It’s All in Your Head

I’ve been writing some non-fiction business books lately, and it struck me that all writing is story telling.  It is obvious when I’m creating a fictional world for a Vincent Malone mystery; but how does that fit the less than inspirational story of double-entry bookkeeping.  Wow, that accounting story was sure some page turner!

The story about business may not be all that exciting, but the concept of keeping the reader’s interest is the same as a mystery.  Story telling is to let the reader or listener experience something new; maybe for entertainment or maybe to educate.  While I see similarities in these different categories of writing, I’m really missing the made-up stuff.  I can’t introduce a whole new set of accounting rules just to provide reader interest; but in fiction I can do whatever I want.  The new character joining Pacheco and Chino is a vampire with a keen interest in bird watching.  May not be good stuff; but nobody can stop me from making it up.

The first book I wrote was The Bootlegger’s Legacy.  (Now for absolute honesty, which is not always advisable, the first book was The Originals {which is no longer available, thank goodness} but it was not particularly good, so I prefer to think of TBL as my first book).  I believe this is my best work.  I think that is because I was connected to this book more than any of the others.  Almost every aspect had a strong connection to my life.  Now, of course, I did not know a bootlegger who hid millions and left clues for his son to find after his death; but I had a childhood connection to a bootlegger in Oklahoma City.  All the locations are places I had lived and experienced in detail.  The characters were drawn from my past more than any of my other books.  It was a made-up story but also detailed “things” and people I had experienced.

There was one significant break in that pattern.  One of the most important characters in TBL was Sally Thompson.  This character was the heart and soul of the book.  This was the character that made sense of the whole story.  And this character was not based on anyone I knew.  It was all made-up to fit the story.  It was what was needed to make the other characters real, to make the story have depth, to allow the bad to wash away in this character’s good.  All completely made-up.  Now where did this come from?

This is the part of writing that still intrigues me.  It happens in every story I write (exception is those accounting books).  A character just pops out to fit the story.  This is what the story needs so viola; a new character is born created from nothing.  No experience, acquaintance, memory; nothing, just made-up to drive the story.  We all know this happens in almost every fiction book; after all it is fiction.  But how do these characters suddenly pop into the writer’s head.  I have experienced it many times, but I still do know how it happens.

I guess the easy answer is that this is the creative part of writing.  You have a plot and a cast of characters and then as the story develops you need new angles to make the story flow; or maybe a new character to make the whole scene make sense.  So, you create it.

I plan my books.  I develop lists and outlines.  I will sketch out my entire idea of the book before I start writing.  On occasion I have visited those beginning notes and ideas after the book is finished; and it is amazing how different the book turned out from my original plan.  Often in major ways.  When I’m writing it is almost like the characters take over and develop the story themselves.  Okay that’s a little weird.  But as the characters interact and events occur, the story starts to write itself and my original plans go out the window.  Those creative “juices” can create a great book, but without them let’s hope it’s an accounting book I’m writing.

Sally Thompson was the best example of that creative drive while writing. She turned a good story into a great story.  Still don’t know where she came from, but I believe she is the best character I’ve written about.  I was more connected to this fictional character with no basis in my past than I was to many of the characters who were based on someone I knew.  How that happens is one of those mysteries of writing fiction that has no explanation but is the true meaning of creative writing.

Thanks for being a reader!

New Ramblings about Success Paths

If you’re a regular reader you know that I have written some business books under the heading of Success Paths.  The first book was about placing a value on a small business.  I was in the process of planning the launch of this new series of books when the pandemic hit.  Decided it was best to delay that project until things returned to something more normal.  Looks like that “normal” might be on the horizon.  Let’s hope so.  This brighter outlook has me working again on this new series of books.  Going to preview some of the material in this blog on occasion.  Maybe once a month or less.  You may not be interested in the subject matter, but hopefully for some of you, it will have some value.  I will place these blogs under new categories.

One of the books in the Success Paths series will be “How to Start and Run a Successful Small Business.”  This book is based on chapters detailing “Keys to Self-Employment Success.”  The first one was presented several weeks ago about the most important keys; capital and luck.

This presentation is not technical, and I hope it will be useful but also entertaining (where possible).  My fallback position during my long career has always been self-employment.  My instincts always ran towards a business venture as my best path to success.  I think we are entering a new world economy where this will become the best option for an increasing number of people.  I don’t have all of the answers, but my desire is to share some of my experiences, both good and bad, and offer my humble opinion on the best paths to achieve success in the small business world.  You may disagree, which is most acceptable, but it is based on my experience and what I have seen over many years.

I’ve owned 15 small businesses; some were successful, some were not—but I learned a lot in each endeavor.  My background is financial.  Degree in Accounting, CPA, been a Controller/CFO of 5 different companies in diverse industries.  Worked as a small business consultant helping small business owners achieve their dreams.  My information/advice may or may not be what you need but it will be relevant and based on facts that I have learned over the years.

Success Paths is a series of blog posts outside my “normal” ramblings about art, writing and being creative.  These posts convey my thoughts and experiences as an entrepreneur in starting and running a successful small business.  This is real world advice not “book knowledge” about the exceedingly difficult world of small business ownership.

Self-Employment Keys to Success Part 2

Attitude and Planning

In part one I talked about the importance of capital (the more the better) and luck in achieving success.  I’m sure many of you want to concentrate on your hard-work, industry knowledge, personal skills as more important than just money and dumb luck—but you’re wrong.  The more capital you have the more likely you are to succeed, and dumb luck is almost always a factor in success of a small business.

But on the other hand, your knowledge and hard work fall just behind those other aspects of success.  I’ve assisted many people in analyzing their business plans for their new venture; and almost always, they will say something along the lines of “I can do a better job than my boss in running a business,” or “I’m tired of working for someone else and busting my butt for no real gain,” or “I want the freedom in being my own boss.”  All of those represent the wrong reasons to open your own business.

Anyone who owns their own business understands the fallacy of “independence or freedom” associated with that ownership.  As an employee, you might have one boss or two, but as a business owner everyone is your boss.  You need that key customer, you rely on that key employee, the bank tells you what to do, your suppliers have more control than you do; everyone seems to have some control over you and your business.  Dreams of being “free” and doing what you want with your own business are not realistic.

I think one of the real keys to success, especially in your first small business, is to understand that you will need to be totally dedicated to that business.  You will work more hours, you will take less money, you will never stop thinking about your business, you will sacrifice your family time, you will put everything at risk for success.  That mindset will not make you the most pleasant person to be around; but if you want success you have to be totally committed.

In the past one of the first steps in exploring a new business venture would be to develop a business plan; today that is not necessarily so.  Business plans can be a requirement to raise capital or to secure a loan—but often today investors and lenders are more focused on the key idea of the business and less so on the mundane details.  This is a “new economy” trend that might not make much sense; but it is nevertheless true.

Doing a detailed business plan with complete financial support documents can be a luxury that many business start-ups will happily avoid.  The business plan with its supporting documents still offers the new entrepreneur an opportunity to “test” the business model on paper before you invest much time or money.

In some ways the need for a business plan is based on what it is you’re pitching.  If this is a business based on innovation, maybe all you need is an explanation of what the innovation is.  If the business is based on your mother’s recipe for sloppy joe sandwiches, you might need more detail analyzing the market and establishing that Mom’s sandwich is something everybody wants to buy.

The other factor regarding a business plan is related to how much money you are trying to raise and/or borrow.  If your total investment is $5,000 and you are pitching your plan to your family members or friends—you might only need a good story.  Details might only get in the way of basically asking people who know you to trust that you know what you are doing.

On the other hand, if you are looking for $5 million a more detailed approach will be required with lots of supporting documents to support your assumptions.

To summarize this post, emphasizing the importance of attitude.  You need to think through what it means to start your own business in terms of commitment in both money and time.  Don’t go in with a rosy picture of a perfect life of money and freedom; recognize the unbelievable time most small business owners spend developing their businesses and the lack of control you will really have.

The other is planning.  The best approach is to plan extensively.  Not because it always required, anymore; but because it will help you see the weaknesses in your assumptions before they become realities.  Planning on paper is cheaper than experimenting with real money.

Thanks for being a reader!

Message From a Village in a Swamp

One of the great things about Amazon (and yes, there are also bad things about Amazon) for a writer is that your books can be found by almost anyone in the world—that is with an internet connection.  I have received emails from people all over the world.  Usually, they are genuinely nice and mention how much they enjoy my books.  It always gives me a strange feeling thinking about someone in Russia, Vietnam or China reading my stories about New Mexico or Oklahoma City.

I recently received an email from someone in a village in a swamp (her description) talking about the artist she lived with for 45 years.  I do not have her permission to convey the whole email.  It is especially poignant when she reflects on her life with her creative artist partner.  But I think a small excerpt about her house will be okay to share.

“In a normal house I suffocate, everything is according to numbers and plumb rules and nice paint. Here I can look around and see the wood growing old, feel from which direction the wind blows, meet the first little buds on the vine which crawls in through the roof, see the tiles get dark from moisture when the water is high (this village is in a swamp, waterlevel is just a few centimeters below ground level). Nothing around me is straight or square or without life.

It is a great place for creativity.”

I believe this woman knows much more about a creative life than I do.  I loved the way she described her home and her creative life.  I function in spaces that are accommodating to my needs but have little emotional connection.  A “great place for creativity” suggests a whole different connection between artist and the artist’s work. 

When I was young, living in a very non-creative environment in Oklahoma City, my dream was to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico. and become an artist.  I think the actual dream was to become a “world famous” artist.  Maybe that is the problem with many creative people; they want recognition (money?) as much as they want to create art.

The woman who wrote the email described her life with a great artist who spent his life creating art “for himself.”  That is her description a “great artist.”  The tenderness in the email conveyed great love and sense of respect.  She did indicate he found international fame once his works were made public.

I’m a creative person, so naturally I turned this one-page email into a whole, wonderful story of beautiful people who have lived a life of accomplishment while being mostly anonymous.  Love of art, love of life, love of place, human love, all existing in a village in a swamp. 

Well, true confession time, I’m not moving to a village in a swamp to awaken my creative mind to a whole new perspective on my art.  I will continue to reside in my comfortable, multi-computer, high speed internet world in Denver, Colorado. 

I admire the lady who wrote the email, I admire her devotion to her artist companion, I admire her understanding of life that I cannot even contemplate, I admire her obvious courage, her obvious intellect; and I wonder why we still have such massive hostilities to people who are different than ourselves and fail to see the common traits of love and caring that makes us all humans.

Our amazing ability to connect with people all over the world and share our humanness seems to be driven more by hatred than love.  Let’s hope that our common connections can override our suspicions and biases and we can find the wonderful human connections of love and respect.

Artists, rather than tyrants, need to have more say in how we function as people.  We all have much in common.  We just need to open our eyes and hearts to these real connections that matter; even if our village is mostly concrete and our house is mostly common.

Thanks for being a reader!

Writers Block #12

I write mystery novels; or at least I try.  Writing mystery novels is either hard or easy.  It all depends on the flow of the work.  For much of my career I was a “numbers” guy.  The work flowed from an endless stream of numbers that needed crunching.  Little thought was given to the creative side of numbers crunching—it’s actually frowned upon.  Now my work is controlled by something called a creative process.

This process seems to work fine on some days and others, it does not.  The writers’ block problem has been talked to death—and who cares anyway?  But still, why does the process get bogged down?  Why isn’t writing more like numbers crunching; just get to work and the output flows.

I’ve had the privilege (burden?) of working with some world-class liars.  These people had an answer to everything because it was all made up.  Ask them the meaning of life and prepare for an endless stream of bullshit.  That obviously is the same creative process as making up a mystery novel, right?  The liars never seemed to run out of bullshit.  Why do writers hit brick walls and the big mouth in the office next door can spew a novel length yarn of nonsense at the drop of a hat?

Now one possibility is that if you could get a written transcript of the bullshitters never ending gushing of nonsense you would realize it is just that: nonsense.  When you buy a mystery novel you expect it to make sense, have sone kind of meaning, follow a logical story path and of course resolve the mystery in a completely sane, in retrospect, outcome.

So as a mystery writer you cannot just pound out page after page of garbage.  If you do and someone accidentally buys your book they will never, ever buy another one.  The writer must please the reader, in some fashion, or they will soon be writing books just for themselves.  Wait a minute, I do write books for myself!  If I’m only writing for me, the flow of brilliant prose should be easy—I’m not that self-critical; just write.  But now it becomes clear, I’m writing for you—the reader.  That’s what creates the pressure and dams up the flow of words.  I’m worried that last paragraph I wrote will displease someone other than me; therefore, I can’t write the next paragraph.

Writers block is a fear of rejection.  The solution is to not give a damn what the reader thinks and just write for myself; but I must never say that out loud.  I need to keep saying that my readers are the most important people in the creative process but not actually believe that.  I’m now free to write my bullshit without fear of rejection as long as I pretend to not care about rejection.   Life is simple in complicated ways.

Wall Street Madness

Speaking of outcomes; I have written a couple of posts about the illogic of the stock market valuations.  The stock market has become more akin to a betting site than anything to do with the underlying company’s actual financial performance.  Nothing wrong with that if you understand what it is. 

Then along comes social media entry into the cloistered world of Wall Street and guess what?  It is a betting site that can be driven up or down based only on the wiliness of “investors” to act illogically.

So, a company like GameStop, whose financial condition is not good, can go from $4 a share to $300 a share based on nothing to do with the company.  No logic at all.  Like most schemes (cons) the original “investors” usually make a fortune and the last people who jump in lose a fortune.  Maybe I’m just disgruntled that I didn’t get in at the beginning of the madness and had the good sense to get out before the reckoning.

My best bet is to stick to writing mystery books; I can always control the outcome in that world.

Thanks for being a reader!

Not a Tax Guy

In what feels like another lifetime, I was a CPA.   People constantly asked me about taxes, even though, I had little to do with taxes and, in most cases, knew less than they did.  But if you’re a CPA you must know taxes, right?  This is the human-way of categorizing people.  If you are an X you must know this.  Even though in a large category of work there will be entirely different skills being used.  So I was mostly a Controller or CFO during my accounting days, and I would hire someone to do taxes.

Now if I tell people I’m an author, their first question is “what do you write?”  In my case that would be mysteries.  After that, there is very little discussion.  Most people seem to accept that writing is something you do. but they cannot ask about it because they’re not real sure how you do it.  They write, of course, but writing a 300-page book is not in their realm of possibilities. 

On occasion I will self-describe myself as an artist.  This seems to illicit frowns.  I think most people think artists are dead-beats; but, of course, would not want to say that to your face. 

There are many things in our country which could use a little attention.  Health care, justice system, housing, –well it’s a fairly long list.  One of the most obvious is the tax code.  You know why most CPA’s don’t know much about taxes?  It’s because you have to spend full-time, every day to keep up with this ever-increasing monstrosity. 

If you would like to read, (I would not advise it) some of the most confusing legal bullshit ever, the hundreds of pages regarding taxing of acquisitions would be perfect.  Even simple subjects like depreciation have become convoluted messes.  Now this is for businesses, not “normal” people.  These thousands of pages, often written to impact only one company, are why we have huge corporations who report record profits to Wall Street, and their stock soars, but pay zero income taxes.

If you’re a corporatist person and think that what is good for corporations is good for the rest of us, you might think this is okay.  But it is not.

There are exceptions, but the companies that take the most advantage of these “loopholes” are highly active political contributors.  What does that say?  It says that if I give you money, I expect a return.  Does your congressperson or Senator understand these tax laws—hell no!   Only the very top tax attorney and tax CPAs even begin to understand this pile of smoldering corruption. 

So, let’s just run the numbers.  I’m CEO Big Shot and my company needs a special consideration to write-off our entire investment in some necessary plant upgrade because we are polluting the river next to our plant and facing stiff fines.  I go to my Senators and Congressmen with money in hand and suggest a special tax code provision that will allow companies to write-off this type of equipment over one year if it is improving the local river water.  Senator X puts out a news release saying he is backing this change because his buddy Mr. Big Shot is so eager to help clean up the local river.  Everybody’s a hero.  Because of the way Big Shot’s company records income, they are able to shove huge amounts of income in the year they spend large bucks on the plant up-grade and save millions in taxes.  Of course, the investment was required in order to stay in business, and the river needed cleaning up because of the company—but a tax break for business is never looked at closely; so, who cares.

When I was the CFO or Controller, almost daily the owner or CFO or head-honcho would approach me about ways to make the numbers look better.  These upstanding people would not even think about stealing a candy bar, but they would cheat to improve their “numbers” anyway they could.  Were they bad people?  I came to believe they were—even though, in most cases, I liked them as people. 

I left that corporate world disillusioned.  My next jobs were in the investment banking world.  Everyone I met there was working some sort of scheme.  The biggest difference is that these people knew they were cheating; and didn’t give a shit.  I wasn’t disillusioned just a little sick.

Yes, in case you’re wondering I have just started my tax return for last year.  It’s this time of year I start to envy Mr. Big Shot.

On a personal note; at a certain age when we have one health problem it often leads to others. My broken knee has led to some other issues I’m currently dealing with; all fixable, just annoying. So the blog has slowed down again. Maybe the Spring will get me back to full production. Thanks for sticking with me!

Everything will work out just great!
Thanks for being a reader!

Everyday is a Miracle!

After 2020 can you identify what is most important to you?  Is it money, health, family, good TV? Maybe good government should be on the list?  Or good health care? Or freedom?  Most of us don’t really know what is the most important until something causes a disruption.  2020 caused issues for almost everyone in one way or another.

In many ways the most disrupted aspect of my life in 2020 was health.  Gandhi said, “it is health that is real wealth, not pieces of gold or silver.”  Of course, without a little gold or silver you would starve.  Not a healthy situation.  But when you are ill or broken, you know, at least for that moment, that good health is the only thing that matters.  Once your healthy again, you soon start to worry more about money than health; so maybe money is more important than health.  Or maybe, if you have money, you can buy health?  Maybe not?

I’ve written about my belief that community is essential to a good life.  That can be family, religion, maybe even a gang; but we all want to belong to something.  I think that feeling a sense of community is becoming more difficult.  But maybe my sense of community is all wrong.  Could a community of people on-line suffice that need?  I’m skeptical, but it does seem to work at some level, just not for me.

The one consistent value in my life has been a sense of accomplishment.  There is no question my self-worth has been based on my success at whatever I was trying to undertake at that time.  Student, businessman, author, artist, accountant, whatever it was; my desire for success (money?) was the driving force in my life.  I was not a joiner, so my world was work and my family.  If I was successful at that time, everything was fine.  During periods, and there were many, when I was not successful; I was miserable.  So, is that a way of saying the most important thing to me was my ego? 

Not being a joiner meant that community to me was usually ridiculously small.  A few friends and family.  However, there was something that I had not given much thought to until recently that had provided me comfort.  It was being an American.  I’m not a nationalist and have often been critical of the leaders of this country.  But I had a sense of belonging to the idea of the USA.  I admired the dreams, hopes and ambitions of a country full of all kinds of people striving to achieve their personal goals.

A nation is a community, even an exceptionally large nation.  Nationalism is the ugly side of that community but feeling a sense of belonging with your fellow countrymen is not bad—it is good.  The history of the country is your history—yes, even the bad history.  It is the same feeling we have with family; it isn’t always perfect, but it is ours. 

The frightening and ugly scenes of a mob storming the capital were disturbing.  They laid bare the ugly truth of how divided we are as citizens.  I know there are people who just want to destroy, out of anger, or disappointment or fear; they want to smash things.  While I watched this display of anger all I felt was sadness.  Even though the people carrying out this offense are only a small fraction of the people of the country; they represent an attitude that is widespread.  It is an attitude of entitlement.  I have a right to destroy.  I have a right to smash and break because I feel I have been disrespected.  I have not received my fair share.  I have been slighted.

I have no idea how you get to the mind set that violence and destruction are the appropriate remedies for your failure, but apparently many have reached that conclusion.  They are wrong.

At some point in life most of us realize the things we worry about the most, jobs, money, careers, status, houses, possessions are of little real value.  Family, health, accomplishments, and community are all keys to a good life.

My goal is to write books, not because I make money or achieve fame; but because it is what I do.  It makes me feel good about me.  My goal is to be a better husband, father, grandfather, neighbor, person and citizen.  Achieving those goals is controlled by me, not the government, or the President, or my next-door neighbor, or anyone other than myself.   I will have a lot of help, much of which will go unnoticed; everyone in my life helps me achieve my goals by being my community.  I also will help myself by helping others.

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

Thanks for being a reader!

Self-employment Keys to Success

This blog post is about entrepreneurship.  Not my normal stuff; but this is my background and writing about small business has been something I have done for years.  I was in the process of writing several “Success Paths” books at the end of 2019 and beginning 2020 when the whole small business world was turned upside down due to the pandemic.  I still anticipate writing those books as we slowly return to normal.  Thought this might be of interest to you if you are giving any thought to opening your own business in the future or know someone who is giving that scary adventure some thought.

During my working career which has spanned almost 60 years, I have been self-employed for approximately half of that time.  Or said another way, for 30 years I worked for someone else.  What is interesting to me is that I fully identify with my self-employment years and have only vague memories of my many jobs—I was a good employee but was always looking for the next deal.

For many of my self-employment years, I was a small business consultant.  This was a mixture of accounting, general business guidance and assisting those companies secure loans.  I saw an unbelievable number of poorly ran businesses by people who had no clue what it took to be successful.  They fully operated by the seat of their pants.  Now, don’t get me wrong, many of these organizations were successful.  Almost all, but not all, success in business is based on luck and someone else’s money (usually family). 

Some of the best ran and potentially most successful of these businesses failed not because they were mismanaged, but because they lacked capital (no dad money).  Some of the worst ran businesses succeeded because they had sufficient capital (thanks, dad) to fail but surviveOn the fourth attempt Junior succeeded and became a family legend.  Capital almost always determines the likelihood of success not “hard work,” innovation, creativity, great product or great management—it is always money.

Towards the end of my career, I became a consultant for M&A firms who were assisting medium size firms complete acquisitions or to sell the business.  What was surprising is that most of the good and bad I saw in small companies was the same nonsense going on in big companies.   In most companies the biggest asset of the company is the employees.  There are exceptions to this rule where an innovative product may drive success, but in most cases it’s the employees who have the most influence over success.  Yet, with hardly any exceptions, employers treat their employees like shit.

Why would they do that?  Because of their egos.  I have yet to meet a business owner who didn’t think all of his success was due to him or that all of his failures were due to his employees.  Logic be damned the ego must be protected. 

The keys to business success. 

One is capital.  The more money you have the greater your chances of success.  This is painfully obvious but is ignored by most entrepreneurs, they always think whatever venture they are starting is an exception.  This business I’m starting is so great all I need is a few bucks, and I will be a zillionaire in a week.  They are always wrong; you must have more money than you can probably acquire to be successful in a new business.  New businesses have a ton of surprises that cost money you did not count on.  The amount you thought at the beginning was more than enough will not be.  Your initial capital needs to be as large as possible and you should plan on sources of additional capital as the business grows.  Capital drives success.

Two is hard work.  I have met many people who wanted to open their own businesses because they were tired of working hard for some asshole boss who never did anything.  As an owner you will either work extremely hard, or you will go broke.  Anybody who thinks it is easier to be a boss/owner than an employee has never owned their own business. 

The third key might surprise you—it’s employees.  Unless your new business is a one-man operation you will be totally dependent on employees for your success.  For many new business owners this is an afterthought—they assume they can always hire people.  But can you hire the best?  Because that is often what it takes to succeed.  Learning how to hire people, manage them, retain them, keep them motivated without costing a fortune are some of the most important skills of a manager/owner.  In a successful business, your employees are always more important than you are; but can your ego be kept under control so you can support these key assets as you grow your business.  I have heard story after story from successful business owners who talk about their key employees when they first started, but now almost hate their employees, because they are never satisfied.  If you cannot mange people successful (and, no– being a tyrant is not managing a successful team); you should not start a business that needs employees to succeed.  You will fail.

Fourth is the product/service/business idea.  This is usually where the business entrepreneur starts.  I have an idea for a business that will be a huge success.  Yes, you need that idea, but it is the least important key to success.  Mater of fact many successful businesses were just a rehash of an old concept; but done better. 

The best time of my life was when I was self-employed, and the business was successful.  The worst time of my life was when one of those self-employment ventures was failing.  And, I have, for sure, experienced both of those extremes.  Even with that experience a day does not go by that I don’t give thought to a new business venture.  This one for sure will be a huge success, and I can do it on a shoestring.  Once it’s in your blood it’s hard to give it up.

Free e-book box set on Amazon on January 3rd.

Thanks for being a reader!

Mental Clutter and Human Connections

Looking forward to the new year.  The old year was one big disaster.  I write books.  Mystery books.  I published exactly zero books in 2020.  My least productive year since I began this writing thing.  I started writing books late in life, really late.  Spent a lot of time and energy trial-and-erroring my way through some false starts but eventually managed to publish my first book in 2015, The Bootlegger’s Legacy.  To date I have written ten books and once this disastrous year is over, I believe I will publish many more.

What happened in 2020?  A few accidents and a couple of health problems combined to cause me to accomplish almost nothing in the whole year.  Along with being depressed about the world in general and the pandemic in particular; I’ve just gotten by.  I’m sure everyone has periods like that where the best you can do is “just get through it!”

As I’m starting to write again (working on Durango Two Step the number four book in the Vincent Malone series), what occurs to me is how quickly I forgot what I had written.  I have reread the manuscript to get up to speed on where I left off.  It is amazing how much I had forgotten about this complicated story.  As always, it’s a murder mystery, which means there are many clues/hints left at the very beginning of the story that will be part of the conclusion.  Some in a meaningful way and others just red herrings. 

When your mind gets all cluttered up with “real world problems,” trivia, politics, money, health, bullshit of all stripes, it is hard to write a mystery story.  For me at least, I need full concentration on laying out the various paths which will lead to the “surprising” answer to “Who Did It?” 

My father owned his own shoe store.  It was a dream of his to be self-employed.  He worked two jobs for many years to be able to start his own business.  His first store was in a new shopping center in a suburb of Oklahoma City.  Next to his store was a dress shop owned by my mother’s good friend Libby.  The next store over was a hardware store owned by my friend Joey’s father.  Who had retired and opened the hardware store because he loved hardware stores.  Next to the hardware store was a Jewelry store owned by a husband-and-wife team who were from somewhere foreign but who were the nicest people I had ever met.  This was a large strip center that went on like that for maybe a dozen more stores—all owned by “normal” people providing goods and services to their neighbors.

The people who owned these stores also belong to the Kiwanis, the Lions Club, the Elks Club and Garden Clubs.  They were on the school board, they were members of the city council, they were leaders in the local churches.  They were a community. 

For many years communities like that one thrived all over America.  Then one day it started to change.  Malls opened with thirty shoe stores from national chains.  They offered more selection and cheaper prices.  Soon Walmart was every where selling the same goods at close to the cost of the small store owner.  Customers loved the small local store with the owner who was the backbone of their community, but cheaper was more important.  Large hardware stores opened that were twenty times the size of the mom-and-pop hardware store.

The small stores slowly closed.  The school board became mostly extreme advocates for rapid change in the way school was taught, or maybe the manager of the Walmart who had just moved to town.  Businesspeople who lived and worked in their community were replaced everywhere by people who had agendas.

I saw my father struggle and eventually lose his dream.  Walmart thrived and grew, and soon there was no local shopping district with stores ran by fathers and mothers of kids you went to school with.  A community no longer existed; only shoppers looking for the best deal.

It was not a good deal.

One of my favorite stores during this era was a toy store.  It is hard to imagine a toy store like they used to be.  It was magical.  The one I visited was owned by a very old man who absolutely loved model planes.  The ceiling was covered with these hanging wonders that he had built.  I must have gone into that store hundreds of times without buying a single thing, and every time he would treat me like I was his best customer.  He talked about models and his love of flying.  He seemed ancient and almost magical.  I asked my father once about him and he said he had lost his son in the war and he was still grieving.  I wasn’t sure what that meant, I just knew he was the most interesting person I had ever met.

One day the toy store did not open.  It never opened again.  My father said he died of a broken heart.  That didn’t make any sense to me; I just knew I had lost a friend.

The Hard Work of Being Creative

Grandma Moses

A friend, maybe ex-friend, once described my art as primitive. The only thing I could think of was Grandma Moses. I really don’t think he thought it was an insult, just descriptive. To hell with him. What is art? What is primitive art? Most people don’t know, nor do they care.

“A complex and, at times, contradictory tendency, “Primitivism” ushered in a new way of looking at and appropriating the forms of so-called “primitive” art and played a large role in radically changing the direction of European and American painting at the turn of the 20th century. Primitivism was not so much an artistic movement but a trend among diverse modern artists in many countries who were looking to the past and to distant cultures for new artistic sources in the face of increasing industrialization and urbanization. Beginning at the end of the 19th century, the influx of tribal arts of Africa, Oceania, and Native Americans into Europe offered artists a new visual vocabulary to explore. In many ways, Primitivism provided artists a way to critique the stagnant traditions of European painting. Primitive art’s use of simpler shapes and more abstract figures differed significantly from traditional European styles of representation, and modern artists such as Gauguin, Picasso, and Matisse used these forms to revolutionize painting and sculpture.”


The above paragraph from is one of the reasons most people yawn when art is discussed. Who the hell knows what these people are talking about?


Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse and my favorite, O’Keefe all borrowed from “primitive” art in creating their bold (for the time) art. Now, of course, we know my stuff is not in that category. And a lot of my art would not be called primitive, maybe just bad. Or nice try, maybe give it another shot?

The process of being creative fascinates me. When I write, I’m being creative, when I paint it is creative, when I mow the lawn it is not? Even though they are all work. If I’ve spent a long day writing I am exhausted, much like doing physical work. But mental work takes on a different quality, something slightly mysterious; or does it?

During one of my active painting days I might paint several pictures, none to my liking. Most of those paintings were not seen by anyone other than me. Yet, those days were often my most creative. The “failures” led directly to the good paintings. When writing and painting, I have thought of what I was doing as work. It might have been creative work, but it was also hard work.

There maybe those “creative” people who create some wonderful work of art that just pops out without much effort in full-blown glorious form. I kind of doubt it, but it could happen. For me it has always been work. Put in the time writing and with luck you will produce something worth sharing. But you have to do the work.

Writing and painting are both creative endeavors that seem to fit in different worlds for most people. When I was mostly occupied with painting, people would often say they had no ability to draw, which of course was nonsense—they had the ability, it’s just that the results were bad; or closer to the truth they just didn’t want to make the effort. With writing, many people seem to think they can write a book; after all I did! They will ask process questions, about how you start, or how you do some minor aspect of producing a book. It’s like if they had a check list, they could produce a book; but there is no way in hell they could create a painting.

My experience has been that writing and painting skills are very much the same. It is the vision or idea that drives them both. My best paintings were based on something I saw fully completed in my head and set out to put on canvas. The same with the storyline of my books. Usually I had an incredibly good idea on what that book would look like. I didn’t know every aspect or character, but I had the “big picture” in my head. The task was to get that onto the page.


Now as we know from the long-forgotten art critic, some of my early paintings were “primitive”; and yes, some of my first attempts at writing were primitive—but they created something. They became books and paintings. Bad, good or Wow the most important aspect of creating is to do just that; create. You must do the work. Actually create something, put your name on it and let someone see it. They might say it’s primitive or bad or great or “what the hell were you thinking?”; but from that comes something better. Because all art is based on practice. The more you do the better you get.

When I tell people the most important part of my writing success is only plain old hard work, I would guess they think I’m just complaining about the labor it takes to write a book. It’s not that. It really is the most important part—do the work, spend the hours, days, months or years it takes. Being creative requires effort. And, of course, it helps to have an active imagination. But an idea, is just that, until you do the work.

Thanks for being a reader!

Strange Fiction

Some years ago, I experienced the madness of the criminal justice system that finds all sorts of ways to charge fees to people accused of minor crimes.  Most of these crimes are drug related and go away without any jail time but would appear to be part of a money-making scheme with full cooperation from people in charge of the “justice” system.  The absurdity of this revenue farce is that most of these people are poor; they have no money.  You could threaten them with jail time or death, they still would not have the money to pay the court costs, jail fees, or other fees with meaningless descriptions, such as drug reform fee. 

Now I don’t know how much of the cost of the criminal justice system is covered by these fees, but if it is only a minor amount, then the fees themselves would appear to be just another form of punishment.  As if jail time and probation are not enough, they must add additional humiliation with fees most cannot pay.  Or in the other case, if it is a substantial sum being collected– doesn’t that create an incentive for cops to arrest people to bring in the all-important revenue.

Maybe the legal crowd has a quarterly meeting to discuss the shortfall from last quarter and assign additional cops to select areas of town to bring in more revenue?  Many cities have special drug cops who must bring in a ton of revenues; mostly by re-arresting the same people.  Or maybe they even award bonuses to officials who have generated the most revenue.

People of means, who get caught up in this nonsense, gladly pay the fees and even thank the judge because they have just experienced the humiliation of losing control over their lives.  They would pay almost anything to get out of this fix and run like hell.

With my new knowledge of the cash generating game came the experience of sitting in a court room for hours watching the shuffling of people who had no recourse, they were treated as mere cogs in some kind of strange revolving process conducted the same every day with little emotion and often little thought.  It seemed to be almost rehearsed, people who had no power were brought before someone with all the power and told their fate.  Sure, most likely those people broke a law or at least were accused, but no way in hell would they ever see a trial or be treated like they were of value.  It went on every day all day long.  An endless stream of people trapped in a madness of defeat and humiliation. 

I had never been in a criminal court room before, and it was shocking.  Lawyers milling around everywhere having their own conversations, a judge running through one case after another, cops shuffling in people in groups in the endless parade of misery.  Never once saw a Perry Mason.  It was all deals and scheduling.  Most of the time was spent setting the next court date to do something that by all accounts would seem they should have been able to do at this time; but it was not time yet, for whatever that was.

Most people had public defenders who were constantly shuffling files and asking for postponements.  All the lawyers, public defenders, clerks, cops and judges were obviously on one team, and the criminals (or accused criminals) were on their own (loosing) team.  The court team spoke in code, often in soft whispers so as not to disturb the deal making attorneys scattered about.

Due to unpleasant circumstances, I witnessed this pattern repeated many times.  Many of the defendants were street people, and over time, I saw the same people again and again.  The judge would forgive some fees that had never been paid, big shock, and apply new fees.  To me the street people seemed more like they were playing a role.  They knew the script and performed their parts perfectly.  But, of course, it was not acting just repetition that made it seem so absurd.

My time visiting court soon ended.  I learned that all the respect I had for the criminal justice system was based on something I had seen on TV, and the reality was a ridiculous farce.  Totally lacking in logic or humanity. 

Much of my experience watching this nonsense was during the holiday season.  Every year around this time, I think about all the people I saw who were treated with such disrespect.  It changed me and not for the better.  I fear cops in a way I never did before, and the fear of the “justice” system is imbedded in me and will never go away.  Sitting in the other world, I also began to irrationally fear people in suits.

I know most people will say those people caused their own misery; but to watch them being treated as if they had no meaning is to lose some faith in humans.  It is how we treat the weakest among us that establishes our humanity; we need to do better.

Some of these experiences ended up in my books.  Both the Vincent Malone and Muckraker series draw on these actual court room experiences during legal proceedings in those books.  However, I did not make it as strange as it actually was, because I thought it would seem unbelievable.

Thanks for being a reader!