Saturday, March 2, 2013

Next Big Thing

Life gets in the way, oh yes it does. Two writers asked me in the past month if I wanted to be part of a writer’s chain letter called The Next Big Thing, in which I would answer questions about my next book and ask five other writers the same questions. Saying yes immediately threw my routine off course—first I went to Alaska unexpectedly, then I was hit with a headache-based influenza. And the dog ate my homework.

But procrastination is the hallmark of every writer I know, and an occasional blown deadline or two falls in everyone’s corner. Recovery is the most essential skill I practice, with varying success—and I’m going to try it here.

Karen Coates was the first to ask me to play this game. We’ve known each other for years and have only met face-to-face once. I encountered Karen through her book Cambodia Now, which was submitted for a prize that I was judging. Her writing struck me with its honesty, clarity, and its ability to illuminate issues through the lives of the people whose days are changed by them. Nobody else at that time had brought present day Cambodia so vividly to life on the page, and her husband Jerry Redfern provided a strong counterpoint to Karen’s writing with his stark photographs.

Later when I had a chance to work with these two talented people on two book projects, I was excited and a little apprehensive. These people are true professional journalists, while I was a fledgling editor. Would I be equal to this task? Fortunately, the two books are so very good that they essentially edited themselves. Both This Way More Better and Eternal Harvest will be out this year. More information about these titles can be found at and

The second person to ask me to play is a woman so intertwined in my life that it would take a book of its own to explain how. Kim Fay is a gifted and dedicated writer who has worked on her craft since she was a little girl. When I first met her at the Elliott Bay Book Company where we both worked long ago, she was just out of college, looked like a twenty-first century Alice in Wonderland, drank like several fish, and had completed at least two novels. Separated by over twenty years, we found that we were related by our restlessness and our greed for the printed word. We still are.

Kim is the author of The Map of Lost Memories, which is one of my favorite novels of the last year. A carefully researched story of Cambodian temple-looting in the 1920s, it contains one of the most enigmatic and intelligent heroines to appear in literature since Sherlock Holmes was outwitted by Irene Adler. When I feel homesick for China or Southeast Asia, I pick up Kim’s novel and it takes me to the places I yearn for so thoroughly that I begin to sweat in the heavy, humid air, smell jasmine and sewage, begin to worry about dengue fever. Information about her next novel can be found here

There are five men who have worked hard and well for years; living overseas they don’t always receive the attention in the U.S that they deserve. I hope they’ll play this game with me—don’t be shy, gentlemen.

Jerry Hopkins is a writer who won immense acclaim and a bit of cash for his classic biography of Jim Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive. The number of books he’s written since would fill a very long bookshelf, each one of them carefully researched and completely engaging. He lives in Bangkok and nobody has chronicled that city as well as Jerry has in Bangkok Babylon, a collection of stories about the eccentric foreigners who have made that city their home. His next book profiles foreigners who have loved and written about Asia and I hope my favorite curmudgeon will talk about it in this format soon. Meanwhile get a glimpse of him and his mammoth oeuvre (no, that's not a euphemism) at his website. or in this terrific interview

Jim Algie is another Bangkok-based journalist, author of Bizarre Thailand:Tales of Crime, Sex, and Black Magic. A man with a gift for finding a good story, along with a taste for the black comedy that lurks in ordinary life, Jim has spent decades exploring ordinary life in Thailand—which is lightyears away from ordinary life anywhere else—and discovering exactly what makes that tick. His book is one that Damon Runyon would have killed to write—the glamorous national forensic expert whose punk hairstyle wins her as much attention as her crime solutions, the Thai magnate who built a Wild West cowboy town in the hills of the northeast, the romantic wedding of the woman who lives with scorpions all over her body and her groom who gets equally up close and personal with centipedes. Whatever Jim’s next book will be, it is guaranteed to be memorable—that is how he rolls. See for yourself at

Nick Wilgus spent decades working at Thailand’s leading English newspaper, The Bangkok Post. In his spare time, he began to write a mystery series, with a detective who is an ordained, practicing Buddhist monk. I have no idea of how Nick got the extraordinary details that pervade his Father Ananda series but they give a dimension to the mysteries that make the books unique. The first book, Mindfulness and Murder, was made into a movie in Thailand that is now on the international film festival circuit, and there are rumors that the same fate awaits his second in the series, Sister Suicide. A thoughtful and prolific writer, Nick now lives and writes in Mississippi, where he crosses genres in a way that makes other writers yearn to kill him; he has written young adult fantasy and a graphic novel series as well as mystery novels. Who knows what he has coming soon? I hope he’ll tell…hints may be found at

Tom Vater is another writer whose versatility makes other writers feel homicidal—plus he can be talented in several different languages. German by birth, he writes in English in Bangkok—and so very well. His guidebooks are ones that can be read for pleasure (most recently the Moon Handbook to Angkor Wat) and his book Sacred Skin: Thailand Spirit Tattoos, with photos by his wife Aroon Thaewchatturat, is a superb work of reference. Just recently released in the West are his mystery novels, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu and The Cambodian Book of the Dead. Both are more exciting than flesh and blood can stand and have such a dangerous sense of place that anyone who reads them is going to want to buy air tickets to Nepal and Cambodia. Oh—and just in case there needs to be another reason to look for a blunt instrument, Tom is also a co-publisher at Crime Wave Press. Look for more information at and be prepared for a surprise when (if?) he talks about his next book.

Back in the early part of this century, bookstores across the country were taken by surprise when they were presented with a modestly sized photography book called Bikes of Burden, a quirky, delightful collection of images showing the amazing things carried on Vietnamese motorcycles. Hans Kemp lived in Saigon, traveled through Vietnam, loved what he saw, and captured it with his camera; the result was this book which sold—and continues to sell—in bookstores all over the world, as has its companion volume, Carrying Cambodia. A dazzlingly gifted vagabond, Hans is one of the world’s most brilliant travel photographers. His book The Ardent Eye is a beautiful testimonial to the man’s talent and sense of adventure—and his love for the people he encounters on the road. (See some of his work at He also is a publisher of two imprints, Visionary World and (with Tom Vater) Crime Wave Press. Recently he has spent huge amounts of time in Burma and what he saw will soon be revealed in Burmese Light. Please give us a hint or two about what you saw in this beautiful and little known country, Hans?

Yes, it’s time to step up to the questions, while trying to think it’s not the same as facing a firing squad. Here goes:

What is the title of your book? It’s Almost Home: The Asian Search of a Geographic Trollop.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Thinking she would live the rest of her life in Bangkok, an aging American woman looks for a home in four different cities, in three different countries.

What genre does your book fall under? Travel memoir

Where did the idea come from for the book? Emily Hahn’s China to Me was a big influence.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? Three years to hunt and gather and record, one month to get the first draft down.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? Inspired is a word I really hate. I tell stories that sometimes insist upon becoming a book.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Neither. I have no agent and it will be published by ThingsAsian Press.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre? Moby-Dick, War and Peace, How to Win Friends and Influence People, the Bible.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a
movie rendition? Judi Dench as the crone, James Caan as the Alpha Dude, Joan Chen as Mrs. Nupa

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It’s a fantastic how-NOT-to book.


Lei Ann Shiramizu said...

Sounds just like a woman I know and love.

janet brown said...

You are a peach, Lei Ann!