Category Archives: engineer -> author

Re-Imaginary Friends

“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
Lee Trevino

Do you have a story you dream of sharing with the world? Or perhaps yours is a life experience, a collection of songs, special photographs, or even a horror film. But is your dream locked away for a lot of “good” reasons?

  • I’m not a writer (singer, photographer, etc.), I’m a _________.
  • Probably no one would be interested.
  • I don’t have any extra time.
  • I’m afraid it wouldn’t be good enough.
  • It’s just not practical.

Many friends seem to be re-inventing–or “re-imagining”– at least a part of themselves these days. Some have had that inner spark fanned by opportunity or circumstance. Some have finally just summoned the courage needed to fuel their re-imagination passion. With the hope you will find inspiration, encouragement, or just that final nudge, please let me introduce you to some of the folks I’m proud to call my re-imaginary friends.

Mike Mahan is a college professor and graphic designer. He also loves animals. As a gift to his wife, Mike published a photographic tribute to their first three years with Sadie & Church. I admit being biased, but I think there is nothing in the world that’s cuter than a Schnauzer puppy, and Sadie has a sweet personality. Church is friendly and pretty laid back. It’s a good thing she is, too. She’s the size of a small mountain lion.


Brian Talgo is a carpenter, stonemason, ecologist, and currently an IT engineer living in Oslo, Norway. After re-discovering several long-forgotten writing journals in his cellar, Brian wrote and published The Beauregarde Affair. It’s a slice-of-life story about a bunch of hipster youths occupying (okay, okay, “renting”) a house on Morningside Drive in 1970s Atlanta … with a hognose snake named Beauregarde. To put it mildly, the neighbors weren’t exactly pleased.


Eddie Rhoades couldn’t decide what he wanted to be when he grew up … so he went for it all. He’s a musician, graphic artist, songwriter, illustrator, Southern humorist (à la Lewis Grizzard), Lifetime Master Gardener, and a former aerospace tool designer. With contributions from his brother Robert and his daughter Amanda, Eddie has written and produced Last Man Standing, Universal Love, and Songs for Your Garden. Eddie’s songs will make you laugh, cry–laugh some more–and definitely tap your toes. Remember, when you’re laughing out loud at some of the lyrics (the song, ‘Toss It’, comes to mind . . .), it’s easy to forget to clap your hands over young children’s ears.


Vickie Holt is a clown, and I say that with the utmost respect. Perky the Clown, and her husband, Steve the Magician, entertain children of all ages, and share the message of Christianity. Vickie found the picture of my sister-in-law’s garden sundial in my Flickr photostream and asked if she could use it on the cover of her latest book, The Sundials of Heart Island. I was pleasantly surprised, and said I would be honored. The more amazing coincidence was that my nephew and his beautiful bride had recently gotten married in the gardens of  Boldt Castle … on Heart Island!


Bruce and Karen Talgo both work in the field of architectural engineering and sales, and they have always been passionate about music. Bruce has been writing lyrics for many years. Karen has a lovely singing voice and she plays the piano. They decided it was time to set Bruce’s lyrics to music. They worked out the melodies, cut demos in their basement, started their own record label, and put together a studio band of talented local artists. As a result, Corrected Visionaries recently released their debut album of blues / 80s progressive rock. Their first CD, Optical Delusions, is a long-time dream come true.


Joe Laipple is a behavioral psychologist and works as a business consultant for Aubrey Daniels International in Atlanta. After years of coaching executives and business leaders on how to get needed change to occur … and make it stick … Joe wrote Rapid Change: Immediate Action For the Impatient Leader. Filled with real world examples, Joe explains the behavioral science behind successful organizational change in practical, implementable terms.


If you have visited Rob Mahan Books before, you may know some of my own re-imagination story, but here’s the part perhaps you haven’t heard. With a dream of someday becoming a writer while working for nearly thirty years as an engineer, a potential but somewhat risky and definitely complex opportunity presented itself. I’m blessed with a wife who has never said, “No.” Instead, she has always said, “Let’s find a way to make it happen.” It’s the reason the dedication in An Irish Miracle reads:

To Linda
You made it possible
With love


I’m proud to call each of these folks re-imaginary friends. Consultant or clown, designer or salesman, mother, father, friend . . . whoever you are in your “real” life, I hope you find the opportunity, the courage, the support–whatever it takes–to make your dream come true. These good folks all did it, and you can do it, too. I know you can.

What do you re-imagine yourself doing five years from now . . . or tomorrow?

Passing Along Manual Life Skills – Another Lost Tradition?

Sighting down the edge of a board for bow, crown, twist, and warp is a skill all carpenters should be able to do. How many of today’s carpenter’s know which way to orient the crown of the studs when framing up a wall?

Passing along skills from generation to generation is a strong theme in An Irish Miracle. As a ten-year-old boy on an Ohio family farm in 1955, Alex is excited to learn how to weld from his father, Jake, so he can fix a broken plow. An older Alastar passes along the skills of caring for horses to the younger men at Glencoe Stables.

The tradition of passing along manual skills takes many routes, a few of which are:

  • Father to son
  • Mother to daughter
  • Journeyman to apprentice
  • Mentor to fatherless child
  • Shop class

Sadly, many high schools across America have discontinued shop classes, as more and more students prepare to become “knowledge workers”. (Search eBay for woodworking and other machine tools, and you’ll find many for sale from schools.) As Matthew Crawford points out in Shop Class as Soulcraft, the separation of thinking and doing is a misguided notion. Encyclopedic knowledge and critical thinking guide the hands of plumbers, carpenters, and motorcycle mechanics, to name only a few of the highly skilled and noble trades.

Bought with his own money, my son and I dragged his first car home with a chain and slowly worked together to rebuild it and make it road-worthy again. From the rebuilt carb to the new exhaust system, repacked wheel bearings with new ten-hole rims, and of course, a new head unit complete with amp and subwoofer, he was proud of that little Mustang and proud of his newly acquired skills. Much credit goes to my wife for pointing out that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pass some skills along, father to son.

Take a few moments and list the manual skills one of your parents or a favorite uncle had, and then circle the ones you don’t possess. Here’s a short list about my dad. He hated to pay someone else to do anything he even might be able to do himself.

  • Welding (at work and at home)
  • Butchering (as in the family meat-packing business)
  • Carpentry (he built the house I grew up in, and several others)
  • Woodworking (he made a lot of our furniture)
  • Hunting (mostly bird, when he was younger)
  • Gardening (usually started with a pick-up truck load of chicken manure)
  • Car restoration and maintenance (he and my brother restored a 1966 Corvette)
  • Mechanical work (he fixed appliances and built us go-carts and mini-bikes)
  • Schnauzer grooming (the apple seldom falls far from the tree)
  • Knitting (yup, and he taught my mother, too)

Pop building a storage shed out near the garden. For some reason, we always called it “The Cottage”.

I could take a pretty good turn at most of these, although my welding and butchering would be pretty ugly, and I’m afraid I never found much call for knitting myself. (I personally don’t hunt for sport, but if it ever comes down to Bambi or my family going hungry, Bambi’s a goner.)

Craftsmanship is both the execution of a skill, and the desire to do something well for its own sake. Producing something physical, with hands guided by the mind, is extremely satisfying, particularly in a world where life is seemingly lived more and more passively . . . and more and more dependently.

What new manual skills would you like to learn? Even more important, what manual skills will you pass along?

“My Editor” – I Love Saying That

Three Red Pencils by Horia Varlan (CC BY 2.0)

As an engineer, I learned the value of getting “a fresh set of eyes” on anything I was designing. At each stage of the design process (paper napkin, 3D computer model, dimensioned drawings, etc.), it was always a good idea to have someone else look over my work and offer suggestions or catch mistakes, because The Rule of Tens applied. That rule meant that every error that made it another step in the design process before it was caught would be ten times more costly to fix. The last thing I wanted was a call from the fab shop supervisor. By then, the cost to correct an error in my design might include surrendering body parts.

As an author, the same ideas apply to writing a novel. While working on An Irish Miracle, I was very fortunate to have Robin Martin, of Two Songbirds Press, as “my editor”. I really do love saying “my editor” because of the tremendous value Robin’s “fresh set of eyes” and talent as a freelance editor brought to my writing. I was well past the “paper napkin” step, having already written three drafts, before I contacted Robin through the Editorial Freelancers Association website. Based on her detailed Evaluation and Critique, I wrote the fourth draft, which nearly doubled in length while making my plot stronger and my characters rounder. I was also able to correct writing errors that Robin had documented, eliminating instances of filtering, narrative exposition, and shifting points of view that would have jarred my readers out of their vivid and continuous readers’ dreams. After doing a full contextual edit of the fourth draft, Robin even found yet another “fresh set of eyes” for the final proofreading of my corrected and polished manuscript. From experience, she told me she was too familiar with it to proofread it herself.

Because of the collaboration with “my editor”, An Irish Miracle is nearly ready to be sent out, and I’m confident that I won’t be receiving any unwanted telephone calls from the fab shop supervisor!