Archive May 2006
|TURKISH EDITION: GAMBLING ON MAGIC
My Turkish publisher, Venus, has released the Turkish edition of Gambling on Magic.
Quotes from The Bangkok Post, Pattaya Mail, Thai Day and the Hua Hin Observer are nicely translated into Turkisk: My agent in North America has the English language version with editors in New York City. I’ll keep you posted on publication of Gambling on Magic in the United States. There are still copies of the signed, numbered limited edition of Gambling on Magic. There were only 125 copies of this edition.
|The heart of fiction is getting the details right
Robert Littell is a writer’s writer. In an interview with January Magazine’s Ali Karim he discusses a lifetime of
writing. He has lived in France since the Nixon Administration. He wrote The Company, which is the book about the CIA. He was a
former Newsweek reporter who quit his job to write novels. Moved his family to
France with only $10,000 to his name. His first book was published by a French
publisher Gallimard. Marcel Duhamel wrote him a letter offering him US$500 for
Lewinter. It was his first sale. And like F. Scott Fitzgerald, after his
first sale, Littell walked around stunned with Duhamel’s letter in his hands.
One of his observations should be printed out and put over the desk of
“You must get the detail right, and you can only get that
from actually being there, to see, to smell, to hear the location.”
|First Editions and Rare Books about Asia
I collect first editions. Not in a large, commercial way. But I have several
first editions of Graham Greene’s novels, including a signed copy of an The End
of An Affair. I have first editions of Timothy Mo’s novels, and Barry Eisler’s
Killing Rain, and Stephen Leather’s Cold Kill.
There is a bookstore in
Bangkok that specializes in rare books. Bangkok Rare Books This can be an expensive hobby. A first
edition of Knox, Thomas W. Adventures of Two Youths in a Journey to Siam and
Java is on offer for US$750. On the other hand, a first edition of Maugham,
W. Somerset’s Catalina will set you back only US$60. And a first edition of
Kipling, Rudyard’s Soldier Tales is offered for US$175.
also an interesting article of the history of paper. The Chinese invented paper
but it was the Arabs who made paper a commercial venture for books.
|Calvino progress report: Number 9
This weekend I start chapter 20 of the new Calvino novel. The story is about
three or four chapters away from the end. The end, in the case of a first draft,
is a relative term. A writer friend asked me this week how many drafts do I
write before the book is finished. In the case of Gambling on Magic, the
answer is six drafts. The first draft is the most difficult and also the most
interesting and creative part of writing. At this stage, I don’t know the final
destination of the story until I come to the end of the first draft.
find it amusing when a reader says they figured out the end halfway through one
of my books. All I can say that is I never know the ending of one of my books
halfway through. There are too many variables and normally a number of possible
endings. One of those possibilities finally emerges as the natural, inevitable
ending. I go with that gut feeling that in terms of emotional satisfaction, only
one ending pays off fully the story from the beginning.
In chapter 19,
Calvino has a couple of cracked ribs and hairline-fractured jaw. He chasing down
pain pills with Mehkong and coke until he can finish one final appointment.
Dinner with a wealthy widow whose husband had previously given him a great
assignment only to die before Calvino could deliver the evidence of a crime. The
location is Bangkok, square in the middle of the red zone.
It is a good
feeling being this close to the end of the first draft. I am like a horse
heading for the barn, full gallop and a bag of feed waiting.
the cover designer will start to work on the cover. Once that is done, I can
reveal the title. I think you are going to like the title of this Calvino. It is
a departure from the two word titles used for most of the previous books in the
|Guy Lit and the lack of Redemption
Michael Kimmel’s Guy Lit – Whatever looks at books such as
Benjamin Kunkel’s Indecision (2005) and others. The common bond in these books
is the “destabilized, unreliable narrator” and we are informed that women
readers don’t like books about such men unless at the end there is redemption.
“The characters in these books are as unmemorable and faceless as the
men in the gray flannel suits they hold in such contempt. None will hold up like
Holden Caulfield because what makes him so endearing, and The Catcher in the
Rye so enduring, is that he actually believes his own hype. Holden believes
that he and he alone is morally superior to all the phonies he sees around him.
The purveyors of guy lit implicate themselves. They know how inauthentic they
are. Salinger is at heart a romantic; Kunkel et al. are cynics. Holden feels too
much; Dwight and the others feel too little, if anything at all.
that may be guy lit's biggest problem: Its readers are unlikely to resemble the
guys the books are ostensibly about. As long as the antiheroes stay stuck, and
the transformative trajectory is either insincere, as in Kunkel's
Indecision, or nonexistent, as in Smith's Love Monkey, these
writers will miss their largest potential audience. For it is women who buy the
most books, and what women seem to want is for men to be capable of changing
(and to know that a woman's love can change them).”
|In His Majesty’s Footsteps
Peter Jenssen, Dpa Bureau Chief has filed this article A Rare Glimpse of the King about General Vasit Dejunkorn’s
person memoir titled In His Majesty’s Footsteps.
political crisis, which witnessed mass street demonstrations calling on the king
to appoint a new prime minister and government, has raised questions about the
role of the monarchy in Thai politics, a sensitive topic about which public
debate is often muted because of the country's tough lese majeste law.
Fortunately, for the English-reading public, a new book will be out next
week that promises to shed some light on the unique role King Bhumibol has
played, historically, in both developing rural Thailand and keeping the country
Originally written in Thai by Vasit Dejkunjorn and published
in 1999, the English-translation of "In His Majesty's Footsteps: A Personal
Memoir" should be available at Bangkok bookstores on May 22 with limited
hardback editions available on the Heaven Lake Press website: www.heavenlakepress.com.
The author, Police General Vasit, 76, is no ordinary Thai cop. A Harvard
University graduate, Vasit's varied career has included 12 years as the chief
royal court officer, journalist, novelist, senator and deputy interior
I edited the book and can confirm it is an excellent insight
view of the Thai monarchy. Out of the 500 copies of the limited numbered edition
more than 300 hundred copies have already been sold. You can buy one by going
|To Censor or Not to Censor The Da Vinci Code
The Hamlets at the Thai censor board did a 180 degree turn over night. It seems
Paramount threaten not to release The Da Vinci Code in Thailand if the
decision to axe the last ten minutes of the film was not overturned. Guess what?
No one in authority apparently wanted the worldwide media to write that Thailand
was the only country in Asia not showing the Da Vinci Code. That would have been
a black eye. The change of heart was accompanied by pronouncements that the film
would be sure to tell everyone at the beginning and the end that it was based on
fiction. Also the Thai subtitles would be rewritten to remove what apparently
translates as “Jesus the Fraud” from the subtitles.
According to the Bangkok Post, it was a close call and the vote of the full
committee was 6 to 5, and the Bangkok Post reported,
erupted after the Thailand Protestant Churches Coordinating Committee,
representing four Protestant groups, asked the Royal Thai Police to ban the
film, which is based on Dan Brown's bestselling novel of the same title. Critics
say it insults Jesus and erodes the Christian faith. ”
Faith is a
business and like any other business the owners seek to protect their turf.
Earlier this week a Catholic Bishop hit the nail on the head when he said the
film would be dangerous for the unthinking. The description of the unthinking
describes with precise accuracy the mass market that religion serves. Global
consumerism also targets the same market. As the Da Vinci Code film and book
indicate sometimes religious and secular interest collide over profit taking
from the vast unthinking market. People who think, reflect, question, or
challenge conventional wisdom or historical “facts” are not a serious market for
either religion or mass consumer fodder.
|Cutting and Dicing the Da Vinci Code Thai Style
Censors in South Korea and India have backed away with the cutting table, knife
in hand, and the Da
Vinci Code can be shown uncensored in those countries. No one has reported
on North Korean or Iranian censors.
In Thailand the censor’s knife,
sharpened came down on the film. Snip, snip, slice, slice. According to the Nation censors cut the
final 10 minutes from the film. The censorship followed upon the request of
local Christian groups.
Not having seen the film, it is difficult to
know what impact this cut will have on the movie. In most films the suspense
builds toward a climax and the last 10 minutes should have the audience on the
edge of their seats. In Thailand the film will the movie simply stop with Tom
Hanks drinking a cup of tea?
The reason given for the censorship is that
the film uncensored “would have affected the faith of Christians.” We can’t have
people just going out and reading and watching whatever they want. That might
cause a crisis of faith, someone to raise a question about the bible. One can’t
have that happening. It is not enough not to go to the film yourself, no cannot,
your faith compels you to prevent others from seeing the full film.
starts to understand how the two sides in Middle East are so perfectly paired.
Funny thing, no one ever starts a war over the principle of intolerance; wars
start because others have challenged their faith.
Just so no one going
to see the Da Vinci Code in Thailand will be confused, there will be an
explanation in Thai telling the audience that “the film is based on fiction.”
That along with lopping off the ending of the film, should do the trick. The
faithful can retain their beliefs intact. We wouldn’t want anyone tiptoeing
through a fog of confusion created by the brilliant (but obviously evil) genius
Dan Brown? Too bad they didn’t add another explanation such as, oh, by the way,
that Charles Darwin, he also affects our belief, do you think you can ban
Origin of the Species from Thai schools and universities? Or at least put
a warning on the front cover that the contents are “Inappropriate and
|Crime thrillers and mysteries
One of the things the marketplace likes to do is put authors and books into a
category. Bookstores are arranged by category. If you want a mystery, there is a
section devoted to what publishers promise are “mysteries”. And thrillers,
historical saga, romance, science fiction, chick lit have their own ghetto. Once
you appear on the radar screen as an author of one category, you may not become
a brand but you will be branded. It is in the interest of your publisher to do
so. Like all businessmen, publishers find themselves mostly interested in what
sells in large numbers. Small independent presses and university presses might
march to their own drumbeat but it often isn’t the music of the marketplace they
are listening to.
Crime fiction can either be a mystery or a thriller.
It can also be commercial or literary fiction. But no publisher would risk using
crime fiction alone. But a crime fiction novel is attached to a category. The
agent pitches it to a publisher as one category or another. But it is the
publisher decides how to “package” the book, meaning it fits a category that
registers as “hot” and so if the agents quoted in the article below.
Sarah Weinman, with reporting by Ron Hogan have filed an interesting
article in Publisher’s Weekly on battle between thrillers and mysteries
in the market.
“David Hale Smith, of DHS Literary, is more blunt:
‘Thrillers are the most commercially successful category of crime fiction. When
publishers are trying to move authors into the ranks of the bestsellers, they
begin to package them more as thriller writers or suspense writers than mystery
writers.’ He points to Michael Connelly's The Poet, published 10 years ago, as a
prime example. ‘It elevated his game, brought in a serial killer with a
high-concept twist and, all of a sudden, Connelly's a thriller writer. But then
he goes back to writing Harry Bosch novels, and now his publisher is packaging
them as Michael Connelly thrillers, even though they're still the same
hardboiled police procedurals.”
Gray and wet and hot. Sunday morning around eleven heavy sheets of rain hit
Bangkok. I stood at my window and watched as the rain blew down Asoke, cars
slamming through a low spot in the road sent large fountains of water in the
air. Within an hour Sukhumvit and the small sub-sois were under water. I drove
to my health club in this mess. Whenever it rains in Bangkok the traffic turns
wildly mad. The drivers are accustomed to the relationship between large volumes
of water on the road and the engineering features of a car, which like a cat,
don’t do well in water.
It was slow going along Soi 22 as the water level
near the school was 30cm in places. Drivers hugged the center lane on the theory
(mostly wrong) that the center had a high elevation. The occasional van and
truck tried passing slower cars. It is difficult to get up speed when moving
through so much water. No head-on collisions but a couple of close calls. I saw
a couple of motorcyclists on the road looking forlorn and terrified, and getting
splashed. It took thirty minutes to drive about 2 kilometers to the health club.
I start my workout with 40 minutes on the Sky Jet, one of those aliens
like machines that have ski poles to hold onto and your feet are positioned on
two small platforms, requiring you to shift weight from leg to leg, getting up
to speed. The effect is like cross-country skiing. These machines are in lined
up in a row in front of a window overlooking Sukhumvit Road. Outside the rain
had nearly stopped. At the bus stop, the homeless man I’ve noticed has made his
home in the shelter for past few weeks sat alone on one of the plastic chairs.
Next to him were a large number of plastic bags holding his worldly possessions.
His totally white hair flared out like an English riding saddle. And some demon
was riding to an invisible finish line on his head. I did my thing on the Sky
Jet, looked down, and saw this old man sitting in a bus shelter, the rivers of
water near his feet. No one wanted to get near him. This storm lasted only an
hour or so. A storm that last for three or four hours will wash him away,
plastic bags and all.
|Allied Prisoners of the Japanese
I’ve added to my wish list a non-fiction title: Gavan Daws’s Prisoners of the
Japanese. If you have any interest in WWII and the Japanese treatment of allied
prisoners of war, this book may give you insight not only into the mentality of
the Japanese holding the prisoners of war, but the prisoners what went on
between the prisoners who were held in captivity.
In The Telegraph, Christopher Silvester reviews Prisoners of the Japanese by Gavan Daws. The paperback edition
is US$10.40. Having written about the 731-Corp in Tokyo
Joe, I have an interest in chronicles such as this one which are based on
the first hand accounts of POWs who survived the war to tell their tales.
“Acutely aware of the power of race-hate, both from and towards the
Japanese, Daws is equally fascinated by the tribalism among the PoWs. One source
of puzzlement to him is that, in the holds of the hellships, "Americans - and
only Americans - killed each other". The worst of all these ships, Oryoku Maru,
had "the highest number of officers in the holds, more than 1,000, more than one
in four of them field-grade, and by far the highest proportion of officers to
enlisted men, two to one".
“In the moral economy of the camps, it was
only enterprising Americans who traded and lent rice to fellow prisoners (at
interest) against future rations, thus luring them into nutritional bankruptcy.
The Australians and the British wouldn't permit it. Smokers were particularly
vulnerable, as they would trade what little protein they had for nicotine.”
Publisher’s Weekly also gave the book a positive review:
“He (Daws) convincingly describes Japanese POW camps not as homogenizing
institutions but as tribal societies of Americans, British, Australians,
Dutch-and Japanese. The Japanese showed no mercy to those who fell into their
hands, the author stresses: Thousands were worked to death; as many more died of
disease and starvation; others were beaten to death or beheaded, often so
clumsily that two or three strokes were required to finish the job.”
With my books translated into eight languages, the subject of translation and
translators is one that I find of considerable interest. In England, The Telegraph has a good article on the subject. In The United
States and England, translations remain a small part of the fiction market.
Though the trend is clearly toward more translation of crime fiction into
I’ve had the good fortune to meet and work with a number of my
translators, including my German translator Peter Friedrich and French
translator Pierre Richard. Both are excellent writers in their own right. They
used their considerable skills as writers to translate a number of the Calvino
novels, and this has increased the audience for the series. Peter has translated
two Calvino novels: Zero Hour in Phnom Penh and Cold Hit.
Pierre translated Zero Hour in Phnom Penh into French.
Both have been
“extraordinarily sensitive readers.”
“What makes a translator? More
important than anything, says Wynne, is the need to be "an extraordinarily
sensitive reader". This matters more, for example, than where, when and how a
translator picks up the language. Academia is by no means the only route in.
Some discover the language by marrying into it, like Parks or Mankell's
translator Laurie Thompson.
Thompson was once advised by an old hand
that "if you are going to be any good as a translator, you must have the
approach of a writer and be able to use the English language like a writer".
Vladimir Nabokov, who ruthlessly patrolled the border between the Russian
classics and the English language, would doubtless agree.”
|COUNTING BOOK SALES AND VIOLATING COMMON SENSE RULES
The Grumpy Old
Bookman posted this eye-popping piece of publishing information:
“Jim King, senior v-p and general manager of Nielsen BookScan, noted
that 93% of all ISBNs of books whose sales were tracked by the company during
2004 sold less than 1,000 units.... During 2004, 7% of ISBNs accounted for 87%
of sales, prompting King to suggest that in 2004 the old 80/20 rule of 80% of
sales coming from 20% of titles had become a 90/10 rule.”
I wonder if
there has been a mixing of apples and oranges, along with mushroom and turnips
in this case. The key phrase is “all ISBNs for 2004” and all publications must
have one of these numbers. It would be far more useful to have a breakdown of
sales into categories so that one would have a better idea of what sold and who
was doing the selling. Standing alone, this percentage breakdown is virtually
It is difficult to believe that even for a medium sized
publisher that 93% of its books would sell less than 1,000 copies. I suspect
that all of the POD books, iuniverse, lulu, are included in the lump figure of
93%. Most of those books are sold through venues which Bookscan doesn’t operate
so they remain uncounted (at least by them).
I want to know what is the
breakdown for fiction and non-fiction sold by the top dozen commercial
publishing houses (or their imprints) in New York. I would wager that this 93%
failure to 7% success does not come close to representing the sales for their
list of books. I venture if you tracked the top 100 publishers in the United
States which do the lion’s share of the sales, again, I doubt these figures
would hold. That leaves one to the conclusion that mountains of small press run
editions, self-published or niche type books with little or no commercial value
is directly responsible for the 93% figure. Or, alternatively, these books are
sold outside of the Bookscan system. Traditionally such books are difficult to
get into bookstores, and when they are ordered, it would be in a small numbers.
If these numbers held up across the board, then shareholders of
publishing house should be instructed to immediately sell and invest into
something more financially sound and just as risky such as Nigerian hidden
|In His Majesty’s Footsteps and Heart Talk Pre-Order
It is now possible to pre-order In His Majesty’s Footsteps by Pol. Gen. Vasit Dejunkorn and
the third edition of Heart Talk
In His Majesty’s Footsteps will be released on 26 May 2006,
and Heart Talk on 2 July 2006.
There are two editions of In His Majesty’s
Footsteps: The trade paperback edition is US$17.95 and the special limited
hardback edition is US$24.95. Shipping and handling is also added. The limited
edition is only 500 copies. Only 175 copies remain unsold. If you want something
special, the limited edition is certainly worth having.
In His Majesty’s Footsteps offers an intimate, powerful
portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the Thai royal family.
the first personal chronicle in the English language detailing the life and work
of the revered Thai monarch during the politically turbulent period of the
late1960s and the 1970s.
The author, Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn,
who served for 12 years as head of royal court security police, writes his
first-hand account of how King Bhumibol faced the challenges of the
time—relentless communist insurgencies, countless military coups and endless
The book vividly portrays what goes on inside the
palace as these numerous events unfold. It gives an eyewitness account of the
Thai history in the making through the interactions of the three pillars of the
Thai nationhood: Nation, Religion and King.
In His Majesty’s
Footsteps shows a rare insight into how the Thai king, the world’s longest
reigning monarch, has played his role in providing unity and stability to his
people and has earned his renown as the most revered king in the modern world.
To pre-order go to: http://order.kagi.com/?4D9&lang=en
If you want an insider’s perspective on the last five years in Thailand and the
impact on the night scene, then have a look at Bangkok Eyes The website
author pulls no punches and lands a series of left hooks and right hand jabs.
This is the kind of thought provoking article that one rarely sees. Most of the
material written about Thailand is seriously flawed by a lack of an overall
understanding of how the forces of law and society work in practice. This
perspective will give you food for thought.
|Mysteries and Thai Book Clubs
The Nation on their Trends page for Tuesday May 2, 2006, run an interesting
article on the Rahasakhadee Book Club. Khun Ruangdej, the driving force
behind the book club, is a lawyer by trade. His book club has 3,000 members (the
majority are women readers), though about 1,000 are active. Doctors and nurses
are among the hardcore members. Khun Ruangdej has a growing list of mysteries
translated into Thai. He publishes mysteries only for members of his book club.
The print runs are small, averaging 1,500 copies per title.
He says, “I
think mysteries are fun for them because they sharpen the brain. Detective works
are full of puzzles. Readers have to be able to follow and foresee the outcome
of the investigations. Let’s put it this way: You have to be a little smart to
like this kind of fiction.”
Vincent Calvino would agree with that.