Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writing Tip: Start as Deep into the Story as Possible.

There is a golden rule in screenwriting. Start a scene as late as possible and get out as early as possible. That is, don’t start a scene with a man strolling to work, walking into a building, riding up in an elevator, getting called into the boss’s office and then getting fired. Start the scene with the man already in the boss’s office saying “YOU CAN’T FIRE ME!”

This great advice goes for novels as well, both for each chapter and for the overall story.

This topic is heavily on my mind this week because I was reviewing a novel about a woman who, in 1891, leaves her husband in Boston, travels to San Francisco, boards a ship and sails to Hawaii. There she meets a lesbian and has an affair.

The real story is about the heroine’s love affair with this Hawaiian lesbian. The problem was that the novel slogged through 70 pointless pages before the heroine landed in Hawaii, and another 75 pages before she meet the love interest. After a 100 boring pages of what should have been back-story, I emailed the author to tell her I couldn’t give this novel a glowing review. She was adamant that my interest level would soon pick up and that the ending would be very satisfying. Hoping she was right, I read another 100 equally boring pages, which brought me to the book’s halfway mark. I emailed her again to inform her I would not invest any more time in her novel because I couldn’t recommend it.

She wrote back, again adamant that if I kept reading I would love the story. What she doesn’t get, is you can’t bore the reader with 200 pages of tripe before getting to the interesting part. You have to start with the interesting part. You have between ten and twenty pages to hook the reader. If you don’t grab their interest and hold it, you’re done for. And the way you do that is by getting to the point, quickly.

Start as late into the story as possible. In the example above, the story should have started with her seeing Hawaii for the first time from the ship. In chapter two, she could have given 10 pages of back-story telling why she left her husband and sailed to the islands. By chapter three she should have meet the love interest. There, 200 pages cut down to 30. And my point is, that 30 pages would have been much stronger with all the dull crap cut away.

In order to start the story as late as possible, the writer needs a clear understanding of exactly what the story is about. In the example above, the author clearly thought the story was about the heroine’s journey – NOT! The story was, or at least should have been, about the love affair.

So my tip for this week: Understand what your story is about, and get to the heart of it as quickly as possible. There are not many hard and fast rules in writing, but the cardinal sin is: BORING THE READER! Not for a chapter, not for a page.

Monday, June 29, 2015

More Equal??? Not anymore


In his novel, Animal Farm, George Orwell said: "Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others." That, thankfully, is no longer true in the USA.

The 4th Amendment - equal rights and protection under the law now extends to an additional 10% of the American public? You have to wonder what is wrong with Chief Justice John Roberts, who's angry protest included "Who do we think we are?"

Well, who are you? The Chief Justice of the judicial body who is responsible for upholding the constitution for ALL Americans? Who is forced to make those awful choices like black people are human beings and gay people have rights? Who is supposed to honor the Constitution above the prejudice you try to peddle as your religious beliefs/God's will?

Dear Justice Roberts: grow the fuck up, be a human being, and do the job you're paid to do.

America stands for justice, respect for the individual, non-conformity, freedom from religious bigotry, and the rights of ALL human beings to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Jefferson wrote into the constitution a remarkable phrase: "the pursuit of happiness." And that's what marriage equality is, pure and simple. I'm happy to finally see my gay brothers and sister finally have a full measure of citizenship across all fifty states. Obama was right—we are a stronger nation when everyone has the same rights and is treated equally under the law.

Justice Roberts, Justice Thomas, Justice Alito, Justice Scalia, GOP presidential candidates, and vocal members of the Church. Stop embarrassing the majority of people in this country by flinging your hate like manure. Stop trying to turn our country into Russia or Iran. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

From Justice Anthony Kennedy




"Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right."

... and, in perfect summary:
"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right." - Anthony Kennedy, for the majority.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Writing Tip: Write Every Day

This is perhaps my most valuable tip: WRITE & READ EVERY DAY!

I believe the most useful thing a writer can do to improve their craft is to practice it daily. Sitting under a tree thinking of plot structure and character development is time well spent but it doesn’t get the baby washed. Writers write. Serious writers write every day. 

The act of writing will develop your voice and style, even if you’re writing garbage. And yes, allow yourself to write garbage because that is far better than not writing. The more you write, the better your garbage gets. 

I feel that it’s also important to establish a routine, say, write two hours every morning, or two hours before bed. Setting aside a certain time of day trains your mind when to jump into that creative mode. It becomes automatic, or at least easier. I prefer mornings, 7am to 11am. I sometimes push it into the afternoon if I’m in a groove. 

I know some published writers who try to squeeze in writing whenever they have a few moments, or a spare hour. I honestly don’t see how they manage to get anything done. My feeling is, if you’re serious about your craft, you make the time, even if you have to wake yourself a few hours early and go without sleep, or miss your favorite TV shows. If you are not serious about your craft, why bother?

Excellence is won by training and habituation. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. – Aristotle

The second most valuable thing a writer can do is read daily. Read a book a week. Study how other authors handle character development, plot structure, sentence structures. There is a wealth of fantastic examples out there waiting to teach you, and all you have to do is pick them up and read. Read everything – dead authors, really dead authors, live authors, fiction, memoirs, biographies. It’s important to read tons in your own genre, but it’s equally important to branch out. 

Pick the best of breed in each genre, which doesn’t mean the best sellers. It takes a bit of work to find the really fine writers. When you come across an author that strikes a cord within you, read everything they’ve written. Good writing touches peoples’ inner feelings. If you find a writer who can do that to you, study him/her.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

BUDDHA’S BAD BOYS Excerpt


I’m very pleased to announce that my new book, an anthology of six short works called BUDDHA’S BAD BOYS, is available everywhere fine books are sold. You can buy it now, in paperback or any eBook format, at

Bold Strokes Books http://tinyurl.com/pfe7dnl

Some of these stories are purely fictional, while others are based on real people and true events.

Blurb: There are many reason why Western men turn to Eastern religion—searching for inner truth, lost love, loneliness, fleeing the law, hopelessness, alcoholism. Some travel halfway around the world in an attempt to overcome their particular dissoluteness, only to realize that improving yourself is like polishing air. What they eventually discover, nevertheless, is one of the Buddha’s most significant lessons: enlightenment comes to those whose singular focus is on helping others less fortunate. 

Six stories, six troubled gay men trudging down the road to enlightenment. What they each find is that last thing in the world they expected.

The first story in this anthology is called Monk For A Month and is about two men, Reece and Doug, are almost done with the “Monk for a Month” program at the temple in Chiang Mai, where they have been living like Buddhist monks. But on the same night that Reece finds that Doug is having an affair with another Thai monk, there is a murder lose in the town. Reece sees the killer hiding in the temple and goes about trying to help him escape the police. In the process, a love affair begins.

Excerpt:
I sat at the bar sporting saffron robes and a shaved head, sipping a Singha beer and listening to the bartender, who was clearly agitated. I couldn’t tell whether the man was upset over the recent murders, or because the hard rain was hurting his business, or if he simply didn’t like serving alcohol to a monk, even a Caucasian one.

“His name Somchai,” the bartender said. He spoke English, but with the usual Thai singsong clip that I had come to adore. “He kill American expatriate named Warren. Tony Warren.”

I had seen a dead body only once, a gruesome spectacle. It took an effort to settle my nerves as the bartender glared at me, as if, also being an American, made me an accomplice. I had never learned the invaluable art of staying detached in the face of tragedy, of not identifying with the victim. I had no way to shield myself from the reality of how brutal humans can be to each other, what ruthless lengths they will go, and the pain they are capable of inflicting on each other.

Across the street, four soldiers trudged along in the rain.

“When did Somchai kill Warren?” I asked, my voice scarcely a whisper.

The bartender didn’t know exactly, sometime at the beginning of the afternoon that had now come to an end. At the same time that he killed Warren, Somchai had also slain Warren’s Thai girlfriend. Both victims had been found two hours earlier at the apartment belonging to Warren.

The barroom was already dark, due to the lateness of the hour and another power outage. Candles flickered on the bar and at each table; their yellow light mingled with the blueness of the dying day.

The shower stopped as suddenly as it had started, as it often does in Thailand.

“How old was she? The girlfriend I mean,” I asked.

“Very young. Nineteen.” Regret passed over the bartender’s face. “A real beauty.”

“I would like another Singha,” I said, “but I have no more money. Can I buy on credit?”

The bartender’s look of regret turned to disgust. As he walked away, a customer two stools over ordered beers for me and himself, and also shots of cheap Thai whiskey.

The bartender prepared our drinks while the customer moved to the stool beside mine. He introduced himself as Ty Poe, and did not shake my hand, as it is considered disrespectful to touch a monk. Poe was courteous, offering the customary wai gesture of respect. He was somewhere in his forties, and had a smoking-induced cough. The polluted streets of Chiang Mai didn’t help his lungs any more than his chain-smoking, I thought. I gave him my name, Reece Jackson, and told him I was from America, San Francisco in fact.

“I overheard your talk about the murders.”

“Why haven’t they caught him yet?” I asked. “Chiang Mai’s a small town.”

“They have him trapped within the walls of the old city, but you should know how it is,” Poe grunted. “We’re talking about an American expatriate and his whore who got themselves killed by a homeless gay kid. I mean, there are limited resources available to the police department. The police force, as a rule, is not well trained. Officers have to buy their own uniforms, their own guns. They are poorly paid. Not much would be happening now except that this dead girl happens to be the daughter of an army major. The army is doing what they can but they do not know the town as well as Somchai.”

Poe was right, I thought. What could anyone reasonably expect of this situation? The unvarnished fact was that in this country, any given police station’s cases were ranked according to priority. And priority in Thailand had to do with wealth and status. Those on the low end of the spectrum were unlikely to receive much attention. And for a homeless gay kid with no family who happened to murder a bit of riff-raff, then it was probably the victim’s fault. Why bother figuring out all the sordid details?

I felt thankful that I came from a country where every death warranted respect, every victim merited justice, no matter how far down the social and economic ladder that victim might fall. At least I liked to believe that bit of hype.

The bartender placed the beers and shots before us. I lifted my shot in a toast to Poe and knocked my head back, taking the drink in one hot swallow. Poe stared at me in obvious surprise.

“I’ve never seen a monk do that,” Poe said.

“I’m not really a monk. My partner and I paid good money to enroll in the Monk-For-A-Month program here at Wat Phra Singh. He’s on some damned spiritual quest that I, frankly, don’t understand. Me, I’m just an IT geek along for the ride.”

“So you’re not alone,” Poe asked, exhaling a stream of smoke.

“Technically, no. But it often feels like I am.”

The bar stood only a few doors down from Tha Phae Square, which spread before one of the four main gates of the old city, and where two of the town’s chief avenues collided. The square was bordered by the city wall, built of ancient brick, and butted against by the city moat on the north and south sides.  The top of the wall was wide enough to walk on, and just then a flock of children scampered along the wet brick, heedless of the danger of slipping. Among them ran Archer, my adopted son, also sporting a shaved head and wearing the saffron robes. The children looked down on the tourists who gathered in the square, clutching their umbrellas in case the rains returned.

It must be between six and seven in the evening, I thought.

Another shower started and people in the square ran for cover.

Archer hopped down the wall steps and dashed across the road like a fleeing deer. He entered the bar and huddled against me, giving Poe a cautious glance. Archer was a handsome seven-year-old with a round face that gave way to a large jaw and a brilliant set of teeth. He had an impishness and good humor in his eyes, and was strong for so young a boy. But what I admired most about him was his gentle and trusting disposition. Unlike most boys, he was incapable of hurting anything. His only flaw was that he was fathered by two gay men, which made him an outcast back home, someone to be pitied, stared at, whispered about, laughed at, and occasionally beaten up by his peers.

Strokes of lightning lit the sky, coming so close together that they seemed like a ceaseless illumination. The thunder was continuous. The noise burst like metal fireworks, and then would immediately rise again; its modulations grew less and less defined as the shower let up, until there was only the sound of rain striking paving stones.

“This rain will last all night,” Poe said, lighting another cigarette from the butt of his previous one.

Moments later, the shower stopped. Poe left his stool and pointed at the leaden sky, patched with massive blotches of somber gray so low that it seemed to brush the rooftops. “Don’t let that fool you.”

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reflections on My Father


On Fathers Day, I enjoyed the many FB post with pics and well wishes to Dads. Mine died twenty-five years ago, and I still miss him. We seldom saw eye to eye while growing up and there were disappointments on both sides. Heaven knows, I see some of him in me each day. I sometimes find myself saying, that is so like Bernie. Despite all the head butting, toward the end of his life, we finally accepted each other. Wish he could have stayed around a while longer for me to enjoy that. Here's to you Dad.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

This Social Disease of Gun violence


Shortly after a twenty-one-year-old killed nine people in a South Carolina church this week, President Obama stated that the USA is the only advanced nation that has this problem, this social disease of gun violence. As you would expect, he received a ton of pushback from the NRA (whose solution is to arm everyone) and the GOP (whose solution is to ignore the problem), but Obama is correct. America has the loosest gun control laws in the developed world, and—no surprise—has the highest gun-related homicides. Of the world’s 23 most developed countries, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is 20 times that of the other 22 countries combined.

Japan has virtually eliminated shooting deaths. How you ask? Simple, by forbidding almost all forms of firearm ownership, and the results are impressive, as few as two gun-related homicides a year. That compares to over 30,000 deaths a year in the USA.

Seriously, 2 vs. 30,000 deaths.

Admittedly, Japan has a smaller population, and because Japan doesn’t have a wide mix of different races, they have few, if any, race related shootings. But the percentage of wing-nuts in Japan is not lower that the USA. So with their fair share of crazies, why only two gun-related deaths per year? Because no private citizen in Japan owns guns.

If you fire off a round from a handgun in Japan you break three different laws—one for holding a handgun, one for possessing unlicensed bullets, and one for firing the bullets. Just holding a handgun is punishable by one to ten years in prison. Handguns and small-caliber rifles have been illegal to buy or sell in Japan since 1971.

Japan and the U.S. have radically opposed views about crime, privacy, and police powers. The U.S. constitution’s second amendment is intended in part to maintain “the security of a free State” by ensuring that the government doesn’t have a monopoly on force, where as many people see Japan’s laws on gun control, search, and seizure to be more of a police state.

But in the end, are thirty thousands lives lost every year worth having the ability to take arms against our government? Only last night a gun fired in the street in front of my mother’s house shot a bullet through her kitchen wall and shattered the sliding glass door on the opposite side of the room. My mother lived in fear every time she left her house, now she lives in fear even when she is in the house. Is every American living in fear, twenty-four-seven, worth having the means of fighting our own government? Our government is not the enemy, killers with guns are.

Seriously, my friends and colleagues, it’s time to enact serious gun restrictions in this country, because that next bullet might have your name on it, or the name of a loved one. Let’s not live in constant fear. Let’s disarm the people who don’t need guns, which in my view is everyone excluding the police and military.