What to do when everything lines up

Or doesn’t line up…

One of my favorite things is to find spiritual insights in everyday science. I see a lot of what goes on in the natural world as an allegory for things happening elsewhere that we may otherwise have a hard time grasping. That’s not to say that I sit down before snails for a Sunday lesson, far from it, I just think that the human brain can get a lot of mileage out of a little bit of symbolism. I also adore parables and admire anyone that comes up with them. So lately I’ve been thinking about a parable of my own…

Have you ever considered clay? It comes from the humblest of places, riverbanks, and in most cases, it is out of order. It sticks to your shoes, stains everything, can’t be used for growing plants, kind of smells, and is generally of no use anywhere but around water. Yet, when we heat up clay something amazing happens: it hardens.

Duh AJ, we know that!

I know you do, but do you know why it hardens? Clay molecules are chaotic, they are all over the place. The reason you can push clay into different forms and mold them into any shape is that that matrix of chaos has strength enough to hold together, but is not strong enough to resist force. So you can push and pull and smash and mush and roll it and it will still be clay, just in a different form. Once the water leaves though, clay is no longer malleable, shapeable, and is instead stuck in whatever place it was last left.

Water makes clay just viscous enough to be molded, but it has no ability to transform clay in and of itself. Water is just a vehicle for the process. So what does the actual transforming? Well, you know the answer already!

Get to the point, AJ!

It’s fire, of course. Fire stresses out the molecules of clay. The heat makes all of those little chaotic molecules, the shards, that are running around all over the place suddenly change and line up. They straighten and all point in the same direction and suddenly a shape that could be pushed and formed is rigid and fights back. This chaos, once placed in order, becomes the strength that is able to withstand great force.

Humble clay has gone from being unwanted, dirty, useless, muck to a pot that holds water or a dish that holds food. It is suddenly important, useful, and beautiful to whoever owns it. Once you apply glazes and all the other fun pottery stuff, the finished piece of pottery looks nothing like what it came from. It has transformed, in the truest sense of the word, and for anyone who has ever worked with the process, is practically magic.

All of that is because of fire.

Fire is stress. Fire is pain. Fire is destruction. It is no coincidence that the phrases “trial by fire” and “forged in fire” have become common vernacular. We know instinctually that the things that cause us the most pain can also make us better people. I feel that we often forget though that the process changes the person just like how the clay is changed. You simply cannot expect to go through flames and be left without burns.

What’s your point, AJ?

I’m leaving that up to you. Do you see yourself as clay that has been through a fire, lined up your molecules, and are now stronger because of it? Or do you see yourself as clay robbed of water, drained of energy, and fragile to the touch? Do you find yourself stronger than you were before, yet unrecognizable to the people who used to know you as clay? Do you feel frustrated that they no longer treat you the same way? Are you scared of what is to come, or are you waiting for what you may be?

I’m interested in your thoughts.

As for myself, well, you know how crazy my career is. I just finished a major commission, am enjoying the feedback on “The Book That Shouldn’t Exist”, and facing my own fire by trying to get spots in bookstores (spoiler alert, they don’t want me, lol.) I’ve also put Nuts 3 on temporary hold in order to remake a book that I delisted a long time ago. It was my second book and it lingers in my head, demanding to be remade. I’ll share more on that soon.

For now, though, have a wonderful weekend and remember that no matter what trial you face, if you face it well, you will only become stronger.

Much love,


What’s There to Fear?

As it turns out, more than I thought…

It’s been a couple of weeks and I’m sorry for not emailing sooner. The simple explanation is that a lot of things have been going on both in my private world and in the greater scheme of things. Besides working on the new book, which has been difficult, I’ve also worked through a major life issue that I never knew I had been fighting.

I was afraid.

Fear is a difficult thing. It can sneak up on you and rob you of action. It can stop you from standing up for yourself, stop you from making money, and keep you in a relationship that’s bad for you. Fear is powerful because it’s an unanswered possibility. It’s not the dark that we fear, but what possibly could be hiding in the dark.

To a person with high anxiety, fear can seep into every aspect of life. Maybe you stay silent when people are rude to you because you don’t want to cause a scene. Maybe co-workers and bosses pile work on you because you are afraid of losing your job. Maybe you don’t take that dream vacation because you are afraid of what could happen during the trip. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, fear itself will come up with an excuse as to why you shouldn’t do it.

For me, the majority of my fear stems from my work. I’m afraid of what I want to make. I’m afraid of what will happen if I do make it and I’m also afraid of what will happen when I don’t make it. I have a Master’s in Screenwriting, but the fear of putting my work out there stopped me from entering the film industry. The fear of rejection led me to self-publish (a blessing) but that same fear also keeps me out of bookstores.

Fear was supposed to protect us. It was supposed to stop us from going into the bear’s cave and remind us not to eat all of the food before winter. It’s there to help us, but unfortunately for many of us, it has become our master. If this is happening to you, then this is a call to take back control.

Two months ago, shortly after the Parkland shootings, I sent an email asking permission from you if I could write a book that dealt with this terrible subject. Overwhelmingly, you responded with encouragement. For that reason, this new book exists. So in a way, this is your book as well.

We don’t all have email lists of readers to share our problems with, so that’s not a technique I recommend, but if you are suffering from fear, anxiety, or worry, I first recommend you take up meditation (or prayer, which is meditation with God in mind.)

Second, I want you to recognize that fear is subservient to you. It is a warning light on your car that you are allowing to drive. Consider what it has to say, thank it for the warning, and press on with the decision you have made. You are in control of your life.

Fear not what is out of your hands. 

So what about this book I was afraid of? Why would I fear to share it with the world? Well, we live in times where mobs of internet users can destroy people they disagree with overnight, so that is a concern, but not sharing my art is an even greater concern. What happens with this book is entirely up to you. If it helps, I hope it grows. If it’s not needed then so be it, there are more books on the way.

At the very least, I’m no longer afraid of making it.

“The Book That Shouldn’t Exist” is now available for pre-order and will release on April 20th. Click here to reserve your copy.

Make ’em Laugh

A little over a year and a half ago, I appeared on stage at a book fair to read to a group of children. After sharing “The Monster That Ate My Socks”, which they loved, I was told that I still had time to do another reading, so I pulled out “I Don’t Want to Go to School”. The kids always enjoy that book, not only because it’s a universally kid-friendly topic, but because they get to participate in reading it. I always ask them to help me read the title line and, each time they do so, they get louder and louder until everyone is screaming by the end of the reading.

It’s super fun, but it also makes me think about one of the worst aspects of reading to children: the feeling of it being one-sided. When I read sock monster it’s to the child. They are to be quiet and, hopefully, entertained. “School” is a bit more interactive as they have been assigned a part, but I could just as easily ask them to be quiet and do the whole things myself. What about a book, though, where the kids are required to interact?

That idea led to “The Giggle Game” which is, just as the name implies, a game. The goal is to make all of the animal sounds in the book without laughing. The more children that participate, the harder it is not to laugh, so the book is wonderful in groups. From my experience in reading it, the adults are always the ones who laugh first, meaning that we always “lose” the game, but the kids don’t realize that seeing them have fun is a win to us!

Beyond a game, the book is also an opportunity to release energy. I call it a “wind-me-down” book, as in you read it to get all that stored up energy out before settling down for something like bedtime. The animal sounds go from loudest, a lion, to quietest, a mouse, and, depending on how you use the final pages, the “let it all out” spread, you could also use the book as a warm-up.

With such a simple concept, I knew the book needed something special for the artwork. So instead of digital drawing or pencil sketches, I went with paper craft. All of the illustrations in the book were made using construction paper, a Xacto knife, and a glue stick. It was time-consuming, thus the year to make it, and I even had to redo half of the images, but the end result has a fantastic texture and I couldn’t be more proud of how it looks.

I absolutely adore this book and put my heart and soul into it and you can tell when you see it for yourself. So without further ado, I’m pleased to announce that “The Giggle Game” is now available in Kindle eBook and Hardcover print. The book was designed for print since it’s great for groups, so get that version if you can. I even priced it lower than my other hardcovers just to get it into kid’s hands. The Kindle version is a carbon copy of the book but is best for small families.

One more thing, from now until the end of the month, I’m donating $2 for every review posted on Amazon for the book to OAR (Organization for Autism Research.) While the book is meant for everyone, many of you know that Autism is near to my heart and I thought this would be a great way to celebrate the new release, encourage people to leave a review, and help out a good cause.

So what do you think? Ready to make your children laugh?

Click here to get your copy.

Till next time,
All the best,

Little things really do count

It’s been a while. Sorry for the delay in writing but between the holidays, dealing with the flu, and trying to Christmas shop for adults, the emailer kept getting pushed back. It wasn’t until one of my readers reached out to me asking about why they hadn’t received an email in a while that I even realized anyone missed me.

That got me thinking, how much does what we do actually matter in life? Yesterday while walking out of the gym a woman came up to me and asked for spare change. Panhandling is nothing new in L.A., but what was strange was that the woman was wearing nice gym clothes and some religious jewelry. She also seemed desperate, almost on the verge of crying, and I couldn’t help but give her some of the money I had.

Now here’s the question: did I actually help her? Did giving her money help her situation, whatever that may be? Rather than go into the philosophy of charity, I have a simple answer for you… it doesn’t matter.

We shouldn’t do good things, kind things, simply because we will see a direct and measurable result. We do them because we feel that they are the right thing to do at the time, and doing the right thing pleases us. There is no way to tell how an action will affect people or the world as a whole, just like how my reader friend couldn’t have known how much of an impact a simple email could have on me.

Do not let the dream of what could happen if you do a kindness stop you from actually doing that kindness. We have no way of knowing how that spare change you threw in the charity bin helped people, but we know for certain that it helped you to do so and we can rest assured that no matter what that small act will indeed make a difference.

So don’t stop yourself from doing good. Don’t question the gift you are going to give this holiday or the meal you’re going to make. Send that thank you card, smile at a stranger. Do whatever your heart feels compelled to do. You never know how important that little action could end up being to the person on the other end.

Speaking of little steps, I have a new book out. 🙂 I’ve been hem-hawing about how to launch this book but with Christmas fast approaching I thought I should just share it with you. The book is called “Big Science: Galileo’s Gamble” and it’s a book about science and persistence and it’s designed to help your child develop their critical thinking skills.

I’ll talk your ear off about the book later, but for now, click here to check it out.

Big Science: Galileo’s Gamble

You’ll Be Ok

We’re human

I’ve been very angry the past few days. I don’t really understand why either because I had an absolutely wonderful book fair last Sunday and left feeling overjoyed. Then Monday happened and myself and everyone around me suddenly became angry. I think it has a lot to do with the shooting, or maybe the shooting has a lot to do with what’s going on with all of us. I’m not sure.

The simple truth is that we are all human and we are all susceptible to moments of anger. At those times we may feel no better than rabid dogs. Here’s the thing though, we have an enormous capacity for a range of emotions. The same mind, body, and soul that can conceive shooting six hundred people is also the same creature that can donate gallons of blood and spend sleepless hours tending to the wounded. As Mr. Rogers famously said, “look for the helpers.”

We are more than our emotions just as we are better than our shortcomings. We have permission to fail, to falter, but only if we earnestly strive to do better the next time. I’ve always felt that I had to project perfection, to be better towards everyone and never stumble, but that’s perfection and to us that is impossible. So I have had to learn to let go of that ideal me and realize that I too am capable of having a bad side. But so what? It’s not what we are capable of that matters, it’s where we choose to be most of the majority of the time that really counts.

So let out that emotion, it’s ok, your loved ones will understand. Remember though that you are one of the good ones, part of the solution, and that will be your contribution to this world when you pass. People won’t remember if you occasionally scream at nothing, but they will remember the times you were there for them.

What’s Life Like in the Messy Middle?

So before we begin, I messed up last week. After sharing with you my weakness for marketing I then proceeded to botch the most important bit, telling you where to get the new thing I was talking about. My heartfelt thanks to those of you who pointed it out. For everyone else, here is the missing bit of information.

If you would like a copy of the new hardcover edition of “I Don’t Want to Go to School” simply go to your favorite local bookstore and ask them to order it for you. If there are multiple versions, ask for the hardcover edition and if they are still super confused, give them this ISBN number: 978-0-9990878-1-7

With your support, stores will start to stock this book and then it will have even more of a chance to help anxious kids find the courage to go back to school.

Ok, now on to more… messes. The wonderful Maring Higa had me on her podcast “The Messy Middle” this week. We discussed all sorts of things such as the nature of persistence and what it means to pursue “success.” It’s a heartfelt discussion and I definitely recommend it for anyone who thinks that they aren’t where they should be in life. Here’s the link to subscribe to her podcast and give a listen to our show.

Thank you again, Maring!

Now for the final bit. This past week I pulled a whopping twenty-two books from the Amazon Kindle store. Crazy, right? The titles removed included “The Lighthouse Orphanage” and all of the stand-alone “Monsters A to Z” books. I did this for a couple of reasons. One, it helps highlight the books that most people really enjoy, and two, it will give me a chance to re-make some of these stories at a later date.

I like to say that I have grown as a writer in public and you, the reader, are very much a part of this growth. What you review, like, share, and buy, guides my understanding of what the world wants from me. That’s not to say that I want to be a sequel machine, I just want you to know that your opinion is important and that I am listening.

To see what survived “the great Amazon de-listing”, check out the remade “books” section at my website. You’ll notice that the survivors each got their own elaborate description. Who knows, maybe you’ll find something you didn’t even know was there! (Seriously, I had way too many books.)

As I told Maring in the podcast, life is a constant evolution and mistakes are part of growth. If life is perfect and clean then you are not actually living, you’re just repeating a pattern. Thank you again for joining me in this mess. I hope to have new stories for you soon as well as some exciting news until then, take care of yourself!

Much love,

Thinking the Best of It

Hey there, it’s been a while.

I honestly don’t know what to talk about, or at least I didn’t when I started to write this. There’s a lot, and I mean a lot, of stuff going on in the world right now that I don’t like, don’t want to think about, or just plain terrifies me. We know as adults though that we somehow have to find enough inner peace to continue on with our lives, especially when others depend on us (which is everyone!)

One remarkable lesson that I have learned lately is that we are not responsible for “fixing” the world- a burden that I have shouldered on myself for a very long time. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do good or try to improve the world, what I mean is that we are not responsible for the mess in the same way that we are not responsible for the rain. Sure, there are things we can do to prevent leaking and flooding, but eventually, it’s going to rain (unless you live in California.)

The simple truth is that we cannot do an ounce of good in the world if we aren’t right within ourselves. For how could we love another if we hate ourselves? And to clarify, I’m speaking about self-worth, not self-glorification. No one in the world benefits when you worship yourself, especially you.

Those who are familiar with my work know well where I fall on every issue in the headlines, however, my opinion doesn’t matter. What does matter is how you feel and what sort of an impact that feeling is having on your life? Are you making a positive impact? Or are you caught in a negative mire? You are the only one in your head, so hopefully, it’s a good experience. This isn’t to say that happy thoughts will fix all the world’s problems, but it’s a darn fine start, and I’d challenge anyone to point to a time where pessimism helped.

Speaking of challenges, it’s back to school time and I’m delighted at the extra love that “I Don’t Want to Go to School” has received. I’m grateful for the support and delighted that so many teachers and parents have used it to calm school anxiety. Check out the print version here if you’d like a copy for someone you love.

Where do ideas come from?

In public, I get asked this question a lot: “Where do you get your ideas?” For the longest time I would answer “whatever makes me laugh,” but to be honest, I never truly knew. Until yesterday that is…

After having a deeply emotional day, I started looking for something to do with all of that emotion. As an aside, I firmly believe that emotion has to be expressed and dealt with, otherwise bad stuff starts happening in our body, mind, and soul.

I had been stuck coming up with another story for the “Nuts” family to go through, so in my sadness and frustration I linked the two problems together and asked this question: what would Wally do with this emotion? (Wally being the eight-year-old squirrel at the center of “Nuts”.) Just like magic, the story started to manifest.

So to answer the question of where stories come from, the reality is that, like so many other things in our lives, stories come from emotion. That problem of what to do with our emotions, how to express them, why anyone cares, is the basis for every writer that put pen to paper- even if they don’t consciously know the reason they are driven to write.

Now I have a question for you: How are you using your emotion?

“Nuts” volume 2 will be out next month, but if you can’t wait, you can check out the original by clicking here.

Standing Up For Yourself

Right now I’m shaking, physically trembling, not because I am about to do something but because of something I have already done. I stood up for myself. Do you know this feeling?

Let me provide a little more context, book sales have not been doing well as of late and I don’t know where to lay the blame for that. Mostly, I blame myself because I am the shepherd of it, however, my time has also been taken by another project- or should I say, person.

Somehow, in my desperation for additional income, I got roped into working for and with a vampire. I have been taken advantage of, willingly I might add because this person exploited a weakness in my personality. He knew that above all else I wanted to please people. I wanted him to like me and to reward my effort and convinced myself that in time, despite all of the warning signs, I would be rewarded. I realized though that I was wrong. I was being taken advantage of, and I decided to put an end to it.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

As I’m writing this, the person in question is repeatedly calling me. I have sent every call to voicemail. He is not upset that I am leaving, he is upset that I took away his free meal. The great challenge in ending a bad relationship is that the relationship should never have happened in the first place. When one party changes, the other is suddenly offended that what they thought they had is no more. At no point does the shark realize that the tuna didn’t want to get eaten.

I’m sharing all of this with you because it’s an example that bullying, the kind that we attest to ending in childhood, is rampant in adult life. Physical abuse is rather easy to detect and stop, as friends will always step in, but what of the abuse that happens in your own mind? How do you ask for help when your complaint is that you are doing work, voluntarily no less, without compensation? If you are like most people in my life during this time, you would have scolded me that I deserved better. The strange truth was that I knew.

Here’s the thing about our culture: we are far too quick to blame the victim. Victims are victims for a reason. Had they the foreknowledge to fight then the incidents wouldn’t have ever happened in the first place. Why reprimand those brave enough to try to change? Unfortunately, though, this story is all too common. We have come to celebrate the exploiter and admonish the exploited.

You too are probably in a similar situation. Maybe someone is stealing from you, stealing your time, stealing your money. Perhaps there is someone taking emotional advantage of you, of your kindness, that needs to be set straight. Perhaps you are even in the most insidious situation of them all and someone is stealing your love. The only thing that all of these situations have in common is the lack of self-respect for the victim, by the victim.

Fortunately for us, we are only victims so long as we choose to remain victims.

So don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. You know the truth and you have to honor it, even if that means upsetting the apple cart. Besides, apple carts were made to fall over. They can easily be righted and the apples replaced. To get biblical for a moment, we were called to serve, not to slave.

Hopefully, soon you will be shaking as well. Not because you are scared, but because you’re no longer afraid. Just know that the feeling will pass.

Life of Music: Alice Cotton, Fellow Fridays

In the beginning, many years ago, ten-year-old Alice Cotton had her head under the piano lid of her father’s baby grand piano. She was plucking the strings and listening to all the resonating sounds it made. For hours! Then, later, as a teen, after playing clarinet in a school marching band, she started performing and writing songs with her new guitar.  Unbeknownst to her, she was also in the process of meeting her future music partners who would be accompanying her in creating successful music acts around the U.S.

It started in New Orleans, where Alice Cotton and her childhood friend, Cora McCann (Writer & Editor, Content Marketing, Cleveland Clinic), wrote songs and performed them as a duo acoustic guitar act called Sunstorm. They performed on Bourbon Street at one of the top New Orlean’s tourist nightclubs. They continued working in taverns and clubs around the city, making a name for themselves until Alice decided to move to Oregon. Cora eventually moved back to Ohio.
In Oregon, Alice co-led one of the top performing night club bands that she shared with another childhood friend, Lisa Coffey, (harpist/instructor). Of course, their music was very original with the sound of harp strings next to the guitar, bass, and drums. They worked hard to become one of the top working bands in the area. This is when Alice learned to play electric guitar as a rhythm and lead player.
Later, Alice joined the Byll Davis band that played on the weekends for dances and private clubs as one of the only female lead guitarists in Oregon.  The rest of the time she taught 4th and 5th grade in public school and math and art to homeschoolers, always encouraging her students to pursue music and performance in fun ways.
Along the way, Alice learned about book writing from her mother who was a screenplay and book writer. Eventually, this all led to Alice’s interest in writing books for children. Of course, the books are all about music characters like Largo, the half rest, who goes on a search for his missing key in her book, Musical Tales, and Presto, a newly written sixteenth note, that escapes from its music in The Case of the Flying Note

Alice Cotton’s goal now is to tantalize young people (as she was at age 10) into pursuing a life that emphasizes an awareness of music. “It is all around us”, she says, “and is part of who we are as human beings. It has been proven that music helps our children improve overall performance (academic included) and to create well-balanced lives. She continues to say, “It is no wonder that many young people start playing an instrument at an early age. They write songs, listen to the sounds in the world, and are filled with wonder.”

In the end, Alice Cotton became a master teacher of music, art, and mathematics. Her wish is that music not be ignored in the raising of our children, hence she writes musical fantasy books for 8 – 11-year-olds.  Go here to see all her books and acquire a unique gift for a loved one: alicecotton.com