Saturday, December 28, 2013

Meat and Potatoes: Your Votes, Please.

And Good Day, fellow Castaways.

I know I started this blog as a way to help my readers get to know me better, as a person and where I stand, as well as just hang out and chat.

I am a writer. That means I write and sell what I write. I'm not trying to insult your intelligence, I'm just laying it out like it is.

I'm also too proud to beg. Let's face it, you get enough commercials throughout your day, you don't need me adding to all that racket, and I hate trying to "shout louder than everyone else out there" to draw attention to my work. Knowing this, I am aware it makes my sales suffer, because I'm not out there dancing the Hoity-Toity and shouting through my bullhorn. I just think it's more important to be courteous.

Well, I'd like you to buy my books. They've been very well-received by those who have read them, and in addition, I've received some fairly prestigious awards for my writing. Consider that my version of a commercial. I really need people to buy my books so I can pay my bills.

You might notice off to the right a little and down, a box filled with undersea wonders and a legend "Top Ten Finisher." That's a badge given to me by the fine folks at Preditors and Editors, an organization dedicated to watching out for writers and making sure they don't get scammed by jackwagons posing as reputable publishers, who might otherwise take advantage over someone with a dream of being published and marketed. Let's take a closer look at that little thang, shall we?

Awards have a way of translating into sales. That's why I'm bringing this up today. Becoming NADIA finished in the top ten best thrillers of 2011. Thanks for all who voted.

Preditors and Editors works hard to keep the business end of writing clean, and I want to take a moment to recognize them. Yay, you. Thanks, guys.

But back to the Top Ten: Every year, P&E opens up the polls for voting by readers on the best new works, both eBook and paper.

So, to the heart of the matter: What I'd love everyone to do is vote for my two books that are up this year: Critical Mass for best novel-length thriller, and Lies and Paine for All Other Short Stories. I've even included the links below. You can vote for both.

For Critical Mass, click here:

For Lies and Paine, click here:

Thanks for indulging me, guys. I really appreciate it. Like I said, awards tend to translate into sales, and I do need all I can get.

Next week, we resume our regularly-scheduled chaos.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Why Failure = Excellence.

Good day, fellow castaways. I pray this Holy-Day season finds you well. The Keith Household wishes every one and all of you a Merry Christmas, and a joyous and prosperous New Year.

I felt it appropriate this week to expand on the theme of excellence, because so many people seem to have a wrong idea on what "excellence" is. So I'll talk about what it means to me, and if it touches some of the same nerves in you, then we're all a little closer to knowing each other.

Let's revisit the little league pitcher from last week's post. Kid had awesome hot talent. That I will not argue; it's evident in the way he shuts down whole teams' batting lineups. But instead of studying him and making their kids learn to hit him, the league decided to disband his team.

The argument was that they didn't want their kids to have to face failure over and over against him, and it would damage their self esteem.

I get it. Failure sucks. I tried out for little league when I was seven years old. Man, I was eager to get going. I love baseball. I love everything about it, except the overpaid spoiled brats who have to wring every last penny from families who just want to have an afternoon at the ball park. But that another story. I love baseball, and I tried out.

Coach was on the mound (in the days before pitching machines), and he hucked a pumpkin up there to see what I'd do with it. For those of you not familiar, he tossed an easy pitch right over the plate for me. Well, as my biggest brother at the time was already popping home runs and taught me how to hit, I was ready for it. I laid into that ball like a cheap rug, sending a pretty hot grounder between first and second base. I take off down the line to First Base as hard as I can. Second baseman (an older kid on the team) scoops the ball up and rifles it over to the first baseman just before I got there. The ump calls me out. That's it. I'm out. I failed. I couldn't stand the humiliation of all those boys looking at me, watching me fail. So I took my mitt and left the field in tears. The coaches called me to come back, but I couldn't go back there and fail again.

True story, it happened exactly that way. I missed out on playing team baseball because I couldn't handle failure. Poor me. My mother tried to talk me into going back to they tryouts, and eventually I did, but by that time tryouts were over. The field was empty. My chance was gone. Mom should have gabbed me by the ear and dragged my keister back to that ball diamond and made me try again right away. My life could have turned out different.

Failure is a part of life, and I might suggest is the largest part of excellence. Everyone here has been 'round and 'round the mulberry bush about Thomas Edison. You know, the guy who invented the electric light bulb, and other such awesome things. He said the key to his success was the thousands of failures he encountered in his search for the right combination of wire, glass, etc.

When someone asked him about all those goofs, he said, "What failures? I just discovered a thousand ways not to make a light bulb before I discovered the way to make one." Or words to that effect. Feel free to look it up.

Life is full of frustration, failures, mistakes, humiliation and scorn. Just watch the news. But life is also full of celebration, success, honor and pride of accomplishment. And it's nothing to celebrate if it isn't preceded by someone pouring their blood, sweat and tears into their dream, and failing time and again only to try one more time and get it right.

What if we gave up the first time we tried to walk, and fell on our padded little bums? Hell, let's all just crawl around on all fours. Falling hurts, and we wouldn't want to pick up any bruises. That might affect our self-esteem.

That's why "participation trophies" make me sick. It may seem cruel to make kids suffer through losing. Good gravy, I know what it's like. And yes, some kids are more sensitive than others, and they most certainly will  be crushed if they don't get that first base hit. But guys, let's remember the pros in baseball only make it only about a third of the time, and that's the better hitters.

Excellence is NOT winning all the time. In fact, if anything, excellence is losing, trying again, losing some more, trying again, getting bashed in the face, trying again and wiping the blood from your nose, trying again... You get the picture.

Excellence is staring failure in the face and daring to try one more time. One more submission. One more lap around the track. One more pitch. One more step.

Excellence isn't in our wins. Excellence is in our failures. Winning is just the end result when we don't quit.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Demand Excellence!

Fellow Castaways,

Greetings from the busy (yet cozy) confines of the Keith Household, from the Gizzard of Sub-Polar Michigan (The Heart is a bit farther north).

This week's post should be no surprise to anyone who's known me longer than six weeks on any level deeper than just random musings or rants on a blog. I firmly believe that what advances a culture even further than basic civility is a drive for individual excellence. Because if we are all free to excel, the entire culture excels as well. And the best way to get an individual to excel is to reward him or her when they do.

Why does this make a difference? Because somewhere down the line, the American Culture has given up on excellence. As a prime example, I give you the story of Jericho Scott. Read the following article as a personal favor for me. I posted the url for copyright purposes:


Granted, Jericho is 14 now, and I hope he's still pitching. But seriously? "He's too good. We simply must stop that!" is what I get from reading the article. Someone who pours themselves into their craft is punished, and for what? Practicing until his shoulder is sore? Throwing at smaller targets to improve his aim? Demanding more from himself than everyone else in the league?

"Well," you say, "He's not being a team player, then, is he? Plus, he's making the opposing teams feel bad that they can't hit him. And isn't sport about making each other feel good?"

 "Well," I say, "Sport isn't about making a person feel good. Sport is about teaching someone to drive themselves beyond what they believe they can do on their own. Winning and losing are part of the game. If you lose, guess what? You drive yourself and your teammates harder, so the next time you win!!!"

Life doesn't hand out trophies for participation. You don't win by simply showing up. Notre Dame didn't win a national football championship because they simply showed up, and someone forgot to tell them it was time to play. Not every writer finishes a book, let alone gets a contract. Very few actually do. Even self-published authors are responsible for not only finishing the book, but securing a good editor, getting cover art, and promoting. Books don't sell simply by their virtue of existing.

See how I made that change there? It doesn't matter what your dream is, or your passion, or your pastime or hobby. If you don't pursue and yes, demand excellence from yourself, you don't get the prize. You don't get the contract. You don't get the sales. You get "Isn't that nice?" and a pat on the head.

I don't know about you, but I want everyone who sees my work, whether it's writing a book or repairing an aircraft's avionics systems, to be able to say, "That man knows his stuff about (fill in the blank).

As a culture we have to do better at rewarding excellence, not punishing it. The person who puts in more hours than everyone else deserves a bigger cut of the pie. The one who pours their blood, sweat and tears into making a better product deserves to charge more, and deserves better pay than the one who shows up, puts in 8 hours, and goes home to burn their eyes out on the big game of the night.

Participation trophies are a cheap imitation of "Isn't that nice?" Why do you deserve an award for showing up? That's expected. Rewards are for those who excel.

One of everyone's favorite Christmas songs points out the Favor of Excellence:

Come, they told me; A newborn King to see.
Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the King,
So to honor him when we come.

Little baby, I am a poor boy, too.
I have no gift to bring that's fit to give a king.
Shall I play for you on my drum?

Mary nodded. The ox and lamb kept time.
I played my drum for him. I played my best for him.
Then he smiled at me.
Me and my drum.

I left out the "pa-rumm-pa-pumm-pumms to condense the story to its purest form.
Because in our hearts, we know that driving to do our best is what we were born to do.

There was a time when excellence played a part in our culture, and it can again. But it comes down to us. Stop rewarding mediocrity. Drive yourself on to greater things. You don't have to win all the time; no one does.

But is it too much to ask that we everyone do our very best, each day, with what we have?

What do we have to lose?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Resting Place

Resting Place

Over the mountains, through the fens,

There's a cabin in a glen.

A fire is waiting, the hearth is warm,

Food and shelter from the storm.

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread,

A place to rest your weary head,

A hearty meal and a cheerful song

To warm your heart. Here, you belong.

Outside, out there, the beasts may rage

The wind may howl, the storm rampage.

But stand they fast outside this door,

None dare come in, though they implore

With beats and bangs, with furious screams.

In here, they're but the stuff of dreams.

Empty are the threats they raise,

They cannot cross into this place

Where peace and rest soothe heavy heart,

And heal the scars of angry dart,

Where love can kiss each tear away.

Let good drink flow and music play!

Let cheer lift up each weary face,

Here inside my resting place.

--Cyrus Keith, (c) 2012