Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The passing of a great mentor

On Wednesday of this week, I got some very shocking news.  My "old" Tae Kwon Do instructor in Bemidji passed away, leaving behind a wife and two children.

I don't mean "old" in the mere sense of age, as he was only 45, yet he had a patient, timely wisdom about him that he passed on to countless others.  A wisdom that is typically reserved for those who have lived for several decades and he achieved in much, much less.

And I was lucky to be one of them.

In the fall of my freshman year at Bemidji State University, I purposefully sought out the BSU Tae Kwon Do Club--a branch of the Bemidji Tae Kwon Do School.  This was not the typical path to "finding" the club, as most discovered it by watching us train or witnessing one of our many demonstrations, but it was my path.

When I was in 7th grade, a Tae Kwon Do instructor came to my small northwestern Minnesota town and taught about six or seven of us for close to a year before eventually leaving due to loss of work.  But that time spent training sparked a deep interest in me for the martial arts.  Keep in mind, in those days, ninjas were all the craze and Tae Kwon Do was the closest thing I could find to be one.  There was a girl in this class, who was a few years older than me, who went on to BSU after graduating from high school.  In the newspaper, just before I graduated, there was a front page article about Allison, along with a picture of her kicking a board.  In the article, she talked about her time training with the BSU Tae Kwon Do Club.  When I saw that, I knew I had to seek them out--oddly enough, after my first year at BSU, Allison got sick and passed away (and from the same disease that struck Jim Henson).

There are so many memories that I have about Grand Master Spencer Brandt.  Memories and skills that even go beyond Tae Kwon Do.  He taught with such passion, instilling the time-honored qualities that are attributed to this ancient Korean martial art: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit.

His teachings inspired hundreds upon hundreds of people.  For example, there was a student once who tried to make friends but was seen as an outcast by many.  Not me though.  I tried for several months to convince him to join TKD.  He eventually did.  He worked hard, and when he tested for his first belt (yellow), I watched his confidence climb to an amazing height as he broke one of the boards required for passing the test.  That was a memory I'll always cherish.  Even the pleased look on Grand Master Spencer's face was priceless.

Much of my time in college was devoted to Tae Kwon Do.  My friend Mike and I would continually train during the summer months, so we could get to our goal of black belt--we both remember on our first training day as a white belt, Grand Master Spencer Brandt said that out of the 20-30 white belt students, only one would go on to be a black belt, based on past stats.  We wanted to prove him wrong, and we did.  We both eventually achieved the rank of black belt.  But only because he also instilled a positive self-confidence in us.  There was also summer camps and tournaments that we attended.  We even helped him build his house--there's a room on the top floor that was insulated by Mike and myself.  We also helped him renovate to a bigger building (an old church, in its prior years).  There really wasn't anything that we wouldn't do for him.  The energy he exhibited was contagious.

I also learned a lot about leadership under Grand Master Spencer Brandt (and Grand Master Cindy's too, as she also taught, and even competed on the U.S. Olympic Team).  As the BSU TKD club president for three consecutive years, he pushed me into a lot of things that I wouldn't normally want to do.  I hated public speaking then, but pushed me to help teach and conduct classes when I achieved higher ranks.  And that involved a lot of public speaking.  With that, he also taught me about leadership empowerment.  By empowering me, he also gave me the tools to go out and empower other people to help improve their lives--a skill I carry even to this day.

I could go on and on . . . but for now, I'll let this sink in.  I'll pass on more later.  As a final note, not only did I achieve black belt status, I also went on to become a 2nd degree black belt.  Sadly enough, that was close to sixteen years ago when I moved away Bemidji and was no longer able to train with him.  I took my son to a Bemidji Tae Kwon Do tournament about 5-6 years ago as a spectator, and that was the last time I saw him.

Although there was no way I could've known then . . .

You will be missed, Grand Master Spencer Brandt.  My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, Grand Master Cindy Brandt and their two children.

Grand Master Spencer Brandt
\1967 - 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #12

With today being Leap Year Day, imagine that there is a federal law that states one cannot celebrate your birthday on any other day but the "actual" day of your birth.  How could one celebrate their birthday when it comes every four years?  What special events would they have planned?

Happy writing!

Listmaker, listmaker, make me a list

In order to become successful, you'll need to make lists.

Lists of new ideas.

Lists of projects.

Lists of goals to accomplish this year, or even the next five years.

Lists of what to accomplish tomorrow or next week.

Then, once you've got your list, as they're accomplished, cross them off.  It's simple.  I've read a lot of motivational books, from Zig Ziglar to Earl Nightingale and Dave Ramsey to Dan Miller.  Thread throughout their messages there seems to be an underlying truth: write stuff down.  You will forget them, so when you get an idea (even if you think it's stupid), write it down.

By the way, the title for this blog comes from a song in the Robin Williams movie Mrs. Doubtfire.  Here's a video of that song.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Clearing the brush

My editing style, for my writing, is a lot like clearing the brush.

Editing seems to be done in layers, with larger glaring issues to be handled first, and then more of the intimate editing later.  Sometimes the larger issues are so massive that you can't help but miss out on the smaller ones.

What do I mean by clearing the brush?

Imagine you just bought a little lake cabin.  You got a great deal for it.  It hasn't been lived in for 2-3 years.  The bushes in front have grown to the eaves, the grass looks like a wheat field, and last year's leaves have blown into the corners.

What's the first thing you do?

Mow the grass.

Once you do, you discover a small path made of solid gold leading from the front down to the lake.

What's next?

Let's tackle the leaves.

As they're all cleared away, you notice a small door leading to an underground shelter, which is stocked full of canned goods, bottled water, and even has an assortment of games like a pool table and table tennis.

Excited, you trim down the bushes, only to discover that a lot of sunlight pours into the cabin's interior and it appears larger than what it really is.

After all this, you may handle smaller projects.

The point is that editing a novel--much like clearing the brush away--is a daunting task and shouldn't be taken lightly.  But taking it piece by piece, just like anything else, will help you to accomplish your goal.  As the saying goes, how does one eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Official website under construction

Last week, I bit the bullet.

No, I didn't literally bite a bullet. I'm certainly not that skilled.

What I did do is start my official website: Mark S. R. Peterson

It's under construction right now, and might be for a little while as I learn more about it. I'll let everyone when I officially open.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"Ender's Game" - a book ahead of its time

I don't normally review books, but I feel the need in this case.

Orson Scott Card was so far ahead of his time with Ender's Game, it's almost creepy.  I'm only halfway through reading it, and although it was published in 1985, there are so many things in the technology and information realm that we now take for granted.

The main character, Ender Wiggins, and his brother Peter and sister Valentine, work on "desk" computers.  In my mind, these sound like tablet computers, like the Kindle or iPad.  In one of the chapters, Peter and Valentine go onto the "net" and post comments on sites.  Wow!  This was in 1985!

What floored me today was I read a passage that talked about searching for one's comments on the net.  Google or Yahoo! anyone?

Ahead of his time?

That's an understatement.

What's sad is that I didn't read this book until I am in my late 30's.  Then again, I didn't read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings until Peter Jackson's movies came out.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Dream Car

Need I say more . . .

Back in the 80's, this would've been a lamborghini countach . . . but I'd settle for this now.
For nostalgia, here's the other one . . .

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #11

You get the dream of a lifetime: you've been assigned to interview one of your favorite authors--even if the author is long dead.

What questions will you ask?  Stretch your mind on this one.  What questions could you ask that have never been asked?

Happy writing!

I was a teenage rapper

For a brief time I was, along with my friend Kregg who's now a contractor down in the Twin Cities.

We were sophomores, and during the Homecoming program at school, in front of the entire student body, we rapped.  Oddly enough, at the time, I wore shades (because you gotta wear shades if you're gonna rap, right?) which meant I had to take my glasses off.  The student body was a huge giant blur.

We rapped a rendition of a rather infamous 2 Live Crew song which we titled "Let's beat the Ponies!"  The Ponies were our homecoming football opponents.  On a funny note, the assistant principal, Mr. G, thought we actually sang the real 2 Live Crew song because somehow the audio wasn't the best.

Somewhere out there is a video of our rap.

If it ever made it to YouTube, I'm sure it'd go viral.

Much like this video taken by my same "former rapper" friend.

Why did we do it?

To be different, to be famous?


Although there might've been a girl watching too . . .

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Are you a morning person? Or a night person?

For me, I'm a little bit of each.  Once the kids are in bed and the wife is watching Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon, I'm usually sitting at the computer writing.

And I usually get up at least an hour before the kids do and also write.

In college, many times I was burning the midnight oil, sitting in front of my Brother word processor, cranking out page after page of my first novel.  Most of the time, I crawled into bed between two and three, and I was typically up around seven or eight, ready for classes.

I prefer nights.

Lately, though, I'm staring to really love working in the mornings.  There's a peacefulness in the house.

When do you usually like to write?

If you're having problems writing at night, get up an hour or so before everyone else and try that.

For me--and I stress, this is only for me--I can write at any time of the day or night (within reason).  A typical day starts with me getting up by six and writing for an hour.  At my full-time job, I write on my lunch and breaks.  At night, once the kids are asleep, I write again.

Do I ever rest?

Of course.  If I'm nearing the end of a good book (I'm currently reading I Don't Want To Kill You by Dan Wells) then I sometimes give my mind a rest and read.  Or I may play a video game.  Or I may just vedge out and watch TV.

So, are you a morning or a night person?

Or both?

Monday, February 20, 2012

A revolutionary way towards self-publication


Most of probably never heard of it.

How about

Yup, heard of that one.  Well, CreateSpace is's self-publishing company, granting the way for many writers, musicians, and film-makers to publish their works without having to go through a more traditional way.

It's free to upload your books, music, or films, and from what I understand, you'll be able to have your works on's official retail site.  There is a paid service too, which expands the reach of your work.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"It is what it is"

"It is what it is."

This is usually at the end of a conversation, where one either feels powerless to control whatever is happening to them.  Mostly, what they want to control is something outside their control.  For example:

"I've sent out five query letters to agents and all of them rejected me.  I'll never be published.  I guess it is what it is."

Instead of looking for what you can't control, look at what you can.

"Okay, my five query letters didn't work.  What would happen if I sent out fifty?  Or what if I sent five every single day?  What if I wrote a blog, committed to writing something every single day, in order to drive readers to my site?"

Now that is something you can control.

What do you feel is holding you back?

How can you change it?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What's in your toolbox?

Imagine for a minute you're going to school to be an auto mechanic.

You've seen cars, even ridden in one a time or two, but never worked on them--I know, it's a stretch, but go with me on this one.

Your first day of class is met with dozens of eager souls, ready to gather up all of the knowledge their teachers can provide.  Beside each student is a large multi-tiered metal box with large, deep drawers and small shallow ones.  Then, you start opening the drawers . . .

Inside are hundreds of tools you've never seen before, tools specifically designed for a singular purpose.  You can't use a wrench if you need a screwdriver, and you certainly can't use a flathead if the task calls for a philips.

The same goes with life.  When I graduated from high school, a teacher (I believe it was Mr. Miller) once told us that each graduate carries their own briefcase across the stage, and that many times that briefcase is empty.  The student may not take their high school career seriously enough--we can point many fingers at things from the media to parents and even teachers, when all the while the finger should be pointed right back at the person.  Nothing inspires that student.  Or, if something does, they may dream and dream but never put any tools in their toolbox to put that life together.

From age sixteen to nineteen, I wanted to be a rock star.  Even at that age, I suspected that there was a lot more to it than playing a guitar.  I acquired a bass guitar first, then an acoustic.  On my 18th birthday, I drove an hour away to a larger town and purchased an electric guitar (a Fender Squire, if I'm not mistaken).  I played for hours.  I also realized that rock stars also write their own songs, so that's what I did.  I wrote probably 20-plus songs, and honestly a few of them aren't bad, and I still remember some of the verses.

The point is that I was filling my tool box with stuff I'd need.  What I didn't know is that, mentally, I was also preparing myself for success--something I've been waiting a long time to achieve and can now see it right on the horizon.  I was preparing myself by not letting the fear eat inside of me.  Yes, I changed from a rock star to a bestselling author, but honestly I've always dreamed of seeing my name on a book.

And even when people told me to just "get a job and be like everyone else," I didn't listen to them.  I only listened to the ones who encouraged me.  My wife fits this bill nicely.  She has heard all of my dreams, and has never--ever--told me to quit and just get a job.


That's the reason I do this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #10

You're out late past curfew.  Your parents will be upset.  Instead of crawling in the driveway and making as little noise as possible, you honk the horn as you come up to the noise and shout "Hey, everyone!" when you burst into the door.

What's the wild, fictional story on why you were out late?

Happy writing!

When the ones too big to fail should fail

I'm not going to preach about the financial debacle of three-plus years ago, not am I going to get political here.

That's not the purpose of this blog.

But what I'm going to point out is that there comes a point in some organizations, when they become a large enough entity, that the mere mention of their name holds a weight.  This goes with anything from banks and manufacturers to non-profit organizations and hospitals.  Anything that gets large enough seems to act on its own accord, completely mindless of their original purpose.

And in doing so, they lose some of their personal touch, their caring, their looking at events or situations from another person's point of view.

When was the last time you honestly went into a major retail store and actually enjoyed the experience.  It's rare.

An incident occurred to us around the middle of November that completely changed my view of a certain organization.  A misunderstanding by some underworked and probably under-educated manager caused a great deal of hardship for us.

I'm not going into the details, and I'm not going to name this particular organization by name--although I really, really want to--and what really makes me upset is the purpose of this organization is a great one, one that's helped many at a low point in their lives.

I believe a bit of formal management training could've saved a lot of heartache, so I strongly urge those leaders of these gigantic organizations to make sure the proper people training is done at all levels.  Especially one that involves the responsibility of so many lives.

Because I'm going to find it very difficult to donate to this particular organization when their annual events come up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Marry your best friend

During my freshman year of college, I took an introductory sociology class.  Weirdly enough, I only remember one piece of advice he ever gave: marry your best friend.

Now, some of you guys out there may look over at your best buddy and think this is absolutely absurd--and for obvious reasons (present company, included).  But let me expand on what he taught, and then you'll understand.

When one looks for their soulmate--the one they want to spend the rest of their life with--you should look for someone who is like your best friend.  Someone who knows all of your secrets and dreams, and who's been with you for better or worse.

With today being Valentine's Day, honor your most loved one and do something creative.

Do you remember when you first started dating?

What brought you together?

Do something both creative and unexpected.  Write a poem, with something like:

Roses are red
Daisies are white

I've always loved you
For all days, to the rest of my life

Okay, it's a little cheesey, but I didn't want to do the old standard of roses are red and violets are blue bit.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Communicate your dreams

But don't communicate them to just anyone.

Communicate them to the ones that matter.

If you're juggling jobs and a spouse and kids, then I'm right there with you.  Life can be hard.  But if you don't communicate your dreams to them, inspiring them, then they're going to regret any time lost with you.

I'm speaking to the spouses of artists/writers out there: be supportive of our dreams.  It's a long road to success, and it'll be worth it if you stick with us.

Now, to the artists/writers out there: you need to devote some time to your family too.  You can't simply ignore them.

If you communicate well with them, the more they'll give you a little space and time, and cherish those times when you're putting the dreams to the side and investing in their future by bonding with them.  Don't believe me?  Listen to the song Cat's In The Cradle

Friday, February 10, 2012

The power of the blank page

Ideas can be had by anyone.

It's a matter of sitting alone, with no distractions, and a blank sheet of paper in front of you.  Toss out ideas for either what you want to do or how you can improve your life.  Shoot for at least 30 minutes of quiet time.

Think your ideas are dumb?  Write them down anyway.

Think you're too old to start something new?  Here a post from last month where I delved into that very subject.

Do this every day for a week.

Then, at the start of the next week, review your list of ideas.  Don't cross out any that you think are stupid.  Go through the list and mark off ones that spark an interest in you.  You can choose more than one.

Once you're done with this, take those items and go to another blank page.  At the top of each, write the sparking interests and dig into how it could be accomplished.  What would you need to do?  I don't want you to tell yourself these things can't be done.  I want you to write down how they could be.



Now prioritize those items on the list that would need to be done first . . . and do them.

Think this is hard?  This is exactly what I did when I decided to pursue the launching of an ebook--one I had been putting off for more than a dozen years (I know, ebooks weren't around twelve years ago, but the concept for the ebook had its inception around that time).

Start your list tomorrow.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

It's a message that could be set anywhere.

Sorry to say, I didn't watch much of the Super Bowl but I did catch many of the Super Bowl commercials on YouTube.  Here's one of my personal favorites, not for the product it's promoting but the message behind it.  Also, I think Clint Eastwood is one cool dude.

And it is a message that could be set anywhere, not necessarily in Detroit.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #9

Pick an urban legend and write the "true" tale behind it.  This could be the "woman in white" legend or Bloody Mary.  Might want to check out this site.

Happy writing!

February is a busy month

February is a busy month for me.

A week or so ago, I eluded to the fact that the concept for an upcoming ebook was taking shape.

Well, after years and years of putting it off, I finally drew a line in the same and set a goal to get it done.

On March 1st, 2012, I will be launching a nonfiction ebook.

In launching it, I also started another blog titled Mr. Shoestring where I share small tidbits on how to save money and live "on a shoestring" budget, as many people are.

The concept of the ebook is something I've had an idea for at least ten or more years, but I now believe that I am at a point where I can actually put legs on it and make it work.

Stay tuned in the next few weeks, as I'll share how this ebook is coming along.  And please make sure to check out my other blog as well.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Build your learning library

It's been said that you are what you read.

The person you are, and what you will become, depends largely on what you fill your mind with.

If you spend 4-5 hours a day watching 24/7 cable news, then you will probably feel stressed out because there is always some BREAKING NEWS every five minutes.

If you spend that time watching mind-numbing reality shows, your view of reality is skewed.  I used to work with someone who was on one of these wife-type shows, and it depicted the children she had as being rambunctious and unruly.  This was the complete opposite of what their family was really like, but it supposedly made for better TV.

If you spend a few hours each day reading or listening to some of the podcasts (certainly there's more I haven't discovered yet) that I've mentioned, then you'll find yourself being steered in a more positive direction.

This library isn't build overnight.  Build it one book at a time.

What are some of the books that motivate you?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Don't fly under the radar

Don't fly under the radar . . . unless you're a fighter pilot in the enemy territory.  If you are, then by all means don't listen to me.

If you want to be successful, you need to be noticed.

This can be done in a variety of ways.

Seth Godin, in his book Purple Cow said that if you want to be noticed, you need to be a purple cow.  Huh?  Imagine you're out for a Sunday drive and you come upon a field of cows.  How many do you notice it?  Hardly any.  Make one of the cows purple.  You stop.

"Wow, look at that purple cow!"

It gets noticed.

The first thing you need to be is remarkable and excel at what you do.  Do the absolute best, and continually improve.  Improve your skills by learning as much as you can about the industry you want to be in, the industry you have a passion for.  Even pick the brains (not literally, unless you're a zombie - and if you are, then I'm not sure why you're reading this blog) of those you deem as successful.

At my full time job, I was in sales but always wanted to be promoted to the supervisory and management level.  For years, I flew under the radar, I wasn't noticed, and you know what happened?  I didn't get any promotions.  Then, I spend a few years reading everything I could about success, and even shared my sales goals with my current supervisor.  Before too long, guess what?  I got the promotion.

What are you doing today to get yourself noticed?

I know I've mentioned blogs and podcasts that I listen to and read, but I need to add one more: Seth Godin.  He is a marketing genius, and his website is a must read, along with ALL of his books.

Friday, February 3, 2012

How one can learn by watching TV

As I've alluded to in previous blogs, I'm an avid Food Network fan.  Not that I love to cook so much that I view that is my passion in life--because it's not.  Writing is my passion.  In watching many of the programs, however, especially the heart-wrenching competitions, it fires me up.

Because, by and large, those contestants are living their passion for cooking.

But many of them fall short.

Let's say for a minute that my passion was cooking and to teach others the art of cooking through TV.  I enter one of their many competitions, which may look easy on TV even though I'll bet when you actually do it, in front cameras, it's an entirely different world.

Back to my fictional cooking life.  Let's say I get excepted to be the next Iron Chef.  The competition in that arena is fierce.  Where many, in my opinion, fall short is this: they have part of the secret to their success right at their fingertips and they don't even realize it.  I know the stakes are high, but I'd raise the bar even higher . . . by studying ALL of the previous episodes, dissecting what is being asked and how the contestants react/act.

If you want to be a TV chef, study hours and hours of what it takes, what they do.  This past summer, the kids and I watch a few of the last few episodes of the Next Food Network Star where this chef named Jeff Mauro, AKA the Sandwich King, won.  But even as it drew near the end, many of the contestants didn't have a clue how to work the camera or even have an idea on what their food message was.

Except Jeff Mauro.

Because it's all about sandwiches.

Here's a clue to all of the future Next Food Network Star contestants (not sure how many read my blog, but I'm sure it's bound to be a lot - wink*wink*): WATCH THE LAST SEVEN SEASONS!

It's called learning.

And learning can be done by watching TV.  Only if it sparks a few brain cells and motivates you to succeed.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Where in the world did the time go?

We have all wondered this, present company included.

For an entire week, everyone has 168 hours to accomplish what they need.

Even if you sleep a total of 8 hours each night (if you're like me, this number is more like 5 or 6) and work another 40, that leaves you with 72 hours to do what you want.

Granted, if you have a wife and kids like I do, that will eat a large portion of the 72, but certainly not all of it.

What I challenge each of you to do is start a time diary.  For the previous week (you can either start on Sunday or just go with the first weekday on Monday, that's completely up to you), write down a simple schedule of what you did.  And don't cheat.  You're only cheating yourself.

If you can't remember, start right now by keeping track of what you do with your time and track it for an entire 7 days.

Once that is accomplished, look at it and ask yourself what could be removed to excel at what you're passionate about.  Could you wake up an hour or so before everyone else and either read or brainstorm new ideas (or write, like I do)?  Do you really need to watch so much TV?  I'm not saying cutting out TV completely, but you've never heard a multi-millionaire or billionaire say, "I attribute my success to all the hours of Survivor or Jersey Shore."  It's absurd.

Carve out notches of time to accomplish these tasks.

Commit to doing it (because, like I said, all you're cheating is you if you don't).

Then, do it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #8

During our last Writing Prompt Wednesday, we explored the concept of fairy tales.  Let's do it again.  Only this time take two fairy tales and slam them together.

Need an example?

The Billy Goats Gruff.  And underneath the bridge is none other than . . . Hansel and Gretel.

Happy writing!

Try something new

It can't get any simpler than that.

Just try something new.

If you just read about a new business that someone started or just got an idea for a book in a genre you don't normally read or a field of study that you'd like to tackle, what's stopping you from trying it?


What's the harm?

Aside the fear of rejection or failure, even if it doesn't work, you at least tried something.

Now, when you find something you want to try, do it.  Yoda once said, "Do.  Or do not.  There is no try."

Take the advice of the little green 800-year old dude and do it.  Do it with excellence.

You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish.