Sunday, October 23, 2016

Best Hikes - South Shore - Van Sickle Park

Category - Easy
View Rating - 3 out of 10
Distance - Any distance you want, as this is an out-and-back round trip. Turn around when you desire. One of the easiest vista points is one half mile from the main parking area. If you're walking from a Stateline hotel, add another half mile each way. If you go to the Tahoe Rim Trail, it is about 5 miles round trip from the main parking lot.
Elevation gain - 200 - 1500 feet for the basic trail.

Let's say you're staying on Tahoe's South Shore near the state line, which features the city of Stateline, NV to the northeast of the line and Heavenly Village to the southeast of the line. This is where Tahoe's greatest concentration of hotels and motels are.

Now let's say you'd like to go on a nice hike but don't want to have to figure out transportation to a trailhead. No problem. There's a great hike within easy walking distance from your hotel. In less than 1 mile from your hotel, you can walk through the nearby forest to wonderful views. In less than 2 miles, the views are more expansive.

Years ago, the Van Sickle family donated their 542 ranch to provide for a park. The result is a very nice facility within walking distance from the busy hotel corridor near the state line.

The forest trails are relatively easy, the views are nice if not spectacular, and best of all, you can skip the car and walk from any of the area hotels.

To get to Van Sickle park, look for where Park Avenue crosses Hwy 50 (Lake Tahoe Blvd.) On the east side, what used to be Park Avenue is now called Heavenly Village Way. Walk east on Heavenly Village Way a long block to a four-way stop sign. The entrance to Van Sickle Park is straight ahead. (It is not well marked!)

Follow the red car straight into Van Sickle Park
When you get to this old barn, take the turn to the left.

This is the road that leads to the main parking area.
There are restrooms and information signs near the parking.
Look for this single trailhead sign. The main trail heads up behind the sign.
The sign has a map of the trails, of which there are several.
The trail is a single-track, but it is easy to navigate.

Watch for this sign and a trail that leads to a great overlook up on the rocks.
(Be careful at the top and use your hands for support. If you are unsure, don't climb up on them.)

This is the view to the left. The mountain on the left is Mt. Tallac. Maggie's Peaks are in the center.
Jakes Peak is to the right. Emerald Bay is tucked in below Maggies and Jakes.

View to the center
View to the right, with the casino hotels visible

As you continue up the trail, you come to the burn path from the Gondola Fire from several years ago. Someone tossed a cigarette butt out of the gondola, which started a huge forest fire that threatened all of the homes on Kingsbury Grade.
Van Sickle Park has multiple trails worth exploring. You can walk all the way up to the Tahoe Rim Trail, which you will intersect near the ski lifts on Heavenly's Nevada side. From there, if you like, you can continue to Tahoe's grandest hikes and mountains. For example, it is possible to hike all the way to Freel Peak, a 30-mile round trip, which, at 10,880 feet, is Tahoe's highest mountain and would require a 4,500-foot elevation gain from Van Sickle Park. This is, of course, only for EXPERT hikers. But I point it out just to show that there is a vast territory available to anyone with a good pair of hiking boots and a pack full of clothes, food, and water. No car necessary.


As you leave the parking area and head back to your hotel, you get a nice view of Mt. Tallac!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

WordWave Festival of Story

Next weekend, October 21 - 23, 2016, the WordWave Festival of Story will be held at Valhalla out by Camp Richardson on Tahoe's South Shore.

If you love books and stories, and if you want to meet agents and writers, this is the place to be. There are multiple presentations and panels and fun events.

I'm also involved, and I'll be conducting the "Mysterious Morning" conversation on Sunday, Oct 23rd at 11 a.m. in the Valhalla Grand Hall. I'll be interviewing James Rollins and Galadrielle Allman about their writing. It should be a fun time, so come on down and join us!

Here's the main link:
WordWave Festival of Story

And here's  the complete WordWave schedule

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Best Kayaking In Tahoe - Fannette Island

Look carefully, there's an island hiding in front of that wall of rock! And if you look very close at the top of the island, you can see the square tea house that was built in 1929.

Fannette Island, the only island in Tahoe, is in Emerald Bay. It is where Captain Dick Barter, Tahoe's first year-round resident, spent time back in the 1860s. It is also where the heiress Lora Knight - after she built the Vikingsholm Castle on the shore of Emerald Bay - built a stone tea house back in 1929. She lived in the castle during the summers. During the day, she had her butler row her and her house guests out to the island to take tea. When you see the pictures below, you'll see why.

In the middle of September, while the weather was still glorious but the tourist rush was over, we kayaked out to Emerald Bay and visited Fannette Island. (See my previous blog post.)

While you can get to Fannette Island on most any boat, a kayak or canoe allows you to paddle right up to the rocky shore and step out onto dry land.

Here are the pics:

Like us, the paddlers in the red kayak are looking for a place on the island to make landfall.

There are lots of perfect coves in which to find shelter.

We found a perfect little Kayak Garage/Boathouse.

Once on the island, you can look out toward the mainland shore. Vikingsholm Castle is hidden in the trees.

A view of the mainland, framed by an ancient tree.

Zoom your camera in on the M.S. Dixie sternwheeler as it arrives at the Vikingsholm Castle. If you look close, you can see the castle in the trees just off the bow of the boat.

Fannette Island is about 150 feet tall. If you turn around to the east, you'll see the tea house at the top of the island.

Lora Knight's workers carved steps into the natural rock, making them look timeless and like something out of an epic ancient fantasy.

As you get close, the tea house dominates the island. Although it no longer has a roof, the stone walls are just as they were 90 years ago.

This view is looking down from just outside the tea house. The rock on the north side of the island is near-vertical, and you can see far down into the water.

Step inside the tea house and look out the picture windows. Have you ever seen a more perfect view with which to enjoy your tea?!

As we leave the island on our kayak, the Dixie cruises on past us.

Visiting Fannette Island by kayak or canoe is a singular experience you will never forget. I think it belongs near the top of the list of things to do in Tahoe.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Want Your Novel To Be A Bestseller?

Most writers would love to have a bestseller. And the few who aren't interested in selling big-time still would like to sell a decent number of books simply because that means that a lot of readers would connect to their work.

As I write this, I just finished exhibiting my books at the Candy Dance Festival in Genoa, Nevada. The crowd was, as always, huge. Among them were many authors - some I know and some I had never met - who came by to chat and trade war stories about the world of writing. A few writers alluded to their struggles to find an audience. Several of those writers asked questions, looking for input from a fellow writer. Some writers just wanted to say hi.

One writer who stopped by was James Rollins, the mega-selling writer of adventure thrillers. He and I are doing an event together at the upcoming WordWave Festival in South Lake Tahoe, the weekend of October 21st - 23rd. James and Galadrielle Allman and I will be having a "Mysterious Conversation" at the Valhalla Grand Hall on Sunday morning Oct 23rd at 11 a.m. I will be conducting a "Writer's Studio" - type interview with Rollins and Allman.

Anyway, back to the subject of this post. James Rollins is a classic example of a writer who has put together his career with great skill, writing a bunch of hugely entertaining novels that have spent a lot of time at the #1 position on the biggest bestseller lists.

As I thought about James' career and considered what other writers could learn from him, many things become clear, some obvious, some not so obvious. James Rollins is a perfect role model of how to create a successful writing career.

From my observations, I've put together a simple guideline to follow to give your books the best chance of finding an audience.

First, pick a half dozen bestselling novels in your genre and spread them out on your desk. Paper books are much better for this experience than ebooks. (And if you are writing a thriller or adventure thriller, make sure one of your examples is a book by James, because he is a master.) Your goal as you study these books is to make certain that your books could fit right in with them.

(If you are self-publishing, this is relatively easy because you have complete control. If you are published by another publishing company, you will have to work with them to make some of these things happen. But it can still be done. Be the polite-but-squeaky wheel with your editor and publicist and graphic designer, and they will see that you are simply focused and dedicated and - most important of all - determined to make your books a success.)

As you look at the six best-selling novels on your desk, imagine that your book is also in the group. Now imagine that a group of readers who didn't know the famous authors' names looked over the books, (the six famous ones and yours). Would those readers be able to pick yours out of the stack as the oddball? Would your book be the only one out of the seven with a photograph for your cover? Plain type fonts? Would yours be the only one with a cover designed by an amateur designer? Would it be the only one missing front pages with some quotes or blurbs, a title page, standard copyright page with standard copyright verbiage, a book title and author name at the top of every pair of pages? Would it be the only one in the group with unusual length chapters, long passages of exposition, typos or, even worse, have more serious editing mistakes? In short, would your book look amateurish among the professional offerings?

Note, that some people think that it is good to be different in order to stand out. This is true in some fields and in some ways. But nearly always, if you are different in these things I'm mentioning, you will find it very difficult to find acceptance.

It's good to be different and surprising with the story you tell. But for most of us, most of the time, and in most markets, it's good to present your story package in a way that fits right in with the bestselling packages. Let your story stand out because of the story, not the other stuff.

Yet I keep seeing some writers who put out books that look like awkward, ungainly, unprofessional products. This is so avoidable. Yes, it takes planning and some money to get your book done professionally. But it isn't difficult. You put thousands and thousands of hours into writing your book. Why wouldn't you put at least a few dozen into making it look professional?

In short, when comparing any of your books to the six best-selling novels you've picked out, ask yourself these questions:

*Does your opening paragraph grab in a similar fashion?  Your first sentence?

*Does your novel use standard story-telling structure? (Standard POVs, linear or mostly-linear narrative, 1st person or 3rd person telling, and, usually, past tense narrative?)

*Is your novel so compelling that people (like the writers in your writer's critique group) tell you they had to stay up all night to finish it? If not, go back to the writer's group and get more input and rewrite appropriately until your book is that good. Does this seem like a tall order? Sure. But your competition is doing it. Why is anyone who reads James Rollins going to try your book unless the story is spectacular?

*Is your book printed in a similar trim size?

*Is your book formatted in a similar way, with similar page layout, front pages, title page, chapter headings, back pages?

*Is it printed in a similar font and in a similar size?

*Are your page gutters similarly generous?

*Is your back copy a similar length, and is it as "grabby?"

*Is your cover just as dramatic and compelling and professional?

*Do you avoid gimmicks such as front or back pages with contest entry forms and silly sales tricks?

*Is your book part of a series? Will that series be a trilogy at the minimum or open-ended? (While an ongoing series has always been valuable - just look at the number of authors who wrote dozens and dozens of novels featuring the same characters! - this is becoming more important. Readers are learning - being trained! - to look for series, and they judge books in a series as being likely to be better than standalone books, especially by authors who are new to them.)

*And do the books in your series, current books and future books, all have the same format? Same look? Same size? Same main characters?

These are some of the basic ways that authors can hugely increase their chances of discovery and acceptance in the market.

Study the most successful authors, writers like James Rollins. Learn from his example.

In sum, if you want your books to be accepted as professional, they must have the professional qualities of bestsellers in your genre. Only then will you sell enough books that anyone will notice that you have written a stellar story. And only after readers have been swayed by your professional presentation will your story take root in the marketplace and your career will begin to take off.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Best Kayaking In Tahoe - Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay is probably the single most important "Must See" place in Tahoe. Surrounded by 3000-foot walls of mountains, with the Vikingshom Castle at its tip, populated by Bald Eagles and Ospreys, and filled with deep water as clear as a swimming pool, Emerald Bay is at the top of your list of things to see.

This is Emerald Bay from above on the Bayview Hike. The island in the middle is Fannette Island, Tahoe's only island. I'll discuss it in my next blog post.

Most people see Emerald Bay by car. While that is good, and you'll love the experience, why not experience it from down on the water!

This is the view looking into Emerald Bay from the main body of Lake Tahoe.

Nearly any boat can get you to Emerald Bay, but I recommend human-powered craft, a kayak or canoe. Paddle craft are the best way to appreciate the sounds of the wilderness and smell the fresh air scents of wildflowers and pine trees. If you don't have a kayak, there are many places you can rent them, including, during tourist season, Baldwin Beach where we recently launched our kayak. 

The beauty of kayaks and canoes is that they require no license,and can be put in at any public beach on the lake. (But like all boats, they do require a boat inspection for invasive species. Here's the link for boat inspection information.)

For an easy trip, choose a boat launch site that is close to Emerald Bay such as D.L. Bliss State Park or Baldwin Beach. From Baldwin Beach, the distance to the end of Emerald Bay is about 4 - 5 miles. If you paddle at a leisurely rate and take time out to observe the birds, you can make the 8 - 10-mile round trip in 2 or 3 hours. Add in a picnic break, and you have a great way to spend a morning or afternoon. If you want to explore Fannette Island or the Vikingsholm Castle or Eagle Falls just behind the castle, plan more time.

Watch for this sign near the road that leads to easy parking just steps from the sand beach.

The entrance to Baldwin Beach is about 4 miles west-northwest of the "Y" intersection in South Lake Tahoe. Head out Emerald Bay Road (89). When you get to Camp Richardson, you are about half way to Baldwin. The parking cost is less than $10, well worth it for the convenience of a great beach, decent restrooms, and a perfect place to launch your boat.

Paddle northwest along the shore. You'll come to the entrance to Emerald Bay in about 2.5 miles. Eagle Point is the southern point, Emerald Point is the northern point. The bay's entrance varies in width depending on the water level of Lake Tahoe, commonly ranging from 800 feet wide at high water to 300 feet wide at low water.

Once you enter the bay, the western tip of the bay is another 2 miles or so. Here are a few photos to whet your appetite...

The water of Lake Tahoe is as clear as that in a good swimming pool.

This is the view as you approach Eagle Point from the south.

At the entrance to the bay, the green and red buoys mark the deepest water. Kayaks and canoes can stay outside of the buoys to give deep-draft boats more room. But keep your eye open for rocks that are near the surface. As with all boating, your safety is not guaranteed. Wear flotation vests and don't paddle fast in shallow waters. Even small boats like kayaks and canoes can get a hole punched through the hull if you hit a rock hard.

Looking west down the bay shows Maggie's Peaks with the giant rock slide from where a chunk of the mountain slid into the bay back in 1955.

On the south shore of the bay is a campground with a nice beach. Expect large crowds during tourist season. But in the off season, you may have the place to yourself.

Pull up on the sand for a good picnic spot.

The M.S. Dixie paddlewheeler is just pulling up at the Vikingsholm Castle.

An osprey is studying the water for fish. Woe to any underwater creatures that venture too close to the surface!

To the southwest, we could see two snowfields left on Mt. Tallac. This was in early September after a below-normal winter. Both snowfields are below 9000 feet. (You won't see snow that low in the Colorado Rockies in September because they have warmer summers than we do at the same elevation.)

Next week, I'll detail Fannette Island, which can be visited by boat. (Swimming from the mainland is not allowed, as the boat traffic and cold water temperatures make it too dangerous.) 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

5 Simple (But Hard-Work) Steps That Allow You To Quit Your Day Job And Be A Full-time Writer

This blog post is inspired by a recent Kindle Publishing newsletter about Scott Nicholson, a writer who, like many of us in the brave new world of ebooks, was able to quit his day job and earn his living as a full-time novelist. At the end of the newsletter article, several writers posted complaint comments saying, in so many words, that the article's author had neglected to say HOW Nicholson achieved this success. The tone of the commentators made me think that they thought there was some marketing trick that Nicholson used to find writing success and, if only they knew that trick, they would also be able to find success.

Okay, Todd, write a thoughtful response, earnest and sincere.

So here goes, earnestly and sincerely.

There is no single (or even six or eight) marketing technique(s) that will help you find success as a novelist. There are only these basics:

1) Write a bunch of really good novels.
2) Write your books in a series.
3) Produce books that are professionally edited.
4) Produce books that have professional covers that all go together.
5) Get those really good, professionally-packaged books in front of thousands of people every year, year after year.

Is this complicated? No.

Is this hard work that takes years and years and years of effort? Yes.

Is the relevant information, about both writing and marketing, hard to find? No.

Does it take a lot of time to find it, read it, digest it, put it into action? Yes.

Let's go into more detail on these points.

Regarding point #1: Write a bunch of really good novels.

What makes a "really good" book? It is a book that your reading group, writer's critique group, and numerous beta readers say made them laugh and/or cry and/or lose sleep over, and they've already told their friends about you, and maybe even one of those beta-reader's friends contacted you and said she heard you wrote a really good book. A really good book is one that - when you send out ARCs (Advance Review Copies) - book review trade journals agree to review it and then give it a good review, and book bloggers give you good reviews, and bookstores (which are not the best places to sell books, but they know what readers want) ask if they can sell it as soon as it is published.

How many is "a bunch of books?" At least five in a series, but I'd plan on ten. Do they have to be full-on novels? Yes. Shoot for 300 pages minimum each. 350 pages is better. Some readers will buy books that are novella length, but they often don't like it. And when they discover that the book they just ordered is only 200 pages or less, they sometimes feel cheated. If so, they'll flame you in reviews. They believe, perhaps correctly, that you are trying to write two 200-page books instead of one 400-page book just so you can boast more titles, and they think less of you and your books as a result.

Regarding point #2: Write your books in a series.

What qualifies as a "series?" A series means the same main characters grappling with similar kinds of trouble in each story. In other words, characters that readers get to know and care about and come to think of as friends, friends that they want to revisit again and again. (But of course, despite similarities among books in series, each book still needs to surprise the readers.)

Regarding point #3: Produce books that are professionally edited.

Professional editing means using an editor who earns his or her living editing. Can anyone find mistakes in your books? Typos? Misspellings? Misuse of the subjunctive case? Mistakes of fact? Head-hopping POVs (Point Of Views) within one scene? If so, then you need better editing. Does it cost money? Yeah. Sometimes a lot. But this is a business you're trying to launch. If you opened a restaurant, would you ask a friend to volunteer to play chef by roasting hotdogs over a campfire? No, you would get a professional chef and have a professional kitchen.

Regarding point #4: Produce books that have professional covers that all go together.

Professional covers means using a professional graphic designer. Browse through Amazon and notice how many books have covers that do nothing except to hasten how fast you click away. Covers that are photographs that only the author likes, or solid blocks of colors on the top and bottom, unattractive, plain type fonts, a lack of design theme that screams "I used DIY online cover-creater software."

Packaging is enormously important. People only buy books that look professional, sound professional, radiate professional. Would you buy a new car that was built by your neighbor in his garage? No, you want a car that looks like it was professionally built. What if your neighbor was a clever mechanic and even knew how to work with fiberglass? No, you want a car made by professionals in the car-making business. What if your neighbor had a clever new idea for an innovative transmission? What if he discounted his new car to only $18,000? No, you would still want a professionally-built car.

Same for books. If your book series looks like your neighbor produced it in his garage, you won't sell books, and you'll never be able to quit your day job.

Now to the last thing.
Regarding Point #5: Get those really good, professionally-packaged books in front of thousands of people every year, year after year.

Your book series might be the best thing ever written, but it still won't find a big enough audience to allow you to quit your day job unless you get it in front of many thousands of people. Why thousands and thousands?

Because it takes a core audience of approximately 20,000 readers to give you enough income to live off writing books alone. If you are published by a publisher that takes 90% of the sales - common in the publishing world - then your core audience needs to be five or ten times greater. (This core audience can be smaller and still support you if you write two or more titles a year.) Another reason you need to get your books in front of many people is that only a small percentage of people actually read much. (Pew Research recently reported that about one third of people had read NO books in the previous year.)

Of active readers, many read only non-fiction. Some read only romances. Some read only comic books. Some read only medieval fantasy or erotica or mysteries with gay protagonists who are really into crossword puzzles. You get the idea. To find someone who likes the kind of books you write, you will have to get an enormous number of people to try your books, and from that, a small percentage may love what you write and become your devoted fans.

How do you find those readers? Partly, by getting in any and all media so that people get exposed to what you are writing. If you are good at social media, go for it. Although be aware that many authors have quit Facebook because it is such a time vacuum, and it is very hard to turn your social media postings into book sales. (For awhile, there was even a formal support group for authors quitting Facebook.) Writing a frequent blog is a good way to find people who might try your books. In the beginning, a blog will do nothing. But if you post interesting content every week for several years, you will build up a surprisingly large audience. If readers like your blog, they will likely like your books.

Another really effective way to build an audience is to physically get in front of readers. The reason is that readers remember authors they've met much, much better than authors they've merely heard about or read about. So you learn to do talks, at libraries and schools, book clubs and service clubs (Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis etc, all of whom are looking for monthly or weekly speakers). You go to book festivals and book conventions. You exhibit your books anywhere and everywhere. Remember that as an author, you have an enormous number of fellow authors crowding you out. And their books may even be as good as yours. (I know, it's shocking but possibly true!) So how to you stand above the crowd? Do what they don't. Actually go to where the crowds are and introduce yourself and your books!

When I started out and began exhibiting at book festivals (like the Tucson Festival of Books, and the L.A. Times Book Festival), I realized that there were hundreds of other authors all competing for the attention of the readers strolling the grounds at the UA Mall, and UCLA, and, later, when the L.A. Times festival moved, USC. But when I exhibited at non-book festivals (like Harvest Festivals and art & wine street festivals), I was often the only author. It was much easier to get readers to notice me.

So I did a little math. At a good festival, 20,000 people might walk by and notice your table. Exhibit at 10 of those a year and keep it up for 10 years, you'd make two million impressions. Of those, a very small percentage will buy one of your books. Let's say just a quarter of 1% buy one of your books. A quarter of 1% of two million people is 5,000. Which means 5,000 books sold. If just half of those people like your book enough to recommend your books to their friends, that begins to add up. Let's imagine that half of the people who tried one of your books like it enough to buy the rest of your titles. By the time you have ten titles, that's 2,500 people buying 10 books each, which means 25,000 books. You now have well over 30,000 books sitting on the bookshelves and in the Kindles of dedicated readers. Each year, you come out with another book or two. The entire process expands. Eventually, you may sell ten or twenty thousand of each new title you write. That's bestseller territory. And with your backlist expanding and still selling each year, you can kiss that day job goodbye. After a few years, you may well have an audience that is only exceeded by the best selling authors in the country. Is it a lot of work? Of course. But nearly everything valuable in life comes only with great effort.

In sum: Like success in most endeavors, with writing, it often gets down to, "How bad do you want it?"

Remember what Einstein said. Perseverance trumps genius.

Good luck!

P.S. For a look at my books, check out my website.

For a look at some of the events I've done over the years, check out the Events page of my website.
How many are there? I'm pretty sure there are over 300 events listed. And those are just the ones I remembered to put on the website. And those only go back to 2008 or so. I did events for many years before I even listed them.

For more related information, click the "On Writing" label to the right side of my blog: As of this writing, there are 83 articles that discuss all of these subjects in much depth.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

How Realistic Does Entertainment Fiction Need To Be?

It's a common question in the world of writing. Just how believable/realistic should this entertainment stuff be?

If a writer's story is to be completely believable, then he or she should make certain that the characters are ordinary people with ordinary struggles. They should spend most of their time concerned with the minutia of life, coping with everyday frustrations. And if their trouble is of a life-or-death nature, we might find that they would die. Such is realism.

The characters in a totally realistic novel will have to confront a real world where life isn't fair and there's little or no justice and endings are messy and often bleak. Those same characters should have dreams, but rarely would they act on those dreams. They should want to be courageous, but they won't usually take the risks associated with courage. Only the rarest individual would ever do anything truly heroic. And almost never would a character undergo a complete character transformation, i.e., as when the Cowardly Lion finds he has courage or the Tin Man discovers he really does have a heart. A worthy dream, but not realistic.

Oh, wait. That's not entertainment fiction. There's a name for stories like that. It's called Literary Fiction.

Literary fiction has great value for what it can teach us about life, and we worship great literary writers.

But the whole point of entertainment fiction is, well, entertainment. We read it to experience characters facing larger-than-life trouble and who respond to that with heroic behavior. Entertainment fiction sweeps us away into a world that we can only imagine because we've never actually had those experiences in real life. Or, if we've had a personal taste of such grand stories, they rarely turned out so well that telling them would make readers come back for more again and again.

In entertainment fiction, readers demand that the stories turn out well, that the hero wins and the bad guy gets his punishment. In a detective murder mystery, the detective must catch the killer. In a romance, the right boy has to end up with the right girl. In a thriller, the special ops team must save the world from apocalypse.

For suspension of disbelief, readers require only that they "buy into the story." The mechanism for that is determined by the story itself. Once we get to know James Bond, we would be appalled if he could suddenly fly like Superman, but we certainly expect that Bond can take on a dozen bad guys in succession. Similarly, we would be taken aback if Superman could suddenly tell the vintage of a glass of wine or know the inner workings of a secret Russian terrorist group. But we aren't at all surprised when Superman can lift a train off the tracks.

Readers' demands for larger-than-life stories require that even if the protagonist in a mystery is a meek, little old antiquarian bookseller, she nevertheless takes risks more appropriate to Jason Bourne than a real-life book shop owner. The requirements of entertainment fiction mean that the little boy who regularly gets picked on eventually finds the strength and courage to teach the bullies a lesson. The underdog basketball team with second-hand sneakers simply must overcome all the odds and take the national championship. The family that is tormented by spirits in a haunted house horror story must, in the end, finally vanquish the ghosts. Realistic like real life? No. But satisfying? Yes, oh so satisfying.

In a completely realistic novel, if a lone teen-aged girl is lost on the ocean in a leaky rowboat, she will drift for a few days and eventually die. But in entertainment fiction, that same girl will learn to catch fish with her shoelaces and navigate by starlight and dismantle one of the wooden seats to use as a paddle in order to find her way back home.

Entertainment stories take us out of our ordinary lives by giving us thrills and chills and a view into a world where dreams come true and there's always justice at the end.

Are they completely realistic? No. That's why we read them.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Fitbit 666 (I mean, LITBIT 666) Way Of Writing

Here’s a PSA for writers! I’ve solved the writing discipline question!

(LITBIT term coined by my wife. I told her about my 666 Fitbit idea, 
and she said, "You mean a LITBIT!)) 

Most professional writers have some kind of way they measure their production. A certain amount - words or pages - written per day or per year or whatever time frame fits for them. For me, I’ve always had trouble with a daily production level because for much of the year, I’m on the road, setting up or taking down book exhibits, living in motel rooms. As a result, I’m often behind where I should be as my annual deadline approaches for my next novel, and I end up scrambling to catch up. I’ve often thought that I’d like a more disciplined approach that still accommodates the many days when my schedule makes it hard to write.

So I’ve invented an imaginary device called the LITBIT 666. To make it work, I have to write 666 words of fiction per day at the minimum.

Imagine this is a LITBIT that chimes every time you accumulate 666 words.
Like its namesake, the Fitbit, the LITBIT demonstrates that slow-but-steady aggregation of little things (steps or words) adds up big time.

Why this strange number? Because 666 is an easy number to remember, and it is small enough to be easily doable, which is important, because a figure too large is intimidating and makes it easy to take a pass on the whole concept. This is, I think, the most important part of the program: A daily goal that is small enough that you can probably produce it by the time you finish your second cup of coffee. When it is easy to make the LITBIT sing, it helps motivate you to put in the steps.

And a mere 666 words, or roughly two pages give or take a line or three, results in an amazing total of 243,000 words a year. This allows a writer to cut a respectable 20% during editing and still write two novels a year. (Remember, cutting 20% or more is critical to achieving quality writing, because you always cut your worst writing and save your best.)

If I follow this new 666 LITBIT rule every day, I will double my book production. A worthy goal by any measure. Life is short. I’ve got more novels I want to write than I have time to do it at my current, slow writing speed. Plus, two books a year would double my income over one book a year. Maybe more what with the increased visibility more books gives a writer. And now that I’ve seen that books can produce good income, the financial motivation alone is significant.

Even more important, many people send me emails saying that I should write faster and do more books. This is an amazingly fortunate situation to be in, to have fans who want more books. My readers are my raison d'ĂȘtre, and I put them up on an imaginary pedestal before which I bow and give thanks every morning.

I've been doing this now for over a month and have only missed a few days. I don't find it hard at all, and I can usually make that LITBIT baby chime soon after I get up, even if my morning brain fog hasn't cleared away. After all, 666 words is relatively easy to do. Computers have a “word count” feature that you can check to see how much you’ve written. If you want to write, I recommend you do this first thing, before you check your email or scan the Google News page.

One constraint that I’ve given myself is that this only applies to my novels. Words written for my blog or book reviews or emails or letters begging to postpone jury duty don’t count.

Okay, I don't really write with a fountain pen, but it sure would be an elegant way to put down elegant words!

The good part is that this is like a resort hotel rewards program. If I write more than 666 words, the extra words work toward a vacation day. For every 666 words I get ahead, I can take a day off without remorse. And there are no black-out days!

The bad news is that if I don’t maintain my quota, I may throw away the LITBIT 666 and go back to feeling like a serious slacker who can only write one novel a year. (Don't worry about me being wasteful. Imaginary devices take up very little room in the landfill.)

Like most American workers, I might not use all of my accumulated vacation days, but it’s nice to know they’re there. (I have many saved up already.)

Having unused writing-vacation days will be a great tension reliever when I’m not being very productive, like when I’m on the road doing shows and can’t find time to write. Or when I’m out skiing and drinking a beer in the sun and not wanting to do anything but go home and barbecue. I can think, no sweat, I’ll just unlock the writing safe and pull out a vacation day.

I should say that this rule applies 365 days a year. Most kinds of self-employment don’t generally allow for a five-day week. As with most self-employed people, taking weekends off is a strange concept for writers. The reason is the same as why writers never retire. We work ’til our brains give way because we have the greatest job in the world. Making up stuff for a living. And writing isn’t really work. So “not really working” seven days a week is no big deal.

You may ask, if I continue with this schedule, does that guarantee that I’ll publish two books a year? Sorry to say this, but no guarantees apply. The reason is that even if I succeed with more writing, that doesn’t mean that the resulting books will be good enough to show the world. There’s a lot more to a quality book than simply writing the appropriate number of words. The characters have to be intriguing, the plot has to grab, the overall concept has to be really good.

Ah, you say, so that’s the excuse if I don’t come out with more books. Yes, that will be my excuse because it’s true. However, I’m very much hoping that I will be able to come out with more books!

Even if I'm unable to do two books a year, three every two years would be a respectable 50% increase.

Because I have multiple talks and appearances coming up, I’m already worried that someone is going to ask how my 666 LITBIT Rule is coming along. So I better go get writing…

P.S. This post is 1150 words, well more than my 666 LITBIT requirement. But it ain’t fiction, so I can’t count it!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Mystery Conventions, Toastmasters, And A Ride In The Big Leagues

Sometimes good stuff just falls into one's lap.

There is a whole world of mystery conventions, gatherings where mystery fans and mystery writers get together to meet each other and talk shop and trade stories about their favorite fictional whodunnit worlds.

These fun events tend to hop and skip around the U.S. and beyond. They are usually held in exciting places where fans and writers both will want to attend.

Some of the big ones are Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, Thrillerfest, and Left Coast Crime. These events are usually headlined by big names, writers who are, by most measures, far beyond me.

Imagine my delight when I was asked to be Toastmaster for Left Coast Crime 2018, which will be held March 22 - 25, 2018 in Reno.

This is an honor that is greater than anything I've experienced to date. Yes, my books have done well. I've gotten good reviews, and sales have been much better than I ever hoped for.

But past toastmasters for Left Coast Crime include writers like Lee Child, Harlan Coben, James Lee Burke, Rick Riordan, and Nevada Barr. Whoa, I'm getting to rub elbows with a group of heavy hitters.

I don't pretend to be in their league. But I'm going to be on their stage. How lucky is that?

For those who are interested, here's the link:

This coming year, Left Coast Crime will be in Honolulu, March 16 - 19, 2017. I'll be there along with hundreds of mystery fans and mystery writers. Maybe you can come and join us?

Maybe you can also make plans to come to Reno in March of 2018. If so, you'll see me on stage, trying to earn my keep with the big names. I hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

How To Meet People And Make Friends When You Move To Tahoe

A reader commented on my previous "Moving To Tahoe" blog post. He asked a great question about how to meet people when he and wife move to Tahoe. Here are a range of ideas:
One of the best ways to meet like-minded people after you've moved to Tahoe is to join people and groups that do the things you like to do. A good way to find them is to Google the activity along with the words “groups in Tahoe.”

For example, if you are into bicycling, mountain or road,  join one or more of the various mountain or road biking groups:

For hiking, become a volunteer at the Tahoe Rim Trail Association:
We also know of multiple “hiking clubs” that get together and hike every week. Same for ski groups. You can probably find them through Facebook and other social media.
Stop by the shops that sell what you like and ask about groups. I.e., if you love to go out on your kayak or stand-up paddle board, visit the shops that sell them and ask where enthusiasts get together.

For theater, music, and other activities, you can become a volunteer at Valhalla on the South Shore, or at the Tahoe Heritage Foundation, fantastic places to spend time and great resource with the various estates, theater, beach, etc.:

If you love books, we have multiple libraries around the lake. They all have “Friends Of The Library” organizations run by volunteers. For example, when I do library talks and appearances, it is always the local Friends Of The Library group that hosts me, and I’ve met many great people that way.
You can also volunteer at one of Tahoe’s many parks. You will find out that much of the work at these parks is done by retired people who have volunteered.

For sailing check out:

Of course, Tahoe has many, many skiers and snowboarders. Most of them purchase a season pass at their favorite resort. The ski areas have a range of programs you can connect to. All the people we know who ski develop ski friends simply by regularly getting up on the mountain. Other pass holders become familiar faces up on the sundecks, and you can connect to them. Stop in at the ski shops and ask about ski groups.
Like all communities, Tahoe has many service clubs you can join. If you go to the weekly Rotary lunch, you will get to know many people.
Same for churches.
Another excellent way to meet locals who are dedicated to similar interests as yours is to take a class or two at one of the local community colleges. They have hundreds of classes in every conceivable subject area, and many of their classes have a large number of adults. Some of my best friends are people I’ve met in those classes, including people who took a class I taught.

Whether you want to learn new computer skills or painting or photography, you can find it all at community colleges.
On the South Shore, check out the Lake Tahoe Community College:
On the North Shore, check out the Truckee campus of Sierra College:
Or you might consider heading into Reno to the Truckee Meadows Community College:
Sierra Nevada College, our 4-year college in Incline Village also offers continuing education opportunities, where you will also meet people with your interests. Here's the link:

You can also reach beyond Tahoe to make connections that will lead back to Tahoe. For example, many groups in Reno make excursions to Tahoe for their chosen activity. I've seen classes offered through the Reno REI store that bring their sports to Tahoe. Here's the link:

Another great way to get to know any community is to start a small business that serves some aspect of that community, join the Chamber of Commerce, and get involved. If you don’t want to work that hard, you can get a part time job in a local business that serves the community. (If you're retiring, you probably don't want to keep working! But a part-time job appeals to many retired people, and it is a great way to get to know others in the area.)

If you are a musician, Tahoe has as many garage bands as any community. Check out local musicians by visiting the various venues that host local bands. There are quite a few, and you can talk to the musicians during their break or after the performance. And again, the local colleges offer music classes. Your fellow classmates will also be musicians or aspiring musicians.
Tahoe has many active writers. You can find out about writing groups by asking at the local library. If you're on the South Shore, check out the Tahoe Writers Works:

If you golf, stop in at any of the many golf courses and ask the local pro or the person in the shop if they know of anyone looking for someone to join their foursome.

If you are a visual artist of any kind, you can get involved with local arts groups.
On the North Shore, check out North Tahoe Arts:
On the South Shore, check out the Tahoe Art League:

In short, it's very easy to meet people and make friends in Tahoe. Pick your favorite activities, and mix it up with groups of people who like the same things. Before you know it, you'll be invited to beach barbecues and kayak trips to Emerald Bay and mountain bike excursions to the Flume Trail and paint-outs up on the Mt. Rose Highway and book discussions at any of dozens of homes of Tahoe area readers who take turns hosting their book clubs.
You can even start your own group. Use social media to ask for contact from Tahoe-area people who enjoy your activities. With not much effort, you'll have people reaching out to join you.
Have fun!