“The days are long but the years are short.” –Gretchen Rubin

Not bragging, but in high school I scored a role as one of the lusty muleteers in The Man of La Mancha. For those of you who know me, this is totally out of character. For those of you who don’t know me . . . er . . . take my word for it. But I was so good in auditions that I got to throw Aldonza over my shoulder and haul her kicking and screaming from the stage for every one of our shows, musicals and the one-act play. It was great fun, discounting the make-up and tight pants.


Aldonza and Muleteers

(I’m not in this photo.)


I have one, not-so-fun memory about that production though. I was supposed to play a song on the lute and sing a solo with it. I had a lute. (Dad.) And a decent voice. (Mom.)

But every time I looked at the sheet music and thought about bar chords, time signatures, and picking, I got intimidated. With two weeks to spare, I confessed to my drama teacher that I wasn’t going to be able to play and sing at the same time. She was mildly disappointed, but shrugged and said we could use the pit orchestra, and that everything would be fine. No big deal.

But that moment stuck with me. It wasn’t talent or time that beat me. It was intimidation. This is a lesson I keep learning—one that keeps coming back to me for second helpings.

Earlier this year I told a potential agent that I’d have a rewritten novel manuscript to him by mid-March. It’s taken a lot of work to make it this far, certainly enough to have a little confidence. But every time I looked at the extensive edits required, I felt myself crumbling under the enormity. I’ll never be able to do all that, let alone before March. I kept comparing the few spare hours I have each week with the enormity of project and coming up emotionally short, unwilling to start on a project that “will never be finished.”

Our brains are wired for quick pay-offs. If you don’t believe it, check out the research by Teresa Amabile of the Harvard Business School, here or here. En bref, the quick reward of finishing something today is more important today than the promised reward of finishing something large and meaningful several weeks down the road. For the less ambitious, Tim Urban does a funny Ted talk about what happens in the mind of a chronic procrastinator.

When I was complaining about my lack of motivation, my wife suggested, “Why don’t you make a paper chain link for every hour’s worth of work you think it will take. Then you can cut off a link every time you do an hour of work and measure your progress?”  I was dubious about the motivational power of paper chains, but with cheap sub-contracting (my son), I got a chain suspended in my office in no time. It started at 178 links or 178 hours. A bit of depression sets in when you realize your 10th draft needs more than 40 hours a week for four straight weeks. (Obviously, I’d need more than four weeks to make up the time if I was to keep my regular bread-and-butter job and have a family.) But the kids keep begging to cut links for me, and now I have to scramble to keep up with them.

But in another sense, the exercise was very therapeutic: it wasn’t Mount McKinley on the horizon anymore. It was 178 day hikes spread out across as many days as needed to do it right. The real value didn’t come from the begging children, as cute as they are. It came from chunking out the work, parsing it into one-hour units. It came from breaking down the problem into constituent, achievable units and identifying which pieces could be done anywhere with a red pen and a shade tree, and which pieces need two or three quiet hours in front of a computer screen.

Suddenly it was much easier to do a few pages each day, and seeing the redlines materialize on the printed page gave me the small kick of accomplishment I needed to do a little more.

I still haven’t learned to play that Man of La Mancha song on my lute, but I’ve made some serious progress on the manuscript . . .

What are tricks do you use to get motivated on challenging projects?





“Good marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart.”
—Joe Chernov

IMG_6760 (2)

I woke up to my predicament, palms sweating,  at 9:30am when the customers and crafting ladies started rolling in. My book table was half-buried in the forest of more conventional booths: crocheted “Minion” hats,  fleece blankets with tied fringes, hand-carved wooden crosses, and an assortment of other craft fair products. The vendor to my right was selling custom herbal tea blends and the vendor to my left, homemade jewelry.  I could almost hear someone humming, “One of these things is not like the other…”

That’s what I get for having bright ideas.

The itch started a few weeks ago. I must have been looking for a break from the daily slog of work, parenting, and grinding out edits on Plague Runners , because I actually read the craft fair email advertisement before deleting it:  “JSC Annual Holiday Bazaar,”  it said.

Hmm… I’m not really the crafty sort. Delete.

Sometime in the next 24 hours, the itch got worse. I like to write, but I like to meet and talk to people as well, and cloistering myself to get another writing project done was killing me. So what if the only escape nearby was a certified craft fair? I could go as a vendor. Surely there would be some poor fellow there looking for an oasis of fantasy in that ocean of knick-knacks and Scentsy candles?

So I did the essential research:

Buy-In Cost: $55
Estimated potential customers: 200-300
Demographic: Middle-age craft fair enthusiasts, family members, and assorted NASA employees
Competing Products: ~70 booths, only two selling books, none selling fantasy / sword-and-sorcery
Reference Case:  If you ask nicely. . .
Likelihood of Breaking Even: ???

I contacted the reference case to get  perspective on whether or not the buy-in price made sense for the type of sales I could expect. The reference case vendor was very encouraging once he heard about my books. “You should give this venue a shot.” (I didn’t realize at the time that he was a fantasy enthusiast as well, and would end up buying both my books. . .)

I mulled it over.  It would be a low risk opportunity to get real-time sales experience. Even better, the mix of vendors didn’t threaten to crowd out an up-and-coming fantasy/sci-fi author. And, sheesh, if I couldn’t sell a few books to whichever coworkers happened to wander past, then I’d never amount to anything, anyways.

I bought in, excited at the prospect of sharing DARTS and RINGS with potential new fans and publicizing the upcoming release of SWORDS.

Still, I’m not a fan of cold calls. I dislike being approached by salespeople, and consequently feel very self-conscious about doing the same. And what if my work friends thought my book was silly? What if nobody showed up? What if the people who came to the craft fair actually did only want to buy crafts?

I’d be out $55 and a fair bit of self-respect, that’s what. The thought didn’t thrill me. Why was I going to a craft fair?  What else could I do to help cover the costs of the table, some diversification more relevant to a NASA holiday craft fair?

Multicolored Snowflake Collage (Compressed)

Well?  I like making snowflakes. And I’m pretty good at it, too. Eight-points. Six-points. Spider-web. Eagle Feather.  Something for everyone.  So I made a few at home. My wife suggested that they were elegant, but looked a bit plain for the likes of a craft fair, so I took a few out back and spray-painted them. Then I made a more snowflakes from the black butcher paper used to catch paint. (The “shadow-flake” has overlapping patterns of paint and darkness, and is quite striking.) Even if I didn’t sell any books, I ‘d be able to sell enough of these beauties to offset the cost of the booth.

Wrong again. Sitting at my booth, it quickly obvious that most people don’t consider snowflakes a worthy investment. But I watched their hungry eyes and slowing steps of the ladies as they passed, trying to puzzle out how these beautiful snowflakes came into existence without incurring this particular booth’s sales job.

Ahh.  So crafting people aren’t so different than me? Who wants to be sold to? So I pivoted.

Me: “Would you like to know how to do it?” [With no hint of ulterior motive.]
Craft Lady: “Actually, yes.”

I spent the  whole day helping people make their own. I’d planned to do a mini-course (mostly for friends, family, and enthusiasts), but everyone else seemed interested in the hands-on too.

Pretty soon I had a swarm of people around my booth, including the other vendors. Lucky thing I brought an extra pair of scissors and some paper. We laughed and joked. They smiled and expressed their own creativity, and occasionally appreciated mine. More people came to see what the commotion was about and started making snowflakes of their own. And once my new friends finished making snowflakes, many of them friends wanted signed books. Others offered one-dollar tips for the holiday craft lesson and promised to look my books up once they got home.

It was fun. It broke the ice. I provided people with an opportunity to express themselves  creatively.  I didn’t have to awkwardly pressure anyone into buying a book they didn’t want. They could see the books on the table and ask questions in their own time-frame. The hardest part of the whole day was making sure I gave each person in the crowd proper attention.

I didn’t go out thinking about how I was going to stop traffic at my booth, teach a new skill, engage the creative brain, and then sell books.  I started with the question of how I could cover the cost of the booth if my books didn’t sell. That idea morphed through the day into something that made the venue more enjoyable for others and made the sales experience more enjoyable. What’s more, selling books and meeting new fans put fire back into my cloister efforts, and I’ve been twice as productive over the last two weeks.

What’s my main point here?  Be flexible. Pivot. Run with that crazy idea for a bit. It may be the first step in an even better idea.




Merchandise (including an accurate book count)
Cashbox (with change, and a starting till count)
Patch Kit (Scissors, Tape, Pens and Pencils)
Mailing List Sign-Up
Back-Order Sheet
Business Cards or Book Marks
Candy Bowl
iPhone Credit Card reader (if you’re that kind of person…)
An event-appropriate talent/activity to share with potential customers



  • Identify Need: Change of scenery. Inventory collecting dust.
  • Identify Solution: Holiday Craft Fair
  • Calculate Benefits: New Fans, Change of Scenery, Professional Contacts, Potential Profit
  • Postulate Risks: I might look silly selling books at a craft fair, waste my writing time, and not cover costs.
  • Identify Mitigations: Take a secondary product such as snowflakes.
  • Flex and Pivot: Use the snowflakes as a conversation starter and bonus for book purchases.

Première fiche de paie

J’ai reçu ma première fiche de paie cette semaine: Amazon Check

Je peux inviter quelqu’un à aller manger un burrito ?

Amazon appelle ça un « avis de règlement » et c’est pour les exemplaires imprimés de DARTS vendues pendant le mois de mars. Je n’ai pas encore reçu de joli avis pour les exemplaires numériques. Il y a une valeur minimum en dollars ($100) et je suis encore un peu timide. Je ne me plains pas : publié ET payé, les gars ! (Bon, ne vous attendez quand même pas à du guacamole en supplément.)

Techniquement, je me suis fait payé pour du boulot sur des blogs pour mon frère en 2006, et j’ai aussi remporté un prix en espèces en 2007 pour une nouvelle. Mais c’est une impression différente. (Etre payé par un robot sans état d’âme comme Amazon donne toujours cette impression).



BKH:               Je suis riche !

Donc cette semaine est un vrai Noël, comme si j’avais gagné au loto.

Et voilà le plus beau : aujourd’hui, j’ai reçu un chèque de $50 pour une anecdote publiée dans le numéro du printemps 2015 du magazine de BYU. Je me demande combien de burritos je vais pouvoir me payer avec ça ?

BYU Check (rev1)

Il va sans dire que je devrais sans doute repenser ma structure de prix. En attendant, n’hésitez pas à  vous abonner, me suivre, ou regarder mes livres.

Rapport de mon voyage à New York


Le carrelage de la petite chambre d’hôtel est toujours chaud quand j’y traine mes pieds, fatigué après une journée passée à arpenter la ville, ou encore endormi d’avoir veillé trop longtemps sur mon argumentaire pour Immuno. C’est ce que j’aime le plus dans ma chambre. Le sol est chaud et me rappelle le soleil du Texas sur un tapis hivernal.

A cause de la vitre de la douche, il est difficile d’atteindre la commande de la douche sans avoir à grimper dedans (tout habillé), et ce premier jet d’eau froide a soif de vouloir me surprendre. Ca ne me laisse pas longtemps pour me faufiler derrière la vitre, mais trente-cinq ans, c’est encore jeune… Tant que je ne glisse pas. Tandis que l’eau chauffe, je ferme mes yeux fatigués et me glisse dessous pour me réveiller ou me réchauffer, selon si j’arrive ou repars.

Pendant le déjeuner, je dis à mon ami Matt qu’il dormirait mieux si il mettait des boules Quies la nuit et il rit sur ses tacos. Nous mangeons à côté de Penn Station, profitant de la neige de mars et de la foule.

J’adore marcher dans la ville et écouter toutes les voix, des gorges d’un autre monde, rauques et fortes, calmes et timides, rouler dans l’air presque gelé d’une manière qui m’est nouvelle.

Bien entendu, je vais voir un spectacle. Je travaillerai sur ma conférence jusqu’à trois heures du matin s’il le faut, mais j’établis désormais une tradition : une comédie musicale sur Broadway, ou je meurs… Je me retrouve immergé dans une foule d’adolescents japonais, assez âgés pour sortir seuls mais pas assez pour abandonner le troupeau d’amis. Ils rient, observent et attendent tandis que les membres du groupe qui parlent le mieux l’anglais essaient de négocier vingt billets pour le Roi Lion qui joue déjà à guichet fermé.

Adolescent japonais : « Vonte RRRoi Lion ? »

Ouvreuse Mal Tournée : « Désolée. Il n’y a plus de billets pour le Roi Lion. »

AJ :   « Vonte RRRoi Lion ? »

OMT (agitant les bras) : « Plus de billets ! Zéro ! Rien ! Pas cinq ! Pas un ! Ils sont déjà tous vendus. »

Zut. C’était le spectacle que je voulais voir. Mes propres compétences en anglais, bien que loin d’être sans failles, me permettent de me rabibocher avec les Dieux de l’Inévitable et d’accepter mon destin. Je ne reproche rien à qui que ce soit, même pas à moi-même. Ce soir, j’aurais pu diner avec les autres participants de la conférence (ce que j’étais quand même arrivé à faire) ou travailler sur mon prochain livre. L’un ou l’autre.

J’adore les voix et les personnalités : Ralph. Rachel. Jason. Nina. Clarissa. Erik. Jessica. Sami. Et les étrangers. Anglais. Irlandais. Mexicains. Français. Japonais. Américains. Je parle avec tout le monde, parfois juste avec les yeux.

J’adore la chaleur des gens qui voyagent, leurs yeux étincelants et leurs esprits libres qui disent des choses comme : « Incroyable ! Je viens de Yokohama et vous êtes de Houston et nous sommes là au Fantôme de l’Opéra ensemble. »

En fait, c’est plutôt comme ça : « Vous voulez venir Japon ? Chez moi. Mon email. » Hidenobu cherche un stylo.

C’est épatant tout ce qu’on apprend sur quelqu’un pendant une attente de 30 minutes avant que le spectacle commence, les moments qu’on peut partager.

Les voix françaises sont plus faciles à comprendre que les japonaises, les russes et les italiennes, mais c’est quand même difficile de dire quelque chose au début. Et si mon français est mauvais ? (Je sais d’ores et déjà qu’il est pire que mon anglais.) Mais Mathieu et Julien n’en reviennent pas que quelqu’un des Etats-Unis puisse tenir une conversation, qui aurait pu durer plus longtemps, mais je dois absolument aller me coucher et vraiment dormir. J’ai quand même le temps de les prévenir d’être au guichet sur Times Square deux jours à l’avance pour prendre des billets pour le Roi Lion. Ils sont surpris de l’entendre.

Moi, non. Ce sont des mecs, et ils pensent comme moi, apparemment, et finiront coincés dans un tas d’adolescents japonais trop grands pour être… Oh, mais j’ai déjà dit ça.

C’est mon humeur. L’air froid me fait tousser et la neige me pince la gorge. Il y a de la neige mouillée sur l’asphalte et des nuages de vapeur et de fumée de cuisine dans l’air. Des noix de cajou grillées. Vous les sentez ?

Les lumières des écrans de télé sur Times Square sont aussi fortes que la lumière du jour et j’entends encore l’Irlandaise assise à côté de moi chanter le Fantôme de l’Opéra alors que je rentre chez moi.

Mes boules Quies m’attendent à mon chevet, prévoyant de me faire dormir au delà de la sonnerie du réveil, alors je le mets pour trois heures, au cas où et me glisse dans mon lit. Ou la douche.


Et oui, New York veut le manuscrit !

Madison Towers