Back in Utah

So! It’s been a while since I updated this blog, and there’s actually a good reason for it. I quit my day job in Iowa a couple of weeks ago and just moved back to Provo. In other words, I made the pioneer trek in the wrong direction and repented.

Driving across Wyoming, I got a small sense of what my pioneer ancestors must have felt as they made the trek to Utah. Compared to Iowa and eastern Nebraska, Wyoming is a lonely, windswept wasteland. It’s not quite as empty as Nevada, but wow, is it a forlorn place. Beautiful, but lonely.

After passing through Evanston, route 80 descends from an attitude of about 7,000 feet into the mountain valley’s of northern Utah. I have to say, the stretch between Evanston and Park City is gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. From there, I came down the eastern side of the Wasatch mountains through Heber and Provo canyon, which is also gorgeous this time of year. Fall foliage, with just a little bit of snow on the highest peaks.

It’s good to be back. I’m renting a room from my friend and cowriter Scott Bascom, who is letting me pay him back in labor to clean and improve his house. He went through a series of major life crises in the last couple of years, and a back injury prevents him from getting the house back in shape. That’s where I come in. It’s a suitable arrangement for both of us and I think it will work out quite well, especially once we get a virtuous cycle going with our writing.

That’s my going to be my focus for the next several months: writing. I have a very aggressively release schedule for the first half of 2018, and a much better business foundation after taking a small business class in Iowa. I also saved up enough money from the old day job that I can afford to focus exclusively on writing and publishing for the next several months. So that’s the plan.

In 2014, I had my first 4-figure month and thought I was doing well enough to go full time in the near future. But looking back, I can see that I didn’t have the foundation set up to sustain a profitable business. The market shifted, the things I was doing to sell suddenly didn’t work anymore, and I made some stupid mistakes that drastically hurt my business. But I learned a lot from all that, and now I’m coming back with a much better foundation, a detailed plan for how to build on it, and enough experience to know how and when to abandon that plan as circumstances change.

Lots of stuff to talk about on that end, but I’ll leave it there for now. One thing you can definitely expect, though, is for the Sons of the Starfarers series to be complete before the end 2018–hopefully before the summer. Also, Gunslinger to the Galaxy should be out next year as well. And if you’re a fan of print books, I hope to put out a paperback of every book that I’ve written in the not so distant future. Audiobooks too, in the long run.

So if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for my email newsletter, since that’s the best way to stay abreast of my new releases. I’m not always as good at posting about them here as I should be. Also, now that the big move back to Utah is complete, expect to see more on this blog.

So long, and thanks for reading!

The thousand year view

How will your life impact the world in a thousand years?

It’s an easy question to dismiss. After all, how can one person possibly shape the course of history? Even if we accept the impact of certain great men, how can we have the hubris to think that we might one day join them?

But the truth is that our lives have more impact than we realize. Each one of us is literally a product of our ancestors. Their decisions, for good or for evil, have put us where we are today. We also have a hand in shaping the people we come into contact with. That impact can be felt through multiple degrees of separation—and how many degrees does it take to encompass the world?

In the year 1017, Europe was rising out of the ashes of the Viking age. Kievan Rus was ascendant in the east, vying with the Romans who dominated the religion and commerce of Europe (we know them today as the Byzantines). However, tensions were rising between Constantinople and the bishopric of Rome, where one of the last vestiges of the Roman state in the West would soon break communion and form the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, an apocalyptic Muslim death cult known as the Fatimids had swept from North Africa all the way to Baghdad, the cultural and scientific capital of the world. From the harsh steppe wilderness of central asia, the Seljuk Turks were building an empire that would save Baghdad from destruction, while in China, the Song dynasty had invented the first paper currency.

In short, it was a completely different world. How different will things look a thousand years from now?

By the year 3017, we will probably have established an independent colony on Mars. Other parts of the solar system will probably also be colonized, and we may have even begun our expansion to the stars. After all, faster than light starship drives are about as fantastic to us as cars, airplanes, and space stations would be for medieval serfs.

It is highly unlikely that the United States—or any other country, for that matter—will exist with its current borders. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that the majority of countries extant today will even exist at all. China is probably an exception, but let’s not forget that China is a civilization pretending to be a country.

Pessimists will say that there’s a good chance humanity won’t exist at all. They point to things like climate change, pandemics, and global war as challenges we may not overcome. But in the last millennium, we faced all those challenges and rose above them (little ice age, Mongol hordes, black plague). Same with the millennium before (extreme weather and crop failures of 535-536, Muslim conquests, plague of Justinian).

So how will your life impact the world a thousand years from now? What sort of impact do you want your life to have? How have the things you’ve done today brought you closer to leaving that legacy?

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past few weeks. I want to impact the world through my books, but it’s unlikely that most of my books will still exist. My family and descendants will, though. I want to leave them with the best foundation I can. Here’s how I plan to do it:

Step One: Master the Basics of Provident Living

Provident living is more than just learning how to do your laundry and keep up with the maintenance of your car. It’s learning how to live sustainably, with a degree of self-reliance that can see you and the ones you love through hard times. It’s all the stuff I’ve been writing about in the Self-Sufficient Writer blog series.

I’ve made a lot of progress in this area, but there’s still a lot of progress left to make. Here are the next few steps I want to take in this area:

  1. Establish a rotating 90-day food storage for dry goods.
  2. Establish a herb garden.
  3. Expand food storage to canned goods.
  4. Buy a chest freezer and expand to meats and dairy.
  5. Plant a garden and expand to fresh fruits and vegetables.
  6. Learn how to can.
  7. Learn how to hunt.
  8. Begin keeping livestock (chickens, goats, etc).

A lot of these steps are going to have to wait until I have my own land, which brings us to:

Step Two: Live Debt-Free and Own the Place Where You Live

When you live on someone else’s land and owe them a portion of your labor, that’s a form of serfdom. In both historic and modern times, this has been the norm for the vast majority of people.

It shouldn’t be.

When my ancestors came from Europe to the United States, one of the first things they did was buy land. There was a reason for this. In the old country, they were serfs. They paid the corvée. They were not free.

They knew that unless they lived on land that they owned, in a home that was theirs, their children would not be free either.

We’ve enjoyed a century of prosperity in the United States. It’s led us to believe that home loans and mortgage payments are normal. They aren’t. When your home is the collateral for a loan you’ve taken from the bank, and you spend most of your adult life paying it back to the tune of 250%, that is a modern form of serfdom.

Until you own it outright, your house is a liability, not an asset. And in some places, true ownership is impossible. After all, if the government has the power to seize your house for non-payment of taxes, did you really ever “own” it to begin with?

It’s a similar thing with debt. All debt is a form of bondage. “Leverage” is when someone else has control over you or something that belongs to you. Unless you can get out from under it, you will never truly be free.

If most of your life is spent in serfdom and bondage, the thousand-year impact of your life will be muted.

The Habsburg dynasty started with a small castle on the top of a hill. From that starting point, the family went on to shape the development of Europe into the modern world. The castle was so important in that effort that the family took their name from it.

I know how to live debt-free. I’ve been doing it for several years. But I do not currently live in a place that I own. That is my overriding goal: to own the place where I live within ten years.

The government isn’t making it easy. Neither are the central banks. A decade of 0% interest rates has ravaged the middle class. As a direct consequence, home ownership rates are dropping to historic lows. 70% of Millennials have less than $1,000 saved for a down payment on a house, while at the same time, the helicopter money from the Fed has inflated a new housing bubble larger than the one that burst in ’08. In California, Google employees with six-figure incomes are living out of RVs because they can’t afford to buy a house.

It’s brutal. These are the same economic pressures that led to the rise of medieval serfdom in Europe. But there are also opportunities, for those who know how to take advantage of them. Which leads to:

Step Three: Build Multi-Generational Wealth

Poor people buy luxuries. Middle class people buy necessities. Rich people buy investments. If I want to leave something behind for my children and descendants, I need to master the skills of investing and managing wealth.

This goes back to the thousand-year view. The biggest impact I’m probably going to make on the world is going to be through my children and descendants. Raising them will be the most important investment I can ever make. I want to give them a life of opportunity, so that they, like me, can make a thousand-year impact on the world.

This is what my ancestors did for me. My Mormon ancestors crossed the plains in the Willie handcart company so that their descendants could grow up in Zion. My first-generation immigrant Czech ancestors invested in Texas farmland that still pays a small dividend to their descendants (greatly increased now because of oil royalties). There are many other countless others who made great sacrifices so that I could enjoy a life of privilege and opportunity. I’m sure that’s not unique to me.

We seem to have forgotten, here in the United States, how important it is to make sure that our children enjoy better lives than we have. To some generations much is given, while of others much is required. I fear that we are transitioning from the former to the latter. Nations are born stoic and die epicurean, surrounded by mountains of debt.

This is why it is so important to build wealth: not for your own personal consumption, but for the security of your children and descendants.

The most important investment you can make is in your education. If I’m going to develop these skills, that’s what I need to do: invest in my own financial education.

I also need to learn by experience, so I’m taking $100 of my book earnings each month and investing them. I’ll probably experience a couple of big losses, but that’s called paying tuition. The knowledge I gain from doing this will hopefully help to accomplish this goal: to build wealth that will bless the lives of my children and descendants for generations to come.

A lot of things fall into perspective when you take the thousand-year view. When you focus on the challenges of the present, it’s easy to become pessimistic, but when you take a clear-eyed look at the future—not just the immediate future, but the long-term future as well—you cannot help but take an optimistic view.

How will your life impact the world in a thousand years?

3am thoughts, or why everyone says to be an accountant (Blast from the Past: October 2013)

A lot of my blog posts this week had to do with money, wealth, and politics, so when I was searching for an old post to bring back, this one made me stop and reflect for a while.

My opinions and perspective have changed a bit since I wrote it, but the fundamental message is still one that I agree with. I’ve trimmed out some of the parts where I think I was wrong, and left the stuff that still resonates. Hopefully it resonates with you as well. Either way, feel free to let me know.


I’ve been reading in bed on my smart phone recently, which is probably a bad idea because it makes it harder to go asleep. At the same time, it tends to get my mind rolling, and at 3am my thoughts tend to go some really interesting places. Sharing those thoughts is probably going to get me into trouble, but hey, you might find them interesting, so why not?

When I was eight years old, I knew I was going to be a writer.  There was never any question about that. I spent all my free time making up stories.  However, I knew I never wanted writing to be my job, because 1) everyone hates their jobs, and 2) everyone knows that writers can’t make a decent living. Even at eight years old, I had bought into some of society’s most pervasive myths about jobs, careers, and how to make money.

Americans are generally horrible with money. We struggle to keep budgets and put all sorts of things on credit, and pay more than twice what our houses are worth by signing mortgages we barely even read. Because we’re so horrible with money, we tend to see it as a magical force, something that can solve all our problems and make us happy. Rich people are like wizards or sorcerers, so far above the rest of us that we can hardly fathom their ways.

Nowhere is this stupidity more apparent than in the fact that most of us spend our lives working for some sort of hourly or salaried wage. Wages and salaries are basically the same, in that they convert time into money. That’s why we all measure income in terms of dollars per hour, or salary per year.  But for anyone who understands how money works, that is stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. Money comes and goes, but time? Time is one of the most finite and precious resources known to man.

All of us are going to die someday. Most people are scared shitless by that fact, so we try to ignore it or put off thinking about it until we have to. But not all of us get the opportunity to put our affairs in order before we die. And even if we do all live to be centenarians, our time on this Earth is still finite. It’s non-renewable, too—you can’t go back and relive that day or that hour or that minute once it’s passed.

Converting time into money is basically trading gold for lead, or wine for water. Yet that’s exactly what we do, because money is this strange, magical force that so few of us understand.

Questions like “where do you work?” “what is your job?” and “what do you make?” are much more common than “what do you do for a living?” That’s because most of us have bought into this idea that money comes from working for someone else. While we’re on the clock, the company owns us and anything we produce. That’s the pact we make in exchange for this magical substance we call money.

It wasn’t until college that I started to become disabused of my childhood notions about writing for a living. First, I came to realize that lots of people love their work—that just because you do something as a job doesn’t mean that you’ll come to hate it. But it wasn’t until I graduated unemployed in the middle of a recession that I was disabused of the notion that writers can’t make a living.

People say that about every career—that is, every career except accounting. That’s because accountants are the ones who count the magical money. They’re the ones who know where it comes from. Their jobs are the ones that the people with the magical money will always need.

But there are other ways to make money—thousands of ways. Millions, even. It’s not about time it’s about producing something that people want and need. But when you’re working for yourself, that’s hard. You have to own up to your work—the failures as well as the successes.

When you work for a corporation, it’s easy to shift the blame. It’s a rare case where one person is solely responsible for bringing down the whole collective enterprise. But when you work for yourself, you can’t blame anyone else when things go wrong. You’ve got to take the risk.

That’s why everyone says that you can’t make a living as a writer. They say the same thing about any career where you strike out on your own.

In the end, though, it’s all just silly. Money isn’t a vague magical force—it comes from the value you create. It comes from producing something that people are willing to pay you for. And you don’t need to sell your time at $11 an hour or $44,000 a year to do that. You just need hard work, a great idea, and the ability to learn from your mistakes.

So can you make a living pursuing your dreams? The answer to that question depends entirely on you.

Happiness is always a choice, take 2

CGP Grey made an awesome video last week, which should come as a surprise to nobody, but this one is exceptional even by CGP Grey’s standards. In it, he borrows some of Doctor Randy J. Paterson’s work in How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use and gives us a seven step program on how to be miserable. Those steps are:

  1. Stay still.
  2. Screw with your sleep.
  3. Maximize your screen time.
  4. Use your screen to stoke your negative emotions.
  5. Set vapid goals.
  6. Pursue happiness directly.
  7. Follow your instincts.

Since this basically describes 80% of people on the internet at any given time, it comes as no surprise that the video soon went mega-viral.

Generally, I think most of CGP Grey’s anti-advice is spot on. However, there is one part that I disagree with rather strongly. It’s the part where he says:

True happiness is like a bird that might land on your ship, but never if you constantly stand guard to catch him. Instead, improve your ship and sail into warmer waters. The bird will land when you aren’t looking.

Happiness is not a bird that comes and goes as it pleases, without any input from you. Instead, it is a decision you make on how you will respond to things outside of your control.

In other words, happiness is always a choice.

A while ago, I wrote a blog post on the subject. In it, I said:

There are only two classes of things in this world: things that act, and things that are acted upon. Empowerment is when you give somebody the ability to act for themselves, independent of outside forces. Disempowerment is when you take that ability away.

There is nothing more empowering than to realize that no matter where you are in life—no matter how shitty your circumstances—you can always still choose to be happy.

Happiness is a feeling that only exists inside of you. It is not something external that is forced or bestowed upon you by outside forces. It is wholly internal to your heart and mind. It is a reaction to outside forces—a reaction that you choose to make.

If happiness is not a choice—if it is something over which we have no control—then we cannot have any control over any of our feelings. Our passions are external forces that act upon us, and we are powerless to stop them because our emotional development ended at age two.

Is there anything empowering or liberating about this philosophy? No. Quite the opposite. It debases mankind and makes us no better than the animals. It destroys our agency and makes us slaves to our passions.

Happiness is always a choice.

That said, I do think there’s some truth to CGP Grey’s bird analogy as well. Happiness is not like a bird, but joy, or enduring happiness, is.

Joy is a deeper form of happiness that comes as a result of hard work and accomplishment. We can’t decide to have joy without first putting in the effort. And even when we do put in the effort, there’s no guarantee that joy will be the result. There may be pain, or failure, or even tragedy.

But even as we seek to do the things that will bring us joy, we can choose to be happy along the way. Indeed, we must. If we don’t, we risk losing the hope that enables and empowers us to keep striving. Choosing to be happy, no matter the circumstances, is the first step toward finding joy.

However, it’s important to point out that this is not a cure for depression or mental illness, which are medical conditions and must be treated as such. Choosing to be happy will not cure your mental illness any more than smiling will cure diabetes.

So, perhaps not a major disagreement, but definitely a legitimate quibble. What are your thoughts?

An open letter to my 2008 self

Dear Joe,

This is yourself from the future. I know, that sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s true. Pay attention, because there are things I need to tell you. This is not to replace the life lessons that you’ll soon be learning, but to help you learn them faster so you can move on to the important stuff.

Right now, your college career is in full swing. You’re writing a lot of books on the side, and that’s great—keep it up. You will find a lot of success in your goal to be a professional writer. You’re also studying Arabic and Political Science with vague ideas of having some sort of an impact on the world. That’s fine, but unless you make those goals more specific and focused, you’re not going to accomplish anything by them. And before you try to change the world, you first need to take the time to understand it.

At this very moment, the world is transforming right before your eyes in ways that will cause you to look back and wonder. The financial collapse and housing bubble have thrown the global economy into chaos, and the resulting fallout will have a greater impact on your life than 9/11 or any other event. Up until now, you’ve focused on the Middle East, but the place you should be looking to is Europe. Why? Let’s just say there is a reason why every world war has had its origins in the European penninsula. Study the continent. Spend some time there. Learn a couple of languages, and pay attention to current events. Always be aware that you live in interesting times.

Your political affiliation on Facebook is “agnostic,” which you think is really funny. Frankly, that’s bullshit. Good and evil have political dimensions, and you aren’t doing anyone any favors by sitting on the fence. Pick a side, and choose it well. But always have the strength and integrity to admit it when you were wrong.

You’re proud of the fact that you never voted for George W. Bush. In the future, though, you’re going to regret your vote for Obama more than you ever would have regretted a vote for Bush. Obama will break every campaign promise he ever made, except to get us out of Iraq, and that will be the biggest mistake of his presidency (yes, the Iraq War was a mistake, but trust me, Obama will make it unimaginably worse). However, you will never regret your vote for Romney in 2001.

One of the most important lessons you will ever learn is that there are two kinds of people in this world: makers and takers. The makers believe in expanding the pie by creating wealth and value for everyone. In contrast, the takers believe that everyone should get “their fair share.” Somehow, this always ends up with the takers being the ones to cut the pie, with them getting the biggest slice. Don’t be a taker. Be a maker.

Enough about politics. Let’s move on to personal advice.

Don’t be afraid to change your major. Don’t put off doing an internship. Those will be the biggest regrets of your college career. Even so, there is nothing you do in college that you will deeply regret, so don’t worry about it too much. Continue to take full advantage of your time there.

At the same time, don’t worry too much about grad school. Your real education won’t begin until after you leave academia. Book learning is good, but it’s no substitute for real-world experience. Learn how to master your own personal finances. Never be ashamed to work an honest job, no matter what that job may be.

Contrary to what you currently believe, marketing and sales are not evil (though human resources certainly is). The only reason you think they’re evil is because they rule the world, and from your sheltered academic perspective you can’t see the good that capitalism creates. Embrace marketing. Learn how to properly sell yourself. You don’t have to be dishonest to be a good salesman.

People who self-publish are not as crazy as you think they are. The publishing industry is about to be turned on its head, and that is going to create a lot of opportunities for you. Keep your eyes open, but be aware that the best and worst publishing advice you will ever hear will come from the same source. Also, Miss Snark is full of shit.

Finally, don’t worry too much about dating or getting married. Definitely put yourself out there, but spend less time obsessing about it and more time having fun. Contrary to what you may think, there are actually attractive women out there who will be attracted to you. Keep an open mind, grow out your beard, and you’ll find them (if they don’t find you first!).

That pretty much sums it up. Always be happy, but never be content.

Your 2015 self.

P.S: If you want to lose weight, lift weights. Running and hiking just don’t cut it for your body type.