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Book Journeys Author Interview – March 7, 2013

Dr. Angela Lauria with J. Michael Curtis, author of Try It This Way: An Ordinary Guy’s Guide to Extraordinary Happiness

 

“They may agree, they may not agree, but I was pretty sure I could write something that people would find interesting.” ~J. Michael Curtis

 

Angela:

Michael? Michael?

 

Michael:

Yes, hello!

 

Angela:

Hey! This is Angela. I’m so sorry, we’re getting started late. We had some technical challenges.

 

Michael:

Okay. That’s okay, we’re here now.

 

Angela:

Perfect. Well, welcome to Book Journeys Radio, and every week on Book Journeys Radio, we talk to an author about their journey of becoming an author. I am Angela Lauria, I am the creator of the Author Incubator. I work with authors in transformation; authors who want to make a difference with their book, wanna make a difference in the world, and are kind of in the process of making that happen.

 

I know—we are talking today with J. Michael Curtis, that’s CURTIS, and– you go by Michael, right?

 

Michael:

I go by either Michael or Mike. Either way is fine.

 

Angela:

Okay, great. Mike is the author of Try It This Way: An Ordinary Guy’s Guide to Extraordinary Happiness. That’s not even your only book, right? You have other books? (Michael: No, that’s my first book.) That’s the first book. Terrific. So why don’t you tell us about Try It This Way, and about your journey to write the book?

 

Michael:

Sure. Okay, well, I got the idea from my daughter-in-law, basically, when we were having dinner two years ago this time of year, I guess, and she just said, you should write a book. She said that, you know,  the implication and– you had to be there to know the context, but the implication was that I had a lot of opinions on things. [chuckles]

 

That’s what my book is: It’s a concise collection of personal opinions on all kinds of things. Really very, seemingly very practical things, and all the way to fairly serious, metaphysical things. It’s just a collection of things I’ve learned and thought about over the years, I guess, so the book is, I think, unique in a few ways in that, one, is just the style in which it was written, and two, is the sort of breadth of subject matter that it takes someone.

 

I tried so hard to reach an economical writing style that was approachable. First of all, I’m not a learned academic, and that’s on purpose; I wanted to demonstrate that I think an ordinary person can think about important things, and have reasonable conclusions.

 

I’ve tried my best to write the book in such a way that although the words are limited—it’s not a really fat book, it’s two hundred and some pages– just of everything I have an opinion on is in that book somewhere.  I try to get my ideas across in what appears to be in a very simple form, but I think when you look at the book, and think about things I’ve said, you’ll wonder about things, and that’s what my intent is.

 

I’ve had a fair bit of positive feedback from the public, and people I hadn’t heard of from years calling me up from halfway across the continent and so forth to say that they’ve grabbed my book. I find that very gratifying.

 

Angela:

What are some of the topics that you cover in your book?

 

Michael:

The book is broken up into three parts, and that’s on purpose. The first part is a bunch of fairly practical things that starts out with how to take care of your motor vehicle, and that’s meant to be a little bit metaphorical, because I think in general, if you take care of your things in your life, it’ll have good consequences for you all through it.

 

That first part also has a bit about camping, and enjoying the outdoors, and respecting the environment, and a bit about social etiquette and so forth. It moves into part two, which is all the more serious, sort of philosophical topics about mastering your inner world, and learning how to have better interpersonal relationships with others, and how to get along and respect your spouse, how to succeed in the workplace. A whole host of important topics like that.

 

The final part is just a collection of miscellanea that didn’t quite make it into the–either of the early two parts, but I thought kind of, tied things up.

 

Angela:

Before your daughter in law had suggested you write a book, was it something that you had thought about before?

 

Michael:

[Chuckles] Not really, no. I mean, I did a lot of writing in my professional life when I was working; I was recently retired. I’ve always been fairly good at it, I guess, and found it came easy to me, but I hadn’t thought of writing a book until she said that, and then, it just kind of clicked. There was a button that went off, and by the next morning, I was already thinking about an outline, and what sort of topics I could cover.

 

The book pretty much came out like I thought it would. It didn’t veer off in any kind of obscure direction as I was working on it. The whole thing didn’t really take all that long; it was about six months of effort, I guess–

 

Angela:

When you got the idea, until you finished writing that, you know, your manuscript, not including some of the publishing and publicity aspects, but, just to finish writing it, how long did that take you, and what was your writing style like? Did you write every day, or how did you actually get the writing done?

 

Michael:

I started on it in the Spring of 2011, and finished a year later in the Spring of 2012. But I took the summer off, just because we live up north and the weather is…it’s beautiful up here in the summer, but it comes and goes pretty quickly, and I found myself—I wasn’t enjoying it. It was being torn between being outside and sitting and writing.

 

That actually worked out well. I started back in it again September or October, and I’d finished the first part by then, and I dedicated the three winter months, the first three months of 2012 to writing the rest of the book, and tackling all the difficult parts.

 

Yes, I wrote just about every day. I developed a routine that—a creative routine that worked really well. Is that what you want to hear about?

 

Angela:

Yeah, so tell us about your routines; I think that’s something people struggle to find.

 

Michael:

Okay, well, it may work for others, it worked for me. I didn’t intend it to evolve this way, but it kinda just fell into place and then I realized, it was the same routine I used for when I was composing my website for my business.

 

That involves walking outside, and what I found was, I got my best creative ideas– let’s say if I wanted to illustrate a complex or sophisticated principle with some sort of   illustration or example from real life or whatever, I would get those ideas while I was out walking with my dog. So I took my dog; she needs exercise, she’s a big dog. We’d go out into the country, say in the middle of the afternoon, and I’d find that I’d just be walking along with her outside, and I’d have, “Oh, here’s a great illustration.” Might be the section I was working on, or it might be a different section. I think ”Well, I could write this about that, and there’s a great idea or whatever. “

 

So I, by the time we got back home, then I would write all that stuff down, in a dedicated way, sort of as quickly as I could. Sort of knock off for the day around five or six o’clock.

 

Mostly I took the evenings off, but then the next morning, I would look at what I have written the day before, and polish it. Maybe I’d think of additional illustrations, or I’d think “well, that was a bit awkward,” and I’d rewrite it, and kept that into good form. Before I knew it, it was time to go out for another dog walk. And then there would be new material…

 

Angela:

So it was almost a full-time job for you when you were doing it. It’s just like a daily ritual.

 

Michael:

Yeah. It was a daily ritual, and it was a full time job. I took the months of January, February, March off from other distractions, so that I could finish the book. I found that if I worked at it like that, it never felt like a difficult labor. I mean, I was writing on topics that I found intensely interesting, and that I wanted to share with others. It wasn’t like it was drudgery, it was enjoyable.

Angela:

What was your “why”? Why did you…’cause this is a big commitment to make, and obviously, you’re a guy with lots of interests and passions. You could’ve been using that time lots of different ways.What was it about this project that made you focused for so long and so clearly?

 

Michael:

Well, Angela, I don’t know if I’ll say anything that you wouldn’t have heard from any other author. I mean, there would be two or three reasons. One of them would be, well, I thought I had something to say. I mean, I have a sort of hubris to think, well, I might have something to say, maybe somebody would find it interesting. They may agree, they may not agree, but I was pretty sure I could write something that people would find interesting, so there was that.

 

The other part was, I knew that it would be a test of whether or not my thinking was clear. I know that you’re an academic person with academic credentials, so I think you’ll understand what I mean. If you think you understand something, try to teach it to somebody else is one, or two, try to write it down. If you can’t write it down, then don’t make any excuses. The reason you can’t write it down is because you don’t understand what you think you do.  (Angela: Do you like the challenge of it?) Well, I did, and it was a great period of personal growth and enlightenment for me. I mean, I don’t wanna sound too corny about it, but those three months of that winter, while I was doing this business of clarifying and thinking on all of these important—these are fairly important topics.

If I found I thought I understood something, or thought I had an opinion I could substantiate, and then I found I had difficulty writing it, then I’d think I had to reflect then. So what do you really think? What do you really feel about this?

 

What I learned was, you know, about previous experiences I’ve had in my life that caused me to form these opinions and preferences, and so, I don’t regret It for a minute. It was fun.

Angela:

Were there times where you got stuck? Where you had to abandon a topic that you thought you had to write about, or you even had to face writer’s block?

 

Michael:

Sort of, but not really. What I found was that, say, if I was working on one section. Of course you’re gonna have days where you have nothing to say, so I described that process to you. It was pretty much like that every day, but there’d be some times I’d, you know, I’d just couldn’t make it happen. Mainly what happened was, I had so many different topics in the book that I could go back to something I’d written a month ago, or I could just switch topics, ‘cause I knew that there was an awful lot in there that I wanted to keep organized.

 

You know I work from an outline that I’d created myself. Basically I knew where I was gonna be filling in the blanks. If I got stuck in one topic, I’d find if I  was out walking my dog, I’d just start thinking about a different topic, and I’d just go write a different section of the book.

 

I love that period of focus and creativity; it made me feel ten years younger.

 

Angela:

Wow. That’s a great endorsement of the process for sure.

 

Now the book is written, it was published in, I think September. About six months ago, right? (Michael: That’s right, last September, yeah. ) What have you learned in the last six months that you wished you knew before you wrote your book?

 

Michael:

[Chuckles] Good question.

 

A couple of times I thought, well, this would’ve fit into the book.  I haven’t thought of a whole topic as much as I’d thought of illustrations that I could’ve used, or a witty-sounding sentence that I could’ve used here or there, but mainly this time has been spent with promoting and publicizing the book.

 

I guess, here, this is gonna sound like any author—well, at least rookie author like me. Rookie, uh—I didn’t realize how much time it was gonna take. I enjoyed the creative process, and didn’t enjoy much the production phase that was a lot of drudgery and proofreading and all that stuff.

 

Once the book was actually published, I thought, okay, before—I had plans for a second book that was less broad but more deep on a topic which I kinda hinted at, in the book ,  What I found was I kept getting distracted by– well, I mean, don’t take this the wrong way but, things like we’re doing right now, where I might have interviews to prepare for, or I’d be talking with my publicist about this or that, and we’re doing some follow-up writing; people ask me to write pieces and bits around Christmastime, for publication that had to do with the subject matter when they found  I’d be an interesting author.

 

I haven’t done any work on the second book other than write a little ____line, and I’m waiting until I get that fever again, I guess.

 

Sorry, go ahead?

 

Angela:

Did you have plans to publicize the book? Did you think the process of being an author would include the marketing aspects, or were you really focused on writing?

 

Michael:

I knew that in a kind of an intellectual way; I just didn’t realize how much attention it was gonna take from me. I mean, if I was gonna take it seriously, then I had to do a good job of it. Since I put a lot of effort into writing the book and trying to make it as good as I could,

 

I—I figured, well, then I have to do this part seriously too.

 

I went the road of publishing with AuthorHouse because I didn’t want to spend two years groveling in front of publishers to publish them the traditional way, where they just buy the rights out, and then they make all the decisions from there.

 

I decided to go the way I went because I had no interest in presenting my work for people to criticize, to accept, to reject because I knew it was good. I also knew how impossible it would be for an unknown author from Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada to approach Simon and Schuster in New York and suggest they publish my book.

 

Going the way that I did with the self-publishing, and I went with the big, established company, I bought a package which included publicity. I bought in big, I bought one of their bigger packages and I just figured, if I‘m gonna do it, do it.  Don’t fool around, and so, it just ended up being quite a bit of work, but now, I learned a lot. I don’t mind. It was fun too. I actually had a little trip I took, like to another city, where I was interviewed on radio and television. It was a lot of fun, and it’s caused people that I hadn’t seen or heard of for, in some cases thirty years or so, to call me up on the phone. That’s a real hoot for me, so I don’t regret any of it.

 

Angela:

Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about AuthorHouse. You decided to self-publish; it sounds like that part was a relatively easy decision for you. How did you pick AuthorHouse? What was your deciding criteria in your process for choosing to work with them?

 

Michael:

I had an instant rapport with the first person I spoke with from the company. I guess he…they call him one thing, but really, what he is [sic] is the salesman for the company, right? They were receptive and they understood immediately what I wanted, and they gave me the impression that they knew what they were doing, and they are, I guess, a pretty big outfit.

 

I asked at one point how many authors they were dealing with at one time, and it was like a staggeringly big number. I looked at a few, and selected them, and they were the first people I talked to. I had a good feeling right away, and my instincts told me that I could spend a lot of time and effort trying to decide and that the chances are I would just go back to the first one ’cause I liked them, and that’s what they did.

 

Angela:

One of the options, of course, is that you could have done everything yourself, and you made a decision not to do everything yourself. Why did you make that decision?

 

Michael:

It never occurred to me I could do everything myself. You mean, like self-publishing…

 

Angela:

Yeah, you could have found a designer for the cover, and you could’ve found a way to get it up on Amazon…you know, all those different steps without making the same investment. Was it something you considered?

 

Michael:

I guess it wasn’t something I considered, no. That’s one of the principles that I would refer to in my book is that you go with people that know what they are doing, and people that are in that business—I would have no reason to believe that I could do it as well as they could. They could do all that stuff, I mean, they got a machine that just clicks from one stage to another. You just have to just sort of resign yourself to their process, like if you buck it, it’s not going to work, right?

 

When they say “this” it’s gotta be that. They didn’t mess with the creativity, that was my part, and I had final say on everything, so I have nothing but good things to say about them so far.

 

I’m expecting a big royalty check soon, so let’s hope that would be nice. [chuckles]

 

Angela:

Yeah. Awesome. So let’s talk about outcomes. I always like, before and after stories, just to see some specific outcome being an author, things that have happened in your life, conversations that you’ve had, or experiences that you had that wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t have a book in your hand.

 

Can you think of something specific that’s been a good outcome from having a book already, besides that check we knew was coming?

Michael:

I can think of three; and I don’t know how much time you wanna give me, but these will be anecdotes, but I think those are what you’re looking for.

 

The first one that happened was just absolutely thrilling for me. It might have been December– the 20th or so—we were late decorating our Christmas tree this year for one reason or another. My wife and I– it was the last Friday before Christmas, so it was around the 20th. We were decorating our Christmas tree and it was like, a perfect setting, you know? I had eggnog, she had a glass of wine, and we were just about done, and you know, our kids are long gone. We’re empty nesters, grandparents.

 

The phone rang, and it was Jack Hawthorne, who’s, well, he’s 66 now, roughly the same age as me, but two or three years older, and we grew up on the same street. He was like three doors down, and he was a friend from my childhood. We used to play hockey out in the street, and all kinds of stuff like that. I hadn’t thought of him or heard of him for more than forty years; he called me up because of my book. He tracked me down, called me at home without any warning, and so we ended up having a nice chit-chat.

 

As it turned out, Jack’s wife is the elder sister of a girl that I used to go with in junior high school, and I think that I knew that, but had forgotten it. So then, we get to talking about her, and her grandchildren, and all that kinds of stuff. That’s—[clears throat] excuse me. I’ve got a bit of a cold developing in my throat here.

 

That’s an example of something that definitely wouldn’t happen if it hadn’t been for my writing the book, and I have two more like that.

 

Angela:

How did he find it, by the way? How did he find your book? Were you featured in an article he saw or something?

 

Michael:

I think he’s heard about it from someone else, and he wanted to know where he could order it, and the reason he heard about it was he’s calling from my hometown, or just a satellite suburb a little ways north, but basically, where I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. That’s where I went for the media interviews; I went and was on a local radio station, and on a local television, like morning—you know they have those morning shows?

 

Angela:

Yep. Perfect. I knew you said three outcomes, and I want to make sure we get to all of them. So that was one, give me number two.

 

Michael:

Number two is similar in tone, and it was another phone call. It was from a guy I used to play sports with, so a bit later, maybe ten years later. He married–his wife was–the twin sister of the guy was my best friend for all my childhood, lived across the street, and it was the same sort of thing. We were never really all that close like I was with Jack, but we played sports together.

 

He called me up out of the blue, he’s never called me in—I don’t think unless he was to say that the fastball game is at such and such, seven o clock, you know, back in 1972 or something. He called me up, and we had a chit-chat, and then his brother-in-law, the guy across the street, we’ve ended up connecting on the same topic over email. What’s gonna happen now is that I’m gonna be making a motor trip out that way to visit my wife, who’s taking care of her dad in Saskatchewan.

 

I’ll be seeing those guys—it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t published that book, obviously, and that’s very heartwarming for me, this kind of stuff. And the fact is, they’re like, reading my book. They can like it or not like it, you know? And I don’t really care; I mean, I’d prefer if they agreed with me, but if they don’t, that’s fine. I mean, that’s just my opinion. It’s not like a scholarly work where you have to make the case and defend it.

 

Angela:

The listeners can like or not like your book; they can find it on Amazon. It’s called “Try It This Way: An Ordinary Guy’s Guide to Extraordinary Happiness” by J. Michael Curtis, it’s an ordinary guy’s guide to extraordinary happiness. Mike, it was great to have you on today. I really appreciate your time, and sorry about our little mix-up at the beginning, but thanks for your patience.

 

Michael:

It’s been my pleasure, Angela. Thanks very much for interviewing me.

 

Angela:

Take care. Good luck with the book!

 

Michael:

Okay. You too. Thanks! Bye.

 

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