UnknownJo Kyungran’s story of epicurean love and revenge is an immersion into the gourmet. Her novel Tongue is about a young chef jilted by her lover for another, prettier woman, and how she tries to deal with her depression. But the narrative is threadbare. What’s really at play is Jo’s depiction of obsession with food, with taste, with cooking – with how we experience intense pleasure or despair from our devouring of other forms of life.

This is a novel for foodies. The use of food and taste is not just a literary device. It is the soul of the novel. Jo portrays the cooking profession with an insider’s knowledge. She interweaves colorful culinary histories, from the Romans to the Chinese, with the protagonist’s emotions as she veers from pathos to lunacy, and finally uses cooking as a way to move on. Continue reading “Tongue”

SuperTerminal 1

The apron

The apron

Great infrastructure is one of Hong Kong’s hallmarks, which in turn is built upon entrepreneurialism. Anyone living here, or just visiting, is immediately impressed by Hong Kong’s efficiency. The airport, with its smooth links to Kowloon and Central, is the best example. But the spirit of that efficiency and entrepreneurialism runs deep – down into the plumbing of the place.

I visited one of Hong Kong airport’s three cargo terminals, on a trip organized by the Royal Geographical Society. Hactl, Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited, is the world’s largest independent company of its kind, meaning it isn’t owned by an airline. It has about 40% of the market for air cargo in Hong Kong, with the capacity to shift up to 3.5 million tones per annum. Continue reading “SuperTerminal 1″

Get me rewrite

Revision is part of the writing process. Sometimes it is just a matter of tweaks: some cut-and-paste jobs, catching typos, and improving your wordsmithing.

For my latest novel, though, the rewrite was the vital part.

Cowgirl X was the first manuscript to cost me sleep. Cowgirl X is the sequel to Gaijin Cowgirl, a novel of modest sales but favorable reviews. I still get messages from strangers telling me they liked the book. No hate mail so far.

As with its predecessor, writing Cowgirl X was a lot of fun. The plot is a double helix, a device that allowed me to pair otherwise unrelated story ideas that had been percolating in my head. I wanted a novel starring my protagonist, Val Benson; an epic featuring the twin cities of lost angels, Los Angeles and Bangkok; a Western cowboy and Indians adventure, an Eastern dive into the exotica of Southeast Asia. I wanted it all. Continue reading “Get me rewrite”

Writer on location: Angkor Wat

(This entry originally appeared as a guest post at Paul D Brazill: Brit Grit & International Noir.)

Angkor Thom gateThe soul, if not necessarily the body, of my new thriller, “Cowgirl X”, is in Cambodia.

I can tell you exactly when I first visited the country: mid April 1998. My memory is buttressed by the fact that Pol Pot died while I was there, on the 15th, although I only learned of this after I had returned to my home in Hong Kong.

Siem Reap, out where the ruins of Angkor lie, remained Khmer Rouge territory when the dregs of that murderous cult were pushed out by the Vietnamese in the 1980s. They retreated to the west of the country where they maintained a private army and control over local resources, such as timber and gemstone mines. But their most effective defense against the Vietnamese-backed regime (led by a former Khmer Rouge lieutenant, Hun Sen) was a thick carpet of landmines laid by Pol Pot and his decrepit retinue. Continue reading “Writer on location: Angkor Wat”

Kevin Cummings and the Bangkok Beat

bangkok-beat-finalKevin Cummings, Bangkok’s online cultural impresario, suggested we interview each other for our blogs. Kevin’s blog, Thailand Footprints, covers the local writerly scene, among other things, and he has a new book out, Bangkok Beats, a series of curios about life in the Big Mango.

Welcome, Kevin. When you suggested we swap interviews, I thought this would be fun. You have a lot of interesting Q&As on your website with a variety of people in Bangkok and beyond, with a heavy focus on literature and the arts. I haven’t done that sort of thing before so it’s great to bring a new dimension here. While you are not a novelist, you do have a book out about the Bangkok arts scene. But I think more importantly you and your website are like the glue for Thai-based writers. You provide an online community for them, as well as for folks like myself, in the region but not affiliated directly with what goes on in Bangkok. So my first question is, what drives you to play this role?

Kevin Cummings: Thanks, Jame. Being in Thailand more than half my time since 2001 has taught me that there should be some fun or sanook as the Thais say, in whatever we undertake – even work. To answer your question, a void and encouragement. I set out to create a blog that I would want to read. The blueprint came from a quote by an American author who also spent a fair amount of time being an expat: Continue reading “Kevin Cummings and the Bangkok Beat”

Cowgirl X: now available

CowgirlXMy new Val Benson thriller, Cowgirl X, has been published by Crime Wave Press. She is ready to be downloaded in e-book format at Amazon. A print version is in the works.

Los Angeles, on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq. Val Benson, ex-bar hostess and party girl, scarred from her treasure hunt in Asia, is telling her story in the hope of getting some kind of justice for the killings of her friends. But she gets sidetracked by the delivery of an ancient sword hilt – and caught up in the search for a Japanese porn starlet who’s gone missing in the streets of LA.

Tangling with a reporter, assassins, a tycoon playboy, a murderous mystic and a grandfather-grandson pair of Navajo native Americans, Val burns a trail back to Asia. But is she helping resolve old crimes, or falling into a trap? Climaxing at the pinnacle of Angkor Wat, the biggest temple in the world lost amid the Cambodian jungle, Cowgirl X is a wild and dangerous ride.

The Last Unicorn

9780316232869_p0_v2_s260x420I’m tempted to describe this book as elegiac, but that would be inaccurate on two counts.*

First, although the extinction of wildlife accelerates, William deBuys tempers the destruction he reports with hope that the fragile situation for many animals may be rescued yet. An elegy usually mourns a death, and the ‘unicorn’ of his tale, the mysterious horned beast called the saola, native to just the remotest corners of Laos and Vietnam, is not yet extinct.

Secondly, although deBuys covers plenty to lament, he isn’t a fatalist. Conservation, he notes, has now become an act of triage. Most animals will not survive, but hardnosed decisions may save some. Continue reading “The Last Unicorn”