Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Bangkok Noir Thriller

James and John are chilling in The Beach Hut slurping back Papa Dobles - An icy blend of white rum and fresh grapefruit and lime juices, sweetened with a splash of maraschino liqueur and sugar syrup. The sun is setting and the waves are rushing up the beach. Ebb and flow. Ebb and flow. Not unlike the writing process.

James gazes out into the pink sunset and takes a small sip of the cocktail.
New Book

JN: Like a Moth to a Flame” is a rollercoaster of a book, and I get the impression that you really enjoyed writing this one. What was the most enjoyable part of the process this time, dude?

JD: I live in a small town in a beautiful country and I have access to a wonderful walking track alongside a rushing river covered by a canopy of native trees. It takes one minute from my house to access this. While the most satisfying aspect of writing is always sitting back at the end of the night and reviewing what I've written, coming out of the zone and wondering how the hell it got there, the most enjoyable part was different. It was walking in nature, listening to music, separating myself from my real life and sinking my mind into the story as I walked and plotted. Every single scene was conceived while walking in nature. The words themselves, came out of those walks every night once I entered the writing zone. What happens in the zone is hard to explain. Writers will understand. Shit happens.

JN: That's beautiful. Often I speak with writers, published and unpublished, and their real purpose is to be recognized, to be admired, to be famous, or whatever, and I think to myself that the real reward from writing is the writing itself, or the thinking about the story, not any sort of end game, but the process of writing. Now that the book is finished is there a big gap in your life? Or are you straight into the next project?

JD: I'm straight into the next project which continues Nick Adamson's journey. I've found a process that works for me. The only hold up is finding time to have those regular walks. Summer time is easy. I'm a school teacher and a solo father. And it is winter here so time is much shorter. I can only guarantee two walks rather than five so the process is slower. Bring on summer.

The process is the most important thing and the most enjoyable. But the most satisfying is sitting down at my laptop after bedtime stories and pounding out a thousand words a night. Then those walks become incredibly rewarding and addictive. Without them I end up watching cooking shows on TV and waking up the next morning feeling unfulfilled.
Fuck you, Gordon Ramsey.

JN:  For me it is the bus journey in the morning. There is something about movement, solitary movement that allows a story to grow and flourish. The pages of Moth turn quickly, the reader has a sense of movement. Where do you see the story moving forward to? Who is Nick Adamson and how much of him is you?

JD:  Nick is a smart guy but hurt and vulnerable. He has experienced great emotional losses which he thinks makes him fearless. Because of this he is often reckless and exhibits maverick behaviours but always with his heart in the right place. Nothing of him is me but there is a great deal of me in him, if that makes sense. To quote you: "Every author is the sum of two things – the books he’s read and the life he has lived." Nick exemplifies this. He comes from me, from Hemingway, from Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Jean Paul Satre, but most of all he comes from the social setting of Thailand and specifically, Bangkok and what it does to men.

The story is moving to another chapter in Nick's life where he is caught tight in a web of corruption. 

It is provisionally titled "Escapology".

JN:  How much of a sequel is Like a Moth to a Flame to your first Nick Adamson novel," Cut Out The Middleman"? How closely are they connected?

Photo: Alasdair McLeod
JD:  They are only connected by the main character, Nick Adamson.  The stories stand alone and are quite different in purpose and style. Middleman is more of an action adventure backpacker story set on a beach while Moth is pure Bangkok Noir. Here is the blurb for Middleman: "Nick Adamson only planned on being in Thailand for a week. But a week later he is running a beach bar, selling drugs to tourists, falling out with the police, falling in love with a hot blonde, and dueling with an out-of-control, drug lord. Cut Out the Middle Man follows Nick’s descent into the illicit underworld of beach life and the dysfunctional characters who operate beneath the thin veneer of paradise islands."

Like a Moth to a Flame picks up on Nick's life some years later as a Bangkok expat and develops the character within a fresh conflict. They can be read independently of each other. Like a Moth to a Flame could easily sit alone without being referred to as "Book 2".  In fact I like to think of Middleman as a prequel rather than Moth as a sequel

JN:  You mentioned the city of Bangkok and what it does to foreign men, this is something we have spoken about before. What is it about Bangkok that sees so many visitors burn out like a moth to a flame?

JD: Good question. Probably more intriguing that the best question in film: "What is the Matrix?" And that is probably where the answer lies. Bangkok is escape, fantasy, deception.
Morpheus:"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill -- the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."
Living in Bangkok is like taking the red pill. You get to see what is real and what is fantasy once you get to experience it and live it over time.
Photo: Alasdair McLeod
Once you take the red pill you get sucked in to a different world where it is impossible to go back. The Flame could be anything; Bangkok itself, hot women, easy money, reinvention of self, false friendships and false promises, addictions. Just name your weakness; Bangkok will expose it. Expose and exploit it.

JN: I like the Ronny character in your novel, he seems to have made a life for himself in Bangkok. 

JD: He is a very cool character. A Bangkok old hand. Seen it all.

He exists in the corner of many a Bangkok haunt.

Photo: Stickman

The sort of guy who would have shed a tear when Washington Square was cruelly taken from us by those heartless buzzkilling developers who have yet to develop.

JN: Well, Washington Square is now a dinosaur theme park..

JD: At least Queens Park Plaza is still alive and well and features prominently in the novel. There were photos of a key setting, Crazy Girl Bar, in a recent Stickman photo essay.

I am proud to say that I played for the Crazy Girl Bar in the Bangkok Pool League for a few years.

JN: It is only a matter of time before places like Patpong and NEP will fall to developers. I feel that Cowboy will remain as a tourist attraction. It really is a beautiful neon spectacular and very much part of the tourist list of attractions.

Times change.

Bangkok is changing.

And Nick becomes wrapped up in the New Bangkok in the next book?

JD: Does he ever! Locked in tight with the Police against his will. If you impregnate a Police Chief's daughter then you take what you’re given and have to find a way out. Sounds like vintage Nick Adamson, right?


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Joe Dylan Ten Years Old.

The publication of the fifth Joe Dylan book is approaching us, and my main man Joe has reached his tenth birthday. Ten years ago, 2006, I published the book I had begun writing when I arrived in Thailand – Bangkok Express. The first edition in the plain brown cover appeared as a print on demand edition, sold a handful of copies, and disappeared without having made much of a ripple in the world of crime fiction. Joe reappeared as an eBook in 2010 published by Bangkok Books and by that time the second in the series Red Night Zone (available for free download HERE) was well under way.    

In the very first 2006 edition Dylan was recovering from a divorce and struggling with alcohol issues while living above a chippy in a London suburban street. By the third White Flamingo my hero was shooting china white at a Jack the Ripper copy-cat crime scene in a tropical crime metropolis. Now in 2016’s Fun City Punch Dylan has been blasted nine years into the future to a cash-free brave new world where government surveillance is rife. Self-mutilated transhumanists languidly stroke exotic pets while tripping on scopolamine shakes.

Hasn't the boy done well?  

I already had the character mostly formed in my mind when my son was born in 2004 and I decided to name both my character and my son Joe Dylan. Five books later, translations into Spanish and Italian, audio books, and a film adaptation in the works, I may have managed to set up my character Joe with a footing as solid as his namesake Joe Dylan Newman who began high school this week.

Well done, Joe.

And well done, Joe.  

But how did Dylan evolve?

Stirring this question around in my mind on the Bangkok bus (the place and the time where all the ideas come is the morning bus journey) I came to the conclusion that there are two main sources of inspiration for my birthday boy private eye.

Every author is the sum of two things – the books he’s read and the life he has lived. 

Dylan evolved from a fascination with two authors.

First up and without a shadow of a doubt the writer who has influenced my writing most is a Belgium cartoonist named Herge.

There, I said it.

Hah! Newman’s finally lost the plot. But stay with me here, I think I can explain. Hold on.

But first let me tell you the second.

The second writer who has influenced me the most is an American novelist, some of you may have heard of, by the name of William Burroughs.

A strange mix you may think, but, there is always a connection between two influences and that connection with these two is, believe it or not, the Boy Scouts.

Burroughs and Herge both lived by the code. Herge was a full blown member of the scout movement during his youth and his early Tintin is basically a grown up scout masquerading as a journalist. Burroughs not only wrote a book entitled The Revised Boy Scout Manual, he, always prepared, stockpiled methadone in his garage in preparation for the impending nuclear apocalypse.

Herge began his career writing for far right publications. Tintin and the Soviets, the Congo comic strip, and even Tintin’s adventures into America were written, with a fast deadline approaching, and were made pretty much to order, and in to be fair, pretty poor taste. His later adventures were landmark crusades detailing good over evil with breath-taking attention to detail and as such, Tintin, adapted over the years, his moral compass was firmly in place to the extent that he was read and enjoyed in every part of the world except, curiously, America.

Herge was at times a genius, a hard-working genius, and one who often worked too hard but he was a great, and in my mind a master of plot and research. Perhaps he was one of the best plotters of the twentieth century..

Novelists, whoever they are, struggle with plot development. While writing the Dylan series over the last ten years I’ve written myself into and out of countless holes. During these moments of frustration I will often turn to one of the Tintin books, and go through Herge’s process of story construction. The Castiafore Emerald is a mystery in which the culprit (a magpie) of the crime is pictured in the very first frame. I used this idea in one of the Dylan series – the killer is in the first grisly scene.    

Anti-plot Burroughs, was a gifted writer who, spare the first two, could never lay down a coherent sequence of events over the course of a novel. Burroughs was hopeless when it came to plot. He did, however, write Naked Lunch, with a little help from his friends, and Burroughs, whether you like it or not, basically predicted the future of the Western consumer society before he began to get a bit too handy with a pair of scissors and destroyed any chance he had of a mainstream career. Burroughs imagery in my mind has yet to be equaled in modern fiction. 
Herge saw the problems in the world and made us understand them and Burroughs tried, but ultimately failed to prescribe a remedy, yet left us with a sense of the condition we now find ourselves in.

So perhaps Dylan is what happens when good intentions go astray.

Both men were men of principles. Reclusive men who chose their friends well. They were both leaders of their respective fields, not always championed by the establishment, and often subject to persecution. Both men were exiles for a time. Burroughs for most of his life. They were welcomed back to the Fatherland. Herge played golf with the king of Belgium.

Both men were masters of picking up on the current political and recycling it for our humorous digestion and there seems to be an ethical battle taking place in all their work.

Both men are legends to aspire to and without them there would be, for better or worse, no Joe Dylan.

Dylan tries to do the right thing again and again, but like Burroughs, is attracted or distracted by what they call the Ugly Spirit.

So happy birthday Joe, and thanks to Uncle Bill and Georges Prosper Remi otherwise known as Herge..