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Meet My Muses: The Cast of My Life 

I want you to know that I consider you a friend.

We don’t have to share secrets over coffee, help each other move, or make and trade friendship bracelets. But I’ve invited you to take a spot at my campfire, and while you’re here, there are some people I’d like you to meet — people you’ll be hearing about a lot, because they’re an integral part of the stories I’m going to share with you.  

Cindy: We have been married since 2001, and were together four years before that. Ours is a magical love story that makes some people want to barf. Cindy is the best friend I have ever had, or will ever have. She was the first person to ever really “see me” and has nurtured the man I’ve become more than anyone else. We met when she was a customer in my flower shop. Cindy encouraged me to start writing from one of our earliest dates, bought me a MacBook for my 30th birthday after a decade of my not listening, and supported the ever-loving shit out of the rollicking adventure that started with my first digital inkblot. She helped me realize that our best life would come if I learned how to leverage my natural gift of language. Making Cindy laugh is one of my favorite things in the world, and I do it every day.

Lottie: Our daughter is among a tenacious generation, the Class of 2020, born into the trauma of 911 and graduating (or not) amid the upheaval of a global pandemic. Highly verbal and deeply articulate, creative as they come, and determined to make her way in this world. Lottie is stunning for how well she knows herself at an age when most people (myself included) only scratch at the surface of figuring it out. She has taught me an incredible amount about life, because we’ve shared an existence since her very first day of it.

Ethan: Our son is two-and-a-half years younger than his sister. He learned to share everything, from his toys to his parents, after Cindy and I opened a preschool so that we could be home full-time to deeply bond with our children while teaching them as much as possible in that time. His first love was baseball, and he has a left brain perfectly attuned to its statistical intricacies. His instincts for sports trends is truly impressive, and it’s been remarkable watching him grow from a kid into a man, especially in this last year.

Mom: My mother and I are remarkably similar in many ways. Both Sevens on the enneagram, she is super verbal, a lively storyteller who can spin a full ball of yarn out of mundane events. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and customers at the flower shop she runs out of her garage adore her hummingbird personality as much as they’re awed by her arrangements. I inherited her nose, her spirit, and her need to be heard. We are closer than we’ve been in years. Now that she is “living freer,” our relationship is more like the one we had when I was growing up, in all the right ways.

Pop: A mercurial man from pre-adolescence (so says the evidence) to his passing in the fall of 2022, our relationship was often complicated. I loved my father deeply, but lies, an inability to take ownership, and a refusal to communicate are three things that break a relationship for me. Pop hurt his family with all three of them. He is responsible for some of my best qualities, and a few I both work to avoid and steer clear of in others, now that I’m so familiar with the warning signs.

Megan: My sister is a gifted artist. Also a third generation entrepreneur, her focus with both of the businesses she owns is staying fully invested in creating her art. Megan’s greeting card company makes hand-blocked cards, so each is unique, and her SoCal floral design studio specializing in weddings, events, and editorials does some of the most stunning work I’ve ever seen. Megan is so creative that I never saw myself as creative growing up. In my late 30s she said, “Are you kidding? You’re one of the most creative people I know. Business is your art.” A pivotal moment in my self-identity. That idea has evolved to “life is my art,” because business is only a lever in the engine of life, but the evolution started there.

Honey and Papí: My grandparents on Mom’s side were amazing, and a warm antidote to the polar emotions Megan and I were always wading through at home. Honey was appropriately nicknamed, the sweetest person I’ve ever met. Papí passed on his spirit to my mom before she passed it to me. Same for our noses. He died fifteen years ago at the age of ninety-nine, the day before I “came out” as a writer after a year of scribbling in private. Papí was the first person I ever told, because I read my work to him every Saturday morning during his last months of life.

MOF: My oldest friend and I had an unfortunate falling out last year. Bad enough that we’re currently at an impasse in our communication, now trading only cursory texts. Sucks hard, because we’re both good people who love one another. There is zero doubt that we will make it merrily to the other side of this, but MOF is relevant right now, because at the time of my building the Campfire, our relationship is the only situation in my life that is still more of a wound than a scar, which means it burrows in the nooks of my mind and encourages me to learn from it.

Dave: My first online partner, first fiction collaborator, one-third of the Self-Publishing Podcast trio, and co-author of more than 50 books together, all of which have at least one of the following: kids in jeopardy; someone taking a piss; a dead baby (once on Christmas morning); crooked politicians; dads who are working too much and missing out on the magical moments with their family; a version of Carrie’s infamous locker room scene; and someone else taking a piss. Though he often writes from a place of darkness, Dave is one of the kindest people I know.

Lori: A force of nature copywriter who read some of my online writing, got on a call with me, and said, “You’re better than 95% of writers I’ve ever seen, but that last 4% is where the millions are made. How much do I need to pay for you to only work with me?” We never made millions together, but Lori was instrumental in helping to mold my mind, consistently putting me in front of brilliant thinkers I would not otherwise have had access to and accelerating my growth as a person and doer more than anyone else before her, second only to Cindy.

Johnny: The catalyst for countless great things in my life, starting when he pitched me on The Self-Publishing Podcast with Dave. That led to our collaborating on Unicorn Western, followed by more than a whopping 150 books together, including the indie author staple, Write. Publish. Repeat. After being an integral part of Sterling & Stone’s first decade, including being the COO and my copilot for several of those years, Johnny left the studio in 2023 for life as a solo author. We remain great friends and evergreen collaborators.

Bonnie: After the success of Write. Publish. Repeat., the Smarter Artist brand was born, and we held our first ever live event. The Smarter Artist Summit invited authors from all over the world to come and join us in Austin. Bonnie really wanted to be one of those authors, but couldn’t afford the ticket. Her husband won a Summit pass in a contest, and Bonnie was off. Two Summits later, she joined our mastermind, The Stone Table, then the company six hiccups after that. She is the best developmental editor I have ever worked with. So good that Sterling & Stone as we know it would not exist without her. And not just because of how outstanding her whole approach is.

Niamh: Bonnie was so sought after in the industry that when Niamh reached out to her shortly after Bonnie joined Sterling & Stone and tried to book some work, she told Niamh that she only worked for S&S. Niamh joined the Stone Table so she could cozy up to Bonnie, attended our last ever in person mastermind, proved her genius in real time over the two days with a small group behind closed doors, and hopped aboard the speeding train before flying back to Ireland. In the five years since, Niamh has been instrumental in the our evolution, becoming COO, bringing systems and stability to the studio, and engineering our move from being a publishing company to an IP incubator with a publishing arm, effectively leveraging the world of books, plus film and television.

Sawyer Black: I won’t tell you Sawyer’s real name, because he’s disappeared into the role so much that he even uses this pseudonym on his scripts. Sawyer boarded S&S after an in-person world building event we held for a universe filled with robots. The dude had an insane number of ideas, and was ridiculously generous in sharing them. From the start it was clear that Sawyer was born to write scripts, and when he finally got the chance to try his hand at them, his first screenplay ever snagged attention from a production company wanting to develop it the same week it went out. He writes better action than anyone currently at Sterling & Stone, both in his books and in his scripts. I can’t wait to see the first Sawyer Black story on-screen.

Ninie: We don’t know how old Sterling & Stone’s elder stateswoman of story actually is. She said she was 72 when we met six years ago, but there’s fuzzy math around that. In short, according to Ninie, she doesn’t even buy green bananas. S&S is a forward-thinking studio, so we’re always talking about five-year plans. Ninie is always crying out, “Let’s talk about the one year plan!” But Ninie has more life inside her than most of us and probably has another thirty years at least. The book series we specifically designed around Ninie’s talents to “be on TV someday” was also the first of our projects to land a showrunner and producing partner. A born storyteller, fans adore Ninie. She’s adopted several of us as her grandchildren, and stayed in the “murder cabin” all alone at Sterling & Stone Summer Camp last year, armed with only a plastic tomahawk.

Shep: Our head of books is actually named David, but when our studio inexplicably had FOUR DAVIDS, everyone except the OG Dave needed a nickname. In the fall of 2022, S&S got to the smart business of preparing for our future. That meant sending out an email to the Smarter Artist list, looking for standouts in that crowd. We sifted through high piles of finished three-hour applications to find our first twenty new recruits. Shep boarded our train with every intention of writing sweet romance, but it quickly became clear that his genius with data and understanding of genre, and that his organizational mind could clear work from both mine and Niamh’s plates, building the systems that could get some serious flywheels started and keep them turning, while also helping to anchor our marketing department. Yes, all of those numbers make him Nerdy Nerdenson, but Shep also has the best ratio of words expelled to laughs generated in the entire studio.

This cast of characters is by no means exhaustive, and I’m sure I’ll be bringing you deeper into my circle of friends soon.