A New Year

The holidays and bowl games are behind us, and 2014 is fully upon us. So, as I do a quick audit of the past year, I wonder how was my 2013? Well, in the debit column, after a couple hundred resumes uploaded and positions applied for, a few phone interviews and attendance at several networking events, I am still unemployed with my unemployment benefits about to expire. My medical insurance and covering of my deductible for one medical procedure that confirmed I was perfectly healthy took up one third of my basic expenditures last year. A discarded newspaper that swept up into my radiator grill as I was going through the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 Freeway was all it took to cook my car’s engine and leave me without personal transportation for two weeks while a rebuilt engine was installed. My base savings account has definitely taken a hit. However, in the credit column, my retirement accounts are solid and have grown, my home is secure with good equity and a healthy emergency investment account is still at my disposal. My somewhat regular bike and walk schedule through the year trimmed thirteen pounds from my weight. I kept busy donating my time to a worthy education non-profit organization, 826LA, by volunteering as an afterschool tutor for 1-5 grade school students twice a week during the school year and a month long summer camp. The rest of my time was focused on promoting my novel by the expansion of my social media presence and by re-releasing it through AuthorHouse to increase the distribution outlets through which it would be available

One part of my promotional campaign was to connect with fellow independent authors, many of whom were reaching out to me. I began to buy and read from the selection of self-published works being presented to me over Twitter and several author websites. After reading, I would write an honest review and post it on Amazon, Goodreads and Shelfari, then announce the review on Twitter so the author would be aware. I realized that in the current online environment of book retailing a growing number of broadly and honestly received reader reviews were important to elevate a book to the recommendation level on Amazon and other online booksellers, and hoped that some of my fellow indie authors would find time to read and honestly review my book to add to my count. I was able to read 22 indie books in 2013, ranging from several murder mysteries, some character relationship dramas, a few sci-fi and fantasy opuses and some historical romances. There were flaws and issues with some of the works, but in general, I was impressed with the creativity and passion within many of the books I read. It makes one realize that the art of storytelling and emotional revelation is not limited to a few master writers in history, but appears to be an integral part of our collective DNA.

So where does this leave me for 2014? Basically, I have the strong hope that I have built a good promotional foundation for my book as more readers discover it. The job market appears to be improving, but maybe I will have time to focus on my next book. I feel the assistance I have provided to the students in the 826LA program will give them the foundation to be major contributors within their generation. And I hope I am prepared for the new challenges that are always around the corner no matter what year we are in.

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A California Mini-Tour – Part 3

In just two days, I had headed north from Los Angeles, visited the newest national park, Pinnacles, checked out the interesting Winchester House in San Jose, and explored the hydrothermal elements of Lassen Volcanic National Park at the southern end of the Cascades. Now, it was time to head back around towards Los Angeles. But I had a few small stops planned for the way back.

I headed east from the Chester Best Western early to connect with US 395, which runs north-south through the eastern Sierras. Going south, I slid into Nevada, driving through the heart of Reno and Carson City, where I found some bright autumn colors along the Sierra foothills to capture in a few pictures. US 395 crossed back into California, climbing into a high pass through the Sierras. As the noon hour approached, I came upon the turn onto the road spur to my next stop, the historic ghost town of Bodie.

Methodist Church on Green Street, Bodie SHP

Methodist Church on Green Street, Bodie SHP

The first ten miles of Bodie Road is smooth black asphalt, lending a false sense of security to the visiting traffic until it comes upon the tortuous last three miles of rocky rills into the town. At 7000 feet on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, Bodie lies in stark contrast to the high desert landscape around it. Only five percent of the buildings remain of the town that arose after its founder, Waterman (William) Body, discovered gold in 1859. By 1879, its reputation for lawlessness was unmatched in the West, leading one young girl, whose family was moving to Bodie, to write in her diary, “Goodbye, God. I’m going to Bodie.” The gold and the town hung on long enough into the next century for the automobile and electricity to make an appearance, but as the gold output shrank, the town lost its population. As I walked along the streets, taking pictures of the homes, church, schoolhouse and firehouse, I thought about how the former residents survived within this isolated location. In a way, the town has become a homage to man’s persistence at civilization in the harshest environments, and how modern man is now able to turn these periods of persistence into museum stops.

Devils Postpile National Monument

Devils Postpile National Monument

After enjoying a few hours exploring Bodie, I braved my way back over the road to US 395 and headed south to my next planned stop. I passed by Mono Lake, stopping for a few vista shots, and within an hour was turning off into the Mammoth Mountain resort area. On the western side of Mammoth, I reached the entrance to the small protected stretch of canyon with a wall of volcanic columnar basalt, Devils Postpile National Monument.  It was amazing viewing how nature could create the nearly straight and symmetrical columns, rivaling some of the best man-made constructs in the world.

Remodeled Model A with Half Dome in background, Olmsted Point, Yosemite NP

Remodeled Model A with Half Dome in background, Olmsted Point, Yosemite NP

I drove back past the Mammoth Ski Resort, which was still waiting its first major snow of the year, and stayed in a nice little bed and breakfast in Mammoth Lakes. When I left the next morning, I turned north on US 395, instead of south, in order to experience another route I had missed during the grand California tour of 2006. During that tour, the plan was to get to Yosemite Valley via the Tioga Pass, but the heavy snows over that winter had kept the pass closed well into June, forcing me to use the farther north I-80 pass to reach Yosemite Valley. Now I had the chance to experience the high elevation views along the pass within Yosemite National Park. The views were amazing, but the highlight was Olmsted Point where I could almost look down on Half Dome. While I was at Olmsted Point, a Korean War vet and his wife drove in to the parking area in a uniquely-designed remodeled 1927 Model A truck, instantly attracting the attention of the Australian and Austrian tourists whose tour buses had made their scheduled stops. It was an interesting contrast between human and natural creativity.

From Yosemite, it was a direct shot home to Los Angeles. I had set aside four days to explore three national parks, a national monument and two historical sites and had accomplished it efficiently and economically. The keys were to do the necessary research, avoid over-planning, and maintain flexibility during the actual trip. Not a bad four days.

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A California Mini-Tour – Part 2

The first day of my four day mini-tour had gone well, exploring both Pinnacles National Park and the Winchester Mystery House. My plan for the second day was to focus on exploring only one stop, Lassen Volcanic National Park. I got an early start from the San Jose Motel 6 and headed north.

I had already checked Lassen Volcanic off my national park bucket list, but the check mark had an asterisk next to it that I wanted to clear. In late May of 2006, I had visited Lassen as part of grand Californian road trip I had planned for my mother and her friend. However, the previous winter had been a very wet season, leaving a very heavy snow coverage at the higher elevations that extended deep into spring. The resulting road closures kept us from being able to circle the northern side of Crater Lake, to enter Yosemite over the scenic Tioga Pass and to only go two miles within the southern entrance of Lassen Volcanic. We were able to experience the steam vents of the Sulphur Works which had powered their way through the heavy snow drifts, but this was only like putting a foot within the door of the wonders of Lassen. To fully check Lassen off my bucket list, I felt I needed to revisit and explore deeper within the park.

I got to the southern park entrance shortly before noon and discovered a four year old visitor center just beyond the gate, which was sorely lacking during the 2006 grand tour. Unfortunately, because of the time of year, the main gift shop was not open during the week and the rest of the center was lightly staffed. I shot some landscape views from the rear viewing area, then I ate my packed lunch in a small open-air lecture arena next to the center. I could envision park rangers giving nature lectures to visitors in this arena during the busy summer months. After lunch, I drove north along the park road and made my first stop at the Sulphur Works, revisiting the only location I had explored on the first tour. It was interesting seeing the steam vents without the snow. Then, I drove on to discover the full experience of Lassen.

Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park

It didn’t take long before I caught my first sight of Lassen Peak, one of the largest plug volcanoes in the world and the high point of the caldera rim of an ancient composite volcano. Lassen is not dormant. It last erupted over a three year period from 1914 to 1917, prompting Congress to create a national park around it. I knew I did not have time to hike up to the 10,415 foot peak, but I did have time to hike from the Lake Helen parking area to one of Lassen’s most notable hydrothermal spots, Bumpass Hell. Even though it is 8,000 feet in altitude and wraps around a sharp drop-off into Little Hot Springs Valley, the Bumpass Hell Trail is even and easy to walk, providing magnificent vista views into the caldera, and the elevated walkways at Bumpass Hell allows park visitors a safe, close-up view of the scalding hot springs and bubbling mud pools. After exploring Bumpass Hell and hiking back to the car, I drove on to Summit Lake, the halfway point of the road through the park and my planned turnaround point. Enjoying the alpine lake with just a handful of fellow visitors was amazingly restful, but it was now time to turn this tour back toward home. I retraced my route south back out of the park, then turned east to the small mountain town of Chester, where I had my second night motel reservation at the local Best Western.

Traveling during the off-season has many advantages in being able to avoid crowds and traffic, but it does have the occasional drawback like my discovery that most of the cafes and restaurants in Chester were closed for the season. Still, the microwave in my motel room and a packaged burrito from the nearby food mart proved to be a very cost-saving dinner. It was two wonderful days down, with two more days to go.

To be continued…

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A California Mini-Tour – Part 1

Back in July, I posted about my travels and my bucket lists for future traveling. One of the main bucket lists I had focused on was the opportunity to visit every designated national park in the US. I mentioned that the newest national park, elevated from national monument status, was practically in my backyard. A little over a week ago, I took my chance to visit this park, Pinnacles, as well as add a few more stops in a quick four day road trip in California. Taking advantage of the off-seasonal and cooler autumn period of late October allowed me to avoid crowds and make my off-the-cuff travel planning work. I jumped in the car early on a Wednesday morning with plans to be back home that Saturday evening. I was looking forward to a very exciting trip.

The key to making this trip work was to get an early start on Wednesday, so by 6 am, I was in my car and off to the first stop, Pinnacles National Park. There are two entrances into the park, but there is no road that transverses the park, so I decided to head to the eastern entrance as park maps seem to indicate more choices of trails to explore from this side. With my gas tank down to a quarter full, I made it to the east entrance by 10:30 am, noticing that the nearest city and gas services from this exit was 30 miles away in either direction. Entry fees are collected in the visitor center, although my annual park pass precluded me from having to pay anything. After gathering the informational brochure and seasonal park paper, I drove to the day use parking at the end of the east entrance road.

Bear Gulch Rock Wall, Pinnacles National Park

Bear Gulch Rock Wall, Pinnacles National Park

In some ways, our national parks can be grouped into the famous parks that are identified by an iconic image or environment, like Yosemite’s Half Dome, Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Geyser, the massive multi-striped gorge of the Grand Canyon or even the Everglades’ extensive sea of grasses; and the less iconic, but just as informational parks. Pinnacles fits into this second category. The rough hewn rocky peaks of the Pinnacles ridge line may not be recognized or immediately bring wonder to travelers around the world; however, they do have a major story to reveal about the San Andreas Fault that lies along it eastern foothills. This is a land of coastal uplift along the grinding of two major tectonic plates, and the boulders and rock columns I passed along the two trails I hiked revealed the amazing erosion patterns on the brittle volcanic walls. I hiked up to one of the cave trails in the park, created not by underground water cutting through rock, but rather by falling boulders that fell into the gulch and formed a rough tunnel over the gulch. Even though I could have hiked through the full length of this cave to another exit, I decided to just explore the one entry, then hike back to the day use area to eat my packed lunch. After lunch, I hiked up the Condor Gulch trail to an overlook on the trail, just below the high peaks ridge, which gave me an expansive view of a southeast panorama of ridges. Pinnacles is not a high mountain range as its highest peak is just a little over 3000 feet, which makes it a very accessible park to hike in. However, based on the information in my brochure, I chose the best time to enjoy the hiking trails as temperatures in the Pinnacles can reach over 100 degrees during the summer months. I say good planning on my part.

My day wasn’t over yet, as I quickly set out, stopping once for gas, to make it to San Jose in time to catch the final tour of the Winchester Mystery House. The house is well-known for stairways to nowhere and doors into walls, as the common history states that Mrs. Sarah Winchester kept the mansion under constant construction to confuse the spirits of the victims of the guns manufactured by her husband’s family business. However, Sarah never left any written evidence for her motives behind her construction plans as the tour guide was quick to start the hour long tour with a proclamation that her motives could have been psychic beliefs or poor architectural skills. Still, the séance room with three exits, but only one entrance, and the prolific integration of 13 within the design of the rooms gives high credence to the psychic belief explanation. What is known is that after the death of her baby girl and her husband, wealthy Sarah Winchester left New Haven, Connecticut and moved across the country into a small unfinished farmhouse in the Santa Clarita region of California, which she kept in a constant state of construction until she died 38 years later. The tour is interesting and amazing, but I’m not sure amazing enough for the $33 fee for the tour. What I find even more amazing is that this mansion, which was surrounded by acres of fruit groves and fields, is now engulfed within the bustling city of San Jose, which is probably doing a better job of scaring away the ghosts of the Winchester victims.

With reservations at a Motel 6 a few miles away, the day was over. It was planned as the longest day of the trip, and since it worked out perfectly, I was very confident in my plans for the next three days.

To be continued…

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Charity Membership – A Cautionary Tale

I admit that computerized algorithms and donor database programs have tremendously increased the efficiencies of charitable organizations, allowing them to reduce overhead costs and push more donated funds into actually helping the causes they were set up to support. However, mailing list and marketing programs still need human oversight in order to comprehend, catch, correct and atone for the robotic behavior of the programs and the data entry personnel interacting with those programs. When the human empathy is removed from the pitch and interaction with current and potential donors, it eventually disappears from the care and concern the organization has toward the very cause it is trying to solve and manage. I feel I am witnessing an example of this with one of the organizations I have been supporting, the American Film Institute.

I discovered the American Film Institute shortly after I came out to attend UCLA’s motion picture/television program in the mid-70’s. At the time, AFI was considered one of the top four film schools in the country with UCLA, USC and NYU. Of course, AFI’s school was specifically focused on the art of filmmaking and was not attached to any other school or university. Its other main focus was the promotion and preservation of the film and video arts throughout its history in America. I decided to sign up as a member and began receiving its monthly magazine. Since then, up to about a year ago, I set aside money in my budget to renew my membership every year in December, faithfully checking the box to waive all benefits so that my annual contribution would fully go to AFI’s mission. AFI would receive my check and send me a membership card with the following year’s December expiration date, making me a 30-plus year member.

Last year, I received an early generic renewal form, asking me to consider renewing early in order to help AFI reach a goal. I felt I could handle this, so I sent my check to AFI in October. Imagine my surprise when I received my annual membership card with an expiration date of October of this year. I was befuddled by this, but felt it wasn’t anything serious to make a fuss about. Then, in July, I received a generic form letting me know it was time for me to renew my membership for this year. Now, I was concerned. Was AFI trying to change the definition of annual as a period of 8 months? Was this cycle of early renewals just an underhanded method of trying to pull in more money from inattentive donors? I could not let this pass, so I wrote a letter to the membership department regarding my concerns, adding a scanned image of my membership cards for the past three years to demonstrate the shortened “annual membership” I had already received this year. A few days later, I received a message on my answering machine from a membership manager, giving me a simple apology. She stated that I was a longtime valued member and the early expiration date was obviously a human entry error. Then, in a very laissez-faire manner, she added she understood why I would decide not to renew and she would put a note in my file providing an explanation. If I had any questions, she provided a number I could call. Even though my letter was harsh, I could not understand why she had called if she was going to be accepting of the situation, instead of trying to demonstrate how the error would be corrected in order to convince me to stay with AFI.

A few weeks ago, I received a new standard renewal notice, which was more in line with the October expiration date. Since I had such a long relationship with AFI, I thought about not letting a minor error or the singular reaction from one staff member distract me from the primary reason I had been supporting AFI every year. I seriously considered sending my renewal check to AFI in October. Then, I received another renewal notice informing me that since I was such a loyal member and partner all these years, my membership expiration date was being extended to November. I shook my head in amazement. Was AFI so generously giving me back one of the two months that had been taken from me in error last year? Did not the message from that membership manager state that a notification about the error was being put into my account, so that the membership drive would not ironically boast to me about giving me back half what they had taken from me in my current annual membership? I realize that these notices were all computer-driven outreach programs, but considering the earlier personal message I had received and the resulting lack of follow-through, I saw an indication that AFI had lost the human empathic oversight to forward their mission to preserve American film history and help educate film storytellers into the future. It’s time for me to search elsewhere to further that cause.

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Health Insurance and Religious Freedom

A few days ago, I came across an article in the paper about the suit challenging the new healthcare law’s dictate that corporate health insurance benefits for employees must include coverage for standard contraceptives, including the “morning after” pill, was heading to the Supreme Court. The suit claims that this part of the law would constitutionally violate some company owners’ religious freedoms, since it would force them to support a practice that is against their tightly held religious beliefs. According to the article, the debate turns on whether a company can be considered “a person” that has religious beliefs protected under the First Amendment. However, I see this argument as being spurious because it does not matter whether one is making this case for a company, a person or even a religious organization. After all, how can any entity claim a First Amendment right to freedom of religion as a defense to deny that same right to another citizen?

In essence, all jobs are basically inherent contracts between parties requiring services and parties providing the services needed, whether the relationship is between an individual and an independent contractor or between an employer and employee. For services rendered, compensation is provided, and the payer has no further ownership or control over the funds provided, and therefore, no control over what the payee does with those funds going forth. For example, a vegan company owner cannot force his employees to use their salaries to purchase only vegetable dishes for their families.

Employee benefits are just as much a form of compensation as salary for an employee’s service. Considering that no individual or party can control or impose any sort of restriction upon how an individual uses that compensation within the freedoms guaranteed to that individual by the Constitution, it is up to the employee to decide how to use a health insurance benefit within his or her own religious beliefs. If an owner of a company is a Jehovah’s Witness, should he be able to restrict his employee’s health plan benefit so that it does not allow any form of emergency blood transfusion? I think not. A health insurance plan should cover most legally acceptable forms of medical services that an individual may find acceptable to his or her own religious beliefs, which is why the new healthcare law included contraceptive services. A business owner, like any other individual, has a right to preach his or her religious and moral beliefs to his or her employees, but the employees’ rights to their individual beliefs and morals must be respected and accepted in return. That is the price for living in a non-theocratic democracy.

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The Novelization of Television

Last week, I found time to attend an Academy of Television Arts and Sciences event which had television critics Robert Bianco of USA Today, Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter, Brian Lowry of Variety, Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times and Matt Roush of TV Guide on a panel moderated by Variety editor Cynthia Littleton, giving the audience a critic’s preview of the Fall TV Season. Even though the discussion did eventually get around to what new shows they liked, what new shows they felt would crash and burn and what new shows will become cult darlings, the initial question and somewhat underlying theme of the evening was about the changes within the business of television, which was changing the storytelling of television and its relationship with the audience. In essence, changing technology was providing the audience with the means to easily see what they wanted to watch when they wanted to watch, creating a desire to see complicated storytelling within a closed format leading to a resolution. I see this evolution as the novelization of television.

When television began broadcasting to the public, the public had to adjust their viewing time to the networks’ schedules. Viewers were enticed to return to watch new episodes as an endless series of short tales with favorite characters until the characters or stories became too familiar. Except in a few instances, the series would be cancelled without a final resolution or sendoff to the characters. It was the business of television. Ninety minute movies, stretched out to two hours by added commercial breaks, was the longest form of individual storytelling available within the broadcast schedule. Then, networks discovered that viewers were willing to see more complicated storytelling within a limited number of episodes over a shorter period of time. This was a golden age for miniseries, led by Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. However, the economics of schedule television could not support an over-abundance of miniseries and the format faded. However, cable television, VHS tape recorders and the digital revolution of DVDs, DVRs and smartphones were all evolutionary steps that would move audiences away from scheduled television, which brings us to what Robert Bianco, Tim Goodman, Brian Lowry, Mary McNamara and Matt Roush were observing now.

Per the critics, the defining series for the current evolution of how today’s audiences consume television was Netflix’s House of Cards which released all 13 episodes to its subscribers at the same time. This allowed the Netflix audience to become like the reader who stays up all night to finish a good book. The audience was able to binge view the entire series and walk away satisfied at reaching the somewhat season-ending resolution. However, one of the critics related that he was hearing from friends who were DVR’ing full seasons of other current cable series, which have been running a single complex storyline within a shorter span of ten to twelve episodes, and then binge-viewing them in one day to get that same feeling of reading an exciting book in one sitting. For viewers of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, each episode was like a chapter in the overall tale that needed to be viewed as a whole.

In addition, the critics noted that producers were gaining more control in creatively demanding a final season within a short span of years in order to give a complex premise a final satisfying resolution to loyal viewers. (Some credit was given to ABC’s Lost for this, although one critic claimed it was a desperation stand by the producers against the network for a series that had passed its prime.) Even for viewers willing to view the chapters weekly, the ability to follow a set of inter-connected characters through a period of conflict to its end and then move on to another satisfying story within a reasonable few months was much more preferable to being dragged along a nearly endless flow of cliff-hangers.

Finally, technology in the form of computer tablets and smartphones has freed the television viewer from the home. The audience can binge view the story while riding the bus, enjoying a coffee in the local café or getting that suntan at the beach, right next to the person reading an exciting novel. Soon, the viewer like the reader will have total control – when, where and how – over scheduling the enjoyment of a good complex story with fascinating characters. For now, the critics are trying to decide how to review shows going forth – one episode at a time or a full season in whole like a book. The evolution continues.

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The Power of Editing

When I wrote my first draft of Legacy Discovered, I decided that if it was going to be taken seriously, then it would need to be read with as few unnecessary grammatical errors as possible, so as not to distract the reader from the story and its characters. As I wrote my first chapters, I reached out to my Facebook friends and asked for volunteers to read, edit and comment on the book as I wrote it. Using the collaborative cloud service, Box.com, I was able to upload the chapters where my volunteers were able to read and comment from whatever location they may be. Once I had a first draft and signed up with Createspace to publish the novel, I chose a package that included a round of professional editing. Even after this round of publishing and another review by my volunteer friends, I re-read the book twice at a steady pace. My goal was to have my book look professional to any reader. Since it has been published, I have discovered a handful of small overlooked errors which will be corrected in an upcoming re-release; however, I feel it compares very favorably to books released through many of the professional publishing houses. Yet, as I have read some works from fellow indie authors in the past year, it has surprised me just how much the art of editing has suffered during the self-publishing revolution, an issue that may be dragging on the creative power of books to today’s audiences.

In many of the indie books that I read, I was quite impressed with the story-telling prowess of my fellow authors. I may have had an occasional plot or character quibble, but for the most part, my interest was held. Still, to come across the somewhat frequent extraneous ‘to‘ or ‘the‘ within a sentence would be like hitting a pothole on a comfortable ride. A missing key word in a sentence would feel like a red light on a freeway as I had to stop to try and understand the sentence before moving on. Misplaced quotation marks during character interactions would confuse me as I tried to determine whether a statement was stated aloud or was just a thought expressed as an aside in the dialogue. In one novel, I truly had to shake my head at the statement “She s.” for which I will never know what the author was hoping to express. Formatting errors were also prevalent, like an end of line or extra indent within a paragraph. What got me was just how prevalent these simple errors were and how easily most of them could have been corrected with a steady review of the work before publishing.

Actually, these errors in no way reflect upon the literacy or grammatical competency of the author. Our brains are notoriously capable of mentally correcting and becoming blind to these types of errors during reading, especially when the underlying meaning is truly clear to the reader. Since an author is the one who transcribed his or her thoughts to the paper (virtual or real), his or her brain very easily corrects these errors mentally as the work is reviewed. The rush to get the story out under deadline is the main reason why these errors have become almost the norm in online news postings or within current newspaper articles. However, the novel is not a place where the avid reader expects to find these errors, as the reader expects that time is available to edit the story being presented to him or her. Since readers do not create the works in front of them, they are more likely to stumble upon these errors when the meaning has been slightly compromised by these errors. Subconsciously, the errors begin to reflect upon the stature of the work, regardless of the entertainment or informational value of the work.

I have come to respect the power of having a trusted second or third pair of eyes review my work. I would hope that other indie authors would open themselves to having someone else review their work before publishing in today’s digital world, even if it is among trusted friends. A good editor does not take away from a writer’s voice; he or she only enhances it for a receptive reader.

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Bucket Lists and Road Trips

I love traveling, exploring the vast complexities of this little orb circling a massive globe of energy in a little section of infinity. I am fascinated by the artistry of this constantly changing natural world and the amazing interaction of our species within this world in such a short span of time. Constantly flowing currents of air and water carve rock, transform landscapes, fluctuate temperatures and transport life on this spinning globe. Amazingly, here I am with the ability to move faster around this earth than my ancestors and the technology of a camera to freeze and record these wondrous sights for the temporary span of my lifetime. However, I am a part of this eternal miracle and responsibility comes with the gift of my life within the tapestry.

For some, travel means finding another place different and exotic from the regular patterns and flows of their home turf, then returning to this place year after year to enjoy a different regular pattern and flow. For me, it means more to uncover a new pattern and perspective with each trip I take. Sometimes, this can be accomplished within my own home backyard by hiking a different trail or checking out a local community or historical site previously unvisited. However, to really expand my perspective, I need to look beyond and see how natural elements and cultures fill in the mosaic. The best way for me to do this is to examine the adventures of those before me and to create a plan of adventure for myself. The first step is to create a series of bucket lists to set out as goals. In my case, my bucket lists are more places to see and experience, rather than activities to accomplish.

My bucket lists begin with the main list of hoping to set foot on every continent. On this list, I can check off North America, Europe and, nominally, Africa. Branching off the main list, I have lists to visit every country in Europe and to explore listed wonders worldwide both natural and cultural, but my longest bucket lists are set within the United States. One reason is obviously the proximity and ability to explore more with less resources. There is a large area to investigate and admire without crossing international borders. I have created three bucket lists to explore this country – to visit every state, to visit every US national park, and to visit an ever-growing list of US cities and sites (currently 141 items). Officially, I can state that there are only three states I have never been in. However, there are five other states in which I was younger than 2 years old when my parents drove through them and two other states in which I changed planes at a major airport, so I only count 40 states as actually visited and experienced. Of those 40 states, I have marked 12 that need to be re-visited since I feel the experience to be more cursory on the first go-round. On the extraneous list of 141 cities and sites, I have checked off 72 items as having been visited and explored. Quite a feat, but still only halfway through the list.

I placed the US national parks in a separate list. It was America that first decided to separate, protect and maintain nature’s grand displays, allowing people from around the world to gain the perspective of the forces that nourished this earth. Other countries have followed America’s example and many of their parks are on my international lists. There are 59 officially designated national parks in the United States and its territories. The newest national park is Pinnacles National Park which was elevated from national monument status in January. I have checked off 32 of these parks from my list. I am not sure which will be the hardest to visit on this list, American Samoa National Park or the Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska, but I am going to do my best to visit them all.

Most of these parks I have visited and explored in the last ten years through the most American type of travel, the road trip. The advent of the automobile brought about a vast network of asphalt and concrete that turned months of harsh travel to go from ocean to ocean into days in air-conditioned comfort. Modern mapping technologies and Internet reservations allow one to plot a general route and organize reservations on a day-to-day basis in order to travel economically while maintaining flexibility in the overall schedule. It allowed me to plan a Rocky Mountain circuit, a grand Californian tour, an Arizona parks tour, a southwest Nevada to Colorado trip and an Eastern parks tour. An $80 annual entrance pass covers my vehicle entrance fees into the national parks along the way, and in the process, I gain a greater appreciation for the geologic forces that shape this planet from the volcanic geysers of Yellowstone and the sea of grasses in the Everglades to the uplifting forces that allowed the Colorado River to carve a Grand Canyon. This country hosts the tallest living things (Redwoods), the largest living things (Sequoias), the oldest living things (Bristlecone Pines), the longest cave system (Mammoth Caves) and the tallest land-based mountain (Mount McKinley, also known as Denali) in the world. Getting to experience these wonders hopefully prepares me to find a way to experience the rainforests of the Amazon, the great bio-diversity of the Great Rift Valley of Africa and the largest sandstone monolith known as Ayers Rock in the Australian desert. Some day…

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Primetime Emmy Nominations

It’s that time of year again. Time for me to consider what shows to mark on my Primetime Emmy nomination ballot. As a member of the Public Relations Peer Group within the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, I am not eligible to nominate for the individual Emmy categories, but I can nominate for the program and special class Emmy categories. Still, It is pretty neat to have a voice in determining the finalists for best drama or comedy television series of the season.

It is impossible for one person to view every minute of original programming throughout the year. It is just as impossible to view all the DVDs or online screenings that studios and production companies make available to Academy members in hope of being considered for a nomination ballot. As an Academy member, I have a deeper understanding of the process, skill, hard work and luck involved in getting a series, movie or special to air or distribution, which encourages me to view these creative works openly. However, I still must use my preferences, experiences and friend recommendations to choose what shows I want to view and enjoy, selecting my nominations from this group. There are plenty of Academy members with different preferences and experiences to give the full slate of works an honest viewing.

In the comedy category, the FX series, Louie, starring Louis C.K., has been touted in glowing terms in press and by some Facebook friends, so I will take time to view the DVD FX sent me. However, I am not a big fan of gritty or crude material just for the sake of being crude. Ultimately, the message or theme is the last word. Humor by its nature can be cruel. In fact, comedy has been defined as tragedy with a happy ending. For me, I prefer lighter fare where condescension tinged with ignorance is skewered and insecure characters actually find a road to redemption and community through their comic antics. Something like The Big Bang Theory. With its syndication over TBS and the local Fox affiliate over the past two years, I was able to binge view the previous seasons, turning it into a current favorite. In the past season, as the characters have grown, I did feel that a few episodes this season were more filler episodes to stretch out the life of the series, but there were good seminal moments. I find it interesting that perhaps the most insecure character is Penny, the beautiful girl among the geeks who is actually scared that she is not as smart as the friends she has around her. Another series I have come to enjoy is the skit-infused Portlandia on IFC. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein take on many characters in vignettes that gently poke fun at the casual culture of Portland, Oregon. Deep thoughts in a shallow pool.

In the drama category, I am not a fan of non-redemptive, ultra-twisted series, based on foundations of sex and violence. These are valid themes to explore in the challenges of life, but for me, they are hard to take over the extended period of a series. This is why I have avoided fan-favorites like HBO’s Game of Thrones or AMC’s The Walking Dead. The key for me is the underlying sense of redemption that inspires growth in the main character, allowing me to empathize and root for this character. To me, an empathetic anti-hero is a character living a survivalist, immoral lifestyle that is unexpectedly thrust in a heroic position to lead against or uncover a greater conspiracy of evil, which requires the character to grow in a redemptive manner. BBC America’s Orphan Black, a series about a woman who discovers that she is a clone to the woman whose identity she took over, is a perfect example of this and definitely on my consideration list.

As for reality programming, this is divided into two categories – reality and reality competition. The standard reality category mostly contains docu-series like Real Housewives, Deadliest Catch and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I generally do not have any interest in this type of programming. A reality series that focuses on a person or a small group of people tends to be almost unrealistically larger than life in order to keep it from getting stale. However, I am more impressed with a reality series which educates while it entertains. A good example of this is Discovery’s Mythbusters. As for the reality competition category, there is one show that consistently expands our global perspective in the challenge, The Amazing Race. It is definitely one of my favorites.

I have a couple more weeks to consider my choices for my ballot before mailing it in, so I’ll check out a few more shows for consideration. Maybe I’ll have time to view the NetFlix series, House of Cards.

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