Monday, September 28, 2015

Facing one's fears

In Carly, the protagonist has been through a horrendous ordeal; her cousin has disappeared, and her family was murdered in front of her by a crazy neighbor. Once in custody, Carly agrees to a meeting with a female reporter, Vanessa St John. Carly insists she tells the whole story in her words. 

While waiting for a reporter to interview her, Carly glances at a picture of her cousin Lisa--"happy, bright green eyes looked back" at her. I found this a charming thought. Then Carly insists on telling her story about James from the very beginning but it is not clear why. James seems to have charmed Carly's mother--"tough as old boots, but ... gullible as hell." This strikes me as an amiable but unlikely combination. Carly realizes she is "paranoid" but does not recognize the word "execrable." Overall, I'd say the author has drawn her characters with enthusiasm and liveliness. Both Carly and Vanessa show signs of an unrecognizable (to me) aggression or hostility or instability as well as personas that they each have forced themselves to adopt for their interview/confrontation. I found this disturbing but suspect that this is probably the effect the author intended.

A fascinating twist towards the end of the story has the reader wondering just who had engineered the interview.

In The Box, which twenty-seven-year-old Charlene and her sister Stacy find when their bullying, obnoxious father has a medical emergency, the sisters find a letter and personal effects that their father had kept for the fifteen years since they mother allegedly left them. The father had always told Charlene that her mother could not cope with her preteen tantrums and therefore abandoned them all. He alone had been there when Charlene was raped by his best friend and he took credit for comforting through her unwanted pregnancy.

What they learn from the items in the box changes everything--what really happened to their mother? It sets off a chain of events that uncovers more acts of gruesome brutality. Fortunately for this reader, there was more telling than showing of the years of abuse until their mother left and of subsequent heinous acts.

The story climaxes in a twist, as in Carly. Except this one also left me cheering.

Both these books are novellas which suits me since the genre, the stories of victims who suffered abuse as children, young adults and who witnessed similarly depraved abuse of humans and animals, take me outside my comfort zone. I do believe, however, that a writer needs to occasionally venture outside such personal limitations and "face my fears." (My five year old daughter told me that.)

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Plot Thickens

The Ninja and the Diplomat starts with a perverse idea. An "asset" of the Chinese Intelligence Agency reports that he has learned of a plot by China to attack its Southeast Asian neighbors. The Agency loses contact with him even though he is on their watch-list. The acting chief of the agency reports this to a confidante and confesses puzzlement.

It turns out that the foreign "asset" is an arms dealer who has spotted the markings of the People's Army on the crate containing some weapons he was selling to a Southeast Asia rebel group and thought by this means to alert Chinese intelligence. (An educated man, he allows that he might have composed a haiku but felt his skills to be rusty.) But the theft of arms is an important security issue for the Chinese, especially when nuclear weapons are discovered to be missing. So the plot thickens and continues to develop.

I did not set out with this plot fully developed when I started  writing the novel. In fact, I let my characters determine how the plot should unfold. An early reader has commented on how complicated the plot turns out to be and this reminded me of the concern on the part of many of my fellow authors that a review not contain "spoilers." Groups on Goodreads that do wonderful service for authors by organizing and encouraging reviews often enjoin their members to avoid giving the plot away. Some explicitly allow an author to request that reviews be altered if there is any element that might be deemed "spoiler" material. For no other reason may an author request a change in a review or its rating.

This puzzles me as a reader. I have read most of the books I enjoy more than once--The Lord of the Ring and the Harry Potter novels at least three times. Fans of Agatha Christie, Trollope, Dickens, Faulkner or Larry McMurtry must surely have read their books over and over. Nobody I know reads the Iliad to find out what happened or is bothered by the fact that the plots of Hamlet or The Merchant of Venice are so well known. I confess to allowing myself the pleasure of re-reading The Alexandria Quartet and Proust every ten years or so.

So what is this thing about "spoilers"? 

I like to think that even when readers have figured out the plot of  The Ninja or The Chinese Spymaster, they will continue to wonder about other aspects of the stories. Are the characters as "detached" as some reviewers have found? Do they not reflect on why they might appear so? Perhaps I shall add some extracts from these books to this blog to encourage re-thinking on this matter.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Ninja and the Diplomat, a promotion

The Chinese intelligence agency received this message from a trusted asset. He had just completed the sale of MANPADs, manually portable anti-aircraft devices, in Macau. His customer was Carlos a.k.a. Hashim. Why buy arms for the rebels in the Philippines? What else lurks unseen?

This is, as the cover indicates, volume 2 of The Chinese Spymaster. It is neither a sequel to the first nor the prequel to the (forthcoming) third volume. I set off on this series to see if I could write without something already written to translate or adapt or retell.

As for the promotion, I have read a great deal on what makes for sales of books. But I have decided that, for now, it would be a good thing to give it away. The following coupon, PD35A, will enable you to obtain a copy in any eformat from Smashwords (link).  

Those who wish to purchase it from Amazon may use this link. As the author I thank you.

But the offer of this book for free is without obligation. Just note the coupon expires on September 20. A review or a rating on your usual haunt would be much appreciated.

In addition, five paperback copies will be given away via Goodreads Giveaway program

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Ninja and the Diplomat by Hock G. Tjoa

The Ninja and the Diplomat

by Hock G. Tjoa

Giveaway ends October 15, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Monday, September 7, 2015

China and the South China Sea

History demonstrates incontrovertibly that nations do what they do because they can. It is one of the more flippant reasons Dick Cheney is reported to have given in answer to the question why the U. S. invaded Iraq.

When Britain ruled the waves, no foreign ship nor citizens nor indeed nations were safe. Remember the War of 1812? The British burned Washington DC all because the U. S. objected to the seizure of American ships (sailing perhaps to trade with and/or aid the French) and the impressment of Americans into the British navy. Things could have gotten uglier but for the realization on the part of the Brits that they had a great deal more to lose in Canada. (That they lost it in the end didn't happen until over a hundred years later, so it doesn't matter.) The Brits found easier naval operations to execute, including two Opium Wars visited upon China in the name of free trade. 

On its part, America took to heart Alfred Mahan's dictum to ensure its own "possession of that overbearing power on the sea which drives the enemy's flag from it, or allows it to appear only as a fugitive; and which, by controlling the great common, closes the highways by which commerce moves to and from the enemy's shores." Certainly it reinforced the Monroe Doctrine, though it is not clear what the Latin Americans thought then. (What they think now is clear.)

The surprise and indignation displayed over China's actions and intentions in the South Sea has a self-serving ring. The above map showing the People's Republic now infamous  "9 dotted line" is by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency - Asia Maps — Perry-Casta├▒eda Map Collection: South China Sea (Islands) 1988. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. What China really intends to achieve remains a mystery. Is it the possibility of energy reserves to be gained? Or is it simply to demonstrate that it now can do this?

The Ninja and the Diplomat, now available although technical issues remain, explores this tangentially. Spymaster Wang and an assistant finance minister discuss this, touching on directional drilling and binding arbitration among other subjects, and concluding with the following excerpt:

“Thank you for this lesson. I do not know what a national security expert or a finance minister should do in a dispute involving military and foreign policy interests. But I was concerned from a national security point of view.”
“And I am concerned from an economic financial point of view,” interrupted Zhang. “It really bothers me that those who are ready to go to the brink of war have not counted the cost of their preference or weighed it against the cost of the alternatives.”

“You were right, Comrade Zhang,” agreed Wang. “Your views are not only unconventional, they are heretical. If we believed in wizards and witches, you would be dealt with accordingly.”

The assistant minister laughed, but insisted, “The water is far and the fire is near. Why are we so stupid?” 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

China and Japan

Even a casual observer of world affairs must have noticed the tensions, rivalry, and sometimes antagonism, between Japan and China. 

Not many decades ago, Japan enjoyed the limelight as THE wonder economy, with world beating brands like Sony and Toyota. This fueled its ever-present sense of destiny and desire to rank among world class leaders. Its industrialists enjoyed treatment in apartheid South Africa as 'honorary whites' and some of its thinkers and leaders wrote of The Japan that Can Say No (1989).  

The twenty-first century, however, seemed prepared to accept another Asian nation in the front ranks of nations. But the rivalry has deep historical roots. Current arguments over whether or not holocaust-like atrocities were committed and who is to be master of a handful of rocky islands date only to the end of the late nineteenth centuries. Apropos the latter question, I found the following map which also appears in The Ninja and the Diplomat (to be released in a week or two). It is by Maximilian D├Ârrbecker (Chumwa) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, and shows the Air Defense Identification Zone as defined by China (CADIZ), Japan (JADIZ), and Korea (KADIZ). The islands in dispute, called Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyu by the Chinese, are located very close to the northeast of Taipeh.

I should make clear that The Ninja (short title), volume 2 in The Chinese Spymaster series, is not devoted to geopolitical considerations. There are two or three dialogues given over to that. But it explores also a very personal facet of the complicated feelings the Japanese and the Chinese have for each other. Here is an extract:

I apologize for my disobedience, Revered Father, and make no excuses for myself. I do not regret what I did. But it pains me, really and truly, to have caused you grief and anger. Yes, I know that you threw me out of the family business in a rage over my choice to marry my Sakura because you thought I was betraying you. Yes, I married a Chinese woman. You did not care that she came from Taiwan and not the mainland, that she and I had met at a Japanese university, or that she became more Japanese than any woman I have ever met.

She was meant to be only a plaything at college. Who could have foretold that we would fall in love? When I hinted at her existence, you and Mother refused to listen any further. You made me pay court to numerous daughters of your esteemed business colleagues. You sent me away on long trips to learn the business, so you said. You and Mother warned me of your implacable refusal to consider a Chinese daughter-in-law, even though I pledged to you my unquenchable hatred for China. 

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