How to Survive a Trip to the top of Yosemite’s Half Dome

The plastic water bottle skidded off the granite and disappeared. It wasn’t the sound the bottle made that disturbed me. It was the silence that followed its rapid disappearance. Along with twenty to twenty-five other people I was perched on the east face of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, the world-famous granite slab that […]

Kevin Nelson’s post How to Survive a Trip to the Top of Yosemite’s Half Dome appeared July 31 on Dave’s Travel Corner.

My Adventures with Pixar Studios

It was one of those phone calls you always love to receive as an author. Pixar Studios was on the line, and they wanted to take a meeting with me.

“Sure,” I said. “Love to.”

            The meeting occurred ten days later at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, a small city across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco and about forty-five minutes by car from my home. The studios are behind a gated entrance. I parked and walked into a lovely amphitheater and open space where Pixar employees take lunch and hold company events and meetings. In a courtyard was the famous lamp, which is the company symbol and always makes an appearance in the credits at the start of every Pixar movie.

      Continue reading “My Adventures with Pixar Studios”

Ziplining through the redwoods

There is a wealth of things to do in California’s wine country. Here is an activity you may not have thought of: Ziplining through Sonoma’s coastal redwoods.

A boy in flight.

My son and I took a “flight” through the forests of Occidental in Sonoma County, about two hours north of San Francisco. I’d heartily recommend it for families or anyone who is looking for something a little different than the usual Sonoma and Napa Valley pleasures of wine tasting and dining. Continue reading “Ziplining through the redwoods”

How I Sold Operation Bullpen to the Movies

It’s Sunday afternoon in the banquet room of a hotel in West Hollywood. I’m sitting across the table from a Hollywood producer pitching her on why my book, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History, will make a great movie.

“It’s all true,” I tell her. “I’m not making a word of this up. It all happened.”

“Great,” she tells me. “I love true stories.”

“It’s about a group of people who basically start with nothing and create a $100 million forgery ring, the biggest in America.”

Suddenly the producer looks puzzled, like she ate something bad. “How? What are they forging?”

“Fake autographs. You know, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, superstars like that. And they’re forging these autographs on baseballs, jerseys, photos, posters—you name it. They produce hundreds of thousands of fakes and sell them on the home shopping channels, eBay, stores, all over the place. And they make millions in cash.”

“Okay,” she says, finally getting it. “What’s the story?” Continue reading “How I Sold Operation Bullpen to the Movies”

Visit Luther Burbank’s Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa

Luther Burbank was to plants what Steve Jobs was to computers. A creative genius who could take a thing and combine it with another thing, and in so doing make the original thing better and even sometimes new.

Luther Burbank, left, and Henry Ford.

At the time of his death, in 1926, Burbank was one of the most famous men in America, certainly the most famous horticulturalist. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Jack London, John Muir, and other luminaries of the time visited him at his home and gardens in Santa Rosa, about an hour north of San Francisco, to see him and a few of the wonders he had created such as the spineless cactus.

Continue reading “Visit Luther Burbank’s Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa”

How to Get Your Children Away from Electronics and Reading Books Again

“Wow! A book. What a neat present!”

When Hank was a boy, he read voraciously, gobbling up Alex Rider, Harry Potter and other books like peanuts at a ballgame.

Then we got him an iPhone and his appetite for books dried up seemingly overnight. I asked him about this change and he said, “I hate to read. Books are boring.”

A similar change occurred with Gabe. When the iPhone—and iPad and gaming systems—entered the picture, his youthful interest in books evaporated.

I know from talking with other parents that our experience is hardly unusual. Boys and girls read fewer books once they fall prey to the siren song of phones and social media. But the prognosis for the written word is hardly dim. In many ways it’s very bright. Continue reading “How to Get Your Children Away from Electronics and Reading Books Again”

How to be a Better Writer

Hemingway’s advice for writing well was simple: Run it through the typewriter one more time. We no longer have typewriters but the advice is still sound.

Ernest Hemingway, as a young man.

Almost without fail a second draft is better than a first. It is shorter, tighter, and less of a strain on your reader’s attention. For this blog post I went through three drafts. 1) I jotted my thoughts down on a legal pad. 2) I typed it up on my iMac. 3) I left it for a moment, came back, made a few last edits, and I was done. The whole process took twenty minutes.

This simple advice will help you write better books as well as better blogs, articles, and school papers. Just send it through the word processor one more time.

FYI. If you’re a young person looking for a good book, try Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. My personal favorites of his, though more for adults, are his novel A Farewell to Arms and A Moveable Feast, his memoir of living in Paris in the 1920s and ’30s.

What the heck is he thinking about?

People have been asking this question ever since Auguste Rodin’s monumental sculpture, “The Thinker,” debuted in Paris in 1904.

Is he contemplating the great questions of God, existence, mortality? Did he get jilted by a girl and is wondering how to get her back? Is he trying to remember what he needs to pick up for tonight’s dinner?

Although a formidable six feet six inches tall (not counting the pedestal), The Thinker is a kind of Everyman. Like all great art, what we see in it is a reflection of ourselves. Our own lives, our own thoughts. Continue reading “What the heck is he thinking about?”

What Dogs Can Teach Us About Overcoming Disappointment and Defeat

“Squirrel? Duck? What you got?” Ruby is ready to chase something at this pond.

On a walk this morning, Ruby lit out after a squirrel she saw at the foot of an oak tree. She went all out, from the drop, to get that squirrel.

She didn’t get it.

She did not in fact even come close. Squirrels appear to like to torture her and dogs in general. This one hesitated a second, as if to lure her in with the tantalizing possibility that she might catch it, only to scurry easily up the tree out of reach.

“Hah hah,” it squeaked. “Can’t catch me.”

Undismayed, Ruby trotted back to me after her fruitless chase, thinking nothing of it. It occurred to me that humans can learn a lot from dogs on how to handle disappointment and defeat. Continue reading “What Dogs Can Teach Us About Overcoming Disappointment and Defeat”

3 Young Adult titles to watch for this fall and winter

Publishers Lunch publishes a free, downloadable ebook series known as Buzz Books. It’s an appetizer plate for readers, a taster’s choice sampling of forthcoming books to be published this fall and winter. The idea is to whet your appetite so you will buy the books in their full form.

The Buzz Books series includes adult fiction and nonfiction titles. Since my interest is in Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, I downloaded the fall/winter 2018 Young Adult publishing preview. Of the 16 quality novels excerpted, three really spoke to me:

          Pay Attention, Carter Jones, by Gary D. Schmidt. A proper English butler arrives to help a discombobulated American family. Told by a middle school boy, it’s funny and surprising. The butler speaks very proper English, which is only fitting considering the author, Gary D. Schmidt, is an English professor.

Sadie, by Canadian author Courtney Summers. A down on her luck teen girl tracks down her sister’s killer by piecing together clues as she goes from town to town. It’s an interesting premise, made more interesting by an NPR-style podcast reporter who tells pieces of the story.

White as Silence, Red as Song, by Alessandro D’Avenia. This is an Italian bestseller, originally published as White as Milk, Red as Blood. It’s told by a boy for whom, as he says, “everything is a color. Every emotion is a color.” Silence, for instance, is white. I found the excerpt I read very enjoyable, although the summary at the front hints at darker things to come. I especially appreciated the fact that the boy’s love interest is named Beatrice who, as every fan of Italian literature knows, was also the woman who inspired Dante. D’Avenia’s classical references make sense because he is a classical lit teacher in Italy.

I look forward to reading these buzz books in their entirety.