Seven Steps: The secrets of success have never been a secret

Even though you probably have a different definition of success than I do, I can still tell you how to get there.

  1. What we know will form the basis of our decisions. It cannot be otherwise. Thus, we should take pains to ensure that what we know is accurate. We always have the power to increase our knowledge, and to correct inaccuracies in what we think we know. Failing to do this can only be described as stupidity. Ignorance can be cured but stupidity is forever.
  2. What we feel motivates and governs most (if not all) of our conduct. Who and what we surround ourselves will affect how we feel, so we should choose well. What you should feel is your decision, always. But consider that anger, fear, and hatred make you feel bad. That means you should avoid them. Loving others makes you feel good. That means you should do that. There’s no reason to complicate this.
  3. Action matters. It’s always easier to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Plans aren’t enough. Desire isn’t enough. We have to act on our desires, to implement what we’ve planned, to do our best. Unused potential is no better than absence of potential. This is why Jerry Rice was a greater football player than Randy Moss. Moss had unused potential. Rice did not. Ideally I will have Moss’s skills plus Rice’s motivation, but if I can only choose one of the two, it’ll be Rice’s motivation. You knew I’d say that.
  4. Your present situation is the result of your past actions. That’s data you can use to modify your present actions and thus your future situation. To increase your skills and knowledge. To align your desires, your goals, and your plans. Learn from the past, implement that information in the present, and improve your future self. Never stop doing this.
  5. Live in the now. Use the past for data collection, to learn what does and doesn’t work. Look to the future self you want to be when you plan. But don’t dwell in either of those places. Dwell in the right here, right now.
  6. Persistence means to continue doing something after the cause that made you start doing it has been removed. This is a good thing. Whenever possible, life’s much easier when you can rely on force of habit. When something works, make it a habit. Occasionally reflect upon your habits, to keep the ones that are moving you toward your current goals, to scrap the rest, and perhaps to add new ones. Get in the habit of persisting.
  7. It is never too late to be what you might have been. (George Eliot)

However you define success, it isn’t measured by what you have. It’s by what you are.

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Loki and the Amtrak Writer’s Residency

The Last Titan[an excerpt from The Last Titan]

Loki rides his first Amtrak train. Thirty-one hours from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Amtrak has only recently decided to experiment with what they call a Writer’s Residency. Free train rides. Loki gets one. Money is of no concern, but he wants to have fun with the Amtrak people.

He doesn’t know if they want the rights to what he creates, but if they do, he thinks it’s a bad idea.

He writes a novel in under ten hours. It’s set on the train he’s riding. At each stop, the train picks up more farm animals and the passengers have sex with them, graphically described in loving detail. There is a market for this vulgarity, but Loki is certain it’s not one that Amtrak wants to be associated with.

This precedent may or may not help future beneficiaries of the Writer’s Residence program, but Loki doesn’t care.

The worst thing about such clever email is that I can’t see the expression on the reader’s face.

[I needed four years to complete The Last Titan. This is why I became a novelist, over 40 years ago, to write this book.]

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What is The Last Titan?

The Last Titan Every novel I write changes me. This one has changed me more than any of the others, maybe more than all of the others. It’s the one I was born to write.

Every novel has taken longer to write than the one before. This one took four years. Not counting when I tried and failed to tackle it in the late 70s/early 80s.

And every time I write a novel, I empty myself into it. Then I retire. Then we all knowingly wait for me to unretire a few months or years later. But this feels more like my final novel than any of my other final novels.

I’ve written a chapter set in India, which I’d never done before. I’ve written the greatest love scene that I’ve ever written, or possibly even read, and we all know I never write about that stuff. An editor complimented me on my use of setting, which has also long been a weakness of mine. (Compliments about my dialogue are old news by now.)

I’ve tweeted a few quotations from the novel that I’m particularly proud of. Don’t expect me to stop.

Attention trivia buffs. The Last Titan is the only book I’ve ever written that uses the word “caroms.” Or “jaunty.” Or “merrily.” Or “mirth.” Or “avers.” Or “purview.” Or “egress.” Also, The Last Titan is the only novel to ever include the sentence “Ethel Merman does Black Sabbath.”

Over five thousand years ago, they crashed into Earth. We worshipped them as gods. Now we do not. There were ten of them. Now there are six. Do you still wonder what you want to be when you grow up? So do they.

The Last Titan is why I became a novelist, over 40 years ago, to write this book. Now that it is published, I have given myself permission to die. Which will probably increase the price, so buy it now.

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Ignatius Reilly Returns

The Last Titan[Excerpts from The Last Titan]

Four athletic young men stand on an Olympic-sized track holding their long vaulting poles. Facing them, a fifth man is holding a pole and lecturing. Behind him is a safety net that can be raised and lowered. It’s currently set at 14 feet.

Suddenly the four men hear something behind them and turn.

The man is fat. There is no doubt whatever about that. Tweed trousers, plaid flannel shirt, green hunting cap squeezing the top of his fleshy balloon of a head. The plaid muffler around his neck flows dramatically in the manmade breeze. No human can run that fast. The loose flesh of his face ripples.

He shoots between the four students and past the equally stunned teacher, races to the net, leaps, and shouts “Whee!” as he sails through the air.

Ignatius does not use a pole. He does not use the “backwards over the bar” Fosbury Flop of a professional high jumper. Nor does he use the straddle technique, Western Roll, Eastern cut-off, or scissors jump. His legs are straight, his feet about two feet above the net. He lands on the deep foam matting, on his feet rather than his back, without injuring his ankles or even wincing in pain. He runs down the track and into the bushes, away from the stunned onlookers, laughing.


The huge wooden spool was formerly wrapped with thick industrial cables of the sort used for power lines. Its exterior is empty and it has two boys inside. Five boys start it rolling down a steep hill and run behind it while the two boys inside scream with glee.

“My turn!”

“No, it’s my turn!”

“It is not! It’s mine!”

“You just went a minute ago!”

“No,” states an adult man. “It is my turn.”

The five boys turn, stunned, to face Ignatius. They never heard his approach.

“Stay inside,” Ignatius tells the two boys before they can come out of the spool, then begins pushing it uphill before anyone can react.

After a moment, the boys inside scream with glee. The other five boys run behind Ignatius.

“How’d you do that?”

“Can you do it again?”

“No, push me up the hill.”

“Who are you?”


With a smile that is very out of character for Ignatius J. Reilly, Loki runs away.


He finishes his visit with the classics. He flips the toilet paper rolls so that they roll under rather than over, he leaves the toilet seats up, and he takes a single sock from the hamper and puts it in his pocket.

He’ll never see the people who live here doubting their sanity, but he knows they will. Life’s simple pleasures are the best.

[I needed four years to complete The Last Titan. This is why I became a novelist, over 40 years ago, to write this book.]

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The Last Titan[an excerpt from The Last Titan]

“I stitch the yarn through that canvas and the design covers it completely. Then I can hang it on the wall, cover a pillow, what have you. It’s also supposed to be good therapy, keeping my mind busy but not too busy, you know. Easy regular goals, something to do, a sense of satisfaction, something I can look at and hold in my hands and say I made that. Like that football player, you know, from the Fearsome Foursome. Rosey Grier. Do you remember him?”


“Did you know that Rosey is short for Roosevelt?”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

Bevlynn nods. “And when I finish that needlepoint right there, it’ll be a poem. Let me read it to you.”

Bevlynn puts on her glasses, grabs a piece of paper, and recites in a slightly sing-song voice:

If tears could build a stairway
And memories a lane
I would climb right up to heaven
And bring you home again

“You know what that means?” she asks.

Trademark is relieved that he’s just listening, not expressing opinions and solving problems, because he’s got nothing.

“It means,” says Bevlynn, “that when I lose the man I love, not only am I going to be sad about that, but suddenly I have to start clinging to really bad poetry.”

[I needed four years to complete The Last Titan. This is why I became a novelist, over 40 years ago, to write this book.]

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Picasso Plays The Piano

Picasso Plays The Piano
Picasso Plays The Piano

I turned the power switch on, to play the piano myself, but that’s all I did. Picasso walked across the top of the piano, pressed the “Record” button, pressed one of the other buttons to change from Grand Piano to one of the 4 Electric Piano settings that I’ve never played, and then walked across the keyboard to create the following composition:

Picasso Plays The Piano

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