Entries Tagged 'THE WRITERS’ CORNER' ↓


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Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice has won 6 national awards. It tells the story of a few years in my life when everything went wrong and how it turned out right.
It is a suitable holiday gift for people of all faiths––or none.




Sandy Nathan
SANDY NATHAN Award Winning Author

Greetings! I recently read a blog post by Nathan Bransford, a San Francisco based literary agent.  It “rang my chimes,” as they used to say on Laugh-In in the olden days. Mr. Lansford’s post quoted articles from the NY Observer, an interview with George Jones, CEO of Border’s Group, Inc. on HarpersStudio Blog,  and a video response to the NY Observer article from young literary agent, Jeff Moores. 

The post presented different takes on the future of the publishing industry by a number of industry insiders. I am not an industry insider, I am a retired economist. I wrote this and thought of putting it on the comments form of Mr. Bransford’s blog, but realized it’s a bit long for that. So here it is. I’ll put a link to this page on Mr. B’s Blog.

Dear Mr. Bransford:

Your 10/17/08 blog concerning the state of the publishing industry caught my attention. My first career was in economics––I hold a couple of degrees in the subject and was Economic Analyst for Santa Clara County until the Planning Department was eliminated. (That’s downsizing!)  I also worked in Silicon Valley for twenty years, coaching negotiations at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, among other things.

What wisdom do I have to add to the articles you cite? An adage from economic forecasting applies: The best predictor of the future is the past. Just throw a line on past data (do a regression analysis) and there you have it––the future. The only problem with this approach is that you miss the turning points. This is a very large problem.

We are in a turning point, or major melt down, now.

No one knows what’s going to happen except that what happened in the past won’t apply. The article from the NY Observer was well worth reading, and I loved the Interview with George Jones, CEO of Borders Group. He gets the problem: It’s”not the book business itself that is lacking, but it is the business model that has been in place for decades and is broken.”

The business model no longer fits reality. To address this, Jones says Borders intends to “know our customers and select those titles that resonate with our unique shopper.” And, “speaking directly to an engaged population of customers is absolutely the way to go and we’re leading the way on it … the sky’s the limit!”

This is a new way of doing business. It’s personally engaged business, its smart business, and it points to niche buying, with suppliers listening harder to customers––in the case of Borders, anyway. I also liked what he said about their doing “very little if any traditional advertising.” I’ve never seen it pay in any business in which I’ve been involved.

What’s going to happen in the publishing industry? I have no clue. No one else does, either. I do know publishers that made a lot of money in the 60s & 70s are groaning and have been for a long time.

How to address this? On the supply side, looking at large publishers, I would expect cut backs and increased conservatism. The financial people and investment advisers I’ve talked to recently are in lock-down mode. They’re traumatized and very tight. Turtled up, you might say.

That speaks to less innovation in buying by publishers and a tendency to hang onto what’s proven, which is what the NY Observer article pointed to. I can’t speculate as to what change in overall share in the GDP publishing the coming years will bring.

Many small publishers will fold, which is sad, because they tend to be the innovators. But many more will rise, including micro-presses. These businesses are fluid and can find and fill niche markets. With distribution open to them (and it is) and companies like Borders open to buying from really small publishers if they prove they can sell, the small and micro companies could flourish.

Such micro-publishers might be built around a single author who uses his/her books as large business cards, creating a platform for some other endeavors: consulting, coaching, or speaking. This includes the “out of the bookstore sales” that don’t get counted in bestseller lists.

What young agents and everyone else need to remember is that what is happening now has never happened before. I’m 63 years old. My dad was a major developer in Silicon Valley before it had that moniker. I’ve imbibed business since birth and studied business and economics academically. I’ve seen many economic cycles, with their “Whee!” and expectation of endless growth on the upside, and their black gloom after the inevitable bust.

The current situation is new and massively ominous.

Within recent weeks, a half dozen of the largest banks in the country have been bought out by other banks under duress or government orders and/or have disappeared. This includes both of the largest investment banks. Hundreds more, less prominent banks have closed, with many more to follow. The collapse of the housing industry is well documented and the national debt is beyond anything I could have imagined. China as been buying US government paper for years, financing our spending binge on Chinese goods. Read the financial pages, literati.

Are we heading for another Great Depression of the 30s? No. That will never happen again. We’re heading for What Happened in the 2000s and Beyond. Unknown territory. Hope our leaders are up to it.

Speaking to the young New York literary agents shown by video on Mr. Bransford’s blog––if I were a young literary agent what would I do? I’d keep my eyes open, read the Wall Street Journal as much as Publishers’ Weekly, watch my back, and learn new skills.

A friend of mine, an English major from one of the prestigious eastern colleges, is now taking a 16-week course allowing him to become an ambulance driver. Smart guy.

The more tools in one’s belt, the more likely one is to survive. Changes in job description are good; they provide material for a more interesting memoir. If one has been fortunate and deserving enough to attain a prestigious job title early on, that’s great. But it’s not who you are. Life can be brutal in ripping away illusion.

If I were a young literary agent shopping for new clients, I would look at the demand side of the book market, and markets generally. What are recession/depression proof products? Drugs, booze, and psychotherapy. Things that make people feel good and hopeful sell in bad times.

Find their literary forms. Look for books with titles like: “You can make it through the next five years …” Though I wonder if the spate of “You can get rich like me, activate your inner entrepreneur” books aren’t part of the problems we face.

Political extremism and agitation flourish in hard or changing times. Look at the 30s and 60s. One side blames the other for the history of humanity and plots revenge. This is a fertile, though repulsive, area to mine for top selling books. Hate books. Blame books. Incendiary books.

Still another and very important area of demand are books that offer people meaning and hope in a shifting universe. A philosophy professor emphasized how hungry people are for meaning. He said that his wife (then an undergraduate at UC Berkeley) spoke of the subjects we discussed in our philosophy classes. After her classes, people followed her around the UC campus, wanting to talk about meaning, existence, values, anything that feed their souls. In an age of sophistication and materialism, our spiritual (sorry to use the word) needs remain.

We can’t help it. The search for meaning is hardwired into our brains. We are purposive creatures that seek meaning almost as soon as we seek air. See the writing of Andrew Newberg MD on brain science and religious experience. The need for meaning isn’t an add-on.

People seek meaning harder when they feel shaken. Feed that need, and you’ve got a hit.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” is a brilliant example of this. It combines all the most basic human needs in a beautifully written package that let’s people vicariously go on her search for MEANING. (Everything I’ve seen from Elizabeth on this subject says, “Find your own meaning, don’t use mine.” That’s the idea.) “The Life of Pi” is another brilliant example: existential anxiety in a rowboat. Author Yann Martel was a philosophy major.

The upside of demand in bad times is that readers exist; some people will always like to read. Some people like to read interesting stuff, and will buy it. We’ve got new technology to help us get it. (But really, how can holding a Kindle compare with experiencing the elegance of a high quality book?)

If I were a young agent wanting to survive, I would notice that the model is broken. I would notice that profitable sales are and will be what allows the large publishers to survive and that as a literary agent, I need go where those who provide my income go. Publishing is sales driven and so am I. (Which you already know.)

I would also notice, by the long hours I work if nothing else, that the query system doesn’t work. It’s a cumbersome, labor-intensive process for you which doesn’t pop out likely prospects reliably enough for this market.

If I were an agent, I would scrap the query system. It’s too much work and misses books or products that might be very profitable. “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” for one. The Kiyosaki’s self-published to get their start. [Oh, my God! Don’t use those words!] The NY publishing establishment shunned the entire Chicken Soup Series. Big mistakes, which were later rectified. The querying system doesn’t pick up the most important point in today’s publishing industry: Can this author sell?

I’d scrap queries entirely and have anyone wanting me to represent them send me a: (1) resume and a (2) position statement: why I am the person to write this book. I’d sift through those and get the candidates that might be able to succeed in the marketplace.

I’d interview them. You can do interviews by video, but most people look lousy on video unless they’ve been coached. So they can come and see you in your office. If prospective clients want your representation enough, they’ll come to you. Don’t pay for it either.

“The author’s persona is most important element in the success of a book,” Victor di Suvero told me. Victor is a poet who used to hang around City Lights Bookstore with the great San Francisco poets in the 50s and 60s. It’s charisma and ability to transmit it that makes people plunk down their bucks.

Get your prospective client in your office and talk to him or her, silently asking yourself the questions: “Would I buy a pair of socks from this person? A used car?”

The possible answers are, “Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe, with coaching.” (Make them pay for it.) When you have those answers, you’ll have trimmed the seekers to a manageable herd. Then talk books.

Remember: You can hire someone to fix a book, but you can’t make a platform or a selling personality.

With my method, your client candidates will have proven they can sell before books are mentioned. Many really good writers will probably get screened out, as well as those who can’t afford to come to you, but literary fiction doesn’t pay the corporate debt.

Sound radical? Sound crass? Yes to both. Would you rather drive an ambulance?

Just a suggestion,

Sandy Nathan …

Cutting this post here would be mean. I have a story for you to round this out. My daughter, Zoe Nathan,  recently won her black belt in karate at a competition in Seattle. (If you click the link you’ll see after pictures. I understand she was mostly airborne in the “during competition” phase.)

Like you young literary agents, Zoe is an under thirty, gorgeous, multi-talented, sensitive and really smart, liberal arts graduate of a very good east coast school, Sarah Lawrence. She had to miss the Santa Barbara opening of an art show featuring one of her paintings because she was in Seattle winning her black belt. You relate? She’s like you.

She’s studied karate religiously for many years. combining it with her ballet to be the most beautiful and graceful karate woman in the world. Winning this belt meant a lot to her. The process was “extremely intense.” This is what she said of the process of winning (via text message):


She spoke of all the drills and other things aspirants had to do to get the belt. (I didn’t know what she was talking about.)  Then she told me about a difficult part, sparring with an opponent in front of a small mob of judges. I’m paraphrasing:

“The woman I sparred with was the daughter of a tournament orientated black belt in our school. In his dojo, they train to compete in international tournaments. His daughter has been competing in and winning such tournaments for years. She’s a phenomenon.

“When she was throwing me, I kept thinking, ‘Why am I still in the air?’ And then I realized that she was placing me so that when I landed, I wouldn’t get hurt.

“Both of us advanced to the belts we were testing for. When they gave us the belts, the judges complimented her on her control.  I.e., for not beating up a less experienced contender while illustrating that she could ––and easily!

“They complimented me on my spirit in keeping going through it all, and the fact that I was still standing at the end.”

That’s my message: The goal is to keep going and be standing at the end, no matter what. Everyone has to find out what that means and do it.

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Sandy NathanSandy Nathan, National Award Winning Author

I’ve always hated the “Who is Sandy Nathan?” question. Ditto: Who is anyone? This is a philosophical inquiry. Answering that question is why we’re on earth. You can’t answer it in thirty seconds.

However, someone sent me these crazy questions. The little blurb at the top says the basics about me, and the Q & A session gives you a sense of the whole creature––me.


Sandy Nathan knows the worlds she describes in her writing. She draws on her personal studies in meditation, spirituality, and mysticism as well as her experiences in Silicon Valley corporate culture, breathing life into her characters and giving them depth and dimension. Sandy has won multiple national awards for her books. The mother of three grown children, Sandy and her husband live on their California horse ranch.

This gives an adequate view, but you may get a livelier one from this question and answer session:


Where did you get the idea of a series of thrillers about the richest man in the world and a great shaman?

From God. Also from the strands of my life. Most of what’s in the Bloodsong Series comes from the threads of my life, as interpreted by my unconscious mind and shaped by my editors.

The series exploded in my brain after a cataclysmic and healing meditation retreat and thirty years of personal work. Heal that trauma! Clean up that mess!

I started writing the Bloodsong Series in 1995. I was fifty years old: It took me fifty years to have something worth saying. It’s taken me thirteen more to write it properly.

Are Will Duane and Grandfather based on real people?

No. They grew up inside of me as characters. They bear similarities to people I’ve known or read about, but they have their own life inside me. I wish they were real. I’d love to do dinner at Will’s.

Are you real?

Yeah. It says so on the label attached to the back of my neck.

Actually, this is a good question. BECOMING AND BEING REAL are the main things I write about. Becoming my Self is my goal in life.

Why did you call it The Bloodsong Series?

My surgeon asked me that as he wheeled me into the operating room. I said that, “It almost killed me to write it, so why not?” (The surgery went fine.)

The actual reason is that my blood sang, danced, and did cartwheels during the years I’ve worked on the series. I hope yours does the same. This is visceral, bloody spirituality.

Why are books about vampires so popular these days?

Beats me. I think people should read about bloody, heart-singing, mind-searing spirituality. The vampire deal does nada for me. Books about spiritual growth and recovery from addiction are compatible with action, violence, sex and sensuality. Read my stuff and find out. Better: Try it and find out.

Live your heart’s song, not its drippings.

Why all the sex in Numenon?

There’s only one explicit scene, and that’s a flashback. The undercurrent of sexuality in Numenon is due to the undercurrent of sexuality in all things human.

And besides, I have my mother’s permission to write what I wrote. I started this book in 1995. About 1997, I announced to my mom that I was writing a novel.

She said, “I want the first copy!” My mom was elderly at this time. And always had been a lady.

After two years of writing, I knew the lay of the book, so to speak. I gasped and said, “Well, mom, some of it’s kind of … raunchy.”

She smiled her adorable smile and said, “Why, Sandy, honey, you have to have sex in it, or no one will buy it.”

She died in the year 2000 and didn’t receive that first copy. I like to think that in the Bloodsong Series and my other fiction, I have embodied my mother’s advice to the fullest. I’m sure she’d be proud.

Do you have any advice for your readers?

Lead the life that’s yours instead of faking someone else’s.

What kind of music do you listen to while writing?

None. The song of my soul, the music of the spheres, and the chugging of my computer sound automatically when I write. That’s enough. I get hostile if anyone comes into the room making any noise. Since I write in the family room most of the time, I have become a problem, like our dog who bites anyone near his dish. We’re working on it.

What do you wear when you write?

I usually wear complete Peruvian Paso horse show regalia suitable for the highest levels of competition. This includes a white shirt and jeans, poncho, wide brimmed Peruvian hat, belt, spurs, fancy neck scarf, jewelry and a harmonica.

If that’s in the wash, I wear a tutu and pointe shoes.

Who’s feeding me these questions? What difference does it make?

I write round the clock and wear whatever I’m wearing.

You can ask Sandy Nathan a question! Before submitting, ask yourself, “Is this a good question? Would I ask my mom this? Or, would I ask my minister, rabbi, guru or dog trainer? Am I scammer or seriously disturbed person that Sandy doesn’t want to hear from? Am I trying to hawk my book rather than reaching out and buying Sandy’s?”

If you’re on the level, ask away. You can comment here or do it through our contact page. Sandy answers sporadically. She can be pretty fast, if it’s a really good questions and relates to her work.

STEPPING OFF THE EDGE coverStepping Off the Edge, winner of six national awards

NUMENON Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

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The Lotus: Symbol of Enlightenment

We’ve been doing a bunch of clean up and refurbishing on my family of web sites. Spring housekeeping! It’s actually to get ready for the launch of my new book Numenon, available now on my site and Amazon.

While updating my family of sites––I have 52 URLs. (Who can find them all??? I’ll give you a prize (a book?) if you name them all.) During this process, I found articles that I’d written that were too big to even load. My software croaked at the overload. So I cut these in half, spruced and put them up. Now you can read them!

These are philosophical AND fun articles, lavishly illustrated, as you will see below.

The Road


This think piece tackles the human journey to enlightenment. I wrote it after hearing Native American artist/musician ROBERT MIRABAL’S award winning album Taos Tales. This is a haunting album and very deep. In my article, The Journey, I interpret what Mirabal says in the light of my background in western philosophy and psychology, and my studies of Eastern thought.

If you’ve been wondering about buying one of my books-–this gives you a mini version, with PICTURES! So many I had to cut these articles in half to load them. Here’s another original photo by my daughter, Zoe Nathan. (Attribution is nice, all you out there who would never steal from a store but think nothing of lifting people’s photos.)

In the shadowland, dark looks light and light looks dark. It’s Kali Yuga, the age of darkness, the age we live in.

Yes, you do have to climb mountains to achieve your goals.

The Journey goes on through the life stages. I present material that later shows up in an expanded form in my book, Stepping Off the Edge.

LITTLE INDIA: A Bit of India in Southern California

I wrote this article after my first trip to Little India in Artesia, near LA. Little India is the second largest ethnic Indian community in the USA and represents a goldmine of cultural and SHOPPING. This is Google’s highest rated site on Little India, outranking their own Chamber of Commerce. Why? It’s good. I’ve updated it, adding Maps! Also cut it into two parts so you can read it.

The Nataraj and California Oaks: A perfect match
The Nataraj––Dancing Shiva––and California Oaks
A perfect combination, like Little India and SoCal

Aside from giving an overview of the many shops in Little India, I also give an overview of what I know of Indian culture and art. I’ve studied with a meditation master from India since 1975––I’ve learned a bit. Just a starting point.

If you’ve wondered what the red dot on the forehead means, if you wonder what the face on my new book, Numenon is, find out here. If you want to get your nose pierced by people who’ve been doing it for centuries and know how, this is the place. Read the article. It tells where my daughter had it done. If you like to eat Indian food––Go there and consume! Yes! Eat it up!

My daughter, Lily, is buying a killer bedspread made of pieces of old saris and Punjabis.
You can have one, too. Cost way less than the boring junk at The Mall.

My new book features a Photoshopped Shiva Nataraj, the Dancing Shiva. How did the largest corporation in the world get a Nataraj for a logo? Read it and find out.

That’s it for today, gang! Read and enjoy! Shop and enjoy! Enjoy!

Sandy Nathan

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I was looking through old family albums recently and came upon the following article about my father. It contained information that I thought worth sharing––some of it was new to me. Father’s Day is about acknowledging our fathers for what they’ve done and honoring who they are or were. That’s what I’m doing here.

For all his accomplishments, some of which are laid out below, my dad died at age 45. No, he didn’t die of a heart attack. He was in perfect health. Someone who turned the wrong way onto a freeway off-ramp killed him. The old guy might have been drunk––he did have an opened bottle of wine on the seat next to him–-or he might have been confused. He could have been trying to end his own life. He did end his life, along with my father’s.

Here’s the article from an old newspaper. I’m going to post it in its entirety.

From the DAILY COMMERCIAL NEWS, “OLDEST BUSINESS NEWSPAPER ON THE PACIFIC COAST––SINCE 1875,” Thursday, January 15, 1959, by Hugh Russell Fraser

Today’s Bay Area Profile of Andy Oddstad is another in a DAILY COMMERCIAL NEWS series which appears each Thursday to give you an intimate portrayal of prominent Bay Area executives. The author, Hugh Russell Fraser, is recognized as among the top book reviewers and biographical writers of our time. ––Editor.

When I heard that down in Redwood City there is a man, only 40 years old, who has built 10,000 houses in the Bay Area in the last 10 years, I decided to go down and see what he was like.

They call him Andy Oddstad, but his real name is Icelandic in origin––Andres Fjeldsted Oddstad.

He is a stocky, blond type, built like a wrestler (which he was at college, and still is), decidedly affable and friendly in his manner.

There is nothing ostentatious about his office a 1718 Broadway. There he presides over the destinies of 10 construction and building companies, the best known of which is Oddstad Homes.

With a signal to his secretary to cut off the phone, so as to give me his uninterrupted attention (How I hate these tycoons who take a dozen calls while pretending to talk to a visitor!), he talked in a low-pitched, well-modulated voice.

Naturally, I wanted to find out what made the man tick; I first questioned him about how he got into the home-building business.

Born in British Columbia, Oddstad’s forbearers were all from Iceland. He was 9 years old when his father, a carpenter and builder, moved to San Francisco. Here he worked for his brothers-in-law, the famous builders Ellis and Henry Stoneson. Young Andy went to Sunnyside Grammar School.

At the age of 10 he knew he was going into the building business. Never was there any doubt of it.


Not because his uncles were builders in a big way, the founders of Stonestown, but because everything about building, from sweeping out the floors of new houses to constructing walls and roofs, fascinated him.

Every daylight hour that he did not have to spend in school, he spent around building projects; in fact, he worked after school cleaning up trash on building sites, sweeping floors, helping make repairs. He discovered he would rather do that than play.

Meanwhile, Andy kept on going to school––first to Aptos Junior High, then two years at San Francisco college and finally two years at the University of California [at Berkeley] from which he graduated with honors and an engineering degree in 1941.

Despite the financial status of his uncles, he worked his way through college, always in building and construction work.

It was while at college that he stumbled onto something that made him think of business in more precise terms. He took as his graduate thesis a study of low-cost housing in California!


He went all over the state, and in San Diego he ran into an eye opener. Mind you, this was in 1941 when government construction of low-cost housing was at its high point. He discovered to his amazement that Uncle Sam was putting out $9000 for a unit that was little more than a three-room apartment, while in San Francisco, private enterprise was building five-room houses with a garage underneath, definitely superior to the San Diego Government-subsidized project, for about $4250! In other words, for less than half the subsidized amount!

That was his first acquaintance with the waste inherent in bureaucracy. He could hardly believe his eyes, but slowly he came to realize that he was looking at a simple and inescapable fact.

His interesting and carefully documented thesis went to waste, however, although the University of California gave him a pat on the back for it.

Hardly had he completed this study when the approach of World War II brought him into the Navy. There he became a “frogman,” an undersea demolition expert. He saw combat duty in Okinawa, winning a raft of medals, including the Bronze Star Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation, and the Pacific Theater Ribbon with five battle stars.

On getting out of the Navy, with the rank of Lieutenant [Actually, Ensign  SN], he returned to the Bay Area. Then he decided to go into business for himself. [The initial business was funded with $500 or thereabouts that my mother, Clara Oddstad, saved from her wartime wages. SN] He teamed up with another Icelander, Chris Finson, who hailed from Seattle, and together they formed the Sterling Building Company.


It was at this point that his famous uncles, Henry and Ellis Stoneson, came in with help and guidance. A third man, to whom Oddstad gives great credit, was Parker Maddux, one-time president of the San Francisco Bank. This great trio, all three of whom helped Andres Oddstad on the road to a spectacular success, have all passed on, Henry Stoneson only recently.

Andres Oddstad doesn’t think much of the co-called “self-made men” who insist they did it all, that nobody helped them.

“When you come to analyze it,” he said, “that is nonsense. Nobody makes it alone. Sooner or later, they get cooperation and/or assistance. I am proud of the help and expert guidance that I got from my uncles and from Parker Maddux, and if you writing anything about me, don’t forget to mention their names!”

I like this about the man. No boasting, no phony claims. In fact, I think he underestimated, rather than overestimated, his own ability, which I soon recognized was considerable. It is plain he is a hard and unremitting worker; that he thinks problems through and believes in doing a through and careful job.

But he also has imagination! This was apparent in his keen interest in economics and architecture. Perhaps a better word is enthusiasm, although I do not usually associated the word “enthusiasm” with a man who always talks in a low-pitched voice, never once raising it to an excited pitch.

It was obvious he has been fascinated by two men, the great architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and J. Kenneth Galbraith, author of The Affluent Society. Wright he regards as a great architect, the like of which American has never known. “He thinks and designs in three dimensions,” says Oddstad. “In addition, he is a showman and super salesman. Take this training ground he operates for young architects on the desert near Phoenix, Arizona. [Taliesin West] There he takes young men out of college, puts them to work drafting––carrying out his ideas, and the result is he has a far-reaching influence on the rising generation of architects.

“Wright sees things in their relation to their environment. Many orthodox architects––and Wright is anything but orthodox––remind me of the fellow who polishes a pebble in a mosaic. Write has helped me think in depth––you have to do it in any kind of business, but especially in the building business.”

But it was the imaginative Galbraith I wanted to question him about. The Affluent Society has dynamite in it, and I was curious our the third largest builder in the San Francisco area reacted to the top U.S. economist.

“Let me say one thing,” said Oddstad, “I like to solve any problem by reducing the variables––in other words, simplifying the assumptions. But by no means do I disregard the variables. Some economists––in fact all of them but Galbraith, disregard factors they don’t understand.”

“Meaning what?” I demanded. “Let’s get specific.”

“Well, just this: The usual run of economists pay no attention to such factors as human greed, the ego, etc. Because they do not understand these, they ignore what they can’t understand. Galbraith does not. He tries to reckon with all the variables. In other worlds, he sets the whole problem of economics against against a background of common sense. Do I make myself clear?”

“Exactly, ” I said. “In fact, you have converted me, as never before, to the value of Galbraith. My previous acquaintance with him was wholly superficial. In other words, if I may add, it is your view that most economists are lacking in fundamental common sense?”


“Right!” he said in that low, even voice of his. Then he added slowly: “Of course, you can ask how all this helps me in my business? Well, an understanding of economics helps toward an understanding of the reference frame of all business, not just the building business.”

“And speaking of business,” I said, “what do you think of the future of the building business in California?”

“Just this:” he replied, “first, our population is going to double by 1975. They are coming in here at a great rate now. It is becoming a trend. And it will accelerate. Not only that, we will double our production units. I mean––and let me make myself clear––for every apartment house or building you see now, there will be another apartment house or building by 1975. For every home you see now, there will be another home in 16 years.

“You mean,” I said, “for every house and building we see know, we are going to see double that by 1975?”

“Yes. This is one part of the country where values are going to be on the increase, steadily and persistently. In fact, right now California has the only semi-permanent wealth in the nation.”

When I left this rather extraordinary man, whose profession is building and whose hobby is economics, I suspected he was telling me the truth. The surprising thing is that 1975 is only a relatively short time off!”


Andy Oddstad getting ready to water ski in the SF Bay, early 1960s

• • • • • • • • •

AFTERWORD: Well, we all know that 1975 came and went. I’m sure my father’s predictions were far lower than actual levels of development in California. I’m also certain that he could not comprehend the explosion in housing prices from the 1970s on. For a guy born in 1918, contemporary housing prices would sound like fantasy.

These days [I originally posted this in 2008.), some of his most modest homes that sold for about $9,000 in the 1950s are going for $1 million. (I wish he hadn’t sold them!) [They’re down to a mere $800K due to the recession of the 2000s.]

Andy Oddstad was a guy who came up in the Great Depression. The article above mentions him working for his uncles after school. He did it because he needed to work if his family was to eat––and the rest of the Oddstad family worked, too. Sweeping out jobs after school wasn’t a hobby. Nor were his two paper routes before school just for fun. He constructed the bicycle he rode to deliver those papers out of scrap from the junkyard. And raised rabbits behind the family home for meat for the table.

Those were hard times.

Oddstad Homes had built over 14,000 homes at the time of my father’s death. Oddstad Homes was the #1 builder of residential housing in Northern California by a wide margin, and #10 in the US at its hey-day.

What was it like having a dad like that? Like growing up in the Marines. Tough, and fair. He really did read Galbraith. He had––and read–-volumes by the philosophers Immanuel Kant and Baruch Spinoza on his bedside table. When he helped me with my homework, I had to have razor sharp pencils, several pens, a pad of scratch paper, good paper for the answers, a straight edge, and a compass at the table before he would sit down with me. I got one explanation, that was it. [Pocket calculators didn’t exist.]


I majored in economics for my first two college degrees, due in part to his influence. I’m glad I have that knowledge, though it’s taken me a lifetime to start “listening to my heart” as the New Agers say. I still feel guilty about being a writer and author, though I know it’s what I was born to do. (My dad could not have fathomed the New Age, either. Or free love or the 1960s.)

I owe Andy Oddstad a very great deal. I’ve never seen a person who lived at 100% and demanded that those around him do the same. He shaped me and my life.

What are some of the most important words my father said to me?

First off, he said, “Sandy, there’s no reason a girl can’t do everything a boy can do.” So I took physics and calculus in high school. “And I know how smart you are, so don’t try and tell me you can’t get good grades.” I got good grades.

He held me to a high standard, and I’ve kept it. That’s the most valuable thing I got from my dad. He was the most disciplined person I’ve met. He moved through life at hyper-speed, like he was skating on the edge of a razor blade.

It’s a shame he’s been all but forgotten. He gave a great deal to the San Francisco Bay Area.

But that’s what happens when you die.

I know that housing tracts built by one of his competitors, Joseph Eichler, have been named Historical Neighborhoods. There’s an very glossy, slick magazine put out for owners and fans of Eichler homes. I think that’s great. Eichler’s designs were spectacular examples of low cost, good design.

They are not spectacular examples of low cost, good construction. I’ve lived in an Eichler. I know all about huge single-paned windows that leak all the heat in the room and radiant (under floor) heating that that doesn’t keep rooms warm and can lead to big repair bills when it breaks. My cousin worked as a carpenter building Eichlers. I will not repeat what he said about the quality of their construction. I don’t know if the old saw about how fast they burn down is true. Do Eichlers really burn down in three minutes?

Enough carping. I expected that Frank Lloyd Wright would approve more of Eichler’s work than my fathers. I do wish that some of the folks living in Farm Hill, Linda Mar, Crestmont, Rollingwood and the rest of the communities built by Oddstad Homes might throw together a blog or something.

My dad was an engineer. He was interested in straight lines and economy and that’s what he built. He wanted everyone to have a good, well-built house over his or her head. He was a political liberal, a strong Kennedy man, a man who cared about everyone, not just the rich.

Now is the time to remember our fathers, whoever they were and whatever they did, even if they weren’t perfect and contributed to our personal difficulties. We’re here because of them, whoever they were or are.

My best wishes, fathers. And all the best to you, Andy Oddstad, whom I knew as Daddy. There’s so much you didn’t get to see, Daddy. You have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. You missed the Beatles.

And you didn’t get to read my books! I think you would have liked them.


Andy Oddstad & Ray Stern
Ray Stern and Andy Oddstad getting ready to water ski in the SF Bay, early 1960s.
Ray was a great buddy of my dad’s. He was a professional wrestler and entrepreneur. The caption next to this photo in our family album is, “Ray floats at last.” That is written in my dad’s handwriting and refers to the fact that Ray was a block of solid muscle. He had so little fat mass that he couldn’t float at all without his wet suit. I think he was the hardest to teach of the many people my dad taught to ski. By-gone times: The Bay is too polluted for skiing now. Ray and my dad are gone.

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SANDYNATHAN.COM WEBSITE REDO––and a little gift for writers.

Sandy Nathan
Sandy Nathan

We’re redoing my author website, sandynathan.com, in preparation for the release of my new book, Numenon. Expect a new look soon, if it’s not already there.

I rewrote a bunch of new text for the website, wanting to make it reflect how I currently feel about things. I came up with a little piece that was really about writing and the writing life. Which, of course, is different for everyone. “The writing life” doesn’t exist.

It was a neat little piece, which I wrote over by mistake when doing the actual homepage that you’ll see on my site. Argghh! I hate that. So now I have to type it with my wonderful 44% accuracy. (Measured by the cool voice recognition software, Dragon.) Here goes:

Ever wonder what it’s like being an author? This site (sandynathan.com) is my best shot at showing you how it feels. I’m a writer. I’ve always been a writer, mastering the obvious techniques before I was ten. I knew I was going to write a book one day while I was in the primary grades.

If you are a writer, you’ll know that writing is not optional. You’ll be scribbling observations on napkins at the old folks’ home long after anyone can decipher them.

If you move up to being an author––which means that your drive, ambition, and obsessive compulsive tendencies flame hot enough for your work to find itself in print––that’s another realm.

People have asked me, “How do you finish a book?” This is very simple: Start it and keep writing until it’s done. That’s the smart Alec answer.

The true answer is: Something has to goad you so hard inside that you can’t stop writing until you’ve articulated the deepest kernel of meaning in the story the universe put in your brain. You can’t stop rewriting until the thing is crystal clear and your dog weeps when he reads it.

Yes, there’s technique; yes, there’s education, but you can’t beat personal disaster as a motivator and writing tool. Go deep, writers; find out why it hurts so bad. Tell us about it.

I write because it’s the only way I know to clear the recesses of my soul. To shed light on what troubles me. To find out what the hell it is that grinds me late ant night. I write constantly, often until I can’t move my shoulders.

But that’s where the openings occur. When I’ve poured myself into a story so far that I can’t back out or stop or put it aside, the universe opens and shows me itself. The bliss comes, the inspiration, the knowledge that what they tried to tell me in Sunday school was true and that something cares after all.

That’s what I want to tell you about writing. It’s about finding the light.

Sandy Nathan

PS. After retyping this, I can tell you that my typing accuracy really is 44%.

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WHAT DO AMAZON REVIEWS REALLY MEAN? This could happen to you.

I know that a good review by one or more Amazon Top Reviewers can create a top selling book on Amazon and elsewhere. I’ve seen it, and all those selling books on the subject of promoting your book say it. Perhaps the Top Reviewers put in lots of time and effort and provide meaningful evaluations.

But what to those Amazon reviews mean in general? I’ve reviewed a bunch of books on Amazon, mostly on somewhat high-toned subjects, eastern and other philosophical systems, music. And of course, my favorite, a brand of unrefined coconut oil that keeps this gal’s skin from looking reptilian. Through these efforts, I’ve risen from the millionth ranking reviewer to the lofty 230,000th or so.

Not any more. Read and see what can happen to you.

What the reviews mean was rubbed in my face recently by a review I wrote. Most reviewers I’ve seen give wildly enthusiastic reviews, about equivalent in quality to the positive feedback you see on eBay, “Double Cookies, You’re the best! A++++++ Will buy again! A #1! ”

Some reviewers are serious and make a good, rational and intelligent stab at evaluating the book or object being recommended.

What do eBay review readers want? Someone to agree with their preconceived opinions? Do they want to hear the reviewer’s honest assessment of a piece of literature? His or her personal truth? An informed view of the book using generally accepted standards for reviewing? Like you might see in the New York Times? Something that your literature professor might produce? Criticism of the elements of the book and the skill with which it is written?

Apparently not. All my reviews have been of products or things I like. I like to keep things positive, but I’ve always told my truth and not held anything back.

A few days ago, I posted a review of a pop-lit book that is really lower tier in terms of literary merit. It’s pretty and well produced, and will one day end up in the mass market trade, probably making its author a bundle. (Which is always nice. Writing is hard work and deserves to be rewarded.)

I popped $23.99 for the hardbound version, due to an Amazon recommendation. I found the book very unsatisfying. I was generous in my review. I said what I said nicely. Way nicer than my editors have leveled their criticisms at my work––as an author you’re as good as your editor much of the time. It’s hard to critique your own work. That’s why we have editors. I’m getting ready to publish a new book. It’s gone through at least four editorial reviews, most line by line.

OK. I published a three star (***) review, which was better than the book deserved. Within hours, readers of the review began voting it unhelpful. All the other five star reviews (*****!!!) were being voted totally useful and good.

Don’t the readers of pop fiction reviews care about the obvious defects that an informed reviewer picks up instantly? Doesn’t all the stuff that I went through with years of writing groups and editors and professors while learning to write something with literary merit matter to these readers?

No. The author of the book in question has a following. The following does not care about the literary quality of her work as long as it satisfies their needs for more of the same.

I ended up pulling the review after nine readers said it wasn’t helpful. Phew. I posted it here for a while and finally just pulled it.

Then I got to reap the consequences of telling my truth. My rating as a reviewer dropped to # 366,147 from 230,000. Reviewer rankings are based on the ratio of helpful votes to total votes. All those people who voted my review not helpful caused my reviewer ranking to drop 130,000 points in the ranks. All because I was honest about what I saw in a flawed book.

Now I know why some top Amazon reviewers only give positive reviews. Part is to be nice and say positive things, the other part is that the author’s flaming fans will roast them for pointing out shortcomings.

I think I’ll stick to reviewing coconut oil.


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The other day, I was about to purchase a lot of seven vintage raccoon coats on eBay.

I’ll say that again: I WAS GONNA BUY SEVEN OLD RACCOON COATS. I seriously, seriously wanted to toss in the winning bid.

These were not marked as to size: None of them might have fit me. My thought was, “Well, maybe one of them (or more) will fit me. I can sell the rest back on eBay and make a bundle.” Or not. The seller didn’t PUT any close ups in the ad. I couldn’t tell if some might be missing things like sleeves or backs.

I was not so lost in I wanna that I couldn’t see that this was a stupid thing to do. (I’m not saying rehabbing things and reselling them on eBay is a bad thing for everyone, but for me, it definitely is.)

I have a new book coming out in two months and all sorts of publicity stuff happening. Book stores want me to speak, and the Book Expo America, the largest book fair in the country is coming up in months, close to my house. Plus, I’m writing a new book, science fiction thriller, and I’m closing in on the final chapters.

Book related activities are what I should be concentrating on. The thrust of my life is getting those books out and promoting them.

Taking on seven beat up raccoon coats in California, where winter is two weeks and consists of three days below 60 degrees, ranks in the realms of the really stupid.



HOW CAN WE STOP OURSELVES? (We’ll work on WHY WE DO IT later.)

1. DON’T DO IT. The number one way to eliminate your stupid mistakes is: DON’T DO THEM. If you have any inkling that what you want to do is stupid, don’t do it. Don’t make the phone call, put in the bid, place the bet, buy the bottle, or wink back at that good looking guy/gal. WHATEVER IT IS, DON’T DO IT.

(I’m writing for everyone reading this blog as well as the person writing it. At this point, the raccoon coat deal isn’t dead. I could still shoot in a snipe. Why do you think I’m writing this? It’s writing therapy.)

If you think what you’re about to do is dumb, don’t do it.

Another way of saying this is, “Do good, not evil.” St. Thomas Aquinas said that many years ago. It remains priceless advice.

The other half of this is, “DON’T DO IT” by itself is about as effective as those drug abuse prevention programs based on “JUST SAY NO.” 🙂

Of course druggies can’t say no, they’re addicts. They live in a society based upon their saying, “Yes!” and often. Just like all of us. Our society is a maximal immersion in temptation and desire. We float in the titillation of the senses, the commandment “Do thy thing,” and “If you want it, you should have it.” Sooner is better.

Who says “Don’t do it.” I do. Others do. The trick is, “How?”

By not doing it. This requires self control and development of the will. Two spiritual attributes.

2. THINK ABOUT WHAT STUPID MEANS. There’s evil, and there’s stupid. I think they wrap nicely into each other. My book, Stepping Off the Edge, has two chapters in it on recognizing and dealing with evil. I’m not going to repeat these here. However, the crux of my arugment comes from something my meditation master said. He said something like, “Hurting other people is the greatest evil. Even thinking about hurting another is great evil.”

If you’re about to do something stupid, it undoubtedly has an element of evil. You hurt yourself or someone else. Do an analysis like the following for your I wanna.

What’s the evil with me and the coats? If I got the package at the asking price, it would cost $350 to deliver the hairy monsters to the door. That’s with no returns, and no, “Gee, seller, I really need a bigger size on at least one.”

Would my husband notice the $350 charge on our credit card? Oh, yeah. He who holds the family finances together, denies me nothing, pays the bills, and demands almost nothing for himself would take it like a fist in the gut. I would be betraying him. This is definite evil on my part.

What about me? How do I hurt myself? So I get the furs, jump into the joy of rehabbing shedding pelts? Something I know nothing about? Not only that, I don’t know the creatures’ condition. When done with this learning experience, I “get” to resell them on eBay or craigslist or my local flea market.

At the expense of working on my book Numenon, the first book of a series that I’ve been working on since 1995, which is coming out soon?

Talk about self sabotage.

4. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE? Get this and saying no will be easier.

WHY AM I HERE? Keep this question before you always. Search until you find an answer. You are on this planet to ask that question until you know the answer. When you know the answer, then you are to actuate the plan.

Got it? Of course, you’ve got it. We all know this. Ever you ever caught yourself sort of ducking you head in guilt when you’re about to do something stupid. evil or off purpose? We all do that.

Only a few of us, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Mohatma Ghandhi and the like really live their lives the big way, being all that they were meant to be. The rest of us duck and jive and sleaze out. Me included. Those raccoon coats were the birthplace of this entry, after all.

It took me 50 years to find my life’s purpose, which is writing about those first 50 years and all the rest. Creating meaning out of chaos and mayhem. It was hard. Writing is hard. It’s easier to fritter my time away on stupid things.


Under every burning desire is what you really want and need. It’s an intangible thing that you will never get by buying fur coats, getting a new car or spouse. What emotional need are you trying to meet with whatever stupid thing you’re about to do? Examine this.

Using our furry friends, what do those coats mean to me? Well, I’m exhausted, doing all this book stuff. Worn out. I’d like do not just own a furry coat, I’d like to be a furry animal and curl up somewhere. I’m pooped, so I go for fur. I don’t want to burden my family with the cost of one coat, so I figure that I’ll make a profit with the seven coats, and then justify keeping one. That’s logical, isn’t it? Stupid logic. I’m buying seven times the work, a huge risk as to quality, all for unrecognized emotional need.


In Stepping Off the Edge, I’m pretty open in telling the truth about myself. People have asked me, “Boy, you were really taking a risk, taking about that.” Here is one of my greatest secrets:

If you want to make something disappear, tell the truth about it. 

If you’re really serious about getting the monkey off your back, take a picture of it and show everyone you know. The clearer and and more definitive you can be about whatever is holding you captive, the less power that temptation will have on you. Works for crushes on people, things you want that are stupid, all sorts of emotions like anger, resentment, jealousy. So while people are going, “Oh wow, she’s so brave,” I’m really becoming freer to be the person I was meant to be. It works. Yes, you will feel exposed and like a real idiot when you do it. Freedom is worth the cost. And the cost is cheap when it’s telling the truth. Go, and create goodness and truth. The embarrasment fades.


That’s the underlying “how to stop.” Get real. You’re going to die one day. Do what you came here to do.

I’m going to post this now. May add pictures and such later. As well as the why we do stupid things. I’ll also update this and let you know if I let the seven raccoon coats go with out buying them.

Sandy Nathan

PS. While the coats may sound like a dumb thing to lust after, they’re not as stupid as some things people do. I know someone who dumped his really nice, respectable wife of many years for a twenty year old he met at a swap meet. That ranks in the realm of the unbelievably stupid acts.

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Sandy Nathan Sandy Nathan, award winning author of Numenon & Stepping Off the EdgeSomeone sent me the following bit of wisdom:


This is TOO good! In 2007, millions of our older Americans had not signed up their Medicare, Part D, drug programs within the time allotted. They are old and confused.


However, the 12 million illegal aliens in our country were allowed to stay, protest, procreate, receive support monies, attend schools, and avoid paying income taxes. Our teachers were required to take as many as 300 hours of English as a second language and training at our expense, etc.



Let us see how the government will handle the program for our senior citizens in 2008.

If it ticks you off, pass it on!! OH! Don’t forget to pay your taxes. 12 million illegal aliens are depending on you!

Oh, this ticks me off all right, but not for the reasons whoever wrote that email had in mind.

Yeah, Medicare is a mess. The donut drug plan is stupid. My husband had to work for months trying to get his drug program and our daughter’s rationalized in the face of that deadline. (They get Medicare because he’s old and our daughter has a disability.) He’s a very smart guy with lots of education. He toiled away, calling different “service providers” trying to get help understanding what the program was and we should do.

After watching him working for days, I said, “Can you imagine doing this if you were really old, or like your dad?” (My father-in-law suffered from dementia during his last few years.) It would be impossible.

So, yes, the current Medicare plan needs help. We aren’t taking care of our old people––which includes my husband and daughter and will soon include me.

How this relates to illegal immigration, only the writer of that email knows. The immigration situation is a little trickier than the common knee-jerk reaction would paint it.

As a native Californian, I’ve known illegal immigrants most of my life. Most of them were invisible faces working around me. I’ve known some who have been in the United States for more than thirty years. They are hard-working people who came to this country for the same reason all of our ancestors did: In hopes of a better life.

They do not come here to avoid taxes. Illegals don’t pay taxes because they CAN’T pay taxes. They’d love to pay taxes, but aren’t allowed to by our government because they aren’t citizens. (Which is one thing the ranters forget. Why don’t we admit them to the country legally in some way, and TAX them?) The illegal immigrants I know work harder and longer than most US citizens. They have no benefits, no insurance, no union protection, and no legal recourse if they’re harmed. Yet they’re labeled lazy bums by those who see through prejudiced eyes.

Racism runs rampant through the arguments against illegal immigrants. Do you think these people would be hated so much if they looked like Swedes? Would they be accused of “procreating,” rather than having kids like the rest of us?

The illegal immigrants I know do jobs that no American citizen will do. Shoveling manure, for one. Bathing horses, trimming hooves. Training and handling dangerous animals. Go to any fancy horse show and watch the millionaires with their prize bloodstock and (most likely) illegal barn help. That’s an eye opener about social class in America.

Illegal immigrants do our yard work and slave away in the heat or cold tending crops. They give us affordable landscaping and allow us to put our names on the prized wines we grow in our vineyards. Their women clean houses and the men work for building contractors doing the dirty work. Illegal aliens work in restaurants. And they do all of this for substandard wages and no benefits.

Why? Because they can’t get them in the current system. I know someone who attempted to get health insurance for an illegal employee who had a wife and two kids and a very dangerous job. His insurance agent finally told him, “You’d better give this up. You can really get in trouble.” So he gave up.

Now a family man who deserves to be an American citizen works without medical coverage. (By the way, his wife works, too.)

Illegal immigrants live “together” in crowded conditions because they’re paid so little they can’t afford decent housing. My husband became involved with one case where the children were sick all the time and neither the family’s appliances nor furnace worked. He called in the County Housing Authority.

The official who visited the house said he’d never seen anything like it. Kids living on moldy filthy carpet, not because their mother was negligent, but the because the carpet was beyond help. It was a good thing the furnace wasn’t working: It was dangerous. The slum owner didn’t care about the family or his property. He does now. Providing substandard housing is illegal.

But being a slumlord can be very profitable––pack ’em in and make a bundle. If they complain, tell them you’ll call immigration. Why do the people who criticize immigrants’ living arrangements fail to notice the unethical landlords who own it?

Those of you who send emails like the one I received, please do some actual reading about the issue before passing on your prejudices. Read TC Boyle’s award-winning book, The Tortilla Curtain. You can get it on Amazon or anywhere. Use the link above. This book gives a far more complicated and realistic picture of the illegal immigration problem than what is being bandied about. It’s a good read. I live in Southern California and can vouch for the accuracy of what Boyle portrays, from yuppies to real estate speculators to environmental activists to illegal immigrants.

The knee-jerk segments of our society seem to be believe that illegal aliens come to the US expecting to be bountifully fed, clothed, and educated by our society. Or by them, personally. Those holding this view imagine aliens swarming in and signing up for welfare at the border. The imagery brings to mind an invasion of insects or vermin.

This is not good thinking. In my national award winning book, Stepping Off the Edge, I spend several chapters discussing evil and how to deal with evil. Many of us have been hurt by racism and discrimination. Some of us have been abused. The question always arises: Why did they do it? What creates evil? How is it perpetuated?

The easiest answer is: The sense of Us vs. Them is behind every act of racism or evil. They are different than us. We are good, they are bad. If they are bad, then we can do whatever we want to them. That is the root of evil.

Fergus Bordewich wrote a great book a few years back, Killing the White Man’s Indian. This brilliantly researched book quotes the early settlers telling what they thought about Indians. He goes back to source documents to get it in their own words. The settlers thought, and said, that the Indians were the lowest life form, subhuman. As such, wiping them out and taking what they had––the country––was doing the world a service.

“I am good, they are bad.” This is no different from the tribal mentality that fosters genocide and ethnic massacres we see all over the world. Now, in Africa and Asia.

I’m good and you’re bad. I live and raise a family; you procreate and suck off of society. These words and thoughts could create a massacre.

What if we woke up one day, and they were all gone? To get an idea of what California would be like if every person of Latin descent disappeared, check out A Day without a Mexican, Sergio Arau’s very thought provoking film. In Arau’s film, one third of the California population, all the Latinos, disappear. Folks learn what it’s like to shovel their own manure (or their horse’s), wait tables, clean toilets and mow their own lawns. The film depicts the economic, political and social implications of this disaster which threaten California’s way of life.

Some Latinos are here legally, by the way. I’ve met people all over the southwest whose families have been in the USA longer than mine has. And some immigrants are here at the invitation of our government.

A woman I knew came here from her native Guatemala, granted political asylum by the US government. Her brother was killed in her home country. Her family’s lives were in danger there. She worked every moment, with three kids. never asking for a handout. When she told me what some of my good white neighbors said to her, I was ashamed of my own kind. They assumed she was on welfare and here illegally and said rude and cruel things to her, knowing nothing about what really happened. These were the nice people who are so kind to me at parties. Show them a brown face, and they’re ready to kill.

The fuss that some people make about educating the immigrant’s children really frosts me. Many of the immigrants’ kids are US citizens; they were born here, just like you and me. Shouldn’t they be educated? Do we want an uneducated populace?

I’m sick of racism and hatred. Let’s look at reality, not our prejudices. Just as our old people deserve a better deal, so do our immigrants, illegal or not. Our old folks at least can vote and have basic rights. Illegals have NO representation and no rights.

We need to create a realistic plan for dealing with immigration, not to slam people who occupy the lowest rungs of society. But then we’ve always done that, haven’t we?

The group forming the lowest levels of society changes over time––the American Indians were the first to feel the brunt of racism on this continent. They were slaughtered in the “settlement” of the west. African slaves and their descendants were reviled, denied rights and killed, as were the waves of European immigrants––white people who ended up being called Kikes and Micks and Spicks and Wops and herded into ghettos.

And now Hispanic immigrants are on the bottom rung, reaping the hatred of the majority culture. Doesn’t make me feel too good about our species.

Here’s my gift to those with concerns about this issue:

A person can develop a great deal of compassion by using one of these. It makes you grateful that you have help around the barn. And you get very clear as to which side of the “apple picker” you’d rather be on.

Let’s handle the illegal immigration problem with a bit of intelligence, acknowledging that the immigrants give to our society, as well as take. Create some kind of amnesty so we can tax them. We need to quit bitching and start using our heads––and hearts.

Sandy Nathan

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The beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, home of national award winning author, Sandy Nathan

Sandy NathanSandy Nathan
Let’s talk about things that matter . . .

That’s what we do here. Things that matter cover a wide range. Like on-line auctions, eBay and getting smart. Check this out:



That was the last straw. I decided to write this article, no more procrastination!







Creatures to emulate: Be a coyote, not a chicken.

At the end of the auction that prompted this tirade, I looked at the item’s auction page, wanting to do a post game analysis, and knowing what I’d find. Come with me now. Check out (almost) any completed auction on eBay. (We can all find the auction ad page right? I’m writing for beginners on eBay, as well as others. The auction ad page is where we placed our bid, right?)

I went straight to auction page’s Bid History line. That’s in the middle of the info section in the top area of the page, right above the winning bidder’s name. (The area where the End time, Shipping costs, Ships to, Item Location, History, and High Bidder are stacked on top of each other.)

I clicked on History, which is a number indicating the number of bidders, and sure enough, the bid history looked like this:

(No, it doesn’t look like this. I’m having a bit of trouble getting WordPress to write a table. I’ll try to figure this out. Meantime: the table on eBay shows our bidders bidding more and more for the same item, often with no other buyer in sight. In the info below, salliemay raises the bid from $29 to $150 all by herself, no other bidders showing. Her final bid of $273 is almost ten times her initial bid. She doesn’t pay the increase she caused; the winner does.)

BIDDER . . . . . . . BID AMOUNT . . . . . BID TIME

muggsie (781). . . . .$276 . . . . . . . . 12 noon (1 sec. before auction ends)
salliemay (2) . . . . . . . .$273 . . . . . . . . . . . . . Seven minute before close
salliemay (2) . . . . . . . .$271 . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nine minutes before close
bee-bob (7) . . . . . . . . .$266 . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ten minutes before close
salliemay (2) . . . . . . . $264 . . . . . . . . . . . . . Eleven minutes to go
fritz (14) . . . . . . . . . . . $262 . . . . . . . . . . . . . Eight hours to go
bee-bob (7) . . . . . . . . .$260 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 hours to go
fritz (14) . . . . . . . . . . . $225 . . . . . . . . . . . . . Four days to go
bee-bob (7) . . . . . . . . . $175 . . . . . . . . . . . . . Two days to go
salliemay (2) . . . . . . . .$150 . . . . . . . . . . . . . We’re heading to the initial listing date
salliemay (2) . . . . . . . . $125
salliemay (2) . . . . . . . . .$99
salliemay (2) . . . . . . . . .$89 . . . . . . . . . . . . .Closer and closer to the auction start
salliemay (2) . . . . . . . . . $59
salliemay (2) . . . . . . . . . $29
BOZOMAN (0). . . . . . . .$10
Starting price . . . . .$9.99 . . . . . . . . . . . . TIME ZERO: AUCTION BEGINS

(These are made up bidder names, by the way. If there are real BOZOMAN(0)s out there, let me know and I’ll change the name.)

Okay, what happened here? Basically, our friend salliemay bid up the price of the item from a lousy ten bucks to $273. She didn’t do it alone; she had help from her friends, fritz and bee-bob. (BOZOMAN opted out after firing the opening salvo.)

Notice anything about these wannabe winners? Yes, their highest feedback score is 14. Ol’ fritz managed to win fourteen times and earn the (14) behind his name. These people are BEGINNERS.

They drive me crazy. How did muggsie (781) win the item and get that 781 positive feedback score that the (781) behind his name indicates? By using a sniping program. Simple as that. Do you think a smart guy like muggsie (781) is going to sit around his computer waiting for the last second to throw in his bid? No. Software does it.

When does muggsie (781) show up in the auction? Once––one second before it closes. Where do I show up? Not at all. When salliemay did her thing with the price, I pulled my snipe. The item was out of my budget range. I never showed up at all.

Where did I learn this? While I was getting my (286) positive feedback score. I have an entire web site devoted to helping you improve your game on eBay. See SANDY’S AUCTION WISDOM for many well thought out articles about both buying and selling on eBay, as well as managing the little problem that many of us find ourselves with: eBay addiction.

Lots to read on SANDY’S AUCTION WISDOM, folks. I’m not going to replicate it here. The articles on that site were once some of the most highly ranked articles on buying and addiction on the Net, by the way. I don’t keep changing them all the time to stay up in the ratings, because I’m not addicted to my own website statistics. My articles on buyding and selling and marketing are good reading, if you’re serious about being sane and participating in on-line auctions.

One funny aside, my auction domain name http://www.sandysauctionwisdom.com, the cumbersome Sandys Auction Wisdom, was originally the snappy ebayonspurs. I chose that catchy URL, because it referred to my ‘zine, Spurs Magazine, and led to my web articles about eBay on Spurs. That seemed easy enough.

Not to eBay. I came out with ebayonspurs and got a letter from Meg Whitman faster than I could post an auction listing. eBay frowns upon people trying to catch a wave by latching onto its corporate image. Use of the word “ebay” in any domain name is a no-no. When threatened with legal action, I rolled, pulling my cute moniker and going to something obscure, but kosher.

More about what happened in the auction above and most auctions. I want you to look at the bidding history of any recently completed auction. Almost invariably, somebody bids and bids and bids, apparently against her (or him) self. Why? I don’t get it. If another bid was made, it would show up in the bid history, yes? They must be doing it for some reason, thinking they’re winning––this time, they’ll finally win. Yay!

I’ve looked at lots of auction results, and it always seems that one bidder keeps upping the price and upping it. It’s always a low feedback score person––a newbie. And the auction is almost always won in the last seconds by someone whose feedback score shows lots of winning. And at a much higher price than necessary if salliemae could have been THROTTLED at her first bid.

Oh, yes, you may get several beginners doing the same thing, as we have above. They should all be THROTTLED.

I couldn’t figure out what was going on. The solitary bidder listed again and again, bidding with no other bidder recorded, raising the price.

So I wrote to eBay, saying what I’ve told you above. They got back pronto, with information about shill bidding. You know what that is? Check it out: shill bidding from eBay’s site. Ebay is the best source of info about eBay, their on-site guides being up to date, easy to understand and authoritative. (My articles are basically correct, but eBay changes so quickly that you should check any uncertainly you may have with their HELP PAGES. )

When I told eBay about the pattern I’d observed over and over again, they thought it was shill bidding––salliemay was actually the dreaded RUPERT (21,741), who was in collusion a pack of other auction pirates, bumping up bids right and left.

I don’t think so. Why would RUPERT want a ratty old fur coat? Why would RUPERT want table linens or the other stupid (sorry, lovers of fur and lace) things that catch my eye? And why would what I show in my example be so pervasive?

I chalk it up to an even more pervasive human trait: STUPIDITY. Or IGNORANCE, if you want to be more polite. I’m just sick of the sallies and wonnies and dopies of the auction world causing me to lose stuff that’s probably feeding my own addictions and also causing strain with my husband about my overspending. (So, okay, the loss isn’t important in the bigger scheme of things.)

And I’m sick of beginners and idiots (Sorry. Sometimes I get really heated . . .) making everyone pay more than they need to for trivial to extremely useful stuff.

So: use a sniping program. To learn what this is, go to my series on on-line auctions and memorize it: THE PLACE WHERE YOU GET THE SNIPING HARDWARE.

To make it easier than that, I use esnipe.com, which has helped me get pretty much everything I’ve won. Every once in a while, I pay them $20 bucks or so. They bid for me electronically, charging a minimal amount when I win something. I’m out of the bidding wars. Out of sight, lurking like a sneaking bandit, waiting to win.

Which is what we want do to, yes? We’re not just sitting in front of our computers knowing our hips are spreading by the day, we’re trying to win. Sign up for esnipe, they’ll take care of you.

eBay has it’s own, in house sniping program, which you can use on bundles of things you want. It will bid on a group of specified items for you until you win something. That’s pretty neat. I’ve never used it, so can’t say how it works. But salliemay, for goodness sake, stop bidding against yourself and start winning!

eBay’s Bid Assistant Check it out!

Oh, you won’t win if your bid isn’t the highest bid in place at the auction’s closing. But that’s a matter of choice and budgeting. Read my whole series, I get into all of that. Financial sobriety, the soft addictions, not going broke. Having your soul come out on top instead of your lust for stuff. These are deep articles, sumptuously illustrated by stuff from eBay.

Ebay also has it’s own really good tutorials on everything eBay related. Here’s the eBay LEARNING CENTER.

That’s it, folks. Oh, one other thing you should read to get smart about on-line auctions:

Stepping Off the Edge

Winner of six national awards, including:
Bronze Medal, 2007 IPPY Awards; finalist, Benjamin Franklin Awards in New Age; finalist, 2007 Indie Excellence Awards in Memoir, Self Help and Spirituality; finalist, BEST BOOKS OF 2007, Memoir

I’ve got two chapters in Stepping Off the Edge about eBay addiction. How I got it, how I handle it. Financial experts have told me they’ve never seen on-line addiction treated the way I do.

So, get my book, and read my SANDY’S AUCTION WISDOM series. A reader sent me the following about that series:

Dear Sandy,

Thank you very much for your site. Your analysis of what causes this kind of addiction has helped me to break down why I am doing what I am. Because of that I now have a much better chance of freeing myself from this and whatever else I manage to become compulsive about in my life.

I think that the way that you write about this subject matter is very insightful and nurturing, I got something out of every section and it taught me something about myself that was way more valuable than just how to quit compulsively shopping from my computer.

I think your articles will help everyone with the intelligence to understand the concepts and the patience to read more than a paragraph. I may even buy your book based on my enjoyment of your writing. I have copied and pasted a small section of the text from it and put it in a folder I keep on my desktop called “read this everyday”.

Thanks Sandy.

Sandy Nathan & Her Dogs

Thank you, my dear reader. Now let’s all be smart, non-addictive, winning buyers!
Sandy Nathan, National award winning author. Winner of eight awards as of 12/11/07!


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Santa Ynez valley–home of Rancho Vilasa

Let’s talk about what matters . . .

I started out writing an amusing story about something that happened on the ranch the other day. Not everything I write has to be significant, I thought. But once I get started . . . It turned into a long amusing story. I cut it in half. And made it two stories. See Rancho Vilasa Tales––A Tale of Cockers & Coyotes for the cute half. It’s on its way.

What I write about below is a painful and significant story affecting everyone in the west.

The other day, I was riding my horse when I saw one of these:


The biggest, most athletic, made-to-survive-anything coyote I’ve ever seen was trotting across the field next door. In the west, male coyotes max out at about 37 pounds. Eastern males may weigh over 50, according to some. I don’t know what this dude weighed, but it was way more than my cocker spaniels, which happened to be with me as I rode.

“Wow,” I said, heading my horse closer so I could see our visitor better. You don’t see a coyote like that very often.

Many non-ranchers think that we ranchers would like to wipe out the entire coyote population. That is a prejudice! We at Rancho Vilasa LOVE coyotes. I wish we had more of them. I’m trying to convince my husband to get a Rat Terrier (or a pack of them). Rat Terriers are bred to seek and destroy vermin. The Rat Terrier is the New Coyote!

We need them, because we don’t have enough coyotes and natural predators.

Why do we need more predators? Look at the ground anywhere in the west. The rodent population is out of control. We’ve killed off their natural enemies and created a rodent wonderland on what’s left. Free food, drink, and housing, courtesy of the humans.


Fun loving, family orientated ground squirrels chatting while waiting for lunch.

For instance, part of horses’ diet is oat hay. Oat hay is full of OATS! Stacked in the hay barn, the bales of oat hay provide a wonderful habitat for thousands of adorable field mice. When we feed the hay to the horses, big flakes of it lay in the fields. What the horse don’t eat, the ground squirrels do. Along with their families, offspring, and children of offspring. We also have water everywhere-–our pastures are vacation wonderlands for carefree rodents.

Every morning, I look across my fields, watching them ripple with the coursing backs of ground squirrels. How many to we have? I have no clue. They live in holes, creating underground cities that Stephen King would be hard pressed to imagine. They like to live near driveways and the road. Heat from the asphalt, I expect. Maybe they just like that crumbling feeling as the ground gives way. Maybe they like the screams of those who own the roads and paths when they get the repair bills.

I tried to find pictures on the Net depicting what ground squirrels have done to our place, but I couldn’t find any pictures that were bad enough. I was going to use photos of craters on the moon, but they didn’t capture the mined-out feeling. (I may be forced to go out and shoot some pictures. To do that, I’ll be forced to learn how to use our camera.)

This is the best I could do:

Overview of the Puye Cliff Dwellings of New Mexico

Cave opening at the Puye Dwellings.

Another cave opening at Puye.

Lay those cave mouths flat and you get a sense of the SIZE of the holes ground squirrels are making all over not just our ranch, but also our state. The situation is bad.

It’s worse if you’re riding a horse. My husband and I joke as we carefully pick our way across our property. We point at the holes. “Oh, this is a ground squirrel mansion. And that is a multi-family dwelling! And this monster,” a squirrel hole like a volcano crater, “that must be WalMart!”

Yes, ranch life is fun. Trying not to get your horse’s legs broken––or your own, when the horse falls on you. I often wonder how they made the old cowboy movies where they race willy-nilly across the fields on their horses.

Today, they’d get fifty feet and do a head over heels fall.

Ground Squirrel in attack mode.
Yes, they do think it’s funny. And they are not afraid.

How can we get rid of them? Should we poison our ground squirrels? Shoot them? Our subdivision briefly tried the “poison them” approach (against our family’s opposition) and it failed. Why? Too many ground squirrels and too much money to poison them.

Long before it was tried, my husband and I could see the futility of the poison route: If poison was set for the ground squirrels tearing up the roadways, the minute they died and cleared the area, their cousins from up on the hill would move down to the flat. “Oh, Marge. Look at this great condo Uncle Waldo left us!”

The supply of squirrels is infinite and self-renewing, as our homeowners’ association discovered. The company supplying the poison could not keep up with the little monsters, at least within the parameters of our contract.


Notice the size of the whole the little critters occupy. Multiply that by a thousand . . . Now imagine heaps of dead squirrels. A lot of country living is really gross. It’s going to get grosser:

Aside from the fact that I knew poisoning wouldn’t work, I had many qualms about poison as a way to get rid of one’s neighbors. Spirituality is my main focus of writing. It didn’t seem too kind-hearted or spiritual to poison the creatures around me just because I didn’t approve of their life styles.

I mean, we don’t poison the hawks, and other cute or beautiful wild creatures, do we? The quail, the bobcats, snakes or other creatures, including those not so fun, like skunks? (Or do we poison them? We’ll see in a minute.)

I’m not even a Buddhist, but I could feel my Buddhist ancestors nixing the poison route.

Then I found out more about what the poison does. The poison used to kill ground squirrels is a blood thinner, coumadin, essentially. All those of you on coumadin know what happens if you rap your knuckles by mistake. Imagine a massive coumadin overdose over a five or more day span. This results in internal bleeding, turning your innards to jelly, and then killing you. Sound like a fun way to go?


I had a feeling that poisoning unwanted creatures was a pretty rude and unfriendly way of getting rid of them. But I didn’t know the full ramifications until I talked to my neighbor, Trace Eubanks. I didn’t know what the poison did to the squirrel, and what the dead squirrels did to the world around them.

Trace Eubank’s family owns the Pepper Tree Ranch, site of the marvelous Pepper Tree Art Show. It’s western art at its finest. Try to see that show if you’re in Santa Ynez Valley when it’s on. It’s breathtaking.

Trace was into falconry as a young man. His interest in the birds of prey has evolved into rehabilitation and rescue. I’m going to find a link to the organization doing the raptor rehab in Santa Barbara County that Trace works with. Until then, here’s the short form of what Trace had to say:

Poisoning ground squirrels is a really bad idea. The squirrels do not “go down in their holes and die” as one of my other neighbors informed me. They get thirsty, come out of their holes seeking water, and croak.

That’s the beginning of the problem. A circling red tailed hawk sees a staggering squirrel and swoops down. Easy dinner. He snatches the rodent and flies off to feed his wife and kids.

Also contrary to popular belief, a coumadin-laced squirrel meat will kill hawks, owls, and all manner of scavengers, including Sugar Lips, your mother’s beloved poodle. It may take a few squirrels to do the job, but they will kill.

Trace Eubanks gave a presentation about this to a group of our neighbors. He brought some of the birds of prey he was rehabbing: the most magnificent and very much alive horned owls, smaller owls, and a couple of red tailed hawks. Their presence gave the demonstration added impact. Who could do anything that would kill one of those spectacular animals?

During Trace’s presentation, I sat next to a small animal veterinarian who assured me that she got maybe half a dozen very sick dogs every year––all poisoned by eating dead squirrels. By the time they show symptoms, they’re beyond help. She couldn’t save any of them. This terrified me. We have five dogs. I’ve seen them running around with dead squirrels in their mouths.

That isn’t the worst part. What was really upsetting was the fact that hawks and other birds of prey mate for life. So, if dad is killed by poison, mom waits around for him. For the rest of her life.

One dead bird means that all the offspring that might have come from that pair for their entire lifetimes will not exist. Period. And the offspring of those babies won’t exist, nor theirs, nor theirs. It’s a widening spiral which robs animals of their lives––and us of their beauty.


I like seeing the hawks circling over my pastures. I like hearing their cries. I love picking up their feathers when they fall on the paths. I even like their high-altitude, screaming, turf wars, carried out over my arena.

One hawk dead by poison, and entire lineage wiped out.

That’s shocking. Tell that to your friends who want to poison the squirrels.


Shooting squirrels seemed more sporting to me, though I have scruples about killing anything. Turns out that shooting squirrels isn’t any more effective at getting rid of them than poison. Our semi-rural area is too developed for people to shoot much. (Might shoot the neighbors. Or their kids or horses.)

My friend Patti Sexton is a real rancher. She and her family once owned Stone Valley Ranch, a 15,000-acre sheep and cattle ranch up near Chico. That’s a real ranch. They owned it for a hundred or so years. Patti shoots, she rides, ropes, and is the best farrier for Peruvian Paso horses I know. (She’s also The Lamb Lady, producing lamb from animals who’ve had grass fed, hormone, anti-biotic free lives, which were as happy as Patti could make them from beginning to end.)

“We have guys who come out and shoot squirrels. They’ll get fifty squirrels a day. Doesn’t do anything. They’re right back,” Patti scoffed. “There’s nothing you can do.”

Surely there must be something? And what about all the mice, too?


Nature has the balance set up pretty well.

CALIFORNIA KING SNAKE: Nature’s exquisite answer to mouse infestation.
Photo: Zoe Nathan

We have all sorts of beautiful snakes out here, constantly on rodent patrol. Perhaps the most beautiful is the California king snake. My daughter took the shot above on our property. We also have intricately marked, five foot long gopher snakes that glide into holes looking for a snack. Heavier, slower rattlers stay away, mostly. I saw one. What a powerful totem the rattle snake is! Phew.

We have California ferrets, raccoons, vultures, birds of prey. Even bears, bobcats, and mountain lions. The natural world provides us with lots of animals programmed for rodent control.

Photo credit: Billie Cromwell-RetiredPGC-PGC Photo1L

When I see a coyote, I am happy. Can’t be enough of these creatures. However, I keep my dogs and cats inside at night and have secure perimeter fencing. Do not romanticize these animals: They are after a meal wherever they find it. Keep domestic animals safe! That’s your job.


Well, I haven’t tried the Rat Terrier solution. If my husband relents on his anti-small dog stance and we get one (or more), I’ll post what happens.

Other than that, doesn’t seem to be a solution, other than living so that you don’t provide any food or water for them. If you’ve got horses or livestock, getting rid of the food supply is going to be hard.

Global warming may help: Nothing like being underwater to eliminate animals in burrows. The naturalist at Sedgwick Reserve near us hoped for exceptional rainfall, for the same reason. Drown them.

But if you’re at a high enough altitude to be above the water line, you’re on your own.


Sandy Nathan & Her Dogs
Sandy Nathan, National Award Winning Author of Stepping Off the Edge & Numenon

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