26 December 2007


Why should anyone give a damn what I think about the upcoming Presidential Election? Why should anyone give a damn what any one voter thinks? But, I've got this blog, so I'm going to use it to disseminate at least some of my political views.

Here's what I think about the upcoming Presidential Primaries:

First off, no matter who the Democrat Party candidate is in the November election, I'll probably end up voting for her, or him. We've had too much of the Republicans for the past eight years no matter who their nominee is. Things have tilted too far to their side. The country needs some balance and to get it, things are going to have to tilt back to the other side for a little while. Not to mention that the next president will certainly appoint at least one supreme court judge and the country cannot take the risk that the appointee will be heavily influenced by the religious right.

Plus, someone's got to cut back on war spending, and it isn't going to be the Republicans.

The funny thing is that people still labor under the delusion that one party is the party of sound fiscal policy and the other isn't. It's just not true. Both parties are profligate spenders. Both parties figure they can buy our votes through how they spend money.

The difference is that the Republicans overspend on "defense" and the Democrats want to overspend on domestic policies. Traditionally, the Republicans are the ones who actually believe in a free lunch. They want to spend without raising taxes. When they accuse the Democrats of being "tax and spend" - at least that makes sense. Don't tax, but spend anyhow is about as dumb a policy as there is. The Republicans just spend on different things than the Democrats do.

And the Republicans get away with that for eight, sometimes twelve years at a time, then the Democrats get elected and have no choice but to raise taxes to pay for all the massive Republican defense spending and tax cut backs. So then the Democrats get painted as the party that raises taxes and the Republicans get elected again. It's a pretty good political strategy and a really lousy fiscal one.

So, I'm not going to even worry about who the Republican nominee is going to be. Whoever it is, they aren't getting my vote - as amusing as I think Ron Paul is.

As for the Democrats, my top three choices for the nomination come from among the six serious candidates. (I say "serious" because I don't believe Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel ever had a snowball's chance in hell of winning the nomination, and even if they did, neither of them would be my choice anyhow.) But my top three are the least likely to get the nomination: Richardson, Biden and Dodd.

Richardson is my candidate of choice. He's got the widest range of experience, has proved himself an effective governor, and has some very bright ideas. Problem is, he's a lousy candidate. He lacks charisma, is sometimes too honest, and puts his foot in his mouth when he's tired - just like most people do, but presidential candidates need to learn to keep their mouths shut.

So, what of the other three, who seem to have a chance at the nomination?

I don't like John Edwards. I don't trust him, and he scares me. If you can really believe what he says - and I have my doubts about that - he has a near complete lack of understanding of the global economy, or the way that the global economy and trade affect the U.S. If, as President, he could actually do what he says he would like to do - which, luckily, he couldn't - in terms of trade policy, he would severely set back our economy. The U.S. would lose a great many more jobs than it has already. Any possible recession, would threaten to become a full blown depression, and it would take down a lot of other countries with it. I'm sorry about your father's job John, but we are the world's most developed, technologically advanced economy; there is no sane reason that t-shirts or socks should be manufactured in North Carolina. Maybe with all of your trial lawyer fees you can afford to buy undergarments made in America, but most people can't. We need better, new economy jobs, not to protect the old jobs that other countries can now do as well and cheaper.

Luckily, I don't really think he's got a hope in hell, anyhow.

So that leaves us with Hillary and Obama, and I'm okay with either of them.

I also worry, though, that either of them will have a more difficult time getting elected than they ought to.

Despite being one of the more moderate, centrist senators, who has received high marks for her willingness and ability to work with the Republicans, Hillary is still a very divisive figure. The Republicans don't just not agree with her, they hate her. And they're ready for her. I am certain that they have both barrels locked and loaded and ready to hurt her in all sorts of ways the moment she gets the nomination. They've been preparing for her for the past three years. I still think she can win, but it will be a whole lot closer than it ought to be. And, as much as I hate her stance on the Iraq War, I think she'd be a good president and surround herself with good advisors. And, though I would prefer our first woman president to be a completely self-made woman, rather than the wife of a previous president, I would be happy to see the breaking of that glass ceiling in any event.

As for Obama, as much as I would love to believe that race wouldn't be an issue in a presidential election, I don't believe that. It won't be a huge issue - most of the people who won't vote for a black man, wouldn't vote for a Democrat either - but I think it would still be a big enough issue as to also make an Obama election a whole lot tighter than it should be. And, with his short track record in national politics, a very close election will make it harder for him to govern effectively. I don't worry too much about the experience factor. I think an awful lot of what goes into making a good president is the people he or she is surrounded by. And I think he'd appoint good people. Also, being black, and having lived in Indonesia as a child, I think he'd be well-situated for beginning the vital process of improving relations with the Islamic world.

So, who am I going to vote for in the California Primary? I don't know. I'll probably vote for Richardson anyhow in the hope that he gets enough votes that whoever's the nominee has to pick him for vice-president or Secretary of State.

Now I'll try to get back to some more amusing topic in my next blog post.

12 December 2007

IKE TURNER, 1931-2007

So what if I was 16 and horny. So what if I was in the front row at the Shrine and looking up the very short skirts of the Ikettes, two of whom were not wearing underwear. Sure, Tina had that voice. And those legs. But for me, it was all about Ike.

There he was, in a white suit with a black t-shirt. He spent a lot of his time with his back turned to the crowd, hardly moving. But oh-my-fucking-god; the sounds that came out of that man's guitar. (Only Hendrix did more. He'd played in Ike's band once. But there were times when I liked Ike better.) And the control he had over the band. (As far as controlling a band went, the only one I ever saw who came close to Ike was Frank Zappa. He was in fair second place.)

Now he's dead at 76, and too many people don't know who he was, don't know what they missed, what they'll be missing. Ike Turner was, at the very least, the missing link between blues and rock and roll. In any sensible, realistic list of the creators of modern American music, he'd be a shoo-in for the pantheon.

Too many people know him from the movies. Sure What's Love Got To Do With It was a good bio-pic. But it didn't tell his story, certainly not the whole story, or even the important parts. There's even some controversy over how accurate it was. Some of that controversy has even been fed by Tina herself in interviews in the years since.

In the years after he broke up with Tina, Ike's life spun largely out of control. But he always kept working. Last year he won a Grammy for his album Risin' With the Blues. It's a very good record, one that will give you a taste of what he was capable of. But only a small taste.

Seeing him live was always the best. There are no albums that capture that. Certainly none of the ones with Tina.

The last time I saw Ike was at a small club in Los Feliz, here in Los Angeles. He mostly played keyboard. He was also an accomplished pianist. The band was totally in his control. The first half was magical. Then there was a break.

After the break it got sort of pathetic. He brought a Tina clone on stage. She had great cleavage. A very short skirt. An okay voice. But she wasn't Tina. And even worse, working with her to try and recapture some past glory days, Ike wasn't Ike.

And Ike, all by himself with his guitar and his band, man, that was always way more than enough. I'm gonna miss him.

Here's some assorted pictures that I like. I found them online.

04 December 2007


Far too many girls in poor countries are sold into sexual and other forms of slavery by their families. Cambodia, being one of the poorest countries in the world, is no exception.

My latest book, GRAVE IMPORTS, is set in Cambodia. Though it deals with the theft of the country's antiquities, a vital part of the story is the social and economic context in which it takes place.

I hope you enjoy the book. Above all, I want it to be entertaining. But if you get anything more than simple amusement out of reading GRAVE IMPORTS, I hope it's an awareness of the terrible problems facing the people of Cambodia.

And of course, I'm hoping to make some money from having written the book. I am trying to earn a living here. But I also want to give something back. Besides making you aware of the problems in Cambodia, I want to do something a bit more concrete.

I've donated money from my advance, and will continue to do so from royalties, for GRAVE IMPORTS to a group called American Assistance for Cambodia (AAfC), that I think is doing very important, and good, work in the country.

You can click on the banner above or below and learn more about AAfC and how you can help its efforts to keep Cambodian girls in school and out of the brothels and sweatshops. And besides the satisfaction of knowing you've helped an important effort, you'll get something extra as a thank you in return.

03 December 2007


To those of you who haven't ever been serious about photography, or had a favorite pair of old shoes, this is going to probably seem silly. Tomorrow morning at 11 am, I am getting rid of my Leica equipment.

I'm not much of a gearhead when it comes to taking pictures, which is why, oddly, since I became serious about it in college I have mostly used one of the most expensive, finely-crafted cameras in the world - a rangefinder Leica M.

For me, a Leica has become the highest quality point and shoot. It is an extension of my eye. It is the means by which my brain freezes visual frames. When I'm using it, I don't think about it. My brain sees something, the Leica captures it. The camera allows for the minimum of interference between what my brain sees and the picture I get.

And when I'm carrying it around, it's like I'm not carrying anything around. It's just another part of my body; part of the brain-eye structure that just happens to hang on a strap around my neck or fit snugly into my hand. It's like that great old pair of shoes that you aren't even aware are on your feet.

For the first 20 or so years that I had Leicas, I didn't even have a light meter. In the way that your eye adjusts to the light, well somehow my camera and I adjusted along with it. For that matter, in spite of the fact that Leicas are probably the most concise focusing cameras ever invented, I rarely bothered focusing, either. I just knew what lens did what and positioned myself accordingly. I never had any problems with exposure or focus.

But film cameras are becoming more of a pain in the ass to use. I no longer have a darkroom, and even if I did, I just don't have the need, time or inclination to spend hours on end working in one. Having used a couple of lower end digital cameras for a while, I can hardly get around to taking film I shoot to the lab, then picking it up, then sorting it, then scanning the slides I want to do something with. I've been using my Leica less and less, and my digital point and shoots more and more.

When I went to Alaska I took both a digital camera and my Leica. It was the first time I'd taken the Leica out for several months. I loaded it with good, slow slide film behind a very wide angle (12mm) lens to capture the immense scenery. I loved using it, as always. Every time I'd hear the snick of the shutter it was like an old dear lover, whispering in my ear.

It took me nearly a month to get around to taking the film to the lab, and another three days to bother picking it back up again. (It had been ready in two hours.) I sorted it on a light table, tossed out about eighty percent of the slides - because of difficult light, I'd bracketed a lot, and have still not got around to running the slides I saved through my film scanner.

I've long since downloaded, edited, filed, posted and made use of the many more photos I took with the digital camera I brought to Alaska.

Since it was announced, last year, I've toyed with the idea of buying the new Leica M8 - the first digital rangefinder Leica. It looks very much like all the other Leicas made since the M3 came out in 1954. It feels almost the same in the hand; a little fatter, a touch taller, no film advance or rewind lever, solidly built - though not quite so much as the film Leicas I've used.

But the M8, well, it just seems like it asserts itself, as if it wants to make sure that you know damn well it's a technical marvel. It requires messing with menus, marking special codes on the lenses, putting special filters on wide angle lenses because of bad digital color shifts; and to get the picture you took in your head seems to require mucking around an awful lot with Photoshop afterwards.

And on top of all that, the M8 costs about five thousand dollars, plus another thousand or more by the time I get all my lenses coded, buy the filters and get ready to use it.

I can buy a new Nikon D300 digital SLR with all the lenses and filters and geegaws and doodads that I could possibly want to use with it, for less than it would cost me to buy an M8 to use with my existing lenses. I like Leica lenses a lot better than Nikon lenses. But Nikon lenses are still excellent. I can sell my current Leica and lenses and related geegaws and doodads for more than enough money to cover the Nikon and everything, as well as a second Nikon body if I want one, and still have money left over - a lot of money left over if I don't spring for the second Nikon body.

So that's what I'm going to do. Tomorrow at 11 am. At a place called PopFlash Photo in Thousand Oaks. They're going to take my Leica equipment on consignment and sell it for me. Even with their twenty percent cut, it's going to work out for the best.

But I'll be losing out on an old and dear friend. I might take some of the money though, and buy an old, used Leica with one lens; an M3 or an M2, like the first Leicas I ever used. Hopefully someone will still make film for at least another dozen years or so.

I do not have photos of all the Leicas that I've personally owned over the years. The photo at the top of this blog is of my current Leica, the M7 that I'm taking to PopFlash tomorrow.

But here, in order, are pictures of the various models of Leica M that I've owned over the years - since 1973 when I bought my first, used M3 for $250 with a 50mm Summicron lens. I think it is a thing of truly great, simple beauty.

26 November 2007


Los Angeles, CA: 10,569 miles

I have finally limped, literally, back home. Something went horribly wrong with my left knee over Thanksgiving, but the car, Eva and myself managed to make it home relatively unscathed, other than that.

So, here's the tally (not the final tally, as there will be a few more events and signings to come) since the official West Coast Book Launch Party at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood on October 6:

21 scheduled bookstore events / signings,
39 other drop in signings at stores that already had my books,
9 successful drop ins to stores that didn't have my books, but that subsequently ordered the books.

That's not enough. I've got to figure out what more to do. By the time the year ends I plan to have shown up at every single bookstore in Southern California that is carrying my books, so as to deface their title pages with my nearly illegible scrawl.

But, short of getting arrested, having sex with Britney Spears or running for office - three highly undesirable activities - what's an author to do? How do you publicize a book?

I keep telling myself the same thing that every single author tells themselves: "every little bit helps." And maybe it does. But sooner or later you can't help but do a little informal cost-benefit analysis. And once you do, it is nearly impossible to come to any conclusion other than that this is one really sucky business.

I've had a lot of fun, met some great new people, hung out with some increasingly good pals; but when you compare the number of books I've probably sold with the expense (in both money and time) and consider the fact that for the past two months I have been, by far, my publisher's most active (unpaid) sales representative, you do have to wonder: what's the point?

With a few exceptions, I am coming to the conclusion that book writing is work for people who are A.) Independently wealthy. B.) Possessed of massive egos. C.) Maniacs who have enough self-discipline to get their writing done in their off-hours from their day-jobs. D.) All of the above.

I guess I fit into some of those categories - although it's not all that comfortable a fit. Maybe I haven't quite yet rested enough from the road. Not enough home cooked meals, not enough nights asleep in my own bed, not enough mindless TV... But it's hard not to get discouraged.

Here's some more pictures:

Geese in Portland, OR

Unfortunately, I didn't feel like a drink when I passed the Bettie Ford Cocktail Lounge in Portland, OR

It was, apparently, chili season in Seattle?

Heavier people on the right, please.

What sort of experience is money lending for a palace? Pawnshop in Reno, NV

The ham & eggs were apparently "glorified" with some sort of caramelized banana, so I didn't order them. The huevos rancheros were very good, though. Reno, NV

I'd forgot how beautiful is around around, and from Mammoth Lakes. I did, however, for the first time ever experience some altitude sickness. View from Mammoth Lakes, CA

23 November 2007


Sometimes I just have to wonder about my fellow writers. Too many of them seem to have little appreciation for the business we are in. A great many of the responses that I got when I posted the details of my problem with Powell's selling my ARCs - and only my ARCs - seemed to indicate that a lot of writers have self-image problems. They think they are in business to create great literature and then if someone is kind enough to publish it, well, that's reward enough. Everything else is just gravy - if not the kindness of strangers, then the kindness of publishers, booksellers and book reviewers.

Now I have to confess to harboring a bit of that sentiment myself. It is a great privilege to have something I've written published. I feel honored by the mere fact of its publication and that people who don't know me are actually willing to pay money for my books and to read them.

But I also know that like any business, the point of what we do is to sell something - in our case, books. If that wasn't the point, we wouldn't need to worry about all this nonsense with agents and publishers and editors and bookstores; we'd just write 'em and stick 'em in the closet, maybe take them out every so often to show to friends.

But that's not what we do. We are in a partnership - with our agents, publishers, editors and booksellers to sell books. Sending out Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of our books, is part of that sales effort. ARCs are the sample products that we send to potential buyers and readers to generate sales. Just like most companies do. Just like auto supply companies do. Just like movie makers - another "creative" group of people - do.

There's a simple, ethical rule that governs what sellers do with product samples - whether they are auto supplies, new candy bars or books. If they receive a sample, they have every right to decide whether or not they are going to sell the product. If, however, they decide not to sell the product, it is unethical to turn a quick, easy buck by selling the free sample they received. Give it to a friend, use it yourself, well, okay, but don't sell it. In many businesses, it is not merely unethical, it is illegal. (Most samples are stamped somewhere: Not For Resale; or something similar. Review copies of movies and music CDs are, I've even seen bags of new types of potato chips with a notice like that on them; and, oh yeah, so are ARCs.)

The film industry is a good case in point. The most important aspect of film festivals such as Cannes and Sundance, isn't who wins what prize. The most significant activity at those events is the film market. Filmmakers bring their movies to show to buyers for theater chains, TV and DVD production companies. Sometimes, though they aren't usually accepted for the competition part of the event, they bring rough cuts to those events because the final product isn't fully finished.

Rough cuts of movies are a lot like ARCs - often uncorrected proofs, without the final cover on them. They are not the product that the director, writer, producer, actors and other participants in making it, want public audiences to see. Filmmakers have an advantage, though; they can show their rough cuts to controlled, large audiences in theaters rather than giving them each their own copy to take home and show or sell to whoever else they want. Or, when they do give out DVDs of rough cuts - a relatively new phenomenon, they keep a very tight rein on what people do with them.

There's a good reason for that. Copyright infringement is one of the major issues in the movie industry. Film studios are doing whatever they can to avoid having thieves - which is what they are - make and sell counterfeit copies of their movies. If they, say, handed out DVDs of rough cuts of their films, and those DVDs then found their way into shops for the public to buy, theaters where the public can view them, or on TV; the companies selling or showing them would soon be put out of business from the lawsuits that would follow.

It is hard to imagine that any of us in "creative pursuits" can't sympathize with that.

Filmmakers also invite reviewers to advance screenings, sometimes of rough cuts if they want to get reviews in advance of the release of a movie. Or they send rough cut DVDs - but heavily stamped throughout to make it clear they are review copies only. They take a chance doing that. It costs them money and there is no guarantee that the movie will get reviewed. That's just part of business. But they do whatever they can to avoid having those unfinished movies find their way into the public market.

Book publishers don't have that luxury. They need to send out a lot more ARCs far in advance to try and get reviews scheduled for when the book is published. Booksellers make their orders far in advance of publication as well, so they need to get ARCs early.

None of that, however, excuses anybody from the basic, simple ethics of the situation.

But, we writers, and our publishing companies, do, for the most part, cut everybody some slack with regard to ARCs. (Although, I don't recall seeing too many ARCs for sale from big name authors, or the bigger publishing houses. Perhaps they actually enforce those "Not For Resale" notices.)

If a store has customers who are collectors, who want ARCs for their collections, I have no problem with that if they are also selling the real book. A couple of days ago, I happily signed an ARC for a store that is also selling the final, finished copies of my books. In a lot of businesses, even that wouldn't be tolerated.

When my fellow writers tell me that things like what happened with my ARCs at Powell's are simply the price we pay for trying to get our books reviewed and stocked in stores; or that we should even be thankful for the fact that only our ARCs are on bookstore shelves because in some way that helps promote the real book; all I can be is aghast at their remarkable lack of professionalism.

13 November 2007


Portland, OR: 7749 miles

Powell's Books in Portland is one of the world's greatest, if not THE greatest, bookstores. I've been a customer there since the late 1970s when I lived in Portland. One of the highlights of my career writing books was the event that I had at Powell's Hawthorne store in 2005 when my first two books came out. There were 35-40 people - an excellent turnout for an unknown author - and best of all it was in a place that I'd fantasized about walking into and finding books written by me.

Yesterday I walked into the main store, on Burnside, and found a couple of copies of GRAVE IMPORTS, my latest book. But it didn't make me happy.

Both copies were ARCs - Advanced Reading Copies. ARCs are uncorrected proofs that the publisher sends out to book buyers and reviewers prior to the release of the actual book. In the case of GRAVE IMPORTS, they had a blank white cover, a number of typos and minor mistakes that were corrected before the final book was printed, and were clearly marked "Not For Resale."

A lot of authors get really pissed off when stores sell their ARCs. It is sort of embarrassing. Still, I'm not one of those authors. I realize that there are collectors who are specifically interested in ARCs and in the case of Powell's, the ARCs were priced at about half the price of the trade paperback, so maybe someone who couldn't otherwise afford to buy one of my books could afford one of the ARCs.

I, however, don't make a penny off the sale of one of my ARCs. Neither does my publisher. In the case of the two ARCs for sale at Powell's, I am fairly certain that the store got them for free. I had personally sent ARCs to the event coordinator at the store, and also to their buyer for their airport outlets - who I had met at a conference.

Now as I said, I'm not one of the authors who gets completely hot under the collar about stores selling ARCs. Not completely. I don't like it. I think it's wrong. But so long as a store carries my actual, published books as well, I can live with it.

Powell's did not have any copies of the actual, finished, published GRAVE IMPORTS. It was available from Powell's, but only online.

Now that did piss me off, plenty.

I considered simply shoplifting the two ARCs, but that seemed like a bad idea in spite of the no doubt sympathetic publicity I'd probably get if I could have blown my arrest up into a big deal. So instead, I took them to a manager and complained. To her credit, she seemed rather embarrassed by my complaint and indicated that she absolutely understood why I was so bothered. She looked online and discovered that Powell's was selling my books online. She said that she would order several to have brought to the store and put on the shelf next to the ARCs.

I hope she does. I hope they sell. If you go to Powell's, please ignore the ARCs on the shelf and buy the real book.

Now don't get me wrong. Powell's sells used books, and unlike some authors, that doesn't bother me at all. Someone, sometime, has actually bought a real copy of my book and then sold it to a used bookstore. No problem. My publisher and I benefitted from the original sale. But that's not true of ARCs. Selling an ARC is a form of petty theft perpetrated on me and my publisher. Petty enough that I let it slide. I even politely sign ARCs that stores put on sale. But I'm only polite about it when they are also selling the real deal.

I still love Powell's. But now I feel like we've had our first really ugly spat and I can't trust them like I used to.

12 November 2007


Roseburg, OR: 7,570 miles

It does get tiring. There's only so much really awful AM radio anyone can reasonably be expected to listen to. NPR wears thin after a while. I'm sick of the CDs I brought. We tried listening to a Bill Bryson book on tape yesterday and couldn't get into it. The scenery only gets you so far. The little trimuphs, are little indeed. I went into a Borders in San Francisco and there were seven copies of my books rather than the usual four. That perked me up for a little while.

City Lights Bookstore didn't have my books. One of my goals in life is to walk in there one day and find one of my books on a shelf. It's one of my favorite places. As much as San Francisco isn't one of my favorite places, so long as I can go and hang out at City Lights for a while, I never regret going to the city.

I've begun toying with openings for book four in the Ray Sharp series. The first attempt had him burning his nose with the juice from a xiao long bow - a Shanghainese juicy pork dumpling. Stab number two has him kicked under the dinner table by his colleague and friend Lei Yue for asking an impertinent question of a potential client. I don't know yet. I'm currently rereading Moby Dick and neither of those ledes are "Call me Ishmael."

Moby Dick is funnier this time than it has been in the past. And I'm convinced that in many places it is deliberately humorous. That never struck me before. There's plenty of seriousness going on as well, but I sure have been chuckling a lot more than the last few times I read it. Maybe it's my mood. It's one of the reasons I do reread it every ten years or so - it's like an old friend of Eva's used to say: "Every time around the fishbowl, it's a whole new world."

That's still sort of true with book touring, I think. But I am beginning to have more fantasies than in the past about breaking out of the fish bowl. Only problem is, does that mean I have to flop around on the linoleum gasping for breath?

Did I stretch all that too far? Did any of it make sense. I haven't had coffee yet.

06 November 2007


Los Angeles, CA: 6,321 miles

Time to catch a bit of a breath. If you divide the number of "logged" miles I've driven on this book tour since leaving L.A. on October 14, by the number of days, I've averaged 287.318 miles driven per day. That doesn't even count the many other miles I've driven once I've got to my various destinations. (As they are spent driving around towns looking at and for things, I don't count them as business driving - though I imagine I could get away with it if I wanted.)

I'm home for four days to catch up on a whole lot of things, to give my car a little pampering, and then will hit the road again on Friday to San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Olympia, Seattle, Reno, Las Vegas, Sedona and finally Tucson again for Thanksgiving. Maybe I'll suggest to Janet, my agent, that my next book advance be paid by the mile.

Anyhow, here's some more pictures from the road:

Mammy's Cupboard on Highway 61 just south of Natchez, Mississippi. Apparently, Mammy used to be black, but what with modern times and all, they have deliberately painted her sort of an in-between mulatto color.

The fabulous Klondike Mall in Klondike, Louisiana. They have a nice selection of spicy pickled stuff and various Cajun spice powders.

It might have been a mistake to miss our opportunity to eat at Donuts & Seafood in Giddings, Texas, but we'd only recently had breakfast.

Having driven right past it many times, at long last we stopped in to view "The Thing - The Mystery of the Desert." Arizona exit 322 off I-10.

The Thing was something of a disappointment, but at a buck a ticket, not that big a disappointment. It's about five feet tall, looks like a mummy and is holding what looks like a kid-thing. It also has a Chinese straw hat thrown in the case with it. From what I can find out online, it is apparently a well done carnival gaff; a paper mache creation by a guy named Homer Tate.

29 October 2007


Lake Charles, Louisiana: 4,597 miles

Here's more pics:

Clarksdale, and for that matter, most of the Delta is pretty run down. Here we have two of the local landmarks: Wade's Barbershop, run for many years by a well known blues singing barber; and the former locale of Stackhouse Records, Clarksdale's most famous blues record shop, now defunct. Cat Head has taken over as the place to go for blues CDs in town, as well as information about local music venues and some very fine regional folk art.

Some places look like they couldn't possibly still be operating, but Bug's Place in Rosedale and Po Monkey's out a dirt road along cotton fields still crank out - canned, but blues - music and attract dancing crowds on some nights of the week. Po Monkey's is usually going on Thursdays and sometimes Sunday. Don't know about Bug's.

An orange moon was rising above the cotton fields across the road from Po Monkey's.

Melvin was sitting in a riverfront park in Greenville, between two casino boats, working up his courage, one cigarette at a time, to gamble. We were waiting around for the place we wanted to go to dinner to open. I walked into one of the casinos, won $70 at blackjack in short order, and we went to dinner.

Dinner was at the original Doe's Eat Place, famous for its steaks and tamales. It was originally a grocery in a black part of town, run by an Italian family. A friend of the family's - a white lawyer - took to coming around by the back entrance to have steaks cooked for him. Word got around, and eventually, the black customers kept coming to the front grocery for tamales and chili and other things, and the white ones kept sneaking in the back for steaks. Eventually the two sides got together and it's now one of the very best steak houses we've ever been to. As a matter of fact, the enormous t-bone that Eva and I ate has taken its place as the third greatest steak I've ever eaten.

After dinner, and after driving past Po Monkey's and ascertaining that, no, it isn't open on Saturday nights, we drove back to Clarksdale and went for a second night to Red's Lounge. There are several operating blues clubs in Clarksdale, the best known of which is Ground Zero that is owned by the actor Morgan Freeman. It's a big place with well known bands and has something of a House of Blues, faux feeling to it - but better. But better yet is Red's. It's the real deal. A run down - the roof literally caving in - tiny little funky place with mostly Budweiser and Heinekin in a nod to the outsiders crowd that shows up there. They have more down home, hill country blues, the sort that you find on Fat Possum records. The first night we saw T-Model Ford, an 87 year old bluesman who plays a very mean electric guitary mostly by himself. The second night, when these pictures were taken, it was Robert Balfour, another 80-something blues guy who really works wonders with his guitar, in a strange, sort of trancelike, heavy bass underpinnings, hypnotic blues kind of way. There was another guy who accompanied him on the spoons. And his nephew Arthur, who fancied himself a dancer. He was more of a staggerer, but entertaining nonetheless so long as you didn't have to sit next to him for long and listen to his ramblings.
Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much of a black crowd for blues. At least in Clarksdale. Both nights the audience was almost all white. Near as we could tell, the black bars in town were playing either modern R&B or Hip Hop. Sad, sort of. Still, a great time was had.

Even more, later.


Natchez, Mississippi: 4,380 miles

The whole quote is: "The classification of the constituents of a chaos, nothing less is here essayed." and it's from Moby Dick, which I am currently rereading.

A good road trip is something like that. You point your car here or there, pretty much at random but with an abiding sense of where you're headed, and soone or later you've made something of it. What? I'm not sure yet. But something.

And so far something very good.

Following two great meals in Chicago - one Italian and one Thai, a splendid time wandering around the old library building and Millenium Park and a frustrating time in the Art Institute (it was in utter disarray thanks to construction and exhibit installation)and a book event at which one person showed up (the bookstore was great though - The Book Stall of Winnetka - and the people who worked there warm, friendly and smart), Eva and I sat in the car and headed nine hours south to Clarksdale, Mississippi, the heart of the Delta and arguably the birthplace of the blues.

We stayed in a fantastic guesthouse that used to be an ice house. We met many interesting, friendly people, we heard some great, and some not so great, music. I hadn't expected much of interest to be left in the Mississippi Delta. I was wrong. It far exceeded my low expectations and now I'd love to go back and spend a lot more time.

Here's some pictures with captions:

The Chicago skyline seen from the prairie grasses garden in Millenium Park. (I don't know what caused the wacky stuff on the building, but I like the way it looks.)

Eva and me, reflected numerous times in the underside of "The Bean" in Millenium Park.

Back when they really put a lot of money into building libraries.

Art babble in the Art Institute. I think everyone who writes for art exhibits and catalogs, as well as about 98% of all the university professors in the world, ought to be sent, regularly, back to writing boot camp. Sheesh!

The famous "Crossroads" of highways 61 and 49, where legend has it Robert Johnson and a number of other blues phenoms sold their souls to the devil for their musical prowess. There is a great deal of controversy as to which crossroads in the Delta is the "real" one, but this is the only one with a crossed guitars monument. It's in Clarksdale. Abe's BBQ, is here and has been here, run by a Lebanese family since 1924. It's a very nice place with, I'm sorry to say, mediocre bbq. Supposedly, Messenger's on the wrong side of the tracks in downtown, is much better, but we didn't get there.

The Big Pink Guesthouse, on the other hand, is truly splendid. $125 per night for the gigantic King Suite - the whole front half of the building that used to be an ice house, then an ice cream factory, then an ice cream parlor, and now one of the very best hostelries we've ever stayed in.

More later. Right now we've got to hit the road from Natchez to Lake Charles, LA.

19 October 2007


Merriam, KS - 2,186 miles
It's a good thing that my doctor isn't along for this ride. America's heartland hasn't confronted me with much traffic on its highways, but it's clogging my arteries.

Lunch yesterday was at Al's Chickenette in Hays, Kansas. It's famous for its fried chicken. So of course, that's what I had. The place looks great, old neon, been there forever, but alas, the chicken was pretty bland. Nicely cooked but without much flavor.

Dinner was a big salad that might have been somewhat healthful if it hadn't come loaded with bacon bits and cheese and a dressing called "Italian" that was rendered from something very fatty. None of which was mentioned on the menu. I ate it though.

So today, having failed to eat great fried chicken yesterday, I went to Stroud's in Kansas City. I've been there before, to their old location which was a truly wonderful old-fashioned roadhouse. It has closed down, and the remaining location is a sort of sprawling antebellum style manse in the far north of the city. The chicken was good though, although I fear my enjoyment of fried chicken has forever been tainted by having had what is inarguably the finest fried chicken in the known universe - that which is to be found on Soi Polo in Bangkok. But Stroud's is about as good as it gets outside of Bangkok - and, well, Ibu Nyanti's in Central Java where fried chicken was reputedly invented. I was hoping to photograph the kitchen - where a line of 20 or more cooks stand at stoves, each with two large, cast iron frying pans in their hands. But in this fancier set up, the kitchen is off limits. Oh well.

In the morning I stopped off at The Raven bookstore in Lawrence. It's a really great store and downtown Lawrence is just what you would want from a midwestern university town. Beautifully kept up buildings dating from about 1910 to 1940, and nary a national or international chain store in sight. There's a thriving, local, independent business community. It's the kind of place where, sometimes, I wish I'd be happy living. But I'm pretty sure I need a much bigger city to avoid insanity.

My event in the afternoon was at I Love A Mystery in Mission, Kansas. It's another really fantastic, large, comfortable store. There weren't many people who showed up, but I had a good time talking with the people who did and the people who worked there. There were a lot of questions about Asia in general.

So then I went to the downtown Kansas City Hereford House for dinner. By most lights, it's the place to go in KC for steak, and KC is supposedly the place to go for steak.

Well, sorry Ashley, no. It was good, but nothing great. The KC Strip is a fine cut of beef, but it doesn't come close to the Cattleman's Cut that one can find at the Sutton County Steakhouse in Sonora, Texas. Now that is the second finest piece of beef I've ever eaten. (The finest was three small bites of top grade Kobe beef at a ludicrously expensive Japanese restaurant.) I ordered the KC Strip in the recommended manor - covered with melted blue cheese and cracked black peppercorns. That was interesting, but the steak didn't have enough flavor of its own to stand up to it.

Afterward I took my hardening arteries over to 18th & Vine, the historic jazz district of Kansas City, which in the '20s, '30s and into the '40s was among the hottest hot spots in the country. They've been trying to restore some of it's former glory, but it's not quite taking. Still, there are some good places that seem to be doing okay. The National Jazz Museum is there, attached to the Negro Baseball Leagues Museum, across the street from the Gem Theater. The Blue Room jazz club is attached to the museum and it's a fun place for drinks and some good tunes, which tonight were provided by Ida McBeth, a local singing sensation.

I took surface streets back to the hotel. I didn't realize KC had such a large Mexican population. I passed a good assortment of taco trucks and taquerias and dance clubs.

Kansas City is a city I'd like to spend more time exploring. It has some truly great architecture, both historic and modern; supposedly has some great art museums; and I still need to consume a bucket of burnt ends - the local bbq specialty - but I don't think I'm going to get a chance before I need to leave tomorrow morning. Somehow bbq, unlike, say, cold pizza, just doesn't seem like breakfast food, as much as I might cherish the chance to further abuse my cholesterol level.

17 October 2007


Denver, CO: 1,576 miles
Luckily, the two grazing elk I saw along Interstate 25 last night - fleetingly, they flitted by at about 82 miles per hour - didn't leap out in front of my car. It might have been a mercy killing though. Of them, not me. It's hunting season in south Colorado and I couldn't find a motel room in Raton, New Mexico or Trinidad, CO. All the rooms were filled with people looking to bag their quota of elk. I passed by a lot of bars while looking for a room and there were platoons of hunters spilling in and out of them. I wonder how many elk are dispatched mercifully with one swift, fatal shot?

Monday night at Poisoned Pen went well. Now, you gotta realize, by "well," I mean well enough for me at this point. Which is to say that there were a dozen, maybe a baker's dozen of, people who showed up and seemed to enjoy the show and who bought books. And the store had sold even more books before I got there. They sold almost all the books they ordered. Barbara Peters, who runs Poisoned Pen, asked smart questions, and gave me an introduction that made it clear she'd read the book and found it interesting. Fun was had, by me.

The thing is, I like hanging out in bookstores talking with people about books and the issues they bring up. And other writers often show up and then I get to hang out and talk shop with them - which is great, since this writing biz is pretty solitary except when you're out on the road. So I like being out on the road. And at this point, I know a lot of the people at the stores and some of the people who come out to see me, and it's like visiting old pals.

Which is why I didn't mind too much today when there were five people at Murder By the Book in Denver - two of them friends and three of them the women who work there, who I've seen three years in a row now and who feel like friends as well. So it was like sitting around with five friends, showing them my pictures of Cambodia and talking with them about stuff that I'm interested in. Once again, I had fun. Although I would feel better if I could attract a large horde of customers to the shop for them. I guess part of the point of all this is that eventually I hope to do just that.

Earlier in the day I drove to Boulder and signed some books at High Crimes, the mystery bookstore there. Once again, nothing tangible or obvious came of it. But I enjoyed dropping in on the store for a visit and sooner or later, between me and the store we'll sell some books.

So, I guess this is my job, and as jobs go it's a good one. It's what I've always wanted to do. But it's more of an investment really. It doesn't pay worth shit so far.

14 October 2007

The Drive-by Gets a Jump Start

Scottsdale, AZ: 569 miles
Gila Bend, Arizona, where highways 8 and 85 meet, is a place that doesn't seem to have many surprises in store. There's gas stations, motels, convenience stores, plenty of fast food chain outlets. Get off the main street and there's cacti and rattlesnakes, probably some gila monsters (how else was the town named?), plenty of sand and rocks. The Space Age Restaurant is impressive - it has a very large flying saucer parked on its roof.

What struck me as odd was the big banner across the main drag of town for the upcoming, November 3, Gila Bend Shrimp Festival. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to make it. I've got a book event in Tucson that afternoon, which is close enough that I might still be able to get to Gila Bend in time for the shrimp bobbing contest, but it would be close and I probably ought to spend some time with the Tusconians I know. Still, maybe I'll try to show up.

My 38 or so hours back home, between New York and hitting the road on the Drive-by Tour '07, was busy. First I had to do whatever I could to ensure that I didn't bring bed bugs home with me. I don't suppose I'll know until the house is infested, or not.

My first event on Saturday was at Mysteries to Die For, a very nice bookshop in Thousand Oaks. They turned out a good crowd, standing room only, maybe 20 or so people, only three of who felt any sort of obligation to me to show up. It was gratifying, the sort of thing that gives me hope for book touring.

Some big name authors spend all day and never stop signing books. When I attract 10 or more people and sign 20 or more books, that's good by my standards at this point. Then again, I like hanging out in bookstores talking to people. I'd do it even if it wasn't part of my job. Good thing, too.

Then it was off across town to Book 'Em in South Pasadena, another good shop, in a fast developing fun part of the city. 10 people there, pretty much all friends, but it was good to see them and there were a number of pre-order sales of books as well.

I stayed up late getting things ready for the big drive, packed the car, made sure the house was all set and ready for the housesitter, got into the car, turned the key, and.......nothing. The battery was dead. Not completely, but dead enough. Needing to be in San Diego in time for today's event, I panicked.

I called Bill to get him to come over so I could hook my jumper cables up to his battery and my battery. I called AAA in case it wasn't the battery. Luckily, it was the battery and Bill's tiny little red Mini provided the life giving juice that my car required. I hit the road.

I'm keeping track of the mileage at the top of each blog post. The mileage posted above was from driving to Thousand Oaks, South Pasadena, then to San Diego and on to Scottsdale, today. There won't be any mileage tomorrow since I'm being driven around from bookstore to bookstore by a friend of Janet, my agent, and I can walk to Poisoned Pen bookstore from my hotel. Plenty of mileage to come though.

Addendum on Monday morning: The benedryl and cortisone cream wore off and the itching woke me up. When will this go away? I gotta say, I've never been a huge fan of New York City and I'm even less so now. Over the years I have slept in all manner of places: a 35 cent a night hotel in a border town between Spain and Portugal that was overrun with rats; two different chicken coops in West Africa; 10 nights in a huge, wooden, communal longhouse in Central Borneo; a brothel in Bamako, Mali; the $35 a night "Presidential Suite" in the Hotel Cesar in downtown Tijuana, Mexico; a Chinese army jail cell; another jail cell in Quebec that had been converted into a youth hostel; driftwood huts on a beach on Vancouver Island; and more. And yet in none of these places, not one, did I ever leave with any sort of bug bites or infestation that affected me longer than a few hours or at the most the next day. Today is day four and counting. My body is covered with itchy bumps that I got in an "inexpensive" (meaning it cost $200 per night) hotel in New York City.

13 October 2007


Bed bugs, that is. A significant infestation of them. Eva is bit to within an inch of her life. They liked her better than me. Which is good for me, but I still didn't escape. For however long this lasts - I keep hearing different stories - I am going to be on tour as the itchy-scratchy author.

The Gershwin is, by New York standards (which are lower in these matters than standards in the real world), a very nice inexpensive hotel. A standard room runs a "mere" two hundred bucks a night. The best thing about The Gershwin is that it is in a great location, both for the business and the tourism sides of the city. The rooms are small, not quite Tokyo small, but with two people in one it can be fairly cramped.

Following a sleepless second night - thanks to the city government idiot who issued the build to 2:30 am construction permit for the site across the street - we moved to a quieter, inside room. That may or may not have been where the bugs got us on the third night.

The bites tend to appear after 24 hours, so it was inconveniently around an hour before we had to leave to go to an important dinner, that Eva began noticing she'd been assaulted. At that point, there was almost no way we could switch hotels. We called the manager, however, complained, and they put us into a suite. As to whether or not the suite was also infested, I couldn't say. I began to get itchy and scratchy that night, which was well before 24 hours.

The upshot was that we got plenty of bites for free, and the room was free, which saved me over eight hundred bucks for the four nights. I'd have happily paid more than that to not be bitten, or not have to worry about whether or not I brought any of the damn things home with me.

Apparently New York City has been hit with a major infestation of bed bugs. Google it, you'll see, even some of the swankest hotels in town are giving their guests that little something extra. We don't hear about this sort of thing much out here in California. Yet another of the many reasons this is the most populated state in the country.

So if you come to any of my book events, and I'm itching and scratching, please try to feel a bit of sympathy. And maybe buy an extra copy or two to make me feel better.

Here's what one of the nasty little buggers look like when filling up with your, or my blood:

10 October 2007


I will never kill a cab driver in one of my books. I promised Preston. He was my hack yesterday, here in New York City. He was one of those taxi drivers who really make you feel good about being here: bright, funny, opinionated, knowledgeable, an excellent conversationalist. So when he asked what I do and I told him, and then he asked if I'd ever killed a cabbie in one of my books and I told him I haven't, he asked me to promise I never would. And I did.

On the other hand, the construction permit that allows the guys across the street from our hotel to rip things up and pound on them until 2:30 in the morning, then start again four and a half hours later at seven am, is not one of those things that make you feel good about being in New York City. It's one of those things that make me marvel at the fact that nearly everyone in this place is not a homicidal maniac. It's a testimony to something; hearing loss, perhaps.

I once had some upstairs neighbors in Hong Kong who decided it would be a good idea to tear up the concrete floor of their apartment at three am. With a jack hammer. I went up to talk with them. They were in a very festive mood; drinking beer, eating flattened, dried squid that they were grilling on a small hibachi in the middle of the floor they were destroying. They weren't apologetic, but they seemed understanding and they assumed I'd be the same. What else could they do? They had jobs to get to in the morning. When else were they going to be able to do the work? It took them the better part of a week. I moved into a hotel for the duration. One without construction going on across the street. Which wasn't easy to find in Hong Kong in the early 1990s. It was about half the price of this place, and the room was twice as large.

Why doesn't every tourist who comes to New York City become a homicidal maniac?

Maybe I should say, every American tourist. Europeans, Israelis, even Canadians are here in droves, gleefully spending their newly muscular Euros, Shekels and Loonies. I find it somewhat cheering to see many of them displaying the same sorts of arrogant and ignorant behavior that we Americans have been accused of for many years in foreign countries. We are not alone.

Is anyone ever alone in New York? Maybe everyone here is simply too sleep deprived to muster up the energy for homicidal mania.

We did have dinner at the Grand Central Oyster Bar last night. And it is one of my favorite restaurants in the world. And if it hadn't been pouring rain we would have walked back to the noisy hotel, and walking in New York City is one of the greatest urban treats to be had anywhere.

And in the morning you need to walk, long distances, to find a decent cup of espresso. You'd think that with all the exhaustion, the least New York could do would be to provide its denizens with readily available, high-quality caffeine. But good espresso is a rarity here. Even my coffee loving friends in New York are thankful for Starbucks. And that, frankly, is pathetic.

At least there's plenty of cigarette smoke to inhale on the sidewalks. In front of every office building there are knots of smokers, chased out of their offices and down to the pavement to indulge. I imagine a great deal of very real business transpires among the smokers. That, and perhaps skin cancer from standing around in the sunlight's glare reflected off the glass sheathed towers. It is my impression that smokers in New York look healthy - at least in the old-fashioned sense of skin with some color to it. Non-smokers tend to exhibit an office-bound pallor. They don't get outside much.

So, what is it that I'm doing here? Tonight I have my official East Coast Launch Party for GRAVE IMPORTS at Partners & Crime, one of my favorite mystery bookstores. I'm optimistic. I'm expecting as many as a dozen people to show up.

There are five Borders bookstores in Manhattan, each of which has two copies of each of my Ray Sharp books. So I've made the rounds, signing the copies at every store. What I tell myself is that by doing so, the stores will put them on more prominent display, or at least take them out of hiding, slap "Autographed by the Author" stickers on them, and so might have a marginally better chance of selling the books than they otherwise would. If they sell those four, maybe they'll order four more, or even more than that. If that works, and I could somehow do it at a thousand stores or more, I might have a shot at the lower reaches of some best seller list somewhere.

It they can get the books, that is. I'm supposed to drop by Mysterious Books tomorrow. It's one of the best known mystery bookstores in the U.S., if not the world. They haven't been able to get ahold of any of the hardbacks of GRAVE IMPORTS. Many of their customers are collectors who want first edition hardbacks. They have a few paperbacks, is all. I'll go there anyhow, to say hi, chat with the bookstore people (something I enjoy doing in any case) and hopefully if and when they finally do manage to get some books, I might get a bit more consideration than I would otherwise.

It's a very screwy business. New York is a very screwy place. I wonder if they'd let me sleep at a Starbucks?

07 October 2007


Yet another Eric Stone Drive-By Book Tour is getting underway. I've been warming up with events on home ground and am headed for New York tomorrow.

My last book tour, the Disoriented Express with Colin Cotterill, we added up the estimated weight of our assembled crowds. I don't think I'll bother with that this time. For one, I don't have Colin along to help me with the estimates. And unless something truly untoward or special occurs along the way, I'm not sure I want to spend a whole lot of time describing book events. (Although I might post the occasional picture.)

(There really were more than four people at last night's event at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood Village (in Los Angeles.) There were, maybe, 40 or so. But bookstores are tough places to take pictures. This is me telling the assembled multitudes about prahoc - a Cambodian fish paste that is sort of like the stinkiest, most overripe French cheese you could possibly imagine - only it's FISH. Ray Sharp eats some in GRAVE IMPORTS.)

Suffice to say, I enjoy book events. It's a mighty fine job; showing up at a bookstore to talk about books you've written and about yourself and sometimes about writing in general or other books. I'd even do that if it wasn't my job. I'm strange enough that I even love doing it when no one shows up for a book event. I'm plenty happy just sitting around and chewing the fat with bookstore people. (My first job was in a bookstore. I've loved the places ever since.) Still, I love it even better when a lot of people do show up for my book events. So if you're reading this, take a look at the events schedule and show up when I'm nearby.

Here's what you'll get: Cambodian pop music by Ros Sereysothea (truly fantastic, late '60s / early '70s pop psychedelia.) A slide show of great (if I do say so myself, since I took them) photos of Cambodia - you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll ooh and aah. Me talking about GRAVE IMPORTS, my latest book, and maybe some about FLIGHT OF THE HORNBILL, my next book, and about myself. Maybe - I'll take a vote - I'll read something from one of my books (no more than five minutes though, I promise.) And you can ask me questions. And I will sign any books you buy - well, at least the ones by me. (A note about that: I have only once, in Anchorage, been asked by a bookstore for ID when I showed up and offered to sign books for them. I usually feel obligated to point out the jacket photo and hold it up to my face, but I suppose anyone could show up nearly anywhere and sign any book they want.) I don't recommend it, though.

Today I'm at Metropolis Books in downtown Los Angeles. It's a brave little bookstore, founded by a fellow writer, in an area that is just beginning to develop. Anyone, anywhere in the vicinity, should support the place. Independent bookstores need us.

Speaking of which - Eso Won Books is one of Los Angeles' great treasures. It is a store that specializes in African-American books and has been a vital part of the Black community around these parts for a number of years. It's in trouble. It might have to close down by the end of the year unless things significantly change. When Bill Clinton came to L.A. to sign his memoir, it's where he went. Eso Won is at 4331 Degnan Blvd. (Just off Crenshaw in Leimert Park, Los Angeles.) Do yourself a favor, do Los Angeles a favor - go there, soon, buy books, buy a bunch of books. It's a great store. It would be a tragedy to lose it.

You can also buy from them online at http://esowon.booksense.com

02 October 2007


I'm home now, in the safety and comfort of Los Angeles where the only dangers seem to be from crazed drivers and taggers who gun down grandmas who suggest they might want to engage in their art elsewhere. Nothing nearly so dangerous as bears and moose and eagles and such like. At least they don't have snakes. In the realm of deadly wildlife, that's one thing very much in Alaska's favor.

I don't have much time to write anything that anyone would want to read at the moment. I'm juggling all sorts of details to prepare for my upcoming gigantic Drive-By Book Tour '07, which kicks off any day now. In just a few minutes, I'm going to go get a haircut. Those of you who come to see any of my events, should appreciate that.

Meanwhile, having promised them once I got home to a computer that is friendlier to the particular 2 GB chip I had in one of my cameras in Alaska, here are the pictures of the famous (word has, apparently, been spreading) gay moose of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center just south of Girdwood. (You might want to chase the kids out of the room if you don't want to answer any difficult questions about this.)

30 September 2007


I take it back. Alaskans were not simply having fun with outsiders by claiming that there's such a thing as a moose. Unless this is a guy in a really good moose suit. Which, considering how remarkable everything else has been in Alaska, could be the case. Still, I'm willing to accept that this is some sort of enormous, ungainly, clumsy, hulking overgrown relation to a deer.

We came across him yesterday while taking a bike ride along the Coastal Trail in Anchorage, which is a beautiful, interesting, 11 mile waterside ride along the edge of the city.

We also came across Earthquake Park, where various informational signs are posted to inform passers by of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake that leveled a lot of this part of Alaska. My favorite factoid, is that Seward - a lovely little port town in a magnificent setting on the Prince William Sound - was hit by 40 foot tall waves, travelling at about 100 mph - AND THEY WERE FLAMING! The earthquake had ruptured a number of oil storage tanks, the oil had spread out onto the water, something ignited the oil, and when the tsunamis struck they were on fire. Now that's an image I have yet to see in any Hollywood production. I can hardly wait.

Yet another instance of truth being stranger than fiction. Just try and write something like that in a novel. No one is going to believe you. You'll be accused of writing fantasy - 40 foot flaming waves, my ass. And I thought Hitler Wong - who makes a brief appearance in GRAVE IMPORTS, my new book - would stretch reader's credibility. (You can look him up on the IMDB - Internet Movie Database.)

Speaking of fantasy. Here's Wonder Woman with Eva and Em - Eva who I live with and Em who's a friend and is also here at Bouchercon in Anchorage.

Speaking of which, this is the last day, the last morning really, and I ought to get over to the convention center and perform some conventioneering. It's been great. I'll write more later.

24 September 2007

Maybe A Moose

Talking to the locals you might get the impression that moose are as thick on the ground in Alaska as rats in Rome. They aren’t. Not that I can see. Alaska has lived up to most of the superlatives. But it has been something of a let down in the charismatic mega-fauna sighting department.
Three eagles, some white dots in the distance that seemed to be dall sheep, a couple of swans, otters – plenty of otters, both ocean going and river otters (you can tell the difference because the ocean going ones prefer the backstroke and the riverine ones the breast stroke), a red-tailed fox that emitted a truly horrible screech late at night in a parking lot, a lot of crows – or are those ravens?, drunken teenagers in the bar at the Alaskan Hotel in Cordova – but the word “charismatic” doesn’t apply, one bear, and maybe, just maybe one moose – or was it a log – way off in the distance below us from Haystack Overlook off the Copper River Highway. That’s it so far for the animal viewing.
We’ve been told to expect moose along the Coastal Trail in Anchorage. Urban moose, I guess. They also, apparently, like to walk along railroad tracks in winter – so as to avoid slogging through high snow. A lot of them get turned into rail kill that way, and end up being fed to sled dogs.
We had dinner at The Pipeline Club in Valdez. It was where Captain Hazelwood got tanked up before that fateful night when he piloted the Exxon Valdez onto Bligh Shoal (named after the Captain Bligh.) Dinner was good. They pretty much left the salmon alone after a little bit over-grilling it. That’s not so easy to find around here. Like many places with unsophisticated palates, they wreck a lot of their food through ill-conceived attempts at sophistication. Cream sauces, and such like. This would be a great place to buy fresh seafood – well, limited sorts: salmon, halibut, crab, scallops, maybe a little shrimp, a few clams, I guess they’ve got some oysters sometimes, but that’s about it – and cook it yourself. So long as you didn’t want to accompany it with any fresh vegetables. Those, so far, are about as thin on the ground as the moose.
Last night, the place we wanted to go for Copper River salmon in Cordova being closed for the annual Ducks Unlimited dinner; and our second choice being closed for a private wedding party; we ended up at the OK Restaurant, which was okay. It is run by a Korean couple and serves Chinese, Korean and American food. It’s the first time I’ve eaten anywhere like it in many years, and it was surprisingly tasty. They made an honest effort at accomodating both the local tastes, and their own – and ours. A little innovation would have been nice though. If I ever go back to Cordova I’m going to make it my mission to show them that it might well be possible to cook salmon or halibut steamed with ginger and scallions, even in a small Alaskan fishing town.
Reindeer sausage is pretty good eating though.
During the day we had rented a big, powerful, high off the ground Dodge V-8 pickup to drive the 50 miles out to the Million Dollar Bridge and Childs Glacier. It was well worth it. The bridge spans a river with views of the enormous – but receding – Miles Glacier to one side, and the smaller, but up close and personal Childs glacier on the other. One can stand or sit around across the river from the Childs glacier and watch, and listen, to it calve. I have yet to get a chance to look up the derivation of the word “calving” to describe huge hunks of ice falling off the face of a glacier, but it’s pretty impressive. While we were waiting to watch the glacier fall apart, a grizzly bear trundled by, no more than about 150 or so feet away. He seemed a small, adolescent bear and paused only briefly to peer up at the six humans at the viewing area, before continuing to pick his way upriver through the rocks, no doubt in search of a simpler meal than we would have made.
As I write this we are on the good ship Chenega, a high-speed, catamaran ferry in the service of the Alaska Marine Highway System, on our way to Whittier. The entire population of Whittier apparently lives in one high-rise, hideous building. Which might be interesting but isn’t why we’re going there. We’re going there to drive through the three mile long, one way at a time, tunnel that will take us onto the Kenai Peninsula. Then it’s down to Seward, passing more glaciers and some Russian villages and varoius other Alaskan things to see and do. The highway guide cautions us to watch out for moose at several points along the road.
I’m hopeful.
Here’s some pictures. They can speak for themselves.