Archive February 2008
Writers have different ways of working. I have friends who write one draft and
send it to their editors. It’s finished, done, off their plate. I envy them. My
first and second drafts aren’t fit to be seen by anyone except a handful of
I have just finished the third draft of the 10th Calvino novel
– Paying Back Jack. But is this the finished book ready for the
publisher? Like my other novels, this one will go through another set of
revisions. Four to five drafts to finish a novel is my average. Part of the
reason, in my case, for multiple drafts, as I write a draft I find many new
possibilities to develop the story and characters. An organic development arises
from the writing process. It is at this stage, for me, where the pure joy of
writing happens. Connections, events, snippets of dialogue, and motivation
emerge from the white heat of writing inside a fictive world. I never know what
will happen next. I never know the ending. In fact, I never know the opening of
the book I feel works until I have finished the third draft.
I try to
layer the narrative of my novels. There are often many different events
happening that have, at first blush, no apparent connection, but slowly as the
story builds the interrelationships start to appear. When I change a point of
view, add a character, better understand the motivation of the characters, it is
bound to have an echo through the entire story, and that requires second and
third drafts. In the later draft I concentrate on how to best integrate the new
material so that it enriches the story. Often during this process I eliminate
out whole sections of the book. That hurts in the same way of ripping off a
bandage. But it last only for a moment. The reality is if something isn’t
working in the story, it has to go. In the current draft I tossed out an entire
chapter. And large parts of a dozen other chapters disappeared with a press of
the delete button. The discarded section had to go; they weren’t working to move
the story forward. I had no choice; they had to be marched into the courtyard,
put against the wall, and the firing squad did their duty.
for writing fiction isn’t all that different from what we know about the
universe. 96% is comprised of dark matter and dark energy. No one has any real
idea what these “things” are or how they fit with the 4% of the visible solid
universe of stars, planets and galaxies. Writing that first draft is when I know
about 4% of the story. The other 96% remains a mystery, which is only revealed
to me as during the second, third and fourth drafts. At that point there is an
overall coherence, inherent logic, and the world inside the book, though as
strange as dark matter and dark energy, is comprehensible and mirrors the
familiar but with enough odd angles, sharp edges, and sudden turns, so that a
reader will be off balance just sufficiently as to keep on reading.
the other hand there are writers like Robert B. Parker who writes three or four
novels a year. He was interviewed in The Telegraph, and said this about his writing: "I do first
draft. I don't revise. I don't reread. I send it in. They edit it - and it's
valuable if they do, or I'll end up spelling 'cat' dee-oh-gee… heh, y'know,
sloppy. But they don't make any significant changes." Parker's longest running
character, Spenser, is a tough-guy private eye named after the author of The
In terms of inspiration, Parker says, "I said to myself
quite consciously: what would Chandler do here?, if I didn't know what to do.
People talk about money corrupting a writer. Poverty corrupts a writer. Money
frees you. When I realised people would pay me, I stopped worrying about whether
I was doing it like Chandler, and I started to go my own way. "
|50 CRIME FICTION WRITERS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE
From time to time someone comes up with a list of crime fiction writers. The
purpose is to compose a Who’s Who of the crime fiction world. Such lists are
inevitably controversial and, indeed, it might be said that the very idea is not
a bad way to pump up circulation. The most recent example of crime fiction list
making is the Telegraph which on 23rd February published their list under the
title: 50 Crime Writers to read before you die.
Such a list
is bound to uncork the opinion bottle in the vast crime fiction universe. Why
choose 50 writers as opposed to a 100? There is no real answer to that. There is
always a cut off. Given reader attention and space in the paper, 50 writers
apparently fit the bill.
What criteria was used by the Telegraph?
Apparently it was based on “love.”
“We wanted to compile a list of
writers we had, jointly and severally, loved. We wanted to include writers like
Dash Hammett, who brought something new and exciting to the genre; like Elmore
Leonard, who turns an old trick in it with incomparable style; and like Poe, who
invented it. We did not, except incidentally, take into account popularity.”
Only religion and politics is able to duplicate the emotional responses
that an all time greats list can fire up. The readers of the Telegraph have left
hundreds of irate comments, asking where is Donna Leon, Rex Stout, Ellis
Peters, John D. MacDonald, P.D. James, John Harvey, Peter Robinson, Navada Barr,
Tony Hillerman, J.A. Jance, Thomas Harris, Michael Connolly, Harlen Coben, John
Sandford, Lee Child, Jeffrey Deaver, Nelson De Mille, Tess Gerritsen and David
Baldacci and on and on.
So who is the best crime writer of all time?
Mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all? Obviously beauty is in the
eye of the beholder, and in terms of crime fiction writers, the Telegraph proves
a deep reserve of loyalty amongst various readers.
|GRAND PRIZE WINNER: CHRISCOLES
A drawing was held in Bangkok on 19th February at 3.27 p.m. local time (a lucky
number for those wishing to buy a lotto ticket) for the grand prize winner of
the bookstore photo contest Authors are prone to wonder how well their books are
distributed. From the response to the contest as well as from emails, there is
no question that my publisher and their distributor have done an outstanding job
in getting copies of THE RISK OF INFIDELITY INDEX to bookstores
throughout the United States.
The winner of theSpecial Edition of A
Killing Smile is Chris Coles.
Chris is a well-known artist of many
paintings in the Bangkok Noir series.
Here’s the photo submitted by
A special thanks to those
of you who emailed photos from their local bookstore , which sold copies of The
Risk of Infidelity Index.
|THE RISK OF SPILLING YOUR GUTS ONLINE
With Facebook or Bebo (if you are in UK) pages have mushroomed. Millions of
people have pages. I have a Facebook page (though sadly with deadlines I have
little time to update it). In recent years, government agencies, insurance
companies, employers, lawyers, and investigators are discovering that there is
“dirt” to be mined in the pages of these online sites.
Since most people
feel as they sit in front of their computer screen typing away that their
confession is for a few friends, they open up and say things they would never
say at dinner party. For example, you write about how much you drank last night
as you staggered to your car to drive home. You write a love letter to someone
online. And before long you have an online romance going to the boil. You write
about how your workplace is hell and your boss is a craven, blood-drinking
third-world dictator. You feel better having got that off your chest.
One thing to remember: What you’ve posted online can be (and
increasingly is) read by your wife or girlfriend, employer, neighbor, friends,
police, prosecutors, and agencies trolling for people violating the law. What
you write on line can come back to haunt you. When you make a statement against
your own interest courts view such statements as highly relevant as people
normally don’t say bad things about themselves unless the statement is true.
This is the legal presumption. The burden falls on you to show your statement
should be ignored.
If you are applying for a job, a grant, a fellowship,
or seeking a loan, remember the people who makes the decision may be checking
you out online.
There is a good article addressing these fears in The
Independent, Facebook can ruin your live. So can MySpace and Bebo…
“In America, the monitoring of social networking sites for content that
may interest employers and officialdom is now so routine that software is being
put on the market that will automate the process. Sure enough, software to try
to defeat the snoops is also emerging – offering the prospect of a privacy "arms
race" in the years ahead. ReputationDefender, for instance, offers the
embarrassing personal information equivalent of credit reports, claiming it can
help expunge from the online record material you regret revealing. Michael
Fertik, the firm's CEO, said demand for their service is now "ridiculous", with
hundreds of UK clients already.
“The first Facebook or Bebo divorce case
cannot be far away. Divorce specialist Elizabeth Allen, head of family law at
Stephens and Scown, Exeter, said: "Social networking has much more scope for
trouble because of the public element. It's got the potential to be more
explosive. It's just like airing your dirty laundry. We've had divorces that
have been due to Friends Reunited in the past and that will be replaced by
Facebook with the next generation. Now most people who would never have written
a love letter to someone are writing it all down and sending it because they
somehow think it's different."
“As well as unwise posting of content,
there is also an unknown but large number of people whose privacy has been
compromised, or their identities stolen, as a result of their own naivety
combined with the security vulnerability of the social network sites, and the
willingness of others to exploit that. Last month, for example, a hacker
downloaded half a million private pictures from MySpace and made them available
on the file-sharing site BitTorrent.”
Over the weekend The Vancouver Sun selected The Risk of Infidelity Index as one
of 6 books chosen by the editor. “Our review of an earlier one said it had ‘a
gumshoe swagger and a charged atmosphere reminiscent of such Asian-set films as
Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously.’”
On Wednesday 20th February 2008 look for the announcement of the winner of a
special edition of A Killing Smile. Everyone who sent a photo of a friend,
relative, or bookstore employee holding a copy of The Risk of Infidelity Index is eligible.
On Sunday 24th February 2008 I will be speaking before the Pattaya Expats Club.
The event starts at 11.00 a.m. at the Grand Sole Hotel, Second Road Pattaya.
Here’s a link http://www.grandsolepattaya.com/location.htm for location
details and http://www.grandsolepattaya.com for information on the hotel.
I will be talking about writing in an Asian context. The title of the talk is:
“The Ghost of W. Somerset Maugham: Or why there is no vintage gossip.” I’ll be
discussing the nature of “truth” and the connection between how truth is
perceived depending on a number of cultural factors. If you are in Pattaya on
the 24th of February, please drop in as you don’t have to be a member of the
club to attend a Sunday meeting.
Interim report on the 3rd draft of the new Calvino novel. I am on schedule to finish the third draft in 8 to 10 days. My work day begin in the morning with reviewing the previous days pages, then lunch. I return to my desk and begin the process of shifting, deleting, modifying, rewriting the text. After dinner, I go through the next pages of the second draft, looking at reader notes, and rethink whether the scene advances the story. Whether the characters are acting consistently, whether their motives for acting are clear, and whether background narrative is adding to a well-rounded story. This goes on seven days a week. I stop for lunch and dinner and workouts at the health club, then back to the isolation tank.
That is the title of a recent article in the Financial Post 12th February 2008 by Karen Mazurkewich. Her
aim is on the sexual indiscretions of expat men posted abroad. She writes:
“Infidelity happens around the world, but for expatriates on assignment
in Asia, the combination of cultural isolation, career-obsessed spouses and a
pervasive sex industry adds further pressure to a marriage. The city of Hong
Kong has been called the "graveyard of marriages" and exclusive Bangkok
nightclubs targeting foreigners, such as Pent Exclusive Club, have been dubbed
"weapons of mass destruction for families" by local journalists.
specifically about the night scene, Mazurkewich observes:
temptations in Asia are greater than elsewhere. In cities like Taipei, Beijing,
Hong Kong and Bangkok, the sex industry centres on business districts and
hotels. A single man will almost always receive unsolicited calls in his hotel
room, and local bars like Pent Exclusive Club in Bangkok have developed an
exclusive clientele by inviting university-educated women seeking foreign or
"fareng" (sic) husbands to flirt with the men at the bar.”
The article has churned up a number of controversial views on
Thaivisa forum The consensus on the forum was the author
didn’t do her research.
Mazurkewich’s article is nicely balanced against
a recent review titled One Man’s Odyssey into ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth
Gilbert. Rolf Pott takes aim at this best-selling trans-global travel.
What Pott’s does is switch the gender of the hero in Eat, Pray, Love from a woman to a man, and asked whether such a book would
have received the same acclaim. In other words, if the books had been written by
a guy about a guy (rather than the woman) who dumps his spouse, and takes up
with women as he travels through Italy, India and Bali, there would have been
massive outrage. Assuming anyone would publish such a book in the first place.
Potts then asks: “Do you think American women would embrace this book
and turn it into a bestseller? Or do you think American women would react with
hostility at such a self-absorbed, culturally oblivious and vaguely sexist
narrative? No doubt it would be the latter reaction—and I would be reduced to
dodging rotten fruit at book readings.”
There is a lively comments section that follows Pott’s article.
Also have a look at the reviewers comments on amazon.com as they review Eat,
Pray, Love. The reviewers show widely different takes on the book. A woman’s
spiritual quest that includes much bedroom time is somehow viewed as
self-discovery. If it were a man, as Pott’s suggest, then this narrative with
its theme of searching for a woman is by its very nature exploitation, not
discovery. Abusive rather than self-revelatory. A corruption of a tormented soul
as opposed to soul on the road to enlightenment. There is a double standard. One
jury for men, another for women, applying different rules and standards, and
reaching vastly different outcomes.
Having read both Rolf Pott’s piece
and that of Karen Mazurkewich’s article, you can’t help but conclude that the
gender divide is alive and well and each side selectively chooses their targets
of opportunity. In The Risk of Infidelity Index, Vincent Calvino enters the world of Bangkok expat housewives
and by so doing takes the reader into the anxiety and fears experienced by many
such women. It is interesting that Mazurkewich’s research missed RISK in her
research into this field. Not that it would have necessarily changed her mind
but it might have broaden her perspective.
I have been blogging less this week. The main reason is that I am working on the
third draft of the new Calvino novel. The progress is slow but sure and I expect
to have the draft finished by the first week in March. I envy the writers who
can write five pages, revise, move on, and then at the end of the book, hit the
save button and send it off to the publisher. I pull apart the text of each
draft and rewrite substantially. It’s like performing an autopsy of an unknown
species, each time you look at what should be a femur and find out it is
sticking out of the head, you know it is time to go back and look at the
skeleton again. The main thing is to make certain that the skull is connected to
The Risk of Infidelity Index was reviewed in the Houston Chronicle, P.G. Koch wrote: “In time the book's vague,
gossamer mesh of a plot will prove dangerously tight, with the elegant Khun
Weerawat at its center. And presumably the faint whiff of misogyny/xenophobia
one senses is just part of Moore's pitch-perfect Bangkok, from its churning
after-hours melee of insistent yings to its hard-drinking farangs (foreigners),
to the scary duplicity behind the ever-present Thai smile.”
has a listing for the Atlantic Books paperback edition of The
Risk of Infidelity IndexThe publication date is listed as 1 June 2008.
reports indicate an end to the writers strike in Los Angeles may come as soon as
Friday. That would be welcome news. Anyone with a book in development by a
production house knows that not much will happen until the writers are back at
their desk with a new contract. That includes the film deal for the Calvino
series by Keanu Reeves’ production company and Steve Samuels.
the years, some of original titles in the English edition have changed. The
reprinted English editions with different titles from the original
Cut Out = Zero Hour in Phnom Penh
Enemies of Memory =
Saint Anne = Red Sky Falling
Non-English editions also can cause confusion. Like most writers, I have
no control over the decision of a foreign language publisher to change the
original English title. Most of the time, that wouldn't matter, as the new title
is in a foreign language. But sometimes the foreign publisher uses a different
English language title on the foreign language edition to broaden the
international image of the book.
are some examples. The original English language title is on the left, and the
new English title of the foreign language edition on the right.
Cold Hit = Nana Plaza (German)
Spirit House = Kick Boxing
in Nirvana (Spanish)
Spirit House = Bangkok Blues
Please note also that the foreign editions of the books often have
different titles. Among those that cause frequent confusion is the German
edition, namely Nana Plaza (translation of Cold Hit). A
Spanish edition to be released in July 2008 of Spirit House will be
retitled by the Spanish publisher as Kick Boxing in Nirvana, and the
Norwegian edition Spirit House is retitled Bangkok
you buy a book, it is a good idea to double check the publisher's page. That
page will have information as to whether there was previous title that is
different from the one on the cover.