Sunday, January 17, 2021

Free Reading For All My Books

 Where we live in Tahoe, we don't have broadband internet. So we get DVDs from Netflix. We never consider buying DVDs. Subscription "rental" works well. Pay a monthly fee and watch as many movies as we want, subject of course to the speed of the post office moving those DVDs back and forth from us to Netflix.

So I understand the appeal of the Kindle Unlimited program. Pay Amazon approximately $10 a month and read as many books as you want. The only qualifier is that publishers have to enroll their books in the program for them to be available. Publishers have now enrolled enough books in the program for thousands of lifetimes of reading.

I recently read that 160 million readers have joined the Kindle Unlimited program. That sounds like an astonishing number. But, as with Netflix watchers, and Spotify listeners, there are readers all over the world.

All of my books are now enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. So members can read them at no cost beyond the low monthly fee. If you belong, enjoy my books! If you don't belong, maybe you should give it a try.

You don't even need to buy a Kindle, as you can download the program for free onto you laptop or your iPad or even your phone.  (Trivia: People in Japan read more books on their phones than any other way!)

You can try the Kindle Unlimited program for free. Here's the link:

If you click on any of the books to the left, that will take you to their Amazon page.

 Thanks very much for your interest.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

A Writer's Job During Harsh Times

I get a lot of mail. If I were to sum up the essence of what motivates most people to send me a note, it might be that people crave entertainment that distracts them from real-world stresses. Those stresses range from national and international problems down to personal and family difficulties.

People like to read fiction that - for all the trouble that takes place within stories - depicts a world where there is more justice and reassurance than can be found in the real world. In most fiction, the bad guys meet justice, and their evil deeds are neutralized.

The harsh events in the real world take their toll on creators the same as they do with any other group of people. But we need to keep our focus on our purpose, which is revealed in our mail. Soldier on. Readers are waiting for more stories. Turn off the news, pour another cup of coffee, and get back to work.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Progress Report On Next Owen McKenna And Company

 In the world of writing novels, there are few axioms that apply all the time.

One of them, perhaps the most important, is that the first job of writing a novel is to finish the first draft. Wait, let me put in some emphasis: Finish The FIRST DRAFT.

This sounds easier than it is. Countless writers get well into the first draft of their new novel, whether it is their first or 50th novel, and hit so many dead ends and seemingly inscrutable problems that it's easy to give up and quit. Or you think, I'll just put this monstrosity aside until it seems more clear to me.

Putting it aside for a few days or even a week or two is fine. But you always have to remind yourself that it is only when you have finished a first draft that you can begin to really understand the shape of the thing you're building.

Another rule of writing novels is that good writing comes from rewriting over and over. Your first draft is just a draft. It will be filled with crapola (technical writing term). But of course, you can't rewrite and start making consistent nice sentences and paragraphs and chapters without first having a First Draft. You can't shape your characters into living breathing people who have hopes and dreams and fears and worries until they've been roughed out in your First Draft.

So I'm very pleased give you a progress report. I've finished the First Draft on Owen McKenna #19.

It is rough the way crushed limestone is rough. It is awkward the way a kid making his first phone call to ask someone out on a date is awkward. It is filled with unfulfilled hopes for future good writing. It is like the Winchester Mystery House, with doorways that open onto thin air, and staircases that go nowhere. It contains bad writing, adolescent writing, purple prose writing, melodramatic writing, boring writing.

But that is the nature of a First Draft.

Now that I've completed that daunting First Draft, I can move onto the easier stuff of making it a little better on each page and each day. I can identify all the exposition that simply needs to be deleted. I can fix the mixed metaphors or get rid of them. I can make the hero more heroic and the bad guy waymo bad. I can add some intelligence. I can get rid of my faulty attempts at cleverness. I can take out what Mark Twain disparaged as twenty-five cent words and replace them with nickel words. I can endeavor to have every bit of dialogue do double duty as both showing what the people said but also revealing their character.

Tune in come May or June after the book has been through four editors and endured seventeen rewrites. I'll send out an email as publication gets close.

Thanks again to all of my readers who care about these stories. I owe my career to all of you. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Tahoe Hit Is Still Free

 The Kindle version of Tahoe Hit is currently available for free on a promotion. 

Here's the link to Amazon:

The free promotion runs until midnight December 29th. Feel free to spread the word to your friends. 

Thanks very much for your interest!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Tahoe Hit Kindle Book Free On Christmas

 My most recent book, Tahoe Hit, will be free for five days beginning Christmas and running through December 29th.

Tahoe Hit is regularly $4.99 on Kindle. Come Christmas, you can download it for free, and you can tell your friends to download it for free as well. 

Here's the link:

For those of you who have so kindly said you are reluctant to download it for free because you want me to get the money, don't worry. Every book that's downloaded for free on these promotions helps me with regard to Amazon's ranking system, which boosts the sales of all my titles. I actually make more money  the more my books are downloaded for free. (I know, it seems kind of strange. But Amazon has perfected the mechanisms for promoting books.)

One more comment...

Many of you belong to Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program where you pay a small fee every month and can read as many books as you want. For those of you who don't subscribe, you may want to. It's like other subscription programs (Netflix, Spotify, etc.)

You might be glad to know that all of my 18 titles are now part of the Kindle Unlimited program. So binge away! 

Oh, one more thing... Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Local Food Charities Help People Who Are Hungry

One of the best ways to find help with food is check out our local charities.

In Tahoe and surrounding communities, there are multiple ways to get free food, food delivery, hot meals, and even cash for help with food:

Tahoe Family Resource Center: Bilingual help with health card, legal system, job search, education, child care:

Christmas Cheer South Lake Tahoe provides meals. Their Facebook page is:

If you or anyone you know is hungry, please check out these resources. Don't be embarrassed. If you don't have a computer, you can use one at the library. If you can't get to the library, ask your neighbor. People want to help. The first step is to ask.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Hiking In The Coronavirus Era

Simple adjustments for public and personal health...

My wife and I do a lot of hiking. When the pandemic began, we were like most people, wearing masks when we went inside a store or the post office and not wearing masks out on the trail. I was more resistant to wearing masks outside than she was. I reasoned that outdoor air represented so little threat that there was no comparison between hiking and shopping for groceries.

However, as the situation worsened, I realized that for everyone's comfort, it is best to wear a mask when you encounter people, even when outdoors in the mountains. Now, it is the law in many places.

Of course, hiking up a trail, breathing hard in the high-altitude air, a mask can be very frustrating. So I've developed a simple approach that has become second nature. If it's cold enough that I'm wearing a knit cap, and no one is in the area, I unhook one ear from the mask and let it dangle from the other ear. My knit cap holds the remaining ear string in place As soon as I sense someone approaching on the trail, I rehook the mask on both ears.

If I'm not wearing a knit cap, I simply carry my mask by one ear string. At the first sign of people, it's ready to go, and I can hook it into place in about one second. Yes, even describing this process feels uncomfortably prosaic, like I'm suggesting how to tie one's shoelaces. Yet, it has made my life easier. So I pass it on.

Let's hope that in the next year or so, we won't be having to think about it at all!

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Owen McKenna And Pumpkin Pie

It's axiomatic in writing fiction that if you want to create a believable character, you have to know EVERYTHING about that character.

Just when I might have thought I knew everything about Owen McKenna and his Great Dane Spot, I had a piece of pumpkin pie for the holiday.

I realized that I didn't really know what Owen thought about pumpkin pie. (Yes, of course, I knew Spot would inhale it with enthusiasm.) I would have assumed that Owen liked pie the same way he likes donuts. But I didn't really KNOW.

Most people would think that it makes no difference. But bringing specificity to a story is what creates what we call "the suspension of disbelief." While it might be sufficient to have Owen simply like pumpkin pie, it would help if we knew what kind of whip cream he used, and if he maybe sticks the whip cream spray nozzle in his mouth for a power shot and maybe does the same for Spot. That would be amusing. But more importantly, watching McKenna play whip cream games with Spot would make the scene absolutely believable. Once you've seen a Great Dane leaping into the air to grab a lofting, floating blob of whip cream that McKenna has shot from the spray can, there would be no more doubt about whether or not the event really happened. It would no longer be fiction in the reader's mind.

I guess I better get to know Owen and Spot even better!

Happy holidays.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Some Ski Resorts Already Open!

We've already had some great snow in Tahoe, and reports are coming in on opening dates. 

Photo from Northstar's website.

Please note, before you get too excited, there are some significant changes this year due to the pandemic.

*Some areas are currently only open to Pass Holders.

*Some areas are requiring quick Covid tests.

*Some areas require you to use their new reservation systems. (Yes, it's a bit confusing!)

Please Google each area you're interested in and go to their website for details.

As if this writing, here are current opening dates:

Heavenly - OPEN

Northstar - OPEN

Mount Rose - OPEN

Donner Ski Ranch - OPEN

Boreal - Opening Nov 23

Squaw - Opening Nov 25

Alpine Meadows - Opening Nov 25

Kirkwood - Opening Dec 4

Diamond Peak - Opening Dec 10

Homewood - Opening Dec 11

Sierra At Tahoe - Opening to be announced

Sugar Bowl - Opening to be announced

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Young Renter? You Can Still Buy An Inexpensive House Near Tahoe

This last week produced some headlines about Tahoe Real Estate getting very expensive. It's true. If you go to one of those real estate websites that allow you to search within a given price range, say, under $300,000, you'll be surprised at how few inexpensive houses there are. (For what it's worth, Tahoe real estate is still cheap compared to the Bay Area and L.A.) 

There were also stories last week about how young people with middle class incomes are being shut out of the housing market because it is too expensive. As young people save money to buy a house, the value of houses keeps increasing. It's like trying catch a train that's pulling out of the station.

Yes, housing costs are ridiculously expensive. But there is a simple technique that makes it possible to buy housing. It's a technique that people have used for decades (my wife and I included). It allows you to stop paying rent and begin building equity when you're very young. What could that house purchase technique possibly be, you ask?

It's called lowering your expectations.

If you have a middle-class income and are a renter, and if you think you would only consider buying a perfect house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a garage, and a nice yard with a picket fence, then you are probably out of luck unless you move to Kansas. This post isn't for you. There's nothing wrong with renting. But it's hard to get ahead in the long term. If you want to stay in a place that has all the West Coast can offer, you might end up renting for the rest of your life, paying off your landlord's mortgage and making certain he's rich by the time he retires.

If instead you recognize that your own future retirement will be hugely affected by whether or not you own your house and eventually get the mortgage paid off, then you might want to do whatever it takes to get on that "home-ownership train."

But when you run the numbers of housing costs versus your paycheck, you may think it looks hopeless, especially in high priced areas like Tahoe.

But don't despair! There is a way to purchase your own place in Tahoe, or near to Tahoe if not actually within the Tahoe Basin. Many Tahoe locals have succeeded at this. (They had to because Tahoe has never had many jobs that pay well.) Those Tahoe locals bought less desirable housing simply to get a stake in Tahoe real estate. Eventually, their house value went up as their mortgage balance went down. Many of them took their growing equity and traded up to nicer houses and then repeated the process.

A quick caveat. This blog post isn't for people who have high standards for their living quarters and are willing to rent forever in order to have that nice place to come home to, a nice place to invite their friends to visit.

This post is for people who are willing to make what ever adjustments are necessary to start building equity, even if it means living in a less nice place for several, or even many, years.

First, a quick digression about lowered expectations. Not too many decades ago, people thought a small black-and-white TV was a fine way to watch a show. The idea that everyone might one day think they needed a huge colored, high-definition TV would have seemed ridiculous. Never mind that shows still made their magic over the small tube. People thought air conditioning was a luxury not a necessity. When they got hot, they wiped a moist washcloth over their face and turned on a fan. People thought that a car that worked was good enough even if it wasn't the latest model (or had air conditioning!). People thought that a restaurant meal was a rare treat not a basic way to get your daily meals. People thought coffee was something you brewed at home, not something you picked up at a gourmet coffee house.

I'm not saying you have to go without the nice things in life. But if you're confronting the dilemma of how to find enough room in your budget to buy a house, then you have to be willing to change what you're looking for. And change where you're looking for it.

Of course, everyone wants a NICE house. If that's your requirement to buy, you may be out of luck. But if you're willing to compromise on most or all of your ideal desires, you will be surprised. There are houses out there that can be fixed up. They can be made livable. They can bought without traditional mortgages.

Here's your first rule of thumb in finding that house. Look for the houses that have been listed so long or so many times that it appears they are unsellable, suitable only for builders to come in and tear them down. The sellers of such house are usually eager to unload them at a very cheap price. The seller may be willing to carry a contract on it so you don't have to get a bank mortgage. And if you don't have good credit, the seller may allow you to lease with an option to buy at some later date.

Every realtor who's been around knows of these houses, and they know how the sales process works. Of course, many realtors don't want to put time in trying to sell these houses. But they might still give you an idea of where to find them. And you can probably find them yourself. The house that no one wants is usually the house that offers the greatest opportunity for fixing and putting a lot of sweat equity into your financial picture. And the house that realtors think is a waste of time trying to sell is a house where there is no real estate commission. That saves 6% right off the top, a sizable amount without which the seller might be willing to discount an already low price.

Second rule of thumb: Look somewhere else. You may not be able to find a house in Tahoe, but you can probably find one in Carson City or Reno or Auburn or Pollock Pines, all of which are an easy drive to Tahoe.

Third rule of thumb: Find a roommate or roommates. Two people with jobs can afford twice as much house as one. You can have a legal arrangement where you are both on the title. Much better, though, is to find a roommate or two who're willing to rent from you, and you buy the house yourself. (Partnerships can go bad. If you are the sole owner, then you can do things the way you want without having every decision be subject to committee.) There are also many houses that were built as duplexes or triplexes or with mother-in-law apartments. When we bought our first house in Tahoe (a dirty, rundown house that no one wanted, a house which we fixed up and eventually did very well on), there was a guy our age down the street. He bought a LARGE, very rundown house, and he rented rooms and maybe a basement corner to four roommates. When I made a comment about how four renters would make it so he could pay off his mortgage quite soon, he grinned like the Cheshire Cat.

Fourth rule of thumb: Consider looking for a condo or townhouse. Multi-unit housing is usually cheaper than stand-alone housing.

Fifth rule of thumb. Look for very small houses. You don't need extra bathrooms and bedrooms (except for renters). You certainly don't need a garage.

Sixth rule of thumb: Go elsewhere. Many workers in South Tahoe live on the Nevada side in Minden and Gardnerville in Carson Valley or just north of there in Carson City. Many workers in North Tahoe live in Reno. The commute isn't that long, and the housing is much cheaper. If instead you commute west to the California foothills, you can find lots of affordable housing. (Although beware that winter snow makes commuting from the foothills to Tahoe unreliable.)

An example of reasonable housing not far from Tahoe...

Here's a very affordable 2-bedroom townhouse in Carson City just 25 miles from Tahoe. Only $229,000. Get a roommate to rent the second bedroom and this becomes within reach of people with modest incomes and very little savings.

Or, for ultra cheap, check out this house in the foothills:

This cabin is in Georgetown, halfway between Placerville and Auburn, roughly an hour and twenty minutes drive to Tahoe. It was foreclosed. It only has one bedroom and one bathroom. It probably has many problems and would require a great deal of work. But it is only $147,000. Imagine what it could be once it is all fixed up.

Here's a two bedroom cabin in Camino, which is 10 miles east of Placerville and less than an hour to Tahoe. It's for sale for $165,000. Find a roommate to rent one of the bedrooms, and you could live almost for free. Just like the other cabin, fix it up while you pay down the mortgage. Take all the money you're saving and sock it away. Of course your friends who want the perfect little beauty will look askance when they see the little place where you're living. But they'll be envious when you've built equity while you were close enough to Tahoe to ski on your days off.

Are these places ideal? Not unless you care about becoming financially self-sufficient while everyone else is going backward as accelerating housing costs leave them behind.

Foothill cabins are affordable. They're a quick commute to jobs in the foothills or down in Folsom or Rancho Cordova. While your contemporaries are still saving for a minimum down payment ten years from now, you could have $100,000 in sweat equity waiting for you to sell and trade up. If you want to eventually retire, this is a great way to climb onto the housing ownership train.

If you feel you simply must have a nice large house in your dream destination, try to earn enough money to make it happen. If that doesn't happen, accept the possibility that you might always be a renter.

Otherwise, lower your expectations. Start small, fix, trade up, fix again. Pretty soon you'll be one of those people with a paid-for place in Tahoe or anywhere else you desire.


Sunday, November 8, 2020

First Storm, Heavy Snow

By the end of today, the weather forecast has us receiving up to 13 inches of snow. Am I so glad because it begins the accumulation of our snow pack? Or because it eliminates our fire danger? Or is it simply that it distracts from the ongoing political circus in Washington??!!...