Critic David Montgomery on Advice for unpublished writers
This is a thought-provoking article that should be read by all writers, published and unpublished. He starts with a word of caution:
“Today I want to pass along some advice for unpublished writers that I think is very important. I'll warn you up-front that this is not advice that a lot of people want to hear. But I'm going to share it anyway.
Everyone who contemplates writing a novel dreams of publication. That's why we do it in the first place. Nobody wants to write something just to stick it in a drawer. So when the first glimmer of success comes along, we jump at the bait like the hungriest fish in the pond.”
Along with his insightful advice about agents and publishers, it is worth reading the comments about the article from writers who share their own experiences, anxieties, and desires. Included in the reader comments is Montgomery’s own addition:
"If you were told you were never going to get published, would you still write?"
“I wouldn't. I write because I feel a need and a desire to write. But I also write for an audience. Writing for my own pleasure doesn't interest me at all.”
Expatriate Authors in Asia: Writing for a Niche Market or a Wider World?
Christopher G. Moore in opening remarks
Last night (Wednesday 26th March) there was a standing room only house for Dean Barrett, Stephen Leather, Colin Cotterill, and myself. We spoke about publishing fiction in Asia and the nature of publishing in Thailand specifically and more generally about publishing in New York and London. After our individual presentation we had many people queuing up to ask questions. Colin asked the audience how many had written a novel. I’d guess about 18 hands shot up, and then asked how many of the writers had been published. There were two hands left remaining.
One person asked if we were all “rich” and left the clear impression that he was in writing for the money. Stephen, at one moment, acknowledged that he was the richest person on the panel. No one disputed him. In my opening remarks I dealt with the probabilities of striking it rich. Less than 1% of authors actually can make a living writing full time. Even with lottery like odds, there are those who feel “lucky” and that writing is their ticket to life style of the rich and famous.
Another question was from an expat woman writer. One could sense her frustration. She seemed upset as she asked her question of why there weren’t more opportunities for women writers and why only books about the bar scene were being published. There were a number of assumptions in her questions. But she had a valid point: While there are a fair number of local self-published male authors, there are very few locally published female authors of fiction to appear in English.
Dean Barrett, Colin Cotterill, Stephen Leather and Christopher G. Moore
No one of the panel was a publisher. But that didn’t seem to matter. There was a strong sense of grievance and injustice. It may be little solace to expat women or Thai women who are writing fiction in Thailand, but the reality is worldwide, there are more women on the New York Times fiction hardback bestseller list than male authors – 9 out of 16 on last week’s list – so it isn’t true that in the large international markets that women come out second best in terms of selling fiction. The reality is that a large number of literary agents and editors at major publishing houses are women. And they know that most buyers of fiction are women.
FCCT Audience with TV celebrity Tom Mintier in foreground
As for the so-called sexpat literature written by men and for male readers in Thailand, I can understand why the expat woman feel frustrated, as aspiring authors. However, I think, it is a local Thai industry, few of these books can be bought outside of Thailand. If one had a look at the incoming tourists statistics from English speaking countries, I would bet the overwhelming number are single males. So there is a peculiar niche in Thailand for books that are often thinly disguised memoirs of a foreigner’s cycle of love and disillusion in the bar scene. One way to look at many of these books is as the male version of the throwaway romance paperbacks sold in grocery stores in North America. The authors are often one-book writers; they aren’t professional, never have had a real editor or publisher, and their book allows them to describe their life for others. It would be difficult for a foreign woman to sell a novel based on any other subject to this group, just like it would be difficult to sell a techno-thriller to a woman looking at romance novels at a grocery store rack of books.
As I said on the panel last night, if the book anyone has written tells a ripping good story in an entertaining way, it will find a publisher. It doesn’t matter what is the gender of the author. The problems of finding an agent and publisher aren’t limited to Thailand; this is universal and no one has a monopoly on the grievance of feeling left out. Publishing, much like life, is often unfair. A few are let through the gate, others left waiting. Frustrations about the abundance of ‘sexpat’ books in Thailand aside, and outside of self-publishing, the quality of the book and its market appeal generally decide whether or not a book will picked up by a publisher.
Unfortunately editors and agents weren’t at the FCCT to answer for their industry last night. That left four writers to scurry around as best we could for answers to questions which really had very little to do with us.
I’d like to encourage all aspiring authors who came along to the panel discussion last night. As I said in my remarks, you need a passion for writing to sustain a writing life. It will never be easy. You write because it is your dream. It is your true love. If commercial success and critical recognition follows, all the better, but remember writing and being published are two different things. One is passion. The other is business. It is never easy keeping the two apart for writers. My writing career, as is in the case of many published authors – even J.K. Rowling had multiple rejections before she was finally published by a small house is an example of becoming an overnight success after twenty years.
a round-table discussion with Dean Barrett, Christopher Moore,
Stephen Leather, and Colin Cotterill
Wednesday, March 26 at 8:00 pm
Cover charge for non-members: 300 Baht
Hope to see you at the FCCT. Here are the address, phone and email details for the FCCT:
Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand
Penthouse, Maneeya Center Building
518/5 Ploenchit Road (connected to the BTS Skytrain Chitlom station)
Patumwan, Bangkok 10330
Web Site: http://www.fccthai.com
In the current American financial meltdown no one is able to come to grips with the extent or seriousness of the damage from the subprime mortgage crisis. It is as if someone had been shot but no one is quite certain what part of the body was hit, if vital organs are involved, whether the patient is in ICU or still in emergency triage. The subprime mortgage problem is the entry wound but so far no one has found the exist wound. Meanwhile the dollar continues to bleed.
SEX IN CRIME FICTION
Crime fiction is infused with booze, sex, murder, betrayal, and mystery. Everyone seems to approve of mystery. There is a faction that would censor, restrict, hack out or dismember parts or all of the other elements (except for murder which I will get to in a minute).
Let’s start with sex. It is the weekend coming up and sex is a good place to begin the discussion. Next week I am on a panel with three other crime writers, which is being flogged locally for the sex angle of fiction written by expat writers in Thailand. One could write a crime fiction novel set in Bangkok without any sex; just as one could write a crime fiction novel set in Las Vegas and leave out gambling. The point is a male writer is expected to offer a cough onto the back of his hand and apologize, explain, rationalize writing about sex to the sexual Red Guard. Of course a writer can avoid offending such a group by removing any mention of sex and offer to undergo political rehabilitation.
In vivid contrast crime fiction readers, as a whole, have no problem with reading about murder, and indeed without at least one murder or the threat of murder as part of the story line it is doubtful whether any publisher would bother publishing the book as crime fiction. The point for contemplation is why sex makes for squeamishness and political correctness among certain readers while a brutal murder satisfies their literary urges. Perhaps there is nothing as entertaining as a good public hanging.
AUTHORS AS MAGPIES
Janet Muslin in her most recent crime fiction review in the New York Times makes a good case that a new crop of novels finds the authors borrowing similar locales, themes, stock characters, set ups and tricks. The implication isn’t that authors are intentionally copying one another, but they can’t help drawing upon the images, tricks, and set ups popping up in their common culture. There was no mention that this magpie nature of authors has turned up in use of similar scenes, toys, positions, gels, or leather in the between the sheets activities of their characters.
On Wednesday 26th March 2008, at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand (FCCT), I will be on a panel with Dean Barrett, Stephen Leather, and Colin Cotterill. The talk is “Writing for a Niche Market or a Wider World?” The panel will discuss the present sate and future state of expatriate fiction in this part of the world. The talk starts at 8.00 p.m.
If you are in Bangkok, please come along. I’ve employed a forensic expert to assist in finding the person at the FCCT who can tell me whether my books can be sold at the event. He says this is a difficult assignment. Hopefully before the event, an answer will be forthcoming.
Today 19th March 2008 the Nation newspaper in its new free Daily Xpress tabloid ran an article about the FCCT event, which included the photograph below.
I suspect that a future panel at the FCCT might invite forensic experts specializing in journalism to assist local editors in their search for photographs of people they write about. In this particular case, I have little objection. I don’t believe I ever looked that young, handsome or thin. And a beard, hmmm, I’ve never worn one. Never mind, as they say in Thailand. If only I had the green eyes. There’s always next life.
I have 20 published novels (not 17). Number 21 comes out the end of 2008. But let’s call that a rounding off error. It is the photo that has caused me to receive an undue number of emails today. Including one from a friend at the Nation suggesting this was a photograph of me taken in 1972. I am googling “gall” to see if I can come up with an image to send him. One possibility is the photograph of gall featured below. The other meaning of gall is “To fret; to vex; as, to be galled by sarcasm.”
If you were to google “Christopher Moore” and then clicked onto images, the first image you would find is the one above (why go beyond number 1? It must be him.). My own two-minute investigation revealed that this is a photograph of the American author Christopher Moore who, among other titles, is the author of You Suck: A Love Story. The photo was taken in the city of San Francisco. I presume it is copyrighted. But never mind.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of my novels knows they are published under the name of Christopher G. Moore. And for a very good reason. Leave out the “G” can lead to one of about 15,000 plus other persons with the name Christopher Moore who live in North America. I’d like to think less than half that number have the middle initial “G.”
Here is a sampling from Google Images of other people named Christopher Moore that the Nation might wish to choose from in the future. Perhaps they might start a contest.
The second book in the Vincent Calvino series is Asia Hand. It was first published by White Lotus in 1993 and reprinted by Heaven Lake Press in 2000. A number of fans believe it is among the best in the series.
Grove/Atlantic had decided to publish Asia Hand in the United States and Great Britain. This is a good news for a couple of reasons. It means the back listed books in the series will be published in sequence. Spirit House is due to be released in July 2008. You can expect the trade paperback edition of Asia Hand to be published in July 2009.
To refresh your memory, here’s a summary of Asia Hand.
Bangkok—the Year of the Monkey. Calvino’s Chinese New Year celebration is interrupted by a call to Lumpini Park Lake, where Thai cops have just fished the body of a farang cameraman. CNN is running dramatic footage of several Burmese soldiers on the Thai border executing students.
Calvino follows the trail of the dead man to a feature film crew where he hits the wall of silence. On the other side of that wall, Calvino and Colonel Pratt discover and elite film unit of old Asia hands with connections to influential people in Southeast Asia. They find themselves matched against a set of farangs conditioned for urban survival and willing to go for a knock-out punch.
I have received the Atlantic Books (my UK publisher) July-December 2008 catalogue. Two of the Calvino novels are listed. The trade paperback edition of Spirit House is scheduled for July 2008, ISBN 978184354. The cover won’t win any points from the anti-smoking lobby but personally I like it. The moody noir feeling of the book is set by the image.
The Atlantic Books edition of the Risk of Infidelity Index will be released in June 2008, ISBN 9781843547891. Another cover design, in my view, successfully creates the atmosphere of the Calvino series.
Paul Theroux has been writing novels and travel books since 1967 when he was 25 years old. His 1973 novel Saint Jack, set in Singapore, is classic expat literature. The Consul’s File is set in Malaysia, is a collection of brilliant short stories, which hold up well years after publication. His novel Kowloon Tong chronicled one families disintegration after the British handover to mainland
China 1997. Along with The Elephanta Suite (three novellas, 2007) is set in India. In other words, Theroux’s fiction has a long and distinguished association with Asia and his fiction has inspired a generation of expat authors. I can personally recommend the titles mentioned above. For anyone living in Asia, they provide a 35-year perspective on cultural and social transformation of expat life. A good place to start is with Saint Jack.
“Do you believe that anyone can become a writer nowadays if they have a passport and notebook computer?”
“Yes, anyone can write, and most people can write a book, but the hard thing is to find someone to read the material. So everyone can write, but not everyone will find readers. The point of writing is finding someone who cares about what you write about. This should be the vision of a writer ... to persuade the reader that what they are reading is the truth and that it will alter their view of the world. Otherwise what you're doing is just wasting your time.”
At the end of January I gave the closing dinner talk at the East West Center Media Conference in Bangkok. The Centre has put up a summary of the talk “For Better facts, take a tour through fiction” on their website. This was a great group of journalists, academics, NGOs from around the world.
On the 24th February I was in Pattaya and spoke before the Pattaya Expat Club. Richard Ravensdale, the Club’s program director, extended an invitation some months. There was a good turn out and lots of questions during the Q&A period that followed by talk.
Here is a video clip of an interview with the Club President Niels Colov for Pattaya People TV.