Several times a year I meet authors who are passing through Bangkok. As Bangkok is a pass through kind of place. Ever so often one of these encounters leaves a lasting impression. For instance, Mr. Cakes Copeland internationally acclaimed author of the series that included the Number 1 bestseller The Ice-cream Lady of Angkor Wat, was a recent guest.
Cakes walked in carrying three items. He swept past my wife, mistaking her for the maid, as he gave her a bottle of wine, “This is for your boss.” As to the carried items, Cakes set them down on the fold up card table I use as my desk, dinning table, and cat guest bed. It stands along with several non-matching fold up chairs in my humble living room. He spread out over the plates and plastic spoons and forks that my wife had so carefully arranged: a white flag, a newsletter and a set of blueprints.
“These are from Andrew McCreadie Jones,” he said with pride.
Andrew McCreadie Jones made his name with The One-legged Marathon Runner of 12B Wildebeest Cresent, and about thirty-three other books with the same characters and a variation of Wildebeest Cresent in the title. Jones was a legend. He had once called Cakes an obscure upstart who didn’t know an anchor from a light bulb. Even by academic common room standards, the rivalry between these two authors had in recent years taken on a particularly nasty tone. “Our feud has ended,” he said. “Jones wisely has seen the light.”
My wife came in with a paper cup with Cakes’ white wine. It was still lukewarm but much to Cakes’ credit he only winced when he took a drink and tried to smile.
“You’ve signed an armistice,” I said.
That was the wrong thing to say. When two cozy writers start a war, don’t think for a moment their malice is any less than the most jaded noir or hardboiled author.
Cakes held up the white flag. “Does that look like an armistice? You’re a writer, you should be more observant.” He smoothed his finger over the faint outline of a Scottish cresent on the flag. “Jones has surrendered. I have won.”
He opened the newsletter. Jones face smiled out in the middle of the page. He implored all of his fans that henceforth they must pledge to buy 2 of Cakes Copeland’s series in any buy two get one free sale. The newsletter went on to acknowledge that Cakes Copeland was the Tiger Woods of the cozy world. That was written, of course, before Tiger Wood’s life took a sharp right hook off the fairway, but the sentiment was what counted.
My wife appeared wearing the one dress I bought her eight years ago after receiving an advance from a Thai publisher. She dropped two ice cubes in Cakes’ plastic up and refilled it with white wine. It had been in the fridge and was slightly colder but she was taking no chances.
When a writer like Cakes appears for dinner a certain sad reality about your own career as a writer sets in. Unlike Cakes Copeland who gets a seven-figure advance and has two digit Amazon rankings, my advance and Amazon rankings are just the opposite of his. My books are hardly read outside of the porcelain god worshippers found in the toilets of most Bangkok bars after midnight.
To Cakes’ credit he never mentioned my small audience and tiny advances. Instead he’s always had a good word for me, telling others that I am quite the success, and lead to what many people would be a hi-so life style. Cakes’ imagination was often fueled by delusions. Isn’t that part of the cozy author’s temperament?
He opened the blueprints. They were for his 15-room mansion on a remote beach in the south of Thailand. It included a museum for many gifts cozy fans had sent him over the years, his snuff box collection, opium weights, skulls of small mammals, his books, letters and manuscripts.
“What do you think?” he asked me. “Not too J.K. Rowling I hope.”
“Impressive,” I said.
He never touched his wine. The ice had melted and the lip around the rim of the plastic glass started to send sweat beads down the side and onto the card table.
“Good,” he said. “I found that my books are in 169 languages.”
My eyes widened. “That’s huge,” I said.
“That’s what I thought until I searched on the Internet. There are 6,500 languages. I phoned my agent and demanded to know why he’d done such a poor job of selling foreign rights. And do you what he said? ‘Most of those languages don’t have books. They don’t write. It’s all oral word.’ And I said to him, audio books, duh. You call yourself a literary agent? You’re ignoring a huge audience. And he said, ‘how they supposed to hear a book? Put a seashell to their ear?’ ”
Cakes paused long enough for me to ask him. “What did you do?”
“I fired him.” He smiled, the thought made him radiant.
My wife, the ever loyal companion, said, “Did you receive the story Chris sent you?”
“Your maid speaks perfect English. How did you find her?”
“Just lucky, Cakes.”
My wife smiled. There was something disarming about Cakes Copeland that you couldn’t figure out. He was so honest, straightforward and earnest that no one could ever find fault with his logic even though the underlying premise was wrong.
“Ah, yes, the short story. Very nice.” He paused, looked at his nails.
“But you misspelled ketchup. Twice.”
My story had been the “Best Little Hamburger Hustler in Soi Cowboy.” I had done the spell check. But those programs are far from perfect. The wife had appeared from the kitchen with a double cheese pizza. Cakes Copeland rose from his chair. “I’m meeting with the GM of the Oriental Hotel. They want to name a suite after me. Oh and one more thing.” He pulled papers out of his pocket, smoothed them out on the coffee table. “I had my publisher run the BookScan rating on my last book. One week. 25,456 copies sold. And look at this.” Below was the rating for Andrew McCreadie Jones last book: 1,567 copies sold. On another piece of paper, were the figures in BookScan for my latest book. 11 copies sold during the same period as Cakes and Jones.
“Are you sure you won’t have one slice of pizza before you go?” asked my wife.
He waved like a politician to a crowd of well-wishers. “Eleven is a lucky number,” he said. “I think I’ll buy a lottery ticket later tonight.”
He gathered up Jones’ surrender flag, the blueprint of the mansion, leaving behind Jones’s newsletter as a gift.
I was grateful to have a reminder that writing is warfare by other means. Authors are warriors. Pens are guns. A bullet to the heart in words nevertheless wounds just the same. To the victors go the spoils. The honors and the audio rights to the listeners of approximately 6,500 languages.