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Blog Archive August 2007

Peter Temple on Crime Fiction

Peter Temple has been on a hot streak. His last novel The Broken Shore won a CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger.

In a recent interview by Bob Cornwell, he goes into the nuts and bolts of writing crime fiction. Here’s a taste from the pot of porridge he offers up:

“And I’ve always started off with the idea that I could write a really ‘big’ book. But as time goes by, the book gets smaller and smaller. My grasp always exceeds the vision. And the vision almost always includes political corruption, financial corruption, questions of morality, of behaviour or decency. Because I think those are issues you should write about, if you are a crime writer or not. In fact if you are a crime writer you have more licence to write about them than anybody else. So I haven’t been interested in writing plain police procedurals or, even Ross Macdonald-type personal explorations of family issues. I love them but I prefer to do something bigger. Basically what you see in the books is a shrunken version of an ambition.”

It turns out that Peter and I have the same Spanish publisher (Paidos)

Posted: 8/29/2007 11:09:33 PM 


What’s in a Thai nickname

Thomas Fuller had a good article titled “Thais ask: What’s in a Nickname” where he reports on the trend for parents to resort to the use English words as a substitute for the traditional Thai nickname. Instead of Dam (Black), Fon (Rain) or Meaw (Cat), the new generation goes by names such as Money, Bank, Seven.

A school teacher told Fuller about the confusion when more than one kid is nicknamed Bank. He solved the problem in a creative way: “In one classroom there were three children nicknamed "Bank." To tell them apart, fellow pupils had renamed the children "Big Bank," "Medium Bank" and "Small Bank."”

So far there are no reports of anyone nicknamed IMF.

Though Benz and Rolex are popular, too.

Can a Miss Starbucks be far behind?

Posted: 8/26/2007 10:41:00 PM 



While a number of authors fly by the seat of their pants when setting their books in Southeast Asia, one writer who lives in Thailand and knows the region and gets the details right is Colin Cotterill.

His latest novel set in Laos is ANARCHY AND OLD DOGS and has received a rave review by Janet Maslin in The New York Times.

This is the fourth novel to feature Dr. Siri Paiboun, the Laotian national coroner. Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “This sometimes slapstick, sometimes serious, but always lively mystery is sure to bring the author many new readers.” Janet Muslin favourably compares Colin’s book to Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and goes on to say, “Mr. Cotterill has a deft way of weaving these circumstances into whimsical, more personal stories that feature Siri and an equally memorable set of supporting characters. It is not unusual to find a renegade Thai forest monk or a transvestite fortuneteller wandering casually through the capital city, Vientiane, where Dr. Siri works.”

ANARCHY AND OLD DOGS was released in hardback (August 21st 2007).

Posted: 8/24/2007 6:08:03 AM 


International Crime Fiction

In the beginning was the Word. Crime fiction, in its current trajectory, owes much to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross MacDonald to name the obvious trinity that many current crime fiction writers light a candle in homage. Of course the lineage is longer and deeper, including Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe.

The BBC has picked up on the popularity of crime fiction with the story: The Genre that just won’t die The cozy novels of Agatha Christie continue to sell.

“Crime fiction in general is a strong source of sales - five of the top 10 selling paperbacks are thriller titles; two are literary chillers on the Richard and Judy reading list, two are by perennial best-selling authors (Michael Crichton and Ian Rankin) and The Last Testament is a chase mystery, a genre made popular again by The da Vinci Code.”

An interesting trend has been the rise of international crime fiction. From Venice, Stockholm, Shanghai, and Bangkok the crime novel has found fertile ground to grow and prosper.

In a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, Matt Rees’ The Collaborator of Bethlehem provides a flavour of the Middle Eastern setting:

“His powerful first novel from British journalist Rees humanizes the struggle of the West Bank, where Omar Yussef, a modest 56-year-old schoolteacher in the Dehaisha Palestinian refugee camp, becomes an unlikely detective amid the uncertainties and violence of modern Bethlehem. Israeli gunfire peppers the area, the Muslims mistrust the minority Christian population, and the Martyrs Brigade instills terror in virtually every group.”

The BBC piece quotes Rees about connection between setting and crime fiction:

“The cops are corrupt and the villains have a great deal of confidence, which means that the detective has to overcome his own flaws. That's what makes detective fiction so attractive - people always think there are a lot of problems with their society, and there's a desire to have a character that can put that right.”

There are certain things to look out for before you buy the crime novel set in a foreign land. Among the foremost factors to look for, is the connection of the writer to the place he or she is writing about. Does the author have authority, which comes from experience and knowledge at a deeper level?

It is not uncommon to have an author to parachute into Thailand or Burma or Laos, have a look around, fill up a couple of notebooks, and return home to write a crime novel. A shallow connection makes for a shallow book. For people living in other countries, they simply don’t know how the people in the place where the book is set laugh at the stupidity recorded as sagely observation page after page of such books. Editors don’t know. Reviewers don’t know. They assume the author knows what he or she is talking about. The level of due diligence on crime fiction written by outsiders which is set in foreign locations is not very good. There seems to be an assumption that the outsider’s view is as genuine, plausible and insightful as a local. That simply is false.

Would you hire a driver for a Formula 1 team if he had just spent a couple of weeks or months learning the basics of driving? May be if he or she were a relative or paid for the spot. The competition is too keen and anyone who is less than top professional form won’t do well in the race. The same applies in the crime fiction race. Many start but few finish high in the rankings.

Unless the writer can speak the language and has spent a considerable amount of time on the ground you can expect many howlers about the culture where the book is set.

Second, the writer needs an understanding of the social, cultural and political and that doesn’t come easily. You need to have spend time in the back streets, the slums, the small communities isolated from the others, talking to expats and the locals in their own language, and discovering the fault lines that are separate communities, cause anxiety, hatred and mistrust. If you are going to write about the police you had better get the details right. That research is much easier to do in Canada, the United States and England –all places where I have gone out with the police as a civilian observer. In Asia, the police culture makes this much harder.

Journalists like Matt Rees or Dan Fesperman (The Amateur Spy) have been in the field and have drawn from source material that many would not have access to. They’ve heard gunfire. They’ve seen the results of bombings and shootings on the families of the victims.

The Economist in the August 18th 2007 issue said of Fesperman’s novel (it is already out in England and will be out in the States in March, 2008) “Mr. Fesperman is especially good on the murky frontier where journalists, aid-workers, and spies trade information, each seeking something for nothing.”

The problem is when the writer is seeking something for nothing in the place where he or she writes. Unless the writer has made a substantial investment in terms of time to study the culture, language and history you may end up reading crime fiction that mugs you in the dark alley of ignorance. The problem is you won’t even know you’ve been mugged.

Posted: 8/24/2007 1:41:00 AM 


Insight into the Writing Process

Ever so often a professional writer will open the blinds on the creative process and unveils what lies behind the writing of a book. Peter Straub’s wonderful new book Sides has several essays which uncloak the mystery of the writing process. Straub has won multiple awards for his fiction that includes horror, science fiction, fantasy, and mainstream fiction.

He also has collaborated on two books with Stephen King, and that professional relationship has given him considerable insight into why King’s books have commanded such a huge readership. It is not so much their “accessibility” but their “immediacy” that underlies their success. Along with what Straub suggests is “this voice is one of King’s most potent inventions. And I share his view over the issue of free will versus determinism. “King understood that subject matter selects the writer instead of the other way around.” This has the definite ring of truth.

Also Straub’s essay to a Lawrence Block novel titled Hope to Die is a brilliant examination of the history to the Matthew Scudder series as well as to the private eye genre. He revisits the divide between the Chandler school of writing with the flare guns and roman candles illuminating every passage, and the Dashiell Hammett school which prefers a flashlight dancing off the walls of a dark alley. He puts Block in the flashlight corp of private eye writers, dry, cool, and detached but nonetheless delivering an emotional punch in the kidneys along the way.

There are thoughtful passages about two of my favourite Block novels: Eight Million Ways to Die, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse and When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. Blocks later novels descend into the basement where violence is the norm, and the scars it leaves on those who visit in that place are everlasting, real, and horrible.

There are other introductions and afterwords to books such as The Stepford Wives and Tales of Pain and Wonder.

In reading this deceptively small book, you can’t help but wonder how Peter Straub decided to give away so many secrets into the writing process. But as someone who writes for a living, I am glad to have been the beneficiary of his wisdom.

Posted: 8/15/2007 4:46:12 AM 


Second hand copies, First editions, and Collectibles

Price of most things is related to their scarcity. As most of the English editions of my books have been published by Heaven Lake Press in Thailand and are not widely available outside of the Kingdom, it isn’t unexpected to find the relative scarcity reflected in price. When you buy a second hand edition, though, make certain you know what you are buying. Most of my novels have gone through many editions. For example, A Killing Smile has gone through 8 different print runs. Only the original White Lotus edition 1992 is a first edition. If you pay for a first edition and it is a later edition, you’ve overpaid. I have yet to see a special edition of A Killing Smile or Gambling on Magic on offer. The main point: if you are buying a second hand copy make certain you understand that price is correlated to whether the book is a first edition or a later printing.

You can order directly from my website new copies of reprints of most titles. Once you have a look at the secondhand market, the $15.95 plus handling looks like a bargain.

I've had emails from readers asking about the price advertised on the Internet, secondhand bookstores, and rare bookstores where second hand copies of my books are on sale.

It is nearly impossible, for example, to find a copy of A Bewitching Smile for under $50 (prices I found on the Internet run from $63 to $426); Pattaya 24/7 runs around $33.00 to $50.00; Red Sky Falling from $27 to $75; Cut Out from $78 to $152.00; Cold Hit runs from $37 to $52; Comfort Zone runs from $67 to $83; a copy of Chairs can set you back $113, and you can pay up to $200 for a copy of A Killing Smile.

Or you can order most of the above titles from the website and pay $15.95 plus shipping. Is there a hedge fund that would like to buy all the back inventory?

Posted: 8/9/2007 12:22:01 AM 



The Altantic Monthly hardback edition of The Risk of Infidelity Index is scheduled for release in the United States and England on 21 December 2007. You can pre-order your copy from amazon. If you are in England, you can pre-order from amazon.uk.

RISK will retail in bookstores for $22.00. The Amazon.com price is $14.96 -- a 32% discount, and less expensive than the trade paperback edition in Thailand. The UK price is £9.66. This is one of the many advantages of having a large print run by a major publisher.

What is important for any author is the support of his publisher. Grove/Atlantic have made The Risk of Infidelity Index their lead title in the Winter 2008 catalogue. No writer could ask for a better show of faith in a book. For an author to have the full backing from a major publisher means a huge amount of effort will go into the promotion and distribution of the book.

The Grove/Atlantic edition of Spirit House will be out in trade paperback in the summer of 2008. Both RISK and SPIRIT HOUSE are to be published in England and distributed in the Commonwealth.

Posted: 8/9/2007 12:06:35 AM 



The Thai version of Pattaya 24/7 is available in bookstores throughout Thailand. Though I suspect you will have to find it at a Thai language bookstore. I doubt whether the English language bookstores in Thailand will have it on sale.

The Thai edition of Pattaya 24/7 is on sale for Baht 200. Below is the cover art. Lots of bullet holes, lots of leg; all the elements required to catch the eye. The neon signs advertising entertainment establishments in Pattaya should also attract attention.

This is the fourth Calvino novel that has been translated into Thai. Zero Hour in Phnom Penh , Minor Wife , and Spirit House were the previously books in the Calvino series to be translated into Thai.

In September 2007, the Thai publisher Siam Inter will release the Thai version of A Killing Smile . I have spoken with the translator and editor, and he a veteran of 188 translations, and he has become a fan of the books. In Thailand, the translator’s reputation is important as many readers trust the judgment of the translator from reading his prior work and look for the translator’s name when buying a new translation.

Posted: 8/6/2007 3:52:40 AM 


Vincent Calvino

Kevin Burton Smith’s “100 Eyes of the Mystery Scene Era” has been published in the 100th issue of Mystery Scene Magazine. Vincent Calvino is listed under #9.

“9 VINCENT CALVINO (Christopher G. Moore)
A transplanted New York shamus is our man in Bangkok,
doing the ex-pat shuffle. This is the world calling.”

Kevin observes that the list is in alphabetical order as “any other sort of order would surely led to madness.”

It is a great list, including: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith (S.J. Rozan), Elvis Cole (Robert Crais), Lionel Essrog (Jonathan Lethem), Philip E. Marlow (Dennis Potter), Sam McCain (Ed Gorman), Charlie “Bird” Parker (John Connolly), Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich), Easy Rawlins (Walter Mosley), and Jack Reacher (Lee Child).

In Publishers Weekly 18-25 July, the deal with Grove was announced for 4 books in the Vincent Calvino series:

Author: Christopher G. Moore
Agent: Bridget Wagner at The Sagalyn Agency
Editor: Morgan Entrekin at Grove/Atlantic
Blurb: four novels in the Bangkok-based series starring Vincent Calvino, disbarred American lawyer
Deal: No deal listed”

In the language of Publishers Weekly it would be a “good deal.”

In any language it is a great deal.

Posted: 8/2/2007 12:15:17 AM 



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