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!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Grizzly Bears, Computers, And A Sore Back. The Surprises Of A Life As A Writer...

I'll give you the essence right up front. I'm pretty sure I'm the first person on the planet to go on a mountain hike carrying three computers in a backpack.

Phelps Lake, Jackson Hole, where I hiked with 3 computers in my pack...

Here's how it unfolded.

Before a novel goes to print, the author gets a proof of the finished product - text pages as well as cover - to inspect and make sure that there are no serious mistakes. Once the author says, "Go", the book manufacturer hits PRINT, and the book printing machines start whirring.

As my latest novel TAHOE DARK neared the point where the book manufacturer was ready to send off the proof last June, I realized I'd be on the road because my wife would be painting in Jackson Hole. So I told the book manufacturer that I would work with what's called a "Soft Proof," PDF files of both cover and text rather than hard copy. The problem was getting those files onto a computer while on the road so I could go over them page-by-page.

Here's why it was a problem.

The book manufacturer sends the files to one of those "upload/download" websites. I'm not sure of the reason, but I think it's because they have learned that large-sized PDF files (35 meg) are sometimes rejected by the author's email service. So they don't like to send them as email attachments.

I've learned from past experience that the files those download websites send out are not reliably opened by someone with my dismal tech skills. I've also learned that computer systems are picky. Some files download best with the Chrome browser, some best with Safari on a Mac, some best with Internet Explorer on a Windows machine, and some best with Firefox, etc.

So what to do?

Well, I always travel with my Chromebook, because it is the most reliable computer for much of what I do. I also have a laptop with Windows and Internet Explorer. Further, my wife uses a Macbook with the Apple universe of software.

Worried that I might not have the right operating system to download the Tahoe Dark proofs on the road, I brought along all three computers along with my phone's Hotspot internet connection.

It was a good decision. It took many tries on multiple machines before I figured out how to successfully download my proofs.

The next day, we planned a hike in Grand Teton National Park. It was a 3-mile stroll from the Rockefeller Preserve through the forest to Phelps Lake. Along the way we would be accompanied by astonishing views of the Tetons.

This presented another problem. There were lots of bears about, black bears like we have in Tahoe, as well as grizzlies. There were signs everywhere about making noise as you hike so you don't surprise the bears. Bears don't often kill people. But when they do, a grizzly is the usual culprit, so no one wants to get caught between a mama and her cubs. We also read about not leaving food unattended.

Well, that was a Hmmm moment. We had food in the car. We could load it into our packs and bring it on our hike. Which might bring the bears straight to us. We decided to leave it in the car and take our chances that the doors would still be intact when we got back. Added to that was the concern that dirtballs sometimes see parked cars at a trail head as fair game.

Because all three computers are critical for our businesses, I didn't dare leave them in the motel or the car, especially considering that a bear might rip off the doors to get to the food and then hang a "help yourself" sign on the other contents.

So I loaded all three computers into a pack and carried them on the hike.

We enjoyed the hike to Phelps Lake, which was as spectacular as what you find in Tahoe. And we had no problems with bears or dirtballs.

At the end of the hike, as I took a heavy pack off my shoulders, I said to my wife, "I think I might be the first person in history to hike to Phelps Lake with three computers." She gave me one of those looks. I added, "In other words, I might be the dumbest person to ever hike to Phelps Lake." She smiled.

Enough said.

P.S. The proofs looked good, so I approved the printing, and I now have my new book in print form.

P.P.S. I guess Tahoe isn't the only pretty place in the world. This is the Grand Teton and her companions...

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Not Enough Vs. Too Much

It doesn't matter if the subject is action, or science, or art, or description, or road map details, or emotion, or sentimentality, or tough-guy dialogue, what one person loves the next person won't.

"I love the way I could visualize your last novel. It was like a movie."
"Your last novel was way too much like a Hollywood action movie. If I wanted a movie, I'd go to the movies."

"I love knowing all the places you mention in your books, roads and neighborhoods."
"Your books are like Tahoe geography lessons. I couldn't care less about Tahoe streets."

"The cool thing about your books is that I learn a little something in each one."
"It's like you're forcing me back into school. I just want an entertaining story."

"I love the constant tension of the action sequences."
"You go way over the top with your action scenes."

"I love the art references."
"What's with this art stuff? If I wanted art stuff, I'd buy an art book."

"I love the way the dog steals every scene he's in."
"I hate dogs. It's such a silly crutch the way some writers put animals in their books."

All authors - and other artistic creators - experience this. What one person wants more of, the next person wants less of.

I never thought my books were for everybody. After all, I've never met anyone whose favorite books are all the same as my favorite books. We each have our own preferences in books (and art and movies and theater and music...)

But I'm very grateful for my readers even if they don't all like everything I do!