Sunday, February 21, 2021

Quiz - Lake Tahoe Volume Compared To Other Lakes

 If you look at lakes on the map of the United States, you'll see five big ones stand out. The five Great Lakes are big by any measure.  Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Ontario, and Erie. In addition to surface area, those are the five biggest U.S. lakes by volume as well.

So what lake comes in at number six by volume? A glance at the map shows dozens of possibilities. You know the answer of course, because you're reading my blog.

Lake Tahoe isn't huge by surface area. But it is DEEP, the 10th deepest freshwater lake in the world. And it is the second highest big lake in the world.

As for volume, Tahoe contains 36 cubic miles of water. Nothing compared to Superior. But it's kind of amazing to look at the U.S. map and realize that after the five Great Lakes, Tahoe has more water than any other lake in the U.S.! 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Saint Valentine

 Ever wonder where all this lovey dovey Valentine celebration stuff came from?

There are several competing stories, most involving men named Valentine. One of the more likely seems to be about a clergyman named Valentinus. who lived in Rome back in the third century. Christians weren't very popular back then. But Valentine was supposedly nice to them. And he even performed marriage ceremonies for Christians, or so the story goes. (Medieval stories are notorious for being just that. Stories.)

But the whole marriage-of-Christians concept had the kind of nice ring to it that allowed the story to flourish. Anyway, for whatever reason, the Romans in charge sentenced him to death for his crimes, and he was beheaded on Feb 14, 270. Centuries later he was made a saint.

The idea of celebrating Valentinus's death with symbols of love didn't take hold right away. By some accounts it wasn't until the Italian Renaissance in the 14th or 15th centuries that people started celebrating love. (It took over one thousand years for love to take hold in the popular culture!)

In the meantime, it's always a good idea to do something sweet for your love, whether on Valentinus's birthday or not.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

What Does That Character Look Like?!

My wife is doing the first of four edits on my new book. In it, El Dorado County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Bains is featured, and what he looks like is described. My wife said, "I don't remember reading what Bains looked like in past books." 

"That's because I don't think I've ever described him before," I said. (If I have, I forgot about it, and I'll get emails from people telling me I got him wrong!)

When writers begin writing novels, we often assume we have to say what all the characters look like. But it isn't necessary.

The first book in the Owen McKenna series was the fifth novel I'd written (those books are unpublished). 

Owen McKenna's sidekick Spot

I'd described a lot of characters by the time I began Owen McKenna. With this new series, I decided I wouldn't describe what McKenna looks like other than to say he's 6' 6" and weighs 215. And, just once, Glennie, the reporter, refers to his blue eyes.

But mugshot stuff? Nada. Nothing  about his looks.

There's no rule about this. If you want, you can describe a character down to the hair on their knuckles.

What happens when you don't describe characters? Readers fill it in. I can't count the number of times readers have referred to McKenna's looks. When I say that I never described them, they tell me I'm wrong. They know I'm wrong because they know exactly what McKenna looks like. Which is, apparently, proof that I've thoroughly described him!

Same for Sergeant Diamond Martinez of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. All we know about him is that he's got brown skin (he's a Mexican immigrant). Yet readers seem to know exactly what he looks like as well. They even think he's handsome. I know this because I've gotten quite a few emails from women proposing marriage to Diamond. (I know - I didn't see that coming.) In their surprisingly earnest proposals, they make it clear he's an attractive guy.

Incidentally, I do describe other characters like Street Casey and FBI Agent Ramos and of course Spot, and many many bit characters. 

Stay tuned... The next McKenna (#19) is due out this coming August. You'll know what Sergeant Bains looks like then!


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Only 5 - 8 Feet Of Snow, And You Can't Get Here From Anywhere

 In the winter of '92 - '93, Tahoe set several snow records. One memorable event, after a particularly big storm, was when one of Tahoe's radio stations broadcast phone calls to ski resorts asking about how much snow the resorts had received. The calls to both Diamond Peak and Kirkwood were notable. Both said - in essence - "The good news is that we've got eight feet of new snow. The bad news is that you can't get here from anywhere!"

The recent storm buried Tahoe. While Kirkwood  (to the south) only got 5 feet, the Interstate 80 areas (to the north) got up to 8 feet.

Snow removal is better now than in the early '90s. However, the highways in and out of the Tahoe Basin were closed, and, for a time, you couldn't get here from anywhere!


P.S. The resorts are following new pandemic rules, which require RESERVATIONS. So don't just drive to Tahoe and expect to ski. Do your research and get your reservation first.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Free Reading For All My Books

 Where we live in Tahoe, we don't have broadband internet. So we get DVDs from Netflix. We never consider buying DVDs. Subscription "rental" works well. Pay a monthly fee and watch as many movies as we want, subject of course to the speed of the post office moving those DVDs back and forth from us to Netflix.

So I understand the appeal of the Kindle Unlimited program. Pay Amazon approximately $10 a month and read as many books as you want. The only qualifier is that publishers have to enroll their books in the program for them to be available. Publishers have now enrolled enough books in the program for thousands of lifetimes of reading.

I recently read that 160 million readers have joined the Kindle Unlimited program. That sounds like an astonishing number. But, as with Netflix watchers, and Spotify listeners, there are readers all over the world.

All of my books are now enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. So members can read them at no cost beyond the low monthly fee. If you belong, enjoy my books! If you don't belong, maybe you should give it a try.

You don't even need to buy a Kindle, as you can download the program for free onto you laptop or your iPad or even your phone.  (Trivia: People in Japan read more books on their phones than any other way!)

You can try the Kindle Unlimited program for free. Here's the link:

If you click on any of the books to the left, that will take you to their Amazon page.

 Thanks very much for your interest.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

A Writer's Job During Harsh Times

I get a lot of mail. If I were to sum up the essence of what motivates most people to send me a note, it might be that people crave entertainment that distracts them from real-world stresses. Those stresses range from national and international problems down to personal and family difficulties.

People like to read fiction that - for all the trouble that takes place within stories - depicts a world where there is more justice and reassurance than can be found in the real world. In most fiction, the bad guys meet justice, and their evil deeds are neutralized.

The harsh events in the real world take their toll on creators the same as they do with any other group of people. But we need to keep our focus on our purpose, which is revealed in our mail. Soldier on. Readers are waiting for more stories. Turn off the news, pour another cup of coffee, and get back to work.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Progress Report On Next Owen McKenna And Company

 In the world of writing novels, there are few axioms that apply all the time.

One of them, perhaps the most important, is that the first job of writing a novel is to finish the first draft. Wait, let me put in some emphasis: Finish The FIRST DRAFT.

This sounds easier than it is. Countless writers get well into the first draft of their new novel, whether it is their first or 50th novel, and hit so many dead ends and seemingly inscrutable problems that it's easy to give up and quit. Or you think, I'll just put this monstrosity aside until it seems more clear to me.

Putting it aside for a few days or even a week or two is fine. But you always have to remind yourself that it is only when you have finished a first draft that you can begin to really understand the shape of the thing you're building.

Another rule of writing novels is that good writing comes from rewriting over and over. Your first draft is just a draft. It will be filled with crapola (technical writing term). But of course, you can't rewrite and start making consistent nice sentences and paragraphs and chapters without first having a First Draft. You can't shape your characters into living breathing people who have hopes and dreams and fears and worries until they've been roughed out in your First Draft.

So I'm very pleased give you a progress report. I've finished the First Draft on Owen McKenna #19.

It is rough the way crushed limestone is rough. It is awkward the way a kid making his first phone call to ask someone out on a date is awkward. It is filled with unfulfilled hopes for future good writing. It is like the Winchester Mystery House, with doorways that open onto thin air, and staircases that go nowhere. It contains bad writing, adolescent writing, purple prose writing, melodramatic writing, boring writing.

But that is the nature of a First Draft.

Now that I've completed that daunting First Draft, I can move onto the easier stuff of making it a little better on each page and each day. I can identify all the exposition that simply needs to be deleted. I can fix the mixed metaphors or get rid of them. I can make the hero more heroic and the bad guy waymo bad. I can add some intelligence. I can get rid of my faulty attempts at cleverness. I can take out what Mark Twain disparaged as twenty-five cent words and replace them with nickel words. I can endeavor to have every bit of dialogue do double duty as both showing what the people said but also revealing their character.

Tune in come May or June after the book has been through four editors and endured seventeen rewrites. I'll send out an email as publication gets close.

Thanks again to all of my readers who care about these stories. I owe my career to all of you. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Tahoe Hit Is Still Free

 The Kindle version of Tahoe Hit is currently available for free on a promotion. 

Here's the link to Amazon:

The free promotion runs until midnight December 29th. Feel free to spread the word to your friends. 

Thanks very much for your interest!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Tahoe Hit Kindle Book Free On Christmas

 My most recent book, Tahoe Hit, will be free for five days beginning Christmas and running through December 29th.

Tahoe Hit is regularly $4.99 on Kindle. Come Christmas, you can download it for free, and you can tell your friends to download it for free as well. 

Here's the link:

For those of you who have so kindly said you are reluctant to download it for free because you want me to get the money, don't worry. Every book that's downloaded for free on these promotions helps me with regard to Amazon's ranking system, which boosts the sales of all my titles. I actually make more money  the more my books are downloaded for free. (I know, it seems kind of strange. But Amazon has perfected the mechanisms for promoting books.)

One more comment...

Many of you belong to Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program where you pay a small fee every month and can read as many books as you want. For those of you who don't subscribe, you may want to. It's like other subscription programs (Netflix, Spotify, etc.)

You might be glad to know that all of my 18 titles are now part of the Kindle Unlimited program. So binge away! 

Oh, one more thing... Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Local Food Charities Help People Who Are Hungry

One of the best ways to find help with food is check out our local charities.

In Tahoe and surrounding communities, there are multiple ways to get free food, food delivery, hot meals, and even cash for help with food:

Tahoe Family Resource Center: Bilingual help with health card, legal system, job search, education, child care:

Christmas Cheer South Lake Tahoe provides meals. Their Facebook page is:

If you or anyone you know is hungry, please check out these resources. Don't be embarrassed. If you don't have a computer, you can use one at the library. If you can't get to the library, ask your neighbor. People want to help. The first step is to ask.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Hiking In The Coronavirus Era

Simple adjustments for public and personal health...

My wife and I do a lot of hiking. When the pandemic began, we were like most people, wearing masks when we went inside a store or the post office and not wearing masks out on the trail. I was more resistant to wearing masks outside than she was. I reasoned that outdoor air represented so little threat that there was no comparison between hiking and shopping for groceries.

However, as the situation worsened, I realized that for everyone's comfort, it is best to wear a mask when you encounter people, even when outdoors in the mountains. Now, it is the law in many places.

Of course, hiking up a trail, breathing hard in the high-altitude air, a mask can be very frustrating. So I've developed a simple approach that has become second nature. If it's cold enough that I'm wearing a knit cap, and no one is in the area, I unhook one ear from the mask and let it dangle from the other ear. My knit cap holds the remaining ear string in place As soon as I sense someone approaching on the trail, I rehook the mask on both ears.

If I'm not wearing a knit cap, I simply carry my mask by one ear string. At the first sign of people, it's ready to go, and I can hook it into place in about one second. Yes, even describing this process feels uncomfortably prosaic, like I'm suggesting how to tie one's shoelaces. Yet, it has made my life easier. So I pass it on.

Let's hope that in the next year or so, we won't be having to think about it at all!