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Blog Archive February 2006

Private Eyes battling against American market trend

Over at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind Sarah Weinman has opened a discussion on whether private novels are being bought and published. She says not much private eye fiction is being published in the United States. A novelist named Mark Coggins has written the decline in popularity set in the early 90s. He also sets forth his experience of near misses in getting private eye fiction published. Part of the discussion missing from the blogs is the nature of private eye fiction. In my Vincent Calvino private eye series, which is set in Southeast Asia, this genre opens the door to novels that taken into account social, economic and political justice. In the developing world where the rule of law is less secure, political institutions less powerful and stable, and injustice common, there is an opportunity to take on important issues. The idea behind a private eye is someone who, in a world awash with those looking to make a fast buck, or make the right connection, there are those who have a sense of justice, who value principle, and seek to do the right thing even though the consequence of such action may present all kinds of personal dangers not apparent in the United States.

In February a Norwegian edition of Spirit House was published, and a French edition of Zero Hour in Phnom Penh was also published. A TV documentary crew from Germany was in Bangkok to film a documentary about Vincent Calvino’s world. It will air this spring. Another film crew filmed a French documentary around Zero Hour in Phnom Penh for the CBC. Zero Hour in Phnom Penh also won a 2004 German Critics Award for Crime Fiction. My own sense is that private eye fiction from Southeast Asia isn’t dying. It may be that the genre has moved offshore.

Posted: 2/27/2006 6:03:02 AM 



Like many writers I like to check out local bookstores. I browse the shelves to see what the shop owner believes appeals to the locals. For the past few days I've been in Pattaya. I've been to Bookazine and B2SF and DK bookstores. For a small town, and one of my favourite places in Thailand, Pattaya is well stocked with bookstores.

On Walking Street I came across a shop with the sign out front that clearly reads: Book SHop. Inside the shop you can search for as long as you wish and not find a single book. The shelves are well-stocked with what must pass as a reading substitute for those wandering along Walking Street.

I am on the hunt for a shop with the sign Liquor Store and inside it is stocked with books. I suspect, though, that will be a long shot.

Posted: 2/24/2006 5:40:56 AM 


Update on Foreign Language Editions

The German audio rights to Zero Hour in Phnom Penh have been sold by my publisher Unionsverlag. In a couple of months, German readers will be able to listen to the book. The French edition of Zero Hour in Phnom Penh was released on February 8, 2006 by Quebec based published Polar Presse. As French is an official language of Canada it may not be appropriate to place this notice under Foreign language editions. Although the rights sale was negotiated by my Paris based French literary agent.

A language rights deal can be complicated to negotiate and, in this case, difficult to place in the right category. Polar Presse is also planning a series of TV advertisements for the book.

The Turkish language of edition of Gambling on Magic is now ready and will be out in Istanbul in March 2006.

As for many authors, the London Book Fair in early March is an important event. Literary agents and publishers meet across the table and, if one is lucky, then a deal is made for one of your books.

Posted: 2/24/2006 3:45:58 AM 


Changes in Thailand

Matti Sarmela is a Finnish professor who has written a wonderful study titled “Laws of Destiny Never Disappear, Culture of Thailand in the postlocal world.” (2005) The entire book is available as a free download.

The author states that “This book represents environmental anthropology, but I do not consider as fundamental the adaptation of human communities to surrounding nature, the habitat, but to ‘reality’, those economic, political and social conditions that the natural environment also impacts upon. The real environment of cultures has been continuous change, and man has not be able to adapt to some existing state, but to a future that is within sight.”

What makes this book valuable are the many interviews conducted between the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. Peasant farmers, local merchants, car dealers and many others are interviewed and their opinions about changes to their life are recorded. There are sections on death rites, annual festivals, sex tourism, the supernatural, and Buddhism and that is just a brief start of the areas covered by this extensive study. The author first came to Thailand 30 years ago and his book includes not just a wealth of material about rural and city life over this period, but a provocative framework to follow the nature of change that has occurred over this period.

There are also many striking photographs.

The download is in PDF format. It is a very large file so it takes some time to completely download. The book, however, is well-worth the effort.

For anyone interested in the culture and history of Thailand, this books is a must read.

Posted: 2/20/2006 3:42:46 AM 



I have readers asking me about agents from time to time. As there are very few literary agents in Asia, most writers are interested in how North American and British agents go about selling a book. There is a website called Agent Query which is an excellent source for any writer wanting an inside look on how the process works. A number of agents were asked to explain how they “pitch” a book to an editor. I had been under the impression that the short pitch was something associated with getting a film deal. Obviously a similar approach is at work in the literary world as well.

Jenny Bent, Trident Media Group has this to say about her approach to a new project.

“…you develop a short pitch for the project. You compare it to other projects that have been successful in the past—this works particularly well if you’ve actually been the agent for said projects. You come up with a really compelling reason or fun catch-phrase that is going to make the editor move this project to the top of the pile when he/she gets it in. At this point, you’ve already written your query letter, so you may very well crib something from that when pitching to editors. You either call or e-mail the editors on your list and give them the pitch. 9.9 times out of ten they want to see it.

”So you send it. If you’re lucky, there is tremendous enthusiasm and you can set up an auction or have an impromptu auction. This is when you go in rounds, publisher by publisher, to get increasingly larger offers (see my website www.jennybent.com for a more complete explanation). Or maybe just one or two publishers want to buy. Either way, it can be a tricky situation, and I just realized that this wasn’t part of the question anyway!”

Posted: 2/17/2006 4:01:05 AM 



Hopefully this is a trend that will not spill out of Australia.

In Australia author’s traditionally receive a 10% royalty and that includes the same percentage on reprints. If a book is reprinted two or three times, the publisher should be happy to the author 10%, right? Wrong, at least with Penguin in Australia.

Penguin has 16% of the Aussie book market has announced that royalties on reprints will be reduced.

“PENGUIN, the nation's biggest publishing house, plans to cut the royalties of Australian authors whose books go into reprint in a move writers say will punish them for success.”

The fully story can be found in The Australian.

Posted: 2/15/2006 11:39:26 PM 



On Valentine’s Day you are searching for the right Thai word to express your feelings for a loved one. A jai phrase is always an appropriate starting point. There are a number of possible jai words.

Why not try a couple of jai phrases that translate into English as: Brimming Over Heart.

       lon jai(adj.)             Åé¹ã¨
       rak jon lon jai (v.)    ÃÑ¡¨¹Åé¹ã¨

These phrases are a declaration of your feelings of affection or love that rise significantly above the ordinary.

Now you've expressed that your heart is brimming over with love.

For a Thai this is better that roses and chocolate. Well, for some Thais anyway.

Posted: 2/14/2006 5:41:25 AM 



Here’s a good idea from the Guardian. On the suggestion of a poster, they have started “a world tour of literature, whereby an attempt is made to uncover a selection of the best authors from as many countries as possible, ideally including some who are currently unknown in the UK" They have started with writers from Finland.

The Guardian is accepting nomination for our countries to tour and have had a great response for Iceland, Canada and Poland. No mention of anything from Thailand. For lovers of Thai literature, why not go to the Guardian’s website and make your nomination.

Posted: 2/14/2006 5:38:06 AM 



It appears that large American publishing houses are selling out to the Germans and French. In the culture where the bottom line dictates the fate of CEOs, the sad fact is there isn’t enough upside profit in publishing to keep investors happy. Slates’ Daniel Gross has written an article explaining why corporate America is surrendering the publishing of books to the Germans and French.

“For all the obvious reasons, sales of books aren't growing much in the United States. According to Simba Information, consumer book sales in the U.S. were $6.46 billion in 2005, up minutely from $6.44 billion in 2004. "Stagnant to low growth is the rule rather than the exception, across the board for the U.S. consumer book market," says Michael Norris, a senior analyst at Simba.

Now, $6.46 billion is nothing to sneeze at. But it's a rounding error compared with the sums generated by magazines, television, and movies. If you're a publicly held U.S. company, like Time Warner, you simply can't afford to keep carrying units—no matter how small—that don't offer the prospects of rapid growth. (Especially when you're fending off an assault from investor Carl Icahn, who yesterday released a voluminous report directing Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons to divide his empire into four parts.)”

No one has looked at the figures for public companies publishing in Asia. I suspect they are also ripe for take over offers. After the French and Germans finish off the Americans, they might move into China, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand.

Posted: 2/10/2006 5:06:05 AM 


Researching Asian Crime Fiction

Part of the bond a crime fiction novelist makes with his reader, is that he/she has researched the background of the crime. In the past, I have spent time as an observer with the police in Vancouver, London, New York and Bangkok. What you see on the frontline is not always something you can find with a Google search.

At the same time, if you only observe the action from the frontline you can miss the larger picture. One place to fill in some blanks is a website maintained by the Nathanson Centre for the Study of Organized Crime and Corruption.

While the Centre is mainly interested in organized Asian Crime in Canada, there are links to opium kings and gang lords in Bombay. Also there are good links to Chinese organized crime, and links to everything you ever wanted to know about the Yakuza.

The best crime fiction blends the first-hand experience with stories about the significance of rituals, tattoos, and self-mutilation.

Posted: 2/9/2006 5:58:08 AM 


The Crash of Civilizations in your own backyard

Paul Southern lives on the Asian side of the tracks in Manchester, England. His girlfriend is a Pakistani Muslim. According to the Times, “He is often abused, and has been attacked several times. In particular, he dare not risk being seen with his Pakistani Muslim girlfriend whose family knows nothing of their relationship.” His first novel, The Craze, is set in this racially mixed community and explores the cultural misunderstandings and misgivings on both sides of the racial divide. His second novel Brown Boys in Chocolate closely observes the religious hypocrisy of the Asian community. His books document the intolerance of communities and exposes their private, unspoken habits. This is guaranteed not to make him friends.

Reading about Paul Southern makes me contrast with live in Thailand where foreigners marry Thai woman and these couples have little difficulty in being accepted. It is remarkable that in England a writer lives a double-life with the woman of his life, sneaking around parents and others, afraid of being beaten or killed.

One amazon reviewer said of The Craze,, “What a stunning debut. From the first sentence the reader is gripped, and drawn into the sleazy, violent, nasty underworld which belies the much promoted, highly camouflaged public perception of Manchester.”

As for Paul Southern’s latest novel, Brown Boys in Chocolate an amazon reviewer wrote:

“There's no PC pulling of punches - this is hard-hitting, unflinching, controversial stuff about multiculturalism gone badly wrong, clearly supported by meticulous research. But as well as the gritty, unapologetic realism, Paul Southern's books are also splendidly deranged.”

From the sound of these two novels, I am adding them to my reading list.

Posted: 2/7/2006 4:05:39 AM 


Publishing News Asia

Will China become a publishing powerhouse? As an industry, the statistics show that China is becoming a major player:

“China boasts more than 400,000 publishing enterprises and an output volume of more than 500 billion yuan (60.2 billion US dollars). Last year Chinese publishers put out 190,000 kinds of books, 2,100 newspapers and 9,000 magazines.”

Also Chinese publishers are being encouraged to expand overseas.

Posted: 2/5/2006 11:55:21 PM 


Fellowship for Far East Writers

You are a writer living in Asia and you’d like one-year to write your novel. The problem is how do you survive without a pay cheque for one-year? One alternative is to apply for a fellowship.

The David TK Wong Fellowship is a unique and generous annual award - £25,000 to enable a fiction writer who wants to write in English about the Far East to spend a year in the UK, at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

You can download an application from this site.

Posted: 2/5/2006 11:53:53 PM 


Werner Herzog Takes a Bullet

Werner Herzog, the German film directors, was shot while giving an interview. The assailant used an air rifle. Herzog is quoted as saying, "It was not a significant bullet. I am not afraid."

Herzog wrote and directed Rescue Dawn which was filmed in Thailand in 2005. It stars Christian Bale and Steve Zhan and is based on the true story of Dieter Dengler who left his native Germany for the USA to become a pilot. He joined the US military and was shot down during the Vietnam War. Rescue Dawn is based on the 1997 account of Dengler’s escape from the Vietnamese.

Posted: 2/5/2006 11:52:08 PM 



One of the moments of satisfaction for a writer is to hold a newly published book in his hands. Today my French translator, Pierre Richards, was in Bangkok to deliver a copy of Zero Heure A Phnom Penh (2006) Editions Pratiko 425 pages, CND23.70.

The French edition of Zero Heure A Phnom Penh goes on sale 8 February 2006.

Pierre Richards interviewed me for the CBC and Global TV. I answered questions about the changes in Bangkok and Phnom Penh over the last twenty years as well as giving background to the creation of the Vincent Calvino series. I arrived in Thailand before globalization firmly took hold and had a glimpse at the last of a group of expats that traces their roots back to Conrad. The values and attitudes have shifted. Conrad Black comes closer to representing the interest and priorities of the elites than Joseph Conrad.

The other piece of good news is that my French language publisher in Quebec, Polar Press, plans a TV media campaign. With some coaching I was able to deliver a few lines in French for the TV commercial.

Posted: 2/3/2006 4:13:14 AM 



Conservation of wild animals in Southeast Asia is a subject of considerable interest to many people. Whether animals ought to be granted moral status is itself a worthy subject. One addressed by Martha C. Nussbaum in Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (2006) She explores her thesis in a recent essay found in The Chronicle

Professor Nussbaum’s essay reminds me of a compelling story by an American with a mission to protect tigers in Thailand. I highly recommend Alan Rabinowitz’s Chasing the Dragon’s Trail: The Struggle to Save Thailand’s Wild Cats. I met Alan in the early 1990s when he was in Thailand doing his research. He’s a dedicated and courageous author. His book was originally published in 1992 and this edition came out in 2002.

Here’s a summary from Powell’s Bookstore:

“Based on Rabinowitz's field journals, the book offers an intimate and moving look at a modern zoologist's life in the field. As he fights floods, fire-ant infestations, elephant stampedes, and a request to marry the daughter of a tribal chief, the difficulties that come with the demanding job of species conservation are dramatically brought to life. First published in 1991, this edition of Chasing the Dragon's Tail includes a new afterword by the author that brings the story up to date, describing the surprising strides Thailand has made recently in conservation.”

Posted: 2/2/2006 5:24:48 AM 


The Heart of Copyright for Authors

I am grateful to Professor David Vaver, who holds the Chair in Intellectual Property Law, Oxford University, for drawing to my attention the speech of delivered in the House of Commons on the 5th of February 1841. Professor writes that this is the best piece on copyright term still is Macaulay's first speech to the Commons in 1861 when Talfourd moved to have a copyright term of life plus 60.

In the case of copyright, the questions are many. A central issue is the duration of the copyright. How many years should an author and his heirs hold a copyright to a book? Macaulay’s speech is one that should be read not only for its elegance and insight but for the rational, logical assembly of law, history and culture to make an argument that carried the day in the House of Commons. One wonders if there are modern day Macaulays, and if so, why such people no longer stand for election.

Copyright 1841

“The advantages arising from a system of copyright are obvious. It is desirable that we should have a supply of good books; we cannot have such a supply unless men of letters are liberally remunerated; and the least objectionable way of remunerating them is by means of copyright. You cannot depend for literary instruction and amusement on the leisure of men occupied in the pursuits of active life. Such men may occasionally produce compositions of great merit. But you must not look to such men for works which require deep meditation and long research. Works of that kind you can expect only from persons who make literature the business of their lives. Of these persons few will be found among the rich and the noble. The rich and the noble are not impelled to intellectual exertion by necessity. They may be impelled to intellectual exertion by the desire of distinguishing themselves, or by the desire of benefiting the community. But it is generally within these walls that they seek to signalize themselves and to serve their fellow-creatures. Both their ambition and their public spirit, in a country like this, naturally take a political turn. It is then on men whose profession is literature, and whose private means are not ample, that you must rely for a supply of valuable books. Such men must be remunerated for their literary labour. And there are only two ways in which they can be remunerated. One of those ways is patronage; the other is copyright.”

Posted: 2/1/2006 5:01:36 AM 



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