Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Possessed By The Muse

After last week’s Eat, Pray, Love, Write post, I realized I had written something similar a while ago. It does suggest a (pathological) pattern, but the first step to healing is to recognize the problem and share with a few hundred on-line friends. No, don’t worry, I’m not subconsciously crying out for an intervention – I have too many stories to write!. Here is the earlier post: 

The scene might be the same in any house mid-week, early evening.

Your partner is rushing to make dinner, still in his/her office clothes. Ten- year-old son is irritable, primarily because he prefers to play wall ball than eat his lunch at um … lunch break…and is now grumpy and starving. He has even pointed out that the First Lady wants him to exercise more (you just lost my vote in 2020 Ms. Obama! Tell him to eat that sandwich we made him). Older son is drowning in homework and needs help. Unfortunately it is not math where he ends up explaining it to a perplexed calculator-wielding father – it is English and father is the fastest typist in the house.

imagesFrom deep within this maelstrom, hassled wife turns around from steaming cooking pots and sees an unset, messy dinner table, a swivel chair, and a writer’s desk. The writer, sitting in said chair, is distinctly facing the wrong direction, pounding his keyboard with a vengeance that clearly indicates he is not helping older son with homework.

Suddenly, she can’t help herself. Forgetting the wooden spoon in her hand (writers notice these details especially when the spoon is being flailed in said writer’s direction), she towers over the writer, hands on hips:

“You’re writing? Now? Man, you’re just possessed!”

When my extremely patient and understanding wife flips out with something like this, it does makes one ponder the extremity of the situation.

The problem is that after a stressful few months, I had a week off over the Christmas break, and kind angels put up our family in beautiful, snowbound Tahoe, 10,000 feet high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Already on crutches from a knee operation, I was never going to cut the crisp, fresh snow on virgin slopes (I don’t even when not on crutches – at best I tumble down a 100 feet nursery slope, make sure there are photos, and then slink off for laced hot chocolate).

images-1But here, if only for a few days, I couldn’t help myself. The laptop comes on and a few snow-bound scenes of a new book somehow appear.

Possessed? Moi? Five months and 103.000 words later, despite an intense period at work and many other obligations, I type the final period, click the save command, and stare at the epilogue. Rough first draft of Wycaan Master Book 4 is completed.

Written mainly between 7.00-8.45 am and after the boys go to bed on weekdays, and a couple of hours on the weekend, or random pieces written during odd times. Waiting at the dentist, on the mass-transit BART commuting home, in San Francisco, Washington DC, Ventura, St. Louis, San Diego, and at too many airports.

images-3Possessed? Nah. Possessed would be finishing Book 4 and starting to write scenes of Book 5. Possessed. Out-of-control. Crazy.

I just wrote a few pages, mainly plot threads that I want to develop, characters that need to grow and confront their pasts. There is a bit of world-building with oceans and…

Starting Book Five might just be considered grounds for divorce, need to involve Family and Children Services, or a good psychologist (preferably one who is as much a fan of Tolkien as of Freud). 

Starting Book Five? “Now? Man, you’re just possessed!”

Fair point.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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Healthy Sugar – Roger Ingalls

Yesterday I engaged in a food experiment completely by accident and ended up learning something. My wife left me a can of caramelized roasted cashews on the kitchen counter to take to work. Around 2:30 in the afternoon I decided to try some of these nuts. They were quite tasty and I found myself going back to the can over and over again. All of a sudden my stomach felt a little queasy and my brain said you better quit eating those sweet things before you make yourself sick.

I was puzzled by the ill feeling. Why is it that I can eat normal nuts all day but not ones with baked on candy and why can I drink sweet soda by the Gulp without issue? After reading the can it was apparent that these were high-end naturally flavored nuts that used real ingredients including natural sugar. Then it hit me; my body was recognizing what I was eating.

picture form motherjones.com

picture form motherjones.com

The body is a chemical machine that has evolved over a couple of million years and the brain detects, through receptors, enzymes as a result of foods breaking down (approximate definition of the body’s process). The body recognizes natural foods that have evolved with us but doesn’t chemically comprehend man-made foods. This is why I felt a little ill from eating too many cashews coated with naturally sugar but can drink a gallon of cola without feeling sick. High fructose corn syrup has been used in sodas since the 1980s and this man-made substance is slightly different (chemically) than real sugar so the body doesn’t know when enough is enough. If we still used real sugar in food, obesity and diabetes would probably be less prevalent in society today because our bodies would tell our brains to quit consuming so much.

For my next study, I think a comparison of Mexican Coke made with real sugar vs USA Coke made with corn syrup would make a good experiment. Supposedly, Mexican Coke is an extremely satisfying drink when a small quantity is consumed. If true, it makes a big statement for natural foods and ingredients.

Universal Healthcare – It Baffles Me

This is the third post in a series of fundamental changes we can and should make to have a lasting effect on our society. Last week I covered gun control and made many friends in the past week from the NRA. Now I want to turn my attention to healthcare.

I was born and bred in England, so please excuse me. You enjoy Downton Abbey, The Beatles, and got excited over young Prince George of Cambridge, so don’t pretend we don’t know what we’re doing.

images-3There seems to me that there are certain entitlements if you play the game. By playing the game, I mean work, pay your taxes, and don’t break the laws. In return, your country protects you from foreign invaders who want the rights to Downton Abbey and free season tickets to Manchester United games, give you a sound education so that you can step up in life, and take care of you when you are sick.

The protection and health care are part of what you invest in a social infrastructure as part of paying your taxes. Your soccer tickets are your own problem, but life isn’t perfect. As much as we complain about the National Health System (NHS), and it is far from perfect, there is no such thing as a person going without medical treatment, or losing all their savings to help a family member receive the treatment they need to stay alive.

How is this possible if Brits don’t pay more taxes than Americans? The answer is that the pharmaceutical companies and the medical supplies companies don’t make the astounding profits that are made in this country.

images-4It is greed that is preventing good-standing Americans from receiving what is theirs. Every American is entitled to access to healthcare. It baffles me how this is not accepted. There is no family in America (correct me if I’m wrong) wherein every family member is perfectly healthy and has no need of medical help.

It is a universal need and should therefore be universally accessible.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  For more about the author, check out his website.

RIP, Marian McPartland (1918 – 2013) – Tom Rossi

I don’t think anybody really wants to turn Left Coast Voices into a jazz obituary weekly, but something has to be said about the great Marian McPartland.

No. On second thought, words are all but useless, here.

Just listen, instead…

Marian McPartland, 1955: Poor Little Rich Girl

Avalon – Jimmy and Marion McPartland Jam 1975

Marian McPartland Twilight World

Marian McPartland Trio – Bohemia After Dark

Marian McPartland Castles in the Sand

Marian McPartland, 1955: I Could Write A Book

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Eat, Pray, Love, Write.

This week I received the galley proofs for Ashbar, the third book in the Wycaan Master series. I recall, when I first held a copy of The First Decree, writing that I hope this special feeling never grows old. The process for writing a book, from tentatively typing the word Prologue to holding a copy of a book is long and arduous.

Ashbar front coverIt is also an integrated part of a multi-book process. The previous book is still being marketed, the next book being written, and sometimes there is a sense of never-ending cycle. This is good and how it should be. I can only imagine that the alternative is far more disconcerting – no new story, no end product. But it sometimes feels like I am pounding the treadmill and the clock is not moving as fast as I want it.

I decided to take a break this summer, once Ashbar had been submitted. I did read my first draft of Book 4 to my sons , but I otherwise planned not to write. I cut down on blog posts and thought I would give the creative and marketing sides a rejuvenating rest.

imgres-2Two things prevented this. First, I am not a recognized author who can yet rely on the market to sell my books. Blog posts, twitter, the invaluable interactions with those who are following my process and reading my books, are what spur book sales. George R.R. Martin and Terry Brooks might be able to take a break, but not those of us further down the ladder.

The second reason came out of a bike ride with my youngest. We were riding round a lake and I was looking for a kingfisher that used to hang out here. My 10-year-old was soon postulating a series of ever more fantastical scenarios of how the kingfisher got its name.

Having not yet gone on our camping trip, he was eagerly anticipating our annual ritual when I would read them the next book in the Wycaan Master series. He decided that this bird, of course fast, agile and very wise, was a fisher of kings, one who went from kingdom to kingdom and advised the rulers.

I half listened, half looked for the darn bird, and without realizing it, allowed my son to plant some seeds. So, with some planned downtime not writing, I found myself seated at my computer, furiously typing some notes that soon became almost 25,000 words of a start to something new, still fantasy, but different.

images-1This is more Game of Thrones than Lord of the Rings. There are certainly chapters too violent, or with sex or swearing, that I would not read to my sons, but it was relaxing to take a break from writing the series that has occupied me for the past four years and … well, keep writing.

I have no idea if this story is any good. I have not even stopped to read it myself. But it is ironic how I seem to define a break, a period of rejuvenation, as an opportunity to write something new. When you have been working out on a regular basis it is difficult to just stop. I imagine when you follow a religious or spiritual regime, or a diet perhaps, it is hard to just cease.

I’m not sure if writing something else is a smart way to recharge my batteries. But summer is over, there are galleys to proofread, book 3 to launch, the manuscript of book 4 to start editing, and nearer the end of the year, book 5 to start writing.

The cycle continues. I hope there is a steadily growing audience who are concerned and invested in my characters and await each new book in the series. There are certainly two appreciative young men who have high expectations of their father. Who needs to recharge batteries?

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and the sequel, The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

California Climate Change Cheat Sheet – Roger Ingalls

Government reports about climate change can be boring and laborious to read. I believe changes in our environment are important, especially at the local level so I’m making an attempt to boil the information down to important and, hopefully, interesting bullet points. I relied heavily on a recent report from California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

ca warm pic

Climate Change Bullet Points:

1)      In 2007, there was a 90% statistical certainty that man was responsible for the current global warming trend.

2)      Today, there is a 95% statistical certainty that man is responsible for global warming.

3)      By 2021, as more data is collected, statistical certainty will climb to 99% pointing to man as the cause for global warming.

4)      The greenhouse gases (GHG) that warm the Earth’s surface are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbons and ozone.

5)      In California, emissions from transportation, electrical power generation and the industrial sector account for over 80% of GHG emissions with transportation accounting for the largest portion at 38%.

6)      Atmospheric CO2 levels were first documented in 1958 at Mauna Loa, Hawaii at a concentration of 315 parts per million and in May 2013 a mean concentration of 400 was detected.

7)      Since monitoring CO2 concentrations in La Jolla, CA, levels have risen from 325 in 1969 to 395 in 2012.

8)      CO2 levels in the ocean rise as atmospheric CO2 levels increase, changing the chemistry of the water; this is called ocean acidification.

9)      California’s coastal waters are acidifying as evidenced by seawater CO2 and pH levels measured at Monterey Bay; this negatively impacts the local ocean food chain.

10)   Since 1895, annual average temperatures have increased by approximately 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit across California.

11)   Over the past century, minimum, average and maximum temperatures have all been increasing in California with the nighttime minimum increasing by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit and the daytime high increasing by 1.5 degrees.

12)   Over the past 20 years, the altitude in the atmosphere where temperature drops below freezing has risen by 500 feet indicating warmer conditions at higher elevations.

13)   Over the past century, spring runoff to the Sacramento River from the Sierra Nevada Mountains has decreased by 9%

14)   Over the past century, surface area of glaciers in the Sierra Nevada has been decreasing with losses ranging from 20% to 70%.

15)   The rise in global sea level is attributed to thermal expansion of ocean water and the melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets.

16)   Over the past 100 years, sea levels have risen by an average of 7 inches along the California coast with levels at the Golden Gate in San Francisco increasing by 8 inches and 6 inches at La Jolla near San Diego.

17)   In Southern California, plant species in certain areas have moved upward by an average of about 213 feet over the past 30 years.

18)   The lower edge of the conifer-dominated forest in the Sierra Nevada has been retreating upslope over the past 60 years.

19)   Butterflies have been appearing earlier in the spring over the past four decades.

20)   Many small mammal species studied in Yosemite National Park showed a movement to higher elevations when compared to earlier century observations.

Don’t get caught up in a finger pointing “who’s responsible for climate change” world, just prepare for a warmer and biologically different future.

Gun Control: Let’s Agree On The Basics

Two weeks ago, I said I would start a series of posts that focus on real game-changers for our society. I feel we (probably – I) bounce around from one good cause or organization to another, and I’m feeling the burnout. Last week, I suggested raising gas prices to $10 a gallon – not my most popular post, but one that hit a nerve. Heck! I never said any of this would be easy.

imgresMy second post in the series isn’t going to garner much more support. I want to focus on gun control. My post begins with a number of consensus-building points. You might not agree with it, but you should be able to live with it.

1. People have a right to possess a secured firearm in their home to protect themselves and their families.

2. No one, except law enforcement, should be allowed to walk around the streets with a loaded firearm.

3. Not everyone should be allowed to buy a gun. There should be serious background checks, which is the responsibility of the local government, and a gun seller is accountable if s/he did not follow through with the appropriate checks.

It is my understanding that this is generally accepted, even within the NRA membership.

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–       The majority of NRA members do not want a heavily armed, troubled individual anywhere near their schools, universities, or politicians.

–       The majority of NRA members do not seriously believe they need to stockpile guns to protect themselves from a politically extreme government.

–       The majority of NRA members believe our police should not have to face armed criminals.

This would not solve all the issues surrounding gun control, but it would go a long way to making our country a safer place. Is it really so simple? Or only in the wake of another public shooting?

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite, 2013 – Tom Rossi

tuolumne 8-13 098sm

Life on the Rocks

Life on the Rocks

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir - San Francisco's Water Supply

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir – San Francisco’s Water Supply

Yes, the car stopped.

Yes, the car stopped.

LembertDome1

Lembert Dome

tuolumne 8-13 089sm

tuolumne 8-13 087sm

tuolumne 8-13 086sm

tuolumne 8-13 085sm

tuolumne 8-13 081sm

mono1sm

Lake Mono

tuolumne 8-13 022sm

tuolumne 8-13 039sm

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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The Growing Power of the Ebook

My teenage son asked me to download the latest book from his favorite author. He was excited having seen an email that Amazon.com were kind enough to send him announcing the new book. My son is a voracious reader and I am extremely happy about that. He has a kindle and he is not afraid to use it.

I glanced and said no. “Why?

My first objection was that the ebook was $10, a price that I consider ridiculous for an ebook. “I’ll pay half,” he responded. That always gets me that he is willing to invest his paltry wealth into a book. He also knows that gets me.

I change track and suggest he orders it from the public library. His eyes roll as I begin a favorite lecture which can be summed up by: I pay for that library (a brilliant institution, by the way) with my taxes, so we should use it. He reminds me that last time I told him to do that, he was wait-listed for three months before I gave in and downloaded the book for him. “Oh,” he adds. “How long did you wait for that new John Grisham you are listening to?

I wince. I have complained for half a year as I waited for The Racketeer.

Finally, as I desperately stare at the Amazon.com advert, I realize this is a pre-launch announcement and the book isn’t due out for a few months. I sigh with relief. I have not won the battle, only deferred it. 

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The argument rages on: Ebooks .v.Tree Books. I have a kindle as does my eldest, and my youngest can use my phone. Mrs. Blog has snapped a picture of the three of us taking a break from ‘screen time’ to read, and are each absorbed in whatever is on our kindle or phone.

In the past, I have talked about the environmental advantages of the ebook, but my children’s generation will add two factors to the argument that were probably not considerations when ebook technology was being designed:

1) It is instant, as are most things for these young people.

2) It is connected to the bigger information highway that is an integral part of their lives.

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I have been reading and enjoying a how-to book – The Kindle Publishing Bible by an Internet entrepreneur, Tom Corson-Knowles. Tom (May I call you Tom? I feel I know you so well after reading this book) provides very clear instructions and methodology. He enhances this by providing links to examples and further information. Most impressive, he can update something that changes on a webpage and I can receive the most up-to-date data and developments.

I found this added aspect really exciting, but then I am only a year shy of fifty. My sons will take this service for granted…they probably already do.

But there is still that magic of holding a book, gazing at the cover, smelling the musty scent, and hearing the crackle of pages. While recently on vacation, I bought a few hardcovers from a used bookstore. I have read them all and my son was puzzled why I would buy them. They are great books and I want them to adorn my bookshelf and I want to be able to lend them to friends.

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The advantages of ebooks are obvious, their market penetration destined. This is good for the planet, for the increasingly smaller spaces we live in and the need to be on the move and not be laden with heavy tomes, and probably good for the author. My epic fantasy series has been consistently selling more ebooks than tree books.  Moreover, it just fits so seamlessly into the lifestyle that will be prevalent for my children.

I can just imagine them one day, holding their own children’s little hands and staring at my bookcase. “Yes, Grandpa actually read those tree book things, even though he loved the trees. You know he used to make me read them, and often wait months to receive them, even when I could have simply downloaded a book with a click!

The other advantage for the reader is the far more affordable price of a book, often tempting us to try a new author for less than the price of a cappuccino. This might be a good time to share that to celebrate the release of my next Wycaan Master book, Ashbar, my publisher has decided to lower the ebook price of At The Walls Of Galbrieth to $0.99 (see my very different attitude here as the author!) for the month of August.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Songs of Protest, Change and Revolution – Roger Ingalls

It’s my belief that between the years of 2025 and 2040 there will be a revolution. It won’t be a peaceful one; it will be a bloody mess. It will be a global people’s revolution. A revolt against economic repression.

picture from unitednationsoffilm.com

picture from unitednationsoffilm.com

Predictions told in verse of songs:

 American Idiot, Green Day

Don’t wanna be an American Idiot
One nation controlled by the media
Information age of hysteria
It’s calling out to idiot America

The Economy is Suffering; Let It Die, Anti-Flag

I seen a lot of rip-offs in my life. The rip-offs of the old and the young, the weak, the sick, The never known. Stabbed repeatedly in the back by the Wall Street suit.

A Change is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
Cos I don’t know what’s out there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Turn Turn Turn, Pete Seeger (sung by The Byrds)

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

Talkin’ Bout a Revolution, Tracy Chapman

Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Gil Scott-Heron

The revolution will not be right back
after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine, Tom Morello

History’s not made by presidents or popes
or kings or queens or generalsor CIA kingpins runnin’ dope
history’s not madeby nine robed men or billionaires
it’s not made by them

Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Pete Seeger (sung by Joan Baez)

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

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