Steps, Steps, Steps … When Will They End!

tree-machu-picchu-peru-inca-ruins Ever go to Machu Picchu? Well if you have, then you know what I’m talking about.

The Incas built their civilization in the Andes Mountains in Peru. Know how high the Andes are? Real high — over 22,000 feet at the highest peak. There are temples and towns that the Incas lived in at 14,000 feet. That’s almost three miles up, and at that height the air gets really thin and it becomes difficult to breathe, especially when you’re climbing steps as high as you can see.

Interesting side note: The word Inca means king, or ruler. The actual name of the people was Quechua, but the Spanish adopted the term Inca as an ethnic term referring to all the subjects of the empire, which I will use since it’s the name most commonly use when referring to them.

Now since the Incas lived in the Andes, they had to develop a way to level the ground so they could grow crops, so they terraced the landscape. As you drive through the Peruvian Andes, you see terraces etched into the mountains everywhere; the majority of them built during the Inca dynasty. Now these terraces climb up the mountainside, and when I say up, I mean way up. So, how do you get to the upper most terraces? You walk, and everyone knows how difficult it is to walk up a mountain, sometimes to the point of being impossible. So the Incas built steps, and I can’t imagine how many they built during their rein, which lasted only about a hundred years. But I’ll tell you what; we walked for miles on end going up and down steps.

Machu-picchu-c18Two of the sites we visited were Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, and guess what? That’s right … steps! Now when I say steps, I’m not talking about the flat steps we’re used to with a nine inch rise. No, I’m talking about steps made from stones and rocks that aren’t flat, nor is there a given rise to each step. There were times when the rise was over a foot. The question was asked, “Why are the steps so high. The Incas weren’t tall people, so why did they build such high steps?” Danny, our guide, informed us, “Speed governed the design. Taking a lot of little steps doesn’t allow fast movement. Big steps allow assents and dissents to be made much quicker.” Yeah, I thought, as long as you have the strength to take those big steps. David, who was born in Peru, had absolutely no problem with steps, either going up or down. But then David was in his early thirties; the rest of us in our late sixties or early seventies, which proved a point I already knew — older people cannot move quite as well as younger people can.

Ollantaytambo was our first stop at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. We would walk for a few minutes and then rest to give ourselves time to catch our breath. By the time we reached Machu Picchu, which is about 8,000 feet, we were a little more acclimated to elevation and able to carry on for longer periods. But Machu Picchu has far more steps. There are two hikes that extend up two different mountainsides, which take the better part of an hour to hour and a half to climb. I found out that climbing up is easier than going down, especially when it’s raining, which, of course, it did.

It was a wonderful trip, and one I would encourage everyone to go on if they ever have the opportunity.

Ever Pilot A Boeing 747? … Well I have.

jnfgjnfgnnfghnI received my pilot’s license in 1976 and flew private planes in one of the most nerve-racking and congested areas in America — Los Angeles — right next to LAX, and other airports in Torrance, Hawthorne, Compton, Santa Monica, Van Nuys, just to mention a few, and all of them within a twenty mile radius of LAX. I learned real quickly: keep your eyes focused out the windshield for other aircraft.

In flight school we were taught to follow power lines as a visual reference when flying because they usually ran fairly straight, were easy to pick out on the ground because of the large green belt they were placed in the middle of, which could be easily identified from a distance. And then I went flying, in and around the wonderful Los Angeles area, and guess what? I couldn’t see a power line to save my life. It wasn’t until years later when I was flying in Missouri that I actually saw my first power line. Forget about following miles and miles of green belts in Los Angeles; there are none!

Now one of the clients my consulting firm had was Flying Tiger Line, the first scheduled cargo airline in the United States. Corporate offices were located at LAX, and the company’s main aircraft was the Boeing 747. One day the manager (whose name I cannot recall, but lets assume it was Bob) approached me and said, “I hear you’re a pilot.” I answered proudly, “Yes I am.” He then smiled. “Would you like to fly a 747?” I remember thinking, Yeah, sure, let’s go. I’m sure I can handle it. Heck, I can fly a Cessna 182!

Flying Tiger Line had a 747 simulator on the premise, which they used to train their pilots. They also rented it to other airline companies for their pilots. Anyway, after scheduling issues were ironed out, it was arranged for me to use the simulator, and what an unbelievable experience it was.

I walked into the simulator, which was an exact replica of an actual 747 cockpit, and took my seat at the controls — in the pilot’s seat, I might add. No co-pilot seat for me. Remember … Cessna 182. Bob gave me some instructions and then started the simulator, saying that I would be taking off from LAX with a maximum weight load. So I taxied the aircraft onto the runway, only to have Bob abruptly stop the flight and inform me that I was turning way too soon onto the runway and would run the front landing wheel aground. I was told that a 747’s front wheel was many feet behind where I sat, not directly below me as it was on a Cessna 182. Ouch, that hurt! So I made the correction and was given clearance to takeoff. Now let me tell you, the instrument panel and controls on a 747 are a bit more congested than my 182, but I found the throttles and applied full power. The plane began moving and slowly gained speed as my eyes scanned the instruments. And then I waited … and waited … and waited for the plane to reach takeoff speed. I could actually see the end of the runway before I was able to lift off. Learned something else: 747s take a tad bit longer, more speed, and a lot more distance to takeoff than a 182. Okay, okay, I’m getting this.

Once in flight, Bob told me to stall the aircraft so I could experience it. Put simply, stalling entails lifting the aircraft’s nose until flight is no longer possible. In a Cessna 182, a high-pitched whine is emitted and grows in volume if the stall isn’t corrected. When I heard the simulator whine I nodded to myself, knowing exactly what to do. But Bob said to hold it a little longer, so I did, watching the airspeed drop precariously low. Then suddenly the yoke started vibrating rapidly, almost shaking me from the seat. “Hold on,” Bob instructed. So I tighten my grip and held on for dear life. Then a few seconds later, a voice blared out at me, filling the cockpit with an alarming scream, “Lower the nose! Lower the nose!” Bob then told me to perform a stall recovery, which I did. He then informed me that in certain instances, pilots have not responded to any of the three warnings, holding the yoke fully back and never letting go. The outcome is not good.

Anyway, I eventually landed the aircraft in Hong Kong and got a pat on the back for my flying skills. As we were leaving the simulator, I asked Bob how much the session would have cost had I been a pilot with another airline. This was a while back, in the 1980s, and he said, “About $5,000, and you’ll be getting an invoice in about a week.” Then he laughed and walked off.

Now I’ll be honest, I love to see people’s mouths drop when I tell them that I once flew a Boeing 747. Problem is, I’m still fearful of that invoice showing up someday.

Reminiscing …

HellcatI ride bicycles, and when I do, I tend to think about all sorts of things. Well this week, I was riding and realized that in November 1978, I took my father up in a private airplane. I had a pilot’s license and was flying the aircraft. He, on the other hand, had been a Navy fighter pilot in WWII, and hadn’t been in a small plane since just after the war.

As I continued riding, I thought about the stories he’d told me about being selected for the Navy’s elite carrier-based night-fighter pilot program. The stories were amazing, especially considering the airplane he flew — a Grumman F6F Hellcat — and the lack of instruments it had in the cockpit as compared to the Piper Warrior we were flying that November day. There was no VOR navigation radio system available back when he was a pilot, which astounded him with its ability to locate our position instantaneously as we flew along. He used charts and a sextant, while flying at about 400 mph — at night, when it’s real dark outside, and only about two hundred feet above the water to stay below radar. Talk about nerve. I think back when I used VOR and now I shudder, realizing that today’s airplanes have the luxury of GPS, all in living color and with all sorts of alarms attached. So nowadays there’s no need for nerves at all.

The one story he relayed that completely befuddled me was how a night-fighter pilot back then stayed on course. There was nothing to look at, no sight reference at all, only water, and lots of it. The aircraft carrier, or sometimes a land-based location, would send out a single sound wave. If the pilot was on course, the sound he heard through his earphones was a constant beep-beep-beep. If he veered off course to the left, the sound would change to a bee-beep, bee-beep, bee-beep; to the right, it would be a beep-bee, beep-bee, beep bee. Depending on how far left or right the pilot was off course, the sequence between each beep-bee or bee-beep would get faster and more intense. My father told me that the hardest thing to do was stay awake, since it was dark outside and the only thing you’d hear was the constant beeping sound, which was like an audio sleeping pill.

I was elated at his trust to go up and fly with me that day, considering the number of hours he’d flown during his career as compared to the hours I’d accumulated in my log book. As it turned out, that flight was the last time either of us was in a small aircraft. When we landed, I taxied the aircraft to the hanger and got out, never again to get back inside and fly. What a way to end my flying career, though, with my father at my side as co-pilot; a WWII night-fighter pilot at that.

Thanks for flying with me, Dad, and also all the stories you told me over the years, which I will always remember with fondness.

The AARP Ideas@50+ Book Signing Was A Blast!

IMG_5230The AARP book signing I just completed in San Diego was as much fun and enjoyable as the one I did in Boston in May. The people who attend these events, at least those who come up and talked to me, are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Many of them ask questions such as: when did I start writing, how long does it take to write a book, how many books have I written? Some ask the questions out of curiosity, others because they’re interested in possibly writing a book. I tell anyone who voices such an interest to just do it. It could be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve ever done, but you’ll never know unless you try.

The one thing I’ve learned during the book signing process is how to take time to answer everyone’s questions. The first time I had a book signing, I was intimidated by the number of people waiting in line. I frantically signed my name as quickly as possible, not allocating much time to talk to anyone. Now I take the time, and will talk as long as anyone who has questions or appears to be interested in my book wants to, and I really enjoy that.

In San Diego, a gentleman approached me prior to my starting time and we began talking and he asked all sorts of question. At one point, I looked up and several people where standing around listening in on our conversation. Many of them stepped forward afterwards and said how interesting it was listening to what I had to say. A few people mentioned that I answered the very question they were planning on asking me.IMG_5295

And once again, the majority of people who stood in line to get a copy of my signed book were women. I have certainly learned how much they like and enjoy reading suspense novels, even like the one I developed in Unrelenting Nightmare. I’ll be honest; the antagonist in my story is not a nice man and is very ruthless. This is noted explicitly in a synopsis that is included on the flyer that is handed out to participants at the event to draw them to my table. Many of the women who got a copy of the book said they read the synopsis and immediately came over because the story sounded interesting and was exactly what they like to read. When I first had to describe my intended audience, I never imagined women would like this kind of book. But I’ve certainly learned that I was completely wrong and I apologize for my misjudgment.

My next book signing is in Toronto, Canada. I’m interested in seeing what Canadians think of my plot. Wish me luck!

Look Who’s Getting All The Attention!

Unrelenting_Nightmare_CoverYou know, many people have told me how much they liked reading Unrelenting Nightmare, the novel I released at the beginning of the year. And since the time my publicity campaign started in March, I’ve done three interviews, have written two articles, and have another two requests for interviews, plus another one that I am not able to attend on the East coast. But before you congratulate me, I must confess that the majority of these opportunities came about because of my dog, Tawny, and also since I raise and train assistance dogs.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Tawny, who has even been at book signings with me. I also thoroughly enjoy volunteering to raise and train puppies to help those in need of assistance dogs. But come on, where’s the appreciation for my fine writing skills? Now two of the interviews did pertain to my book and me being an author, but all the others, plus the two articles I wrote, were related to my raising and training … Hey, wait a minute! Does that mean my publicist is having a difficult time promoting my fine written works and suspenseful plots? Or could it be … well, I mean, is it possible that my book is not as good as I … No, no, that couldn’t be true, could it?

All kidding aside, every interview I’ve done has been a pleasure. I love taking about dogs and especially to people who love dogs as much as I do. As I often say, “Dogs are the best people in the world.” Tawny is at my side right now, looking at me through her dark brown eyes, with a soft, chewy doggy soccer ball in her mouth, begging me to throw it, so she can go get it, so I can throw it again. I tell you, it’s the most fun game in the world, at least from her perspective. For me, well, I seem to get a little tired of throwing a soccer ball after about ten minutes. And when I’m writing, as I am right now, my attention is not drawn to such antics. But her dark brown eyes are still looking at me, begging me to quit this silly game of typing — which I always seem to be doing — and instead play “fetch the ball”.

Okay, I just told her I’ll throw the ball as soon as I get done with this blog, so I had better hurry up, or my life may be in peril. Anyway, I have enjoyed the entire process of marketing and promoting my book, and have indeed received both written and verbal positive comments about my book. As a writer, I know we all love to hear people tell us how much they enjoyed reading our work. It’s that kind of feedback that brings us back to the computer, and pushes us to create that next great novel brewing in the depths of our minds.

It’s an unbelievable experience to write a book, assuming you have the passion to do so. It can also be a physical reward — to hold a bound covered book in your hands that only a short while ago was nothing more than an idea in your head, or maybe your heart if you write romance novels. The pleasure of writing has been a great adventure for me, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. If you have not read my novel Unrelenting Nightmare, then please do. I feel confident you’ll enjoy it, assuming you like suspense novels. Interesting, though, the other day I received an e-mail from a woman who admitted that she didn’t care for suspense novels, especially ones involving assassins, but really enjoyed my book. So if you’d like a  suspense novel, where the antagonist is one extreme ruthless assassin, look no further than the Available Novels page of my website where you can order a copy of my book.

Oops, the dark eyes are still locked onto me, so I better go.

Thanks for visiting.

Another Great Book Fair!

Unrelenting Nightmare 5The AARP Life@50+ Book Fair in Boston was an absolute joy — nice weather, nice people, and great food. I also drove down to Newport, Rhode Island and saw some incredible mansions, where the wealthy lived during the Gilded Age, including the Vanderbilt’s. The interesting thing was these mansions were referred to as “summer cottages”. I guarantee that we would all like to live the summer months in these thirty to forty thousand square foot “cottages”.

Once again, as with the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, over eighty percent of readers who lined up for copies of my book were women. In Los Angeles, they were younger, mostly college students and up into the 30+ age group. In Boston, however, they were older, which makes sense since it was an AARP event. And like the LA group, they all said they loved reading suspense/thriller novels. I need to change my opinion on the demographics of my reading audience — I thought it would be mainly men interested in this type of novel. It’s obvious that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

There were two other authors at the signing area with me, and we all signed seventy-five copies of our books in less than forty minutes. I was the last author signing, probably because I spent too much time talking. The main question that was asked of me was how long it took to write the book. I told them there’s a lot of work that actually goes into writing a story. The first thing I create is a storyline, where I lay out the flow of the story from start to finish; this takes about a month or two. Then I write the actual manuscript, which takes about six months. It’s the editing process, though, that takes the longest. For Unrelenting Nightmare, it took me over five months to refine the story until I was happy with it. But I have to admit, when I submitted the manuscript for review, the editor recommended additional changes for me to consider, which took an additional two months to implement. So the total length of time it took me to write the book was about fifteen months, spread over a two-year period. The extended spread time is because I started writing another manuscript. I did this because I wanted to have a fresh look at Unrelenting Nightmare before I started editing it. Each author has a method they use to write a book, but this is the process that works for me.

Anyway, the Boston event was fun, and I plan on attending another AARP book fair in San Diego later this year. I will post information on the event in my Upcoming Events section when I get details of the time and date.

Right Brain vs. Left Brain Influence

A number of business acquaintances I’ve know over the years have asked me what influenced me to write. Not many people know that I was an artist when I was very young—right brain influence. In high school, I took advanced art classes and selected architecture as a major when I entered college. Along the way, however, I changed my major and graduated with a BA degree in Theater Arts. It didn’t take me long to discover that Author Stan Yocumwhat they say about wanting to be an actor—not many make it no matter how good they are—was true. Darn it, I could have been a star!

I went back to college and decided to get a degree in accounting—major switch to a left brain influence. The reason for my choice was that my father was a CPA, and when I was young I enjoyed helping him reconcile bank accounts by sequencing the checks. After graduating, I selected Price Waterhouse (PW) to start my business career. I became a CPA but didn’t really enjoy being an auditor, so I made a choice to go into the consulting side of PW. After seven years, I left and formed a consulting firm with another PW employee. Our business specialized in information systems when the concept of data warehousing was in its infancy.

Years passed, and one day in 1991, I decided to write a children’s book—minor switch back to the right. I enjoyed every moment of writing it, more than I could have imagined. However, I continued with consulting until late in 2001, when I decided I had had enough of consulting. I started writing my first novel. That was when I made a complete return to my right brain influence.

I thoroughly enjoyed consulting and learned a great deal about running businesses and what goes on behind closed doors of boardrooms. I must admit, however, when I use boardroom scenes in my novels, I usually apply a great deal of artistic license to enhance the plot.

I have never looked back because I enjoy writing more than I can describe. I guess it takes someone who is possessed with the same passion that I have to create a story to truly understand the insatiable need to write.

A Warm Heart and a Wet Nose!

IMG_8541I just completed my training at Torrance Memorial Medical Center (TMMC) for the volunteer dog program. Tawny (that’s her on the left) and I will now visit patients, and family members who are visiting, trying to ease the situation of being at the hospital. I’ve wanted to volunteer at TMMC with Tawny since she was released from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), an organization that trains assistance dogs for disabled individuals in wheelchairs. Tawny was three weeks shy of completing her six-month professional training, when she suddenly decided she wanted to return to her original pack—our family— and made her wishes known to the trainer. The trainers at CCI do an incredible job of reading the dogs, and when one shows any signs of not wanting to continue, they will release the dog from the program.  Since I was Tawny’s volunteer trainer, which started when she was seven weeks old and continued for eighteen months, I had first rights if she was not assigned to a recipient. When I received the call, telling me that Tawny appeared to be homesick and that I could come and get her if I wanted to, I never drove so fast to CCI in my life.

I honestly believe she will do great at the hospital. I had her certified as a therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International, and she has an absolutely wonderful personality. People love to pet her and often mention how beautiful she is. Of course, I always agree. She truly enjoys being around people, which will fit in perfectly at the hospital. She will wear a blue bandana around her neck, and also wear a name badge, just like I do. I honestly believe we will do TMMC proud, while warming the hearts of patients who need the loving touch of a dog.

If you happened to read my posting last week, which is just below, she is lying at the foot of the table as I signed books at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. She certainly helped in drawing the crowd. So stay tuned; I’ll be giving future updates on Tawny, and her adventures at TMMC.

My view from the book-signing table at the LA Times Festival of Books

Author Stan Yocum at book signingWell I certainly had an exciting day last Saturday. I had the privilege of signing copies of my book, Unrelenting Nightmare, at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the University of Southern California campus. The amount of people attending the event was astounding; I saw thousands of them wondering around the campus during the time that I was there. I understand that over 120,000 people attend the event each year.

The interesting part was the booth that I was assigned to sat directly in front of Bridge Hall, the building I spent the majority of my time inside when I attended USC. If you’ve read the About Me section on my website, it mentions how I ended up going to USC.

Anyway, the opportunity to sign books was tremendously fulfilling. I couldn’t believe the line that formed as soon as my appointed time began. Seventy-five books were laid out neatly on the signing table. Before I began, I ask an attendant how I could get the unsigned copies back to my car, which was on the other side of campus. She said they would help me once my one-hour signing period was finished. As it turned out, I signed all seventy-five copies in less than forty minutes. I couldn’t believe the number of people who said they loved suspense novels, and after reading the synopsis of my book on a flyer that was being handed out, they jumped in line. What really surprised me, but probably shouldn’t—understanding the percentage of women that read books compared to the number of men—was how many young ladies (college students) that seemed so excited to read my book. I even had two young ladies ask to have pictures taken with me.

If anyone reading this bog happened to get a signed copy of my book at USC, thank you for stopping by. And if you enjoy the book, please go to Amazon online and write a review for me. It can be a short one—A good read, or something like that, would help enormously. And also, if you enjoyed Unrelenting Nightmare, please tell your friends about it. Thank you.

The perfect setting for writing: No land in sight

Clouds_over_the_Atlantic_OceanI recently returned from an enjoyable “short” vacation with Melayne, on a cruise down to Mexico aboard one of the Princess Cruise ships.  It was very relaxing being able to sit at my computer writing, and then able to look out the window at the beautiful ocean pass by.  Melayne took the opportunity while I was writing to work out in the fitness center (which is probably where I should have been).

We cruised south to Ensenada, which is less than 175 miles from port in Los Angeles harbor, but it took the evening of Monday and all day Tuesday to get there because of the circuitous route the ship took.  An entire day was at sea, with no land in sight, only the ocean to enjoy, which Melayne and I think is wonderful.  We arrived in Ensenada on Wednesday morning, and spent an entire day checking out what Ensenada had to offer.  We departed late in the afternoon, and returned to Los Angeles the next morning.  The ship never traveled more than eight knots per hour during the entire trip.  We have taken other cruises where the ship moves along at twenty plus knots per hour.

Even though it was a short trip, it was very nice, since Melayne really needed to take a break from work. And I only gained four pounds eating all the food that is available on board.  I was very happy with that outcome, and it only took me six days after getting back to loose the gained weight, plus an additional two pounds.  How about that?  Now if I could only figure out how to be that successful in my writing!