28 June 2009


Twenty years and a few weeks ago, June 4-5 1989, the Chinese government slaughtered a lot of protestors in the streets around Tiananmen Square in Beijing. That pretty much crushed the "democracy movement" in China. I was part of the crowd in the streets of Hong Kong, protesting that. I'd been in the crowds on several other occasions during the month before.On May 20th, there was a typhoon eight signal hoisted in Hong Kong. That means a typhoon (hurricane) is approaching; go home, tape up your windows, batten down the hatches and prepare to wait out the onslaught. Instead, 40,000 or more of us were in Victoria Park, the winds and rains lashing at us, debris flying through the air, from where we marched to the headquarters of Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, in protest against the imposition of martial law in China.

A week later, on the 27th, 300,000 or more of us gathered at Happy Valley Racetrack to listen to musicians play songs of protest and hope. The anthem of the Chinese democracy movement, the song that really got the crowd worked up, was by Cui Jian, China's most famous rock and roller.

The song is called "Nothing to My Name." You can read the lyrics here.

You can see a You Tube video about him here.

He released another song, "A Piece of Red Cloth" in 1989, after the slaughter in Tiananmen Square. The lyrics are sadly appropriate today, in Iran:


That day you took a piece of red cloth
Covered-up my eyes and covered-up the sky
You asked me what I saw
I said, "I see the happiness"
This feeling made me so tranquil
It made me forget I have no place to live
You asked me where I'm headed
I said, "I'm going your way"
Couldn't see you, couldn't see the road
My hand was clasped by yours
You asked what I was thinking
I said, "You decide"
I sense you are not cold like steel
Yet like steel you are strong and hard
I sense there is blood in your body
Because your hand is hot
This feeling made me so tranquil
It made me forget I have no place to live
You asked me where I'm headed
I said, "I'm going your way"
I feel this is not a wasteland
Yet can't see this land is already dry and cracked
I feel I want to drink a little water
But your mouth covered my mouth
I can't go and I can't cry
Because my body is already withered
I will be by your side forever
Because I know your pain so well
music and lyrics: Cui Jian
translation: kemaxiu

The next day, May 27 1989, an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people marched in support of democracy in China through the streets of Hong Kong. That was a quarter to a third of the entire population.

A week after that, anywhere from three or four hundred, to three or four thousand - the real figure will probably never be known - people were dead in Beijing, and the aspirations of the Chinese people for a government responsive to their desires and concerns were quashed, at least for a while. A long while as it has turned out.

The other night, a young woman from Suzhou, China was in the audience at my book event for SHANGHAIED at Mystery & Imagination Bookstore in Glendale, California. She's a student here, and despite the fact that the events of 1989 do not appear in China's history books and are not taught in the country's schools, knew plenty about them. I asked her how she knew. She smiled and said, "I'm just nosey."

Nosey is good. It's essential. Let's hope that things in Iran turn out differently than they did in China. But however they turn out, let's hope that there are always enough nosey people out there that dreams and hope never die, no matter how many people do.

22 June 2009

KODACHROME 1935-2009 R.I.P.

I got rid of my film cameras last year, but I always loved Kodachrome and always will.

Djenne, Mali 1985

Douentza, Mali 1985

Central Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia 1986

Taos, New Mexico 1977

Guangdong Province, China 1978

21 June 2009


Yesterday was the book launch party for SHANGHAIED at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood Village, L.A. As usual it felt just like being at home. Thanks to Bobby, Linda, Kirk, Pam, Ingrid and Emily for everything. If you're reading this and you missed it, sorry you missed it. Hopefully I'll see you at one of the upcoming events.

Here's what yesterday's event looked like, in part:

At some of my events, you might even get a chance to drink this:

20 June 2009


Last night, 16 of us writers were hosted by the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes at the Epicenter. A ballgame was watched, hot dogs and beer were consumed, and even a few books were signed. There wasn't exactly a mob of readers breaking down the gates to the cafe area in right field, but fun was had. Here's a picture of the writers, and bookseller, in attendance, along with Tremor, the Quakes' mascot:

17 June 2009


Here's what I'm going to do on my summer vacation:

DRIVE. More than 8,500 miles.


You might be asking yourself, "Is he out of his mind?"

The answer to that is a resounding YES, but I have my reasons.

I like driving. I don't much care for sitting in traffic, but driving on the open highways; music, a book on tape or even foaming-at-the-mouth moronic right-wing talk-radio blasting at me from the speakers, and sometimes just my own thoughts, well, that's something else entirely. I like looking into the cars I pass or the ones that pass me. I like finding local, non-chain places to eat. (I've been known to drive an extra hundred miles when I was already hungry, just to avoid eating at Burger King or its ilk.) I love roadside attractions. Prairie Dog Town in Oakley, Kansas is one of my favorite places. There is little better than veering off Mississippi Highway 1 and onto the dirt roadway on top of the levees, looking out over the cotton fields to the east and the river to the west.

It's my job. Sure, when I'm writing my books I'm sitting at my desk and I'm Dostoevsky, or Mark Twain or Chester Himes or Arthur Miller. But once a book is sold and in stores, I am magically transformed into Willy Loman, the trunk of my car optimistically stocked with extra books and hitting the road.

The point, though, isn't the books I sell on the road. (On this upcoming tour I've got 21 scheduled signings. If I sell 100 books at every single signing - which I won't, not even close, that's still only slightly more than a quarter of a book per mile.)

The point is relationships, friendships really, getting to know people and letting them get to know me and my books so that they'll sell my books long after I'm gone, and they'll help promote my books to other readers, buyers, reviewers, bloggers, media, etc.

Is a big road trip book tour cost effective?

Hell, no.

Are there better, more efficient ways to spend my time and money promoting my books?

Of course there are. (And I do those, too.)

Is it worth it?

YES! For me. It's part of what I love about being a published author. I learn a lot from my book tours. I gain a much better perspective on readers, on booksellers, on my country even, than I ever could by sticking close to home and doing only the more efficient and effective things to promote my books.

And it also clears a lot of the cobwebs out of my head that tend to accumulate when I spend so much of my year by myself, at my desk, staring into a computer screen. And that's something that helps my writing.

Most importantly, I do it because it's fun.

The book launch party for SHANGHAIED is this coming Saturday, here in L.A. I hit the road to San Mateo, CA next Tuesday, come home for a little less than a week, then hit the road for the big drive on Tuesday June 30. You can see the whole schedule here.

I promise to keep this blog up with a great deal more frequency while I'm on the road. Why don't you drop by and see me when I'm in, or near, your town.