Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Focus - What it looks like - How to use it

The power of focus is the key to success in all endeavors.  To operate without engaging our focus is at best a waste of time, at worst, it is an instant pass to the hereafter.

In a blog that I called Story Book Endings, I mentioned Evan Gattis. In this blog on focus, Evan is my example.

In the third game of the just completed series against the Dodgers, Gattis, an Atlanta Braves rookie, had not been in the starting lineup for the previous two games.  The Braves were down, 2 - 0, with two men on base, when Gattis was called on to pinch hit.

Stepping to the plate, he looked like a "normal player."  By normal player I mean he wasn't totally focused.  He was maybe 80% present, the other 20% of his focus was being eaten up by the shock of being suddenly being inserted into the line up, before a sell out home crowd, in the face of a almost hopeless situation.

The Dodger pitcher wasted a pitch, then realizing that Gattis wasn't totally ready, delivered two quick strikes, followed by another wasted pitch.  And then a funny thing happened.  The missing 20% of focus began to return to Gattis eyes.  He fouled off three consecutive two strike pitches and after each one the increased focused became more apparent.  Want to know what happened on the eighth pitch of his at bat?  Click the play button below.

Focus is a choice, one that most people aren't willing to make because it requires a total expenditure of energy, leaving no room for hole cards or hold backs.

If you want to win, at whatever you are doing, you must be willing to pay the price, to give all your energy to bring your total focus to the moment.

Update:  Last night, with the Braves trailing the Twins 5-4, with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Evan Gattis pinch hit once again:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Writing Like Living - One Thing Leads To...

I've thought about this for a long time and reached the conclusion that there is no "stand alone" in the universe.  By that I mean, everything is connected.  There isn't six degrees of separation between humans, and there is no separation between things.

Many "new thought" concepts have been bantered around so much they've become trite.  One of those is the statement, "there is only one of us here."  That idea is a good starting point for the notion that everything, and I mean everything, is linked to everything else in such a way that the bond cannot be broken.

That means that, whether we are aware of it or not, the world that is, at this very moment, manifesting at this Buddhist shrine just outside Long Binh, Vietnam, is the same world that is manifesting, at this same moment, at The Vietnam Memorial, in Washington, D.C.

Most of us are so confined by the self-imposed limitations of our world, that we can't see the connections, or to be more precise, we can't see the oneness of all things and all entities and we certainly can't see how anything, except the things closest to us, are connected.

A writer, on the other hand, must see the connectedness of all things.   Otherwise their books would all be short and limited in perspective.   We love to read because writers have expanded perspectives that include more than the things in their immediate field of vision.  Through writers, we  explore  worlds we cannot see, but wish to.

We pick up a rock and see a rock.  Writers pick up a rock and see a boulder that once was part of a ridge that jutted out of an ancient mountain that was the home of a departed tribe of artists who seemed to be in direct communion with... well you get the idea.

Writers have a common love for music.  All sorts of music, pop, soul, rock, jazz, country, gospel, rap, all of it.  Most old writers know well the artists who pioneered rock music - Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Neil Diamond... And when they hear that Neil Diamond, still performing at age seventy-two, has done something inspirational, they blog about it.  Then they do some research that leads them to buy one of Neil Diamond's latest albums and they share their favorite song from that album with everyone who reads their  blog:

That's how writing and living works.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


by Bert Carson

There was a loud explosion in the neighborhood this afternoon.  I didn't hear it.  I was taking a nap and when I take an afternoon nap, I take an afternoon nap.  However, when I finished my sleep, Christina told me about it and from her description, we determined that a nearby transformer had blown.  A while later a couple of Huntsville Utility trucks arrived to restore order, and as it turned out, power, to the street behind our house.

I walked out back, because I'm nosy, and discovered that the north side of the street behind our house was without power.  Tim, our behind-the-house neighbor, was talking across his fence to the four linemen, who were gazing up at the offensive transformer that had ruined their Saturday afternoon.  Though I couldn't hear his words, I could tell by his body language Tim wasn't happy to be in the dark, and he wanted to know when he could expect power to be restored.

I don't know what the linemen told him, but I suspect it was that they had to replace a transformer.  A few minutes later they sped away to find a replacement.  As the last of the sunset faded, they returned and over he course of the next hour, replaced the transformer.  However, the problem was more than they had bargained for, because it's now 1:40 AM and Tim's side of the street is still totally dark.

As a matter of fact, it's not just dark, it's quiet.  I've just come back in the house after sitting on the back porch for a half hour where I noted how quiet things are, not just on Tim's street, but throughout the area.  It's funny how darkness and silence go together - one seems to encourage the other.  As I sat on the back steps reveling in the silence I recalled a passage from Beryl Markham's masterpiece, West With the Night -

"There's an old adage," he said, "translated from the ancient Coptic, that contains all the wisdom of the ages -- "Life is life and fun is fun, but it's all so quiet when the goldfish die."

Our true selves seek silence like a homing pigeon flying hard for its roost.  Yet we've traded silence for convenience and progress.  Sitting on the steps, in the darkness, and engulfed by the  silence, I asked myself, "Was the gain worth the loss?"  And  I answered softly, so as not to disturb the peace of the dark and quiet - "No, I don't believe it was."

Saturday, May 11, 2013

How to sell loads of books

In case you don't recognize the man, that's Russell Blake, a writer's writer.  For twenty-three months, he's been on a writing quest that has taken him to amazing heights in the business and his venture is burning brighter today than ever.

Not only is Russell a master of the art of writing, he has also mastered the connected-at-the-hip art of marketing what he writes.  But the best part, from my point of view, is that he is always willing to help another writer - I know.  I've gone outside, turned toward Mexico and called his name many times - he has not only answered every question (with answers that work) and shared his trade contacts, he even let me use one of his characters, Captain Romero Cruz, in my soon to be available book, Southern Investigation - Tucson.

May 7th Russell posted a blog that he called, How to sell loads of books.  I just added the 60th Comment to the post.

Here's the opening passage:

Over the last week, because of my burst of posts on the Kindle Boards, I've gotten a number of PMs from authors asking for counsel on one matter or another, so I thought I would take the time to lay out my thoughts so that the info is available to everyone.  Obviously, this is intended for authors.  Readers, just skip over this, it's all technical crap you won't be that interested in, unless you're a masochist.

This does not represent the only way to do things, but it's my way, and is the synthesis of everything I've learned over the last 23 months of self-publishing:  finish on Russell's site:

There may be better advice for independent writers out there in the ether, somewhere, but never in my voyages through the universe have I seen it, or even gotten a whiff of it.

Thank you my friend - you are a class act.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Searching in All the Wrong Places

by Bert Carson

I always think that I'm going to have a lot of time to write when the weekend rolls around.  I always forget that weekends are when we get ready for next week's day-job portrait sales.

Years ago, before this day job was even a thought in my mind, I knew that I needed a way to carry my electronic desk and file cabinet with me.  My thinking was, if I have a computer that I can set up quickly, wherever I am, I'll be able to work anywhere anytime.  In theory, that's a wonderful idea.  In actuality, it hasn't worked out that way.  I could carry a computer without a hitch.  The problem was syncing the info in the mobile device with the info in the stay-at home device.

I tried everything I could think of and more than a few things that I didn't think of: schemes that were suggested by concerned, knowledgeable friends (there are a couple of contradictions in that description - I won't point them out because you already know what they are).   Once, many years ago, I tried some software that claimed to be able to access my home-based computer from my remote location.  At the time, my home-based computer was in Mentone, Alabama and my remote location was the Ramada Renaissance Hotel, just off Market Street, in downtown San Francisco.

The software connected after I resigned myself to the lag time factor - about a minute per key stroke.  I was finally rewarded when a view of my home-based desktop appeared on my laptop, three thousand miles removed.  Thirty minutes later, I managed to open the file folder I needed, and just as I was about the save the file on my laptop, the screen went blue.  Thirty seconds later my phone rang.  I answered and heard the breathless voice of my secretary, "Bert," she exclaimed, "I just came in your office, glanced at your computer, and someone was inside it."

She paused, and I began trying to think of a simple way to explain to her what was going on.  At the same time, I was mentally kicking myself for not advising her that I was going to try this new connection method.  Before I could get any words out, she regained her voice and exclaimed, "But don't worry.  I pulled the plug."

That story is much funnier to me today than it was twenty years ago.   A week or so ago, I realized that in twenty years I wasn't any closer to a solution than I had been the day the plug was pulled.  I have three laptops, each with Microsoft Outlook, three different versions by the way, none of which are synced with any other.  And, to compound my issue, I have Scrivener on each machine, and no book or blog is synced between even two of the laptops, much less all three.  And My Docs is three independent collections of files with only the remotest resemblance to each other.    I was staring at my iGoogle browser home screen, while considering yet another sync program that just might bring order to my chaos, when I noticed my Gmail reader in the middle of the desktop and finally, FINALLY, the light came on.

I've had a Gmail address since the beginning of Gmail, but I've seldom used it - in fact, it was set up automatically to forward my Gmail, through my server, and subsequently to my various out-of-sync Outlook programs.  In short order, I cleared 6,000+ messages out of the Gmail inbox and sent myself a test message.  I turned on one of my other laptops, opened Gmail and, wonder of wonders, there was my test message.   I tweaked everything,  found a colorful Gmail theme and purchased Adblock, a program that blogs the ads on the Gmail desktop.  Minutes later every past sync failure was forgotten.

Vernon Howard said, "The day that God answers your prayers is the day that you will forget all the times that he didn't."  Vernon, as usual, was right.

Gmail worked so great that I took Google Drive for a spin around the block.  I haven't returned from that test drive, and I doubt that I will.  Google Drive does for my documents exactly what Gmail does for my email.  Now, ten days after my discovery of Google's cloud and what it can do for me, I'm still marveling.

I've had comparable experiences to this one more times than I can count and in every area of my life.  I'll bet you have too.  Our problem is, we look for solutions but limit our search with our preconceived notion of what the solution has to look like.

I don't know about you, but I'm sure that its time for me to "pull the plug" on all the preconceived notions I'm still carrying around.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mississippi Mules

Delton Johnson
by Bert Carson

Monday, April 15th, I drove 140 miles from Huntsville to Marietta, Mississippi.  It was a beautiful spring day made even more beautiful by the 50 mile stretch of The Natchez Trace included in the trip.

I was almost an hour early for the scheduled picture sale at Marietta Day Care, a longtime customer of our small children's portrait company.  Reluctantly, I left the trace and turned right on Mississippi 371.  I'd traveled less than a mile when I happened to glance to my left, down a narrow paved road, and saw something I hadn't seen in at least fifty years: a man sitting atop a plow that was hitched behind a team of mules.  At 55 miles per hour, I did a double take, hit the brakes, and made a u-turn.

Minutes later, I pulled off the road next to the field where I discovered there were three teams of mules plowing, and a fourth team, unhitched from their plow, standing in the shade of a large oak tree overlooking the field.

Before I could get out of my vehicle, a new Ford crew cab pickup turned onto the road and stopped beside me.  I got out of my vehicle and walked to the truck.  I suspect I was babbling a bit when I blurted, "I haven't seen anything like that in more than fifty years."

The big man smiled and said, "Not many people plow with mules anymore..."  Then we talked a bit about old times and old values.  I heard a car approaching and knew the man had to go, so I quickly asked, "Is it alright if I take some pictures?"

"Sure," he said.  "Make yourself at home."  So I did.

Two of the men plowing were heading in my direction.  In less than a minute they were within talking distance.  They stopped at the end of the rows they were plowing, more to give the mules a breather than to talk, but one of them did tell me that three of them had been plowing since they were kids, and then he pointed toward the young man and said, "That's my boy.  He's into plowing with mules too, and I'm sure he'll pass it on to his sons."

We talked five, maybe ten minutes, and it was time for me to leave.  I thought about those four men and eight mules while I showed pictures of their neighbor's children to parents and grandparents, and I thought about them all the way back to Huntsville.

It was obvious the men could have plowed the field with John Deere tractors and done it quicker and maybe more efficiently.  But they decided a long time ago that the old fashioned way was their way.  It's hard to describe the feelings that welled up in me as I thought about those men and mules: feelings not related to farming but rather feelings of hope that maybe, just maybe, there are enough folks out there who understand what matters and are willing to keep it around for those of us who have lost touch with it to make a difference; a real difference.

I was anxious to tell Christina what I'd seen but I didn't have the opportunity.  I walked in the house and she said, "I understand you watched some mules and men plowing a field today."

As it turned out, I mentioned that I was from Huntsville, on the way to a day care in Marietta, where I would be showing portraits of children.  The man I talked to mentioned it to his son, who told his wife, Sonya, who is on staff at Mudpuddles, a nearby day care, that is also one of our customers.

Sonya called Christina and asked if I was working in Marietta.  When Christina said yes, Sonya told her that her husband, Delton, along with his father and two friends were plowing a  field near Marietta when I stopped to watch.

The next day, I called Sonya and asked her to send me some information on the foursome.

Sonya identified the men as,  Eddie Johnson (who I photographed only at a distance), her father-in-law and her husband, Delton.  She also noted that the man I talked to on the road was James Cheatham.  It was James' brother, Woody that I happened to get the most pictures of.  Then she told me this about them:

"Eddie Johnson is Delton's father.  He has been plowing with mules for over 60 years.  He was taught by his father and grandfather, beginning when he was five years old.  When Delton was five, Eddie began teaching him the art of plowing with mules, and it is an art.  Delton and his father logged with horses every summer until Delton finished high school.  Woody and James were also taught by their father and grandfathers and now pass the tradition on to their children.

Sonya, Delton, their boys, and all of our Mantachie and Marietta friends very geniously share their life with Christina, me, and Adrienne, our partner.   Theirs is a priceless gift, freely given, and accepted with humility and thanks.

Here's Delton, Sonya, and their two sons, Luke (standing) and Bryson (sitting).  One day, if I'm lucky, I'll glance down a Mississippi road and see Luke and Bryson plowing behind a couple of teams of Mississippi Mules.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Reviewing a Review

by Bert Carson

This is not a review of Harlan Coben's novel, Six Years. This is me sharing a good laugh with you and maybe making a tiny observation.  Before I get to the observation, let me say that until a few minutes ago, I had never heard of Harlan  Coben.  I found him because I wanted to try Whispersync for voice and it's only available on some titles.  "Some," does not include me or other indie writers.

Since I'd never heard of Mr. Coben, I decided to take a look at a few of the 1,060 reviews this particular book has gathered.  I read only one.  It, and the comments it has drawn, made me laugh so hard, I didn't think it would be safe to read another until I was sure that my system had fully recovered.  

After I dried my eyes and caught my breath, I was about to go back to my search when I thought about you, and I figured you'd like a good laugh.  So, grab a couple of tissues, find a place to sit where you won't disturb someone you care about, then enjoy this beautifully written one-star review of a book I'll never read.


48 of 55 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Definitely not his best, March 21, 2013
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Six Years (Hardcover)
I have been a Coben fan for a long time. I started out with the Bolitar series and moved on to the stand-alones. I have thoroughly enjoyed each book. However, this one gave me the urge to reach through my Kindle and slap Jake across the face and say "Snap out of it!'. The book is based on a man's obsession of a woman he briefly knew. In order to find her , he puts others in danger, is suspended from his job, all the while thinking only of finding Natalie. This reads like a Nicholas Sparks book gone bad.

Initial post: Mar 22, 2013 6:37:41 PM PDT
I agree.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 24, 2013 11:56:51 PM PDT
http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/x-locale/common/carrot._V192251235_.gifbook worm says:
I totally disagree with this review. As with all novels you must suspend disbelief to some extent (and it this case a lot) but there was a lot of action and I wanted to keep reading. Of course the outcome was very predictable but I enjoyed seeing how Coben would get there. Coben is a master at what he does and I keep buying his books. For those readers who do not wish to pay the price of a Kindle download I feel sorry for you. You will miss a lot of good books.

Posted on Mar 27, 2013 11:55:29 AM PDT
http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/x-locale/common/carrot._V192251235_.gifRene says:
I completely agree. I am 'speed reading' through it. I find it incredibly boring.
Makes me appreciate the likes of Robert Crais and Robert Parker. This was a waste of money.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 27, 2013 12:03:05 PM PDT
http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/x-locale/common/carrot._V192251235_.gifbook worm says:
Your problem is "speed reading". Slow down and enjoy.

Posted on Apr 1, 2013 9:19:39 AM PDT
http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/x-locale/common/carrot._V192251235_.gifGoldfish says:
I agree completely .....I usually really enjoy Coben, but not so much this time.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 2, 2013 12:15:54 PM PDT
http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/x-locale/common/carrot._V192251235_.gifsubrosa says:
When my husband started reading this book I kept asking him if he was enjoying it. He kept saying, "This is stupid". When I read it I had to agree. Jake is a love sick wimp. About page 300 it picked up a bit but I was sorry I had wasted my time. Should be classified as a Romance novel.

"The dirt road was not as well paved here" Well, duh, dirt roads are not paved at all. I guess I should read faster and perhaps I wouldn't notice those errors.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 8, 2013 9:12:03 PM PDT
@ subrosa; The dirt road wasn't paved?? too funny :)

Posted on Apr 9, 2013 2:08:27 PM PDT
http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/x-locale/common/carrot._V192251235_.gifIdrow says:
I also like how he gets his wallet stolen and he has all his credit/atm cards the next day. He must have also gotten a less than 24 hour turn around on replacing his driver's license because you can't rent a car without one. This was a poorly written book to be sure.

Posted on Apr 25, 2013 7:56:17 AM PDT
I have not finished this book yet but...I think Jake is a fool. It is hard to continue to care for him. All for Natalie one track, ugggggggggg.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 25, 2013 8:04:22 AM PDT
I agree. He's obsessed and he doesn't care who gets hurt.

http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/x-locale/common/carrot._V192251235_.gifBetsy Black says:
I am struggling with this book after reading about a third of it so stopped to read some reviews and comments. This review helps me decide to stop reading! This is my first Harlan Coben, and I cannot continue. Someone please recommend another stand-alone to try before I bail on this author. I love audio books and was enjoying Scott Brick's narrator but not the story.

Posted on Apr 28, 2013 7:38:28 PM PDT
http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/x-locale/common/carrot._V192251235_.gifAndrea says:
You hit the nail on the head. I too have been a harlan coben fan for many years but this book was so annoying I thought I was reading a bad romance novel.


I promised a few observations, but after rereading the review and all the comments I'll only make one:  It is refreshing to know that humor is still alive.  And, one final note, thanks to Rene (see the third comment) I've discovered Robert Crais - if she puts him in the same league as Robert B. Parker that's good enough for me.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

George & Tammy - One more time!

by Bert Carson

This will be the first of at least seven consecutive daily blogs.  It wasn't going to be the first.  In fact it wasn't even on my list of topics to blog about until I read Stephen Woodfin's tribute to George Jones.  He called it: What writers can learn from the greatest voice of all time:  George Jones

When I read Stephen's thoughts regarding George I decided to share mine, and since Stephen has already shared a video of my favorite George Jones song, I'll share one of my second favorite.  On second thought, after watching this a few times, it has now become my favorite:

I don't believe in "what if's" any more than I believe in coincidences, however, like any loyal Tammy Wynett, George Jones fan, I sometimes think about how much more fun their lives could have been, but then I quickly realize, that's true for everyone.

So, what does matter?  For me, it's going to sleep and knowing that if I had the day to do over I wouldn't do it any way other than the way that I did it.  Was that Tammy and George's experience?  On the surface, it appears the answer is no, but in fact, no one can know what is true for anyone else.

What I know about George Jones is, he was an amazing singer.  Was he the greatest tenor of all time.  I don't do comparison either, but if I did I would have to say that it's impossible for me to know if he was the the greatest tenor of all time because I never heard him sing Nessun Dorma:

That's why comparisons and what if's are a waste of time.

Thanks George, Tammy, and Luciano:  You left the world a better place.