Please, go ahead & judge this book by its cover!

The sequel to my 2019 novel, John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open, is finally for sale at Amazon.

I think I bettered the six months it took John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open to make it from finished manuscript to published but not by much. It’s a great feeling to be finished writing but a lousy one to anticipate all of the annoying steps that have to be taken before anyone can read your book.

Right now, it’s eBook only. An issue with the cover formatting undermined me at the last minute. Hopefully, you lovers of paper books will be able to grab a copy later in the week.

In the meantime, Cottonwood the eBook is waiting to be read.

Please, go ahead & judge this book by its cover!

February 15: For me, today was Valentine’s Day

I had a wonderful Valentine’s Day (yes, I know it was actually yesterday) for a very simple reason. I was lucky enough to spend some of it with my valentine, at least a few hours of it. She took the whole day off, so from 10 until 3:30 we hiked and talked and enjoyed a gorgeous day. We don’t get many chances to share even part of a weekday so it was an especially rare treat.

The only problem was that our time together was all too short, as it always is.

Our time on the trail gave me a chance to think about the book idea I that occurred to me yesterday. I can see the span of time. I can see some of the interesting events but I can’t really see the story, let alone the all-important ending. My concern is that there might not be a complete story to see. The last thing I want to do is jump into a story without even knowing the ending.

No good can come from that.

So, I’m going to do a little brainstorming about how my new story might end. Since there are biographical elements it’s all too easy to imagine that the story just goes on but that won’t work with a book. If I come up with some ideas between now and tomorrow I am thinking about writing the beginning of the story as tomorrow’s post. If I don’t, I’m not going to start writing. It’s not important for my idea about the ending to be the one I end up using. It’s only important for me to have an idea, even if I eventually change the ending, before I get started.

Ideas come along when they want so this may take a while.

Thanks for reading.

February 15: For me, today was Valentine’s Day

February 14: Finally, an idea

Reliably, my endless babbling typically goes nowhere. But today I was telling stories of another era of my life, probably for the 10th time. When I finished I found myself thinking that there could be a book in the stories I told. It would be set in the 1980s. It would be somewhat biographical and somewhat of a period piece. As an aside, I am continually disappointed by the way stories from the 70s and 80s are told in today’s television and movies.

I have no doubt that it is ever thus, but it’s still distressing. Most efforts seems so enamored with the styles of hair and clothes as to ignore entirely the differences and similarities that the era portrayed has to today. As another aside, I would cite an exception with Mad Men. Any series that could actually make a teenage girl quit watching because the relentless sexism of the series was so distressing was definitely doing a lot of things right.

Let’s just say I’m not lining up to see Licorice Pizza.

Like a lot of other folks my age are thinking (and saying), fuck that…I lived it and it was a hell of a lot more entertaining, believe me.

Anyway, my idea would go from the mid-1980s to the mid-90s, ending in the genuine purgatory I endured living in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Without realizing it, I relive that decade a lot. To paraphrase Jackson Browne, you don’t know the big reasons of your life until after they’re gone.

Wait. I also got the second concept for the cover of Cottonwood tonight. Like the first, it’s not quite in line with what I wanted, but I love it. I called a bit of a timeout since we don’t yet know the thickness of the spine. That dimension will affect how much of the cover image has to wrap around to the left. It will be give me time to choose between wonderful and wonderful.

Finally, tonight’s writing soundtrack is Poor Ellen Smith by Gillian Welch & David Rawlings from their 2020 record, All The Good Times (Are Past & Gone). Finally, tonight’s writing soundtrack is Poor Ellen Smith by Gillian Welch & David Rawlings from their 2020 record, All The Good Times (Are Past & Gone).

No, it’s not exactly cheery but it’s perfect.

Thanks for reading.

February 14: Finally, an idea

January 16: Sunday in Sacramento

Like I said, this has been a quick trip. Maybe too quick when you think about the numbers of miles to & fro but you know what they say about beggars.

Our Sunday started out slowly with breakfast at Cafe Bernardo’s-Pavillions. There are a couple others Bernardo’s in the chain but this location is my favorite, especially when it comes to their fantastic pancakes. Today’s were sublime; tender, good buttermilk flavor, not over or undercooked and the perfect thickness. I got by with one cake but I would have been able to devour four if self-preservation hadn’t gotten the better of me.

Later, we took a ride out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael, in the same park as the Ancil Hoffman golf course I mentioned yesterday.

The nature center has a number of trails that meander along and around the American River. As on the golf course there are deer everywhere as well as wild turkeys. The air was just crisp enough to keep a jacket on even with the sun out.

Afterwards, I noticed a brewery in nearby Rancho Cordova that I wanted to check out called Fort Rock. Everything was just a little disappointing. It was too loud (the 49ers were playing Dallas), the tap list was a little blah as was the strip mall ish location. I tried the Lights Out IPA. It was Ok but far from soul-stirring. Maybe I was expecting too much or maybe the relentless din from the TVs and the football fans tweaked my tastebuds. I hate to scratch a brewery off the list after trying only one beer but I may have to in this case.

Ah, but dinner! Dinner was at Obo. Now why the hell can’t I have an Obo in Los Angeles? It’s Italian and it’s fantastic. I went all in with spaghetti & meat balls and it was good as it was last summer, the winter before that and so on. They also have a full bar, a small but well-curated tap list, and a $10 rye old fashioned.

Are you kidding me?

We were celebrating a birthday (not mine) so I had two old fashioneds and the three of us split a slice of cheesecake, chocolate mousse and a chocolate-dipped cupcake that took a ride home with the lucky birthday boy.

It’s HGTV again tonight as we wind down but least it’s Home Town and not the drivel I subjected myself to last night. Nope, I didn’t come up with any ideas for my next book. Maybe tomorrow. I’m not even any more relaxed than when we left Los Angeles but at least we had us some fun and were blessed with good company and a wonderful host.

Tomorrow will be 388 easy miles and a return to reality. I can’t say I’m looking forward to either but I’m glad we made the trip.

Thanks for reading.

January 16: Sunday in Sacramento

January 13: My friend & favorite watercolorist

My favorite watercolorist is also my friend, Alba Escayo. She and I go way back. I think we found each other on Elance which is now Upwork. Yup, a classic internet mogul move; change a good name to a lousy one. Alba lives and works in Spain. She created the cover on my first novel and I wanted her to create the cover on Cottonwood as well. I’m always grateful she’s younger than I am because it means she’ll be around to create the cover artwork for every book I write, if she’s willing and I am able.

I had an idea that involved a Cottonwood tree and a figure carrying a golf bag and walking away from the viewer. From underneath the tree, the figure reaches up and touches the low-hanging leaves. The idea of the walking away is that the figure is walking into the future, like all of us. The figure is faceless. It could be anyone. It could be one of the characters in the book but then again maybe not. No matter who it is, he reaches up to touch the tree, to touch a growing life.

I sent Alba an example of my idea but I did a bad job of explaining my vision to her. Probably I was in a hurry or maybe I thought we had discussed it more completely last time we emailed about it, over a year ago. She sent me this a couple days ago:

Now I have a problem, not a bad problem mind you, more like a decision. This is not at all what I had in mind, but I love it. It’s not a golf book so I had no intention of having an image of someone swinging a golf club on the cover, but there it is. And, now that it’s there, it has me doubting my concept. I’ve been reminding myself of some of my best non-advice advice:

It doesn’t really matter.

Of course it does, but maybe not. I wanted Alba to create the cover because I love her work, and this is her work. Now I find myself hesitant to continue to foist my vision on her, especially after she’s blessed me with this beautiful creation. My concept is not the idea of a visual artist but rather of a lowly writer. Part of me is screaming at myself to leave the artwork to the artist, and that is definitely Alba and definitely not me.

But we are talking about me. So, in the end I couldn’t help myself and I emailed Alba with my thoughts. As I said, I love the cover she’s done, and I want it, and I’ll pay her for it gladly. It will hang proudly over my desk and I will smile each time I see it. It may not end up being the artwork I use on the cover and then again it might be.

The decisions made in writing a book, especially a self-published book, go on and on. I’m very happy that no matter what decision I make about the cover art, the work will be Alba’s and it will be fantastic because it is hers.

Today’s writing soundtrack is an elegant 1974 record by Bills Evans called, Symbiosis. It is some of the best of jazz and classical (read: orchestral) music I have ever heard. It is melodically and rhythmically evocative of both times and places I’d like to be. I know a pianist who doesn’t think much of Bill Evans’ work from this era, but I think it is wonderful. Maybe you will, too, so take a listen.

Thanks for dropping by.

January 13: My friend & favorite watercolorist

January 9: Booing the tenor

I read an interview of Pavarotti many years ago. In it, he told stories of his youth in Modena. One of the best was about the joy he got from sitting in the back row of the opera house just for the opportunity to boo the tenor. He said it didn’t matter whether the tenor was any good or not he and his friends simply liked booing him.

It’s a little strange but not all that unexpected. The tenor is the hero of every opera so how could a budding star like Pavarotti resist the urge to take the guy down a notch? Apparently, he couldn’t. Me? I try to resist the temptation to take anyone down just for the warped joy of doing it. I keep the words of one of my own heroes taped to the side of my monitor.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “It’s not the critic who counts…”

So, I do try to refrain from criticism for the sake of criticism. When I do criticize I hope I do it in the process of learning from what I regard as the mistakes of another. The Power of the Dog was an interesting movie to watch so I admit to a discomfiture at what is fundamentally a western being directed by a Kiwi. Worse, while the story was set in Montana the movie didn’t appear to be shot there. If it was, the director made it appear that it was shot somewhere else.


What got me about the movie, and even later when I read the book by Thomas Savage, was how I was left feeling a little bit empty. There is simply too little of the malevolent brother Phil Burbank for the audience (and the reader) to chew on. You sat there hoping, yearning almost, to learn why he was the way he was but you never have the chance to find out.

In The Lost Daughter we are again left to bathe in tepid waters of ambiguity. Why is Leda such a bad mother? What is the foundation of her self-professed selfishness? Why, in the end, does she make the ostensibly bad family seem not so bad especially compared to her? What drove her to become who she was? Of course, some might thinks that ambiguity is a kind of freedom that’s bestowed on a thoughtful and imaginative audience, but I’m not so sure. If I have the time I may be moved to read the novel by Elena Ferrante. It’s hard to imagine writing such a potentially interesting character in a way that ends up blanching away the intrigue the character could bring to an audience. That’s why I want to read the book. Quite simply, novelists have time to make their case at their leisure. That’s a luxury few directors enjoy. Still, I’m left with the feeling Maggie Gyllenhaal could have gone on shooting and cutting forever and still never gotten to the essence of the story or its characters. If she failed where the author of the book succeeded another director should have been entrusted to the task of bringing the book to the screen. Too bad you can only watch the movies they made rather than the ones they didn’t.

It is, again, 11:48 and I still suck at getting my journal done during the day.

You’re forgiven for having never heard of tonight’s writing soundtrack. It’s Tim Curry’s 1978 Read My Lips. I gave up on finding a decent replacement LP since I tend to recall it was a lousy pressing anyway. The record finally got remastered and reissued and Amazon has it (like they have everything else). Let’s just say that it’s stylistically diverse and that Curry has a very interesting way with a song. I liked it in 1978 and I still like it today. I believe it was the last LP I ever bought from the long-gone but not forgotten Adam’s Apple in downtown Van Nuys.

January 9: Booing the tenor

January 6: Recovering from Angst Day #1 of 2022

My recovery from angst day #1 of 2022 is complete and I’m relieved there appears to have been no obvious follow-up to the attempted insurrection of 2021. Thank God for small and large favors. Things were better today. I took delivery of a new-to-me watch and I also took a hike and I also took a slice of pizza and an excellent blood orange IPA.

How can you go wrong with any, let alone all, of those?

The weather was doing an excellent impression of summer and the trails were empty save for a few hikers and even fewer mountain bike guys. Anyway, part of what made today better was the self-reminder that changes and transitions are inevitable whether or not they are known or anticipated. Come 2023, I will be doing something different than what I’m doing today. But, really, that has been true of every year of my life since I’ve been a substantively different person each new year, even though my finger prints have stayed the same. What is really at issue is the question of one’s response to the unknown.

Mine is Ok so far. I see a lot of ways for things to be just fine a year from now even though all of the typical existential question marks are right where they always are. In the end, I have just enough ego to like my odds and just enough appreciation for the world around me to enjoy the ride, whether it’s smooth or bumpy. I’ve done some bumpy before as I may or may not write about in a future installment.

A quick story. Right before I learned that our firm was moving toward closing I was busy surfing used watches on the web. My finger was poised over a message making a solid offer on a Sinn UX, one of the only quartz watches I’ve ever lusted after (the other is the Omega X-33 Skywalker).

So I’m sitting there, ready to make my deal when one of my bosses comes into my office and asks me to join him and my other boss for a closed-door chat. The mood in the room was heavy. I knew they’d both been taking at length but I didn’t know what was up. That was when I found out one of my bosses had a nasty case of prostate cancer. At that point, no one new how well he would respond to treatment or how soon, if ever, he would be able to come back to work. The decision was made to let our lease expire and gradually close things out. I was pretty damn surprised. I knew something was up but it’s rare news that combines someone’s health with the cessation of a business that provides your employment. It was a lot to take in. The three of us talked for about an hour before I was back in my office, the message about the UX still staring me in the face. I closed the window without sending it. It was a hard time to think about a watch, no matter how desirable it was. That was way back in the summer of 2015.

And another thing: Don’t read any Charles Dickens while you’re getting ready to publish your own book. It’s not good for the writer’s psyche and ego, I can assure you. For some reason, I’ve been reading A Christmas Carol. It’s a very conventional story and the sequences are readily imagined, nearly predictable. But, the descriptions are so rich and creative that it’s a continual amazement. I cannot imagine creating anything like it. I would have to spend an unimaginable amount of time on a myriad of simple descriptions of routine things and places and people. And, even if I did I don’t think I could match Dickens’ mastery any more than about 5% of the time. It would take me decades to write what I’ve done in a couple years. Talk about sobering. Then again, maybe the experience should be telling me something I can’t yet grasp. I can read contemporary novels, even ones that sell well and have attained a degree of critical acceptance, and not be so taken with the fundamental art of what’s been accomplished.

Geez, this got more than a little long and meandering.

Sorry about that but be sure to check back tomorrow for more of the same.

Thanks for reading.

January 6: Recovering from Angst Day #1 of 2022