Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My first real Bangkok massage

That's not me, but you get the idea...

I'm not sure what Bangkok has more of...bars or massage parlors. Perhaps it's no coincidence that both establishments are located directly next door to one another. You know, I scratch your back (or rub it anyway), and you scratch mine. That said, so what did the intrepid traveler do last night after downing a couple Singha beers in a nearby open air tavern? He did something he swore he would never do in his life. He got a massage.

Okay, so here's the deal: You approach several nice young Thai women who are hanging outside their two-story establishment. They're all attractive and laughing the hot humid night away. They dress not in uniforms, but they do wear matching blue polo shirts. I say, "I'd like a massage." One woman whom I'm guessing is next in line for massage duty, stands. "Right this way, sir." We head inside and she tells me to take my shoes off. Or jungle boots in this case. I dutifully obey. She then tells me to follow her upstairs.

So like I said, I've had a few beers but the buzz is quickly worn off as I'm led up a narrow staircase to a windowless room that contains maybe eight bare mattresses all laid out side by side on the floor. The only thing resembling AC are the numerous ceiling fans. The small thirty-something woman smiles and tells me to take my clothes off. "You mean, like everything?" I ask. She hands me a green smock that reminds me of the thing my doctor makes me wear when she performs my annual physical. "Put this on," she says, before heading out of the room for a minute. I undress and slip into the nothing piece of clothing.

When she comes back in she asks me to lie down on my chest. From there she straddles my back and what begins is not the gentle massage my girlfriends used to give me, but instead the torture. She doesn't gently rub my muscles with her with fingertips. Good God, she doesn't even use her fingers. She uses her elbows and fists to jam, twist, mash, maul, punch, slap, karate chop, dig, bend, and eventually, destroy the knotty tissue. How the hell can this little snowflake of a lady be so freaking strong?

I find myself making grunting noises and little pain-filled gasps that cause her to laugh. At one point, as my eyes tear up, I consider giving her a time out-T (I mean, shouldn't we have established a safety word first?), but my arms are locked in place by her knees. I can't move if I want to. Being a writer and a fiction writer at that, I picture two burly Taiwanese bandits entering into the room, stealing my wallet, my passport, my cash and even my clothing. I picture myself having to walk out into the Bangkok night in nothing but that flimsy blue smock, the entire Asian world laughing at my sorry ass.

At one point she makes me turn around and place my head in her...well mid-section. While she proceeds to massage my scalp, mother nature begins getting the wrong signals and the flag begins flying at full mast (nudge, nudge, say no more). Talk about wanting to disappear. For a second I think about making a joke, but then it dawns on me that for her, the sudden rise of Magic Johnson is probably an everyday/nightly occurrence. Oh, BTW, if you wish for a happy ending, you must head to the red light district further in the center of the city. 

In the final analysis my first massage was an exhilarating experience, even if it did leave me feeling like Gumby. The nice woman gave me the full body massage that was promised on the billboard attached to the building's exterior. Not that I cooperated during the procedure. "You lift too many weight," she said. "You too tight. You no relax." I guess I was a crappy client. But what the hell, the price was right. Three hundred baht or about ten bucks US. I gave her an extra one hundred for her trouble.

As I'm putting on my boots back on outside on the front steps, I take a minute to converse with the girls. I ask them if they've ever been to New York. "You could do well there," I say. But they just laugh among themselves. "Too much work here," one of them says along with a cute giggle. "Why we ever go to New York?"

I guess she's right, too much business right here in Bangkok, servicing jerks like me. I bid them goodnight, and make my way back to the bar.




Monday, June 18, 2018

So.East Asia first leg and a note on sensititvity censors/editors

Kong Kong Int Airpor, early morning.

Traveling again. After a year of turmoil, not all of my making (for a change), I’m headed on an extraordinary adventure, even by my standards (not a brag). I’m headed to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam with my old pals from Intrepid. This isn’t your garden variety expedition. I’ll be backpacking it, with the only mod cons my laptop and smartphone. I’ll be staying with a family in the Cambodian jungle, traveling upriver on Halong Bay, traveling by overnight train, plane, motorbike, and who knows the what the hell else. I expect the food and drink to be spectacular, the people truly amazing , and the memories, unreal. I’m old enough to recall the Vietnam war and I worked side by side Vietnam vets in my early construction days. So it's a special trip. I'll also be collecting research material for a new Chase Baker novel. I’m writing this now at 1AM in the airport and looking forward to passing out on the plane which is a good thing since the first leg is 15 hours to Hong Kong. 
Postscript: I've just landed in Kong Kong after the 15 hours flight. Three of the bathrooms were out of order, making it an especially grueling journey. 
LIT WARNING: word up on the street is that publishers are now hiring sensitivity editors. God help us if books are about to be judged based on their political correctness. This is dangerous territory folks. Sensitivity editors are just a kinder, fuzzier way of describing censors. These people want to crush voices, not encourage creativity. Are we heading toward a Stalinesque future for the written word? Be careful how left you're willing to go. The void of freedom will be replaced at tyranny. 

These are dangerous times for free thought, free speech (which is now officially being discouraged on college campuses), and free creative expression. If an editor chooses not to publish a novel of mine because it’s not sensitive to their particular political views, I should only be too happy for the privilege.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The reason why Anthony Bourdain killed himself

Anthony Bourdain killed himself last week after hanging himself from a shower head inside his hotel in France. A lot of speculation as to why a man who had the world by the horns both professionally and financially would do such a thing. Take into account his eleven year old daughter, and the whole world is shaking its collective heads in sadness and perhaps even a little pissedoffness. "Why?" we keep asking ourselves.

In my opinion, Bourdain considered himself a fraud. There's little doubt that he could be a nasty dude towards others, and I spoke about that in a previous essay. Let's face it, all too often that kind of attitude is a defense mechanism. Sort of like the school yard bully who picks on the defenseless kids because secretly he likes dudes. Or something like that. But Bourdain was also a well loved man and I've never heard of anyone referring to him as a bully. He was at best outspoken and at worst, well, let's call it insensitive.

Like I also mentioned previously, I originally knew Bourdain as a writer. Not as a cook. But when his memoir Kitchen Confidential went ballistic on the charts, he became a household name. I think for him, the purpose of the book was never meant to secure his legacy as a master chef. It was instead to prove that he was at his core, a great writer. And like all great writers, he wrote what he knew about. In this case it was food and being a cook. Had he been a lawyer, he would have centered his writings, both fictional and nonfiction, around that.

As time went on, Bourdain would become a TV personality, something I believe he on one hand, hated, but on the other, took great pride in. Unlike the vast majority of TV people, he wrote all his own material for his shows, and he was always working on a book or some sort of literary project behind the scenes. He even started a comic.

As time went on however, the writing side of Bourdain faded and he became the traveling guy you see on the Food Channel or the Travel Channel and finally, CNN.
 The cook talks writing advice...

Could it be that he accepted the TV gigs originally because he couldn't pass up the cash? Could it be he assumed the TV would act as publicity for his writing and not the other way around? Or could it be that he didn't know nearly as much about being a chef as the world thought he did? Maybe after a time, the TV personality beast became so large, he had no choice but to come off as something he wasn't. The traveling, adventuring master chef. The adventuring part is true, but maybe, deep down inside he considered himself a phony and he hated himself for it. Maybe, in the end, he would have been perfectly happy writing his books and articles, traveling the globe, and making just a fraction of the money. He would have been true to himself and perhaps lived a long life, free of the inner turmoil.



Friday, June 8, 2018

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, No Bullshit, No Regrets

Anthony Bourdain 1956-2018

"Bullshit!" Such was the first word rendered on the first episode of Anthony Bourdain's 2005 culinary adventure cable TV program, No Reservations. Of course, I was head over heels for the show from that moment on. I'd known the former Les Halle top chef peripherally in crime lit circles in the mid-1990s since he used to write mysteries and was even published at the same imprint as I am in Japan. I never gave much thought to his day job as a cook, until his hugely successful 1999 memoir burst onto the scene, Kitchen Confidential, and entire generations of foodies stopped eating fish on Mondays.

Mine and my then wife's favorite NYC restaurant became Les Halles on the corner of 28th and Park, back when it was still a small bistro where you could get sweet breads, steak frit, and eat at its small bar. The restaurant was expanded later on but it was never the same and more recently it has closed forever. That's sad enough, but to lose it's chef that's disconcerting. But Bourdain would break the bonds of NYC to become something of a phenom. A culinary adventurer who, and I quote, "... will risk everything...I've got nothing to lose." That risk earned him millions of dollars and world adoration.

After all, back in the early 90's he was a heroin addict reduced to selling used CDs on the side of the road for food money. He had a love affair with alcohol which lasted up until the end. His favorite music was punk rock...New York bands like The Ramones, Patti Smith, Richard Hell and ummm, Suicide. He cut the sleeves off his black CBGBs t-shirt and of course, he loved his Marlboro cigs so much that a chef bud of his invented a custard dish that featured the vague flavor of a Marlboro Red cigarette. Yup, you can't make this shit up.

When he began his first low budget show, A Cooks Tour, back in the early 2000s his heart was breaking while his long time partner and wife Nancy Putkowski and he were breaking up. Some of the early episodes demonstrates his desperation (he jumps off a cliff into the sea at one point). But he had a searing wit, wasn't afraid to call out his fellow culinary pros on being suckups or just plain sucking (he was particularly tough on Emerald and Rachael Rey). After all, Tony was authentic. He was the real deal. He hated the commercialization of anything, especially when it came to food and words.

He inspired me as a writer, so much so that back in the early 2000s I wrote a non-fiction proposal for a book called Construction Confidential, an insiders look at the building business (He, no doubt, would have laughed at it). It was rep'd by the William Morris Agency but went no where (Thank God!). Food is way more romantic and emotional. But when I started traveling not occasionally, but often enough to lose yet another wife, Tony Bourdain was never far from my thoughts. I never travel without looking at his essays and videos first. Just last night I was YouTubing his many visits to Cambodia and his favorite place on God's earth, Vietnam. Little did I know he was in the process of killing himself. I'll be in So East Asia a week from Monday on a research trip. No doubt, I'll dedicate a few drinks to Tony. I wouldn't be surprised to find his ghost bellied up to a bar right beside me.

Whenever a literary hero of mine dies by suicide it shakes me to my core. Brautigan and Hunter Thompson come to mind. The late, Jim Harrison, another lit hero of mine who also considered suicide at one time, said that when he saw his daughter's red bathrobe hanging on the door knob, he knew that he couldn't go through with it. Tony Bourdain leaves behind a little girl from his failed second marriage and that's the saddest thing of all. Jim Harrison also added that the next meal is also worth waiting for. Too bad Tony Bourdain didn't wait for one more great meal. And one more after that, and one more after that. Eventually, he might have changed his mind.


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Da Vinci

Dan Brown wrote his story about Da Vinci. I wrote the other story about Leonardo Da Vinci. The rarely told one about the cave he visited as a child outside his home in Vinci, Italy, and where, legend has it, he received divine power. Or, the talent to create works of art and inventions centuries before his time. Who knows what existed inside that cave that had the power to inspire him.

Whatever the case, to this day the cave has never been discovered. But then, that's not right either, because our intrepid adventurer and all around most interesting man in the world, Chase Baker has most definitely uncovered it. But let's hope he survives the ordeal...

Today's Book Bub feature is Chase Baker and the Da Vinci Divinity. Grab it while it's hot at only 0.99...

And for gits and shiggles, check out my recent journey to Da Vinci's childhood home...


Grab CHASE BAKER AND THE DA VINCI DIVINITY at all stores, including Amazon, Kobo, iTines and Google Play: BOOK BUB

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Two movies that nail the writing life...

The writer upon learning his novel will not be published
I suppose I'm a sucker for movies about writers and their lives. The romantic ones are especially cool. Movies dramatizing Hemingway's romantic and prodigious life. Another four-part series details the life and dangerous times of James Bond creator, Ian Fleming. And who can forget the very sexy Henry and June? I even cowrote a teleplay about Norman Mailer with author Lee Matthew Goldberg.

I guess lots of people think of writers lives as romantic. Days and nights filled with exotic travel, lots of booze, long dinners, lots of sex partners and divorces, and in between all that, getting some writing done. Sure, there's some of that, but in general the writer's life can be pretty dull and filled with more disappointments than successes (you only hear about the successes on FB and Twitter). Series get canceled, movie options dry up, editors leave their publishing houses making your books orphans, agents and editors hang onto books for far too long and by the time they go to make the sale, the marketing team isn't interested. And of course, there's the inevitable remaindering of titles that don't sell (which is why I love the indie publishing revolution because eBooks are forever...)

Two movies that demonstrate the more or less banal realities of the writing life are Sideways and Young Adult. Both films are labelled as comedies, but they both portray a realism about writing rarely seen in more romantic films. In the former, a down on his luck, very broke (he steals cash from his mom's underwear drawer), very divorced middle-aged writer is intent on taking his soon to be betrothed best friend to the California wine country for a week long bachelor party. Along the way we find out he's not only battling loneliness (and the torch he still carries for his remarried ex), he's got his fingers crossed that the book his agent is shopping to a small press is finally going to sell. In the latter, a newly divorced ghost writer of a canceled YA series moves back to her hometown with the intent to woo back her old boyfriend who, like in Sideways, is also remarried with a newborn kid.

Both movies portray the lonely writer's life, the excess drinking, the slovenly lifestyle and of course, the despair that can sometimes go hand in hand with this business (Yup, these are comedies, folks). At one point in YA, the main character walks into a Barnes and Nobles to buy one of her books. At first she thinks the table in the back that's devoted to the entire series is meant to promo the YA novels when in fact it's meant as a glorified clearance rack. Everything's got to go! Our protagonist is intent on signing a few copies anyway. But when the clerk insists she not sign any of the stock because then they can't return the books to the publisher, things get physical and desperate.

Welcome to the writer's reality. Isn't it hilarious?


Friday, May 18, 2018

The ever changing, ever volatile publishing landscape...

Where the big books get published or rejected...

...back in the old days (say the mid '90s), when I first started out in this business, I had always intended to write a lot of books as quickly as possible (I got lambasted for this attitude in writing school). I also intended to get them to market as quickly as possible. I would then spend the bulk of my free time on wine, women, and song (I played drums in a bunch of punk bands). Woe was I to find out that while the writing came quickly to me, the publishing game quote one of my late dad's favorite euphemisms...slower than whale shit.

On top of that, it turned out that aside from a very select group of writers (about .0095) of them, acquiring major publishing deals of say, $250K or more (plus the multi-media rights that go with them) every two or three years without question, was akin to winning Power Ball over and over and over again. I hit one of these mega deals right out of the gate and since then, I've struck a ton of "nice" deals, but nothing that nice. Simply put, if your book doesn't earn out and then some, the monies offered goes down on you faster than Stormy Daniels.

Then came the indie publishing movement, and gone suddenly was the query, wait, and hope days. Suddenly, the publishing end of things go from agonizingly slow to as fast as you can put out a book. To make the sauce sweeter, books no longer have a shelf life. They will be published long after you become worm food. Here's what this means (bulleted of course):

1. Your words are no longer dead once the publishers and bookstores say so.
2. Your books become investments, much like mutual funds or perhaps more accurately, real estate. You put up an initial investment and every year, year in and year out, your books earn you a solid return of perhaps %25 (My indie books on average earn me %40 annually, while my mutual funds earn me about %5. You see where I'm going here.)
3. Fiction writing has become not about the initial advance, but more about the tail end "passive income." If I get sick tomorrow, and can't work for a month or two, the money keeps coming in. It also means...and this is the magical unicorn feel good portion of our story...that my kids and their kids will eventually earn several thousand dollars per month for the rest of their lives.

Back to traditional publishing. Yeah, I'm a hybrid guy. I publish traditionally and indie. I do it all, because I lust publication in all its forms. Plus I'm a control freak and I love controlling my own destiny rather than a bunch of accountants and sales reps determining it for me. Over the past seven or eight months I've started working with a new agent on a couple of books that will eventually go up for sale to the big five or four or whatever they are now. We're working very carefully on these books and quite arguably they are the best of my career. In a sense we are manufacturing a deal here, which is precisely the point.

But the going is slow. As a full-time professional writer, I could never depend solely on this "traditional" publishing model. This model is for "authors." Authors generally speaking have day jobs. They are either lawyers, or writing teachers, or famous journalists, or dentists, or what have you. Again, generally speaking, the traditional model is too slow and too risky to actually give up your day job.

However, for those of us who possess God's gift of proliferation (I'm a machine), we can indeed quit the day job and build an indie list to supplement one's traditional efforts. We are not authors, we are "writers." Think about it, in the seven or eight months I've been working on those two big manuscripts with my agent, I've written three full-length genre novels and another six novellas, plus a ton of short journo pieces and blogs. And folks, even though I do this full-time, let's face it, it's part-time work. In other words, Although it looks like I'm always working, I still have time to work out a couple hours a day, take a nap, go fly fishing, fly to Vietnam (did I tell you I'm heading back to Asia next month on a research trip?), or just pretty much do whatever then hell I want to do when I want to do it.

So there you have it, the hybrid life to date.

One bit of news before I go: Amazon Publishing has very abruptly shut down their Kindle Worlds program. A lot of writers are pretty upset about it. About four years ago I was commissioned to write a novella for the program. It was an X-Files novel. It was fun to write and I was paid $10K, but it never saw the light of day since in the end, Fox couldn't come to a satisfactory licensing agreement with Amazon. Ironically, I might now be able to somehow legally publish the book. However, the point here is that AP is going through some definite changes. They've been wonderful to work with (I have 9 novels at Thomas & Mercer), and I hope to work with them again. But take my advice and be sure to diversify your publishing. Go traditional, go indie, go wide, and build up that mailing list. One day sooner than later, you just might be publishing your books directly to readers off your own website.