19 July 2011


There are times when I'm pretty sure I would have been better off having gone to summer school all through school, every year. Not because I wish I'd graduated high school at 15 or anything like that, or college at 18. But because if you don't become a teacher summer holidays in your youth set you up for a lifetime of struggle. Especially if, like me, you don't have a boss breathing down your neck other than yourself, spurred on by the occasional horrifying glance online at your bank account or last royalty statement.

Right now it's 83 degrees outside, sunny, not too humid. The me who grew up spending 17 years of summer holidays - kindergarten through my BA - is convinced that I ought to be out and about doing something other than sitting in front of this computer. I should be taking pictures, playing baseball, exploring different parts of the city, walking along the beach, SCUBA diving, sipping drinks on a terrace with a view, something else than what I'm doing.

Just writing this I'm distracting myself. I've got other stuff I ought to be writing: rewriting the second book in my new L.A. Trilogy, writing the third book, writing the first Lei Yue book, there's two other book ideas in varying states of progress and a non-fiction book idea percolating and a couple of short stories I have in mind.

But waaahh! I don't wanna!

I'm too old to be feeling this way, aren't I? I haven't been in school with a summer holiday since, since - oh shit, Gerald Ford was President. But all those damn formative years when I was growing up have apparently suckered something deep inside me into thinking - it's hot outside, it's summer, I should be out somewhere having fun.

I've got a plan. I'm not sure how much good it's going to really do me since I'm only doing it for three days, but I'm heading to the desert where it's 109 at the moment and only likely to be even hotter on the days I'm there next week. No one in their right mind wants to go outside in weather like that. And in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I am, I insist, in my right mind.

Plus, the deluxe hotel room in the deluxe hotel I will be staying in, normally goes for something north of $400 per night when the weather's good. I'm getting it for $89. (It's questionable whether or not the owners are in their right minds - why bother staying open in the summer?) And there's a swimming pool approximately 15 feet from the door of my room. And the air conditioning works.

Maybe I'll get some writing done. Maybe I ought to see about staying out there for the rest of the summer.

I don't have kids but I do have some advice for those of you reading this who do. Do them a favor, send them to summer school or encourage them to go into teaching.

12 July 2011


To read the papers, to listen to the radio or watch the TV news, to see the electric signs along the freeways is enough to convince you that the end of Los Angeles as we know it will commence at about midnight this coming Friday, July 15.

Ten miles of the 405 – one of the world’s most congested freeways (“free” only in the sense that you don’t pay a toll to drive on it, otherwise the word is ironic) will be shut down until about six am the following Monday morning in order to tear down a bridge. According to nearly everyone the result is going to be CARMAGEDDON – THE TRAFFIC OF DOOM.

Oh get over it.

First off, the main part of the city it is going to affect is the Westside. And who wants to go over there anyhow, especially on a weekend? (I suppose beach lovers want to go there on weekends but I’m not one of them so I don’t care.) The Westside is Los Angeles-lite at best, the least interesting, least diverse, deathly-dullest part of the urban area.

Secondly, it’s the 405 folks! Sure it’s going to slow to an average speed of zero miles per hour. That’s down, I guess, from its usual average of something like twelve miles per hour or less. Not much of a drop in speed really.

When the 2 or the 210 or the 134 or the 10 east of downtown or the 5 north or the 60 east or the 110 south most of the time or the 101 north most of the time (we are blessed with many freeways on this side of town, unlike the deprived westsiders) – the freeways I take way more often than any others – drop from 65 or 70 to 30 or 40 mph, something they do once in a while – I and everybody else on them simply crank up our radios, suck it up and get where we’re going without too much additional fuss.

Thirdly – traffic? We spoiled Americans, we don’t know traffic.

Last August, on the outskirts of Beijing there was a nine-day, 100 kilometer traffic jam. And when I say “nine-day” I mean that’s how long you would have sat in your car listening to the same stupid blather on CNN or Fox radio (or their Chinese equivalents), or the latest crappy Top-40 playlist over and over and over again while waiting to get where you were going.

When I was in Bangkok for business in the spring of 1991, I got out of my last meeting of the day at a little after seven pm. It was raining and about 98 degrees F (about 37 C.) I got into a taxi and four-and-a-half-hours later I got out at my hotel – a distance of slightly more than three miles (4.828 km.)

The Bangkok correspondent for the magazine I worked for had a desk in the back of a van. While his brother-in-law drove the four to five hours average round trip – about five miles (8.04 km) – to the office, he’d put in office hours on the road.

One enterprising massage parlor bought deluxe vans, put beds in the back of them and offered pick up service from the Bangkok airport. Problem was that it got pretty expensive to spend as many as three hours with a “masseuse” on the way into town – rather than the hour that most customers indulged in at the parlor itself.

Every day is Carmageddon in a lot of places, but I guess we need something to make us feel special, or that we can complain about, or to distract us from the possible real life disasters that are waiting for us just around the corner.

Anyone shorting their U.S. T-notes yet?

09 July 2011


What is wrong with us Americans? Why do we fawn all over and swoon at the site of members of the British Royal Family? William and Kate are no more than the latest odious, spoiled, inbred relics of the bad old days to pollute our shores and snarl our traffic. Every single thing that they represent, every fabric of their being is antithetical to the ideals that the United States was founded on. We fought a revolution against these assholes! Do I really have to repeat all that's wrong with the very concept of royalty?

Sheesh, if I was King, I'd give the bastards 90 days to vacate all of their ill-gotten premises and move into council housing or off with their heads. (And that's more lenient than I used to be on the subject. I must be mellowing with age.)

05 July 2011


A spectre is haunting bookstores – the spectre of e-publishing and sales.

Historically bookstores and authors have been partners, they have relied upon each other to try and make a go in two fields that have always been a tough business.

But the times have changed. These days, a lot of what is hurting bookstores is helping authors.

How can a store, working on very thin margins, with increasingly high overhead, hope to compete with Amazon and its deep discounts? Or with e-book sales – the only actual growth part of the book market?

And authors cannot afford to ignore Amazon and e-books. Increasingly, to make any kind of living from their writing, they need to focus their attentions on them.

I have read angry tweets and blogposts from booksellers railing against authors who link to Amazon from their websites to sell their books and who are lavishing their promotional attentions on e-book sales. And as a lover of bookstores I can sympathize with that.

But as an author, what am I supposed to do? Just like a bookstore, I’m trying to stay in business.

I make $2.06 from the $2.99 sale of an e-edition of one of my books through Amazon. I make $1.19 when a bookstore sells a trade paperback of the same book at its list price of $14.95. (Sales of my backlist in trade paperback editions had been at a slow trickle over the past couple of years. Now that the e-books are available, my total royalties are on a pace to increase by more than 350 percent this year.)

Have the changes in technology and the market turned authors and traditional booksellers from friend to foe?

It greatly saddens me that so many bookstores have closed, and that so many more are going to close. There is just no way that the new marketplace for books can possibly support nearly as many bookstores as have existed in the past. Only the strongest, most innovative, most creative bookstores are going to survive.

And as someone who loves bookstores, whose first job was in a bookstore, who credits bookstores for some of the minor success I’ve achieved so far as an author, I want to do what I can to help at least some bookstores survive, even thrive.

What can I and other authors do to help bookstores without hurting our own sales? I cannot stop promoting the sales of my e-books or even my paper & ink books that people buy from Amazon or other online sellers. How else am I supposed to earn the money that, among other things, allows me to buy books from bookstores?

The important question for us authors is: what do brick and mortar bookstores offer readers/book buyers that they can’t get cheaper and more conveniently online?

And, just like anyone in business, the next question for us authors is: what’s in it for me? How can working with bookstores help our bottom line?

The one and only thing that traditional bookstores can offer us authors that online booksellers can’t, is personal, face-to-face interaction: between us and the bookseller, between us and the book buying public when we show up for events at bookstores, and between the bookseller - who is representing us authors when they sell our books - and their customers.

How valuable are those things in the modern book marketplace is a vital question for both bookstores and for authors, like me, who still want to work with and support bookstores.

The very sad truth seems to be that the fewer bookstores there are - the less impact bookstore sales have on an author’s bottom line and the less cost-effective it becomes for authors to work with bookstores to promote their books. (If you know what you’re doing, you can reach a whole lot more people in an hour spent online than you will ever reach from any book event – which involve investments of many more hours of time and money.)

I love bookstores and want them to survive and prosper. But there seem to be limits on what I can do to help them.

I can continue to shop at them myself, which I will certainly do.

I can continue to do my best to write books that they can sell. I’d love to write a bestseller for them to sell. That’s what I, and every other author, have always done and it hasn’t changed.

I can put links to independent stores on my website and find other ways to encourage book buyers to shop at those stores. But I can’t afford to not link to Amazon and to my e-books where my readers can, if they choose, buy my books cheaper and more conveniently.

I can continue to do events and drop-in signings at bookstores (if they’ll have me after this blog) in the hope of helping them attract more customers – both to the event and afterwards when they know me and my book better and so they can do a better job of hand-selling. But my publishers have never contributed to my book tours – few publishers do for any of their authors – and events end up costing me time and money, just as they do the stores.

I am sorry to say that as much as I want to help, bookstores can really only help themselves if they want to survive. How they can do that is a subject for a whole lot more discussion and experimentation (if they can afford it with their already slim margins.)

In the meantime, if any booksellers can think of realistic (not charity, not compromising our own sales) ways that we bookstore-loving authors can help, I’d sure love to hear them.