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Blog Archive September 2008

ASIAN HEROES AND VILLIANS II

One mistake in yesterday's blog -- The Charlie Chan films didn't start up in the 1940s. Mark Schreiber informs me that the Chan movies can be traced back to the early 30s. He also sent along an interesting piece of trivia: the first Charlie Chan film was a silent movie released in 1928, featuring George Kuwa, a Japanese-American as the Honolulu detective.

Posted: 9/30/2008 1:57:41 AM 

 

ASIAN HEROES AND VILLIANS

Mark Schreiber, a leading crime fiction critic in Asia, has an article in the Japan Times this weekend entitled:

Western heroes in Asia: missing and believed dead.

Schreiber writes: “I suddenly realized that spy stories, thrillers and police procedurals set in this part of the world, in which Caucasian superheroes get to whack sinister Asian villains, have been rapidly disappearing.”

 

He also talks about the Vincent Calvino novels as a partial exception to his thesis:

 

“Vinnie Calvino, Canadian author Christopher G. Moore's Bangkok-based private eye, would seem to be one of the few exceptions of Western characters still on the prowl; but when serious trouble strikes, the hard-boiled American frequently relies on an influential Thai police official to intervene on his behalf.”

 

Schreiber, who has his finger on the pulse of Asian crime fiction, thrillers and mysteries, may have come across a weeding out process in publishing. His website Steamy East Heroes and Villains is the best resource to explore past and present crime fiction set in Asia.


It is very difficult to get anything published by a traditional publisher. I suspect this may have stopped fresh blood arriving in Asia from writing novels. Though looking at the local bookstores the shelves have new locally published novels by the truckload. That secondary market is still going but the question of whether it is healthy is another question.


Schreiber is no doubt talking about international publishing and the larger commercial publishers in New York and London that buy books set around the world. Another factor—more Asians are writing fiction set in Asia those books are finding their way to the West. I can't prove it, but I would suspect (but can't prove) that most readers would prefer a noir novel set in China, Japan or Thailand, where the central characters are Asian, to be written by an Asian author, as it would appear to be more authentic than one penned by a non-Asian author. The luk-krueng or half-farang, half-Asian character is the “in between” two worlds hero, and since he or she is neither fish nor fowl, more liberties can be taken and readers can attribute shortcomings to the half of the character they are less familiar with.

 

There are a few other authors who have cast foreigners as heroes in thrillers or mysteries set in Asia. Dean BarrettStephen Leather and Timothy Hallinan. As far as I can tell, Timothy Hallinan is the only other author published by a major US publisher who has started a series in Asia with a farang character in the lead role, and his two novels have received acclaim from reviewers.

 

Gone are the days of broad stereotypes like Charlie Chan. Earl Derr Biggers American Chinese character who appeared in novels (starting in 1925) and films in the 1940s. The evolution of fiction about Asia shows how far writers have come since the early Chan novels, and illustrates the demands of readers for a more realistic contemporary setting and heroes who aren’t caricatures playing to type. 

 

Schreiber’s conclusion is a good one for aspiring writers. If you are going to set a book in Asia and use a foreigner as the central character, don’t make him a secret agent or spy.  He recommends a more fertile occupation for such a character would be: “Western diplomats, military attaches, investigative journalists, engineers, insurance claims investigators, researchers and scientists . . .”

Posted: 9/29/2008 12:34:00 AM 

 

New York in November

In November I will be in a New York for a week. I will attend the special ceremony for Barney Rosset on the 19th of November. 

 

The New York Times ran a good piece by Charles McGrath about Barney Rosset titled: Publisher Who Fought Puritanism, and Won.

 

“On Nov. 19 Mr. Rosset will receive a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation in honor of his many contributions to American publishing, especially his groundbreaking legal battles to print uncensored versions of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer.” He is also the subject of “Obscene,” a documentary by Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’Connor, which opens on Friday at Cinema Village.”

 

Barney is a publishing legend and has been to Thailand a number of times with his wife Astrid. He fought major censorship cases in the United States that cost him a personal fortune. But he never gave up the fight.

Posted: 9/26/2008 5:40:20 AM 

 

Calvino Publishing Update

My US publisher Grove/Atlantic will release the trade paperback edition of  The Risk of Infidelity Index in January 2009. Here’s a preview of the cover:

Posted: 9/26/2008 5:38:24 AM 

 

Paying Back Jack

The Heaven Lake Press edition of the 10th Vincent Calvino novel, Paying Back Jack, will be out in early December in Thailand. The distribution for this edition is limited to the Thailand. The Grove/Atlantic edition will be out worldwide in the Fall, 2009.

Posted: 9/26/2008 5:32:51 AM 

 

SEARCHING FOR A LITERARY AGENT

Like many published authors, I receive emails asking how the sender can find a literary agent to represent their work. No question that this is a tough time to break into publishing. Not that, as far as I can see, was there ever an easy time.

The first hurdle for any writer is to find an agent. Without an agent there is a slim to none chance that a publisher will consider you book. Thirty years ago, you could have submitted an over the transom manuscript. Today I doubt modern offices have transoms.

In August, Writer’s Digest published an article by Chuck Sambuchino titled: 28 Agents Who Want Your Work.

The article assembles an impressive list of literary agents who are open to submissions from new writers. You don’t need to have a “connection” or a “platform” or “celebrity status” to be considered. What you need is a really compelling book. If you have one, then here is a place to start in the publishing process.

A tip of the hat to Lee Goldberg creator of the Monk book/TV series.

Posted: 9/18/2008 1:13:29 AM 

 

Georges Simenon
Dirty Snow
Afterword: William T. Vollmann

Georges Simenon, the Belgian writer, who died in 1989, authored 200 novels, 150 novellas, among other works and wrote under a couple of dozen pseudonyms. If one had counted all of Raymond Chandler’s books, and for the hell of it, added his bar bills to make another dozen books, Chandler’s output would still remain a small fraction of what Simenon produced. But Simenon’s work rarely features in the discussion of modern fiction. Simenon, the man, is often thought of as a legendary lover. To have one’s fiction largely forgotten and one’s sex adventures remembered is one of those roll of the dice outcomes. In Simenon’s case, the number of conquest he notched up with a sniper’s methodical record keeping vastly out numbered his books.

 

Simenon’s most famous series beginning in 1931 and ending in 1972 ran for 75 novels; the series featured the French police detective, Inspector Julies Maigret Simenon also wrote literary novels. Dirty Snow falls in that category and is set in an unnamed country during the occupation by an enemy force. It is most likely drawn on Simenon’s experience of living in France during the Nazi occupation. (Simenon was accused of being a German collaborator during WWII and banned from writing for five years after the war ended.) The lead character named Frank, a nineteen year old, has killed his first man, ambushing him at night, sticking a knife in his ribs and stealing his service revolver. Frank lives with his mother who runs a brothel from her apartment in a building where the inhabitants are hostile to the occupiers and to Frank and his mother, who they suspect are collaborators. Given the soldiers and police who rule with an iron-fist in the occupation are the paying customers at the brothel, their suspicions about Frank and his mother ring true.

 

Dirty Snow is a chilling example of noir fiction. Those in the black market seize their opportunities, do business with the enemy, enrich themselves with shady deals and murder, and soon act as if they are invincible. The dance between the Occupation authorities and Frank and his friends slowly reveals that behind the curtain of collaboration no one remains untainted or safe; that while fear corrodes the morale of many, leaving an exhausted few to draw upon the strength to resist the occupiers. As a story of occupation, terror, hubris, secrecy and how power causes people to lose their perspective, their sense of humanity and ultimately their life.

Dirty Snow answers the debate between what is noir and what is hardboiled fiction.

 

Nothing is fiction rolls us through gutter of alienation, throws dirt in our vision of pure white snow as this example of noir writing. Simenon reminds us, that in noir, there is no escape from the darkness of our doomed destiny.

 

The above piece will also run this Friday 14 November 2008 on the Forgotten Books column. Link: http://pattinase.blogspot.com

Posted: 9/12/2008 6:31:53 AM 

 

The Risk of Infidelity Index

The 9th novel in the Vincent Calvino series published by Atlantic Books has had substantial support from the UK press. The Tribune Magazine reviewer Peter Whittaker has this to say about RISK:

 

“THE central character of Christopher Moore’s debut crime novel is Vincent Calvino, a disgraced Italian-American lawyer who has decamped to Thailand and reinvented himself as a private investigator. But the word debut here does not mean that either the author or his character is a wet-behind-the-ears neophyte because Moore has written 18 books, all published in Thailand, of which this is the ninth to feature Calvino. Moore offers an explanation of sorts for this state of affairs which casts a not-entirely favourable light on the vagaries of international publishing. That aside, the important questions are can Moore write and is he worth reading? On the evidence of this novel, the answers are unequivocally yes.

 

“Calvino is a sympathetic, doubt-ridden character and Moore can pilot a twisting plot with skill and panache. . . .”

Continue reading

Posted: 9/10/2008 11:28:30 PM 

 

Finding Answers online, Finding Truth offline

We’ve become obese with information. The critical facility to shed the useless information that only adds lard, slowing down the brain, until it is only able to receive raw, unfiltered information. Consumerism has absorbed our privacy, and instead has given us spectacle and brands and celebrities. Information retrieval, noble in principle, has become a machine tailor made to reinforce positions, prejudices, and attitudes. No one’s mind is changed in the new world. The Internet has become a place where like mind forges alliances to sell a bill of goods. They troll for buyers. It is a great place for cultist, bigots, shoot from the lip experts, and like the borg, pulls the user into the collective community.

 

The Internet has freed people from thinking. And instead has created a new commons for drive by shouters and crackpots, the Internet as their weapon of choice to machine-gun their opponents. Unfortunately we accept that their rants and screams as information. There is premise that every voice is equal; that every view deserves respect and discussion.

 

Our culture of reflection and critique is stalling. That much is clear no matter where you look, who is in power, whose economy is crashing, or who is spinning. We have the equivalent of a machine that is all spin, the wash cycle broken. Passion is easy to spin. It requires no hard numbers, no complex ideas, no reflection drawn from the hardscrabble lessons found in history.

 

“The problem of the Internet, according to Weizenbaum, is that it invites us to see it as a Delphic oracle. The Internet will provide the answer to all our questions and problems. But the Internet is not a vending machine in which you throw a coin and then get what you want. The key, here, is the acquisition of a proper education in order to formulate the right query. It's all about how one gets to pose the right question. For this one needs education and expertise. Higher standards of education are not attained by making it easier to publish. Weizenbaum: "The fact that anyone can put anything online does not mean a great deal. Randomly throwing something in achieves just as little as randomly fishing something out." Communication alone will not lead to useful and sustainable knowledge.”

 

Link: The society of the query and the Googlization of our lives

A tribute to Joseph Weizenbaum, by Geert Lovink

Posted: 9/8/2008 5:51:40 AM 

 

Moore’s Chandler Law

There are a fair number of private eye series published in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Having nine novels in published the Vincent Calvino series, and generally following the reviews and commentary on books in this genre, it is interesting to consider the probability of a comparison made to Raymond Chandler and his private investigator, Philip Marlowe.

 

I propose a new law for the fictional world of private eye literature. Moore’s Chandler Law is:

 

As a P.I. series grows, the probability of a comparison involving Raymond Chandler or Philip Marlowe approaches one.

 

My Vincent Calvino series is no exception to the rule. Link: http://www.cgmoore.com/viewpoints/Press_Kit_July08.pdf

Posted: 9/5/2008 1:38:24 AM 

 

Bangkok Dangerous and A Haunting Smile

The Nick Cage action film Bangkok Dangerous has opened to good reviews in the United States. The New Yorker  liked it as well. Next week the film will open in Bangkok. My friend Jim Newport, who is the guy responsible for the great sets in the film, invited me out to the set during the production of the film. The bell tower in Prague was recreated on a vast sound stage in Bangkok. I had a chance to see the scene unfold one evening.

 

 

I have another connection with the film. One of my books appears in several shots.

The basic story is Nick Cage comes to Bangkok as a hitman with a mission.

In one scene, Cage is cleaning his handgun, in advance of action.

If you look carefully in the lower right hand corner you will see a copy of A Haunting Smile.

I have it on good authority that Nick Cage picked that book to be in the shot.

It is unclear whether he knew that A Haunting Smile was set in Bangkok during the 1992 coup. Bangkok Dangerous was shot as the 2006 coup unfolded, and has been released in 2008 as demonstrators have taken over Government House in an attempt to force out the government elected late last year. Having A Haunting Smile in the shot is appropriate for a gunman on his way to carry out a mission.

 

The screen time will be about the same as my one time part in a TV movie called Covert Action. If you blinked, you would have missed me. Even if you don't blink, it is likely you won't pick out the book on the hitman's table.

Posted: 9/5/2008 12:44:22 AM 

 

State of Emergency

By mid-morning Bangkok was boiling hot. People had awakened to discover that a state of emergency had been declared. Overnight the inevitable happened: blood has been spilled in the streets of Bangkok. Pro and anti-government clashed. News reports say one upcountry man was killed and forty-four others injured.

 

This morning and early afternoon driving on Bangkok streets everything appeared, on the surface, normal. People were shopping, eating in restaurants, walking on the streets. But  across town in the area around Government House, a different story unfolds. If the story were a noir novel, then it is at the point in the story, where the abject bleakness and despair descends as the main characters seek a final confrontation.

 

Final solution. Final confrontation. Words shoot overhead like flares. No one knows what happens next. Once a landscape has been bloodied, in the fog of battle, accusations and insults and threats fill the sky like circling birds, looking for prey or a place to land. No one can be sure. All a foreigner can do is hunker down, wait, and watch as deeper instincts, the ones that mark our species as dangerous, take flight. In times such as these, it seems that for all of our knowledge, technology and insights, there is an untamable nature that is raw, enraged, determined, and brutal. Isn’t that the definition of noir? The id breaks free and goes on a rampage. The psychic cauldron erupts destroying the illusion of civility; that under the surface, there is a beast waiting, fangs and claws showing, occupying the no-man’s land, where one man’s right becomes another’s wrong. 

 

In noir books and movies everyone is cast as a victim. They have no way out no matter what they do. They are doomed. The characters glide through the motions of an ordinary life—but it is anything but ordinary as it is shaded the colors of fear and uncertainty. People are served up with the daily bowl of rice not knowing if there will be another bowl in the evening. The waiting continues in early afternoon. A novelist would wish to write a different kind of thriller. One that was hard-boiled Bangkok. A tough place, but at the end there is the possibility of redemption; a thin ray of hope. Just enough to give the characters courage to believe that tomorrow might bring an end to the confrontation and violence. That tomorrow all sides remember that life matters. That’s the book people want to read about Bangkok. Noir between the pages is an entirely different experience than noir in the streets.

 

Much has been learnt in Thailand since Black May 1992. I lived through that period. I walked the streets at the time and saw the aftermath of violence. I heard the gunfire. That dark period, like 1976, changed the attitude of many people. In 2008 there is far more restraint exercised by the authorities in the way they deal with demonstrations than in the past. The ultimate test to the limits of that restraint is now under way. Whether the outcome is noir or hardboiled turns on resolve to maintain restraints on the use of violence. Once that resolve is lost, the outcome is inevitably noir.

Posted: 9/2/2008 3:35:00 AM 

 

 

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