Saturday, March 30, 2013

Weekend Zen, March 30-31

Never lose your childish enthusiasm - and things will come your way.

                   ~ Federico Fellini

Friday, March 29, 2013

Daily Zen - Friday, March 29

I have no idea what I am doing but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.

                  ~ Woody Allen

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Daily Zen - Thursday, March 28

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

                 ~ Colette

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Daily Zen - Wednesday, March 27

There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

                 ~ Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What Would You Take?

Salma (name changed) fled Syria with the ring her mother
gave her on her death bed more than 80 years ago.

Posted By: Jeff McKown

In March 2011 the Syrian people began to gather and demand the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has ruled their country for forty years. After the government responded to the protests by open firing on demonstrators, the uprising grew into a full-fledged civil war.

In the two years since, more than 70,000 people have lost their lives in the civil war, and more than one million Syrians have sought refuge in other countries.

Imagine that tomorrow you were forced to flee your home. You can take almost nothing with you. What would you take?

Photographer Brian Sokol posed that question to refugees from Syria, Sudan, and other troubled spots around the globe. Some of the profound images his question generated are shown below.

Alia (name changed), fled Daraa, Syria with her wheelchair.
Image: Brian Sokol 

May (name changed), fled Damascus, Syria with her bracelets.
Image: Brian Sokol

Ahmed (name changed), fled Syria with his cane.
Image: Brian Sokol

Ahmed Sadik, fled his village in Sudan with his pet monkey.
Image: Brian Sokol

You can see Brian Sokol's complete (and stunning) photo essay here.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, March 26

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

                 ~ Charles Kingsley

Monday, March 25, 2013

Daily Zen - Monday, March 25

Enthusiasm is the electricity of life. How do you get it? You act enthusiastic until you make it a habit.

                  ~ Gordon Parks

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Weekend Zen, March 23-24

The people who turn out best are those people who make the best out of the way things turn out.

                      ~ John Wooden

Friday, March 22, 2013

Daily Zen - Friday, March 22

If you make every game a life and death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot.
                      ~ Dean Smith

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Think Like a Boss: Guest Post From Laura Oliva

Today's post comes from guest contributor and indie romance author Laura Oliva.

Laura has just published her first novel, All That Glitters, which is available for preview or purchase on Amazon and Smashwords.

I've enjoyed following Laura's writing journey on Twitter and Facebook, and in the post below, she shares with us what she has learned about finding success in the self-publishing world.

Think Like a Boss

"The greatest reward in becoming a millionaire is not the amount of money that you earn. It is the kind of person that you have to become to become a millionaire in the first place." - Jim Rohn

Do you have management potential?

More and more writers - both new and experienced - are discovering the world of self-publishing. It's an equal-opportunity venture. Everybody starts from the same place, with the same available resources. And yet, while some succeed, others fail. Why?

Look at those who make it, and you'll notice they all have something in common: they've figured out how to think like a boss.

Self-publishing is an entrepreneurial venture. A lot of people- writers especially- forget this. After all, you've written a book! The hard part's done, right? Now it's just a simple matter of slapping on a cover and tossing it up on Amazon.

If this is your attitude, I humbly suggest you not quit your day job.

It takes work to succeed at self-publishing. But more, it takes a certain frame of mind. I've narrowed down a few qualities to look for and cultivate. Remember: you're an entrepreneur. It's time to start thinking like one.

Know what you're selling. You're a brand now. Weird concept, right? But it's true. And that means you need a clear idea of just what that brand is. When you're starting out, focusing your creative energies on a specific genre or style of writing will help build recognition and a reader base. Remember: you can always branch out later.

Be professional. If you want people to take you seriously, you have to take yourself seriously first. That doesn't mean never having fun. It means consistently putting out clean, well-written, quality work. Have trouble in certain areas- grammar, plot structure, characterization, dialogue? Put the time and effort into honing your skill. The true mark of a professional is they never stop trying to improve.

Aim high. Oftentimes, we are the last people to know what we're capable of. Don't hamstring yourself at the outset. Dream big. Shoot for the stratosphere. Bite off more than you think you can chew. I guarantee you'll surprise yourself.

Expect success. Live your life like you're already the person you want to be. It may sound New Age-y, but it's true: positive energy attracts positive energy. You're already a success, even if no one realizes it yet but you.

Don't give up. You've doubtless heard this one before, but it never stops being true. The difference between successful and unsuccessful people isn't how many times they've succeeded. It's how many times they've tried again after failing.

Stay grounded. It is so easy to get swallowed by your own hype, especially when the positive reviews start coming in. Don't fall into this trap! Give yourself permission to be excited and proud- you've earned it. Do a little dance. Have a good laugh. Have a good cry. Then get back to work.

If you're already doing any of these, you're ahead of the game. Keep on keeping on. If you're not, don't despair. All of these qualities can be learned. But just because you can learn to be an entrepreneur doesn't necessarily mean you should, or will want to. Not everyone wants to play the Puppet-master  It's a stupid amount of work, and the pressure is huge. There are many roads to success. If self-publishing isn't yours, don't worry. You'll find another.

If, however, you decide you are that person, welcome to the club! As many difficulties as there are, there are benefits too. Creative control. Deciding for yourself what your career will look like. The satisfaction that comes from making good on your own. So dig deep. Work hard. Then enjoy the rewards.

It's good to be the boss.

When not sweating blood over the keyboard, Laura Oliva is a full-time mom, wife, amateur chef, gardener, and (non)recovering clotheshorse.

She discovered her love of storytelling as a child, after successfully blaming a broken vase on her younger brother. A functioning cynic, she writes tender love stories about tough people.

You can visit Laura's website and follow her on Twitter @writermama for clever quips and inspiration. Laura's blog is Writing in the Night.

Daily Zen - Thursday, March 21

You can see and you can listen, but you have to have moments in which you feel.

                  ~ Mike Krzyzewski

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Daily Zen - Wednesday, March 20

You can’t live a perfect day until you do something for someone who will never be able to repay you.

                   ~ John Wooden

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Daily Zen - Tuesday, March 19

Failure is good. It's fertilizer. Everything I've learned about coaching, I've learned from making mistakes.
                   ~ Rick Pitino

Monday, March 18, 2013

Daily Zen - Monday, March 18

I may not always be right, but no one can ever accuse me of not having a genuine love and passion for whatever I do.

                ~ Dick Vitale

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weekend Zen, March 16-17

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying... that he is wiser today than yesterday.
                          ~ Jonathan Swift

And a little bonus advice from Mr. Swift just in time for St. Patrick's Day...

"Better belly burst than good liquor be lost."

Friday, March 15, 2013

Daily Zen - Friday, March 15

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

                ~ Oscar Wilde

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Daily Zen - Thursday, March 14

Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.

            ~ William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Daily Zen - Wednesday, March 13

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
               ~ George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Day At Indian Wells In Pictures

Posted By: Jeff McKown

The SoCal Desert right
outside the tennis center
A post for my fellow tennis geeks....

Paul and I made a whirlwind road trip this week to visit friends in Southern California and to stop by the BNP Paribas Open.

We drove from NorCal on Sunday and played tennis in the afternoon before enjoying a phenomenal Cuban dinner. On Monday, we left LA and headed to the Indian Wells Tennis Center.

The weather for our drive was amazing. Things were sunny and warm in the valley, but snow-capped mountains lined the horizon.

SoCal springtime as seen from I-5

Snow-capped mountain peaks
 (with a little bug smear on the windshield).

Indian Wells is an oasis in the middle of the desert near Palm Springs. The setting is gorgeous for tennis, or anything else for that matter.

Practice courts

Stadium 1 and the mountains beyond

The world's best tennis players participate in the tourney at Indian Wells (excepting a Williams sister or two), and we saw loads of tennis stars on both practice courts and in match play. Some highlights for us:
  • Big guns - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and relative newbie Milos Raonic
  • Gifted up-and-comers - Sloane Stephens, Ernests Gulbis,  and Jerzy Janowicz 
  • Talented Frenchies - Marion Bartoli, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon, and Benoit Paire
American men's tennis is in a bit of a slump right now. Depending on the performance of Sam Querrey this week, it's possible that no American man will be ranked in the top 20 for the first time in 40 years. If there's a bright spot on the horizon though, it may well be twenty-year old midwesterner Jack Sock.

Jack Sock practicing his backhand.

As one of the bigger tennis events in the United States, Indian Wells attracts a celebrity crowd. Who knew Gladys Knight was a big tennis fan? (Yes, she did do a couple of verses of Midnight Train to Georgia.)

Gladys Knight taking questions during lunch
in the tennis center food court.

One last photo - Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez was there. He sends his love.

Spanish tennis player Feliciano Lopez.

BONUS: The organizers of the BNP Paribas Open put on a phenomenal event for both tennis fans and players. Here's a fun video clip they put together of the top five ranked men being quizzed on how well they know each other.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, March 12

A man's errors are his portals of discovery.

               ~ James Joyce

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Weekend Zen, March 9-10

Pace is the essence. Without stopping entirely and doing nothing at all for great periods, you're gonna lose just do nothing at all, very, very important.
                       ~ Charles Bukowski

Friday, March 8, 2013

Daily Zen - Friday, March 8

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large -- I contain multitudes. 

                      ~ Walt Whitman

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thursday's Children: Never Kick the Habit

Posted by: Jeff McKown

Thursday's Children is a weekly blog hop where writers come together to talk about what inspires them. I'm participating today and you can too. 

A link to other Thursday's Children writers is at the end of the post.

Thanks to Rhiann Wynn Nolet for orchestrating this affair.

Writing fiction is a lonely and foolish obsession. Finding one's voice, twisting and manipulating language to tell a compelling story, developing characters, teasing out story arcs, building tension.

Reading it, hating it, re-writing it, and hating it only a little less.

The act of creating something from nothing and crafting it to be as good as you know it can be is alternately discouraging, tedium-inducing, and brain-frying. But enough with the good news.

The worst aspect of nursing a hardcore writing addiction is knowing that some people make a living doing it. Some authors are actually compensated for the hard time they do in the vocabulary salt mines, and knowing that a small percentage of writers are paid to pursue their obsession makes it that much harder for the rest of us to quit. Imagine how much more difficult it would be for a junkie to give up heroin, if being a smack addict was a respectable paying job.

My chances of earning an honest wage as a fiction writer are in the same ballpark as my odds of scoring a winning Powerball ticket, and yet, I keep going. I write because certain stories deserve to be told (or maybe because I need to tell certain stories), and because not writing leaves me bloated and full of words that should have been shared. I write because not writing feels like leaving the dock just before the ship comes in. Not writing, for me, is wrong.

Those are my truths, though I must confess, I haven't been entirely honest with you. When I said the worst part of writing is knowing some people make a living at it, I lied.

The worst part of writing, or creating art of any kind I imagine, is committing hours and hours and hours of your life to a project, and still thinking it sucks. When that happens, and if you're a writer it will, the urge to give up on writing will be strong. You'll be tempted to burn your copy of Stephen King's On Writing and hurl your laptop out the window. Don't do it.

A few weeks ago, just as I was drowning in disappointment over the absence of literary sparkle in my current work-in-progress, an inspiring video from NPR's Ira Glass came to my rescue.

The clip is short and you can watch it here, but if you don't have three minutes to spare, the gist of Ira's advice is this: Everyone sucked when they first started. Create as much as you can, and the quality of your work will improve.

So, there you go. If you're saddled with a writing habit that is sometimes troublesome and unrewarding, don't be discouraged, and for God's sake, don't quit. Some habits shouldn't be kicked, they should be nursed, like a tumbler of Jameson.

If you're compelled, as I am, to keep stringing words and phrases together in the hopes of someday getting it right, stay with it. Figure out the story you want to tell, and follow it wherever it leads. You won't be happy if you don't.

Click here to view other Thursday's Children blog posts, or check out Rhiann's website for more info.

Turn Style: The Progression of Spring

Posted By: Jeff McKown

Received a lovely gift of "unborn" daffodils this week (thanks Kyle!), and I decided to photograph their birth and share the wonder.

Two Days Ago



Daily Zen - Thursday, March 7

It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.

                  ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

(Okay, I may be a bit early with the spring thing, but I was inspired. Stay tuned!)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Daily Zen - Wednesday, March 6

It's a very slow process - two steps forward, one step back - but I'm inching in the right direction.

                      ~ Rob Reiner

Wednesday's quote comes from director/actor Rob Reiner who turns 68 years-old today. Though not so zen, here's a bonus clip from one of his greatest gifts to cinema. I've been a fan of Reiner's since his acting days on All In the Family, but this is, by far, my favorite thing he ever did.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Daily Zen - Tuesday, March 5

An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man's entire existence.

                 ~ HonorĂ© de Balzac

Monday, March 4, 2013

Self-Portraits of Famous Authors (And a Selfie)

Posted By: Jeff McKown

We are never more vain and obsessed with our outer selves than when we hear our own recorded voice or see our image in a photograph.

You know, that hideous and uncomfortable moment when your delusional self-image collides with the undeniable reality of what everyone else in the world instantly recognizes as exactly you.

Cameras and recorders don't lie, which is mostly why we fear them, but these devices do have their limits. They can only capture the outside you.

That's why I loved a recent Flavorwire article on self-portraits of famous authors. Self-portraits don't lie either, but they tell a very different story.

When you make an earnest attempt to represent yourself in ink or oils or pencil, the output of your work may or may not be a reasonable facsimile of how you appear to others on the outside, but it will definitely be a telling reflection of how you see yourself - from the inside.

You can see the Flavorwire piece with 20 famous author self-portraits here. Some of them are simple, some are curmudgeonly. Others are comical or tortured. Sylvia Plath, Henry Miller, Vonnegut, and more. Each portrait gives us a peak into how these great writers see their truest selves.

This self-portrait of Jack Kerouac was my favorite.

As for me, I'm no Van Gogh. My endeavors in the visual arts have never gone far beyond crude drawings of stick dogs and stick cows (which are indistinguishable except for the udders).

In the absence of any artistic talent, I'll offer up a cell phone selfie to which I'm partial (though not everyone is). I'm a little less bearded at the moment, but maybe not for long.

How do you see yourself?

Daily Zen - Monday, March 4

As we go on living our outer life, we must devote some time each day to making our mind introspective, that we may develop our subtler powers of perception.

                   ~ Paramananda

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Weekend Zen, March 2-3

If we couldn't get strong from what we lose, and what we miss, and what we want and can't have, then we couldn't ever get strong enough, could we? 

                   ~ John Irving

American author John Irving turns 71 today.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Daily Zen - Friday, March 1

Money is but one venue for generosity. Kindness is an even more valuable currency.

                    ~ Alan Cohen