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ESPIONAGE – READ ALL ABOUT IT

The new international spy thriller, CHINA SEA by Stanton Swafford, is now available on Amazon.com, Kindle, Google Play Books and iTunes. With exciting action in Sulawesi, Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malacca and Manila.

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Mid-Week Jazz Show

Here is music that is as timeless as Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff. I’ll play this forever. Miles Davis – So What.

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CHINA SEA – A Novel

The novel CHINA SEA will be published this summer. Here’s a preview – the first four pages of the story. I’ll continue the preview next week. So stay tuned to the blog.

1

APRIL 1973

I FIRST MET THE SELF-TAUGHT RUSSIAN JAZZ PIANIST,
Sasha Popov, in that dark, funky Manila bar on New Year’s
Eve 1974. I have at times wondered about Sasha and
Flora, his lovely Filipina mistress. He’d needed to get out of
the Philippines in a hurry, and I assisted him with his escape.
I’ve also speculated on what became of Sasha’s stunning
Russian wife, who remained behind. So many lives left in the
wake. One thing I do know: the Palestinian is dead. A Mossad
double-agent gave the notorious sweet-tooth a birthday gift, a
box of Belgian chocolates that contained a slow-acting poison.
It took him several months to die.
But the saga had begun several months before that fateful
December night in Manila.
I was living contentedly in San Francisco. The very idea of
operating as an “illegal,” under deep cover in Asia, was the
furthest thing from my mind. Occasionally, and following a
second or third cup of coffee at around ten o’clock in the
morning, I would jump on the Hyde Street cable car outside
my apartment building on Russian Hill and run down to the
seamen’s hall at the Embarcadero. I’d check the bulletin board
to see if there were any interesting openings for a radioman on
a cargo ship. Scores of American freighters in those days
departed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. I figured it would
be only a matter of time before I signed on to one of them
and, as a lark, sailed off into the sunset.
Invariably I’d leave that union hall the same as I entered
it: jobless. I was never particularly unhappy about that
outcome. Life, all in all, was good in the city.
It was around noon when I left the seamen’s hall on a
clear day in early April 1973, the day that altered the course of
my life. I’d decided to linger over lunch at a favorite Italian
restaurant in North Beach. I took a window table that overlooked
Washington Square and the sundry action nearby. As I
sometimes did those afternoons, I began to thumb through the
help wanted ads in the San Francisco Chronicle over a second
glass of Pinot Noir. And there it was. The classified ad from
heaven!
We are a large shipping company headquartered
on the U.S. east coast, and we seek an
executive to manage our new office in East
Asia. Prior experience in Asia and fluency in
an Asian language would be a distinct
advantage. Send your resume to Monarch
Executive Staffing (with a post office box in
Baltimore) if you believe you might qualify
for this challenging position.
The irony wasn’t lost. I had spent the morning perusing
the openings in the seamen’s hall for a gig on a freighter, and
now here was this ad in the newspaper seeking an executive, no
less, to run a shipping office somewhere in Asia. The portrayal
of the successful candidate described me to a T—experience
in Asia and fluent in an Asian language. I was fluent in two.
My mood soared as I read and reread the ad.
I finished a double espresso, left a generous tip, and departed
from the restaurant with a satisfied smile on my face. I
took a stroll around the perimeter of the park and composed a
brief resume in my mind. Later, for exercise, I walked up Union
Street and back to the apartment. By the time I reached Hyde
Street, I’d concocted a succinct resume and a pithy cover letter.
I typed up the letter and the resume that same afternoon
in the apartment and slipped them into the mailbox before the
last pickup.

LIFE IN THE CITY CONTINUED PLEASURABLY FOR THE NEXT
few weeks. I was so content that spring that I discontinued
those morning visits to the seamen’s hall. The young woman I
was dating and I took trips north—to Redwood country and
canoeing on the Russian River. We drove to Napa for wine
tasting and a jazz concert at Mondavi. Apropos of what was to
follow, we would drive to Berkeley on a Sunday afternoon and
have coffee at the original Peet’s Coffee & Tea.
Then one day in May, six weeks after I had mailed that
resume off to Baltimore and forgotten about the shipping job
altogether, came the phone call.
“May I speak to Mr. Mancini, please?” the man asked,
unsure who he was speaking with.
Damn. My credit card. I knew my payment was late again,
and my check was not in the mail.
“Yeah. Speaking,” I responded, annoyance in my tone.

“Hello, Roy. We received your resume a few weeks ago.
And I do apologize for taking this long to get back to you,” he
said, now in a more conversational voice.
Relief.
That was the only time in my life I’d ever applied for a job
so there was no doubt about the resume this fellow on the
phone was referring to.
“Ah, yes. Monarch Staffing. Right?” a sudden enthusiasm
in my tone.
“That’s correct. My name is Brian Bradford.” He sounded
relieved that I had remembered the ad. He didn’t have to go
into a song and dance about who he was or which company he
(supposedly) worked for. “The client has reviewed your resume.
And on their behalf, I would like to meet with you.” He
paused for a second. “That is, if you’re still interested in discussing
the job.”
My curiosity was piqued. “Sure. I’m interested. That’s the
position in Asia, right? Yes, let’s meet. And did you mention a
client? Who would that client be?”
“Well, as it happens, I’m in San Francisco for the day.
Conducting some interviews out here. Can we meet later,
before I leave town? Say, at two this afternoon?” He hesitated
for a moment. “About the second question. Sorry, I can’t
reveal our client to you at this early stage. You understand.”
We agreed on a place to meet. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll see you
at two o’clock.”
I was exultant. After I hung up the phone, I sat motionless
for a minute, staring out the apartment’s large bay window at
a fleet of close-hauled sailboats as they beat out of Sausalito,
and at a large outbound freighter as it sailed beneath the Golden
Gate Bridge far below. “Yes!” I exclaimed, with a fist pump.

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THE MIX UP IN THE MIDDLE EAST

I’ve just taken a wonderful trip through Northern California – Sonoma County and San Francisco. I’m now back home at the beach in Southern California and feeling refreshed and at ease. I’m putting the finishing touches on my novel, CHINA SEA.  A final proofreading.
The news of the day is about the Iran nuclear negotiations. The U.S. executive branch has made a deal. The other branch of government, the congress, is going to make it a “hard sell”. The prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, slipped behind the president’s back and made his speech to congress. A bunch of senators broke protocol and sent a letter directly to the Ayatollah. A lot of purely domestic politics in the mix.
The most dangerous conflict in the Middle East, indeed in the world, is the one between the Muslim Sunnis and the Muslim Shias. This is a clash that has been going on for something like 1,400 years. It started with a disagreement over who should succeed the Prophet Mohammad. It became a wound that never healed.
Here is an excerpt from my novel, CHINA SEA (to be published this summer).
Wadi Haddad’s Russian code name was Natsionalist. The KGB didn’t know he knew.
He uttered to himself, “All profess to be nationalists.”
Wadi pondered on the most fickle creed of all. Muslim nationalism. It stretched from distant Indonesia to Pakistan, into Afghanistan and through the Arab and Persian worlds. The clashing Sunnis and Shiites who hate each other. And onward, west to North Africa and the south of Russia. So many unconnected races and cultures in disarray, cultures with little in common except for the pillars of Islam, if that.
And he reflected on Arab nationalism. Nasser had tried and failed. There were too many rivalries and jealousies in the mix. And leaders who loathed one another. And who paid lip service to Palestine’s cause, Palestine’s liberation.
“There is but one true nationalism, the only meaningful one: Palestine.” Wadi Haddad sneered, grinding his decaying teeth.

My opinion, born out by recent events, is that the Sunnis (personified by each of the 9/11 terrorists, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Chattanooga) pose the gravest threat to the United States and to what was once called the “Free World”. I would go so far as to say that the U.S. and Europe have more in common with Iran’s society and political system (Shia) than they have with Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis (Sunni). I think the American president, at heart a realist, senses this as well. There is potential for an American reconciliation with Iran after these thirty-six years of friction. The current negotiations have evidently laid the groundwork for it. My prediction – Iran will, eventually, follow the example of another former enemy, Cuba.
The geostrategic reality is that the Saudis have the oil. Even if the United States becomes energy independent, America’s friends and allies (and adversaries) will continue to need Saudi oil. Thus the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet will continue to patrol the Persian Gulf.
And then there is Israel. That country, through its Washington lobby, has significant political influence on the conduct of America’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Israelis no doubt experience anxiety regarding the building of a rapport between the U.S. and Iran. That seems counter-intuitive to me. If the U.S. had a meaningful relationship with Iran then perhaps Iran could be persuaded to behave itself in the region. As things are now, the U.S. has no influence at all on Iran’s behavior.
In short, we have a complicated and dangerous mismatch of interests and cultures. The Sunni/Shia chasm will not be overcome in our lifetime, if ever. And one wonders if the Israeli/Palestinian (Shia) conflict will ever be resolved.
As for nuclear weapons in the region – no, Iran should not have them. And neither should Pakistan for that matter (yet they do). Pakistan is arguably far less stable and more a failed state than Iran.

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AN EXPATRIATE’S DREAM

You should have no doubt. If you are an expatriate living in Asia you will never be considered a local by the locals. No matter how fluent you become in the language or how much you believe you have assimilated the culture, in the eyes of the citizens of your adopted home you are and always will be a “foreigner”, or even mistaken for a “tourist”. Get used to it.

I once heard it said that in Japan comprehending the culture was like peeling off the layers of an onion. You peel off the top layer and you’re not even close to understanding what it’s all about. Keep peeling –layer after layer of that onion. You will never figure the culture out. One could say the same about Bali, Indonesia where I lived for ten years. The culture and traditions are just too complex for a non-Balinese to fathom.
In short, don’t pretend to be a local. Just enjoy. And if you ever get tired of being clearly seen as a foreigner or as a tourist (and thus not really “one of us”), you can always go home.
How often do we see articles or advertisements on the web that list the ten best places to retire? Usually what they refer to is the cost of living, crime rate, education facilities and so forth. Let’s begin, for the sake of this post, with Southeast Asia.
If you are looking to save money, you can forget about Singapore. The cost of living in Singapore is comparable, I believe, to New York City or London. As a result, most of the expatriates living in Singapore are supported by their employers – multinational companies, Singaporean companies, foreign governments. It would be rare to find a retiree living there unless he or she were single and able to pinch pennies by living in an unfurnished room.
The three countries in the region, which are settings in my novel CHINA SEA that are affordable and desirable to live in for a retiree, a young couple with a small family or a single man or woman out for fun and fortune are: the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. One caveat – don’t even think of living in the largest cities. The traffic and/or pollution border on the unbearable.
Haircuts, housemaids and healthcare. Those are three examples that come to mind where you will save money. In a word (actually two words) PERSONAL SERVICES are a bargain. I especially want to emphasize the excellent world-class quality of healthcare that is available in Malaysia at a fraction of the cost in the United States. When I lived in Asia I never bothered to buy expensive international health insurance. I figured the cost of a medical procedure in a Malaysian hospital (including airfare) would be less than the annual insurance premiums that I would have to pay.
Groceries in supermarkets everywhere in Asia will cost you more than they do in the United States. The cost of housing might be slightly less in Southeast Asia than in the U.S. (again excluding Singapore). The price of gasoline is probably about the same everywhere. If I were to make a quick and uncertified estimate as to an expatriate’s cost savings, I would say that the total cost of living in Malaysia/Indonesia/Philippines is approximately 75% of the cost of living in, say, California.
And now for my certified advice on the best places to live in those three countries. The places where you will be HAPPIEST. And that is what it’s all about.

The Philippines – Dumaguete City (Known as the ‘city of gentle people’ and a wonderful seaside college town.)
Malaysia – Malacca (No place in Asia has a more beguiling history. And such friendly people.)

Indonesia – Bali (It is no longer ‘paradise’. But the culture of the Balinese remains unchanged. Still the best place to live in the country. And a surfer’s dream come true.)

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The Weekend Jazz Show

I believe we all need to experience some peace this week. Here is Bill Evans playing solo piano. This is beautifully improvised from start to finish. It is titled “Peace Piece”.

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WRITE YOUR BOOK. SELL YOUR BOOK.

Now, you’ve written your 90,000 word novel. It’s as good as it can be. You spent nine months writing the first draft. And that’s all it was – a first draft. And you rewrote it. And you rewrote it again. After one year you have finally written a manuscript on a Word.doc that you are happy with. Time now to change hats and become an entrepreneur. The writing part is nearly over and that has been relatively cost-free. You have decided to be an Independent Author. That is, you will pass up the traditional literary agent/publisher route and publish the book yourself. Have no illusions. The entrepreneur part is anything but cost-free. And here we go.

1) An independent author cannot produce a first-class book on the cheap. Regardless of the high standard of your writing, your self-published book cannot look self-published. Your book needs to equal the quality of the traditionally published books sold in book stores. SELF-PUBLISHING IS NOT DIY. Here are the critical parts of the self-publishing process that will require an investment. That investment in direct costs could be around $2,500.
(A) Attend a writers’ conference (an indirect cost). The workshops and contacts you make there are invaluable. I recommend the Southern California Writers Conference (SCWC) in September in Irvine, California.
(B) Hire a CONTENT EDITOR. I found mine at the SCWC in September 2014. If you think you cannot afford a content editor, the truth is you cannot afford NOT to have one. I am happy to recommend my editor to you.
(C) Hire the best cover designer you can find. The book will be sold (or not) initially by its cover. A cheap cover reflects the quality of the book in general. I can highly recommend my cover designer.
(D) Hire an interior designer to properly format the entire inside of your book – from the copyright page all the way through to your final Acknowledgements page.
(E) My interior designer also prepares the book, including cover and formatted interior, for uploading to the publishers (CreateSpace/Amazon, Ingram, Kindle, ePub, iTunes, Nook, etc.)
(F) Engage proof readers (three are recommended). One of them should be a professional. The other can be family or a friend who is especially qualified. They proofread as a round – not simultaneously. When that is complete, you are ready to upload your finished product to the sellers/publishers. You can order up to five proof copies from CreateSpace (Amazon). These proof copies of the actual book are what you use for proofreading.

2) It is imperative that you have the most effective KEYWORDS and PHRASES when your book is listed for sale on Amazon and Kindle (and all of the rest of the sellers). These online publishers are not set up as book stores. They are set up as SEARCH ENGINES. Thus the importance of Keywords that readers type into the search boxes. Note you will list and search by RELEVANCE. Save a lot of time in determining your keywords by downloading Kindle Spy. You want to narrow down the number of books that appear when one searches for a keyword or phrase. Try for a keyword/phrase that comes up with about 1,000 books for sale (or less). Be sure those on that list have plenty of reviews, meaning people are buying the books. Example: The category/genre “Thriller” is far too broad and has too many books listed (over 300,000). So narrow it down to: “Thriller Espionage” (14,000). Or even narrower: “Thriller Military Espionage” (1,900). “Military Espionage Novels” (649). I determined my choices for CHINA SEA using Kindle Spy within an hour. You can do this without Kindle Spy by going to your Amazon/Kindle Store website and just start plugging in keywords. That could be very time-consuming. Note Kindle Spy will also give you the Popularity, Potential for Earnings and the degree of Competition using three different color codes – Green, Yellow or Red. Stay away from Red dots (for example in competition).
3) Selling your print book to Barnes & Noble stores. Your book must have at least ten reviews (e.g. on Amazon). Send your book directly to Barnes & Noble head office. The details on how to do this are listed on their website. See their publisher and author guidelines: getting started. It is now possible to have your Indie book sold at B&N stores using this procedure. That is one good reason to establish your own publishing company. Mine is King Harbor Press. There is no way a book store is going to handle a book where CreateSpace (Amazon) is listed as the publisher.
4) Ingram Spark is worth considering if you want to have books distributed to stores. Ingram is the largest book distributor in the world. I would like to distribute my book internationally, so at some point I will follow up with my Ingram account and upload my book to them. Note Ingram requires special formatting. So the professional formatter might be required (unless you’re really handy at that sort of thing). See 1(E) above. Again, you need to set up your own publishing company.
5) While the content editor is spending a month or two working on the structure of your manuscript, it is a good time for you to commence your marketing and promotion plan. Your marketing plan may include: Social Media (a Facebook Page, Twitter, etc.), writing a BLOG, setting up a website for yourself or your book, joining Goodreads and compiling an email list. An email list is very important. Have a business card made that lists each of these media. I am now reading a book that describes how to use Goodreads as an author by Michelle Campbell-Scott. Recommended.
6) The direct and indirect costs connected to your work as an author may be written off for tax purposes for five years. After five years you will have to show the IRS that you have generated a profit with your book(s). If you have not, then the IRS considers that your writing is a hobby. And you may have to pay back taxes, penalties, etc.
7) Don’t limit yourself to only one or two sales outlets. Hit them all – print and eBooks. There are plenty of people who prefer to read books in print rather than on a tablet. So use CreateSpace and possibly Ingram for PRINT. Publish with Kindle, iTunes, Nook, Google Partners for eBooks.
8) How do you price your book? Does a free or a 99 cent book infer low quality? Probably. Check out Wattpad as a means of promoting your book when you write it as a serial.

I am at the end of this process and my novel CHINA SEA will be published on Amazon and each of the eBook outlets next month. May I suggest that you follow this blog so that I can update you on that. And if you have any comments on this subject of preparing your book for self-publication, please do comment here on the blog.

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Life of a Spy . . . Fun & Games

“The name’s Bond . . . James Bond.”
Is there today a more familiar tidbit of dialogue in commercial fiction? Maybe not.
James Bond, 007, was born in tropical Jamaica sixty-three years ago. That was where he was created by author and bon vivant Ian Fleming in 1952. Like Fleming, Bond was a world-class hedonist – fond of the booze, the women and the tropical milieu that made spying all the more enjoyable.
Compared to the likes of John Le Carre and his George Smiley, the adventures of James Bond are an easy read. Unlike Le Carre, Ian Fleming makes no pretense of writing literary fiction. It’s all fun and games, and an exotic escape from the mundane reality of espionage.
Much the same could be said of Roy Mancini, the undercover Cold War hero in my novel, CHINA SEA, due out next month. (Ah ha. You’ll just have to purchase the book to find that out.)
Back to Bond and Fleming. Ian Fleming grew up in an age of Britain’s waning empire. He spent World War 2 in British naval intelligence and apparently derived his plots from operations that he was familiar with or had heard about from colleagues. Sometime after the war he purchased his plot in Jamaica, all the while working as a correspondent for the Sunday Times. During a two month hiatus from the Times he began writing Casino Royale, his first 007 novel. James Bond was born.
Like a lot of Brits of his generation and posh background, Fleming was depressed by the loss of empire and was, perhaps as a result, more than mildly anti-American. How dare these upstart Yanks replace Great Britain in the scheme of things and demand an end to benevolent colonialism!
Fleming’s xenophobia is revealed through James Bond in the books. At various times Bond states: The Japanese have “an unquenchable thirst for the bizarre, the cruel and the terrible.” The Chinese are “hysterical.” Italians are “bums with monogrammed shirts who spend the day eating spaghetti and meatballs and squirting scent over themselves.” Afrikaners are “a bastard race, sly, stupid and ill-bred.” In From Russia with Love, Bond’s Turkish colleague Darko Kerim makes the following observation about his own countrymen: “All this pretense about democracy is killing them. They want some sultans and wars and rape and fun.”
Jamaica on the other hand remained complacently colonial. It had been a British colony for some 300 years. Ian Fleming was in heaven there. The booze, the promiscuity, the lording over the natives. And thus he continued to live there and to write the semi-autobiographical lore of his fellow hedonist, 007. Fleming died at the age of 56, possibly as a result of either the 70 cigarettes he smoked in a day or the copious amount of alcohol he drank.
And James Bond lives on and on. The seventeen novels and the DVDs continue to sell like hotcakes. Indeed one could rate 007 as the most successful literary creation of the 20th century.
Now, I’d better search for one of Ian Fleming’s books on Amazon or up the road at Barnes & Noble for inspiration (hint: I’m now outlining my second novel of the Roy Mancini series titled JAVA SEA.)