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.

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.

A Little of This, A Little of That

Sometimes when I sit down to write a blog post, the idea is clear in my head. As soon as my fingers hit the keys, I let out a sigh and realize it is a chaotic mess. I attempt to get all the ideas down into one post and discover I need to break them up. This is my challenge. I know a good blog is one where updates are made regularly but my thoughts don’t work this way. Conversations with other authors give birth to new ideas and, like the change of the wind, they dissipate into another direction.

I decided when I sat down today, this post doesn’t have a main goal. This post would be a menagerie of thoughts poured out in its raw format. I suggest grabbing a nice cup of java and curling up. This might take awhile.

I started this year with a goal. My goal was to help Stitched Smile Publications grow while simultaneously helping my authors grow. It is a daunting task. Stitched Smile Publications, affectionately referred by me as “The House of Stitched”, has approximately twenty authors. On any given day, almost all of them are active. This is a fact, and I love it. Because most of them are brand new, or have less experience than your average published writer they are hungry for guidance, input, attention, and direction. You may think this sounds like a bad thing but it is not. It’s a good thing, trust me. I don’t mind the pressure. I don’t mind the hours I put into it. Believe me when I tell you they reward me in ways I cannot begin to list here.

It can be stressful, yes. Publishing life is not conventional by any means. You have a due date. The due date can change. Running a company in this industry is like creating a monster and having to care for it without knowing anything about the species. You run tests and experiment, you sit back and watch, you keep them on a leash, and then you let them off … hoping it doesn’t turn around and devour you.

It helps knowing I publish horror and dark fiction which makes sense since I give birth to a stable of monsters … and some awesome books from those monsters (wink, wink).

Daily life is never boring. It is never predictable. I never use pen unless I’m signing a contract. My calendar is a living breathing entity.

Starting the year, I planned on attending maybe 3 conventions. As of right now I have surpassed this number. Each one is both exhausting and exhilarating. You walk in looking like a tourist and walk out feeling like you’ve aged 10 years. No matter what, I wouldn’t change a thing. Like all life “on the road” I miss my family, long for my own bed, and wish I could shut my brain off, but while I’m there speaking to each one of you I am fulfilled. This was my calling all along. Having discovered it before it was too late is my blessing.

One of the things I put off this year was mentoring. I had way too much to do, those who were in my group had “real life” stuff taking priority and then I lost one of them. Their time in this world came too soon and it rocked me harder than I thought it would. I wasn’t sure how to proceed and figured it was best to take a moment to heal. The staff of House of Stitched was understanding. Their leader had taken a near fatal hit and not once did they ever waver in their commitment or loyalty. Aboard our vessel you are either all in, or you’re all out. There are no gray areas because each person is a vital organ to the entire whole. We are a family. No one gets left behind.

Reflecting back over almost four years, I have to smile because I never thought we’d be where we are right now. I knew we’d be successful. If you don’t believe something will succeed, there’s no sense diving in. What we exceeded in my expectations was the strength of our bond. I don’t often get emotional, or “sappy” but when I sit and think of everything we’ve been through to get to this exact moment … I’m overwhelmed. Listen, it’s a fact. Horror is a male dominated genre. It is what it is. It doesn’t mean I won’t-or haven’t-earned my place. It simply means I’ve had to fight a little harder. I’ve learned not everyone is reliable, loyalty is hard to find, and people will jump ship at the first signs of a leak. Not everyone who glitters is gold. Not everyone is your friend. I’m sure I can come up with a hundred more cliche’ things to toss out at you. As an adult you think you know them until you wake up and find you’ve missed the signs.

Oh, how many times I wanted to give up!

Each time I threw my hands up and said, “That’s it, I’m done!” another person would message me and say, “You have no idea how much you’ve helped me.”

How can I let them down? How can I let myself down? I can’t just quit. Who are “they” (those slithering naysayers) and what makes them so much better than me?

I keep telling my authors, “Don’t give up.” I’d be a hypocrite if I threw in the towel because things got tough. LIFE is tough. Finding a solution isn’t always easy. Leaders are who and what they are because they can sort through the debris to find the hidden clues. They have insight to carry the ship through the toughest storms. My staff, my authors believe this about me, and so I must believe it about myself. I sound like a self-help book, now. It’s dawned on me. I don’t need a self-help book or inspirational speaker to tell me I can do this. I need to hear myself say it.

I’m glad I fought to stay focused because I’ve met amazing people, and have pushed myself harder and further than I’ve ever pushed myself. I still make mistakes (man, I make mistakes!) but I own them and learn from them. I eat up experience like Wheaties and push to the next benchmark. So, too, must my authors and my staff.

Four years.

Four years and I have full-time, dedicated staff who have learned more with us than in their college classes. Four years and I have life long partners (next stop, SSP Island!). In four short years, I’ve moderated literary panels, been invited to conventions, produced over thirty books, signed over twenty authors, traveled to different states, sold more of my own books, grown as a person, an author, a leader, and as a friend. There is no price I can put on what I’ve attained because I gave myself a chance to follow my passion.

My final, stray thoughts as I close this post?

I think of my parents who didn’t give up when we were so poor we had to hunt through couch cushions to find change for pizza. Who stood by one another, supporting each other’s dreams no matter the sacrifice. Who worked from the ground up to build a business from their dreams and elevated their life due to hard work and sound business sense. Who taught us it was not only OK, but imperative to speak our minds and to let our voices be heard.

I miss my dad who would’ve loved to be here with me, going to these conventions and meeting people who shared his passion. This was the life he loved but he passed before I could share it with him. I know his influence is always there with me but it still replaces the emptiness with a longing.

Most of all, I think of my SSP family and how they made this monster a little more human.

#GoGetItLife – Why this little hashtag motivates me every day..

It’s a simple hashtag. GoGetItLife. It seems obvious to some and to others maybe it’s the new “YOLO” but for me it’s a daily affirmation of my goals and my direction in life.

Yeah, it started with Theo Rossi. And Yes, I looked into what it was all about because I am a huge fan, but  guess what? These little mashed up words became something more to me. I was already accomplishing things I wanted to. I finished my book. I had a good job. I love my family. But..

(Uh huh..there’s always a “but” right?)

I was coasting. I don’t like to just coast, I want to ride the waves! I didn’t know how I was going to do that yet. You see, I had a fantastic job, great pay, etc…the problem was I was getting sicker. (I have an autoimmune disease that makes me feel like I live everyday with some horrible flu, or strep, or any of the millions of nasty ebola-like illnesses.) Doctors tell me to workout, but there are days I cannot even get out of bed. I’m not one of those people that have a low tolerance for pain. I’m so accustomed to being in pain, when I do too much my body shuts down on me and goes on strike.

I’m a fighter, though. I don’t know the word, “No”. What I did know was coming to terms with this was a roller coaster of emotions.

Work out? Yeah, but I’m not producing tears, sweat, saliva. Ever  tried to workout like that? My muscles already feel like I’ve worked out with The Rock and his massive truck tires.

Watch your food intake. Yes, I already do this. I eat very clean, love salads, fresh fruit and veggies.

Drink lots of water. Duh? I have to drink water or I’ll collapse in a pile of dust because my body won’t produce its own.

I have plenty of excuses not to do something. So I started creating excuses to do something. I can’t drive an hour back and forth to work, sit all day behind a desk, and then fight traffic 1.5 hours to get home. It tore up my back and my hips. This caused a dark cloud to form over my head.

With my body doing it’s own thing, I had to make a choice. I decided to take my passion to the next level and opened a Publishing House. Stitched Smile Publications was born on Jan, 6, 2016. It was the best thing I’d ever done, career wise. It’s not rolling in the profits…yet. However, my team is amazing. They work for the passion of what our company stands for. They give selflessly and treat each other like a real family.

Whenever I start to feel doubt, they cheer me on and now with others stepping in to take on more responsibility, I have had time to (nearly) finish my second book, THE UNFLESHED. It’s my pleasure to show  you the cover below..

Unfleshed Cover

So you see? GoGetItLife means grabbing each situation by the short hairs and turning it into whatever you want. It means not bending to adversity and letting sorrow suck you into the depths of blackness. We’re only here for a short time. Dreams of fame and riches only come when you work hard to make it happen. I don’t care who says money makes the world go round. If your heart and priorities aren’t in the right place money will make you her slave. I don’t live to work. I live to make my time on this rock worth it. No one can do that but me.

In the bigger picture it may seem that people that have “everything” are happy, but that’s that’s just the view through a peephole. Something is sacrificed for having it all. Privacy, trust, love, etc.

LIFE is about fulfillment. The things I work hard for that I earn…I love. I’m down on the floor working with my crew and my family. I roll up my sleeves and take the hits alongside them. I want us all to make it because that means I’ve earned my title and I can honestly say, “I’m a success.” It’s a long, jagged road but I don’t care. Anyone that has gained things without working for it has not earned their stripes. I trust a leader that comes from a rich background of hard work, who can relate to me more than someone that had good luck, or inherited their fortune.

I want people to respect me for my experience, my fortitude, my tenacity, and my integrity. If I can make it to the top of the mountain with those things in tact then I’ve gotten LIFE, and won.