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Blog Archive September 2006

Pause in the Blog

I will be back in this space on 5th October. It is time to take a short break. I need to go through the new Calvino (The Risk of Infidelity Index) one last time (5th draft), do some promotion of titles in foreign translation, and complete the first draft of Bangkok Noir, a non-fiction title with photographs by Ralf Tooten.

In C.J. Moore’s In Other Words, he defines the Chinese term renao as a combination of loud noise (especially shouting and banging) and stirring up trouble. It is a positive word in Chinese. The same applies in Thai culture. Loud noise at temple fairs is evidence of lively, happy people.

For the next couple of weeks (after completing the tasks above) I am going to somewhere quiet, sit under a shade tree and read.

Posted: 9/13/2006 11:09:14 PM 


Steve Irwin: Australian Naturalist

Around the world Steve Irwin’s death came as a shock. He died filming an underwater TV show when a stingray’s barbed tail punctured his heart. The Economist’s obituary said Irwin’s TV programs about wildlife had attracted a worldwide audience of 500 million. That’s a lot of reviewers.

I have a theory as to why so many tuned in to watch Irwin wrestle crocodiles and handle deadly snakes along with other assorted highly dangerous creatures. Each of us has a primitive memory handed down from our ancestors, and part of that memory is an innate fear of being killed by a wild animal. We were hunter gathers for a much long period than we have been farmers and city dwellers. Our instinct to avoid dangerous animals developed over thousands of years is hardwired in us. We know our response as fear. And we had every right to be afraid of lions, bears, tigers, crocodiles, sharks and other larger predators. They indeed did eat members of our species.

What Steve Irwin did was provide a surrogate action hero figure who, on our behalf, confronted these fear head on. He did so with passion, humor, and innocent diamond in the rough charm. He was an Auker with no fancy pretensions. When Irwin wrestled a crocodile he was doing what instinctively we all wished we could do but deep down knew we could never stand our ground the way Steve did. He overcame the fear that told us to run away. Steve didn’t run. The fact that Irwin could fight that fight against predators that have killed members of our species for thousands of years was hugely satisfying. Steve’s victory was our victory; we celebrated with him.

When Steve Irwin was killed in freakish way by a wild animal it was as if our ancestral memory for fear was replaced by our ancestral memory of grief. A sadness borne from he knowledge when Steve Irwin confronted our deepest fears of dangerous animals, we drew strength, power and hope from those encounters. His death brought home the inevitability of his dying in a wild animal encounter. We mourned his passing feeling that it provided a lesson: after one too many encounters with a predator even those most powerful hero can get unlucky. And the hero has to be unlucky only once.

Steve’s luck ran out and when it did those 500 million people find themselves orphaned until such time as someone else comes along and faces a crocodile eyeball-to-eyeball and wrestles him to the ground.

Posted: 9/11/2006 12:52:16 AM 


How to Write a Novel

Australian novelist Justine Larbalestier has some good tips on how to write that novel. She outlines a process of getting the novel locked inside your head onto the page. One of the keys to writing a novel is not succumbing to the temptations of email, the Internet, feeding the goldfish, dusting your bookshelves, etc.

Posted: 9/11/2006 12:51:41 AM 


Death sentences handed down in Michael Wansely murder case

The murder of Michael Wansely occurred in 2005. The guilty verdict was handed down in 2006 and has been getting a lot of press. In another murder farang case, a verdict of murder was handed down in the Michael Wansely case.

He was 58 years old at the time of his death he was on his way to audit the sugar mill. He found $150 Million fraud. Testimony heard by the court said, the hit man was paid $1000 to kill Wansley. It was big news at the time and a shocking case of a contract hit put out by business interest. This happened shortly after the economic meltdown in Thailand. The trial dragged on for years. The theory was Wansely was murdered because he had uncovered that the sugar mill owners had cooked the books. Two of the accused were sentenced to death. A third was sentenced to life imprisonment. The actual hitman is still on the loose. And the sugar mill owner was acquitted for insufficient evidence.

Posted: 9/6/2006 11:30:00 PM 


Verdict in Toby Charnaud Murder Case

According to the Nation, Judge Sarayuth Busayanawin returned a verdict of guilty in the murder case against Toby Charnaud’s ex-wife Panatda Raolueang and the three Thai men she hired to kill her husband. All four defendants in the murder case were sentenced to life in imprisonment.

Evidence was heard that Toby Charnaud had learned of his wife’s affair with a Thai police officer, and the affair along with her gambling addiction led to his decision to divorce her.

Panatda’s defense, if it can be called a defense to murder, was that her husband had become involved with another woman and this made her worried about the welfare of their son. Or in other words, “I was worried about my son, even though I was sleeping with someone else, and gambling away all of the family money, so I had to kill my husband.” That defense failed to convince the court that Panatda should be acquitted. Two defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence.

Posted: 9/6/2006 11:27:54 PM 


Chinese Fiction Leaps over the Great Wall of the Past

Yu Hua has been getting a lot of international press (including the International Herald Tribute) for his new novel Brothers. The novel is published in two volumes.

Born in 1960, he survived the Cultural Revolution. Though his intellectual parents were forced into the countryside and considerably abused as were many of their class during this chaotic time. Yu Hua published his first novel Leaving Home at 18 when he was 27 years old that sold poorly but brought him to the attention of the literary community.

Brothers has sold a million copies and this in a country where piracy of intellectual property appears something akin to a birthright. The story line involves two step brothers who survive the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and go on to become rich in modern China. It also is a social commentary on the deadening effect of a highly materialistic, soulless society, selfish and self-centered. The usual sins run through the story: corruption, prostitution and gambling.

The new novel “shows the worlds of the newly rich, workers, jobless people and cheats, and their changing fates in two completely different eras.”

The reviews in China have raved about Brothers. The Shanghaist wrote:

“There were times when we wondered if some of the scenes of cruelty during the Cultural Revolution described in this book could really have happened. This book is not memoir, nonfiction, or documentary -- the absurdist and almost magical realist quality of certain passages remind you of that -- but even if the torture and callousness described didn't happen in actuality, it still manages to resonate as an emotionally truthful portrait of a catastrophic era in Chinese history.”

Yu Hua’s earlier novel the Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, revolved around the life of factory worker named Xu Sanguan who is forced to sell his blood to bail his family out of financially difficult times.

Some critics have accused Yu Hua for selling out with Brothers, saying: "I'm really disappointed with 'Brothers,'" says Sun Kai, an editor at Oriental Outlook, a popular Chinese magazine. "I really can't understand why such an important and famous writer who wrote masterpieces before can publish such a rough absurd novel, like a tear- jerking soap opera."

What makes Brothers remarkable is that it could be published and sold in China at all. To take on the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution that is widely sold and read in China means that this time is now open for discussion and debate. That can only be healthy.

Posted: 9/6/2006 10:57:35 PM 


Bangkok Noir

German award winning photographer Ralf Tooten and I have been working on a book titled Bangkok Noir. We have been to many locations that appear in the Vincent Calvino novels. With the recent rains in Bangkok we have managed to capture that noir mood somewhere locked between menace and mystery, where the cigarette smoke is stale, and beer flat and a distant tenor sax plays in the shadows. We hope to have the book ready next year. There will be about 50 original black and white photographs and I will weave a yarn or two about the mean backstreets and the characters who haunt them.

Posted: 9/1/2006 4:59:22 AM 


The Risk of Infidelity Index

I am making good progress on the fourth draft of the new Calvino novel. It is cut and throw away, add a couple of new elements, polish, revise, amend, cut and throw away. It was Hemingway who said that a wastepaper basket was a writer’s best friend. That needs some updating: A writer’s best friend is the delete key. If you aren’t wearing the letters off that key then you are ignoring your best friend.

Posted: 9/1/2006 4:58:24 AM 


Heart Talk

There is a free Heart Talk t-shirt. Go to www.thaihearttalk.info and fill out a questionnaire about Heart Talk, the book, and your name goes into the hat and if you’re lucky, a t-shirt will be yours. I will convince them to also include a free Heart Talk poster.

Posted: 9/1/2006 4:56:48 AM 



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