Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Secret Writers Don't Want You To Know

Wow, 2014 in a couple of days! The New Year is a good time to 'fess up to the truth, right? Okay, here goes a myth buster. 
In many ways, writing is the easiest job in the world. And you, dear readers, make it so we can indulge in this so-called work. THANK YOU! But we writers wouldn't want the world to know how easy it is. We'd rather have people think that we slave for our precious art, that, as screenwriter Gene Fowler put it, we struggle at it until drops of blood form on our foreheads. 
What a load of BS we've perpetrated on the world.
Of course, some people, unpracticed at writing, give it a try and mistakenly think that it is hard. That's like saying that riding a unicycle is hard. True only until you learn. Then it is easy. I know because I learned to do both. (Trying to keep up with my kid sister when she first mastered that one-wheeled contraption back in junior high school!)
Once you learn to write, it is the sweetest job there is. 
Sure, it takes some effort to get those words arranged in the best order. But compared to real work? The kind of job where you have to be at the office or the loading dock every morning at 8:30? Five or six or more days every week of the year? Where you bust your butt trying to make your boss and co-workers and your customers happy?
I know what a real job is like because I did it for 35 years. I wrote eight novels during those years. They weren't all good (four are still in a drawer). Partly, they didn't have the right stuff because it took a lot of practice to figure out what I was doing. And partly, it was because I was too busy going to the day job. But, like most endeavors, practice and you'll get pretty good.
Now I have the incredible luxury of earning my living by making up stories. I sit at the computer drinking coffee, moving those little words around. Gosh, should this scene be moved to the early part of my story? What about this character? Should I make him a little edgier? Maybe these commas are too disruptive... You get the idea. Tough life.
If you ever hear a writer complain about how hard it is to arrange those words, go ahead, laugh. Arranging words. That's all we do. The words already exist. Occasionally, we make up a word, but we don't have to. We only have to move them around until they make some sense. On the scale of real work, writing's about a one-point-five.
And then there's the other part of writing. Research. Let me tell you how hard that is. Yesterday morning, I Googled several interesting questions and surfed around cyberspace reading articles. A great way to enjoy one's coffee even if one weren't writing. Then I got in my car and drove around the lake counter-clockwise, scouting scene locations in my new novel, taking a few mileage measurements to make sure I have my descriptions accurate, planning where Owen and Spot and the rest of the gang are going to do their thing...
I took some pics to show you.
My first stop was at six o'clock on the "lake dial," out on the Lake Tahoe Golf Course between the South Shore airport and Meyers (where Echo Summit Road comes down to the basin). I went there to check out one of the footbridges over the South Upper Truckee River.  Might be a good spot for a chase scene...

At four o'clock on the lake dial, I stopped at Zephyr Cove to check on the M.S. Dixie, one of Tahoe's two sternwheelers. The Dixie was sitting very pretty in the morning sunlight.

A bit north up the East Shore (three o'clock) gives you a nice view of the West Shore mountains. In this case, "nice view" is one of the great understatements of the last few days of 2013!

When I got to Incline Village (one o'clock), I took a quick detour up to the Mt. Rose Highway overlook and looked down the East Shore. Sweet!

Coming back down the West Shore I saw the Dixie again in Emerald Bay! (seven o'clock) She'd just looped around Fannette Island and was heading back out to the main lake for the 10-mile dash across to home base in Zephyr Cove.

As you can see, this writing research is a lot of tough work. Writing is so hard!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Free Kindle Download Of Tahoe Chase

Come Christmas Day, my latest book, Tahoe Chase, will be available as a free Kindle download. Please visit the page and add it to your Kindle. Here is the link:

As of this writing, Tahoe Chase has 149 reviews on Amazon, almost all of which are 5 stars. Since its publication in August, Tahoe Chase has spent over a dozen weeks on Amazon's Private Investigator Bestseller List.
If you've already read it in paper form, you might want to add it to your Kindle. If you haven't read it, please give it a try. Free is a pretty good price.
If you have an iPad or other tablet, you may be able to download a free Kindle app so you can buy books directly from Amazon (or download free books from Amazon). For those of us who are addicted readers, Free Kindle books are one of the greatest benefits of this new era!
Please pass on this information to your friends. The free Kindle download of Tahoe Chase will be available everyday from December 25th through December 29th.
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Notes For Writers - How Important Is The First Sentence?

In the fiction workshop I taught a few weeks ago, we spent a lot of time working on first sentences. Why? Because the first sentence of a novel is critical. Unless your novel starts with a great first sentence - one that puts your character in serious trouble - readers will pass it by for one that does.
If ever a new author could take time to set the stage for her story, that time is gone. With the threshold for publishing a book lowered to zero (anyone can now publish a book), the world is awash in books. How will your story stand out and get attention, especially now that attention spans have shrunk to about the time it takes to read one sentence?
The only way is with a story beginning that grabs the reader's attention in a big way. You don't want a sentence that merely beckons a reader into your story. You want a sentence that jerks them into your story. As Samuel Goldwyn of Metro Goldwyn Mayer said, “I want a story that starts out with an earthquake... and then builds to a climax!”
Oh, but I've read hundreds of books with leisurely beginnings,” you say. Of course you have. Me, too. And nearly all of them were by established authors with a reputation for telling a good yarn. Most were books by authors you've already read. At the minimum, they were books that were recommended by someone whose judgment you trust. You didn't need a gripping first sentence because you came to the book believing it would be good.
New authors don't have that luxury.
When was the last time you paid good money for a book you've never heard of by an author you've never heard of?
Same with me.
The only exception would be a book that had an amazing professional cover, amazing professional back copy (otherwise you would never open the book), and a first sentence you couldn't ignore, a first sentence that grabbed you and made you read the next sentence, and the next, and the next.
What this means is that the first sentence of your first novel is probably the most important sentence you'll ever write.
I recently printed out the first sentences of the Top 10 Kindle bestsellers. (Most fiction is now sold in ebook format, and Kindle has a strong majority share of ebooks, therefore the Top Kindle bestsellers are a great - probably the best - representation of what works at getting readers' attention.)
Most of the Top 10 were by brand name authors who have established readerships and who could afford to take some time getting into their story. Nevertheless, six out of ten had first sentences that put a character in life-or-death trouble. The first sentence! Life-or-death!
Does your first sentence do that? If not, how are you going to get traction in the marketplace? To put it in starker relief, consider this: There is now an unlimited supply of free Kindle books available. Some estimates range from 10,000 to 20,000 every day. With thousands of times more free books than a person could ever read, why would a reader pay good money to buy your book?
But if your first sentence yanks them into the story, maybe you'll have a chance.
As you read this, many of you are probably wondering if the first sentence of my first book was that great. I won't claim greatness for anything I've written. But it did put a character in life-or-death trouble. And I believe it had a huge impact on my career. Not only did people read Tahoe Deathfall (it still regularly cracks the Top 100 Private Investigator's bestseller list on Amazon), but the book got great reviews and mentions. Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and newspapers across the country.
What was the first sentence of my first novel?

The fall from the cliff was so sudden it was as if God had yanked Melissa off her feet and hurled her into the air.

I put life-or-death trouble into the first sentence of each of my first four novels. By my fifth novel I was able to take a little more time because I had a readership that believed they could count on me to tell a good story even if the first sentence didn't begin with Sam Goldwyn's earthquake.
Now, after reading the first sentences of the Top 10 Kindle books and discovering that established authors are beginning with life-or-death trouble, I'm going to go back to the practice. The competition for a reader's attention is simply too great.
At every event I do, one or three people give me a copy of their book, wanting me to read it. Many of those books are probably really good stories. But I've yet to open one to find life-or-death trouble in the first sentence.
Life is short. Readers have endless books to choose from. They will continue to pick novels that grab them from the first sentence.
If you've written a gripping story, somewhere in there is life-of-death trouble.
Move it up to the first sentence.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How Much Snow Did Tahoe Get?

Out on the deck Saturday morning.
It was still snowing, and it continued to snow lightly all day.

Using the official Stick-A-Measuring-Tape-In-The-Snow technique, I measured 20 inches on our deck where we live at an elevation of 6450 feet. Although our house is in a particularly snowy part of Tahoe, the mountains, especially those along the Sierra Crest above the West Shore, usually get more.

Nice wind sculpting to the side of the car.

Although Saturday's storm wasn't especially notable for anything but unusually cold weather, it finally gave us a good launch into our winter season. Of the open areas, here are the snowfall totals at the various mountain summits from north to south taken off the ski area's websites:

Sugar Bowl - up to 22 inches
Boreal - up to 27 inches 
Squaw Valley - up to 15 inches
Northstar - up to 18 inches
Mt. Rose - up to 16 inches 
Heavenly - up to 30 inches 
Sierra At Tahoe - up to 32 inches
Kirkwood up to 28 inches. 

(Donner Ski Ranch, Alpine Meadows, Diamond Peak, and Homewood will all be opening soon.)

What's interesting about the totals is that Heavenly usually doesn't get as much snow as the West Shore mountains. Yet this time, they got as much or more. Probably it has to do with a more dramatic elevation/snow intensity relationship than normal, as Heavenly's summit is higher than the other areas.
Come ski!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tahoe Ski Area Update

Okay, so our current snowfall accumulations have been a bit bleak. Truth be told, totally bleak.
But our areas have awesome snowmaking. Give us a nine or ten-thousand-foot mountain and we will spray massive amounts of cold water droplets into the air and cover acres in beautiful groomed snow, night after night.
Below are the areas that are currently open. Please note that as of this writing, each area only has a few runs up to speed. But you can still put on your boards and carve some turns with the world's greatest view spread out below you.
Many other aspects of a great ski vacation are just as good as always, in fact - with few other tourists getting in your way - maybe even better. Great restaurants, hotel and vacation home rentals, and easy travel and parking. After a day of dancing on the slopes, sit in front of the cozy snap and crackle in the fireplace and sip a glass of wine. You'll think it is about as good as it gets.
Come on up the mountain and play!
P.S. Forecasters are talking about the potential for serious weather coming soon.

This pic was taken at Heavenly over a week ago. The conditions look pretty sweet to me!

Areas currently open: