Eating Smoke — a question and answer with the author, Chris Thrall – Part 5/5

October 20, 2011

Guest-Post by Tom Carter
Interview with Chris Thrall, author of Eating Smoke continued…

CARTER: Let’s talk about the publishing of Eating Smoke, because I’m sure there are dozens of expats across Asia reading this who feel that they, too, have exciting stories which deserve a place on bookshelves, yet are unsure of how to go about getting published.

So once Blacksmith Books expressed an interest in your proposal what kind of writing process did you embark on to complete the book?

THRALL: After six months of writing, when Blacksmith Books contacted me, I had pretty much the first draft written – 230,000 words at the time. The problem was I’d never studied English above high school level, so I spent a year referring to books, websites and online forums, teaching myself proper punctuation (not what we were taught at school!), grammar, and the art of self-editing.

CARTER: What kind of final editing was done to Eating Smoke? Were there any major changes to it and, overall, was it a hostile or pleasant experience?  I ask because editors and authors don’t usually see eye-to-eye.

THRALL: According to Blacksmith’s editor, the manuscript was structurally sound. I’d pretty much worked out for myself what did and did not need to be in there.

Any anecdote not taking the story forward or adding to the understanding of a character or situation, I took out.

As far as the end result is concerned, it was great to see the manuscript polished, with some incorrectly used words amended, some over-ripe humor taken out, and some excess sentences deleted. That’s not to say it wasn’t a stressful experience at the time.

Editors are good at spotting mistakes and cutting out excess lines. But that can leave un-poetic passages that don’t flow well on the page. My editor and publisher were completely accommodating, allowing me to rewrite any amendments myself in my own writing style – or understanding when I insisted that certain lines were left in the book, for continuity, or sentimental reasons because the story is true-life.

Chris Thrall

CARTER: The literary landscape is changing, some say deteriorating.

Where once New York publishers actually sought out quality literature that would last through the ages (John Steinbeck, Pearl Buck), today they only seem interested in boardroom-created-blockbusters like “Twilight” or throwaway celebrity memoires.

To add insult to injury, newspapers like the “New York Times” are notoriously anti-POD (Print on Demand) and will only review Big 6-published books despite the recent sales surge of self-published titles.

What’s your advice, then, for aspiring authors who lack literary connections but feel that their book is too good for CreateSpace?

THRALL: If you truly believe you have a story that will be of interest to many people, think carefully about sending your manuscript to a busy executive in a publishing house that probably has fifty other manuscripts land on their desk everyday and no time to read them.

Instead, consider hiring (or find) an agent that has some influence with the big players or simply send your first chapter to an author in a similar genre. Authors tend to be very kind and approachable people – as I found out, Tom! – and having been through the process themselves, they know what a publisher is looking for. If they like what they read then there’s a good chance they’ll recommend you.

Writers want other writers to have success. In addition, you’ll get pointers if your writing is lacking in any area. I’m currently writing a free e-book that will be available to download soon from to guide people through the process of writing a memoir and getting it published.

CARTER: What’s next for Chris Thrall? Tales from your time with the Corps of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines? Or perhaps some fiction?

THRALL: Not sure. You’ll have to ask the readers of Eating Smoke that question!

Return to Eating Smoke – Part 4, start with Part 1, or or if you have the time and do not want to wait for the five-part series to finish posting, click View as Single Page.

Chris Thrall was born in the UK. At eighteen, he joined the Royal Marine Commandos. Following active service in the Northern Ireland Conflict and training in Arctic warfare and survival, he earned his parachutist’s ‘wings’ and went on to serve as part of a high-security detachment onboard an aircraft carrier. In 1995, Chris moved to Hong Kong to oversee the Asia-Pacific expansion of a successful network-marketing operation he’d built, part-time, while serving in the Forces. Less than a year later, he was homeless, hooked on crystal methamphetamine and working for the 14K, Hong Kong’s largest triad crime family, as a doorman in Wanchai’s infamous red-light district. Eating Smoke, a humorous yet deeply moving first book, is his account of what happened.


Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, a 600-page book of photography from the 33 provinces of China, which may be found on

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America’s Misguided Missionary Obligation

October 12, 2011

Tom Carter, the author of China: Portrait of a People, sent me a link to a New York Times (NYT) piece, In India, Online Retailers Take a New Tack.

Carter did not suggest a subject for this post, but he did ask that I include the promotional video for his next book with whatever I wrote, and it “rather” fits the topic I decided to write about, which is that most of America may learn something from those Americans that “really” want to do business in China and India.

Besides, Carter’s photos of India are as stunning as those he took of China are.

Vikas Bajaj wrote the NYT’s piece, and we learn that Amazon is moving into India and whatever Amazon’s plans are for entering India’s consumer market, Amazon is not talking.

However, “while dozens of electronic commerce firms have recently sprung up to capitalize on India’s growing Internet use” Bajaj wrote, “they have a problem. Indians are not yet comfortable with shopping on the Web. Many of them remain unwilling to use credit cards online. So the Indian retailers have gone to great lengths to gain customers. Customers may pay in cash on delivery, and the company fields delivery squads to ensure shipments get to customers quickly.”

What we learn from this quote is that cultural differences influence how people shop but culture goes deeper than shopping habits, which is a fact that many Americans do not understand.

In addition, a Blog at says, “Approximately half of’s revenue comes from outside the United States, according to the company’s Senior Vice President of International Retail, Diego Piacentini. This makes global strategy a key component to the company’s continued success,” and “Amazon aims to be the ‘most customer-centric company on the planet’.”

Then Matt Harvey, who wrote the post for the Stanford Blog, asked, “But what do you build, and how do you act, to make this mean something?”

The answer may come from Amazon’s Diego Piacentini when he said, “When Amazon began doing business in China in 2004, some of the company’s core values came into conflict with traditional business practice.” Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs was quoted in 2010 saying Amazon has competition in China with, the Chinese equivalent of eBay, generates estimated annual sales of close to $60 billion—about 75% of all online retail sales in China while, according to Goldman Sachs, Amazon had only $750 million in annual sales in China in 2009 with estimates that Amazon sales in China would increase to $1 billion in 2010. Amazon has a long way to go to catch up with Taobao.

The moral of this story is that Western retailers such as Amazon must learn to do business in other cultures such as China and/or India without attempting to change the people.

They must “start with the customer and work backwards”, which isn’t what most of America’s politicians and religious leaders are doing and the best quote that explains why comes from a Henry Kissinger quote  that I have used before. “American exceptionalism is missionary. It holds that the United States has an obligation to spread its values to every part of the world.”

From what I understand, two of the world’s greatest conquerors, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, knew the key to hold an empire together was not to change other cultures but to allow those cultures to remain unchanged, so why can’t the rest of the West learn from them?

Discover The Importance of Guanxi to Chinese Civilization


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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