Welcoming Daniel Spero as lead writer and creative director at Metro Writers has been a singular stroke of good luck for my book authoring business.
A humble and underappreciated wordsmith, Daniel is one of the few long-term expat residents of Saigon who lives and breathes writing books as a genuine creative junkie. An American national who has brought the legacy of Bukowski to Ho Chi Minh City, Daniel is the author of nine novels, many of them semi-autobiographical and written to reveal the shadows of this city from a place of jarring honesty.
I first collaborated with Daniel on our book The Queen of King Coffee, which tells the life story of Mme. Le Hoang Diep Thao in her own words. Daniel writes like a bulldozer, tearing through his content as if he’s trying to keep pace with his own ideas and questions. I found editing Daniel’s material to be both overwhelming and rewarding—our book is substantially improved through his work to refine and clarify Mme. Diep Thao’s message.
Reading Daniel’s own books can feel addictive in itself. This is a writer who has no shame. He makes no attempt to veil intimacy, make pretences or disguise naiveté—his work is raw, uncomfortable, and brutally true, even in those moments that reveal his own weaknesses. Daniel hides nothing and tells everything, leaving the reader to deal with experiencing his characters—and himself—without any filter. I've recommend some of his books to friends who report finishing them compulsively and being unable to forget them for days afterwards.
The first of Daniel’s works that alerted me to his creative depth—and possibly his most important book—is Hun King the Ice Head, a novel that explores the addictions and debauchery of the dark side of expat life in Southeast Asia. I couldn’t do what Daniel does in this book—I could never hide my contempt for the vile characters he brings to his pages, and I couldn’t write his heroes without embedding false redeeming features that Daniel doesn’t allow them.
Daniel’s protagonists are human, horrible, and recognisably broken. In the book’s most repulsive moments, I found myself wondering if Daniel as writer was glossing over their failings—after all, his main character Julian Jakos is clearly a projection of himself, and while the most moral of all the figures in this book, Julian is cheerfully blind to the ugliness of his world. What saves Daniel morally is his execution of the book’s main subplot to reveal the tragedy and humanity of those characters most objectified—the women used and abused by his men. When Daniel’s subplot comes to a sudden unexpected conclusion on the book’s final page—I can’t say anything about it without spoiling the shock—I wanted to throw the book across the room. The message of Ice Head is hidden in plain sight, and the book will make you see its characters deeper than you wanted to. In being plainly told and inexcusably human, it is an unforgettable book.
While Daniel Spero often writes from a dark place in his own work, what he will bring to Metro Writers will shed light on the many projects we’ll be working on into 2023. As a tirelessly curious and hungry writer with an inexhaustible flow of words, Daniel will be leading books in culture, high fashion, and biography with his signature ability to bring out truths without presuming to make judgements.
Daniel Spero is a warmhearted, sensitive single dad based in Saigon’s District 7 who is a writer to the core, and a much respected member of our central team. Watch out for Daniel Spero’s writing in the times to come.