I don’t remember how I first met Jim Thompson. I believe it was around the time his book Jerusalemin veri was published but before he burst upon the world scene with the first of his Inspector Kari Vaara novels, Snow Angels.
Jim and I weren’t buddies, but we were friendly. We had a lot in common. He was from Kentucky; I was from Indiana. We both had moved to Finland for love. We both were professional writers who had started with local Finnish publishers before getting international deals. It is odd how many of the same boxes were checked on our respective histories.
Help and bad reviews.
We were in touch with each other at regular intervals, like before our books were published or during various literary events. He would help promote my books and I would try to push his. He did a lot more for me, too. Jim was successful and experienced and spent hours giving me advice about the business of publishing. Sometimes I contacted him with a simple yes-or-no question and he wanted to spend an hour explaining his view of the situation. I would feel bad that he was wasting so much time on me.
‘That’s enough, Jim,’ I would say. ‘You have been a huge help and I really appreciate it. Please don’t waste all this time on me.’
‘It’s okay, Dave,’ he would reply. He always called me Dave. ‘It is not a problem. I want to help all I can.’
I wanted to help him, too. Jim was a rough and gruff and rude guy sometimes, but he was also surprisingly sensitive. Bad reviews ate at him. Once he was extremely nervous at a book fair because he was going to be interviewed in Finnish. He often got nervous in front of crowds anyway, and having to speak in Finnish made it much worse. When it was over Jim was visibly trembling.
‘That was great!’ I told him. ‘I understood every word, and I was standing way in the back. You did fine.’
‘Really?’ he kept asking, as if he was so insecure he couldn’t believe me. ‘Really, Dave?’
Finland in fiction
Jim became famous worldwide because of his Kari Vaara novels, in which he explored violence, racism, right-wing extremism and government corruption in Finland. Some Finns are touchy about how Finland is portrayed and they were not happy with Jim at all.
One woman in particular was a thorn in his side. She followed him everywhere he went online, posting terrible reviews and complaining about inaccuracies in how he depicted Finland. I thought the whole thing was ludicrous. Jim was writing novels, not travel brochures. Any person who complains about there being fiction in fiction is obviously out of touch with both reality and literature.
Jim saw it that way too, but for some reason this woman especially bothered him. Once he somehow got the idea that this woman had talked to me and he immediately gave me a call. He wanted to know what mischief she was doing now. I had never had any interaction with her and told Jim that she was doing nothing that I knew of and that he had nothing to worry about. He was relieved, but he wanted to keep talking about her. I spent the next hour listening to him and continually reassuring him. It was as if he needed to hear it again and again.
A screwed up book signing
Although I tried to help him out, one time I got him in trouble. We were at the Helsinki Book Fair and I snatched Jim away from his publisher’s booth for a quiet talk in a secluded corner. Unbeknownst to either of us he had been scheduled to do a book signing and there were about a hundred people waiting impatiently for him to appear.
Someone from the publisher was sprinting around the cavernous hall and finally found us.
‘You can talk later!’ he yelled, giving me a particularly dirty look and literally dragging Jim away.
I felt terrible for getting him in trouble and for causing all his fans to wait. I called Jim the next day and profusely apologised.
‘It was no problem, Dave!’ Jim laughed. ‘We were having a good conversation. It was too bad they found us!’
One of the last things Jim was working on was Helsinki Noir, a collection of short crime stories by Finnish writers. He had this grand idea on how to promote it and he wanted my help. The plan was to get three fantastic crime writers – Jim, Tapani Bagge and Leena Lehtolainen – in a room together. I would have the honour of interviewing all three of them at the same time and writing about their interaction.
Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out. Leena was stuck on a book tour in central Europe somewhere and Jim came down with one of his frequent illnesses. In the end I only got to interview Tapani in person and had to do Leena and Jim via email.
Jim’s agent, Penn Whaling of the Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency, told me that Jim passed away before he was able to complete Helsinki Dead, the last Kari Vaara book. That means Helsinki Noir will probably be his last piece unless there are other unpublished manuscripts yet to see the light of day. I’m glad I was able to experience his excitement and enthusiasm for what will probably be his last book.
Sometimes Jim and I didn’t agree. He frowned over my writing style a time or two, and once conclusively declared ‘you need commas.’ For my part, I loved his prose which was as lean as a Victoria’s Secret model but sometimes scratched my head over awkward plot stumbles in his books.
If I was his editor I might have mentioned those plot stumbles, but I can imagine what his reaction would have been. Once I edited something for him and recommended a piece be cut. When I emailed him my suggestion I received in return a vehement, emotional, stream of consciousness text defending that passage. I remember the subject line in the email was a shout of semi-coherent outrage in all-caps. I had a good reason to recommend that passage be cut, but Jim was so passionate about including it that I backed down. Immediately he was conciliatory and tried to convince me that this was the right decision.
‘It is much better with this included, Dave,’ he said. ‘This was the right choice.’
Thanks again, Jim.
The last time I tried to contact Jim was a couple of weeks ago. Over time I was becoming uncomfortable with some of the things I was seeing and hearing so I wanted to see how he was doing. He never replied.
In a way I’m happy he didn’t. The very last time I heard from him was several months ago. I had a new book coming out and Jim remembered that he wanted to do something to help me but couldn’t remember if he had done so yet.
‘Yes, Jim, you already did that,’ I told him. ‘I really appreciate all your help. Thanks for everything.’
I’m glad that this was my last conversation with him.
Thanks again, Jim. Thanks for everything. May your books be read for a thousand years.
Are you curious about my new book, The Decline and Fall of Nokia, or anything else going on in the mobile device industry? Soon you will have a chance to ask me questions, because I will be doing a live online interview on Saturday 19 April on Reddit.
In the off chance you aren’t familiar with Reddit, it is a social networking and news website where members can submit content and interact with each other. It has a system where users can vote submissions up or down to organise posts and comments so that the most popular or useful information is prominently displayed.
If you don’t have an account, all you need is a username and password. No email is necessary. You can create an account by clicking the ‘login or register’ button in the upper-right corner of the main page on www.reddit.com.
Live, online interviews – called AMA for ‘ask me anything’ – are very popular on Reddit, with everyone from President Barack Obama to bowling alley employees answering questions from users.
Who: Me, or the username DavidJCord
What: A live, online interview
When: Saturday 19 April at 9:00 am Pacific, 12:00 pm Eastern, 7:00 pm Finnish time
(I will post a link to the actual interview thread when it begins.)
I hope to see you there!
Here is a collection of stories and interviews about The Decline and Fall of Nokia.
Aamulehti: Olisiko tämä mies pelastanut Nokian luurit?
Hufvudstadbladet: Elop var ett tredjehandsval
Online in English:
Online in Swedish:
Online in Spanish:
Online in Dutch:
Online in Finnish:
As the saying goes, when the established elites lose their power they also lose their lives. Yet this applies not only to political revolutions, but also to economic ones.
My new book, The Decline and Fall of Nokia, documents one of these revolutions and how Nokia was sent to the wall. I think the story is fascinating in and of itself, but it is also useful to guess what will happen next.
A glance at the mobile device industry could lead one to conclude the battle for dominance has ended with the Google and Apple ecosystems on top. Other players like Microsoft have been relegated to minor roles. This is the case at the moment, but it is not a permanent situation. It will only remain this way until the next revolution.
Unlike most industries, mobile devices go through fairly well-defined cycles based upon the technological standards in use. Motorola dominated 1G until the upstart Nokia ushered in a period of disruption with their cheap digital devices. Nokia ruled 2G until Apple and Google embarked upon their own revolt to control the 3G era.
This most recent revolution is the subject of my book: the advent of mobile computers as part of an ecosystem. Nokia knew where the industry was going. They understood that the internet would become mobile and the ecosystem would become all-important. Regardless of their foresight they could not adapt. They had to protect their existing business lines and were overtaken by events. In the end, they were sent against the wall just like in every other revolution.
Tellingly, each previous revolution began when a new generation of communication standards held a sizable minority of the market. Based upon this we can predict the next disruption. The next generation of mobile technology is 4G, and it has already been commercialised. So far it is not very widespread, but momentum is behind it. If the past is any guide to the future, expect the next revolution to happen within three or four years. Soon, I suspect, Apple and Google will discover it is their turn to go against the wall.
But what will this revolution in mobile technology be? There is a good chance it will be wearable devices. The first thing that may come to mind is Google Glass, but almost certainly this will not be the catalyst for change. By definition disruption comes from a new player. It could be an established company in another sector which enters the industry or it could be a new start-up. Google Glass is based upon Google’s existing business, particularly location-based services, search and social networking. This is not a revolution; it is an incremental innovation. Fundamentally Google Glass is only a really cool smartphone hanging on your nose.
When I set out to write the Nokia story I didn’t realise their decline and fall fit into this pattern. It was only after voluminous research into the history of mobile devices that I saw Nokia’s fate was inevitable based upon existing situation, as well as their actions and inactions. There is a lesson to be learned here, as well as a great story to tell.
The Facebook page for my new book, The Decline and Fall of Nokia, is now up. Come check it out if you are interested in business history, mobile technology, or the Nokia story.
I hoped my book would be banned. I thought it would be wonderful if some self-righteous politician convinced a court it was a danger to society. I imagined crowds gathering as copies of my book were tossed on big, public bonfires like in 1930s Germany. That would have been great.
I was joking, of course. Well, sort of. My first book, Mohamed 2.0, was almost complete. It was a biography of Mohamed El-Fatatry, a Muslim immigrant to little homogenous Finland. People in the West get quite worked up about anything to do with Islam, so I knew we could have some controversy. Mohamed wanted a famous politician to write the Foreword to the book, and we ended up getting government minister and presidential candidate Eva Biaudet to do it. I joked to Mohamed that we should ask her to ban it instead of endorse it, because nothing helps sales better than censorship. He didn’t think it was funny.
Mohamed was right: it wasn’t funny. I did have a point, though, in that few things make a book a best-seller faster than an order from a political authority not to read it. D.H. Lawrence’s best work wasn’t Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but now the book is a widely-read classic simply because the UK government tried to ban it for obscenity.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover had the support of its publisher, though. Sometimes a publisher will forget their high-minded morals and agree to censorship. The publisher Penguin recently decided to destroy all copies of the academic book The Hindus by Wendy Doniger because some Indians didn’t like how it portrayed their religion.
Free speech is often curtailed on religious grounds, and not just in the world’s largest democracy India. Harry Potter was famously challenged in American libraries by Christian fundamentalists because it supposedly promoted witchcraft. I never saw the danger Harry Potter posed to the world, but that might just be me.
Free speech is certainly under threat in America. Reporters Without Borders recently ranked good-old freedom-loving USA number 46 in the world for press freedom, behind countries like Belize, Botswana and Suriname. The American government is quite upset that we have found out they are spying on their own citizens, so they are arresting people who try to leak information and hacking the Associated Press.
America seems to be trying to shed its “land of the free” title, but there must be some places in the world where freedom of speech and the press is still respected. I happen to live in Finland, which was ranked the best in the world for press freedom. This sounds nice, but if we are number one then the world is in bad shape.
A couple of years ago a Finnish politician was convicted of “breaching the sanctity of religion” for a blog post. Jussi Halla-aho had made a careful statement in the “if-then” tradition of Aristotelian logic, comparing the Prophet Muhammad’s nine-year old wife and modern age of consent laws. This was deemed offensive and forbidden speech. It was offensive, certainly, but I don’t agree that being a jerk should be against the law. Other countries take a similar line. People in Great Britain have been arrested for being offensive on Twitter.
Finland also has a tradition of corporate censorship, when powerful companies exert their influence to stop critical journalism. The mobile phone company Nokia was rather infamous for this in years past. When I started writing my new book, The Decline and Fall of Nokia, the possibility they could try to stop us came up a time or two during meetings. Luckily Nokia seems to be mellowing, though, and they don’t seem to be too upset. The book is set for publication in April, so it looks like I will miss the censorship bullet with this one, too.
My novel Dead Romans hasn’t drawn the attention of any corporations, politicians or religious groups yet. It gives a rather frank depiction of paganism and abuse in the ancient Roman Empire. One homeschooling Mom flipped out about it, though. She wrote a review stating “I’m quite aware that this type of thing probably happened, but I don’t think it’s necessary to tell us about it.” I was hoping she would start a campaign to ban my book. That would have been great.