- Guest Author -
Today I feature a very interesting man who is a lawyer, author and screenwriter, living in Thailand - JAKE NEEDHAM. Jake was born in the United States and graduated from Rice University and the Georgetown University Law Center. However, for the last twenty-five years or so years he has lived in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok.
Welcome, Jake ...
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
It was an accident. Seriously, it actually was.
I had practiced law for a couple of decades, doing mostly international corporate work, and I found myself involved in a complicated and not particularly pleasant corporate merger. To get the deal closed, I had to buy a piece of the transaction that no one else wanted, a very modest little Hollywood production company that was making cable TV movies. Since I was stuck with the company, I did my best to make it profitable, and I tried to focus it more tightly on what I thought it could do well. To accomplish that, I dashed off an outline of the kind of movies I wanted the company to try to make and a copy of that outline accidentally got sent to one of the cable TV networks the company worked with. Several weeks later that network called up and asked us to make it.
‘Make what?’ I asked them.
‘The movie you wrote that treatment for,’ they said.
And that, girls and boys, was how I became a screenwriter.
After that, I wrote screenplays for a few years for American television, but eventually I came to realize how little I actually liked American television. That was what goaded me into seeing if I could figure out how to write novels instead. My first book was THE BIG MANGO and, although it was only published in Asia, and only in English, it sold well over 100,000 copies and became something of a cult book among foreigners living in Asia. After that, I just kept on writing novels, and I guess that’s worked out pretty well for me.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
Of all the reviews I've had over the years, both in the press and from individual readers, I am proudest of those that say my books make contemporary Asia seem real to readers. “Needham writes so you can smell the street food mingling with the traffic jams, sweat and garbage,” the Bangkok Post said. I love that.
WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I’ve tried to outline books before I write them, honest, but it never works out for me. I suppose I still have the soul of a screenwriter. I think up what I figure is a good scene to open with, then I think up a scene to follow that, and another scene to follow that, and so on and so forth. That’s the only way that works for me.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I’m an office-hours kind of guy. I go to work in the morning, break for a quick lunch, and then knock off before dinner. I don’t work at night or on Sundays. To be honest, with you, I think that’s pretty much the way all professional writers work. You don’t sit around waiting for inspiration. You go to work every single day and do your job.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
There's no such thing as writer's block. Look, it’s just what I said before: writing is a job. To use John Gregory Dunne’s wonderful phrase,’ it’s manual labor of the mind. It's the mental equivalent of laying pipe or digging ditches. You show up every day and you do part of the work and, when you’ve laid all the pipes or dug the whole ditch, you’re done’. Whining about so-called writer's block is something professional writers don't do.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I was a lawyer. I started out as a public defender representing indigent criminal defendants, and after a few years I found myself doing international corporate work. Yeah, getting from one to the other is a long story and I won’t bore you with it.
Anyway, over the course of about thirty years I lived and worked in Hong Kong, Sydney, Singapore, and Bangkok doing corporate finance work and hanging out with the cowboy capitalists. That’s left me with a reservoir of great stories that I doubt will ever run dry.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
My books are well known for being drawn from real events, some of which I was involved in personally and some of which I’ve just watched. CNN said my books have a "ripped from the headlines" feel, and The Wall Street Journal said that "much of the fun in reading Needham's books is trying to decide how much of what is in them is based on fact and how much is the product of the author's imagination."
THE BIG MANGO was based on the disappearance of huge amounts of money and gold when Saigon fell to the invading North Vietnamese in 1975. LAUNDRY MAN drew on the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce in the 90's, a bizarre Middle Eastern bank that was also known as the Bank of Crooks and Criminals. A WORLD OF TROUBLE grew out of a military coup in Thailand that drove a popular prime minister into exile in Dubai and led to upheaval in the streets there. And so on.
I tell a story in the foreword to A WORLD OF TROUBLE about a retired intelligence officer who tried to get me to admit to him how I had found out about a secret operation that turned up in one of my books. I told him that I hadn't found out about anything. I had simply made up the events that he was talking about. I don't think he believed me.
That's the thing about writing crime thrillers set in Asia. You can't make anything up. Whatever you think you made up, one of these days someone will come up to you and tell you it really happened. Or maybe that it's about to happen.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Only in the villains.
Seriously, why is it that readers always ask writers if the heroes of their books aren’t really based on them? Nobody ever asks if we’re like the villains. I’ve been waiting for twenty years for someone to ask me that.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
The fourth book in the Jack Shepherd series, THE KING OF MACAU, was just published this month and now I’m working on the third book in the Inspector Tay series. It’s called THE DEAD AMERICAN, and it’s scheduled for publication in late summer 2014.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
Over the years, I’ve built up a very substantial and incredibly loyal readership. I constantly get mails and tweets and Facebook messages from people telling me how much they are looking forward to my next book and nudging me to get it out a little sooner than announced.
If knowing that people are out there waiting for your next book isn’t success for a writer, I haven’t a clue what is.
Jake Needham’s Official Website - http://jakeneedham.com
The Jake Needham library - http://jakeneedham.com/books/
E-book editions available at Amazon for Kindle
THE UMBRELLA MAN - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ARITAC4
Link to Jake's latest book:
Clancy's comment: Many thanks, Jake. By the way, are the villains in your books based on you? Good luck with the new book. Hope to catch up with you soon.