Saturday, 11 June 2011

Dancing Together: SHAKEN NOT STIRRED

I'm a great believer in individual freedoms, the acceptance of idiosyncrasies (and let's face it, I need to be), the right to act and speak in the ways we want or need to.

I also believe in the importance in balancing those rights.  Sure, it's one human being's right to own a gun but clearly it's not good to point it in the direction of another human being and pull the trigger.

The collective is important - I'm a great believer in that.  It's what tempers absolute freedoms and is often the way things need to be done.  To make said gun there have been engineers at mining plants, people extracting metals from ores, designers, transporters, shop-keepers etc.  To transport the thing there have been riggers, engineers, designers etc.  It's like one enormous jigsaw this world of ours.

I believe in collaborative lives and collective action, so it's a delight to be able to post this interview today.  I do it with pride to know that I'm one of the pieces in this particular jigsaw.

You can be part of the jigsaw, too.  You are by coming here.  After you've read, consider sharing this on Twitter; posting on Facebook; telling a friend; buying a copy; reviewing the book; putting it up at Goodreads; announcing it on some forum or other; reading and thinking about the terrors that were and the way a nation is pulling together trying to straighten itself out at the same time as mourning the event of a couple of months ago.

Point is, by acting together each small indivudual act can amount to one enormous hill of beans (perhaps even literally).

Go spread the word Brothers and Sisters.

Thanks for coming.

Here's Tim.

Timothy Hallinan isn't a short-story writer.  With ten published novels to his credit, including the four Poke Rafferty thrillers set in Thailand, he hadn't written a short story since eighth grade.  But then he got an invitation to write one – for a collection called Bangkok Noir, half of the proceeds of which are destined to go to two charities that work with the poorest children of Bangkok.

So he did, and the result, “Hansum Man,” was singled out as one of the best of the bunch by the Bangkok Post and some other reviewers.

And now he's at it again, but this time for Japan.

So you think you can write short stories?

I have no idea.  What I do know is that they're fun on one hand and difficult on the other, and I like to do difficult, enjoyable things.  But the challenge of a story seems to me, now that I have such a wealth of experience, to be completely different from the demands of a novel.  You need to get in, make your point, slap (or kiss) the reader on the face, and get out.  3000, 4000 words and bye-bye.  Novels, to venture a summary I'll definitely regret, are about what you put in, and short stories are about what you leave out.

What's the background of the Japan project, SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN?

I was watching the coverage of the disaster and, a bit later, the first efforts at recovery, and I was dumbfounded by the dignity of the Japanese as they dealt with matters of life, death, and loss.  Not only did they not loot and steal from each other, but they extended themselves to help each other.  It literally made me weep.

I was wondering why musicians and actors can do benefits to raise money for worthy causes, and writers can't.  And then I thought, of course, we can.  The e-book makes it possible – you write it, it's up fast, and you can direct all the royalties to your cause.

So I contacted some of the best writers I know and said, in essence, how would you like to work for free, and contribute a story to a book to raise funds for the Japanese relief effort?

EVERYBODY said yes.

Who's everybody?

A group of very different writers who, among them have won absolutely everything and have sold hundreds of thousands of copies.  Alphabetically, they are:

Brett Battles, Cara Black, Robert Gregory Brown,Vicki Doudera, Dianne Emley, Dale Furutani, Stefan Hammond, Rosemary Harris, Naomi Hirahara, Gar Anthony Haywood, Wendy Hornsby, Ken Kuhlken, Debbi Mack, Adrian McKinty, I.J. Parker, Gary Phillips, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Jeffrey Siger, Kelli Stanley, C.J. West, Jeri Westerson and moi.

Just an amazing bunch.

You hadn't edited a collection before.  What were you most afraid of?

Three things.  First, what was I going to do if someone sent in a stinker?  Well, none of them even came close.  I'm credited as the “editor” of the collection, but I did almost no editing at all. Story after story, everyone was working on tiptoe.  This is an extremely varied, extremely strong collection.

Second, how on earth was I going to sequence the volume?   I was fortunate in that one of the first pieces to come in was Adrian McKinty's elegiac non-fiction piece about his stay in Sendai, following in the footsteps of the 17th-century haiku poet Basho.  Sendai, of course, was devastated, and every word of Adrian's piece was steeped in sadness. 

And it suggested a bridging mechanism that would bring readers back to the richness of Japanese culture—a haiku separating each pair of stories.  So the structure is story-haiku-story-haiku.  A marvelous poet named Jane Reichhold, whose 2008 Kodansha translation of all Basho's haiku is the new gold standard, was nice enough to say we could use her translations for free.  And the poems, I found, suggested a flow to the collection.

Third, could I write a story that would hold up to its companions?  And I have to say, I have no idea.  I wrote it, and it's in there.  And I have no idea.

How does the charity aspect work?

SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN is an e-book for the Kindle, published only on Amazon.  We formed a partnership with the Japan America Society of Southern California, a nonprofit organization whose 2011 Japan Relief Fund has already raised more than a million dollars for the rescue and rebuilding effort.

The book costs only $3.99, which is a terrific bargain.  Every penny of the writers' royalties – 70% of the book's price – goes straight from Amazon into the Relief Fund's bank account.  We're doing it on Amazon because they pay monthly, with no dicking around waiting for the quarter to end, so the money will flow every four weeks.

This is a really simple, really elegant fund-raising mechanism.  We're putting together right now a loose collective of writers who want to be “early responders” – who are willing in principle to be in a group that will be queried about donating a story or even editing a book when an appropriate cause arises.  Anyone who wants to be in this group can e-mail me directly at

And you'll be in the exalted company of the people who wrote SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN – Brett Battles, Cara Black, Robert Gregory Brown,Vicki Doudera, Dianne Emley, Dale Furutani, Stefan Hammond, Rosemary Harris, Naomi Hirahara, Gar Anthony Haywood, Wendy Hornsby, Ken Kuhlken, Debbi Mack, Adrian McKinty, I.J. Parker, Gary Phillips, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Jeffrey Siger, Kelli Stanley, C.J. West, Jeri Westerson and me. (I?)

And bless every one of them.


  1. Great idea! Sounds like a top-shelf collection.

  2. Thank you so much, Nigel -- this was a real privilege. I would have commented much earlier, but Chrome has decided it doesn't want me to leave my footprints anywhere, and I can only do it in Firefox.

    By the way, at this early date, SHAKEN is selling wildly, and you get a chunk of the credit.

    I owe you one.