Name – Tom Vater
Age – Too old to die young
Where are you from
I was born and grew up in Germany. I moved to England when I was 18, first to study publishing and English literature, then to play in RocknRoll bands. I moved to Asia gradually in my late 20s and I have lived in India and Thailand ever since. I am a nomad.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Check out my latest novel, The Man with the Golden Mind, out with Crime Wave Press.
In my second Detective Maier adventure (the follow-up to The Cambodian Book of the Dead), Julia Rendel asks the former war correspondent turned PI to investigate the twenty-five year old murder of her father, an East German cultural attaché who was killed near a fabled CIA airbase in central Laos in 1976. But before the detective can set off, his client is kidnapped right out of his arms. Maier follows Julia’s trail to the Laotian capital Vientiane, where he learns different parties, including his missing client are searching for a legendary CIA file crammed with Cold War secrets. But the real prize is the file’s author, a man codenamed Weltmeister, a former US and Vietnamese spy and assassin no one has seen for a quarter century.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I always wrote, short stories and articles for the school magazine which I edited and got in trouble for, then as a contributor to the college magazine in the UK. In my early years in Asia, I kept a very detailed and exhaustive diary, which helped a great deal while I was writing my first novel, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In 1997, I was living on Freak Street in Kathmandu, Nepal, in a cheap guesthouse. My room neighbors were a Portuguese-Swiss couple who’d cycled from Europe to Nepal and were writing about their experiences. Their English wasn’t great, so they asked me to help them edit their work. I visited the offices of The Rising Nepal, a Nepalese daily with them, and tidied their work on an old manual typewriter. I asked the editor whether he would take a story of mine and he asked me what I could write about. At the time I was receiving a small grant to record indigenous music in Asia from the British Library so I knew a little about Nepali folk music. A month later, I published my first article on the subject. The paper gave me the weekend supplement, two or three pages with photos, and a fistful of rupees. That was an epiphany and set me up for life. I’ve written ever since, made a living from writing ever since. I’ve published some twenty books to date – non-fiction titles, illustrated books, travel guides and three novels, as well as countless articles and photographs. I’ve written three documentary screenplays that have been made into films. I am currently a correspondent for Germany’s largest independent travel publisher in Thailand and report from Southeast and South Asia for many different publications.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was a non-fiction title called Beyond The Pancake Trench – Road Tales from the Wild East, a semi coherent collection of my experiences in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan and India. It focused on the fate of the region’s indigenous people, music and youth culture and contained a fair bit of Gonzo-esque personal navel gazing. My first novel The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu (currently published by Crime Wave Press), a story about three friends on the Europe Asia hippy trail in the 1970s whose drug deal in Pakistan goes horribly wrong. One of the three travelers disappears with all the money. Twenty five years later the remaining two get an email from their ling lost friend to come to Kathmandu and collect their share of the cash. Of course, once they get to Nepal, all plans go horribly wrong.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
My writing style evolves and keeps getting better, I hope.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I wanted a title suitable for a spy story. The first Maier book, The Cambodian Book of the Dead was an obvious play on The Tibetan or the Egyptian Book of the Dead. So this one is an obvious play on The Man with the Golden Arm/Gun.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The Man with the Golden Mind is a historical crime novel that closely examines US atrocities in Southeast Asia in the 1960s.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The book is meticulously researched – I co-wrote the screenplay to a documentary on the US secret war in Laos – The Most Secret Place on Earth – and much of the deep background to the novel comes out of this almost forgotten aspect of US and Asian history. Together with director Marc Eberle, I interviewed former CIA, US AID, Hmong and Thai secret army veterans, US whistlebowers, witnesses and academics.
Check out the documentary here –
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson, The Master and Margerita by Mikhail Bulgakov, Geek Love by Kathryn Dunn, Killing Mister Watson by Peter Matthiessen.
When I was a teenager, my parents paid for guitar lessons. My teacher was a staunch old school German communist. So besides learning to play to read music and play guitar, I also got an early training in left liberal politics. The closest I ever had to a mentor in my adult life was Fred Branfman, the US whistle blower and author who discovered and reported the secret mass bombing of Laos by the US. On a philosophical and humanist level, he’s been my greatest influence. RIP Fred.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I have many favorite authors but since you put me on the spot here, I will pick one at will – Jim Thompson. This American Noir author, a member of the American communist party and friend of Woody Guthrie, wrote stories of despair, of the small time loser losing big. I have found his stories reverberate in our reality – The sense of injustice when a man is crushed by the system, the sense that the cards are always stacked against you unless your daddy owns the factory. The sense that given enough pressure, even the most fair minded amongst us turn into animals.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
It is my career.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Not exactly, but I always felt the need to deconstruct the world in order to understand it. First I did that by playing music. But writing suits me better and I am better at it.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
The first few chapters of The Man with the Golden Mind are available free at Amazon.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I write some gun for hire work. Writing for cold hard cash is a challenge.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I’ve been on the road more or less constantly since the early 90s. On average I travel six to eight months a year and I rarely spend more than three months in any one location at a time. Nomadism it is and will be.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The Man with the Golden Mind was first published worldwide by Exhibit A (now defunct). They designed the covers for the two Maier novels. Crime Wave Press republished the book last year and Hans Kemp, its co-director designed the cover.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Finding the time to write for long periods when I also have journalistic assignments can be difficult.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
This warrants an extensive answer that probably goes beyond the frame of this interview. In short, I learned that I am happy spending large parts of my life alone at a desk and in a hotel room, typing.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
No Idea. Film rights to all three novels are with my agent.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write and read a lot. Love your mentors, sponsors and supporters. Hate your detractors. Don’t listen to your parents or the system about how you should organize your life. Leave your country and experience different cultures if you have the opportunity. It’s not for everyone, I guess.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Anyone who has written any of my books or stories, thanks very much. If you bought my books, an even bigger thank you. You make my life possible.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Just finished The Butterfly by James M Cain, about a man sleeping with his daughter. Not perhaps in the league as his other work, but still gripping. Also just read Hollywood by Charles Bukowski which I loved for its happy tone. America can be so great. And I just finished Because the Night by James Elroy which I disliked profoundly, because Elroy moves in a personal never-world of right wing vigilantism, anger towards minorities and loathing towards free thinkers that I don’t share. Yes, he writes well, but so do lots of other people who aren’t bigoted.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Treasure Island by Stevenson is definitely an early influence. Also a little known (in English) novel called Krabat, by German author Otfried Preußler, the story of a young boy who joins a black magic school run by the devil in Bohemia. I guess you’d call that YA these days. In the same vein, I loved Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball! by American author Paul Zindel had a huge impact on me as a teenager.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Sleaze and mediocrity.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Probably met her/him last night.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
I don’t care.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I still travel. I play guitar, occasionally on a stage or in a studio. I read a lot.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I have never owned a TV. I rarely go to the movies. But I do like trashy B movies when they are well done and I am occasionally intrigued by TV series. In the 90s I loved Twin Peaks. More recently I enjoyed the first season of Westworld and the first three seasons of House of Cards. But I don’t really think one can tell a meaningful story in this current Netflix series medium. Too much financial pressure and almost always a nasty, right wing undertone under the liberal veneer. Great food for academics, opium for the rest of us.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I love Indian or Middle Eastern food.
I like RocknRoll music from Elvis and Chuck Berry to The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground and the Stooges to the Jon Spencer Blues Xplosion. Also listen to a fair bit of Jazz, Mingus to Miles. And some Country. And some Blues. And some Soul.
I wear black every day, even in the pool. Have done for decades. Must be my favorite color.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Guitar player. I had a go. I was too young, too unfocused and too enamored with the supposed RocknRoll lifestyle. Writing suits me better.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?