Stetson Jeff Kicks around in Amish Country

The adventures of Stetson Jeff Stetson, co-written by Justin Fike and myself, are finally becoming available in paperback. After cruising to the top of Amazon’s list this summer in the Satire category, with 1000 downloads plus in under a week, jumping ahead of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for a while, the first Stetson Jeff Adventure, Beatdown in Bangkok, has garnered rave reviews. While the second book, Mayhem in Marrakesh, only has one review posted as I write this, we feel that Stetson Jeff’s saga really comes of age in Pandemonium in Paradise. Set in Pennsylvania Amish country, this last book escalates Stetson’s growing awareness of a crime syndicate called A.S.P. with hilarious results.

As the end of the year approaches, our writing team decided to run a Kickstarter campaign to do pre-sales for the roll-out of the paperback, which includes all three of the books above in one volume. You’re going to love it! Check out the Kickstarter here.

If you’re still not sure you want to support the Kickstarter project, and want a free sample first to see if this is your kinda thing, you can get Beatdown in Bangkok for free by signing up for our email list here.

 

Perspectives from Cairo

There wasn’t much mental space for poetry or writing much of anything while I was in Egypt. I also had technical challenges to dumping pics from my camera to the blog.

It was a whirlwind of making connections, tourism, eating amazing food, meeting new people, and so on. My hosts (people I met in Thailand last February) even commented on the last day that they thought I had made the most of my time. All my meetings went as planned, and I was even invited to lead a five hour training for two groups.

The opportunities in Cairo are daunting, like looking at a pyramid and thinking about climbing it. (These days you are not allowed to climb the pyramids at Giza).  But they’re also exhilarating and the doors are wide open for doing some things there that would be very new for Egyptians. The opportunities are huge, but whether or not I can handle it is simply a matter of perspective. Pick up a pyramid and stick it in your pocket.

There’s a lot I can’t discuss publicly regarding my trip, but here are a few pictures from my time in Egypt that give you a bit of flavor.

dscn0016

above: meeting for dinner and finishing up with some sweet mint tea on the Nile with a new friend. You can see some river cruise boats in the background.

dscn0024

training group: I spent one day working with this org. and several of their non-Egyptian friends (none are pictured) and we all had a blast (and also some really deep moments).

I’ll post a bunch more photos on the next blog.

 

 

Cairo Update

I have ten minutes before I head out the door to lead a training from 10-3:30. I have virtually no idea what I’m going to do, besides the obvious: wing it.

Of course I have notes, but to get a good flow you have to be the riverbed. You have to find a way to become lower so others can move like a river to the ocean. That’s not a new metaphor for me in my work, but I certainly get to explore it at a new level today.

This will be my first attempt to teach coaching methodology entirely through an interpreter. I have no idea what the education level of my trainees is, how much of my English they will understand before it gets translated.

It will be important for me to establish for them why coaching is a Biblical model for leadership development. It’s not listed in Scriptures, only hinted at. But they are a group of Christians, so putting it in a context where they can embrace it is very important. Once I’ve done that I’m going to go with my gut about what to teach next, picking exercises out of the old hat that is my memory. The thrill of spur of the moment decisions.

As soon as I’m done I head off to Alexandria for two days. Now that I’ve seen the Nile, I’m excited to follow  the river down the highway, through the cradle of the Civil War… oops, slipped into Paul Simon there for a minute.

Alexandria sounds cool to me. The place where the world’s largest library once existed, a sort of World Wide Web in one place, a place where learning has been cherished. I’m excited to see what I will learn there.

It looks like I will do another one of these trainings on the 9th, again from 10-3 or so. It’s fun to be invited for stuff like that after meeting people once.

The meetings I had yesterday were amazing, but I’ll have to save that update for another time.

Sorry no pics, I’m posting them to Facebook and Instagram but I don’t have a good way to move them to my tablet.

Exchange Value like a Dollar Does

Arrived in Egypt. My hosts told me not to change money at home or the airport. A quick Google search reveals the Egyptian Pound exchanging officially at 8.8 to the dollar. In reality, if you know the right people you can trade USD for 12:1. This stretches my dollars enough that the first street food I bought, a bbq chicken schwarma with yogurt to dip, cost 25 pounds or just a fuzz over $2. At 8.8, the same schwarma is a lot closer to $3. That difference over an eight-day stay is going to be huge, yoooge, in my favor.

For all of Americans’ own concern over their own political process right now, a concern the rest of the world no doubt shares, that dollar is still viewed as a stabilizer, so much so that people who are creating value here in Egypt (and therefore have a profitable enterprise of some sort) are willing to pay a premium to get these dollars and stash them.

It reminds me of conversations I’ve had with Americans who get into buying silver as an investment; they too are hoping to have something stable in reserve if the other collapses.

There are a couple principles we can draw from this. One of them is that there’s always going to be something people perceive as “more stable” than what they have. But there’s an even more important principle driving the whole thing: you’ve got to be able to produce something valuable, and as long as you are able to do that, you can be profitable.

Looking to any sort of currency for long term stability is spiritually risky. I’m not saying that a savings plan is wrong. The danger zone seems to be in the area where we rely on what we’ve saved more than on what we can make, and on what we can make more than on faith.

When you’re afraid, somebody is going to benefit from that to your detriment, just the way I’m now benefiting from a 12:1 ratio.

In our work, we need to focus on creating value in the moment. Even if the dollar collapses, our ability to create value will live on. In our rest, however, we have to focus on faith. If we focus in our rest on what we’ve saved aside, hoping in our stockpile… we won’t really be resting. You can’t rest in the future, only in the present.

(artwork: weaving done with Egyptian materials by Anneke Price, Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Coaching for Options: SEVEN approaches to the “binary” election process

I’ve been careful to avoid discussions of politics unless absolutely necessary. Yesterday I talked to a friend who said “I don’t want to vote.” I can understand the desire to abstain: it’s like someone is offering us a potent drink, as if we’re being offered some hallucinogen, really, and they’re telling us it will go down smooth, but it makes us sick just looking at it. Aside from the Anabaptist theological stance against voting that my Mennonite friends take, which I respect, and believe is worth reading up on, abstention from voting is considered in the broader culture to be un-American, yet more and more Americans don’t do it. It makes me wonder: when push comes to shove, do we not want to be Americans anymore? Whether you think voting is in itself a right (which means you can abstain) or a responsibility (which means you should vote, although you still might not) it’s worth considering all the options, even the crazy ones.

When coaching people who have tough decisions to make, a coach’s job is to encourage them to generate options. Establishing a minimum of five is yeoman’s work, and helping someone get to ten is a good day at the office.

If you’re struggling to see beyond two options in a system often called “binary” I have a list for you. I’ve started by challenging myself to brainstorm for ten options. I’ve put them in alphabetical order so that you know I’ve reserved my opinion.

  1. Abstain, because it’s your right to vote or not vote.
  2. Anabaptist: because you’re “going Amish” and have decided not only will you no longer vote but will also no longer participate in any litigation, etc. (2B: Or some other version of taking the theological or complex philosophical road out).
  3. Clinton, because it’s your responsibility to vote.
  4. Flip a coin between the two major players, or another game of chance, because (4A) in your state the polls show it doesn’t matter, one of the candidates is a shoo-in, and/or because (4B) it’s your responsibility to vote but you can’t bring yourself to take the responsibility seriously.
  5. Johnson, or (5B) other third party candidate who happens to be on the ballot in your state, because it’s your responsibility to vote.
  6. Move to a different country and change your citizenship, because you don’t want to be an American anymore if this is what we’re coming to.
  7. Trump, because it’s your responsibility to vote.

Okay, I got to seven. I was going for ten and got stuck. Now that the options are listed, you get to be the judge. You don’t decide whether or not the options are legitimate until AFTER you’ve listed them, and that’s a key to generating options. Now that I’ve looked this list over, I will tell you there are some of them I find worthy of at least a little consideration and some I don’t like at all. Interestingly, of the options I really don’t like, two of them are the so called “binary” options. That’s how powerful — empowering — it is to brainstorm options.

Before generating seven options, I was stuck with two distasteful choices. Now I can make a decision. Abracadabra.

Dream BIG Retreat coming soon!

Here’s an event I’m excited about attending. I’ll be one of the featured speakers! It’s called the Dream Big Retreat. It’s taking place in Chesterton, Indiana, from October 13-15 and is led and organized by a good friend of mine, Nancy Becher. She’s got a passion for seeing small business owners succeed.

There will be about half a dozen great business coaches there, sharing tips. Last year one guy came away with some new strategies that increased his business 83%!

This event is perfect for solopreneurs and small business owners who want to take a step back and work on the big picture. There’s a mantra (I think it’s from the E-Myth) that you should “work ON your business, not just IN your business.” Well, if you haven’t taken time to do that lately, now is the time.

There’s still space, and registration is ridiculously cheap, so get in on it now!

 

 

Why you should write your book

Do you have negative self-talk? What you’re telling yourself might be even more powerful because it’s true. Nobody really cares about your stupid book. In the US alone there are over 300,000 NEW books published every year. I will account for three of them this year, maybe four or five or six next year, and you know what? For the most part nobody (percentage-wise) really cares.

1812: 204 years ago, the year Charles Dickens was born, 66 novels were published in England. In the whole year. Yes, about five per month. That’s it.

1837-1901: 60,000 novels published during the Victorian era. That’s an average of 937 a year, but of course it was accelerating, so in 1837 it was much lower than that average, and by 1900 it would have been quite a bit more.

2000 and later: 300,000+ per year in the USA alone (China doubles it). Let’s say that 1% of those are decent, and 0.1% are very good. It’s unlikely you’ll read 300 very good books in a year. That’s one a day! If there was a way to curate and determine the best 0.01% of all the books written in a single year, you’d still need to get through three a month to read them all. (And instead you’re reading my blog.)

The odds that anyone will ever care about your stupid book are slim. So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on.

On the other hand, by the end of the decade 6 Billion people will have a device with which they can get online. Quite a few of them are able to read in English, but if you want to write in Mandarin or several other languages you might have a larger potential audience of those 6 Billion. And you only need 10,000 fans of that 6 Billion to make a decent living if you can publish a new book every other month or so. That’s only 0.00001666% of the people who are online. Suddenly it looks more doable. Is 0.0000166% nobody?

Let’s say you sell a book for $3.99 (on average) to each of those nobodies (Amazon will likely take 30% so lets round to keep it simple and say you maybe make $3 per copy to 2500 of your 10,000 person fan base of nobodies. And you do this 4 times per year. You just made $30,000. Now in my town you can almost live on that.

But if you don’t have 10,000 readers, then you’re sort of back to nobody cares.

So why write the book?

Because it gives you a sense of fun, accomplishment, satisfaction. That is all. You have the fans, or you don’t, you build a database or you don’t. Most people who complete a new book will tell you they didn’t expect it to make them a lot of money. They did it for that personal satisfaction of completing something. Making something well. Sharing it with a few friends.

A true friend: someone who cares about the book you wrote.

Forget about the six billion. If you’re ambitious there are plenty of books that will tell you how to get 10,000 fans. If you’re not trying to earn a living with it, that’s ok.

You have to get past worrying about whether anyone will care. They won’t. And even if they don’t, you’ll be glad you did it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It all falls in Place

Sometimes you just have to commit.

About two months ago I bought tickets for a trip to Cairo. I felt like there were people I should meet there, contacts to make. I knew I had one friend who could host me, so I bought the tickets.

I’m just under two weeks from departure, and my schedule is full for an entire ten days in Egypt. Sure, I had to reach out to my network. There was some work involved in connecting with people, but frankly I’m a little shocked it’s all come together so easily.

Sometimes you have to go with your gut.

What’s your gut saying?

Review: S.S.B.’s “Wild Edges”

I’m about to take some road trips; I have some speeches to give and seminars to lead. Shiny Shiny Black’s new album, Wild Edges, is going with me. (If only they could come play live at my speaking gigs.)

One of the best things about taking a road trip is finger food. Crackers are a good place to start: I always liked Ritz crackers or Wheat Thins. My problem is that I just keep eating them until I’ve eaten a whole sleeve, or a whole box. They’re just kind of there in your lap and you keep on munching. That’s the snare drum on this album, it just keeps popping into your mouth and you can’t get enough. You’re going to eat the whole box, and you know it when you turn the key in the ignition, before you back out of the garage. You can’t help yourself.

Shiny Shiny Black’s entire sound for not only this album, but the previous one (Travelers) as well, majors on this guitar that I want to call twangy though it’s nowhere near country-western. Among the tags SSB uses on their own website (how they define their own sound) are labels like Rockabilly and Americana. The guitar sounds very rockabilly indeed, but I think of that genre as being a bit faster-paced. Now, when this guitar comes in on track one (Gone) it’s like putting a thick slice of garlic venison summer sausage on your snare drum-Ritz cracker. I mean, they just go together, and you can just keep eating that until you’ve eaten all the salami, too. That might sound like something you’d get tired of, but it’s only five songs (plus a bonus track) so it doesn’t get old before it’s over.

Other than the snappy drum and clean reverberating guitar, there’s not a ton of instrumentation on the album; at least not in any sort of prominent way. There’s a bit of Hammond organ, which I really like, maybe a touch of banjo. But my favorite part of the mix is Amber’s voice (blended other female voices, Nate tells me) backing vocals. They’re mixed in perfectly: the harmony is tight, her voice is as smooth as ever, and the volume level is perfect too. Your ear’s going to enjoy that vocal and the organ here and there like a Starbuck’s Frappucchino: when you’re listening to an album that feels like it’s precisely designed for a road trip in the car, you need something that eats up time, but keeps you awake, too. That’s what the touch of organ and the backup vocals do for this album: they are the caffeine. They make you listen closely, just the way caffeine helps you watch the road.

In  simple yet poetic language, the lyrics give you the dynamic tension between wanting to always be away and a hunger for home. This is the perfect album for a “third-culture kid”. It’s said that children whose parents are from one culture, and who are raised in a different culture, are most at home in airports. They have a sort of perpetual wanderlust. Lyrically this album should appeal to everyone who has been raised in different cultures than they inhabit, left home, made peace with those cultures, and somehow found their way back home. Or, at least, people who have made a nest inside of different cultures that fits them, like one of those Russian nesting dolls. The track “Hallelujah” speaks of finding something good out of a wacky culture.  Overall, the first five tracks take you away from home and bring you full circle back. The bonus, a nod to making music while raising children, teaching them to shoot for the stars, gives us a reminder that no matter how road weary, how much we’ve found our home, there’s always something new to wonder about.

There’s one change I think I would have preferred: I would have used that soft Hammond organ on track six instead of the guitar. They could get a sound that’s a little less percussive than the arpeggio plucking of guitar strings, and capitalize on the fact that the organ was there in the first place. It would have been cohesive and a bit softer.

Nate Butler has been around a bunch of different musical styles. I wouldn’t say he’s played everything, (I don’t remember seeing him in a tux playing William Tell’s Overture on the timpani, though I’m sure he could do it) but for those who remember his Frequency Theater days, and who may have missed SSB’s first album, it’s time to sit up and pay attention. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel. The Butlers haven’t. In fact, Nate, especially, has taken a lot of back roads to get on this Interstate, or Intergalactic highway, steered his semi straight, and he’s going to get that million miles behind him. What I’m saying is, he’s found his truck, or his route, or his Millenium Falcon, and they’re in hyper-drive. They are cruising. SSB says this is their best effort yet. I’m not sure it’s better than Travelers, but that was a really great album, more songs, which equates naturally to perhaps more depth and variety. Lyrically, Wild Edges has every bit as much depth as you can cram into an EP. I’m also a fan of simple, non-esoteric lyrics, and they’ve nailed that.  This sophomore album is so consistent with the debut, it’s clear they’ve not only found the niche (Americana) but developed a trucking brand. Shiny, Shiny Black, y’all: not a product of luck; rather, a product of sweat, high polish, spit-shine, time, and drive.

Why you should buy this album: If you are a blue-blooded American, there’s a good chance you take a road trip now and then. You need this album for your next road trip. “The best place I’ve ever been is on the road.” If you don’t have “Travelers” you should pick that up for your road trip, too.

Here’s where you can preorder the album, a whole variety of stuff, including tickets to the album release show, signed drumsticks and other whatnots. Available through September 23. This is not a Kickstarter– the album is happening no matter what, so they’re using a different service, but similar.

Here is the band’s website.

Album release party info for people in the Goshen, IN, area (or willing to drive or fly in, I’m sure you’re welcome!) is available at this facebook link.

I was not compensated by SSB to write this review, although I was of course given a pre-release copy of the CD.

 

 

 

New Book on Amazon!

Here it is: Mayhem in Marrakesh: A Stetson Jeff Adventure (#2). Published just in time to enjoy on Labor Day.

If you haven’t read book one in this series, I recommend checking that out first (it’s only $0.99) [UPDATE: Beatdown in Bangkok is FREE through Saturday 9/10! Now ranking in the top TEN in the Satire Category on Amazon!] and it has a lot more reviews on it, so you can decide if it sounds like it’s for you. It also sets the story up, like any series. All my books are listed on my bookstore pare.

I’ve been working so crazy fast on #3 (release date: sometime in November) that I got blisters on my hand. Guess I need to work on how I position my hand on the keyboard.