Wrapping up 2008 in Bangkok
This year has brought many things, good and bad. I had books published in New York and London, and a film option deal for a crime fiction series, and foreign rights deals. In November I was in New York City to attend the National Book Foundation Awards where my friend Barney Rossett received a lifetime achievement award. It was a time to reflect, look back at the publishing world that Barney and others like him created in the 1950s and think about what is left of that world in 2008. The transformation has been beyond what anyone would have imagined.
I also had a chance to meet my publisher, editor, head of publicity and foreign rights at Grove/Atlantic while in New York. As one of the last independent publishers in New York, Grove/Atlantic continues Barney Rossett’s tradition of giving voice to the outsider, of publishing books that are literary, books that are about the larger world. Next Autumn Grove/Atlantic will bring out Paying Back Jack.
As 2008 ends I am writing an article titled Literary Bangkok for Writers & Poets Magazine. I spent a few days at the Oriental Hotel researching the article. Looking into the archives of writers from the past who came to Bangkok: Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, George Orwell and others. Like the trip to New York, the time at the Oriental Hotel has stimulated my thinking about what we owe to the great authors and publishers of the past, and as we walk into the future, what part of their legacy do we take along with us and what parts are shed like the skin of snake.
2008 has also brought to Thailand and many other parts of the world equal measures of violence, uncertainty, and chaos. Political events in Thailand overshadowed the news for months. Demonstrations, occupations of the government house and closure of the airports, with new governments coming and going in rapid successions. The tourism business crashed. People were staying closer to home. Foreigners are less certain about the future, have less money, and with travel warnings, they put off that discretionary purchase—whether it is an air ticket to Thailand, a hardback book, or dinner at a posh restaurant. Stock markets crashed everywhere, entire industries dissolving before our eyes, a crisis in publishing. Newspapers dropping print editions, home delivery, going into bankruptcy.
Perhaps the world has always looked like it was unraveling. Economic collapse, the climate fundamentally changing, the balance of power in the world up for grabs, and the feeling that something we can’t quite imagine looms over the horizon. In better days, we assumed something good would be found over the horizon. Now people aren’t so sure. And that in a nutshell is our existential angst. We want to believe things will get better, but have largely given in to the feeling we are about to slip into a void and no one around us has the capability, the resources, or the intelligence to break the fall.
A tugboat of gloom is pulling the world through the dark waters of noir. There aren’t enough lifejackets for everyone. People are getting thrown over the side.
The challenge for us who write books is to chart that journey. If the world has become one vast criminal investigation scene, we will be spending much of 2009 sorting out the victims from the criminals, evaluating the evidence, considering the motives, reflecting on the special pleas of ignorance, negligence, or special circumstances. Some will go to jail, some will go mad, others to the streets, and others to gather weapons for revenge. The drama of who we are and what we want and how we mediate between our identity and what we possess will absorb our attention. Crime fiction will grow in this environment as authors are stretched to find context and voice to describe and explain a world where clues to the big crimes are traced to the delusions of those elected to protect.