Thailand Footprint: People, Things, Literature, Music and Henry Miller too. Forget Yourself Here

Dude Vinci illustration by Colin Cotterill

Dude Da Vinci illustration by Colin Cotterill

There are many things I like about being a blogger. As an example I can come up with an idea to do a blog post on book pirating over the internet and discuss two books, The Dude De Ching by Colin Cotterill (among others) and Hunters In The Dark by Lawrence Osborne, the latter being a new hardcover release by Random House, and there is no one around to tell me that’s a bad idea. The pirating idea isn’t even mine. That came up in the interview I did with Colin Cotterill, recently, on this site where he said, “That public is dying out and being replaced by a Kindle generation. And with e-reads comes pirating.” I have heard about books being pirated and readily available over the internet but I’d never actually gone to the trouble of trying to find a pirated book. Authors need to eat too. So I thought I’d give it a go and spent an internet eternity focused on one goal  (approximately twenty minutes) trying to capture an illegal copy of a copyrighted book, all in the name of literary research, of course. I focused on Cotterill’s books since based on his quote he gave me some hope of an ill gotten gain. I tried and tried and there are a lot of what seem like free downloads out there but inevitably they all lead to BestBookLibrary which always brought you to BuzzPlay.net. BuzzPlay looked legit enough but they want your credit card info, which I thought odd since all I wanted to do was violate copyright laws, not actually purchase anything. When I did a little research on BuzzPlay it seems they are the equivalent of the lawyer who will sue you for walking or sue you for standing still. It makes no difference to them. BuzzPlay will charge your card whether you want them to or not – monthly it seems – and then charge your card if you want to cancel your membership from getting free illegal books which I guess aren’t free after all. No word on how much of their fees trickle down to the actual authors who wrote the books.

The Dude De Ching

There were some good things that occurred during my search for literary booty. I had never heard of The Dude De Ching – ever. I know, I need to get to Dasa Books more. I wanted to buy it the old fashioned way. With One Click straight to my Kindle. But it wasn’t available in Kindle format and it must be some kind of collectors item as the paperback goes for $68.00 for this book, released in 2010. So much for my legal pursuit of The Dude.

Later, just for the fun of it, I tried to see if I could get an illegal copy of Hunters In The Dark. I knew this would be a tougher treasure as it is a new release, and sure enough it is being offered for free by those same shady BuzzPlay characters if you’re willing to cough up your credit card info. What happens after that I have no idea.

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Asia Books told me the hard cover of Hunters In The Dark by Lawrence Osborne will available around June 21st, 2015. I’m looking forward to that read and doing a real old-fashioned purchase from a real bookstore. Hunters In The Dark is set in Cambodia with Thailand scenes. The reviews I’ve seen are glowing.

While I came up empty handed in my search for pirate treasure I was glad that was the outcome. As McMurphy said to his psychiatric ward friends in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, “But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.” It’s always interesting to try something different.

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Avoid the rush and learn about author Jack Fielding, now, at Thailand Footprint. Jack’s not particularly into self-promotion, which may be one reason I had not heard of him, until recently. My first thought after reading his writing: life isn’t fair. But we all knew that already, right? Jack currently resides in London and has spent a considerable amount of time living, writing, and working in Thailand. Jack enjoys the theatre, particularly if it is of the absurd. The strange worlds of Jack Fielding can be found on his blog, where he takes a satirical look at films, books and other things with a Zen point of view: http://jackfieldingauthor.blogspot.com

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From his author web site found at jackfieldingauthor.com: Jack Fielding has worked and traveled throughout the world. Always drawn to the absurd and improbable, Jack has modeled cowboy hats in Tokyo, dined with General Franco’s English interpreter in Paraguay, informally coached Bangkok’s premier Elvis impersonator and once starred in a German travel commercial with​ a plastic ​dinosaur called Bernard. In his darker moments Jack describes himself as a “not terribly strident Zen Buddhist.”

Thailand Footprint welcomes Jack Fielding with mild trepidation.

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KC: Greetings, Jack. I like your style. Your writing style. Your blog style. You even pull off wearing a hat and glasses with a certain panache. It’s been said you write absurdly entertaining fiction, often with a Zen edge. How would you explain your writing style to those unfortunates out there who are unfamiliar with it?

JF: Thank you and its great to be on Thailand Footprint! I seriously love books and everything to do with them – especially when they’ve got some kind of connection with Thailand. Digital books or trad I don’t mind. Just so long as they’re creative and out there!

​​​​​​For my One Hand Clapping stories, I guess I write in a minimalist fast-paced style. Hard-hitting. Less is more. When I’m actually  writing I visualize the narrative being played out as a Tarantino or spaghetti western movie. I suppose I’m writing what I see.  So my style is definitely born out of that. With Zen Ambulance I’ve tried to pare the narrative down even further, to give a stronger ‘Zen’ kick. I’ve also made up my own words, to help create a unique ‘one hand clapping’ world, fusing East and West.

JF

I write across genres. So Shadows and Pagodas – an outrageous gothic tale set in Old Siam – has a more traditional style. I’ve even thrown in the odd archaic bit of English and Thai vocab – really love the idea of breathing life into long-forgotten words! Plus plenty of literary and movie references, too. With Neville Changes Villages I’ve stuck to a contemporary and relaxed style, reflecting the fact it’s a straightforward comedy about a guy in real-life Thailand in the 90s.

KC: What is the focus, if you have one, for your very original blog, Pulp Zen?

JF: Because I write across genres I thought my readers would enjoy a blog devoted exclusively to the ‘pulp Zen’ concept. Like the books, Pulp Zen draws in a lot of things really. Not only Zen Buddhism but samurai and spaghetti western movies, nikkatsu cinema and American / British noir. Teddy Boys, rockabilly. Retro streets. Vintage comics. Also very much about retro Thailand, you know back to 50s Bangkok and much earlier. I’m really fascinated by it, especially as there’s so little physically left. Zen City is particularly hot on breathing new life into all that long lost social history.

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KC: Talk about death, just for the fun of it. 

JF: One of the themes in my books is death and absurdity – always a laugh a minute around here – so I’ll share what I think by way of a true story:

At one time I was keeping a low profile in a fleapit river town called Concepcion in Paraguay. Every damned night I was plagued by the same dream: I was a young German guy called Nobby Tirpitz, working on a giant airship as a lavatory attendant in 2nd class. I had this special mop, given to me by my grandfather Othmar who had run a public convenience in Hamburg railway station. Anyway, I was in terrible danger in that airship. Trapped in the lavatory while a terrible fire raged outside, acrid smoke pouring in and the airship listing badly. Using my penknife I just had time to carve a message on the handle of the mop then shove it through a tiny porthole. There was an awful roaring noise…then I woke up.

Years later I was living in Thailand and teaching English. Porntip was one of my best female students and one night she invited me to her family house in Don Muang (where the old international airport used to be). Her dad was a colonel in the air force. Well, I met the folks and had fantastic meal. Then her dad took me into the garage to see his collection of memorabilia. Medals, a WW2 Japanese flag and an oxygen mask, that kind of thing. And then I noticed what looked like a wooden pole. It seemed out of place so I asked him about it. He explained it was a broom handle from the Hindenburg, the airship that had exploded in 1937. Said it had some writing on it but it was in German. Well, I knew German and picked it up. I went all cold. The handle seemed strangely familiar. Then I read the writing. Incredibly it was the message I’d written in the dream – ‘Anyone want to buy a cheap airship!’

You know, I’ve never forgotten that uncanny dream and the mysterious mop handle. Death, rebirth and multiple lives. I suppose it also explains why lavatories keep appearing in my books. In Zen City, Palmer is in one when he experiences the ghastly dream sequence at the end. Milo the assassin-monk emerges from a weird roadside toilet in Zen Ambulance and Neville’s family keep surprising him when he’s sat on the bog inVillages.

One thing’s for sure – ever since, no matter where I am in the world, I’ve always tipped big when I use public lavatories.

Like I said, death and absurdity.

Zen City

​KC: That’s the best mop handle story I’ve heard since … well, that’s the only mop handle story I’ve ever heard. One of my favorite fictitious private eyes of all-time, Nick Danger, was once told a good line in the Rocky Rococo caper. It went, “You can’t get there from here.” You said earlier, it’s always a laugh a minute around here.  How would you describe your, here? And throw in a few there’s also. Where have you been? But leave out Paraguay if you don’t mind.

JF: “You can’t get there from here” is a brilliant line really. Love it, especially when they’re laconic. I’ve always been interested in the military history of the Spartans and they were famous for it. At the battle of Thermopylae Leonidas apparently said to his 300, “Either that’s the Persian army or the new vacuum cleaners have arrived.”

Now where was I? Oh, yes. Where is ‘here’? To be honest, I don’t know.  I’ve never been able to stay in one place for very long. I hitch-hiked to Normandy when I was sixteen and never looked back really. I don’t own a car or property, always spending my wedge on trying to get to places – the less fashionable and visited the better. Either to live in or hang out in bars and cafes. Shooting the breeze with strangers, getting to know people. Listening rather than talking (and taking copious notes afterwards). I’m wary of trotting out a list of places I’ve been to – I hate that approach to travel. Going to other people’s countries is always a privilege, one that most of the planet’s population don’t have.

Having said that, you did ask! Well, lived in Finland for a while, in a Helsinki suburb. As a genuine English Teddy Boy, in a country where 50s rock and roll was mainstream, I was briefly a legend in my own lunchtime. That was also where I met my first wife (short marriage, long story). Inspired by the final sequence in Elvira Madigan, I got my butterfly tattoo in the sailor’s quarter in Copenhagen. I lived on a Prague council estate in the 80s (during their first free elections) and hung out in the St Thomas pub with some ex-cons who wore pinstripe suits with very wide lapels. I’ve been shouted at in Algiers, tricked into buying an expensive pair of slippers by a blind African man in Paris and getting my bottom pinched mercilessly by a Guarani Indian girl on the Argentine border. I think her name was Marina. Strong grip, too. Throughout the 90s I was forever crossing borders into Laos, Cambodia and Kelantan. Later, I spent quite a bit of time living near a sex shop in Transylvania and in Pest I ended up being a sort of unofficial therapist to a manic depressive café owner who was owned by an Arab gentleman – the girl that is, not the cafe.

Inevitably, I’ve also spent a fair bit of time in Britain. Although my experiences here haven’t always been as positive. Getting my nose broken by an amateur boxer in a working men’s club in Newcastle (he bought me a pint afterwards), thrown on the tube tracks in east London, racially abused in Leicester and completely failing to buy a Polish sausage in High Wycombe.

Zen Ambulance

KC: I’m intrigued by your making up your own words in your One Hand Clapping novels. Give me some examples of those words and their definitions.

JF: Yes, one of the ways I’ve tried to build the One Hand Clapping world is to create a unique vocab, fusing fact and fiction, East and West. Also provide info on retro Asia (particularly Thailand) and related matters which I thought my readers might find interesting. Here’s something I posted on my Strange Worlds blog a while back:

Atomic Age – the mid to late 1950s.

Bushido / ‘the code’ – warrior code of the Japanese samurai that drew on Zen Buddhism and Shinto teachings. A warped movie-trivia version of the code was adopted by the Colonel’s psychopathic gunfighters, the Four Truths.

Generalissimo Vissaek – fascist dictator of Siam and ally of the Axis powers.

Iso Isetta – the iconic ‘little Iso’ bubble car was designed by Renzo Rivolta, a successful manufacturer of refrigerators. These wonderful cars were incredibly expensive in Bangkok because of the heavy import duty.

Kamikaze Boogie – Thai rockabilly hit penned and sung by Johnny Izu.

Kouk Moun Kid – the long-forgotten star of home-grown Siamese Westerns.

Noir Age – roughly, the 1940s and early 50s.

Siam – the original name of Thailand. It was changed by Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram in 1949 as part of his modernisation programme, along with making men wear hats, women wear gloves and everyone putting on shoes when they went outside.

‘Siamese salute’ – slang term used by some foreigners in the Noir Age. It refers to the traditional Thai greeting, which involves bringing the hands together. Properly called a wai.

Shoho – name of a notorious girl gang, it means ‘Auspicious Phoenix’. The girls took the name from a famous aircraft carrier in the Imperial Japanese Navy.

‘slippy shippy’ – slang term for goods smuggled into the Bangkok docks by ship.

Teddy Boy – Street fashion that erupted on British streets in the early 1950s and quickly adopted by cool yakuza. It celebrated an Edwardian look, replete with velvet-collared drape jackets and waistcoats. Die-hard Teds can still be found in remote parts of Britain.

Ticals – currency used in 1940s Siam. Plenty of references to it in Reynolds’ novel, A Woman of Bangkok.

Amazingly, I’m still in one piece. Like Vivien Leigh I’ve always depended on the kindness of others. And, of course, being a good listener and non-judgemental helps – as does being able to retreat into my inner world. Maybe that’s where ‘here’ really is.

KC: I have enjoyed this interview, Jack. More than I would admit publicly. What’s on the horizon for Jack Fielding? What are you working on personally and professionally? 

JF: Yeah, this interview has been excellent actually, and tweaking the nose of absurdity along the way always helps! Actually, on a slightly more serious note, your questions have also prompted me to reflect, not only my writing but also what I’ve got up to over the years. As Orson Palmer would say, No one is more surprised than me.

I’m currently finishing off the latest version of Neville Changes Villages, with the help of the author Matt Carrell. All about a dysfunctional English guy teaching in Thailand in the 90s. The basic theme isn’t exactly new – but I think the way I tell it is! You know, giving it the ‘Jack Fielding’ treatment.

Then I’m working on a collection of short stories. They’re retro sci-fi, inspired by the vintage comics of Alan Class like Creepy Worlds and Astounding Stories. But instead of being American the stories are set in Siam. They’re a mix of absurdity, crime, speculation, dark comedy and just the plain weird. Inspired by our interview, there might be a guest appearance by one Nobby Tirptiz.

After that, I’m either going to get back to the One Hand Clapping stories (I’ve got rough drafts for about four more of those) or I might take a different direction. I’ve got the beginnings of a novel about a dysfunctional young guy growing up in south-east London in the early twentieth century and his involvement with the new film industry. It will link in with the mysterious Shadows of Siam film that gets mentioned in Zen City, Iso. Also it will be a bit of homage to the lost world of British silent films, which I’m quite keen on.

On a personal level, I could well be moving to Switzerland later in the year. It will be a brilliant place to raise my family. And at some point I really, really need to get back and visit Thailand. Apart from family, friends and wonderful temples, it’s important my two children develop their Thai heritage. Oh, and I want to take my family to the home of Kukrit Pramoj, the author of the superb Four Reigns, to pay our respects.

My two young children are absolutely wonderful. All my creative work is ultimately dedicated to them. If they show any signs of creativity in any form, I’m determined to encourage and nurture it. I don’t want them to be like me – it took me literally years to pluck up the courage before I finally put pen to paper. Lack of self-belief is a terrible thing. When my children are older, I hope my books work will inspire them to work hard, be creative, keep moving. That’s my main motivation really. And the fact that I need to get all these damned stories out of my head and onto paper!

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about my books and also the more personal stuff. Really appreciated.

KC: Thank-you, Jack. Keep the Zen edge and the absurd outlook coming. Here’s to hoping I never get a tip from you in my next life. 

Send Jack a Facebook friend request HERE

Jack’s books may be found at the various Amazon sites.

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a_nose_for_trouble What is it about a pleasant fragrance that makes it appealing? What makes two people click? Often times it comes down to chemistry. Award winning photographer Hans Kemp (Burmese Light; Bikes of Burden; Carrying Cambodia) has entered the crowded private investigator genre under his pen name of Jonathan Kemp. Chicago P.I. Scanner Grant is teamed with a curvaceous ball buster of a beauty, Maxine Zwoelstra as they set out to solve two crimes: the murder of a young Tibetan girl on American soil and a missing person case, which smells more like Limburger cheese. The latter case involves searching for Max’s father and takes the duo to Hong Kong and the casinos of Macao. Kemp has put his keen sense of observation and Scanner’s olfactory system to good use in A Nose For Trouble. Physical descriptions and settings are well written with attention paid to detail. The first time novelist mixes an assortment of memorable characters, historical events, hot, spicy and believable sex scenes, along with a dead body or three in an entertaining but at times overly complex mystery. The characters include a Chicago Taxi driver with Tibetan leanings, a Vietnamese pimp, a Nazi scientist and my personal favorite a good old Aussie bloke who ends up down under.

Of the two main characters, Scanner and Max, both were developed well by Kemp but I enjoyed the time when the sultry Max was on the page or the crime solving pair were together more than when Scanner was flying solo. As dynamic duos go the scale is tipped heavily in Max’s favor. Scanner likes his sex – but he resists the ample temptations of Max; they stick to the business at hand, which turned out to be a good call. Scanner has few vices and isn’t crazy about toting a gun in gun crazy America or elsewhere – not that there’s anything wrong with that. The narrative tends to moralize a bit much, which I found distracting at times as it didn’t always propel the story forward. I get that corporate greed and skyrocketing real estate prices are bad for many. I couldn’t connect the dots as to how that effects a Hong Kong hooker turning her third trick of the day. The historical components were interesting about Germany and Tibet in particular and I have no doubt they are accurate even though they weren’t taught in any history classes I took. No surprises there. It is one reason I read fiction by knowledgeable and well traveled people like Kemp, to find out the truth. For humorous moments don’t look to Scanner for levity – a wisecracking P.I. he is not. The cab driving Lobsong is interjected at just the right times to entertain the reader in his own unique eastern way.

All in all Kemp gets a lot of things right with his initial novel. Is the writing and protagonist equal to the Detective Maier mysteries written by his partner at Crime Wave Press, Tom Vater? Not yet, in my opinion but by pairing Scanner and Max he’s given us a whiff of things to come. Kemp opens his novel with an explosive scene involving a 1978 NBA basketball broadcast, which referenced one of my favorite players, Brian Winters of the Milwaukee Bucks. Al McGuire coached at Marquette University in Milwaukee during the 1970s where he won an NCAA Basketball Championship. Al once said, “The best thing about a sophomore is they become a junior.” He meant experience matters. The best thing, in my opinion, about a Scanner and Max Mystery by Jonathan Kemp, will not be A Nose For Trouble. It will be the sequel, which has been set up perfectly. Scanner and Max have good chemistry together. And unlike perfume that’s something you cannot buy.

Click Above Picture to go to Crime Wave Press Site

Click Above Picture to go to Crime Wave Press Site

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Henry

“This is my seventieth year of ping-pong playing,” Henry Miller wrote in 1971. “I started at the age of 10 on the dining room table. I take on players from all over the world. I play a steady, defensive Zen-like game. The importance of my recreation lies in preventing intellectual discussions. No matter how important or glamorous an opponent may be, I never let him or her distract me.”

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A picture I took at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California – Summer 2014

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Write a book. Hell, I can do that. How hard can it be? I was sitting with a bunch of authors who had written a bunch of books, over a year ago at Checkinn99. So I told the owner, Chris Catto-Smith, “I’m going to write a book of non-fiction stories, which will include a chapter about the history of Checkinn99.” The cabaret bar owner and former Royal Air Force jet airline pilot replied, “Good idea.” It sure seemed like one at the time.

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CARRYING CAMBODIA – A PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK By Conor Wall and Hans Kemp

Yesterday I was in Checkinn99 again. It was a good day. I brought my longtime friend Bill there for the first time and he really enjoyed himself. The music was great as usual. Early on I spotted the photographer, Hans Kemp, sitting with a group so I went up to his table for a quick chat. Crime Wave Press recently published Hans’ first novel, A NOSE FOR TROUBLE under his pen name of Jonathan Kemp. I’ve already purchased A NOSE FOR TROUBLE for my Kindle. It has a great action packed beginning including some 1970s NBA basketball references, which I particularly enjoyed. I’m looking forward to reviewing the novel after I finish it. I asked Hans, a very accomplished photographer and publisher, about his experience of writing his first novel. “It was harder than I thought,” the creator of numerous books on photographic topics, including Carrying Cambodia, and Bikes of Burden said. That made me laugh, as I’ll soon be crossing home plate after a long round-tripper, completing my first and I am pretty sure last book, Bangkok Beat.

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Hans has already received his first four Amazon reviews with an average rating of 4.8. You can click the picture above to learn more about Hans’ debut crime novel, A Nose For Trouble, which is available now.

Neil Gaiman has a great quote that I came across recently. I believe it to be true. It is:

Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.

I do not expect Bangkok Beat to be a failure. The only way it would be a failure is if I failed to do what I said I would do. When it comes out that will be success enough for me. As the saying goes, I have learned a lot during the process. I happen to like Neil Gaiman, as a writer and as someone who gives advice to writers, no matter what their skill level may be. Here is one of my favorite pieces of advice from Neil: “Tell your story… as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell — because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you … but you are the only you.”

If I were a younger man and a baseball player I’d be looking for a tryout in the rookie league. In professional baseball you have: A Ball, Double A, Triple A, and the Major Leagues. I’ve known guys who have played baseball at each of those levels. Self publishing allows just about everyone to be a rookie and make those inevitable rookie mistakes.

What have I learned? Neil is right. There will always be writers better than I could ever hope to be. Three Bangkok based writers of non-fiction come straight to mind: Lawrence Osborne, Jim Algie and Christopher G. Moore. They also write fiction better than I ever could but at least I have been smart enough, so far, not to tred on that turf. Before you ever buy Bangkok Beat make sure you have read Bangkok Days by Lawrence, Bizarre Thailand by Jim ,and The Age of Dis-Consent by Christopher. These three gentlemen have been in the Major Leagues for a long time and it shows. But if and when you are ready to read stories that only I could tell, I do hope you will consider buying Bangkok Beat even though there are hundreds of thousands of choices out there.

Stay tuned to Thailand Footprint for an upcoming profile of Checkinn99 owner Chris Catto-Smith.

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Kevin Cummings:

“Vanity is my favorite sin.” Al Pacino … A timely blog post by Jame DiBiasio, which he kindly allows for reblogging. Timely in that I’ll soon be published by the renowned Frog in the Mirror Press, a Big 666 Publisher if ever there was one …

Originally posted on Asia Hacks:

The stigma of ‘vanity publishing’ has been lessened or even eliminated – among those who engage in it. There are also huge corporations such as Amazon (which owns CreateSpace, the world’s biggest digital self-publishing company) that actively promote the idea that self-publishing is great for authors. Cut out the middlemen and go straight to the consumer, and let the buyers decide!

Indeed, there are actual success stories of good writers who couldn’t get any joy from the traditional industry, self-published, promoted themselves well, and made money. Being an only modestly successful writer stuck with a big-five house can be unpleasant because these corporations only spend time and resources on their best-sellers, so some established writers have ditched them to go self-published; at least you keep all of the royalties.

There are always cases when self-publishing makes sense. It’s cheap, and you can use Facebook to promote the work. But there…

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Colin Cotterill Dogs 2

Author Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill was born in London, England. He has dual English and Australian citizenship. He spent several years in Laos, initially with UNESCO. Colin currently lives in a small town on the Gulf of Thailand, where he writes the award-winning Dr. Siri mystery series set in the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, and the Jimm Juree crime novels set in Chiang Mai and southern Thailand. Colin has trained in and taught physical education early in his career. He has also taught and been a curriculum writer at Chiang Mai University, was the Project Director of Child Watch, an NGO for itinerant children in Phuket, Thailand and worked at refugee camps along the Burmese border. His uniquely hand-written CV may be viewed here.

In 2009 Colin Cotterill received the Crime Writers’ Association “Dagger in the Library” award for being “the author of crime fiction whose work is currently giving the greatest enjoyment to library users.” Cotterill won the Dilys Award in 2006 for Thirty-Three Teeth and was a Dilys Award finalist in 2010 for Love Songs From a Shallow Grave. The Dilys Award has been presented every year since 1992 by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association to the title member booksellers have most enjoyed selling.

Since 1990, Cotterill has been a regular cartoonist for national publications (and he does cool book covers). He is also the cartoonist who drew Gop, the frog in the coconut shell for Thailand Footprint. I am pleased to welcome Colin here today.

KC: In an essay by Jong Jie in 3:AM Magazine titled Literature and Politics Jie states:

“Where politics seeks to obscure, literature seeks to uncover; it insists upon a scrupulous rendition of reality, and on the courage to face up unflinchingly to it, no matter what it holds.”

Southeast Asia politics obscures in their own particular way. You’re a novelist who has interwoven politics into your stories from many countries. I wish to focus on three: Laos – the setting for your Dr. Siri novels and a standalone novel Pool and Its Role in Asian Communism, Thailand – the setting for your Jimm Juree series, and Burma, which you’ve written about in one of your earliest novels focusing on child abuse and pedophilia, Evil in the Land WIthout. What, if anything, do you set out to uncover about the political society of those three countries or put another way, what rendition of reality do you wish to convey? How is the politics different among the three countries and how is it similar?

CC: Jesus H Trueman, this is like a bloody university exam. What happened to the good old ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

Okay, start. I know nothing about the penthouse of politics. Or, rather, I know what the newspapers and websites tell me, which is the same thing. But I live down in the basement where the garbage chute comes out.  I think that’s why I write about the dregs and orts of policies and doctrines rather than the people who randomly make them up. I describe how people are affected by bad decisions.  I started writing because I wanted readers to know about the seedy child abuse issues in Southeast Asia. The first hurdle I hit was that people don’t want to read about the seedy child abuse issues in Southeast Asia. It took two more books before I learned how to cleverly disguise my issues in a jolly yarn (Pool and its Role in Asian Communism). And that has become my signature. You get to the end of my books and ask, ‘I wonder if there’s any truth in that.’ With a bit of luck you might even look it up.  I write fiction but I tend to stay faithful to history. I may move buildings or shift dates for convenience but my characters are always directly influenced by the politics of the day and they’re not afraid to have opinions.

Similarities? A country with no freedom of speech run by a military dictatorship. You tell me which of the three countries I’m describing.

KC: Your SoHo Crime colleague Cara Black has said, “We write to give a voice to those who aren’t heard.” You’ve told me why you started writing; why do you still write?

CC: I don’t really like writing that much. It isn’t my outlet of choice but how many people in the world are doing what they truly want to be doing? In the beginning (and I was a very late starter) I wrote to see whether I could write and whether I could write well enough to make a living out of it. It was one of the challenges I set myself. I’ve been doing it all my life. I got lucky and passed that test. There are much better writers than me today who don’t even get their manuscripts on an agent’s desk. My timing was right. I haven’t moved on to the next challenge because none of the others involve paying the grocery bills. So the answer to your question is, ‘to feed the dogs’.

KC: You seem to have made a conscious decision to live a reality based life over a virtual one. There is no shortage of authors of varying abilities utilizing social media at varying levels. Are you sure that walks on the beach, gardening, riding your bicycle, playing with your gaggle of dogs and illustrating in your spare time beat receiving a slew of LIKES for posting a picture of Laurel and Hardy on Facebook or replying to a fan on Amazon who left you a 4 Star review? What are your thoughts regarding technology trends in the 21st Century, particularly as they relate to the publishing world and interaction with your fans?

CC: What do you mean? I have email. Since when is that not technology?  But even that’s a little too convenient for me. I miss the days when you sat on the front step waiting for the postman and cursed under your breath when he walked past. I have an email account now so the postman walks past virtually and there’s nobody to swear at when I have nothing in my in inbox. If anyone wants to get in touch with me it doesn’t take a lot of detective work. I appreciate the effort. But they can’t do it by clicking. I don’t have face book because I think it’s dumb. In my universe, ‘friend’ is a noun and ‘befriend’ is a verb and never the twain shall meet.

I was lucky in that I rode the last wave of print publishing. That public is dying out and being replaced by a Kindle generation. And with e-reads comes pirating. I can download any of my books absolutely free any time I like. So why should I pay for them?  It might not be a bad thing as people who wouldn’t have bothered to pick up my books at a shop are able to take a taste of me. With that taste will naturally come addiction and, inevitably, sales. “You know? Granny might like this. I’ll get a print copy and send it to her.”

KC: Your first Dr. Siri novel, The Coroner’s Lunch came out in 2004. The protagonist is a green-eyed, septuagenarian coroner – the country’s lone coroner – living in socialist Laos during the 1970s. This was obviously all part of a winning formula that would see the Dr. Siri series remain popular for over a decade and reach 10 books strong, with the upcoming Six and a Half Deadly Sins (SoHo Crime), scheduled for a May 19th, 2015 release. What are the joys and difficulties of writing a series of that length, given the starting age of your protagonist? Is it a safe assumption you didn’t envision either the popularity or length of the series?

CC: I was once on a panel with Robert Crais and one of his words of wisdom for aspiring writers was to make your protagonist young in anticipation of a long series. Dr. Siri started out at seventy two in a country whose use-by life expectancy was fifty-something. I had no idea the good doctor would become so popular and it does present certain problems. One of these is that I can’t afford to dally too long between books. Sometimes the next episode follows on only minutes from its predecessor. Ten books on and he’s still only seventy-four.  I suppose somewhere along the line I should consider a prequel.

I have a horrible memory and that is a terrible affliction for someone writing a series. I’m supposed to remember every detail of every event, every character. You might think it wouldn’t matter if the dog changes gender (to anyone other than the dog) or Comrade Civilai’s Citroen suddenly becomes a Renault. But, to some, it is akin to misquoting the scriptures. I have fans who know my characters better than I know my own father. What do you do at audience question time when somebody asks, ’It appears Dr. Siri is clinically alcoholic. Don’t you think it’s time he gets some help?’ I want to say, ‘He’s fictional’ but I look into the fan’s eyes and realize he’s not.

The only good point in having a regular cast of characters is that they tend to develop stories without me. In the beginning you’d say hello to them at the first script reading and they’d be nervous and uncertain. But after a couple of years you arrive late for the first editorial meeting and they’d have their parts written out already. ‘This is how I’d react in that situation,’ says Nurse Dtui. You even dare to swerve out of character and the personality police are on your back.

KC: Lets stay with character and personality. Pick any characters whom you have created and enjoyed spending time with, other than Dr. Siri and Jimm Juree – tell me their strengths and flaws and the novel(s) they can be found in.

CC: I’m very fond of the two main characters in Pool and its Role in Asian Communism, mainly because they are so diverse. Waldo is an African American widower due for retirement from his lifelong job at a pool ball factory. Saifon is a Lao girl who was trafficked to the states when she was very young and grew up on the streets. Both are flawed in their own sweet ways but they develop an unlikely friendship that endures. It was a fun relationship to write and a challenge in that the entire book was written in ungrammatical colloquial English.

Of my more recent characters I think I’d have to choose Jimm Juree’s Granddad Ja, a retired Thai policeman who spent his entire career in the traffic division because he refused to take bribes. I know…but it’s fiction. I’ve just realized how many elderly characters I have in my books. It looks like I’m paving the way for my own journey down the other side of the hill.

KC: In 2004 you wrote, “We tend to notice only the atrocities that suit us.” There is no shortage of atrocities going on near and far. Let’s focus on two that have occurred in 2015. The Charlie Hebdo slaughter in Paris, France, which left 12 people dead and the killing of 29 school children in Damaturu, Nigeria by gunmen from the Islamist group, Boko Haram. In addition to being a novelist who has written about issues that affect African children, you’re also an accomplished cartoonist. There are those who argue that the same outrage was not felt world-wide over the killing of the 29 school children as there was for the security guard and Charlie Hebdo staff who were killed. What can you say about these two sad events?

CC: Disasters have an element of ‘Thank goodness it’s not one of us’ attached to them. If Malaysian flight 370 had been full of Australian rugby players or Canadian girl guides, there would have been more of an uproar. But most of the passengers were Chinese.  Sigh of relief. After the 2004 tsunami the west was shocked at the number of white holiday makers killed. Two movies were made showing the plight of the whities even though  280,000 of the victims were Asian. Perhaps when we see a photograph of a Caucasian massacre victim it’s easier to believe it could have been us. But even so, uproar has a short shelf life.

The Charlie Hebdo killings came as I was writing my latest Dr. Siri book. The title is “I Shot the Buddha”. A few people I’d mentioned that to got in touch with me and urged me to change it for fear of repercussions. It annoyed me that idiotic violence should have an influence on my freedom of speech. The book doesn’t insult Buddhism but even if it did I reserve the right to insult any religion I wish. I welcome dialogue on the subject but I do not welcome a round of ammunition through the chest. If I were to believe in a god it would be because I loved him, not because I was scared to death of him.

KC: You live with your wife in the literary hotbed of Thailand. A fishing village located on the southern part of the Gulf of Thailand, Pak Nam. Describe Pak Nam as if you were employed with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and then again, as if to keep your most brazen fan from stalking you for your autograph of a first edition hard-copy of The Merry Misogynist. 

CC: The small town of Pak Nam (cagily non-specific as down here every town a short way from the coast has its own Pak Nam) sits on the estuary of the xxx river. As the sun rises on the Gulf of Thailand, it nudges home the squid boats, their decks piled high with the night’s catch. The colourful market is vibrant with the mix of southern Thai and Burmese accents. The open fronted shops on the narrow streets offer great bargains: Malay cloth,  Chinese toys and trinkets and music CD’s all the way from Myanmar. And for tourists and locals alike, the restaurants offer all the delicacies one would expect from a town so in harmony with the sea.

But, of course, nobody in their right mind would live there. The beaches are strewn with garbage nine months of the year and the shallow waters are a breeding ground for great schools of jelly fish. To break the monotony of a place with no entertainment, bodies regularly wash up on the sand, carried in on the currents from popular tourist islands. If you’re really bored you can go to the high spot of Pak Nam, the 7-Eleven, and watch the Burmese being shaken down by the police, or take a drive along the most dangerous stretch of highway in the country to Tesco where they have thirty four brands of cooking oil but no wine. Better still, don’t come.

KC: What can your readers expect from Dr Siri’s latest adventure, Six and a Half Deadly Sins?

CC: During the decades of civil war in Laos, the Chinese were building roads in the north of the country under the guise of international aid. It wasn’t a coincidence that the roads headed from China in the direction of the Vietnamese and Thai borders. Even in the fifties the cunning Chinese were paving the way to international trade. But when hostilities began in 1978 culminating in a Chinese invasion of Vietnam, these roads had a more sinister meaning, providing the invaders with another front from the west. It was all Laos could do to prevent China from crossing their borders.

Dr. Siri and Madam Daeng become entangled in this international intrigue whilst following a trail of clues woven into the hems of Lao skirts. Can they solve the puzzle before the invaders swarm across the border? Can they hold their own with the criminals operating in the hub of the Golden Triangle drugs trade? And whose funeral is that at the end of the story? (Cue kettledrums)

Six and One Half Deadly Sins by Colin Cotterill - Interview

KC: Peter Sellers, in his role of Chance the gardener in the movie Being There said, “In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.” What wisdom can you add to that and what was the last item out of your garden that you shared with a neighbor?

CC: That’s my favourite movie. But Dr. Siri goes one better with his immortal line, ‘Forget the planet, save the garden.’ It’s my own pay-it-forward mantra. If everyone undertook one small random act of gratuitous generosity from time to time, the world would eventually sort itself out. But of course not everyone will, so we’ll be stuck with the mess we have today. Selfishness rules. In fact we took a bag of our mangos to the neighbor just this morning to wish them a happy new year. The buggers threw water at us.

KC: The dogs in your Jimm Juree series get more than cameo roles – a trio even get a mention in the acknowledgments of The Axe Factor – GoGo, Sticky Rice and Beer. One becomes a hero and saves the day. If everyone had the desire and ability to be a dog owner what are the first few things they would learn?

CC: Cesar Millan (the dog whisperer) reminds viewers every week that dogs are not small people. But, of course, they are. They have personalities and far more human characteristics than a lot of people I know. But they’re small people who forgive easily, who don’t care about our bad habits and who provide love unconditionally. After a tricky domestic upset a few years ago I made the decision not to go back on the road but to stay with my dogs. They’ve repaid me a thousand times for that decision. Of course they get a part in my books.

KC: This interview happens to coincide on the two year anniversary of my blog with the frog in the coconut shell, which you kindly drew for me. Thanks again for that. 

CC: Happy anniversary.

Colin Cotterill also has another novel coming out next week. Here is the synopsis from Amazon.com:

Colin creates a new member of his cast of characters in is latest book Bleeding in Black and White. CIA agent Robert “Bodge” Leon has been deskbound since joining the agency at its post-WW2 inception. He dreams of being in the field, but when that happens it goes far from as expected. Sent to the Vietnamese highlands during the French fight against independence, he meets the beautiful concubine of the Emperor. Meanwhile back in the US the KGB is using a purge inside the CIA to recruit double agents. Can Bodge survive to find love in the Orient and see justice done back home?

Black and White CC

For more information about the author, cartoonist and regular chappy, Colin Cotterill go to: www.colincotterill.com

You may pre-order Six and a Half Deadly Sins, scheduled for a May 19th, 2015 release at Amazon.com

To read page 306 of Six and a Half Deadly Sins click here.

For a book review of Six and a Half Deadly Sins from the New York Journal of Books click here.

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Kevin Cummings:

Wonderful interview by novelist Bruce DeSilva of Timothy Hallinan regarding his Junior Bender and Poke Rafferty series. Great Questions. Great Answers. Too good not to re-blog on a lazy Easter Sunday. Thanks Bruce DeSilva for allowing the ability to do so …

Originally posted on Bruce DeSilva's Rogue Island:

Timothy Hallinan Timothy Hallinan

I interviewed fellow crime novelist Timothy Hallinan for Crimelandia, the website of Left Coast Crime, a major crime fiction conference where he was recently awarded a coveted Lefty Award. Here’s the text of our conversation:

Bruce DeSilva: You have two critically-acclaimed crime series going, one featuring Poke Rafferty, an American journalist living in Bangkok, and the other chronicling the life of Junior Bender, a Los Angeles burglar with tormentors on both sides of the law. This has you turning out two books a year. How do you manage this and remain sane – or am I making a false assumption?

Hallinan: It’s a false assumption. I actually missed the deadline for the 2013 Rafferty book, For the Dead, and unless I put my ass in the saddle and keep it there, I’m going to miss the deadline for this year’s Junior, King Maybe. Despite all the energy…

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I found this month’s Henry Miller quote on an interesting site called, Henry Miller Online – a tribute to Henry’s books, art, loves and friends. There is a collection of unique and hard to find Miller items. The quote comes from The Books in my Life by Henry Miller. Click the picture above to go the web site. The quote is:

 

“The more one writes the less books stimulate. One reads to corroborate, that is, to enjoy one’s own thoughts expressed in the multifarious ways of others.” —Henry Miller (The Books in my Life)

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Matt Carrell was born in Brighton, England more than half a century ago. The son of Irish immigrants, he graduated from London University and then trained as an accountant. Matt’s work involved a great deal of international travel including long stints in Hong Kong and Thailand.

Author Matt Carrell

Matt’s first published work was a series of short stories entitled Thai Lottery… and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand. The idea for the book emerged while watching tickets being sold by a Bangkok street vendor, and hearing from a friend about the perils of getting involved in the parallel underworld lottery. After receiving positive feedback from readers he started work on Thai Kiss, his first full length novel, this was published in May 2013.

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His second novel, Vortex, is also largely set in Thailand and draws on Matt’s extensive experience of the investment industry. Vortex was released in January of 2014.

Vortex Matt Carrell

In June 2014, A Matter of Life and Death, a novel with a football (soccer) theme was published.

Matt Carrell A Matter of life and death

Breaking the Thai theme, Matt has also written a short story, Something Must Be Done, about a High School shooting, set in the USA, which takes on the issue of gun control or more accurately lack of control and the USA’s crazy gun culture.

Vortex was very well received by critics and the public alike. As a result Matt wrote, Vortex – The End Game, which was launched in November of 2014.

Matt and his wife divide their time between England and the French Alps, with frequent trips to Asia. Matt Carrell is a nom de plume.  In today’s interview Matt explains, among other things, the game of soccer better than anyone ever has, in my opinion. I am pleased to welcome Matt Carrell here today.

KC: Let’s talk football. A game you call beautiful on your side of the pond and we Americans call Super, once a year. Tell me what is beautiful about the The Beautiful Game? I’m having a hard time figuring it out on my own. More people watch and cheer the game of soccer than any other. I’ll leave out the word, root, for now.

MC: Kevin, I think there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. I’d never call “soccer” a beautiful game, I’m just addicted to the spectacle. Humans are essentially tribal and if footballers didn’t play out our proxy wars for us, I’m pretty sure we’d be back to invading each other’s towns, burning houses and trying to kidnap the women folk. Fans vent their frustrations from a carefully segregated section of the stadium and trash-talk each other on web forums. If they couldn’t do that, they’d be killing each other. It’s not a sport so much as a cunning method of maintaining law and order amongst those who don’t buy into religion. The government loves it because it’s a neat distraction. They may be running the country into the ground but their incompetence pales into insignificance compared with that referee who denied your team a goal on Saturday afternoon.

The “beautiful game” is not in my heart, it just speaks to the dark side of my head.

American football is much simpler, it’s something for you guys to watch between the commercials!

KC: Your writing in Thai Kiss won me over in the first paragraph. Tell me the first paragraph or sentence from two of your favorite books  or stories you have written and then tell me your favorite opening line from any of your favorite works of fiction? 

MC: The hardest thing to achieve in any story is to keep the reader hooked, to make them want to know what happens next. If you want to upset an author here’s a foolproof method. When they ask if you’ve read their latest book you reply, “Well I started it.” There’s nothing worse than to hear that someone read a few pages and didn‘t feel compelled to stay up all night to finish it. The sooner you get your reader’s attention the better, but you’ve got to maintain that momentum through the story. One of my favorite reviews of Thai Lottery was a single word and I’m not even sure it’s a word. “Unputdownable!”

I don’t consciously try to deliver an attention grabbing first line but I’m sure it helps. Thai Kiss starts with:

When your best mate gets washed up on the beach with a hole in the back of his head, it’s time to reflect. I turned it over and over in my mind but there was only one conclusion. If I stuck around, I’d be next.”

I hope this gives the reader a pretty fair impression of what will happen next. The narrator has good reason to believe he is in danger and is going to have to abandon the life he has built for himself. I’m also trying to convey that the story is pacey and action packed.

My latest novel is called Vortex… the Endgame, the second book in the Vortex series. Chapter one starts with:

 “On one side of the sectarian divide, it was the brutal slaying of an heroic freedom fighter, on the other; the clinical execution of a ruthless terrorist. To an over-worked, underpaid Inspector in the Royal Ulster Constabulary it was just another ton of paperwork…”

 Again I hope it gives a flavour of what follows, violent death is an expected consequence of war. These days it happens all too often when the rest of the world is just trying to go about its business. The story is about the lengths some will go to, to further their business and political aims when others are just struggling to get by.

To answer the second part of your question I went to dig out all the books I possess which would make me look well read and quietly intellectual. Then I realised I don’t have any. I can’t say they are the very best opening lines but these two did grab me:

From Brighton Rock by Grahame Greene – “Hale knew before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell that he didn’t belong…” This is a great opening line, you get the sense of danger and the particular vulnerability of the character that’s being introduced. The smart money is not on Hale to survive.

From The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth – “It is cold at six-forty in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.”  Again I think this is a great hook. The first time I read this I actually shivered.

For any writer who is worried that their first line isn’t sufficiently catchy to deliver them a best seller, I’ll offer you this, “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair  – it just won’t behave…” I’m bored already that’s all I read, but it’s from 50 Shades of Grey, which I understand has been quite successful.

KC: Let’s shift gears away from sport in the interest of international harmony and away from 50 Shades of Grey, for this question at least.  Thailand is a mixed bag when it comes to the fiction authors. The general consensus is a lot of books produced by Thailand authors are sub-par as a group. In real estate the good properties pull up the value of the bad ones in the same neighborhood. But with authors in Thailand a case could be made that all the bad authors pull down the value of the good ones. Would you agree with that? Without naming any authors, at all, give me your impressions of the books written by Thailand based authors or books with Thailand themes? What is the upside of being an author in general if there is one, and what is the downside of being an author who writes fiction with a Thailand setting? 

MC: I’m an avid consumer of books set in Thailand and they certainly span the full range of the quality spectrum. Thailand is the perfect setting for a thriller. It offers a wonderful backdrop for the plot and the opportunity to introduce characters that don’t fit the usual stereotypes. The best writers seize that with both hands and offer an insight into a culture that will be completely new to many readers. When I had the initial idea for Vortex, a novel that takes financial crime as a central theme, I intended to set it in London. Switching it to Bangkok and Hong Kong gave the story an extra dimension.

The disappointing books fall into two categories. The first being those that really could be set anywhere in the world. “Got drunk, met a girl, made a dick of myself.” You don’t have to leave home to do that. The second is where the writer forgets that someone is paying cash for their book and the editing is poor and slipshod. Thai based books seem to have more than there fair share of bad grammar and random typos. When you get one of those that falls into the first category as well, it’s time to ask Amazon for a refund. Thailand is an extraordinary, complex country and the writers who help you to see what lies beyond the veneer, are giving their readers far more than those who write about their own back yard. There are plenty out there that deliver but, as you said, I’m not allowed to name names.

The upside of being an author is definitely the interaction with the people who’ve read my books. I often get messages asking me to bring back characters from previous books in whatever I write next. It’s a real kick to know that something I created has had that impact.

The downside is definitely that many people have a tendency to prejudge anyone who displays any sort of detailed knowledge of Thailand. My first two books focused on the bar scene and there’s an assumption that I couldn’t possibly know so much about it without being an enthusiastic participant. I’ve also written a short story about a high school shooting but, oddly enough, no-one thinks I’ve killed anyone.

KC: I want to talk about progress. I do not read Stephen King novels but I like, very much, what King writes on the subject of writing. What are you better at, now, than you were when you wrote your first book? How does one become a better writer other than writing a lot? Is it possible, given the opening salvo you’ve shared with us about Fifty Shades of Grey to define what a bad writer is? And finally what is easier to recognize, good writing or bad writing?

MC: I was incredibly lucky, my first book was taken up by a small boutique publisher called Aardwolfe Books. The editor for Thai Lottery was only interested in making it as good as it could possibly be and he didn’t spare my feelings. I’m still scarred by a note he put on one of my chapter endings, it said, “You probably think this is dramatic, it’s not.” He was right of course. I’d like to think my writing has always been strong on plot and in delivering plenty of twists and a good ending. With a lot of help from others I think I’m better now at creating a picture of what I want the reader to see in each scene and in fleshing out the characters so they feel like real people you can relate to. I’ve also learned to keep the story tight, eliminating the extraneous waffle that you might want to write but which isn’t key to the storyline.

If you want to improve as a writer I think you have to put your ego on one side. Encourage constructive criticism and try to get other experienced writers/editors to go through your books with a fine tooth-comb. You might not agree with everything they say but you’ll have learned something from the debate.

I wasn’t inspired by the first line of 50 Shades of Grey, and although I’ve read only a few lines from the rest of the book, it’s not for me. That’s not to say that EL James is a bad writer, quite the contrary. Anyone who has created something that people enjoy reading is a good writer. It’s rare to find an author who appeals to everyone, so as long as your books work for people outside your immediate circle, you pass the test. Excluding friends and family, if everyone else reading your stuff says it sucks, then you’re a bad writer.

An author’s task is to transport readers to another place, to make them eager to read the next page yet not want the book to end. I get irritated if I’m reading a book where the author fails to pull that off because of implausible plot lines, clumsy dialogue, bad grammar or multiple typos. I’d hesitate before calling that author a bad writer, however. If they are selling books and getting genuine positive reviews then their stuff is working for some people, just not for me.

I think bad writing is much easier to spot than good, you may not like classical music but you’ll know if the guy playing the piano is a novice. The same applies to novelists.

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KC: Have you set any goals for yourself as a novelist? 

MC: I don’t see writing as a career, I had one of those and it left me somewhat disillusioned. I got into this because a story popped into my head that I thought would entertain people. Feedback from the publisher and from readers of my first book was better than I could ever have hoped and encouraged me to write more. As long as I think I can produce a good story and the positive reviews keep coming, I’ll keep writing. Obviously I’d like to see my books in every bookstore and most writers dream that one day they’ll get the call from a movie producer, but I’m realistic enough to know that is a distant dream. The biggest pay off I’ve had from writing has been the contacts I’ve made with other writers and readers of my books and everything I’ve learned whilst researching my stories. As long as I’m reaping those rewards, I’ll be happy.

KC: What makes you angry? 

MC: I just turned 55 and you don’t have time for me to tell you everything that makes me angry. I’m sure it’s an age thing. At the top of a very long list would be modern politics. I’m staggered at how venal and self-serving our leaders have been in recent years and appalled by the consequences of their poorly conceived actions. So many of our politicians have squandered the opportunity to make a real difference, choosing instead to ride the gravy train for as long as possible, with eye-catching short-term gimmicks rather than genuine long term solutions. I don’t see much chance of this trend reversing in the near future either. My second favourite bug bear is the media, which long ago stopped holding politicians to account and can now only be relied on to push its own agenda in a desperate rush for ratings and ad revenue. A good step forward would be if Mr Blair was to stand trial for his abuse of power. That would make me laugh.

KC: Thanks Matt for doing this interview long distance. I look forward to catching up with you the next time you are back in Bangkok.

MC: Thank-you, Kevin.

 

For more information regarding Matt and his novels go to: www.mattcarrellbooks.com

 

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200th Post at Thailand Footprint

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Crackdown by Christopher G Moore - Kevin Cummings Book Review

As a resident of Thailand since 2001 reading and finishing a Vincent Calvino crime novel by Christopher G. Moore is akin to being presented with a gift. It comes with no strings or pretty bow attached.

I also liken reading a Christopher G. Moore novel to being outdoors, alone, on a nice day as you eat a delicious apple. Some bites snap off perfectly, with great pitch, and meet all your expectations. Once in awhile you spot an imaginary worm-hole that makes you pause. But the experience, overall, remains a satisfying one, especially when you get to the core of the story. Sentence by sentence I enjoyed CRACKDOWN, I read many of them twice.

CRACKDOWN is set in post coup Thailand and the insights Moore provides give the reader either an education or affirmation as to what they might know or think they know about life, illusions (and politics) in the Kingdom with a capital K. Moore shines a light on the plentiful black matter found in Bangkok with his signature noir style. CRACKDOWN is the 15th Vincent Calvino novel written by Moore, featuring the disbarred New York lawyer turned Bangkok P.I. and previously troubled shooter. The book may be considered the third in a trilogy starting with MISSING IN RANGOON and following THE MARRIAGE TREE. Readers who enjoyed one or both of those novels will find added pleasures in CRACKDOWN.

Moore takes you on a field trip complete with binoculars. Among the things you’ll see: University political dissidents using Banksy style art to get their message across, the life of an honorable Khmer tattoo artist, an unfinished 9 story condo that transforms itself into its dual role of slum dwelling and tourist attraction with small time thugs on top and big fish aplenty in the basement, Calvino’s white robe wearing, sage advice giving guru, and the behind the scenes attitude adjustment centers where happiness is born. Plus you get to know the lifestyles of high ranking policemen and their HiSo BMW driving wives. There’re more than a few dead bodies laying or floating around to remind you where you are and propel the mystery forward.

Technology plays a big role as does information gathering and high level computer science. You also get a retro 1990 re-creation of a computer-less Calvino office complete with his bun-hair wearing, saucy secretary Ratana thrown into the mix, just for a bit of nostalgia and contrast. For meet-ups with his disgruntled side-kick McPhail there’s a hamburger serving black van restaurant with the appetizing name of Road Kill along with an assortment of old Asia hands lamenting about the good old days, which have pased them by. Discussions among the veteran expats include the effects of the internet on the nightlife scene and the creative ways the Chinese use their black vans in Asia. Literary references are wide ranging including, Graham Greene, Joseph Heller, Lucian Freud, George Orwell and Henry Miller.

My niggle with the book it is that Moore doesn’t give us enough of Dr. Marley Solberg, the brilliant mathematician and algorithm specialist whom we last saw rocking away with Calvino in the stateroom of a fancy yacht in The Marriage Tree. Her presence is felt but she’s kept off the meandering map most of the time as Calvino navigates this journey solo. Keeping track of all the players involved in the Rohingya trafficking aspects of the novel proved trying for me, at times. It’s a novel Moore would not have written and probably could not have written twenty years ago. All in all I’m glad Vinnie lives to see another sunrise. There are more than enough messages to decipher; it all depends on how you want to unwrap the package.

As for any future Christopher G. Moore novels, I’ll read them the same way I live my days: one at a time, with appreciation for all the gifts they include.

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MinkoSolo

Photograph of Christopher Minko by Jonathan van Smit

Christopher J. Minko was born in Australia in 1956, a child of European refugees and grew up outside a small Victoria bush town. From an arts and major event management background he spent a decade working for various Australian artistic and educational organizations, including the Moomba Festival and the Victorian Ministry for the Arts. He also served as events director for the Australian Football League’s Grand Final, the nation’s largest annual sporting event. Minko first came to Cambodia in 1996 as a technical advisor for the Cambodian Disabled Peoples Organisation, and went on start Cambodian Disability sport programs. In 2003, he founded the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled), which has become a model for sport and rehabilitation, and has also begun a countrywide wheelchair-racing program.

Minko and I have a mutual goal of bringing the Cambodia Women’s National Wheelchair basketball team over to Bangkok to play a Thai National team.

Christopher Minko is the lead man for the Cambodian noir band Krom, which made a historic three venue debut in Bangkok, Thailand in December of 2014. Krom strive towards originality at all times, they work acoustically and have the objective to establish a musical genre called contemporary Mekong Delta Blues, based on the merger of Delta Blues guitar work with the magic and mysticism of Khmer vocal sounds. Krom is unique on many levels, one of them being that they are a bilingual band, Khmer and English.

Thailand Footprint is pleased to have Christopher Minko back today to discuss, among other things, his new song Taliban Man.

KC: Christopher, welcome back for a second interview at Thailand Footprint. Our last interview went two parts and ended up in a couple of newspapers in Thailand and Cambodia. Lets see where this one goes. Today’s interview will be short, sweet and sour. You can’t escape sour in many Krom songs. And that’s putting it mildly. Taliban Man is no exception. It’s your latest release. Tell me where the inspiration came from and how long Krom worked on the song creatively once you had the lyrics down?

CM: Probably enough love songs floating about out there mate and someone has to do the dirty work and sing the songs that tell of the very sad reality of; it’s a mighty fucked up world out there at the moment and that we need to speak out or sing more about the grave social injustices and horrendous levels of violence and slavery that are enveloping this world.

It is the historical role and responsibility of the musical troubadour to write and sing about these issues, so in a world dominated by plastic mind numbing music and with very few troubadours left, that’s what Krom does (acknowledging author Christopher G Moore for that last reference to the role of the troubadour).

All KROM songs come from the heart – Like that master songwriter Willie Nelson said in a recent interview –“he doesn’t know where the songs come from – they just appear from somewhere (one doesn’t ask where…) and when they do appear in this unexplained way you make sure you damn well follow through with them” – I find similar – they fall into the Minko head (often unannounced) and in fact one is slightly tortured until they get recorded otherwise the song just keeps going around in the head which is not a good thing after a few days.

So with Taliban man –  I am the father of a now 21 year old daughter whom I raised on my own and of course I dearly love my daughter and am proud of her successes and growth into a confident woman – so I am a parent –When I heard of the Taliban massacre of the Pakistani schoolchildren – It somehow belted the shit out of me; the tragic and utterly insane concept of adults murdering innocent children is, for me, the ultimate act of cowardice and somewhere in the equation I see humanity as sliding downwards into an abyss of no morality covered by a cesspool of blood  and I am horrified that humanity can stoop so low with such acts of violence – The level of violence and selfishness that is swallowing the globe, deeply disturbs me along with the increasing use of children in warfare – so all of a sudden the following lines came into my head.

“Yeah, I’m the man

I’m a Taliban Man

I shoot little children

In the head

Ah gotta make sure

That they are dead”

….and from there came the song Taliban man

And it became, like so many Kromsongs; “a song that has to be sung.”

KC: The song opens with laughter and gunfire. Tell the story of Taliban Man to our readers as a lyricist might and then in broader fashion – how it could be interpreted by different listeners.

CM: Very simple / very blunt – Taliban man describes the ultimate act of cowardice carried out by so called “men” who slaughtered 165 Pakistani schoolchildren – Adults killing Children ! – a senseless, brutal violent act of  pure cowardice and the horror of this tragedy is described within the lyrics – the lyrics are very simple and are meant to be that way – To the point – for example

“A bullet in the chest

A broken breast

Her blood on the floor

Naked and raw”

Recognizing the complexity of the theme and the sensitivity of current global politics, I have included the below KROM statement about this song in order to avoid confusion or a misinterpretation of the song – however I very much stand by this song, as I repeat – It’s a song that needs to be sung and I do acknowledge that mockery is a very very powerful tool to campaign against violence in all its manifestations.

A KROM Statement: This KROM song is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of innocent children killed in war and civil conflict. The lyrics can be equally applied to the thousands of Jewish children gassed in Nazi concentration camps in WW2, to the multitude of children who died under the brutal regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia, the recent kidnapping of innocent children by Boko Haram and the innocent children currently being killed by US drone bombs in Afghanistan. Saddest of all is the recognition that even in the 21st Century, humanity continues to use innocent children as tools of war and civil conflict.

KC: The Bangkok Post journalist Alan Parkhouse wrote a great article with the headline Dark sounds from the Cambodian soul in the December 18th, 2014 edition, prior to your three Bangkok events. Tell me what the Bangkok concert dates were like for you and the other members of Krom and when can we expect Krom back in Bangkok?

CM: We had a fantastic time in Bangkok for many reasons, great venues, finally a listening and attentive audience and wonderful and very professional hosting of the band by the 3 venue operators. Most of all I felt that KROM came of age in Bangkok. The band were very cohesive, travelled well together and by the third night we were all on a true natural high as a result of the music being made and the many positive responses to the music of KROM. It was also a wonderful opportunity for the band to meet many of the Bangkok based authors such as yourself and James Newman and many others whom I was delighted to finally meet in person and it gave me the opportunity to thank all of our KROM friends in Bangkok who are supporting the creative endeavours of KROM. I was also very proud of and humbled at the historical nature of the gigs given that KROM are one of the first Cambodian contemporary bands to perform in Bangkok due to the lack of cultural exchange between Thailand and Cambodia as a result of decades of unwarranted and politically manipulated animosity between the 2 nations. The Khmer members of the band were greeted at all times with open arms and respect by all of the Thais within the audiences – a truly great trip indeed and we are looking at returning to Bangkok for a minimum of 3 nights of performances in May of this year.

KC: Salmon Rushdie in a May 11th, 2012 New Yorker article titled simply, “On Censorship” wrote the following:

“Great art, or, let’s just say, more modestly, original art is never created in the safe middle ground, but always at the edge. Originality is dangerous. It challenges, questions, overturns assumptions, unsettles moral codes, disrespects sacred cows or other such entities. It can be shocking, or ugly, or, to use the catch-all term so beloved of the tabloid press, controversial. And if we believe in liberty, if we want the air we breathe to remain plentiful and breathable, this is the art whose right to exist we must not only defend, but celebrate. Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it’s a revolution.”

Talk about your art in the terms that Rushdie discusses. And also specifically the whole concept of rocking the boat. There are those out there – and I am sure you know this – that say, you shouldn’t rock the boat. Tell us, again if you have to because it is important, why the boat needs to be rocked. And if you can discuss the recent Charlie Hebdo slaughter in Paris, France in those same terms please do so.

CM: Great question, great quote  Mr. Kevin. Allow me to start this answer with quotes from three truly remarkable musicians who understood fully that original art is never created in a safe middle ground and there is no doubt that they also understood the responsibility they carried, not only in their lyrics but also in the quality of their musicianship and they knew that with both of these elements combined, pioneering works of powerful political musicianship were being created with their works revered to this very day.

From three great musicians:

“This machine kills fascists.”

Woody Guthrie

“The world is filled with people who are no longer needed — and who try to make slaves of all of us — and they have their music and we have ours.”

Woody Guthrie

“I know the police cause you trouble

They cause trouble everywhere

But when you die and go to heaven

You find no policeman there”

Woody Guthrie

 

“Slavery has never been abolished from America’s way of thinking.”

Nina Simone

“I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

Nina Simone

And a very important Q+ A with the legendary Pablo Casals. The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90 and he answered:

“Because I think I’m making progress.”

Krom does rock the boat in a musical world now dominated by mediocrity and artists subservient to the mundane musical meanderings of corporate greed and the power of the political lyric has sadly been lost.  Krom rock the boat quite deliberately. From the onset we set the objective to adhere to Pablo Casals advice in term of musicianship and to not hesitate to write lyrics about tragic social issues that often remain unspoken or only mentioned in a tokenistic sense when the world is now riddled with problems such as human and sexual slavery, being at the highest point ever in the history of humanity along with an ever increasing level of violence internationally including the murdering of thousands of innocent children as part of an accepted mechanism within warfare. Krom accepts its traditional role as the ancient troubadour: to observe and to write about life and sadly all its misery as we see it, and to be honest in that depiction with the hope that somewhere along the line the music and lyrics will assist to effect positive social change. The world does have the potential to be a remarkable place and there are truly inspiring individuals such as the recent Uruguayan president who resigned with a remarkable dignity and humility that is sadly missing in today’s world leaders. Krom does not seek to preach, we simply try to describe the world as it is, a world trapped in selfishness, greed, suffering and tragedy with problems that seem endless. Like Charlie Hebdo, Krom often use mockery within the lyrics as we recognize mockery’s power to counteract violence and social injustice.

Whilst our songs are often harsh and even brutal in their content we hope that Krom songs act as a catalyst for thought and that our music may assist the process of positive change “in a world where humanity has gone stark raving mad.” (From the Krom song, 7 Years Old – Her Body Sold). Even though our songs often ring of despair – Krom retains hope and please – don’t just listen to the words ( although we want you to !) – It’s also about the music as that’s what Krom is so Krom on!

 

KromGroupShot4

Krom – L to Right: Christopher Minko, Sophea Chamroeun, Sopheak Chamroeun, Jimmy Baeck

Not Shown: bass guitar player and record producer James Mao Sokleap

(Photograph by Jonathan van Smit)

KC:  What’s the best way for our readers to support Krom by purchasing Taliban Man – where can we find it?

CM: In January 2015 Krom signed with Hong Kong’s Metal Postcard to promote sell and market Krom’s complete back catalogue and all future releases.

This is the statement from Sean Hocking the CEO and Founder of Metal Postcard Records:

Metal Postcard is thrilled to have Krom join the label. They are without doubt one of Asia’s most interesting and forward thinking acts tackling issues that you won’t be hearing any time soon in  C, M , K or J pop songs !  We look forward to getting Krom recognition worldwide.

(You can check out Metal Postcard Records on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/MetalPostcardRecord ).

[For a free download of the Krom song Don’t Go Away from BandCamp click here ].

KC: Thanks, Christopher for coming back to discuss the latest Krom happenings here at Thailand Footprint.

CM: Anytime, mate.

 

 

Follow Krom on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Krom-Phnom-Penh/214467175289003

And @KromSong on Twitter: twitter.com#!/KromSong

Official Krom website: www.themekongsessions.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I really enjoyed my visit to the Henry Miller Memorial Museum in Big Sur, California last summer. A timeless respite, which I plan to visit again.

henry-miller-memorial

Writing and the spirit of Henry Miller are on my mind. Here is one of many quotes from Henry gleaned from a book I purchased while in Big Sur titled,  Henry Miller on Writing:

”I began in absolute chaos and darkness, in a bog or swamp of ideas and emotions and experiences. Even now I do not consider myself a writer, in the ordinary sense of the word. I am a man telling the story of his life, a process which appears more and more inexhaustible as I go on. Like the world-evolution, it is endless. It is a turning inside out, a voyaging through X dimensions, with the result that somewhere along the way one discovers that what one has to tell is not nearly so important as the telling itself.” Henry Miller

 

 

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Today we’ll run a reader’s poll on whether or not you, the reader of Thailand Footprint, like a poem or not?

But first, people have been asking when my book, Bangkok Beat, will be out? Well, two people – one family member and one apparent stalker who I think wants to retaliate for a lukewarm book review I gave a long time ago. But interest is interest in the 21st Century publishing world.

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The paperback and Ebook will launch simultaneously, hopefully by late-March or Early April. It will contain new stories and previously published blog posts from Thailand Footprint. Plus a great chapter on the iconic Bangkok cabaret bar, Check Inn 99. In addition standalone chapters will include six noir poems written by the Poet Noir, John Gartland and a wonderful story written by Thom H. Locke about the legendary Mama-san of Check Inn 99, Mama Noi, titled The Beauty of Isaan. Stay tuned. Ebook price will be $4.99. Paperback $12.99.

I wrote Bangkok Beat to please two people: Check Inn 99 owner Chris Catto-Smith and me. We’re almost there. Anyone else it pleases will be a bonus.

One of my all time favorite writers is Kurt Vonnegut. Lately, I’ve been re-reading his book of short stories, the 50th Anniversary edition of Welcome to the Monkey House, which I picked up at The Elliot Bay Book Company, when I was in Seattle, Washington for a few days in May of 2014. I am really enjoying some of Vonnegut’s earliest brilliance. If you haven’t read any Vonnegut in awhile or never have, this is a good one to go back to in order to rediscover the genius of his writing.  He is popular for a reason – he’s good. Here is what the original cover looked like when it first came out in the 1960s:

Monkey House

I cannot imagine a world without Vonnegut wisdom. It has served me well since I was a University Freshman and 18 years old. Here’s a quote I have always liked from his novel, A Man Without A Country:

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

― Kurt Vonnegut,

I agree with Vonnegut on the substance of the above quote, as I often do.

Here is where you, the reader, come in. Below is a poem. The author is not me – that’s all I will say at this point in time. What I’d like you to do, is read the poem and then take the poll, if you are so inclined. Most people are not inclined to take polls. I realize that, but we’ll give it the old college try. The poll will run for 48 hours – two days. Give it a go. It may be fun.

 

Here’s the poll. The poll is now closed. Thanks to all those who voted. I liked the poem. So did 11 other people. Only 3 against. You can view the results below. Thanks for the feedback. It was helpful!

 

City Pulse

 

Tonight we’ll light the neon. We’ll bring the wanderers home.

Spark up the coals and call the ships to port.

Come light up your contours from the inside and the shadows will fascinate the crowd.

You’ll see your will is marked when it’s lit from within.

 

The panic zone is all four walls, a melting realm of mirrors.

Complication is the comfort zone, mania the state of grace.

We are worms, pilgrim, we are tarnished coins.

It’s show time, your darkest hour.

 

You edge along the gills of the night, your heart aflame with burning songs.

You turn from your past for a more compelling now.

Facts are abandoned for superior fantasies, and who can stand to miss the fun?

Skiffs and brigantines glide like underwater shadows to ply the trade.

 

Come and set your fever loose to run between electric islands.

Welcome to the lucid trance where your quickened blood turns to ink.

The patient night is waiting for all you have to give.

It’s you again, walking into our midnight arms to create us.

 

You prowling sifters are mining the tangled gossamer yarns,

Paralyzing them in the amber strobe of your art.

You darken the doors, and then you darken the rest of the street.

You invite us, and we follow because we sense the importance of the journey.

 

A wheel has finished spinning – to pause and then reverse.

This blazing gyre is a vision of exhausted motion.

The city is busy erasing its inhabitants and their seasons.

You are only done when we are done with you.

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Kevin Cummings:

A blog post re-blogged from Pete, the Expatriate on his transitions, from world traveller, to international lawyer, to author. Looks like a blog worth following …

Originally posted on The Expatriate:

Nang Nak Banner Nang Nak Banner

Mae Nak Phrakanong or Nang Nak, the Ghost of Phrakanong, is the most famous ghost story in Thailand.  However, most Thais don’t consider it just a story, but believe it is tied to real events.  For me, the story of Mae Nak is of particular interest because I grew up in the middle of Phrakanong and witnessed the locals’ fears when unexplained creepy events took place in our neighbourhood.

For those who are unfamiliar with Bangkok, Phrakanong today is a district of that mega-city.  Sukhumvit runs right through it and it is located next door to Khlong Toey and just east of the main expat ghetto.  The events concerning Nang Nak are thought to have occurred in the 1830s and Phrakanong at that time was a small riverside market town situated along the Phrakanong canal.  In those days, it was a lot more isolated from the capital.

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How to Read a Poem?

2014-best-american-poetry

The current state of Poetry is that there are a spate of aspirants and a dearth of audience.  There is also a spate of hierarchy and a dearth of quality.  You needn’t read much further to deduce this latter than the current “Best American Poetry 2014”.  I’m two thirds the way through my reading of it, and I’ve come across four poems I’d read again, none especially timeless, and yet, nearly to a person their bios detail honors, awards, recipientships, publications, fellowships, and prestigious academic positions up the yin yang.  The introductions and bios run for pages and pages.  Topically, the poems run the same playlist as People Magazine, Facebook and the tabloids.

So.  Here we have me, just one person – some tiny little non-entity, who writes poetry with some small success with a nearly non-existent audience, from a fly-over state, – versus, them…Click below to read entire blog post:

via Culture.

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2010-06-23-Formalities

Courtesy of MoonFruit Comics

No. I don’t believe everyone is a dick. But there are a lot of dicks on the planet and sometimes I think Thailand is the #1 dick country in the world. That makes sense, since the economy of Thailand, if not a good chunk of their GDP, has long depended on dicks. But I’m not talking about flaccid dicks or rigid dicks, I am talking about your basic everyday dick.

Dick: 1.  An adjective to describe a guy who is a jerk or does mean and stupid things.

2.An abrasive man. (Source: Urban Dictionary).

Urban-Dictionary-320x240

You don’t have to be named Dick to be a dick. But sometimes it’s a bonus. Like Tricky Dick Nixon or Dick Cheney. Cheney’s been a dick for a long time. I’m pretty sure even hard core Republicans would tell you Cheney is a big dick.

In literature, you have Herman Melville’s, Moby Dick but it’s actually the protagonist, Captain Ahab that is the real dick in that novel. What the great white whale did was always understandable. Not so with Ahab. What a dick.

moby-dick-600-38961

I can be a dick; I know that. But I like to think that I am a dick to the dicks. The problem with two dicks going at it is no one will agree on who was the first dick. It always seems so clear to me. I think my dick meter is pretty accurate, subject to a margin of error of 5%, usually low. Agreeing on who was a dick first is like finding out someone doesn’t like you. It’s okay, you rationalize, because you didn’t like them first. It’s the same with dicks. You’ll be a dick back to a dick and the dick will think you’re the dick not realizing he’s the dick.

I did a book review for a Dick once. More than once, actually. This one has a web site, which he created, that has whatadick in the url address. Usually people talk about the dicks when they are not around, as in: “What a dick, he is.” And that may explain why there are so many dicks. There seems to be an element of pride about being a dick. And it doesn’t seem to matter if you are the first dick or the second dick, which is good because no one ever agrees on who was the first dick, anyway.

Can women be dicks? If men can be pussies surely women can be dicks. According to the above Urban Dictionary definitions, it would appear not. But that seems unfair to me and we live in age when people act like dicks when life is unfair. I’ve known some women dicks, but again it’s possible, I suppose, that they thought I was a dick before them. There’s a fine line between first dick and second dick.

Recently there has been some talk of vagina culture. I admit I know little about it. But I think I know a lot about dick culture. What makes a dick? Good question. If someone tears down a man of great accomplishments over petty reasons, I think that makes you a dick. Particularly if you tear down someone I like, such as Christopher Hitchens. If you dis Hitch you’re a dick in my book. A first dick, too. There is a bit of irony there, because even I will admit that Hitchens could be a big dick. But he did it with such class, I am sure he’d come up with a much better word for being a dick than, dick. Hitchens would pull a Philip Roth line out of his magnificent vocabulary. Anyone can call someone a wanker but it was Roth who got it down to an art form when he was talking dick:  “I am the Raskolnikov of jerking off.” He wrote in Portnoy’s Complaint. I miss Hitch. Roth stopped writing about dicks but he is still going strong at age 81. A sure sign someone is not a dick is when you miss them. No one misses a first class dick, although I’d have to be a dick not to admit that I could be wrong about that.

Is there good advice for dicks? Don’t be a dick would seem to be the no brainer, but does that include the second dicks? If there were no second dicks the first dicks would go around unencumbered by their dickness. The second dicks serve a potential purpose, to encumber the first dicks dick progress, provided you can agree on who the first dick is, and if you’ve learned anything in this dick tale it is that, while no two dicks are alike, the first dick can be in denial about his level of dickness.

So there you have it, my take on dicks. I say, knock yourself out and be a dick, sometimes, not all the time, as my wise wife likes to tell me. But only if the first dick doesn’t own up to being a dick. Or you could just ignore the dicks and do your best not to be around dicks. That’s probably the better idea. You’d have to be a real dick not to at least consider it.

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Metaphors of Death

[Here is a book review I wrote for Chiang Mai City News a few months back but never got around to posting here]:

Metaphors of Death is written by former Chiang Mai resident and Netherlands author, Dick Holzhaus. The plot involves philosophizing reporter, Tom Terrence for LannaLife Online. In spite of the facts (or perhaps because of them) that Tom is a former glue sniffing teen from England, with drug and alcohol addictions, he has been offered a promotion from the food and entertainment magazine to that of Editor for a planned online legitimate newspaper. Tom’s also a misogynist or a whore lover, depending upon your point of view, with a penchant for variety of all kinds as long as it doesn’t involve material possessions.

The story opens with a poisoned batch of yaa baa making the rounds through the Rose of the North. Tom likes his medicine crazy, he buys a bag, smokes it and ends up spending a week in a coma. He awakes to learn that the same faulty meth he purchased has claimed the lives of three foreigners plus a Colonel in the Royal Thai Police. One of the dead may have been murdered and gay rape is involved because, why not? This gets the attention of the BBC who wish to take care of their own and take on the Thai  police and military brass as well. A turf war and cover-up over major drug trafficking is in the mix. Jon a well-connected Thai national and owner/publisher of LannaLife Online cooperates with the BBC on the story and Tom ends up assigned as translator and peer for BBC journalist, Rick Drummond.

An international drug and death investigation story in tourist-town Mecca coincides with the launch of the online newspaper. The chance for Tom to become a real alcoholic-journalist appears to be in the cards. His future’s so bright he’s gotta wear Ray Ban’s. There is also a dogeared manuscript Tom has been working on for years as a struggling writer, preserved in a plastic bag. It is either potential kindling for a fire or Booker Prize material, depending on Tom’s meds. Our leading man still finds time for a genuine romantic interest to appear and she neatly doubles as a helpful editor.

I’ll let the brooding prose of Dick Holzhaus take over from here:

On Tom’s abode:

My one room apartment is deliberately depressing. I’m a prisoner of life so I live in a cell. It’s shabbiness reminds me of being a convict, my penal servitude lies on the rickety table against the wall.

On the mountains of Chiang Mai:

I like sitting in the dark on the mountainside next to someone who is new here and looks at it with different eyes. That really makes me belong here. Then I realize my confidence is backed by the cabin behind me. However familiar as a view, at nightfall the jungle becomes alien territory. This world turns pitch black for a change of shifts, pieces of bark and soil move and life forms that can see in the dark appear. Distant fires flicker through the canopy, not spreading their light, just glowing pin pricks in a black vacuum.

On Tom’s favorite philosopher:

Celine never theorized, he is the only philosopher that truly dissected the nature of humankind by describing revealing events. Maybe a proper war would help my writing.

On drugs and alcohol:

If I don’t take control soon, alcohol and drugs will be the end of me. Tonight is Friday, so that’s okay, everybody has a drink on Friday. I look at my glass, still half full with this treacherous stuff. Burping in my fist I realize I might be expelling pure alcohol fumes. I have to find out if I’m a dragon. I swallow air and burp loud at the candle on the table, it extinguishes.

On western women:

Straight western women have the worst deal here. Thai men find them big, smelly and bossy. The few white women that have relationships with Thai men are looked down upon by their peers. Having sex with animals would be less dishonouring.

On prostitution: 

Our initial rent negotiations consisted of Adelina instructing me how she wants it and after some fine tuning that’s how she gets it … That’s how I earn fifty percent discount in weekly installments. After two months I still find the paying rent exciting. I like being a male prostitute.

On Tom’s view of Bangkok:

I don’t see a thriving society. Bangkok is way past livability. I would die here in two months. Everything is upside down; filth and crime have become integral parts of this pool of doom. The glamorous high rises are all paid for with drug money.

On Bangkok water taxis:

I would never sit inside a water-taxi. I can picture the scene when that thing hits a tow-boat at full speed. The captain and crew are in a world of their own. Thais change when they control motorized vehicles; no more sabai-sabai, no more graeng jai, no more smile.

On the BBC:

We are the bloody BBC! We are not impressed by police officers that think they’re bleedin’ emperors. We have two dead Brits here, murdered or killed in a popular tourist destination. We are going to find out all there is to know. Period.

On family: 

…the front door opens and my older sister appears. Still living here; too ugly to marry, I guess. I point at her while I shout at my mother. “Why could she stay and I not?”

Despite the Gloomy Gus tone throughout the book, Metaphors of Death has a happy ending – several, actually. Things work out well for LannaLife and Tom’s career.  I would have liked to have seen more of an antagonist character developed for Tom to take on, besides Bangkok and western women, I mean. The drug dealer was a possibility but he vanishes after the first third of the book. More of the well-heeled Jon and the minimalist Tom in the newsroom would have been another enjoyable scenario – like a reverse gender Perry White and Lois Lane from The Daily Planet.

For readers looking for a peculiar yarn, featuring a quirky yet oddly likable protagonist tethered mostly to an accurate Chiang Mai backdrop, Metaphors of Death by former ad man, Dick Holzhaus may be right up your alley.  At 160 pages, it can easily be read in one long flight. Ebook may be found through Spanking Pulp Press, Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble.

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For more information about the author go to: whatadick.wordpress.com/

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henry miller (1)

 

Click the picture above to goto an essay: Thoughts on Henry Miller and Surrealism

By Robert Stanley Martin

Henry Miller Quote of the Month:

“I speak in cosmological terms because it seems to me that is the only possible way to think if one is truly alive. I think this way also because it is just the opposite of the way I thought a few years back when I had what is called hopes. Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions.”
Henry Miller – Henry Miller on Writing

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RJMRAZF

Chaska Potter, Mai Bloomfield, Becky Gebhardt, Mona Tavakoli, Jason Mraz

 

“Isn’t she magical? My sister Roxanne asked, about her daughter, Chaska who had raced down the hall and hung a hard left. My Mom was dying of cancer on my King size bed in Mountain View, California and Rox had come up as part of the hospice team we had put together. My roommate, Sam had moved out of the two bedroom apartment. I was staying in his room so my two sisters and I plus an angel of a hospice nurse could manage the unthinkable.

Marion

 Marion Cunningham

Chaska knew Marion was dying. She just didn’t care. She was happy to be seeing her Grandma, right now. She was about 6 years old and her clean dirty blonde hair, with no exaggeration, almost reached her ankles. Except when she flew down that hallway. Then it wafted behind her, waist high.  Chaska had hopped up on the bed of Grandma Marion Cunningham by the time I got to the somber room. Only it wasn’t somber, anymore. Because Chaska was happy. And for some precious moments so was everyone in the room.

Chaska Potter Serena Potter

 Top to Bottom: Chaska Potter with older sister Serena Potter

Singing always played a big part in Chaska’s family. I remember singing Cyndi Lauper tunes with her and the clan: True Colors and Time after Time come to mind.

Kevin Cummings with family

L to R Roxanne Cummings, Jeremy Potter, Belle Potter (in Roxanne’s arms) Kevin Cummings, Serena Potter, Jim Tillson (brother-in-law) Skipper Cummings, Oriana Potter (the short one) and Chaska Potter

Chaska usually made me happy, when I saw her. And I would see her a lot over the next 30 years. As she got older, you could tell, early, she was going be a great athlete. Even better than her brother, Jeremy. And Jeremy was no slouch. In her sophomore year of High School, she averaged 19 rebounds a game on her varsity basketball team. The next highest person in the entire county averaged 14. I was a basketball junkie and an Uncle, so I wrote the legendary Stanford women’s basketball coach, Tara VanDerveer and told her about Chaska. The assistant coach wrote her back. I offered to pay for her basketball camp between her sophomore and junior year at the prestigious school. There was just one problem: Chaska didn’t love basketball. She loved volleyball. You can’t win them all, but you can try. Chaska loved volleyball enough to be third team High School All American and play on a Junior National Championship team that featured future Stanford All American, Keri Walsh. She was named not Santa Cruz County Female Athlete of the Year – she got it for the decade. Chaska got a full ride to U.C.L.A. where she was all Academic Pac 10 Conference. All was going well until she blew out her rotator cuff, learning to serve left-handed by her Senior year.

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Kevin Cummings and Chaska Potter

When she graduated from U.C.L.A. I thought she still could have made an WNBA team. I really did. But once again she went with, love. And a career much easier on the knees and shoulders, music. She joined an established band of female musicians called Raining Jane. They were good, I thought. Why wouldn’t I? Over the years I saw Raining Jane composed of Mai Bloomfied, Becky Gebhardt and the cool as Antarctica cajon player Mona Tavakoli play at coffee houses, free concerts outside a bookshop in Santa Barbara and a High Tech firm in Silicon Valley. Then they opened for Sara Bareilles at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz, California among no more than 50 people while Sara’s Mom sat on the bar. The bar itself smelled of stale beer and dusty hardwood floors.

A YouTube video from almost 10 years ago. A lot of miles logged since this video was made.

Another great memory I have of Chaska was at a very large family gathering. At a Ramayana play in Salinas, California when I introduced my wife to the family. Later, Chaska uttered what is now one of my favorite quotes:

Everybody’s here…How awkward. – Chaska Potter

 

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Chaska Potter, laughing

You’ve gotta love honesty. Then RJ played Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas, The Great American Music Hall and Fillmore West in San Francisco and Ratree and I were there for those too. Things were looking up. After 14 years and 200,000 miles logged on a van they toured in. (Granted I do not know how many miles were on the van when they bought it.) After January concerts in Anchorage, Alaska. Skidding on icy mid-western highways, playing before college crowds of as few as 60, Raining Jane got lucky. Or was it something else? Jason Mraz and his management team agreed that of all the songs Jason had written, the best 75%  were co-writing collaborations with Raining Jane. The result, Jason and Raining Jane collaborating on the Yes! album where all five receive co-writing credits.

The Yes! album has done well at one point being the #1 selling album in the world. The tour dates usually sell out, quickly. Whatever you think of Jason Mraz he is the rarest of entertainers. As the saying goes, he puts butts in the seats. His voice and lyrics are also amazing as is his showmanship and concern for people and the earth. In high school back in Virginia, Jason was the lone male cheerleader, traveling with the girls to different schools. He gets to do it again, at a different level, with the ladies now. Lucky guy.

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Tomorrow, January 30th, 2015, tickets will go on sale for a Saturday, March 21st 2015 concert of Jason Mraz and Raining Jane. I’ll be in the line. Part of a world concert tour that has seen them play well over 50 times already in cities around the globe, often in historic venues. My wife and I will be at Impact Arena that night. I’ll try and see if I can get my friend, Alasdair a photographer’s pass. It never hurts to reach out to family.

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Kevin Cummings and wife, Ratree at Jason Mraz concert in Bangkok, Thailand on my birthday in 2012

Six months to the day from when that picture was taken, on December 16th, 2012, Jason Mraz and Mona Tavakoli headlined the Milestone Concert in Myanmar to raise awareness about human trafficking; the first international artist to play an open-air concert in Myanmar, which drew 70,000 people near the Shwedegon pagoda  and only one of a few major American artists to be invited to play in Myanmar in the last 80 years.  The others being Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Charlie Byrd.

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Henry Miller said, “Forget yourself.” And his message is a good one. National pride is mostly silly. But there is a place for family pride. If you made it this far, thanks for reading about one of the things I am proud of – my niece. I’m also very proud and very happy for every member of Raining Jane and Jason Mraz too. It’s lucky for me to have a rock star for a relative. But then, I think all my nieces and nephews are rock stars. Everyone of them. See you at the show.

The World According to Gop by Kevin Cummings Illustrated by Colin Cotterill

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Kevin Cummings Thailand Footprint blog

 

Thailand Footprint is pleased to announce a collaboration and the addition of a new feature: The World According to Gop. A monthly cartoon, featuring Gop the frog in the coconut shell. Talented drawings all done by an award winning author living La Vida Loca down in the south of Thailand. His signature is evident in its own unique style. If and when he starts to think the strip is getting funny he may include a second signature. Kevin Cummings takes responsibility for the writing and humor, absent or present. Welcome to Gop’s World.

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Bangkok Beat Final

The Bangkok Beat manuscript is completely finished – finally. It will be released as a paperback only, first. An Ebook may be released later probably in 2016 but not Amazon. The paperback will be Print on Demand with Create Space, which is part of Amazon. I’ve missed all my predictions but early June is my best guess at the moment as to when it will be available for purchase. Eventually it will be available at the Bangkok Beat store and Checkinn99 in Bangkok. Thanks for your interest.

Here is what people are saying about Bangkok Beat and Check Inn 99:

In a Bangkok which is quickly destroying all signs of its past glories in favor of shopping malls, Check Inn 99 stands as a beacon of hope to those of us old enough to remember it in all its mutations and still young enough to enjoy it as it is now. Bangkok Beat, in a series of short stories, up close interviews and artist profiles, chronicles some of the amazing history, people and entertainment found in Bangkok and often at Check Inn 99. Many of the stories have been provided by the very creative owner, Chris Catto-Smith and his dedicated staff.

Dean Barrett, author of Kingdom of Make Believe, Hangman’s Point, and Pop Darrell’s Last Case

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Bangkok 2015 is like Paris circa 1900 or Berlin in the 1920’s & 30’s, a vortex of noir where artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, journalists and musicians search deep into the darknesss for a glimpse of humanity and hope…..Kevin Cummings is one of the brave souls walking on the edge of the darkness in order to document its depth and breadth.

Chris Coles, artist & author of NAVIGATING THE BANGKOK NOIR

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A fascinating collection of interviews, literature reviews and stories from Thailand and the region. Kevin focuses on one of his favorite expat nightlife venues — Bangkok’s Check Inn 99 — with accounts about musicians, poets, authors and other night owls.

 Melissa Ray, 4 Time Muay Ying Champion in Thailand and blogger of Muay Thai on the Brain

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Chris​ Catto-Smith has a pig headed determination to give a voice to the often unheard talents of, writers, poets, actors, singers and artists.​ Check Inn 99 is a highly refreshing venue​ in a stagnating entertainment scene that only seems concerned with cheap copy bands that have churned out the same old tunes, ​forever. Chris, and those who support his vision, such as Thailand Footprint blogger Kevin Cummings whose new book, Bangkok Beat, is a collection of real events including entertaining stories involving the colorful history of Check Inn 99, could well drag Bangkok kicking and screaming into a brave new world, which it will be thankful for in the end because… it doesn’t get any better than this.

Kevin Wood, singer, musician, actor and author of, Opium Sparrows

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Bangkok Beat coming February 28th, 2015

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. (Not bad considering I took time off).

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Kevin Cummings:

Since I missed Night of Noir due to a scheduling conflict, this is the first write-up I’ve seen by one of the authors on the line-up that night. Jame also wrote a blog post prior called, NIGHT OF NOIR. Give them both a read. Jame is a revealing writer, fellow WordPress blogger and a financial news journalist as well…TO GO TO JAME’S Blog Click ASIA HACKS, below

Originally posted on Asia Hacks:

Reading at Night of Noir (photo by Alasdair McLeod) Reading at Night of Noir (photo by Alasdair McLeod)

Noir fiction follows a cynical protagonist – in the hardboiled genre, a detective, but otherwise a loser but one who maintains a certain integrity while pursuing (or being pursued by) a criminal organization or conspiracy within a legal or social system that is just as corrupt as the bad guys.

I flew to Bangkok to read at an informal literary party called Night of Noir, organized by local expat writers and held at a bar in the middle of one of the city’s prominent sex-trade neighborhoods. The event coincided with the terrible murders of editors, writers and cartoonists at Parisian satire magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamic fundamentalists.

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People who wonder what the attraction is to living in a place like Bangkok, Thailand need only experience the options available on a typical Thursday night in Bangkok City. Not Friday or Saturday, Thursday.

I had made plans to see Clifton Hardy at Above Eleven Bar on Sukhumvit Soi 11.

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A classy venue where reservations are definitely recommended, located on the 33rd Floor of the Fraser Suites.

Clifton Hardy

The Clifton Hardy quintet is the featured entertainment every Thursday night going on three years now – again reservations strongly advised.

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Kevin Conroy from Seattle, Washington has time to get a picture with his friend and singer Clifton Hardy at Above Eleven

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 Another photo opportunity for Thailand Footprint blogger Kevin Cummings with singer Clifton Hardy

Clifton was a gracious host in many ways including providing a tour to my friends Kevin Conroy and Thom Locke of the stunning panoramic views found on the rooftop.

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There is a dress code of casual elegance at Above Eleven so unless you can fit into these size 10 medium beige beauties it is recommended you not wear sandals to Above Eleven. A mysterious mystery writer is seen here with the legendary loaners.

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Big Jeff Thompsen of the Soi Dog Blues Band

After a couple hours of Clifton’s vocals and musical accompaniment  we headed down the road to Apoteka where the Soi Dog Blues Band and Jeff Thompsen plays every Thursday night. By now we were a much larger group. I dropped the name of a well known, traditionally published phantom author and the VIP room was offered to us. In like Flynn. Why not?

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 The Soi Dog Blues Band comes on every Thursday night at Apoteka Bar on Sukhumvit Soi 11 starting at 9:30 p.m.

Meanwhile the Night of Noir was concluding and all the feedback via Line App and SMS messages was positive.

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The poet noir, John Gartland decked out in sartorial splendor for a Thursday night reading at Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir knows how to get a party started.

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James A. Newman wearing his Thursday night Bangkok City T-shirt and Tom Vater share a noir moment at Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir III 2015.

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John Daysh was a hit with the crowd while entrepreneur Chris Catto-Smith attends to business.

Dean Barrett

The Dean of Bangkok mysteries, Dean Barrett was the usual crowd favorite. If there is anybody in Bangkok City who doesn’t like Dean Barrett I have not met him.

Thursday Night In Bangkok City

The SRO crowd at Check Inn 99 at Night of Noir III 2015 on a Thursday night. Chris Coles Crazy Hour painting in the background.

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The weekends get started on Thursday in Bangkok City. For some people every day is Friday in Bangkok. Or Thursday for that matter. (All Check Inn 99 photos by Alasdair McLeod).

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Night of Noir III Host James A. Newman with artist Chris Coles seen at a bar favored by fat cats

(Photo: Alasdair McLeod)

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The Night of Noir III lineup to be held tomorrow evening at Check Inn 99 has shaped up nicely. From left to right you have host and pulp fiction writer extraordinaire, James A. Newman, expressionist artist Chris Coles, the multi-talented Kevin Wood, fan favorite and feminist foe Dean Barrett, publisher, editor and author, John Daysh making a rare Thailand appearance from New Zealand, the poet noir John Gartland, author of the excellent Gaijin Cowgirl Jame Dibiasio has flown in from Hong Kong and man of many hats, publisher, journalist, novelist and travel writer Tom Vater fills out the bill. In addition Thom Locke (T. Hunt Locke) will be milling around and if you look closely you’ll probably spot a few other authors in the crowd as well.

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If you need additional incentive to get down to Check Inn 99 an exhibit featuring some of Chris Coles original paintings from the NAVIGATING THE BANGKOK NOIR book is part of the Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir event which will take place Thursday January 8th, 2015 featuring readings from many of Bangkok’s leading Expat authors, all part of the burgeoning Bangkok Noir movement.

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  Navigating the Bangkok Noir by Chris Coles

 

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It should be a good two to three hours of entertainment at Check Inn 99 with rumors floating around that some of the authors may pick up their musical instruments and form an impromptu noir band. In addition Music of the Heart Band will be there. Books by the authors are available for purchase and signing.

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It looks to be another memorable evening in what is becoming an annual Check Inn 99 tradition. For more information about seating and arrival time go to https://www.facebook.com/events/739996159402376/

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 Sexy Bar by Chris Coles on Exhibit at Check Inn 99

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A happy couple, they each have dreamed of the other, hoping to find what they have been missing in themselves. But what happens if what they see is something they have imagined, not what is actually there…..(Words by Chris Coles)

Some of the Chris Coles paintings will be available for purchase as well at reasonable price points. So there are many reasons to check out Check Inn 99 and the Night of Noir III tomorrow night.

Check Inn 99 is located on Lower Sukhumvit between Soi 5 and Soi 7 opposite the Landmark Hotel…the Chris Coles exhibit will be up for about a month from December 26th onwards….open from 6pm to 2am every night…..musical performances by Music of the Heart band starting around 8pm…many thanks to Check Inn 99 Bangkok’s energetic and creative impresario Chris Catto-Smith.

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I met the artist, James A. Newman under a starless sky over a basket of chicken livers washed down with some pints of dark ale at an outdoor eatery, catty-corner from Queen Victoria Pub. The burned out second floor window at the bar across the soi had been replaced and a cat was licking one of the paint chips left behind on the red awning. Leaded or unleaded, I wasn’t sure. Foot traffic was picking up and so were the green and yellows. Newman seemed more interested in a busty woman in long heels and short shorts and a nerdy gal, wearing white framed glasses and eating deep fried larvae than this interviewer. But this wasn’t my first rodeo. No. On with it, as Christopher Minko once told me.

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KC: Someone, a long time ago, gave me some good advice about women. He said, “Tell the pretty woman she’s smart and the smart woman she’s pretty.” It made sense to me at the time.

JN: That’s pretty smart advice.

KC: You’re a writer.

JN: Thanks. So are you.

KC: Well, I’m not expecting a call from Elyse Cheney anytime soon. Thanks, though. You, on the other hand, have written four novels in the Joe Dylan Detective series, not to mention Lizard City with Johnny Coca Cola, have a screen option out on The White Flamingo and have published tons of short stories, which garnered you numerous rejection slips in the process. All years before your 40th birthday.

JN: I have. Rejection slips are my badges of honor.

KC: Your story, Pacific Coast Highway, in Paul D. Brazill’s Exiles: An Outsider Anthology really hit home. And all the proceeds go to charity. Good on Paul and you. You’ve even published a book about Buddhism under a nom de plume, so that leads us, naturally, to music.

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JN: Naturally.

KC: Can you be like Tom Petty and do some free fallin’ about the musical influences in your life from the time you held your first Atari joystick to what you listened to with your eggs this morning? 

JN: Okay. Let’s see. I thank my parents for introducing me to The Beatles, Stones, Squeeze, The Smiths, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and many more bands and songwriters that I wouldn’t have discovered so early otherwise. In fact my grandparents are Beatles fans, God bless them. I discovered The Velvet Underground and Nico through my friend Scott who bought the record after watching the Oliver Stone movie The Doors based on the book No One Here Gets Out Alive written by none other than Jerry Hopkins who was at the last Night of Noir event in Bangkok, albeit fleetingly. So it all moves in circles.

As a teenager and during my early twenties opening my CD cabinet was like opening an angry teenager’s diary. There was a lot of dark stuff in there. Music for a New Society by John Cale. Early Beck, Sonic Youth and God Machine for a stateside trip to hell. The Auteurs and Pulp with their wonderfully British brand of fallen actor pop star gloom. Suede with their glorious drugs in a council flat chic. Dinosaur Jr with their weed inspired fuzz box meltdown and the Jesus and Mary Chain for an absolute nihilistic hit of the dark stuff. I took Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed seriously – it was just a record of noise and feedback. It almost ruined his career yet Reed toured the album shortly before his death. So, there you go. I like risk takers with dangerous minds. On the back of the Metal Machine Music LP is that wonderfully spikey quote: “My week beats your year.”

Early 90s in London I went to hundreds of gigs and a handful of festivals and played in a band as a guitarist, singer and song-writer. We were lucky enough to have a studio and a producer (all on a government loan!) and I wish I still had some of those recordings. We practiced solidly and spent a lot of time recording and experimenting with samples and effects and basically monkeying around with all the equipment at our disposal. Thousands of rehearsals over a number of years and we never even signed a record deal! We landed in the local paper and our live shows were unmitigated disasters as I had chronic stage fright and a weakness for Russian vodka. I love rock and roll and back then in my youthful naivety I had the narrow belief that the only thing I was any good at was writing and recording songs. This was nonsense. I was actually quite good at other things too, like smoking, drinking beer, fumbling around in the dark reading Burroughs and watching Easy Rider and generally acting the fool my friends.

Right now I like Big Fat White Family. Tom Vater turned me onto them. Touch the Leather is an awesome track.

KC: I’ll check it out. Vater is irreverent and informed, I’ve read. And a great comedian. Speaking of objectivity, can an artist be objective about his own work? ​

JN: Nah… Shane McGowen said during a brief period of coherence that art is like throwing shit at the wall. Some of it sticks and some of it doesn’t and the thrower really doesn’t know which way it will splat. I’ve struck out more than I’ve hit. A wise man realizes he’s a fool just fumbling around in the dark. I don’t cling to praise and I don’t cling to criticism and I am certainly not objective about my own work. Writing a novel is like bringing up a child. You love your child more than anything in the world but you know deep down inside you made more than a few mistakes along the way.

KC: Who decides whether someone is an apprentice, a craftsman or a true artist? Is it his peers, the public or the almighty sales figures?

JN: Peer acceptance is very important to me personally although I reckon in the end the audience decides, word of mouth decides, the readers are the real story makers, writers just kind of lay out the path. A promotional push can get the ball rolling but if the ball is bad it won’t sell after the first few months. Then there comes one who just breathes talent and nothing can stop him or her. He or she needs no promotion, word of mouth spreads like wild fire. Very rare, but it happens.

KC: Give me an example.

JN: A good example would be Miller.

Henry Miller

Henry Miller

KC: Isn’t it possible that if Henry Miller had not hooked up with some well-heeled sponsors in Paris no-one would have ever heard of him? Did Henry get lucky or did he create his own luck? 

JN: Miller was certainly not lucky for much of his life if the books I’ve read are accurate. Miller published in France, and then Barney at Grove Press took a risk and put his books out Stateside. Thus the circus began; scandal, court case, and huge sales. I can’t see anything scandalous in Miller’s writing personally. I just see good prose and wonderful flights of imagination. When he flows he really flows like some kind of possession is at play, you know? He would enjoy success if he started writing now. He was a good writer who followed the simple discipline that one word should follow the next as if it were supposed to be right there.

If you study the careers of successful writers in depth and read the biographies you will see that they just kept plugging away until at least one person enjoyed what they were doing just enough to sustain the magic. Some of the great novelists were writing for just one person, normally a lover or a friend, or quite often, themselves. It seems that financial success and critical recognition for any artist normally comes later in life, if at all. Some people luck it and some have talent, but usually it’s just good old hard work over many, many years.

KC: A friend of mine said, as we discussed musicians, “There is more talent in the world than luck.” Do you agree with that?

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JN: An individual either has or doesn’t have musical talent, although some do have better musical talent than others. Musical talent is easier to spot than writing talent, you can hear it, but when you see writing talent, you really see it. Bob Dylan, for example is an average musician but an enormously talented writer who made a fortune in the music business owing to his use of words. The guitar was a prop to success and the Beats had blasted the barn door open in terms of what you could sing about at that time and place. I’m not saying that Dylan wasn’t a rock and roller, or a folk musician, he was, but first and foremost, like Lou Reed, he was a writer who used the rock and roll platform to express himself. Is there a creative gene? I don’t know. Perhaps it is a strain of autism. Musical talent has been proven to be genetic. Perfect pitch is passed on down generations. Anyone can play the guitar or the piano but how many can reach that state where the instrument takes over the musician? When the musician is just a puppet on a stage guided by some strange higher power? Writing can be learned to a certain degree yet a writer in full flow is like the piano player guided to that golden place by the muse. Burroughs wrote in a Tangerine letter to Ginsberg that “the writing is coming on like dictation; I can’t keep up with it.” Perhaps there is something supernatural at play. I don’t know. I know only one thing. Talent and luck are less important than work. Work brings talent and luck. Warhol said work is the most important attribute any artist has in his toolkit and many would say Warhol was untalented and lucky.

KC: Warhol critics are not hard to find. Warhol-like success is quite rare. He was a worker bee. Tell me about your book on Buddhism. Is Buddhism a mist, a lacquer, a veneer or a hardwood in your life? Expand on these things called thoughts? Should we pay them any attention? How does one unlock the great mystery of life, anyway?

Thai Meditations

JN: Thai Meditations was written after staying at several monasteries in Thailand. There is a short story or observation for each of the seventy-seven provinces of Thailand. You would have to ask someone else about unlocking the mystery of life. I’m not qualified; I’m merely fumbling around in the dark. Thoughts shouldn’t be held on to for too long in daily life. Living in the present moment is difficult, yet, as writers we get to play with thoughts. Novelists rearrange thoughts and construct them into stories that allow the reader to become lost in the story and forget their own anxieties. Stories really are a magical gift in that respect. It all goes back to the hunter gatherer society and tales around the camp fire. I guess the story-teller was a lousy hunter.

KC:​ Sean Penn once said that one is either born with a resistance to cynicism or you’re not. He went on to say that his friend, Charles Bukowski was one of those guys who was given every opportunity in life to become a jaded, cynical prick. But Penn claims Buk was anything but. Sean Penn goes on to describe Charles as the sweetest, most vulnerable pussycat who disguised it wonderfully. Do you agree with Penn’s assessment of Bukowski?

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JN: I agree and disagree. I don’t think a child is born a cynic nor born with a resistance to cynicism. I think a cynical person becomes one by way of parental or institutional belittlement – social conditioning – although some argue genetics are at play, I’m not so sure. I do agree that Bukowski was sensitive and vulnerable. Most poets are. Penn knew Bukowski after he had made some money and had gotten himself married to Linda and had the hot tub and the BMW. He was cynical as hell while claiming to ride box cars and living on skid row. But when Penn knew him he was living the high life, Santa Barbara, baby. It’s difficult to be a cynic when you’re sitting in a hot tub smoking a Honduran cigar with close to a million dollars growing in the bank and a nice BMW on the drive and you’re having Dennis Hopper and Madonna over for brunch.

KC: How do you avoid becoming cynical? How would you describe yourself? What, if anything, do you disguise?

JN: The best way to avoid becoming cynical is to remove yourself from the source of that cynicism. If Thailand or any country brings out these feelings of cynicism, take a trip somewhere else for a week or two. If your job sucks, change it. I describe myself as a humorist creative type, a loyal son of a bitch who has a drive to succeed, but could be a better family guy. Disguise? A writer disguises nothing at all; it is all in his work for anybody to read. Do you know how much bravery it takes a novelist to publish their first novel? First novels are generally terribly personal, and packed with the author’s most awful secrets.

KC: Tell me about your writing process?

JN: It varies. The White Flamingo took a few sittings. After the notes were made and my outline was mapped out I hammered the novel out in a few weeks. I just deleted 25,000 words of my latest book Fun City Blues as I thought about a new science fiction direction. You know I was once asked by an attractive tall blond “What is a writer?” I replied “Someone who can’t stop writing.” So perhaps it’s an obsessive thing.

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​KC: That blond sounds smart to me. Raymand Chandler wrote about Bay City in his 7 Philip Marlow Novels, which everyone pretty much knew was Santa Monica, California. You write about Fun City in your Joe Dylan series, which most, but not everyone, would recognize as Pattaya. Explain this literary technique if you can. What are the advantages of doing it the Chandler way? Is there a down side?

JN: First and foremost I love Chandler’s work and admire everything he has written apart from some of the very early work. Secondly Fun City is a strange beast of a city, a product of my warped imagination but grounded in visits to Pattaya and Bangkok where I’ve lived for 13 years. The series has become more popular than I would have ever of imagined it to have become. Fun City gives me the license to spill out any literary phantasies I may have without the geographical or cultural restrictions of actual place. I can push the fictional world further with the freedom of this make believe city. In the current book I have the harbor, the beach, the Central Business District, and the Red Night Zone all set together in the blade-running future. I have discovered my terrain after years of fumbling around with the concept and the formula of the series. The tourist zones of Thailand are so close to science fiction that it just makes sense to write in a cyber punk vein, and go all the way with it. Joe Dylan is of course a fedora wearing gumshoe detective who navigates around this strange neon world by night. It’s a nice concept. I’m content with Joe and Fun City. They mix together well, like red wine and cheese. I like writing the series and am happy that the series is being read.

KC: You’ve been at the forefront of the first two Night of Noir events at the Check Inn 99 bar. Tell our readers about Night of Noir Number 3.

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Author James A. Newman reads from a Joe Dylan crime novel during a Night of Noir held at Check Inn 99

JN:  This coming Thursday, 8th January 2015 is the date set for the third Night of Noir. I’ll be the host for a line-up which includes, Dean Barrett and Tom Vater along with Jame Dibiasio flying in from Hong Kong. Jame wrote the excellent Gaijin Cowgirl for Crimewave Press and I believe the second book in that series is out quite soon. My publishing partner and editor John Daysh is in town. James Austin Farrell may come down to the big smoke from Chang Mai. Thom Locke is confirmed. Poet Noir John Gartland is reading. Artwork by Chris Coles and photography by Stickman and talk of an author’s band playing live. The wonderfully talented musician Keith Nolan will be in house. The last two years have been a great success and have drawn in some wonderful authors from around the world including Cara Black and John Burdett last year. Chris Catto-Smith, manager of the Check Inn 99 has been an absolute legend in helping us realize the event. Chris Coles has been an incredible influence on the whole scene with his paintings and vision and was the one who first got the ball rolling. I am very lucky and grateful to be here in this space and time with such wonderfully creative people. Including yourself, Kevin. Thanks for the time and the questions. I enjoyed it. Is it over? Do you mind if I hit Suzie Wong?

KC: The chicken livers are all gone. So, yes. Suzie Who?

JN: Exactly.

Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir

 For more information regarding the upcoming Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir go to

the Blog of James A. Newman or click the picture above

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henry-miller

 

Henry Miller Portrait by Jack Coughlin

To purchase art by Jack Coughlin visit www.jackcoughlin.com/ or click the portrait of Henry above

What we all hope in reaching for a book, is to meet a man of our own heart, to experience tragedies and delights which we ourselves lack the courage to invite, to dream dreams which will render life more hallucinating, perhaps also to discover a philosophy of life which will make us more adequate in meeting the trials and ordeals which beset us. To merely add to our store of knowledge or improve our culture, whatever that may mean, seems worthless to me. – Henry Miller

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anonymousmanbkk

 Portrait art of Thailand Footprint’s Footprint Maker of the Year by Chris Coles

 

What a year in Thailand, eh? Last year was a tough call for who made the biggest impression on this web site. Chris Coles and Chris Catto-Smith were the Co-winners of the 2013 Footprint Maker of the Year Award. The prestigious award. I forgot, prestigious.

This year it’s an easy call. Politics was not Henry Miller’s favorite subject. Mine either. But they had an effect on the arts in a small way. I wrote my first parody, ever and had my first ever poem published. They are attached again, herewith for your viewing and listening pleasure. So without further ado, the 2014 Footprint Maker of the Year Award goes to, The Yammerer of Bangkok.

Oh well, I’m the type of guy who will never compromise

When I whistle and I yell, you know that I’m around

I hate ‘em and I hate ‘em ’cause to me they’re all the same

I squeeze ‘em and I squeeze ‘em and everybody knows my name

They call me the yammerer

Yea, the yammerer

I roam around, around, around, around

Oh well, there’s Lek on my left and there’s Noi on my right

And Jasmine is the girl that I’ll be with tonight

And when she asks me, which one I love the best

I tear open my shirt, where my face is tattooed on my chest

‘Cause I’m the yammerer

Yea, the yammerer

I roam around, around, around, around

Oh well, I roam from street to street, I go through life without a care

And I’m as happy as a clown

I with my two fists of iron but I’m going nowhere

I’m the type of guy who likes to meet and greet

I’m never in one place, I roam from street to street

And when I find myself a fallin’ for some facts

I hop right in that ‘Benz of mine, until I’m back on track

Yea, ’cause I’m the yammerer

Yea, a yammerer

I roam around, around, around, around

‘Cause I’m a yammerer

Yea, a yammerer

 

 

And my poem about the politics of hate:

father

 

A BANGKOK BLOGGER’S OBSERVATIONS

“Walk across the soi, you’ll save 10 baht.” He said

Seems like a lot of trouble on a street known for the dead

Illusions are flying like bullets and hot air

Children are dying, does anybody care?

What’s it all about? Power and greed

There is no glory in doing the good deed

I hate you. But I hated you first

But I hate you more

But you are the worst

Liars call people lunatics

To try and save face

Everyone has a Plan B

To get out of this place

Burmese Fortune tellers tell a good tale

While Rohingyan refugees face rotting in jail

Is this a farce? Can this be happening now?

Don’t burst my illusions and I won’t burst yours, pal.

2558

 Best wishes for a great New Year from Thailand Footprint

And may 2015 be a better one

Thanks for your reading support

 

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Last night, the Cambodian noir band Krom led by Christopher Minko and lead vocalist Sophea Chamroeun concluded an historic three night run, playing three very different venues, at Overground Bar just off of Sukhumvit Road, in Bangkok, Thailand to an overflow standing room only crowd. It was a fitting finale for the Phnom Penh based bi-lingual band (Khmer and English). The unique sound of Krom is always original and often a mixture of Khmer and English lyrics, with an unambiguous message of ugly truth.

KROM

KROM – L to R:  James Mao Sokleap; Jimmy Baeck; Christopher Minko; Sophea Chamroeun; Sopheak Chamroeun

(Photo: Eric Nelson – Venue Toot Yung Art Center)

The remaining band members are the versatile Jimmy Baeck, who plays either a soulful slide guitar, accordion or saxophone and backup singer Sopheak Chamroeun, the sister of Sophea. The talented sisters studied traditional Cambodian dance and music under the countries best masters, through the internationally acclaimed Cambodian Living Arts Program. Mr. Minko reminded the Overground crowd of the genocide atrocities inflicted upon Cambodians by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, which had a particularly horrific effect on those involved in the arts. The newest Krom member is bass guitar player James Mao Sokleap, who also serves as record producer for Krom’s upcoming third album.

MinkoHansar

KROM Lead Man Christopher Minko

(Photo: Alasdair McLeod – Venue Hansar Hotel)

Krom was born from a place of darkness and their songs frequently touch on personal and dark themes. Krom’s debut 2012 album is titled SONGS OF THE NOIR, which became popular after frequent radio station play. The following year their NEON DARK album also became a success, particularly with listeners in the United Kingdom. In early 2015 Krom will release, MEKONG DELTA BLUES.

Bottom line is the world’s a shit-hole in so many ways – you can either try to do some good and effect positive change or you can selfishly turn your back on it all – I just try to do my best with my music and with my disability work and hopefully achieve some good things in a rather complex world acknowledging life’s horrors and beauties are so intermingled as to be beyond all understanding. – Christopher Minko (From a February 2014 interview)

The above quote by Chistopher Minko should give you some concept of the man and the message he wishes to convey in his work and his music even if we have to accept, as he reminds us in song and lyrics, that we live in a world that has gone “stark raving mad.”

krom singer

KROM Female Vocalist Sopheak Chamroeun

(Photo: Alasdair McLeod – Venue Hansar Hotel)

The three venues that Krom played from December 18th, 19th & 20th could not be more diverse. The beauty of Krom is that their language of music can be understood by anyone, anywhere – even if the Khmer lyrics cannot always be. From the under the sky, 19th floor outdoor platform of the 5 Star Hansar Hotel, where they opened, to the Toot Yung Art Center, highlighting works by other artists, to the second level walk-up of the appropriately “Paint it Black” interior of the conversely named Overground Bar, Krom has a message to tell. They tell it with dignity and clarity: It’s not a pretty world out there.

Paint it Black

Christopher Minko and James Mao Sokleap

(Photo:  John Fengler – Venue: Overground Bar)

Woven into the Krom experience is, respect. You saw the respect in the eyes of Sopheak as she listened to her sister, Sophea. You sensed the respect as Christopher Minko graciously and literally took a back seat to the Khmer singers at times during the performances, to appreciate not only their voices but their culture, which is being preserved and expanded by performances such as these. And you heard the respect when Christopher Minko took the time to thank his good friend, Christopher G. Moore and some of the many members of the talented Bangkok expat community in attendance on closing night.

Overground Bar

Closing Night for Krom at the Overground Bar and Cafe in Bangkok, Thailand. December 20th, 2014

(Photo: Mark Desmond Hughes)

Connections were re-established and bridges were built. The journey for Krom from Cambodia to Bangkok will be easier and hopefully more frequent in the future. Bangkok has no shortage of things to do, musically and otherwise. Yet Krom created a genuine energy by their presence in Bangkok. There are more travels and more countries ahead for Krom in 2015, including Germany, France and Australia. Those who have experienced Krom tend to become fans. Of the music and the message. Both are worth exploring further.

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Singer

Sophea Chamroeun

(Photo: Mark Desmond Hughes)

Visit Krom’s web site and support these fine artists and their message if you are so inclined.

http://www.themekongsessions.com/

 

Visit KROM on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/KromSong

Have a listen to Krom here:

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Americans in Thailand

Americans in Thailand is the non-fiction Book of the Year for 2014. A serious and beautiful book breaking down the contributions of Americans from the pioneering days, when sailing voyages took months and on up to the present day. It’s a historic chronicle of the often humorous, sometimes tragic tale of two countries seeking, usually, a mutually beneficial relationship.

UKHenMil

The Unknown Henry Miller – A Seeker in Big Sur by Arthur Hoyle makes my list for the expat spirit Henry Miller exemplfied during his Paris and Europe years. A biography focusing on previously unknown or less published facts about Henry Miller with a focus on the California years.

buddhist_temples_thailand

I’ve held this one. I’ve read with interest the letter of introduction by Greg Lowe, the editor and project originator on how the idea for this book developed. I’ve looked at and read the book as much as I could recently at Asia Books. Buddhist Temples of Thailand – A Visual Journey Through Thailand’s 40 Most Historic Wats will be on my book shelf by the new year. I believe it’s now in its second printing having first come out in late 2012. The text is by noted travel writer Joe Cummings and the photographs were done by Dan White, the well known photographer who died unexpectedly in September of 2012 not long after completing this assignment. I include a blog entry link at the blog Happy Travel where Dan recalls the assignment: http://travelhappy.info/thailand/buddhist-temples-of-thailand-a-journey/ . It’s well worth the read, both the blog post and the visual journey of Buddhist Temples Of Thailand. I plan to do a joint review of the book with Alasdair McLeod in 2015. (All words by Kevin Cummings).

Thailand Best STreet Food

For many visitors, traveling to Thailand means one thing: enjoying the delicious street food. In Thailand’s Best Street Food, freelance writer and food blogger Chawadee Nualkhair details everything that visitors need to know to track down the most delectable dishes—no matter where they are hidden. (Text from Simon and Shuster web site). Click here for more info.

Romancing The East

In Romancing the East, best-selling author Jerry Hopkins combines his research and his own experiences as a longtime expatriate with an intimate knowledge of Asia and offers a unique perspective on the impact of Eastern culture in Western literature. Jerry moved to Thailand in 1993 where he developed a strong reputation with his writings on food, travel, and various aspects of Asian life and culture.(Source: Tuttle Publishing Web Site). I may have recommended this one last year, too. Jerry Hopkins is the gracious legend who was gracious enough to do a long interview with me in 2013. Better twice than not at all.

 

So there you have it. Six fiction picks last week and five non-fiction picks today. Any of which would make a fine present, Christmas or otherwise.

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Bangkok Beat Final

 

Sunday, December 14th 2014. A day that will live if not in infamy than in incredulity. For it was on that day that the bureaucratic battle by Chris Catto Smith and his wife Mook was lost and the historic Check Inn 99 sign, seemingly forever located between Sukhumvit 5 and 7 was finally taken down by workmen to make more headroom available for bicyclists. Because as everyone knows, bicycling is one of the great recreational activities Bangkok is famous for on Sukhumvit Road. As Chris drove home the point so clearly last night as he recounted his horror tales of dealing with the Thai government: he thought he was dealing with a psychopath when in reality it turned out it was the creation of a cycle path. (See Check Inn 99 Facebook page for details).

Cycle Path

Psychopath or cycle path on Sukhumvit Road? You be the judge.

CheckInn

A piece of history is now gone – The iconic Check Inn 99 sign

Workman

Workman follow orders of Thai government and remove historic landmark

CheckInn99NoSign

In a Bangkok which is quickly destroying all signs of its past glories in favor of shopping malls, Check Inn 99 stands as a beacon of hope to those of us old enough to remember it in all its mutations and still young enough to enjoy it as it is now. Bangkok Beat, in a series of short stories, up close interviews and artist profiles, chronicles some of the amazing history, people and entertainment found in Bangkok and often at Check Inn 99. Many of the stories have been provided by the very creative owner, Chris Catto-Smith and his dedicated staff.

Dean Barrett, author of Kingdom of Make Believe, Hangman’s Point, and Pop Darryl’s Last Case

Nothing Lasts Forever

(All photographs courtesy of Chris Catto Smith and Mook at Check Inn 99)

But fear not. The memories of the Check Inn 99 sign will live on in the imaginative rendition by noted novelist and cartoonist, Colin Cotterill in the soon to be released book, BANGKOK BEAT detailing the colorful history of Check Inn 99. Over the past 7 months a lot of time and effort has been taken by members of the Check Inn 99 family to properly compile the needed information and pictures. For the first time the written and photographic history of Check Inn 99 will be detailed in book form, along with previously published popular essays from this blog. It will be released initially as an E book and then as a paperback, the latter which will be available at Check Inn 99, this web sight and other sources by early 2015.

The table of contents will follow closely the foundational quote of Thailand Footprint by Henry Miller:

Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.

In addition to the storied history of Check Inn 99 the book will delve into the interesting people, things, literature and music of Bangkok and the region.

The Check Inn 99 sign is no more. But it will live on on the cover of BANGKOK BEAT. Stay tuned to this new page for more details including a complete Table of Contents coming soon. The artwork is so good by Colin Cotterill, I’m posting it twice:

Bangkok Beat by Kevin Cummings

 BANGKOK BEAT Coming in 2015

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Through it all I learned the value of being humble to the dust, reduced to ashes. Everyone should experience that. Before you can recognize you’re somebody, you have to know you’re nobody. [-] The butterfly was just a lowly worm in its beginning. The worm didn’t live with the moment-to-moment expectation of sprouting wings and taking flight. He lived a useful and productive life, the life of a worm. And he had to die a worm in order to be born as an angel! The spinning of the cocoon is, in and of itself, remarkable. It is as wondrous as the emergence and first flight of the butterfly. – Henry Miller

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The following is one man’s opinion of top 2014 books set in Asia or with an Asian theme, which I recommend as a good Christmas gift for oneself or another:

Ballad of a Small Player

The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne is my Book of the Year. A compelling read about a psychotic gambler set in the high stakes casinos of Macao with ferry boat trips to Hong Kong. It comes with a supernatural twist. Sentence by sentence, Lawrence Osborne is a writer readers will want to experience at a temperate pace.

ForTheDeadTimothyHallinan

A lot of people are saying For The Dead by Timothy Hallinan is the best in the Poke Rafferty series. If his other books were not so good I might agree. The Queen of Patpong is still my runaway winner with The Fear Artist next and Breathing Water also a favorite. But for the development of a family that matters to each other you can’t get any better than Poke, Rose and Miaow in this typical high quality Hallinan thriller.

phantom-lover-and-other-thrilling-tales-of-9780804843881_lg

The Phantom Lover and Other Thrilling Tales of Thailand by Jim Algie easily makes my list. Algie is a pro and it shows in his prose. A creative mix of nine stories all brought together in an ambitious finale about the emotional and physical devastation of the Tsunami of 2004.

Axe Factor

What can you say about Colin Cotterill? He lives down in the south of Thailand with a pack of dogs named GoGo and Beer and Sticky Rice, has no Facebook or Twitter accounts and in his spare time draws great cartoons of frogs in coconut shells, Bangkok and CheckInn99. He also writes a series of novels about a coroner in Laos. The Jim Juree series and The Axe Factor is a fun romp through the north and south of Thailand with one of the wackiest families since the Addams family lived in that mansion on the hill.

TheManWithTheGoldenMindS

Once you’ve had fun with Cotterill get serious with Tom Vater and The Man with the Golden Mind. Vater brings his experience as a travel writer and documentary film maker of The Most Secret Place on Earth about the clandestine CIA activities during the Viet Nam war era and the busy airport in Laos conducting the business of bombing. A complex spy thriller with an intriguing protagonist, which takes place from the mid 1970s to the early 21st century. There is always much to be learned while being entertained in the Vater narrative.

Pop Darrell-AUG Options-B

Last but not least is Dean Barrett’s Pop Darrell’s Last Case. This book launches December 16th, 2014 at CheckInn99 at 6:30 p.m. I was given an advance readers copy and finished reading it this week. You can find my recent review here. Dean blends his experience of China and New York City perfectly and his other varied experiences come through as well in a very entertaining fantasy/Chinese thriller.

So that’s my very incomplete top 6 picks for 2014. Next week. Non fiction picks for 2014.

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Axe Factor

The Axe Factor by Colin Cotterill was first published by Quercus in the United Kingdom in 2013 and published in the USA by Minotaur Books in 2014. It is the third Jimm Juree Mystery set in Thailand. Colin is also the award winning author of the Dr. Siri coroner series, set in Laos, numbering nine novels.

A blurb on my book tells the reader, “Cotterill understands people and writes subtle humor like a master.” Library Journal (starred review) on The Axe Factor. No argument here with the people part, including Thai people or the starred part. It’s a book that will make you smile, often, even during the blood and the body parts. As for the humor being subtle? As cutting and sharp as the featured murder weapon would be a more apt description. The mystery is told in the narrative voice of former Chiang Mai resident and investigative reporter, Jimm Juree. Jimm and her eccentric family have relocated to the coast of southern Thailand, in Chumpon province, where they run the Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant. In addition to the nucleus of Jimm there is Granddad Jah, a retired Thai traffic cop with a keen sense of detail, character assessment and poor hearing, Mair the somewhat demented and digressive matriarch, and Arny the sensitive bodybuilder nicknamed after his Schwarzenegger idol. The long lost father, a squid fisherman named Captain Kow is introduced for the first time. Only Sissi, the aging transgendered, former beauty queen brother has remained in Chiang Mai.  There she spends most of her time involved on illicit computer activities when not on the phone with Jimm, helping her solve an investigative or personal problem. Dogs are also part of the family. GoGo, Sticky Rice and Beer even get a mention in the acknowledgment of the book, as they should. Their roles are important and comedic, sometimes simultaneously. Chompu, a gay and cheerful Thai police officer makes his recurring role a memorable one, once again.

Clever writing is found throughout this farce of a murder tale. But the improbable is not really so improbable when viewed through Cotterill’s observations and imagination. Lines like, The duty officer was very fond of microwave tuna pie, are found as you read about the lone night policeman known to wait outside the town’s Seven Eleven store.

It’s not all fun, murder and games, however. During Jimm’s investigation into the disappearance of a female doctor, deception, corruption and foul play by a corporate sponsor involved in the production of baby formula plays a prominent role. The message is: natural is better and what could be more natural than mothers’ milk? The subtlety comes in environmental issues, in the form of garbage washing up on the beaches daily or a character wondering in Buddhist fashion, which life form they will return in for the next life, including the possibility of, a barely alive piece of coral.

The smart and sane one in the family, Jimm Juree, finds romance in this tale in the form of expat author Conrad Coralbank, who coincidentally or not has the same initials as the author and has also published a popular fictional series set in Laos. No one is spared from the acerbic wit of Cotterill, including the publishing industry, sex scenes in literature, technology users, authors and perhaps even readers of mystery fiction? The obvious becomes not so obvious in this wild fantasy ride.

As with Killed at the Whim of a Hat, the first in the Jimm Juree series, you get a value added feature in the form of the Chapter Titles. These are English translated signs, found in Thailand, such as Have a Good Fright, seen at a Thai domestic airport and Intercourse for Beginner found on an English Language CD. Blog entries by the murder suspect are skillfully interjected as are emails to and from Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso Production Company, which add to the reading pleasure.

There is a bit of a surprise ending and readers may be left wondering if the rumors Colin Cotterill has given up writing novels for both the Dr. Siri and Jimm Juree series in favor of other artistic pursuits and spending more time with his dogs are true? Fans of Colin Cotterill fiction and intelligent, insightful and humorous writing in general can only hope the rumors are just that.

For more information regarding Colin Cotterill the author, artist, and regular chappy go to: www.colincotterill.com

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Edgar, Macavity and Shamus Award nominee, Timothy Hallinan

CHAPTER ONE

THE RIVER is wider than it should be and it’s the wrong color. Instead of its usual reddish brown, a gift of the topsoil it steals from the rice farmers upstream, it’s a cold, metallic gray-green, the color of the sea beneath clouds. And it runs faster than it should, fast enough to to whip up curving rills of white foam where the water quickens over the tops of stones.

Although the sky is bottomless, unblemished blue, the girl can’t find the sun. She sits on the green bank, shadowless, watching the river’s flow, not knowing her name and not very bothered by it. Several names come to her, and they all seem to be hers, but she knows she has only one. If she could see her face, she thinks, if she knew how old she is, she’d know which name to accept.

The landscape offers no clues or indications. There’s nothing but the stunted forest with its ragged, disorderly trees and waist-high scrub, and the wide gray-green river, flowing swiftly toward her and then past her, leaving her here, a stationary dot on its passage to the sea.

A pale distance away, the river bends to the right and disappears behind a faded green treeline. All that water rounding the bend, resolutely silent, unaware of her. But why shouldn’t it be unaware of her? She’s barely aware of herself.

Experimentally, she examines her right hand, holding it just above the ground with its tangled green cover. Her hand is so sharp that it seems closer than it is, and she can see the faint blue map of veins beneath her skin pulse with each heartbeat. She feels the blood rushing through them, a tiny river within her, and that thought draws her eyes back to the larger river, and then upstream to the bend where it vanishes.

And she knows –with no feeling of discovery, but as though she has always known –that up there, out of sight, on the far side of the bend, the river is bringing something to her. Bearing it, whatever it is, on its unstoppable flow.

And it’s something enormous.

She thinks, “I need to talk to my mother” and then the day dims and the girl shivers and realizes that she’s grown suddenly cold.

FOR THE THOUSANDTH time since they began to live together, Rose wakes up shivering and asks herself why Poke puts the air-con on high every night, turning their bedroom into a refrigerator, and then steals every blanket on the bed so he can build a fort against the cold he created.

My mother? She thinks as a tiny scrap of her dream surfaces like a fragment of mosaic and then sinks again. Why would my mother come to me?  Or did she? Mostly, it seems, mostly, it was the river.

Rose never knowingly ignores a dream. Automatically, she checks the time, which is announced in the sleepy-blue numerals of the bedside clock as 2:46. Too late to call. If something is wrong, there’s nothing she can do now. She’ll call first thing in the morning, make Poke bring her the phone while his silly, fancy coffee is dripping and the water is heating for her Nescafe.

Still the dream.

She stretches her arms and her legs and then sits up and reaches for the pack of Marlboro Golds parked permanently on the table, just in front of her big glass ashtray, with this week’s disposable lighter lying obediently on top of it. She knows the smoke will wake Poke, so she makes a silent deal with herself. She won’t hold the lighter in place when she picks up the pack, and if the lighter falls off she’ll put the pack back and go to sleep.

When the pack is in front of her, the lighter is dead center on top.

She palms the lighter and flips open the top of the box, inhaling the rich brown aroma. Even in the dark, the precise white cylinders of the filters are comfortingly clean  and — unused. They promise hours of solitary pleasure. For so many years, the years when she was dancing in the bars on Patpong, being dragged night after night to hotels by sodden, besotted customers, the moment when it was finally over and she was once again alone — free to breath again, free to light up a cigarette that belonged to no one but her, to pay attention to no one’s pleasure but her own– had gleamed in front of her like a lantern seen through dark trees. It said, Here you are. Here you can be safe again. Here you can be you again. 

She flicks the lighter and looks down at the cigarette, so secure, so snug, so right between her long fingers. There’s been one there for so long that she can barely feel it; in fact, sometimes when she lights one it’s just because she’s become aware of its absence. Smoking this one now is just a matter of inches: inches to put the filter between her lips, inches to bring the flame to the tip. But instead of putting it in her mouth, she thinks, I need to talk to my mother, and sees briefly and vividly the river in her dream, broad and gray-green. Breathes in the clean air of the forest.

She lets the lighter go dark and puts the cigarette back in the pack, replaces both objects on the table. The cold presses itself against her. She can feel Poke to her right, can feel, with a mother’s ability to penetrate walls, Miaow breathing safely, asleep in her own room. The city outside pulls at her like a tide in her veins, its straight streets deceptively orderly, a reassuring grid imposed on chaos: need, fear, desire, envy, desolation, hopelessness, the invisible web woven by those on both sides of the karmic wheel, those who curse it and the fortunate ones who accept it as their due.

But up here, in the rooms the three of them share, everything is where it should be. Nothing rolls around. The lines between them are straight and strong. Sometimes when she’s sitting in her spot on the couch in the living room, she imagines them, each lost in whatever he or she is doing but connected nonetheless by a pale, transparent yellow line, like concentrated light. She can walk through the line between Poke and Miaow and feel it go straight through her, warm as the sun.

Poke, she thinks. Warm, she thinks.

She bends down and touches first her left foot and then her right, which may at the moment be the coldest foot in all of Southeast Asia. Poke has his back to her, knees drawn up, the human core of a mountain range of blankets. He sleeps naked, and it’s easy, as she slips the foot between the blankets, to target the warm bare skin on the small of his back.

The mountain erupts, blankets flying everywhere, and whatever he says, the English is too fast for her to follow it. He sits there wild-eyed, blankets pooled down around his hips, breathing like he’s just run a mile, and before he can say anything else, she wraps both arms around his warm neck and pulls him down to her. Says, her mouth inches from his, “Pay attention to me.”

ForTheDeadTimothyHallinan

Timothy Hallinan and his publisher, SOHO CRIME have permitted the use of the beginning of Chapter One from FOR THE DEAD to be used here and at Chiang Mai City News. FOR THE DEAD has been available since November 4th, 2014 and can be found at most online book stores as well as many independent and chain book shops.

This post previously appeared at Chiang Mai City News and can be found there by clicking the banner below.

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Check out the SOHO CRIME web site for many distinguished authors and excellent books on crime fiction that may be purchased direct for a discount, including FOR THE DEAD and a Crime Fiction bundle.

SOHOCRIME

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The task of genius, and man is nothing if not genius, is to keep the miracle alive, to live always in the miracle, to make the miracle more and more miraculous, to swear allegience to nothing, but live only miraculously, die miraculously. Today our attention is centered upon the physical inexhaustibility of the universe, we must concentrate our thought upon that solid fact, because never before has man plundered and devastated to such a degree as today. We are therefore prone to forget that in the realm of the spirit there is also an inexhaustibility, that in this realm no gain is ever lost.

 

Henry Miller

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Chiang Mai Chronicle

This was my first read of a T Hunt Locke novel. Mr Locke is an expat businessman and author living in northern Thailand.

Declan Power is a good old boy in a Mike Hammer kind of way, with a better personality, no tie or hat, a keen sense of humor and a positive outlook on life. Declan is a newspaper man, working for the Chiang Mai Chronicle. He’s always looking for the angle of a story or the right curves for his second gig, a night life oriented column featuring the red light district of Chiang Mai. He’s a man of distinction and taste, particularly if it comes from a Victoria’s Secret catalog or the bottom of a scotch bottle. An old school, red head of Irish decent; he likes his liquor, ladies and smokes. Declan can take a slap to the face and keep on smiling and he’s still agile and adventurous enough to go for the belly flop from the balcony when push comes to shove. Loyal to his friends, lovable and protective of his girlfriend, Oem. I liked Declan.

The novel starts off with an envelope stuffed with cash and a plea from an old foe and missing person. A TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) scam involving big bucks, which Declan had uncovered as part of a previous investigative series is in the mix. From this modest beginning the mystery expands, cleverly, to an ambitious and entertaining tale. Locke does a good job of blending Thai history, politics, class and corruption while stirring in plenty of sex, violence, murder and gore.

There is also a very good Bangkok elite vs Chiang Mai elite rivalry going on. A primary character is a visiting investigator from the Bangkok branch of the Department of Tax and Revenue, referred to mostly in the novel as, Bangkok Man. Here is a sample of Locke’s narrative voice and dialogue when Declan meets Bangkok Man for the first time:

Bangkok Man smiled. The smile matched his bright tie: pure silk. “Mr. Power, my name is Phitak Pantrem. I have a few questions and I am truly sorry to take up any of your time.”

Silk was the flavor of the day Declan thought. His jaw remained set. But inside he allowed himself a smile. Silk tie, silk smile, a silky tongue, Bangkok Man had it all. The story, his story, just got richer.

“I’m always happy to help, ” Declan answered evenly.

Also in the yarn are the present day politics of Bangkok and the proud history of Chiang Mai’s great Lan Na heritage along with a devious, sinister and well funded plan to secede Northern Thailand and return it to a glorious if not problematic past. Terror is part of that plan and there are some very savage, brutal and graphic murders taking place in Chiang Mai, frightening the local lassies. To help sell papers the mass murderer is coined the Lan Na Ripper by beat reporter Declan.

Just as Declan has a bit of Mike Hammer in him, T Hunt Locke has some Micky Spillane similarities to his writing style. What I like about Locke as a new on the scene novelist is that he writes. A lot. This is already his second protagonist planned for a mystery series and his third crime novel. He has written two previous books in the Sam Collins series: The Ming Inheritance and Jim Thompson is Alive!

Raymond Chander’s first novel was, The Lady in the Lake. I read it. I thought it was flawed and didn’t particularly like it compared to Chandler’s later work. I’m currently reading, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, which was Hemingway’s first novel. It too, I find flawed. The truth of the matter is, whether you are T. Hunt Locke, Raymond Chandler or Ernest Hemingway, writers tend to get better the more they write. My first impression of T Hunt Locke, as a novelist, is that he does a lot of things well – Locke is not bashful about using his imagination. I think he has written an entertaining novel for crime fiction readers, particularly if you like some erotica and Thailand history thrown in.

If The Chiang Mai Chronicle: A Declan Power Mystery was a granite sculpture it would be large in scale, eye catching and artfully crafted. But one that could still use a few more hits with the hammer and chisel. Less can be more. That said, if you are an expat living in Thailand and enjoy a good romp of a mystery with some well researched history, along with an affable protagonist, I recommend The Chiang Mai Chronicle by T Hunt Locke. I look forward to seeing what conclusions Declan comes to and what balconies he might jump from in his next mystery.

At $1.99 on Amazon you get good bang for the two bucks, whether you live in Thailand or anywhere else in the world.

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FOR THE DEAD by Timothy Hallinan – A Book Review by Kevin Cummings

If you’ve read any of the first five Poke Rafferty Bangkok Thrillers by Timothy Hallinan chances are you became a fan of the series. You do not get the Edgar Award, Macavity Award and Shamus Award nominations and have NBC develop your Junior Bender novels into a television series by Tweeting. You do have to write at least sixteen novels, though, plus a lessor known fact, Tim Hallinan has written a book of non-fiction on the works of Charles Dickens. For The Dead is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com and will be available at quality bookshops beginning November 4, 2014 – just two weeks from today.

One of the more enjoyable posts I have ever written on Thailand Footprint and one of the most consistently read is titled: The Poke Rafferty Series by Timothy Hallinan – King of the Bangkok Fiction Hill? There I discuss Tim’s first five novels in the Poke series. They are in order: A Nail Through The Heart; The Fourth Watcher; Breathing Water; The Queen of Patpong and The Fear Artist. 

Poke Rafferty is an American travel writer. He is a family man with an improbable family blossoming in the mud of an even more improbable city – Bangkok. His wife, Rose, the former lanky Issan country girl was once a Patpong dancing superstar until Poke rescued her or she rescued Poke. Love and marriage followed.  They adopted a homeless street girl named Miaow. As I wrote in that earlier review written almost 18 months ago, “It is the patchwork nuclear family setting, for me, which sets the Poke series apart from much of the other available Bangkok based fiction. That and the brilliant prose of Timothy Hallinan.”

Edgar, Macavity and Shamus Award nominee, Timothy Hallinan

Edgar, Macavity and Shamus Award nominee, Timothy Hallinan

In that regard, not much has changed in For The Dead and yet a lot has changed. Miaow is now thirteen years old. For The Dead is, for the first time, primarily Miaow’s story. How best to describe Miaow to the unfamiliar reader? Hallinan does it superbly in the narrative thoughts of Rose:

Miaow, she thinks. The throw-away child, tossed onto a side-walk. As tough as she tries to seem, Miaow worries about everything. She double-checks everything. If she were hanging over a cliff, held only by a knotted rope, she would try and improve the knot. She has no idea how remarkable she is, how smart, how decent, how much she’s loved. Somewhere in the center of her being, Miaow is still the short, dirty, dark-skinned, frizzy-haired, unloved reject who tried to sell chewing gum to Rafferty on his second night in Bangkok.

For The Dead opens with a wonderful upcountry dream sequence. It concludes with heart-tugging laughter. What you get in-between, besides a fast paced thriller featuring technology, pulse pounding chase scenes and contract killings conducted at the highest levels by a corrupt Thai Police force, is what is missing in so many novels today: quality. Page after page of quality. What you read in a Timothy Hallinan novel has importance, it’s useful and it’s entertaining.

In For The Dead, Poke is happy, financially secure for once and learns that his family of three will in nine months time become four. Miaow helps her nerdish Vietnamese boyfriend replace his second lost iPhone with a used model during a skillful negotiation process with a Sikh merchant on a skipped day of school in India Town. They learn later the phone contains pictures of some very dead policeman. Poke would normally be an early confidant but news of Rose’s pregnancy was relayed in an awkward manner, creating domestic strife. Serious jeopardy ensues and leads to the heaviest of hit men.

You could make a good case that in the Poke Rafferty series the last three novels have been the best, although I very much enjoyed Breathing Water. For me, The Queen of Patpong had the perfect mix of thrills, antagonist and family. In The Fear Artist, I found myself missing the family at times, although again the thrills and antagonist were stellar, plus you got the intriguing character of Treasure, whom we last saw disappearing into the fire and explosions of her abusive home. For The Dead puts Poke and family front and center, plus Treasure gets an encore along with two memorable Bangkok street kids. The thrills are still there as is the terrific prose of Hallinan detailing in great depth the best and worst of mankind.  My criticism of For The Dead is the antagonist didn’t live up to the level of evil or consistency of the last two, but Hallinan can take the blame for that one, for setting the bar so high. My suspension of disbelief also had to be ratcheted up a notch for a rather conveniently timed plot solution, no matter how much I wanted it to happen.

The Queen of Patpong is a Bangkok Thriller. My favorite Bangkok thriller of all-time. The Poke series is a Bangkok series when looked at in totality. For The Dead is, first and foremost, a human story – a story about a family and the bonds that hold them together.A story that could play within the backdrop of a dozen cities throughout the world – the corrupt police department and poor rice farmers notwithstanding. And that is not a criticism; that is a compliment to the story-telling ability and the multi-dimensional characters that Hallinan constructs in his writing. The Poke Rafferty series is no longer confined to the genre of Bangkok fiction or a simple mystery – this is first class literary fiction.

We are reminded often that we now live in a world where books, music, authors and musicians have all been devalued. But value is still out there if value matters to you. Smart and appreciative readers will always invest in reading good books by good authors. For The Dead is one such book and Timothy Hallinan has proven time and time again that he is one such author.

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(Photo courtesy)

For more information about author, Timothy Hallinan and his novels you can visit his web site at www.timothyhallinan.com

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I stumbled upon these two great times lapse videos by Saengthit Kamlangchai while on Twitter. It was timely as I try and practice, taking in the good as much as possible, despite the dark side of Thailand, which is quite real. The two murders of young backpackers on Kho Tao Island are testament to that. Underneath the music and wonderful images are lots of reasons to be careful – to practice skepticism. A reminder as we returned to the Land of Happiness four days ago. Nevertheless, I enjoyed these two videos and I hope you choose to view at least one of them. Pick your paradise or pick your poison. It all depends on your vantage point:

Bangkok – The Beauty of Faith

Chiang Mai – Light of Heaven

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Everybody has biases. Mine involve Check Inn 99 and Chris Catto-Smith. Watch the video produced by the video team from BangkokNightlife.com and click the link at the top of the video to take you to where you can vote for Chris for Expat Entrepreneur of the Year  by clicking Like. You can also go to the Facebook link at http://lnkd.in/bhcZg_R    

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The Man With The Golden Mind by Tom Vater is the second in the Detective Maier mystery series and my second as well. The Hamburg based, green eyed private detective has shaved his trademark handle-bar mustache and been hired by a young woman to investigate the death of her father, which took place in Laos during 1976. A kidnapping soon occurs and Maier finds himself trekking in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Laotian jungles. Much of the novel takes place around the year 2002.

​Vater​ has fine-tuned his craft. The writing is tighter than The Cambodian Book of the Dead (Exhibit A 2013) although still on the darker and more violent side of crime fiction. Tom Vater describes two things particularly well, on an individual basis and grand scale: ​power and man’s inhumanity to man. The fact that one impacts the other should come as no great surprise but the way Vater dissects the two is skillful and to​ be appreciated.
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My nit with the book is Vater tightropes a high wire act that has him leaning toward lecturing at times in lieu of tipping the balance bar back to entertaining. It is a minor beef as this is definitely a fictional tale featuring a proud protagonist blessed with James Bond like protective qualities. And like James when Maier falls for the female form you can guess that woman will suffer a similar Bond romantic interest outcome.
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There is a lot going on, mostly in Laos, sometimes in bordering Thailand and Bangkok: jungle visas, sniper shootings, long tail boat rides, family reunions, values conflicts, private clubs, buried gold, double digit deaths​, espionage old and new and the requisite top secret file to keep your interest in between the sex and high quality drugs. Or drugs and high quality sex – you get to use your imagination.

An example of power on an individual basis is the appearance of a former U.S. Secretary of State, which was one of my favorite segments in the novel. The narrative describes his entrance at a posh 5 star hotel: he filled the corridor with the easy aura of a Roman emperor.

This was my second fictional account of the secret war in Laos involving CIA espionage. The other being, The Nature of the Game by James Grady. I learned more about the clandestine USA operation from Vater, which is no doubt due to his production and lengthy research of a documentary on the subject.

The Man With The Golden Mind has all the qualities I like in a good dark spy fiction novel. Exotic settings, interesting characters, mood setting narrative and thoughtful dialogue, with enough surprises to keep you turning the page. Vater nails Laos. The government, the people, the jungle trails and the mighty Mekong. This is not a formula detective novel or a comfortable cozy. Bring your cognitive skills. There is a lot to keep track of in The Man With The Golden Mind but it is well worth the mystery tour. I’ll be following Detective Maier into his next adventure when he returns in The Monsoon Ghost Image. 

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This time each month I post a quote by American writer, Henry Miller. And we will get to that. But this post is about a trip I took this week to The Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California. Few places on earth remain timeless but Big Sur comes as close as it gets. Located only 77 miles south of my home, the trip takes a little under two hours of coastal agricultural views before morphing into a turning and twisting drive of beautiful Pacific Ocean panoramas, small creeks, scenic bridges and tall redwoods. It’s impossible for me to take that drive without getting flashbacks of being a young boy on family trips in the family vehicle, a 1954 Buick.

The Henry Miller Memorial Library is located 100 yards south of the well known Nepenthe restaurant.

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This is the sign upon arrival. Henry Miller was against memorials, in general and for him specifically. For Henry the best testament of a man was how he lived, not how he was remembered by others.

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Just through the gate after a short walk through tall redwoods one is greeted by a simple redwood structure with a grove to the right with a stage and viewing screen.

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Inside one finds books, books and more books many written by Henry but other notable authors as well such as Jack Kerouac’s 1962 novel titled Big Sur.

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There are also plenty of paintings and prints by and of Henry but I saw no originals, probably because of their value. An original Henry Miller watercolor which he routinely gave away while at Big Sur and later sold or took a tax deduction of $300 per now fetch a few thousand dollars or more.

HenrySculpture The above bust sculpture of Henry is located by the cash register, along with a sign noting that with a $5.00 donation a book about the museum is included.

Typewriter

An old Underwood typewriter was one of many interesting artifacts to be enjoyed. You cannot get much further from the hustle and bustle of Paris, France where Henry Miller lived prior to moving to Big Sur in 1948 but in both cases Henry was opting out of conventional wisdom.

Tea

I bought a couple of Henry Miller books and brought them outside where tea and coffee were served under the honor system, which I am sure Henry would have approved.

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Around the back is where they keep the ping pong table for staff and visitors alike to play, which brings us to the Quote of the Month:

I keep the Ping Pong table for people I don’t want to talk to. You know, it’s simple, I just play Ping Pong with them. – Henry Miller

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It’s a peaceful and timeless environment. There were only five other people enjoying the museum and I saw only one laptop open.

Kevin Cummings Thailand Footprint Big SUr Santa Cruz CA

Here I am forgetting myself just enough not to look into the lens of a rare Kevin Cummings selfie. A portrait of Henry Miller looms above my head.

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Some of the staff that work at the library live and camp on the premises. This sign reads: STAFF ONLY – WRITE NOW

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The library was previously the residence of Henry Miller’s longtime friend, Emil White. Henry once wrote about Emil: “One of the few friends who has never failed me.” Henry Miller lived about 5 miles from the library, up on a mountain top. The property is inaccessible to the general public. Emil set up the library to honor Henry’s life after his passing.

Another great author, George Orwell wrote in his 1940 essay, “Inside the Whale,” of Henry Miller:

“Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past.”

In the 17 months I have been writing this blog a few people have wondered why I include Henry Miller? It’s a fair question. Weaving in Henry Miller throughout this Thailand based web site is one of the things I like best about it, and the quotes always rank high in traffic and the almighty, Likes. But for the answer you need look no further than one of my all time favorite Bangkok fiction novels, Missing in Rangoon by Christopher G. Moore. Like many of my good ideas it was not original. Borrowed is how I like to think of it, kindly. There is a Henry Miller thread woven into Missing in Rangoon, which adds greatly to the story. As timing would have it just yesterday Christopher G. Moore wrote about Henry Miller and George Orwell and the Missing in Rangoon and The Marriage Tree passages involving the two authors, in an essay titled, Obey, at Reality Check found at his excellent blog, InternationalCrimeAuthors.com . It is well worth the read as he discusses how two authors went about the near impossible but worthy endeavor of, writing about truth. Each one in his own and distinct way.

Big Sur Coast

I hope you enjoyed this photo-essay on my visit to The Henry Miller Memorial Library. If you find yourself within a 300 mile radius of the library consider the journey for yourself. The ride back is even better for some reason.

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Kevin Cummings:

A very interesting blog post detailing that no matter whether you take a fast VIP bus from Chiang Mai or a slow 2 day day boat ride from there to Luang Prabang, accidents happen in the Land of Smiles …

Originally posted on We take to the open road:

From Chiang Mai, we headed straight to the Thai/Laos border and caught a two-day “slow boat” down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. We were looking forward to a couple of quiet, scenic days on the water. For the most part, that is exactly what we experienced.

There were about ten other people in our group who were making the same trip. On the way to the border, we had a quick stop in Chiang Rai to see the very modern Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple). It was spectacular to see! (We’ve since learned that the temple was damaged by an earthquake in early May. It’s anticipated to take a couple of years to repair the damage.)

Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple)

Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple)

Our group, along with several others, stayed overnight in Chiang Khong, Thailand which is right at the border. The next…

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Kevin Cummings:

A blog post by Muay Thai Champ, Melissa Ray on an evening at the FCCT with Thai politican Chuvit Kamolvisit. It was written six months ago but I found it still entertaining today. Melissa has been featured at Thailand Footprint twice (see links below) and still holds title of most read blog post here. Enjoy.

Originally posted on Muay Thai on the Brain:

Image source: facebook/ชูวิทย์ I'm No.5 Image source: facebook/ชูวิทย์ I’m No.5

Outspoken pimp turned politician, hotel owner, and crusader against corruption, the “bathtub godfather” Chuvit Kamolvisit is arguably the most interesting character in current Thai politics.

Never far from the limelight, most recently he created headlines after a (staged?) street fight with a man believed to be an anti-government protester on the way to a polling station in Din Daeng on Election Day earlier this month.

While browsing my Twitter feed last week, my eyes were drawn to a Tweet informing that Chuvit would be speaking and taking questions at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) on Thursday 13th February.

Although I am far from knowledgeable on Thailand’s politics, in recent months I have become increasingly interested in the country’s political scene, and with Chuvit renowned for his candid nature, I figured the opportunity to hear his thoughts on the current standoff between the government…

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Kevin Cummings:

A reminder and reblog from Crime Thriller Girl …

Originally posted on crime thriller girl:

Dagger in the Library logo Dagger in the Library logo

The Crime Writer’s Association (CWA) 2014 Dagger in the Library Award gives the chance for us, the readers, to nominate our favourite British crime fiction authors for the prestigious award.

Sponsored by Dead Good Books, the Dagger in the Library is given in honour of the author’s entire collection of work to date rather than one specific book. Previous winners include Belinda Bauer, Steve Mosby and Stuart MacBride.

Nominations close on 1st September 2014, so make sure you hop on over to http://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/index.php/dagger/ and nominate up to three of your favourites.

What’s more, you’ll be automatically entered into a draw and in with a chance of winning £200 worth of crime books!

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Kevin Cummings:

Excellent interview by the Crime Thrilla Fella of Colin Cotterill. THE AXE FACTOR, third in the Jimm Juree series is discussed. “I believe that whatever genre you choose, despite the fact that there are millions of bloggers and short story posters and homepage entertainers, the cream will float to the top. If you’re any good, you’ll get noticed.” – Colin Cotterill

Originally posted on Crime Thriller Fella:

Colin Cotterill Photo credit: Christina Körte

As you toil away writing in the back room of your two-up two-down spare a thought for poor old Colin Cotterill, who pens his crime novels in a small fishing village in southeast Asia. Colin’s the author of the Dr. Siri mystery books – he won the CWA’s prestigious Dagger In The Library Award in 2009 – and the third in his trilogy of Jimm Juree novels, The Axe Factor, comes out in paperback on Thursday.

Born in London, Colin has travelled the globe since 1975. He’s put all his experiences of the region – including working in child protection in Laos and Thailand – into his novels. In this fascinating intel interview Colin tells us about Jimm Juree, scribbling his first book on the back of bus tickets — and his life writing and illustrating in the shade of papaya trees.

Tell us about The Axe Factor…

The Axe Factor is the…

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Arthur Hoyle Nature

Arthur Hoyle

I am pleased to welcome writer, educator, and independent filmmaker Arthur Hoyle. His documentary films have won numerous awards and have aired on PBS. Arthur received Bachelors and Masters Degrees in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. He taught English, coached tennis, and served as an administrator in independent schools. He currently volunteers as a naturalist in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, leading interpretive walks on Chumash Indian culture. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California. Arthur Hoyle’s biography of Henry Miller, The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur, was published in March 2014 by Skyhorse/​Arcade, which I listened to and reviewed in July of this year at Chiang Mai City News (Click here to read review). Arthur’s biography of Henry Miller is the subject of this interview today.

Arthur Hoyle Henry Miller

KC:  Curiosity was one of Henry Miller’s strengths. I am curious about how your decision to do a comprehensive biography of Henry Miller came about? A biography is an enormous undertaking, particularly when researching someone who has at least three existing biographies, as is the case with Miller. You promise the reader in your title an unknown Henry Miller. What were your objectives as you began your research and why did you choose Henry Miller as your subject? 
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 AH: I had been reading Miller since the mid 1990s. Discovered him by chance, browsing in a book store. Though I did graduate work at UCLA in English, I had never been assigned to read Miller. I read most of his books, and the three biographies. I came to the conclusion that he had not been fully understood by his  previous biographers. I also felt that critical perceptions of him placed too much emphasis on his sexual content, and not enough on his spiritual content, and many critics failed to see the connection between his interest in sexuality and his spiritual quest. For all of these reasons, I felt he was “unknown” and I decided to make him more visible through my biography. I also discovered through the research that there were two Millers: the fictional Miller of the Tropics and The Rosy Crucifixion, and the Miller who is revealed in his correspondence.
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 KC: Let’s expand on Miller’s spiritual side. Particularly God and his interest in Astrology. Did you find a clear picture of Henry’s belief in God during your research or was he conflicted on the subject? Is it possible to define Henry’s God? What do you feel was appealing about Astrology to Henry? I came away after listening to The Unknown Henry Miller surprised at how much he depended on it at times. Finally, how would you summarize Henry’s spiritual side?
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 AH: Miller did believe in the existence of God, but not the God of any organized religion. He was on a  mystical quest to experience union with the cosmos, and this is why he was interested in astrology and other occult traditions. Astrology is a system that links the inner self to the universe; it is a metaphorical language. But Miller did turn to it for guidance, in spite of his disclaimers to the contrary. Miller believed that God was accessible to all human beings and could be reached through individual effort, work on the self. Part of this work was disengaging from the norms and conventions of society in order to become detached. He was influenced by Zen Buddhism and the Taoist philosophy. Also by the American transcendentalists.
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 KC: A lot of focus on Miller’s life has been given to June, his second wife, and Anais Nin. Rightfully so. They are more about the known Henry Miller and the Paris years. I’d like to focus  on a less discussed woman: Janina Lepska, Miller’s third wife and the mother of two of Henry’s three children. What did you learn about Henry’s Big Sur years concerning Miller’s family life that you were unaware of going in?
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 AH: I knew nothing about Lepska before I began work on the book. The first thing I did was interview her. At the time of the interview, which extended over a period of six months at her home in Santa Barbara, she was 84 years old and still very alert, with a strong memory. It was clear that she had been unhappy with Miller and deeply regretted her decision to leave her academic fellowship at Yale to come to Big Sur as his wife. Miller was a selfish husband who expected his wives to mother him, and showed little interest in their needs. His unsuccessful marriages could all be traced to his dysfunctional relationship with his own mother. Nin saw this aspect of Miller very clearly, which is why she eventually broke with him.
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 KC:  Another important person in Henry’s life was Barney Rosset, the publisher of Grove Press and The Evergreen Review. Can you talk about Barney’s persistence in pursuing Henry’s work for publication in the USA? Henry came across as ambivalent, at best, about making legal challenges. Can you explain the differences between Miller’s thinking and Rosset’s?
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 AH: Rosset had been pursuing Miller for the rights to Tropic of Cancer since the late 1950s. Miller was not interested in bringing his banned books out in the US at that time. He didn’t want the controversy, and he didn’t need the money. He also feared that people would read the banned books for the wrong reasons—sensationalistic reasons. He changed his mind because of his relationship with Renate Gerhardt. He needed money if he was going to set up a new life with her in Europe. As it turned out, he was correct in his expectations for America’s reception of the banned books. And his relationship with Renate fizzled out. The publication of the banned books made him a celebrity, a role he had mixed feelings about. The flood of money that came in also caused him problems he would rather not have had.
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 KC: Miller’s writing style was unique at the time. Henry Miller blurred the line between fact and fiction, often. He could embellish facts or omit them completely in his novels. I found the research you did regarding Henry’s correspondence one of the most interesting aspects of your biography. What stands out among the volumes of letters Henry wrote during his lifetime? What did he reveal in his letters or conversely what did he hide about himself in his books?
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 AH: Miller wrote expressionistically in his autobiographical novels. It was his way of reaching the truth, a truth found only in art. There is no way to know how much of Miller’s fiction is “factual” or “representational” and how much is embellishment. He was writing from his own experience, but using language to transform that experience and, in the process, to transform himself. What you see in the correspondence that you do not see in the novels is Miller’s insecurity and vulnerability about his mission as a writer. He was trying to perform a magical act with his writing, and in his correspondence, especially to Durrell, you see him wondering if he is not deceiving both himself and his readers.
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KC:  Can you talk about Henry’s relationship with books? As you note, one of his more accessible publications is The Books in My Life.  What did you learn about the importance of reading versus the importance of life experience according to Miller?
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 AH: For Miller, everything was life experience, including the reading of books. Miller believed that through certain books he could absorb the life experiences of great men whom he admired, men he called “exemplars.” His literary heroes were Dostoevsky and Whitman, writers who he believed had brought the fulness of life into their books. Miller’s experiences as a reader shaped him as a writer and as a man, which is why he wrote The BOOKS in My LIFE. The two are really inseparable. But for Miller, only certain types of books were worth reading, and each person had to discover what they were—the books that would illuminate the reader’s life.
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 KC: Lets move to Miller’s Southern California years. A territory you know well. What year did he move south from Big Sur? These were Henry’s full blown celebrity years. Henry seemed to enjoy some, but not all, aspects of being a celebrity artist. Tell me about that time for Henry? Was it a period of contentment or discontent? And please work in the subject of his water colors, if you can.
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 AH: Miller moved permanently to Pacific Palisades in 1961, though he kept his house in Big Sur. On the advice of his accountant, he bought a house in an upscale neighborhood known locally as The Huntington. For a time, Lepska, divorced from her second husband, moved in with him along with Tony and Val. It was a mixed time for Miller. His health was deteriorating, he was not in a romantic relationship of any significance (though he did make a foolish marriage to a young Japanese woman who took advantage of him), and he was pretty much played out as a writer. He hobnobbed with celebrities, was lionized by the media, and became somewhat of an oracle for the countercultural upheavals going on all across American society. He was painting a lot of watercolors during the 1960s, but he sometimes felt like a drudge doing it because the paintings were being used to obtain tax write-offs. He went into serious physical decline in the 1970s, but remained a spirited presence until his death in 1980, in part due to his passionate attachment to the beautiful Brenda Venus.
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 KC: Your biography shows that Henry Miller was a seeker and on a journey of discovery. Miller also showed ample disdain for the USA periodically. What, specifically, did Henry Miller discover about himself or the world that you haven’t already mentioned above and what in particular did Henry find so unappealing about his birth country and the American people in general?
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 AH: Miller reacted against two influences: his mother’s bourgeois conventionality, that he associated with her humorlessness and joylessness; and the materialism and consumerism of mainstream American life. It is important to remember that Miller was born in Brooklyn at the height of the Gilded Age, and he matured during World War One and the Roaring Twenties. Given the literary influences on him mentioned above, he was moving in a personal direction that was opposed to the direction of American life. He saw spiritual desolation in the American scene, and he expressed this most directly in his book The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. But there are also abundant passages in the Tropics and The Rosy Crucifixion that express his dismay with the values most Americans choose to live by. He opted out, first by going to Europe, then by secluding himself in Big Sur.
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 KC: What is next for Arthur Hoyle? If you could choose only one writer, living or dead, to research for another biography, who would it be and why? 
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 AH: I think if I were to write another literary biography, I would do it on the English writer John Berger, a fascinating man, and a brilliant one. I am writing a non-fiction book now, portraits of American men and women who, like Miller, have made significant but overlooked or under appreciated contributions to our culture.
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KC: Thank-you, Arthur. I very much enjoyed listening to The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur. It helped fill in a lot of the blanks about his life for me. Your next book sounds equally interesting. I look forward to that publication. Thanks again for taking the time to talk about an often misunderstood and under-appreciated writer.

 

HenryMillerUnknown
The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur by Arthur Hoyle is available at many chain and independent bookstores as well as Amazon.com and Audible.com

 

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“If I were reading a book and happened to strike a wonderful passage I would close the book then and there and go for a walk. I hated the thought of coming to the end of a good book. I would tease it along, delay the inevitable as long as possible, But always, when I hit a great passage, I would stop reading immediately. Out I would go, rain, hail, snow or ice, and chew the cud.”  Henry Miller – Plexus

 

Henry-Miller

 

 Henry Miller – The Paris Years

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Jim Algie has done what many do not believe in and fewer still achieve. He has reincarnated himself and stayed alive in the process. The former punk rocker from Canada, known in those days as Blake Cheetah, spent eleven years playing bass guitar and touring with various bands before deciding to change careers at the tender age of twenty-eight. An age that Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison never reached. After a two year stint in Spain, where his focus on writing accelerated, Algie found himself in Bangkok, Thailand with the intention of heading to Taipei. In Jim’s case the road to Bangkok was paved with good intentions as Thailand has now been his home for over twenty years. During that time he did a lot of observation and investigation of all things not mundane in the kingdom. As with any good detective, he hit a few dead ends along the way. But as the saying goes, patience is its own reward. Jim Algie patiently studied what was in front of him and sought adventures off the beaten path. The outcome produced enough material to publish a variety of short stories, earning the writer several awards, including a Bram Stolker Award – a recognition presented by the Horror Writers Association for “superior achievement” in dark fantasy and horror writing.  Jim Algie has had two books traditionally published, BIZARRE THAILAND: Tales of Crime, Sex and Black Magic (Marshall Cavendish 2012) a collection of non-fiction stories and his recent collection of  fictitious writing, THE PHANTOM LOVER and Other Thrilling Tales Of Thailand (Tuttle Publishing 2014). Jim’s also an accomplished journalist, editor and travel writer; he has contributed to many periodicals and travel guidebooks. Jim  is the author of “Tuttle Travel Pack Thailand.” I am pleased to welcome Jim Algie here today.
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TF: What makes Southeast Asia a good setting for writing?
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JA: It’s all the myriad paradoxes and extreme juxtapositions. You’ve got these ancient sites like Angkor Wat and the Temple of Dawn, as well as hyper modern malls; there’s incredible hospitality jostling with every sort of barbarity; you’ve got arcane superstitions counterbalanced by a whole new wave of thinkers and artists; some of the most colourful festivals I have ever seen in stunning contrast to the shabbiest urban blight. And then there’s the hotpot of ethnicities and all sorts of eccentric expats. So you’re never short of stories, backdrops and characters.

TF: What books and or music  influenced you growing up?

JA: My first writing influences were Edgar Allan Poe and Jack London. My taste in tunes also strayed towards the darker side of the spectrum, with Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and the New York Dolls leading the savage wolf pack. Even today I still revere those bands and authors.

TF: What’s the last record you can remember listening to?

JA: I’ve been listening to Wilco again, and their scandal-plagued magnum opus, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It’s one of those rare instances when a group actually took no shit from the corporate rectums of the music business. Their label dropped them because they thought the album was anti-commercial, then the band sold it back to a different subsidiary of the same company for even more money and it became the biggest-selling album of their career. To my ears, Wilco is the best American band of the past 20 years, and Jeff Tweedy is America’s greatest singer and songwriter since the late Kurt Cobain and Paul Westerberg of The Replacements.

TF: Tell our readers about the musical chapters of your life. Your ability allowed you to travel a bit. Where did you go? What did you experience that stays with you from that time?

JA: For the first out-of-town shows we played with a surf-punk band called the Malibu Kens, we had to drive 200 miles to the city of Calgary in western Canada, to play four sets a night for seven nights in a row at a skidrow tavern called The Calgarian to largely hostile or indifferent crowds of truckers, junkies, alkies, wretched-looking prostitutes and a few punks who also hung out there. All four of us stayed in a small, mildew-smelling room, full of silverfish and other vermin, in the hotel. During one gig, a guy got stabbed to death in the bathroom and his bloody handprints could be seen on the walls for months afterwards. Another night there was a 20-men-and-4-whores brawl in the bar with people smacking each other over the head with chairs and tables while we played. For a bunch of middle-class boys, still only 18 and 19, that was our indoctrination – our baptism of hellfire – and real life on the dark side of the street.

Blake Cheetah

Jim Algie (far right) during his Blake Cheetah days

TF: Is there a book laying around your home that you haven’t gotten around to reading?

JA: Many, but the new biography of China’s Great Reformer, Deng Xiaping, is especially huge and daunting.

TF: Complete this sentence.  I write to

JA:  … communicate something to the world and myself that cannot be communicated in any other way or through any other medium.

TF: Make the case for fiction over non-fiction in 207 words or less.

JA: What’s missing from so much journalism and non-fiction is a sense of humanism and heart. When journalists strain for superlatives they resort to the same geriatric clichés about “triumphs of the human spirit” or “tragic demises” or “losing battles against cancer” while labeling serial murderers as “monsters.”  Dead language does not elicit any lively reactions. One of my favorite parts of Timothy Hallinan’s Breathing Water, a superbly suspenseful Bangkok thriller in his Poke Rafferty series, is how the Thai cop and his wife deal with her terminal illness. In journalism these days, human-interest stories are disappearing in place of celebrity gossip and business stories. By contrast all great works of fiction put people first and human concerns at their core.

To borrow another example from Breathing Water, Tim has a great paragraph about how the light in Bangkok around dusk, which is the protagonist’s favorite time of day and mine too, changes about five different times. I sensed that was true, but it really opened my eyes to something that I hadn’t seen before. In this way, fiction and poetry enrich our lives and perceptions. By contrast, in most non-fiction – except for maybe memoirs – the editor would cut all those descriptive details as irrelevant.

TF: Tell us about your latest collection of stories, The Phantom Lover and Other Thrilling Tales of Thailand, and why book lovers should read it?

phantom-lover-455JA: If they don’t read it I can’t say their lives will be greatly impoverished or they will come down with any loathsome diseases, but those who are interested in Thailand and SE Asia will find a different set of stories and characters, often with Thai protagonists, that deliver some different insights into the lives of young high-society women, ancient folklore with modern twists, the rural downtrodden, and what will probably remain the biggest natural disaster of our lifetimes, the 2004 Asian tsunami.

TF: Please tell me about your current favorite dead author.

JA: Raymond Carver. I just reread a kind of greatest hits’ collection of his short fiction called Where I’m Calling From. He was the most heralded short fiction author when I was studying Creative Writing in the late 80s. So I wanted to revisit those stories to see how he achieved those incredible effects with the most unadorned prose and lack of sensationalism combined with very ordinary characters caught up in entirely plausible situations. “Errand,” his story about the death of Anton Chekhov, whom was the writer he was most often compared to, and which he wrote while dying of a similar disease, is one of the great masterpieces of contemporary literature. It’s most likely way beyond anything I could ever achieve, but there’s no point in aspiring to mediocrity. There’s already enough of that on TV as it is.

TF: What is your approach for a book launch? You’ve had two now – for Bizarre Thailand and The Phantom Lover. Were they similar or different?

JA: I am not an orator. I don’t do readings or impersonations. So my approach is similar. I present a slide show of travel pics, book covers, personal shots, “Hell Money Banknotes” from the Chinese Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, and talk about all sorts of influences that were melded together to form some of the stories, from serial slayers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, to lesbian erotica, European artworks, snake-handling shows in Thailand and black magic from the time of Angkor Wat.

Jim Algie Shadow

Jim Algie and shadow at The Phantom Lover Book Launch at WTF Bar

TF: Let’s talk about shadows and demons.  Just because they are fun to discuss. How important are they to a writer? Are they one and the same thing? Should a writer have demons of his own in order to create fictional ones? If a writer hasn’t struggled with his shadows or demons is he/she in denial? 

JA: Everyone has their own shadows and demons. Since we can’t talk about them in polite company we have to find other outlets like books, music, TV shows and films. From any artist’s perspective the demons are slippery and the shadows immaterial, so they are not easy to write or sing about. Either it comes off like macho bravado or like self-pitying whining. Ultimately, you need to strike a balance between the two and not give any easy solutions or sermons about conquering them. For the most part, I try to stay away from those first-person confessional sorts of stories, though I did write one long novella, “Obituary for the Khaosan Road Outlaws and Imposters,” in the last book that features some demon wrestling and shadow hunting.

TF: You were a drinking buddy of Thailand’s last executioner, Chavoret Jaruboon and attended his funeral in 2012 after he died of cancer. Chavoret was personally responsible for executing 55 inmates. I understand a movie about his life has just been released; can you tell me about it?

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JA: I just reviewed the film for the Bangkok Post. (Biopic Takes No Prisoners) It’s a pretty accurate depiction of his life from being a teenage rock ‘n’ roller to becoming a prison guard, so he could take care of his family, and then working his way up to executioner. As I mentioned in the review, “conflicted characters make the best protagonists and hinges for dramatic tension,” so that’s why I’ve written about him in Bizarre Thailand: Tales of Crime, Sex and Black Magic, as well as the Phantom Lover collection. He was a fascinating man,  deeply tormented by guilt and karma, but in Thailand, and this is not mentioned in either the film or in my books, the executioner can be seen as an heroic figure, too, freeing prisoners from their bad karma to be reborn again. Tellingly, the death chamber at Bang Kwang Central Prison is referred to in Buddhist terms as the “room to end all suffering.”

TF: Any plans for the Year of the Horse?

JA: As with every previous year I am trying really hard not to die, and to finish some new books and a bunch of stories. Here it is July already and I’m still breathing, making toast and typing words on a keyboard, so I take these gifts as good omens.

TF: I’ll toast to all that. Thanks, Jim.

ALgie One Foot

An inquisitive Jim Algie

 

 

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