Sunday, February 28, 2016

2016 Amgen Bike Race Coming To Tahoe!

Do you like bicycling?
Do your kids like bicycling?
Want to see a cool event in Tahoe this May?

The 2016 Amgen Tour Of California is coming to Tahoe!

This premier bike race features many of the best bike racers in the world. They will undergo the supreme test of racing at high altitude as well as grueling climbs. For example, just the Tahoe leg of the men's race is over 130 miles and has a total elevation gain of over 13,000 feet!

Here are the Tahoe details:

On May 19th, Stage 1 of the women's race will go all the way around Lake Tahoe. You can view the best women racers in the world from your own bike or from boats and kayaks and paddle boards at many places around the lake!

Click here for Women's Stage 1 map

Click here for Amgen Women's Stage 1 info

Also on May 19th, Stage 5 of the men's race will go from Lodi to Tahoe. The racers will climb up Highway 88 from near sea level to crest Carson Pass at 8600 feet, then descend down to Hope Valley, climb up over Luther Summit and end at Heavenly Resort in South Lake Tahoe.

Click here for the Men's Stage 5 map

Click here for Amgen Men's Stage 5 info

For the home page of the Amgen Tour website, click here.

This will be a great day to hang in Tahoe and get inspired by the best bike racers in the world. Come on up the mountain and have a great getaway!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Absolute, Can’t Fail, Guaranteed Way To Make Your Novel Much Better

Greats like Stephen King do it.

Ordinary Joes like me do it.

Countless professional writers have come to rely upon this technique for producing reliably good novels without the glitches and problems that plague so many books.

It’s called the Write Longer, Then Cut 30% technique.

Why does writing longer and then trimming always improve your work? Aren’t some writers geniuses who can write beautifully their first time around the block?

The simple fact is that any piece of long writing produced by any writer at any level has, by everyone’s definition including the writer involved, some stuff that represents some of the best the author can do, some stuff that is merely good, and some stuff that is lacking relative to that writer’s best ability. So if you write long enough to allow room to trim - or long enough to force you to trim - you will always, always, always trim your least effective work and leave your best.

Let me restate that. If you force yourself to trim 30% of your novel, you will never throw out the passages that make you cry or roar with laughter or get especially thoughtful. You will never throw out the passages that generate a thousand new ideas or make you want to take notes or stop and memorize the lines. You will never throw out the passages that make your heart race or make you worry or fearful or engage in any other powerful emotion. In short, the potent, emotionally-charged parts of your book, the parts that make readers stop and order all of your other titles, those are the parts you will keep. Your best stuff, right? That is the stuff you will never throw out.

So what will you throw out? You’ll toss the slow exposition, the telling instead of showing, the rambling stuff you think the reader should probably know even though they can figure out what’s going on without it. You’ll throw out the lines that are too clever and call attention to themselves at the expense of the story. You’ll throw out the adolescent scene with the too-beautiful woman and the too-hunky guy. You’ll throw out that interesting segue that doesn’t really advance the plot or the characterization. You’ll throw out the scenes that only exist to make you, the writer, look smart but don’t do a thing for the story.

Imagine a professor has given you an assignment of writing a 500-page manuscript. You did the job and turned it in. Then she told you to cut it to 350 pages. No one needs to tell you what to cut. Why? Because you’ll simply go through and delete every possible thing that can go without hurting the story.

Wait, what did you just do? You took out stuff that can be tossed without hurting the story.

In sum, write substantially longer than you think you need, then force yourself to trim. The improvement in your story will surprise you.

Of course, some writers will think that they are the ones who don’t need to do this. “I can trim in my head before I put it down on paper.”

Maybe. But when your book comes out, if your sales are lackluster, you might wonder if you should have followed Stephen King’s advice. And if your sales are good, you might wonder how much better they could have been...

Point made, ’nuff said.

I gotta go start trimming...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"That's A Pretty Thin Production Level, Borg..."

I've been putting out one book a year for quite awhile, now. I often think I should be writing faster. Certainly, many professional writers do two books a year, and sometimes three or more.

Recently, the subject came up again, this time in connection with a TV show. First, some background so you will understand why a TV show that the whole world knows about could be new to me.

It's true that my wife and I haven't had TV ever since our 13-inch black-and-white died back in the '70s. (I know, I'm dating myself.)

So we're pretty disconnected from pop culture. However, we do have a DVD player for watching movies, which we get from Netflix. We've also occasionally rented TV shows that people have recommended.

When I heard about Castle, a show about a mystery writer, I was naturally intrigued. When actual mysteries were published that were supposedly written by the fictional Castle, I was doubly intrigued. Partly, because they sold very well, partly because the real ghost writer was a closely-guarded secret, and partly because I loved the idea of a fictional TV show cross promoting a fictional writer and the result was very real books.

If it's possible that any of you haven't seen the show, it depicts a writer working with the New York police and helping to solve murder cases. The writer gets source material and hands-on research, while the police get helpful (although sometimes outlandish) ideas from a creative writer. The shows each start with a murder (sound familiar?), they move fast, they are sometimes funny or clever, and they end well. Some viewers might think that part of the appeal is that the episodes showcase the beautiful woman (Stana Katic in tight jeans and high heels) who plays the homicide detective that Castle works with. Realistic? Probably not. But eye candy helps sell...

The clever additional component that motivated me to give the show a try, was that the fictional Castle (played by Nathan Fillian) periodically gets together with his writer buddies to play poker. Those writer friends are played by the very real Michael Connelly, James Patterson, and others.

During one of those poker games, the other (real) writers are giving Castle grief for only writing one book per year. Castle seems a bit taken aback when Patterson (who produces about a dozen books per year) says, "One book a year is a pretty thin production level, don't you think?" Connelly, who seems to be writing two or three books a year these days, agrees.

Meanwhile, as we were watching, my wife was laughing and slapping my thigh.

Yeah, I have to agree. One book a year is a pretty thin production schedule, Borg.

I suppose if I turned off Castle, I might have more time for writing...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

How To Prevent Attitude Sickness

In last week's post, I talked about altitude sickness and what to do if it strikes. This week, we look at the reasons why we get altitude sickness and how to prevent it.

The Earth's atmosphere is very thin. Compared to the size of our planet,
the atmosphere is as thin as the skin on an apple. You don't have to go
very high before you climb a substantial part of the way through that skin.

While nearly all of the Earth's atmosphere is below 100,000 feet, gravity compresses the atmosphere close to the Earth's surface. The air gets denser the closer you go to sea level. As a result, about half of all our planet's air is below 18,000 feet. 30% of the Earth's atmosphere is below 10,000 feet, and 20% is below 6000 feet. So just going from sea level up to 6000 feet, you have 20% less oxygen available to your lungs. Lake Tahoe, at 6230 feet, is higher than that. And all of the roads into the basin except one have passes over 7100 feet. The Mt. Rose highway crests at almost 9000 feet. It's very easy to get into territory with dramatically lowered oxygen levels. (Note that the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere stays consistent at about 21%, but as the atmosphere thins, the oxygen "partial pressure" drops accordingly, and you get an equivalent drop in how much oxygen gets into your blood.)

If you're skiing at 10,000 feet and sleeping at 8000 feet (as in a Kirkwood vacation home), you are putting your body into a substantially hypoxic environment. Our bodies struggle when we don't have enough oxygen. The struggle can be very stressful.

If you want to acclimate without stress, what should you do?

A huge help is to spend a night at altitude before you start skiing or riding. Twenty-four hours without physical effort is even better. Staying in a lodging near 6500 feet (close to lake level) instead of one at 7500 feet also helps.

Where are the highest lodgings in the Tahoe area? The town of Kirkwood sits at 7800 feet, which is where you'll find most of its lodgings. But some of its homes - available on vacation rental websites - sit substantially higher. Many vacation homes on upper Kingsbury Grade - some near Heavenly's Stagecoach and Boulder access points - are also around 7800 feet. There are also vacation homes up above Incline Village that are at the same altitude. Don't avoid these wonderful places to stay, but consider allowing an extra day at that altitude before your first day of skiing.

At the minimum, try to get a night's sleep at altitude before hitting the slopes. You will find life at altitude much more comfortable.

How long does it take to fully acclimate?

It's been estimated that those of us who live at 6500 feet eventually produce extra blood (perhaps a pint or more) and we possibly develop the ability to carry more oxygen in our hemoglobin. How long does this adaptation take? Some estimates suggest one month. Anecdotally, many of us will attest to the fact that when we first came to Tahoe, we got out of breath just brushing our teeth. But after one month, life was back to normal.

What happens if Tahoe locals go down to sea level? We immediately start losing those adaptations. If we spend a month or more at sea level, we have to re-acclimate all over again when we come back up to Tahoe.

Bottom line? If you want to prevent altitude sickness, go slowly. Stay near the lake level, especially during your first day. Sleep overnight before doing lots of exercise. If you're planning on riding multiple areas, start with areas at lower elevation, such as Homewood. Or the lower slopes at Squaw Valley. As the days progress, move to the other areas, saving the highest areas, Mr. Rose, Heavenly, and Kirkwood for last.

These simple steps will give you a great winter vacation!

P.S. People who've lived for thousands of years in the highest areas of the world, like Tibet, the Andes, and the Ethiopian highlands, have evolved several different adaptations including genetic differences that allow them to better absorb oxygen at high altitude. So don't think, "Hey, sherpas can hang out at 16,000 feet, so I can too...!"

P.P.S. If you want to see dramatic evidence of the effects of thin atmosphere on living things, just look at the WhiteBark Pines at the top of Sky Chair at Heavenly (10,000 feet above sea level). Talk about scrawny plants desperately trying to eek out a living where the air is so thin.

These Whitebark Pines are old but no taller than the skier who's using them for slalom poles.
Photo courtesy of