Thailand Footprint: The People, Things, Literature, and Music of Thailand and the Region


Joel Villines on the River of Kings in Bangkok, Thailand

Joel Villines is a traveler, a father, a writer, an author, and the owner of a boxing gym in L.A. to rattle off just a few nouns. The adjectives one can attach to him are more interesting. It is said on his Amazon author page that Joel was born at home on a pile of newspapers on Chicago’s South side, where he led a truly remarkable life that involved freezing temperatures, reading stacks of books, and accompanying his grandfather to neighborhood bars to play Donkey Kong. He survived Catholic Schooling, and vowed that if he lived long enough, he would move to a warmer climate. Forty-plus years later, he is finally living the dream along with having the odd nightmare about ghost writing a horror screenplay. J.D. Villines now resides in Los Angeles, where he runs Echo Park Boxing and Muay Thai Gym, located on Sunset Boulevard no less. He also writes for the Hollywood crowd. Before that he spent a lot of time in a stagnant, malaria filled village on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. If he hasn’t been interviewed before, someone screwed up.

KC: Your first novel is a zombie thriller called Dead Bangkok. What’s the back story on how that evolved? 

JD: I was living with my girlfriend (Nok from Dead Bangkok) in her village and a few incidents occurred that led to that book. For one, we had just come back from a long trip to Koh Chang, and were spending our days hiking into Cambodia through a little border checkpoint near her village. Not sure exactly how I caught this particular fever but it was a doozy. There was a major monsoon at the time and her family only had a scooter—so they claimed there was no way to get me to a hospital with the dirt roads now being washed out and all. A village “doctor” came by to check on me. He gave me Tylenol and not much else.  I had a 106 degree fever for about 6 days straight, and was pretty certain I was dying. I wrote out my “will” which ended up being the first few lines of the novel. “Ours is a long slow suicide. Life metered out in milligrams and bullets. Parasites and hosts. An ecosystem of the absurd.”

When my fever finally broke, I was physically destroyed but had enough mental strength to demand a ride to a hospital. Somehow they found a cousin with a pickup truck and they took me to a government hospital in Sisaket. They gave me a bag full of drugs and I went back to my girls shack, slept on the floor under the mosquito net, and wrote the rest of that novel.

Joel’s sleeping quarters and near death experience scene in a Thai village near the Cambodian border

Nok-who was my muse at the time and a character in the book, is still my friend but we are no longer a couple. Her whole family was into some “dark Buddhism” or what we, in the west would call “black magic”. Black magic is generally defined as being selfish in origin. Casting spells for love, money, power, or sex. Maybe a few curses on your business rival as well. I learned about Thailands huge pantheon of ghosts from her. Actually, the amount I learned about Thailand’s underbelly from her was staggering. She was, and is, a total character of a person. I really miss those days in our shack—fever and all.

Joel Villines [Right] shown with Muay Thai Champion Anuwat Kaewsamrit

KC: What have you learned so far during your time on the planet? The important stuff and the unimportant stuff – break it down for me.

JD:  A magician’s only real power is causing synchronicities to happen. Once you can achieve that—all of the strange, beautiful things in life will jump out at you. Everything else is trivial and not worth mentioning. As of now, I am only adept in my one-man-esoteric order. I still can’t afford grimoires bound in human skin but I am saving up.

KC: Talk about aggression: ​in music, in writing and in the ring. When is aggression most useful to you? When is it most harmful?

Martial Arts instructor Joel Villines with pads at Echo Park Boxing Gym

JV: You don’t need aggression. You only need lack of fear, and an inner-calm. The fearless can move through the world effortlessly. The fearless can defeat any opponent. This is the way of the sage.

KC: What are the cultural differences between rural Thailand and urban USA. Put another way, what are the differences between La La Land and the Land of Smiles? Contrast your life in rural Thailand with your life now as the owner and instructor of a Muay Thai gym in historic Echo Park, California. 

JV: In rural Thailand (Kantaralak, Sisaket), I lived in a shack, swatted mosquitos, and pondered the stars with a girl I loved. In Los Angeles, I live in an apartment one block from where the Black Dahlia was murdered, observe the cult members that permeate the area, and watch police helicopters with a girl that I adore. I came back to the States, ostensibly, to make money so that I could return to live in Thailand one day. Now, I am not so sure that is my goal anymore. There is something to be said for dating an intelligent, successful woman here in the USA. My needs have changed….for now anyway.

The Muay Thai gym I opened is a community gathering place in Echo Park. Very happy to see what it has grown into. The twenty years I spent going back and forth to Muay Thai gyms allowed me to be where I’m at. An entity beyond me. Something that helps spread the Thai cultural meme to people who had no previous exposure to it.

KC: Had any good nightmares lately? Share. 

JV: Well, I had been ghost writing a bit when I came back to the States. My nightmare seemed to evolve out of that experience.  In the nightmare, I was hired to take over writing duties on a horror screenplay. The previous screenwriter had died while writing it. I will kind of leave it there because I am working it into a story now–but it scared the shit out of me.

KC: What superstitions do you have? Inside or outside the ring.

JV: I seem to constantly find nails on the street, in parking lots, or near cars. I have picked them up for years. I can’t even remember how many. Possibly several hundred by now. I get a flash that someone will run over them and then blow their tire out on the highway. So, I pick them up to avert death and disaster. I am aware that the agents of fortune are using me as a tool for good or ill. I could be saving the next Pulitzer winner, or maybe even helping a bank robber get away from a crime. Who knows? I do it anyway.

Joel Villines at Monk blessing ceremony for Echo Park Gym

KC: Lets do some free association. I’ll throw out some words and you write whatever first comes into your mind:


Conformity: I do it everyday, and then spend the day undoing it.

Dregs: Some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet.

Drag Queens: My GF lives two blocks from a cross-dressing evil-clown bar. Sometimes they carry axes. The world needs more of that.

Ghosts: I’ve created my own poltergeist. He goes with me everywhere. So do a few ‘hitchhikers’ I’ve picked up in the sundry parts of Thailand.

Breast implants: They look better on ladyboys than real women.

Henry Rollins: He is revered in Redondo Beach where I lived for 15 years—so it’s almost sacrilegious to speak against the pontiff of punk. I went to one of his spoken word gigs in Chicago when I was a kid and he ranted about how stupid boxing was ( I was a boxer and was kind of like, huh?). Then he proceeded to extol the virtues of lifting weights. Kind of the alpha-bro of the art world. Henry and Danzig should have a morning workout show. I liked Ron Reyes of  Black Flag more.

Jerry Brown: His aura smiles and never frowns….his suede denim secret police will come for your uncool niece.

Raging Bull (The movie): Quite possibly, the most unrealistic boxing choreography in movie history. Great movie nonetheless.

Las Vegas: Where do you start? It’s pre-apocalyptic that’s just screaming to be post. All you can eat sushi, machine-guns, legal brothels, cheap apartments, and chances are you’ll run into someone you know there. The downtown area is trying hard to attract hipsters. I think there’s like two or three there now. Considering getting a weekend place there with my GF because she works on TV shows.

Money: If I can eat what I want, and travel when I want—then I have enough.

Steroids: That’s a Tim Sharkey Question.

Tanning salons: They are dying out…I hope.

Tattoos: I’m heavily inked. I like most of what I have. The only ones I don’t like are the ones I did on a budget. I’ve yet to get any Sak Yant tattoos, but it’s on my list. If I have any room left.

Superman: Least favorite. Totally unlikable character. He can literally do everything. Batman is just a dude who knows martial arts. Much more relatable.

Woody Allen: Loved Midnight in Paris. Wish he would do a horror movie.

KC: Which writers were/are your mentors? If you don’t like that word, tell me which writers you respect?

JV: Philip K Dick, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson were huge influences on my world view growing up. As a kid in Chicago, we didn’t have television—but our apartment was full of books. My mom is a beatnik writer so her book selection was top notch. Lately I’ve been reading Maldoror,  by Comte de Lautreamont, and a lot of esoteric gnostic stuff as research for my next book.

KC: What is the difference between writing for television and writing fiction for readers? 

JV: A lot of tv writing is just trying to keep people’s attention. Unless it’s Twin Peaks, not many people will stick around for the slow burn development of characters. If you write comedy–it’s a lot of one-liners and setups for jokes. For police type shows, it’s being edgy without being corny or cliched.

KC: What do you see in your crystal ball? 

JV: Souls will reincarnate inside artificial humans, clones, or even computers. We will shed this meat vessel and hopefully move beyond our biological programming. It’s all part of a transhumanist agenda. You’re an atheist, you say? Fear not. They’ll find a use for your soul too. There will always be room in the robot brothels on Soi 6.

KC: Damn. 

My book review of Dead Bangkok can be found here. 

You can buy Dead Bangkok on Amazon here for only $2.99.

To visit the Echo Park Boxing Gym web site click the logo:

3 Responses to “The Many Sides of J.D. Villines, author of Dead Bangkok and Owner of Echo Park Boxing and Muay Thai Gym”

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