Sunday, March 29, 2015

Another Use For My Sherlock Holmes Cap!

Several months ago, I was invited to speak to kids at the Lenz Elementary School in Reno for their reading week in March. Last week, I drove down the mountain and gave two talks in their library, 30 minutes each, to something around 100-plus 4th, 5th, and 6th graders.

What fun!

The focus of my talk was to explain what it's like to write books, as well as what the life of an author is like. (If you want to pique their curiosity, just tell them that authors get to stay up as late as they want and sleep in as late as they want!)

Talk about engaged kids. After I explained how I dreamed up a fictional detective (Owen McKenna) and his sidekick (Spot, the 170-pound Harlequin Great Dane), I asked if they had any questions.

Whoa. Every hand in the library went up. Their questions were really smart.

Do you use real events, or do you make up everything about a story?
Are the places in your book real?
What's the most fun part of writing?
How long does it take to write a book?
Do you write a certain amount every day?
Have you ever met famous authors?
What's the best thing about being an author?

I've spoken to all ages and every kind of group. But speaking to kids is the most fun. My thanks to Lenz School for inviting me!

P.S. The kids knew all about Sherlock Holmes, and they loved my double-billed Sherlock cap!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Authors on the Move 2015

One of the great things about being an author is being invited to participate in events that help libraries, which, as you can imagine, are sacred to those of us writing books. 

Last week, I was one of 40-plus authors who joined Authors on the Move 2015, the premier fundraising event for the Sacramento Public Library Foundation. This was my fourth time at Authors on the Move, a dinner and auction where something like 350 people pay $225 each to hang with - you guessed it! - authors. Who woulda thunk people would pay that kind of money to get together with people whose job - if you can call it that - is to arrange words on paper?!

It's a fun, well-run affair that I recommend for anyone who wants to support libraries and meet a wide range of authors while they're at it.

For me, an extra bonus was the auction. One of the items auctioned off was a "Tahoe Mystery" week. The prize was a week's stay for five people at a South Lake Tahoe cabin donated by Doris Thorsen. The week includes a visit by me, during which I'll chat about Owen McKenna, Spot, and the rest of the gang, answer questions about Tahoe mysteries and whatever else people want to know about Tahoe. (How did Spot get his diamond ear stud? What is the truth about what is down at the bottom of Lake Tahoe? Does the Sierra Nevada Brewing company really pay me to have Owen McKenna drink Sierra Nevada Pale Ale?)

I'm very proud to report that a small bidding war took place, driving the bids for the week from $500 up to $1700. Then, it was revealed that two weeks were available, and both of the primary bidders got their own weeks. So the Tahoe Mystery produced about $3400 dollars for the Sacramento Library Foundation!

I salute those who support libraries! And I look forward to the coming Tahoe Mystery weeks!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mountain Trivia You Won't Believe

Here's a question, the answer to which will amaze, win bets, and generally provoke serious disbelief.

The question revolves around cities with big mountains close by. I wanted to know where you get the biggest vertical going from a city to a close mountain. So I asked the following question:

Of all the significant cities in the U.S., which one has the highest vertical rise from the city to a mountain within, say, 15 miles?

I imagine that most people will think like I did, first considering those iconic mountains associated with iconic cities. Seattle and Mt. Rainier, for instance. There is a huge vertical rise of 14,226 feet from Seattle to Mt. Rainier. But of course Rainier is, at 60 miles away from Seattle, much farther than my arbitrary distance in the question.

Tacoma is much closer to Rainier, but still 40 miles away.

What about Redding, California and Mt. Shasta? They have nearly as much vertical difference of 13,685 feet of rise. But again, Shasta is about 60 miles from Redding.

Okay, let's look at Portland Oregon. Mt. Hood stands a very tall 11,200 feet higher than Portland. And it is closer than the above examples, but still about 50 miles away.

Mt. Baker rises high above Everett, Washington, but it too is more than 50 miles away.

And so it goes for the mountains near Denver, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Salt Lake City, Utah. All have high mountains nearby, but those three cities themselves sit thousands of feet in the air, reducing the vertical rise.

Close to Tahoe, we can measure from Reno at 4400 feet up to Mt. Rose at 10785. The vertical gain is less than 6400 feet and the distance is 20 miles away, still beyond the parameter of my question.

What about Las Vegas, which has Charleston Peak? At respective elevations of 2030 for Vegas and 11,916 for Charleston Peak, the vertical rise is an impressive 9886. Yet Charleston peak, while close, is also about 20 miles away.

So what is the winner? The cities of California's Inland Empire, a large exurbia that lies just east of Los Angeles. Ontario and Pomona are two of the main ones, both with populations over 150,000. And just 15 miles away is Mount San Antonio, otherwise known as Mt. Baldy. The two cities sit at 1000 feet of elevation and Baldy is 10,068 feet. So there is 9000 feet of vertical rise.

Los Angeles is thought of for its movie industry and its beaches and its freeway traffic.
But with mountains looming 10,000 feet above, it has some of the most amazing mountain views anywhere.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Wait, we're not done, yet. Especially, if you think about cities just a bit smaller.

For example, consider Palm Springs, CA. Its population is 46,000. That's not a major city by most standards. However, if you add in Palm Desert, the city next door, which has 50,500 people, you've got a sizable number of people. Does Palm Springs have a mountain? Yes, right up against it, in fact. San Jacinto Peak is only 10 miles away and its summit is 10,834 feet, almost exactly the same as Tahoe's highest mountain, Freel Peak. But the elevation of Palm Springs is only 479 feet. So San Jacinto Peak towers 10,355 feet above the city. At just 10 miles away, that is the most dramatic mountain/city relationship that I know of in the country.

San Jacinto Peak towers 10,355 feet above Palm Springs and Palm Desert, the
most dramatic mountain/city relationship in the country. Not only that, but Jacinto's
north face is one of the tallest faces of any mountain in the U.S.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
So the next time you think about big mountains near cities, remember that there is no place in the Cascades or the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada that puts big mountains near cities like in Southern California. We usually think of SoCal as beaches and Hollywood and crowded freeways. But SoCal is also mountain paradise.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Upside Of A Drought!

Is there an upside to a drought?

Heck, yes! The winter hiking is fabulous. We get to look up at snow on the mountains, but we can go on lake-level hikes without any snow gear. The sun shines, the temperature is perfect, and everywhere you look is a postcard.

Do I feel guilty enjoying such weather when we really need the moisture? Yes. (But not too much!)

The trail down to Skunk Harbor makes a perfect winter hike to a beautiful picnic spot.
And the view ain't too shabby. That's Alpine Meadows on the left and Squaw Valley on the right.

The rocks at Skunk Harbor Bay are gorgeous. And the water is clear as air.
At my feet is the most wonderful beach, a luscious curve of soft sand.
If the water were warmer than forty degrees, it would be great swimming!

A few days later, just as we were getting used to this balmy winter,
 we got 18 inches of fluffy white stuff at our house.
So we strapped on our snow shoes and headed out into the forest.

Click here a full blog post on hiking Skunk Harbor. Definitely one of the most beautiful hikes in Tahoe

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What Happens If You Lie To Your Dog?

She won't believe you the next time you tell her something.

Yeah, it's true. Yet another study demonstrates the amazing abilities of dogs to understand human behavior. 

This study used a simple yet clever approach, and they tested it on 34 dogs. The results were clear. If you show a dog where to find a hidden treat, the dog will appreciate it and check out the next hiding place you point to. But if you "lie" and show them the wrong place, they will realize that you can't be trusted, and they will ignore your subsequent advice.

Lesson to learn? Play fair with your dogs. They're as smart as young kids, and, like kids, they will respond to you in accordance with how reliable and trustworthy you are.

Read about it at Huffington Post