50 Pounds of Burl


So here’s an answer for a Jeopardy question you might want to blurt out ahead of your spouse while you’re watching on TV.

Alex Trebek: “a rounded knotty growth on a tree, giving an attractive figure when polished and used especially for handcrafted objects and veneers”

Your Answer “What is a burl?”
Lucky you knew that answer because you chose a true “Daily Double.”

Because of my interview a few weeks ago with Kenny Koo in San Francisco on our great “2018 Pool Hall Road Trip,” I had a vague idea that designing a pool cue is an art.  However, I still had no idea of how the process actually began or that it could involve a burl.  Since there is absolutely no sense in reinventing the wheel and trying to add to information when it’s already been so well done, let’s just take a look at the video below that shows pool player/pool cue creator, Kent Davis and his process. If you watch until the end of the video, not only will you get an idea of why custom-made pool cues can be expensive, you’ll get an inkling into the character of a true artist and how he views his art.

I’ll admit that I did not personally interview Kent for this blog post. I sent Mike with a notebook and some questions to Danny K’s because, to be honest, I assumed that once we arrived back in Orange County, CA, my pool interviews were over since our great American “2018 Pool Hall Road Trip” had ended. (I was anxious to get back to work on the rewrites of my novel.)

Mike had met Kent back on the 8th of July in Fremont, CA where the 2018 West Coast Swing Tournament was going on at California Billiards. Kent happened to be talking to Eddie Cohen who plays down at Danny K’s where Mike shoots, and of course Mike wanted to say “hi” to Eddie being he was in Fremont and all. (It’s a relatively small world that pool players occupy, it seems.)

Mike had to wait quite a long time for his interview because Kent happened to keep winning in the tournament at Danny K’s.  His custom-made sticks probably have some kind of magic.  Finally, the tournament ended and Kent took 2nd Place!  You’d think a guy would be too tired to answer any questions after hours of shooting pool, but he had promised Mike he would and that’s just the kind of guy it seems Kent is.

Mike asked the whole list of questions I had written and we could make this article go on for pages.  However, the excellent videos do show and tell almost everything you’d want to know. There is only one answer to one question you won’t hear on the video.  It’s one of the questions I put on the list for Mike to ask Kent and it was highly revealing of Kent and of the professionalism of this artist/craftsman. “Who are your competitors?” Mike asked Kent.

Well, if you listened between the lines of Kent on the first video, you won’t be surprised at his one-word answer to Mike was:  “Fraternity.”  The question was almost non-answerable to Kent it seemed.  He explained to Mike that there is no competition among custom pool cue makers.  Each has his own style and is appreciated for his artistic expression.  As a person who, myself, is a member of OC Writers, a group of people who express themselves, not on a lathe or a kiln or a loom, I can understand exactly what Kent is saying.  Kent also said something very profound at the end of the first video that we can all say to almost everyone in our lives. He wanted to thank all those who contributed in small ways and in large to helping him hone his craft. “Everything I do belongs to you.”  It reminds me of a quote I heard once about life.  “Everything you experience informs the craft.”   I’m glad Mike insisted “we” interview Kent!

“The Cue Ball” Holds History

You know the experience. You walk through a door and you think, “Am I in the right place?” That’s how I felt when Mike and I strolled into “The Cue Ball” in Salem, Oregon one afternoon on our “Great 2018 Pool Hall Road Tour.”.It looked like a pool hall as we stood in the doorway;  there were players at the tables.  But about a third of the way alongside the left wall was large opening and through the opening we could see from a sideways glance that some kind of furniture piled on top of each other. At first I thought I was in a pool hall slash furniture warehouse, but when we walked through the opening we could see that the large pieces of “furniture” were pool tables. You just don’t get to see that many legs in the air at one time unless you’re in the front row of the Rockettes in Radio City Music Hall, and I still couldn’t figure out why these tables were there. Mike must have realized right away because he left me standing there dumbfounded while he was already walking into the next room where other pool tables were doing what they’re supposed to do, standing up right with no other table on top of them.

A Room That Displays Things Is A ….

It wasn’t long before the owner, Jimmy came in. I think he was wondering what I was up to. Even I was wondering what we were up to!  I guess I was trying to figure out what exactly this place,”The Cue Ball,” was.  Was it a museum, a furniture warehouse, an assisted living program for old pool tables?  No. On closer look, the tables stacked in front of my eyes (there must have been 8 to 12 in that room) were all brand new, all different woods, different makes and different models.

This was a showroom!  I was standing in the middle of a pool table showroom! “People come in and pick out a model of table for their home,” Jimmy explained slowly so it would somehow sink through my head. “They can order their choice of pockets and special cloth.  They can order a 7, 8, or 9 ft table dependent on their room size.”

When you think about it, stacking up the tables on top of each other is the best solution for a pool table showroom. You can fit more models into your space and still get a pretty good idea of what the table beneath it looks like, so I was getting the picture.


Statues, Murals, and Memories

Jimmy probably figured out from the moment we walked in that we hadn’t come to buy a pool table, but I now felt compelled to explain exactly what we were doing at his pool hall/showroom.  I had no idea what Mike was doing. He’s pretty much a Lone Ranger when it comes to pool halls.  So Jimmy, being a kind and easy-going guy who has a lot of history burning a hole in his pocket, was quite willing to answer my questions as he showed me around.

I would have needed to have remembered my Shorthand class in high school much better to write down everything Jimmy explained to me about this unassuming space and the history of the objects in it.  Jimmy has been in the business for fifty-five years, so he has met with some of the great pool players of our time and has some artifacts from historic places around Oregon.  One or two of the murals on the back wall of “Cue Ball” is from an auction of articles from a famous hotel on the Columbia River in Portland. (Perhaps Jimmy said “The Red Line: or “The Red Lion,” I’m not sure.)  The life-size stature of the pool players are from a billiard club that went out of business.  I don’t think those guys are ever leaving “The Cue Ball.”  If you stop into “The Cue Ball” in Salem, be sure to check out the wall on the right.  There’ll you’ll find an old poster of “Cowboy” Jimmy Moore who put on a demonstration at “The Cue Ball” back in the day.  Any one who has been around pool players has heard the name Mosconi and apparently Jimmy Moore had beaten Mosconi at one point, and, Minnesota Fats.

But The Best…

But while you’re looking at the right wall, you’ll see a space saved for the memory of a special friend of Jimmy’s, Don Malarkey. There’s a painting signed by Don Malarkey who was a member of “the band of brothers,” one of the groups of paratroopers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 1944.  If I had had my wits about me, I would have told Jimmy about my former father-in-law, who had told me stories about that day – being pulled down into the sea because of the equipment they landed with – not finding their unit for days afterward.  However, American historian Stephen E Ambrose, compiled the story of that campaign from extensive interviews with veterans of the “Easy Company.” the Airborne’s 506th Regiment.J, and Don Malarkey was one of them. Spielberg’s movie with Tom Hanks was made following that book and the HBO series, Band of Brothers, is from that era.  Jimmy was proud of the large impressive slate carving of a pool hall on the wall which he told me, was a gift from his long-time friend, Don.

Time had slipped away from us that afternoon at “The Cue Ball,” but before we had to leave, it occurred to me that there must be a reason that Jimmy Lebold has kept this pool hall/pool table/pool equipment shop running all these 55 years.  I could guess what that reason might be, but I thought I’d ask to find out.  His answer was not what I expected.  I thought he might have said because he loves the game of billiards or that it’s been a nice living.  But he didn’t.  He didn’t have to stop long to answer either.  “The reason I keep doing this?” he reiterated.  And then he said, as if it was obvious, “That’s easy. It’s brought me hundreds of friends!”

Marko in Portland

As if our 2018 Pool Hall Road Trip didn’t confirm my suspicions about pool hall players, we met Marko. 

League play was going on at Sam’s Family Billiard’s when we walked in, and a young man was just ready to give up his table to the league players when Mike walked over.  “Wanna shoot?” Mike asked. The young man was hesitant, obviously considerate of the league needs.  The league director, though said “Sure go ahead. Use the table. You have time.”

Game on. “Hi, I’m Marko,” and he shook Mike’s hand. Meanwhile I just sat at a table close by drinking a vodka tonic reading a book on my cell phone. I was close enough to hear Mike and Marko talking a bit while they were playing.  I detected a very slight accent and thought maybe Marko was from Canada! At the end of the game I heard Mike say,  “I hear a little accent.  Are you from Croatia?”

Now I know Mike has a good ear, but I’m thinking to myself, “How in the world did Mike pick Croatia? Marko might have wondered too because at that very moment, he told Mike, “No one has ever guessed my accent correctly before.  You’re the first.” For some reason I felt proud of Mike.  It seemed like he was a some kind of bon vivant who traveled the world somehow without my knowing.

As Mike and Marko finished putting their cues back in the cases, Mike brought Marko over to the table to introduce him to me. Mike explained a little about our road trip visiting pool halls on the West Coast and Marko seemed interested. I hadn’t intended to interview anyone at Sam’s and didn’t even bring my notebook.  But sometimes you meet people that just radiate openness, even kindness, so I asked Marko if we could chat for a few minutes.  Mike went to the bar to order a beer.

I started our chat with my usual question about work. Given my interview with Christina at Fast Eddie’s in Santa Cruz and Brian at Hard Times in Sacramento, I was not at all surprised when Marko told me that he was a Storage and Data Protection Administrator in Computing Infrastructure Services at Portland State University.  (I swear if I ever go back to grad school, I’m going to do research on the correlation of billiard players to computer technology and other sciences.  Strong and Campbell were right on way back in the 70’s devising a test*** that would guide you into a career based on your outside interests, but I digress.)

When Mike came back with his beer, I told him what Marko did for a living. That’s when my eyes started to glaze over as the two of them began speaking in another language – not Croatian of course – but “Computer-ese.” When they finally got back to words I could understand, I found out that Marko is doing graduate work at Portland State. (That’s one of the reasons he doesn’t actually belong to a league at “Sam’s Family Billiards’ – studying takes precedence over shooting pool.)

I asked Marko how he got interested in shooting pool. It seems there are not a lot of pool or billiard halls in Croatia, but he told me he was always fascinated watching the game on TV.  “That’s how I learned,” he said.  “From watching it on TV!”  Now I was the one who was fascinated!

Of course when you’re a seventy-something interviewing a thirty-something the “mom gene” kicks in and you feel you have permission to ask questions that normally you wouldn’t just blurt out.  So of course, as you might guess, I just went ahead sans boundaries, “Do you have a girlfriend?” Marko’s face lit up.  When he told me that his girlfriend’s major was in the area of Linguistics I was intrigued. We started to talk about the phenomenon of right brain people being attracted to left brain people and vice versa.  Because Marko is such an affable young man I could share with him some of the idiosyncrasies of Mike and my relationship.  I think I might have thrown in a commercial for my app, “The Perfect Husband App”, but since I wasn’t taking notes, I’m not sure.

The most exciting outcome of my interview with Marko is that he plans to take a trip down to Orange County, California when his parents come to visit.  I told him about my article with a one-day itinerary, “What to See in the OC,” and being the open-minded agreeable guy he seems to be, I’m pretty sure he’ll check it out.  Most of all I hope he sends us a text message if he happens to go to Balboa Island.  We’d love to have lunch with him and his parents.  And as always, the best part of interviewing people on road trips; you might meet them again along your path!

*** More about the Strong Interest Inventory

A Sister on the Fly

Mike’s Sister/Aunt Sue, is one of those generous-hearted people who finds fascinating pictures and video to post on Facebook.  (The reason I call her sister/aunt is because Sue is my husband Mike’s aunt, but she’s his same age.  I simply can’t bring myself to refer to her as Mike’s Aunt! However, if I use my term she’d technically be my sister/aunt-in-law, and that has just way too many keyboard symbols in it.  Let’s just call her Sue.)

Sue is like a Facebook Ellen DeGeneres. Everyday she features some wonderful gift for the audience to take home. It might be a picture or a video or a story that makes you laugh, or cry, or just plain informs you. It’s a calling of sorts, I think. So on July 22 Sue posted a perky video like the one above of women who belong to “Sisters on the Fly.” Apparently this group of women campers has been around for a while, (1999 according to their website) but this was the first I had ever heard of them!

The very next day after seeing Sue’s video – really, I’m not kidding – the very next day, Mike and I met Valerie. We had stopped for gas at a Shell station in Corning, CA.  We might never have thought a thing about the little camper at the other pump; it’s is pretty a common sight on a road trip.  But then we noticed the pink hubcaps and the bike on the back, just one – a girl’s bike. I turned to Mike, “Do you think she’s ….”
He finished my sentence,  “…a member of that group?”
And then we both said simultaneously, “What’s its name again?”

So Mike, never being shy talking to women, went over to ask this stranger if she belonged to that group “something or other.” Sure enough, she did!  He was actually talking to Sister 4957 of “Sisters on the Fly”.  Her name is Valerie, she told us. Mike asked if he look through the windows into her sweet vintage camper while I asked if she had time for some quick questions. (The “on the fly” part was flashing in my mind, and I sensed this cheerful woman with “Happy Camper” on her T-shirt was anxious to get back on the road to meet up with her sisters.) But she saw the “BloggingOnWheels” sign on our car and was happy to chat a bit.

“I can’t believer it.  I never heard of your group and just yesterday saw a video on Facebook! I think this is so cool, but I’m not much of a joiner,” I said. It’s then, that Valerie started explaining more about the group and why she loved it.

“You can participate as little or as much as you like. It doesn’t matter if you’re more of a loner or a joiner. There’s room for everyone.”

She went on to reiterate the points made in the video on Facebook. Aside from their love of the outdoors, the interests of these women are as varied as the interiors of the campers they decorate.  I then thought I heard Valerie say something about having meals catered in on their trips so no one has to cook (?) Mike confirmed that fact when we got home. I thought, joiner or no, these are my people! Valerie mentioned the variety of classes that are held during their various outings and later when I went to the website I found information about becoming a vendor and some amazing service work they do when other sisters are in need.

People were lining up at the pump behind us, so we waved good-bye and let Sister 4957 get back on the road. Mike then told me about the inside of Valerie’s camper. “No bathroom, but it’s got a stove with an oven, refrigerator, and sink.” The sink seemed very important to Mike and his sales pitch made me wonder if he was looking forward to the day when I would take off for the week with the good sisters. He probably had visions of taking a blanket over to Danny K’s pool hall in Anaheim, sneak under a table when they locked up, and be there in the morning to shoot pool the next day.

As for me, I’m starting, just starting, to wonder just how could get my hands on a cute vintage camper and what kind of theme I’d chose for decorating the inside. The founders of Sisters on the Fly, Becky and Maurrie had a an adventurous role model in their mother who taught the two how to enjoy the outdoors and become capable, independent women.  My mom had other gifts, more indoors-y kind of gifts..But all this make me think.  Maybe I could become that kind of adventurous mother for my daughter, Bethany.  You know the old saying, “You only regret the vintage camper you didn’t buy.”

If it hadn’t been for Sue’s video, I probably wouldn’t have found out about about this fascinating group.  I probably wouldn’t be figuring out the possibility of taking off by myself for a week or two and meet up with the sisters. So thank you to Sue for another of your Facebook gifts. I feel like I’ve been to the Ellen show and just won something really nice!

Physics Guru in a Pool Hall

Often during my husband’s great “Summer 2018 Pool Hall Tour,” I wait back in the motel, telling myself that I’m going to get lots of work done on my novel which somehow never seems to happen. Rarely does Mike come back and say, “You just have to come with me to meet this guy.”  But that’s just what he did when he returned from a tournament he was playing in at “Hard Times Billiards” in Sacramento on July 15.

Maybe it was because I had been talking Mike’s ear off for a few days about a documentary I found while flipping through the dozens of channels on the motel TV.  It was the one where Stephen Hawking was explaining the theory of multiple universes where versions of ourselves might be existing simultaneously (or something along those lines of incomprehensible ideas.)

“Come on, you gotta meet this guy,” Mike persisted. “He’s the tournament director at “Hard Times” today, and when I went over to check in, I noticed the screen on his computer.  You wouldn’t believe it, stuff about physics and philosophy, formulas on quantum physics. He’s amazing.”

So because the dendrites in my brain were still engaged in trying to comprehend a tiny spark of what Stephen “Unfathomable” Hawking had expounded upon in his documentary, I thought, “I do have to meet this guy.”

So I walked into “Hard Times” with Mike, pushing him past the crane machines he’s addicted to, and went into the tournament room to meet Brian La Flamme, the tournament director and pool player himself.  Sure enough, there on Brian’s computer screen was an article by James Beichler.  It might have been “The Thermodynamics of Evolutionary (Open) Systems” or a pdf entitled “Intuitive Consciousness and the Logic of Single Field Physics…”; I don’t know.  I just know there we stood, Mike, Brian, and I talking about magnetic theory and brain waves while the players played on in the tournament room. (It’s not as if we could go over and cheer them on shouting “8 ball in the side, 8 ball in the side!”).  The quieter, the better seems to be a pool hall maxim.

So after a few minutes of discussing whether physics, philosophy, and the paranormal can intersect somewhere to make the meaning of life clearer, I took a picture of Brian, the unassuming Tournament Director/Physics fan, and decided I should write a letter to Chuck Lorre and his team of writers on “The Big Bang Theory.” In that letter, I’d suggest a pool hall themed episode. “The stereotype of a pool player,” I’d write, “should be changed to one that matches the stereotype of a chess player or other left-brained thinkers.” Since most of the players I’ve been meeting on this road trip either work in or have an interest in the field of Math and Science, the probability of Leonard demolishing Penny’s boyfriend Zach in a game of 8 Ball like some Minnesota Fats would not be far-fetched.  Of course that scene would have to be set in a dive bar where the dialog would involve talking smack (better known in the pool hall as “sharking”). There’s not much room for dialog in a Pool Hall tournament, unless you’re talking physics on the side to a guy like Brain LaFlamme.

Lois Lane Interviews the Comic Pharaoh

I feel like Lois Lane writing articles for the “Daily Planet”. Doing the “human interest” angle of “Mike’s 2018 West Coast Pool Hall Tour” has me walking with him into pool halls and standing at the counter as he requests a table, all the while looking around for anything, any piece of anything, that might give me an angle for my story. So I’m there at the counter at the “Broken Rack” near Berkeley and pick up a postcard advertising Sunday comedy at “The Monkey House.” On a “reporter’s” hunch, I lean in with my elbow on the counter to look casual, and say to the handsome guy handing Mike a rack of balls at “The Broken Rack,” “So, are you a comic?”
He looks at me a bit shocked, apparently wondering how I would leap to that assumption and says, “Yeah, I am.” He doesn’t know that my daughter is an actor who does stand-up comedy in Burbank and LA, but he will before we leave.

Mike finds a guy to shoot with – a tall young, really intellectual entrepreneur who’s going to open a Glam-Camp in wine country somewhere, and I go to the bar to order us a BLT, minus the “B” since our road trip is not helping our diet.  It’s only noon-ish and there aren’t a whole lot of people in “The Broken Rack,” so I don’t feel bad about engaging the bartender/comic in conversation.  I ask his stage name and he tells me it’s “Pharaoh”. It’s now that I tell him about my daughter, Bethany Therese.  He doesn’t know her, but we go through a list of comics I know Bethany knows, and he does know some of them.  I ask him where he performs, and he casually tells me he’s opened for Cedric and DL Hughley and I stop listening out of embarrassment for not knowing what to ask after that

So I try to make our humble little road tour seem like something and scan my brain for any fact that might be impressive.  “Yeah, interesting…” I start off, “we were in Santa Cruz and a woman shooter there advised Mike to document which pool halls are “women-friendly”.

Well, Pharaoh certainly related to that! He was sympathetic to the issue. “There was this woman shooting alone in here a few days ago. I noticed some guys ogling her and watched them for a while. Every time she bent over for a shot they were making inappropriate comments.  I went over to them and told them in no uncertain terms to cut it out.  Yeah, we don’t like that here. This place provides a good environment for women.”

After we left the pool hall, I looked at the postcard I had picked up.  If you notice, in the left corner it says “Pharaoh Enterprises”.  On the back is a list of all the comics that Pharaoh books!  So if you’re around Berkeley, check out “The Broken Rack” and “The Monkey House” on Sunday nights.  If you happen to meet Pharaoh, tell him you read about him in the article Billie wrote from her husband’s 2018 pool hall tour.  Then I’ll really feel like Lois Lane.


Custom Pool Cues by Kenny Koo

Kenny Koo with Mike Olmon at Family Billiards in San Francisco, a stop along the way on Mike’s “Great West Coast Pool Hall Tour.”

Click Here to Return to Mike’s Pool Hall Reviews 

I can’t remember how I found out that Kenny Koo is Burmese.  I think he told me when I asked him to repeat “Koo” so that I’d spell it correctly when I wrote about him, and I knew I wanted to write about Kenny.  It was his openness when Mike introduced him to me – and his smile!  Mike and I are a bit of an oddity walking into a pool hall on a sunny afternoon, Mike with his leather cue case swung over his shoulder like Robin Hood toting his quiver with me following behind him carrying a notebook and pen.  It takes most people a little time to warm up to us, but not Kenny.  As Mike led me over to take a look at one of the many custom pool cues Kenny designs, Kenny was all smiles. He first pointed out the inlay of the pool cue he had with him, just one of the unique designs he uses when customizing a cue. It was truly a work of art.  He rolled the stick on the table so I could see how even it rolled. A smooth roll means the cue is perfectly straight. Inexpensive sticks are made from cheap wood that holds moisture and easily can become misshapen.  The better pool sticks have zero deflection, and Kenny Koo has a special technique for making a zero deflection shaft!

Craftsmen like Kenny who make custom cues use exotic woods from Asia along with ivory and ebony for inlaid patterns. Cocobolo is a sought-after wood because of its weight and density and beautiful patterns. That particular wood actually comes from Central America and is also used to craft chess pieces as well as martial arts equipment.

As I listened to the ins and outs of creating custom cues, a friend of Kenny’s whose name I neglected to get, was eager to extol the praises of the way Kenny wraps the leather around the base of the stick: “You’ll never see a seam in the leather of any of Kenny’s wraps,” he said.  Back and forth he rolled the stick and impossible as it may seem, there was no seam!

Kenny’s own personal pool case is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It was hand-tooled, Kenny told me, by a craftsmen friend of his in Indonesia.  The cap of the case is embossed with the Koo logo and was impressive.

As mentioned above, I don’t know how I found out that Kenny’s heritage is from Burma (presently Myanmar).  I just never had met someone from that country before. But, as fate would have it, that very night after we left “Family Billards,” Mike continued his tour onward to “Town and Country Pool Hall.” Mike shot pool with a regular there whose name was Andrew.  Eager to assure Andrew that the two of us weren’t crazy with all the picture taking and question asking, I tried to illustrate with an example.  “Just tonight I met a guy named Kenny Koo over at Family Billiards who is fascinating,” I explained. “He customizes pool cues.”  When Andrew tried to make sure he had the last name right, I answered, “Yeah, it’s Burmese.”Andrew’s eyes lit up.

I was born in Burma,” he said.

Now the pool shooting world is less of “a world” and more of a family.  Kenny Koo in San Fran, for example, has met Eddie Cohen another talented custom pool cue designer who shoots at Danny K’s in Anaheim. So when Andrew at “Town and Country…” heard about Kenny Koo at “Family Billiards” from two people on some strange road trip, he was surprised. “There are a lot of people from Burma here, but I never met another Burmese pool shooter!” He seemed pleased to know there was one and smiled, “I’ll have to check him out.”

I’m thinking that now Kenny and Andrew might meet some day, and one of them will say “Yeah, that kooky couple who breezed in from the O.C.a few weeks ago told me all about you!” And that would be very cool, or should I say “very Koo”?

Princess in a Pool Hall

Read Mike’s Reviews of W. Coast Pool Halls

Czarina isn’t her last name, but we’ll get to that later.

She was off toward the back, shooting alone at a table at Fast Eddy’s in Santa Cruz, CA, and I was intrigued.  Watching people is not my style.  Growing up left-handed has made me extra (perhaps overly) sensitive to people watching me doing anything from opening a door to frying an egg. I imagine everyone is as nervous as I am to have people watching on the periphery,  and so I was careful to steal only short glances out of the corner of my eye.  But just from those few glances, it was obvious this petite woman who was totally engrossed in perfecting her shots, knew her way around a pool table!

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and that added to the mystery of this woman who seemed as if she would be equally at ease out on Monterey Bay, adjusting the jib of some sailboat, shouting “Ready, about”. But here she was, not talking to a soul, appearing totally in the zone and focused, shooting one ball after another into a pocket on the billiard table.

After about a half an hour of waiting for Mike to finish a game of One Pocket with a guy named Locker, I noticed that the woman at the other end of the pool hall had finished her solo game and was ready to start another. Great time to ask where the restroom is, I thought.  That was all that was needed to start up a conversation.  She was gracious. She told me her name was Christina. I explained that Mike and I were on a road trip blogging about pool halls on the West Coast, and I was doing the human interest portion of our tour.  And interesting is exactly what Christina is.

She told me she started shooting pool in her teenage years because …“You see, there was this boy.”  She was 16 in Long Island and her love of pool grew from there.  Being that pool is so related to lines and angles of geometry, I myself have always theorized that those who shoot pool have something special going on in the same side of the brain from which Mike operates – the side that works with coding, math, and logical thinking.  And sure enough, I found out that Christina’s career before she retired, was a systems software engineer, high-level programming for operating systems!  They called her the “GUI Goddess,” she said. GUI (pronounced “gooey”) is the acronym for Graphic User Interface.  Have I lost you yet?  I had lost myself at that point, so I quickly called Mike over and ten minutes of discussion took place that I’m sorry to say I can’t translate for you here because I don’t speak Geek.

When Mike left us to shoot back at his old table, I found the reason my intuition told me to interview Christina. She is a woman of “eclectic desires,” she told me. She loves to sail: “I grew up with my feet in the water in Long Island.  We had dolls that we made from planks of wood and ‘taught’ them how to swim across the canal.”  Christina talks about blue water sailing and being part of the crew on a 47-foot yacht that has sailed from Moss Landing to Catalina like it’s as common as breathing.

Christina is also a member of a long-standing book club whose members read everything from Proust to current New York Times bestsellers. She is an avid flower gardener and talks lovingly about her adult daughter. Oh, and the name “Czarina”? That came from a pool league that she started at her workplace 25 years ago and which is still going. “Wow, running a league is a lot of work,” I noted. “Well, my nickname tells you how I ran it,” and a picture of efficiency popped into my brain.

However, over and above all of these accomplishments and interests, Chistina is a very spiritual person who quoted from Proust when I told her we were taking a road trip: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” When I told this Princess in a pool hall that had great insight,  she told me she thought it’s more important that we have oversight. She defined oversight as the ability to be outside of ourselves – to be of service to our community – to create a space of sacred love, to wrap ourselves in this sacred space that’s shaped by “angels or whatever.”

And there you have it – all of that from a woman shooting pool at Fast Eddy’s on a Sunday afternoon.

Interview Tour: 2018 Summer Road Trip

The interview below took place last year on June 6th and is a sneak preview of what’s to come this summer in our interview section of the “Left Hander Writer’s” blog.  This year’s road trip is starting TODAY, July 3, 2018, and it has a focus – an actual focus!  This year I’ll be interviewing people we meet along the way on Mike’s Great West Coast Pool Hall Adventure.  Mike is an avid billiard player and this has been a dream of his for a long time.  At 70 years old, it’s time to make dreams come true.  Mike plans to shoot pool in halls up and down the coast and rate the pool halls on his own website.  Of course, being part of the grouping abstract random thinkers, you can be certain that our interviews will be varied.  Maybe we’ll even find a left-handed, pool shooting writer along our path.  So stay tuned, we’ll be on our way as soon as we stop at Firestone to get some tires for our packed-up car, and we’ll catch you in Ventura next posting.  Watch for us on the 101 in our little silver Prius with the sign “BloggingOnWheels.com,” and wave as you pass by! 

Meanwhile here’s a taste of what’s to come:


I don’t think Mike ever has any expectations when entering a new bar to shoot pool.  He just wants a beer and a chance to knock around some balls.  But usually, after a time, someone will lay down a quarter which I’ve come to understand is a desire to play a game or two with him.  And always I’m impressed by the young people who do.

Nate (left) Sam (pool cue)

Nate and Sam

This night was no exception.  Two young handsome 30 year-olds were waiting for a table and watching Mike. I love it when there are two people who have come together.  That way Mike gets to shoot pool with one– and I get to talk to the other one who is waiting to play the winner. Sometimes the guy who’s waiting just wants to watch without talking, and other times he (or sometimes she) is sweet enough and polite enough to indulge a chatty woman who has to dye her gray hair brown every few weeks. Nate was one of those open-minded, open-hearted kinds of guys. He started our conversation by telling me how he could see that Mike knew what he was doing.  “You just know from the way a player holds the cue and how he moves around the table.” I think Nate knew that would make me proud. As we talked I found out that his partner, Sam, who was playing Mike was going to be married in a few weeks to a school psychologist (my favorite kind of person, having seen … Read more…

Interview with a Multipotentialite

A few weeks ago, I signed up for an online book marketing seminar with Book Baby, the publisher I used for “Lucky, the Left Pawed Puppy.” As in most online courses, students can chat on in the sidebar while the course is going on.  The idea of writers interviewing other writers on each other’s website came up in one of those sidebar discussions.  There were two people that day who liked the idea, Tucker Lieberman, a Renaissance/ Multipotential kind of guy and me!  Since that time, Tucker followed through with this concept and generously gave space on his website for a very nice interview with me.  I am pleased to be able to offer my interview with Tucker here. Tucker lives with his spouse in Bogotá, Colombia and is involved in several projects including his short stories and non-fiction projects.  

picture tucker leibermanTucker as a person with varied interests, you are involved in several projects. Tell us which projects you are working on at the moment and your hopes for them.
Fictional villains! I am preparing a small nonfiction book on this subject. This is something I’ve worked on privately for a couple decades, and I’m finally giving myself the chance to publish it. It aims to give fiction readers and writers a better understanding of why some characters, especially given certain representations of gender and race, have been villainized.

In poetry, I’m considering the image similarity between human bodies wrapped as mummies for burial and caterpillars that wrap themselves in cocoons to become butterflies. My hope is to find out why this image keeps speaking to me.

How does your degree in Philosophy inform and influence your writing?

I pay attention to the precise definitions of words. It’s important to use the same word in a consistent manner and to explicitly define it if it isn’t obvious. If I write about “happiness,” that word can’t be used at the beginning of the essay to refer to having close friends, in the middle of the essay to achieving a career goal, and at the end of the essay to the satisfaction of being an ethical person. Nor can the title imply that the essay will be about eating ice cream! These are different kinds of happiness. If I find myself doing this, I need to make more effort to explain what I mean and even to be willing to split my descriptions into separate essays.

I noticed you have experience in UI, User Interface. What tips do you have for writers in building their online presence and/or webpage?

On a practical level, the elements are simple. You need a website with just a few pages: a big photo and bio, an inventory of what’s for sale, maybe a free excerpt, a calendar of events if you make appearances, and a way to contact you, follow you on social media, and sign up for your mailing list. Your reader needs to know immediately what you have to offer them. Don’t force them to scroll or click too much.  You need to set up Amazon and Goodreads author pages, and, if you have a blog somewhere, you can feed it automatically into these pages. Special promotions help, and the moment when you offer a discount can be a good time to remind people that you’d like an online review of your book.

If you have a complex array of creative material, remember that the way you privately classify your work is not necessarily the way your audience wants to access it.

You’re from the East Coast and now live in Bogotá, Colombia. I think readers would love to hear about your decision to relocate and a little about the process of doing so.

I had an online dating profile and someone who didn’t restrict his search geographically found me. I received a notification that he had looked at my profile. He lived in another country, but we started communicating anyway. When a match is very right and clear, it doesn’t matter. You can pick up and go. It took time to do it gracefully, but it did not require overthinking. I gave up my career and my condo, and now I live with my spouse and we spend our days writing.

How do your diverse interests play into your writing goals?

Career coach Emilie Wapnick, in a TED Talk in recent years, calls people like me “multipotentialites” or “multipods.” We have multiple interests. We are generalists or jack-of-all-trades. These words are sometimes pejoratives. And, yes, a common weakness is that we tend to spread ourselves thin and may draw energy from one big goal to another. Sometimes my engine of fascination works against my ability to set and achieve goals. I may become hyper-focused on an extremely narrow topic that interests no one else and isn’t marketable, or I may develop three different interests before breakfast. I know I am going to do this. Another range of creative distractions will surely befall me tomorrow morning before breakfast, and, anticipating this, I temper my willingness to set large goals for myself today. Fascination with multiple things may seem to slow me down. However, when I finally finish a project, I feel I’ve hit it out of the park because my message draws from deeply integrated understandings.

Right now, for example, I have a small freelance job to help an agency make an audio recording; I set up a giveaway for my new short story Pokerface; and this week I had ideas for a dozen new stories, essays, and poetry collections! Within the past couple of years, I have worked in life coaching and technology design. I’m preparing for a half-marathon and fire walking, I’m planning a visit to the States, and I’m also trying to make myself sit still so I can teach myself acoustic guitar and practice Spanish.

Because of your varied interests, what would you like to be known for the most? Do you see yourself as a writer, a philosopher, a cataloger, or a combination of all of your interests?
The labels don’t worry me. Last year, while working with a life coach, I decided that, for the near-term, I’d like to focus on “identifying the good, amplifying the useful.” This tagline is on my website (tuckerlieberman.com). “Good” and “useful” imply value judgments. I want to find and share valuable information.

What is the most important message you’d like to leave as your legacy?

I’m reminding everyone that “the way in which we talk about issues reveals our character and our agenda” and therefore it’s important to treat each other with humanity.

I’d like to thank Tucker Lieberman for this interview.  It has been a pleasure to meet such a fascinating and kindly soul on this journey of online blog interviewing.  

Interview with Actor/Comic Bethany Therese

This post originally appeared on OCWriters Network, a network of published and aspiring authors.  Writer Billie Kelpin interviews her daughter, Bethany Therese on how to add comedy to characters in our novels and short stories.  Bethany appears around the LA area, most recently at Flappers in Burbank. Watch for her comedy web series coming online soon.

No matter what genre we prefer as writers, humor in a character is a great draw for our readers. When OC Writers’ blog topic one month was “Jolly,” my mind immediately leapt to my daughter, Bethany Therese. Because Bethany is an actor, singer, comedy improv performer, stand-up comic, and screenwriter, I knew she might have some insight into comedic writing. The following is a very short excerpt from that interview.

Thought Process

Billie: I’ve often wondered, Beth, what exactly is your mental process in comedic writing?

Beth: For me, because I come from writing through acting and improvising, my writing process changes depending on what kind of comedic thing I’m writing. For a funny script, I see the characters in my head, and they start talking to each other. When I’m writing jokes for stand-up, I start with an idea or an observation about myself in the world that is either good, bad, frustrating, weird or whatever. I take that idea and try to structure it in a way that will create a laugh. Then, I try out that something that I guessed was funny on an audience, and find out if I’m right.

A Workout for Your Funny Bone

Billie: Comedy, to me, requires flexibility of thinking. Do you have exercises that help improve flexibility?

Beth: I honestly think the best comedic exercise is observing conversations with people. I think that some very funny people walk around looking very serious, but that’s not what’s going on in their head. When I’m teaching an acting class, one of the first questions I ask is, “When you’re in conversation, do you often feel like there’s a ball in the air, and you just hit it, and then people laugh?” People who really do have that funny bone always answer “Yes” to that question.

Imagining a ball going back and forth in a conversation is a great way to gain a comedic sense. You don’t have to try to hit the ball yourself and say the funny thing; that takes courage. But if you practice seeing that moving ball and can say, “That’s where the moment is,” your comedic instincts will be heightened.

How to Make a Dramatic Scene become Comic

Billie: I know you’ve written several romantic comedies (rom-coms) as screenplays. How do you see the relationship between a dramatic scene and a comic scene?

Beth: I look at that question this way. Drama exists on a single horizontal line. To do comedy, you put another line on top of it. Comedy is two things at once. If you’re not drawn to comedy organically, that’s ok. It’s a matter of knowing that drama is one line and to make that scene comedic, you put another line on top of it. For example: Let’s take a college-age girl and college-age guy studying in the library. Let’s just talk about one aspect of that scene, “catching each other’s eye”.

The dramatic version of that scene is this:

She looks up from her book and he feels her looking at him, and he looks up. They lock eyes, and it’s a moment of being connected and knowing that “we like each other.” Then maybe both go back to reading, and then it happens one more time, and the scene continues.

The comedic version of that scene is this:

She looks up. He looks up, but right before their eyes meet, she looks back down. So he looks back down, then she looks up because she felt him looking up, but by that time, he’s looking down. Now they both look up and they both look down, and finally, they lock eyes.

In the first scene, we have a girl and a guy in a library, and they have a connection.

The second is the exact same idea, but then we added on to that. Some other element happens, and that dramatic moment is turned on end, misinterpreted, or so on. You’re never abandoning what that moment is. It’s just flipped on its head.

How to Make a Character Funny

sometimes you have to stand on a bench to get a laugh – Improv on the Disney Magic Ship

Billie: Writers often like to build comedy into a character to make a character more likable. How do we help our characters do or say clever things?

Beth: I think that writers, when forming characters, ironically, often forget that their characters are people! They forget to explore the level of funny their characters possess. It’s the whole “art reflects life” thing.

In this world, when you walk around and interact with people on a daily basis, you notice that there are a lot of stressed people, angry people, overly happy people, laid back people, and also a lot of funny people. There can be people who are funny all the time or people who are funny only sometimes. There are people who never say a funny thing and then one time they say something funny. Why can’t my character be funny all the time or only some of the time? Maybe he tries desperately to be funny, and then one time says something funny. Or he or she always tries to be funny and never is. You can factor all of that into an aspect of who that person is.

In general, I look at my character this way: My character can be in funny situations that are happening to her; the character is not necessarily funny herself, the situation is. Or my character can cause something funny to happen and knows that she’s causing it. My character can just say funny things. Maybe my character might even say something funny that they don’t know is funny, but it’s funny to another character or to the audience. There is a myriad of choices for a writer, no matter what the genre.

Billie: I may not have this humor thing locked down yet, but one thing I can say with certainty: if you interview your adult child about his or her profession, you’ll end up being very impressed, you’ll have a great deal of fun, and best of all, you’ll actually get to talk together on the phone for a whole hour!


Bethany Therese is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her career has included Comedy Improv with “The Chainsaw Boys” in New York, the Disney Magic Cruise Ship, Flappers in Burbank, a two-year US Tour with the Broadway Production of “Mamma Mia,” Stand-up Comedy at the Ice House, Comedy Store, and various comedy clubs up and down the coast of California.

Billie Kelpin is a former teacher of the deaf, and sign language interpreter. She has written various short stories and essays some of which appear in publications including Lost Coast Review, Arizona Literary Magazine.

Hipsters, Yuppies, Millennials, and Baby Boomers? (Oh, My!)

Day 7: June 4, 2017 – Road Trip/Novel Writing Insights

And the Pool Halls Shall Unite Us All

Let me state it here and now. There is no generational divide in a pool hall. Whether you’re a pool player or the partner who is watching the pool player – everything is equal in a billiard parlor. Of course, this statement presumes that the people shooting are of equal skill. And they were last night at Scafiddi’s on Milwaukee’s popular lower east side near the trendy Brady St. After dragging my husband Mike across the country from California just so I could be inspired by actually living in the neighborhood where I grew up, we decided our walkabout last night should include a stop at Scaffidi’s Hideout so Mike could shoot pool. Scaffidi’s is a “new” addition to the lower east side – “new” as of 1971, ten years after my mom and dad and I had moved away from the east side to the south side in ‘61.

Scaffidi’s Hideout

So Mike and I took a warm walk down to Scaffidi’s Hideout on Kane and Humboldt, winding around streets whose names were as familiar to me as my own.  (The 94-degree heat in June in Milwaukee was not as familiar to me; however, but we soldiered on.) 

I don’t think Mike ever has any expectations when entering a new bar to shoot pool.  He just wants a beer and a chance to knock around some balls.  But usually, after a time, someone will lay down a quarter which I’ve come to understand is a desire to play a game or two with him.  And always I’m impressed by the young people who do.

Nate (left) Sam (pool cue)

Nate and Sam

This night was no exception.  Two young handsome 30 year-olds were waiting for a table and watching Mike. I love it when there are two people who have come together.  That way Mike gets to shoot pool with one– and I get to talk to the other one who is waiting to play the winner. Sometimes the guy who’s waiting just wants to watch without talking, and other times he (or sometimes she) is sweet enough and polite enough to indulge a chatty woman who has to dye her gray hair brown every few weeks. Nate was one of those open-minded, open-hearted kinds of guys. He started our conversation telling me how he could see that Mike knew what he was doing.  “You just know from the way a player holds the cue and how he moves around the table.” I think Nate knew that would make me proud. As we talked I found out that his partner, Sam, who was playing Mike was going to be married in a few weeks to a school psychologist (my favorite kind of person, having seen school psychologists in action over so many years, working with deaf students I’ve had.)  When I had a chance to talk to Sam I learned that he worked for Eaton in Milwaukee and had traveled all over the United States growing up.

And so, the evening wore on. I asked Nate if the group that hangs out on Brady St.is made up of Millenials or Yuppies, Gen-Xers, or what.  He explained that the lines between these groups are extremely blurred and it’s hard to define exactly who’s who.  (With Baby Boomers, it’s not so difficult; although I must say, we have former Hippies, want-to-have-been Hippies, and the never wanted-to-be, among our group of aging faces.)

After the guys were all “played out” and Nate was just getting warmed-up with the karaoke group that was gathering in the front of Scaffidi’s at 11 o’clock, we said goodbye and walked away.  As we trudged back in the heat to the old apartment where I grew up, I was hoping I might have said something this evening that may have been useful to these young men. (Being useful at this age is the best thing you want to be.) Whether or not that was the case, there is one thing I do know for certain: this evening directly affected the novel I came to Milwaukee to write!  Unequivocally I now know that the male character in “If Not for War” is definitely going to know how to shoot a mean game of pool. He might even have a conversation with a 70-year-old couple who come walking into a bar like Scaffidi’s. And I know for sure my female protagonist is going to smile at him as she watches the scene.

Interview: Joyful Weaving

crystal ballIf I had gone to a fortune-teller in Minneapolis in 1990 – let’s imagine a dark-haired woman with a crystal ball and a gypsy scarf around her head – and she attempted to tell me I’d be living in southern California in 2016, I would have laughed out loud. If she told me that my friend Patti Hall would one day retire and also move to California where both of us would have adult children who lived a few blocks from each other, I would have
rolled my eyes and droned, “Yeah, right.”

Patti7But here it is 2016 and Patti lives in Toluca Lake and I live in the OC and we meet often for lunch at some beach-y restaurant with seagulls and surfers and sometimes a stray dolphin swimming by.  Patti might not have been as surprised by the imaginary fortune teller’s California predictions because, after all, she did start her young adult life out here on the West Coast, attending Cal-State, Los Angeles where she received her BA in Art.  It might have been predictable as well, that after years teaching and mentoring new teachers, Patti would finally be able to devote herself full-time to her own personal artistic pursuits when she retired.

It was over a margarita at Duke’s in Huntington Beach (Surf City, USA) that I started asking Patti more about the weaving that I knew she was pursuing full-time and about her shop in the Etsy store I had recently visited online.   Continue reading Interview: Joyful Weaving