27 September 2009


I'm a crimewriter, or so I'm told. I can't be a mysterywriter, I suppose, there isn't much mystery in my books. As I'm fond of saying, they're "don't do its" rather than "who dun its." In any event, I'm what is referred to as a genre writer.

That's okay with me. It certainly means I'll never win a Nobel Prize for Literature, or probably a Booker, a National Book Award or a Pulitzer either. For that matter, I'm probably a longshot for an Edgar, too. Or an Anthony. Or a Dagger. Or any of the other awards for books of my genre.

And that's fine with me, too. I don't think my books are easy to classify, which is just the way I like them. When my first novel, THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD, came out, Borders shelved it in the mystery section. Barnes & Noble put it in general fiction.

I wonder what's going to be made of the book I just finished writing? (If it's published. My agent hasn't even seen it yet.) For lack of anything else to call it, I've dubbed it a "romantic noir." Huh?

It does have romance in it. Well, developing romance at any rate. And atmospherically, it is pretty noir - whatever the hell that means. There's crime, even a murder, but the plot doesn't in any way revolve around that. For one of the characters it's a coming of age novel. It's kind of historical - Los Angeles in 1947. It deals with issues of race and class. For those of you who read my Ray Sharp novels for the sex scenes, sorry, there's no real sex in it. There's drugs, though. And a lot of music.

So what the hell is it?

I don't know and I don't care. It's a book. Some of you will like it. Some of you won't.

That is, if it ever gets published. It's the sixth book I've written. So far all five of the previous books have been published. I don't have any collecting dust on a shelf or in a closet. This one is currently at the stage where I've sent it out to my first round of readers and I am awaiting their remarks. When they're done with it, I might tinker with it a little before sending it to my agent, or I might not.

But I like it even though I have no idea what sort of book it's supposed to be. And if all goes according to plan it will be the first in a trilogy (as opposed to a series) of thematically-linked books set in Los Angeles in different eras. 1969 is next.

If you want to know what genre it is, I can't help you. Sooner or later, probably after I've sent it to my agent, I'll post an excerpt on my website and you can judge for yourself. If it matters to you.

Does genre matter to you? Do you need to be able to pin down what type of book a book is, before you're interested in it? How specific do you get? Let me know what you think. I'm curious.

19 September 2009


You could say that I grew up in a rural community - Los Angeles. For the first ten years of my life - until 1963 - Los Angeles was the biggest agricultural producing county in the United States. The first house I remember living in was in Encino, in the San Fernando Valley. There was no freeway to get to it. Ventura Boulevard, the main drag, turned into a dirt road not too much west of where you turned off onto our street. When I'd scramble up onto the wall at the border of our backyard, all I could see was fruit orchards. Farms were all around us. (There was a two acre garlic farm in one of the most high-value real estate parts of the Valley until just recently. Maybe it's even still there, I'm not sure.)

Today, L.A. is still one of, if not the biggest producers of nursery plants in the country. Most of those farms are under miles and miles of powerlines that stretch across the city.

So, like any other country boy, I've always loved the County Fair.

These people were speaking Cantonese, which made me feel back at home in Hong Kong, but I don't think the goats understood.

A child about to be eaten by sheep. Farm animals can be dangerous. As Ashley Ream, author, friend and standing county fair date, put it (and she ought to know, coming, as she does, from rural Missouri): "An undeniable feeding frenzy. We’re lucky to be alive."

For "security" reasons, the cow milking barn was off-limits to the public. I, for one, would hate to have the terrorists poisoning our milk supply.

Of course, some farm animals are just plain tasty. I'm not sure why these pigs are in such a hurry to "bring home the bacon," but I'm glad they are. There was a chocolate covered bacon vendor just outside the pig racing arena. And at the end of the race, all the spectators got a coupon for a free pound of bacon. How could you not love the county fair?

Food, glorious food. FRIED food, lots of it. Just looking at this picture is enough to make your arteries harden.

Not everything was fried.

But you could get almost anything dipped in chocolate.

I couldn't even bring myself to find out what, exactly, is "meat lovers ice cream."

I am very fond of what I refer to as the "slice it / dice it booths." Here, a very persuasive sales guy demonstrates his miracle, master sushi maker.

There are many useful, heavily discounted, items to buy at the Fair. The electronic cigarette complete kit - with recharger for home and auto, carrying case and other stuff - will set you back $129 in stores, but only $79.95 at the Fair.

And if you love baseball, and you smoke too many real cigarettes, this could be just what you're looking for. (Ashley was disappointed to see that they weren't offering any Kansas City Royals caskets - she's a fan.)

Unfortunately the Fair seldom has any biggest or smallest or ugliest or much of anything other ...est anymore. I fondly recall, from the past, The Giant Jungle Rats of Vietnam, Zambora the Apewoman, and other such luminaries. Last year there was at least a gigantic cow - a steer (eunuch) really. All I could find this year were snakes. I didn't even bother going inside. I am almost certain I've seen bigger.

But you can still win oversized plushies that assault baby strollers.

And of course there is the Midway, colorful as always, reeking of hot dogs, cotton candy and teenage adrenalin spilling off thrill rides.

By the way, I am guest blogging also today at the home of Sha'el, Princess of Pixies

12 September 2009


I like reading tough guy, and gal, books as well as the next person. I write some of my own scenes in which people beat people up, get beat up, shoot people, etc. But I do not attempt to pretend that I’m a tough guy myself. Too many of my fellow genre – crime – writers, however, do. And I’m getting really bored with it.

I once spent an hour photographing Norman Mailer, the king of all faux-macho, posturing, bellicose cretins. He wasn’t a real tough guy. He was an asshole. I know some writers who aspire to be like him. They ought to reconsider.

There is nothing cool about barfights.
Anyone who thinks there is, has either never been in one, or had their brains knocked loose of their moorings in the ones they have been in.

When I lived in Boise, Idaho during my first year of college, I knew a cowboy. Really, that’s what he was; he herded cows on horseback for a living. He was a little guy, no more than five foot seven or eight and weedy. For reasons having to do with his girlfriend, I’d see him mostly on Sundays, when he was all beat up. He’d sport black eyes, usually two at a time, a wide variety of bruises, aches and pains, lumps on his head. He’d limp and walk like he was being poked with needles that would dig further into him whenever he’d move.

He’d go out to roughneck bars on Saturday nights and get into fights that he knew he was going to lose. More often than not he’d get into fights with his friends, hoping they might go a little easier on him than a stranger would. They didn’t, near as I could tell.

Why? Because he needed the work. And to get the work he needed to prove he was a “man.” And men, real men, get drunk and beat each other up in bars on Saturday nights. At least they did in his world. I could go into how it’s undoubtedly something to do with repressed homoeroticism. But there’s really no need to analyze it beyond the fact that it was stupid. Just plain stupid.

When I was in Lisbon, Portugal in late 1974, during the revolution, I used to hang out in a seedy bar, the Bar Texas, down by the docks. One night I was buying drinks for a hooker from Angola who spoke good English. She was drunk enough to be telling me her life story and I was just sober enough to follow it.

A guy walking by took umbrage at something someone nearby said. He smashed his almost-empty beer bottle on our table and went after that someone at the next table with the broken glass. That person pulled a knife. They cut each other up pretty bad. Blood was flying everywhere. My hooker friend pulled her own knife and I dove under our table. A lot of the people in the bar got into it. Mostly I remember watching people’s feet and legs and hearing more breaking glass and curses and screams and the sounds of people getting hurt. It was terrifying.

Finally things calmed down. Everyone had hurt who they were going to hurt, at least for the time being. My hooker friend reached down to me with a bloody hand, pulled me up and led me out of there before the police came. On the way out of the bar we passed people laid out on the floor, across tables, bloody, moaning, holding their stomachs and their heads. There was nothing the least bit pretty, sexy, romantic or anything else good about it. I took my friend to a clinic to get bandaged up.

There is nothing cool about guns, either. People who really know guns, who need to use them to protect themselves or others, or to put food on the table, respect them as a workman respects his tools. They don’t fetishize them. They don’t think they’re exciting or sexy or fun or anything more than a simple grim necessity.

I've known my share of cops and soldiers and a few spies. Not one of them, who's any good at what they do, is what you'd call a "gun nut." They take it too seriously for that. They really are tough guys (and gals.) They don't need to pretend like they are, or to show off about it. And every single one of them would rather talk their way out of a fight then throw a punch or pull a gun.

When they go to a shooting range it's to hone their skills, it’s not to party. They might enjoy it, like anyone would enjoy practicing something that they’re good at. But that’s not really the point. It’s part of the job. It’s not a hobby.

The fact of the matter is that far too many people who don’t take them seriously, who think they are toys or some sort of miracle cure for crime, or if you want to get analytical - are worried about the size of their dicks - own guns. My neighbors own guns and I am certain that they don’t have the slightest idea what to do with them. They are far more likely to shoot each other, or an innocent bystander, than they are to hold off a criminal.

So I’ve got a plea to all those pretend cowboys and tough guys (and gals): cut the crap, will ya? Write about it all you want and I’ll enjoy reading, at least some of, it. But you don’t have to act like you live it. Not unless you want to admit you have no imagination

09 September 2009


My agent, Janet Reid, recently had a blog post titled, “I love top 10/20/40 lists of novels and books.” As I am soon going to send her a new book, I figured I’d make my own top ten list, hoping to curry favor.

I recently saw the same list that Janet saw, by Lee Child of his top 40 favorite books. I don’t know if it’s just that I’m lazier than Lee, or thinking less in terms of, say, THE TOP 40 (as in pop music), but it got me to thinking, and so, here’s my top ten. Other than MOBY DICK, which is my very favorite book of all time, they are in no particular order.

MOBY DICK, Herman Melville. Near as I can tell, this is the first modern novel, and it is still the greatest. It’s got everything: drama, suspense, intricate plot, relationships, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, economics, politics, humor and more. I reread it once every ten years and every time I do another facet of it rears up and amazes me. The last time I read it was in 2007 and I was taken with just how funny parts of it are.

MEMORY OF FIRE (Trilogy), Eduardo Galleano. History, myth, politics, economics, crime, biography all intermingled in three books that are like a fantastic cinematic / literary recreation of 500 years in the life of The Americas.

ASK THE DUST, John Fante. Still the best book ever written about Los Angeles and one of the best ever written about the stirrings of a writer’s early life. A book with a rhythm so strong that it is almost impossible to not tap your feet to it.

LONELY CRUSADE and IF HE HOLLERS LET HIM GO, Chester Himes. Okay, so it’s sort of cheating, but the two books are inextricably linked in my mind. Has there ever been any deeper, more affecting, honest, brutal and powerful writing about race in America? I don’t think so. And they are beautiful examples of the seamless interweaving of social, political and economic issues with a gripping narrative.

THE HONORARY CONSUL, Graham Greene. Probably not his best book. That honor might have to go to THE HEART OF THE MATTER or THE QUIET AMERICAN or another. But the story grabs me, and the characters and the complicated moral playing field of the whole thing is truly fantastic. There’s some good lessons in here as well.

WISE BLOOD, Flannery O’ Connor. Again, maybe not her finest moment, but my favorite. It thoroughly appeals to the part of me that wants to poke sticks at anything and everything religious or dogmatic.

ROUGHING IT, Mark Twain. A truly fantastic mashup of fiction and fact that gives the reader what seems like an incredibly accurate and detailed picture of life in the wild west. It’s funny, poignant in places, always smart and insightful. It barely edges out LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI and FOLLOWING THE EQUATOR as my favorite Twain.

THE BRIDGE IN THE JUNGLE, B. Traven. Rough, elemental, forceful, rich, telling of what seems like a simple tale, but is really a complex maze of nuance and insight into the human condition – politically, socially, economically.

THE LONG DAY WANES, Anthony Burgess. By far the best, most complex, most fully realized evocation of colonialism and its impact on both the colonizers and the colonized. Fantastic characters, amazing sense of time and place.

RISING UP and RISING DOWN, William T. Vollmann. I can’t in good conscience recommend this to anyone. At six volumes and more than 3,500 pages of astoundingly dense, fact and speculation-filled writing; it took me nearly a year to read it. Then again, it took him about 20 years to write it. It is nothing more or less than an attempt to come to some sort of conclusion as to why humans are violent and if and when it is ever justified. It’s filled with history, politics, anthropology, philosophy – pretty much any –ology or –osophy you can think of. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It put me to sleep and kept me awake. It made me THINK more than any other book I have ever read – excepting, maybe, MOBY DICK.

So there you have it. My list of 10. Like any list, I’ve already thought of other books that I’d want on it – THE IDIOT by Doestoevsky, R.L.’s DREAM by Walter Mosley, THE FLANEUR by Edmund White, CLASS by Paul Fussel, EMPIRE OF THE SUN by J.G. Ballard, M by John Sack, DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON by George Orwell, BEIJING COMA by Ma Jian, and more, plenty more. Truth be told, my top 10 would probably stretch out to a top 25 or 30 or even more, and if there was any order to them, that would change from day to day and mood to mood. Except, of course, for MOBY DICK. (Which is also the only book I ever reread. Life’s too short to reread books. I read too slow. There are too many books I haven’t read that I’m hoping to get to.)

But for the time being, there it is.

05 September 2009


Last week, my seven year old laptop died. No major harm done, everything was more than adequately backed up and mostly I'd been using it for net surfing and photoshopping stuff that I didn't store on it. I spent a day trying to figure out whether or not I could salvage it: new harddrive, maybe a new screen, seemed like there was something screwy with the motherboard, two of the three USB connections had gone on the fritz.

So it was garbage. I'd got seven good years out of it, which in computer years must be something like 96 or so.

I wanted to format the harddrive so as to erase it. That's harder than it ought to be, especially if the computer came with the software installed and you don't have the installation disks. So I read up on what to do.

Formatting a harddrive doesn't do you much good anyhow. Anyone with a little determination can still mine the drive for whatever was on it. And these days, a lot of old harddrives find their way to China where there is a booming industry in recovering stuff from them and using it in various nefarious schemes.

Harddrives are tough. You could run one over with your car and it wouldn't mind that one bit. So I went at mine with a hammer, a big hammer. And even that took some doing. Now there's some suspicious sparkly stuff all over my patio, but I'm pretty sure that no one is going to get my precious data - and mostly not so precious data - off that old drive.

But then, you're not allowed to simply toss an old harddrive in the trash. That's a crime here in Los Angeles. And I can't simply toss out the old external monitor that also died at the same time. (It started looking like I think amoebic dysentery must look like under the microscope.) Same for old TVs, radios, printers, busted DVD and CD players and the like.

On weekends, the City of Los Angeles runs Electronic and Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites. So, I picked up my pal Craig, who also had stuff to dispose of, and off we went.

The closest place to my house was at a sewage reclamation plant, down the street from a strip club on the L.A. / Glendale border. I guess the odor helps get you in that haz-mat state of mind. We drove into it and were channeled into a parking area filled with large signs in English and Spanish telling us to stay in the car. A dozen or so men in white haz-mat suits swarmed the car when we came to a stop, opening the doors and the trunk, emptying it of any electric equipment and/or hazardous materials they could find.

I had a box of my books in the trunk. I considered seeing if they would take that, as it would make an excellent story if my books were taken away by guys in special protective clothing as "hazardous materials." Maybe I could even get some sort of testimonial to that, or at least a receipt. It would make for an interesting blurb on the next book. But alas, they left my books alone.

The only sensible thing to do after that was go eat Mexican food for lunch. We went to a nearby place which we like okay; the salsas are spicy and flavorful, the chips reasonably fresh, the drinks cold and the food is worth the price - which is to say it's cheap. The only drawback is that they seem to have a haunted jukebox. Twice during the course of our lunch, with no one approaching it, much less putting any money into it or pushing any buttons, the thing suddenly erupted into brutally loud, conversation-killing Ranchera music.

But when we could talk, among the things we talked about was Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. They worried my friend. He had recently, for the first time, read the collected quotes of Glen Beck or something like that, and was astounded and appalled at what he'd read.

What astounds and appalls me about dim-witted, lying fuckwits like Beck and Coulter and Hannity and Limbaugh and others of their ilk - and by way of tying this to the first part of this blog, I will refer to them as toxic waste - is that people take them seriously enough to actually try to argue with them.

You cannot use logic or rationality to argue with illogic or irrationality. It just doesn't work. And the toxic waste morons of cable TV and radio know that. They are just good at thinly disguising the fact that they are not rational human beings, so as to suck otherwise sensible people into arguing with them, arguments that, by their nature, cannot be won.

When a sleazebag, shit-for-brains, toxic monster like Glenn Beck calls Obama a racist; the best argument isn't to say "no he isn't," and then try to prove your point. It is to laugh, loud and hard and long. And then when you're done laughing, answer back with something equally preposterous: "You know, I really do think the moon is made of green cheese."

I consider myself a political independent. I do tend to vote for Democrats more often than Republicans, but I have voted for a few Republicans over the years. I very much believe in a two-party political system, in which compromises between those parties tend to steer a relatively moderate course over time. I have great respect for people of both political parties, at least the ones who have earned it through their obvious good sense and respectful, honest willingness to rationally debate real issues. if I were a Republican, I would be doing everything I could to distance myself from the toxic waste of the cable cretins. And if I were a Democrat, I'd be egging them on and laughing all the way to the polls.