Monday, September 29, 2014

Researching Murder Investigations


I’m 135 pages into my current work-in-progress, a futuristic tale about two people trying to rid the world of guns. In one thread, a murder occurs, which launches an investigation thread. I love this story so far, which is my most ambitious work to date.

One issue I’m struggling with is that I know nothing of police procedures or murder investigations. So naturally, I’ve hit the books, researching.

One book I found both informative and fascinating: Citizen Jane by James Dalessandro. It is the true story of a woman’s thirteen-year struggle to help police find the murder of her beloved aunt, and then bring him to justice. She not only battles the red tape of a dysfunctional legal system, but also the emotional heartbreak of finding that the one person in the world she hates most (the murder) is also the one person in the world she loves most.

Dalessandro patiently steps the reader through every part of the investigation in layman’s terms, which was great for me. He also told the human story, which in this case was more bizarre than most fiction, including the interaction between this woman (Jane) and the police who work the case. It helped me to understand most aspects of murder investigations, and what the families of victims and the investigators experience while slogging through the processes. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Becoming A Catalyst for Change

Yesterday I came across a note on Twitter from a guy who whined about how the world was going to hell in a hand basket because everyone (including himself) was greedy, selfish, self-centered creatures who had no regard for others. 


I replied to him suggesting he should live the change he wants to see in others, that he can set the example so others will be inspired to follow. I went on to explain that those words were spoken by Mahatma Gandhi, and it seemed to work for him, as he inspired a nation to stand up for itself, and still inspires men and women a half-century later. 


His response to me was: "I know it's cynical but I think this idea of being a catalyst for change is bullshit. Change only happens after major catastrophes and massive social events. But day-to-day, people remain the same selfish, self-centered creatures they've always been. Historically, every good thing we have accomplished, socially speaking, has been the result of something horrible happening. People just don't wake up one day and go, "You know, I'm a real asshole, I think I'm going to start being a good person." Disaster, death, destruction, pain, those are the sparks that induce change in people, like the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes. In nature, it is a necessity. Forest fires, brush fires, volcanic eruptions, flooding, all of these seemingly devastating events make way for new-found fertility. We are no different because we are still a part of nature, no matter how many unnatural things we surround ourselves with."


I must say I found his response doubly sad. To think that it takes great pain on a grand scale for anyone to change their attitudes and behavior is, in my view, ludicrous. I have had countless small revelations in my life where I’ve analyzed the results of my behavior and not only saw the need for change, but also made that change. I’ve seen and heard people I respected and wanted to be like them, and I began to mimic their positive behavior. People the world over do this on a daily basis. In my view, it is only the assholes who refuse to believe that they are assholes and who will not change. 


I sent him two responses: “If you are not willing to make the changes you deem needed in others, why should anybody else?” and then, “If you become a giving and compassionate person, then there will be at lease one less asshole in the world.” 


I can’t wait to get his next reply. lol

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Writing Tip: Choosing a writing partner, or not?

This is a topic I’ve been churning over for months. You see, I’ve written five novels and two screenplays all by my lonesome, with little or no input from anyone else. But a few months ago I teamed up with a writing partner, Ed, to write a new screenplay. Collaborating on a story has been an interesting experience, both rewarding and frustrating. 

The idea for the story was purely mine. I approached Ed to work with me on it because he has a great deal of knowledge about how to best structure a script, and how to structure each scene. He is good at structure; I’m good at creating a compelling story. It seemed like a match made in heaven, but the results have been mixed. 

So over the past few months, we’ve created character profiles, a theme statement, a log line, a high level outline, plot points, and thirty pages of script. (about 25% of a full script). He has now focused on completing a medium level outline while I am pounding out the script itself. 

The work has moved along at a slower pace than I’m used to, but I’m ok with that because the script is reading really good so far, and I’m sure it will take much less rewriting than I’m used to. And I must say that his input into the story, the structure, and the script have made it a better read than I would have done by this stage in the project. Bottom line: it’s a much better work because of our collaboration. 

So where is the rub? I’ll tell you. Because I must respect and allow his input into the story, it has changed from what I originally had intended. That’s not a bad thing, because it is a better story. The problem is, that I’m not nearly as motivated to write this new story, simply because it is no longer my story. I don’t have the same passion for it. Hence, I’ve been avoiding working on it, and it feels like work, not something I do for pleasure. 

The upside is, I’m learning tons about structuring a script, not to mention that the script is very good. But I’m losing interest in it day by day. I’ve already begun another script that will be purely mine. 

So, when selecting a writing partner, I have two suggestions. First, be sure that you’re willing to write someone else’s story, because it won’t be totally your own once you take on a partner. Second, choose someone that will complement your weaknesses, someone you can learn from. That way, even if you don’t finish the project, you will become a better writer. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Excerpt: The Plain of Bitter Honey by Alan Chin


Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog. Today I'd like to share and experpt from The Plain of Bitter Honey.

This story represents a dramatic turn in Alan’s writing. It is a futuristic story of two brothers, one straight and one gay, who battle a corrupt government and each other. This is a tale of survival, of devotion, of love, of finding deliverance and atonement.

This novel is a finalist in the 2014 ForeWord Review Book of the Year Award in the Science Fiction and has received a fistful of Five-Star reviews.  This is what Bob Lind, the reviewer for Echo Magazine, had to say about it:
I've said in the past that Alan Chin is my favorite author, and that is still the case with this new book. It is best described as a sci-fi/speculative/political novel, so unlike any of his previous works I have seen, and he handles the genre with mastery. The story is action-packed, well-constructed and expertly told, with a diverse, developed cast of gay and straight characters working together in situations that risks not only their lives, but perhaps the future of this country. Bravo … five stars out of five.


Blurb:
Twins Aaron and Hayden Swann are fighting a corrupt government taken over by ultra right-wing Fundamentalist Christians in 2055 America. Each brother fights in his own way, Aaron with bullets, Hayden with words. Then one night their world is turned upside down when they are caught in a government sting and they must both flee north into the badlands between San Francisco and Canada, where the only safe haven is a place called The Plain of Bitter Honey, a refuge where heads of the Resistance operate. But the brothers don’t know that government agents are tracking them to the hiding place of the Resistance. Can they find the inner strength to survive?

Excerpt:
The whine of hydraulic motors filled the compartment. The back door crept opened and the front began to rise.

Now came the dicey part. As trash spilled out of the container, they all had to fight their way to the top of the heap so they didn’t end up crushed under tons of garbage, and they had to do it silently—one scream and the armed guards in the cab would be on them. Thankfully, Gideon jumped to Aaron’s aid to help haul Hayden to the top. As the container’s angle grew sharp, the trash picked up speed sliding out the rear.
They rode the debris out, like surfing a wave.

The grade was steep and the brothers tumbled down along with the other freedom fighters. When they came to rest, Aaron still clutched his brother to his chest. Wet, putrid waste piled over them, enough to give them cover until the truck sped away.

Aaron waited until he heard the clang of the truck doors lock shut and the whine of the engine fade. He shook off the trash and pulled Hayden onto his shoulders.

Others scrambled to find the food and equipment scattered among the debris.

Aaron stumbled across a field of waste to lay his brother down in the shade of some cottonwood trees. He dashed back and dug though the rubbish to find his backpack, food and automatic weapon. He worked fast, knowing other trucks would soon show up to dump more refuse, and as soon as the trucks stopped for the day, the Caliban would arrive to scour the heap for anything edible. They had precious little time to gather the equipment and flee the area.

Within twenty minutes, they had assembled a pile of backpacks, blankets, tin cookware, canned food and jugs of water. It only took a few minutes to divvy up the load and pack. Everybody shouldered his or her load while Aaron hauled Hayden onto his back again.

Aaron stared at his pack propped against a tree, realizing that he couldn’t carry both Hayden and the pack, and everyone else was already weighed down. He flashed on its contents—family pictures, mother’s jewelry, childhood keepsakes, a few cherished books Hayden had acquired on the black market, the false passport, and the three hundred thousand dollars. He picked up his rifle, turned and lunged away, leaving the pack. 

Gideon took the point, leading them single file toward the foothills below Mt. Tam. As they left the area, they crossed a well-used path. Beside the trampled grass, Aaron noticed a patched-together signpost that read: To Vancouver, 800 scenic miles.

Aaron wondered whether this was the result of well-meant, wishful thinking or whether someone was making a joke. In any case, the sign stood like a beacon, daring all to proceed at their own risk.
They moved fast and stayed under cover as much as possible, but hadn’t gone a mile before Aaron began to lag behind. The average weight of the backpacks was seventy pounds; Hayden weighed one-eighty-five. Aaron struggled with every step.

He realized he could not keep up.

It became a nightmare. His head bowed and body bent under Hayden’s mass, Aaron lurched over rocks and small obstacles. The pain of his pinched toes had become sharp. He was a fool not to have picked better-fitting boots, and he was paying the price for his stupidity. As he stumbled across the open country, the pain crept from feet to his shins, to his knees. Aaron was in serious trouble. He would never make Canada, but he could go on for a while longer. He would stumble on as long as he could, and just hope someone else would take Hayden when he was done in.

Occasionally he heard a grunt or a voice, but everyone trudged along silently for the most part. Having been raised in the city, amidst a constant barrage of noise from traffic and crowds, this silence was unexpected, and frightening.

Once he thought he heard footsteps behind him. He stopped and half-turned, his ears and eyes straining, but he saw nothing. He only heard his own panting and the sound of his heart pounding.

He hurried on, mindful of the uneven path. If he broke a leg now, it meant certain death. He fell further behind until Gideon stopped the others under the cover of trees.

Aaron struggled to catch up. When he collapsed in the midst of the group, they were deep in debate. 
“We need to move fast and hard,” Cooper said. “If Aaron can’t keep up hauling his brother, we leave him.”
Weary, Aaron could smell their fear. He checked to make sure Hayden was breathing okay, and crawled to his feet.

 “Nobody gets left behind,” Gideon growled. “Now that we’re away from the dump, we need to move carefully and with intelligence, not fast and stupid.”

Cooper shook his head and Maggie spoke for the first time, “Coop’s right. I’m sorry about what happened to Hayden, but right now he’s an anchor. I’m not risking my life to save him.” She glared at Aaron.
If it were anyone but Hayden, he’d be the one insisting they leave him behind.

“All right,” Aaron said between gasps for breath. “I won’t beg you to stay with Hayden and me. Anybody who thinks I’m putting them at risk can leave us behind, and best of luck to you.” On our own, he thought, we don’t have a prayer.

“Listen up,” Gideon said, peering at Aaron. “I’m sticking with Aaron. If you want to live, you’d better damn well stick with us.”

Maggie took two steps toward Gideon. He didn’t flinch as she said, “You have a map of how to get to The Plain of Bitter Honey. Make me a copy.”

How she knew that information, Aaron had no idea, but he was not surprised. She was the smart one, and did her research.

“Too dangerous. If the Caliban gets their hands on that map, Bitter Honey would be wiped out. I won’t take that chance.”

The Armenian raised his sidearm level with Gideon’s head and clicked off the safety.

“Give her the map,” the Armenian hissed, “or I’ll take it off your dead body.”

“One shot and you’ll draw everyone within five miles down on us.”

The Armenian took a step toward Gideon, bringing the muzzle to within an inch of Gideon’s head.
Everybody froze. Gideon reached for his inside coat pocket.

“Slowly,” the Armenian snarled.

Gideon produced a map and held it out. “If you even suspect you’re being followed, eat it. You cannot let the Caliban get hold if it.”

Maggie snatched it from his fingers.  Aaron stepped closer, until he could see the drawing himself. It was indeed a map of the Pacific Northwest, done in pencil outlining the coastline with little triangles showing the mountain ranges. A compass sat in the top right-hand corner. At the top was a line and above it a word: Canada. But in the middle, within the triangles along the coastline near the California/Oregon border, was a small black dot with the words ‘Plain of BH’ under it.

She folded it back up and stuffed it inside her shirt.

Aaron couldn’t believe she was making such a stupid blunder. Leaving Gideon to go it on her own was madness. It revealed how scared she and the others were. It’s because we let them think they were going south, he thought. We should have let them know the minute we agreed to evacuate everyone who could have been identified. We sprung this run for Canada on them at the last moment, but they needed time to get used to the idea. It was too quick.

“Whoever is coming with me,” she said, “saddle up. I want to be on the other side of Mount Tam by sundown.”

With the Armenian continuing to hold his gun on Gideon, everyone except Liam and the Mexican girl shouldered a pack. Moments later, they trotted away at a fast clip, traveling due north.
“Thanks for sticking with us,” Aaron said, nodding in Liam’s direction as well, “but what the hell can we do without a map?”

“I don’t need it,” Gideon spat. “I’ve been there enough times. I made that stinking map to give to you in case something happens to me. Let’s move out. We’ll skirt around the west side of Tam. We hike single file. Walk in my footprints. No talking; we communicate with hand signals. We take it slow and we zigzag so it’s more difficult for them to trail us.”

“Are the Caliban as fearsome as people claim?” Liam asked. “I mean, I always thought that the rumors were government propaganda to keep us afraid.”

“I don’t know about you,” Gideon answered, “but I don’t plan to find out.”

Everyone nodded. Aaron asked Gideon why he chose to stay with him and Hayden.

“You risked your life to save your brother, and you wouldn’t leave him.”

“Yeah?”

“So you showed me you can be counted on. Out here that’s everything.”

Aaron didn’t ask why Liam and Juanita stayed. Sticking with Gideon was the smart move.

“What about the others?” Aaron said, looking up the trail they had taken.

“Forget them. They’re already dead.”


Alan Chin

Novels: Island Song, The Lonely War, Match Maker, Butterfly’s Child, Butterfly’s Child Daddy’s Money, Simple Treasures, The Plain of Bitter Honey



Monday, September 22, 2014

My New Favorite Gay-Themed Movie



This past week, Cinema Diverse sponsored the 2014 Palm Springs Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. I was lucky enough to see four feature films and three short films, all of which I relished.

There was one film, Lilting, that not only outshined all the others, it is one of the most touching, well written, well acted, gay movies I’ve ever seen. Start to finish I was enthralled.

Written and directed by Hong Khaou. It stared one of my favorite gay actors, Ben Whishaw. He plays the part of a widower to the ultra handsome Andrew Leung.

Set in contemporary London, Lilting tells the story of a Cambodian-Chinese mother mourning the untimely death of her son. Her world is suddenly disrupted by the presence of a stranger (her sons lover played by Ben Whishaw). Though they don't share a common language, a translator helps piece together the memories of a man they both loved. Lilting is a touching film about unlikely connections and the tragedies that bring us together even though we may be worlds apart.
 
There are only a handful of films (gay or straight) that I connect with on such deep levels that I can say I genuinely love them. Lilting is now one of them.