The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, published by Crime Wave Press, is a kaleidoscopic pulp thriller, following two generations of drifters embroiled in a saga of sex, drugs and murder on the road between London and Kathmandu.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
I had a chance encounter with a bunch of guys who traveled the hippie trail between London and Kathmandu in the 1960s and 1970s. That was the initial seed for the story. The brief window for counter culture travellers between Europe and Asia, trail existed from only the late 1960s to 1979, the time of the Iranian revolution. During those heady days, countless alternative deviants travelled from Europe to the Subcontinent overland and indulged in the traditional hospitality of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I travelled the same route in 1998, through a much changed, meaner and harder world. I tried to bring this period back to life and in this sense The Devils Road to Kathmandu is a historical thriller with a subject matter that is rarely touched upon in (crime) fiction.
How long did it take you to write your book?
I don’t recall exactly how long it took to write The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu. I started some time in 2000, but I had to keep stopping to focus on guidebook work. I remember writing the final chapters around 9/11. It then took me another 4 years to get the book published and only now with its second edition, a new edit and a new publisher (Crime Wave Press, 2012) am I truly happy with the book.
How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?
I had several stories in mind. As I said, I had met some people who did the overland hippie trail in the 70s. I had also done it myself in 1998. By that time I had already traveled through Asia, initially as a drifter, then as a musicologist, guidebook writer and journalist and eventually as a film maker, for some six years, so I picked up bits and pieces along the way.
Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)
Much of the research for The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu was picked up on the road. People I met, places I visited. I lived in Kathmandu for six months in the mid-90s, so that took care of a large chunk of the book. The parts in Pakistan were very close to my own experiences there – I met many Pathan people, I did meet several drug dealers in Swat Valley and in Peshawar and I was refused a visa (by the Taliban) to Afghanistan.
What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?
The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu was my first published novel. By the time it came out, I had already published a non-fiction book on Asia (Beyond the Pancake Trench, still in print) and since then I have written or contributed to another 15 books or so. It’s become my job, my career and my life, from idealistic beginnings to a decent living.
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
I have traveled and lived in Asia for twenty years, and all my writing has some Asian angle, be it non-fiction books, illustrated books (Sacred Skin is my current bestseller – http://www.sacredskinthailand.com), documentary screenplays (I co-wrote The Most Secret Place on Earth, a feature on the CIA’s covert war in Laos in the 1960s which has been broadcast in 25 countries) or my two currently available novels (The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu and The Cambodian Book of the Dead, both out with Crime Wave Press (www.crimewavepress.com)). My environment/upbringing drove me out to Asia in the first place so I guess it does color my writing too.
What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?
I write every day, often all day. When I write fiction I aim for a 1000 usable words a day but if I am on a roll it can be much more, more like 4000. When I write non-fiction, I never look at the word count. It all depends on the deadline.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I am working on seven different books, all likely to be published by April 2013. I know it sounds mad, my schedule suddenly filled up. Four are gun for hire travel guides on Cambodian and Thailand, two are beautiful illustrated books for which I provide the text, one on Burma, the other on Cambodia, and one is my next crime novel, set in Laos.
Does writing come easy for you?
Yes, I never have to fret over it. I never get writer’s block, I rarely procrastinate, though that does occasionally happen. It’s like eating, sleeping, completely second nature.
What do you like to read? What is your favorite genre?
I read a lot, several novels a month, as well as numerous non-fiction titles and countless articles. It comes with the job, reporting on culture, travel and politics in Asia, I constantly absorb information to be able to provide information.
I read fiction vociferously – especially Noir crime fiction like Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Ross MacDonald and Massimo Carlotto, as well as more general fare, anything from Joseph Conrad to Graham Greene to Philipp Kerr.
What advice you would give to an aspiring author?
Write, write, write! Every day. Work in different genres, get gun for hire jobs if you can, but never stop writing the stuff you really want to write. It takes about 10.000 hours to become an accomplished writer, keep that in mind. And you must like a solitary existence to some degree.
What are your current writing goals and how do you juggle the promotional aspects with the actual writing?
My current goal is to get the glut of non-fiction titles off my desk and really sink my teeth into my next novel, a sequel of sorts to The Cambodian Book of the Dead, which features a German detective solving cases in Asia. I do a lot of promotion, I run two blogs (www.tomvater.com and thedevilsroad.com) as well as three facebook pages. I am also active on goodreads. Most of my promotional efforts go into Crime Wave Press, a Hong Kong based fiction imprint that endeavors to publish the best new crime novels from Asia and about Asia to readers around the globe, which I co-founded in July. In October Crime Wave Press will launch properly with three titles at the UBUD Writers and Readers Festival in Bali before moving to the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany.
What one word describes how you feel when you write?
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your books?
Many of my books are available via amazon. My two novels The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu and The Cambodian Book of the Dead are currently available as Kindle eBooks but will be out in print in October/November.
My non-fiction work is both in English and German, check amazon for some titles. Sacred Skin – Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos – produced with Emmy Award winning photographer Aroon Thaewchatturat, is the first English language ebook on the subject and has had more than 30 reviews, including 3 pages in TIME Magazine, exposure on CNN and countless other publications. Take a look at http://www.sacredskinthailand.com