The Answer is Simple

#truth #life #direction #advice #amwriting

The buzz of the city amplifies your anxiety as you stare at the street signs. It’s a new place. You’ve never been here and perhaps you’re used to small town life. You want to ask someone for directions so you stand there-in the middle of the sidewalk-watching the faces as they move past you.

Their faces are cold and stoic. Each expression is carved in stone, immortalizing the “worker bee” hive mind. Finally, as if sent there just for you, an elderly woman shambles nearby. She’s bundled up in her wool coat and pink, knit hat, gazing into the windows displaying colorful clothes, flashy watches, maybe a best selling book. Her lips are softer than the chiseled-line mouths of the faces around her.

Yes, you think to yourself, this is the person I will ask for directions.

Rolling your shoulders back, you head her way, put on your best smile, and call out to her.

“Excuse me, ma’am. I’m sorry to bother you but I’m a little lost. Can you point me in the direction of the subway? I need to get uptown.”

The woman smiles and offers a small chuckle. Turning a half of an inch to her left. She raises her arm, extending her crooked finger, tipped with cotton candy nail polish, and points in the direction you came from.

“It’s over there stupid, can’t you read?”

And just like that, her smile goes from being sunny and warm, to sarcastic and full of ridicule.

The point of this little story is to point out how sometimes we let our own insecurities and fears keep us from seeing where we we need to go. We can’t see the clearly marked signs. We feel disoriented. We question our own judgement.

The direction is always easy.

Just go north.”

It’s right there in front of your face.”

However easy the direction seems, it doesn’t reflect how hard the path is to actually reaching your destination.

Focus on the direction, but work on the path.

It’s right in front of you . . . Dummy.

Border of Immortality: Cast of Characters

Disclaimer: NONE of the artwork shown is mine. I am not using it for monetary gain. I’m creating a mood board for my characters and sharing “concepts” and “visual aids” for fun. PLEASE visit and support any of the artists you see by following them on social media or even purchasing some of their work!


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Gabrielle De Sol: The Black Rose of the De Sol Family

Gabrielle was the first born child of the De Sol line. Due to her dark nature, she was not made the successor to the throne in the Sol’Arian Empire when her mother, Genesis, died but this was never an issue with her. She created her own kingdom like her other siblings in order to expand the power of her family throughout the universe.

Artwork by Cryptcrawler

 

 

 

 

 


 

Tanar’ri De Sol: Successor to the throne of the Lord of Dragons

Tanar’ri is the youngest of the 1st Brood of siblings and the rightful heir to the De Sol throne of Celestial Dragons. His better half, Marianna, is the Baroness of Pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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Marianna: Baroness of Pain

Wife to Tanar’ri De Sol and mother to their daughter, Marianna is sadistic and enjoys inflicting torture on the De Sol enemies for interrogation purposes.

Artwork by Luis Royo: https://www.luisroyo.com

 

 


 

 

Drak’kith’ar: “The General”

Drak’kith’ar is the former brother-at-arms of Ladon (Patriarch of the De Sol Family), turned traitor and enemy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

sebastian

Sebastian: Commander of the Sol’Arian Military

Sebastian is the son of Gabrielle and Arkane. Half vampire, half werewolf. (And before any one wants to cry UNDERWORLD rip-off, please note this story has been in print way before the movie, and MANY people who roleplay know this is not a new concept.)

 

 

ALL ARTWORK came from the following link and ALL CREDIT goes to the artist except where otherwise noted:

https://www.artstation.com/maratars

#WritingTips: 6/25/19

There are times when I try to give advice to authors and I feel like I’m failing. I know “time” is hard to negotiate between “real life” and our make believe sessions at a pen and paper (or computer, etc). The real question is, “Is this your real life? Or is it a hobby?” The question lingers overhead like a giant thought bubble taking up the space of breath between me and said author.  Do you think I don’t understand? Oh, I do.

Accountability: Own it. Whether it’s a mistake, a failure, a success, a lie, a truth … just own it.

If I don’t make time to write, that’s on me. No one else. I choose to not make that time. No one else but me owns my time.

You say, “it doesn’t pay the bills.” No, it doesn’t. Not yet. Because you’re not taking inventory and ownership of it. Trust me. I run a small press. No one is making a living off of this. Whose fault is that? Mine, theirs, ours. When my brain wants to explode and I shut down? I own it. When they need a break and life overwhelms? They own it (most of them, anyway). We all do the best we can.

Let’s finish with the coddling, now.

Only you can sit and write your story down. You have to do it. You have to push through the dry spells, the hectic life, the exhaustion, the depression, the loneliness, and the mania.

Make. It. A. Habit.

Give yourself a set amount of time a day. Most of us have a certain period (night, day, morning dump, etc.) where we are unbothered and can jot down a few words. Carry a notebook with you and jot ideas down. Seriously, this isn’t hard. Grab a napkin. Grab an old receipt. Keep all your notes in one spot and keep them organized. Maybe an index card box? A shoe box with cardboard dividers? An accordion file … whatever.

You have to believe you want to do it, in order to be motivated. You have to be your own cheerleader.

Stop listening to everyone else and listen to YOU. Are you proud of your progress? Are you proud of your growth? Are you proud of your words? If not, work for it. Earn your own approval. Stop wallowing in self-deprecation and make yourself worthy of YOU.

What I can do is give you the tools you need. What you can do is use the tools.

Now, stop what you’re doing and give me 100 words.

Something New

I’m going to try something new. Because my time is so limited, there are times I only get a few words in at a time. So, once a week I’ll be adding a piece of a story here. You can follow, or you can binge when it’s done … or don’t read it! (I hope you will, and comment with feedback 🙂 )

What do you think?

If I’m brave, I’ll try designated days. No Patreon, just free reading.

#Mentoring #WritingTips – Make Every Word Count

Today I want to address words and how to make them count. I know I’ll get some pushback on this from the masses but remember: these are only my opinions. Use what works for you.

When I start mentoring someone new, I ask them to go through their story and remove a certain word first thing. The word, “that”. This word is what I call an empty calorie (junk food) among the serving of healthy words. It’s become overused these days because it’s common speak (street talk, as I call it).

Try it. Go through one paragraph and remove the word that if it doesn’t change the sentence. Now read it again. Does it sound more concise? Do you miss the word if it’s gone? Does it give your sentence a “gut punch” effect? Finally, does it make your words and their delivery sound more confident?

Trust me, I still have to go through and remove them from my own writing. What I’ve noticed, however, is it’s such an overused and unnecessary word, it drenches the pages. I couldn’t believe it when I pulled 6 books off the shelf to peruse the first page, how many jumped off the page at me. I couldn’t continue reading because the sheer number of “that’s” took me out of the story before it ever began.

Go through your own story in Word. Do a word search for “that” and see how many times you’ve used it. Is it 20 times? 50? More?

The next step after removing unnecessary “that’s” is to search for any word ending in -ly.

Here’s where I get challenged most often: using an -ly adverb is lazy. I know. Hearing it stings. That’s what mentoring is, though. Correcting bad habits and creating good ones.

Ok, why do we remove them?

Reason number 1: Most -ly adverbs (quickly, slowly, quietly) can be considered perspective.

Example: He backed up slowly.

How slow? If someone is backing up, are they surprised? Afraid? Dizzy?

Try using your words and make them count.

He took a few steps back. Each step was tentative, seeking the ground beneath him to keep from tripping.

Or

I raised my hand in slow motion, the room spinning around me.

Or

Unsure of where the chair was, I took one slow step back before the other followed.

See how it gives the sentences a better visual? Instead of using “slowly” I gave a better idea of what slowly looked like.

Most times, you can change the position of a few words to eliminate the -ly word and it will make the sentence sound more confident, leaving the reader with a solid description of what’s happening. Adding -ly gives a meek sound to your words and gives the impression of a week vocabulary.

Are you up for the challenge? Give this a try and let me know if it worked for you. Do you feel it made your story more confident sounding? I’d love to hear from you!


If you love these tips and want more, please comment and share!

Conversations with Mentors: Daniel Chernault

I’ve interviewed several of the mentors who brought me to where I am today. In the upcoming weeks, you’ll see them posted here. Though none of them are in the publishing industry, the things I learned from their expertise still apply. I hope through this series, many of you will find something to take away from it, be inspired, and share so others can learn, too.

I met Dan when I was working for a car dealership a few years ago. I walked in with no prior experience in accounting and sat down with him and his assistant CFO for an interview. I was immediately drawn to Dan’s candor and sense of humor. There aren’t many people who can mix the two without one of two things happening.

A: No one takes you seriously because you’re trying to be a “comedian” or
B: No one likes you because you’re too honest and get labeled an “asshole”

The honesty was a breath of fresh air. In the course of two years, I grew to respect Dan more and more. One of the most intelligent people I had ever met, he was open to sharing his knowledge if “you weren’t an idiot”. (I may, or may not be quoting him. I plead the fifth.)

If you could handle the task, Dan gave it to you. And in the short time I worked for him, I learned an incredible amount of things. It showed me what my own potential was, it allowed me to never settle (once I learned one thing, he tossed me another), and it taught me to trust my gut. Even if I was wrong. And yes, I was wrong a lot. He never made me feel stupid when I was, but rather used it as a learning experience. See, it’s ok to be wrong if you are genuinely willing and capable of learning. Being open, and being vulnerable to being wrong is how you grow. In fact, it made me more confident. It taught me to ask questions, think critically, and never settle.

One of the things I learned from Dan which I apply to running Stitched Smile Publications is to ask: “Is this the best you can do?” If it isn’t the best work you can turn in, then don’t settle for “good enough”. (I really hate that term!)

If it’s your best, it’s your best. Own it. Learn from it. Get better.

Experiences make us who we are and if we constantly shy away from being uncomfortable or being vulnerable, if we never take a risk in life, we’re condemned to being a box of crayons: Individual colors neatly packed in cardboard. Same colors, same label, no matter how bright the outside is.


LV: Tell us a little about yourself. What your line of work is and area(s) of expertise

I’ve been in the automobile business forever.  43 years or so.  I worked as a Zone Manager for the Ford Motor Company, as a controller is some small dealerships after I left Ford, and as General Manager of a Chevy dealership.  I spent four years with the National Automobile Dealers Association as a consultant and financial management instructor.  I spent the last 24 years as Chief Financial Officer of the Russell & Smith Auto Group in Houston.  Much of what I’ve done has been accounting-related, with the rest being sales.  I’m currently Vice President of Sales for ProBilling and Funding, a company which offers receivables management products.

LV: What things motivated your “younger” self to succeed?

Probably the two summers I spent working as a construction laborer, or maybe it was my high school job at McDonalds…..  Seriously, I just never thought there was anything I couldn’t do.  I think that was our attitude when I was in college (late 60’s).  We just knew we would be successful.  It helped that big corporations were actively recruiting us, and it was not unusual for one of us to receive a number of employment offers prior to graduation.

LV: A lot of people struggle with feelings of failure. When we look at our mentors and leaders, we sometimes forget they are human and have gone through similar experiences. Can you recall a time when you felt your lowest? Tell us about it and how you got through.

Probably getting fired from what I thought was going to be my dream job in Atlanta.  I left that thinking, “I’m tired of the car business.  Maybe it’s time to find another line of work”.  I spent about a month doing nothing constructive, almost trying to avoid looking for another job.  I finally got off my ***, put my resume together, and, within a couple of months, had five job offers in hand.  It never really occurred to me, once I finally started looking,  that I might not find the type of job I was seeking, only that it might take some time.  The average time between jobs for my type of job was around four months, I think I solved it in three.  You just have to be like the “little engine that could”.

LV: You served in the military for many years and rose through the ranks through hard work. Did the military teach you that, or do you feel like people are born with a natural desire to be a leader?

 Hmmmmm…..    The military, or at least the Army, turns ordinary people into remarkable leaders, whether they want to or not.  I don’t believe you are born with the desire to be a leader, I think you become a leader when you need to be one, or when you are needed to be one.

LV: What are your biggest strengths, and weakness?

Biggest Strength:  I never give up or give in.

Biggest Weakness:  I never give up or give in.

LV: What do you do to keep yourself centered with everything you have going on in your life?

I asked my father a similar question; my step mother had a number of health issues, life wasn’t going well, and it had to be tough.  I asked him how managed everything, and he basically said “Put one foot in front of the other.  Repeat”.  The best way to remain centered is to keep doing what needs to be done.  The rest of it will take care of itself.

LV: What traits do you look for in a person prior to making the decision to invest time into teaching them? And once you’ve begun to mentor them, what are your expectations?

Not to disparage testing……but I think you just know who that person is. It’s not about education, or age, or anything actually measurable.   It doesn’t take long to figure out if a person wants to learn.  The results come fairly quickly.  My expectations are simple:  they learn what I’m teaching, show me that they’ve learned it, and then show that they’re able to go to the next learning level without being told what it is.  I value creativity, and the ability to think.

I’m often guilty of giving somewhat vague guidance.  That’s on purpose; let’s see what the person you’re mentoring can do with this.  That’s designed to drive the unwary completely crazy.    I had a Drill Sergeant in Basic Training who kept saying, “Got no time for slow learners”.  He was right, at least for what we’re discussing.

LV: I know you read a lot. What are some of your most recommended books?

This is the answer which gets rotten fruit thrown at me, but my favorite book is Atlas Shrugged.  I first read it when I was about 15, and I’ve worn out several copies.  If you have a few hours I’ll be glad to explain what it’s really about.

After that?  Anything by John LeCarre.  Anything by Charles Dickens.  The entire Inspector Morse series by Colin Dexter.  I’m kind of a nut for British murder mysteries, so you can toss in Agatha Christie, and P.D. James.

I like to read books about business.  Not business books.  One of my all-time favorite books about business was called, “From Those Wonderful People Who Gave You Pearl Harbor”.  It was written by a New York advertising executive, and chronicled his life in the ad business.  Really interesting insights, along with being absolutely hilarious.  I’m sure it’s long out of print.

For business books I highly recommend Peter Drucker’s “Management”.   Some things just don’t go out of style.  Actually, any of Drucker’s books are good.

LV: One of the things I admire about you is how you can take an idea and run with it using what you’ve learned from past experiences and then adding your own touch. What is your method for deciding if something is a worth pursuing, or if you should discard it?

First, did I even understand the idea?  The best ideas are the simple ones, and the ones that take too much explanation probably aren’t the right fit.  Warren Buffet said, “I don’t invest in things I don’t understand”.  I’m with him.

Second, does it sound like us?  Any idea, whether it comes from inside or outside, has to be something that fits with our culture.  If it doesn’t, it won’t work.

Third, is it actually legal? There are some great ideas which may be legal in one state, but not another.  One of my students at NADA heard about an idea to place used vehicle for sale ads in the newspaper without identifying the dealership, only putting the phone number in the ad.  Turns out that the person who had given him the idea was from state where that type of ad was legal but, unfortunately for my student, it wasn’t legal in his state.  The state DMV suspended the dealership sales license for two weeks.

Fourth, is it going to make our lives better?  The best idea I ever heard came from a meeting that Ford put on, and made us think about what was going on in the dealership.  One of the focus items was employee morale.  What came out of that meeting was that we were going to build a lunchroom in one of the buildings which had some unused space.  We built the room, put in vending machines, microwaves, tables and chairs, and the employees absolutely loved it.

Fifth, and the really important one, is whether we can actually implement the idea and keep it implemented.  I’ve seen a lot of great ideas and programs for which the dealerships have paid lots of money die within a few months of launch.  There are always excuses and reasons why the program failed, but the biggest one is that there was no buy-in and no plan to solve that.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told, “yeah, we used to do that, but I guess we stopped”.  And nobody noticed or cared.  On to the next magic solution.

LV: Sales is a hard business. Whenever you begin a business, sales and marketing are its bread and butter. Without it, your business starves. Are there certain tactics that work across the board, regardless of what kind of business it is? What are they, in your opinion?

You have to show that you are different and be able to rise above the clutter of other businesses in the same line of work. I was reading today about a number of companies which have tried to become the next Facebook.  I had never heard of any of them.  I wonder why they failed to gain any large number of users?  Apparently, even Google had one, with about 500,000 supposed subscribers.  They announced this week that they were ending the service….and nobody actually noticed.  It’s one thing to start a business.  It’s quite another to prove to your public that you have a product to which they need to give the time of day.  If your business plan is to just be like the other guys, you’ll fail.

Google gained prominence by simply being better than everybody else.  They’ve become so good they’re now a verb.  We don’t search the web; we Google it.

Gallery Furniture is a furniture store in Houston.  A furniture store in a world of furniture stores.  It is owned by a gentleman called “Mattress Mack”.  He does is own television commercials.  HORRIBLE commercials.  Stuff that no self-respecting ad agency would create.  And yet……he has a huge operation, everybody knows who he is and he probably makes a ton of money doing it.  He managed to rise above the clutter.  He also promises same day delivery.  “Gallery Furniture Delivers Today”.  He’s hit that line really hard, and has billboards all over Houston which simply have the word “TODAY” on them.  Powerful stuff.  He blows the rest of the competition away.

The internet has made the process much more difficult.  I just Googled “car dealer”.  It said there were 539,000,000 results.  Tough to get noticed in all of that clutter.

LV: You retired from the military, and not too long ago you retired from another longtime career only to begin a new journey. First of all, congratulations on both achievements-but I do question your definition of “retirement”! Secondly, do you find it to be a trait in successful people to never stop working? Or do you feel it is your Achilles heel?

I think successful people never stop working, or at least never stop thinking.  It may be everybody’s dream to spend their “golden” years sitting on the beach sipping a beer….but what do you do the second week?  If you can move from a sixty hour a week job to a twenty hour a week job which still gives you the opportunity to use your talents, why not?  I retired, in large part, because I was just tired of doing the same thing every day.  It didn’t mean I wanted to quit working – it meant that I wanted to quit that job.  I now have much better control of how I spend my time, which is currently half in Houston and half in Play del Carmen, Mexico.  Much better than having to be at my desk everyday…..

LV: What words of advice would you give to someone who has a dream of success but has no point of reference of where to begin?

Take risks.  Take the job nobody else wants – it might be the perfect place for you to learn.  Don’t be afraid to move on to the next job – and make sure it’s a better one than the one you’re leaving.

LV: And finally, who are the mentors and people you admire, and why?

Mentors, not so many.  At the time I started working, the idea of mentoring hadn’t made it into the business world.

People I admire?  The ones who stood up for what was right, no matter what the cost.  The ones who told the truth, however inconvenient.  We seem to have a shortage of them lately.

For Fun:

  • What’s your favorite quote?

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon we’re talking about real money”.  Everett Dirksen.  It’s believed that Dirksen didn’t actually say that, but he said it sounded so good that he never denied saying it.

  • Tell me about the closest person in your life who you’re comfortable talking about. What would they say if I asked them, ‘What is the one characteristic they totally dig about you?’

No comment.

  • Name a song/artist we can listen to, to get a good feel for who you are.

“Girl from Ipanema”.  Stan Getz/Astrid Gilberto/Joao Gilberto.  Written by Antonio Carlos Jobim.  Set me on the path to love jazz and Brazilian music.