Watcha Writin’?

Recently I caught up on where I’ve been since finishing the ride across Mexico, and what ridiculous Hallowe’en festivities we had here in New Orleans. But my biggest focus these days is my career as an author. And I think it’s high time to share what I’m working on.

Here are my top projects, and where I’m at with each one.

Image by Lívia Cristina

Mexico Stories

When I started my ride across Mexico last year, I promised I would write four short stories based on the places I visited. If you backed the crowdfunding campaign to launch the trip, depending on the level you came in at I may owe you a copy of these stories. Accordingly, they’re my top priority.

All four stories are finished in draft form. They all need more editing. However, I do realize it’s been a year since I set out in Mexico. I’m hoping to have them done within the next 30 days.

I think you’ll like them. Three of them are magical realism pieces similar to Lúnasa Days and one is a tale of lost love. All are set in real places, but none are based on my actual travels. They’re fiction.

As backdrops I chose some of the the most dramatic places that you saw in my road logs. Concha and the Saints happens in the bullet-riddled border region. The Cloud Desert takes place on pilgrimage through the misty, high-altitude wasteland. Guadalupe Calling, starring a 60-year old doña on a mission, is set by the pirate walls of Campeche. And the last story features my favorite city in Mexico: Meet Me in Xalapa.

Just because these stories are finished doesn’t mean they’ll be immediately available to the public. I will send them out privately to those supporters who are owed a copy, prbably before Christmas. Then I plan to enter some of them in literary contests. Eventually, they’ll be published.

My First App

The next project is a not a book at all. It’s a game. I grew up wanting to create my own video games, but I was always told you need a big budget for that. Then I saw the success of simple, story-driven games like A Dark Room. Minimal graphics, compelling gameplay, and a mystery to unravel. That’s something I can do.

I teamed up with a friend who’s a coder (creater of the Ananda app, which you can see reviewed here.) and we decided to make it as an app for iOs. After kicking a few ideas around, we settled on the game we liked best: Hunger.

You start Hunger alone in a dilapidated cottage. Your food supply is dwindling, just a few morsels. You own nothing else except an old ring on the shelf.

Outside, Ireland is starving. Soon you’ll be forced to leave the cottage and wander town to town in search of food or a better life. And in the process, you might start to change things…

My friend and I are working on this game slowly, one chunk at a time. It will come out in 2016.

“Project 30”

The last item is a collaborative fiction project about coming of age in your 30s. It consists of a “season” of 10 short, written episodes. My coauthor Am ber has been my writing partner for over a year, which usually just means we critique each other’s work. But this is a topic near to both our hearts, and we decided to take the big leap and write it together.

The story will center on four 30-something friends living in New Orleans, each coming to grips with a simple truth: they aren’t doing what they wanted to do with their lives. They have jobs and they get by but they yearn for something more. Some of them don’t know how to get it; others don’t even know what it is. The story follows them as they date, work, and struggle to launch a new life.

We’ve nicknamed the series Project 30 until we get a better title. (Do you have a suggestion?) It will appear in 2016.

Odds and Ends

Lower on my list, but still on my radar, as a few side projects:

  • Sky People, a novel about two girls who find a crashed airship and go to a lost kingdom in the sky.
  • Heart of Adventure, my long overdue book on the philosophy of living life as an adventure

Do any of these strike your fancy? Do you have a title suggestion for Project 30? I’d love your feedback.

New Orleans, Travel

Hallowe’en in New Orleans

Halloween in New Orleans. Photo via Nola.com.

I’m back in New Orleans. I arrived one week ago with a few boxes, a “new” 42-year old bike, and—for a couple days at least—my dad.

He had offered to drive me down. The plan is that I’ll stay here a few months and keep building up my career as an author. I’ll also be looking for a more permanent residence, so that I’ll have a place to land here every time I come back. It does seem to happen quite often, after all.

I’m, never sure if I’ll still love this city until I get back. During the drive I thought about how slow everything is, how expensive it is, and how bartenders glare at strangers like convicts. I worried it wouldn’t be magical anymore.

But then I stepped out of the car and smelled the clean swamp air; I saw the hanging moss and Creole cottages; we spent some time sitting on a porch, just because. I always love this place just as much as the last time.

The Art Haus

Before I landed I made arrangements with a friend of a friend, which is the best way to get anything done in New Orleans. This particular gent owns an old plantation manor in the Bywater, the Boheaux fantasyland of the city. The house is a wreck, and my friend is doing his best to shake 170 years of decline out of its bones. It looks more like a demolition site than a home.

But, he told me, there is a little private room on the second floor, at the back of the house. It has a loft bed and a private bath. Normally it’s his room, but he’s leaving for a long trip to New York, and he’s happy to rent it.

Sounds like a good place for a writer to write.

The room opens onto a side porch. It’s not as dirty as I feared, nor as finished as you might hope. I could afford somewhere nicer—somewhere that looks respectable—but I’ve done that enough. I don’t feel any more comfortable in the gilded places than I do in the rough ones, as long as I have a silent spot to work. And if I save money, there’ll be more for a down payment on a house.

So we hauled an old writing desk into the room, and I made sure the wi-fi works. Good enough.

Briefly, the first night, I did get apprehensive. The menagerie of unwashed pots in the kitchen, the mosquitoes drifting through the screen on my door; what if I’d made a mistake? But then I heard a violin. I went out on the porch, stared at the moon, and listened to the music drift through the magnolias. I didn’t mind being there at all.

The roommates also sold me. It’s a mansion, so even with five of us we never step on toes. As far as I can tell they’re all artists of one kind or another. Greg, who restores historical homes, lives on the premises in exchange for his labor. Ryan, who has the only finished room, tells me he spends his days reading philosophy—by which I mean actual philosophers, not self-help blogs. He shares the room with his girlfriend Winnie, who almost never speaks. “It’s hard living with such an extrovert,” he told me.

I like being surrounded by these people. Good conversation is on tap when I want it, and creativity begets creativity. As my friend Cole told me, “Some day your biographer is gonna write about about how you all meet at this house, before you were famous.”

I’ve decided to call it the Art Haus.

Praise to the Gods of the Nile

Of course, Hallowe’en is approaching. This is my favorite holiday in New Orleans—more so than even Mardi Gras. Hallowe’en is at the beginning of the festival season, when people are still fresh. The weather is better. And the mood suits me.

As usual, we have a theme. My friend Cole was determined that she would be Cleopatra this year. (Yes, I told her it’s overdone; and yes, she will make it amazing anyway.) I decided to be Horus, the hawk-headed deity of the Egyptian pantheon. Pretty soon Cole’s boyfriend got on the bandwagon. He forsook dressing as Caesar and called dibs on Anubis, the jackal-headed god, instead.

Add in a friend visiting from up north, who will be Isis (the goddess, not the terrorist movement), and we’ve got a pretty neat little pantheon.


We build everything by hand. My Horus mask has several hundred hand cut feathers, and Cole just finished adding real gold leaf to the Anubis mask. I can’t be sure, but we might just outdo our past costumes.

We may also build a mobile pyramid full of beer to follow us, but I’m not certain we’ll have time to finish it.

(Yes, there will be pictures.)

The Next Adventure

Not everything in New Orleans is easy. I liken her to a courtesan, one who knows just what to say but always ends up costing more than agreed. Even that is part of her charm: she’s a city of blues, of Vodou, of letting les bon temps rouler. You take the bad and the good together here, which is part of why I like it.

It will be a few months of writing, saving and house-shopping. Meanwhile, the Giant is safe in Yucatán; new stories are almost ready to share (more on that soon), and the Adventure across the Americas is waiting, whenever I’m ready.

Which leaves me with just one question. What should I name the new bike?

Andre Sólo, Travel

Sólo, Where Yat?

We’re long overdue for an update. The short version: I’m back in the US now, and it’ll be a few months before I’m on a bicycle in Latin America.

After Mexico

Here’s the latest. After my time was up in Valladolid I traveled around Mexico a bit with a friend. (We took buses. The Giant is stored safely at Alberto’s house in Valladolid. That’s the same Alberto who leads underground swimming expeditions.)

Then I needed to buckle down and work somewhere. The journey has taught me that my purpose really is to write, and I’m focused a lot more on career. I chose the city of Xalapa—my favorite stop from the ride across Mexico, and the perfect place for a creative. I rented a small apartment June-August and finished drafting four new short stories.

Finally, I returned to the U.S. I have no illusions of doing the bike trip all in one go. Instead I do it in segments, often with six months or more in between. I’m currently in Wisconsin for a long overdue visit with my parents. I spend weekdays with them, weekends seeing friends, and every day getting a lot more work done.

Some of that work was dedicated to this year’s Hero Round Table, which I spoke at this past weekend. (It was great, by the way. Once the video of my talk is live I will share it here.)

Backstage at the HRT. I took this photo, but I can't describe what's going on here.

Magician Scott Dietrich backstage at the HRT.

When to Adventure On?

Those of you who are supporters are very familiar with the words adventure on. It’s the refrain I finished all of my video logs with. The problem: at this point, I don’t know exactly when I’ll be taking my own advice. I have no date for the next leg of the Adventure.

This is nothing new. So far, no segment of the journey had led seamlessly into the next one. Each section requires prep work and planning, and has to be balanced with other priorities in my life. But this time, the biggest consideration is career: there’s a lot I want to publish. I’d like to do that before I get back on the bike.

I’m fine with the delay. I used to agonize over the pace, and felt like a failure if I didn’t get on the road quickly. Not anymore. I have a deeper confidence about the Adventure now, and I know I’ll continue it sooner or later. Meanwhile, I gotta keep my kitchen in order.

Some things on my list before the next leg:

  • Publish four stories set in Mexico, and two books
  • Launch a collaborative writing project
  • Launch an app
  • Spend Hallowe’en and maybe Carnival in New Orleans
  • Look into getting a permanent home in New Orleans, so I have a place to come back to

One thing I’m not worried about is recruiting. I used to really, really want adventuring companions. Then I biked across Mexico solo, just like the name says, and it was amazing. A handful of friends have expressed interest in the Central America leg, and they’re welcome to come. But there will not be a massive call for adventurers this time. The journey is mine, and that makes me happy.

So what exactly are all these books and collaborative projects? I’ll save that for next time. Until then…

Adventure on :)

Lúnasa Days

Lúnasa Days is the story of a young man on a bicycle, finding his purpose in life. Check it out here.

Andre Sólo, Heroism, Spotlight

If You’re Just Joining Us…

Photo via Hero Round Table

Photo via Hero Round Table

For those of you at the Hero Round Table, thanks for checking out Rogue Priest. Here are some of my favorite posts if you’d like to learn about my journey:

It Was the First of Many Deserts

A Report from the Journey to Meet the Gods

The Heroic Life

You might also enjoy my book, Lúnasa Days:

Lúnasa Days

It’s story of a young man on a bicycle, finding his purpose in life. Check it out here.

Andre Sólo, Heroism, The Heroic Life

My Hero Round Table Talk

Tomorrow I speak at the Hero Round Table, the world’s largest conference on heroism. I’ll be talking about how a journey teaches you to be heroic, and finding your purpose in life. I’ll also share a story from crossing the desert in Mexico.

If you’d like to watch, we stream my talk Friday 9/18 at 10:00 am Eastern/9:00 am Central. (That’s tomorrow.) Because it’s a live stream you’ll need to tune in on time to see me. You can do that here:

The Hero Round Table

The feed will appear Friday and Saturday during the talks. There are lots of other great speakers too, so consider sticking around.

You can also tweet me questions @rogue_priest with the hashtag #heroRT.

Regular updates will resume next week.

Adventure, Mexico, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Mayan High Life Pt. 3—The Twelve Hour Breakfast

Last time I offered a little glimpse of what days and nights were like during my time in Valladolid. But as time went on, they seemed to get wilder.

Offerings I placed in an underground lake in Valladolid for my followers. Photo by Andre.

Offerings I placed in an underground lake in Valladolid for my followers. Photo by Andre.

Party at Seven

Mario, our local chef-cum-poet extraordinaire, has a knack for creating great parties. Generally, if Mario was planning something everyone wanted in. But one plan seemed to go too far:

A breakfast party.

“Picture this,” Mario said. “We start at dawn. I cook. At seven sharp there is an amazing breakfast laid on the table. And together we share it, and the party starts.”

This proposal earned no shortage of groans. For the banda I ran with, it was just too early of a start. But Mario was relentless. Originally the idea was an overnight party—in one of Alberto’s cenotes, no less—with breakfast cooked over a fire the following dawn. Alberto ruled that it was too complicated, and the idea foundered.

At first I didn’t like the idea of an early wake up, either. But in New Orleans we start our Mardi Gras at 5 a.m. Friends force themselves out of bed to meet for a hasty breakfast and the assembly of the costumes. The great holiday ends at midnight, so by 7 a.m. the Faubourg Marigny is alive with revelers. It’s worth the bleary eyes.

Thinking of this, I asked Mario why he wanted a breakfast party so bad. And why so early?

“For the experience! Think of it, Andre: the sun is barely up, the day is not yet hot, the streets are silent. It’s a time we always miss, bunch of drunks that we are, but this one day we’ll get to see it, to experience it, and we’ll celebrate being alive.”

(Mario actually talks like that.)

I was in. “I don’t have a cenote,” I said. “But I have a pool. And an outdoor kitchen. Choose a day.”

And so the breakfast began.

Mario and I had a week to campaign our friends to actually wake up on time. No one wanted to, and almost no one gave a firm commitment. Mario promised to bring enough food for 12 people, and joked that we’d have to eat it all ourselves. Meanwhile, my contribution was a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream for the coffee, which I discovered was kept behind protective glass at the supermarket and required a secret code to purchase.

We shouldn’t have worried. On the day of the party, the guests tumbled in half-asleep and miserable, but quickly perked up at the smell of food. They brought with them fresh juice, treats, and the ingredients for morning cocktails. “Is there milk for the coffee?” someone asked. I slid them the Bailey’s.

The breakfast. Photo by Andre.

The breakfast. Photo by Andre.

By 8:00 the seats were full, and people came and went all day. After breakfast we sat in bliss and chatted; after chatting we swam. The conversation ranged from philosophy and fate to sex, which to Mario are faces of a coin. When the debate got too intense I cooled it down by pushing Alejandra in the pool. But it was good, easygoing conversation. A party under the sun is just more humane than a party at night.

Swim, snack, chat, swim snack. Eventually someone gathered up ingredients and fixed another meal, and others made beer runs. “Get your glasses!” called Mario. “Get ready for the countdown!”

“What countdown?”

“We started at seven,” he grinned. “It’s about to be seven again.”

The assembled company murmured in disbelief. It was the twelve hour mark of our breakfast. Mario counted down the seconds and we toasted on the hour.

The party continued even longer, but when the sun went down the mood changed. Not for the worse or the better. It just changed.

I decided to rest, but the pool party got wilder. At one point I stepped inside for a call from a friend back home. I guess the guests missed their host, because a few lined up by the window and taunted me with full moons. The guilty parties will of course remain nameless.

By nine or ten, the moment was lost. People found their reasons to make an exit. Many weren’t tired out but were just ready for a new venue. For my part, I closed the door and relaxed, happy.

The Last Supper

The breakfast was far from the only party Mario threw. The greatest was also the last: the closing of his restaurant Naino. He was tired of not making a profit, and the tourist season was over. While everyone else thought it was a tragedy, Mario responded with his usual fatalism. It wasn’t meant to be; there was no point in fighting it; the only thing left to do was go out in glory. And so began the Last Supper.

I figured the name was just a joke, but it quickly became clear that this would be a thoroughly Biblical event. Mario was to play the part of our Lord and Savior. Per his invitation text:

“The next day Naino shall be crucified. Three days later it will make a brief reappearance and then ascend to the heavens, at the right hand of Mario.”

Costumes were encouraged, particularly togas and robes. I didn’t have a toga but I did have a checkerboard cape from my Chess Master costume at Mardi Gras. Striding across town in this outfit got a lot of Mayan double-takes.

The admission fee to the dinner was supposed to be $150 pesos, but Mario neglected to collect it, leaving Manda and me to be his muscle. I also tithed a fair selection of wine, as our messiah had thus far failed to turn water into a liquor license.

The Last Supper by da Vinci

The Last Supper by Mario. Your checkerboard rogue priest occupies the position of St. Thaddeus, near the far right.

The Last Supper by Mario. Your checkerboard rogue priest occupies the position of St. Thaddeus, near the far right.

The Holy Cross

Despite the good times, I often abstained from parties. Once, when Naino’s kitchen closed and the tables were slid aside for the dancing to begin, I made my way to the door amidst booing and pleading from my compatriots. I believe in living in the moment, but the truth is I do precious little of it. I live more in my plans and my dreams, and a hangover does not help me accomplish them.

Still, I was anything but a wallflower during those months. There are more Valladolid stories than I can possibly tell. At one point I was invited to give a talk on my Adventure to the local community, complete with a Spanish translator. I made friends I haven’t even mentioned here: Denis, the jolly hotel owner and local maven; Allan, the quiet old genius who lives outside of town; and Harriet. Harriet approaches life as a puzzle that can be figured out. She tornadoes into a room with the charm of a New England ladies’ club and the booming voice of a naval commander. Once, at a fundraising breakfast she organized, I teasingly complained about the long speeches. “You know what, Andre?” she cheerfully replied. “Fuck off and die.”

At the end of my Valladolid time, I still had one mission left to accomplish. For 1,700 miles of cycling across Mexico I carried a card inscribed with the names of all the supporters who made the trip possible. (“Follow that Dream,” the card read.) I had pledged to leave it at a shrine of Guadalupe in Valladolid. The problem? There were none. I could spot household shrines through doors and behind gates, but no public ones.

My last week in Valla, I rode the Giant out to the villages. On the  city outskirts I spotted one of the ritual crosses of the Maya. A hundred years ago, when the Maya rose up against Mexican landowners, they formed their own Christian cult around a holy cross that could speak and issue commands to its followers. Even today, the villages have simple wooden crosses dressed in beautiful hand-embroidered garments as if the cross itself were a person.

I stopped at this particular holy cross, its pediment crowded with candles. Leaving the bike aside, I knelt down.

All the candles were of Guadalupe.

Reverently, I kissed the ground and offered the card. “Follow that Dream,” it still said, just barely, the words blurred by moisture and sun and months of riding in a bike bag. I set the card behind the candles, in this place where Mayan, Mexican and European tradition come together.

As I stood I saw a local mother and her two kids on the trail behind me. She held them back to let me do my devotion in peace. But when I met her gaze, she smiled warmly. So did I.

I had finished my mission of riding across Mexico. In the future, I’ll pick up at the same place and head farther south—through countries even more dangerous, on roads even more busted, with even less idea of what I’m doing.

But for now, I focus on my career. At the end of May, a friend from the US came down to visit. I left the Canada House and Valladolid in early June, and we spent some time on the beach before I headed to Xalapa to write.

So where am I now? That’s a story for next time.

For more reading, check out my book Lúnasa Days.

Atheism, Religion, Spotlight

Review of the SNS Academy Intro to Atheist Spirituality

Photo by Caleb Roenigk

Several months ago I wrote about helping test a new course on spirituality for atheists. By “spirituality for atheists” I mean a path of personal growth using tools from spirituality (like meditation) with no supernatural elements. The course could also be used by people who are agnostic or humanistic and simply want a spirituality based on evidence.

The course is produced by the Spiritual Naturalist Society, a humanist organization. They took feedback from myself and other testers, improved the course, and have now officially opened it to the public. This is my review of the course.

(Disclosure: I know one of the course designers personally. I do not receive compensation for this review nor for readers enrolling in the course.)

Course Overview

The course is a 4-week, online, mostly self-guided experience. I say “mostly” because you’re expected to complete certain modules each week. Within the week, you can go at your own pace and on your own schedule.

The face of the course is humanist author BT Newberg. While I know BT in real life, I’ve never seen him teach before and he does so with a gentle, confident delivery that makes him easy to absorb. It’s clear he’s someone who meditates extensively in his own life, and when he talks about the practices he’s speaking from experience.

The format has three parts:

  • Videos. Each module begins with a video. Most videos are about 10 minutes long (there are transcripts if you prefer to read). The videos introduce core concepts and the practices that you’ll be asked to do. Most feature the voice of BT Newberg, with plenty of images and illustrations to break up the visuals. Several modules use audio guidance by Dr. Helen Weng, a meditation researcher, instead of videos. I thought the videos were well done, insightful and to the point.
  • Self-guided Q&A. After each module is a short Q&A or quiz. There is no grade on this—the course is quite gentle if you get an answer wrong, showing you the correct one and an explanation of why. The questions are about concepts from the video and help make sure you’re following the reasoning of how to do a practice or how it will help. I personally did not get a lot out of doing the Q&A, but I understand it helps with learning retention and some people like it.
  • Forums. There is a private online forum for course students. This is a great touch, as it allows you to speak to other like-minded individuals. Small talk is optional, but each week has a prompt for discussion in the forums that led to, in my opinion, very high quality conversations.

Altogether, the total time commitment is about 3 hours/week.

What You Learn

This course is officially Spiritual Naturalism 101, an intro to naturalistic spirituality. The curriculum is ambitious—they really set out to give you a complete, hands on spiritual path. The course covers everything from understanding emotion to finding peace and fulfillment to facing death without an afterlife. It would have been easy for the course to go off the rails, but they kept it practical by anchoring each module in a specific practice.

If I had to name a main theme of the course, I would say “self mastery.” Several sections are dedicated to emotions, how they arise, and how to manage them. Clearly, awareness meditation is a major part of this, but so are lots of other, less well known practices. BT comes back often to the idea of “broadening,” or simply taking a moment to look at the larger context of a situation, in order to defuse stress, anxiety or negative emotions. That’s a shortcut a Buddhist wouldn’t take, which underscores that this course is all about what works and not just sticking to an age-old practice.

Not everything is about emotion. The course delves into what it means to live in a naturalistic universe. One module addresses suffering as a natural part of our world, and strategies for accepting that. Another deals with the anguish of knowing that death is final, and how to create meaning in a meaningless world. If you’re seeing a broad range of influences here, both Eastern and Western, you’re exactly right.

The most fascinating section dealt with myths, religion and mysticism. Maybe surprisingly, it didn’t disparage them. The SNS is very clear that it believes in none of this stuff—but it believes it can be useful anyway. BT describes his experience making offerings at the shrine of a deity he is 100% sure does not exist, and why that practice was valuable. He suggests that myth and mysticism fill a certain need in the human psyche, and can do their job even when taken as purely symbolic. “Dive deep” into the ocean of myth, he says, “And let naturalism be your lifeguard.”

Of course, this won’t appeal equally to every student. No section will—I found some highly valuable and others less so. But no section gets pushy. The course only asks you to understand the concepts and try each practice once; which ones you end up using on your own is an entirely your decision.


So far my comments have been mostly positive. I think it’s a good course. But are there downsides? Potentially:

  • I would have liked to see a female face in the course. Make no mistake, BT is very approachable and SNS has a lot to offer all genders. But in a world of male gurus it would be nice to see a woman leading a spiritual class, especially a highly intellectual one. Perhaps a future version of the course could trade off videos between BT and a female instructor.
  • What you get out of the course will depend a lot on your existing view toward religion. It might be too “let’s use stuff from religion” for strong atheists and too “but not believe in it” for others. Whether that’s a pro or a con will depend on your point of view.

All in all, I was very happy with the course. It’s a great tool for anyone who wants to explore their personal development and “spiritual” worldview without going down a faith-based path.

The first SNS 101 course begins Sunday, September 6th. Cost is $100, or $50 for SNS supporting members (you do not have to be a member to join). Space is limited to the first 10 students to sign up. Get more details or enroll here.

Next time I’ll get back to stories from Valladolid. If you’re hungry for stories now, check out my book.