Who hasn’t at one point or another found himself wishing he had Jack Canfield’s life? The mastermind behind the hugely popular “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series of books has built a mammoth empire out of compiling simple inspirational stories, to the tune of millions of dollars in annual revenue, enough to afford a comfortable lifestyle in his digs in Santa Barbara where he relocated in the late 1990s. There’s “Chicken Soup” books for just about every niche of population, from farmers to NASCAR enthusiasts, and nearly all sell in the hundreds of thousands or more. About the only topic that hasn’t been covered is “Chicken Soup for the Chicken’s Soul.”

But now you can emulate rather than envy.

On May 13, Canfield will conduct a free workshop called “Breakthrough to Success: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be,” based on his recent book of the same name. Focusing on what he calls “the science of success,” the workshop – part of SBCC Adult Ed’s Psychology Conference – applies the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience, psychology, achievement motivation, peak performance, metaphysics and quantum physics to facilitate personal fulfillment and achieving life goals.

Canfield, who spends a great deal of his time giving back to the local community, was also the star attraction at the preview party for the recent CALM Celebrity Authors Luncheon, which is where we cornered him for a few questions about his life and career.

Q. You’ve published thousands of inspirational stories over the life of the series. Do you have a personal favorite?

A. The first book is one hundred favorite stories, because they’re all ones I collected over the years. But my single favorite one I tell more often than all the others is one about a boy named Roger Crawford. He was born with only one finger on his right hand, a finger and a thumb on his left hand, and his left leg was amputated from the knee down when he was eleven. His parents always told him that while not everybody can do everything, he should decide what he wanted to do and go do it. Well, he wanted to play football. Obviously, he couldn’t be quarterback, so his dad taught him to play defense. He made the team as a defensive end, and his dream was to intercept a pass and run for a touchdown. He practiced and learned how to catch with his arms, and how to stiff arm a would-be tackler. But the opportunity never presented itself until his next to last game. The opposing quarterback threw short, Roger intercepted the pass, and ran until he was six yards from the end zone, when a tackler grabbed his leg. Roger pulled and the tackler pulled, they both kept at it until his (artificial) left leg came off, and he hopped on one foot into the end zone.

What I love about that story is that no matter what obstacles you’re facing in life, whatever type it is, from economic to racism, somebody has overcome it, and it gives us inspiration that if they can do it, that you can do what you need to. While the “Chicken Soup” books have many lessons about love, compassion and friendship, the ones about overcoming obstacles is what motivates me the most, gives me goosebumps and keeps me putting the books together. After all, we got one hundred forty-four rejections when we tried to get publishers to put out our first book.

What obstacles could you possibly be facing? Don’t you already have everything you need?

What happens when you’re successful is you open up to a bigger game you can play. When someone makes a lot of money maybe they want to start a non-profit, or end homelessness in Santa Barbara, or run for Congress. That brings up the same obstacles everybody has: fear of failure, self-esteem issues – am I good enough to do this? Then there’s the fear of losing the things you already have. It’s also about organizing on a different level. I can write a book like falling off a log, but a screenplay? I haven’t got the first idea how to start.

Are you still directly involved in the production of the books?

I’m a little less hands-on than I used to be. On the first books I did everything, edited, retyped, all of it. Then I got a secretary for the clerical stuff, then some editors. Now the staff is a lot bigger, so I’m like Walt Disney at this stage. Everything has to go through me for final approval, but I’m not as hands on. Certain books I still get passionate about, entrepreneurs, teachers, writers. We’ve got one now with the working title of “Wanna-Be Millionaires Soul,” people who really went for it financially and won.

Sounds like you can charge more for that one.

Yeah, probably. But we won’t. But it’s a good point, because I’ve noticed that if you do workshops on how to increase your income people will pay you one thousand dollars with no problem, but you do one on how to improve your relationships, or be better a parent, or know God, or get healthy, people rebel at three hundred dollars.

Does it feel like the franchise has been cheapened for you when you see “Chicken Soup” books at garage sales and thrift stores for $1?

I don’t think of it that way. A book is like anything else, its value varies. Hopefully they find their way into the hands of people who have less money but still need it, who might not have spent twelve dollars but they might spend two dollars. Sometimes I do workshops and books get stolen, maybe three cases are missing when we do the accounting. And you know what? I’m fine with it; I don’t need the money and it means thirty-three people will get to read the book and maybe it will help them. It’s the same thing with the Chinese copyright (situation). At least seven companies have pirated out books, but I’m glad people are reading it.

(“Breakthrough to Success” takes place 9:30 am to 5 pm on Saturday, May 13, at the Wake Center Auditorium, 300 North Turnpike Road. Call 687-0812.)


The mountain city of Ojai’s annual Village of Tales may only be half as old as Solvang’s Flying Leap event, but the Ojai Storytelling Festival already has established itself as must-see for local aficionados of yarns, tall tales, personal remembrances and stories of all kinds. Featured tellers at this year’s event, slated for May 5-7, include Nyla Fujii-Babb, a Hawaiian who combines storytelling with dance and music, Niall de Burcab, an Irishman whose tales tend toward heroes and princesses, Syd Lieberman, a leading teller of Jewish tales, and Antonio Rocha, whose Brazilian heritage brings adventures from the Amazon and beyond. Events are staged at Libbey Bowl and the nearby Arts Center. Festival passes $85, individual events $12 with discounts for children, seniors and families. Call 646-8907.

Thirty-year veteran and Santa Barbara-based photojournalist/documentarian Kevin McKiernan, who wrote and directed the award-winning PBS documentary “Good Kurds, Bad Kurds,” has reported since 1991 on the struggle of the 25 million Kurds, the largest ethnic population in the world without their own state. His illustrated lecture at UCSB on May 9 is based on his acclaimed recent book, “The Kurds – a People in Search of Their Homeland.” ($10; call 893–3535.)

School Plays

In public and private schools alike, spring means theater. Here’s two entries from around the town that stand out, one each from junior high and high school.

Three months of rehearsals come to fruition as La Colina Junior High – a traditional haven for the performing arts – presents the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” A cast of 35 will sing and dance their way through the pop-music re-telling of the biblical story of Joseph and his 11 jealous brothers. Plays 7 pm May 11-13 at 4025 Foothill Road ($8, students/children $5; call 967-4506, extension 603).

It’s shore leave in Santa Barbara as Santa Barbara High School Theater presents “On the Town,” Leonard Bernstein’s witty and wonderful Broadway musical about three WWII sailors seeking adventure and love on a 24-hour visit to New York City. Students not only act and dance in the play, but the acclaimed SBHS Jazz Ensemble provides the music. Performances 7 pm May 5-6 and May 10-13 at 700 East Anapamu Street ($10, students $5; call 966-9101, extension 220).