The order in which you do things matter

Ingredients are only part of the recipe. This is about cookies, but it’s also not about cookies. It’s about writing books, but I thought I would talk about cookies first.

Like a lot of folks staying at home during this pandemic, I’ve taken to baking things, mostly cookies. I’ve baked perhaps hundreds of dozens of cookies since March 2020, carefully honing the recipes to get a perfect balance of crumb to chew to crunch ratio. Baking is a science and everything affects every other thing in the process.

Including the order in which I add ingredients.

If I simply dumped all the ingredients into the mixing bowl together, I would have a dough that might produce some sort of portioned baked goods resembling cookies, but the texture would be off, the flavors undeveloped and the ratio of crumb to chew to crunch would not be satisfying. If I had not spent time and effort honing the craft and science of cookies, I might not have ever know how satisfying a cookie could be.

But I have made better cookies. I’ve tasted these better cookies and I know what a larger experience cookies can and should be.

Publishing books is a lot like making cookies.

If the “cookie mix” blog posts that the internet seemingly mass-produces without end can be believed, you might come away with the idea that the most important part of the hybrid-book publishing process is “JUST HIT PUBLISH!” While you may be able to crank all the ingredients of your manuscript through the KDP publish software and spit out a book on the other end, what your readers will be consuming is much like the cookies created by a clump of dough.

The order in which you do things to publish your book matters a great deal. A written manuscript is just one ingredient of your book. The ISBN, LCN, BISAC and ONIX are also key ingredients that need to be added in a precise order for the book to be shelf-ready and marketed and available as widely as possible.

But you can choose to have a bunch of words slapped on paper and that paper bound into a book, just as you can easily dump all the cookie ingredients into a bowl and mix. It just depends on how much you — and your readers — value craft, in baking and book publishing.


Turning your writing into a book — how to not get taken by fake experts

The mechanics of turning a series of stories or chapters of a longer story is almost an insurmountable task for many writers

An overhead shot of a manual typewriter, cup of coffee, pocket watch and a journal with a fountain pen.

I’ve discovered that the mechanics of turning a series of stories or chapters of a longer story is almost an insurmountable task for many writers. For me — a writer with software coding, design, page layout, prepress , etc skills — it’s super easy… but it’s amazingly daunting for many.

Which is why there are so many self-publishing book vultures out there. And it kills me to see a writer get taken by these charlatans because the process is a lot easier than it appears.

  1. Make sure your stories are edited and formatted with page breaks, chapter titles. Like really tightly edited. In MS Word. Publishing is not about writing or editing; it’s about getting the content on the page/screen. Your book layout artist is not your editor, line editor, copy editor or proofreader but a good one will catch typos. Too many, though, and they’ll send the MS back to you. Also, if you double-space after your periods. Clean that up first, please.
  2. Have a cover design. Don’t design until you know the physical properties of your finished book.
  3. Write your front matter, back matter and back cover. Really. No, really. Then write your book descriptions — short, (160 characters) medium and long.
  4. Make sure you collect all the URLs where your content appears online. Seriously, every bit of content that will also appear in your book. You will need a release and a statement that says you own the copyright to all this content. Be ready to prove it if challenged. KDP checks and it’s better to have this ready. Also, original photography including your author headshot (or full-length if you are brave! Like Liz Plank’s photo on the back of her book For the Love of Men… love that back! Check it out if you haven’t.)
  5. Give the book designer space. Don’t micromanage things. Seriously.
  6. Don’t give the book designer stuff piecemeal. Don’t send things over as 1,842 email attachments. A good book designer will have a checklist. Complete EVERYTHING before expecting them to start your book.
  7. Once the layout is complete, your cover designer (or you or your book layout person) can design the cover to specifications Ingram and KDP provides.
  8. Plan your audiobook but don’t record it until the book is fully laid out and ready to publish. Things might change between the MS and the book and you don’t want to have to redo audio. A good publisher will also be skilled at guiding you through this. An audiobook is no longer a nice to have add-on. Kinda required these days.
  9. Don’t argue any of these steps with your book designer. Really; that makes you a terrible client. Yes, we know it’s your baby but it’s ours, too. You trust us to babysit. Trust a good book designer. (There aren’t many… at least not many who care… most are working volume…)

Not a plug, and not taking clients, but working with some of those awful self-publishers made me start up my own imprint, Sharktooth Press.

If you publish your own work and want to help other authors with what you learned, consider your own imprint.

Quick quality check: view the book designer’s previous work. If they use ligatures, start chapters on recto (right) pages, manage orphans and widows, they know their sh*t! If they don’t know what these thing are, run! Like fast.

The new soccer tournament marketing is the old soccer tournament marketing

Take your new marketing plan old school. Telephone, fax, postcards.

Take your new marketing plan old school. Publish a telephone number, get a fax number and mail confirmation postcards. I guarantee, you will stand out in a packed soccer tournament market.

That was a long title for a short story, but;

Take your new marketing plan old school. Publish a telephone number you can get for free from Google Voice and mail confirmation postcards with the team login ID when the team applies, with a hand-written note with a reminder to check into the website often for news and the schedule.

You may also want to change the outgoing voice message to keep up with the most frequently asked question and when to expect the schedule on your website.

“Thank you for calling the Awesome Soccer Invitational.We know you are excited to come play with us and we’re excited to have you! We hope to have the schedule published by Month-Day, so be sure to bookmark our website at https://awesome%5Bdot%5Dtourneycentral%5Bdot%5Dcom. Thank you for calling and please double check our website under FAQs to see if we have answered your question. If not, please leave a message, speaking your TeamID clearly and slowly so we can help you quickly.”

I guarantee, you will stand out in a packed soccer tournament market.

Thanks to the Grand Rapids Invitational Tournament to letting me borrow their logo for our sample postcard above. The telephone is an old-fashioned rotary dial landline that used to take forever to call all the teams on.

Death of a friendship

Never with a bang…

Closeup of orange tulips in bloom

I woke today to a curious breeze
The flutter of dragonfly wings I could not see

The day grew older, the breeze grew darker
And swirled around my eyes
Until it became thick and dark

Levered into my chest and pulled out my heart
My phone lit up with a risen moon and as it faded to lock

I knew we died

The Corn and the Carrot

The author wrote a book in the fourth grade. Her dad found it 22 years later and turned it into a published book.

A photo of the finished page of the book alongside the illustration from the original book. The Corn and the Carrot by Melissa C McLean, author.
One of the finished illustrations and the original drawing.

I was going through a pile of stuff from my corporate days, old planners, files, etc. stuffed in file boxes in my basement, stuff I would eventually get to, shred what needs shredding and throw away what doesn’t fit in the slot, when I came across an old Frankin planner. I almost just tossed it when I figured I’d unzip it and see if there was anything interesting inside.

Just as I was about to toss it into the trash, a corner of a piece of paper, tucked onto the inside flap, caught my eye. I pulled it out and it was an illustrated storybook my daughter had written when she was in the fourth grade.

Affixed to the cover was a note from her teacher, which read:

Wonderful! You should get this published!

I read it and it was good. I remembered why I kept it then and I now knew what I should get her for her thirty-first birthday. It was September and her birthday was in March. I owned an imprint and knew how to publish books.

Plenty of time.

Only I had never published an illustrated children’s book. I was soon in over my head. I didn’t know any children’s book illustrators and all my research produced illustrators whose style didn’t quite capture the style I was looking for. Like every creative client, I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but I’d felt sure I knew it when I saw it.

Turns out, I never saw it. The holidays passed by and I was running out of time.

Then one weekend, my grandkids were over and coloring with crayons in a coloring book. BAM, right over the head. That was the style I was looking for. I’d trace her drawings in black Sharpie, scale and resample to fit the square format I had decided on earlier.

After a few unsuccessful tries, I got the hang of it, selecting the consistent color palette and went to town. I had to create a couple new drawings from her existing characters to fit the page count for the printer, but it came together. Scan, correct color, place on page. Done!

Then I applied for the ISBN, LCCN … waited for an excruciating couple of days for approval, uploaded filed to Ingram and within a couple weeks, the book was available on every online outlet as well as available for any indie bookstore to order for you and your child.

Happy birthday, M! It took over twenty years for this seed to germinate, but I hope you’re glad it eventually took root.

Will you autograph my copy? 😁

The book is a available for purchase at all your favorite online retailers and your indie bookstore will be happy to order it for you. If you order from Bookstore dot org, you are supporting your local indie bookstore. Barnes&Noble and of course… if you really want to Amazon.

Welcome back

Just curious how this looks.

Medium made some colossal changes to their app; changed they did not ask us paying customers about and just did it.

So, I’m moving over to WordPress. And this is my first post.

In the coming weeks, I will be moving all my content over here and just abandoning the platform.

This is a photo of a birthday cake.

Permanent impermanence

What does it mean to be “home?”

An old ’60s style rotary telephone… black, of course. Yes, it works and when my network quits recognizing pulse dialing, there are tech solutions.
An old ’60s style rotary telephone… black, of course. Yes, it works and when my network quits recognizing pulse dialing, there are tech solutions.

I bought an old ’60s rotary telephone last year. I don’t really know why, but I think I do. It is a physical object that at one point defined the concept of “home,” a place where your life was a permanent thing. You lived where you could plug in a phone and people could call you at. It only rang at one place.

I know, this concept did not exist at some point in human existence, but the phone then was something else, maybe the place where you could stable your horse. But it was always a “physical” place of some sort. Even nomads had a “place” where they could rest, repair, belong.

I’m thinking lately about the concept of permanent impermanence. I’m not quite sure what to do with these thoughts or what they mean in a larger concept of capitalism and the human need for certainty. I’m not looking for answers or solutions on how to find stability in a world that changes faster than our ability to control our destiny. I’m just ruminating.

I watched Nomadland and what it means for Fern and all of us who are living in a culture that has expectations of a stable home vs our need to explore. On the one hand, we’re encouraged to seek out new experiences, but when we try, we’re bum-rushed out of spaces that feed this need. We can’t just park a van any place we are; we have to pay for the space. Even what looks like a stretch of desert in the middle of nowhere, someone owns it. Someone is going to bang on your van door and tell you to move along unless you shell out some money.

We should have a job, a house, a family around us.

I hesitate buying a new book because I will have to place it on a bookshelf in a place that feels less and less permanent. I feel the same as my finger hovers over the “Buy Now” button on Amazon or various websites when I feel like I need a new trinket or gadget. If I buy this thing, I get to hold it but I also need to put it somewhere, a somewhere that feels increasingly like a place that is not mine.

I was given a theater-sized popcorn popper a few years back as a birthday gift. It gave me a lot of joy being able to pop popcorn anytime I wanted. After a few months, the popcorn popper went from something that sparked joy to something that just stunk up the house and probably attracted mice. I reluctantly moved it from the house into the garage where it now sits. I am allowed to make a batch of popcorn when the house is empty. It’s been several months since I’ve made popcorn as my house is hardly ever my space lately. Besides, I want to make sure my current pant size is either permanent or reduced and massive amounts of buttered popcorn work against that goal.

My dad was a philosopher when he was sober. I carry an image burned into my brain of him sitting alone at the head of the dining room table in the house I grew up. It was the middle of the day, but the room was dark because the black bomb curtains were drawn. The room was filled with smoke from the pack of cigarettes he was finishing off and the cherry of his lit cigarette glowed as he inhaled.

“Like footsteps on a sandy dune,” he said, holding his arms out and slowly bringing them back in to take another drag of his cigarette. “All of this — of me — will be blown away in the wind, like footsteps on a sandy dune.” He seemed profoundly sad and broken. I remember thinking that should be the title of his book. Years later when it became apparent he would never write it, I thought it should be the title of my book.

He died at 85, not written that book. I still haven’t years later.

I want what Hester Pryne had at the end of The Scarlet Letter — a small home, the quiet of stability… (oops, spoiler alert for every high school student who never got past the “A” in the novel and wrote song lyrics without the proper context… sorry Taylor, I love ya, but the reference is … confused…) But even the house you paid off is never quite yours because you have to pay the property taxes and the threat of a shifting “free market” makes a house not really yours.

Maybe the permanence is now the glowing screens of my MacBookPro and my iPhone, found at the address of and @gerardmclean at various points on the interwebs and not at the terminated end of a phone wire.

See you on down the road.


On your skin, in your skin

I breathe you in deeply.

With every breath, prose spins into poetry

And your story crushes into my heart.

Object impermanence

I’m still here. I hope you are, too.

When I was about 9 or 10 or maybe 8, I can’t recall, it has been a long time…. I was obsessed with chess, like “The Queens Gambit” obsessed… I borrowed a book about chess from the local library on Lexington and University in St Paul. It’s not there any more, I don’t know… it’s probably a restaurant or something…

That’s not really the point, other than if I’m not there directing change, change never happens for the better. That’s how important I am 😁😁😁

The point is I let the due date slip by, then I hid the book because I wanted to believe I had lost it instead of really wanting to keep it and read it over and over and over to get really good at chess. Really good at something. Then it got too late to actually return it and I had forgotten where I hid it. Life moved on, the St. Paul Public Library gave up trying to extract the book or the replacement money from me. Maybe they closed and just lost track of me.

Ten or so years later, my parents lost their only house they could afford to a foreclosure and I returned to my old room to clear out what little of my childhood I wanted to keep. That room had become my younger sister’s room when I … escaped… at seventeen. I’m not sure what would have been left that was mine, but the exercise seemed to be important to my mom.

I found the book I had hidden in my little private space I created in the closet between the walls. I had long forgotten about that “closet,” but it was a bit of a time capsule of what I held so close to my heart when I was young, the small objects of my youth I was deathly afraid others would take from me, those things that would leave me incomplete, despondent and perhaps a bit… suicidal … if I had to live without them.

So… I’m still here. I hope you are, too.

Starting a youth soccer tournament

So, you think you want to run a soccer tournament.


It’s not a flippant question, but one that needs to be answered before you do one more thing on your event. If your answer is “because everyone else is doing it,” stop, click away and pursue other hobbies. Without a clear purpose for your event, you will fail.

Ok, now that we have all the hobbyists and dreamers out of the room, let’s get down to the serous business of putting together and running a successful soccer tournament event.

The first thing you should know and never forget is a very controversial position. You must remember this always and never be swayed from this one simple, but hard to defend fact. If you lose this focus, you will fail.


A soccer tournament is not about soccer competition; it is an entertainment event centered around soccer.

Teams and clubs play soccer in their leagues and schools. Their league standings determine how successfully they will be ranked, whether or not they will advance within their state cups, etc. Sure, there are a few soccer tournaments that are about soccer and rankings and points, but they are run by the US Soccer organizations, not by clubs. Your soccer tournament event is not one of them and won’t be. Points don’t matter.

Have you been scared off yet?

Good. Let’s keep going.

Now that we have accepted a soccer tournament is an event, let’s back up to our first question; why are you producing a soccer tournament?

Now that we have established that your soccer tournament is an event, your why should be aligned with event production thinking. Some reasons for holding an event are:

  • A fundraiser for our club, league, community or cause.
  • To promote the club brand within the larger soccer community.
  • To provide a fun, family-friendly event that promotes the local community.
  • To provide a pre or post-season event for teams to prepare for an upcoming season or wind down from a season.
  • To provide a venue where higher caliber teams can compete to prepare for tournament play in their state cups.
  • To provide a venue where less competitive teams can compete in a soccer tournament format.

Each of these is a good reason to produce a soccer tournament.

Your reason may even be several of these intertwined. The important part is that you understand why you are producing your event and who your ideal guest teams are. It will drive everything you do.

But don’t be inflexible. Things change. Your club mission may change; the soccer marketplace may change, your community might change. Change is good, but purposeful change is better. Always, remember that your soccer tournament is an event, though.

One more important point to remember:
A soccer tournament is a business.

While you may be holding it to raise money for your club, need volunteers to help run it and your mission may be to advance the sport of soccer in your community, it is a business. Venders and suppliers of goods and services need to be paid. Contracts need to be signed, you need insurance and teams need customer service. Someone in your organization will be held responsible for commitments and this should not be taken lightly.

Marketing your event will be hard work. A couple decades ago, you could call a few coaches, get some teams together for a weekend and run a pretty good tournament event. Today, your competition is sophisticated. They have been marketing themselves offline and online for longer. They have traction and a long tail. Moreover, they have built trust within the soccer community. Marketing will be your biggest challenge and is no longer something you can do on a few nights and Sunday afternoon. Thanks to the internet, your soccer tournament is now a 365/24/7 event that never sleeps and never takes a winter break.

Your competition may not even be another soccer tournament. Attending a soccer tournament usually absorbs a family’s time for an entire weekend. Your competition may be other sports, festivals or simply “do nothing” time. If there is enough push from the parents, a coach will not sign up her team regardless of how great your event is. Always size up your competition, both inside and outside of soccer.

Ok. I think we’re ready to get started.

Congratulations on your soccer tournament. We wish you many years of success.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Blackwell, 2019 DaytonStrong 3v3, Dayton, Ohio

Originally published at on October 27, 2021.

TikTok ads and strawberry Twizzlers!

Ok, so earlier this month, someone from a major metro newspaper posted this question in a private group:

“If you had $50,000 in marketing budget that you needed to spend before 1/1/22, what would you spend it on?”

Ever the consummate smartass, I replied;

“TikTok ads and strawberry Twizzlers!”

Because, why the hell not? I mean $50,000 on strawberry twizzlers? Who would even think of that? Today, Duff Goldman and I became buds on the twitters with that tweet linked below 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂 (The Food Network hashtag#AceOfCakes dude and yes, I have ordered several cakes from hashtag#CharmCityCakes and no, I’ve been met the man FWIW)

Never assume you are the only one thinking up wacky crap. You never know how many people are thinking the exact crazy thought you are thinking at this very moment! More than you think!

What if god* does make mistakes

What if you were never intended to be born, that everything you did just make it worse for everyone in your life. Would that be god’s mistake?

I’ve survived the coronavirus pandemic. You’re reading this now, so chances are, you have also survived the pandemic. Whether that turns out to be a good thing or a bad thing for each of us remains to be seen. To date, over 613,000 Americans and 4.2 million people world-wide have not survived.

They died. They are dead.

What if I was not supposed to survive? There is a certain comfort in dying in a mass shooting, a war, natural disaster or a pandemic. The numbers are so staggering that the individual dead get lost in the crowd.

Nobody left alive really shares the individual grief of those left behind. The grief is so overwhelming that it’s easy to assume there is no grief suffered by the living. It’s hard for the survivors to demand sympathy for fear of being selfish, so in some respects, everyone heals faster.

Some don’t even feel, the grief is so overwhelming.

I think about The Butterfly Effect a lot and not in a good way — well, maybe in a matter-of-fact sort of way — the director’s cut that ends with Evan traveling back to that moment his mother is about to give birth to him where he strangles himself in the womb with his umbilical cord.

He realizes that all his friends would be better off if there never was any version of him alive.

I often wonder if the same is true of me.

Now, there are clearly problems with the premise. If I did not exist, then my kids would not exist and the grandkids… but I’m not absolutely certain that is true. Perhaps they still would have existed because perhaps God* wanted them to be born. I would just not have been their dad or grandpa, but their essence — their souls, if you will — would have become part of this world. It’s like wrapping your head around infinity; you can try but it will drive you insane.

I’m not an easy person to have a relationship with. I know this about myself. I’m opinionated, strong-willed and like things the way I like things, especially when it involves a creative endeavor. I have a short fuse and a bit of a temper when you push my boundaries after I have been clear about what they are. I’m slow to trust anyone and even when I do trust, it’s not a deep trust. I live in a state of constant situational awareness.

As exhausting as I am to those around me, it’s exponentially exhausting to be me. “Surely,” I think to myself, “this is not a normal existence.” Few people around me seem to be in this perpetual state of vigilance, which is why I think often that I am an unnecessary burden to those around me. If I was not here, they wouldn’t need to make allowances for my sh*t in their own lives.

I recently learned that some people don’t have a mind’s eye, that the constant, multiple narratives and mental images that don’t and can’t have words that play in my head all day is not a universal trait. When there aren’t yet words, I see pictures and colors and these amorphous ideas like large clouds imploding and exploding constantly until a picture takes form that filters into a description that words can contain. I can’t imagine living without this “movie reel,” yet I can’t help but feel a bit jealous of those who have mental peace.

I once had a conversation with a client where he was asking for my expertise, but what he really wanted to do was for me to agree with him and just do what he wanted. I can respect a client who says, “I want to do this thing this way and I just need you to implement it.” It happens a lot and mostly, on the small things — like using this headshot over that one, this color over that — but in this particular case, the feature in question was one that would become harmful to his brand over time. I explained what and why. He hung onto his opinions. I tried another approach and still, he hung on.

“Why,” I asked? After all, he hired me to be the expert. In the end, we compromised.

I knew I was being difficult, but it was for his benefit. Perhaps he didn’t see it that way because after we said goodbye and in that moment before each clicked our respective “hang up” buttons on the phones, I heard him scream, “JESUS F*CKING CHRIST!”

He perhaps was unaware his circuit was still open.

That has stuck with me for over a decade.

Was I being too obstinate? Maybe, but if I just did what he wanted me to do without push-back, his life surely would have been easier that day, even if it would have gone badly further on down the road.

I feel most people are nice to me just to get what they want. Once they get what they want from me, I am disposable. If they don’t get what they want from me, someone else will do just as well. I’m merely a battery that fuels them. When they have used me up, I am tossed aside.

I recently read from a local publisher that she gets pitched memoirs mostly by middle-aged white men, close to 90% of all pitches. She doesn’t even read them as the market is already over-saturated and nobody buys them unless you are super famous. Even then, it’s a gamble.

There are approximately 20.5 million men between the ages of 55–65 in the United States. About 73% of these men are white, giving us about 14.9M middle-aged white men. Not a day goes by when I’m not reminded in some media channel that I am a member of the most disposable, useless and unwanted population alive. Nobody wants to publish our stories or even hear that we are aware of our own disposability and redundancy. Even this screed you are reading now has already garnered eighty-two thousand eye-rolls and forty-seven thousand, six hundred and twelve deep sighs.

When we were younger men, we were expected to be silent, stoic and unemotional as we bore the weight of the primary provider of familial income, food and shelter. Now that we have time and space to tell our stories, nobody wants to hear them, despite assurances that there will eventually be time. The appetite for us has been satiated. The narrative of us has already been written by those with more authority.

There goes another eye-roll. I heard it.

Contrary to popular media narratives, the majority of us middle-aged white men don’t have powerful jobs. The majority of us have been worked beyond usability and economic viability, saddled with outdated skills and dated ideas, rendering us in physical and emotional pain, simply waiting to die. Repairing or retraining us is an investment with negative returns, so nobody is interested.

We’re also very lonely, having few if any friends. A lover or primary companion has long since tired of us and few are willing to take us on, fearing an overwhelming emotional burden. It’s just as well because we are mostly skittish about the expectations you have that we won’t be able to fulfill.

I’d tell you this, but you don’t want to hear it. Instead, I’ll avoid you, change the subject if a conversation becomes too personal, keep you on read and ghost you at my earliest opportunity, perhaps leaving you confused when you should be grateful I spared you the mess roiling under these green eyes and gray hair. It would only get worse for you as I age; a look that is simply a resignation of mortality and a wasted life. It too, is a lie.

Your youth need not be wasted on those who wasted theirs.

As I was saying earlier before we got off on a side track in the middle of nowhere without a handcar, we both survived the pandemic so far. But we won’t survive life. It doesn’t matter when or where we exit; it’s always going to be in the middle of something more important going on, probably inconvenient to someone. Life will go on; the faster the better.

I’ve been everywhere I wanna go; seen everything I wanna see… I’m tired of being me — Flack on Amazon Prime

I first said something similar to my optometrist about ten years back, when she said I will probably need cataract surgery in my lifetime. I replied I didn’t mind going blind, that I’d seen everything I really wanted to see. She started to tear up like that was the saddest thing she’d ever hear. I assured her I was at peace and she should be as well. It’s irrational to strive to see and do everything.

A person can only experience so much in a life.

It would be best if you each carried on as if I never existed.

Tired of me song from Flack

*To be clear about one thing; I don’t believe god exists. The title of this essay is one hundred percent click bait based on common parlance use in the culture. Seriously, I’m not up for that debate on anything relating to a god. Believe what you want; leave me out of it.

This thing you’ve just read — or scrolled to the bottom of, no judging — was originally supposed to be a substack, but that is a targeted list and I decided I didn’t want to freak out my list, that I would rather freak out perfect strangers. If you want to be on the list, though, you can join. I send very few newsletters.

From caterpillar to book

From a casual observation one summer day that lasted ten, a butterfly named Callie found her way into a children’s book.

Last year, I noticed a caterpillar had made herself into a chrysalis on my front porch railing. I published my story and made a short video which caught Sarah Woodard’s eye. She commented that it would make a great story for one of her books.

I agreed.

But here is the really, super cool part for me; she actually WROTE the book! I gotta say, Carlos Lopez, the illustrator, made me out to be way more handsome that I am and Sarah wrote me to be more heroic than I was. Not gonna lie, that second to the last page made me tear up a bit. (I’m being coy, here, so you’ll buy the book; so you can see the illustration for yourself… tell me in the comments if you don’t tear up … tell me if you do. 😁🐛🦋)

Of course I bought three right away — one for me which I’m not lending out — and one for each of my grandkids’ libraries. You should go and buy one today… or as many copies as you have kids or grandkids!

If there is any lesson here, it is these two things, at least for me:

  • Keep putting stuff out into the world. You never know where the magic will land.
  • If you are lucky enough to receive magic, embrace it, listen to it and do something with it. The magic you transform will become something exponentially beautiful and inspire others to continue the magic.

My original post — with video — is posted up on my LinkedIn feed.

Buy Callie’s Change. Buy as many copies as you have kids or grandkids. Leave a review; reviews really are the life blood of authors!

And browse through Sarah’s 25 other books; there is something for everyone, follow Sarah and support her work. It’s important.

I’ve finally figured out my personal brand

Like an artist statement where you need to define your aesthetic, a personal brand is like grasping at clouds.

My Medium and all my socials, really, is like wandering into a used book store or a surplus store. You know the kind of shop, smells of dust and grease and life.

You don’t know why you came in, you don’t know what you’re looking for, but you’ll find that one shiny thing under the ugly, discarded bits of other peoples’ lives.

And it will spark joy in your soul.

That’s my personal brand.

Cash only.

How the hell do they pay the rent?

Artists, musicians, writers…. how do they pay the rent while they are creating stuff?

The writer, Gerard McLean, strumming a 5-string banjo.
The writer, thinking he can play the banjo. He can’t play worth a damn. He knows his hair and beard are too long, but we’re still in a pandemic. It got past the annoying stage and is well on to its ‘I kinda like this’ stage.

I was listening to NPR on my way to the Post Office the other day. It is only a two mile drive down the road, so I didn’t catch much of the interview… well, two miles there, two miles back, with a short trip into the post office to get my mail.

Yes, despite the best efforts of our current Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, the US Mail is still flowing, albeit less frequently and less reliably, but still flowing. You can send me money, a greeting card festooned with glitter or even a hand-written letter. I’ll still get it.


That’s really not the point of the ramble, but it is part of it. Everything is political and don’t let anyone tell you it ain’t. Our lives are dented and advanced by the whims of elected and appointed officials who are more intent on ruling than governing us. I’ll die on that hill.

Where was I… Oh, yeah… the interview. I don’t know who they were interviewing, but it doesn’t much matter. It was a musician who decided to use the pandemic lockdown to focus on who she was and write a tome … catalog? … I don’t know what you call a body of musical work and I’m too lazy to google it. Feel free to educate me. If you are curious about who the musical artist was, it was a Saturday (Feb 27) morning run, about 10:00am ET, WYSO in Dayton, Ohio. The NPR website makes it almost impossible to find shows that were previously broadcast.

I’m drifting all over the place, but if you are a regular reader, you know that about me and I won’t apologize for it. I’ll assume you are still here with me. There is, however, no extra credit or points to earn. Don’t grade-grub.

I’m semi-obsessed with Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. In the work, there is an oft-cited quote by people who forget the first part was about having the money to pay the rent. It is about the freedom an artist needs to not have to worry about losing the space they need to create. The romantic sounds wonderful to creative people; the practical, not so much. So, it is conveniently forgotten. But capitalism never forgets. If you don’t pay for your space, the landlord evicts you and the pawn broker gets your guitar and your typewriter.

When I embark on a creative project, I want to be done. I want the video edited, the book published, the song recorded, the software program to be launched. I struggle to learn the chords, to craft the sentences, to refine the Bézier curves and the marketing messaging, the UX/UI. Even now, as I write this … essay … thing … you are reading, I just want to be done and publish it. But if I did that now, you would miss out on the next paragraph, as well as the previous one which I did not write until I finished getting this one out of my noggin.

I clearly did not hit publish when I told you I wanted to, because you are reading this paragraph… WAIT, DON’T GO!! … I know you wanted to.

Intellectually, I know that every creative project is broken up into smaller chunks of effort. Every software program goes through the wireframe, then the thinking, then the initial code to make the basics work, then the guard clauses to keep the person using it from wandering into places they shouldn’t go, then the sweating over one pixel here and one pixel there on the website or app. Emotionally, though, I’m already done.

So back to my original quandary; how do artists pay the rent while they find the time to retreat into the space they need to create the thing they need to create?

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” which is my way of saying I have run out of words and can’t do much more without breakfast. Yes, this was all tapped out in an empty stomach, so please forgive the quality of my ramblings. A pastry, coffee, some sunshine that has just now broken from behind the clouds and a warm puppy will now soothe my angst.

Well, these things will, at least, try.

The impulse to publish is destroying my newsletter

I’m an impulsive writer. When I get an idea in my head, it’s a race to bang out those words, massage those sentences, divide up the stream into coherent paragraphs — against an imaginary real deadline of urgency.

The world needs to know this NOW!!

Apparently, that runs counter to a successful paid Substack Writing newsletter. The common wisdom among newsletter writers is you have to give your audience something they can’t get out in the wild, something that has not appeared anywhere else. It’s also what keeps me from contributing to Medium publications, pitching print publications or writing another book.

I need the hungry public to consume me now.

Of course, the reality isn’t that at all. Nobody really cares and my urgent screeds disappear almost immediately into the ocean of the internet. They may land on a shore here and there, an uncharted atoll just below the horizon, perhaps smack up against the hull of a capsized and abandoned boat.

This was the thing that I urgently needed to share with you today.

Focus and simplicity

I like simple foods. My idea of a salad is cold, crisp fresh lettuce, cut into large pieces with a quality blue cheese dressing on the side where I dip my fork into it and stab some lettuce with each bite. For me, simplicity and the taste of a pure food is perfection.

Inevitably, someone will come along and say, “that’s not a real salad. You need to add some veggies in there, coûtons, raisins maybe, some chicken chunks, fried onions…” you may even be tempted to do the same thing to this story in the replies or highlights.

Stop doing that to people, please.

If you are a software developer, small business owner, writer, artist, etc, this behavior is not unknown to you. And it is exhausting!

If you cave to the pressure of making a salad the way others think you should, then it becomes something that isn’t you; something that isn’t yours; something you no longer want. At best, you just give in and go along to get along. At worst, you stop eating salads.

Writing is tempered rage

Have you ever tempered chocolate? It’s the slow, patient warming and cooling of hot chocolate to work the crystals in the cocoa butter to a specific pattern that makes the chocolate moldable, shiny and gives it that pleasant “snap.”

It’s hard work and easy to screw up. When done well by a master chocolatier, it looks easy, almost effortless.

Writing is a lot like that. The words and thoughts in a writer’s head are a hot mess of rage, poured out onto a cool marble slab, then slowly worked into a story that reads with a gossamer tension, complete with subtext that has subtext, pulling on the reader’s head like a taut anchor line to a ship.

What? You didn’t like it when I shifted metaphors? Oops. I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry.

Write something that rages you. Then edit it with tension, fear and anxiety. When you feel the tug from an unseen bottom, hit publish.

It is ready to be launched.

Start your book. You got it in you.

A cheating legacy

You can learn a lot about how a team plays soccer. The lesson lives forever.

On October 22, 2020 the Judicial Committee in the American Senate voted 12–0 to advance the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the full Senate for debate and confirmation. The Democratic senators all boycotted the vote in protest, denying the committee, chaired by the Republican Lindsey Graham, a quorum. According to the rules, the committee required at least two members of the minority to be present.

Senator Graham responded by simply changing the rules on the fly to allow the vote.

My Senator from Ohio, Rob Portman, had already pledged his vote to confirm Barrett onto the Supreme Court regardless. Unconditionally. He was the same senator who refused to even meet with Merrick Garland because the seat opened just eight months prior to Election Day.

Let me share a story with you.

When my daughter was ten or eleven (memory is foggy, but I remember this one detail) her soccer team had a game in S***, Ohio. Everything was going along fine until the S*** team advanced the ball, took a shot on goal and missed by mere inches. But the net wasn’t firmly attached at the back and the ball rolled into the back of the net, from behind, out of bounds.

The assistant refereee saw it, all the parents on the touchline saw it, but the center referee was just a split second from seeing it roll back and only saw it in the back of the net. The AR tried to tell him what really happened, but he already called the goal. The S*** team captain tried telling the referee it wasn’t really a goal, but he yelled at her to not talk to him.

Every single parent from the S*** team stayed quiet. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. And they said nothing.

I often wonder what the conversation was like between the parents and their players. How do you justify your silence? How do you maintain your moral ground on the bigger things your ten-year old will experience when they are teenagers, when they grow into adulthood? How do you look your children in the eye and tell them it is wrong to lie, cheat or steal when you know they know what weak moral character you have as a parent?

I have never forgotten this incident and I suspect all the parents and players on both sides haven’t either. To this day — nineteen years later — when I hear S***, Ohio, this incident immediately pops into my head. I rightly or wrongly, this is the legacy of S***, Ohio that the soccer team passed on to me.

Fine legacy you are advancing, Senator Portman. I’m sure this is also an incident I will never forget whenever I hear your name.

S***, Ohio. Blurred because … you can look it up if you want.

Selling a soccer tournament during a pandemic

How do you sell a soccer tournament during a pandemic? The short answer is; you don’t.

Instead, you pivot to marketing your event for next year. Everyone is now on the same level playing field, all of your competitors have the same market conditions under which to attract teams. Nobody has any particular advantage, points don’t matter, especially if everyone was required to cancel last year.

Teams have short memories. They will remember their experience from last year, but their experience from two years ago will be a foggy memory, if they remember you at all. When they don’t even have a memory of last year, you have a marketing problem.

Or an opportunity. The choice is yours.

Think first year
First year events are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they don’t have a history to point to. Research shows the number one reason a team or club applies to your soccer tournament event is they had a good experience the last time. But you don’t have this. You had to skip a year.

The good thing, though, is you don’t have to live with your history. You can change things about your event that maybe you’ve been wanting to do for a while, but your history has been holding you back. Do it now!

You also have the experience first year soccer tournament events lack. Leverage your experience by becoming your own mentor you would have liked for your first-year running a tournament.

Think smaller
Soccer tournaments for next year will be smaller. Teams will not be attending as many events, so they will be pickier about who they choose. This doesn’t mean giving discounts or running giveaways or contests, but it does mean you will need to think about things you have done or marketing messages based on size and scale. You may also not have volume discounts with vendors and providers you enjoyed in the past.

If you are a large, sprawling event, think about if that is a good strategy for your event going forward. Ask yourself, “is the size of my soccer tournament event the reason teams apply?” It well may be, in that case, you will need to market to the reality of a smaller event next year, with the promise of a larger one as we move past this pandemic.

Think local
Many teams will be restricting travel for next year, maybe even the year after. Because the United States does not have a consistent pandemic response for every state, each state has developed their own rules, some backed by laws and executive orders, others by the US Soccer associations sanctioning policies and most with the combination of all of the above. Because it is confusing for teams, many clubs are simply mandating their teams play in local events through next year.

If you were always a soccer tournament event for local teams, you have an advantage. You know how to do this and you should be leveraging hard. You also have a problem with other tournaments who may have relied on out-of-state teams now marketing to local teams. Get in there first; don’t assume local teams are loyal. Again, teams have short memories and some don’t remember you.

Our advice:
This coronavirus pandemic has turned the soccer world on its head, most affecting the viability of your soccer tournament event. Training has begun, league play will follow if it hasn’t already but tournament events will be the last soccer format to get up and running, taking several years to become robust again. If you relied on your tournament to raise much-needed funds for your club, you need to get tournaments healthy again.

Hire a marketing firm to assess your event, position you within the tournament and soccer space and execute your marketing strategy well, including developing out your social media, other traditional media and email marketing. Now is not the time to bargain-hunt; you need someone who understands the soccer tournament landscape and has a proven marketing record.

Make sure your website is current and spot on updated with everything. No marketing program is going to work if you are not operationally ready and buttoned up. Make sure you are ready to take applications for your soccer tournament and have a clear cancellation policy in place. This year came up fast and took everyone by surprise; next year can be planned. A lack of a clear direction for next year will be read by teams as a disorganized event they will avoid. Don’t give them a reason to pass you up.

That’s pretty much it. Think first-year, think smaller, think local.

And wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance and stay safe so we can all get through this together. We’d hate to lose even one soccer player, their fans and supporters to this pandemic.

Originally published at on October 14, 2020.

What is the wheelbase of a cat?

Sarah Wilson-Blackwell wrote a book about SEO titled, “Heavy Traffic, Drive Organic Traffic to your Website with SEO Content Writing,” and it is as funny as it is informative.

Sarah Wilson-Blackwell’s book, Heavy Traffic, Drive Organic Traffic to your Website with SEO Content Writing, is as funny as it is informative. She delivers what promises to be a dry, boring, mundane, pedantic subject in a delightfully light, deadpan cadence.

Her irreverent, snarky tone is a delight with every turn of the page, leading the reader further down the rabbit hole of her brain.

If her goal was to merely sell a book, she would have already succeeded. Once the reader has turned the first page, however, she has further succeeded in dragging them into a world she views a little off-kilter from the obvious and into the subtle shadows the light creates. There is no option for the reader to escape other than to power through to the end.

The reward is a curiosity, not simply about SEO, but about the connection of disparate things. You will emerge with odd questions you need to know the answer to, like the wheelbase of a cat.

I googled “what is the wheelbase of a cat” and oddly, I got no results. There are other things people measure on their cat, like neck size, chest girth, etc, but in the entirety of the existence of the human race, it appears nobody has ever measured the wheelbase of a cat.

And the SEO keyword “wheelbase of a cat” has not been indexed in Google.

Until now.

Buy her book. Keep the curiosity about your world alive.

HEAVY TRAFFIC: Drive organic traffic to your website with SEO content writing

*The hed graphic was borrowed from the free worksheet on They said it was free, so I hope that means I can feature their artwork to illustrate this story. Show them some love and go there to begin your scientific experiment on compiling a dataset on the wheelbase of every breed of cat. I take no responsibility for any injury you may sustain measuring cats.


This is getting more and more curious.

What is a digital hobo?

This moniker has been on my LinkedIn profile for several years. It started off as a joke, but then the whole world started crying about it. I feel I need to explain what I mean.

“Introduce me as a “digital hobo!” I quipped, seconds before my speaker handler got up to introduce me to a room with over a hundred people.

It all started as a joke about a dozen years ago when I was roped into doing a workshop on websites vs blogging, SEO, digital marketing, creating memes, learning to code, integrating social media … basically anything that was not print design or marketing.

Whatever the hell that meant. But I can see how most people need to divide stuff into “digital” and “not-digital” based on the observable tools used and the medium on which the resultant work lies. For me, it’s not always that simple.

Before I can move this story forward, I need to back up about ninety years.

What a hobo is and ain’t

Soon after the crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression in America and other places around the world, we saw a displacement of skilled and educated workers, workers who saw their employment stability implode overnight. The skills these folks had were wide and varied, some only armed with the gift of gab — marketing folks, if there is a modern-day equivalent. They took themselves on the road to peddle their labor where they could, many picking up new skills along the way with every new “gig contract.” A lot of hobos learned how to make art and music from other hobos in the down and between times.

Pop culture confuses a hobo for a bum or a tramp, but nothing could be further from the truth. While the three share similar social traits, i.e., no permanent home, employment, etc, the hobo lives by an ethical code and continues to seek work, whereas a tramp only works when forced and a bum has no desire or ability to work.

Because of their circumstances, hobos filled in the work nobody else with a job would do because it was too difficult, dangerous or mainly, the tasks were too small and varied to fit neatly into a job description. There may have been no precedent for how to do the work, so it needed to be figured out and adapted as the job progressed. Regular employees, who were paid by the hour, were not likely the best choice of labor for these jobs. Moreover, there was a depression going on; work was plentiful and labor was cheap. The hobo system was the original Task Rabbit without the app.

As you can imagine, the local law didn’t want large groups of underemployed, skilled and learned men jungling together for too long in the same place. Bums and tramps they could handle, but smarter skilled men in the same place for too long creates opposition to power. So they would routinely clear out any “jungles” and the hobos would have to keep moving, mostly along railroad routes. Today, hobos move in vans along the highway systems.

Two additional entries into the hobo code

The Hobo Code of Ethics is pretty complete for the 1890s and still stands today as a roadmap for life and a career. After all, technology changes but people don’t.

  • Find the work nobody else sees and develop an automated digital solution for it.
  • Never stay in one place too long. Your work will become unappreciated and your salary will be resented.

Who does that?

A friend of mine blurted this out in frustration during a call once. He was trying to find someone to nip and tuck some CSS into behaving on his website. But every developer he called wanted to sit down with him, assess his business strategy, develop a 17-point plan …. OR on the extreme end, he could find coders overseas on the gig websites to do exactly what he wanted, but he needed to be specific. He was not a “be specific” type of person.

He needed a hobo. For his digital work. A digital hobo. Someone who could listen to him fully, figure out what he really wanted and just handle it.

So, now you know.

The throwaway men

Don’t ever pet the lions at the zoo.

Photo Dušan Smetan via Unsplash

“What do middle-aged men do after their kids have grown up?” she asked me bluntly.

“Mostly keep busy, waiting to die,” I quipped as I searched her crystal blue eyes set in the smooth, twenty-something face, not brave enough to ask why she wanted to know.

Perhaps she was genuinely curious, like how people watch lions in captivity, wondering how they endure the long days with little to do except pace from one end to the other of their cage, waiting for their next meal to be delivered by a zookeeper.

Perhaps she was flirting with me.

Regardless, the glass wall between us was going to stay where it was. Nobody is brave enough to pet the lions in the zoo and the lions aren’t stupid enough to seek contact. Look, don’t touch.

Don’t ever pet the lions at the zoo.

I’m writing letters again

July 26, 2020 — Hello, Joe, my letter of introduction

Dear Joe Biden,

It is now 100 days out from the election in November and I’d like a word or two about health care in America. As is laid bare by the current coronavirus pandemic, the American medical system was — and remains — disastrously unprepared to handle the crisis. While I applaud you and Barack Obama for the gains you made in creating the Affordable Care Act in 2010, it is clear that the system set up to control the bleeding is no longer enough to provide for the chronic medical needs of America, especially now that 5.4 million more Americans have been booted from their employer’s health care plans since March of this year.

By way of introduction, my name is Gerard McLean and I reside in Ohio’s 10th District at XXX Bxxxxxxxx Drive in Englewood 45322, a smallish city a mere ten miles north of Dayton.

In 2016, I wrote 100 daily letters to your predecessor, Hillary Clinton. You can find copies of my letters here as well as bundled in a book, available on Amazon. For your convenience, I am sending a copy of the book to your Deputy Campaign Manager, Rufus Gifford, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting in Dayton when he was helping canvas for Richard Cordray in October of 2018. I’ll not go into other details of how Rufus and I both know each other, but I’m certain he would be delighted to share with you should you ask him.

Joe, I know that the chances of reaching you on this subject and changing your mind on #MedicareForAll are slim to none. But so too, were the chances of you and Barack passing the ACA into law. Even slimmer were the chances of creating a firewall against the onslaught of Republican lawsuits challenging the law.

Still, you persisted. Allow me to try as well.

Two of the greatest skills I’ve learned as I aged are patience and tenacity. I have both in abundance. So, in short, buckle up, Joe — I intend to use every ounce of both to persuade you that #MedicareForAll #SinglePayer (#Americare … hold onto that for now) is the only direction we should be pursuing as a nation.

100 days to go. 100 letters to write.

Your friend,