Category Archives: Writers

Moonwalking with Einstein

412iIGkcCpL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-65,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_The title of this non-fiction masterpiece is somewhat misleading but certainly memorable. I’m only partially through it so I still do not know why the author chose this title, but I’m enjoying this book that reads more like a novel than a non-fiction book about memory. The author, Joshua Foer, spent a year hanging out with “memory athletes” and challenged himself to improve his memory and compete with them.

The old joke is, “there are three signs of old age, the first is memory loss . . . I can’t remember the other two.”  According to Joshua Foer, we need not give in to our aging memory and we can do something about it fairly easily with practice. He shares the astonishing statistics on memory athletes, one of whom can remember more than 1,500 items in order.

We long ago learned that the human brain is hard wired to remember some things and forget much of what lands in our sensory path. We have no use for most of what we encounter, so being able to forget those bits of information is useful. Foer also tells about individuals born with amazing memories for information but who cannot process it. A great memory does not just recall data, but also applies the information usefully. Our brains are designed to seek context for information so that it is available when needed.

In the fifth century B.C., Simonides used and taught the “Memory Palace” as a technique for memorization and it is still used today. By relating information and sequences to familiar landscapes or building interiors, we can store information for later recall. We use our visual memory of a familiar place to cue us for recall of new information we hope to retain.

410B5huH1PL._AA160_Foer mentions George Miller’s pivotal research in 1954 that resulted in the article, The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two that suggests most of us can store seven chunks of data with short term memory, but some can handle nine and some retain only five chunks, thus seven plus or minus two. John Medina’s Brain Rules, another great book based on the physiology of the brain, is a great companion read for this book, because it specifies how the brain encodes memories and explains the interaction of the animal brain, amygdala and hippocampus with the cerebral cortex.

Joshua Foer’s journey to the U.S. Memory Championship is the thread that leads you through his fascinating book. I’m looking forward to the rest of it. And I am already practicing some of the techniques. You can teach an old dog new tricks, if you can get him to read a good book.

– Tim Merriman


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Great Books Have Long Lives: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Just about a zillion years ago I read a story about stolen candlesticks in an English book in middle school. I remember the main character’s name, Jean Valjean. Now I know that was just an excerpt from the classic book by Victor Hugo (1802–1885), Les Miserables. If you read on digital media, the book is very affordable since it is offered FREE. The book was published in 1862 and endures in many forms: book, E-book, movie, and musical.

41SbXYXgaPL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I just watched Jon Stewart on The Daily Show as he interviewed Anne Hathaway, an unforgettable, haunting Fontine in the recently released movie. Jon quipped that he usually only cries at Mets games, but . . . without saying it he alluded to having shed a few tears. Lisa and I enjoyed the movie, shed a lot of tears and simultaneously felt emotionally crushed and uplifted. It is a powerful story, powerfully told through dialogue and song in the movie. Lots of Oscars, Golden Globes and other awards are likely.

Now I have to go back and read the book. There are few short stories from English Literature classes that I still remember. Why do I remember Jean Valjean and the stolen candlesticks? The emotional power of this story of a convicted man who steals silver from a church and is caught by the police is compelling. The priest who befriended and protected Valjean also protects him from the law when he is caught. That act of love, forgiveness and humility changes him forever.

Hugo used the personal stories of friends, acquaintances and events of the times to craft the many subplots in this 1,500 page book that carefully moves from very dark places like prostitution and hunger to the joys of love and camaraderie. He intended it be transformative and it is. As a musical, some of the incredible actors sing better than others, but all of them capture your heart. Hugh Jackman explained in an interview that they sang the final versions of each song as they filmed the action, not dubbed in later from a studio setting. Anne Hathaway told Stewart that she sang one song for eight hours trying to find just the right feel. The fourth take from early in the day is the one that appears in the movie.

When books are made into movies, I usually like the book better and wonder at the choices a screenwriter and director made in subverting the choices of the author. Hugo is not around to complain, but movies like this will drive many of us back to the original text, not to be a critic, but to fully understand the nuance behind the story. The emotional power of the movie reminds me that there is a deeper experience in the book to be enjoyed.

Lisa, my wife, has seen Les Mis performed many times on stage and sings along with enthusiasm when she plays the soundtrack from the stage play. Using an inordinate amount of restraint in the movie, she silently mouthed every word through each song. I liked some of the songs but did not love them before seeing this movie. Now my throat swells with emotion when I hear even a few notes of One Day More. I am there on the ramparts in the streets of Paris cheering for freedom from the oppressive monarchy.

Great books live on for centuries through remakes in movies, musicals, and games. And in so doing, this one allows Victor Hugo to live on as a great storyteller of his time. If you need a good cry and liberation from your own problems, go to the movies soon and see Les Miserables. Or download the book for free and lose yourself in one of the world’s greatest works of historic fiction.

– Tim Merriman

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Before You Publish Your Book, Read . . .

51MCjhgAmaL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-70,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I just finished reading APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki, former Chief Evangelist at Apple, and Shawn Welch, an app developer. I heard Guy give an inspirational talk many years ago at a national conference and it was memorable. He is still on the cutting edge of entrepreneurship. Shawn Welch is a skilled technician/developer providing the explanations of how to convert files to the varied specific formats required for electronic sales at Amazon, Apple, Nook, etc.

If you are writing a book or have written one, you may already know the frustrations of trying to find a publisher and an agent. Kawasaki has written more than a dozen books and has had many of them published by mainstream publishers. He explains why that is not the most viable option these days. Even major publishers often will not promote your book to get sales. Unless you are already a well-known name, your mainstream book can still languish without readers. And even if you are well known, publishers may not find your book to be a priority. In that case there is little you can do except promote it yourself.

Many writers have observed that the creative act of writing a book, designing the cover, and going to print can be more rewarding when they do it all themselves or at least oversee it all. Kawasaki refers to this as “artisanal” publishing, rather than self-publishing. He points out that writers such as Walt Whitman and John James Audubon have done this in the past. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that publishing became the province of large companies or corporations.

I have read half a dozen books about self-publishing this past year. I am aware that we learned much of this the hard way by trial and error.  APE is the best of those I have read in terms of being readable, comprehensive and great advice. Guy’s portion was the most useful to me. I imagine that the technical advice from Shawn Welch on formatting and related matters is good, but we have preferred to contract with others to do the technical work. I am fine with the “Do it yourself” business when it comes to website design, merchant services and fulfillment, but the more technical application of Indesign software is still somewhat mystifying to me and not what I want to spend time learning. Others might enjoy this portion of the book.

414+iPgRf0L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_The authors point out the varied ways to work with diverse electronic publishing platforms but land where I have landed. The Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) by Amazon is probably the right starting place for a person publishing her or his own E-book or printed book. You can upload your own Word file on the site and preview it to make certain it looks like what you expect. It can even have color photos, since many of the new E-reader devices can handle color. If you place your book in the KDP Select program, you must exclusively keep your e-book at Amazon and not place it with Apple or other options. They give you five free days every three months to give away your book as a promotion and this really builds reviews, if you promote the book well through the many sites that keep readers informed of free books.

Dan Poynter’s book, KDP Select: Navigating Kindle’s Freebie Day has also been helpful. It explains the ways that “free days” can be effective in putting your new book in front of lots of readers. He also explains how to get promotion on varied free day websites. Author Marketing Club has made that even easier. They provide one page with all of the best connections to having your free book day listed.

Even if you are fairly experienced at publishing your own book, you may read APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book and still garner some new ideas. It is rich with suggestions that will make you more successful as an author, publisher and entrepreneur. It is good to read as many resources as you can find, but I can highly recommend APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book.


–Tim Merriman

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My Life on Mars

5121aGAA1WL._AA160_I have been back and forth to Mars many times, starting from when I was a kid. I love it when NASA has a probe, like Curiosity, on the planet that is sending back images. The Red Planet is fascinating and humans have observed and studied it for thousands of years. But I’ve been going there for decades due to great science fiction writers.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was selling pencil sharpeners to make a living when he decided that he could write fiction as “rotten” as what he was reading in pulp-fiction novels. Under the Moons of Mars, his first fictional story, was published one hundred years ago. The Barsoom series, set on Mars, amounted to more than a dozen books in the next fifty years, while Burroughs rose to greater fame for his Tarzan books in those same years. I read every one of the books in both series and some of them two and three times. The Barsoom series is available today as Kindle books on John Carter, his main character in the series, emerged recently as the title character in a major motion picture. I thought it had overdone special effects and was weak on story, but my imagination has locked those characters in my brain and the movie was totally unlike what I remember from the books.

51e+M8wOQEL._AA160_Robert Heinlein (1907-1988) was another great science fiction writer who took me to Mars. The Red Planet (1949) and Podkayne of Mars (1963) were memorable books by the man dubbed “The Dean of Science Fiction.” Many of his contemporaries, also well regarded, considered him the best sci-fi author ever. I was especially taken with his stories and read them over and over again through my high school years. Heinlein was a trained scientist in math and physics. He and his wife took many ocean voyages on freighters as well as passenger ships, which gave him ideas for journey on space vehicles. His books created other worlds and shipboard experiences that felt real. They still sell well and now have all new audiences as Kindle books for e-readers. Judging from the reviews of the Kindle versions, they are still finding an eager audience today.

512TZT2DLZL._AA160_Many other authors have taken on Mars as a subject. I just read Saving Mars and Defying Mars by Cidney Swanson. I was pulled through each of these highly rated books in a matter of hours. Like Heinlein’s best books they have believable stories, great characters and reveal the challenges of humans living in the sparse atmosphere of the red planet. Swanson’s books are considered young adult (YA) novels as our book, The Leopard Tree, is. I may not be in the target age market but I will follow this series as closely as any other reader. It is a great read on a subject I enjoy.

Books that are well-written with captivating characters and compelling stories will always have a much broader audience than their target markets. Some of the best books I have ever read were oriented toward younger readers. I will keep going to Mars via my iPad these days with hopes that the space program is allowed to continue real exploration.

-Tim Merriman

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Writing to Inspire – A Story of Malawi

We wrote The Leopard Tree in 2007 to inspire people to look for ways to help people who face great challenges. We have had almost 30,000 downloads of the book through Amazon’s Select Program using occasional FREE days as a promotional tool. Although these free days generate no immediate revenue, we always hope those who take advantage of the free download will invite their friends to buy a book at the reasonable price of $2.99 for the e-book or $9.99 for a hard copy. Since the book was published, we have donated more than the book sales have produced to a program of the Museums of Malawi that inspires us.

malawiThe program began when museum educators Aaron Maluwa and Michael Gondwe developed the concept of taking it directly to rural villages to help people understand the need to address HIV/AIDS and malaria. The program uses the songs, dances and stories of their people to deliver life-saving messages. They call it the “Theater of Change,” an apt name for this passionate program. We visited the village of Chikwawa in 2009 with Aaron and Mike and watched villagers line up to be tested for HIV after hearing their inspirational messages. Our small donations over the years have helped cover the costs of gas, medical supplies, and other expenses involved in taking this program to rural Malawi. More importantly, the effects of the small amount of money we are able to provide has begun to multiply as awareness of this program has grown and others have been able to expand assistance.

Aaron listening to stories of challenge from a woman who spoke up about their needs.

Aaron listening to stories of challenge from a woman who spoke up about their needs.

If you ever wonder whether a small donation of time or money can make a difference, we can guarantee that it does, especially when it inspires others to do whatever they can. Although Mike has now retired from the museum, he is setting up a nonprofit organization to continue his work, while Aaron manages and expands the programming through Museums of Malawi. The dedication of these gentlemen in helping others is unwavering and we will continue to find ways to support them and encourage others to do the same.

On our 2009 trip, we took along a SkyHydrant we purchased through the SkyJuice program in Australia. This simple piece of equipment helps remote communities establish a clean drinking water supply by using reverse osmosis filtration with a Siemens system. We hope it will become a prototype project that can be duplicated in other communities with additional support. Aaron just sent us a report of the installation in which he says:



Aaron Maluwa (center) with the plumbers who installed the SkyHydrant.

Aaron Maluwa (center) with the plumbers who installed the SkyHydrant.

It was during the course of the continued assistance by National Association of Interpretation (NAI) under the leadership of Professor Tim Merriman and Lisa Brochu that after their visit to Malawi three years ago that they saw people drinking from wells, rivers, borehole among other that they felt so bad with many people drinking unsafe water leading to the spread of many diseases such as diorrhoea, dysentery cholera among others that the two asked if they could help my family/village with Water Hydrant/Filter so that my community may have safe drinking water.


Tim and Lisa bought the machine in Australia at a cost of $2300 plus shipping. They also paid for duty clearing here in Malawi. I processed the clearing and the machine was taken home for installation.


Being the first of its kind, the Plumbers from Blantyre Water Board were to install it in my village which is about 500 km away from Blantyre where I work.


Though the installation work was simple, about 7 plumbers did not think they could install it hence it took a long time to install it.


It was in September this year that two plumbers who have just graduated from the University agreed to do it and they did it very well. It took them two days to install it.


Women from local villages in Malawi gather to fill their buckets with safe drinking water for their families.

Women from local villages in Malawi gather to fill their buckets with safe drinking water for their families.

The installation of the life saving machine which is easy to operate and care has changed people’s lives. They drink safe and clean water now from the three taps installed. Pumping is easy and putting chlorine is easy too. People are very happy with the donation and they owe it to the wonderful people in the name of Tim and Lisa.


I would like to personally thank both Tim and Lisa for your support, which has made a huge difference. The Hydrant is serving not only people in my village but many villages too.  There is no single borehole or tap in the communities around my village. Many people have been drinking from the wells since they were born. The Hydrant is unique and attracts more people to come and fetch water, something that makes me very happy.


Tim and Lisa, you have your names written: Donated by Tim and Lisa of USA. Everyone Who comes reads it as my acknowledgement. THANK, (ZIKOMO) in my language.

You can find other worthy programs helping people in Africa at “What Can I Do To Help” on our book website,

Zikomo  (thanks) Aaron and Mike for being the good people of change in your communities.

–       Tim Merriman and Lisa Brochu

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Your Review on Amazon.UK Will Help

Many of us have come to trust reviews as a way of finding out whether we might enjoy a book from Amazon before downloading or ordering it.. And the marketplace for a book is no longer confined to one nation, waiting for export to another market that reads the same language. People in the U.K. can download any Amazon digital title easily to their digital reading device.

There’s just one little problem. Software at does not connect in some areas of information. Reviews on the U.S. Amazon site will not show up on the U.K. site or in any of the other countries through which Amazon sells – Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan. So a reader will really have to want a book to buy with absolutely no endorsements from other readers.

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 2.33.31 PMI recently put an ad for our novel, The Leopard Tree, on a UK Kindle Forum site and expected some sales, but no purchases resulted from a month-long ad. An ad of the same kind on any American site would have sold some books. After weeks of no sales, it suddenly occurred to me to look at the reviews on the U.K. site. We have 72 reviews with a 4.8 average on the U.S. site. We had none – 0 – zilch on the Amazon site in the U.K. Now we have four by asking some of our loyal readers to post both places.

Amazon is absolutely amazing as a vendor in that they empower authors and publishers to sell books through their sites easily. We sell both our digital titles and print books through Amazon and we handle shipment of the printed books to customers. It is all easy to do with their user-friendly software. When you have a question of Customer Support for sellers, it happens quickly in my experience, so I  asked them if they could link our U.S. reviews to the U.K. Amazon site.

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 2.50.54 PMTwo hours later I had answers – not NO, but we will work on it! They are always polite and helpful through a great feedback system. I made the suggestion that they figure out how to do that. It’s hurting sales of books in the U.K. for Amazon and American authors. Our books with great reviews simply do not show up there. The Amazon support staff assured me they will work on it but it’s a software issue and will not happen quickly. Three days later I checked our non-fiction book, Put the HEART Back In Your Community at Amazon.UK and they had four of our 12 reviews from the U.S. site and a small “Beta” test marker. They have already found a potential work around and it links to the twelve 5.0 star reviews for the book on

If you review on Amazon because you want to support good books and tell others of clunkers so they don’t buy them, keep reviewing. Those of us who write or read appreciate thoughtful  reviews. But after you post your review on the U.S. Amazon site, use Google to locate UK Amazon and search for the book you are reviewing there. They have the same books for the most part, but you will see much smaller review numbers unless it is a book by a British author, who posted there first.

You can do a cut and paste from your review on the Amazon site easily and put the very same review on the British site, no matter where you purchased or downloaded the title. This gives your reviews greater exposure all over the English-speaking world and authors/publishers/readers will appreciate your extra effort.

We hope you will keep reviewing, but expand your efforts in the U.K. for English readers all over Europe. If you have read The Leopard Tree, please review it at the U.S. Amazon site and UK Amazon. Thanks for reviewing.

–Tim Merriman

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Memories from the Road

Lisa and a baby panda exchange high fives in Wolong Panda Reserve.

My wife and I travel extensively as consultants and trainers. We are in Japan as I write this and just left Korea after giving presentations at two forest symposiums. As we travel internationally, I faithfully keep a daily diary, a journal, of every place we go, every person we meet and all that we do. I also take an extraordinary number of photographs, but the journal has become the most essential tool for backing up my memory.

At home it never occurs to me to write down what happens, though I think that would be useful to any writer. Daily demands of our regular routine make it seem challenging to keep a journal at home, but empty hours on a plane, train, bus or waiting for the next event to begin are perfect for sitting down with my laptop to catch up on my travel journal.

Getting close to a silverback gorilla in the Virunga Volcanoes was amazing.

When you write books, blog articles and technical papers, you realize just how fallible your memory can be. Try recalling an incredible experience you had ten years ago and want to use in a novel or article. Your memory of the details may be so vague that those details become blurred. You may recall events based partly on what you did but also be influenced by stories from others and TV accounts of the place you have seen. We integrate new information with what we already know and our personal memory is often a mix of personal experiences and learned information.

Reading old journal articles and looking through photos from a specific journey bring it alive again. Sometimes I reread the journals to find people’s names so I can contact them again or just use the correct name when I see them. In technical articles I may need to quote the dates and happenings to be accurate.

Three weeks ago we were in Rwanda, tracking chimpanzees in Nyungwe National Park and mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. As amazing as those experiences were, some of the details have already faded. Ten years ago we first worked with giant pandas in Wolong Valley in Sichuan Province of China. I have great detailed notes in my journal from the trip and that’s a good thing because time has dulled some of the memories of specific events there. Neuroscience research tells us that experiences are necessary to create context for memories to reside in our brains but it also tells us that every time we remember something, we run the risk of changing that memory just a bit. It’s kind of like taking a book out of the library – every time it changes hands, it gets a little more tired-looking as different pages get dog-eared and bindings start to fail. You can put it back in the library, but it’s been changed, just a bit.

I’ll never forget July 7, 1968, when I ran in the “incierro” in front of the bulls in Pamplona.

In 1968, I ran in front of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. It was my first journey abroad and I kept no record of any kind. I would love to look back at a journal and refresh my memory but it does not exist. My photos from that era are Kodachrome slides stored in a box in the garage so they don’t work well as reminders. I have one scanned photo from that experience that makes me wonder what was going through my mind that interesting day. I know I ate churros and drank a liter of milk before running and that the bulls were big and scary. It would be great to read a more detailed account in my own words.

This week in Japan we attended the Fall Festival in Fujinomiya, a city at the foot of Mount Fuji. This festival has been around more than 100 years and takes place in front of the Sengen Shrine, a Shinto shrine to Mount Fuji. The twenty local communities in the city have built beautiful wood carved dashis, floats, that hold drummers, flute players and cymbal clangers to do “battles of the bands” with neighboring communities in the streets from 4 to 9 PM each evening on November 3rd, 4th and 5th each year. In between the sparring the competitive teams gather in the street to drink copious amounts of sake and share in “bon” dancing. These beautiful dances involve elaborate hand and foot motions that unite the dancers in spirit and movement.

This elder on a dashi team invited me to join the “bon” dancing and I took part.

I really enjoyed updating my journal about the festival. Facebook has become an easy way to share photos with my family and friends. The journal goes into digital storage and some day when I need to recall exactly what happened on this trip, it will be there waiting. Ten years of journals from 22 nations have great value as a writing tool. Perhaps my family will also find some value in them as a reminder of me someday.

– Tim Merriman

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