Archive June 2006
|Victorian Morality and Publishing
Bookman has an insightful summary of Victorian
morality and the knock on effect it had on newspapers, magazines and books
during the reign of Queen Victoria. Any scenes involving sex guarantee the
banning of a book. Wikipedia observes: “Those going for a dip in the sea at the
beach would use a bathing machine. Verbal or written communication of emotion or
sexual feelings was also often proscribed so people instead used the language of
If you ran out of flowers and talked about the real thing,
that was a problem, as Michael Allen has noted:
“By 1872, the Society [for
the Suppression of Vice] was able to report that within the last two years it
had 'been the means of bringing to punishment, by imprisonment, hard labour, and
fines, upwards of forty of the most notorious dealers, and within a few years
has seized and destroyed the following enormous mass of corrupting matters:
140,213 obscene prints, pictures, and photographs; 21,772 books and pamphlets;
five tons of letterpress in sheets, besides large quantities of infidel and
blasphemous publications; 17,060 sheets of obscene songs, catalogues, circulars,
and handbills ; 5,712 cards, snuff-boxes, and vile articles; 844 engraved copper
and steel plates ; 480 lithographic stones ; 146 wood blocks ; 11 printing
presses, with type and apparatus; 81 cwt. of type, including the stereotype of
several works of the vilest description.'”
The results of the ban were
wholly predictable: the creation of a large, profitable underground publishing
industry. One of the founders of W.H. Smith was at the forefront of the movement
to ban books with sexual content. It is amusing that Mr. Smith also advocated
long books divided into three installments to maximize profits. There are parts
of the modern world that continue the Victorian tradition of censorship,
including a system of fines and imprisonment. With the Internet opening a new
window on publishing, the censors now must rely upon co-operation of search
engines and software developers to restrict access to what authorities decide is
Dickens who was the major author of Victorian times.
being what it is, there will always be a tension between what the authorities
view as appropriate and decent and what people wish to see and read in the
privacy of their own home or office. Some wish there would be no discussion of
sex, or if one must discuss it, then it is within the confines of procreation.
Any hint of pleasure or that sex might have (horror of horrors) a recreational
aspect would have in Victorian times guaranteed a knock on the door by the
authorities. Not surprisingly this smacks of the prototype police state. Not
much different from Sharia law (which governs public and private conduct) but is
based on private intervention premised on Christian morality.
Victorian desire to suppress and repress did not end with the death of Queen
Victoria in 1901. The censorship legacy which not only continues to the present
day but shows signs that parts of the world live inside the bubble of a new
|Southeast fiction: the long jungle trail
Many authors find it tough to find a conventional publisher for their fiction.
With thousands of writers competing for a few slots on any publisher’s fiction
list, the odds of making an NHL hockey team are better than getting a novel
published. Skating skill and aggression count for a lot in hockey. Something
along similar lines applies to writers of fiction. What is a writer to do?
Especially if there is a burning desire to have his or her novel read by others?
Many writers have taken the step to self-publish novels set in Southeast
Asia. If you want background on the jungle path self-published authors face,
have a look at POD-DY
Mouth a website by an author (conventionally published) which is devoted to
finding the needle (meaning it is competent) in the haystack (mostly useable
only for feeding livestock) of self-published books.
writer is an American named Sean Bunzick who divides his time between Cape Cod
and Chiang Mai. Sean has two novels available online and in some Thailand
bookshops (like Bookazine). Next time you are browsing for books set in this
region, have a look for Missing in Asia and Air Thermae.
Missing in Asia. This is a paperback edition and is priced at
Join Harwich as he leaves the familiar world of his hometown and
returns to the hills and jungles of Indochina where he risked his life during
the 1970s in the Vietnam War. Harwich is going because an old friend of, Glenn
Lucas--a former Flying Tiger—asked him to come to Thailand for help. Once in
Bangkok, Harwich learns that he and Glenn are in Asia because the leaders of a
Hong Kong Triad want the two Americans to rescue their eldest brother, a man
Glenn lost in Laos when his DC-3 crashed there in 1949.
Air Thermae This is a paperback edition and is priced at
John Harwich, a Special Forces vet with multiple tours in
Indochina, finds himself being captured and abducted by Shan hill tribe
guerillas across the border into the Burmese side of the Golden Triangle. He is
brought to meet up with one of the region’s notorious opium warlords, Khun Yim
who explains to Harwich that the reason he has evidence of a priceless jade
elephant with a mounted Khmer apsara--a warrior goddess--atop the elephant’s
back. Harwich helps Khun Yim to escape from Mae Hong Son to Bangkok, Phnom Penh.
|Essential Thailand Reading List
A good friend from Portland recently asked me to recommend a reading list for an
American expat who planned to live and work in Thailand for a 1 to 2 year
period. He asked for a list that was restricted to non-fiction titles.
The books below won’t tell the entire story, but for anyone wishing to
have a greater understanding of Thai culture, history and language, it is a good
jumping off point. There is no written examination for anyone who reads all of
the nine titles below. Your passing mark will come from the knowing smile of
Thai nationals with whom you have business or social contact after you have
absorbed the knowledge in these books.
Disclosure of financial
interest: In case you are wondering, I receive no commission or kickback
from amazon.com on any sale. I closed my affiliate account with amazon as they
were incapable of mailing cheques to Thailand. I was pleased to read amazon has
gone into the grocery business. That move seems to suit their local business
model. For Heart Talk I receive a royalty for each copy sold.
In His Majesty’s Footsteps (2006) by Pol Gen
Vasit Dejkunjorn (The first personal memoir written in English by a palace
official and published in Thailand.)
Available from Heaven Lake Press.
Heart Talk (July 2006) by
Christopher G. Moore (a guide to expressing feelings and emotions in the Thai
language). Having written he book I am naturally biased. It is the book I would
have wished to could have bought when first arriving in Thailand 23 years ago.
Available from Heaven Lake Press.
Siam Mapped (1994) by
Thongchai Winichakul (this is a classic must read work)
The Revolutionary King by
William Stephenson (controversial and banned in Thailand)
Letters from Thailand by
Botan (another classic, the story of Chinese immigrants to Thailand)
Available from amazon.com.
The Dream of a Thousand Lives:
A Sojourn in Thailand by Karen Connelly (a first hand account by a young
Available from amazon.com.
Four Reigns by Kukrit
Pramoj (another classic that is highly recommended)
A History of Thailand by
Christopher Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit (a good introduction to the history of
Thailand by two resident experts)
Available from amazon.com.
Bangkok Inside Out by Guy
Sharett, Daniel Ziv (playful and colourful presentation of the City of Angels)
Available from amazon.com.
|Cut Out: BEWARE OF THE REMAKE !!
Amazon.com has a place for reviewer comments. And reviewers are entitled to make
their views known. I respect and indeed encourage this.
Vincent Calvino title Cut Out a reviewer named J.K Langlois wrote:
“Overall a good read of the
Calvino series, BUT BEWARE, Moore deceptively has re-released this book under a
new heading "ZERO HOUR IN PHNOM PENH." I mistakenly purchased this new book
and discovered the name scam. I later emailed Moore about the deception and he
characteristically ignored my email inquiring as to why I was duped into buying
the same book under a different title. Again beware!! Do not buy the same book
I’ve been trying without success to post this reply on
the German language publisher brought out Cut Out under the title of
Zero Hour in Phnom Penh, my publisher thought the German’s
had a better title. When Zero Hour won a German Critic Crime Fiction award in
2004 (Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River had won the same prize the previous
year), they reissued an English reprint titled: Zero Hour in Phnom Penh. I warned them that the title
change could cause trouble. They said, no worries, the publisher’s page
disclosed the book was previously titled Cut Out. This disclosure, they
promised me, made it idiot proof. I didn’t buy it. I suggested a notice in
newspapers worldwide to be on the safe side. They said that would cost millions.
So they declined what I thought was wise and sound advice.
was right; they were wrong.
I thank J.K. Langlois for drawing to my
attention to what can only be described as a hidden agenda. I had no idea that
the title change really was an Enron like scheme to defraud legions of readers.
I can’t say if the Thai/American extradition treaty covers this crime, but my
lawyers are looking into it.
beware: Cold Hit was released by the crafty Germans under the
title: Nana Plaza. More than one native English language reader has
bought Nana Plaza, and after getting home, stretching out for a good
read, opened it for the first time to discover it is in German. Not just one
page, mind you, but the entire book was printed in German. So far I have won the
battle to retain the title of Cold Hit
against the appeasement like behavior of the Thai publisher who insist a reprint
with the name of Nana Plaza is part of their boiler room plans to clean
up. The bastards know no shame. Again, my lawyers are looking into the matter. I
can’t say without further investigation whether the Germans and Thais publishers
are in this literary ponzi scheme together. But personally I smell a larger
There is a lot of talent in the world. But talent in most activities, writing
included, while necessary is not sufficient to make others take more than casual
notice. A literary agent
who blogs observed, “I think writers assume that good writing is enough.
Well, it’s not. You have to couple good writing with an original
storyline—something that will stand out as fresh and original. A story never
told in this way before (even if elements are similar to what is already out on
Car chases, ambushes and other
action or fx sequences are not a substitute for originality.
Self-discovery is not the basis for an original story. It may be
original to your mind, but whether it is falling in love with a Thai girl or
learning to ride a bicycle, you can be certain that many others have gone
through the same range of emotions. But they have better things to do with their
time than read how you managed to emerge strong, informed and wise from your
Settings and context should also be original. A go-go dancer
hugging a chrome pole on the dance floor is guaranteed to draw a big yawn. As
will most of her back story of lost opportunity, poverty, rural bliss destroyed
by the evil, big city.
The list of elements that should be original as
well as story, plot and character could be expanded to the end of time. Let’s
step back and ask is originality necessary and sufficient while talent is only
The problem with originality is that it takes a lot of hard
work, thought, reflection and a reserve of experience and knowledge. Instead you
get a world of literature that is promoted “Like a cross between Harry Potter
and Homer Simpson.” Well, maybe that would be original. When a book is original
it isn’t like another book.
What the literary agent doesn’t touch upon
is that publishers are not necessarily drawn to what is original. They know the
Da Vinci Code clone will sell (especially if they hit that market before anyone
else piles in). Like the people who make movies (people who are originally
adverse by nature), publishers have their ear to the ground listening for the
thundering hooves of the herd as it moves from one part of the savannah to the
next in search of filling their bellies. The herd is always on the move, looking
for new feed to graze on. But they don’t necessary want original elephant grass.
They want in their diet what they’ve always chewed on and can digest. Have you
ever wondered why people who flog beer never make originality claims?
Originality squeezes in along the margins as publishers throw a bowl or
two of new feed at the herd and see if they sniff around it, give it a taste,
wolf it down, and screamed to the others, “Hey, new tasty grub. Yum Yum.” Or,
more likely, (sound of a Chinese hocking up a large green gluey mass from the
bottom of his lungs), “Shit, this is what I want? I can’t eat this.” Puke and
vomit or, in other words, the original book is on the remainder table and as
likely to get picked up as discounted radioactive mushrooms.
does that leave writers? Talent is necessary but not sufficient. Ditto for
originality. The word “luck” enters as a flock of geese, exhausted from a long
flight from Canada to the south, finding a lake to set down on. With geese, they
know what they are doing. Luck doesn’t play any part of their circuit. For
writers, it is like being the front goose in the formation and not having any
idea where to head next. And when you look back, you find no one is following
you. That may mean that you are original. Or it may mean that you are deranged
or simply lost.
Preparations are underway for me to promote Gambling on
Magic in Istanbul in mid-September 2006.
The Turkish title is
Büyüyle Kumar Oynamak
According to wikipedia, “Istanbul is chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2010. Istanbul is nicknamed
"The City on Seven Hills" because the historic peninsula which is the oldest
part was built on seven hills, also represented with seven mosques, one at the
top of each hill.”
Venüs Yayınları, the publisher, has brought out
a Turkish edition of Gambling on Magic. Interviews, book signings, and talks are
being arranged. This will be my first trip to Istanbul and from the old hands
who are world travelers, I am told this is one city not to miss.
|The Risk of Infidelity Index
The response to the front cover was overwhelming. I had many good suggestions,
and a lot of encouragement and support. The cover designer has gone back to the
drawing board, and this is the new front cover for The Risk of Infidelity
Index. The red is gone. In place of red is a sea of blue.
Writing the second
draft is the best part of the process. You already know the story, the plot and
sub-plots, the arc of the action and the relationship between the characters. At
this stage, it is the fine work of knitting together the elements so that they
are seamless, providing texture and nuance, and adding necessary backstory. The
terror of not being certain where the story is going or the motive of the
characters vanishes. The first draft is always a nightmare of endless choices.
In the second draft the fog has cleared, and you no longer worry about getting
stuck by turning down a dead end road.
Let me know whether the new front
cover is one that would make you want to pickup the book from a bookstore shelf.
|Typos and other nightmares lurking to mug authors
A number of my earlier novels suffered from typos. It was as if
the ghost of a long dead printer had returned and left his mark. Not one or two
typos, mind you, but many. In the last few years, Heaven Lake Press has hired
professional copy editors and proof readers in England and the USA for my
novels. The result has been a dramatic reduction of mistakes. Not that the typo
ghost can ever be defeated. Some have suggested this is because the publisher is
Oh really. Next time you form the opinion that only New York
publisher publish books which are typo free, feel free to remember the book
Philip Roth’s publisher of American Pastoral is hardly an Asian publisher. The publisher
is Vintage, one of the major US publishing houses. Where is the typo? Have a
look at the blurb on the front cover. (courtesy of POD)
|The Risk of Infidelity Index
That’s the title of
the new Calvino novel. Here is the first draft of the cover design. I’d
appreciate hearing your views about the cover. Any comments, suggestions,
recommendation that you have, please send them along.
Risk is the story of a group of expat wives who hire Calvino to follow
their husband whom they suspect are cheating. Not that such a thing could ever
happen in Bangkok, except, of course, in fiction. One of the husbands turns up
dead. That does, of course, happen.
In reality, there are indexes for
about everything under the sun. IQs, AIDS, heart disease, income distribution,
literacy, education, etc are the subject of surveys and indexes. The conceit
here is that there is an Index for infidelity, ranking countries and cities
around the world. The index in the new novel has placed Bangkok near the top of
the list of places where wives ought to be worried about the faithfulness of
their husbands in the face of multiple temptations. The expat wives in
Risk are keen readers of weekly updates to The Risk of Infidelity
Index. They are obsessed like investors who habitually check stock indexes.
And for the same reason, to check on their view of what makes them feel safe and
|Calvino 9: First Draft finished
Getting away from Bangkok is the only way I can finish a draft of a book. This
time it was on Koh Chang Island in the South of Thailand. I took along my laptop
and set up office in my hotel room. Bhumiyama Resort to be precise. This is a
hotel that I can recommend (at least during the week before the big wave from
Bangkok arrives on the weekend). Fully booked I found their power generators
couldn’t keep up with all the air-conditioners running full blast. The last
night the power cut out four times.
While on Koh Chang, I finished the
first draft of the 9th Calvino on 9 June 2006. My maid is buying lotto tickets
with the number 696. Ever since I won a small lotto prize after I bought at
ticket at Erawan Shrine, the maid thinks I have good luck. When a German
documentary film crew was in town filming me at various locations, including
Erawan Shrine, they had the cameras rolling as I bought what would prove to be a
winning ticket. The documentary has yet to air in Germany so perhaps my luck was
all used up with the lotto win.
The first draft of a novel is always the
crucial one for me as the structure and character development is laid down. But
a first draft is not a ‘book’. Gambling on
Magic. went through six drafts before it was published. Most of the
Calvino novels go through at least three drafts, and within the second and third
drafts there are a fair number of rewrites as well.
The first draft has
23 chapters. I am targeting mid-July for completion of the second draft.
I have finished the first twenty-one chapters of the first draft. I figure
another two chapters will round off this draft. I am going into isolation mode
the next few days to finish the book so I won’t be posting until early next
In Asia, this is considered a platform:
Platform Diva :
popular in New York publishing circles to talk about a writer’s platform. But
they aren’t talking about shoes. If you host your own network TV show, people
know who you are, and the theory is all those millions who tune into your show
will also be potential buyers for your book. Of course there are platform and
there are platforms. Some platforms tower over a cultural landscape that can be
seen across oceans; others are the size of a garden birdbath. Books have slipped
into the entertainment and celebrity industry. They compete with other celebrity
Of course there will be exceptions to the rule that
publishers want authors with a large platform before signing them on. J.K.
Rowling and Dan Brown were living on platforms so small before they hit the big
time that it is doubtful they would have been visible to their neighbors.
The problem is this what is happening only seems to be counter
intuitive. The book business to a romantic should be run like a small, exclusive
chateau in France. And editors should acquire books the way a greater lover of
wine acquires a new case of claret. Is there anyone left in publishing who keeps
their job by acquiring books with these sensibilities? An editor who believes
that your book is like a vintage bottle of claret, rare, smooth, and desirable
for a niche market of readers will not be an editor for long. It is more likely
that his or her job security demands the equivalent of a twist off cap bottle of
chateau plonk that promises millions of people getting drunk on the entertaining
story told by a celebrity.
Have a look at Sheelah Kolhatkar’s article “If You Build it, They will come – Hot
in Publishing: Platform! and you will come away seeing that even the old
hands in publishing have been sucked into the vortex of swirling platforms.
Escher would have drawn a quite remarkable painting of the endless platforms,
like tadpoles changing into frogs, transforming into infinity.
subject of platforms also inspired a bit of nostalgia for Larry Kirshbaum, the
founder of LJK Literary Management and former chairman of Time Warner Book Group
(platform’s Grand Central, along with Judith Regan’s ReganBooks).’When I started
in the business—we’re talking in the early 70’s—books were sold on a literary
basis: how great they were, how important their ideas were in helping to mold
society or change the culture, etc.,’ Mr. Kirshbaum said. ‘Nowadays, we are
using terms like ‘brand’ and ‘platform’ as a very important ingredient in the
success of the book. You can have a great idea, but you need the platform.’”
What has become of the review culture? Remember the time when people
read reviews of books and bought books according to strength of the review?
Apparently that time ended with the electric typewriter, and it is only now that
we are finding this out.
“The rise of inexpensively mounted
cyber-platforms ‘means, in essence, that review culture is dead.’ said another
publisher requesting anonymity. (The review culture may be dead, but that
doesn’t mean this person wants to piss off The New York Times.)
“They”—meaning reviewers—‘can love your book, and you know, it helps if all of
them simultaneously love your book; that’s a great thing. But they don’t have
the persuasive power that they used to.’”
Bottom line: if you have to
explain your platform, you likely don't have one.
No it isn’t a book with all the Thai words that have a root in the word
“vampire.” Jim Newport is the author of a series about a Siam Vampire, and the
third book in the trilogy titled The Reckoning is now in bookstores in
Thailand. He will be reading from his new book and signing copies at the Neilson
Hays Library (195 Surawongse Road) on Thursday June 8 from 6:30PM-8:00PM. Jim
makes his living in Hollywood. And his reading skills are awesome. When you
listen to Jim read passages from his book, it as if a professional actor is
giving the reading. He pulls you straight into the story. Please support Jim
Newport by turning out for his reading.