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Blog Archive October 2008

Crime in Foreign Lands

Writing crime fiction set in another culture requires an understanding of the culture, the history and the language. Crime must be properly centered in the culture where the act has been committed. The attitude and expectations of the perpetrator and the victim should reflect the underlying reality of the culture. These elements are brought to life when they are like any good operating system—buried in the background but running the whole operation. Fiction after all is story-telling, not preaching or academic discourse.


Elephant Polo


Opening that operating system is something that is possible on a blog. It allows me to address some of the more difficult, subtle questions that arise when I create characters who are long-term residence of the country. I ask myself about such a character: Has this character adapted to the new culture to the point that they go native? What is left of his or her old identity? Or does character retain his or her cultural identity and remain on the outside of Thai culture? In that case, what price is paid for staying on the outside of the culture where you live and work?


These are among the issues that Tim Rackett raises in his review of Robert Cooper’s Thailand Beyond the Fringe.


Rackett writes:


“Cooper’s book seems to equally address incurable cultural romantics terminally intoxicated Thais- as calm, shy, polite, smiling and proud -and those infuriated by the gaps between Thai saying and doing, officially sanctioned appearances and reality- oscillating between being: spiritual and materialist, mindful and mindless, inferiority and superiority, selfless and selfish; equally accepting and capable of contemplation and coups, meditation and massacres. Thai ‘tourist culture’ seem to say to strangers: Yes, you may! And at the same time No, you cannot’. Thai society is a paradoxical’ permissive-prohibitive’ society with a puritanical- hedonistic culture whereby it is a both a duty to enjoy and obey. No wonder global voyagers might be perplexed living on planet Siam!”


Muay Thai


Later Rackett raises the issue of  the tricky art required to embrace values in another culture when those values conflict with those of your home culture.


“What exactly do Thais want from long term ‘guests’? Their: recognition, love and/or money, to do it the Thai way, or, the highway? Ex-pats often are given the stark choice, but not surprising for a ‘soft authoritarian’ society, love our ways, or leave! Obey, submit and conform. Politics, power and history are the stuff cultures are made from as effects and are not really very funny, especially the selective, and occasional, application of the rule of law, inequalities, corruption as a way of life and multiple human wrongs in multi-racist Thailand.”


Link: http://rspas.anu.edu.au/rmap/newmandala/2008/10/29/review-of-thailand-beyond-the-fringe-by-robert-cooper/

Posted: 10/30/2008 6:35:14 AM 



George Orwell kept a daily dairy during the late 1930s. During this period, the world was coming out of the great depression. The Orwell Trust has made them available on its website. Most of the entries from a casual browsing indicate that Orwell was content on observing life, people, animals and events happening around him without adding much editorial opinion.


One advantage of such a diary is that keeps the skills of observation polished, the writer anchored in the moment (a good Buddhist quality), and creates an alternate history of memory.


Being connected with the ordinary and with nature is something that many of us miss in modern, urban life. The sight of sweet peas and sunflowers, goats, and doves, the feel and look of soil occur in other spaces. These are spaces that we rarely occupy; spaces in which we are effectively blind and deft.


With the darkness of a depression descending everywhere, I wonder if we might turn away from the acquisition of material things and look to the world in a different way.


One alternative way is found in the diaries of George Orwell.


Here’s an example from 70 years ago


 27th October 1938:

Large numbers of black beetles, about 1 long, crawling everywhere, evidently brought out by the rain. Have sowed sunflowers, sweet peas & marigolds. The other seeds not up yet, as it has been much cooler (we are having fires every evening.) The ground here is lumpy & unpleasant to work, but at present not many weeds more when this rain has taken effect, perhaps. Some weeds as in England, eg. bindweed & twitchgrass, but not growing very strongly. Silver poplar or some very similar tree grows here. Tomatoes here are grown in large patches without sticks. Very poor floppy plants & smallish tomatoes, but plenty of them.

Yesterday on milking the brown goat found her milk had gone sour & came out quite thick. This is because she is only being milked once a day & had not been fully milked for two days owing to her restiveness. Squeezed the bad milk onto the ground & tonight her milk was all right again. Another hen bad in the legs this evening. Examined & found enormous black lice. Hope treatment will be effective as before. The stripey goats milk increases, but very slightly, still not much over 1/2 pint a day. She is very thin, though she eats well. The present ration of hard food is 2 handfuls of barley & 2 of bran morning & evening, with a mash of boiled maize & bran about once a week.

The doves readily eat maize if it is broken.

Link: http://orwelldiaries.wordpress.com/2008/10/

Posted: 10/28/2008 5:48:06 AM 



Readers experience various emotional states when reading crime fiction novel. One of such state is the feeling of liking. Perhaps the best outcome author is a rave review from a reader, and that translates as someone liking the book a great deal. One question that I’ve pondered is where is that “liking” response located in the reader’s brain?


Recent brain research suggests the experience of “liking” is located in the ventral pallidum. This is also the place where drugs, food, and sex register pleasure.


“Early results seem to show that one of the most important sites for "liking" is the ventral pallidum, a small region deep in the brain, near the dopamine system. Opioid injections into this area seem to boost enjoyment of sweet tastes, while damaging it makes all normal liking disappear - as seen by the lack of pleased facial expressions in rats given sugar. "This is a prime candidate for coding liking," says Berridge. The ventral pallidum takes in signals from the nucleus accumbens - a central component of the dopamine system - and passes them on to the cortex. He believes it could well be at the heart of our liking response.”


Link: http://wireheading.com/pleasure.html

Posted: 10/28/2008 5:45:18 AM 


Talking publicly About Gangsters

Crime fiction and non-fiction can ruffle the feathers of some serious nasty beasts. An example is Roberto Saviano whose book Gomorra brought not just literary reviews but a serious death threat. The intimidation of journalists and writers is an old, well-tried method to silence those who turn over large rocks and watch the bugs scramble out of the hole. For those who author crime books and who live in countries with a strong rule of law, Saviano’s situation is not different from many writers living in developing countries or so-called developed countries with a less firm grip on law enforcement.


Al Capone


“Italian author Roberto Saviano made a brief appearance, accompanied by a minimum of three bodyguards, at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The reason for the bodyguards was the fact that he’d received the first death threat of several just a few days before, on 13 October 2008—promising he and his protectors would be dead by year’s end—for his book Gomorra and the movie based upon it. . . . Salman Rushdie has suggested Saviano take care because the Casalesi threat is, he claims, worse than any fatwa—and countless Nobel Laureates and others have lined up in his support. While in Frankfurt Saviano finally announced he was considering leaving Italy, and the statement was followed by major reactions internationally, both for and against such a move.”


Thanks to 3Quarkdaily: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/

Posted: 10/27/2008 5:11:42 AM 


Publishing Industry Riding the Bear

Los Angeles Times Book Editor David L. Ulin discusses the future of publishing down the road as the economic meltdown continues.


“There's little doubt that the economy will affect this further, or that, even without the advent of recession, publishing is a business in crisis mode. But I see hard times as having a potential upside -- if we focus on the work itself.”


George Orwell


The upside according to Ulin—if the Great Depression is a guide—is that authors and books take on more serious themes and the fluff and ephemera fall along the wayside. There is an echo of this argument used to explain the growing gap in those intending to vote for Obama—labeling the Obama campaign as one tailored for a time of political seriousness. Authors will not be far behind as the world enters the mood for a serious, adult conversation about life, politics, social arrangements and networks.


During the Great Depression Orwell survived his experience as a member of the colonial police force in Burma and produced three fine literary works: The novel Burmese Days (1934) and the essays "A Hanging" (1931) and "Shooting an Elephant" (1936).


Link: http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-ca-ulin26-2008oct26,0,5551013.story

Posted: 10/27/2008 5:09:21 AM 


Australia-Asia Literary Award

The long-list for the 2008 Australia-Asia Literary Award has been selected from 111 entries. Those on the list include, Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year,  Janet Turner Hospital's Orpheus Lost, Malouf's The Complete Stories and Haruki Murakami's novel After Dark,  Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Michelle de Krester's The Lost Dog,  Rodney Hall's Love without Hope and Alex Miller's Landscape of Farewell are also on the list. From the authors and titles on this list, it seems that literary fiction is alive and well in Asia.


It is a pity that there is no such award for crime fiction. One of the judges Nury Vittachi is a well-established crime fiction writer. It is interesting that he’s been brought in to judge this contest.


In order to enter this competition you must either reside in Australia or Asia or set your work in Australia or an Asian country, and either write or have your book translated into English and have been published in the past year. In any event, if you have a literary novel set in Australia or Asia, you might want to think about having your publisher submit for this award in 2009.

There are three judges - Melbourne literary critic Peter Craven, Pakistani-born author Kamila Shamsie and Hong Kong based founder of the Asia Literary Review Nury Vittachi.

Link: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24510371-5006789,00.html

Posted: 10/22/2008 4:54:52 AM 


Language of the Heart

Crime fiction centers on matters of the heart.

Understanding the emotions that defines the inner life of people goes a long ways to creating memorable characters. The deeper the understanding of the feelings of others, the more the characters in a work of fiction spring off the page as full-fledged, breathing and living people that readers can identify with. Empathy depends on the accuracy of how well the author relates those feelings to readers.


Authors who follow the emotional terrain of their characters in another culture have a significant learning curve before their local characters reach the same emotional depth as the characters from their own culture. The struggle of an expat writer is to find the heart beat of characters whose emotional life is defined by another language.

Most readers have the image of me as a novelist. Not that I would want that to change that perception for a moment but there is one non-fiction book that I am proud to have written. It has allowed a lot of foreigners a window into the core of the Thai language. That book is Heart Talk. 


One of the defining features of the Thai language is the abundance of “jai” phrases and expressions, which appear like a motherlode of gold with veins spreading in every direction. The literal translation of “jai” is heart. When I first started on my long road to learning Thai (a road that has no apparent end), I began to notice the frequent appearance of expressions, which used “jai” and asked my teacher how many “jai” phrases there were in the Thai language. She said 35 such expressions. This was in the period of 1990-1991 and no one I spoke with had anything but wild guesses as to the answer. The range was between 35 to 76 jai phrases.


In reality there were hundreds and hundreds of jai phrases and I went about systematically collecting, organizing and defining the phrases. Since 1992 when the first edition came out, two other editions, updating the previous one have appeared. The latest edition is the third edition of Heart Talk and it contains 743 jai phrases.


There is an excellent website Women Learning Thai which contains around 60 jai phrases (Nouns). For those starting the journey to learning and speaking Thai, Women Learning Thai is a good place to start. Here you will find a community of people exchanging opinions, views and stories about their experience in learning a new language. For anyone wishing to learn Thai, this is a great place to start.


As most of my readers know, I write a crime fiction series about a P.I. named Vincent Calvino. Without the background in researching and writing Heart Talk, the series would have less insight into the Thai cultural viewpoint, and without that anchor, it would be floating in a sea of hundreds of other books bout Thailand. If you want a copy of Heart Talk but don’t live in Thailand, you can buy a copy from this website.

Posted: 10/15/2008 1:15:10 AM 


The Vietnamese Connection

With the world financial meltdown one question is where will be the next opportunity to invest. If you’re a writer, businessman or investor, Vietnam might be on your list as the next place to be once things begin to improve internationally. This is a good time to research information about the Vietnamese market. The best information always comes from those in the inside.


A free seminar entitled "Business Opportunities in Vietnam" will be held on October 29, 2008, from 1:30 to 4:30 at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center. The Vietnamese Ambassador to Thailand will preside. Some of the top Thai business people who have invested in Vietnam will also be on the panel.


Mr. Christopher Runckel, Chairman of the U.S.-Vietnam Chamber of Commerce who is a featured speaker at the seminar is an old Asia Hand. He knows China, Vietnam and Thailand. Chris says that Vietnam is a top choice for investment. He likes the consistency of the government, the incentives and has high regard for the work ethnic of the people.


Here are the registration details: To register for the seminar on "Business Opportunities in Vietnam" on October 29, 2008 at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, from 1:30-4:30 pm, send your Name/Company Name/website/e-mail/phone information to e-mail address: seminar@Business-in-Asia.com attention: Khun Soraya, or by fax at 02-564-7865. Enrollments are accepted on a first come, first serve basis. Successful applicants will be notified by email.

Posted: 10/13/2008 6:06:30 AM 



Paying Back Jack, the 10th novel in the Vincent Calvino crime series, will be available to ship after 15th November. The first 25 readers who pre-order PAYING BACK JACK, will receive a signed copy. As investments go, a signed copy of JACK may yield a dividend in the future.


Here’s a preview of the new Calvino novel:


A retired general had a deadbeat tenant. Calvino is hired and though he get the money, the tenant is filled with the bitterness that only blood can wash away. But this is only the beginning of the bad blood. Rick Casey, an American, is after justice for the man who murdered his son in Thailand. Casey hires Calvino to follow Somporn’s minor wife. He is the allegedly mastermind the murder but he’s untouchable as an influential businessman, running for public office. As a Thai election approaches, Calvino’s investigation draws him into a murky world of private contractors, UN officials, and local politics. Calvino’s on a collision course with a professional team whose goal is to reduce a cosmic debt owed to a dead man named Jack.


Only 100 copies of Paying Back Jack can be shipped outside of Thailand. If you miss out on buying 1 of 100 copies of this edition, you’ll must wait until the Atlantic Monthly Press edition comes out in the Fall, 2009 or buy a copy in a bookstore in Thailand. Because of the restriction on the number of copies shipped overseas from Thailand, orders of Paying Back Jack are limited to no more than 2 copies per person.


You can pre-order you copy by clicking on: https://order.kagi.com/cgi-bin/r1.cgi?4D9


Once you click through to the order page, you will find JACK under Latest Releases.

Posted: 10/10/2008 12:16:34 AM 



A fair number of readers use libraries to satisfy their reading habit. The question is whether they can find a copy of The Risk of Infidelity Index or Spirit House in a library near where they live.


This has usually been a hit and miss affair. Now there is a website that let’s you answer that question: http://www.worldcat.org/ before you go out the door to hunt down a book on library shelves.


You’ll be able to track down the latest Vincent Calvino crime novel in the library close to where you live and work. A cool feature about this website is that it also tracks libraries internationally.


As a reference tool for library users, this website gets an “A.”


A tip of the hat to my friend Ronald Lieberman (Toronto, Ontario) for bringing this website to my attention.

Posted: 10/9/2008 11:30:25 PM 



This is the serious music for crime fiction lovers. While writing, I am usually plugged into an online Jazz/blues station. This weekend in Bangkok, there is a chance to catch a world-class jazz/blues singer.


Her name is Teresa Tudury and she’s from San Francisco. Teressa will be performing life in Bangkok for three shows on October 9th at Witches Tavern and at Tokyo Joe's on October 10th and 11th. She has played in the Bay Area for years, and was a former cast member for "Beach Blanket Babylon" and an actress on the Magic Theater. For the last two decades, Teresa has performed in Los Angeles where in addition to music gigs, she wrote comedy and worked as a character actress on stage and screen.


She comes to Bangkok with a reputation for a deep sultry voice that magnetizes audiences, and a scathing comedic wit to match.


Teresa has recorded with such greats as Rickie Lee Jones, Lyle Lovett, Taj Mahal, and Leo Kottke. I will likely go along on Friday night 10th October to hear her perform at Tokyo Joes. If you are in the neighborhood, drop by and say hello.

Posted: 10/9/2008 1:19:49 AM 


Mom Tri’s Boathouse Writer’s Night with Jim Newport

A public forum featuring English language authors is infrequent in Thailand. So when such a rare event does happen, it is worth drawing to your attention. On Wednesday 8th October 2008 from 19.00 to 21.00 hours, you can (if you are in Phuket) go along to hear author Jim Newport talk about his new book Chasing Jimi.

Newport is the author of the Vampire of Siam trilogy and is also an Emmy-nominated production designer. He will read from his latest novel Chasing Jimi - a fictional account of a year in the life ofJimi Hendrix. 


He’ll also read from his entertaining ‘behind the scenes’ journals on the making of Bangkok Dangerous* and the TV series LOST.


I’ve heard Jim Newport speak and sing. He puts on an entertaining and lively show.


Location: Mom Tri's Boathouse - On the Beach at Kataa 076 33 0015

Posted: 10/6/2008 1:37:35 AM 



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