Archive November 2005
|Diaspora of North American authors
A casual glance at the literary chatter found on an endless universe of literary
blogs yields many authors from North America who have found their literary muse
Steinhauer who grew up in Virginia lives and writes thrillers in Budapest.
His novels “chronicle the exploits of members of the People's Militia in an
unnamed Eastern European country during the 50-year length of the Cold War. He
writes from an expatriate’s point of view. Olen is another author who is on the
outside of a foreign culture looking in, and trying through his fiction to make
sense of his adopted language, history and culture.
Thomas E. Kennedy who left the USA for Europe in 1974 has won
multiple literary awards and has published 13 novels since leaving America. For
many years he’s been living in Denmark. In an interview with Frank magazine (a publication devoted to authors living in the
larger world), Kennedy talks in an interview discusses the difference between
the written word and film.
“I know people who’ve gone through years of
options finally to have the movie made--and maybe the movie is even good, like
Gordon Weaver’s Count a Lonely Cadence filmed as Cadence by Martin Sheen--but in
some way or another they get railed out of the project, end up with a small
handful of dollars and nothing much else because the thing is not released in
theaters, but as a video with some unsatisfactory and unrecognizable title--they
did that to Carolyn Chute when they filmed her The Beans of Egypt, Maine, a fine
novel and a fine and faithful film, too, but the video people gave it the
goddamned title of Forbidden Desires, to try to play up on the incest
|Crime Fiction: Laotian chief coroner solves crimes
There is a small band of writers living in Thailand. Colin Cotterill is a writer
whose writing has not appeared on the radar screen in Thailand. But it should.
He maintains a website that, among other things, is seeking a way to distribute
books to children in Laos. A description of how he came about getting involved
in the project involves a street
urchin begging for candy money.
Like a number of authors, Cotterill
has fallen afoul of publishers who are less than honourable. His website asks
that you don’t buy “The Night Bastard” as the publisher is, to use his words,
Cotterill has broken into the New York publishing market with
two mysteries that have been receiving rave reviews. To suggest that New York
publishers avoid fiction set in Southeast Asia is obviously incorrect. Good
writing always finds a way to market.
Cotterill’s novel Thirty-Three Teeth published in hardback is published the
respected New York publisher Soho Crime. The novel features a 72 year old
Laotian chief coroner.
This is the second book in the series. The first
Dr. Siri novel, The Coroner’s Lunch was released by Soho Crime in 2004. Both
novels are set in Laos during the 1970s.
Booklist wrote in the review of
Thirty-Three Teeth: “Dr. Siri Paiboun, the nation's aged chief coroner
and host body for an ancient spirit, will find a way to keep life interesting.
In his second outing, the impish Siri faces three mysteries. First, the
government asks him to identify a pair of badly burned corpses. Soon, a fearsome
creature begins slaughtering the citizens of Vientiane. And then people start
inexplicably hurtling to their deaths from a ministry building. In one of many
farcical twists, the nation's police officers carry empty guns. So Siri; his
friend, Inspector Phosy; able nurse Dtui; and an old comrade with a high party
post must use their considerable wits--and an occasional supernatural assist--to
crack the cases. As they do so, readers will crack more than a few smiles.”
Over at Sarah Weinman’s
blog is the latest installment of the pitched battle over whether to allow
crime fiction authors in translation to compete for coveted crime fiction award
(CWA Gold Dagger Award) in the UK. The point is made that the translator is the
key component allowing a fast-paced mystery in the native language to be
successfully rendered in the English language. Bob Cornwell has written an long
article about this debate in England. “But the recently translated work by
Dominique Manotti, Jean-Claude Izzo, Gianrico Carofiglio, Arnaldur Indridason,
Tonino Benacquista, Karin Fossum, Hans Werner Kattenbach, Jörg Hauser and Rafael
Reig, has added to my reading a whole new range of subject matter not to mention
an unusual cultural framework or two. In fact, I grew curious about the whole
process of translation and was intrigued enough to seek out and question some of
the translators involved. The results can be found (in precis) in CrimeTime
issue 44 and (unedited) at “www.crimetime.co.uk” The full article. It is interesting that in 2004 the number of
crime novels published in UK amounted to 583 and only10% of that number came
outside of the UK or North America.
Over the weekend, I heard that plans were underway to make a film based on Richard
Calder’s 1992 Science fiction novel titled Dead Girls. The north of Thailand is the location for most of
the action. Dead Girls is the first novel in a trilogy titled: Dead Girls, Dead Boys, Dead Things. I haven’t read the two
later novels in the trilogy. But I recall in the mid-1990s reading and enjoying
Dead Girls, a novel set in the year 2072 where genetically engineered beings,
plagues, and betrayal haunt the landscape. Calder lived in Thailand between 1990 and 1997 and currently
lives in London. I enjoyed Calder’s Dead Girls and would recommend it. However,
glancing through the amazon reviewers you can see that this is a writer polarize
readers. You will either love or hate this novel. The reviewers suggests there
is no middle ground. Any writer who can cause this reaction is worth checking
out. Calder’s prose and plots require concentration as we weaves a future world
of Thailand that is terrifying and surreal. I hope that the film based on Dead
Girls is made.
On American Thanksgiving Day I went to the Lone Star Bar in Washington Square to
sign copies of Gambling on Magic and other novels. About 100 people
crammed into the booths on both sides of the main bar. About 3.30 p.m. the
waitresses brought out plates with turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, mashed
potatoes and gravy, and sweet potato. Every year owner George put on the free
turkey dinner for his regulars. I sat in a booth near the door, and had the
chance to talk with several dozen fans, and I signed more than 30 books. Every
time I meet fans, I hear stories of what brought them to Bangkok and what keeps
them here. What is encouraging for an author is to find fans who have bought all
of your books and are asking when the new one will be released. Of course
Gambling on Magic is a new book. But they mean the new, new book after
that one. One fan mentioned he was planning to open a bar called Calvino’s Bar
and wondered if I would object. It’s not exactly a statue erected of the Vincent
Calvino in Stanley Park, but I can live with a bar named after Vinnie.
|Minor Wives and Running Dog Capitalists
The Los Angeles Times ran a lengthy article about the
prosecution of mainland Chinese officials who are throwing themselves on the
mercy of the local People’s Court, explaining that the corruption was necessary
to support not one minor wife but up to seven minor wives. Having a minor wife
is a status symbol for Chinese officials. Though like owning a yacht the
maintenance cost can exceed the official salary by light years. Mistresses give
a “big” face but that comes at a high price. Mao was supposed to have rid China
of this feudalistic tradition but overturning a 2,000 year old tradition of
concubines has proved more difficult than re-pegging the local currency against
the US dollar. In Hong Kong it is not uncommon for a businessman to keep a
mistress over the border in China. The divorce rate is up in Hong Kong and China
and minor wives are taking the rap.
|International authors and the New Yorker magazine
In the world of literature, especially a window on the world of non-English
authors has been opened a little more by the New Yorker fiction editor Deborah
Treisman. She is planning an issue of the New Yorker which will showcase
foreign authors who will be translated into English. Let’s hope that this might
be the beginning of a trend. Editors might start to look outside their own
backyard and find that authors in other countries are writing works of fiction
that would find a market in the United States and Canada. “Because I think there
are very different voices in the world, and I don’t think we publish enough of
them in this country. It’s a big challenge for us to do this, for two reasons,
one being that the short story is not a tradition in a lot of countries. There
are a lot of countries around the world that don’t have magazines that publish
short fiction, and people really, really write novels, and the story is rare. So
those countries are at a little bit of a loss. The other challenge is,
obviously, reading these things. I read French. That’s the only other language I
read. Luckily, the French translate almost everything, so I’ve been able to read
Albanian writers, Japanese writers, Chinese writers, South American writers,
Spanish writers, Italian writers, all in French. And then I can say, Well,
here’s a really great story, let’s go and translate it from the original
|French Loans to Thai Film makers
Over the years many films, local and international, have been shot on location
in Thailand. Now the French government has announced that it will make available
through an assistance program an annual amount of Baht 300 million
(approximately USD 7.3M) to Thai film makers. According to the Nation
newspaper, the French Development Agency (AFD) will distribute the funds.
The film makers have no interest to pay on the funds for the first year and then
2% interest thereafter. It will be interesting to see if European sensibilities
will start to find their way into Thai films receiving AFD funding. If you are a
Indie filmmaker wanting to increase your leverage, here are some useful pointers.
|Angelina Jolie becomes a Cambodian Citizen
This sounds like something from a tabloid. But the news (the Nation 23 November
2005) is that by Royal decree Angelina Jolie has become a Cambodian with passport and all.
Her three-year old adopted son is Khmer and she has built a simple wooden hut in
the old Khmer Rouge northwest part of the country. The last images most people
have seen of Cambodia are from Matt Dillon’s City of Ghost which was released in 2003. No word on whether
Dillon has applied for Cambodian citizenship.
Over at Sarah Weinman’s
blog she mentions the success of Indie publisher Akashic in bringing out
Manhattan Noir, Baltimore Noir, San Francisco Noir, with London Noir to follow.
In Asia we seem so far off the radar screen that no one in New York considers
Bangkok Noir or Tokyo Noir as remote possibilities. In terms of darkness of
stories and characters, Asia is as good a place as Baltimore or the Twin Cities
to find the struggle against evil, greed, and corruption.
Artist and film
maker Chris Coles
maintains an interesting website for his Bangkok Noir paintings. Chris, who is
based in LA, is a talented artist and his paintings from the nightlife are
surreal, jagged emotional portraits. And over at Thai Oasis the website features Bangkok Noir fiction.
|French Rights to Zero Hour in Phnom Penh
I had good news from our Paris-based agent that the French rights to Zero
Hour in Phnom Penh have been sold to a French language publisher in Quebec,
DLL Presse Diffusion Inc. The French edition should be out in 6 to 8 months.
This has been a good year for foreign rights sales with rights sold to French,
Norwegian, Thai, and Turkish publishers. I don’t care how long one has been
writing it remains a morale boost to know that a book will be available to
readers in languages other than English.
Last week I spent time with a German TV documentary crew who were in Bangkok to
film Vincent Calvino’s Bangkok. I took the crew around to locations from the
Calvino novels: Lumpini Park, Tuptim Shrine, Erawan Shrine, the Royal
Bangkok Sports Club racetrack, though the staff of the BTS were not too
happy to let the camera roll from the station overlooking the racetrack. Erawan
Shrine at ten in the morning was packed with Chinese tourists and locals. All
had come to offer flowers and incense to the Hindu Goddess Bramaha. The edited
film will show on German public TV early in 2006. I noticed that Tuptim Shrine
while retaining the ten-foot tall phallus has otherwise been reduced in size.
The new postage stamp sized grounds take about five minutes to walk around.
Someone from the hotel staff arrived at the perfect moment to hand me a dozen
incense sticks and flower garlands. The film crew zoomed in as I knelt at the
shrine and completed the ceremony. This is a fertility shrine. Whether my wife
will produce evidence of the effectiveness of Tuptim rituals will take about
|Speaking before the Pattaya Expat Club
On Saturday morning (19 November 2005) I spoke before 250 members of the Pattaya
Expat Club about Gambling on Magic. The venue was the Grand Solè Hotel on
Pattaya 2 Road. The room was packed. I talked about the mysterious world of
feng shui and gave example of how my house in Bangkok almost gave feng
shui master a heart attack. And he wasn’t there at night to hear the 14 dogs
next door howl. That’s another nightmare.
|French Farmers and British Crime Writers
After Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason who wrote Silence of the Grave
in Icelandic (and later translated into English) walked away with 3,000 pounds
sterling and a Gold Dagger Award, the British Crime Association decided to ban
authors from award competition unless their novel was originally published in
English. (the Guardian and Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind) It seems that the
British crime writers and French farmers have the same mindset. Keep out that
foreign competition. We wouldn’t want those foreign authors sneaking into the
backdoor and confusing the local readership.
|Southeast Asia and Award Winning Novels
Novels set in Southeast Asia have started to gain recognition and some
impressive awards. David Bergen’s Time in Between won the Giller Award. The novel is largely set in Vietnam. Two
children of a Vietnam war veteran travel to Vietnam to find out the mystery
about their father. William T. Vollmann was the surprise winner of the National Book Award for fiction. The award winning title:
Europe Central contains 37 interconnected stories. Vollmann is also the
author of Butterfly Stories which is set in Thailand and Cambodia. He has
written about the underbelly of Southeast Asia with much humor.