New Trends in Indie Writing and Publishing

TypewriterI recently attended a Trade Show at the Oakland Marriott Convention Centre sponsored by the NCIBA—Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, where traditional publishing conglomerates, independent and boutique publishers, distributors and authors exhibited. As a longtime features writer and debut novelist, my heart raced anticipating face time with decision-making publishers who may have the potential to send my own recently launched self-published novel, Crosswinds at Campo Carcasso, to bestseller heaven. So imbued with enthusiasm and a good dose of naïveté, I entered the great hall to promote my book.

Research confirms that independent and boutique publishers are giving the traditional big houses a run for their money with evolving seismic changes, proving that market share bites are rustling more than just pages. Additionally, the siphoning off from and e-Book sales, for over 40 million IPads and Kindle devices (5 million sold since Kindle Fire launched in November), impacts the bottom line.

I came away from the Trade Show ignited with twin emotions of enthusiasm and trepidation about the marketing, promoting and selling of my own novel that we indie authors must zealously pursue to propel our works into the marketplace, lacking the luxuries of mainstream PR support.

Internet and digitized technology has morphed much of the publishing and printing industry to short-runs and print-on-demand PODs. In 2011, sold more e-books than hardcover and paperbacks combined leading to Jeff Bezos’ statement; “the physical book and bookstores are dead…” Digitization affects many industries; over 250 Indie Booksellers now sell retail product online at Google e-Books. Traditional publishing is altered forever; technology has spawned spin-off full-service independents offering varieties of genre publications. Not only books, but magazines and newspapers are begrudgingly yielding a substantial market share to computers, Nooks, Ipads and Kindles. Millions of front and back-listed titles are accessed by the mere flick of a finger within seconds. Unless books have entered the public domain, DRM (digital rights management), is often recommended, however, there are pros and cons, and with millions of books selling daily, the logistics of authors’ royalties could be a nightmare.

Many die-hard ‘real book’ readers have been heard lamenting nostalgically about the smell of the ink, the turn of the page, the rustle of the paper. Are we that close to the digital divide—already losing the physical book? Even I, the epitome of a techno idiot, and still holding on tooth and nail to the 20th century, succumbed to digitization, ordering a Kindle Fire before launch day. With new toy in hand, I jumped on the digital bandwagon and purchased the e-book version of Crosswinds at Campo Carcasso.

Indie Authors Unite

In my naïveté, and neophyte of the subject at hand, I merged into the world of indie authordom inflamed with enthusiasm about achieving best seller heaven. At launch, my book was already sold globally; Ingram Books distributing on Amazon, B&N and other sites. A perceived surgical marketing endeavor and a PR blitz brought bookstore signings; sales and testimonials were great. So, anticipating a Da Vinci Code-style bestseller — the sweet smell of literary success danced in my head. When sales hit a plateau, I realized I had to become, not only an indie writer, but also a one-woman marketing department—all this after thrashing out Crosswinds at Campo Carcasso in 750 lonely days, and suddenly finding myself beset with the business end of being an author, when all I really want to do is to write.

Evidence mounts that the synergy between indie authors, traditional publishers and independent booksellers, is minimal. Their bottom line is profit, not discovering debut novelists. Authors must find creative ways of penetrating the insulated walls encircling publishing protocol, and competing with half a million annual titles all vying for a place in the literary sun.

So, armed with a quest to make a killer first impression, I ventured onto the convention floor with a steely attitude and my novel. I approached a New York publishing rep, book in hand, eyeing the iconic orange cover of Kerouac’s On the Road. I chatted with a man who told me how to get a manuscript to an editor. I had already sent query letters to editors to no avail. “Buy Writer’s Market, send editors queries, it may go to the right person or the slushpile…and then again maybe not…”

I already knew the routine and moved to another publisher; “Good morning, my name is Anita Venezia… can you help me?” He smiled wanly and offered me a sugary doughnut—I whiffed the sweet smell of near-success and then greeted a woman with whom I had shared the hotel elevator, memorizing the badge names of who’s who on Publishers’ Row. She took my book, promising a look-see and placed it in her briefcase. I had succeeded in getting Crosswinds at Campo Carcasso into the hands of a New York publisher — mission accomplished.

Armed with the slim likelihood of piercing mainstream publishing shields, I introduced myself to my distributor, Ingram Book Company. En route to my booth at Island 15, I approached Tom Faherty who shared valued insight and steered me to Cameron Publishing for an interesting story angle. Cameron Publishing was founded in 1964 by the late Robert Cameron, commissioned during World War II to capture aerial images of strategic sites. His photography led to pictorial calendars and aerial view books. Chris Gruener manages the Petaluma boutique publisher/distributor and showed me their catalogue that included the photograph-rich book Oyster Culture by fellow Capetonian, Gwendolyn Meyer with Doreen Schmid.

An innovative booth buzzing with energy, and a quintet of cardboard cutout characters attracted me; Indie writer/designer Joy Evans and songwriter Kayla Gold, creators of the Earth-Guard Adventure Team, offered a 16-book series of young-set stories and song CDs, so kids can act out their own adventures as computer whizzes, trailblazers and engineering dynamos.

Island 15

I returned to my booth, Island 15, shared with other indie colleagues also pursuing alternative venues in the literary jungle. Booth mate Lloyd R. Prentice introduced his books, Freein’ Pancho about an Oakland Hills boy coming of age in the 1950s, and new thriller The Gospel of Ashes. As president of Writers Glen Publications, Prentice shared his vast expertise about publishing, and our brainstorming started the ball rolling with Hut Landon, the NCIBA Executive Director to establish a booksellers’ Seal of Approval for indie writer/publishers. We have also formed an Indies online forum with several writers already on board. Bonnie and Gregory Randall of Windsor Hill Publishers, Walnut Creek, presented their novels; Elk River and a series of Sharon O’Mara edgy spy thrillers that very well may put 007 to shame. Our most serendipitous Island 15 booth bait was legendary Scorpions Rock Band drummer-songwriter, Herman Ze German Rarebell, the rocker promoting his own biography And Speaking of Scorpions

The booth opposite us was an epicenter of activity for Pinnacle Award Winner, How to Survive in a World Out of Control by J.B. McIntyre. New Age metaphysical aficionados were awed by the author’s philosophical aspects of inner perceptions of reality. My fascination of the esoteric subject ignited a request for author interview; I asked J.B. McIntyre if he foresees staying power of his philosophies: “the book is NOW, timeless, becoming more relevant as changes force each individual inward.” Becoming more brazen, I asked him to define a ‘mystic’; “a mystic wants to experience directly the truth of all teachings, to go beyond dead words of religions, and experience God directly. Mystics teach of a divine union with the infinite.” I asked with whom he would choose to spend a day, living or dead; “The one person I would wish to spend a day with, and ask limitless questions would be the greatest mystic, the Christ. He spent his entire life absorbed, and his mystical journey was to change the world forever…” My last question was about belief in God; “Belief is a small part of the mind’s ability to manifest; faith takes you farther than what is coming to you. In a state of knowing, one’s inner guide confirms beliefs. My heart tells my whole being there is a loving Creator, it is felt in the temple of my soul…”

In search of marketing strategies for Crosswinds at Campo Carcasso, I ventured to the NABE Island and I introduced myself to 25-year marketer extraordinaire, Al Galasso. I handed him my novel and asked advice about cooperative promotions; I had finally found an answer to my dilemma. NABE, National Association of Book Entrepreneurs was exactly what I needed; an organizational conduit for indie authors—membership camaraderie, promotions, publishing and marketing tips. After navigating their website;, I realized a synergistic advantage.

“If you never join another organization, you’ve got to join IBPA…” Cynthia Frank advised. “They are the best resource for publishers…they’ve got your back…” I thanked the Cypress House Publisher from Fort Bragg and glowed with enthusiasm when I heard she was a San Ramon Valley High graduate. So taking Cynthia Frank’s advice, I emailed IBPA, Independent Book Publishers Association, and received a prompt reply about cooperative marketing programs, education, industry information, book awards, advocacy and participation in trade shows from the Executive Director Terry Nathan. I have since learned a wealth of heretofore unknown information through membership, and my initial confession of naïveté holds true as I am apprised of new trends from the inner sanctum of publishing.

So in a nutshell, the upshot of attending the NCIBA Show; I encountered colleague Lloyd Prentice, who spearheaded a movement to encourage independent booksellers to establish a Seal of Approval for Indie Writer/Publishers, and with whom I assisted in establishing an online indie writers’ forum. I joined the NABE marketing team and esteemed IBPA (, and learned of Bay Area Independent Publishers Association,, a generous-spirited volunteer network.

I met some inspiring indie author/publishers—entrepreneurial mavericks all—venturing into new realms of creativity, not only writing, publishing and promoting their own literary works, but also have proven that the pen is mightier than any sword, and that powerful words may very well move mountains. A word to the wise to indie writers frustrated about finding editors and publishers; write, write, and keep on writing—there are many innovative venues available and a host of publishers to bring your literary works to the marketplace.

The NCIBA sponsored several educational series; How to market e-books, using Facebook to promote, children’s rep picks, author buzz sessions, afternoon tea with Philippa Gregory, The Lady of the Rivers. The Friday keynote speaker was docu-filmmaker Michael Moore, fresh to the podium, breathless from attending the Occupy Oakland event; claiming his last documentary message called for revolt.

The sunrays of the show, across from Island 15, was the Sunburst Publishing team of Lowell James and David Smith of Zenith Cove, Tahoe—publisher/marketers of the inspirational book How to Survive in a World Out of Control by J.B. McIntyre—a 2011 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award winner.

My New Year’s “To Do” List

My one and only resolution of the New Year was to not write a magazine article about New Year’s Resolutions. I’m one for one so far and feeling good. As I near my 50th birthday, I’ve determined that New Year’s Resolutions aren’t for me anymore. I find resolutions too be daunting and cumbersome, almost a sad car trip to failureville. However, there are a few things I would like to accomplish in the calendar year 2012. My intentions are to tackle them as a “To Do” list for the coming twelve months so I can check off my completed tasks as I go along, much like my weekend “Honey do” lists. Unlike the weekend list of chores and errands, my New Year’s To Do list won’t start with pick-up dog poop in the backyard.

To Do

  • Make More Money. Currently I’m experimenting with a highnd Canon Laserjet copier, but if that doesn’t work I’m thinking there’s got to be a counterfeiters website. Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. Then again, I could simply work harder at my day job or supplement my income with a paper route.
  •   Get Out and Vote – It’s our responsibility to vote as United States citizens. The question isn’t should I vote, but who do I vote for? Do I give President Obama another four years or should I back the yet to be named (Newt or Mitt) Republican candidate? Decisions, decisions, decisions.
  • Read More – I’m currently reading The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I previously finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larsson. I must like trilogies. Reading is good. It makes me smarter. I’ll likely mix in the occasional biography, autobiography or book about our national geography. Again with the trilogies.
  • Write Another Screenplay – Sadly my first screenplay, entitled Allen and Allen, about two brothers who are dysfunctional partners in a San Francisco law firm forced to work together in a desperate attempt to rescue their mother from a vengeful psychopath, didn’t sell. Obviously, I need to spend another 1000 hours coming up with a new storyline that has more commercial box office appeal. Maybe I’ll go indie and write a script that could be made on a shoestring budget by a couple of theater arts majors from Cal State East Bay instead of one needing a major motion studio budget complete with a killer Craft Services catering spread.
  • Commune with Nature – With Mt. Diablo right here in our own backyard, seriously … a few of our friends have homes that abut to Mt. Diablo. In their case that oversized hill is “right in their own backyard”. We’re also a short drive from Lake Tahoe, the Pacific Ocean, Yosemite and even Pinnacles National Monument. With so many outdoor options, why do I spend so much time in front of the television and computer?
  • Appreciate the Arts – By “arts” I mean mostly music. With the worldwide music domination by Apple and all things “i”, we purchase music a song at a time. I do miss buying CDs, and before that record albums, cassettes and eight track tapes. Granted, it did seem a little wasteful to listen to 9 or 10 mediocre tracks just to hear the one or two songs you really wanted. This year I’m going to learn out to navigate iTunes all by myself and expand my playlist. Don’t get me wrong, I might go to a museum too. I do like looking at pretty pictures.
  • Be More Romantic – I’m pretty sure I’m about as romantic as any Alamo/Danville/San Ramon husband. I bring home flowers, I write love notes, I cuddle, we listen to Kenny G music, but I know I could do more. At least that’s what my wife tells me. Starting with Valentine’s Day, it’s going to be an ongoing Tunnel of Love at my house.
  • Get in Shape – Last year I lost 20 pounds and ran a marathon. It would now appear that I found what was lost. My annual holiday triathlon training (eating, drinking and napping) now has me ready to hibernation. With my over abundance of back hair, I actually do resemble a grizzly bear. If I ever want to regain my championship belt in the Suburban Dad Fight Club I’m going to have to start training. Wasn’t it Brad Pitt in the movie Fight Club who said, “The first rule of Fight Club is to never talk about Fight Club?” Darn it! Does that mean I’m out? Nonetheless, I’m going to start my training right away.
  • Do Not Die – I don’t know if I believe in this whole Mayan Calendar thingy, where they say the Earth will be ravaged by a variety of cataclysmic astronomical events on December 21, 2012, but I for one will be doing my best to not die this year.

I’m sure I could think of many more motivating and achievable tasks, but I’m getting tired. I need to add, Take Regularly Scheduled Naps, to my list. Oddly, my “To Do” list looks a lot like a list of New Year’s Resolutions. Oh well, at least I didn’t try and start it on January 1st like all the other knuckleheads. They’ve probably flamed out and give up already. I’m feeling real good right now.

Remembering Lou

Louis Warshaw 

My father-in-law, Dr. Louis Warshaw, died on Sunday, December 12, 2011. Lou was an exceptionally good man who worked hard, traveled the world and was very giving to his family and friends. Not many people knew that Lou was my chief proof reader for the magazine articles I’ve written for ALIVE the past couple of years. He didn’t always relate to the topic or get the humor, but he took his assignment very seriously and I deeply respected his detailed comments. Lou had an admirable work ethic and was a person of great integrity. He made me a better writer and a better man.

Lou was the son of Polish immigrants who came to the United States in the late 1920s. He was the fifth of six children and the first born on American soil. Lou was not much of a student growing up, but he found his place once he enlisted in the United States Navy. The navy provided Lou with training and an education which gave him  a newfound academic confidence. He graduated first in his boot camp class and second in a much larger class of navy Radiomen. After four years in the military, Lou was honorably discharged and he relocated to the East Bay after visiting his sister who lived in Alameda. He used his G.I. Bill to enroll in college, first attending Oakland City College before transferring to U.C. Berkeley. He entered the school’s newly opened Optometry department eventually graduating with honors in 1961. Lou went on to become the first optometrist to receive his Masters Degree in Public Health.  During this time, Lou and his wife had a daughter – Julie. Sadly the marriage didn’t work out and in 1967 Lou accepted an academic position at Ohio State University as Director of Clinical Laboratories. Sometime in the early 1970s, Lou made his way back to suburban Detroit, where his parents lived and he began private practice. Over the years, Lou became a member of the Michigan State Optometry Board, and he was instrumental starting the School of Optometry at Ferris State University. He eventually became Chief Optometrist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan. Lou’s research papers and contributions to the optometry profession earned him many state and national awards. Below is the eulogy that I gave at his funeral.

December 19th, 2011. It has been said that before a person dies their life passes before their eyes. I believe that after a person dies those closest to him have flashes of special memories and cherished moments spent with that person. The following are my flashes of times spent with Lou.

FLASH. I first met Lou in the summer of 1992 when, even though I already had the job of Julie’s boyfriend, I still needed management approval. You see, even as an adult, I was a little nervous going into my interview knowing that Julie was Lou’s only child and that I was the third consecutive Mike to hold this position. Lou was in town specifically to spend a few days with his daughter. Fortunately, during our three hour Q and A session over dinner, Lou was charming, inquisitive, gracious and engaging. Now I don’t like to brag, but I had met a lot of girls parents in my day, Lou struck me as someone who I might one day be able to consider a friend in addition to being the father of my future wife.

FLASH. The day Julie and I got engaged. Even though it had taken her four months to tell her father that we were living together, he was the first call she made to announce our engagement. Lou was thrilled or at least said he was thrilled.

FLASH. Leading up to our wedding day, my mother was terminally ill. The cancer had progressed so rapidly that we didn’t know if she would make it so see us get married. My father, also a Navy man, had passed away some years earlier and Lou had not yet met my mother, but it was very important to him that he get to know my parents. A couple of weeks prior to our wedding day, Lou called and talked with her for about an hour and a half while she was receiving chemotherapy in the hospital. That meant the world to my mom. On our wedding day, Lou worked the room like a politician. Now most of our friends and family couldn’t tell you what we served for dinner or what our first song was, but they all said how nice it was to meet Julie’s dad. He had that kind of effect on people.

FLASH. The day our first child was born, a little over fourteen years ago. Lou and I hugged and shared tears of joy as I told him that he had a grandson. It seems that I had mistaken the umbilical cord for something else and run out of the room before the doctor could set me straight. Lou was equally thrilled to know that he had a granddaughter (Hannah). He was moved to tears again twenty-one months later when he was blessed with a second granddaughter (Claire).

FLASH. I have many flashes of Lou’s annual visits when he would come out and stay with us for a week. He insisted we wake him up early so that he could ride with Julie and the girls in the carpool to school. He loved attending not only their sporting events, but even their practices. He read to them, helped with their homework, gave them eye exams, cooked with them, played board games, did puzzles, and read to them. He would even let them do his hair. Lou wore a pronounced sweep hair style and was occasionally mistaken for the actor Bill Macy (he played Bea Arthur’s husband, Walter, in the popular 70’s sitcom Maude). Papa Lou regularly stressed the importance of higher education and how important it was to always try your best. I truly believe his words have had a lasting impression on his granddaughters.

FLASH. In addition to our love for Julie, Hannah and Claire, Lou and I also shared a love for college sports. On the occasion we had to attend a CAL Bears football or basketball game, he would talk a lot about his life during our one-on-one time together. Lou had deep regret that he was not able to be an everyday dad for Julie growing up, but I learned to really respect and admire how he tried so hard to stay connected and make their times together special. Some of Julie’s fondest memories growing up are of road trips with her dad. Lou tried, unsuccessfully, to get sole custody of Julie, but it wasn’t that easy for a single father in the early 1970s. Fortunately, Lou’s frequent calls and visits often bridged the miles.

FLASH. Lou was very generous and he took our family on wonderful trips to Disneyland, Niagara Falls and a Caribbean cruise. Even though Lou had “been there and done that” I truly believed he liked seeing these places through the eyes of his grandchildren and the road trips we took reminded him of the adventures he and Julie had gone on when she was a child.

FLASH: Lou was a master turkey carver. He would take apart that bird like a skilled surgeon. At home in Michigan he would often spend a holiday such as Christmas or Thanksgiving going to the homes of his friends carving their turkeys. Lou also loved reading, watching old war movies and spending time at his home on Sylvan Lake.

If impression is the greatest form of flattery, I ask you to indulge me as I do my impression of Lou calling our house on a Sunday morning. He was always our first call every Sunday and holiday. I’m certain that 9:30 or 10:00 in Michigan seemed like an appropriate time to call, however in California if was three hours earlier. (For my ALIVE readers, it is important that you read Lou’s part with an elderly Jewish man’s voiceover utilizing a Michigan (Lower East Peninsula) accent.

Mike: Hi Lou. He always got a chuckle when I knew it was him calling.

Lou: Michael, What’s happening?

Mike: Not much Lou, it’s just a quiet Sunday morning. Lou first liked to give me a weather report.

Lou: It’s cold and gray here today. The lake is frozen, we’re expecting sleet and the wind chill makes it a negative 130 degrees. Lou always exaggerated the weather. It probably wasn’t any colder than -120. How is it in California?

Mike: Well its blue skis here and in the low 60s. You should move here.

Lou: Maybe one day. But we knew he never would. Next, he loved to tease me about my sports teams. What happened to your Warriors (or Giants or 49ers)?

Mike: They lost a close one, but we’ll win the next one.

Lou: Our teams (Lions, Pistons and Tigers) aren’t any better. What are my granddaughters doing today?

Mike: Claire has a soccer game, Hannah’s riding her horse and they have homework to do. Later we’re having some friends over for dinner.

Lou: You keep them too busy. They need some down time to just play like kids. Where is my daughter?

Mike: Well Lou she’s still sleeping its only 6:30 here. He would then get all flustered because he realized he had called way too early.

Lou: Have her call me later. Good-bye Michael.

Mike: Good-bye Lou.

Lou is already missed. Fortunately, the flashes of cherished memories and special times spent together will stay with us forever.


Create an Abundance of Appreciation and Love

It’s February, a time when Valentine’s Day is celebrated and cupids abound. In fact, to get in the mood and begin writing this article, I decided to bask in the inspirational energy from a group of local cherubs. So, here I sit enjoying the ambiance of a darling cafe in Alamo—Cherubini Coffee House. As I settle into the cozy atmosphere, sculptures and paintings featuring cherubs surround me. Before long, my writing begins to percolate … alongside my delicious decaf latte.

Now, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I want to check in with you. How are you feeling? Are you excited to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a “special someone”? Or, are you feeling pressured to find the perfect gift and plan a romantic outing with your sweetheart (without burdening your credit card)? On the other hand, maybe you’re currently single and feeling a bit left out from all the hearts and flowers hoopla.

Either way, I suggest we all consider a broader view of Valentine’s Day—so that we express appreciation and love toward others throughout the month and the year. What a concept, eh? Now, don’t get me wrong, if you have a significant other, I vote for gobs of heartfelt nurturing and affection as well as a specific romantic celebration for Valentine’s Day as a couple. However, to explore a broader view, let’s start by … defining LOVE.

First, as mentioned above, love can describe romantic feelings we have toward another person, such as a “sweetheart” or a spouse. Next, love can describe feelings of affection, appreciation, and compassion toward various family members (including a spouse), a dear friend, or an animal (such as a pet). Meanwhile, a spiritual form of love can describe how we feel toward God or a Higher Power. And finally, love can describe a deep interest that brings us joy when we experience it. For example, you may love to hike in nature, to paint, to dance, to play a musical instrument, or to play softball.

So, how about letting this Valentine’s Day serve as an opportunity to let your loved ones know how important they are to you? Now, whether you’re married, cohabiting, widowed, divorced, or single…consider honoring various forms of love in your life. Maybe you let your loved ones know by expressing appreciation when you see them in person, or by offering sincere and affirming words written in an email or in a greeting card.

Speaking of greeting cards, I would like to tell you about a wonderful Valentine’s Day that I experienced as a kid. Ahh … this fond memory took place when I was in first grade — that’s when my classmates and I were given an assignment of each creating … a paper mailbag.

Now, let me explain. Initially, about a week before Valentine’s Day, my teacher, dear Mrs. Tundle, handed out pre-cut paper pieces that included punched holes around all of the edges. Next, she distributed long strands of red yarn to each of us. Then, Mrs. Tundle instructed us to connect the pieces of paper by “sewing” them together with our strands of red yarn. She demonstrated a threading technique that required no needle or sewing machine—just yarn, paper, and two tiny, semi-coordinated hands.

Just so you know, I’ve been a creative soul, as far back as I can remember—so transforming paper into a cool new object was exciting! Meanwhile, after all the sewing was completed and my classmates and I were each holding our handmade paper mailbags, we were given an additional assignment. Mrs. Tundle invited us to take our mailbags home, decorate them with crayons, and then fill them with little Valentine’s Day cards — one for each of our fellow classmates … and not just the kids we liked.

As you can imagine, when February 14th rolled around a week later—there was a delightful flurry of Valentine’s Day cards being exchanged by us kids. No one was left out. Then, at the end of the day I remember proudly and happily schlepping my bulging paper mailbag home. My mailbag, which was barely being held together by the red yarn, was literally brimming with adorable Valentine’s Day cards! On that special day, my classmates and I could be seen smiling from ear to ear (even those of us who were painfully shy). Most likely, each of us was brimming with feelings of acceptance … appreciation and LOVE.

Now, if you decide to take my Valentine’s suggestion to heart, then consider creative ways to let your loved ones know how important they are to you and how much you appreciate them. Finally, to further expand this model, let’s actively seek to lessen scarcity consciousness. In this way, as individuals, partners, family members, community members, and as “world members,” we will continue to create abundance by experiencing many, many profound forms… of appreciation and LOVE throughout 2012.

Trina’s Upcoming Workshop: If you have a goal of losing excess weight, then plan to attend Trina’s empowering Walnut Creek workshop (for women and men): Managing Emotional and Compulsive Eating—John Muir Women’s Health Center. Many forms of emotional hungers, including a hunger for LOVE, will be addressed during this inspiring workshop Wednesday, February 29, 6:30-8:30 pm. Cost: $40 (Includes Weight Loss: 2-CD set). Seats are limited—register today: (925) 941-7900 option 3. For more info, go to; click on “Private Sessions & Workshops.”

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. Trina has a private practice in downtown Danville. She soulfully shares her creative approach to personal growth and passionately supports her clients in reaching their goals. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or

Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.

Five Tenets for Investing

As Yogi Berra taught us; “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” We are living through some tumultuous times. The world gorged on debt and times were good. Now we are paying the price for this excess and are in the midst of a painful worldwide de-leveraging process. Nobody knows how long this economic malaise will last. Should we be pessimistic or optimistic? Time will tell. Nonetheless, I feel strongly that betting against the progress of human history and innovation has always proven to be a losing proposition over the long run. Yes, in the short run, there are times to be cautious. The last five years confirm that. But circumstances change. Markets and economies are cyclical. Economic growth and positive investment returns follow contraction and investment losses just as day follows night.

So how do we invest in this crazy world and keep our sanity? There is really no secret or magic formula. Below are some fundamental guidelines for investing that I believe can guide you through any type of market. The information age we live in has made investing more complicated and confusing than ever. Individual investors are bombarded with an information overload on a daily basis. My advice is to turn down this “white noise” by doing the following:

Know and keep your objectives in place, only altering them when circumstances force a change. Consider adhering to my Five Tenets for Investing:

  1. Invest with a plan. Sounds basic enough but have a specific plan and time frame for your money.
  2. Diversify. Invest globally and maintain exposure to a variety of asset classes.
  3. Invest with a professional. Get some help. A professional can help you put a plan together to reach your goals and manage risk. More importantly, a professional cam help take the emotion out of investing by injecting some rational thinking and perspective. This is crucial during downturns.
  4. Invest continually.  Up or down markets, keep reinvesting and adding to those accounts.
  5. Have patience. Probably the most important tenant of all. The biggest pitfall I see for investors of all ages is not sticking to their plan. Too often, investors change the direction of long-term plans by making short-term decisions based on emotion. Decide if you are an “investor” or a “trader.” Investing should only be undertaken with a long-term time horizon.

Damien helps individuals invest and manage risk. He is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and a principal of Walnut Creek Wealth Management. These are the views of Damien Couture, CFP® and should not be construed as investment advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Additional risks are associated with international investing, such as currency fluctuations, political and economic stability and differences in accounting standards. Not all recommendations are suitable for all investors. Each investor must consider their own goals, time horizon and risk tolerance.  Your comments are welcome.  Damien can be reached at 925-280-1800 x101 or



Take the Style Makeover Test

Now is the perfect time for a style makeover! January is resolution crazed—organizing, eating well, and exercising — if you’ve kept your promises, then you deserve a treat. Not chocolate, but the opportunity to take your style to the next level. How do you know if you’re in need of a style makeover? Answer these questions:

  1. Are your clothes 10+ years old and no longer relevant to your current lifestyle?
  2. Do you own only basics and solids? (Yawn)
  3. Is there a “disconnect” between your personality and how you dress?
  4. Is your closet full of clothes, yet you have “nothing to wear”?
  5. Are you experiencing a life transition—job change/promotion, a special birthday, or a weight-loss goal accomplishment?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then … Congratulations, you are worthy of a new you!

Start at the top: Hair. Seek hairstyles that are interesting to you. If you see a gal with a great cut, ask her where she got it. If she agrees to a photo, take a picture with your cell phone. Your hairstylist will advise you if that cut will work for your hair texture and face shape. Sometimes, a new hairstylist can make the change you want, but give your current stylist a chance first. Odds are he/she has been dying to update you for a while.

Next: Make-up. Meet with a professional make-up artist, either an independent consultant or a representative of your favorite cosmetics line. Defining your brows is a quick fix—tweezing or waxing can give your face a “lift,” helping you look and feel more youthful. With make-up, highlighting your favorite feature is key, so if you love your eyes, “play them up,” and go neutral elsewhere. A fresh, new lipstick is the most cost-efficient change a gal can make—just be sure you’ve chosen a shade that compliments your skin tone. If you don’t know, just ask!

Pencil Skirt


White Jeans



And finally:Your Wardrobe. Purging worn out, out-of-date and frumpy old clothes from your closet can be intimidating—but it doesn’t have to be, and it’s a big first step. Enlisting the help of a fashionable friend or hiring a seasoned professional style consultant will provide you with an invaluable objective eye.

Once you’ve eliminated the “unworthy” items, there are essential items that should either remain in the mix or may be added. My favorites include dress slacks, a cardigan sweater, a pencil skirt (photo 1), white jeans (photo 2), a nude shoe, a neutral blazer (photo 3), a daytime (funeral-appropriate) dress (photo 4) and a little (not necessarily black) cocktail dress (photo 5).


Makeover TV shows demonstrate that even the most fashion-challenged can discover their personal style. It’s definitely the most exciting part of my job, and the makeovers shown on my website are dramatic examples. Don’t be embarrassed…everyone needs a bit of help now and then. Best of all, it can be affordable, fun and a positive step towards your best YOU!


Recently, I had the pleasure of working with Jen, who was treated to a style update after she lost seventy pounds!! Check out her story and testimonial on my website at She describes her transformation as “life-changing.” I agree. It’s quite possibly the best gift you can give yourself or to someone you love.

So, take a close look at your hairstyle, make-up and wardrobe. If it’s time for a change, don’t hesitate. Make it happen … you deserve it!

Can I Get a Witness?

My old newspaper buddy Doug and I talk a few times a year. We used to work for the same paper in Sarasota,Fla; I covered crime and he still works there as a sports columnist.

In traditional male mode, I am not super chatty. But I find myself in these calls talking for 10 or 15 minutes straight to my old friend. It’s no coincidence that Doug has had a great career as a journalist and columnist. How does he rope-in me and his other interview subjects? He listens. I try to remind myself of Doug’s patient and active listening strategy when I am in the field interviewing witnesses.

There are several different schools and methods in private investigations and police work that focus on interviewing or interrogations. Some of these techniques perhaps go overboard on the interviewer controlling the subject, content of the interview or even the seating. The truth in the private sector, as compared to law enforcement, is that as investigators we have no authority what-so-ever to force people to cooperate or to talk. You lose all credibility if you make a threat you can’t enforce. Whereas as there potentially are charges for not cooperating with or lying to a law enforcement officer, there are no consequences for telling a private investigator to get…lost.

I don’t make a living if I don’t get witnesses to cooperate. In a high stakes legal case, whether criminal defense or civil, witnesses make or break it. Private investigators in the field are the eyes and ears for attorneys. We also act as buffers in communications between witnesses and lawyers.

As a newspaper reporter and private investigator I have been interviewing people professionally for about 25 years. I approach interviewing as a dialog and opportunity to get important information, sometimes which will result in a statement or declaration for court. If I try to steamroll, arm-twist or bulldoze, I will get shut down faster than a drug deal in a police station.

I want to build trust and get the interview off the street or door step and into a restaurant or home or some other place where we can have a more detailed conversation. (I once had a former P.I. boss tell me “to ask questions until they throw you out.”) Every witness is different, some will hate you at first but come back to you like a lost love, some are “dream witnesses” who have saved important documents, some get involved because they like inserting themselves into a situation and some are deathly afraid to talk.

Some witnesses or interview subjects are just angry, guilty liars. I have had a few interviews where I know I am going down in flames. When confronted, I will sometimes fire back with blunt verbal force that may or may not elicit information. Every situation is different.

My advice for anyone trying to obtain information from someone else is:

  •  Be prepared. Know something about the subject and or person and be willing to trade some information or facts.
  • Keep an open mind. Too many preconceived notions will poison the ability to listen.
  • Try the “power of silence.” Just be quiet and see how they respond.
  • Determine a “baseline” for your subject. See how they answer and talk about non-sensitive subjects before you escalate to more pointed questions.
  • Be aware of non-verbal cues and “micro-expressions.” These little shoulder shrugs or nose wrinkles may not indicate deception but might suggest anxiety, anger, contempt.
  • Take your time.

For more information or help regarding this topic, or any other security or investigative issue, please visit our website by clicking on our ad…

Spencer Elrod Services

Spencer Elrod Services


Trivial Matters

Last month, I contacted our editor, Eric, from a KMart in Scotts Valley, California. Eric accused me of characterizing this drivel as a “Blue Light Special.” I’ll show him!

  1. In the 40’s, there was a song that advertised “Fryers, broilers and Detroit Barbecued Grits. What was the name of that eating establishment?
  2. Westinghouse sponsored the TV show “Studio One” in the 50’s. They refused to air a Kipling classic due to the possible reflection on their product. What was the name of that Kiplng work?
  3.  What was Johnny Odom’s nickname as an Oakland A’s pitcher?
  4.  It was the weirdest movie of the late 70’s, directed by David Lynch and featuring Dennis Hopper as a hopped up Gangster. What was it?
  5. What were the laws that existed in several states that did not allow alcohol to be dispensed on Sundays?
  6. Speaking of Scotts Valley, who was the famous movie director who owned a house there that overlooked Monterey Bay?

January Answers:

  1. Will Ferrell in “Elf”
  2.  Hank Bauer
  3.  Bob Dylan
  4.  The tattooed man
  5.  Orson Welles
  6.  Arnold Johnson

The first person to email or mail, no calls please, the correct answers to all of the above questions will win a $25 gift certificate at The Uptown Cafe in downtown Danville, compliments of Ben Fernandez!

Entries must be received by Feb. 15, 2012. In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn at random. Please email your answers to, or mail to ALIVE East Bay, 3200 A Danville Blvd., Ste. 204, Alamo, CA 94507. Employees and family members of employees of ALIVE East Bay are not eligible. Restaurant may be changed without notice.

New Year Probate Changes

As of the first of this year, there was a big change in Probate law for the State of California. There are two standard types of Probate in California: a court probate, which typically last nine months to a year, or what is known as “summary probate.” Summary probate, also known as “small estates probate,” can happen as soon as 40 days after someone’s death. It is as simple as the preparation of a form and attachment of a death certificate. The form must comply with State law, and must be accepted by financial institutions. If real property (which is land) is involved, there is a process that just involves filing with the Court, having it approved, and recording the Court’s order with the County Recorder.

The big change this year is the change in amount that qualifies for this shorter process. As of January 1, 2012, as long as the estate does not exceed $150,000, this process can be utilized to collect assets. Prior to January first, the amount was $100,000. This means that heirs can collect assets in a way that is much faster and less costly. To determine whether this method is applicable, one must determine the fair market value of the asset. For example, if the asset is stock, it is based on the current stock price. If the asset is real property, there is a process to have a court approved appraiser value the property to determine if it qualifies.

This change in law will be a great benefit to the many heirs who are trying to collect assets upon the loss of a loved one. It will save time and money, and a great deal of stress. Often, I find that clients are asked for probate papers, otherwise known as a Letter Testamentary, by a financial institution, when this summary probate procedure can be utilized. If you are not sure, it can be well worth the effort to consult with an attorney to find out if you are dealing with an estate that is subject to these new rules.

Stamps In My Passport – Romanian Toilets

A mild warning – this is a sensitive subject which may offend some of my more gentle readers. Nevertheless, it is a topic that needs to be addressed by all faithful travelers. I bravely march ahead into this uncharted territory, hoping you will forgive me.

 There are certain physiological activities we all have in common – traits shared by every living creature. Periodically we parade to the nearest comfort station, water closet, loo, or commode. (The names may vary around the world.) But they all describe the same common need – we are responding to nature’s urgent message. What greets us varies a great deal, depending on where in the world we happen to be when this necessity finds us. While a large number of these so-called rest stops are similar to the ones we have become used to in our homes, others greet us with an entirely new, and often confusing set of plumbing devices. It is these unusual visits that I’ve encountered which are the basis for the descriptions that follow.

It was very early in my travels when I was introduced to what the Romanians call the “Turkish Toilet,” and the Turkish people call the “Romanian Toilet.” These less-than-descriptive terms could easily have any other countries’ names substituted in their title. Basically they consist of a hole in the floor which may be ten to 12 inches in diameter. Although the first time one encounters one of these it appears to be about half that size. On either side of this bottomless chasm are two footprints. The latter items are placed here to improve the aim of those less accustomed to this method. For many westerners the unfamiliar squat that is required needs all the assistance it can get for a miss is a disaster, and heaven help us if we tip over. Invariably there seems to be an unusual amount of moisture about the target. Keeping your pants or skirt off the surface requires a certain degree of dexterity. Needless to say, this rest stop is not one of my favorites. A number of years ago I rode a train in Russia which used this method. The jostling motion and the view of the track through the opening remains one of my most feared nightmares.

Another unsettling scene is the one I refer to as the “lack-of-modesty” comfort station. I have run into this category in Africa, Central America, and Nepal – and even on the streets of Paris. Regardless of this wide geographical expanse, they can still be grouped into a single category. In some of these locations they can quickly be dismissed by merely saying “go behind that tree.” In other areas you find yourself precariously balanced on a narrow board or tree branch, protected by a leafy screen with your head higher than the top, therefore able to see all the people watching you. Admittedly you are screened from the shoulders to the knees, but not only is the head open for full viewing, but so is anything that drops to your ankles. Regardless of the constant personal reminder that this activity is universal, it still remains an immodest act for me. Before I leave this category completely, I need to mention those practically-private public stalls sprinkled in some downtown areas of Europe. I wish they extended some two feet higher and went all the way to the ground. I just don’t know where to look when I use one of these places. If you look about and catch someone’s eye looking at you – well, it’s awkward. Looking down doesn’t seem right either. I just don’t know. In Central America I came upon one of these stalls over a river. No secrets were hidden here.

Even when the plumbing is close to matching the ones in my house, I am often confronted with a dilemma. For example, where is the flusher? Some older models have large water collectors mounted on the wall five or six feet above the porcelain receptacle. This system is usually activated by a pull chain with a nice wooden handle. It is often best to stand well back when activating this device because the water comes down in a huge rush, often splashing the surroundings with moisture. Even when the water tank is located in a position you are used to, it can cause a problem. Occasionally the valve refuses to close, and a persistent trickle continues on and on. This forces you to remove the cover and make an adjustment before the flush can be repeated – not a pleasant task. I also dislike those that imply an automatic flush – i.e., no handle. They mostly don’t work.

Probably the one I had the most difficulty mastering was the one I found in several South American countries. I will use the Galapagos Islands as the example. To begin with, the “throne” in most cases is very traditional looking. It is the sign above it and the container next to it which elevate it to be part of this article. To paraphrase this sign, usually in Spanish first, but English is close behind, it reads “Do not put paper in the toilet. Use the waste basket.” I have several possible comments here, but prudence suggests I move on and let your imaginations fill in the details.

I assume by this time you’ve lost interest so I will close – saving some of the more bizarre experiences for later stories.