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December, 2016

I get asked a lot about my background, and how I arrived at my present circumstance – living in Baja for 15 years, being a full time author of some notoriety after having achieved a degree of financial independence that allowed me to pursue my passion with single-minded determination.

So here’s my story, in sanitized form: I worked for others from my early twenties to my early thirties, and wound up with about what I had when I started, saving little, working at things I was mostly ambivalent about to pay the bills. Along the way I pursued some interests like music, but as with most garage band hopefuls, nothing panned out with anything but chicks, beer, and hazy memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.

In my early thirties, I was between jobs – careers, actually, having dropped out of the computer business after burning out in sales and marketing products about which I knew little and cared less – when it occurred to me that I could well spend most of my life existing as I had rather than crafting a life I wanted. I became determined to break the patterns I’d been in, and researched until I came up with an idea that I thought could make for a nice lifestyle business. I risked everything with only a couple grand in the bank, hung out a shingle, and put the contacts and skills I’d developed to use, leveraging relationships until within a couple of years the business was turning a handsome profit, and I had three other people working for me.

Fast forward eight years, and I sold the company at forty and retired to Baja to engage in navel gazing (code for binge drinking on the beach). That got old after a couple of years, and I started a custom home design and build business in Mexico that still operates today, and which I’m extraordinarily proud of – I still love designing dream homes and seeing a patch of dirt become something that I imagined in my mind’s eye, and created from nothing. That’s key with what inspires me: I love to create new things, whatever they may be – businesses, designs, stories, whatever. It’s the act of creation that makes me feel alive.

During the period I was doing the design/build thing full time, I also started a wine company, and made vino in Argentina with one of the country’s largest producers. After a couple of seasons of commuting on ten hour flights and importing some to Mexico and the U.S., I decided I preferred drinking it to making it, and shelved that company.

When the 2008 financial crisis hit, the construction business softened in Baja around 2010, and I found myself looking for other ways to keep busy. A friend of mine had seen some articles about kindle sensations finding fame and fortune as self-pubbed authors, and having read some of my earlier scribblings, suggested I should give it a whirl – I was entrepreneurial, had a good imagination, didn’t mind working hard, and certainly had time to kill. June, 2011, I released my first book, and I never looked back.

I’ve started five businesses from scratch, and three have done well. Two didn’t, mainly because I was unwilling to put in the time necessary to make them hits. I learned my lesson – being engaged and involved in the business is the necessary ingredient for success. I’ve been an angel investor in another dozen companies over the years, and noted the same thing with the winners – the founders driving the company were hell bent on making them succeed at all costs. Some that failed also had the same type of management, but all that taught me is that you have to expect strikes if you want to hit home runs. Goes with the territory. And you need a leader with real passion for what they’re doing, or you’re screwed.

What does all this have to do with anything? As Jan. 1 approaches I was waxing nostalgic about years gone by, and I realized that the turning point in my life was when I was between jobs and decided I would create a future I wanted, that was compelling, instead of trying to deal with what life threw at me – that I was responsible if I didn’t like the ride I was on, not my parents, or circumstance, or the market, or a fickle universe. I got comfortable with the idea that it was better to fail at something I wanted to do than to never try it and go to my grave with regrets.

I’ve lived like that ever since. That decision to live unconventionally if it took me in a direction I felt interesting led me to expatriate to Mexico at a relatively tender age – I’ve now lived outside the U.S. for almost a third of my life, and I don’t regret a moment of it. I’ve taught myself architecture and building, wine making, writing and publishing, and am convinced I can do anything I set my mind to if I want it badly enough and I’m realistic about my abilities. That’s enormously freeing, but the first step comes from making the mental leap of refusing to lead a life of quiet desperation. I realized that in order to have a life I wanted I needed to imagine it first, and then figure out how to get it, not wait for it to come to me.

Along the way I’ve made countless mistakes, made and lost fortunes, had them stolen and frittered them away. I’ve realized there’s more to everything than money. But I learned lessons each time I won, or lost, so I view it as an expensive education rather than anything else – as the saying goes, I’ve never seen a U-Haul at a funeral, and those experiences resulted in who I am today. They inform my world view, and my writing, and I like to think they result in a certain veracity to the stories – there’s a lot of truth and hard won experience in them.

There are parts of my life I don’t discuss – my personal life, some of my pursuits when I was working for others. Let’s just say I got to travel a ton, and live in some really interesting places, if only for short periods. I’ve seen misery and boundless joy, and witnessed both incredible cruelty and the most tender of mercy, and been involved in matters I’m ashamed of, and others I’m proud of but will never mention. Guy’s got to have some secrets, after all, and I have more than a few.

What’s the takeaway? Cliche, I know, but you have to take responsibility for your life, and your future, and work to craft one that’s compelling, that is uniquely yours, and that makes you happy regardless of what others think. You need to find your muse at whatever pursuit you’ve decided upon, and follow it fearlessly. That doesn’t mean foolhardily or delusionally. It means you have to accept the fact that failure is an integral part of success, and find a way to sing on the way to the fields each day to toil at whatever you’ve decided gives your life meaning.

If I know anything, that’s the lesson. Your time on the earth is an adventure, and how you spend it is up to you. Sure, everyone has different challenges and abilities, but ultimately you need to become the captain of your vessel, or accept whatever the tide brings you, which is often flotsam. Even if nothing changes but your attitude, that’s a start – the most important one, I’d argue. So when considering resolutions for the new year, you might want to try that one on, and pursue a passion that makes you feel alive every day, whether it pays, or not. I knew the odds were a million to one when I launched into publishing, but I did it anyway, because I believed my stories were decent, and more importantly, I would have never forgiven myself if I hadn’t. I hold myself accountable for my own happiness, and I’d rather have spent a couple years trying and failing at something that was really important to me, than never doing it at all.

The other thing I’ve realized is that it’s lonely at the top if you don’t help others get there (not that I’m there, but I can sort of make out the pinnacle through the clouds now, which is progress), which is why I still offer advice to other authors, and chime in with opinions, informed or otherwise. Being gracious and compassionate costs nothing, and nobody ever went broke giving someone else a hand when they needed it.

So that’s my deal, and pretty much all I have for you as thoughts at year end. Have a safe and prosperous New Year. I’m going walkabout and will be gone for a week or two, and then will be back at the grindstone, doing what I love.

As always, thanks for the continued support. Maybe tell a friend. Never hurts…

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14 Dec 2016, by

5 1/2 Years

I just typed The End on my 51st book written since mid-2011, titled A Girl Apart. Very different from my prior work. I rather like it. We’ll see what the world thinks soon enough.

As I close out the year, outlining and starting my 52nd book, it occurs to me that I haven’t blogged a whole lot over the last couple of months, so I’ll make up for lost time and share a few things I’ve learned during my little publishing journey, although there is much I don’t know.

My thoughts and advice to aspiring authors follow in no particular order:

  1. Determine who you are and why you’re doing whatever you’re doing, and do it with purpose and passion. Ensure your identity pervades your work, and don’t flinch from who you are or attempt to second guess its imprint on your writing. Maybe it will make it unsellable, or result in genius, or somewhere in between, but at least it will be a true reflection of you in your work, and that’s what will set it apart. Readers don’t buy books, they buy stories by voices that resonate with them. The more distinct your voice, the more likely your signal stands out from the rest of the noise.
  2. Every time you sit down to write, find the passion in why you’re doing so, and imbue your words with that fire. If you can’t find passion today, fake it.
  3. Much of the time you might not have much, or any, enthusiasm – things might seem indistinct, or pointless, or meandering. Trust that you will find your story’s compass on rewrite. Don’t use the lack of it as an excuse not to write, if writing is what you want to do. Write through the phase, and believe that you will get it right in the end. You don’t have to rain brilliance upon the page on first draft. Consider it laying foundations upon which  you’ll build your temple later, and free yourself to suck ass on first draft. Most of us do. It’s part of the process. Like a sculptor staring at the stone, your job is to find the statue within it – but your first try at trying to get the rough shape right is unlikely to wow anyone.
  4. Write stories you would want to read, not stories you think some random hypothetical audience might want to.
  5. Be true to yourself, but be willing to compromise when qualified criticism is offered. It’s possible you’re wrong. Listen to sage counsel, but in the end, it’s your work, and you have to take responsibility for making it as good as you can.
  6. You’re on the planet for a finite amount of time. Anyone who’s known someone diagnosed with a fatal illness will tell you that it changes them – the idea that they have unlimited runway collapses, and they’re left with their mortality being a known quantity rather than an abstract. Don’t wait until you are diagnosed. Recognized we all have the same disease – a limited life expectancy – and make your time count as though you’ll never get any more of it, because you won’t. So if you’re going to write, or sing, or dance, or pound nails with a hammer, or any of a million other possible things, do it for real, because going through life phoning it in is a lousy way to go about it.
  7. Discover the joy in testing your boundaries, like a toddler discovering the world for the first time. In that sense of wonder and exploration lies magic.
  8. You are not automatically interesting or relevant. That too will take a lot of work. It’s up to you to convince the world. Better put on another pot of coffee.
  9. Belief that you are capable of absolutely anything you commit 110% to achieving is paramount. If you are unwilling or unable to commit that much, find something to which you can and pursue that instead.
  10. Push yourself. Set out to prove something to yourself every day. Clock’s ticking, and this is your big chance for a personal best.
  11. Don’t pursue sales. Court readers. Be the author who delivers what nobody else can, or otherwise, what’s the point? To try to make a few bucks at a longshot endeavor at which the odds say you’ll fail? Why bother if that’s the motivation? Money and acclaim may or may not come, but in the meantime, there’s only the now. Make your now awesome, even if it takes everyone else forever to catch on to how awesome your now is. Throw your life’s party, don’t be a spectator at everyone else’s.
  12. Don’t kid yourself that you’re better than you are. You might be decent, or even pretty good, and you will probably get better with time if you try. But it won’t happen because you feel like it should. You will pay for every improvement with sweat and tears. That’s part of the job. Think of it as cutting onions if you like. Although I hate cutting onions, so I eat out a lot.
  13. Nothing is easy except mediocrity, and even that can be kind of tough. So don’t expect or settle for easy. Easy happens occasionally, but mostly it’s hard work that wins races. And even a marathon is a race.
  14. Work to live, don’t live to work. Your worth isn’t what you do, it’s how you do it and how you view yourself, the experiences you collect and the impact you have on those whose lives you touch. Nobody remembers who the richest man was 200 years ago, or who the most famous author was, or the name of most popular musician, unless they’re planning to compete on Jeopardy. We all think we live in an exceptional time, and this is the big show, and all else was preamble. Wrong. This is only our show, and we are tomorrow’s preamble, so lighten up and have fun with whatever you’re doing, and if nothing else, try to be nice, unless you’re a dick, in which case be honest about it.
  15. Master your craft, or at least try. You likely never will. That’s part of the challenge. Revel in it, don’t hate that the goalposts always seem to move just a little farther away. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
  16. When you think your story is as good as it can possibly be, sit down, take a deep breath, and demand that it be better. Ask yourself how, tear it apart, and force greatness from anything that is even slightly questionable. Your job isn’t to fill up space with words. It’s to choose words that compel your readers to stay up all night to read. Best of luck with that.

I’m not sure how much of this ramble will help anyone aspiring to be a working author, but after a few million books sold and some amazing windfalls, some astounding paydays and some whipsaw changes in the biz which continue unabated, what I can offer is that being an author is a fantastic career if you can handle the giddy highs and crushing lows, and power through it all, with near constant adversity making you stronger. Write stuff you can be proud of, and enjoy doing so, and then type The End, and go on to the next one.

The rest is up to the universe, luck, and retail marketing/promotions. And Amazon’s algos, of course.

Happy holidays, and make 2017 your breakthrough year. Make it, don’t hope for it.

How you do that is up to you.

And as always, go buy my crap.

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