Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

One of the big surprises has been the train. I haven't actually been in Los Angeles for a decade or so, and I had no idea that they'd constructed a train system which -- unsurprisingly -- is called Metro.
Here's Bao, flaked out on one of the astonishingly comfortable seats.
By the time I'd decided to come and do the seminar and attend BookExpo, all the downtown hotels had been booked out for weeks. However, Pasadena is only a 20-minute drive away from downtown -- and cheaper -- so I decided to stay there. Even so, I was dreading that drive. The Los Angeles freeways are fast and unforgiving.
That's when I discovered the train. It's fast, it's cheap, and it's reliable. It's also bright, clean and pleasant. So that part has been a snap.
BookExpo was overwhelming. Stall after stall after stall in a Convention Center that's physically larger than the entire suburb of Queens Park, which is where I lived in Australia. Hundreds of publishers, millions of books. I met my new agent, Jamie Brenner, and we had coffee.
Nobody noticed me, but everyone noticed Bao in his stroller. If Bao wrote a book, he'd probably end up on Oprah.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I like driving and I like to think I'm a reasonably competent driver, but the last 60 miles into LA were purely scary.
I'm used to Tucson, where people tend to drowse off at red lights and four-way stops turn into social occasions. Californians drive as if the world is going to end tomorrow, and they don't want to live to see it.
Bao has spent the past couple of days sleeping through a seminar on internet marketing -- I stayed awake and (hopefully) learned a few tricks.
Tomorrow, BookExpo.

Friday, May 23, 2008

This photo was taken by one of my students.

I teach courses on Chinese art and history. Here, I'm trying to impersonate a Song Dynasty storyteller -- hence, the funny hat. Someone asked if she could take my picture. Of course, I replied. But when Bao saw a camera come out, he assumed it was about him (after all, it usually is about him) and immediately struck a pose. Kinda cute, huh?

We are having "unseasonably cold and wet weather" in Tucson. A couple of years ago, it was 109. This morning it was 56. That's sort of amazing, isn't it? It's not often that it's warmer in Vancouver than it is in Tucson! I find myself actually feeling sorry for the rattlesnakes. They probably don't know what hit them.

Just as well it's nippy, because my air conditioner is broken. The valve that keeps the freon from freezing needs to be replaced. Turns out, this isn't just any old valve. This is a very special valve and the nearest one is in Memphis, Tennessee. It's being air freighted in and I'm hoping it'll get here and get installed before all the workmen go away for Memorial Day Weekend.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bao beside the pool of our Mexican hideaway, guarding my knock off crocs.

It's one of those very big, resort pools -- S-shaped, with a couple of little wooden bridges over it. There are actually two pools, which look as if they're connected, but they're not. Instead of swimming boring, monotonous laps, I can circumnavigate the larger pool, which is the equivalent of twenty laps. I really like this as I get a good workout without being continually reminded that I am no longer physically capable of executing a decent tumble turn without damn near drowning myself in the process.

As far as Bao is concerned, I'm swimming in a dangerous ogre's water dish. Why am I doing this? He hasn't a clue. But he is determined to protect me from my human foibles, and so he trots dutifully around the perimeter of the pool, watching me and looking worried. This is a long trot in the hot sun for a little dog.

I'd be a lot happier if he just sat quietly on a deck chair in the shade, and I've been trying to encourage him to do this, without much success. I guess he figures that if I'm going to swim in an ogre's water dish, it's his job to protect me. Wouldn't I love to know what really goes through that mind!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Small dog, big beach. We had a sort of Mexican standoff, yesterday. Bao sat down on the beach and wouldn't budge.

Shih Tzus are stubborn. That's why they rarely win Best of Sh0w. They go around the ring once, and that's it. Been there, done that. If you let a Shih Tzu win, a precedent is set. Even before I got Bao, I had decided the puppy was not going to sleep on the bed. He was seven weeks old when I brought him home. He spent the first half of the first night in a basket beside my bed. He's been on the bed ever since. Under the covers, when its cold.

So when he sat down on the beach, I knew I had to win. Dragging him was not an option. (Have you ever dragged a ShihTzu?) So I dropped the leash, and walked away. Usually if I do this, he'll come running after me. Not this time. I walked so far away that he was a forlorn speck on the sand, motionless. Then I went back to him and looked him in the eye and said, What?

Suddenly, I got it. He wanted me to take off his leash. I did. He immediately jumped up and we walked for nearly half a mile, Bao trotting happily at my side. Usually, he hates being off his leash. Not here. Not on the beach. I don't even pretend to understand. Do you?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

When Bao wants to read a good book, he shoves his nose into the big rosemary bush where all the other dogs pee. And when he's done, he always lifts his legs and leaves a comment of his own. No genres. No literary agents. No publishers. Bao -- and the other dogs in our neighborhood -- can express themselves at length, whenever they like.

I don't know about you, but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find good books to read. I like literary fiction, and there isn't much of it about, these days. The big publishers aren't publishing it, because literary novels aren't usually blockbusters. And the smaller presses may be publishing it, but they don't have big advertising budgets so how is the reader supposed to know it's even out there?

Enormous changes that have engulfed and transformed the publishing industry. Six multinationals control most of it, and four of them aren't even American-owned. Editors don't edit, anymore. They market. It's not about books. It's about the bottom line.

I shouldn't complain. I'm luckier than most. I've found another agent, and I'm ecstatic. You guys may actually get to read my novel, some day. But you know what? It shouldn't be this hard to submit a manuscript to an editor. I'm not saying they should publish everything. But they ought to at least be willing to look at whatever is submitted, whether it's agented or not. Not so long ago, that was the American way. And you could always find a good book to read.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Nobody wants to end up in a nursing home, yet that's exactly what's going to happen to approximately 7% of us. If we're lucky, at least it'll be a nice nursing home. If we're not so lucky, we may end up as subjects in one of Professor William A. Banks' experiments.

In a study conducted by the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, Professor Banks divided 38 nursing home residents into three groups. (This doesn't compute, but maybe one of the subjects died during the experiment) One group was allowed to visit with Sparky -- a real, live dog -- for 30 minutes each week. One group "interacted" with AIBO, a robot dog. One group -- the control group -- was presumably just left to sit and stare at the walls, as usual. This went on for seven weeks.

Professor Banks concluded that Sparky and the robot "worked almost equally well in terms of alleviating loneliness and causing residents to form attachments."

Professor Banks doesn't say so in so many words, but the implication is that nursing homes should get rid of their dogs and replace them with robots. There are cost benefits to be had. Robots don't shed. You don't have to feed them, or walk them. And this from a professor of geriatric medicine!

Bao is appalled. I am appalled.

Shame on Professor Banks. Shame on all of us.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

We're in Mexico, and Bao is boning up on his Spanish. By osmosis.

This isn't as silly as it sounds. I mean, what about people who buy books by Stephen Hawking and leave them (unread) on the coffee table? I asked one of them, Did you really understand all that stuff? Absolutely, he replied. But I'd seen the book, and it had never been opened. It was still sealed in plastic.

I do a lot of reading when I'm down here. I actually catch up on my reading. There is no reason why I can't read at home. I am -- technically -- retired. Of course, I'm still teaching, and writing books. (And now, searching for an agent) And secretary of my HOA, and painting the walls of my house, and starting a little publishing company, and learning to speak Spanish. The only time I "give myself permission" to curl up with a good book is in bed, at night.

And of course, here.

Isn't that weird?