27 May 2010


Paul F, one of my readers, recently emailed me:

"I just finished Shanghied and I now have an excellent reason to stay out of the S aisle at the library. Horrible, horrible book."

Thank you, Paul. In all honesty, I mean that.

You finished the book. It must have grabbed your attention and held on to it, unless you're some sort of masochist. I, for one, can't finish books that don't hold my attention in some way or another. Life's too short and there are too many books I still want to read before I die and I don't read all that fast.

The book got a strong response from you. The worst possible thing that anyone can ever say about any of my books is along the lines of, "meh, so what?" If you thought that SHANGHAIED was horrible enough to bother writing and telling me so, I must have done something right.

The thing is, as much as I would love cashing the checks that would come from writing books that everybody, universally loves, I would soon become bored writing those books.

One of the main reasons I write is to challenge myself intellectually and creatively. I like to challenge my readers, too. I don't want all of you to love all of my books. I'd feel like I was failing to accomplish what I want to do as a writer, if that was the case.

Now don't get me wrong. I am pleased as punch that most of the reviews of all of my books have been positive; many of them positively glowing. And yes, my ego does enjoy being stroked by fan letters and starred reviews. When a reader came up to me at an event and told me that the copy of GRAVE IMPORTS they brought along with them on a trip to Cambodia made their trip a whole lot better, I just about swooned with delight.

But I like the bad reviews, too. I especially like intelligent, well-reasoned bad reviews. I've learned from some of them. (Perhaps if the majority of my reviews were bad, I wouldn't be so calm about it.)

Now Paul didn't tell me why he thought SHANGHAIED was a, "Horrible, horrible book." I wish that he had. But simply knowing that he actually finished it inspite of itself, and that it provoked a strong reaction from him, is enough to make me happy.

Here's what I wrote back:

Sorry you feel that way. I’m surprised you finished it. Still, I never wanted to write books that everybody likes. I like writing books that get strong reactions from their readers, and Shanghaied has certainly got plenty of those – both good and bad.

Thanks for reading it in any event, and for letting me know what you thought.



Hmmmm, I hope that response didn't make him mad.

And, to finish off this post with some pics, here's a couple from a walk I recently took, following a route laid out in my friend Charles Fleming's new book, which I highly recommend: SECRET STAIRS: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles. (That link is to Skylight Books, Charles' and my neighborhood bookstore and a truly splendid place.) If you must order it from Amazon instead (better to order it from Skylight), here's that link.

And, I also recently attended the launch party for the latest anthology of short fiction, MURDER IN LA LA LAND, put out by the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime, of which I am a proud member (and director of the Speakers Bureau.) I was also one of the editors of the anthology.

14 May 2010


Summer looms and it's looking to be a long one. Pretty much every single summer for the past five years I've had a new book coming out. I'd pile into my car for a road trip to promote that book. I'd roll up seven, eight, nine, even ten thousand miles - visit friends, eat great food that was bad for me, listen to too much talk radio, wonder at roadside attractions. Some people would ask me how I could stand to do it. Those people don't know me very well. It was fun, a lot of fun.

I can also tell you that it wasn't cost effective. But it was my summer vacation, and since when does a summer vacation have to be cost effective anyhow?

But this year I can't come up with a good excuse to do it again. And I'm kind of depressed about that.

I've written a new book, CENTRAL AVENUE. It's the first in what I hope to be a trilogy. At the moment, though, it's pounding the pavement of New York City trying to find a new agent who can sell it.

I've got my old books, but they are fast on their way to being out of print. I want to make them available for e-reader download (one of them, WRONG SIDE OF THE WALL, already is) but I need to formally get the rights to them reverted to me before I can.

The thing is, if a writer has even the slightest hope of making something vaguely resembling a career out of writing books, they've got to keep themselves in the reading public's eyes as much as possible; new book or not.

I could get arrested for something that will make the papers. But why waste that when I don't have a new book out? By the time the new book is out I'll be old news. Same for being a People Magazine level homewrecker. "Angelina Leaves Brad for Little Known Crimewriter!" But the tabloids, and maybe Angelina, are fickle enough that it is best to keep that in reserve for when it will do me the most good. (Not that it wouldn't be fun in the meantime.)

So I'm just doing what I can. That's to say, showing up at libraries and book events and other such things as often as possible. Maybe I'll show up somewhere near you one of these days, even without a new book to peddle.

Here's some of where I've been lately:

L.A. Times Festival of Books. I helped set up the Sisters in Crime booth, starting at 6am on Saturday and helped work at the booth from then until 6:30 that night, then again the next day from around 9am to 2:30. I also signed books at the SinC booth and at The Mystery Bookstore Booth. Part of the time I got to sit next to my pal Dianne Emley, who does have a new book coming out in about a week.
I ate truly fantastic sandwiches and went to the swell Men's Room at Pal Cabron in Huntington Park, one of my favorite L.A. neighborhoods. (Is everyone on Facebook?)
I moderated and was a panelist on a panel put on by Sisters in Crime, L.A. (of which I am currently the Speakers Bureau Director) at the Burbank Library. It was called "Murder Abroad" and was about crime books set in exotic locales. The Burbank Library always gets pretty good attendance at panels, especially considering that they are often on Saturday afternoons when the weather is good.And, I was on a panel about agents - a subject dear to my heart since I am currently hunting for a new one - at the Sisters in Crime meeting in early May.

Then I went to Tucson where some of the cacti were in bloom and there was a new, gigantic, world class Asian supermarket. It was my father's birthday and I neglected to do anything whatsoever to further my career.

Then last weekend it was San Diego by train - just because it is one of the only easy to get to by train from Los Angeles destinations. Take it from me, the blurry photo (damn cameras on cellphones) is of one of the all time great street performers. (He's in the Gaslamp District with some degree of frequency - check him out.) What looks like two dwarf sailors dancing with each other, is him in a bizzare suit with his hands and feet in pairs of boots.
Then there was a statue outside of the downtown branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art - which had wonderful, very well thought out, thought-provoking exhibitions - which seems to me to be a Native American version of the "He ain't heavy, father, he's my brother," statue at Boys Town in Nebraska.
May 22, from 5 to 7pm at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood Village, is the launch party for the new Sisters in Crime anthology of short fiction. I was one of the editors. I'll be there. And I'll be at a large number of events and signings throughout June and July to help promote the book as well. (Hmmm, I guess I do sort of have a new book out this summer after all.) You should be able to find an event somewhere near you by going to the SinCLA website.

Anyhow, I'm going to do my part to make sure you don't forget me until CENTRAL AVENUE comes out. You do your part, too.