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.

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.

Cyber Week Deals

Monday 11/30, 4 free books across ebook platforms!
Amazon Cyber Week deals = .99-1.99 books for 7 days!

On Amazon, all (active) books .99 with the exception of 2 (because Amazon puts a limit on the price due to the size of the book).

Convert your knowledge to money today

The Overlooked Expert: A terrific guide for anyone looking to build a successful consulting business… (Prairie Book Review)

In a highly readable work that makes a convincing case to develop a client service business, Gerdes leads the overlooked experts together through a proven approach to realize their future. Drawing from her own experience and featuring several highly successful real-life consultants, Gerdes outlines why all overlooked experts, especially middle managers should consider the idea of freelance consulting a viable option. Gerdes began her own consulting firm, Business Marketing Group (BMG), in San Francisco after realizing she was stuck in the same position for quite a time and went on to consult not only for start-ups and Fortune 500 clients but also for the governments of Britain and Ireland.

Summary review

Separated into ten sections, Gerdes covers everything from the initial discovery of an overlook skillset, determining if the skill had a value in open market, starting a business for little or no cost and realizing immediate income to expanding one’s business. Gerdes has an engaging, uplifting viewpoint and infectious spirit that should be appealing to middle managers stuck in uninspired jobs for too long or consultants burdened with uncertainty of today’s job market. She includes strategic insights, business rules to follow, compelling facts (a list of over 100 consulting vocations) and helpful tactics (how to pitch and negotiate fair deals with clients, how to recognize downturns patterns and prepare your firm) to make this book a master-class in how one can transform their skills into revenue. This is a fun, easy to read, and well worth the time invested.

Review published PBR Nov. 8, 2020

The Overlooked Expert

By Sarah Gerdes

Buy now

Barnes & Noble

Price $7.95 (USD) Paperback, $2.99 ebook edition

What do you title a blog about encountering a person who lacks a nose? It’s hard. To wit, you notice I just avoided it altogether.

There I am, standing in line at Kohl’s, one of the few shopping experiences around here where one can go in, grab and go without the hassle of a line. Let’s not get pissy about stores okay? Kohl’s became a fav when my butt expanded with my time here in Idaho and I discovered Jennifer Lopez’ line of curve-hugging-yet-flattering pants, perfect for those of us with small waists and ahem-gracious derrieres’. Kohl’s also has fantastic (and I do mean fantastic) deals on appliances (Euro brands + Kitchenaids etc) and Xmas items at prices so far less than Macy’s it’s really wrong (as if Macy’s weren’t struggling enough.

But I digress. The buzzer rings, I step off my personal round space used for distancing, say hello to the register worker and answer the basic questions. Yes, I found everything, yes, I’m having a good day. Because I’m old school and believe in making eye-contact, I don’t immediately notice the missing section between her eyes and her mouth. Normally, a point lifts the mask off the nose. Furthermore, here in Idaho, the mask mandate has been eliminated, although many wear a mask but pull it down just below the nose.

This woman, I realized, had no nose. It was gone.

We are talking about the essentials of life; the upcoming holiday season, the best deals and delight that waiting lines no longer exist because consumers are shopping on line. I ask if she’s worried about her job and she just scoffs.

“I’d been through a divorce, and my house burned down because of an electrical issue,” she tells me, all the while scanning my items. “My own smoking caused this,” she says, pointing to her nose, then shrugs.

“You think I even care about COVID? It’s the flu. Try having your life wiped out by a fire and your nose being sliced off. Then come talk to me.”

Whew. What do you say to that? (I know you’re wondering what I said. It was “no kidding,” reinforced with a head nod.

Walking out the door, I remove my own mask and take a long inhale of 10 degree air through the nose, a sensation I’d always taken for granted and never thought about twice. I do now.

The 3 D’s of Success

There I am, lying on my back, the ceiling spinning, sweat dripping from every pore and I’m having an out of body experience, willing my soul far from the oppressively hot room. The hot hatha yoga class is nearly over, the final Shivasna meditation pose supposed to one of relaxation, where the body absorbs all the pain and punishment it has endured in a room of 110 degrees and 60 percent humidity. It’s the hardest part for me, because all I can think about is getting out of the room, into the cool air and slurping down ice cold water–which of course, is  the worst thing I can do.

“The 5:30 a.m. class is my favorite,” says the teacher, her voice calm and sincere. “It’s because the students here embody the three D’s: decision, discipline and determination.” I snap back to the present, the mantra reminding me of a keynote speech on success and entrepreneurialism more than yoga.

I sucked my soul back from its hovering position above me and refocused on her words.

“The people in this room made the decision to be here. Then you had the discipline to get up at four or thereabouts, eat and come here. Once in the room, you had the determination to put your entire effort into every one of the twenty-six poses.”

She’s absolutely right, I thought, breathing shallow, telling myself I can last another few minutes. Her Three D’s can be applied to pretty much anyone who’s achieved success by any measure. “We” make the Decision to go to college/run a marathon/write a book etc. Then we have the Discipline to study/train for a year/fail for a few novels and through Determination do we get persevere through the downs and ups, blisters and callouses and rejections on the long, hard and oftentimes bumpy road to our goal—the decision we made in the first place.

As Mimi, the morning instructor talks through the last five minutes of meditation, I continue ruminating on the notion, considering the application of the three D’s, reflecting how I’ve defined much of my adult life by determination, but neither decision or discipline. In fact, my oft-repeated joke has always been that God didn’t give me any natural skills or talents except one: Determination. My husband lovingly calls me his goat, but not in the Michael Jordan-type greatest-of-all-time. Rog means it literally. He often says I will “chew my way through a wall to get what I want.”

I take that as a compliment by the way. I just simply say: that’s what I want and keep going until I get it. Of course I’m realistic, no WNBA or President of the United States for me. But I do tend to focus, ignoring every bit of distracting, external noise in my path. As my yoga instructor implied, it’s a personal decision, a personal level of discipline and personal determination that got each and every one of us to yoga in the first place. No one else got us up, dressed us, stood for us or wiped the sweat off our faces when it was all over.

The after effects of that wonderful morning yoga session was I have added the other two D’s to the one I’d always considered the absolute. Perhaps that’s also given a conference seeker another topic.

Gift card scamming

The server scam

Gift cards are wonderful things. Easy, convenient, and during these strange times, helpful when things can be delivered directly to your doorstep, including food. Yet I realized many of you might be unaware of the latest in gift card scamming that I’ve actually experienced firsthand.

It goes like this. You give or receive a gift card for $200, the amount I provided my parents last year for their anniversary. This happened to be for the Cheesecake Factory. Upon presentation of the bill, and their providing the gift card, the server returned stating that the gift card was only for $50. Well, that wasn’t the case, but my parents, without the receipt showing the authorization, were unable to argue otherwise. The bill was over $100, and their card—as told by the server—was only for $50.

My parents—bless their hearts—didn’t tell me this for over a month, because they assumed I was the one who actually misspoke (or being totally cheap). I was incensed. I dug through my receipts, found the activation code, called the gift card number and verified that yes, it was activated for $200. Armed with this info, I then called up the General Manager in the Reno location of said restaurant. To spare you the minutiae, what he ultimately found was that the server had taken the bill, uses the entire amount of the gift card, applying only a portion of the gift card, thereby pocketing the rest. It’s quite ingenious and might appear in one of my books at some point.

Problem solved and lesson learned, I thought. Although it’s classless, I began including the activation receipt along with the gift card. In my line of work (author/advisor) I get a ton of gift cards myself, and happily use them. As it happens, I received one for PF Chang, a wonderful chain serving fantastic food. The card is for $150, but I was not given the activation receipt. However, I’ve learned a lesson. Prior to going in, I went on line, used the website on the back to confirm activation and amount. Sure enough, $150. Imagine my surprise when the server told me that only $75 was on the card. I disputed the facts with the server, identifying the activation and amount, even the General Manager came over, but to no avail. I didn’t have the hard copy, activation receipt. In short, I was out the $25.00.

The last example—because third times a charm, right? This time it involves Red Robin. In this instance, a relative had given me the gift card, again, no receipt. Once again, I verified the card amount on line as being $50. What I did different was upon arrival, I requested the hostess to do a quick check of the amount on the gift card. In less than 15 seconds, she assured me it was in fact, $50.

Now I had a witness.

When the bill for $42 including a tip was presented, the server told me that $15 had already been used on the card. Hmm. I rather pleasantly called over the host. She was unaware of the what had transpired, and affirmed the amount on the card. I politely told the server she must be mistaken, as did the hostess. She stumbled and fumbled, but I received a revised bill and statement. Whatever she did in the background to rectify the situation was never revealed.

Three restaurants, three versions of the same scam. No need to make a big scene, because I get it; people are well…people. Not everyone is going to operate the same way, and as a well-known Hollywood producer once told me, “Everyone is broken in one way or another. If we (producers) don’t work around their issues, nothing in Hollywood would ever get done.”

So the work around is have the receipt if possible, and if not, check the balance on line (look on the back of the card). When you arrive at the establishment, ask the hostess or manager to double check the amount so you don’t run into issues. Lastly, at the beginning of the meal, prior to ordering, tell your server that you have a card and the amount has just been verified by the manager/host. That removes any possibility for fraud to occur.

After that, enjoy a great meal!

Resilience & rubber bands

“During these Covid times,” being flexible and strong, never breaking and always protecting like those elastic gems is a must

March 17 was the invention date of the rubber band, a wonderful, magical tool that I couldn’t live without. Had British inventor and businessman Stephen Perry not been fooling around with vulcanized rubber, papers, products and hair and other mishmash items would scatter around willy-nilly.

Stephen Perry

“During these Covid times” as my ten-year old has been saying for two months now (the precursor to suggesting or doing something that’s normally not acceptable) I’ve been thinking about the rubber bands of life.

Bodies expand and contract like those wonderful elastic vulcanized rubber thingy-ma-jigs. Financial lives have been stretched to the breaking point, pulling and hurting in equal amounts, momentarily contracting then pulled again. Our emotional and mental states have also expanded beyond points we were prepared to endure. For a few, the rubber band has snapped. A front-line doctor took her life, horrific crimes have been committed against fellow human beings.

Yet this time hasn’t been entirely bad.  Bike sales have spiked during Covid, the joys of family together melded with the very real need to get out of the house. And prior to that, games, puzzles and ebook/traditional sales dramatically increased. I’ve not experienced or seen bad temperaments of in-store fighting or wars of words. On the contrary, here in Idaho, it’s been politeness and sharing, the six-foot distance doing no more than stretching our boundaries, the visual rubber band at work. The elasticity of the human spirit has been wonderfully at work.

The rubber band family

Those of us Idaho-imports moved here had no idea that stocking up for potential snow storms would help against a completely unexpected virus. And when you do live in rural area, you make must have a level of self-reliance stock up because you have to. Town is thirty minutes away, the nearest gas station fifteen, so if the unexpected happens, the bread (and toilet paper) will be long gone before you can get to town.

For yourself or your family, coming out of the “these Covid times,” doesn’t mean spending wildly on fun stuff, although it would be nice if you can. It means preparing for the next unexpected wave. Doing so gives me safety of mind, which is akin to ensuring my personal rubber band around my family is in good shape, protecting it and holding it together.

What about the fires in Florida which happened this month along with the flooding in the Carolinas? If Covid weren’t enough, you have strife-inducing events caused by nature. Out here in Idaho, most goods come in (via truck) from the coast. One year, a strange snow melt covered the singular pass between Seattle and this region, shutting down the artery for two weeks. We had tires on a semi which was stuck, along with lettuce, clothing and every other item it takes to live. So while it wasn’t a fire, flood or pandemic, it was a simple snow melt that brought this region to its knees.

This all gets me to wondering, how can we be more like that beautifully simple product created and patented by Stephen Perry, expanding and contracting when the challenging times come again? It’s simple, just like the rubber band. Stock up on essentials well before it’s necessary; be it clothing for the kids (buy one of present size, then one size larger) that extra can of food, the additional box of detergent and of course, toilet paper and water. It’s not sexy and won’t gain you followers like that photo of being in Greece, but it will keep you alive and help you sleep at night, and that comfort is priceless.

Start today, sleep tomorrow

Money: always have $500 in small bills if possible. Start today with a ten here, a twenty there. Save it/don’t touch it.

Food: Buy an extra can of anything you pick up. Buy-one/save one is a good motto to follow. You’ll have two weeks of short/long term food storage and paper products in no time.

Clothing: buy an extra size when it’s on sale, for yourself or kids. My weight went up twenty and nothing fit. While some wore pajamas and sweats for comfort, I wore them out of necessity. NO BUENO!

Gas or other essentials. We were down to a few gas tanks, but seeing how the coasts were hit, we had a month lead time until restrictions hit us. We were lucky that way, because we had time to purchase and save. Now that the shelves are being restocked, do so now.

These are at home items, but the Go Bag, which I’ve often referred to, and have for each of our cars, has essentials that can all fit in a waterproof backpack. I go through it about every 4-6 months just to be on the safe side. Fires are the big thing around here, and I’m telling you what: if you can’t get it and go in under thirty, life is not good. The Go Bag is my mobile rubber band that keeps my family together at a basic level.

Fires are the big thing around here, and I’m telling you what: if you can’t get it and go in under thirty, life is not good. The Go Bag is my mobile rubber band that keeps my family together at a basic level. We have for each of our cars, has essentials that can all fit in a waterproof backpack. I go through it about every 4-6 months just to be on the safe side.

Staying Above Ground

romantic suspense title coming June 2020

A week ago, I learned my amazing designer had six months worth of projects cancelled due to Covid. He had created massive trade show pieces, web design, software application front ends–all shut down mid-stream. Most of the clients were unable to pay for the work he’d done, let alone pay for the aspects remaining. Now, I love this guy in a purely platonic, he’s an-incredibly-talented type of way. He’s created the covers for my last 15 books and a myriad of social media, in-store retail and odds-and-ends I’ve required. His question: Do you have any upcoming books that I can work on now. My answer: YES!!

The backstory is my stuff usually gets slotted in months in advance and let’s face it: author covers/design are pretty much at the bottom of the priority list due to the time it takes and the money. It’s simple math, and I’ve never had a problem with it. That said, the unfortunate circumstances have allowed me to skip to the front of the big-boy line.

Passing on the love

Download a free ebook and enter to win a free, signed copy of Above Ground

This novel is similar in genre to Global Deadline. A suspense genre set in Las Vegas. It goes to the editor in three weeks, which means it will be out June if I’m lucky. And since I’m thrilled to keep my designer at work on my projects, I gave him the green light to work on Chambers 3.

Want to be an advance reader? Let me know on my Facebook page, Instagram or direct. Also, you can download a free book and enter to win a signed copy as well as get alerts for new promotions when I have a title that’s included in group-author promos.


Back of Book

Far beneath the bright lights of the Vegas strip lies a thriving subtropolis, nearly 300 miles of it. It’s dark. It’s real. And it awaits those who can’t make it in one of the most competitive cities in the world.

Born to a single mother and former showgirl, Shay Wilson was determined to succeed in her hometown of Las Vegas, not on stage but in the courtroom. After paying her way through school as a bartender, Shay is hired by one of the most prestigious law firms in town, yet quickly realizes she’ll never make partner unless she finds clients of her own. With that goal in mind, she returns to her former night job to serve drinks and pitch potential clients. But with these new clients comes trouble. Shay expected to fight crime in the courtroom, not on the streets.

Discovering her new clients are linked to a national fencing ring of stolen goods puts both her personal and professional lives in jeopardy. And the two men Shay turns to for help add to the danger. One is an undercover cop tasked with exposing the organized crime, and the other is an executive intent on discovering who in his organization has betrayed him.
To survive, Shay takes refuge in the dark underworld below the city, a shelter to criminals and innocents alike. Uncertain of how to navigate this new landscape, Shay must figure out who to trust, who to fear and how she will make it out alive…

Chambers 3: The Sphinx Princess

Not quite ready to share the back of book on this one, but here’s the cover. I love it, and hope you do too.

As with all the historical-fiction/time travel Chambers series books, this third installment is based in and around the facts of a particular time in Egypt. The pharaohs built tunnels connected the pyramids to the Nile in order to escape or simply relax. Mia, pictured above, is believed to be a reincarnated Princess, who in real life died in her early 20’s. Won’t say anymore for now… looked for specials on my authorpage or other social media. Books 1 and 2 are up and available if you want to catch up now.

Want to be an advance reader for either? Let me know on my Facebook page, Instagram or direct. Remember to download a free book and enter to win a signed copy.

Me and Bonnie, long lost relatives

A wonderful, weird outcome of this stay-at-home period has been the ancestry efforts conducted on Family Search, Family Tree and whatnot, lines and lineage all strung together like the vines on netting, where one branch ends, another begins.

My own discovery has been a bit odd, starting with a round, chunk of grey which, like Star Trek, no grey had gone before. Visualize your face as a clock, then find 11, approximately the upper left diagonal of your eye. Trace the line with your fingertip, starting at the brow, ending at the hairline. Then, because you have nothing better to do at home, make a circle about the size of a quarter. Just for fun, extend that to a silver dollar.

Bonnie as a teenager

Now imagine that circumference all grey, as in, you took a white marker and painted it grey. That’s how I came to find my heritage with Bonnie Raitt, for she too, has a grey circle at the top left of her hair. Who knew that all it would take is Covid-19 to connect my grey circle with hers?

Why now? Why this time?

As so famously said by the illustrious law student Elle Woods whilst attending Harvard law, when asking the question of a man discarding previous sperm “donor” attempts, but not “this time?” In my case, I’m asking myself, why now? Why this time?

middle-age Bonnie

Easy. No hair coloring available, and having learned from past attempts at being my own stylist, coloring is not a skill set in my bullseye. It’s better to go grey than go green (sorry, no images but it’s alive in my memory). The last time my hair was natural was eleven years ago, and before than, fourteen years, both aligning with pregnancies and breast feeding when I went au natural across the board, from eating to dying to fixing, pricking and plumping. The good news for me was I was younger then and I didn’t have grey. The bad news was I couldn’t even recall my natural hair color, but I certainly do now.

Poor Bonnie however. You can see she had “the spot” as I now refer to it when in high school! Youza. I think it’s like a birthmark–one needs to embrace it, just like Cindy Crawford and “the mole,” which somehow got morphed into a beauty mark. If that was on me, my brothers would haven’t called it for what it was: a curse. But in our new-age day and way, what do we do? Love it. Hug it. Embrace it. Let it shine. Don’t cover it up, slice it off or otherwise diminish it’s greatness. Bring it to life! I say.

Rog says not

My dearest husband is not about embracing, loving or cultivating “my spot,” like a fertile plot of soil. He is about shading it with an eye pencil, and when that doesn’t work, he’s not above recommending a permanent marker. When I balk, he offered up one of the girls non-soluable paints from IKEA. I tried to compare myself to Cindy and the mole, which didn’t go far. She had the body to match. Not I.

Present day Bonnie- still the boss

The real problem with my body’s attempt to become like Bonnie is that it’s on my part line–just like hers! Couldn’t my body have chosen to be original? Or self-identify as a back-of-head spot of above-the-ear-spot? Why on my part line?

Further, could it not have been born a part of me, like Cindy and her “beauty mark?” It was a part of her being from the get-go and her parents were probably too cheap to spend the money on a six-year-old. They had no choice but to call it pretty. By the time she was a teenager and making more money than her parents, she too, was convinced it was pretty. Compare that to my ugly mark, because let’s be honest. When you get a sun spot, it’s from age, not from God. My grey blob at 11 o’clock is a curse of aging, not a beauty gift from the almighty, like a snake in waiting, hoping for the sun of Covid to shine on us all, thereby revealing our true nature.

As I’ve become more reconciled to my relationship with Bonnie, I’m pointing out our similarities: we both have blue-ish glasses. we both insist on having long hair and wearing long earrings, but tragically, the comparisons end there, but I’m certainly not slingling the guitar like a boss as Bonnie.

Three men, three mantras and three very different lives

A tale of three men began with a former boss and continued as I interviewed two-dozen individuals for a book on success. In this time when we are all contemplating our lives, a few gems deserve to be shared.


“You want to guarantee a job gets done? Find the busiest person in the company and give it to him/her.”

As always, one must consider the source to determine if the wisdom is worth anything. You be the judge.

Mantra one is from a Duke engineering and accounting graduate (with honors and masters), pilot and also certified flight instructor who went to Microsoft for a stint as a technology architect (designing the systems). He jumped ship after a couple of years for a start-up, parting ways with the chief technology officer after eighteen months, eventually landed in the consulting world and found his calling. He was making a pittance at Microsoft compared to project consulting fees. Within the first two years, he was making a million a year. By year five, this had jumped three-fold. On average, he was personally taking home three-four million a year for about eight years.

He traded up from his 1,200 foot home in an old part of Seattle to a primary residence of 10,000 square feet in the affluent Seattle suburb of Woodenville. He added a second home in the San Juan islands where his wife installed not one, but seven, count them seven, Gaggenau ovens. His journey from his home in Seattle was made easy thanks to his twin-screw vessel which he insisted on piloting once he earned his credentials.

What isn’t sexy about this?

But why stop there? This busy man didn’t know how or when to stop either work or his personal expenditures. Ergo, he had not one, but three planes, all covered by the business. One, a twin-prop Piper Malibu, $2M King Air with seating for eight and a Mooney, a quarter million dollar aircraft built for speed.

All of this afforded by his work ethic and smarts. He believed in the mantra he espoused because it was in part what had made him successful. His over-busy manager or counterpart would give him a task in desperation which he’d take, complete and ultimately receive the accolades. Sometimes, he’d receive the promotion instead of the other person.


“Spend eight hours doing the job you were hired to do, and another two doing the job you want.”

This was said to me by the senior vice president of mergers and acquisitions who worked for the world’s largest consulting firm at the time. He attributed his success to applying this phrase to every job he’d taken since college, the phrase initially coming from one of his professors at BYU. This man had two undergraduate degrees and his masters in business administration, but said those credentials were insignificant compared to the working on the job.

“More knowledge comes from what you learn at your job than you will ever learn in the classroom,” he believed. Then he went on to give examples of how applying the concepts gets you fifty percent of the way. “The rest is what you learn and how you apply it.” But even then, he argued, that’s only enough to fulfill what’s expected of you. “You will never really stand out unless you put in more effort, more work and show more determination than the person sitting next to you.”

In other words, leadership is always looking for the next manager, the next stand out sales person. Not everyone needs a college degree, or two graduate degrees to be financially successful.

Live to work or work to live

This man chose a very different life path than the first. His primary (and only) residence was a 3,400 square foot home in a nice, but older neighborhood in less trendy part of Seattle. His wife drove a minivan and he had a Prius. No boats, planes or exotic cars. When he did spend money, it was on travel with his family. It was his one indulgence. When I interviewed him, he’d racked up nearly twenty African trips, Safari’s being his favorite, and he’d often take his grown children. Eventually, he retired to give of his time to an educational institution, desiring to spend his days with his family while he was in good health.

The first professional I mentioned, who is approximately the same age, has chosen to continue live to work. He used his home in the islands a handful of times a summer, his packed schedule not conducive for the long boat ride up. He used his planes not for weekend family getaways, because his wife has always hated small aircrafts. Instead, his flight time has been used to generate revenue, not deepen relationships. In fact, leisure travel and activities wasn’t a part of his life, because it took too much time out of his work schedule and billable hours.

What’s the point of having things when your life is empty of friends or loved ones?

Comparing the two men, the difference in lifestyle are stark. One had all the material possession attainable yet were rarely used because…well, he was working so much. (I forgot to mention man one also owned a Rolls, driven by his wife to and from Seattle Prep where their children attended, a Bentley which he drove and an Escalade). On the other hand, professional number two kept his life and lifestyle simple, investing his discretionary time on experiences, not things. What’s ironic is that this second man (who drove the Prius while having an executive title with one of the world’s foremost companies) earned multiples of millions of man number one who showed it all off. This proved one of my own mantras: “Those with the most don’t show it.”

“Those with the most don’t show it”

It’s now been six years since I’ve spoken with either man, but from what I’ve seen on-line and heard, the path of one has changed dramatically, the other hasn’t. The boat, planes, homes and children of the first have all but disappeared, the burnout as emotional as it was financial. Specifically, bad choices led to the collapse of the consulting firm, the personal overhead unsustainable. It’s all gone. Alternatively, the former SVP has lived his life as he constructed; spending his workdays with an academic institution and his free time with his family. He still drives his Prius but his wife finally upgraded to a used Lexus SUV to haul around the grandchildren.

One lived to work, his surroundings and lifestyle reflecting that, his own mantra serving him very well. The second worked to live, his close family and sound financial decisions evidence of his conviction. Having heard these experiences and witnessing the eventual outcome, I do wonder if there was a middle ground to be walked, perhaps the peaks wouldn’t have been so high but the valleys not so low.

A third mantra from a former boss

When I was twenty-four working at my second start-up outside Silicon Valley, the once-divorced CEO, a thirty-nine year-old who’d already taken one company public, often said he “lost” his first wife and children in the drive to accomplish his goals. He found and married a hot thirty-year old who was step-mother to his two sons, and during our press tours, he’d talk candidly about what he’d done wrong, taking full ownership of the demise of his marriage, vowing to change his ways. During the five years I spent at the company, we grew from eight to two hundred and went public. I continually observed this CEO, wondering if history would repeat itself.

It didn’t. He left work at five p.m. No. Matter. What. He took vacations, two times a year, without fail. He wouldn’t respond to emails on Saturday, but wait until Sunday night at seven p.m. when his boys were in bed. He was ruthless about his protected family time. Yes, the cynical will say: “Well, he already had a few million in the bank and was the CEO, he could afford to do that.” I agree. Yet he still had a choice, as many do, to carve out and maintain a semblance of balance, and it was his actions that gave the rest of us permission to have a life. We could leave at six or seven and the world wasn’t going to shut down, neither was the company. We didn’t have to be on email at eleven at night to impress the boss, because the boss was with his family.

Although I was a senior manager at the time, I felt compelled to work late and come in on the weekends. One morning, I’d arrived at 6 a.m. and he appeared, asking me why I was in the office. I responded it was to deal with the east coast press, who were up and alive at nine a.m.

“My boss told me something I never forgot,” he said, one hand on my cubicle wall. “Things are never as good or as bad as they seem. Remember that. It puts everything in perspective.”

It took another decade to really embed that philosophy in my DNA, but it’s a phrase I often repeat to Rog, my close circle and myself. It keeps the highs and lows in check, our emotions and efforts a bit more stable.



“Things are never as good or bad as they seem

Modesty doesn’t equal a lack of means

I still think and apply the two other phrases quite frequently. When a person complains or a tasks isn’t being done at the office, I ask who is busiest? The owner/manager invariably responds in an instant. “Give it to that person!” I suggest, telling them the mantra. When a person wants to get ahead, I offer up mantra number two; “Work eight hours at the existing job and another two at the job you want.” That works like a charm. And for the life/balance situations, which happen on a weekly (daily?) basis, we have mantra number three, perfect for not just times of staying at home during a pandemic, but at all times, because as Jeff said: “Things are never as good or bad as it seems.” Endurable words of wisdom for all of us to remember.

Anonymous, generous and classy

Winter of 2020 has united us in the way Lady Justice might have applauded; Covid-19 doesn’t recognize race or religion, color or culture. It’s been the great equalizer, putting doctors and bartenders, construction workers and attorneys out of work. I know all of the above who have been laid off and seen their client work evaporate. One law firm employing 12 in two locations lost four hundred thousand in a single day. One client owed them $200K, and instead of paying, declared bankruptcy. Within twenty-four hours, two other clients owing a hundred grand each who’d received the work, stated they weren’t paying because they no longer had the money, their own businesses going down the drain. Rog and I are friends with small business owners lay off their staff, seeing the “trickle-down effect” of their own customers not walking through the door or spending on take-out. The trickle wasn’t that a slow dropping of water but a tsunami, destroying all in its path, livelihoods and now relationships as family tensions rise.

And yet, during this time of distress and sorry, I’ve seen bits of hope for those who are calm because they’ve prepared and saved money, food and supplies. I’ve also witnessed absurd insensitivities by those with gross amounts of financial resources, ego or delusion.

Just today I saw Geffen and his yacht, wishing us all safety as he cruises the islands in his $590M vessel. Then we have the wife of a former NFL player justifiably upset that she keeps purchasing sunglasses but can’t show them off anywhere so must resort to Instagram. On the upside, she discovered Super Glue for her one-inch nail which had broken, and in her highlight story, thanked the Lord because that’s how we shall make it through these tough times.

Really.

For these souls and people who just need to give a shout out to the world that they can’t get their custom Louboutin’s shipped, I pray hard. Much harder in fact, than the prayers that go out to those who are putting groceries on credit cards and laying off employees. Grossly blessed and highly uninsightful, they lack the characteristics of modesty, grace and class, things that are actually free, but rather hard to come by.

When we think of Tom Hanks, Oprah, Ellen or JK Rowling, we know they are worth more money individually than we will ever be combined. We guess, or have seen, their multiple homes, cars and vacations. As Americans in the land that invented capitalism, they represent all that our culture has deemed valuable for decades: status + money = success. Okay, we get that. Yet to focus on those four, none of them are really rubbing it in our faces, highlighting the fact that they are probably flying around in private jets to some exotic location or self-isolating in their fifty-thousand square foot home in Montecito. Somehow, it doesn’t seem so obscene because we aren’t having to look at the images.

A different way of living and giving

When Drew Brees and his wife made headlines a few days ago, he didn’t do it by posting a Tik Tok video with his wife. It was through a $5M donation to a city in need. Ralph Lauren didn’t share an image riding a thoroughbred on his 3,000 acre farm outside Ouray, Colorado. He gave $10M to help the Covid-19 efforts but wasn’t pictured in his expansion mansion. Both of these individuals clearly have the means to travel, purchase and live a life of luxury regardless of what goes on around them, but they’re not putting it front and center.

My mother has always advocated that the best giving is done quietly, anonymously and without a press release. That was old school and elegant, and I’m sure this is happening every day, but we don’t hear or read about it. The donations could be made from your next door neighbor, mom or friend or yourself, done without telling a soul, and it’s probably the culmination of these acts that will truly make a difference.