Monday, August 19, 2013

The Master is Back on Top

Of all my impressionable moments as a writer, none are as endearing (and enduring) as watching a great Woody Allen film in a movie theater.   

Woody Allen's latest film is also one of his best

According to my questionable records, I've seen 19 Woody Allen films in movie theaters, dating back to 1982 with a double feature a few weeks after my high school graduation at the Picture Show in the Fairhaven district of Bellingham, WA.

Annie Hall & Manhattan, 6/29/82, w/ Neal, Kevin & Brenda
I remember leaving the Picture Show in awe.  It was the first time I'd really appreciated the storytelling gifts of Woody Allen.  I wanted to know how he did it, how he told his stories so well.  I guess I've been pursuing his magic touch ever since.

The same sense of awe happened again in 1983 with Zelig, 1985 with The Purple Rose of Cairo, 1986 with Hannah and her Sisters, 1987 with Radio Days, 1992 with Husbands and Wives, 1995 with Bullets Over Broadway, 1997 with Deconstructing Harry, 2005 with Match Point, 2011 with Midnight in Paris and now this past weekend with Blue Jasmine.

For over 30 years, I've had the pleasure of going to a Woody Allen film in a movie theater and experience a compelling, engaging story about adults, for adults.  In a way, his films have influenced me more than any other collection of stories.   He's our Chekhov. 

Blue Jasmine, 8/16/13, w/ Alice

I hope the magic never ends!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Finding a literary agent to represent your book is a little like finding gold on an island.  You gotta dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, then dig some more, then hop on over to another island and continue digging.  And hopping.  And digging.  Until one day, you find gold. 

I found gold!

Friday, June 7, 2013

My First 99-Day Novel

I leave for Alaska tomorrow with Alice and the only thing I need to worry about is not worrying about anything at all.

That will be tough, actually, because in the past three months I've lost touch with lazy Michael and become addicted to workaholic Michael.  Hmmm...Yeah, that's not good, either, I guess.  But I have to say, workaholic Michael sure knows how to work.

Don't Eat the Zombie Cookies, a novel I started after leaving mom's place in Arizona back in late-February/early-March, is on paper and ready for a major revision after I return from a week aboard the Star Princess.  This will be my first cruise ever and the timing couldn't be better.

Right now, aside from this picture...

...which is still my current favorite picture of all time, this picture... my second favorite!

Now if I can just turn off my mind and relax for a week instead of plotting out the next book I plan to write.  I've got the sickness bad!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Stockton Pro-Am 2013

It's time to take a break from writing and hang out in Stockton for the weekend to play a little racquetball and see the best players in the world battle it out in the Stockton Pro-Am.

I have five sections left of the new novel I'm writing, so I'll take my mini HP with me and knock out a few pages each morning.  My shoulder's a lot better than it was last week, so hopefully I'll win a few matches in my singles division. 

I can't believe how quickly the first 100 days of my thousand days of writing has flown by.  It's all captured here at 1000 Days of Writing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Stockton Style

Pro Racquetball Academy Camp

What is the Stockton Style?  It’s a form of racquetball domination that unnerves opponents with aggressive play, deceptive serves, center court control and laser-guided passing shots.  It’s also the style of play being taught at the most dynamic racquetball camp in the country. 
     Stockton’s three-day Pro Racquetball Academy camp is a game changer for any racquetball player who’s ready to take their game to the next level.  Whether you’re a club novice, junior’s champ or open tournament regular, legendary pro John Ellis, USAR national team coach Dave Ellis and their renowned lineup of the best young IRT pros in the world teach the Stockton Style with so much fun and passion that the weekend feels more like fantasy camp. 
     Located at the nine-court In-Shape West Lane Athletic Facility in Stockton, California, the PRA camp begins Friday at noon with videotaped play of all 18 camp participants, followed by introductions, situational drills, stroke mechanics and game time with the pros.  Saturday’s full-day session focuses on serves, return of serve and doubles play, while Sunday is all about shot making, practice drills, limited serve games and indispensible one-on-one video analysis with John Ellis.
     The camp is well-organized, fast-paced and geared toward the player who prefers learning on the court instead of listening to lectures.  The degree of personal attention every player receives is phenomenal.  Each morning, Pro Academy instructors go over the day’s schedule and cater their instruction to each member of the camp so that everyone gets as much out of the day as possible.  With so many top-tier instructors eager to offer pointers, the potential for improvement seems limitless.
     IRT #4 ranked player Jose Rojas made minor adjustments to my drive serve, resulting in more power, accuracy and deception.  California State singles champion Bobby Horn showed me a reverse drive z-serve that is already throwing off my opponents.  National Juniors champion Jose Diaz modified our practice drills in such an intuitive way that the drills have become an integral part of my practice sessions.  Junior World champion Markie Rojas encouraged me to elevate my lobs serves for a higher arc, making them more difficult to cut off.  Coach Jody Nance gave me valuable tips for doubles play.  John Ellis demonstrated the effectiveness of favoring the cross-court passing shot in order to set up the down-the-line pass, and Dave Ellis offered pointers when playing against an opponent who likes to cut off ceiling balls. 
     Then there’s IRT pro Jose Serrano, who’s so articulate and enthusiastic when presenting his ideas that I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually sets a new standard for racquetball instruction in the future.  He’s that good!
     PRA’s in-house trainer Jesse Serna covers conditioning and tournament preparation with an efficient 30-minute warm-up routine.
     My one-on-one video analysis with John Ellis was a real eye-opener and helped identify small corrections that have already translated into an extra point or two in my singles game. 
     It’s mindboggling how much is covered in a weekend, but racquetball improvement is only part of what makes PRA’s camp so special.  What distinguishes this camp from all the others is that unless your name is Kane or Rocky, there’s an instructor here who can beat you.  In fact, unless you’re a top-20 pro, six of these instructors can beat you.  No other camp in the country can make that claim.  I was given so many pointers and new ideas from these amazing players that within one week after camp I was already elevating my game from “A” to “Elite.”
     There’s one more component to the Stockton Style that makes a weekend in Stockton an absolute must for any racquetball enthusiast.  It’s not just camp, but participation in a vibrant extended family that reaches beyond the insights of John and Dave Ellis, the delicious lunches provided by John’s mother Pat Ellis or the friendly banter with former pro Nick Irvine who sells racquets and gear from his makeshift pro shop.
     What happens at the In-Shape facility after hours when a camp day is done can only be described as magical.  The courts come alive with racquetball play that spans the spectrum of the sport.  Some of the best players in California, along with racquetball newbies, hit the courts ready to play.  On court 4, a father and his happy young daughter hit the ball back and forth.  On court 2, Jose Diaz played left-handed against an accomplished handball player.  On court 1, two of Chile’s finest young racquetball players played doubles with 14-year-old Daniel Rojas (another future racquetball star) and open champ from Hawaii Rob Collins, who plans to make Stockton his home later in the year.  On court 3, 13-year-old junior camper Mitchell Turner from Oregon played singles with another young prodigy his age, and for a few minutes in court 2 after Jose Diaz took the game left-handed in a squeaker, I tapped the ball to a young toddler so new to walking that he still had sea legs but was already holding a racquet and chasing down the ball as if his life depended on it.
     It’s this kind of atmosphere that makes the PRA three-day weekend so memorable. 
     My camp experience ended Sunday afternoon after three quick singles games with John Ellis, who ran me around the court like a confused beginner.  He used all the shots he and his pros had taught us, including his ruthlessly effective cross-court passing shot.  After scoring a handful of points to his 45, I was completely exhausted, my legs spent and my head overwhelmed with new serves, new drills and new ideas to plug into my game.
     For the racquetball player who wants to take their game to the next level, John Ellis and his team at the Pro Racquetball Academy offer the best racquetball camp in the country at an incredible value.  It’s a weekend every racquetball player should experience.  I can’t wait to do it again!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Visiting Mom in AZ

There's nothing like hanging out with mom for a few days at her wonderful house in Mesa, AZ. 

I arrived Monday evening and stayed until Friday night.  We watched three films (Side Effects, Django Unchained and Quartet), a couple of new TV shows (America, Veep, and Enlightened), played plenty of cribbage, ate great food and enjoyed the comfortable weather. 

Mom's so good at putting together a house and coordinating everything.  Both she and Gwen are incredible decorators.  I don't have that skill at all.

Mom's had her AZ place for three years now.  She and Craig will sell their Bellingham house this summer. 


Friday, February 8, 2013

RIP Sandy

My sweet little dog died yesterday.  She was 14.  Rhonda, Biff and I are having a Sandy Celebration on Sunday.  It will be a good day to remember such an adorable, loving little dog.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Vancouver - Day 5

Chris and I had the morning to ourselves while Alice and Elizabeth shopped at Metrotown.  We outlined Bad Uncle, talked about family matters, and shared a few stories of our parents as a means of brewing up ideas for our present project.  When I'm home I'll put in place a rough outline that Chris and I can fill out.

We watched the Seahawks/Redskins game in the afternoon.  The Hawks overcame a 14-point deficit to win the game 24-14.  Very impressive.  For dinner, we went over to Chris Jr. and Natalie's condo in the city.  Their place is warm and comfortable with a spectacular view of Vancouver and the mountains.  We ate at the Afghan Horseman a few blocks away.

Very good and very full!

Chris and Natalie

It was delicious.  Chris and I mentioned hosting an unsung heroes party for our cousins in the summer.  All aunts and uncles are welcome!  I've love to see a few cousins I haven't seen in years...Lisa, Bobby and Leo.  Kim and Gwen would be all over it.

After dinner, we drove back to Chris and Elizabeth's where we watched the two-hour season premiere of Downton Abbey.  The intrigue and melodrama sometimes border on the contrived, but it's still a lot of fun to watch Maggie Smith deliver her signature lines.  Sad to see the Bates storyline completely stalled in prison, but delighted to see Mary attempt to self-sabotage her wedding over a 20-second conversation that by its very nature demands a series of discussions and debates.  The petulant, quixotic Mary is much more preferable to season two's calm, reasonable Mary.

Bed at 12:30, late for us.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Vancouver Days 3 and 4

Friday:  Chris and I had a short writing session in revitalized new shopping center in New Westminster while Alice and Elizabeth walked through the various shops and boutiques.    We also had lunch there...Alice and I had beef brisket and chips.  Very good.  I also ordered a Golden Autumn Oolong tea and bought $20 worth to take home.  After New Westminster, we settled home for a few hours before heading out to a Chinese restaurant to meet Alice's cousin Florence and her husband Howie.  We met them at 7 and had a delicious meal that included Winter Mellon Soup, a duck dish, general's chicken, rice, a sizzling beef dish and green beans.  Afterward, we went to Florence and Howie's house for another hour or so of socializing.  They are very pleasant people.  Like Chris, Howie has lived in Vancouver all his life.

Day 4 - Chris and I brainstormed for a few hours in the morning before we all headed out to UBC where I walked around the clusters and saw the house I lived in when I was 4-5.

We also saw the apartment complex I lived in on Toronto Road when I was 3-4.

The Clusters are either being torn down or renovated.  It's unclear exactly what's happening to them.  They're surrounded by blue fence.  Chris showed us his former office at the UBC Alumni Center (Cecil Green Building...very nice), and we went shopping around his old stomping ground near 12th Ave.  Chris Jr. and Natalie came over for dinner.

It was wonderful seeing them.  We'll see them again tonight after the Hawks Redskins game.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Vancouver Day 2

We got up at 5, had tea, then oatmeal at 7.

Chris making oatmeal with his spurtal

We left for Vancouver Center and Chinatown at 10.  We ate delicious noodle soup, pastries, walked around town, then returned to Chris and Elizabeth's by 4.

At Canada Place in Vancouver with Alice and Chris

Played crib with Chris and Alice, had a scrumptious dinner, watched Looper, and ended the day by 10.

Chris and I spoke briefly about Bad Uncle and will continue tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vancouver B.C. Canada - Day 1

Alice and I arrived in Vancouver at 11 a.m. after a 45-minute delay at our SF gate.  Chris and Elizabeth were there to pick us up.  We Ate lunch at their house, then went on an hour drive through Vancouver to the mountains overlooking the city.

Overlooking Vancouver at Cypress Point with Alice and Chris

From there, we drove to Granville Island and ate butter tarts and cinnamon buns.  So good!  We came back for dinner.  Chris created a "Jamie Oliver"-inspired meal using chicken, tomatoes, potatoes, and herbs.  We ended the evening with a movie on demand, The Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Wonderful day.  Clear skies.  So good to be with Chris and Elizabeth!  Their house is so comfortanble and warm, featuring a five-star guest room with six-star shower.  Off to bed in preparation for a full day of eating, brainstorming and sightseeing tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Welcome 2013!

I just finished Julian Barne’s The Sense of an Ending.  The line that most struck me was toward the end in which Tony writes that back when he was young a man married a woman he got pregnant who didn't abort the child because that was the rule.  The themes in this short book are similar to a book I plan to write this year about my first 11 years from 1963-1975.  I liked The Sense of an Ending.

Today was relaxing.  Alice and I began our day at Starbuck’s and Noah’s Bagels on Lakeshore, then drove to her house in the Sunset district around 10.  I talked to Jill, Dad and Gwen on FaceTime.  Later in the afternoon I talked to Steve and Judy.  FaceTime is becoming my default phone.   I love it.  The telephone never did anything for me, but facing the person I’m talking to makes all the difference.

Tomorrow, Alice and I fly to Vancouver to visit Chris and Elizabeth.  It’s going to be one of those magical five-day trips that I’ll always refer to for the next couple of decades.  The weather will be cold but clear.  Rain comes Saturday.

Just saw on my iPad that the House passed a bill to avoid the fiscal cliff.  All that drama for passage in the midnight hour.  Way to go, Congress.  I hope and pray the next generation of leaders are more mature and responsible than what we’ve had to endure these past few years.  It’s difficult for me to even read about them without rolling my eyes.  They couldn’t come up with a solution in early December because that would have been way too practical.  Nope, they had to wait until the last minute to pen a deal.  It’s stunning to me how much unnecessary drama and chaos there is out there for no reason.

Anyway, I have a lot of material to write about this year.  Austin15 and No Sweat are my first two projects for 2013.