Tuesday, January 6, 2009

16 Personal Tags

Linda Richards tagged me in a game to reveal some existential secrets about myself. I know that I appear a little bit of a mystery man with my reviews, interviews and articles. I enjoy the enigma about who I am as Josephine Damian and then Patti Abbott coined me ‘International Man of Mystery’, but sure, I will play the game and tag others.

Firstly the Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 16 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 16 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

1 – An outsider
Many people wonder about my ethnicity; well I consider myself an outsider, being British but of parents who originated in India. I have also English, Scottish, American, German and Irish members of my family, making us a real mix. This makes me an outsider looking in.

2 – Internationalist
After studies in Britain and the US, I have worked in mainland Europe, UK, Ireland, the Middle East and travelled extensively, but wherever I have travelled, there have always been books in my luggage. Travel and meeting people from other cultures and countries enriches my life.

3 – Anxiety
The only anxiety I ever suffer is worry about my family and not being surrounded by books. I believe a life without books is not a full one, as they allow you to view the world through someone else’s eyes. Books also help one overcome anxiety and depression. Reading fiction is also an important part of life, and enriches those who read. We all need to support the art of reading because it is important.

4 – Writing
I used to be represented by Curtis Brown [London] in the 1980’s but have not submitted any fiction in over a decade after my agent left and became an novelist in her own right. I continue to write fiction to amuse myself and plan to submit again this year [just when publishing is in crisis].

5 – Hannibal Lecter
I am fascinated by the work of Thomas Harris, and when I heard in 1999 that Harris was penning ‘Hannibal’ after a decade of Silence, I got so excited that I ran down the stairs screaming in excitement and fell damaging my back for three months. My father a retired psychiatrist often is amused by my fascination with Dr Hannibal Lecter.

6 – Feeling at Home
I love the crime / mystery / thriller community and feel ‘at home’ at conferences and conventions – in fact when I get depressed by the economic turmoil, I recall the wonderful moments I shared at Bouchercon Baltimore with Roger Jon Ellory. Those memories are very precious to me, and I feel in huge debt to Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik [and their helpers] for making that time so special.

7 – Conspiracy Theories
I am fascinated by conspiracy theories many of which are mad, but these ‘mad’ ones help disguise the ones that are real. In my opinion there are definitely ‘men-behind-the-curtain’, but we always knew that didn’t we?

8 – The Horror
I was a voracious reader of American Comics, Horror and SF as well as Crime in my youth. The first author interview I conducted was in the early 1980’s with the awarding Horror Writer and current President of the British Fantasy Society Ramsey Campbell for Comics Interview magazine. I feel privileged to have talked to Dean Koontz via Margaret Atwood’s LongPen as well as meeting Stephen King in 2006 when he came to London.

9 – The Admirable Michael Crichton
One of the reasons why I studied Science rather than English for my first degree was due to two men; the first being my father, and the second being to Micheal Crichton [both men of science]. I was very upset when Crichton passed away last year. I wrote at the time –

I have followed Mr Crichton's work for many years and even have a UK first edition of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN - a book that got me excited about science. In fact Crichton was one of the reasons that I studied science. He influenced the direction of my life.I never got to meet him, and now curse at missing him last time he was in London when he came over to promote STATE OF FEAR. I had been invited by HarperCollins to a reception after a signing in the West End. Unfortunately there was a major clash in my diary as Crichton was over only for the weekend. I had to miss the event, and now I will never have the chance to tell him how important his work was to me.

I also wanted to tell him this story.There had been a gap in Crichton's publishing - due his movie work, then in either 1989 or 1990 my wife had a friend over the weekend and wanted me to take them to a huge mall that had opened in the area for a days shopping. I cursed as I hated shopping, but on entry to the mall, I noticed a bookshop 'Dillons' and in a big window display was a stack of 'JURASSIC PARK' by Michael Crichton. I got so excited and bought the book and told my wife and her friend to take their time shopping as I was going back to the car to read. They laughed at my excitement as I was raving - A NEW MICHAEL CRICHTON NOVEL I roared running back to the car. Anyway, 6 hours later my wife and friend came back to the car loaded with the clothes they bought. I was on the last chapter and told them to please get a coffee while I finished my book. When they returned, my wife sensed my excitement. I was raving that one of my favourite writers, and a main reason why I studied science at university had written the most amazing book. She asked me what it was about - when I told her the plot about the genetic cloning of dinosaurs, she replied in a statement that I often replay at dinner parties -"Ali, that sounds such a stupid idea, you read such rubbish, that will never sell, in fact that's why your own writing is always rejected, you read and write such uncommercial tripe. What a stupid idea, genetic cloning of dinosaurs indeed, I expect to see the book in remainder bins within a month....."

The rest they say is history

10 – Sustained Threat
As a ‘Batman purist’ I had mixed feelings about the new Batman movie ‘The Dark Knight’ which I consider a flawed masterpiece. I think the British Board of Film Classification [BBFC] summed up the movie well with its 12A classification using the term “Contains Fantasy Violence and Sustained Threat”. I love that term “Sustained Threat”. Words have power.

11 – Mike Stotter
I started working with Mike Stotter at Shots in 2002, thanks to Mark Billingham a former writer with Shots eZine [when it was a print publication]. Since then, due to the massive amount of material online, and the contributions of the webmasters Grog and Gary, as well as the large team of writers, reviewers and interviewers we have grown to be one of the key elements of the crime / thriller genre getting over 20,000 hits a day. I value my friendship with Mike Stotter more than even he realises.

12 – Coincidences
I am always staggered about the coincidences that arise in life of which a few of the most surreal are here and here.

13 – Obsessing over sHuTteR IsLAnD and Stieg Larsson
Need I say more? Perhaps I should add this also for completeness

14 – A Passion for Science
I love science especially Chemistry – this is due to the analytical nature of my brain and it helps me earn a living to augment the low level of income from my own writing currently.

15 – Strong Coffee
Without which I could not function. One of the key things about America I miss is US Coffee – the best.

16 – Why I like interviewing writers
Because you learn about life, and my favourite interview was the wonderful afternoon I spent with Robert Littell, a brilliant writer and a man of compassion and insight –

Ali : What were the high points, as well as the low points, of your tenure at Newsweek?

Robert : The high points were related to the work -- meeting and talking to influential people, like when I interviewed Henry Kissinger in the basement of the White House, [and had] lunch with [Zbigniew] Brzezinski when he was still a professor at Columbia, [before] he became national security adviser. So, when you met very influential people, you felt that you were discussing important world issues with key decision-makers, and these were the high points at Newsweek for me.

The low point came when I wrote a cover story on Chicanos. I went down to Texas and found a Chicano family who lived literally in a hole in the ground, and who stole their water from the white cemetery. And so I wrote this sidebar about this poor family as part of my story about the exploitation of Chicanos in Texas. We always read the letters to the editor in the hallway, so the week after the story appeared, someone had written a letter which went something like this: "Dear Mr. Littell -- That was a very moving story you wrote about the plight of the Chicanos in Texas, and I especially enjoyed reading about the family that stole their water from the cemetery. And I was wondering if you could let me know where I could hire a Chicano maid ..."

After leaving Robert Littell, Peter Mayer and Suzannah Rich [his publishers], the first person I spoke to was my mother who I called from my car and told her “Thank you for teaching me to Read”.

And now I am tagging Nick Stone, Mike Stotter, Martin Edwards, David Montgomery, and Roger Jon Ellory and here are the Rules of the Blog Tag – please reveal 16 facts about yourselves from behind the curtain.
I know I should tag 16 people, but I'm all for quality not quantity.


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  2. (Forgive typo removed above. Though being a perfectionist wasn't one of the 16 things I mentioned. Perhaps if I do 16 more...)

    I somehow knew your answers would be wonderful... and entertaining. And I'm so glad we've met before. It makes it possible to actually *imagine* you tumbling down the stairs with excitement at the prospect of a much anticipated new book. Don't ever change!

  3. An outsider, eh? Sounds like a crime fiction reader waiting to happen.

    And strong coffee? For a while there, I was thinking Gordon's Dry Gin.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  4. Oh, Peter! Coffee in gin? What are you thinking?

  5. Ali Karim - International Man of Mystery. That's perfect!

  6. Uh, Ali, I'm pretty sure it was me who first called you "International Man of Mystery" when I asked you to contribute something to the Friday Forgotten book series.

  7. Sorry Jo - you are of course right - will correct!

    Another mystery solved!


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