The San Francisco Bay became a hotspot for the corona virus and 7 counties in the area banded together to issue a “stay home order.” That was a week ago, followed only a few days later by California’s Governor Newsom ordering all residents to “shelter in place” and leave home only for essential trips. Today the state confirmed 2,382 cases (experts say there are more awaiting testing or test results) of Covid-19 zooming up from 565 last week. In our county alone the cases (86) have jumped >85% in a week. (source: Calif. Dept of Health)
We are among the “vulnerable” so my husband and I comply (as do most people.) Tomas was a little slow – insisting on Day 2,one last trip to the hardware store for wood to repair our deck; he needed a project. I’ve been doing some spring cleaning and gardening when weather permits (its unseasonably cold for March). A writing project, long on a back burner, is propped on my desk as well.
I draw some comfort from a friend who wrote “this too shall pass.” That is surely true, but when and at what cost? Epidemiologists think our local legislatures may have acted swiftly enough to tamp the worst of the outbreak in our area and a few other states.
We are lucky that we have some well-educated state governors and smart officials with moral fiber who– unlike the present US administration – listened to the experts. On January 22 Trump boasted “We have this totally under control” and a White House advisor a few weeks ago claimed “we have contained this.” How could they, when in 2018 he eliminated the National Security Council’s global health unit (our warning system for pandemics), the Center for Disease Control funding was cut by a third, and Hospital Preparedness within Health and Human Services cut by half? (Source: Time Mag.3/2020) Several high level government health positions have yet to be nominated, 3 yrs. into his term. Hence we were not prepared for a pandemic. There’s a saying “Poor planning on your part…..constitutes an emergency” …in this case on “we the people.” (Thus concludes my rant.)
Surprisingly time passes in our semi-confinement and we are not bored yet. The saving grace is we are allowed to go outside for exercise and to walk the dog.
A few days ago we went to our little “secret beach” and we were still the only ones there. Then when the sun came out, we decided to hike a local trail that often has wild flowers and not well-used in the past. That was then and this is now. The first clue was some traffic on the rural road, followed by lines of parked cars 100’s of feet from the small parking lot. With every one off work and home with their kids, they decided to enjoy nature just like us. It was strange sharing the trail with so many, but only one young guy refused to yield the 6-feet of “social distance” (in spite of my waiting and saying “excuse me”). We saw few flowers, but on the drive home I did find a field of poppies – alas on fenced private property, so we could only enjoy it from the road… but oh my!
How are you and yours faring in your corner of the world?
My guest today is English writer and expat, James King, who lived for many years in South Africa then emigrated to Thailand in 2011. His writing runs the gamut from nonfiction to poetry and more recently, novels. I “met” James online as a fellow blogger on jamoroki.com and Displaced Nation. He is also a photographer and thus the source for the beautiful landscape photos accompanying this post.
You grew up in England and now live in Thailand. Tell us a bit about that.
I’m a West Country lad, born and bred in Bristol where I grew up in the suburbs and later moved to the surrounding countryside, then ended up back in the City, until I emigrated in 1995 to South Africa.
What life is like for an ex-pat in Thailand?
You notice the difference immediately, because the Asian culture requires Westerners to re-evaluate their views and leave the West behind. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time. I have to admit it wasn’t easy, and it took me nearly five years to acclimatize to the Thai ways, and accept I couldn’t and shouldn’t even try to change the things that irked me. Once I did I was OK, although I still have my moments.
Your new trilogy series is described as a “drama and psychological romance with damaged characters in a tropical sauna.” (I love that.) Tell us about “ Alfie Goes to Thailand.”
In the first novel, Post-It Notes, Alfie pieces his life together after an acrimonious divorce. He finds a place where no-one knows him, and works out why he is so depressed, after being set free by his third wife. Alfie’s adventures hot up, as a conniving Mother and her wicked daughters, plot his downfall. The dangers are exacerbated by crooked builders, and rogue property traders, exposing him to a hair-raising ride through Thailand.
What was your inspiration for these stories? When I published my Thailand Diaries in 2011, I did it as an experiment, knowing nothing about self-publishing at the time. The books were raw, and so was I from a bad experience, and I left a lot of sensitive stuff out. As a result, they ended up as a sort of rambling, tongue-in-cheek travel guide that Lonely Planet wouldn’t have given the time of day to. I knew all along that I would have to do something. Either re-write them, ditch them or, I wasn’t sure what. Then one day, in a dream or drunken stupor, it dawned on me. If I took the best material from the diaries and the material in my dump file, that was too sensitive to include, I had all I needed for three psychological, dramatic ,romantic novels, full of seriously damaged characters, and extraordinary happenings. So, I had the story, I had the characters and I had the inspiration. But could I do it justice and sell it. Time will tell. Your reply only piques our curiosity about “ the sensitive stuff.” Maybe we can glean some of this from your writing! (BTW I enjoyed the Dairies!)
What books, writers and other artists have influenced you? Music, film, art and literature, have had a great influence on my life. Who could fail to be moved by Shakespeare, Dickens, Hesse, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, among others. They have all had a profound effect on me one way or another.
Describe your writing environment
Most of the time I sit at a glass-topped teak desk peering at an ultra-wide 34 inch monitor, in our open-plan modern Thai bungalow. I built the home in 2016 in the rice fields of the Chiang Mai valley in North Thailand. We have no fences, walls or gates, and are surrounded by rice, fruit and vegetable farms, mountains, forest and jungle. It’s the biggest garden I have ever known, tended by hundreds of farmers and mother nature, and it’s all free. It’s either inspiring or distracting depending on my mood.
When and how did you discover your passion for fiction writing? That’s kind of loaded question because until I publish my two series, this year and next, I won’t be sure if becoming a fiction writer was a good decision or not. I wanted to write for years before I started. It’s been a gradual and transitional process, starting way back with poetry. Then, when I first went to Thailand, I diarized my trips. After that I started blogging, which was when it started in earnest. To be honest it was a bit of a mish-mash for some time. Blog posts about anything that interested me, more poems, short stories, a photo-interview series for The Displaced Nation and South Africa Diaries, a series of articles for Expat Focus, and finally novels. I got there in the end and I’m sure the unstructured process has added benefit with each step.
Tell us about your main character. Which is your favorite secondary character and why?
Alfie Mynn, the main character, cuts a sad figure as he wades through the trilogy. He is a moderately successful businessman from Cape Town, but an enigma when it comes to women. He is a genuine person who continually builds obstacles in his own path and then expends enormous energy overcoming them. It’s as though he can’t live without having problems to solve. And because he can’t resist a challenge he has plenty of them. My favourite secondary character is the mother of Alfie’s partner, Nin. Known as Mother throughout the story, she is a matriarch who rules her family with an iron fist, no love and no normal motherly traits.
Please share a few favorite lines or a paragraph: Taken from the first novel – POST-IT NOTES.
“I found myself in a dismal place, a rough dirty market area, farther from nature than I had ever been, and I was lost. There wasn’t a paint shortage in Thailand, but where I was, it looked like nothing had been painted in a hundred years. Paint was big business, but there was very little left on the buildings I was looking at. So, where was I? There didn’t seem to be many tables with more than three legs in the food place I just passed. The few bricks and the hole in the wall which made up for the missing legs was ingenious. So well disguised nobody who was eating noticed or, if they did, they didn’t care. Why should they? Even if the surroundings were squalid, the food filled them up, and it only cost a few baht.
I picked my way between the dilapidated tables and pots of boiling food, that smelled like pork but could well have been a cocker spaniel. I must have looked out of place. Rats, as big as cats, and probably scared of farangs like me, scurried into any hole they could find… There were few windows, and the ones that still had glass in hadn’t been cleaned in a few lifetimes. So, there was either a business opportunity gone missing, unless people had concluded there was no market for window-cleaners. Copying the Thai smile, using some inventive sign language, and a ten-baht coin, I got general directions back to Silom Road, from a ragged old man who was sitting, hunched up, on a plastic crate. I think it was the coin that swung it. I’d just seen the dystopian side of Bangkok, another side of life, and a side I was pleased I didn’t live on.”
Let’s talk a bit about the Writing Process. When you first begin writing a new book, is your main focus on the characters or the plot? I’d say they go hand in glove. But in the main it’s what happens to the characters who already exist in my imagination or are drawn from life but aren’t developed as the story unfolds. Sometimes I have a story idea and then have to find the characters. Sometimes it’s the other way round.
What would you call your genre – why did you choose it? I didn’t set out to write in a specific genre, and never expected to write in the romance genre. But I was surprised to find I was writing a story about the overpowering need for most people to partner with another human being. Even the vilest horror stories usually contain an element of romance or love. And I can’t leave romance out of the Alfie goes to Thailand genre. It has elements of mystery, suspense, drama, psychological romance, and humour. I can’t pigeon-hole it, so I’ll get Amazon to put in as many categories as I can.
I agree. I think most appealing books have a least a hint of romance. Do you write a book sequentially, from beginning to end? Or do you sometimes write scenes out of order?
So far I have done the latter. I’d prefer not to, but I’ve found when I’m in the middle of writing a novel all sorts of things come to me. I have to get them on paper or PC as quick as possible, then I’m often dragged out of the sequence for days.
I’ve found that too. Tell us about your process for naming your characters. How much importance do you put on names? So far it has been rather disjointed and random, not scientific at all. I go a lot on gut feeling and have found that I often change a name many times till it feels right. So the answer to the last part is that names are very important.
Do you edit as your write? Or do you write an entire rough draft before doing any edits?
They say, even though it may be rubbish you should get it all out before doing any editing. They may be right, and I have tried, but I just can’t do it. Every chapter I write has to feel right in essence before I move on, even though I will rewrite chunks of it later.
To get a taste of his writing, James is offering a FREE short story – THE ONLY WITNESS – which introduces the main character, style and humour of the trilogy. I reviewed it, but I like what this reviewer had to say: ” the true mystery isn’t the crime committed, but the difficulty the protagonist has in grasping how the Thai people respond to the crime. A wonderful portrayal of one culture struggling to understand the other and a great read!” I read and enjoyed it in an evening…. let us know what you think!
James is happy to respond to questions here about this post or his books. You can also connect with him here: Website: https://www.jameskingbooks.com/about; Twitter: https://twitter.com/JimKing28265666; Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/jamoroki/; Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jimking9406417/
This charming book is funny and wise. The main character gets roped into taking his sister’s guru on a road trip. Otto is skeptical and annoyed, but by the end of the journey he and the guru have become friends and he’s even tried meditating. I rarely give out 5 stars and this book isn’t “hi-brow literature,” but I must say it is delightful entertainment – and well-written. I want to read the next in the series.
Welcome to the 10th annual Read an E-book Week. The Smashwords site is offering A Place in the World ( set in the Colombian cloud forest) for $1 this week only. (As of last night Amazon was also matching the price on their Kindle books – let me know if you have trouble with that).
You will find thousands of other e-books that are free or deep-discounted this week through March 9. These include multi-formats (Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple users, Kobo and more) in their e-catalog. If you find books you recommend on this site please let others know by commenting below.
Wikipedia says “The main reasons more people are buying e-books online are lower prices, increased comfort (as they can buy from home or on the go with mobile devices) and a larger selection of titles…In the space that a comparably sized physical book takes up, an e-reader can contain thousands of e-books, limited only by its memory capacity. Depending on the device, an e-book may be readable in low light or even total darkness.”
The last two sentences are the reasons I take my e-reader when I travel, but then, I confess, I often prefer to hold a”real” book (unless it is more than 300 pages or so!).
What about you: e-books or print?
Black History Month began in 1926 as a way for remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It still pays tribute to those who struggle(d) against unfairness and adversity. It is celebrated in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. February was chosen as the birthday month of two men who greatly influenced the black American population, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Also in February, 1870 black citizens were granted the right to vote (at least legally) in the US; in February 1909 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded and Rosa Parks was also born in February (1913). For more information go to https://asalh.org/
Below is a short list of some books by or about people of African descent that I have enjoyed. They reflect multiple themes and genres and are in no particular order.
Dreams from my Father:
A story of race and inheritance by Barack Obama
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones –the sad tale of a black man sent to prison and of lives ripped apart
The Color Purple by Alice Walker – a very moving novel set the 1930’s
Hidden Figures by Lee Shetterly– about four black women and the space race (and yes – also a good movie!).
On My To Read LIST:
Becoming – a memoir by the inspirational Michelle Obama (on most every one’s list!)
Frederick Douglass by David Blight, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.
Contra Costa County Libraries also has a list of recommendations along the lines of Black Migrations: go to https://guides.ccclib.org/blackhistorymonth
There are so many more. Please add your own favorites in the comments below for others to enjoy.
Last week I reviewed four entertaining novels: The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Secrets of a Charmed Life, Honolulu and A Dog’s Purpose. Below I include some more worthy books with brief descriptions.
I’m not a big reader of nonfiction and have been disappointed in some of those with high reviews (but that’s just me). One worth mentioning however is Thailand in Perspective by James King. King is an entertaining writer who lives in Thailand and has written a trilogy of these books including: 15 weeks (Vol. 1 – free on Kindle) and Driving Thailand (Vol.2). I’ve never been there, but his writing makes me want to go. Even if you are not planning a visit this is good travel-armchair reading.
Other Novels I enjoyed last year are:
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks –a compelling story about a missionary’s daughter and a Native American student at Harvard – one constrained by his skin the other by her sex. Moving and at times triumphant; set in mid 1600’s.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho –
A charming and wise little fable. A shepherd boy travels through Spain and northern Africa in search of treasure and finds simple truths.
Winter Garden by Kristen Hannah – written in present tense, about a dysfunctional family, and in past tense is the haunting saga of WWII Leningrad. Two sisters come to understand their dynamics in a satisfying conclusion.
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman – Enjoy the plot and the writing, full of symbolism – look for the flowers, birds and all the “opposites.” The story, set in St. Thomas, is about artist Pissarro’s extraordinary family life.
A Gentleman in Moscow – To be honest I had trouble getting through this highly acclaimed book. Amor Towles’ fans will be appalled I know, but here’s why: it is long with no page-turning plot. That said, Towles is a literary writer and I appreciated the fine writing about post-revolutionary Russia.
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. Unusual story about strangers who band together, to escape the Black Plague wreaking havoc in a bleak, muddy landscape. The pilgrims have been compared to the Canterbury Tales, also set in the14thcentury, each has a secret. Slow but worthwhile with a surprise ending.
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline, based on the real story of Christina Olson and Andrew Wyeth . I think those interested in art will like it. Orphan Train is my favorite book by her, but many would disagree with me.
Have you read any of these books? Do you have others to recommend?
I selected a number of books I read in the last year to review for this blog. They tend to lean toward historical novels with a sprinkling of multicultural ones. I am neither as prolific a reader as so many others, nor a literary critic, but as an author I am occasionally asked to review manuscripts. I can recommend these books as entertaining reads.
But before I say more, first a proviso: most of them are not recently published so if you are looking for new books I’m afraid by the time they make it to the top of my reading list they are no longer new! Still a good book lasts forever.
The Hummingbird’s Daughter is an extraordinary tale, full of magical realism, based on historical facts and folklore. Teresita, the 16-year-old, illegitimate but cherished daughter of a wealthy rancher becomes regarded as a healer and saint. Urrea breathes life into his three main characters: Teresita, Tomas and Huila… and secondary fictional characters like loyal Segundo seem genuinely real too. The stage is 19th-century Mexico as civil war is fermenting in Mexico. The time and setting swept me away, along with – in spite of – the social struggles of the indigenous people. I enjoyed reading the cultural elements, the food and even all the swear words “chingado, bruto, cabron, pendejo,” that I rarely heard in my youth growing up in Latin America. Some reviewers have not liked the sprinkling of Spanish, but it does not distract from the story; rather it enriches it, especially if you know even a few words. If not, don’t feel you’ve lost the meaning. On the publisher’s page is the standard disclaimer: “the characters and events in this book are fictional” but the author’s note in the back states “Teresa Urrea was a real person,” and a relative in author’s family.
Secrets of a Charmed Life – I’ve read SO many WWII stories lately that it took me awhile to pick this one up, but I did because it is by master storyteller Susan Meissner who wrote the Fall of Marigolds. Could she create another tour de force? –Yes and here it is. I found it hard to put the book down. It starts out full of hope and even joy, then fate leads us to heartache, but finally redemption. Here’s an excerpted bit of prose I found enthralling yet chilling, on the day the Blitz began (pg.147): “while London was going about its Saturday afternoon…hundreds of Luftwaffe pilots were climbing into their cockpits….the RAF pilots had never seen so many aircraft in the air at the same time… like a sheet of black across the sky…a (radar) WAAF couldn’t believe what she was seeing, “What is that?” … pointing to the monstrous cloud across the screen…Then the Dover radar picked up the giant shadow….oh, the chatter as they took to their radios to warn their brothers at arms that an armada from hell was streaking across the Channel toward them.” This is a story of ordinary people whose lives are forever damaged and the grief and guilt a teenager had to bear due to a moment of incaution.
Competing for top billing is Honolulu by Alan Brennert, and – a totally different genre – A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron.
I met Alan Brennert at a book-reading at Orinda Books and have been a fan ever since. He weaves a heartwarming story in Honolulu about a young Korean girl who wants more in life than her confining birthright. Jin/Gem decides to become a “picture bride” and travels to Hawaii to discover her new husband is not quite how he presented himself and his life is certainly not what she imagined. Her existence is in the pineapple plantations and in canneries, where she toils – and triumphs – to better herself. As time goes on the Korean picture brides come together, help each other and finally climb out of poverty and lead comfortable and happy lives. Much research went into this accurate portrayal of Oahu. As a frequent visitor and a lover of Hawaii I really enjoyed this story as much as his Molokai. Anyone who likes a good yarn will appreciate this novel.
A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. This wise and magical book is about one endearing dog’s quest for his purpose through several reincarnated lives. A delightful dog story, but also at a deeper level it asks the age-old question, “why are we here?” Bailey is astounded to find himself reborn as a boisterous puppy into the loving home of 8 yr. old Ethan. This dog is a being so caring, affectionate and “highly evolved” he deserves sainthood, yet Bailey seems like a very real character. Does he exist somewhere? He will make you laugh and cry and affirms that love never dies. (Alas at least one of his lives is quite sad, but Cameron adapted a version for young readers which I bought for my granddaughter.)
Have you read any of these books? Do you have others to recommend?
I’ll add a few other books I enjoyed this year in my next post. Meanwhile HAPPY NEW YEAR and keep reading!
READERS: Smashwords is having an End of Year Sale on e-books which runs only through January 1. “Discover tens of thousands of deep-discounted e-books from thousands of the world’s best indie authors and publishers.”
(OK there’s some junky books on the list but also some good ones, I especially noted good biographies at 75% off.) You can pick up some books for only a $1 (like mine 😉 ) to $3 – there are even some freebies.
Last year California had record breaking fires – that record held for almost 100 yrs. Now we’ve broken last year’s record for the most destructive fire ever. Normally we would have had rains by now and “fire season” would be over – and acres of land and homes – not to mention lives, would not have been lost. We haven’t had any rain since early spring and the land is very dry. ( In October, San Francisco had weeks of temperatures breaking 80 degrees and in November it was in the 70’s – until the fires darkened the skies.)
The town of Paradise is Paradise no more, in fact very little is left of it. People have died and many more are homeless in this area… because of global warming. Think about that.
Although we live 180 miles south-southwest of the big Butte Co. fire, we are being advised to stay indoors with windows closed. Public schools are closed from Butte Co to well south of San Francisco; even the Cable cars shut down, as we now have the dirtiest air in the world. The skies vary from hazy to a dirty orangey color and are predicted to continue this week to plague us.
Taken at noon – smoke blocking the sun.
It has been 8 days now since that fire started (there are others). Yesterday it was announced it was only 40% contained; today they say they are making progress.
In the first days, the sun’s rays were sometimes bent to cast an unusual gold-red glow that was ironically pretty. It reminds me of the shadows we saw during an eclipse. Smoke particles filter sunlight, scattering short wavelengths and leaving the longer reddish wavelengths of the light spectrum behind. This allows more orange and red colors to pass through the smoke.
I have a cough and sore eyes, but the bigger picture is… that smoke is coming from people’s lost homes. There are horror stories of people running from the flames into swimming pools and creeks, but you read the news. My heart goes out to the thousands affected.