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Blog Archive November 2008

Bangkok Noir – Fear and Loathing

Moving into the weekend, the capital is tense and the confrontation between the pro and anti-government shows no signs of lessening. Both sides are dug in. No independent third force has emerged which could come forward to end the crisis. The political situation is locked in a stalemate, a strange equilibrium, one that threats to tilt one way or the other by the hours, and once the balance shifts, no one at this writing can predict the consequences.


On Friday, there has been chatter about the intervention by the police, air force and navy (under government directive) to remove the demonstrators from the airport. On 7th October when tear gas was used to disperse demonstrator outside of Parliament, two people were killed and hundreds were injured. The deaths and injuries resulted in criticism of the government’s handling of the situation. Since then the authorities have been extremely cautious in the use of force.


But the politics remain fluid, uncertain, charged with high emotions, threats and accusations. No one seems to be completely in charge of the situation. Reports indicate that the government has gone to Chiang Mai. The implications of such a move are significant in itself.


I talked with a number of stranded tourists midday. They were Polish, English and American who were outside a ticketing office of an international airline. They looked confused, disgruntled and afraid. No place to stay, running low on money, and unable to find out when they can fly out of the country. Some of the tourists seemed numb, unable to process what was happening. Flying to another country, it doesn’t occur to most travelers that the airport might be occupied and shut down and the only way out is by train, bus, car or foot.


Like a good crime novel, there are the basic elements of conflict, plot and character. What is missing is resolution. A curtain of darkness and doubt has descended and on the other side there are whispers and movement, a clamoring as if a struggle is going on just out of sight. When the curtain goes up again, the show may go on with a new cast. Alternatively the events might be like those in a noir novel, which is all menace and the characters discover in some universes there is no way out.

Posted: 11/28/2008 5:35:43 AM 



I arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport from New York on Monday. I missed the siege which started on Tuesday. It seems that there are a substantial number of foreigners who have been stranded at the airport. The motorway into the city was jammed with protestors on Tuesday and violence erupted on the street out to airport. Video footage showed a protestor firing a pistol at counter demonstrators.


Reuters reports: ”Protesters stormed Bangkok's main international airport and gunfire broke out on the streets of the Thai capital on Tuesday as a campaign to oust Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat turned violent.”


This isn’t exactly what I expected arriving back in Bangkok. That merely confirms it is better not to have firm expectations when you live in volatile times. From a personal safety point of view, there isn’t much danger. Venturing out to the site of where the thousands of demonstrators have gathered, however, wouldn’t be a good idea. After I finish up the backlog of work, I’ll try and get out and take some video footage of what is happening and post it on the website


As writers we tend to worry about the daily preoccupations of deadlines, reviews, advances, foreign right sales, and the general state of publishing. All of these are valid matters of concern. What is going on in Bangkok as write this dispatch, however, put this in perspective: we live in a time of political, social, and economic upheaval. No one could have predicted a year ago that gunfire would be heard in the streets of Bangkok and that huge mobs would seize government house and the international airport.

It is humbling to witness the destruction of a way of life. And it is more humbling to find that as a writer what is happening stretches beyond one’s vocabulary to describe the scope of violence and hatred swirling like storm clouds outside my window.

Posted: 11/26/2008 2:59:22 AM 



On Saturday I’m off to New York for just under two weeks. When I return toward the end of the month, I will no doubt have much to discuss. Meanwhile, with the holiday seasons coming up, remember to include a book or two in your gift giving. In terms of value for money, books still deliver hours of entertainment and the best of them stimulate thought, debate and discussion.

Posted: 11/13/2008 3:03:17 AM 



Gladwell has authored a couple of books that received wide international attention: Blink and The Tipping Point. His latest book is titled Outliers. In a profile titled Geek Pop Star, New York Magazine, goes inside Gladwell’s world, talk to his friends, analysis his personality, his early life in Ontario, his work habits for the New Yorker magazine. In his new book he asks question about how people like Bill Gates came to do what he did. Gladwell examines various elements such as talent, family connections, friends and luck. Merit alone rarely accounts for a great success. 

“What’s a put-upon guru to do? Gladwell isn’t about to give back his advances or stop speaking at business conferences, but he is trying to take his writing in a more meaningful direction. Where he once focused on cool-hunting and T-shirts in his New Yorker articles, now it’s IQ tests and pension systems. “There is a kind of underlying social vision in a lot of his pieces,” says Henry Finder, his editor at the magazine. “The basic vision says how we fare in life isn’t just determined by ourselves and our character, it’s determined by a lot of other things that are beyond our control.” Gladwell has expanded that social vision into a book that he describes as “more political” and “a little angrier” than his previous efforts. “The interesting part of this now is trying to figure out what you do with the idea,” he says, explaining the new approach he took with Outliers, “as opposed to before, where the interesting part was just explaining the idea.” Bruce Headlam, a childhood friend of Gladwell’s who’s now an editor at the New York Times, calls Outliers “the book that’s closest to Malcolm’s heart.”

The article also discusses the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become a professional. Whether it is golf, ice hockey, flying or writing fiction those are the hours that must be paid to compete at a professional level. Like with most hard or difficult paths, people look for shortcuts. Maybe Mozart and a handful of others are the exception that proves the rule.

Posted: 11/13/2008 3:02:29 AM 


Portuguese Rights for Calvino

One of the pleasures of the writing life is when a book is sold for translation into another language. My publisher has sold the Portuguese rights to The Risk of Infidelity Index to a publisher in Brazil. This raises the total of translations from English to 12 other languages. Most of the translations are for books in the Calvino series though foreign language editions of my literary novels have also sold. I look forward to working with the Portuguese translator as he/she works through the book. Inevitably questions arise as to the meaning of a word or phrase. The Spanish translation of The Risk of Infidelity Index is in the works and will be out summer 2009.

There are enough words used by English speakers in Thailand to qualify for an Expat English, but this requires a careful balance. Peppering a novel with unusual words or phrases is not a way to bring a reader into a story where disbelief must be suspended. The occasional phrase, in the proper context where the meaning is obvious, however, does recreate the speech of locals.

Posted: 11/13/2008 2:50:24 AM 



One of the reasons I like writing (and reading) crime fiction is the window on the politics of the community where the crime has been committed. Injustice, corruption, and abuse of authority act like the three witches in the opening scene of MacBeth, stirring the pot, invoking spells and curses.


The Telegraph has an interesting article about the role of novelists in revealing the underlining tensions and problems of society and the relationship between the writers of novels and academics who write research papers about such issues.


The article quotes Professor Michael Woolcock, director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute as saying, “They were "not arguing that poets should replace finance ministers."

He said: ‘Fiction is important because it is often concerned with the basic subject matter of development. This includes things like the promises and perils of encounters between different peoples; the tragic mix of courage, desperation, humour, and deprivation characterising the lives of the down-trodden.’ “

Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/3391740/Novels--better-at-explaining-worlds-problems-than-reports.html

Posted: 11/13/2008 2:44:02 AM 


Monsoon Rains and Crime Fiction

The sky darkened in Bangkok about 1.00 p.m. and the rains came down hard. An hour and a half later, as I write this, the motorcycle taxi drivers below my window remain under a couple of large umbrellas, sticking out their heads, looking at the sky. Driving in Bangkok during such a storm is always an experience. Motorcycles are on the roads, the driver soaked, looking wild-eyed, weaving in and out of the traffic. It is a miracle that there aren’t more accidents in the rain. The sky is clearing this afternoon and by evening it will be as if it never rained.


The 10th Vincent Calvino novel Paying Back Jack has been shipped by Heaven Lake Press to bookstores in Thailand. Copies should be available by the weekend. If you don’t find a copy in your favorite bookstore, go to the front desk and ask the assistant for the book. There is no question that bookstore employees keep records of such customer requests, and if enough people ask for a book, guess what, someone notices and orders or reorders the title.


If you live outside of Thailand and don’t wish to wait until October 2009 to read Paying Back Jack, there remain a limited number of copies of the Heaven Lake Press edition that can be shipped. Click here to order your copy. Once you open the page, scroll down to the Vincent Calvino titles and Paying Back Jack is the first title you will find.


At the moment, the following signings have been lined for Paying Back Jack:


4th November 2008    The Cactus Bar, Soi Cowboy from 8.00 p.m. (free food night) John’s food isn’t to be missed.


24th December 2008  The Lonestar Bar, Washington Square from 2.30 p.m. (free Christmas dinner, the first Christmas without George Pipas presenting.)


January 2009            The Pattaya Expat Club (date and time being arranged)

Posted: 11/4/2008 3:11:35 AM 



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