear to bring to polls? Check.

Midterms are a week away. Make sure you’re ready. No Excuses.

The Nerve– by the SC Policy Council, working hard to ruin every Saturday with their stories of corruption in SC government.

Thanks to Kev for trusting me with your listeners and your show. This was a ton of fun!

Like so many things, revision of a novel takes time. It takes time to read it through and think about the cohesion of it. It takes time to map out the plot arcs and try to match each chapter with its intent and pace. It takes time to review each scene for value and construction.

Revision is the real work of writing.

When we revise, we consider whether the work we’ve generated is adding value to the novel or simply a creator’s indulgence. A good editor can help mark scenes and passages for deletion, but a self-edit takes time.

person holding compass

Photo by Valentin Antonucci on Pexels.com

This year’s goal was to edit one piece per month, in the hopes that focusing on a single work would enable me to make real progress. But after 8 months, I’m still sitting on three incomplete novels and one finished one that’s under a serious overhaul.

The next steps are where I’ve stalled. What comes next?

The unfinished novels are all NaNoWriMo efforts that reached 50k words and then sat back waiting to be revised. Revision, I thought, would finish them.

We now have two months until the next NaNoWriMo and I’ve promised myself I cannot write a new manuscript until these are done.

So I’m suspending the revision resolution and focusing on getting these books to conclusion. That seems like the right next step. Just finish writing. How hard can it be?

The finished book has the best shot of being picked up by either agent or publisher and it’s ambitious and complex and needs an editor. But even an editor right now would have questions about consistencies and structure. So that book needs a revision plan. An hour a day to address a specific problem.

Here’s a list of the problems:

Delivery of the faith structure exposition. Who tells the reader about the brides and their covenants and how this forms the whole basis for vampire culture? When does that exposition arrive and how?

Progression of the Blue-Kate romance. A series of scenes wherein they get closer, the sexual encounters crafted to demonstrate that progression.

The secrets. Who has them? What are they? How does Blue figure them out?

I’ve already decided that the reader will know from the beginning that Blue is a time traveler and watch him, unaware of that knowledge, in Kansas. We already know he and Raven are separated at the end. The blog structure enables a Choose Your Own Adventure approach. But if readers actually do skip around in the book, each chapter or scene must be self-contained enough that it gives only what it needs to. For example, the brides exposition is key. It cannot be in a “skipped over” section if the reader chooses to begin the story in Geneva. And yet, if the reader reads straight through, we cannot repeat brides information.

Terribly complicated stuff.

But then maybe I’m overthinking it.

Choose to Work

Posted: June 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

Remarks made at Fast Trac Graduation at Midlands Technical College 6/23/2018

It’s a pleasure to be here with you and an honor to speak to you today. I’m sorry I can’t stay for the entire event, I promised my daughter we’d work on her diving and flip turns today.

Choosing to be with her is an important part of my entrepreneurial journey.

When we first moved here from the Upstate in 2012 I had about a half dozen interviews for real jobs. All of which would require I put HB back in daycare. After a summer with her — the longest stretch since maternity leave — I decided I didn’t want to go back to 8 to 5. I chose something else. I chose freelancing. I started Clemson Road Consulting.

architecture black and white challenge chance

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So I thought I’d talk today about choice.

Each of you is a capable, educated person. Your talents make you unique. You have something special to offer the world and the world needs what you have to offer.

And you choose to give it. Not just give it, sell it. Recognize the value of what you are doing and demand the rewards for it. And that takes guts.

Being in business is a choice. And it’s not just a single get-out-from-behind-the-cubicle choice, it’s a daily choice. Sometimes it’s an hourly choice. Sometimes it’s a moment-to-moment choice.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday, I met with someone who is a serial entrepreneur, an investor, and a leader. Given the choice of what we could talk about, I shared my vision for where I want to take my company.

He wants to hire me to do some work for him. That would be great. As long as he understands my company comes first.

In the moment, when he’s trying to offer me some kind of stable employment, maybe benefits, maybe advancement, maybe the chance to work on something big, I start talking about being the Biggest Woman-Owned Consultancy in South Carolina.

Ten million dollars a year with fewer than 40 people.

My Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal that has nothing to do with him. I made a choice, in the moment, to be THAT version of me: Ambitious.

In corporate America, people described me as ambitious with a sneer. With a raised eyebrow. As if they were wondering what I might be capable of doing to get what I wanted. I was told Ambition wasn’t my most flattering trait. Understandably, really, your boss doesn’t want you to take her job, your teammates don’t want you to throw them under the bus, your company doesn’t want you to jump ship for a better offer. Ambition is all those things and more: it’s achievement and results and accountability and drive.

One of my students had the word Ambition tattooed down the inside of his arm in this black script that was so compelling, every time I met with him I just stared at it. I wondered what a hiring manager, an executive, or a client, would think of a woman with AMBITION written so boldly across herself.

The Ambitious version of me has Big Hairy Audacious Goals. The Ambitious version of me doesn’t want to work for someone else and be told where to be, when to be there, what work to do, and when to do it. The Ambitious version of me thinks she can do anything and be anything she wants to be.

As long as she’s willing to work.

And that’s the choice I have to make every day. It’s not enough to say I want it, to plan how to get it, or to tell others that’s what I’m planning. I have to everyday work toward it. I have to everyday work on it. I have to everyday know that’s the engine I’m cranking up.

Early on in my business, the contracts came easy. They were part of my network, people who knew me and needed what I had to offer. I worked four or five hours a day.

When that business dried up and there was no pipeline, I sat on my hands and wondered, “what do I do now?”

That’s when the hustle truly begins. When there’s no work, no clients, no prospects, and no guarantee this experiment you’re running is going to work out.

One of the earliest lessons I learned as a writer was that you just have to put something down on paper. Something. Anything. Get it started or it will never get done. There’s no such thing as waiting for inspiration for a professional writer. You’ll starve.

I hate routines. I don’t even have a shower routine. I work on checklists. Hair, shave, body wash. Check, check, check. So long as everything gets done, it doesn’t matter the order. I work that way, too. I begin each day with a list of my Have to Dos. I don’t stop working until the list is complete. With one exception.

I write best first thing in the morning. When I first wake up. So I have to make that MY writing time if I plan to generate anything at all. I have to put blinders on to everything else — email, phone calls, family — I have to decline meetings scheduled during that time, I have to protect my routine.

I have to write.

Every day.

In your businesses you’ll be offered the choice to do the stuff you love to do — make your art! And do the stuff you hate to do — network, sell, finances. Making your choices every day about how you will spend your time is your primary challenge.

Too much art time and you have too much inventory with no one to sell it to. Too much marketing time and you’re generating demand you cannot keep up with (great problem to have right?). Too much procrastination time and nothing gets done and your business does not grow.

I recommend categorizing your work. Make sure you’re doing something in every category every day. Quantify the work so you can articulate the effort. Otherwise you’ll find whole days — weeks even — go by and you were working but not making any progress. How does that happen? Trust me, it happens.

The choice of whether your business will wither or thrive is yours. It comes down to how you spend your time. Think of your business as a garden. Sometimes you’re planting, sometimes you’re grooming, sometimes you’re watering, sometimes you’re weeding. Sometimes you’re sitting back and admiring the flowers. Gardening work is determined by daylight and rain, things that are out of your control. Your business will be affected by things like that, too.

Disruption in your industry. Technical difficulties. A customer’s failure to pay.

People will hijack your time. They will try to make their emergency yours. For example, at the Women’s Business Center we were offered some scholarships to an event — free tickets — and asked to give them to our constituents. Within 24 hours the event person called me wanting to know who those tickets had gone to. 24 hours later he called again. Dude. Your emergency, not mine.

Fun stuff can do the same thing. I love a good happy hour. I love to play golf. I get invited to either and I’m’a say yes. Then I look at my categories and say, “Which category does this fill?” If it’s not part of my “work” then I decline. I need to protect my time. It’s my inventory.

Forces outside of your control will push against the delicate balance you have, the routine you’ve established. Still, you have a choice.

Do the work or don’t do the work. There is no in between. In between and you’re a hobbyist. Nothing wrong with hobbyists. They don’t make much money, but they’re satisfied.

If you can’t afford to be a hobbyist, then you have to choose to work.

I made the choice to be a hobbyist in fiction writing. I wrote when I wanted, I submitted when I thought about it.

Yes, it’s more fulfilling to be working for yourself. It’s also more demanding, more disappointing, and more demeaning. You have to do things you never thought you’d do like accounting and budgeting. And when you don’t know how to do those things, you have to get help.

You chose Fast Trac to jump start, invigorate, or set-right your business. You chose to work on your business instead of in it. You’ve been given the tools here to make more good choices about how you spend your time.

Everyday you make that choice. Every hour, every minute, you’re choosing to be an entrepreneur. Even when it’s scary and not fun and hard and not well-defined. It’s a seven-day-a-week, 14-hours-a-day job. Time is your inventory; choose to spend it wisely.

Congratulations on finishing Fast Trac. I hope we’ll see you around the Women’s Business Center of SC.


It started when someone hijacked a hashtag.

The trending topic was a kid named #AlfieEvans and he’d just died in the UK because doctors had advised no more treatment for a terminal case. Despite the lengths to which Italian doctors and the Italian government were willing to go to admit this small child to further treatment, the UK health system found in the doctors’ favor.

It’s an imperfect system meant to protect children from desperate parental attempts by recognizing the rational and informed decision making of doctors.

I can see both sides, honestly, and my heart just breaks for everyone involved. The key points I made on SwampFox Radio, my friend Shane’s Saturday night program on 100.7 The Point, were:

  • The doctors are not trying to kill the child. Their medical opinion was asked for, given, and upheld in a system that values professional opinion over parental rights.
  • The child was too young to advocate for himself, but what about children who might? Like pre-teen girls? Shouldn’t they be protected from the irrationality of their parents and protected by the medical establishment?

The hashtag hijack came from this article on Vox.com and the quoted tweet by Joe Walsh, an American politician and gun advocate.

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What I said, after introducing the tweet to the SwampFox team was, “Can you explain to me what this means? How is the intervention of the UK medical establishment in this kid’s case an argument for assault rifles?”

My Swampfox friend Shane said, “This is a hostage situation.”

And his co-host said, “If they had my kid in that hospital and wouldn’t let him leave for treatment in Italy…”

And I said, “You’d storm the hospital with an assault weapon and spray bullets taking down innocent bystanders, patients, families, nurses, and doctors in a Hollywood-style rescue attempt?”

Shane then said that the threat of such action – that it should be possible to do so – would deter the state from making these kinds of judgements.

So, if I had the means to overthrow my state, in this case, an AR-15, then the state would be less likely to exercise control?

The argument being made by Joe Walsh and gun advocates is that, yes, possession of an assault weapon would give individual citizens more authority – power – to prevent the kind of state intervention that sentenced poor #AlfieEvans to death.

Fucking stupid.

I’m not a gun person. I don’t understand why you want them, I don’t think you actually need them, and I think there are better things to spend your time and money on.

I don’t buy the argument that if citizens were armed, they would exert authority in places where they are legislated into submission. I don’t think Alfie Evans’ parents could have brought their weapon to the hospital and done anything but exacerbate the situation.

In truth, I don’t know the extent of physical stand-off in this case, I didn’t follow it that closely. I won’t dispute the term “hostage situation” because when a child is being held against his parents’ will, it falls in the definition of hostage.

But making this a gun rights conversation is hijacking the debate. Joe Walsh took the #AlfieEvans hashtag because it was trending and made a ridiculous claim with it.

I’m not a gun person but I’m not in favor of legislating them out of your life either. This is where the debate goes, inevitably, when I say Joe Walsh was wrong. My SwampFox Radio friends think I must be part of the binary debate surrounding guns: ban them or not.

I don’t understand why people keep iguanas and snakes as pets. But I don’t think they need to be banned. I wouldn’t want one. I wouldn’t want my daughter to have one or date someone who did. I think there’s a certain kind of person who keeps snakes indoors and I’m skeptical of those people.

Like I’m skeptical of polygamists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I didn’t say “ban AR-15s” I said, that tweet doesn’t belong in this debate. Guns are a debate for another time. This debate was about healthcare and the rights of the child versus the parents and who makes the decision in a case where the child is unable to decide for himself.

In the UK. Remember? In the UK this happened.

What I said was, the hospital and the doctors were not acting with malicious intent. They truly thought they were doing what was best for the child. This is not a case of kidnapping with intent to murder. This case is about compassion. And guns have no place in it.

I am not a gun person, but I am a Libertarian and I did enjoy visiting with my SwampFox Radio friends. I hope we’ll get a chance to take up the debate over guns another time.

Sillouette and Other Faceplants

Posted: January 24, 2018 in Uncategorized

Mistakes are like celebrity deaths. They often come in threes.

In what turned out to be a ridiculous failure, I competed in a spelling bee for charity recently. My teammates are good friends, their daughter and I were at Clemson together and we see them frequently during football season. We have another common friend who runs a children’s theatre in town. He asked them to field a team for the fundraising event and they invited me to be on it.

Back in fourth grade when we got to pick our own spelling words, I was reading a book on spy planes and I chose “reconnaissance” as one of mine. I failed that test several times. While driving around town on the day of the Bee, I thought about that word and how it had auto-corrected itself in my life ever since I was nine.

First word of the Spelling Bee? Reconnaissance.

Not fucking making that up. The.First.Damn.Word.

What are the odds?

As with so many things that turn out to be mistakes, this was a harbinger – a sign of things to come.

After missing that word, we got the second word right and the third word, silhouette, was what brought us down. The actual spelling is ‘silhouette’ (gotta love autocorrect) but the version we used is in the title of this blog.

Okay, so was the mistake the second misspelled word? The first? Or participating in the first place? Hard to pinpoint. Suffice it to say the night gets lumped in the “mistake” pile.

A couple of years ago, I read Whitney Johnson’s career-making book Disrupt Yourself in which she has readers do an exercise listing their professional faceplants. It’s meant to allow you to gain perspective on them, identify what you learned, and put the incidents behind you.

Or something.

What it did for me was make me aware of mistakes as they are happening in a desperate, sometimes futile attempt to diffuse them.

In the Spelling Bee, when offered the chance to buy back in for $50, I advised our team to just sit down. The buy-back was not a good investment, really, even if it was for charity. The Gods had sent us reconnaissance, so we’d likely be playing against the other 10 teams and some meddlesome celestial beings.

Another time when I’m sure the Gods had it in for me: caught in conversation at an Oscars party with the one woman who loved, absolutely loved, all three Fifty Shades of Grey books.

(face palm)

Professional faceplants are tough. They’re usually the result of exuberance, inexperience, or arrogance.

Here’s a quick list of some of those favorites, too: sending a great workshop proposal on writing GenX characters to a fantasy fiction conference; believing a potential client’s moron marketing person’s claim that my writing sample had grammar errors (tail tucked, deal rejected); knowing a full-time professor gig at the school I’d adjuncted for was mine (I was the perfect fit) only to see the job re-advertised after I’d interviewed (what the ever-loving fuck? Not a better candidate, just not me. Awesome).

Doing the Whitney Johnson exercise had me flipping the page over to add more. I was racking them up. I think I counted two dozen or-so times I’d simply been an idiot.

And what’s awesome about that is, now I’m an entrepreneur and I’m kind of expected to be an idiot about all kinds of things. I usually just admit, “I don’t know anything about that,” and someone offers to teach me. Brilliant!

So maybe I finally found the right place for my stumbling and bumbling and doubling-down on the wrong things.

I’m not risk averse which means I make mistakes. A lot of them, as it turns out. And what’s beautiful about that is that I’m also really, really good at recovering from them. That’s a skill that no degree program in the world can teach.

Last month I attended two literary festivals. This month, armed with the arrogance those festivals bestowed upon me, I took on #NaNoWriMo. Again.

I’d started this short story back in the spring about a kid who goes back to Neverland after having been on the loose in London. He’s grown up some, maybe he’s a teenager now, and the Lost Boys don’t recognize him. Peter doesn’t want him to stay. There’s some mystery around how he left in the first place. At the end of the story, Peter ejects (rejects?) Noah again.

The story had about 6000 words. I’d added a kind young candy striper at the hospital where Noah ended up. I’d let him drag his favorite Lost Boy, Hickory, out of Neverland with him. And I’d decided they had to accompany the Mulligan family to Boston and fall in with the Sons of Liberty. Call it the Hamilton (the musical) influence.

I like the dichotomy of Sons of Liberty and Lost Boys. It’s a theme that I thought I could get a lot of mileage from. I also like the possibility that the seditious writings published by John Gill and John Adams ahead of the Boston Tea Party might be satires — Neverland stories that paint Peter Pan as a tyrant, draw parallels to King George, and are being used by the author in one way and the published in a very different way.

The frenzy of #NaNoWriMo means that I have written dozens of scenes which will never make the final manuscript. I’ve been exploring the characters and their relationships and trying to see exactly how to grow my Lost Boy with experience on the streets of London into a ruffian revolutionary eventually called Hercules. There’s also a ton of research I need to do to get the names, dates, and intersections right. But the story is humming.

I’ve been working these great vignettes in that are Neverland legends about the moon and death and all the other ways the Lost Boys might have explained the world around them to one another. The legends are so whimsical and fresh that they’re currently my favorite parts of the book.

And, of course, there’s a love story. Our mysterious candy striper is Samuel Adams’s ward, a refugee from Neverland, and the key to helping Noah become the man he’s meant to be. That’s got a book jacket or query letter trio to it, doesn’t it?

The best part of #NaNoWriMo is that it’s a gluttony of creation. Just put NEW STUFF on the page. It’s invigorating and frustrating and exciting and daunting all at once. Kind of like taking on Neverland.

More on the Literary Festivals here and here.

It’s hard work. The bottom line about addressing racism in this country is that it’s hard work. We have to be willing to listen. We have to try to be empathetic. We have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

And that’s hard.

Most of us spend the better part of the day comfortably in our own perspective. We make two key assumptions from this point of view: 1) our perspective is true, and 2) others’ perspectives are similar to our own.

When we learn that there is a radically different perspective, an experience we had never considered, someone else’s truth, we doubt its legitimacy. Doubting is okay, after all, that perspective isn’t indigenous to us; it’s new and different and learning is hard.

Denying is not okay.

Denying someone else’s perspective is doubling-down on our first assumption. What we see is true, so what they see must be false. Denying someone else’s perspective puts that someone else at other. We divide and belittle when we reject others’ perspectives. We assert our own moral rightness leaving others to wrongness.

We end the conversation before it ever even gets started.

We have to be willing to listen. We have to try to be empathetic. We have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Imagine what the experience is like for them. Try to understand their hurt and anger and fear and frustration. All uncomfortable emotions that we don’t feel in our position of privilege.

Acknowledging we are privileged does not put us at a disadvantage. We have all the advantages, that’s the whole point. We have a perspective that is shaped by the advantages that we don’t even know exist.

The hard thing about addressing racism in this country is shutting the fuck up and listening to someone else’s perspective on it. How do they feel? What are their fears? How can I respond in a supportive and loving way?

#TakeAKnee isn’t about hating our country. It’s about hating the denial we have adopted in lieu of real conversations about race and dignity and privilege.

When I explained the most recent chapter in this complicated narrative, President Trump’s ridiculously callous comments, my nine-year-old daughter said, “I really thought we were done with all that.”

She really thought the Civil Rights Movement and I Have a Dream and integration had cured us of all that ugliness and bitterness and ignorance. And God bless, I wish we were cured.

But we’re not. Our nation is still sick with racism and we cannot ignore it and we cannot put off dealing with it for the next generation or the one after that.

We are in the enviable position in this country to be climbing to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. We have self-actualization in sight. To be fully actualized, we need to be honest about the ugliness at our roots. This isn’t about blame or victimhood. It’s about understanding and compassion.

It starts with being willing to have conversations that make us uncomfortable. Being willing to admit we don’t understand someone’s perspective. Respecting that perspective as valid. Believing that perspective is as true as our own.

We don’t fix centuries of racism with a couple of years of sensitivity training. This isn’t a politically correct whinefest.

The vitriol coming from those who would not even grant a man the right to kneel is crazy pants. It reminds me of the Dixie Chicks fervor. Remember that? People so quick to defend President Bush that they burned the Chicks’ CDs in effigy, demanded their money back, threatened country music stations, and protested outside of concerts. It was cuckoo pants.

Our country loves to shout, “Free Speech!” until that speech comes from someone else’s denied perspective.

Why would you refuse someone the right to express themselves when, in doing so, they can help you understand their experience?

Inclusion is the solution. To truly understand others’ perspectives, we have to be willing to listen. We have to show compassion. We have to try to put ourselves in their shoes. We have to love them.

And we have to be willing to change. I’m willing.

I have been known to confess my aversion to group work. In undergrad, I intentionally registered for more credits than I needed so that I could drop the two worst courses as determined by 1) attendance policy and 2) group project.

Throughout my career, I’ve maintained three tenants about group work:

Know your AORs

Areas of Responsibility, or AORs, should be the first thing defined in any group or team work experience. When people know what’s expected of them, then they can determine whether or not they can expect it of themselves.

Help your team identify who does what. Make that the very first thing you do. Keep a clear list and verify the list with everyone.

Work the Milestones

All projects have deadlines or a date for expected completion. The deadline could be totally arbitrary. In undergrad, it usually coincided with some kind of break so the professor had time to grade all the assignments. In implementation projects, the deadline is “Go Live” or the day the end users expect to be using the new application.

Working backward from a deadline enables planners to identify the volume of work. My favorite running app Run Trainer does this. It asks for the date and distance of the race you plan to run then it builds the workouts back to where you are today so that you can prepare.

Working the milestones means checking in at turning points during a project. Don’t wait for Go Live to recognize problems. At various points, ask where the work is and whether it can still be completed on time. If you’re three weeks out from a 13-mile race and you’ve only ever run 8 miles, you’re not likely to be ready.

Manage Yourself

You cannot manage time. Time is the same for everyone. 60 minutes. 24 hours. 7 days. 12 months. Time is a standard we all experience.

Managing yourself means making the right choices about how you spend that time.

I like to front-load: get as much done early in the week, early in the day, early in the month as possible. That way I have cushion if shit hits the fan and delays occur. Waiting until Thursday to work on a project due Friday will backfire 99% of the time. Thursday will get hijacked by some unforeseen circumstance like a sick kid, a broken printer, or a car that refuses to start.

You cannot plan for chaos. But you can manage yourself through it.

There is a generational argument to be made here, I think. With two decades-worth of collaborative, experiential learning, the Millennials and current college students are much more likely to feel comfortable with team projects and group work. GenXers tend toward my skepticism. We know from experience that if others can do what I can do then I can be replaced. So, we are more furtive in offering assistance and more protective of our domains.

I’m trying to let that go. I’m trying to Be Like the Chefs and share what I know and do with as many people as possible knowing they can’t do it as well as me and so eventually they’ll hire me to do it with them or for them.

I’m also becoming more assertive, emboldened by the knowledge that if I don’t lead, no one else will. Or, worse, someone else will try to lead and fuck it all up. With confidence in my experience and abilities, I take the initiative and invite others to participate. I’m at a turning point in my career and it’s scary as hell but I believe the other side will be rewarding. Maybe some teammates will surprise me with their proficiency and intellect. Maybe I’ll learn new ideas from their various perspectives. Maybe I’ll come out on the other side even better than I went it.

What’s with the ‘maybe’? Of course that will happen. Of course I’ll grow and learn and change and a willingness to change has been my governing principle for ever.

So let’s do this. Let’s group work the shit out of this. Whatever it is. Let’s collaborate and participate and congratulate and all the other –ates. I’m in. Let’s just make sure it doesn’t suck.

Crossfit. Beast mode. Warrior Series. Mud Runs. Iron Man triathlons.

We’re a generation of Pain is Glory. Of pushing limits, many of which are totally arbitrary. Just about everyone I know has run some kind of road race. Many of my friends are multi-time ½ and full marathoners.

Our X Games legacy. Our desire to prove ourselves. Our escape from the cubicle of life.

It’s inspiring, really, to think so many of my contemporaries aren’t afraid of the hard work it takes to bike 100 miles or run 26. I feel gratified that somewhere out there some group of adrenaline junkies is sitting around thinking up the next great challenge.

American Ninja Warrior. Yesssssssss.

When I present my work models – the autonomous, asynchronous, results-oriented approach I think is the next evolution of the time card – I’m often rebuffed by traditionalists who claim the structure we have – the Industrial Standard – is so deeply imbedded that we cannot break free.

It’s just too hard to imagine change.

Too hard.

My father told me to disassemble the hourly-based work environment would “open a whole can of worms.”

Fucking open it.

We have significant problems in this country. Immigration, security, education, healthcare, and the widening gap between rich and poor. Add to that systemic racism, homophobia, fear disguised as nationalism and misogyny and we’re a hot mess around here.

We need to rethink just about everything.

Siri? What does it mean when everything is wacky and we need help?

Here are the results I found for ‘everything is wacky…’

Hard work. We need to put in some hard work. Some 25 reps of 90 lb squats kind of hard work. Some run until your legs are numb and then run five more miles hard work.

So why don’t we? Why do we keep looking for the cheap and easy solution to these deep and complex problems? Why do we keep pacifying and placating when we should be dissecting and solving?

Our generation (Xers, I mean you) has never had it “easy.” We grew up fearing nuclear war and drugs (Just say no!). We grunge-era’d our way through our own addictions, depression, and suicides. We graduated college into a recession. We’ve sat behind Baby Boomer managers for our entire careers, waiting for them to give up and go home.

Some of us are entrepreneurs. Some of us are scrappy and hungry. Some of us are still playing by someone else’s rules.

It’s our time. We cannot shirk this responsibility, we cannot wait for the millennials to pick up the slack. For fuck’s sake, they want a Universal Wage. WTH? (side note, don’t label them, cuz ya know, they’re all special.)

We have to recreate what balanced looks like. We need hard questions and complex answers. We have to Do or Do Not. There is no Try.

Come on, folks. We’re not afraid of hard work. Let’s get out there and get the job done.