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Blog Archive May 2006


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.

Posted: 5/31/2006 12:34:38 AM 


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 every writer:

“You must get the detail right, and you can only get that from actually being there, to see, to smell, to hear the location.”

Posted: 5/30/2006 3:36:40 AM 


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.

There is 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.

Posted: 5/29/2006 6:52:58 AM 


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.

I 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.

Next month 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 series.

Posted: 5/26/2006 6:32:55 AM 


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.

And 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).”

Posted: 5/23/2006 2:58:17 AM 


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.

“This year's 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 democratic.

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 minister.”

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: https://order.kagi.com/cgi-bin/r1.cgi?4D9

Posted: 5/19/2006 12:29:14 AM 


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,

”The controversy 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.

Posted: 5/18/2006 4:00:47 AM 


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.

One 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 slanderous.”

Posted: 5/17/2006 12:49:32 AM 


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.”

Posted: 5/16/2006 5:19:27 AM 


Sunday Monsoon

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.

Posted: 5/15/2006 2:57:37 AM 


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.”

Posted: 5/10/2006 3:18:03 AM 


The Art of Translation

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 English.

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.”

Posted: 5/9/2006 4:21:09 AM 



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 meaningless.

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 treasure.

Posted: 5/4/2006 2:53:33 AM 


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.

Here’s a summary:

In His Majesty’s Footsteps offers an intimate, powerful portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the Thai royal family.

This is 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 political turmoil.

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

Posted: 5/3/2006 6:39:18 AM 


Nightlife retrospective

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.

Posted: 5/3/2006 3:48:39 AM 


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.

Posted: 5/2/2006 10:35:12 PM 



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