Sunday, December 10, 2017

Best Tahoe Excursions - Summer And Winter

I know, it's winter. But I've thought many times about one of our explorations last fall, a place that's open in the winter, too!

I very much recommend taking a day at Sugar Pine Point State Park, including the tour of the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion. Or camp at their campgrounds and explore for a week.

One of Tahoe's grandest houses, available to tour (although the tour may only be open in summer).


Sugar Pine Point Park is on the West Shore of Tahoe, just south of Tahoma. It is comprised of a couple of thousand acres of gorgeous forest right on the lake, and it has two miles of shoreline. The park has many hiking and cross-country ski trails, beaches, hidden coves, and much to explore including the really big house.

A view from Sugar Pine Point State Park


The land was originally acquired by Isaiah Hellman, a German immigrant who came to SoCal in 1859. Mr. Hellman began in retail in Los Angeles, moved into banking, and became the most important banker on the West Coast. He had many achievements, including becoming the first president of Wells Fargo Bank.

In the late 19th century, Hellman decided he wanted a place at Tahoe. This was before there were roads at the lake, or electricity, or any other infrastructure, for that matter. He bought big chunks of land and had a place built. Much of the stone and wood was cut from the land. The rest of the building materials was brought in on the narrow-gauge railroad from Truckee to Tahoe City and then put onto the steamer to boat down the West Shore to the site. The house construction was begun in 1903, finished a few years later, and it served as a grand summer lodge for family members and their guests for many years.

(For those curious about the "Ehrman" in the name Hellman-Ehrman Mansion, one of Hellman's daughters married a man named Ehrman, and that couple lived longer at the house than anyone before or since.)

Most of a century later, the surviving family members sold the property and house to the state of California to use as a park. The state was going to tear down the house, which was rundown. Fortunately, a private group raised funds for restoration, and the house was saved. Now we, the public, own, and get to enjoy, the park.

Here's the link: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=510

P.S. One of the cool things about being a writer is that when I'm struck by a particular place, as I was by Sugar Pine Point, I can set scenes there in a book. Look for Sugar Pine Point Park and the Hellman-Ehrman mansion in my next book, due out August of 2018

Sunday, December 3, 2017

An Ocean Of Fog

We don't get a lot of fog in Tahoe. But one morning a few days back, we woke up to a thick gray soup. As it happened, I was heading up Echo Summit and drove out of the fog and popped into the sunshine just a few hundred feet up. I pulled over at the top of Meyer's Grade and snapped a pic. It looked like the fog was an ocean, and the mountains rose up out of it like tropical islands.

Islands at 7000 feet of elevation.



Sunday, November 26, 2017

Whole Foods Is Coming To Tahoe

Whole Foods has gotten a lot of press since the Bezos/Amazon steamroller bought it for 14 or so Billion dollars.

But there's another bit of news about Whole Foods. It is coming to South Lake Tahoe. It will be on the main drag, between Herbert and Ski Run. (Ski Run is where the largest of The Red Hut breakfast cafes is, known, by a few select, discerning readers, as a place that sells my books. Now, Whole Foods has a chance to become known, by a few select, discerning readers, as the fancy grocery story just down the street from the breakfast cafe that sells the adventures of Owen McKenna and his Great Dane Spot.)


It has been reported that the South Lake Tahoe Whole Foods will be one of the "365" store versions, whatever that means.

As for opening date? I haven't heard. But the fence is up around that block, and there is heavy equipment inside the fence doing heavy equipment work. It takes a long time to build such a store. But the time will pass.

South Lake Tahoe has long held the distinction of being the only community in Tahoe that has substantial grocery store choices with two Raleys, two Safeways, one Grass Roots Natural Foods, one Liras, one Overland Meats, and other smaller venues.

I'm sure they are all looking over their shoulders.

As for consumers, more choice is usually good, right?



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Isn't He Supposed To Be Asleep In A Cave Or Something?!

Some ice like stucco on the walkway Friday morning.



Those boards are 2 X 6s. Which means those paw prints are 9 or 10 inches long not counting the claws. Glad we lock the doors. Don't want to share my breakfast with this guy.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Movies vs. Novels

I've often noticed that people go to see the next Hollywood blockbuster and get enthralled and excited.

I also often notice that when someone writes a review of a book by one of my favorite authors (or even one of mine), I'll see comments suggesting that the book stretched credulity.

When that happens I sometimes wonder if those same readers watch movies with the most ridiculous scenarios and never question a thing.

Writers care. Really. We want readers to "buy in" to our story, care about the predicament in which our poor characters are stuck, and enjoy the ride.

However, it's hard to constantly be held to a higher standard than that grandest of story vehicles, the movies.

I'd guess that the root of the problem is "seeing is believing." When we watch a character on the big screen get into more outlandish situations than any 16 script writers can dream up, and yet we still get invested in the character's problems, the writers out there can't help but notice that if it were a novel, the audience would be in an uproar of protest. "That's not believable!"

Maybe some readers dismiss movies as unbelievable fluff and go along for the unbelievable ride because movies are, well, unbelievable by nature. Or, maybe some readers simply hold writers to a higher standard because novels are a higher art form? I doubt it.

Movie makers certainly get a pass of sorts. When the audience sees stuff on the big screen, they tend to buy in and get invested. Why? They saw it with their own eyes.

I don't need to bore you with examples. Suffice to say, the next time you watch an action/adventure/mystery/thriller movie, imagine if it were a novel. Would you pause and question the creator for telling such an out-sized tale?

Enjoy the next book you read!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Winter 7 Months A Year

Where would one think winter lasts 7 months a year? Greenland, Lapland, the northern parts of Alaska and Russia, the high Alps, Andes, and the Himilayas.

Oh yeah, and Tahoe.

As I write this from the Sacramento Fine Arts Festival where I'm exhibiting my books, Tahoe is getting a winter storm. Before the storm started, the prediction was 1 - 3 feet total accumulation above 7000 feet of elevation before the skies clear. (What we get at our house.)

November 4th, Winter's Back In Tahoe


So when we get home, we get to start shoveling again. I last shoveled about two weeks ago (we had two small snowfalls in October). Before that, I cleared about 6 inches in the middle of June. We did get some snow on August 23rd, but I didn't bother shoveling.

That means that the only months in the last twelve when it didn't snow was July and September. Then again, maybe it did snow a little in September.

Discounting the summer months because the snow melts almost right away, that means actual winter-like weather only persisted much in May. So add it up... November through May. Seven months of winter.

Don't get me wrong. Snow is beautiful. And snow is fun to play in. And snow on the mountains is California's water savings account.

But shoveling? Again? Already?

If I have free time at this exhibit, I'm going to look at pictures of Hawaii.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Great Dane Meets Spiderman!

In the foothills near Jackson, CA lives a woman named Marjorie. She's come to some of my talks, and we've struck up an enjoyable correspondence that dates back to when she and her husband acquired their first Great Dane.

The current one is a sweetheart named Daisy.

I've very much enjoyed reports from the front lines as Daisy has grown up. But I never would have guessed this next installment.

I asked Marje if I could share, and she said yes.

Enjoy!

 "On our morning walks we get down to the local street, meet and greet cars, businesses opening up, etc, and on our way home we pass the dumpsters in front of Hospice Thrift Store. This is Daisy's biggest thrill - she looks forward to bringing home a stuffed toy. She sniffs each one (when there are some, not always) then decides which one to take. The other day she chose Spiderman. She put it in her mouth and began walking away, toward home when all of a sudden Spiderman began talking. Daisy jerked sideways, jumping and looking to her rear to see if someone was there, then turned the other direction. It was hard to calm her down. She just knew someone was behind us. Then she dropped the toy and it kept talking. That was when she realized what was happening. After a few moments, she picked him up and proceeded to 'take it home.'

She turned five on July 1st, got her down to a good weight of 153. She brings so much joy and laughter each day."


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Left Coast Crime Coming To Reno Mar 22 - 25, 2018

Left Coast Crime mystery convention is the biggest literary event to come to Reno in a very long time...

I'll be writing more about the Left Coast Crime in the coming months. In the meantime, here's a bit of a travelogue to whet your appetites...

As regards our host cities of Reno and Sparks, you should know that in addition to Left Coast Crime gracing Reno with its presence, there are many cool aspects to the Reno/Sparks/Tahoe area. (Note, every time you hear anyone refer to the more famous Reno, you can quietly mouth the words, “and Sparks” to give sister city Sparks her due. Our host hotel, the Nugget, is in Sparks, after all. As for Tahoe, it doesn’t need any due, as it is glorified by the annual crush of millions of visitors already.)




Reno’s Cool thing #1 - ART


Reno is known as Art Town for a good reason. One is that it has the Nevada Art Museum, with as serious an art collection as you’ll find in any comparably-sized city, and it is housed in a very modern, custom, arty building.

Nevada Art Museum


Reno is also home to multiple art galleries. As for the literary arts, Reno is well-anchored in the word firmament by Sundance Bookstore, one of the all-time greatest independent bookstores anywhere.

One of the world's greatest bookstores


There are other literary events such as the Reno Literary Crawl that takes place multiple times a year. (We writers are used to groveling, so crawling is a step up…)





Cool thing #2 - TAHOE


Reno is just down the mountain from Lake Tahoe, in many respects the most fantabulous, high-elevation, super pure, super deep, amazing gorgeous awe-inspiring body of water in the world.

Lake Tahoe - A View To Kill


Okay, for you sticklers, we’re talking 22 miles long by 12 miles wide, 6230 feet in the sky, (i.e., the lake is 1000 feet higher than mile-high-city Denver), 1630 feet deep (10th deepest in the world), with water that passes many official standards for distilled water (you can see down 70 feet). (Yes, there’s a lake in the Andes that is bigger and higher, but it ain’t deep and pure like Tahoe.) Tahoe has over a dozen major ski resorts, every kind of boating, and many of the most beautiful hiking and biking and cross-country ski trails found anywhere. There’s a reason why Reno changed the name of its airport to the Reno Tahoe Airport. Tahoe is simply, by any measure, one of the world’s most beautiful places. And Reno is its number one access point. When you come to Reno, everyone advises that you schedule an extra day or more to drive up to Tahoe and see for yourself what all the fuss is about. If the weather is decent, I recommend going up #431, the Mount Rose Highway. Take it over the summit. At about 9000 feet, it is the highest year-round pass in the Sierra. Then drive down at least to the overlook above Incline Village. The view from that overlook alone will stay with you forever. Way better is to drive all the way around the lake. When you see Emerald Bay, you are likely to agree that it is near the top of the all-time-most-amazing places. (Can you tell I’m a Tahoe enthusiast? You may have noticed that my book titles all begin with Tahoe…)

Tahoe astonishes from every angle

Cool thing #3 - TECH


Reno is the new hot tech magnet, and as such is experiencing a tech boom like no other city. You’ve probably heard that Tesla’s Giga Factory, a facility that also has Panasonic investing major bucks, is currently setting up shop in the Reno area. They followed Amazon, which built a giant fulfillment center in Reno a couple of years ago. Apple is investing $1 billion in a cloud-storage data center just east of Reno. Apple also just bought an entire city block near downtown Reno to build another facility. Then there is that search company called - let me think - oh yeah, Google. Google just bought 1200 acres in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. Yes, you read that number correctly. What does Google plan to do with that much land near Reno? Stay tuned to find out. Then there’s Microsoft, which has only three regional operations centers in the world, and one of them is in Reno. Even Berkshire Hathaway has built a power plant in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.


Wait, I just mentioned Apple, Google, Microsoft, Berkshire Hathaway, and Amazon in one paragraph. Measured by market cap, those are the five biggest companies in the world. And they are all investing heavily in the Reno area. I guess we better sit up and take notice...


Cool thing #4 - NEW HIP


Reno has a hip thing going that is far beyond its gambling history.
*Did you know that the world’s tallest and largest climbing wall is on the outside of Reno’s Whitney Peak Hotel? It is 164 feet high.
*Did you know that during the spring you can kayak whitewater on the Truckee River in downtown Reno? If you want something more tame, walk the Truckee River Walk through downtown Reno. It is a beautiful stroll along the Truckee, down which all the water from Lake Tahoe flows.
*How about Reno’s vibrant live theater scene with multiple acting companies? For example, the Reno Little Theater is featuring a murder mystery play called Death By Design in the weeks before and during Left Coast Crime. How perfect is that? http://renolittletheater.org/events/event/death-by-design/  

Reno Little Theater


*Reno also houses the University of Nevada’s Reno (UNR) campus, with over 20,000 students. Compared to the university’s Las Vegas campus, UNR is the harder school in which to get accepted, but its graduates make more money. And it isn’t thirteen thousand degrees in the summer!  
*What else? The Reno Aces is a Minor League baseball team that’ll take you back to old-time baseball. Their stadium is right near downtown. Listen to the crack of the bat on a fastball, smell the hotdogs, lick the beer head off your upper lip. This is classic, old-time baseball. When it comes to the essence of the sport, the Yankees got nothing on the Aces.
*And if you’re a flying buff, there are few things more exciting than the Reno Air Races. You can’t get airplane races just anywhere!


Cool thing #5


The old stuff is still strong. The National Car museum will delight you whether you are a gearhead or are merely into old classic cars as modern art pieces.

The coolest cars ever at the National Car Museum in downtown Reno

Considered the Taj Mahal of tenpins, Reno’s National Bowling Stadium is world-class. And if you want to visit a casino, there are many to choose from, including the Nugget hotel and casino where Left Coast Crime is taking place.


One more thing, long-time Reno literary presence Sundance Bookstore will be at Left Coast Crime to provide books and literary gravitas. How can this mystery convention not be great?!






Sunday, October 15, 2017

Once Again, The Talent Question...

At the Candy Dance Festival three weeks ago where I was exhibiting my books, I spoke to a woman who has read all of my books and been supportive of my work for years. This woman is also a professional singer. Our conversation veered toward artistic skills. Immediately, I sensed a frustration that I know well.

She said that people have always made statements to her along the lines of, "Oh, it must be so wonderful to have such singing talent." And, "How great to have been born with such a voice!"

Before I could respond, she added, "While I'm so pleased and flattered that they like what I do, I want to shout, 'It isn't talent! And I wasn't born with my voice! It took decades of constant, never-ending work to develop my voice and singing skills.'"

I told her about the common experience of writers hearing people say, "I'd love to write, if only I had the talent."

I used my oft-repeated example of the figure skater. Writing (and singing and painting and dancing and acting etc.) is not something you are born knowing how to do. Nor can you learn just by studying. Studying is of course great. Classes and how-to books and support groups and critique circles and youtube videos are all smart to pursue. They are very useful and well worth the time. But learning to write is only accomplished by doing it. Just like figure skating.

You can be born with excellent bio-mechanics. And you can be born with a well-made brain and nervous system to control your muscles.

But all the natural abilities in the world won't make it so you can strap on a pair of skates and go out and do a triple-twisting leap.

You have to put in 10,000 hours on the ice, practicing over and over. That is the only way to learn to be a competent figure skater.

Or singer. Or actor. Or painter. Or musician. Or dancer. Or writer.

It's true that you can't succeed at these things if you don't have some basic brains or motor abilities. But the professional singer talking to me at the Candy Dance festival is right. It isn't talent. It's many years work.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I'm Teaching A One-Day Mystery Writing Workshop

Have you ever had the urge to try writing a mystery novel and wondered just how you would start? Or maybe you've already started but could use some help structuring your plot and creating fascinating characters.

I've got just the workshop for you.

On Saturday, October 21st, I'm teaching a one-day workshop at the Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. The workshop is called, How To Map A Murder, and it runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Imagine writing your own murder mystery, full of intrigue and thrills,
and a whodunnit puzzle that will keep readers up at night

The workshop will be held at the college's Meadowood Center near the Meadowood Mall. The cost is only $59, and in addition to learning the basics of mapping a murder, you will have the opportunity to ask any and all questions about writing.

Here's the link to sign up:

https://truckee.augusoft.net/index.cfm?method=ClassInfo.ClassInformation&int_class_id=24261#

Come join us! It will be fun!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Reno Literary Crawl

Two weeks ago, on September 16, I participated in the Reno Literary Crawl. What a great event!


There were dozens of authors who gave talks and readings and participated on panels. I didn't get a count of how many readers attended, but it seemed like hundreds.

The events were scheduled three at a time, at multiple venues around Reno, from the Nevada Museum to Sundance Books to many of the old mansions that stretch north from downtown Reno toward the river.

I sat on a panel about publishing and I also participated in a reading about suspense called "Things That Go Bump In The Night."

The keynote talk was by Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson, Stanford professor and author of the The Orphan Master's Son. Johnson spoke at the Nevada Museum.

The closing party was at Sundance Books, which went all out with music in their large yard and poetry performances up on the mansion's deck. There was a food truck, and the place was strung with festive lights.

The vibe among some attendees was, "All this in Reno? Who knew?!" Other attendees seemed to take it for granted, as if they have known for years that Reno is a literary hotspot.

This impressive gathering celebrating the written word was put on by the Nevada Humanities. Here's the link:
http://nevadahumanities.org/programs/nevada-humanities-literary-crawl

I highly recommend you make plans to attend next year. I know I will.

A large crowd in the yard listened to a poetry reading up on the balcony of the Sundance Bookstore mansion, just behind the Nevada Museum.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Real Reason To Lock Doors In Tahoe

People in law enforcement will tell you to lock your doors. They know better than to think, "My neighborhood is so safe, we don't lock our doors." They know the standard upside/downside aspect of door locking. The upside is, locked doors may save your life. The downside is that you have to turn the knob. Pretty clear choice, right?

In Tahoe, we have another reason to lock doors! Bears know how to open doors. House doors. Car doors. 

Do you want to walk in on this guy as he goes through your refrigerator?
My wife and I stood on the other side of our slider and watched a young bear - probably two years old or less and only 150 pounds - carefully hooking his claws onto the edge of the glass. He didn't mind that we were just inches from the glass telling him to go away. My wife banged pan lids together like cymbals. Maybe he thought the percussion meant a party was going on, a party with party food. Had the door been unlocked, he would have come in even though we were there. Fortunately, the door was locked. He eventually gave up.

Some neighbors down the street woke up to the barking of their dog. They went downstairs and found the living room slider open and a bear in the kitchen. The bear didn't mind the dog. It had more important things on his mind. Like mint chocolate chip ice cream.

A woman we know was camping with her boyfriend. They woke up to the honking horn of their pickup. When they shined flashlights, they saw that a bear had gotten inside the truck and managed to close the door while it was inside. Panicked, it ripped the inside of the truck apart. And every time it spun around, it bumped into the horn

Of course, just like human burglars, bears can enter a house or vehicle even if it's locked. But, also like humans, bears tend to take the easiest targets. A potential food source that isn't locked up is the most attractive.

Takeaway? Lock your doors.