22 December 2008


You, dear reader, may have gathered by now that nature and I are not on the best of terms. Not that it has ever done anything all that dire to me. I have never been savaged by wild beasts - although a squirrel once nearly gave me a heart attack. Though my car has been dented by a rock slide - in Malibu Canyon - I have never had to try and swim for my life in an avalanche. I haven't died, yet, of exposure, dehydration, drowning, hypo- or hyper-thermia, starvation, falling from a great height, or altitude sickness (like my Cousin Ruth did) or any number of the multitude of other means by which nature is capable of bringing on my - or your - untimely demise.

In large part that is because I do not tempt fate. We have a mutual understanding, nature and I; for the most part I leave it alone, and it leaves me alone. Sometimes, in the guise of raccoons, it comes to my kitchen door begging for scraps. And sometimes I have been known to buy it off with offerings of cat kibble and water.

But, unlike my macha, woodsy girlfriend Eva who enjoys such risky behavior as snow camping - (Some relationship advice to all of those out there who are considering entering into relationships: it is best to avoid sharing all of your interests. It is far healthier for each of you to have some interests you can indulge with friends other than your mate.) - I am generally content to view nature out the window of my heated abode, where it belongs.

That said, we recently spent three days in Zion National Park. It had snowed there, but in spite of the fact that I have the same reaction to walking on snow that most people have to being in the vicinity of fingernails on a blackboard, we went hiking every day. Afterwards we retreated to the warmth and comfort of a well appointed cabin, complete with a gas fire, hot water and a bottle of good whisky.

And it was beautiful, as evidenced by the photos below:

Then we left Zion and drove to Tucson. Past some buffalo who were reasonably picturesque, ending up where there isn't any snow, but there are colorful cacti and trees. Tomorrow I shall head home where I will indulge myself in my two favorite Xmas traditions: Xmas Eve dinner of garlicky roast pork, black rice and beans at the house of a Cuban friend of mine where I will probably be the only straight man in attendance. And Xmas Day Chinese lunch and a movie matinee. Oh Boy!

Eva the girlfriend shall celebrate the holidays elsewhere, outdoors mostly, in the snow; indoors occasionally, engaging in yoga. I am very happy for her.

11 December 2008

SHANGHAIED is coming

You can click on the poster to see it BIG.

Carnivorous Tibetan monks

Corrupt killer bankers

A murderous, sociopathic veteran of the U.S. invasion of Grenada

Comely kung-fu bodyguards

A painful dumpling accident

Drugs, sex, rock & roll

The usual coterie of business moguls and hookers, friends and foes

And the return of Ray's Chinese-Mexican colleague and pal, Wen Lei Yue.

Set in Hong Kong during the 1997 Handover back to China, and then in Shanghai.

The manuscript will be back from my editor this week. Watch out for an excerpt on my website sometime by the end of the year.

Here's another picture of Shanghai to keep you amused in the meantime:

03 December 2008


In alphabetical order:

Airlines: Perhaps they are actually a lot smarter than I think they are and the reason they do everything they possibly can to make the experience of flying unpleasant, is that they're trying to discourage people from flying. If it was more palatable, the friendlier skies might be even more crowded and awful than they already are and then it would, perhaps, be even worse. Every time I fly anywhere these days, I take a very deep breath of relief that most of my travel in recent years has been by car.

Families: Break them up and assess their component parts individually, and often as not they are composed of nice, interesting, polite human beings. Put them together in one locale and often as not they turn into ravenous, vicious packs of snarling brutes whose behavior is informed by little more than the assembled lifetimes of perceived slights, insults, personal failings and betrayals. They are thrown together by genes, not by choice, and too many of them have no good reason for their unity.

Holidays: See families. Take that terrible dynamic and blend with enormous amounts of social pressure to have a good, cheery, warm and "familial" time - and what do you get? I don't have to tell you what you get. Most of you reading this have families. Most of you dread, for good reason, seeing them in large groups around holidays.
And don't even get me started on gift-giving. At least Thanksgiving doesn't demand loot. Sure, I like getting gifts as well as the next guy, but they're pretty meaningless when they're given in the context of obligation during a certain time of year. I would much rather have someone stumble across something they think I might like at any old time of the year and get it for me then. That has actual meaning. It isn't merely someone filling out their list.

Hotels: Why is it that the more expensive a hotel is, the more likely it is to nickel and dime its guests to death? At cheap hotels and motels across America, you get free internet access. Only in the expensive ones do you pay for it - $9.95 to as much as $19.95 per day. I get free bottles of water, at least one, in most of the cheap places I stay. At the W in New York City the bottle of water they put by the side of the bed is eight bucks. And you have to hunt around a little to discover they're going to charge you for it. At cheaper places they tend to quote you the actual price you're going to pay for the room, including taxes. At fancy hotels they quote you a price, either mumble or put in small print that it doesn't include taxes, and in places like New York and San Francisco you can end up paying twenty percent or more higher than the price you were quoted. I don't care if your hotel gets the tax or not, it's still part of the price I have to pay for the room.

Ivy-League Educations: There's been an awful lot of blather lately about the fantastic team of Ivy-League talent assembled by Barack Obama for his administration. They do seem like a smart crowd and I do have high hopes that they'll make less of a mess of running things than the Bush Administration has. But I'm really fed up with people equating the university that someone attended with their ability to accomplish great things. Hell, George W. Bush, arguably the worst president we've ever had, is the proud possessor of a Harvard MBA. The Unabomber graduated from Harvard, as did Hitler's foreign press secretary Ernst Hanfstaengl. The last president to assemble a group of the annointed "best and brightest" was John Kennedy. That was the crowd that gave us the Vietnam War and who achieved very little else of lasting significance. So shut up already. I'll judge Obama's team on what it accomplishes, not where it got its degrees.

Royalty Statements: I spent many years as a business and financial journalist. I'm not an accountant, but I'm not unversed in figuring out statements of accounts. I have seen a very wide variety of bizarre financial statements over the years. I have never seen any quite so incomprehensible - in uncharitable moments (which is most of them) I think it must be deliberate - as the ones I receive from publishers to account for royalties, or the lack thereof.

TV News: It's not news, it's chatter. In a desperate attempt to fill up the 24-hour cycle, it elevates the mundane to ludicrous heights, making people think that important, intelligent matters are being reported and analyzed, when they aren't. It's the dumbing down of journalism. I have actually had people tell me they like seeing "news they can agree with." Huh? I tend to agree with Rachel Maddow much of the time, but I'm sorry, she's no more a journalist than Sean Hannity. Keith Olbermann is no more a reporter than Bill O'Reilly.

There, glad I got all that off my chest.

15 November 2008


Distance is, of course, relative. It is roughly 21.7 million miles from the Earth to the Moon. Since 2005 I have driven 43,223 miles flogging my books. (That's only 1/502 of a trip to the Moon.) My most recent book tour, from which I got home yesterday, was a mere 4,779 miles.

It seemed longer. I knew it was getting time to stop for the night Thursday when toward the end of 12 hours behind the wheel I cranked up The Grateful Dead on my car's stereo. I was passing some very colorful trucks. Hallucinating, perhaps? (I hadn't listened to The Grateful Dead in, oh, I don't know, maybe ten years.) So I pulled in at Harris Ranch, just south of what a friend of mine refers to as "Cowschwitz" - the gigantic Central California feedlot. Steak, whisky, sleep. It was an easy 2-1/2 hour drive home the next day.

In Portland, Salem and Seattle I kept company with Bill Cameron a very fine writer - LOST DOG and CHASING SMOKE - and a swell traveling and book eventing companion.

He even managed to exert some sort of parental control and convince his obviously well-raised (she bought a copy of my book after all), daughter to show up for our book event at Portland's Murder By the Book. And the event was well-received. You can read about it from the perspective of the bookseller here. (You may have to scroll up to actually read the blog post.)

So, once more I'm confronted with trying to decide whether or not book touring is worth all the time and expense. (That's right, unless you're with a big publisher who has forked over a fairly large advance for your book, you pay for book touring yourself.)

On the plus side:

It's fun. What could possibly be bad about driving around one of the most beautiful and diverse countries on the planet, stopping in at bookstores to talk with people about your own book, and other books, and whatever else comes to mind. At this point it is like a holiday spent visiting friends.

It's educational. I learn a lot on book tours. About the places I drive through, the people I meet, the book business, all kinds of interesting and useful stuff. After my eleven years living in Asia I didn't feel really re-connected with home until I'd driven all around and across the U.S. Getting out of my comfortable, "elite" existence in Southern California, is one of the only ways that I feel like I can even begin to understand this country. And the more I understand it, the more I love it.

It gives me time to think. What else is there to do on long drives?

I listen to a lot of music. Again, what else is there to do on long drives?

I hear really bizarre stuff on the radio. Yet again, what else is...?

I eat. Sometimes I encounter really great, regional or unexpected food. (Sometimes I don't.)

I sell some books that I might not have sold otherwise.

I meet some fans. And that's great for my ego.

I get to know booksellers. And as a type of people go, they are among my favorites.

Booksellers get to know me. And I like to think that if they get to know me, they'll like me and do a better job of "hand-selling" my books.

I could probably come up with a few more if I spent some time thinking it over, but those are the plusses that come to mind.

On the minus side:

Well, there's really only one minus - it's expensive and it probably isn't effective.

The chances of it paying for itself in sales is pretty slim. If I look at it in terms of my royalties, I would have needed to have sold around 900 hardback copies of FLIGHT OF THE HORNBILL simply to break even on this book tour.

I took pictures of everyone on my tour who bought a book and had me sign it. (Two people managed to slip through the cracks.) Here's the 90 photos. Now some of these people bought several copies, although most of them bought paperbacks. (Accounting for royalties, my break even point was about 1,500 paperbacks.)

Every store I went to had me sign some stock for them before I left. Four books in one store, as many as 40 in another. If all the stores I visited eventually sell all the stock I signed, I'm still not at the break even point. If they order the same amount again and manage to sell all those, I'm still not at it.

There is a lot of talk in the book business about "hand-selling" - store clerks recommending your books to customers, to book clubs, etc. That can account for a whole lot of extra sales, but do the numbers actually add up if you're hoping to make a living at this?

No, they don't.

Many small press books, mine included, don't show up in most of the big box chain bookstores such as Barnes & Noble or Borders. They don't show up in airports or drugstores or at supermarket checkout counters. Where they do show up is in independent bookstores, and independents are where most hand-selling takes place.

At most there are 50 or so Mystery specialty bookstores in the U.S. There's another two hundred, at most, independents that carry enough mysteries that there's a chance they'll sell my books. Let's pretend that 200 stores sell, on average, 50 copies each of my books. That's 10,000 books - not enough to make much of a dent in anyone's best seller list. But 50 copies each is wildly inflated. Even if 200 stores do carry my books, the average is likely to be no more than five books each. (Some stores will sell a lot more than that, others will sell none.) That's nothing.

These days the biggest number of my sales are likely to come from online sources such as Amazon and B&N online. You can, in a sense, tour those places by being very active online and linking to your sales pages. But that's just not as much fun as going out and doing it in person.

My next book, SHANGHAIED, will be out in June next year. Am I going to be dumb enough to do a big book tour for it?

Probably. Look for me at a bookstore near you in June and July 2009.

10 November 2008


The drive from Boise to Portland was beautiful; through the rolling hills of Eastern Oregon and then down into the Columbia River Gorge and along the river. It rained a little, but mostly the weather cooperated by becoming part of the landscape. Somehow I avoided killing myself and others at high speeds while shooting the following photos out the window of my speeding vehicle.

Then I got to Portland, checked into Hotel Lucia - which tends to be my headquarters when I'm here - and went out to find something to eat and to make a pilgrimage to Powell's - possibly the greatest bookstore on the planet.

Now If you recall, last year Powell's and I had something of a lovers quarrel. I showed up on tour for Grave Imports, only to find that they were selling the two ARCs (advanced reading copies) that the publisher had sent them for free, and not carrying the actual, finished edition of the book that they would have to pay for. In essence, they were stealing from both my publisher and from me. I was annoyed. I made my annoyance known. I may have even implied in my blog that were someone to go to Powell's and shoplift my ARCs and send them to me, I'd be happy to sign them for them and send them back. Powell's wrote me a rather distressed email over the whole thing, and I rescinded the offer, but nothing was really settled.

So this year I went back, not sure what I was going to do if they were selling the ARCs of Flight of the Hornbill if they didn't also have the real book on the shelf. I was thinking that perhaps I would shoplift the ARCs myself, deliberately get caught, and then make a big case of it by insisting on going to trial and defending myself by claiming that I was simply trying to prevent their stealing from my publisher and myself.

I didn't get the chance. They don't have any copies of the book on their shelves at all. (You can order it from them online if you know what you're looking for.) They also didn't even have any copies of my friend and fellow Bleak House author Bill Cameron's new book, Chasing Smoke, and he's a local Portland author.

I found the whole thing utterly depressing. There were a bunch of books I wanted to buy at Powell's. I decided against buying any books there if they aren't going to carry my books. It could be that my love affair with Powell's is now officially on the rocks, and that saddens me.

Sorrows were drowned over drinks and dinner with an old pal who lives here. It was a very good evening, but a hangover ensued. Hopefully things will perk up by the time of my book event in Salem this evening.

08 November 2008


After dinner the night before at the Four Way Casino, Cafe and Bar in Wells, Nevada, I figured I'd be a lot better off breakfasting somewhere else. And I was. Surprisingly so.

One of the two brothels in Wells is Bella's Hacienda Brothel. It's one of the only, maybe the only of the Nevada brothels that is owned and operated by a woman - Bella. They also run Bella's Espresso House and Diner, right by the exit for Wells off of Interstate 80. So that's where I went for breakfast.

Now I gotta tell you, I'm pretty fussy about espresso. I make an excellent one at home, I'm particularly fond of the one to be had at El Cochinito - a Cuban cafe near my house - and also at LaMill - a fancy schmancy coffee place near my house. Add Bella's to the list.

There I was, in bumfuck nowhere Nevada, drinking one of the most truly excellent espressos I have ever had. (I drink it straight, no milk, no sugar, no nothin' between me and my near strong enough to walk on it coffee.) I had two doubles and would have had a third if I didn't think it would get in the way of rational driving. It was, without a doubt, one of the very best espressos I have ever enjoyed anywhere.

Breakfast was good, too. Fresh made biscuits, perfectly cooked and spiced homefries, perfectly cooked fresh eggs and a very good sausage patty. I was one happy author on tour. If a night at Bella's brothel comes complete with breakfast the next morning, it is well worth considering showing up in Wells with a wad of cash.

As is, I bought a couple pounds of Bella's Brothel Brew Beans, a couple of Bella's coffee mugs and a Nevada Brothel Cookbook and headed north on Highway 93 through the very top of Nevada and into Idaho.
I lived in Boise from about September 1970 until June 1971. I'd followed a high school girlfriend there because I wanted to get out of Los Angeles and go work among the "real people." That didn't work out so well at first, so I ended up in Boise State University for a couple of semesters. A lot of my spare time was spent hanging out in Hannifin's Cigar Store with that girlfriend. We'd play pinball, leaf through magazines, drink Moxie and listen to farmers and ranchers who sat around the old coal burning stove, trying different kinds of pipe tobacco and swapping lies. So today I went back to Hannifin's. It's still there, but the pinball machine is gone, the magazine rack has been replaced with a wall of coolers stocked with beer and soda pop, there weren't any farmers or ranchers and the guy working there hadn't ever heard of Moxie. Still, I took a couple of pictures. I appear in the exterior shot.

Then I walked around town for a bit. It is a fairly attractive old downtown, the once swank Idahana hotel still perches on the street like a timber town castle - although it is now infested with chichi businesses, and there are a couple of blocks of Basque businesses - something that is new since I lived there. Perhaps the most impressive site, however, was Otis the dog.
Rediscovered Books, where I had my event, was a very nice shop with an excellent set up for events. They've got a loyal clientele and a good, varied stock. They sent out 1200 emails to their list about the event, and did all they could to publicize it.

Still, that's book events for you - three people showed up. They enjoyed the show, asked interesting questions, but only one person bought one copy of Living Room of the Dead - wanting to start the series at the beginning. Another of the attendees apologized for not being able to buy a book until Wednesday, when his unemployment check shows up. Sheesh. I felt like I ought to just give him a copy. But I don't have taxpayers money to throw around, so I can't go bailing out book lovers.

It was one of those nights when you have to remind yourself that book events are for the bookstore, rather than for the audience who does or doesn't show up. It's good to get to know the stores and have them get to know me and my books. They'll sell more books in the long run that way. Still, it's no wonder that so many of us writers drink.

07 November 2008


That could refer to almost any book tour, at least for us lesser known writers. But it's not really true. There's the people who work in the bookstores and spending time with them is like visiting friends. And someone does always show up.

At Cheesecake & Crime in Henderson, Nevada, five women from a book group showed up. They didn't know me or my books, but they seemed genuinely interested and they bought plenty of books and asked good questions. Here they are, with me:
Afterwards I went back to my hotel. I was in room 23-319 of the MGM Grand (it has 5,044 rooms in its main wing.) The rooms are perfectly engineered to make you want to go out. The bed is okay, but not so comfortable that you want to spend a whole lot of time on it. The desk chair is too low for the desk, so working is a problem. The air conditioner cranks up no matter what you do to the thermostat at night; and the heater kicks in high in the morning. The TV gets lousy reception and has no cable. The whole room, like everything else in Las Vegas, shouts: "Get out and gamble."

Well, I didn't gamble, not even a dollar. Instead I went to Michael Mina's Stripsteak in the Mandalay Bay Hotel where I had the finest French Fries I have ever had. They were double fried in duck fat and served with, among two other sauces, a white truffle oil aioli. Along with them I had an incredible steak - a Black Angus ribeye cap that wasn't on the menu. Washed down with a good single malt and I was very happy.

After that I walked around for a while, but Las Vegas doesn't change much. Having been there last year, it was the same place - except for the enormous multi-building project that is fast rising on the west side of the Strip. It looks like it will have some great looking, quirky buildings. On the way back to my room I was stopped by two cookie cutter Blonde 101 hookers - bleached, plumped and siliconed, squeezed into tight red dresses. The casino at the MGM seems to be one of the current strolls for what is known as CGs - casino girls. They wanted $500 for one of them or $600 for the pair. Don't they know there's a financial crisis? I politely declined and went to bed alone.

Today I hit the road to Boise, taking Highway 93, one of the two roads that lay claim to being "America's Loneliest Highway." It quickly became apparent why. It was strangely beautiful.

I stopped for lunch in Ely - a truckstop of a town that is also historic.
And I've stopped for the night in Wells, at the junction of Interstate 80 and Nevada 93. It seems to exist entirely for tired truckers: gas, groceries, casino, cafes and brothels. It has the remnants of a historic downtown, and two busy brothels - Bella's and Donna's. (Just imagine if they ever merge.)

Tomorrow morning it's off to Boise, my triumphal return - 37 years after my one year at Boise State University.

03 November 2008


Book touring has not been quite as frantic as for previous books. Time and budgetary constraints have seen to that. It's still tiring though. And I still enjoy it. More pictures of those who have bought my books and had me sign them at events can now be found at my Flickr page if you click here.

Here's a random preview:

Tomorrow is the end of what seems like the world's longest election campaign. I've been complaining about it, but even I can change my mind sometimes. The current issue of The Economist has a column by Lexington that makes a pretty good case for why a long, expensive presidential campaign might be a good thing. I don't think you need to subscribe to the Economist's website to read it by clicking on this sentence. I could have summarized it for you, but I'm lazy this morning.

Speaking of which, here's some random thoughts that have been popping into my head lately:

BAILOUT MONEY - More like takeover dollars. A bunch of banks that are receiving our tax dollars are using them to buy other banks. It's easier to make money that looks good on your books, quicker, that way than by loaning the money out - which is what they were supposed to do with it. There oughta be a law. That's sleazy and will make matters worse in the long run. I was in favor of some sort of bailout. I figured it was necessary. But strangely enough, maybe it should have been regulated.

SMART REPUBLICANS WANT MCCAIN TO LOSE - The next president is going to be fucked. They'll be expected to put the country back together again and fast. But it isn't going to be fast. It is going to take at least a couple of years for the economy to even begin to balance out. Withdrawal from Iraq is likely to be a lot messier than expected. A comprehensive healthcare plan isn't going to get through Congress any time soon. Americans have short memories and expect miracles. The next president is going to get blamed for a whole hell of a lot that isn't really his fault, no matter who he is. If McCain loses and the Democrats take a much bigger majority in Congress, two years from now the Republicans will gain back a whole lot of Congress, four years from now they'll have a better shot at the presidency - and without having to deal with Sarah Palin in a strong position to be their candidate - having been vice-president. My guess is that the savvier Republican strategists are hoping Obama wins this time out.

I've been reading Beijing Coma by Ma Jian. It's extraordinary. He's one of the very best contemporary Chinese writers. Read it.

Thursday I'm hitting the road again. Off to Las Vegas for an event at Cheesecake and Crime in Henderson, then a drive up "America's Loneliest Highway" to Boise for an event at Rediscovered Books, then off to Portland, Salem, Olympia and Seattle before returning home in mid-November. I shall send dispatches from the road. I promise.

21 October 2008


They just now called from the car mechanic. If I do everything they're suggesting, it's going to set me back a bit over three thousand bucks. They offered to have me come in and look at it, but there's a problem. I wouldn't know what I was looking at. I don't know enough about cars to reasonably judge whether I'm begin scammed or not. Most people don't.

If I had the time I could pick up the car and get a second opinion. That would be the smart shopper thing to do. But I don't have the time. The place I take my car - the dealer (I know, I know) - is expensive, but they've always done good (so far as I can tell), fast work and my experiences with them in the past have led me to conclude that they are basically pretty honest.

And I need the car no later than Thursday afternoon - this being Tuesday morning - and the other (independent) mechanic I know can't usually keep a promise to get me the car by a specific time. The car has 125,000 miles on it and hasn't required a whole lot of expensive maintenance so far. I'm about to embark on five to six thousand miles of hard driving on my book tour. So I'm stuck.

All of which makes me think of other aggravating expenses in my life, most notably healthcare.

Since I expect that my body - it's only got 56 years on it - will hold up until after my book tour, I've postponed the treadmill stress test that my doctor thinks I should have. And I'm shopping around for a discount.

My doctor, who I think is a great doctor, charges around $1,800 for a treadmill stress test. That comes on the heels of my having been hit with a bill for $939 for a recent routine visit for a blood workup and an EKG. (My despicable insurance company did fork over $426 for the visit, otherwise the bill would have been $1,366.) The insurance isn't likely to cover any of the stress test.

The thing is, a treadmill stress test is pretty simple. So long as the monitors are positioned correctly and the machine is in decent working order, any idiot can administer one. Hell, even I could administer one to myself if I had to. There can be a little diagnostic art to interpreting the results, but none of this comes from the rocket science side of medicine.

So I'm looking for somewhere cheap, or at least cheaper, to get my stress test. I can have them send the results to my doctor - who will no doubt charge more than I'll be happy about to look them over.

This is, of course, especially of interest during an election year. Both candidates for president say they want to fix healthcare in this country. Neither one of them really has much hope in hell of doing anything about it.

Part of the problem is that healthcare is one of the areas in which free market economics don't work. They can't work. The incentives are skewed.

In most industries the free market creates incentives for companies to provide as high quality goods and services as they can, at competitive prices, so that their customers keep coming back for more.

But, if you are "lucky" enough to have health insurance, your insurance company makes more money when it doesn't provide you with the products you've paid for, than when it does.

It is far more profitable to sell insurance to people who won't use it, or who won't use it much, than it is to people who actually need it. And that's what insurance companies try to do. That's their free market incentive.

You can't really blame them. No company exists out of the goodness of its own heart. They exist to make money. Most of the time, the "enlightened self-interest" of free markets works out pretty well for everyone involved.

But healthcare is a necessity. And when it comes to necessities, the free market can easily get bent out of shape. Sooner or later, everyone needs healthcare to some degree or another. Society at large has a high stake in people remaining relatively healthy.

There is a very good reason why pretty much every single other industrialized nation on the planet has a national, government subsidized (whether administered by the government or not) healthcare system. It is the only way to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Some things do require government money, regulation, oversight and even participation. Healthcare is one of them. I'd love to hear one of the presidential candidates own up to that. They'd probably lose some votes. But they'd sure gain my respect.

20 October 2008


First off, the 2008 Eric Stone Drive By Book Tour of America is underway. So far I have delighted and confused audiences in Houston, Thousand Oaks and Westwood Village (Los Angeles). My quest to take pictures of everyone who buys one of my books and has me sign it at a book event, goes on. The evidence is here. There have been a few people who wouldn't let me immortalize them, and a few who I have missed. But the pictures will keep coming.

But now, before I return to the subject of my book touring, I want to say a little something about rock & roll.

Rock & roll and assigned seating are an oxymoron. I've mellowed, slightly. There was a time when I didn't think it was rock and roll unless at some point in the course of the proceedings, you began to get worried about what would happen if the place you were hearing it in caught fire. I still always check the fire exits when I first get into a place, but I rarely concern myself with them after that.

Saturday night I went with some friends to see Patti Smith at The Orpheum in downtown Los Angeles. It is a beautifully restored, magnificent theater from the 1920s. The sound was excellent. But there were assigned seats, narrow aisles and not much chance to wander around or dance or anything else of that nature.

I've seen Patti Smith, maybe five or six times over the years, the first time being in the early 1980s or late '70s. She's 61 now, on the ripe side for rock & roll and I was a bit concerned before the show, and if the truth be told, during its first half, that she was moving a bit beyond her sell by date. But in the end, she really cranked it up big for the best live versions I've ever heard her do of Horses, Gloria and then an encore of Rock & Roll Nigger. The woman can still rock with the best of them. (Gives us 56 year olds some hope.)

Still, it was a shame about those damn assigned seats.

In Houston I was at Murder By the Book, for the third time. It's a big store that has always been very supportive of me and they manage to turn out a good sized crowd. Thanks yet again. I'll be back.

Earlier in the day I was having a coffee with my pal Sheri, a Houston cop. She looked around the place and estimated that about eighty percent of the people there were armed. Now I don't worry one lick about Sheri packing heat. As a matter of fact I find it reassuring. She knows what she's doing. She's well trained in how to use, care for and store her guns, and my guess is she's a pretty good shot. But if something erupted in that coffee shop, I'd hate to have my life depend on the ability of all those other people to know what they're doing and to remain level headed enough under fire to not fill me full of holes by mistake. Guns are like any other tool, they're only as good as the person using them. The difference is that a fuckwit with a hammer can do a whole lot less damage than one with a pistol.

I came back to L.A. and on Saturday I had an event at Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks. It's a small, but nicely stocked, store with a very enthusiastic crowd of readers. I always get more people turning up there to see me than I expect, and it's always, as it was this time, a great audience. They were getting ready for Michael Connelly the next day. They were going to hold his event in the parking lot. Something for me to aspire to.

Sunday was my official West Coast Launch Party at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood Village (near UCLA.) The first job I ever had in my life was in a bookstore right across the street from where The Mystery Bookstore now is: Book Bargain Center, a mix of used bookstore, Leftist bookstore and headshop. So every time I have an event here, I feel like I'm coming home. They also tend to get my biggest crowds - 30 or more people at each event so far. Yesterday there were Indonesian snacks - from a great little Indonesian market and cafe on National Blvd. called Simpang Asia, as well as my show of Indonesian music and photos that seemed to be well received. FLIGHT OF THE HORNBILL is the store's Crime Club selection this month, for which I am very grateful.

I've now got a few days off to get some writing done. The next book, SHANGHAIED, is likely to come out next June, so I've got to get a cleanish manuscript to Alison my editor by the end of November. To work.

12 October 2008


One of the best things about book touring is the chance to meet people who are buying my books. I suppose some writers eventually get over the sense of humbling pride and downright astonishment that there are strangers out there willing to fork over good money to read something they’ve written. I’m nowhere close to that yet, and I hope I never get there. To do what I do is a great privilege.

So I’m taking pictures of everyone I sign any of my books for on this tour. These are people I want to remember and to in some way recognize in my blog.
I already took pictures earlier this year of everyone who got a signed Advanced Reading Copy of FLIGHT OF THE HORNBILL at Book Expo America in Los Angeles. You can see those photos here at my Flickr page.

Now that this year’s Eric Stone Drive By Book Tour ’08 has got underway at Bouchercon in Baltimore, let the picture taking begin.

The new book wasn’t fully out in time for Bouchercon, but my publisher, the estimable Bleak House Books, cranked out some fast paperbacks so that there’d be some available at the conference. Not everyone managed to get a copy tracked me down to have me sign their book, but I've shot the ones who did. Since I can't figure out any easy way to post all of these photos on this blog. To see them, you can go to this Flickr page.

Meanwhile, here's some more photos from around Bouchercon. My publisher Ben and editor Alison locked in mortal combat.
It is better to have your publisher at your feet, than at your throat.
A pair of unshaven publishing industry reprobates.
The audience for the panel I was on at Bouchercon. Considering my panel was competing with Lawrence Block - a very big name - it was well attended.
Tasha Alexander, a fellow writer with my editor, Alison Janssen in a cozy hotel lobby nook. Or is it a cranny? Alison should know, she's an excellent editor.

10 October 2008


Sure, it's plenty of fun hanging out in the hotel bar with my fellow authors during Bouchercon. And the panels, well, they're pretty entertaining, and the bookroom is a grand place to sit around and talk to booksellers, who are, after all, on the front lines of this business. But it is all too rare that anyone manages to get out of the hotel and wander around town and that is a terrible shame.

Especially here, because Baltimore is a town well worth wandering.

My first night here I went with a friend to Obrycki's Crab House where we ate astoundingly good steamed, peppered crabs. They cover the table with paper, give you a hammer and a smallish knife, and a bib, and away you go. Great eating.

Mostly though you end up eating in the hotel coffee shop or bar because it's convenient. And most of the time the hotel coffee shop and bar are overpriced and undergood.

Today, however, I ventured out for a walk rather than going to a couple of the big publishing company parties. Somehow I was able to resist the allure of free booze, for a long walk along Baltimore's beautiful waterfront and into some of its great neighborhoods. I have long said that if anyone were to hold a gun to my head and tell me that I had to move to the East Coast of the U.S., I would happily comply by moving here to Baltimore. My walk today simply further convinced me of that.

Here's some photographic evidence:

Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

The Inner Harbor development.

Barnes & Nobel in the Inner Harbor.

The National Aquarium.

Condos in an old warehouse / factory building near the Inner Harbor.

The Can Co. Building.

A perch on top of an old row house.

Neighborhood diner somewhere north and east of Fells Point.

The monument to the Katyn martyrs - Polish victims of Stalinism.

Some sort of Eastern European church in the distance.

Waterfront condo development.

In spite of Baltimore being the site of the National Aquarium, I took this jellyfish picture off of a jetty along the waterfront.

It's an excellent drinking town. But I'm not sure these guys are why.