Eating tarantulas and other morsels of Cambodian Noir: James Farrell interviews Tom Vater

Tom Vater, author of Asian Noir

Tom Vater, author of Asian Noir

[This gritty interview of Tom Vater by James Farrell was first published in the Ciang Mai City News. Noir Nation is grateful to Mr. Farrell for the opportunity to republish it here for distribution to the international crime noir community. — The Editors ]

Farrell: Who are you and what do you do?

Vater: I am an Asia based writer and journalist. I was born in Germany, studied in the UK, played in punk rock bands across Europe in the late 80s and early 90s and have since lived in India and Thailand.

Since 1997, my feature articles have been published widely around the world – from The Times, The Guardian, Marie Claire to Penthouse. I am currently the Daily Telegraph’s Bangkok expert.

I have written numerous books on Asian themes in both German and English, most notably Sacred Skin, an illustrated book on Thailand’s sacred tattoos, with my wife, photographer Aroon Thaewchatturat.

In spring 2013, Burmese Light, an illustrated book by Hans Kemp will be published by Visionary World (HK), for which I wrote the text. Also in 2013, an illustrated book by Lonely Planet photographer Kraig Lieb titled Cambodia will be out and I wrote the text for that as well.

I am the author of two crime novels – The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, first published in 13557570132005, now republished by Crime Wave Press in 2012 and out in Spanish with Editorial Xplora in December. My second novel The Cambodian Book of the Dead, first published with Crime Wave Press in Thailand and Cambodia in 2012, will be out worldwide with Exhibit A in June 2013.

I also write documentary screenplays with my brother, director Marc Eberle, most notably The Most Secret Place on Earth (2008), a film about the CIA in Laos in the 60s which has been broadcast in 25 countries.

Basically, I am constantly flat out with new projects and am very grateful that so many talented artists want to work with me. My working life and much of my social life revolves around a kind of little family of people working together in Asia.

Farrell: Can you tells us a little about Crime Wave Press?

Vater: Crime Wave Press is Asia’s only English language crime fiction imprint. Founded by acclaimed publisher and photographer Hans Kemp and myself in October 2012, the company is based in HK and has published four titles so far, covering thrillers set in The Philippines, Nepal, Thailand and Cambodia.

CWP currently publishes ebooks and PODs and will move into print in summer 2013. Hans Kemp and I are positively surprised by the reaction to our output. We have already sold foreign rights for two titles and are talking to a film director about optioning a third. We are looking for writers and full manuscripts. Submission guidelines can be found on our website.

Farrell: What are you working on these days?

Vater: I am working on a follow-up to The Cambodian Book of the Dead, featuring German detective Maier solving cases around Asia. UK publisher Exhibit A will publish this book, as yet untitled, in early 2014.

1355757122Farrell: Tells us about your book, The Cambodia Book of the Dead?

Vater: In 2001, German Detective Maier travels to Cambodia, a country re-emerging from a half century of war, genocide, famine and cultural collapse, to find the heir to a Hamburg coffee empire.

His search for the young coffee magnate leads into the darkest corners of the country’s history and back in time, through the communist revolution to the White Spider, a Nazi war criminal who hides amongst the detritus of another nation’s collapse and reigns over an ancient Khmer temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia.

Maier, captured and imprisoned, is forced into the worst job o

Crime Wave Press have sold world-wide rights to The Cambodian Book of the Dead to British crime imprint Exhibit A, though CWP have retained English language rights for Thailand and Cambodia.

Farrell: Have you written more?

Vater: I enjoy a modest publishing career in Germany: I have published a travelogue on the source of the Ganges and a book on Thailand’s minorities, the only such title in German.  My wife Aroon has published three photo books in Germany, all on Asian subjects, all with my accompanying text.

Farrell: Did I see you with Nick Cave recently? What was that about?

Vater: My wife Aroon and I were invited to present Sacred Skin at the UBUD Writers and Readers Festival in Bali in October. We also launched Crime Wave Press at the festival. Nick Cave and John Pilger were the main draw at UBUD and we got the chance to hang out with both (separately, mind you) and talk books, politics, music, life on the road etc. Good times.

Farrell: What the most popular titles from CWP?1355757062

Vater: Our current bestsellers are The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu and Mindfulness and Murder.

The Cambodian Book of the Dead was doing well but since signing over the rights to Exhibit A we have taken it off the net. It is still available in print in Thailand and Cambodia.

Crime Wave Press will offer the high seas thriller Dead Sea by Sam Lopez for free as an e-book download from amazon on December 22,23 and 24.

Farrell: What were you doing before you sat down to answer these questions?

Vater: I was having breakfast in the Z Hotel, a small palace in Puri, Orissa, on the east coast of India. It’s a great place to get a lot of writing done.

Farrell: How does a writer in this part of the world go about being published for the first time?

Vater: Hm, I am not sure I am a typical example. When I arrived in SE Asia in 2001, I had already been published in newspapers in India and Nepal, had done a writing stint for Rough Guides and had a film writing credit under my belt (The Greatest Show on Earth, a documentary about the Maha Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering of people on the planet for GEO TV and arte) I arrived with a job as script writer and production manager for a film about Angkor, produced for German TV, which was shot in 2002. This helped me get work with regional magazines. Initially, I worked for Bangkok publications including the seminal Farang Magazine, then moved on to The Far Eastern Economic Review and The South China Morning Post. I had an agent in London who got me into international publications and finally I managed to get a foothold in the British broadsheets.

My advice to up and coming writers: Write, write, write, a thousand words a day at least. Don’t do free work for too long. Pitch, pitch, pitch, to newspapers and magazines. Don’t get disheartened by rejections. Work in many disciplines, one is not enough these days – learn other skills beyond writing, like photography, film-making, radio etc. Take constructive advice to heart. Doubt your abilities but never admit your doubts to the sharks out there. Read a lot. Develop a signature style. Don’t go after the money from the start. If you are committed and have a long breath, it will come. Don’t drink too much and don’t take too much drugs. Don’t forget to fall in love and live as much as your body and mind can sustain.

Mindfulness&Murder2Farrell: Can you talk about the Southeast Asia literary market? Do books travel? Is there a particular genre coming from this part of the world, i.e., noir?

Vater: I don’t know about genres in this part of the world. Southeast Asian countries barely have a literary scene and good novels by local writers are scarce. The novel is a western construct. The target group for CWP is clearly a western audience, whether expatriates residing in Asian countries or readers back in Europe, the US or Oz. Though we are grateful for every Asian reader.

Travelers and tourists tend to read a limited list of international bestsellers. Titles such as Wild Swans or Shantaram keep cropping up in these lists. These books clearly travel, they can be found on every second hand bookshelf between Goa and Bangkok.

The Bangkok literary scene is pretty checkered. The locally published deluge of bar girl novels is dreadful. There has been some noise about Asian Noir with veteran author Christopher Moore publishing two anthologies (Bangkok Noir and Phnom Penh Noir). John Burdett and Colin Cotterill write decent crime novels (neither writer fits into the Noir genre, mind you). Crime Wave Press does not limit its publications to Noir, our output would be too thin. We also publish whodunits, thrillers, spy novels and any other variations on the crime genre.

Farrell: Cambodian writers, as HS Thompson once said, have gotten so close to the edge they have fallen off. Does Cambodia attract writers? Why? Why do so many people go “off the rails” in Cambodia?

Cambodia is a place lots of white men go to roll around in it. ‘It’ being the country’s pervasive culture of impunity. Thanks to a corrupt and venal government, the nasty realpolitik by western donor nations and the Chinese, a bloated and self-serving NGO industry and a tragic history that would take too long to explain in the context of this interview, Cambodia is a place where everyone can do anything, so long as they have dollars in their pockets. That attracts a lot of people who call themselves writers before they have written anything of substance. Most promptly go off into the deep end and lose their pencils at the first sign of a couple of bar girls and a vial of crack. There are some notable exceptions.

Farrell: Tells us what we’ve got to look forward to for the future from CWP?

Vater: 2013 will be the year for Crime Wave Press!!! We have two new titles lined up for the spring. First up is Sister Suicide, the sequel to Mindfulness and Murder by Nick Wilgus, a second Father Ananda title, which follows the Bangkok-based Buddhist monk turned sleuth to the Thai hinterland to solve a crime involving the seven Buddhist hells. Following that we will publish a really exciting action packed thriller spanning 50 years and a trail of greed and crime that reaches from Japan to Thailand and Burma. We hope to have published about a dozen titles by the end of 2013.

Farrell: What should we do if we visit Cambodia?

513Ge3TlAxL._SL500_AA300_Vater: Pray.

No, in all seriousness, the immense suffering endured by the Cambodian people has not stopped. While the genocide is long gone and the civil war ended in 1997, Cambodians have few rights and the government is made up of former Khmer Rouge. Democracy is a sham. Evictions and political assassinations are common place, activists are routinely threatened and the police shoot to kill.

Tourists rarely see any of this. If you visit Cambodia, go and see the Angkor temples of course, which you will share with millions of package tourists from around the world. If you are seriously interested in the Angkor era, do the main temples in three days and then head to more remote sites like Banteay Chhmar or Koh Ker where you might have some temple corners to yourself.

Beyond the remnants of the Khmer empire, check out the coast around Kampot and Kep — wonderful colonial architecture and some nice beaches – and the highlands of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri, home to the country’s indigenous minorities. For the latter, don’t wait too long, the military/government/local tycoon/ foreign company nexus are raping these parts of the country as quickly as possible and the wonderful forests, crammed with wildlife we know little about, will soon be gone.

The Cambodian people are resilient, great to hang out with, super friendly and very funky. Head out to the villages and you will be welcomed with open arms. And you might get to eat tarantulas.

Farrell: What shouldn’t we do?

Vater: Have sex with children, smoke crack, hob-nob with politicians, drink with police, support moronic NGO projects, drive without a helmet. Common sense stuff really.

ADDENDA:

Tom Vater is also an avid Punk Noir music performer. In the video below he performs as the Stetson-wearing Tom Learjet, lead guitarist of Pussy and the Learjets:

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NRA calls for armed guards in schools. OK. How much?

In a much derided speech by its executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association called for an armed guard in every U.S. school. The NRA placed the blame not on loose gun laws but on violent video games and films. This was in response to the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, and the worst where children were victims. [Read more about the speech here.]

At Noir Nation, we love guns, garrotes, poisons, spears, daggers, and all of the real life tools of death and despair that can be used copiously, creatively, and legally in noir fiction, especially if they open up the dark recesses of human experience that allows us to better understand our darkest impulses. Through an increase in knowledge and understanding we can improve human behavior. And through the empathy that sometimes arises from that increase, we can improve the universal human condition. More immediately, if indeed Aristotle’s notion of catharsis is correct, we might even prevent actual harm in the world by offering a vicarious way by which those feeling of anger, alienation, and violent urges may dispel those negative energies safely through the agency of make-believe.

The NRA’s position, if adopted, would provide fewer opportunities for anyone who wants to work out their feelings by shooting imaginary guns at imaginary people — without limiting in any way access to the very real guns that ended the lives of 28 very real people at Sandy Hook.

Reasonable people may disagree about the wisdom of the NRA’s position, as they can about the increase in mass gun violence in recent years. Those arguments are for another day. Today, we focus on the NRA’s numbers.

How much would it cost for an armed guard in every U.S. public school?

Noir Nation did some back of the envelope calculations to figure the costs of the NRA’s call for armed guards at every K-12 school in the US. The number of schools come from the National Center for Education Statistics. The compensation costs of an armed guard (national average) come from Indeed.com.

There are about 99,000 public schools in the US. The average salary of an armed guard is about $49,000; add an additional $10,000 in compensation for benefits and fringe benefits, such as vacation pay, pension plan, and medical insurance, and the total is $59,000.

Total cost: $5.08 billion.

That’s about 4.5 times the annual budget of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the federal agency tasked with reducing illegal gun sales in the nation.

ADDENDA:

Apparently, even trained professionals have difficulty with something as simple as holstering a gun. In the following video, a law enforcement officer, explaining the danger of firearms to a room full of kids, shoots himself in the foot. It is not enough to have a gun during a crises situation, one must also have extensive and continuing training to react with speed and accuracy to someone who bursts into a room shooting at people.


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Video of the Day: Toss a butt in Texas? Get a public cavity search with dirty gloves

If these horrific moments were not caught on police video, who would believe police could act in this manner? One can easily see why in other cases where a citizen is recording a police stop — sometimes as a citizen journalist or simply as a good Samaritan hoping to preserve evidence — the videographer will get arrested for disorderly conduct or for interference with a police action. In fact, if the police are acting lawfully, the videos often help their case when the matter goes to court. In this case, the troopers’ own video damns them.

There is no known legal authority that allows Texas troopers to perform cavity searches in public, according to an NBC News report.

For the full story from NBC News about the police stop in Texas, click here.

UPDATE: the Texas trooper who performed the public cavity search has been suspended from her job. More here…

Interview with Vegas Lit’s Arnold Snyder

Vegas Lit is a new fiction imprint of Huntington Press in Las Vegas. Arnold Snyder is the senior editor. Vegas Lit seeks to publish first-rate literary fiction or genre fiction that transcends its category.

“Writing nonfiction is an intellectual exercise, while writing fiction is an emotional experience.”

Q: You are the senior editor of Vegas Lit, a new fiction imprint of Las Vegas publisher Huntington Press. Tell us about this exciting new venture and your role in it.

A: I’m really excited about Vegas Lit. As senior editor, I get to choose the books we publish and I personally work with the authors, which is something I greatly enjoy. I’ve been writing and editing nonfiction for more than thirty years and this opportunity to work with fiction writers was something I couldn’t pass up.

All of the best fiction today is coming out of the small presses. The big New York publishing giants are cranking out predictable, boring books. They take very few chances. Their industry is dying, but that doesn’t mean the audience for books is dying. That’s a myth. Look at the data sometime for the number of ebooks being published, being sold, being read. There are more readers hooked on books today than ever and this is one of the most exciting times to work in this industry.

Ten, twenty years ago, it cost an arm and a leg to publish a book, print a book, distribute a book. Each title took a huge investment. All serious writers needed agents if they expected to get anywhere. Small presses existed, but they were like voices crying in the wilderness. They couldn’t get distribution. People didn’t know they existed. Technology has changed that. There’s a literary revolution taking place and it’s exciting to play a part in it.

Q: Cover designs for books published by Vegas Lit are provided by local Las Vegas artists. Why did you choose to find covers this way?

A: Hey, just go gallery hopping in downtown Vegas on the first Friday of any month and you’ll know the answer to that question. In the past ten years, this town has become a mecca for artists. There’s no other city like Las Vegas. The thousands of show people who live in this town, and those who do the design work and costuming and lighting, not to mention the musicians—there’s just a high percentage of talented artists of all types here. And creative people tend to be very tolerant of diversity. Artists are drawn to tolerant places and it’s probably significant that it’s also relatively cheap to live here, compared to say, New York, L.A., or San Francisco.

The first two Vegas Lit titles have cover art by Joseph Watson. The third one that comes out in the spring will have cover art by Montana Black. I first saw the work of both artists in their downtown galleries.

Q: You are not only the senior editor, but also the inaugural author with the Vegas-based novel, Risk of Ruin. Tell us about it.

A: At the age of fifteen, in 1963, I read Jim Thompson’s The Grifters. That novel inspired me to become a writer. What I liked about Thompson’s novels was that there were no good guys. Every character had a dark side, but still, you found yourself rooting for and caring about the bad guys.

My narrator/protagonist in Risk of Ruin is an outlaw biker, professional gambler, sometime drug dealer—not your normal leading man. It’s a challenge to get the reader to relate to a character like this, but that’s why I write. It’s boring for a writer to make his protagonist tall, dark, handsome, brave, clean, and reverent. And it’s bullshit. Real people aren’t like that. Everyone has a dark side, a crazy side, a mean side, a violent side, a stupid side, a spiritual side. My protagonist is not a very nice guy or even a very sociable guy a lot of the time. He’s a forty-three-year-old scooter tramp, angry at the world and his lot in life, who becomes obsessed with an underage girl who’s working at a strip club using a fake ID.

When I started writing this book, I talked about the idea with another writer. I told him it was basically a love story about a social renegade in his forties who has a love affair with a runaway teenage girl. He told me it was a terrible idea to write a book like that, because the concept itself would turn people off so much so that no one would read it. He said the guy would come off creepy, no one would see it as a love story, and the best I could hope for would be that it would be taken as some kind of psychological study of a pervert, sort of like Nabokov’s Lolita. That made the challenge even greater and I think I succeeded in what I was trying to do. Risk of Ruin is a love story. It just has a bit more violence and desperation and far less typical characters than most love stories.

Q: You have an impressive resume of over a dozen nonfiction books on casino games and gambling published over the years. How is writing fiction similar to nonfiction? What are the differences from your perspective?

A: In fiction, everything comes out of the author’s head. This gives the author incredible freedom, but he can also get stuck. His characters come alive and may not want to go where he’d planned to take them. He’s got to wait until his characters take him where they want to go. Writing nonfiction is an intellectual exercise, while writing fiction is an emotional experience.

Q: Many people living in Las Vegas can’t wait to leave, while others can leave yet the lights won’t let them. How is your relationship with Vegas?

A: I love Vegas. It’s an honest place. It’s about sex and money and greed and fun and kicking back and letting go and regretting, if you must, tomorrow. But today, let’s party. It’s a healthy attitude for people in this society, especially today as the whole world appears to be changing faster than any of us can keep up with it, and a lot of the changes aren’t for the better. There’s an intense energy in this town. It’s a town full of dreamers and schemers and people who take chances.

Q: Where do you see Las Vegas in ten years?

A: Eight years from now, the Republicans will get the country back. One of the first things they’ll do is start sending the nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. They’ve got hundreds of millions invested in that mountain already and the only reason the country’s nuclear waste stockpiles aren’t already being dumped in Yucca is Harry Reid, and everyone knows it. He’ll be gone. And within a year of the opening of Yucca Mountain, the Las Vegas casinos will start making book on when there will be a radioactive leak or spill.

Then, there’s the water issue—will we at last be able to steal the Great Basin water, and how long will it last in the Big Drought that’s brewing?

And if the water issue’s resolved and we aren’t nuked out of this state, Las Vegas is vulnerable to the price of oil. If people can’t travel to Vegas cheaply, this town is in for hard times. If the cost of flights and bus tickets and a fill-up at Chevron goes through the roof, we’re in trouble. We’ll start to see boarded-up casinos. I see that as a realistic possibility within ten years.

Nevada is a state filled with ghost towns and I imagine Las Vegas will shrink back to dust someday. But as long as I can personally get my bets down on the nuclear disaster sweepstakes, I’ll be happy. I’m a gambling man, so just give me something to bet on.

Arnold Snyder is a high-stakes professional gambler who has been writing about casino games for over two decades. He was the publisher and editor of Blackjack Forum, a quarterly journal for professional gamblers, from 1981 through 2006. His books The Blackjack Formula, Blackbelt in Blackjack, and Poker Tournament Formula 1 and 2 each challenged the conventional wisdom on optimal strategy for beating these games. In January 2002, Snyder, who is one of the great legends of blackjack, was elected one of the seven charter members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Snyder’s 2012 novel Risk of Ruin is the first of a planned series featuring characters who are professional gamblers. His blog, Write-aholic, contains reviews and essays of fiction and other writing-related topics.

New International Noir From Atlantis.

Italian publishers  ATLANTIS eBooks have launched a funky new website and a host of new titles. ATLANTIS is the dark spawn of Lite Editions, a highly successful publisher of erotic eBooks. With Atlantis, publishers Lorenzo Mazzoni and Marco Belli decided to produce a series of noir novelettes, taking place in various cities around the world.

Contributors to the series so far include English dark fiction writer Richard Godwin, whose lyrical and delirious The Secret Hour takes place in London. His follow up to The Secret Hour is called The Edge Of Desire and is set in Paris.

Here’s the blurb:

‘Paris Tongue is back with the sequel of The Secret Hour! From the pen of Richard Godwin a new perfect sexy noir set in France’s capital city … Not to be missed.’

Making his Atlantis debut with Lotus Blue is A.J. Savage ‘a writer who was born in England and lives in Japan. His writing has been published in True Brit Grit and Pulp Metal Magazine.

Here’s blurb:

‘Thailand is a loser’s paradise. Harry Marx is picking up the pieces of his life and looking for inspiration in the land of smiles. He finds it in Lotus Blue. But she is not what she seems to be. A sordid tale of brutal betrayal and a savage short story from A.J. Savage.’

And I’ve got a follow up to my Red Esperanto story called Death On A Hot Afternoon.

Here’s the blurb:

After Red Esperanto, Luke Case, freelance journalist, moves to Madrid from Warsaw. From the pen of Paul D. Brazill, a new short story as noir as ever.’

The novelettes are all available in Italian and English from ATLANTIS or the various Amazons and Barnes & Noble type places around the world. Ciao!.

Bio: Noir Nation editor -at – large Paul D. Brazill was born in England and lives in Poland. He has had bits and bobs of  fiction published in various places including The Mammoth Books Of Best British Crime 8 and 10. He is a member of International Thriller Writers inc.  His blog is here.

 

 

The fear of fictional zombies leads to real life murder attempt

This tragic Fox News story about a man who killed his girlfriend over a dispute about zombies, was cause of some concern given the publication of the Bare Knuckles Press zombie novel Blue Bloodbath by Katrina Von Kessel. We’d hate to think this book contributed in any way to attempted murder. We hope not.

 

Krom – Cambodian songs from the noir

By Christopher Minko

Krom presents a haunting traditional Cambodian song which was written shortly after the downfall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime and the liberation of Phnom Penh in 1979. The lyrics portray the pain that this remarkable city experienced during the horror of the Khmer Rouge regime along with expressing hope for the future after the tragedy and pain of the Killing Fields. The video contains historical archival footage of the Khmer Rouge regime and the Toul Sleng Torture Center where thousands of innocent Cambodian lives were taken.

Vocals are by Krom lead vocalist Sophea Chamroeun, accompanied by Yun Thera on Khmer violin.

The video also showcases the superb traditional dance skills of Krom vocalists Sophea Chamroeun and Sopheak Chamroeun (“The Chamroeun Sisters”), both of whom are recognized as two of Cambodia’s leading exponents of Khmer traditional dance through their involvement in the cultural programs at Cambodian Living Arts. Sophea and Sopheak are joined by Leu Siv Meng and Hou Chey Chanrith from the Children of Bassac Dance Group.

The video is produced by Sarin Chhuon, Krom sound Engineer and Krom video producer.

[To learn more about Krom visit their Web site: http://www.themekongsessions.com]