Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tom Vater on his new release, "The Cambodian Book of the Dead"

Occasionally I do a book review on the ol' blog here, and considering it's been awhile since I've put one up, I'm definitely overdue. Exhibit A, an imprint of Angry Robot, is an exciting new publisher of commercial crime fiction. I was lucky enough to be sent a couple of their newest releases, which I will be featuring here. I also write book reviews for another site called Fresh Fiction , and the official review for both of the books will be listed there. For now I have the following interview with Tom Vater, author of The Cambodian Book of the Dead.

Read, enjoy, and by all means check out his intense thrill-ride of a book!

Can you tell me a little about yourself so that new readers may have a chance to get to know Mr. Vater, uncut and uncensored, of course?

I am a writer and publisher working predominantly in Asia.
I have published two novels, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, currently available in English and Spanish, and The Cambodian Book of the Dead, worldwide in July 1013 by Exhibit A.
My third novel, The Man with the Golden Mind, will be out with Exhibit A in June 2014.
I have worked as a journalist in Asia for many years and have written for The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The South China Morning Post, Marie Claire, Geographical, Penthouse and other publications.
I have published several non-fiction books, including the highly acclaimed Sacred Skin (with photographer Aroon Thaewchatturat) and the more recent Burmese Light with photographer Hans Kemp.
I am the co-author of several documentary screenplays, most notably The Most Secret Place on Earth, a feature on the CIA’s covert war in 1960s Laos.
I am the co-owner of Crime Wave Press, a Hong Kong based English language crime fiction imprint.
In my spare time, I travel and play punk rock.

What sparked your interest in writing this action-packed tale?
I worked in Cambodia, as a film maker, guide book writer and print journalist for many years. I first visited the country briefly in 1995 during the war, then more regularly from 2001 onwards. Cambodia is beautiful, terrible and endlessly fascinating. An American writer once said that Cambodia was one of the most dangerous countries in the world: First one falls in love with it, then it breaks your heart. A pretty apt description and a great incentive to set a novel there. The action came naturally – Cambodia is a troubled, war torn society. The country is extremely lawless (and was more so in 2001 when the story of The Cambodian Book of the Dead takes place) and that definitely informs the story, the moral construct of the narrative and the personality of Detective Maier.

Were there any real life inspirations for some of the characters in your book? Are the locations you mention in the book all real? For instance, the Bokor Casino. You painted such a vivid and haunting picture of it.

Many of the characters in my books are amalgamations of real people that I have met on the road. The locations in The Cambodian Book of the Dead are real for the most part. Unfortunately, the Bokor Casino has recently been renovated and has lost its haunting quality. The former French hill station is being redeveloped into a gambling destination for Asian high rollers. The Heart of Darkness in Phnom Penh is now a brash disco and no longer the dingy, rather outlandish club it once was. The temple where the book’s final scenes take place is a figment of my imagination, based on other remote temples I have visited in Cambodia.

Can you tell me the most challenging and the most rewarding part of writing this book?

  The most rewarding part is getting The Cambodian Book of the Dead published. I have made my living from writing for more than 15 years now and to have the book picked up by a UK publisher is incredible. Of course I also enjoy writing the Maier novels immensely.

 What was your favorite part(s) of the story?

I don't know if I have a favorite part. It's hard to say. I suppose the early scene in the Heart of Darkness makes for a great self-contained little story. The scenes between Maier and the White Spider, the story within the story also means a lot to me personally - the book's message, if there is such a thing, is found in those pages.

 Knowing that you're a travel write, I would expect your job provides much inspiration in the way of fiction writing. Do you have any other exciting locations that you are planning to write about?

The next Detective Maier title, The Man with the Golden Mind, out with Exhibit A in June 2014, will be set in Laos. The job as such provides no inspiration for fiction writing, but I have visited many places around Asia, the Middle East, the US and Europe on journalistic assignments, and for projects and books, and the impressions gathered on these journeys inform my fiction writing. My first novel, The Devil's Road to Kathmandu, was set on the hippy trail between London and Asia in the 1970s though I did not travel overland along the same route until 1998.

What would you present as the main theme of the book? What do you think readers will take away from it and talk about two weeks from now?

The main theme of the book is the nature of barbarity and genocide. Stands to reason when a German detective visits a country that has just emerged from complete social and cultural collapse and mass murder. That said, The Cambodian Book of the Dead is also an entertainment and I use Cambodia's freakishness and culture of impunity to drive the story forward. I guess the main theme of the book is the world's instability, and our tendency to deconstruct entire societies with the most violent means, whether for ideological or financial reasons. Open any half decent newspaper and you can read the same message between the lines on every page.

Will there be any more stories starring the German detective Maier?

The Man with the Golden Mind, the second Maier Mystery, is out with Exhibit A in June 2014. I am planning a third Maier at present, but it's too early to talk about it.

I hear that you are a punk rock player, making you a man with varied tastes and talents. Which bands were your biggest influences, and while I'm asking, who are your literary influences?

Music to die for: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roky Erickson, Townes Van Zandt, Charles Mingus, Captain Beefheart, The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, The MC5, CAN, Miles Davis, Betti Davis (wife of Miles), Black Flag, The Cramps, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The London Dirthole Company, Die Antwoord

Literary heroes: Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, Raymond Chandler, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Patricia Highsmith, David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, John D. MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, Mark Behm, Katherine Dunn, Massimo Carlotto, Philip Kerr

What are the next projects you have coming up?

  I have just published Burmese Light, an illustrated book on Burma, with photographer Hans Kemp. The Man with the Golden Mind will be my next fiction release and I am about to start work on a stand-alone thriller set in the UK and South East Asia. A third Detective Maier Mystery is also on the cards.

Tom Vater:
The Cambodian Book of the Dead: Amazon B&N

There will be a guest post soon with one of Mr. Vater's Exhibit A colleagues, Karen Sandler. Please stop by and see what she's up to and find out about her release, Clean Burn.