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.

09 October 2008


Here it is, possibly the single most important vote that some senators and representatives are going to make in their whole careers and...


Earmarks. Of course there were earmarks on the economic bailout / rescue bill.


That wasn't really a question.

Mark Twain said: "America has no distinctly criminal class, excepting maybe Congress." It is as true today as it was in Twain's time.

I'm at Bouchercon in Baltimore. It's the huge annual mystery readers and writers confab and is as fun, and at times useful, as ever. Large amounts of booze are being drunk - some of it probably Puerto Rican rum at that. Plenty of both inebriated and sober talk about writing and publishing is in the wind. Some people are sneaking around the hotel corridors. Awards are being given out. Books are being signed. It's like any convention anywhere, I suppose. For us writers, who spend our days sitting alone in front of computer screens or pads of paper - I even know one who still uses manual typewriters - it's a welcome and necessary reminder that we are part of a community, an industry and that no matter if we write about serial killers or cats solving crimes, we share a common cause and bond. I like it.

01 October 2008


First off, a soothing note for my readers who don't give a rat's ass for my political / economic rants, raves and, obviously well-informed opinions: next week I'll be in Baltimore for Bouchercon. That is essentially going to be the kick off of my Fall 2008 Drive-By Book Tour. So soon you'll get your fill of amusing anecdotes from the treacherous road of book promotions. Still, in the meantime:

What's all this constant bullshit and whining about "Main Street" this and "Wall Street" that?

This morning I saw a story in my L.A. Times headlined: "Lehman collapse suspends Ritz renovation." That's as good a place as any to understand why you can't possibly separate the needs and activities of "Main Street" from those of "Wall Street."

Lehman Brothers was the primary lender to the Ritz Carlton, Rancho Mirage hotel. Lehman goes belly up, the money stops flowing to the hotel group, then on to the construction companies involved in the project and everything comes to a crashing halt. Think about what that means.

How many workers have now lost their jobs because of the halt in construction?

How many suppliers of materials to that job - many of them small,local companies - have now lost a customer? If too many of their customers disappear, how many people are they going to have to lay off?

How many local businesses are losing the laid off workers as customers because they now have to pinch even more pennies to get by, or even have to move out of the area to find work elsewhere? And, once again, if their business suffers, sooner or later they're going to have to lay off workers.

What does that do to the local tax base, and consequently things like school funding, police and fire services, road repairs, etc.

I could spend a very long time listing all of the potential negative affects that the halt in construction on this one major project will have, due to the bankruptcy of a huge "Wall Street" institution.

And you can bet that there are plenty of small companies that borrowed money from Lehman Brothers, too. And they're scrambling like mad to find someone to take up those loans so that they can continue to do business. And these days, until things are worked out, they're not finding those loans. What's happening to their workers and suppliers and communities?

The worst pain of the collapse of Lehman Brothers is being felt all along "Main Street." Like it or not, "Main Street" has a huge vested interest in the health of "Wall Street."

Where do you think the money comes from for all those small and other business loans? Who's providing the credit cards, the mortgages, the student loans, the insurance policies, the management of 401-K and pension fund money, the trade finance, etc?

Now it is true that that money isn't made by "Wall Street." It is made, earned, generated by "Main Street" and then filtered through "Wall Street" for purposes of management, manipulation and protection.

And that's a necessary part of the process. If a stranger comes to you and asks for a loan to buy a house in your neighborhood, are you going to directly loan them the money? If the Ritz Carlton wants to build a fancy new hotel in your town and that's going to create a lot of jobs and knock on business opportunities, are you going to reach into your pocket to loan them the money? Of course not.

You put your money in the bank, buy stocks and bonds with it, etc. all so that big institutions can more efficiently put it to work - hopefully paying you something for the right to use your money - and you don't have to personally take the risks involved in making those loans or higher risk investments.

The problem isn't the system. The system - sort of a partnership between Main and Wall Streets - actually works quite well so long as everyone does their part in good faith. The problem rose when, for all sorts of reasons and made possible by willy-nilly ill-thought out deregulation without concurrent oversight, the stewards of all that money that was raised on Main Street, started taking enormous, ill-considered risks with the money. And, the people on Main Street did the same thing; taking out loans they couldn't really afford. Everyone figured that a steady, never-ending upward spiral of the economy would let them get away with it.

Only it came crashing down, as it was inevitably bound to. Regardless of who should take the blame for it, all of us now need a bailout. Even those of us who played no part in causing the problem. A bailout is not a good thing. But it's a necessity. We are in a situation where a bailout of Wall Street is also a bailout of Main Street. You just can't separate the two.

That doesn't mean it shouldn't be well thought out. There ought to be some potential for taxpayers to recoup their money, if not even make a profit. There needs to be oversight so that we aren't simply throwing good money away. There needs to be a means of ensuring that the avaricious assholes and nitwits who got us into this mess to begin with don't reap windfall profits from saving their asses from the mess they got us into. (And that means all of those people: no big executive parachutes, and also no debt relief for people who snapped up two, three, four houses using sub-prime loans that anyone with a lick of sense knew were too good [sounding] to be true.)

But that's all there ought to be. Right now the job is to stop the bleeding and settle things down so that they can get better. Once the patient is stabilized there will be plenty of time for figuring out what to do to make sure this doesn't happen again. It's not unlike a heart attack. Diagnose it, treat it, and only after the patient is back in the recovery room read him the riot act about how he needs to lay off the triple bacon cheeseburgers, fries and super-sized drinks and maybe throw in a little exercise from time to time.

In this morning's paper I also read about the Senate bailout bill that will be voted on today. It includes a provision mandating that companies above a certain size that provide health coverage to their employees, have to make sure the coverage treats mental and physical ailments equally.

HUH? What the fuck does that have to do with it? What's next, a bunch of earmarks finding their way onto the bailout bill? Ted Stevens may be on trial, but I'm sure he can think of something to attach to the bill, a rail line to nowhere perhaps.