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Mina Choi Tenison

Eric Stone

Author, The Living Room of the Dead

Eric Stone, who recently appeared the M on the Bund’s third annual Shanghai Literary Festival, is a journalist turned author. His most recent novel, The Living Room of the Dead is a lurid thriller set in Macau’s Russian sex trade. Its protagonist: an expatriate journalist roaming through Hong Kong and Macau just before the 1997 handover.

that’s: You were a journalist in Asia for nearly a decade before you turned to writing fiction. There are some graphic details about the various brothels in Macau. How much of this book is fact, and how much fiction?

Eric Stone: I would say that the main kernel of the novel is fact. My story takes place in 1995, a few years before the Hong Kong handover. During that time there was a news story about a guy from New Zealand who fell in love with a Russian prostitute in Macau. He tried to buy her out from the contract and they were both found dead in Vladivostok, robbed and murdered. That item became the skeleton for my novel. But the other details, about the sex clubs and whoring, were drawn from my own experiences, as a sleazy expat male in Hong Kong, which was why my wife divorced me.

that’s: Was that really the reason?

ES: No, I’m just kidding. There were many reasons why we divorced. Mostly because we had a sudden breakdown in honesty. But for my novel, I wanted to use the story of the Russian mafia sex trade to make a bigger point — about the expat complicity in the sex trade. After all, these clubs only service a need. If there were no demand, these clubs wouldn’t exist.

that’s: In your book it seems easy for men to engage in ‘whoring’? Why do you think that is?

ES: One, you are away from home. No one is scrutinizing you. Two, you are traveling on business in a hotel room with time to kill. Three, the availability. When I was in Jakarta, the hotel bar was full of ladies whom I wouldn’t necessarily call prostitutes, but pro-ams.

that’s: Pro-ams?

ES: Professional-Amateurs. The term refers to college students or young girls who think sleeping in a nice hotel room with hot running water is better than going home. And you’d say in the morning, ‘Here’s some money, why don’t you go shopping?’

I think this is why [whoring] appeals — it doesn’t seem so commercial. In some ways, I think it’s no different than this guy in California, who spent a lot of money on a date and complained because he didn’t get laid afterwards. But the biggest factor is poverty. I met one Russian woman in Macau, who was a trained as a medical doctor, but she could make more money working one night at one of these fancy brothels than three months in Moscow.

that’s: So do you think that economic disparity encourages prostitution?

ES: In a way prostitution is an economic story; it’s about business and development, at least from the perspective of a former financial journalist.

that’s: When the novel’s main character Ray Sharp becomes involved with the Russian Mafia the reader gets a real sense of danger. Did you ever find yourself in danger while researching the novel?

ES: Not really. But, there were some bizarre real life occurrences I included in the book. For example, the CIA Agent, whose cover is an employee of the “agriculture” department”, is taken from an actual conversation I overheard. Also, the “sex island” is based on the “pleasure islands” that are well known from their advertisements in Hong Kong. Although not explicitly stated, these islands are known for three things: gambling, prostitution, and the consumption of endangered animals.

that’s: A friend of mine once said that there are two types of guys: those who sleep with prostitutes and those who don’t.

ES: Well, I think there are all types of girls and all types of guys. I’ve had friendships with prostitutes, and I have several friends who married prostitutes. Being an expat male in Asia has its privileges: “WSP” — White Skin Privileges. But I wanted to create some inner introspection for these men. In my next two novels, the main character Ray Sharp has reformed himself somewhat, although he’s now suffering from a mild degree of impotency. F__king around does have some consequences.

That's Shanghai - May 2006

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