West on West by Jerry West

Recommended beach reading for Type A’s in all walks of life, not just basketball

I don’t watch basketball. I don’t care about basketball. Yet, I found myself purchasing a book with basketball as its main theme on Saturday and had completed it by Sunday before church. It is West by West, by Jerry West, a man I’d never heard of in my life (when I ask Rog what he thinks of Jerry West he says “one of the greatest hoop players of all time. The NBA logo is modeled after him.”) Indeed.

Reality is that I was getting my weekly dose of the publishing world by reading Publishers Weekly and having no handy reading material other than a past issue of PW, started through the pages, ended up in the Reviews section, and see what I instantly categorize as ‘yet another boring biography by a former athlete I’ve never heard of,’ when I read the snippet from PW. It’s beyond glowing.  I think the reviewer nearly had a personal moment when writing the review. Since I rarely read reviews from PW infused with this type of love, I go to the amazon kindle store, see the hard cover price is nearly $30, and the kindle price is about half. Sold.

The book didn’t disappoint. The writing style is raw, like the man himself apparently is in real life. The subtitle includes the word tormented for a reason, for West was a product of an unemotional, abusive home full of children his parents could barely afford or properly love. Already sensitive and withdrawn, West becomes moreso when his older brother is killed in Vietnam. Turning inward, West devotes his attention to an object: in this case, a round ball, and it becomes his life and his means out of a home he wants to leave but then can’t stand to stay away (for long). His cracked psyche manifests itself in perfectionism, a man who can’t appreciate the good because it is forever overshadowed by the bad. This hurts himself, his wife, even the women who he slept with outside his marriage, but as he himself writes, was unable to be okay with who he was.

This alone is not what makes the book interesting, nor was it the basketball stories, though the ones he includes had a nice balance of factoids mixed with interesting human sidenotes. Even the men I didn’t know about came alive in the scenes described. Good job twice over on that. It’s hard enough for professional authors to bring a person to life and West does it with aplomb.

Another reason I enjoyed West by West is because it gives light to the fragility of elite players at any level–high school, college, and the pros. Elite players, let’s call them life competitors, share unique traits. To understand and nurture an individual blessed with the talent, drive and ego (or lack thereof) is hard a hard task to accomplish. As West graduated from player to basketball executive, his understanding of the personalities in this arena served him (and the LA Lakers well).

West by West as a cannon for anyone person who works with, for, is married to, or is in fact, in the category of a competitive, Type A personality. The ego, drive, insecurities and challenges don’t end with the clock. That’s just the beginning. West knows that now, five kids, two marriages, umpteen decades after he started his journey. Reading about it is worth the $15.

Happy 18th Birthday Nemo!

Congratulations on the college entrance examinations. Now go celebrate!

What I love about technology is the world is flat. Through the wonders of social media and communications (and yes, a few do exist) – we–my daughter and myself, have met the most amazing people from around the world.

Nemo is no exception to this phenomena, except he is…well…an exception. Bright, fluent in English, hilarious–I always know who my daughter is speaking to because I hear her laughing a floor away and down the hall. To put this in perspective, our house is mostly concrete, but she is sixteen after all, and so that must account for some of the noise:-

Of course the challenge in this case, is that Nemo and my daughter go back and forth conversing between Mandarin and English, thus, I’m only catching half the convo when I care to listen in, but honestly, between the fits of laughter and language barrier, I can’t understand a word. This is truly a sign of aging, but if your child is brought joy and laughter through a friend from half-way around the world, I’m all for it. Good people are hard enough to come by, good friends even more so.

Happy 18th Nemo. Can’t wait to celebrate your entrance to college when you receive the results!

From our home in Idaho to yours!

Top 5 again…still going strong after 6 years

The story of Sue Kim continues to resonate around the world

Just wow. Behind Ray Liotta and before Taylor Swift, the authorized biography of Sue Kim is #3 today on Amazon downloads without promotion or advertising, just word of mouth. This book has hovered in the top five for nearly six years and for good reason.

Discovered by American GIs, the young singing trio are driven to perform

The recounting of the sixties darling and Korean superstar Sue Kim continues to transcend cultures and fads, her made-for-a-movie life includes a musical prodigy born to superstar parents, a father murdered by the North Koreans, her mother escaping a mountain prison, being discovered by American GI’s, and her eventual landing in the United States to find fame and love on the main stages around the country. Eventually finding love with a man New Yorker who became the longest running casino boss in the country, Sue Kim is still alive and living in Las Vegas.

June 6, 2022

You can read the reviews from around the world and see the pictures included in both the ebook and print. With exclusive access to Sue’s archived materials and interviewing over 70 people, the four years of research was worth every moment. Creating scenes from reading the descriptions of before/during/after the war was both challenging and fun, but hands down, the hardest part was the editing. And despite what a few of the reviewers have said (early versions unfortunately had a few grammatical hiccups) the true editing challenge was culling a 700-page manuscript down to a page-length readers could handle, sub-300. Now that was hard. My mother, bless her struggling eyes, cried when she compared the first version to the final, because she loved the extra stories and color. Alas, I wasn’t writing a multi-book anthology, but the highlights.

A global, constant reader favorite

Why Free?

Because the story of one-time superstar from North Korea, remembered by the Sinatra generation is not going to hit anyone’s popular list, and this story deserves to be known around the world. Given my library of books, and the draw of avid readers in over 100 countries (crazy but true) I want to entice each and every one to download the Sue Kim story. Every ebook platform, every format possible–it’s there for the taking.

A few of my favorite themes of Sue’s life are perseverance, determination and the ability to overcome through sheer will but ultimately, turning to God to truly find the peace that success can’t provide, no matter how bright the lights or big the stage. It’s going to officially be summer in a few days; download the ebook on any device (I’ve not stipulated limits so go for it!) and when you’re done, write a review, pose a question or make a comment. Sue’s life is an inspiration to all.

Summer 2022 bookbash

Get ready to download 65 books….

It’s here. The first of many promotions run by bookcave, kicking off the Summer Bookbash with 65 authors in the romantic-suspense category feature 65 books, my first women’s title, A Convenient Date included. Click here, search and load up for beachside reading.

Also, if you’re not following my Instagram, I’ll often do 24 hour deals or different promos that tie into some event where I’m participating. Videos and the funny life that is mine — IG address issarahgerdes_author.

Shout out to NEMO

My readers span over a hundred countries, with a high percentage in the Asia-Pacific region. My publisher can hypothesize all he wants, but I’ve not yet fully understood the interest but clearly grasp the response when I see the royalty reports for Japan, Malayasia, Singapore and elsewhere on a monthly basis. It’s amazing…

My Chinese friend

……Just like the dear friend of my oldest daughter, whose nickname is Nemo. He and my daughter switch between Mandarin and English, she’s teaching him all the American-girl slang, which I’m not sure is going to be super helpful unless he’s dating one. All I know is that when she’s another floor down at the end of the house laughing, she’s invariably talking to Nemo. Thus, another reason why I simply love people of all cultures and perspectives–goodness and joy exists everywhere, we just have to be open to it, then take the time to nourish and strengthen what we’ve found.

Best crab cakes

With summer entertaining kicking off this Memorial Day weekend, I’m getting hit up for some guest favorites. The following recipe for crab cakes is a sure-fire winner for any occasion or season.

What makes this recipe so good you might ask? A large portion of the decade I spent in San Francisco was at Fog City Diner. The diner was located within walking distance of my office on Sansome and Montgomery and was a key decision-making factor when I searched for a bigger office space. Every lunch for six years was spent at the diner, the tab making it even easier as a go-to, my ever-expanding waistline bore testament to my addiction. When Rog and I started dating, he predicted I was on the fast-track to a heart attack. I either needed to start running along the Embarcadero or “cut back on the crab cakes.”

Sadly, the week I decided to move to Seattle (having then married Roger and realizing that a split-city relationship does not make for the optimal situation) I was told by the management I’d been voted in for a plaque on my favorite table. Alas! Well, I took the plaque with me along with the cookbook.

The Crab is key

The key to great crab cakes is having a high proportion of crab, as well as enhancing the flavors of the other ingredients. The way to do this is by sautéing the onion, garlic, celery and peppers in a metal-bottomed pan. This blends and folds the flavors in a way that is not accomplished by adding the ingredients together cold.  This particular part is a Sarah special, and differs from Fog City. In other words, it’s a blend of a southern, creole recipe, a northwestern recipe and my additional ingredients I’ve incorporated over the years as I’ve served (and listened) to guest response. It’s always the first appetizer to go. I hope you love it as much as I do.

1 lb fresh lump crabmeat (costco has a pre-packaged/fresh that is a great buy at $13/lb)
½ cup butter, some oil (depending on preference) 1 cup fresh bread crumbs 1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped orange and yellow each
1 chopped sweet onion
¼ cup minced sweet red onion
½ jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup chopped celery (inner stocks)
2 tsp fresh chopped tarragon
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp cayenne
½ tsp Hungarian paprika
Bit of cayenne pepper
Bit of Tobasco sauce
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs (I prefer parmesan or garlic)
1 1/3 cup mayonnaise    

Preparation

Heat butter and oil in a large skillet. Slice both red and sweet onion finely. Sautee a few minutes. Slice the peppers & chile, add to the sautee. 3-5 minutes depending on heat. Near the end, add the garlic. Remove from heat and let cool. Add the crab and all other ingredients except egg, mayonnaise and bread crumbs. Lightly beat the eggs and mayonnaise. Add to the mixture. Add the seasoned bread crumbs to the point where the mixture holds together but is not dry.

Note-if the mixture is runny and you are out of breadcrumbs, press the moisture out of the mixture through a strainer. If it’s still runny, chop more breadcrumbs to reduce the moisture. (If the mixture if runny when cooked, the cakes won’t stay together, and will fall apart).

Forming the crab cakes

Using a small round tablespoon scooper, cantelope scooper or such item, scoop, round and place in the hot skillet. To ensure a nice, even crab cake, use a fork (or other object) to slightly flatten the crab cake. If I am in a rush, I use a bacon press. This ensures the cakes are even and cook very fast.

Sherry Cayenne Topping

Mix together 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon cayenne, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar. Place a dollop on each crab cake

Slot machine relationships

My dad said that his early success was due to his ability to ‘get people talking’ in the first few seconds, thereby immediately creating a connection. His comment rang true when I was qualifying a gentleman about being a part of my next book. 

About a second after the call started, he asked me how I liked living in San Francisco back in the day. Roughly five minutes in, he politely interrupted and said very formally: “I’ve decided to let you interview me.” I laughed, teasing that I thought he was the one being qualified.

“Actually, I got you talking by asking you one question. Only one,” he emphasized with the wisdom of the seventy-year-old, self-made man that he was. “You answered directly, honestly and made no pretenses to what I thought about the subject matter.” Intrigued, I momentarily forgot his net worth (nearly a billion dollars) and my list of questions. I was impressed he’d gotten me talking and said so.

“I was determining if you were worthy of my time,” he said without guile. This was the beginning of a long, rewarding, and fulfilling correspondence with an individual I’ve never met in person, but who has since imparted tremendous wisdom over the years.

Genuine caring negates the fear

Early in my career, I was the voice for my employer, the direct line of defense to investors and press, making the case for the company, product(s) or both. Having seen my father in action and armed with words of wisdom, I worked to master the art of pitching to complete strangers. Selling – influencing – means you have to embrace fear:  fear of failure. As I detail in a semi-autobiographical book, had I not been a single mother, my fear of rejection would have been enough for me to quit. 

Yet I was inhibited until I realized I had to learn to love the process of pitching. Perhaps “love” is too strong a word.  I had to learn to be vulnerable. Being personable, sharing glimpses of my life requires a certain level of courage. Risking people judging you on very little information.  But, as with pitching, sharing snippets of oneself is also a process. Once I let myself be, asking and talking about the meaningful parts of life; family, pets and failures, all without prejudice or judgment, and always within the bounds of propriety and professionalism, whatever inhibitors that remained disappeared. 


We are humans, born with the innate need to love and be loved. Often, just caring is enough. You’d be surprised—as I was—the impact one can have on another’s life just by caring.

The slot-machine relationship 

For one project, I was tasked with working with the local media for a non-profit organization who in twenty years had made zero effort in terms of public relations. Donation drives for money and food yes; caring, focus and efforts to engage the press or developing strategic relationships, no. As a consequence, other similarly tasked groups were the firs to receive media calls, resulting in favorable coverage and ultimately, more donations.

I knew this was going to be a multi-year hurdle, because the first prejudice against a new media contact is that the interaction is only going to be a transaction; a classic slot-machine relationship. To counteract this, I started with sharing the basics, such as my goal of changing public perception but also that I was in it for the long-haul. Anticipating skepticism, I gradually began sending short pitches about other subjects or organizations that would be relevant for the publication.

In other words: I made each editor’s life easier by feeding them stories that had nothing to do with me. (For all you new PR/media folks, keep in mind an entire page/website/section of content needs to be filled every day. That’s a tough job! But remember, editors need you as much as you need them). I then went the extra mile and wrote articles that they could place, generally human-interest based upon a particular section.

Over time, this approach led to a foundational appreciation of my work, and their respect that it “wasn’t just all about me or the organization I represented.” My unsolicited shares demonstrated that I genuinely cared about their [the editor’s] success. At the core, the song from High School Musical is true: We are all in this together. Whether or not you wretch on the example, if we—the contributing members of society don’t care and help one another—we are left without a strong, invested and caring community.

It came down to the dog

Fast forward a few years. The six major media outlets, covering four cities in print and then two for the overall region, eventually came around and every two or three weeks, we had a major profile. This translated to over 600,000 ‘eyeballs’ looking at the positive press. Before and after polls showed that the awareness of, and positive perception of the entity went from single digits to over seventy percent (75%?  some people you’ll never win over).

Despite my near two-year efforts, one particularly tough editor simply wouldn’t cover the organization. I was never sure why this was the case, and I assumed that over time the good of the group be covered. Seven years later, she announced she would eventually relocate to the east coast to care for her ailing mother. I was really bummed. Although my work with the non-profit had ended, we’d continued to have the occasional sushi lunches and I brought her German Shepard dogs homemade treats.

The last day, we had lunch, eating spicy tuna hand rolls, talking about how our relationship had overcome the initial bumps and hurdles. She confessed she hated the former policies of the non-profit, and thought they were hypocritical and prejudiced to other non-profits.  

“Do you know why I finally covered your organization? You asked about me after my dog died. No one else did, not even my family members.”

What I’d done was natural to me and would be to every animal lover. They are our everything.  Ultimately, when she hurt, I hurt, and she knew it.

Our relationship with deity is not transactional

In a talk by D. Todd Christofferson, he used this slot-machine mentality in the context of our relationship to God, wherein a person has this “if-this-then-that,” approach. Ergo, if I am a ‘good person,’ my marriage won’t end in divorce. Or, if I give to charity then my business will be a success. If that were the case, as I’m paraphrasing here, then the decrements of our life should also hold true. The reason my car was sideswiped was because of my dishonesty at work.

Not all actions are going to cause a reaction that we desire. Not all books are bestsellers, not all articles are positive and not all relationships work, despite the amount of effort, devotion and love given. Even so, the forward momentum, pushed along by the engine of desire while being directionally correct continues, regardless of the immediate outcome. That’s the long-term approach, with man or with God. Evolving from the immediate impact, such as making the media page, selling the car or dropping off the cake to the neighbor transitions to caring, giving or and loving, the emotion which inspired the act, rather than the act itself. As the phrase goes, it’s not about what was said, but how you made the person feel. 

Returning to the successful executive and the editor, both individuals have been in my life for nearly fifteen years now. I’ve never physically met the businessman and haven’t seen the editor for six years now (and running), but it’s irrelevant. What’s in the heart has transcended proximity and time. 

The Billionaire Next Door

Unfortunately, this isn’t the happy ending Guy Kawasaki is known for, where one scrimps, saves, ends up with millions and is nice to boot. Nope. This is where a regular joe gets lucky with construction, parlaying one home to another, ultimately creating (then losing) a premiere golf course, but the windfall is still enough to give him a home on the water and about $1.1B in the bank.

Why now? Why this story?

Because after fifteen minutes at his home, pitching him on a business that will actually help people of color and the disadvantaged, and listening to his comments, I pondered for a hot minute, then announced: “we should end the conversation now because we aren’t aligned in our thinking.” He was taken aback as I stood, stammering as he tried to prevent my departure.

Here are a few choice comments he made during that painfully brief time we spent together.

Me: “Don’t you care about the world your grandchildren will grow up in and experience?”

Him: “No, I don’t see them that much anyway.”

Alrighty then….

Me: “Are you okay with a world where the stay-at-home economy is all we know, therein losing the opportunity to interact with those not like ourselves, helping us grow and live together—essentially, have understanding and compassion for others?”

Him: “Nope. I get all my stuff from Amazon. I like the way things are.”

A sad existence…..

I’ll skip over the bantering part where he gloated about getting in at the opening price of Facebook or that he thought most charities were schemes for the executives, or why he didn’t need personal advisors because he was smarter than all of them. I try one last attempt to get things back on track.

Me: “This place is beautiful, one of the nicest on the lake, but what about your wife? Don’t you two get out—and don’t you want this to remain lovely and inviting to those around you who are less fortunate?”

Him: “Are you referring to the woman who greeted you? She’s the housekeeper. I’m twice divorced, and no, I don’t care.”

They are probably better off for it….

At that point, it ceased being about the money, or his working with the organization in any capacity. This was about the simple things, like life, values, morals, ethics or lack thereof.

“Well, (name), thanks for your time, but I don’t believe we’re a fit for one another at any level,” and as I stand, I continue: “I’ll let myself out if that’s alright.”

Seeing I’m going to leave regardless, he rises, apologizes and insists I tell him more. I politely decline.

“From this brief conversation, it’s clear we don’t share any of the same values or ideals, and that’s quite alright. You have your view of the world and I have mine. Let’s just leave it at that.”

I start to leave his glorious gazebo by the lake, the metal, concrete and glass structure outfitted with a round, queen-size copper fireplace in the middle, sound-activated window shields and 180 unobstructed views behind. He rushes beside me, insisting that I can’t walk back up the gravel path in my heels (which I really can’t, but was going to try), but must go in his custom (and highly cool, I will admit) little 4×4.

Heed the 3-second rule

On the ride up, I realize that the first impression, the one Harvard Business School calls the “3-second rule” played out, once again. In 3 seconds, a person snapshots what they see, makes a judgement, and it’s usually right. The man who’d come to the door had answered in a t-shirt that included a moose, a crass statement and a curse word. I didn’t recognize him, and certainly didn’t believe him to be the man who’d taken my meeting.

As my agent always says: truth isn’t believable, that’s why we put it into a book, call it fiction and pass it off to the reader, because it’s the only way it’s palatable. Standing there, in my linen pants, heels and good attitude, I encounter a man who’s made good financially, but failed to acquire the class, perspective, kindness or compassion of others who aren’t a 10th as “successful.” In my words, he’s a complete failure.

The epilogue

Like so many a person who is suddenly rejected, his overly-solicitous nature went into hyperdrive on the carport area, as though he divined that I was neither impressed by his home, money or t-shirt. He made every offer possible for me to re-pitch and re-engage in the discussion. While polite to the very end, his efforts were disingenuous, and we both knew it. Nothing he could say would change who he’d revealed himself to be, and no amount of money or words would entice me to interact with him again. The downside would far outweigh the dollars.

And all these trite sayings….money can’t buy happiness, or you can’t buy class… they come from somewhere, and that place is real life, where you and I live each and every day. So when you read a line or a scene in my book, odds are—it happened, but as my agent said, I’m just writing about it, calling it fiction so it’s not as hard to digest.

God, ratings and distribution

An author’s cheat sheet for getting the right readers through the ratings

During my last trip, the GM of the hotel where we were staying finally admitted he’d been writing a mystery romance novel and invited my thoughts. I was thrilled for him and his forthcoming book! An Egyptian by birth, the man speaks seven languages, served as an executive at the Four Seasons in both Eqypt and London, his depth of experiences superb for writing not just one novel, but a series.

Everyone has a story to tell….

His foremost concern were the topics off-limits in many highly religious parts of the world. This was the opportunity for me to talk about book ratings, a subject that was completely invisible to me until about five years ago when I found myself rejected from a variety of marketing campaigns. After digging into the issue, I discovered my submissions didn’t have a ‘book rating,’ and until this occurred, I’d be prevented from participating.

What is a book rating?

It’s akin to the movie rating system in the EU or America. Several sites offer ratings, which require the submission of manuscript, but also the authors self-identified ratings in major categories. Once submitted, an audit team comprised of readers and editors validate the author-submitted ratings.

What’s rated?

Four-five general sections depending on the site/service: language (curse words), sexuality (same sex), sex (all kinds) graphic (gore). In each of these sections, a scale exists that one must select. At the end, the composite of the above places the book in a category that assigns a rating. If, upon editorial review, what the author has submitted proves incorrect, the rating of the author drops, so the honor system is tightly controlled and multiple offenses result in the author being rejected outright. In other words, one must be accurate.

Why bother?

Because an author (or publisher) wants the broadest distribution for the book. Years ago, major big box stores such as WalMart had different criteria (standards?!) than they do today. That said, Christian bookstores—which have maintained their revenue through the ebook trends—adhere to the rating system. If your book curses God or contains gore, it wouldn’t have been carried without a rating, but if your book is within the required parameters, it should be carried, and that requires a rating.

In terms of your time and effort, about 15 minutes of cut, pasting and uploading. If you have a library (say 5-7 books) it may take an hour or so. Get going by signing up and submitting a book. This guides you through the entire process. If you have a manuscript in .doc form, but don’t yet have (or know how) to convert it to an epub, mobi or other format, go the fastest route and sign up/use Draft to Digital (2 sections down)–it’s what I did years ago and saved me hours of pain!! Once in the D2D system, you can create all these formats for free, safe and then upload to MBC, Google Play or anywhere else requiring these formats. Plus, you have just created a massive distribution for your books!

What’s the “God” part?

Depending on the culture, the mention of deity, be it Heavenly Father, Allah, God, can be used reverently or as a curse. The former mentions are acceptable and not considered offensive, while “oh-my-G-D, or any other derivative) is the equivalent of the F-word. For instance, ratings will go 1-5 curse words, no “F-words” or no use of a deity. The next rating up will be 6-10 curse words, 1-5 F words, 1-5 G words etc and so on. You get the picture. If you want the broadest distribution for a mainstream work of fiction (think John Grisham) you’ll be judicious with language. On the other hand, if your work is graphic, the so too will be the language.

Once your book is rated, then the wide world of marketing programs and distribution is at your fingertips.

Which one to use?

My favorite is MyBookCave, both for ratings and then it has a distribution side. Promotions of all types, self-directed or opt-in for group promotions happen frequently in all types of genres, both free and paid. Specifically, for the reader, books can be free or paid, and for the author, some group promos are also free while others cost nominal amounts, such as $25.  

Formats

Unlike the major distributors, amazon, B & N, Kobu etc., MyBookCave requires epub and/or MOBI, along with PDF. For the broadest reach, have all three. This site can be run in conjunction with the Amazon, as well as other aggregators, such as Draft to Digital which I previously mentioned. Since I didn’t mention it before, D2D, is free to authors/publishers, and will allow you to reach 99% of the global ebook distributors in a single shot. Setting local prices is a single dashboard—the easiest and most effective ebook distribution site out there.

Google Play book catalog

Reporting

Both MBC and D2D offer real-time reporting, just as Amazon or the others. For the publisher or author, it’s all at your fingertips, from uploading, sales, promotions and reporting. Go for it!

Not at dinner, please

On vacation at our favorite beachside resort in Northern Cancun, we are at the sushi bar, the four of us lined up, me and Rog bookending our girls who were in the middle. To my left, one seat down, was a bleach blond, sun-weathered man in his fifties, his belly paunch touching the counter, board shorts and flip flops in contrast with his two-toned Submariner Rolex. After a bit, we start talking, and soon enough, he’s engaged in telling us about the two-million-dollar catamaran he had built in France, sailed over, docked next door at the private marina, and was trying to penetrate the local cruise market. We listened to the travails of getting hotels to recommend his service, how his competitors incentivized (e.g. bribed) local shops not to take him on, and in general, how he hadn’t accurately anticipated the difficulties of a foreigner.

The captain and sushi bar patron

“But it’s so much better than what I left behind,” he continued, the sake and spicy tuna getting the better of him. “My next door neighbor killed his wife, fled the country and ruined his kids’ lives.”

Huh? What do you even say to that, other than “you’re kidding,” while taking another bite of salmon.

“True story. It was in all the papers. You didn’t hear about it? It was the biggest story in Newport.” Northern Idaho is not real big on covering socialites in SoCal, we explained, so he did it for us, and in the process, told us about his life as a luxury real estate agent, banking a lot of money without a notion of retiring until one day, the next door neighbors wife is found dead, and the man who he and his wife had thought of as good friends was accused (and ultimately convicted) of murder. The impact was so devasting to this man, that it impacted his own marriage, their kids (who were good friends), the ultimate result was not one, but two families torn apart by what, in the end, a common theme in murders. Man has affair, man wants out, woman wants half, man kills wife, the end.

And this was all before we’d event gotten the baked clams!

swimming off the shores of Isla Mujeres

Thankfully, the girls were preoccupied with their chopsticks, and I was retaining it all for a future book. I’m a curious gal and didn’t hold back my questions regarding his life changes following the incident.

“I left it all behind,” he said, revealing the ex-wife, while staying in town until his sons went to college. He decided life was short and he was going to follow his dreams of having a catamaran business and live out his life without the ghost of his neighbor following him around.

Two courses later, he’d given us his card, offered our family a free afternoon on his boat, and we went to bed thinking about all we’d heard. A few days later, skimming from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, sailing around Ricki Martin’s flamingo-colored home on a jetty only accessible by boat, we observed this man, his crew, the others on the boat, and the life-changing experience he shared.

The unreal is usually…real

“You can’t make this stuff up,” I often tell fellow authors and readers who are bold enough to contact me for my works of fiction. You know what? Half the time I don’t. I just happened to be someplace, start talking to someone and boom! I’m hearing a story that is simply—unreal—yet it’s real, like this one. Roger and I, being kindred spirits, looked him, and the incident up. Yep, real as the sun coming up. Black and white. Tragic situation, sad outcomes, people trying to have the best life they can in the aftermath but…does it have to come up at dinner?

I guess the answer to that question is ultimately yes. Once the tip of the iceberg is spotted, it’s in my nature to look for what’s underneath. I can’t help myself. Add to this, I’m a people person and genuinely interested in another’s story, so I’m all in, no matter what’s said. Was I prepared for this? No. Was it appropriate for kids? Hardly. Yet it was the defining moment in this man’s life, and for good reason.

playing chicken with the big boys

In hindsight, had we been poolside, chitchatting with our sunglasses on, legs stretched out, perhaps the impact of the revelation would have been slightly minimized, convincing me of two things: I’m still curious and appreciate one’s life experience, but I just want to hear it anywhere but at dinner.

Changing Frequencies

Tuning out the noise to refine the inner signals

We are living in a world that creates noise at so many levels, it’s like signals shooting up in every direction, the invisible messages impossible to tune out, turn down or turn off entirely. Rare moments of silence exist—like sleeping, but even that can be disrupted if the household cellphone(S) aren’t on DND.

How then do we focus, be optimistic and serve to enlighten and help others when noise levels only seem to be increasing? For some, part of the solution rests in time management. Having kids certainly propelled me to optimize every twenty-minute block I had, combining activities in order to keep the forward momentum, even if the progress was slower than I was used to. Treadmill time was combined with going through required reading for work. The television was on only I could be on the floor with my daughter or doing some form of physical activity. In Author Straight Talk, I detail time management tricks for completing that first novel, from writing during waiting periods at the school parking lot or doctor’s office, to outlining on the train and crafting new novels on the deck, beach or in bed when the house is quiet.

These techniques aren’t new to me but represent an example of a purposeful use of time. When I’m purposeful, I start the day without the news, a sure-fire way to become distracted and emotional and mentally off course. Throughout the day, I substitute the squawk-box and distracting music with chill, ambient or classical, the lack of words and uplifting tones propelling my activities without creating negative effects, like me want to get up and dance (or scream), depending on the news of the moment. Other commonly used techniques include meditating (rather hard for me), reading good books (e.g. scriptures) praying or even yoga—all activities typically done in quiet, preserved spaces with little or no noise, the uninterrupted time absent of outside signal interference.

Amazing things happen once the noise is turned down or off completely. The inner signals, mental, emotional and even spiritual are better heard. I’m a big believer in promptings and the light within. A litany of famous figures who have talked about “moments of enlightenment.” I’ll give you Steve Jobs and Elon Musk among the many scientists and inventors who stand on the foundation of hard work and creativity when they experience the burst of an idea. It’s like a human radio tower standing high on a mountain without obstacles or interference that is eventually eclipsed by a satellite dish.

Regardless of the metaphor, great things happen when a person fine-tunes their inner signals. The communication becomes stronger, the sender-receiver connection faster and the frequency improves. The phrase emotional frequency, also known as the emotional vibration frequency, was first studied in Japan in the 1940’s. Scientists gave energy frequencies to plants and then people, documenting the reaction both to music, actions, images and sounds, recording the impact.

Over the decades, this initial effort has been studied around the world, to the point where specific emotions are given an energy reading in megahertz. Not surprisingly, the lowest energy emotions are fear and anger (let’s not count death which is at an appropriate zero), while the second to the top is love. The highest level is called serenity or enlightenment, a state so ideal it’s rarely achieved (and least statically recorded).  

Who doesn’t want to attain that level, at least for a split second during one’s life? A moment here and there, perhaps like Einstein, Jobs or Marie Curie, the first person, and only women to win the Noble Prize twice, and furthermore, did it in two different fields. Was she truly enlightened, an incredibly brilliant scientist or a mixture of the two, because her determination, natural and honed gifts all combined to create the perfect environment for moments of enlightenment to foster?

Madame Curie circ. 1920

One thing is sure: Madam Curie was able to tune out the distractions of her time, which included war, suffrage, gender discrimination and cultural attitudes to focus on her inner signals, which very clearly were sending the message to create and innovate, changing the world forever.

From one lens, my (physical) sphere of influence is rather finite, but in the digital world, it’s global. I recognize the messages I send out through books, social media and other communications is the equivalent of a bowling ball hitting a smooth body of water, the ripple effects continue until the waves hit the shore. The same can be said of my author friend in Teeside, a small town in Britain, or another friend in Vienna, Austria. Both send out their digital signals to the world via social media, articles or books, influence the far corners of the world, including yours truly here in Northern Idaho.

Could you imagine what would occur if, if just an hour a week, sixty-minutes, were noise-free, and the inner signals were allowed to surface and then refined? Then imagine if that same signal were refined with additional hours? I imagine energy and ideas flowing a new, blessing everyone in a local and perhaps global sphere. That vision alone brings up my energy level.

Tumors, butterflies and my hand-built eternal home

A heart attack and the removal of two tumors were the lowlights of the holidays and the reason for going dark. When I stop posting, you know something’s up. The Internet rule of thumb is good news gets posted, bad news doesn’t. My family has dealt with, and complained, about this tendency of mine for decades now, starting in college. But what’s a girl to do? Times get tough, I bury my head in work, endure through the challenge, and like the ground hog, pop out when the sky is warm and the coast is clear.

The heart attack

No, it wasn’t me, but my younger brother. This just about devastated my mother, who still hasn’t recovered from my older bro dropping dead in the ER, his wife having a sixth sense something was amiss after a hot yoga class. Two things saved his life: the cardiovascular doc literally being in the ER when he fell over, jolted him back to life, and subsequently put in 7–count them seven-stints. The lesson learned from this: stress creates a toxin which turns into artery-lining (name). Not good.

That was a year ago, so it was just DeJa’Vu when it occurred the week of Christmas. Once again, the life-saving jolting was used and he’s alive to eat healthier, work out and see his children graduate.

The tumors

Mom was to have left us after Christmas, but that changed Dec 26th when I learned that the small, unsightly lumps I’d thought were balls of fat turned out to be golf-ball sized tumors. Half-way through the exam, the surgeon (who was in fact, standing in for a different physician who was stuck in a snowstorm) said he was scheduling immediate surgery for the 28th. So it was that instead of skiing, two, massive tumors taken out of my leg, leaving me with three layers of stiches and the inability to do much for the entirety of January.

Poor mom

Seriously, the woman’s 83. Can she get a break in life already? It’s not about me or my siblings, what about her emotional health? I tease her that God isn’t ready to have her back quite yet, because she needs to have a bit more faith it’s all going to be okay. Worrying doesn’t help, praying for peace does, and we experience testimony-building situations to increase our own faith, broaden our perspective and give us courage we can use and share with others.

She doesn’t get that, not really. Mom gets angry. She’s prayed. Pled. Cried. Cursed. She’s experienced the emotional cycles dozens (hundreds?) of times throughout the decades on behalf of her children and grandchildren, each time with the fear, worry, concern, dread and doubt.

I don’t have that kind of stamina. It’s more like: challenge, solution, faith endure and find joy where you can, when you can. Then boom, I’m out the other side. Sometimes that journey takes days, other times it’s years, but looking back, the time it took was required for the lesson to be learned.

In the case of the heart attack, it was the reality check required for my brother to examine his own life and the way he was living it. As to the tumors, part of me said: “Really? Didn’t I just have this experience three years ago? Wasn’t that enough?” That pity party lasted about a day; then it was – well, that’s my present challenge. The solution is surgery, and in the meantime, I’m gonna give it to God, because i havee to ready the kids for school, get to work, get writing my next novel, do the laundry and handle the myriad of life activities that squeeze personal pity-party thoughts. That’s the endurance part, where the tumors get folded in as just another thing to deal with on this journey of life.

Another rebirth

Butterflies have it easy. They come out of the cocoon, fly around and have a great life then it’s over. Us humans have the altered life wherein every challenge can be viewed as a rebirth of sorts, each time affording us the opportunity to be enveloped by God’s embrace, His loving arms around us, holding us tight, keeping warmth in while repelling the evil that seeks to attack and poison us. Then we emerge, strong and beautiful, ready once again to fly into the world.

In my situation, I’d been mentally stuck for months, caught between the reluctance of starting another novel, supporting a new high-technology venture and balancing family. Strangely, I struggled, and it wasn’t clear to me why. I’ve had to deal with these fighting priorities for years, always adjusting and balancing the three legs of the stool on which my life sits. Constantly, I prayed, wondering and asking what I could be doing differently, what was I missing, where was I to put my efforts?

Nothing. That was my answer, which I interpreted as–just endure. Keep your head down, stay the course, have faith, and ultimately, “I got you.”

Now, as I’ve looked back, the Lord did answer my prayer, it just came in the form of two, disconnected events which snapped my reality of mortality back into place. Nothing is more clarifying than when you have to ask hard questions:

Will I ever walk again? Has this spread to my bone? Will I lose a leg over this? Will my husband and I be able to resume intimate activities if I’m permanently altered? How hard will it to learn to ski with one leg? When one has been so damaged from internal issues, and loses the ability to walk for months, then endures years of pain, 24×7, until finally…and recently…achieving 24 hours without a pain pill…the notion of going back to it all, and living that life again is in itself, overwhelming.

Yet, that’s what the Lord wanted me to experience; the diagnosis, along with the resulting processing of the news. That examination led to appreciation which allowed me to face (yet another) new challenge with a deeper faith. With my family and lots of sustaining prayers, I got through it.

Then the gifts began. Clarity returned, priorities crystalized, gratitude shot through the roof. I can walk (after JUST two weeks). The pain is mild (only periodic pills). I’m not completely deformed (and really, who should be looking at my inner thigh anyway??). The writing has come rushing back, the breakthrough complete. And even this blog, a place that has been largely absent of expressions other than book updates, recipes and travel-logs is now being used as a communication tool to help others who may need a bit of faith-building comraderies.

The test

I’ve not been allowed to do much of anything for six weeks, so yoga is on the schedule in the next few days. The underlying tissue is tender, but I’m not experiencing the “don’t-do-it” impressions I’ve had in the past, what I call God’s little warning signals. Skiing is up next, which will be another milestone


…the “don’t-do-it” impressions, what I call God’s little warning signals.

The best part, which I’m so thankful for, is that these life-challenges, experiences, whatever one calls them, can be more than something to ‘endure,’ but to be embraced. Increased love, tenderness and compassion are like cement between the bricks of faith I’m personally creating and using to build my eternal home. Do I yearn or pray for physical pain? No, but I don’t fear it. I look at these growth opportunities as the straw and mud required to create additional blocks. My vision is that each issue/challenge helps me build another…and another. All the way, my Father in Heaven is cheering me on, giving me coaching, conveying to me He knows me and wants me there. He also knows I can do more than endure. I can be thankful and find joy in tough circumstances. Over the years, instead of asking why, challenging or being belligerence has given way to praising His name as He helps me build each brick better than the one before. Ultimately….and hopefully….the house will be ready, built strong and sure, until the day comes that I will enter it and find Him on the other side.

Walking the cemetery

Walking around the cemetery in the rain wasn’t the community service I’d imagined. Instead of a cold, crisp day spent with eager eleven-year-olds raking leaves and drinking cider, it was a soaking wet slog that morphed into a layered experience of hearing about life decisions, choices and legacy, for those under the ground and us walking above them.

“Take care not to walk on the gravestones,” intoned the sexton, or cemetery custodian as they are called, his dark eyes focusing on the impatient boys shuffling between the tombstones. “They represent someone’s brother, mother, sister, dad or infant. Respect that and respect them.” He emphasized the point by hunching his broad soldiers, completely oblivious to the drizzle that evolved to a hard rain, his cotton pullover doing nothing to prevent the moisture that seemed to be running from my hood straight down to my boots. “Let’s start.”

Each war has its own section; this is the Spanish-American war

“I thought we were going to be raking,” whispered one of the girls in my group. Me too.

For an hour, we went from one corner of the large cemetery to the other as Robert pointed out historical facts: the sections for soldiers in three different wars, the area reserved for the infants of the Spanish influenza which claimed the lives of over seven hundred children.

Flat stones represent the children’s section

I watched the man’s eyes squint as he held back tears describing gluing the marble wings back on the angle when it was half-crushed by a tree during a windstorm. “We made her whole and the angel came back,” he said. Those closest joked about the comment, to which he snapped his head their direction. “She came back,” he repeated, the words emerging as a grumble, silencing the students.

31 residents perished in the fire of 1931

“Do you believe in ghosts?” asked Brooks, a tall, gangly boy who’d been put up to the question by a teacher standing near me.

“Nah, I don’t give that much credit.”

He lied of course. Anyone who has worked in a cemetery for over a decade and intends to work another seventeen years until retirement not only believes in ghosts, but wouldn’t deign to use that term.

“You believe in spirits,” I said to him during a moment of privacy as we walked to another station. He glanced at me, one eyebrow cocked, ascertaining my position on the subject. “I saw your eyes tear up during your mention of the angel wings,” I offered, “and maybe no one else noticed when you were talking about the seven hundred infants, but you choked up.” He nodded his head, admitting to it. “You have children of your own?” I asked, already guessing he didn’t.

“Two step-children. None of my own.”

“Well, you have about seven hundred here.”

The gloss of his eyes visible even through the heavy rain, his emotions at the surface and his agreement clear. “This is my second home and they’re part of it.” Seeing that I was of his persuasion, we talked about the notion that the spirits of the dead live around us, choosing when and to whom they make themselves known. We discussed the things he’d seen, the special experiences he wouldn’t typically share, my life as an author giving me the ability to write about truth while cloaking it as fiction. Early in his tour, he’d revealed he was a newspaper journalist before this job, burning out from cynicism before wanting a change. He’d found it; a reason for living among the dead.

The walking tour is free with self-guided pamphlets full of information

During the fifteen-station, hour-long traipse in the rain, he described the process of internment (putting the body in the ground) and exhuming (taking it out) in graphic detail, such as needing to burn your clothes if you’d been involved in an exhumation. He related the thickness of the cement, double-stacking of bodies, corrosion and other bits related with the precision of a forensics examiner but the empathy of a priest. He was both annoyed and pragmatic about the youth-driven need to gain bragging rights by pushing over a seven-hundred pound headstone, unbothered it horrified and offended the living relatives or that it took a special tractor and two men to set it right.

Walking through the middle section, one tombstone caught my eye. It was K27, the call number for a young police officer killed six years by a convicted felon. Echoing the words of a local officer, not a day goes by that I don’t see a dozen cars with the sticker remembering St. Greg Moore who was shot in cold blood. This occurred just one month before we moved to town, and the community was still in shock; CDA is a place of few shootings or even crime; to have a person killed at all rocked the area.

A community still mourns and supports its fallen officer

His retelling of a recently-deceased local businessmen, (who was apparently equally loved and despised) was done with a single story which summed up the man’s legacy. As the man was going to “purchase” (raid/takeover was the general consensus) another newspaper, he was late to the meeting. This sexton, who worked for him at the time, found the man bent over the planter boxes in the front of the building.

“I want my new business to reflect the attitude of the company,” his boss told him. The take-away to those of drenched listeners was that the man lived up to his reputation: precise and ruthless, but endowed with focus, passion and pride in all that he did. If he was going to be involved, it was going to be the best of his abilities, and he had no issue getting on his knees, in the dirt, in his suit pants, to start even before he’d written the check.

As we neared the end of the tour, I found another opportunity to stand beside this man, away from the others.

“Did this job find you, or did you find it?” I asked.

“Both.” He hinted at his situation in life and how he’d evolved from a hard-charging, iron-pumping man focused on all that material possessions with a matching body and attitude to the lead caretaker of cemeteries and parks in the area. “I needed something different at a time when they needed me.”

And by they, I knew what he meant. They were all around us.

He told a story of a man who’s wife had passed, and he was placing the marble box with her askes into the final resting place, a man-height, square edifice with ten compartments across and eight tall known as a columbarium.

“She’s going to get cold,” the husband told this cemetery superintendent. “She always gets cold, and I want her to be warm.”

Robert was unfazed. “I’ll find out a blanket,” he said, excusing himself. “When I returned, we wrapped the blanket around the marble box holding her askes, and slid it within the columbarium. I told him she’d be warm now and he finally felt at peace enough to leave.”

One of several columbarium’s

The man left, but Robert the cemetery sexton will be there, watching over the memorials, at least for the next seventeen years.

“And then what?” I wondered to myself if the next sexton care as much, see as much and protect those remains placed underneath or above, someday to retell stories about us.

Raising money for your business

Raising money is a job conducted by millions of people every year.  A new bakery, a restaurant or coffee shop requires equipment and inventory, an automotive repair business, home goods retailer, home-based business or start-up software company all need initial and sometimes on-going outlay before hitting profitability. Depending on the nature, size and trajectory, a business may need only a few hundred bucks or few hundred million.

Individuals raising money are short on time and want bullet point lists, not a monologue of stories. Here are a few unorthodox ways to find dollars for your endeavor that have helped me raise over $300M over my career.

Board memberships and Associations

Board memberships are low-hanging fruit, because the organization is very proud to identify the board members. In a well-intentioned effort to be “transparent,” emails are often listed for each board member. There you have it. So the attempt to get to the high-net worth individual can be found in about five-ten minutes of searching board positions.

Associations are even better because usually, those individuals also have cell or direct phone numbers listed. Like board members, these folks usually have full-time jobs/businesses that are completely unrelated to the association, but going that route gives you what you need to have the first conversation.

Legal documentation

This is a goldmine for contact information while allowing you to channel your inner CSI. It all starts with searching on the name of the target or his/her company, board member or other affiliation with the key word “legal.” Including that one word can open a plethora of contact info, particularly email. Why? Because so much legal activity is placed on the Internet for all to see, sometimes by the courts, other time by people interested in making the goings-on public. Let me attest that I’ve found the CEOs of the largest firms, most reclusive wealth management people, public figures and people in between through published documentation which includes emails. A rule of thumb: the higher profile and greater the wealth, the higher the likelihood that person is going to be involved in, or the target of litigation.


A rule of thumb: the higher profile and greater the wealth, the higher the likelihood that person is going to be involved in, or the target of litigation

Now, you’d think that these emails would be long-since changed. Rarely. It’s because the person(s) named or even tangentially a part of the activities aren’t aware their personal information is being used, let alone published, or perhaps they mistakenly believe the documents won’t be released, and if they are, the attorneys will scrub the contact information. (What attorney is paid to scrub info before it’s released? They are paid to win the case, not monitor what the courts publish).

Tribute articles

No, this is not for one to inquire about the family of the deceased. Quite the opposite. Depending on the individual, other peers, or business associates are often quoted.

This last year, I happened to come across an article on a prominent businessman who amassed millions over his lifetime. Quoted in the tribute was another man who I’d never heard of before. I googled him (who doesn’t?) and learned he owns one of the largest big equipment machinery business in the world. After I delved into his background (thanks again google), watched a video or two and read more articles, it was clear he’d be an interesting funding candidate.

School and other business associations

Once again, you have multiple entities who are proud to identify sponsors, donors, partners and successful alumni. Any or all can be sources of contact information. In some cases, you can leave messages with a pitch and the request to contact will be passed along. It’s a good (and bad) trait that non-profits and schools have this thing about being nice and forwarding messages, which may come across to the non-business person as strange. It’s not. You (the person leaving the message) could be a donor or a sponsor as well. It’s not the receptionists job to know or determine your motivation, but to be helpful.

Combination of tactics

In the case of the big equipment owner, he was one of four men quoted in the article. One by one, I looked them up, determined who fit my desired profile for funding and narrowed it down to one. I  immediately delved into his board memberships. From there, I discovered not just his personal email, but his cell phone! I held onto it for a few days, then at precisely 11 am on a Thursday, I felt a strong impression to call. Sure enough, he was home, convalescing from surgery, lying on a couch and answering the phone. We ended up speaking for nearly an hour, during which time we learned of our commonalities (family with addiction issues) our commitment to the community (he as a big supporter of the Boys and Girls Club, us with abused women/children)…pretty much anything but business. It was the start of a great connection, and it was all due to reading an article, tracking down the board membership/contact info and calling.

Don’t forget the Hedgehog

No. Not the animal. The strategic model used worldwide to identify the alignment between organizations, but is commonly applied to a variety of pursuits. It was first introduced by the great Jim Collins, and is a key to creating a value proposition between the entities seeking and giving money.

In short, it comes down to passion, economic engine (fit) and skill. Whether you are on the small end of the dollars or the very largest, an investor is going to place money based upon these criteria. One can have the money and fit, but no passion for what you are going to bring to market. The deeper and stronger the alignment across these three areas, the more money you are likely to get.

You and your investor(s) can be aligned across one or two, but three is required best


What doesn’t work

Instagram, Facebook and other forms of social media are rabbit holes that rarely get you to the decision maker or target contact. If the person is a public figure (think athlete, singer, comedian, news figure), a social media coordinator with little or no authority is managing the account. It’s rare that a person in this role will forward your outreach.

I’ll give a recent example: as an experiment, I contacted a mixture of those categories mentioned above, 112 to be precise, using a customized message for each. Approximately 9% blocked direct messaging. Of the remainder, I received 4 ‘likes’–meaning whoever was on the other end, coordinator or primary contact, liked what I had to pitch (we’ll just take it at face value) but wasn’t going to respond. Of the remaining, two people responded. The IG accounts were athletes for the NFL and MLB, one current and the other retired, both MVPs and very well known.

Further correspondence revealed the NFL athlete wasn’t handling his own Instagram, but a coordinator who had to come clean with me when it was time to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The former major league baseball player, (quite famous for his role in the world series) was–and is–to this day, the only person I’ve come across who manages his own Instagram. He kindly forwarded me to his business manager.

The final statistics? 112 outreaches, one meaningful contact. That’s a terrible ratio when considering looking up an article and reaching a multi-millionaire in a single phone call. The epilogue: The manager for the MLB player revealed a big chunk of his money ($8M) was going towards his new business in he food and beverage industry.

Going back to the hedgehog model, he had the skill and the passion, but not the economic fit to participate. As the entrepreneur or person responsible for bringing in the money, you want to get to this point of understanding as quickly and cost effectively as possible.

It only takes one

Success in this world (raising money, strategic partnerships, biz dev) is part strategy (the fit/the why), tactics (how you are making the contact) the pitch and then building the relationship. My brilliant husband pointed out that it’s also personality and fearlessness. True–but let’s take this one step at a time. The personality of the entrepreneur, or those on the front line is a combination of belief, determination (fortitude and never-say-die) attitude. If you already have these traits, go forth and conquer. If not, build them bit by bit, and with each call and outreach, you’ll get better. Above all, remember this: the mantra that trumps all: it only takes one. One positive response to keep your enthusiasm level high. One yes for the initial money. One person to be a passionate believer and introduce you to others. In the end, if you have a good idea or product, and the market needs what you are offering, keep going until you have the one.

The face of joy

Surveying the audience right before I start my talk, I look around the room, stop and pause to make eye contact for the standard 2 seconds, then continue roving. Eyes, jowls and body posturing reveal impatience, as though a fire is breaking out at the office and they know it’s going to be a full-blown crisis. Some can barely keep their lids from dropping and a few have the vacant, I really-need-help expressions. And those with joy—the eager, I’m so-glad-I’m-here and I’m going to eek every bit of wisdom out of this room and conquer the world are about 1% of the group. Those are rare gems that shine so bright, it’s as though the very lights from above can’t keep from focusing their attention upon them.

As my sister said this morning, “Everyone is looking for more happiness and joy.” She had a good point. Does anyone ever say: “I’m full up with happiness. I don’t need anymore?” Chocolate and push-ups, yes, each eventually has a limit, but joy? Nope. I haven’t heard that one lately.

Nice philosophy but…

How do you find joy when you come home from a business trip and find the house has been emptied by your husband, who also took your two-year-old son? What does joy look like when you lose everything due to poor financial decisions or someone else’s actions? Your parents split up after 60 years together? Your father-in-law staggers one day and within the year is dead from brain cancer? Your daughter awakes to find her three chickens have been gutted by a chicken hawk, the entrails splayed out for all to see? (good morning!)

Okay, so that last one was so horrible, but it’s also funny in hindsight (my daughter was ten). It was addressed, as many one-off challenges can be, but have you noticed that quite often, joy (or lack thereof) isn’t found in one, singular event, but the combination of many? The “little things” are small pebbles of badness that add up to an Everest-like challenges; the stress-induced hair loss, depression-related weight gain or worse, divorce and heart-attacks might have been prevented if the pebbles were removed along the way.

Get up, get focused and stay with it

This may come as a shock to those who know me, but I’ve gone into the bedroom, closed the door, pulled the covers over and closed my eyes as much as the next person. In other words, I “go-fetal” for a time. You think fired news anchors act like nothing happens the first day they don’t have a job? Nope–I bet they go fetal just like the rest of us.

Breaking the pity party involves forced activity, stepping one pace away from sadness and depression towards a better tomorrow. My mantra is that “No one’s going to fix me, so I have to do it myself.”

If you find you can’t get out of bed, start by praying. When I’m feeling backed into a corner, the prayer is simple: all I have to give is a smile, so please Lord, let the recipient of that smile need it as much as I need to give it. The alarm goes off at 5:45 am. Instead of sleeping for another ten, I use that time to pray.

Today, both prayer and action were answered by the large cross-eyed checker with the expansive, clear face mask. We were talking about the holidays when another checker (male, nice looking) mentioned that a woman had given him a gift for being so helpful, and in return, he’d given her a large bag of fresh raspberries (this kind of thing happens in Idaho). My checker volunteered that her birthday is December 16th (to no one in particular) and it occurred to me how much easier it might before a customer to give thanks to a nice looking, single (albeit 50-something) man than a much younger woman of large stature who was just as pleasant. Imagine her surprise if someone put a little joy in her life on that day just because? Secondarily, would I have known had we not been chit-chatting about nothing more than holidays?

Don’t focus on where you began, but where you are going

I recently listened to a talk and it had a great sentence I made sure to write down, then went back and listened to the entire thing (12 min).

“Let me share two areas of encouragement for those facing difficult starting circumstances. First, focus on where you are headed and not where you began. It would be wrong to ignore your circumstances—they are real and need to be addressed. But over focusing on a difficult starting point can cause it to define you and even constrain your ability to choose.”

What a wonderful reminder–don’t get caught up in what brought you to this point, but concentrate on going forward, learning from mistakes while putting good energy towards your goal.

Thinking back to this morning at the checkout counter. Had I not made the choice to be pray, be an active conduit for good energy, I’d never had the conversation. I recall smiling a bit larger at her because I now know two things I didn’t when I woke: her name (Heidi) and her birthday. Those two facts brought joy to my life, proving that little things can also be pebbles of goodness. It’s now my job to stack one upon another and keep the momentum going.

Enlightenment, Entrepreneurship and “Honoring the Spirit”

Moments of brilliance experienced by entrepreneurs often attribute their success to ‘honoring the spirit’

Recently a dear friend told me about an experience she had with her estranged father. After not speaking with him in over a year, she called him up out of the blue. Given their traumatic and dysfunctional relationship, I inquired as to what prompted the action.

“It had been on my mind incessantly, and I finally realized I had to honor the Spirit and do it.”

That begat a week or so of thinking about the phrase and concept. I’ve heard it referenced many a time, particularly when speaking with grossly successful people who in concert, relate a time when a ‘moment of brilliance’ or ‘enlightenment’ occurred. I thought of Steve Jobs, the devout atheist, who often called his ideas moments of enlightenment, a term I much prefer over the commonly-used “a-ha” moment of many-an-entrepreneur.

What faith-oriented people assign to the “the Spirit,” the “Holy Ghost,” or “divine promptings,” to name just a few, non-faith oriented people will say was a “gut impression,” “intuition,” or “circumstance,” among others. In the last year or two, even these words and phrases have been put six feet under, replaced with trendier terms like “ideation.” Even the “a-ha” moment has been retired.

Going back to my dear friend, I asked her what occurred during the conversation with her father, essentially wanting to know if the drama of the discussion was worth the effort of “honoring the spirit.”

“Absolutely,” she confided. Her father had learned he had lymphoma, it was spreading and may not have long to live. This prompting to call her father allowed her to talk and gain a level of closure and compassion she’d not had in many years.

Dispute, ignore, dishonor and suffer the consequence

Several years ago, I interviewed fifty executives from over thirty industries. Two billionaires were mixed in with millionaires, representing different races, religions and sexual orientations working in a variety of industries. I had twenty five questions and very soon, trends began surfacing.

“What made you successful?” I’d ask. The answers fell into three categories a) faith or belief in /self, b) determination/never-give-up attitude and c) gut/spirit/promptings as being key to their achievements.

When they didn’t honor their promptings, dire consequences followed.

One such example is from a self-made millionaire I’ll call Brandt who started from nothing to build a $750M manufacturing and real estate empire in the seventies. (Back when $750M was a lot of money). When I asked Brandt if he could identify any particular secret of success, he immediately said:  “listen to the Spirit.” Being the curious soul that I am, I asked if that was literal or figurative.

“Oh no, it’s literal.” Brandt described himself as a man of faith, and in his particular world (real estate and development but later in life, he ventured into manufacturing), he said that “listening”  had been one of his cornerstones of success. His most vital decisions had been based on ‘listening’ and was of primary importance when considering a new deal or hiring an employee.

“I’d always think about it, sometimes overnight, pray, and then listen to the Spirit to guide me.” He went on to relay that many times, what his advisors recommended and what he knew in the business world was in fact, correct. But it wasn’t uncommon for him to ‘have a bad feeling,’ ‘a feeling of warning’ or ‘trepidation,’ that steered him away from the candidate or opportunity. Sometimes, “it was an absolutely don’t do this,” and then a few times, it was a “very strong feeling I should do it, when the paperwork indicated otherwise.”

“Did you ever ignore this impression to your detriment?” I asked. Brandt laughed.

“Of course, and it was awful.” He described a candidate for a regional president position. “He literally was perfect on paper and in person,” Brandt emphasized. Even so, he had “an awful feeling,” but couldn’t help himself and hired the man anyway. “There was no reasonable answer for how I felt so I ignored it.”

If only moments of enlightenment were as obvious as the sun shining down

The following six months were so bad, the entire region almost went under. Brandt described the man’s management style, how he related to customers, his lack of communication and taking responsibility. So damaging was this person’s impact an entire fleet of managers left, a good many employees departing as well. Customers fled, and worse, the man didn’t want to exit the company, which led to a lawsuit. The position was poisoned for new candidates who envisioned it not as a thriving region but as a turnaround situation with unhappy customers, no staff and little confidence that ‘management’ knew how to hire good people.

“You don’t need to have many of those experiences to learn to ignore everyone else and trust your own guiding light.”

It’s rarely convenient to act

One week, I’d had the feeling to call my cousin who I’d not seen or spoken to in about six months. I was busy with kids, so was she, we both had jobs. The list of reasons why “not to bother her,” was endless. Finally, four weeks later, well after the promptings stopped, I called. In other words, when it was convenient for me. It turned out that those days when I was impressed to call, my cousin was in the hospital, alone, facing the news that her five months fetus had died inside her. Because of the size, he had to be delivered vaginally. She was in the hospital alone, her husband unavailable, her parents in another state unable to travel. The Lord was telling me to reach out to her in desperate time of need and I ignored it. Let me tell you, I’ve spent hours crying and regretting that period. The upside, if there is one, is that to this day, the experience is front and center of why I listen, and how I act even when I don’t want to or it’s not convenient.

Case in point: years later, my oldest brother called me on a Friday night. This successful yet troubled soul was a recovering addict, and even receiving his calls caused massive stress on my part, for I never knew what I was going to encounter. As the phone rang, I sat looking at it, willing it to stop ringing. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming feeling I must take the call. It triggered the event with my cousin and I immediately picked up the phone. As feared, my brother was extremely incapacitated, but I stayed with it, and after an hour, he started to normalize. He shared many heartfelt experiences from our younger days and words of gratitude for the relationship we’d once had, apologizing for hurts of the past and asking for forgiveness. The call was still hard, but as I was to discover later, it was closure, for he took his own life within a few days. Had we not had that conversation, I’d be left with a gaping hole of unresolved issues.

It’s rarely about the money

In my writing life, I can sense when I’m getting to close “to the line” I’ve set for myself or the readers. That means intimate scenes, wherein I want the readers’ blood to move a little quicker but not boil, or be embarrassed if someone else were to look at the page. As I write romantic thrillers, murders to occur, but being a fast-paced thriller doesn’t always mean gore.

Switching worlds, in the corporate realm where I still live half the time, that means I “listen” to when I should or shouldn’t call a person to pitch a new business idea or venture. It’s just a feeling that “no isn’t the right time,” or conversely, “call right now.” Just recently, I’d tracked down a reclusive billionaire’s cell phone, but sat on it for a nearly two weeks. It just hadn’t felt right to call. Then one morning (it was a Thursday), I stood in front of the fridge, pondering my next meal, when I heard this “stop everything and call him now!”

I did. He picked up. I pitched him. We spoke for nearly ninety minutes, and at the end, he invited me to lunch for the following Monday. He’s now involved in a deal I’m putting together, and better than that? He’s become a friend, like the grandfather I never had but always wanted.

It’s hard being quiet and listening about the “little things”

Another recent case was the prompting to grab the checkbook for an event. I distinctly remember thinking this is ludicrous, because I don’t use a check from one six-month period to another. Yet when I arrived at the event, the credit card system was down, I had no cash and they were only accepting checks. An associate paid my bill, so again, it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was inconvenient. Worse, that so-easily-dismissed prompting could have saved me frustration.

Little things include giving credence to ideas or thought which seem so silly, random or unnecessary in the moment. Another experience in the last week included grabbing additional books before I headed out the door, thinking (once again) that it was — well, silly and unnecessary. I had no intention to stop at a retailer. Yet, I recalled the checkbook experience. Four hours later I received a call from a manager asking me to drop by because they sold out (two week ago). Taking the books saved me an additional trip and two hours. It wasn’t life changing: it was simply nice.

Perhaps these inspirational and directional moments of guidance are sometimes heart-stopping and life changing, the next new novel to hit the bestseller list or gadget to revolutionize the world. But more likely than not, they are in fact, the little things that comprise the majority of our lives. Stopping, listening and acting is when the real magic begins.

The upside of the crowds

A few days after writing the last block about how our little town of Coeur d’Alene has become a place of refuge for those fleeing the cities, it occurred to me that the upside has been far better than the down. While you might be tempted to assign it to my positive nature, or my pragmatic streak that includes “what you gonna do about it?” philosophy, but it’s neither. The truth is: I AM happy we have become a place for others to weather out a storm which may not go away for a very long time.

The top reasons why CDA is (still) the best even with more people

The economy boomed. While the state of Washington and Oregon shut down, residents didn’t wait for Amazon. They just drove ten minutes to come into Idaho to visit the Costco, Target and pretty much every restaurant. (Yes, wait times went from zero to two hours, but…)

Restaurants went on a hiring spree. Sure, initially the employees took the money and stayed home, causing the restaurant owners to become desperate. The good news? Washington residents came over, filled in the spots of those stay-at-home-thanks-to-the-covid-relief-money, and now, most of them have remained a year later.

Everyone else did too. The outdoor stores, recreational stores from bikes to Kayaks and running…you name it, the retailers exploded because why? You had to stay home and the government encouraged you to socially distance, which residents did–outdoors. This means a custom-made Kayak has a three-year wait list, so consumers are spending that + more on items for things to do NOW.

Idaho budget surplus exploded. A year ago, the fiscally responsible folks in Boise had a surplus of over $50M. Before the end of the year, it was over $650M. The local hot tub place, 3rd generation–went from no wait list, to one year, now it’s about two years as well–all paid in advance. Which means more taxes to the government, resulting in…

Lower Taxes on the horizon. New York and California face budget crisis. Not Idaho. Pretty much across the board, taxes are set to decline. Now, to put this in context, when we moved here, our taxes in Maple Valley, Washington were @$19K for a five-acre property with home. Here, we have 10 acres and the taxes are running around $5K. Back in Seattle, private school was $12K per student. Here, they were $5.5K, but the public Charters school is top 50 in the country, and it’s….FREE. You add all this up and…silence. No ka-chings at all. The silence is wonderfully deafening.

I snapped this on the (short) drive 90 miles to the Canadian border. Just another swimming/fishing hole dotting the two-lane freeway.

Our orthodontist is still in business. Our ortho, who served as President of this specialty poured $100K’s of thousands of his own money into new ventilation systems, and used his personal savings to pay his employees during the bleakest of times. Sadly, straight teeth didn’t make anyone’s list of ‘critical’ services, so he was shut for months and going into the hole. As I made an appt for my daughter last week, a regular four-day wait is now six weeks, but I’m happy–nay–I’m thrilled to wait. That’s still five months shorter than it was in Seattle six years ago, and I want his coffers to get full again! This leads to…

More employment for the newcomers. The front desk gal (at the ortho) was all alone, down two people. One decided to get married/have babies, the other just decided to switch jobs. Now, with new clients overflowing, the office staff is hiring. Required skills? Happy personality, task oriented and can answer the phone. Pay? About $20 an hour.

The schools are bursting. With the two schools attended by our children, this is a great thing. Limits on classroom size exist, but to have thriving, diverse communities is good. Sharing the (financial) load is divine, but it’s more than that. It’s also the contribution and vitality ideas gifted by excited, enthusiastic parents.

This was taken on the way back from Whistler, British Columbia. It’s a longer drive (about 8 hours) but gorgeous as you can tell from this (no-filter) shot.

Retirees are getting a great payout. Okay, so home prices are still at an all-time-high, but guess who this serves? Aging people who have lived good lives and now are getting the payout of their dreams. Sure, they don’t have a (local) place to go to, but their bank account can carry them for years if they make the right choices. Four families have left my community in the last six month–two more just this month! In those two recent cases, one is moving down to be with children in another state (where they can now afford to live) while the other is setting down roots near a river in Eastern Idaho.

Newcomers are (mostly) like minded. If they are escaping someplace they don’t like, odds are they want what is offered here. Not all of course, but that adds to the diversity and discussion of life.

Best of all…the views don’t change. The meager lights of the city don’t impact the lights on the waterfront…those were developed long ago. And you know why lakefront property is at such a premium–and always has been? Vast swaths are unbuildable. No roads to the land or way to arrive save for the boat. It takes a deep-pocketed, strong-willed and determined person to use a parcel of land that’s mostly unhabitable. Furthermore, quite a bit of lakeside land has restrictions due to the grade of slope. What would make an Italian or Swiss person scoff makes the government here shudder. That’s a good thing. Keeps the light pollution down.

One view of our backyard to the famed “Palouse Fields.” 20 min into town yet you still have this? Yeah. I’d move here too.

A city of refuge

It’s not easy being in a city of refuge, for that’s what us “locals” have begun calling Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. When I arrived six years ago, those who’d moved in twenty years prior were still newcomers. Now, if you’ve been here longer than twenty-four months, you practically homesteaded the area.

In case your grumbling about my grumbling, here’s a few sobering realities.

Finding healthcare is almost impossible. It took me over five months to find a provider for my mother, three months for myself, and when I did, my atheist-like husband literally proclaimed it was divine intervention. Name dropping and referrals from my close friends (surgeons to boot) were no good. The scheduling supervisor told me thirty people had called just that morning, and the previous month, 900 new families were trying to get primary care. (Of course the Kootenai healthcare center is close, robust and has a heli-pad, so that’s a bonus).

The hotels are at capacity. No, this isn’t because of the seasonal tourists. That doesn’t happen for another month. It’s because many residents decided to sell high when city-dwellers were in a panic, fleeing unrest and uncertainty. The prices quadrupled in many cases, the sellers pocketing the cash only to find everyone else had the same idea. No available apartments, condos or home rentals have pushed people flush with cash to the hotels. Those fortunate enough to get a room at the famed Coeur d’Alene Resort (with the floating green and host of American Idol where Katy Perry famously trashed the penthouse, and made it reek of pot), are complaining that they have to wait for room service–albeit with a nice view of the water. My heart bleeds for them. Really.

Like the Hilton, the Marriott sits on the river

No contractors/builders available. Those who bought land and want to build are now in a pickle, the combination of no builders and outrageous lumber prices. In a town of 20K which swells to 40K in the summer, only so many builders exist–like six reputable ones. All the  others are former landscapers—including the guy who dug out the hole for our pool five years ago. Last year he reinvented himself as “a high-end builder,” and within two months, had three custom home contracts. Yikes. Just last night (Thursday), a young couple who lives two homes from informed us they were selling their 10 acre property because their builder poured the foundation, then bailed to take a higher-end home build across the lake.

And let’s talk construction material costs shall we? A 14 foot 2×4 use to be $9. Now it’s $34, and if it’s available. A sheet of press board was $8. Now it’s $29. Our dear friends from Seattle moved over, bought land in Rathdrum, but their contractor didn’t use a materials (wood) contract. Their costs for wood skyrocked from $27K to over $75K in the four months it took for permitting and HOA approval. But with no end of price increases, they flipped the property and made a $40K profit for those 160 days of waiting. They also extended the contract for their lovely, 3,500 square foot rental home in Spokane Valley (20 minutes across the border in Washington), which is only costing them $2,000 a month.

Permits. When we constructed our out-building (a stand alone structure typically housing farm equipment, or in our case, snow removal rigs and toys), permits took two weeks. Two years ago, it was a three weeks, but twelve months ago, just around Covid hitting, it reached six months. Last month? Almost a year.

Dirt made of gold. Two years ago, a ten acre plot right next to us with 360 views sold for $100k. Today, a 1/3 acre is now between $695-995. Where are we, Green Valley Ranch in Las Vegas, living by billionaires and Celine Dion?

Homes… Five years ago, we looked at properties for my parents for retirement. CDA was a little slice of heaven: 2,000 square foot rambler on 3 acres was $125,000. Three years ago, that same property was up to $175K where homes of that sort hovered…right up until BLM and the “exodus.” That very home was removed, relisted for $375K and two days later, taken off the market and relisted for $600K. It sold. All the quaint little homes that were moderately priced are selling at San Francisco prices, owned by people who don’t even live here, but want the security blanket of a place of refuge. In another case, our engineer friend moved here four years ago from Sacramento California. The total cost for a three-acre plot and building a 3,200 square foot semi-custom home with a detached outbuilding for his toys was…wait for it…$410,000. He felt like he’d won the lottery. Mid-BLM, his neighbor sold his similar home for $1.8M. He’s now at the Best Western Hotel, out of his mind that he can’t afford to replace what he sold. What’s he going to do and where is he going to go? It’s a serious question. The outdoors, overall lower cost of living and safe environment haven’t changed. (To wit: Ghiradelli’s chocolate baking bar is $2.98 here. Over the border in Washington, that same bar is $4.35. Same store–Alberton’s, but different prices).

A few other tidbits: The area has one, count it—1- Costco. It serves about seven towns, because I’m just not sure little enclaves with 14K residents counts as a city. We have one—again 1, Target. Two natural grocery stores. A single drive-through car wash. The lone German food restaurant went out of business three years ago because business was so slow. Does this sound like a thriving metropolis? Now, when you go to one of the few marinas, the wait list is nearly three years according to the GM, who had too much to drink at his partners’ birthday part and was spilling the beans.

Am I annoyed? Not really. I’m more pragmatic than anything.
Growth and moving are a part of life. I don’t begrudge people moving away to a better place that to them (e.g. Californians and Arizonians) CDA is practically free. I’ve directly benefitted in strange ways. The hot yoga studio I attend now has a wonderfully gifted yoga instructor from Portland. What irks me is that non-retired folks who own or employed in shops, are cops or firefighters, game wardens or nurses, are so completely priced out of the market forever more, they are being shunted to the middle of nowhere.

Even so, there are over three dozen lakes in a forty-mile radius of CDA, the Canadian border is 89 miles north, and if you get on I-95, you can drive straight down to Las Vegas, going through the amazing fishing and whitewater experience of Hell’s Canyon and other world-famous sites. Heck, just thirty minutes from our home in the St. Maries-St. Joseph’s recreational area which hosts international fishing and hunting groups every year. Hint: if you’re from out of town, call it St. Joe’s area–no one calls it St. Josephs. A sure sign your from out of town.

Lots more to do than hunting or golfing

All waves must come crashing down

If you listen to the real estate agents (nearly 4,000 in a town of 20—yikes!) they’d love you to believe that you must buy now! But what’s to buy? The flood of properties on the market were snapped up at extraordinarily high prices. Today, twelve months later, it’s a different world. The homes are fewer, in less desirable areas and for those of us who watch the market, a definite downward trend of prices is evident. It’s as though the buy-and-hold mentality is being augmented with a realization that a) cities are not burning to the ground with Biden as President, b) a second home near the Canadian border isn’t really required and c) it’s darn cold and lots of snow here in the winter.

The rest of the community members (ergo, those not in real estate) are likening this to what happened in 2008/2009. That’s when many homes in golf course communities like Blackrock sold at record highs, where they remained until just this last year. We looked at a home listed for $1.9M sold and sold in a week for $3M, all cash deal. It was flipped and sold within another week for $6M. The general consensus is the panic-buying spree is over, everyone who purchased will never get their money back and in another decade, will eventually sell underwater.

View from the course at Blackrock

But what about us, you ask? We are staying put, despite receiving unsoliticed offers of 12X what we paid for this place 6 years ago. One can always create more homes (given money and time) but not views and mountains. Besides, where would we go? We’d have more money in the bank and be homeless.

So to all those still looking to escape to a gorgeously wonderful, safe and amazing area, I say come. Just make sure you bring a tent, a water purifier and food storage and some reading material and lots of patience.

End note: As to finding a primary healthcare provider, I was told that me and Rog just happened to have small problems which apparently pay well but don’t take a lot of time (migraine RX and shoulder injury). In and out, otherwise we’d have been turned down. And yes, healthcare providers are now profiling potential patients, but that’s another blog.

Photos: feature photo- the floating T at the Coeur d’Alene golf course. Photo gallery left to right: a pic from Silver Mt. Ski Resort, elk in our back yard, fly fishing, and a bunch of deer that were tired from trying to swim and rescued by a local fisherman.

The first official “author interview” is always a little nerve-inducing, because like most creatives, I’m fearful what questions will remain in, be taken out, if my answers will be edited or I’ll just come across as a tired mom, which I sometimes am. Thankfully, this one wasn’t too bad. I must have had a decent nights sleep the night before.

The impetus behind the sit-down is Above Ground, my latest release in the thriller-romance genre.

A partial interview is below. The copmplete interview is here.

From BookView March 20, 2021

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we talked to Sarah Gerdes, the award-winning author of twenty-two books (six reaching #1) that have been published in over 100 countries and three languages, about her writing and her upcoming title, Above Ground, a page-turning suspense thriller (read the review here).

Tell us more about your book. What inspired the premise?

Three things happened at once within a very short period of time. The first was a law in California that changed theft of under a thousand dollars to from a felony to a misdemeanor. The second was watching a documentary on the three-hundred miles of underground drainage systems in Las Vegas that were intended to be used for the seasonal monsoons but houses thousands of people from all walks of life. The last thing was a conversation with my brother, who’s an estate attorney for a number of celebrities and athletes in Las Vegas. I was joking about these subjects, and off the cuff, I said: I bet the stolen goods are coming from San Francisco to Las Vegas and he laughed and said: “Sure! It’s well know the Bulgarians fence the auto parts, the Russians the jewelry…” and as I listened to him, the entire story line clicked in.

How many rewrites did you do for this book:

17 (COVID was brutal!)

Which character was the most challenging to write?

The primary individual involved in actual trafficking of people. Someone who’s that amoral and soulless wasn’t easy.

What is a special standout element of Above Ground?

I take joy in writing about places I’ve been and sharing the locations with readers is a joy. For instance, a clubs like Taos is known around the world, but most people will never have the chance to enter, or a meal at Buddy V’s where you will sit be a legitimate business person and a well-known (but not convicted) dark element. Writing a scene is like opening the door and taking the hand of a reader, and we are entering/exploring together.

What characters (if any) based on real people?

The primary romantic interest, Trey Bridger, is a merger of a man I know with the body and fantasy I want! An attorney, the UNVL tennis player and boyfriend are loosely based on friend, a niece and her boyfriend. Lucas Weinstein, the Russian jeweler is also based on a wealthy, elegantly-slimy man I know in the pawn world. He takes it as a compliment, although he actually lives in Chicago.

Which scene changed the most from the first draft to the published book?

The final scene where a primary (antagonist) character dies. From inception, I always envisioned he’d float down the drainage systems in the monsoon, but with the plot curves, I thought that would be too pat. I also changed the dynamics of power between Shay Wilson and this man and wanted her empowerment to show through, but in a way that she, and the reader, would never expect. It made the book far more interesting for me to write and I hope for the reader.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

That very few people are truly unredeemable. Even the worst people will take care of their mothers or give to the needy, so we need to take or appreciate the good and without throwing away the entire human.

What makes this book important right now?

Like all my books in the suspense genre, fiction is built around fact.

How did you decide on this title.

Easy—there were a TON of books with the words ‘below,’ or ‘underground,’ so I switched it up, and talked about Above Ground, where the real criminals live and work side beside the rest of us, in broad daylight.

What inspired you for this genre?

I’ve don’t write in terms of genres, or at least I don’t think of it that way. I write books that inspire me and then it’s determined what category they best fit in. Page-turners without graphic details tend to be in the suspense genre, while thrillers can vary on a scale. My work is page turning while not graphic, and there’s a big difference.

How long does it take to write a book?

It completely varies based on what’s happening in my life and the world. During the last four years, I’ve averaged three books a year. But with COVID, Above Ground took nearly a year. My mother came to live with us, the kids—all of us were at home—and it was hard to maintain a single line of thought for more than twenty minutes!

Is writer’s block real?

Absolutely, and warrants an entire chapter in Author Straight Talk (AST), but the “block” is the symptom, the causes can be many. It just means a pause in writing. Fear can stop the writing process (will book 2 be as good as book 1?) Can I due to topic justice? Have I lost the touch? You can push through, walk around or over the fear and uncertainty, but eventually, the desire and courage will return.

Best money you spent as a writer?

Without a question, a good editor—but what most novice authors don’t know is that several types of editors exist, and they are stratified by genre and type. A great editor in the sci-fi genre won’t touch a romance book and vice versa. One of the biggest mistakes I make early on was thinking that an editor in one genre could cross to another. Once you have the right editor for the right genre, you need to the best ‘type’ editor. As I detail in AST, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on “strategic editing,” which focuses on plot, pacing, character development, reveals etc. It has been like getting a masters in each genre.

For the complete interview, click here.

A stranger’s smile

Ever wonder about a stranger smiling your way? Do I have mustard on my cheek? Is my hair all wrong? What’s the motivation behind the look? I’ll often ask myself.
“None of the above” Rog said, during the most recent instance of being on the receiving end of a (in this case, male) stranger’s smile. Besides, he continued, “Who cares why he did it?” Rog asked. “It just happened. Smile back and move on.”

By that time, I felt bad I’d not smiled back. For most of my life, I’ve not smiled back. It’s part of my Swedish/Swiss, shy-and-look-down heritage, compounded by 18 years of ‘don’t talk, look or address’ strangers, followed by the early twenties bra-burning mantra of  “‘if you smile at them, you are ‘asking for it'” that every girl gets when she leaves college and goes out on her own. With that background, of course I’m going to be all screwed up when it comes to the do’s and don’ts of smiling at strangers. Suffice it to say that graceful and me is an oxymoron.

I’ll give you the other side of this sharp-edged sword of facial expressions. The spouse. Ever been with your boy/girlfriend, spouse etc when someone of the opposite sex gives a full-on smile? What does that mean…exactly…and how do you handle it with grace and security? I’ve known many a person of both genders to flip out when a stranger bestows a complimentary smile (or really, any type of smile) in their presence.

“It’s not like every smile is a come-on,” Rog told me not long after we were married. In addition to worrying about what kind of pasta I was going to make for dinner, I was wasting my time fretting over every Sally (and Joe) casting a sideways glance at my man. It took years (and mostly bigger relationship problems) to get me over the hump of another smiling at my legal and lawful partner. One day, I realized this: if someone else thinks Rog is cute enough to throw a smile his way, good for him. He works out. He eats much better than me, and it gee, if it made him a little happier on his way home, I thank that anonymous stranger from the bottom of my heart, for it’s me and my girls who ultimately benefit.

The upside-downside smile perspective

I’ve spent many years dwelling on the downside of a smile instead of focusing on the upside. That would include a person seeing I look down/having a bad day, and smiling to cheer me up. It may also be that I did in fact, look decent and a smile was an acknowledgement of properly put on make-up. When with children, a smile is often a compliment to my children, or my parenting skills (usually outside Target when the real fun has subsided). Just last Friday, I emerged from the local public library and a nineteen-ish young woman with piercings in all the wrong places made a comment on my skirt (she approved) and smiled wide. It was the last thing I expected (I figure I’m invisible to people three decades younger, so I generally  have no expectations). The smile was out of the blue and wonderful, and the compliment didn’t hurt my ego. I at least have a remnant of style remaining!

The flipside of receiving a smile is giving one. An interesting topic all on it’s own. When I ceased being ‘small’ (as in, emotionally), I was able to give of myself without insecurity or paranoia about an act that uses more muscles than any other in the body. (As an aside, did you know, smiling also increases the release of endorphins and reduces stress and is reputed to help one live a longer life of better quality than non-smilers?)

For several years, I’ve been practicing the fine art of smiling at strangers, and let me tell you, it works wonders. Today for instance, I accosted two perfectly nice people (a young, married couple) who’d I’d seen before, but always have scowls on their faces so I tend to avoid them. I figured they may be Swiss and frown naturally, as so many of my relatives do. I started with a smile at both of them, and to be honest, she looked like she swallowed her tongue and he jolted, putting his arm around her shoulders.

It was rather funny in a twisted kind of a way. But then again, I’ve noticed something else: those smile-affronted are either newly married (as I was), and well as young (see previous). An hour later, I had the opportunity to actually talk to the couple. I walked right up, ignored the startled, stalker-looks they gave me and started chatting. I soon found out they were a) married <1 year, b) expecting a child and c) living in her grandmother’s home. No wonder they were a little shy to outsiders and creeped out by my smile. By the end of the conversation, they were as lively as my own relatives, chatting up about the personal aspects of their life normally reserved for family reunions.

Another group that seriously benefits from a smile are women and old people. Women adore smiles from other women. Why? Because so few women actually smile at other women! It’s a latent insecure-threatened type of attitude. A smile to another woman means you are looking beyond yourself to that individual. I’ve found a beautiful woman with a scowl on her face will completely defy my expectations when I smile and follow it up with a compliment (great shoes), to which the woman will show complete shock then be profusely grateful, as though I’ve made her day. It takes such little effort to lift the spirits of another person. And lets face it. You never know what another is going through–death, divorce, home foreclosure, unruly child, unemployment. It’s the littlest thing that takes no effort and can make all the difference in the world.

So tomorrow is Saturday. Greet the day, and complete strangers, with a smile.

When dreams die

Ever since I was a teenager, I’d wanted to learn to fly, not as a vocation, but for the fun of it. I was a natural according to my dad. He’d let me fly for hours, turning in accordance with the maps and flight plan, even descending until he was ready to land the plane. By the time I graduated high school, becoming a private pilot was a forgone conclusion—a dream I was excited to achieve when I had the time and money.

Throughout my twenties, I held onto this dream. About five years into our marriage, me and my husband (Rog) made a deal: he’d take over my business for a year so I could finish my first book (another life-long dream) then we’d swap roles as he earned his pilot’s license. The deal worked; my book was published, he became a private pilot and I was ready to become one myself. I was on my way…until I wasn’t.

You see, I was great at the task(s) of flying, but sub-par at the details part. I know this sounds ridiculous and inconceivable, but it’s true. Suffice it to say that weights and balance, the outside checks of the aircraft, measurements and calculations for distances etc.—all the manual must-do’s for a pilot—well, I was terrible. Now, I can hear you saying: but that’s what checklists are for. True, but there’s a little thing called acumen. It’s the difference between “something comes naturally” vs “I have to make/remind myself” to do it. One can get away with using sub-par running shoes without dying. The same cannot be said for scrimping on the details associated with flying. So it was that at 31, I gave up my dream of flying.

Dreams die daily

We live in ice hockey country. Here, dwellers convert old hockey sticks into windshield scrapers for the snow and ice–because one must also show a love of the sport, even when one is not playing. It also means that youth players are frequently tapped for juniors, the precursor league before going pro here or abroad. Over the last four years, we have seen many dreams fade before ultimately dying. Just today, we had a talented young man (19) who played several seasons in Europe call my husband. When I heard the advice Roger was giving, I thought to myself, “another dream just died.”

Rog empathized, he himself having experienced three successive dream-deaths as I call them. First, it was failing the eye exam required by the Air Force while still in high school (he wanted to be a fighter pilot). He was crushed, but according to his mother, rebounded by focusing on sports. Only 6’2, he was a standout basketball player in his region, receiving scholarships but not to the top school of his choice. When that (second) dream died, he pivoted to football, walking on to the University team his freshman year as a tight end. This dream continued until he was injured his sophomore year. Bah-bum.

Reframing the dream

As I listened to Rog provide feedback to this youth, he empathized with the young man devastated by the notion of a future without professional hockey. Then the problem solving began.

“What do you want to do? Where does your passion lie? Does standard of living matter to you?”

They were the kind of pragmatic, rational questions a high school counselor or parent/mentor asks. Over the next forty minutes, all sorts of options were discussed, as well as areas of the country to live, the pros and cons of each and ultimately, what needed to happen to get from here to there.

Rog concluded with an admonition to pivot towards a dream you can control. It’s what I call positive pragmatism. Reality has gotten in the way of your dreams, and because reality won’t change, you have to. In other words, you don’t stop dreaming, you create new dreams you can accomplish.

With Rog, he pivoted his energies towards what he could control, and that was academics. He finished his masters in eighteen months while working full-time. He controlled his efforts to pivot once again, creating a new dream of succeeding in the business world.

A dream with a deadline

I’ve often said: “A dream is an objective with a deadline.” When it comes to creating a new dream, commit to it with all the vigor your younger, more enthusiastic and excited self had. The fact you are now older, wiser and more capable increases the possibility that your dream will be realized.

When it came to writing, Stephen King advocated to “Write ten pages a day and in a year, you have a novel.” I couldn’t be a basketball player because no amount of perfect free-throws were going to change my height, but I could learn the craft of writing and become a novelist. But as I did so, I worked (for years) in the software industry, created a management consulting firm, got married, had two kids…writing away, always keeping that guiding light of a dream in the distance. Guess what? With each page, each book, and each year, that light became closer and brighter, until finally, one day, years later, a book hit #1. Yeah, it took 20 years, but as I always say, “The time is going to pass whether you do something with it or not.”

I know 2020 has been a dark year for a lot of people, but among the scorched Earth of the pandemic and election, many new dream seeds have been planted. A new business idea, a new passion, hobby or even the dream of love.

As we approach the years’ end, look around and find those seeds which have been planted in your life. Nourish them. Help them grow. And if your land is barren, a personal scorched Earth, then get out of your zone find some seeds. Take action. Create your own dreams because guess what? The only person who can create and realize your dream is you.