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!